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Archive for the ‘Ex-pat Experiences’ Category

Happy 4th of July everyone! While most of you will be having a BBQ with watermelon, corn on the cob, fried chicken and berry pies, we’re in the middle of winter (with even a bit of hail yesterday). So…although pumpkin pie is not traditional for Independence day, it’s very much in season now & I’ve made it to feel patriotic. Yes, it’s all from scratch (as in baked a fresh pumpkin & made pâte brisée) as canned pumpkin is a wholly American product! Trust me, I never appreciated canned pumpkin until I moved abroad.

P.S. It’s my first post from my iPhone too, hence the crappy photo…

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I personally feel that SODA and its INEXPENSIVENESS in America, is one of the many causes of the huge obesity problem in the U.S.A.  Don’t get me wrong, Australia has a big problem too but the stats don’t lie, the U.S.A. is the fattest nation on earth and it is because junk food is so cheap and accessible. According to MSN Health & Fitness who got its source from Beverage Digest, Americans spent $68.1 Billion USD on carbonated soft drinks last year which averages it as 828 8-ounce servings per capita!!!  That is crazy.  What a load of empty calories that is!

Soda is one of those things that you can get extra super duper sized in America.  At 7-eleven stores in most parts of the U.S.A., you can get buy their “Double Gulp” soda in 64 ounces (1.89 litres or 1/2 gallon)!!  Also, if you are on the market for a brand new car in the states, check out how much larger their cup holders are…big enough to at least fit a “Big Gulp”.  In Australia, our cars are big, much like in the states but cup holders are still small and the biggest sized plastic soda drink it will fit are the 500ml (16 oz) bottles.  If you go to fast food restaurants here like at McDonald’s, a “small” drink is what I remember a small was in my childhood – I think they are now called “kiddie” size in the U.S.A.  I was surprised to have gone home recently and ordered a “medium” drink and they gave me this HUGE thing that was not medium in my head.

I am not against soda – in fact I do love a frozen coke as a treat but I rarely buy soda for the house.  Part of the reason is because it does nothing good for my body and the other is because it’s so bloody expensive.  When I first moved here, I was shocked at just how much little bottles of soda cost ($3) and was able to curb my American taste for sugary drinks.  Now, I go to the supermarket and marvel at the prices of 6-packs of Coke.  As you see in my picture, a 6-pack of Diet Coke, on Special, is $7.54!!  Now how much is that with the conversion rate you ask?  Well, up until last month, the Australian vs. U.S. Dollar were nearly 1 to 1 but the Aussie $ has slipped this week so as of Sept. 3 ($1US = 0.82AU), the 6-pack costs $6.22 at a GROCERY store.  I’ve seen 36 cans of name-brand soda on sale for $10 in the U.S.A. and it gets way cheaper than that if you go to the big wholesale stores or Wal-Mart and especially if you buy generic brands.

I think I’ve made enough comparisons and I’m done w/my ranting.  I just find the cultural differences so interesting and I think that American beverage companies should raise the price of soda to help with the nationwide obesity problem and perhaps, people might start losing weight!

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OMG!!!  After years of dealing with the Australian immigration, we have now been granted Permanent Resident (“Permie”) status!!!  It has taken nearly 8 months since we applied for it and after 3 different visas prior to this and thousands of dollars later, we have the right and privilege to come and go freely from this beautiful country!!  I really can sympathize with people who immigrate to any country now and can understand why there are so many illegal immigrants.  It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure.  Going through this process has been one of the most trying, frustrating, hair-ripping, financially-draining things we have had to do but it was worth it in the end.  I just don’t know why they make you suffer so much before you get your prize…especially since Australia NEEDS more people.  The thing I am grateful for the most is that I can now get access to great medical care for free, if I need it although most people (including us) have private health insurance as well to cover extras.  Still, it is something that I hope that Americans will have access to some day.  The U.S. being the only industrialized nation without the right to free medical care is sad to me.

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Recently, an American friend in Sydney told me that she had just made chocolate chip cookies.  That statement suddenly made me craving to make homemade warm chocolate chip cookies (which taste superior to anything bought in a store or cafe).

The problem with store-bought stuff is that the ingredient list is filled with crap that you can’t pronounce and the ingredients for really good cookies should all be natural to taste heavenly.  Unless you have time to melt beautiful 70% + couverture and then pipe them into chocolate chips, or to chop them into small pieces, a bag of Nestlé Toll House or Cadbury chips should do fine.  Toll-House is a household name in the U.S. but I find their chips a little bit on the sweet side but I think that their recipe for chocolate chip cookies is really one of the all-time best and foolproof.  I like adding chopped walnuts for extra indulgence.  Just make sure that you are prepared to eat about four DOZEN cookies (even more if you make them small)!

No, Nestle hasn’t paid me any cash to write and boast about them.  It’s just something I felt like sharing with people who didn’t grow up with this recipe like I did and want to do some baking this weekend (especially during the winter to warm up the house!)

For me, making homemade chocolate chip cookies is what I feel makes my childhood uniquely American…just like having homemade Jelly Cakes or Lamingtons may be to an Australian child.  What cookie / biscuit reminds you of your childhood?

Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

RECIPE:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened OR 225 grams butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or macadamia nuts are best!)

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

PAN COOKIE VARIATION: Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Prepare dough as above. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen bars.

SLICE AND BAKE COOKIE VARIATION:
PREPARE
dough as above. Divide in half; wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Shape each half into 15-inch log; wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.* Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices; place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

* May be stored in refrigerator for up to 1 week or in freezer for up to 8 weeks.

FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING (5,200 feet): Increase flour to 2 1/2 cups. Add 2 teaspoons water with flour and reduce both granulated sugar and brown sugar to 2/3 cup each. Bake drop cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and pan cookie for 17 to 19 minutes.

Happy Baking!

Raw cookie dough
Raw cookie dough
Ready to be baked

Ready to be baked

Baking in the oven
Baking in the oven
The finished cookies cooling on a rack...yum!

The finished cookies cooling on a rack...yum!

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One day, I’ll take a picture of a Ring-tailed Possum.  There is a whole colony that lives around here and they let us know it by leaving lovely droppings all over the place – on our fence and near the plants.  I just sweep them up and throw them in my plants as fertilizer.  These are Aussie Possums – very cute and marsupials.  They are not the weird-looking Possums you get in North America.  I wonder why they are both called Possums?  I once saw one on my fence with a baby on her back…if only I had my camera!!  Cute as they are, they wreak havoc to any garden with succulent shoots – oh and yes, they loved my David Austin roses!!  Because I hate losing my plants, I have them in pots (they look sad because it’s winter) and they are fully covered by a bird net:

My pots covered in bird netting

My pots covered in bird netting

Anyway, here is another parrot – the Adelaide Rosella, that was in my garden over the weekend while I was trying to plant bok choy, sweet peas, green onions and peonies.  Adelaide Rosellas are a cross between Yellow Rosellas and Crimson Rosellas (bright red & gorgeous).  This guy was eating the red berries in the tree next to my fence.

Aren't they pretty?

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So in my first post on weird ads for hospitality jobs, I mentioned both a position catching chickens and being a “glassy” here.  What I found hilarious about the “glassy” job was that it required a resume and preferably previous “experience”.  I am not mocking the job at all as it is an integral part of running a bar smoothly but come on, it’s not exactly really hard nor technical.  The Aussie slang for a glass collector is what makes me laugh and requiring a resume blows my mind…really, who cares what schools you went to when all you do is collect empty glasses and clean them in a bar?

Anyway, I found yet another add for “glassies” but thank goodness this bar has simpler expectations – they just want applicants to ring the bar and better yet, no experience is necessary.  Maybe I should apply for this job just to see what a real “glassy” does.

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Starbucks Rundle Mall

Starbucks Rundle Mall

I decided to have a cup of their signature hot chocolate...

I decided to have a cup of their signature hot chocolate...

The Adelaide metropolitan area only opened three Starbucks stores, with its first one opening in March 2006 and there was very little hype when they came to town, except made by the ex-pats.  In fact, I had been in there only once before yesterday, its closing day, because we have better local coffee chains such as CIBO, Bean Bar and the Italian Illy cafés.  Although being on the major shopping street in the city, it failed to do very well here.  Their prices are really overpriced for coffee that isn’t that great.  But me and my friend Jen both wanted an Adelaide mug (just because) but it was too late, the store was wiped clean.

In the mid-1990s, I worked at a café that was affiliated with Starbucks in San Francisco.  Back then, there were official Starbucks barista trainers that used to fly in from Seattle to train every barista how to make coffee drinks Starbucks style – complete with illustrations of the drinks.  I was in awe of Starbucks back then and thought that they were so cool.  Starbucks was even known as a great company to work for, treating their employees well and offering great benefits for even their part-time employees.  I knew that Starbucks were expanding too quickly when I went to Vancouver and saw a Starbucks on just about every corner!  After years of studying Chaucer’s works, the pièce de résistance was when I finally made it to Canterbury cathedral in England and was shocked when I saw a Starbucks at the entrance to the beautiful and historical cathedral!  It really ruined the facade to the entrance of the cathedral!  What ruined my experience even more was that there were a few Starbucks employees handing out samples of muffins and cakes – it just seemed wrong.  See pictures below:

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

See the Starbucks?

Fast forward to 2005 when I moved to Adelaide and was surprised that there was no Starbucks in sight.  I thought, “wow, a city that Starbucks still hadn’t penetrated.”  I got used to the coffee terms and culture here very quickly.  People in Australia take their coffee very seriously and there are plenty of places that will teach you to be a bona fide barista.  The one thing that I love about a proper coffee made in Australia is that really good baristas can foam the milk so finely that it has the texture of marshmallows floating on top of the espresso.  That type of finely made espresso drink is hard to find in the states – perhaps it’s because America is much more of a drip-coffee country.  Order a drip coffee in Australia and you will be met with a lot of confusion…don’t even ask for “cream” with your coffee, you’ll be met with even more confusion – ask for milk.

I recently went back to the states to a Starbucks and the coffee was, to plainly put it, shit.  I asked for a latte and it tasted burnt and I got barely any foam.  I went back to tell the barista that I would like some foam and he said, “oh, it’s just that a lot people here feel cheated if they get too much foam.”  That’s fine if people don’t want foam but I didn’t ask for no foam.  Sigh…  It’s sad because I used to be such a Starbucks fan but now their quality has gone down and their prices inflated.  Don’t get me wrong, I still like Starbucks as a company.  I do really hope that with all these closings, they will re-train their employees and bring back the quality of their drinks back to what it was before the mega-expansion of over 16,000 worldwide stores.

Here are a few links to news stories on the closure of hundreds of Starbucks:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24099400-5013404,00.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92151783

**Coffee language tips for people coming to Australia:

Flat White – espresso shot with hot milk and very little/no foam (like a latte w/less foam)

Short Black – one shot espresso with hot water

Long Black – double-shot espresso with hot water (like an Americano)

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