Monday, July 30, 2012


I never had a burning desire to travel overseas. I lacked that particular gene! I was just a broad who didn’t habour a need to go abroad! As my peers jumped aboard Qantas Boeings or queued for berths on ocean liners to head off to intriguing foreign shores, I blissfully bade adieu from the sidelines, not in any way envious of their wanderlust.

Later down the years I did trip briefly to Singapore, Papua New Guinea and across the ditch to annoy our Kiwi mates. I’ve grappled an apple or two on the Apple Isle, but other than those sojourns, my heart and feet have contentedly and firmly remained planted on Aussie (sorry, Tassie) soil, sand, and, once or twice, in mud; and I’ve not forgotten the time I planted my hands in wet cement; it’s set like concrete in my mind.

The setting for this story is Collinsville.

My employer, Morris Catering held the catering contract with Collinsville Coal, a subsidiary of MIM. I was Chef-Manager of the single men’s mess and accommodation. With the growing number of heads (and stomachs) more storage was needed to house dry goods, etc. I decided a free-standing shed was the answer to my problem. To execute my plan I hired a local handyman. A strange little man, he reminded me of that wonderful British actor of old, Edmund Gwenn aka “Kris Kringle” in the original(and best) “Miracle on 34th Street”. He also appeared in “Lassie Come Home”. Gwenn mostly portrayed kindly, gentle souls in his many movies. The similarity between the mild-mannered actor and my handyman proved to be superficial and short-lived. My “Jack-of-all-trades” became more like a cranky garden gnome than Mr. Gwenn.

When my odd, odd-job-man finished laying and levelling the cement for the floor he headed off to attend to another job elsewhere with the intention of returning the next day after the floor had dried. The plan was that once the shed and the shelves were in place, without delay and further ado, the area would be loaded to the hilt with cartons of dry stores, crockery, bed linen, towels and the like. As soon as “Odd-Job” left to attend to his other chores, I expressed to my staff my life-long desire to leave my imprint in wet cement! I pointed out that we’d never get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but our chance at emulation lay begging at our back door! Like mythological sirens luring innocent sailors, the lure of the wet cement was impossible for us to ignore. Our boss-employee bond was cemented that afternoon; and any future relationship with the handyman was shattered!

“Grumpy” was not amused upon his return the following morning! Mumbling under his breath, but loud enough for all in range to hear, he begrudgingly redid the floor, destroying our artwork forever! Immediately the job was completed, cartons and all manner of other items covered the shelves and the floor making it nigh impossible to espy!

After the shed affair, I shed the odd-job bloke! Some folk just can’t take a joke!

Pickled Pork with Stewed Apples: Stir 1/2c caster sugar, 1/4c cider vinegar and 1/2 cup water over med-heat until the sugar dissolves; bring to the boil; add 3 delicious apples, cut into wedges; cook until just tender; set aside. Place 1kg pickled pork in saucepan; cover with cold water; toss in some peppercorns, whole cloves, 1/2c cider vinegar, 1 cinnamon stick, 1tsp dry mustard, 2tbls brown sugar, 1 whole onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk. Bring to the boil; reduce heat; simmer 2hrs. Drain. Serve sliced pork with apples, syrup.

Apple Coleslaw:Combine 380g thinly-sliced white cabbage, 4 coarsely-grated red apples, half a small red onion, finely-chopped, 1 finely-chopped celery stalk, celery salt, 1tsp finely-grated lemon rind and 2tbs lemon juice. Whisk together 1/4c crème fraiche or sour cream and 1tbl natural yoghurt; add to slaw; gently toss to combine; season.

Sweet Potato-Apple Tart: Preheat oven 200C; line baking tray with baking paper. Cut 2cm border around edge of 1 sheet thawed puff pastry, cutting only halfway through; transfer to baking tray. Combine 300g fresh ricotta and pinch cinnamon until smooth. Spread over pastry leaving 2cm border. Cut 150g kumara into 5mm-thick slices; cut 1 pink lady apple similarly; arrange slices over ricotta; brush with melted butter; sprinkle over 1tbl brown sugar. Scatter over 2tsp fresh rosemary leaves. Bake 30mins until golden. Serve warm.

Apple-Mint Sauce: Combine 6 Granny Smiths with 2/3c sweet white wine, 2tbs sugar over low heat; cook 5mins. Increase heat; boil, covered 10mins; puree; add 3tsp chopped mint; serve warm or chilled with pork.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Uh-oh! It is true! The past does come back to haunt; mine has just bitten me in the butt. I have nowhere to hide! All escape routes are blocked! The past finds us (if we’ve done no wrong; we’ve nothing to worry about). No one is immune. Like a giant octopus trolling for prey, tentacles of the past will find us and suck us in. My past has caught up with me – again! It all began with a Gympie house fire that destroyed an historical old home; one that in the distant past I had ties to during my childhood and teen years. No! I didn’t start that fire; but I did reignite the embers under some members of my past!

Many role players from years gone by eventually find me. My attempts at disguises and false bread trails fail. I could disappear over the far horizon en route to the ends of the earth and beyond; I could go as far away as to be close enough to get a whiff of the sulphurous fumes of Hades - I’d still run into someone I know! There are people who disappear off the face of the earth never to be found; not me! I could change my identity; inject bucket loads of Botox; have a few chin lifts; raise my eyebrows; swap my lips for Angelina’s and I’d still be recognised! I’m easier to find than King Tut ever was! I must admit that I, too, am pretty good at finding people no matter how hard they try to remain hidden; even if they change their phone numbers! No place or person is safe from me when I start sniffing around for clues. No stone remains unturned; no shrub undisturbed; no hedge untrimmed. However, a few weeks ago, the tables were turned on me…again! A friend I’ve not seen for nigh on 50 years tracked me down. He’d obviously read my book; “Don’t Shirk from Being Sherlock”! I wrote it after I trained Sherlock Holmes! I taught old Sherl everything he knows; all his sleuthing tricks – I taught him those!

My long-lost friend gathered together a posse who, in turn, successfully fulfilled their tender. I was hog-tied and led to “He, the Seeker”. Every day since the successful outcome of his hunt we’ve exchanged lengthy missives. The cyber highway has been clogged. We have half a century of stories to share; many memories and so much more. We’re learning more about each other through our present day correspondence than we did in the heady days of our youth when we were too busy heeding the challenge; “How low can you go?” Time after time we defiantly conquered the limbo pole before twisting the nights away at Gympie’s record hops. Chubby Checker would’ve been proud of us!

There is no doubt that the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory exists. Since our reconnection my friend and I have discovered we have many people in common with whom we had separate dealings throughout the years. Until now, neither of us was aware of the other’s connection. We’ve learned we’ve walked many parallel paths. It’s true! All of us are closely linked once we begin a dialogue. This rekindling of a past friendship has caused me to glance over my shoulder; not only into the distant past, but also to the near past; seeing both through different eyes; and I thought: “Being young is when the future takes forever to arrive; being young is when the past is yesterday or only a minute ago; eagerly forgotten; old age is when the past is remembered with nostalgic clarity!

Char-Grilled Octopus: Thoroughly wash 8 (about 250g) cleaned baby octopus under cold running water; drain; pat dry. Combine 1/4c dry white wine, 2tsp x-virgin olive oil, 2 large garlic cloves, crushed, 1tsp mild paprika and 1 finely-chopped red chilli; season; add octopus; toss; cover; chill 30mins. Preheat char-grill on high. Drain octopus; pour marinade into small saucepan; cook octopus on grill, 4-5mins, turning once or twice. Season marinade; bring to boil; cook 1min. Place octopus on dish; pour over marinade; serve with lemon wedges.

Italian-Inspired Octopus: Bring large pot of salted water to boil; add 500g small or large octopus; return to boil; cook 1-2mins; drain. Cut octopus into large pieces; sauté in 4tbs olive oil over med-heat, 2-3mins; add 4 chopped garlic cloves; sauté 1-2mins. Add 1c white wine; bring to boil over high heat; reduce, 3-4mins; add 1c crushed tomatoes, or peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes and 1tsp chilli flakes; bring to simmer. Add 1tsp salt, 2tsp honey or sugar; cover; simmer 30mins. Add 2tbs capers, optional, 4tsp chopped parsley and 2tsp chopped fresh dill; if octopus is still chewy, cover pot; simmer up to 45mins more. About 10mins from being done, uncover pot; turn up heat to reduce sauce; add cracked black pepper; serve with pasta or crunchy Italian bread or a hunky Italian!

Pickled Octopus: Simmer 1kg large, cleaned octopus in 3/4c water, 1hr. Place octopus and liquid in bowl; chill. When cold drain octopus from liquid; cut into thin slices. Toss octopus through 1/2tbs chopped thyme, 150ml red wine vinegar, 150ml olive oil, 1/2tsp smoked paprika, 1tsp cumin; season to taste.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I’ve said it before; I’m saying it again. I’ll continue repeating it ad infinitum. There are some who don’t need convincing! As I get older I’m becoming even grumpier that I ever was. Okay! So you’ve joined the long queue of those who are thinking: “How could she become grumpier than she already is?” (Take note of my confession, freely given; I admit to this flaw in my character; it’s not the only one)! I know what I’m talking about; I know the subject well! I’m not prone to lying or to embellishment; and most certainly not about this. If medals were handed out for grumpiness, I’d get one – every year! I’ll carry the can for being the original grumpy old woman! I discovered long ago it’s better to own up…to the good; to the bad; and to the ugly, when necessary! A couple of weeks ago I was having a welcome moment of being at peace with the world and all (well…almost all) who roam upon it. Savouring my harmonious mood, I was unaware that around the next bend a rude awakening stealthily approached; and I was in its line of fire. Seduced and wooed by the sun-caressed morning that was alive with carefree, feathered birds gleefully flittering to and fro, I’d slipped into complacency; I let my guard down.

Driving along on the left-hand side of Main Western heading south towards the show-grounds end, through no fault or cause of my own, I became really, really ridiculously grumpy (spoken in my best Derek Zoolander impression)! My feeling of peace and goodwill to all creatures big and small was suddenly and unexpectedly smashed to smithereens! As I came around a bend in the road, out of the blue, partly-obscured by the sun-filtered shadows heading towards me on my side of the road a gentleman of elderly repute aboard a mobility scooter appeared. For a brief moment I thought I was imagining the sight directly in front of me. Totally oblivious of all around him, the intrepid daredevil-risk-taker was on a mission. Nobody, including me and my car was going to deter or discourage him from his assignment. He must have been on his way to a very important date. Trundling along with his head down in a Casey Stoner-pose, he didn’t notice, nor did he blink when my car and I jumped high into the air before executing a swift movement to the right towards the centre line markings to get out of his way!

Palpitations of the heart can be exciting if they’re caused by the appearance of a mysterious, tall, dark, handsome stranger on the sunny (and correct) side of the street; but they’re no fun at all if caused by a gentleman of advanced years operating a mobility scooter on the wrong side of the track! There is a lot to be said about “living dangerously; living life on the edge”; just ensure it’s on the right edge! I was a “Happy Little Vegemite” up until that disturbing episode; after my encounter with the errant adventurer of an oblivious nature, I became very grumpy, you can be sure! It took a while before the colour returned to my face. The hair on my head is still standing stiffly on end in some places! It looks like I’ve been given a bad crew-cut by a one-eyed, inebriated hairdresser!

A Warning Before You Tread Further! The recipes below probably won't be of interest (or taste) to anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere.

Vegemite-Cheese Scrolls: Preheat oven 200C; grease biscuit tray. Process 2-1/4c S.R. Flour, 30g cold, chopped butter with salt and pepper; or rub butter into the flour using your fingers, until mixture resembles fresh breadcrumbs; add 1c milk; mix until just combined. Roll dough out to 30x45cm rectangle on floured bench. Spread generously with Vegemite; top with 1/2c grated cheese. Roll into a log; cut into 2cm slices; place side by side on tray; bake 15-18mins, until golden; serve warm.

Vegemite-Mustard Glazed Vegetable Kebabs: Combine 1-1/2tbs Vegemite, 1/4c Dijon mustard, 1tbs brown sugar and 1tbs oil. Cut 2 red onions and 1 baby eggplant into eighths, half 4 small yellow button squash, cut 1 large red capsicum into 16x2cm squares; cut 1 zucchini into 8 slices; grab 8 button mushrooms. Thread vegetables evenly onto 8 pre-soaked bamboo skewers; brush well with glaze; barbecue over med-heat, 6-8mins, brushing occasionally with glaze. Steak Sheila: Grab 4x180g eye fillets, halved horizontally to make 8 thin fillets; flatten out slightly. In two batches, cook fillets over high heat as desired. Remove from pan; cover loosely with foil; set aside to rest. Place the same pan over med-heat; melt 30g unsalted butter; add 3 finely-chopped shallots; cook, stirring 1min; add 2 finely-chopped garlic cloves and 120g sliced button mushrooms; add 1/4c brandy; flame; cook 2-3mins; add 3tsp Vegemite, 2tsp Dijon mustard and 125ml beef stock; cook, stirring 2mins. Add 1/2c thickened cream; season to taste; drizzle over steaks. Serve steaks with Sour Cream Mash; mash spuds with sour cream.

Avocado-Vegemite Toast: Spread toast with Vegemite; top with avocado slices.