Posts Tagged ‘Chilli’

The marvel of the life-giving cabbage roll.

June 6, 2017


It seems the privilege of the old to shamelessly bore endlessly the young with tales of the past. We already know of my parental desperations when claiming not to know ‘where on earth did Gerard come from?’ It is of little consolation now that my little boy search for my real parents by scanning sea’s horizon did not bear much results. No boat with my real parents ever appeared. I just had to reconcile myself with going home with wet shoes and accept the ones who at times seemed to disown me.

Another one of those memories refusing to lay down are those of a more edible kind. The war-time cabbage. I am here now because of the humble cabbage. Towards the end of the war it was the most covetous food item in my birth-city of Rotterdam. Even today, when I try and light the gas stove, the smell of the escaping unlit gas reminds me of war and my mother’s search for food. About the only food that could be had, if one was lucky, were cabbages.

It was during pensively resting in my fauteuil yesterday that one of those fleeting memories came to the befuddled fore. Heaven knows why they appear? I decided to try and make cabbage rolls. Helvi too became quite enthusiastic.  Some month ago there was a rather elaborate Baltic & Polish food sale on at Aldi’s. We discovered a huge jar of pickled cabbage leaves and a culinary inspiration got to us suddenly. We took it home and put the jar to rest amongst the Dutch Herrings and Italian tinned tomatoes. Occasionally I would stare at this jar of cabbage leaves and would proffer to make something of it, but both decided to relegate this delicacy for consumption to a future date. The cabbage leaves all looked so pale and withered all drowned in the vinegar.  I was happy to notice that the vinegar was an honest marinade and just that, and not the dreaded Balsamic version. The best thing it had going for it was the fact it was imported from Macedonia. Macedonia has such an exotic almost melodic ring to it. All those vowels.

Of course, cabbages is what used to make the world go round. From China through Russia and Europe, including Great Britain. What would England be without their beloved cold cabbage, consumed while standing up in a draft? The Koreans make the five-star Kimchee. A soul food if ever there was.

One only has to visit the old Eastern European towns and cities, where through the centuries of cabbage-food cooking, the very stucco, bricks and ancient cellars of the streets are impregnated with this pungent smell of the cabbage. Who has not walked through old Vienna or Budapest not to smell this delectable vegetable permeated into the very soul of these so musical societies. The very waltzes of Johann Strauss were  conceived after generous ingestion of cabbage.

So, yesterday I finally opened this large jar. Helvi remembered she made the humble cabbage roll many years ago. It is made from raw minced beef mixed with whatever one wants to mix together with a handful of boiled rice. She urged me not to overdo it with spices. ‘Just try and be a bit subtle this time, don’t muck it up,’ she urged kindly, but with some authority and deep husband knowledge.

I followed her urgings but when I momentarily and in a latent fit of wild adventurism thought of Kimchee I chucked in a small quantity of chilli flakes. The whole mixture was then kindly wrapped into the jar-released cabbage leaves. It filled the entire baking dish with two neat rows of nine each, totalling a rather large quantity of eighteen rolls.  With its red-coloured tomato marinade it looked very beautiful and enticing. Enough for an entire Austrian regiment.

After baking and allowed ‘to rest’ I made a nice dish of mashed potatoes and spinach. It was a nice dish but the chilli made the rolls too hot and spicy. I should not have added it. Helvi heartily agreed that I had mucked it up a bit.

‘When will you ever learn to contain yourself and not overdo things?‘ She said, adding. ‘Where do you come from?’


The Virginia Creeper versus Solar guard.

November 10, 2015
Just glorious.

Just glorious.

The Townhouses, Units or even Villas ,if you like, are pleasing to look at. They are simple and without pretension. That’s why we decided to buy one and move in. The architect or designer avoided the temptation to put in Tudor, Cape Cod, English cottage, or absurd Mediternean touches. They all have a small entrance. When one squints, it could even pass as a front-porch. During torrential downpours the front doors will stay dry. However, if the entrance was any smaller it could well be called an overhanging eave.

The area that we live in is proudly Australian or English in origin. It is rare that one hears a foreign accent. It was a very traditional area for the well-heeled and warm retired from Sydney to move to. The climate is cold in winter and pleasant in summer. Many houses have brass names screwed on the front gates reflecting a  Scottish or English Heritage with names either ending in Brae or starting with Rose. It is not unusual to sometimes notice an elderly gentleman wearing a double breasted dark blue jacket with brass buttons, especially leaving the Sunday morning service with a smiling Reverend shaking hands with some of his more solid members of the congregations. We are somewhat out of the loupe, which would not be the case if we lived in Sydney. Not that the locals are not friendly. There is just this slight draw- back when our accents are noticed but  in most cases it is immediately followed by a friendly demeanour.

I am still trying to get a handle on why the locals in our compound were so hostile to getting things done logically and with reasonable care and diligence. One remembers the Body Corporate and Department of Fair trading during the height of the dispute about painters. I am beginning to think that our own heritage might have something to do with it. The sheer numbers of Continental Europeans that were soaked up elsewhere did not happen here in Bowral. This area always remained solidly conventional and stoically conservative and very loyal to the Queen of England.  Don’t mention the idea of a Republic here. Even the meat pies here are  graced with Royal awards and ‘Princess Diane had a pie in this shop’ blessings.

It has its rituals and unwritten laws of behaviour and compliance. There is order in neatness of gardens and short clipped glorious lawns with obligatory Camellias. We all obey the laws of nature strips at the front on which the garbage bins are put out in strict order and  times. Not a day before and always removed back out ofsight within an hour of garbage being collected. The dogs are walked with the obligatory plastic bags tied to the leash. We greet each other and say ‘morning’ or ‘good-day’.

I am just mentioning it while contemplating a lovely Virginia creeper. It is the last one. All of our eight townhouses were planted originally by a landscape expert and like the townhouses did have some unity and simplicity. However, some years ago all the planted Virginia creepers were taken out. One can still see the suckers clinging to some walls. However, our creeper defied the odds against the hands ripping the item out and survived. We keenly look forward to Autumn. The Virginia creeper shows its height of beauty during fall, in its splendid exhibition of burn orange to crimson red foliage.

We have  been told that this creeper and it’s friend the ivy are capable of causing havoc and worse, to lower the ‘value’. Value is a word that our neighbours often use. Ivy and all creepers will wreck and damage walls and fences, they said and took them out. The painting was all talked about in maintaining value. We happen to mention that we like ivy and also our Virginia Creeper. We further said we prefer the wall left unpainted if it means removing the last of the creepers. I noticed the look of someone as if we were praising something odious or very brown in colour. I added that perhaps some of the paint could be left behind for us to use if the creeper dies.

We wait with some trepidation when our wall with its creeper will remain unpainted.” Over my dead body”, Helvi said.

We prefer the creeper to a coat of PVA acrylic, even if the paint is called ‘Solar Guard’.

We will placate as much as possible, and at the Christmas party that someone always organises, I will add some extra chilli to the marinate of the chicken wings.

Lots of Chilli and loads of Spanish garlic.

Escape from Bank and National Service to Italy’s Bolzano.

June 4, 2015
Helvi in Amsterdam

Helvi in Amsterdam

The trip I took back to Holland was supposed to be permanent. While earning money was good in Australia, the jobs were not. My parents had the house built with the help of the Dutch Building society and a mortgage on ‘easy terms’. Apart from a mortgage, we also managed to get an electric frypan and a large wooden TV on splayed legs, all on easy terms. Life had settled into a routine and if the criteria of a successful migrant family was ownership of a house and white goods, we had achieved that in a remarkable short period, even if on easy terms. As the rest of the siblings grew older they too joined the workforce. Each Thursday evening was the keeping of Mum’s financial books. Our wages were produced and ledgers were ticked off. The family was prospering and it showed in our diets. Eating meat was now common and the sauce bottle wasn’t quite that much rinsed out anymore. A general relaxing of frugality was now creeping into our lives.

While the standard of living was going up the standard of my private life remained static and lukewarm.   I had saved enough and booked my trip back. I moved in with my terminal cancer suffering uncle in Amsterdam.  He was an ex-chess master and as I had picked up the game in Australia we shared many a game. He won all of them. He knew the moves and even had names for them. There was a ‘Budapest in 1933’ move or the ‘Vienna 1867 opening’. He kept on about his previous fame as a chess player while also eating huge portions of my mince meat and chilli mixture, which he thought was a magic cure for his cancer. He vested so much hope on this mince and hot chilli, it was pitiful. He blamed his ex wife for his misfortune and when that subject came up I suggested yet another game of chess, even though you would have thought he would at least give me a game in exchange for the mince-meat voodoo cure.  He never did and would thrash me merciless. I did mix the mince 50/50 with dry bread and an egg to try and bulk it out. He used to wolf it down while rubbing his shoulder in which the cancer was growing, hoping the benefit of the minced meat would shrink the cancer. The heat of the chilli is what he believed would cure him.

I had learnt some chess from a good English friend in Australia. He was a very good chess player but would always give me a handicap of a couple of pieces in order to have at least a fairly equal match. As my game improved the handicap would be reduced. After I arrived in Holland I received a letter he was back in England and was planning to rent a chalet somewhere in the Italian Dolomites to write words down.  He had put an advertisement in the Sud Deutsche Zeitung. He received a response from a German Baroness, a ‘Frau Johnson’  offering him a chalet high in the mountains at Bressanone. He planned to visit me in Holland on his way to take up this offer of the chalet.

Of course, a few weeks before while skiing in Lienz’s dolomites I had already met my future wife. Yet, it would be a few of years before our marriage. I had broken my glasses while skiing on a down-hill frosted over molten snow sheet of ice. There was no grip that my skis could hold and I just slid out of control deciding to just drop down to prevent slamming in a spruce tree. I had a bad nose bleed and broken my glasses. Fortunately I had a pair of optical sun glasses. It was while I was repairing my nose that a young woman asked me if I was alright. I said I was fine and noticed she had taken her skis off and was walking down to the place where I was staying. It was an old farm-house which in winter was let out to skiers and called Gribelehof. My father’s sister had a permanent kind of summer house at the same address.

It is still there and the same family, the Notdurfter’s are still running it. Amazing after all those years! The woman had beautiful eyes. I don’t know where I got the courage from but I said ” you have beautiful eyes.” Her answer floored me; “Yes, I know.” and calmly looked back at me as if trying to see my reaction. My response was surprise and looking nonplussed. However, there was already a feeling of liking each other. She was encouraging and even she said she was aware of her lovely eyes, there was no sense of exploiting the situation. She was really trying something out. We saw each other a few more times before we exchanged addresses and said goodbye.


But back with my uncle and my visiting English friend from Australia, a game of chess was proposed. It was a rather tense game with uncle being opposed this time to a very good player. It turned bad after an hour or so and my friend won. The uncle looked red and upset but wanted a return game. This game he lost too. My friend left to catch the train to Italy. My uncle was really upset and put the board back again with all the pieces. He remembered exactly the move that he should not have done and played it over, this time making the right move and winning. This gave me some relief. He was not easy to live with afterwards. A few weeks after I too moved to Italy and had a letter from my mother’s sister Agnes. My uncle had passed away. The mince meat-chilli mixture was of no avail.

He had lost the last game of chess as well.