Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Passover Down Under

Yesterday, we spent the day cooking, chopping, cleaning, preparing, all winding up to our Passover Seder held last night at our cozy little round table at 2/61 Neville Street. Early in the morning I made Apricot-Pistachio Charoset and put the pumpkin and potatoes in the oven to roast. After speaking with my family half-a-world away and sharing in the festivities through the joyful sounds of feasting, Talya returned home for the major chopfest of 2010. As our blender unfortunately decided to go out of commission, we chopped walnuts and chocolate for the flourless chocolate cake. (All I can say now is, boy, do I love appliances. And, never, ever, try to beat egg whites with a fork – an endless tiring process). After more cooking and kugel-ing and kneidel-ing, Sam and Jen arrived with chicken and soup, wine and flowers and we were set for our seder.

I have to say that I have never enjoyed a seder so much. Our Haggadah had informative little sidebars that clued us into why we say, do and eat certain things. (A fun fact was definitely an Iranian tradition during the singing of Dayenu in which participants “whip” each other with scallions to recall enslavement). The salt water remembers the tears our ancestors shed in the land of Egypt… the eggs we eat symbolize fertility and renewal… the charoset is eaten with the bitter herb to symbolize the bitterness of slavery being sweetened by faith. And a last quote, an old Jewish saying which I found quite striking: “Pray as if everything depended on God, and act as if everything depended on you.”

We shared laughs and enjoyed the food immensely. The matzah balls, amidst a deliciously subtle broth, almost made me cry they were so fluffy and reminded me of my Bubby’s creations. The charoset was a hit. The chicken was so moist and flavourful. The kugel was a success, thanks to a recipe from Auntie Faige and Uncle Mike. The kasha was out of this world. And the flourless chocolate (aka delicious enslavement) cake was perfectly balanced by vanilla ice cream.

A wonderful celebration, delicious, joyful, instructive and worth all the chopping and the effort of cooking. L’chaim!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sand, Surf and Sky

Last week, waiting anxiously for answers from grad schools, I decided I needed to get away and do the major scenic walk along the coast from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. The 3-hour walk, follows the coast meeting up with several beaches, scenic landscapes, a cemetery, and always hugs the green-blue water.

Along my walk I saw dolphins, many a beach-goer and just enjoyed the fresh air and lengthy hike. The beach is definitely THE place to go in Sydney, it is very much a part of the lifestyle. It isn’t uncommon for some people to go surfing or swimming before/after work. And people definitely look like they value the beach and their bodies here in Sydney. What more can you want? Nice views, wind, water and sand. It was nice to just stroll and enjoy the scene…

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Of Rot and Roaches

As we all know, travel isn’t always pretty. I’ve had my fair share of struggle and facing fears along this trip. Dealing with a multitude of rejection, continuously picking myself back up, breathing and getting back into confidence. And then there is the pigeons, the rot and the roaches.

The pigeons are a new and unwelcome addition to our backyard. In the beginning, there were myna birds and a rather ominous cuckoo. But now, for some reasons, the pigeons are here, also known as the shitters on sheets. I’m not sure if they love rabbit food or what has brought them here, but I find myself chasing them away often, shooing them from the second-story window, trying my darndest to keep the household sheets pristine.

While composting is great for the environment, the earth and your garden, sometimes dealing with a little compost bin can be a smelly and slightly icky job. Especially the fruit at the bottom of the container that may have been sitting around on the counter in the covered container for a week. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes you get a whiff of rot up your nose, sometimes you gotta take it out with your fingers. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. It’s like dealing with the dregs of food scraps in the sink after dishes. Unsightly at times, but a duty, a ritual. Life isn’t always pretty.

Before Australia, I had really only seen one roach. One huge roach on the wall of my dorm room in New Jersey at prep school. It freaked me out in a huge way. I hardly slept that night. Coming to Australia, roaches are just a reality, like in New York. The first few encounters I was positively squeamish. (It didn’t help that I was reading Rawi Hage’s excellent novel entitled Cockroach). They came out at night, fearless, crawling around, attenae atwitter. Blech! But soon I was seeing them outside, roaming the streets at night. The roach was just another bug, living outside and in. I started to accept the reality of the roach. And now, I don’t flinch when I see roaches. We keep the kitchen as spotless as possible (because roaches it anything and everything) but still they are busy wandering about at night. Again, another reality.

Did I get to you? Sometimes there are unpleasant realities to life. I’m just learning to acknowledge them and accept them, sharing the earth, sharing my emotions. The good, the bad and the ugly, all on the earth together.

Have no fears, images of beautiful Bondi Beach tomorrow to ease The Rot and The Roaches. ☺

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Hotel aka The Bar

I've noticed a funny thing in Sydney. There are many local establishments in every neighbourhood occupying prominent (as well as not so prominent) corners. These places are usually called "The (INSERT NAME) Hotel." This isn't your Marriott establishment as all they do is serve beer. Basically they are pubs. While I don't have the facts to back it up, I am told that there used to be a law that bars needed to have accommodations along with being places where locals could enjoy a pint. Hence, pubs that are also hotels. While some pubs do offer VERY affordable rooms for rent, most have done away with the old tradition.

But the hotel name stuck. A funny little local particularity.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sydney Side Up

People from Sydney are called Sydneysiders.
How cute is that?

I've yet to order my eggs Sydneyside up.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Plan B(arista) Continued

After a few weeks of trying to find a job in the arts, and changing my CV many many times, I have relinquished and started also finding work in a café. I’ve been beating the pavement, asking every establishment if they are hiring and hoping to have a chance to show my skills.

It is quite something to go into many cool little cafes and just ask the question: are you hiring? Somehow the shy boy that once was is getting shoved to the wayside in the pursuit of employment. And it’s a good thing. I feel myself more confident in my skills and abilities than ever before. Very refreshing.

I did have two trials on a very lucky Thursday. I went into the first café and their answer to my question (are you hiring?) was “yes, but I don’t believe you can make coffee.” All of a sudden, I was under pressure. I tamped the coffee well, got it to pour properly. Then it was the milk, the moment of truth. Poured the milk, cleared the wand of possible excess milk and was whooshing with steam. But at the moment where the jug got too hot, I turned the nozzle but it didn’t stop. I fumbled and then turned it the other way but it was too late. The milk’s texture was ruined and I had made a mini-mess. I tried to cover my tracks by acknowledging exactly where I had gone wrong, but alas. Failure.

Luckily I had another trial down the street where it seemed like I had the job. I was so nervous. But I poured the drinks correctly enough. I felt good (although the machine was a weird one with a finicky handle). They said they may call the next day to have me work the weekend. Unfortunately they never did.

I’ve been to many other cafes, some of which said they were hiring. So, I am still following up. Here’s hoping for employment soon.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Plan B(arista)

At the beginning of February, wanting to realize a small dream of mine and simultaneously envisioning a practical Plan B, I signed up to become accredited as a barista. Somehow I had visions of myself working in a café, perfecting coffee, serving artsy lattes and chatting with customers. Maybe I had had a very fulfilling glimpse of such a job when I worked at Karma Yoga Studio as a front deskie, logging yogis/yoginis, selling merchandise and serving the wares of the café at the same time. Upon arriving in Sydney, I quite unexpectedly discovered that Sydneysiders take coffee VERY seriously and made such a commitment apparent in silky perfect coffee.

Thus, almost 6 weeks ago now, I arrived for my day-long training at The Sydney Coffee School. My teacher was the very energetic and very knowledgeable Emily Falson. Emily’s grandfather had brought the first espresso machine to Australia from Italy in the 1950s (soon after the first espresso machine was invented in 1948) at which point Emily’s grandmother was detained because they thought the milk frothing wand was actually a tool for terrorism. With cafes in both Sydney and Melbourne, Emily has trained two world champion baristas and is so overwhelmingly passionate about customer service. She’s been working the machine since she was yea high, and her sister is in coffee too working as a coffee roaster.

Within a day I would become a certifiable coffee snob, learning the particularities of freshness, details of the machine and proper technique.

We learned a bit about the provenance and history of coffee, the variations in bean and the fact that, after oil, coffee is the next most expensive trading material on the stock market. But the real training was in the types of coffee. The morning was an absolute whirlwind, learning how to make espressos, macchiatos, americanos, flat whites (a flatter cappuccino specific to Australia), lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, hot chocolates, ice coffees and affogatos. The morning was a veritable whirlwind of learning all the different combinations.

Coffee really is just the combination of espresso and milk in various different ways. A simple espresso shot should pour seamlessly from the machine through the tamped handle of grounds and should have a caramel-coloured crema atop. You know before even tasting the coffee that it will be lovely.

The difficulty is in perfecting the milk, and you’ll know it when you hear it. Textured milk is a bit of a challenge. The wand that squirts out steam needs to be placed in the milk in a particular way so that the milk isn’t too frothy. It has to sound right too, a high-pitched whooshing uninterrupted by gurgles of air. You see perfection when it happens, the milk just scintillates as you hold your hand to the quickly warming container. Once its too hot to handle, your milk is done.

In the afternoon we learned some latte art, which was really just an excuse to perfect milk. I tried some designs that came out with mixed success, but I really shone when we made layered piccolo lattes, fun little drinks served in fun little glasses that had a particular science to the way they were poured, a science I just ate up and loved.
Just look at these photos!

Thursday, March 04, 2010


In Australia, ketchup is not ketchup. Well, it is, but that’s not what they call it. Here they call it sauce. Tomato sauce to use the full term. I’m cool with it although it is a little confusing. It isn’t as if ketchup is the only type of sauce. Shouldn’t tomato sauce be for pasta? And if ketchup is tomato sauce, then what do they call tomato sauce for pasta? Maybe they don’t make it to pasta, maybe ketchup is the only sauce worth knowing about down under.