It may occur just once a year (if I’m lucky), but flying up to Brisbane to spend time with my family is something I always look forward to. A quick escape from Sydney to kick back, eat, drink and catch up with the goings on with my immediate family. Why am I the only one that ventured away from southeast Queensland to settle in Sydney? Well, I never really liked it up there.
Ever since the family moved from Wollongong to Brisbane in 1981 I was rarely a happy camper, and being a 10 year old child meant I had no choice but to go with the flow. Twelve years later I finished high school, college and an apprenticeship and saw my window of opportunity to get out from the sleepy grasp of Brisbane. The rest is history.
My parents live in an area called Forest Lake, a planned leafy suburb on the southern edge of Brisbane. It has its own fabricated “town centre” which is nothing more than a shopping centre building with the basic services any local requires. Personally there’s no appeal to me and I much prefer the nearby Inala shopping centre with its Vietnamese-centric shops, restaurants and food markets; but that would come as no surprise.
Living in their own suburban cul-de-sac means they have a quiet location and enough room for Dad to have his shed, smokehouse and vegetable garden and for Mum to claim the rest for her gorgeously-lush tropical garden. This may not be the same house they had when I lived with them as a youngster but it’s a perfect replication of the family house in Ipswich. Just minus the swimming pool, chickens, bird aviary and scary brown snakes that claimed our yard as their territory.
The only animal life in their current home is the pet cat, dog and the local rainbow lorrikeets that drop in for a feed. If you’re wondering what the deal is with the taxidermy hawk with out-stretched wings, well, that was something my father shot on a hunting expedition back in the early 1970’s. For as long as I can remember it was placed in the dining room, overlooking the dining table with a sharp Mona Lisa gaze that followed you everywhere.
One of the first things things that happens when I arrive at my parents is the ritual of having coffee. The jezve is filled with water and brought to the boil, it’s taken off the heat and finely ground coffee is added and stirred through. With the heat turned off, the jezve goes back onto the stove and the residual heat finishes it off. The result, a nice strong black coffee that’s bound to slap you around the chops a few times.
The other ritual, or pass-time, is of course eating. Seeing it was just me visiting, Mum didn’t go all out and create a feast as she usually does. Instead it was her delicious rabbit stew for dinner, or zec paprikaš, served over pasta with free-flowing vino all ’round.
The following day my brother came around to visit so I helped Mum prep some food in the morning, watching her make her kiseli kupus, or sour cabbage, which is similar to sauerkraut. Traditionally, Croatian kiseli kupus is shaved cabbage mixed with vinegar, seasoning and not much more. Mum does it differently by sprinkling the shaved cabbage with salt and allowing it to sit for four hours to soften. All the moisture is then squeezed out and olive oil is added, some seasoning, a little sugar and vinegar to balance the flavours. This is the way she was taught by her mother. Check out her vintage salt pot, probably older that I am!
My little contribution was a white anchovy dish with a salsa of Dad’s garden-fresh tomatoes, black olives, parsley and fetta. Simple, fresh flavours that are reminiscent of the Adriatic coastline.
As with many Croatian meals, meat plays a big part in what’s on the table. Sausages, steaks and cevapcici (skinless sausages) alongside potato salad, and of course Mums kiseli kupus.
I seriously need to get up to Brisbane more often!