Monday, 8 September 2014

Coffee down under and Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello. I haven't written a blog in over 1 month....where does the time go? Most of the past month has been taken up by the arduous task of moving. After living in the same house since we arrived in Australia 4+ years ago, we moved to a smaller (town)house. I think I am destined to live in towns with terrible names. I grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY a place that is hard to pronounce, hard to spell and has been the butt of jokes for years. On the older popluar show, Ally McBeal, the stuttering lawyer was told by his therapist to say, 'Poughkeepsie,' when he started stuttering. More recently Sex and the City 2 movie had Charlotte 'Poughkeepsie' in her pants - yikes! Clontarf is an equally bad name but in a bad ass way. It makes me think it would be a place in the TV show, Game of Thrones as I could imagine someone saying, 'You are hereby banished to Clontarf forever!" or "Don't behave like that or the evil dwarves from Clontarf will punish you." And now we live in Manly an equally bad name for a town and one that always gets laughs from my friends abroad. It actually conjures up the macho stereotypes that Australia has of rugged, handsome men - "Hey, you smell manly." "Boy you are looking manly tonight...the girls are gonna like you." I'd forgotten how much work moving is - selling, trashing, donating, packing, unpacking, organising, settling in, etc. It has been almost 1 month and I still don't feel settled nor are all the boxes completely unpacked. I will say it is great to live in Manly where it is more urban, eclectic, and full of great restaurants/bars/cafes. There is a great vibe here and also more ex-pats and backpackers passing through. I wrote a blog on Manly before. I do love my old neighbourhood but it was time to venture out (so far away - only 10 minutes:)) and try living in a new area of Sydney. With beaches all around, I can't wait to spend the summer here although summer doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon.

Spring started on September 1 and it was a glorious warm day but now it is bloody freezing. I am all "rugged up" as I type this as most homes here do not have central heating and the fan heater we have doesn't seem to do the job. There is also a southerly gale that has been blowing for the past day that made it hard to sleep last night with the house howling. My daughter even came into my bed last night as she was scared of the wind and needed earplugs which we keep in the house for these windy nights. I wasn't concerned or even knew much about wind patterns when we lived in California. A 'southerly' - do you mean south in San Jose? Out my window, I can see the large ferries, that shuttle people back and forth to Sydney's CBD,  and big white caps waves. The ferries are bobbing up and down like a speed boat. I'm wondering how many people have thrown up? Are babies flying in the air? Perhaps the captain is enjoying this joyride through the waves?  It's weather like this that you just want to stay inside, unpack boxes, pay bills and take care of things around the house. Wait, who wrote that? That's too sensible. No, for me today is about taking care of a sick daughter, baking, blogging, and drinking coffee.
You might think tea is very popular due to the pervasive British influence in Australia. Think's coffee.While Paris has pastries, Italy has pasta, Belgium has chocolate, Australia has coffee. There are many other things Australia has but who knew one of them would be coffee? Coffee and the cafes are a big part of the social life in Australia.  Like Europe, people drink coffees and meet at cafes all times of the day. The local cafe becomes a community center, a place to meet friends and possibly bump into the neighbours.

While coffee and tea have been consumed in Australia for hundreds of years, the influx of European immigrants from Italy, Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe in the 1950's brought espresso beans and a demand for high quality coffee. From those influences, high quality espressos and cafes grew. According to a recent report by IBISWorld market research, the Australian coffee industry has $4 billion in revenue, 5.3% growth the past 5 years, employs almost 85,000 people and over 6,600 businesses. Considering that there are only 23 million people in Australia, these are big numbers. There are even barista schools, a barista bootcamp, and Australian baristas who compete and have won international competitions. With a multitude of cafes and steep competition, the quality of coffee beans and the baristas can make or break a cafe.
When I travel back to the US, I miss my Australian coffee. The main option on my travels is Starbucks which I now find so generic, like a McDonalds. While Starbucks is a household name in the US and other parts of the world, it has been a flop in Australia. Starbucks came to Australia in 2000 opening around 100+ stores which probably doesn't sound like a lot of store but remember, Australia has a small population. They charged higher prices and brought America styles of coffee - drip coffee, frappacinos and other mainly American flavours. Today, there about 20 Starbucks cafes left, mostly in urban tourist areas. What went wrong? In the several articles I read, it was summed up best in the Australasian Marketing Journal 18 (2010) : "For Australians, coffee is as much about relationships as it is about the product. An impersonal global chain experience would have trouble replicating the intimacy, personalisation and familiarity of a popular suburban boutique cafe. Also, from many years of espresso coffee drinking, Australia has a developed a more sophisticated palate, enjoying coffee stronger and straighter, without the need to disguise the taste with flavoured, syrupy shots." Most articles also mentioned how Starbucks underestimated that Australia had a sophisticated coffee palate and well established cafe lifestyle.

I have visited a few of the Starbucks in Sydney and found them very out of place. I'd forgotten how generic they are, how big the cups are and how there are so many different types of coffees and drinks. It is ironic as it pretty much sums up my views when I return to the US - there are lots of chain stores, servings are much bigger and there are too many choices.  I also think it is weird after living here for a few years, that Starbucks still mostly serves American style coffees and flavours. Australian cafes don't sell drip coffee, frappacinos nor seasonal sugary coffee drinks. It's harder to find a drip coffee maker in Australia. In fact, I've never had a drip coffee in Australia, only when I go overseas. The coffee menu here is simpler and all based on variations of espresso:
I think Flat Whites are probably the most popular flavour. There is a little coffee lingo too - 'skinny' means with skim milk and 'strong' means an extra shot. There are probably even more terms but since I usually order a skinny strong cappuccino, this is what I know best. 

New York City is starting to take notice of Australian coffee and cafe life down under. The New York Times  just had an article in their Dining & Wine section about Australian cafes opening up in New York City in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The article highlighted their desire to serve both excellent coffee with excellent food and sit down service so people can have more of a cafe, neighbourhood  experience. I look forward to visiting one on my next trip to New York City.

Besides dark chocolate, what tastes great with a coffee? For me, it is a big tasty cookie that is crunchy on the outside and chewy in the center. The recipe below is excellent and came out of a need to get some food into my sick daughter, who likes peanut butter, while at the same time trying to find something flourless as I am trying to eat less wheat. I was also excited to make it as I don't think Ive ever had a peanut butter cookie in Australia. Peanut butter in not popular here; it is a very American food. Most people would have a vegemite or butter and honey sandwich before they'd have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These cookies are great! I made flourless cakes before but never flourless cookies. The batter texture is different and at one point I thought it was all wrong and was going to toss it. Don't that! It may seem weird and different, but they are delicious, especially if you like peanut butter and the combination of peanut butter and chocolate. 

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Martha's Flourless Peanut Chocolate Cookies
PREP TIME: < 5mins
Cook TIME: 15 mins
COOL TIME: 10 mins
Makes 24 medium sized cookies

1 cup smooth or crunchy Peanut Butter

3/4 cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract/essence

1 teaspoon Baking Soda/bicarbonate of soda

1/4 teaspoon Salt

1 cup Chocolate Chips

1) Preheat oven to 375F or 170 fan forced. Take out 2 regular sized cookie sheets/baking trays.

2) Combine all ingredients except for chocolate chips and beat well with an electric or hand held mixer. 
*Note - batter will look like coarse sand. Because it doesn't have flour, it doesn't bind as well. You may think that you made a mistake and want to throw it out. Don't throw it out.*

3) Mix chocolate chips in by hand.

4) Gather up batter into balls. Place balls on cookie sheet and flatten cookie with the back of a fork. While doing this you will need to use one hand to hold the cookie ball on either side while the other hand uses the fork to flatten the cookie.

5) Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown and puffed. Cool for 10 minutes on the tray to set cookies. Enjoy! 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Planes, Helicopters and Cinnamon Buns

I recently returned from almost 3 weeks in the US. We visited the lush, mellow Hawaiian island of Kauai so in many ways it does not qualify as the US in my mind as it is small, tropical, quiet and remote place. I could write on and on about how nice and friendly my tribe, the Americans, are. Or, how there was such a variety of food and shopping choices. Or how I'd forgotten American everyday sayings as I am now use to Australian lingo and British ways of saying words and phrases. Instead I will blog about a new phobia, flying.
It is a 10.5 hour flight back to Sydney from Hawaii. After eating (at least there is free wine on international flights), watching movies ('Bridesmaids' gets funnier each time), reading (Shantatram - the 'Eat, Pray, Love' of an escaped convict) and taking a nap (who invented neck pillows...they never work for me)there is still time left. For recently anxious flyers like me, this time in the sky can seem like an eternity. One thing about living on a large island on the other side of the world is that it is a remote island on the other side of the world. It takes forever to fly anywhere. When we lived in California and flew to see family in New York, the 6 hour flight seemed very long; a flight you may only take 1-2 years due to the "long" flight. Now, living in Australia, a 6 hour flight would be heavenly. Here some flight times between Sydney and other parts of the world:
Fiji Islands = 4.5 hrs
Bali = 6 hrs
Shanghai, China = 10.25 hrs
Mumbai, India = 13 hrs
Cape Town, South Africa = 14 hrs
Los Angeles, USA=15.5 hrs
New York, USA = 20.5 hrs
London, UK = 21.5 hrs
Australians like to travel. Perhaps living on a remote island there is a need to get out and explore the rest of the world. Many high school seniors have a what is called a 'Gap Year.' After they graduate from high school, they travel, work and live overseas for 1 year. When they return, they start University. Primary and high schools have 4 school terms during the school year with 2 weeks off between each term resulting in a shorter summer. With kids having 2 week breaks throughout the school year, it is easier to travel without missing school. It is also standard to start a job and get 4 paid weeks off called annual leave. Australians work to live and will take their vacation time. It is accepted in the workplace and not frowned upon. So off they go, when they can.

For those born here and not afraid of flying, they don't seem bothered by these long flights. I guess they are use to them and have no choice if they want to travel abroad. This morning I bumped into an acquaintance at a neighbourhood shop. She told me that she just returned from Iceland (yes, Iceland) and was jet lagged. She said they split up the flights back to Sydney and the last one wasn't so bad - it was only a 10 hours from Hong Kong! I have a new found respect for globe trotters. My husband is one and he doesn't mind flying and rarely gets jet lagged (no fair). After about 6 hours on a plane, my overactive imagination starts running at full speed and I start thinking (il)logical thoughts like – what am I doing in a tin can at 30,000 feet? How does this big hulking airplane have enough gas to get back to Australia? What really happened to that Malaysian plane - could we disappear too? Who are all these strangers in such close quarters behaving so nicely - when will the riot break out? How big is the septic system on this plane as there seems to be someone in the lavatory every 10 mins? Only 4042 miles to go...are you serious?!
While I was in Kauai, I decided to face my fear by taking a helicopter ride. Kauai is a great place for a helicopter ride since much of the island is untouched, undeveloped and unseen. This was a bad bad idea. The 45 minute flight seemed like the longest minutes of my life. I was nauseous, shaking and praying in my head. I could have prayed out loud and no one would've heard as the chopper was so loud. They had us wear big heavy earphones so we could instead hear the pilot's corny jokes and songs by the Little River Band. This music selection put my husband's 70's music in a new, more positive light. There was also a foreign woman next to me who kept laughing. I wasn't sure if she was scared bleep like me, loving the flight, or laughing at me. I was ready to give her my barf bag if I used it. Luckily I didn't lose my lunch. I was shaken and stirred from this ride and very happy to get back to my family and a stiff drink at our timeshare.

Now that I am on the ground and safely sitting at my computer, I decided to do a little research in hopes of getting over my new flying fear. In speaking with my next door neighbour who is an international pilot, he told me that the only time to have concerns are on take-off and landing as that is when accidents mainly occur. In between, passengers should just relax. Even with turbulence, which scares the bleep out of me, I am suppose to view this like a bumpy road that has pot holes and will soon be smooth again when the plane tries another elevation. I like the analogy but at least potholes are already on the stable ground and not thousands of feet in the air. That said, I did some research and there was some interesting data. Would you believe that after pilot error, the second most likely cause of a plane crash is birds? I knew those pigeons were up to something. Your chances are very slim for getting killed in a plane crash. I was actually very surprised by these odds.
Odds of being involved in a fatal plane accident
Odds of being on an airline flight which results in at least one fatalityOdds of being killed on a single airline flight
78 major world airlines
1 in 3.4 million 
78 major world airlines
1 in 4.7 million
Top 39 airlines with the best accident rates 
 1 in 10.0 million 
Top 39 airlines with the best accident rates 
 1 in 19.8 million 
Bottom 39 with the worst accident rates 
 1 in 1.5 million
Bottom 39 with the worst accident rates 
 1 in 2.0 million
Source: OAG Aviation & accident database, 20 years of data (1993 - 2012) 

So now I really need to change my perception of flying based on the reality of how safe it really is. Perhaps if I can get over my fear of heights and claustrophobia I may be alright. Yeah...right.

While we were in Hawaii, my daughters had Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast a few times and loved them. I rarely see Cinnamon Rolls in Australia so I thought I'd try making them at home and sharing the recipe with you. I must say that is not an everyday recipe because they are time consuming to make. They took me about 2 hours to make from start to finish. That was because I had to let the yeast rise. No effort there, just waiting time. If you can find rapid rise yeast, you can make these in 1 hour. They are absolutely delicious, decadent and worth the effort. I was trying to be healthy after returning from vacation but I couldn't resist these buns; they are worth every calorie and so good with a coffee or tea. This is a really fun recipe to make with kids. 
Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from Gimme Some Oven blog

Dough Ingredients:
1 cup milk 
1/4 cup/55grams cup butter
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 envelope instant  yeast (approx. 2 1/4 tsp)
1 egg

Cinnamon-Sugar Filing Ingredients:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. butter

Icing Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 C powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp. milk

1) Pre heat oven to 160C or 350F 
2) Combine milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 1 minute, then remove and stir. Continue heating in 20 second intervals, pausing after each to stir, until the butter is melted and the milk is warm to the touch but not hot. If needed, let the milk mixture sit for a few minutes until it is warm but not hot. * It is very important that the mixture is just warm and not hot. If it is too hot, it'll kill the yeast.*

3) In a separate bowl, whisk together 3 cups flour (not all of the flour), sugar and salt until combined.

4) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add yeast and lukewarm milk mixture and stir by hand to combine. Add the flour mixture and egg, and beat on medium-low speed until combined. If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to form a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Continue beating for 5 minutes on medium-low speed. Remove the dough hook and cover the bowl with a warm damp towel and let rest for 60 minutes until it doubles in size.(Note: if you have rapid rise yeast, let dough rest for 1/2 the time or 30 minutes)

5) Meanwhile, make your filling by whisking together sugars and cinnamon in a bowl until combined.

6) When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured work surface. Then use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 14 x 9 inches in size. (If you want all edges to be even, you can use a pizza slicer to cut the dough into a perfect rectangle.) Use a knife or pastry spatula to spread the softened 1/2 cup of butter out evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Then sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. THIS IS REALLY FUN FOR KIDS TO HELP WITH.

7) Using a pizza cutter or dental floss (unused of course), cut dough into long strips. Roll up dough pieces tight and place in well greased pan (I should have used a larger pan the the one in this photo as there were too many cinnamon rolls and they didn't rise as well as they could have, although they still tasted great). Bake at 160C or 350F for 30 minutes. 

8) While the cinnamon rolls are cooking, make the icing by stirring together melted butter, vanilla and powdered sugar until combined. If the icing is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk to thin. If the icing is too thin, add a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar to thicken. (Sorry no photo)
9) Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
10) Smooth icing on top and enjoy! They wouldn't last long.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

VIVID and Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Stew

This blog is long overdue, way long overdue. It has been sitting in my Drafts folder, 75% done for about 3 weeks. I blame the couch - the couch made me do it. I like to write at night and unfortunately, the couch has gotten the best of me. Time to finish that blog but let me have a glass of wine and enjoy the fireplace first - snore, snore. Time to finish that blog but let me catch up on 'The Good Wife' episode I missed and another and another. Time to finish that blog but let me read a little more of my book and then fall asleep with the book on my face. So it is all the couch's fault and my procrastination. So what has been going on that is uniquely Australian while I have been sitting and sleeping on the couch? It's bright, it's funky, and it only comes out in the dark - VIVID.....

From May 23-June 9, Vivid came to Sydney. Vivid is an annual event of light, music, and creative industry forums. For Sydneysiders, the big excitement is a free exhibition of outdoor lighting sculptures and installations that are lit up on the Harbour every night from 6pm-12am. Thousands of people flock to the city to walk along Circular Quay, see all the lights and especially see the changing displays on the sails of Sydney Opera House.

VIVID was started 5 years ago by the NSW government to increase tourism to Sydney during the cooler, wetter months. Each year, the event continues to grow, drawing tourists and modern artists from around the world. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Vivid Sydney attracted a record 1.43 million, an increase of 79 per cent from the 2013 festival. There isn't much investigative reporting here to do, just lots to see. The best I can do is share a video of this annual event.

Back inside, I have been trying new recipes trying to make weeknight dinners a bit more enticing. Some of my new found recipes have come from magazines.  I use to like look at the rag magazines, ones with little content but lots of gossip and photos of famous people. Now I like magazines that have recipes that look good and look relatively quick, easy and wholesome to make. 

In the June edition of Australian Women's Weekly, there was a recipe for slow cooker Shredded Mexican Chicken. They had me at  Mexican.  Generally speaking Mexican food is lacking  in Australia. Having moved here from California where there is a large Mexican population and Mexican cantinas all around, I just can't find that level of quality or choice down under. It would be akin to finding a good pie and sausage roll shop in the US. This should come as no surprise though as there is not a large, if any, Mexican presence here. I must confess, my usual Mexican cooking is not authentic either. I like to make tacos, quesadillas, chilli and enchiladas ( see recipe on past blog) - quick, easy, rich Mexican food. 

I liked that this recipe was for the slow cooker. I don't know who invented the slow cooker but it is genius for an everyday cook.  I love my slow cooker, especially in the cooler months. How easy it is to chuck a lot of healthy ingredients into one big pot, let it cook all day with little fuss, and come home to a house that smells great and eat a good dinner that usually has lots of leftovers. This is a win-win. So give this dish, which I have re-named Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Stew a go and enjoy. It was easy, tasty and feed my family of 4 for 2+ dinners. Also, do not skim on the seasonings, you need them to flavour the stew.

Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Stew
adapted from Shredded Mexican Chicken
Australian Women's Weekly magazine, June 2014 

1.5 kilos (3lbs) chicken breast, preferably frozen
1 regular can kidney beans, drained
1 medium brown onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium red AND green pepper/capsicum, chopped
1 regular can corn, drained
1 regular can diced tomatos
1 cup chicken stock
2 teaspoons each - ground cumin, dried oregano, sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried red chilli flakes (optional but I think necessary)

OPTIONAL ADD-INS when serving: chopped fresh cilantro/corriander, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips

1)Combine Beans, onion, garlic, peppers/capsicums, tomatoes, chicken stock and spices in 5-liter slow cooker. 

2) Stir the stew and add and submerge frozen chicken breasts. Cook on low for 8 hours.
 (chickens are low in fat so they cook faster and can become tough & dry in the slow cooker. Frozen chicken cook slower and is moister in the end). Mine were slightly thawed in this picture.
3) Remove chicken from cooker and using a knife, cut and shred the chicken into small pieces

4) Return chicken to the slow cooker, cover, and cook on Low for 20 more minutes.
5) Serve with rice or alone. Serve with additional add ons to suit your taste. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Tasmania's MONA and Chicken Curry in an Extra Hurry

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of going to Tasmania. It was a girls weekend that my friend, Neeta, had planned. A girls weekend away here usually means a 1.5 hour drive to the Hunter Valley, a wine region OR a drive to a cute quaint seaside town. That would be too ordinary for the wonderful and adventuresome Neeta. Besides, Neeta is an "Expiring Ex-Pat," an ex-pat that is soon returning back to their home country. In their final months, they do and see more of Australia and/or the area they live in than most residents will see in years.

Tasmania is an Australian state located about 400 miles off the coast of southern Australia. It has a population of 515,000 and is about 70% of the size of England. The state capital of Hobart is known for the Sydney to Hobart sailing race (click to read previous blog on this race). It is also known for good weekend markets, great scenery and a gourmet food scene. Many Australians and visitors go to Tasmanian to go hiking and/or rent a camper van and drive around to see the natural beauty and coasts. On the flip it also has a reputation, something akin to the US state of West Virginia - a hick place full of inbreds. You know, a place where men are men and the sheep are scared. Trust me, there are a lot of sheep in Tasmania. My only knowledge of Tasmania was the Tasmanian Devil, another unique Australian creature that can only be found in Tasmania and on Looney Tunes cartoons.

Real Tasmania Devil,
With Neeta planning the trip, I didn't have much to do or worry about. I was in great hands and I knew Neeta would not leave a stone unturned. All that I kept hearing about was a museum there, called the MONA - the Museum of Old and New Art. Right off  the bat, I was put off by the name, MONA, as there is a world renowned MOMA in New York City. I wondered how someone in Tasmania of all places could have the audacity to call their museum the 'MONA' if. I am snobby about a lot of things and one of them is art. I have been fortunate to have done a lot of travelling and everywhere I go, I always seek out art museums. If there isn't an art museum, I will go to the local cathedral to admire the paintings and art work there. I have gone to many of the world's best art museums in Europe and the US and didn't think a little museum in Tasmania would be on that all. Plus, I am not a big fan of modern art. I think most paintings by 3 year olds are better than the many vague and sparse modern paintings I have seen. So, despite all the hype for the MONA, I was already skeptical that it was not going to be much of anything. Boy, was I wrong. The MONA! All I can say still, several months later is, REMARKABLE! If this museum was in major world city like New York, Paris, London, there would be lines down the street. It was THAT GOOD at least in my little art eyes.

The tone for a great adventure was already set when we boarded the special MONA ferry in Hobart to transport us there. The ferry was a large catamaran in camoflague colours outfitted with a staff in uni-suits that looked like something out of the movie, Top Gun.  Neeta had paid a little extra so we could ride in the Posh Pit of the ferry which gave us free stimulants (alcohol or espresso) and canapes on our ferry ride to and from the MONA

MONA ferry docks at Hobart waterfront
MONA ferry, source:
Once we reached the museum, it was a bit odd as you couldn't really see the building. Once you ascended the stairs, there was an astro turf tennis court that you had a walk across to a black mirrored opening/door. While I am a big tennis player, I found the tennis court bizarre and the non descript mirrored front door entrance to be strange. I thought there might be a big MONA sign but instead there was the court and a cheesy disco- like entrance. (I later found out that the museum owner, David Walsh, is an avid tennis fan.)

Once inside, there is a cafe with a fireplace to the right and a museum shop to the left. To get to the art, you descend down a long winding black iron staircase that goes deeper and deeper down into cut sandstone and underground. Unlike most museums where you rent a audio tour, the MONA gives you a free iPod that has a GPS system in it so anywhere you are in the museum the GPS tells you which art is around you, some information on that artwork and some pieces have music that is hand selected for that artwork - very impressive. In front of you is a big black and white board, that reminded me a bit of the boards in Grand Central Station, New York. To the left of this entry is a bar. Yes a bar, in case you want a drink before you begin exploring the museum.

Cool board with changing patterns and changing words at entrance. It reminded me
of the boards at Grand Central Station in New York City. Source: my phone

Drinks anyone? A great looking bar that pours everything, including the wine
made at the on-site winery. Source: my phone

From there, you start exploring the museum. My favourite art exhibition from the whole museum was there, right in the beginning of the museum.This is artist's Julius Popp's Bit.Fall. It's a waterfall that releases droplets of water that form words from news headlines before dropping to to the ground. The meaning behind it is to expose us to to the constant stream of information that we receive from the world each day. It draws you in quickly due to the sheer size of the art, the desire to see what words will come out next and the constant thumping noise its makes as the words drop to the ground.

Julius Popp's Bit.Fall
I hope you can view this video from my phone
Right after Bit.Fall was a ping pong table with lots of intricate painting and drawing on it. The museum encourages you to play on it. How cool to be in a museum where people are actively playing on and with the art pieces! 
Ping Pong Table source: my phone
Another piece I liked was a fat Porsche which symbolised our over consumption society

The Fat Porsche by Erwin Wurm, source:my phone
Then there is the famous piece of art, The Cloaca by Wim Delvove, where lots of glass "vats" turn food into feces. I prefer to call it the Poop Room. I didn't know poop was art as we all poop everyday so what's the big deal?! It appeared to be more of an elaborate science project, where they give the machine some food from the museum cafe, and as it passes through various cylinders various enzymes are added until it poops at the end. Despite the vile smell, I had morbid curiosity and happened to be there for the daily poop - lucky me. I thought of including the photo but it's quite gross.

Time for a poo? The Cloaca by Wim Delvove, source:my phone
 Another area of interest and discussion was the Wall of Genitalia which was filled with many paintings. I actually didn't find it shocking at all as the paintings were pretty watercolours where you wouldn't realise there were private parts unless you looked up close.

One painting from the Wall of Gentitalia, source:my phone
There was also another room where only 2 people could go in at time. You entered the room and had to follow a path of stones over black water to reach an ancient Eygptian mummy who was entombed in a glass case on your left and on your right was another glass case with a computer generated image to show what the mummy would look like inside. In front of you was a spotlight on a noose hanging from the ceiling with a poem about death on the wall. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos but it was very powerful. There was so much more art but I don't want to bore you so I just gave my highlights. However, if you are ever in Tasmania, all I can say is go, go, to MONA!

The MONA was an all day event. The nice thing is all the amenities it has there to enjoy your experience - a winery with wine tours,  2 casual and 1 high end restaurant, and a hotel hidden out of view. We went on the wine tour and had a nice lunch which were all good things to bring my mind back down to earth and give me a break from the museum overstimulation. I could have spent another day or two there and I hope to go back again.

One of the most interesting things about the MONA is the man behind it, David Walsh. In doing my research on him, he is the pure definition of an 'enigma' - a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.' David Walsh grew up poor in Hobart, Tasmania and was raised in the Catholic faith. He was a shy geeky kid who was very good at mathematics and later computer programming. While at University, he teamed up with a fellow student and later business partner Zeljko Ranogajec, and they started counting cards at black jack tables. Walsh then dropped out of University and spent a lot of his time at a  Tasmanian casino before being kicked out by the casino for winning too much. They then became traveling gamblers, counting cards and gambling at casinos throughout the world and amassing a fortune.  Using Ranogajec's gambling skills and Walsh's mathematical abilities, they were able to read and count cards which caused them to win (and lose) alot of money at casinos. They went on to form the company Bank Roll, which is one of the worlds most successful gambling syndicates, with business in Europe, Australia, Asia and the US. 

David Walsh at his MONA, source: Peter Mathew/News Limited
David Walsh, (only) 52,  used his gambling earnings to buy art from around the world. It started on a gambling trip to Africa where he wasn't allowed to take more cash out of the country than he took in. However, you were allowed to take art out of the country so he put his winnings into art and it's said that was the beginning of his art collection. Over time, he amassed a multi-million dollar art collection, built a small gallery in Tasmania and eventually decided to fully fund and build the MONA., which was estimated to cost between $150-$200 million. He considers MONA a gamble, and admits to doing extra gambling while the museum was being built. Luckily, he won and the museum opened in 2011. In the past 3 years, MONA has had over 1 million visitors which has been a huge boost for Tasmania's depressed economy.

 David Walsh is an enigma. I read numerous articles about him to write this blog which were very time consuming and puzzling as in one article he is very clear and articulate and in another, he is quite vague. He appears to like the attention he is getting and hate it at the same time. An obvious example of his confusing personality is his car space at the MONA. Since he is an avid atheist, perhaps this is a joke, his joke OR perhaps he is extremely full of himself or perhaps both. 

David Walsh's parking spots at his MONA, source:my phone
Of all the information I read on David Walsh, perhaps his bio on the MONA's website is the most insightful. He quotes a a line from Dostoyevsky's The Gambler: "As far as my most secret moral convictions are concerned, there is no place for them in my present deliberations. Be that as it may; I am speaking to clear my conscience. But I will make this observation: for some time now I have found it terribly repugnant to judge my actions and thoughts by any moral standard whatsoever. Something else was guiding me.... 
After that, his bio states, "Like some of the greatest minds of the modern era (the people with the minds) he consumes too much dairy, and sometimes obscures insecurity by acting like a prick. Usually, however, he's a prick because he feels like it." (MONA museum website, link highlighted above). I don't know. I wondered why a rich reclusive geek would want to build an art museum instead of spending his money on himself or making large donations to charity. I found this David Walsh quote in several articles: “Those who make money without creating anything should feel the most social pressure and personal pressure, be the most [susceptible] to moral judgment if they don’t do something with the money.”(The Guardian)  Bravo, David Walsh! This is the best thing I read in the many articles I reviewed and the quote I will remember. And really, no matter, what myself or anyone thinks about him, I am thankful that he spent his millions on art, put it in a cool building, and shared it with me and the world. He's definitely not a prick in my eyes. 

The best thing about my MONA experience was that it kept me in the moment, 100% present and engaged in the museum. I wasn't thinking about my family, my responsibilties, my active cell phone, etc. I was there, just there in the MONA, looking at art I liked, art I disliked, exposing my senses and thinking about the big picture...big questions...things much greater than myself. That is a great museum experience and a rare day for me. If you are ever in Tasmania, I encourage you to run to the MONA. You will not be disappointed and if you are, go again or at least go have a few drinks in the posh pit :).

On to food, glorious food...a simple dinner. I am a big fan of rotisserie chicken, which is called 'BBQ chicken' in Australia. I use it for school sandwiches and wraps, a quick weeknight dinner, and for my chicken enchiladas (click to see recipe from previous blog). During my sister's recent visit, she made Mark Bittman's Chicken Curry in a Hurry from his book, Mark Bittman's Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times. Mark Bittman writes a recipe column for The New York Times. It is called "The Minimalist" and he simplifies recipes to make them quick and easy for the home chef.  I have made this recipe even faster by using rotisserie chicken instead of chicken breasts. I omitted the salt and pepper as the chicken is seasoned and the original recipe calls for sour cream but I used coconut milk instead. This recipe is fast, delicious and can be customised to suit your taste. Enjoy!

Chicken Curry in an Extra Hurry
adapted from Mark Bittman's Curry in a Hurry


1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
1.5 tsp Curry Powder, or to taste
1/2 Rotisserie Chicken, meat removed
1 cup Coconut Milk

OPTIONAL ADD INs: raisins, walnuts

1) Cook Rice.

2) Remove meat from rotisserie chicken and set aside.

3) Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Note: It is really important to cook (and not burn) the onions for 5 minutes. This will make them soft and sweet.

4) Turn the heat down to medium, sprinkle the curry powder and continue to cook for a another few minutes.

5) Add chicken, stir through and cook on low/medium heat for 5 minutes.

5) Add coconut milk and stir constantly so onion, spices and coconut milk mix and thicken.

6) Serve curry over rice and sprinkle nuts and/or raisins on top

Special design for SuzyQ Under Down by GeCe