The law of diminishing returns

A few days ago we went to stay with my old friend Tallullah (not her real name). She is a very old and dear friend, but has always been a rotten cook. In fact until recently the only interesting thing she’d ever put on a dining table was her naked self and her moistie of the moment. It was a crap old share house table and of course it broke.

Would you believe they then proceeded, lust undiminished, to the kitchen table and then broke it too? Well, they did. What propelled this concupiscent wreckery to the realms of share house legend was that they had resorted to busting tables only because the entire household – four flatmates and one weekend guest – had scored on the same evening. At a bar called, “The Private Bin”, about which I shall make no further comment. Tallullah, while a resident, had got home too late that night to enjoy the privileges of her own bed. (So you see why I did that with her name, now, huhn?)

That was nearly fifteen years ago, and Tallullah’s cooking has come a million miles from the two minute noodles and sliced up oranges she used to serve for dinner. Last week we had a very tasty lasagne – she told me she’d been working on improving her cheesiness, and the cheesiness level was excellent, intense and creamy but still light. She’d also made a beautiful salad of chunks of avocado, tomato, and cucumber with butter lettuce. Tallullah’s known me for a long time too, so she waggled a bottle of “Fat Free French Dressing” at me and said “You don’t want this, do you?”


We eat a mound of salad almost every day, and I love to make dressings. Also I love vinegars and oils, and usually have a few of each on the go. “Usually” is a fib, of course, but I am afraid to tell you just what’s in the cupboard in case you mock me.

What Tallullah had was some so-called “Light” olive oil, some Cornwell’s white vinegar, a slightly crusty jar of Dijon mustard, salt, garlic, lemon and a small jar. The dressing took two minutes to make and was frickin’ delicious. Just outstanding. To improve it, all you need do is improve the quality of the oil and vinegar. But perhaps not too much. The step away from the bottle of “Fat Free” is the most significant step you’ll take in taste terms; after that the cost of ingredients rises far more sharply than the curve of improved taste.

Vinaigrette for Lovers


3 tablespoons AOOO*
1 tablespoon any kind of vinegar you’ve got, even if it’s for bluebottle stings or cleaning the loo
half a teaspoon of prepared mustard (or a pinch of mustard powder)
a squeeze of lemon juice (but no seeds!), and maybe some zest if that seems reasonable at the time
a pinch of salt


Put the vinegar, mustard, lemon, salt and oil in a jar and shake side-to-side until thick and glossy. It will take a bit longer if you don’t use the mustard. Probably about 30 seconds longer, if that.

To Serve

Place jar on table next to bowl of salad. Removing the lid is a nice touch if you have guests.

And in a similar vein – on my regular trawl of favourite food blogs I find fantastic posts by stickyfingers on why you shouldn’t pay $90 for a baked chook, and the Purple Goddess on how not to eat stupidly.

* Any Old Olive Oil


10 thoughts on “The law of diminishing returns

  1. Thank you. Love this blog. I wet my pants reading the post. Reminds me of the chainsaw wielding housemates I thought were murdering each other until I walked into the dining room and saw the ‘beast with two backs’, discarded equipment etc etc.

    Bottled dressing is a waste of time and contains stuff that would make the sulphuric acid spurt out of your guts if you ate it by itself.

    I rarely use fancy-pants vinegar in my vinaigrette – always the industrial no name type of stuff; harmless and effective.

    Mine goes goes like this: equal parts of honey, Dijon mustard and EVO with a smashed, minced clove of garlic stirred into an emulsion. Keep a ton in the fridge for ever and ever, then when you need dressing, take a tablespoon of it out and thin with a little vinegar. Herbs – I throw in fresh with the greens. BINGO!

    Thanks for the backlink BTW, most appreciated.

  2. I had the degustation menu at Interlude on Brunswick St last week, and those returns (while admittedly at the wrong end of some serious diminishment) were pretty good. I guess the point for me, like the blogs you linked to, is that if I pay $200 for one night of food and wine, I want a lot of both, much better than I could do myself.

  3. Hey, it takes a lot of advanced food chemistry to make those fat free things. Never before in human history have we been able to eat things called ’emulsifying agent’.

    Moving along, have you stumbled on TasteSpotting?

  4. Or themselves become moist in one’s presence, right? Or is this a girl’s only term?

    FXH – agreed. Happily, and in the spirit of TMI, all boxes were ticked.

  5. stickyfingers – thanks! I love your blog! I’m really thrilled with the variety and excellence of the people writing here – way beyond my hopes.

    As for the rest of you – sheesh. Sadly, I suppose I started it.

  6. And I came looking for food…

    Excellent cautionary tale of the poor structural design of tables in regard to lusty forces being brought to bear upon them. I have a mate who broke a perfectly sound double bed in such a moment, he too, never stopped and the destruction bore fruit some nine months later.

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