French Onion soup.

December 5, 2021

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This soup when using the right stock, is more of a way of life than a dish and yet there are people who have never partaken in this, nor shared it with neighbors or family. Yet, university studies have proven that those that came out of the recent lockdown most successfully were those that had regularly eaten French onion soup. Those that fared the worst were those on Mars bar, fizzy drinks and Big McDonalds entrails. It might be that in my enthusiasm for this dish I have before written about it, but so be it. I am happy to have shared in the return to normality from lockdown because of this soup.

Even though the main ingredients are 8 sliced yellow onions, the secret of the dish is mainly due to having the right stock, this can be either chicken or beef stock. Last time and well before Covid lockdowns when I made this dish I don’t mind admitting I ignored this advise of getting a good stock, and knocked together something from beef cubes. Mea culpa, it was a bad mistake and so salty that I had to dilute the soup with one liter of water and even than it was salty. People were polite and said it was ‘lovely’, but they drank a lot of water afterwards and there was also a steady stream to the bathroom with the associated noises of flushing toilets. I have three bathrooms with three toilets. Thank goodness for that. Anyway, that was my first onion soup. I did not dare mention the word ‘French’ then.

Yesterday I made yet another French onion soup and it was much better as this time I used a shop readymade beef stock. It is a good dish also because it takes at least 45 minutes to cook the onions, thinly sliced in some olive oil till soft after which you add two table spoons of butter and some garlic and bay leaves. The secret is to caramelize the onions which takes about one hour of constant stirring.  It does keep you on your feet. After one hour of stirring I added some dry white wine and a little sugar to aid the browning of the onions.

At that stage one can add about 8 cups of the beef stock which this time I used the commercial stock ready mixed. This then takes another hour or so of simmering. The finale is to dish it out and float on top of each soup dish French bread heated up in the oven topped with gruyere cheese.

I had some after I cooked it and while much better, I will hesitate to invite friends as it was still not as nice as anticipated and I did not want a repeat of toilet runs or thirst parched friends and visitors. My next move will be to make my own stock. You cook meat with leeks, carrots, onions and herbs and slow reduce it to about a liter of stock. I am so exited about the prospect of making my own stock.

This French onion soup is only as good as its stock.  

 

Of Roses, driftwood and Christmas.

November 29, 2021

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A very good friend gave me the bunch of roses as shown above. It gave so much pleasure and the spontaneity of it all was overwhelming, and to think the roses came from the giver’s own garden made it so special. I can’t remember having received flowers of late or indeed ever. Normally the house has flowers which I buy often. It is really a habit formed by Helvi who could hardly live without flowers about. That beautiful vase is a typical example of Finnish art often strongly related to its culture and the National Finish epic, the Kalevala.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalevala

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Of course, Christmas is now a bit over three weeks away and a nervous tension is palpable in shopping centers. A kind of annual frenzy which now is firmly controlled by the corporations rubbing hands together (in glee) in anticipation of fat profits. One would be wise not to look at commercial TV or read papers, listen to the news, especially with another variant of Covid rolling about. I am determined to load up the house with Christmas cheer and have started to put up some decorations, just for the sheer pleasure. The above cane wood wreath is hanging from my front door and it gives a nice welcome each time I come home from shopping or morn’s latte.  I remember Helvi seeing it years ago, and buying it immediately. It is real and so much more natural than those made of plastic, no matter how ‘real’ they might look. ( avoid doctors or hospitals with artificial plants)

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And of course no real Christmas is without a Christmas tree. Most people by now would have taken the Christmas tree box out of storage and screwed on the branches on its stem, usually supported by a tripod keeping this tree upright when festooned with decorations and presents. The above photo takes some liberty with reflections but shows that this item too is made of natural things, bits of driftwood all glued together. It is hanging inside from my widow into the garden. One wonders where those bits of wood have come from? What tree, what country, what continent? 

You’ve got to do something in life.

November 20, 2021

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Sport is something that one has to be brought up with. Like lumpy porridge, it becomes an acquired taste. It did not feature much in my upbringing and unlike in Australian education, it is not much part of Dutch schools although I do remember gymnastics being a subject that one was supposed to engage in. At high schools in The Netherlands we had four languages on top of history, geography, mathematics, algebra. We were encouraged to join libraries or if time allowed it, learn to play the sport of chess.

I noticed at schools here in Australia that sport is almost the main subject. Private schools are proud of their swimming pools, extensive football field, hockey and tennis greens. At the main entrances they offer varnished head-boards on which with gold-leaf lettering, names of sport champions both past and present who were educated at that school are proudly exhibited. One does not get any names of those that were champions in mathematics or French!

In my formative years and before settling in Australia I joined a couple of sport clubs in Holland but always ended up with either a bleeding nose or broken glasses, sometimes both. Since those days and after arriving in Australia in 1956 I always ran away from any ball that rolled towards me. Of course, watching outdoor cricket when I was not mature enough (or properly warned and prepared) meant the final nail in the coffin of sport and round objects in general.

However, and this is what is so fascinating in life, there has been a late turn-around. I am now playing soccer. If you look careful at the above picture you can see me on the left without wearing shorts. I was asked to make up for an elderly player struck down with onset of bouts of intestinal hurry and of course, I stepped into the breech.   I played well, and remembered well from all those decades ago that scoring a goal was the main aim of the game. I did score a goal but also passed the ball to the opposition several times. They thought I was just being devious and I did not want to correct that opinion. 

I was asked by the sporting administrator’s secretary why I don’t wear shorts and my answers is always;  If I did, you most likely will call the police or an ambulance. They look down then and don’t know what to say.

I now love playing soccer. It is never too late.

The indomitable Ficus Lyrata,

November 8, 2021

We have for many years been growing a Ficus which we managed to always take with us after every move to a new dwelling. However, it now seems to really have founds its true home as far as its phenomenal growing speed.

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The above photo shows it has a rather slim base, nothing like a tree that it is now threatening to become. It has crept up the stairway towards the upper story where my bedroom is.

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If you look closely you might see the tape and metal staples whereby I am trying to restrain this ficus from reclaiming my house. The speed of its growth worries me and at night I can actually hear it trying to break out of its confining tape. Of course, I like this plant and I know it has become one of the most desirable indoor plants in the world. I am just afraid that it will finally close the stairs and prevent me from my bedroom.

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Here you can see how this plant is growing well into the stairwell and is aiming for my bedroom. I have to genuflect in a servile manner each time I go upstairs to get past this Ficus Lyrata. My knees are not so pliant as they used to be. I am inclined to ask my Shire for a special parking permit or disability permit all due to this Ficus. Next it might attract snakes or reptiles,

Who knows?

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I don’t know what the answer is. Should I try and grow it along the ceiling downstairs or get another way to upstairs? A ladder outside maybe, climb through the window?

Who knows? 

Pasta Sauce

October 30, 2021

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Pasta Sauce

This dish is simple to make and was one of my late wife Helvi’s most favourite dish . The magic ingredients are a combination of garlic, fresh chopped rosemary and anchovies.  I use about 5 or 6 large cloves of garlic a spoonful of chopped fresh rosemary and about 5 fillets of salted anchovies that come in those lovely little jars. Most people are alright with garlic and rosemary but not too keen on the anchovies bit. However, I can assure you that after deep frying those three ingredients chopped up together in some very hot oil, the fishy taste of anchovies will has disappeared, especially when at the end of the frying, that should not take more than a few minutes, you add some English mustard. I sometimes just stop there and spoon this sauce. It is life affirming!

You have now reached the first base but most important part of the pasta sauce. After the frying I add  into this mix about 500gramms of pork and veal mince, cook this for about 15 minutes then add a tin of chopped Italian tomatoes and about two  carrot shredded finely. The carrots are important as it adds a bit of sweetness to the sauce. I sometimes sneaked in, when Helvi wasn’t watching, half a jarful of commercial bolognaise sauce. This is about all to make this pasta sauce. It needs reducing on low heat for about 2 hours but might need a little water at times.  Towards the end I add a handful of fresh oregano, grown in my garden. Depending on taste I might add some chili flakes or freshly ground pepper.

All it needs now is to boil good quality pasta and the adding of  shredded well aged parmesan chees on top of your dished out pasta and sauce. Be careful not to add salt as the anchovies are loaded with salt! 

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Helvi with our three children in The Netherlands around 1974

I deliberately made this pasta sauce yesterday as the 29th of Oct 2019 is the day that Helvi passed away from breast cancer and it is in her memory.

 

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Helvi 

I also add a photo of my late daughter Susanna, who sadly also passed away in October, but in 2012. Two years later in 2014 our son passed away in Koh Samui, Thailand, while organizing a holiday for both his mother and I. After that, Helvi and I carried on as strong as before, was there any other way? We still worked and enjoyed life to the best we could, and now on my own I do the same. Again, is there any other way? The best part are my lovely woman, friends, the garden, Bentley, cooking and lots more. Not always in that order but is is a nice lot when you think about it.

Enjoy this pasta sauce!

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Susanna (1968-1912)

Iceberg Rose and Forget me Nots

October 22, 2021

While walking has offered escape from endless lockdowns, gardening or maintaining a garden is also high on the list of surviving life during the unprecedented rules of ‘stay home and avoid others’. I have done both although on hindsight, walking has been used the most. With walking there is the chance of meeting other lockdowners also determined to try and get a glance or word or so from other humans still alive. If one combined walking and having a dog on a lead one is almost certain to come across another survival driven human.

Of course, gardening is also very good in avoiding spiritual dehydration during a period when walking isn’t so possible or in my case, I had a fall and thought to take it easy for a few days. I had an Rontgen photo taken of both left leg and right arm just to make sure. No damage not even a hairline crack. I vaguely remember having taken a bone density test some years ago and all was honkey dory.

So, back to gardening and despite having tried for many decades, a rose has yet to appear on all those roses we planted. No matter how we cared, fertilized or prayed for rose, none ever were produced. However, last year I saw a lovely Iceberg rose at the local nursery and bought and planted it forthright, willing to beat providence and grow roses. I mean, which old man or woman should be denied to grow roses at their final fling at life, double vaccinated and all!

So this year, and the second spring I looked at my Iceberg almost on a daily basis. It was growing very nicely and I even now am having high expectations. However, looking at gardens on my walk with Bentley, I noticed many roses profusely flowering. Still, I lived in optimistic fervor, especially after having given it a dose of Potash. Potash is the holy grail for Iceberg Rose.

Lo and behold this morning I discovered two very small white Iceberg flowers. Can you see them?

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The magic Iceberg Rose.

The next bit of horticultural effort was dealing with an overabundance of Forget Me Nots. I never realized that when they seed they get into everything especially into dog’s coats. Bentley was covered in them and it took hours of brushing to get rid of them. I pulled all of the forget me Nots out and bagged them into 4 large black plastic rubbish bags, what a job! It’s funny how I was always attracted to a flower that calls itself ‘Forget me Not’. I mean, who can resist a name like that? Yet, so treacherous as it grows so fast and turns into weeds. The serenity of my garden is now lovely to behold and I often just sit and look at it from inside. I don’t need TV or even books. I love looking at this small peace of green heaven with 4 birch trees, 3 maples, two Manchurian pear and 1 American Redwood which I have been told grows to such size it will lift our whole community of 10 dwellings up and down by its roots alone.  

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Forget me Nots

6 Hours or more per week.

October 13, 2021

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We, in Australia are now reaping the benefits of a prolonged Lockdown. There is a gradual lifting but visiting friends and family in Sydney is still not allowed. I am sorry if this subject is a repeat of previous tales on this blog, but so be it. Lockdowns has been the major occupation for not just me, but for millions of people. The benefits have been that a comparative few victims per capita have suffered in Australia compared with the rest of the world, but we also now have had the distinction of two cities with a world record time for lockdowns. Perhaps we will yet get a critical review on this record in time to come.

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I am still in a kind of lockdown, still unable to visit Sydney to see friends or family although one visit was surreptitiously sneaked in to see my daughter under the exemption based on compassionate grounds. Even this visit was done with some trepidation as some better equipped than me in the art of understanding the complication of Governmental Stay Locked Orders, felt that my visit could be seen as opportunistic and that I should also at least keep myself in a fortnight of self-isolation on my return.

And it is this self-isolation that I am now so much in awe off. Get a bit closer to the screen and I will tell you the reasons of this self-awe-ness. As you know I am living by myself together with Bentley, an irresistible Tibetan-Spaniel dog and good companion. Apart from Bentley and my twice daily walks, my main other event is the coffee sipping at the famous Bradman cricket café in Bowral. They last till all our words have been said, and the coffee has been drunk. That’s usually an hour or so, and then we leave with a ‘see you tomorrow’. And that’s that then for the day. That’s been about all the social contact I had over three months now and continuing. Roughly seven or eight hours a week of human contact. It’s not much, but better than nothing.

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I take my cap off in the mirror and am proud of this achievement of still being in a reasonable state of mind. Of course, there have been bits of small talk in the supermarket and the cashier girls and boys always let me ‘have a nice day’. Then on my dog walks, there are many who will ask about Bentley, questioning his age and how nice he looks and exchanges of that nature, the ducks quack in a friendly matter and even the black snake last week looked friendly and non threatening.

Thank goodness for the iPhone and internet. I am not strong in TV watching and somehow feel the aloneness more while watching TV. Bentley is not all that verbal when a particular show such as the Queen’s Gambit makes me utter commentary to a room filled with quietness. As for TV news, the Covid numbers and fatalities are the main bulk of news and does not really fill the hollowness of the days…

All in all, with my gardening and friends on the internet and iPhone I am proud of having survived these over 110 days so far on about an hour a day of human contact.

Of course, nothing unique. many are doing the same.

A spectacular Fall,

October 5, 2021

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Bentley

It has often be stated by doctors that hospitalizations of the elderly are for a large part due to falling. Well, this morning I seemed to have at a minimum reached the age of falling down. So far I never considered to even see myself as aged. True, I have often walked past an institution that is as British/Australian as an outdoor windblown dunny in the back-lane. And it is called The Senior Citizen’s Association or sometimes Club. It is so much senior that I always quickly walk past. The curtains are drawn solid and they are so grimly uninviting that one really would have reached the age of having lost the will to go on. I sometimes got a glean to the inside when someone dares to open a door and one sees little vases of plastic flowers akimbo laminex tables with splayed legs, so aged and forlorn looking that they are begging to be put out of their misery and strangled on the spot.

This morning was like most mornings. My newly acquired dog Bentley let it be known it was walk time after first tapping me on the bed to tell me to get up and not linger. I got dressed had the obligatory banana and cup of tea with milk and two sugars. He gets restless and this reaches its peak when I put my scarf, coat and hat on. When I get his lead he neatly sits down and allows me to slide it over his head but then bolts to the door, eager beaver that he is. We both bolt outside and at first will pull for hell and leather. He is besides himself and such a joy to behold. We strode out of our complex and started our walk which with him is at first the sniffing of both left and right nature grass strips of the latest dogs previous passing. Bentley has a kind of way that he lingers which makes me think he reads the latest happenings, a newspaper or editorial, left against trees, poles and grasses. He then replies and articulate that by lifting either left leg or right, sometimes both but not simultaneously. That would be impossible.

Anyway, is was after about a hundred meters or so of endless sniffing that some interesting smell or message pulled Bentley across from me while my attention was further ahead and not down to the terra firma at my feet. Bentley’s crossed my legs and his lead tangled my legs. I fell backwards unceremoniously without any further ado. Totally involuntary and without restraint. I haven’t fallen so spectacular since the 5th of Nov 1963 . (I remember it well, I was in Tirolerland, Austria, when skiing and meeting my future wife Helvi who wiped my bloodied face)

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I fell, not on snow this time but on an unforgiving concrete pathway. I remember cars coming to a halt but I was furious with Bentley, you f..c..ng rotten dog, who after all that love, treats and patting, tried to bolt. Quick as a flash I put my left leg forward and held it down on his leash. He knew the game was up and came to me, all apologetic and contrite. I managed to get up and held on to the leash and felt alright. No broken bones or bloodied face. A man across the road asked if I was alright which was nice of him. I said that I felt alright and continued my walk.

I am convinced that my time for the Senior Citizen’s club hasn’t arrived yet. We shall see!

Fair crack of the whip.

September 26, 2021

“The expression fair crack of the whip is used elsewhere but is recorded earliest in Australia, from 1902 onwards. It means ‘an equitable opportunity; a reasonable chance’. It is also used as an interjection, meaning ‘give (someone) a chance!’. In Australian English there are several variants of this idiom, all with the same meaning. They can be found in written sources from the 1980s, but probably go back some years earlier.

In the variant fair suck of the sauce bottle (with its elliptical form fair suck), the ‘sauce bottle’ is probably originally a reference to a bottle of alcoholic liquor”. 

The above quote is from Wiki.

My own interpretation dates to much earlier times when convicts sent from England graced our shores and were known to receive whippings by their masters ( the squattocracies’ ) that were finely balanced between sheer brutality and a more benign lashing. Hence, giving ‘A fair crack of the whip’.

All this in reference to the fact that Melbourne’s Lockdown period now outlasts that of Argentine’s Buenos Aires. For some six days now groups have tried to disrupt the Lockdown by Unlocking and face the streets openly and brazenly in defiance of orders to wear facemasks and not congregate in groups of more than two people. Scores have been arrested and hefty fines imposed .

My own experience makes me at times have some sympathy with the rioters which the government and media have been painting as extreme right wings pro-Nazis. They have avoided the previous popular slant of Nigerian street gangs as footage showed hundreds of police and many horses but not a coloured person in sight. As for Nazis, the only signs I have seen were ”Freedom , anti vaccination’, and I believe in Jesus, but not in vaccinations.”

The Government is desperate to hold the line but as a single person living by myself I feel enough is enough. The lockdown was supposed to be for a short time. My definition of short is, of little length, limited or short duration. In Melbourne it is now heading into its forth month. That is long, too long. It is supposed to save lives but the Delta still spreading, and now it is not saving lives that was the aim previously but to get double vaccinated which would have occurred weeks ago if the government had taken the trouble in ordering the vaccines when they became available. I haven’t seen my daughter, grandchildren or partner for over three months, despite being double vaccinated for well over 5 weeks. There are supposed to be exemptions on ”compassionate grounds” but the reality is different as the rules are only applicable when living within 5 km and if returning to my area, 100 km away, I would then have to self-isolate for 14 days.

It is complicated but it doesn’t feel like ” A fair crack of the whip”

Australia sharing US bathtub of pyrotechnical toys.

September 19, 2021

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Back in in 1956 we thought we were escaping the aftermath of wars and conflict and bade farewell to Europe still smoldering and smarting from two world wars. Soon after arriving we did sense that the main influence in Australia was that of America. It’s sprawling architecture and above all the commercialization of almost everything possible and saleable. My dad could not get over the abundance of ugly signage portrayed on almost everything capable of supporting signs. Suburban shops lining the strips often next to railway lines or main roads were groaning with signs and everything was sign-written in the most garish colors as ‘special’. At one stage a locally produced car The Holden was named Special.

After a while we got used to it together with the endless advertisements hailing the benefits of all sorts of headache powders. Indeed looking at old photographs one has no trouble seeing buses and trains advertising Bex powders and Vincent APC. which in those days had phenacetin to give it an extra bite but also damaging the kidneys of tens of thousands of people, especially women who became addicted. They were advertised as giving one a lift in wellbeing. We wondered why headaches were so common and accepted as normal. It was supposed to be all happy and sundrenched.

We got on with turning into Australians as good as any but of course also retained proudly our own heritage excluding the horrors of conflict and bombs.  However through the decades it became clear that Australia seemed to be drawn to the American way of things to a point that no matter what conflict or wars the US engaged in, Australia was keen to nurture those wars by slavishly sending in their troops as well. True we are part of alliances although also often claiming sovereignty. We followed the US to war in Vietnam,  Iraq, Afghanistan. All now looked back upon as totally wasteful and unnecessary.

But, still we keep on repeating he same with now ordering nuclear underwater boats.  Bowing to the US again and what for? We could be the Switzerland of the Pacific , remain friendly with everyone. Be a go-between if tensions arise between different countries. The aim in ordering those boats is to threaten China. Why do that? Businesses are queueing up to enter China and do business. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans and Americans are now living in China, not wishing to miss out on the excitement that is unfolding in China. We are totally out of whack with the reality of the unfolding of history.

It is China’s turn. Nothing will stop that.

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