SIMPLE THINGS

The best things in life are free – good days at the beach, warm fires, fresh air, being with loved ones, laughing at dad jokes that are not even funny. This includes free lunches, which come close to being free because someone else is paying. The most free lunches I have ever had have been with my parents, those generous people J. and C, who used to pack my school bag, who would shout me a meal when I went to uni, who would stuff cash into an envelope for my birthday when I knew what side to butter my bread on and really should have been paying my own way. But this is not a food blog about free things, not quite. This is a blog about simple things. Free things are not always simple, not even close to it sometimes. And simple things are not always free, but there is, I think, a relationship between the two that suggests a deep connection is there, a connection worth holding onto.

I had one of those days recently. I was driving a VIP down to the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. For the first time in my life, I understood what it was to be a driver who looks after tourists. I suddenly realised the things I needed to do while my guest was getting ready. For the first hour of our drive, he attended to his work, for the second couple we spoke easily enough. We stopped for a toilet break then I took him to his hotel. I asked him if he needed thirty minutes alone to prepare for his upcoming talk. In that time, I worked at light speed – going to re-fuel the car (something a passenger should never see) not forgetting to clean the windshield. Then I ate a pie from the local bakery, chowing down like a maniac on the main road as a I walked up to get the papers for him, then I had a ‘backpacker shower’ in the car-park rolling on some deodorant, and making it back to his hotel. I escorted him to the festival and then, while he was talking, ran some errands for my mum who I was staying with that weekend. She asked me to get some bread, and, dedicated readers this is where it gets interesting.

It was 4pm in Margaret River. You know what that means. You might guess that the surf is up late in the day or that the fish are about to come on or the little birds in the bush are singing out. But that is not what concerns us here. What matters is that the Margaret River Woodfired Bread is pulling its loaves from the oven. That is the simple thing that I dream of. It could be the best bread you have had in your life and I say that as the grandson of a truly great baker. Warm, soft and crusty, piping with steam and hot in your hand, baked fresh and ready to go. I am ripping it off in hunks so that by the time I get home, one loaf has been decimated and I have a pain in my stomach.

But I make it back then still hungry for more. I keep going, but thinking ahead and seeing an opportunity, I go out to the veggie patch and rip rocket and coriander, kale, watercress, parsley off at the base. This is the first harvest of the year for me and I put that on the bread with a little cheese. This is fucking living. I am so entranced by my feed that I all but forget my VIP, and, I look at the clock and race back to the festival to collect my guest. His session has gone well and he has decided he will hang around instead and make his own way back to town a little later on. I am free. My work as a driver, which began at five this morning, has ended. I am released. With a full belly and flour down my shirt, I head to the coast, thinking about casting a line in the water and watching the late afternoon waves pound the rocks with a gentle fury. This is fucking living.






SAUMA CURRY FOR EIGHT

In another life of mine, I volunteer with PEN International, which advocates for the responsible freedom of expression and the release of wrongfully imprisoned writers. Although we are a worldwide organisation, it gets a little tricky being critical of some governments and it is not always easy to be a journalist, poet, playwright, novelist, or writer under some regimes. It can get you in trouble. What that means being where I am is a certain responsibility to call out human rights abuses at home from refugee detention to media freedom, data retention, mass surveillance, all of which are increasingly important in our digital era. The other night, the Perth chapter brought over a high profile journalist who was imprisoned, and, after listening to his talk, we went out for dinner, as you do.

He was staying at the Alex Hotel, just a short walk from the State Library, and we decided it would be best to keep it local. That meant the whole of Northbridge was in our backyard and so there was a world of choice on our doorstep. Would we go sushi at nearby Aisuru? Would we go modern Lebanese at Hummus Club? Would we opt for pizza at Comet? In my humble, food blogging opinion, these were all worthy choices. The only request from our guest was that no tripe or okra was served. Keeping this in mind and not wanting to disappoint, we decided to find the place that was most likely to serve these slimy specialities. We were hoping, of course, to trigger his memory of being in jail. Alas, no one would come to the table and we settled for a curry instead, down the road at Sauma.

There were 8 of us and we needed a good feed. We left it to mum to order for us, not on account of racial profiling though she certainly has the expertise, but rather because she knows how to handle a group situation and balance the flavours that make a meal more than the sum of its dishes. And so, after a short wait, the curries arrived – mushroom and pea, roast eggplant, fish in banana leaf, legumes. You might be thinking, what is a legume curry. I thought that myself, legumes after all, being a kind of catch all from beans to peas and everything in between. This was red kidney beans, some black lentils, and some unknown ingredients, all of which would suggest that ‘legume curry’ was, in actual fact, an apt description.

And so, we munched on curry and talked the night away, spending time thinking aloud about the war on terror, the state of security, why everyone is exhausted by Israel-Palestine, what matters more than being at home, and why we had not ordered enough naan and why there was no dum aloo on the menu at all. I knocked back a few beers, but kept it in order. I was with the white haired brigade and I had driving duties in the morning.

In between, I managed to have a good conversation about poetry with someone at the table, who, to my absolute amazement, kept her white silk shirt completely clean as we made our way through thick gravy. There was no safety net and this was a high wire act, and yet, she did admirably well.


I thought about what it was to got out for curry, something I rarely do, and though it will never be as good as mum’s, there was enough to like at Sauma that I would return for. My only regret was that I did not get pani puri, but that might be for another time, when PEN brings over another guest, who wants to get their feet wet in Indian street cuisine’s tamarind glory. And that might be all we can hope for, that we get another chance to host someone else, that they can find in life after prison a little good taste in a restaurant that does not put on airs but simply puts on a few good curries and a pleasant atmosphere.