Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pavlova War

Most countries go to war because of ethnic tensions, religious preferences, or general foreign policy, but should Australia and New Zealand ever go to war with each other, undoubtedly the war will be brought on by a dessert dispute.

That’s right.  Dessert.

One of the national desserts of both countries is the pavlova.  The pavlova is said to have been invented in honour of Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballet dancer who visited both nations in the 1920’s.  The dispute centres around which of the two countries invented it first, and both sides are sometimes frighteningly passionate about it.  In my experience, those hailing from New Zealand seem to be the most ardent.  Kiwis seem to have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to competing with Australia, but that’s probably attributable to Australians always joking about how New Zealanders are all sheep shaggers.  I suppose I’d get a bit touchy too if people constantly proclaimed that me and my countrymen all fuck sheep, but to bring an innocent dessert into the mix just seems wrong to me.  Think of the children!

Recipes date back as far as 1926 in New Zealand, and the first Australian recipe found appears to be from 1929, though an Australian gelatin-based recipe (as opposed to current meringue-based recipe) which bears same name dates back to 1926.  One of the earliest possible sources can be found in the 1926 edition of a New Zealand cookbook, but in an amazing turn of events, the recipe in that book was penned by an Australian writer.  So, in my position, Aussies and Kiwis should just go with that and claim equal responsibility for it and then shut the fuck up and bake me a pavlova because it’s delicious and every minute spent quarrelling over such a trivial matter is a minute wasted and my tummy is now grumbling and goddamnit get back in the kitchen and bake me a cake, bitch!

Do you see Americans and Canadians quarrelling over who first used maple syrup?  No.  Because we’re both far too busy pouring sugary delicious mapleness onto our fluffy pancakes to find the time to argue over something that really doesn’t matter anyway.  Also, we don’t care.  We can share.  Just like we do with hockey and multiculturalism and Justin Bieber.  So there.

My friend Amy makes a delicious homemade pavlova, so we decided it was high time to let me in on how to make one.  Also, I was in need of a blog topic and this one was an easy one to write something up on.  We decided to make it a bit of a cultural exchange, so I made a big plate of my famous macaroni and cheese (Praise Cheesus!) to give a little American treat to the Aussies, and Amy brought over all of the ingredients for a traditional Aussie pavlova including the KitchenAid mixer to mix it with (because lord knows I don’t have the money to afford one of those fancy contraptions.)

Now, recipes seem to call for varied amounts of each ingredient, and I was a bit precarious with the notes (I was running around playing hostess), so I’m not going into proportions here because you can find it online.  But the general idea is as follows:

Step 1:  The Meringue

Beat eat whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  (Hehe, I said “stiff”!)

Then, while still beating, add some caster sugar.  Now the stiff peaks will be glossy.

Add a splash of white wine vinegar, a hint of vanilla extract, and just more than a pinch of corn starch.  The corn starch is the key ingredient here.  Regular meringues have a solid consistency throughout, but pavlova is different.  The corn starch creates a crisp outer shell with a gooey, marshmallowy centre.  I love gooey centres.

Then that’s it.  That’s the whole recipe for the base.  It’s almost easier than buying a pre-made one (especially if you have a fancy KitchenAid mixerer thingy).

You spoon/pipe/pourit in a big clump (or several individual sized clumps) on baking paper.

Stick it in the pre-heated oven and bake it.  Lots of the recipes online say to bake it for 60 – 90 minutes, but we baked ours for about 25 minutes and then turned off the oven and let the pavlova sit in there while the oven cooled.  It needs to cool slowly to set right, so whatever you do, don’t open the oven door for like an hour or two after you turn the oven off.  Be patient.  Just keep drinking while you wait.

Lick the beaters.

Lick your fingers.

Once you take the pavlovas out of the oven, you put them on a nice serving plate.

They should crack a little.  Time to decorate.

Step 2:  The Whipped Cream

In a bowl, whip cream.  Whip it real good.  Also, for added effect, play that song while you are whipping the cream.  You may want to add some icing sugar to the cream.  We didn’t have any, so we added brandy instead.  A legitimate substitute?  Apparently yes.  That was a good call.

When the cream becomes whipped cream, you can spoon it onto the top of the pavlova, and then decorate further with fruit.  We used strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, but banana is common, as are mango and passionfruit.

It’s not traditional, but maybe add a little chocolate too?  Maybe?  Dani brought some rocky road, so we decorated the plate with that.  Scrumdiddlyumptious!

What never fails to liven up the party?  Pavlova!

Next step:  Smile for the camera!

Then eat!

And for christsake try to contain your food boner!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Opposite Meaning

Even after nearly three years in Australia, I seem to learn something new every day, especially about the way Australians speak.  Like, did you know that pajamas are spelled with a “y”?  It’s “pyjamas” here.  Weird.  And I only discovered that the other day in Target when I had to go to the kids section to get baby gifts for breeders.  There it was at the end of the aisle:  “PYJAMAS”.  WTF?  And buoy is pronounced like boy.  “Watch out for that buoy in the water there” could get really confusing.  Next thing you know some innocent American rips off his shirt and dives into shark-infested water to save the non-existent drowning boy only because some Australian shouted out about a buoy.  I at least hope that he who rips off his shirt to save a drowning child is hot.

In addition to spelling and pronunciation, there is a very long list of things that have different meanings.  As you know, thongs are footwear in Australia but slutwear in the US.  And a fanny means something very different in the two countries, which is why I imagine any Aussie who has ever watched The Nanny mutes the opening credits.  Going a step further, there are actually things that mean the EXACT OPPOSITE in Australia of what they do in the United States.  And today, I’ll give you two examples.

1.  Lucked out.

I always say “luck out” or “lucked out”, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned that it means the exact opposite of what I thought it means here in Australia.  The dictionary defines the expression “luck out” as follows:  “to have an instance or run of exceptionally good luck.”  And every American reading this is like “well, yeah.”

But not in Oz.  To “luck out” here means “to run out of luck.”

So, when the forecast calls for thunderstorms all weekend and it ends up being sunny and beautiful and you tell someone at work on Monday that we really lucked out with the weather, they look at you funny and think you’re on crack.  Because to them, they didn’t luck out.  Now, if the forecast looks sunny and great but then it ends up pissing down rain from Friday afternoon until Monday morning, an Australian will say that we really lucked out with the weather.  And I stand there for a minute and process that and then slowly nod in agreement after suppressing the little American voice in my head that keeps saying “Is this bitch for real?”

Now I know what it means to say “luck out” to my American mates here and I know what it means to say “luck out” to my Australian mates here but what the hell do you say to a mixed group of Americans and Australians?  And what do you say to an Australian who has lived in America and knows what “lucked out” means over there and fully expects you to use the phrase in the American sense but then you use it in the Australian sense and they look at you funny and then you realize that they know it works both ways.  And what if they know that you know it works both ways and you know that they also know it works both ways and then you have to clarify which way it means every single time which just takes so much longer.

From here on out, I’m just going to take the easy route and shut the fuck up whenever something good or bad happens.

A big round of applause for the forces of nature finally finding a way to keep me quiet.  Now moving on.

2.  Homely.

In the US, homely is generally a bad thing.  For example:  “Oh.  My.  God.  Becky.  Look at that unfortunate creature over there.  She looks like a total wildebeest.  With braces.  And that pastel pink Mickey Mouse sweater she is wearing:  tragic.  She’s just so… homely!”

But in Australia, it’s very different.  For example:  “Oh Marjorie, this meal was delicious – and I just love the décor in your dining room.  How homely!”

Australians use “homely” as Americans generally would use the word “homey” – it feels like home.  In the dictionary, this can best be described as follows:

Homely in the United States:  “lacking in physical attractiveness;  not beautiful;  unattractive.”

Homely in Australia:  “proper or suited to the home or to ordinary domestic life;  plain;  unpretentious.”

Taking directly from  “In the United States, homely usually suggests absence of natural beauty.” But in Australia, “the word suggests a wholesome simplicity without artificial refinement or elegance;  since it characterizes that which is comfortable and attractive, it is equivalent to homey.”

To demonstrate further:

Homely in Australia:  A lovely cottage with tasteful, comfortable, inviting décor.

How cute!

Homely in America:  A run-down shack with a leaky roof and tacky, faded wallpaper.


Homely in Australia:  The girl next door.  For example:  Taylor Swift without too much make up – warm, unpretentious, and inviting.

Homely in America:  Wildebeest lady.  For example:  Maggie Gallagher – bigot.

And all the Americans agree:  what a homely bitch.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Heavenly Marshmallow

Once upon a time I had a friend named Claudia.  Actually, I still have a friend name Claudia and she’s probably reading this.  Hi Claudia!  Claudia was (is) from Austria (not to be confused with Australia) and went to my high school for a year as an exchange student.  After she went back to her home country, I went for a visit.  I came bearing three gifts of her choice.  1.  Ramen noodles.  2.  Cinnamon gum.  3.  Marshmallows.  Those are way better than gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Ok, I totally see not being able to get Ramen noodles in Austria because I don’t imagine there to be too many Asians there.  And I suppose maybe cinnamon gum is a bit too hot for some Europeans.  But I didn’t see why the heck she would need marshmallows when surely they would have marshmallows in Europe, right?  And then she told me that the marshmallows were different in Europe and that the American ones were better.  And then, instead of actually trying a European marshmallow on any of my trips to Europe to see what the difference was, I tucked that little tidbit of information into the back of my brain and let it sit there for a while.  A long while.  This was year 2000.

Then one day many years later, I tried a marshmallow in Australia (not to be confused with Austria), and I thought to myself, “What the fuck is this?”

Sure enough, Australian marshmallows are like European marshmallows, and only vaguely like American marshmallows.  Some of the differences include size.  Americans like bigger portions and that’s certainly exhibited in the size of our marshmallows vs the Aussie marshmallow:

Also notice the colour.  Aussie marshmallows usually come in white and pink, all mixed up in the same bag.  Weird.

Then, if you look even closer, you’ll notice that the marshmallows are POWDERY.  Huh?

And that powderiness leaves a residue on your fingers:

How messy!  Ugh!

The flavour is completely off as well.  It’s (surprisingly) sweeter than an American marshmallow, and almost tastes a bit fruity in a way.  It’s like someone added a drop or two of really bad fake artificial strawberry flavour to the vat of marshmallow mixture.  It’d be like the kind of flavouring they use in cough syrup except they just put a little bit so you only get a trace of the flavour.  It’s the most bizarre thing.

When you put an American marshmallow in the microwave, it slowly starts to puff up – bigger and bigger and bigger and gooier – all the while retaining the same basic shape.  It’s amazing what technological advances can do!  But those advances seem to have not made it across the Pacific.  When you put an Aussie marshmallow in the microwave, it all of a sudden gets really big but totally misshapen – like some sort of cancer cell – and then promptly flattens out as it begins to BURN.  And it begins to burn after 15 seconds.  WTF?

In case you’re wondering, my flatmate witnessed this and asked me what sort of scientific experiment I was doing.  I should start wearing lab coat when I blog.  But I digress.

A major thing to note:  there are no Peeps around here for Easter.  For a country that is obsessed with Easter – there are 3 days of national holidays for Easter (Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday) – there is an amazing shortage of the one thing Americans think of when we think Easter:  Marshmallow Peeps!

For the Aussies – no, Americans don’t get any days off work for Easter.  And we don’t have Hot Cross Buns.  And Marshmallow Peeps are a staple of Easter for all Americans, even the Jews.  Except for the Orthodox Jews because Peeps are marshmallows and therefore contain gelatin and therefore aren’t kosher but most other Jews don’t care because Peeps are really cool and they’re even better when you nuke them in the microwave because it’s like this little marshmallow chick is getting bigger and bigger like it’s going to turn into something like the Pillsbury Doughboy from Ghostbusters and torment your city but then you take it out of the microwave and eat it like you’re conquering the beast!

Or it is only me that does that?

Anywho.  The main thing, however, is that the marshmallows here aren’t nearly as soft and fluffy as the ones back in the States.  They are a bit more rigid.  It may be something in the ingredients, but I can only guess.  In the US, marshmallows generally contain corn syrup (as most things in America do), sugar, dextrose, modified cornstarch, water, gelatin, artificial colours and flavours, and tetrasodium pyrophosphate (whatever that is).  In Australia, the ingredients go a little something like this:

Ok, so there’s no corn syrup because we’re not in America – that may have something to do with the difference.  And the other sugars are different – glucose and invert sugar syrup instead of dextrose.  Also, there’s wheat starch instead of modified cornstarch – maybe that changes the consistency?  Maybe the Aussie marshmallows need more chemicals, like that tetrasodium pyrophosphate – maybe that’s the golden ticket!  But the biggest differences for me are the fact that I just learned that Aussies spell gelatin with an “e” on the end and pronounce it “gel – a – teen” instead of “gel – a – tin”.  Weird.  Also, there’s beef in my marshmallow.  Allow me to repeat:


Why do they need to put “(Beef)” on the label?  We all know that gelatin comes from an animal but do we really need to have that imagery of cow parts and big slabs of raw meat in our minds every time we have dessert?  I think not.  Disgusting.

So, how did this all come up?  Why am I blogging about marshmallows in late 2012 when I’ve known about this since early 2010?  It’s because of Glen.   Glen is my Irish friend – you read about him on my blog when he got his Australian citizenship in February of this year.  Or maybe you didn’t.  But you should have.  Anyway, Glen has a new Canadian flatmate and that new flatmate was talking about s’mores and Glen was like “What is that?!?!?” and his new flatmate was going to show him but then I pointed out that the marshmallows are different and don’t work the same way and also you can’t get graham crackers here.  There is no equivalent to the graham cracker here.  Why?!?!?

Conveniently, I was heading off to the States so I brought back real marshmallows and graham crackers and some candy corn.  Not that candy corn has anything to do with s’mores, but you can’t get candy corn here either so I thought it seemed appropriate and all of the Aussies were offended that all of the ingredients on candy corn were sugar-based but then tasted candy corn and shut the fuck up because it’s good.  So yeah.  Then I took my ingredients and bought some chocolate at the local grocery store because Cadbury is pretty equivalent to Hershey’s and we had a s’mores night at Glen’s place!  Yay!

We toasted them over the stove because I don’t think building management would have liked us starting a campfire on the balcony.

And then we had s’mores!


Glen also tried an American marshmallow on its own.  And you know what he said, super excitedly?

“It’s like a cloud!”

I’ll take that as heavenly.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Customs and Border Security

It didn’t occur to me the first few times I left Australia, but after being back in the US twice, I had a revelation:  Australia is the only place I’ve been (that I can recall) where you go through legitimate customs on the way out.  Usually, you just check in as normal and head through security to your gate, right?  Not in Australia.  You have to fill out an Outgoing Passenger Card and stand in line at Customs and Border Protection and have your passport checked and stamped and all that jazz.  And then you go through security.  Leaving America, they don’t check your passport at all, and I think that’s pretty much the same for most countries.

Customs in Australia are very strict – extremely strict actually.  This can be partially attributable to Australia’s unique biodiversity and ecosystems and the desire to prevent foreign species (plant or animal) from invading.  Australia also has tough laws on drugs and the like, and wants to strictly enforce those and prevent smuggling.  Finally, a comprehensive visa system allows authorities to easily track who enters and leaves the country – to help discourage illegal immigrants.  For example, when I went to get my Aussie driver’s license, the lady at the RTA (the Aussie version of the DMV) knew exactly when I had entered and departed Australia just by quickly swiping my passport into her little machine.  She didn’t even look at the stamps!  I’m being stalked.

The major airports at Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Cairns actually have separate domestic and international terminals – maybe to prevent comingling of international and domestic travellers?  At least at Sydney and Perth, these are quite far apart, requiring either a car or train to get between the two.

When coming back into Australia, you have to fill out an Incoming Passenger Card and answer a list of questions.  Most of these are pretty straight forward, but answering incorrectly can have grave implications.

1.  Are you bringing into Australia goods that may be prohibited or subject to restrictions, such as medicines, steroids, illegal pornography, firearms, weapons, or illicit drugs?

Ok, so most of those are no – like weapons and illicit drugs – but what about the porn?  I got very nervous with the porn question, because like most men, my laptop has some porn on it.  And by some, I mean a fair amount.  I’m not going to lie.  Yours probably does too so stop judging, fool.  I later found out that it’s only illegal pornography, which would be kiddie porn or porn featuring women with small breasts.  Not even shitting you – because women with small breasts apparently resemble children in pornography – WTF Australia?  So, yeah, seeing as children make me cringe and I have no desire to see breasts large or small, I’m good on that question.  I can enter safely with a hard drive full of Brent Corrigan.

2.  Are you bringing into Australia more than 2250mL of alcohol or 250 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco products?

No.  No.  And no.

3.  Are you bringing into Australia goods obtained overseas or purchased duty and/or tax free in Australia with a combined total price of more than AUD$900, including gifts?

Ok, so I may have purchased lots of clothes at Macy’s, but I cut the tags off so that doesn’t count, right?

4.  Are you bringing into Australia goods/samples for business/commercial use?

This one gets people all the time.  If you’re here to do any sort of business, you need to be on a business visa.  If you come in on a tourist visa and they catch you with commercial goods/samples, they can deny you entry and send you back to your country of origin.  Suckers!

5.  Are you bringing into Australia AUD$10,000 or more in Australian or foreign currency equivalent.

I wish I had that kind of money in my wallet.

6.  Are you bringing into Australia any food – includes dried, fresh, preserved, cooked, uncooked?

This is the one I hate because I always have some sort of American food with me and it’s always packaged and purchased at the grocery store and totally safe (like chocolate or Cheez-Its) but I have to answer “yes” even though I know they are just looking for the idiots with bags of nuts or meat or fruit or vegetables.  And the customs officers see my yes answer and because I’m American they assume it’s jerky.  Not even shitting you.  My friend Jess got asked twice if she had jerky when entering the country, and I laughed because she’s from Arkansas where lots of people probably eat jerky and I assumed that’s why they were asking her.  But then this most recent time they asked me that question and I got all offended and was like “No, I’m from a blue state.”  If you answer “no” and they catch you with food – even food that is totally legal – then they can fine you a few hundred dollars and put you on a black list which means they’ll do extra checks on you each time you enter.  Big brother will be watching you.  So always answer “yes”.  Chances are, if you tell them what you have, they’ll just wave you through without any extra checks… if you’re white.  If you’re Asian or Indian, be prepared to get screened more thoroughly.  Not to be racist at all, but a lot of people from Asian countries attempt to bring in all sorts of weird food items that you can’t get here and they are the ones always getting busted.

7.  Are you bringing into Australia wooden articles, plants, parts of plants, traditional medicines or herbs, seeds, bulbs, straw, nuts?

No, I’m not a hippie.  But does my flatmate need to declare the wooden penis keychain that he bought for me in Bali?

8.  Are you bringing into Australia animals, parts of animals, animal products including equipment, pet food, eggs, biological, specimens, birds, fish, insects, shells, bee products?

I don’t like most living things.  So no.

9.  Are you bringing into Australia soil, items with soil attached or used in freshwater areas i.e. sports/recreational equipment, shoes?

I’m not that outdoorsy.  So again, no.  But in New Zealand, their ecosystem is far more fragile so they actually make you scrub the bottom of your shoes when entering if they feel your shoes are too dirty.

10.  Have you been in contact with farms, farm animals, wilderness areas or freshwater streams/lakes etc. in the past 30 days?

Have you met me?  I’ve been in contact with the outlet mall and The Cheesecake Factory only.  Why the fuck would I ever go on a farm?  The closest I’ve been to farm is probably when my flight from Los Angeles to New York flew over Kansas or Iowa or one of those other corn-growing states in the middle.

The best part of Australian Customs is watching it on television.  Oh yes.  They have their own TV show.  It’s called Border Security and it’s actually extremely entertaining.  The cameras mainly focus on Australian Customs and Border Protection at the major airports – filming passengers as they enter the country and get searched.  Sometimes they also focus on the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service at the international mail centres, or the Department of Immigration and Citizenship as they raid workplaces suspected of employing illegal immigrants.  Can you imagine something like this being allowed to be filmed in America?  There would be privacy lawsuits out the wazoo!

Watch the whole thing if you have 22 minutes to spare and haven’t ever watched the show before.

In every episode, there’s usually some sort of drug bust – the best when found in a cavity search.  (No, they don’t actually show the cavity search.)  An episode I watched last week focused on the international mail centre.  There, one small box that was part of a massive shipment of frozen fish from somewhere in Asia had a few million dollars’ worth of heroin frozen into it.  And they found it because they scanned each and every box on that giant pallet.  People hide things in the lining of their suitcases or in chess sets or other places.  Or they just tape drugs to themselves and assume that they won’t get caught.  A young American girl tried to smuggle in some drugs, but was caught after being questioned as to why she had a layover in Panama.  She was sentenced to a few years in prison.

There was the suitcase full of live lizards and snakes wrapped up in socks.  Someone was trying to smuggle endangered species out of Australia and into Asia.  Do they not know that suitcases get scanned going out?  Then there are your standard, run-of-the-mill cases.  There was the Vietnamese man who was coming on holiday, but upon further inspection, border security found that his hotel booking was phoney and his phone had text messages saying that he intended to work in Australia for 2 or 3 years.  He was denied entrance to the country and shipped back the next day.

But my favourite are the simplest of the simple:  the food idiots.  Again, not to be racist, but they generally show Asians and occasionally Indians declaring that they have no food and then ending up having a whole suitcase full of things like nuts and berries and tea leaves and all sorts of prohibited items.  And then they play stupid like their English isn’t that good and they didn’t know what the question meant (meanwhile their English was fine a minute ago).  And then they start to cry when they get a fine of a few hundred dollars and all of their stuff gets confiscated and destroyed.  And the harder they cry the harder I roll my eyes and chuckle.  Ha!

Moral of the story:  declare EVERYTHING.  Also, try to be white.  Seriously, if you’re white AND travelling from a western country and you firmly tell Customs that you do not have any jerky on you, then you’ll breeze right through.  If you’re Asian or traveling back from an Asian country, you’re totally getting extra scanning and questions.  Just look at the people in the line for extra scanning at Customs.  They are disproportionately Asian.

And in America, every airport would be sued for racial profiling.