Friday, September 30, 2011

what's hot on the cooktop

So my kitchen here may be of no epic proportions (quite frankly, it's just big enough for one person to cook/stand/reach wall-to-wall comfortably) but some of the meals I have been whipping up recently are not skimping in the taste sensation department. Now, I told you earlier that I would be giving a detailed account of some of my more eloquent dishes, so if you have yet to eat today or hear that rumble from down under (not "Australia" down under, but "tummy" down under) then you may just want to wait and read/see this post until later!

You. Have. Been. Warned.

In the past two weeks, I have found much pleasure in perusing the many grocery stores which lie within walking distance from my flat. We have Coles, Woolworths (personal favourite!), Jack's, IGA and several other major chains that all carry different specialty foods and spices. As you can remember, most of the produce is quite frankly out of my reach (red peppers here are a whopping $10 a pound and a small bunch of basil is $3) so I have taken to more clever ways to satisfy my cravings. First, I have noticed what the main influence here is. Now Nicholas, what is that you may ask? Well, anything Asian is a big trend, so that means lots of different Asian-style vegetables, sauces, meats, etc (duh, we are right below Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and China). My friends will even take fresh/frozen seafood and for a light snack use a bit of swordfish, create a quick dim sum soup and top it all with broccoli and peppers...they even eat the stuff with proper utensils. Some even laughed when I said we snacked on the likes of Ramen and Triscuits back home...I suppose I would snickered have too if I had a hot cup of dim sum to warm the soul. Anyways, back to the main point: Asian-style ingredients are cheaper. Therefore, instead of buying bulk groceries like in America, I decided to buy what I need daily and save myself the cost of things going bad (and besides, our refrigerator couldn't even fit a whole turkey on one of its tiny shelves...oh, and remember it's shared between three people). That means everything is fresh and shopping is actually fun, because I can often just look around and make up recipes on the spot to satisfy that persnickety craving. But enough torment with talk of ingredients and the like.

Without further ado, Le Menu (a not-so-comprehensive list of some of the things I have made, thus far):
*Stuffed mushrooms with sausage
*Pasta with fresh pumpkin/zucchini/pepper/onion and cashews and cheese in a white sauce
*Pizza margherita with fresh tomatoes and feta with sausage
*Pork loin with tarragon butter and peas and rosemary potatoes

There are many other pairings, however I have decided to only include the ones I photographed, so you can get a better idea of what everything looks like. To put everyone at ease, I guess I could say yes, yes I am eating well. I have even decided to try my hand with some new Asian-themed ventures (since the likes of coconut milk and jasmine rice reign supreme here). I even recently went on a shopping trip (today actually) to try my luck at making these dishes with the likes of chicken/beef and lots and lots of curry/sesame seed/soy/and chilli sauce. Pictures of that to come soon!

Aside from the aforementioned cuisine, I also have indulged in some purely Australian delicacies. One, Vegemite, I was all too nervous to try, since many American had cautioned against the salty spread. But what I have discovered
is the creamy substance tastes a lot like worcestershire sauce with a heaping does of sodium and slight hint of veggies. Best used
on toast or crisps and with a first layer ofbutter/pepper, it is not for the faint of heart (and yes, I'll bring some home so you can try it!). Another fancy of the Aussies are lamington bars, which I love! Basically, the dessert-like food is a spongecake in the shape of a cuboid which is coated in a traditional layer of chocolate icing and then desiccated coconut. They really are fantastic and best eaten in multiples with a heaping glass of milk (no, I can't bring any of these home, they would spoil and crush!).

Aside from all these goodies, there has been no eating out (too expensive, unless you count the one Italian BMT sub I bought at Subway for $9....$9 Footlong? Try singing that in place of $5 doesn't even sound right!) I do hope to try some of the many Vietnamese restaurants placed conveniently near our house soon...but alas, money will need to start flowing in before such a venture.
Which leads me to my last and final point (the "icing on the lamington" if you will): I will be away for exactly one week starting tomorrow. If you are a savvy reader, then you already know my work with the circus starts bright and early tomorrow morning at 8:45 a.m. and goes until roughly 10 p.m. every night. That means I won't have time to use the Internet at all during the week. If I can steal a minute or two to post a picture or update, I will, but don't count on it. What you can count on is many, many pictures from this week that will either be hilarious or very embarrassing of myself. Regardless, you win!
Ok, I must go now, as the library is preparing to close!

In the words of a one Julia Child: "The best way to bone a duck is to just do it!"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

singing (not) in the rain

Well, well, well,here we are again. I bet you're anxious to know whether or not I got the job at Madrid as per our conversation just two short days ago? This is going to be hard for you to understand....BUT I GOT IT. Impulsive capitalisation aside, I am quite excited. So, in order for me to coherently pen down these thoughts (and make an attempt to block out the two French ladies chatting at a computer across from me, despite the fact that I would love to ease drop on them for the rest
of my time in the library, especially since I just impulsively watched a 2-hour documentary on Marie Antoinette) let me break the interview down for you. I awoke early on Tuesday, afraid because I could not remember if Steph (the manager) and I were meeting at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. I had originally written 2 p.m. down in my journal, but for some reason I was filled with self-doubt. I called Steph. She did not answer. Therefore, I unanimously decided we were meeting at 2 p.m. Hurdle number one was cleared and I sustained no face damage from the asphalt.
Now, after showering, bathing myself in exotic bath salts, lathering with expensive perfumes and dressing in the finest royal silks from Rome and India, I took to the train station to plot my next move. While waiting, I became nervous. Not a stomach-twisted type of nervousness, but a "am I doing the right thing by staying in Australia?" type of nervousness. Ok, ok, let me explain. I love Australia, it's great. The people are wonderful, scenery picturesque, blah, blah, blah. BUT (and this 'but' is big) I have had this bubbling fear inside that if I got a real job (aside from this circus work) I would be tied down somewhere and therefore be forced to remain in that location for at least a couple months. What If I did want to go home for Christmas? What if after two months Australia bores me and I want out? This was the type
of nervousness that was setting in. I know, you're thinking how silly to be worried about something like this after only two weeks. But (see, I told you there was a 'but'...try multiple ones) I just have to ask myself these questions or I will grow content and fall into routine. Routine, in my humble opinion, is bad. Didn't someone even once say "variety is the spice of life?" Yeah, well they were right. So, in an attempt to calm my quaking spirits, I began thinking about other things because I didn't want my armpits to sweat. That is the worst, when you shake a new friend's hand and they see that sliver of wet armpit beginning to bleed through your oxford. Needless to say, I stood arms akimbo until my train came.
Ok, moving on: I was about an hour early to my destination, so instead of walking by Madrid four or five times and trying to just hide my face, I ducked into some shops and pretended to browse the stock (and yes, I touched everything I saw in an attempt to look like a casual shopper...with money...bwuhaha). After nearly 45-minutes, I felt like I was ready to meet Steph and Alex for my interview. 15-minutes early, I walked through the door and sat down with the two (rather young I thought) individuals. In hindsight, I hope I didn't sound too blase with my interviewers, but for some reason I could not get excited. After covering the basics (they asked me FOUR times if I planned on staying in Perth for twelve months, which I had to answer as "yes" or I would not have gotten the job...this was maybe why I was somewhat freaking out) they decided I was perfect for what they wanted and decided to allow me a trial period of five hours the week after my circus endeavours ended. If all goes well (and here, Alex said he has no doubts that I will be hired, because I have a great personality) I will be taken on for regular weekly work and then be making $20.75 an hour plus tips.

See, I guess I was just overreacting. At this, my spirits brightened tremendously and I thought about buying bananas. Lots and lots of bananas. And, of course, going to Bali.
BUT, that does not mean my circus dreams are defunct, because if John asks me to be one of his lucky eight and travel along for a 10-week trip through The Outback, I have decided that this would indeed be a better option for me. However I welcome opinions, naysayers and all other forms of constructive criticism at this point. Ready....GO!
So, on a less exciting note and aside from all these harrowing adventures, today I decided to keep things simple by taking advantage of the wonderful weather and just walking: my favourite pastime when visiting a new country. I literally took the train to an unknown destination, got off and just walked. What I found once there was (of course) some antique and secondhand shops! I mean come on, you knew I was going to sniff them out eventually and find all the best bargain basements in a 25-mile radius. It's in my blood at this point. Perusing three or four, I then wondered into a neighbouring town and just ambled away my time by chatting with people on the street. Now, I am here. Writing to you. Watching the last little sliver of sunlight dip away. I hope, for your sake (since I am sitting in the library with you as an audience when the weather, for once, is NOT treacherous), that the weather is pleasing tomorrow as well (even though they are already calling for rain).

For now. Tis all I shall speak (err, write). I plan to make some rather nice pasta tonight with pumpkin and zucchini OR maybe a pizza with feta/sausage and pomodori (Italian for tomatoes!). Jealous?
Until the ladies in front of me would revoir!

(Oh! The above photos are either ones I caught from my jaunt earlier today, from some of the antique shops I visited or, quite simply, the stink face I made prior to the interview. Enjoy!)

Monday, September 26, 2011

water for elephants

Remember how I told you I got a job with the circus? Well today I went for my orientation with a nice fellow named John. I met him at the fairgrounds at 11 a.m. and amidst the bustle of many workers preparing for the upcoming show, our genial guide was able to steal a few moments to direct me (and the rest of my group of lost and foreign sheep) through the ringer, as it were, of all things circus work. So, now I can tell you, quite confidently, what I know: In my group of about 14 people, there were a handful of Taiwanese (with very bad English), two Italians (Milanese to be exact, also with bad English), one Irish lass (with pretty eyes), an English betty (nothing can be said for her) and myself. It really seemed like a mixed bag of sorts, especially since about half the group could speak only poor English. I even found myself gravitating toward the Italians (for obvious reasons) to help them better understand their job duties. They were eternally grateful and I was just happy to just talk with someone from Italy....but I digress. So, after everyone listened to a short spiel from John about what to wear (jeans and a jumper), what not to do (steal money, prizes or time) and
when to be there daily (8:45 a.m. sharp) I was assigned my task. From what I could gather, I will be running a game booth in the same style as "Deal or No Deal" where eager young contestants pay a whopping $6 a piece to pick a briefcase that I will then open to their delight. Inside will be either a small, medium or large prize. If the prize is small or medium, the player can take their chances and open another case in the hopes of obtaining a larger prize (the spoils of course meaning some awkwardly shaped stuffed animal that is from some popular video game/cartoon/movie. I saw women in the back of one tent even stitching up the poor bastards' backs. Perhaps they were keen on inserting cameras or something of the sort? It is the circus for goodness sakes! But again I digress and maybe I just allow my imagination to get a little too carried away at times...). Anyways, I am OK with this task, especially since I will get to hoot and holler at every passerby to come play my game...for 11 straight hours a day, eight days in a row. Now, the up side to this is the $17 an hour I will be making, no taxes taken out! And John said if we all do a good job, he will choose eight from the group to continue on after the Perth Royal Show to travel around Australia and do smaller, one day stints in a more rural setting, which are also paid. So, let me get this straight: I get paid to see Australia AND be in the circus. Sign me up, put me down I will be the best damn circus-carnie-gamer there ever was. You can bet your big top, hairiest of ladies and even the cotton candy John that I will make this top eight...

Oh, and did I mention I also get a free T-shirt! Yes, the perks keep on coming.

But, if I did not happen to get called back for a position with the circus (insert sniffling nose and teary eyes here) fear not, because luckily I still have an interview tomorrow with that swanky restaurant I mentioned in an earlier post called "Madrid." I hope I can charm them with my wares as well, because Lord knows I need the money (or rather I WANT the money so I can buy lots of unnecessary trinkets like these really cool tea towels from a shop next to our flat that have colonial looking men on them fighting with baguettes. One is saying "You wash," while the other exclaims "I'll dry!" I can see my father rolling his eyes now.)
Enough of this banter though. What else can I say? Oh, I did make it to that fashion market in Perth yesterday (despite dodging rain showers) and had a wonderful time. Lots of interesting people out and about and shopping for really unique things.
I have yet to pinpoint the style/cuisine of this city, but when I find it you can be sure all of you will be the first to know. Now I did end up buying a sweater (imagine that, a sweater
when the weather is moving into summer here?) but could have come home with a lot more!
Just loads of weird stuff here I have never seen before. Kudos to all the artisans that took the time to make the event so worthwhile, even the art was a treat! I have included many pictures from the day, however I don't believe they really do the thing justice. What's the best part I saw you ask? Four live burlesque models staged in a window display, selling some sort of handmade lingerie and millinery ( That was definitely a treat to turn the corner to, especially with the hoards of families walking by...definitely had myself a chuckle (and no, I did not get a picture of them for you, so you can stop scrolling down to see!). Well now, that should be enough to soothe your salivating taste-buds for the time being. I shall post more this week after my interview tomorrow. And I believe I will also just do an entire post on the amazing vegetation Australia has. I have seen so many interesting plants we don't have in America. But there is always time for that later!

Cheers for now!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

life's a beach

Sorry for my lapse in posting, but I have not had Internet for several days now. However, that does not mean I have a lack of happenings down here. Since I last wrote, I have secured a job! Yes, the circus certainly paid off and as of October 1st, 2011 I will have an eight day stint with the Perth Royal Show ( which is only a short 8-minute train ride from my flat! Now, as for specifics: I will not know what I am actually doing until tomorrow when I have my first orientation. I could be scooping elephant poop, handing out cotton candy or (my dream!) be dressed as a giant marsupial and roaming the grounds with an arrangement of balloons. Yes, this will certainly have a lot of stories associated with it, so prepare yourselves for some fun to come. Also, I am getting paid $17.50 an hour and no taxes are being taken out. I really hit the jackpot with this one. The grounds are already taking shape too, with big tents, rides, tractors and prizes all being shipped in. It is really quite large, I had no idea. However, once again I felt like an illegal immigrant because when Susanne (the woman who coordinated all this for me, I got her name from two Welsh people I met earlier last week and they found the ad in a hostel) signed me up, she asked for my home country. Naturally I said U.S.A. but above me were scribbled othernames and beside them foreign countries (such as England, Ireland, Italy, etc.) I got the feeling this will be a circus with a lot of different passports working in it!

So, this circus business should last one week and then after that Susanne said I have the potential (if I am good) to work at smaller country shows following this bigger one....we shall see! Now this is all well and good, but I certainly need a more permanent job during my stay in Perth. That's why I have been handing out resumes every single day for a week. Yes, I have been hitting the pavement, working the land and whatever other corny metaphor you think of to entail job searching. It is really tiring. But I have worked my butt off networking with everyone, which is how I met Christine.

Christine and her hub
by own a really swanky men's boutique in the Colemont area (very rich) called "Father." I applied, but she said they had no job openings. After chatting for 20 minutes, she must have decided she
really liked me (I charmed the pants off her let me tell you and no not literally!) because she said head down one block to the restaurant she also owns (Madrid) and tell the manager she sent me. So, I did. One hour and a free coffee later, I had an interview for a position as a waiter! Steph, the manager, absolutely loved me and said she wanted people like me on her team, especially with me being from America. So, I am meeting wit
h her on Tuesday of this week to discuss the position more and hopefully, I will secure something after that time. The pay is a staggering (get ready for it!) $20.75 an hour! I could not even dream of that amount....get ready bananas, here I come!

Ok, so enough exclamation points for now. I must head into the city for this cool vintage market that is taking place, with lots of handicrafts and fashion shows. Should be fun? I will take lots of pictures and post them tomorrow or Tuesday for you all to see.

Oh, and of course I am including some more beach pictures in this post, because the weather was very cooperative on Friday and everything is better bathed in sunlight...also, I have posted a picture of Chris and Alana (my friends I am living with here) and, yes, a photo of their car that has a steering wheel on the opposite side, I still look both ways (twice!) when I cross the street here.

Love you all! More to come soon...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

accents of life

Yes, I’ve made it. After nearly three days of straight travel (28 hours in the air, 3 hours in the car and 10 hours of mind-numbing layovers) I have reached the city of Perth in Western Australia.

For those of you who don’t know, Australia is the sixth-largest country and neighbors Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. Indigenous Australians settled this place some 40,000 years prior to when the Europeans came a knocking and set up camp here (however if you ask a Brit, they act like they outright own the place since the queen’s mug is brandished all over the Aussie’s colorful money). The country has six states, including New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia (where I reside). And no, they don’t have a president, but a prime minister. And yes, they do eat kangaroo meat, just like we eat deer. Oh, and no….no “shrimp on the barbie” here, sorry to disappoint!

But enough of boring facts and statistics, how about a little of the good stuff? I touched down one week ago today and since then, my acclamation to the area has been a bit rocky.
Yes, I’ve lived in Europe and traversed many a country with many a language barrier, but something about being in a place where they speak English (albeit differently) has certainly caused some minor upsets (think celly=cell phone, telly=television, taking the piss=to joke and a different pronunciation for just about every word we have in American English). Aside from this minor setback, however, life has been rather good. My hosts (Chris and Alana; if you remember I met them while living in Italy earlier this year and they offered me their flat to live in, free of charge, on this venture) have been nothing but cordial. I have a small mattress set up in a corner of the living room, and at the moment feel something akin to an illegal immigrant (however, I assure you I have all the necessary paperwork to live here for one year legally!). My bags are partially unpacked on two shelves in their closet, but the rest of my personal belongings need rummaged through on a daily basis, as there is just no room to put everything out.

However, for the moment I am content.

Now, since arriving, I have explored the city of Perth and surrounding suburbs (including Fremantle, Cottesloe and Mosman Park, the latter of which I live in) and generally hang around in this beautiful library called The Grove. It is about a 15 minute walk from our flat and so, for that matter, is the beach. Right now, the weather has not been too cooperative for leisurely outside activities, but I did get one day on the sand thus far. Torrential rain and 60 mph wind gusts have made up the trip as of now, however I am promised good weather is on the horizon! But one positive aspect I can recall from all these inclement conditions are the sunsets over the Indian Ocean are incredible, painted with orange, red and purple every night; quite unlike anything I’ve seen at home. The people are also rather friendly, with everyone smiling, offering directions and helpful hints to better get to know their lovely city. The only downfall, then, I can recount (other than those pesky words and abbreviations) is the cost of living. Yes, I was certainly warned, but without a job, all the joys of this new place seem just too far out of reach.

For instance:
* One 15-minute ride on the train to Fremantle is $2.60, for a return you can double that price

* To the city of Perth (just 30 minutes away) it is $3.80 one-way

* A single banana cost me $1.09 (I must add here most fruits and veggies are out of my reach since extensive flooding throughout Australia has caused prices to sky-rocket)

* A small cup of black coffee is $5.75

* A muffin is $4-$5.50

* And liquor is a staggering $50-$75 a bottle, even for the cheap stuff! (Australians have taxed alcohol to discourage youth from underage drinking)

Lucky for me, though, the Australian dollar is quite comparable to the American dollar, so I don’t have too many calculations to do in my head (quite unlike when I had the Euro, now that was a nightmare!). I can only hope soon some of the countless jobs I have applied for (at places like bookstores, coffee shops, the library, a home goods store, a silk flower shop and yes….the circus) will come through. As of right now, my fingers are crossed…toes too for that matter. Despite a dwindling bank account, the journey has already been well worth it.

What else can I tell you fine, fine people? Oh! Australia is exactly 12 hours ahead of your east coast time, which means when it is 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning in, say, Venango County; it is 10 p.m. on Tuesday night here! See, it’s so easy!

As of now, that is all I have to write. I did get a cell phone, which can call America, so some of you lucky people will be getting a call soon! Also, I have made a couple friends, but have yet to really get my feet wet (as they say) in the Australian nightlife and social scene. As for now, I am content in my small corner of the living room, close to the beach with a book by my side.

All right mates, I reckon it is time to head on out and buy some capsicum for a nice evening meal of meatloaf and salad. Until next time, cheerio!