Aria Restaurant Sydney - 24 hours and counting.....

There is this great couple that recently moved to Sydney from Atlanta.  Their names are Mollie and Dan and their blog is here.  The reason why I bring them up is due to the fact that we have a date with them tomorrow night - a date I have been looking forward to for a month - A date to eat incredible food...

The idea hatched itself over some glasses of wine (could it have happened in any other setting?) - basically, the four of us love to eat really incredible meals in top restaurants and we are blessed enough in our lives to have the means by which to pay for these meals.  So, we decided to make a list of the top restaurants in Sydney (after all, we are in a foodie's paradise - why not take advantage of it?) and then eat at one every month.  Obviously there are going to be some hiccups in the plan as we will be in New Zealand for a good chunk of December and will need to skip that month; but the four of us are also pretty easy going so no rigid schedule is being adhered to.

This month, November, is our first month in action on this plan.  We chose the restaurant Aria (when I say we, I mean Mollie and myself - the poor guys are just arm candy for this project!) which is located just before the forecourt of the Opera House and has a lovely view of both the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I think any food tastes better when consumed looking at a view like this

The restaurant is owned and run by celebrity chef Matt Moran who is most recently famous for guest-judging on the third season of Masterchef Australia.  Side note, if you don't download and watch this show, you should.... I think it's better than the American version and that's really saying something...

As you might have guessed by now, I'm more than a little excited about our dinner there tomorrow night.  I think we've all agreed to go with the tasting menu (always my favourite way to eat since you get to try lots of things) and with good reason.  Check this baby out:

sashimi and tartare of yellow fin tuna with yabbie tails, cucumber ,honeydew melon and wasabi

chicken and foie gras parfait with a salad of smoked duck, rhubarb and black pepper
roasted fillet of King salmon with fennel, orange and watercress

with dumplings, shaved abalone and mushrooms
Kurobuta pork belly with pork croquette and caramelised apple
roasted fillet with ricotta gnocchi, pumpkin and mustard fruit purée and a sage and balsamic sauce
panna cotta with pistachios, balsamic strawberries and strawberry sorbet

Suffice to say, my mouth is already watering!

It's Spring!! I'm Cheerful!!

One of the best things about living in Sydney is the glorious weather.  I know... that sounds dramatic - but I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.  A place where it was not uncommon to have snow 6 months out of the year.  A place where summer only lasted a few weeks each year.  Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit; but as someone who is always cold, moving here was like a lifetime dream fulfilled!  No Snow! Ever!  At worst it gets down in the 40's during winter! Heaven...

Granted, now that I've been here for 2 winters, I'm starting to feel like 40 degrees is actually really really really cold!  Oh acclimatisation, you are a cruel trickster!

Anyway, I can't decide if it's all the excellent sleep I've been getting or the fact that Spring is truly here that is making me in such a stinking good mood - but, who cares?  Life is awesome!

I do think that the warmer weather has a lot to do with my happiness though - Spring in Sydney is scattered with these really lovely signs of growth.  I know I have posted about the Jacaranda Trees in the past and I know I have posted pictures of them; but I just can't convey how gorgeous it is to look out of our windows and see dots of brilliant purple all over the cityscape.

This is not my picture - I found it on-line and stole it...

The sky is crazy blue every day - a blue that you will. not. believe. until you actually come here and see it for yourself.  It's warm enough to sit outside on the ferry in the mornings on the way to work.  The past few mornings it's actually been a bit too hot to sit in the sun on the ferry and we have had to seek seats with some shade (well, Joe thinks it's too hot - I think it's glorious!).

It's still light out now when we leave for work.  The windows are open in our bedroom now and so we are being woken up by water, sail boat and bird noise.  Not a bad alarm clock if you ask me!  Basically, everything is sunny, warm and beautiful! (see what all this extra sleep does to me?  I am so annoyingly cheerful!)

Summer in Sydney is festival time.  Every week there are new tents, signs, and exhibits being set up in Hyde Park.  We just finished up with the Crave Food Festival and it's attendant Night Noodle Markets.  Joe and I went last year; but had to give it a miss this year as it was taking place right during the week of surgery stuff (see previous post). The events for the Annual Sydney Festival have just been announced and already my calendar for January and February is chockers with events.

 Heaps of flowers have been set-up in the forecourt of St Mary's Cathedral as they are every spring and summer.

There is just something so awesome about looking forward and realising that from the beginning of November to about May it is just going to be lovely outside.  Realising that you have a full six months in which to spend your weekends on beaches or sprawled out on blankets some where watching an outdoor cinema or listening to a free concert.

Jealous yet?  Want to visit yet?  Seriously, Tourism Australia should hire me to market to cold mid-westerners!

Basically this taunting is fully intended for my family.... Come visit! Soon!

Good Excuses for the Win!!

I know I haven't been here in forever and usually I don't have a very good excuse for my prolonged absences; but this time I have a few decent excuses.  Our life has been busy busy over the last couple of months...  We took a beautiful holiday to Fremantle and the Margaret River region.  We drank (and bought) lots of gorgeous wine while we we there and returned in just enough time for a busy week of catch-up before Joe went in for surgery. Ha ha!!  See?  I do have good reasons?  I win....

Gorgeous Picture of Watershed Winery in Margaret River - stay tuned for more posts on this later

My poor husband had been having horrible problems with breathing that were growing steadily worse over the last six months.  Sleep was eluding him (and by proxy, me) and slowly, breathing during the day also became a real hardship.  He started up with a horrible hacking cough, his asthma returned and every cold virus and allergy irritation seemed to be attracted to him.  It all happened so gradually over a period of months that neither of us really saw the true impact that it was having on us.  We were both exhausted, we were getting sick constantly and poor Joe could hardly breathe!  He finally got a referral to see an ENT specialist who took one look and told him that he need surgery and soon...

Basically, everything in Joe's breathing area (Please don't be intimidated by my fancy medical terms - I'm really just like you) was swelling up and slowly cutting off his airway. Nice right?  Additionally, he has some genetic malfunction where his esophagus is weak and will continue to swell and get irritated  if not taken care of...  The long and short of all this gross medical talk is that Joe had to have surgery.  In this surgery, he had his adenoids and tonsils removed - he also had part of his soft palate shaved back and he had his entire esophagus cauterised, widened and scored with little cuts to ensure a strong esophagus for life.

It was a rough procedure and there was a whole lot of pain involved.  A whole lot.  Joe could tell you a lot more about the specifics of the pain; but let me tell you, it was hard just to watch him go through it.  It was made much worse by the fact that the dose of pain meds that they gave him wasn't even half strength. He wasn't eating or drinking and I started getting concerned.  Thank goodness for my lovely sister Julie who is a nurse.  She gave me all the proper info on what safe dosages were, I called Joe's Dr., he agreed and we went forward with better pain management.  That's when things started turning around and the healing process began.  Yesterday was just 3 weeks out from the surgery and Joe is feeling like a whole new person.  He still gets a bit tired and sore when he talks too much and he still has to concentrate a little bit when he's drinking so as not to allow the liquids to come out his nose!!

The best part of this whole procedure has been the sleep.  Oh!  The Sleep!!  Neither of us realised (again, as it al happened so gradually) how little sleep we were actually getting through the night.  It has been absolute heaven to go to bed every night and wake up feeling truly rested.  As the sleep has improved, everything has improved.  We are in good moods all the time, we want to go out and do things, we are happy and life is beautiful.  I know that anyone reading this who is a parent will understand what I am talking about when I say that 6 solid months of interrupted and crappy sleep can make life seem like a very dark place.

Anyway, if you add together the general misery leading up to the surgery, the surgery, the recovery and some other largely life-changing decisions that have gone on in the last week and a half (and no, I'm not preggers) than I would say that I have some darn good excuses for neglecting you for the last month or so.

I promise I'll be better from here on out - and really, with this much sleep in my life, I am feeling like there is not much that I can't do right now.

More news to follow in the coming weeks - we are welcoming summer, our first overseas visitors and some big changes here so there should be plenty of writing material!

It's Fridayyyyy... Fridayyyy....

Well, Joe and I leave for Perth tonight and I can't wait.  I've been really struggling with anxiety this week - not sleeping well and generally feeling quite on-edge....  Luckily, I had plans to meet up with Cristin for a Mani/Pedi last night so that helped to get me in a holiday mood.  I also made the executive decision that I needed a massage so after my nails, I ran next door and got a 90 minute Thai massage.  So worth it (even though I'm a bit sore today) and exactly what I needed to finally let go of all my stress and tension and mentally prepare for our holiday.

Of course, because I spent hours after work getting pampered, I didn't get home till late.  That meant that we ate dinner late, I finished the laundry very late, started packing extremely late and went to bed ridiculously late.  So, I'm pretty tired today; but still feeling really mellow - maybe I'll try to sleep on the plane...

Pierogi Party - Part 2 - Everything Else

After the filling is chilled, it's time to make the dough and assemble the pierogis.  I strongly advise recruiting as many people as possible to help with the process.... turn it into a family tradition, invite people over and call it a party.... whatever you decide to go with, just know that this is not a one person job.

I would like to thank the 9 other people who tramped over to my house to offer support (the men) and help me (the women)!!  It was a day long process with pauses for a pizza lunch and a reward dinner of kielbasa and pierogis.  Much beer and wine was consumed of course as you can't have a party in Australia without that! We all walked away from the day richer by several dozen pierogis each, deeper friendships with each other and lurking hangovers... 

I'd also like to thank Cristin for coming over and being my own personal photog for the day so that you could all see the step by step process.  Didn't she do a lovely job?  Also thanks to Ellen for a picture of hers that I used and to Jon for a few photos of his that I used here as well - one of which perfectly captures the joy you should have while making these little beauties...  Enjoy!  

Mimi's Pierogi Dough
-Adapted from pretty much every pasta dough recipe out there

1 cup flour
1 egg
1 T canola oil
1 T cold water
Pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until a flaky ball of dough forms - I use my hands because I'm not fancy it's easier to help the ingredients come together.  It doesn't matter if the dough seems quite messy and uncombined.  It will come together while it is resting.  If the dough is very very dry and you cannot get all the little floury bits to come together than you can add a 2nd tablespoon of cold water.

Cover the dough and let it rest for at least a half hour so the gluten can relax.  Cut the dough ball into 4 pieces. 

Roll out each piece by pushing it through a pasta machine on the highest (thickest) setting.  Fold it in half and run through the machine again several times, folding each time.  This is called "laminating" the dough.  As you proceed though this process you will notice the dough goes from feeling sticky to feeling very smooth and glossy.  Once the dough has become smooth and glossy and you have it in a nice square shape than you can begin running it through progressively smaller settings on your pasta machine.  Do not fold the dough once you start this process.  I use an Atlas pata maker, I laminate on setting 1 and then run the dough through to setting 5.

Cut circles out of the dough.  Now, you can do this with whatever utensil you would like; but here is my 2 cents.  I have made hundreds and hundreds of pierogis throughout my life and I can't recommend this little silver tool that you see in the above photo highly enough...  it's by Pampered Chef and it's called a Cut-N-Seal.  If you follow this link than you will see that it's under $10.00 - totally worth it!  If you don't have one than you can use a circular cookie cutter or something else like it.

Place a small spoonful of filling in the middle of each dough circle.

Hopefully, look this happy and excited about doing all this work cause you know it will be worth it at the end of the day!

Fold the dough over the filling while pressing the edges lightly together.  Place flat on cutting surface, ensure all air bubbles are pushed out and then press down in the centre of your Cut-N-Seal to trim the excess dough from the edges and achieve a uniformed seal.  If you don't have this beautiful tool than you can seal your pierogis with a swipe of water, edge of a fork, and quite a bit of pressure.  Again, I can't recommend this tool from Pampered Chef enough.  In this batch of about 15 dozen, there were only about 3 pierogis that opened up while boiling - with more traditional methods of sealing, your rate of pierogi death will be significantly higher.  Plus they just won't look as pretty!

Once the pierogis are sealed and ready to go, drop them in salted, lightly boiling water for about 3 minutes per batch.  You don't want to crowd them in the pot so only do about 6-8 at once.  Drain and cool the pierogis on a cooling rack placed over something to catch excess water.  Be prepared to change your water at least once and possibly twice when you are doing a large amount.  Once the water starts looking thick and cloudy it's time to start a clean pot to boil.  After the pierogis have cooled, I pack them in Ziplock Quart Freezer bags by the half dozen.  They freeze quite nicely and will keep for up to 3 months.

Pierogis are best served fried up in a pan with butter and onions; but the above method is nice with kielbasa and good for a crowd.  Throw a bunch of the pierogis and kielbasa in a baking dish, top with melted butter and carmelised onions and then into a 350 degree oven until everything looks all toasty and delicious.  When using fresh (uncooked) kielbasa (as in the bottom photo) just cut into one of the pieces so you can make sure not to serve your guests undercooked pork.

So, that's basically it.  Lots of hard work; but, I promise, worth it in the end....

Pierogi Party Part1 - The Filling

Welcome to my step by step primer on making the most delicious pierogis that you have ever tasted!

One of the places that pierogi's can go wrong is in the filling.  The number one rule is that the filling has to made in advance and left to chill in the fridge at least over night...  I procrastinated horribly and didn't start my filling until 10pm on the night before the pierogi party... Why?  I don't even remember...  

Anyway, here is the "ish" recipe for the pierogi filling.  I say "ish" because you may decide to add more or less of something - you will need to taste as you go and adjust accordingly.  I've never actually written my recipe down so this time when I made the filling I wrote down the amounts as I went.  I started with 2 cups of onions, made it all the way to the end and realised it was not enough... I had to fry off 2 more cups to make the filling taste right... So, go with your gut here (literally and figuratively) - you are looking for really thick, salty, cheesy oniony mashed potatoes....

Mimi's Pierogi Filling
 - Adapted from my mother's recipe who adapted it from my Grandmother's recipe

5 lbs potatoes
4 cups diced onion
150 grams butter
2 T salt 
(I use flaked sea salt-use less if you are using table salt)
325 gram sharp cheddar cheese cubed 
(preferably white)

Peel, dice and boil the potatoes as though you are making mashed potatoes. 

 Saute the butter and onions over medium high heat until carmelised and almost burnt.  Add 1 teaspoon of the sea salt as you are cooking down the onions.

When potatoes are soft, drain the water off of them and put them in your mixer bowl.  Use the wisk attachment so that the potatoes get to mashed consistency.  Add the cooked onion (making sure you scrape all of the butter and browned bits out of the pan) and add the cheese several cubes at a time, followed by the salt. 

Mix until the consistency is smooth and the cheese is melted.  The mixture should be fairly thick and glossy from the cheese.  Taste at this point and add more salt, onions or cheese as needed until the mixture is very flavourful.

 Chill filling for at least 4 hours – preferably overnight…
The consistency should be quite similar to cookie dough.

Revisiting my List

I was checking out some new blog followers when I came across someone who wants to move to Australia.  She posted a list on her blog of things that she wanted to do once she got here and she stated that she got the idea from another blogger (and kept some of the original items).  As I read my way down the list, I realised that the list came from me!  It was only my fourth entry in this blog and it has been so long since I wrote it that I had almost forgotten about it.  I went back and read through it and I thought it might be fun to re-visit it now that we have been living here for a year.  Anyway, thanks Jay Jay (hope you are reading this) for reminding me about this and I hope your immigration process goes smoothly!  You will love it here!

Here is the original list:

  • Visit Fiji at least once

  • Take a vacation to Thailand/Singapore/Malaysia/Philippines

  • Visit Melbourne - This was a fun trip; but I didn't really connect to Melbourne as a city.  It just made me miss Sydney.

  • Drive the Great Ocean Road - This was incredible!  I fully plan on going back again soon and doing this again.  I saw more beautiful things on a weekend during this trip than I have ever seen in my life.

  • Snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef

  • Visit Tasmania

  • Visit both New Zealand Islands - Not done yet; but we are going for 2 weeks with Joe's parents right before Christmas

  • Take a tour through wine country - Not sure why I was so vague with this one when I wrote it?  Which region?  I didn't know there were so many!  Anyway, we are going to the Margaret River Valley in a few weeks and I can cross this one off!

  • Go to Japan

  • Stay at one really upscale resort in one of the places listed above

  • Go to the Taronga Zoo - This was really cool - I went with a friend who got me on her family pass.  I can't get over how expensive the entry fee is; but it would be worth it at least once just to see it - it's a great zoo.

  • Walk through the Botanical Gardens - Happy to report that I've done this a fair number of times!  So many times, in fact, that I can't even tally them all up...

  • Go to a show at the Sydney Opera House at least once - Still haven't done this!  What is wrong with me?  I see that Opera House EVERY DAY and I still have not been inside... I am asking Joe for tickets to something for my birthday and we are getting this done. 

  • Visit every famous Sydney Beach - Again, I'm not even sure what I was thinking when I wrote this...  I'm not even sure if I know what all the famous beaches are in Sydney.  I've been to Manly, Balmoral, Bondi. Coogee, Tamarama, Clovelley and Bronte.  What am I missing?  Maybe Curl Curl and Dee Why?

  • Take a vacation to Hawaii

  • Have a picnic in all of the famous Sydney Parks - Again...  What parks are the famous ones?  Well, I eat my lunch in Cook and Phillip park all the time; but that isn't really famous.  Obviously, we have supped in many of the aspects of the Botanical Gardens.  Surprisingly enough, we have never had a picnic in Hyde Park.  I walk through it every day to and from work; but I've never eaten there.  Oh Wait!  I take it back!  We went to the Night Noodle Markets there, sat on some newspapers, ate pork buns and split a bottle of wine.  Sounds like a picnic to me!  Am I missing some famous parks?

  • Take a cruise through Sydney Harbour - Does taking the ferry back and forth every day count?  I think we will do one of those touristy sight-seeing cruises when Joe's parents come at Christmas

  • See Mrs. Macquaries Chair - Indeed, and have the pictures to prove it!  Not sure why I thought this was that important?  It was cool and all; but I'm not sure it belongs on a list with a trip to Fiji.... Just sayin...

  • Attend the open-air cinema - I'm crossing this one off even though we never got to go to the St. George cinema in the Botanical Gardens (which is the specific one that I was writing about).  We did purchase season tickets for the Starlight cinemas at the North Sydney Oval and spent many an evening under the stars watching movies...

  • Hold a koala - Now that I've seen koalas in the wild on our Great Ocean Road trip, I have less desire to hold one.  Seeing one seemed to fill whatever koala shaped hole was in my life at the time I wrote this..

  • See a kangaroo - I'm not going to cross this off since I've only seen one in the zoo - I don't think it counts till you see one in the wild...

  • I think I've done pretty good so far with crossing things off this list - next year is definitely the year for Fiji!  Now that we've been here for a while, I think I need to sit down and draw up a new list.  Perhaps this time I'll keep it out in the open instead of burying it in a blog post and not looking at it for a year!

    Spring equals Fall?

    Today is Daffodil Day here in Australia.  This is a huge fundraiser by the Cancer Council (much like the American Cancer Society for those back home) that is held every year to raise funds for research etc…  The event, in a nutshell, is people all over the city selling merchandise to raise the funds.  Most of the volunteers are school children in their uniforms and they are quite adorable and earnest about selling as much as they can.  I always buy from the boys that stand on Wharf 4 of Circular Quay as I am getting off the ferry.  My reasoning is simple:  people will approach you over and over during your morning commute asking you to support the Cancer Council; but if they can see that you have already bought something than they leave you alone.  So, I try to buy something the instant I step into the city.  In hindsight, I wish I had waited and bought from the two 10 year old boys at the exit of the St. James Station.  They were having a very serious discussion with each other about where exactly to stand to maximise their sales thereby raising more money.  What cuties!  This year I bought a sunny little bunch of actual Daffodils.  It’s a very small bunch for $5.00; but for such a good cause that I would have paid double that.  They are quite fragrant and, as I sit here at my desk, basking in Spring flowers and dreaming about the 67 degree day outside the windows right now, it’s hard to reconcile that it’s actually almost September.  Anywho – here are some facts about Daffodil Day:

    • This year Daffodil Day celebrates its 25th anniversary in Australia
    • The largest national fundraising event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, Daffodil Day raises essential finds for cancer research, prevention and support services.
    • The daffodil is the international symbol of hope for all touched by cancer
    • This year Daffodil Day aims to raise over $9.5 million to fund the cancer control initiatives, patient support and research services of Cancer Council's eight state and territory member organisations
    • More than 10,000 volunteers are expected to staff over 1,200 Daffodil Day sites across Australia

    Last night a friend with a car was nice enough to drive me out to a little Polish deli in Roseville.  As you know (if you read my last post), I am having a pierogi party tomorrow and I was hoping to get some authentic and delicious kielbasa to cook up with the pierogis when we are done working for a much deserved reward dinner.  Well! It was incredible!  If you live in Sydney you should go there and buy as much deliciousness as you can carry home.  I cannot recommend it highly enough!  This place is called European Taste Smallgoods and Delicatessen – they don’t have a website; but if you Google them you will find lots of articles about them.  They are at 19 Hill St. in Roseville….  It’s a very tiny place – just enough space for a couple of deli cases and some dry goods on the other side.  Pretty much everything was in Polish which made me feel proud and sad and sorry all at once.  Proud of being Polish, sad for Dad being gone and sorry that we never learned Polish growing up.  I checked out the deli cases while the customer before me was being helped and found what I was looking for!! 

    The woman behind the counter (who I also think was one half of the couple that own it) made me think of Grandma Ziebro – in those pictures before her hair went all grey.  Anyway, she helped me find the kielbasa I wanted – there was only smoked in the case so I asked her for fresh.  She gave me a suspicious look and said “Only in freezer, only in package of six – you still want?”  Indeed I did.  She handed it to me a little reluctantly and I asked her if it was the same flavor as the smoked garlic one I was getting.  She said no.  I asked what the difference was and she said “This one raw – you must cook!”  Poor woman, I kept trying to tell her that I knew that it was raw meat and that I needed to cook it ; but I think she was nervous to sell it to me cause she thought I would take it home, eat it raw and get sick.  She packaged them up though and as she was ringing them up she asked me why I was buying so much.  I told her about the party and that I was teaching people how to make pierogis.  She immediately paused and took the handle of the shopping bag and pulled it to her side of the counter.  I was still waiting for the total when this conversation happened:

    Her – “You are going to teach people how to make pierogis?”
    Me – “Yes….”
    Her – “How do you know how to make them?”
    Me – “My Dad was Polish and I had a big family and we used to make them all the time.  I decided one year that I wanted to really perfect the family recipe so I worked on it for a long time and now I have a really great recipe and an easy way of making them”
    Her – “What kind you make?”
    Me – “Mushroom and sauerkraut and potato.”
    Her (nodding) – “Ok…. What do you put in your dough?”
    Me – “Flour, eggs, water, oil and salt”
    Her – “Yes, many people do not put the oil”
    Me – “Oh, you definitely need the oil or the dough is not good”
    Her – “Ok!  Very Good!”

    Then she got all smiley, gave me the total and wished me well for the party.  Whew!  I was quite nervous that I was going to fail the test and not be allowed to buy my kielbasa.  She was so cute that I want to take her back in some of my pierogis when they are done, ask her to adopt me as her granddaughter and teach me Polish.  They are right by a train station so I see many trips for kielbasa in my future.  I am just sorry for the people who will be riding that train home with me, smelling that garlicky goodness and not getting to have any.  I hadn’t gotten to taste any of the stuff I bought so it was with great trepidation (who am I kidding – I ripped that package open and cut a piece off before I even said hello to my husband) that I tried a piece when I got home.  It is some of the best kielbasa I have ever tasted.  Like Easter Kielbasa on delicious steroids.  Amazing… 

    This morning as I was leaving for work, I quickly reached in the fridge to grab an orange and a yogurt to throw in my bag for breakfast.  I shut the fridge door and a split second later that garlic and spice smell reached out and slapped me across the face a couple of times.  In that instant I was a little girl – at the top of the basement stairs – back when there was orange striped carpet (I think?) – smelling that same smell sneaking its way out of that old green fridge with the silver handle that was in the basement – Easter was just a few days away – Mom was making poppy seed roll just up those 3 stairs in the kitchen – I was getting called to knead some Babka – Daffodils were blooming in the woods and Lily’s of the Valley were sending their scent in through the open kitchen window.  I wanted to live in that memory for the rest of my life and, when I blinked and it faded, I just wanted to sit on the kitchen floor and weep for every Easter that I will ever have in my life that isn’t like that one.

    This is yet another thing that confuses my seasons/holidays.  Daffodils, kielbasa smells and slowly warming weather spells Easter to me….  Instead, I should start thinking about our Labour Day trip, whether or not we will have a Halloween party and how big of a turkey I will need for Thanksgiving this year. 

    Quite strange…  

    Bad Mood Day

    I had to get up an hour earlier than usual this morning and it really threw me off - I kept asking Joe on the commute in to the city why he was so cranky.  Suddenly I realised that I was the cranky one...  Oops...

    I've been trying to take lots of deep breaths this morning - I had a coffee etc...  Just trying to tame this wave of irritation that keeps spiking up.  Well, it's not really working so well.

    Any tips?  I could really use them right now....

    This was all I could come up with...

    This is about my eighteenth attempt at writing a blog post in so many days. One of the posts during last week’s spate of beautiful weather in the 70’s was titled “Spring has Sprung!”  I deleted that one because really, how many times can you write “It’s so warm!!  I love sunshine!” before you realise it’s a crap post? (It’s about 6 times by the way – at least that’s how many I wrote before I deleted the entry).  

    Anyway,  I stole an idea from another blogger for this entry and it’s so easy that I know I will actually write it.  Basically, I am just going to list some non-sequiturs from my recent life in bullet points below and then you will all be filled in on how exciting my life is.  No really… 

    Ok, here goes:

    • In Australia, you are supposed to drive (AND WALK) on the left.  This bullet point is for the crazy woman in Cook and Phillips park this morning who walked straight towards us on the right (direction not degree of correctness) of the side walk and then made us stop completely and shuffle around so that she wouldn't have to walk on the correct side of the side walk.  I hope that you are reading this!

    • I had cinnamon toast for brekkie this morning and it was magical.  Not cinnamon bread that was toasted - oh no!  This was white bread toasted with cinnamon sugar on top.  Joe was sick this week and one night for dinner he made himself cinnamon toast - I wasn't even paying attention till he sat down with it and the smell hit me.  It was one of those visceral scents that transport you to a time in your childhood.  I think the last time I had cinnamon toast like that was when I was living at home and my Mom made it for me.  I can't believe I forgot about it - it's so comforting and delicious especially with a hot cup of tea.

    • Joe and I are going on a date night tonight - we have both been sick with horrible flu/cold/coughs and since we are now all recovered we will be celebrating with dinner and a movie in the city.

    • It really irritates me when I get a work email that someone has signed only with their initial.  I know they don't mean anything by it; but to me it says, "I'm so busy and important that I can't be stuffed to write my full name for you..."

    • I am hosting a pierogi party at our place sometime in the next month where lots of people will come over, I will teach them how to make yummy pierogis, we will make them all day and then we will all have dozens to keep in the freezer like little bags of gold!  This party necessitated me buying a pasta maker and I treated myself to a gorgeous black Atlas beauty.

    • Best for Last....  My husband has the greatest sense of humour...  We have a slow leak in the S pipe under our sink.  I have a little bowl under it catching the drips; but it seems to be getting worse.  I asked Joe to email our real estate agent about it and, let me tell you, if I had wrote the email it would have been matter of fact, boring and no frills.  This is the email that Joe sent:

    "Hi __________,

    I'm sad to report that the recent spat of cold weather has given our kitchen sink S-pipe a bit of the sniffles. It has a pretty persistent drip that no amount of tissues and love seems to cure. It's making a bit of a mess of the cupboard under the sink. Would you mind sending the plumbing doctor over for a house call?"

    Isn't he just the cutest?

    Bacon Bacon Bacon!!!

    This is a tale of our epic weekend….  Brought to you on a Tuesday; but who’s counting?  That's a joke - I know who's counting...

    It all started with this incredible recipe I found for chicken enchiladas….  I decided that I was going to make them.  The recipe calls for a can of green chiles which I just so happen to have in my pantry (thanks to my fabulous M-I-L).  I decided that I should always have green chiles in the pantry for a “just in case” scenario and so I began a hunt to find some more.  This is like hunting for a needle in a haystack here in Sydney…. I heard tell of a couple of places in Newtown that might have them so I laid plans for an excursion for Saturday.   

    If you don’t live here, than you might not realise that it’s been raining incessantly for the last 3 weeks.  Not just drizzle; but full-on downpours for days on end.  Our ferry stairs were turned into a beautiful waterfall that quickly turned ugly as soon as you tried to climb it.  Everything has just been cold, wet and grey.  So…  I checked the forecast for the shopping trip and was pleased to see that we were supposed to have relatively clear skies.  It was raining a bit on Saturday morning; but it cleared up by about 11 so off we went.  Our first stop was Fiji Market in Newtown.  There was a small Mexican selection here (smaller than in the photos if you follow the link); but better than anywhere else I have seen so I’m not complaining.  I got a bag of Masa, canned jalepenos, tomatillo salsa, canned black beans and canned adobo chiles.  I wished they had green chiles; but they didn’t.  They also didn’t have corn husks for making tamales with; but I figure I can do those myself this summer during fresh corn season.  I pretty much danced out of that store on a complete high.  

    We were walking up King street (popping in and out of all the cool little “junktique” stores that are there) when I saw a restaurant called “New in Town” which is cute since it’s in Newtown (Please follow this link and look at the pictures of the food!!).  It’s a Polish restaurant and I was so excited to read their menu!  We ended up having lunch there because we were hungry because I wanted to and gave Joe puppy dog eyes.  We got the potato pierogis and the grilled Polish sausage and then split each entree so that we could each taste both.  The sausage was great – nothing like our Easter kielbasa from “Little Warsaw” in Cleveland – but perfectly respectable with dollops of mustard and horseradish (which was incredible and could be eaten by the spoonful) on the side.  The pierogis were honestly pretty disappointing…  I can’t say for certain; but it seemed that the filling was encased in wonton skins? Those work in a pinch for raviolis; but the effect when used for pierogis was very very odd.  The filling was quite bland and a little mealy.  Not horrible; but certainly not pillows of deliciousness like my own.  I’d love to go back and try some of the items listed on their dinner menu and see what they were like - if you followed the link and saw the pictures I'm sure you would agree.  I’m also kicking myself for not asking them where I could get kielbasa in Sydney – I’ll try to remember the next time we go there.  Finding this restaurant was another little kick in the pants for me to buy a pasta maker and make some pierogis of my own.  I swear I am buying one today and then it’s going to be pierogi party time at my place!  

    On to the Newtown Foodworks still in search of green chiles…  In fact, they did not have them (or if they did, I couldn’t find them).  I did, however, find some mustard that I had been looking for and I found some Jone’s Root Beer!!  I got two bottles (which didn’t last long) and, in hindsight, I should have gotten several more….  Oh well, yet another reason to spend weekends wandering up and down King St.  

    Sunday we went into town (aka Military Rd) to pick up a prescription and have dinner.  We had time to kill so we wandered over to our little discount store to pick up some odds and ends – yaknow… superglue, bobby pins and striped socks (don’t judge my shopping list!)  We wandered by Neutral Bay Fresh which is a lovely little produce shop and I decided to pick up some fruit and veg for the week while we were there.  I’ve never actually walked carefully through that little shop – every time I have ever gone in it has been a rush job for something in particular.  Well, this time I was in no rush and I gave my full attention to the whole place.  Not only did I find some incredible raviolis (roasted lamb, mushroom and rosemary), I also found Hellmanns Mayonaise and I found (excuse me while I scream a little) AMERICAN BACON!!!!  Real, honest to goodness bacon!  Joe and I quickly scrapped our dinner plans and rushed home to make BLT’s for dinner.  I cannot even tell you how darn good that bacon smelled while I was cooking it – and that BLT was just about the best thing I had tasted in a long time.  I am not ashamed to tell you that I saved every bit of bacon grease that was in that pan.  It’s sitting pretty in a tiny container in my fridge waiting to be used in my risotto tonight and some scrambled eggs this weekend!  

    Granted, none of these incredible finds were cheap – the bacon alone was $12.00 for eight slices!  The mayo was $7.00 for a very very small jar.  But, for something that is as much of a treat as these little touches of America are, I would gladly pay double those prices.  It’s nice to know that I can get these things every once in a while – knowing that I have access to them is sometimes just as good as actually having them.  
    I have to say, drinking my root beer while I cooked that bacon was almost a religious moment for me…

    Excuse Me?

    This lovely gem was taken directly from "Publication 54" - Otherwise known as Tax Guide for U. S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad.

    "If you work one year, but are not paid for that work until the next year, the amount you can exclude in the year you are paid is the amount you could have excluded in the year you did the work if you had been paid in that year."

    I welcome your comments on this insanity....  Seriously...

    Would Anyone Else Like Some Money From Me? Anyone?

    I got a lovely letter from the IRS last night - Happy Fourth of July to Me!!

    Just Kidding!  The letter says that we owe them $2,300.00 from our 2009 return that was done incorrectly. In a way, I had been expecting the letter; but I hadn't been expecting it quite so soon and I certainly wasn't expecting it to be so much.  Last year when I filed our taxes, I wasn't thinking about the liquidation of my parent's assets after my Mom died...  So, when I got some additional tax forms about a month after I filed, I realised that they were really supposed to be included in the original filing.  We were deep in the middle of our move to Australia though so I was distracted enough to just throw them in a folder and deal with it later.  

    At Christmas, I was talking to friends about it and I started getting really freaked out that I was going to get in huge trouble if I didn't fix it right then and there.  So, I slowly started the process of getting the right year of Turbo Tax re-installed on my computer, finding my original tax return and going through the amendment process.  When I got to the end of the amendment, It said that we owed a thousand dollars.  I was so mad that I had to pay a penalty for having dead parents that I actually declared our charitable donations for the year.  I've never declared them in the past because it feels slightly wrong getting a tax break for doing what you should be doing in the first place.  I know, that's stupid and idealistic.   Anywho, entering all that stuff brought our total owed down to $675.00.  That was a number that I could live with and I had a brilliant idea: I would save the amended return, file my 2010 taxes and then use part of my 2010 return to pay what I owed in 2009.  Personally, I thought that was bloody brilliant.

    I still haven't filed my 2010 taxes though because I was waiting for the Aussie tax year to end (June 30th) so I could file them together.  Don't worry, I filed the extension paperwork for the IRS so I don't think I will get in trouble there.  I was going to start the US taxes last week and when I went though all my paperwork, I realised that we had never gotten Joe's W-2 from his employer in the States.  We've requested a re-print; but we still haven't gotten it.

    But - back to the outrageous amount that the IRS feels they deserve from me - beyond the thousand dollars that I already knew about, they are also saying that I claimed excess SS tax or some such rubbish...  I did the taxes through Turbo Tax and I even had H&R Block check them when I was done so how could that have happened?  Who knows...

    Anyway, I got all ready to call them last night - I ate some a lot of chocolate, I had some a lot of Jack Daniels, waited till after 9pm (7am in the States) and logged on to Skype.  I was ready - well, maybe not ready, but at least resigned.  The line rang and rang and then told me they were closed!  What?  I double checked the times and the time zones only to realise that it was the Fourth of July.

    So, I have to call tonight and figure this all out....

    Going "Home"?

    Now that we've been back in Sydney for a couple of weeks, it almost feels like our holiday to the States never even happened.  The build-up to the trip was intense - creating packing lists, buying souvenirs and generally worrying too much about what it would be like being back.  I've heard a lot of ex-pats talk about their first trip back and there seems to be an almost unanimous agreement that it is a very big deal.  There are a lot of emotional issues inside of that first visit - do you still fit in, are you homesick for your original home, are you homesick for your ex-pat home etc....

    I can't lie - I was so nervous...  I was excited to see my family again; but I was mostly afraid of going back, realising that I missed it too much and then coming back to Australia completely miserable and homesick.  I have been lucky up to this point on the homesickness front - not that it hasn't happened; but that it seems to happen infrequently and be very low-grade when it does.

    Anyway, the visit was great... There was lots that felt weird and lots that we seemed to just fall right back in to.  Being back in the States did make me realise how much I had been missing; but hadn't admitted to myself.  I really miss driving...  I love that we use public transport here; but I miss the ease of getting places easily, quickly and on my own timetable.  I also miss the ease of driving - I've driven here; but it has not been a fun experience...  Being on the wrong side of the car throws off what little spatial understanding I have and both of my driving experiences here have left me shaken and teary as I narrowly avoid being side swiped the whole time. So, while we were back on our holiday, I was finding any excuse possible to drive - it just was so effortless and enjoyable.

    I also missed the prices and the ease of shopping - it's easier to drive to stores, they are bigger, it's cheaper and the customer service is unparalleled.  So yeah, I miss those things a lot...

    I was really looking forward to eating certain types of food that I missed and that part was very disappointing to me.  Nothing tasted quite like I remembered and nothing tasted as good as the food here in Sydney.  Except burgers....  They were amazing and promptly reminded me why I don't order burgers here in Australia - they just can't quite seem to get them right.

    Anyway, the last two nights before we left to come back to Australia, I got really really homesick.  Crying myself to sleep homesick - which is exactly what happened to me when we originally moved here.  It passed, and by the time we left for the airport on our last day, I was only looking forward to coming back here to Sydney.  Isn't that interesting?  Crying for one home and yet looking forward to returning to your other home...

    I guess if I learned anything from this trip, it's that you can have two homes and you can love them both so much that you can miss each one when you are gone from it.  I learned that Sydney has become my home over this past year and that, regardless of my "ishews", I don't want to leave it.

    Coming out of customs and into the Sydney airport proper are these banners.  One says, "Welcome to Sydney" and that's the one I was excited to see when we moved here.  Look more closely though, and you will see that they next one says "Gday, Welcome Home".  That's the one that I was most excited to see on this trip because I felt like it had finally come true for me.

    If you look more closely, you will see a Christmas tree as well, which is a dead give-away to the fact that this is actually not my picture.  I stole it from the interwebs because I never have enough hands free to actually snap a picture at any time during a trip - let along a 26 hour, 4 layover trip.

    The upshot of all this is:  I love my family, I love the US and I miss all of them all the time. I also love Sydney, I love my husband and I love our life here - so parting from one to go back to the other isn't as hard as I thought it would be.

    Great Ocean Road - or - Warning! Longest Post Ever!

    Now that I’ve spouted off about nothing much of value over the last couple of posts, I suppose I should treat you all with some beautiful pictures from the Great Ocean Road to thank you for your patience!

    We left Melbourne in the afternoon and I had hoped to arrive at our lodging in Apollo Bay before nightfall; but, considering the amount of times I had Joe pull over so I could take pictures of the incredible coastline stretching away into the distance, I am shocked that we got there before midnight.  I am always so nervous about booking accommodations here in Australia – there doesn’t seem to be the same “truth in advertising” as there is in the States.  Also, instead of chain hotel/motels where you can expect a predictable experience, mostly you find independently run places where you’re not quite sure what to expect. 

    Our accommodations in Apollo Bay were really quite beautiful and I recommend them without any reservation – we stayed at “Captains at the Bay” and our room had, not only a lovely dual-headed shower, but a gigantic soaking tub (and let me tell you, there was nothing better than a glass of wine and a good book while soaking in said tub).  After we got settled, we headed down to the main drag in town for some dinner – very expensive food (a la most tourist traps) and not very good quality; but we were tired and hungry and thankful for what we got.

    The next day we continued on the drive with the intent of doing some sightseeing and getting more fabulous pictures.  One of my goals was to visit the Otway light station as I had seen some beautiful pictures of it online when I was researching our trip and I was not about to miss any of the sights on this drive…  It was slow going again, as I had Joe pulling off every few turn-offs for incredible photo opportunities.  We turned down the long long drive that led to the light station and started noticing cars that had been hastily pulled over on the side of the narrow road with their occupants standing by them pointing cameras up into the trees.  It was looking like something very interesting was going on... 
    This time it was Joe who wanted to stop as he wisely said “there is obviously something cool going on and I would like to see it”.  I couldn't argue with that point so over we pulled and were treated to trees full of koalas.  I've seen them at Taronga Zoo; but that was nothing compared to seeing them in the wild - just hanging out in the trees.  Before we left for the trip, I got a recommendation from a co-worker about a place on the GOR where you could go to see koalas.  We had bypassed it the night before on our drive in as it was getting late; and so I had intentions of stopping to see them on our way back to Melbourne on Tuesday - it was really cool that we no longer needed to cause we were getting our own little koala experience right here without an extra trip for it!  Most of them, predictably, were sleeping so they just looked like large bumps on the branches.  There was one very active one that was eating (see above) and I attempted to take a video of it with my camera.  I was holding the camera over my head though so it came out shaky and not very good quality...  Oh well.  They were completely adorable and it was hard to rip ourselves away.  I could have spent the whole afternoon just sitting on the car and watching them.   

    The light station was also worth it – it was so beautiful that it almost hurt.  Up against that crazy deep blue sky, the white of the lighthouse was blinding; but still set off by the red railing at the top.  I could have sat and taken pictures of it all day.  There was a little snack hut attached to a visitor's centre; and, outside of it, shielded from the wind by a lean-to made of tarps and sticks, was a grizzled old man singing old sea shanties.  Yep.  As if the experience was not cool enough by itself, the soundtrack of sea songs being sung in the background took this to a whole new level.  Joe and I walked down to the lighthouse itself and climbed up to the top.  I don’t feel like I can even describe the experience well enough to do it justice.  The view was crazy – water forever, cliffs below and waves smashing into foam far far below us.  The wind was so strong that it felt like you actually needed to hold on the railing for fear of being blown away.  We stayed up there far longer than was prudent and came down chilled and hungry.  Luckily, the car had been parked in the sun so we settled into the warmth with a snack and away we went again….

    We knew that we wanted to see the 12 Apostles and considering that we were about half-way there, we decided to press on and see them that same day (Really, in this sentence, the 4 times I say "we" - I mean "I").  

    We had gone to the store before embarking on our journey that morning and had gotten the provisions for a picnic lunch so we had supplies to last us through the rest of the afternoon.  We drove and drove, again through a landscape that was incredible in its beauty and reached the vicinity of the 12 Apostles hungry and worried about the increasing lateness of the hour.  We couldn’t find a place with picnic tables etc… for us to have our late lunch so we pressed on – finally stopping at a look-out for something called The Gorge…   We walked out to it, hoping to find picnic tables; but instead found some beautiful angry ocean, rain and a squall blowing in.  We ran back to the car, popped open the food and had an excellent picnic dinner in the car while the storm passed quickly overhead.  

    After that we drove around a bit, trying in vain to see the 12 Apostles – little did I know that we needed to go to the visitor centre, park and then take a stroll out to the lookout point.  We finally figured it out after much turning around and frustration – mostly on the part of Joe who was the poor driver for the entire trip.  We got there, got settled, got some coffees and started down the path to the lookout.  We purposefully tried not to look at the rock formations till we got to the very end of the lookout point and then turned around together to take them in.  I can’t decide which was better – seeing them for myself or watching Joe see them.  I had been talking about them for days and he really didn't understand what the draw was.  When I started researching the trip, I saw picture after picture of them and so knew what we were in for.  He hadn't actually seen them yet even in picture form so getting to see his face while he took in the view was pretty amazing. 

    While we were on the furthest lookout point, I happened to glance down and see that there was an echidna right on the other side of the fence from me.  Of course at the time, I thought it was a porcupine or hedgehog – I had to Google it later that night to find out what I had actually taken a picture of!  We slowly moved along the paths leading from lookout area to lookout area, taking pictures of these rock beauties from every angle imaginable.  We realised as we neared the end of the viewing area that if we waited for 15 minutes or so we would get to see the sun set on them.  There wasn’t even a decision to be made – we found a good viewing spot and settled in with about a thousand other people. 

    Not to drag this otherwise upbeat post down - But I have to say, holidays are hard for me…  They became really difficult after my dad died, got even harder after my mom died and, now that we are on the other side of the world from our families, they start to feel like looming black clouds when they begin approaching.  I especially struggle with holidays that my parents really loved – Easter, Memorial Day and Christmas.  I was struggling a little on this trip because I was missing Easter back in the States - it's such a huge holiday in my family that it is hard to even explain without doing it an injustice.  So here we were - we happened to be standing on the edge of this huge country, in another hemisphere, all by ourselves watching the sun set on the most beautiful thing I had ever seen – On Easter Sunday….  It was perfect, it was sad, it was inspiring and incredible.  I only wish that I were able to share these experiences with my Mom and Dad.  My Dad especially would have loved that sight...  I know it was beautiful enough to make me cry and I think it would have done the same for him.

    We shook off the deep emotion that that sunset had laid on us (much as recounting the story has laid some deep emotion on this post) and headed back to the car.

    I was nervous about the long drive back to Apollo Bay in the dark; but Joe handled the night driving with ease.  There were hardly any other cars on the road so the journey was quick and painless.  Back to our room to change and then out again for dinner.  Again, lots of money for so-so food; but who the heck cares when you spent your day looking at the things we saw.  We went back to our room for coffee, tea, Jack Daniels and some cookies to round out the day on an upswing.  Joe turned on the TV and we stumbled across a program on ANZAC Day.  It was sad and sobering so it maybe wasn't the best end for an emotional day; but it was incredible interesting and I'm glad we saw it.

    ANZAC day was the next day and we decided to spend the whole of it in Apollo Bay.  We read, sat on the beach for hours, ate fish and chips, napped and generally had the first “non-running around day” of the whole vacation.  It was perfect and I’m glad we decided to rest up a bit.  Tuesday morning it was up and out the door so that we could get back to Melbourne in time to return the car and head to the airport for our flight home.

    It was a great holiday and my feeling is that, if you are living in Australia, you should go do this drive. Absolutely.