Sunday, February 24, 2013

Aussie Sunday Lunch

The International Office and school chaplain here at Southern Cross University arranged an Aussie Sunday Lunch outing for interested international students to spend an afternoon having lunch with and getting to know a local family. I and another student spent the afternoon with Michelle and Gary, two lovely locals who cooked us a fantastic meal! We started (ha! Started…) with prawns (whole shrimp) and grilled bread. Course #2 included grilled chicken wings, lamb, pork ribs, and a South African sausage (Michelle and Gary are both originally from South Africa), a delicious Mediterranean-style salad, rice with veggies, and to-die-for baked potatoes. It didn’t stop there, though. We finished with homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh berries. Needless to say, I was stuffed. They have invited us over for dinner Easter weekend and I may just have to say yes. I’m finally experiencing four years of college life in one semester and it’ll be months before I eat like that again. :)
Viewed on this side: meat and potatoes (most delicious potatoes ever)

Mediterranean salad and rice pilaf

View from their back yard. They often see an abundance of avifauna and wallabies (similar to a kangaroo but smaller)


Tree Kangaroos, Kit Kats, and Meat Pies, oh my!

Well... That's just a terrible title, but I tried.

Mama kangaroo with a baby in the pouch (you can kind of see it sticking out)
Today’s topics: Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and Aussie brands

Last weekend, my last weekend of freedom before the session started (semesters are called sessions here), the International Office here took us international students to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast, which is less than a couple hours north of Lismore and along the coast (as the name indicates). One of the highlights of Currumbin is the opportunity to have your picture taken holding one of the animals, namely a koala or python. Obviously, koalas are much more cute and cuddly in appearance (hence the added “bear” to their name) and luckily these koalas are raised to be friendly to people (don’t try to hold a wild koala… Just… don’t do it, mkay?).

Besides koalas, there are hundreds of fascinating Australian wildlife. My camera died halfway through the day so once I figure out how to easily get the photos off my phone, I will post about all the animals I saw. Look out for one or two geekery posts. I fully intend to go crazy telling y’all about the cool trees and animals over here! The black breasted button quail is CUTE AS A BUTTON!!! No joke!

Over-exclaiming aside, for today’s ramble, here’s an introduction into some familiar and not-so-familiar brands with an Aussie-twist:

Now… We all know what a KitKat is (how can you be American and not know???). Apparently, KitKat gets a little creative outside the US. Check out these three flavors: Cookies & Cream, Caramel, and Choc Mint.
I saw these while picking up some ice cream with a friend at a local convenience store. I feel outraged on behalf of all Americans that we are not privileged with these options! Granted, I rarely eat mainstream candy (as a chocolate snob, I prefer my higher-quality, less mainstream simple dark chocolate). And also granted, the only time I ever enjoy mint and chocolate together are in those dark chocolate mint after-dinner pieces that Olive Garden gives out with the check. NEVERTHELESS, why do we not have these options back home?!?!

This next brand is perhaps less well known in the US, but it’s so Australian that I had to share!

A Caramello Koala! Pretty cute… Haven’t tried mine yet (told you, I’m picky with chocolate), but the most exciting thing is the koala shape, of course.

Here’s another reference for you. Free Cornetto if you get it right the first time.

 "Want to go to the shop?"
"We’ve just been to the shop."
"We could go to another one."
"What shop did you have in mind?"

I had my first Cornetto last weekend. It was more for the novelty of it and the thoughts of the afore-referenced movie (I hope I quoted it correctly), but it was good. Not much different than your average Drumstick in America (that’s what they’re called, right?).
As a point of interest, the first thing I saw when I stepped off the plane in Australia was a huge Jim Beam ad. My Ttought: I came all the way to Australia to see ads for Kentucky bourbon? What is wrong with this picture, people? As a purely academic insight into Australian culture, they seem to love whiskey and cola mixed together. I’m not saying a whiskey coke is a bad thing, but theirs often come premade:

Tragedy of all tragedies… My personal favorite has been turned in to some Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff-style blasphemy. Please tell me this doesn’t exist in America??
Here’s another fun fact: like most other countries around the world other than the United States, sodas in Australia do not include high fructose corn syrup. Just cane sugar. Yep, even the American brands use cane sugar just like the good ole days. I could rant very loudly about this for an extended period of time. What is the deal with Americans and high fructose corn syrup?

Continuing, Australian food culture does not seem terribly different right away compared to American food, or at least not very foreign to me. Lamb is a commonly consumed meat, which I absolutely love, and bangers and mash (sausage with mashed potatoes) is a normal Aussie-style meal. I tried kangaroo sausages last week. I can’t comment on the taste of the meat on its own just yet because they were Tuscan-ish flavored sausages but it was like any other specialty sausage. Chicken schnitzel (German-style breaded chicken breasts) is huge here and I love it! I think it’s Aussie-style comfort food meal… Meat pies are also a common item, sold anywhere from cafes to convenience stores and fuel stations. I tried my first one last Friday from a stand on campus. This is a peppered-steak meat pie. It included mushrooms and gravy of course. I love me a good crust and this was delicious. I’ll have to keep it as a once every-now-and-then sort of meal though. All that gravy and flaky delicious crust will kill me! Forget calories, I've got to figure out kilajoules now.  

 Now, some of us Americans may still drink Ovaltine or other variations of chocolate milk powder. Here is the Australian equivalent:
Milo is a malted barley chocolaty-ish drink my Aussie roommate enjoys in a glass of milk. Haven’t tried it yet but likely will.

If you’ve been to Australia and read this far down, you may have noticed I have excluded two of the biggest or perhaps most memorable Australian foods: Vegemite and Tim Tams. Never fear!

Vegemite is a spreadable condiment derived from yeast extract. It is very salty and has a strong, miso type of flavor. It’s usually mixed with butter and spread on crackers or put on sandwiches with peanut butter. (I wonder if they call it a PB&V? I must find this out…). I have tried it on crackers but have not tried the PB&V yet. Of course, I’ll have to try that, just once at least.
Alas, I do not have a picture of Tim Tams for you… They are a delicious cookie (“biscuit”) common throughout Australia. I love the dark chocolate variety. If you ever get the chance, you must try a Tim Tam but be careful! It’s like eating a potato chip: You can never have just one.

Finally, I may have mentioned before that there are actually kangaroos that live in trees. Behold the tree kangaroo!
He wouldn't face us but that's a kangaroo!
This guy is sleeping in a palm tree. The closest object was at least a ten foot jump. I would have loved to see him get up on that branch.

Monday, February 11, 2013

And the fun begins!

Well... I'm here! Been here twelve days and have been having so much fun! Driving on the wrong (ahem, left) side of the road is an adventure, even just as a passenger. Get ready for roundabouts! The region I'm in has very few traffic lights or stop signs (though they are common in the larger cities), but it's all roundabouts. As a point of interest for my wildlife/forestry friends, here's a wildlife overpass on the highway between Brisbane and Lismore:

And a closer-up one...

Dad and I stopped in Byron Bay for a look around and to get some grub (we arrived in Brisbane airport at about 6:45 am and left Brisbane around 9 am. Last meal had been around 4 am on the plane). Byron Bay is two hours south of Brisbane and about half an hour east of Lismore, where Southern Cross University is. Byron was perhaps the first test of sticker shock (everything's just more $$$, that's all there is to it). My first meal in Australia:

Breakfast tapas. I didn't really until the waiter set the plate down that I had never eaten tapas before and wasn't quite sure how to... It was delicious though! Smoked salmon, avocado (notice the way it's arranged, in a ridged spiral), and cream cheese with a fresh roasted tomato. Classy.

Anyways, Dad and I went hiking to Minyon Falls at Nightcap National Park on Saturday (2 Feb), the day after we got there. It's a beautiful hike and I love the forest ("bush"). As we were leaving, my spider sense (I wish) picked up on some movement off the path. Saw a large (~1.5 m long) black goanna. It was too quick for a photo but here are some shots of beautiful Minyon Falls!

From next to the falls:

 From a distance:

Lismore is a very art-oriented town full of laid-back people and a friendly vibe. There's a town called Nimbin less than an hour's drive that, according to my guidebook, is highly recommended. Nimbin hosted an Age of Aquarius festival in the early 1970s, a sort of Aussie response to Woodstock, that left a lasting impression on the town. It is now the "Alternative Capital of Australia" featuring a no-judgment community and lots of interesting "hippie"ish shops (not too far from some areas of Downtown Flag). I'll take more photos when I revisit but here are a few photos to give you some idea...

 Notice the Happy Herb Shop. I believe this is the original Happy Herb Shop (there's one in downtown Flag and dotted throughout some towns here too) but in Nimbin it's name is the Happy High Herb Shop...

You get the idea.

The next day, Dad and I went to Bald Rock National Park. Bald Rock is the largest monolith in Australia and almost as cool (well, maybe) as Ayre's Rock. It's a nice climb to the top but there are stunning views in all directions. The drive to Bald Rock was very windy and the forest was my favorite type so far (more temperate eucalypt forest).

Fast forwarding, the International Office here at SCU organized a trip to Byron Bay for all the international students. The beach is absolutely beautiful and Byron Bay is a fun town with lots of neat shops. I worked on my tan, forgot about my back, and have been suffering ever since. Plus side though, drank fresh coconut water straight from a coconut AND had two bottlenose dolphins swim by while I was in the water.

I know you're all jealous (I have a very high opinion of myself and therefore am sure you wish you were on a beach sipping from a coconut). You're in the throes of winter and I'm in the height of summer here in OZ. Well, to add insult to injury, guess what I saw on campus yesterday?
This little guy was hanging out at eye-level in a tree no more than ten feet from the footpath, chilling out while all us internationals scrambled for our cameras to take annoying photos.

 One more for y'all to admire...
Koalas are in decline in Australia from fragmented populations. Australia went through a similar history of logging and agriculture as did the southwestern US. The rainforest that Lismore abuts has been reduced to only 1% of its previous size from land clearing activities. Unless the canopy is interlocking, koalas move from one tree to another on the ground. They're prey for dogs and other introduced species and because their populations are so fragmented, they don't have the genetic diversity to resist most diseases. Chlamydia is actually a widespread disease among koalas. They suffer conjunctivitis and cystitis as a result. SCU has a koala hospital on campus that is volunteer-run and works to treat and re-release wounded wild koalas. There are a few to be seen around campus and this little guy gave us a quite a treat yesterday :)
Fun fact: In their evolutionary development, koalas sacrificed brain power (intelligence) for energy efficiency. Brains take a lot of energy to work and koalas' diet has very poor nutrition (hence the reason they sleep so much. It's not that they gorge themselves on food, it's that they're trying to conserve energy). So they're cute, but they're not the brightest bulbs in the box. Nevertheless, there are lots of reasons to keep them around. Just look at that proboscis!

That's all for now, more to come later :) Smurf party tonight!


P.S. Aussies (pronounced ozzies) are big partiers. I will elaborate some other time =P