This is where I had my lunch yesterday…

Beach

 

And this is what I had for lunch:

Fish and chips

Crumbed cod, potato scallops and salad to make us all feel better.  It was amazing.  I don’t want to gloat too much (oh, who am I kidding) – check this out!:

Beach

Let me paint you a picture – blue skies, cerulean ocean, gentle waves, pristine white sand, the sticky smell of sunscreen, the lapping of the water and gentle whoosh of the waves.  Paradise.

My only goal for the day (asides from stuffing my face with fish) was to wrinkle in the sea.  The most energetic thing I did (again, asides from stuffing my face) was a gentle stroll along the beach.  Paradise.

Despite the heat (we’re sweltering in a mini-heat wave over here), the beach was busy but not packed – plenty of room for everybody.  The sea was gentle so the lifeguards were kicking back and relaxing, some Nippers were training and enjoying being in the sun, while the surfers tried to make the best of what little waves there were.  Families were in the park, barbecuing up sausages and steaks.  Little ones were paddling in the shallows with their parents, getting to know what will become an integral part of their life: the beach.

Australians don’t have the market cornered when it comes to fabulous beaches but it does play a huge role in our lives and our psyches.  There is a cultural trope in Australia about the ‘Aussie battler’ and outback living – a vestige of our past that we treasure but which no longer reflects the lives of most Australians who now live in or near a major city.  We have no farming heartland like America does – we’re the same size as the continental US but most of the Australian interior is desert, so most Australians (along with most of our capital cities) live along the coast.  The beach and the water flows through our veins.

I can’t remember the first time I was at a beach: it’s always been there.  We live it, love it and breathe it.  We holiday there, we celebrate there and we while away countless hours there.  And on days like yesterday, it’s a wrench to tear myself away from there.

beach 2

This started out as a post about parties but ended up being about food

I really do think with my stomach.

Today at my (temp) office, they had a morning tea to celebrate the birthdays of all their employees born in November.

In England, when offices do something like this, it will always be sweet – probably a box of Krispy Kremes and a chocolate mud cake.

In Australia, you’ll still get a cake but a party ain’t a party and a morning tea ain’t a morning tea unless there’s a pie in there somewhere.  In fact, we even have a version of pie called ‘party pies’ (more on this later).

So, as I was scoffing the the party pies and the sausage rolls, I got thinking about food.  Not surprising.  I think about food all the time.  At breakfast, I’m imagining lunch and dinner.  At dinner, I’m remembering yesterday’s breakfast and planning tomorrow’s.

By rights, I should probably be about 100kg and rolling everywhere.  My brother is a personal trainer and he thinks I put away a lot of food for a girl (I protest this greatly – I’m a normal size!  But he might be right).  I think my saving grace is that, due to my father’s fatal heart attack before he was 50, I’ve been very aware of healthy eating (the occasional pie and sausage roll notwithstanding).  So, I may eat a lot but it’s not rubbish and the bike takes care of the rest.

Anyway, I’m getting way off track here.  I got thinking about food and Australian food in particular.  As a nation of (mostly) immigrants, we don’t really have a native cuisine like they do in, say, Italy or Greece.  Or so I thought.

It was only when I was in England that I started noticing that they didn’t sell the foods I was used to… and in many cases, hadn’t even heard of it.

So I present to you:

AUSTRALIA’S nATIVE FOODS

(Small ‘n’ since native is a bit of a misnomer – however, as I’m not up on Aboriginal food cuisine, it will have to do)

  • The party pie.  It’s a pie.  It’s small.  It’s perfet for parties.  Simple, really.  Australia has a real pie culture and, if you want a definitively good pie and find youself in south-east Queensland, then may I suggest Yatala Pies.  I never go to the coast without a pit stop and I’m pretty sure everyone else in Queensland does the same thing.
  • Cheerios.  No, not the cereal, which we don’t have here.  Instead, I’m talking about mini frankfurters.  The link takes you to a pic of them (scroll down a bit – thanks Google Image search).  Found at every Aussie child’s birthday since time immemorial and always served with tomato sauce.  One of my favourite memories as a child was when we visited the butcher and he gave me one for free.  Score!
  • Rissoles.  Like a burger patty, only not.  Basically, it’s mince mixed with various flavourings (onion, garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, etc), an egg (to bind) and breadcrumbs.  My mum swaps breadcrumbs for rolled oats – it’s healthier and makes the meat go further.  Always served with gravy on top and mashed potatoes and green veggies on the side.
  • Corned beef.  Ok, I know you have it in America but in England they don’t eat it (except for tinned corned beef, an inedible abomination which is definitely not what I’m talking about).  The exception is the English Jewish community, but they call it salt beef (and I say this with some authority since I had a big long discussion about it with my old boss who is Jewish.  See, I even talk food at work).  In Australia, we boil the corned beef in water with vinegar, sugar, bay leaves and a clove-studded onion.  Always served with white sauce, boiled potatoes, pumpkin and greens.
  • Pumpkin.  And I don’t just mean Butternut Squash.  Pumpkin is not eaten in the UK (asides from Butternuts) and, in my few visits to the States, I never noticed it there either.  Pumpkin is HUGE in Australia.  Every supermarket will have at least three or four varieties: Jap (aka Kent), Queensland Blue and Golden Nugget.  Australians boil, mash and roast pumpkin and the skin on many varieties is edible (Butternut skin is lovely).  The flesh is thick, very smooth and creamy and tastes sweet.
  • Lollies.  In the UK, ‘lollies’ means lollipops.  In Australia, it means soft, chewy deliciousness.  Like gummi only not rubbery.  There are raspberries, strawberries and cream, pineapples, mintiesjelly babies, snakes, killer pythons (snakes only bigger and thicker), teeth, milk bottles, chico babies, mint leaves…  The list goes on.
  • Vegemite.  This is an obvious one and something I’ve blogged about before.
  • Lamingtons.  Basically pound cake cut into squares, dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in dessicated coconut.  Variations include cream filled and jam/cream filled.
  • Damper.  Like a really big scone.  Reputation as ‘bush tucker’ food since you can make it on a camp stove/over a fire.
  • Anzac biscuits.  A biscuit (cookie) primarily made out of oats and golden syrup.  So named (I think) because they were sent to ANZAC soldiers (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) during both World Wars – they keep very well.  Recipe here.
  • Cheezels.  Delicious snack that can only be eaten one way: you must put a cheezel on each finger (like a ring) and eat them off.  I’ve been doing it that way since I was 4.
  • Lemon myrtle.  Ok, now we’re getting properly native.  This is a native shrub with the leaves used for (you guessed it) lemony flavour.  Often bought as a spice mix or part of a spice rub.  Rub chicken in it!
  • Barramundi.  A native fish – incredibly popular and delicious.  A recipe here.
  • Moreton Bay bugs.  A native lobster.  They look like they’re from an alien planet but, I’m told, are great eating (I’m not really into lobster, so I’ll have to take my countrymen’s words on it).  Easy recipe on how to use them here.
  • Beetroot.  Not unusual around the world but here in Australia we put it on burgers and sandwiches.  Top tip if you’re putting it on your kid’s salad sandwich for lunch: blot with kitchen paper.  It saves a whole lot of soggy pink bread.

Oh Australia – I’m so glad I’m home!

Breakfast of kings

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That there (^^) is a very fine breakfast: toast with vegemite and cheese, with a glass of milk.

For everyone: the ‘cheese thing’ explained

So my family has a cheese ‘thing’.  We like it and we put it on everything, with toast.  Vegemite and cheese is a pretty common combo in Oz, but my family doesn’t stop there.  Peanut butter and cheese on toast (or sandwich): try it.  It’s delicious.  Jam and cheese on toast: try it, it’s even more delicious.  Leftover spaghetti bolognaise on toast with some cheese sprinkled on top: *DROOL* (also, clearly I’m not carb-phobic).

At first, I thought all this was totally normal.  Until I started getting out in the world and people would regard my jam and cheese toast with horror.  What is that?  Why?  Ewww!  I can’t understand it myself.  My grandfather’s favourite is damper (like a really big scone) with butter, golden syrup and cheese.

I consulted my mother about the fact that no one else seems to do these cheese combos and she confirmed we were crazy: “don’t look at me, it’s your father’s thing.”  My dad has passed on so I consulted my grandfather.  He just shrugged, “dunno.  It just tastes good.”  I have an old card sent by my great-grandfather from the Great War to his family and he mentions jam and cheese on bread, so clearly this is an obsession that goes way back (also, only in my family would food be the primary topic of discussion amidst a warzone).

For non-Australians: the ‘vegemite thing’ explained

Ok, so pretty much everyone knows about vegemite – the only confusion seems to be why.  “Why do you guys eat that stuff?”

Because it tastes good.  However, you do need to… educate your taste buds, shall we say.  For me, I’ve had vegemite literally since birth.  My mum would put a teaspoon in a bottle with warm water, shake it up and give it to me.  I apparently loved it and it’s incredibly good for you.  In fact, “vegemite soup” will cure whatever ails you.  Feeling run down?  Try it.  Feeling cold/fluey?  Try it.  Got a hangover?  Definitely try it.  Only don’t be a wuss and put a tablespoon in, not a teaspoon.

Vegemite is a vegetable yeast extract and the taste is hard to describe… it’s deep, sort of meaty but that gives you the wrong idea as there’s no meat in it.  It just has that sort of depth and quality.  It’s very salty, so much so that you can add it in soups and stews as a stockcube replacement.  It’s flavour is very robust and, for this reason, it’s important to only lightly scrape it on toast that’s been buttered, particularly if you’re a vegemite virgin.  Ease yourself into it, young padawan.

It’s well worth giving a go.  Need further convincing?  My dad always said “it’ll put hairs on your chest!”.  I’m not sure if that’s its best unique selling point but, hey, it might work for you.

It’s election day in America…

…and, on behalf of the rest of the world, we can’t wait until it’s over!  Even here in Australia, every bulletin update is on Romney this or Obama that.  We have news specials on it.  60-minutes style reports on it with Australian reporters traipsing across the wilds of backhills Florida trying to get the pulse of the people.

It’s not just been in the last couple of months as you build up to the election.  No, no, we Australians have been right there with you from the caucuses (caucusii?), to the Republican party Presidential nominee announcement and to binder-gate (since I’m a nerd, my favourite binder meme was this one):

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It cracks me up every time.  Sean Bean is brilliant.  But I digress…

It’s not just us Aussies – I’ve been in the UK for over 4 years and the election has been heavily covered there too.

The world is watching every minute detail of this election and, frankly, I think we’re all sick to death of it. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Americans.

I guess the reason why a national election is international news is due to America’s huge influence on the world.  And George W. Bush was so colossally bad that, since then, everyone has been extra-invested in having a relatively normal human being with his finger on the trigger, so to speak (by contrast, in Australia the only criteria we have is that our prime ministers try not to bore everyone to death).

As an Australian, I can also see the immense cultural influence America has had on Australia.  Our TV dramas and comedies are about 60% US-origin, 20% Australian and 20% British.  On the music charts, I’d say songs by American artists make up at least 40-50%, with Australian artists making up another 40% and the rest British.  Australian slang has not been unaffected either, although this is an area where American cultural influence has not been as strong.  I’ll say truck, not lorry (America 1, England 0) but then I’ll also say lift not elevator (England 1).  I’m also proud to say that slang unique to Australia is doing very well (dag, togs, refedex…).

What makes this more interesting to me is seeing how different the influence has been on British culture (which then leads me to ponder why).  If you get free-to-air TV in the UK, you’ll see very little in the way of US programs (exception being 5 USA, which specialises in it).  American slang has had very little impact on British slang – in fact, it’s a point of principle amongst Britons to avoid any vulgar “Americanisms” and, culturally, Jordan/Katie Price and WAGs have more impact on young British youth today than anything America has to offer.  In fact, the only piece of American culture British youths seem to have latched on to is gang culture, a deeply unfortunate turn of events.

I’m not sure why modern Australia seems to have been more influenced, culturally, by America rather than England.  We’re an ex-British colony, we still have the Queen as a head of state, the majority of Australians have British ancestry (although that’s quickly changing).  Until about the 1980s it was true that Australia was very much a ‘little Britain’ (excuse the pun).  Then, suddenly, it changed over night.  Maybe MTV had something to do with it.

So now we’re an odd mix here in Australia.  US customs and culture (Halloween is getting more popular every year, although we carve watermelons here rather than pumpkins given the season) sit with remnants of British culture (I still think it’s a majority of Australians who have a hot roast meal at Christmas, even though it’s 35 degrees outside… we just supplement it with cold glazed ham and prawns) and that rests in a melting pot with the ever-growing contributions of migrant communities.  In fact, as time goes on, I can see Australia is slowly turning more to Asia: economically, they’re a major purchaser of Australian goods, culturally they’ve transformed Australian cuisine (Asian fusion is something Australians specialise in) and demographically, Asian Australians form a significant part of the population.  Maybe it will be a Firefly future after all?