Tuesday, April 14, 2015

CHAPTER EIGHT… MUSIC TO MY EARS...PURRRFECT....OR...TO ALL THE CATS I'VE LOVED BEFORE...AND STILL...



Sunrise Beach
Sunshine Beach
Laguna Bay, Noosa Heads
Ray White Real Estate, Hastings Street, Noosa...circa 2015
Laguna Guest House - circa 1935...courtesy University of Queensland  (Collection of Megan Young)
Hastings St.  circa 2015
Lake Cooroibah
Lake Cooroibah

The seven years Randall and I lived on the Sunshine Coast flew by at a rapid rate of knots. 

Upon reflection, we crammed an incredible amount of living and working into those seven years. 

During the late Seventies into the early Eighties property investments soared on the coast. People were going crazy investing in land, houses, apartments etc.  It was party time for everyone involved, from investors, builders, contractors, home-owners, solicitors, accountants, real estate agents, etc., all down the line.  Everyone was affected by the boom, one way or the other. Dinner parties, lunches, dining out – good times abounded.  Local restaurants benefited greatly from the real estate boom.  Bookings were necessary or you just didn't get a table, or the wait for one to be vacated was lengthy.  But, true to the sayings…"all good things come to an end; every balloon bursts"....eventually. 

Before I venture forth, after Sasha’s death Ruska spent most of his days curled up on the day bed in our home office. Ruska was a very loving cat.  In Aussie vernacular....he was a sook.  And I love him for being that way.  Ruska preferred being close to where we were at all times; within eye-line and easy reach.  He never stirred, battered an eye-lid, nor did he twitch a whisker when clients visited to conduct their business, except every time when one particular fellow entered the office. Ruska's antennae perked on high alert; and it never let him down whenever the fellow approached.  

The offender to Ruska’s senses was a partner in a business partnership of two.  John, the other partner of the duo was a family man with a wife and two young kiddies.  Ruska never took any notice if only John came into our office; he never stirred or batted an eyelid, but he always high-tailed it as soon as John's partner entered the room.   

Most of our clients hardly noticed Ruska curled up on the day bed, asleep. Many never did notice him there. Some would stroke him, and he’d allow them to do so, but, not wasting a second, Ruska would always disappear as soon as this one client arrived, only to reappear when he left the premises.  There was something about this bloke Ruska didn’t like, and he, Ruska, made no pretense of his feelings towards him.
The partner, whose name I’ve not forgotten, but refuse to give recognition or voice to, was a chubby chap in his early thirties or thereabouts. 

Ruska wasn’t alone regarding his reaction to whom I shall name presently as  “Chubby”.  Every time he walked into our office he also caused the hairs on my back to go up; and a shiver would go down my spine. So there was Ruska with his fur up, and, me with my the hairs on my back upright - a matching pair!
  
Almost every time "Chubby” came to our office in total ignorance he’d walk up to where I was working at my desk, and there he'd stand behind me, peering over my shoulder while I was typing or attending to other clerical matters.  I hate it when people do that to me. More particularly, I despise it when I’ve asked them time after time not to do so, and my request goes unheeded, as was the case with "Chubby"!

It reached the stage with him when I’d had enough of his ignorance. I ceased asking him politely not to stand looking over my shoulder. The day had come that I’d had enough.  The camel’s back had been broken by the fragile straw! 

Not giving a damn about his sensitivities (he’d made it patently obvious he had none), I didn’t hold back.  I snarled at him, leaving nothing to his imagination, telling him to cease and desist…to walk away!   He finally…finally…got the message!

Between the partners, he and John had bought a couple of investment properties through our small agency, and had their eyes on a few others of interest.  Randall had also acted as John’s agent when he purchased his family home in Sunrise Beach, an area nearby to Sunshine Beach.  Both John and “Chubby”, as a business partnership, had been our clients for a year or so. 

One Monday morning John, extremely flustered and white of face, rushed into our office.  Randall and I looked at each other, surprised and concerned by his unorthodox entry.

John flopped down onto a chair at Randall’s desk.  Randall told him to take his time; to catch his breath.  I handed him a glass of water.  As he held his head in his hands, John's body heaved.  We waited as he calmed himself; and then, the words that fell from John’s mouth almost floored us. We were rendered speechless from what we were hearing.

In Sydney, the previous night “Chubby” had committed two murders!

Randall and I had seen and heard the news bulletins, but, of course, we were not aware of the details of the crime, and had given the matter little further thought…until John burst into our office with the unsettling information.

Apparently, “Chubby” had been having a relationship of sorts with one of the victims. John told us “Chubby” often visited Sydney to spend time with his wealthy “paramour”.   

The previous evening, as a guest in the victim’s home, the two of them shared a meal after which the host, soon-to-become-victim invited “Chubby” into his games’ room/bar.  Apparently, the den was lavishly set up with “boys’ toys”, including a billiard table etc., and a gun collection.  A heated argument ensued, and our boy “Chubby” shot his lover…dead. 

As "Chubby" was making his escape from the home, a young university student was walking along the footpath outside the house, minding his own business.  “Chubby”, henceforth known as  “Grubby", shot and killed the innocent, young bystander who, as fate would have it, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

John was devastated.  He was in shock.  Randall and I were, too, but not as much as John, naturally.  John was a good guy. What his partner did in his private life was none of his business, nor was it John’s lifestyle.  Plain and simple, they were business partners; they were friends through that professional link, of course, but nothing more, nothing less.

However, “Grubby’s” actions certainly explained to Randall and me why Ruska always reacted to him the way he did when he entered the room.  It explained the raising of the hairs on my back and the shivers that always fluttered up and down my back when he stood near me.  I’m certain Ruska sensed there was something sinister about him, and that’s why he, Ruska, always removed himself from his presence. 

Until that day, I wasn’t aware “Grubby” was gay.  If I had been aware beforehand, I wouldn’t have cared less.  I’ve had workmates who were gay; and I’ve had gay friends throughout my life; I still do. Their personal sexual proclivity is their own business.  It had/has nothing to do with me, my life or our friendship. Randall felt similar. Two of our best mates when we were living on the coast were a couple of gay guys who, at that point in time had been together for over 11 years. Both were top blokes.

However, for an unexplainable reason, “Grubby” always gave me the creeps.  Whatever it was about him that caused me to feel that way, I could never put my finger on it; just like Ruska would never put his paw on it!   

I never liked the fellow; neither had Randall.  Long before he committed the heinous crimes, we often discussed "Grubby", and how he made the both of us feel.  We only put up with him because he was John’s business partner.  “Grubby” was promptly arrested, charged and imprisoned. And there the story of "Grubby" ends...as far as I know, anyway.

John continued on as a client, but he was a shaken man.  He’d had no control over the tragic events perpetrated in Sydney that fateful night, but his life, and business interests had changed because of the crimes committed by another.  

Ruska knew along something was wrong with the person I've just written about.  I’m sure Ruska felt the aura that had surrounded him; perhaps, our beautiful ginger cat even saw it.  Who would know; but Ruska never wanted to be within his presence, that much I do know.

Randall was an astute operator when it came to financial matters and current property market trends. He constantly warned, not only our friends, but our clients, too, of the “giant destroyer rapidly heading towards us across the horizon beyond”.  He advised all and sundry it was time to put head down; keep their hands out of their bank accounts; to consolidate their assets in preparation of being able to ride out the "take-no-prisoners" storm headed our way. 

Time after time I listened to Randal advising clients sitting opposite him at his desk not to purchase a property, telling them it would be in their best interests to hold off from investing in the market for a while until the mini-recession passed; that it would be better for them to hold onto what they already possessed, both in assets and in savings rather than risk it all on a shaky economic climate; for them to put all ideas of purchasing more properties out of their plans. They’d come to him with making a property purchase in mind, and they left with sound financial advice.  Perhaps some ignored Randall’s advice and went to other agents to purchase the property they had their hearts set on, but that was their personal, individual freedom of choice and right to do so. Others who did follow Randall’s lead were grateful that they heeded his warnings when the crash came.  We didn’t make any money by waving away sales, but at least we could sleep straight in bed at night; and were able to recognise ourselves when looking in the mirror.   

We followed our own advice (Randall’s…not mine…I wasn’t anywhere near as astute as he was regarding such matters of finance…not on the large scale of things, anyway.  I'm not even very good at the household budget)!  We off-loaded a couple of investment properties of our own.  To my sorrow, we sold our house in Elanda Street and moved into a small, two bedroom cottage we had down around the corner a bit in Duke Street, Sunshine Beach.

We virtually shut up shop on our home office. Randall retained a few clients, but the property market was very quiet; dead in the water.   

Feeling there was nothing to be gained by the two of us sitting around an empty office space looking at each, and rapidly getting sick of the view, I commenced employment as a legal secretary at Bergman and Reeve, Solicitors, in their Tewantin office, which was operated by Chris Reeve, one of the partners.  Their head office, run by Peter Bergman, the chief partner, was in Hastings Street, Noosa.

Coincidentally, Chris and his wife, Jenny, who was a doctor, had lived two doors up from our home in Elanda Street.  A few months earlier they’d sold their house in Elanda Street. They relocated to a new housing estate in Tewantin, within the Noosa area; in other words - a suburb of Noosa Heads.  Tewantin was the original settlement in the Noosa region. In its early days Tewantin, situated on the banks of the Noosa River was a timber town, and river port, allowing for easy transport of the timber from the surrounding area. Tewantin has grown in area these days, of course.  It's the launching point to Noosa North Shore, the Great Sandy National Park, and then onto Fraser Island, further north. The Noosa-Tewantin Shire Council Chambers are situated on the banks of the Noosa River.  It's a popular area with both locals and tourists alike.

It broke my heart to leave our home in Elanda Street, Sunshine Beach.  I loved the house. It was no glossy mansion on a hill, but I loved everything about it; its position; the ocean view; its privacy; its ramshackle charm; the new deck we’d built, to our design, on the ocean side; and the paved deck we’d happily slaved over at the entrance to the house.  I think I knew the first name of every brick I’d laid; and I did do all the paving of that area myself, while Randall attended to other chores.  I was very proud of my efforts when I finished the job. I've never done any paving since then.

After all our worldly possessions were transferred from Elanda Street to the cottage in Duke Street, I went back to the house, my special place, by myself to collect Ruska.  With all the activity surrounding him, I felt it best to leave Ruska until last rather have him be disturbed amongst all the mayhem in his new, future, unfamiliar surroundings. 

Randall made a head-start into the unpacking etc., while I made my final trip to the our now ex-home (we'd placed the house on the market to sell) to collect Ruska.  On my return, I found Ruska upstairs, unperturbed, sitting on the floor in the middle of the bare dining-kitchen area patiently waiting for me to come for him.  He knew I’d never leave him behind.   

I sat down beside Ruska. Taking him in my arms, I broke down in tears while he snuggled his head into my neck beneath my chin. He knew I was upset, and in his way, he comforted me.  I don’t know how long we sat there, but eventually, I dried my tears, pulled myself together, and said my farewell to the house I loved so much; but I didn’t say goodbye to all the good memories that had been created within its walls. 

Like a well-seasoned traveller Ruska sat calmly in the passenger seat of my MG-Magnette as I drove out of the yard into Elanda Street, turned left, and continue forth to traverse the short distance down around the corner into Duke Street to the cottage that was to become our home for the rest of our time living in the Noosa area. Fully prepared for whatever lay ahead, Ruska wasn’t concerned in any way. As long as he was with me, he was a happy, contented cat; and vice versa.

As I said at the commencement of this chapter, Randall and I fitted a lot into those seven or so years we lived on the coast.   

During those years we also co-managed a restaurant for a while, the “Laguna Belle”.  I’ve written about the “Belle” previously. It was a floating, cruising restaurant…a riverboat built along the lines of the Mississippi paddle-steamers.  For the last couple of years of our time spent living beside the ocean I also owned and operated a greengrocery-health food store in the then Laguna Arcade, Hastings Street, Noosa Heads. (The arcade no longer exists. A multi-storey condominium now stands in its stead).

Randall finally closed down “Randall George Real Estate” entirely to take up a position as salesman with Ray White Real Estate in their Hastings Street office, a few doors along from where the little store I eventually turned into a thriving fruit, vegetable and health-food outlet was situated.
 
Ray White Real Estate is a well-known, well-respected name in the game throughout Australasia. It all started in 1902 with one small real estate office in Crows Nest, Queensland. Through the years Ray White became a household name. Ray White Real Estate are experts in property management, auctions, commercial, private, rural, hotels, marine; and the list goes on.
Crows Nest, where the company originated all those years ago, is a small rural town in the Darling Downs region of Queensland. It’s situated 158 kms from Brisbane and 43 kms from the nearby city of Toowoomba.  Crows Nest’s current population lies somewhere in the vicinity of between 2,000 and 3,000 people.

Randall retained his real estate license.  Some of his loyal clients stuck with him; they followed him to his new place of employment.

We’d been experiencing a few hiccups in our marriage, but we were working through them, or trying to do so.  All marriages have their rocky patches; it’s not all smooth sailing; moonlight and roses; ours was no different.

In November, 1985 a friend of Randall’s had bought himself a large catamaran.  The boat was based in Cairns.  It needed to be brought down to Noosa…by sea…to be exact.   Said friend had never owned, let alone skippered/sailed a boat before.  People never cease to amaze me.

During the years Randall lived in New York he did quite a bit of sailing, around and about Long Island, Fire Island and all places in between; even Newport.  Because of his sailing experience and his friend’s lack of sailing experience, the mate (not even First Mate) asked Randall if he’d be kind enough to fly to Cairns with him to pick up the catamaran; and then, for Randall to be skipper. Randall would sail the rather large catamaran back to Noosa, with the owner and couple of his mates as crew. 

The intrepid would-be sailors invited me to join them on their rather long jaunty jaunt, but I immediately made my feelings clear.  I’m not a sailor. To be stuck aboard a boat, no matter what the size of the vessel, out in the middle of the ocean is not my idea of fun!

Often, throughout our years together Randall talked about how one day he and I would buy a yacht, and then we'd head off together over the far horizon to sail and explore the world.  My reaction was always the same – it never changed…".that’ll be the day hell freezes over"! For me, anyway...

I told him he was more than welcome to do so, (and I meant it sincerely).  Happily, I would remain with my feet firmly on dry land, waiting his safe return. I’d cheer him all the way, and be interested in regular updates about his adventure, but never would I physically participate in “his adventure”. It was his adventure...not mine. 

Sailing the ocean waves is not for me.  It never has been; and it never will be; even though I lived and worked on two islands and two different stages in my life. 

When I lived on Newry Island I drove the island’s power boat, the 21-foot De Havilland Trojan, with its 175 hp Johnson outboard motor.  I lived on the island alone, with only my two cats Pushkin and Rimsky as my roomies.  I worked the island alone.  I was the skipper of my life...and, also of the island boat.  If I wanted paying guests to fill the resort’s cabins, which helped add much needed dollars to my coffers, I had to be able to go to mainland and back to the island...by boat.  It was too far to swim. 

Because there was just me and my two cats running the resort - they were not at all interested in learning how to drive a boat - I had to cross the sea to the mainland if I wanted to eat. I believed food was necessary not only to my survival, but that of Pushkin and Rimsky, and also of my guests.  As much as I love seafood, one cannot survive on seafood alone!  Not only did my guests needed feeding along with my furry rascals and me, but the island bar (not sand bar) needed stocking at a regular intervals, too.

However, back to the subject of sailing - sailing out in the wide, wild ocean blue never turned me on. It still doesn't.

Over and over until I was almost purple, light lilac at least, in the face I explained my sentiments. Finally, after much begging, enticing, cajoling, Randall gave up asking me to join the lads on their excursion. He realised I was serious. It took a lot of convincing, but men can be slow learners about some things.  We ladies do know that much - amongst many other things, but I shan't go into details right now!

My protests weren’t token objections.  I sincerely wanted Randall to do the trip.  It was clear for me to see…Blind Freddy could’ve seen…he very much wanted to do the sail. However, his wanting to do it didn’t mean I wanted the same thing. 

The main reason for my pressing; for my urging him to accept the offer was he may never get the chance again. (And, as life has unfolded he never did get the chance again).

I expressed my genuine feelings, not feigning in any way. If I were to join them they’d regret the invitation within the first hour.  With me as a member of the crew I would make the whole trip uncomfortable for everyone…not purposely; not intentionally.  I’d be claustrophobic (I know that sound crazy being out on the wide, expanse of an ocean – but that’s how I’d feel).  Constantly I’d be seasick. I certainly wouldn’t be good company for anyone else on board.  Come the end of the first day I’m sure they would’ve taken a vote and tossed me overboard!  I could say I wouldn’t have blamed them, but then, I had warned them…but it didn’t come to that.

I genuinely wanted Randall to do what I knew he desperately wanted to do.  I’m a believer in not stopping another from fulfilling their dreams; their personal, individual dreams.  I have no right to do so just because their dream isn’t mine. I've always felt this way.

Finally, I let out a long, loud sigh of relief.  I’d convinced him that I wasn’t just saying the words because they sounded nice…I was saying them because I really meant what I was saying from the bottom of my heart.  I bade farewell to a happy Randall before he set off to the airport.  His excitement at the prospect of sailing the catamaran from Cairns to Noosa was palpable. He was happy; I was happy.  I think even Ruska was happy - he had me to himself!

Around 1.25 pm one Tuesday in late November, 1985, the telephone in my little shop rang.

By that stage, Randall was already sailing the waters off from Innisfail…a town approximately 88 kms south of Cairns.  Some amount of preparation needed to be done to the catamaran before they had been able to safely set sail, but they were on their way...almost.

In my shop that afternoon, the voice greeting me on the other end of the phone was that of a friend I’d known for many years.  In fact, he’d married a girlfriend of mine on New Year’s Day, 1966, in Gympie.  Something I’ve never forgiven them for (joking)…I spent that particular New Year’s Eve on the train, travelling between Brisbane and Gympie…another story for another day!

At the time of the surprise telephone call my friends, after 19 years of wedded bliss and un-bliss (obviously) had separated a few months earlier.  
  
The reason for the call was an offer was in the wind, with Randall and me as the recipients. 

Quentin, our friend on the other end of the line was in the process of settling on a property he’d purchased – the resort at Cape Richards on Hinchinbrook Island.  The resort covered an area of 22 acres…a small portion of the massive island.  Hinchinbrook is 245 square miles in area.  The balance of the island was/is classified National Park.  I knew very little about the island at the time of the phone call, other than seeing it across the waters from the highway as we passed through Cardwell when Randall and I went on our caravan odyssey from Noosa to Port Douglas and return earlier in the Eighties.

The soon-to-be new owner of the island resort said as soon as he’d settled the purchase he’d like Randall and me to manage the whole kit and caboodle on his behalf!  Quentin had/has his own heavy construction company - a civil construction contractor.  His company has been in operation since 1976.

Stunned, the first words that came out of my mouth were…”Can I take my cat?  Can I take Ruska with me?”

“You can take whatever you like!” Was Quentin’s immediate response, settling the most important issue for me.  If he’s said “No”…the matter would’ve been dropped there and then; no further discussion. There was no way I'd leave my beloved pet behind. 

I informed Quentin that Randall was in North Queensland waters sailing the Coral Sea with Noosa his destination.   Once I knew Ruska was welcome to share in the island experience, if we were to agree to take on the position as resort managers, I explained Randall and I had a few “minor” issues to attend to before we could go anywhere.  There was much to do and consider before any decisions could be made.

I had a business I was operating, solely, seven days a week, 12 to 13 hours, oft times longer, a day. Randall had a job.  It, too, soaked up many hours of his days and weeks. Also we had another little shop down the far end of Hastings Street. It operated limited hours, offering touristy-type trinkets, bits and pieces, bibs and bobs, and secondhand books.  And then there was our cottage in Duke Street, Sunshine Beach. Minor details, but a few details nonetheless; all of which would need much consideration and attention! And, on top of everything else, by the sounds of it, time was of the essence.  

In fact, everything we were suddenly faced with weren’t minor details at all!  

Fortunately, we'd managed to sell the Elanda Street house fairly quickly.  One of the local chemists (pharmacists) Richard, who had his business in Hastings Street in the same arcade my shop was in, bought our house.  He and his wife intended to do major renovations on the house.  They had a young family.

I dare to remind you those were the days before mobile/cell phones, too.

As fate would have it the motor on the catamaran needed attention, causing the intrepid sailors to limp into Flying Fish Point at Innisfail to have the problem fixed before venturing further southwards.  The distance between Innisfail and Hinchinbrook Island is approximately 92.5 kms, give or take a wave or three.

Fate plays its unpredictable hand often, without warning. The very same night of the afternoon I’d received the proposition regarding the resort on Hinchinbrook Island Randall rang to inform me of their plight and their whereabouts. 

I filled him in on my intriguing information. Immediately he expressed interest at the idea.  I figured because he would be sailing past the island within the ensuing days, he and his fellow sailors could perhaps call into the resort to have a look around; to assess the situation, but all the while keeping the reason why to himself, of course. It was only early days...many decisions had to be made.  The pros and the cons both had to be seriously considered. Nobody else needed to know about our business.

A couple of days later Randall rang with positive thoughts about the resort.  He and his crew had sailed into the waters off from Cape Richards, anchored up and set foot on the island.  While having a few drinks at the resort’s bar, Randall, not revealing the reason why he was there, asked a few pertinent, yet subtle questions. The less said the better in those early stages of the negotiations.

He had a look around and what he saw, he liked. There was nothing unusual about a yacht and its crew making a pit-stop at the island, so no suspicions were raised.  Randall was just a passing, thirsty sailor; and we all know sailors go weak at the knees when a rum or two are within easy reach.  The aroma alone is as tempting and as irresistible as a wantonly beckoning siren.  

With the green light shining brightly following Randall’s positive report, while he was still navigating the Great Barrier Reef I managed to quickly sell, off-load our second little shop down the far end of Hastings Street.  When he arrived back at home, with the catamaran safely moored in the Noosa River or thereabouts, to Randall’s surprise I showed him the signed, unencumbered contract of sale.  Actually, I’d even surprised myself at the ease of the sale.

Christmas 1985 was rapidly approaching.  I wanted to “grab” the business generated by the holiday season before placing my store on the property market.  It made perfectly good business sense to me to enjoy the fruits (excuse the pun) of busiest tourist time of the year.  No one wants to be in business and not make a profit…that’s the name of the game; and it’s what pays the bills, taxes and whatever else.  It's pointless being in business and not doing your utmost to make a profit.  No one wants to go broke! No one wants to not be able to pay the bills; one's taxes and all else. Money, unfortunately, does grow on trees...or from welfare...it comes from hard work.

The Christmas “rush” hadn’t started, but it wasn't far off.  I was already exhausted, and knew I needed a couple of days’ break away.  I worked my shop alone.  Not only was I the vendor of fruit, vegetables and health-foods, but in the small, narrow kitchen area at the rear of the main section of my shop I also cooked, to sell in my store; cakes, biscuits/cookies, soups (I always two freshly-made hot soups on offer every day), boiled and roasted peanuts. I made dips for sale; prepared on-the spot fresh smoothies and fresh fruit juices.  At all times I always had a large bowl of fresh fruit salad in my refrigerated section, along with a variety of at least six salads on offer to the public. 

Frozen fruit salad ice blocks I put together from the fruit salad when it'd gotten to the bottom of the bowl. I kept the large stainless steel bowl of fruit salad topped up to the brim at all times - eye appeal draws the customer; almost empty bowls don't.  The ice blocks were a popular snack with kids of all ages to lick as they strolled along Hastings Street, or if they had just arrived off the beach of Laguna Bay, covered in sand and the salty remnants of the ocean. At 50 cents a pop, the fresh fruit salad ice blocks were cheap. 

My shop was situated in "The Laguna Arcade", which had years before been built on the site that once housed the iconic "Laguna Guest House".  The Laguna Guest House had been constructed back in the1890s.  Its timber walls housed and protected a multitude of tales! Many times, as teenagers, my girlfriends and I stayed at the guest house when we spent our weekends surfing at Noosa.  My friends and I added a couple of tales to those discreet walls.

In the Seventies the guest house was demolished to make way for the Laguna Arcade, which housed about nine shops, including the one I eventually owned for a while.  The Ken Rosewall Tennis Courts were on land at the rear of the property upon which the arcade stood.

In my shop, I was always as busy doing something or other in between serving customers. No time for idle hands...although, I did find time at times!  I loved my shop. I had lots of fun operating that little business.  It was my "baby".

I needed to restore my batteries before the Christmas rush, so once Randall was back home again, I asked a girlfriend if she’d take care of business for two days while I did whatever personal restoration work that needed doing.   

With everything under control and my mind at ease knowing Irene would do a good job,  I booked myself into one of the small holiday villas on the banks of Lake Cooroibah.  The lake is on the northern side of the Noosa River.  Whether the actual holiday resort I stayed at back then in early December 1985 is still there, I know not.   

It was a wonderful, peaceful place to stay with the lake nearby; just a few long strides away.  The holiday park/accommodation consisted of a few free-standing cabins…I have no idea how many, along with one little on-site store that sold newspapers, ice creams and other minor essentials.  I didn’t visit the store during my brief stay. I had no desire to do so.  

Before leaving our cottage in Sunshine Beach I’d packed a couple of boxes with enough provisions to suit my needs for a couple of days, along with an overnight bag of a change of clothes etc., and other personal items. I needed little.

It wasn’t my intention to mix with humans.  All I wanted to do was mix with Nature and sleep!    

I said adieu to Randall; cuddled Ruska while assuring him I wasn’t deserting him; and then I headed off in my MG-Magnette, alone, on my own adventure…albeit a stable one, set firmly on land; and a short one at that.

It was early afternoon when I reached my destination (I’d left Sunshine Beach around noon…my destination wasn’t far afield…only 17 kms or thereabouts). The Magnette and I were carried across the Noosa River by the vehicular ferry that departed from Tewantin.  The moment I arrived at my little cabin by the lake I felt as if I was miles away from the rest of the world. 

Other than to put my provisions that needed chilling in the small fridge, I didn’t bother attending to other unpacking.  Without further hesitation or ceremony, I threw myself on the inviting bed and promptly fell into the deepest sleep I think I’ve ever experienced.  I can still remember how I felt when I awoke a couple of hours later.  I could hardly move; my body felt incredibly heavy. I felt as if a giant weight was holding me down.  During my slumber, I dreamed in vivid clarity of my late mother and grandmother. It was if they’d been there in the room with me; perhaps they had been.

Fleeting though my stay was I utilized the time well – my way.  All I did with the time I'd allotted myself was read, sleep, walk to the lake’s edge, and pensively sit a while, hoping my solitude wouldn’t be interrupted by anyone. Fortunately, it wasn’t.  I didn’t speak to another soul. I didn’t want to interact with anyone else.  If I saw someone in the distance coming my way, I’d slowly turn. Without making an issue; it wasn't my intention to cause offence - I'd stroll off in a different direction, ending back in the sanctuary of my little holiday cabin.  The cabin consisted of one bedroom, a combined kitchenette-dining-lounge area and bathroom.  A small patio faced the lake.  It was all I desired.

Once I returned to civilisation I was rearing to go once again.  I was refreshed; renewed, ready to take on all and sundry...come what may. 

The Christmas-New Year period was around the nearest corner. Orders had to be placed. Carrot cakes, muesli cookies and fruit cakes had to be made ready for the onset of holiday-makers. A lot needed to be done, but I was feeling fighting fit, ready to step into the ring.

There was a lot to be attended to elsewhere, too, not just in my shop.   

Our decision was made.  Randall and I accepted the offer of becoming managers of the resort at Cape Richards, Hinchinbrook Island.  When we’d moved to the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane I never thought we’d leave the area.   I'd always loved the Noosa area from when I was a child; and I still do love it. I personally believed once I was back in Noosa/Sunshine Beach there I’d remain for the rest of my life.   

Life…it has a mind of its own sometimes...oft times. 

Randall thought our marriage would get back onto even footing, level ground again once we took up our posts on the island.  I was not as confident as he.  I felt he was kidding himself, but mainly I kept my thoughts to myself.  I didn’t believe that a change of  locale; a change of our day-to-day situations would alter the course on which we’d found ourselves.   Unconsciously, we'd set off on a course; one from which it was difficult to disembark.  I had my doubts about the stability of our marriage; of its future longevity; but, in fairness and honesty, on the other hand, I was also very keen to take on the challenge of Hinchinbrook Island Resort.  It was an adventure I did want to go on.

I wasn’t a soothsayer; I couldn’t tell the future (I'm still not and can't)…but I did have a fair idea about some of it; and I guess I still do...to a degree....about some things. 

Ruska looked on with interest at all the activity going on around him.  He made sure he stuck close within easy listening distance so he could eavesdrop  Here we go again, I'm sure he was thinking.  He already had his food bowls packed.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

OH! WHAT’S HAPPENED TO ME? WHAT IS MY WORLD COMING TO? I MIGHT TAKE FLIGHT IN FRIGHT!



Granny Smith Apples




Often it is advised one should shed one’s load; share the despair. By doing so one’s load is said to become light. Well, here I go…I’ll try with all my might (if I’ve got any left)! 


The other day I got the shock of my life.  I couldn’t find what I was searching for.  Even after I cleaned my glasses until they sparkled and I could see myself in them, I couldn’t find what I was looking for.  Like a woman possessed frantically I searched high and low, but it was nowhere to be seen.  It couldn’t be found; not here, not there; not anywhere! How could this happen?  Usually I’m more diligent; ever on guard; always prepared.  If I had a naughty corner I would’ve sat in it – for a week at least - repeating over and over ad infinitum; “I will never run out of Vegemite ever again!” 

Panicking, I knew there was no time to waste. Fruitlessly for hours I’d already searched. The clock was ticking…faster and faster!  

Despair engulfed my very being. Heart palpitations had set in. Such an embarrassing blight to have run out of Vegemite!

Suffering unbridled shame, red-faced, I lowered my head at my desperate plight. In fact, since the horrifying discovery – one that’s never happened to me before - whenever I think about my scandalous oversight my head lowers automatically causing me to prop it upright.  Like now as I write about my shocking oversight I’m propping up my head. I can’t see my monitor when it plops down. Also, it lands on my keyboard making it difficult to type. 

Downing tools and donning clothes off to IGA I hastened; incognito, naturally, because I didn’t want anyone to recognise me during my outrageously disconcerting moment of desperation.

My lack of Vegemite needed rectifying immediately before anyone discovered my humiliating secret.

You might consider my anguish at the plight of being without Vegemite a mite trite. You might make light of it, but that’s alright. 

The uninitiated say it’s an acquired taste.  My taste for Vegemite was acquired long before my memory kicked into gear.   I’m never without a jar of Vegemite - until the other day! 

A few years ago a friend from the US visited for a couple of weeks. During his visit I introduced him to our iconic Aussie spread; but only a little at a time; not lashings of it, like many people thoughtlessly do when attempting to introduce Vegemite to folk not familiar with its taste.   Even though I was brought up with Vegemite I understand what a shock to the system the initial taste would be if it was plastered thickly over bread or crackers; and why the newcomers to the yeast spread run screaming out the door to catch the first flight back home never again wanting to be within tongue’s reach of our mighty ‘mite!

My US friend didn’t run away in hysterics; he liked it - in small doses – not layered thickly like plaster on his toast or bread.  I don’t even like Vegemite plastered too thickly.  There is a limit to everything!  Less is more!

Often when I was a little girl I was given a mug of hot Vegemite broth. It was good for settling an upset tummy, too; far better tasting than any medicine, in my opinion…then and now.

I love fresh bread spread with butter and Vegemite, and then topped with slices of Granny Smith apples (green apples to those also uninitiated to our Aussie Granny Smiths). Yum! Yum!  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granny_Smith

And how wonderful Vita-Wheat biscuits/crackers are with butter and Vegemite...push two crackers together and watch the curls of combined butter and Vegemite ooze through the holes.  Then lick them off....delicious fun!!

Vegemite and avocado on toast...another healthy breakfast...or lunch...or whenever the mood takes hold!

During my Hinchinbrook Island days, one staff member’s culinary trick was to spread Vegemite over her pizza bases; then she’d top them off with baked beans and cheese.  I’ve never gone that far…but I imagine (know) there are worse things to eat. 

Now for something completely different - here’s a Vegemite pizza you might like to try…

Kumara-Rosemary-Vegemite Pizza: Thinly slice 300g kumara; place on lined baking tray; spray with oil; bake in 200C oven, 20-25mins, or until just tender. Sift together 1c flour, 1tsp yeast, 1/2tsp salt and 1/4tsp sugar; ad 1/3c lukewarm water and 1tbs olive oil; stir to make dough. Turn onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic. Place in oiled bowl; cover; let stand in warm area, 30mins or until doubled. Roll out dough on floured surface to about 20x30cm rectangle; place on floured tray; spread with 1tbs Vegemite; top with kumara, fresh rosemary and 2/3c grated mozzarella or tasty cheddar; bake in 200C oven, 10-15mins.

Cheesy Vegemite Muffins: Whisk 1c milk, 1/3c oil, 1/4c Vegemite and 2 eggs in bowl; add 2c S.R. flour and 1tsp baking powder, 3 finely-chopped shallots and 5 slices cheese singles, roughly chopped; mixed until just combined; spoon into 12 lightly greased ½-cup capacity muffin pans. Bake in 200C oven, 15-20mins.

Vegemite-Rosemary Cutlets: Combine 1tbs Vegemite, 1/4c honey, 2tbs finely chopped rosemary leaves and 2tbs olive oil; pour over 12 trimmed lamb cutlets; chill 2hrs. Barbecue cutlets over medium heat, 3-4mins per side, or cooked to your liking. Marinade is suitable for lamb, beef, pork and chicken.

Vegemite-Cheese-Sausage Rolls: Grab 600g quality beef sausages; remove filling from casing; place in bowl. Process 2c grated cheese, 2 slices of bread (made into crumbs), 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1 egg, 1tbs Vegemite and 1-1/2tbs white sugar; add to sausage meat; mix well; cook a little bit of the mixture to check for seasonings; adjust accordingly. Chill10mins. Cut 3 sheets puff pastry lengthways. Divide mix into 6; roll into sausage shape; place in centre of each pastry rectangle; brush pastry with egg wash; seal over filling; chill 10mins; brush to with the egg wash. Bake at 200C, 20-25mins until

Thursday, April 02, 2015

HONEY BUNNY…IS THAT PETER COTTONTAIL I SEE?





Nope! I’m mistaken!  It’s Clint, my Lindt Bunny! 

As it stands at this point in time, in case you’re wondering – Easter 2015 - Clint, my chocolate bunny remains upright in my fridge untouched by human hand or mouth; a smug smile upon his gold-wrapped face.  There’s not a dent in his armour; and it hasn’t rusted, either. Clint sits on the top shelf having taken up residence in my fridge at least eight years ago, mingling in the best of company. Keeping him entertained are a variety of jams, two jars of olives, a bottle of gherkins, a jar of pickles, one of chutney, along with other interesting tasty bibs and bobs.  

Feeling somewhat sorry for Clint by having no one of his own kind to keep him company throughout the years I bought him a partner yesterday; an Easter surprise for him. I was going to give her to him on Easter Sunday, but being an impatient person I couldn’t wait that long.

Okay – yes, it’s a “she”, but there won’t be any math classes going on, if the thought had crossed your mind. In case you can’t work out my meaning – in another word - “multiplication”.  

I may be wrong, but I’m sure I noticed Clint, with a glint in his eyes, flick his ears, whisk his whiskers and do a little hippity-hop when Honey Bunny joined him. But, then again, perhaps it was my imagination.  My imagination does have a tendency to run wildly out of control sometimes – perhaps more than sometimes. “Often” instead of “sometimes” is probably more like it. You might’ve noticed – maybe not.

Down Under here in the Great Southern Land Easter has arrived already, but I’m ready.

Rather than hide my Easter eggs making them fodder for ants I ate every one of them last week.  Don’t despair!  I’m not in distress because I’ve a few blocks of rich dark chocolate, not hidden in my fridge, but in full view whenever I open the door. My stash includes a couple of blocks loaded with almonds; one generously filled with mint and a couple of plain ones.  If I’m not mistaken, I think there’s also one chock a block with hazelnuts, as well as a box of dark chocolate-coated ginger.

Now don’t you go getting any funny ideas! I’ve got alarms set all around my fridge door, plus surveillance cameras at the top, bottom, sides and at the rear, as well as two ferocious attack cats!  Also, I have a tribe of Easter Birds outside that keep a keen eye on proceedings all year round, not just at Easter. (At Christmas they act as a winged escort for dear Santa and his deer). I wonder if the kookas, maggies, butcher birds, currawongs and crows will arrive on Sunday laden with basketfuls of Easter eggs for me.

I have to be honest…I must own up…I’m tough enough to face the consequences!  While at the supermarket this morning I weakened; I fell under a spell.  I bought some Cherry Ripes.  Like my Christmases are never complete without licorice…my Easters are never complete without a supply of Cherry Ripes on hand! 

My late brother Graham always gave me (whether by hand or via Australia Post) a bundle of Cherry Ripes for Easter.  It’s not for me to break tradition! 

By the way…and bit of trivia…and you know how I love trivia…almost as much as I love Cherry Ripes…maybe even on par with the bar – Cherry Ripes were first made by Australian confectioner MacRobertson’s in 1924 (MacRobertson’s also used to make a most delicious chocolate-coated nougat bar; operative words “used to”).  Cadbury Australia took over MacRobertson’s in 1967 and, thankfully, continued producing Cherry Ripes.  The bars are now Australia’s oldest chocolate bar; a bar consisting of
cherries and coconut, coated with dark chocolate. 

May Cherry Ripes along with Peters Drumsticks (ice creams) reign forever!

Back to my visit to the supermarket this morning and my run-in with the Cherry Ripes - I really didn’t need the urging and recommendation from one of the sales girls, but I accepted it with good grace. After all I recognised she was a kindred spirit; one with the same immaculate, good taste as I when it comes to Cherry Ripes!  I could’ve quite easily handled the situation without her assistance, but with a wide, sincere smile across my face I thought it most important to thank her and follow her directions that led me towards a new variety of Cherry Ripes.

Blow me down! As I stood browsing the shelf bearing the delicious chocolate-coated (dark chocolate, of course) cherry-coconut bars, the helpful young woman hadn’t lied to me.  She’d not led me down the cherry tree-fringed garden path! Right there in front of me were two new varieties of Cherry Ripes…tempting…tempting!  I’m sure I heard them calling my name… yelling out loudly, in fact!  Feeling slightly embarrassed I had to tell them to lower their tone; everyone was looking at me!

Need you ask?  Of course, my resistance was down.  It had collapsed as soon as I stopped before the display; and, of course, I bought a couple each of the new variety of Cherry Ripes, as well as the original one (plural…because I bought a packet of 12 of the original)!  

Would you expect or accept less of me? No, of course you wouldn’t! Like a leopard, I don’t change my spots!

Please don't have palpitations! No need to fear...to go on sugar-chocolate-overload-alert...I won't be devouring all of my stock of chocolate over Easter...it will last me quite a while. One must not be greedy...a little at a time increases the pleasure.

And as for Clint...well...he'll still be sitting comfortable, secure and untouched in my fridge forever more....

The other day I’d reminded a friend of mine Easter was nigh and she immediately cut off our conversation. She had to race off to have her Bunny outfit dry-cleaned. Give her a wave (or a lift) if you see her hopping by.  

These days the Easter Bunny has replaced the Easter Bird.  When I was a kid we didn’t have the Easter Bunny…we had the Easter Bird; in our household, anyway. 

Full of excitement each Easter Graham and I built nests out of dead grass and leaves.  Again, our mother’s hats came into good use as bases to hold the nests. Mum’s hats served many purposes.

We never waited until Easter Sunday. Graham and I always received our eggs on Good Friday; no waiting around for us!  The Bird was the word, and the bird always dropped off to us first. Again, it was one of our many personal traditions within our little family unit.

On the Thursday afternoon before Good Friday as soon as we arrived home from school and we’d changed into our “around the house and yard clothes” we immediately got stuck into gathering the necessary grass etc., for the construction of our nests.  Once completed to our satisfaction, we placed our nests in a strategic position; a spot where it was impossible for the Easter Bird not to trip over them.  We went to bed filled with anticipation, comfortable in the knowledge when we woke on Good Friday morning the Easter Bird would have found our nests. We knew he'd not let us down. As in past Easters, when we were sleeping soundly, he would deposit his variety of eggs.  We imagined the Easter Bird was a “he” because the “she” would’ve been still busy at their home laying eggs...

Chocolate eggs were few when we were kids. We mostly received the colourful sugar eggs that held surprise treats within.  Sugar eggs were more popular and more available those years of long ago when I was a little girl.  And I can assure you, it was a long time ago; but the memories are as fresh as if it were only yesterday…well, maybe last year!

It might be a good idea for me to build a nest for the Easter Bird, but then again, I guess it’s just as easy for me to walk to my fridge and help myself to my stash of chocolate treats.

There’s no such thing as too much chocolate - is there?  

 Let’s face it, I do have a good excuse for building up my stocks. We’re being told by those in the media…those supposedly in the know…there’s going to be a worldwide shortage of cocoa…so perhaps now is the time to stock up.

http://www.finder.com.au/chocolate-crisis

http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/298022771.html

http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2015/04/01/4208965.htm

Ever since I was that little girl building nests for the Easter Bird a cheesy smoked cod or haddock gratin/mornay is on my Good Friday menu. I'm not a religious person. It's more out of tradition than anything else; but can't imagine eating meat on Good Friday - ever.. 

This Good Friday smoked cod or smoked haddock isn’t on my menu, but I am going to prepare a salmon mornay for myself…using canned salmon in a cheese sauce with corn niblets and chopped shallots added to the mix; and then topped with cheesy mashed potatoes sprinkled with breadcrumbs, all finished off in the oven until the top is golden and crisp.

However, we mustn’t forget Easter is not just about chocolate, bunnies or smoked cod, etc…for many folk
Easter is an important period in the Christian calendar.

My wish is for everyone to have a safe, joyful weekend.

Smoked Cod-Salmon-Potato Pie: Put 800g smoked cod in deep pan; add 400ml milk, 200ml fish stock, 1 bay leaf and 1 onion studded with 3 cloves; bring slowly to boil; reduce heat; cover; simmer 5mins. Remove fish; set aside to cook. Strain liquid into jug. Melt 50g butter in saucepan; add 50g plain flour; cook, stirring, 1min; add reserved liquid; cook, stirring, until it boils and thickens; simmer over very low heat. Remove skin from cod; flake flesh into large pieces. To cod, add 100g smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and 1c fresh/frozen peas; put in base of deep ceramic baking dish; add 3tbs chopped parsley, 1tbs lemon zest, 1tbs lemon juice and 2tbs drained capers to sauce; season; pour over fish; chill. Mash 900g boiled potatoes until soft and smooth; season; spread over fish; cover completely; sprinkle with grated cheddar; bake in 180C oven 35mins.

Smoked Haddock Gratin: Place 500g spinach in colander; slowly pour over hot water to wilt it. Cool under cold water; squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Butter gratin dish; roughly chop spinach; scatter evenly over base; season; lay 500g skinned smoked haddock, cut into 5 portions on top, skinned side down. Nestle 12 cherry tomatoes amongst fish. Combine 300ml double cream or crème fraîche, juice of ½ lemon, 100g grated cheddar, 2 sliced shallots and a dash of nutmeg; season well with pepper and a little salt; dollop and spread over fish; scatter a handful of dried breadcrumbs over top; bake 30mins in 180C oven.

Canned Salmon Mornay with Pasta: Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan-forced. Lightly grease a 5cm-deep, 28cm x 20.5cm ovenproof baking dish. Cook 300g dried bow-tie (or similar) pasta in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, until tender; drain; refresh under cold water; return to pan. Melt 2tbs butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 finely chopped medium onion and 1 finely chopped celery stalk; add a couple of teaspoons of prepared English mustard (optional); cook, stirring, 2 minutes or until softened. Add 2tbls plain flour; cook, stirring, 1 minute or until bubbling. Gradually add 3c warmed milk, stirring; bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until thickened; add to pasta. Stir in 415g can of red or pink salmon (or canned tuna, if preferred) drained and flaked, 1tbls lemon juice, 1-1/2 cup frozen peas, corn and carrot mix and ½ to ¾ cup grated tasty cheese and a tablespoon of grated parmesan. Spoon into prepared dish. Combine ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, ½ cup dried  breadcrumbs and ½ cup grated cheese in a small bowl. Sprinkle over pasta mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve with vegetables or tossed salad.  In lieu of the topping as above, you can top the mornay with mashed potatoes, grated cheese and breadcrumbs.

Chocolate Nests: Put 1c semi-sweet choc chips in saucepan with 3tbs butter and 2tbs golden syrup; melt gently; stir in 3c Rice Bubbles; spoon 8 mounds onto lined baking sheet; make a dip in centre. (Or put the mixture in paper cupcake holders).  Chill overnight; peel nests carefully off baking paper; fill with chocolate eggs.

Cherry Ripe Brownie Bar: Preheat oven, 160C. Lightly spray 22x7.5cm bar pan with oil; line base and the two long sides with baking paper, allowing sides to overhang. Use metal spoon to stir 60g butter, 52g finely-chopped Cherry Ripe and 120g dark chocolate in saucepan over medium heat until chocolate melts. Set aside to cool slightly. Whisk 1 egg and combined 1/4c caster sugar and 1/4c lightly-packed brown sugar into the chocolate mixture. Add ½ cup plain flour. Stir until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until crumbs cling to a skewer inserted into the centre. Cool slightly. Finely chop 50g red glace cherries. Cut another 50g glace cherries in half; combine the glace cherries, ½ cup condensed milk and ¾ cup desiccated coconut in a bowl. Stir in 4-6 drops of red food colouring (optional).  Spoon cherry mixture over brownie; smooth surface; bake 20-25 minutes or until light golden; set aside to cool completely. Remove from the pan.  Heat 130g dark chocolate. Reserve 2tbls of the melted chocolate; pour the melted chocolate over the bar; spread over the top and sides. Drizzle reserved chocolate lengthways to create lines. Set aside until chocolate sets. Slice to serve.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

HOLY GUACAMOLE! ARRIBA! ARRIBA! ANDALE! ANDALE!




Cheeky little Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse in all Mexico, dressed in his large yellow hat with a red kerchief at his neck, began entertaining us in the mid-Fifties when he became Sylvester the Cat’s nemesis (and vice versa). In haste, when I was a kid I skipped off to Saturday afternoon matinees hoping to be amused by his wild antics.  Speedy had a leaning towards hot Tabasco Sauce as one of his main weapons of choice. Poor old Sylvester was often outsmarted and humiliated by the nifty Speedy and his liberal lashings of Tabasco. Speedy was hot to trot when it came to helping his own kind, though. 

Speedy’s cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez, in turn known as the slowest mouse in all Mexico, often had to be rescued by his fleet of foot, flashy, fearless cousin.

However, in the mid-Sixties Speedy got a rude awakening when Daffy Duck rode into town packing a six-shooter!  Daffy probably either waddled or paddled into town, but you get my drift! Daffy wasn’t a duck to muck about with as many a cartoon character from the late-Thirties through to the Sixties discovered.  He was a cantankerous fellow when he felt like it; and he felt like it often. 

I moseyed onto this subject because I’ve just prepared some guacamole. I’ve not made it for ages; I have no excuse to offer because there are close to a dozen avocado trees on this property here where I roam!

I’m expecting a visit from a friend. The guacamole will play a central role in our grazing platter. While preparing the legendary dip a thought was triggered causing my mind to speedily turn north-east towards Mexico; hence my ramblings.  Obviously, it doesn’t take much to start me off! 

I missed a ride on a passing burro; so I was a relatively latecomer to the joys Mexican food, I think…maybe not. 

For a few months in early1969 I dated an Aussie hombre.  Together we regularly visited the Gold Coast on weekends. During our visits said hombre introduced me to a little place hidden away in a street behind the main drag at Mermaid Beach or Miami (one or the other) called “Taco Bill”. The Gold Coast operation opened in 1967.  It was the first “Taco Bill” in Australia before expanding to the southern states.

I’ll include here a little bit of the history behind “Taco Bill”:-

“Taco” Bill Chilcote came to Australia in 1967. He originated from the border of Mexico and California, exactly where along that border, I don’t know. It has been said he arrived in Australia with little else other than a corn grinder and tortilla machine under his arms. The first eatery Bill opened was the one we used to visit on the Gold Coast.  The lure of Sydney and Melbourne soon enticed him to the south…”Taco” Bill had heard we Queenslanders called those south of the Queensland border as being “Mexicans”.  Highly excited by the possibilities, off he sped…to the south!  There are no 35 locally-owned and operated “Taco Bill” restaurants operating in Australia…all Australian-owned; and all franchises.

At the time my amigo and I discovered “Taco Bill” – in it’s early days - the eatery was an unadorned, but welcoming “hole in the wall”. It may not have been a fancy establishment, but the Mexican fare they presented in its simplicity was excellent, especially their Chilli Con Carne. I loved Billy’s chilli. Whenever I paid a visit it was what I dined upon...with gusto!

Bill’s prices were reasonable; his product superior.  “Taco Bill” wasn’t an elaborately-decorated eatery, but it exuded a relaxed, cosy atmosphere. Si Señor!

With good food and prices what more could two amigos wish for?

Through the Seventies my taste for Mexican food grew. 

After living in the States for almost a decade upon my then future husband-to-be Randall’s (now my ex) returned to Australia from the US, he brought with him his love of Mexican food.

Randall had lived and worked in New York City for nigh on a decade as I’ve mentioned previously, but he also travelled extensively, not only through the US, but he also found time to visit the UK, Europe, and even Morocco.  Around August/September 1969 he decided he wanted to pay a brief visit to his home country; to catch up with family and friends (including me). 

With that purpose in mind  Randall's intention was to find a job on a ship heading Down Under. By doing so, it would enable him to work his way home for "free" as such..

Having sub-let his apartment in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Randall found his way down to Mexico. While there the lure of The Yucatan Peninsula was too strong to ignore. He fell in love with The Yucatan. (We made plans in the early Eighties to visit the US, Mexico, The Yucatan and Central America together, but those plans never came unstuck...another story for another day).

Leaving Mexico, Randall then ventured further south to Central America, eventually ending up in Panama where he succeeded in landing himself a job as a deckhand on a German ship that was heading to Australia. He spent most of the journey down on his hands and knees scraping rust of the ship's deck under the stern, watchful eyes of the Germans!  It was no pleasure cruise!

Randall’s visit to his homeland only lasted about two months before he headed off to the Northern Hemisphere again, ending up in Manhattan.  

During his brief visit he brought with him his love of Mexican food. 

When Randall finally arrived back home to Queensland for good in late 1974, he’d not left his love for Mexican food behind. He wasted no time imparting the love of it to me.  I soon mastered the culinary art of Mexican fare. It featured on our dinner menu at least twice a week

Mexican cuisine rapidly gained popularity throughout Australia, too, proving I wasn’t the only señorita in the cactus patch.

Long before we’d heard of Huevos Rancheros, Mole Poblano, Enchiladas, Quesadillas etc., Mexico was way ahead of the rest of the world with bombón -de chocolate; chocolate, the unmatchable Elixir of Life; the ambrosia and nectar of the gods.  Forget the Greek gods; ignore Zeus and his pals - they’re a myth!

Chocolate is native to Mexico; and chocolate is real!  Deliciously decadent, impossible-to-ignore (who wants to?) chocolate is no myth.

Corn maybe the basis of a Mexican diet, but chocolate is the core to our survival, one and all; Aussies, Mexicans - everyone far and wide. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I know this because my second best friend Speedy Gonzales told me.

When I was a kid I wrecked a few of Mum’s beach hats while doing the Mexican Hat Dance around them.  She wasn’t impressed; but I believed I was a brilliant exponent of the lively dance!  Olé!

Mexican Chilli-Chocolate Red Pork: Cut 1.5kg braising pork into 4cm cubes; pat dry. Heat 1tbs olive oil in casserole; brown pork in batches; remove each batch as it’s done. Then sauté 1 roughly chopped large onion until pale gold; ad 1tsp cumin, 1/2tsp cinnamon, 1/8tsp ground cloves and 4 finely chopped garlic cloves; cook 3mins; then put in blender. Toast 4 whole dried ancho chillis in dry pan over med-heat, 3mins; remove stalks and seeds. Pour 625ml boiling water into pan with 30g dark chocolate pieces, 3 dried chipotle chillis, the anchos and 85g raisins; leave 10mins. Toast 50g unsalted peanuts and 50g blanched almonds in dry pan until just golden. Put in blender; carefully pour choc-chilli mix and further 625ml water; season; blend to puree. Return pork and juices to casserole; pour on choc-chilli mix; combine; bring to just under the boil; turn heat right down; cook gently 1-1/2hrs. If it gets dry, the heat is too high. The pork should be tender and the liquid reduced. Sprinkle with coriander; serve with rice, sour cream and avocado salad.

Speedy Chicken Mole (Rhymes with Olé): Season 600g, boned, skinned chicken thighs. Heat 1tbs oil in large skillet over high heat; add chicken; cook, turning once until browned, about 5mins total; transfer to plate. Reduce heat to medium; add 1tbs oil, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1tbs chilli powder, 1/2tsp each cumin and cinnamon and 1/8tsp salt. Cook, stirring until fragrant; add 1 can crushed tomatoes, 1/2/c chicken stock, 1/4c mini semi-sweet choc chips and 1tbs almond butter or natural peanut butter; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to med-low; return chicken and juices to pan; turn to coat with the sauce. Simmer about 5mins more. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Guacamole: Halve 4 ripe avocados; remove the seeds; scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Mash the flesh, leaving it a bit chunky; don’t turn it into a puree. Once you’ve done that, add the juice of 1 lime, ½ a red onion, chopped, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 firm tomato, diced, 2tbs fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped, 1/4tspn cumin, 1/4tsp chilli powder or flakes (or finely-chopped fresh hot chilli); season to taste; mix gently. Cover with plastic wrap; and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.  That last instruction is meant for the guacamole, not you!