Wednesday, 2 January 2008
New Year Eve evening. We (16 adults and 12 kids) are sitting under the portico somnolent and swollen after consuming 9kgs of pork on a bed of fennel, pomegranate, lemon and orange along with a 5kg schnapper (see recipe in entry below) and a 3kg pinkie done with no trimmings, to let the "caught less than an hour ago" taste shine through.
It's 43C. the wine is flowing, the kids are playing tappity-run cricket in the drive way. We're relaxing in the gloaming and I am basking in the compliments of my friends. Furry is dehydrated and gnarky, having run a woodfired oven at 800c in a 42C day, but no matter.
Talk turns to last years riots on the MP, and the statistical anomaly of 16 friends knowing 29 people who've lost a parent this year. Just the age we are, hey?
The blokes are hatching a plan to rig up microspray jets under the pergola, to mist us for tomorrow's scorching heat. Any excuse for a Bunnings run, eh?
Our reverie is unteruppted by someone calling my name. Someone who sounds as if they're crying. I leap up from my chair and peer over the fence. Our beloved next-door-neighbour Bill and his wife are looking at me mournfully.
It's Bill's Name Day tomorrow. They have 25kgs of lamb, skillfully split and marinated by Bill's brother, waiting to be spit roasted. Bill is 80 and has never celebrated his Name Day since he came to Australia at 17. But now, for reasons unknown, he's decided to. Invited all his family and friends, and has the lamb ready to go. In the bath, as we speak, he explains.
Except. It's a Total Fire Ban tomorrow. The CFA are clear. No. Spit. Roasting.
Can we cook it in our oven for them? I am thrilled to be able to help out Bill and Margaret on such an auspicious occasion. I ignore my inner Mater Beige, telling me I couldn't POSSIBLY do it, I'm not good enough, I'll bugger it up and spoil his day and people will hate me.
A cross-cultural conversation ensures. Is Nick home? He'll know what to do. Maybe Little Nick in Fig Street might have a roasting pan big enough for 25kgs of lamb. You don't know him? He's Big Nick's cousin. No, not Dirty Nick, Big Nick! Yes. the one married to Helen. Not Elena, Helen... the ones from Keilor. Oh, That's CON's cousin.. sorry.
Alas, even after confering with all the Nicks in Little Samos, no-one has a pan big enough for 2 x 12.5 kgs orf lamb. They'll have to be jointed. Bill's heart breaks as his vision of 2 side by side lambikins slowly revolving over a charcoal pit shatters. No matter, he says, his gruff manner hiding his heart break. It's all good, we'll still have lamb. Con and Nick are summond to joint the beasts. Louis is there too, but with a name like that he can't be trusted to do anything but help me wrap them in foil. I might be part-Greek, or "nearly Greek", as Elena likes to tell me, but jointing the carcasses is a job for someone called Toula, or Con, or Ephiginea. Not me.
So, as soon as the clock chimes 12.00, it's off to bed with Furry and I. The alarms are set for 5.30am. I cringe on the inside, remembering how much wine I've consumed, but when you're on the outer circles of the Dromana Greeks, and one of the inner circle ask for your help, you put such things as hangovers aside. Maybe after this we won't be known as "the mad skippies with the oven" any more.
We're up at sparrows fart. The oven is still blood temp, but all the ashes from last night's firing must be removed, and the oven swept clean before we re-fire it. 2 hours of carefully setting last years vine clipping and split red gum before we see the golden glow of the dome. The signal that the oven has reached perfect cooking temp.
I gulp and beat my inner critic areound the ears, as I am solemnly handed tray after tray after tray of this precious lamb. More than anything, I want to help Bill out and contribute in some small way to his name day. If only to say thanks for being the world's best neighbour. Furry and I spend the next 5 hours turning the trays of lamb every 45 mins, to ensure a thorough and even cooking. We periodically baste the lamb in oregano, olive oil and lemon juice.
The smell is heavenly.
The outdoor temp rises to 34+. The temp inside the oven stabilizes at about 550C. We're roasting, in more ways than one. Friends follow through on last night's suggestion and put up the micro-misters under the pergola. Our back are wet through, but we dry off instantly as we return, every 45 mins to the oven for another rotation.
Finally, Bill comes over and pronounces them cooked. It's 1.30, and we've been at it since 5.30am. Furry and our friend Matty and Bill groan under the weight of the lamb as they carry them next door. On Furry's return, I greet him with a St George's beer, and we collapse under the micro sprayers to the cheers and applause of our friends, all who have taken it in turn to rotate the trays, or bring our more marinade, or mop our sweaty brows as they pass us.
I reckon I've lost 5kgs in this mornings sweat bath.
Next door we hear shouts and cheers as Bill and Margaret unveil the perfectly cooked lamb. Throaty shouts of "Yasou Furry!!! Yasou Ella!!" drift over the fence. Bill and Margaret's grandkids, grand nieces and nephews, random kids off all descriptions join our mob in the street for more cricket. Margaret smiles as our god-daughter, Beck goes "slips" in their front yard.
We are sublimely happy.