Sunday, 16 December 2012

Montréal Calling

The last few weeks have been a bit odd. By day I have been going to work in Cairns, or cutting down bananas, and other very tropical things, and at night I have been roaming the streets of Montréal - virtually, at least. Charles has to move out of his apartment there and so, sooner than we'd hoped, we've been looking for an apartment together. We had expected that we'd at least get to do it in each other's physical presence, but no, from 16,000km apart it is. Thank God for that Internet thingy! I conservatively estimate we looked at about 150 apartments combined, with Charles doing the legwork to go see six in person after a process of elimination by committee.

I've also been trying to find a decently priced flight to visit my beloved husband in the not too distant future. It's quite a juggling act to book online and avoid the crappy airlines, multiple stop overs, long lay overs, too early departure times, too late arrival times, and some absolutely ridonkulous prices. Cairns to Montréal is about as far apart as you can get on this planet, and it doesn't seem to be that common a route.

But we've done it. Last Wednesday: flight secured. I'll be in Montréal for most of February, which will give me a taste of just how freakin' freezing it can get there. Friday: tenancy approved on an apartment we both love just off Mont-Royal in the eastern Plateau district. Phew! Hopefully I can get back to being mentally present where I am physically present for the next seven weeks.

To celebrate, this afternoon I went to see Monsieur Lazhar, a beautiful film despite some gaping holes in the plot. I have loved my time in the Tropics, but boy, oh, boy, I'm looking forward to moving to Montréal. There's only so long your body can bear to be separated from your heart.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


Yesterday I tackled a garden maintenance job that you only get in the Tropics: I had to cut down a banana tree. Don't freak out non-Tropics dwellers, that's just what you have to do. Bananas grow and spread via suckers, so just like their common tropical garden cousins, heliconias, you are doing them a favour by effectively 'dead-heading' them when they have developed their fruit. The 'tree' can then put its energy into putting up a new trunk, rather than continuing to support a bunch of green fruit that isn't going to get any bigger.

Bananas are so easy to chop down even I can do it with my dicky back. A relatively sharp pruning saw just cuts through the fibrous trunk like the proverbial butter. I'm getting to be such an old hand at it I managed to do it today without getting any of the impossibly sticky sap on my new dress, which I foolishly wore just for the occasion. I think I might have let this bunch go a bit too long, though. There are lots of little tell-tale brown spots and pin holes in the fruit that indicate that the bugs have got into them. But that's ok, there's a second trunk ready to chop down next weekend.

I don't know why I postpone chopping down bananas so much. Maybe it is that disgusting sap, or maybe it's because they are the chief privacy screen between me and my neighbour. But there are just so many great things to do with bananas once you've chopped them down, I'm always surprised I left it so long once I've done it. I now have recipes for using the fruit, leaf, bell (or 'flower'), and the trunk, so I thought I'd share some with you.

The most simple thing is of course to eat your delicious banana (after it has taken about three to five weeks to ripen, depending on the time of year) and feel proud as Punch that you grew it yourself. Yeeeah! Then you can get a bit fancy and use the leaves to wrap whole or fillets of fish in, and barbecue, grill or bake them. Pop some Asian herbs in with the fish, along with a splash of coconut milk, fish sauce and/or soy sauce. The trick is to soften the leaves first, either by blanching them in boiling water, or by passing them over the flame of a gas burner on the stove. This stops them splitting when you try to wrap the fish. Secure the banana leaf with a toothpick and away you go.

My hands down favourite way to eat bananas, though, is banana cake. In a former life, when I owned a café in Adelaide, I used to make banana bread, toast it and serve it with ricotta and honey. Pretty good, right? But maybe a bit passé these days ... Then a few years ago my friend Jess gave me a CWA cookbook (the Country Women's Association—an obsession I may share with you one day. I've linked to the Queensland chapter because their site has more info than the national one) and it had a banana cake recipe that, with a bit of tweaking, has become one of my all time favourite cakes. Because my home grown bananas are little Lady Fingers or Sugar bananas, or some such thing—at any rate not the usual large Cavendish variety you get in the supermarket—I slice extra bananas up lengthwise and decorate the top of the cake with them and then crumble palm sugar over the lot. Bah.Nah.Naaas!

CWA-inspired Banana Cake
250g butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups self-raising flour (or 1 ½ cups plain flour + 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 large bananas, or 9 small bananas, cut in chunks (mash if you don’t have electric beaters)
250-300g sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large or 6 small bananas, extra for decoration
1 handful dark palm sugar, or brown sugar

Preheat oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 24cm diameter cake tin. Cream butter and sugar with electric beaters. Add eggs one at a time. Sift flour, bicarb and salt together. Add flour mixture, bananas, sour cream, vanilla and cinnamon to the butter mixture and mix well until bananas are dispersed right through. Pour into cake tin and arrange sliced extra bananas decoratively on top—I do a little flower pattern, aaaw! Sprinkle palm sugar evenly over the top and bake for 40 mins or until firm to touch.

Original recipe from: Country Women's Association of Australia, Country Classics, 2nd edn, Penguin Group (Australia), Camberwell, Victoria, 2007, p. 142

My other hot-favourite banana recipe is Luke Nguyen's Banana Trunk and Chicken Curry. Obviously, banana trunk is not that easy to come by if you don't happen to have handy access to banana trees, but if you do, then definitely give this a go. I'm going to trial freezing the sliced up trunk this time (I might quickly blanch it first), as I have no plans to invite a small army around to eat a spicy jungle curry this week. I found my taste needed to add a squeeze of lime and a little bit of palm sugar at the end, but see how you go, you may also want to add a bit more banana trunk—you will have rather a lot of it. If you are in Australia, the following link also has a short video of Luke preparing the dish in a very ambient setting (clearly I should invest in some pigs to help me deal with the excess trunks). Luke is very charming and unpretentious as TV chefs go, so it's well worth watching. Unfortunately, I doubt the video link will work outside of Australia, but you can still get the recipe:

And then, of course, there's the bell. To be honest though, I just never get around to doing anything with this other than photographing it. Lame! I do want to try this though: Barramundi with Banana Bell, Hmong Style
One day ...

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Introducing Rosé Club

The First Rule of Rosé Club is that you will sheepishly admit that that is a club to which you should belong.

The Second Rule of Rosé Club is that you will be as effective and insidious as the Church of $cientology in recruiting new members, and you will recognise a fellow rosé-loving sister with immediate induction.

The Third Rule of Rosé Club is that you will celebrate the existence of the prettiest wine there is by partaking in cheeky, relaxed, sunny-afternoon tipple sessions in good company and accompanied by high-quality tasty treats.

It's no secret: I love rosé. Dry ones only though, no lolly water for me! There is little I like more in this world than sitting around a table in dappled shade on a warm afternoon with dear friends, several bottles of rosé, some yummy snacks (savoury or sweet will do in this case) and then solving the world's problems. Fortunately, many of my closest girlfriends feel the same way.

This afternoon though, I settled in for an afternoon of blog writing and popped the cork - yes, cork - on a new-to-me rosé. After a couple of random recommendations I had finally purchased a bottle of Casal Mendes (Portugal), replacing my regular staple of Banrock Station White Shiraz (recently discovered to also come in casks - saints preserve me!) Not only is the CM refreshingly savoury, it is ever so slightly spritzy, it comes in a very delightful bottle, it is a very reasonable price point, and it is the prettiest colour you could wish for. Of course I had to photograph it straight away. I think I now have a new staple.

Ugly can be beautiful too.

Plugger the pug taking a well-earned break from standing/thinking/life in general. which I prove that I can write a post connecting puppies, personal growth and air-to-surface missiles. Just you watch me!

What's cuter than a frolicking litter of pug puppies? To me it's the sound of my neighbour's twelve-and-a-half-year-old pug trying to bark for his dinner: "Uff, uhhff! Uff, uff, uhhhff, uf! [pause] Uff! Uff, uhhff, uf! [pause] Uf!" It's not a bark, it's the out-of-breath sound of a sweet old man still trying to make himself heard in the big, ole, don't-care world. Every time I hear him on a still, tropical evening it makes me stop and smile.

Plugger, as he is most ironically named in honour of the AFL legend, my neighbour being a mad Sydney Swans fan, ambles slowly around the yard in the morning, sleeps by Carol's side as she works from home, and gets two very slow walks up and down the street each day, generally punctuated by long, contemplative pauses. I recently had the pleasure of dog sitting him for three days and I am now more enamoured than ever. I even filmed the barking-for-dinner behaviour and know that the pauses are when he half nods off to sleep between the barks and their accompanying semi-leaps in the air. He gets worn out just 'uff'-ing.

What I find so intriguing about my appreciation for Plugger is that I used to think pugs were the ugliest dogs I had ever seen. When I was in senior high school, my art teacher had a pug that she would bring to school every day. We heard that it was one of two she had owned, but its sibling had accidentally hanged itself trying to jump out the window of a parked car when its leash was tied around the gear stick. Some of us joked that maybe it had caught sight of itself in the rear view mirror and decided to end it all. Shame on us!

At the same time in my life as I was ill-educatedly dissing pugs, the father of one of my best friends bought a prestige car—a 1986 Saab fast back. I thought that was pretty friggin' ugly, too. I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. However, I have been the proud owner of a 1987 Saab 900i for eight years now, and I think she is the most beautiful car ever. I don't notice her deteriorated paint job and the bat poop that is still stuck to her after I left her parked under a fruit tree for a few days, oh, um...several months ago now. I just see jaunty, angular styling, note the ahead-of-their-time safety features, and hear the thug, thug, thug of her engine that betrays the fact Saab-Scania also made aeroplanes, semi-trailers and missiles.

I have come to appreciate the unconventional, the wonky, the wrinkly, the considered functional design, the happy accident, and the beauty that can be found in what is generally believed ugly. What I find fascinating, and a relief, is how one's taste can change so much during one's life. The pug and the Saab are, of course, just two examples, but there are many things that I found so integral to my sense of identity when I was younger that have passed into oblivion now, and, as illustrated, many things I dismissed that I have come to love. Admittedly, some people like to stay stuck, but personally I prefer a bit of reinvention.

A page from the owner's manual for my now-Classic 1987 Saab 900i. One of my most very favourite things about this car is that she sounds like a plane about to take off.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Si tu m'aimes

Jean Sablon, source:

I'm not going to do this too often - foist my taste in music upon you. It may be because I don't get as obsessed about music as I did in my teens and twenties, but also I'm probably foisting enough of my other opinions on you, too! I'll give you a break.

Just not today.

This post is about a song I have been trying to find online for years: Si tu m'aimes (If you love me) by Jean Sablon. On the weekend I had a garage sale and I sold the LP that I first found this track on to one very happy collector from Townsville. Don't ask me the price - Charles just had conniptions over it. The following morning I woke up with seller's regret over this - well, this and a few other newly-dispersed former possessions - but this I could remedy. I thought surely by now this was online. And, finally, I was right.

This song has always made me think of walking along an old street on a summer's night. A French street, of course. This is just the sort of track I imagine to be playing from a second storey window in an otherwise quiet and empty neighbourhood. I love the lilting piano, and Sablon was known as the French Bing Crosby, though I have heard a track of his where he pays out on that sound, hamming it up for comic effect. Anyway, this is lovely and romantic and very of an era. My personal French translator, aka my husband, Charles, says that the song is about a man warning his flirty paramour not to blow it all by unthinkingly and irredeemably hurting him. I love the last line:

Et que le bonheur suprême est fragile aux mains des imprudents.
And supreme happiness is fragile in the hands of the careless.

Please indulge me to share it with you, the link below should download it for you, it's only 3 little MBs. If you loved me you would ...

Friday, 23 November 2012

An Ode* to Aburi Salmon

Dear Aburi Salmon
I love you
You rock my world.
How happy was I the day we first met?
The merging of flash-searing, mayonnaise and salmon
- three of my most very favourite things -
Combined in a perfect storm of flavour.
How appropriate that I buy you from an outlet called Sushi Paradise.
Nirvana of ricedom.
And you are only $8.
$8 ... $8!?
Every time I finish you
I wish I had bought two.

You make a crappy working day resplendent.
You haunt my foodie dreams.
You make me fight to only see you once a week.
On Thursdays. Pay day.
The serving girls reach for you now as I walk in.
We are as one.
Aburi Salmon, you are perfection.
And I love you.

*with apologies to actual poets. But seriously, the aburi salmon at Sushi Paradise, in Grafton St, Cairns, iz the shiz! It is my go-to if I am having a shitty day, or just generally feel the need to spoil myself. I bet you have a special lunchtime treat that you save for those days when you really need something to put an unqualified smile on your dial. It is such simple pleasures that make life worthwhile, non?

PS the little love heart of spring onion pictured above absolutely just appeared of its own accord on this week's purchase - it'd been a tough week, the God of Aburi must have thought I needed a little something extra. Straight after I took that picture, I dropped my phone right on top of it. Splat!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dude! That was, like ... whoa!

Sometimes things really are all they are cracked up to be ...

Some items on my personal list of such things are the miracle of birth, Uluru and the Roman Forum. This morning I added another one: a total eclipse of the sun.

This morning at around 6:39am we had a total eclipse of the sun here in Cairns. As the photographic evidence shows, my camera equipment is not quite up to the task of documenting such an event, but please indulge me. Being the build up to the Wet Season, it was also really cloudy here in Cairns itself. Apparently it was clear about 60kms south and on the northern beaches, about 20kms away. While I could, in theory, see the sun from my front deck, I was pretty convinced I was going to miss the actual moment of totality due to the cloud cover. The quality of light, however, was just incredible. If it is possible for grey to glow, it did this morning. I went and stood out by the creek in the middle of the street and I had the whole eerie place to myself.

As it got darker and darker in the minutes before totality, the street lights started to come on and a few neighbours finally wandered out. Then, click, the sun went out, but also at that moment it popped out from behind the clouds. Totality was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. And, just like when I first saw Uluru, I was awestruck and, in response to all I've ever seen or heard of it, could only manage to think the words: It is true!

It takes about an hour from the time the moon first touches on the edge of the sun to totality, then about another hour until it has fully passed off it. As luck would have it, about 10 minutes after totality the clouds had thinned significantly as the morning warmed and the sun had also risen above the thickest part of them. I was able to watch the remaining 50 minutes or so as the moon passed off the face of the sun through my flimsy yet surprisingly effective special eclipse viewing glasses ($5 to $6 a pop this week for something that looks remarkably like an old-fashioned pair of 3D viewing glasses). I almost think it was better with the cloud cover, either way was just as remarkable.

If you ever get the chance to see this phenomenon, even if you have to travel a way, go!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Puttin' a ring on it

OK, the time has come...I've had our official wedding photos back for nearly two weeks, so here are some of my favourites.

Our wedding photographer, Carly Whouley, is the bomb! To all of those who aren't getting married in Cairns, I am very sorry for you. If you are getting married in Cairns: hire her now! I'd always known Carly as an artist/photographer, so when one of her friends told me she had started doing weddings I nearly burst with excitement. Not only will she give you beautiful details and fresh portraits, she knows how to work a crowd and is a bundle of positive energy. She also took about a million photos, I kid you not!

Charles and I got married on the beach at the Barron River Mouth, Machans Beach, Cairns. The week before, so we discovered later, 14 crocodiles were spotted in that river during a night time survey—oops! The reception was held just up the road at the Machans Beach Community Hall. The Hall was perfect. It had an enclosed garden out the back to keep the 20% of wedding guests who were under 11 years of age contained and safe, it had a kitchen with gas stove for the caterers, it had its own tables and vintage chairs included in the bargain of a hire fee, and it had all the perfect old-school charm of a low-set, 'Queenslander'-style country hall, despite being in a relatively near-to-town suburb of Cairns.

All images in this post © Carly Whouley


There were, of course, many, many special moments in the day, as well as great food thanks to Mama Coco, lots of yummy wine, and a whole lot of laughs. Exit polls indicate that a good time was had by all. Apart from the obvious—you know, getting married to the most perfect man in the whole world for me whom I absolutely love and treasure with all my heart—there were a few stand out moments for me that I'd like to share with you.

1. The scandalous bridesmaid confession

My bridesmaid, Morgan, is amazing; I love her so much and ours was one of those love-at-first-sight friendship formations, despite the fact that I am 17 years older than her and cannot share her passion for Mariah Carey. Morgan broke all standard etiquette rules, as to be expected, and asked to be my bridesmaid, which was perfect because up until that point I had been thinking that I might not have a bridesmaid at all. She decided for me, as a good bridesmaid should.

I made up our bouquets with flowers from my garden on the morning of the wedding. Then my mum turned up and told me that was supposed to be Morgan's job—why don't they write all these things down in one place?! Anyway, I intentionally put some Havana Cigars into Morgan's bouquet. I love these flowers: they are waxy, weird and brown—what's not to love? They are also quite phallic, so I thought they would make a highly amusing bridesmaid's bouquet. Morgan got the joke without me saying anything, and loved it. As she was doing my make up she 'fessed up that she'd had a, ahem, 'reunion' with an old flame the night before...she'd only been in town three days! Here's the moment when she tells me:


2. The abusive encounter with a young bogan
Those who deal with me on a regular basis know I am always at least 10 minutes late to everything. Always. It is a bad habit I have tried to break many times, but I just have not been successful yet. I really didn't want to be late for my wedding. Not only was I exceptionally keen to get married to Charles as soon as possible, I was also painfully aware of all our guests standing out in the tropical midday heat on the beach without any shade unless they brought it themselves. Despite being 15 minutes ahead of schedule when I sat down to get my make up done, we still managed to be something like 35 minutes late to the ceremony. I am at a loss to explain how that happened, but by 11:20am (for a 12 o'clock ceremony) I was pretty frantic for an increase in our pace. I was seriously stressed from that point on about how late it was getting. Fortunately, as we pulled up at the start of the dirt track to the beach, my brother Steven, who was on car park detail, told me that our last guests had only just arrived.

We headed down the track in my friends Mick and Jude's amazing EK Holden station wagon, aka Pearl, which they had decked out with all sorts of vintage knick knackery in honour of the occasion. The track is narrow and dotted with small dips and rises, like a mini roller coaster, and we soon saw another car coming towards us. Mick tried to pull over a little, but the left-hand side of the track was very sandy and boggy so he couldn't. He slowed right down instead and promptly stalled on the next rise. He thought he'd just wait and let the other car pass. The other car—a middle-aged model, dark green Commodore bedecked with 'P' plates indicating a probationary-level driver (Australian readers, you know the kind of car I mean!)—pulled up next to us and the roughly 19-year-old driver—shaven of head, with girlfriend in the front passenger seat—leaned out and snarled: "F#%ckin' get outta tha way, ya wanker!" This, dear friends, instantly classified him as an Australian bogan of the highest order. Now, I ask you, if you saw this coming towards you with a bride in the back seat, is that something you would say?

Fortunately, the ridiculousness—the sheer inappropriateness—of his abuse, just cracked us all up and Mick started Pearl up again and we laughed our heads off the rest of the way down the track, all tension at being late broken, ready to celebrate a beautiful life event.

3. Jane reveals a hitherto unknown talent

When my dear friend Jane semi-eloped to Vanuatu in 2010 I was supposed to be her bridesmaid. Unfortunately, it was such a snap decision that I:

a) didn't have a valid passport;
b) was already booked to be interstate the weekend before for my 40th birthday celebrations and couldn't get a connecting flight in time to make it for the ceremony; and
c) would have been plunged into bankruptcy since all funds and annual leave were already dedicated to the aforementioned 40th celebrations.

We were all really disappointed. Since I was in the quandary of either having four bridesmaids/MOHs (too many, if you ask me), or none, and was leaning towards the latter until Morgan resolved the issue for me, I still really wanted Jane to play a part in the proceedings since she is so dear to me. I asked her to think about whether she wanted to make a speech, or give a reading or something like that—whatever she felt comfortable with.

It turns out Jane was not comfortable with giving a speech, the thought of public speaking gave her the willies. Instead, she thought about something that was meaningful to her in how she experienced our friendship. In lieu of giving a speech, Jane taught herself how to play the ukulele in two weeks, with the assistance of my other dear friend Jan, and sang The Owl and the Pussycat in front of 75+ people—much easier than making a speech, right?! TO&TP is something that I have sung to Jane's daughter, Saskia, many times, accompanied by my ukulele, but Jane's version was a million times better than mine and she revealed herself to have the voice of an angel. I was on the verge of tears I was so moved by how much effort she had gone to. Saskia sang too, and Jan accompanied them on second uke. It was just beautiful.

4. The 'Chocolate Moose' Cake

I asked my friend Phil to make a pavlova for the reception. He is the Pav Master. Phil thought that was too boring, so he got all Heston Blumenthal and lateral, and decided to subvert the overly popular chocolate mousse wedding cake concept and make a Chocolate Moose Cake in honour of Charles's home country, Canada, instead. What resulted was a 'big reveal' of a half pav/half cake diorama of a snow-covered mountain sprinkled with edible glitter and billowing with dry ice smoke. He then jokingly told the assembled children who were gazing on with awe to just 'dig in'. They took him literally and 10 pairs of little hands were shoved straight into the cake, promptly demolishing it. Heaven!

5. The groom gets a little tipsy

Now, I will preface this tale by admitting I was no angel at my wedding. I was pretty shickered by the time the speeches rolled around and I told myself to switch to water for a bit or else I'd be asleep under a table before it was time to cut the cake. However, in the early evening I had been chatting in the back yard of the hall with friends and thought I had better go inside and see what was happening. I walked in the back door and my first thought was: Uh, oh! The groom is smashed! There was Charles, shirt unbuttoned, bow tie still around his neck, singing his heart out and swaying drunkenly with his dear friend Kevin, the man who was inadvertently responsible for us meeting. Soon after, they each decided it was a good idea to get up on the wonky trestle tables to try to cut down the giant balloons that were attached to the ceiling. Charles's table collapsed underneath him and it's lucky he didn't break his neck (please don't tell the people at the hall, I think it all turned out OK). Thank God the Hilton Cairns serves the biggest nachos you have ever seen as part of their late night room service menu. I think the big plate of it I forced him to eat saved my new husband's life!

From a blustery beach ceremony, through a great meal, much wine, speeches and cake, the evening turned into a free-for-all dance party, with playlist by the groom. I wish I could do it again tomorrow! Thank you to all our guests, thank you to all those well-wishers who couldn't make it, thank you to all the vendors who provided the details big and small, thank you to all those who helped set up and pack up, and thank you, thank you, thank you to my new husband and his two children for welcoming me with love and agreeing to make a little family...with me.

B xxx