Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey down under

Australians do not celebrate Thanksgiving (my kids have asked if they do) - Canadians do share the American holiday, only on a different day - so when I mentioned to people that we were going to celebrate "turkey day" the last Thursday in November, I was showered by a flurry of questions. Such as: "Is Thanksgiving a holiday instead of Christmas?" "What does one do/eat/pray/NOT do?" "Why do you serve turkey?" "Must everyone celebrate the holiday?"

I will attempt to shed some light on the matter:

Nope, not intended to take the place of Christmas. It is a time for families and friends to get together and share a meal, in celebration of the first meal shared in peace centuries ago, by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.

People who celebrate Thanksgiving usually prepare and eat turkey (an American bird which was so liked by the new settlers, that Benjamin Franklin wanted to make it the national bird), stuffing (goes into the bird when roasted), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (a tart little berry the sike of a small grape high in vitamin C, used like a side to the turkey) corn, candied sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and an array of other complimentary foods, which make for quite the feast, and leftovers-a-pleanty. My mom would always make two turkeys, because we would have so many guests over for dinner. We would have the usual foods (mentioned here) adding to the combination traditional Serbian foods as well. Geo's family incorporated Colombian dishes, like coconut rice... mmmmm.

A prayer is customary just before the meal. One gives thanks for all the good things in the year which passed. Thanksgiving isn't strictly a Christian holiday, it is widely accepted and celebrated by all people who live in the United States, what ever their religion may be. My family accepted it as "our" holiday the very first year we arrived to America. We felt it was a lovely holiday, and how great it was that a day was dedicated to saying "Thank you God for a great life!"

After the ingestion of the gargantuanly huge meal, Americans usually plop themselves in front of the TV and watch football, or they go out and play touch football themselves. Most stay on the couch and fall asleep. Turkey has a little something in it (tryptophan), which makes everyone who eats the bird, want to asleep... really, I'm not making this up.

What isn't done? One does not go to work on Thanksgiving, and most of the time the Friday after the holiday is a day off as well, so many people take the opportunity to visit family on the Thanksgiving weekend. I got engaged on such a weekend many moons ago. It was convenient for everyone to take some time off and come to NY for the celebration.

Since we are "Livin' la vida Australia" we were debating... to go to a restaurant (there's a place where they'll be serving buffet style Thanksgiving dinner here in Melbourne) or have our meal home made and enjoyed at... well... home. Back and forth we went and, finally came to the decision to indeed prepare our feast in our own little itsy bitsy kitchen. We had hoped to share this special meal with friends (you know who you are) but distance, or sniffling noses have prevented this, so our family unit will prepare and enjoy the meal alone this year. Thanking the Lord for a new life, a new job, health and new friends.

On the menu today are turkey drumsticks (six of them), since we could not find a whole bird at the market... I'm sure they have them, it's just not a meat you find readily, unlike kangaroo and lamb. Lamb is EVERYWHERE! I guess we could have prepared lamb chops instead of turkey. Nah! It had to be turkey on "turkey day" for goodness' sake.

I managed to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. I've never done this before. It's a little lumpier than in previous years. I couldn't find the canned puree of pumpkin, so I had to boil the pumpkin and then mash it up by hand, purchase the individual spices which go into the recipe separately (no little "pumpkin pie spices" pouches sold here) and since I don't know how to make my own pie crust either, I opted to make a healthier no crust recipe. I was one step short from gathering wood, making my own fire in the dirt and calling the local natives to participate in our first Thanksgiving in this new land which we call home. I didn't know where to find the natives, so no local animals will be roasted on an open fire. It would have been a more interesting feast - I'm sure - but we'll stick with what we know for now.

Photos of the kids and their father sleeping on the sofa will be shared to prove to you the effects of the "turkey sleeping pill."


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vegemine® - wonder food? For me and the Aussies it is.

VEGIMITE's official website.

Remember it being mentioned in the Men at Work song "Land Down Under?"

Is it a vegetable or a mite? It’s not either. Actually, thank God it’s not a mite.

On my list of things to try in Australia, were kangaroo meat and Vegemite®. I have had numerous chances to grill a nice kangaroo steak but, I’ve always managed to give a somewhat valid excuse why not to taste it. My husband is more adventurous than I will ever be, and he prepared – because I refused to even handle it – a nice piece of tenderloin. I bought it for him one day, stored it in the fridge and avoided even looking at it. I don’t know why. I just know that it was very red, very lean, and on the package it was very clear it was kangaroo. How could I eat a kangaroo? I can’t… maybe I will eventually, but for now I simply can’t.

So, you ask if I’ve tried Vegemite? I have indeed. The irony here is that my husband refuses to try it. It’s not very visually appealing to him and, because of that he refuses to even think of trying it. Go figure!

I learned a long time ago, from that Aussie ambassador of culture – Elle McPherson – while she was being interviewed by Jay Leno, about something very important, I’m sure… that, the proper way to enjoy Vegemite, was to spread it very thin on a piece of buttered toast and, then of course to be eat it.

The way Miss McPherson explained it, that’s the way I ate it. It’s good. It really is very tasty! I expected something incredibly vile, and was pleasantly surprised by it’s –
though, a tad bit salty – by it’s good flavour. I couldn’t get enough of it, the first week I got to Australia. I would prepare the family a meal, and I would just eat a Vegemite sandwich, or two. I decided to cut back a bit, when it dawned on me that perhaps all that white bread and butter were not so good for me. I have discovered a plethora of recipes and other handy uses for the ebony coloured sticky stuff.

Some uses aren’t officially endorsed by the official Vegemite website, but are interesting none-the-less:

1. Dab a little bit on a mouth ulcer and it’ll take care of it super fast.

2. Use as fishing bait.

3. When short of grease, for a squeaky wheel. This doesn’t make sense – Vegemite is not greasy.

4. Spread thinly onto whole body to produce a fake tan effect. Why pay those expensive salons for the same effect?

5. Use a small amount to flavour soups and sauces.

6. Emergency snack when you don’t have lunch with you at work. I know… I’m always forgetting lunch, and then I get light headed. Thank God for Vegemite!

7. Eat Vegemite every day and you won’t be depressed. Well, maybe. Apparently vitamin B is a natural combatant against the blues. Vegemite claims to be “one of the world’s richest known sources of vitamin B.”

And there are endless other uses or benefits to this wonder food from Down Under. I say, find it… try it… and broaden your palate horizons. Who knows, you might like it so much, that you’ll ask me to ship you cases and cases of the stuff, throughout the year. Hey, that’s a good idea! That should be another “use/benefit” of Vegemite… “helps Gordana start a new business.”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's that on my hamburger?

Hello from the land of the kangaroos. Oh... and, by-the-way we haven’t seen one since we’ve set foot in Australia but, my husband has eaten kangaroo meat. I am not so brave. Give me chicken any day, anywhere in the world, and I'll be fine.

We arrived in Melbourne on Mother's Day. I know this because, when ever we are asked how long we've been here, my children always answer in unison, and quite loud I might add, "WE'VE BEEN HERE SINCE MOTHER'S DAY!!!" It was very impact full for them, to arrive to their new home on Mother's Day, I guess... who knew!

May is officially an autumn month – they don't say "fall" here – it wasn't too cold, but people were already walking around in parkas and wool scarves. We found it quite comical actually, the exaggerated need to protect them selves from the terrible cold. We're in winter now and, the weather is still not cold enough for parkas but, people insist on wearing them. The weather is similar to San Francisco and Seattle, kind of mixed together. It rains quite a lot and, it's not terribly cold.

Melbourne is a very ethnically diverse city. According to an advertisement I saw at a tram stop, there are people from over 140 countries and, apparently living in harmony. So, it is similar to the San Francisco Bay Area in this way as well. We even have a "wine country" close by; it's called the Yarra Valley The wines tend to be significantly lighter in taste than their California cousins. No one has been able to explain why this is, yet.

Driving has been quite challenging. The first couple of weeks, I was resigned to riding public transportation forever, as far as I was concerned. It was so incredibly scary to have to drive on the left side, and have the wheel on the right side of the vehicle, that I could not even fathom sitting behind the wheel of a car, and putting my children's lives in jeopardy. I drive everywhere now. As a matter of fact, I can't understand why I was so afraid at first. It took a little while to get used to it but, really it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. The kids helped a lot too, every once in a while, they would yell out "KEEP LEFT MOM, KEEP LEFT."

Food is pretty much the same as in the U.S. They have hamburgers here, just like back home. The only difference it has from burgers in the States is that a fried sunny side up egg is put on top of it and, it's perfect (some times they even top it with pickled beets). The first time a burger was served like this to me, I thought there must have been a mix up in the kitchen with my order. After noticing my obvious surprise, the waitress explained to me that, this was an Aussie burger. Had I never eaten one before?

French fries are called "chips." Fish and chips are to be found on every other corner. Meat pies are a quick meal on the fly at a local milk bar, or the equivalent of our "bodega," or a 7-Eleven® sort of shop. These pies are small round savoury pastries the size of a hamburger bun, filled with beef, lamb or chicken. So, I guess they are like burritos to Californians, something quick to pick up and eat on the go. Hot dogs... well, we haven't really seen them. Every so often, I'll find them in the local supermarket but, I don't buy them because they don't taste like the ones our family is used to and, forget about finding hot dog buns. The closest thing to a hot dog bun as we know it, is a hard bread roll shaped to accommodate a hot dog, but not sliced for the purpose.

Ketchup is a bit of a mystery too. It is called “tomato sauce,” which is not really ketchup, but it's not the U.S.'s equivalent of tomato sauce either. Lemonade is actually a lemon/lime soda drink (or fizzy drink here) and, a biscuit could mean "cracker" or "cookie" depending on the person who is saying the word. Oh... and, if someone expresses with glee "oh, that was a cracker!" it means that you've just said something very amusing and, quite funny!

The local people are, generally very nice. They are a bit surprised when they realize that we are Americans who actually wanted to move to Australia, and that we didn’t have to relocate here, since Australians dream of moving to the States. I guess our films do a great job in advertising the glamorous life in America. Big cars, big houses, lots of money! You know… “The American Dream.” I explain to them that, all my friends back home thought it was simply the best thing I could have done for my children – move down under. Australians are first left speechless, then they confirm with a "Well, it is a great place to raise a family, that's for sure. Good on ya, for moving here. Hope you like us."

My kids have been quite popular at their school, and in shops, when they speak with their American accents. People smile and even encourage them to speak some more, so that they can listen to their “cute accents.” At first the girls thought of themselves as “freaks,” then it was explained to them, that Australians like the American accent, a lot! It’s the reverse for us in the U.S. We like to hear the Aussie and Britt’s accents. They – the Aussies – don’t understand why this would be the case, but shrug their shoulders and smile at the notion.

Several male co-workers are planning trips to the U.S. after my husband and I explained to them that, they'd be popular with the ladies with their cute Oz accent. We did stress that they'd have to say "G'day" often, though. People in Melbourne, don't really greet you with a "G'day" that much. We've been told that it's spoken mostly in Queensland (the country). Apparently the way Paul Hogan spoke in Crocodile Dundee is the equivalent of the way Miley Cyrus speaks on Hanna Montana. So Australians expect Americans to speak with a Southern accent, beginning our sentences with "Y'all" as we expect them to say "G'day" at the start of every sentence. Funny, huh?

So... I bid you a G'day from down under y'all, 'till the next time.