Thursday, September 25, 2008

Doing hard time

The cats have arrived in Australia! They are settling into their prison cells at the Eastern Creek Quarantine facility. I can call their caretaker, Joshua, every week day between 1-3 pm for a report. I don't know what bet he lost to end up with the most high maintenace cat mom ever. I'm hoping to make the trek out there next week to make their cells a little more homey. You know, pictures to hang on the walls, blankets to cushion the hard concrete. And I hear they can trade smokes for special favours while they're in the can. They'd probably like some catnip, but I'm not risking extending their sentences by bringing them hard drugs. I'm relieved that Otis is probably the biggest cat in there and should be able to provide some protection for his brother, although the grouchy look on Leroy's face should keep some of the thugs away on its own. Unfortunately, visiting hours are limited to 1:30-3:30 Tues/Thurs or M-F during business hours for 30 minutes by appt. I'm trying to take a full day off of work on Tuesday to accept our worldly belongings from the shipping comany in the morning and then to hightail it out to see the cats in the afternoon. I believe I can pick them up on 24 October, which will be a day for much rejoicing.

Last weekend was fairly eventful. The yachting on Saturday was okay. The weather was quite warm at 31 degrees (88 degrees for you Yanks), but there was still a lot of yelling. We were 4th across the line and 6th in terms of points out of 10 boats.

Saturday night we had Kate and Anna from my office and their respective partners over for chilli and cornbread. Since Kate and Dan are from the UK, Anna is from Russia, and Reza is originally from Iran, although he's been in Australia for 22 years, we were quite the international gathering. It was nice to hear people say that our house isn't the nightmare that we sometimes still think it is. Apparently we're getting a really good deal -- Kate and Dan pay $650/week for their little apartment! While I think our guests were familiar with chilli con carne as a dip, they didn't seem familiar with chilli as a meal in itself. Cornbread was definitely a new experience for them. Eric and I were just relieved that it was edible given the confusion here over baking soda/baking powder. Read the following passage and flash back to SAT nightmares:

Baking soda and bicarbonate of soda are different names for the same thing; in Australia, we mostly refer to it as bicarbonate of soda, but overseas, especially in America, it is referred to as baking soda. They aren’t interchangeable, but bicarbonate of soda and baking powder are both leavening agents. When included in a batter, the leavening agent causes air bubbles (produced by stirring, whipping or beating) to expand when cooked – causing it to ‘rise’.

Bicarbonate of soda is a pure leavening agent. It needs to be mixed with moisture and an acidic ingredient for the necessary chemical reaction to take place to make food rise. Because it needs an acid to create the rising quality, it is often used in recipes where there is already an acidic ingredient present, such as lemon juice, chocolate, buttermilk or honey.

Baking powder, which contains bicarbonate of soda, comes pre-mixed with the acidic ingredient for you – so all you need to add is the moisture. The acidic ingredient most often used in baking powder is cream of tartar. You can make your own baking powder: simply mix two parts cream of tartar with one part bicarbonate of soda. Baking powder has a neutral taste and is often used in recipes that have other neutral-tasting ingredients, such as milk.

In Australia, we usually just cook with self-raising flour when a leavening agent is required, unless the specific qualities of bicarbonate of soda are required. Bicarbonate of soda imparts a slightly different quality to that of baking powder when used in cooking. It can have a slightly “tangy” taste and it makes a lovely golden colour. It also makes a very specific texture not achievable with baking powder. It is very important to sift bicarbonate of soda well as it gets lumpy and to use very exact measures as the “tangy” taste can quite easily become bitter or soapy if too much is used.

This passage represents most of our cooking adventures here in Australia. Things are very similar, but just different enough that you question whether you're buying the correct ingredients. We were having no luck finding good recipes for a while. Cooking Light doesn't work for us any more unless we want to make lots of unit conversions, and all of the recipes we took from Australian websites tasted like dog food. Fortunately, Kate directed us to the BBC Food - Recipes, and we've had much better luck. I made some tasty Coq a Vin and then some Goan Chicken Coconut Curry this week.

On Sunday, the Bridge Run, aka Sydney Running Festival, was a bit of a debacle. My particular race had 12,000 people in it, and the self seeding at the beginning wasn't well organised. Therefore, you had people who just wanted to walk the course up at the front and serious runners towards the back. It took me 11 minutes after the gun just to reach the start line. I spent the entire 50.5 minutes of my race jumping up on curbs and running over onto the grass to dodge people. Consequently, I think I ran about 9.5 kilometres instead of 8.8 kilometres, and I managed to do something horrible to my back. I averaged just at 9 minutes/mile (assuming I only ran 8.8 kms!), but I had hoped to finish in closer to 45 minutes. It was dispiriting to work so hard and then not feel like I had the opportunity to do my best. It also wasn't totally triumphal to limp to the train and spend the rest of the day flat on my back. Fortunately I have a very nice husband who made me brownies, walked to get me some movies, didn't laugh at me and poke me with a stick, etc.

Last night I took advantage of late shopping hours and went to the camping stores near my work in the CBD. All of the stores that sell any kind of camping equipment are on the same block, and for a change they're actually trying to offer you a good deal. It didn't hurt that they all had big sales beginning today. I was able to get a nice backpacking tent and two North Face sleeping bags that will zip together (for the snuggling) for just over $500. Would it have been cheaper to bring our old stuff from the US? Yes, considerably. Some lessons are more expensive than others. Next weekend, the first weekend in October, is the 3-day Labour Day weekend here, and we have a holiday from racing. We're trying to go camping somewhere with Kate and Dan if we can find a place with campsites available. We're having lovely Spring weather, so it should be warm during the day and cool enough during the evenings to enjoy a fire. Ah...

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