Thursday, December 18, 2014

A LITTLE MORE CHRISTMAS CHEER....I THINK WE ALL NEED IT BADLY!












Echidna
Christmas Eve is a blink away. Stockings will be hung.  I’ve got a pair of never-worn, ladder-free pantihose. Will they do?   (The ladder is free because it’s needed for Santa’s use to climb up onto the roof).

Aussies don’t celebrate Thanksgiving; but every day we should nudge ourselves as a reminder to give thanks for every day. Easily we fall into the trap of complacency, taking too much for granted; including each other. Instead of a “pinch and a punch for the first of the month” - how about; “A daily nudge and a yank in thanks”? 

2014 has been a challenge-filled year throughout Australia and the rest of the world. We’re living in a world filled with hate, prejudice, intolerance and greed; and all mostly in the name of religion.  What a joke!  Unfortunately the joke isn’t funny, it’s tragic.

Whether the statistics prove it or not there appears to have been more “downs” than “ups” this year; more tears than laughter.  Unfortunately, the “downs” tend to remain in our mind more than the “ups”.  Decency of self; respect for one’s self, and for others, in far too many instances and areas have flown out the window.  They seem to no longer exist or be of importance in some quarters; by some folk; too many folk.

I lost a dear friend during the year. It causes me sadness; but I smile, too. My memories of the good times shared stay with me; and we did share many memorable, fun times.

With Christmas drawing nigh at a rapid rate of knots and because my cabin doesn’t have a chimney I’ve been busy chopping a hole in the roof so I can climb through it on Christmas Eve while toting a bag filled with a present for me from me and a couple for my two furry mates slung over my shoulder . I’ve thoughts of installing a fireman’s pole so I can slide down it for easy access.  A much better method than jumping I would think; far kinder on my hips that already scream out for mercy.  I guess once Christmas is over I can stick some clear plastic over the hole in the roof, turning it into a skylight.  I wonder if bubble wrap will do.  I’ve lots of bubble wrap.

I was halfway through cutting out the hole when I realised I do have a key to my door, not that I’ll need it on Christmas Eve because I will already be inside, in my bed, asleep, particularly around the bewitching hour and the wee small hours of Christmas morning when I'm meant to be depositing said presents.  I suppose I could utilize the pole. I could take up pole dancing as an exercise routine.  If I get good enough I could put on performances at the local Lawn Bowls’ Club and the Old People’s Home. 

Rather than set an alarm clock to wake me so I can stumble around outside in the darkness of night as I try to locate the non-existent ladder to enable me to climb up onto the roof etc., etc., my best plan would be to leave the Christmas gifts to me, Remy and Shama, the beverage and slice of Christmas cake on the coffee table before I go to bed. That would be the logical thing to do.  So I think I’ll go down the sensible path; the interior path.

I didn’t put up a Christmas tree, which was the rational thing to do because I don’t have a Christmas tree. And because we’ve been experiencing some wild and woolly storms of late, if it rains overnight it wouldn’t be a good idea to put the three presents and treats outside beneath one of the many trees on this property.  The wandering wood ducks, guinea fowl, bandicoots, echidnas, bower birds, foxes etc., – every diurnal and nocturnal creature combined would think all their Christmases had come at once!
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As I’ll already be inside (because that’s where my bed is) I won’t need a key to get inside; and it won’t be necessary for me to leave any food and drinks out for myself.  I can just raid my fridge if the mood takes hold!

So that’s all settled then.

In the meantime, here are some more recipes to get your taste buds a-kicking!  That’s my goal!

And, no doubt, I’ll be back between now and Christmas, but just in case you won’t be…I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, no matter what you're doing or who your doing it with!  If you’re writing to Santa please ask him for loads of love, peace and goodwill.  Don’t feel greedy about it…ask him for heaps and heaps of it! 

The percentages are that I will make another appearance before Christmas Day.  I'm just warning you!

Roasted Beetroot and Scallop Salad: Preheat oven, 180C. Place 1 bunch baby beetroot on a large sheet of foil; then enclose to form a parcel (and put it under your Christmas tree!  No…don’t do that…I’m joking)! Roast the beets for 1 hour or until the beetroot is tender; cool; then peel and cut into wedges. Make dressing: Whisk 1/4c olive oil or walnut oil, 2tbs red wine vinegar, 1tbs honey and 1tsp Dijon mustard together in a bowl; season with salt and pepper; lighten with a dash of water. Core and quarter 1 green apple; then thickly slice the apple; toss in the dressing with 2 red witlof (Belgian endive) leaves, separated and 100g rocket (arugulo) leaves; set aside.  Heat a dry fry pan over medium heat; toast 1tbs roughly-chopped walnuts; remove from pan and set aside. Brush 8-12 shelled, cleaned scallops with oil; season well with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper.  In batches, sear scallops in the pan for 30 seconds on each side until caramelized on the outside, but still opaque in the centre. Divide salad among plates; tuck in the scallops, beetroot and walnuts; drizzle with any remaining dressing; serve.

Christmas Wreath Salad: Slice 455g plum tomatoes. Halve some cherry or grape tomatoes. Arrange the tomatoes and 455g bocconcini around outside of large round platter to create a wreath. Spoon some fresh basil pesto** over it; season; dreizle with x-virgin olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar in the centre; garnish with fresh basil leaves.

** Basil Pesto: (You will have more pesto than needed for above recipe): Wash basil leaves; discard stems; dry thoroughly. In blender, add 2 peeled garlic cloves, 2tbs pine nuts and 1/4tsp coarse salt; process about 15 seconds.  Add 3 cups fresh basil leaves; using pulse technique, turning on and off, to shred the basil.  With machine on, drizzle in 1/2c x-virgin olive oil to create a coarse mash’ add 1/4c grated Parmesan cheese; pulse to combine.  Makes about 1 cup.  The pesto will keep up to 4 weeks, covered, in fridge. Pour thin film of olive oil on top of pesto to prevent discoloration. For longer storage, don’t add the parmesan until ready to use.  You can freeze it in ice cube trays or zip-lock bags, too.  Add the parmesan after thawing, just before serving. Pesto is great on toasted breads, baked potatoes, pizza etc.

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts: Preheat oven 218C (425F). Combine 455g trimmed, halved Brussel Sprouts, 1tbs olive oil, 1/4tsp salt and 1/4ts pepper in large bowl; toss.  Spread sprouts (loose leaves as well…they crisp up nicely) in single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet; roast for 10mins. Add 1/4c coarsely-chopped pecans (or any other nuts as desired); stir. Roast 5 to 7 more minutes or until Brussels Sprouts are tender and lightly browned and the nuts are golden.  Meanwhile, combine 1/2c balsamic vinegar and 1/2c 100% apple juice in small saucepan. Bring to boil over med-high heat. Then reduce heat to medium; simmer 15mins or until thickened and reduced to about ¼ cup.  Remove from heat. Transfer the Sprout mixture to a large bowl; add 1/4c dried cranberries. Drizzle with balsamic glaze; toss until blended well; serve immediately.  (You can add diced, crisp bacon or pancetta, if desired….as a substitute for the cranberries….there’s lots of room for experimentation)!

Christmas Beef Rib-Eye Roast: Preheat oven 175C (350F). Combine 2tbs minced fresh rosemary or 2tsp dried rosemary, 4 minced garlic cloves, 1tsp salt, 1tsp dry mustard and 1tsp freshly-cracked black pepper. Sweet talk your butcher into giving you a well-trimmed small end of a beef rib-eye roast (about 2kg/4lb)…or buy one off him, if he insists!  Press half of the seasoning firmly onto the rib-eye.  Combine remaining seasoning with 2tbs oil in large bowl. Add 3 medium-sized potatoes, quartered, 2 large kumara (sweet potatoes), halved and quartered, 4 small onions, halved, some small carrots, unpeeled Jap pumpkin chunks…add whatever vegetables you feel like.  Place roast, fat side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan.  If using a meat thermometer (I never have or do) insert it into the thickest part of the beef, not resting in any of the fat on the beef. Do not add water or cover. Roast in preheated; 3/4hrs for med-rare; 2 hours for medium. After 15mins of cooking time, place vegetables on rack around the roast; roast 1-1/2hrs or until tender. Remove roast when meat is done as desired; tent with foil and let stand 15-20mins. Slice and serve with a good, rich brown gravy and vegetables. 

Christmas Orange-Maple Glazed Ham: Preheat oven 200C/180C-fan. Line large baking tray with baking paper.  Place 1/4c orange juice, 1tsp finely-grated orange zest, 1/2c maple syrup, 2tbs brown sugar, 2tbs Dijon mustard and 1tbs English mustard in saucepan over high heat; whisk to combine. Bring to boil, and cook 5mins until thickened, stirring occasionally.  Remove rind from 4-4.5kg half leg ham by pushing your fingers in between the meat and the rind, leaving a generous covering of the fat on the meat. Pull rind back as you continue to work your hand over the ham. Cut the rind off at the bone (if using that end of the ham….no need to do so if you have the rump end of the ham leg). Score fat and stud with cloves…about 50 in all. Place ham onto lined baking tray; brush liberally with the glaze. Bake 25mins; brush with remaining glaze and back a further 20-30mins, until golden brown.

Festive Fruit Salad: Bring 2/3c fresh orange juice, 1/3 fresh lemon juice, 1/3c packed brown sugar, 1/2tsp each grated lemon and orange zest to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in 1tsp vanilla extract. Set aside to cool. Gather together 2 cups cubed fresh pineapple, 2 cups hulled, sliced strawberries, 3 peeled, sliced kiwi fruit, 3 sliced bananas, 2 firm, but ripe mangoes, peeled and diced, 2 oranges, sectioned, 1c seedless grapes (green or black or combination), 2c blueberries; layer the fruit in a large, clear glass bowl in the order as given above; pour the cooled sauce over the fruit; cover and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Tipsy Christmas Trifle: Egg custard: place 473ml (1 pint) milk and 30g caster sugar in saucepan; bring to the boil. Separate 4 eggs; then mix the 4 egg yolks with 2 egg whites; pour the hot milk over them, stirring immediately and well. Temper the eggs by adding a little mill at first or they’ll get angry and scramble! Return to the saucepan; and stir over gentle heat with wooden spoon. When the custard runs in ribbons down the back of the spoon, strain into a big bowl; cover with dampened greaseproof paper or cling-wrap to stop a skin from forming. (That doesn’t work if you cover yourself in cling-wrap, by the way).  Grab 6 individual jam-filled sponge rolls/fingers. Spread them each with a little extra raspberry or strawberry jam.  Warm the jam to make it a little gooey/runny for easier spreading. Place in a glass dish. Crush some Amaretti biscuits or coconut macaroons/meringues; scatter on top; sprinkle over some finely-grated lemon rind. Mix together1/4c sweet sherry and 1tbls Drambuie; pour over the sponges; leave to soak. Pour the cooled custard over the sponge etc. Whip ½ to ¾ cup whipping cream until stiff; sweeten a little with icing sugar; spread over the trifle.  Sprinkle lightly toasted flaked almonds, crumbled Amaretti/coconut macaroons or meringues, some crushed pistachios and fresh raspberries or strawberries over top for garnish. Refrigerate overnight.  Silver “hundreds & thousands” can be sprinkled over the top, too, just before serving, for a bit of extra Christmas cheer.

I'll write and post Chapter Five of my cat stories when Christmas has passed....

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE IT! CHRISTMAS IS THE TIME FOR PORKIES!








 

Here is the truth, in red and white, in case you remain uncertain.  On the off chance you’re still asking the question...it is the porky of all porkies that Santa is a porky.  Santa might be a bit on the porky side; more than a bit portly, even, and in some quarters there are some – those who enjoy being picky - who believe he should seriously consider going on a diet, but saying Santa doesn’t exist is a big fat porky.  If you fall into the latter category - cut it out… stop being a party-pooper! 

Santa doesn’t follow any of the new-fangled fad diets. Seriously, who can blame him?  New diets appear as regularly as the morning sun.  Most of them go out fashion before you (and me) have time to write a shopping list for the special ingredients!  On the other hand, personally, I take little notice of diets, new-fangled, old-fangled or otherwise.  Everything in moderation is the way to go, I believe; and fresh is best whenever and wherever possible. And the few processed foods and those filled with preservatives the better...but enough of that for now....

Don’t stop leaving out a can of beer, a Scotch or a wine (a soda, if you must) for Santa.  He needs as much hydration as he can get, and you have to offer, to help him battle through a long, long night.

Santa’s taste is as broad as he is; and, let’s face it, he’s always got the Christmas spirit. He won’t knock anything back. On second thoughts, he’ll knock back whatever is offered so as not to offend.  He’ll graciously accept whatever you leave for him. Santa’s like that. It’s how he was brought up; and, of course, he does have Mrs. Merry Claus on hand to remind him daily of his manners throughout the year.  He’s naturally a good-natured, well-mannered gentleman; one with a generous frame of mind.

And, as well as hydration, Santa needs sustenance.  Whatever you do or don’t do, please don’t forget to leave him a thick slice of Christmas cake.  Rum Balls, White Christmas; maybe a couple of Fruit Mince Tarts wouldn’t go astray, either. Don’t go all health-conscious on him. Any gesture and all gestures will be gratefully accepted. 

Being Santa at Christmas is hard, tiring work, travel-wise, anyway; and particularly during the heat of summer down here Down Under.  Put yourself in his boots.  Try getting about in a fur-trimmed red suit while lugging a heavy, loaded bag over your shoulder! You’ll soon understand what I’m saying. Yet, we never hear a word of complaint come from his mouth, but who knows what he says to Rudolph behind our back! Maybe that’s Santa grumbling up high in the sky beyond and not thunder after all.  Nevertheless, whatever is said between Santa and Rudolph stays between Rudolph and Santa.  They share an everlasting bond and understanding.  If Rudolph broke their secretive pact the light bulb in his nose would explode! Perhaps he's using LED these days.

Santa isn’t politically-correct.  How could he be when he goes around the world shouting out at the top of his lungs - “Ho! Ho! Ho!”?  He may offend some as he goes about “Ho-ho-ing”, but words are often misconstrued and taken out of context to the point of becoming totally ridiculous, aren’t they?  Some folk are overly-sensitive. They need to grow a tougher skin (and some commonsense). Santa means no discourtesy, nor does he discriminate. So don’t take umbrage when you hear him calling out “Ho! Ho! Ho!”  Wave and smile back at him. It’s not personal - it’s his way of spreading goodwill to one and all.

If St. Nick is on a diet and doesn’t partake in what’s left out for him someone else will drink the beverage and eat the cake…just you wait and see.

Even if Santa is trying to lose an inch or two from his waist he won’t let the goodies go to waste. 

Let’s not kid ourselves - Santa wouldn’t be Santa if he wasn’t on the portly side of porky.  Who would want a skinny Santa, anyway? Not me!  He’s lasted this long without having a heart attack. He’s infallible.  Santa will be around until eternity. After all, he only works one night a year, and even then he’s chauffeured about.  The rest of the year he sits back with his feet up, tossing directions at his elves. The elves do all the hard yakka.*

*(Hard yakka:  Aussie slang for hard work; or bloody hard work; strenuous labour)

Because early indications hint many areas in the Land of Oz are in for a hot Christmas perhaps it would be advisable on the off chance Santa has forgotten where the fridge is - (after a few thousand houses they all begin to look the same – particularly after sundry liquid refreshments here and there along the way) to leave him a note with a map showing directions to the kitchen so he can help himself to a glass or two of ice-cold water.  He might only need some ice cubes, of course; in case his preferred drink is scotch on the rocks or rum and cola.  Every base needs to be covered.

Seeing Santa’s too porky to slide down chimneys these days, I’m sure he has a master key to the front door. Using the front door saves on the laundry bills, too.

It would be a good idea to leave some food and water out for the reindeers, as well. After all, they have quite a heavy load to tow around; including a sleigh full of gifts!   I suppose the grass on the front lawn and the bird baths and swimming pools come in handy even more so on Christmas Eve.  Just remember to fill up the bird baths before dark on Christmas Eve. Don’t mow the lawn the week before Christmas.  That should do the trick!

I hope a few of Santa’s heavy, huge bags contain rain for our many drought-stricken areas to enable them to can get back on their feet again. Some bundles of cash to help carry our farmers through their tough times until they’ve got their heads above water again wouldn’t go astray, either; with extra as a back-up to see our people on the land through their future hardships. They face many, year after tiring year. Our hard-working farmers/graziers deserve such gifts from Santa.  They should never be forgotten, nor should they be neglected; they should always be protected.

It’s no porky I thought Billy Bob Thornton made a bad Santa.  I reckon he was pretty good Bad Santa, actually.  And it’s true - I’m looking forward to spending time over Christmas with the Griswolds. What’s Christmas without the Griswolds?  It’s just not Christmas, I tell you!  For many years now I’ve spent a couple of hours over Christmas with Clark, Ellen and the rest of the Griswold family.  They’d miss me if I ceased doing so; and I’d miss the laughter. It wouldn’t be a wonderful life if that were to happen!

And as my gift to my Vegan friends out there in Cyber Worlds (that includes you, Riot Kitty)…and for those of you who aren’t Vegans….the Vegan recipes I’ve given here are to all tastes…Vegan or not.  If the truth be known, I guess I am a part-time Vegan.  I’m a sometimes meat-eater and a sometimes Vegan…the percentage probably leans more towards Vegan these days.  However, I will never give up eating meat, but it doesn’t appear daily on my own personal menu.  I will always enjoy a thick juicy steak; a succulent piece of pork or lamb, golden roasted chicken etc., et al – but not every day.  I've almost joined the Raw Food Brigade, too...particularly in summer.

Either which way, I hope you enjoy the recipes given below.  I hope I’ve covered most tastes/choices.  And I hope you enjoy them, too, Carol.

Stuffed Pork Loin: Use 1.5kg boned middle loin of pork, skin scored (or more depending on numbers). Combine 1c fresh breadcrumbs, 1/4c dried cherries/cranberries, 1/4c pine nuts, 1 chopped onion, 1tbs finely-chopped fresh rosemary and 2tbs oil (increase quantities where needed). Lay pork out flat; place stuffing along length; season. Roll neatly; tie with string. Brush skin with oil; rub in well with sea salt. Place pork on rack in pan; pour water into pan to cover base, ¾-inch deep, Roast in preheated 200C oven for about 90mins.

Roast Pork with Brown Pears: Grab a boned loin of pork, about 300g per person. Remove and retain skin.  Marinate the skinned pork overnight in 2c dry white wine. Preheat oven 240C. Dry pork well; rub meat and skin with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put pork, fat side down. Lay ½ bunch Italian parsley (not chopped) and 1tbs capers down the centre; roll up and tie.  Roast pork 30mins with the pork skin placed on top. Reduce heat to 160C; cook a further hour. Drizzle 6 small Beurre Bosc pears with olive oil; add to baking dish for last 30mins of cooking. Rest pork 10mins; then slice meat and crackling; drizzle with cooking juices; serve with pears.

Perfect Crackling: Score skin or have your kindly butcher do it for you; diagonally or diamond pattern; just through the skin not through to the meat.  Pour boiling water over skin to open up the cuts; dry thoroughly; then rub the skin with half of a cut lemon; massage very well with sea salt and, (optional) Chinese Five Spice powder. Put on rack in roasting pan; place in preheated 220C oven, 30mins; then reduce heat to 200C for balance of cooking time.

Vegan Furphy Turkey Roast, Stuffing & Sage Gravy: (Furphy – Aussie slang for rumour, fictious story):  Bring 3.7lt water to low boil. In large bowl, whisk together 2-1/2c wheat gluten flour, 1/2c yeast flakes, 1tsp thyme, 1tbs onion powder and 1tsp salt. Add 2c vegetable broth, 1/4c light olive oil and 1tbs soy sauce; stir just until combined. Form into a loaf shape.  Place loaf on cheesecloth and roll up – not too tight.  Tie each end with string.  Place in the simmering water, covered for 1 hour (if making a double batch…two hours).  Preheat oven to 163C (325F). Take loaf out of water; cool briefly; remove the cheesecloth. Pour a little olive oil in baking dish; place loaf in baking dish with the stuffing you’ve made while the loaf was simmering (or put stuffing in separate baking dish - suggested). Bake loaf, covered, 30 minutes. Onion, Celery & Mushroom Stuffing: In a large skillet, heat 2tbs x-virgin olive oil and 4tbs vegan butter over med-high heat until melted. Add 1 large chopped onion and 4 chopped celery stalks; cook until softened, but not brown, about 4 minutes. Add 240g (8oz) chopped button or Cremini mushrooms; cook until softened and browned, about 5 minutes. Mix in 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 bay leave, 1tbs chopped fresh sage or 1tsp dried sage, 1/2tsp dried rosemary, 1/2tsp oregano, 1/8thtsp nutmeg, 1tsp salt amd 1/2tsp freshly-ground black pepper. Add 1/4c chopped parsley and 8c gluten-free bread cubes to skillet; mix well; moisten cubes with low-sodium vegetable broth until soft, but not wet; remove bay leaf; let the mixture cool. Transfer the stuffing to a large, oiled casserole dish; bake until the stuffing is set and crisp, 15-20mins.  Then turn the dish around; cook further 5mins until browned to your liking.  Sage Turkey Gravy: In saucepan, combine 1/4c light olive oil, 1/3c gluten-free flour, 1tsp sage and 1/2tsp thyme.  Cook on stove top at med-low heat for 2mins, stirring constantly.  Add 3c vegetable broth and 1/4c yeast flakes (optional).  Increase heat to medium.  Cook until thickened, stirring frequently; season to taste.  Serve with Vegan Turkey and stuffing…accompanied with roasted vegetables of choice.

Vegetable Lentil Loaf: Preheat oven 175C (350F). Rinse 1c dry lentils; add 2-1/2c water to pot; add lentils (don’t add any salt at this stage); bring to a boil; reduce heat; cover and simmer 35mins, stirring occasionally. Once done, remove lid; set aside to cool, 15mins. In small bowl, combine 3tbs ground flaxseeds (linseeds) and 1/3c water; set aside in fridge for about 10mins. Finely dice the following - 1 small onion, 1 small capsicum (bell pepper), 1 celery stalk, grate 1 carrot and mince 3 garlic cloves.  Heat 2tbs olive oil in pan; heat over med-heat.  Sauté the vegetables for about 5mins; add 1 heaped tsp dried thyme, ½ heaped tsp cumin, 1/2tsp each garlic powder and onion powder, ¼-1/2tsp ground chipotle pepper (smoked chilli powder), cracked pepper and sea salt to taste, mixing well to incorporate; set aside to cool.  In blender or processor, blend ¾ of the lentil mixture. Combine sautéed vegetables, the rest of the lentils, 3/4c oats, 1/2c oat flour or finely-ground oats (or any flour of choice) and flax egg**; mix well; season to taste. Place mixture into lined loaf pan; leave paper overlapping for easy removal later. Press down firmly filling in along the edges. Prepare GLAZE: In small bowl, combine 3tbs organic ketchup/tomato sauce, 1tbs balsamic vinegar and 1 tbs pure maple syrup; mix until incorporated; spread over top of loaf; bake loaf in oven, 40-45mins.  Let it cool a bit before turning out and slicing.

*** How To Make Flax Eggs (or Chia Eggs):  Equivalent to 1 egg: Whisk together 1 tbs ground flax or chia seeds and 3tbs water until well combined; then place in fridge to set for 15mins. Use as you would an egg in many of your favourite baking recipes.

Christmas Cajun Prawn-Avocado Salad: Preheat bbq grill or grill pan to high. Combine 1kg green banana prawns, peeled, deveined, tails intact, 1tbs chopped Italian (flat-leafed) parsley,  2tsp Cajun seasoning and 2tsp olive oil in large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Cook on preheated grill or skillet, 2mins each side or until changed in colour and just cooked through; don’t overcook. Transfer to bowl; cover loosely with foil to keep warm - (don’t cover tightly…you don’t want to “stew” the prawns). Make avocado salad: place 200g mesclun mix, 200g halved grape tomatoes, 2 avocados, halved, peeled, stoned and chopped and 3 chopped green shallots in bowl. Drizzle with x-virgin olive oil and 1tbs fresh lemon or lime juice; season to taste; gently toss to combine. Serve the Cajun prawns with the salad and lemon or lime wedges.

Lemon-Bulgur Salad with Prawns and Spinach: Place 1-1/2c coarse bulgur in bowl; cover with warm tap water; let stand until grains are tender; about 2hrs. Rinse and drain well.  In another large bowl, whisk 1tsp finely-grated lemon zest with 1/4c fresh lemon juice and 3tbs chopped dill; then whisk in 1/2c x-virgin olive oil.  Add the drained bulgur, 500g large, peeled cooked prawns, 3c baby spinach leaves, 4 thinly sliced radishes, 1 medium red onion, finely diced and 2tbs pine nuts; toss to coat; season with salt and pepper, to taste; serve.

Warm Duck Salad with Beetroot Vinaigrette:  Trim stems and leaves from 1 bunch of beetroot, leaving 2-3cms of the stems attached; wash well. Don’t cut off the root. Set aside some unblemished leaves for later use. Place beets in saucepan; cover with salted water with a couple of splashes of vinegar added; bring to boil; simmer approx 30mins or until tender. Cool the beetroot in the cooking liquid; drain; peel and cut into 1cm cubes. Vinaigrette: Whisk together 2/3c peanut oil, 1/3c rice wine vinegar, 1/4c mirin, juice and zest of 1 orange; set aside.  To cook duck: Preheat oven 180C. Season 4 trimmed duck breasts with ground Szechwan salt and pepper. Over high heat, in a frying pan with a little olive oil added sear the breasts until they are golden on both sides; then transfer the breasts to a roasting dish and cook for about 5mins in the oven.  They should still be soft to the touch. Set aside, covered for 5mins, to rest.  To serve: Put some trimmed rocket (arugula) leaves and some of the trimmed beetroot leaves onto serving dishes; toss beetroot cubes in the vinaigrette; place on top of leaves. Slice the duck breasts and fan out over top of salad.  Crumble goat cheese or feta over top; serve.

Vegan Mint Choc Chip Biscuits/Cookies: Preheat oven 175C (350F). Place 2c spelt flour, 1c vegan chocolate chips (or carob chips or dried fruits), 1c chopped walnuts (or toasted pecans or macadamia nuts), 3/4c rolled oats, 1/2tsp sea salt, 3/4tsp baking soda, 1/8th tsp cinnamon and a pinch of ground nutmeg in bowl’ mix well. In another bowl, combine 2/3c pure maple syrup, 2/3c safflower oil, 2tbs water and 1tsp peppermint extract.  Add the wet to the dry; and mix well. Refrigerate for 15mins.  Place 8 scoops on a well-oiled or lined baking sheet; flatten them slightly with your hand.  Space them evening so the biscuits/cookies have room to spread.  Bake until golden brown, approx 10 minutes.  Allow them to cool before you get stuck into them!  Variations on a theme:  You could add 2tbls of cocoa or carob powder, too, if you so desired…and 1tbs of spirulina if you have some!  The decisions are yours to make!

And…Yes, Virginia! There is a Santa!  

And Chapter Five of my cat tales isn't too far away!

P.S....If the robot numbers annoy anyone...I apologise.  I didn't change my blog for that to show up; it just happened overnight a couple of nights ago...and I can't for the life of me change it back, even though others have said how to do it!  D'oh!  It doesn't worry me, but I'm sorry if it's annoying to you. 

**And I've discovered you can post a comment without having to type in the Word Verification digits...so just ignore them.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

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





Old Queenslander Circa 1940s...

Another style of Queenslander with enclosed sleep-out/verandah...not dissimilar to the one we purchased in Torwood

"Ruska"  by Arabia
"Arabia - Ruska" Dinnerware


Similar-style rear stairs to those in the Torwood house

Leopard Tree



Shortly after we married and while still living in our little workers’ cottage in Toowong, Randall and I purchased another house, a Queenslander in the nearby suburb of Torwood.  Torwood is a very small suburb the size of a pocket handkerchief (slight exaggeration) nestled up behind Toowong. These days it’s been snaffled up by the neighbouring suburb of Auchenflower, I think.  Perhaps only the “oldies” like me still refer to it as “Torwood”; but in the mid-Seventies Torwood remained true to its original name and boundaries.  In the Seventies, also, it became very popular to buy and renovate “Queenslanders”. Everyone was doing it…well, not everyone…but you know what I mean!

Bought as an investment property, immediately upon settlement we placed the house on the rental market and we leased the house to a young Vietnamese couple and their two children.  At the fall of Saigon they’d fled Vietnam, ending up in Australia.  The husband, an eye doctor, had gained a position at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, in the suburb of Herston. They settled into the house nicely and paid the rent on time. Because they were classed as refugees they were received government assistances as well as whatever the husband earned from his position at the hospital. A new life in their new country had begun for them.

All was going along smoothly, except Sasha was still treating me with the utmost disdain, preferring the elderly cacti lady to the one person in the world who loved him the most; the one who was willing to forget and forgive him of his transgressions; but he would have none of it, or of me.  It was beyond my control to alter the situation.  His nose was out of joint…and he chose to keep it that way, no matter how much and how hard I tried to coax him into thinking and acting otherwise.  My love for him never waned.  His attitude frustrated me, but I still adored him.  He was still mine no matter where he chose to live.

The renovations on our cottage in Toowong progressed at an even pace, attended to in between our day-to-day routines at our respective jobs. Regularly on Sunday mornings we’d join friends at their home, or they at ours…we took it in turns…for “Choir Practice” also known as “drinks and nibbles”.  Sometimes “Choir Practice” extended onto lunch.

On one particular morning as we sat around a table on the patio at our friends’ home, enjoying refreshing beverages while solving the world’s problems their neighbour from across the street wandered over.  In her hands, curled up in a little ginger ball of fur, was a little kitten.

I’m a sucker when it comes to small, furry ginger masses, particularly when they look directly into my eyes; immediately commence purring and, without encouragement, climb into my arms.  I’ve never denied it. 

Driving back to our home that Sunday we had an extra passenger.  With one member of our family having left home to explore the world…off on his own personal odyssey into the yard over the back; and darling Smocka who’d disappeared without a trace - who hopefully had been stolen and taken into loving home….we were once again three -  Ruska, a six-week old kitten came to live with Randall and me. 

My new little friend, Ruska was named by me.  I’m not sure how I came up with the name, but I did discover it was a Finnish word signifying autumn leaf colour. And I’ve since learned Ruska is also the name of a few villages in Slovakia.  Also Rava-Ruska is a city in Ukraine and Ruska Bela, a city in Bulgaria.

Because I prefer earthy designs, colours, décor etc….rather than feminine florals, frills and flounces (Randall’s taste was similar to mine…I didn’t coerce him in anyway to my preferences)….we purchased an “Arabia” earthen-ware dinner set that was dark chocolate in colour.  The colour was called “Ruska”. Whether we had the dinner set before or after Ruska entered our lives, I can’t be exact with those details.  It’s a bit like “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”   I’d had my eye on the dinner set for some time, knowing it was the one for us, and I was familiar with the name of the particular design….either which way, we had a dinner set and a cat with a shared name… neither of which complained.

Like we were mates of old; the best of friends - Ruska snuggled familiarly in my lap as we left Kenmore to travel back home to Toowong, a distance of around 6.4kms (four miles).  Halfway home he decided he wanted to investigate his new mode of transport; and that he did as confident as a well-seasoned traveller.  Giving a thumbs-up, he soon nestled back in my lap and there he remained until we drove into our yard.  I carried him upstairs, closed all the exits to allow him further, safe exploration.  He spotted the main bedroom immediately!  He knew he was onto a good thing.  He didn’t need a tour guide to show him around and point out all the benefits at his paw-tips!

I had a sneaking suspicion when Randall and I were at work during the day, Sasha paid visits. Ruska needed someone to show him the ropes, and who better to do that than Sasha?  He was a born mentor, and the elder citizen!

Ruska, ginger-furred like Sasha, was very much like Smocka in personality.  He was a very affectionate fellow (and, it must be said, like Sasha once was with me).  Ruska was clearly my cat.  He’d put his mark or claim on me from the very beginning; from the moment he’d climbed into my hands.  He was a lovable cat, giving as much as he received. He loved snuggling in with his paws around my neck, showering my cheek with kisses.  Ruska was a gentle, beautiful cat.; and smart cat, too, Randall and I discovered one evening.

Randall and I were sitting in our kitchen, on stools, enjoying a few after-work drinks one evening. Ruska, as usual, was with us, at our feet, listening in, adding his tuppence worth when he felt it necessary. He was resting on the floor following a hard day’s resting. 

After a while I noticed he was busy at one of his bowls…the one filled with his “munchies”…the dried food.  My eyes widened.  I drew Randall’s attention to what Ruska was doing.  He, Ruska, was taking from his bowl one pellet at a time and placing the pellets, one by one, in a circle around the bowl!  Once the circle was complete…he began eating them, one at a time until the circle of cat pellets was no longer. He then sat back and proudly surveyed his handiwork.  Randall and I couldn’t believe what we’d witnessed. We put it down to Ruska giving us a hint to hurry up and fill his bowl with his dinner of freshly-diced raw meat.  It was either that or he’d become bored with the subjects of our conversation, hoping we’d move on to a more cat-appropriate subject.

Another time Randall and I were sitting out in our backyard at dusk, again enjoying after-work drinks while discussing the events of our day.  It was a habit of ours, and one we liked to uphold. With music playing in the background and a drink of choice in hand, it was a pleasant way to end our day. Ruska, of course, was downstairs with us, running around like a mad cat, happy for our company.  Sasha, no doubt, was spying on us through the long grass in the yard yonder.  Overwhelmed with joy and lost in the moment, Ruska ran, like a bat out of hell, up a tall, but rather spindly tree at the boundary fence between our cottage and the identical cottage next door. In his excitement, Ruska had scampered up the tree higher than he originally intended. 

With a look on his ginger face that clearly said: “Oops!  I’ve gone too far! What do I do now?”

He froze on the spot…high up in the tree…which, in fact, was a Leopard tree…one may as well keep it in the family, so to speak!

Alarmed, I jumped up and ran over to the tree; to my stranded mate who was hanging on to the tree trunk for dear life, terrified to let go. He was immobile with fear.  I lifted up my arms and called to him. 

What happened next shocked both Randall and me.  Ruska let go of the tree. He fell down through the air into my waiting extended arms.  Misty-eyed, I hugged him close. Randall and I looked at each other in amazement. Ruska trusted me so much he had no doubts I’d safely catch him.  It was quite an incredible.  He had no doubt that I’d catch him. He just fell into my open arms and straight away snuggled into me. Every time I think about that special moment in time I’m still in awe at the faith Ruska had in me.

A few months after we’d rented out our Torwood house to the family of four we received the shock of our lives when we discovered they’d invited all their relatives to take up residence in two-bedroom with enclosed sleep-out house!    Open house for all-comers – permanent bed, breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Every adult occupant received welfare from the Australian government (tax-payers). Doing a head count we discovered, there were at least eight adults, and almost as many children. 

The interior walls of the house, again as in our little worker’s cottage in Cadell Street were tongue and groove…and in almost every strip of timber were nails.  The inhabitants had strung up fabric to act as screens, making separate living/sleeping areas all throughout the house.  Not one room escaped being nailed.  Hardly a strip of tongue and groove, if even one, escaped being nailed by many nails!  It was unbelievable.  The walls looked like they’d been peppered by buck-shot!
 
The rental fee had remained the same even though the occupancy level had risen immensely.   Of course, up until that stage we weren’t aware the number had increased; or by how much.

The figure paid by the original family of two adults and two children was a very fair rental. The original tenant, the doctor would’ve been receiving good money in his position with the Health Department; on top of that he, too, was receiving welfare payments.  He was probably earning much more than Randall and I were a week!  Who else of the adults in the house were working as well as receiving hand-outs, I don’t know.  I was reeling in the aisles.  The amount of money entering that household was astronomical – mind-boggling!  And we were receiving a pittance in rental, but still had a mortgage to pay.

Some may think I’m being cold-hearted as I describe what we suddenly had come face to face with, and that’s okay…but I don’t see it that way at all.  It was our blood, sweat and tears that had gone into purchasing the house.  At one stage, both Randall and I had worked two jobs in an effort to get ourselves ahead.   We were starting a bit later than our peers.  We were in our early thirties when we married, ten years later than most of others of our generation.  We had a bit of catching up to do. 

We’d chosen the husband, wife and their two children over and above other applicants for the house, believing in giving them “a fair go” in their new country; but they didn’t give us a fair go in return.

The day Randall gave the tenants Notice to Vacate he received a mouthful of abuse from a fellow who obviously was one of the grandfathers, and one of the extra “tenants”. The older fellow tried to make out he didn’t speak or understand English, but he sure knew how to curse.  Cursing must be a universal language…not unlike “Esperanto”.

We gave the family/families a decent time to find alternative accommodation.  Randall, being in real estate, even assisted them in finding other housing at reasonable rental costs.  No thanks were given in return; and none were expected, to be honest. 

So many two-way streets become one-way streets….

The block of land the house sat upon was steep, situated two doors down from the crest of the hill. Looking at the house from the street, on the right, the main bedroom was ground level, whereas on the opposite side, to the left, the sunroom/sleep-out that wrapped around the left side of the house was high above the ground; high enough to park our car underneath the house with metres of head space to spare above. 

The land fell away at the back of the property.  We could only park one car under the house; the other had to be left parked out front on the kerb.  Most times I parked my car, half on the footpath and half in the gutter in front of our house…facing downhill…the wrong way because Payne Street, Torwood was/is a narrow street.  Illogically, I received a parking ticket and fine one Sunday for illegal parking…another story…for another time.

The rather expansive back yard of our property after the tenants (and I use that word loosely) vacated was littered with rubbish.  It looked similar to the city tip! Egg cartons, milk cartons, bottles, paper; all forms of garbage had been thrown out the kitchen window or, perhaps to make it more interesting, to break up the monotony, they stood at the back door and just tossed the rubbish out, willy-nilly, not giving a damn.  I kid you not…it was disgraceful.

As described above the land at the rear of the house fell way rather steeply.  The street below…was way below as were the yards of the houses in that particular street - “Annie Street”; which, considering the mess in our yard was a good thing.

Randall hired two men who did that particular kind of work to clean up the yard, but after about an hour or so they walked off the job refusing to tackle it any further.  And one couldn’t blame them!  I do not exaggerate.

Upstairs, the interior was an equally sorry sight. It wasn’t only all the nails, but the kitchen looked like something out of a horror show.  The fridge was ours; it was in the house when we bought it.  The fridge, in good condition, came with the purchase, and as we had our own fridge we left it in the house as part of the rental.

The tenants had switched off the fridge before vacating, but they’d not bothered to empty or clean it out.  It was full of stinking, rotting food, prawn shells included! 

The vinyl on the kitchen floor, which, to be honest, wasn’t new, but it had been in relatively good condition when we bought the house – it had been almost destroyed…somehow…I don’t know how.  Maybe they’d practised “Riverdance” steps in the kitchen.  Who would know?  Underneath the vinyl was an even more surprising, disgusting discovery.  Obviously, the whole supply of Woolworths Toowong’s soy sauce had been purchased and spilled over the kitchen floor, and not cleaned up. Beneath the vinyl was a stinking, sticky black mess!  I think the creature from the Black Lagoon lived under the floor-covering.

There was nothing left to do but clean it up ourselves.  Randall again took time off from his work to get stuck into it.  I remained at my job, but helped out in other ways where and when I could. We hired a skip and trailer…and became good friends with our local rubbish dump/tip.  Some of the waste we burned. 

We made the decision that if we were going to put in all the work that needed to be done to the house and yard to get it back up to scratch, we’d move into it, and make it our principle home, working on it as we went.  We rented out our cottage; the one we were living in, in Cadell Street.  It was the logical thing to do; so that is what we did.

Sasha remained stand-offish with me. I hated having to leave him, even though he was still living in the street behind Cadell Street; still calling the greenhouse belonging to the elderly lady, home. There really was no other choice.  Randall, because his work premises were nearby regularly went to check that he was doing okay.  I didn’t do it as often because it broke my heart whenever I did. 

Before we moved to the house in Torwood I said a very tearful goodbye to Sasha.  I wasn’t moving very far away, physically, but emotionally he and I were worlds apart. The situation tore me apart. Sasha’s glaring at me and his ducking away from me when I reached out to him were almost too much to bear.

A suitable tenant was found for the cottage and up to the Torwood house Randall, Ruska and I went (as I described…up on the crest of a hill). 

I’m sure Ruska and Sasha compared notes and said their farewells when we weren’t at home.

Randall and I again donned our renovators’ overalls, tool belts and studied paint charts.  But before we could even think about painting the interior we had to remove a thousand nails from the walls! 

After a brief inspection Ruska approved of his new surroundings, but as long as he was with us, all was well in his world.  The enclosed sunroom with a view to the city skyline beyond received his tick of approval soon after he moved in.  He loved seeing the bright city lights in the distance, but he had no intentions of becoming part of the nightclubbing set. 

The rear stairs with a small landing midway through the descent, breaking up and steering the decline in a different direction onwards to the ground became his morning meditation-yoga spot where he uttered his mantras. 

One morning having finished his uplifting cleansing he yawned widely.  A sparrow flew by just at the very moment his mouth was at its widest. Much to his and the bird’s surprise, accidentally and freakishly the sparrow got caught in Ruska’s mouth.  I’m not sure who received the biggest shock, Ruska or the bird. 

I think Ruska received top points because he quickly spluttered, wondering what the hell had happened; and the bird, counting his lucky stars, flew away, shaking its tail feathers with a tale that was to be passed down forever more in his family tree. 

True story…it did happen!

More to this story shall follow…but at the risk of boring you with my cat tales…Chapter Five might not appear until I write and post a completely differently-themed post after Chapter Four and between Five….in an attempt to retain your interest.  I’ll also share some more recipes with you in my next post.  But, as I said…there is more to this tale....a lengthy tale of tails it is.....

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

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



View from Regatta Hotel front verandah...across Coronation Drive to Brisbane River
Regatta Hotel
Similar in style to the Workers' Cottage we bought and renovated...the first house we bought
Tongue & Groove Wall






Almost immediately upon Randall’s return to Queensland’s fair shores he gained employment as bar manager at the Regatta Hotel, a well-known popular watering-hole in Brisbane…in the suburb of Toowong situated on Coronation Drive just across the road from the Brisbane River; and a short distance from where we lived in the unit block.

For a period while living in New York Randall worked within the New Zealand Mission to the UN. He worked directly for Frank Corner who was New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United Nations, who was also the US Ambassador. Corner, who was born in Napier, New Zealand in 1920 (he passed away in August 2014 at the good age of 94), also served on the United Nations Security Council at the time.   

After leaving the employ of Mr. Corner and the New Zealand Mission to the UN Randall gained employment with the British Embassy within the UN boundaries.  After working for the British for a while, Randall changed pace and scenery to become the bar manager of O’Brien’s, a bar (and diner/restaurant) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  O’Brien's also had a :sister" bar out on Long Island.  Both of which are long gone by now, I imagine.  (It was a little before Carrie and her friends from “Sex and the City” discovered the city). 

From his time managing the bar in New York and managing the Long Island bar on summer weekends, Randall had gained a wealth of knowledge about the bar trade and the art of cocktail-making.  He had no interest in returning to radio work, the industry he was in before heading overseas; although he was urged to do so from a few quarters because of his magnificent, mellifluous speaking voice. Even to this day, so many years later, he is remembered by some who were around back during the time he was in radio…because of his deep, dulcet tones. 

Randall remained at the Regatta for a few months before leaving to take up a job waiting tables at night at Manouche Restaurant, Milton Road, which was within easy walking distance around the corner and up the road a bit from where we lived.  A while later when the owner of Manouche opened another restaurant romantically named Scaramouche in the city Randall commenced working there during the day doing the lunch shift as well as working at Manouche at night. 

Shortly after we married, he resigned from both to take up a position as salesman at a Toowong Real Estate agency, Conias Apollo.  Again, the agency was on Milton Road, Toowong, just around the corner from where we lived.

I still worked during the daylight hours within the fashion industry…in the employ of the Kolotex Group of Companies; a job I’d commenced in 1965, a couple of months after moving to Brisbane from Gympie.

Smocka was a young cat not long past kitten stage when Randall arrived on the scene.  The more experienced, worldly, sage Sergeant-Major Sasha was a mature seven years old. He ruled the roost. With that being a time-consuming role, he enjoyed a good night’s sleep. He'd been my shadow; my bodyguard for seven or so years.

Smocka’s greatest joy was to play through the night.  He’d worked out an exciting circuit better than any thrilling theme park ride.  Smocka’s fun-filled route commenced down in the lounge area; it progressed running up the carpeted stairs to the upper level culminating on our bed where he’d attack our toes before scampering up along our bodies and back down again, smiling all the way; and then he’d take off to repeat it all over again…and again!  Yippee!  It was a wonderful game.  His energy knew no bounds - but, boy...could he bound!  Humans…the greatest playmates in the world for young cats particularly at night!

When Randall was working nights only, he had his days free.  Fed up with Smocka waking us through the night, Randall devised a plan.  During the day every time he caught Smocka napping, Randall would wake him up!  Every time he passed Smocka he’d give him a nudge; a gentle shake; nattered nonsense in his ears, and kept him in lengthy conversation.  The plan worked.  After a while, Smocka, not getting a good day’s sleep, slept through the nights!  Peace reigned once more!

Not long after Randall commenced working in real estate we bought our first house.  It was a little two bedroom with front enclosed sleep-out “workers’ cottage” two doors along Cadell Street from where we lived in the unit block.  We’d attended an auction one Saturday morning – lost out on the auction – but bought the identical cottage next door for about a thousand dollars less!  Our intention was to live in our new home and renovate it ourselves as we went along…room by room.  This was in early 1976.

The move from our unit to the cottage was easy. It was a case of making a few trips manhandling our possessions, with the help of a couple of mates, the few metres along the footpath to our new little abode. The cottage in Toowong was the first house we bought.  We were thrilled pink.

Sasha and Smocka came with us, of course.  They settled in easily without complaint, or so I thought. However, unnoticed by me, Sasha had been stewing in private, trying to keep a lid on his emotions.  Enough was enough…that damn straw that broke the camel’s back was at it again. 

When Smocka came into our lives, Sasha greeted him with open, furry arms. He enjoyed having a little mate with whom he could share his stories and wisdom.  And then, Randall appeared on the scene.  Sasha’s good manners came into play.  He lodged no complaints with me.  Sasha put on a happy face and just got on with it.  I was none the wiser of what was bubbling beneath the surface of his ginger coat.  He loved me, and it was obvious right from the start when Smocka came into our lives, Sasha had room in his heart for Smocka, too. Whend Randall joined the throng Sasha didn’t kick up a stink. He graciously accepted the intrusion by another human into his life; a male intruder at that! It appeared he had enough room left in his heart for the new member of our gang.  Sasha, I was to learn, was adept at hiding his feelings when he felt it prudent to do so.  On the flip-side, he was also adept at being imprudent about not disguising his feelings when the situation (or person) suited.

Instead of taking his adverse feelings out on the interloper, Sasha started giving me the cold shoulder. I was going to have to pay the penalty for bringing another male into my life.  Goodness!  I already had two…Smocka and Sasha.  Why would I need another? Wasn't he enough? Weren't he and Smocka enough?

Eventually, Sasha didn’t attempt to mask his disdain.  He’d gone right off me.  And to rub it in even further…as if I wasn’t feeling hurt enough as it was…he became the best of mates with Randall!  If Randall had been into football, I’m sure the two of them would’ve gone along to games together, or sat on the sofa watching sport on television, while downing a couple of cold tinnies!

Shortly after moving into the cottage we decided it was time to attack the renovations.  Randall took a couple of weeks off from work to enable him to have free reign without interruption.  During the day I continued on with my job and left him to it.  I’d leave around 7.15-7.30 am each morning and returned around 6 pm or thereabouts.

Every time I arrived home from work, Sasha could not be seen.  And yet, Randall told me, all throughout the day Sasha was there at Randall’s side as he worked on the interior of the house.  It was as if Sasha wore a wrist watch…moments before I was due to arrive home from work, he would take off.  No matter how much I coerced, cajoled, begged, pleaded, wept, bribed, Sasha ignored my every heartfelt plea.  Nothing I did would change his mind or attitude.  I always filled his food bowl as usual...morning and night…that didn’t change. If he didn’t want me around when he ate, that was okay with me…as long as he ate; and as long as he knew food would always be there for him.  My love was always there for him, too.

I’d see him staring at me from the yard over the back.  Sitting amongst the long grass, thinking I didn’t know he was there, I’d burst his bubble and go up to the fence to chat with him.  He was a typical headstrong redhead!  I knew all about redheads.  My late mother, Elma who’d passed away in 1974 had had beautiful deep auburn hair – she was a natural redhead with a character to match.  I’d started to think perhaps Elma’s spirit had infiltrated Sasha’s!  My mother had been very headstrong, and now, Sasha was acting similarly! Every time I approached him, he’d just stare haughtily back at me.  He took up residence in a yard over the back from our cottage, a few doors down.  An elderly lady lived there.  We introduced ourselves to the lady and explained the situation.  She told us Sasha was not a nuisance to her and that he never entered her house.  She had greenhouse on the back fence line filled with potted cacti.  That was his favourite spot!  There’s no accounting for taste…but he had become a prickly character…so I guess it was in character!
  
Sasha still paid visits, some longer than others, but he remained stand-offish…with me.  It broke my heart, but there was nothing I could do to change the situation; no matter how hard I tried.  He’d decided I’d deserted him, and that was that.  He'd make me pay; he’d had enough of my wayward ways.  He didn’t blame Randall, nor did he blame Smocka.  He blamed me.

So life went on, as did our renovations every spare minute we found.  Well, maybe not “every spare minute”, but progress was being made.. We became very proficient painters of tongue and groove interior walls.

And then, one day we came home from our respective jobs and Smocka was missing.  He couldn’t be found anywhere.  We went up and down the street, the back streets and the front streets; Randall by car and me by foot.  We knocked on doors.  We called his name, but to no avail.  I was inconsolable.  Smocka was a true house cat; he was a sook...the softest, sweetest cat with not a nasty bone in his body. He never wandered; always content to be within his own boundaries.  I couldn’t understand what had happened.  Like a demented woman I scoured the streets, the gutters…perchance he had gone out on the street and he’d been hit by a car.   I didn’t find him.

Then a couple of days later, still not having given up the search, a neighbour, a young woman in her mid-twenties whom I knew only by sight and a nod in greeting when our paths rarely crossed noticed I was somewhat distraught. 

In her most comforting way she said to me: “Maybe he’s been taken by someone.  I hear there are people going around stealing cats for greyhounds!”

She was lucky she walked away alive.  I just looked at her, open-mouthed.  I couldn’t believe anyone could be so thoughtless; so ignorant, but I should’ve known better…some people…too many people…do not think before they speak.

I turned my back on her and walked away without uttering a word.   

Climbing our front stairs, Randall could see I was very upset…and angry.  I told him what the lass had said. He was flabbergasted, too.  After that incident each time I saw the young woman I pretended I didn’t.  I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge her…I didn’t trust myself to acknowledge her.

Smocka was gone…and I never discovered what happened to him.  I lived in the hope…in the dream…someone had taken him thinking he was a Russian Blue…and he was living the life of an aristocrat.   
Those thoughts still remain with me…the scenario helped me with my grief. Some may think that's silly of me...but I give no apology or excuse.

Sasha still watched on from the sidelines.

This is not the end of this story....there is more to come...the tail end of what is turning into a long tale will follow ...stick with me, please...