Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Earlier this week I arrived in Australia where I'll be for about 16 days.
My elderly father is slipping away and my sisters and I have gathered to say goodbye to our dear old dad who is in a nursing home on Phillip Island.
I've referred to Phillip Island in this blog. It's where my family spent the summers and where my parents subsequently retired. Nestled in Western Port Bay, it's about 75 miles south east of Melbourne.
It's a small island, maybe 20 miles long and 5 wide, with a population of about 7000 permanent residents. However, over the summer the influx of vacationers swells the population to around 40,000.
Though Phillip Island is, for the majority of the year, small-town rural Australia (60% of the island is farmland devoted to grazing sheep and cattle), it is nevertheless, a microcosm of my home country.
For the next couple of weeks, I'll be exploring and blogging about the food culture here since it typifies the rest of the country and it will help keep my mind occupied when I'm not sitting at my father's bedside.
Additionally, because I anticipate doing quite a bit of (emotional) eating--and like any foodie, whether it's emotional eating, or a simple or gourmet meal, I like my food to be interesting, flavorful, colorful, healthy and always scrumptious--I thought it'd be fun to share what I am buying, cooking, and eating.
The day after I arrived, I picked up some basics at the supermarket, which included two must haves: Vegemite and Tim Tams.
Vegemite, if you haven't heard of it, is a black, tar-like yeast spread which most Australians grow up eating on sliced bread with butter. It's comfort food to us in the same way that bread spread with peanut butter and jelly is comfort food to most Americans.
I can get it in the U.S., but a big bottle here is the same price as a small bottle in Boulder CO., so I bought a big bottle (I'll take whatever is leftover back to Boulder with me).
I can also buy Tim Tams in Boulder, but again, they're half the price here. Like Vegemite, Tim Tams are comfort food. Rich and divinely delicious, this ubiquitous Australian biscuit is two chocolate wafers sandwiched together with chocolate cream and then dipped in more chocolate.
There's a fat attach in every Tim Tam: a 95 calorie biscuit (cookie) contains almost 5 g of total fat. Last night I had two and half cookies after dinner. The remaining half has teeth marks around both ends. What can I say; it was a very emotional day.
This morning I walked the main street of the township of Cowes (the main town on the island) and noticed three bakeries within one block.
Now this is normal since Australians love fresh baked bread, cakes, tarts, cookies --both country style and gourmet-European style-- the kind of caloric and carb-heavy foods I rarely reference on this blog, except within the context of posts on "foods to eat sparingly."
Judging by the expanding girth of the average Australian (and the fact that there are 3 thriving bakeries in one block), baked treats are apparently being consumed regularly here, rather than sparingly.
This morning, I was just another average Australian, which means I popped into the bakery my mother used to frequent--one that is owned and operated by a Vietnamese-Australian family-- and purchased a piece of (Greek) baklava and a (French) croissant for around $5.
That's the baklava above, well on the way to being consumed, by me, at morning tea time while I was working at my laptop.
July of last year, I wrote about hosting a Greek, South African exchange student when I was a teenager. Helen brought with her a classical Greek cookbook and she taught my mother and me how to make a number of traditional dishes, including baklava.
The Vietnamese bakers must have learned how to make their baklava from a Greek too because their version is excellent. Full of nuts with a hint of cinnamon, and just enough honey syrup to moisten the layers, it was worth the mid-morning indulgence.
It's almost lunchtime now, and I'm making myself leftovers from last night's dinner which was pan-seared Australian salmon and salad. (Chances are I'll be finishing off the half-eaten Tim Tam for dessert.)
I'll post that meal tomorrow, because I want to share how I improvised and added a key ingredient to a delicious baby spinach, cashew nut and Parmesan cheese dip that I bought to go with my fish dinner.
One thing I discovered at the supermarket is that the range of gourmet, but affordable, fresh vegetable and nut dips-cum-sauces is fantastic here -- so good, they're worth recreating at home!