Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MUSIC TO MY EARS…PURRRFECT!



Ian Fleming's home "Goldeney"  in Jamaica
Another vista from "Goldeneye"
Interior....Goldeneye

I'm allowed to dream....

One thing leads to another. How often has that been said, I wonder?   Speaking on my own behalf, I’ve said it many times over; and no doubt will repeat the phrase ad infinitum - a slight exaggeration, I guess; but you know what I mean.  

It’s really very simple how I know this to be so. It happens to me all the time- the starting off in one direction, with one purpose in mind, and then becoming waylaid. 

For example – I start searching for something on the Web. Simple and swift it should be. It shouldn’t take me very long to find an answer to my query. It might be a word; an historical person of interest; information about a celebrity/sportsperson/writer etc; a song; a singer, songwriter and so on.  Within a blink or sometimes even half a blink, I become distracted from the initial search; stolen away as if kidnapped. 

Giving little resistance, I find myself being led along corridors; entering doorways to the left and to the right; even aloft into attics if they're on offer; being guided further and further into a world of wonder; a world of knowledge. No shoe leather is ever wasted or worn thin because my fingers do the walking.  I’m transported to foreign, exotic places without having expended a cent, let alone a dollar, on travel tickets; without having to pack a suitcase.  

A few years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon leisurely roaming around Jamaica.  While sipping on a drink more suited to a pirate than James Bond – Captain Morgan rum and mango juice, I spent hours enjoying the ambience at Ian Fleming’s estate “Goldeneye” in Oracabessa, on Jamaica’s north coast.  I found it very difficult to drag myself away. In 1976, twelve years after Fleming’s death the late Bob Marley purchased the property, but Marley resold it a year later, in 1977. 

It’s a most wonderful estate spread over lush green landscape. The home situated on the edge of a cliff, overlooks a private beach and the Caribbean Sea.  So, you see - you must understand how easy it was for me to willingly become lost in a fantasy world of dreams; of a reality I’d love to have been a part of, and probably would have never left if I had been so fortunate.  It is my kind of place!

In case you’re thinking otherwise, this is leading somewhere – really, it is.

Over the weekend I was searching for a song via today’s worldwide, endless highway…the Web. The Web Highway has myriad side tracks, and once on it, I dart off here, there and everywhere, never knowing where I’ll end up.  That’s half the fun, I guess.  Sometimes I become so engrossed I'm not aware I've ventured off the beaten track.  Next time I should pack myself a picnic lunch, grab a blanket; some fresh water, and fill a thermos flask with coffee.  Sustenance is needed.

I forget the initial song that kick-started my search, but I stumbled upon an old, all-time favourite – “Gentle On My Mind”. Glen Campbell made it famous, as did crooner, Dean Martin.  I prefer Campbell’s version, but that’s just my opinion and taste. It’s a beautiful song, and a melody difficult to be ruined by anyone - except when sung by me.

An interesting piece of trivia evolved out of my search.  John Hartford who wrote the song stated he was inspired to write it after seeing the movie, “Doctor Zhivago”.  Hartford wrote the song the same night he’d seen the film.  Engulfed by memories, it took him only 30 minutes or so to pen what was to become a chart-topper and a classic.   

Our memories can inspire us to do many things; to want to do many things; and to relive past moments- the good, the happy ones, in our life.  I wish some of my memories were capable of making me enough money to purchase “Goldeneye”. I’m just saying….I’m allowed to dream!

“Doctor Zhivago”, both the movie and the book inspired me, too…in a different way.

It was during my first marriage, in 1968 I saw the movie and read the book. I immediately fell in love with both.  How could anyone not fall under the spell of Lara and Zhivago; or drown willingly in the large, compelling, brown eyes of Omar Sharif?

(An aside: An aunty of mine – through my marriage to Randall, my second husband – was an avid and competent contract bridge player, as was Omar Sharif.  During a visit by Sharif to Australia to play contract bridge, Ethel, said aunt, played with him…contract bridge, that is!  She found it very difficult to concentrate on the game with him sitting across the table from her.  A very good ploy by the opposing team, I'd say)! 

Somewhere amongst my memorabilia I have a photograph taken at that moment in history.  I don't know where to start looking for it!

When I left Gympie in July, 1965 to move to the “big smoke”…the city of Brisbane...I had to leave my beloved ginger cat, suitably named “Cat”, behind with Mum and Nana.  Cat had such a unique personality from when he was just a little kitten, I couldn’t think of a name that suited his wonderful character, so he was stuck with “Cat”; and as it turned out, it fitted him well.  

I’d had Cat for years…a long time before “Breakfast at Tiffany's” hit our screens. I didn't see the movie until 1963; and I didn't read Truman Capote's 1958 novella until a number of years after I saw the movie.

Holly Golightly’s cat, also ginger, for the uninitiated, was, coincidentally, called, “Cat”.   "Breakfast at Tiffany's" remains on my list of top movies...movies that I love and have watched many times over.

Each afternoon my cat, Cat loyally would wait at the edge of the footpath outside our home  – waiting for me to arrive from work. He'd greet me with gusto and follow closely at my feet, fighting not only with possession of me, but for the stairs as we climbed them to enter the house. He never tried to hide the joy he felt at seeing me.  It broke my heart not being able to take Cat with me, but I had no other choice. I was to stay with friends for a couple of weeks or so until I found suitable accommodation of my own, and I couldn’t have my beloved furry mate with me wandering the streets of Brisbane looking for a flat in which to set up our camp. 

The day I left Gympie Cat sat forlornly on the very same footpath, right on the concrete edging of the gutter, watching me leave.  That moment was more of a tear-jerker than “Doctor Zhivago”; movie and book combined!  I think I cried most of the way to Brisbane.  It felt as if my heart had been wrenched from my chest.  

When Mum and Nana left Gympie to live at Slade Point via Mackay, Cat went with them. Cat remained in the loving care of Mum and Nana until he died at a grand old age.  More tears were shed.

Between my moving to Brisbane mid-1965 and shortly after seeing "Doctor Zhivago", the movie, I’d not had a cat in my life; and that was the longest period I’d ever been without a cat.  All through that period, which seemed like a lifetime to me, I felt something was missing from my life. The time had come to rectify the situation.

And then one Sunday evening a week or two after watching the film a friend visited, unexpectedly bearing a gift for me.  The gift was a fluffy, six-week old ginger kitten. I was immediately smitten.  Our feelings about each other were mutual. The little ball of joy was mine; and I was his (I wasn't a little ball of joy, of course!). From the moment he was placed in my hands there wasn't a moment of doubt.

I christened my little ginger friend – “Sasha”…named after Zhivago and Tonya’s son.

Sasha became my constant.  When Mervyn and I separated - when I moved into the flat with the rose garden on Oxlade Drive, New Farm (my post of September 16th, 2014) - I didn’t go alone.  Sasha went along with me.  He packed up his food bowls, his fur coat and moved out, too.

Wherever I went, he went.  There was never any thought about debating the situation.  It was clear cut. No contracts needed signing.  Sasha was smart; very savvy; and extremely loyal.  There was no pulling the fur over his eyes.

I told you there was a point to this story...I may have gone the long way around it...but I got there in the end...I hope you've not jumped off halfway through....

More about Sasha to come....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ME, EMU, YOU AND ROO...AND IT AIN'T A CROCK!



Cartoon by Tony Turton

Red Wine Marinated Emu

Large Emu egg...in comparison to chicken eggs

Lake Elphinstone


Lately, it would seem, I’m unable to get off the subject of emus…but I will after this...I promise you.

There is no denying Australia is a country filled with many weird creatures.  Some (probably quite a few) would say that I comfortably fit into the “weird” category …but that’s okay with me.  I don’t mind being a step outside of the “norm”.  I look forward to becoming an eccentric old lady…I may have already achieved my goal!

Out of the blue one day when I was the chef/cook at “Lorikeets’ Restaurant”, Glenden back in the early 90s, upon unpacking and storing away my ordered stock that had been delivered from the Head Office of Morris Corporation/Catering, to my surprise, I found amongst my meat order a few kilos of emu meat!  I hadn’t ordered it; and, to be honest, I didn’t particularly want it.  But there it was as fresh as the day was long – waste not; want not. 

I’d never cooked emu meat, but I wasn’t going to let that faze me!  Always up for a challenge even if I wasn’t too keen about it, I pondered upon my dilemma for a while. 

I didn’t have Mr. Google to guide me towards a recipe, so I forged forth and made up my own as I went along.  Having no intention of putting emu permanently on my menu, I decided the best thing to do was get rid of what I’d received that night, if I could, by putting emu up on my “Special of the Night” board; and then that would be that – done and dusted.  Emu no more!

Some feather dusters are made with emu feathers; so, too, are ornate earrings. The emu I received had already been plucked, so I wasn’t faced with that problem.  Emu eggs are preferred for ornamental use; I never cooked with them because they took up too much room in the pans!

Emu oil is claimed to have many healing health benefits; research is ongoing in that department.

According to historians, emu oil was, and probably still is in some area, an Aboriginal traditional medicine. The then unadulterated oil was used for bites, cuts, sores, bruises, fevers, aches and pain. An all-purpose solver of problems it would appear. Nowadays it’s not as “pure”, of course, with additives added to the mix; but its healing uses and benefits are many, according to some “experts”.  The jury is still out in some instances.

However, when confronted with a parcel of fresh emu meat that day, the healing power of emu oil was the last thing on my mind.  

I’d cooked kangaroo meat; and crocodile many times.  A very popular entrée on the restaurant’s menu was Crocodile Kebabs.  To my taste there were (are) far more interesting and tasty foods to eat than crocodile! Crocodile isn’t on my list of things I want to eat; although I have tried it, of course.
I cut the croc meat into approximately 1-inch square pieces before marinating the pieces in brandy, garlic, fresh ginger, a pinch of chilli, a splash of soy sauce and some other spices just to infuse a bit of flavour into the blandness; and then I’d thread it onto skewers, alternating with similar sized pieces of capsicum/peppers and onion.  Crocodile meat not marinated tasted like cardboard drink’s coaster, I reckoned. Using a coaster would’ve been cheaper! 

However, as the saying goes…”there’s no account for taste”…who am I to questions the reasons why so many diners ordered my crocodile kebabs…and enjoyed them?  And doubled up and ordered them again when they re-visited the restaurant…..

Figuring emu was a very lean meat similar to kangaroo meat I decided to treat it similarly.  In other words, close my eyes and hope for the best!  What did I have to lose…just a few diners!

I cut the meat into serving-sized fillets, and then I marinated the “steaks” in a quality red wine, either a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon – one or the other - crushed fresh garlic, freshly-cracked black pepper and some chopped fresh herbs; whatever I had on hand and ones I felt suitable to what I had in mind.  My intention was to grill the fillets briefly as the orders came into to me in the kitchen that evening.  Over-cooking would not do.

I then lived in the hope the dish would be ordered.

I wrote it up on the “Specials of the Night” menu; I invented a suitable description for my creation; and the rest was in the laps of the Gods…hopefully not in the laps of the diners!

One of the restaurant’s bookings that evening was for a table of some of the “big bosses” from MIM…Mount Isa Mines…the owner/operator of Newlands, the large coal mine just outside of Glenden.  Along with the MIM hierarchy were local top drawer representatives from the Newland Coal Mine; all of whom were playing host to visiting financiers and bankers from the US.  

After gathering for a somewhat brief interlude at the restaurant’s cocktail bar for pre-dinner drinks the party converged upon their table, with their appetites intact.  

Soon their meal orders flowed into the kitchen and were stuck on the spikes above my cooking range.  All systems go!

I’d struck it lucky!  Every one of the overseas visitors, plus some of the Aussie hosts ordered the emu! 

By the end of service, I had not a sliver of emu left in the restaurant, in the kitchen or the cold room, for that matter!  They’d depleted my stock.  I was so grateful and, out of the sight of others, proudly gave myself a pat on my back.  My emu dish had been received like first prize in the lottery!

Accolades were passed onto me from all and sundry. I humbly and graciously accepted the generous praise sent my way. 

Next day I phoned Head Office and told them never to send me emu meat again; in fact never send me anything I’d not ordered ever again.

On the subject of the crocodile kebabs - another night and another diner from the US – said diner stopped me as I passed his table to ask where I got my crocodile meat from.  Without missing a beat and with a very straight face, I told the inquisitive, quite naïve gentleman that every Sunday, my day off, I grabbed my rifle and headed off to one of the nearby local creeks; but I steered clear of Lake Elphinstone because it was too big and always filled with water skiers.  Once there I’d find a likely spot; take aim and nab my prey.  His host, one of the restaurant’s regular diners almost choked on his meal and tried to slide under the table out of view. 

His guest believed every silly word that had spilled out of my mouth.  And then, I just continued on to the kitchen, leaving our US visitor wide-eyed in wonder. 

I wonder how many people he repeated that story to!

It’s marvellous what you can get away with if you keep a straight face!

One day I did tell a tourist  to save fuel I sometimes hitched a ride on a kangaroo...and hopped down the mountain road, and then along the motorway up to Brisbane to do some shopping.  It was handy in a couple of ways because I could store my purchases in the kangaroo's pouch.

Well....I keep telling you I shouldn't be let out amongst the madding crowds....

Friday, October 10, 2014

OLD MAN EMU - IT’S TIME TO SHAKE YOUR TAIL FEATHERS!


Sunshine Beach

Tin Can Bay...circa 2014
Goomboorian Landscape
Another  view of Goomboorian





Yeppoon...circa 2014
Singing Ship Monument, the Emu Park land area was first discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770.

Emu Park Beachfront


Emu: Correct pronunciation – “eem-you”…NOT…”ee-moo”.

While on the subject of emus …those of the long, legged, feathered variety, that is, not restaurants wantonly using their name at will…I’ve a tale or two to relate about our large, inquisitive, native birds.

My grandmother, Ivy Flora Hose, was born at an area named “The Dawn”, across the Mary River on the south-side of Gympie. Not long after Nana was born, sometime in the late 19th century, I don’t know the exact date, the family moved from The Dawn to Goomboorian, a country area 20ks (12 miles) east of Gympie. 

My grandmother’s parents (Scottish, Irish and mixture of both) originally went to the Gympie area because my great-grandfather, Nana’s father. He gained worked at the Scottish Mine at Monkland, which is 2kms south of Gympie.

The Gympie region from the late 1860s onwards to the early 1900s was the site of a gold rush.  Many Scots ended up in the area in search of work and somewhere to settle to raise their growing families.  Monkland, in fact, was named after a Scottish town by a gold prospector.  By the 1870s the township of Gympie was well on its way.  Shops popped up as did hotels to servicing the growing population.   

It’s a slight exaggeration….slight…but at one time on almost very corner in Gympie there stood a pub!

By the way, Gympie was originally known as “Nashville” – named after James Nash.  In 1867 Nash, a prospector, born in Beanacre, Wilstshire was the first person to discover gold in the area later to be known as Gympie…and the rush began.  James Nash died in Gympie on 5th October, 1913 at the age of 79 years.

In 1889 Gympie was connected to Brisbane, the state’s capital, by railway.  Those who built the line didn’t take into consideration the fairly steep gradient between Monkland and Gympie.

For the ensuing half century and more the wonderful old steam engines had their work cut out for them as they huffed and puffed along the railroad tracks to their destination, the Gympie Railway Station; but in saying this, the sturdy steam engines did their job without fail, and in romantic style.

When my grandmother was young their mode of travel was by horse-drawn buggy, on horseback or by Shank’s pony (by foot).

Goomboorian, on the road from Gympie to the sleepy little fishing village of Tin Can Bay, is approximately halfway (32kms – 19 miles) between Gympie and The Bay.  Driving from Goomboorian to Tin Can Bay these days takes less than 30 minutes, but back when Nana was a girl and the family went to Tin Can Bay for fishing trips they’d break the "lengthy"  trip and camp overnight at Coondoo Creek before travelling on the following morning; and similar occurred on the return trip from The Bay to Goomboorian.

In the latter stages of the 19th Century, into the early years of the 20th Century Goomboorian was an unspoiled rural area; and to this day it remains so, pretty much.  The surrounding rolling hills and lush pastures lure many who enjoy a quieter existence to that of living in towns - in the built-up areas.  Small crop farming is one of the main activities, wherein a wide variety of vegetables and fruit are grown.  Pineapples, in particular, are a popular crop amongst many of the farmers.  A few dairy farms still exist, as well. People from all walks of life enjoy the rustic ambience.  Houses are on country acreages, and the population today stands below 500 (they do sometimes sit)! 

Goomboorian houses are of the more up-market modern variety these days than they were when my grandmother and her siblings grew up in the area.

Back in my grandmother’s day the life was far different to what we experience now. For one thing, emus visited daily. I doubt many, if any, do nowadays
 
My brother, Graham and I lapped up the stories Nana told us of the “olden days”.  We’d urge her on to tell us more, and we never cared if we’d heard a story many times before.  Nana was happy to relate her tales; she was a very good storyteller; and we could vividly picture the scenes and events as she described them.

Nana told us of how the family cutlery – silverware – had to be, at all times, hidden away out of view.  Once the dishes had been washed and dried the cutlery, in particular, was immediately put into the respective drawers or wherever else it was kept.  If, perchance, the wooden hopper windows in the kitchen were left open over the washing up area often inquisitive, passing emus would poke their heads through the open window to steal the silverware if it had been left out in clear view on the bench or table.  It was a lesson soon learned by the humans, not to leave the cutlery lying about within easy reach of the long-legged, long-necked, feathered thieves.

Many years later in 1981, a couple of years after Randall, my then husband and I moved to live on the coast at Sunshine Beach, he and I decided we’d hire a small caravan and go off on a trip north from Noosa to Mossman, in Far North Queensland, stopping off at beaches on our way north and on our return trip home.  

Actually, it was Randall’s idea to do the expedition.  He was very keen to do the Lucille Ball -Desi Arnaz “Long, Long Trailer” imitation. Our trip ended up a bit like that movie by the time we returned to Sunshine Beach, actually.  I collected coconuts along the way.  There was hardly any room left in the caravan.  Any spare space was filled with coconuts!  If you recall...in the movie Lucille Ball collected rocks....much to Desi's dismay, and their almost disastrous demise.  Well, instead of rocks, I stripped all the coconut palm trees in North Queensland of their crops!

Randall had to do quite a lot of persuading and cajoling to get me to agree to the trip.  At heart, I’m a home-body when it gets down to the nitty-gritty.  

We were living just a hop, skip and a half leap from the beach, anyway; one of the best beaches in Queensland.  I couldn’t see the point in going elsewhere.  Also, I didn’t want to leave my very spoilt, sooky, beautiful ginger cat, Ruska, for a length of time; nor was I looking forward to the idea of being away from the comforts of home.  

I put up many arguments (even making up a few, I'm sure), but to no avail.  Eventually, Randall won out; the van was loaded, overloaded.  I packed everything bar the kitchen sink and Ruska. Off we went headed north, the little caravan in tow. A good friend looked after Ruska during our absence.

Our overnight stays were always at beach-side caravan parks; the main purpose of the trip - visiting all the beaches along the way while making up our minds which ones we preferred and would stay longer at on our return trip south.  

I have a phobia about public toilets/shower blocks etc.  The first thing I did when we pulled into a caravan park before setting up was to check the facilities.  If they weren’t clean and in good order there would be no way in the world we’d stay there.  Fortunately, we never struck out.  Top marks for Queensland's caravan parks at that time.  I hope same can still be said these days.

We’d reached the Capricorn Coast. Central Queensland city of Rockhampton sits reasonably comfortably a short distance north of the Tropic of Capricorn; the city has capitalised on the fact that it is so close to the Tropic of Capricorn, which is fair enough, too.  Tourist dollars are important, as are beef dollars.   

Rockhampton is also known as Australia’s beef cattle capital; and that’s no bull!

The Berserker Range lies on the eastern side of Rocky and unfortunately the range blocks a lot of the sea breezes. Rather than set up camp in Rockhampton we decided to head to the beach - toYeppoon, 40kms (25 miles) east of the city.  Yeppoon is the major centre of the Capricorn Coast; but we were looking for something more laid back, so we continued on to Emu Park, a smaller, unspoiled seaside township 21kms south of Yeppoon.  Emu Park overlooks Keppel Bay, a bay that is home to Great Keppel Island, a popular spot for holidaymakers.

Having pulled into a suitable, shady spot at a local caravan park I made a quick dash to do my normal inspection of the public facilities/conveniences.  All boxes were ticked, so I began to exit the amenties' block to assist Randall in setting up our van.   

I stopped dead in my tracks when I came level with the doorway of the toilet/shower block.   

Gathered around the door, peering inside were about six curious emus.  They’d seen me go into the building so decided they, too, should have a look. 

Meanwhile, Randall had spotted the antics of the feathered, nosy critters and he was in fits of laughter, waiting to see my reaction.  Who was I to disappoint him?  Randall got what he'd eagerly anticipated - my response.  

I received the shock of my life when I came face to beak/s with the emus. I had no chance to disguise my surprise.  I sure as hell wasn’t expecting a welcoming squad…and definitely not one comprised of about half a dozen emus!  

Randall continued to laugh his head off at my unbridled shock. 

In a variation of the words once uttered by a stiff, upper-lipped Queen Victoria – “I was not amused!”

It didn’t take me long, however, to be amused at the image. We laughed for ages, and still do to this day whenever the episode comes up in conversation. What a shame the emus and my reaction wasn’t captured on film!

There is little wonder from where the name “Emu Park” originated!

Years later when I was chef/manager of the Mess and single men’s accommodation at Collinsville, for Collinsville Coal, I had to drive across to Glenden, another town servicing the coal mines of the Bowen Basin.  The company I was employed by also had the catering/accommodation contract in Glenden.  

Rather than go the long route, via Bowen along the Bruce Highway, south to Mackay, and then west to Glenden, I chose to take the “back” route, which in 1991 was just a narrow, dirt bush track.   

The distance between Collinsville and Glenden via the bush track was 119 kms; whereas the other route via Bowen/Mackay is much longer - approximately 437kms.  One didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to make the decision.   

At the time I had a little Suzuki 4-wheel drive.  It was the company’s car.  A nifty little vehicle that stood only a little taller than me; but it did the job required of it (as did I). 

So off I went on my merry way; country music cassettes at the ready on the passenger seat to help me while away the time and distance as I bounced over the rough, dirt track.  Thankfully, it hadn't rained for a few months.

In a world of my own surrounded by vast, beef cattle country of flat, grassed, barely-treed plains with George Strait or Ricky Van Shelton serenading from the car’s cassette player, I rounded a bend.  And then, without warning, I nearly jumped out of my seat…out of the vehicle.   

At eye level…level with my right eye (that’s where the driver’s seat is in our cars Down Under) – was an emu!  I’m not sure who got the biggest fright...the emu or me!

To this day I reckon the car and I lifted about three feet in the air; and I reckon the emu did, too.  

For a brief moment in time, the bird and I eye-balled each other, and then it veered off to the right.  At a reasonably leisurely pace it loped away without a backward glance. It’s long, lean legs easily scaled the brown grass and short bushes. 

I took a deep breath and continued on my way to Glenden without further excitement.

Both the emu and I had a story to tell when we both reached our destinations!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

CHAPTER TWO - PASS ME THE MAYO, MATTEO!





So there I was in a “foreign” kitchen racing against the clock preparing for the night ahead; my first night as the restaurant's cook.  (I was a self-taught cook...not a formally-trained chef).

The sun refused to slow its descent, not even for me! It was rapidly disappearing over the western horizon.  There was no time to waste. 

Studying the restaurant’s comprehensive menu, I made quite a number of deletions to simplify that first service.  There was nothing else I could do.  I'd quickly whipped up a soup because there was no way I was prepared to serve the remains left in one of the fridges of what maybe had been a soup at one stage.  I'm prepared to bet I can beat any world record in the time it takes to make pumpkin! 

When the waitress arrived for her shift, I immediately took her aside and pointed out what she had to do; which items I’d temporarily removed from the menu for that evening’s service. I hated doing so, deleting dishes. It wasn’t something I enjoyed doing – having to tell diners that certain dishes listed on the menu weren’t available.  To my mind, it didn't shine a bright light upon the restaurant; any restaurant.  In any of the restaurants I cooked in throughout the ensuing years I hated having to do so, and 99.9% of the time I didn’t operate that way. Whatever was on the menu was available to the diners at all times.

However, that night I had no other choice.  And as it turned out, it was a practice I continued while cooking at “The Ebony Emu”; again, I was left with no other choices.

The menu was ridiculous.  It had far too many items on it.  For such a small restaurant whoever originally planned the menu needed their head read. There were about 10 offerings of chicken, done 10 different ways!  Similar applied to beef, fish/seafood and desserts.  There were even a couple of veal dishes on the menu, as well as pork!  To top all of the above off, there were five or six different duck dishes as well!   

For goodness sake! It was absolutely insane; and totally unnecessary.  The diners had about 20 entrees (“starters” for Northern Hemisphere readers) to choose from before they even got to the main meal orders! And then, of course, a multitude of desserts awaited!   I couldn’t believe it.  I still shake my head in wonderment when I think about it!

On that first evening by the time the clock ticked over and the restaurant doors were opened to the public, I was ready - somehow.  And I’d coached the waitress into what was required of her.

My bosses were milling about; the wife more than her husband.  He manned the bar while she wafted around the restaurant doing I knew not what.  Most of the time she just sat at a dimly-lit end corner of the bar. Every now and then she poked her head into the kitchen, but I was too busy to take much notice of her.  She had nothing constructive to offer, anyway!

I will never forget how concerned I felt that night when the first meals were taken off me by the waitress.  As Lisa (the waitress) headed out through the kitchen door to present the meals to the diners I felt as if someone had taken my baby from me.  An odd emotion flowed through my being. It was a really strange reaction; but it was how I felt.  I’d created what was on the plates.  I was proud of my creations…and once they were taken from me I felt had no further control over them.  It’s probably hard to understand unless you’ve been in a similar situation (within the restaurant trade, I mean)…but, in all honesty, it’s how I felt.

I had an overpowering urge to serve the tables myself; to greet and smile at the diners who were about to eat my food.  I didn’t know how the waitress dealt with the public.  I’d met her only about 30 minutes or so before the restaurant opened for the night’s service.  For all I knew, she could’ve had a gruff approach.  Eye appeal of the food on the plate is very important; almost as important as the taste of the food itself; and so is the person serving the food.  A meal can quickly be ruined by the manner of the person waiting on the tables. 

As it turned out I need not have worried.  Lisa was a very proficient waitress with a wonderful manner towards the diners.  All went smoothly in that department; and in no time at all, she and I worked together well. She was on my side; or in today’s vernacular –“we were on the same page”.  (However, the monstrosity of a menu had more than one page)!

Pointing out to Lisa that, in my opinion, the menu had far too many dishes listed for such a small restaurant/turnover, I explained what my intentions were until I could sway Ellen, my boss, the owner of the premises to allow me to produce a new, concise menu more suitable to the restaurant’s requirements and covers.  The existing menu was far too confusing.  Too much stock needed to be carried to cater to it.  Too much stock was wasted, and far too much stock was being frozen in the sparse refrigeration to cover the numerous, varied dishes.  There was no logic to how the kitchen-restaurant was being run. 

Against everything I believed in, and going against my grain, I consciously deleted certain dishes from the menu, informing Lisa of what I'd done each time she turned up for her shift.  I then got to work on Ellen, but that was like whistling in the wind.  Finally, she agreed to allowing me to put together a new menu, but with her final approval.  I worked conscientiously on a new menu; presented it to her and a day later, she refused to go with it!

Two can play the game.   

I didn’t argue with Ellen; there was no point.  It was kind of like the saying – “all the lights were on, but no one’s at home”.  So I just continued on deleting dishes off the menu, as I saw fit – by ruling lines through them.  It wasn’t a very attractive look on the menu; and I hated having to deal with the problem that way, but I wasn’t going to be held responsible for poisoning a diner/s because of the ignorance and stubbornness of the owners.  Nor was I prepared to use frozen produce all the time.  I wanted to use fresh produce; so I did.  She never looked at the menu, anyway.  And she was totally oblivious to what was going on around her.

I'd argued until I was purple in the face about the way the mayonnaise was stored; but I gave up on that, too.  It was a pointless argument.  Ellen never listened to what I had to say, let alone heed my suggestions. She had absolutely no clue how to run a restaurant kitchen, or even a restaurant.  Her people skills were non-existent.

I had a simple remedy - I just didn't use mayonnaise.  It was deleted from the menu and from my mind.  The buckets of mayo could rot as far as I was concerned.

And then there was her husband – Dudley.  He was another strange person.  They were kindred spirits; a good pair!

Each evening, no sooner had I sent the last main meal out Dudley, behind the cocktail bar, would start tallying up the night’s takings, as well as going around the empty tables, putting the chairs up on said tables to make it easy to clean the floor!   The clinking of coins and the scraping of chairs on the floor before they were put up on the tables echoed through the restaurant while diners were still eating.  It was comedy! The diners would still be there TRYING to relax over their meal.  Night after night, most had not yet finished their main meal, and they, at one stage, no doubt, had had thoughts of having dessert, followed perhaps by coffee and liqueurs – that is, until all the closing-up activities started going on around them!  It was unbelievable - and so very rude!

To my mind what Dudley did was disrespectful to the diners - and to me, the person cooking the meals! It was an insult of the highest degree!

His bad manners made me feel very embarrassed (and angry). I’d stop what I was doing in the kitchen, enter the dining area and go out around the tables talking cheerfully with the customers in an effort to appease the situation - trying to distract their attention from the stupidity of what was happening around them.

I tried to explain to Dudley what he was doing was the height of bad manners, but nothing sunk in.  I’m not sure what world he and Ellen lived in, but I didn’t want to be part of it.

I didn’t stay long at The Ebony Emu. I didn’t want my name linked with the place. Soon after I left so did they! Little wonder! 

It certainly was an experience…but one that didn’t put me off working/cooking in restaurants.   

Dudley and Ellen should never have entered the hospitality industry.  They didn’t have a hospitable bone between them – not even a chewed upon chicken bone! 


Lee's Pumpkin Soup: Melt 30g butter in a large saucepan; sauté 1 finely-chopped onion, 2 celery stalks, diced and 2 crushed garlic cloves, until soft, without colouring. Add a couple of pinches of ground cumin; fry very gently for a minute or so. Add 750-800g peeled Jap (or butternut) pumpkin, cut into pieces, 2 cups quality vegetable or chicken stock, 2c water and 1 can diced tomatoes. Bring slowly to the boil; simmer, covered for about 15 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender. Season to taste. Cool slightly and purée the mixture in several lots, using a food processor or blender (or, preferably, in the pot, using a stick blender). Check seasoning to taste. If you feel the soup is too thick add a little more stock…but don’t make the soup too thin.  Reheat gently; ladle into bowls.  Swirl a little cream on top, if you like; or sprinkle with coarsely- chopped parsley or torn fresh coriander (cilantro).

 Piri-Piri Chicken: Make the piri piri sauce; put 2 char-grilled capsicums/peppers, 1-2 dried chillies and 1 large, long red chilli, deseeded and chopped, 1tbs red wine vinegar, 4 chopped garlic cloves, 1/2tsp smoked paprika and 1/2tsp coriander powder into a food processor. Add enough olive oil to make a loose paste. Spread the piri piri over 2 chicken thighs (boneless if you like); marinate overnight. Heat barbecue or griddle pan to hot; cook chicken on both sides until crisp, brown and cooked through.  Heat the remaining marinade in saucepan; Serve with the chicken.  Sprinkle cooked chicken with chopped coriander, lemon/lime wedges, extra sauce and fresh, crusty bread. 

Potato-Kumara-Soy Mayonnaise Salad:Combine 1-2tbs soy mayonnaise and 1tsp Dijon mustard; set aside. Cook 2 large sweet potato/kumara and 2 large potatoes in a large saucepan of salted boiling water for 12 minutes or until each are just tender; don’t overcook. Drain. When cool enough to handle, cut into 2cm pieces; place in large bowl; add thinly-sliced shallots, 1 red onion, diced; while the potatoes are still warm; add a little vinaigrette dressing; toss the salad; then add soy mayonnaise; coat the vegetables well; serve.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PASS ME THE MAYO, MATTEO! CHAPTER ONE.....



"Old Man Emu can run the pants off a kangaroo!"


 
Peregian Beach

Play time on Peregian Beach

Peregian Square Circa 2014


On second thoughts – please don’t.

My comments herein are mine, and mine alone. They’re just my opinion. We all have our own opinions about things. My intention is not to sway anyone to my way of thinking about mayonnaise. The decisions we make are our own.

I’m not and never have I been a lover of mayonnaise. The pundits claim commercial brands of mayo don’t cause food poisoning because the commercially-made products contain an abundance of acidity, such as vinegar and other ingredients (as well as a stack of preservatives, the names of which make little sense to the lay person). Yet instructions on the label still advise us to “Refrigerate After Opening”.  Oh! Yes! Of course! That’s to preserve the flavour; not because of the chance of causing food poisoning.

It’s most important to be aware at all times that homemade mayonnaise is made by using raw eggs. Highly perishable homemade mayo should be consumed immediately after preparation. What is left-over must be refrigerated, and then the rest finished off as soon as possible…otherwise, if that’s not possible…toss it!

And don’t let salads with mayo as an ingredient sit out in the sun or at room temperate until next year!  Two hours is the maximum, if at room temperature.  It’s not a very smart or good idea to allow any food to sit for long under the sun; if at all!

Through the years I’d done a lot of cooking for one reason or another; and at various periods, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I worked tables in a few Brisbane restaurants on a “second-job-casual-part-time basis”. There were times I assisted in the kitchens when the need arose.  I loved watching what the chefs were doing – watching and learning as I followed their instructions.  

When I worked for 14 years within the fashion industry as well as assisting in the organisation of in-house promotion evenings launching new lines to the retailers; choreographing the how the products would be present, I also hands-on handled the catering.  My reason for doing so was I loved to cook.  I loved to cook for a crowd.   (Perhaps I should have been locked up then and there)!

All of this I’ve written about previously, I know...please bear with me...as it leads into the rest of this tale....

However the first restaurant in which I was actually the sole cook/chef - in charge of my own kitchen - was a restaurant in Peregian Beach, circa 1983. 

 “The Ebony Emu” was its name. It was situated on the David Low Way that runs south from the junction of Noosa/Sunshine Beach at the northern end and links to the Sunshine Motorway, west of Mudjimba about 35kms away.  Peregian Beach is approximately halfway between the two points.

The Ebony Emu was part of the Peregian Beach Motel.  It serviced the motel guests as well as the general public.

A piece of trivia worth noting - Peregian is a local Aboriginal word for emu.

One special afternoon, the first Tuesday in November - after celebrating the iconic race that “stops a nation”, the Melbourne Cup - my ex, Randall and I along with a couple of friend somehow ended up at the bar in the restaurant at the Peregian Beach Motel.

Full of bravado and cheek (and liquid refreshments), I mentioned during an animated chat with the owner that I loved to cook, and, even though I was self-taught, I had a pretty good grasp on what commercial cooking was all about, having worked in a few restaurants, one way of the other, in the past; and if she was ever looking for a cook/chef, I was ready, willing, and somewhat able. 

It’s marvelous how confident one is of one’s abilities when fueled with champagne and Scotch!  A magical potion!        

Out of the blue a couple of weeks later (I'd filed away in the rear, dark recesses of my mind the fearless speech I'd made on Melbourne Cup Day) at around 2.30-3 pm the phone rang.  I answered the call and heard an anxious, somewhat pleading voice on the other end asking if I would start work immediately at the Ebony Emu Restaurant - in the kitchen!  Apparently, their chef had gotten his nappy in a knot over something or other, and had thrown off his apron, grabbed his tools of trade and walked - straight out the door - without notice, leaving them in the lurch.  The restaurant was well-booked for that evening and time was of the essence.  Hit the panic button!          

What did I have to lose?  I jumped into action immediately and said I’d be there within a blink of an eye.  Grabbing my set of knives…I always like good quality kitchen knives and had a collection of German steel knives of varying sizes for various purposes…I raced downstairs and outside.  Randall was cleaning the pool.

“Where are you off to, honey?” He asked somewhat quizzically.  We’d made no plans to go out; I’d made no plans to go out.  I quickly filled him in what was happening; raced off to my car and left him with his mouth agape!

As soon as I entered the restaurant kitchen I did a rapid reconnaissance of the lay-out, stock and the whole situation at hand.  I couldn’t believe what I found.  There was food in the fridges that had longer growths on them than Santa Claus!  Without favour or fear, I started tossing stuff away, left, right and centre.  I’d wing it; play it by ear and by my way.

The restaurant seated about 30 diners, max.

I soon discovered it had the strangest owners; and even more strange, the kitchen didn’t have a cold room. Four domestic fridge/freezers did the job; or didn’t do the job! 20-litre buckets of mayonnaise, seals broken (with “Refrigerate After Opening” clearly written on the labels) sat on the kitchen floor where they were permanently stored. No matter how many times I pointed out the problem to my boss, the restaurant’s owner, my pleas were ignored. Needless to say, I came up with my own solution.  

I kept my mouth shut, but I swiftly deleted all items from the menu that required mayonnaise; in the few dishes that couldn’t be deleted, I replaced the mayo with sour cream or natural yoghurt, using smaller containers. If the contents weren’t used immediately, what remained was covered and stored in one of the fridges, to be used up as soon as possible; and so on. The clock was ticking (it was a time before digital clocks). 

From when I set foot into the kitchen for that first afternoon I had approximately three hours for preparation until the restaurant doors opened to hungry diners!

It wasn’t only the mayo that the owners were weird about; but more about that in Chapter Two.  

Simple Soy Mayonnaise:  Place 1c natural, unflavoured Soy milk into deep jug; blend with stick blender for a few minutes; using 1/4c olive oil, add oil a little at a time while blending.  Add 1/4c lemon juice, salt or honey to taste, 1/2tsp crushed black pepper, 1/2tsp crushed mustard seeds and 1 teaspoon of any herb as desired. Add any herb of your choice; dill, oregano, rosemary, parsley, thyme, or even Basil will go well. A sprinkling of garlic flakes can be incorporated, if you wish, to add extra flavour and taste. Put into glass jar; refrigerate.

Eggless Mayo: Mix together slowly with a whisk, the following ingredients:  200g condensed milk, 4tbs salad oil, 4tbs white vinegar or lemon juice, 1/2tsp salt, 1tsp mustard powder and 1/2tspn white pepper.


Eggless Tofu Mayonnaise: Combine 240g tofu, 1/4c canola oil, 1tbs lemon juice, 1tbs sugar, 1-1/2tsp prepared mustard, 1tsp apple cider vinegar and 1/2tsp salt; blend until mixture is smooth.