|Collinsville Main Street...leading out to the coal mine|
|Two photos of Airlie Beach|
Having watched and enjoyed the US television series, “The Americans”...I am now, like many others, espying the final episodes of Season Six - the final season.
In my opinion, the closing of series has come at the right time, without it being dragged on...ad infinitum.
Extending the series any further would detract from what was... overall not a bad series. I’ve seen better...but, then again, I’ve seen much worse.
If a show/series is not my cup of tea, mug of coffee or glass of vodka, I give up on it after a couple of episodes, though, Why waste time on something not worth wasting time on? It’s not a bad mantra to live by...and I do my best, my way, to follow the motto.
Watching “The Americans” rekindled fond memories of Andrei, a fine young man, who I was fortunate to meet and spend time with back in the early 90s. I’ve written previously about him.
In 1988, Gorbachev – no, Mikhail wasn’t the “fine young man” to whom I refer, although Gorbachev, too, left his mark; and not only on his forehead - introduced previously unknown freedoms to the Soviet people, including freedom of speech.
Massive changes were underway, but the road ahead was long and winding.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union happened on 26th December, 1991. On the 25th, President Gorbachev handed the baton to Boris Yeltsin. The Cold War was at an end.
Of course, the whole story isn’t as simple as I’m making it sound.
During the complex political brouhaha and changes that were going on following the formation of the Russian Federation, the granting of self-governing independence to the former Soviet Union, one hundred special, clever young people from across Russia were chosen to spend six months in capitalist countries such as Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, etc. Selecting 100 young men and women from such a vast area was an incredible feat in itself.
It’s impossible to imagine how it was achieved, and even more difficult to imagine is how those chosen few felt stepping out into an unknown world. Excitement, wonder, fear, surprise, anticipation, joy etc., etc., et al. A potpourri of emotions vying for attention – pushing and shoving like a crowd of eager music-lovers trying to enter a rock concert venue.
There are scenes in “The Americans” series, which is set in the years leading up to the history-making changes to the Soviet Union that depict the almost bare shelves in Russian grocery stores/food markets of the time.
Unlike us here in “the Lucky Country” - and those in similar other lucky, capitalist countries, at the time Russian people had little or no choice of products from which to choose. Just one or two items sat forlornly, alone on the shelves. It appeared to be almost a case of – ‘first in, best served”. Speaking for myself, I’ve never had to face such a situation; and, I feel sure, most of you haven’t, either.
During the years the changes were being made in Russia, around 1992/93, I was employed by Morris Catering (Morris Corporation) as their Chef-Manager in Collinsville.
Again, previously, I’ve written about my time as a Morris employee.
I was employed by the company both in Glenden, a coal mining town north-west of Mackay...as “chef” in their restaurant, “Lorikeets”. After a period of time in Glenden, I went to Collinsville...still in the employ of the Morris Corporation.
Both towns are in the Bowen Basin - a rich coal-producing area of Queensland.
My job at Collinsville entailed managing the single men’s quarters/accommodation; managing the mess/canteen, ordering provisions etc., preparing and cooking meals; three meals a day (plus their cribs, as well as morning and afternoon teas) for the single men who worked for Collinsville Coal, a subsidiary of Mount Isa Mines.
A normal day for me began around 5.30 am, and continued through to between 8.30 pm-9 pm.
Each day, the well-cared for, well-fed men had a vast, varied choice from which to choose – hot, cold; cakes, biscuits; fresh fruit, juices; tea, coffee. Some meals were also delivered to the workers at the mine.
Early one morning, a young man arrived at the back door of the mess building. He'd travelled as a passenger via the Morris Catering delivery truck. The large truck that made it's weekly visit dropping off provisions to me....from the company's Brisbane headquarters.
Alighting the truck was 24 year old Andrei who hailed from Yakutsk, east Siberia.
Being one the special chosen young people from across Russia, Andrei’s destination was Australia, and for a time, when in Queensland, Morris Corporation was his base.
The company, no doubt, was chosen because it had ongoing overseas catering contracts with the UN and our defence force....and for those reasons, is how Andrei ended up in Collinsville, and in my care.
The few days spent with him were some of the best days of my life. And, I dare say, his.
Now in his 40s, and married, Andrei and his wife, Yulia, live in Moscow.
Periodically, to this day, he and I keep in contact. Andrei has written a book.
At present he is in the throes of editing the first draft. He’s hoping the editing will be completed by the end of 2018,
Andrei came with me to the little Collinsville supermarket one day during his stay. The supermarket was small, not like the large city supermarkets.
I can still see the look on his face. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the variety and quantity of items available on the laden shelves.
Watching the scenes in the series “The Americans” showing the empty shelves in the Russian food stores reminded me of that day Andrei wandered along Collinsville’s supermarket aisles, his mouth agape; his eyes as large as saucers.
Rather than stay in Collinsville for the duration of his visit, I decided we'd head off to Airlie Beach for the weekend. And, there, we had a ball.
Andrei's wonderment about his surroundings remained. He was enthralled by everything he saw, and experienced.
Witnessing his excitement; enjoying his joy, was a special time in my life.
Too often we take for granted how good we have it here in Australia – we forget.
Often we need a wake-up call - it shouldn’t be needed, but it is.
Russian Meatballs: Rinse 1/2c Arborio rice; then bring rice and ½c of water to boil; simmer, covered, 5mins. Remove rice to bowl; cool. It will be fluffy and a little under-cooked. Puree 1 onion; combine onion with 1 finely shredded carrot, rice, 500g ground beef, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 egg, 1tsp mixed herbs; season. Form into golf ball-size. Heat 3tbs olive oil in pan; brown balls on all sides. In saucepan, sauté 250g sliced mushrooms and 1 red capsicum, cut into 2-inch pieces; add 2c drained canned tomatoes and 1/4c cream; season; bring to simmer; add 2tbs chopped parsley. Pour sauce over meatballs; simmer, covered 10mins. Serve with pasta or mashed potatoes.
Russian Pirozhki: Place 1/2 cup warmed milk in a cup or small bowl. Stir 1tbs white sugar; sprinkle 1tbs dry active yeast over the top. Set aside until foamy, about 10 mins. Pour 1-1/2c warmed milk into a large bowl. Add 2tbs melted butter, 1 egg, 1tsp salt and 1c plain flour to the large bowl with the milk. Stir in the yeast mixture. Mix in 5c plain flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from sides of the bowl, and doesn't stick to your hands. Cover bowl loosely; set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour. Dough should almost triple in size.While you wait for dough to rise, melt 1tbs butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add ½ medium cabbage, finely chopped; cook, stirring frequently, until cabbage has wilted. Mix in 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped; season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until cabbage is tender. Set this aside for the filling.
Place the risen dough onto a floured surface; gently form into a long snake about 2 inches wide. Cut into 1 inch pieces; roll each piece into a ball. Flatten the balls by hand until they are 4 to 5 inches across. Place a spoonful of the cabbage filling in centre; fold in half to enclose. Pinch edges together to seal in the filling.
Preheat the oven, 200C. Line one or two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Place the pirozhki onto the baking sheet, leaving room between them for them to grow. Brush tops with beaten egg. Bake for 20 minutes in preheated oven, or until golden brown.
Siberian Rye Biscuits: In a small thick-based saucepan on low heat, melt ½c sugar; stir often until dark brown. Very slowly, taking care to stand back, pour ⅓c boiling water, whisking constantly into melted sugar - the mixture will bubble and steam a lot. Once combined, the mixture will turn very dark brown. Add ½c sugar; simmer until completely melted. Remove from heat; add 8tbs butter. The colour will lighten. Leave for a few mins. Whisk 3 egg yolks. While whisking constantly, very slowly add caramel mixture to egg yolks. Add 3.5c whole ground rye flour, 1/4tsp salt, 1/2tsp cinnamon, 1/4tsp ginger, 1/8tsp nutmeg, pinch of ground cloves and cardamom. Knead, at first with a spoon, then your hand, until dough resembles play dough - just slightly sticky. If dough is very sticky, add ¼c rye flour. Cover/wrap; chill at least 20mins, and up to 24hrs. Bring to room temp. Preheat oven 175C; line 2 baking sheets paper. Roll dough out to about ⅛ inch, very thin (no need to use extra flour). Cut out your favourite biscuits shapes. Bake for 8-10mins, until the edges start browning just a little. Cool on wire rack before glazing. Glaze: combine 1 egg white, 1c icing sugar, 1tsp lemon juice and 1/2tsp vanilla; whisk on med-speed until light and fluffy; pipe onto biscuits. Dry an hour or so. In stand mixer, whisk on med-speed until fluffy.