Monday, April 22, 2013

When I think about you I write my blog

Sad news in the music industry today.  Chrissy Amphlett, lead singer of the Divinyls, passed away today due to complications from breast cancer and Multiple Sclerosis.  The news broke across my TV screen and I thought, "wow, that's sad, but why is this breaking news?"  Well, because she was Australian, of course!  I never knew this.  I've played their most famous song, I Touch Myself, probably around 300 times live.  I love the music game show, Spicks and Specks, because it shows me how little I actually know about world music.  This got me thinking, who else is Australian?

Let's start with the big ones I already know about.  You could begin and end the conversation with AC/DC.  I think Angus Young has to be in everyone's top five rock guitarists of all-time.  If he isn't I think you should ask yourself; a.) Am I breathing? and b.) Do I actually like rock?  If your answer is no to either of these questions you should probably reevaluate if your time could be better spent than reading this blog.

Ok, still with me?  Then we move to the BeeGees.  Amazing songwriters.  Amazing harmonies.  Crazy awesome hair.  Stayin' Alive.  That pretty much says it all.  But, did you know there were actually born in England before moving just north of Brisbane, Australia?  Yeah, you probably did. Sorry, I just seem really late to this game.

Moving on in my brain we have INXS and Michael Hutchence. Brilliance in a tightly wrapped ball of rock and sexual fury.  I dare you to turn on INXS "Kick" album and not dance.  Seriously, I dare you.

Recently, you might have heard a little song by a little artist called Gotye.  It was rather popular last year.  Someone That You Used To Know. I think that was the title.  They really didn't play it a lot so it's hard remembering it.

I guess I should probably mention Keith Urban too since country is basically pop music these days.
Then you have Jet asking me to be their girl,  Midnight Oil burning beds down, Men at Work telling me about vegemite, Olivia Newton-John hopelessly devoted to Grease, John Butler singing about a Zebra, and those crazy Silverchair kids.  That's what I know about Australian pop rock music.

Now we get into the bands I had no idea were Australian: Air Supply, Little River Band, Crowded House, Wolfmother, The Vines, Savage Garden, the Divynyls, Kylie Minogue, Leo Sayer, Natalie Imbruglia, Nick Cave, RICK SPRINGFIELD (how did I not know this), Tina Arena and probably more I couldn't find.

These are just the bands that became popular in the United States.  There is a whole history of Australian music I have no idea about!  There are not enough hours in the day to try to catch up.  I feel like the first time my friend Jeremiah played me Led Zeppelin.  I sat there trying to comprehend how my life existed before that moment.  How could I live in a world where I didn't know Led Zeppelin?!  It was too hard for my little 14-year-old brain to comprehend.  Were there more bands like this I didn't know about?  How could I possibly keep going on until I knew everything about every band ever?  Yes, I think I was a crazy kid.

Now I am a crazy adult trying to play catch up.  I'd better get back to listening now.

RIP Chrissy.  Joan Jett once said, "Girls have got balls. They're just a little higher up that's all".  Chrissy lived a balls out, fiery, female chick singer existence and the world is better for it.  We will miss you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Look for the Bare Necessities

Another weekend, another adventure.  This time we boarded the bus and headed south about 5km to La Perouse on Botany Bay.  Botany Bay serves as Sydney's main cargo seaport and also happens to be the site of Captain James Cook's first landing on the continent Terra Australis (Land of the South) in 1770 by the HMS Endeavour.  The sheer amount of amazing plants led Joseph Banks and Dr. Daniel Solander, the resident botanists on the ship, to call it Botanist Bay.  In true Aussie fashion this somehow was shortened to Botany Bay.

Congwong Bay
Bare Island

I must say it's an amazing feeling to try to imagine what they must have seen coming into the Bay.  If the Brits had only seen it with their own eyes I would think that they would have packed up, moved and left Britain for the convicts instead of the other way around.  

View across to Kurnell, location of Captain Cook's first landing
Very popular area for scuba diving.  Fun to see these guys come out of nowhere.

Captain Cook saw a 'small bare island' and naturally named it Bare Island.  What ingenuity and imagination the early Brits showed in naming things.  We took the tour of the fort that was built on Bare Island.  It was seriously one of the most entertaining tours I've ever taken.  Not because of the subject but because of the tour guide and other people on the tour.  I never knew what was going to come out of any one's mouth.  Most tours I've been on people remain somewhat silent and occasionally ask questions.  This had kids running around, a crazy old man offending several nationalities in one fell swoop (I'll come back to this) and a tour guide who would bust out laminated, black and white photos and simply say, "this is what it looked like".  It was kinda awesome!

View from a cannon station to Congwong Bay

The tour starts by coming into the main area of the fort and the guide explaining that whoever built it wasn't smart.  They knew this was Sydney's back door and needed to be fortified but they used poor quality concrete.  A big factor in having a secure fort would be that it is actually secure.  Oops.  They realized their blunder quickly as it literally started crumbling from the inside out.  It obviously can't be used as a proper fort so it was abandoned.  

At some point they began using it as a veterans home.  Weird to see pictures of families that made this concrete island fort a home.  At some point it became empty again and passed into the National Parks system.  There is actually a caretaker that lives there now.  Very surreal to take a tour of a home that is basically a big, cold, empty, crumbling concrete fort.  

This is the caretaker's home

Let's get back to the people on the tour, shall we?  I'm a big people watcher so as Sean ran to get tickets for the tour I stayed by the gate and assessed my future tour mates.  I immediately focused on an older man that basically looked like an Australian Santa Claus in regular clothes.  He was complete with an oil-skin Australian slouch hat and sandals with socks.  I was really hoping he wouldn't disappoint my expectations of him.  I shouldn't have been worried.

Within five minutes of starting the tour our guide informed us that we should never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  A great way to start a historical tour I say.  I'm thinking Aussie Santa didn't agree.  He begins grilling the guide with all kinds of questions about the cannon.  Is this the actual cannon?  Because he didn't see this part (he points to the picture).  Our guide, Guy, tells him yes, that part is hidden.  Why?  Because it is.  He doesn't get it. We move on to the next room.

The infamous cannon that has been moved to show its "hidden" components

After having time to think about this encounter Guy tells us that he is wearing underwear.  But we don't know that because they are hidden.  We just have to take his word.  That is exactly like the cannon in the other room.  I am speechless and can't even laugh because I am stunned taking it all in.  A girl then points to the wall where there is a plaque talking about the crumbling concrete.  She tells us this is because a cannonball hit it and they all had to run into a different room when it happened.  No one corrects her.  Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  I think she gets it. 

I like the cannon story better...

We continue on the tour and Guy tells us we should come back at the end of the month.  They are having a battle reenactment.   The British will be fighting the Americans on the island.  Yes, this makes total sense.  A historical reenactment of two countries that never fought each other on the island let alone this country.  Oh, and they are reenacting Waterloo next month somewhere else.  I guess this is what war buffs do when they live in a country that has never really been attacked and has no battles on its shores. Must be strangely depressing. You can't really be sad about it and yet, what do you do with your weekends?

I actually got Guy telling Aussie Santa (on left) about his underwear!

But this opens the door for talking about Americans.  Anyone who says that Australians like Americans are obviously not Americans living in Sydney.  Yes, they secretly love our culture, consume our entertainment, wear our clothing and are taught about how the Americans are responsible for saving them from a Japanese invasion but don't let this fool you.  Some Aussies make no bones about telling us Americans how messed up our country is.  People hear my accent and I swear I can feel some of them rolling their eyes.  Let me just say I will strive to never let anyone feel this way when I return to America.  Thanks for opening my eyes, Lord. 

Guy tells about how the Americans may have rescued Australia from the Japanese but they also came and took the women away.  Aussie women married American soldiers because they had bubble gum and smokes but they were actually womanizing jerks.  Huh? Where did this rant come from?  Is this part of the history of Bare Island?  Aussie Santa takes the bait and begins to say this beauty,  "They may have saved us from the Japs, perhaps, but now Australia is too yankful to be thankful."  Oh yes, the gauntlet has officially been thrown down.  Do I speak up?  No, I choose to understand that nothing I said would change Aussie Santa's mind and let Sean's motto win.  Don't get involved.

Since coming home, I have searched for the "too yankful to be thankful" bit as I didn't think that he was smart enough to come up with this on his own.  Sure enough, this is taken from a Brisbane poet in 1942 who wrote this about the increase in prostitution and resentment towards the Aussie women wanting to be with the American soldiers: "They saved us from the Japs, perhaps, but at the moment the place is too Yankful for us to be sufficiently thankful."  Ah, context.  Aussie Santa was showing us how much he knew by taking a quote out of context and making it sound like it was about today.  He didn't add any historical background to say that it was in response to Guy's remarks.  The rest of us on tour were supposed to know about it already. What a tour!

Baddie headquarters in MI2

Showing my American roots, my favorite part of the tour was finding out that Bare Island was the bad guys headquarters in Mission: Impossible II.  Sweet!  I remember that.  I'm going to go watch it again now. Oh and I'm writing this while watching my New York Yankees take on Arizona on free TV.  Obviously somebody likes America here! 

Sean surveying where Tom Cruise drove his bike off the island onto the walkway

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy I got love in my tummy.

On Saturday, I went to a cooking class at my favorite Thai restaurant in Sydney called Spice I Am.  I was late.  In a first, the bus driver driving the second bus I was catching drove past us.  I even made eye contact with him as he passed.  Boo.  

So, I hoofed it the rest of the way making me slightly sweaty and 5 minutes late.  Luckily I wasn't the last one to arrive though.  I didn't want to be labelled as the late American all day.  Instead I think I was the American that won't stop asking questions.  Much better.

It was fantastic!  I've never been to a cooking class so I didn't know quite what to expect.  There were only 10 of us and we had several servers and sous chefs as helpers. They had all of the ingredients laid out for us at "market".

If my market looked like this it would be easier to shop

The head chef/owner Sujet Saenkham conducted the class.  He was hilarious and very passionate about cooking and teaching others about Thai food.  It's hard not to get excited about something when the person teaching you is so excited themselves. He grew up in Central Thailand and learned to cook from his mother who was a cook for important dignitaries and officials in their area.  He says that he wanted to start a restaurant to cook food the way it is prepared in Thailand, not necessarily Thai food as we have come to know.  This means that everything is fresh. He gets a lot of ingredients from his own garden.

Sujet in front of the class

We started by making a green curry paste with a mortar and pestle.  Luckily I have one at home and have used it before so my paste ended up quite good I think.  Then we moved back to our stations and went to market for our ingredients for Green Curry.  I was also pleased to find that everything we cooked was quite spicy.  I guess I should have figured that people who like to cook are usually more open to tasting all types of food.  Very cool to see open people willing to try things they've never had before.  Such as pork blood jelly.  It freaked me out at first to see the red blocks sitting there but Sujet assured me that it was very high in protein and I should try it.  Sure enough I actually did like it.  Weird but if you didn't know what it was you wouldn't think anything of it.  I am a girl raised on beef tongue and chorizos after all.  What's a little pork blood?

My cooking station complete with brass wok.  Which is the way to go by the way. You can clean it with Tamarind and it stays nice and shiny clean.

So, we start the wok cold, add oil and add the green curry paste.  Sujet says, "some of you might sneeze a little".  Ha! The whole room suddenly explodes with unbelievably fresh smells and everyone starts sniffing, sneezing, and coughing.  It was funny.  I had thought ahead and stood back away to stir my curry so I think I might be the only one that didn't sneeze.  I felt bad for the ones that stood directly over their wok with their face inhaling the fumes.  It did catch my throat and I was thankful for the water that one of the servers had just filled up.  Ah, they were expecting this too.

Ingredients from top left to right around the plate:
Chicken, Green Curry Paste, Keffir Lime leaves, red chili, green chili, Apple eggplants, basil, pickled rhizome, pea eggplant and the cubes in the middle are pork blood jelly.
There is also palm sugar at the top and a mixture of coconut cream and milk

We continued to add the ingredients when he said and boom,  awesome green curry!  We then got to take a break and enjoy the fruits of our efforts.  I had to assure three different people four different times that I did not actually need a glass of wine but thanks anyway.  Oh, Australia... as I sigh and think if they only knew me they probably wouldn't want to ask me anymore.   Anyway...

Finished product. My green curry. 

Apparently most people like to over stir.  I guess I am one of them.  In actuality if you have the right ingredients and equipment you shouldn't stir a curry very much.  Sujet said part of it is the beautiful mixture of colors you get on the top of the sauce of the curry.  A multitude of yellows and greens.  You won't get that if you stir too much.  I think this will actually help me with other cooking as well.

Sujet relaxing between dishes

We then shifted to our Pad Thai recipe.  Spice I Am has the best Pad Thai I have ever tasted so I was very excited to see how they do it.  Once again, fresh ingredients that are not over cooked.  Also, the noodles were pre-soaked for an hour before we got there and he slices the bean curd lengthwise and cooks it a little to get the right moisture level.

Ingredients for Pad Thai

I think the real secret to great Thai food is a great fish sauce.  Sujet makes his own and the difference between store bought is amazing. Of course, this takes like 12 months to ferment so I'll just be buying premium at the store.  Instead of adding sugar to make the green curry sweeter he told me to add some fish sauce.  Really?  I always thought fish sauce was, well, fishy.  Not so, it totally kicked my dish up a notch without any "fishy" taste.  Who knew?

My finished Pad Thai complete with Banana leaf, bean sprouts and green onions

In Thailand, a lot of people eat their Pad Thai with banana leafs.  I had never tasted it before.  It was slightly bitter but the texture with the noodles was quite good. 

Sujet's finished product

I had a fantastic time and learned a lot about Thai cuisine.  I might even drag Sean along for the next class.  Plus, I got a book with recipes, a certificate, a jar of green curry paste, the apron I used with Spice I Am on the front and take home food.  I got home and Sean says, "well, they certainly had you pegged on liking free stuff". 
Yes.  Yes I do. 

Woohoo, I'm official!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

We love football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars!

It's a new season.  No, not that one. Yes, it's fall here but so far it feels and looks exactly like summer.  Pretty cool if you ask me because I like to be warm.  No, I mean sports.  We've shifted now from being cricket crazy to the fall sports of Aussie Rules Football and Rugby League.  Partially because the Australian cricket team has pulled a "Labor Party" and started completely imploding.  Look at me!  I just made an Aussie joke.

Anyway, Sean and I are now watching new sports again without having any idea of the rules.  Is this what my friends who don't like football feel like when they watch the Super Bowl?  It's wild.  Since I love sports in general I find it easy to watch and try to glean rules and differences between the two.  So far, it is fantastic!  Unbelievably fast and brutal.  Plus, the announcers are an absolute riot.  They don't mess around with political correctness.  If someone is playing badly they talk about it.  It makes for a very fun watching experience as I never know what they will say.  Kinda like if every announcer was Bill Walton.  You are somewhat annoyed but it's very entertaining.

Plus, they play hard to the final whistle even if the game is out of hand.  There is still an amount of pride so that's very refreshing to see.  Yes, in the NRL this year there is also a drug scandal happening.  Apparently some teams have been injecting their players with horse drugs.  This partially came to light when a player saw a bottle and asked somebody what "equine" meant.  This made me laugh and then it made me sad.  For so many reasons.  Hopefully, they will get everything straightened out.

Here is Coley's quick guide to Aussie Rules and NRL.  I will probably laugh at this when I look back after actually knowing what's going on.  I'm looking forward to that.

Aussie Rules:  AFL

  • Called "Football" or "Footy"
  • Huge Round Field
  • No Offsides
  • High scoring games
  • The ball is moved by kicking it forward in the air or punching "hand balling" it to a teammate.
  • If a player is running with the ball they must bounce it occasionally on the ground.  This makes for great fun as the ball is oblong and things don't always go as they should. Imagine a football player bouncing the ball as they run for a touchdown. 
  • The main way to score is by kicking the ball between the two taller goal posts in the middle. This is a goal.   But you can score less points by kicking it past the end line through the other posts, or hitting a post, or if it hits another player behind the line, or other stuff that keeps coming up every time I watch.   This is called a "behind".   The goal umpire will then signal an airplane to land, oops, I'm sorry, will wave a flag in a gesture that indicates how it should be scored. 
  • A lot more contact is allowed.  You can hit people in the air when trying to get the ball.  You can basically hit anybody at any time except you can't block for someone trying to get in the endzone area.  
  • My favorite is the umpires.  They start the match by throwing the ball directly down in the middle of the field.  A true "jump ball".  AND they do throw-ins from the side with their back to the field.  It makes it look like they called all the single ladies together and he's about to throw the bouquet after the wedding.  I'm pretty sure these big, tough guys would not want to know that's what I think of every time it happens.  But, that's exactly what it is!
  • Every team has a theme song that is played at the end of the games. They all sound like they were recorded in a 60's Lawrence Welk theme park and they are all awesome! 

My adopted team:  Collingwood Football Club, the Magpies.  Before we even left the States one of Sean's co-workers recruited us.  He said no one he knows cheers for them in Sydney so he wanted to get at us first.  I find this brilliant and love the passion and crazy factor.   He is rewarded with my support. :)  Since coming though I have found that Collingwood is the most supported club in the AFL.  Maybe because they recruit us before we get here.

Rugby:  NRL

  • Called "Football" or "Footy"  yes, it's very confusing.
  • Huge square field
  • Players carry the ball down the field and can only pass backwards.
  • Each team gets 5 tackles before it must kick the ball away.
  • Scoring happens when a player touches the ground with the ball past the goal line.  This is called a "try".  After each try, the scoring team gets a free kick to "try at goal" for more points.  You may also get a try at goal after a penalty.  Also, field goals can be kicked at any time during play by drop kicking through the uprights. 
  • Seems more organized and a little less chaotic than Aussie Rules.
  • Tons of rules that I have no idea about. 

My adopted team:  South Sydney Rabbitohs  I live very close to where they train, Russell Crowe is part owner and their mascot is a rabbit with evil red eyes.  How could you not love this team?
Not as impressed with their theme song since it's "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" with different lyrics.  Not very original but you can't win them all.

Here is video of what rugby league looks like.

Bonus video for those of you that made it through the post!  This is one of my favorite commercials ever!  Holden is a subsidiary of US-based GM Motors but don't tell Australians.  If you give it a different name they can claim it.