Monday, December 26, 2011

Mars Bar Cupcake

I just had to share this glorious cupcake with all of you... It's a Mars Bar cupcake I had in a small cafe/general store just outside of the Grampians.  I must also explain the differences in a name.  Throughout most of the world, a Mars bar is a nougat-filled chocolate bar with caramel.  In the US, this is our Milky Way bar.  Also, not to confuse matters further, but the Milky Way bar throughout the world is what we know as a Three Musketeers bar in the US.  For those still keeping track, a Mars bar in the US has almonds.
Heaven on a plate

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas: Aussie-style

Christmas in Australia is pretty similar to Christmas in other Anglo-cultures around the world.  There are church services, family get-togethers, Santa, presents (also called "prezzies" in Aus-speak), etc.
The major differences are the weather and season.  Personally, I enjoy Christmas during the summer... Long days, hot weather, what is not to love? I'm told that an Australian tradition is a picnic/barbie on the beach.  Love it!
Our Christmas (which is now coming to a close as I type this) was pretty great.  We left the Grampians (which is in the bush, translating to no mobile/internet service for days... this tidbit comes later, I'm not simply whinging) in the morning.  While on the road today and eventually receiving phone reception, my family called with the wonderful news that my new niece arrived several days ago.  She is such a beauty and I can't wait to meet her IRL!  It's times like these that it is rough to be an expat.
In Ballarat, we had an Indian lunch, then made our way to Melbourne just before a wicked thunderstorm with massive hailstones hit.  I figure that this storm is the closest thing we can get here to a snowstorm.  It's strange, but a good thunderstorm, complete with lightning, makes me feel comforted and cozy.  We had burritos for dinner (another creature comfort of home) and are now watching Christmas movies.
Anyway, onward to the pictures. Over the past few weeks I've been taking photos around Melbourne and within grocery stores to see what kind of eats are popular among Victorians for the holiday season.
Oh, and on a side note... Australia doesn't have Black Friday.  I have been informed by several of my Australian compatriots that Boxing Day (that's December 26) is the biggest shopping day of the year.  I'm now noticing all the adverts on the telly for sales beginning at 5 am tomorrow.  Tempting!
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Some views around the city and "Christmas Square"

Big red bow around a eucalyptus tree

Flinders Street Station getting into the spirit of things

Christmas puddings! 

These cakes were in many stores around town.  I assume they are an Italian tradition. (Aussies, as usual, feel free to correct me if I am wrong!)

Stacey did a good job educating me on this one.  Christmas Crackers, like cricket and milky tea, are apparently popular in all Commonwealth countries.  Inside the middle cylinder, there lies a small present.  One child holds one end and the other child holds the other end.  The children pull their respective side and the cylinder cracks open and the prize is released.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Greatest Hits of the Last Seven Weeks Part 2 (AKA November 2011)

November 2011, in a nutshell-

What I found out: The home button on my iPhone hadn't been working properly for a couple of months.  I tried taking it into Apple, where the "Genius Bar" should be renamed the "Wait Forever Bar."  The disorganization was maddening as well.  Frustrated, I left.  Later that night, my phone hit the hardwood floor.  What do you know?  That drop fixed the problem! Perhaps Apple should put that in their troubleshooting ideas.

Melbourne Cup Day came and went on November 3rd.  MCD is a Victorian holiday.  Justin had the day off work.  Rather than attend the horse races or a fabulous equestrian-themed fete, we went shopping.  What a good reason to have the day off!

I celebrated my 33rd birthday by playing barefoot bowls (lawn bowls) and going out for Japanese with Justin, Elizabeth, Monia and Andrew.  Bowls is a fabulous game and Aussie tradition.  Each player gets two bowls (balls that look like larger bocce balls).  The object of the game is to roll your bowls closest to a small yellow ball called the "jack" or the "kitty."   You only need one hand to play, so you can have a cold beer in the other one at the same time.  Brilliant!

School's out... for summer: I turned in my last paper towards the end of November.  What a good feeling.  Only 2.5 years left!  The stress level has decreased somewhat, as I have received good news regarding tuition for the remainder of my course.  Now I just need to learn to calm down about school and the stress it brings.  I've really forgotten how crazy attending school can be.  I've started listening to meditation apps and attending Buddhist meditation.  I most certainly think it helps.  I just need to be better about keeping up with meditation as a daily routine.

Thanksgiving was wonderful this year!  We spent Thanksgiving with our American friend, Chris and her husband Wolf and daughter Kendra.  Stacey and Elizabeth were able to attend as well, having their very first Thanksgiving.  I can't remember who said it, but someone at the table mentioned that a holiday that revolves around good food, good company and reflections of thankfulness is the best kind of holiday.  What a great sentiment.  Although I missed seeing my family over Thanksgiving, I didn't feel homesick because of the wonderful company.

Lost talent rediscovered: I can't say that baking is a new hobby.  Truthfully, I began baking in middle school.  On the last day of eighth grade and through my senior year, I would make a large batch of cookies once or twice a year and bring them to school to share with everyone.  However, once I got to college, I stopped baking and never really got back into it.  Things have changed now that I have more free time.  My rediscovered interest in baking stems from the facts that some of my favorite foods are not readily available in Australia, the foods don't taste the same or they are too expensive.  An award-winning bagel shop in Fitzroy makes bagels, but they taste like grocery store bagels.  There's a bakery in South Melbourne that makes and sells pies (like cherry pies, apple pies, etc.) but at a price of $75 per pie.  I wish I were joking! Anyway, this has become a blessing in disguise, as I have found baking to be a relaxing way to pass the time and get a little creative.

I think I'm making bagels...

Oh! The pretzel, per J's request! They were awesome.  Now I just need to figure out how to make nacho cheese!

One of my first bagels.  My ceramic Chinese cat, Lucky,  provides some moral support.

If I can't go down south, I'll bring The South to me.  You can't ever go wrong with pecan pie.  After the wild goose chase to find Karo syrup (available only at health stores (!), IGA and USA foods) and the crazy hunt for a pie tin/glass (I found a pie glass at the Lebanese corner market, of all places!) the pie tasted that much sweeter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Greatest Hits of the Last Seven Weeks Part 1

Yowsa! It's been awhile, eh?  Thanks for staying tuned though.  I'm going to try and get everyone up to speed here, in several installments.  My only excuse (and I think it is a good one) is that school completely consumed me for the last eight weeks.  Now that I am on summer break, I'll fill you in a little bit.

Mid October 2011 - Late October 2011

Big stressor number 1: My first major paper was due October 31st, so much of my time was spent working on that.  I found that I am quite rusty with all of this paper writing.  In addition, the style of writing here is slightly different than that of American academia.  However, I kept telling myself that it's all a matter of practice.  I am also fortunate enough to live with an amazing writer, which as a result, makes him an awesome critical proofreader.

Big stressor number 2: Stress about school and money started to kick in as well.  Actually, the stress became intertwined with money in the form of tuition panic.  In the corner of my mind, I kept thinking, is it justifiable to spend so much money on an education?  Obviously, I think pursuit of higher education is often necessary and commendable, but your mind does a shift when you look at the total cost of tuition for a doctoral program.  I made out pretty well in regard to the loan debt of my education for my bachelor's degrees and master's degree; but I can most definitely attest that the cost of attendance has gone up (while the American dollar has gone down) dramatically in ten years and I am feeling it now. However, I vowed to put these thoughts away, at least until the end of next semester.

Good neighborhood find of this time period:
The Raccoon Club- A local bar with clientele typically aged between 25-65.  We are mature drinkers who like comfortable seats, good conversation and sensational beer... and gall-darn it, turn down that music!

Care packages of this time period:
Care package from my mom and dad arrives.  It contains clothes, Pop-Tarts, People magazine and Tampax Lites!
Care package from lovely Colin of Scotland arrives, hand-delivered from lovely new friends, Liam and Johnny.  Package contains: McVities Digestives, Walkers Salt and Vinegar Crisps, assorted Tunnocks and various other Scottish souvenirs.  You bet St. Andrew's Cross is flying here at our house!

Big news event of this time period:
Queen Elizabeth visits Melbourne.  I didn't get the chance to go down to Fed Square to see her since I had class, but her presence was known by the drone of helicopters everywhere.  I did, however, see her tram (the Royal tram, done up with her picture and everything) roll down Swanston Street in Parkville, post-Royal ride to St Kilda.

Check out some photos from these two weeks-

These weird demon babies were around town for a month or so.  I think one of the best things about living in a city (any city) is modern art that pops up around town, even if its only temporarily on display.  These pictures are from Southbank, near the Arts Centre.

Here are some photos of the Yarra and the City (CBD) taken from Southbank.

My mom shrunk-wrapped a bunch of items so they would fit into my care package.  Hooray for the USPS for reinstating the international flat-rate box!