Monday, November 30, 2015


Cheers!  Bottoms Up!

Do you have words you stumble over?  Do you have words you try your hardest not to use because every time you do you stuff them up?  I admit I’ve a few.  Hmmmm….take “phenomenonomemomemom” or “phenomenononomonalalalal”, for instance!  Why not say “a remarkable occurrence”?  The latter is as a descriptive; has the same meaning, and it flows fluidly off the tongue without a hiccup.  Now, that is phenomenal!

Years ago I decided to change tack because embarrassment was/is an embarrassing state in which to find my own self; particularly when I had no intention of going there. I’d not bought a ticket, nor made a booking!

After making a total idiot of myself thousands of times when forced into the inescapable naughty phenomenal corner I reached out to Houdini for advice. Pointless, really, because he was dead – still is.  As he couldn’t help me I promised to never let the word trip and stumble out of my mouth again. Once that weight was lifted off my shoulders I felt like soaring to the heights.

There’s nothing worse (well - there is worse, but remaining on subject without succumbing to the lure of digression) than being in the midst of a conversation with people I barely know and one of “those” unmentionable words rears its convoluted head. 

When/if such an uncomfortable situation arises, instead of putting my foot in my mouth I pop an hors-d'oeuvre into it; or should that be a horse’s doover? 

As a child I was taught never to speak with my mouth full. I always do as I’m told…almost always…okay, sometimes!  However, those practical, wise words of wisdom in the art of good manners prove their worth time and time again. 

Don’t try saying “twelfth” if you’re munching on a mouthful of nuts.

A further warning - if you attempt to utter “his horse was placed sixth on the isthmus” a few times you’ll “spith chipsth’. Saying it once is difficult enough. 

An anemone can be an enemy. It could be worth your while to bypass that one, as well.

A good (or bad) example is “Otorhinolaryngologist”.  My advice is to stay clear of this one. 

Its correct pronunciation is: Oto-rhino-laryng-ologist.  The word has nothing to do with rhinocerouseseseses. In simpler terms, it’s an “ear-nose-throat specialist”, which is far easier to say. If you’ve no choice and no escape – mumble and cough simultaneously to muffle the kerfuffle you’re making of the ridiculous word.

Is there anyone who pronounces “Worcestershire” aka “Wuss-ter-sheer” correctly?   It takes less effort to say “Holbrooks” or “Lea & Perrins”. 

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of chefs on cooking shows saying ”oleeeeve” oil.  Why, I wonder? 
It’s not “acteeve”, nor is it “positeeve” nor is it “negateeve” ...therefore, in my book, neither is it “oleeve!”

I wish they’d leave olive alone! Popeye will get upset!

I rue the day I have to say “rural” repeatedly! 

It’s gruelling having to read out loud the works of Russian novelists like Zhukovsky, Turgenev, Saltykov-Schedrin, Dostoyevsky, or the poets, Baratynsky, Batyushkov, Konstaninovich et al. 

Leo Tolstoy is simple to pronounce, but try saying out loud continually at a rapid pace the name of his infamous heroine, Anna Karenina. Don’t even attempt those she hung around with such as Kirillovich Vronsky, Stiva Arkadyevich Oblonsky, Konstantin Dmitrievich, Sergej Ivanovich Koznyshev, Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya, to jumble but a few. Whew!

Why couldn’t Anna be friends with Tom Smith, Fred Brown and Jane Jones? 

Let’s not forget “War and Peace”! Sadistic old Leo was at it again. Boris Pasternak joined in the fray with “Dr. Zhivago”.  Halfway through the story everyone changed names because of the damn Russian Revolution!

That’s when I revolted and refused to join a book club that discussed Russian writers.

Shchi: Preheat oven, 204C. Season 2 beef shanks; rub in garlic powder; roast 25mins. Cool; remove meat from bones; chop coarsely; reserve bones. To Dutch oven add meat, bones, 8c water, 2 chopped celery stalks,1-1/2 chopped onions, 4 chopped small turnips, 5 carrots cut into ½-inch rounds, 1c dry lentils, 2 bay leaves, 454g passata, 454g crushed tomatoes, 1tsp paprika, 2tsp fresh thyme, salt, pepper and 1 crushed garlic. Bring to boil; simmer on low, uncovered 3hrs. Stir in ½ head cabbage, shredded; cook 30mins; add 6 potatoes, quartered; cover; cook 20mins. Serve soup with dollop of sour cream.

Imeretian Khachapuri: Mix together 200ml warm water and1tbs dry/instant yeast; set aside. Combine 1.5kg plain flour, 200ml warm milk, 50ml oil, 1 large egg, 1tsp sugar, 1tsp salt and yeast. Knead by hand, or with dough hook until smooth, elastic dough. Use extra warm water if needed. Cover with greased plastic wrap; let rise in a warm place 2hrs. Punch down dough; divide into two; cover; let rest 15mins. Combine 600g grated cheese (half feta/half mozzarella), 2 eggs and 30g butter. Heat oven, 176C. Roll dough to form 2 flattish round shapes; create lip around edge. Place cheese in centre of circles. Fold up dough edges to completely seal cheese inside. Flatten filled dough with your palms and fingers without breaking the dough. Turn dough over; flatten out to make circular shape. Place on a paper-lined rimmed baking sheet; bake 10mins; then brush dough with beaten egg yolk. Bake another 5mins until dough is golden. Take out of oven; rub entire surface with butter, if desired; cut into slices.

Potato Blinis with Sour Cream and Caviar: Beat whites of 2 large eggs at medium speed until stiff peaks form.  Whisk the egg yolks until thickened. Stir in 1 large, grated potato, 9tbs plain flour, 2tbs whipping cream, 1tsp salt and 1/2tsp pepper. Fold in egg whites. Pour some vegetable oil to depth of ½-ich in large, heavy pan. When hot drop potato mixture, by teaspoonfuls, into the hot oil; fry, in batches, 1-2mins on each side or until golden; drain on paper towels. Serve topped with sour cream and caviar.

Zakuski Salad: Place 2 finely grated carrots in a bowl or dish; drizzle over juice of 1 lemon.  Mix together 200ml sour cream and 40ml horseradish; place on top of grated carrots; top with cracked black pepper and lemon zest.

Bucatini all´Amatriciana: Cut 240g bacon or pancetta into small cubes; brown with one chopped onion (and crushed garlic clove, if  desired) in ex-virgin OLIVE oil; add a little dry white wine over high heat until it evaporates; add 1 sliced hot chilli, 1-1/2 cups quality passata, salt and pepper to taste; cook 30mins over low heat. Cook 430g bucatini pasta to al dente; drain; mix with sauce.  Sprinkle with freshly grated pecorino cheese and freshly grated black pepper.

"Bottoms Up!  Za Sda-Ró-Vye! Salute! Cin Cin! Skål! Budmo! Za vas! Za zdorovie! Prost! Prosit! Zum Wohl! Cheers!  Cheers, Big Ears - Here's Mud in Your Eye!"  

Vladivostokalokova: Shake with cracked ice, 22ml Gin, 22ml Vodka, 15ml grapefruit juice, and a dash of Bitters. (You can use pink grapefruit, if you prefer). Decorate with mint leaves and/or slice grapefruit.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Tin Can Bay

Settle down! Don’t get into a pickle! I’m not referring to me!  Although, I guess in some uninformed, acerbic quarters it could be a subject of intense, lengthy debate. I don’t think I’m overly tart, although I admit if enough of my buttons are pushed, and I’ve had time to ferment I can be. 

I may be an old tart, but I’m not bitter. However, I must remain concentrated on the subject at hand.  I’ll share a vignette with you - “V-i-g-n-e-t-t-e”…not “vinaigrette”.  In the words of the Naked Chef …”dressing comes later”.

I was prompted to write this post from reading River’s post today.

When I was a child  vinegar was a major ingredient in our kitchen. And it's importance remains so in my own kitchen, even to this day - now that I’m a sour old tart…oops…a matured elder.

During my childhood vinegar served many purposes including soothing annoying sand fly bites. Therefore, a bottle or two of vinegar always came with us on our many visits to Tin Can Bay, the home of the sand-fly.

Tin Can Bay was a regular get-away place when we were kids.  Mum loved fishing and mud crabbing while Nana took my brother, Graham and me to collect fresh oysters by the dozens off the rocks from from the esplanade. 

We couldn’t imagine relishing the abundance of sumptuous oysters we’d collected without still warm fresh bread, butter, pepper, salt and lashing of vinegar to accompany them; nor could we envisage eating the mouthwatering fish and mud crabs our mother caught without a bottle of vinegar, with its top off, on the table.

At the table, of course, we always kept our tops on; but there was no standing on ceremony when it came to the vinegar bottle. Vinegar instead of lemon with seafood was favoured in our household, and in the very humble holiday shacks in which we stayed when at Tin Can Bay.

As for vinaigrette, in my childhood I’d never heard of it, let alone tried it in those early years of innocence. Vinaigrette came the mid-Sixties.

Tossed salads were summer regulars when I was a kid; and they still are now I'm an old tart. Only vinegar and vinegar alone was sprinkled over out mixed salads. 

You may shudder and be shocked at what I have to say next. Please be assured I was taught excellent manners, and I heeded the lessons to the letter – the majority of the times. You might want to look away now; stop reading or, at least, sit down, to help soften the blow. 

I’m about to tell you what I used to do - it might alarm and haunt you. If it lessens your outrage I did confine my behaviour within our own 12 walls (our home was small, but we did have more than four walls). 

At meal’s end whenever a mixed salad was part of the fare I’d tip the salad bowl, raise it to my lips and drink the dregs.  There you have it! Would you prefer I go no further?  I hope you’re not hyperventilating.  Inhale deeply a few times - it helps. 

I loved drinking the leftover vinegar infused with pepper, salt and salad flavours.  I still do.

Every time I guzzled the dregs I received a rousing from both Mum and Nana.

Scolding me, they’d say – “Lee! Stop drinking the vinegar! It’ll dry up your blood!” 

Most of the time I heeded their advices (I think), but throwing caution to the wind, that particular recommendation I recklessly disregarded.

My drinking the salad bowl dregs was the least of their worries. Obviously their warnings weren’t true because I cut my finger yesterday and it bled profusely.  See!  A lesson to be learned – don’t believe everything you’re told - unless told by me, of course!

The fact is, vinegar is a blood purifier, in which case I must be very pure!  (Don’t choke!)

Because most people are aware of apple cider vinegar’s many health benefits I won’t go into details.  If you’re one of the few not familiar with its benefits…check it out. Mr. Google is always willing to help.

I’ve just realised the many vinegar varieties I have in my cupboards; cider, balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, rice, garlic-infused, white and malt. 

Obviously my childhood tastes haven’t changed, but I do manage to keep my behaviour as described above in check - within my own precinct.  Remy and Shama don’t mind my bad table manners when it comes to skolling the vinegar...they don’t like’s all mine to enjoy!

Artichoke-Oregano Salad: Combine 2c grape/cherry tomatoes, ¼c chopped, fresh oregano, 1/4c x-virgin olive oil, 1/4tsp dried pepper flakes, 10 large butter lettuce leaves, 12 pitted Kalamata olives, 12 small pepperoncini peppers, 1 can, quartered, drained artichoke hearts, 1 can rinsed, drained chickpeas and 3tbs garlic-infused red wine vinegar; toss to coat. Add 85g fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch cubes; toss gently.

Roasted Potato Salad: Toss 1-1/2kg unpeeled red potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes and 1 thinly sliced red onion in 2tbs olive oil; season; spread evenly on oiled baking sheet; bake at 218C, until crisp, yet fork-tender, 20-25mins; cool to room temp. Return to bowl; add 1-1/2c roasted fresh corn (kernels sliced off cobs after roasting), 1c diced celery and 2tsp garlic powder. Whisk 1/2c x-virgin olive oil and 1/3c cider vinegar; drizzle over salad; toss; season; chill at least 3hrs; stir in 3/4c thinly sliced basil at serving.

Roasted Pumpkin, Beets & Feta Salad: Preheat oven, 180C. Peel 1 beetroot and 1 red onion. Cut half a Jap pumpkin and 1 sweet potato (kumara) into quarters or eighths. Toss in olive oil; sprinkle over Italian herbs or seasoning; toss again; place on roasting tray; cook approximately 30mins. Turn vegetables halfway through cooking time. At that stage add some 1-inch wide capsicum strips, if you like. Towards the last 6 minutes or so of the roasting time, toss in some raw walnuts, or raw mixed nuts; you could add some pepitas/pumpkin seed or sunflower seeds, too, if you like. Go crazy let your imagination and tastes go wild! Place some rocket aka arugula and baby spinach leaves into bowl; add the roast vegetables, nuts etc; season; sprinkle over a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar; toss gently. Sprinkle 120g crumbled feta over top; serve.

Caramelized Peach Tart: Peel and halve12 peaches (or 2x400g can peach halves). In pan add 2tbs olive oil, 4tbs ginger-infused honey (1/4tsp ground ginger added to honey) and 2tbs balsamic; place peaches cut side down in pan; simmer on low heat until glaze begins to darken and caramelize; remove from heat. Place peaches, cut side up in a round baking tray; pour glaze evenly over them. Place sheet of rolled puff pastry over fruit. Bake in 200C oven, 20-25mins until puffed and golden. When cool, carefully invert onto plate; serve immediately.

Vinegar Tart: Whisk 2 eggs, 3/4c packed brown sugar, 1/4c sugar, 1/4c melted butter and 2tbs white vinegar; pour into pre-baked shortcrust tart base; bake 45-55mins in 176C oven.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

WHAT THE L…??!!!



The loganberry wasn’t named after the Jimmy Logan from down Logan way. The hybrid loganberry was named after a certain workhorse lawyer/horticulturist James Logan who toiled like a Trojan – in his garden, at least.  A slogan definitely states he was neither a bogan from Logan, nor was he from the Shire of Bogan.

Loganberries were actually the result of a blooper made by our fumbling lawyer Logan, probably after a long night arguing his case with a bottle of whisky. In his hungover state, Logan unintentionally crossed a raspberry and a blackberry.  Rather than the two berries giving legal-eagle James the raspberry for his blunder, they gave him a loganberry in lieu. (I made up the bit about him being hungover...but you never know....)

I’ve not eaten a loganberry, but I am wondering if I simultaneously toss a raspberry and blackberry into my gob would I be eating a loganberry?  I’ll give it a go, then I’ll let you know the fruits of my laborious experiment. 

It’s long gone since I’ve enjoyed a longan.  Sweet, succulent longans are closely related to the equally luscious lychees.  

When I loitered around tropical north Queensland, not only did I terrorise the locals, but I also lavishly indulged in loads of lychees, as well as lots of lush longans I legally purchased from the local farmers’ stalls along the lanes and roadsides. And, of course, I couldn't ignore the rambutans rambunctiously begging to be purchased in boxes next to their cousins. 

Longans and lychees originate from southern China. In the late 1800s the Chinese gold-miners who lobbed on the northern gold fields of tropical Far North Queensland in search of the mother lode, all arrived laden with longans and lychees.  Lucky for us! 

By the way, we should gobble up lots of lychees; they are considered to be a symbol of love and romance.
For me, I'll forego the love and romance nonsense - I’m searching for a mother lode of a Lotto win. I’m eating every variety of fresh fruits I can lay my hands on -  in abundance!  Something will work.  I’ll strike it lucky one day – and be healthy at the same time!

Loquats also originally landed from China.  The elusive loquat is difficult to locate these days. Does anyone local have a loquat tree in their yard?   I long to know - why have loquats lost their lustre? 

The last time I lingered at length beside a loquat tree was when I lived and worked in Glenden, 165kms west of Mackay - when I was the chef at “Lorikeets’ Restaurant” back in 1991/92.

Long before my Glenden loquat feast I’d not eaten loquats since I was a little girl leaping around the hills and dales of Gympie.  We had a very healthy tree growing at one corner of our front yard. Year after year it produces bucketfuls of fruit...not that we gave the tree’s bounty much time to fill the buckets.  My brother and I, along with our mates usually devoured the oval yellow fruit directly from the tree, pelting each other with the seeds (and some of the over-ripe fruit) in the meanwhile. 

On many occasions our Nana managed beat us to the tree.  She’d gather some of the fruit when we were at school and magically turn it into jam, or delicious chutney.  Throughout the years of our childhood and beyond our healthy loquat tree generously produced fruit, enough to suit and feed our needs.

Blimey! Let’s not forget limes!

Delicious, lush limes are grown in tropical climes year round. With limes readily available it’d be a crime not to enjoy limes at all times.

From finger limes to round/dooja limes; to desert limes and mountain white limes to Kaffir, Kakadu or Humpty Doo limes; as well as blood, wild and sunrise limes – there is no limit on the largesse of the sublime lime. Limes are always in their prime. 

Here’s a lulu for you…have you ever eaten a lulo?  Better still, have you ever heard of a lulo? It’s a small fruit native to the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Lulo flesh tastes like a blend of pineapple and lemon.

And then, on top of that, to confuse us even further, there’s the lúcuma aka lucmo.  The subtropical fruit lucmo is also known as “Gold of the Incas”.  Native to Peru’s Andean valleys, it’s an ancient super-food that can be traced back 8000 BC. I wasn’t around in those days so I can’t verify if this is true, but thousands of lucid Peruvians who are prepared to lay their word on the line, have proven it to be so.

A lúcuma is like a little pawpaw (papaya to those of you in the Northern Hemisphere).  The lúcuma is loaded with health benefits. If you’re looking for a cane sugar substitute the powder made from lúcuma is supposed to do the trick.

In Peru they queue for lucmo; maybe they do in Yokomo, too. Adding lúcuma powder to drinks and shakes livens up the brew. 

Lastly, while on the subject of fruits beginning with the letter “L” – you’ve no doubt noticed the leitmotif of my literary treatise (my leeway allows me the liberty of latitude) - I can’t leave out the leader of the bunch - the ever loyal lemon. I have to squeeze in lemons; jam them in. 

What would life be like without lemons to liven it up? Lemons add zest!

Loganberry Cake (or any berry): Heat oven to 180C/160C fan.  Base-line and grease a deep 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Blitz 140g ground almonds, 140g softened butter, 140g golden caster sugar, 140g S.R. flour, 2 eggs and 1tsp vanilla in processor until well combined.  Spread half the batter over cake tin; smooth top; scatter the loganberries or whatever other berries you use over the batter; then dollop remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread; easier to do using your fingers. Scatter with flaked almonds (about 2tbs); bake 50mins until golden; cool; remove from cake tin; dust with icing sugar to serve.

Lychee (or Longan) Chicken Curry: Heat 2tsp oil in saucepan; add 1 sliced red onion, 1 sliced red capsicum and 200g quartered button mushrooms; cook 3-5mins; add 1tsp each crushed ginger and garlic, 2tbs red curry paste and 1tsp turmeric; cook 1-2mins; add 1c chick stock and 1c coconut milk; boil; add 520g chicken, cut into 3cm pieces; simmer 4mins. Add 200g green beans, cut into 3cm lengths, 100g sugar snap peas; simmer 3-4mins; add 16 fresh peeled, pitted lychees (or longans); cook 1min.

Lychee Lime Sorbet: Puree 4 generous cups peeled, pitted fresh lychees; add 1c water, juice and zest of 1 large lime, 2/3rd cup agave syrup or other preferred sweetener and 2 to 4tbs fresh basil leaves (or mint); puree until smooth; perhaps in 2 batches. Chill; process in ice cream maker 20-25mins; or make it without using maker. Freeze 2-3hrs.

Lúcuma Slice: Whizz until chunky 1c medjool dates and 1c almonds; press into bottom of slice tray or moulds; freeze while whizzing together 3tbs cashew or coconut butter, 3tbs lúcuma powder, 3tbs cacao butter or coconut oil, 2tbs maple syrup, 1tsp vanilla bean paste and ½ to 1tsp Himalayan salt. Spread finger-width thick on top of base; chill. Combine 3tbs cacao powder, 2tbs maple syrup, 3tbs melted cacao butter or coconut butter and 1/2tsp sea or Himalayan salt; spread evenly over top; chill until completely cool. Cut into squares if set in slice tray.

Lemon-Lime Bars: Line 8-inch square pan with foil; extend over 2 ends. Melt 6tbs butter; stir in 1c plain flour, 1tbs sugar and pinch of salt until crumbly; press into base of pan. Bake in 190C oven 15-20mins. Whisk 1/3c each lemon and lime juice, 1 can condensed milk and 2 large eggs; pour over crust; bake 20-25mins. When cool remove from pan; cut into squares.

Loquat Jam: Wash, de-seed and quarter enough loquats to make 8 cupfuls; add lemon juice to prevent them from browning; the lemon juice is also necessary for the jam to thicken. Put loquats, 6c sugar and loquats (including the lemon juice) in large pot over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cut 1 vanilla bean in half; add to fruit; bring to bpil while stirring constantly; then reduce to a low simmer. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook for approximately 1 hour. At 30 minute mark, remove vanilla from the jam. Using a stick blender, blend loquats; leave some texture, if preferred; or you can make it smooth, but lumpy is good!  Add the vanilla bean again; continue to cook for another 30mins, until jam is thick, stirring frequently.  Ladle into sterilized jars; seal. Finish off the sterilization process in a boiling water bath.  If you don’t do the latter step, store the jam in the fridge. (And always store in fridge after opening).

Loquat Chutney: Trim stem and flower ends of loquats; remove stones and membrane; ending up with 650g fruit; no need to peel the loquats. Peel and cube 4 large Granny Smith apples; cut 300g dried apricots into strips. Peel 80g fresh ginger, and then julienne. Grab 4tbs mustard seeds; crush some to release flavour, but leave majority whole. Put all ingredients together with 500g raw sugar, 750ml cider vinegar, 2tsp salt and 2tsp crushed chillies into large pot; bring to boil. Simmer about 90mins, until apple is cooked to a pulp; stir occasionally to stop sticking to bottom of pot. Heat some clean jars in hot oven to sterilise them. Pour hot chutney into hot jar; put lids on jars while still hot.  Finish off in water bath.  Store in cool, dry place for up to 9 months; open jars should be kept in fridge.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Sketch and Poem by me.....

Humans star in Life’s carnival veiled in our disguises hiding our torment
Concealed from the immoral games others play; from their art of manipulation
Wearily with heavy hearts reluctantly we become accustomed to our discontent
Borrowed instances of happiness are only a momentary fleeting aberration

Lost in a murky mire of immeasurable despondency faces lost in the crowd
Innocent lives callously cast aside a counterfeit caricature of ship’s ballast
Wretched wanton descent to the dank dark pits of Hell having no buoyancy
Eclipsed by ugliness engulfed by hate with hearts hardened and callused

It's nought to provocateurs the damage caused by their perfidious evil deceit
Despairing sorrow and suffering envelop like a far-reaching grey shroud
Hearts are broken emotions confused Life is bitter when it should be sweet
Tortured souls - will we learn to breathe again or are we faces lost in the crowd

Helplessly plunged further deeper into a bottomless quagmire of oblivion
Like impotent leaves victims of a controlling wind our quintessence strewn                    
Impenetrable suffering feverish addiction making Life a fictitious illusion  
Unrelenting oppressive incubus reckless incursion forcing Life into ruin   

Monday, November 09, 2015


Alan in his usual jovial mood sitting on the floor around my coffee table in the Yorkeys townhouse. The floor was always a popular place to sit! Ann to the right of him also worked at Ramada Reef Resort
Me holding court at the Ramada Christmas Party, 1987
A shirtless Andrea at a gathering of some of my Ramada mates  in my townhouse at Yorkeys Knob
The young Italian backpackers - my Christmas 1987 dinner guests
Me on the right with some of my Ramada mates
Alan with Pushkin Christmas Day 1987
Pushkin caught in the act checking out what's on the menu in the fish tank filled with fish Andrea gave me for Christmas 1987
There something mysterious about me and tables!
Pushkin, all ears and eyes...
Trevor play with Pushkin on his,Pushkin's, second Christmas
The party animal, Pushkin...sleeping it off!
Ouch! This is hot! Will I spill it before I reach the sink????

Stored safely in my cache I’ve still many stories to share about my adventures on Hinchinbrook Island, but I’ll leap forward a few paces to when I returned to life on the mainland – returned to reality, in a way, I guess.

Upon leaving the island I decided to continue heading north rather than move back south from whence I’d come.  “South” as in south-east Queensland…no further south – Queensland is where I was born and bred; Queensland is where I belong. It’s my home. 

There were times, of course, I missed my little greengrocery-healthfood shop I’d owned and operated in Noosa before taking on Hinchinbrook Island Resort; even more so, and joined with anger when I learned the two young men who had bought the business from me ran it into the ground within a couple of months from take-over.

However, like the lyrics in Graeme Connors’ – “A Little Further North Each Year” became my mantra.  The song resonated with me...and it still does....even though these days I’m back in south-east Queensland and have been for the past 15 and a half years.

I’d loved my stint managing the island resort.  Not having a clue what lay in store for me when I’d accepted the challenge, it’d been a challenge I was eager to tackle, come what may.  Leaving Noosa was a huge step; a step at one time I never thought I’d take. In my mind I believed I’d never leave Noosa/Sunshine Beach.  Life so often has a mind of its own.

During the almost two years as manager of the Cape Richards Resort I’d met many, many interesting people.  The good outnumbered the bad, and I can assure you I met a few of the latter.  In earlier posts back in 2007 I wrote about some of those experiences. 

Overall, however, I’d had such fun. My Hinchinbrook Island days and nights were among some of the best in my life.  It was a time unique unto itself...and I feel so lucky that I was offered the chance to venture into unknown waters. I’m glad I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, mind and body.

Of course, it was not all fun and games. My marriage collapsed; my personal life did a complete about-turn. Randall went on his way, and I remained on my new path. There was no lingering vindictiveness or nastiness following our separation and ensuing divorce, and to this day we remain good friends, in regular contact.  No matter what, we will always have each other’s back. 

My role as resort manager and sales-marketing manager entailed many diverse responsibilities. I had staff to guide; guests to accommodate, trade fairs, conferences etc., to attend.  On the home front it was my job to fulfill, to best of my abilities, the diverse, individual and group wants and needs, staff and guests alike.  And I enjoyed every moment; almost every moment.

I learned so much and had grown in so many ways as a person. I learned about things I’d previously never thought about, or had had the need to think about. I discovered some things I’d not known even existed. I’d not had the need to know about some things until I lived on the island.  I learned a lot about people, and I learned a lot about myself, as well.

Along with the wealth of laughter shared; tears, too, were shed.  Hearts had been broken, and hearts had been mended.  Emotions weren’t left behind on the mainland; somehow they managed to slip into everyone’s luggage.

Losing Ruska to the python had knocked the wind out of my sails. For me, a gear had shifted; his loss had made a difference.  A few other matters had occurred and were occurring that went against my grain, against my beliefs.  I felt it time for me to move on. The owner wanted to take the resort into different direction, a direction I believed didn’t suit what the resort was about; a direction that would be at conflict with the atmosphere – the ambience, the heart of the island. So I handed in my resignation.  It was time for me to go. I didn’t want to be around to see the results of ill-considered decisions. I didn’t and have never harboured the desire to say “I told you so”...although sometimes I’ve thought it!

Before my departure date from the island I’d found a two-bedroom unit/townhouse in a block of only four, which suited my requirements perfectly. Without hesitation, I signed a lease.  It was situated in Yorkeys Knob, a beachside suburb a approximately 13 kilometres (8.1 miles) north of Cairns.

Having spent the previous nine years or so living beside the ocean I wanted the status quo to remain. My new abode was around a corner, just a hop, skip and a jump to Yorkey’s long expanse of beach and the lapping waters of the Coral Sea. Half Moon Bay where the boating club is situated was another hop, skip and jump around the corner on the opposite side of the street.  The location of the townhouse gave me a choice. Do I turn left or do I turn right...left or right...right or left?  What wonderful choices to be faced with – would I be able to cope?

In advance, before leaving the island I’d also gained employment at Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove. Palm Cove is approximately 16kms further north of Yorkeys. 

The day finally arrived to bid farewell to my island home. Without fanfare or fuss, both of which I’ve always shied away from; with mixed emotions I boarded the “Reef Venture” for my final trip...away from Hinchinbrook Island...taking with me myriad memories.  Memories which are as vivid today as the time they were made.

Looking back (I refrained from looking back to the island once the “Reef Venture” pulled out from the resort’s jetty), I seem to have squeezed so much into the Eighties. When thinking about it, I’m not sure how I managed to do so. It feels a little like being compressed into a time capsule.  I find myself shaking my head at the wonder of it all, and in slight disbelief; but all if it did happen. Nothing is made up; nothing is invented or embellished.  The Eighties were interesting decade; it was a decade filled with stepping stones headed towards the Nineties.

The role I was hired to play at the Ramada Resort was as Groups/Conventions/Function Coordinator. Everything pertaining to what the title denoted fell into my lap and became my responsibility. Within that capacity of the “title” (I hate titles) I worked closely with Fritz Weber, a Dutchman-turned-Aussie, the Food and Beverage Manager. Before Fritz joined Ramada he’d been employed at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast.  The Gold Coast Casino opened officially in early 1986.  Coincidentally, Rolf Bucher, Ramada’s head honcho had also worked at Jupiters with Fritz. Rolf was either Swiss or Austrian, one or the other...I can’t recall which.

As time progressed, unofficially, I became Fritz’s Assistant Food and Beverage Manager.  He and I worked well together.  Eventually, he and I shared the same office, which was more convenient and sensible thing to do because most of the time I was with him, anyway, liaising, working together on whatever function, dinner, seminar etc., we had in the wind.

Fritz and I also shared similar outlooks on life.  An outlook that considered a bit of madness, an amount of insanity helped retain one’s sanity.

The Front Office Manager, Alan Raby and I became friends, too. Alan was a lot of fun. His sense of humour and mine were similar (our sense of the ridiculous). We bounced off each other, sometimes uncontrollably, not quite knowing when to stop; not quite wanting to stop.  When we were together Alan and I morphed into “The Terrible Two”; we were possessed!  

Some of the managers of other areas in Ramada were quite staid, too staid for their own good. They took themselves far too seriously.  Their sombre outlook on life in a resort was all Alan and I needed to set us off.  They became easy prey; fodder to feed our hunger.

Fritz always tried to retain his decorum when in their presence, particularly when Alan and I were in the mix, but mostly he failed miserably in his endeavour.  Fritz would sit as far away as possible from Alan and me at the managers’ meetings, but he’d still get caught in our web. He was one of us; there was no escape.   

Invariably a lot of squirming and snorting came from the other end of the two round tables that were drawn together for the Wednesday meetings as Fritz tried to pretend he didn’t know Alan and me! 

The resort’s Sales-Marketing Manager, whose name I won’t mention, in particular, was a dour, sour, humourless pain-in-the-proverbial (and I don’t mean “neck”).  He thought he was God; he hated the fact that I kept reminding him he wasn’t.  We had a mutual non-admiration society going on, he and I.  I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me, and the status of our relationship was okay with me.   

He must have rued the day he put in a good word for me when I’d applied for the position at Ramada.  He and I had previously met a few times when I was managing the resort on Hinchinbrook Island. We’d both attended the same travel-tourism shows, seminars etc., throughout the country.

On any given day and night, the hours I worked at Ramada were long, but I was used to long hours after being on the island, and from the previous positions I’d been involved in before moving to North Queensland. 

I enjoyed what my job entailed. Dealing with future clients who came from many varied walks of life and areas with the desire to hold their business functions, seminars, special dinners etc., in one of the resort’s restaurants or reception areas was hectic, fulfilling, interesting...and fun. 

Mingling with and attending to the needs of the holiday-makers who chose the resort for their days of leisure under the tropical sun, as well as ensuing the diners, local and visitors from afar, partaking in the resort’s two restaurants enjoyed themselves and their meals was satisfying.

In life, I believe, fun is the name of the game – and it should never be banned from the workplace; as long as the job gets done and done well, in my eyes, there’s nothing wrong in having some fun while doing so! Of course, don’t misunderstand...there are times when we have to be serious, but how boring life and work would be if humour wasn’t allowed a presence!

The resort was fairly new when I commenced working there in late 1987. Built in 1986, Ramada Reef Resort then boasted the largest free-form pool in the southern hemisphere. 

The story was told to me that before the construction of the resort commenced the developers were made to sign a contract that they’d not remove any of the Melaleuca trees during the building of the resort; therefore the pool was built around the existing trees, and the trees were left undisturbed. 

Ramada Reef Resort’s fine dining restaurant was named “Melaleuca”.  And there is a “Melaleuca Resort” in Palm Cove, as well.  Palm Cove is proud of its Melaleuca aka Paperbark trees; and rightly so.

An asideRamada Reef Resort through the years was managed by various large, international hotel chains.  It has now been completely renovated into an apartment-style holiday complex. Managed by the Accor Group these days it’s known as “Grand Mercure Rockford Esplanade Apartments.

Back to business….

It was a Friday afternoon….the 6th November...when around 2 pm a sudden, desperate urge struck me; one I couldn’t deny. It held me in its grip.  However, I didn’t want to ignore the thought that wiped all other thoughts from my mind.  I was a captive in its clutches; a willing captive, I might add.   

Reaching for the phone book I searched for pet shop listings.  I’d been too long without a cat.  It might have only been a few months, but it had been a few months too long. My heart still ached for Ruska. My love for my beautiful ginger cat would never go away; he remains in my heart today. 

Something was missing in my life.  There was a gap in my heart that needed to be filled. I had to get myself a kitten; no ifs or buts; no mucking about.  I needed a kitten; and the more I thought about it, the more urgent every moment became.  Not wasting any more time, I picked up the phone and rang a pet shop in Lake Street, Cairns.  I told them what I was looking for…a ginger kitten…pure and simple.

 “Do have a male ginger kitten?” I asked, holding my breath, with my fingers crossed.  I was prepared to go through the discomfort while simultaneously trying to talk and hold onto the telephone receiver.

“Yes,” was the reply I received.

I was in luck!  It was my lucky day; and, although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the ginger kitten’s lucky day, too.

Without hesitation, I said, “I’ll have him, but….”

Coincidentally, and fortunately, I wasn’t working that night, but I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the premises until after 6 pm.  I explained my situation to the gentleman on the other end of the phone.  Hoping perhaps I could quickly shoot into Cairns early the following morning before I went to work I asked if the shop would be open on the Saturday morning and, if so, would I be able to gather the kitten into my eager arms then. The answer I received to my questions caused my excitement to rise to even further heights.  The fellow at the pet shop said he lived just north of Palm Cove.  He told me it would be no problem or inconvenience for him to do a minor detour off the highway to Ramada Reef Resort on his way home that evening – kitten in hand – or in a box!  If that suited me, that is what he would do.

Naturally, I jumped at his offer. It suited me down to the ground. Without hesitation, I accepted his thoughtful offer.   He gave me a time to expect him. Hardly able to contain my excitement, I told him to either ask for me at the Reception Desk or I’d be waiting at the entrance to the foyer.

Of course, like a little child waiting for Christmas morning to arrive, I was waiting outside from the front doors to Ramada’s foyer for his arrival...and for the arrival of my new little furry friend.

Around 6.30 pm, a white Toyota ute pulled into Ramada’s arrival/departure area.  I immediately approached the vehicle.

In a box on the tray of the ute was a dear little six-week old ginger kitten.  Needless to say, I was immediately smitten.

Thanking the pet shop owner, I handed him $5.00, the quoted price; in exchange he handed me the box that safely held a very relaxed kitten.  The kitten’s fate was sealed.   He was destined to be mine; and me, his.

That day – that Friday 6th November was the first and only time I’ve ever paid money for a cat.  I paid only $5.00 for the little ginger bundle of joy and love, but, in truth, I couldn’t have put a price on his worth. He was priceless.

As soon as the vehicle pulled out, I gathered my gear together, plus my new acquisition, and then, with heart a-pounding I jumped into my car and headed home.

I christened him “Pushkin”...”Alexander (Sergeyevich) Pushkin” to those not in his inner circle. Together, Pushkin and I were to share many adventures.

On my way home I stopped off briefly at local corner shop to buy some cat food and litter.  The decision I’d made earlier in afternoon had been a spontaneous one. I’d not planned to adopt a kitten at the start of the day.  I didn’t have cat food or cat litter just lying around my unit.  Come Saturday morning, on my way to work, I planned to pop into Woolworths at the Smithfield Shopping Centre to purchase meat and whatever else I needed for Pushkin, my new little mate; my “roomie”!

Pushkin showed no trepidation when I let him out of his transport box.  He was a brave cocky, inquisitive little soul.  When I finally stopped cuddling him, something he lapped up willingly, and he’d stopped smooching me in return; something I lapped up happily, I set him down so he could investigate his new home.  And investigate he did.  He left no corner, room, staircase, nook or cranny unexplored.  Nothing was sacred from his curious nose and eyes.  Of course, it only took him a couple of hours to decide my bed was his bed, too. No further debate was required.  Actually, no discussion at all occurred about the sharing of my bed. From that moment on what was mine was his.

In no time at all...perhaps 10 minutes at most...Pushkin ruled the roost. 

He was my birthday present to me. Pushkin had come into my life a few days before my birthday.  And then Christmas was just around the corner…the first of all his Christmases had come at once!

Christmas morning I had to be at Ramada to accompany Fritz in the large “garden” restaurant where the resort was hosting its Christmas lunch.  The restaurant was completely booked out with family groups and other hungry revellers. Extra tables spilled outside around the pool area to cater for the Christmas Day hordes.

Work beckoned loudly; a call I couldn’t ignore.  A massive buffet lunch had been organised to cater to those in the public who chose to be waited on rather than do their own Christmas lunch.

Fritz had been “volunteered” into being Santa.  (He and his wife, Margaret had two young children of their own, but their Christmas celebrations were delayed to appease the madding crowd). I’d put my hand up to be “Santa’s Helper”, with the proviso that as soon as the food had grabbed the full attention of the patrons I’d be racing off home to play hostess to my own guests for a late Christmas lunch. On my guest list were a couple of my Ramada co-workers.  We were all orphans, miles away from the rest of our families and friends. 

Alan, my mate from the Front Office Manager was one of my guests for lunch/dinner. Alan was from the Gold Coast so he was many miles away from his family and friends.  Before joining Ramada, Alan had worked as a magician in various venues on the coast.  He was gay and had not long before broken up with his boyfriend; hence his move to tropical Far North Queensland...a change of scenery to help him get over a change of heart.

I’d spent any spare time I had leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve night busily working through to the wee small hours getting my own preparation done to ease my load on Christmas Day.  Being one who always enjoyed enjoying my own parties and not spending all my time in the kitchen when I was hosting a dinner party, luncheon or party through the years I’d become very efficient at pre-preparation.  Over and beyond working within the hospitality industry, I used to also entertain a lot at home.  Those days are long gone; but they used to be...again...lots of fun.

The more preparation I could get done beforehand for Christmas Day, 1987, the first of two to be held in my townhouse at Yorkeys Knob, the better.

Always being a glutton for punishment no matter how enjoyable the punishment may be; and never learning lessons from the past, I’d planned a hot tradition Christmas meal for my own dinner guests…along with some fresh seafood, of course! Naturally, Christmas pudding and its trimmings was waiting patiently as the finale of the feast; along with the rich fruit cake I’d made somewhere along the way. On top of everything else, was a Panettone I’d made after I arrived home from work on Christmas Eve!  

The Italian sweet bread/cake loaf originated in Milan; and after I’d started making it I wished it had stayed in Milan!  I tested every muscle in my upper arms after mixing and kneading it for hours it seemed.  I needed to have my head read!

Traditionally, Panettones adorned Christmas tables in Italy; and elsewhere nowadays. Come Christmas 1987 one faithfully adorned my Christmas table.

Not coincidentally, three of my guests for Christmas 1987 were Italians; all of whom were from Northern Italy. 

Over the previous few months I’d been in a relationship of sorts with an Italian fellow who was a million years younger than I was.  Forget Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher – I was the original Cougar...I started it all off – you have my permission to blame me! 

Andrea aka Andrew, as he preferred being called when he was visiting Australia, at the time lived in Bagnacavallo, an Italian town in the province of Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, situated 50 kilometres southeast of Bologna, in Northern Italy. Bagnacavallo is approximately 278.7 km from Milan, which lies to the north-west.

Back in August/September, 2007, I wrote about a few chapters about this episode in my life...headed – “The Italian Invasion”.

Andrea worked for and with his father, Giuseppe (Beppe) who was a travel agent/tourist operator, based in Bologna. Beppe sent Andrea to various areas, not only throughout Italy, but to cities in Europe; to London and further afield to Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia.

Within that capacity, Andrea/Andrew and I met, at Tradewinds Outrigger Hotel in Cairns through our mutual tourism/travel interests. I was on a brief visit to Cairns at the time and Andrea was on his first visit to Australia, at his father’s bidding.  Cairns was his port of call.  

I was still managing Hinchinbrook Island Resort when we met. We forged a relationship that lasted almost two years.  Within that period he spent half his time here, returning to Italy for a couple of months at a time to renew his Visa or whatever else needed renewing. He’d spend six months here before having to head off back to Italy.  When he was in here in the Land of Oz he lived with me.

Coincidentally, Andrea and his sister had been raised by their mother and grandmother, their Nonna. His childhood was similar to that of my brother Graham and me. We’d been raised by our mother and our Nanna.  Beppe, Andrea’s father hadn’t played a role in the lives of Andrea and his sister when they were growing up...again similar to my own situation.  When Andrea turned 21 years of age, he sought out his father; and he began working for and with his father; dissimilar to my situation.

Andrea spent Christmas 1987 in Yorkeys Knob, Cairns with me and Pushkin. A couple of days before Christmas while explore Cairns proper, Andrea had run into two young Italian backpackers who were visiting Australia from Northern Italy.  Being the gregarious person he was, Andrea invited them to join us for Christmas lunch/dinner.  When he told me he’d invited the couple, I didn’t mind.  I’d planned more than enough food...enough to feed the Army, Air Force and Navy combined (it was a failing I had...and still have...I always over-cater.  But my mantra has always been...”better to have more than not enough)!  And I looked forward to opening my home to visitors from overseas at Christmas time.

Among the many stories of his life Andrea told me, he spoke regularly, and fondly, of his beloved Nonna. He told me stories of how his Nonna always had been the one who looked after the household while his mother, a nurse worked.   My mother went out to work while our Nana took care of the home, too. 

As it was Andrea’s first Christmas away from home and his family, I decided, as a special treat for him, I’d make a Panettone.  He’d told me his Nonna always had a Panettone on their Christmas table.

Christmas lunch began around 3 pm. After we’d all had more than our fill of the Christmas fare, and with determination trying to find room to squeeze in a slice of Panettone to accompany our coffee and liqueurs, it was then, and only then, Andrea informed me that my Panettone was the first time he’d ever had a home-made one! 

His Nonna, as was the habit of most others in Italy, had always presented the family with a store-bought Panettone, never a home-made one!

I could’ve killed him there and then on the spot – but the muscles in my arms were still sore from kneading the dough!

Pushkin enjoyed his first Christmas.  He had a ball. I enjoyed my first Christmas with him in my life.
He lapped up the attention; he was a real party animal.  He loved his new life, which was just as well, because he and I had many more fun in store for us to share.

A young married couple, Trevor and Ann lived in the townhouse adjoining mine in Varley Street, Yorkeys Knob.  We became friendly.  They were great neighbours. I didn’t get to know the tenants in the other two townhouses in our block of four.

Trevor idolized Pushkin.  He teased Pushkin relentlessly. To the stage at times I had to ask him to stop, but Pushkin kept coming back for more, giving as much as he got. Pushkin loved being tickled and teased by Trevor. When together, they were like a pair of mischievous little kids.  Trevor and Ann had a cat of their own, but their cat didn’t have the lively personality Pushkin had.  Their cat wasn’t interested in anything other than sleeping.  I think it may have been the first “Grumpy Cat”!

Pushkin and I spent two Christmases in the townhouse at Yorkeys; a couple of birthdays, his and mine and a few other spontaneous and planned parties before we packed up our belongings and moved into a rented house further along Yorkeys Knob Road, towards the highway heading north.

Pushkin didn’t have much to pack.  Everything he owned he wore on his back..