Sunday, January 27, 2013

Crikie! Down Under part I

In November I embarked on a three week trip to Australia as I mentioned in my last post. Mindi is a great cook and appreciates good food so I knew I was in good hands. We had a blast! She and her husband, Aaron plus their two little boys live in a newly developed area called Murray's Beach. It is near Lake Maquarie, which is not a lake technically but a bay. It is fed by the Pacific  Ocean and has sharks cruising around in it plus it is not landlocked. I think it was a marketing ploy in developing the area. Never mind, it is beautiful with lots of birds, foliage and trees. They live in what is considered the "bush". We would call it a wooded area or forest. There are signs everywhere reminding residents to have a "wildfire escape plan". A bit disconcerting. Mindi assured me she has her plan. Grab the kids and photo albums and run. There is only one way in and one way out I might add.
View from the front door on Silver Gull Lane

November is the end of their spring. The weather was much like the Pacific Coast with June gloom, light rain, sunny cool days followed by warmer days and eventually the blistering hot, humid summer months ( happening right now with 47c or 116 F temps). Glad I chose spring over summer.

The little boys were 2yrs and 8 mos, both teething. I don't have to say too much about that if anyone has children ( I don't)  except they were total insomniacs. The first morning I awoke to screams outside my room at 5:30 am.  That is the way the days start for the Binnies.  Eventually I got used to it and could fall back to sleep. I loved opening my bedroom door and seeing these darling cherubs running/crawling down the hall to greet me.  We had great fun! I'd make a little breakfast, fruit and toast usually and Harrison would want to see what I was cutting up. I introduced him to apple slices with peanut butter. He seemed to like them but didn't ask for them again being content with Vegemite on toast fingers.

Newcastle is the nearest large city. Sydney is about 2 hours away. Coal mining is the primary industry in Newcastle.  We drove into Newcastle on my first day to run some errands and have lunch.  My first meal in Australia was at the Merewether Surfhouse Cafe in Merewether ( check out their breakfast kids menu, too funny). The lunch was sooo good. We tried several different items so we could share. I loved the flat bread with truffle oil, Mindi ordered a local fish that came with a fennel, frisee and red onion salad plus we ordered their  garden salad which contained iceberg lettuce along with a few mixed greens ( disappointing).  A bottle of local Sauvignon Blanc rounded out the lunch. We always ordered a bottle of wine, had a glass each and took the rest home, which is what they do in Aus. Alexander, the 8 mos old was with us and behaved nicely. Mindi just pulls out his bottle, "baby food in a tube" and feeds him! He was starting to get fussy so I gave him a piece of the flatbread to teeth on. It worked!

Aaron comes home from work around 5:30-6 pm. He has Harrison, the 2 year old in tow having picked him up from his daycare school. Mindi is ready with Harry's dinner, Fennel Risotto. He loves it!  He won't eat at school, preferring Mom's cooking and who could blame him if you had freshly made Risotto waiting at home.  Off he goes to his evening bath and a tub full of toys.

Putting the boys down for the night was challenging. Most of the time it didn't happen. They just played and watched "The Wiggles" on TV while we ate dinner, finally getting so cranky that bed time was inevitable.   That first night Mindi made a perfect roast chicken with a new,to her, side dish from the Aussie food magazine "Delicious".  It was couscous with chickpeas, carrots and I think curry powder.  One fun thing I would find out is Pan Asian ingredients are prevalent in the normal grocery store. Things like fresh curry leaves, Keffir lime leaves, good curry pastes and powders. Just don't try to buy out of season fruit or veges for example, first of  the season nectarines were $8.99/kg.  Groceries are in general very expensive which is why there is alot of discussions about the growing obesity in Australia. It is cheaper to eat at fast food restaurants then to buy the food to cook at home. Sound familiar? There were plenty of fast food restaurants too.

The next day Mindi dropped Harrison off at daycare school and off we went to Catherine's Beach or "Catho" as the locals call it.. It was a gorgeous white sand beach on a warm sunny day. There was a huge sign posted that listed no less than 12 dangerous things to beware of on the beach and in the water. I would come to find out that these signs are the norm. Practically everything alive in Australia is poisonous or dangerous to ones well being.  There are many snakes, sharks, spiders, slimy sea creatures and bugs. Somehow I managed to avoid any contact with these things but that was only because of Mindi's sharp eyes.
She suggested that we leave our flip flops at the entrance to the beach and walk barefoot. Alexander was in the baby sling or whatever it is called. The first thing we see are hundreds of these blue blobs all over the beach and they weren't pieces of sea glass! They were "Blue Bottles" a sort of tiny jelly fish that have a long barb that looks like seaweed but is very painful if one steps on it. That would have definitely put a damper on my first trip to an Australian beach. We walked a little farther , dodging the blue bottles like they were land mines, then turned back. I got some nice pictures though.
Mindi and Alexander at Catho-notice the beach hazards sign

Blue Bottles

Once Alexander was in bed for his nap that he wouldn't take, Mindi put out some good cheeses, Hungarian salami and bread along with a Philip Shaw Sauvignon Blanc. Alexander's crying warranted Mindi getting him up. He played happily on the floor, not wanting to miss the party. Of course I would pick him up and cuddle him any chance I got. 
We talked about food in Australia. Mindi has become quite a good cook. She certainly always appreciated good food so out of necessity she learned to cook it. Australia has some top notch chefs and restaurants. Consequently they write in local foodie magazines and publish their recipes.   She tried a pork belly recipe before I came in case it didn't turn out. Using the leftover pork belly we made a stir fry which was fantastic. Aaron is quite appreciative of her talent in the kitchen too. He gets to take the leftovers to work for lunch the next day.

The Aussies eat with their forks upside down. They sort of push the food on the back of the fork and gingerly guide it to their mouths. There was no doubt that I was an American when they observed me using my fork like a shovel, ( is that where the term "shoveling it in" comes from?) . They are truly fond of the "Barbie" much to my delight.  We were invited to a party the next evening in Fletcher on the other side of Newcastle.  The kids were packed into the SUV and off we went. The hosts were South Africans and invited a group of other Afrikaner's. They spoke their own language amongst themselves.  Mindi kept raving about the quality of meat they procured and she wasn't wrong.  For my part I brought bottles of good Shiraz. There were three grills going cooking lamb chops ( the best I have ever tasted), steaks and pork. There was alot of beer needed to get the job done, at least I thought the mates were drinking beer until I looked closer at the cans and saw that they held cocktails! Cocktails in a can. Bourbon, Vodka, Gin. I couldn't wait to track these down at the local Dan Murphy's liquor store which is like Bev Mo.
 Adele, the hostess passed around shrimp salads to start with. That was almost a meal for me. Then there were side dishes too, Potato salad with lots of herbs, Mango salad, baked portobello mushrooms were among them. The meat was the star however and I could see that most Aussies are carnivores to the max. No one went home hungry.
I got on well with the next door neighbors as they recounted their encounters with the dangerous snakes and spiders. One snake wedged itself between their kitchen window and the screen. That must have been quite a surprise at breakfast.
Everyone had little kids.  There must have been 12 or so kids running around and some babies just observing from their places on the carpet. Politics were discussed and the reasons that the Afrikaner's immigrated to Australia. They didn't feel their children would have a very good future in South Africa at this time.
Very nice people one and all. We got home at midnight and had no trouble putting the boys to bed.