Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Henry’s Spag

Or how to make cooking fun in this Time of Corona.
The Sauce
Open a bottle of your preferred red wine. For me that’s shiraz, although cab sav or merlot work almost as well. If using merlot halve the amount of sugar. While the wine is breathing (yes, it should be a half way decent one, cheap wine does nobody any favours) dice the onions on the smallish side, dice the salami into one cm or 7/16 of an inch squares and dice the olives into six segments each. In a separate bowl mix the basil, oregano, paprika and cayenne pepper (if using). Mince three cloves of garlic (if using fresh). If you’re using fresh tomatoes, dice them into bite sized pieces and retain as much of their juice that you can.
Taste the wine, if its drinkable pour yourself a glass, you deserve it. If you’re a smoker you no doubt deserve one of them as well, so sip and puff.
In a wok or a frying pan with high sides add the olive oil and heat over a high flame. When warm add the diced onions and sauté for a couple of minutes then add the garlic. Stir and mix with the onions, then add the salami and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add the mixed herbs and spices and mix. It should be starting to look pretty dry. Add the olives followed by the tomatoes and their juice. Stir well then add the tomato paste and mix. Then add 1 ½ standard glasses of wine and mix well, then add 300ml of water and stir. Add two heaped dessert spoons of raw sugar (one if using merlot) and mix.
Bring to the boil and have another weel deserved drink and a fag (about five minutes). Then set to a brisk simmer and let it reduce by at least a third. Have another drink and ciggie if so inclined. It’s going to take 15 to 20 minutes to reduce and should be stirred regularly. At the 10-minute mark spoon off any excess oil sitting on top. Just before finishing taste for sweetness and add sugar, if needed.
Once cooked let it rest for half an hour. Then you can serve with your favourite pasta (see below) or put into containers and freeze. It should serve six average appetites and when thawed can be heated in a micro-wave in three minutes. Mix through a tablespoon of water for each serving when micro-waving.
The Pasta
Pasta is not porridge! Consequently, cooking pasta isn’t a set and forget process. You cannot un-cook pasta but when overcooked it ends up with the same texture as porridge. Porridge with a sweetener and moo juice is a fine breakfast, with a savoury sauce, mmm… not so fine.
When selecting dry pasta, the colour of the packet doesn’t matter as long as it’s made from Durum wheat, a hard wheat that mills very fine. Whilst you can make your own pasta from scratch is far too much of a fiddle for this little black duck. Cooking should be fun, and making pasta is a chore.
The first time I cooked this meal for the best beloved she upbraided me for serving her raw pasta, now, some 20 years later, I get the same tongue lashing when it is limp and soggy. She indulges the same rigour to my pasta cooking as she applies to her rice cooking. It should be light with a resistance to the bite which cooking shows say is “Al Dente.” This is easiest to achieve by following the packet instructions up to a point. Boil in the recommended amount of water and if they say for ten minutes start tasting at eight and turn off the heat when it is almost done, the residual heat will take it the rest of the way.
If you have a pasta style that requires draining, count to 20 then pour into a colander, shake but don’t rinse. If you’re cooking spaghetti use a server to lift it straight out of the pot, let it drain and then place it in a bowl. Repeat until you have the desired amount. Mix a generous amount of sauce through the pasta and serve. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, which for me is lots, pasta is my excuse to eat Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with what’s left of the wine or if a shared meal opening a second bottle is recommended.
1 Bottle of red wine (optional but fun)
3 or 4 cigarettes (optional except for addicts)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 small onions (Diced)
3 cloves of garlic or 3 teaspoons (heaped) of pre-minced garlic
100gms of Hungarian salami (hot or mild according to taste)
70gms of diced Greek Kalamata Olives
2 heaped teaspoons of dried Basil
1 heaped teaspoon of dried Oregano
2 ½ heaped teaspoons of Hungarian paprika
¼ flat teaspoon of Cayenne pepper (optional)
2  400gm tins of diced tomatoes or 8 Roma tomatoes cored and diced
3 ½ heaped dessert spoons of triple concentrated tomato paste
1 ½ glasses of red wine (from the bottle above is recommended but not mandatory)
300ml of water
2 dessert spoons of raw sugar (halve if using white sugar or merlot)

Monday, March 09, 2020

Trust in Wonderland

Also published at John Mendue's Pearls and Irritations

An Irishman, a Frenchman and two Aussies share a house. That it sounds like the start of a bad joke is deliberate ploy to counter the ignominy associated with this deliberate housing choice. For most people a share house reeks of student days’ squalor or welfare desperation. But, as the housing market tightens, homelessness increases and the climate devastation of habitat impacts, share housing is an option gaining validity. And, not only as a stop gap measure, this wonderland has lesson’s our governments could well heed.

My share house sojourn, since returning from overseas a couple of years ago, has privileged me with a range of interesting and informative opportunities that have, amongst others, included: a Thai student on a gap year to study English before completing her master’s; a trio of Indian students whose desire for permanent residence was palpable; a young professional Samoan footballer and his chaperone; a Dutch couple on secondment to UWA; a Aussie couple starting out on their life of exclusivity; a Frenchman awaiting a Canadian visa who avoids boredom by driving for Uber Eats; a Filipina trying Australia on for size; an Irish backpacker on a working holiday; and a fellow Victorian. The youngest was 19, the eldest would never see 64 again. All had tales to tell and cultural differences to share.

The glue that holds this disparate, fluctuating group of individuals together is trust. Not only the protection from the elements offered by the landlord’s “Mi casa es su casa” policy, but also the lack of the need to keep everything under lock and key. And when that trust is present housing security is ensured especially when the tenants validate said trust each fortnight. A trust that is currently enhanced in this multi-cultural house, spent most clement evenings on the front veranda, by “never jam to-day” games of chess. In which more knowledge than the moves is required to combat the Irishman’s wicked opening.

It can also be the glue that holds society together. It is the major duty of all levels of government to foster this bond with and between the people who live in this wonderful land of ours. From delivering on the promise of rubbish removal each Tuesday by the town council to protection from existential threats to health and safety by the institutions operated by our state and federal governments. And the stronger that trust the more liveable is the society in which they govern.

To foster the superglue needed by communities the size of a country, this quality must exist across the board to counteract its inherent ephemeral nature. Not only must the people trust their government, more importantly, the government must trust their people. Whilst being ever vigilant of the Jabberwock of vested interests that can reside on the other side of the mirror to which we are often drawn to preen.

As was the case with the privatisation of the electrical grid on Australia’s east coast, which has slowed down its decentralisation despite the climate crisis imperative. Sold as a potential cash cow the investors are now loath to forego their return. Whereas in the government owned Western Australian grid customers are already starting to enjoy the benefits of this decentralisation.

A similar state exists in that most central of human needs: a roof over our heads. The transition from housing as home ownership to investor ownership is excluding many from this basic commodity. And while the Federal Government talks the Australian dream of a home of your own, its actions encourage investors to become our share house landlords. This is not necessarily a bad thing with our rapidly increasing population in which the virtues of recycling and decluttering are being extolled.

Although it does become a concern when the deeds and the rhetoric become "A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, Along the briny beach.” Increasingly on the other side of the looking glass, whatever it takes to win is considered a prerequisite for participation. So, when it spills out into the wonderland it dries up all the trust, as the independent senator from Tasmania recently discovered.

With hand on heart and tear in eye she begged the country to just bloody well trust her on National television. In defending the silence about her reasoning, she admitted to sipping from the National Security cool aid chalice. When pressed to say when she would trust the people with the said reasoning, Ms Lambie went the full Sir Humphrey Appleby with her “in the fullness of time” promise. 

The disappointment of the studio audience was audible. For National Security is a favoured trope that government politicians use to shut down questions, especially about their secrets that make us vulnerable. In this silence the dripping of trust upon the pavement resonates with those who care to listen.

The share house horror stories, beloved by tabloid television, stand testament to this potential corrosion in the body politic. Or, as my landlord so succinctly put it, “They keep going to the wrong house.” While shonky landlords, like shonky politicians should be called out, the demonisation of a legitimate housing option should be avoided. This, with the recent destruction of over 1800 homes is increasingly becoming a necessity.

Added to that is a pandemic following on the heels of these natural disasters of fires, floods and cyclones.  About which our elected leaders must be forthcoming with validations for their decisions if they wish to maintain the trust necessary to implement the required actions. And in this highly leveraged society, as insurance premiums, for a significant number, become a luxury item, just how many unsecured mortgages will our banks be prepared to carry?

As our house of cards weathers the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” our wonderland needs to be decoupled from the antics on the other side of the looking glass starting by dissuade them from squabbling over the rattle.