Monday, February 20, 2017


My Gympie school friend's home - as it still stands it's not altered much since the 50s.. In the 50s it was a very stylish home. It still is...

Hold on!  Don’t throw in the towel just yet!  Let me explain!  It’s no small thing. Well, actually it is, proving size does matter!  Please...give me time to find my glasses.  Nowadays everything is getting smaller.  Soon I’ll have to increase the magnifying power of my glasses ten-fold to enable me to read the small print.

We’re urged to read the ingredients, nutritional information and country of origin on products we purchase, but the print is so incredibly small it’s unreadable. To my naked eye, it is; even when I don my glasses I can’t decipher the print, not without immense difficulty. 

I carry two pairs of glasses with me when I go shopping at my local supermarket.  (The situation would be the same if I went shopping at a supermarket in another area)!

The stronger pair of glasses I use to TRY to read the print on products (double emphasis on “TRY”); but even then I have problems translating what’s written. No hope!  I probably would be better off with a couple of glasses of Scotch!!

I stand in the aisles squinting like I’ve been hit by a massive burst of capsicum spray.

Furthermore, those who design the packaging and insist upon using minute, coloured font on a base colour that makes interpreting the print almost, if not totally, impossible to read, need their heads read. 

Nowadays, similar applies to newspapers and magazine. It’s frustrating!  

What are these people trying to prove?  Do they have shares in optical companies? 

I got hold of a 2017 calendar the other day. I can barely read the headlined names of the months, let alone the individual dates thereon. They’re indecipherable. The digits are so tiny only ants can read them; but even they’re having problems.  I know this for a fact because only yesterday I saw an ant stomping by wearing a pair of glasses, grumbling angrily because he didn’t know what day it was.  It’s obvious to me ants are having difficulties, too.  

Perhaps I’m not alone; maybe I’m not going blind, after all!

Not only is the font getting smaller by the day, but in a very sneaky, undercover, subversive move many of our favourite products of old are shrinking in size, too. 

For starters - Ginger Nuts are half the size they once were.  These days they’re about the size of a 50 cent piece!  Peters Drumsticks have shrunk in size (and I’m not referring to the mini-Drumsticks...the regular ones, that appear to me to be no long regular)!

And then, as well as shrinking products, some bright spark comes along and decides to change tried and proven recipes of old, causing the taste/flavour of said products to be different to what they once were.

I’m pretty sure Arnott’s Arrowroot biscuits are smaller than what they used to be.

One thing I do know about Arrowroot biscuits is, they don’t taste like they once did, neither do Arnott Sao biscuits. 

I bought a packet of Sao biscuits the other day.  I’d not had a Sao in years.  To my dismay they are no longer the Sao of old!  As far as the changes to Arrowroot and Sao biscuits are concerned that’s no small matter in my book.  

After school - primary school – often I’d go to a friend’s home to play for an hour or two.  Without fail, upon our arrival my friend’s mother sat us down at their kitchen table for a snack before we went out to play. Theirs was a large, glossy, stylish kitchen (much larger than the kitchen in my family’s small, humble abode - which, in fact or slightly exaggerated fiction was not much bigger than my friend’s kitchen!  A slight exaggeration, maybe...but you get the picture).  My school friend’s entire home was much larger and more fashionable.  

Her father was a very popular, well-to-do Gympie doctor who, along with his wife, moved in the “right” social circles.

For our afternoon treat my friend and I each were given a plate bearing Arrowroot biscuits sprinkled with sugar, with full cream milk poured over them.  I can still taste those yummy snacks. 
At home, my home, often my brother, Graham and I enjoyed similar Arrowroot biscuits and milk treats.  We loved Arrowroot biscuits served that way – any way.  

My childhood friend’s family may have had more money than mine, and lived in a larger, fancier house than I did, but they never made me feel small.  That friend from my childhood and I still communicate to this day.  Seeing we’ve both survived three score years and ten, plus a little more, that’s no small achievement.  You do the math; I’m not going to do it for you.  It’ll save you trying to locate a Sudoku puzzle. 

In our primary school days we were small pupils.  Perhaps nowadays my pupils have grown smaller and that’s what’s making things more difficult to read!  Now, there’s a thought worth magnification!

Arrowroot and Sao biscuits, like Vegemite, were part and parcel of our childhood years...and beyond.  Thankfully, Vegemite still tastes the same as it did when I was a kid – as it should taste.  However, in my opinion (or taste) Dick Smith’s version is a sad imitation.  Personally, I don’t like his take on Vegemite.  I took one taste of it once on a piece of toast...and immediately threw the toast and jar away - untouched, except for that one try of it!  

I want the old Arrowroot and Sao biscuits back!!  Sao biscuits used to be crisp, flaky and tasty.  Now they’re dense and bland.

To my dismay, shortly after I took on the position of Chef-Manager of the single men’s mess/canteen and accommodation quarters at Collinsville, in the rich coal-mining area of the Bowen Basin back in the early 90s, I discovered one of my staff had been making Vanilla Slices using Sao biscuits instead of puff pastry!
I know!  I know!  It’s a recipe used in many homes when making Vanilla Slices, and if that’s what folk want to do in their homes, that is their business, their choice; but I wasn’t going to have it in our commercial kitchen.   

Promptly I poured cold water on that practice and flushed it down the kitchen sink.  It was replaced with real Vanilla Slices. If we couldn’t present the men in our care with the real thing, then Vanilla Slices were off the menu.  As far as I was concerned we weren’t going to take the easy way out by presenting them with imitations.  We did, however, cheat in the puff pastry department, using frozen puff pastry rather than making our own puff pastry from scratch.  Being a commercial kitchen the puff pastry used came in a large roll, in an outer similar to that of plastic cling-wrap or aluminium foil...but much larger, of course.

I want my old (but fresh) Arrowroot and Sao biscuits back!   And, I want the print on our grocery products bigger and legible – readable and understandable to the layperson, of which I am one!!

Capsicum-Tomato Curry: Heat 1tbs olive oil in heavy-based pot; add 1 large, finely chopped onion and a few curry leaves; fry until onions are transparent; add some garlic-ginger paste; sauté 3mins; add 1tsp red chilli powder/paste, 1/4tsp turmeric and 1tsp coriander. Cut two large green capsicums into big squares; add to pot along with 2 tomatoes cut into large pieces; fry, uncovered, 7-8mins. Add 1c veg stock; season to taste; cook, covered, 10-12mins on low-med heat, until thickened. Add 1-1/2tsp finely crushed roasted peanuts, 1/2tsp fenugreek leaves and 1-1/2tsp roasted sesame seeds, powdered. Cook uncovered, 5mins. Serve with rice or rotis.

Lentil-Stuffed Capsicums: Preheat oven 180C. Line roasting pan. Slice tops off 4 medium red capsicums; reserve tops; scoop out seeds and membrane; stand capsicums in pan. Melt 20g butter in frying pan over med-heat. Add 1 thinly sliced celery stalk and1 thinly sliced, trimmed leek. Cook, 3-5min; add 2 crushed garlic cloves, 3tsp ground cumin and 1tsp ground coriander; cook 1-2mins; add 400g can drained, rinsed brown lentils (or cook your own), 1x400g can diced tomatoes, 1tsp veg stock powder, pepper and 1/2c cold water. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5-10mins, until thickens; add 1/3c chopped, flat-leaf parsley; season; spoon mixture into capsicums; place tops over filling; drizzle with a little oil; bake 45-50mins. Lift tops off capsicum; serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt, if you like; replace tops.

Arrowroot Biscuit Slice: Line 18x28cm slab pan. Coarsely crush/break-up 250g Arrowroot biscuits. Melt 125g butter; add 3/4c icing sugar and 2tbs cocoa powder; stir over low heat until mixture is dissolved and smooth. Remove from heat; stir in biscuits, 1/4c desiccated coconut, 1/2 slivered almonds or chopped walnuts/pecans, 1/3c dried cranberries, 1/3c chopped dates or dried apricots, 1 lightly beaten egg and 1tsp vanilla. Mix well; press into the tin. Melt 200g dark chocolate; then pour over the slice; smooth with spatula; allow to set at room temp. Cut into squares; then eat!

***Vanilla Slice: Puff pastry Place 500g chilled plain flour and 1-1/2tsp salt in a large mixing bowl; stir to combine. Add 400g room temp butter, cut into 2cm cubes, and run a knife through the mixture to coat the butter in the flour. Rub butter into flour with your fingertips to squash the butter pieces a bit. Add 1tsp lemon juice to 200-240ml iced water, make well in centre; add about 180ml of the water. Using your hands, squeeze the dough together to form a ball - if it's too dry, add more water, a little at a time, until a firm dough is formed. Press dough into a ball and knead lightly. The dough should feel firm with large macadamia-sized butter dots throughout. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 20-30mins. Unwrap dough; dust it with flour. Also, dust the rolling pin and the bench. Roll dough into a rectangle about 50cm long x 20cm wide. Fold the ends of dough so the edges meet in the centre and press into place. Fold in half along the centre line to create four layers (the dough will resemble a book). Rewrap and chill again for 20-30mins. Remove from fridge and repeat process three more times. Chill dough for at least 2 hours after the final roll, before rolling out and baking. Fiddly-Viddly Vanilla Slice - 2 x 180g blocks homemade puff pastry, chilled; Preheat oven to 220C. Line a 23cm square deep cake tin with two lengths of baking paper, so each side has an overhang of at least 5cm of paper (these will be used as "handles" when lifting out the finished slice). Dust bench top and rolling pin with flour; roll out pastry into two squares 27cm x 27cm. Chill for 30mins. Place the pastry squares on two lined baking trays then use a fork to prick the sheets all over. Bake for 10mins; then carefully press pastry with a clean tea towel to remove excess air. Reduce the oven to 200C; then bake for a further 10-15mins or until golden brown. Once they are cooked, press flat with the tea towel; then allow to cool. Using a serrated knife, trim the pastry using the base of the tin as a guide. Carefully lower one sheet into the base of the tin. For the custard (or creme patissiere); Whisk 12 egg yolks and 250g caster sugar together until thick and pale; stir in 80g cornflour. Split 2 vanilla beans in half lengthways; use back of knife to gently scrape out seeds.  Place beans, seeds and 1 litre of milk in saucepan over med-high heat until just boiling. Remove from heat; pour onto egg and sugar mixture in thin stream, stirring constantly. Strain back into saucepan; boil, 2-3mins, stirring constantly, taking care not to scorch the bottom. (Don’t sit on the hotplate and you won’t scorch your bottom)! Pour hot custard into pastry-lined cake tin. Turn over second pastry sheet so the flat side is up; place on top of custard; carefully press down into place; allow to cool.  Icing: Place 2-1/2c sifted icing sugar in small bowl; stir in 2tsp soft butter, followed by 50ml strained passionfruit juice and 1tbs of passionfruit pulp. The icing should be thick, but spreadable; add 1tsp water if too thick.  Spread top of pastry with the icing; allow to set. (You can sprinkle the top with icing sugar...if preferred).  Lift the slice out of cake tin using overhanging baking paper handles; trim sides with serrated knife; then cut into slices.***  Do what I do...I go to my local bakery and buy a couple of slices of their Vanilla’s easier, quicker – and cheaper – and less messy!

Sunday, February 12, 2017


St. Valentine’s Day evokes and provokes various emotions; different strokes for different folks. 

For many the day summons special actions and/or thoughts of the romantic, heartening kind. For others it generates feelings of negative antipathy.

Unashamedly I sit comfortably contented in the former category.

There are those who believe Valentine’s Day to be an aggravating, in-your-face day, the sole purpose of which is to promote money-making.

Well! Knock me over with a feather!  What’s improper about businesses making money?  What is wrong with job-creation?  Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong in having fun while doing either. 

Perhaps if every day was Valentine’s Day love would be all around, instead of the other way around - lives being frittered away by hate, negativity and lack of empathy. 

There’s nothing quite as heart-warming as a freely-given hug; or in being the recipient thereof.  Why are some hesitant or embarrassed to show innocent affection?  I don’t mean we have to go around hugging all and sundry!  There’ll be no need for you to duck for cover next time you see me out roaming the streets. 

However, it would be a far better world if people were nicer to each other; if they put an effort into building up others, rather than gaining pleasure out of ridiculing and tearing them down; and being eager to do so.

It’d be a worthier world if love replaced anger and violence. If regard and respect for others replaced sneering contempt.

Showing you care (maybe no one cares anymore) is a demonstration, not only of your belief in your own self-worth, but also a belief in the goodness of others; that you recognise their feelings. 

Instead of spreading the light of love too many clowns these days prefer to knock out each other’s light. 

A friend of mine and his wife visited me late last year.  I love it when he, or both, pay a visit.  We don’t get to see each other often - once a year, thereabouts. They live in Townsville, approx., 1409 kms (875 miles) from here where I live amongst the mountain greenery of Tamborine Mountain.  We’re in regular contact, though. The internet, like love, is a many-splendoured thing. 

It’s great when my friend visits because he’s a big, cuddly bear; and, he gives the best bear hugs! Such hugs can’t help but stimulate a feeling of genuine happiness.  His hugs always make me feel I matter; and that matters to me.

When I was married I always created a special three course dinner on Valentine’s Night.  The day/night never passed by ignored. I enjoyed doing so.  

Any excuse for a truth, no excuse was ever needed, really - but when a “special” day arrived it never passed without recognition of some kind – the “special” was emphasised – as was the fun!

When I was cooking in restaurants St. Valentine’s Day candle-lit dinners were memorable affairs for the diners (some of whom could’ve been in the midst f an affair).  I gained pleasure creating  red-letter St. Valentine’s Day menus to suit the mood.

A break from the “norm” in the name of love and fun doesn’t hurt anyone. It adds a bit of spice to life.  Who wants mundane when there are more than 350 spices on offer in the world; not to mention spice blends and herbs. 

Hang on!  I did just mention them.

During the St. Valentine’s Day dinners it was fun watching (eavesdropping) on the smitten couples holding hands across the table, whispering sweet nothings to each other, e.g., “If you insist on having the Garlic Prawns, I guess I’ll have to have them, too!  What?  Garlic bread as well!  Geez! You sure know how to put the kibosh on things! Just when I thought...Well!  Sheeesh!!  There goes that plan, best laid and all...!”

Valentine’s Day is a bit of innocent, light-hearted fun.  We live in a world where, if it continues along its present path the word “fun” will soon disappear from our vocabulary. If that eventuated what a sad plight we would find ourselves in...and then, we really would have something to complain about.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying one’s self.  There is nothing wrong with showing a loved one you care on a special day set aside in honour of love.

Some folk jump up and down while emphatically telling us we should celebrate love everyday, not only on that one day, the 14th February, when dear old Val takes it upon himself to give us a nudge (sometimes a bucketful of cold water) as a reminder for us to do so.  I agree...but I also believe there is nothing wrong in having a day, draped in hearts and roses, set aside.

Hey!  Each one of us has a special day annually – the day on which we celebrate our birthday. On actual fact, we’re a year older as every second, minute, hour and day, in that case, we should be celebrating every day – all day...and night!  

So what’s the difference with St. Valentine’s Day?   It’s time to shrug off the shackles of apathy; time to sink cynicism. 

I see nothing wrong with St. Valentine’s Day, nor do I see anything wrong with businesses making money from the special day nominated as a celebration of love; from any special occasion; or any day. 

Like love, money makes the world go around. 

Each day should be special; each day should be an occasion. 

Businesses should be praised, not criticised for making profits. There really isn’t a mystical, cream-filled cake in the sky endlessly handing out myriad slices.   There’s no such thing as a free lunch, whether lunch is cake or sandwiches!

Let’s lighten up!  Happy Valentine’s Day for the 14th!

No one will be giving me a box of chocolates, a bunch of roses or flowers of any description; or taking me out to dine, but that doesn’t mean I can’t gift myself with some delicious dark chocolate-coated ginger, or a block of dark chocolate with almonds or whatever else takes my fancy; nor does it mean I can’t pick some flowers from the garden and hand them to me...a gift from Remy and Shama and me to me. 

There is nothing wrong in doing so just in the spirit of the day. 

If, like me, you’re alone...there is also nothing wrong in preparing yourself a special dinner....just for the hell of it – for the fun of it – in the spirit of love and happiness.  
Let’s not massacre the joys of love, understanding, empathy and kindness on St. Valentine’s Day – or any other day - instead let’s rejoice in the power of love.
May Cupid’s arrow have a soft place to fall.   Let’s ensure we don’t end up how poor old Valentine did!   

Wikipedia says.....

(The Catholic Encyclopedia[ and other sources speak of three Saint Valentines that appear in connection with February 14. One was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy) both buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third was said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman Province of Africa for whom nothing else is known.

Though the extant accounts of the martyrdoms of the first two listed saints are of a late date and contain legendary elements, a common nucleus of fact may underlie the two accounts and they may refer to a single person. According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna and while on a temporary stay in Rome was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred there on February 14, 273. His body was hastily buried at a nearby cemetery and a few nights later his disciples retrieved his body and returned him home.

Τhe Roman Martryology, the Catholic Church's official list of recognized saints, for February 14 gives only one Saint Valentine; a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia
The feast of St. Valentine of February 14 was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius.
Valentine was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner. However, when Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor, he was condemned to death. 

He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate)

Not much love shown there to poor old Valentimus!   

I guess that's one way to lose one's head over love!

Put a little love in your heart; but don’t be selfish; don’t keep it to yourself. Spread the love around. 

What’s love got to do with it? Everything! 

All together now...let’s sing some silly love songs....

Garlic Prawn Fritters: Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in pan over med-low heat. Add 1 finely chopped onion; cook until softened. Remove from heat. When cool, place in bowl with 2 thinly sliced spring onions, 450g green prawn meat, chopped, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 2tsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and1tsp paprika; season. In another bowl, combine 1c chickpea (besan) flour), 2tbs plain flour and 1tsp baking powder. Gradually whisk in 310ml water until batter is thick and smooth. Stir in prawn mixture; rest 20mins. Heat 120ml olive oil in pan over med-heat until hot. Work in batches; add 2tbs mixture per fritter to hot oil; cook, turning once until golden and cooked through; serve with garlic butter sauce or sweet chill sauce.

Garlic Dijon Prawns:  Preheat oven to 230C.  In a small saucepan over med-heat, combine 260g butter, 2tbs Dijon mustard, juice of half lemon, 2-3 chopped garlic cloves and half a bunch of parsley, chopped. When the butter melts completely, remove from heat. Arrange1kg peeled, tails intact, medium green prawns in shallow baking dish. Pour butter mixture over the prawns; cook for 12 to 15mis or until the prawns are just pink and opaque.

Tamarind-Orange Duck Salad: Preheat oven 220c. Wash 1.2kg whole duck, neck removed, inside and out under cold water; pat dry. Pierce breast all over. Cut ½ orange into 6 wedges; place into duck cavity. Tie duck legs together; season all over with salt; place duck, on its side, in roasting pan. Roast 20mins; remove from oven; drain excess fat; reduce heat to 190C. Combine 1/3c honey, 2tbs fresh orange juice and 2tbs tamarind concentrate in saucepan; bring to boil over med-high heat; simmer on medium, 2-3mins. Brush duck all over with honey mixture. Turn duck breast side up in pan; arrange 4 ripe pears around duck; roast 1hr; baste with honey mix every 15mins, until duck is cooked. While duck is roasting, place 1/3c walnut halves in a pan; cook over med-heat 2-3mins; when cool, coarsely chop. Cut the pears in half. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Place in bowl with 80g baby Asian greens. Whisk together 2tbs orange juice, 1tbs soy sauce, 1tbs peanut oil and crushed garlic; season. Drizzle pear mixture with dressing; gently toss to combine. Arrange over serving platter. Remove string from duck. Cut duck along either side of the backbone. Discard backbone. Cut duck halves into 3 pieces. Arrange over pear salad; sprinkle with walnuts. Serve immediately. 

Luscious Flourless Chocolate Meringue Cake: Preheat oven 160C.  Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch spring-form pan; line base with baking paper. Put 180g each chopped, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate in bowl set over saucepan of simmering water (don’t allow the bowl to touch the water). Stir until choc melts; then remove bowl. Put 6 large eggs, 3/4c raw sugar and pinch salt in mixer bowl. Set bowl over same pan of simmering water; whisk until mixture is warm, about 2mins. Transfer the bowl to mixer; beat with whisk attachment on med-speed until tripled in volume, about 5mins. Bring 1/2c Guinness stout and 1tsp vanilla extract to a low boil in a saucepan. Reduce mixer speed to low; beat in the stout mixture; then the melted chocolate, until combine, about 2mins. Gradually beat in 1-1/2c (113g) unsalted butter until all incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs, about 35mins. Cool in the pan on a rack 1 hour, then run a knife around the edge of pan and remove the ring. Let cool completely. Make the meringue: Melt 55g semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, 2tbs unsalted butter and 1tbs light corn syrup. Whisk 1c granulated sugar, 3 large egg whites, 1/4tsp cream of tartar, pinch of salt and 1/3c water in a heatproof bowl. Put the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; beat with a handheld mixer on low speed, then gradually increase the speed to high; beat until soft peaks form, about 5mins. Remove the bowl from the pan; continue beating until meringue is cool and fluffy. Fold in 2tsp vanilla extract; then fold in the melted chocolate until swirled. Spread the meringue on the cake.  Next....damn the calories and all the “experts”....bog in and enjoy!!!   

The Lover:  In a shaker of ice, pour 15ml each of Limoncello, vodka and Cointreau; shake for 20 seconds (the shaker, not you!).  Pour into tall, fluted glass. Fill the rest of the glass with chilled Prosecco; add a touch of grenadine; stir gently; drop a maraschino cherry into the glass.