Saturday, September 15, 2007

Inappropriate Muffin

This is a little game I like to play on long car trips or when tipsy. The rules are quite simple: pick some revolting ingredients and design your muffin. Savoury, sweet, cross-over cuisine - it doesn't matter. The only requirement is that it be disgusting. It does have to food, though. No using snot and boot polish - that's too easy. And no human flesh thanks. We're talking inappropriate, not sicko-freak.

And of course, I'm talking about Texas muffins, not the English variety. You know, the sort you get for morning tea and usually contain yummy things like apple and cinnamon or blueberries or raspberry and white chocolate. McDonald's already has copyright on vomitous English muffins with its 'sausage' and egg monstrosity, so there's no point in trying to beat them.

So far some of my favourite combinations have been:
  • fritz (that's devon to all you Sydney-siders) and apricot
  • anchovy and crystalised pineapple
  • liver and onions
  • tuna and caramel
  • gherkin, mashmallow and poppyseed
  • lard
  • smoked eel and peanut butter
  • sausage and blueberry
  • strawberry and Vegemite
  • curry and boisenberry
  • fish head and Coco Pops
  • brussels sprouts and Red Bull
  • kidney and peppermint
  • tapioca and turnip
  • spam and plum jam (served warm)
  • cough syrup with crushed aspirin crumble (though this could be helpful if you had the flu)
  • baked bean and banana
As you can see, spreads are a rich source of inspiration, as is offal. If someone on Iron Chef would make ice-cream out of it, then it's probably an Inappropriate Muffin. If it's sick-making, it's definitely an Inappropriate Muffin.

Come on, hit me with your worst. I'm strong enough to take it.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Where have all the heroes gone?

I went to a lunchtime lecture on South Australian polar explorers a little while ago. It looked at the work of Douglas Mawson, Hubert Wilkins and John Rydoch Rymill. Naturally, Mawson was the star of the show, with his hundred dollar stare and his dog-eating survivalist ways, but Rymill and Wilkins were also men with big dreams who accomplished amazing things. I found out all sorts of interesting things that I hadn't known before, like the fact that the magnetic poles are never in the same place two days in a row. They move around inside an area called the oscillation zone. Cool, huh? Oh all right. I'm a nerd. You got a problem with it, you can bite me.

Anyway, the lecture made me think about heroes and the fact that real heroes are thin on the ground these days. I don't mean courageous people who rescue drowning children or pull old ladies from burning houses, though they're certainly heroes and as rare as rocking horse crap. I mean people who want to discover something, see something no-one else has seen, achieve something that will add to the world's knowledge or make life better for people who need help: people who are an inspiration.

We live in a time when there is no undiscovered territory any more. There are no more North West Passages. Even the most unimaginative suburbanite can go to the Antarctic. Crossing the Simpson Desert isn't likely to kill you unless your car breaks down or you meet John Jarratt on the road.

These days, our heroes are footballers, racing drivers, rock stars and actors. Sure, I can look at Clive Owen for a long time without getting bored and I spent my teenage years wishing I was Courtney Cox just so I could have danced with Bruce Springsteen to Dancing in the Dark, but really, what's inspirational about either of them? Where is the wonder in someone who can kick a ball a long way?

My hero is a Vietnam photojournalist and cameraman called Neil Davis. You can read his life story in Tim Bowden's wonderful biography, One Crowded Hour. Davis was a vain, proud man who ate flowers and had as many shortcomings as anyone, but he was also a marvellous photojournalist and cameraman who was dedicated to telling the real story of Vietnam from the Vietnamese side. He lived for the bang-bang. He walked point when he went out with a company. He ate what he was given by the Vietnamese soldiers, even though he knew it probably contained human flesh taken from defeated Viet Cong, simply because it would have been offensive to refuse. People called him Suicide Davis because they thought he took crazy risks, but he just wanted to tell the story. He was incredibly determined, fighting his way back from polio as a teenager and later from a serious shrapnel wound that almost cost him a leg. He was killed in 1985 while covering a fairly minor skirmish in Thailand and many people thought he was murdered to stop him asking inconvenient questions.

So come on, loves. Tell me, who's your hero?


Sunday, September 02, 2007

A beach somewhere

When I was a kid, my dad and I were master beachcombers.

Dad always loved the sea and he loved fishing. We lived in the same beachside suburb where he grew up. When he was five and his little brother was three, the pair of them would walk to the jetty alone to fish. This was the 1930s, 30 years before the Beaumont Children disappeared. Little as they were, they didn't drown, they weren't kidnapped and more often than not, they came home with a bucket of tommy ruffs.

Dad and I used to fish for tommies and gar from the same jetty or for carp in the local creek. Sometimes I'd go out in the boat with him on the hunt for whiting, but it was usually just Dad and my brother or one of his fishing buddies, Frank, Dudley or one of the two Alfs. One of my favourite pictures of Dad shows him holding up two huge snapper. His legs are skinny and tanned from the glare off the water and he has a Christmas morning grin and a fag dangling from his bottom lip.

If Dad hadn't gone fishing on a Sunday morning, he'd make omelettes and then we'd grab a bucket and walk to the beach. Occasionally we'd bring home driftwood, but mostly it was shells. I was one of those kids who would collect anything: stamps, badges, stickers, you name it. Shells were always my favourite. Most of the booty we brought home from the beach was garden-variety and easily identifable: cockles, perwinkles, pheasant shells, scallops, abalone, turban shells, mussels, limpets, hammer oysters. There'd be the occasional volute or cowrie, bringing with them a whiff of the tropics.

Some of what we collected, we didn't have names for, so we made up our own. Chinese fingernails, frillies and pinkies were our favourites and I still don't know what they're called. I have a bowl full of the pinkies we found and others that I've picked up since I moved further down the coast. They look like tiny pieces of dawn.

The morning after a rough night was always the best time for shell collecting. Dad referred to a storm as "a big blow", maritime-fashion. Sadly, the expression has been ruined now. We'd poke through the seagrass that had been washed into bales and ridges by the waves, exclaiming over new finds.

Storm pickings were rich, but though the shells were clearly deceased estates, their residents were often still firmly lodged inside. We tried various ways of removing half-rotted shellfish: soaking, scrubbing and using little hooky bits of wire. If Mum hadn't drawn the line at boiling the rank shells in a saucepan, we wold probably have tried that too. "Not on my stove, you won't!" she said with a dangerous look in her eye. Defeated, we decided to leave those shells to the seagulls.

Some mornings we'd walk for miles, rugged against the wind and not talking much. Our eyes were on the sand at our feet rather than the sea. In winter, there would only be a few half-frozen dog-walkers and fluffed-up seagulls for company.

When I walk on the beach now, I think of him. I pick up a shell and carry it in my hand, gradually rubbing the sand from it with my thumb until it's clean. Dad died when I was 17 and I would rather think of him on a beach somewhere than in the cemetery we visited yesterday.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

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