Wednesday, September 21, 2016

DROPPING NAMES – DON’T WORRY - I’LL PICK THEM UP!

Maggie Tabberer Circa 1958
Maggie T Circa 1959
 
Maggie T
Ruth Cracknell
Ruth Cracknell & Garry McDonald aka "Mother and Son"
The Seekers
Torvill & Dean


Since I was a teenager and first became aware of her, I’ve always been an admirer of the iconic, beautiful, stylish, Aussie fashion designer/television personality/ex-model Maggie Tabberer.

From the late Sixties to the late Seventies I was employed within the fashion industry, the head office and factory of which was in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool.  I was employed as secretary to the Queensland Manager in the Queensland office, based in Brisbane.  I was thrilled when one division of the company contracted Maggie to put her name on a range of new season women’s wear. The range, of course, was well-received.

In the early to mid-80s when I operated my greengrocery-health food store in Noosa Heads a holidaying Maggie was a customer; a most elegant one even in casual attire.  In person, she was a very pleasant and natural to deal with, showing no over-inflated, egoistical signs of her well-known status.

Maggie has always been down-to-earth, unaffected by her beauty and fame.  Reading her autobiography in 1999 I realised we’d had a mutual acquaintance.  When I finished reading the book I penned (by hand/hard copy – not email) a brief letter to Maggie via her publisher expressing how much I’d enjoyed the autobiography.  In my letter I made mention of our mutual connections through the years.  It wasn’t a flowery, gushing missive.  Not expecting a response, I thought that would be that.  I’d said what I’d wanted to say.

Within a couple of weeks I received a hand-written note from the lady herself.  The person she’d referred to in her autobiography was, indeed, the same person I’d known.   

Once again, further evidence of  “six degrees of separation”.

Maggie turns 80 on 11th December, 2016.  It’s hard to believe her two daughters are now in their early 60s. 

Elusive time moves too fast. 

As well as Maggie T other interesting folk walked through my shop doors. (In case you’re wondering, I did allow them to leave again). 

One day I was surprised to discover a customer towering over the produce on display was the unforgettable radio, television, theatre and film character actress (and author) Ruth Cracknell. A striking woman, she radiated “presence”.   Ruth Cracknell was a very tall, imposing woman.  Her silver-white hair framed her face.  The unforgettable, hilarious “Maggie” of the much-loved and enjoyed long-running TV comedy, “Mother and Son” was in my shop!!   “Mother and Son” ran for 10 years. What a wonderful comedy series it was.  

I’d grown up listening to Ruth Cracknell because she appeared in many radio plays. She was a regular, familiar voice.  Radio aka “the wireless” played a huge role in my childhood.  She was both a dramatic and comedy actress; and was brilliant at both.  

Sadly, Cracknell passed away in 2002, aged 76.

Judith Durham of “The Seekers”, who at the time lived in the Sunshine Coast hinterland with her husband (who has since passed away), paid a couple of visits. I should’ve asked Judith to sing “Georgy Girl” for me, but I didn’t!  Being as nice in reality as she is in concert and interviews she probably would’ve done so.

Well-known and respected TV journalist Jana Wendt during the height of her “60 Minutes” years was a vacationing customer as was the then Victorian Premier, John Cain.

David Lange, New Zealand’s 32nd Prime Minister was a customer in my humble little store, much to his minder’s surprise.  His minder told me David Lange, a big man, had an insatiable love of junk food. Apparently, it was hard work keeping Mr. Lange away from “Miss Piggy’s”, the take-away in the same centre as my shop of healthy goodies, or from the take-away across the street that was conveniently (or inconveniently) situated next door to where David Lange was staying in Hastings Street. The minder didn’t mind Mr. Lange buying fruit for a change.

One day a young woman, small of stature, strolled into my shop. In fact, she was 1.6m (5ft 2) tall; not that I dragged out my tape measure on the spot to measure her. She wasn’t tall, but she was very wiry.

It was Jayne Torvill; one half of the skating duo “Torvill & Dean” who cemented their fame at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics where they received a perfect score for their performance set to Ravel’s “Boléro”. She and I even shared a cup of coffee. Well, she had her own cup and I had mine.  

Those few moments were as memorable, to me, as her famous performance with Christopher Dean.

I can drop more names, too. 

Namely, Ross, the kind gentleman, a stranger, who pumped air into my tyres a couple of weeks ago.  Some might say I’m full of hot air, but none was going into my tyres that morning before Ross generously took over the job.

 And what an angel David, the plumber is. With little notice, he came to my aid with nary a murmur. Nothing leaks past David!  (The genial plumber’s name is “David Angel”).

Leek & Silverbeet Gratin: Blanch 700g silverbeet, stems removed until wilted, about 1min. Drain; squeeze dry; chop; remove excess moisture. Hear 1-1/2tbs x-virgin olive oil in pot; add 3 med-leeks, white and tender green parts only, sliced ¼-inch thick and pinch of salt; cover; cook over med-low heat, until tender. Add 1-1/2 garlic cloves, minced; cook 2mins; add silverbeet; season. Grease casserole dish.  Make a béchamel sauce; add 1/4c each shredded gruyere and parmesan cheeses to the bechamel. Combine sauce and vegetables. Transfer to casserole dish. Bake in 218C oven, 25-30mins.

Leek Fritters: Chop very finely 2 or 3 trimmed leeks. Mix with 3 eggs, 1c crumbled feta, 1/4c each finely chopped parsley and mint, 3/4c flour, salt and pepper; if too runny, add more flour. Heat ½c oil in pan over med-heat. Drop scoops of batter into hot oil. Fry until golden. Beat 1c yoghurt with 1minced clove garlic and salt; serve with fritters.

Cheesy Leek Tart: Heat oven, 190C. Trim 700g baby leeks; wash well; dry thoroughly. Unroll 375g ready-made puff pastry onto large baking sheet; arrange leeks and small bunch of spinach or rocket, drizzled with a little lemon juice, on top. Sprinkle 100g crumbled Stilton and 50g roughly chopped walnuts over top. Bake 25-30mins, until pastry rises and is golden round edges.

Warm Leek & Apple Salad: Combine 1tbs balsamic, 2tbs cider vinegar, 1tbs ex-virgin olive oil, 1tsp prepared mustard, 1 minced garlic clove and 1/4tsp salt; shake well. To fry pan over low heat, add 2tbs pine nuts; toast 2-3mins; set aside. Cut 3 leeks in half, then into 1-inch pieces; rinse; drain well. Cut 1 med-apple into eighths; slice thinly. Sauté apples and leeks 4-6mins until dark green leek pieces soften a little. Put in bowl; toss with vinaigrette and 3-4 chopped dates; serve warm.




Tuesday, September 13, 2016

PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY AND THYME...ALOE! WHERE’S BASIL?



Around the corner, to the left, and along the road a bit from where I live
Around the corner on the right from where I live...I pass this area every time I go to the supermarket
This, too, is just around the corner from where I live...it's a few metres before the hang-gliding area
Aloe! Aloe!

I doubt there will ever again be a duo as brilliant as US folk-rock singer-songwriters Simon & Garfunkel.  Their lyrics are thought-provoking; their music captivating.  Their harmonising is beyond compare; many of their songs are unforgettable and ageless – unlike me!

Sadly, due to artistic disagreements their collaboration fell apart, as did their friendship; a friendship and mutual musical interest that first began in the early 50s when they were kids living in Queens, New York. In their teenage years they called themselves “Tom & Jerry”.  Their relationship, which fell apart in 1970, has lasted longer than many marriages, including my own two duos.

Maybe what they needed was a bridge over troubled waters; perhaps a session or two with Mrs. Robinson would’ve helped. When their neighbour, the boxer, suggested they seek counselling all he received in return for what he figured was a thoughtful, well-meaning idea was the sound of silence.

Later Simon, still feeling put out by his interference, told the boxer he sported such a perfect pair of cauliflower ears they’d make excellent bookends! 

Ignoring the uncouth remark, the boxer nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders. To no one in particular, mumbled quietly, “I am a rock!”, before he continued onto Scarborough Fair where he hoped he’d run into Cecelia. 

It was late in the evening, but it was a possibility. 

He was homeward bound so it was on his way without having to make a detour via El Condor Pasa and the 59th Street Bridge.
 
Earlier he’d met me and Julio down in the schoolyard. I told him he could call me Al before I burst into a rendition of Kathy’s song in an effort to amuse him. By the way, in case you’re wondering - she’s still crazy after all these years; and to top it off, if that’s not enough, she still wears diamonds on the soles of her shoes even though she keeps slip slidin’ away !

Simon & Garfunkel break-up and make up. It’s an ongoing relationship thing.  ‘Tis true! I know what I know.

One thing I know is I love fresh herbs.  I used to grow a variety of herbs, but not so much nowadays. I love using fresh herbs (and dried) in cooking.

I don’t mean plonking a huge bunch of parsley on plates for garnish, along with a twisted orange slice as once was in vogue not only in RSL and Bowls Clubs across the country, but in many restaurants, too. It was the era when you thought the debonair fellow at the next table was staring at you because he found you attractive. 

Wrong! 

Embarrassingly, you later discovered he’d been staring because you had a complete garden plot of parsley caught in your front teeth – and no one had bothered to tell you!

Once upon a time I had a green thumb. Through the years long gone I grew and harvested a variety of herbs; a veritable mint.  As well as my hair, my thumb has since changed colour; my hair was never green, though. 

The only herb I grow now is flat-leaf/Italian parsley; with a shallot or two thrown into the mix. Sometimes I duck for cover and bury a shooting garlic clove.

Parsley, with its many nutritional benefits, has been cultivated by man for more than 2, 000 years; and by me, here where I hang out, for nigh on 14 years.  

These days my many flat-leaf parsley plants grow freely in a couple of large planters, and also in two polystyrene boxes.  When the plants seed, the seeds drop; the circle of life continues. My stocks are replenished year after year.  It’s a bit like “Deliverance” country...lots of inter-breeding going on in my parsley plots!

Every so often (it happened again the other day), my landlord, dressed like a Ghostbuster with his spray pack on his back, wanders around blindly spraying weeds.

The spray he uses isn’t noxious, but it still knocks out the weeds, or some of them.  

He also knocks out some of my parsley!   

For reasons known only to him – I think he wears invisible blinkers – he always manages to spray some of my parsley plants; plants that are obviously what they are...and they’re in their own boxes/planters!  Upon my latest discovery, I loudly blurted out a few spicy words.  Of course I did...I do every time I discover his folly; and, of course, the words were screamed into the ether.  I do still need a roof over my head and four walls around me!  

I’m constantly intrigued and bewildered.  My landlord is a member of a local gardening club.  As well as maintaining eight or more avocado trees and a few citrus trees, he and his wife have cultivated quite a large area in which they grow a variety of vegetables (including curly-leaf parsley) not only for their personal consumption, but for sale to the public at the “Green Shed” on Sundays, too!   The “Green Shed” sells fresh produce grown by locals.

When I first came to live here there was a pre-existing garden plot close by, out from the back area of my cabin.  Slightly raised, it was bordered by timber sleepers.  I grew a veritable greengrocery in there, including a couple of aloe vera plants.  

After all my years cooking in restaurants etc., (and from when I had my own greengrocery/healthfood shop) I got used to having aloe vera growing.  I sold potted plants in my Noosa shop; and I always had an aloe vera plant or two close at hand when I was cooking professionally.  There is nothing better for the treatment of burns than aloe vera.

Anything that shot or seeded got buried in the garden plot I used to have. Not that I was mimicking the local cemetery, of course!

Everything was growing and going great for a while until my landlord demolished the whole thing because it was getting in the way of his Mad Max machine...his ride-on mower.  Bye-bye garden and all it produced!
   
In the plot I also had a massive rosemary bush.  I’d bought a small potted rosemary plant at the Sunday market.  Once transplanted into the ground, the plant flourished. Jack of the beanstalk fame would've been envious!

Even though my rosemary bush lasted for a while after the garden was flattened, it, too, no longer exists.  (Its demise wasn’t at my hands - he-who-shall-remain-nameless was the culprit)! 

Come Anzac Day I used give sprigs of rosemary to the RSL Club for them to hand out to those honouring our past and present servicemen and women.

The soil here on Tamborine Mountain is rich, red, volcanic soil...a plant’s delight!

However, other than my flat-leaf/Italian parsley plants, the odd shallot, onion, garlic  (there's nothing odd about my onions, shallots and garlic!) and my lemon tree, I’ve retired from gardening.  It’s too risky!

Generously I add parsley to many meals I prepare for myself.  I never use it as a garnish, but I still check to see if any is stuck where it shouldn’t be stuck.  A girl can’t be too careful.   

These days it’s a given if a fellow was staring at me from a neighbouring restaurant table parsley would be the reason for his fixation. 

He’d have no thyme for me, only for Rosemary. I’ll have you know...I’m a sage when it comes to these matters!

Roast Cauli &Herbs: Place 12c cauliflower florets in roasting pan; drizzle with 1-1/2tbs olive oil; toss to coat; bake at 230C, 20mins or so until browned; stir often; sprinkle with chopped parsley, thyme, tarragon/sage and 3 minced garlic cloves; bake further 5mins; combine cauliflower with ¼ freshly grated Parmesan, 2tbs lemon juice; season; toss well. You can add almonds, pecans, walnuts or pine nuts to the florets before baking, too, if you like.

One Pan Herbed Chicken: Preheat oven 230C.  Julienne into 2-inch pieces, 250g carrots and 250g parsnips; dut 250g green beans into 2-inch pieces. Place vegetables on baking sheet; drizzle with 1tbs avocado oil; season; toss to coat. Mix together 2tbs avo oil, 1tbs Dijon mustard, 1tbs cider vinegar, 2tbs maple syrup, 1tsp minced garlic and 1tbs each of chopped thyme, sage, flat leaf parsley and rosemary. Nestle 1.5kg bone-in chicken thighs in between vegies; sprinkle with salt and freshly-cracked pepper; spoon over dressing; reserving a little less than half. Bake 30-35mins; half way through baste with remaining dressing; stir vegies a little. If needed, brown chicken further under grill for a few mins.

Mixed Herb Salad: In bowl, season 1c halved grape tomatoes; put in fine strainer over bowl; drain, 20mins.  Whisk together1tbs balsamic, 1tbs x-virgin olive oil, 1/2tbs lemon juice, zest of ½ lemon and 1-1/2tbs Dijon; season. Combine tomatoes with 3c rocket, 1c roughly chopped coriander, 1/2c freshly shredded fresh mozzarella or goat cheese, ½ cup roughly chopped parsley, 3tbs each roughly chopped basil and mint, 2tbs each roughly chopped pitted green and kalamata olives and 1tbs lemon thyme or thyme. Add dressing; toss; serve.

Quinoa Herb Salad: Combine 2c cooked quinoa, ½ pecans or pine nuts, 3tbs chopped mint. 3tbs chopped shallots and 1/2c chopped parsley in bowl. Whisk together 3tbs x-olive oil, 2tbs lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt and pepper; gently mix through quinoa, evenly; chill 20-30mins to infuse flavours.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE....



Peter Finch as "Macauley" and Dana Wilson playing his daughter "Buster" in the 1957 movie "The Shiralee"

Come this time of the year I’m always at a loss for words. “What? You - at a loss for words - never!”  I hear you screaming in disbelief!  Shhhh! You’ll wake up the neighbourhood!  If you don’t believe what I’m admitting it’s time for you to sit up and take notice. Prepare yourself if you plan to continue reading because you might be in for a shock.    What I say is true!  
 
Yesterday, Sunday, 4th September was Father’s Day here in Australia.  I assume, however, if you’re an Aussie you were already aware of this fact without me having to give you a mighty wake-up nudge.

Not ever having had the experience of a father playing a role in my life I never quite know what to write about when Father’s Day comes around.  I can only go by what I’ve observed from the lives of others. And, because I’m not a sticky-beak, this probably means I’ve not gained much information at all. 

I’m not, and never have been, a person who envies what others have; how big their homes are; how much money they have etc. I think perhaps there were times when I was a child I did wonder what it would’ve been like to be in the shoes of my friends, all of whom had fathers, but I didn’t ponder on the thought at length or in depth.  

Even though there must have been children other than my brother, Graham and me who lived in fatherless homes there are none that I can recall.   

Maybe it was different in the major cities, but in a small town like Gympie of the late Forties and the Fifties the greater majority of families consisted of both a father and a mother. 

For a few years, a few years far too long our stepfather played a role in our lives...more like “terrorised” than “played”.  He was an arse-hole of the first degree (and that's putting it as politely as I can when in open company).  He was one committed to beating on women – namely our mother. 

Around 1950 he was run out of town by the Gympie police with strict instructions never to return.  The police had the power to issues such orders in those years.  When that mongrel left - a heavy, dark cloud lifted allowing some light into our lives. 

Even as one so young, I hated the man.  He is now long dead, having died when I was 16 years old (I was over the moon when I heard the news; also I was disappointed at the same time because I wanted to be able to confront him, eye-to-eye....adult-to-adult, and, by him dying, he took that away from me before I had an opportunity to do so.  Throughout my childhood I'd promised myself the day would come....).  

I will never forget, nor will I ever forgive.  If that, in the eyes of some, makes me a bad person...for hating and not forgiving...so be it.  It concerns me not. He was a monster, pure and simple...a waste of space and oxygen.

It’s funny how situations change over a few decades.  Nowadays single parent households are far more common than they were when I was a child. Sometimes I think we were the first dysfunctional family – I know we weren’t, but at times if felt like we were even if I’d never heard of the word “dysfunctional” back then, let alone knew its meaning.

Never once did I feel - have I felt - the warmth of a father’s hug.  My brother never had a father to guide and teach him.  The way I look at life I believe it’s of the utmost importance for a boy to have a strong, fair father figure throughout his formation years and beyond. Unfortunately, my late brother never had that in his life.  I wish he had.

The father of my good friend who lived across the street from us, (she remains my dear friend to this day) was a fine gentleman. He was a gentle man; one who always exuded calm kindness.  To this day my memories of him remain fond indeed.

He fathered seven children – six daughters and one son.  Within his immediate and extended family he was known as “Daddy John”.

His wife passed away when their youngest child, my friend, was only eight years old “Daddy John” was a revered, much-loved, stead-fast patriarch of the family. 

If I was given a chance to piece together a father (or father figure) of my choosing...like a giant jigsaw puzzle... I’d fit together characteristics of the following fathers to form the perfect father...for me. 

First off the blocks would have to be Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird” (and Gregory Peck who played him in the movie). Toss in Liam Neeson aka Bryan Mills in “Taken”. Having a Dad with his special skills could come in handy in moments of crisis. Add in Spencer Tracy’s character in “Father of the Bride”; also the father Tracy played in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. 

Of course, there is no doubt “Mrs. Doubtfire” would be a sure-fire addition. It’s a given Clark Griswold from the National Lampoon movies would be included. His unwavering determination to ensure his family has a Christmas to remember and vacations of a lifetime has to be admired. Everyone loves Raymond, so I guess he has to stick his nose in. His heart’s always in the right place.  A sense of humour never goes astray. Straight-shooter, man of patience, Marty Crane, Frasier’s dad would be good value.

The father J.K Simmons portrayed in “Juno” is a worthy character, as is the widower father of six sons played by the unforgettable James Stewart in the 1965 American Civil War movie, “Shenandoah”.  I’ll toss in elements of Adam Braverman from the TV series “Parenthood”; as well as the beacon of hope, the heroic father in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.

Last, but by no means least, is one of our most iconic characters – novelist D’Arcy Niland’s Macauley, the salt-of-the-earth father in “The Shiralee”.  In my book, Macauley stands proudly beside Atticus Finch.

If you've never read D'Arcy Niland's "The Shiralee" or seen the 1957 movie starring Peter Finch....try to get hold of both.  The story was also made into a TV film in 1987 starring Bryan Brown as "Macauley" and Rebecca Smart as "Buster".  It is a wonderful story....I'm sure you won't be disappointed....



Papa’s Tapas - Jalapeno Poppers: Process 200g cream cheese till smooth; add ½ red onion, diced; season. Slice 8-10 jalapenos chillies in half lengthwise; remove seeds; leave stems on. Fill each half with cream cheese; then sandwich halves together, pressing firmly.  Roll each chilli in flour to finely coat. Batter - separate 2 large eggs. Whisk yolks in bowl; add 1c flour; add 1/2c beer and 1tbs melted butter; whisk until smooth.  Beat egg whites until stiff; fold gently into batter. Heat vegetable oil in saucepan. Take each floured chilli, holding by the stem and dip into batter to coat. Lightly place in the hot oil; fry 1-2mins on each side until nicely browned. Drain chillies on paper towels; serve with lime sour cream (lime juice added to sour cream and/or sweet chilli jam.

Pop’s Chops:  Combine ¼ onion, finely grated, 1tsp smoked paprika, hot or sweet, 2tsp ground cumin seeds, 2tbs olive oil and 2tbs lemon juice. Coat 12-16 lamb cutlets with marinade; cover; chill overnight. Before cooking, combine 1tbs freshly ground cumin seeds, 1/2tsp sweet paprika and salt; sprinkle lamb liberally with half the spice mix. Grill chops, 5-8mins each side. Serve sprinkled with remaining spices, lemon wedges and flat bread.

Red Wine Chorizo Tapas: heat pan to  med-hot; add 2tbs olive oil, 1 sliced echalion (banana shallot) and a finely chopped garlic clove; fry 2-3mins; add 300g chorizo, cut diagonally into 2.5cm chunks; fry 1-2mins; add 2 bay leaves and 200ml red wine.

Prawns & Chorizo Tapas: heat pan until med-hot, add 2tbs olive oil and 2 sliced garlic cloves; fry 1-2mins; add 500g chorizo, diagonally cut 1/4cm thick; fry 1-2mins.  Add 8 medium prawn, shell-on; season; cook  2-3mins; Add 50ml dry sherry; deglaze pan.  Tip into serving dish; sprinkle over chopped flat-leaf parsley.   You can shell the prawns if that's what you prefer...but don't remove the tails.