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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Snakes and ladders

This weekend was getting back into town life after a few days away. I say this but almost fall about laughing as where we live seems remarkably un-town like ... I was making a banana bread in the kitchen with the french doors open when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw this fairly sizeable carpet python slithering onto the deck - note the distance from the kitchen to the deck is a few metres - slithering through my chairs, and out the other side, round the side of the deck for a drink from the flower pot before disappearing under the deck, to wait for dinner. Dinner is a juicy ratlette or a mouse that we have heard scurrying up and down the lilly pilly tree late at night.

My initial feeling about this was complete and utter fear and my hear stopped as well as all the neighbours next door who were busy in their yard. We spent many a long moment, looking at the snake, half in admiration at its beautiful colours, half in complete horror as it seemed to choose our home to make it his.
I slept badly that night and felt intimidated about hanging out my washing. The snake had made itself comfortable in a rafter just under the deck and its coils could be seen clearly from inside the house but also literally just where I hang my washing. I know they are harmless but I felt this one's proximity to the house was just a little too close for comfort and so bright and early on a Monday I rang around to see if someone could, for a price, relocate him to a friendlier neighbourhood. 
My google search produced just the outfit -SNAKE CATCHERS - so I called. The phone was answered by a woman who took down my details, told me about the cost and said that I would be liable to pay even if the snake moved off in the meantime. Well I didn't see how I was going to persuade it to stay or even hold it against its will so I decided this was a risk I just had to accept. She arrived in about 45 mins. A young woman with sensible boots and a safari shirt carrying a metal hook and a cloth bag, similar to what you would put your dirty washing in.
I showed her where the snake was curled up on the rafters - she asked for a stool and I handed her one and then she reached up with her hand and gently dislodged him. His instinct was to curl around and hang on but she got him down and directed his little head into the sack. He went in, she tied a nice firm knot, got paid $105 and set off to her next appointment.

In the evening I had to break the news to my husband who is fond of them, that the snake had been relocated. We both, unbelievably, felt sad. I was curious why a young girl like her would do a job like that so kept asking her lots of questions and I guess talking to her made me realise that it is I who have to change my mind set about the snake not the snake about us. She reckoned it was about 20 years old, about 2.5 metres, had probably lived in this neighbourhood all its life, never eaten a child, but probably lots of rats, never spread a disease which of course both rats and birds do, and had no nasty droppings or ever made a mess, other than to occasionally shed its skin which is beautiful anyway.

So I am a little humbled, a little less inclined to feed the birds, which get fat and make a terrible mess,  and which bring the rats and mice, which attract the snakes. It is nature's pecking order and as with most things natural there are good reasons for it and I felt that at the end of the day I had disturbed that balance. 
Relocating one is not going to mean that there wont be more -but perhaps next time I will choose to live with it and spend my $105 in town!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

All creatures great and small

Home to strange creatures and many birds the rain forest canopy, its floor and streams are full of surprises, some visible to the naked eye, others not. We walked through the graded paths, stroked by the ferns which reached out, almost tempted to pluck the pendulous berries of red of the strangely named "walking stick palm" that was the only shot of deep red in a sea of green, avoiding the stinging nettle tree which is notorious for not being kind. We looked up and we looked down, we paddled in streams and on one occasion fell in looking for the crayfish, we saw the amazing front door of a trap door spider made with mucous and mud and with a perfect hinge in silk - an undisputed "keep out" to the world at large. We sat tired to soak in a view and then soak in the sun after the coolness of the forest.

Mushrooms having a field day on a mossy branch

The door to a trap door spider's nest

The crimson Rosellas on our balcony

 The Eastern yellow Robin

 The Eastern Whip bird
 A delicate flower that C and I spotted independently of each other
 A king parrot in the canopy
On open grass we saw many pademelons, a smaller form of wallaby, foraging in the grass. Bandicoots and other smaller rodents scurried around.

The glow worms lit up a whole bank and their lights were reflected in the stream below. They were mesmerising enough that I forgot to take a picture so here is David Attenborough with his little clip.

The birds are what we really loved to listen to and watch and we very much enjoyed spotting them around the retreat and in the  forest. Not always easy to see, their calls and songs, their only give aways.
The crimson rosellas were astoundingly bright and colourful and tame enough to come to our balcony. The Australian King Parrots with their royal red heads and their body of green occasionally high in the branches above our heads. The pied currawong with its unmistakable song - red browed finches with their red mask like spiderman across their eyes. The wonderfully named Wonga Pigeon with its patterned belly. A rare sighting of a noisy Pitta and of an Albert's Lyrebird the latter known to do a dance close to a Spanish Flamenco to attract its mate. The jovial and flashy Eastern Yellow Robin, the Log Runners scurrying around in the undergrowth and the unmistakable whip bird with its whip whip call. Too many perhaps to mention them all but the Regent bower bird is one which is so memorable with its fiery yellow on its body and the impressive bowers that they form to attract their women folk. 

Picture from Graeme Chapman 

A bower

Lying in the ground in areas which are a little secluded and protected they will collect "treasures" for their women, Bic pens, bottle tops, straws and blue feathers. What a welcome to a wife. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Lamington National Park

We drove up to Lamington National Park from Brisbane and as you leave the valley and start climbing the mountain, the road, often single lane and narrow, prepares you for living in the forest for a few days. The trees, the ferns and the bushes grow up and over and envelop you in almost a tunnel of green and if they do not meet at the top, they reach out from the sides to welcome you in.

Once upon a time we know that Australia was part of the land mass of Gondwana. Australia broke away about 55 million years ago and has been moving north ever since. There were seas and volcanoes on its land mass and the volcanoes left mountains rich in nutrients which in turn gave rise to some of the areas on which the rain forests grew. Lamington Rain Forest is one such. In 1915 Lamington was declared a National Park. A few dedicated men had fought for this but it took many years before it was passed. In 1994 Lamington National Park was listed as a part of the World Heritage Central Eastern Rainforests. Today it stretches over a vast expanse of some 20,000 hectares, is surprisingly close to the ocean, and is literally  a skip and a hop away from our doorstep. 

We spent the Easter weekend at Oreilly's Rainforest Retreat and had a wonderful time exploring the tracks and the forest, the waterfalls, creeks and rock pools. Saying that we were awe struck by what we saw does not even begin to convey the majesty of the trees, the richness of the canopy, their height and the variety of species found there. There are maps and discovery centres to help you find the walks that suit you or your family, always well marked and for the most part very walkable with the most spectacular views of the border with New South Wales or the Gold Coast and the valleys below. 
 The view from our room
 Along one path, passing through a tree hollow
 One of the foot bridges
 Disappearing into its heart
 The forest with the morning light
One of the many beautiful symbiotic plants 

All those years ago a man called Francis Edward Roberts had been asked to survey the border between New South Wales and Queensland and he worked on this between the years of 1863 and 1866.He was helped in this by Aboriginals who had lived these areas and knew them well. Most of the place names are Aboriginal. In some areas the vegetation was so thick that they could barely see daylight. We walked along this Border Track, a distance of some 22kms but extended somewhat as we dipped in and out of the beautiful Coomera falls and meanderings across the river bed which saw us crossing water courses maybe eight or so times along our path.We came across breathtaking look outs and old forests of Atlantic Beeches which look strangely prehistoric and mixed with one of the world's oldest conifers the hoop pine, araucaria cunninghamii, and strangler vines, hosting everything from crows nests to orchids, to stag horn ferns, they engaged our fantasy as well as our thirst to find out more about what birds might nest there and what strange creatures call them home. 

 Some of the waterfalls we came across

 The breathtaking vistas from the look outs
The tree fern and behind it one of the Atlantic Beech trees. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Ferran Adria - el Bulli

Ferran Adria breezed through Brisbane. The master chef and father of molecular gastronomy was talking at the Gallery of Modern Art. I could not miss this. 

Adria started in el Bulli in 1983.Within a short period of time his cooking became legendary. There were waiting lists that went into years not months.He came to talk to us about his experiences and what he is up to. In the last 25 years, he said, nothing ever stayed the same from year to year. There were constant innovations, explorations and menus that left diners with their mouths literally gaping.He closed his restaurant el Bulli in Spain in 2011, the last serving was not a sad day but rather the start of a bigger more innovative programme.
He decided to close it because it was madness to change everything every year. He compared this to an artist innovating art radically every year. He wanted to get away from the Michelin stars but have the freedom to create. He has now created a family Foundation, perhaps because he doesn’t have children, where all income generated goes to the Foundation. They auctioned off the wine cellar at el Bulli and made 2 million Euros. They put in further funds and the Foundation is moving forward. He has been on a tour of major Universities and Business schools asking for their input to his plans. The Foundation will be on the same premises as the restaurant and it will be where chefs under elBulli DNA will continue to innovate and create. Their creations will be put online and will be available to all. At the same time he is working on el Bulli 1846 (after the number of dishes he created) which will not be a museum, nor a lab, but something in between the two. He plans to launch Bullipaedia which will embrace projects about education in the food industry and cooking which, as he put it, will not just be for the elite but free for all. He has even questioned what is the definition of cooking a question that will doubtless engage anthropologists in the years to come.

He left Brisbane with a promise of more to follow and while I would struggle to emulate even his simplest recipes in the kitchen I am fascinated by his mind, his passion for food and its preparation and cannot wait to see where he wants to take it.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

In praise of Baju from Bihar

For any of you who knew me in my Indian life I lived on a so called "Farmhouse" in South Delhi surrounded by large gardens and some pleasant neighbours. My gardener was called Baju and he was employed by my landlords but sadly at such a small salary we had to surreptitiously supplement it every month. Baju came to work day in and day out -whether the outside temperature was 5C or 45C as it was sometimes. He swept an expansive garden free of leaves and branches and also trimmed hedges and kept everything in order. He did this day in, day out. 
He was an unskilled and uneducated young man from Bihar, India's poorest state and he left behind a wife and twins when we first arrived. Within a year, one of the twins had died and another baby was on the way. He saw his wife and kids maybe once a year and sent them every penny he made. He came in for a cup of chai mid morning and was always surprised because I had the best chocolate biscuits on offer for dunking.He worked long hours, for not very much.So this is a tribute to his hard work, his lovely smile and his ability to complete his daily tasks. It takes strength to do so but also there was something more that I had not counted on. 
Why on earth you might ask have I suddenly brought this up - simply because in Australia I am Baju and daily I head out to the not so expansive garden and sweep the blossoms that have fallen from the frangipani and the tibouchina. It is to my intense surprise therapeutic and calming
 Some of the garden he looked after 
 Baju and Tara on Holi having fun with colours 
and I love the fleeting sense of achievement as I collect all the dead leaves and put them into the compost bin and for literally moments the garden is spartan and swept.  The wind blows and the whole cycle starts over again. I head out in the knowledge that this man from Bihar has taught me a valuable lesson in my life and this post is dedicated to him and his family on this day when India heads to the polls.