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Thursday, May 31, 2007

¡Adios, Apartment!

We move out of our apartment this morning, so it was perfect timing for our washing machine to blow up. The full load of laundry had to be transferred to the tub for drip-drying before bringing them to Jen & Ben's. Good fun!

And so this is the last blog entry from dwarbi's roof in Sydney. dwarbi's roof will be hitting the road. Stay tuned for entries from Queensland, Singapore, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium... and then New York!

I leave you with some photos from an impromptu party this past Tuesday night. Sam makes centerfold again, but not while dancing hip-hop.

Shout Out To Aon IT Sydney


Me: All of 31, let me hear you go "Ho-o"!
You (chorus): HO-O!
Me: Put your hands up in the air, let me hear you go, "Ho-ho-ho!"
You (chorus): HO-HO-HO!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Do I Tell This Story? Charlie The Rabbit Would Know

Saturday the 26th of May was a beautiful day in Sydney. This was the seventh day straight that the city would see nothing in the sky but deep blue during the day and Lite Brite pin-holed black at night. Dana woke up with a sore throat, but after 11 hours of sleep, we were well-rested and ready for a full day.

Dana had lunch plans with Jenny, while I finished back-ups of our hard drives and sorted through paperwork. Afterwards, we set off to Glenn & Alexis's for dinner. They live across the harbour, in Neutral Bay, so we decided to walk the Harbour Bridge one last time. It's a nice walk - long but not excessively so. We popped into The Australian Heritage Hotel for a middy of Little Creatures before the big journey across the bridge.

We were supposed to be in Neutral Bay fairly early, so we were crossing the bridge just before sunset. At Milson's Point I decided to scoot back down towards the water for one last good shot of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There was a little secluded area, surrounded by an old stone wall, so we check that place out. Someone had laid out a picnic blanket with some champagne, cheese and chocolate-covered strawberries right on the grass.

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Nearing the bridge, I realised that we were running a bit early, so I figured that a stop into The Australian would be a perfect way to buy some time, calm my nerves and use the toilet. I don't think I've ever ordered a half pint at the Aussie, but Dana didn't seem to notice the anomaly.

Up on the bridge we took some photos in the same positions as ones we took two and a half years earlier. As we neared the end of the bridge, I noticed a man sitting in the park near the water. I knew this guy. He was wearing his signature "Communist Party" t-shirt, with Castro, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao having a few cocktails. This was my friend Glenn, and he was also stroking his bushy beard as he flipped through a book next to a picnic rug.

Once we were off the bridge and on the street I gave Glenn a call to see if he needed anything else. He didn't, and we jumped down closer to the water for a shot of the Opera House as the sun set.

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I had to stop into the Aussie for a quick one to calm my nerves and to buy some time. My goal was to get to the spot at 4:15, leaving just enough time for us to enjoy the sunset.

The walk across the bridge was nice, except that Glenn stood out like a sore thumb. Dana glanced down and noted that there was a picnic, but she didn't recognise Glenn... somehow.

As we neared the water, my call to Glenn was the cue for him to abandon the site.

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Those are three different ways to tell the story up to that point, but the next part is the most exciting: she said yes! Well, first she said no... but then she said yes!

That's right, on Saturday, May 26th, I asked Dana to marry me. She was extremely surprised and her first response was disbelief, so she covered her face, laughing, shaking, jumping up and down and saying "no! no! no!" before I asked her if she was really saying no. She clarified: "No, I mean yes!"

Dana did not realise that the picnic rug was ours, but she understood when I got down on one knee. It was a wonderful sunset that night, and we enjoyed the goodies for a solid hour and a half before swinging back into the city for a drink at the Shangri-La Hotel and dinner at Dana's favourite restaurant in Sydney, Sushi-e.

Luckily, there was a woman out walking her rabbit, and she offered to snap a few shots to mark the occasion. Sadly, I did not get a photo of the rabbit.

And so we are heading back to the States, ready to start a new life together!

Some photos of the day here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Patonga

Patonga Lite:


Patonga Xtreme:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fishing Weekend In Patonga/There Are No Fish In Patonga

On my second to last weekend in Australia I went on a good ole fishin weekend. Glenn and I took the train up to Woy Woy while Simon and Glenn drove up with the supplies and checked into the holiday house. Chris joined us the next day. Patonga is a small fishing hamlet somewhere between Palm Beach and Brooklyn I think. Rumour has it that it's also in swimming distance of the third Japanese midget sub and the beach from Home & Away.

Some of you may know about the third Japanese midget sub blog entry cliff hanger that I never finished. It was my first and last blog cliff hanger. No one showed any interest, and you can't blame every Tom, Dick and Harry that winds up reading my blog after searching for "Thylacine food chain", "Cannibal goldfish" or "Glenn Hinton". Those were the search criteria for Tom, Dick and Harry, respectively.

Back to the fishing weekend: we are men! And we were eating meat! So, on Friday night we ate a massive meal of steaks cut about four inches thick and barely cooked, along with a beautiful salad and the most exquisite vinaigrette. With that, and a few beers in our bellies, we made our way down to the creek to a private wharf to fish off of. The good news is that no one fell in the water. The bad news is that we didn't catch a thing. In hindsight, here the good news far outweighs the bad news, since we often fell in the water later in the weekend and we never caught a thing.

Saturday sunlight offered some great opportunity to not catch any fish. After a massive breakfast of meat and embryos, we set off to "the point". This is one of the best places in Patonga to not catch any fish. It's world-renowned. Chris pulled in the first life form: a baby flounder. The poor thing still had a diaper on. He threw it back. And so the theme was set for the weekend: whatever we caught we had to throw back because it was too small. Whiting, tailor or flounder, that's it. And nearly a blue swimmer crab. I lured on in close to shore and Glenn dove in the water for it, but no luck.

Soon we were distracted by making sand castles and a golden retriever. My friends started to play fetch with the dog using my thongs. I paid $7 for these thongs two years ago, and they have covered a lot of Australia. As the retrieved thrashed my thongs side to side as he came ashore, I thought this would be the end. Nope! My thongs live on!

No fish. But we ate. Oh, how we ate. Lunch on Saturday consisted of the biggest burgers I have ever seen - two each (again, no fish). We worked off the meal with some kayak jousting. I won, Glenn lost. We got into some more unproductive fishing and bush turkey herding. Sorry, that sentence is misleading: the fishing was unproductive, the bush turkey herding was very productive. We also managed to get some more extreme bocce in after lunch. While no one split his head open, like last time, Simon provided a few comical close calls:
1. A toss went back over his head and landed on the roof of the house.
2. A toss was about to land on the concrete path, so he ran out to catch it.
In both instances the pip was a good 10 meters (30 feet) in front of him, and the ball was tossed about the same height, as required by extreme bocce rules. With the last bit of light on Saturday we found another wharf to sit on with fishing rods. Not a single bite, but it sure was beautiful.

Unfortunately, on Saturday night we found ourselves fully ingrained in Patonga street culture: Shock Treatment and Crazy Eights. Visitors to Patonga should keep in mind that the The Tonga wields great power over humans. The Great Shock Game rendered us all helpless for quite some time.

"What is this peculiar game enjoyed by the natives?" you ask.
"It's a battery-operated plastic toy, introduced to the area by Chris, in which four people each hold a handle with a button on top. The oracle plays music and flashes red. When the music stops and the red light turns green, each person has to push the button. The last to do so is delivered an electric shock," I reply.

We quickly switched to "extreme mode" which meant that only the first person who pushed the button was not shocked, the three others were. Then we moved into "double extreme mode" which meant that two people played, with a shocker in each hand... so both people would be shocked, but one person would only be shocked in one hand. Yes, we are men, and we are idiots!

Dinner consisted of a half a lamb each. The night continued... Simon and Glenn, the chief wranglers, managed to trap a small dog in our yard as well. The dog seemed surprised when the gate was closed behind him, but we soon let him go enjoy other yards. The owners of the house also left a full wardrobe for us to try on. That was fun.

More on the house... the house had three separate bedrooms: a master bedroom, a room with a queen and bunk-beds and a room with a single a crib. There was also a separate small building with a bathroom, mini-kitchen and queen bed. Glenn Mason took the master bedroom, Glenn Hinton and Chris took the room with the bunk-beds, I took the separate building and Simon took the room with the crib, naturally. The back of the house was just off the creek and popular with fellow-vacationers and dog-walkers. The kitchen included 10 different forks.

Sunday was a day for more bush turkey herding, as well as kookaburra feeding and laying around in the grass. We did fish and joust in the kayaks, too, of course. And Shock Treatment was enjoyed over a coffee. Finally, we cleaned the place, hit the fish and chip for a taste of what we didn't catch, and head on back to the city.

I do have to mention the incredible variety of birds we saw at Patonga: sea eagles, kookaburras, bush turkeys, galahs, cockatoos, lorikeets, currawongs, magpies, rosellas, and a bird that sounded like an elk screaming, according to Chris.

But no fish.

...and plenty of photos here

Melbourne: Wine World

Our trip to Melbourne was finished off with a trip to the Yarra Valley, Victoria's oldest wine region known for chardonnays and pinot noirs. As excellent as the tram system is for public transport, they certainly make it a lot harder to get out of the city in a car. Adelle took on the task and we wound our way to the brand new super highway that's under construction! Only a small piece is complete and open to cars. It's the middle bit of what will eventually connect Melbourne with the land southeast of the city. After an hour of long waits behind trams with the Rice-a-Roni song stuck in my head, the highway ride was thrilling... even if we reached the end after 10 minutes.

The end of the highway landed us squarely in the Land of Worlds. The "World" phenomenon isn't specific to Melbourne. The Sydney Solar System is the proud home of Trophy World, Eating World and Aquarium World, amoung other worlds. In the Melbourne Solar System, I used a state-of-the-art super telescope to snag images of Flooring World and Weather World. There was one place with a name long enough to make up a world, but it seems scientists had not yet made that call.

There are not many better ways to relax than a weekend away in a wine region. We did a tasting at Rochford before heading into Healeville town to relax at the Healesville Hotel, enjoy a couple of glasses of wine, and eat a tasty meal. We put ourselves up in local motel that had a separate door for delivering food or bodies.

Awakened by the lorrikeets, gallahs and cockatoos, we were off again on Sunday. Two more wineries, a pop into a dairy farm and delivery to the airport, via St Kilda East.
Lots of photos!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yesterday Was One Week From My Second To Last Day At Work

We're in serious wind-down mode, which is odd because we're pretty wound-up! Yesterday was just one week from my second to last day at work. This coming Monday our boxes will be picked up to be shipped back to the US. The following Friday we move out of our apartment and close out our bank accounts. Saturday is our farewell party, and at 7AM on Monday, the 4th of June, we depart Sydney.

I've stopped mentioning the trip itself on this blog, but it's nearly all booked. There was a bit of a snafu with the Peugeot we are leasing in France, but that should be sorted now. There's still some planning left to do for Belgium, but we're staying with friends the first few nights, so we should be able to get that sorted last minute if necessary.

I think the only real problem we've had lately is that our Internet service went down two days ago. This was the night I was going to get all of the driving routes lined up and tie up any loose ends... what timing! So I decided to start cleaning the apartment. I'll start with the oven. I've never cleaned an oven before, so I'll google it - damn it! OK, I'll start hard drive back-ups. Hmmm, the DVD is stuck in my laptop. I'll google how to get it - damn it! I really am completely cut off from the world when I can't get online It's sad, I guess... but I'm banking on lot's of wireless hotspots across Europe.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cirque su Soleil - Varekai

Cirque du Soliel's Varekai has been making its way around the world for the past year or so. If you are not familiar with Cirque du Soleil, they come up with a different show every couple of years and travel to select cities around the world, setting up a matrix of enormous circus tents. The visual result is something you would expect to see if you could travel back to the time of P.T. Barnum, but it's more likely that these structures only existed in children's books and the ever-aggrandising memories of childhood experiences.

Stepping into the main tent is like stepping into Dr. Who's police box, thanks to some incredible stage design. The back of the stage seemed to go on into the distance in an increasingly thick forest of tall reeds. Some of the performers slithered around the bases while overs scurried up to the tops. Still others made their way into the crowd or scaled the catwalks above. The music and lighting during these times made it feel as if the audience were on the edge of an exotic wilderness, and this overwhelming experience somehow pulled the viewers into the performance.

Varekai has a frame of a plot that loosely ties together the clowning, acrobatics and stunts of the show. I think the details of the plot come down to interpretation, but I don't think that the focus. The aerial stunts were performed without nets, but one had two spotters below... who, I guess, were supposed to catch the four acrobats all at once should they happen to fall. Drum roll please! Personally I preferred the acrobatics the most. They did a great job combining classic routines with a new twist. In one bit, an acrobat was pulled up high in a net. He would drop in and out of it, twisting, pulling and spinning himself and at times barely clinging the net. In another act, cirque du soleilites (cirqians du soleil?) spun fellow performers by their buttocks, with their feet. Given that center of gravity, I can't figure how they could do it. The old-fashioned clowning was amusing, but I thought it was too much of a break in the consistency of the show. There were also jugglers, contortionists and more.

This performance was astounding. I would gladly go see it again, but unfortunately it has already played in Sydney and the United States. If you have a chance to see it, don't miss the opportunity.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bottling at Simon's

Glenn, Simon and I bottled our last brew together last weekend [sniff-sniff]. We had two brews spewing all over Simon's kitchen floor: a hefeweizen that was a Glenn's recipe and a double IPA that was my recipe. Both had active yeasts that made short work of Simon's floor.

At bottling time, both brews showed great promise. The hefe could do with some cooling and carbonation, the DIPA could do with a bit of bubbles and some aging. We had no problem enjoying them from cask though.

The challenge was homebrewing in Simon's apartment, which has neither a slop sink nor a bathtub. What he did have was a big, plastic sock drawer and a shower with boiling-hot water and lots of places for me to stick bottle labels. And he also had a big fence out back, on which we could dump spent grain and trub.

When bottling got tiresome, we swung by Subway or set up the hookah with some dried apples. More here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Melbourne: Farewell Trams

Friday was my last day on my Pat Malone in Melbourne. Dana went off to work and I checked out out of the hotel before starting my third day of wandering. By this third day my shoulders and back were as sore as my feet: I carried my laptop on my back each day so that I could write and check my email during breaks from walking.

After a bit of rambling I boarded a tram and set off for the suburb of Richmond. I was headed for a particular pub so that I could enjoy a nice lunch, a couple of pots and a new neighborhood. The tram network in Melbourne is fantastic. They run all over the city and well into the suburbs. One of the odd things about them is that pedestrians board them in the middle of the street, and as the tram approaches, it sandwiches them against a metal fence, on the other side of which cars whiz past. Melburnians seem to have it down, but I would imagine this would result in lots of lawsuits in the States. So I hopped on the 48 on Flinders Street, heading east. I knew I had to get out on the corner of Bridge and River, and the woman next to me kindly told me when we got to Bridge Street. I jumped off and onto the sunny sidewalk to get my bearings. In one direction was a street with a long line of storefronts, so I figured that had to be the way. It didn't take me long to realise that I got off at the beginning of Bridge Street, on which the tram continues for quite some time before it gets to River Street. After a 35 minute walk through the town I arrived at River Street. It was a pleasant walk and the result of a happy accident.

The Royston Hotel is a local's pub, but it has good character, a great beer selection and the largest plate of fish and chips I have ever seen. I enjoyed two hours of tucking into my fish, sipping my pots of Hargreaves Hill, Red Hill and Red Duck, and listening in on conversations. My favourite was between a customer and a bartender:
"Just a Jack & Coke, thanks. [pause] Be as generous with the Jack as you like."
"Be as generous with the tip as you like, thanks."
"I always am."

Soon I was back in Federation Square and starting another podcast, this one was "Eat, Drink Melbourne". This was a real find on Adelle's part. If you get to Melbourne, download some podtours, put them on your iPod and start walking. Aside from the stage whispered "Stephanie Alexander" over the sound of something being deep-fried, this tour was as good as the first. The sound of being close to splattering oil isn't pleasant. Neither is the sound of being close to a stage whisper. But the tour was great. It took me through some new streets and alleyways while giving some anecdotes and historical facts. It also led me down Melbourne's other major graffiti alley, Centre Place, just off a main coffee strip. I tried to keep with the food theme and focussed on pigeons feeding in the dumpsters while other tourists snapped photos around me. I wouldn't be surprised if I see a photo someone took of me leaning on an overstuffed dumpster, my camera a half a meter from the pigeons and my elbow a half a meter into the bin.

Friday night was Dana's farewell, so I joined her in her office after the farewell speeches had been given, the tears had dried and they were all playing a bizarre version of Pictionary with Play-Doh. Try competing in this game with a bunch of designers and communications experts. Afterwards we all went to an opium den for drinks and snacks. There was no opium, but I forget the name of the place and it looks like what I imagine an opium den would look like. Except the word "den" makes me think there should have been a TV and a La-Z-Boy, which there wasn't. The revelry continued on to some pizza and a heated discussion at Adelle's over who should sleep on the inflatable bed. A great third night.

All photos from Melbourne day 3 here.

Melbourne: What's Up With The Pots?

This, my second day in Melbourne on this trip, consisted largely of viewing moving images. I blindly stepped into the Australian Centre for Moving Image and found three free and very interesting exhibits, of course!

The first was on the history of video games. Glass containers had old computers, such as the Commodore 64, and other artifacts, such as the old cassette-loading game. A small room had about a dozen running computers, which you could play! It was a great reminder of how frustrating those old joysticks were. I had Way of the Exploding Fist when I was young, but I couldn't get my karate guy to face the opponent before getting knocked out.

There were also a bunch of mini-pod-rooms in which you could sit and select a short film from a screen and then take it in. I watched about ten of them, some very good and each of them interesting, before heading downstairs to the avant-garde video exhibit. There were pieces by younger artists as well as bits by Jean Luc Godard and Chris Marker, both still alive and kicking in France.

Don't judge me for this next part, please. My feet were tired and I wanted to watch this movie while it was still on the big screen. Plus Dana didn't want to see it and I was by myself. So I went to watch 300. My thoughts:

  • The good guys throw less-than-perfect babies onto a pile of dead babies.
  • Victor Hugo had something to do with the original script, and he reprised the principle character of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was played by Gollum of Lord of the Rings.
  • The king's name sounds like a type of skin rash.
  • Xenophobia is alive and well.
  • I'm proud of Glenn's theatrical debut.

To mill over the great many theological, philosophical and phisosophical questions raised in 300, I popped into James Squire Brewhouse for a pot of Speculator Ale. One (of the many) thing(s) that cracks me up about Melburnians is their preference for "pots" of beer. A pot, called a "middy" in New South Wales, is a half pint. Victorians nearly always drink pots because they say that pints get warm too quickly. First of all, I've never met someone from Victoria, nay Australia, whose beer got warm before they finished it, no matter what the size. Secondly, Australians are always going on about how cold Melbourne is... but this is the one place where they insist that their beers get warm to quickly. Go figure.

Dana, Adelle and I went to Cookie on Swanston Street for drinks and dinner. Cookie has a fantastic beer selection, and I took in some Emerson's, New Zealand's finest, while I still could. Fellow BeerAdvocates Brendan and Stephan joined us. The food was equally as enjoyable, and we managed to get some shots of "Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch" on the corner of Swanston & Hoddle. Melbourne has some interesting art scattered about the city.

All photos here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Melbourne: Graffiti, Podcasts & A Giant Squid

Dana's company was celebrating its 20th birthday, and they had organised drinks, food and a show for staff, clients, and partners of staff & clients. This meant a trip down to headquarters in the capitol of Victoria for me and Dana, as well as seats at Cirque du Soleil's Varekai! I'll leave Cirque du Soleil for another blog entry. It deserves it.

This trip to Melbourne was the fourth for me, and probably the 14th for Dana. This was really the first time Dana and I had Melbourne to ourselves. Dana was at work on the first day, but I took advantage of the time by myself by walking until my feet bled, thanks to a disease-ridden podcast walking tour and moseying through a bizarre museum.

Dana's friend Adelle gave me a few podcast tours of Melbourne that she had downloaded from the ABC.
"What's a podcast?" you ask.
"It's a fancy-pants, new-fangled thing-a-ma-jig that you can put onto your mp3 player and listen to," is my semi-accurate reply that gets the idea across.

I hiked up to Federation Square and started there. The theme was sickness and death, and the first thing I learned was that Federation Square used to be a morgue. This was a convenient location since they were often pulling bodies out of the Yarra River right there. The podcast was certainly macabre, but the stories gave a great sense of history and place. They ranged from a tale about the body of a 17 year old girl found floating in a trunk in the Yarra to graffiti in Hosier Lane.

The tour took me to Lygon Street in Carlton, where I heard stories about the mafia activity there before I settled into a nice seafood pasta dish. The street is lined with Italian restaurants for blocks. I chose my restaurant solely on which one had the most entertaining barker to watch while I ate. With slicked back hair and oversized dark sunglasses, my salesman of choice enthusiastically promised each passer-by that he would take care of them, sometimes leading them over to my table to show them how good my plate looked. Perfect pick!

The tour was also perfect because it left me just blocks from the Melbourne museum. Museums in Australia are second to none. Except maybe the Louvre. And MoMA. The bottom line is that any museum in Australia is going to be entertaining. If you travel to Oz, keep this in mind, and don't skip any museum you may happen by, even if it's a museum dedicated to dunnys. In fact, the more bizarre the subject matter, the more entertained you are going to be. I'm confident that Australians could create a museum dedicated to chalk that would please kids and parents alike. The secret here, I figure, is that Australians understand their place in history, and they are aware that there are many houses of historical significance across Europe and Asia, so they have to take some chances to sell tickets. Almost without exception, these chances pay off. I don't mean to insinuate that the contents of these museums would not stand on their own. I assume that as much attention is paid to who they place as curators and in positions of acquisition. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, for example, has never disappointed me, and artifacts of historical significance to both Australia and the world are easy to find in the War Museum and National Museum of Australia in Canberra. But they'll put these artifacts in a swinging room with live birds and interactive walls if it works.

Back to the Melbourne Museum. I really wanted to see Phar Lap, the Kiwi horse that was born in New Zealand, trained in Australia and murdered in the United States. That last bit was suspected for decades and confirmed just last year. It seems some jealous American punters fed him arsenic during his first trip across the Pacific. The massive horse was quickly stuffed, and his heart preserved and sent back to New Zealand. See what I mean? Other notable exhibits:

  • An interactive model of what's below the streets of Melbourne. The diorama spoke volumes, but combination screen/map that gave you a first-person point of view of the travels of poo from your toilet in Melbourne to the ocean and, apparently, seagulls spoke libraries.
  • Australian life. This included a modern kitchen, with a fridge and counter, etc. This part will be especially popular with the Martians when they're finally willing to fork over the 6 dollar admission fee. There was also a small wooden room filled with false pen & pencil graffiti, explaining that kids like to write their names on desks. Example of common lunch boxes were on display and the speakers played clips of children singing about diarrhea and Batman smelling. As I listened I realised that I still remember the words to those songs. That will be a treat come the next karaoke night. Of course, this exhibit would not be complete without a real Hills Hoist. Australians are damned proud of that clothesline.
  • Fish of the deep. There were some freaky specimens in this exhibit, especially the 10 foot long giant squid.
  • Aboriginal history. Many museums in Australia have a large focus on the treatment of the first Australians. No matter how many you have seen, you learn more at the next one you see.
That brought me to the end of my first day in Melbourne. Melbin. Photos here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Cory's SPECIAL DAY

Thursday was Cory, aka Cory Burn,'s (not sure where the apostrophe goes there) birthday. After some beverages at Pier 26 and dinner at Chinta Ria, we popped back to our place so Nick could purchase a bathroom scale, or "scales" as the kiwis say. This is a great shot of Cory wearing the SPECIAL DAY hat Dana got him, and of Nick's disgust of his brother's outfit. The scale(s) were left in the cab. If you have seen said bathroom scales, please call crimestoppers.

54 Squid For a Java, Govna

I begin this post with a horrociously bastardised title as a shout out to good ole seƱor Bush, whose gaffs with the Queen of England today made big-time headlines. I don't usually blog about current events, whether it's winking presidents or homosexual necrophiliac ducks, since there are a million other blogs to cover that. I prefer to stick to entries of a more personal nature, and, believe or not, neither of these stories hit too close to home. Nonetheless, I will continue. If there is one thing I appreciate about President Bush, it's that he seems down to earth. If there's one thing I appreciate about mallards, it's that they're very open-minded and non-judgmental. And I'm thankful that there were no ducks present at the ceremony. I take that back. That would have been really funny. Even funnier if GW made some comment about the "First King, Jimmy the Greek" while the ducks were at it.

Onwards. I've been collecting 5 cent pieces for some time... the goal being the purchase of a large cup of coffee from the guys down at Bar Balini. I've been going down there for years, and they hassle me whenever they can, so why not drop 54 tiny little annoying coins on their counter? At this moment, as an American, it's especially appropriate for me to burden some servants of a long-forsaken British colony with Queen Elizabeth II.

I was quite surprised when I spilled the despicable silver onto the counter and neither Michael nor Anthony batted an eye. I thought for sure one of them would bat my head. Then I noticed a pile of silver next to mine... obviously the buying power not of a prankster, but a knucklehead who doesn't understand what a hassle it is for these guys! At least I intended to inconvenience them! Anthony shook his head and said, "Goddam, mate," as he scooped the coins off the counter and picked the strays from the tuna salad meant for lunch.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Redoak Beer Appreciation Dinner

My birthday festivities have already begun! Since we will be traveling during my Dana decided to give me somethingbirthday, she knew I wanted before we left: a Redoak Beer Class. I'm a fan of Redoak's beer and food, so this was a real treat. It's also a great bargain... especially for me since I didn't pay for anything. Dana sent Glenn along with me. Some of you may know Glenn from Aaron's Anzac Day Party or Frank Miller's 300.

The event started at 4:30 with a complimentary red ale at the bar. Their red is a smooth beer. A subtle red, with the malty flavour you expect but without the slap in the face that some people don't like about reds.

The dinner was completely sold out. In fact, Dana had to beg them to make room for two more. Since we're regulars and are leaving these shores in a few weeks, they did. Solid folks over there. Glenn and I were sitting at a long table with a row of people sitting on one side and six other tables were laid out perpendicular to ours. We were pretty much in the middle of the dais. Then Janet Holyoak, the manager and co-owner of Redoak pointed us out as "notable guests"! It pays to be a regular, but my face turned redder than the beer I had just finished.

The meal was four courses and each was served with a matching beer:
1. Blue swimmer crab and avocado salad served with Redoak's Zest. The dressing was "smoked scallop ceviche, turmeric and ginger dressing" but the scallops had a lovely presence that was greater than just a dressing. There was a good amount of crab, which I appreciate even more when I don't have to do the work involved with procuring the meat from a shell. It was a fantastic dish. The avocado cut the citrus perfectly, and the Zest was a perfect compliment. The Zest, brewed in honour of head chef Richard Park's first child, is a Belgian blonde with additions of ginger, lime and lemon. This is reminiscent of the first of Dave Hollyoak's beers: ginger beer. I think I can safely assume that the use of ginger in this beer is a lot more refined than when Dave was 14. It's a really well-balanced brew.

While we ate, Redoak's beer sommelier, Simon Beverage, talked about the history of beer dating back to 10,000 BC. He presented a lot of very interesting information that was new to me, and he did it well. Back in the day, people thought that beer was a gift from the gods. This thought has not changed much.
"Beer sommelier?" you ask.
"Why yes, 'beer sommelier'," I reply. Simon is one of two in Australia. They help people understand that beer can be the perfect match to many meals.
"So who is the other beer sommelier in Australia?" you ask.
"Ian Watson, of of Brisbane fame, of course."

Though I'm not sure that this country is big enough to two beer sommelier. At the risk of using the word sommelier way too much, might I propose a beer sommelier steel cage match? I'm thinking of something in the vain of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. "Two beer sommeliers enter! One beer sommelier leaves!" I bet we can even get to Tina Turner to orchestrate/judge. She doesn't seem to be too busy at the moment. If not, maybe both Simon and Ian can continue sommeliering in harmony. Maybe Master Blaster can become the third beer sommelier in Australia.

2. Squid ink and stout risotto served with honey ale. The risotto also had shaved fennel and grilled scampi tail. Once again, the seafood addition was enough to be appreciated on its own. Ever since I got to Australia, I've been a fan of the squid ink risotto. This one was very fine. I think I'm going to get some pet squids and start milking them so that I can make this at home. The honey ale, as with the red and Zest, is very well balanced. The honey comes through in the back notes.

3. Roast Rauch Marinated Veal served with brown porter. The veal was served on Sicilian caponata, truffled veal sweetbreads and Outmeal stout jus. So the meat was marinated in their rauch beer, served with oatmeal stout jus and accompanied by a brown porter. You may think that the subtlety was lost, but the brews compliment each other extremely well. I would say that this was the most complex and successful pairing of the night. The brown porter is one of my favourite regulars available at Redoak, but I prefer to order them by the pint. This way the beer is warmer for the second half. My one criticism here is that the porter was served a tad too cold.

About this time Dave took over from Simon and went into more recent beer history, including Australia's craft beer scene and Redoak's own techniques. Specifics on the techniques were sparse, but we'd all been enjoying the fruits of Dave's labours during dinner and general responses were more than sufficient. I'm looking forward to further experimentation.

4. Redoak's chocolate and orange tasting plate served with oatmeal stout. The tasting plate consisted of:

  • Chocolate and orange tart - Thin slice of a larger tart. Powerful chocolate blast to my face. Rich and delicious.
  • Orange and chocolate creme caramel - Well-presented, this gelatinous glob still couldn't get me over my dislike of gelatinous blobs. No, my village was not raided by hoards of gelatinous blobs when I was a child, but Jell-o was one of four things I could eat when I was very sick at the age of 16. The texture still bothers me. I have the same problem with plain broth, ginger ale and Warm Potato and Goat Cheese Terrine served with aged sherry wine.
  • Triple chocolate and orange brownie - A small square of brownie that packed a lot of punch. Add the orange flavoured faerie floss = WHAMMO! Faerie floss is something that cracks me up. In the USA (US of A, as Snoop would say) we call it cotton candy. Here in Oz, not only is it called faerie floss, "fairy" is spelled completely differently. It must be traumatic for a child to relocate.
The oatmeal stout is equally in-your-face and the bitterness goes very well with the dark chocolate and orange flavours.

Then it was back to bar for one more complimentary beer, the organic pale ale. Did I mention this is a bargain? Glenn and I stuck around for a bit and chatted with some other beer lovers. Redoak is a haven in Sydney. If you get a chance to do a beer class, I highly recommend you do. Book in early though.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Echidnas

Echidnas are my favourite land animal in Australia. I've yet to decide if the kookaburra or the pelican take first place for the sky, but cuttlefish definitely take the wet cake.

Is it a hedgehog? Noooo. This bad boy is a monotreme, along the same lines as a platypus... both freaks of nature to those of us the 21st century. These guys are mammals that lay eggs. Freakishly cool.

Here's a couple of echidnas at the zoo:


We saw an echidna in South Australia, on Kangaroo Island, and my dad got out for a good photo. I need to get that photo off of dad.

In the meantime, here's some information about how echidnas mate:

  • The female starts cruising down the street
  • Males smell that sexy female echidna and follow
  • The female continues until she has a long line of contenders
  • She leads the train into an open area and walks in a circle repeatedly to form a ring
  • The female goes to the centre of the ring and digs in so that only her backside is exposed.
  • The males enter a steel cage match
  • Each male tries to push the rest out of the circle
  • The male remaining crawls into the hole with the female
  • And we get baby echidnas