Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Things that I like, and things that I don't like

Thing that I like #1: Vegemite
Oh, Vegemite. Aussie comfort food. I tried this a few weeks back and surprisingly didn’t barf, so that must mean that I like it.

It tastes like condensed soy-sauce flavored beer. I like soy sauce, and I like beer. Vegemite. Silly Aussies.

If you want to get a glimpse of just how strongly Aussie’s identify with this crazy concoction, click here. Or, here. Or even here, if you dare.

Thing that I don’t like #1: Vegemite
Okay, let’s be honest. I’m pretty culturally sensitive but Vegemite tastes like condensed soy-sauce flavored beer. Eeewww. If you want to make Vegemite at home, I have devised this simple method. Take two gallons of soy sauce and two gallons of Budweiser. Pour them into a large stockpot and bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat and allow to simmer for 10 hours until liquid is reduced to half a cup and mixture resembles thick, poo-colored tar. Taste and adjust seasonings. Allow to cool completely, then store in jars. No need to refrigerate. To serve, stick your finger in the jar, lick your finger, make a nasty icky face, then throw away remaining contents of jar. (Note: many Australians omit this last step)

Thing that I like #2: Spanish tapas
How can anyone say no to potatoes and onions boiled in olive oil and bound together with fresh eggs, aka Spanish tortilla? With a side of roasted peppers and homemade chorizo sausage? Yeah, I’ll take some of that.

Thing that I don’t like #2: the Spanish restaurant down the street
Not going to mention any names, ahem, because my mom taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The menu at “El Restaurante Espanol” had the expected Spanish tapas offerings. We ordered gambas al ajillo, croquetas with Manchego cheese, bunuelos de bacalao (salt cod fritters), chorizo a la plancha, patatas bravas.

They were all passable, yet under-seasoned. While I’ve come to accept limp service in most Australian restaurants, I was shocked by the rudeness of our waiter. After hearing our non-Australian accents he treated us condescendingly and seemed more interested in shooing us out the door than allowing us to order more food or wine which we were going to PAY FOR. With MONEY. At his RESTAURANT. I mean, isn’t that the point of the whole operation? I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something. Oh! And the funniest part! I wasn’t thrilled about any of their sickeningly sweet sounding sangria-ish options, and they didn't have a good Spanish wine on offer, so I asked for a dirty vodka martini with extra olives. And the waiter said, “What’s that? Could you tell me what’s in it and I’ll see if the bartender can make it?” UUUMMMMMMMM. Yeah, sure, it has VODKA. And OLIVES. And you know, I don’t even care about the vermouth at this point, I’ll just take a cup of room temperature vodka with some olives floating in it. I’m gonna NEED it if the night keeps going in this direction!

However, I must say that a main reason I love going out to eat is to spend time with my friends and enjoy myself. I tried not to dwell on the service… and had a fab night out with the girls. I think next time I'm craving Spanish, though, I'll make my tortilla at home and invite the gals over...

Thing that I like #3: Community gardens
How can you diss a community coming together to grow healthy veggies and fruits? Macadamias and persimmons and citrus and peppers and fennel and herbs?

Thing that I don’t like #4: Chook poo
I’m not really sure, but I think part of a community garden might be fertilizing, and I think part of fertilizing might be picking up a sack of chook poo down the street and then spreading the chook poo on your veggie patch without gagging and making a fool of yourself in front of your neighbors. Not sure if I’m that strong of a person, but if I were, I’d know where to pick me up some quality poo.

Thing that I like #5: Amazing food
DUH! I love that amazing food doesn’t have to be expensive or pretentious to rock your world. I can get down with a late night basket of fries topped with gyros meat, ketchup, garlic sauce, and chili sauce, or as I call them, “fries with gop on top.” YUM.

Or I can appreciate the pristine local veggies in the fridge of a local restaurant… accented by the chef’s surfboard which he utilizes every day before dinner service. How much more Aussie can you get, mate?

I also love cookbooks that teach me how to make amazing food, like spicy Indian curries and Mediterranean-inspired dishes with Aussie olive oil, and I love friends who give me those cookbooks for my birthday. Thanks, Jackie!

Thing that I don’t like #5: Dirty nasty kitchens
Unfortunately, Phil lives in an apartment with a dirty, nasty kitchen. There is no possible way that amazing food (see thing that I like #5) can be produced in such an environment. Poor Phil. No wonder he eats out every day, three meals a day. He said it wasn’t that bad the day I took this photo. Oh dear.

Thing that I like #6: Fun and tasty beverages with loads of caffeine
Mate, anyone? I am the Mate Converter. That should be my superhero name. I fell deeply in love with mate when I lived in Argentina eight years ago, and lug a huge two pound bag of it with me whenever I move to a new place. I love the sociality of the drink, the caffeine punch that keeps me alert, the strong and bitter earthy flavor… I love that it looks like you're doing some weird exotic drug, but it's totally legal and won't kill you and send you insane. But I must admit that mate is an acquired taste. Leena and Meagan appear to be enjoying themselves, but they just wanted to look cute for the photo. They didn’t actually ingest any mate here, and kind of made a bitter beer face as soon as the shutter clicked.

Meagan didn't even touch her lips to the bombilla, hehehe. Poser!

Love it love it love it!

Thing that I don’t like #6: Gross beverages with loads of alcohol
I do NOT recommend Japanese umeshu (plum wine). Is the pickled plum supposed to make it look more appealing? Not sure. But it doesn’t work. Sorry, Japan, I’m not a fan of your alcoholic beverages, I mean, sake? Asahi? Umeshu? Whisky? You can do better than that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fattening up Phil

Phil hung out in Adelaide for another week or so. I treated him as an honored guest and made an attempt to fatten him up. Skinny boy needs it! I fed him Bopi’s pastelillos (just look at that buttery, flaky crust, no store bought crust can compare!)….

Homemade chicken and leek pies (actually, the puff pastry wasn't homemade. Screw that!)…

Wedges and beer…

Ah, Lipe and potato wedges, my two favorite things about Australia!!

And we hopped the train to the seaside town of Semaphore to hunt down some of the best fish and chips in the state.

Soto’s Fish and Chips for sure lived up to our expectations. The place is nothing special really at first glance. You’d pass it on the street without a second look, and it has no tables to dine-in and no atmosphere to speak of. But the fish comes in fresh every day and they batter and fry it to order. They also hand cut their fries and DOUBLE FRY them… first at a low temperature to slowly cook the inside, then again at a high temperature to crisp up the outside. I’m a fry fanatic and these were some of the best. They douse your meal in vinegar and wrap up the whole lot into a big paper bundle of joy. I carefully walked our parcel of goodness down to the beach…

We snagged the best seat in the house, with an ocean view…

And dug in!!!

Semaphore was a lovely beach, but my focus was obviously not on the sites but more on the fried goodies.

That week Jackie played the hostess with the mostest and had us and the crew over for a gigundous Italian feast.

She made the table real purdy and fancy for us.

And we feasted like royalty on Jackie’s braised rabbit and Italian greens, Amy’s b├ęchamel and bolognese lasagna with homemade cracked pepper pasta sheets, garlic and oregano bread, and a salad of tomato, mozzarella, and basil.

Good chats, good company, amazing food, and of course Bob’s perfect wine selections…. I may be a broke college student, but I dine like a billionaire!!! I probably should also weigh a billion pounds! (Or, 454,545,454.5 kilos, to you Aussies)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Journey to the Land of Barossa

… and then it was time to wake up. Day two of Philari’s trip began with a breakfast of local eggs and bacon cooked by yours truly in our cottage, then we were off to the tiny town of Mintaro a bit off the beaten track in the Clare Valley. The countryside and scenery on the drive there were the cutest I’ve seen so far here in Oz, with cows and sheep grazing and pastures dotting the landscape. Fast photo out the window!

When we arrived to Mintaro, we decided to challenge our bravery and stamina by embarking on a quest through the Mintaro Garden Maze, a fabled living hedge maze sure to stump even the most seasoned of explorers. We immediately lost ourselves in the labyrinth. Our journey seemed hopeless and I desperately feared that we would starve in this godforsaken place, never again to taste the pleasures of the Riesling or know the joys of the braised veal shank.

Evil gnomes misled us at every turn. I began to panic. Then came the hallucinations. “Redrum, redrum, redrum…..” was all I heard when Phil spoke my name. I pleaded with a gnome to have mercy on our souls and even performed what seemed like the gnome fertility squat in the hopes of persuading him to point us in the right direction…

We stumbled aimlessly….and then… lo! We found ourselves at the center of the maze! The clouds parted, the gnomes scattered, the sun emerged! We were victorious!

Phil was knighted as the hero of the land by the benevolent Queen of Mintaro.

Then it was time to move on in our quest before we found ourselves in grave danger once again….

Later that day, the kingdom of Barossa calmly welcomed us with her palm-lined avenues and rolling hills.

And, even heroes need to stop for a photo-op every once in awhile.

Heroes (especially this hero) also need to eat and partake of the elixir of gods in order to maintain their mythical strength.

Sir Philip and his wench Cari stopped at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop to fuel up with Maggie’s duck liver and star anise pate, a grain salad, olives, bread, and a goblet of sparkling white new vintage from the Beer Brothers.

We then hurried to Mengler Hill, but alas, Arthur had beat us to it and Excalibur had already been pulled from the stone…

I cursed our fate under the ancient twisted tree.

Phil was measurably less disturbed about the whole ordeal.

Until an evil spell was cast over the land and all color was stripped from the technicolor Barossa paradise.

The only way to revive the kaleidoscopic kingdom was to rush to the Whispering Wall and carefully whisper the password to the keeper of the colors of the land.

For the second time in just one day, Philari triumphed over damnable iniquity!

**Note: Sorry this post was so silly. I’ve been writing about Basque national cuisine as an abstraction in the face of globalization for the past two weeks. I needed a silliness outlet!!!!!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Dilly Dally in the Clare Valley

My birth month continued with a two week visit from the bf. Phil flew in from Sydney and we planned a kick butt excursion to the Clare Valley, another wine region about an hour and a half’s drive from Adelaide known for its Riesling. Now, for all you Yanks out there, does anything appear wrong with this photo?

OH MY GOSH. PHIL. BE CAREFUL!! YOU’RE DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR!! I was a bit alarmed at the prospect, I’m not gonna lie, and Phil’s brother Sean reaffirmed my reservations by reminding me that Phil’s not the best driver on the correct side of the road, but alas I live to tell the tale of Philari’s weekend of wine in the Clare Valley.

The drive through the countryside was peaceful and green and very un-Sydney, just what Phil was looking for on his vacation. As soon as we arrived in the Valley, we ditched the car and rented bikes to meander along the Riesling Trail, tasting wine and local foods along the way (in keeping with this year’s birthday theme).

It was SO SILLY that we had to wear dorky helmets. There was literally not a soul in sight along the trail, no intersections or roads or cars, no crazy hairpin turns for us to wipe out. I suppose if I would have drank a few more bottles of Riesling it would have been a good idea to protect my skull in case of accidental contact with concrete, but as it were, we just decided to be good citizens and wear the stupid things. Gosh darn it I hate helmet hair.

We stopped at Sevenhill cellars. This winery is the oldest in the region, founded in 1851 by Austrian Jesuits, and set in a beautiful location. They still produce sacramental wine for Catholic churches. Philari’s favorites here were a 2007 St Aloysius Riesling and a surprising liqueur Frontignac from their fortified range. It was spicy yet not too sweet and reminded me of a rum-drenched fruitcake (the dessert, not my Dad).

It seems that the roses flower all year round here! This one was as big as my big head!

We jumped back on our bikes and waved to the many sheep just hangin’ out all over…

And ventured off the Riesling Trail for a picturesque jaunt to Skillogalee.

A roaring fire awaited us at the cellar door, where we sampled their wines and fell in love with a basket-pressed shiraz and a crisp Riesling. We then sat on the cottage’s verandah and enjoyed a sparkling Riesling and a selection of local cheeses and breads. We just lost track of time, and the sun clock was broken so we whiled away the afternoon until the sun began to set.

But eventually we needed to move on so we wouldn’t be caught biking home in the pitch black (the trail was not lit – thank GOD we had those helmets).

Helmets, check! Dorks, check!

The shadows were long………………………………………………………………………….

The cows sang their song………………………………………………………………………..

I forged a close bond………………………………………………………………….

I’m glad I’m not blond. MOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooOOOOOOOOooooooo.

We made it back to our SO TOO CUTE cottage…

….lit a fire….

…and just chilled with a nice Jim Barry blend.

And then it was time for bed.