Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Italian Invasion!

Like a vision of Adonis he appeared in the doorway. Framed by palm fronds he stood, arrogantly aware of himself and the effect his presence caused, at least on one of the group seated around the table. His dark hair fell seductively in impertinent curls upon his neck. His flashing brown eyes brazenly expressed mischief whirling around in his mind. A self-assured, cheeky smile played at his lips.

Immediately, he drew my attention away from the others around my table, set outside amongst the ferns and palms. Shamelessly, he held my gaze, flaunting his magnificence. He knew it. I sensed it. Cockily, he strutted across to the table. I was sharing jovial afternoon drinks with industry associates, tourist industry acquaintances. With not a sign of bashfulness, he introduced himself, only briefly allowing his eyes to leave mine to greet the others present. I invited him to join us.

In the manner of one contented within himself, exuding a brash confidence, he drew up a chair to the left of my own. Fully aware of the inner turmoil I was experiencing, he spoke assuredly, although with a strong accent. The air between us was rife with electricity. Vainly, I tried to remain composed. If I was prone to blushing, I knew I would have been as red as a beetroot. Fortunately, that was not the case.

To my right sat David, someone I’d been friendly with for a couple of months or so. Amongst the others in the group was a woman from a Cairns travel agency. My question to how Andrea discovered our gathering soon was answered. Visiting from Northern Italy, representing his father who owned and operated a tour company in Bagnacavallo, Emilia-Romagna, Andrew, as he preferred to be called while in Australia was a house-guest of Jan, the Cairns travel agent. He was in Australia seeking business prospects for his father's company, Bee Tours. Jan and Giuseppe, Andrea’s father, were friends, having met in Italy, sometime previously and, I later discovered, had enjoyed a short affair.

The sun began its descent as our little party broke up, each going on their separate ways. Jan and I sealed our advance plans. She and her husband were coming to the island for the weekend as my guests to do a “famil”. A “famil” (a bastardization of “familiar”) is an industry term where travel agents, tour operators etc., visit a resort, hotel and the like to enable them to do an accreditation on the facilities for selling on to prospective holiday-makers. It was Thursday afternoon. I was returning to the resort the following day. Jan planned to arrive, with her husband on the Saturday morning. We bade each other farewell. Andrew lingered, not eager to leave. I suggested that he join David and I for dinner a little later, giving him the address of where to meet up with us. Eagerly without further thought, he accepted my invitation.

Almost every time I stayed in Cairns I stayed at “The Outrigger Resort”, which has since changed hands and is now known as “Hotel Cairns”. It was fairly new at the time. "The Outrigger" had a wonderful ambience. The two-storey complex, set amongst tropical greenery, painted a salmon-pink, (now white) with its white wooden shutters boasted private balconies overlooking the gently waving palm trees and other lush vegetation. Each room offered glorious marble bathrooms and every other facility its occupant desired. The resort hotel exuded the true feelings of being in tropical North Queensland. The bar servicing the main restaurant and al fresco areas served the best Margaritas, made from fresh lime juice, of course!

Having showered, dressed for the evening’s festivities the restaurant awaited. Andrea soon made his appearance and we three enjoyed a meal together. We then wandered on to a nightclub. The last we saw of Andrea that night was him enjoying himself on the packed dance floor. Indicating to him that we were leaving, he waved happily and we left him to his own devices, confidently knowing he’d not get lost in the sea of merry-makers. I didn’t expect to see him again.

I traveled back south the following morning, leaving Cairns early for the approximately 2-hour drive back to Cardwell, to catch the “Reef Cat” before it left the jetty at 9 am. Soon I was engulfed by my “normal” island day and all that it entailed. Normal” is not a true description of a day on the island. Nothing was ever “normal”. I would write out a work plan first thing every morning, however without fail, within ten minutes, I’d tear it up and toss it into the waste bin, making an excuse that at least I had tried!

Bob, the skipper of the “Reef Cat”, radioed through to me as was his habit when he was five minutes out for the island jetty to advise me of his pending arrival. As arranged, he always radioed prior leaving Cardwell in case I had any last minute pick-ups for him to do for me, and again he radioed as he departed the Cardwell jetty. The powered catamaran pulled into the jetty, and as usual, I was there to meet any expected guests he had on board. Some holiday-makers chose to travel by road, leaving their vehicles at Cardwell and then transferring to the island by boat. Others arrived by seaplane.

A number of guests disembarked, followed by Jan, the travel agent and her husband. Greeting everyone individually as he or she alighted, once my special guests set foot on the jetty, I started to turn to lead the way up to the resort. To my surprise, one last passenger jumped off the boat onto the jetty. Bearing a wide, triumphant grin, there landed Andrea, in his unabashed glory.

To say I was surprised was putting it mildly. To say I felt pleasantly excited, that also would be putting it mildly!

To be continued...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Slipping a Quickie In For Good Measure!

(The painting, still not yet complete was my third effort when I took up painting a couple of years ago...and the graphite drawing, again, was one of my first efforts at that particular genre)

My weekend has been one of spontaneous events, pleasant surprises. Yesterday morning I received a phone call from my ex-sister-in-law and her husband. They live not far from where I play...just around the corner and down the road a bit, to be exact, less than a kilometer away. We don't see a lot of each other as they are always very busy with their work. Lyndall manages a medical centre in Brisbane, therefore she lives in Brisbane during the weeks, only returning to the mountain on Friday evenings for her weekends. Peter, her husband is a barrister with his chambers down on the Gold Coast. He commutes daily to and from his work place. So, it was a pleasant, spur-of-the moment surprise invitation to join them for lunch at their home. They'd stoked up the fireplace, chilled a bottle of champagne and warmed some Turkish bread to be enjoyed with a homemade dip in readiness for my arrival. Peter was busy in the kitchen cooking a leg of pork, plus the obligatory vegetables. He thrives on donning an apron, picking up a sharp knife or three. Me, I just love it when somebody else cooks for me!

Quickly, I showered, dressed, grabbed a bottle of red and headed off. I hadn't planned anything for the day. In fact, I was still propped up in bed reading the Saturday "Courier Mail" when the telephone rang. We had a very pleasant afternoon, a delicious lunch and a fun time catching up on the past few months, coming to the conclusion we'd not seen each other since I had them here at my cabin for lunch back in February! Where to does time disappear?

I've known Lyndall since she was fourteen, so a lot of water has flowed under many bridges since then, for both of us! We email each other often, but never seem to scrounge enough time together to catch up. When we do manage to do so, we always have a wonderful time together.

Today, again I had nothing planned. I received a little windfall in Saturday's Lotto....I got four straight numbers and a supplementary number. Now, one would think that would bring untold wealth, wouldn't one! Well, stop your cheering...all I received back was $34.00! I'm not complaining, however, $34.00 is better than nothing at all!

Being the spendthrift that I am, I raced to the newsagency to collect my winnings. I stopped off at the bakery to indulge myself with some decadently wicked goodies, then off to the supermarket I skipped, where I purchased a whole rib/scotch fillet, pressure-packed that was on special, thinking it would come in handy down the track a bit. I then called into the liquor shop next to the IGA supermarket and bought a bottle of Rosemount Shiraz, to add to my store of bottled juices of the grape. I decided it would be part of my fare for next Saturday's lunch. Shiraz and duck make a good pairing, I believe. Needless to say, my $34.00 winnings soon disappeared, plus more, but none was wasted.

Blue sky that has remained hidden for the past seven days, made a brief appearance. However, heavy, grey clouds decided they didn't want to be overshadowed so they re-appeared, pushing the blue sky behind them. Once more they unload their burden and the rain falls upon our once parched, browned by grost ground. Its thirst still not sated, the ground selflessly and willingly welcomes it.

My cats, who enjoyed their morning of freedom, have just come racing inside, looking accusingly at me. Hey! I don't control the weather. Check with big Al...that's Al Gore or Gore-gonzola!

Remy and Shama have been going a little stir-crazy having been confined to quarters these past few days. I tidy up and straighten the mats in the back area, only to discover within a few minutes they're all topsy-turvy again. These two four-legged, furry mates of mine have great fun skidding around causing mayhem! I must teach them the rules of housework!

Nothing is planned for my afternoon, other than to pick up my book. I'm reading "The Rainbow" by D.H. Lawrence, who is one of my all-time favourite authors. I read "The Rainbow" many years ago, but I felt in need of a dose of Lawrence, so grabbed it off one of my bookcases. Every so often, a wave of "need" takes control of me and I just have to read a D.H. Lawrence book, no matter if I've read them all before. He was a most descriptive writer. His writing flows beautifully. In my very humble opinion, I believe Lawrence should be necessary reading.

So that's me for this off-and-on rainy Sunday afternoon. I hope that you all enjoy your Sunday, equally.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reaching Out To The City Lights...Chapter Twenty

Thank God it was Friday! It’d been a long day and busy week in the office. Around 6.45pm I walked into the apartment, kicked off my shoes and plopped myself down onto the sofa. Smocka jumped up on my lap ready to tell me about his day. The phone rang.

“Honey! Can you come to the pub as soon as you can? Most of my staff haven’t turned up. I need your help,” Randall pleaded on the other end of the telephone.

“But, Randall…I’ve never pulled a beer in my life! It’s Friday night! My God! It’s going to be bedlam city down there tonight!” I exclaimed.

"You can do it! I know you can do it! There’s no one else I can call this late in the day! C’mon, sweetie! Please, I’m in dire straits here!”

In for a penny, in for a pound! I figured I had nothing to lose other than my pride, my dignity, face, my sense of humour! Quickly changing into a pair of jeans and comfortable shoes, I raced down to the Regatta Hotel, which was just down along Sylvan Road from where we lived in Cadell Street, arriving right on seven. The place was a-buzz with Friday night revelers. I had no time to think about what I was letting myself into. Randall pointed me in the direction of the cash register that would be mine for the evening and left wishing me luck. Luck! I felt I needed bucket loads of it plus more. If I could have found a hole in which to hide, there I would have been in a flash, but before I could dwell on my plight across the bar in front of me were many eager, thirsty faces holding out hands of cash with pleading looks in their eyes. How could I refuse? It was Friday night in the large lounge bar of the Regatta Hotel, Toowong, one of the most popular hotels in Brisbane and I was on the wrong side of the bar!

The evening became a blur. One face blended into the other. The laughter and noise of the increasing crowd grew as the evening progressed. Beer flowed freely. Glasses of mixed drinks splashed like surging waves. Every so often, Randall wandered out to the lounge bar from the public bar to see how I was progressing. I didn’t have time other than to nod at him, recognizing him vaguely as someone I should know. A customer came up to me, ordering eight mixed beverages, all different. I felt like choking him! A while later I noted he was back for refills. I pretended not to see him.

“You’re ignoring me, aren’t you?” He said with a knowing smile on his face.

“Yes, I am. How did you guess?” I replied, half-smilingly. “I won’t be a moment.” Fortunately, he understood the pressure I was under.

Closing time loomed. The thirst of the patrons heightened. Panic began to set in for last drinks. The air was electric. The pressure was tangible. Voices from the verandah overlooking the bottle shop rose above the wave of noisy heads. Any moment I expected trouble. I wasn’t disappointed. Someone looked cross-eyed at another and blows ensued. I asked someone to get Randall. A couple of tables were upturned in the melee. A few soft punches thrown as some cheered on. I kept mixing drinks and pouring final beers. It was the end of my shift. The ruckus soon settled down. The two culprits who started the fray quickly decided either wasn’t worth the trouble and went on their way. Everyone else finished their last drinks and headed off to greener pastures. In the meantime, my heart was pounding, not from the “rumble in the jungle”, but from what the tally of my cash register would be at the end of the night.

Fearing the worst, expecting my register to be way out when I totalled it, I broke out in a cold sweat. I’d been thrown into the deep end, not knowing the prices when I began the night, I gingerly waited as Mrs. Milo, the wife of the hotel manager counted my takings.

Turning to me, Mrs. Milo said. “I don’t know what you’re worrying about, Lee. You’re eleven cents over!”

My “end of shift” drink was most welcome. I sighed with relief. It certainly had been a rude, swift introduction into the bar industry. And it was the last time I helped out at the Regatta Hotel. My adrenalin still raged when back at home, Randall and I sat recapping the evening’s events over a couple of scotches.

Shortly after that night, Randall gained employment at a new restaurant in the city. “Scaramouche” was the brainchild of Peter Fluckiger (later to become Peter Hackworth when she married Colonel David Hackworth, the most highly decorated soldier in the US army. I’ve written about this in a previous post).

"Scaramouche” was being fitted out when Randall joined the family of staff members. He helped with the interior construction of alcoves etc. The building had been a church in its hey-day. It consisted of high, vaulted, wooden-lined ceilings and had ambience beyond description. Upon opening of the restaurant to the public, Randall waited tables during lunch and in the evenings he waited on tables at “Manouche”, the sister restaurant to "Scaramouche" on Milton Road, Toowong. “Manouche” was just around the corner and up the road a bit from where we lived. Both restaurants were owned by Peter and both served French cuisine. At the time, both restaurants were the “talk of the town” and were extremely popular with Brisbane diners.

Again, I was at the right place at the right time (or vice versa!) when Randall called me in to help out at Scaramouche one Friday evening. Peter’s “goffer” was away sick and couldn’t make it in for the Friday night trading. Of course, Randall put my hand in the air for me. As soon as I finished my day job at Kolotex, I raced into town from Fortitude Valley to don a different guise (or disguise!). Not satisfied with polishing glasses, writing up the blackboard menu and re-setting tables, I helped serve meals and didn’t leave until after closing time. Again, I’d been bitten by the “restaurant bug” and there was little I could do about it. Randall, finishing earlier at Manouche, arrived at the apartment before I did and was surprised not to find me at home waiting for him. I walked in about an hour later, satisfaction glowing on my face.

Peter asked me to come in again the following night, Saturday. Thereafter every Friday and Saturday night, I exchanged my daytime office attire for my waiter’s garb of a long black skirt, white blouse, comfortable shoes, grabbed my “waiters’ friend” (wine and bottle opener) in readiness for the restaurant’s three sittings. Somehow or other, I was delegated the front, main section and my nights were spent racing between tables, re-setting for the next influx of diners. I loved it.

Meanwhile, being paid “cash money” with the bonus of tips, both Randall and I were able to put away a lot of cash away from the greedy hands and prying eyes of the tax man! One was able to do so at that time until the tax department decided in its “wisdom” to clamp down on such practices!

Two doors up from the apartment block where we lived a little worker’s cottage came up for auction. Randall announced we were going to attend the auction, not only as spectators but as bidders. The Saturday morning arrived and I was a nervous wreck! I let him do the bidding as I stood off to the side. We failed in the bidding, but during the following week managed to purchase the property next door to the original cottage for $17,000.00, two thousand less than the one that went under the hammer. Both were similar in age and construction.

After six years living in the apartment, eighteen months of which Randall shared with me, we packed up our goods and chattels to move into our first home, a home we intended to renovate while living in it. Excitement was rife, spare time a rarity.

To be continued....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quick! Duck! Or Go As The Crow Flies!

I'm going to apply to whomever one should apply to, to get funding for research! In the weekend papers I read about a research being done in Britain and New Zealand using crows as the subjects, to discover the depth of the crows' intelligence. I could have told the university scientists for half the price!

I was readying myself to return to work for the evening shift one afternoon, when I was living and working in Gympie before my move to Mount Tamborine. Any meat scraps from the restaurant kitchen in which I cooked, I'd bring home for my family of free, native birds. My backyard soon became the neighbourhood eatery for kookaburras, magpies, butcher-birds and, of course, a couple of crows stood by as sentries. Glancing out my bathroom window this particular afternoon, I noticed a crow swoop down to scoop up a huge bundle of meat in its beak.

I called out to him, "You're being greedy! You'll never get off the ground with that load!"

Ignoring my words, of course, to my surprise he cruised to the boundary fence where he proceeded to bury his load, covering it over with some dead grass. He then flew back, picked up more meat in his beak and flew off to wherever his home was, no doubt to feed its young. The crow obviously buried the meat for safe-keeping and it would come back for it at a later time....amazing nature. That was pretty smart, cluey thinking, I thought.

On the subject of food, I'm having a couple of friends over for lunch this Saturday week. I'm planning to serve Prawn and Avocado Salad as an entree, to be followed by honey/soy/hoisin duck. I've not decided on the dessert as yet. I've still time up my sleeve to come up with an idea or two.

Prawn & Avocado Salad

1 lb cooked medium sized prawns,remove tails

1 medium sized tomato, seeded and chopped
3 shallots chopped
1 large clove garlic, pressed
2 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 large firm avocado cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoon chopped pumpkin seeds (roasted pinenuts or nuts of choice...optional)
1 tablespoon chopped rocket or watercress
salt & pepper to taste
pinch red pepper flakes
1 head small Cos lettuce, outer leaves removed
extra virgin olive oil to taste

Make sure shrimp is completely unfrozen, if you buy it already cooked, and patted dry with paper towels.
Assemble all ingredients with shrimp in a bowl except lettuce and mix. For optimum flavor, marinate in refrigerator for 15 minutes or more. It is still very good served right away if you don't have the time. Serve on bed of chopped romaine lettuce.
Serves 4

Soy, Hoisin, Honey Duck

Combine soy sauce, hoisin sauce, brown sugar, crushed garlic and some Chinese Five-Spice powder in a jug. Stir until well combined. Place a duck in a large bowl and pour over the soy mixture. Cover and marinate in fridge, preferably overnight.

Pre-heat oven to around 200C. Place drained duck, breast side down on rack in baking dish, reserving marinade. Place marinade in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over med-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Place 2 6cm cinnamon sticks in duck cavity. Brush the duck evenly with the marinade. Cook in pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 180C. Turn duck over and sprinkle breast evenly with salt. Cook, brushing occasionally with the pan juices, for a further 55 minutes or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a skewer.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sasha, The Warrior!

(Graphite Drawings by Lee)

I have mentioned Sasha, my ginger cat, a few times in previous posts. He came into my life and I, into his, when I was married to Mervyn, my first husband. After Mervyn and I separated, I gained custody of Sasha. He, Sasha, became my shadow. Always by my side, he was my best buddy. A big ginger fellow with a proud demeanour, a snowy white chest and belly, he feared no one.

When I was moving from my flat in New Farm to my new abode at Toowong, he disappeared during the loading of my furniture and other odds and ends. I should not have been concerned as he was found curled up contentedly in the back of the removalists' truck, on top of one of the many cartons. He was ready to go, and I wasn't going any where without him. He made that perfectly clear.

A couple of years after settling into the apartment at Toowong, I adopted a kitten, Smocka. Smocka's mother had been dumped on the property when she was about due to give birth to her little furry family. I managed to give three of her four kittens away to friends, keeping one, Smocka, for myself. From the moment he opened his eyes, Smocka attached himself to me. There was no way I could bring myself to give him away. He was a dear, sweet-natured little fellow. His steely-blue coat and amber-green eyes betrayed perhaps some higher breeding in his genetics. I think his mother may have been playing around amongst the "upper-classes".

Sasha became Smocka's mentor. He protectively guarded Smocka and not once uttered a meow of dissent towards him.

One Saturday morning, I returned from shopping to find Smocka bailed up at my front screen door. At first I didn't see him in the shadows, having come from bright sunlight. However, I did at once see a white boxer dog, hair on end at my door. Once my eyes adjusted to the differing light, I saw Smocka frozen to the spot with the dog about an inch or two from him. I froze, too, not wanting to make a sudden move, believing all hell would break loose if I did so, and knowing Smocka would become the victim.

Fear took over my being as I stood there wondering what to do next to save my little mate. Then I noticed Sasha. Stealthily, all puffed up ready for battle, quietly he strode with determined intent across the yard at the rear of my apartment. I remained rooted to the spot, knowing Sasha had the matter under control. The albino boxer had no idea what was in store for him. He was too concentrated on Smocka to be aware of what was going on around him.

Proudly, I watched as Sasha approached the unwary dog. With one quick movement and a flash of claw, Sasha struck out at the unsuspecting dog. Sasha quickly followed with another massive blow to the dog's nose. The dog let out a couple of surprised, woeful cries and with blood pouring from his face he ran backwards. I immediately flew to the screen door, ushering Smocka inside. Sasha was prepared to continue the battle, but I picked him up and put him inside as well. I turned to chase the dog when it's owner, who was visiting the apartment block, came out to see what the turmoil was about.

Sneeringly, he looked at me and said, "My dog would have any cat for breakfast!"

He wasn't very smart in saying that to me, considering the mood I was in. I grew closer to him, looking him directly in the eye.

"If your dog had as much as touched a hair on my cat's body, it wouldn't be alive at this moment, of that you can be sure! It would've had to deal with me! And another thing, albino boxers are illegal. They are supposed to be put-down at birth. Secondly, you are a visitor to the property and dogs are not allowed, especially unleashed dogs, so I advise you to leave right this moment and take that mongrel with you before I report you both!"

The dog owner backed down without a further word. He and his dog left with their tails between their legs.

I was so proud of Sasha that day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Reaching Out To The City Lights"...Chapter Nineteen

Nine years had passed since Randall first left Australian shores. Many waves had caressed and lashed the coast during those years. For approximately three years during his absence I’d been married. A divorce followed five years after Mervyn and I separated. A few beaus crossed my threshold and as quickly stepped back out again making little or no impression upon my heart. Lengthy, committed relationships were of little interest to me. Then as now, I was contented living alone. My commitment was to my job with the Kolotex Group, where new lines hit the market regularly. Business boomed. Promotional evenings and events were continually being planned and presented. I was busy both at and away from work.

Gavin and Andrew, John and Shirley’s lively young boys were still major highlights in my life being a witness to many of their “firsts”. I took them along to their first pantomime, which I enjoyed as much as they did, watching the excitement and thrill of the spectacle reflected in their eyes and faces. A morning matinee of “The Wizard of Oz” was being played at the same theatre around the corner from where I lived. Borrowing the boys for the morning, the three of us joined Dorothy and Toto in her many adventures along the yellow brick road. I was there, along with John and Shirley to cheer on Andrew in his first “little athletics meet”. He had not yet commenced school or was in his first year, I can’t remember exactly. After the race had finished, with hoarse voices, we hid our smiles when Andrew, with tears forging a path down his cheeks ran across to us, holding the index finger of his right hand in the air claiming it hurt.

“I…I…I got a sore finger,” he spluttered soulfully. It was enough to soften the hardest of hearts.

His sore finger was the reason he came last in his race, or so it seemed!

Dreams I’d been dreaming for years were, perhaps, about to come true. With some trepidation about the unknown ahead of me, I climbed the front stairs at the home of Randall’s parents, not wanting to show the feelings I was concealing. His mother greeted me at the top of the stairs and then led me inside. When I arrived Randall was sleeping off some of his jet lag in the “boys” room, the bedroom designated for he and his brother when the house was built. However, it was soon converted into a sunroom-sewing room as the work commitments of both Randall and his brother took them far a field from the home fires.

His mother and I talked quietly for a little while. Taking a deep breath, I then ventured into the back bedroom to wake him. It wasn’t the greatest welcome as Randall almost jumped out of his skin, not having a clue where he was when he woke. After a most inauspicious beginning, we shared a spirited evening around the dining table. The conversation flowed freely. The intervening years slipped away as if nothing had changed in the interim. Two separate lives in two separate countries suddenly merged with barely a murmur.

Because Randall’s father was away on business until the Friday evening, we invited his parents to spend the weekend with us at “Anna Capri” Randall and his father could spend some time together. Rising early Saturday morning, we packed the car and headed north to the coast with his parents following behind in their car. We pre-arranged to meet up at Surf Air, then a hotel at Mudjimba, south of Coolum, en route to Sunshine Beach and “Anna Capri”. The beer that morning in the sun-lit beer garden tasted like liquid gold as we raised our glasses to the week ahead of us. For years I’d not had time off from work, other than when my mother passed away, so I was consumed by a carefree, holiday feeling. Being someone who likes to be prepared, the car was filled with grocery-laden boxes and an ice-filled esky of cold foods to alleviate the necessity of having to visit a supermarket upon arrival at our destination. The only thing I wanted to concern myself with once settled into “Anna Capri” was relaxation. Shopping was the last thing I wanted to think about or do. After purchasing some supplies from the liquor store at Surf Air, we re-entered the coastal highway and pointed the car’s nose northwards.

I jumped, let out a yell and whacked Randall on his left arm.

“You’re on the wrong side of the road!”

A car heading south was coming straight for us in the same lane. After nine years of motoring in the US, Randall, by second nature, had pulled out and commenced driving north in the right-hand lane. It’s not the safest thing to do here in Australia! Needless to say, we swiftly moved into the left lane, thereby surviving to tell the tale.

A pleasant day and evening was spent with Randall’s folks. I prepared a roast lamb dinner and the four of us sat around the table catching up on lost times. The folks headed off to bed around eleven. Randall and I moved out to the sun-room. We were still there talking when the sun made its re-appearance over the horizon to the east. I can’t say the same for the bottle of Cutty Sark Scotch. There was little appearance of it left in the bottle by that time! We were sipping on coffee when Randall’s parents emerged from their bedroom around 7.30am. They displayed amazement that we were already up, until we informed them we’d not gone to bed at all! After a lengthy breakfast, they departed for Brisbane, leaving us to our own devices.

“Anna Capri” proved to be everything I thought “she” would be when I first set my eyes upon the cottage on the hill. No neighbouring properties other than the roof of one home at the base of the north-easterly facing ridge could be seen through the thick vegetation, giving one a feeling of remoteness and privacy. Our peace only pleasantly interrupted by the sounds of the waves lapping upon the shore and birds flitting from tree to tree. It was heaven on earth.

I mentioned to Randall on the Tuesday night that I wished I’d taken two weeks off from work, not one. I felt we needed more time to ourselves to adjust before we went back to the real world. He agreed and suggested I telephone John the next day to ask if I could have an extra week. That I did and much to my surprise and dismay, John said “No!”

In the heat of the moment, I told him quite bluntly that I was going to take the extra week off, regardless of what he said. On the Thursday, Randall and I drove back to Brisbane and the office to ensure that everything was in order and that there no pressing matters needing my attention. John just grunted at me and proceeded to ignore my presence. I figured he’d get over it and in return, I ignored him! Making sure all was in order and under control I wasted little time in the office.

As I climbed back into the car, Randall asked, “How was it? Is everything okay?”

To which I replied, “It’s like Antarctica in there…let’s go. Sunshine Beach is waiting!”

The two weeks we spent at Sunshine Beach and Noosa in “our” little cottage were wonderful. The time spent soaking up the sun, relaxing, the freedom and the reacquainting ourselves was worth the upset back in the office. I would deal with that upon my return. I knew John would thaw, eventually. He’d become so dependent upon me throughout the years. I was always “there” and for once, I stood firm. I needed to get my life, my own “house” into order.

All too soon the real world reared its sometimes ugly head. The glorious fourteen days came to an end. Back to Brisbane and my apartment at Toowong we went.

John, as I expected, was soon back to his normal self. He was a bit frosty for the first couple of days after my return to work but he warmed and all was forgotten. There were clients to see, places to visit and work to be attended to, so there was no time to be wasted on trivial matters.

Randall moved in. Sasha, my big ginger cat, moved out! Smocka, my beautiful steely-blue-grey cat remained. He wasn’t the jealous type, but the “red-head” acted true to form! I upset more than just the “apple-cart” at work, but at home, too!

Within a couple of weeks, Randall gained employment as bar manager at the Regatta Hotel, which was just down the road a bit from where we lived. For the last couple of years or so in New York he’d managed a bar, “O’Brian's”, in the Upper East Side. Brian, an Irishman also owned a hotel, the “Sea Spray” out on Long Island. During the summer months, Randall would go there on the weekends and holidays to manage the hotel for Brian. The “Sea Spray” featured in the movie, “Network” which starred Peter Finch (who posthumously won an Oscar for his role as “Howard Beale”), Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and William Holden.

Soon we were settled into a life of some kind of normalcy with Sasha looking on from afar. He’d packed up and moved into the property behind the apartment block. Nothing I did would convince him he still held a major portion of my heart. He would just sit there, refuse to move and just stare disdainfully at me!

To be continued.....

Friday, August 10, 2007

Some Of That...A Little Bit Of This, And Whatever's Left Over

Have you ever made a mess in the kitchen? Silly question, isn't it? I'm sure you've all experienced those disastrous "kitchen moments". I know I've had a few! For instance, one Saturday evening a few years ago. I was entertaining dinner guests. The dining table set and decorated to the hilt, an elaborate brass candelabra held centre stage on the table of eight.

Following the agreeably appetising first and second courses, the popping of corks, wine sipping (read "guzzling"), spirited conversation and laughter, the time had arrived for dessert. Merrily, I headed off to the kitchen where alone to my own devices I energetically shook a plastic container of cream. The cream needed to be thickened only slightly, not whipped. My guests remained seated at the dining table in the dining room immersed in conversation and wine, while I, in the kitchen, became immersed in cream! At a rapid rate of knots and with the force of a misguided missile, the top flew off the cream’s container. It’s amazing how far cream can spread. You should try it one night...perhaps not! Equally, mushroom sauce makes a similar mess when one drops a saucepan full of a hot, creamy mushroom sauce on to the kitchen floor. The evening that particular calamity occurred, the steak ended up being served with mustard on the side, minus sauce. I made no mention of the upwardly-mobile mushroom sauce and its vast range when I returned to my dinner guests. Until this day those guests remain completely unaware of the drama that unfolded in the kitchen, unless, of course, they read this post, which is unlikely. However just in case, purposely, I’ve divulged no names! It took me days to remove the mess from my open, country-style kitchen cupboards! And yes, I still prepare mushroom sauce and shake cream containers, but nowadays with extra care! I suggest you do similar….

Prawns & Asparagus Bruschetta

1 jar pesto sauce (you can make your own but there are some great varieties on the supermarket shelf these days)
1 sml bunch thin stalk asparagus
Thick slices of Italian or country bread
1-2 vine-ripened tomato diced
About 36 cooked prawns/shrimp
8 oz freshly-shredded parmesan cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil (I always wonder where they find that extra virgin!)
cracked pepper
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Balsamic vinegar

Combine olive oil and garlic in a small bowl; set aside. Peel and devein prawns; set aside.

Steam asparagus with water until desired tenderness, like slightly past
al dente. Slice bread into thick slices. Spread even coat of pesto sauce over one side.
Lightly toast (do not brown). Remove seeds from tomato; dice. When asparagus is done and pesto-coated bread slices are lightly toasted, break stalks approximately 3-4 inches in length and place 2-3 stalks on each bread slice. Place prawns on top of each slice. Sprinkle each with diced tomato and shredded parmesan cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper to taste. Serve warm/room temperature.

Fig and Goat Cheese Tart
Serves 8-10. You will need a 9 to 11 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

For the tart shell:
¾ cup plain (all-purpose) flour
¾ c. whole wheat self-raising flour
½ c. fine yellow cornmeal (not stone ground)
1 tblsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter, chopped into pieces
1 ½ tblsp. fresh rosemary, chopped or ¾ tblsp. dried
4 tblsp. ice water plus more as needed

For the filling:
8 oz. goat cheese
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup cream
500g (1 lb) fresh figs, trimmed and sliced crosswise
1 tblsp. honey
2 tblsp. red currant jelly (or strawberry or raspberry jam)

Make the shell: Preheat oven to 218-220C (425F). Add the flours, cornmeal, sugar and salt to a food processor; pulse to combine. Add the cold butter (straight from the fridge) and rosemary. Process until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with little clumps of butter still visible. Add the 4 tblsp. of water; pulse until just combined. Pinch a bit of dough with your fingers. If the dough holds together, it's done, otherwise add a bit more water, a half tablespoon at a time, until your dough just holds together. It should still be fairly dry and may seem a bit crumbly. As long as it holds together, you’ll be fine. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured cutting board and bring it together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Roll the dough into a large disc, about 1/8 inch thick. Then roll the dough so it is draped over the rolling pin and lay it back out over your tart pan. Gently press the dough into the edges of the pan and into the fluted sides. If your dough looks like a bit of a patchwork because it did not roll into a perfect circle, don’t worry. Once it is filled, no one will know. Run your rolling pin over the sharp edges of the pan to cut away any excess dough. Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove your shell from the freezer and prick all over with a fork. Put it on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until firm and just barely starting to brown. If the bottom of the tart starts to bubble up during baking, just prick the spot with a fork. Cool completely in the tart pan, then add the filling.

Make the filling: Preheat oven to 175C (350F). Add the goat cheese, ricotta, egg, salt and cream to the food processor. Process until you reach a smooth consistency. Transfer the goat cheese mixture to the cooled tart shell and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Arrange the figs in concentric circles starting at the outside of the tart and working your way to the center. Add the honey and red currant jelly to a saucepan over low heat. Cook stirring frequently until melted and combined. Use a pastry brush to dot the glaze all over the figs. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cheese is firm and the figs are softened. The glaze will bleed around the edges of the shell, but you will not have a soggy tart as the dough is incredibly firm and resilient. Cool on a wire rack, remove the tart from the pan and serve warm or at room temperature. Keeps tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Potato, Rosemary & Goat's Cheese Tarts

1 Sheet ready-made puff pastry

1 large potato

120g goat’s cheese sliced,

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves,

Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 200C. Cook the potato in a large saucepan of salted, boiling water for 20-25 minutes or until tender, but not falling apart. Drain, peel and cut into 5mm slices. Cut puff pastry into 4 squares. Top each with slices of potato, goat’s cheese and rosemary leaves. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste if you like. You can add and detract different toppings/fillings...whatever takes your fancy at the time.

Banana & Date Loaf
3 over-ripe bananas
2 Tbsp lemon juice
200 grams sour cream or yoghurt
300 ml sugar
3 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup pitted and chopped dates
400 ml plain flour (about 1-3/4 cups)
3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp Buderim candied ginger nibbles (optional...but a really nice additive!)

Peel bananas and mash bananas with a fork, sprinkle with lemon juice and put aside.
Whisk eggs with sugar until pale and frothy. Stir in sour cream. Mix dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger) and fold into the egg mixture together with the banana mush. Stir in candied ginger and dates. Pour the mixture into a prepared loaf tin and bake at 175C (350F) for about an hour. Test for doneness with a toothpick/skewer - it should come out clean and dry. Take the loaf out of the oven; let it cool for 5-10 minutes, then turn out the loaf and cool it completely on a metal rack.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Perfect One Day...Sublime The Next...

Guests who visited Hinchinbrook Island came from all walks of life, from overseas, intrastate and interstate. A few “name” people came for a “hide-away” break from the burdens of the “real world”. I love watching “Midsomer Murders” on television and am always happy when a new series arrives on our shores as it has at present. I may have mentioned in a previous post that John Nettles, the star of “Midsomer Murders” holidayed at the resort for a week. John was as nice a person in real life as he appears to be in this television series. Amongst the familiar faces and personalities were equally as nice and as interesting “normal” folk. One of the joys of the resort was everyone mingled together over evening drinks and dinner. There was no peer pressure and that’s the way I wanted it to be and orchestrated it to be. I treated the dinner guests as if they were guests in my own private dining room. How much or how little anyone had in their bank accounts mattered not at all. There was no “pose” and no “poseurs” (except two or three, but they were rapidly and subtly brought back down to earth with a jolt, with no prisoners taken!) Each guest was special in his or her own way.

A group of four arrived by sea plane one Saturday. Two women, both in their late fifties or early sixties, who had been friends for years I soon discovered, together with the daughter of one and the son of the other, stepped out of the Grumman Mallard into the punt, not quite sure of what lay ahead. The tentative looks upon their faces mirrored many who had gone before and of those yet to come.

Over dinner that evening, I spent a fair bit of time chatting with the new group at their table. Jo, the daughter of the Australian woman, worked in the film industry. A few years earlier she had worked on the production of “The Man from Snowy River”. Jo had some interesting stories to tell about the making of the movie and the magnificent “High Country” where the story was filmed. Sitting quietly, listening, but saying little, was Jamie, the son of one of the women. He was one of the most beautiful-looking young men I had ever seen…have ever seen. His blond hair, naturally streaked by the sun framed his near-perfect face. His clear green eyes displayed a youthful shyness. To match his good looks, he had the body of a Greek god. He and his mother were visiting Australia from Bellingham, way up north in Washington State, not far from Vancouver, British Columbia. To me, Jamie appeared burdened by his beauty. By no means was he vain, however, he seemed, to me, to hide from the world, a world that unfortunately in many cases, judges people on their appearance. Upon arriving in Australia, Jamie had gained part-time employment in Melbourne to help cover the costs of his vacation, a job he’d given up to come to the island with his mother and her friends.

Over dinner, I drew him into the conversation. He’d not long turned nineteen years of age and was taking a year’s “sabbatical” before going to college. During the following week of the group’s stay, I continued my attempt to draw Jamie “out of himself” at every opportunity. I realized it must have been a bit difficult for him being on holidays with his mother, her best friend and Jo, the daughter, who was in her late twenties. Not an ideal age group with whom a young man should be spending his holidays. On top of the obvious, Jo appeared to be in “recovery” from some unspoken malady, broken-heart or both, so she wasn’t the brightest of company for anyone, let alone a lad of nineteen. The day of their departure arrived. I took Jamie aside and told him if he ever wanted a job during his stay in Australia, to not hesitate in calling me. Somehow I would find a place for him on the island.

A pleasant surprise awaited me on the end of the telephone line a couple of weeks or so later when I received a telephone call from Jamie asking me if my job offer still stood.

“Of course it does!” I answered. “I’m so glad you made the decision. When can you get here?”

Within a few days, Jamie arrived to the island. At first, my staff was wary. Bronnie, for one, said to me when I announced that he would be joining them, “You mean that guy who was holidaying here a couple of weeks ago…the good-looking one?”

“Yep..that’s him,” I told her.

“But, he’s stuck-up!” Bronnie retorted petulantly.

“How would you know that, Bronnie? You don’t know him. Just because he’s a handsome young man, it doesn’t make him “stuck up!” I said, more than a little agitated by her prejudicial attitude. “Give the boy a chance when he gets here. I expect…I want you and the rest of the crew to give him a “fair go”. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I got to know Jamie when he stayed here, you didn’t! He's a lovely young'll see!”

In no time at all, the staff, both male and female fell in love with Jamie. He was such a fine young man one couldn’t help but fall under his spell. He had absolutely no airs or graces about him whatsoever. David, my wild, cleaver-swinging chef and Jamie became great mates. It was the best thing that Jamie could have done, come to work at the island resort. It certainly made his visit to Australia memorable. Even hard-nosed Bronnie wilted in his presence and became a good friend. Daina, well, she fell hard. It was much more than “friendship” that Daina felt towards Jamie. She became smitten. It wasn’t difficult to understand. If I’d been her age, I would have done so, too. As it was I felt very protective towards Jamie. He was special. He glowed and all who met him couldn't help but be affected by his unique aura.

Late one afternoon as I approached the restaurant area after changing into my evening attire (smart-casual), I heard a lot of ruckus and much loud laughter. There in the pool in front of me, David and Jamie, dressed up as pirates, were sailing one of the island’s small (tiny) catamarans. They were smaller than a Hobie cat! I blew a fuse, even though inside I could see the funny side, but at the precise moment I kept a lid on it. I ordered them out of the pool and to take the craft back down to the beach where it belonged. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. They were like two little boys being harshly reprimanded by their mother! To this day, I laugh about it, each time I recall that afternoon.

It wasn’t really about them that made me angry. Only a couple of days before their innocent hi-jinx, a guest, unbeknown by me, had sailed one of the small wind-riders out far beyond the island’s permitted perimeters. Restrictions had to be put on to the area guests could sail. I didn’t have the necessary safety and rescue teams in case of emergencies. The small craft were really only suitable for playing around in close to the resort beach.

Bob, the skipper of the powered Reef Cat that was contracted to the resort to deliver guests, provisions etc., to the island and who also took the island guests for day trips to Ramsay Bay, the Brook Islands, Garden and Goold Island, and when the winds permitted, Zoe Bay, was coming back to Hinchinbrook from a day out with guests at the Brook Islands around 3.30 pm one afternoon when he passed the guest heading out to sea. Bob hailed the lone sailor asking if he’d like a tow back. The errant sailor shook his head and said he didn’t need any assistance. Bob continued back to the resort where he reported his sighting to me. I growled. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so stupid, but on second thought, I knew I should never be surprised by what some people will do!

I scanned the ocean, but could only see the outline of the Brook Islands on the distant, eastern horizon. There was no sign of the lone sailor. Dusk fell, followed quickly by the darkness of night. Ted jumped aboard “Lady of the Island”, the little island Abalone and headed out to sea. “Lady” wasn’t well-equipped for night travel, but Ted insisted he’d go in search for our thoughtless guest. By that stage, I couldn’t care less what happened to the guest, I was so angered by his arrogant stupidity. My concern was Ted’s safety, not the fool who had displayed little regard for anyone else, including himself.

Around 9 pm that night, Ted pulled into Orchid Beach, the resort’s main beach, with the not-so-ancient-mariner on board. The guy was in his forties and should have had more sense. I didn’t hold back in telling him so, either! I told him if he so much as put his little toe near the ocean I’d have his guts for garters! As far as I was concerned he was confined to quarters for the rest of his stay on the island. He was very contrite after my tirade. For the duration of his stay, he was meek and mild and on his best behaviour. I think his girlfriend had given him a tongue-lashing as well!

So when I spotted David and Jamie in the pool with the sailing craft so soon after that incident, I saw “red”. Their actions made my words to the foolish guest redundant. Anyway, my anger didn’t last for long. We laughed about it once they returned the boat back down to where it belonged. Jamie’s time on the island was good for everyone. He won the hearts of my staff, both male and female. Also, I think it served an important time in his growing up.

It was a Saturday. A journalist from the “Townsville Bulletin” was expected on the Reef Cat, which was arriving around 9 am. He was visiting the island that day to gather information for an exposé he was writing about the island for his newspaper. I planned to lunch on mud crabs with him as we discussed the business of the day. The telephone in my office rang. A friend of Jamie’s was on the other end of the telephone, calling from Bellingham in the States. Jamie’s father had passed away suddenly. Hurriedly, I went in search of Jamie. I took him to the beach, sat him down, and then told him the devastating news. For a while I stayed with him, quietly keeping him company to ensure he was okay. I then left him to his own thoughts. A little while later he came into my office, by that time I’d organized a flight south for him to link to a flight back to the States, the same day/night. Jim, the journalist, offered to drive Jamie from Cardwell to Townsville airport. Bob agreed to make an extra earlier trip back to the mainland taking both Jim and Jamie with him. It was all systems go for the next couple of hours. Jamie hurriedly packed together his belongings and brief, grief-stricken farewells were exchanged between him and his work-mates. Everyone was upset, not the least Daina, who was almost inconsolable. All of us had lost a good friend, a fun co-worker, who was genuinely a nice young man.

That evening the staff got together and a small party “for” Jamie eventuated. We toasted Jamie's future and in his absence, we wished him well.

Some of the staff and I heard from him a couple of times after he returned to the States, but as life has a habit of interfering, contact was eventually lost.

(I don't know why a portion of my post came up in smaller font...I've tried to correct it, but for reasons known only to blogger, I'm unable to rectify the situation!)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

More Tales Of Paradise....

Watching a television programme late yesterday afternoon, tears filled my eyes. Over the years I’ve lived in some beautiful areas, not the least being Hinchinbrook Island and its surrounds. Yes, you guessed it! The programme was about Hinchinbrook Island and Silkwood, a small town north of the island.

Friends of mine lived in Silkwood, a sugar cane area, for a short time while their new home was being built on acreage at nearby Japoonvale. Mena Creek, with its wondrously, magical Spanish castle is just “up the road” a bit. I’ve written about Mena Creek previously in this blog.

Ted, my maintenance man-come-python-remover-drot-in-the-ocean-drencher, originated from Silkwood, often spending his time off spear-fishing in the waters off Murdering Point and Kurrimine Beach (other friends of mine owned and managed the Kurrimine Beach Motel…I had a wild week there one night helping them demolish their wine cellar, but that’s another story!), which is east of the highway, opposite Silkwood. My staff and I would love it when Ted took time off, because invariably he’d arrive back to the island with a large esky or two full of Painted Crays upon which we would dine in style in the staff room, away from the prying eyes of the island guests. “Painted Crays are magnificently armed and brilliantly coloured. They are vegetarians and it is only possible to net or spear them.

As an aside…the male half of the couple who owned the Kurrimine Motel was Ian who had been best man alongside me as attendant at Margaret and Denis’ wedding that I described to you not long ago in a chapter of my “Reaching Out To The City Lights”. Again just proving life does, indeed, go around in circles!

Back to the painted crayfish…after one of his trips to Silkwood and Kurrimine Beach, Ted arrived back to the island armed with an esky full of crays just in time for one of my staff members’ birthday. Daina (correct spelling…pronounced “Day-na”) turned eighteen the day of Ted’s return. I’d arranged a party for her to be held at my little abode on the island. In my not-so-infinite-wisdom I had declared it to be a “Toga Party”! David, my head chef, unburdened Ted of his load and proceeded to prepare the crays for the staff and my consumption. Eagerly, we gathered around the large staff table, drooling as we waited the festive feast. Our poor guests didn’t partake in our tasty fare and we didn’t tell them what they were missing out on, either!

As soon as our dinner was completed and we were replete, my staff, those who were not on kitchen and table duties, rushed off to the laundry to clothe themselves in togas made from the older stocks of bed sheets. In the meantime, I visited my dinner guests, joining and chatting with them at their tables. One by one, my “kids” wandered nonchalantly through the restaurant area donned in their “togas” en route to my house, much to the guests' delight. There was quite an “ado” as each made a detour to the bar before progressing out of the restaurant to the track leading across to where the party was to occur.

To my surprise and then laughter, the last two members of my staff to parade through the restaurant were Ted, followed soon after by my brother, Graham. At the appearance of Graham, I heard one of the guests utter, “There goes another one!”

Seeing my brother dressed that way, for one thing was surprise enough for me, but to see him strut through the restaurant with a wide grin on his face really “knocked me for a sixer”! Such a display was not his normal style. If you’d known my brother, you would understand completely!

Eventually, we all gathered together out on the deck at my house. I was the only “civilian” present, opting out of wearing a toga. Generously, the island guests didn’t linger long in the restaurant and soon my bar, restaurant and kitchen staff joined the party. David, my chef, and the others who'd been on shift arrived armed with platters of tasty tid-bits. By that time, the party was well under way. David, being the class clown he always was, arrived suitably attired with the addition of two lemons attached to the ends of a piece of string that was tied around his waist. The lemons dangled suggestively in front of a certain part of his anatomy. This turned out to be a regular party trick of his. Somewhere during the course of events, he’d grab a meat mallet or cleaver to ceremoniously smash “his lemons” to smithereens, much to the delighted amusement of his devoted fans and bystanders!

What a fun party, it was, one enjoyed by us all. I think Daina will always remember her eighteenth birthday spent on Hinchinbrook Island. Where else could she have had such a feast of fresh painted cray for no cost, followed by a toga party to end all toga parties, with the sounds and view of the ocean on either side of the venue?