Monday, November 12, 2018

TIME FLIES...TRY CATCHING TIME OR THE WIND...IMPOSSIBLE! IN THE MEANTIME - SOMETHINGS ARE PURR-FECT


Ruska
Pushkin
Pushkin - Keeping Up With the Daily News
Let's Leap on Her When She Least Expects It!



As I play at my computer I’m looking at a poster on the wall behind my monitor and desk.  I was going to type “work”, but I knew you’d laugh deridingly if I did. 

I didn’t even furtively glance about me the day I nicked the poster off the notice board outside the old IGA (about five years ago a new, much bigger IGA supermarket built on another block of land replaced the “old IGA aka Independent Grocers of Australia). 

My spontaneous crime spree occurred Friday, 13th December, 2002. 
 
The small poster I stole on that day features a photo of two kittens, along with these words:-

 Kittens for FREE!!!  To a good home...1 male & 1 female....6 weeks old 16th Dec. TOILET Trained...Can hold until Christmas Eve...Phone etc.” 

 I raced around to the phone box outside the bakery.   “Can hold until Christmas Eve”!!!  They certainly were well toilet trained!

The kittens, two of four, were born on 4th November, 2002. 

On 6th November, 2002, two days after those kittens were born, Pushkin, my beloved ginger cat died.  Upon arriving home that evening from my job at the Eagle Heights Resort/Hotel up here on the mountain I discovered Pushkin had died during my absence.  I was heartbroken...inconsolable, actually, with no one to console me. Pushkin been my best mate for 15 years.

In late 1987 Pushkin, aka Alexander Pushkin upon initial introduction, at first meeting with those he’d previously not met, was my birthday gift from me to me.  He, too, was a six week old kitten at the time he first stole my heart.

When I was managing the resort on Hinchinbrook Island my cat, Ruska who was another beautiful ginger, had been taken by a monstrous, hateful scrub python.  Ruska didn’t roam around outside.  He was an indoors’ cat. The native wild life was under no threat from him.  He had no need to forage and hunt for food because, daily, his menu consisted of fresh seafood and fresh meat.   

The snake had had my beloved Ruska under surveillance for quite some time, apparently. When it found the opportunity, the hateful creature forced its way inside through a partially open louvre during the hours I was working over in my office and at the resort’s restaurant.   

Ruska became the helpless victim of the python, which was between 18 to 20 feet in length – approximately 20-inches/50cm or more in diameter.  Ruska would not have stood a chance.  I have no love for snakes; I give no apologies for harbouring such feelings.  As far as I am concerned the only good snake is a dead snake.

At the time Pushkin came into my life Yorkeys Knob was my address.  I was employed as Functions/Conventions’ Coordinator at the Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove.  

Alexander Pushkin - Pushkin’s namesake - was the briefly 18th Century/briefly 19th Century...Russian poet, novelist, playwright – DOB; 26th May, 1799; Died 29th January, 1837. 

Well-travelled Pushkin lived with me in a variety of interesting areas throughout Queensland during his adventurous life.
  
Pushkin was the self-appointed Chief of Police on Newry Island when the island was our home.  Making no attempt to hide his displeasure at the intrusion of others, he’d growl grumpily at humans who dared come ashore after he, Rimsky and I had been the island’s three Robinson Crusoes for a few days - Fridays included.  

Rimsky aka Rimsky-Korsakov was named in honour of the Russian composer.  What is it with me and Russians?  No puttin’ anything past me!   

Immediately, Rimsky had  become the other much-loved member of my close-knit family.  Pushkin and Rimsky were the closest of friends, standing by each other through thick, thin and cyclones. 

A heartless human unintentionally did Rimsky, a beautiful tabby, a big favour when he dumped the unnamed kitten in my yard when I was at work. At that stage, I was renting a house from my neighbours, sugar cane farmers who lived in their home nearby.  Both houses were situated on acreage, surrounded by sugar cane, on Yorkeys Knob Road, Yorkeys Knob.

The small ball of fur literally fell out of the mango tree at the side of my house.  I caught him before he landed on the ground.   

Pushkin instantly befriended him. 
 
Not a harsh hiss or growl passed between the two from the moment I’d gathered our new family member into my arms and brought him upstairs to the large, covered back deck. 

Patiently, Pushkin had been watching the rescue mission. 

I’m sure the two met earlier when I was at work. Pushkin would have given the abandoned kitten the nod, telling him to hang about because everything would be fine...telling him I was a big softie.

No doubt Pushkin comforted the abandoned little fellow by assuring him he would be welcomed and loved by me.  Pushkin was an astute observer, and miaowed from experience!

So race forward a few years, and there I was, around 10 am on 6th December, 2002 - stolen poster in hand - phone call made.  A few minutes later I arrived home with both brother and sister...the two pictured on the poster.  

It wasn't in my heart to adopt one and not the other.  I was smitten the moment I set eyes on the adorable pair.  They were sitting on the floor of the laundry at the home of the people who'd been their temporary carers since their birth.   The moment I appeared at the doorway, both kittens looked up at me, holding their innocent gaze.

How could I not fall under their spell?

It was their lucky day...but more so...it was my lucky day.  And, boy!  Don’t they know it...never failing to remind me at every opportunity!

Just over a week ago, on 4th November....Shama and Remy turned 16 years old...and I am in awe how rapidly the years have flown by...

One thing is certain....Remy and Shama are much-loved - and they give much love in return....

Chicken-Avo Caprese Salad: Season boned, skinned chicken breasts with garlic, salt and pepper; heat a little olive oil in pan; cook chicken; cool.  Coarsely tear up Cos lettuce leaves; place on plates; top lettuce with half cherry tomatoes, chopped avocados, chopped, fresh mozzarella, chicken, and torn fresh basil. Drizzle balsamic reduction (see recipe below) on top; serve.  

Chickpea Avo Salad: In bowl, place 1 chopped Lebanese cucumber, 1 red capsicum, 2 small radishes, ½ c raw spinach, 1/2c rocket, 1/3c parsley, 6 pitted olives. Quarter 4 cherry tomatoes, slice thinly 2 shallot and chop 1 avocado; add to bowl with 1c canned, rinsed, drained chickpeas; add 1tbs vinegar and 1tbs olive oil; toss to combine and coat; add some crumbled Fetta cheese and some halved, raw walnuts.

Peach, Honey, Fetta & Balsamic Drizzle Crostini:  Cut 2 mini baguettes into ¼-inch (.635cm) slices; brush both sides with x-virgin olive oil; season. Place onto baking tray; bake 5-7mins in 175C oven until golden; rotate sheet halfway through; cool completely. Bring 1c balsamic vinegar to boil in small saucepan; then lower heat to medium; simmer until it’s the consistency of thin maple syrup, about 15mins; cool. Note: vinegar will continue to thicken as it cools. It can be made a day or two ahead of time. Combine 125g fetta cheese, 55g cream cheese, and 1tbs honey in processor; process until very smooth. Smear this onto cooled crostini; top with a peach slice; drizzle with cooled balsamic drizzle.

Broccoli Cheddar Sticks: Preheat oven 205C.  Steam or boil 3c fresh broccoli florets for about 5mins; drain; pat dry with paper towel. Add broccoli to processor; pulse until smooth. Pour into bowl; add 1c Italian bread crumbs, 2c Cheddar cheese, 3 eggs; season; mix well. Pour mixture onto paper-lined pan; shape into a rectangle about 8x11-inch wide, ½-inch thick. Bake 15mins. Flip over; bake another 20mins. Remove from oven; cook; then cut into 16 sticks.  Dip in a tasty tomato-chilli sauce.   

Move, will ya!!!!

Monday, November 05, 2018

GOOD VIBRATIONS


Two Views of Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove, north of Cairns

Harry and Meghan’s recent 16 day visit to the Antipodes brought out the best in people....highlighting goodness, sincerity, caring and love - pushing aside the ugliness we too often witness in this world – ugliness, which appears to be increasing daily.

The natural, genuine charm of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex cannot be ignored; should not be ignored.  I don’t care if one is a Monarchist or is someone beating, out of tune, the “Let’s become a Republic drum”. ..it is clear from the goodwill and happiness shown during the Royal visit there are lessons to be learned by each one of us, whether we’re willing to admit it or not.  

Of course, there are the cynics...there are always cynics and critics.   I’ve never had a fondness for cynicism, in particular.  I think cynicism is bred from an insecurity of one’s own self   Of course, this is just my opinion.  I am able  to speak on my own behalf only, not the behalf of another.

The Invictus Games displayed the powerfulness of the human spirit; individual determination; respect for one’s fellowman; potent purpose, not allowing adversity to be the conqueror. 

Witnessing positivity, instead of negativity for a change was, and is, uplifting.  It warms the heart....inspires the soul. 

Becoming aware of, and understanding, to the best of our ability, the challenges some face daily; learning to treat others with tolerance, respect and patience...have to be steps in the right direction. 

Harry’s reaction and interaction with, perhaps, his biggest fan, 98-year old war widow, Daphne Dunne when he spotted her among the thousands gathered outside the Opera House, was a memorable, tender interlude, to say the least...as were the moments that followed when Harry introduced Meghan to Mrs. Dunne. 

Forget “When Harry Met Sally”. ..it pales in significance.

And then there was the terrific sit-down chat between Harry, two Invictus competitors, Nicole Bradley and Matt Model...hosted by the irrepressible Paralympic Gold Medallist - Dylan Alcott... see below....

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6299323/Prince-Harry-declines-sign-pair-Budgie-Smugglers-presented-Aussie-athletes.html


Unforgettable, also, was the meeting between Harry, Meghan and five-year old Luke Vincent in Dubbo.  Precious moments, which will remain embedded in our mind for a long, long time; certainly in mine. 

Luke, who has Down syndrome, stole everyone’s heart as he played with Harry’s beard.  Young Luke endeared himself to all who witnessed that affectionate, warm encounter.  Generous, sincere hugs were shared between Luke, Harry and Meghan.   

Surely images of that darling little boy’s actions, playing with Harry’s beard and hair – the affectionate hugs - would have shattered even a heart made of the hardest granite. 
My heart is made of mush - it was smashed to smithereens.  I had to glue the pieces back together again.


Similar happened to me one day when I was working as Functions-Conventions’ Coordinator at the Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove, in Tropical North Queensland.  (In case you’re wondering, I don’t mean a child playing with my beard or hair)!

On the day I’m referencing, the resort played host to a group of Down syndrome children.  That particular day remains one of the most fulfilling times of my life. 

It was impossible to be unhappy while in the company of such gentle, loving souls.
One spirited little girl took an immediate liking to the resort manager. 

Originally from Austria, our manager was a nice man, but one with a rather stern, humourless nature...when working, anyway. 

The staff always respectfully referred to him as “Mr. Burckhalter” (name altered to protect the innocent).  However, his young fan, the joyful little girl, insisted on calling him by his first name - “Balthis”.  She became his shadow, following him everywhere, tugging on the sleeve of his jacket, or patting him on the bum if he dared turn away. All the while, she constantly, loudly and clearly, and innocently, called him by his name, “Balthis”...much to the staff’s amusement. 

No offence was intended....none was taken. 

A couple of long tables were set up, and the children gathered around them excitedly.  They enjoyed the feast before them.  Joy filled the air.

The spirit of every member of the staff present, (our boss, Mr. Burckhalter, included), 
was lifted higher than Mount Everest.

That wonderful, enjoyable, exceptional day spent with the group of special children – I say “special” because the children were special in every way - was one of the happiest, most rewarding days of my life.

Special Angel Pasta: Preheat oven 175C.  In bowl, add 1 bunch kale leaves, in pieces, no stems, 2tbs olive oil, 2tbs parmesan; season. Toss to coat with your hands; massage kale 1min. Spread on baking tray; bake 15-18mins; toss 1-2 times, until crispy; set aside.  Cook 455g angel pasta al dente.  Cook 4 thick bacon rashers until crispy; drain; crumble. Drain all but 1tbs of bacon fat. Lay 4-8 lobster or Moreton Bay bug tails flat on a cutting board with the shell side facing upward.  Cut tails in half lengthwise; slice all the way through the shell; season lightly. Bring pan used for bacon to med-high heat. Add 1tbs butter; swirl to coat. Place tails meat-side down in pan; sear 5mins, until shells turn orange. Remove from pan; set aside. To pan add 1tsb butter. Add 2 minced garlic cloves; cook 30secs; add pasta, 1/4tsp crushed red pepper, 1/4tsp cayenne; season. Toss well; cook 2mins, just until pasta is hot.  Add 25 cherry toms and 240g cubed fontina/gruyere or gouda cheese. Remove pasta from heat; drizzle with juice of ½ lemon juice; toss well; add kale. In a small pan melt 4tbls butter over med-heat until just browned. Pop seafood meat out of shells; divide pasta among plates. Top each with lobster and chopped basil. Drizzle with browned butter; top with crumbled bacon.

Cheese Sticks: Preheat oven 180C.  Line a baking tray with grease-proof paper. Set aside. Whisk together 1 large egg, 3-1/2tbs thick natural yoghurt and 2tbs melted butter. Add 160g grated extra tasty cheddar cheese; stir well. Combine 1-1/2c whole-wheat flour with 1tsp bicarbonate soda; tip all at once into the cheese mixture. Stir well to combine. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead for a minute. The dough shouldn't be sticking to your hands, but it shouldn't be dry either. Divide dough into 2 parts. Roll each part into a thin sausage shape and cut into approximately 5 cm long pieces. Roll each piece a little more to make thin finger shapes and place on baking tray, spreading them out as they will expand in the oven. Bake for about 18-20mins until the breadsticks are lightly brown.

Baby Corn-Noodle Fritters: Place 85g dried rice vermicelli noodles noodles in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water. Stand for 3mins or until softened.  Drain. Cut into 2cm lengths. Combine 2 thinly sliced shallots, 125g baby corn, thinly sliced, 1 long red chilli, finely chopped, 2tbs soy sauce,1tbs  oyster sauce, 1tsp sesame oil and 1/4c S.R. flour in a bowl. Add 4 lightly beaten eggs. Stir to combine. Stir in noodles.  Heat 2tbs peanut oil in large frying pan over med-high heat. Using 1/4c mixture at a time, cook in batches, 2mins each side or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to paper towel-lined pate.  Serve fritters with sweet chilli sauce and salad.

Tropical Banana Bread: Preheat oven 175C. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. In bowl, whisk together 1/2c liquefied coconut oil and 1c light brown sugar, packed; beat well to combine. Add 1-1/2c unsweetened applesauce and 2tsp vanilla; beat well.  In separate bowl combine 1-1/2c plain flour, 1tsp baking soda, 1/2tsp salt, 1/2tsp ground ginger, 1/4tsp nutmeg and 1/2tsp cinnamon; whisk well to combine. Add dry mixture to coconut oil mixture; whisk just until smooth. Fold in 1/2c drained crushed pineapple, 1/4c pineapple juice, 1/2c flaked coconut and 3 ripe bananas, mashed. Pour batter into prepared pan. Top with banana slices, if desired. Bake 50-60mins. Cool in pan 10 mins; then put onto a wire rack to cool completely.  

Thursday, November 01, 2018

THE GOLDEN CHALICE - A HORSE IS A HORSE, OF COURSE, OF COURSE!


Gunsynd..."The Goodniwindi Grey"...and the monument to the championhttps://www.grc.qld.gov.au/gunsynd
Tails with the legendary Harry White on board
Winx

Much excitement has engulfed us of late, not the least being Harry and Meghan’s heart-warming visit.  Their time spent here in the Land Down Under was filled with myriad memorable moments, many of which, simultaneously, caused me tears and smiles.  I’m a sook – always have been – and am not embarrassed to admit it. 

On top of the highlights of the Royal visit it’s also that time of the year again.
 
The Spring Carnival is off and galloping, encompassing the Melbourne Cup Carnival during its course.  Stars of the equine variety are on full display showing their mettle.  Fashions of the Field stars are out and about strutting their stuff, too.  

Winx proved last Saturday, once again, the champion she is.  She became the one and only four times Cox Plate winner...her 29th consecutive win  And yes, I was a nervous-wreck watching the race...with a few tears lubricating my eyes.  The seven year old mare, Winx is now off on a well-earned summer break.

It’s no secret I enjoy the Spring and Melbourne Cup Carnivals.  Unfortunately, I’ve never attended a Melbourne Cup Day – held at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne.  Such is life!
 
The mighty Australian champion horses Tails and Gunsynd each ran third in the Melbourne Cup...1971 and 1972, respectively.  However, fortunately, I did get to see both champions up close and personal. 

Tails, the deep, chestnut stallion - Brisbane Cup 1972 – Eagle Farm Racecourse, Brisbane - the day the tiny mare Mode, fleet of hoof, sped past Tails as the finished line loomed.   

I’d visited the mighty Tails in the stalls before the race to give him a few pointers. Obviously, he ignored my advice.

To this day, I’m still convinced when Tails noticed the little grey mare at his shoulder, being a stallion of fine breeding, a gentleman of the first degree he gave the mare a nod and a wink. Flicking her tail at him, off Mode scampered, taking the trophy with her.

Tragically, later on, when Mode retired to become a Mum...she died giving birth to her first foal. 

At Brisbane’s Doomben Racecourse, Labour Day, Monday, 7th May, 1973, the racing career of the magnificent, much-loved Gunsynd came to an end when he retired gracefully from the race track. 
  
I was part of the massive crowd who witnessed the special event. To this day it remains the biggest crowd Doomben has ever seen – bigger even than that to see Black Caviar.  Fans gathered in droves to farewell Gunsynd.

For the horse’s retirement lap, Roy Higgins was in the saddle.  On that memorable occasion, I also visited the stalls.  There, I received an extra bonus, not only did I chat with the “Goondiwindi Grey”, I got to stroke his famous nose, as well.  He didn’t reciprocate. 

I’ve a photo here somewhere to prove our meeting.   

Also in the photo is the fellow with whom I chatted as Gunsynd and I conducted our intelligent conversation.  After I had the film developed I discovered the man I’d spoken with was the now late legendary trainer, Tommy J. (T.J.) Smith – Gunsynd’s trainer - father of Gai Waterhouse – trainer extraordinaire in her own right.  There I go...name-dropping, again!   Oh!  The racy circles in which I canter!

Melbourne Cup Day is a national treasure.  Of course, there are some who would disagree, and that’s okay - not everyone sees eye to eye on everything.

But, because some don’t enjoy it, or like it, doesn’t mean I don’t...I do.

I’ve always loved Cup Day - the whole carnival, from giddy-up to whoa, you betcha!

From early morning on the first Tuesday of every November, I watch all the lead-up information on The Cup, the fashions, tips etc., etc.    

These days/years it’s the only race upon which I place a bet...and I always place my bet on Monday...Cup Eve.   There is no way I will go near the TAB on Cup Day.  I like to get it all over and done with before the madding crowd descends.

When my late brother Graham was alive - “late” is a strange description because similar to me, Graham was a stickler for punctuality ....Graham was a keen fan of horse racing, the sport of kings...even though we are not of royal blood, unless, of course, we’re descendants of Robert the Bruce, or Mary Queen of Scots.   (I do have ancestors who bore the name “Stuart”...and Mary Queen of Scots’ King Consort was Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany aka Lord Darnley, his title as heir apparent to the Earldom of Lennox in western Scotland...so one never knows!)....I do digress...gone off course.....

My brother Graham was an aficionado when it came to horse racing.  Ask him a question, any question regarding the lineage of a race horse etc., and nine times out of ten...he had the correct answer...if not 10 out of 10.  He studied their entire history, not just their current form.  He had a bet or two, yes...but he wasn’t an addicted gambler.  
Often Graham rang me during any given week with a tip or two for a Saturday meeting.  Sometimes I’d place a bet on his heads-up, sometimes I wouldn’t.    

Since Graham’s passing 20 years, in June, 1998, I’ve only bet on the Melbourne Cup...no others.   However, I do watch all the races throughout the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

I’m not one who enjoys attending busy Cup luncheons, though, anti-social being that I am...to each his/her own.  I can’t stand the noisy crowds...everyone talking over everyone else – more interested in hearing their own voice rather than watch and listen to the race...and three-quarters of those in attendance wouldn’t know one end of a horse from the other!  

Over the years, when working within the hospitality industry, I catered for enough Melbourne Cup luncheons to last me a lifetime.  I prefer to watch Cup Day here in my own humble little abode, with only my two furry roomies as company.  They don’t talk and scream during the races.

However, they do hog my race guide, and eye off my antipasto platter!   I don't mind, though...what's mine...is theirs.   It's share and share a like in this household!

Bruschetta Wonton Cups: Press wonton wrappers into each hole of 12-cup muffin tin. Spray with cooking oil; bake in 170C oven, 10-12mins.  Remove seeds from 4 large tomatoes; chop; add 6 finely chopped basil leaves and ½ red onion, finely chopped; season. Place heaped spoonfuls into wonton cups; drizzle over a little balsamic glaze; put crumbled feta cheese on top.

Asparagus-Mushroom Cups: Preheat oven 180C.Combine 1-1/2c milk, 6 black peppercorns and 1 shallot roughly sliced; bring to boil; let stand 5mins. In med-saucepan, melt 30g butter; add 2 finely sliced onions; cook until translucent; add 175g sliced mushrooms; cook until soft. Remove mixture; set aside. In same saucepan, over med-heat, melt 60g butter until foaming; add 1/4c plain flour; stir until smooth; gradually add strained milk; boil and thicken; add 1c tasty cheese; stir until melted. Add 1/4c sour cream, 340g drained asparagus, cut into 2cm pieces and mushrooms; season.  Flatten with rolling pin, 18 slices of crust-less white bread. Lightly grease 2 muffin tins.  Place bread into tins; place in oven a couple of minutes to toast base lightly; remove from oven; fill each bread cup with filling; cook in oven 15-20mins.
 
Beef Cups: Place 250g beef, cut into 1-cm cubes in bowl; season; add 1tsp dried oregano. Heat 2tsp oil in pan; cook beef 4-5mins, until brown; add 1 small red onion, finely chopped, 25g chopped bacon and chopped garlic clove; cook 2-3mins. Add 2tsp sun-dried tomato paste, 150ml red wine or quality beef stock, 227g canned chopped tomatoes and 20g black or green olives, chopped. Simmer in pot, 1-1/2-2hrs.  Brush 200g thawed filo pastry sheets with melted butter.  Cut filo into 60x6cm squares.  Lightly grease 2 mini muffin tins; line cups with three buttered filo squares, placing each one at a slightly different angle; gently press down. Bake in 180C oven 8-10mins. Cool; gently remove filo cups to cooling rack. Spoon 2tsp of filling into each cup; garnish.