You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2011.

Lately, bananas are hard to come by in Oz.  Cyclone Yasi, which devastated northern Queensland in February, wiped out nearly 90% of the banana plantations in the towns of Innisfail and Tully, which supply almost 3/4 of Australia’s domestic banana supply.  In the hours before the cyclone landed, farmers reportedly frantically harvested what they could and chopped down their trees – in the hopes that a regenerated tree would only take 8-9 months to bear fruit, whereas a replacement tree (if torn from the ground by the force of the cyclone) would take 12-18 months…

Prices at the local market and grocery store have reached $10-12 per kilo (almost $3 a banana), smoothie and fresh juice bars all over the city have posted signs about increased prices, and most of all, any banana that appears fit for consumption (i.e., not brown!) is impossible to find!  But finally, today, our fruit share (we get a large box of fruit delivered bi-weekly at the office) had edible-looking, albeit it bite sized, bananas!

Apparently, other banana varieties – like this lady finger bananas or NSW bananas – will be in high-demand as they fill the gap for a seriously banana-hungry nation.  Living in a nation that is so self-sufficient is great; until now we’ve had all seasonal produce we could dream of, only days off the vine or branch. But when weather strikes, look out!  Miles and miles away, there aren’t many alternatives for cheap and fresh produce…

Until then, I will gorge myself on adorable little bananas.

Mixed among the classic English gardens favorites–roses, gardenias, lavender and rosemary–the Richmond suburbs have an abundance of fruiting trees:  heaps of lemons and limes, but also apples, olives, figs, apricots, tangerines, and yes, even pomegranate.  

And I’m not talking about the greater Richmond area here, these are the trees I’ve spotted in a 4 block radius around our house.  These tasty trees have peaked at different times of the season and offer an eyeful to the watchful dog walker (and mouthful to the homeowners I’m sure!)  As we transition into fall, sweet yellow-skinned figs and rotund green olive fruit are the main morsels dangling from the stems of the trees, so this splash of red in the afternoon sun caught my eye.

But, while these urban gardens are a beautiful addition to the sidewalks, they are also, a public nuisance.  Like the apricot tree whose owners have a “not-on-my-side-of-the-fence” mentality and don’t pick up the rotting fruit that collects on the sidewalks for two weeks in December, the stench of which hits you when you round the corner as it mixes with the hot breeze.  Or the birds that inhabit the neighborhood to feast on the tasty fruit, and announce their presence at 4am with a cacophony of squawks, squeaks, and squeals.  Or the down right menace to society that is the combination of birds + rotting sidewalk fruit, which I have the battered hand, scraped spine and 4-inch diameter bruise on hip as proof of.

On Friday, Steve had to “put in a few extra hours” with the guys at work (aka, happy hour).  Scrambling home at 8pm to a very anxious and pent-up little dachshund, Bentley tore off in a near-sprint down the sidewalk with me in tow, clicking in my high heels I hadn’t had time to change out of, and towards the nearest patch of green 2 blocks down.  We approached the corner, which is covered overhead by a large fig tree that spreads out from the neighbor’s front yard into and over the streetcorner, and Bentley lunged into the “bathroom”.  These antics startled a bird roosting in the lower limbs of the fig, causing it to fly directly into my face at the precise moment my heel came clicking down into a fallen fig fruit.  Fast forward 5-7 seconds later, I am dizzily looking up from the square of my back, trying to remember what happened, while a very confused dachshund at the end of a red rope stares back. 

Fruit trees = public enemy number 1.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of time.  Heavy thoughts for a lawyer, I know, but yes, I’ve been pondering, wondering and perhaps, one would say, even philosophizing. 

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed more and more that my time is spent planning or looking forward to certain events – upcoming travels, weekend plans or engagements, a show, a movie, Saturday morning market trips with a resulting feast of fresh seasonal eats.  Harkening back to a time when my sisters, Donna and I were all in the same place (much less the same continent), I was reminded of a conversation we had sparked by the question of whether you spend more time thinking about the past, the present or the future.  Somewhat predictably given our personalities, we all were resoundly in the “future” camp.

I think most people would agree that it is uncommon for a person to dwell in the past, nor is this a worthwhile endeavour.  That leaves the present and the future. So I began to ponder, what does it mean to think of and be in the present?  Is such a thing even possible? 

At work, I often scribble a to-do list in the morning to keep me on track through the day’s distractions (phone calls, emails, cyanide and happiness comics…).  Throughout the day, I meticulously tick off the list, feeling an indulgent sense of accomplishment in the act of ticking itself (if not in the act of completing the actual task). Outside of work, especially here–where our social calendars are a bit lighter than we’re accustomed to, our travel calendars much more exotic, and there’s always a festival on in Melbourne–I find myself always thinking about or planning the next big thing.  Travel planning has consumed much time: mapping out the best times of year to visit various corners of Australia, strategizing to maximize legal holidays and therefore squeeze more vacation time out of the year, and literally counting down the days in a “tag-your-it” email game until Leah’s visit in May.  Weekends are remarkably work free in Australia, and by mid-week I find myself contemplating a series of ways to spend every minute of what seems like a vast amount of time from Friday night to Monday morning…

 So, this pattern of behavior got me thinking…  If your life is composed primarily of a series of tick marks and to-dos accounted for and accomplished: are you nothing more than a glorified (human) Outlook calendar?  Can one really enjoy the present if the present is spent, at some level, conscious or unconscious, contemplating the next step?  What if your future-oriented thoughts are about the immediate future — does this count as a quasi-present state of mind?

And how to explain this forward-looking tendency?  Are genetics to blame: hundreds of years of evolutionary programming to encourage propagation of the species?  Is it a cultural thing, to reach for the American Dream as you compare yourself and your “accomplishments” to Average Joe and the lives of others around you? A fear of unpreparedness or lost opportunity? Obsessive compulsiveness? Law firm training to measure time and efficiency in 15-minute increments?

When the future plan and the present collide, can the present experience of  the event ever live up the anticipation that was built by the planning?

Although not necessarily convinced that a life in the future tense is a bad thing, I’ve embarked on a mission to live more in the present.  I’m looking forward to the challenge and mental discipline required to focus only on the immediate — the wisp of the wind on the back of my neck, refreshing and cool, but not cold; the smell of burning charcoal mixed with fresh cut grass wafting in from the neighbor’s down the street; the amusing contortions of the cat, trying to reach the last corners of sunshine filtering in from the window — and to be still and present in my thoughts. 

More about the success (or failure) of my mission to come…

For my birthday this year, the State of Victoria was kind enough to declare a holiday and Steve was kind enough to take me to Tasmania for the long weekend.  We spent 3 glorious days in Hobart and on the Freycinet Peninsula in TAS.  In sum, so beautiful. 

There are in our existence spots of time,

That with distinct pre-eminence retain

A renovating virtue…

That penetrates, enables us to mount, when high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

~ William Wordsworth

My recent reading material has awakened in me much contemplation on the subject of travel.  So it is not without pause and contemplation that I say that this was, perhaps, the most beautiful place we’ve ever been in the world.  It is certainly one of those spots in time that I will retain.  

 Annotated and pictorial story of the weekend on the out and about page; full pictures on photos page.  (Oh and, for anyone else out there for whom traveling and exploring the world around is a defining personal characteristic, I highly recommend Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel.)

A weekend in Freycinet National Park, Tasmania. What could be more beautiful, I’m not sure. Here’s a sneak preview – dawn at our campsite.

This morning I saw the first signs of fall in this burst of yellow leaves and the fallen leaves twirling and dancing on the sidewalk.  It seemed particularly striking, since birthdays past have always marked the start of spring, when crocuses, tulips and crepe myrtles burst forth in full bloom.  Though I suspect like all other places I have lived it will never compare to the vibrant transformation of foliage that occurs in the forests of Northeast U.S., I’m definitely looking forward to what Australia has to offer for the fall season.

We’ve had a series of anonymous letters  slipped under our door quoting things like the City of Yarra noise ordinance and containing handwritten things like “NOT AFTER 10PM!!!”  And no, Steve has not been transforming our alleyway into a nightclub with his turntables.  After multiple anonymous notes and continued confusion as to (1) the subject matter, and (2) the author of such notes, one was finally good enough to spell out in detail the troublesome offense – use of an air conditioning unit after 10PM.  Apparently it’s very noisy.  And my neighbors have nothing better to do than sit around and complain about others enjoying a bit of fresh air on 38°C (100+°F) nights in the middle of the summer.  

This is laughable for two reasons.  One, we’ve used the aircon like 6 times this summer due to a combination of lower humidity, more air circulation in the new digs, and an attempt to minimize our carbon footprint and electricity bills.  Compared to the freezer locker that was our D.C. apartment from April to September, this is pretty impressive.  Two, it’s not the first time we’ve ever received an anonymous letter for something completely ridiculous to complain about.  Our neighbors in D.C. actually slipped one under our door citing the D.C. case law on public nuisance and noting that the use of a WIND CHIME on our patio was disturbing the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of the building.  That’s right, a wind chime.  Otherwise known as a set of delicate metal pipes that, when rustled by the soft waves of the wind, produce a melodic and calming sound.

Upon hearing about our anonymous letters, Mel pointed me at this blog.  Which is perhaps the most hilarious blog I’ve read in a long time.  Seriously, had me giggling mid-afternoon down the halls of 101 Collins.  So, I had to share.

Ahhhh, the golden art of sarcasm never fails.  It’s a bit off the cuff, so I’m not endorsing all posts.  But here are a few other funnies:  missing cat;  paying the bills;  and bears.

Two of Wes’ requests while visiting us in Melbourne were to see a kangaroo, and to eat a kangaroo.  A bit perverse, yes.  But, given that roo cooking was also one of my 2011 New Years’ Resolutions, I was game .  After a day out and about at Healesville Sanctuary visiting with kangaroos, we came home to roast up some kangaroo loin. 

After reading up on a few different recipes, I realized that kangaroo is like chicken – but red.  You can prepare it in a hundred different ways: seared filet, roasted or grilled, stir fry, stew, baked pasta with roo mince, you name it, you can do it with a roo. 

One thing I absolutely LOVE about living in Richmond is that within 2 blocks walking distance of our house  are a farmer’s market (Saturdays), butcher, deli, and bakery.  It’s pretty awesome.  So on Saturday morning, I popped over to the market to get some fresh heirloom heart tomatoes (like engorged roma tomatoes, with a hint of yellow coloring at the base), figs, and a handful of potatoes, and picked up the kangaroo loin I’d pre-ordered at the butcher. 

About an hour before it was time to feast, I marinated the loin in a rosemary and garlic olive oil rub. 

When it was time to eat, we seared the loin quickly in a saute pan, rolled it in a dry rub of jerk, onion salt, heaps of black pepper and a bit of ground mustard, and into the oven it went.  It is a bit of a tricky meat to cook (and I have to admit I have gotten better, but still not really mastered the art of celsius convection oven cooking).  We cooked it for 20 minutes, let it rest, and carved it up.  It was superbly tasty, and soft and supple enough, but even I (the queen of chargrilled meats) agreed it could have been just a tad rarer.  I think 12-15 mins at 180°C is the sweet spot, and be sure to let it rest a full 5-8 minutes before carving.

Serve on top of garlic mash, with roasted tomatoes and green beans, and figs (basted in balsamic, honey and with a slice of parmesan on top) on the side, and a robust (preferably decanted) pinor noir.  Voila!

1 down; 9 to go in 2011!

I know you’re out there. I know that you’re reading this blog (at least a few of you, at least occasionally). How do I know this? The blog tells me when you’re reading it. For example, we’ve had over 100 views on the latest post (and related photo pages), including two consecutive days of all-time high views of the blog.

So here’s the thing. Yes, I may be sending these cyber-ramblings out into the great world wide web for the sheer fun of it. But I also do it to regale you with my witty stories from Down Under. And to share pictures of all the beautiful things we are seeing and experiencing. And to stay connected. (that one’s probably the most important).

So, when you don’t gimme some comment love, you’re basically getting a free pass. You get to read my witty posts and view my phototastic pages, and you don’t have to give anything in return.  There’s no connection made.   How many comments did I have on the latest post?  One (thanks dad!).  

These posts don’t write themselves people; this blog takes work!  And getting your comments makes the work worth it, and inspires me to keep writing (to try and impress you further and get more comment love). 

Here’s a few things you could try to increase your blog-reciprocity:

  • Sign up an email alert. See that little button to the left that says “Sign me up!” Go ahead, click it! Then, when there is a new post, you can check it out at your leisure. Or immediately. Comment with whatever random 5 words come into your head after reading the new post. (try to avoid profanities in the public sphere; extra points for cohesion and grammatical correctness).
  • Integrate me into your weblife generally. Set up an RSS feed.  This one’s as easy as a click too – see that little orange and green button in the upper lefthand corner that says “subscribe to feed”? It’s a bit more complicated than an email alert though, and makes more sense if you regularly check a number of blogs.  Read about RSS feeds here.
  • Make a habit out of it. For you lawyers, make it a routine to check into An American in Australia on those boring, I mean pointless.. uhhh, I mean “long” conference calls. I know you’re probably playing brick-breaker or checking CNN anyways.  There’s 2-3 hours a day that you could be logging both billable hours and friend credit. That’s what I call multi-tasking.
  • Have your Sunday morning coffee with Oz. I pretty much always post something on (our) Sunday night, especially if we actually did something fun on the weekend. That means you can read all about it over coffee on Sunday am U.S. time. Once the caffeine kicks in, your jittery fingers should just take over. Place on keyboard, and GO!