Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thanksgiving and the Marine Corps Ball

Its weird to do things in Australia for the second time. That means we've been here for awhile now. But we live in another country . . . you only do things once when you live abroad, right? Its just a little strange to think we've been here for going on 15 months- it really doesn't feel like that long.

This year we repeated our now Thanksgiving tradition of bring the glory that is the greatest American holiday to the Aussies. Although, we realized later that by Aussies we apparently meant 4 Aussies, 2 Brits, 2 Lebanese, and a Papua New Guinean. Laurel works in a very international office. The only downside is we have to do it on a Saturday since Laurel, strangely, doesn't get Thanksgiving day off. Regardless, we had a blast, the weather cooperated (it stormed that morning and night, but not during the day) so we could eat outside in the sun. Just like last year, we grilled the turkey, and if possible, it was even better this year. Mmmmm, turkey.

We got too excited to eat and forgot to take pictures before, but here is the spread after everyone had already filled up their plates at least once. We made turkey, roasted vegetables, mashed potatos, green bean casserole, and dressing. Our guests brought an absolutely amazing potato salad with bacon and chives, homemade chocolate-drizzled profiteroles, a tiramasu with raspberries, and lebanese treats. Needless to say, no one went home hungry.

In the similar vein of things we have done for the second time, the Marine Corps Ball rolled around again. This is a really big event for the Embassy here. Everyone goes. Its kind of the one thing that's not required to attend, but yeah, its required to attend.  We had a lot of fun though. Here are the two of us, with Laurel modelling her new dress and hair fastenater. Fastenater are the must have accesory for every Aussie girl going to a fancy party. Hats are soooooooo last season.


Kissy picture alert!

The flags being presented before dinner.

And a couple more pics of us to round off the night. Hate to waste a good photo-op.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Spooky cupcakes

We had a near disaster for Halloween. It was the day of Greg's first cricket match, since Halloween is not really a big deal here and they schedule other stuff on what should be pseudo-national holidays. So, Laurel had a plan to carve a pumpkin with her workmate Helena, who had never carved one before. The grocery store stocks pumpkins just for Halloween, or as they are called here, "American Carving Pumpkins" but apparently its a very limited supply. Once the display is bought out they do not restock. That's it. We discovered this the hard way when we went to purchase our ACP on October 29th and were greeted by emptiness and horror . . . which we guess is kind of appropriate considering the season.

Like we said, disaster. Fortionately, we had a back-up plan. When we first arrived here we found a specialty cupcake book for supercheap called "A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!" by Lilli Vanilli. It was time to put that to good use. So, Laurel texted Helena if she would be interested in making spooky cupcakes instead of carving a pumpkin. she replied, no questions asked, "Yes!" Helena is awesome. We bought a shocking amoung of supplies to make four different kinds of cupcakes on three different bases. Here are the choclate ones cooling. Please note the tasmainian devil pot-holder we bought in Hobart on the left.

Here's Helena, expertly preparing the vanilla cupcakes. You may recognize her from such epic events as "Thanksgiving" and "Iron Chef: Pumpkin Battle."

Eww, eyeballs! The eyeballs were made by mixing gelatin and coconut milk and then using a paint palette set (thoroughly cleaned first) as a mold. The "eyes" were then painted with a food coloring mixture to make blue and green eyes.

The eyeball cupcakes were compled with marzipan "worms." Creepy. These were consistently the last cupcakes eaten at both our offices. 

And here are the other two kinds of spooky cupcakes- bleeding brains and ghosts! The ghosts were Laurel's favorite. They were made from meringue with a marshmellow in the middle to give it structure, and chocolate chips for the eyes. The brains were made from dyed buttercream icing, and a raspberry drizzle sauce to simulate the blood. A zombie treat!

Ooooooooooooh, scary!!! The ghost is coming for you! Oooooooooooooooooooo!

Here is the whole finished product! Greg and Laurel's co-workers were very happy the next day. Greg had brains, Laurel had a mummy. They were delicious.

Happy [Belated] Halloween from Australia everyone!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sri Lankan and Thai Food Festivals

Dangit, we were so close. We had one post left, and we would have been completely caught up. It would have been a new age- an age of pictures from the same month they were taken. Alas, it was not to be. A new level of laziness kicked in, and we stopped posting, and now we are behind again. Argh.

This is from about six weeks ago, the Thai embassy does a giant cultural festival once a year. We missed it last year, as it happened after we had just gotten here and were still settling in. We heard it was great though, so we definitely made a note to make it next time. That time was now. When the announcement came out, we noticed that the Sri Lanken embassy was also having a cultural festival the day before. So we decided to make it an Asian cultural weekend.

Canberra does a really cool thing with its Embassies, that because its such a small, open city with land to spare, it lets countires build their embassies in whatever fashion they want, usually reflecting their cultural heritage. For instance, the US Embassy looks like Williamsburg, and the Japanese embassy has a giant rock garden in front. Its kind of fun. However, not all countries can afford/want to do that, so a lot just buy existing units- Sri Lanka is one of those countries. The embassy, below, is not the most exciting thing to drive by.

Back behind it was where the magic happened. It was a pretty low-key affair with a few food booths and a couple stands where you could buy a few trinkets and Ceylon Tea. We bought a lot of the tea, it was fantastic. But as anyone knows, you go to these things for the food, and the food alone. Part of the fun for us for going to the Sri Lankan food fair, was that we had no idea what Sri Lankan food was. Presumably, it was similar to Indian. 

This is a hopper. Its a kind of crispy rice and coconut milk paddy cooked in a wok with a fried egg at the bottom. It comes with several sides, a chili paste, a chicken curry, and some kind of onion-y salad. Oh my god, it was amazing- hoppers, where have you been all of my life. Bob, Tina- we've since found a Sri Lankan restaurant that does friday night Hoppers. We're totally taking you there.

We also got a mix plate of finger foods. Also very good. The food was similar to Indian, as we expected, but it has an almost Thai-style influence that makes it just a little bit different . . . and delicious. As you can tell from Laurel's coat, we were still coming out of winter at the time.

The Sri Lankan fair was relatively small, I got the impression it was all friends and families of the Embassy and Sri Lankan community. Very quaint, very nice. The Thai Festival, by comparison, was GIGANTIC. Here's the embassy below- they definitely went for local flair in building it.

They also had corporate sponsorship. I think every Thai restaurant in town (and there are a lot) had a booth selling food, and here's a picture of the guy unloading the palette of Singha beer. Since Singha is clearly the best Asian beer, Greg was pretty happy. Also, Greg will hear no arguments on Singha's superiorty? Sapporro? Please.

Like we said, giant. Stands everywhere, shopping, people everywhere. Delcious Thai food too, although we didn't take any pictures of it. we were too busy eating it. That, and, it was really hard to find a place to stand where you weren't in someone's way.

It also featured thai dancers and musicians.

And a samll exhibit!

All in all, a great weekend. We want to find some schedule for when the Embassies do their respective festivals so we can make this a regular thing. Its a ton of fun, and great eating!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mount Ainslie and the Telstra Tower

About a month ago, we guess, we got our first really perfect spring day. The sun was shining, the wind wasn't too strong, it was warm. We decided to take the oppurtunity to go out to some of the more picturesque spots of Canberra. First, we headed up Mount Ainslie. The term "Mount" is probably an exagerration, but it is a very pretty look-out spot as Canberra spirals out from it. 

This is officially the highest point on Mount Ainslie, and like any good highpoint in an urban area, there's a telecoms tower there.

This is the best spot. They designed the city so the main line of the city goes directly to where we were standing. This is Canberra's equivalent of the Washington Mall. At the bottom of the picture is the War Memorial, then a long Mall with monuments along the sides until you come to Lake Burley-Griffen. Note the giant fountain off to the right side in the lake. Across the lake is Old Parliament building, which was always designed to be a temporary structure. Just past it is New Parliament with its beautiful, ornate flagpole. Quite a view.

After Mount Ainslie we drove over to the Telstra Tower, the main telecoms point for Canberra. Telstra is a phone/internet/television company that is a virtual monopoly across Australia.We're not wild about them, but don't have a lot of choice. Anyway, here is the tower as we were walking up to it.

As any good company does, Telstra has found alternate ways to monetize its infrastructure. The Tower also doubles as a [paid] look-out point, gift shop, coffee shop, and at nights, a very high-end revolving restaurant.

Laurel and Greg are both mildly afraid of heights, but have very different triggers. Greg's is all about feeling secure on where he's standing. For instance, if we are walking over a huge, swaying bridge across a raging river in Tasmania, that is not okay. This, though is fine. Sure, we're a couple hundred meters off the ground, but he's standing on solid concrete with a firm railing. Nothing is going anywhere. We're good.

Laurel on the other hand, has no problems with things swaying or being generally rickety. She just wants very high railings. These railings do not qualify. There is still a chance that someone could trip and accidentally catapult themselves over the side, or a strong wind could blow and knock you off balance, causing you to fall to your doom. Mountain peaks have this exact same problem.

This is kind of fun. In the elevator there was little electronic sign that would mark your altitude as you went up and down the tower.  Fear of heights aside, it was a very nice day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wellington surrounds

On the second day of our weekend, we hired a car and took a leisurely drive along the coast. New Zealand, like Australia, is not a big fan of road shoulders.  Fortunately most of the drop-offs were less severe than the cliffs we were basically driving on in Tasmania.  But that's only because most of the cliffs started on the opposite side of the road, say where the houses started. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Laurel's co-worker who used to live in Wellington recommended this place, the Chocolate Fish cafe, for lunch. Man, he did not lead us astray. They specialize in fish sandwiches, but have a whole assortment of diner-style food. Everything is cooked on the outdoor grill next to the patio. According to a plaque by the door the building was originally part of an old military base that was built in the late 1800's by the Brits when there was a very real concern that the Russians were going to invade. I'm sorry, what!? What the heck were the Russians doing that far south, ever? If anyone could shed some light on this, it would be greatly appreciated.

Apparently, the Chocolate Fish is also a noted spot on the Lord of the Rings tour. During filming it was a popular lunch spot, and I think a movie production building was across the street, so it was probably pretty convenient, but not really sure on the details. Greg's nerd is strong, but not in the elf and hobbit categories.

As we mentioned in our last post, the weather in Wellington is noturiosly unpredictable, but we lucked out for lunch. The sun came out shining and it was beautiful, so we sat out on the deck and enjoyed our lunch. They also provided large, floppy hats which Laurel could not resist.

Fake-out! As we were driving we had to stop and take a picture of this guy, because we thought he was a little penguin at first. Turns out, not. He's just some kind of seagull-type waterbird. Still pretty cute though.

As we drove around Wellington's section of the island we just stopped wherever and took pictures. We had been recommended some especially picturesque places, but, seriously, it all was. Every twist and turn just brought more amazing views.

Clearly if there are rocks they must be climbed. It is the first rule of nature.

The second rule of nature is that Laurel is adorable.

So, as you may have noticed Wellington is super-rocky. Most of the coastal land is rocks, a flat strip that's been used for a road, and then very steep incline. Some houses will have a ground level garage and then a kind of ski-lift elevator looking thing to take them up to their house. Or in this case, the longest, steepest walk to check the mailbox ever. That's right, the zig-zagging white fence is the path/steps from the main street to the houses at the top.

There's not much else to say about this next stretch of pictures aside from noting that it's freaking epic, and the sun did not stay out for long.

We came across this place by complete accident. It's called Zealandia, and it has to be a completely unique idea. A large plot of land, on the northern outskirts of Wellington, has been set aside for the next 500 years to try and return nature to its pre-man environment. They call it a natural zoo. You are welcome to visit and walk through the area. It's wild, so there's no guarantee how much wildlife you'll see, but you will see a whole host of birds. We didn't actually take the tour, it was getting late and they were going to be closing soon, but it's a pretty great idea.

Did I mention that it's built directly over the fault line that runs down the center of Wellington? Here's the sign advising what to do in the [inevitable] event of an earthquake.

And, here is the faultline. Please note how the ground on one side of the fence is about 10 feet higher than the other side of the fence. That is nuts.