An age of difference

Playing around with the flavours for oysters.
Playing around with the flavours for oysters. Photo: David Reist

I'm going to have to get this off my chest early; otherwise, it will be the dark cloud that will engulf all my thoughts. OK, deep breath, it's 2013, which means I'll be turning fif … Try again. This year, I'll officially be half a cent … No, can't do it. Cannot speak those words.

But just about everyone I know has either just turned that age or is about to. I go to all these parties and think, ''Why am I here with all these old people and why are they celebrating?'' And, ''Why these speeches about the ladder of life, cricket and ding-dong youth's gone!''

I tell the kids, all chipper, ''Hey, it's the new 40s!'' At which point their iPads, iPhones, television screens go quiet and a distant cricket creaks. ''Like, dad!'' they say in chorus. ''That's, like, still way old.''

So now I sit watching morning television and wonder whether I need a circulation booster or should just go for a walk and what multivitamin I should use. Suddenly, everyone wants to insure you, and I'm also supposed to choose a funeral plan and move to a neat complex with other self-satisfied, grey-headed, shiny-teethed pre-retirees.

As you can see, I need to explain my mood. You might pass me on the street and notice my usual quiet, confused demeanour and think there's nothing wrong. But there is; heaps, actually. Internally, it's a huge battle between good and evil. Think Batman and Bain, Optimus Prime and Megatron, Peter Griffin and the giant rooster.

You can fight it all you want, but the reality is you find yourself doing stuff your grandparents used to do. Like worrying about every health issue. A pain in the left arm is an impending heart attack; you forget something and it's early-onset Alzheimer's. You turn to the web. What on earth is that, arthritis? Piblokto?

I did find ominous comfort during the Christmas break visiting Berrima, Leura and Berry. It's as though all of a sudden I want to surround myself with bric-a-brac. On our annual visit to the Blue Mountains, I used to feel far more at home over in grungy Katoomba with all the tattooed and unwashed, but now I get nervous, and I'm more at home in the Leura mall, full of old furniture and umbrellas. We left with a car full of lamps and I'm thinking surely we have lamps at home already.

Near Berry, we stayed with a friend who, yes, is turning 50 - bugger, I said it - in 2013, too. She has this lovely holiday house in the hinterland, with a lot of lamps, on a little clearing surrounded by rainforest that looks down the valleys towards Berry.

Her father, of Polish extract, was an old-fashioned gourmand. He had a well-known delicatessen in the eastern suburbs in Sydney and was a man about town in the restaurant industry in the 1970s and '80s. On the cookbook shelf sits a copy of Tony Schmaeling's French Provincial Cooking (Lansdowne Press, 1981). He was asked by Viva Holidays to spend a year in France and write a cookbook. And as you would expect, that's exactly what he did. He visits the main provinces and regional restaurants such as Capucin in Nancy, Nandron in Lyon and La Rotisserie in Chambertin. These mostly very serious dudes took the chef's hat seriously. How you cook with a tower on your head, I'll never know.


Foie gras en terrine, quiche Lorraine, quenelles of pike, coq au vin, gratin dauphinoise, soup au pistou, bouillabaisse, pithivers, rillettes, clafoutis and cassoulet de Castelnaudary. It's a snapshot of good food 30 years ago and I couldn't stop reading it. He must have been way ahead of his time, before we realised that chefs could be celebrities, before reality TV, before everyone who has ever been near a kitchen writes a cookbook. The 2012 winner of MasterChef - a plumber, I think - has a cookbook. I'm more interested in his plumbing career as a mini-series.

Because it is summer and we are near the coast, oysters are on my mind. In Nowra, you can get fantastic Sydney rock oysters at the fishing co-op. They're some of the best I've had since we left Tasmania years ago - small yet plump, firm yet giving, sweet and briny.

In Schmaeling's book, the only oyster recipe comes from Normandy. You poach them in white wine then coat them in a milk batter, deep-fry them and serve them with a veloute. Which, I guess, is a way of attacking them, especially if you don't really like the oyster flavour and texture, much like Kilpatricking them.

For me, just freshly shucked with cracked pepper and bread is a fine, outdoorsy way of eating them, or you can add Tetsuya's ginger and rice wine vinaigrette. I've been playing around with cold-smoking seafood with tea, which works really well with oysters. The gentle, aromatic smoke just cuts the seashore character but doesn't cook them.

Once again, thinking about food cheers me up immensely. I feel positively euphoric now, so today, at least, I'm not going to go all crazy Inuit on you.


Tea-smoked oysters with Tetsuya's ginger and rice wine vinaigrette

2 dozen unopened oysters

1 shucking knife

bowl of ice

30g Russian caravan tea, or any fragrant black tea

chives to garnish

salmon roe to garnish (optional)

1. In a largish heat-proof container with a tight-fitting lid, place the freshly opened oysters on a rack over the bowl of ice.

2. Put the tea in a heat-proof bowl just away from the oysters. Using a little blow torch (like the one you'd use for brulee), ignite the tea and quickly seal the large container. Leave for 10 minutes, then repeat until the tea is all charred.

3. Serve with the vinaigrette below, a sprinkle of chives and a dollop of the salmon roe, if using.


1 tsp ginger, minced

4 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

6 tbsp grapeseed oil

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp lemon juice

Mix dressing ingredients together in a jar.