Sunday, May 31, 2015

Adelaide--the Pie Floater

    Many places have special foods closely associated with them.  Cornwall has its pasties, Russia has borscht. Boston boasts about its Baked Beans and one goes to Chicago for real pizza.  Adelaide has the Pie Floater as its culinary crown jewel. Indeed, the National Trust now lists the Pie Floater as a South Australian Heritage Icon.
    The Pie Floater, a classic Aussie meat pie doing some synchronized swimming in a pool of pea soup, can be traced back to the late 1860s and was sold from carts starting in the 1870s. Working men, and more recently after-party revelers, lined up to eat a meal that had everything going for it. Walk the streets today and ask about them.  Everyone in Adelaide will say, "Yeah, Pie Floaters. Just look for the carts."  But street food has fallen out of vogue in the last 140 years. Food has moved indoors. And what cart vendor wants to hang around until 3a.m. to service the inebriated falling out of bars?  This icon is proving to be rather elusive but I was determined to try one before leaving Adelaide. Two options were uncovered and I will report on this local comfort food research.

Mr H's homemade Pie Floater
    The Homemade Pie Floater.  Mr H, a friend of my host, stepped up to the plate (using a sports metaphor here, not a kitchen one) and offered to make us some if we invited him to the party. Deal.  Mr H soaked blue peas in water and baking soda for several hours, rinsed them thoroughly and then boiled the peas in fresh water until soft.  Think Britain's Mushy Peas here.  There was no seasoning save possibly for a hint of salt.  The thick soup was ladled into a deep bowl and a warmed up commercially made meat pie of his choice was carefully placed in the middle. These meat pies are not to be confused with pot pies, which have gravy in them. And I don't blame anyone for not taking the huge effort to wrangle a meat/onion/tomato paste mixture into a pastry crust in an artful way. Pull it out of a packet, I say.  The mildness of the peas and pie suited me well but many might use the word bland.  It certainly was filling.

Vili's Pie Floater
    The Pro--Vili's.   Tucked in the middle of an industrial area is Vili's, but it's location certainly isn't a detractor for fans of the bakery.  Vili's is busy and open 24/7 with customers crossing all age, ethnic and social lines.  Skipping their dazzling desserts, I got to order from a long list of pie possibilities (18!) for my floater. I picked a Hungarian pie. Not shy on the paprika and with the the peas being amply peppered, this did a fair amount of dancing in the mouth.  A lot of people like ketchup--ooops, sorry, I mean tomato sauce--on their pies and Pie Floaters and Vili's obliges in an artful way.  But it looks more like a Pie Drowner than a Floater. I'm not sure why some places put the pie on the bottom with the soup on top (quicker to plate up?) or the instructions that sometimes suggest the pie should be upside down (again, why?)

     I had thought of trying one more Pie Floater to better complete the research.  There are two places in the heart of downtown Adelaide, one on William Street and the other in the Central Markets, that sell pie floaters. But neither was available for this research at the right time and, well, three Pie Floaters in four days is a bit more heroic than I feel.   And it exceeds my annual quota I have decided.  I say go ahead a try one.  When in Rome...

Adelaide--In Two Days

    Adelaide, South Australia.  City of Churches.  Festival Central of Australia.   Gateway to several World Class Wine Regions.   Named after a queen and the butt of uncountable jokes by other Aussies.  And where I recently spent a long weekend visiting an old friend.
    I won't pretend that this entry defines everyone's visit or is the most comprehensive, Each traveller has their own experience. Their activities will define their trip in a unique way. Visiting during in March--the height of festival season that includes Adelaide Festival of Arts and Fringe Festival along with five others--will offer an entirely different experience from a trip made in winter's June. May being a fairly even tempered month plus the city center being very easily navigated on foot or free circuit bus meant that I was going to take in Adelaide's version of Tourism's Greatest Hits. Really, it's OK to be a tourist. Don't be afraid or embarrassed.

Adelaide Central Market
     DAY 1:  I start first at the Central Markets. TOTALLY love this semi open-air market filled with produce stands, butcher shops, bakeries, confectioners, coffee shops, smelly cheese shops, a mini tourist information booth and all sorts of other cool stuff under a weather protecting roof. Have a second breakfast, or a coffee. Load up on fruit. Get lost. Get found. Definitely get your lunch sorted for the day

Botanic Garden Palm House
     Heading over to the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, I am surprised  how central it is to the downtown area and just at edge of long string of universities and government buildings. What a haven! I'm not sure I could just wolf down lunch and leave this rolling greenspace to go back to an office. Green is really the only color here.  This is not a garden chock o'block with flowers from all over, just trees and green grass. A little history museum has an impressive array of botanicals on display and their gift shop specializes in seeds and seedlings in very hard to find varieties of fruits and vegetables.  Good place to eat one's lunch.

    Across the street is the Adelaide Zoo.  Not run by the government but as an
independent nonprofit organization, its biggest bragging point is a pair of pandas. And who doesn't like pandas?  The admission here [and to its outdoor safari-style zoo, Monarto] is a hefty $33 per adult. Lucky me to have friends who have friends with membership cards and are happy to loan me one.  I am surprised at how close people can get to the animals. Aren't they afraid of ne'er-do-wells causing trouble for the critters?  And it seems that so many of the animals are old, alone and irreplaceable. I'm assured that there is a breeding program in place but how many chicks is a 73 year-old flamingo going to have?  No shortage of smart aleck cops hanging around outside the gates, but that is a different story.  And my legs are tired. I'll do more tomorrow.

Central Markets again!
     DAY 2: One street alone, North Terrace, will easily keep one amused for the entire day.  It's all here, all in a row, all inviting.  First stop is , of course, is another hit at the Central Markets to breathe in the vibe and get lunch ready. And then hop the free circuit bus to get to North Terrace. Start right at Government House. The governor is the Queen's representative in the state with a role that is largely ceremonial. Government Houses are usually grand affairs but this building was sloppily painted all the same color of dried sour cream. Gov didn't bother to invite me past the locked gates for a cup of tea but don't call me sour grapes. Hmmmphh.  Move right on to the impressive war memorial still sporting ANZAC wreaths. 
    Next to this is the Migration Museum.  It looks as if it has been yarn bombed.  Because it
Migration Museum Exhibition
has.  The main building has the predictable exhibits one might expect depicting the migrant journey but the rotating exhibition in the outbuilding is all about knitting and crocheting.  Knitting is not just about keeping heads warm and female hands busy.  The patterns and designs of items reflect the cultural heritage of the knitter. Men knit. Why don't you knit? A basket of yarn and needles invites visitors to knit a line or two for scarves for the needy. Kind of a contemporary take on knitting socks for "our boys at the front" during the World War II effort.  Some of the knitting and crocheting patterns are really intricate. Some of the clothes are really scarey.
   What do you want to do next? Peek into the Institute to see the ANZAC through modern eyes exhibit?  How about feeling a little Harry Potter-ish at the State Library and then go
South Australian Museum
ultra modern?  The Art Gallery of South Australia?  Good choices. Pop into the South Australian Museum.  Its central staircase is grand, the exhibit space is compact. All of those animals packed in so close--and so close to you--one waits for that magical 'Night At The Museum' moment when everything comes alive. Still have legs? There are a handful of universities on this same street. A National Trust home beckons. The Rundle shopping mall is one block over and in the opposite direction is the riverfront.  Boredom not possible. And you did not need a car.

    Sorry to say that there was one festival going on that I just did not get enough of. And that was the History Festival. [Hey, History Month sounds way too boring.]  A thick brochure full of the widest variety of cultural, social, historical, natural, mythological and mystical events all across the city, its suburbs and even into regional South Australia.  Church tours, ghost tours, why do Lithuanians like basketball tours, walk the Mint's tunnels opportunity and join the South Australian fascination with its serial criminals of yore.   
     So stop the Adelaide jokes already.  Next time I will share my research on that rare Adelaidean delicacy: the Pie Floater.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Basements. They're Not Australian.

   Has anyone ever waxed poetic about the humble basement in one's home?  I mean besides the guys who have turned a finished basement into a "man cave"?  I miss my basement.  I NEED a basement.  I just can't figure out why they are so not Australian. 
   Almost no one has a basement, finished for entertaining or unfinished for storage, in their homes here. Perhaps a few older homes might but any new build in the last 50 years is built on a concrete slab. It almost defies logic to me.  It can get very hot in many Australian areas and so an underground basement would be a cooler asset to have.  Only in the opal mining area of Coober Pedy are some sleeping arrangements made subterranean.  And where do people store their off-season clothing, sporting equipment, suitcases and other bulky stuff that does not need to be upfront and center all the time?  We have a metal cage in a room off a parking shelter on the far side of the adjoining property. Not exactly convenient, nor climate controlled in any way and the past has shown for it not to be entirely safe from burglary.  A colleague pointed out that Mother England isn't basement happy either.  Sure, people will have root or wine cellars but real basements?  Why? Basements are not unAustralian, just not Australian by tradition.
    Why not, I say?  I understand why attics may be in short supply in a land of ten-month summers but my valuable stuff needs a home, too. 
My valuable stuff.
   When I moved into this cutie little townhome, my first thought was where I was to put the few meager belongings I brought with me into the country. Kev said the small spare room would be perfect and so my Rubbermaid tubs and hat boxes went into it.  And then a clothes rack (no space in his closet). And then a chest of drawers (no space in the bedroom.) And then a computer desk. And then my canning jars and food dehydrator. And the small suitcases. And the Igloo coolers, the Coleman lantern, wrapping paper, etc., etc., etc.  Even more vexing was that this storage-space-challenged townhome rents for twice as much money with one-third less square footage than the townhome we had back in U.S.!
    So the challenge is not to look like we're aspirants for a Hoarders Realty Show or 'need' what we really don't.  But sometimes I feel like a squatting college student. 
    And dream of homes with basements.

Boychoir. The Movie and a Memory

    Recently I went to the media preview of a movie now out in general release.  Boychoir  is the story of a boy destined to go nowhere fast until, within placement in a national boy choir,  he realizes self-determination through music.  A bit of a tear jerker with really solid performances by Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates as Headmaster and Headmistress, Eddie Izzard doing a version of his usual character, Glee's Kevin McHale on the other side of a music sheet and  a straight-out-of-Hollywood-typecasting Garrett Wareing (complete with slightly shaggy hair and beesting lips) as the young boy Stet.  It's school is a real one- a North American version of  The Vienna Boys Choir. 
   And when in the movie the travelling choir from this school frequently rehearses in front of school groups when it travels through towns was I transported to a long ago memory.  I sang in my church's youth choir. Our director, the wonderful Mrs. L., was a stickler for singing vowels correctly and not holding consonants at all. (I still tsk-tsk well known artists who are repeat offenders of this rule. Yes, you Barbra Streisand.)  One evening, Mrs. L. was in a very excitable state. No, we weren't going to be singing at all. The Vienna Boys Choir was going to rehearse at the high school across the street that very evening and we were going join other youth choirs to hear them practice!!  Yeah, OK, but what's the Vienna Boys Choir?  Mrs. L. hustled us to the high school auditorium and we waited.  The boys walked on stage in not too relaxed a fashion and the Choirmaster had them start with a popular selection from the stage show Oliver! A three part start: who will buy...Who will buy...Who Will BuyyYYYYYY? Who will buy this wonderful morning?  Sounded fine to me but the Choirmaster was unhappy. Totally out of sync. And the Viennese boys started again with a precision doubtless envied by German engineers. And completely deflating to the ragtag youth choir of Our Lady of Fatima.  Mrs. L. was raptured.   I recall no other song nor any other detail of that evening but this one moment and it remains as clear as the boys' voices.

Benjamin P. Wenzelberg
    I enjoyed the Boychoir movie for the most part.  I prefer more mature voices for Pie Jesu.  Loved the line to Stet losing his high range to puberty, "It is not your voice, you only get to use it for a short while."
Annoyed that Garrett Wareing lip-synced all of the singing (and it was fairly obvious in some scenes.)  Near the bottom of the credits--for which I remain in movie theaters until the very end--was the identity of the real singing voice of Stet.  His name is Benjamin P. Wenzelberg. And Ben gets more credit here than in the movie. Perhaps a real member of the Boychoir.