Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brunswick Cassoulet


It's not an anti-vegan post - but is about the gratuitous consumption about the flesh, fat and bones of fellow living creatures... hmmmm,

Ducks are one of the few animals I like living as much as I like them roasted and succulent and sliding down my gullet.

Last week Melbourne faced a big fat chill that had everyone grumbling in public, fumbling with woollies and thermals and rugging up.( I know Sydney is miserable in winter but it isn't actually cold). I spent about 3 days in thermic misery before my New England cellular memory kicked in and I started feeling ok with the bracing feeling of cold pores and goose flesh wherever my thermals or polar fleecy had slipped...

It isn't that cold either - hovering around ten degrees, and 6 at night... but the feeling of cold and a deep need for slow snuggle food, reminded me that unlike Sydney, melbourne does facilitate the cooking and consumption of one of the great northern European comfort foods..... hmmmm..... cassoulet.

Cassoulet sounds like french for casserole - and it's kind of what it is, basically beans cooked in duck fat. My gallstone rotates just thinking about it, and my arteries harden..... -oh - but it is so unbelievably succulently wonderful, that....

My first cassoulet came out of a tin in Belle ile en Mer, about 8 years ago. I'd been sitting on a cliff face, doing my standard hypothermic plein-aire in ski gear act, when I heard a strange low moan howling around me, and realised it was me, involuntarily groaning as the wind gushed and ocean pounded and roared beneath me, and salt spray rose and stung me on the face.

At the time, I wasn't sitting on the exact cliff face shown in the pic above - but I have sat there before and since, and this pikkie gives you the general impression of intense cold and wind.....

Anyway - after catching my moans, I packed up my oilsticks and canvas, and staggered back to casa abel, were I gulped down some whisky while she opened a tin, and poured it into a pot on the stove......

In france - even tinnned food is gourmet - and this was an amazing revelation of the divine power of fat, to warm, soothe, comfort and tantalize the tasetbuds.

The key to cassoulet is 'confit de canard', for which the crude translation is 'duck jam'. It's a way of preserving the duck thighs in a generous amount of duck fat and salt, somewhat akin to corning beef. Our local deli sells confit style prepared duck legs for $5 a pop - but the proper ones are still almost raw, and need to be cooked slowly with some exquisite grease absorbing vegetable or bean...

I was inspired to buy some tinned confit de canard, combining them with fresh toulouse sausages and the special type of haricots blanc, that in Chili are called "porotos granados" and that you can get fresh once a year in long grainy red bods..... so that was how I learned to make the mayhem cassoulet.

Back in the antipodes - it never got that cold, so I'd never bothered, till now.

I took the tram into vic Markets and wandered over to the gourmette deli section, asking for duck confit. the french stall had some Perigord confit for $52 a tin (note to self, I thought: must stock up on 11 euro tins of duck confit if I ever go back to Europe), but after my eyebrows ascended my chrome dome in flabbergastination, they directed me towards the gourmette fowl stalls on the other side - where I could procure ONE confit thigh - shrink wrapped in vacuum sealed plastic for a mere $12.50. It would have to do. I wandered around the various sausage stalls till I found the nearest continental approximation of Saucise de toulouse ( Chorizo and Karakowska don't quite work for this), and picked up some dried canneloni beans, got the tram home, popped the beans in some water to soak overnight, and went out and got drunk.

Fortunately I'd had the foresight to prepare some stock a few months earlier from a peking duck that we bought from Footscray late last year to share with Renaissance girl's mum. We've also inherited her crock-pot - so this seemed like a fitting tribute, as well as a cosy entree into winter.

One saturday morning, I plugged in the crock pot, extracted the confit duck leg, and plonked it in the bottom, with the duck grease. I chopped up an onion, and some garlic, and put them in the fat. I then threw on the four italian sausages (which kind of doubled as a bouquet garni) and the drained beans. I then hauled the block of frozen duck stock and fleshy bones out of the freezer and banged it on the top. then I went back to bed for 12 hours. (OK - I turned the crock pot down from high to low after 7 or 8 hours)

When I recovered from the hangover, Renaissance girl and I filled our bellies and our souls with soft, creamy, beany, meaty goodness. Yum Yum.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

post-protodoctor purgatroid

It is done. finally.

Five years, two months, four deaths, 107000 words, two volumes, five countries, 54 subjects, a messy divorce, two heartbreaks, two house moves, two departments, a stomach ulcer, lots of blogging, lots of chocolate, lots of codeine.

Submission was - of course, delightful - so was sydney - for the first 4 days - and then I came down with a chest infection, that kept me huddled over my laptop, slicing words off the enormous expanding tome, so it could conform to the faculty limits of non-insane theses (ha ha).

I spent the final week feeling weak and wet and overwhelmed, and regretting all the things I couldn't go to, all the people I couldn't see - and then I realised what a relief it is to live somewhere where the pace of life is slower than I am.

On my last day in Sydney - I did two wonderful things - going into AGNSW to sit through the entire Phil Collins (the artist, not the pop-singer) karaoke installation of "the world won't listen".

I don't think I've been as moved by something since hanging out in the Rothgo Room at the Tate Modern.
Inspired - I wandered lonely as a cloud through the botanic gardens down to circular quay where i caught a ferry out to cockatoo island to catch Ken Unsworth's grand piano tribute to his wife, called "a ringing glass".

The space itself is so enormous and overwhelming - it's hard to discern whether I was being affected by the site, or the work. the first four rooms were small, and contained discrete mobile musical installations: a dancing skeleton, a dream sequence, and then a series of miniature grand pianos, and angels - and then finally a discombobulated grand piano suspended from the ceiling.

After this, I walked through two enormous rooms: one set up as a large golden curtained salon with a baby grand in the corner, and the final being an enormous hallway - flanked by parallel sets of five elaborately curtained mirrors, and eight small chandeliers, up to a rather disappointing finale assemblage on the stage, flanked by two large monitors screening the dream sequence projection from room two,

This felt like an interesting translation of the experience of playing piano (the symmetry of left hand and right hand mirrored by the bass and treble clefs, as they span the 5 black keys and 8 white) into walking through a piano playing experience. but the whole thing was so nice and classical, it reminded me of being 10 years old, being a good girl, a docile, well trained, well managed classical music box fantasy of feminine musicality that at a certain point I found it a bit sickening.

Maybe the ghostly emptiness is supposed to evoke grief and nostalgia and the gaps between memory and longing, but I'm not entirely convinced. It's definitely worth the voyage out to cockatoo island - but I felt like I was being let into one man's rather indulgent fantasia - enabled by scale, status and cash, but without a dialogue with the materials or others that would let it transform into something more alive.

So now, I'm back in bleak city, feeling mightily relieved - but - mostly weird.
Lots of people say this is what happens - they describe an emptiness, a feeling of anti-climax, of let-down.

I'm finding it hard to string two words together, and trudge slowly through lukewarm fiction: jeanette winterson's boating for beginners, and gunter grass's memoirs. the weather has hurtled down to single figures and I huddle in bed in my thermals, heater blasting, wondering why I feel so cold here when I survived real winters in the northern hemisphere.

Feeling wary of my tendency to crawl into the study with my morning coffee and sit in front of the computer immobile for hours and hours, I dragged myself into the cold and wet last night to catch Lauren Browns installation at Bus Projects.

After negotiating the treck from the north western to the mid-eastern point of the city, scurrying along and past a myriad of melbourne's famous alleyways with other bay-whipped weather beaten sods, I saw a cluster of jackets outside a doorway, near some bright graffiti and the handpainted number 117 and so I climbed the stairs.

Imagine a stairwell somewhere between 'lanfranchis' and the old 'mop' gallery, opening into a small foyer not unlike 'knot', without the feeling of imminent collapse.

A small foyer, chugged with dark jackets and bare bobbing heads. white painted brick walls, covered with straight red stripes of adhesive velveteen, defining the blobby mob within. someone (the co-colaborator Gemma?) had the canny sense to wear a matching cotton striped top, and the bravery to remove lumpen woollens to display. I wanted to get a photo of stripes on stripes but thought it remiss.

I pressed through the bodies, proffered gold coins for red wine in a white cup, twisted arms towards catalogues, contact lists, and slowly edged my way inwards. Saw a black curtain on my right, and a darkened room on my left. headed to my left, and wandered too close to wear LED's and Bunnings power spots blasted into my retinas,embraced the scheining glare of glittering gold towers of spray painted monochrome glory from the Moreland hard rubbish month, all piled into shrines of mammon.

*sigh* this show was like a jewellery box already; red velveteen fuzz, lining the opening for gloriously glittering golden trash.

I tried to read a catalogue essay from the glint off a spray painted monitor and felt a bit overwhelmed, so I pressed on into the final curtained room, revealing an installation by Julie Traitsis & Rebecca Joseph of lots and lots of speakers and audio players, and monitors, all sequentially squeaking staticky fuzzbots of song fragments. It reminded me of the "guess that song" from triple m, and also of ricky's room in "American Beauty" and I got a bit spooked, and started wondering about cultural capital after I seemed to recognise most of the songs, so I had to leave.

Standing in the golden aweness I overheard one girl saying to another "Yeah... I dunno how someone can come up with an idea, and transform it into.... this, ay? but i guess that's what makes them an artist, and me not". I felt a little more relaxed about my cultural capital and crept on into Lauren's curtained room.

First thing: two death certificates. Second thing, the coffin from her blog, cleaved by white flouro light boxes. Third thing, the row of red painted jack in the boxes, lining the wall. I crept around, felt the objects in the space, wathced others interacting with the works, before winding the handles myself. I don't want to give the game away. It's hard to believe that installation art can have a plot, but sometimes it does...

Opening the curtains, peeking back to the golden room, I wondered why it was arranged like a proscenium, an alter, and why people were gathered around as if it was a stage. Two black clad figures walked into the middle of the set up and animated a couple of suspended golden puppets. To the chants of tibetan throat music, the artists, Nicole Dominic & Sarah Bunting, then garbed each other in golden raiments and latex gloves, and then kneeled at their floor alter, and started to perform a ritualised alchemy of dripping stuff into golden paint. It was so silly as to be exquisitely delightful, and watching the fuddle of the crowd, fumbling for objects that could be dipped and transformed from garbage into glory, spread an ineffable golden warmth throughout the space, of participation, relationship and play. I think that "saints of the apocalypse" is a bit of an OTT title for what was sweet, warm, shiny and funny, but the piece and the performance left me glowing.