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!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

WAITING TO EXHALE



A sketch I did about seven years ago

These pink water lilies and the lavender ones below are those on the pond below.
The pond on this property...I've posted this image previously, but it never gets old!

View from Main Western Road, Mount Tamborine to the west towards Beaudesert

My blogging activities have been fairly slack these past two weeks.  My mind and energy have been elsewhere occupied; and, overall, I’ve been feeling pretty drained, stressed and exhausted.  However, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel (it’s beaming brightly as I draw nearer the tunnel's end); and, thankfully, I can see the forest as well as the trees. 

On Saturday, 28th March as well as being drenched in the light because I’ll be at the very end of the tunnel and being able to touch the trees and the forest, I’ll also be able to exhale.

From my still-unfinished story “Music to My Ears…Purrrfect…Or...To All the Cats I’ve Loved Before…And Still!” (further chapters are yet to come) it’s obvious I love cats; and that they’ve played a huge role in my life.  They still do.

My cabin is situated on a three acre block of land.  Up at the far end of the property sits my landlords’ home.  My little abode is at the opposite end of the block, about three-quarters of the way “south” of the main ranch.  Lush trees separate (and a large, water lily-covered pond) the two dwellings, making each totally separate and not visible to the other; nor are they within hearing distance of each other so eavesdropping isn’t possible!

Since 2nd March, every day I’ve been keeping a close eye on my landlords’ five chickens and their cat, Molly. The chickens and I are on first name terms. Mabel, Mildred, Mavis, Myrtle and Maisie greet me with open wings, knowing I’ve a bagful of vegetables, fruit and bread for them to feast upon.  They love the daily additions to their regular, boring old chicken pellets.

Most days I pay two visits, primarily to spend more time with Molly, letting her know she’s not been deserted entirely.  I’m a big softie, this I know, but I always feel so sorry that she has to spend most of her days and nights alone, but it’s not possible for me to have her here in my cabin with my two furry rascals and me.  So it’s always with a heavy heart that I leave her to her own devices after our daily chats and cuddles.
My landlords always leave the window in their indoor laundry slightly ajar so Molly has been able to have egress and access at her will. 

Two Mondays ago today - 9th March, to be more exact - I went to pay my morning visit to Molly, as normal.  When I went inside the house and entered the back bedroom where Molly had taken up residence she was laying on the bed, as usual.  

As is my habit to do, I laid down with her to stroke her, and to have a chat to learn what mischief she'd gotten into and what movies she'd watched since we’d last spent time together.  Immediately I knew something was amiss; something was not right with Molly.  She barely stirred.  She was like a damp, limp cloth.  My heart began pounding.  I tried to get her to stand up, but to no avail.  I tried everything, thinking perhaps she was just “foxing”…but that’s not what feisty Molly is like.  On any normal day she would’ve growled, hissed and struck out at me because of the things I was doing with her in an effort to get her to show some movement.  Dear little Molly is the only cat I know who can growl and purr simultaneously!  When she’s had enough attention, she makes those feelings evident!

Wasting no time I came back to my cabin. I needed to get my cat box.  I also needed to phone my landlords’ daughter who lives in Brisbane with her husband and their two little children to inform her of my discovery and of my suspicions.  I believed Molly, sometime during her nocturnal roaming the previous evening had been bitten by a snake.   Robyn, my landlords' daughter, said for me “to go with my gut”…and that’s what I did.  I then rang the local vet describing Molly’s symptoms and that I believed she’d been a snake victim.  I was advised to bring Molly into their surgery immediately.

Believing I’d be torn to shreds when trying to put Molly into the cat box (but not caring if I did) I raced back up to the house.  Molly, like the damp rag as previously described didn’t put up a battle.  I was able to slide her into the cat box with no resistance whatsoever from her.

The trip from my cabin to the veterinary surgery is fairly short distance of between 2 to 3kms, but that morning it felt more like 300kms.  With a distressed Molly in the cat box on the passenger seat howling her little lungs out I drove trying to console her with gentle, comforting words while the tears streamed down my face.  She couldn’t be comforted; and neither could I. 

As we drew closer to North Tamborine where vet is she began to make choking sounds. Fearful she wasn't going to make it I planted my foot on the accelerator, and I didn’t give a damn if I was pulled over for speeding.  If I’d had a siren I would’ve put it atop of my car and claimed I was an Animal Ambulance! 

At around five minutes past nine I arrived at the vet's premises.
 
Announcing who I was to the lass at the reception desk Andrew, the vet, immediately appeared and ushered me into one of the rooms.  He took Molly from the cat box; she just flopped on the floor.  The poor little cat couldn’t stand.  Her muscles were gone; all strength had been zapped from them.  I was distraught.  Andrew confirmed my suspicions. Molly had been bitten by a snake.  From the symptoms she was displaying Andrew told me an Easter Small-Eyed had bitten her:-.

 http://australianmuseum.net.au/small-eyed-snake


http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2012/07/gallery-10-most-dangerous-snakes-in-australia/10-most-dangerous-snakes-in-australia_image8/

You can check them out in the sites above.  I won’t put up a picture of the snake.  I hate, hate, hate snakes with a vengeance!  And there is no way I will display them on my blog!  It’s as simple as that! I make no apology and offer no excuses.

Molly was immediately sedated and put on a drip.  Andrew told me he didn’t have a true time-line to give me, but it could take up to two weeks, maybe longer for her to recover; if, in fact, at that stage, to his knowledge, she would recover.  He did think, because I’d found her when I did and had acted so quickly, her chances of recovery were pretty good.

I drove back home to my cabin as if in a dream.  I was mentally, emotionally drained. Feelings that still really haven't left me.  

The rest of that day I spent in tears; tears, which lingered, refusing to go away. They kept making their appearance day after day.  I’d told the girls at the surgery's reception desk they’d be sick of me because I intended ringing every day to learn of Molly’s progress.  And I kept my promise, most days ringing twice a day.

On the Friday after I took Molly to the vet I was allowed to pay her a brief visit; to be able to stroke her and talk with her; to let her know I’d not deserted her.  I was with her for about 20 minutes.  She was still attached to the drip.  She sat up, albeit briefly, but she purred and reciprocated affection. Molly was still quite weak; but Andrew (and his staff) told me she was eating a little, and each day they could see her getting better, bit by bit.

Again, tears ran down my cheeks.  No wonder I’m feeling drained.  I’m dehydrated!

With the weekend approaching I knew I only had the Saturday morning to make my phone-in check on her progress, which I did. And then, to my surprise, Andrew, the vet, phoned me on the Sunday morning to give me an update on Molly.  He was on call over the weekend.  I am so full of admiration and appreciation for Andrew.

I told him that I had to be in Beaudesert for a dental appointment at 8.50 am on the Monday morning (a week from Molly’s admittance), but that I’d call into the surgery upon my return here to the “hill” in the hope of again being able to see Molly for a little while.

Around 11 am I pulled into the parking area and entered the vet's building.  I was told by the girl on the reception desk I would be able to bring Molly home that day!  My mouth fell open in surprise! I was rendered speechless.  In no way had I expected to hear those words.  It felt like minutes had passed while I stood there with my mouth open like one of those clowns in sideshow alley!  Finally, I pulled myself together and expressed my joy at the news.  I was told to return to the surgery at 5 pm to pick up Molly.  At the time of collection Andrew would see me to give me all the information on Molly I needed.

Twice a day, every day I’d written detailed emails to my landlords who are presently in Orford, Suffolk in the UK, keeping them abreast with what was going on with Molly. They had been very understanding and empathetic; but, of course, they, too, were very upset and sad over the disturbing news I’d imparted.   

I informed them once I brought Molly back home the window in the laundry would be slammed shut; and closed it would remain until they arrived back on Aussie soil up here on the mountain...their Aussie soil upon which their house sat.  What they do after that is their business; but while Molly is still under my watch there is no way she will be outside…day or night.  I've been advised by them that they will allow Molly to go out during daylight hours, but from now on she will be housebound at night.  Good!!!!

Naturally, with cat box in hand, (and a bottle of good red wine for Andrew for his heartfelt care and attention) I stepped through the veterinary surgery’s door between 4.50 and 4.55 pm on Monday last, almost panting in anticipation!  Actually, there was no “almost”…I WAS panting in anticipation.   

Again, my heart was pounding.  All through the previous week I’d been feeling distressed; distraught, exhausted and every other description possible.  I had no appetite. In fact, my appetite still hasn’t returned completely.

Before I collected Molly and brought her home I set up a litter box in the laundry of my landlords' home.  I laid out a smorgasbord for her to graze upon and bolted the laundry window shut!  She had her own restaurant and en suite awaiting her return.

Andrew removed the drip from Molly while I waited.  He explained how amazed he was by the progress Molly had made over the weekend.  She certainly is a tough little lady and no bloody snake was going to kill her – not without a fight; or with Andrew’s expertise, (or with me around)!

With the account for Molly’s hospitalization paid by my landlords I brought her home.  His charges were reasonable, in my opinion.  A week's hospitalisation and treatment cost $1,296.00.  The anti-venom, alone, cost $700.00!

Every day I spend time with Molly; and I do hate having to leave her alone up at the house; but that's the way it is.

As well as being her affection-giver, I’m also her housekeeper.  I clean out her en suite and put down fresh provisions for her to chew upon at her leisure. The back bedroom is still her domain, and it becomes mine, too, as I lay on the bed with her as we exchange gossip. 

Molly has made a remarkable recovery.  Her coat is looking the best I’ve ever seen it, I think.  The drip, along with whatever else was needed to get her well again, must have been full of nutrients (perhaps I should go on it for a while).  Molly has her appetite back and since being home safe within her own four or more walls she's been eating well from the platters I put down for her.  She’s not been outside once since I brought her home.  I’ve confined her to quarters for the duration. She has made no attempt at wanting to go outdoors.   

I honestly believe she knows…understands…what’s best for her; and that my intentions and actions are for her benefit…and for my peace of mind.  There is no way in the world I would be able to rest easy knowing she could get out to roam about outside.   

A prisoner…with all the benefits…she is.  I’ve even shown her how to switch on the television set!  I have left a radio on for her so there is some noise in the house to keep her company.  Oh, well…I’ve never denied that I’m crazy..I won’t start now!

I'm so pleased and so relieved that Molly came through...and she's doing so well.  It has been very worrying.

By the time my landlords, Molly’s owners arrive home on Saturday she’ll be picture of wellness; and they’ll think I made up the whole saga; but that's okay.

All they need is to take one look at me and they’ll realise everything I told them by email was true! 

However, I won’t completely relax until Derek and Denise are home.  I’m counting down the seconds!

And then the men in the white jackets will come and take me away, I think!

Saturday, March 14, 2015












I don’t believe Paddy – aka St. Patrick in some circles - is the old man referred to in the children’s song, but you never know. Stranger things have been uncovered, as you’ll discover if you read on.  My musings could be wrong, so please don’t quote me. I’ve been known to be wrong many, many times; too many times to count on one hand, in fact!

In the early part of the Fifth Century Paddy, ages before he became known as “St”, and long before he became “Mr.”, was a baby born of Roman heritage. Born in Cumbria, a county in North West England he was probably known then as Master Patrick.  A piece of trivia to lighten the moment - if a strong southerly wind blew - a gale similar to the blow brought on by a Category 5 cyclone like Marcia who paid Yeppoon an unwelcome visit a few weeks ago - Cumbria would end up being a county in South-West Scotland.

Paddy’s pater, a deacon, was known as Calpurnius (probably “Cal” to his mates). Patrick’s grandfather, Potitus (reverently called “Pot” by his friends) was a priest. There’s no mention of his mother or grandmother. I guess they plodded about in a kitchen somewhere slaving over a hot pot.  If a man is married before he becomes a deacon, then he can be one; but if not married beforehand marriage is a no-no.  It’s too complicated for my tentative grip on what is and what is not! Maybe priests were allowed to marry back then in the Fifth Century.  I can’t say for certain.  It was a little before my time. 

During his childhood and early teen years Paddy bucked the system. He wasn’t an active believer like his dad, Cal and grand-pop, Pot.

It’s reported that a band of Irish pirates kidnapped Paddy (it wasn’t U2, in case you’re wondering; it wasn’t me, either).

Contrary to previous theories, I believe our lad Pad met up with Captain Sparrow at a local pub one cold, rather damp, foggy evening. Underage drinking wasn’t frowned upon or illegal in those days. Having to drive a car with a few Irish whiskeys in tow definitely wasn’t a problem; tripping over the Blarney Stone in the dark of night could’ve been, though.

My belief is host Sparrow and his motley crew of renegades wooed the young bloke with their many broad tales of life on the high seas; of looting, plundering and the rest of it. Seduced by images of exciting adventures on the Irish Sea, in the North Channel, and further north, up and over a bit in the expansive Atlantic Ocean Paddy jumped in a canoe and started paddling. 

Caught by a rogue wave our lad Pad, as fate would have it, was rescued by Captain Sparrow.

For the ensuing six fun-filled years Paddy roamed fancy-free on the high and low seas until, one day, he received a text from home.

Having grown somewhat weary of adventuring, of looting, plundering and avoiding the plank, while still in his early twenties Paddy returned to the comforts of home into the forgiving fold of his family. 

Sadly, having missed his 21st birthday celebrations he’d not received a key to the front door, but everyone recognised him immediately. With their arms and front door wide open in welcome Paddy felt as if he’d never been away.

His grateful family held off with their myriad questions until he’d scoffed down a hearty meal of corned beef and cabbage.

If Paddy thought his life was hectic during those six years away he was in for a huge shock after he returned home. Things got very, very busy for Patrick…but that’s another story…perhaps for 17th March!

Parsnip-Corned Beef-Cabbage Soup: Sauté 2tbs butter and 2 bay leaves in saucepan, about 2mins. Stir in 2 large, coarsely chopped parsnips and 2c chopped onions; add 3c chicken broth; cover; simmer 15mins. Cut 2 large savoy cabbage leaves, ribs removed; chop three thick slices of cooked corned beef, crosswise into very thin strips. Melt 1tbs butter in skillet over med-high heat; add cabbage and beef; season; toss until cabbage wilts, about 3mins. Puree soup with 1/4c whipping cream until smooth; return to pot to re-warm. Ladle into bowls; mound cabbage and beef in centre. 

Beef and Guiness Casserole:  Preheat oven 160C. Melt 25g butter in pan over med-heat; add 160g bacon lardoons; cook a little; add  a dash of olive oil, 2 large onions, chopped, 2 chopped garlic cloves and cook until brown; transfer to large casserole.  Return frying pan to heat; add 1kg round, chuck or blade steak cut into 4cm pieces; season; cook until browned all over; transfer to casserole. Place 300-400g sliced mushrooms (brown, field and button) in frying pan; cook 2mins; season to taste; add to casserole. Return the frying pan to the heat and use a whisk to scrape off all the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan (this is where the flavour is). Pour in 300ml Guinness; add  2tbs tomato puree, 1 bay leaf, 100g pitted prunes, a handful of chopped fresh herbs of choice, including chopped parsley, 150g carrots, roughly chopped; continue stirring 2-3mins to deglaze the pan. Pour this mixture and pan juices over the beef etc., in the casserole. Cover the casserole and cook in the oven for 2 hours. Meanwhile make herb dumplings: Into a bowl, place 50g grated frozen butter, 150g (1) Self-Raising flour, 2tbs grated Granny Smith apples, 1tsp Dijon mustard and 1tsp each of finely chopped thyme and flat-leaf parsley; season. Using your fingertips, rub together until combined.  Add 1tbs water; stir until dough forms. Divide into 16 balls. Place dumplings over beef, spooning over a little of the braising liquid. Return to oven, uncovered and cook for a further 25mins or until dumplings are golden and doubled in size.

Murphy’s Puffs: Cut 700g unpeeled spuds into ½-inch cubes; boil until tender. Remove centre stalk from 180g kale; slice leaves into strips. Place drained spuds into bowl; place kale into potato water; cook 6mins. Remove with slotted spoon to processor; add 1/4c cooking liquid; pulse to chop fine. Preheat oven, 218C. Mash spuds; add kale, 2tbs nutritional yeast, 1tsp onion powder, 1/2tsp each garlic powder, thyme, salt, 1/4ts ground pepper, 2tbs milk and 2tbs cornflour; combine well. Form into 1-inch balls, or larger. Place on oiled baking sheet; bake 20mins. Turn over; bake 20mins more.

Paddy’s Knick-Knacks: Line baking sheet with baking paper. In saucepan combine 2c mini-marshmallow and 2tbs butter; melt over low heat while stirring; remove from heat; add 1/4tsp vanilla and a few drops green food colouring. Combine melted mix with 2c Rice Bubbles; press onto baking sheet. Repeat process for 2 more layers; add 1/4ts peppermint extract instead of vanilla to middle layer, if desired. Make each layer a little darker than the other. Cool; then cut into pieces.

Float Paddy’s Boat: In a 473ml glass (pint glass) add to generous scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Pour Guinness Stout over the ice cream; then add 1/4c Bailey’s Mint Irish Cream; then make another and you’re just about ready to float off with your Shillelagh under your arm! 

Thursday, March 05, 2015

BROTHERS AND SISTERS – THE FABRIC OF LIFE



My late brother Graham and me...at ages 3-1/2 years (me) and Graham, five.
Poster for Sorlie's Revue
Jenny Howard...a regular Sorlies' performer


There are advantages and disadvantages being the younger sister to an older brother; speaking for myself, anyway. One advantage in having an older brother is, mostly, he’s protective of his little sister; but that can be a disadvantage, too, as often was the case when I became a teenager with an older brother peering over my shoulder!

My late brother, Graham, who was two and a half years older than me kept an eagle eye on any likely lads who cast their wandering eager eyes my way; those of whom he was aware, at least! He did warn off a couple of hopeful suitors much to my embarrassment and annoyance.

When we were kids Graham believed he held the lead role and I, the secondary, supporting role. We would’ve been worthy understudies for Laurel & Hardy. We played our parts well.

Boys will be boys; older brothers will be older brothers; they love to tease. Older brothers also gain pleasure from spinning yarns, mostly untrue or exaggerated, just to suck their little sisters in; at least mine did. After all, what are little sisters for if not to tease and spin made-up yarns to? 

Graham was the captain of his rapscallion gang. The heartless bunch of rascals led by him regularly lynched my dolls on tree limbs or on our clothes’ line. They’d then proceed to shoot arrows at my innocent, well-dressed family of dolls. I wasn’t impressed as I stood by hopelessly helpless.

How badly I wanted pay-back – ever so badly! Hanging the boys’ trucks from the trees didn’t seem to have the requisite retribution ring to it.  That’s not to say the wheels of retaliation; the cogs of revenge weren’t turbulently churning. They were; so much so the sprockets wore down and were in dire need of a dentist.

Graham overflowed with sage advice, too; probably passed on by Rosemary and Basil; but I was no dill.  If, at times, I was uncertain whether what he told me was truthful or not, I pretended I didn’t have the thyme to listen to his wild tales. I’d give him a bit of ginger before scooting off to play with Angelica, my friend who lived down the road in Sorrel Avenue.

Often Graham warned me the cut edge of a pumpkin, after it was chopped in half or quartered for future use, was poisonous; not edible.

As I live alone I only buy a hunk of pumpkin at a time, not a whole pumpkin. (My two furry rascals, Remy and Shama don't eat pumpkin)! With his words from so long ago ringing in my ears, automatically I slice off the outer cut part of the pumpkin before preparation. I never peel pumpkin; actually the only vegetable I peel is onion. 

There is sense in the pumpkin yarn Graham spun because bacteria can enter the cut section if left long enough.

Actually, avocado, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, grains, nuts, olives, capsicums, pumpkin, squash, sunflower seeds and tomatoes are fruit; vegetables include celery, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, onions, carrots and potatoes; but let’s not waste time being pedantic.

As I said, even these days so many years hence, when preparing pumpkin Graham’s childhood warning always comes to mind while I slice off the cut edge and toss it.

My brother also told me never to drink water when eating grapes because doing so would make me drunk!  Drinking water when drinking wine is good advice, but to not drink water while eating grapes in the fear of getting drunk is stretching credibility limits – just a little bit! 

Every time a dragonfly hovered about - even  at times when we didn’t see one fly by - Graham enjoyed reminding me dragonflies grew up to be dragons. 

The maturity period of dragonflies must be extremely lengthy because I’ve seen many dragonflies, but I’ve never seen a dragon. Well, that’s not exactly true - I often see a dragon when I look in my mirror, and it scares me to death…but that’s another story!  

When we were children we loved going to the "pictures' - to every Saturday afternoon matinee; and often Mum or Nana, or both if Mum wasn't working, took us to the movies mid-week if they believed there was a picture worth seeing; one suitable for Graham and me to see. They took us to every circus that came to town (Wirth's, Ashton's and Bullen's circuses); as well as every travelling pantomime and Sorlies' Revue/Vaudeville troupe that came to Gympie.  

Sorlies had vaudeville stars who were big names in Australia in those days - Jenny Howard; Roy Rene aka Mo McCackie (I loved "Mo McCackie"...these days he'd be outlawed by the politically-correct mob); George Wallace, Snr. and George Wallace Jnr. (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wallace-george-leonard-11942) along with many other talented performers who took our breath away:


Sorlie’s Revue was a joint enterprise for entrepreneur Grace Sorlie (d. 1962) and comedian Bobby Le Brun (b.1910). Together with a troupe of dancers, singers, comedians and sight acts they toured regional towns in eastern Australia from 1949 to 1961. The show was a revival and perpetuation of the travelling tent show that Grace’s late husband, George Sorlie (1885-1948), had toured on a similar circuit from 1917 to 1945, including appearances for Harry Wren at Brisbane’s Cremorne Theatre in 1940.

 http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sorlie-george-brown-8585

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

As children we loved the entertainment at our disposal.  We wanted for nothing in that department.
For a time when I was a little girl I attended ballet classes.  I undertook piano lessons for five years.  Graham concentrated on more masculine activities such as sport and Boy Scouts.  I also was a Brownie, and then later a Girl Guide for a short while.  

Our mother who was a good dancer and had attended lessons for many years throughout her childhood taught us the basics of tap-dancing.  Of course, I was more interested in learning how to tap than big brother Graham was!  He was more interested in learning how to tap in a nail; or teasing me!

Each Christmas night, however, I managed to get some of my own back on Graham with the concerts I choreographed for the family’s Christmas evening entertainment.

Naturally, it should go without saying, I held the Oscar-worthy starring roles in every performance; and there were many performances during the night’s concert all of which I directed, produced and appeared in. Sometimes I was a soloist; other times Graham was my co-star (in a supporting role, of course)!
(Please note I write about my concerts with much humour.  I still laugh at the memory of them; the innocence and serious of a child.  And I was so serious about putting on a good show.  I often wonder how our mother and grandmother contained their mirth throughout the concerts.  Somehow they held in their laughter…but years later when I an adult we used to laugh about the Christmas night concerts I orchestrated when I was a little girl).

An audience of two sat enraptured (imprisoned). Sometimes when our uncle, Mum’s brother was visiting for Christmas the number grew to three. He, too, managed to restrain his hysterics!

Seeing Graham squirm playing a multiple of roles appropriately dressed as Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, stepmother, and, when needed, Prince Charming was payback enough to last me a lifetime! 

He had to learn how to change costumes quickly – that is when he wasn’t trying to climb out Mum’s bedroom window in attempted escapes; with me holding onto his legs screaming out for someone to come and help me drag him back inside!!

Eventually, the concert would crumble, fall into a million pieces; my unwilling co-star always ended up with a look of self-satisfaction on his face. After my revue folded Mum would sit at the piano and soon a sing-a-long would ensue. Peace was restored.  

But before the curtain finally collapsed, I always determinedly somehow managed to fit in the “Dance of the Bluebells”; “The Dance of the Daffodils “The Dance of the Buttercups”, "The Dance of the Fireflies",and a couple of others if I was on a roll; along with my version of “Swan Lake”, or at least one scene from “Swan Lake” (talk about the Dying Swan…I was probably more like the Strangled Duck)! 

I even coerced Graham into joining me in tap-dancing to “Walking My Baby Back Home”.

All dances were accompanied by our mother at the piano.  Graham used to tease me (and even continued doing so years later) that all my dances had the same steps/movements – it was just the music accompanying them that changed!

They were good times, even if I took my productions very seriously…when no one else did!   

Balsamic-Glazed Pumpkin: Slice pumpkin into ¼-inch thick small slices to make 3 cups. Heat 1tbs olive oil in pan; add 1/2tsp cumin seeds, 1 whole red dry chilli pepper; when cumin sizzles and chilli turn a shade darker, add pumpkin; season. Cook at high, tossing, until half cooked and browned; add 1-1/2tbs balsamic, crushed red pepper to taste and 1/2c lightly-toasted, broken walnuts. Reduce heat to medium; cook, tossing and scraping off pan bottom until slices are cooked and glazed. Garnish with fresh coriander or herb of choice.  

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bars: Preheat oven 176C; place rack in centre of oven. Roast 1c pecans on baking tray 8-10mins, until browned and fragrant; cool; then chop coarsely. Increase oven to 190C; butter and flour 23x23cm pan. Whisk together 2c plain flour, 1tsp baking powder, 1/2tsp baking soda, 1tsp cinnamon, 1/4tsp each ground allspice, ground ginger and salt. Beat 1c butter and 1c white sugar until light and fluffy; add 1 large egg, 1tsp vanilla; beat until incorporated; beat in 1c pureed cooked pumpkin until incorporated; gradually add the flour; mix until just combined; stir in pecans and 1c dried cranberries. Spread into pan; bake 30-35mins; when cooled cut into 16x5cm bars (top with a cream cheese frosting, if desired). 

Lentil-Feta-Grape-Walnut Salad: Add 3/4c brown or puy lentils to 2-1/2c boiling unsalted water; reduce to simmer; cook 20mins; drain; rinse with cold water; set aside. Toast 1/2c walnuts over med-heat; chop. Halve 1-1/2 seedless red grapes; cut 1 celery stalk into thin slices; place all in a bowl. Dressing: whisk together 2tbs red wine vinegar, juice of 1 lemon, 2tsp honey; slowly whisk in 3tbs olive oil; pour over salad; season; top with 1/2c crumbled feta cheese. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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



A cat similar in appearance to Sasha  (I posted this photo in a previous post)
Let's cuddle...photo from the Web

Ruska and me on the new deck at the Elanda St., Sunshine Beach house - circa 1982 - thereabouts....
Randall with the catch of the day; me with other catches of the day...and Ruska eyeing off the mud crabs and prawns.  Ruska LOVED prawns!  Circa 1982
Sunshine Beach
Nambour Main Street
Self-Explanatory Map...Sunshine Beach is situated just around the headland (on southern side) of Noosa.

"Randall George Real Estate" opened its doors; but before that day came, we'd put our heads together, pondered and considered for many hours, days and weeks on a suitable design for our logo and image for our real estate signs, stationery/letterheads and business cards etc.  

After much deliberation it was decided a seagull would be our logo; our symbol. A suitable seagull image modelled on the seagull on the cover of Richard Bach's wonderful, inspirational novella, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull was decided upon. An abstract, light blue bird in flight soaring to the heights, with the name of the business printed in a darker blue on premium quality white paper would be on all our stationery and signs.  (Artwork similar in style to the photo of the seagull shown above).  Satisfied, the final layout of our overall design, including typeface and the arrangement of the headings etc. were confidently put into the hands of a local printing company.  

We'd chosen the seagull as our symbol, not only because we lived at the beach, but also because Bach's story held a special place in our hearts, as did Neil Diamond's Grammy-winning soundtrack album  "Jonathan Livingston Seagull".  Diamond's magical interpretation played in the background during Randall and my relaxed, casual wedding service conducted by a Marriage Celebrant a few years earlier in 1976.
   
A hive of activity ensued as excitedly we set up our office in the main room in the downstairs area of our Elanda Street home. We felt like a couple of kids on Christmas morning! I became the proud owner of a brand new, you-beaut electronic Olivetti typewriter with display and 500 or 600 character memory. PCs were still a rarity in 1980.  I thought I was the ant’s pants!  Until, that is, the first time I placed my fingers on the keys of my new wonder machine. 
   
At first strike on the keys smoke billowed out from the interior workings, much to my shocked dismay. 

However, after a phone call to the office supply/equipment business in Nambour from where we’d purchased it, without argument or delay the explosive contraption was replaced with a brand new machine, no questions asked. The replacement never caused problems, performing excellently, without complaint; always at my beck, call and fingertips.  

A cabinet-maker situated in Eumundi Road, Noosaville constructed a large, one-off wooden desk for Randall to his personal specifications.  It's was quite a magnificent desk.

Before the new office furniture and other necessary items arrived and after we covered the interior walls a couple of coats of fresh, inviting white paint,  we laid sea grass matting on the floor.  The office of Randall George Real Estate was taking shape. My desk and work area was up one end of the room, not far from the entrance to the house. Randall operated from his desk at the other end of the room. No walls or partitions divided us. The office had a casual, coastal feel (and appearance) about it.

Three wide, large windows broke the monotony of the wall behind him and to the side of me. The windows, assisted by a partly-glassed door at the far end of the room, granted sunlight and sea breezes easy access.   

Against the opposite wall to Randall’s industrious work area we set up a day bed with a brightly-covered striped Mexican-themed woven bedspread.  A couple of colourful bean bags offhandedly scattered about the room added to the relaxed atmosphere we aimed to achieve.  Suitable chairs were also available for those clients more in favour of formal mode!  Leafy, green, potted plants completed the picture of unceremonious, natural surroundings.

Having immediately claimed the day bed during the daylight hours Ruska acting sometimes as receptionist, albeit unknown to visitors to the office. In between napping, which, I have to admit, took up most of his time, he kept a sneaky eye - briefly, mostly only one eye opened slightly just to do a quick scan, then it was back to the Land of Nod for him.  When we were in the office the day bed was his resting, reclining spot.  

Sasha was never far away, either. He had a favourite spot close to the entrance to the house. It allowed him initial surveillance of the people arriving on our doorstep. For a few hours daily he luxuriated in the filtered sunlight beneath the leaves of a healthy Umbrella tree. 

Umbrella trees are native to the northern Queensland rainforests, but in southern Queensland they’re regarded as fast-growing invaders; pests causing harm to local ecosystems.  In the late Seventies-early Eighties Umbrella trees  were a very popular tree in these southern areas of Queensland.  Who would ever think that trees became "in vogue"...but some did back then; and others probably still do.  Umbrella trees (along with Rubber trees) were the “in” tree to have in your garden.  As long as both varieties were/are planted well away from building foundations and underground plumbing; pipes etc., no problems should arise.  Both also were/are hardy, large-potted, indoor plants.  The Umbrella tree isn’t a declared pest under Queensland legislation, but local councils can, at their will, declare them under their own laws.  

"Note:  Rubber plant material can be toxic to small animals (including cats and small dogs) as well as young children.  The sap can irritate the skin and plant material can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested.  Care should be taken in homes where little people and little critters have access to house plants.    Those with severe latex allergies and sensitive skin should avoid growing this plant." 

However, Sasha wasn’t at all interested in the nitty-gritty botanical details, neither was Ruska. They left all those mediocre things up to Randall and me to worry about - after all, that's what humans are for.   Both Sasha and Ruska showed no interest in indoor plants, either  Actually, gardening, outdoors or indoors, was not a hobby of theirs.  That silly pastime was the domain of humans. 

My ginger-furred elder feline mate loved wallowing in the warmth of the seaside sun, and in the dappled shade provided by the Umbrella tree’s broad leaves. If he wasn’t nearby outside indulging and rejoicing in his new found coastal freedom, quite often he’d be found curled up asleep at my feet under my desk; or when he’d had enough of his rest being interrupted he’d be found snoozing on the end of our bed in our upstairs’ bedroom.  He was always around close by, as was Ruska. During the day Ruska guarded the office while Sasha supervised the entry, exit and upstairs area.  At night when Randall and I were upstairs, whether we were in the kitchen/dining, out on the deck (the deck was our favourite spot to sit and talk), wherever we were both cats could be found; and Winston regularly could be heard in the trees over yonder.  Also we had a king-size bed, so there was room enough for the four of us!

Life was going along smoothly.  Our business was doing well.  After a few months of operation, we employed a salesman, Paul Figalo, to cover the Peregian/Coolum end of the coastal strip. Paul was a lively little fellow; hyper-active is the word one would call him nowadays. Paul and his family lived at Coolum.  He’d worked with an agency in Coolum before joining us, so he knew the area well.  Mostly he worked from his home. Paul rarely visited our office, unless it was absolutely necessary for the signing of contracts, meetings, etc. Otherwise, there was no need for him to be in our Sunshine Beach home office.  Randall and Paul met up often when they were both out and about running around the ridges; and there were phone calls back and forth all the time; night and day.  Again, of course, this was long before mobile phones became glued to everyone’s ears. 

Randall handled the sales, the listings and everything else entailed in real estate. It was his domain; and he was expert at what he did; figures and finance were his talents. He was an honest, efficient operator – and I’m in no way being prejudice by declaring this. It was what it was. Randall also managed the few rental properties we had on our books.  

I handled the clerical side of the business and was pretty much confined to the office, but that suited me fine. Someone had to be in attendance to answer the phone and all else that running an office entailed. I had no interest in being a salesperson, myself.  I preferred to leave that side of the business to Randall. He was the licensed agent/salesman; and he knew what he was doing. He soon built up a solid client base.

In the meantime, we’d also started on some renovations on the house.  The first thing we did was get rid of the existing stove.  It was electric. I’ve always preferred cooking on gas, although these days the stove in this cabin I’m renting is an electric stove. I have no choice; but then again, I no longer do the amount of cooking and entertaining I once did.  Those days are long gone.

A brand-new, large six-burner gas stove and oven was fitted. I was in my element having gas to cook on and not an electric element!

The little existing ocean-side deck needed to go. This was a high on our list - top priority.  With the view and the privacy we had from the north-eastern side of the house the small deck was totally inadequate.   

We hired a couple of local guys who promptly removed the old deck. It was replaced with a much wider deck that, in length, spread from one side of the house to the other looking down through the dense vegetation to the street below. Treated timber posts almost as thick as electricity poles were set firmly in concrete into the dune below making them solid upright structures strong enough to support our extensive deck. We believed if we were going to build a new deck it should be one worthy of the view.  Also our new outdoor area, of which we were very proud, melded in with the top level of the trees and vegetation that hugged the dune. Sitting on the deck level with the tree tops we unexpectedly found us in the bird paths (not the bird baths…but their flight paths); and the birds often unexpectedly found us, too!   Often as they flew past they ducked or veered off with stunned looks on their faces (if that is possible).  

Having been very pleased with the excellent workmanship shown by the people who built Randall's office desk, we had them construct for us a special large round outdoor table with seating to match to take up pride of place on our new deck. If and when needed table could comfortably sat eight people around it.

One Sunday morning while leisurely lingering over breakfast and the morning paper we heard someone call out from below.  Going downstairs we discovered a concerned fellow standing at our front door
.
“Is this your cat?” He asked.  “I was jogging by and I found him wandering erratically in a panic along the side of the street, just out the front there!”

I almost fainted.  In the young man's arms was Ruska with his head stuck in an empty paint can!   

Hearts racing, we took Ruska from his rescuer's arms. We somehow managed to remove the can from Ruska’s head.  Don't ask me how because that part is all a blur.  My furry mate was physically unharmed, but, naturally, was he distressed and exhausted from his ordeal.  It was an upsetting, exhausting experience for us, too.  With our house being set a long way back from the road if that caring, thoughtful stranger who, by chance, happened to be passing by on his morning run hadn’t found Ruska I hate to think what the alternative result would have been.   

We thanked Ruska’s saviour profusely. We were so grateful.  Words didn’t seem enough.  He was happy to have been "Johnny on the spot"; to have been the one to find our loved pet. With a smile and a wave he went on his merry way never to be seen again.

From that morning onward all empty cans were immediately deposited in the garbage bin when emptied, and our garage door remained closed when not in use!  Perhaps Ruska thought he’d give us a hand with the renovations, but after his little adventure with the paint can, he never offered his services again.  I reminded him frequently of the saying - one he'd obviously had forgotten - "Curiosity killed the cat"!

Having much to discuss after the morning's traumatic event Sasha took Ruska aside. Gently reprimanding him Sasha waved his paw at a contrite Ruska warning him never to do such a silly thing ever again. (I might have made this part up, but...who knows?  It could've have happened)! 

 For the rest of the day they remained within easy view of each other – after I’d comforted Ruska with many cuddles. The whole episode had been extremely upsetting, not only for Ruska, but for Randall and me, too.

I don’t know what it was about Sunday mornings, but a few months later on another Sunday morning while Randall was in the kitchen making coffee I skipped down the interior stairs with the intention of collecting the daily newspaper from the yard out front.  The newspapers were delivered daily. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs I saw Sasha laying there.  I began talking to him and reached down to stroke him. Immediately, my heart leapt into my mouth.  I knew something was dreadfully wrong.  I screamed out to Randall.  He flew down the stairs, two at a time, if not more, recognisng from the tone of my voice something was amiss…really amiss.

Sasha was dead.  Sometime during the early hours of the morning he'd curled up and gone to sleep, never to waken again. Unstoppable tears streamed down my face.   

Tears brim my eyes as I relate this heartbreaking episode in my life. 

My mate…my beloved vagabond; my adored, sometimes headstrong Sasha was dead.  My dear pet, Sasha who had played a huge role in my life for approximately 15 years was gone…gone.  I was inconsolable.

Turning to Randall I said I couldn’t remain in the house…I had to get out - I had to go to the beach in haste. I had to get away without delay.  I needed to fall into the surf; I needed the ocean waves to sweep over me; to have the salt water somehow wash away my sorrow, even if briefly.  I wanted to feel the sun on my body and the sand between my toes.

He told me to go on ahead that he would join me in a little while.  Needing no encouragement, I grabbed a beach towel, and as if in a trance I walked to the beach, oblivious of the world around me. Tears still streamed down my face and I could not have cared if anyone noticed.   

They were my tears; my tears of sorrow over the loss of my precious, cherished friend, Sasha.

Randall joined me on the beach; and in due course he quietly told me that he had buried Sasha to always be caressed by the filtered sun under his favourite tree, the Umbrella tree.

We spent the next few hours on the beach that Sunday…rarely talking, but thankful we were there, together in our grief over the loss of Sasha. When we finally arrived back home I bestowed so much love and so many hugs on Ruska.  Ruska who was curled up on the matting at the bottom of the stairs waiting for our return.

I reflected on the life I’d shared with Sasha from when he was given to me as a little ginger kitten not much older than six weeks; of how strong and independent he was in so many ways, and yet in others he was so incredibly loving and loyal; of how protective he was; and of how he’d gotten his nose out of joint for a while when he decided to pack up his kit bag and leave home; of how he sent out a message to me to let me know it was time for him to come home; that he wanted to come home to me. (I’m sure he did; and I don’t care how weird it may sound; it is what I have always believed happened the day we received the letter in the mail when we were living in the house at Coolum advising us he was at the veterinary surgery in Brisbane).

For the last couple of years of his life Sasha rarely left my side.  He was glad to be home again; and I was so very glad that he was.  The past was the past. We’d picked up where we’d left off without missing a beat.   

At least for those last couple of years, Sasha’s life was wonderful. He lived out his days in the sunshine...at Sunshine Beach.  

I’m sure he was a wiser cat for his time on the “streets”…in the cacti greenhouse. Who wouldn’t want to spend their twilight years back in the loving arms of someone who adored them unconditionally without question?

I’m sure in their private, daily conversations out of earshot of Randall and me Sasha imparted his worldly wisdom to Ruska.  Sasha had a way with his furry roomies.  He’d saved Smocka from the albino boxer dog at the unit in Toowong; and he'd proudly taken on the role as elder citizen - as mentor to Ruska. 

Ruska idolised Sasha; I’m sure he missed his mate as much as I did...as much as Randall and I did.  

Sasha was a beautiful cat.