The Biscuit Scale

You can tell what the state of the economy/world/universe is by the biscuits in the local shops. Never mind carbon dating and astro-physics – these are mere whims. Biscuits* tell the truth.

The current viral panic has led to a number of changes in the grocery store. No toilet paper, socially distant markers on the floor, and different biscuits. I’m not so sure about the first two things, but I’m red-hot on the biscuits.

Let me explain this by making it into an open letter to the grocery store. Sirs…,

a. I do not need biscuits than cost $ 7.00 a packet, any more than I need $ 15 bespoke cups of coffee. These may be superb things, sourced from El Dorado and conveyed to me by limousines, but at that price I am not going to dunk anything in anything.

b. Equally, I do not need Milk Arrowroot or Nice or Wheat Thins biscuits. No-one does, with the possible exception of medieval torturers or people who need to replace the filter on their vacuum cleaner.

These are not biscuits. They are impositions. Jokes played upon the masses. Disgusting objects. Save your shelf space.

c. Chocolate biscuits are very pleasant but you must distinguish between real chocolate and brown industrial sludge. By all means spread the first about as far as you like, but avoid the second like poison. We buyers will, and you’ll be the loser.

d. You can make composite biscuits by layering anything.

e. $ 2.00 packets of biscuits will sell, even if they are made of sawdust and horse dung.

f. National biscuits will sell better than imported ones in the future as we become more used to checking out where food comes from. If the RSL tries to muscle you over a copyright on Anzac biscuits just call them something else. Don’t take it personal – it’s just South Chicago in the biscuit aisle.

g. Once a biscuit gets over 10cm in diameter or 3 cm in height it is a cake. Still delicious, possibly, but not the sort of thing that you can balance on a saucer. Dunking invites dry cleaning.

h. There is, to a certain extent, an inverse ratio between the taste of the biscuit and the amount of advertising on the packet. The introduction of supermarket-brand stock may upset this, but you only have to buy one packet to find out the truth.

*  Cookies for the North Americans.


Hot Chow

Every serviceman and servicewoman knows the value of hot chow.

They may have been fighting, training, travelling, working, digging, or trying to clean the barracks –  and the duty day may have extended far longer than anyone could have foreseen – but it all can be brought into line as long as there is some hot chow.

Likewise for the civvies who may be firefighting, working, cleaning, or caring in our own battles. If there can be one plate of hot chow at some stage of the day, they can carry on. If there has also been an up-spirits bugle it is almost as good as a holiday.

Same here in lockdown. Up-spirits is 1500 hours, hot chow is 1800. The rest of the day can be good or bad according to luck, but as long as we can drink up and chow down we can win.

There Are No Leftovers

Not in a siege. There is only the next meal.

We eat everything. Not ” we eat everything that moves ” – that’s apparently what got people into this mess in the first place. I mean in this house we eat everything on our plate and everything that got cooked.

Today, tomorrow, the next day…it doesn’t matter. As long as it all goes into the people and not the bin. The cook will do his best with what is available and will get better at estimating quantities. Obvious traps will be avoided. There will be no liver and onion smoothies.

And we will try new things. There are tins of mystery in the pantry that call for exploration. Buckle up your tongue and follow me.

” Compliments To The Chef “

Never mind the compliments. To hell with the food reviews. Stick your Michelin star.

The only criteria of success is whether the family was fed and whether they ate everything. If you got nothing left over, you won.

Today’s victory was brought to you by leftover mac and cheese combined with curried hamburger, onions, and green peppers in a cream sauce. What the daughter christened ” Bangladeshi mac and cheese stroganoff “.

The pan was easy to clean. As I’ve said before – there are no leftovers – just rescheduled cuisine.

Take That, You Bastard Virus!

You’ve got us bailed up in our house scared of touching petrol pumps or each other – compulsively looking at news feeds that try to outdo themselves in fright – and wondering if the bog roll will outlast us…

I can’t answer the toilet roll question, but I can do something about the fear. I can do macaroni and cheese. Big time, weapons-grade macaroni and cheese. The food that puts heart in the faint and fart in the pants.

It was a standard of home life for many of us…either as the weirdly-orange Kraft product or the better-built home cooked version. My wife and I were thin, hungry, and poor in London in 1972 and we reserved one night a week to go to a small cafe on the Bayswater road called Panzer ( ? ) to eat M&C. It was cheap and hot and wonderful. I hope they can  still open one day.

I could do with a bit of cheap and hot and wonderful right now, so I fried up a mess of bacon and onions, threw in a three cups of cheese, 500 ml of milk, 2 tablespoons of butter, and some sort of packet of garlic potato bake spice for good measure. The pasta was four cups of cooked macaroni and the lot went into the bacon frypan for a final heat and melt.

And yes, it was very good.

The Menu Of The Week

But which week? This one, next week, or two weeks ago? Possibly last year, if the date label on the package is anything to go by. Freezer roulette is about to start.

We have an upright freezer in our kitchen. A sturdy, moral appliance that is stern but fair. I believe it is of puritan stock. It holds what appear to be our most treasured possessions in a cold death grip. But the time has come to loosen that – and to gradually eat out all that is in there in some sort of recipe.

When you look into the thing, nothing really comes to mind save the reflection that someone must have thought they were going to do a great deal with frozen mango. I would certainly like to do something with it, but I’m going to wait until after dark so that the cops don’t catch me. I daresay there are dinners you could make with it, but there is a long distance between make and eat and I am trying to increase that.

The sir-fry vegetables are no problem, as they go well in a wok. The various mystery meats may also be candidates for this sort of cooking, or a long stewing. Some of the packages have date stamps in Roman numerals. They have never been thawed, so they are probably safe to eat as long as your tongue is disconnected.

The packages of novelty treats like pork belly and dead prawns are somewhat problematical – the former because it is disgusting and the latter because they very rapidly become disgusting in hot weather. We have to time the prawns for Bin Night to ensure that they leave before we are forced to.

At least the ice cubes will be fine. I’ll make sure that they are disinfected with rye and ginger ale and disposed of sensibly.

Everything In The Pantry Is An Ingredient

In hard times you eat what you can get and whenever you can get it. We are proving this to ourselves now as we look at what the pantry has to offer.

Without breaking into the stash of baked beans  – both cans – or the equally vast horde of soup and sardines, we will have to consider what can be done with the rice, pasta, and wheat flour…given that we rarely approach any of the containers.

We’re good for Asian condiments in colourful bottles with Japanese writing. If sushi breaks out we’ll be all set. Likewise if anything needs Coleman’s mustard we are ready to go. Other than that, it looks as if the combinations are going to be either eclectic, catholic, or mixed beyond belief.

I hope that it will not come to eating only our own cooking, as we have long lost our last Michelin star. Pray that the takeaway joints will not succumb. I am prepared to drive by them at 20 kph and catch whatever they can sling out the service window. Though I am a little hesitant to go past the pho place and order the laksa under this arrangement.

That stuff’ll eat the duco right off the Daihatsu…

The Birthday Howitzer

Or the art of dropping on people at short notice.

It is an art. A black art, mind, but notable nevertheless. In Australia it’s been been refined into folklore. The ” Sundowner ” was an itinerant who turned up at stations looking for work just at sundown…when hospitality would not be refused but no actual work could be done. The nearest modern equivalent is the person who calls at tea-time, sees you trying to prepare the meal, but will not go away. They stay until you give way and invite them to a meal.

Then they complain about the cooking…

The Birthday Howitzer is somewhat similar except it is fired when there is a family celebration in the offing. The gunner arrives at the start of the family party with a gift…and therefore cannot be refused entry. The gift can be as tawdry or cheap as you like – the $ 2 or Reject Shop is a good place to stock up. The wrapping can be terrible. It need not be appropriate in any way for the recipient. It can even be horribly offensive – the salient point is that it is a present, and thus a key to all the food and drink on offer. A good Birthday Gunner can consume half their weight in barbeque and beer before the cake comes out. If there are take-away lollie bags for the kids, several of them can be snaffled as well.

A very special variant of the BH is the hospital visitor that brings in a magazine that they got out of the waiting room but stays to share morning tea and lunch and then departs with the patient’s fruit bowl.

You must excuse me -I’m feeling a bit peckish and I heard the rustle of a crisp packet opening…

You Don’t Like The Dinner?

Fine. No problem. We can work with this.

How’sabout the rest of us eat the dinner – leftovers or whatever – and you go hungry? That’ll  keep your tastebuds free of contamination and we can carry on and clean our plates. If you’d care to watch us doing it …and gain spiritual nourishment thereby…we’ll just dig in…

If you’d like to eat something else, there’s no end of people who would be happy to feed you. They’re called restaurants and all you need to do is pay them and not burp loudly. No, we won’t be able to pay for your meal as we have already paid for the one on our own dinner table.

Not fair? Can’t see why you’d say that. We provide clean and nutritious food at a warm table. Your decision to reject it is respected. No-one forcing you to eat. We’re in the business of feeding you…not making you happy. We give you what you need – not necessarily what you want.

The Spit Roast

Every so often you see a sign by the side of the road here in Perth: ” Spit Roast –  Call xxx…for your next function “. I have always assumed that a spit roast was some form of jolly medieval feasting fare – with jesters dancing about and knights and maidens calling out ” Forsooth” and suchlike. A harmless amusement.

Imagine my horror when I discovered that it was a real thing that caterers do to provide food for weddings and corporate affairs – and that they expect you to eat whatever has been revolving for the last four hours and like it. The sight of the trailer that they use as a cooking facility has stayed with me for a long time. I think it was designed by Stephen King…

I do not say that they are poisoners…unless they serve fish in French sauce. In which case they are poissoniers. But that is merely playing eeny , meeny, miney, mot… The food is not dangerous in the same way that unexploded mines or live electrical cables are. It can be eaten. And therein lies the problem.

It cannot be eaten neatly. No matter whether they serve it up on a bun or on a paper plate, you can be sure that great deal of it will slide down the front of your clothing. The separate ingredients are both chewy and crumbly and tend to leap out at you whenever you attempt a bite. You may have worn your best suit or party frock for the occasion, but henceforth it will never be No.1 rig again – the gravy will assure that.

I am also sure that the spring lamb that is supplied through spit roasts has often seen many springs, and the beef has been herded on many trails before reaching the party stage. You may not have your No.1 rig on, but you’d better have your No.1 teeth in.

In the words of H.L. Mencken: ” Spit roast? I prefer gravy…”