Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm so bored....

I am so bored.

So damn bored. There is nothing to do. The clouds are killing my summer. I want to go to the beach and instead I'm stuck wallowing away my days in my apartment...

My tax filings are done.

My banking filings are done.

I've cleaned the apartment.

I've washed my clothes.

I've got no study to do.

What else?

Might as well try some new recipes I guess.

For some bizarre reason, I suddenly felt the urge to make a Black Forest cake.
People have told me it's complicated, but scrambling through my pantry, I was pretty much able to find everything I needed except for the cherries. I wander to the shops soon fixed that.
The chocolate sponge cakes were basic and something that Josh and I have made countless times before.
As for the cutting and fillings.... again, it wasn't really an issues. All it required was a steady hand (check), a bit of stewing (check) and patience (check).
Unfortunately for me and my boredom, the creation of a Black Forest cake is really not very difficult at all. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. It is completely dependent on bringing together multiple parts and assembling quickly, none of which is too difficult if you have any experience baking and a hand that can steadily and accurately layer out the sponges with.

..... I wasn't even hungry after finishing it, just still bored.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas in Coogee

Ahhhh Christmas.

I love Christmas, always have. It's just a nice time when things at work become more laid back, everyone seems more relaxed and there's a happy attitude in the air.

The food is also nice.

Andy, Josh and I enjoy filling up the apartment with all of the foods associated with this time of year like mince pies, pannatone and Christmas cake (that I carefully soaked in cognac).

This biggest event for us our annual "Christmas in Coogee".

This event started well before I moved in when the boys bought a new fridge and were given a free turkey with it.

It has now evolved into a Christmas celebration that we invite lots of people over for, an annual year ender to see everyone before we all disappear off to our families.

It requires lots of preparation!

Two days before the big event, Josh and I went and bought a nice big turkey to begin the defrosting of it.

Then the day before, the real work began.

We wanted a nice dessert, so Andy and Josh began constructing the blueberry trifle. We even managed to find an excellent source of old port to soak the sponge cake that Josh made for the layers.

As those two boys did that, I began to make the stuffing for the bird.

Everything we do is made from scratch and this stuffing is no different. I even went so far as rendering down hunks of bacon fat so that I could use the dripping to cook the onions, celery and apples. The kitchen was feeling nice and hot as I cracked the last of the eggs to mix into the stuffing mixture.

Josh began to clean the bird as I wearily cleaned up the rest of the mess, ready for bed.
The next morning, the real work began.

At about 7:00am, I heard Andy wake. I knew it was coming, but it was still an unwelcome noise when Andy knocked on my door to wake me up.

After a quick breakfast, we began cooking.

The turkey was stuffed, prepped and put into the oven.

There was lots more to do. Andy and I had a pile of potatoes and carrots to peel. The beans had to be prepped, the onions chopped. The drinks were prepared. The cakes sliced and plated. The puddings were taken out. The trifle had settled nicely, but the almonds needed to be roasted carefully sprinkled on the top.

As time approached, the beans went on. The carrots when on. Potatoes, onions, parsnip and pumpkin went into the oven. Potatoes were put on the boil.

The timer went off and the bird came out.
It looked PERFECT. The colour was as we had hoped and the stuffing was spilling out as expected.

The whole apartment was filling with the smell of the roasted turkey and the sage from the stuffing.

We let it rest as Andy began to mash the potatoes and I began to make a gravy from the dripping of the turkey (remember, everything has to be made from scratch!)

Meanwhile, Josh had been very busy outside. He had rearranged, cleaned, vacuumed and moved two tables into the living room so that we now had a nice "T" configuration for all of our guests.

He had even set the table beautifully with the bon bons and napkins placed just as he would have back in the days when he was a waiter serving celebrities and the Prime Minister.
However, it was all worth it. From the moment the bon bons were cracked open and the drink was flowing, it was clear that the preparations were well worth the effort.
Everyone was happy with the turkey and it wasn't too long before the effects of the food crept up on us and food comas set in.

We couldn't stop though!

The desserts were still to come.

The standard cheer and applause came as we doused the puddings in brandy and Andy set them alight. In hindsight, we have gone a bit overboard dessert-wise. Serving trifle, pudding and cake may have been a bit too much for our guests to manage.
It was damn tough work, but totally worth it. After all, isn't it a sign of true content to be pouring yourself a glass or port out of a fire truck shaped bottle?

Friday, December 17, 2010

360°

I went to see the U2 360° tour!!!

I've been a fan of U2 since I was in high school. I was never big on music when I was young, but U2 was one of the first bands that I began listening to late in high school, helping me to develop an interest in music generally. I still remember that their album "All That You Can't Leave Behind" was one of the first I ever bought.

People may complain that they're too political or that they've got problems with Bono, but I still like their music. It's strange hearing people criticise them, often the criticisms seem to have nothing to do with their music and performances, but more to do with "who" they are.

None of this was going to stop me enjoying my first ever U2 concert though. This was the 360° tour as well! I had wanted to see this since I had first seen the incredible circular stage set up.
The opening act was not to be ignored either! It was Jay-Z!!!

It seemed like a strange opening act. A hip hop artist doesn't really come to mind as a natural opening act for U2, but I wasn't complaining.

Jay-Z was fantastic and the crowd definitely appreciated what they were hearing.

Seeing him live wasn't something I had ever expected I would experience, so hearing him rapping out "99 Problems" and "Empire State of Mind" seemed almost surreal.
Andy in particular enjoyed Empire State of Mind. He's heading to New York next year on secondment, so this song game him more than enough opportunity to gloat to the rest of us.
As great as it was hearing Jay Z and showing him our "diamonds", he was still just an opener. It's amazing to think that U2 is so massive that someone as famous and talented as Jay Z is willingly reduced to being a warm up act (though a very fine warm up act he was).

Still, not everyone was as keen as the boys and I were to see Jay Z and the stadium crowd reflected this. There were a lot of people, but most people were still filtering in as Jay Z finished up.

The clock on the stage began to slowly countdown.
At "midnight" the clock began to break apart.
The song "Space Oddity" by David Bowie began to play as the stadium erupted!

U2 began their slow march towards the stage, with smoke filling the ground like four astronauts approaching the launching pad.
It didn't take long for the stadium to erupt again as they began playing "Beautiful Day"!
Seeing this concert live was more than I could have hoped for. It is a true sensual immersion as you find it difficult to work out where exactly to look.
The cylindrical screen they use is also something special.

During the performance, it began to open out like a concertina.
The screen became more than just a place to watch the video, as it transformed into a light show that filled the entire stadium with colour.
The screen then changed again, to float images only slightly off the stage.
I was amazed by the set list that U2 had chosen as well. The concert seemed to keep going and going (in a good way). I later found out that they played 24 songs! If nothing else, they definitely gave value for money.
It was also great to see them playing some of their classics. Songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" being played to the stage being illuminated in Irish green were very inspiring.
As the night wore on, it seemed as though they were done and the band did a few bows and the lights went out.

Some people began to filter out of the stadium, but then the stage began to glow an eerie red.
The band reappeared on stage, with Bono decked out in leather jacket covered in red lasers.
The lights slowly began to change from the red to blue as Bono asked the audience to turn on their mobile phones.
Combined with the lights shining off the mirror balls, the entire stadium began to glow.
The crowd looked like a moving sea of lights as the band sang "With or Without You".
It was hard to not be awe struck.
video

This band has been around for so long, and yet they still seem more than capable of capturing the imagination of audiences everywhere. It was definitely an experience to be remembered.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Melbourne wedding

There's been a lot of running about lately.

A week before I went to the Gold Coast, I actually found my way down to Melbourne for the wedding of one of my old friends from high school.

Melbourne is a nice city. But this was the first time I had been in Melbourne during the summer in at least 15 years. I was confronted with the unhappy fact that I seem to be allergic to the city. From the moment I landed in Melbourne, I felt congested and my eyes watered. It took me back to my childhood days as one of those kids who was constantly suffering from allergies. Ahhh, sweet memories....

This trip had a very specific purpose though. The wedding.

Amazingly, I was late (an annoying re-occurrence recently). I found myself rushing to the church in a taxi, looking anxiously at my watch as the minute hand past the time that the ceremony was meant to start.

I jumped out of the cab (as best I could with my knee in its recovering state) and rushed (again, as best as I could) towards the the front door of the church.

It then dawned on me that I had no idea whether I was at the right location.....

.... luckily for me, right in front of the church, there was a nice big sign that this was the right wedding.
My friend Steve had chosen two Combi vans as his mode of transportation for the wedding.

Clearly the "white wedding" hadn't diminished his sense of humour. Taking this cue, I quietly slipped into the church and sat at the back to watch the wedding.

It was a lovely wedding too. Done in a combination of English and Vietnamese, so I was at least able to understand half of it.

As the formal part of the ceremony came to a close, everyone could suddenly hear the noise of a band play up. Out of no where, the band appeared and began playing the song "Sexual Healing" to lead out the bridal party.
The bride and groom looked happy. The parents looked happy. The family and friends. It was hard to find a fault at all? Then again, why would you want to?
Everyone retired for a few hours before the reception. I headed to a quiet pub with some friends before making my way towards the reception location.

Of course, my habits were continuing though, and I managed to get us lost. We arrived at the reception as the last guests.

It was a big wedding. There would have been close to 400 guests.

I found my seat with my friends and began to have a great time. I even managed to eat two dinners since there was a spare seat at my table (something that one would assume I should have grown out of doing by now... but hey, I'm not going to turn down extra lobster).

As the night progressed, the true entertainment started. The bride and groom, slowly approached the dance floor and began their first dance as husband and wife.

They danced slowly and lovingly.

And then as their dancing came to a close, a rush of people literally charged to the stage.

About thirty of their closest friends had been rehearsing with them for a choreographed dance that they put on for everyone!
It was fantastic seeing them all dancing along in step and livening up the entire event. As their dance finished, they all rushed into the crowd and dragged people onto the dance floor.

I stood on the sides and took my photos and then annoying, I slowly made my way back to my seat with a knee that was screaming at me for having been standing for far too long.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's a waterfall!

Looking at this waterfall on my trip to the Gold Coast made me ponder something.
How many times has it actually been that I've seen a waterfall?

Seriously.

I think that this is only the third or fourth time at the most in my entire life that I have actually stood looking at a waterfall.
Simple natural sights like waterfalls are ignored and dismissed as being common occurrences. And yet it's so rare that we can actually see and appreciate them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Totally unexpected

The Gold Coast definitely has a reputation.

And it's a not a good one.

The Gold Coast has the reputation of being a bit plastic and a bit trashy. It's where tourists congregate and it's where the annual event "Schoolies" is held for the kids finishing high school.

I was definitely surprised to find that to my horror.... I quite liked the Gold Coast!

Now don't misunderstand me, there are definitely parts of the Gold Coast that are incredibly trashy and tacky. However, these areas appeared to be relatively localised to the area of the Gold Coast known as "Surfer's Paradise".

The rest of the Gold Coast was quite pleasant.

It was green, leafy and had the benefits of the lovely warm climate.

Add to this the generally friendly nature of Queenslanders compared to their Southern counterparts, and I was beginning to understand the attraction of this region to many of the Victorians who were migrating North to flee the cold.

I was also surprised by the wide range of terrain that was on offer in the Gold Coast region.
The thoughts of the Gold Coast usually begin and end with the beaches. This was definitely not the case, as a mere half an hour drive from the beach was enough for me to be wandering through chilly, mist covered mountains.
It really is a very nice place.

And yet I still can't shake the lingering feelings that this isn't something I should be widely sharing....

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Gold Coast

It had been more than 20 years since I had been to the Gold Coast.

However, with my friends from overseas visiting their parents, it was as good as any time for me to do some visiting of my own.

One of the first things I did with them was to climb the Q1 tower, the tallest (for now) residential tower in Australia.
I'd be lying if I said it didn't give some fantastic views of the surrounds.
But I would also be lying if I didn't say that $21 for an elevator ride seems more than a bit steep.
Still.... while I won't be racing up that tower anytime soon, it was still nice to get a glimpse of the Gold Coast in all its glory.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Festival of lights

I was visiting some friends who were in Oz from overseas. I always enjoy catching up with them, even if it does leave me a bit nostalgic for younger days when we all used to live in the same city. I'm still young, but I'm definitely feeling the days and the weeks moving past me at an ever increasing rate.

My visiting friend is Jewish and I was staying with her and her family.

As part of her culture, she celebrates "Hannukah" or the festival of lights.

The intricate details and reasons behind this holiday are a mystery to me, but I enjoyed being able to view the simple and beautiful act of the family lighting the candles for the menorah whilst quietly singing.
The image of the metal menorah being slowly filled with the lights is almost entrancing, my eyes being drawn the the flames.