Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Darling Buds of Spring

Ahh! I love the scent of rosemary.

Purr! I love getting a tan on my tum! (Permission to quote given by Shama and Remy)

The cats and I are in hiding this weekend. It is "Springtime On the Mountain" this weekend, starting Friday just past. My landlords have opened the property for those in the community and from areas far-reaching to come and wander around, making the obligatory murmurs of wonder and awe at their garden in all its glory.

With a broad ribbon of red and white forming barricades of where the can stroll, it kind of looks a little like a crime scene out of "CSI" or "Law and Order"! Fortunately, my cabin is in a roped off area, not allowing the gawking crowds to invade my privacy. I feel a little like the "Mad Woman of Chaillot". I think I'm becoming eccentric enough to fit the bill!

Wanting to fire up my Hibachi to barbecue a chicken later, I'm a bit hesitant to do it earlier as the aroma might draw the madding crowds to my front patio. If I had a few more chickens, I could offer them a price! I've picked some fresh herbs from my vegetable plot, which I am going to finely chop, add to some butter and crushed garlic. Then, very carefully, I will lift the skin on the chicken which has been cut down its back-bone and opened out flat and rub the butter mixture in between the skin and flesh. Firstly, the chicken, skin side down, will be placed on the hot grill over hot charcoal to brown, and then flipped for the balance of the cooking time.

By the way, I intend laying some long stems of rosemary and marjoram over the coals, too, to further enhance the flavour of the chicken.

I have a large four-burner gas barbecue with hot plate and grill, but I've had this unscratchable urge lately to cook over hot coals. Exploring through a legendary junk-yard up here on the mountain the other day, I found exactly what I was searching for, although I didn't know it until my eyes landed upon it. A very old, rusty, decrepit base of a Hibachi barbecue lay hidden amongst other cast-offs under a pile of rubble. A thrill of discovery tingled through my body. I had to have it! Then, to top off the simple joy of my success, I found a metal stand, about hip-high on which the ratty old barbecue base can sit on, allowing for ease of cooking. I've scraped and cleaned up the tray with a metal brush. Eventually, I'll paint the stand with "Bristol Green", so it blends in with the plants on my patio. After I've burned a few coals in the tray a few times, no one will know the difference, whether it was a beaten-up, old unwanted relic or not! I've given it a new lease on, I'm happy!

I believe there are not many among us who don't enjoy the ambience of an open fire. And let's be honest, food does taste exceptionally wonderful cooked over hot coals.

So, I'll wait until the madding crowds have dispersed before I fire up the "barbie", open a bottle of wine or they might descend upon me as hungry, thirsty hordes!

In the meantime, I'm going to curl up with my book...and wait!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Italian Invasion...Chapter Six (Final & Last Chapter)

Being a member of the “management” at Ramada Reef Resort, my office was situated amongst an enclave of over-inflated egos upstairs on the second floor. To the left of my niche, across a narrow common area, Carol, the secretary of the General Manager reigned in all her glory. This “supreme being”, flitting back and forth from her monarchical throne, rapaciously held the destiny of the resort and all those who served it in her claw-like hands, or so she believed. Often, taking a break from her despotic duties, Carol would lean against the door frame of my office, or pull up a chair in front of my desk to share her wealth of gossip. Then, now, before and in between, I’ve always tried to shun gossip and those who marvel in the unnecessary, unbecoming, vulgar hobby. I’ve never been so naïve to think that I’m immune from flippant, loquacious tongues. Why should I be so unique not to be the subject of such inane wind-bagging? Carol’s gossip train obviously included me when I was out of earshot. Reticently, I half-listened to her mindless prattle, frequently politely excusing myself by saying I needed to visit the chefs or Fritz, the Food and Beverage Manager whether on pretense or otherwise. Anything to escape her clutches.

Carol was a slave to fashion, although I was never sure who her “Master of Fashion” was. Being of very slim frame, her legs resembled those of a predatory stork and when clad in various garishly striped, coloured or fishnet panti-hose they were quite frightening when one was confronted with them! Instead of disguising her legs, the stockings unflatteringly enhanced their unattractiveness
Gradually, I began spending more time in Fritz’s office. It soon became apparent my natural progression would be to move in with him. His office was large enough to accommodate both of us. He and I worked together in harmony with me being the “Functions & Conference Manager”. It was agreed that my idea of sharing his office with him was a good idea. Shortly afterwards, I became his unofficial “Assistant Food & Beverage Manager” along with my other role. Finally I’d escaped the suffocating atmosphere of the offices upstairs. My new “home-away-from-home” was located on the lower level, not far along from the main kitchen of the resort. It was a logical move as my main dealings were with Fritz and the chefs. Plus, it was much more fun “down there” away from those who took themselves far too seriously “upstairs”. Fritz and I became the renegades, “comrades in arms”. Our office was full of good cheer and frolicsome fun, minus vitriolic hearsay. It became the meeting place of those of like minds and seemed constantly filled with laughter and high spirits.

One morning the resort was on virtual lock-down as the staff all went into survival mode for fire drill. My role in the drill was to play a guest trapped in one of the accommodation rooms. The room attendants had to search the rooms to ensure no “guest” was vulnerable and then to escort the “guest” to safety. I ensconced myself in the bath tub, figuring that would be a secure spot in case of fire. The door of the room opened and I heard my would-be rescuer fumbling around. After only a few seconds searching, my “saviour” departed, not looking in the bathroom where I remained hidden. Alas, I “perished” in the “fire”!
After the drill was over, my name was put up on the notice board as one who had “perished in the resort fire”. Passing a housekeeper in the hallway, she stopped in stunned silence, looking at me with her mouth agape.

“Oh!” She said in total seriousness and surprise. “I read that you had died in the fire!” I burst out laughing, and then she realized what she had said. People never cease to amaze!

I knew that the clock was ticking on my relationship, my affair with Andrea. There were times when we were together that he would talk about “our future”, but I always nonchalantly tossed the subject aside, changing the direction of the conversation. I knew inside that we had no future together. Andrea was much younger than I and I knew what we had was only a dalliance, even though a “dalliance” that had lasted almost eighteen months. Many times he talked about my visiting his homeland, spending time in the Emilia-Romagna region, meeting his Nonna, his mother, sister, his friends and his father in Bagnacavallo. He wanted to take me to Venice. It all sounded fairy-tale romantic, but I realized that was all it was, a fairy-tale.

Andrea returned once more and we picked up our relationship where we’d left it a couple of months earlier. He was as beautiful to me as he’d always been. At night we’d sit out under the stars, stroll along the beach guided by an incandescent full moon. We’d grasp at the reflection of the luminaries, glimmering like diamonds upon the water. Kicking at the fluorescent phosphorescence at the ocean’s edge, we’d fall into each other’s arms, indifferent to the earth and those on it.

Gradually I felt a shift in beings. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt a breaking-away from the life we’d been sharing. Was it my fault? Or was it his fault? Perhaps, it was a bit of both. Life took on a superficial, inert atmosphere. The curtain, ready to be drawn on the final chapter in the lives we’d shared, trembled in the wings.

Bringing it to a head one Saturday evening about three months after his return to me, Andrea paled and fidgeted when I broached the futility of our relationship. I was plunging the knife not only into his body, but also my own. Silently and motionless, he watched me as I spoke, agony clear in his eyes. Beneath his solemn stillness, I detected a small sign of relief or did I imagine it to allay my guilt? We sat talking, sometimes quietly crying, until the sun made its first quivering appearance on the horizon. As soon as it turned into a molten globe blasting across the sky, too powerful to look directly at, we ran down to the beach and plunged our exhausted bodies and souls into the sea.

A couple of weeks later, Andrea and I said our final farewells at Cairns airport, both knowing and understanding we would never see each other again. It was bitter-sweet for us both as we held hands across the table, waiting for his flight to be announced, ignoring the coffee at our elbows as it grew colder and colder.

A few months, perhaps a year later, late one night I received a telephone call from Andrea. Forever gallant and mischievous in his manner, he asked if I missed him.

“No, not at all!” I replied in half-truth.

“I suppose you’ve got yourself a new boyfriend,” he continued cheekily.

“Hundreds!” I laughingly retorted.

It was the last time we talked. But, I do often think of him, remembering the passion, the laughter and the good times we’d shared, wondering where his life path has led him. I wonder if he ever thinks of me. I wish him well. I am glad I “had an Italian love affair”.
The End

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Pleasures of Nature

The birds around my cabin are a little confused. I think they should all go into therapy. Whenever I call my two cats, the kookaburras, magpies, butcher-birds and currajongs flock to the trees at my back door, the clothes line and a post at the edge of my vegetable/herb garden. Perhaps I'm being a bit hasty in calling them "confused". Smart is probably the correct description!

Each time I venture outside the birds spot me from afar, high up in their "look-out" posts. Within seconds, they've taken up their respective positions in the branches above, some milling around on the ground close to my feet, in total ignorance of my cats. Remy and Shama look at the birds of a feather disdainfully as uninvited interlopers, but they make no attempt to dissuade their expectant presence. I'm sure, though, if they, my cats, could work out a way to pick up a stone, they would kill two birds with one stone! Remy and Shama have decorum, however, and have been taught never to over-step the boundaries I've set. A guttural "ahhhh-ahhh" from me is enough warning for them. With a shake of their heads and a flick of their tails, Remy and Shama cast me looks of disgust as they walk away.

The pecking order amongst my family of native birds begins with the kookaburras, followed by the magpies, butcher-birds, with the currajongs waiting their turn after the former group have had their fill. Every now and then Mr. and Mrs. Crow make their appearance and they are always at the end of the line, which is quite amazing, really. Describing this phenomenon to friends the other day, I argued at length that this was so. My friends didn't believe that the crows waited until last, at the end of the pecking order. It is so, at least, with this particular jet-black, well-mannered family of two. Almost every day my feathered vertebrate friends receive the meat my furry rascals haven't eaten and the off-cuts. There is enough for everyone.

When the rain tumbles down, a rare event lately, and when gusty, vigorous winds cause chaos, my heart goes out to my "outside" friends, but I tell myself that somewhere out there in their homes in trees they inhabit, they have found their safe sanctuary against nature's forces.

Kookaburra drawing by me...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Italian Invasion....Chapter Five

With all the pre-Christmas functions and Christmas Day “done and dusted”, New Year’s Eve rapidly approached. A rock-country music infusion party was planned for the night, with two bands hired for the evening’s entertainment at the resort. The rock band would play their bracket, followed by the country music group and so on throughout the night to allow for no breaks in the momentum of the celebrations. Outside around the pool area gas barbecues offering a broad range of sizzling foods such as local seafood, steaks, sausages, ribs, chops, burgers and barbecued corn cobs, accompanied by a wide range of fresh, garden salads and tantalizing desserts catered to the madding, party-loving crowd. Portable bars also were strategically placed around the pool, taking pressure off the interior bars.

During our management meetings leading up to the event, I had suggested and fought for laser lights to be installed on the upstairs’ balconies to co-coordinately flash over and across the resort’s massive pool, but I fought a losing battle with the then Sales and Marketing Manager, who had a false god-like impression of himself. I also suggested that we do up the stage area that was to house the country band with hay bales, wagon wheels and a weather-beaten skull or two of bullocks. He cringed and readied himself for a further battle with me over this plan, but I won that round. One day leading up to New Year’s Eve, the Front Office Manager, who had become a good friend and co-conspirator, and I went off on a “beg, steal or borrow” expedition in search of the stage decorations. We’d borrowed the resort’s “ute” and, a few hours later, arrived back with its tray loaded with hay bales, a wagon wheel and two, much-maligned, sun-bleached bullock skulls. The look of disgust on Donaghy’s face, the sour Sales and Marketing Manager, made us laugh and more determined to achieve the desired “country” effect. To his chagrin, the decorations received great admiration from the party-goers on the night. Some people just don’t know how to have fun!

Andrea joined the revellers. He thoroughly enjoyed his first Aussie New Year’s Eve.

From the wide smiles on the happy faces of the jovial crowd they, too, enjoyed the evening, which had been hugely successful.

All good things come to an end and soon after New Year’s Eve, Andrea had to return to Italy once more. So it was back to life on my own without my lively, fun inamorata to distract my leisure hours.

Before he left Andrea arranged for me to meet with a group of Italian tourists who’d been traveling Australia on a tour organized by his father’s travel business. They were arriving in Cairns a week or two, after Andrea returned home, and, fortunately, would be in the area on my day off. Finalising the necessary details, I hired a Tarago van from Avis and headed off to pick up the group from their inner-city resort, “The Cairns Colonial Club”, (two pictures above) at the pre-arranged time. Soon the eight non-English speaking, boisterous Italians and non-Italian speaking me were merrily on our way out of Cairns en route to Port Douglas, seventy kilometers north along one of the most beautiful strips of highway in Australia.

One of my guests for the day was a dentist from Rome. Fortunately, he spoke some understandable English and he volunteered himself to be the “translator” during our escapade. We were all soon to learn, however, that language didn’t impose a barrier upon us and somehow we had little trouble understanding each other. I’ve always been told I “talk with my hands”, so I guess that helped a bit!

Not knowing quite what my group of wayfarers expected from the day or where and how exactly they wanted to spend their day, for a while I was in a quandary. Did they want to dine in a fancy restaurant for lunch? Were the very commercial tourist-directed stores on their agenda? Always preferring to attach a problem straight on, rather than work up a lather I asked them point-blank what they would like to do. With lots of head-shaking and “No, no, no’s”, I took the bull by the horns and then suggested that we buy some cheese, salami, olives etc., along with crunchy bread sticks, baguettes, liquid refreshments and with our “picnic” supplies safely in our possession, we find a few shady palm trees and she-oaks along the ocean front at Four Mile Beach. This was received with unanimous agreement. Outside the Post Office Hotel in the main street, some suggested we buy bottles of wine to help wash down our lunch. At that stage, my Italian friends had never heard of our ubiquitous, infamous wine casks. Shaking my head at their “bottles of wine” idea, I purchased a cold cask of dry white wine and a cask of red. They were suitably impressed. Running back into the nearby, small supermarket I bought some paper cups. What’s a true picnic without paper cups? Armed with our supplies we all piled back into the Tarago and headed to the beach-front.

My decision to “break bread”, washed down with wine at the foreshore overlooking the Coral Sea had been one of my better ideas, I must admit. My merry band of Italians was in absolute awe. We sat in the shade of the trees on the grass verge leading to the wide stretch of golden sand with a gentle sea breeze wafting softly, keeping us cool. Some wandered along the soft sand, wading in the shallows. Others lazed languidly in the dappled sunlight. All said it was the best day and time they’d had during their holiday tour of Australia. It was their last day on our sunny shores as they were flying back home to Italy the following morning. At that time, and I imagine it remains pretty much the same these days, only the well-to-do Italians traveled “Down Under” for their vacations, so this group who had been entrusted into my car had spent their time while holiday here staying in classy hotels and resorts, dining in the best restaurants. But, to them, that glorious, relaxed, fun-filled, “basic” day had been the best, and I’m sure, one that has remained uppermost in their memories of their holiday in Australia.

Reluctantly, it was time to turn the Tarago around and head back to Cairns city. With a van full of enthusiastic, enraptured day-trippers, their enjoyment of the day so completely obvious, I drove along the meandering coast road filled with contentment. A smile on my face and in my heart reflected the feelings of us all. Around 4.30pm, I deposited my captivated, blissful assemblage at the front lobby of their resort. Thanking me profusely, I was crushed by hugs and overcome with kisses to my cheeks. I promised each and everyone of them that I would be at the Cairns airport the next morning to bid them farewell. I fulfilled my promise. They were delighted to see me and a little surprised, I think, that I took the time to say “Arrivederci”, “Ciao” and “Good-bye”. Even though we had known each other for part of one day only, it was an emotive leave-taking. One lady amongst the group was from San Marino. She gave me a 1986 500 Lire coin, as a token to remember her by. It remains in my memorabilia to this day as a very fond reminder of the wonderful people I shared those few hours with during that unexpected, wondrous trip to Port Douglas.

A couple of weeks later, I received a telephone call from Giuseppe, Andrea’s father, thanking me extravagantly for taking such good care of his clients. He told me each and every one of them had reported back to him, raving about their “best day” spent in Australia.

My work at the resort, once more, took over my life. Long, busy days and nights, with some days extending up to sixteen hours, filled my time, leaving little left over for other pleasures except sleep. With only “Pushkin” my ginger cat to keep me company at home, I missed the liveliness of Andrea’s presence. With him in my life, my life was never dull. His natural exuberance and zest for living was constant, even when we relaxed together listening to music.

The telephone interrupted my reverie. Andrea’s voice greeted me from the other end, from across the ocean and land, he was returning to Australia once again. My heart somersaulted with joy and eager anticipation.

To be continued....

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Italian Invasion...Chapter Four

The lead-up to the Christmas/New Year season had been a busy one at the resort and therefore a busy time for me organising the many and various functions, The Sunday before Christmas Day the owners of the resort hosted a party for their lawyers, accountants, business associates and the like. For the day, I decorated the large, main function room and the al fresco area alongside in different themes, depicting the foods of the countries. One section was set up to reflect a French patisserie, another thrilled and teased offering Italian delights (not Andrea), particularly foods from Emilia-Romagna, the region from where Andrea hailed. I did pick his brains and passed the authentic information on to the chefs. Emilia-Romagna’s guilty secret is the invention of ravioli, tagliatelle and tortellini. Lasagne can be added to that list of guilty pleasures, too! And who can leave out the rich, tasty ragù otherwise known as Bolognese sauce? In Emilia is the city of Parma, world-renowned for its proscuitto or Parma ham, and, of course, having given its name to parmesan cheese. And cop this coppa comes from this region, too, not to mention Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, aka real balsamic vinegar which is created with love, skill and patience. Patience, because true balsamic vinegar made from Trebbiano grapes comes into being over a period of at least twelve years. .Modena also is well-known to us all for generously giving us the magnificent maestro, Luciano Pavarotti. So when you raise a glass of Sangiovese, a ruby-red wine from the Emilia-Romagna region, don’t forget to toast the region’s generous gifts.

The bounty of local seafood graced an area decorated with fish nets, large clam shells, glass buoys, even a small dinghy graced the tables offering guests a wide variety of fresh seafood delicacies. Next to the seafood display a wooden buffet-hutch and country-style dining tables offered typical Aussie tucker such as lamingtons, pavlovas, mini-meat pies, bite-size sweet corn fritters with a mango-chilli dipping sauce, hot damper, bowls of tropical fruit salad, Neenish tarts and lemon meringue pies. With lots of sweet talking and fulfilled promises of promoting his work, I coerced a Cairns furniture-maker to loan the resort, free of charge, some of its wares for the day. It was quite a spectacular and grandiose exercise getting the furniture to and from the resort, but it was worthwhile for all of those concerned!

Outside on the paved courtyards, shaded by dense, verdant palms, the area had been transformed into a miniature Thailand. Thai Airlines had been very generous when I asked them for decorative pieces and large, glossy posters. Colourful paper umbrellas competed with the beauty of the lush tropical foliage surrounding the function room and resort pool. The quantity of tropical flowers and orchids Ramada hired fortnightly from a local nursery to decorate the foyer and lobby etc., was increased for the day to add to the Thai theme. Samples of Thai food were on offer as guests wandered from theme to theme.

The plant nursery came to the aid of the party, not only in supplying the orchids and tropical flowers but also in supplying halved, empty, wooden wine barrels, some of which I lined with hay and filled with red wine. Others were lined with thick, heavy-duty plastic sheeting, filled with ice to keep the champagne and white wines cold. Beer was kept icy-cold in large ice-filled eskies strategically dotted around the function area.

I even roped Andrea in for the day, to be paid on casual rates, to help man the eskies. Fritz, the food and beverage manager, kindly agreed to him working for the day. It not only earned Andrea some cash, but it gave him invaluable experience in a small area of Australian hospitality and tourism.

The “powers-that-be” were very happy with their Christmas party as were the invited guest. It had been a very successful event.

By the time, Boxing Day, arrived I gratefully grabbed it by both hands and held on tightly, as it was to be my only day off from a couple of weeks prior to Christmas until after New Year. A “No Vacancy” sign, together with “Gone Fishin” and “Do No Disturb” signs were put up on the front and back doors of my townhouse. Andrea took over the reins, not allowing me to lift a finger all day. Late in the afternoon, we strolled the beach hand in hand. A most pleasant surprise awaited me when we reached the southern end of the beach. Andrea insisted we sit awhile on the low sand dunes under She-Oak trees, between the beach and vacant parkland to the rear. Unknown to me when I was taking a nap earlier in the afternoon, he had driven down to the parkland and hidden an eskie filled with ice, champagne, cheese, olives, salami, cherries, apricots and crackers. In a well-sealed container were a couple of crunchy bread rolls. Andrea, like most Italians, if not all Italians, loved bread. Bread became a staple in my household, more than it had ever been. Hardly a meal went by without bread as a main part of it. About the only time, Andrea didn’t eat bread was with a meal of pasta.

You can imagine my surprise, when he arrived back to where I was sitting, with an eskie in his arms! I was agog as he opened its lid and took out a bottle of champagne. He laughed at the look on my face as he handed me two glass flutes. That was probably one of the most thoughtful, romantic gestures anyone has ever done for me.

With only the mellow, calming sounds of the waves gently lapping the shore and the birds calling their final farewells as they wended their way home at day’s end, Andrea and I could have been the only people left in the world that afternoon.

To be continued...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Let's Eat, Drink And Be Merry!

I went on a “date” last night! I took the path of least resistance and said “Yes” to a dinner invitation. An old “flame” of mine from Noosa is in town for the weekend. For ages he’s been urging to visit the mountain and me. As he has a meeting down at the Gold Coast today (surf lifesaving business), it was a good opportunity for us to catch up. He’s down at the coast as I write so I thought I’d sneak in a post for you. He’s due back later this afternoon. I’m preparing a barbecue dinner for us this evening as the nights (and days) here are absolutely brilliant at present. I’ve got some fresh, green prawns to throw on the Barbie “Crocodile Dundee-style” as starters, followed by a couple of thick steaks that look tender, juicy and very appetizing. The prawns are presently marinating in olive oil, a sprinkling or two of crushed chilli, loads of garlic, chopped shallots and a dash or four of a light soy sauce. I’m going to cook large field mushroom caps filled with a blue cheese, pancetta, diced Italian parsley and thickened cream mixture on the barbecue, together with corn on the cob, “smashed potatoes" with fresh rosemary roasted in the oven and a tossed salad on the side. I’ve got quite a few fresh limes at the moment so Margaritas will the cocktail of choice as we sit and ponder the setting of the sun.

As for the “date”, I donned my gladrags and we decided to patronize a restaurant around the corner and up the road from where I live, “The Polish Place”. There we were offered a wide choice of imported Polish vodkas. With our perfectly chilled vodka shots in hand, we sat outside on the rear deck area over the restaurant overlooking the valley below to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range beyond, as pictured above. The evening was far too pleasant to dine indoors, so we remained outside for the duration of the evening. The tables are well-spaced allowing for a certain amount of intimacy where one can hold a conversation without the rest of the world listening in.

I had one of my all-time favourite starters, Marinated Herrings in Sour Cream. I convinced my friend to try it too, and then he decided he’d have similar as well with our main courses. We were not disappointed with our choices. Years ago in Brisbane when I worked for Kolotex, John and I often took clients for business lunches at a German restaurant, named “The Heidelberg”, which was situated in Edward Street. I would always have this dish as an entrée, followed by their delicious Sauerbraten. Some would say I got stuck in a groove, but the chef at “The Heidelberg” cooked these dishes so well, I could see no reason to change my habit!

So you see, it's quite a delicious weekend I am having!

Herring Salad

6 Pickled herring, drained 1 large Onion, peeled and chopped 1 Garlic clove, crushed 6 Eggs (hard-cooked), peeled and chopped 1 Apple, cored and chopped 1 teaspoon Lemon juice 1 cup Sour cream ¼ teaspoon Salt ¼ teaspoon Pepper 2 tablespoon Dill or parsley (fresh), chopped

Cut herring into small cubes. Mix herring with onion, eggs, apple and lemon juice. Combine sour cream, garlic, salt and pepper; add to herring mixture and mix well. Sprinkle with dill or parsley. Serve with rye bread.

Seared Pork Medallions with Braised Fennel

Pork tenderloin, about a 500g (1lb)
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, pulverized
4 tablespoons coarse mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 fennel bulb
1 medium onion, peeled
coarse salt
1 cup vegetable broth, unseasoned
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons butter
olive oil
hot chilli sauce
fish sauce

Preheat the oven to 220C (450F). Brown the pork tenderloin on all sides, including the ends, in a hot skillet with a small amount of oil. This will take 5 to 8 minutes. Remove to a side plate; allow to cool for a few minutes. Mix the mustard and horseradish and spread all over the pork. Then sprinkle on the rosemary and fennel seed, pressing the herbs into the mustard/radish spread to keep it in place. Sprinkle with salt. Place the pork back in the skillet and put it into oven 10-12 minutes, uncovered. Remove the skillet from the oven, cover the pan and let the pork rest while you make the braised fennel.

Remove the outer sheath of the fennel. Use a mandolin or a very skillfully-handled knife to cut the fennel and the onion into very thin slices. Place in a saucepan with the broth, wine and 2 tablespoons of the butter; bring to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer and braise, covered, for about 20 minutes; drain, reserving the broth; set the braised fennel aside and keep warm. Return the broth to the pan, bring to a boil and reduce by half. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Remove the pork from the pan and slice it in medallions 3/4" - 1" thick (they will be pink inside). Heat the pan to very hot; add two tablespoons of olive oil and then the pork medallions, placed on their cut sides. Sear for 90 seconds without disturbing, and then turn for 90 seconds more. Remove to a warm plate. Pour the fennel liquid into the pan and stir to loosen any browned bits in the pan. Boil rapidly for a minute or two, and then stir in the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Season to taste with fish sauce and chilli sauce.

To serve, spread a bed of fennel on a platter. With tongs, dredge the pork medallions in the hot broth, turning to coat, then place on the fennel. Spoon remaining broth over the pork and fennel. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, if desired. (Sauerkraut could be used instead of the fennel).

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Italian Invasion....Chapter Three

After a long bout of self-questioning and decision-making about my tenure managing the resort on Hinchinbrook Island, particularly after the death of the baby, I concluded it was time for me to move on, to relocate to the mainland. Cairns was my first and only choice to begin a new chapter and adventure. The unnecessary, tragic death of the newborn, which I’ve written about in earlier posts titled, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” back in February this year, continued to haunt me and irritate me. “Q’s” attitude at the time had angered me, and that anger still burned within me. Any respect I had had for “Q” disappeared, never again to reappear. As much as I still loved the island and the role that I played, the dark shadow of the infant’s death persistently, consistently hovered like a spell in the background. The acute anger I’d felt never quite left me.

A few months had passed by since that fateful night before, at last, I took the step to move on. I felt a hollowness leaving my beloved island, but I was driven by a desire to begin life anew. New surroundings, a new job, a new adventure, my life was in my own hands. It was something I had to do.

Some days before my departure from Hinchinbrook Island, Andrea set foot back on Australian soil. I waited until he arrived to the island to tell him of my plans. Empathizing with my decision and the reasons, he was a great comfort and support to me during, naturally, quite a harrowing, upsetting time. Up until the moment I stepped foot on the “Reef Cat” to take me on that final trip across Missionary Bay to Cardwell on the mainland, I had to remain composed and in charge of my emotions. I still had guests and staff to attend to, and at the same time, ready myself for my departure. With only so many hours in a day, having Andrea there was of great assistance and importance. He stayed in the wings, assisting in the packing up my goods and chattels.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d spent two days in Cairns in search of suitable accommodation for myself. It was not long before I’d settled on a two-bedroom town-house at Yorkeys Knob, a beachside suburb a few kilometers north of the heart of Cairns. My town-house was in one of four in the apartment block, which suited my desire to not be inundated by the “outside world”. Having spent the previous few years a hop, skip and jump from the magnificent waters of the Pacific Ocean and Coral Sea and their generous, golden sands, together the freedom of “open space”, to be centred in a city and surrounded by madding crowds was not on my agenda. The entrance to my chosen new home was hidden by a vibrant, constantly blooming bougainvillea, a couple of pawpaw (papaya) trees and various lush tropical ferns. A huge Poinciana tree added further privacy plus welcome, cooling shade. The beach was only a few hundred meters away. Full Moon Bay, where the then small yacht club sat, was across and down a side street that ran off Yorkeys Knob Road, which passed the front of the unit block in which I was about to reside. The builders of the apartment block had used sensible thinking when constructing the building as the undercover car park area was at the front of the property, which meant the accommodation units were at the rear of the block of land, thereby placing them a fair distance from the road.

I’d organized, through friends, for a truck to pick up my “bulky” possessions to be then deposited at my town-house. The balance of my personal items came with me on the boat. With the timing of a well-orchestrated game plan, the truck and I arrived at the apartment block within minutes of each other. Actually, it had been “Slip” my mate who lost the “drot” (dozer) in the ocean out in front of the resort who helped me with my relocation. I guess he felt he “owed me one”, as my move ran like a well-oiled machine!

To say I felt sadness at leaving the island is an understatement, but I purposely didn’t cast a backward glance once I stepped onto the boat. I kept my eyes straight ahead. I felt the touch of Andrea’s hand on my arm. I turned as smiled at him. He put his arm around my shoulder and gently pulled me close to him.

“Onwards and upwards,” I said quietly to him, returning his reassuring caress. “The sun rose this morning on a new day and the moon shall rise tonight on a new night. Tomorrow…it will be the beginning of who-knows-what…but whatever it is, we’re going to make the most of it and we’re going to have fun and enjoy what lies ahead!”

Fortunately, I didn’t have the worry for looking for a job. I had already organized that part of my life. When I was ready, after having settled into my new abode, I was to commence a position as “Functions and Conventions Co-Ordinator”, and unofficial Assistant to the Food and Beverage manager, it eventuated, at Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove another northern beach suburb of Cairns. Palm Cove is a further few kilometers north of Yorkeys Knob. The resort, situated on the beachfront with only the esplanade and a row of coconut palms to separate it from the sand and ocean, was still very new at that time, approximately eighteen months' old. It had caused quite a stir when constructed, a positive “stir”. It set a benchmark for design in the north. The developers had to sign an agreement not to destroy the existing stands of Paperbarks (Melaleuca leucadendron), but to incorporate them into the design and lay-out of the resort. The pool was built to curve and meander around the trees. It was, at the time, the largest pool in the southern hemisphere.

Curious at my new surroundings, I chose to take a few free days before commencing my new job, a job I was fully aware would take up the majority of my time. Andrea and I explored the city of Cairns, briefly, preferring to spend what leisure time we had together on the beach or going for picnics, from which there were many stunning beautiful areas to choose. And of course, “just up the road a bit”, in typical Australian vernacular, ishe Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation which were just begging us to explore them!

Andrea and I wandered the beaches, swam in the azure ocean, sunbaked in the nude in solitary coves, explored the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. For those few days, we existed solely for each other, knowing soon, once I returned to work, our time together would have limitations put upon it.

His intention was to stay for six months and this he did. And then, at the end of the six months, he flew back to Italy to compile the contacts he had made in North Queensland for his father’s tourist business.

Before Andrea left to return home, however, Christmas was upon us. I had to work from early Christmas morning until around 2pm, but after that my time was my own. Well, Andrea’s and mine alone to do with what we wished. I invited friends for Christmas Dinner. There were eight of us at the Christmas table that year. Not many, but we had much fun. Andrea had met a young couple of Italians who were backpacking around Australia. We extended the Christmas dinner invitation to them. They were thrilled to be invited into an “Aussie home” for the special day.

As soon as I could get away from work, I raced out across the lobby, into the car-park, my car, fired it up and headed homewards.

Quickly, once home, I was into the rhythm of Christmas. Champagne corks popped and glassed overflowed with its bubbly effervescence. I’d spent every spare hour prior to the day, preparing the menu and fare so allow myself freedom while my guests were present. As soon as I’d arrived home into the oven went the turkey and pork. Andrea had followed whatever instructions I’d given to him to the “letter”. Together on Christmas Eve after I’d arrived home from work, we’d set the table.

Because Andrea was a long way from Bagnacavallo during the holiday season, I decided to make him a special treat. He spoke often and lovingly of his Nonna. There were so many similarities in his and my growing up years. He and his sister, like my brother and me, were raised by our grandmothers while our mothers went out to work. His mother and father had divorced when he was younger, too, as mine had done. In the lead-up to Christmas Day, he mentioned his Nonna’s panettone often. Panettone, I’m sure you’re all aware is the traditional Milanese Christmas cake. ..a sweet fruit bread, preferable made in a "flower-pot" mold. It's tall, cylindrical and fruit-filled. Natural yeast is essential in making panettone and there’s a lot of hand mixing to be done in the making until the dough becomes elastic. I decided as a bonus, an added Christmas present to Andrea, I would make him a panetonne as a reminder of his homeland.

There I was after work one evening sitting in my kitchen, stirring, stirring and stirring until my upper arms and my hands ached from the extend efforts. It was worthwhile, I told myself as I ploughed through the preparation, with Andrea excitedly looking on, serving me scotches in the meantime.

Christmas dinner turned out to be a huge, incredibly enjoyable affair. My little ginger kitten, Pushkin that I’d gotten for my birthday in November, joined in with the mood…and the food! He believed, I think, the whole affair was put on for him especially! Amongst my memorabilia I have a photograph of him sprawled out at the end of the Christmas table, which by the time of taking the shot, looked like a cyclone had gone through it. Crumpled party hats, destroyed Bon-Bons, empty wine bottles, together with various other flotsam and jetsam littered the once carefully decorated table. Contentedly, full of Christmas turkey, pork and whatever other goods in which he had partaken, Pushkin had fallen asleep, totally oblivious to the continuing celebrations going on around him.

Later in the evening, it was time to bring out the panettone. Having filled ourselves to capacity with Christmas fare, somehow we managed to find room in our over-loaded stomachs to indulge ourselves in typical Christmas style. It was then Andrea announced to all and sundry that it was the first time he had ever had a home-made panettone! The special treats his Nonna presented at Christmas had always been store-bought! Remembering my aching arms when making the cake, I could have killed him! At least, he had his first ever home-made panettone in Australia, made with tender, loving, if not painful care, by me! I’ve often wondered if he has ever had a home-made one since.
To be continued....

Friday, September 07, 2007

Appropriately, Still On the Italian Flavour!

A few years back, I lived and worked in Ingham for a short while. Ingham, for those of you who are not aware, is in North Queensland. Early Italian migrants settled there and to this day, it is very “Italian”. Each year the townsfolk hold an “Italian Festival”. Rich cane fields surround the lush area. Just to the east is the southern tip of Hinchinbrook Island and the Hinchinbrook Channel. Fishing and crabbing are popular and generous pastimes for the locals and visitors alike. I was cooking in an eater’s paradise. Italians love their food. They eat with gusto! And with Ingham being very ethnic Italian, I never ceased to be amazed by the appetites of the diners for whom I cooked. Almost every day we did upwards to and oft times over 200 for lunch, only to turn around and do it all over again in the evening. Mix that together with functions and having to prepare for “outside” private parties where the customer would turn up at the rear kitchen door with their vans ready to be loaded with containers full of food, there was little time to catch one's breath! I remember one function I did where there was an abundance of food presented, which, by the way, was quickly consumed. Desserts were laid out for the choosing, but also, the Italian ladies had arrived earlier setting up their own long table filled with the most delectable-looking (and tasting) sweets I had ever encountered before or since. They had spent the previous days preparing recipes handed down by the Nonnas and Grand-Nonnas and so on before them.

So in a salute to all things Italian, which is think is very important at this time, I’m sharing with you a couple of Italian-influenced recipes. I hope you get the time to make them for yourselves and enjoy them with friends and loved ones. And if there are no “loved ones”, you’ll soon have them knocking down your door, if you present these at your table!

Veal Saltimbocca alla Romana (Pork fillet can be substituted if you don’t eat veal)

6 - 8 thin (or pounded) veal scallops, 10 - 12 oz (350 gr) total weight
3 - 4 slices Prosciutto, sliced in half
12 - 16 slices Gruyère or provolone
12 - 16 large, fresh sage leaves
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup Marsala
1/2 cup beef stock
1 cup chopped fresh or canned drained Roma tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste

Heat oil in large non-stick skillet. Quickly brown veal scallops on both sides. Remove and put on an oven-safe platter. Add Marsala, beef stock and tomatoes to skillet and let simmer while you assemble the Saltimbocca. Place 2 sage leaves, a slice of ham to cover the veal and 2 slices of cheese, trimmed to fit, on each veal scallop. After sauce has simmered and reduced a bit add the tomato paste to thicken it. Spoon a bit of the sauce on and around the veal. Put the saltimbocca into a 250F (125C) for 10-15 minutes. This allows the cheese to melt, the ham and sage to cook a bit and the flavors to blend. Remove and serve with remaining sauce on the side.

Veal Marsala:

1-1/2lbs (750g) veal scallops, sliced 3/8-inch thick and pounded to ¼-inch, salt, freshly ground black pepper, flour, 2 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons olive oil, ½ cup Marsala, ½ cup chicken or beef stock, 2 tablespoons soft butter.

Season the veal scallops with salt and pepper, then dip them in flour and vigorously shake off the excess. In a heavy 10 to 12 inch skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of oil over moderate heat. When the foam subsides, add the scallops, 3 or 4 at a time, and brown them for about 3 minutes on each side. After they have browned, transfer them from the skillet to a plate. Pour off most of the fat from the skillet, leaving a thin film on the bottom. Add the Marsala and ¼ cup of chicken or beef stock and boil the liquid briskly over high heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Scrape in any browned fragments clinging to the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the veal to the skillet, cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, basting the veal now and then with the pan juices.

To serve, transfer the scallops to a heated platter, Add ¼ cup of stock to the sauce remaining in the skillet and boil briskly, scraping in the browned bits sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan. When the sauce has reduced considerably, and has the consistency of a syrup glaze, taste it for seasoning. (You can add some thickened cream at this stage, if you like. Stir until amalgamated and “cooked in”.) Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 2 tablespoons of soft butter, if not adding cream; pour over veal. You can add sliced mushrooms when making the sauce, too, if you so desire.

La Pastiera (A Traditional Neapolitan Easter Cake)

1/4 Pound Skinless Cooked Wheat, 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour, ½ cup pure icing sugar, 2 egg yolks, 1 teaspoon orange juice, 8 tablespoons unsalted, cold butter, cut into small pieces, ¼ cup milk, 6 eggs, 1 tablespoon grated orange rind/zest, 1 teaspoon lemon extract, 2-1/2 cups white sugar, 2lbs (1kg) ricotta, 2 tablespoons candied citrus peel, cut into tiny dice, 2 tablespoons toasted, slivered almonds, 1 egg white, beat with 1 tablespoon water for topping

Preheat the oven to 150C ( 300F). Mix together the flour, and icing sugar. Make a well in the center, and add the two egg yolks, and orange juice. With your fingers, mix in the butter until the dough is in pea sized pieces. Add just enough milk so the dough comes together. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8 of an inch. Place the dough in the bottom of a deep 10 inch pie pan. Trim excess dough around edges and reserve for topping. If the dough is too soft to roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, orange zest, lemon extract, and sugar. Add the ricotta and mix well. Stir in the cooked wheat, candied fruit and chopped almonds. Mix well. Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared pie pan. Using the remaining dough, cut strips about 1 inch in width, and place them in a crisscross pattern over the cheese. Brush the strips lightly with the egg and water mixture, and then bake the pie for about 1 1/2 hours until lightly browned on top. Cool before serving.

Cooking Your Own Wheat: Take 1/4 pound skinless wheat (available at healthfood stores) and soak it overnight in cool water in the refrigerator, changing the water three times. Cover with lightly salted water in a heavy saucepan, and cook for about 1 hour. Drain, and rinse the wheat in cool water in a sieve. Use as needed

Strawberry Bruschetta

4 thick slices whole-wheat bread (you could even use thick slices of panetonne for this)
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups sliced or diced hulled strawberries
4 tablespoons mascarpone (Italian cream cheese)

Toast bread in a toaster. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over high heat. Add sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the mixture begins to bubble, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add strawberries and stir until juices begin to exude and the berries are heated through, 30 seconds to 1 minute more. Spread 1 tablespoon mascarpone on each piece of toast. Top with the warm berries. Sprinkle over some icing sugar if you desire.

Speaking of “panetonne”, I have a story to tell you about panetonne. I’ll include it further chapters of my “Italian Invasion”, so keep your eyes peeled!

By the way, I'm making cannelloni later. I'll be filling the tubes with a mixture of ricotta, chopped parsley, chopped spinach, diced bacon, pine nuts, grated cheeses and, need I say, garlic.I'll lay the tubes on a tomato salsa, then top with the remaining salsa and finished off with grated cheese.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Greatest of the Great!

"Some can sing opera, Luciano Pavarotti was an opera. He lived the songs, his opera was a great mash of joy and sadness; surreal and earthy at the same time ."

The world is a sadder place from the passing of Luciano Pavarotti. His magnificence thrilled and inspired us for many years. The purity, clarity of his unique tenor voice caused the coldest, hardest heart to melt. His charismatic charm engulfed us all, I'm sure. I know it did me. Who could not be charmed by the genuine sparkle in his dark, expressive eyes.

Luciano Pavarotti will be sadly missed. Thankfully his brilliance will live long through his recordings and filmed performances.

My neighbours will have to purchase ear plugs over the weekend, a weekend I'm dedicating to the maestro...Luciano were my hero. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your extraordinary talent with us all.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Italian Invasion....Chapter Two

(Pictures of Kewarra Beach Resort)

Some years ago the Fiat car company ran an advertising campaign with this slogan, “Have a love affair with an Italian”. I took their advice literally. There was no Fiat, but there definitely was an “Italian”!

Dinner out on the deck that first evening was high-spirited, to say the least. Andrea/Andrew, awed by the expanse of the island beaches and the lack of people on those beaches could hardly contain his excitement. Being used to over-crowded Italian beaches, what he’d experienced his first day on the island was all so very foreign, so very new and thrilling to him. Not wearied by his adventures, he stayed on long after Jan and her husband retired to their cabin. The attraction between the two of us couldn’t be denied. Though a million years younger than I, any concern about that was soon cast to the wayside! Who cared? Definitely not me, nor did it worry Andrea. I was a “free agent” and so was he.

Jan and her husband left the island, as planned, on the Sunday afternoon boat. Andrea chose to remain behind. Our relationship intensified. During the following week, I had to attend a tourism conference at Kewarra Beach Resort, a resort situated on the beachfront at Kewarra in the northern beaches area of Cairns. Andrea accompanied me. After all, Andrea was visiting Australia representing his father’s tour operator business, so amongst all that was going on between him and me, he was also learning a lot about tourism Australia! We continued on to Palm Cove after leaving Kewarra Beach where we spent a couple of idyllic days, just the two of us, the sand, the ocean and the sun.

After an emotional farewell at Cairns Airport where Andrea departed south to link to his flight back to Italy, with promises to return to Australia, I went back to my life on the island. Promises are often made that one feels will never be fulfilled. In this instance, I forced myself to face the reality of the situation. Andrea and I had shared a vignette, an unexpected, pleasant, passion-filled interlude. I refused to let my heart expect more. Watching him pass through the exit door onto the tarmac of the Cairns airport, I wiped away my tears, telling myself, “That’s that! I’ve had my “Italian Love Affair”…and it had been wonderful.” The world had stopped for us those few days. We’d become so engrossed in each other all else fell into oblivion. Nothing else existed. No one else existed except the two of us. And now it was over. It was time to put that aside and face the world once more.

The images of his flashing eyes, his mischievous smile, his lithe, brown body and his lively personality continued to tease and taunt me. Together we had fitted like fingers into finely-crafted gloves. I missed his conversation, his joyful innocence when confronted by the wonderment of his new surroundings. Through his eyes, I learned to look around me and see anew, too. And it had been exciting. I missed him. I missed him terribly, but I buried myself in work to help ease the pain and the loss. It was fruitless pining for him, I told myself. We would never meet again. I would be living a fantasy to think otherwise.

Andrea telephoned me immediately upon his return home to Italy. He continued to do so every couple of days. Four weeks had transpired since his departure when I reached for the telephone one busy morning in my island office. Andrea’s lyrical voice greeted me. My heart leapt and a smile creased my face as was the uncontrollable habit each time I heard from him. At his words, I became speechless. He was returning to Australia…to me! Was I still sleeping? Was this a dream?

To be continued.....(Sorry!!)