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Archive for July, 2008

Food is for life, and life I will show you
– Spearhead, Red Beans and Rice, 1994

If you visit the Berra, don’t go looking for its centre. As many disappointed tourists will tell you, it doesn’t have one. Oh, there’s the Civic CBD, which is essentially a shopping centre dominating a paved mall, but it’s not a centre in the sense of any other state capital. No gold-rush era historic buildings, no Chinatown or Little Italy. The nation’s cultural institutions are scattered around Lake Curly-Gherkin at discrete non-walking distances from one another.

But don’t mistake ‘no centre’ for ‘no heart’. If you’re looking for the Berra’s heart, go to its villages. Every locality has its own little shopping strip, with its own distinct personality. I’m looking forward to getting to know some of them better in coming months.

Just as the Berra is a city of villages, so it is also a city of little markets. And having had a Melbum childhood, I love a good market.

It’s tantalising, so many markets, after the Tasnarnia experience. Salamanca Market has a curious stranglehold on Slobart. It’s unashamedly aimed at the tourist, and aside from a fresh veg aisle operated by the local Hmong market gardeners, and a few select produce stalls, there’s really very little for the local person at Salamanca. And yet there are no other viable points where locals can buy direct from producers.

Here in the Berra, there are several fresh food markets where the smart locals say they shop. So on Saturday I sacrificed my hard-earned Saturday sleep-in for an exploratory trip to the weekly Capital Region Farmers Market (Exhibition Park, 8-11am).

My first thought on approaching the half-open sheds was, What an ugly setup! And certainly there was nothing fancy about the venue, or indeed most of the stalls. What there was, was a lot of good, fresh veges. Leeks and beetroot piled on trestles; crates of cauliflower and broccoli; bunches of leafy greens. It’s hard not to over-buy when you’re only feeding one, so I stuck to what looked seasonal and local: cabbage, pumpkin, carrots, brussels sprouts, a couple of weird potato varieties. Also a selection of fancy mushrooms for a risotto, and some fresh fish.

Sadly, this frugality merely left me with cash for all the things I didn’t need, but couldn’t resist. Hand-roasted olives, home-made yoghurt with figs, black sticky rice with coconut cream and palm sugar (served hot), Dutch syrup waffles cooked to order, hot spiced apple cider in the Dutch style (cloudy and almost sour, delicious). And that’s just the stuff I couldn’t leave without. I had to tear myself away from the Greek sweets man, and forced myself to avoid the cheese vendor altogether.

Now understand that this stuff is not trancendental (except maybe the fig yoghurt. Mmmmmm). It’s just real food. Take the carrots. Offered in bunches tied by the leafy crowns and still daubed in soil, they were sold to me by the farmer who, when asked, told me he pulled them up “day before yes’diy”. I scrubbed them up this evening; they were misshapen and delicately coloured in the manner of real carrots, not those orange cylinders you find in the supermarket. I added one to the pumpkin soup I was making (for colour and flavour), and eating a chunk of it I realised it tasted of something. Carrot. I felt like I was eating an actual vegetable, not gnawing on a hunk of fibre.

It made me think of the way we pile vegetables willy-nilly into the modern Australian stir-fry, which is really built around the flavours of the meat and sauce. Is it because the mass-refrigerated veges that have been shipped 1000km and stored for months have so little flavour? A long time ago in an Armidale share-house, we briefly had a housemate fresh from mainland China. When it was his turn to make dinner, he’d serve several stir-fried dishes, each with three or fewer principal ingredients: say, pork with carrot and onion, or beef with beans and garlic. Which of course makes sense, if the vegetables actually taste of something. This housemate couldn’t come at more main ingredients in a dish; you wouldn’t taste them, he insisted.

So for dinner tonight I had boiled rice, with a type of preserved pork sausage steamed and served with shredded fresh carrot and a dash of light soy. An absurdly humble dinner by modern Australian standards – in which I could taste and enjoy every single ingredient. The carrot was a highlight.

More market reports to come.

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I feel bad, and I’ve felt worse
– Mudhoney, 1988

Too sick to post for the last little while. Took a trip back to Tasnarnia to finish that dental work (good), and went on a ‘mini-break’ with Bald Man and the Ludo Clan to Bay of Fires (great) and caught the flu (crap), in that order. Then I took the 2 flights back to the Berra (hideous) and finally took to my bed for several deaf, snotty, achey days. It’s easily the sickest I have been for some years, and I still have a dry, furball-hack to prove it nearly a fortnight later.

Bay of Fires was just beautiful, even in winter. Of course Caro and I treated it like a high school photography trip, sizing up every rock with our point-and-shoot cameras.

Never mind, we enjoyed ourselves.

And we saw more than the blokes, who found a couple of jigsaws and promptly morphed into the Rainman twins – they spent the weekend hunched over the dining table comparing pieces of sky and floorboard.

I brought the Great White Schroeder back with me, as I now have an abode with pet permissions. Needless to say she was even less impressed by the plane trips than I was, and told me all about it as I carried her box through the crowded terminal, and in the taxi home. She’s learned some bad habits while being out of my care, including sleeping on the bed. Hmmm. Time for some discipline, ma’am.

Not much else to report from the Berra as it’s been head down, bum up following my return to the salt mine. There’s been snow on the highlands, causing a chill wind to blow across the National Capital of Oz. The days have been alternately grey and overcast, and crisp and sunny.

One of the little joys of living in the Berra has been the flocks of resident parrots. I smile every time I see a pair of crimson rosellas paused in a tree, or come upon a group of grazing galahs on a nature strip. This afternoon Suzie Q from the office dragged me out for a walk on the pretext of some errands (we’ve both had this flu and probably need more fresh air) and took me to the nearest shops by way of a back path. We came upon a gang of sulphur-crested cockies and a few stray corellas ripping the crap out of a couple of eucalypts and generally enjoying themselves. We enjoyed their company as we passed, too.

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I went for a walk on a winter’s day…

Stopped into a church I passed along the way.

– The Mamas and The Papas, 1965

Called to Sin City earlier in the week for work guff; this time around we were summoned in on the Sunday so as to get straight into it first thing Monday. Figured that if I had to sacrifice some of my Sunday, why not go the whole hog? So I made plans to fly in a few hours earlier to engage in some gallery viewing.

Let’s not get into the horrors of plane travel on the first weekend of the school holidays; suffice to say the Berra Gymnastics team, all 90 or so of them, take up a lot of the real estate in an airport terminal. Also, while I support the Qantarse engineers in their bid for something approaching a liveable wage, do I care for the flight delays? Not so much.

Anyway, there I was on a sunny winter’s day in Sin City, out of St James Station and hiking across Hyde Park. The usually bucolic lawns were crowded with marquees. An unusual number of young tourists loitered about, taking pictures of each other. What could it be?

World Youth Day, of course! Sadly, the countdown clock above St Marys indicated I was 9 days too early for the festivities. But not for the merchandise tent. I was ecstatic when I saw it was open for business, hoping against hope that there would be a WYD stubbie holder to add to my collection. I collect stubbie holders of unusual festivals and events. Examples from the exclusive but growing lineup include about 6 Tamworth Country Music Festival ones – each with different years – the Tom Roberts Festival, the Great Nundle Dog Race, and the Hotrod Nationals in Hobart. A WYD stubbie holder would have been a peerless inclusion.

Alas, it was proved that hope is not enough (certainly not without faith or charity, anyway, and I’m a bit short on both of those). However, I couldn’t leave the tent empty-handed. So I came away with this marvellous commemorative magnet for my fridge.

If you’re wondering, I thought the Taisho Chic and Harold Cazneaux exhibitions are worth the time and money. Didn’t go much for the Sydney Biennale stuff this time though. When I was at the NGNSW some ‘extreme painters’ had hung white sheets on the entrance hall walls and one or two were languidly painting one sheet black with a couple of rollers. Not very extreme, in my humble opinion. But maybe, like Jeff Kennett once said, “I don’t know much about art.” Full stop.

All trips are as much about the journey as the destination, and this notion was certainly explored in my taxi trip home from the Berra Airport last night.

The taxi driver, a 60-ish fellow with a waxed moustache and a Russian accent, was charming for about five minutes. After that he got a bit odd, then a bit creepy. Spent a lot of time looking at me and not the road, telling me with great enthusiasm and frequency that “All women are beauuuuudiful!” and, more surprisingly, that I was also “beeauuuuudiful!!”. I could see him drifting into a variety of lanes while narrowly missing other traffic. Thankfully the Berra has a lot of lanes to offer erratic taxi drivers.

I made strategic mention of ‘a boyfriend’ to rein in his enthusiasm, but he offered me the helpful advice that my “boyfriend should kiss [my] leg!” Hmmmm. And now he knows where I live. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I had been warned by a friend to watch our for Berra taxi drivers; her father is one, she should know. But I don’t think this is quite what she meant.

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Crosstown traffic
All you do is slow me down
– Jimi Hendrix, 1968

The “Liddle Fact” inside the cap on my orange juice said, “The average person spends 2 weeks of their life waiting at stoplights.” The average person clearly does not live in the National Capital of Oz. Crossing Northbourne Ave, the main drag outside work, takes two full stoplight cycles, in which everyone has their go separately (including turning lanes). Yes, you have to watch the lights change TWICE just to get across the road to the nearest greasy spoon for a sandwich. And TWICE again on the way back. Incredible.

Had a hysterical moment yesterday when I finally faced the fact the temporary crown, for which I travelled all the way back to Slobart, had broken. That’s industrial strength denial, considering the little plastic cap actually broke on Saturday, four days ago. Since I couldn’t just pop back to Slobart to Dr W for a quick fix, I had to seek a local solution – which I was not emotionally equipped to do. So I just pretended it hadn’t happened.

But of course some little corner of my brain with not enough to do kept worrying away at the problem, and finally sent up some mental flares that the frontal lobes saw – and flipped out. (It’s no wonder I grind my teeth in my sleep. I think that was why the temporary crown broke in the first place.) Typically I did not remember any of the handy advice helpful people have contributed, and in a panic rang the dentist at a geographic point exactly halfway between work and home, somehow reasoning closer was better. After a bit of undignified grovelling they found me an emergency spot this afternoon.

And voila! Repair completed. No pain, and the dentist was nice, quick and efficient. Although I’ve never done my own suction before. (When he said, “Hold out your right hand,” my paranoia nodes lit up, but all he did was hand me the spit vacuum, positioned it and told me to hold still. Which, terrified I would hoover up half my tongue, I did.)

And now it should be okay until the real thing is installed.

Yes, sometimes my life is banal, even to me.

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