Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fran versus food

I have never been an advocate of diets.  Too short-term-ism thinking.  As though your health is a mini goal to be achieved.  It is much better to become a jerf.  No, not a jerk.  Somebody who "just eats real food".  Do this.  With the right portion sizes.  Keep active.  Sleep well, and for the right durations (for you), and let nature do the rest.

If I ever needed proof that this was as "scientific" as it got, the 4 weeks prior to the recent holiday provided it.  In spades.

The Body Coach, 90 day plan.  Shift, shape, and sustain, each in a 4 week cycle.  The first cycle completed before heading off to the land of food.  Where the unofficial motto is "go big, or go home".

Initially, I was skeptical.  Firstly, of the amount of food that you can actually eat.  But also, the cost of it.  Good food isn't' cheap.  Let's not start on the opportunity cost.  Of spending most of my waking hours trawling around supermarkets for obscure ingredients, such as kinowa.  What?  That is not how you pronounce it?  Silly me.  Quinoa (keen-wah), the magical grain of the Andes in South America.

However, all that aside, I soon stopped complaining once the magic started happening.  Week 1 done.  Good sized portions of food consumed, with regular high intensity training sessions, and the kilos started falling away.  Four weeks in, and on the cusp of the overseas trip, 4 kilos had been shed.  Just like that.  As I say, magic.

Now it was time to throw it all out of the window, and binge of some of the world's best comfort foods.

1.    Burger - Stout  (Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles)

I could write on and on about burgers.  Believe me, I could.  Limiting it to just one was difficult.  So I have gone for the very first one we had on the trip.  Which was as good as anything else we had the 3 weeks we were away.  Yes, I finally got to try the famous Californian chain of "In-N-Out", which I loved.  But they were more a fast food style cheese burger.  Whereas the ones at Stout we more substantial.  Gourmet burgers.  Thick juicy, homemade patties.  In a soft brioche bun.  Washed down with a local craft beer.  A heavenly start to the trip.

2.  Clam chowder - Chowder Hut Grill (Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco)

This is my second visit to the Chowder Hut Grill.  The first being over 10 years ago.  And I had the exact same dish.  Second time around?  Amazing.  Even better than I had remembered it to be.  The clam chowder was delicious, with a hint of spice.  And the sourdough bread bowl holds up well whilst you eat the chowder, but then is soft enough to break up when you have finished, to enjoy with the residual chowder.  This is not the fanciest of places, but the chowder speaks for itself.

3.  Fish Tacos - Cheryl's on 12th (1135 SW Washington, Portland)

If you want to try fish tacos anywhere in Portland, try them at Cheryl's.  You won't be disappointed.  The fish portions were immense.  And the salsa probably one of the best I have had.  That's before I start on the guacamole!  And as an aside, Cheryl's was one of the best diners we visited on the whole trip.  A fabulous place in the heart of downtown Portland.

4.  Mac and Cheese - Beechers Hand Made Cheese (Pike Place Market, Seattle)

Like mac and cheese?  Like it as much as I do?  Well, I doubt that, but lovers of this culinary delight should head to Beechers, at Pike Place market.  Avoid the queues of misguided tourists down the street at the "original" Starbucks, and get in line here.
Beechers self proclaim their version of mac and cheese to be the "world's best".
After two portions, I am inclined to agree.  Using the cheese made fresh on site, which you can watch them making, the finished goods are probably the freshest, tastiest mac and cheese you will ever taste.  Ever.  Take no notice of a little thing such as they don't actually use macaroni.  It is substituted by penne, but who cares!

5.  Corned Beef Hash - Glo's café  (1621 E Olive Way, Seattle)

Corned beef hash.  Not the first dish that springs to mind for a lot of people when talking about foods you crave.  But me, I have always loved a good hash.  And nowhere does it better than the good old US of A.
When we were researching food options (believe me when I say we spend a lot of time doing this) in Seattle, Glo’s corned beef hash was described in terms so glowing (no pun intended) I knew I just HAD to have it.  Soon.
Oh.  My.  God.  Literally…OMG!  If the portion sizes weren’t so gargantuan, I would have ordered and eaten it all over again.  As it was, I couldn’t walk out of the diner, and had to be rolled down the hill sideways back into town.

6. Hot Dogs - Dog Gone It (801 Government Street, Victoria, BC)

If you have ever seen the “Hot Diggedy Dawg” stand at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Fran, and was remiss enough to not get a dog, you would also be spending the rest of the vacation hunting down one of these treats.
It did look as though the dog tasting may have passed us by, but thankfully, we did find this place on Vancouver Island.  And what a treat it was.
A classic wiener, with onions, emitting a glorious aroma, reminiscent of fairgrounds of my youth, and one with bacon and cheese, topped with ketchup and mustard.  My mouth is watering just at the memory of it.
And I’m not sure anybody does the “classic” shake better.  Wow.

The one that got away...

Cherry Pie - the quintessential end to any meal in the States, is with a bit of pie.  And I do love me a bit of pie.  In my opinion, the king of pies is the cherry pie.  This harks back to a previous backpacking trip through South America, where I washed up at dusty San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, with enough money for the last piece of cherry pie in a little bakery I found, and a coffee.  All ATMs were out of cash, and I was about to spend my last pesos on this pie.  But lord was it ever worth it.  It kept me happy until the next day when the town's two cash machines were replenished.  And I have lived on the memory, sat in the plaza in San Pedro, strains of rapid fire Spanish piercing the air, like gun fire, as the sun set, ever since.  A perfect moment in my life.

So, on the trip, it was on my hit list to try.  But, like always, when you want something, you never seem to see it.  I could get everything from pumpkin, to pecan, to pizza pie.  But my beloved cherry eluded me.

The one I didn't understand...

Having hit Canada, and found a decent bar for some liquid refreshments, we started getting asked if we wanted any "Caesars".  At this point we weren't hungry, and only wanted drinks, so politely declined.  It was only after we noticed every bar advertising Caesars that I decided to do a little research, and found that we weren't actually being offered a salad, but in fact a local drink.  A Canadian take on the Bloody Mary.  It turns out that this Canadian concoction is little known outside it's shores, so I felt a little less stupid.  However, I never did get to try a Caesar and will have to keep it on my list for the next time that I am in that beautiful country.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Musings from Mosman

Welcome to the latest update from the Yorkshire Expat, where we will spend some time talking about how the year is progressing so far (very well, since you asked), what is on the horizon (quite a bit actually), and whatever else springs to mind as I'm writing.

If you didn't know, but I will assume you do, it is May already.  We have passed the fourth, so no Stars Wars jokes here.  Or is it Star Trek?  I can never work out the difference between the two. 

Looking in the rear view mirror, at the calendar, it never ceases to surprise me at what is already in the dust behind us.  Where did the previous 4 months go?  A full third of the year over already.  Only 230 days to Christmas.  Did any body else buy some Christmas crackers (bon bons in local parlance.  No, I don't understand either.  They are crackers for gods sake) and cards in the January sales?

The biggest story of the year so far is the recent move to a new apartment.  When I say move, I use the word loosely.  More of a shifting.  Just up the road.  About 500 meters.  Why would you do that you ask?  Well, certain criteria had to be met.  A second bathroom, for the overseas visitors bringing chocolate from the UK each year.  Tick.  A larger balcony to be able to make the most of the weather, allowing for al fresco dining.  Tick.  Still within walking distance of our favourite cafés, restaurants, and bars.  Tick tick tick.

Now, as we weren't moving far, in our wisdom we decided not to hire a van like normal people.  We would use a car we were hiring for a trip to Mudgee (wine country, which was amazing), and just make a few trips.  The hiring of cars is made very simple with the concept of "GoGet", where you join up, receive a magnetic card, check the website for a car parked near you, book for any duration starting from 30 minutes, then turn up, swipe the card on the windshield, get in, and drive.  Simple. 

Driving through Mosman with a mattress hanging precariously out the back of the car, avoiding police cars, and looking a tad ridiculous.  Multiple trips were made either side of Easter weekend, by which time we thought we would be done.  We weren't.  Being only about 500 meters away from the new digs, we figured we could easily move the remaining bits on foot.  And it would be easy.  It wasn't.

We looked at each other on a dark Tuesday night, with the dawning realization we still had lots to carry.  And thus, doing what needed to be done, we traipsed through the streets of Mosman looking like Syrian refugees, carrying gas bottles for BBQs, mops, clothes horse, vacuum cleaner, and lots of other detritus.  What happened to the so called de-cluttering, before moving?  As always happens.  It gets left til it's too late, and all your shit comes with you to the new place.

In the lives we now find ourselves living in, the necessities are somewhat different than they were for our parents generation when they set up home.  Their "wireless" was probably a big, dusty, brown hunk of a thing that sat on the mantlepiece, spitting out weekly episodes of the Archers.  Or stirring speeches by Churchill.  Ours is a little white box with flickering green lights.  When it works.  Which is another story.

We took the opportunity when moving home, to move broadband providers.  This was driven by the fact that the rights to show the live English Premier League games (every single one of them) have been bought by Optus, with Foxtel (the local SKY) losing out.  In readiness, a move to Optus broadband followed.  Quickly followed by nothing but problem after problem with the reliability of the service.  Our wi-if is patchy, at best.  I am going to get very annoyed if the same problems start occurring during live football matches.  At godforsaken hours of the night.  If I was a project manager, oh, I am, I would be flagging this as my biggest risk to Optus being able to satisfy the thousands of subscribers wanting their weekly fix of the beautiful game.

Recently, we had a public holiday (you would call it a bank holiday in the UK), ANZAC day, where we took the opportunity to have a long weekend in the country again.  This time in the Hunter Valley, where, conveniently, there are shit loads of wineries.  This makes me happy.  Also, like Mudgee, we booked somewhere quiet and remote.  This time, very remote.  The weekend involved lots of wine tasting.  Lots of cheese tasting.  Peace.  Quiet.  And a hot tub.

This (not the hot tub) got me thinking what it would be like to have a tree change?  If this is not a term you are familiar with, I would usually call it a sea change.  Up sticks, quit the busy city life, and move somewhere quiet, living a life far removed from the current one.  Maybe make cheese.  Keep animals.  Open a little coffee shop.  Etc, etc.  You get the picture.  One of the challenges is picking the right place.  Getting the balance between social and solitude right.

For example, as much as I like Darwin, a very small place on the northern coast of Australia, I'm not sure I'd want to be ensconced there for any length of time.  Subsisting on a diet of titties and schnitties may not be everybody's cup of tea.   And whilst Gulgong, near Mudgee in central NSW, does the best Rogan Josh in the whole of Australia, could I live in a place that only has one street, and you had to eat curry every day?  Well, thinking about it...

So for now, the sea change remains a pipe dream.  One that I continue to percolate on.

Maybe it will brew into something on my upcoming holiday, or vacation, as they like to say where we will be heading.  A road trip up the west coast of the US ticks some long held boxes personally (Big Sur anyone?), as does finally getting to Canada.  A place I have been threatening to visit since making friends with a Kelowna local, whilst travelling Australia many years ago.  This year I will finally get to Canada.  More specifically, to Vancouver.  This is a trip that fills me with great excitement.

Will there be pics?  You bet.  Will there be a few American cheese burgers involved.  Without doubt the burger spreadsheet will be getting updated.  And will it all be captured in a future blog.  You can count on it.  Just keep reading.