Sunday, November 22, 2015

WHAT THE L…??!!!



The loganberry wasn’t named after the Jimmy Logan from down Logan way. The hybrid loganberry was named after a certain workhorse lawyer/horticulturist James Logan who toiled like a Trojan – in his garden, at least.  A slogan definitely states he was neither a bogan from Logan, nor was he from the Shire of Bogan.

Loganberries were actually the result of a blooper made by our fumbling lawyer Logan, probably after a long night arguing his case with a bottle of whisky. In his hungover state, Logan unintentionally crossed a raspberry and a blackberry.  Rather than the two berries giving legal-eagle James the raspberry for his blunder, they gave him a loganberry in lieu. (I made up the bit about him being hungover...but you never know....)

I’ve not eaten a loganberry, but I am wondering if I simultaneously toss a raspberry and blackberry into my gob would I be eating a loganberry?  I’ll give it a go, then I’ll let you know the fruits of my laborious experiment. 

It’s long gone since I’ve enjoyed a longan.  Sweet, succulent longans are closely related to the equally luscious lychees.  

When I loitered around tropical north Queensland, not only did I terrorise the locals, but I also lavishly indulged in loads of lychees, as well as lots of lush longans I legally purchased from the local farmers’ stalls along the lanes and roadsides. And, of course, I couldn't ignore the rambutans rambunctiously begging to be purchased in boxes next to their cousins. 

Longans and lychees originate from southern China. In the late 1800s the Chinese gold-miners who lobbed on the northern gold fields of tropical Far North Queensland in search of the mother lode, all arrived laden with longans and lychees.  Lucky for us! 

By the way, we should gobble up lots of lychees; they are considered to be a symbol of love and romance.
For me, I'll forego the love and romance nonsense - I’m searching for a mother lode of a Lotto win. I’m eating every variety of fresh fruits I can lay my hands on -  in abundance!  Something will work.  I’ll strike it lucky one day – and be healthy at the same time!

Loquats also originally landed from China.  The elusive loquat is difficult to locate these days. Does anyone local have a loquat tree in their yard?   I long to know - why have loquats lost their lustre? 

The last time I lingered at length beside a loquat tree was when I lived and worked in Glenden, 165kms west of Mackay - when I was the chef at “Lorikeets’ Restaurant” back in 1991/92.

Long before my Glenden loquat feast I’d not eaten loquats since I was a little girl leaping around the hills and dales of Gympie.  We had a very healthy tree growing at one corner of our front yard. Year after year it produces bucketfuls of fruit...not that we gave the tree’s bounty much time to fill the buckets.  My brother and I, along with our mates usually devoured the oval yellow fruit directly from the tree, pelting each other with the seeds (and some of the over-ripe fruit) in the meanwhile. 

On many occasions our Nana managed beat us to the tree.  She’d gather some of the fruit when we were at school and magically turn it into jam, or delicious chutney.  Throughout the years of our childhood and beyond our healthy loquat tree generously produced fruit, enough to suit and feed our needs.

Blimey! Let’s not forget limes!

Delicious, lush limes are grown in tropical climes year round. With limes readily available it’d be a crime not to enjoy limes at all times.

From finger limes to round/dooja limes; to desert limes and mountain white limes to Kaffir, Kakadu or Humpty Doo limes; as well as blood, wild and sunrise limes – there is no limit on the largesse of the sublime lime. Limes are always in their prime. 

Here’s a lulu for you…have you ever eaten a lulo?  Better still, have you ever heard of a lulo? It’s a small fruit native to the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Lulo flesh tastes like a blend of pineapple and lemon.

And then, on top of that, to confuse us even further, there’s the lúcuma aka lucmo.  The subtropical fruit lucmo is also known as “Gold of the Incas”.  Native to Peru’s Andean valleys, it’s an ancient super-food that can be traced back 8000 BC. I wasn’t around in those days so I can’t verify if this is true, but thousands of lucid Peruvians who are prepared to lay their word on the line, have proven it to be so.

A lúcuma is like a little pawpaw (papaya to those of you in the Northern Hemisphere).  The lúcuma is loaded with health benefits. If you’re looking for a cane sugar substitute the powder made from lúcuma is supposed to do the trick.

In Peru they queue for lucmo; maybe they do in Yokomo, too. Adding lúcuma powder to drinks and shakes livens up the brew. 

Lastly, while on the subject of fruits beginning with the letter “L” – you’ve no doubt noticed the leitmotif of my literary treatise (my leeway allows me the liberty of latitude) - I can’t leave out the leader of the bunch - the ever loyal lemon. I have to squeeze in lemons; jam them in. 

What would life be like without lemons to liven it up? Lemons add zest!

Loganberry Cake (or any berry): Heat oven to 180C/160C fan.  Base-line and grease a deep 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Blitz 140g ground almonds, 140g softened butter, 140g golden caster sugar, 140g S.R. flour, 2 eggs and 1tsp vanilla in processor until well combined.  Spread half the batter over cake tin; smooth top; scatter the loganberries or whatever other berries you use over the batter; then dollop remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread; easier to do using your fingers. Scatter with flaked almonds (about 2tbs); bake 50mins until golden; cool; remove from cake tin; dust with icing sugar to serve.

Lychee (or Longan) Chicken Curry: Heat 2tsp oil in saucepan; add 1 sliced red onion, 1 sliced red capsicum and 200g quartered button mushrooms; cook 3-5mins; add 1tsp each crushed ginger and garlic, 2tbs red curry paste and 1tsp turmeric; cook 1-2mins; add 1c chick stock and 1c coconut milk; boil; add 520g chicken, cut into 3cm pieces; simmer 4mins. Add 200g green beans, cut into 3cm lengths, 100g sugar snap peas; simmer 3-4mins; add 16 fresh peeled, pitted lychees (or longans); cook 1min.

Lychee Lime Sorbet: Puree 4 generous cups peeled, pitted fresh lychees; add 1c water, juice and zest of 1 large lime, 2/3rd cup agave syrup or other preferred sweetener and 2 to 4tbs fresh basil leaves (or mint); puree until smooth; perhaps in 2 batches. Chill; process in ice cream maker 20-25mins; or make it without using maker. Freeze 2-3hrs.

Lúcuma Slice: Whizz until chunky 1c medjool dates and 1c almonds; press into bottom of slice tray or moulds; freeze while whizzing together 3tbs cashew or coconut butter, 3tbs lúcuma powder, 3tbs cacao butter or coconut oil, 2tbs maple syrup, 1tsp vanilla bean paste and ½ to 1tsp Himalayan salt. Spread finger-width thick on top of base; chill. Combine 3tbs cacao powder, 2tbs maple syrup, 3tbs melted cacao butter or coconut butter and 1/2tsp sea or Himalayan salt; spread evenly over top; chill until completely cool. Cut into squares if set in slice tray.

Lemon-Lime Bars: Line 8-inch square pan with foil; extend over 2 ends. Melt 6tbs butter; stir in 1c plain flour, 1tbs sugar and pinch of salt until crumbly; press into base of pan. Bake in 190C oven 15-20mins. Whisk 1/3c each lemon and lime juice, 1 can condensed milk and 2 large eggs; pour over crust; bake 20-25mins. When cool remove from pan; cut into squares.

Loquat Jam: Wash, de-seed and quarter enough loquats to make 8 cupfuls; add lemon juice to prevent them from browning; the lemon juice is also necessary for the jam to thicken. Put loquats, 6c sugar and loquats (including the lemon juice) in large pot over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cut 1 vanilla bean in half; add to fruit; bring to bpil while stirring constantly; then reduce to a low simmer. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook for approximately 1 hour. At 30 minute mark, remove vanilla from the jam. Using a stick blender, blend loquats; leave some texture, if preferred; or you can make it smooth, but lumpy is good!  Add the vanilla bean again; continue to cook for another 30mins, until jam is thick, stirring frequently.  Ladle into sterilized jars; seal. Finish off the sterilization process in a boiling water bath.  If you don’t do the latter step, store the jam in the fridge. (And always store in fridge after opening).

Loquat Chutney: Trim stem and flower ends of loquats; remove stones and membrane; ending up with 650g fruit; no need to peel the loquats. Peel and cube 4 large Granny Smith apples; cut 300g dried apricots into strips. Peel 80g fresh ginger, and then julienne. Grab 4tbs mustard seeds; crush some to release flavour, but leave majority whole. Put all ingredients together with 500g raw sugar, 750ml cider vinegar, 2tsp salt and 2tsp crushed chillies into large pot; bring to boil. Simmer about 90mins, until apple is cooked to a pulp; stir occasionally to stop sticking to bottom of pot. Heat some clean jars in hot oven to sterilise them. Pour hot chutney into hot jar; put lids on jars while still hot.  Finish off in water bath.  Store in cool, dry place for up to 9 months; open jars should be kept in fridge.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Sketch and Poem by me.....

Humans star in Life’s carnival veiled in our disguises hiding our torment
Concealed from the immoral games others play; from their art of manipulation
Wearily with heavy hearts reluctantly we become accustomed to our discontent
Borrowed instances of happiness are only a momentary fleeting aberration

Lost in a murky mire of immeasurable despondency faces lost in the crowd
Innocent lives callously cast aside a counterfeit caricature of ship’s ballast
Wretched wanton descent to the dank dark pits of Hell having no buoyancy
Eclipsed by ugliness engulfed by hate with hearts hardened and callused

It's nought to provocateurs the damage caused by their perfidious evil deceit
Despairing sorrow and suffering envelop like a far-reaching grey shroud
Hearts are broken emotions confused Life is bitter when it should be sweet
Tortured souls - will we learn to breathe again or are we faces lost in the crowd

Helplessly plunged further deeper into a bottomless quagmire of oblivion
Like impotent leaves victims of a controlling wind our quintessence strewn                    
Impenetrable suffering feverish addiction making Life a fictitious illusion  
Unrelenting oppressive incubus reckless incursion forcing Life into ruin   

Monday, November 09, 2015


Alan in his usual jovial mood sitting on the floor around my coffee table in the Yorkeys townhouse. The floor was always a popular place to sit! Ann to the right of him also worked at Ramada Reef Resort
Me holding court at the Ramada Christmas Party, 1987
A shirtless Andrea at a gathering of some of my Ramada mates  in my townhouse at Yorkeys Knob
The young Italian backpackers - my Christmas 1987 dinner guests
Me on the right with some of my Ramada mates
Alan with Pushkin Christmas Day 1987
Pushkin caught in the act checking out what's on the menu in the fish tank filled with fish Andrea gave me for Christmas 1987
There something mysterious about me and tables!
Pushkin, all ears and eyes...
Trevor play with Pushkin on his,Pushkin's, second Christmas
The party animal, Pushkin...sleeping it off!
Ouch! This is hot! Will I spill it before I reach the sink????

Stored safely in my cache I’ve still many stories to share about my adventures on Hinchinbrook Island, but I’ll leap forward a few paces to when I returned to life on the mainland – returned to reality, in a way, I guess.

Upon leaving the island I decided to continue heading north rather than move back south from whence I’d come.  “South” as in south-east Queensland…no further south – Queensland is where I was born and bred; Queensland is where I belong. It’s my home. 

There were times, of course, I missed my little greengrocery-healthfood shop I’d owned and operated in Noosa before taking on Hinchinbrook Island Resort; even more so, and joined with anger when I learned the two young men who had bought the business from me ran it into the ground within a couple of months from take-over.

However, like the lyrics in Graeme Connors’ – “A Little Further North Each Year” became my mantra.  The song resonated with me...and it still does....even though these days I’m back in south-east Queensland and have been for the past 15 and a half years.

I’d loved my stint managing the island resort.  Not having a clue what lay in store for me when I’d accepted the challenge, it’d been a challenge I was eager to tackle, come what may.  Leaving Noosa was a huge step; a step at one time I never thought I’d take. In my mind I believed I’d never leave Noosa/Sunshine Beach.  Life so often has a mind of its own.

During the almost two years as manager of the Cape Richards Resort I’d met many, many interesting people.  The good outnumbered the bad, and I can assure you I met a few of the latter.  In earlier posts back in 2007 I wrote about some of those experiences. 

Overall, however, I’d had such fun. My Hinchinbrook Island days and nights were among some of the best in my life.  It was a time unique unto itself...and I feel so lucky that I was offered the chance to venture into unknown waters. I’m glad I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, mind and body.

Of course, it was not all fun and games. My marriage collapsed; my personal life did a complete about-turn. Randall went on his way, and I remained on my new path. There was no lingering vindictiveness or nastiness following our separation and ensuing divorce, and to this day we remain good friends, in regular contact.  No matter what, we will always have each other’s back. 

My role as resort manager and sales-marketing manager entailed many diverse responsibilities. I had staff to guide; guests to accommodate, trade fairs, conferences etc., to attend.  On the home front it was my job to fulfill, to best of my abilities, the diverse, individual and group wants and needs, staff and guests alike.  And I enjoyed every moment; almost every moment.

I learned so much and had grown in so many ways as a person. I learned about things I’d previously never thought about, or had had the need to think about. I discovered some things I’d not known even existed. I’d not had the need to know about some things until I lived on the island.  I learned a lot about people, and I learned a lot about myself, as well.

Along with the wealth of laughter shared; tears, too, were shed.  Hearts had been broken, and hearts had been mended.  Emotions weren’t left behind on the mainland; somehow they managed to slip into everyone’s luggage.

Losing Ruska to the python had knocked the wind out of my sails. For me, a gear had shifted; his loss had made a difference.  A few other matters had occurred and were occurring that went against my grain, against my beliefs.  I felt it time for me to move on. The owner wanted to take the resort into different direction, a direction I believed didn’t suit what the resort was about; a direction that would be at conflict with the atmosphere – the ambience, the heart of the island. So I handed in my resignation.  It was time for me to go. I didn’t want to be around to see the results of ill-considered decisions. I didn’t and have never harboured the desire to say “I told you so”...although sometimes I’ve thought it!

Before my departure date from the island I’d found a two-bedroom unit/townhouse in a block of only four, which suited my requirements perfectly. Without hesitation, I signed a lease.  It was situated in Yorkeys Knob, a beachside suburb a approximately 13 kilometres (8.1 miles) north of Cairns.

Having spent the previous nine years or so living beside the ocean I wanted the status quo to remain. My new abode was around a corner, just a hop, skip and a jump to Yorkey’s long expanse of beach and the lapping waters of the Coral Sea. Half Moon Bay where the boating club is situated was another hop, skip and jump around the corner on the opposite side of the street.  The location of the townhouse gave me a choice. Do I turn left or do I turn right...left or right...right or left?  What wonderful choices to be faced with – would I be able to cope?

In advance, before leaving the island I’d also gained employment at Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove. Palm Cove is approximately 16kms further north of Yorkeys. 

The day finally arrived to bid farewell to my island home. Without fanfare or fuss, both of which I’ve always shied away from; with mixed emotions I boarded the “Reef Venture” for my final trip...away from Hinchinbrook Island...taking with me myriad memories.  Memories which are as vivid today as the time they were made.

Looking back (I refrained from looking back to the island once the “Reef Venture” pulled out from the resort’s jetty), I seem to have squeezed so much into the Eighties. When thinking about it, I’m not sure how I managed to do so. It feels a little like being compressed into a time capsule.  I find myself shaking my head at the wonder of it all, and in slight disbelief; but all if it did happen. Nothing is made up; nothing is invented or embellished.  The Eighties were interesting decade; it was a decade filled with stepping stones headed towards the Nineties.

The role I was hired to play at the Ramada Resort was as Groups/Conventions/Function Coordinator. Everything pertaining to what the title denoted fell into my lap and became my responsibility. Within that capacity of the “title” (I hate titles) I worked closely with Fritz Weber, a Dutchman-turned-Aussie, the Food and Beverage Manager. Before Fritz joined Ramada he’d been employed at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast.  The Gold Coast Casino opened officially in early 1986.  Coincidentally, Rolf Bucher, Ramada’s head honcho had also worked at Jupiters with Fritz. Rolf was either Swiss or Austrian, one or the other...I can’t recall which.

As time progressed, unofficially, I became Fritz’s Assistant Food and Beverage Manager.  He and I worked well together.  Eventually, he and I shared the same office, which was more convenient and sensible thing to do because most of the time I was with him, anyway, liaising, working together on whatever function, dinner, seminar etc., we had in the wind.

Fritz and I also shared similar outlooks on life.  An outlook that considered a bit of madness, an amount of insanity helped retain one’s sanity.

The Front Office Manager, Alan Raby and I became friends, too. Alan was a lot of fun. His sense of humour and mine were similar (our sense of the ridiculous). We bounced off each other, sometimes uncontrollably, not quite knowing when to stop; not quite wanting to stop.  When we were together Alan and I morphed into “The Terrible Two”; we were possessed!  

Some of the managers of other areas in Ramada were quite staid, too staid for their own good. They took themselves far too seriously.  Their sombre outlook on life in a resort was all Alan and I needed to set us off.  They became easy prey; fodder to feed our hunger.

Fritz always tried to retain his decorum when in their presence, particularly when Alan and I were in the mix, but mostly he failed miserably in his endeavour.  Fritz would sit as far away as possible from Alan and me at the managers’ meetings, but he’d still get caught in our web. He was one of us; there was no escape.   

Invariably a lot of squirming and snorting came from the other end of the two round tables that were drawn together for the Wednesday meetings as Fritz tried to pretend he didn’t know Alan and me! 

The resort’s Sales-Marketing Manager, whose name I won’t mention, in particular, was a dour, sour, humourless pain-in-the-proverbial (and I don’t mean “neck”).  He thought he was God; he hated the fact that I kept reminding him he wasn’t.  We had a mutual non-admiration society going on, he and I.  I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me, and the status of our relationship was okay with me.   

He must have rued the day he put in a good word for me when I’d applied for the position at Ramada.  He and I had previously met a few times when I was managing the resort on Hinchinbrook Island. We’d both attended the same travel-tourism shows, seminars etc., throughout the country.

On any given day and night, the hours I worked at Ramada were long, but I was used to long hours after being on the island, and from the previous positions I’d been involved in before moving to North Queensland. 

I enjoyed what my job entailed. Dealing with future clients who came from many varied walks of life and areas with the desire to hold their business functions, seminars, special dinners etc., in one of the resort’s restaurants or reception areas was hectic, fulfilling, interesting...and fun. 

Mingling with and attending to the needs of the holiday-makers who chose the resort for their days of leisure under the tropical sun, as well as ensuing the diners, local and visitors from afar, partaking in the resort’s two restaurants enjoyed themselves and their meals was satisfying.

In life, I believe, fun is the name of the game – and it should never be banned from the workplace; as long as the job gets done and done well, in my eyes, there’s nothing wrong in having some fun while doing so! Of course, don’t misunderstand...there are times when we have to be serious, but how boring life and work would be if humour wasn’t allowed a presence!

The resort was fairly new when I commenced working there in late 1987. Built in 1986, Ramada Reef Resort then boasted the largest free-form pool in the southern hemisphere. 

The story was told to me that before the construction of the resort commenced the developers were made to sign a contract that they’d not remove any of the Melaleuca trees during the building of the resort; therefore the pool was built around the existing trees, and the trees were left undisturbed. 

Ramada Reef Resort’s fine dining restaurant was named “Melaleuca”.  And there is a “Melaleuca Resort” in Palm Cove, as well.  Palm Cove is proud of its Melaleuca aka Paperbark trees; and rightly so.

An asideRamada Reef Resort through the years was managed by various large, international hotel chains.  It has now been completely renovated into an apartment-style holiday complex. Managed by the Accor Group these days it’s known as “Grand Mercure Rockford Esplanade Apartments.

Back to business….

It was a Friday afternoon….the 6th November...when around 2 pm a sudden, desperate urge struck me; one I couldn’t deny. It held me in its grip.  However, I didn’t want to ignore the thought that wiped all other thoughts from my mind.  I was a captive in its clutches; a willing captive, I might add.   

Reaching for the phone book I searched for pet shop listings.  I’d been too long without a cat.  It might have only been a few months, but it had been a few months too long. My heart still ached for Ruska. My love for my beautiful ginger cat would never go away; he remains in my heart today. 

Something was missing in my life.  There was a gap in my heart that needed to be filled. I had to get myself a kitten; no ifs or buts; no mucking about.  I needed a kitten; and the more I thought about it, the more urgent every moment became.  Not wasting any more time, I picked up the phone and rang a pet shop in Lake Street, Cairns.  I told them what I was looking for…a ginger kitten…pure and simple.

 “Do have a male ginger kitten?” I asked, holding my breath, with my fingers crossed.  I was prepared to go through the discomfort while simultaneously trying to talk and hold onto the telephone receiver.

“Yes,” was the reply I received.

I was in luck!  It was my lucky day; and, although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the ginger kitten’s lucky day, too.

Without hesitation, I said, “I’ll have him, but….”

Coincidentally, and fortunately, I wasn’t working that night, but I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the premises until after 6 pm.  I explained my situation to the gentleman on the other end of the phone.  Hoping perhaps I could quickly shoot into Cairns early the following morning before I went to work I asked if the shop would be open on the Saturday morning and, if so, would I be able to gather the kitten into my eager arms then. The answer I received to my questions caused my excitement to rise to even further heights.  The fellow at the pet shop said he lived just north of Palm Cove.  He told me it would be no problem or inconvenience for him to do a minor detour off the highway to Ramada Reef Resort on his way home that evening – kitten in hand – or in a box!  If that suited me, that is what he would do.

Naturally, I jumped at his offer. It suited me down to the ground. Without hesitation, I accepted his thoughtful offer.   He gave me a time to expect him. Hardly able to contain my excitement, I told him to either ask for me at the Reception Desk or I’d be waiting at the entrance to the foyer.

Of course, like a little child waiting for Christmas morning to arrive, I was waiting outside from the front doors to Ramada’s foyer for his arrival...and for the arrival of my new little furry friend.

Around 6.30 pm, a white Toyota ute pulled into Ramada’s arrival/departure area.  I immediately approached the vehicle.

In a box on the tray of the ute was a dear little six-week old ginger kitten.  Needless to say, I was immediately smitten.

Thanking the pet shop owner, I handed him $5.00, the quoted price; in exchange he handed me the box that safely held a very relaxed kitten.  The kitten’s fate was sealed.   He was destined to be mine; and me, his.

That day – that Friday 6th November was the first and only time I’ve ever paid money for a cat.  I paid only $5.00 for the little ginger bundle of joy and love, but, in truth, I couldn’t have put a price on his worth. He was priceless.

As soon as the vehicle pulled out, I gathered my gear together, plus my new acquisition, and then, with heart a-pounding I jumped into my car and headed home.

I christened him “Pushkin”...”Alexander (Sergeyevich) Pushkin” to those not in his inner circle. Together, Pushkin and I were to share many adventures.

On my way home I stopped off briefly at local corner shop to buy some cat food and litter.  The decision I’d made earlier in afternoon had been a spontaneous one. I’d not planned to adopt a kitten at the start of the day.  I didn’t have cat food or cat litter just lying around my unit.  Come Saturday morning, on my way to work, I planned to pop into Woolworths at the Smithfield Shopping Centre to purchase meat and whatever else I needed for Pushkin, my new little mate; my “roomie”!

Pushkin showed no trepidation when I let him out of his transport box.  He was a brave cocky, inquisitive little soul.  When I finally stopped cuddling him, something he lapped up willingly, and he’d stopped smooching me in return; something I lapped up happily, I set him down so he could investigate his new home.  And investigate he did.  He left no corner, room, staircase, nook or cranny unexplored.  Nothing was sacred from his curious nose and eyes.  Of course, it only took him a couple of hours to decide my bed was his bed, too. No further debate was required.  Actually, no discussion at all occurred about the sharing of my bed. From that moment on what was mine was his.

In no time at all...perhaps 10 minutes at most...Pushkin ruled the roost. 

He was my birthday present to me. Pushkin had come into my life a few days before my birthday.  And then Christmas was just around the corner…the first of all his Christmases had come at once!

Christmas morning I had to be at Ramada to accompany Fritz in the large “garden” restaurant where the resort was hosting its Christmas lunch.  The restaurant was completely booked out with family groups and other hungry revellers. Extra tables spilled outside around the pool area to cater for the Christmas Day hordes.

Work beckoned loudly; a call I couldn’t ignore.  A massive buffet lunch had been organised to cater to those in the public who chose to be waited on rather than do their own Christmas lunch.

Fritz had been “volunteered” into being Santa.  (He and his wife, Margaret had two young children of their own, but their Christmas celebrations were delayed to appease the madding crowd). I’d put my hand up to be “Santa’s Helper”, with the proviso that as soon as the food had grabbed the full attention of the patrons I’d be racing off home to play hostess to my own guests for a late Christmas lunch. On my guest list were a couple of my Ramada co-workers.  We were all orphans, miles away from the rest of our families and friends. 

Alan, my mate from the Front Office Manager was one of my guests for lunch/dinner. Alan was from the Gold Coast so he was many miles away from his family and friends.  Before joining Ramada, Alan had worked as a magician in various venues on the coast.  He was gay and had not long before broken up with his boyfriend; hence his move to tropical Far North Queensland...a change of scenery to help him get over a change of heart.

I’d spent any spare time I had leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve night busily working through to the wee small hours getting my own preparation done to ease my load on Christmas Day.  Being one who always enjoyed enjoying my own parties and not spending all my time in the kitchen when I was hosting a dinner party, luncheon or party through the years I’d become very efficient at pre-preparation.  Over and beyond working within the hospitality industry, I used to also entertain a lot at home.  Those days are long gone; but they used to be...again...lots of fun.

The more preparation I could get done beforehand for Christmas Day, 1987, the first of two to be held in my townhouse at Yorkeys Knob, the better.

Always being a glutton for punishment no matter how enjoyable the punishment may be; and never learning lessons from the past, I’d planned a hot tradition Christmas meal for my own dinner guests…along with some fresh seafood, of course! Naturally, Christmas pudding and its trimmings was waiting patiently as the finale of the feast; along with the rich fruit cake I’d made somewhere along the way. On top of everything else, was a Panettone I’d made after I arrived home from work on Christmas Eve!  

The Italian sweet bread/cake loaf originated in Milan; and after I’d started making it I wished it had stayed in Milan!  I tested every muscle in my upper arms after mixing and kneading it for hours it seemed.  I needed to have my head read!

Traditionally, Panettones adorned Christmas tables in Italy; and elsewhere nowadays. Come Christmas 1987 one faithfully adorned my Christmas table.

Not coincidentally, three of my guests for Christmas 1987 were Italians; all of whom were from Northern Italy. 

Over the previous few months I’d been in a relationship of sorts with an Italian fellow who was a million years younger than I was.  Forget Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher – I was the original Cougar...I started it all off – you have my permission to blame me! 

Andrea aka Andrew, as he preferred being called when he was visiting Australia, at the time lived in Bagnacavallo, an Italian town in the province of Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, situated 50 kilometres southeast of Bologna, in Northern Italy. Bagnacavallo is approximately 278.7 km from Milan, which lies to the north-west.

Back in August/September, 2007, I wrote about a few chapters about this episode in my life...headed – “The Italian Invasion”.

Andrea worked for and with his father, Giuseppe (Beppe) who was a travel agent/tourist operator, based in Bologna. Beppe sent Andrea to various areas, not only throughout Italy, but to cities in Europe; to London and further afield to Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia.

Within that capacity, Andrea/Andrew and I met, at Tradewinds Outrigger Hotel in Cairns through our mutual tourism/travel interests. I was on a brief visit to Cairns at the time and Andrea was on his first visit to Australia, at his father’s bidding.  Cairns was his port of call.  

I was still managing Hinchinbrook Island Resort when we met. We forged a relationship that lasted almost two years.  Within that period he spent half his time here, returning to Italy for a couple of months at a time to renew his Visa or whatever else needed renewing. He’d spend six months here before having to head off back to Italy.  When he was in here in the Land of Oz he lived with me.

Coincidentally, Andrea and his sister had been raised by their mother and grandmother, their Nonna. His childhood was similar to that of my brother Graham and me. We’d been raised by our mother and our Nanna.  Beppe, Andrea’s father hadn’t played a role in the lives of Andrea and his sister when they were growing up...again similar to my own situation.  When Andrea turned 21 years of age, he sought out his father; and he began working for and with his father; dissimilar to my situation.

Andrea spent Christmas 1987 in Yorkeys Knob, Cairns with me and Pushkin. A couple of days before Christmas while explore Cairns proper, Andrea had run into two young Italian backpackers who were visiting Australia from Northern Italy.  Being the gregarious person he was, Andrea invited them to join us for Christmas lunch/dinner.  When he told me he’d invited the couple, I didn’t mind.  I’d planned more than enough food...enough to feed the Army, Air Force and Navy combined (it was a failing I had...and still have...I always over-cater.  But my mantra has always been...”better to have more than not enough)!  And I looked forward to opening my home to visitors from overseas at Christmas time.

Among the many stories of his life Andrea told me, he spoke regularly, and fondly, of his beloved Nonna. He told me stories of how his Nonna always had been the one who looked after the household while his mother, a nurse worked.   My mother went out to work while our Nana took care of the home, too. 

As it was Andrea’s first Christmas away from home and his family, I decided, as a special treat for him, I’d make a Panettone.  He’d told me his Nonna always had a Panettone on their Christmas table.

Christmas lunch began around 3 pm. After we’d all had more than our fill of the Christmas fare, and with determination trying to find room to squeeze in a slice of Panettone to accompany our coffee and liqueurs, it was then, and only then, Andrea informed me that my Panettone was the first time he’d ever had a home-made one! 

His Nonna, as was the habit of most others in Italy, had always presented the family with a store-bought Panettone, never a home-made one!

I could’ve killed him there and then on the spot – but the muscles in my arms were still sore from kneading the dough!

Pushkin enjoyed his first Christmas.  He had a ball. I enjoyed my first Christmas with him in my life.
He lapped up the attention; he was a real party animal.  He loved his new life, which was just as well, because he and I had many more fun in store for us to share.

A young married couple, Trevor and Ann lived in the townhouse adjoining mine in Varley Street, Yorkeys Knob.  We became friendly.  They were great neighbours. I didn’t get to know the tenants in the other two townhouses in our block of four.

Trevor idolized Pushkin.  He teased Pushkin relentlessly. To the stage at times I had to ask him to stop, but Pushkin kept coming back for more, giving as much as he got. Pushkin loved being tickled and teased by Trevor. When together, they were like a pair of mischievous little kids.  Trevor and Ann had a cat of their own, but their cat didn’t have the lively personality Pushkin had.  Their cat wasn’t interested in anything other than sleeping.  I think it may have been the first “Grumpy Cat”!

Pushkin and I spent two Christmases in the townhouse at Yorkeys; a couple of birthdays, his and mine and a few other spontaneous and planned parties before we packed up our belongings and moved into a rented house further along Yorkeys Knob Road, towards the highway heading north.

Pushkin didn’t have much to pack.  Everything he owned he wore on his back..

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


If you’re as ancient as I am you’ll remember what special day today is.  You’ll also have many wonderful, fun memories of how, when we were children, we used to celebrate the fifth day of November.

Today is Guy Fawkes Day/Night aka “Bonfire Night” aka “Fireworks Night”.   For better effect, the celebrations, of course, were held at night. 

 In the weeks leading up to this red-letter day in November (there are a few special days in November), for us kids the excitement grew. Our fervour knew no bounds. Our enthusiasm reached fever point as the day dawned. We could hardly wait until the sun went down.  Was it the longest day of the year, or did it just appear to be so?  Our patience was tested to its limits.

School lessons dragged on and on, boring us to death. More important things needed our attention!  At the final bell we rushed out of the classroom; the race was on to get home as fast as our legs could carry us. Bonfire-building and making a Guy were on the agenda.  Poor Guy!  I don’t know why he always had a smile on his dial. Doomed, his hours were numbered! 

My brother Graham, being a couple of years older, was, on any normal day, fleeter of foot than me, but somehow on the afternoon of Guy Fawkes’ Night it was a tie as, neck and neck, breathlessly we sped home.

For many reasons I’m glad I was a kid growing up in the Fifties. Being able to enjoy Cracker Nights is one of the major reason. 

These days Guy Fawkes’ Night is just a far distant fond memory; an old tradition that’s disappeared into obscurity; deleted from our calendars in the late 1970s by those who felt it no longer had a place in our “modern culture”. 

Once we’d spent our saved pocket money at the Gympie Show in May it then became time for us to knuckle down again. Our attention once more was directed towards the serious job of earning and saving a new stash of pocket money. We had from May to November to do so. Empty soft drink and milk bottles were collected and returned to the shops in exchange for pennies, threepences and sixpences; sometimes a shilling even - all dependent upon how many bottles we’d collected.  After school or on Saturday mornings, bundles of newspapers were taken to the fish and chip shops and to the butchers.  The early days of recycling…we had it down pat in the Fifties.  “Recycling” isn’t a new thing.   It’s not the “Wonder Word of the Noughties”! 

Soon after sundown on the special day our bonfire was lit.  The countdown had begun for Guy Fawkes’ fiery demise.  The stakes were high. The heat was on.  Guy’s fate was sealed.

Our front yard transformed. It became alive with noise and light. Throw-Downs exploded on our concrete garden path; the garden path that bore evidence of where we smashed open the hard shells of Queensland nuts (known more commonly in nowadays as “Macadamia nuts).

Tom Thumbs, the tiniest crackers, were either set off singularly or all at once on the string that strung them together.  The latter was the most fun when it came to Tom Thumbs.  The larger version, the Big Tom Thumbs (very original), were more than double in size. They went off with a louder bang and louder cries of excitement issued from us.

Catherine Wheels, nailed to fence posts, when lit spun in blazing bursts of enthusiasm. Sky Rockets gave the stars a run for their money. Their exuberant multi-coloured ostentatious eruptions showered above while we oohed and aahed below.  Fountains and Roman Candles dazzled while we feasted on treats Mum spent the afternoon preparing. 

Like centurions some householders solemnly and determinedly stood guard at their letterboxes. Guy Fawkes’ Night was a prankster’s delight. 

Those were the days, my friend; we had a cracker of a time….

Cracker Spuds: Grill 6 pancetta rashers until crisp; drain; crumble into small pieces. Rub skin of 6 medium kumara with oil; place on baking tray; bake in 200C oven 1hr; turn halfway through. Remove from oven; cool 15-60mins; cut kumaras in half lengthways; carefully spoon out flesh into bowl; put skins on baking tray; preheat grill to high. Mash flesh; stir in 4tbs sour cream/crème fraîche, 3 finely chopped shallots and 125g grated cheddar. Spoon into skins; sprinkle pancetta and more grated cheese on tops; place under grill, 2-3mins.

Banging Bangers: Preheat oven 180C. Place 450g quality fat pork sausage (or chipolatas) in lightly oiled heavy baking tray. Combine 3tbs hoisin sauce and 3tbs honey; pour over sausages; coat well. Bake, 45mins, turn and baste.

Steak Sparklers: Cut sirloin steak into 1-inch squares; do similar with green and yellow capsicums. Combine 2tbs red wine vinegar, 2tbs soy and 1 crushed garlic clove. Load wooden skewers, alternately with steak, capsicum, button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, begin with the meat. Marinate the kebabs overnight. Cook kebabs on the barbie. 

Fireworks Fudge Cake: Preheat oven 180C. Line square, 20cm tin. Combine 200g plain flour, 1tsp baking powder, 1/2tsp bicarb soda, 75g cocoa and 1-1/2tsp cinnamon in bowl. Finely process 100g salted peanuts and/or cashews; add 3tbs tahini, ¼ to 1/2tsp chilli flakes and 225g dark brown sugar; mix well. Melt 75g unsalted butter and 100g dark chocolate in saucepan; add to nuts along with 2 large eggs; beat until smooth. Spoon into another bowl; stir in 175ml cold milk; sift in dry ingredients; beat until smooth; pour into tin; bake about 1hr. When cold, ice with lime water icing - 300g icing sugar and juice of 1 lime.

Chocolate Crackles: Mix 4c rice bubbles, 1c icing sugar, 1c desiccated coconut, 5tbs cocoa powder and 250g melted Copha together; spoon mixture into patty cake papers; refrigerate until set; bog in.

Sparkling Sparkler Crackles: Combine 4c rice bubbles, 1c lightly-toasted desiccated coconut, 1/2c lightly-toasted pistachio nuts, 1/2c dried cranberries, 1/2c chopped dried figs and 1/4c chopped glace, fresh or dried cherries in bowl. Melt 1.5c white chocolate buttons over pot of hot water; add 80ml cream and 1tbs glucose syrup; mix into melted chocolate. Pour over dry ingredients; gently mix; scoop into patty cases. Chill until set; decorate with a drizzle of chocolate, if desired, and chopped cherries.

Chocolate-Caramel Rocket Cracker Slice: Grease and line 20x30cm lamington pan with baking paper; allow the long sides to overhang. Sift 1/2c cocoa powder and 1-1/2c icing sugar in bowl.  Add 5c rice bubbles and 1/3rd cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts; toss to combine. Add 150g melted Copha; stir to combine. Spoon into prepared pan; use back of spoon to press evenly.  Chill hour or so until firm. Grab 2x380g cans of caramel (or make your own); combine caramel filling with 2/3rd cup smooth peanut paste in medium saucepan over medium heat; cook, stirring constantly, 5mins or until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat; spread evenly over prepared base; chill 2 hours to set.  Melt 150g milk or dark chocolate; pour over caramel mixture; spread to coat; chill 1 hour or until set. Cut into squares to serve.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


The two fun acrylic paintings were done by me...
Mum and Kittens...graphite sketch by me

Today is the birthday of my two beautiful furry, four-legged rascals who share my life and love -they were born on 4th November, 2002.  I can't believe both Remy and Shama are now 13. 

It seems like only yesterday that they came into my life, immediately stealing my heart. That fortunate day, for me and for them, was Friday, 13th December, 2002. 

I saw a picture of two little kittens pinned to the notice board outside of the local supermarket.  I still have that photo pinned to my wall near my computer.

I tore off the phone number and immediately dashed to the nearest phone booth.  Without further ado, I drove to the address given with the intention of get one kitten.

On the floor of the laundry of the home sat two little kittens who both turned and looked up into my eyes as I approached.  How could I choose one over the other!   I didn't hesitate...they both came home with me. 

We three have lived happily thereafter...and I've learned to do what I'm ordered to do....

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Bart Cummings

It’s that time of the year again – already!  I seem to be continually passing comment about how fast the years bolt by; but, strewth, I do not utter an untruth! Spring is well-sprung; even I have a hop in my hobble. This Saturday the Melbourne Cup Carnival is off and running with AAMI Victoria Derby Day. The following Saturday the fun culminates with Emirates Stakes Day as the 2015 Carnival gallops to a halt. It’ll be all over bar the thundering of hooves. Discarding their stilettos, reluctantly the ladies will hang up their finery, hats and fascinating fascinators.  

I love this time of the year, and although the only horse race I have a bet on these days is the Melbourne Cup, I watch every race from the first race to the last throughout the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.

The Caulfield Cup, a Group One handicap event over 2400m is the second of the big Spring Cups and is a good lead-up to the prestigious Melbourne Cup. 

Between the running of the Caulfield Cup, a three-day carnival, in October and the Melbourne Cup, which is always run on the first Tuesday in November, is the running of the Group One WS Cox  Plate hosted by the Moonee Valley racecourse.  The Cox Plate is run over the distance of 2040m, and is classed as the championship weight-for-age race.

The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861; it was won by Archer.  The prize was 710 gold sovereigns (₤710), along with a hand-beaten gold watch. Archer won again the following year.

Before the Spring Carnival reaches its climax the highest point on the course, of course, is next Tuesday, Melbourne Cup Day.  The Melbourne Cup is run over 3200m (two miles).  

This post may not interest some of you; and some of you may not have a clue what I'm writing about...but in an attempt to clarify - the words in "bold" are the names of past Melbourne Cup winners...and my post is in tribute to the late, great Bart Cummings who passed away on 30th August, 2015, aged 87.
The late, legendary Bart Cummings will be sadly missed from this year’s events. Bart was Viewed with Saintly respect. Held in high esteem, not only by those in horse racing circles, but by the general public, too, Bart will remain forever a national treasure.

Along with Viewed and Saintly Bart trained nine other winners of the sought-after, prized Melbourne Cup e.g. Light Fingers, Galilee, Red Handed, Think Big (won twice – 1974 and 1975), Gold and Black, Hyperno, Kingston Rule, Let’s Elope and Rogan Josh. 

Bart Cummings may not have trained Efficient, but he certainly performed efficiently throughout the years.  Bart was the favoured odds-on favourite trainer of favourites. Thousands were prepared to take the plunge when one of his horses was running.  

Even though allergic to horses and hay, instead of saying What a Nuisance and cantering away, he was caught Red Handed; not from doing anything wrong, but from doing something Ethereal with horses in his care. Bart held the Might and Power of horse training by the reins. Rising Fast, he soon earned a well-deserved reputation, but not without more than Just a Dash of Hi Jinx along the way.   

Bart wasn’t a Windbag. He did, however, subtly lord over a Comic Court. Not always Sirius, Bart was the Comedy King.  Quick-witted, in his well-stocked Arsenal he had a Catalogue packed with humorous quips. With a twinkle in his eyes, he loved letting loose a jocular riposte when least expected. 

Bart’s life turned out to be more than a Gala Supreme.   

The elder Statesman of thoroughbred racing, he was a Mentor to thousands. It was not all about The Victory with Bart.   

His father Jim Cummings, an accomplished trainer, trained Comic Court, the winner of the 1950 Melbourne Cup.  As a lad Bart began as a strapper working for his dad. In 1953, aged 26, he received his trainer licence.  

Bart’s father was born in Ireland.   

There’s something horsey (not fishy) about the name “Cummings”.  My first husband’s surname is “Cummings”. Whoa! Shut the gate! Don’t go off on a wild horse chase! Use some stable thinking!  Apply some horse sense! Don’t ride off madly in all directions!  I didn’t do a Liz Taylor! By George! I’ve had only two husbands! 

My first husband’s late brother, Kevin Cummings, taught top jockey Glen Boss how to ride horses.  
Bart Cummings’ spirit will be at Flemington, not only on Cup Day, but throughout the Carnival - for years to come. Bart Cummings’ legacy and our memories of him will stay with us. A humble man, Bart was a legend in his own lifetime. His passing won’t diminish his light. 

Melbourne Cup 2015 is for Bart.  Bravo, Bart! Always The Melbourne Cup Protectionist, you were Tawrrific!