Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Multicultural Festival and Bangladeshi Fair

A few months ago, (April I think) it was time for Canberra's yearly Multicultural Festival. We forget why we missed it last year (I think it was raining), but we made sure to go this year. From Friday at noon to Sunday night downtown Canberra is taken over by arts & crafts booths, food carts, and performance stages. The festival breaks into basic geographic areas covering the entire world. We went on Saturday and kind of just entered at random and milled around, eventually finding ourselves in the Polynesian section. We watched the shows and dancing a little bit before peeling off to find more food.

We would not advise messing with the guy on the left.

The place was absolutely packed. We had no idea Canberra even had so many people. It seemed like every country in the world had a booth too, most of them with food or something to sell. We're pretty sure they were all sponsored by the local embassies. Strangely, the US stand was not selling hot dogs.

Each booth had their country's representative flag displayed above, so that you could more easily identify them through the large crowds.

Polynesian woodcraft for sale!

While the women were working the booths, the guys were hanging out here drinking something from coconut shells. Whatever it was, it looked very exotic.

Clearly, we came for the food. It's one of those events that no matter how hungry you show up, and no matter how long you stay, there is just no way you can stuff in all the delicious things there are to try. We had a plate of West African rice and beans and pork, an Eastern European honey liquor (terrible), turkish snacks, and then we turned the corner and found the booth we had been looking for- Finland! Look how happy Laurel is with her pulla!

The next day, another local embassy was sponsoring an open house/fair. This time it was Bangladesh, a country we don't really know all that much about. We still don't know a whole lot about it, but we do know that they have very friendly people, delicious food, and adorable babies, as demonstrated below.

Now, the first thing to remember about fairs like these is you can't just dive in and go eat at the first table you see. Rookie mistake. You need to make a circuit and see what your options are in order to develop a gameplan. Although, we did decide we needed some chicken kabobs while we did that.

Success! This was an orangey, rice pudding. Amazingly good, but ridiculously sweet. It probably took us the better part of a week to finish off the whole container.

This, my friends, is why you have to scope the whole place out. In the very back was a family selling smorgashbord plates with small servings of about a dozen different dishes. For people like us, who want to sample as much as possible, it was perfect. Wow, was it good. After licking the plate we went back to tell them how good it was, and we took a picture of Laurel with the family.

Hmmmmm, sweets. I'll have one of everything.

Those are some happy, well-fed faces.

One of Greg's co-workers went as well, and ate at the same family table that we did. She said that it was one of the better meals she's had since she's been in Canberra. We don't think we would go that far, but it was fantastic. So, if you come cross a Bangladeshi restaurant in your neighborhood, we highly suggest you eat there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Iron Chef Australia II

Laurel produced the above amazing announcement for the second Iron Chef Australia battle. Her photoshop skills are unmatched. Here's a nice picture from early in the evening perfectly displaying the theme ingredient for the battle. It's oranges, not wine. Also, that's our friend Tim in the picture and he actually is more excited to be there than this picture makes him look.

The party in full swing! Everything worked out beautifully, we could not have planned it better. We had seven entries- two entrees (aka appitizers), two mains, two desserts and Greg's orange, lemon, and cinnamon vodka infusion. Laurel made one of the desserts, which was ricotta pancakes with an orange compote and dark chocolate sauce. It won Best Use of Ingredient.

Brevin and Sadie brought their two boys along, Jackson (4 yrs) and Orion (1 yr). Jackson wanted us to take some pictures of him. This is our favorite. Not sure if he was being a pillow monster or what, but it's pretty great.

It never seems like we have enough counter space, but everyone managed.

Laurel keeping an eye on little Orion. He was very excited about all the activity!

The Balfrey-Boyd family took the orange theme to a whole new level. We may have to offer an award for Best Costume next time, because this was awesome.

Adrian and Cristy, the reigning Iron Chefs, made prawn, vegetable, and orange pockets. Below is a picture of one right before it went in the oven. The pocket let everything bake together- quite good. It was funny, apparently oranges = prawns in Australia, because half the entries featured prawns. Not that anyone was complaining, because prawns are delicious.

Cooking action shot! So much going on in the kitchen island!

Here is the eventual winner, Nabil's prawn and fruit biryani. Several of us agreed that since he's Lebanese and middle eastern food is extra delicious, he had an unfair advantage. It does not matter, though, he is now Iron Chef and totally deserves it.

Now as normally happens at our parties, we're pretty good with the camera for the first hour, and then completely forget about it. So, we only have a picture of the first dish as it was served, but fortunately it was the winner for Best Presentation, a grilled prawn salad with sliced oranges and an orange sauce. Both beautiful and delicious!

We had a great time, and like always, the entries were amazing. We've had three of these parties now, and we can't wait for the next one. What our friends have learned is that if they are coming over to our house they will not be leaving hungry. All of our get togethers seem to heavily involve food. Because really, what else is there?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Remember that time the President came to town?

So . . . this is embarrassing. The side effect of not being able to publish posts for a few months is that it really makes our laziness at publishing posts before the shutdown look ridiculous. Case in point. This happened in November. We are now telling you about it in July.

You may remember (or might not, it was a long time ago) President Obama came to Australia, specifically to Canberra and Darwin. Melbourne and Sydney were super pissed, and since all the media comes out of one of those two cities we heard a lot about how Canberra and Darwin were too small and not "worth a Presidential visit." Screw you Sydney. You may have a cool opera house and 20% of the population, but whatevs- Canberra got Obama!

After giving an address to Parliament (we got stuck in the traffic closures as he drove there) President Obama was going to go to the Embassy to give a private address to Embassy staff. Since Greg works for the US, he naturally got to go. Laurel, however, works for the Aussies. So she called in sick. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone. As with any event concerning politicians, the schedule got behind almost immediately, so we had a lot of waiting and standing around. Which is fine, because really, who is going to chastise the Leader of the Free World for being late? Also, Greg was able to convert a hedge into a cup-holder.

A helicopter came and circled the area a few times to make sure everything was legit. It was. I can only imagine how many pictures of this helicopter some of the nearby embassies took. Probably only two or three less than us.

When he arrived, the excitement was really building. The Ambassador gave a short opening address. He's a really good speaker, and a great guy, but I felt a little bad for him, since everyone clearly just wanted him to stop talking and give up the podium.

There he is! We were literally within 20 feet of the President of the United States. All we had to do was move to another country.

We were about one row too far back to shake the President's hand . . .

 . . . but this picture makes it look like we totally did.

Ah, don't leave! Melbourne and Sydney had a point. Darwin is lame, you should totally stay here. Sadly, he did not listen. Stupid future marine base in Darwin. Always making President Obama go visit it.

Now, you may notice below how smartly dressed Laurel and Greg are. They look good (and patriotic). They put some effort in to looking their finest, since how many opportunities like this do you have? And if you aren't going to suit up for the President, who exactly are you going to suit up for? Strangely, we would estimate that only about 40% of the crowd followed this philosophy. There were quite a few people in shorts and sandals, which just seemed weird. Suit up, America, suit up.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Alice Springs

The first order of business after we were dropped off at the hotel was a badly needed shower. Greg thought he had a tan- turns out it was just a fine layer of red dust coating him from wet to toe. As soon as the water hit him, tan gone. Dang. Freshly clean, we headed out to a local pub for dinner and drinks, and a night of partying with our new friends. It was New Year's Eve after all. Olivia's friend Macaela on the front row looks slightly uncomfortable becuase that guy has his arm around her. Over the course of the night he went from moderately irritating to obnoxiousy hitting on anyone within 100 meters. Good times.

Laurel and Greg, enjoying some adult beverages.

The next day Olivia flew off to Queensland with Macaela, but we stayed two days longer to check out Alice Springs. We quickly realized that this was a mistake. Alice is not a town that exists because people want to live there. Alice is there because a town needed to exist in that area. Also, it was well over 40 degrees Celcius every day. Insanely hot. Even with sunscreen, the sun made your skin feel like it was sizzling instantly. We quickly determined that there wasn't much to do anyway, so we rented movies and stayed in the blessedly air-conditioned comfort of our hotel room. "Super 8"- fantastic. "Friends with Benefits"- probably better than it had a right to be.

We did venture out briefly to climb ANZAC Hill to get a view of the city and take a few pictures. Alice Springs has a population of about 50,000 and sits in the middle of a large canyon. Here's a view of the main road, Gap Road, so named becuase they dynamited a gap in the ridge in the background to get the road through.

Here are a few more views from the hill. Pretty, but barren. We cannot imagine living here, especially before electricty was invented.

ANZAC Hill is so named because on top of it rests Alice's monument to the ANZAC veterans of the Northern Territories who have lost their lives in various conflicts. At this point in the blog, we are hoping we don't need to break down what ANZAC is anymore.

Flying back, we knew we had a couple hour layover in Sydney, and we had been issued individual one-time passes to enjoy the Qantas lounge when we had been promoted up to the second tier "Silver" status. That's pretty much the only thing Silver gets you, so we decided to make use of our passes. We entered a whole other world. A world of free food and alcohol, nice people, and a waiting area so nice you may not actually care all that much if your flight is delayed, since you know, free alcohol. Look at this!

They say that when you are someplace you've never been, expecially when you feel it's above your station, you're supposed to act like you've been there before. We failed miserably at this, and pulled what is perhaps the most tourist thing anyone has ever done. We took pictures of the Qantas lounge. Comfy chairs! Your own store, so you can be sure that the issue of "Vogue" you're buying has never been sullied by the hands of the great unwashed downstairs. Just amazing.

Oh my God. Oh my God. Free internet. Oh my God.  We haven't seen this since we left the States in 2010. Did Greg really have any need to check his email? Of course not. But he could, and that is what was important.

Guys, it took us six months, but that was our epic trip to the Northern Territories with Olivia. Such a great idea, we owe you one, Olivia! Everyone, if you are ever in Australia you need to get out there and see the Outback with its amazing rock formations and canyons. Just don't plan on spending any more time in Alice Springs then you have to.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 3- King's Canyon

Welcome back everyone! After persistent blog errors that were preventing us from loading pictures, we kind of said screw it and stopped bothering for awhile trying to fix it. Today we took another crack at it, and either we did something different or the problem resolved itself. Either way, Diary of a Wombat is live again! We've got a lot to catch up on, so we'll try to post a fair amount over the next couple weeks to try and catch up. Starting off, we need to finish off the amazing trip we took to the Northern Territories with Olivia over New Year's.

Our third and final day of our camping extravaganza took us to King's Canyon, which was the big unknown of this trip for us. We had never even heard of it, but we think it was the best place we went to. Uluru may get all the press for its importance to Aboriginal culture, and for being an amazingly big rock, however King's Canyon was just amazing. Greg thinks it was the best hike he's ever been on.

We started our day, once again, at 4am. After eating a hearty breakfast, we hightailed it to the canyon so we could watch the sunrise. Needless to say, it was gorgeous.

The only problem was that in order to get up to that ridge to watch the sunrise we had to climb "Heart Attack Hill." Heart Attack Rock Staircase would have been more accurate. We did not count steps, it would have been too discouraging. Here's Greg at the top, admiring the view. Totally worth it.

Laurel and Olivia, taking a well earned rest.

After some time to rest and enjoy the sunrise we started the trek through the canyon. This was a typical Aussie bush hike. There's no real "trail" or "guide signs," you just kind of walk the path that seems most logical.

A lot of the rock formations have names. This is "the Camel."

We had a great hike through, around, and over-top the canyon. Here's an assortment of the pictures we took.

After we hiked for about an hour we came around a  corner and could see the opposite face of the canyon, a sheer wall. Pretty impressive. Fun rock facts- The white portions of the rock are limestone. The black portions of the rock are oxidized iron.

Looking down is the small pool at the base of the canyon that's a great swimming spot, even if the water was freezing.

About half the group though was undeterred, Greg being one of them. I mean, when are you ever going to have the chance to do this ever again. Brrrrrrrrrr, refreshing! Can you find him in the picture? Hint, look for the beard!

A couple more landscapes for you. Australia, you are a beautiful country.

On the way back, our Tour Guide, Carmen, gave us a lesson in Aboriginal pictograph writing. Below is the summary of our trip. The three concentric circles represent important places. The writing is all very vague, and does not give a lot of specifics in terms of names, places, or dates; instead relying on context and the reader's own knowledge to fill in the gaps.

We're back! We went on a three day camping trip to the Outback and didn't die! We're quite proud of ourselves.

All in all, this was just a fantastic trip. We highly recommend www.therocktour.com.au to anyone who wants to see Uluru and the surrounding areas. We had a great time, the guide was a lot of fun, and best of all, it was about an eighth of the price of flying directly to Uluru and staying at the hotels there. Plus, this was a way better, more authentic outback experience.