Monday, May 31, 2010

Conversation in a Bookshop

On the way to the beach, I stepped into a second-hand shop to browse the books laid out on a bright green kitchen table.  A grandfather-y man stood at the counter, talking to the proprietor.
           "They invited me to join their bible study group."  He was saying.  "Sounded all right, but when I went there, they weren't saying one damn thing about the Bible - it was all about some feller called Joseph Smith!  Seems like I knew more about the Good Book than they did! I had to try to teach them, and they couldn't have been less interested in a thing I said.  Kept going on about this Smith feller- he isn't even in the Bible, far as I can make out!"
            "When I was a child in Ireland" the woman said in a thick brogue, "we went to church three times a week. We certainly had to know our bible!  Here in the new country, well, I'm not saying that I live by it still, but I certainly respect it.  And I've never forgotten a bit!"
            "The world is crashing."  The old man said vehemently. "Crashing! Taxes rising, costs rising, young people not knowing the good book any more - and what for?  Where's it all gone? Everything's there in the Bible - everything you need to know! Here-" He turned to me. "What kind of car did Jesus drive?"
            I heard a choking noise from behind the counter. I shook my head, fascinated.
            "Well, the Bible mentions that God created the Galaxy - there's a Ford Galaxy, right enough, so he must have had one of those.  In the same passage the Falcon is mentioned three times - do you think Jesus had three Ford Falcons, or just one that's worth mentioning three times?"
            "Jesus didn't have one single car."  The woman's ears were developing a pink flush.
            The old man looked up at the ceiling. "Moses crossed the Red Sea in Triumph, that one I don't understand - it's not a very good car, and the Eagle is mentioned sixty-three times, so they clearly had a lot of those around Galilee."
He turned to me and winked. "They say that a tiger in the tank is good for a car's performance, but do you know what's even better?"
I shook my head again.
            "A lady lion' in the back seat!"
I burst out laughing.
            "And on that" the woman said firmly, taking the old man by the elbow, and leading him toward the door "I think we've had quite enough.  Out with you!"
            The old man let himself be led.   The air had gone out of him. "Crashing."  He said sadly, shaking his head. "Just crashing."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

And a Lid to keep the rain off, Please.


I am at the beach again today.  To the west the sand flat dissolves, warm and muddy and smelling of old shoes, into the mangroves. To the east is the rock seawall of the marina - tinted orange-pink by the ubiquitous red dust. And almost in front of me is the most appalling piece of seafront architecture built since the eclipse of the Soviet and the demise of the late lamented Josef Stalin. (All Peace be upon Him.)
            The architectural brief was clear: a flight of stairs from the promenade down to the sand, a ramp for the less-able-bodied, and a lid to keep the rain off, please.
            This modest brief was answered by an insufferable concrete monolith that has more mass, and less attenuated grace, than the larger Egyptian pyramids.  There is indeed a staircase.  And there is indeed a ramp - for those extreme wheelchair enthusiasts who enjoy whizzing around three non-code-compliant hairpin bends and being pitched off a twelve inch lip into three boulders and a pile of decomposing seaweed.
            Everything about the behemoth is massive - the flight of Brobdingnagian steps suitable for a People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, fat concrete balustrades that would stop a mortar round, and a pitch on that ramp that would - and recently has - sent wheelchair-bound Vietnam veterans screaming toward front-page newspaper exposes with words like "Shock!" and "Damning!" in the headlines.  And the roof!  Sheets of unpainted corrugated tin lofted twenty five feet into the air, pitched to guarantee entree to the most meek and self-effacing of rain-showers.
           The thick gray paint that coats the vast and benighted enterprise stops half way down, giving way to an equally monolithic foundation, this one raw, ragged, chopped, pitted and scabbed, and ending in a cliff-hanger of a finish, where most of the sand and gravel has washed out from underneath. Visitors are prone to instinctive and violent reactions: they screw up their faces, bawling "What's the bloody point?" and hold their breaths until their faces turn purple.  It's a choice between a classical tantrum or an act of principled vandalism, and you couldn't dent the thing with a bulldozer.
           The thing is sea-side-ish in the same way that a supertanker is nautical.  Naturally, it is the winner of a major regional architecture award. I enjoy visualizing the committee, a row of solid soviet chins nodding above solid soviet suits, smiling solid soviet smiles of solid soviet satisfaction and saying "Da! The Monument to the People's Surf-fishing Industry will show the world the strength of our Recreational Blue-Swimmer-Crab-Catching Collective!”
            We brought The Architect to have a look at it when he was here. He stood on the beach and stared at it in silence for seventeen seconds, then his face turned red and he started bellowing the Internationale and went away to try and kick a seagull.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Waterfront

I am down at the town beach, staring down the promenade and out over the water.  There is a brick wall behind my back, warm in the sun.  My feet are propped up on a balustrade, and I can feel my hair waving tendril-like in the small breezes that slip over the wall.  Two swallows are building a nest underneath my right foot. Their wings fuss against each other like sandpaper.
            It is high tide.  The beach here is a vast sand flat, perfect for walking and crabbing, that stretches out almost a kilometer and a half from the shore.  Ships cannot dock on this coast; they wait, anchored out on the horizon, doing all their business with tenders that run back and forth from the wharf.  This afternoon the sand flat is flooded with water of the most peculiarly intense shade of blue - electric ultramarine.  In summer, the wind kicks the water into whitecaps, but at this time of year it lies still over the sand like a rolled-out bolt of china-silk.  Small, local wind squalls rip across it, darkening the water to ultraviolet in the creases. They blow across the silk like a clouds of watercolor paint blown across a sheet of thick cartridge paper; the edges of the color seeping and soaking into the fabric. 
            The sand flat ends abruptly and distinctly at the Blue Line, laid down as sharp and clear on the seafloor as if it were drawn with a color marker.  The Line is the outside edge of the sea grass meadow -the highest point at which the leading edge of the sea grass can stay submerged at low tide. When the King tide is out, we go walking along the line, shin deep in a glass-water aquarium, with minnows and baby puffer fish darting fearlessly out of the grass around our ankles.

Today I gave myself a treat; after all the packing and moving and unpacking and re-sorting, I walked down from the post-office to the beach, through the Botanical Garden. The Garden dates from the 1920s, and is deep and dark and green - a world away from the thin, sallow shade of eucalyptus, and from the parched and scrubby yellow grass that we tend in our backyard, watered desultorily when we can spare the water, counting on it to nurse itself through the long hot dry until some wet come in winter.
            The Garden has tall, solid trees growing from fat-bladed tropical turf and thick black soil: big oaks and giant fig trees, whose leaves have a waxy tropical sheen and whose enormous buttress roots trap the sea-breezes and keep a cool, damp darkness.  Underneath then I feel myself expanding, spreading loose and wide - a giant stomata, breathing for a great big leaf.
            There is an aviary with peacocks and sulpher-crested cockatoos and stupid chattering budgerigars.  One of the cockatoos claws its way up to the wire fence and said "Hello Cocky!" and looks at me penetratingly with its big black eye.  I am teaching it "Buenos Dias!" but we aren't getting much forwarder. It's an Australian sort of bird-  stubborn.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

At the End of the Gulf

Last weekend, we drove my sister out into the desert, to where the earth is deeply sunset colored and the rocks are streaked black with iron, and the horizon is pushed closer by the Flinders Ranges that rise up blue and olive in the east. We turned towards them and we drove to the very top of the Gulf -where the enormous gulf winds into a narrow tongue of water, and eventually, salt marsh and a muddly tidal flat. At this narrow point the highway that leads, eventually, to Perth crosses over the water.
            Every time, I anticipate this crossing in a very six-years-old sort of way: sitting up in my seat, saying 'Well then - !" in tones of benign and placid satisfaction, and INSIDE, yammering " Did you SEE that? We DROVE across it! Across the water! Practically magic, yeah? Bet you couldn't do that! I DROVE in a CAR across the GULF!"



This last navigable stretch of water was, before the road trains, a major terminus for cargo coming and going from the interior. We stopped and ate lunch on a massive and venerable timber cargo wharf - whole forests must have gone into building it, and old iron railroad tracks wound down its length, cutting figures-of-eight through the bleached timber decking. Between the planks, we could see deep water far below our feet, that boomed and echoed as it lapped darkly at the pilings.



The iron tracks have rusted to a plum-colored patina, flaking slips of ocher where the plum-colored crust has been worn away. The strong lines that the rails drew through the bleached silver wood dissolve at close range into a heavy, detailed field pattern -

I took photographs.



Mr Tabubil helped.



We turned back toward home. Crossing the gulf again, the road splits, with a sign pointing in two directions: Perth and Coober Pedy. Seven hours of driving, or four days, straight across the Nullabor Plain, a sobering reminder of the distances that Australia plays with out here.
            We turned down the Perth track: a thin ribbon of tarmac, two lanes and a painted white line, rolling out across the rainbow-colored desert. A road-train rollover diverted us onto a buckety little secondary road that ran parallel to the highway. Our little silver car was waved through but the little road was too buck-and-roll-ish for larger vehicles; solid men and women in Akubra Hats and neon vests waved long-haul trucks onto a graded clearing by the side of the road. There were dozens of them.



I'd never seen so many road trains in one place- all their smoke and blare and roaring penned up and shut off. Drivers paced and leaned on fenders and smoked cigarettes, their arms crossed and their legs coiled. They smoked steadily, almost languidly, but the thin twisting smoke was like a pilot light under the low, heavy sky - standing outside our car, staring down the noses of the silent trucks, the place felt as though one spark, one touch or rain or cloud from the heavy sky would release all of the ferocious barreling energy of this huge, silent muster.  It was a worrisome thought.




Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pink Flamingo Dreaming



Dear Mr Tabubil,
Wouldn't pink plastic flamingos just add a certain something something to a garden on a wife's birthday morning?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Puppies Shouldn't Be Kept Inside On Nice Afternoons

Ellie, my little tutoring student who drinks only bottled water for fear of red earth, had a rough time of it yesterday.  There was a crisp autumn afternoon waiting for her just outside the window and she was trapped inside with me, doing fractions. Facing heroically away from the window, she watched the clock instead as, mired in slow time, it oozed its way toward the hour.  Sighing, she squirmed and wriggled in her seat like an penned-up puppy.  Buckling down to fractions was simply beyond her.

            "Genevive gets an allowance of twelve dollars - "
            "Oooh!" She sat up.  "That's an interesting coincidence - the dog in the movie Madeline is called Genevive and-"
            "We're doing Word Problems right now, Senorita Procrastination! Genevive gets an allowance of 12 dollars-"
            "That's Spanish, isn't it?  I don't speak Spanish.  But I am learning Japanese.  I even know swear words!  Our teacher isn't allowed to tell us any but there is this one girl who -"
            Genevive gets an allowance of twelve dollars every week -"
            "Really?" Ellie stared dreamily off into the middle distance. "You know, that's pretty unfair.  I'm pretty sure I don't get any allowance.  But I do get Christmas money.   And birthday money.   And Easter money, and Mum let me buy the shirt I'm wearing last week in Jay Jays -"
            "-She Spends Two Thirds Of It On Sweets and has two dollars left at the end of the week.  How much did she spend on sweets?"
            Ellie groaned heart-rendingly.  "You're trying to kill me with these, aren’t you?  And then you're going to make me take them home and do them all for homework. Aren't you?"  She put on a martyred face and looked at me from under her eyelashes.  "You know, I think it's time for your homework now."
Watching me out of the corner of her eye, she put her pencil to the paper and spent some time working out a sum.
            "3999/4999 + 56/67 - 797/1249."  She said, handing me the paper with a flourish.  "You'll need to find the lowest common denominator.  And no calculators, thank you!"

I'm very proud -she's certainly getting the hang of prime numbers.  I think, however, that next week we are going to start learning all about decimals.  And focus more on word problems.  Real life application of fractions can clearly not come soon enough.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Domestic Sunset

Laughter and Life Goals

My sister, just back from eight weeks studying medicine in Rarotonga (Lord, she has a tough life), came to spend a week with us before her next rotation (infectious diseases) began. She is freckled all over, and brown between, as if she'd been baked in an oven to a tropical finish.
            She brought photographs!  Tropical sunsets. Tropical sunrises. My sister on a beach, her hair pinned full of hibiscus flowers. Bucketing up and down mountain roads on a scooter. Mushrooms growing in her shower. Tropical downpours turning the world into soup under a white wall of water.  Mr Tabubil and I breathed very deeply and imagined chucking everything and buying a pup-tent on the beach at Titikaveka. But over there Mr Tabubil wouldn't have his DSL connection, and things would pall, I think.
            She earned her PADI certification on the island, and brought a folder of photos of herself scuba-diving with sharks and moray eels and octopuses and eagle rays, but the most extraordinary photo was one of my sister hanging in mid-water over the edge of the island shelf - she was a stream of bubbles almost lost in a field of blue - a pale butterfly drowned in four thousand meters of dark water.
            It was purely elsewhere.
            It curled my hair.  Echoed inside of my head and shot through my belly like a stream of fireworks.  It made me want to ride tramp steamers into the steaming jungle and ride rocket ships up among the stars.

In the evenings, my sister and I cooked stir-fries out of a book I'd been given as a wedding present.  We went shopping every afternoon for fresh ingredients.  Waiting at the checkout, we grazed the horrible weekly gossip magazines.
            "O.M.G!"  She gasped.  "I can't believe how long I've been out of touch!  Look at how many celebrity couples broke up while I was away!"
            My sister has an amazing laugh.  It ripples, like a brook I met once in Arkansas.  Or like a magpie, swinging at the top of a tree and singing a gurgling song into the wind.  You'd do or say just about anything to make it happen again.  To hear more of it.

She helped us pack for our move, boxing books in the living room while I wrapped wine glasses in the kitchen.   I heard her Howl.
            "You have disgraced me as a sister! How could you- of all people?! - " and then I heard an incoherent wail of outrage.
            "You found the Paris Hilton Biography?" I called cheerfully.
            A gasp. "How did you know?"
            There's only one book on our shelves that would win me a reaction like that.  The book is a masterpiece whose perfection of form brings real tears to my eyes: Paris Hilton - the Blue Banner Biography, by Jennifer Torres.  Regular bookstores don't stock it.  I had to order it specially.
            The back cover says: "Paris Hilton was born into the life of luxury, and right from the start she embraced life and everything it had to offer her.  Growing up in a fancy hotel with maids, butlers and posh surroundings, Hilton wanted her own identity and she struggled to find it.  Photographers began to notice the tall blonde with the piercing blue eyes who started showing up at all the best parties with her equally beautiful sister.  Paris was eventually appearing in magazines everywhere.  She was becoming a fashion icon. Modeling jobs soon followed, but Paris’s true desire was to be an actress.   She was used to getting what she wanted and movie offers began coming in.  Paris discovered that you can make your own destiny with a little hard work and a whole lot of dazzle."
            The book goes on to teach young girls that the greatest dream a woman can dream is to be a very wealthy socialite with your photograph on a perfume advertisement and to have lots of designer handbags.   My very favorite thing about this book is that I first found it in the library of an Ontario Public School. On the Recommended Reading shelf. I have been devoutly praying for a mis-filing ever since.
            I heard that laugh again.
            Then my sister and I packed our kitchen, and she flew away, taking her laugh away with her.

Yapping and Yowing All the Way Home

Our plans for our move were to hire a professional for the furniture and move the rest ourselves down the street to our new house: six doors away at the other end of our street.  Part of the same development as the house we are leaving, this house is brand new, so new that the owners have been busy there all this week, setting paving in the backyard and installing air-conditioning units in the living room.

The Big Move was scheduled for today, but yesterday our plans changed.
On Wednesday, a company representative for our town's one moving company came to give us a quote - and refused to offer us any insurance on the move.
            "Well, Absolutely Not."  She said, with almost creditable astonishment.  "Why would you even want it?!"
I explained - with visual aids.  (exhibit A - our dining room table. Thank You, O Moving Man with arms like hams and the hand-eye coordination of a concussed turtle.)
            "Really?" She said, wide-eyed and wondering.  "You've really seen personal effects being DAMAGED during a move?"
And she filled me with a bathtub's worth of utter nonsense about magical furniture movers who never in the whole of the company's history suffered one drop or spill or scratch, and then she about faced and beat it the hell out of there, promising over her shoulder to telephone with a quote later in the afternoon.
My sister let our her breath in a puff.  
            "WOW."  She said.
The woman never phoned back.  Yesterday, Mr Tabubil telephoned her, and she airily told him that she'd dropped the quote in our mailbox sometime during the night.We dug it out - and ther quote is twice the amount it should be for what they would be doing.
We found the whole situation rather… disquieting, and Mr Tabubil called U-Haul and rented a van instead, for Saturday.  And his friends at the office have all promised us their help until it is done.

This morning, Mr Tabubil called to set up our internet at the new place, and learned that as far as the telecomunications industry is concerned, our new house does not exist.  We're a bit worried about that.

Later in the morning I went over to the new house to see if all was in order and to see if the telephone had been connected.  Two horrible little dogs live next door - one aging chihuahua bitch and one deeply neurotic fluffy white football.  They escorted me to the front door with a sharp fusillade of yapping and yowing.  Not entirely unreasonable, I suppose.  They have no reason to know that there are new people living square in the middle of THEIR territory.

We don't have a phone line yet.  Bathroom and kitchen all okay.  The sliding glass doors to the back and side yards are so badly installed that with the doors closed and latched, the hanging venetian blinds swing back and forth in a stiff draft.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

When I left the house, the horrible little dogs trotted up the driveway and barked their little throats hoarse - from slightly less than a meter away from my shoes. Rotten manners, both of them.  They followed me halfway home, right at my heels, yapping and yowing and sniffing at my sandals whenever they stopped to take a breath.  The little horrors had better adjust to the new state of affairs fast, or they might find themselves being drop-kicked down the street.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Plumber Cometh

The hot water tap in our laundry started leaking last night. This morning I called the real estate agent, who called a plumber, who came around to fix it.  Eventually.

Heavy knock on the door.
            I answered, and found a grizzled man propping himself up against the wall with both arms.
He looked at me out of eyes like caves and wheezed.  
            "You call a plumber?"
            Tripping over the front step, he stopped to carefully close the door behind him, then wobbled down the hallway - one foot carefully in front of the other and still going sideways.
            We entered the laundry -
            "Ah ha." He nodded sagely.  "You've got a leak. I'm going to turn the water off at the main.  Where's your main?"
            "Out front, next to the driveway."
            He spun on his axis, wobbled back out the front door, and tripped over the front step.
            I picked up my phone to call Mr Tabubil. 
            "The plumber is here and he is plastered," I giggled. "Just thought you should know, you know, just in case-"
            I was interrupted by a bellow from outside. 
            "I can't find your water main!  Where do you keep it?"
            I went outside and joined him on the driveway.
            "Isn't this it?" I pointed to the stopcock under his foot.
            "Oh,"  He said. "I was looking at that one" and pointed upwind at the neighbor's water main, six meters away, on the other side of their house.

Shutting off our water he swayed and almost fell, then he wobbled back to the house like a drunken gyroscope and tripped over the front step again. He walked the straight-line DUI walk down the hallway (tacking off the walls) to the laundry and pulled himself together enough to deal with the taps, keeping up a running commentary:
            "Stupid cheap crap in these houses. Crappy cheap houses. Look at this - how old is this place?  Not even a year old. The neoprene washers are ripped to bits.  You know what I'm going to do?  I'm going to put in a real washer, like the ones I use up at the hospital.  How about that?  I worked on some of these houses - I worked on one put together so badly that the roof sheets went up and down in the wind like surf on a beach.  They brought up people from Adelaide to work on these houses - you know why they came?  Because nobody would employ them down there. Cowboys. You said this house was about a year old?  Yeah?  Well, that shouldn't be happening."  He pointed to the windowsill, which is splitting along the seams.  "You'll have to watch the other hot taps in the house.  They'll all go on you.  Catch me paying top dollar for a house like this.  I hope you're renting.  Lets turn the water back on."
            This time he found the main all on his own, but he tripped over the front step going out and coming back.
He turned the tap on and gaped. "Is that all the water pressure you got?"  He said, looking at me owlishly.  "You want more?"
            The low-flow water restrictor in our laundry spigot is 100% water efficient; it is so slow that if Penelope of Ithaca had lived in our house, she'd have chosen ye old "washing her hair" dodge instead of spending twenty years weaving her shroud, and she'd have seen off that entire unwelcome mob of suitors before she'd managed to work up a single sud.
            Mr Tabubil, however, being hale, hearty and safe at home in Ithaca, I drew myself up and asked "Are you implying, Sir, that in the desert, in this time of deep concern for our national water resources, I would even for a moment consider appropriating more than my fair share of the common water trust?"
            And I will stand by that statement if and where necessary.
            The plumber blinked turned carefully around, tacked carefully back down the hallway - and tripped over the front step.  Whereupon he looked at me, wheezed, and got back in his truck.
            I didn't dare stay to watch him pull out.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Buzz on the Playground Circuit

One of my tutoring students caught me filling a glass of water at the sink and informed me that you must Never Ever Drink the Water Here!  Three years ago, a man died here of drinking the water - and when they cut him open for the autopsy - his belly was packed full of Red Desert Earth.
            "You only ever drink bottled water" Ellie told me solemnly. "If you drink from the tap you're taking a terrible risk. My Mum and Dad do it, but I'm young and I can't afford to put my whole life in danger."

            "Goodness." I said, somewhat inadequately. "So - you live on Soda? Fruit Juice? - "
            "Oh I drink water - but not from the tap.  When I'm at school my Mum buys bottles of water and she puts them in the fridge so that they're nice and cold when I drink them.  She even breaks the seal on the bottle for me so that I don't have any trouble opening them when I come in from in really thirsty from playing with my friends."
            "She is a good Mum, isn't she?"  I said, smiling widely.
            Ellie nodded solemnly.  "She understands."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dogs and Birds

I have just seen something rather beautiful.
            On the playing field near our house, I saw a dog chasing a bird.  The dog, a big German Shepard was running, at full tilt (head down, tail flat) after a pink galah.
            It didn't look good - the galah was in a flat sprint and the dog was gaining.  The dog drew level and snapped his head up at the body of the bird, and then, suddenly he shifted gears and his predatory race turned into a springing lope and the bird leveled out in flat glide and they stayed there, together and I realized - They were playing.
            I stood and watched.  The bird circled round and set down perhaps 20 meters from the dog and the dog would put up his head and gallop flat out and the bird would lift off - but never higher than the height of the dog's shoulder and as the dog caught up with it, they'd glide together until the bird had to flap its wings to regain altitude - or land. 
            They must have done it seven or eight times while I watched, until the bird tired and lifted off and settled in a tree.
            The poor dog was left with no companions but a small crested dove - who did not react with quite so much...equanimity... to his overtures. (An explosion of feathers and a torrent of screeched profanity was about what happened after that.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recipe: Hollandaise Sauce - I have found my bliss. Thank you.

Last night Mr Tabubil and I both suffered a severe case indigestion.  And this morning we are united in the confidence that we don't need to eat for, like, a week.
            We have started evening cooking classes.  Our first class was held last night - it was such fun and the food was was sooooo good that I had planned to write all about it but, frankly, my abdominal region is feeling sort of wobbly just thinking about it.  It wasn't that we ate such vast quantities of food - it was just that what we ate was so terribly rich.
            I shall try.
            It's a great class: ten happy students and Saul, a chef who chef who oozes enthusiasm for butter and fresh vegetables and expectorates disdain for pacojets and vacuum chambers.  We were three minutes late arriving and found everyone already there and knee-deep in a passionate discussion - about butter, naturally.  Everyone beamed and shouted hello and ran about showing us where to find our aprons and knives and the chef cracked three jokes at us in a row - it was all so friendly and jolly that we relaxed at once and set ourselves to having a marvelous time.
            We are doing 6 weeks of French cooking, so I stuffed my purse full of Lactaid - sensible forward planning, it turned out - I think even Mr Tabubil dove for the Lactaid bottle half way through crisping the potatoes.  As a simple opening lesson, we were taught how to do Chateaubriand - in classical fashion.  It was stunning and OMG (classically speaking) Mr Tabubil and I are such very very good cooks - better than I had ever imagined we could be!  
            At last I have learned how to cook beef without turning it into BBQ'd shoe leather.  (There was one memorable evening back in Toronto where I mistook pork chops for steak and cooked them until there was not one bit of pink left in them.  It took almost an hour. The apartment was black with smoke, and the steak was caramelized carbon with a leather inseam, but Mr Tabubil gallantly swore that if you put on enough BBQ sauce, you could scarcely taste the charcoal.  Things have never improved much since.)
            Saul taught us how to "turn potatoes" which is a horribly wasteful technique of chopping the ends off and carving them into barrel shapes - very traditional, but my Papua New Guinea-bred sense of "OMG Look- Fresh Vegetables! In the same room as me!" was appalled.  Also I stabbed myself with the tiny paring knife.
            We learned how to trim and season and sear the meat in a pan full of oil and whole udder's worth of butter- and then popped it into the oven to roast.  And then do the same for the root vegetables.  Sizzle sizzle sizzle.  (That's the sound of my arteries clotting.  Not the potatoes.)
            And while they were cooking, we learned how to make genuine OMGoodness (see previous classical allusions) Hollandaise sauce.  Mr Tabubil couldn't move his right arm at all this morning, it was so stiff from all the whipping, but a right arm was a sacrifice well borne.  The sauce tasted like memories of mornings on the Gold Coast with Dad - when he and I would creep out early and sit in the sunrise at one of the little cafes in Main Beach and order Eggs Benedict and read the paper and drink orange juice for hours, until the sky was flat and blue above us.
            Saul passed out silver (TM) trays and taught us how to carve the meat and lay it out surrounded by the vegetable in radiating array and drape hollandaise all over all.
("Why don't you just say 'pour?"  "Because it's not classy, that's why!  And this meal is classy!  So you drape!")   We ladled on beef jus (a good jus takes all day, so this one was prepared ahead of time) and then we moved into a dining room and ate and ate!
            We weren't particularly elegant - it was eight o'clock by the time we sat down to dinner, so we simply wolfed it all down and a blessed person (peace be upon her) went back for a bowl of hollandaise and we all behaved quite disgustingly and ate spoonfuls of the stuff.
           And talked hugely.  Everyone is lovely and we were sort of high on the amazing food - okay, and also on the microbrewery beer Saul brought.  And the bottles of wine everyone else brought.  But mostly the food.
            And then we rolled home and sat on the sofa and undid our trouser buttons and groaned.
I may manage half a cucumber a few hours from now, perhaps, but this is not an eating sort of day-after!

And now the recipe:


Sauls's Chateaubriand with Root Vegetables and Hollandaise Sauce

(as compiled by Tabubilgirl in between spooning up the butter and beef jus)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.

Vegetables:  

Take3  or 4 Juicing Carrots (small and fresh and juicy!) and 3  or 4 Lady Cristal Potatoes per person (or another potato suitable for roasting).  

Peel the potatoes, or turn them with a paring knife (but the latter only if you are being silly and have lots of time to waste and a good stock of bandaids in your medicine cabinet.)  Peel the carrots and slice them in half (or turn them - see note above.)
Put the vegetables onto a plate and cover with glad wrap.  Microwave until they offer no resistance to a knife.  Remove from microwave, remove glad wrap and let the vegetables steam for a few minutes.
(For really SERIOUSLY good vegetables - nuke until they're practically falling apart.)

Prepare the Steak:

Acquire lovely eye fillet (plan 250g uncooked meat per person.)

Take a boning knife and holding it with the blade pointed away from the meat, slice off the sinewy bit along the edge of the steak.  Slide the boning knife underneath the strings of sinew across the face of the meat and carefully shave them off.

Over a hot flame, put a slug of neutral-flavored oil (ie vegetable oil) into a pan.   Add approximately one whole udder’s worth of butter.  Toss (by shaking the pan rather than stirring with a spoon because that is how real chefs do it) until hot and bubbly.

Season the steak: cover profusely with salt - roll the steak around so that salt gets all rubbed in to the meat.  Cover liberally with pepper – apply the same way.  Do not season the meat until just before it is needed, or the spices will begin to cure the meat and draw the moisture out of the flesh.  

Drop the steak in the pan – sear all over (all the edges and corners!), until the meat is crusted brown-black and the butter is brown and caramelizing.  Yum!

If you are using a solid iron non-teflon pan, pop the pan containing the meat into the oven.  If you don't have a plain metal pan, transfer the steak (and buttery goodness) in oven-proof dish (pre-heated for real Saul-style chef-cred) and put the dish in oven.

Start another pan full of bubbling oil and butter.  Once bubbling hotly, season the veggies with salt and pepper (mild-to-moderately, this time) and drop into the pan for a few minutes, until crisp and crusted looking, then put the veggies into the pan in the oven along with the meat.

Keep the meat in oven for 15-ish minutes till medium rare.

Remove the pan from oven and wrap the meat in tinfoil or a tea-towel and let it sit for a while - at least 10 minutes. (If you cut and serve meat straight away, the inside will be raw and there will be a distinct gray line between cooked and raw meat.  Also, it will not ooze delicious meaty juices when you cook it.  Letting the meat sit allows the cook-ed-ness to  move all the way through the meat!)

 And now the really good stuff:

Hollandaise Sauce:

Separate 4 eggs.  Do whatever you want with the whites.  Put yolks into cheap metal bowl with 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons water and one tablespoon French mustard (good quality brand).

Whisk with a nice whisk till comprehensively blended.

Melt 250g of butter in the microwave and set it aside to clarify.

The hollandaise must emulsify over a water bath, so set a pot of water to boil -with only an inch or two of water in the bottom of the pot so there can be an air space between the boiling water and the bowl of ingredients: the emulsion must not be cold, and must not be too hot or it will separate and the eggs will cook (but you will probably have amazing scrambled eggs.)

Put the bowl containing the egg mix over the water bath.  Whisk like blazes and do not stop whisking.  Watch the emulsion thicken.  Pay attention to the sauce at the edges of bowl – it might get all nasty and coagulated up there.    

Have someone pour in a very generous pinch (or even two pinches.  Or three) of white pepper.  

Continue whisking till the sauce becomes all ribbony (which means that a drop will stand on top of the mix for a couple of metaphorical beats (shorter than seconds but longer than whisks) before vanishing back into it.)

Take your sauce off the heat and while whisking continuously pour (or preferably, have someone else pour) the butter into the mix in a thin, not necessarily continuous, stream.  (The butter must not be too hot – or it will curdle the eggs)  Pour until you are down to the clarified milk solids and stop.   You don’t need the milk solids.  

Add more pepper if necessary.

Dice a handful of parsley.

Taste, say mmmmmm, taste again, have someone take the bowl of perfect hollandaise away from you and put it in a warm place to rest until the meat is ready. (on top of the oven is lovely.)

Get out a silver tray. (very important.  The negative aesthetics of copper, ceramic and melamine affect the digestion.)  Slice the meat and lay the slices along the middle of the tray.  Arrange the potatoes and carrots around the meat in an elegant radial assembly.  Spoon hollandaise generously along the meat in an elegant yellow ribbon.   

Sprinkle with parsley.   

Take a photograph because it is so very pretty, then take the bowl of hollandaise sauce and leave the steak and veg to everyone else!