"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


"A time-honored practice or set of such practices." I like traditions; in this fast-paced world, they provide constancy and a link to important events, people, and emotions from the past. Every family has its own traditions, and so do groups of friends, colleagues, and whole populations. It's Christmas time, which makes us remember Christmas traditions. I wanted to share a few of my Christmas traditions. These were established by the German and American members of my family, and continued by me, my sister and cousins.
The Christmas season in northern Europe starts will the first of four Sundays before Christmas Day, a period called "Advent". To mark the Sundays, most homes will light candles on a "Advent-Wreath", wound from pine branches and decorated with baubles and berries. Of course, each child must have an "Advent-Calendar"! Opening each little door and finding a chocolate or other surprise is a highlight of the day.
December 6th is St. Nicholas' Day. On this day, children wake up to find a"Rute" - a few tree branches tied together - at the end of their bed. If they've been 'good', the Rute has chocolates hanging from it; if they've been naughty, they just find the bare Rute, or a lump of coal.
All through December, towns have "Christkindl-Markets", and these are very much part of the Christmas tradition. Wrapped up against the cold, and fortified with some mulled wine, these markets are a great place to while away a few hours. The smells are amazing, from the spiced wine exuding smells of cinnamon and cloves, the gingerbread hearts, and of course, the hot chestnuts roasting in a large pan (they keep your fingers warm through your mittens). Not to be missed are the sausages on fresh bread rolls, and the roasted and caramelised nuts. Stand after stand tries to tempt you into buying Christmassy things, and let me tell you, they're quite successful! A typical item is one of the "Zwetschgen-Maenner" (prune men), little people made of prunes and dressed in a variety of costumes; they are local to the Frankfurt area.
In Germany, Christmas is celebrated mainly on 24th December, when the "Christkind" (Christ child) comes in the late afternoon or early evening, announced by the ringing of a bell. The Christmas tree is usually decorated in the afternoon of the 24th, while the children are distracted or baking cookies. Once the bell rang, all the family celebrated, with Christmas music playing, or singing, and the presents were opened. My sister and I always received a plate containing oranges, mandarines, dates, nuts, cookies, and chocolates. When we were little, there was also a doll's house and a little shop to play with. The shop was full of goodies, such as lollies and chocolate coins, which didn't last much past Christmas! Then Mum made dinner, usually a shrimp salad (Dad's favourite), a grilled pork roast with potato salad, and some home made cookies for afters. I still make the pork roast and potato salad on Christmas Eve. If my Grandmother was visiting, we went to midnight mass, well wrapped up because of the cold. In those days, mass was in Latin, and combined with the decorations, the late hour, and well known hymns, it was a special time. Often it snowed, and everybody was dressed in heavy woolen coats.
On Christmas Day, we kids played with our presents, and chatted to relatives on the phone, while Mum was busy making a turkey. This was the American Christmas tradition. Dad loved his turkey, and was happiest when Mum cooked the whole bird. It had all the trimmings, cranberry jelly, mash and gravy, peas and carrots, and little onions in white sauce. She never cooked stuffing, so that's a tradition I started. Other German families ate goose at Christmas, served with potato dumplings and red cabbage. In those days, turkey was not widely available in German shops, so duck or goose, or game was the meat of choice. In the afternoon, we often went for walks, to see how people decorated their home and trees. Before WW2, Christmas lights were unknown in Germany, trees were lit with real candles (resulting in quite a few fires!). Once the US forces were in Germany, they brought the Christmas lights along and so a new tradition was started.
My sister kept all my German grandmother's recipes for cookies and Stollen, a type of Christmas cake. She still uses the recipes to make cinnamon stars, bear paws, coconut macaroons, hazelnut and walnut cookies, butter cookies, and "Spitzbuben" ('rascals'), which are butter cookies baked with a layer of rose hip jam. The American contribution to our cookie collection were toll house cookies, still a favourite of mine. Other seasonal delicacies were "Domino-Steine" (little cookies made from layers of gingerbread, marzipan, and jam, then coated with chocolate. Gingerbread is very popular, and there are many varieties - all of which have to be sampled, of course!
When we were little, Dad got us a real Christmas tree, and it was just magical for us kids. The smell of fresh pine was wonderful. The tree was adorned with home-made decorations made by my sister and me in school, some glass baubles, and lots of tinsel. Can one still find old-fashioned tinsel? Now I have only one glass ornament left from our family tree, a little Santa in a yellow coat, and it always has pride of place on my tree.
Even though I don't have children, I love celebrating Christmas, decorating the house and tree, and finding things that remind me of my heritage. I still like to cook a turkey, complete with stuffing, even if it's just for the two of us (sometime a few 'orphans' come together to celebrate!). I'm not a baker, but might try my hand at baking a batch of butter cookies again this year. I still light candles on the Advent Sundays, no matter if it's 40C outside. I try and get together with as many friends as possible around Christmastime; it's more fun celebrating together. And occasionally, I just have to experience a real German Christmas - and fly off to the real Winter Wonderland! What's your Christmas tradition?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pets (3)

So, to continue with the stories of the pets in my life....
I left Germany in October 1980 and headed for Melbourne, Australia. Luckily, I had found a partner who loved animals almost as much as I do, and soon enough, a little tabby kitten adopted us! Fritz came from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital in De Villiers Street, so he got a fancy name - "Fritz De Villiers". Fritz was a cute tabby, with a white tummy and four white paws. He grew into a magnificent cat, with a big tabby purrsonality! Fritz was up for anything - I could wrap him around my neck, carry him, he'd sit on my lap quite happily, I danced with him, and took silly photos of him. He wasn't a very domineering cat, welcoming new arrivals without much fuss. My mum loved him when they came to visit, and called him "Fritzl Schnitzel". We moved into a bigger flat with a balcony, and he enjoyed sleeping on an old chair in the sun. By that time he had been joined by Muesli, a dainty little black cat lady from the Cat Protection Society. Her fancy name was "Muesli of Greensborough". She and Fritz got on quite well, they were both kittens together. Muesli was very affectionate, and loved hiding under a blanket. All one saw was a small lump in the bed! Incidentally, there's a hill near Euroa which we refer to as Mount Muesli, because it looks like Muesli under a blanket! We eventually moved to Sunbury, into our first house, and were joined by a little ginger tom, Morris (of Kingston). Morris spent most of his kittenhood draped around my neck! Fritz and Muesli were quite accepting of the newcomer, and it was fun to see the three cats lines up in front of their respective food bowls. Morris disappeared when we first moved into the house, for about 3 days. We thought he had gotten lost and were very happy when he did turn up, meowing loudly and VERY hungry NOW! The three cats lived happily together for a while, and then one morning I found poor Fritz, run over in the street. I took him home, and we buried him in the garden. Morris was with us for about 10 years, then he became sick with kidney disease. Muesli was with us for 17 years. She was later joined by Silvester (The Brook Street Cat - more about him later). Another cat we adopted was (Sunshine) Gomez. Gomez (aka Smokey) lived at Sunshine Hospital while I worked there in the late 90s. He lived in the hospital gardens, and people fed him, with the catering staff looking after him quite well! He was a very friendly cat, looked like a Russion Blue, with dense blue-grey fur, fat chipmunk cheeks, and startling green eyes. Eventually, the hospital was renovated and Gomez lost his habitat. I offered to give him a home and he came with us to Gisborne, keeping Silvester company. The thing about Gomez was - he was a full tom, and the first trip he made with me was to the vet, for a little 'snip'! Well, almost overnight, his personality changed! Gone was the laid-back, relaxed, friendly cat, and here was a pouncing, playful, cat monster that swiped at you when you walked past and loved nothing more than rough play! We recognised his 'moods' eventually and stayed out of his way when he had that telltale gleam in his eye! Poor old Silvester would have rolled his eyes if he could! We don't know how old Gomez was when we adopted him, but he lived a good many years, outlasting Silvester. Now Muesli, Silvester, and Gomez are all buried in the left back paddock - and do you think the birds feed in that paddock? Nope! Not a one. I sometimes like to imagine the three cat ghosts making mischief together.
And now we just have the one cat, Mitzi (of Burwood), a black and white long haired domestic cat. She came to us from the RSPCA, and looked very much like Silvester, which is probably why Wayne picked her. Her personality was VERY different from Silvester's, however! She is a bit of a grumpy cat when not getting her way! She doesn't like being picked up, and never sat on my lap until just recently, when she started to realise it's not all that bad. It's only taken her 6 or 7 years to figure that out. She likes a pat though, and has a lovely purr. Mitzi always sits behind me on the chair, sticking her foot into my ear or cleaning my hair along with her fur! She's very sedentary and sleeps a lot; I guess she's getting quite old now. Wayne sometimes takes her out and sets her down in the paddock. And she sits, and sits....the cat that sat!
So, that's the story of our Aussie cats. Next time, Silvester's story.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Confusion reigns!

It's October - a month I usually look forward to here in Australia. Daylight saving starts, the days are getting longer, occasionally they're even getting warmer. Spring has sprung, the trees are putting on fresh green finery, fruit trees blossom, the birds look frisky, little rabbits appear in the paddock, and DH is out mowing grass. The passing of the seasons is reassuring and familiar.
This year, I'm feeling my northern roots a little more, probably because I just spent nearly a month in the northern hemisphere. I saw squirrels busy foraging for their winter stores, bears gorging themselves on salmon to bulk up for hibernation, elk fighting for their right to rule their harem for another year. The trees were starting too show their autumn finery, gentle rain nourished the rain forest and the air was crisp.
I tend to change my surroundings with the seasons; with scented candles and warm throw rugs in winter, and flowers from the garden in summer. At the same time, my quilts and soft furnishings change. The Christmas quilt and decorations give way to my summer quilt, and in October I would bring out a spring quilt, depicting pretty florals and cats in pastel colours. But this year, I'm in a muddle! I want to go all out celebrating the northern autumn, All Hallows Night, and Thanksgiving, with quilts in rich earth tones, orange, and Jack-O'lanterns! I want to see my orny turkey and pumpkin teapot on the dresser, and hang my little Halloween quilt. And I'd really like to make a turkey feast and celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving!
So I'll have to find a compromise between the southern and northern seasons. Why should that be a problem, since we do the same for Christmas in Oz every year?! I'm quite used to Santa at the beach in December, and Christmas Day in 40C heat...
Do you find your cultures sometimes warring inside you? I'm sure a peaceful solution will eventually emerge!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Encounters of the bear kind

The holiday is over, but of course the brain is still processing all the diverse experiences of our trip to Canada and Alaska last month, turning them into wonderful memories. How do I start to describe all the amazing things we've seen and done? The drive through the always beautiful Canadian Rockies, meeting some of the nicest people one could ever meet, the interesting but short visit to Seattle, the cruise to Alaska? Well, these were all highlights, but today I want to try to describe our stay at Knight Inlet, and hope to convey a sense of how special this place is.
The only way to get to Knight Inlet is by float plane (or helicopter, depending on the weather). On a dull morning, we waited for the weather to clear in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and finally got the all clear, after being entertained by a couple of seals playing near the landing. I was lucky to get the co-pilot's seat - a cosy affair. The clouds dispersed somewhat, and the view of the inlet and it's islands was breathtaking from above! The Great Bear Rainforest stretches as far as the eye can see, and there is little sign of human encroachment. Twenty-five minutes later we land on the mirror-like waters of Glendale Cove.
Knight Inlet is a former logging camp, now converted into a very exclusive lodge with approximately 15 rooms to accommodate up to 30 guests. The lodge is a floating construction. The friendly and helpful staff take care of all the formalities and show us to our cedar-panelled room. "The Palace" houses three couples and a shared lounge with a cozy wood fired heater. Excellent wildlife art adorns the walls, and the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounge look out on the water. We arrive just in time for lunch, beautifully prepared by the two resident chefs. The activities and fresh air give everybody a good appetite. And then of course, we have to go see the grizzlies - after all, that's why we were here!
In order to observe the bears, we first needed to dress in appropriate gear. This meant donning float jackets, gum boots, and plastic trousers, since we had to take a short boat trip across Glendale Cove. It pays to wear several layers of warm clothes, and a hat! Once we arrived on shore, a brief walk took us to an assortment of old buses, one of which we boarded for the short drive through the forest to the stands. The observation stands are located along a salmon spawning channel which is diverted from a creek. The salmon here are plentiful, a fact the bears have learned and remembered. Even before we get to the stand, we spot a mother bear and two cubs splashing in the creek! Everybody is thrilled and wants a good look at their first bears! Mother bear is very protective though, and shoos the cubs into the shrubbery, until the bus passes. Incidentally, the buses don't stop, in order not to disturb the bears unnecessarily. We come to a halt at the stand and climb the stairs to a secure, elevated platform from which to observe. And not much later, there comes the first bear! This is "Bear Central", where the animals pass through on their way to and from the spawning channel. They are VERY close, sometimes walking right underneath us, not even 2m away! We all hold our breath and all one hears is the clicking of camera shutters. The bears seem not at all disturbed by our presence, and I must remind myself occasionally that these guys are fast, wild, and dangerous. And absolutely adorable! Over the course of our stay, we probably see up to a dozen different animals. They amble about in the creek and channel, and have only to reach out and snare a juicy salmon, and they are very fast fish catchers! No wonder, with claws as long as my fingers! The staff know their bears, and have names for them. One bear in particular, Flo, is very recognisable because of her pale face, and she is a bit of a show-off, ambling around the stand and virtually doing somersaults for us! Two and a half hours of bear-watching fly by, and we have to head back to the lodge. Everybody is so excited! After appetisers, drinks and a yummy dinner, we all head off to our (very comfy!) beds, and dream of ursus arctos horribilis!
Over the next day and a half, we go watch bears again and again. It's like whale watching, you don't notice how the time goes by. At other times, we take a boat tour of the estuary, and see more wildlife - seals, mink,heron, bald eagles, geese, deer, otter, and a huge variety of birds. Our guide, John, loves the birds and tells us their names. We see bears, a mother and her cub, "Peanut", digging for food on the estuary flats. Kayaks and boats approach to view them, but these beasts only have one thought - food. They need to put on as much weight as possible before they hibernate. Other activities are a tracking walk, kayaking, marine cruises (whale watching), and releasing baby salmon, which are bred at the lodge. But we're just suckers for the bears and keep watching Flo and her companions catch fish!Certain spots of the spawning channels are deep, so that the salmon can get away from the bears, and we notice that there are huge numbers of fish in those spots, even though we are told that fish numbers are down considerably from last year.

It's a special privilege to be able to see these creatures in their natural habitat and learn more about them. The people at Knights are very responsible in their attitude towards the wildlife and environment, working towards making the experience a treasured memory for us and at the same time actively promoting good practice. Staying here certainly will be something I'll never forget!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New toy

Well I took my new toy for a walk the other day, the new toy being a new camera. Now the proud owner of a Canon EOS 550D, I shall snap everything that comes across my path! Claude the retriever is traditionally the subject of my first 'shot' on a new camera, and for this one he obligingly sat still, no doubt expecting a reward for his efforts.
What better place to try out a new camera than at the zoo, where the inmates haven't much choice but to suffer my benign intrusion! I do try to present them in the best light, and was happy with about 5% of my 'haul'. I'm very happy with the image quality of my new toy, and once I've learned a little more about it's functions, I hope to do some interesting things with it. In the meantime, I'll keep posting a few shots here now and then.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pets (2)

To continue my story about the pets that have shared my life....
In Frankfurt, I lived on the 11th floor of a high-rise, in a village called Schwanheim. This was very close to the airport, where I worked. The high-rise ("Hochhaus") consisted of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments, and had an interesting mix of inhabitants - the first 7 floors were occupied by elderly folk, who were quite independent. The upper floors were rented out to single women, most of them airline staff. Many flight crew shared rooms there, and ground staff as well. I first shared a two-room apartment with a flight attendant from Cologne, then moved into my own 1-room bedsit. It was quite cosy, with an alcove for the bed,  a large-ish living area, separate kitchen and bathroom and a balcony overlooking the Main river. More about that another time.
After living there for a while, I thought the company of a kitten might be nice. I can't quite remember now where I got him from, but soon a little tabby tom joined me. He was very cute, with a white tummy and socks, and I called him "Julius". He provided endless hours of fun, loved to curl up on the window sill and watch birds flying past. I couldn't let him out on the balcony, for fear of him falling from such a height. Instead, I got a lead and we went for walks. Well, he went for walks, and I followed! He grew into a magnificent cat, and I couldn't get home from work too soon to play with him! At night, Julchen slept in my bed. When I went to sleep, the pillow was mine - by the time I woke up, it was his!
By the time Julchen was a year old, I had met DH and knew I was going to live in Australia. It would have been enormously expensive to take Julchen along, and the idea of leaving him in quarantine for months on end did not appeal to me either. So, sadly, a new home had to be found for my kitty! Luckily, a lady at the cattery saw him and wanted to adopt him immediately! It turned out to be the best thing all round - Julchen lived a long, happy cat life being pampered by his new owner (she wrote to me for many years telling me about his exploits), and spending his days in cosy comfort, with a garden to play and chase things in. He had indeed fallen on his furry paws!
Once in Australia, one of my priorities was finding a new kitty. I was lucky to have found a partner who also liked animals, so we ended up with the three mouseketeers.....more next time!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Little lanes

I love exploring Melbourne's little lanes. They're always full of surprises, no matter how often I visit. Armed with my camera, I go in search of new and interesting vistas of my city. One of my favourites is Union Lane, just off Bourke Street Mall. It's a very narrow space, claimed by spraycan artists (I'm sure there's a better term but I don't think they like to be called 'graffiti' artists!). The tableaux change on a regular basis, and some are stunning. Colourful, shocking, artistic, joyous - so many ways to describe them!
The trick is to look UP! (Thanks for reminding me of that, Scott!). One encounters a whole new dimension, especially in Melbourne, full of Art Deco architecture. Delicate glass ceilings in arcades, antique lamps overhanging a narrow lane, art nouveau tiles in stairwells, carved sconces supporting window sills, criss-crossing walkways high above - I expect them to swing away suddenly, magically as in Griffindore  - every turn reveals more.
The lanes are bustling with people, tables laden with food and drink cramming the sidewalks, coffee shops galore, their heady aroma stimulating the chatter....everybody talks to everybody here.
Some of the lanes are not for the faint hearted, even in daytime. Accosted occasionally by (mostly polite) homeless folk, one might stumble across a lively drug trade, imperious wedding photographers, politicians. Nearby backpacker palaces ensure a international and boisterous youth presence at all times. The retail outlets here are quirky and transient, favouring the hand made, fair trade, ethnic, and downright intriguing.
One can walk through the lanes and arcades from Flinders Station all the way up to Melbourne Central, through the heart of the city, over to QV and back down again to the east, discovering downstairs bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants, all hopping on a Friday night.

Come with me on a photographic journey through my city...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Why the face!!!

Spleen alert! Okay, I need to rant -
Obviously, Australia isn't ready for a female, unwed, atheist Prime Minister! The questions and comments Julia Gillard has to endure makes me wonder why we burnt our bras in the 60's?! So they're questioning her ability to run the country because she's not married, and her moral integrity because she's not religious! Whereas Tony Abbott 's morality is, of course, iron-clad because he's vociferously Christian, and he's able to do the job because he's married and has children! What rot.
Philosophy was around long before the large organised religions were and gave people a moral compass, if they wanted it, making humans live together more peacefully than after the advent of certain religions. I worry about politicians bringing their religious views into politics - there are good reasons to keep state and church separate! I for one, trust a  rational sceptic more than a blind follower of faith.
Disclaimer: I have nothing against people who are religious, but lots against discrimination and holier-than-thou attitudes.
Okay, end of rant.

Friday, July 16, 2010


This recipe was sent to me by "Grandmother's Garden" in New Zealand. Haven't tried it yet, but it sounds wicked! If somebody makes it, please let me know if it tastes as good as it sounds!

Magic Pudding

220g block of Caramello chocolate
1 1/3 cups self raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup caster sugar
125 g butter melted
1 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 3/4 cups boiling water
Frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 180C or 160C in fan forced. Grease a 3cm deep lamington pan. Place chocolate block in the freezer for 20 minutes. Sift flour and 2 tablespoons cocoa into a bowl. Add caster sugar, butter and milk. Whisk until smooth and combined. Spread mixture into prepared pan. Break chocolate into squares and press with the pecans into the mixture. Using a spatula, smooth mixture over the top. Place lamington pan on a baking tray. Sprinkle brown sugar over the mixture. Sift over remaining cocoa. Carefully pour the boiling water over the back of a large metal spoon over the mixture. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until top is just set. Top with frozen raspberries while still hot and when cooled sift icing sugar over for serving. Serve with ice cream for a really special treat.

Photo by freedigitalphoto.net

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Haiku challenge

Ok, now for something completely different!
Do you like poetry? From limerick to ballad, sonnet to clerihew, ode to rondel, there's an amazing variety of style and topic to choose from. In school we had to memorise poetry, get up in front of the class and recite! Not one of my favourite exercises, and this was what probably put me off this genre for many years! I vividly remember getting stuck on "Barbarossa" and classmates furiously  (and rather loudly) whispering the next line... I did like hearing the cadence of poetry, especially the ballads. One of my favourites was Goethe's "Erlkoenig", and its haunting words can still stir me.
More recently, I've become interested in Haiku, a Japanese form of poetry. Now, I'm usually not in favour of things Japanese (my personal boycott because of whaling), but being somewhat of a language geek, I like the pared-back simplicity of haiku. According to a rather gorgeous book I found recently (Haiku Inspirations by T. Lowenstein), haiku was established as a form of poetry many centuries ago. It is however, not the history but the form that interests me. Lowenstein describes a classic haiku as "three lines long, made up of 5-7-5 syllables. It contains a kigo word....alluding directly to a season....and a kireji (cutting word), placed at the end of any of the lines ...denoting a pause or full stop - their presence implies a moment to reflect on the preceding lines".
An example - a haiku by Basho -
                                                   Temple bells die out.
                                                   The fragrant blossoms remain.
                                                   A perfect evening.
Obviously, something is lost in the translation, but you get the idea. There are several websites on the net for haiku aficionados, with many of them not conforming to 'rules' which is ok. They can be humerous, witty, sad, joyous, philosophical, but they get the message across in 17 syllables!
So, dear ones, I propose a haiku challenge - everybody can write poetry! Send me your haiku!
I'll start off with one of mine -
                                                 Antares rising.
                                                 A diamond on black velvet,
                                                 in icy splendor.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Winter Sunday

If you can be bothered to leave your warm bed in the depths of winter, Melbourne is worth getting out of bed for. I can hibernate with the best of them, but today felt like braving the 8C temperatures to avoid cabin  fever! DH and I headed off to the city and mingled with backpackers, students, and other brave souls wrapped in scarves, hats, gloves, and several layers of woolly garments. The skies were overcast, but no rain, and little wind. Federation Square was hopping, rugged types in deckchairs watching the big screen showing movie clips, art, and ballet. The restaurants were doing a brisk business, and we headed to "arintji" for a fortifying glass of rose and some yummy tasting plates. I tried a really nice mushroom terrine with pickled red onions and croutons, and DH made short work of a lamb skewer and a few other nibbly things. We headed over to the Atrium to see if the book market was on but no luck. There was a very long line for the Tim Burton exhibition, something to remember for another day. After browsing through the National Gallery shop, we looked at the beautiful glass art exhibited in another corner. An exhibition of Rupert Bunny's works was on at the NGV, and across the road the main part of the NGV is hosting an exhibition of European Masters from the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt. (The Staedel Museum was on the regular school excursion list when I lived in Germany, so I've probably seen most of the works! Wouldn't mind seeing them again though). We walked up Swanston Street, said Hi! to Larry Latrobe, then turned down Collins Street.
My chocolate radar was in good working order, and I spied the Lindt Cafe - right next to Tiffany & Co.! Feeling ready for a treat - and kinda knowing it wasn't going to be the jewellery kind - we soon found ourselves seated in a spacious, bright cafe with gleaming counters, mountains of chocolate, attentive waiters, and the delicious scent of chocolate wafting all around us. DH succumbed to a strawberry dipping plate, and I chose the Lindt Mocha and a scrumptious Hazelnut gateau, astonishingly like one my mother used to make! Felt utterly decadent.
The heritage-listed building in which the cafe is situated is amazing, with a very high ceiling, art deco skylight, and a balcony around the central atrium. It also houses a shoe shop, which is lit by a spectacular round chandelier. We headed back to the car, walking through some of the city's back lanes, which were packed with people eating and drinking and talking and laughing and having a great time! Melbourne is always worth a visit, and even after living here for 30 years, there is always something new to see and do.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pets, critters, beasties(1)

Whoever follows this will know by now that I'm a fan of all creatures great and small - occasionally I even like humans! So I figured this is a good way to remember some of the critters that have shared my life, and some that are still sharing.
When I was little, we travelled a lot. Dad was with the US Air Force, so we never put down roots anywhere for long, which is why we never had a pet as a child. My first encounter, as a toddler, was with 'Baby', my Grandma's springer spaniel. We got on like a house on fire, shared ice cream and cheerios (often from the same spoon, much to Mum's chagrin). Because of Baby, I was never scared of animals and would approach even the most ferocious looking dog for a pat, no doubt causing more heart attacks for my folks. When we moved to Germany, we lived in flats, and pets were not really a good idea in that environment. Mum & Dad were not pet people although they liked animals. Dad once had a dachshund called 'Oggie' but then he left for overseas, so Oggie got a new home.
When my sister was a toddler, we 'rescued' a sparrow that probably had been mauled by a cat, but it didn't last they day. My folks then decided to get a canary, 'Hansi', who lived with us for several years and sang his little heart out for us! Mum had gotten used to a bird, so when Hansi died, she got herself a little green Amazon parrot, 'Suesse' (Sweetie). Mum had a lively, slightly high pitched voice, which the parrot responded to well. It took no time at all for Suesse to imitate Mum, even her laugh! Whenever we laughed, Suesse laughed too! This bird was amazing. She insisted sitting at the table with us when we had dinner, with her own little dish and woe betide! if she didn't have the same things we were eating - she went and got it from the bowl herself! Having eaten, she graciously allowed us to carry her back to her cage. Suesse was only in her cage when we went out, other times the cage was open and she sat on top of it, surveying her kingdom. Suesse couldn't fly, her wings had been damaged. Mum trained her to sit on a walking stick which hung on the cage, so when Suesse wanted to explore, she dumped the walking stick on the floor, climbed down, and then pulled it along behind herself. In the mornings, she followed Mum around the house, with the walking stick, knowing her routine by heart, and watched her make the bed and clean the bathroom. And the carry-on if Mum was late, you wouldn't believe it! In the evening, Suesse sat on Mum's knee, munching on a piece of apple, watching TV with her. Mum had her for 18 years and we all missed Suesse when she died. In the meantime, I had moved into my own flat and was thinking of getting a cat....(to be continued).

picture from /www.free-pet-wallpapers.com

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Sunday Drive

DH felt like a drive, so we tootled off to Hepburn, in mineral springs country. It was a bit of a cold day with threatening clouds but not much rain. The drive up there is nice, through farm country with rich fertile soil, and forests, waterfalls, creeks, and little out-of-the way hamlets such as Musk and Glenluce. We avoided the tourist trap of Daylesford and took a turn down the road to Hepburn, where Wayne wanted to have lunch at "Chowder House". Hepburn was quiet, very few people about and what few shops there are, ready to close up for Sunday naptime! The "Chowder House" was
hopping though; we were lucky and got seats right away. It's a cosy little cafe, with an all day breakfast, yummy desserts, and of course! chowder in several variations. It was written up some months ago in the AGE, and being the foodies we are, has been on our list to visit since then. DH chose the seafood chowder, and the prawn chowder was my choice, after agonising over all the others! While we waited for the food to arrive, we admired the decor - very 1950's with steel chairs with plastic backings riveted on! Somebody also collected weird and wonderful salt & pepper shakers, and two Irish-looking sheep graced our table. Everybody was rugged up in winter woolies and tucking into their soup bowls with gusto. Eventually our chowders arrived, with chunks of fresh bread, and what can I say - they were worth the 45 minute drive! Wayne's was chock full of fish, prawns, mussles, clams, and mine with plump, tasty prawns. We were soon oblivious to all around us until somebody started talking about the football and started rubbishing my football team - in a nice way, though. I gave them a benign warning and then half the cafe was into it! Victorians like their footy! (For the record - I don't. Never have, never will. My mother in law said I had to barrack for Geelong and that was it). After the chowder, we went for a walk and visited a couple of galleries, and peeked into the Hepburn general store, which looks like something you might have seen in the 1950s.  We then headed into gold field country, and got a little lost. Came across an old ruined farmhouse and a few nice old farm sheds. There were sheep in the holding pens and did they ever make a racket! A little later, we saw a big mob of kangaroos near the forest edge, some of them huge. The wildlife is abundant up there, I stopped counting the kookaburras, and we saw a wedgetail eagle circling a valley, looking for lunch too. Stopped for coffee in Kyneton, and had a chat with one of the locals about town development. What more could one expect from a Sunday drive!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


What is it about cookbooks? I'm sure there are quite a few of us out there who enjoy leafing through photos of scrumptious food, reading about chefs, and wondering whether we have the 25 ingredients listed in that amazing recipe in our pantry. What makes a good cookbook? I think, as with all books, a decent index is a good start. A good book can be ruined by a bad index. And then, as with food per se, the senses must be engaged; the eye, with beautiful images, and the sense of touch with crisp, new pages. Then there's the imagination which must be fired, both by photos, the names and provenance of the recipes, and the stories behind them. Then there's the art of writing recipes. It sounds easy, but believe me, there is an art to writing an instruction that will result in a delicious, and often complex dish. Try writing a recipe for poached eggs!
I have been collecting cookbooks over the years, and have many great chefs at my fingertips, sitting on my bookshelves. Some are old books, brought with me when I migrated to Australia. I keep them, now mainly for nostalgic reasons. Cooking has moved on from the 1970s! Even more so from the 1850s, when Mrs. Beeton was the Margaret Fulton of her time, when cooking was serious business, upstairs and downstairs. But books such as these are great to browse through, and can certainly teach one the basics, if you can work out the archaic measurements. So many great cooks have touched our lives - who can forget Floyd "One glass for the pot, one for me", or the two fat ladies "lets add butter, and lard just for the hell of it", or Delia Smith "this is how you boil an egg". Not to mention Gordon F...g Ramsay.....
Some of these people have produced fantastic cookbooks. And yes, I do try some of their recipes when I have a quiet afternoon to shop and prepare. Sometimes the ingredients are unobtainable here in Australia, but the challenge is to find an acceptable alternative, and adapt the recipe using our excellent local and seasonal produce.
I do have some favourites among my collection - Tessa Kiros' "Cloudberries falling on snow", and her Venetian cookbooks. They satisfy on all levels! Greg Malouf's "Saha", in which he takes us on a wonderful visual and culinary Middle Eastern journey, Antonio Carluccio's "Italia", highlighting the best of Italian regional cooking, "Jamie at Home" - Jamie Oliver's very down-to-earth recipe collection, and Maeve O'Meara's "Food Safari", exploring the food cultures of Australia, Stephanie Alexander's "Cooking and Travelling in South-West France", and my most recent addition, "Brunetti's Cookbook" by Donna Leon, the crime author. My "bibles" - cookbooks that will come to the rescue if you're stranded in the middle of cooking and need help - Margaret Fulton, of course, and for my German food, a Bavarian tome given to me at my wedding.
Wayne sometimes brings me a new one when he sees a recipe he'd like me to try - so considerate! Of course, there are several cookbooks on my wishlist, such as George Calombaris' "Greek cooking from the Hellenic heart", "Moroccan Cooking", and Abla's cookbook (Lebanese cuisine). I'm sure I can think of a few more. One I'd love to get my hands on is Mum's old cookbook, but my sister is keeping a beady eye on that! My American grandma gave it to Mum when she came to America, and it's got quite a few handwritten bits and pieces in it. So, tell me about your favourite cookbooks!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


DH and I grew up in very different places. I was pretty much a city kid growing up in the US and Germany, taking toys and TV for granted, while Wayne was a country kid in Australia, without TV for much of his childhood and toys a rarity. "What did you do when you wanted to play?" I asked him, and he fondly recalled his cowboys and indians battles with his 3 brothers, pouring kerosene into puddles and lighting them (!), and playing with marbles. We did have marbles in common!
The first toy I remember having is this gorgeous Steiff teddy, which is still one of my treasures. I was about three years old that Christmas, and the box under the Xmas tree was nearly as tall as I was. My parents said I should open the box, and when I did, it tipped over and unleashed an almighty GRRROOOWWWL! Terrified, I ran into the bedroom and hid behind the bed! It took a lot of cajoling to get me back into the lounge room with that fearsome box! Once Mum & Dad opened it, the most adorable teddy appeared, and after Dad tipped him over a few times to show that the growl was harmless, we became fast friends. Most of my toys were of the animal variety. The Steiff company was very well represented, and I had an amazing wooden circus wagon on wheels, a great prop for playing circus with all my animals. One of my favourites was a little puppy dog, which accompanied me everywhere. After losing him on a flight between the US and Germany, I was inconsolable, and the first thing Mum had to do after landing was find exactly the same one - which she did! My godson inherited the puppy, and now his little girl plays with it. I was never that fond of dolls, except for one I remember for her long hair, which I turned into elaborate hairdos using Mum's rollers and bobby pins. When my sister came along, we played with Lego a lot. We also had a supermarket and a dolls house, but they only came out on Christmas. We spent hours 'shopping' for miniature groceries with chocolate coins, and stacking shelves, and eating the produce.... Later toys were novelties, such as green 'slime' - icky! Or those troll dolls with nothing but hair and a squashed nose - remember those? And Smurfs! I think we had every Smurf under the sun! What were your favourite toys?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lunch & name dropping

Ok, so I have a thing about food, cooking, cookbooks, chefs..... Somehow, everything always comes back to food! So I was very pleased when DH booked us into a lunch with Signor Antonio Carluccio, courtesy of The Age & Dymocks. We'd been to a few of these 'authors' lunches' before (Jeffrey Archer - before he went to jail, and Chris Patton, the erstwhile Governor of Hong Kong), but this was the first one with a celebrity chef! Antonio is quite well known and loved here in Australia, bringing his passion for food and love of Italian regional dishes to our TV screens back in the 90's. I watched his cooking shows regularly, he was a great ambassador for Italy, and had a very down-to-earth demeanor and straightforward way of presenting his recipes. He just let the food, colours, textures, and landscape speak for themselves, without frippery or fancy ingredients. My kinda chef! So I was very much looking forward to spending some time with Signor Carluccio today.
The lunch was at our Art Centre in Melbourne, very apt, I thought, since food and art surely compliment each other. His books were on sale, and of course I needed one more cookbook for my collection! And a DVD for good measure!
Thus armed, and fortified with a glass of bubbly, we took our seats in the Arts Pavillion, a large airy room comfortably seating around 120 guests. The lunch, a two-course meal, was inspired by Mr. Carluccio, and consisted of slow-cooked lamb shoulder in its own juice, creamy polenta, and fragrant wild mushrooms. It certainly did the master credit! The meat was impeccably cooked, moist and nearly but not quite falling apart. The polenta supported the strong flavours beautifully, and the mushrooms were heavenly! We don't get a large variety of mushrooms here in Australia, so I'm always impressed if someone cooks them well. But wait, there's more! In keeping with the Italian theme, we had a trio of desserts, a small serve of tiramisu, a tiny pear poached in red wine, and an orange and lemon ricotta tart, followed by really good coffee. Life couldn't get much better than this!We chatted with the other guests on our table; they were foodies like us and we had lots to talk about! Antonio made the rounds and very graciously posed for photos with many of us. A notebook was sent around, for people to write a message to Antonio, which I thought was a nice idea. He spoke for a while about his life in London, his restaurant, his love for food (and the ladies!), and told some jokes ("How does a NZ sheep farmer find his sheep in the high grass? - Delightful!"). At 73, he's bursting with vitality and is currently writing his biography and producing another TV series, which I'm looking forward to seeing.
Finally, Antonio signed his cookbook for me, and I hope he'll come back to Oz one day soon! Problem is, now DH wants me to cook all his recipes....