Finger Food

January 25, 2013

Is it 2013 already? Well, another year, another blog post… On January 24th I spoke at a Midsumma spoken word event called Art, Sex & Snacks, organised by the gorgeous and funny Lisa Skye. Here is an edited version of what I said.


One of my favourite phrases in the English language is “finger food”.

Partly because it sounds tasty, but mostly because it sounds dirty. There’s something about the word “finger” that just makes everything near it go a little bit Benny Hill. I have the same reaction to the phrase “Pacific Rim”, especially when it relates to cooking.

I have never held a sex party, because I’m the sort of person who gets hung up on the wrong things, like the music, or the décor, but mostly I’d be worried about the finger food. Do you provide snacks at a sex party? People will probably get hungry – or will they have eaten before? If they get too hungry they might leave, but then again, do you want people to linger at a sex party? And what do you provide? Do you go retro and cheeky – devils on horseback, perhaps? Or do you go simple and easy – maybe something from Nigella? Or is that too obvious?

Basically I would ruin a sex party by worrying about the canapes.

And the lack of sex parties in my life has started to worry me. Not that I necessarily want to be going to them now, but I want to have gone to them then, in the past. I’m reaching an age where I’ve started to worry about the roads not taken. I’ve never been to a sex party, I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never been on a hovercraft. I could try to kill three birds by being arrested at a sex party on a hovercraft, but somehow that just seems desperate.

Partly it’s the internet to blame. Through the magic of facebook we can now see all the social events we weren’t invited to. All the parties we didn’t attend, the food we haven’t eaten, the men we never had sex with.

It’s all highly edited, of course. No-one’s going to update their status to say “I’m sitting in a filthy dressing gown while watching repeats of Miss Marple and idly masturbating”. And it’s clearly a First World Problem – no-one in India is tweeting “Granny died from diphtheria today. Lolz!”.

But it still makes me feel like life is a game of musical chairs and the music has stopped and not only do I not have a chair, I’m not even in the same room. And I’m naked and… on fire.. or something.

A friend and I used to play a game called “What’s Madonna Doing Right Now?”. You always think of Madonna as recording a new single, or having a tantrum in a dressing room, or having sex with the linebackers of the San Diego Chargers on a winged chariot made of diamonds while being pulled along by a team of wild swans. But the truth is – at any given moment – Madonna is more likely to be brushing her teeth, or meeting an accountant, or watching a DVD of Swept Away and wondering how it all went so terribly wrong.

For the younger members of the audience, Madonna was a singer, a bit like Kylie Minogue with much scarier arms. She famously recorded a cover version of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way 20 years before Lady Gaga did it. It was called Express Yourself, and was featured on Madonna’s CD “Like A Prayer”.

For the younger members of the audience, a CD was a collection of music you would purchase from a shop in physical form, and insert into your parlour’s stereogram when your pianola had run out of paper rolls and you wanted to do the lindy hop.

For the younger members of the audience, “purchasing music” was something we used to do before the internet came along, making everything free and revealing all the parties we hadn’t been invited to, yadda yadda yadda, thus bringing us full circle.

We can’t see ourselves the way others see us. At the very least, it would hurt your neck, or you’d need to carry a big mirror around at all times, and that would be tiring. but it means we’re all a bit clueless of how we’re come across. Jodie Foster, for example, somehow misses the irony of asking an audience of 250 million people to give her some privacy in the middle of a speech about she’s proudly not coming out. There’s an old story that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was at a party where a woman was telling him about her travels through Africa and Madagascar. Armstrong listened intently, then sighed and said “That sounds amazing – I’ve never been anywhere”.

That story isn’t actually true, of course, but that doesn’t stop it from making my point.

Everyone thinks they’re average. Everyone thinks their experience is normal. Serial killer Ed Gein probably thought that everyone else was making lampshades out of human skin, and mining magnate Gina Reinhart probably thinks that everyone else… is making lampshades out of human skin. Oh, sure that may be unfair, but you can picture it, can’t you? If you found out tomorrow that Gina Reinhard had been making a body suit out of the skins of her victims to wear around the house you wouldn’t be THAT surprised.

But we want to be exceptional. We want to be special. We want to be adored. We want life to be a smorgasbord, not half a box of Jatz crackers and some old hummus you found at the back of the fridge, as it sometimes seems.

But while we’re alive, there’s hope. And if you’re not alive, I think you have bigger issues to concern yourself with. Actually if you’re not alive and you’re here in the audience then either there’s some wacky Weekend At Bernie’s hijinks going on or you’re a zombie, and either way you’re ruining the poignant conclusion of my talk.

Because there is still time. There’s time to make ourselves the people we want to be. Break out the good china. Take down that cocktail shaker. Organise that illegal hovercraft sex party. You can take that last one as a metaphor, if you like.

Become the person who leaves pictures on facebook that makes other people feel bad.

Enjoy what you have, enjoy who you are. It’s an obvious thing to say and yet I feel the need to remind myself all the time.

I was supposed to talk about art, sex and snacks tonight and somehow I ended up talking about self-esteem and identity. But in a way, we’re all made up of our desires, we’re defined by what we want as much as what we are.

Epicurus was a Greek philosopher around 300BC who believed the goal in life was to achieve tranquillity through freedom from fear, the absence of pain and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.

He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared; the gods do not reward or punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.

And that, by the way, is the most poetic passage of wikipedia you could ever hope to find.

His name lead to the word epicurean, defined as one who pursues pleasures, especially those of food, drink, and the body.

Epicurus once said “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not – remember that what you now have… was once amongst the things you only hoped for.”

John Richards is a writer and broadcaster. He wrote quite a bit of Outland, the best ABC1 gay-and-lesbian-science-fiction-fan-club-comedy you will EVER see! Why not buy it on DVD? He is also a presenter on the Boxcutters podcast and (with Ben McKenzie) is part of the Splendid Chaps: A Year Of Doctor Who podcast/performance extravaganza.

The Cauliflower Of Morbius

February 26, 2011

So, I was tidying around the website – polishing the fonts, putting doilies on the html code, that sort of thing – and I found this image in the comments that you may have missed the first time around. Either enjoy the sheer inconguity of it, or if you’d like to know why this exists read our review of The Doctor Who Cookbook and the follow-up article.

No, you’re welcome.

Thank you to David AA for his photshopping expertise, and why not buy a copy of The Brain Of Morbius from Part proceeds go toward buying John coffee. Or buy the Doctor Who double pack of Kinda and Snakedance just because they’re both grouse and have giant snakes in them.

Beverage-Based Insults

August 15, 2009

Today’s guest lecturer, Tim Richards, looks at the controversial topic of libation vilification…


“You are going to have a piece of policy that comes direct from the manic monkey cafe of inner-suburbia nirvana-ville straight to you!”

Well, crikey. When Senator Barnaby Joyce frothed over (like a vigorously prepared cappuccino) with these words in Canberra in June, a few thoughts occurred to me:

1) Canberra has that effect on people.

2) Where can I find this Manic Monkey Cafe?

3) And do they do good lattes?

Which then led me to reflect on the time-honoured practice of conservative commentators using beverages as insults

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Gnocchi By Nature

July 24, 2009

This article originally appeared on the Aerohaveno travel blog, as well as Lonely Planet’s website.


I don’t think there are enough museums dedicated to food.

Yes, I hear you scoff. “What about the Museu de la Xocolata, or Museum Of Chocolate, in Barcelona?” I hear you say. “Or that German Bratwurst Museum in the small village of Holzhausen near the Erfurt in Thuringia?”

Well, yes, those are obvious. But why has Australia never opened a tourist centre to worship the meat pie? Or a National Institute Of Lamington? Not only would these centres boost tourism and celebrate Aussie culture, they could even be housed in buildings could be shaped like Enormous Things. A Big Pie, for example, or a Giant Lamington. You can see the commemorative snowdomes now, can’t you?

Like coffee and fascism, this is something the Italians do best. I can never visit Rome without popping into the Museo Nazionale delle Paste Alimentari, or National Museum of Pasta Foods.

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8 Out Of 10 Cats Agree…

April 17, 2009


Advertising. Like the weather and syphilis, everyone talks about it yet no-one does anything. Was it Shakespeare who once said “Our gain is your loss/that’s the price you pay/I heard it in the House of Commons/everything’s for sale”? No. It was the Pet Shop Boys. But if you consider that they’ve had more top ten hits than Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Cervantes combined, they must be on to something.

According to Charlie Brooker’s excellent television series Screenwipe, modern advertising and marketing campaigns are analysed down to the most intricate detail. Ads have to work internationally, so no item is below scrutiny – the models can’t wear sneakers, as that connotes “gangster” in Russia, they can’t wear denim as that means they’re gay in Indonesia. Confectionery advertising involves the frighteningly obsessive idea of “the load” – that is, the specific way the model places the product in their mouth.

As an advertising insider on Screenwipe explains: “Different gum companies have different ways they like their gum “loaded”. They publish booklets for directors to study so the load is uniform across their ads. On any shoot there’ll be one poor sod from the client whose sole job is to ensure the load goes off according to company guidelines.”

So if people are putting so much thought into marketing, advertising and product design, why would Whiskas choose to sell their product with a kitten that wants to punch you in the face?


Oh yes, this kitten could’ve been a contender. He’s like Jake LaMotta – if Jake LaMotta had spent less time throwing fights against Billy Fox in order to curry favour with the Mafia, and more time chasing string and napping. An imperfect analogy, yes, but an analogy all the same.

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Taste Test: Doctor Scab’s Monster Lab

October 29, 2008

Halloween! Just the name conjures up visions of… repeats of US sitcoms in May, and… something about pumpkins… I think Charlie Brown‘s in there somewhere… no, I’ve got nothing.

Though there are unconfirmed reports of Australian children trick-or-treating in the outer suburbs, Halloween remains one of those strange American customs – like bright orange cheese, or trying to shoot the President. It’s never had any cultural traction in this country, which is a pity, because I can’t helping thinking the nation would be improved by adults wearing fancy dress with impunity. It doesn’t help that Halloween falls so close to Melbourne Cup – perhaps it would catch on if small children dressed as Phar Lap.

Our foreign correspondent Daniel Cardone recently returned from the US with Halloween candy in tow. In Outland Institute tradition we gathered a panel to test this spooky delicacy.

Doctor Scab’s Monster Lab is a bag of “creepy chocolaty flavored [sic] body parts”. It’s what the Easter Bunny would bring if the Easter Bunny had seen too many Saw movies. It’s a cavalcade of severed fingers, toes, ears and lips, plus “fudge filled eyes”, wrapped in gruesomely-detailed foil. Palmer, the manufacturer, has a Quality Pledge on the pack where they state “For over 50 years, Palmer has been a national brand making candy for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween… If you are not satisfied please let us know and we will make it right.” Two things here to note here – Palmer makes special occasion candy, but nothing you’d eat everyday – for reasons that would soon become abundantly clear. Secondly, the phrase “we will make it right” sounds quite ominous when you’re looking at a bag of edible body parts.

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Tim Tam or Not Tim Tam? That Is The Question…

October 16, 2008
As the world hurtles toward an economic meltdown, The Outland Institute looks at the most important issue of the day – which is the best Tim Tam-like biscuit? We put them to the test and you might be surprised by the results. Or you might not.

Tim Tam. Just the name sends a shiver down the Aussie spine. The chocolate biscuit is as true-blue an Australian icon as Donald Bradman, Mr Squiggle or casual racism. Like most Australian icons, it’s owned by America – since 1997 Arnott’s have been a fully-owned subsidiary of The Campbell Soup Company of America (you may know them from their work with Andy Warhol).

Wikipedia describes the Tim Tam as “two layers of chocolate malted biscuit, separated by a light chocolate cream filling, and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate”, which I think takes away some of the magic. The Tim Tam is so much more than wafers and chocolate – it’s a delightful treat, it’s a straw for coffee, it’s a lonely girl’s companion. Launched in 1964, the name comes from a prize-winning American racehorse which Ross Arnott had seen win the 1958 Kentucky Derby (by a strange co-incidence, the horse that came second was called “Chocolate Wafer Biscuit You Can Drink Coffee Through”). Tim Tam (the horse) was inducted into The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985, no doubt leading to endless disappointment for biscuit-starved ex-pats visiting Saratoga Springs, New York.

As the old saying goes, “if you build it, they will copy it under a slightly different name”. So the original Tim Tam now competes with several similar biscuits on the supermarket shelves. How do they stack up? In the interests of science, The Outland Institute gathered a panel to do blind taste tests of four contemporary Tim-Tamalikes.

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Great Literature Of The 20th Century: Further Reading (and Further Eating)

September 10, 2008

Last week on Great Literature I featured that classic tome, The Doctor Who Cookbook. At the end of the article I included the full recipe for Elisabeth Sladen’s Cauliflower Cheese – you may remember Elisabeth Sladen as dauntless lady journalist Sarah-Jane Smith – here’s a picture of her being possessed by a stone hand while dressed as Andy Pandy:

I set the challenge to Outland Institute visitors to make this dish at home and report back (the Cauliflower Cheese, not the stone hand). I didn’t think anyone would be brave – or foolhardy – enough to try… 

I was wrong. Journalist and travel-writer Tim Richards was up to the task, and he even invited me along to try the finished product (incidentally, Tim and I share a set of parents – it’s a funny story).

Tim has sent in this report:

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Great Literature Of The 20th Century: Passport To Survival

August 27, 2008

Imagine if society came crashing to a halt, if everything we knew and relied on was torn away. As you stood among the rubble of the modern world, surely only one question would come to mind – “what’s for dinner?”

Thankfully you have a copy of Esther Dickey‘s Passport To Survival. This book contains over 100 recipes you can make using only four basic ingredients. You heard me, only four ingredients that will survive a year’s storage in your bunker/biodome/orbiting satellite/mountain cave. Those four ingredients are wheat, salt, honey and powdered milk. There’s even a jazzy illustration to help entertain you while the corpses of the dead pile up outside your air-tight doors.

Actually, for a book predicated on the downfall of the civilization, Passport To Survival is surprisingly perky. The dust-jacket claims that “filled with creative, cheerful thinking, it reflects the author’s faith in the power of the human heart and will”. That’s not the only thing the author has faith in, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

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Warm Nights On A Slow-Moving Tram

August 21, 2008

For 25 years, the Restaurant Tram has been shuttling tourists to St Kilda and back, yet the closest most Melbournians have been is seeing it on Kath & Kim. Janet Greason takes a trip down memory lane for The Outland Institute.

1983, the year I moved to St Kilda, was also the year the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant began. To the denizens of St Kilda then, the tramcar was seen as tacky and middle class – the same as the tourists. To have three dozen people stuffing their faces as they trundled through a suburb that was surviving mainly on the dole seemed a bit rude. Another crappy function centre that just happened to be on wheels. The only positive thing was that it kept them corralled and off the streets – had they allowed the poor locals to sell their artwork and crafts each time it stopped (like they do in other third world countries) things might have been different…

By the end of the eighties I had moved to Elwood, and my snarling Pavlovian response to its bells became as infrequent as its sightings.

It was still with some trepidation, however, that my partner and I recently turned up at the Tramcar shelter opposite the casino – friends had bought us dinner on the tram as a birthday present. Like the popstars and actors that mean so much to us at a certain time in our lives but eventually vanish into thin air, I had assumed the tramcar restaurant had married a rich bloke and gone off to have his kids. I was curious to see who else would be joining us. What kind of people would want to do this?

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