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

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!