Brisbane’s become cooler than me

Everyone always digs on Brisbane. Even when I first moved to Australia it was all “it’s too small; everything closes early; there’s nowhere good to eat.” Compare it to likes of Sydney or Melbourne, and yeah, I get it. But guess what haters, at some point since moving away a year and a half ago, Brisbane’s upped its ante.

I always said if I could have the culture of Melbourne coupled with the weather of Brisbane I would be set for life. Now, I’m not going to go as far and say it’s been accomplished but seriously Brisbane, you’re picking up your weight.

On my most recent visit I was blown away at the duck liver parfait served at James Street’s trendy Gerard’s Bar. In fact, I added it on my “best thing ever” list and that was even after devouring truffle salami and mackerel tartare. Could the Brisbane dining scene be creeping in Melbourne’s wake?

And as for Fortitude Valley, the once seedy and still may be but only if you don’t know where to go now that Brisbane is cool, nightlife neighborhood, I didn’t go out ‘in’ the Valley but rather ‘under’ the Valley. Greaser, an American themed bar is housed in the cellar of a 130-year-old heritage building offering craft beers, American imports and a stellar whiskey list on the side of classic hot dogs.

Sure, I was still living in town when the hippest thing was old Queensland cottages being converted into uber-chic bars like Alfred & Constance, Kettle & Tin and Sixes & Sevens – as they all have uber-cool names too, but I hear even ‘hippie-haven’ West End has transformed itself upmarket with some new additions in its pocket.

I think it goes without saying another area where Brisbane hasn’t failed us is the craft beer front. From my old hang The Scratch to Tenerife’s Tippler’s Tap and their recent Southbank prodigy Tomohawk Bar and let’s not forget the micro-brewers Green Beacon and classic Bacchus Brewing, Brisbane is where its at.

What’s still not cool is having to leave an establishment to go find a bathroom somewhere down the street rather then in the bar/restaurant/café, but over time you may just get that right too, Brisbane.

In the meantime, I recognize there’s all the extra stuff that even made Brisbane cool back when I was living there. An awesome music scene, a laid back life style and pristine beaches in an arm’s reach, so yeah Brisbane, maybe you were cool all along.

Read more about my adventures in Brisbane here.

Goodbye Brisbane

Southbank skyline

Australians say Brisbane is a big country town. Despite being the 3rd largest city in the country, its small town feel is what makes it fit perfectly in Queensland culture. It’s the sort of city where your bound to know someone who knows someone – where its easy to get wrapped up in the social scene – be invited to opening launches of new restaurants, follow a local band from their early days to making it national, and enjoy the sunshine and moderate weather year round. It’s as far removed from New York as one could imagine and after I swore up and down I’d never love again – both London and New York are unbeatable to me – I find myself with a tear and sorrow saying goodbye to my home in Brisbane.

I’ve fallen in love with New Farm – a neighborhood of trendy, delicious cafes, a luscious park with river views, and thriving nightlife at my doorstep. It’s the type of neighborhood that I like to say that if I didn’t live in New Farm, I’d desperately be envious of those who live in New Farm.

New Farm

Sure, the CBD (Central Business District) is minimal, and I can walk from one end of the city to the other in an hour – but on these Sunday afternoon ventures I would come across giant lizards called Goannas blocking my path, weekend markets selling trinkets and fresh produce, and healthy people just enjoying the outdoors. So what if I was the only one in the park tanning in my bathing suit – only NYC dwellers know that when there is no beach or pool – a park makes the perfect spot to show some skin.

I’ve left my heart in my local The Scratch – although its not local to my apartment, it is to my work and the boys work hard to make sure that my pallet is tempted by craft beers from all across Australia. I’ve left my head at nearly every bar in the Valley – from the backyard of Rics to the mismatched couches of Kerbside. I’ve left my stomach to the avocado smash and roasted tomatoes of Ponycat – and to the pork belly fries of their sister Kettle & Tin.

The place I called home for the last two years is no longer. My bright blue kitchen, convenient en suite and balcony overflowing with plants now are someone else’s. My Brisbane family, Sam and Jake and Quentin will always be special to me, and although I can no longer call them my flat mates, I know that we will be lifelong friends – along with all the other beautiful people who have entered my life these last two years.

It’s time for me to say goodbye Brisbane, hello Melbourne.



The American-Australian Debate

I’m an American expat and have been living in Brisbane, Australia for exactly 1 year and 10 months (in two days). Acquaintances of both nationalities often ask me what the other is really like. Are we really all so different?

What’s interesting is that many Australians, like many other societies, have an idealistic vision of certain aspects of America influenced by pop culture. Going to Disney World, New York City, and Vegas are top priority destinations on a bucket list for many. For some equally naive Americans, Australia is depicted as a laid back, blond-haired surf community who put shrimp on the barbie and have pet kangaroos.

So here are 6 observations – and I must preface “in my opinion” – between Australian and American ways of life.

There will be people, places and ideas that of course don’t apply to everyone, and everything. I’m in no way insinuating that they do. You could argue that I could include facts about dueling healthcare systems, poverty lines and unemployment rates, but I’m not going to go there. There are also many topics like food, drinking cultures, and television. This is just a small aspect of current reflections of my time on both continents.

1. Societal pressure

This is my ultimate number one; a topic I engage in conversations regularly. As an American growing up on the East Coast there is a simple formula to success. You go to school and get good test scores. You choose a university and the more prestigious the name, the better. While enrolled in university you partake in extra curricular activities, clubs and begin undergoing internships as soon as possible. You graduate in 4 years, no more. After graduation due to your collegiate success you have a job lined up and gradually work your way up the corporate ladder. There is no gap year; there is no break to sit back and think about your future. At 18 before you even leave high school you sign up for the rest of your life.

Furthermore, your career becomes your status. Blue collar jobs are frowned upon and success is measured by you and your significant other’s occupation.

I find that the societal pressure I speak of above is drastically less significant here in Australia. A university degree is important, but not essential to obtaining a career. And I use the term career loosely. Less significant is what job you have, but better the fact that you have a job. Blue-collar jobs, mineworkers, plumbers, construction workers, what they term as “tradies” are highly regarded, because they require skill and get paid big bucks. There is no shame in saying your significant other is an admin assistant or carpenter.

With that, keeping a long-standing career in one area isn’t as essential. Most young people go traveling between graduating high school and going to university, if they even do. In fact, its called a “gap year” and encouraged. Many people work for an amount of time to save their money and then go traveling…in their 20s AND 30s. But what about your job when you get back, saving for a house, babies? The priority tends to be more about enjoying your life and spending the time and money you do have on experiencing it.

Of course, there is the current economic state and unemployment rate in the US compared to the high economic success Australia is having at the moment (ahum mining) that one could argue are attributing to both of these factors and cannot be ignored. However if you removed them from the equation I still feel strongly that it’s an underlying mentality of each culture more then anything else.

2. Cost of living

In Australia, it is astronomical. Again, the economy…I get it. Australians get paid more and therefore things cost more. New York is expensive but in comparison to everyday Australia, it’s a bargain.

Here are a few examples of Brisbane and New York price comparisons:

Piece of Pizza: AU $7; US $2.50

Bus Ticket: AU $4.80; US $2.50

6 Pack of Beer: AU$ 16; US $8

Pair of Nike sneakers: AU $240; US $180

Gatorade: AU$4.80; US $2.50

Another example is retirement packages. In the US, your employer may provide you with a 401K package, in which you contribute a certain percent (typically a 3% minimum) of your salary in which your employer contributes another 3%. In Australia, your employer legally has to pay you Superannuation of 12% on top of your salary, and you can contribute to it as you like. Not a bad deal.

3. Airline etiquette

One advantage of being a country that has no majors concerns about national security means that your airport traffic and regulations can be a whole lot more lax. Let’s compare the two experiences.

If I were to have an 8 o’clock domestic flight, I would depart Brisbane Airport at 7:40. I would therefore likely arrive at the airport before my flight at 7:20 or so. Yes, 20 minutes before boarding is plenty of time. Upon entering the destinations lounge I would approach one of the 30 or so Qantas kiosks scattered around the area to check in. To do so I’d simply search by my last name, then first name, and finally select my destination from a list in order for my boarding pass to print. While I’m at it, I would also print my baggage tag and then check my own bag without the assistance of anyone needed, but the friendly service attendants make themselves available just in case.

Once approaching security, at worst will take more then 5 minutes, I put my bags through the scanner. The only thing I need to take out is my laptop or any sort of aerosols. Shoes stay on, sweatshirt stays on, water stays put and get this, and so does my ID the entire time! I’m through, whew, although I will add that I always get picked for that darn bomb detector swifter.

There’s also something strange about the plane etiquette. It’s an unspoken signal. Just as its time to board, without an announcement needed everyone just files into line to board the plane. Sometimes they announce to board by row, buts its unnecessary as everyone takes into an orderly fashion. There are some passengers with carry-on items but not everyone carrying everything they own on earth.

Qantas domestic provides one bag complimentary checked, complimentary meals or snacks on every flight, and free booze during evenings. Sometimes I even get inflight entertainment – like movies on my own personal screen. Just saying. I’ve never seen anyone get bumped for an oversold flight or asked to give-up his or her seat.

The flipside. Where to start. Smelly home-made food, old-school planes, madness, no overhead room for luggage, chaos at security.  My god.

Most US airlines oversell their seats. That means that if you don’t select your seat when your purchase your ticket (usually at a cost if you’re not a member of their loyalty program with a certain status) there is a chance that when you arrive at the airport to check in you may not have a seat on your purchased flight. Notice boards are now customary in many airport lounges with a long stand by list. A plus, if you’re in no rush you can usually give up your seat for a voucher for a free future flight and get on the next plane.

Because luxuries like complimentary meals, even measly food like the classic bag of peanuts, no longer exist, that means that people have begun the disgusting habit of bringing left overs from home or in take out containers from the airport food court. There is nothing like sitting in a vacuum-sealed compartment with the pungent smell of hundreds of passengers’ leftovers wafting in the air.

And one final point, as plane upgrades seem like a thing of the past and flying aviation from 20 years ago is trending, airlines have tacked on costs for checked baggage. Yes, this exists here in Australia too for airlines aside from Qantas. But, for some reason I find that American passengers have decided it’s just not worth the cost to check a bag, and therefore try and beat the system by bringing on board everything they possibly own. If you’re unfortunate to board the plane last you won’t even have room to tuck away your handbag.

4. Shortening of words

Is it shortening of words, or just slang? I think a bit of both. Some say it derives from the criminals who founded this darn continent (geez lets just forget about the indigenous people), regardless, picking up new fashion slang and slicing every multi syllable word in half is right up my ally.

Ranga – someone with red hair (short for orangutan)

Tradie – someone who works a trade job

Arvo – Afternoon

Bicky – Biscuit aka cookie

Cuppa – Cup of coffee or tea

Barbie – BBQ

Togs, Swimmers – Bathing Suit

Snags – Sausages

Singlet – Tank top

Sunnies – Sunglasses

Bottle O’ – Liquor Store

Servo – Service Station/Gas Station

Mate – Friend

5. Sitting in the front of cabs

So one of the best things about New York City is the cabs. You can get across town, uptown to downtown etc. for under a $20 cab fair. While your at it, yapping away to your friends passing street vendors, bodegas, and various bars, although it can be annoying at times, you have a TV sharing with you the latest weather, pop culture, and news. Don’t like it, simply turn it off. But sometimes it’s a nice distraction to pass the time. Rarely do you sit in the front of a cab, and that’s only when you’re exactly 4 people.

In Brisbane at least, a cab from the trendy “going out” area of The Valley to my apartment a 15-minute walk away cost $12. Public transport is outrageous, hard to come by without dialing a number, and the fairs increase the later it gets.

The expectation is that if you’re a solo passenger you sit in the front. It can be an exhausting experience. Sometimes I don’t want to make conversation and so I’ll say my brief hello, provide my destination then stare aimlessly out the window or watch the expensive meter tick by. Other times call for being a chatterbox and time passes quickly with friendly attentiveness from my chauffeur.

I’m aware this isn’t a comparison on America as it is more on NYC versus Brisbane but for someone making the transition, sitting in the front one on one with the driver can be intense.

6. Service and options

But none of the above comparisons can go without mentioning the luxuries that America has that Australia, or at least Brisbane can’t compare by an inch. It’s what makes America, well, America and so many other nations and cities envious. America has options, and a lot of them.

In Brisbane shops close at 5 or 6, there is no mid-week shopping – except one day a week allocated for “late night shopping”. What!?!? Not only in NYC, but also even in suburbia shops are open until at least 9. And there are options, so many options. There are cheap clothing stores with cheap clothes for cheap prices and cheap stores with decent clothes for cheap prices and expensive stores with cheap clothes and expensive stores with expensive quality.

When it comes to food you can’t even compare. 24 hour options, fast food, gourmet foods, trendy restaurants, hot dogs, pizza, donuts, cheesesteaks, hoagies, beer. Yum yum yum yum.

Minimum wage in the States is appalling. Many service works don’t receive incentive packages like healthcare and live solely by tips. With that, you expect attentive service and if you don’t get it many know the restaurant’s reputation and their tip will reflect. For me, 20% was standard. What’s great about tipping is you can incentive better service. What’s not great is you can spend a lot more then the cost of the meal shelving out those incentives. Because more customers mean more money, it’s not customary to take a table for a full evening. It’s in and out.

In Australia, many service workers make around $20 an hour. Tipping is only done if service is extraordinary and you want to thank a server for going above and beyond. Tipping is very rare. Although the food prices are higher, the atmosphere can be a bit more relaxed and you can take your time with your meal. That also means though that the servers have no incentive to provide exemplary service and at times this can be very frustrating.

I leave Australia again this week to head for America for a quick trip. What I’ve noticed has become a bit of a pattern is that for my first few days in the States I’m constantly making comparisons in my head to my life here in Brisbane. I’m grateful for the laid-back lifestyle and simplicity of things here. By the end of my trip after enjoying the luxuries of a fast paced lifestyle back in New York indulging in all its luxuries the tables turn.  Oh the woes of living abroad.

Ethiopian Cuisine

Ethiopian Cuisine of Delights

If Ethiopia is one of the oldest locations of human existence known to scientists, then their food better be damn good.

I’ve been to the far north of Africa in Tangier, Morocco and to the very farthest tip of South Africa. But as of yet have missed out on all in between, including the eastern horn of Ethiopia. When friends were dining out for an authentic Ethiopian experience here in Brisbane, how could I not invite myself along?

Driving to Made in Africa Ethiopian Café and Restaurant in Moorooka, I was completely oblivious as to what to expect. While driving from Brisbane city center I was told that Moorooka was a suburb undergoing gentrification. I inquired about what they deemed to be a community with a need for such redevelopments. I could only scoff at the thought, despite high immigrant populations from the Middle East and Africa.

From my observation, Brisbane has a less culturally diverse population then other cities. Therefore gentrification is a concept I didn’t think existed here. I thought back to the organic-loving Jewish guy from Oregon I dated who lived in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn – also Jay-Z’s original hood. I was the only Caucasian person on the A train; let alone I needed to be escorted from the subway, and not because I’m dainty. He was the only white boy on the block with big dreams of opening a coffee shop at the cusp of the neighborhood reinventing itself, and he succeeded. Don’t talk to me about gentrification.

We found the small café-restaurant in a shopping center catering to other African restaurants, shoe shops and hair salons.  My handsome and endearing friend walked his tall walk and claimed our reservation for 6 people upon entering. Aside from a table of three Sudanese regulars, we were the only customers on this Friday night. Reservations are recommended but not always necessary.

The place is no frills. A few cheap tables with plastic chairs, cheesy African decor, a painting of a topless black women on the wall, a map of Africa next to it, and some other trinkets tucked away in corners. Many of the mementos as well as spices and coffees are for sale through the sister company

The menu, as thick as a wallet, gave the impression it was filled with pages upon pages of options. In reality it was one menu front and back; breakfast, lunch and dinner on one side, drinks on the other. The rest was filled with clear pages as a facade.  The good news was options were limited and it was very cheap. We’ll have the lot!

The lovely host of an owner came to take our order, and we inquired about the handcrafted baskets nestled in the corners. We told him we wanted a traditional feast, and so he prepared a flat silver tray with the best on offer.

Ethiopian Cuisine

Ethiopian Cuisine of delights

Sitting on top of injera (Ethiopian flat bread), was a beautiful spread of Alicha Wot (mild beef stew sauted in onion and turetic), Tibes Wot (diced lamb sautéed in herbed butter sauce and seasoned with onion, green pepper, rosemary), Keye Wot (beef simmered in a red pepper sauce with garlic and cardamom), Doro Wot (chicken stew in red hot pepper sauce with hard boiled eggs), Gomen Wot (collard greens boiled with garlic and onions), Shiro Wot (split pea stew made from roasted and ground split peas), Yatakilt Wot (vegetables in rich fresh green cabbage, carrot, potato, green pepper and onions, sauted in garlic and ginger) and Lentils Stew (lentils with cardamom and onion). The plate was enormous and we each used just our hands to dip the injera into the various thick stews.

The website, keeping to traditions states, “Normally you break a piece of Injera and roll it in the Wat and put it in your own mouth, but sometimes you may tear a piece off, roll it in the Wat and place it in you friends mouth!”


Gebena (coffee)

We didn’t feed each other, however ended the night after a few St. Georges beers with a traditional coffee pot (gebena) of the most aromatic coffee I’ve yet to taste.

St. Georges Beer

St. Georges

The experience left me filled to the max, with an appreciation for a cuisine I’ve never thought to try. All for a very cheap price might I add.  We didn’t know, and therefore missed out on the hand washing and coffee ceremonies that are also options, but at least we have something to look forward to next time.

I expected the injera (bread) to be sour, but it was delicious. We weren’t sure if they could cater for our gluten free friend, but they did with rice. And I looked over to my friend who also has a bit of hard time getting down the spicy options and I challenged him to challenge his spice as I do. A little practice in time creates a new appreciation.

And we ate it all!

And we ate it all!

Dear United

I’m hoping you may be able to provide some clarity on some details of your international flight routes. Specifically, customer comforts such as in-flight entertainment and refreshments? I thank you in advance for reading, despite the length of my letter, as I think it’s important that you hear my story. I’ve also shared my story with the readers of my travel blog and look forward to disclosing your feedback with them as well.

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the economic situation and the impact it has had on the airline industry. As a fellow person in business, day-to-day I see various industries shifting and shuffling trying to make ends meet to keep afloat. Those that I value the most are the companies that look to the future and acknowledge customers’ needs, rather than cut corners to hit hard budgets. In all business, customer loyalty and word of mouth can fortunately or unfortunately make or break you.

In the United States we’ve seen trends such as this take over the industry and for much of Europe as well. The airlines that get the most praise are those that are doing something different than the rest and give the perception that they’re customer focused; airlines such as Jet Blue and Southwest come to mind. Internationally, there are handfuls of airlines aspiring back to the days where it used to be a privilege to fly; as a customer on a plane you were treated with respect for your time and loyalty, even in economy. I’ve experienced this myself on Qantas, Emirates, Thai Airways, Air New Zealand, British Airways and others.

As a loyal Continental flyer for a number of years, I can honestly say that I looked forward to flying domestically. With Newark Liberty International Airport being a fantastic hub for a northern New Jersey resident, I always made Newark and Continental my primary choice for flying both business and leisure. I found the service hospitable, the planes in tidy condition, and even appreciated the small snacks like the turkey sandwiches. This truly gave them a competitive edge while others were taking away perks such as complimentary baggage and even soft drinks.

When Continental merged with United I got a bit nervous; what could this mean for my favourite airline? I found out too soon after cashing in my hard earned miles for a flight from Newark to Sydney, Australia in November 2010. As a frequent international flyer, I was astonished at what I found on the other end of the jet-way. I’d like to acknowledge that yes, I did cash in my miles and despite the taxes this flight could be classified as “complimentary” however I do not think any service should be downgraded due to this.

United LA to Sydney

My thoughts from November 2010 flying United LA to Sydney

I have my notes from that flight still today. I was so uncomfortable with my experience that I took the time to write them down and it’s unfortunate that I’ve waited this long to notify you. What is most interesting is that on my flight from Newark to LA I had a fantastic experience. The plane was in impeccable condition and I had an empty seat between my window seat and my neighbour in the aisle. I was surprised and grateful that I had my own in-flight entertainment in the seat in front which made the long journey go by pleasantly; something that was not expected for a domestic flight. I remember specifically thinking to myself to not watch any of the good movies yet, I’ll save them for the long haul flight on my next leg.

From LA to Sydney is where my real complaint comes in. The plane was dated and the interior was in poor condition. I didn’t feel as if it were going to fall apart, however I am always comfortable in the interiors of Virgin and British Airways and expected the same conditions (if not better) for an even longer haul, especially the leg room. I thought to myself, how was my domestic flight superior to this?

My biggest disappointment had come with the entertainment. The last time I’d been on an international flight in economy where the entire plane had to squint to watch the same program, as there were no personal entertainment systems, was on an Olympic Air in 2008, and despite their bankruptcy, I swore to never fly with them again. With average meals and no complimentary alcoholic beverages it makes me wonder how United can stay in business against the likes of Virgin Australia and Qantas on this same route?

I am now residing in Australia and take the international flight from Brisbane to New York, or some similar combination whether it be from Sydney or to Philadelphia, a handful of times a year. I am very loyal to Qantas due to their service, professionalism, entertainment, efficiency, and refreshments being above par. So much that I rave about them quite regularly on my blog In fact, I make a point to ask every person I meet who has travelled via LA to Australia what airline they took. Before even answering I know by their expression if was United. It’s a common joke amongst cross-Pacific travellers that if you have a United flight, you might as well not even go because it’s anticipated to be that bad.

As the holidays are approaching I’m returning to the US on another long haul flight.  I cannot express the intensity of my disappointment when the only option within my budget during overpriced holiday season was with United. I write this to you because I don’t want to have the panic that I felt when I spent over $3,000 on a flight and already anticipate a horrible experience. I am not cheap, I will pay for a bottle of wine or sandwich if that is what is required however after already paying $3,000 this is completely unnecessary. And as far as entertainment goes, I think your flight crew may have a more pleasant time if their customers were distracted and content watching what suited them on a personal level rather than overhearing their neighbour snoring because they can’t see the communal television.

I can appreciate that all of these may sound like superficial complaints but for a frequent flyer who enjoys flying, who looks forward to the experience and has praise for many airlines that get the formula right, I’m asking you, United, when are you going to lead the pack? Or as a minimum, improve your services to be on par with your direct competitors? What are you doing about in-flight entertainment, service, leg room, and refreshments for long haul flights?

An Australian colleague recently said to me, “We look to the United States as a global leader, as someone who always has the best. How is it that flying a US airline is one of the worst experiences a traveller could have?”

Thank you for reading this lengthy letter. I do anticipate your response and look forward to hearing about how my experience and future travels will be improved.

Kind Regards,


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Stephens Croquet Club

Come dressed in your croquet best

Come dressed in your croquet best, or it’s off with your head!

Stephens Croquet Club

‘Get to your places!’ shouted the Queen in a voice of thunder, and people began running about in all directions, tumbling up against each other; however, they got settled down in a minute or two, and the game began. Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all ridges and furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.” – Alice and Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.

My first croquet experience wasn’t nearly as abstract as the game played in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The mallets were traditional square or round pieces of wood, the balls colored blue, red, black and yellow, and the arches white metal posts. There was no Queen running around screaming “off with your head” in a jealous rage, but there was definitely merriment being celebrated for Nidya and John’s 29th birthdays.

Stephens Croquet Club

Me and John on the grounds

I wasn’t sure what to expect when the invitation called for a game of Gin and Croquet on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t drink gin and I’ve never played croquet, but there’s always a first for everything. To make the day even more exotic, guests were invited to dress to impress. “You must come dressed in your croquet best, be it 20’s, cricket whites, bowler hats or pipes – I don’t care. Dress to impress my bloomers off.” Now, that to me sounded like a challenge.

The day was hosted at Stephens Croquet Club in Annerley. Yes, croquet clubs actually do exist. In fact, Stephens was just one option of a few in the area. Seriously. But I couldn’t be more pleased with our experience. When we first arrived 4 elderly people were sat out front on the bench welcoming us. My initial thought was that these poor people are here for their Sunday regular, and they’re going to be disappointed when then find a rambunctious birthday party ruining their quiet tradition. But that was not the case.

For $15 each person got a go at a game of croquet. Before we got started one of the gentlemen from the Club asked everyone to gather round as he explained how the day would work and we’d all get a chance to play what he pronounced ‘croke-e’. The Club grounds were divided into four courts, with four people playing at each so a total of 16 people could play at once. The four lovely people who were seated outside the Club when I first arrived in fact were volunteers for the day. Each took a group of four over to their designated court and walked us through a simplistic version of an abridged game.

Stephens Croquet Club

Gail showing Louise technique

My group of four was split with myself and fellow New Jersian Noble on a team playing against Louise and birthday boy John on the other. Our instructor Gail, explained how we work the arches around the four corners of the court first, before moving into the two center arches and finishing by hitting the ball against the wooden stick in the very center. She then explained that the balls go in order of blue, red, black and yellow alternating teams and John being the birthday boy won the coin toss and got to go first. With a few practice swings of holding the mallet between our legs and giving it a good wack, we were on our way.

Stephens Croquet Club

Gail telling Noble where to put it

I have to give a special shout out to Gail who strategically worked us through various techniques. In fact, our game lasted about 2 hours, the longest of the day as two or three other games finished by the time my group got through one. Sad to say Noble and I lost, but luckily we got one in through the arch at the very end.

Stephens Croquet Club

Happy Birthday Nidya and John

Gin, birthday cake, sausages on the grill and outfits ranging from all whites with suspenders to visors and colorful frocks, I found a new appreciation for a sport I never thought I’d play – croquet.

Some dressed to impess highlights:

Stephens Croquet Club

The King and Queen of Croquet

Stephens Croquet Club

Noble – I didnt win – McNaughton

Stephens Croquet Club

Cutest couple alert – Susan and Henry

Stephens Croquet

Mr. Guy Frawley himself

Road Tripping

On September 26, 2012 my New Jersey state driver license expired. For months leading up to this day anxiety had been seeping in.  I doubt I’ll ever drive again, I thought.

It began back in 2006. Yes, I know, 6 whole years ago! I cleaned out the interior of my Hyundai Elantra hatchback, parked it at the top of the drive, locked the doors and barley looked back. Mere hours later I was on a plane to London where I’d live for the next 12 months. Public transport became my haven. It felt like nearly every other weekend I was catching a bus at 4 am to a remote airport to fly a budget airline to a random European city where I would hop on a train to get downtown where Id ride a ferry down the river to admire the views and then walk back to my hostel. Yes, public transportation very much so became my haven.

Salzburg Airport

Arriving at Salzburg Airport in 2006

I returned to the US in April 2007 and took my good old hatchback for a few spins around southern New Jersey while painfully interviewing for jobs. But just one month later I relocated up north, and became one of them city folk. A Car! What car? All I heard amongst the sirens and horn beeps was hassle.

City parking meant street cleaning on the 4th day at 3rd hour of the week each month. And who wants to move their car every week? Or drive around the block 15 times until your head explodes and you start imagining that your car is smaller than it really is and maybe, just maybe it will fit in between the yellow lines very close to the fire hydrant but really, what are the chances they’ll need to use it today? But it doesn’t fit anyway. No way I say. See you for good Hyundai Elantra.

So I got a bike. And I loved it. And I rode it to work every day. Up the hills, on the sidewalks, to the bars, and safely locked it out front of the gate next to my brownstone’s stoop. And nearly every other weekend for someone’s birthday, engagement, shower, wedding, fiesta, just because I’m your friend/related to you I was on the Bolt Bus traveling from 34th and 8th in Manhattan to the parking lot of Red Lobster outside the Cherry Hill Mall. It costs $12, has leather seats and free Wi-Fi, and beats battling my own personal road rage. Back in town though I took the subway, and cabs, and my own two feet when not on bicycle. And it worked. For four whole years.

Beach Cruiser Bike

My sweet cruiser

Then in May 2011 I arrived in Brisbane. And I said again, a car, no way! Not me…I haven’t driven in years. You don’t want me driving on the other side of the road anyway. So I take two buses to work. It takes 30 minutes, but if I walk home it takes 45. I also take the train, rarely the ferry, and too often a much overpriced cab. And it seems to go okay.

Why Not Street Brisbane

Why Not Street Bus Stop, West End, Brisbane

But then September 26 started approaching. I searched high and low the New Jersey DMV’s website and it seemed impossible to get a license renewed when living abroad on a foreign visa. So then then I thought I’d renew it when back in the States last, but then I realized I’m ‘technically’ now a resident of Pennsylvania, and that’s a whole other piece of sticky red tape. So, I came to terms with the fact that I may never drive in the foreseeable future. Or at least, in order to do so I may actually have to take the driver’s test again. Gulp.

Who knew though, apparently the people who informed me did, that getting a Queensland driver license was as simple as pie? It’s okay that I haven’t driven in 6 years, and have never driven on the left hand side of the road, and cannot drive a manual car. I walked into their Department of Transport, handed over my passport and nearly expired New Jersey license, paid $250 for a 5 year licence, and wallah! I am still a licensed driver for the next 5 years now under an Australian driver’s license. But, you’re not allowed to smile. They’re very strict about this one element of it.

Next week the true test comes into to play. I’m traveling to South Africa, have a reservation booked for Avis rent-a-car and will be road tripping the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth with a friend. A friend, who very similarly moved to London in 2006 (pictured with me at the Salzburg airport in fact), and has been living in Manhattan ever since. What I’m getting at is that we’re in the same boat. The good news is they say it’s just like riding a bike, something I’m proud to say I am very good at!

Stay tuned to hear all about it…

Degustation Sensation

Microsoft’s Encarta Dictionary is not familiar with the word degustation, degust or degusting. The dictionary must not be a foodie.

All those contributors to Wikipedia know it though. “Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company. Dégustation is more likely to involve sampling small portions of all of a chef’s signature dishes in one sitting. Usually consisting of eight or more courses, it may be accompanied by a matching wine degustation which complements each dish.”

And there you have it, the art of degusting. It’s not disgusting at all. It’s delicious.

For my recent birthday I put a message up asking who would be willing to fork over $150 for a degustation wine pairing at a place high on my list of atmospheric dining experiences, Anise, however only one person replied so I opted for the much more sensible Himalayan Café instead.

Luckily, this week was the James Street Food and Lifestyle Trail, a culinary adventure of the delights from the best of what trendy James Street has to offer with pop up restaurants, food and wine pairings, and cultural events. I could only choose one, so Wednesday evening it was off to recently opened Gerrard’s Bistro (where I last tried sheep brains) for their Special Degustation Menu with Ben Williamson, head chef – and a mighty good looking one might I add.

Reservations were required for this art deco restaurant turned food frenzy. Arriving before the 7 pm start, tables were set neatly with cutlery, various wine glasses sized for pour and the evening’s menu set out in the middle. Our group of four was sat in front, a perfect location to listen to chef Ben Williamson explain each course in fine detail following the Red + White wine rep depicting the evenings pairing.

I took out my little green moleskin notebook to begin jotting notes, assuming to go unnoticed, but then was caught red-handed. Yup, I’m a note taker – just in case I feel compelled to write home about it.

Course 1 – Cuttlefish crostini with jamon Serrano, melon Biancavigna ‘Brut’ DOC NV Prosecco, Veneto, Italy

Rumor has it that Prosecco is actually outselling Champagne these days due to popular demand. The pouring was generous and they even came around to top us off! The melon on the jamon was a refreshing touch of sweet summer on the salty dry meat.

Course 2 – Yellow-tail tuna, apple and spring aromatics La Raia, Cortese, Gavi, Italy

The Cortese was nearly my favorite wine of the night. An almond, buttery undertone with a touch of apple at the finish. It perfectly complimented the apple accompanying the “caught that day” raw tuna.

Course 3 – Coal grilled quail, roasted beet, hazelnuts, baby leaves, spice Louis Jadot ‘Cotes de Nuits Villages’ Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France

I’m a sucker for a good Pinot Noir. When my friend mentioned that she doesn’t do foreign wines, I explained that this was the reason I love a good Pinot. Also, another reason why I shouldn’t buy cheap Pinot. The bite size quail though was tender and salty but the beetroot and hazelnuts was a good balance.

Course 4 – Saltbush lamb ‘tagine’, dates, orange, candied olive, ‘shirin polow’- jewelled rice Marchesi Mazzei ‘Zisola’ Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy

My first try of the Zisola was that it was too sweet and my immediate inclination was to dismiss it, but after a few swirls and sips I really opened up to it. The lamb tagine was to die for, melt in your mouth, succulent tastes of joy. Really, this was by far the best dish on the menu.

Course 5Rose marshmallow, sheep’s yoghurt sorbet, pomegranate, strawberry leather, spiced rosé
Domaine Ott ‘Les Domainiers’, Grenache/Cinsault, Provence, France

When my wine was poured pink I almost didn’t even give it a try. Rose, no way. But the guys at Red + White are good. Although I was indifferent to the dessert, yes the sheep’s yogurt sorbet was sweet and who doesn’t like a good marshmallow, I could have done without. More memorable was how approachable the Rose actually was. Very mild, not overly sugary and I just say, I would drink it on a warm summer day.

Nearing 11 pm this degustation has gone on for hours. Would you be surprised if I mentioned that by the end the whole room was buzzing from the euphoric atmosphere and lavish wine pours? So much so that instead of complimenting the chef on the amazing meal I was tempted to thank them for stocking my favorite Japanese soap, Aesop, which is always a pleasant surprise to find in a restaurant bathroom.

Unfortunate that I could only afford one event on the James Street Food and Lifestyle Trail but I look forward to future events.

Scratch This

Listen all of y’all this is sabotage! Listen all of y’all this is sabotage! Apparently this popular Beastie Boys song was on repeat all day last Thursday at The Scratch, craft beer bar extraordinaire, in preparation for the Yeastie Boys event held that evening.

Spell Check is on mind you. That reads Yeastie Boys, the boutique New Zealand brewery specializing in taste bud exploding, nostril flaring nip.  Brew master Stu made a pit stop in good ole Brissy, somewhere he hasn’t been since the late 80’s, to share with us beer loving folk a tale or two to compliment his flavorful science experiments.

Now picture yourself in a basement. Start with four walls, hanging from are oddities like a horned animal skull set above an unpolished piano and an oversized old-school brass record player speaker cut in half. Now, in the far corner add in your grandmothers chez lounge, only it’s been in the garage unused for a few years. Then there is the green couch from your Aunt Myrtle’s tea room, complete with a plush velvet finish. A makeshift table is made from a solo snare drum; don’t tap too loud now. Toward the back of the room a miniature Asian table sits about two feet from the floor, with tiny chairs to go around it, to give your back an awesome hunch.

This is no basement. It sure feels like one to me though. You know, like where you hung out as a teenager sneaking beers and talking gossip with your friends. (Mine was actually a shed out back of a friend’s house, instead of underground but you get the point). The place gives you a sense of…I feel good, I’m with my friends, this furniture has seen its day, good times!

This is the best new bar to hit Brisbane, and of all unsuspecting suburbs, Milton. Upon walking in you’re greeted by what can only seem like old time buds, three dear friends who opened the place just a few months back, with a sampler of what’s on tap today. See that’s how it works here, there’s no fancy nitrogen tap system installed by big name distributers. The boys themselves wheel in the kegs of local microbrews from the alley out back, hook them up to one of the four taps, and when they go, they’re gone. Scratch one off the list and bring in another! I mean, that’s what the chalk board is for, right?

Clearly this is the new local for obvious reasons.

The Scratch

The boys were selling tickets to the Yeastie Boys event weeks in advance, and for $35 we couldn’t refuse their beer loving enticement.  The ticket included 5 healthy samples of Yeastie Boys offerings, including a surprise beer on the newly installed hand pump, in addition to a full crisp beer on arrival. Add to the fact that the boys were around making sure our complimentary shelled peanuts, a Scratch staple, we’re fully filled in between rounds of local cheeses being shared throughout the bar. They’re smart these boys, they’re cute too, but they’re damn smart.

The beer on arrival was the American style, super hoppy, Digital IPA from the tap, and so I was shocked when the first beer of the tasting was the Pot Kettle Black from a bottle. This delicious black IPA, or what others would describe as a hoppy porter, is Yeastie Boys’ biggest seller, bringing in 50% of sales. Mmmm, it’s fantastic, but why so dark so fast? What I had no idea in advance was that Stu himself had received hate mail in response to some of his brews being so alarmingly potent, and therefore, we were starting with the easy stuff. Yikes! I’m glad another advantage of this place is that you can bring in outside food, and with the number of takeaway joints lining Park Road, arriving early to snag a seat and munch down on some Thai was a good choice.

A quick rinse of our glasses and we moved on to the Red Rackham, named after the first movie Stu took his son to go see, which was a fruity Belgian style. You’ll notice a theme of pop culture reference to many of the brew’s names. This was a limited release, and more or less only exists because the wrong yeast was added to an already established beer they were trying to brew, however in the end they got this. Muah, it’s good. Stu tells us New Zealander brewers are more experimental then Australians. As he said this statement, I looked around the crowded bar as I was curious if anyone had taken offense.

Stu from Yeastie Boys telling us what we need to know

In between nibbles of goat cheese, oh my gosh, I question people who don’t know the value in a delicious goat cheese; we transitioned to His Majesty 2011. Served out of a magnum bottle, only one batch of both His and Her Majesty are brewed a year, and His is a more traditional, English IPA, more mild then the American style IPAs that tend to lean heavily on the hops.

It’s about time to get serious. And I mean serious. Up until this very moment, even the boys at The Scratch didn’t know what the mysterious beer in the hand pump was. It was about to be revealed, and I was a bit apprehensive. Whew, thank god the fresh Brie made its way around because holy tomato! All of 50 patrons, which is 10 people less than capacity mind you, however fit into the bar quite comfortably, lined up at the tap to get their taste of Rex Attitude. Even at first pour the smell, whew, the smell, made its way around the bar. To quote dear friend Jacqui, “if a hospital tasted like beer, it would taste like this”.

Aged for 12 months in a chardonnay barrel, the beer itself was only 7% alcohol however is made from 100% pure peated malts. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Interestingly enough though, the final beer of the night was the Imperial Rex; still had the potent, medicinal touch however was more drinkable, at least to me. It was obvious that the two were so intense, yet different enough from each other, that typically one will have a clear preference of one over the other. I think my nostrils still have that stench lingering on them.

The Outcome

So that was it, another great evening at The Scratch and a successful event that has inspired more like it to come. For those that could actually swallow down the Rex Attitude they were encouraged to drink the keg dry, awesome for them. I just can’t wait to see what gets put on the hand pump next. It took longer then I would have liked, but am damn happy to have found a place to call my local.

Say It Ain’t So

The existence of tomato sauce flavored chips is about as foreign to me as tomato sauce flavored chips. Gross! Apparently lots of things come in tomato sauce, aka ketchup, flavor.

I just found this new delicious restaurant slash craft beer bar not too far from my apartment called Bitter Suite. Beers are awesome, and expensive, and awesome. Yum Sunshine Coast Brewery Porter! Also, the food ain’t too shabby. Pork belly with succulent crackle, mmm whah (like a smack on the tip of your fingers). I just returned from there. Love that the owner recognized me and my love for Porter’s from a few weeks back. Yeah girlfriend.

I fly to New York in less than one week from today. I was hoping my killer tan would impress everyone, I’m not sure if it’s so killer anymore. I was told to not forget my roots when inquiring about how freezing the temperature actually is. Damn’it, its freezing! Back to the beach. Not sure if I can squeeze a last minute sesh in, however would like to point out that the last two occasions I was at the beach, my bathing suit bottoms, known in Aussie slang as togs, were on inside out. Twice! Yes, twice I’ve been lazily tanning and minding my tanning business to have someone point out, “Oh hey dude, you know your bottoms are on inside out!” Uh…twice, really?!?!

There is a rule many folk may be familiar with which states “no shirt, no shoes, no service”. I would like to tell you that that rule does not apparently apply in Australia. No shirt, no problem. Boys don’t wear shirts, a lot. Actually, if they do, it’s probably a singlet, which is what they call a tank top. Which I hear only Californian surfer boys wear, and FYI no one on the US East coast would ever be caught dead in. There is also a tendency to not wear shoes. Like a lot, again. Most often I see this in grocery stores. Service is all of a different standard, so no problem.

I’m back in time a bit, but as the much anticipated Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I was released, I was pleasantly entertained at the Blue Room Cinebar in Rosalie, a cute suburb crawling with eateries of all cuisine and alfresco seating, displaying much cuteness in every direction (apparently I’m not one with words this evening). Anyways, Blue Room, tickets cost an appreciated $11 in advance, they have a swinging bar to socialize in before the show, and you order bevies and food prior to taking your assigned seat in the small 50 person theatre and they feed you as you watch the movie. Another wine? Press the button and it magically appears while I stare into Edward Cullen’s dreamy eyes and imagine running my hands through his bouffant.

In the US there is this fabulous reality TV show called Beauty and the Geek where they pair “beauties” of super hot chicks who aren’t meant to be fairly intellectually challenged with even the basics of life, with a “geek” who has most likely never a kissed a girl and is unaware of pop culture phenomenon’s. Heaven must love TV series creators! They were smart enough to run Season 2 of Beauty and the Geek Australia, thank G, and although it has expired I had intentions of blogging about its addictive nature months ago, as the Geeks got sweet makeovers and all the sudden turned hot. Just saying, download that for some amusing entertainment, hello Gilly!

Spike, the damn lizard who has lots of relatives that sprawl all over Brisbane, is technically a Goanna. Just thought everyone should know.

While working in Hoboken, New Jersey from 2007 to 2011 my local bar was called The Dubliner. It was an Irish pub that served awesome cole slaw till the management changed and annoyingly took the cole slaw off the menu. I would just say to Ben, the bartender, side of slaw and Yeungling please! And could sit there for hours. Things changed over the years, but that was the gist of it.

The “pub” next to my work now is called The Coro. There is no weekly Thursday HH (happy hour) like there was in Hoboken, but on the occasion that we do go there all bottled beers are only $5, even deliciousness like Leffe. The toilets are see-through until you press the lock, then it goes cloudy so people can’t see you doing your business. These are the vast differences of the Dubliner verses the Coro. I still secretly favor the Dubliner in the old days, where you could sit there with a pint of Guinness by yourself and listen to the Fratellis. Luckily a new boutique beer bar called Scratch just opened in the Milton neighborhood that may soon to be the Coro replacement.

I’m going to quote my friend Anthony who said at the Coro “I’m pretty sure Australia created the plastic currency that’s now used around the world, except in America because your money is made from paper.” Have a think about that.