Thursday, May 28, 2009

Doh! Medalling wine judges

Back in early April I posted about an enjoyable lunch at Wallaroo Wines during the wine harvest festival.

At the time I noted, with my usual spooky prescience, “a 2006 Wallaroo shiraz was the drink of the moment. Good dark fruit but not a great deal of length didn’t stop me from having a second glass,” and the afternoon couldn’t have been improved, “except maybe if I would’ve gone for the cab sav instead...”

A small advert in today's Crimes Food & Wine magazine announced that at the recent Decanter World Wine Awards, the very same 2006 Wallaroo shiraz won a silver medal that sees it keeping company with bigger, more familiar labels, including Cape Mentelle, Pipers Brook, Howard Park and Mount Pleasant. The judging committee was divided into regional panels and included Steven Spurrier, Huon (Captain to his mates) Hooke, Tom Stevenson and Andrew Jefford to name but a few.

Clearly, my invitation as a guest panelist was lost in the post and, putting aside my deficiencies as a wine judge, congratulations go to the team at Wallaroo Wines.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Does giving 'em a drink count as thinking of the children?

Some people think Canberra is boring but all the while we've been quietly improving our position in the hotly contested pissed teen category.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Lynwood charm offensive

It’s one of those things about Canberra. If someone recommends a restaurant or tourist attraction as absolutely brilliant, then you’re bound to be disappointed.

It’s happened to me repeatedly. I’ve been told by every second person that this place or that is just so dammed fantastic, usually with reviews, awards and promo pieces to back them up. But when we get there, at best it's a reasonable experience – one I’d probably rate more highly if it wasn’t for over-inflated expectations – but often it’s just so much nothing.

Lynwood Café is a case in point. Lynwood isn’t bad by any standard but it wasn’t the gourmet explosion I was led to expect*. We’ve eaten at Lynwood twice now. The first time was a flying visit on a busy Sunday afternoon, so I wasn’t too disappointed when the service was stretched. We sat outside near the road which meant the charm of the building was completely lost on me.

I was hungry at the time and the shepherd’s pie (or was it lasagne) went down well. It wasn’t what I expected although it was a long way from the DMP rating for mediocrity. I can’t remember what my companion ate and neither can he, clearly it wasn’t that mind blowing (nor overly bad).

My second attempt at understanding the Lynwood mystique happened when we went to Collector for the pumpkin festival. This time we had a table inside and it was early in the lunch sitting, so no problems with the service. And any complaints I have about the food are relatively minor – the size of my roast pumpkin and rocket salad was a bit stingy at $15.50. The pumpkin was a tad undercooked but the flavours were well balanced. The side order of chips ($6) was competent if not great and my companion praised the taste and quality of the produce in his ham and cheddar toasty ($12.50).

What disappointed me was that I still couldn’t see what everyone in Canberra was raving about. Sure the old building had a quaint charm but not everyone comes from a place like Canberra where a building is considered National Trust material if it’s more than 40 years old. Perhaps it’s not Lynwood I should be disappointed in - much of it's popularity seems to have been built on the fact that people who read Gourmet Traveller can’t bear the thought of eating somewhere that hasn’t been vetted by Pat Nourse.

I’ll give Lynwood another go, but next time it will be on my own terms. DMP rating – good homestyle fare (or should that be fair?).

*I find the same thing with Silo – sure the bread and pastries are good but it’s also the place where I was served a poached egg with a completely cold (but still runny) centre.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Broad minds and bar mat mums

Annice Smoel appeared on television last night recounting the terror of the last few weeks and bearing troubling news. People in different countries are… well… they’re different.

It was really scary. I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying to me. They were all speaking Thai. No one spoke English.

Annice was in Thailand at the time

The police officers handed me documents that were all in Thai. At first I refused to sign. In the end I had to sign a lot of documentation that was written in Thai.

Apparently, Thailand has its own written language and police force.

I asked him [Wichai Praisa-nob, Governor of Phuket] if he could guarantee me that I wouldn’t go to jail and he said yes, but I was very distrusting of the system over there so I was still really scared they might slap the cuffs on and put me in there [jail].

As well as an independent government and a penal system.

But I just had to trust him or Australia, or you guys or someone would kick up a fuss if I ended up in jail and get me out.

Of course, they’re foreigners and I know they do this sort of thing all the time.

While the 36 year-old seemed to struggle with the notion that international travel might require some compliance with local laws and customs, she did remember the Tooter Turtle option – admit nothing, blame others and when the night goes tits up yell “Help me Mr Wizard!” good and loud.

And if you don’t know a wizard then four photogenic daughters, a complacent mainstream media and politicians keen to talk about something other than the budget will do just as well.

The good news for the people of Thailand is Annice doesn’t plan on returning

No, I'll never go back. It was by far the worst experience I've ever been through.

Some of us felt a little like that and our only mistake was watching the telly.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lessons from Eurovision (and the Hobart Mercury)

Last weekend the annual wardrobe malfunction that is the Eurovision Song Contest provided a question and an unintended insight. The question was obvious - why did SBS bother sending Julia Zemiro overseas so she could be unfunny in Moscow when Thank God You're Here has proven conclusively she could be just as unfunny in a Melbourne studio - meanwhile, as the ebb and flow of performers washed across the stage, I started to understand why Tina Arena is popular in France.

    There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of competition.

    Even weirdly compelling also-rans Marko Kon & Milaan or Sinéad Mulvey & Black Daisy didn’t have the sort of die-in-a-ditch-to-sell-this-shit stagecraft that a few years in the Johnny Young talent gulag imparts. Of course, at 32, Arena was a mere baby when she picked up stumps and moved to Paris.

    I know this thanks to Damien Brown who, in Saturday's Hobart Mercury, memorably described Libbi Gore as a, “44-year-old wildchild, also known for her alter-ego Elle McFeast who hosted a sports-comedy program 20 years ago”. I’m assuming Damien is either (a) immensely elderly or (b) a 12-year-old who likes the phrase ‘wild child’ because it rhymes. To be fair he could’ve gone with “erstwhile slightly amusing comedian, now an attention deficient media tart, who used to tout for Jenny Craig” and still hit the sweet spot in terms of accuracy.

    Two further factoids floated to the surface. While bogans are regularly pilloried for their use of creative spelling when naming their offspring, the chattering class can be just as naff. Case in point, the fruit of Libbi’s loins goes by the unlikely moniker of Ché Rodin Gorr Burchmore*.

    Equally surprising, these days Gorr can be heard on ABC radio Hobart. I wonder if she’s managed to sign Tim Cox up for some Jenny Craig replacement shake goodness.

*Possibly named in honour of that other tireless self-promoter old trouper Rhonda Burchmore.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Much ado about nutting

When we first arrived in our notional capital it was April and one thing we noticed, apart from the birds, were the small, light tan, capped nuts that carpeted some of the footpaths around Kingston and the inner south.

After correctly identifying them as acorns (using a childhood template apparently furnished by Warner Bros), my next thought was whether they were edible.

I had a vague recollection indians native Americans used them as a foodstuff and that was about it. I forgot about acorns for another 12 months until I saw an old bloke in our street gathering them up as though it was a gardening chore, and then stowing them into a sack, which looked more like discreet harvesting. ‘A Pig,’ I thought at the time, ‘maybe he’s feeding the acorns to a pig.’

Now, another acorn season has come (and just about gone) and thanks to Angela over at Exotic Produce, Forgotten Basics and Gatherings I know all about acorns, including how to prepare them (questions answered with minimal effort... ain’t the interwebs grand).

And that means more time to watch educational cartoons.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hello Mr Johnson (hic)

I'm on record as being a fan of Karl Stefanovic's subtle presentation style on the Today Show so, when accusations were made that the consummate professional was tired and emotional after the Logies on Monday morning, I was incredulous.

Now however, not so much...the old trouper weaving his spell. Lisa Wilkinson handled the situation with aplomb but I couldn't help thinking of another screen pairing from long ago.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

(O') Rourke takes Bishop

And in the better late than never category. One of the issues tackled on the ABC's Q&A programme a couple of weeks back (23/04/09) was the treatment of asylum seekers.

In a robust, off the cuff spray David Marr produced one of those rare television moments that stops you mid-coffee plunge and almost lets you forgive an industry that continues to give Meshel Laurie airtime.

Audience member Joe Duncan enquired:

With the latest boat of asylum seekers arriving, there's been a lot of talk about protecting our borders. Shouldn't Australia also have a moral obligation to protect people fleeing corrupt regimes and how do we create a balanced solution with persecuting the individuals involved and stigmatising their plight?

Craig Emerson got first shot and duly repeated Joe’s points, agreed with him and added nothing of substance, at which point skipper Tony Jones tossed the pill to Marr who tucked it under his arm and ran the length of the field with this effort:

DAVID MARR: We have more than a moral obligation, we have actually entered treaty obligations to these people and that treaty - the UN Refugee Convention is an act of apology by the civilised world to the Jewish people for doors having been closed in their faces in the late 1930s that led to the slaughter of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. There is history to the Refugee Convention. It is an act of apology and it is also an instrument to make sure that such a thing does not happen again. And we have an international legal obligation to take, however they come to our borders, to take in and assess the claims of people who are seeking protection. Now, that is our obligation. We have another obligation, as well, which is an older obligation in law, which is not to force people back to a country where their lives might be at risk. They are our two obligations. They are moral, but they are also legal obligations. And it is sad to hear the opposition trying to get up a good scare about boat people again because I had thought, and I think many people had thought, that their fingers were burnt with this the last time around. We haven't, Craig, been talking about this for 10 days. We have been talking about this for 10 years and one of the things we discovered in those 10 years was that temporary protection visas, which violate the fundamental notion that if a person is a refugee you offer them a permanent home, temporary protection visas, by forbidding family reunion, as they did under the Howard government, filled the boats with women and children and that when the SIEV X went down, many who drowned on the SIEV X were children and women seeking to join their husbands and fathers in Australia who were refugees and yet they are once again...

TONY JONES: Okay, David.

DAVID MARR: ...talking about restoring these evil visas.

Now, there are those who confuse commentary with reporting and regard Marr as a whingeing, latte sipping lefty, whose bias is clear and who, rumour has it, doesn’t even like sheilas. 'Balance' is their preferred slogan in these situations and so, in the interest of balance, let's move rightwards.

Also on the panel was Pat O’Rourke, one of America's funniest writers and an acerbic right-wing commentator who started his career at National Lampoon (hence the justification for running my favourite magazine cover with this post). Jonsey did the right thing and, after a shoulder tap from O’Rourke, waved him on to the field where it looked like he might give Marr a quick and dirty introduction to gridiron.

The result was somewhat unexpected, particularly for fellow panel member Julie Bishop who had just botched an unconvincing cover tackle on Marr.

PJ O'ROURKE: You know, we in the States have much, much more experience with being all wrong about immigration than you do.…. And we are so wrong about it. I mean, build a fence on the border with Mexico, give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry, you know. Put US troops on the Rio Grande and know that the United States armed forces are standing between me and yard care, you know. I mean, it's just - the thing is when somebody gets on an exploding boat to come over here, they're willing to do that to get to Australia, you're missing out on some really good Australians if you don't let that person in.

Julie took a run at it but her lack of match fitness was evident.

JULIE BISHOP: (Indistinct) people smuggling (indistinct).

It meant an easy complete for the visitor

PJ O'ROURKE: ...the reason America is a great nation is because of immigration. Let them in. Let them in. These people are assets. You know, one or two of them might not be, but you can sort them out later.

Of course I’ve left a great deal out, and to really get a feel for Bishop’s twitchy, almost to the point of Tourette’s, ejaculatory style of discussion you need to go to the Q&A website.

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