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Friday, September 29, 2006

Meet Jim & Pete

Last week we picked up a couple of goldfish after our trip out west to the racetrack. Jim and Pete:

They're lion heads. We found out after we got home that this means they're going to have freakishly enormous heads as they get older... but for now they're still cute. They're interesting fish... no dorsal fin and a double tail fin. Active, too, if not that bright. I've heard that fish have a memory that lasts seven seconds. I don't think these guys have that long of a memory. The other day we watched Pete eat his poo and spit it out when he realised it was not food.
"Hmmm, what's this?"
(gulp, chomp-chomp, blach!)
"What's that thing that just came out of my mouth?"
(gulp, chomp-chomp, blach!)
"Oh, what's that? That might taste good!"
(gulp, chomp-chomp, blach!)

This went on for some time before he got distracted by an air bubble.
No offence, buddy. Ah he won't remember. More photos:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Moth Invasion!

Every year around this time the bogong moth migrates from somewhere near Canberra to somewhere north of Sydney called the Australian Alps. Their flight pattern does not take them directly over Sydney, but with any luck (ie wind) they wind up right in the middle of the city. They're attracted to light, like most moths, and they spill through windows, crevices, or air filtration units at night. Despite the increasing heat, most Sydney-siders keep their windows and doors closed, but these buggers can still find their way in. There have been reports of schools and churches shutting down. In the 1950s a new electrical building attracted so many bogong moths that they filled one lift (elevator) to the point that the cable snapped and it plummeted down the shaft. As recently as the late 1980s the new parliament house in Canberra had to close up shop because of the plague. The architects still struggle to keep fresh air in and thousands of moths out.

So these fellas are just about back in town. I've seen a few, and if I see a few more I may look into the upside of the migration: culinary delight. Canberra, the inland capital city, got it's name from the Aboriginal word Kamberra, which means "meeting place". Why was it a meeting place? Because this time of year you could go there and harvest the cave walls of these guys:

Gather some up, cook them on some hot coals, mash them into a paste and spread on a ritz cracker. Or a bagel. Supposedly they're delicious... nice and nutty. If I can harvest enought I'll let you know.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Day at Eastern Creek Racetrack

Since I hate cars it should not be a surprise that I have never been to a racetrack. However, after visiting one, I'd have to say I'm a big fan and hope that someday all cars are confined to racetracks! Everyone could drive around and around as fast as they like and not have to worry about any pedestrians! Best of all it it looks really fun. The rest of us could ride segues.

<-- Clicking on that link will take you to a little gallery of snapshots from the day. Dana and I went with Bennifer to Easter Creek to catch up with a former co-worker of Jen's. He builds, maintains and drive these little two-seaters that whip around the track at 240km/hr (150 mph). There were other types fo cars racing that say, but these 1950s-style roadworthy cars were the coolest.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dana's Special Day

This pas Wednesday was DANA'S SPECIAL DAY! so we were off to The Australia Hertiage Hotel for some beer and pizza. This place is a classic Aussie pub, and it serves one of the best beers made in Australia: Little Creatures.

It was a fantastic night, though no one ordered the coat of arms pizza (kangaroo and emu). Check out the photos here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Homebrew Batch

This past Saturday I brewed up two big beers: a double IPA and an imperial stout. These two guys are fermenting furiously as I type, but I'd like to share a bit about how the brewing was done.

First off: I'm still a pretty new brewer. These are batches 18 & 19. I've had success with previous brews, especially with the pumpkin ale, chocolate stout, barleywine and Celebration clone, but if you know your shtuff and would like to give me some tips, please do. If you would like to try a homebrew batch, please read How to Brew. It's a free, on-line step-by-step guide. I follow it for the most part. This the recipe executed below: The Captain IIPA.

Right. So I live in Sydney CBD and have an electric range. This stinks for cooking and brewing, but I also have a butane gas grill! This saved me hours of waiting. Once the water reached just about 75C I added the grain bag. The grain bag is pantyhose with specialty grain in it. Tasty. Dana did not get her pantyhose back, but I got a lot of good colour and flavour thanks to it. And perhaps I got some fermentables. I steeped/partially mashed the grains for 1/2 hour. In the last photo you can see the 4 kilos of extract that will be added to the boil.

Once the steeping was complete, I brought the pot to a boil and added the hops. Hops are the natural preservative in beer, but they also add flavour, aroma, and bitterness to the brew. I used cascade and amarillo hops for the IIPA. Once the pot was boiling, topped-up with more water to get as much hop utilisation as possible, I added the first round of hops and the extract. It takes a bit for the boil to get going after that, but once it is going, the hops are added over time until the boil is complete. Note the difference in the top of the pot before and after the hot break. Right around the hot break is when you can really destroy your stove with a boil-over. Kids, if you try this at home, be careful.

After the boil was complete, some more hops were added for aroma and the batch was cooled. In my case, it was cooled in the bathtub. Finally the good stuff goes went a carboy, the yeast was tossed in, and the vessel was sealed. You can see the airlock below. It has a little bit of water in it to allow pressure to be released while keeping the nasties out. This is where the magic happens. The yeast, in this case the strain is White Labs California Ale V, goes to town on the fermentables (sugars), turning them into alcohol while releasing gas. A hydrometer is used before and after the fermentation, measuring the gravity of the liquid. Before the yeast tuck into their buffet, the liquid is dense with sugars, so the gravity reading is high. The IIPA had an OG of 1.090. After fermentation the sugars are gone and the reading (final gravity) should be somewhere between 1.010 and 1.020. Measuring the difference is how I will know the alcohol content.

"Denis, what did you do with the grain bag?" Good question! I used it to fertilise the garden on our balcony!

I'll report back when it's bottling time...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bridge Run

Dana and I have run across the beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge many times - probably more than we've crossed the Brooklyn Bridge - but this past weekend runners had the opportunity to participate in a massive, stampede-like run across the part usually set aside for cars, buses and other large, wheely vehicles. Very cool... especially since the other vehicles were not allowed on the bridge at the time. I did not do the run, thanks to knee problems, but Dana made excellent time. She ran the 9 kilometers over the bridge, through the Botanic Gardens, past grandma's house, and to the Opera House in 48:28. The view at the finish line was fantastic. I can only imagine what the views were like from the run, but Dana has the privilege of knowing.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Michael and CJ - Baseball Stars

Michael Hurley and CJ Hurley, brothers hailing from South Carolina, are taking the baseball world by storm. Mike and CJ are pictured here with their winning team and their dad, the head coach:

CJ, a top fielder for the Athletics, is known also known for keeping their team in high spirits and for his daring slides.

Michael, with his positive attitude, is always a reliable hitter when the team is in a crunch. He also led the All Star team this past season.

As these two winners grow, we can expect to see their talent mature. Scouts, keep your eye out for Michel and CJ Hurley.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Barleywine Tasting

For my friend's birthday I smuggled a lot of American beer into the country so that he and I could do a side-by-side comparison tasting of some fantastic barleywines. As I was approaching customs, where they screen your bags, I was asked to step out of the line. He asked me if I was carrying any beef jerky. He said no and told us we could step out of the queue and be on our way. The bummer is that the crew from the TV show Border Security was there, so I could have been on television. Oh well.

We had an excellent line-up:
2002 Rogue Old Crustacean
2006 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
2000 Heavyweight Old Salty
2003 Southampton Old Herb (454/500)
2001 Anchor Old Foghorn
2006 Victory Old Horizontal

Glenn couldn't wait to get started.

Since the years were so different we didn't really aim to rank the beers but compare them while considering their varied age. For example, I truly loved the young Bigfoot(2006) as much as the Old Foghorn (2001), but they had very different qualities. The older barleywines had more of a port-like flavour, while the younger ones still had dominant hops. Both Glenn and I chose Old Herb as our pick for the night, perhaps because it was just between the oldest and the youngest represented. I'm sure it also has to do with the fact that it is an outstanding beer. If you ever get a chance to hoard a bunch of barleywines, please set aside an evening to do a proper tasting. Your tastebuds will thank you. Thanks to Ken Munno for supplying many of the terrific beers sampled.

The weather was also conducive to a beer tasting:

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Few New Brews

Tonight, after weeks of procrastination, I ordered the ingredients for three more batches of homebrew. In my first year of homebrewing I brewed nearly twenty batches, but the thought of brewing on an electric range, which is what I have in my newer apartment, scares me. But I'm taking a chance and I hope to be boiling up some wort next weekend.

Gummybrain Wheat
This is an American wheat inspired by this wonderful beer. Lots of Amarillo flavour and aroma hops will dominate this poppy puppy.

The Captain IIPA
My first stab at a double IPA, I'll be using Cascade and Amarillo hops. My mate, Glenn, is making a similar brew, The Skipper IIPA, with the same ingredients but replacing the Cascade and Amarillo with Northern Brewer and Fuggles. I'm looking forward to comparing our ridiculously bitter and hoppy strong beers.

King Doorman
An Imperial Stout - very dark and powerful - dominated by Chinook and, you guessed it, Amarillo hops is a combination of British and American versions of a solid stout.

Brewing in Sydney, Australia, is a wonderful thing. The water is superb, we can now get great hops, and the buildings are built to keep everything cool... so we don't have to make saisons all year long.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Crazy Bus Drivers & Paris Hilton Pose

Is there a certian test you have to fail to drive a bus in a city? I don't know if they're worse in Sydney or New York but this morning it was pouring rain when a bus ran a red light, leaving me waiting on the curb for just a little bit longer, and covered me with water from a puddle. Then again, I read about a bus driver in NY who knocked a guy's head off with his mirror and he kept going. I guess that's a lot worse.

On a completely different note:
+ + + + + + + + + + =

Talk about versatile.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Crocodile Hunter Dies

The news made it around my office like a presidential assassination. Steve Irwin, the Aussie icon known to the world as The Crocodile Hunter was killed. This is pretty big news on this antipodean continent. While many Australians did not like the image he portrayed, he did a tremendous amount for the tourist industry and is loved by children everywhere. The most common bit of confusion around today's events seemed to be the fact that a stingray, not a crocodile or a poisonous snake, killed him. I think it was only a matter of time before some wild animal did him in. This is tragic, and it sounds obvious, but a life surrounded by killer creatures is a dangerous one. And I do wonder what impact this will have on the children who loved his show and their attitude towards the water.

In other news, in an effort to deal with the cultural loss, the Australian government has announced that Paul Hogan and The Wiggles are to be under 24-hour body guard protection for the next 6 months.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Whole Rainbow Trout Recipe

Yesterday Dana and I went to the monthly Good Food markets in Pyrmont, in the green area on the right hand side of this picture:

These markets are incredible. The vegetables and fruit are fresh and straight from the farm and there are heaps of artisinal foods like jams, cheeses, and ravioli. But the best thing about the markets is variety of the protein foods available: goat, lamb, venison, beef, rainbow trout, sausages, guinea fowl, and live snails. I have not yet convinced Dana to let me make escargot, but we've given everything else a go. I'd have to say goat is my favourite meat (after kangaroo of course). We'll be making a roast later in the week, but last night was rainbow trout night. These guys were two for ten dollars:

Very fresh. If you are interested in a whole fish recipe, this one is fantastic and easy to do. It wasn't meant for trout, but for a single fish big enough to feed four people, so you could probably try a large snapper for four or ocean perch for two. The beauty of making a fish for each person is that you don't have to carve the fish for everyone! If you do a single fish, don't forget to give the cheeks to your favourite diner - or save them for yourself.

2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely sliced coriander (cilantro) roots and stems
2 tablespoons finely diced ginger
2 tablespoons finely sliced spring onions
2 tablespoons kecap manis (this is Indonesian soy souce)
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
a bit of chilli oil or ground chillis
a bit of sesame oil or olive oil if that's all you have

Throw all of these ingredients together and set aside. Too easy.

2 teaspoons whole peppercorns (Sichuan if you have it)
1 tablespoon sea salt
Whole fish - gutted, scaled and cleaned
2 tablespoons finely sliced spring onions
Oil for frying (vegetable or peanut)

Heat the peppercorns in a pan until they start to pop or you can smell them. Remove them immediately and let them cool. Grind the peppercorns and sea salt with a mortar and pestle. You can just use regular salt and pepper, but you'll notice the different. Come on, you're going through all the trouble of making whole fish, why cut corners?

Score the fish diagonally, each cut about an inch apart. Then score in the opposite direction, making diamonds. Do this to both sides of the fish. If you have a wok, it works well for the frying part and makes less of a mess. The rainbow trout in our well-loved wok:

Fry each side for about three minutes. Basically just make sure that all of the flesh is white - not translucent. When you flip or remove the fish, be careful not to let it fall apart. You may want to use two spatulas. Once the fish is done, place them (or it) on a plate with a lot of newspaper or paper towels on it. Pat the fish dry on top with more newspaper or papertowels. We served the fish on couscous, but you can just use greens if you prefer. Dana made her excellent roast pumpkin and goat's cheese salad. The dressing went very well on the couscous and the salad. Anyway, prepare the dish, then lay the fish down. Spoon out some dressing, toss the extra spring onions on, sprinkle the salt & pepper on, and you're all set!:

If you don't have a whole fish per person then you'll have to carve the fish first and dish it out on each plate, or you can put the fish on a bed of iceberg lettuce, place it in the middle of the table and let everyone fend for themselves. This is better presentation but your guests will likely get more bones. Whatever you do, enjoy!