Thursday, March 22, 2018


Dimitri Shostakovich

The Three Tenors...with Maestro, Zubin Metha at the helm

(Unintentionally, I appear to be carrying on the musical theme from my previous St. Patrick's Day post)

Bread is the staff of life it has been said.  In Asia more than trice – the advice has been - rice is the staff of life.  In Ireland, spuds were the staff of life until the potato famine blighted the landscape in the 1840s. 

Music, too, is the staff of life.  Music played a key role in my childhood; music of all genres from classical and opera, through to jazz, country, pop and rock ‘n roll, and all in between.

Our piano held pride of place in our home. Used daily, it wasn’t a piece of furniture sitting idly, just for show.  The piano wasn’t our only music source. 

Daily, the radio air waves were filled with the magnificent voices of Caruso, Lanza, McCormack, Tucker, Gigli, Donald Shanks, Donald Smith, John Charles Thomas, ,Jussi Björling, Jan Peerce etc. The ladies - Price, Callas, De Los Angeles, Sutherland, Tebaldi and others sang along, as well.

And then later, I was wooed and readily fell under the spell of the truly wonderful Luciano Pavarotti, and his co-conspirators, Guiseppe Stefano, Placido Domingo, Josế Carreras, Andrea Boccelli and others.   Willingly, I remain enraptured. 

Instrumental classical and romantic symphonies performed by the world’s best orchestras painted musical pictures in my mind, transporting me to a fantasy world filled with beauty and emotion.   Such wondrous music still affects me so.
The staff is the fundamental latticework of music notation upon which the quaver sits a-quivering. The crochet, the little hook, rests briefly in silence until a few strings are attached; then it can turn into a semi, a demi or a hemi. It can become a semihemidemisemi quaver, or even – God forbid - if it isn’t careful, a demisemihemidemisemiquaver! 

Common accidentals occur, too, like having a flat.  If you don’t dodge a sharp you could have a double flat.  It becomes more complicated if you land a flat-and-a-half.  Without warning, a sharp-and-a-half happens. 

The cause of my current apparent insanity is - I’ve just finished bingeing on the quirky, intoxicating, captivating, heart-warming series, “Mozart in the Jungle”.   When I finished watching the four seasons, I suffered a case of severe withdrawals.

An encore was urgently needed, so I immediately attended to that need...I am now re-watching ‘Mozart in the Jungle”, and episode or two a day.  I’m enjoying the series, if not even more, the second time around.  For me, I believe the series could end up being on continuous replay.  Without embarrassment I admit I am hooked.  

I'm also hooked on the Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays the lead role of "Rodrigo De Souza", the Maestro in the unique series.   What a wonderful character he is. Small of frame, he's larger than life.

Music, Maestro, please! Let’s continue the tone.

The daily classical music programmes on the radio during my childhood played an instrumental part in my listening pleasures. 

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 in B flat minor is no minor piece. Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat major Op. 73 is major, but definitely not flat.  Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade excites. 
Joining the throng were Chopin, Haydn, Mahler, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Wagner, Prokofiev, Debussy; the Strauss family e.g. Johann (1,11and 111), Richard, Eduard, Josef waltzed in – the Liszt goes on and on. It’s hard to get a Handel on everyone of them!  Puccini sent Madame Butterfly to stop Ravel from unravelling.  Dimitri Shostakovich entered the scene with a clash of the cymbals, upsetting Stalin and his mob of communist thugs in the Soviet Union.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 is as brilliant as Nos. 1, 5, 31, 38, 40, 41, and all in between. So are his concertos – piano, violin and woodwind - particularly when conducted by the prodigious, world-renowned Indian conductor – Maestro Extraordinaire - Zubin Mehta.

In the early 70s, as a member of the audience at Brisbane’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, I was in awe of the marvellous voice of Bundaberg-born tenor, Donald Smith. 
Smith began his career on Radio 4BU in the 1940s; oddly enough, singing country songs.

Donald Smith was a natural tenor who went on to sing opera, not only in Australia, but also overseas at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Donald Smith received rave reviews everywhere he performed. Adoring fans flocked to see him each time he appeared at the Sydney Opera House. 

The evening I witnessed Smith’s sublime performance in “Cavalleria Rusticana” you could’ve heard a pin drop.  When he sang “Vesti la giubba”, the famous aria from Leoncavallo’s two-act opera, “Pagliacci”, you could’ve heard a feather drop. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house.  Unashamedly, I admit mine weren’t. 

Sonata Bites: Preheat oven to 281C/425F. Cover base of baking sheet with foil. Brush over 1tbs olive oil to cover entire pan. Slice 1 kumara/sweet potato into ¼-inch slices. Place slices onto the sheet.  Pour 1tbs olive oil into a small dish, using a brush, brush tops of sweet potato slices with the oil. Lightly season with salt. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; gently flip the sweet potatoes slices over. Place back in oven; bake an additional 5-7 mins. Remove; set aside.
To prepare the Guacamole: Add flesh of 4 small avocados, 1/4c coriander/cilantro, 2-3tbs lime juice, 1-1/2tbs red wine vinegar, 1/2tsp chilli/red pepper flake to a food processor; season to taste. Lightly pulse until smooth. Set aside. To prepare the Chipotle Prawns: In a small bowl, add 450g green (raw) peeled, deveined large prawns, 1/2tsp smoked paprika, 1/2tsp ground cumin, salt, cracked pepper and chipotle chilli powder. Toss to coat prawnsin the seasoning blend. Heat a large pan to med-high heat. Add 1tbs olive oil to pan; then add prawns. Cook 2-3 mis per side.  Assemble the bites. Top each sweet potato slice with a dollop of guacamole, one prawn; garnish with fresh corn.  Serve.....A melody on the palate.

Italian Easter Bread: Have 1-1/2c peeled, boiled and riced potatoes on hand. Dissolve 2-1/4tsp dry yeast in 1c lukewarm milk. Add 1tbs sugar; stir. Set aside 10 mins. Whisk 5 room- temp eggs at med-speed until frothy, 3-4 mins. Gradually add1c sugar; whisk another 3-4mins. Whisk in 1/2c veg oil and zest of 1 orange. Combine yeast with riced potatoes; add to eggs; whisk at low speed. Add 3c plain flour; mix on low speed, 1min. Switch to dough hook; add 3c plain flour. Mix 5-8mins until smooth and elastic; or you can knead by hand. Line large baking sheet with paper.  Place dough in lightly greased bowl; turn dough to coat with the grease. Let rise until doubled in size.  Punch dough (you beast!). Cover, let rise until doubles in size. Punch dough again; divide into 6 portions. Place on baking sheet; cover with tea towel; let rise, 30-50mins.  Brush loaves with egg wash. Bake in preheated 175C oven, 25-30mins. Cool on wire racks.

Italian Fried Rice: Warm large pan over med-heat; add 2tbs x-virgin olive oil; when warm, add 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves and pinch of chilli flakes. Sauté 30-60 secs; add 1 punnet halved cherry tomatoes, ½ bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces, 1 or 2c thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms; season; about 5-6mins; add a few fresh basil leaves, sliced; sauté until wilted. Add 3-4cs cooked short grain brown rice, 2-3c chopped leafy greens, like spinach and kale, stems removed; season; sauté until rice is warmed through and greens wilted. Optional...serve with grated Parmesan or Pecorino, poached or fried egg and/or toasted, chopped nuts.

Bittersweet Symphony: Combine 45ml strawberry-flavoured vodka, pureed fresh strawberries and 90ml lemonade in tall ice-filled glass; garnish with a strawberry. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Molly Malone's Statue

*****   As you can see below, some familiar refrains and song titles have been used in the telling of my tale.

The Wild Rover, Danny Boy and I’ll be off to Tipperary in the morning.  We’ve got a gallon of Whiskey in the Jar to help us on our way. 

We’re going via Ragland Road, The Rocky Road to Dublin, The Town I Loved So Well.  
Following in Finnegan’s Wake ,we’ll stroll through the Foggy Foggy Dew.  By the way, we had a grand time at Finnegan’s Ball.

After we cross The Fields of Athenry Molly Malone, The Star of County Down, will be joining us. 

It’s clear Molly has stolen The Irish Rover Danny’s heart. 

They first met one pleasant evening in the month of May in Oranmore, in the County of Galway.   She wore no jewels, nor costly diamonds; no paint or powder... no, none at all.  But she wore a bonnet with a ribbon on it, and around her shoulder was a Galway Shawl. 

Having The Luck of the Irish, over a bowl of Cockles and Mussels, the pretty colleen caught Danny’s eye.

Danny and Molly planned to meet the following day at a carnival in Galway Bay, but as She Moved Through the Fair he lost sight of her amongst the madding crowd.   

The lyrics of the Bard of Armagh flooded his mind as he searched high and low. He thought he’d never see her again.  At that moment he believed Ireland was simultaneously an Isle of Hope...An Isle of Tears. 

Knowing he had to leave for Dear Old Donegal in the evening, heartbroken, Danny Boy couldn’t linger long.   Aware Molly was headed for Tipperary early the next morning it felt like the Final Curtain was being drawn across his heart. 

As he stood on Fiddler’s Green, the sound of The Galway Piper playing in the background brought tears to his eyes. 

From Donegal It’s a Long Way to Tipperary down Where the River Shannon Flows. 

However, fate, with the help of the Boys from County Armagh, had taken a turn for the better.

The lads had organised a conference to be held in the south. Danny knew Limerick Is Beautiful (But Galway Is Better).  

En route, while standing on the Cliffs of Dooneen, thinking of his sweet Molly, The Rose of Tralee, he heard someone approaching him from behind...

“How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” 

His heart leapt when he recognised the voice of his Brown-Eyed Girl. 

Donegal Danny was overcome with joy.

Taking her in his arms, Danny said, “My Wild Irish Rose!  We’ll be Sweethearts in the Spring – and forever thereafter.”

Magically, a rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky.  A golden glow hovered on the horizon. 

Danny spotted a little bearded man, dressed in green and wearing a top hat mischievously dancing in the field of four-leaf clover. 

“Three wishes!  Three wishes! I’ll grant you three wishes!”  The leprechaun joyously sang.

“Thank you! Thank you very much, but I don’t need them!” Danny replied, his heart brimming with happiness and love.

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral .Too-ra-loo-ra-li, my friends. That’s an Irish Lullaby for St. Patrick’s Day, which is this Saturday.

Hold on there a moment! As promised... I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.

Shamrock Eggs: Slice a large green capsicum into thick slices; remove core. Melt butter/olive oil in pan; add slices; crack an egg into centres; cook approx 1min. Flip; cook to desired consistency. Sprinkle Parmesan on top.

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts: In pan, heat 1tbs bacon fat or butter over med-high heat; add 4 diced, thick-cut bacon strips; cook 5mins. Add 1 diced onion. When bacon starts to get crispy and onion, deep golden, remove to paper towel-lined plate, leaving fat in skillet. Trim and halve 700g Brussels sprouts; lay sprouts cut side down in pan; reduce heat to medium; cover. Cook 5-8mins before stirring. Add bacon-onions to pan; stir; cook until sprouts are fork-tender, but not too soft; season. Drizzle over 2tbs balsamic glaze; serve hot.

Green Meatballs & Pasta: Combine 2c finely chopped basil, 1/2c finely chopped parsley and 1/2c finely chopped chives. Soak 1 bread slice with 1/3-4c milk, 5 mins; remove; lightly squeeze out milk. Break bread up into a bowl; combine with 240g beef, pork or lamb mince, 1 cup of the herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Work mixture with your hands until well-combined; add a little milk, if necessary, to help bind ingredients into a slightly sticky consistency. Shape into 1-inch meatballs. Cook 450g spaghetti (or pasta of choice) until al dente; drain; reserve 1c of pasta cooking water.  Heat 2tbs olive oil in pan over med-heat; cook meatballs until brown on all sides; remove to plate; reserve pan drippings. In small processor, puree the rest of the herbs with 4tbs olive oil, 1 garlic clove and 1/4c water; season.  Put pasta into meatballs’ pan along with a splash of the pasta water; add herb sauce; toss well over low heat; add more pasta water if needed. Divide among bowls; top with meatballs and grated Parmesan.

Nutty Irishman: Pour hot, strong coffee into 2 mugs; add 30ml each Baileys Irish Cream and Frangelico liqueurs to mugs; put dollop of whipped cream on top; sprinkle with nutmeg.