Friday, January 27, 2017
I have for around 30 years now attended an Australia day (26th) BBQ with relatives on my mother's side of the family. We are all pretty old by now however so enthusiasm for the event has waned. This year even my brother chose to attend the public celebrations at Southbank. So Anne arranged something for me.
She invited her sister June and Ralph (widower of Anne's late sister Merle) over to her place to join us that evening in a sausage BBQ. I provided the sausages and a bottle of Seaview brut champagne, my favoured champagne for many years.
In the event Anne decided not to fire up her BBQ and cooked the snags in her frypan. We had them with a chopped salad, a potato bake and white asparagus. Anne put fresh basil in her salad, which really made it. We had mini-lamingtons for dessert, which was good ethnic Australian.
It was good to see Ralph in good spirits and ready to chat. The death of Merle was a big blow to him but he is getting over it.
I forget what we talked about but Mr Trump undoubtedly got a mention or two.
Then the next day (27th) an event that I arranged last November came to fruition. I shouted a dinner that evening for two people I was in the army with -- Rod H. and Peter H. Peter bought his wife Lana along and Anne also came along.
We had the dinner in the Sunny Doll, a favourite Japanese haunt of mine. I began the evening with two toasts, one to the Queen, which is traditional, and one to our former army unit: 21 Psych. If you can't toast your old army unit what can you toast? The wine I contributed was Henkel trocken, a German champagne.
The food was brilliant as usual and we talked mainly about old times. Since we are all in our '70s that had to happen. We did have a rather jolly chat about Mr Trump at one stage, though. As usual the ladies mostly talked to one another. Anne found she shared a lot of interests with Lana.
We shared among 5 people so everybody got to taste a range of dishes. The Omu rice and the Wagyu beef Don were particularly appreciated. The docket below shows what we had but I think they left something off. They have done that before.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
It was Anne's birthday recently so I always let her say where we should dine that night. This year she chose what I normally choose for my birthday and what we normally choose for any special occasion: Fried French (lamb) cutlets with a good salad and other accompaniments. I supplied a total of 17 cutlets, of which only 3 were left over. We had it on my much-praised verandah, among the gentle breezes but with no sightings of possums this time.
We had one of my "Greek" (no lettuce) salads, including feta cheese, Manzanilla olives and avocado. For starters Anne brought along Sydney rock oysters -- which are the tastiest oysters in my view. We had them natural. It is in my view sacrilege to put sauces on Sydney rock oysters. And for dessert we had cheesecake. To wash it all down we had a bottle of Henkel Trocken, a German "champagne". I recommend it. I think it beats Moet and Veuve Cliquot.
It probably seems like a rather simple meal for a special day but we really like it.
And I have just got the results of my latest scan. Being a cautious old guy, I get lots of scans for possible health problems, none of which, fortunately, have revealed anything much wrong so far.
My latest scan was motivated by the fact that Chris Brand, who is the same age as I am and who also likes his "wee dram", is at the moment hospitalized with cirrhosis of the liver. I thought therefore that someone should have a good look at my liver in case I need to cut back my gin consumption. And below is the result: ZERO cirrhosis. I average 4 gins a night so I guess I am just lucky. I am rather proud of my heroic liver, in fact. It's even got a "smooth hepatic contour"! Beat that! Who else do you know who has got a good-looking liver?
Monday, January 16, 2017
When I was growing up in the tropical North, nobody had carpet on the floor. We had lino (linoleum; Congoleum) on the floor. Lino was cool, somehow. On really hot days, people would lie down on the lino to keep cool.
So my first encounter with carpet was down in Sydney, when I acquired an offcut of Westminster carpet. If you don't know Westminster carpet you have missed something. It was indestructible. Nothing seemed to harm it. And that was appreciated for a while. It was widely laid in the '60s and '70s. But it came in plain colours only. No patterns. So after living with the stuff for 10 years and having it look as new as when it was laid, people got very bored with it. They ripped it up and threw away perfectly good carpet. After a few years, I also ended up abandoning my offcut somewhere. It is still available but probably not from your local carpet shop. I believe you can get some patterns in it these days.
In Sydney I became quite an expert on carpet. Joy and I owned 22 flats (apartments) between us so we had a lot of tenants. And tenants are hard on carpet. So I was replacing a carpet somewhere pretty often. So to cut costs I would go to carpet auctions and buy it by the roll. A roll of carpet is HEAVY. Special forklifts are needed to move it. But somehow I managed. And I would hire layers to cut and lay it. Layers are a bit of a breed of their own but we got on one way or another.
My next bit of amusement was when I needed carpet for the anteroom of my present house. Carpet is expensive stuff but I needed only a small piece so I went to a shop that sold secondhand carpet. When carpet is ripped up, it mostly goes into a landfill but some shops save a few good bits. The bit I got looks like an Axminster, a very expensive carpet. It is all browns and golds in floral patterns. I like it. But it is in fact not an Axminster at all. It is a bit of rubberback (a cheap carpet) that has lost its rubber. But it acts like an Axminster. It has been down about 20 years now and still looks as good as ever.
My most recent adventure was when Anne decided to change the carpet in her living room. She had a nice plain oatmeal colour down. I believe that The Lodge in Canberra was once laid with carpet in an oatmeal colour. But it stains rather readily and is hard to keep clean so Anne was tired of it. So she went around the shops and found something she liked. I however insisted on seeing what she had chosen. It was a mid-brown and looked like poop. So I went around the shops with her to look at other options. To my amazement ALL the options were shades of poop. It must be a fashion. The only thing floral I could find was Axminster. So I bought that for her. It cost $1,000 more than poopy carpet but was well worth in it in my opinion. There's a sample of it below
People all seem to like it but one of Anne's sons referred to it as "granny carpet", which I suppose it is.
And another carpet experience was only nominally with carpet. It is really a rug. But people do call handmade rugs carpets so I guess I can too. The floors in my house are all polished boards so, perversely I suppose, I have lot of rugs down. There are three "Persian" (handmade) carpets and three Belgian cottons (machine-made).
And there is an interesting story about one of them. A friend was throwing it out as it had been badly treated and was all stained and dirty. I am however something of a salvor. I don't like seeing useful stuff being thrown out. "Waste not, want not", as my old Presbyterian mother used to say. And this was a large and heavy carpet so must have been worth a lot once. So I collected it and managed to talk to a dry-cleaning man and persuade him to do a run of his drycleaning machine with just my carpet in it. So I ended up with a carpet that was both clean and stripped of any oil and grease. Sadly, however, there were still stains on it so it didn't look clean. So I just put it away.
Recently, however, I decided to put it on my verandah. But it got very dirty again and the sun faded it a bit. So I got a man with a truck-mounted cleaning machine over to clean it up. I thought that with lots of detergent, lots of warm water and the big brushes of his scrubbing machine he might get my carpet cleaner than the dry-cleaning man did. He got the carpet smelling as fresh as a daisy but there were still stains there. So I now have it laid at the foot of my bed.
And if this were England, having an old and worn Oriental carpet down might not be bad at all. An eccentricity of upper class people in England and to some extent in America is that they like having old things around. And they regard fitted carpet as common. You mainly have old oriental (Persian, Baluchi etc) rugs down on your floors.
I inadvertently verified that once when I was first in England and rather unaware of the myriad social rules there. That unawareness actually got me a girlfriend from the aristocracy -- a lady who can trace her ancestry back 1,000 years. No Englishmen of common origins would have dared approach her but I did. And she was a very nice girl and we got on well.
But one day when I was in her apartment at Holland Park, I remarked that someone had given her a pretty tatty carpet. It was of course an old Oriental rug. She just smiled and said nothing. We had a nice time anyway.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
A new taste sensation! Last night I had a dinner that I had never tasted before. I have been eating out off and on since I was 16 and I am now 73 so it is rare to find a dinner that is new to me. I have eaten much from all the world's cuisines. I have had Chinese food in Hong Kong, Philippine food in the Philippines, Mexican food in Mexico, South African food in South Africa, French food in France, Indian food in India and Indian food in England (don't mention English food). And during my 15 years in Sydney just about all the world's foods were available right there anyway. So I was surprised to encounter a taste I had not had before
It all began when I somehow noted that people in Northern Europe grow and eat a lot of barley. I had never had anything made from barley. So I bought some. And I wandered around the net looking for barley recipes. I found one that looked promising. But it looked a bit complicated for me to make so I put off making it. Eventually I told Anne that I was going to cook some barley for our next dinner. She was amused. She was even more amused when she saw the recipe. "You'll never make that!", she said. She knows that most of my cookery is just heating up something already prepared by the chefs at Woolworths.
So in the kindness of her heart Anne offered to make it for me. There was clearly a lot of time and work in the recipe so I gladly accepted her offer.
And I have just had the result. It was very good. On the plate it looked rather like savoury mince but the taste was quite different: Not a strong taste; a subtle taste but very more-ish. I am going to be asking Anne for more of it. I got the recipe off the barley organization so I imagine I might be getting some free barley soon if Google leads them to this post.
The recipe is below. Anne used pork mince and cut up the mushrooms finely. The recipe says "cooked barley" without explanation so Anne soaked it in for half a day and then boiled it until it was soft. Anne was surprised about the amount of salt but it was OK. Despite what the food freaks say, salt is good for you.
Barley Mushroom Stroganoff
Family favorite with a twist.
1 pound lean ground turkey, chicken
2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon chicken seasoning base
2 cups low-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 cups cooked pearl barley*
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Spray large skillet with non-stick cooking
spray; heat over medium heat. Add ground
turkey; crumble and cook until turkey is no
longer pink. Remove from pan and drain.
Pour off liquid from pan. Add olive oil,
onion and mushrooms; saut‚ 4 to 5 minutes,
stirring occasionally. Season with oregano,
salt and pepper. Cook 4 more minutes. Stir
in water and chicken seasoning. Blend
together sour cream and flour. Stir in sour
cream mixture, cooked barley and meat.
Continue to cook over low heat until heated
through. Garnish with parsley, if desired,
Makes 8 servings.
Monday, January 9, 2017
The female voice in song can be a most exciting thing. And none better than the voice of beautiful Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins below. It reduces me to tears. She sings it in the original Italian. Italy has given us much. The best known performance of the song is a duet between Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli at the Piazza dei cavalieri in Pisa but Jenkins has a much more powerful voice. She is, incidentally, a Christian.
The words and translation are here.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
What is the difference between a kettle and a jug? It seems to me that a jug has the handle at the side and a kettle has a handle at the top.
I have a perfectly good plastic jug that boils water in an exemplary manner and has never given trouble in many years of use. So why did I buy the kettle above? Because I liked its retro looks.
But how well does it work? It's not quite as convenient as the jug because its water level indicator is hard to read. You have to jiggle the kettle to see it. It's easier to keep an eye on the water level as you fill the kettle. That's certainly retro!
The brand is Ambiano but that is an Aldi house brand. Most designer kettles are up around the $200 mark in price so getting this one for $30 seemed very Aldi.
Something that struck me as soon as I got the kettle home was the booklet that came with it. It may be the most defensive booklet I have ever seen. It was full of all sorts of conceivable warnings and claims of no responsibility for this and that.
And I think I now know why. I have googled Ambiano products and there are quite a lot of complaints about them. They are obviously trouble-prone. But the one I have does not seem to have been complained about so here's hoping!
My prediction about a possible problem? The handle will come off! I don't like the look of how it is fastened. That will of course make the kettle unusable.
Friday, January 6, 2017
We somehow didn't see George over the Christmas period and Anne and I both always find George interesting to talk to. He often has something different and interesting to say. And he was around a lot somehow when I was helping to bring up kids -- so I was missing his cheerful face. Any family dinner or party I host always includes an invitation to George. He feels like part of the family.
So sometime around New Year I arranged to host a dinner for both George and Ken. George and Ken came out to Australia on the boat together so seem in my mind to be some sort of a pair. They certainly get on well. So tonight we got together --- including Anne and Maureen -- at my favourite dinner haunt: The Sunny Doll Japanese restaurant at Buranda. Meeting at 6:30.
Ken very kindly picked up Anne and myself on the way to the restaurant as he had noticed that I don't like driving these days. His newish VW car has all sorts of knobs and buttons in it that do things so that was interesting. The roof was a bit low for my 5'10" frame though. That's the penalty for sportiness, probably.
George got lost trying to find the restaurant. I told him it was next to Woolworths but "next" was a bit too imprecise apparently, and George at first picked the wrong Japanese restaurant. There are three of them at Buranda for some strange reason. So we initially thought he had forgotten but none of us had his mobile no. Anyway, he arrived just as I was ordering so that was no problem.
When we were arriving, I said to Maureen that she must have been well to come along. But she denied it. Maureen is always ill. She was pretty lively and alert at the dinner though. She is on some sort of restrictive diet so chose prawn tempura for her dinner because it fitted in with her diet somehow. She tried bits of the other dishes on the table though so the diet must be flexible.
I brought along a bottle of Wolf Blass "champagne" for drinks and we had a variety of dishes, chicken karaage, chicken teriyaki, omurice, vegetable tempura, Wagyu beef etc. The grilled Wagyu beef was unbelievable: a symphony in tenderness and taste. I think it is the best steak I have ever had. But I rarely eat steak so may not be a good judge.
Ken did his usual job of cleaning up the leftovers. I like to see that. "Waste not, want not" was a motto when I was growing up. A lot of Westerners at Japanese dinners just eat the meat and leave a lot of the beautifully-cooked rice. But between myself and Ken just about all the rice went down this time.
After the dinner we repaired to my verandah for tea, coffee and Arnott's Premier chocolate chip cookies. I always buy them for either Ken or Paul as both of them vacuum them up. If both Ken and Paul are there, the whole packet gets rapidly dispatched. Anne very kindly got us all our teas and coffees. She only does that for people she likes.
And during the evening the major topic of conversation was probably the world's most popular topic at the moment: Mr Trump. I did my little bit to campaign for Mr Trump, of course, so all conversations about Mr Trump are pleasant to me. When people are unenthusiastic about him, I assure them that most people find fault with him -- even those who support him -- but his policies have so much appeal to many of us that we overlook his faults. "Let him who is without fault cast the first stone", anyway (To paraphrase John 8:7). That Trump offers peace with Russia is alone enough to recommend him in my view. Any war with Russia would be just too dreadful.
Anyway, Ken thought Trump's policies were just common sense, which I agreed with. George was more doubtful. He was against Mr Trump during the campaign but has warmed to him after he won the election. The ladies just left politics to the men, in the traditional way.
So we wrapped up about 9:30 after much good food and much good conversation.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Australians are great lovers of meat (steak) pies. and of course we prefer freshly baked ones -- at around $4 each.
But in most supermarkets you can get a pack of 4 pies for $4. So what are THEY like?
An odd feature of them is that they are microwave friendly. Heat up a freshly baked pie in the microwave and the pastry comes out soggy. But put one or two of your $1 pies into a microwave for 4 minutes and they come out about right. By contrast, put a $1 pie in a conventional oven and they come out with "cast-iron" shells.
So the great discovery about frozen supermarket pies is the exact opposite to the wisdom about fresh pies. Microwave them! In the microwave, the crust softens and makes a perfectly nice pie. Not a great pie but pleasant enough.
I have had a couple recently accompanied by a few pickles: Cucumbers, Manzanilla stuffed olives and cocktail onions.