Tuesday, December 06, 2016

WHAT’S COOKIN’, GOOD-LOOKIN’?



My friend Joy (blonde) and Me...Circa 1962


I might not have had the papers saying I was a qualified chef, but I certainly qualified by the long, hard, sometimes stressful hours I put in over commercial stoves/ranges/deep-fryers; by the blood, sweat and tears.   

However, there few tears, except for the first time I watched my food being taken out of the kitchen in the hands of a waitress to diners.  I almost shed tears at that special, unique time.  I felt like a mother watching her children being taken away from her! 

Over the years many tears were shed from laughter, though. 

I learned very early in the piece, and very quickly, no tears needed to be shed over the slicing, dicing or chopping of onions.   I always stored the bags of onions in the cold room.  Using onions that have been stored this way (or in a home refrigerator) was/is a sure-fire method of stopping the flow of tears caused by the chemical in the onion, when the onion is cut, that irritates the glands in our eyes, causing us to tear up.

Over the years when I was working within the hospitality industry I wore a few different hats, and one of those metaphorical hats was a chef’s hat.  I prepared and presented thousands of meals to the dining public in various venues.

From my childhood, watching our Nana prepare our meals, I showed a keen interest in cooking. I learned a lot of the basics from Nana.  Her pastry-making skills were beyond compare, and to this day, from the lessons I learned from her, I’ve never made pastry other than with my hands/fingertips.  I’ve never used a processor to make pastry, and I probably never will.

My interest in cooking that began when I was a little girl carried through to my teenage years.  

Take-away food wasn’t high on our radar when I was a teenager.  There were “mum and dad-owned” fish and chip shops, many of which doubled as a hamburger “joint”. And, of course, the good old Aussie meat pies, pasties and sausage rolls were available at every corner store. The iconic Chiko Rolls, which originally originated in Bendigo, Victoria, hit the market in the early Fifties. Chico Rolls later really hit their strides in the Sixties, and became a popular addition to the fish and chips/take-away outlets.   

There were no McDonalds, Hungry Jacks, KFCs and the like when I was a child and teenager.

As I’ve written often in previous posts, during the halcyon years of my teens my girlfriends and I spent every weekend during spring, summer and autumn at the coast.   

On those weekends most of the time I took on the mantle of “cook”; a role I willingly performed.  During our weekends at the beach my mates and I lived mainly on freshly-prepared food, using fresh produce; a lot of which we purchased en route to the coast from the roadside stalls belonging to farmers along the way.  Fresh fruit was also a regular on our menu.  

Similar applied to our mid-week get-togethers/parties when we used to sit around philosophising and listening to music. We prepared our own food, never buying it in, already prepared.  We loved to experiment with recipes, and probably me more than the others.  We ate well.

From my very first visit to a restaurant at the tender age of 16 I was hooked by the romance and allure of restaurants.

Joy, a friend (we’re still friends to this day – we’ve known each other since early primary school days and our beach-going/surfing days) and I went to Brisbane for a weekend.

Our main intention once in the city centre was to purchase our first bikinis.  This we achieved on the Saturday morning.  

In those years the major stores closed at noon on Saturdays and remained closed until Monday mornings.  There was no late-night shopping; no seven days a week opening hours for the major retailers.  Corner, family-run shops operated under their own jurisdiction.

Joy and I bought a pair of towelling bikinis each at Weedman’s in Queen Street, the main street in Brisbane’s CBD.  

(Weedman’s, which originally, in 1931, had started out as “Players”, in 1970, became “Sportsgirl” – just a little background history that is probably of little interest to anyone other than me).

Later, in 1982 Queen Street was turned into a pedestrian-only mall, encompassing Queen, Albert and Edward Streets; and then later again, in 1988, the mall was extended to cover a larger area.

I had my mind set on buying a white bikini, but Joy struck first and chose white for herself.   I didn’t want to have an identical bikini, so I chose hot pink – same style; same fabric; different colour.  

We’d already stretched the limit more than far enough by purchasing a similar style; choosing the same colour would’ve meant we’d gone way over the line by miles.  She and I went to the coast together every weekend; and as much as we liked each other, were the best of mates, we had no desire to dress the same, whether on the beach or elsewhere.

It was on that particular weekend that I had my first restaurant dining experience. 

After our Saturday morning shopping spree, Joy and I decided we’d lunch at “Christies” in Queen Street Brisbane.  We sat upstairs on the mezzanine level.  After studying the menu carefully, I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese.

Joy was aghast that I would even entertain the thought of eating spaghetti in public, let alone bite the strand and chew it!  

In those days, in many ways, Joy was more openly confident that I was, but on that occasion she chose to stay safe by ordering for herself, toasted cheese, ham and tomato sandwiches.  

My choice of fare was made to enable me to conquer my shyness about eating in a public venue; to build up and gain self-confidence by eating, of all things, spaghetti! 

In for a penny, in for a pound...I dived into the pot!  Well, not quite...

A few years later when I was residing and working in Brisbane (employed by the Kolotex Group of Companies) I’d often take myself to lunch at various Chinese restaurants. I’d ask the waiting staff to remove the knives and forks from my table setting; for them to replace the cutlery with chopsticks.  By eating alone amongst and within view of other diners I taught myself how to handle chopsticks with aplomb. No fear...fully confident...and no dropped food!

Spaghetti Bolognese really only became popular in Australia...became one of the “In” foods...around about the late Fifties/early Sixties.  Until then, in most Aussie homes the only spaghetti eaten came in tins/cans. No kitchen cupboard or pantry was complete without a few tins of Heinz Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce. Of course, Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce kept the spaghetti company on the shelves.  Like love and marriage, or a horse and carriage, they go together....

In those days, and probably in the majority of instances still, - Spaghetti Bolognese was prepared and served here in this country using spaghetti, not tagliatelle.  

For goodness sake!  We were still getting used to the long, thin, cylindrical, solid dry pasta called “spaghetti” ; the pasta we, ourselves, had to cook in salted, boiling water.  

We didn’t need tagliatelle thrown into the mix to confuse things!  

I doubt tagliatelle was available in Australia in those days other than perhaps in the homes of Australian-Italian families, where the barely-English speaking Nonnas diligently passed on their cooking knowledge and prowess; where the Nonnas prepared everything from scratch.  

The majority of  “Anglo-Saxon Protestants (or those of the Roman Catholic faith) hadn’t even heard of tagliatelle, let alone eaten it!  

Aussies were just waking up to the fact that there were myriad varieties of interesting food from the rest of the world ready for us to explore - foods other than the British-Scottish-Irish influences we’d grown up with in our homes.

During our weekend in the “big city” the beach beckoned Joy and me.  After all, we were the “Gidgets” of the day.  We couldn’t ignore the lure of the beach.  

One of Joy's cousins, who lived in Brisbane, generously offered to drive us to the Gold Coast.  Being a Sunshine Coast surfer girl, I’d never been to the Gold Coast before that particular Sunday. I can’t remember clearly, but I feel it was Joy’s first visit, too.

Sitting on the beach at Coolangatta we cared not that it was a bleak, grey, windy, somewhat chilly morning in August.  

August is still winter here in the Land of Oz. Our spring springs into action in September.  

With stiff upper lips, Joy and I braved it out, keen to christen our new, and first, bikinis.  We were two trim, taut and terrific 16-year olds. 

On the beach we determinedly remained for a couple of hours while her cousin, who was much older than us (and who obviously had more sense), drank of cups of hot coffee in the warmth of a local cafe.

I believe we looked pretty good in our newly-purchased bikinis.  In those days of yore I think we looked pretty good in whatever we wore.  However, we were in no way cocky or “up ourselves” about it.  If we even broached the perimeter of feeling that way we’d soon be brought back down to earth by someone in our respective families - of that there is no doubt.

Back home in Gympie after our enlightening adventure I decided I’d make Spaghetti Bolognese for the first time.  It was to be a special treat for my mother, grandmother and brother. 

I learned a quick lesson from that not-so-little episode, too.

I managed to cook enough spaghetti to feed the population of Gympie, and probably the nearby towns of Maryborough and Nambour, as well!

Always learning – forever learning!

More to follow...

44 comments:

  1. YES, I do believe that you looked good in anything you wore, both of you!
    We used to have to bring back packets of the Spaghetti Bolognese sauce mix for Richard's cousin, he couldn't find it in the USA!

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    1. Hey Kay...We were young, at the beginning of our prime. We all looked good then! Pity it had to end! lol

      I've never used bolognese sauce mix...I suppose I've seen it, but in truth, I don't recall seeing it. That could probably be because I never looked for it. I've always made the sauce from scratch.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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    2. From scratch? I was about to say I'm impressed, but then remembered that's how you do everything. Okay, still impressed. I start with a jar of sauce and add my own extra ingredients.

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  2. Hi Lee, This post has gone where my memory has been recently. I was remembering booking into grooming lessons at Weedmans with Miss Maureen Kistle (Miss Australia 1955), I guess hoping to be as beautiful and sophisticated as she was. It would have been in '61 or '62. The only thing that stuck with me was what suited me best when it comes to hair. In '64 I worked in the Regent Building, Christies was my local for lunch. They served a terrific salad sandwich, loaded with salads of your own choice (which was 'everything' for me). I love how your posts resonate so much with me.

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    1. Hey Pauline...and wasn't she lovely...Maureen Kistle. I admired her when I was a kid. She was a natural beauty. Her husband, Sir Syd Schubert was a guest of mine one time when I was managing the resort on Hinchbrook Island. I dined with him on the evening of his visit...and he was a fine gentleman.

      When I was working in Brisbane, Weedman's became part of our retail/department store and boutique customers. The buyer in the hosiery sections whose name I remember but won't print here...was a lovely woman, but she was addicted to Bex powders, as so many were back in those days. They ended up killing her. I thought about her as I was writing this post.

      Really? My goodness! I worked practically next door to you!! When I first started working with Kolotex in August, 1965 our office and small warehouse area (before we moved to Baxter Street, Fortitude Valley) was in Heindorff House!! We probably passed each other in Queen Street many times!

      I'm so glad you enjoy these reflective writings. thanks for coming by. :)

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  3. Growing up we never had canned Spaghetti (or baked beans) in the house. And I never developed the taste for them either. Both are too sweet for my liking.
    A good spag bol could be a thing of joy and beauty though. I am grateful that I grew up with fresh foods, prepared at home. And, like you, have never used a processor to make pastry. Or a cake for that matter.
    My sixteen year old self probably looked better than I realised at the time, and certainly better than my current self.

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    1. Hi EC....we always ate fresh foods and ate well when we were children. And the good old tinned spaghetti and baked beans were often served on toast for breakfast. I loved them...the beans, in particular. Actually, today I opened a can of Heinz Baked Beans to have on toast for my lunch. I heated them up and added a pile of cheese to them...and it was yummy! lol

      I doubt any of us realised how we looked in our younger days. Only a few years ago Joy and I were discussing the same thing. No one ever told us we looked good. We were brought up in the days if that was done we'd get an over-inflated ego and image of ourselves; and that would be a definite no-no!! :)

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  4. I remember my first bikini, a Christmas gift on the coldest, wettest Christmas day I'd ever known, but I wore it all, only compromising with a long jumper over it late in the afternoon.
    We had the usual canned spaghetti and baked beans in our cupboard, I never liked the spaghetti, so the baked beans were all mine. I didn't learn to cook proper spaghetti bolognese until my little family of six moved back to Adelaide in the late 80s.

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  5. "wore it all day" that should be.

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    1. Hey, River....you were as bad as Joy and I were re the wearing of our bikinis! lol

      As I just wrote in my above response to Elephant's Child, I had baked beans with added cheese for lunch today. I love them!

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  6. Years ago no one had 'papers' for any profession. These things had to start somewhere with people that knew and were experienced, they taught the young ones, the latter got the certificates the older ones also received to make it legal to teach the young ones :)
    Load of words in circles there :)

    Remember the days of fish n chips wrapped in the newspaper tucked
    underneath armpit, pulled out chips from a small hole made in the newspaper - yum it was back then.

    Spaghetti Bolognese, my mum never cooked that but I did when I got married and rather like it but husband is not a lover of pasta done in anything.

    Bikini - oh yes, those were the days of the first bikini back then, and they were not that revealing to begin with - but soon were..gone are the days of wearing one :)




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    1. I sure do remember those days of fish & chips wrapped in newspaper, Margaret! And it was all so much fun to find those last couple of elusive chips hidden in the folds of the paper when you finally got to the bottom! They always seemed to taste better than all the rest put together! :)

      I think I got you meaning in your circles above...talk about crop circles! ;)

      My days of wearing a bikini are long gone!

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  7. Most foods that I ate while growing up in the 50's and 60's were freshly made by my mom. However, when I saw that can of spaghetti in your pictures, I remembered having that for lunch on most Tuesdays when we had early dismissal from school. I have to admit that I liked it.

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    1. Hi Arleen...I think we all ate good foods back in the the days/years of our childhood into our adult years etc. All the preservatives, chemicals, "faux" foods that are available (and harmful) today were just not part of the scene. We were the lucky ones, I believe.l

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  8. Love the photo of you and your friend Joy, how wonderful, had the flu for a week so been out of commission for a while, been watching food channel, one called Chopped, and I consider myself a good cook but when I look at what they do I realize I am just an average cook. Ha. They give them a basket of four ingredient picked by the audience and you wouldn't believe what some of them are and then they have about 30 minutes to make up an appetizer, main dish or dessert. My mom had a few staple means she made, one home made spaghetti sauce with chicken wings, I had four siblings and we were poor so most meals were stretched according to the budget.

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    1. G'Day, Linda...We weren't flush with money, either; but we always had good food on the table and our cupboards were never bare. That we ate well was top priority of our Mum and Nana. They took good care of us and sometimes I'm still in awe about how they managed to do so. We didn't want for much.

      Nowadays, there is too much dependency of artificial foods and take-away (take-outs), unfortunately. And the silly thing is...in reality they cost more than using fresh ingredients.

      I enjoy watching some of our cooking shows, too. I never tire of them.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  9. The way you conjure up the past with affection, good humour and engaging little details - it's such a pleasure to read. You're not wallowing in nostalgia, you're taking us right back there. Reliving it. By the way, I love the photo of you and Joy at the mirror. So unusual for those now distant times. Thanks again Lee.

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    1. Hey there Yorkie....the photo of Joy and I was taken by "Brownie" aka Mr. Keith Brown, who was one of my co-workers at the legal firm of Tozer & Jeffery, in Gympie where I was employed as a legal secretary for a period of five years before I moved to Brisbane.

      I used to handle all Brownie's work - he was a Law Clerk within the firm... I did all his dictation (shorthand and dictaphone, but mainly shorthand). I enjoyed working with him. He was lots of fun.

      Brownie was also one of Gympie's main professional photographers, if not Gympie's main photographer. There was rarely an event that at which he didn't attend as photographer. He was always taking photos of me...I was an easy subject because most of the time I was within his easy reach - an easy target! lol

      Whether I liked it or not rarely a week went by that my photo didn't appear in a copy or two of "The Gympie Times". And many of his photos appeared in one of the local store windows, updated regularly...probably weekly, sometimes twice weekly.

      Keith Brown who was in his early 40s when we worked together was a lovely man; a family man with three children, and a wife he adored.

      Thanks for coming by and I'm glad you enjoy my non-physical ramblings! ;)

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  10. The 60's saw the arrival of lots of foreign dishes, most of which appear tame today.
    Spag bog is still many folks cheap lunch but I use pasta rather than spaghetti.
    Where are the bikini pics...?

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    1. G'Day, Adullamite...The Sixties certainly did introduce us to so much...art, music, literature, food, lifestyles...on and on.

      The bikini pics, if I still have some, probably are buried away somewhere amongst all my junk! I must have a clean-up and toss-out one of these days. I've been saying similar for a long time!

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  11. My only goal was to get food on the table in front of my children and then move on to the next project. However, I see that love of cooking in my grandson the chef. He served up some pretty horrible meals when he was young but he took as much pride in it then as he does now that he can really cook. He puts plates of food in front of us as if they were his children too. So proud of his efforts and equally proud of our responses.

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    1. Hey there Annie...I think it's wonderful when children show interest in cooking...we all have to learn somewhere...trial by error...and it's great your grandson has continued enjoying his passion for cooking. Great to see! :)

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  12. I was surprised to see Heinz spag in your pictures... now I know why!
    I have never really gone for spaghetti, somehow, or any kind of pasta, though, not sure why, and I never choose it in restaurants. I agree with you about only making pastry by hand.

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    1. Hi Jenny...I love pasta; and there are so many varieties to play around with and so many tasty ways of serving it.

      I've not had tinned spaghetti in years.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  13. I enjoyed reading your post, as I visited from River's blog. Nothing wrong with tinned baked beans, but tinned spaghetti is a nightmare memory. Ghastly!

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    1. Hey, Andrew...welcome, it's nice to see you...I'm glad you enjoyed my post...please don't be a stranger. :)

      I still like baked beans...I had some last week, actually, but it's a long time since I've had tinned spaghetti.

      Thanks for coming by. :)


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  14. Spag Bol: the ultimate comfort food. As a child rationing and living in a city, but fortunate enough to have fresh vegetables from Dad's allotment, dictated much of what we ate. As an adult I have eaten many different foods and lots and lots of pasta of all shapes and sizes!

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    1. Yep! Good old spag bol...a great meal! Being dictated to from fresh vegetables grown in one's own garden plots sure is a good way to be dictated, Graham. Nothing better!

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  15. Thank you for coming by. May your holidays be overflowing with blessings and friendships.

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    1. You're welcome, Gail...and my very best wishes of the Season go out to you and your family, too. :)

      Thanks for popping in. :)

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  16. Looks like that spaghetti sauce in those recipes for spag bol, less the carrots, is what I make. I could start making it with the carrots but then I wold have to saying "wannit" and "g'day"


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    1. Hey there Goatman...good to see you...I don't add carrot to my spag bol, either.

      I hope all is well with you...thanks for dropping by. :)

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  17. I love spaghetti bolognese - hmmm, might have to make that soon. Like you, my small town didn't have fast food when I was growing up. We had all cooked meals. Those were the days. :)

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    1. Hi Lynn...it's been a while since I've made spaghetti bolognese, too...and like you, I feel that is about to change!

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  18. I remember how mortified I would get trying to eat spaghetti as a kid, and how thrilled I was to discover that there were other, easier to eat types of pasta. Only to grow up and find ouy I had a wheat allergy ;)

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    1. Hey RK...fortunately I have no allergies (other than my people allergy)!!

      Nice to see you...thanks for coming by. :)

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  19. You two were very pretty girls. And you still look great:)
    Thanks for the tip on onions.
    And you're right, always learning:)

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    1. Hi Sandra....Joy was doing her apprenticeship to become a hairdresser (eventually opened her own salon) so she was my hairdresser for celebratory occasions!

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  20. My dear Lee sounds like my years growing up in rural Tennessee but an ocean away with a coast. Looking back to those simpler times is a pure treasure. When my son was growing up he was not taken to fast food places and now he loves to cook and experiment and even some of his pals have learned a few lessons from him. Peace

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    1. Hey there Di...those were the days....everything was so much simpler then. How wonderful your son loves to cook and experiment...I think that's great!

      Thanks for coming by, Miss Kitty. :)

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  21. I want that spaghetti and lasagna :) YUMMY!! Have a Merry Christmas :)

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    1. G'day Keith....nice to see you. I wish you a very Merry Christmas, too...and I hope 2017 treats you kindly. Thanks for coming by. :)

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  22. I remember the first time I was given real spaghetti at a family dinner invitation. We had only ever had tin spaghetti and tin baked beans in our house while growing up. I also remember my first taste of fried mushrooms on toast. Somethings were just never on our menu while at home.

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    1. Hey Carol...good friends of old visited me yesterday...an unexpected, most welcomed visit...and we discussed certain meals we remembered...those that made good impressions upon us.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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