Yesterday morning my mother in law was telling me, with ill concealed glee, about a TV program she had seen the night before. It was about the bombing of the USS Liberty by Israeli forces during the 6 Day War, and how they tried to make it look as if Egypt had done it. According to her, it had all been a Jewish conspiracy to try and get the USA into the war against the Arabs.

I was a little bemused. You can readily imagine that story is not something that's told in Israeli schools, so I've never heard it before. Also, I know that she knows that I know that our politics and views on pretty much anything in life are so violently divergent, that her whole reason for telling me this little story was highly suspect; what was I supposed to do, hang my head in shame for the perfidy of my compatriots?

She went on to explain that the action was not an all-Israeli initiative, but that "some Jews" had conspired with McNamara in order to manipulate the administration into going to war in the Middle East. There had been a cabal of CIA men, McNamara's men and "some Jews". I pointed out that in that case, surely the faction in the administration who wanted to go to war is at least as responsible for the attack as those Jews. This did not cut any ice - according to my mother in law, everyone knows that the US administration does whatever is in the interest of the Jews. What about '39, then? It would have been very much in the interest of the Jews in Europe to have WWII end earlier...

This got no intelligible response, so I tried a different tack. What about those CIA men the program spoke of, then? If they were involved, wouldn't it be just as correct to call this a CIA conspiracy as a Jewish one? She laughed. There are enough CIA conspiracies, she said, "you" can't get out of all of them.

It's not news to me that my mother in law will say things that will hurt or upset me. But what this little exchange did was provide me with a glimpse into the kind of mind I had conditioned myself to believe no longer existed. To her way of thinking, two things were inalienable truths: that anythigns that can be construed to be in line with Jewish interests is the result of a shadowy influence exerted by unscrupulous Jews to the detriment of their gullible betters; and that somewhere, there has to be a Jewish conspiracy - it's in the blood, in the very nature of the race, ingrained like skin colour or nose shape.

What is scary is not that my mother in law is a bit of a bigot. What's scary is that if she thinks this way, unselfconciously, without even being aware of the fact that her thinking is bigoted, how many more people do? I hate how suspicious these thoughts make me. I hate the way that my mother in law can undermine my confidence in my entire social circle when all she wanted to do was just nettle me, pettily. But I can't help it. It scares me.

There has recently been a Panorama program on the BBC about The Project for the New American Century and some other neo-conservative think tanks and institutions in the US. There was some heavy emphasis on the fact that many of the people involved in these projects were Jewish, which at the time I thought was beside the point. But it only occured to me yesterday that at no point did the program make it clear how many people were not Jewish. There was no roll call of all members. When a representative of the ideological movement who was not Jewish was interviewed, no mention was made of the fact. Nor was it pointed out that some of the staunchest opponents of this movement were also Jewish - Noam Chomsky being the most resounding name on that list. And in this country, if the Beeb says so, it's true. So that makes the war in Iraq a Jewish conspiracy, too.

My sister's due date was yesterday and when I went to her house for dinner I found her having contractions every 3 - 6 minutes. About eight o'clock, she called her doctor who told her to go to the hospital, as it may be her time. Unfortunately though her contractions continue there is no other progress. The doctor gave us hope in saying that most women do not make it to an induction (which she has scheduled for next Thursday). We are worried that like all of my mothers female siblings, she simply will not progress and may require a c-section, but the doctor assures us that those types of things are not passed on. We went home, sister with some ambien so she could hopefully sleep through the contractions.

I know this is old-hat, been-there-done-that stuff for many. I'm a first timer, being this close to a birth. Thanks to everyone who is indulging my silliness.

My personal holiday season begins today
A two day festival of personal assessment
Drinking, eating and the celebration of life

Most holidays are born of traditions dating back before we were born, celebrating things we are often not fully aware of or even interested in. Some people who are very religious take certain holidays in one way while others consider them no more than a free day off from work and a chance to have a party. Whatever works for you. Celebrate life.

I celebrate my own holiday, June 6th and 7th, in my own way. It tends to change from year to year. I never work on June 7th. Working on June 6th is acceptable. The night of June 6th generally envolves some kind of personal debauchery along with certain lamentations and my own type of prayers. The night of June 6th is the Celebration of Death. The day of June 7th is the Celebration of Life.

It was nine years ago, on June 6th, 1994, that I decided to take my own life. It was nine years ago on June 7th, 1994, that I woke up in my bed, alone and paralyzed for six hours before I taught myself to walk again. It was nine years ago on June 7th, 1994 that I began to understand and see life in a new light. It was then that my journey began.

It is also part of the tradition that on the night of June 6th, every year, I perform numerous silent, and not so silent, prayers and well wishes for all those who are suicidal, depressed or deeply unhappy with their lives. I wish for them to find new reasons to live and new reasons to celebrate life. I channel all the power that I have and bring myself to the edge in the hope that somehow maybe even just one person who is down and out and giving up will wake up tomorrow and find reasons to go on.

And I hope they won't have to travel the same road I did
In order to realize
That they have so many reasons to live

For those who have departed this place
May they find new roads to travel
And may they always be remembered

Best wishes to you and yours
In this holiday season

Today is moving day.

The office that I work in has been undergoing renovations over the last four months. They've been tearing up carpet and slapping up paint with abandon (not to mention getting people really high). The original space that I was working in when I joined the company was completely demolished during the renovations, so I've been working in a space the other employees call "the ghetto." It is a floor below the main nucleus of the company, comprised mostly the fringe employees. And, oh yeah, the entire accounting department.

But the company has decided to rewarded us for working in storage closets the last four months. Today, we began moving all our precious belongings into new perma-cubicles on a newly opened part of the floor.

Now, I realize that I am a really big dork for droning on and on about a little desk and a coat hook, but you have to appreciate my position. My job previous to this involved selling pokemAn cards to screaming children at the mall. The fact that I get to sit down all day and drink coffee is quite the change of pace. Now, I'm getting a new place that, somewhere in my diluted little mind, has been built for me and me alone. I can spin around in my office chair (not Herman Miller, but very nice) with my arms out and not hit three other people. I've got three walls (granted, they're only seven feet tall, but it's three walls). Morale is high. Very high.

I think that next Monday might be the first time I've ever been excited to go to work. And if that involves me being a dork, so be it.

It seems like today is a special day for many...

And I could go on and on, but I'm bordering on sappiness.

It's just that I can't believe it. ELEVEN YEARS!!! She's the longest I've done anything! (Hmmm... that didn't come out quite right, but you know what I mean..... I hope.)

Happy Anniversary, Lovey.

It's a funny thing the old restaurant business. It wasn't that long ago that I was bemoaning the death of the Sydney restaurant scene, and how close this tidal wave of bad news came to taking our little restaurant under. Since then, instead of getting better, things actually took a turn for the worse. I hadn't even factored SARS into my September 11 and the Restaurant trade article. The health implications, and immediate devastation to families touched by SARS are all too sadly obvious. What might not be so obvious at first are the effects such a scourge can have on industries further down the line, such as travel, airlines, flow-on tourism, hotels and us - the restaurants.

24 hours is all it took. One full day to go from under-patronized horror to full-on, can't fit any more customers in mayhem. What caused this amazing about face? A simple newspaper restaurant review, that's what. Such is the fickle nature of the dining public that any unsolicited press, whether it be good or bad, can drive the punters through your front door in droves. It was amazingly good luck that this review came along when it did, because I reckon another month of quiet like we had faced for most of this year might have quite possibly closed our doors for good - plenty of better restaurants than ours have suffered such a fate this year.

The review isn't available online, so I hope you'll forgive me the indulgence of reprinting the entire text here. Brian, my executive chef has been slogging away at this place for 8 years, and I've been doing the same for close enough to 6. We are both entirely dedicated to the place, so I am going to shelve the modesty and dance for a minute in our media-led glory.

Another cause for celebration was the forum it was published in. There are restaurant reviews, and well, there are restaurant reviews. Every Tuesday, The Sydney Morning Herald publishes a food, wine and fashion supplement called Good Living. Each week, on page 6 is a full-page restaurant review written by Matthew Evans that is without quibble the most influential article on dining published anywhere in this town. Everyone reads it - heck, we read it every week, just to see what is going on around the town. Well, just under 2 weeks ago now, on Tuesday May 27th, it was our turn in the sun - and I haven't seen an about-face in trade like this in my entire cooking career.

To give you an idea of our prices, one American dollar will buy you roughly $1.52 in the Australian currency quoted below. So that AU$29.50 steak below is about US$19.50.

This is what they had to say about us.

Palisade Restaurant

Good Living, 27th May 2003

Ah, what a beautiful thing. Perfectly rested steak, where the inside is juicy and pink (that's the way I ordered it) and the outside seared and flavoursome, thanks to caramelisation from the grill.

The magic, however, is in how all those succulent, meaty juices stay inside the steak and don't end up pouring out of the beef and into the sauce. The trick is to rest the meat and you'd be surprised just how many restaurants get this simplest of techniques wrong.

I'm here at the Palisade Hotel, the tall pub that stands out like an asparagus spear in Millers Point, the other side of The Rocks, to the west of Observatory Hill.

We've got the best table in the house, which isn't hard to snare considering there are only two other tables dining. From our window we can see the rejuvenation of Walsh Bay and Millers Point and behind, our wonderful Harbour Bridge.

Palisade is the stomping ground of Brian Sudek (and longtime offsider Matthew Quinn). He's been here for eight years, ever since he moved (originally with Annie Parmentier, now at Castlecrag's Lunch) from Beach Road at Palm Beach. It has been a long while since I ate here but not a lot seems to have changed.

I easily find the pub, then find the narrow, greeny blue stairs to the restaurant and arrive at a series of cute, old-fashioned rooms with smudgy yellowy walls, a fireplace and humorous paintings.

Tonight the adept, lone waiter is sporting the remnants of a mohawk and is less than gazelle-like as he moves over the pine floorboards. Not that he needs to move fast on a quiet night like this.

To our white paper-covered table he delivers three seared sea scallops ($19). They're paired with chewy, lightly spicy preserved eggplant, which is very lemony and very good.

Silky textured fresh pappardelle (ribbon pasta, $17) comes smothered in a tomatoey sauce, full of gelatinous chunks of oxtail meat. A fine dice of preserved lemon on top adds sparkle to the flavours, cutting the richness and adding a fineness that takes the dish from good to wonderful.

Deceptively simple cooking appears again, this time in the roasting of Thirlmere spatchcock with green olives ($26.50), served with a dollop of goat's cheese and roasted tomato. One of the reasons I love spatchcock (young chicken) is because it has more skin to meat. And I love this one because the skin is browned before being spread with green olive puree and the meat is moist, naturally fresh and sweet. I'm not sure it needs the goat's cheese but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Then this. The quintessential steak. A few slices of Diamantina beef are from what appears to be the butt of the fillet (the fat rather than thin end, $29.50). They're served with an onion and muscatel grape-graced agrodolce sauce, which is the new sweet and sour to you and me.

Yes, I've had better meat and I've had better sauces. But rarely at this price. This is food you want every day: something cooked better than you could do at home, using produce you'd spend all day trying to buy and served with casual charm in a room with glimpses of the bridge.

Even the side dishes aren't relegated to mediocrity. The skinniest, youngest beans I've seen in a long time come mingled with snow peas in a mustard vinaigrette dressing, scattered with crushed pistachios ($7).

Dessert is a little lower key. Rhubarb and vanilla ice-cream terrine ($13) comes as two pink and cream triangles, like the best bit of Neapolitan ice-cream, with a few strands of tender, sweet-sour rhubarb for interest.

A couple of cracked meringues ($13) are a bit chewy but you can blame the humidity. They're draped with a dreamy, delightfully balanced, sour and sweet passionfruit curd but could do without the hard, white-centred strawberries on top.

There's no heavy analysis needed here, no desire to kick the tyres and open and shut doors, as it were. This is food you want to devour.

Would you drive across town for it? Probably not but since most suburbs don't have food like this, you certainly might linger after work. Sure, they could give the window ledges a bit of a wipe but Palisade is the perfect pub for its place. It serves satisfying food, cooked remarkably well - it's enough to make you feel as well-rested as that steak.

The Summary

Still going strong after eight years, Palisade serves well-cooked food that puts many fancy-pants newer places to shame. Prices and flavours are the sort that make you wish it was your local.

Matthew Evans

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