Been meaning to try this, finally did, it "works a treat" as someone says somewhere. What am I talking about. I've been meaning to try Andrea Nguyen's tofu-pore-opening treatment (henceforth referred to as the "Nguyen" process, or "Nguyenning" something) since oh about a year ago but I have successfully managed to not remember to do it one single time that I was in the kitchen preparing tofu because I am a total stupie. Last night however I was experimenting with a lazy-ass char siu tofu idea and, the whole Nguyen thing was fresh in my mind because of El Patat's excellent sauerkraut balls (post forthcoming), so this time, yes, I managed to remember to Nguyen my shit and, yes, it's the best-textured tofu ever.

The lazy-ass char siu recipe: I'm sure this is a thing people actually do in their Chinese homes, it was so easy and yet tastes like you did a lot of complicated shit. Well howdy doody, this is actually a char siu recipe that people actually do in their Chinese homes. I had no idea. Well they use pork. We're going to use tofu.


char siu tofu, lazy version.
Basically you take a block of regular firm tofu, cut it into slabs, Nguyen that shit (pour boiling water over it, let it sit for 15 minutes, then drain and dry well). Then you slather the tofu with the brine/red liquidy stuff from a jar of red fermented tofu (called lam yee? nam yee? hóngfǔrǔ? Whatever, as you can see, mine comes from "Yummy House") and bake it on a lowish temperature for 30-45 minutes, you want it dry and firm and brick-red but not burned or blackened, and while you would never choose it over real char siu in a blindfold test, at least I wouldn't, it's "a good-tasting thing", and it's vegan.



food roundup.

Faithful readers of this blog may have noticed that I've barely mentioned Australian food. I'm not sure exactly what my thinking was, somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I might just cram it all into one post. Maybe this is that post. Let's see, shall we.

I should probably say the food was great, really good, in a kind of "new comfort food" kind of way. Not heavy, but just like "stuff you liked". I'll try and explain better. We probably fucked up by not eating any Indian or Malaysian, or Chinese for that matter. But there were so many interesting "Australian" menus that we just didn't get there. Also our eating schedule kind of dictated a certain input: the first week or so we were getting up at 4am every day and asleep by 9pm, so most days we'd have two breakfasts, which worked out just fine because Australia has a bit of a serious breakfast obsession.

OK so here are some Australian things:

1) Sourdough bread. Possibly my single favorite thing about "Australian cuisine". It's real sourdough, tangy with a wide open crumb, and if you toast it properly you can hear the eventual crunch in the other room. Just great, great bread that I forgot I liked so much. So everywhere we went for breakfast had "slice of sourdough" as a menu option. They also almost always had some variation jams and jellies, and one with eggs, and some variation with avocado, which is so ubiquitous that they semi-annoyingly call it avo b/c they just don't have time for those other two syllables. Noooooo I think they just like making up fun names for things that end with O, probably because the Australian O is such an endearing feature of their spoken language. Yes I know avocado already ended with O before they shortened it, thanks.

Anyway, yes, sourdough every day. Possibly the best of these was at The General in Kangaroo Valley (above), homemade by a shadowy figure called Mrs Bread (no dot after the Mrs), served with unusually delicious hand-churned butter. This was a great omelette, too, Parmesan, kale and pine nut? Pecan? Some nut (EDITOR'S NOTE: hazelnut). Actually Nelson's breakfast was great too, sourdough rye with, yes, avocado, fresh cheese, tomato, and dukkah, which is going to be talked about again in a minute.

We tried to buy some of Mrs Bread's sourdough after breakfast but she hadn't baked that morning, we'd have to come back tomorrow, which...yeah we just weren't gonna do. We had a schedule. It was perfectly quaint that, had there been bread, it would've been on an unmanned cart with a box for you to put your money in, yes, using the honor system.

Anyway, we loved The General, and would've been back the next day if we could've.

2) Dukkah. At least one menu per day had some kind of dukkah on it. My own personal jury's still out on it. I'm not totally sure it improved anything it was served on, it might have just become a habit down there to throw it on things. Here's a kind of vapid HuffPost article about it, and here's a breakfast I had at the Hungry Monkey in Kiama called Purple Toast: "beetroot relish. Persian feta, free range poached eggs & monkey dukkah on soy & linseed sourdough."

3) Poached eggs. They really love their poached eggs. Which is great, because it means they're really good at poaching them. Again, every menu had them at least once. Below, The Serrano at Illi Hill: jàmon serrano, pecorino, watercress, walnuts, poached egg on white sourdough drizzled with truffle oil.

A wee bit overkilt, that one, the sourdough pretty much got lost, which is too bad b/c it sounded like a great sandwich. Wasn't bad at all, but better was this: Two Chaps' corn sourdough crumpets w/semi-dried tomato, rocket, cultured goat’s milk yoghurt and fermented tomato salsa. Plus a poached egg. Yes these are all still breakfasts.

4) Coffee. Man. It reminded me of Seattle circa 1995. Walking down the main drag in Kiama looking for a good front terrace to have a beer on and peoplewatch, you quickly realize a) there aren't any, you later find out it's because Australians do "beer gardens" instead, which are located in the back and serve a slightly different purpose, protecting you from the sun instead of helping you soak it up, and b) every other storefront is a coffee roaster.

You get kind of used to it pretty quickly, although the terminology was a bit confusing. But somehow it didn't have the sneery/snooty feel of hipstery bandwagon-jumping that 1990s/2000s America had, but who knows, maybe it was exactly the same. Anyway, at least baristas were very pleasant about us not knowing what anything was. Nelson finally figured out what her drink was a couple of days before we left: soy or almond latte with an extra shot. I drank long blacks. Yes I said that.

5) Vietnamese food. This was the only immigrant cuisine we successfully interacted with. Marrickville had more Vietnamese restaurants than almost any other kind of business. We had plans to go to Hello Auntie, but like so many other promising targets on this trip (Bloodwood, Hartsyard, Love Tilly Devine, Dehli O Dehli, Pete's Music Exchange), they were closed for "the holidays". At least we had a banh xeo and an interesting curry in Kiama, and I had a super banh mi from Marrickville Pork roll.

6) Corn. It kept showing up in surprising places. Especially baby corn. OK not that surprising I guess. Like we never saw it driving a car or delivering a TED talk. It was always on a plate in a dining setting.

Anyway. We went to Yellow because they have a fancy-ass all-vegetarian menu. Fancy-ass meaning expennnnnsive. The water was expensive, that kind of expensive. If I'm moaning a bit, it's not about the expense itself. People should get paid. And I guess baby vegetables are more expensive than their parents. I'm just saying you know how this kind of thing affects expectations. Like if you charge me 6 bucks for water then damn, your baby vegetable game and miso crumbles better be on point.

Everything we had was at least "good", cooked with care and designed with craft, it just wasn't very comforting or homey or I guess welcoming in any way. Like I'm not sure this is helping sell a plant-based diet, this kind of semi-ascetic, clinical cooking. I know, what's the other end of the spectrum, every hippie vegetarian cafe ever since the 60s with overcooked and underseasoned everything. I guess I'm saying "close but", one fraction more warmth or lusciousness or decadence wouldn't have hurt.

But back to corn. The best thing I ate that night was "baby fennel + chickpea miso + buckwheat streusel", very close to delicious. I'm pretty sure it was in fact. And the most interesting thing was "baby corn in the husk + miso milk crumb", because you ate the whole charred husk and everything (below, and below that the baby fennel), which felt weird but tasted pretty good.

7) Simplicity. In pretty stark contrast to Yellow, this describes everything we ate at Stanbuli and Continental. Two places run/owned by the same people that were so good in every way they made you want to have a restaurant too, because this is the way it should be done and they made it seem totally possible. The food was either simple and perfectly executed or slightly less simple and also perfectly executed. And just done by somebody who loved to eat. The service was awesome, super-attentive yet extremely casual, really trying not to be part of your night. And the look and feel of both places was almost painfully ggggghghhhhhhh I hate to say it, but it was.....cool, OK? But you didn't mind at all because everything was done so well. I'm gushing, I know, sorry. It was kind of inspirational though. Even the fonts and graphic design were ok, YOU FEEL ME?

At Continental, two outstanding things, maybe the most outstanding things I ate on this trip. 1) "fennel, charred green beans, peanut pesto & chilli", and 2) "risotto with zucchini, roasted tomato & béarnaise sauce." The fennel was mandolined and dressed with great olive oil, lemon juice and chili flakes as far as I could tell. No idea what was in the peanut pesto. And the risotto. Boom. Half because it didn't taste anything like a risotto, really, it was just a warm and gooey tongue-hug of goodness.

Stanbuli was totally different, but just as good. There was a line outside the door at 5:50pm for their 6:00 opening. Somehow we got a seat, just like the night before at Continental. Here's the outside of Stanbulli, which someone just fell in lllllllove with:

And here's what we had, according to the menu:

Village style Bread, Humus and Cypriot style marinated Olives

Pancar Salata
Roasted Beetroots in Vinegar, Garlic, Mint and Coriander

Karnibahar Kizartma
Fried Cauliflower, Tahini Sauce, Yoghurt and Chilli-Herb dressing

None of it sounds amazing on paper, but it was how you say "in the mouth": you could tell they cooked every bit of it from scratch. Someone roasted the beets, they didn't have that "everybeet" thing that all the pre-roasted grocery store ones have. Someone skinned the chickpeas. Someone baked that super duper bread.

And someone made the goddamned chocolate baklava. With cinnamon ice cream. Ohhhhhh shhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt. Someone at my table "orgasmed*" like four times during this.

8) Cocktails. Earl's. Kittyhawk. Corridor. Mary's. Ms. G's.

9) Service. What a pleasant surprise this was. I think from our very first meal we were raising eyebrows and being all "what's this, then" about how fucking professional everyone was. As if they'd been trained and were taking their job seriously. With the exception of anywhere near a beach in or around Sydney. That was kind of like 50% as good. But in general, great, and, they weren't doing it for tips, so no over-friendly desperation weirdness.

* not a valid sexual verb


preparing for a trip to australia.

That is a picture of a deadly, deadly stingray. That I snorkled with. And yes, this post title is my gambit to the stairway to the stars, or some better constructed string of mismatched cliches. So yeah. Here are my travel tips.

1) Don't sweat that whole Border Security thing. I mean: don't bring anything illegal and if you do, declare it so they can either shrug and let you through or make you throw it away. But my point is, there are so many more suspicious-looking-than-you people there, like the emaciated man with jailhouse tattoos drunkenly wheeling an Epson printer box around on a shopping cart, a Epson printer box that is half papered-over with hand-drawn Chinese characters and dripping ominously with some viscous yellowish fluid. These are people who have plainly not watched Border Security.

2) Don't sweat your visa either. I mean, assuming you're not going to violate the terms of it. Just do it via the website and forget about it.

3) Buy an Australian pre-paid SIM card for your phone and avoid your own provider's roaming charges. Possibly the smartest thing I did on this trip, but the competition was not super stiff. $20 AUS (14 euro or something) included the SIM and 20 bucks of data, which lasted me at least two weeks. I never did run out.

4) Use Uber. We met 10 or 15 pleasant, talkative, inquisitive Australians (and one crabby alcoholic one) by just trying to get around Sydney. Introduce yourself, sit in front and don’t try to tip. In fact, don't try to tip in general in Australia, it's just easier.

5) If you're in NSW, get an Opal card and use the transit app. It’s good for the ferries too, and we really did see a ton of the city from the buses. Don't forget to signal the bus driver that you want to get on.

6) Also drive. We got to lots of places by car that would’ve been day-ruining by bus, Avalon and Parramatta for example. If you're renting, whatever you do, don't pick up a car from Hertz at the Sydney Airport. 2 hours in line.

Oh right, the whole steering wheel on the right side thing. Yeah, it's probably best if you're traveling with someone who's done it before. I myself drove the car for about 30 seconds and really didn't enjoy it at all...you really cannot see a fucking thing that's going on behind your back left bumper. I was trying to park, in reverse, so it was an issue. Also you shift gears with your left hand, so it might be worth it to get an automatic.

7) Do the coastal walks, but not on the weekends. The Kiama walk was one of the best things we did on the whole trip, but I’m sure much of this had to do with us being alone almost the whole time. 

8) Fucking sunscreen. The Kiama walk was the most sunburned I’ve been in a long time, and it was a totally overcast, drizzling day. 

9) Don't be afraid. Sure, this is the tip that could get you killed, and Australia is by all accounts an extremely deadly country, but we ourselves never did really have any close brushes with death that we knew about. Sure there's that horrible thing that someone said to us about never being more than 10 feet from a spider (the reassuring pull quote from that article is "Australian spiders have a fearsome reputation, but our bees typically pose more of a threat." Ah, great).

Sure, Tamarama could have killed us if we’d gotten caught in the Backpacker Express, thank god we didn't know it was "Sydney's Deadliest Beach" or we'd never have gotten in the water; sure, if we’d actually run into a swamp wallaby on our very isolated Kiama walk we’d have been disemboweled, etc. Sure, snorkeling could’ve involved a stingray needle through the heart. Etc. But it didn’t. The closest we came to getting killed was almost being crushed by a cement truck on the highway, and that could've happened anywhere. So do stuff.



australia, day 15+: transit.

Surprising things about Qatar Airlines, Doha and “that morning I spent in the Middle East”. 

1) The Doha airport was totally open at 4:00 am. Food was being served, people were buying shitty boxes of six-month-old baklava and tasteless hookah looking things from souvenir shops, antacids were dispensed. Try this at almost any American airport at 4:00 am. 

2) There was nothing even vaguely Middle Eastern about being there. There was a W. H. Smith. There was a Burger King. People spoke English, and spoke it just as well as they do at American airports. Breakfast items were basically eggs and/or croissants. I think the coffee and tea options may have been lightly exotic, but otherwise you could’ve been in Minnesota. 

3) American women continue to dress as if they have absolutely no idea that women’s bodies are kept covered over there. I saw a braless hitchhiker cause two simultaneous pedestrian traffic accidents, possibly one with each frantically oscillating boob. 

4) The Qatar Airlines crew members all look like movie stars, for real. You can barely believe they're talking to you.

5) There's a picture below that looks like it's of an airplane window, but it's actually of the city skyline you can barely make out in the distance. Here's what it really looks like

5) It’s a real challenge to bowl over 200. This means you pretty much have to close every frame. I hadn’t ever really realized that. 

6) After powering through a 14 hour flight and a 3 hour layover and a 7 hour flight, you then have to stand in the Passport Control line. And wait for your oversized baggage. And wait for the nonstop train to G-town. And then nod in and out of consciousness for the 3 hour train ride. Etc. I’m saying that the trip home is a challenge.


fun travel facts.

The circumference of the earth: 40,000km
Distance from Groningen to Phoenix: 7,000km
Distance from Phoenix to Sydney: 14,875km
That’s 22,000km, literally halfway around the world.

Distance from Sydney to Groningen: 16,260km.
Nearly the other half, all in one “day”. We figured we were awake for about 48 hours from the time we left our Airbnb in Marrickville to the time we got in bed in Groningen. Would we do it again? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Australia, or at least Sydney and the eastern coast of New South Wales, was the shits. 


australia, day 14: avalon.

Ahhoouuwoooouuuahhoooooeoooooooowoooo. Hard not to have it in your head.

On our last day, after some sourdough toast, which will get its own post, yes it rhymes, we decided to go see Avalon Beach because it had been on the list and we assumed we’d be sad if we didn’t go. Our flight was at 10:00pm so we had a day to kill. 

Avalon was in the end two hours away, not counting our unexpected detour to a mall to get coffee and a pretty good almond croissant and a not-as-good-as-my-first one bacon and egg roll.

But totally worth the drive. Of the dangerous, unswimmable beaches we visited on this trip, this may have been the best. Surfers were surfing, no one else was in the water recreationally except those of us in the rock pool, where you could kind of smell and taste what the ocean was like without being killed by it. 

Then we had a very Japanese bibimbap and fucked off to the airport for 40 hours of travel.


australia, day 13: loose ends.

After the second Chatham show, we had one complete truly free day to chill and cross off things we’d yet to cross off. We would fly back late the next evening, but had to be at the airport by dinnertime or so to return the car and begin our descent into abysmal depression. I joke of course. Anyway: above and below, Marrickville Market, 2 minutes away from the bnb. The only fucking thing two minutes away from the bnb, fucking Marrickville etc etc etc.

I digress. Corn fritters and assorted dals and chutneys, a plate called The Vegan, from Fritter House, all tasty and reasonably priced (EDITOR'S NOTE: technically, according to their FB page, that plate contains "A perfect balance of complex carbohydrates and good fats, with a great taste. Fritter House salad, bbq sweet potato, chickpea curry, spinach dal, tomato kasundi, mango & mint vegan aioli, a tamarind and miso glaze and (finally) toasted coconut flakes.") We were a bit jealous of their cooking setup, three massive griddles and six people, totally making a food stand look easy.

Did we go pick up a rental car here? If so it was pretty painless. Then, some plane-watching. We'd been plane-watching all week, because I've never been anywhere where so many giant planes passed so freakishly closely overhead, constantly. During our breaks where I was rehearsing at the studio, while it was storming the planes were flying so low I swear you could see faces in windows. Screaming. Silently.

Nelson, as you may or may not know, loves plane-watching. So we took a casual trip back to the studio to see just how low they were, and that made us think well they've got to be even lower somewhere else, I mean they're landing, right? So I downloaded some kind of planewatching app that told you what was coming and when and where, which led us to the Ikea parking lot and then to Botany Bay, where it was so goddamn windy we wondered what an actual ocean would look like today (vs. a bay), so we kind of randomly picked the nearest beach and drove to Maroubra, which was yet another piece of totally dumb luck on this trip.

It was gorgeously scary. We met a swimmer coming out of the water and for some reason talked to him, though I don't remember what was said. Then we hung out for an hour or so and watched the waves try to destroy everything. Then we went back to Newtown and ate at Bloodwood, after a week of waiting for them to reopen. Expectations continue to be the proverbial bitch: we found it to be "just ok" compared to the things we'd really loved from the week. A pleasant dinner, but just a bit too "home-cooking" for the prices. Although there was a really good potato and radish dish I'd like to steal. Then we drove to Parramatta to see a colony of 15,000 way-too-big fruitbats.