Thursday, December 31, 2009

Things I Found in my Grandmother's House: Part V

In a closet in my grandmother's house, I discovered a curious-looking box that appeared to hold some sort of exercise equipment: The Whirl-A-Sizer. Oh yes, it comes with its own exercise program and advertises, among other benefits, that it helps to "Shape and tone bustline." Based upon the packaging, I estimate that the whirl-a-sizer hails from the late 1970s or very early 1980s, but there's no date listed. By far the best part of this historical find is the informational poster that shows different poses you can do with your Whirl-a-Sizer.

The outfits are spectacular, especially the woman who is working out in a one-piece belted jumpsuit.

We took the Whirl-a-sizer out for a spin, as demonstrated here by Myles (performing the "Accordion") and Sarah (going behind the back for the "Arm Firmer").

However, my favorite of all the poses is definitely the Peek A Boo:

I'm not so good at whirl-a-sizing but hopefully I can work my way up to that one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mini reviews: one restaurant, one book, and one movie

Restaurant: Estragon is a Spanish restaurant in the South End that opened a couple of years ago, and it's become one of my favorite spots in the city. Like most Spanish restaurants, Estragon is known for its tapas and sangria, and also carries a few Spanish beers, including Estrella. But what I really love about the place is the decor- artsy with beautiful decorations but airy and comfortable at the same time. Even the soap dispensers in the bathroom are vintage cool. Like most tapas places, you can rack up a significant bill rather quickly, so I recommend going for the happy hour special- $1 tapas at the bar from Monday to Thursday 5:30- 7pm. The fried artichokes, ham on toast, and Spanish omelet were my favorites. The downside to Estragon is that it's on Harrison Ave, a couple streets off of the main drag, far enough away so there's not much foot traffic around- although it's never been empty when I've gone (probably because of those $1 tapas), it's never been full either, which doesn't bode all that well for its future.

Book: Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill. In this critically acclaimed novel, our narrator is Hans van den Broek, a Dutch financial analyst living in New York City. After 9/11, Hans and his wife and son had to vacate their loft, and Hans is eventually left alone living in a strange hotel when his wife Rachel grows tired of the uncertainty (and her marriage, apparently) and moves back to England with the boy. In an effort to combat loneliness, Hans takes up his boyhood sport, cricket. In America, however, cricket is an immigrant game, played mostly by Indians, Pakistanis, and Caribbean islanders. Hans is befriended by a charismatic cricket official form Trinidad named Chuck Ramkissoon and soon finds himself accompanying Chuck on many of his entrepreneurial adventures, not all of which are of the legal form. The writing is both succinct and descriptive, and Netherland captures the uneasy tone of life after the terrorist attacks in New York City. With a new government and new set of problems (i.e. the troubled economy), we're already living in a different age, and Netherland evokes memories of the early 2000s more than it describes our current world. The novel is at its best when it's an ode to the city itself- a fellow hotel resident dressed as an angel, taxi drivers dining at hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants, the cricketers as a prime example of a hidden but vibrant subculture. In my opinion, the novel is at its worst when it tackles Hans' personal life, and although I liked the book, this is what prevented me from loving it. I thought his wife was kind of a bitch, and their relationship struck me as completely lacking in joy- they seem to stay together because they're both resigned to being married to one another, and I just found that aspect of the book too dreary and mundane for my tastes.

Movie: Sin Nombre is a haunting and powerful film that follows the stories of two characters who meet on top of a train in Mexico. Sayra is a teenage girl from Honduras who is traveling north with her estranged father and uncle, a journey shared by thousands of illegal immigrants who face extreme danger with the hopes of starting a new life in the United States. Willy, or Casper, is a member of a vicious Mexican gang known as La Mara. At the beginning of the film, he is in the process of distancing himself from street life in favor of spending time with his girlfriend- a move that is not taken kindly by the gang's leader, the terrifying Lil' Mago. After a series of events, Willy ends up traveling north with Sayra, only now they are on the run from vengeful Mara in addition to hiding from the police. Sin Nombre does an excellent job of chronicling the journey of the Central American illegal immigrants- in this regard, it reminds me of a modern version of the high school Spanish class staple, the 1983 movie El Notre. It still seems absolutely crazy to me that people would risk their lives to end up working in shitty jobs without any legal rights- and that's the best case scenario. Before filming the movie, director Cary Joji Fukunaga spent time in Chiapas riding trains with immigrants and interviewing gang members, a trip that obviously contributed to the authenticity of the movie. One of the most mesmerizing and horrifying sequences of Sin Nombre is the story of Smiley, a 12 year old inductee into the Mara family. Despite the brutality and shocking violence (Note to self: stay far, far away from anyone with facial tattoos), the seduction of power and a sense of belonging works its magic on young Smiley. Overall, Sin Nombre is a very well-done film, with excellent acting by the relatively unknown cast (especially Paulina Gaitan as Sayra and Edgar Flores as Willy) and impressive cinematography. I'd recommend it, but it's definitely not a movie for the faint of heart (or stomach).

Christmas eve music

This whole not working thing has kept me busier than anticipated, but I'll start posting more frequently next week, I promise!

As for now, I aim to placate you with a gift of songs.

One of my new favorite musical acts is Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. I hate the name, because it's too long and lends to some confusion regarding the Magnetic Fields but love the music. The LA based group has been described as a hippie version of the Arcade Fire, which seems apt. One I heard their song "Home," I was hooked, mostly because features two things I love: duets and whistling. And it's just so happy!

Home - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

And because it is Christmas eve, here's one of my very favorite Christmas songs:

2000 Miles
- The Pretenders

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Report- NYC

Friday- Hitched a ride down to New York City with my friend Andy, which was great because we left early and avoided traffic and made a stop at a cute diner in Connecticut, complete with a Greek waitress who hugs and kisses customers. I did some Christmas shopping downtown, including a stop at F.A.O. Schwarz, which has the most amazing variety of stuffed animals you can possibly imagine. After that, I met up wtih Carolina at her apartment- Cornell offers subsidized housing for post-docs on Roosevelt Island, a small island in the East River. You can get there on the subway, or on a convenient and much more scenic aerial tramway (that was featured in one of the recent Spider-Man movies). After catching up over dinner and beers, we headed out to meet up with a couple of my soccer friends and did some bar hopping downtown.

Saturday- We woke up early and headed to the Brooklyn Museum to see a special photography exhibit, Who Shot Rock & Roll. The exhibition featured many iconic images of musicians and provided backstory highlighting the photographers, most of whom remain relatively unknown. I really enjoyed it and if you're in New York City and at all a music fan, I'd definitely recommend it. The rest of the museum was nice, too, and it only costs a suggested donation of $10 to get in. After the museum, we walked around Brooklyn for a bit and then headed back to Manhattan to go to the movies. We saw Invictus, the new Clint Eastwood film about an unlikely friendship between Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) and the captain of the national (and almost all white) rugby team, played by Matt Damon. Hey, you've gotta love a feel-good sports movie. When we exited the cinema, we found ourselves in the middle of a full-blown snowstorm. We met up with my friends Liz, Amanda, and Dan for Mexican food, and then traipsed through the snowdrifts to an Irish pub afterwards. I love being in the city during a winter storm.
Sunday- I headed back to Boston on the Lucky Star bus, which was only slightly delayed by the weather, although that didn't prevent it from stopping at vile Arby's. Overall, I had a great weekend in New York City, even though I uncharacteristically didn't take any pictures except for one of the wintry streets I took from the window of the tram.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holy moley!

A few months ago, I noticed a small mole growing on my lower ribcage. (Hey, it's cool to talk about your weird moles on your blog. Really.) After a couple months had passed, I noticed that it was getting bigger and changing shape, and since I am the poster child for skin cancer (fair hair, fair skin, freckles, blue eyes), I decided to get it checked out. I went to the dermatologist, who didn't seem to think it was problematic, but was nevertheless enthusiastic about the idea of cutting it out. The lab results came back this week, and it turns out that it was cancerous- not the scary bad melanoma kind, but a more common form of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. I do need to go back to make sure the little sucker was completely excised, but it should be fine. The thing that surprised me was that it's a sun-related cancer, and since I don't spend all that much time in a bikini, it was an unusual place for it to develop. So for today's public service announcement, make sure you have those funky new moles checked out, even if you don't think they could be cancerous. And that goes double for my palefaced brethren. And triple for people living in Australia, which has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two months of leisure

So, my last day of my old job was this past Friday, and my new job begins on February 22nd or so. Which leaves me with an unprecedented two months of nothing to do! Truthfully, I have quite a bit to do, in terms of fellowship applications, reading up on bacterial pneumonia, and arranging a move to a faraway continent. But since I won't be gainfully employed...I'm actually looking forward to some time off, in that I'll have a chance to do some things I normally ignore, like vacuuming, going to the gym, and getting my teeth cleaned. I've also become the family's official errand girl- picking up Christmas trees today, and taking my grandmother to her book club tomorrow. And I've planned some fun activities for myself- I'm going to New York City this weekend, and I booked a two-week trip to Germany and Austria in January to visit family in Vienna and friends in Germany. Very excited about that- I've never been.

On the downside...six years of grad school haven't done wonders for my finances, and now that I've booked an expensive trip to Europe (whoops!), I need to earn some money during my hiatus, or at least curtail my tendency to spend it. So I foresee a lot of book reading, movie watching, and hopefully some catering and babysitting gigs in my near future. Unless that temp job as a UPS driver's helper comes through. I think I'd look good in brown.

And just for everyone else who still has to go to work on a Monday morning:

Monday Morning, by Fleetwood Mac

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All's well that ends well

The defense has been passed, the thesis approved and handed into the library, and tomorrow, I will pack up the last of my stuff, clean off my lab bench, and walk out the door for good. Most of you are aware of the fact that I had a generally miserable experience as a graduate student. Yes, I learned a lot and I met some fantastic people, but the past six years shattered my self-confidence and nearly destroyed my enjoyment of the subject I once loved, science. However, corny as it sounds, I have a magnet that says "It'll all be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." and that seems to be the case- I got my Ph.D. and I have a fantastic job lined up.

So let the bridges remain flame-retardant, and instead of saying a long, emotional goodbye to the graduate school experience, I'll leave you all with the immortal words of Alice Cooper:

School's Out

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Recipe: Baked Shrimp with Feta

Tonight, I made Baked Shrimp with Feta from Cooking Light. It was great! Easy and quick to make, and absolutely delicious. I did omit the clam juice (I just added salt water instead) because I didn't want to buy a bottle of clam juice only to use 2 tablespoons of it and find it months later, lurking in a corner of the fridge. I also made the orzo at the bottom of the recipe and it was a good accompaniment. As was a glass of pinot grigio.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Reviews: Two movies and one book

Okay, let's start with the book. At the end of my Australian vacation, Kris lent me Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I had requested a substantial book, one that would take me a long time to finish- I tend to fly through books, and I was hoping for something hearty that could keep me entertained for at least a few days. Cloud Atlas fit the bill perfectly- it's almost like six books in one, as the novel proceed through interlocking stories, each one containing a protagonist marked by a comet-shaped birthmark. The book starts out like historical fiction, with the story of an American sailing back from the recently colonized Chatham Islands (near New Zeland), and then on to a flamboyant British composer living in Europe during the 1930s. After that, we meet Luisa Rey, a reporter in the midst of uncovering a conspiracy at a nuclear power plant, in a section of the book that reads like a Grisham thriller. After Luisa, it's back to England for the present-day, and very humorous, tale of a British publisher. Then, the book completely switches gears into sci-fi and we meet Somni-451, a clone living in a futuristic Korea where genetically designed humans perform all menial labor and service industry jobs. Although I'm not normally a big sci-fi fan, this was by far my favorite section of the book. The world Somni-451 describes is utterly fascinating, as she recounts to a government archivist how she transitioned from an everyday waitress clone into a soon-to-be-executed rebel. The central chapter of the book is the most tedious- it takes place centuries in the future, in a bleak and violent post-apocalyptic Hawaii. So yeah, it's sort of like The Road, only written in a dialect normally associated with authors attempting to characterize poor, rural southerners. It was tough to get through, but after that section, the book moves backwards in time through all the stories, and finally ends with our American traveler circa 1850. Cloud Atlas is an impressive feat, with the complexity of formats and writing styles, but it was also a very enjoyable read (except for that one section in the middle, and even that was interesting, just tough to figure out the dialect). I thought it was great- well-written, creative, and full of engaging characters and interesting themes, and I'd definitely recommend it.

So I finally saw Where the Wild Things Are and... I didn't love it. Don't get me wrong, I did like it, and the cinematography and creatures are absolutely perfect- they look like big, furry wild things, not like something generated by a computer. But they were a little too glum for my liking. The movie did a great job of capturing the frustrating parts of being a kid- just like Max, I can recall getting angry and destroying a toy or something and then feeling guilty and sad about it later. However, I felt like it was missing something essential, the spirit of fun and freedom that comes from having an imagination, and focused too much on the negative. These wild things were way more emo than the ones I remember from the book.

I also saw An Education and thought it was fantastic. The story itself is not a new concept- a teenager at an all girls school in 1960s England starts dating a charming and debonair older man, who turns out to be not exactly what he seems. However, in this movie, the brilliance is in the details- the acting, the dialogue, the clothes and sets are all fantastic. Carey Mulligan is perfect as the young Jenny, and Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as her suitor David- he's just the right mix of charming and creepy. I thought the most poignant part of the movie was the relationship between Jenny and her parents, who are also swept of their feet by his seductive lies. An Education is fairly slow-paced, and don't expect any action scenes a la 2012, but sometimes that's a good thing.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Fun

Okay, this poorly translated Chinese menu made me laugh harder than I've laughed in a long, long time. Seriously, read the whole thing. Cowboy leg? It just gets better and better.

It's a special week when not one, but two people send me interspecies friendship links (thanks Jeff and Rob!:

1. 10 Weirdest Animal Friendships. Amazing! The giraffe and ostrich are my favorites.

And this picture is of a baby deer who supposedly followed a beagle home, right through the doggy door and onto the couch. Awwww.

Lastly, the Friday Song of the Day! No surprises here:

Down Under, by Men at Work.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Green* things I'm into lately

1. I started using a new face wash and I love it! I had been using Cetaphil for a long, long time but was never exactly thrilled with it. Yes, it's gentle, but for a greaseball like me, perhaps too gentle. I never really felt like it was cleaning my skin, probably because it doesn't foam up so you don't get that soapy clean effect. However, harsher products I've tried make my face all red and blotchy. A few weeks ago, I noticed a new (to me) Neutrogena product on the drugstore shelf: Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Facial Cleanser. Terrible name-Acne Wash? Couldn't they have gone with Clarifying Wash or For Problem Skin? Euphemisms do have their place- there's a reason why we call it Diet Coke and not Obesity Coke. And it also kind of sounds like it's made of acne, a la aloe lotion, which is just gross. Anyways, stupid name aside, the Redness Soothing bit of it caught my eye and I decided to give it a shot. And it's great- after using it, my skin feels clean and smooth and not irritated at all!

2. Brussel sprouts. They are delicious! Who knew? All this time I thought they were chalky and gross, like lima beans, the infamous ruiner of vegetable medleys. Boy, was I wrong! Toss them in olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and roast in the oven, and prepare to be amazed. Here's an easy recipe, and if you want to get fancy, you could add some crushed red pepper and balsamic vinaigrette.

*in terms of color, not environmental impact.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

This just in...

I have a new job.... in Melbourne, Australia!!

I'll be sticking with science for the time being, working on a Gates Foundation project studying bacterial pneumonia in children. I start in late February and will be there for at least 6 months.

HOLY COW. Or shall I say...CRIKEY!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving recipes

This year, my sister Eri, BIL Ryan, cousin Eric and I all celebrated the holiday in San Diego. My grandmother dubbed it "Thanksgiving West" whereas the rest of the family was part of "Thanksgiving East," like some bizzaro turkey eating offshoot of the old East Side West Side rap rivalry. Two recipes we tried out were big hits:

1. Pumpkin Ice Cream Torte, from Cooking Light. I made it with lactose-free vanilla ice cream from Breyers (OMG YUM!), which was super exciting because I hadn't eaten ice cream cake in like, decades. You have to make it the night before you plan to eat it, and it does take some time for each layer to set, but it's really easy. And really fantastic. Wah-lah!

2. We also made these tasty Sparkling Cranberry Tea Cocktails, which would be an excellent addition to any fall or winter gathering in need of a refreshing alcoholic beverage.

and just because I think it's funny:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blast from the past

I'm in San Diego enjoying a sunny and warm Thanksgiving with my sister, BIL, and cousin. There are many things to love about San Diego- the weather, the prevalence of "dip" signs, the delicious Mexican food, and did I mention the weather? I don't know why we all don't just move here. Honestly, what's stopping us?
One of my favorite places in San Diego is Old Town- a historical state park that replicates San Diego during the mid 1800s. It's sort of like the southern Californian version of Sturbridge Village, but instead of actors churning butter and playing with a hoop and a stick, it's full of cute little adobe buildings that serve margaritas. Admittedly, Old Town may be perceived as hokey by some people, but I have no time for people who don't appreciate a penny candy store. Especially a penny candy store that sells... CANDY CIGARETTES!!! I can't believe these are still in existence- I thought they had been banned a long time ago, a la Joe Camel. Yeah, I know they are totally un-PC and smoking kills and everything, but aren't candy cigarettes awesome? I bought two types- the sugary white stick ones, and the gum ones wrapped in paper that puff sugar so it looks like you're smoking! Wheeee! I can't wait to give them to my nieces! Just kidding :)

My other Old Town purchase was a Mexican bingo set- we had this game when I was a kid and I hadn't seen one of these sets in years. I love the pop art look of the cards and the boards, with their bright colors and strong, simple drawings. My plan is to frame a couple of the tablets and hang them in my kitchen.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What next?

So I've finished my Ph.D. and I'm back from Australia, and for the time being, back in the lab wrapping up some loose ends. And now I've got to figure out what to do next. I've done some thinking and have come up with a long term goal- I'd like to stay in the microbiology field, but move away from academia and into public health, global health in particular. And right now I have to potential job offers at different ends of the spectrum.

1. Microbiology research in Australia. While on vacation, I met with a scientist who studies bacterial pneumonia in children, and we've been corresponding about the possibility of me coming there for 6 months to a year to do what would essentially be a mini post-doc. On the plus side, it's an interesting project and aligns very well with my scientific background and career goals. And one objective would be to get a paper out of the work, which would be a big-time CV booster. Most of you know that my graduate school experience was ...unplesasant. But, I've heard from a lot of other scientists that starting a new project in a new lab really rejuvenated their enthusiasm for scientific reasearch, and in general, doing a post-doc keeps a lot of doors open. On the minus side, I'm waiting to hear back about visa and funding issues, and so far, I do not have an official offer.

2. Teacher training in Uganda. I applied to a position to do laboratory training in Africa through Peace Corps Response, and although that spot was already filled, they offered me another position- working in science education at a teachers' college in Uganda. On the plus side, living in Uganda would definitely be exciting and interesting, and having work experience in Africa would be helpful in appling for future jobs in international health. I had some concerns that it would be a little bit too much like Peace Corps Part 2, but I talked to the placement agent and it does seem to be a much more professional assignment. A couple of the goals of the project are to incorporate HIV education into the science curriculum and to increase the enrollment of girls in Ugandan schools, so philosophically, it seems like very meaningful work. On the minus side, it's an education position and I'm a scientist, not an educator. I worry that it might be deviating too far off the track of where I'd like to eventually end up. If it were a health or laboratory job, I'd jump at the chance, but it isn't. Also, it would be difficult to keep up with my scientific contacts and apply for jobs while I was there, because of poor internet service. But hey, I could probably finagle a trip to the world cup!

So here's the dilemna: the Uganda people have officially offered me the job and need an answer very soon (within a week or so), becuase the departure date is in early January and the processing (visa and medical clearance and whatnot) takes about a month. So after six years of not having to make any sort of life decisions, I need to make a big one in the next few days. Both are good options and neither one is permanent (6-12 months, most likely). I think the Australia job is a better match for me, but it's not yet a guarantee.

So yes, oh readers of DCoE, I'm asking for your advice. What should I do? (other than pressure Australia a little bit for an official offer)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: Dracula

For the last book club, we went with a Halloween theme and read Dracula, by Bram Stroker. And as you know, vampires are so hot right now! I must confess that I was a bit intimidated by Dracula (the book, not the vampire, although I would certainly be intimidated by him were we to ever meet). It's long and it was written more than 100 years ago, which for some reason, made me assume that it might be a difficult and tedious read, not to mention scary. In fact, the opposite was true- Dracula was pure entertainment, full of action and suspense. It almost reads like a movie script, which makes sense if you think about it- before movies and television existed, people read for entertainment, and what do the people like? Fast-paced, exciting stories filled with vivid imagery (like Count Dracula crawling down the wall of his castle, lizard-style) and interesting characters, such as uber vampire hunter Van Hesling and a good-ole boy Texan, Quincey Morris. The novel is written as a collection of journal entries and correspondence between the central characters and starts out with the journal of a young English lawyer, Jonathan Harker, on his way to Transylvania to conduct business with a new client, a foreign count named...Dracula! We as readers know that Dracula is like, the most famous vampire ever, and the local townspeople try to persuade Harker to cancel his trip to Dracula's castle and foist rosaries upon him, but he remains blissfully naive until he spends a few days at the castle and notices a string of oddities. I'll spare you the rest of the details, but I will recommend Dracula as a fun book to read, especially if you want to bone up on vampire lore. I still need to watch the movie version with Gary Oldman.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Blogs

My friends JR and Jessica recently moved to Paris, where JR is starting a post-doc at the Institut Pasteur. And they're blogging about it: Le Grand Experiment.

Meanwhile, my friend Byran has started a blog project called Socially Conscious Weekends. Every week he highlights one human rights/global health/social issue (for example, Conflict Minerals in Congo, gives a factual summary, and provides links on how you can help. I think it's a great idea- a lot of us wish we could be more socially conscious but can't find the time to really delve into it. So now, Bryan does the hard part for us, and it only takes a few minutes to read up on a topic and check out the links.

Friday, November 13, 2009


This is of the funniest news articles I've read in years: A Danvers Principal is attempting to ban students from using the word "meep."

From the article:

Bob Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, said he first heard students meep about a year ago during a class screening of a television show. "Something happened and one of them said 'Meep,'" he said. "And then they all started doing it."
The meeps, he said, came from all of the students in the class in rapid-fire succession. When he asked them what that meant, they said it didn't really mean anything.
"It's almost like they look at you like it's a silly question," he said.

But meeping doesn't seem to be funny to Danvers High School Principal Thomas Murray, who threatened to suspend students caught meeping in school.

That last line just kills me. (article via Ryan)

And...The Friday song is back! I couldn't find anything with meeps, so I had to settle for beeps.

Drive My Car, by the Beatles.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Things I found at my grandmother's house, Part IV

I've previously posted pictures and descriptions of unusual items I've discovered while living at my grandmother's house. The latest object is something with which I am quite enthralled...vintage outerwear! I saw this hanging in a closet, and at first glance, I thought it was a coat. However, upon further inspection, I realized that a coat it is not. I don't know exactly what it is. I started calling it a poncho-cape (in my head, at least) but when I described it to a coworker, he thought that it perhaps it was a cloak. Time for a game of Name This Outergarment! It doesn't have sleeves per se, but it will cover your arms. It opens and closes with a row of buttons along the left shoulder blade. It has two slits in the front and a long flap with pockets. It is made of wool, comes from Ireland, and looks to be at least 30 years old. Here's a picture of the poncho-cape/cloak and one of me modeling it.
I actually really like it, so don't be surprised if you spot me roaming the streets of Boston in a cloak this winter. I'm still holding out hope that it bestows special powers on all those who wear it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Recipe: Roasted fish, potato, and asparagus with dill butter (or margarine, in my case)

While I was at the airport to waiting to fly home, I amassed my leftover Australian money (which is really cool looking, by the way. and they don't use pennies!) and decided to spend it rather than turning it back in for like $14. I ended up buying a couple more souvenirs for family and a Donna Hay cooking magazine for myself. I had never heard of her, but I liked the look and feel of the magazine, and it came with a free tea towel (woohoo!). I was pleasantly surprised when started reading it on the plane and found it chock full of relatively easy and tasty looking recipes. This week, I tried out this one (I couldn't find a link but it's short enough so I'll just type it out. And I did have to convert the original from the metric system, so now you won't have to):

Roasted fish, potato, and asparagus with dill butter

1 lb baby yellow potatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 white fish fillets (about 1 lb total)- I used haddock.
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons butter (or margarine), melted
1 tablespoon dill leaves

Preheat oven to 390F. Place the potato and 1 tablespoon of the oil on a baking tray and toss to coat. Roast for 25 minutes. Add the fish, asparagus, and capers to the tray and drizzle with the remaining oil. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the potatoes are golden. Combine the butter and dill and spoon over the fish to serve. Serves 2 or 3.

Super easy and so yummy! I did sprinkle some salt and pepper on the potatoes and fish before I roasted them. I can't wait to paste this recipe in my nerd cooking scrapbook.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Back to Reality

I spent my last night in Australia drinking award-winning beer and gorging myself on all-you-can-eat sushi with my college friend Alison, who has been living in Sydney for a few years. And after a Very Long Flight, I'm finally home. Flying back to Australia is akin to time leave Sydney at 4pm and fly for upteen (12? 14?) hours and then arrive in San Fransisco at 10am...that same day. Crazy, huh?

Anyways, as you may have guessed from reading the recent posts, I had a great time in Australia. It's a trip that I had been wanting to take for years, and my old college roommater Kris and her husband Rodd were excellent hosts.

On a whole, the country on a whole was more subdued than I expected. The cities still have a strong British empire feel to them, although the birds and plants are a far more tropical to anything you'd spot in London- check out the bright purple Jacaranda tree. The Australian people enjoy meat pies and don't sound like Steve Irwin (a notable exception being Kristy's fitness trainer Spudd...I went to one of his workout sessions and could barely understand a word he said.) Australians are really into wearing sunscreen and conserving water- the toilets all have two buttons for flushing, one if you need a lot of water (i.e. for #2) and another if you only need a little bit. Lactose intolerance must be fairly common, because soy milk is available at every cafe. Food and drinks and gasoline are more expensive than in the U.S., but right now the Australian dollar is very strong and in the past American tourists have gotten a lot more bang for their buck. Although many things about Australia seemed surprisingly familiar, there were some striking differences. The natural beauty of the country is stunningly beautiful and like nothing I've ever seen before. Their sports are weird (cricket and netball and footy and rugby) and their animals are even weirder. And they eat their national animals, the emu and the kangaroo.

Australia is a wonderfully easy country in which to travel, especially for backpackers. In-country flights are dirt cheap (I paid around $80 for my round trip flight from Sydney to Melbourne) and hostels are abundant, inexpensive, clean, and safe. And there is so much to see and do! Even with the places I saw, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. Almost all of the other tourists I met were from Europe, and most of them were in the midst of two or three month vacations, a habit I think we as Americans need to adopt. Talking to them about their travels made me wish I could have stayed another month and gone to New Zealand as well. I also found it amusing what aspects of the American culture have made it to Europe- my tour companions were all familiar with Ben Harper's music but didn't know what a burrito was.

In closing, if you ever have the opportunity to take a trip to Australia, definitely go. Do I want to move there? No. It's a lovely country, but so very far away from everything. Do I wish I could have stayed longer? Absolutely.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Weekend Report

Friday I headed out to the Blue Mountains, a national park a couple of hours outside of Sydney. It reminded me a bit of the mountains in northern New England, only these forests smell like eucalyptus and are full of lizards and tropical birds. I took the train to Katoomba and hiked around (here they call it "bushwalking" instead of hiking) for a few hours, stopping to see the famous Three Sisters rock formation. Apparently there is a long track record of people wandering off the trails and getting lost in the Blue Mountains (recent example here) and I can see why- despite the abundance of tourists once you follow a trail into the woods for fifteen minutes or so, there's nobody around. So I made sure to stick to the trails and was back in Sydney in time for schnitzel and bier at a German restaurant.

Saturday was Halloween: I was very glad that the timing of my trip allowed me to attend Kris and Rodd's legendary Halloween party in Sydney. They really pull out all the stops when it comes to food and decor- check out the witch finger cookies and the meatloaf zombie Barbie that Kris created. I dressed as David Bowie from Labyrinth, which was a lot of fun, although my costume may have been more authentic had I been bold enough to shove a zucchini down my stretch pants. Kris and Rodd came as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers and they looked great, and a lot of other guests had fabulous costumes as well. Halloween is starting to become more popular in Australia, but it is still largely viewed as an American holiday. Some pics:

Sunday we cleaned and recovered from the party, watched a bunch of episodes of The Big Bang Theory (love it!) and met up with a couple of Sydney Metafilter members at a very townie pub. Overall, it was a great way to spend my last weekend in Australia.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Five Things Not Related to Australia

Inspired by Sarah and Jenny

1. Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies. Just made these for Kris' Halloween Party. I feel sort of dirty now. Dirty and delicious.

2. Trona High School father grew up in Trona, California, a small mining town on the edge of Death Valley. The football field he played on (made of sand and known as The Pit) was recently featured in from the LA Times- click on the link above.

The last three are all books- I've been catching up on my reading while on vacation.

3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. This Pultizer Prize winning novel tells the story of a geeky, overweight Dominican-American boy named Oscar and his family, who have long been plagued by a curse known as the fuku that followed them from the Caribbean to their current home of New Jersey. Although Oscar is the title character, the story is more about his family and their history than it is about him... his mother surviving the brutal reign of Trujillo in the DR, his sister Lola and her captivating mixture of rebellion and vulnerability, and his friend Yunior, who also acts as the narrator and Lola's on again, off again boyfriend. The writing itself is hilarious and heartbreaking, and the characters are vibrant. It's a very latino book, with Spanish terminology sprinkled throughout. All of the women are sexy and gorgeous, and all of the men cheat on them. I really enjoyed it, but I think having lived in Nicaragua for a couple of years definitely enhanced my appreciation of the book. I was also glad that I read In The Time of The Butterflies because I already knew a bit about Trujillo's dictatorship. Here's the NYT review.

4. Out Stealing Horses, by Per Pettersen, is a Norwegian novel about an old man who moves up to an isolated cabin in the north of the country. Although the goal of his relocation was to forget his past, he ends up immersed in it, especially when he realizes that his current neighbor was a childhood acquaintance. Much of the book is a flashback of a summer he spent with his father in rural Norway, and set against a backdrop of the quiet beauty of northern Norway, the book about the relationship between a boy and his father. Out Stealing Horses progresses at a slow and deliberate pace, and it's not until over halfway through that a deeper plot is revealed. I enjoyed it, but it's more suited for reading on a cold evening by the fire than on a sunny beach.

5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Yep, the title says it all- it's the classic romance story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, only in this version, guts, gore, ninjas, vomit, and zombies (a.k.a "unmentionables") play a prominent role. If you've read the original and don't tend to take English literature too seriously, you'll definitely enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More on Melbourne

As promised, here are some more photos and details about my trip to Melbourne and the South Coast. There exists somewhat of a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, and residents of one city will frequently ask you which of the two you prefer. Naturally, I say that I like them both. I stayed in two different neighborhoods in Melbourne- the first was the Fitzroy/Carlton, which I loved- a funky area with loads of cafes, restaurants, shops, bars and a couple of beautiful parks nearby. The second was St. Kilda, a beachfront area a little south of downtown accesible by tram (it's really easy to get around Melbourne via tram, and they are free in the city center). I was not a fan St. Kilda. My hostel was terrible- it was full of European fratboy teenagers (the bar had a daily jaegerbomb special...'nuff said.) and even if I had been ten years younger, I don't think I was ever much into the spring break party scene, which is permanently on display in St. Kilda. So I saw the best and the worst of the city and definitely could have done without two nights in St. Kilda. I tried to move back to the Nunnery (dirty hippies > trashy teenagers) but I had already paid upfront for my accommodations in St. Kilda so I sucked it up.

My jaunt to Melbourne was also the first time I've traveled by myself. Australia is a very travel-friendly country, with and abundance of cheap and clean hostels and backpacker tours widely available. I really enjoyed the two tours I did and would definitely recommend that method if you're traveling on your own- you meet a lot of people and see interesting places without having to worry about making nitpicky arrangements. But the time I spent in the city itself would have been a lot more enjoyable if I had friends with me.

One of the highlights of the trip has been seeing all of Australia's bizarre animals in the wild. One night on the tour we camped in a koala forest and saw TONS of them- most of them were pretty high up in the trees so my pictures weren't all that great. The seem cute and cuddly until night falls- their absurdly loud mating calls and noises kept us up all night. Fun fact of the day: the majority of koalas are infected with chlamydia.

Here are a few more pictures of a sleeping koala, me feeding a wallaby, the gorgeous Great Ocean Road coastline, a waterfall in the Grampians mountain range, and a bright yellow canola field.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Greetings from Melbourne!

So, here's what I've done over the past few days:

I went to see the little penguins at Phillip Island. It was really cold. They swim ashore a couple of hours after sunset, and it was very cold and damp and windy sitting on the shore waiting for them to arrive, but they were very cute so it was worth it. Besides, who knows if I'll ever get the chance to see wild penguins again.

After that, I headed off on a three day tour of the Great Ocean Road and Grampians National Park. It definitely had a different vibe from my outback tour- I was the oldest of the group (good thing I'm so immature), everyone was single, and everyone except for me was a European clubster. So yeah, we listened to trance and techno the entire time. The scenery was beautiful, although the tour was a lot more stop-and-go so we didn't get to do any hiking, which had been my favorite part of the outback tour. But I did go quad biking! A quad bike is a four wheeled ATV, and I got mine up to 50kph- it was such a blast. After the tour ended, we met up in St. Kilda for a night of clubbing, which was actually a lot of fun. And then today I dragged myself out of go on a wine tour of the Yarra Valley. Hooray for vacation!

Picture time:

I'll post some more when I'm not being charged by the minute.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are you sick of reading about my vacation yet?

I hope not! Anyways, yesterday I arrived in Melbourne have spent the past day and a half exploring the city's parks, shops, and cafes. I'm staying in a hostel that used to be a convent- it's called The Nunnery. I haven't really done the hostel thing before (well, I stayed in tons of hospedajes in Nicaragua but never shared rooms with strangers) so I was a little but antsy about it, but so far, it's been fine. A lot of people are staying there long-term so it's more like a dorm...a dorm that's full of European hippies.

Melbourne is nice but I'm really looking forward to gettting out and seeing some of the surrounding countryside. I'm going to see the penguin parade tonight and head out on a three day camping tour of the Great Ocean Road tomorrow. Before I left on the trip, a friend who had studied abroad in Australia advised me to spend as little time in the cities as possible, and I'm inclined to agree. Melbourne and Sydney are lovely but not particularly stunning, and what is different and amazing about Australia is the natural beauty of the rural areas. I've heard that the Great Ocean Road is fantastic but it would be hard to top the outback.

Anyways, so far in Melbourne I got my haircut and dyed back to my natural color (I hate having visible roots and celebrities with bad roots are pet peeve of mine. If you have the money, get that shit touched up!)

Anyways, so here are a couple of pictures- me with my new 'do (squinting into the sun) on the balcony of the Nunnery and one of the fun and enormous Queen Victoria Market.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back in Sydney

I spent the past couple of days in Sydney and managed to take two day trips using the ferry system. Sydney is a huge city with tons of small harbors and bays, and many times, the fastest way from point A to point B is via ferry. On Monday, I went to the Taronga Zoo- it has a fantastic view (the giraffes have the best view of all) and typical smattering of zoo animals plus a large collection of Australian wildlife- lions and tigers and koala bears, oh my. Koala bears are adorable but definitely not the most lively of creatures- they sleep 20 hours a day. The highlight was the free flight bird show, which had the best opening sequence I've seen in a long time. As everyone was sitting around waiting for the show to begin, a white parrot flew down and undid a string to open up the show's banner. Over the loudspeakers, a narration of the aboriginal myth about how the birds got their colors began, only the story was acted out by the birds themselves. I was really impressed- it was like watching a school play only with birds playing the parts instead of children. Next, a trainer came out and brought out several different species which would then swoop around over the crowd. In an unscripted moment, a black-breasted kite hopped over the rail and took a little girl's stuffed animal, which was sort of hilarious. The trainer, who looked slightly alarmed, got him to drop it by offering some raw meat.

Today I took the ferry over to Manly Beach, located just north of the city. It was beautiful and the weather was perfect- I laid around on the beach, swam in a (shark-free!) cove, ate fish & chips, and read about half of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. After a relaxing day at the beach (see goofy picture), I headed back to Kristy and Rodd's house and cooked up a big pot of kangaroo chili. Yum! Kangaroo is a lean, red meat, similar to venison.
Tomorrow morning I'm headed south to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. I gotta be honest, I'm really digging this extended vacation thing.