Some days are stones-1

THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2011, 2pm:

A diamond day: Oli and I in Brittany in 2008 on our honeymoon.

Not a good day. I am in the doctor’s surgery with my French/Australian husband, Olivier, who has been treated for prostatitis, an infection of the prostate gland.  It has not responded to antibiotic treatment since before Christmas and here we are to find out why.  There is some beating around the bush about the need for a biopsy and an explanation of what that will entail.

“Exactly what are we searching for?’’ I ask.

“Well, I will be honest with you,’’ says the doctor. “We are now looking for a cancer.’’

“The last two blood tests have revealed an escalating blood reading – from a PSA of 65 to 70 – and it seems it is not an infection as it has not responded to medication targeted to that area. So we need to look further.’’

I feel like clutching my heart it is pounding so strongly and I sneak a look at my husband, who is intently searching the face of the doctor. (PSA is Prostate Specific Antigen.)

“Is it likely to be cancer?’’ asks Oli.

“We don’t know what we will find, but we need to explore the prostate,’’ the doctor replies

He picks up a piece of paper and draws a diagram, explaining local anaesthetics will be applied before needle biopsies are taken from sections of the enlarged prostate.

“The first time available is Friday next week (January 28) because I will be in Whyalla for the first half of the week,’’ he says.

“The biopsy result usually takes two days. You will have the results on the Monday… about 10 days time.’’

A heavy silence pervades while he gathers printed forms for Oli to sign.

Suddenly, the focus is on finding cancer in my husband’s prostate!

Surely I am sweating. I think Oli would be embarrassed if I reach out to touch his hand lying so nonchalantly on his knee. Yet, I touch him and draw my hand away again, so he knows he is not alone. Olivier is given a parcel of signed forms and tablets to be taken in eight days’ time before the procedure and afterwards.

Then we are ushered out of the rooms to face this health dilemma together.

For some reason John Denver’s song “Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Stones’’ flashes to mind. How could we know that there would be other days of stone  ahead.

The Essence of Personal Style

How hard it is to define one’s personal style, yet British author, Kirsty Gunn in her best-selling book 44 Things: A Year of Life at Home captures her step-mother, Irene so beautifully in the following vibrant extract.

“The woman who talks long into the nights and days, apartment and her flowers shining out around her, scarves and silvery earrings, hands that make their patterns in the air, her dancer’s gestures there, all elegance and light and grace, and everywhere she touches…Beauty.

Who’s some slim years beyond me and is who I need to see as proof that gorgeousness goes on and on and on…

….It’s you Irene. The gift, the smile, the word, the light, the tulip in the vase…’’

The author’s words too, are light and lively as she portrays Irene’s style further as “a woman stepped clear out of air and full of music, painting, and New York…’’

Published by Atlantic Books, London, 44 Things by Kirsty Gunn was first published in 2006 and celebrates the author’s home and family with a treasury of short stories, essays, poems and letters.

New Year’s Day 2011

New Year revelry

The new year begins with ham and eggs on hot, buttered muffins for breakfast at our Hindmarsh Island home before we take our friends on a tourist drive of Goolwa over the bridge from where we live.

Goolwa is a river port, the last town before the River Murray reaches the sea, and on New Year’s Day, the pretty riverside village is brimming with people.

However, the wharf is the tourist hub of Goolwa and we choose to take coffee there at Hector’s café. The large, modern cruiser, Spirit of the Coorong is moored alongside taking on supplies for its boatload of tourists, who will take the boat tour into the Coorong. The river today is choppy, the sky overcast, but

We walk along the wharf to watch the paddle steamer “Oscar W’’ steam towards us, hooting its imminent arrival.  It is the oldest steam-driven paddle steamer still in operation. They  slip on the gang plank and a stream of tourists disembark. Behind the building, a train engine chugs into the Goolwa Station to hitch onto the four old carriages of the Goolwa railway, which will take tourists to  Victor Harbour today.

We down our  drinks and drive along the shoreline to the barrage, which is news right now because it has opened its sleuth gates for the first time in eight years.

Two weeks ago we were on the water here yachting with friends from the Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club and as we approached the barrage, we could see through to the other side where a lone pelican floated by.

Today here are many more pelicans and sea wood ducks – all fishing for the schools of fish on the sea side of the barrage. Fishing is forbidden to humans for 150 metres allowing the birds to feed.

The wood ducks are feasting, disappearing momentarily under the surface of the churning waters while the pelicans simply dip their huge beaks into the sea, lift them up and the fish slides down.

We drive further along into the Coorong, a national park, where there is prolific birdlife.  Black swans outnumber the pelicans, whose numbers have diminished here because they have all flown north to Lake Eyre.  There is a lone white faced heron and seagulls galore swoop around in glee.

We drive past the sand dunes and stop the other side of the barrage to watch as the cruiser Spirit of Coorong, glides past us into the Coorong itself, a unique stretch of watery wilderness. It runs behind the Younghusband Peninsula, a sliver of land which separates it from the Southern Ocean. The whole region, the River Murray Mouth, the Lakes Albert and Alexandrina and the Coorong have been very stressed as a result of the 10 years of drought.

But today, the river flows straight through the barrage and it is a wonderful sight on this New Year’s Day as it too, brings renewal.

Pheasant Veronique:

What do we cook to celebrate our wedding anniversary dinner? Something grand for just the two of us to be served on the terrace at twilight overlooking the River Murray, which is fast flowing past our rental accommodation right now.

The answer comes as we approach Mt Compass where we usually buy venison. But today, we notice a sign to a pheasant farm at Nankita a small village five kilometres away.

We travel along a pleasant undulating country road to Compass Pheasants, Marron and Deer Farm, where Frank Sipos, a wiry older fellow with a European accent, quickly sells us a leg of venison and a pheasant. It is the first pheasant I have ever bought and I ask for cooking instructions.

“Is it just like a chicken?’’ I ask.

However, Frank’s wife, Philippino-born, Elda, thrusts a recipe into our hands exclaiming that it is an authentic French recipe for pheasants.

Once at home, I see that the recipe is entitled Pheasant Veronique and I season and pepper the bird, cover the breasts with 2 fat bacon rashers and place it in a buttered roasting dish as instructed into a moderately heated oven.

However, the unique French flavour is in the sauce.

½ cup brandy; ½ cup cream; 1/3 cup Port, 250g seedless white grapes, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 4 spring onions finely chopped and watercress sprigs.

When bird is cooked (do not overcook), transfer it to a heated dish, cover with foil and stand in warm place.

Add spring onions to the roasting dish and sauté on top the stove for 2 mns. Stire in the brandy, add cream and boil for 2-3 mins until sauce is slightly thickened. Add the grapes and simmer gently for 2 mins whiloe you halve or quarter the pheasant and arrange on heated serving dish. Stir the port and lemon juice into the sauce and simmer until hot. Adjust seasoning and pour over pheasant. Garnish with watercress.

Elda says these are superb ingredients put together in the simplest way which produce this fabulous French dish which spells complete luxury.  Serve with potato balls and tiny Brussell sprouts or green beans.

PS:  Our French friend Dominique helped me with the sauce and it is smooth and tasty, but he says it needs some salt added.