Thursday, December 30, 2010

And back...

Sadly... he he he.

A week before Christmas, Kathy and I were invited to go to Hunter Valley for her company’s Christmas party. We had heard about the beauty of the valley, the good food, awesome balloon rides and the spectacular wine; but with almost none point of reference but Italy I was finding hard to believe how wicked it really is.

The 17th of December a co-worker and friend of Kathy picked us from home and started our journey to these lands that is just one hour and thirty minutes away from our home (yes, we live in the north shore... really, really north).
Would you take us to Hunter Valley?

I must confess (and really home that she doesn’t read this...) I felt a bit uncomfortable because the night before we had very little sleep and I was fighting my eyes to keep them open.

I don’t know if we were rude or something, but we travelled really quite, up to a stop for lunch where life seemed to come back to our bodies to share a nice moment.

After another 40 minutes in the road we start seeing the vineyards and the wineries but everything pales in comparison to the resort hosting the event.

The resort is called ‘The Vintage’ which gives you an outstanding view of golf courses, vineyards, prime properties (I really want one... do you think people will send me money if I launch a website ‘a dollar for Rod’s home in the valley’?), spa, excellent restaurant and the list goes on and on and on.

Welcome to the Vintage

Our room was a mirror of this one

It was cold, but we really wanted to jump in the pool

And this is why we wanted to jump in the pool... The view

From the restaurant

Another picture of the restaurant... from the outside

Our chef

We headed to our room with expectation what was on the other side of the door, Kathy’s friends asked to us if we wanted to do anything, but I wanted to crash in the bed for at least one hour.

Our room had this disgusting view...

(Quoting Matt Preston...) Disgustingly GOOOOD!
The image is huge... It also contains stitching issues...
The room was beautiful as well... I blinked twice before realising Kathy was already in the bathtub getting relaxed and the bed was all for me.


Our bed... before I took possession of it.

After a well deserved nap and Kathy’s relaxation process completed we dressed up and head towards the Christmas dinner to find these gorgeous dishes with good wine.


First dish, Salmon pastrami with Pyengana crisp,
pickled cucumber,
salad burnet and herbs jus 

More wine...

Second dish, Four spiced bbq quail with a salad of green mango,
toasted coconut, asian herbs and line caramel

I swear in gods name that I did rotate this image... Google keeps rotating it 90 degrees...
Anyway, third dish was Double lamb cutlet with roast lamb loin with
dried tomato tapenade, braised spring onion and black garlic

Dessert, Blue cheese mousse with spiced pear puree and fruit toast

And then the Kris Kringle (Secret Santa) with funny presents

Well yes... someone got a rubber chicken!

Kathy got Aussie-Slangs! Woohoo!

The next day our friends took us to visit some of the vineyards and buy wine...

Long story short... Hunter Valley is a must know place if you ever come close to Sydney (or New South Wales). Spend a couple of days, eat a bit and enjoy it.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good Christmas

Have been a bit more than 5 days from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day... but I wanted to share with you how was my Christmas Eve.

Christmas in general is the celebration of renewal processes in the world... although Christmas is referred to the birth of Jesus Christ.
This year Santa was wondering if he really wanted to keep going around the world
after he saw a nice weather down under

I must say I am not a religious person... I find many abnormalities in Catholicism or Christianity plus I am bloke of science. I don’t want to start explaining myself... nor going to try explaining about planetary movements, day and night and why Christmas is best related to a periodic celestial event than to someone being born is that precise day.

Something that I found curious this Christmas was that I had more time to spend with Australians to share a bit of our traditions and understand how summer season (opposed to our cold winter) affects the celebration. It was interesting that Latin-American people celebrate the birth of Christ; which means we celebrate Christmas Eve and at midnight present exchange and family dinner, while Aussies (Saxons descendents really) celebrates ‘Christ has born’ day or Christmas Day.

We manage to draw a suspect detected in Sydney's north shore
surfing with a bunch of animals... (no Rudolf seen on the scene) 

In any case, it will be translated into the inclusion of more traditions into our own... celebrating the birth on of baby Jesus... With Santa wearing shorts and riding a surfboard with his huge bag full of presents.

Screw you Rudolf!!! Here it comes roo-dolf! 

Edit: Thanks to Snap for sharing the Six White Boomers.
Turns out I am not the only one thinking Santa stayed here on Christmas Day.

How did I celebrate this year?
Well... Christmas Eve was nice. We spend the entire day cooking, cleaning and shopping; getting ready for dinner, to receive friends at our home.

Our Christmas table looked like this:

Yup... We had to take every single plate we had.

Mixture of traditions... What do you think about it?

Jack-o the Snowman was the vigilante in our table.

Hopefully everyone enjoyed the evening

Our Christmas dish looked like this:
Two slices of Christmas bread (turkey and ham)
Chicken Salad (we couldn't find Hen... and lots of Aussies looked at us in disapproval when we asked)
Roasted Pork
And last, but not least... the Hallaca! (yes, that Yellow filled stuff thingy... it taste 10 times better than it looks)

And I really don’t want to show our faces after such meal... but the good thing was baby Jesus came at midnight (Santa left him in our balcony to deliver the gift... you know... he is less bulky... and we needed someone agile to go in and out fast enough... I am not going to explain anymore) and the kids loved their presents.


Well... I had a Tron: Evolution game (I love the Tron universe...), Kathy had an activity tracking system called My Personal Trainer for PS3... and we barely have touched it yet. But I guess one of the coolest was sharing the moment with such a good company.

Great game... Looks AWESOME in 3D
Intense and great fitting programs...

What was missing?
I missed my family lots... I wanted to have them all around, playing tricks on each other (common between us), hugging my dad and my mom. How knows... maybe next year?

Now and before you ask... those wrapped things in our dishes that look candy alike are Christmas Crackers (Edit, also known as 'bon bons'... Again, thanks to Snap. I really appreciate your comments!). The Christmas cracker is a cardboard tube wrapped with pretty paper which contains a surprise gift and is tradition in the countries of the commonwealth.

One... Two... and... Three!!!
The idea is to share a moment with someone around the table and pull it apart (like the chicken wishbone). Who gets the bigger part will have the gift inside.

If you want to know a bit more of the Christmas cracker, click here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Even though Venezuela is a really young country (and in many things immature nation), its people has come with very strong traditions when it comes to Christmas. Families come together, friends share a drink or two (or more) and acquaintances become mates... to celebrate baby Jesus birthday, upcoming presents and being in family.

But you might be asking to yourself... What the bloody hell relates the Christmas bread with Venezuela? What is that Christmas bread?

Did someone said something about Christmas and tasty bread?
Image taken from BlastOButter

A short explanation is: fermented bread containing ham, raisings or sultanas, olives and capers, cooked to perfection till is soft inside and out which is present in every Christmas disk in Venezuela... Does not matter if you are poor, worker, professional or rich; the Christmas bread or ham bread (just like the hallaca... pronounced as ‘Aajaakaa’) will make it into your plate with all its flavour and damned good carbs... ha ha ha.

You might say that I wanted to share this with my mates (Aussies and Venezuelans... and anyone) to keep my traditions but without coupling Aussie traditions into my own... But the way I see it is a bit different. We have come to this country to make it grow: economically, culturally, and gastronomically, but more importantly including good things in our new home. This is one of my gifts for this amazing country.

What do I need to cook Christmas bread?

Yup, at the end my first batch... getting fat as I took the picture.

  • Yeast (3 tea spoons)
  • Sugar (1 cup and 1 table spoon)
  • Salt (1 tea spoon)
  • Cooking oil (5 table spoon)
  • Eggs (5 eggs plus another one to be used at the end)
  • Milk (1 cup and a little bit... almost 1 and ¼ cup)
  • Plain flour (1 kilogram and some other 200 grams for knead)
  • Butter (100 grams, melted)
  • Water (1 cup)
  • Sliced smoked ham (250 to 300 grams per bread... If you are Jewish change it to turkey or chicken breast ham)
  • Sliced bacon (200 grams... again if you want to remove the pork change it to turkey bacon)
  • Raisins or sultanas (180 grams)
  • Green olives without seeds (1 cup)
  • Chopped capers (2 table spoons)
  • Beers (six-pack... that’s for you... you need to be entertained while cooking...)

  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Bowl big enough to mix up everything
  • Rolling pin
  • Trays

How to prepare the dough?

Take the cup of water and boil it up (I recommend two cups at this stage because the water might evaporate if you are not careful)... Standard warming process not microwaved!

When the water is hot, take one cup of water and mix it with one spoon of sugar in a bowl, then wait a little bit till the water is warm enough (keep reading the entire paragraph) to put in the yeast... How do you know when is warm enough? Easy, take your pinkie, put it in the water and count to 10 ‘Mississippi’. If you could count more than 10 then is too cold. If you could not hold it in up to ten it means that is too hot. So warm enough means hot yet not burning; keep this in mind... Yes is probable that you will get burn the first time... my advice is don’t put in the entire pinkie... just the tip.

Stir a little bit (four or five stirs is more than enough) and let it rest for 20 minutes with a piece of cloth covering the container.

After 20 minutes, take out the cloth (you will smell something that resembles beer... not your breath) and add the eggs (5 of them, lightly scrambled), sugar, salt, cooking oil, butter and knead it up till is homogenous (ish).

With everything mixed, start adding the flour in steps... handful at a time and keep kneading the entire mixture until you are done with the flour. Let it rest of one hour... again with the cloth.

This will give you enough dough for two big breads (2 kilograms), three standard size breads (about 1 kilo and 800 grams) or 4 short breads (about 1 kilo). If you want to make just one, save half of the dough in plastic wrap in the fridge up to one week. Don’t scale it down to ‘one portion’... the recipe is not scalable and you might compromise the flavour.

What we do is to prepare both breads at once and then give one of them as a gift to another family (if none is coming over to eat).

The yeast is a living thing and need a warm place to keep growing... The cloth will prevent the mix from dropping its internal heat and will allow the yeast to breath. That adds flavour... don’t use plastic wrap or let it in a cold environment. Some people have told me an urban legend saying that yeast can’t receive sunshine... That’s not true... In fact, if the sun is strong and hot enough you might want to put your bowl outside to receive some sun till is ready.

One hour later...
You are ready to prepare the bread! Before to start, cut the dough in half (or as I specified before for different sizes) and save one portion in plastic wrap (or if you are going to cook it, leave it in the cloth).

Take the dough and spreading a handful of flour on the table, knead the dough until is soft and malleable.

With the rolling pin flatten the dough and fold it on itself at least 3 times. Remember to add small quantities of flour every now and then, to avoid the dough sticking to the table; THIS IS IMPORTANT, you don’t want you bread to stick to the table because you will want to roll the dough on itself once all the ingredients are in place but don’t let the dough to suck too much flour, otherwise is going to get harder.

Using the rolling pin spread the dough as much as you can until you have something rectangular of two millimetres thick... Measurements aren’t important but it will give you an idea.
Note!Let's create a reference point. I have my rectangle in front of me, being long from left to right.
As I am describing it.

Place uniformly each slice of ham on the dough, leaving 1 centimetre as border. Do the same with the bacon. 
If you want the bacon to be well spaced, chop it into little pieces and spread it.

Spread the raisins and the capers on top of the ham. Then put in the olives in rows on my most right (Remember note on third step... and should be 5 centimetres away from the border).

Roll the bread starting from my right (remember the note in third step) to my left. To close the end, dip your fingers in water and then apply it gently to the bread ends, sealing it.

With the exceeding bits of the dough (residues from the third step) you could do some decorations to your bread.

Take the bread and put it in a greased tray to be ready for cooking it.

How to cooking it?
The bread isn’t ready for oven at this stage... you will need to varnish with one scramble egg by brushing it to the surface of the bread. Check any spot because once in the oven the egg will turn into a nice gold colour. Then take at least 20 to 30 toothpicks and stick it deep into the bread; isn’t important to stick it all the way in, but try to put in as deep as possible to ensure each layer was touched by the toothpicks.

The toothpicks aren't that important for the cooking process, but will allow cooking the bread completely while maintaining the shape (because it will try to expand a lot). The toothpicks will give you as well an indication of how well cooked the inside is... The picture shows the bread is well cook inside because it was no gooey bits.

With toothpicks and varnish in place, heat up the oven at 170 Celsius for 10 minutes with the bottom burner alone. Then slide the tray in for 45 minutes. Check after 30 minutes removing one (just one) toothpick (or poking the bread) checking if is gooey to then put it back. If you find no gooey bits is done.

As shown, is gooey...

That's good!

Understanding how your oven works is crucial; in my case my oven is a piece of junk... well, it works but I couldn’t cook my breads at 170 degrees unless I wanted charcoal as outcome, so as result I had to cook it at 120 for 45 minutes.

This bread should be moist inside, soft and dry outside.

Mmmmmmmmm... looks nice!

Let me know how it was for you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

This blog post is part of a bigger compilation. If you are interested on read it from the start. Click here.

The Opera House is, without any ego or pride because is located in the city that I love, one of the most spectacular buildings in the world.

There is something about it shape, curves and colour that attracts more than the harbour itself…
And is kind of funny, when you start checking on the Internet or architecture related books containing the history of the Sydney Opera House you find fairly easy that it was built to enhance the harbour view and its bridge.

Vivid... One of the Sydney events that shows the Opera House as a colourful magnificent piece of art

Each year in October, the folks of the Sydney Opera House open the doors to anyone to come in and check that marvellous building with its eclectic walls, vibrant colours and outstanding feeling; and this year we were able to assist the week before the seven bridges walk!

Remembering that day was kind of special… We had 6 weeks of dull gray rainy days and that day…. Wasn’t the exception… it was rainy all morning and our visit was programmed to be at 4:00 P.M.

If you are asking ‘Do I need to make an appointment to go to the open day?’ the answer is ‘Yes!!!’. That day a lot people (and when I say a lot of people are LOTS OF PEOPLE in upper case and with fire coming out from the letters with laser beams enhancing the colour of the show) queue to enter; and even though the line isn’t more than 30 minutes, you will find almost 3 times more people inside.

So, back to our story… It was 3:30 P.M and we were already queued and waiting to enter for very first time to the building where everyone that has come to Australia has taking at least one picture with it; and then a sheila approached to us (we thought that she was in her 40ish) asking for directions…

‘Where is information?’ she asked.
‘Uhms… I dunno… but I can see from here a guide box… Maybe there is information…’ I said.
‘No… is not… I have been there… Do you know if I need to provide any kind of confirmation for this [the Open Day]?’ she replied
‘I really don’t know… this is our first time… but if you want my husband could go with you to find where it is. And maybe check if we are too early…’ Kathy replied and I thought (Ouh! Thanks!)

So we approached to a girl with a ‘SOH-OpenDay’ t-shirt and she kindly checked out papers saying at the very end ‘don’t worry… I think most of the people leave these papers home and we don’t check them in the afternoon…’

I started walking at the same time the woman asked ‘do you mind if I stay with you? You wife seems nice and I am alone…’

‘Yeah, sure… no worries’ I said
‘Where are you from?’ She asked and I started thinking… damn accent!
‘From Venezuela…’ Kathy replied
‘Oh, nice… Is that… South America?’
‘Yes Ma’am’
‘Good… I am from Thailand… I have been here for more than 35 years! How long have you been here?’
A bit more than a year’ Kathy replies.
‘A year? Oh my… I thought that you had more than 5 years! Your English is great! Does Venezuelan speak English in their daily basis?’
‘No. We speak Spanish every single day… My wife practiced since Uni and myself… well I learned it when I was a teenager… I think my English isn’t that good though…’

She looked a bit shocked for the last statement (I have no idea if she felt that I was not giving her enough credit to her comment) and changed the topic to the Opera House, saying that in 35 years she didn’t has come the first time and wanted to take a picture of everything…

Once in it was difficult to keep together so she started walking on her own and we started taking pictures of every little corner of the Opera House…. I even thought to take pictures of the bathroom (with their waving shape) but decided that it wasn’t a good idea to go in the bathroom, camera in hand and start taking pictures =P

Obviously we captured images till the memory was full… we walked everywhere and enjoyed every minute of our presence.

100% recommended.

Anyway, you already have the month of the Open day just in case you are planning to visit Sydney!

This blog post is part of a bigger compilation. If you are interested on read it from the start. Click here.

Some of you might remember me complaining about my knee and the intense pain I had once I finished the event. Well... being honest it was painful from start to end; but you know, in my mind I hoped this year could be different: as in, different good, ‘I felt really good doing it’ different.

We woke up at 7 a.m Sunday morning (why? Because we were parting the day before with some of our friends and trying to being creepy on Halloween) packed our stuff and took the train to Circular Quay; which is the closest train station to The Rocks (our selected starting and ending point) and point where we were supposed to grab our ‘7 bridges walk passport’ (just like last year’s) and keep the march as much as possible.

The Rocks. Starting point of our walking experience
Around 10:20 a.m we were ready to start the lovely sunny day to tackle down the seven bridges, starting with Pyrmont Bridge and ending with the harbour bridge... I was amazed how fast Kathy and I were keeping up the speed with a bunch of guys that obviously were trained to the bone to walk these bridges...
I even remember thinking:

Stating the Pyrmont Bridge... Baby I am on fire! My legs feels great, our speed is a lot better to last year.

Ending the Anzac Bridge... Already? Uh! P.I.E.C.E O.F C.A.K.E as in Piece of cake!

Somewhere at the end of the Iron Cove Bridge... Boy... is these people going faster or are we getting slower??? Nah... they are just trying to get ahead a little bit... We will catch up on the next one.

Stating Gladesville Bridge... Oh! There is the pain again... and where the bloody hell went those guys? Oh I can barely see them at the end of the bridge... we will totally catch up with them on the next one...

Stating Tarban Creek Bridge... did those f**king blokes start running or what? Bloody knee... I hate you knee... I just get one of those robotic knees my buddies at work comment on every week...

Fig Tree Bridge... f**king painful f**king knee that doesn’t f**king work as I f**king want to! I am going to blame the f**king shoes as well... 13 kilometres and my feet are in pain??? Piece of crap...

Somewhere in Woolstonecraft... f**king f**k f**k! An old woman has just left me behind? Pain or not I am not going to let this happen... (Opened my mouth and said to Kathy) Come on... let’s walk faster that oldie just passed us by... we need to make the effort to at least match her!

Somewhere close to Milson’s Point village... I can’t feel my legs... this is not good... I shouldn’t have tried to beat that woman... certainly she could be the mother of those bastards at the middle of the event.
Come on knee... don’t fail me now!

Somewhere finishing the Harbour Bridge... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close... We’re close...

OH F**KKKKKKKKKK more stairs?

It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts... It hurts...

(handing over my passport to get the last stamp) we have finished! We have finished! We have finished! ....

The girl smiles to me and says ‘congratulations you have finished the 7 bridges walk’ and I keep waiting for her to pop up a giant poster with the map and a stamp saying ‘walk completed’, just like we had the year before... but... nothing... NOT A THING AT ALL........ then she told me to move on because the old lady was getting her stamp to keep walking to her next checkpoint.

Yes.... the same that left me behind in Woolstonecraft.... probably she did a loo stop and that was when I went ahead...

Yeah... she looks like an angel... but is pure evil... I tell'ya... PURE E.V.I.L
It was a bit of disappointment at the end of the event... but Kathy knew how to elevate my mood with some excellent pancakes at ‘pancakes on the Rocks’

1600 calories burned during the day...
2000 calories gained back in one meal...
Maybe I am starting to understand why the event was so hard on me...

Something interesting to point was watching several houses with Halloween decorations. Partially because we didn’t expected but mainly because lots of people told us how Halloween is a foreign thing for the US totally alien to Aussie culture.

Well... I think this is a sum up of the Sydney Crave events... we will post some more soon...


Believe it or not I have been writing this post for at least 8 days (maybe more) and trying to post it for almost four weeks… It has been a bit weird to have the idea developed to its fullest and then not know how to put it on paper (e-paper) or what images to set up… And believe me when I tell you that I am the kind of guy that doesn’t publish if the post doesn’t have the right ideas or images to enhance it.

These posts started as a conglomerate of ideas related to different event of October and it materialised into a bunch of posts (that requires tons of works, but looks great afterwards). Hope you find it entertaining and leave a comment if you want.

I have so many things to tell… I know, I know… I have been away for quite a while now, but work and some other stuff keep me busy; and trying to find the spot to write a little bit and shape the idea in my head wasn’t as easy as I wanted or expected. Then trying to find the right image to go with the idea has been quite a challenge.

For instance, if you image Google ‘Month of October’ you will find tons… literally tons of images related to fall or pumpkins… 
Images speak by themselves
Don't get me wrong, I love fall... But this is not what I can see everyday
walking to work.
And yes, I remember that October is pretty well known by Halloween...

But in Australia is all the way around! We are in spring… Trees are blooming with intense colours... Outstanding purples, violets and blues… Gosh… I don’t really know how to describe it properly… Maybe some images?

Jacaranda trees

Another Jacaranda tree

And some Fire tree which a Jacaranda tree as background.
What about this flowers?

So I have come to tell you about recent events in our life since September in a not-so-confusing-that-you-won't-try-to-commit-suicide way.

I have so many things to tell… I know, I know… I have been away for quite a while now, but work and some other stuff keep me busy; and trying to find the spot to write a little bit and shape the idea in my head wasn’t as easy as I wanted or expected.

So I have come to tell you about recent events in our life since September in a not-so-confusing-that-you-won’t-try-to-commit-suicide way.

Spring started with September, but the days have been changing between cold and warm every 5 to 7 days and long weeks of just pouring rain… Australians pouring rains (which in comparison to America, these rains are nothing else than drizzles)… and the changes in the weather oscillate between 8C to 26C in just 12 or 16 hours. All that had a direct impact in our health (negative impact) sending us to the deep jaws of sickness at least for 3 weeks; but that didn’t diminish the desire to participate in the Sydney Crave Festival or the Sydney’s Seven Bridges Walk (which is part of the same Sydney Crave event).

Sydney Crave is a international event celebrated in every corner of Sydney. Includes events such as:

Of which we wanted to assist to the Breakfast on the bridge, Darling Harbour Fiesta, the Open day and the seven bridges walk as we did last year.

So the first thing we tried to do was the Breakfast on the bridge… but we didn’t get the invitation, to which I am going to file a formal complaint to ‘Breakfast on the Bridge’ for not picking me to participate…

Why? Well… because it could have been extremely special for us to be in the harbour bridge, with some of this views!

One of those could've been me!

Plus it was our anniversary since our arrival to this wonderful land… So we kind of wished to have a special moment in the harbour. Oh well, it will be next time.

Moving on… Kathy wanted to go to the Darling Harbour Fiesta, which is a festival for Latin-Americans, in which some good Latin-American artists have done presentations. This year’s performers were from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina and even though I wanted to take a look to the tango dancers we decided not to go, given our very limited understanding or knowledge of most of the artists.

As you might guess… No pictures (or comments) related to that event…

With those events checked off the list, the next items were

Sydney Opera House – Open Day
And the Seven Bridges Walk