Thursday, June 14, 2018

LIFE IS A CABERNET, OLD CHUM!



It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a decent cabernet.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve had an indecent cabernet.   I’ve three or four unopened, still full, decent bottles lying around hereabouts.  They’ve been in that prone state for quite a while.  A couple, like me, have even managed to remain upright.  It’s because they’re screw-tops, not corked that they’ve remained upright.

I’ve remained decently upright and am not lying around indecently because the bottles have remained unopened.  I’m not lying. 

Some could say – probably do say – I’ve a screw or two loose; others have an even worse scenario for me - that I am missing a few, as well, but that’s okay.  I’ve learned to cope with the situation...the missing or loose screws, that is. I gave up searching for them years ago.  

The movie “Cabaret” was a huge hit when it was released in 1972. 

Like a quality cabernet the movie has aged well.

Liza Minnelli sparkled and mesmerised as “Sally Bowles”. 

Performing at Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub in 1931 during the years of the Nazi Party’s violent rise, Sally Bowles sang, danced and lived life to the full. She experienced the good, the bad, the ugly - the tragic. 

“What good is sitting alone in your room?  Come hear the music play – life is a Cabaret old chum!”  Sally sang night after night, encouraging her audience to forget their woes...to enjoy life...if only for a brief moment.  

For Sally life wasn’t all a cabaret. Not everything was positive.  They were difficult times, hard to bear; challenging, intimidating and fearsome.

 “Cabaret” is not a light-hearted musical, but it is a wonderful musical; an emotional story with an undercurrent of the atrocious Nazi regime ever-present. 

One way Sally got rid of her pent-up emotions, her fears, her anger and frustrations was to stand up close to the railway line as a train roared by.  There and then she would scream her lungs out.  The booming deafening din of the heavy iron, steam-powered locomotive drowned out her piercing shrieks.

I believe we all need a place like that to go to every now and then, to let off steam.  I know I do.    

Driving along the ridge of this plateau, en route to the local supermarkets, with my car windows closed shut is when I do my venting.  No one can hear me bellow, not even those in the valley below.  

This interesting behaviour occurs when things e.g. the behaviour and attitude of some people - have gotten me down.  Doing so does no harm, and it helps me retain what little is left of my sanity - or stops me from becoming a member of the Woodford Correctional Centre...if you know what I mean!

A loud, lengthy bellow or two has to be good for retaining one’s sensibilities - equilibrium.  Akin to releasing a pressure-cooker, the ridding of pent-up emotions, particularly anger would have to be a “load off”. 

Venting in an area where no one else can hear or see you would be far better than forcefully expressing, releasing those feelings in the presence of another or others. 

With the regularly occurring disturbing incidents of road-rage, domestic violence,  neighbourhood battles etc., etc.,  that we read about, or see on the news bulletins day after day, the perpetrators should take a leaf out of Sally Bowles’ book...or mine.

If they did, they might discover life is a cabaret, old chum. Maybe then, they will hear the music play. 

Music sounds much better than angry voices.  Dance actions, no matter if out of tune and off beat, are far better than violent actions. 

As the saying goes – “Dance as though no one is watching; love as though you’ve never been hurt; sing as though no one can hear you; live as though heaven is on earth”.  

That's pretty sound advice, in my opinion.

Many years have passed since I’ve visited a cabaret.  Perhaps I should branch out - alter the situation.  Maybe I’ll go in search of a passing steam engine; or simpler, just open a cabernet.

Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs: Preheat oven 180C. In large bowl, combine 2 celery stalks, cut into 2cm pieces, 2 medium carrots, cut into 2cm pieces, 1 leek, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise and coarsely chopped, 6 garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, whole black pepper, to taste, 2tbs plain flour, salt and pepper; add 1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon. Add 6 large, trimmed beef short ribs. Marinate 6hrs or so in fridge. Remove from marinade; pat dry. Strain marinade; keep both liquid and vegetables. Season meat well; coat each side with flour; set aside. Heat olive oil in ovenproof dish; sear ribs until well-browned. Transfer to plate. In same pot, sauté veggies until lightly caramelised; add wine to pot; deglaze. Add 2tbs tom paste; bring to boil.  Add 2 litres beef stock; bring back to boil; add ribs; spoon liquid over ribs. Cover; bake about 2-1/2hrs; serve with mashed potatoes or pasta of choice.

Cabernet Lamb Fillets: Mix together a large glass cab sav, ½ c red wine vinegar and balsamic (mixed), 6 crushed garlic cloves, leaves of three rosemary sprigs, freshly ground black pepper, 1tsp salt, 2tbs x-virgin olive oil and 2tsp brown sugar. Rub half of mixture into a couple of lamb fillets; chill 2hrs. Seal fillets on griddle; then place in ovenproof dish; cover with remaining marinade; cook to your liking; turning halfway through. Serve with veggies of choice, and a bottle of Cab Sav!

Kit Kat Brownies: Preheat the oven 175C. Line 9x9 baking dish with foil; spray. Combine 3/4c plain flour, 2tbs cocoa, 1tsp baking powder and 1/2tsp salt. Melt 4tbs butter and 2c semi-sweet chocolate, stirring. Cool 2-3mins. In bowl, combine 3 eggs, 1-1/2c sugar and 1tsp vanilla; add melted choc; slowly add flour mix; mix well. Pour enough batter into baking dish just to cover the base. Break apart Kit Kat bars; lay on top of batter – about 8-10 bars. Pour rest of batter on top; bake 25-30mins. Frosting; Combine 1/3c cocoa, 1/4c butter, 2c icing sugar and 1tsp vanilla; slowly add 3tbs milk; beat on high. Spread over brownies. When frosting has set a little, cut brownie into squares. Break Kit Kat bars into 1/3rd  pieces...place a piece on top of each brownie. 


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

WORDS FOR WEDNESDAY







 Words for Wednesday” is provided by a number of people, on Wednesday of every week of each month.  The word fun has become a movable feast. 

Essentially the aim is to encourage us to write.  Stir the grey matter into action.

Each week we are given a choice of prompts, which can be words, phrases, music or an image.   What we do with those prompts is up to us:  a short story, prose, a song, a poem, or treating them with ignore...  We can use some, or all of the prompts.
This month...the month of June, is my turn to nudge you all into action.  You don't have to play if you do not wish to do so.

Some of us put our creation in comments' section on the post, and others post on their own blog.   Some do both.
Those of us who participate would really like it if as many people as possible joined into this fun meme, which includes cheering on the other participants.
If you are posting on your own blog - let me know so that I, and all others who partake in the fun and games can come along and applaud.

As advised above, this month’s prompts will be supplied by me, Lee. 

This week’s “Words for Wednesday” are the six words listed below:


Attitude
Uphill
Insight
Lessons
Upheaval
Canopy

Patience
Engage
Humility
Strategy
Fortitude
Forbearance


And here is my effort for using this week's words....

 
"Dan and Voni had faced a UPHILL battle from the beginning of their relationship.  

Many others, without the benefit of the young couple’s PATIENCE and INSIGHT, would never have made it past the starting block, let alone to this sun-filled, cloudless day.  

Dan and Voni’s inner FORTITUDE and FORBEARANCE wouldn’t allow them to give up at the first hurdle, or at the myriad barriers that followed.  Any curve balls tossed their way they tossed right back without hesitation.

During the first couple of years of their blossoming relationship continuous, debilitating UPHEAVAL surrounded them.  However, Dan and Voni refused to yield when and where lesser persons would have given up, thrown in the towel, and walked away...in opposite directions.

In those early years, Dan and Voni experienced enough of Life’s LESSONS to last them a lifetime – maybe two lifetimes.

Their inexhaustible love, respect for, and unbreakable faith in each other helped conquer all obstacles. With their strength of purpose and self-belief, they had no need to ENGAGE in any other STRATEGY.

The young couple’s ATTITUDE towards life, combined with their HUMILITY were the only weapons they needed..

Their detractors, if they had opened their eyes, disposed of their blinkers and prejudices, they, the detractors, the muckrakers, would have clearly seen that Dan and Voni would survive as a couple, unscathed - winners in the end.  

A palpable glow of happiness radiated from them as they walked, hand in hand, beneath the CANOPY of blooming violet wisteria, after having finally made their marriage vows.  

With a love so powerful, nothing and no one would ever try to come between them again." 

Thursday, June 07, 2018

I SPY WITH MY EAGLE EYE.....


Lorikeets
Collinsville Main Street...leading out to the coal mine
Two photos of Airlie Beach


Having watched and enjoyed the US television series, “The Americans”...I am now, like many others, espying the final episodes of Season Six - the final season. 

In my opinion, the closing of series has come at the right time, without it being dragged on...ad infinitum.   

Extending the series any further would detract from what was... overall not a bad series.  I’ve seen better...but, then again, I’ve seen much worse. 

If a show/series is not my cup of tea, mug of coffee or glass of vodka, I give up on it after a couple of episodes, though,  Why waste time on something not worth wasting time on?  It’s not a bad mantra to live by...and I do my best, my way, to follow the motto.

Watching “The Americans” rekindled fond memories of Andrei, a fine young man, who I was fortunate to meet and spend time with back in the early 90s.  I’ve written previously about him.

In 1988, Gorbachev – no, Mikhail wasn’t the “fine young man” to whom I refer, although Gorbachev, too, left his mark; and not only on his forehead - introduced previously unknown freedoms to the Soviet people, including freedom of speech.   

Massive changes were underway, but the road ahead was long and winding. 

The dissolution of the Soviet Union happened on 26th December, 1991.  On the 25th, President Gorbachev handed the baton to Boris Yeltsin.  The Cold War was at an end. 
Of course, the whole story isn’t as simple as I’m making it sound. 

During the complex political brouhaha and changes that were going on following the formation of the Russian Federation, the granting of self-governing independence to the former Soviet Union, one hundred special, clever young people from across Russia were chosen to spend six months in capitalist countries such as Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, etc.   Selecting 100 young men and women from such a vast area was an incredible feat in itself.

It’s impossible to imagine how it was achieved, and even more difficult to imagine is how those chosen few felt stepping out into an unknown world.  Excitement, wonder, fear, surprise, anticipation, joy etc., etc., et al.  A potpourri of emotions vying for attention – pushing and shoving like a crowd of eager music-lovers trying to enter a rock concert venue.

There are scenes in “The Americans” series, which is set in the years leading up to the history-making changes to the Soviet Union that depict the almost bare shelves in Russian grocery stores/food markets of the time.

Unlike us here in “the Lucky Country” - and those in similar other lucky, capitalist countries, at the time Russian people had little or no choice of products from which to choose.  Just one or two items sat forlornly, alone on the shelves.  It appeared to be almost a case of – ‘first in, best served”.  Speaking for myself, I’ve never had to face such a situation; and, I feel sure, most of you haven’t, either.

During the years the changes were being made in Russia, around 1992/93, I was employed by Morris Catering (Morris Corporation) as their Chef-Manager in Collinsville.   

Again, previously, I’ve written about my time as a Morris employee.    

I was employed by the company both in Glenden, a coal mining town north-west of Mackay...as “chef” in their restaurant, “Lorikeets”.  After a period of time in Glenden, I went to Collinsville...still in the employ of the Morris Corporation.  

Both towns are in the Bowen Basin - a rich coal-producing area of Queensland.

My job at Collinsville entailed managing the single men’s quarters/accommodation; managing the mess/canteen, ordering provisions etc., preparing and cooking meals; three meals a day (plus their cribs, as well as morning and afternoon teas) for the single men who worked for Collinsville Coal, a subsidiary of Mount Isa Mines.

A normal day for me began around 5.30 am, and continued through to between 8.30 pm-9 pm.   

Each day, the well-cared for, well-fed men had a vast, varied choice from which to choose – hot, cold; cakes, biscuits; fresh fruit, juices; tea, coffee.  Some meals were also delivered to the workers at the mine.

Early one morning, a young man arrived at the back door of the mess building.  He'd travelled as a passenger via the Morris Catering delivery truck.  The large truck that made it's weekly visit dropping off provisions to me....from the company's Brisbane headquarters. 

Alighting the truck was 24 year old Andrei who hailed from Yakutsk, east Siberia. 

Being one the special chosen young people from across Russia, Andrei’s destination was Australia, and for a time, when in Queensland, Morris Corporation was his base. 

The company, no doubt, was chosen because it had ongoing overseas catering contracts with the UN and our defence force....and for those reasons, is how Andrei ended up in Collinsville, and in my care. 

The few days spent with him were some of the best days of my life.  And, I dare say, his.

Now in his 40s, and married, Andrei and his wife, Yulia, live in Moscow. 

Periodically, to this day, he and I keep in contact.  Andrei has written a book.   

At present he is in the throes of editing the first draft.  He’s hoping the editing will be completed by the end of 2018,

Andrei came with me to the little Collinsville supermarket one day during his stay. The supermarket was small, not like the large city supermarkets. 

I can still see the look on his face.  He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the variety and quantity of items available on the laden shelves. 

Watching the scenes in the series “The Americans” showing the empty shelves in the Russian food stores reminded me of that day Andrei wandered along Collinsville’s supermarket aisles, his mouth agape; his eyes as large as saucers. 

Rather than stay in Collinsville for the duration of his visit, I decided we'd head off to Airlie Beach for the weekend.   And, there, we had a ball. 

Andrei's wonderment about his surroundings remained.  He was enthralled by everything he saw, and experienced.

Witnessing his excitement; enjoying his joy, was a special time in my life. 

Too often we take for granted how good we have it here in Australia – we forget. 

Often we need a wake-up call - it shouldn’t be needed, but it is.


Russian Meatballs: Rinse 1/2c Arborio rice; then bring rice and ½c of water to boil; simmer, covered, 5mins. Remove rice to bowl; cool. It will be fluffy and a little under-cooked. Puree 1 onion; combine onion with 1 finely shredded carrot, rice, 500g ground beef, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 egg, 1tsp mixed herbs; season. Form into golf ball-size. Heat 3tbs olive oil in pan; brown balls on all sides. In saucepan, sauté 250g sliced mushrooms and 1 red capsicum, cut into 2-inch pieces; add 2c drained canned tomatoes and 1/4c cream; season; bring to simmer; add 2tbs chopped parsley.  Pour sauce over meatballs; simmer, covered 10mins. Serve with pasta or mashed potatoes.

Russian Pirozhki:  Place 1/2 cup warmed milk in a cup or small bowl. Stir 1tbs white sugar; sprinkle 1tbs dry active yeast over the top. Set aside until foamy, about 10 mins. Pour 1-1/2c warmed milk into a large bowl. Add 2tbs melted butter, 1 egg, 1tsp salt and 1c plain flour to the large bowl with the milk. Stir in the yeast mixture. Mix in 5c plain flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from sides of the bowl, and doesn't stick to your hands. Cover bowl loosely; set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour. Dough should almost triple in size.While you wait for dough to rise, melt 1tbs butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add ½ medium cabbage, finely chopped; cook, stirring frequently, until cabbage has wilted. Mix in 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped; season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until cabbage is tender. Set this aside for the filling.

Place the risen dough onto a floured surface; gently form into a long snake about 2 inches wide. Cut into 1 inch pieces; roll each piece into a ball. Flatten the balls by hand until they are 4 to 5 inches across. Place a spoonful of the cabbage filling in centre; fold in half to enclose. Pinch edges together to seal in the filling.   

Preheat the oven, 200C. Line one or two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Place the pirozhki onto the baking sheet, leaving room between them for them to grow. Brush tops with beaten egg.   Bake for 20 minutes in preheated oven, or until golden brown.

Siberian Rye Biscuits: In a small thick-based saucepan on low heat, melt ½c sugar; stir often until dark brown. Very slowly, taking care to stand back, pour ⅓c boiling water, whisking constantly into melted sugar - the mixture will bubble and steam a lot. Once combined, the mixture will turn very dark brown. Add ½c sugar; simmer until completely melted. Remove from heat; add 8tbs butter. The colour will lighten. Leave for a few mins. Whisk 3 egg yolks. While whisking constantly, very slowly add caramel mixture to egg yolks. Add  3.5c whole ground rye flour, 1/4tsp salt, 1/2tsp cinnamon, 1/4tsp ginger, 1/8tsp nutmeg, pinch of ground cloves and cardamom. Knead, at first with a spoon, then your hand, until dough resembles play dough - just slightly sticky. If dough is very sticky, add ¼c rye flour. Cover/wrap; chill at least 20mins, and up to 24hrs. Bring to room temp.  Preheat oven 175C; line 2 baking sheets paper. Roll dough out to about ⅛ inch, very thin (no need to use extra flour). Cut out your favourite biscuits shapes. Bake for 8-10mins, until the edges start browning just a little. Cool on wire rack before glazing.  Glaze: combine 1 egg white, 1c icing sugar, 1tsp lemon juice and 1/2tsp vanilla; whisk on med-speed until light and fluffy; pipe onto biscuits.  Dry an hour or so. In stand mixer, whisk on med-speed until fluffy.