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America on My Mind.

america

My ex-pat friend based in Los Angeles recently wrote a piece describing what she misses about Australian food and even though I’ve been back from Atlanta for 13 years, there are still things I miss about America; the things that always seem to come up in conversation with either my husband or other people and that make me quite nostalgic for the good ol’ U S of A. So, in no particular order:

SERVICE:  Great service.  All the time. Across the board.  Can you even imagine a land where …. service providers, repairmen, furniture deliverers and all others of their ilk give you a three-hour window and actually turn up IN THAT WINDOW?

…. Sales Assistants not only acknowledge you but ask “May I help you with something?” rather than “Are ya right?” which comes only after they’ve finished chatting to each other about what-evah,  then looking stunned to discover a customer actually in the store. (Is it so wrong to want to stab them in the eye with a coat hanger?)

…. whole cities have Department Stores that don’t consider staff an optional extra, unlike Sydney where they’re like the Yeti – lots of rumoured sightings but no confirmation of actual existence and

…. restaurants don’t mistake you for Linda Blair’s eye-bulging, head-swivelling possessed person because you’ve been trying for 20 futile minutes to catch a waiter’s eye for more water or the dessert menu or the bill. bad-customer-service

BUFFALO WINGS & HASH BROWNS: Americans can’t make coffee and Australians can’t make hash browns. It seems the fewer the ingredients, the more unpalatable you can make something.  Yes, you can get good coffee in America but it’s made by Australians so chances are, there are Americans in Australia turning out delicious hash browns but I’ve yet to come across them.  Who knew there was so much room for error mixing potatoes, egg and flour? So far, I’ve only tasted the ones that are either crisp enough to pass as cornflakes or so stodgy you could mortar bricks with them. In America, even the diviest of dives will present you with a perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside jagged serve of potato goodness.

Same goes for Buffalo Wings – which, if you don’t already know – are actually chicken wings and are called what they are  in the US because they were invented in Buffalo, New York.  Don’t say you never learn anything from my ramblings.  Anyway… it’s the paprika that gives them that disturbing orange colour but what I wouldn’t give for a little Trekkie technology to be able to beam myself into Atlanta’s ‘Three Dollar Café’ for a plateful. You have a choice of mild, medium or losing feeling in the lower part of your face. All good.

chicken wings   homemadehashbrowns

TURNING RIGHT (our LEFT) ON RED: Everywhere.  Yes, we can do it here but only on 17 random intersections (OK, I made that number up) in random suburbs on roads that cover an urban area of roughly 12,000 square kilometres.  If you don’t know why Sydney-siders would give up their first-borns to the Roads and Traffic Authority for making this a blanket practice then you obviously don’t drive in Sydney.  But wait, there’s more.  It also gives people less of a chance to fiddle with their phones – which is what everyone does at red lights…admit it.

left turn on red                                          left turn on red                                       left turn on red

atlanta outlet

OUTLET MALLS: The Stepford Wives of retail.  (For those of you totally oblivious to the reference, you youngsters you, “The Stepford Wives” was a 1975 sci-fi movie in which all the wives living in a small town called Stepford, looked and behaved the same, you know, like the Eastern Suburbs here.   Ignore the Nicole Kidman 2004 re-make and watch the original.)  So what I’m saying is that every Outlet Mall looks almost the same.  You can probably pick them out from the air.  Rows and rows and rows of stores. But the savings are SERIOUS.  Even designer pieces can be slashed by 85%.  Sydney’s Birkenhead and DFO are less-than-pale imitations because when I see them touting HUGE SAVINGS because something has been reduced by 25%, I want to laugh hysterically and tell them to look up the word “clueless” in the dictionary.  I understand Australian retailers are working with a population of 23 million rather than 317,000 million, thus, incredibly less volume and competition but this won’t stop me from taking an empty suitcase to Honolulu in August when I hit the Waikele Premium Outlets running.

WHOLEFOODS & THE WAFFLE HOUSE: Wholefoods is a one-stop, pesticide and preservative-free nirvana for anyone organically inclined.  It aims to carry as many minimally processed foods as possible ranging over every food group but also stocks supermarket staples such as laundry supplies and cosmetics.  They have my undying love and gratitude because due to their range of organic baby food, I didn’t have to peel, puree or pulverise a single fruit or vegetable when my son was a baby. And when you’d finished your shopping, there was a pre-prepared food section with seating and a microwave for a quick bite before hauling everything home.  Again, the mitigating factor is population so it was only minimally more expensive than regular supermarkets.  Unfortunately that is far from the case here and I’m not that invested to pay the sometimes, exorbitant difference.

Whole-Foods-Market-store-Detroit-03 ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

At the other end of the scale is The Waffle House which would be what most people think of as a Greasy spoon, a colloquial term coined in the USA  for a small, cheap restaurant or diner that typically specialises in fried foods and can I say, Amen to that!  They are the most basic of eateries – an open kitchen, a counter , seating and a jukebox and the one I really, really miss.  Open 24 hours, my husband and I would usually stop there late at night on the way home from somewhere and within minutes of ordering, I would have been served my plate of perfectly cooked eggs, sunny-side up, hash browns and toast.  The menu is quite extensive and if you ever visit and see that iconic yellow sign, don’t judge a book by its cover – it’s the quintessential short-order experience. 

Unfortunately, the fact America is bat-crap crazy about guns constantly garners all the attention but I’m sure many of you have either visited or lived there and have brought home your own favourites.  I would love to hear about them.have-a-nice-day

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I am not Nigella…

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You know those quizzes for kids where they show them a row of pictures like three farm animals and a ladder and ask which is the odd one out? Well if you did an adult version consisting of various people preparing various foodstuffs, I would be the ladder. Every second blog seems to be about food and I sometimes feel as though I have a dirty little secret because I DON’T LIKE COOKING. If I were given the choice of never having to clean another bathroom or never having to make another dinner, I would have grabbed the Harpic and toilet brush before you’d even finished the question. It’s genetic. My mother would often say she would rather clean the house from top to bottom than cook every day – and she was Italian. The Italians are supposed to love their food – and she did – but like me, she would have liked it better if someone else had prepared it.

We have a fairly standard routine in our house when it comes to the week’s dinners – my husband barbeques a couple of nights, we have take-away one night, we might go out one night and I cook the rest of the time. I know…it’s not even a lot, right? But lately that’s all come undone because husband has been on a particular diet for medical reasons and the barbeque was in such perilous condition, the serviceman disconnected it from the gas because it was unsafe to use. Yeah, thanks for that. So I’ve had to cook almost every night. And it’s not like I have a demanding husband. If I really don’t feel like cooking, he’s quite happy to make himself some bacon and eggs or a salad with canned tuna. When my son was little, I used to run into a mother at the local park who had a toddler, a baby and a husband who expected three courses, on the table, at the same time, every night. See you in Divorce Court, honey. Better luck with the next one.

And it’s not that I can’t cook. I have a reasonable repertoire of dishes and am quite willing to try a new recipe. Despite the fact none of these whiz-bang contestants on Masterchef can manage an edible risotto (except one, who made it with quinoa and caused an earth tremor because all the Italian mammas watching fainted), mine is the teenager’s favourite dish and I always have to make enough so he has at least two days’ worth for after-school devouring. The simple fact is I just don’t enjoy it. I feel that same way about preparing a meal as most women feel about ironing – it’s something that has to be done so you put your head down and just get on with it. Except I love ironing. I light a scented candle, put on some daggy music and either become a contestant on X Factor or just let my mind drift where it pleases and at the end I have a pile of beautiful, crease-free clothes that give me a greater sense of satisfaction than any culinary achievement.

I have a passion for not cooking

Sometimes my husband goes interstate or overseas for business and I lose total control – my son and I go out or get home delivery every night. It’s like the stove ceases to exist. The pantry doors rust shut. Only the fridge remains operational for milk, salad and chocolate. Salad, you say? Yes, because now it comes in a bag and all I have to do is open it – so I lied about the pantry because I need the olive oil and balsamic vinegar for the dressing. After years of banging on about healthy food and comparing his body to a car that only runs properly with the right fuel, yadda, yadda, yadda, the teenager still eats the occasional McDonalds or KFC but prefers Indian or Thai and is particularly partial to the Lobster Tails at Outback Steakhouse. He can cook his own pasta, whip up a San Choy Bow and pan-fry sweet potato till the cows come home so it’s not like it’s junk central while his father’s away. What it is though, is bliss for me and I don’t even feel guilty – not even one tiny, miniscule little pang.

This is not a paid endorsement but for anyone who feels the same, may I recommend Marion’s Kitchen Red Curry. She was a contestant on Masterchef a couple of years ago, I think and has brought out a line of Asian/Malaysian kits of which this is one. I tried the Green Curry but was not overly fussed whereas the Red Curry is a staple in my kitchen and there are always a couple of boxes in the pantry. The kit comprises red curry paste, coconut cream, fish sauce and curry herbs – basic and simple. All you need to do is provide whatever meat and/or vegetables you prefer, some water and 20 minutes later, voila, you have a really delicious, easy meal on the table. It’s available in all the supermarkets, usually in the International Foods section. I’m sure a lot of people would say it’s just as easy to make it from scratch but this way there is just the right amount for one meal and I don’t have bottles and jars of ingredients lying around that I have to use up before they go ‘bad’.

Lastly, for any Trekkies reading this, remember the Enterprise’s crew only had to stand in front of that tube, speak their request and their meal would materialise? Well never mind the bloody Thermomix – that’s an idea worth working on.