Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Iron Chef Australia III

Since our time in Australia is growing perilously short there were a few things we had to get on the ball and plan, but the most important thing was a final Iron Chef battle. Thus it was so, and Laurel made this awesome invitation.

Amazing. Egg was the ingredient and since Olivia was here everything had to be gluten free. Extra challenge. Before the battle, Greg had a talk with Olivia and Laurel about the importance of one of us winning so we could take trophy back home to America and keep passing it around. Spoiler Alert: This did not happen. EVERYONE brought their A game. We say this every time, but this was easily the best Iron Chef party we've ever had. American friends, you are on notice.

First up was Adrian and Cristy's Mexican bean burritos with a fried egg. Totally didn't see a Mexican dish coming. Most important thing to note was that Cristy designed and constructed a homemade tortilla press and made them from scratch at the party. I have no idea how we didn't get a picture of that. It's also a testament to just how good all of the food was that they didn't win automatically because of that. But they probably should have.

Helena and Chris brought two entries, the first was a single serve quiche with pumpkin, corn, onion, tomatoes, and tuna. On paper, doesn't sound great. In your mouth, it is freaking delicious. Greg ate the leftovers for the breakfast the next three days and was so happy.

Tim and Anu (our first Finnish contestant! We are storming the world with this party) made a spinach and feta quiche. This won for Best Use of Them Ingredient. Our concern for this ingredient was that it would be 100% quiche, which thankfully, it wasn't, but we're really glad they made this. We were three entries in and everything was delicious . . . and people were starting to get full. That was the one flaw with the Egg Battle.

Power through everybody. 

An hour and a half into the party Olivia and Laurel's co-worker Victor, who had joined forces, decided to finally join. They were coming with an insane three entries. Olivia can be seen here prepping her cauliflower crust pizza. Also, Victor makes funny faces while cooking.

Helena samples Greg and Laurel's entry- egg drop soup.

Because making homemade tortillas was not enough (repeat American friends- start planning now), Cristy was also attempting a self scrambled egg. You put an egg in pantyhose, and spin it around super fast so the egg scrambles. Then boil and serve. Unfortunately, it didn't work, but we were intrigued.

Olivia and Victor's first entry- spicy polenta bake with eggs. SUPER delicious.

Now a little bit of controversy here. They also made baked pears with sugar crusted pecans. Admittedly, the presentation is great, and it won that award, but Greg feels it should have been disqualified as the only use of egg was to crust the walnuts. Don't think this counts as an egg dish, however he was overruled by everyone else being blinded by how pretty and delicious it was. Fair enough. 

Last but not least, I give you the Egg Battle Champion- Helena and Chris's Orange Creme Caramel. So good.

Great party everybody! Thanks for sending it off with a bang.


Happy Birthday Canberra!

In 1901 when Australia became a country they immediately had a problem. Where would the capital be? Both Melbourne and Sydney thought the answer was obvious, in their cities of course. After much debate, Australia decided to literally split the difference and build a new city between the two. They named that future city Canberra, or meeting place, in the local Aboriginal dialect. An international competition to design the city was held with Walter Burley-Griffen, from Chicago, selected. In 1913, ground was broken on the new capital. 2013 was always going to be a big year.

There have been celebratory events scheduled all year, such as Canberra's first time ever hosting an International One Day cricket match, but the big day was scheduled for March- Canberra's Centenary. It was imaginatively titled "Canberra's Big Day." We went, and parked in true Aussie fashion, in a make shift spot in a field.

The sun was out, and the weather was perfect, Canberra could not have asked for a prettier day to celebrate. Since it's us, we immediately went to the food area and loaded up on delicious eats and wine. Here's Imogen trying to stick her hand in Laurel's wine while we're all distracted posing for the camera. Sneaky baby!

Just hanging out with Dad! Immy is holding her best friend, Geoffrey the Giraffe. Geoffrey is an incredibly common toy that it seems every baby has although we're apparently the only people who didn't give it the name that comes on the box, Sophie. Geoffrey has it pretty rough. Immy's favorite past-time is to bang Geoffrey around on to everything. It's kind of an abusive relationship.

In true Canberra fashion, the food stands were completely unprepared for the number of people who showed up. The wine truck ran out of single serve wine glasses three hours into its planned eleven hours of operation. Here are Laurel and Olivia modeling their double tasting glasses being used until someone got back from the store with more glasses.

100 Years! Whoooooooo! Happy birthday Canberra!

Down by Lake Burley-Griffen, named in honor of the city's designer, was a bar truck serving fancy cocktails. Olivia is a booze head and double fisted it. Just kidding! One of those is Laurel's.

Immy dressed up for the occasion and had the best time seeing the people, soaking up the sunshine, and most of all, hanging out with her favorite aunt.

Well, Mom is pretty cool, too.

While Laurel and Olivia did some walking around, Greg and Imogen got some serious cloud watching in. All in all, a great way to spend a day in the park.

Jumping ahead a few weeks, it was St. Patrick's Day. Not a huge day for the Otey household, but Olivia was pretty excited so she made gluten free cupcakes. Greg was pretty excited to eat them. The one on the left mysteriously disappeared about 30 seconds after this picture was taken. Immy got in the spirit of the holiday and did her best Riverdance impression.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Milford Sound

When we were preparing to move to Australia, Laurel googled one of those "100 places to see before you die" lists to get an idea of what places in Australia we had to go check out. What surprised us was not the Australian locations (Uluru, Great Barrier Reef), but just how many places in New Zealand made the list. While we don't remember everything now, the one that really stuck out for us was Milford Sound, so when we started planning this trip the first thing we booked was a day trip to Milford Sound. It's a bit of a trek, about a 4 hour drive, so we opted for the bus tour out of Queenstown. This was a great decision since we were all much more comfortable and it meant Imogen did not have to stay strapped into her car seat the entire time. This made for a much happier baby. Also, we had the benefit of a tour guide who knew all the best scenic stops along the way. We were not disappointed.

Beautiful, right? And that's just on the drive to the Sound through Fjordland National Park. The park is giant and covers most of the southwestern tip of the South Island. The above picture is from the Mirror Lakes, for obvious reasons. This is a really clever sign.

Legend has it that if you drink the glacial water from this stream it will extend your life by 10 years. Greg is going to make it to at least 40, guys!

We made a rest stop in the town of Te Anau. Greg found this random sculpture of a Takahe bird. It's a flightless bird native to the South Island that stands about two feet high. It was thought to be extinct, but was rediscovered in 1948. We're a little unclear how a bright blue, 2 foot tall bird goes unnoticed.

 The terrain is really rugged, but just breathtakingly beautiful. This mountain pass, even a hundred years ago, would have been the end of the line. There is no getting through that.

Fortunately, they built a tunnel. Constructed in 1954, the Homer Tunnel is one lane, 1.2 km long, and pitch black inside. It has a 10% gradient down to the other side. Pretty crazy. Another reason we're glad we opted for the bus tour.

Though the best well known, Milford Sound is just one of several sounds in the area. The peaks surrounding them are so high, that each sound has it's own climate. It's not uncommon for it to pour rain on one side of the mountain and have the sun shining on the other side. For us, when we came out of the tunnel there was no rain, just a thick layer of fog about 100 meters off the ground. It was incredible. The whole area looked prehistoric. In fact, Jurassic Park was filmed here! We would not have been surprised at all if a T-Rex had come romping through the trees.

The end of our bus tour brought us to Milford Sound itself. We got on the yacht and set off into the water with a picnic lunch. So freaking amazing.

This is one of Greg's favorite pictures of him and Imogen that we've taken. And yes, he's aware he's said this at least a dozen times.

That's some strong wind! Needless to say, we couldn't stay out in this for too long with Imogen. Fortunately there was a protected, viewing level below as well.

Yeah, I'd hang out here if I was a seal too.

Honestly, we're running out of adjectives to describe this place.

One of the options you could pick for the trip was to ride up in the bus and then fly back in a private plane, which we did not opt to do because it was ridiculously expensive. But it would have been awesome seeing the landscape from the air. Then we lucked out. They were unable to sell the plane out, and our bus driver was concerned Imogen was going to melt down on the 3 hour drive back (it was shorter without the scenic stops) to Queenstown, so he offered to sell us the plane ride at half price. Sold! The only condition was not to tell the other people on the plane. Here's Olivia with our new ride; majestic Mitre Peak in the background.

What's better about this picture? Imogen's face, or Olivia being a creeper in the background?

Yep. Totally the right decision. This is way better than a bus ride.

All the peaks are so jagged because the whole area is still geologically active and these mountains are still being actively pushed up. The only thing keeping them from being several kilometers high is the high wind eroding them as they go up.

No wonder Rudyard Kipling once proclaimed this the Eighth Wonder of the World. This was the last day of our holiday, and man did we end it on a high note.

 Great vacation guys. But I'm really sleepy. Can we go home now?

Okay, Imogen. You've been so great on this whole trip. Let's go home. Thanks for the memories New Zealand!


While the trip had been pretty amazing start to finish and easily the longest vacation we've ever taken, it was coming to a close. We thought 16 days was pretty excessive, but pretty much every other tourist we met couldn't believe how short that was. I guess when you compare it to the Israeli woman spending 3 months in New Zealand or the German couple who was only half way through their six month holiday around the world, it doesn't really stand-up. Regardless, it felt long to us and it was time for our last stop of the trip, Queenstown. First though we had to get there. We took yet another scenic drive heading south.

Seriously, this entire country is a freaking post card.

We stopped at one of the dozens of random pull-off points. This one happened to be called Ship Creek. We found a sign on the beach explaining the name. Some time in the 1800's a ship wrecked on the rocks off the coast of Melbourne. Eventually, the tide pulled the wreck back out to sea and apparently it floated clear across the Tasman and landed here, on a random spot on the western coast of the South Island. The remains of the wreck are still on display in a museum in Haast Pass.

This is the lake that the town of Wanaka is built around. We stopped for lunch and a quick walk around. Seemed like a pretty cool place. If we could have changed one thing about the trip it would have been to leave Fox Glacier a night earlier and spent the night in Wanaka. Oh well, you never know until you get there.

We were stoked for Queenstown ("a city fit for Queen Victoria"), because it is called the adventure capital of the world. We'd tend to agree. It has a population of about 30,000, and a third of that has to be tourists at any given time. Our first stop on Adventure Day was Jetboating. Olivia models this year's newest Jetboat fashion.

Now, Jetboating isn't baby friendly so we had to do this in shifts. Let's do this!

What is Jetboating? It's a super fast, boat that uses jet water propulsion to move around. As such, it can operate in water as shallow as 6-8 inches which is incredible.  They go super-fast through Shotover Canyon and come disturbingly close to being bashed to death along the canyon walls. It. Is. AWESOME.

Next up was bungee jumping. You may not know this, we certainly didn't, but bungee jumping was invented by a Kiwi and the first commercial operation was opened at Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown. Olivia, apparently having a death wish, couldn't wait to go. She also dressed appropriately in her Tarzan romper. They'll actually let you jump naked if you want, and apparently "it's a surprisingly popular choice." Greg and Laurel told her that we would happily watch and take pictures. For some reason she decided not to take us up of the offer.

Olivia stepping out on the ledge, preparing to make her bungee. As last views go, you could do a lot worse. 

And there she goes. It's been nice knowing you Olivia. We'll miss you.

I'm so glad you didn't die, Aunt Wib!

For those that need it, there is a bar on premises with a very apt name. Olivia, not being a punk, needed no such libation.

Easily the best bathroom signs ever.

Anytime you want to stop being a postcard, you feel free Queenstown. Needless to say, this was our favorite city we went to in New Zealand. Saved the best for last. Now we're just trying to decide if Queenstown or Wellington is our favorite Kiwi city. Future travel may be required to fully answer this question. 

All that adventure made us hungry, so we stopped for a cookie and a photo op with the Cookie Time monster. Who looks kind of high. Pretty sure there was only chocolate chips in our cookies.

This is William Gilbert Rees, the founder of Queenstown, sculpted here with a sheep. Way to just embrace the stereotype, New Zealand. He settled there in 1861 with his wife. When gold was discovered nearby in 1862, he sold off his land for a fortune and moved away. Not making this up. The "founder of Queenstown" barely lived there for a year.


This trip was  fun guys, but I'm tired. Also, I love being a naked baby.