Friday, February 29, 2008

WARY OF EGGPLANTS

I've always been wary of eggplants.

They are a notoriously difficult vegetable to deal with. Sure, i've had my successes, for instance, with my famous baba ghanoush dip, which i serve with turkish bread. The baba ghanoush dip is made with tahini, greek style yoghurt, lemon, cracked pepper, and char-grilled eggplant. And if i want to get fancy, i sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds. But to get the best taste out of the baba ghanoush, the eggplant really does have to be completely blackened for that smoky, roasted eggplant flavour, and it's a messy job peeling out the flesh. Eggplants, aubergines, brinjal - call them what you will - they are problematic little buggers.

Eggplant are complex, bitter, and seedy. Just like journalists. But by slicing them thinly, covering them with salt and then rinsing them, you can remove a lot of the bitterness, and throw them straight onto the barbie plate. The eggplants, not the journalists.

The eggplant is a bit like a giant olive: it tastes awful without careful preparation. So when, cycling back along the South River Road late one afternoon, i spied an eggplant lying in the middle of the road, i was understandably cautious.

I slowed to a stop beside the elongated ovoid. It had a slight nick out of its dark purple skin, otherwise it seemed to be in excellent shape for a vegetable sitting in the middle of the road. Since i am not particularly averse to snaffling items that have fallen from the backs of trucks, i picked it up and put it in my camera bag, thinking, mmm, baba ghanoush.

When i got back to the Hacienda, Mickey T, Louis and Richard The Oyster Farmer were there, along with the ubiquitous Carton Of Corona. We cracked a few, and cooked up some scallops. And drank a few more. Richard The Oyster Farmer told us about the year he and his brother spent kayaking up the northern Queensland coast to New Guinea, navigating by the stars. Mickey T spoke about the days he spent trekking through the wilds of the Peruvian jungle, chewing wild coca leaves and making love to the native women. I told them about the hours i once spent lost in a Melbourne department store. We became collectively shemozzled. That's just how it was in those days.

The following morning i had to work. It was the Gascoyne Junction Centenary Cricket Match, and the Shire of Carnarvon community engagement officer (or Miss Carnarvon, as she was affectionately known) and her boyfriend picked me up at some ungodly hour to drive the 160km to the cricket ground. I immediately fell asleep in the back of her car. When i awoke in Gascoyne Junction, i checked my camera bag, only to find a fine specimen of solanum melongena lurking under the velcro. The eggplant. Well, that's only going to get in the way, photos, i thought, put it on the floor of the Subaru, and went out to shoot some sports photos.

I took a couple of pictures of the cricketers, drank a beer, then fell asleep under some shady trees. I woke up and hitched a ride back to Carnarvon with a bus full of The Elderly.

A day or two later i realised i had left an eggplant in the back of Miss Carnarvon's car.

This presented a serious problem. There was no doubt she would find it, and try to figure out where it came from. She would immediately narrow down the possibilities to that sleepy journalist she had in the back of her car a few days before. And she would think: why did he do that. Why did he, unbeknownst to me, hide an eggplant in the back of my car.

I have no idea what i would think if someone hid an eggplant in my car. But let there be no doubt about it: i would demand an explanation. Perhaps they could be forgiven if we had been at a growers' market and it had fallen from their bag. But Miss Carnarvon and i were going to a cricket match at Gascoyne Junction. There was no earthly reason why anyone should be harbouring an eggplant.

A call would have to be made.

"Hello?"
"Oh, hi Miss … ah, Olivia, it's Mark."
"Oh, hi Mark. What can I do for you?"
"Look, um, i'm just calling to call to let you know, um, well … i left an eggplant in the back of your car."
A pause.
"Did you say you left an eggplant in the back of my car?"
"Yes, i mean, i don't want it back or anything. I'm just letting you know that it's there."
A longer pause.
"O-kay ... "
"I didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident. Okay, bye."

Well, i thought.
That went about as well as could be expected.

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