Never Bow To Customs Agents

DON’T WORRY…this is not another food post, I promise. What?!? We’re in the middle of a pandemic and nothing makes you realize how mundane and cyclical your diet is like staying at home and self-isolating for four months. This then leads to the realization that you need to spice up things with more bacon and chocolate (Quarantine-15 is real y’all!). Anyway, no food talk. Well, I mean, there’s food talk—but it’s not a recipe. It’s actually M&Ms and sorry to all of you out there who have heard this story ad nauseam. It’s probably better told in person, especially when I can demonstrate with aforementioned M&Ms, but, well, social distancing and all that jazz…

This is a great cautionary tale of traveling internationally. I’d like to tell you it’s my only cautionary tale of traveling internationally, but, well, that would be a lie, multiple times over.

Anyone who has ever flown into Australia knows how stringent their Customs process is. Anyone who has never flown into Australia quickly learns how stringent their Customs process is. Despite other airport events to suggest otherwise, I know that you cannot bring fruits and vegetables and general food items into most countries. In fact, you cannot bring fruits between Oregon and California either—in case you’re ever road tripping up and down the West Coast of the United States.

What I didn’t seem to grasp at the time is that this concept also includes snacks…unless they are unopened and hermetically sealed. Even if you purchased a ginormous bag of peanut M&Ms and opened them approximately 14 hours into a 16-hour flight from LAX to SYD and had only eaten a couple of handfuls. They are now considered tainted and must be disposed of before entering Australia. But hello! this is me and I wasn’t going to easily hand over my nearly full bag of M&M’s because some cute Customs agent with a cute Australian accent said so.

Turns out, I was wrong.

PLEASE NOTE: As a general rule of thumb you should NOT argue with Customs agents. That might be Rule #2 when traveling in airports (Rule #1: never mention the word gun at the airport). Not that I was arguing, mind you—I was pointedly asking the cute Customs agent with the cute Australian accent what the difference was in opening a bag of—let’s just pick a random snack, like, oh I don’t know, peanut M&Ms—on a plane flying to a country and opening them in my hotel room in said country.

Please note that this was my very first flight to Australia and my first ever flight over 10 hours. I also spent 15 hours prior to this flight hanging out at LAX. Additionally this was way back when I could never sleep on flights. Needless to say, I was a bit wired and perhaps a little jittery from chugging coffee for about 26 hours straight. Thus when the cute Customs agent with the cute Australian accent told me I had to dispose of my newly opened extra large bag of peanut M&Ms, I just laughed because thought he was kidding.

Rule #2.B: Don’t Laugh at Customs Agents.

When I realized that he was not kidding, I did what I deemed the only sensible thing that I could do: I started eating them. Rapidly. But I am not rude and I offered all the Customs agents some of my M&Ms. Apparently, this is considered a bribe.

Rule #2.C: Don’t Offer Bribes to Customs Agents.

None of them took me up on my bribe. Thankfully, they didn’t seem interested in detaining me—only pointing out that they could. So there I stood. In front of the Customs table, stuffing my face with peanut M&Ms, looking like a chipmunk, batting my eyes at the handful of agents who were very interested in this crazy Yank and her refusal to willingly hand over her chocolate. I knew there was no way I could actually eat the entire bag at one time and began offering them to fellow passengers as they walked by. A shockingly large number of people took some, blatantly ignoring a life long lecture from their parents never to take candy from strangers. Perhaps the clustered group of gawking Customs agents made them feel safer. Perhaps the lure of candy coated chocolate and peanuts was too much to deny. Perhaps it was jetlag and disorientation from being on a plane for 16+ hours. Perhaps they knew this wouldn’t end well for me and were just trying to show support.

Eventually, I thought I got my point across (aka I gave up because I was actually starting to feel nauseated from too much candy). Plus I remembered that I had a connecting flight that I could not miss, despite my desire to best the cute Customs agent with the cute Australian accent who was completely unsympathetic to my chocolate plight. I reluctantly sighed, locked eyes with the cute Customs agent, and begrudgingly made a huge show out of throwing away my now 1⁄2 eaten large bag of recently opened peanut M&Ms. I really wanted to bow, but somehow—either knowing it was a bad idea or fearing I might puke—I refrained. Probably for the best.

Rule #2.D: Never Bow to Customs Agents.

My best advice to you when we can start traveling again is never bring anything ever into Australia. Except maybe clothes and shoes…

MWWC #26: Solitude

This month’s wine writing challenge is SOLITUDE, as selected by last month’s winner Beth of Traveling Wine Chick.  Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit at a loss with this topic, as I’ve spent quite a few previous MWWCs talking about how wine is best paired with great friends.  But even the most extroverted extrovert needs to reset sometimes, so with George Thorogood playing in my head–click on his name if you need background music!–here goes:

wine stain

I think one of the best things about summer is sitting outside and drinking wine.  Sure it’s a lot of fun with others, but it is equally enjoyable by oneself–sitting on the porch reading a book or lounging on the beach listening to the breaking of the waves.   It gives you time to relax, to enjoy, and to appreciate everything around you, like the delightful syrah-viognier blend you randomly picked out a few weeks back.

The thing I enjoy most about drinking in solitude is that it is very decadent. Opening a bottle of wine simply because you love it–not having to think about catering to anyone else’s palette or worrying that the food pairing is not quite right.  Taking your time to really get to know the wine.  Trying new styles and tastes you might not dream of trying in front of others (I mean, I know very well that my friends drink merlot when I’m not around!).

Plus you get the whole bottle to yourself.  Not that I’m telling you to drink the whole bottle (for legal disclaimer purposes).  I’m sure you can look up on Pinterest 846 things to do with leftover wine.  Personally, I always thought “leftover wine” was a myth or a horror story told to oenophiles…but if it is really a thing feel free to share your “friend’s” leftover wine horror stories suggestions.

whole bottle

If the thought of a bottle is too daunting, find a great little restaurant with a spectacular view and start with a glass.  Take your time to enjoy all the sensations of tasting the wine without expectations or boundaries and just allow yourself to enjoy.  Order food.  Enjoy it more.

Several years ago, I found myself with a free afternoon in Sydney.  In need of a bit of respite, I happened across a little cafe near the Opera House with a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge.  Fresh oysters were the special and I just couldn’t resist (I never can!).  The waiter recommended a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and while I’m not a big fan of the ol’ sauv blanc, I decided to give it a go.  BEST. DECISION. EVER. (or at least at that moment in time).  The crisp apple finish of the wine enhanced the creaminess of the oysters; the lapping of the waves and the cool breeze coming off of the water provided the perfect setting for allowing myself to just relax and indulge.  While I don’t remember the name of the aforementioned New Zealand sauvignon blanc (I know, epic fail!),  I vividly remember wishing I could bend time and make that moment last forever.

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That is the beauty of drinking in solitude: making an experience and enjoying the moment…of you.  I think in this day and age of technology we expect–no, we demand–to be entertained 24/7, when in reality what we need is more unplugging and appreciating not only what is around you, but what is you.

disconnect

Do yourself a favor and try it–you might like it.  I’m not asking you to make it nightly habit (for legal disclaimer purposes), but as a treat for yourself.  If you want to be even more decadent and celebratory, pop the bubbly (trust me you won’t be disappointed!)!

Still not convinced that drinking in solitude is for you?  Before I go open that blanc de blancs chilling in the fridge for a special occasion (you know, like Monday night), I leave you with this final thought:

drinking with dog

Cheers!

Healing

Before I launch into Birthday Trip #2, I did want to take a moment to pay homage to ANZAC Day.  Today marks the 100th Anniversary of this very bloody battle, where the “winner” lost over 80,000 men and the “loser” gained a sense of self-independence.

One of my friends was able to make the trek this year to pay honor to her great-grandfather and his sister.  Following her travels on Facebook has brought a flood of memories back–of such a fantastic and memorable trip, especially Dawn Service.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m so very happy that she was selected to go this year (to ensure the peninsula wouldn’t be completely overrun because the 100th Anniversary, there was a lottery in both Australia and New Zealand for tickets to this coveted Dawn Service)–it truly is a trip of a lifetime.

While I was trying to figure out what to write about ANZAC Day this year, I came across this great post that Uncle Spike shared of an ABC story of a man who’s life was remarkably affected by this battle and, while he’s never been to Australia or New Zealand, has been the keeper of their sacred sites safe for 3 decades.

For his full story, click on the picture below or here to see Uncle Spike’s post.  Thanks Uncle Spike for sharing!

veili

Lest we forget.

 The Lone Pine:    Ironically, not the original pine after which the hill is named. This one was planted in honor of that Lone Pine that remained after the bloodiest battle in the entire campaign.

Lest We Forget

It is dark and cold and with bated breath everyone seems to be lulled into a sense of stillness.  The streaks of the sun peak over the horizon and a lonely trumpet plays.

Dawn Service.

Two powerful words and of all the ones I have been to, there are two that stand out vividly in my mind: the first one I attended and the last one I attended.

The first was at the War Memorial, overlooking Canberra.

The second was at the site of the battle, in Gallipoli.  It was a very cold morning.  We arrived at ANZAC Cove at 3am, so that we could pass through the appropriate security check points and walk to the place where the service would be held.  As we sat and waited, the gravity of the day and the symbolism slowly descended until at last…at last it was time.  We were there to tribute the men who selflessly gave their lives to fight a war so far from home, as well as those who fought to defend their home.

On April 25, 1915 Allied forces, lead by Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops attacked the Gallipoli peninsula in order to secure the Allies passage through Dardanelles in the hopes of conquering Istanbul and thereby contolling access to the Black Sea.  The ANZACs landed on a small beach, under heavy gunfire, and faced a nearly impossible climb through an abundance of brush and hills.  It is estimated that 2,000 men died on the first day alone.

The battle waged on for over 8 months with a staggering death toll of 87,000 Turks and 44,000 Allied soldiers, including over 11,000 ANZACs.  But the Turks held on, in what is considered one of their greatest victories–despite their huge losses.  It also solidified the place and role of the ANZACs on a world stage and today ANZAC Day serves as a day of remembrance–Lest We Forget.

After paying tribute in ANZAC Cove, we then followed one of the trails up the hilly slopes, visiting the gravesides of men who died way too young and so far from home.

cemetary

Through the trenches we walked, over paths that were created to ease our walking, knowing that those who were here nearly 100 years ago did not have the luxury of such trails.  Up we walked, stopping, taking pictures, talking, taking in the view.  Up we walked, up to three different memorials:

 The Lone Pine:    Ironically, not the original pine after which the hill is named. This one was planted in honor of that Lone Pine that remained after the bloodiest battle in the entire campaign.

The Lone Pine (AUS Memorial):
Ironically, not the original pine after which the hill is named. This one was planted in honor of that Lone Pine that remained after the bloodiest battle in the entire campaign.

59th Regiment (aka Turkish Memorial)

59th Regiment (aka Turkish Memorial)

Chunuk Bair (NZ Memorial)

Chunuk Bair (NZ Memorial)

 

I can’t remember exactly how far we walked that day.  All I know is that at the very top of our trail, I saw some breath-taking views and as I stared over the picturesque landscape and gazed down to the sea, I had to stop and wonder how many soldiers would have had the luxury of doing the same.

Overlooking the northern shore of ANZAC cove

Overlooking the northern shore of ANZAC cove

Looking to the south

Looking to the south

 

ANZAC Bikkies

Ooohh!  Ooohh!  Super-special post today!  What makes this post so special you ask?  It’s written (well not this introduction, of course!) by April.  There are several things that come to mind when I think about ANZAC day, such as Dawn Service, Two-Up, poppies, and ANZAC bikkies to name a few.  The bikkies (aka cookies) are where April comes in.  IF a better than April’s ANZAC bikkie exists in the world, I have yet to experience it.  I’ve witnessed first hand the slight jealousy in Australians at the thought that a Yank could make their beloved treat better than they could.  Their jealousy is short-lived, mind you–usually by the second bite, at which point they just enjoy the delicious goodiness!

And now, ladies and gents, may I introduce the lovely and wonderfully fabulous April and her ANZAC bikkies:

If I am honest, Anzac biscuits were never a treat I had much when I was living in Aus; Tim Tams were my go-to for indulging. When I found myself stateside and wanting to bring in some homemade goods for my workmates to celebrate Australia Day, though, I knew there was no way I could make Tim Tams. So I searched online for some recipes I could do, and I found this one for Anzac biscuits. Fortune must have been smiling upon me because these bikkies are a hit wherever I bring them, and they are the number one requested treat from my coworkers.

Anzac biscuits first made an appearance during World War I. Australian wives, mothers, and girlfriends were concerned about how nutritious the soldiers’ rations were so they developed a recipe for a treat full of healthy ingredients like coconut and rolled oats. The components also did not readily spoil which allowed for the biscuits to remain edible after the long non-refrigerated transit to the frontlines. While normally a fan of cookies fresh from the oven, I actually find Anzac biscuits much tastier a few days after I baked them, which kind of ties in nicely with the end of my bikkie ramblings…

While preparing for my trip to Turkey in 2011, I got it into my head that it would be great if we could actually have some Anzac biscuits to eat when our group did our overnight vigil at the Gallipoli peninsula. So right before my departure I made two batches and packed them carefully in a place of honor in my suitcase for the long journey east. They survived intact, and several days into our excursion my travel companions were pleasantly surprised when I brought them out for Anzac Day. Sherry and I were the only Yanks on the tour so I think it was even more startling for everyone that the biscuits were delicious! I had more than one compliment that even in Australia they had not ever had such a tasty bikkie. So without further ado, here is The Recipe:

  • 1 cup rolled oats (NEVER quick oats)
  • 3/4 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 oz butter
  • 2 tbs golden syrup (I use Karo syrup)
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda)
  • 1 tbs water (boiling)

Mix oats, flour, sugar, and coconut together. Melt syrup and butter together. Mix bicarbonate of soda with boiling water and then add to the melted butter/syrup. Add to dry ingredients. Place by 1 tablespoonfuls on greased tray and allow room for spreading. Bake for 20 minutes at 300F (150 C). The yield is around 3 dozen depending on the size of your scoops.

That is the recipe I acquired from Aussie-Info.com more than 10 years ago. I haven’t made any modifications to it–why mess with perfection?–though you can get a fabulous treat using brown sugar instead of white. I can’t decide which one I like more so I always just make one batch of each. So happy baking, and remember, it’s always a biscuit and never a cookie!

20Anzac1

tasty enough to eat as is!

 

what a difference the sugar makes!

what a difference the sugar makes!

nom nom nom!

nom nom nom!

Pumpkin: Not Just for Drinking…

I was introduced to pumpkin soup when I lived in Australia.  It was intriguing and, honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect because, well, pumpkins were for carving and lattes.  It arrived with a dollop of sour cream and chives and I was hooked from the moment I tasted my first bite.

Until that point in time, every soup I had eaten was either veggie soup or something cheese based (like broccoli and cheese).  So to eat something creamy, but not cheesy was crazy!  And at that crucial moment in time, I realized WE WERE USING PUMPKINS ALL WRONG!!!!

At the time, it never entered my brain that I would want to make it.  Oh no no no…it was probably too hard.  I mean, it was pureed.  And who knows what kind of weird spices were involved.  Nope, I was just happy to eat my pumpkin soup out.  Until, of course, Jaime came along and introduced me to roasting (of course, we have to roast them!).

A note about pumpkins and this soup.  I use baking (aka smaller) pumpkins, but I also make this a lot with acorn or butternut squash.  They’re all in the same family–just mix and match with what you find at the store!

Pumpkin Soup

  • 2 pounds pumpkin/squash, seeded, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 pound of carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 3 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 head of garlic, top sliced off of head
  • Olive oil (I don’t have an amount–eyeball it!)
  • 6 cups of veggie stock
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • course sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
  • stuff for garnishing

Preheat oven to 500F.  In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, carrots, and onions.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Mix well to ensure all pieces are coated with olive oil.  Place on a baking sheet and spread evenly.  Place head of garlic also on baking sheet (I like to put it in the center!), drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes.  In a large stockpot, bring veggie stock to a boil.  Carefully add roasted veggies, except garlic.  Remove garlic cloves from skin by squeezing gently at the bottom (careful it’s hot!).  Add to the stock pot.  Once everything has been added, puree soup.  I use an emulsion blender (best soup puree-ing device ever!), but you can carefully use a blender (small batches–no more than 1/2 blender full, leave the cap off, but cover with a towel and blend slowly…otherwise, you risk exploding hot soup over you and your kitchen!) or food processor.  Once soup is pureed, add cream and nutmeg.  Taste and adjust spices.  Serve with a garnish you can be traditional and go with sour cream and chives, but I usually don’t have either on hand and use greek yogurt and cilantro, which in my humble opinion is tastier!  You can also go uber-simple and used freshly ground pepper as a garnish, but the sour cream or yogurt give it some nice tang and adds an extra layer of yummy.  Or you could be uber-fancy and serve it in  a pumpkin!

Those of you who know me, know that I don't have the patience for this!  I found it on the Food Channel Culinary Center website http://www.foodchannel.com/articles/article/culinary-center-to-open-at-midwest-theme-park/

Those of you who know me, know that I don’t have the patience for this! I found it on the Food Channel Culinary Center website http://www.foodchannel.com

However you like it, you’re gonna love it!

A Toast to Vegemite!

Dearest Mal, as requested a (hopefully) funny Australia story–Happy Birthday!!

Show of hands of how many people NOT from Australia who like Vegemite?  Or have even tried Vegemite?  Or even heard of Vegemite in a setting other than a Men At Work song?

vegemite

Vegemite is a yeast extract paste that exceptionally high in B-vitamins.  Here’s what Vegemite has to say about itself:

Start your day with Vegemite, rich in B vitamins to kick start your day! From eggs to avocados, you don’t have to stop at toast when your Start with VEGEMITE.

I’m quite sure it’s why Aussies–as a whole–are a happy lot of people.

There are two things you need to know about Vegemite when trying it for the first time:

1.  It is savory.     2.  A little dab goes a very long way.

I’m very sure that Aussies leave out these two little facts because they like to see the reactions, particularly of Yanks, when someone tries Vegemite for the first time.  All they tell you is how fabulous it is and how every Australian looooooooooves it (I mean, everyone–there are like 20 people in the entire Australian population who do not like Vegemite).

I moved to Australia as a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar (THANKS Rotary!!) to study Biological Anthropology at The Australian National University.  Since I was making housing arrangements from Texas, I decided living on campus would be the best option until I got my bearings.  The choices for graduate students, however, were quite limited and I finally ended up at John XXIII College, which was governed by the Catholic Church and overseen by a priest in residence.

I would like to interject one more rule about trying Vegemite for the first time: NEVER do so in front of a priest.

During my first week, I observed my residents all eating this dark brown tar looking stuff on toast and sandwiches and even bananas.  My thought is that it probably tasted kind of like Nutella (Aussies, try to keep laughing to a minimum please!) and Vegemite is to Australia what peanut butter is to The United States.  The latter part of my thought was correct.  The former part of my thought was completely wrong…WRONG…WRONG!

I finally, at the behest of the aforementioned priest, decided to give it a go.  I mean, it looks like it tastes like Nutella and everyone was eating it, so how bad could it be?

The entire table watched as I slathered it on my buttered toast, as was suggested by everyone at my table.  Everyone held their breath (this should have been my first clue things were about to go horribly wrong) as I took a big ol’ bite (hello, I’m a Texan–go big or go home!) and then…my tongue was relaying a message to my brain that this DID NOT taste like Nutella nor was it sweet nor was it chocolate…it was

DISGUSTING!!

At that point my brain assumed we were being poisoned and did the only logical thing in that situation: ordered my mouth to spit it out!  My mouth complied more quickly than anticipated to spit that horrible, disgustingly savory and salty nastiness out!  There was no time to dispose of it like a lady to make my Ome proud.  Nope.  My fight or flight senses kicked in still fearing poison and with a very loud plaaaaghttttt! my big ol’ bite went sailing out of my mouth and across the table, landing–to my horror and dismay–right in front of the priest.

Someone gasped.  I’m sure it was me.  I’m also quite sure additional gasps were coming from neighboring tables.  The entire hall, filled with breakfasting residents, stopped and stared at my painfully embarrassed faced and the stunned look of the priest, now staring at my big ol’ bite of Vegemite toast which had been catapulted to the edge of his plate.

Stillness.  Staring back and forth from the priest to me to the priest to me.  I’m trying very casually and nonchalantly  grab the spat-out toast, however, I am now faced with the realization that I can’t actually reach across the table to grab it, so I did what I think anyone would have done–I flicked my napkin across the table so that at the very least, the toast was covered.  And then resumed the best stately position I could under the given circumstances.

And then I heard it.  Laughter.  From the priest, who asked through his chuckles “so, I take it you didn’t like our national treasure?” At which point, all I could do was shake my head and answer honestly and undiplomatically “that was THE MOST DISGUSTING THING I HAVE EVER PUT IN MY MOUTH.”

It took a long time for me to acquire a taste for Vegemite.  And I have to admit, I rather enjoy giving it to unsuspecting people who mistake it for an Aussie version of Nutella…I think of it as homage to my fellow Aussies.

The Unpredictability of Love…

One of the most important epicurean things you can know about me is that I have a love affair with oysters.

Raw.  Oysters.

Keep your “eeeeuuuwww-ing” and “gross-ing” to a minimum and where I can’t hear you.  I love them.  And true love lasts a life time.

Of course, growing up smack dab in the middle of Texas there weren’t many opportunities to eat raw oysters.  So my love of oysters really blossomed when I moved to Australia, where 85% of the population live within 50 miles of a coast and fresh seafood is always on the menu.

Several hours drive south of Sydney is a small coastal town named Narooma.  Narooma offers many wonderful things for visitors and is a favored vacation spot for many Australians.  Whale watching is the most popular, but, in my humble opinion, the best is their boat tours of the inlet.  On the tour, we saw a variety of wild and plant life and even stopped for billy tea (an Australian bush tea).  But my favorite part of the tour is when we came across a bed of oysters and the captain began harvesting and shucking them for us–right out of the water!

Okay, so realistically, I know this is what happens, but this landlocked Texan had never seen such a thing!  I was hesitant, but my sense of adventure and excitement to try something so new quickly overcame any kind of “are we sure this is safe?” qualms I might have had.  I was justly rewarded.  The taste of the oyster was silky and creamy and the saltiness of the water created a nice compliment. IT. WAS. AWESOME!!!!!

And, as such, my like for oysters instantaneously turned to LOVE.  and thus it started.  and just you wait–oysters have their own tag, so trust me–there will be lots of posts about them!

Meanwhile, I owe a lifelong enjoyment of this delicacy to my Captain and crew in Narooma!