Feliz Navidad

December 24, 2008 at 12:19 am (Uncategorized)

This is DoctorDi signing off for 2008. Thanks for all your support in all its forms this year – it’s been a cracker. I’ll return on Monday 5 January 2009, and I look forward to seeing what the next year will bring us all. In the meantime, be happy, be safe, laugh always.

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Bad Dreams and Better Habits

December 22, 2008 at 2:22 am (Uncategorized)

I had a horrifying dream last week. It was all about my hands. They were gnarled, my fingers curled under themselves like dead petals, and for the life of me I could not prise them apart. They hurt, too. In the dream, I was painfully aware of the ache in my hands, so much so that when memories of the dream returned to me as I was running last week, I wondered for a second if the sensation was real. Had I fallen asleep awkwardly? Was it pins and needles in the dead of night, in the real world, and not a dream at all? But then I remembered the way they looked, and I knew this was something my mind made up as the rest of me was sleeping.

When I told Llew about the dream the other night, the first thing he said was “Did you Google it?”

I laughed.

“No,” I said, “but I thought about it.”

Which brings me to my Google snobberies. As I pondered the dream, running, running, it was almost immediately clear to me that it was an anxiety dream about not being able to write. I had the dream after last week’s blog hoopla, so perhaps it was about the censure and censor issues that experience threw my way. But more generally, the dream was so terrifying because I could not write or type or do anything with these balled fists of fire. They were useless, and suddenly, so was I. It sends ice belting down my spine to think of it, it really does. But did I Google ‘dream interpretations’? No. I didn’t. And not because I thought I’d already cracked the code of my own REMs, a kind of mortal Morse. No, it was because I am a Google snob.

I stopped myself from searching ‘dream interpretations: hands’ or something similar because I think such generalised interpretations of individual dreams are bogus along the lines of tabloid astrology. What, so every single Virgo is obsessive-compulsive and can look forward to a brilliant day Thursday? Come on! I don’t take it seriously, so whilst I will admit to the temptation to turn to the web for a sly spot of self-diagnosis, I resisted. 

“I couldn’t bear seeing myself do it,” I admitted to Llew. “I was embarrassed even to have thought of  doing it. I stopped myself.”

I stop myself from many Google searches. It’s partly intellectual snobbery – I don’t say I like it about myself, but I know it when I see it, and it’s all over me like a rash sometimes – but it’s partly a discipline issue. I’m confident I could send my entire life up the river if I just gave in to every Google urge. It would take many lifetimes to scroll the results of all the random, banal, curious things that cross my mind at one time or another. Where do all the dead birds go? How do ants always know? Seriously. How do they? We accidentally left the lid to the sweet chilli sauce on top of a side table the other night, and in the morning, the entire thing was black with ants. I picked up the lid, carried it to the kitchen, and threw it out, and by the time I returned, the ants were marching down the side of the table leg. Somehow they knew the lid was there; somehow they immediately grasped the change in circumstances. “Oh well,” I imagined them saying down the line, “it was good while it lasted.” I watched (and this is really Changeling’s doing – just four months ago I would have sentenced them to Death by Hot Water), utterly fascinated, as they moved in an orderly and surprisingly brisk fashion from the table to the floor, before marching through two rooms and straight out the courtyard bi-fold doors. It was all over in under fifteen minutes. Not one ant remained. So I ask you: how do they know?

Oh, I could Google it, I could Google it and a million other things I constantly stop myself from Googling. I could Google recipes. I could Google old schoolmates. Ex-boyfriends. Girls I never liked. I could Google exercise programs and laser treatments and Where Are They Now? celebrity sites. I could Google movie trivia. I could Google myself. But I don’t do it. I don’t do it because I am a peculiarly, probably excessively self-disciplined person. I’m too self-aware – and too proud. Pride prevents me from doing many things that get quite tempting when you’re working at home alone every day. For instance, I never, ever, ever watch DVDs in the middle of the day when I’m supposed to be working (a rainy Sunday afternoon with Llew? Different story). I never, ever, ever swing in the hammock reading a book if it’s during work hours. I never, ever, ever leave the bed unmade. In short, I self-monitor. I’m too proud to be slothful, too proud to be lazy. Too proud to ever need to lie about how I spend my time. And too motivated, actually, too excited and grateful and alive and full of words that flood my mind and flow out my fingers. My dear, precious fingers, my own two hands. Oh shit, I could cry just thinking about the possibility of their failing me one day. And so in the end I didn’t Google my dream – there was nothing Google could tell me that I didn’t already know.

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New Year Resolutions Really Do Come True

December 19, 2008 at 4:22 am (Uncategorized)

It’s a superb day outside. I’ve been for a lunch-hour run, followed by a swim in the big blue, and the beach is crowded with people already on Christmas holidays. This is the kind of day people come for, Sydney at its finest, and it does take my cares away just being out there amongst it. I’m sitting at my desk in my swimmers and a sarong – my usual summer work wardrobe, much to everyone else’s complete disgust. I can see why my attire might lead some people to think I do nothing but swan around Man Town working on my tan day after day, but you and I know it’s just not true. 

It’s been a cracking year in many ways, 2008. When I started the year, one big goal was finding a community of writers. This time last year, I had just “met” one fellow writer via this blog. We’re still regularly in touch on email and plan to meet up again in person when she hits Sydney in January. Then I stalked another writer after that humiliating and bizarre morning at the Getting Published event at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I made a beeline for her because she seemed, you know, normal, and when she said she lived here too, in Man Town, and above what cafe, I delightedly filed the information away, and then set about finding her when I returned from Melbourne. She’s great, a real laugh, and I can’t wait to lay my hands on her MS when she’s ready to show it to me. We caught up again last week, and I had the opportunity to introduce her to a few of my other freelance friends over lunch and a few vinos. She’s a classy lady and a genuine scream, so of course the other freelancers basically handcuffed her to the table. We all have an excursion planned for early January that promises to be hysterical (research, you understand, it’s all about the research). At some point in the year, Pete from Couchtrip started visiting DoctorDi, then recently came Litlove, thanks to Pete, and to have these two writerly, readerly, truly decent souls gently drift across the ether into my world has been one of the nicest gifts of the World Wide Web.

And then in September came Varuna and the mother lode of meeting the Darklings. Have I really only known them just three months? It doesn’t seem possible. Now I can’t imagine my writing life without them. So there I was just over a year ago, all alone with the mountain looming before me, without a single writer friend to share the journey. And it is a hard road. It’s good to have friends along the way – all friends, of course, yes please – but those who are undertaking the same insanity bring a special something to the sickness we all share. I know my MS would not be anywhere near where it is but for the conversations I have had with other writers this year. The author Charlotte Wood so generously availed herself to me a couple of months ago, and it was during my coffee with her that I had the eureka moment that has forever transformed my manuscript. I found a plot – yes, nearly two years in, I’m not even remotely exaggerating – during that conversation, and I felt so clammy once we parted company because I knew that moment for what it was. It was the moment I knew what my book was. There was a rapid-fire volley of texts between us later that afternoon as I ran off to get some research material, and when I confessed that I was “sweating with excitement,” Charlotte knew just what I meant. And when I shared my idea with the Darklings, it was the excitement they picked up on first of all.

I have needed these people all my life – do you know that? I have so many fantastic, special, gifted, creative, hilarious, just top notch people I count as friends – I even got one to marry me, miracle of miracles – that it is verging on obscene. I love them, they mean the world to me, so I didn’t really know until this past year that I was missing the company of other writers, and that I would benefit from having them near.  I was just about to wonder what might have happened had I started my search sooner, but I stopped myself, because it doesn’t matter. They’re here now. And of that goal I made this time last year, it gives me great pleasure to say ‘Mission Accomplished,’ and thanks.

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Get in the Boat, and Go Along for the Ride

December 18, 2008 at 6:31 am (Uncategorized)

As I just emailed someone else who privately weighed in, the continued blog fallout is just the icing on this week’s big shit cake, so I’m just going to eat what I’ve got coming to me, and hope no one’s offended when I don’t put my hand up for seconds. 

I won’t forget the lessons of the last few days, and I hope you know I never set out to upset or hurt anyone with the contents of this blog, but let’s move on. I made a mistake, and I’d be glad to shake the hand of the person who never has. You know where to find me. 

When all else fails, I turn to books (actually, I do that whatever happens), so let’s clear the air with a bit of a book blab. Haven’t had one of those in a while. As well as reading Changeling’s new manuscript, which I feel certain is destined to send her on her merry road to fat royalties and  a wide audience and great success, I’ve been reading Nam Le‘s collection of short stories, The Boat. In terms of voice, I have never come across a writer of this range. It’s like an ecstatic schizophrenia moving from one story to the next; that’s how distinct each (even third person) narrative voice is. It’s almost frightening. I just don’t know how he’s done it. From a purely professional point of view, read Le at your own risk, because you’ll be sure to despair of ever writing anything that comes close to his mastery of the trade. I was talking to a friend who shall remain nameless (ho ho) about the sheer range in this collection, and I wondered aloud if Le ever interviewed subjects ahead of writing his stories. I wonder. He’s just so authentically across idiom and age and ethnicity that you’ve got to wonder where the hell he’s getting it all  from. If I tried writing in the voice of a Colombian teen assassin, I’m confident it would descend into parody or cliche in no time. I cringe just thinking about it. I don’t even think I’d get away with it at a costume party. 

So how’s he doing it? Communing with his genius, maybe. Also he’s a Vietnamese Australian living in America, and I think that bilingual and trans-cultural people are better at picking up idiomatic nuances. I think they experience the aural world very differently, and I envy them that extra ear. I also think that refugee experience of his must have been formative and indeed transformative. When the Le family arrived in Australia in 1979 after a harrowing sea journey, they would have found an energetically racist country. I bet Nam Le worked pretty hard to fit in, and make friends, and get on. And that must surely have demanded the ability to be whoever his peers needed him to be in order for them to forgive him his otherness. Isn’t that what playground prejudice demands? Difference is punishable in the schoolyard, and it’s a nimble child who can turn that strangeness to advantage. My own guess is that young Nam Le – with his agile mind and, judging from his author photo, spunky self-possession – was such a child, and he’s now using what he knows to create beautiful and disturbing stories that swim so fluidly right across the full breadth of humanity. I haven’t gone to gibberish about a writer for a long time, but The Boat makes me stutter.

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Apologies for Yesterday’s Post

December 16, 2008 at 11:49 pm (Uncategorized)

For those of you who saw the “no-frills” post or received it as an email, I apologise for what was pretty bad form on my part. I think it was a passive-aggressive spite post, and this isn’t the place for that, and I’m not, generally speaking, the person. But we all have our moments, don’t we? I treasure loyalty and dedicate quite a lot of time and energy to fostering my own, and yet yesterday’s post was disloyal to the person I love most in the world. Bad form, pure and simple.

I think I’ve found the limits of my candour. I often use this blog to sort through things that are happening in my life, to make sense of the world and my relationships, but yesterday was a timely reminder that this is very much a public forum, and some of these posts have deeply personal consequences. I’ve been spending more time than usual on my own – it’s no excuse, but I think the boundaries blurred, and I think I just wanted to have a whinge, which is hard to do with a friend when what you’re complaining about is so monumentally ridiculous. A very nice problem to have, in other words, when everyone else is struggling with other much more serious concerns. What I should have done is vent in my diary, in private, to myself. And that’s what I’ll do next time. In the meantime, please excuse my appalling lack of grace.

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Paper Mad

December 15, 2008 at 6:19 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve started getting my house in order today. My paperwork house, that is, because I could build myself a five-storey cubby with all the paper-chasing in my life. I am surrounded by it. And when MS drafts are underway, well, let’s just say I have finally weaned myself off the superb procrastination technique universally known as “urgent spring cleaning,” so catching myself looking longingly at my pointless piles of paper is a sure sign that I have a commensurate amount of MS work left to do. Now that the latest draft is up at Varuna for Stage Two, I can finally turn my attention to all the jobs I’ve forced myself to ignore in the last few high-pressure weeks (laundry! Don’t talk to me about laundry! Anyone would think we had a dozen children the way those piles spun right out of control!). The office clean is a job I’ve put off a lot longer. I bought some archive boxes once I’d submitted my thesis and just dumped everything in there, and have continued dumping everything from press kits to greeting cards since, and lo and behold, it all goes away. Like magic. But ever since I first started this nasty (lazy) habit, I have eyed those boxes (there are six of them and counting) with a mix of dread and loathing, and wondered if perhaps I should have filled each one with a little more precision at the time. Perhaps it was a false economy taking the lid from the box and sliding my entire desktop inside?I saved time then, but I’m not saving time (or space) now. Because the paper will hunt you down. The paper will devour you. The paper will drive you from your home. Did I really need to keep that map of the South Coast from a freelance job in 2006? I seriously doubt it. What about that information pamphlet from the Big Guitar in Tamworth? Yeah, see, I think I can live without that too.

Llew’s convinced I should keep all my PhD research and chapter drafts in case I ever want to “do something” with it (“What, you mean other than adding it to the next neighbourhood bonfire?”). This paper pile accounts for three archive boxes after several surreptitious culls over the last three years. There was just so much of it that it felt like the full weight of the Warren Report was breathing down my neck every time I sat down at my desk, so I admit I’ve chucked some of it out. And have I missed it? NO! NOT ON YOUR LIFE HAVE I MISSED IT FOR ONE MOMENT. On the contrary. I often feel like celebrating its absence. And so going through these archive boxes again today (I made it through four and reduced by O-N-E – an outstanding effort I’m sure you’ll agree), at least until I lost the will to live, all I really wanted to do was turf the whole lot. Who cares, I thought. Sure as hell not me. Maybe documents should be like tax receipts, kept on a five-year rule. If I hold on to all this crap for another two years and still never look at it or need it or have any curiosity about it whatsoever, maybe it’s time to send it on its jolly way to “recycling” (I’ve heard ugly rumours that all our garbage irrespective of the colour of the bin lid is simply added to one monumental landfill the second it reaches the tip, and our diligence at the bins is really just about making ourselves feel better because it is doing zip for the environment… could this be true??).

And yet throwing out past greeting cards, even just Christmas cards with nothing more personal than ‘Dear Llew and Di’ and ‘Love so-and-so’ written on them, is a task I find next to impossible. I anguished over some today from 2005 and 2006 that bore no news, no photos, and no special sentiment other than that thoughtfully provided by Hallmark. Why? Well, I know it’s irrational, but it makes me worry that I am throwing their feelings away. I can’t bear the thought of disposing of someone else’s attempt to reach out to me, no matter how briskly it’s done. If someone bothers to sit down and pen a card to me, affix a stamp to the envelope and see it safely into the mouth of a PO Box, then it seems to me the absolute least I can do is keep it once it comes into my care. 

This has become less of a problem in the noughties because people write so much less: fewer postcards, fewer greeting cards, fewer letters. I myself write fewer of each than ever before. So a lot of what I am throwing out is the unnecessary and unwanted junk mail from service providers, loan sharks and eager credit card companies. I resent this kind of mail. On any given week I am shocked by the frequency of it, not least because of the sheer waste of natural resources it represents. And I’m saddened that it’s the majority of the mail I now receive (let’s not talk about the lost package). Still, all that junk mail makes for a very satisfying urgent spring clean.

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Four Years, But Who’s Counting?

December 11, 2008 at 3:59 am (Uncategorized)

It’s our fourth wedding anniversary today. I’m looking at my gorgeous bunch of lilies from Llew as I type and looking forward to seeing him after we both finish work tonight. Unfortunately he’s having a hideous couple of weeks at work: lots of pressure, lots of stress, lots of unpaid overtime, lots of unhappy people. It’s not ideal and doesn’t exactly leave him in a celebratory frame of mind. We’re not really at our most buoyant at the moment simply because of life’s various curve balls (or cracks, as Couchtrip Pete accurately describes them). I sent my MS to Varuna Tuesday and it was straight over to Nana’s for the day yesterday. After six straight hours hanging out with dementia, I thought I was going crazy myself. I’ve just been talking to Nana’s chemist on the phone, and when prompted about our day together yesterday, Nana drew a complete blank and said she spent the day by herself. Wow. I cannot tell you how deflating that is. That’s kind of what I mean when I say she’s not really benefiting – she won’t remember no matter what happens. I’m there, I’m not there, she goes out, she doesn’t go out, it’s all the same to her. She’s adrift in a sea of Alzheimer’s and doesn’t even know she’s out there. It’s horrible. Horrible to witness – I’m not sure it’s particularly horrible for her, because she’s utterly unable to comprehend and therefore reflect on her condition. I think that’s merciful, but it doesn’t make it any easier to manage. 

The GREAT news is that we spent the first couple of hours with Liz from Uniting Care and we’re getting Nana all signed up for the six hours assistance a week. I wanted to throw myself at Liz’s feet, I really did. I think the people who work with dementia on a daily basis must be saints. I don’t know how they do it. It was such a relief even having her in Nana’s lounge room that I very nearly started bawling (and finished the day doing just that on my way out Nana’s door). Nana’s ankles were worryingly swollen so I took her off to the doctor. Unfortunately her regular GP wasn’t in, and the useless doctor we DID see at Nana’s medical centre promptly told us she’d have to come back today because “She’s Dr X’s patient.” Que? Nana’s entire medical history was on that doctor’s computer screen – how hard could it be saving an 85 year old woman another day on her feet when her ankles resembled the base of two trees? Too hard, evidently. We were ushered out the door without so much as a lollipop. I couldn’t get back over there today – as it is my once a fortnight commitment is rapidly becoming once a week out of sheer necessity and concern – but after much prompting, and an hour when she was totally MIA, Nana did make it back in by herself for her appointment, and now has something for her legs. But here’s the thing: will she apply it? NO! Of course not. It’s just so obvious to me that she’s no longer fit for independent living and it amazes me that all these medical practitioners keep sitting us down and saying “We’ll keep her at home for as long as possible.” Is that really what’s best for her? I can’t see how it can be. She’s failing to bathe herself, feed herself, pay her bills, launder her clothes or basically initiate a single thing. She doesn’t even know the Emergency number. So how can they keep telling me she’s best off where she is??  Also the dementia specialist who did the assessment at the Prince of Wales said we wouldn’t see a sharp decline – I beg to differ. Here’s how the waiting room conversation went down yesterday:

Nana: We might as well leave. We won’t be seeing anyone today.

Me: Yes we will, Nana. We have an appointment.

Nana: With Doctor Y?

Me: No. Doctor Y isn’t here today. We’re seeing one of the other doctors at three o’clock. Look at your ankles. We have to get them seen to. 

Nana: We might as well walk out of here. We’re not getting in to see anyone today.

Me: Yes we will. We have an appointment.

Nana: With Doctor Y?

Me: No. Doctor Y isn’t here today. We’re seeing one of the other doctors.

Momentary pause.

Nana: Are we going now?

This went on and on and on until I ran outside to get sandwiches and scream. Round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round. And yet she’ll tell you she does her laundry every Monday morning at ten.

Me: And what day is it today, Nana?

Nana: I couldn’t tell you.

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And Now We Wait.

December 9, 2008 at 8:47 pm (Uncategorized)

Greetings, friends – I’m back. It’s been dreadfully frustrating not sharing the last few days with you, but I really had to put my snout in the hole. And it’s done – for this draft, anyway. I sent the manuscript in the overnight mail last night, and it should reach Varuna in time for today’s deadline. It’s been a matter of 14 hour days and very little sleep. Even exhausted, my mind continued whirring as though that’s what it’s supposed to do at one, two, and three o’clock in the morning. It was all consuming. It burrowed into my brain and devoured it as surely as any parasite. As I said to the Changeling, I was sitting in the Mitchell Library yesterday after battling the pre-Christmas crush at the post office, and I could have let my head roll back into a deep open-mouthed snore quite happily. 

So. There’s nothing further I can do now to enhance its chances of making the short list. Not one thing. I’ve done the best I’m capable of in the time I had, and actually I’ve made huge changes since getting back from my Varuna residency first week of September. I’ve surprised myself, and I know I surprised the Dark Heart, my Darkling reader who is so astute and even in her critiques that I was very fortunate to get her latest verdict in the flesh and in time for this deadline. Yes, the Sydney chapter of the Darklings met for lunch at Chez J on Sunday. It was so exciting having them come and play at my house. We sat out in the courtyard enjoying a rather changeable but mostly hot day, we scoffed my crab salad (they were guinea pigs, but I think it was good. And yes, I pulled the crab meat out of the shell with my own two hands, and no, I won’t be signing up for that job again any time soon), drank just enough wine to start feeling giggly, and caught up on writing, life, and love. It was wonderful. And then at the end of the afternoon, we wandered down the beach, walked across the isthmus to the harbour side, had a beer at the wharf and then off they went on a ferry home. A perfect afternoon, really. And the Dark Heart was as spot-on as ever in her identification of a couple of remaining problems (but the good news is there seem to be fewer since last time). I am so lucky, and so glad to be as lucky as I am. 

The Varuna website says the short list will be announced January 20. It’s tempting, trust me, to abandon all thought of the MS between now and then, but in some ways I daren’t. Because what if I don’t make it? Or what if I do? Won’t I want the MS to be as strong as possible in any event, and wouldn’t that mean I have to keep working on it? I’m undecided. But I will step away, at least for a couple of weeks. I’m going to sit back and look at the other projects I’ve started and try to figure out which one comes next. If I’m not going to be working on the current MS in the interim period, then I need to be working on whatever will follow it. This isn’t overly optimistic; if this one never gets published, I’m not going to roll over and forget the whole thing. It’s far too late for that. I am finally doing the thing I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and I’m not going to stop now no matter what happens. I’ll have to just pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep on going, much like the father and son in The Road, except with much better food and nicer scenery.

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Down to the Wire

December 3, 2008 at 10:32 pm (Uncategorized)

I have somehow managed to walk into a really busy week personally, when professionally it’s probably the most important of my life so far. I have six days to get my manuscript up to Varuna for Stage Two of the Varuna HarperCollins Manuscript Development Awards, and I still have to rewrite the ending. Nothing like a bit of over-ambition to keep life interesting. 

It’s Nana’s 85th birthday today, so I’ll be doing the schlepp over to the other side of town and back, my laptop on my knees, trying to work as well as meet that obligation. And that’s pretty much the nature of the rest of the week, so I am going to have to ask for your patience whilst I try and get this draft in order ahead of next Wednesday’s deadline. I’m envisaging an overnight envelope at the close of business Tuesday… oh yes, then I have another aged care assistance meeting over at Nana’s next Wednesday… I tell you what, it is really starting to consume a lot of time and energy trying to manage this situation. Monday, for instance, was basically a write-off once all the calls and enquiries were fielded. But I’m hopeful the care assistance package will start soon, and that should help ease the strain. The shame of it is Nana isn’t even really benefiting – she’s still refusing to go on that weekly outing, and my asking her about it only resulted in her bitching to my sister about me. And yes, that makes me feel like telling her to shove it up her arse. But, of course, you can’t do that. You have to keep trying to do the right thing. Anyway, I am going to be off the air and down to the wire over the next few days, and I’l return with a post and business as usual next Wedneday 10 December. Wish me luck!

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Salt is Good.

December 2, 2008 at 6:29 am (Uncategorized)

Wow, you say “tooth poo” and the readers come running – I had my biggest day in ages yesterday. What a perverse lot these blog browsers must be. Maybe I should start prefacing every post with “Tooth poo! Tooth poo!” just to keep my stats up. 

It’s hard to come back from tooth poo, so I’m going to change the subject rather radically and suggest we all just try and move on as best we can. I was going to share another frankly hilarious story with you on the subject of acid undies, but since they’re not my undies, I decided I’d better not. Some people don’t want their stories circulating on the World Wide Web by virtue of their friendship with me, and since it pertains to a delicate region, I thought I’d show some decorum for once and keep it to myself. It’s a shame, though, because it’s a beauty. 

Aaaanyway, since I can’t tell you about the acid undies, I’m going to tell you about the Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia (CIRA) and its cooking school (Casa Barilla, 4 Annandale St, Annandale, cira@cira.com.au, or call Dani on 0405 286 067), a post I’ve been meaning to write since we went along to one of their cooking nights last Monday. We weren’t originally supposed to be going; we gave Llew’s brother a cooking class for he and his wife for his 40th birthday, but then they suggested we come along too, and we didn’t take much persuading. They chose ‘Modern Italian Food from the South,’ which was run by Danny Russo, Head Chef at the recently refurbished Beresford Hotel in Surry Hills. 

We didn’t really know what to expect, but the cooking school is really well equipped and centrally located in Annandale – we jumped in a cab from the CBD and it only cost about $20 in peak hour (go via the Anzac Bridge and avoid Broadway and Parramatta Rd like your life depends on it). There were four student ‘kitchens’ with four students apiece, and Chef’s demonstration kitchen at the front. 

Chef didn’t waste any time setting the tone for the evening – Danny was informal and enthusiastic, a  charming, amusing host for the night. His jokey rapport with his sous chef made me sorely miss working with chefs, which I used to do as a waitress during my undergraduate years. The chefs I knew were pretty naughty people – they mostly took their steak and their humour on the blue side. It’s an intense, pressure-cooker environment in a commercial kitchen, and it is not for the faint-hearted. Of course, these boys reigned it in before the roomful of watchful students, and maybe they’re more well-behaved than chefs were in the old days, but I’m pleased to say that irreverent cheeky streak was alive and well. 

It was a great way to spend an evening, not least because we ended up making and eating a fantastic three-course meal we washed down with a half glass of wine at each stage. The four of us got to do something fun and interactive together, we all learnt something (or several things, as a matter of fact), and we ate very, very well. Danny’s menu hit exactly the right notes because he concentrated on three things: seasonal produce, simplicity of preparation, and complementary flavours. There was nothing gimmicky or showy about it, it was just great ingredients combined in fresh and easy to prepare ways. And yet still impressive. I’ve entertained a lot over the years, and one of the hardest balancing acts is that between effort and enjoyment. I want to impress my guests, but I don’t want to be in the kitchen chained to the stove the whole time they’re in my home. What I loved about Danny’s menu was the emphasis he placed on things that could be prepared in advance – stock, dressings, dough. And if they couldn’t be done ahead of time, nothing else was tricky or fiddly or plain stupid when it came to dealing with it on the night. Sure, we had four of us divvying up different jobs, but there was a lot of time to chat and we must have toasted Simon’s birthday, CIRA, Danny, and  ourselves at least a dozen times… not exactly a fraught environment, if you know what I mean. It all unfolded seamlessly – and everything was so pretty on the plate. There’s no other word for it. Pretty and fresh and appealing. 

What did we make? Roast scallops with a pine nut and parsley salad for starters; Salad of poached veal girello with raspberries and almonds (we were TERRIFIED this was going to be sweet, but it wasn’t), and the dangerously moreish paste mandorle di noto for dessert – almond biscuits, in essence, that I could not stop eating until they were gone. Hot delectable biscuits straight from the oven? I’m telling you, they were worth the price of the class on their own. It just struck us as a great gift idea – what’s not to love about teaching someone close to you how to better cater for their dinner parties?! And yes, we loved going too. The only thing wrong with the entire experience was the wine control. Three half (actually, it was more like a third) glasses of wine per person over the entire night?! That’s not how dinner parties go down at my house. And I’m going to have to check out how it all happens at Danny’s public house now – the Beresford, that is. As much as I loved the cooking class, I have no aversion to sending the man back to the kitchen.

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