Friday, November 26, 2010

An Australian Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, as it's all about eating. No presents, no church, just food. Lots of delicious foods- turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash. I do have the snobbish belief that New Englanders do Thanksgiving best- I mean, the first one was celebrated in Massachusetts, after all. I spent three Thanksgivings in Nicaragua- the first year I went to a dinner at the embassy (good!), the second some friends and I cooked up a feast in Esteli with the help of a local bakery and a diesel powered flame thrower (awesome!), and the third was dinner at TGIFriday's in Managua (depressing!).
This year, I had originally considered hosting a dinner but with D in Hong Kong for work I decided I wasn't up to hosting a big dinner myself. I had heard of some Thanksgiving events going on over the weekend, but I want my Thanksgiving on a Thursday, like it's supposed to be, darn it! Luckily my American friend Sofie decided to have a few of us over for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Since she's a vegetarian, I volunteered to do the turkey and made this recipe for turkey hindquarters. It was plenty for the four carnivores in the group and was a lot faster and easier than preparing a whole bird. Plus, I like dark meat and it's less likely to suffer the cardinal sin of turkey roasting: dry meat. We also made stuffing, mashed potato, cranberry sauce (from a jar, alas), green beans and salad. Oh, and very large quantity of wine. The meal came out very well and we all had a lot of fun. Plus, it was sort of neat having Thanksgiving with people who had never celebrated it before- our guests were from Australia, England, and Burma, and were very intrigued by the concept of stuffing. The only downside was having to work the next day.

I'd also like to thank Kelly McMahon for providing the Thanksgiving day laughs...her photo of a cornucopia and invention of the term "pornucopia" on Facebook spawned some hilarious pilgrim-themed porno ideas...sailing on the Mateflower, Pilgrim word-that-rhymes-with Rock, etc...Okay, I'll stop now.

I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Music in Melbourne

Oh hello! Apologies for the recent radio silence, I've just been busy. And by busy I mean completely addicted to Bejeweled. But I do have some concert reviews to report.

1. The New Pornographers at the Hi-Fi. The New Pornographers are a conglomerate Canadian/American rock band full of extremely talented musicians. Their tunes are catchy, and they kind of have a Fleetwood Mac type thing going on with both male and female lead singers. I was lucky that they brought Neko Case along on this tour- since she's very popular as a solo artist she doesn't always tour with the band. And I think she's awesome and fully admit to having a girl crush on her. The show was great and I liked the venue, small enough but not horribly crowded. The only downside is that Neko didn't perform any of her own songs, but I guess I'll just have to wait until she goes on a solo tour.

2. I went back to the Hi-Fi a few days later to catch the Australian World Music Expo for a New Zealand themed show. The headliner was hip-hop artist King Kapisi, but my favorite act of the night was the funky Electric Wire Hustle. Overall, it was an interesting show and good for people watching. The audience was almost all New Zealanders, including a lot of young Maori guys with spiky hair and tattoos.

3. One of my labmates invited me to go see Paul Kelly, a legendary Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist who Kris once described as "Australia's Bob Dylan" so of course I said yes. Here's a video of a much younger Paul Kelly performing To Her Door, his most well-known song. The show was at the Corner Hotel, which reminds me a lot of the Paradise in Boston, right down to an annoying pole that I somehow always end up standing behind. He definitely lived up to his reputation- Kelly and the band sounded fantastic and they all looked like they were having a blast on stage, just enjoying playing music together. Tim Rogers from the opening act joined the stage for their encore performance of Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl. Even though I wasn't familiar with most of his songs it was easy to enjoy myself and appreciate an excellent musician putting on an excellent show.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

World Pneumonia Day

Since I'm now working on Streptococcus pneumoniae, I thought I'd let you all know that November 12th is World Pneumonia Day. Did you know that pneumonia is the leading killer of children under the age of five? Most of the 1.5 million annual fatalities occur in developing countries, and many lives could be saved if antibiotics and vaccines were more widely available. If you're interested in donating, the GAVI alliance promotes children's health by facilitating immunization in poor countries.

Book reviews

Here what I read on my long flights from Melbourne to Boston and back...the movies were absolute crap so I'm glad I brought several books.

1. Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey. I made it a goal of mine to read more books by Australian authors, and decided to start with Peter Carey, who has twice won the Man Booker prize and was on the short list again this year. Oscar and Lucinda isn't a traditional love story- set in 19th century England and Australia, it tells the tale of two people who don't quite fit into society and connect through their mutual love of gambling. Oscar is a kindhearted but misunderstood clergyman, and Lucinda is a lonely orphan who buys a glassworks in Sydney with her inheritance. It's a long and dense book, but an enjoyable one, with a refreshingly unexpected ending. Now I want to see the movie.

2. How to Be Good, by Nick Hornby. Although I've seen several movies based upon his books (About a Boy, which I loved, and High Fidelity, which I disliked), I've never read anything by Nick Hornby before. Unfortunately, I think I made a disappointing choice. In How to be Good, the protagonist Kate Carr is fed up with her marriage to bitter and sarcastic David. However, David soon changes his tune and decides to become "good," in the most sanctimonious way possible. The book didn't do too much for me, as it's about two unhappy people in an unhappy relationship, but lacks the depth to keep things interesting.

3. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. First off, Evelyn Waugh is a man. Who knew? And Brideshead is a place, one of those big fancy English houses where the idle rich dwell. The protagonist Charles Ryder befriends wealthy and charming Sebastian Flyte during their first year at university and becomes a witness of and participant in Flyte family dramas for decades to come. Supposedly Catholicism is the major theme of the novel (Waugh converted to Catholicism as an adult), but I didn't notice it as much as the alcoholism and repressed homosexuality. I liked the book but wasn't crazy about it...could it be that I've finally tired of reading about rich English people who live in houses with names? Perhaps.

4. Brava, Valentine, by Adriana Trigiani. Hey, one can't be high-brow all the time. Brava, Valentine is the second in a series about Valentine Roncalli, a New Yorker from a boisterous Italian-American family who takes the reigns of the family business, custom women's footwear. This is the type of book that when you're reading it on an airplane a woman in her 50s with enormous hair, leather skin, and an abundance of gold jewelry will lean over and say to you conspiratorially, "great book." Strangely enough, both of my parents are hooked on the Valentine series. Sure, they're fun to read, and I much preferred Brava, Valentine to the first book of the series, Very Valentine. Still not Pulitzer material, but at least the author dropped the annoying habit of meticulously describing each character's outfit every time they appeared. So I guess this means I'll be reading the next one :)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Visit to Massachusetts

I got back on Sunday after a long flight and a quickish (8 days) trip back home to Massachusetts. The main purpose of the trip was to spend time with my grandmother, who has been having health trouble in recent months. Currently, she's doing well and it was great to see her as well as visit with the rest of my family and catch up with friends in the area. Fall has always been my favorite season, and there's something about fall in New England that you just can't find anywhere else. My mom had planned a big family dinner and surprised us with Early Thanksgiving- turkey, stuffing, and the whole shebang (otherwise known as "all the trimmings")- it was awesome! I was home for Halloween, but this year, instead of attending (or hosting) a wild party I opted for the kiddie version and took my nieces trick-or-treating. I did wear a costume, though. It was super fun; my nieces had a blast and there were TONS of people out- apparently the parents of America no longer live in fear of malicious neighbors distributing poisoned candy. Thank goodness. Check those apples for razorblades, kids! I was also home for election day, which came in handy because I had forgotten to request an absentee ballot. I voted in Waltham and felt reassured that Massachusetts is still the bluest of them all.
Overall, the trip was great but exhausting- I tried to pack too much visiting in for the time frame, and I also ended up scheduling three work-related meetings. Lesson learned: next time I'll be sure to leave myself a couple of empty days where I can chill out and actually feel like I'm on vacation. Or go the outlets and stock up on clothes and shoes- so much cheaper! My best night out was when I acted like a diva and requested that all of my friends meet me at one of my favorite bars, the Beehive.

I must say, though, I'm starting to get used to the long flight. It helps that I'm now a "Premier" customer on United, so I automatically get seated in Economy Plus (more legroom! woohoo!). Oh, and the red wine + codeine combo works wonders for in-flight slumber. On the way back, I had a 5 hour layover in San Fransisco and journeyed into the city to meet up with my SF friends for dinner; it was great to see them and nice to break up the flights a bit.

As for my next of the 4 books I read on the flight.

And I'll leave you with one last photo- one of the breakfast specials at the fabulous J&M Diner, where I had breakfast with my parents before they drove me to the airport. Nothing says Massachusetts like fluffernutter french toast.