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Archive for January, 2009

Let’s all celebrate and have a good time.
– Kool & the Gang, 1980

Happy Straya Day! Happy Chinky* New Year! Both good reasons for a knees-up, in my humble opinion, and here in the Berra we did it with gusto.

There’s no doubt that in the Berra, the national version of Straya Day is taken very seriously. As a former high level public servant reminded me as we stood in the VIP area of Australia Day Live 2009, we have John Howard to thank for that; he centralised celebrations here in the Berra, putting an end to the motley roadshow that went to a different state capital each year, only to do battle with local celebrations. Since then the Day has gone from strength to strength. But I’m getting the bragging out of order here.

Sunday morning started out by having to regretfully decline an opportunity to tear down 20km of fire trail on a mountain bike in 35 degrees. I’m reliably told by the Bald Man that the event host’s description of it as ‘an easy ride’ was a gross exaggeration. Since the host, a very experienced rider, fell off his bike twice (very heavily) I’m glad I said no; I’d doubtless have spread myself across the scenery.

Instead I primped and preened to make myself presentable for an Australia Day luncheon hosted by the Governor General at Government House, Yarralumla. The luncheon was in honour of the state finalists in the 4 Australia Day Awards categories and their partners; since I was neither, I gather I was there to help with the honouring. In all seriousness, that wasn’t hard. Without exception, each of the finalists was remarkable in their (often multiple) fields of endeavour. It’s a joy to see such people recognised, so I was glad to spend time with them.

gussied-up jam sponge - our national cake for our national day

gussied-up jam sponge - our national cake for our national day

Naturally I also spent time honouring the buffet. The food was, well, worthy of a head of state, in both quality (outstanding) and quantity (lavish). It ensured the patrons (both the honourable and the hangers-on) had their mouths stuffed and could therefore listen to the speeches in silence. Her Excellency the G-G was gracious, and newly appointed chair of the Australia Day Council Adam Gilchrist was well-spoken and amusingly self-deprecating. Both were mercifully brief. Otherwise, we had time to enjoy each other’s company, admire the view of Lake Curly-Gherkin from our marquee on the Yarralumla front lawn, and nick into the loos for a peek at the interior of Government House (it was a strangely charming sort of landed-gentry time warp.) Dessert was announced as Australia Day cake – we all looked at each other in anticipation, and were rewarded with pieces of extremely fancy jam sponge. How very Strayan. I guess it could only have been bettered by an enormous pavlova.

The afternoon saw everyone transported to Australia Day Live, an event held on the enormous nature strip thingy that sits between the two roads connecting Old Parliament House and Parliament House. Really, it’s the Australia Day Awards presentation, followed by a concert, but since it’s all broadcast on a commercial TV station I suppose it needed a catchy name.

As we approached the VIP enclosure, a few people were gathering on the lawned area. A group of boofheads were playing a version of backyard cricket, and despite their obnoxious dress-ups (straight out of the Aldi catalogue) they showed some wit by having their outfield populated by blow-up kangaroos. We passed another silly bugger in stubbies and a blue singlet standing before a barbecue he’d brought along and fired up, tending snags. How very Strayan.

The Awards would have been stirring, but for the frequent breaks in proceedings to allow for commercials. The network even managed to shoehorn one in after announcing Professor Mick Dodson as the Australian of the Year, but before he could even give his speech. It was odious.

that's me in the corner, and KRudd in the spotlight behind me

VIP enclosure: that's me in the corner, and KRudd in the spotlight behind me

The crowd started to gather in earnest as dusk fell, and the concert got underway. The musical lineup was not to my taste, but it was only a backdrop for the hors d’oeuvers in the VIP enclosure. If ‘enclosure’ sounds vaguely zoo-like, well it was; inside was the usual exotic mix of folk one sees at Berra events, from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, scoffing nosh like feeding time. Outside? It was pretty mono-cultural. Not sure who was on display, and who were the animals? As I wondered, the Bald Man ate about a dozen lamingtons for dinner.

the New Year lion sizing up a red package

the New Year lion sizing up a red package

Monday, Straya Day proper, was also Chinese New Year. It was actually celebrated in the Berra, a vast improvement on Slobart where it was so mono-cultural the date always passed unremarked. On the previous Saturday evening, dropping in at the Dickson video shop, we spotted a troupe of lion dancers doing the rounds of the restaurants in the Asian quarter, scaring away evil spirits with the loud drums and extorting their annual protection-money bonus. Actually, that’s a terrible slur, at least on the Berran troupe, who looked pretty clean-living (unlike, allegedly, their Sydney counterparts). In typical Berran fashion, one lion was even operated by a young anglo fellow (gasp) and a woman (GASP!). How very post-modern.

On Monday, as we returned the video, a very shiny and tinted p-plated ute adorned with two enormous Australian flags was slowly cruising the Dickson Asian restaurant strip. When we came out, it was doing yet another slow lap of the block. It was a little early for public holiday trading hours, and there were plenty of parking spots, so I’m not sure what the driver was doing circling, circling, circling. Anyway, about then a police patrol car arrived and also began circling, circling, circling, and the ute eventually went away. How very post-Cronulla.

After an afternoon spent at the Canberra Yacht Club (yes there is one! on the shores of the lake) we gathered up our friends Caro, Ricky & Dom and trekked back to Dickson to see in the Year of the Ox over a sav blanc and mountains of barbecued duck, pork and fried octopus. We totally missed the state-sponsored fireworks. There was an episode later that involved a trip to the supermarket, the purchase of a 20-serve pavlova (this is not an exaggeration), cream and fruit; let me spare you the details and just say that on Wednesday we’re still eating the results. How very Australia in 2009.

* Please don’t take offence; it’s a term of endearment. I’m half Chinky, ok?

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Where: Pizza Gusto, Red Hill shops
Open: Wednesday to Saturday evenings 6-9pm. Takeaway only, pickup only.
Self Described as: “Premium woodfired pizza, take away/al fresco”

When: Friday 16 January 2008, approx 2030
What was ordered:
1 pizza bianca (garlic pizza), large, $8
1 quattro gusti, large $17.50

In his desire for pizza nirvana, The Bald Man (TBM) has embarked on a quest: a quest for the perfect pizza. He accepts that his goal, like the pot at the end of the rainbow, may be forever out of his grasp, but he is nevertheless hopeful. Our occasional forays will be recorded in The Berra Circular.

Pizza Bianco, Red Hill Shops

Pizza Bianco, Red Hill Shops

Pizza Gusto, as recommended by kazari, is a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in the efflu affluent embassy-suburb of Red Hill. Its dominant feature is the woodfired oven, an igloo-shaped brick oven at the rear of the open kitchen showing visible flames and kept stoked to a constant 350 degrees C.

It’s too far from our northside cottage to transport pizza for residential consumption, so we opted to dine at one of the limited, and very basic, outdoor settings. I wished I’d brought a cardy. And a bottle of wine, as the adjacent grocery and liquor shop closed at 8pm.

Pizza Gusto evidently practices the ‘less is more’ philosophy. The menu features 2 entree pizzas (garlic and pesto), 17 main pizzas (most with four or less toppings), three calzone, one dessert pizza (Italian chocolate spread) and an insalata verde. That’s it. Nothing else. The pizzas and calzone come in one size: large.

The pizza bianca was a good sign. It arrived in under 5 minutes, served on a lime green melamine dish. The base was a thin, airy, lightly savoury yeast dough finished to a lovely outer crispiness; the topping a light combo of finely crushed garlic, rosemary, flaked salt and olive oil. Yum.

We’d just finished inhaling this when the quattro gusti arrived. The standard quarters are all ‘single element’: tomato, mozzarella, and a quarter each of olive, mushroom, eggplant and calabrese salami.

the last of the quattro gusti

the last of the quattro gusti

Again served on a green melamine dish, the pizza looked just great. Unfortunately we fell upon it like ravenous dogs and did not remember to take a picture until there was just this pitiful half-slice left. So take our word for it, okay? It looked good.

TBM is not fond of olives, but nevertheless ate his slice and found it palatable. The olives were okay – Spanish black style but halved and juicy, not those terrible little black rubber tyres you get sometimes, and plentiful. The fresh, sliced mushrooms were a little undercooked, odd but not unacceptable. The eggplant had been pre-grilled and lightly marinated in vinegar before being cut into long strips for the pizza; TBM liked this quarter very much. And finally the thin slices of calabrese salami which had been liberally applied to the last quarter were tasty and packed a peppery punch.

The service was just right: run by 30- & 40- something Gen Xers, it was friendly, casual, complete with wry wit and smary general conversation. Very comfy.

Pizza Gusto isn’t the best place we’ve ever been to, but it was very good. The best we’ve had since leaving Slobart. Return visits are on the cards.

Pros: very good pizza base, fresh ingredients, quick and friendly service.
Cons: no decent eating area (outdoors is cold and draughty, Red Hil shops devoid of atmosphere). It’s a long way from home.

TBM comment: Orright.

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And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
– Simon & Garfunkel, 1965

Boy, when the locals say The Berra empties over summer, they weren’t kidding.

I also joined the exodus for a period, visiting first the ancestral home deep in Melbourne’s burbs, followed by the obligitary stopover to some in-, uh, outlaws at the NSW mid-north coast hinterland, and then a couple of days’ relief in the wilds of the Barrington Tops with friends, where there were roos, wombats, quolls, wedgetails and water dragons to be seen on vast paddocks of cattle country freshly planted with eucalypts. I observed feral dog and razorback carcasses, climbed hills and forded streams, visited caves, abandoned quarries and old miner’s huts, drove quadbikes and shot at targets, and generally got in touch with my inner Sarah Palin. Yeeeeeeeee-HA.

Travelled back via the Central Coast (we spent NYE with some friends there, which was very pleasant in the way the evening should be, until 8 o’clock the next morning when the neighbour started up his lawnmower and proceeded to do his yard. On New Year’s Day – I shit you not). Bald Man and I got back in time to welcome our jazz officianado friends from Tamworth for a visit to Our National Capital.

They were here to tour a variety of the cultural institutions, which was great, as they were all open 9am-5pm every day. We whiled away some pleasant hours at the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the National Museum, old and new Parliament Houses. Both veteran musicians and accomplished composers, Lis is also a painter and John originally an American (a ‘septic’, as he’s been taught to say) so there was a lot of culture for them to enjoy.

Alas, the enjoyment largely stopped there. Everything else we tried to take them to was shut. A late lunch/early dinner at Tilly’s, for a taste of a Berran institution? Shut, at 5pm on Saturday no less. Parlour Bar, for a civised cocktail and tapas? Shut, for renovations. Silo? Shut. A series of favourite cafes in Civic, Ainslie, Braddon? Shut, shut, shut. My poor friends. They thought the Berra was a ghost town, a poor impression since they were considering moving onwards and upwards from the country to somewhere with a little more happening, like the Berra – I’m embarassed to think where else they’d rather go now.

The final indignity came after our friends had departed, when the Bald Man and I went in search of a takeaway. His favourite is pizza – the good kind, with which we were very spoiled by several excellent purveyors in Slobart. In the Berra I’m sorry to say we have not found a single decent pizza place. We opted therefore for one of the cheap local outlets, Zeffirelli, which at least has the decency not to skewer your wallet for their ordinary fare. And it was… you guessed it. Shut. For three whole weeks over summer. As shut as Caffe Ravello around the corner. And that pretty much exhausts any of the edible pizza options in the locale.

Thank goodness for the cheap and cheerful Chinese, which was open and doing a roaring trade. Duck and noodles at the Tak Kee Inn went down a treat.

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