Mark is in town for a couple of weeks. Thanks be to whomever! These brief respites from the distance and physical separation make all the difference. Let's just hope I can scrape the pennies together to get back there for December and January. If not, it will be a loooong summer/winter (circle the appropriate a season for your hemisphere). But enough of that.
Zane came along, but he spent the day with his mum. Because of visa regulations, Mark cannot travel out of the US without him, so Zane will be home-schooled for a couple of weeks. We have all his assignments and projects. Boy has a lot to do!
Yesterday afternoon, we strolled to the Beresford in Surry Hills for a Sunday session. We were joined by Alison, as well as our friends Kerry & Simon. It's been a while since I've had a Sunday session, as this ol' body can attest to. Fun, nevertheless!
After two months of slothdom and some pretty radical dietary indiscretion over the holidays, I am now, officially, back in the gym. And pardon my language, but it bloody well hurts. Thankfully, the pain is outweighed by the good feeling of having returned to something that I enjoy and that is also simply the right thing for this middle-aged man to do. I need to keep up my health. I sure won't have the cash to afford a lot of expensive healthcare when I'm in my golden years. Not at this rate.
By the way, I think I just invented the best post-workout or morning tea smoothie ever.
Sandy's Banana-Berry Superfood Smoothie
It's pretty yummmy. Your body will hug you.
My new job as a personal assistant has resulted in a definite decrease in the time I have available to blog. Funny how 12 hours a week can make such a difference. What I miss more than scribing for TBC is the lack of time I have to read what my blogpals are posting. I am trying to keep up, but it is challenging at best.
At any rate, the new job is going fairly well. There's lots to be done, and anyone who has served as a personal assistant/office manager knows how insane it can get at times. Once I receive my first paycheck, I will no doubt feel much better about it all around.
Friday night, Mark and I went to the official opening night of Manacle at the Clarence Hotel, where we caught up with Kevin and a couple of other friends. Manacle has been open in its new venue for a while now, having moved to the Inner West from the troubled and tragic Oxford Street strip, but for some reason they held off on the grand opening until this weekend. I like this place, although it's a schlep from our townhouse (circa $20 cab-fare and not on a very good public transit line). Good music, friendly people...and chains, rivets, snaps and buckles everywhere. The OUTbar, a bright, boisterous sister bar across the foyer, is a good complement to the dark, edgy environs of Manacle. Both were crowded, and aside from the coat-check man giving away my new, Levi denim jacket to some other customer, it was a great night.
Mark and I were invited to attend a small birthday lunch at the Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay yesterday. This restaurant is in the remotest boondocks of our dining-out budget, and we knew that, but for various and complicated reasons we both felt we couldn't say no. Heck, there were only five guests invited. How do you turn down a select invitation like that? And why is it so difficult for us to say to single gay men in very well-paid jobs that, as a couple with a young child, only one and a half incomes, substantial debt accrued as a result of being an internationally based couple, a Sydney mortgage, etc., we are on a very fixed income?
In reality, Mark and I were excited about trying this restaurant. It is billed as one of the finest dining experiences in Sydney. We figured that we might skate by with a reduced bill, due to Mark's recent surgery and the lower intake of food that he can handle as a result. He can't eat full portions, so when we go out nowadays, we often end up sharing most everything. That means one or two starters, one main dish, and one dessert. Fab!
Well, it didn't quite work out that way here.
First, the food. Mark and I shared a starter that consisted of a creamy crab crepe-like thing over a beautiful consomme and a few spires of enoki mushrooms, paired with a decent Margaret River semillion for the table. For our mains, we shared a watercress, blue-cheese and slow-roasted beetroot salad and dish of smoked Spanish mackerel over roasted leeks and mushrooms. With the mains, our host ordered a Riesling for the table. Dessert consisted of coffees and a blood-orange and chocolate parfait. All in all, it was a very fine meal, although the mackerel dish left me a bit cold. The flavour of the fish itself was quite nice, but the entire package seemed average. The parfait was beautiful, although there were only four very small slivers of blood orange positioned around the delicacy itself. Sorry, but that's hardly enough to give it premium billing in the name of the dish. As for the waitstaff, they were efficient, but a bit on the harried and unfriendly side. On a good note, the coffee was probably the best I've had in Sydney.
The Boathouse, as one would expect, is situated on the waterfront in the tony Inner West suburbs of Sydney. True to its eponym, it is a renovated boathouse with many, many windows that afford a view of Blackwattle Bay and the Anzac Bridge. That said, I don't see the attraction to this whole area. I really don't. The road systems are dreadful, the sidewalks old and tattered, the public transportation spotty and the waterfront dowdy. I am sure there's something that attracts folks, but as of yet, I have no idea what it is.
The folks at the birthday party were an interesting collection of people. Mark and I know the guest of honor (GOH) somewhat socially, but mostly through work, and all-in-all, not too well. But we were flattered to be invited. The other guests were the GOH's ex-partner, a long-time friend and travel companion, a former colleague, and the two of us. There were some interesting stories, to say the least, from smart, fun and intriguing people.
Then the bill came. Oh, I wish I were in the position to say screw it, here's $300 regardless of what we consumed, but I'm not. Our income cannot support it at this point. Mark and I crunched the numbers, and our combined bill for the two of us was $145, including wine. Not too shabby, and what we expected. Then it was announced that the bill was $135 per person, as we were all sharing the cost of the GOH's meal. Now understand that I have no problem with that in the slightest, but when you add in his meal, it still didn't account for a whopping total of $270 for the two of us.
As it turns out, we helped pay for the martinis and oyster-fest appetizers shared by two of the guests. Now that I had a problem with. But then, I guess they don't know us and don't realize our struggle. The couple of minutes it took for me to walk to the car, where I'd inadvertently left my wallet, allowed me to reflect upon the entire experience and realize that it's all fairly inconsequential in the long run. So we eat beans and broth for the next couple of weeks. At least we had a fine-dining and social experience that will remain with us for a long time. But I won't go back to this restaurant. All the resplendent socialization in the world doesn't account for overpriced food. Not in my book.
I rang my dad in Arkansas earlier today. Aside from touching base and temporarily allaying any worries he might have about my wellbeing in a place so far away from his own zipcode, I wanted some advice. About tomatoes.
So that everything is clear right up front: I adore tomatoes. Granted, I love most fresh fruits and vegies, but tomatoes during summer share the top spot with fresh seasonal blueberries.
Unfortunately, I cannot find any of these wonderful, red fruits that compares to the summer-fresh, vine-ripened ones back in the U.S. Yesterday, on the way home from visiting a friend in Windsor, we passed a road-side vendor selling fresh sweet corn at dirt cheap prices. To Mark's botheration, I suggested we turn around and get some. We did, and five minutes and some charming small-talk later, I hopped back in the car with a triumphant glow. Beaming, I announced that the farmer had asked me if I liked tomatoes and pulled from the plastic bag a littler transparent bag containing four fire-engine red, very plump tomatoes. Imagine my excitement, having put up with miniscule, aberrantly crisp 'maters (as my grandma called them) from the local supermarket for over two years now.
I just had one of these on a salad, and I was very disappointed. It tasted a little bit sweeter, but nothing like the ones "back home." I decided then that I should begin considering growing my own. Sydney has a fairly temperate climate, so exercising my (pale) green thumb might prove successful. But first I would have to fetch some advice from my own personal gardening guru...Dad.
Dad and Grandpa used to have big, magnificent gardens in the summers. And I mean big. Between the two of them, barring bad weather, they would usually produce reliably formidable crops of potatoes, beans of all kinds, squash, cucumbers, peanuts, watermelon, canteloupe, onion, okra, corn and tomatoes. They were seed harvesters as well, and I can still fondly remember all the carefully labeled baby-food jars that contained the seeds from most yearly harvests.
It's illegal to import agricultural products into Australia, so I can't ask him to mail me some seeds. I can, however, get some good advice on which varieties he likes and hope to find the same ones here. Otherwise I'll have to do some heavy research, experiment with seeds of different cultivars and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, according to my little brother, Dad was in the barn when I called. I asked Will to have Dad give me a ring back, and we continued to talk for a while, mostly about some confusion surrounding the two PS-2s they've been through since Christmas. I love talking with my little brothers, and I look forward to Dad's call. He will undoubtedly have some good tomato-growing advice to share.
What interesting days the last couple have been.
We have a houseful, what with Zane's mum in town for the holidays. We've all been busy as beavers getting our last-minute shopping done and gathering items/foodstuffs for the lunch we are hosting on Christmas Day.
Mark and I had about $150 in David Jones gift certificates burning a hole in our pockets, so we braved the crowds at Bondi Junction yesterday and took some time to go shopping for ourselves, something we hardly ever do.
We looked at clothing first, as I'd like a new pair of low-sitting boot-cut jeans for the New Year's Eve party up in Lismore that a bunch of us are going to, but I abso-friggin'-lutely refuse to pay Australian prices for them. (For my U.S. readers, can you believe they want $90 for a pair of basic Wranglers?! Not that I'd wear Wranglers, but it gives you an idea of the mark-ups on this big island continent. You should see how much they want for Luckys.) I should have bought some in the U.S. while I was just there, but I was too busy shopping for Mark and Zane and simply ran out of time. Ah well, I'll manage.
We ended up buying practical stuff from the homewares section, eg, a heavy-duty grill brush, kitchen scale and a flash fogless mirror for the shower. We also looked at some new blinds for our townhouse. We really have to get rid of these heavy, dark wooden ones that we inherited when we bought the place. Some day.
From the David Jones Foodhall (which is amazing), we bought some cheeses and gourmet sausages for our Christmas BBQ. Oh, and some Crisco shortening, which is bloody hard to find in Sydney, and for which I paid way too much money but needed for the homemade pies I am making. Yes, for the pies, you skanky gutter-brains who just giggled pruriently. <typed with love>
Speaking of those pies, I just pulled them out of the oven, one pumpkin and one apple. I had a minor panic attack, as the crust I made was a bit tender and fragile, what with the heat and humidity...even after refrigeration, but I took the ol' where-there's-a will-there's-a-way approach and made it work. We'll see how they turned out at tomorrow's lunch, but they don't look half bad.
Mark's mother came over last night and had a sleepover, too. Little did we know she had awakened in the middle of the night, sick as a dog, repeatedly emptying the contents of her stomach and feebly calling out to us for help. Our bedroom is two floors up from the living room, where she always insists on sleeping when she stays over, and with the door closed and our heavy sleeping habits, there was no way we could hear her. Poor thing didn't have the strength to climb all those stairs, so she waited until Zane, only one floor up, got up for a wee around 6:00am and called to him to come fetch us. Mark immediately took her to the emergency room, and it seems she has picked up a nasty stomach virus. She's better now, thankfully, resting at Mark's sister's home in Wollongong.
To top it off, a couple of hours ago the neighbors behind us began screaming at each other in one of the worst domestic arguments I've heard. Their dog started growling and barking viciously, too, and I actually thought it was attacking someone or something (like our cat, Bonnee, who is getting increasingly braver and worrying us all that she'll actually work up the nerve to jump off our 8-foot back wall). I freaked out, imagining Bonnee being gruesomely dissected by the dog. Mark nearly had to work some of Cher's Moonstruck magic on me to get me to snap out of it. Anyway, the neighbors burned themselves out within a few minutes, and a Valium later, I felt the warm glow of palliative mental relief.
It just wouldn't be the holidays without a little stress and strain, now would it?
People sometimes ask me why I stopped working as a church musician, especially when choral music arose from and continues to retain a tight connection with the various liturgies. My answer is always the same, quick and concise: "After 18 years, it's nice to have my weekends back again." This weekend was a perfect illustration of what I mean.
Yesterday morning, Mark and I spontaneously jumped in the car and headed off on a drive down to the South Coast. The plan was to have lunch in Kiama, stopping off in Wollongong on the way to visit with Mark's sisters. As it turned out, the weather changed fairly quickly around noon, and it got cool, cloudy and windy. We decided just to lunch in the Gong and spend more time visiting with the family.
On the way down, we drove across the new Sea Cliff Bridge. A few years ago, a section of the incredibly scenic road that travels along the ocean cliffs was permanently closed because of some dangerous rock fall incidents. Instead of blasting and digging a new road into the side of cliff, it was decided that the roadway would be suspended over the ocean. The result is a short, but breathtaking, driving experience as you work your way south through the old mining villages that freckle the coast about an hour south of Sydney. While I think there is still an active colliery in the area, the demographics of these little towns have certainly changed. Older, fibro-sided cottages sit next to new, multi-million dollar houses. Although handsomely paid, I don't imagine many coalminers can afford to live in these neighborhoods any longer.
As we drove back to Sydney, we passed a van full of guys in a very festive mood. We think they were on their way to a buck's night (aka, bachelor party) in the big city. Have a look at the pic below and I think you'll see what I mean.
Today was one of the best days of my life, and I don't say things like that lightly. Mark had already told me that we were celebrating my birthday about a week early, so that we could include Dean, who will be in Vegas for work next weekend. They all kept the details very secret, feeding me only the tiniest of clues now and again. I knew only that it had something to do with the water in or around the Harbour, and that I needed to wear something that could get wet, a hat and sunscreen.
About 9am, Mark and I collected Lukey, Dean and Blair (a very nice friend of Deano's, visiting from Perth) and headed north. About 30 minutes later we arrived at Manly, where my surprise was revealed: kayaking! We paddled from Manly Wharf to Store Beach, where the kayaking staff had tables and umbrellas set up for us. There was sparkling wine and an amazing seafood feast. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift than to share the morning with my partner and friends on a secluded, beautiful piece of beach. I count myself as one of the luckiest men on the planet.
Seven things I used to eat and drink as a kid:
What was your favorite snack?
What a gorgeous Sunday it was. (And today's not bad either.)
I was treated to my first Sunday Session. Can you believe I've been here two years now and had never experienced this Aussie tradition? Oh, the joys of being dads. Ah well, it certainly keeps us on the straight and narrow. P the P.
Zane was way out West visiting his grandmother and cousins, so Mark and I convinced Alison and Ian to finish their Sydney cultural sightseeing early. We plucked them from Circular Quay mid-afternoon and whisked them off to the Tilbury Hotel. I really like this pub, although I agree with Ian that a bit of grime here and there wouldn't hurt. It's a little clinical, but overall tastefully refurbished. And the huge amount of outdoor seating is a definite selling point.
My handsome husband is so silly sometimes, especially at a Sunday session. (Sorry; I couldn't pass up the alliterative opportunity.)
Alison is a very caring listener.
After the Tilbury, we decided on a change of venue and headed to the Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills. It's another great pub. The Build-Your-Own Bloody Mary was a pleasant surprise. I made mine extra spicy, in honor of my former life in Tucson. Ai papi!
The Dolphin Hotel on Crown Street. Any place with "rugby action" is okay by me.
Mark and I are traveling to Melbourne over the "APEC Holiday" in a few weeks. It will be Alison and Ian's turn to introduce us to some good Melbourne hang-outs. I really like Melbourne, having spent a week there about a year and a half ago, and can't wait to explore!
In a comment on Brian's delectable post, I mentioned that I have been known to chew my toast into a tumescent state. (Granted, it's not as serendipitous.) He quickly e-mailed me and requested a photo. Being a nice person, I am only too happy to oblige. My record is 3 bites. I think this one took about 5, plus a little sensitive nibbling to achieve true photobility.
Now where did I put that Vegemite?