Sunday 28 May 2006

Bastard water restrictions are helping my weeds

One thing that I have done a lot of over the last 2 weeks is walk back and forth across the back lawn. Partly that's because the bike has been banished to the garage, so I have to trek out each morning shortly after sunup to collect it for the ride to work, and partly because a huge stack of shit has been boxed or crated up and stored in the garage. And guess who had to lug all that stuff out of the house and into the garage?

My many treks have allowed me to inspect the lawn - when I'm not trying to avoid braining myself on the Hills Hoist - and I have found that parts of it are about 80% broadleaf weeds. The rest is the kind of detritus that you have after a dog has lived in the yard for a few years. ie, large patches of very dead grass and garden beds that look like the aftermath of a B-52 strike. Bits of it look very much like a dump site for industrial waste.

Weed killing seemed like the easiest place to start, since it just involves spraying the little suckers with some chemical death. That's easier said than done in our current "drought". Water restrictions mean that you can't hose the lawn before 4pm, the penalty being something to do with being strung up by your thumbs and lashed with garden hoses. It gets dark not long after that, so by the time I work out that I can water the lawn without a $220 fine, the sun has gone down and I have to do it via braille or a guide dog.

I had half a jug of Weed'n'feed leftover from the old place, so I decided to give the lawn a squirt last Sunday. It's pretty easy stuff to use - you connect a hose to it, crank up the hose and then put your finger over a nozzle. That causes a drop in pressure and nasty chemicals are sucked up out of the bottle and sprayed all over the lawn. Nifty. Simple. Easy to use in daylight.

So I gave the whole lawn a spray, and waited a week for the weeds to drop dead so that I could mow the little suckers into oblivion. However, an inspection this weekend showed that rather than curling up and dying as required, the little bastards had vigorously expanded to cover 85% of the surface area of the backyard. Clearly, there was something wrong with my weeding technique.

I decided to chance my arm and do a bit of watering in daylight, and I quickly discovered that I had my finger nowhere near the correct nozzle for initiating chemical warfare. I had simply watered the weeds in the dark instead of exterminating them. Now I know when things are going right - you get that lovely chemical smell of glysophate wafting up into your nostrils when the finger is in the right place. On top of that, the chemical bottle gets lighter as it gets emptier. If I had been half awake last week, I would have noticed that the 4 litre bottle that I put back on the shelf weighed about the same as when I took it down. On the other hand, I could have been practicing homeopathic weed killing, where you dilute the chemicals about a million times and they become more effective.

Ha ha. If diluted weed killer won't kill weeds, how will diluted medicine cure people?

Anyway, I blame the stupid water company for their stupid water restrictions. Evaporation at the moment is not much of an issue - the mercury topped out at 19 degrees today, and it was a brave man that wore shorts. Restrictions like this might have made sense 2 months ago during summer, but now they are just a bloody nuisance.

Typical bloody beauracrats - they make a regulation, and then are too scared to change it when common sense says it should be changed. As Cold Chisel used to sing, "You go on and on and on and you don't make no sense".

To cap it off, I borrowed a pitchfork to clean up the industrial waste dump in the vain hope of planting a few herbs and things. I forked my way through about 3 metres of garden bed, and then one of the bloody tines snapped off the fork! It's not like I was jumping up and down on the handle or anything - it just busted off on a rock about the size of a tennis ball. I then noticed that the tines were made of very crappy mild steel - almost iron rather than steel. More fucking useless pissweak Chinese crap from Bunnings. Gees that store is beginning to shit me. The whole thing is stuffed from top to bottom with goods that have a shorter half life than a beer in a blackfellas camp. Now I have to go back there this weekend to buy a replacement. The bloody thing will probably only cost $9, but the biggest problem I have is in disposing of the busted one. The council gives us weeny little bins these days, and the flipping thing won't fit.

I might have to take it down to the harbour for a bit of "spear fishing" and leave it embedded in the mud.

At last - tomato chutney!

Little sister was up from Canberra for the weekend, so after a nasty night on the turps, we headed for a recovery breakfast in Balmain. The choice once again was "our place".

First thing to note - they now serve coffee in bowls ala French style. Personally, I think it is a big wank, but what the hell, if it sells more coffee, good luck to them. I would have given him the eye of death if he had dared to suggest that my latte be served up in a bowl rather than a glass (as pictured), but he took one look at my rather seedy visage and thought better of it. The girls both went bowls. It put them in the mood to go shopping afterwards - very chic and Parisian. Maybe the local boutique owners put them up to it?

This is my feed - a big breakfast poached. Note the small white container of chutney at the top. I spotted chutney as an fixture on another meal on the menu, and requested it as an extra on mine. I was half expecting a little tub of tabasco to arrive, but proper chutney in a proper little serving dish turned up. It was good. It helped jog my memory of Griffith - the stuff out there was called "Five cup chutney". I don't know what the five cups refers to. However, it does not taste like crap that you get at a supermarket.

One problem - not enough of it. This chutney rationing business has gone far enough. It's not like we are having to import chutney from the US in Liberty ships across an Atlantic swimming with U-boats. This is not 1942. The Blitz is not in operation. Last time I looked, buying foodstuffs did not require the presentation of ration tickets and the checkout. Then why the bloody scrimping on the chutney? If they are going to hit me over the head for about $14 for the meal, and then another $3 for coffee, the least they can do is cough up a smidgen more chutney. It's not like it is the difference between mammoth profit and stupendous losses.

This is what little sister had for breakfast - salmon, poached eggs, home made hash browns, spinach and lots of hollandaise. Note the smoothe texture of the hollandaise. Also note that the meal is not that big. It is not that long since my "big" breakfast, and I am getting hungry just looking at this photo. I might have to pop back for a second, late breakfast. She wolfed it down though, and praised the hash browns and things. Given the size of the meal, I bet she stops at McDonalds on the way back to Canberra for a top up.

Saturday 27 May 2006

Has Rage turned to shit?

Since booze filled Friday nights are now a thing of the past, it has been a while since I have seen a bit of late night Rage. All that I get is the soft-core version from around 8am to 11am on Saturday morning. I can hear it playing on the TV in the room behind me. It's been on for 2 hours so far, and there is not one thing that I could be bothered to turn around and look at.

It's turned into fucking Video Hits. Or Dildo Shits. Music for 9 year old girls. I thought the ABC charter was about being different, not being a "me-too" with commercial 2Day-FM type soft cock pap. I doubt Henry Rollins will be appearing.

If I could work out how to program the video recorder, I'd get it to tape from say 3am to 6am to see if the late night version is watchable, but I can't, so I am stuck with the teeny-bopper version. This is the prime driver behind me going out and buying a digital recorder. All I want to do is timeslip Rage. I want to watch the late night version without being so pissed that I pass out on the couch with a half eaten kebab in my lap.

On the other hand, was that why Rage seemed so good? If you've crawled in the door at 2am with a hot dog or a McDonalds meal or a kebab and you just want enough stimulation to keep you awake while you eat and try to drink 2 litres of water before sleep, then Rage was the thing. But is it any good sober? Is Rage like cigarettes? Only enjoyable after about the 6th beer? Is the late night version something that has to be earned through excessive drinking, and it should not be consumed over breakfast?

Time slipping it might spoil something special. It would be like drinking port before a meal, rather than after. Port is great with cheese, and it is a lovely thing to drink after you've been drinking red wine all night, but it would be a travesty to drink it with say canapes. It's just not the done thing.

ie, it would be a fake experience. It would be like going to a wave pool for a surf, or to one of those indoor ski things. Yes, you might get to slide downhill on fake snow, but that is only 10% of the experience. Why bother?

Yes, I think I will dump the digital recorder idea and just stay up late tonight and get drunk.

Salsa bastard, you are too far away

Earlier this year, we did a road trip to Griffith. That's about seven hours solid driving without breaks from the chair that I am sitting in right now, or two days if you have a noise making monkey in the back seat that wants to be fed and changed and played with at regular intervals.

Before I went to Griffith, the thought of going had always been filed away with "dumps I would prefer to avoid if possible", places like sewerage plants, nuclear waste facilities and Delta Goodrem concerts. An actual visit changed my mind.

The things that changed my mind were food, grog, the Yarts and a really good chutney.

As far as the Yarts go, there was an art gallery on the edge of town that we dropped in to - more for a leg stretch than anything else. The result of that visit was the purchase of the candle holder shown here. The reason I bought it is that the smiling fish on the bottom reminds me of my brother. He didn't smile that much when I sent him a photo of a pottery fish and said that it was a good likeness - particularly as the one above him is his wife, and I don't think he appreciates being at the bottom of the fish pecking order.

The wineries were good as well, particularly De Bortoli. I wanted to visit them to buy some more dessert wine, which I did. As they were packing my bottles into a box, they asked if I wanted any of their el-cheapo white plonk - basically a white for chicks to drink on the weekend which won't break the bank. I consider it cask wine in a bottle. I relented and allowed them to put a few bottles of some $6 chick piss in my case of lovely, aged dessert wines.

When we got home, a mate came over and a bottle of this cask-like el-cheapo chick swill was opened and I reluctantly allowed a glass to be poured for me. Before the girls could refill, my mate and I had polished off two bottles of the stuff. It turned out to be rather excellent (as far as cheap, drinkable white goes). It took only a few weeks for the rest of the case to go.

So I checked out the De Bortoli website in the hope of restocking with 6 cases or so, and found that not only could I not find this chick plonk on their wine listings, but you can't order over the web! Spewing! They must be the only winery in the country that doesn't do sales over the web. Useless wogs. One day, I might work out how to use the phone again and ring them up and place an order "off line". Until then, we are drinking 2002 Hunter Valley Chardonnay that came to light during the recent move. At 4 years old, it has mellowed to the colour of really old cats piss, but it tastes somewhat better. As it should, at about 5 times the price of the Griffith cask-in-a-bottle. Bloody wogs should learn to embrace the web. Yes, I know that most of it is in English rather than eye-tie, but that is no excuse for not developing an online shopping presence.

After sampling a few wineries, we got lost in the backblocks of the Murrumbidgee irrigation district. I need to put a compass or a GPS into the car. It's flat as fuck out there (hence the irrigation) but the roads are not laid out on a perfect grid. Instead, there is a kind of a grid, but not a proper grid. We turned left and right and left and left and got thoroughly confused as to which way we were pointing. That however put us right outside some kind of fruit and nut farm, which we popped in to visit.

The shop turned out to be the pantry off the kitchen, with bottles of stuff stacked up in a mayhem-ish fashion. It reminded me a lot of Rivendell - 10 different chutneys, jams made from all sorts of stuff, pickles etc. It was great. I bought a jar or two of some kind of chutney or salsa that contained a good dose of chilli. It was almost like a chilli jam. I think he called it a 5 fruit salsa, or something like that. Put it this way - whatever the hell it was, it was excellent with bacon and eggs. So excellent that it lasted about 3 weeks and then it was empty.

And the bastard stuff can only be bought out of a pantry on the outskirts of Griffith - 7 hours each way - and I doubt I could find it again as I'd probably get lost on the looney grid road system.

Bastards! Why are they conspiring to keep me and my tasty chutney separated? It's a pain that in this age of instant gratification, I can't just pop down to the local deli to get a jar. I actually need to wait. Wait until we do our next road trip down that way. I feel like an early settler waiting for mail, or a jar of marmite, to be shipped out from England on a sailing ship. It takes 3 months for your order to get there by ship (if the ship doesn't sink) and then 3 months to come back. No wonder people got so excited by the arrival of airmail.

It doesn't help me though, as I have no idea what the nutter's business was called, and I doubt he will consent to shipping one or two jars through the mail - not worth the candle. The kitchen isn't big enough to store an entire case either. Fuck. I'm stuck.

Optus, thy Helpdesk is crap

Our tiny office at home has two PC's - one for me and one for Her Ladyship. Mine is on BigPond ADSL, and hers is on Optus dialup.

We finally bit the bullet last week and decided to wire up a home network and put both on my ADSL.

The actual connecting of the PC's etc was a doddle. I have a firewall/router now with 4 switch ports in the back, so that made it a breeze. No fiddling around with network bridge settings and the like on the PC.

Things were going well until Her Ladyship tried to send an email from Outlook. No dice - wouldn't go. Email was coming in, but nothing was going out. She fiddled with various Outlook settings, but nothing helped.

So she rang Optus to ask them to help (I was at work and could offer not assistance). When I got home, I got an earful about how stupid and useless and braindead the Optus helpdesk staff are. I didn't bother calling them - instead, I got onto their website and looked in the support area. There were some documents telling you how to configure Outlook, but none of the settings worked.

I spent about half an hour dicking around on the Optus site, then went over to net-registry, which hosts the domain name for her business. They were no help either.

Thankfully, I have a bookmark to Ozcableguy on myPC. About 2 minutes of browsing through his FAQ's solved the problem. All that I had to do was change the outgoing SMTP server from optus to bigpond, and we could send email.

Fuck, what a waste of a day. I presume that the BigPond site will offer no help either if you want to setup your BigPond email account on a PC connected to Optus cable. Pricks. Turds. Wankers. Why can't they be civil and provide a bit of advice in this area?

Monday 22 May 2006

Cows heads and kebabs

Hell, I knew there was something that I forgot when it came to describing Greek kebabs. It was the meat markets that I wandered through by accident one day in Athens.

Ok, let's imagine that you are wandering through your typical weekend market at say Fremantle or Bondi or St Kilda or Glebe where hippies are selling handmade lavender and rosemary soap, necklaces, second hand watches, second hand books, hemp shirt, paintings, knick nacks, tofu burgers, CD's, furniture, photo frames and all the rest of it and you came upon the meat stand.

Instead of the meat being lovingly cut and cryopacked into dripless plastic bags, and those bags sitting in lovely temperature controlled fridges etc, you found that the butcher has a large wooden block, and on that block sat a half skinned cows head. Buzzing with flies. And hanging from hooks around it where all sorts of unidentifiable bits of cow. Also buzzing with flies. I've seen a bit of bush butchering being done, but at least the half inept bush butchers that I know can knock up an animal into some partly recognisable cuts. These Greek guys just went at the cow with an axe and knocked off bits any old how. It was the butchering equivalent of a mad womans breakfast.

The whole lot was enlivened with flies and slowly congealing pools of blood here, there and everywhere. Clearly, being a health inspector or meat inspector is not a recognised occupation in Greece. If you know where the term "bloody shambles" comes from, you might be able to picture the scene.

In fact the first thing that comes to mind these days is the scene in "Three Kings" where the guys meet a cow in the desert, and the cow walks towards them and steps on a land mine or a cluster bomb and explodes and covers them in blood and bits of cow. That to me is a good way to start the kebab making process. If they had scraped the bits of cow off their MOPP suits, stuck it on sticks and grilled it over hot coals, they would be most of the way towards having a kebab the proper way.

Anyway, I had a kebab in this meat market. There was one bloke with a wooden block and a cleaver and he was hacking up bits of meat and threading them onto skewers, and another bloke was cooking them. I'm sure they swapped roles from time to time (without washing their hands), but what the hell, if you haven't had a case of the runs when back packing, then you haven't been trying enough of the local produce.

They cooked a pretty mean kebab. I stood there and ate it whilst looking at the half skinned cows head. I am pretty damned sure I had half an ear, or even a bit of cheek, but with a kebab, it doesn't really matter what bit of the animal you are eating. I'm pretty sure you are safe as long as it bleeds and it is chewy.

Which was the nice thing about the meat market kebab - essentially they fed you badly chopped up lumps of steak, and a nice lump of steak is often rare in the middle, and that is the tasty, juicy part. A great big lump of industrially processed meat on a six foot long skewer does not produce tasty, juicy bits of beef for your kebab. It produces the kebab equivalent of a Big Mac. A bland piece of shit. A fucked fast food farce.

And what is it with the bloody yoghurt sauce that we get in this country? Who the fuck thinks that you are going to have a good yoghurt sauce if it is runny enough to be squeezed out of the nozzle of a squeezy bottle? You should have to ladle the damned stuff onto the kebab with a big spoon. The weak, watery bloody yoghurt that we get dished up is as bad as say Heinz tomato sauce. The stuff is red, it says "tomato sauce" on the bottle, but it is a long way from the sort of tomato sauce that you can mix up on your stove top. Bloody running yucky pathetic cows piss yoghurt sauce is as far from real yoghurt as "ketchup" is from real sauce.

So our local kebab makers can take their big skewers and their watery yoghurt sauce and their watery hummous and fuck off. However, they might have to take a few council food inspectors with them. I don't think the locals of Balmain would appreciate the sight of a cow being chopped into itty little bits for kebabs on the petrol station forecourt in front of the kebab caravan.

It's like the recent decision by the NSW government to ban some kind of fishing in Sydney harbour because (I think) of dioxin levels. Weak bastards. After going through Greece, I crossed the border into Turkey and spent a week in Istanbul. One memorable lunch was had on the banks of the Bosphorus (is the Bosphorus? My geography is getting hazy) and I had the local version of a Fillet of Fish straight off a fishermans boat.

The local fishermen puttered out into the straits in little dinghys - maybe 12 footers - and came back and cooked the catch in the boat over something like half a 44 gallon drum BBQ. They just chucked the whole fish onto the hotplate, grilled it and then handed it over to you in a bun. They might have gutted it, but they certainly didn't take the head off. The locals just scoffed them down heads and all. I started at the tail but had to give up at the gills. Munching fish heads is a bit too multicultural for my liking.

Anyway, there I am, standing on a stone sea wall above a little fishing boat, watching a parade of filthy oil tankers going back and forth through the straits in front of me. Half of them seemed to be leaking oil into the water. The water right in front of where I was standing for instance had that lovely multicoloured spectrum scattering effect that you get when there is a nice scummy oil slick on the surface. Most of the Turks seemed to have only one head and 10 fingers, so the Fillet of Fish couldn't have been too bad for them. However, I am sure those hard working fishermen have been chased into retirement by now by some bloody nosy do-gooding EU inspectors of some sort. If the Turks had any sense, they'd fling the inspectors into the sea and then toss in a match. That would sort them out. And it would be a quick way to cook some fish.

Sunday 21 May 2006

What makes a good kebab?

There is a kebab caravan at a petrol station on Victoria Rd not far from the Bridge Hotel that does quite superb kebabs. I think it is strategically placed near the Bridge Hotel to snare late night drunken patrons either coming out of the Bridge, which is a 24 hour pub. I have only been to the caravan a few times, but all the patrons are either taxi drivers or drunks. That is a good sign.

We got kebabs for dinner the other night, and I decided to inspect the kebab to try and work out why it was so good. The answer was simple - after polishing it off, I looked into the kebab packet and there was not a spot of juice or lettuce or other kebab detritus lurking in the bottom of the bag. It was a dry, well wrapped kebab.

Now I know some people will find that offensive, and they believe that a kebab should drip and leak and shed bits of contents all over your pants, shirt, shoes and the floor. That's fine if you are plastered and it is 3am and you are walking home with no chance of catching a cab. However, if you are sober, hungry and it is only 8pm, then a drip free kebab is preferable - especially if you are driving your own car home.

I never believed that a kebab could be made drip free, but I think his secret is to cook the living be-jesus out of it on the toaster thingy, and to allow his lettuce and tomato to drain properly. I think most of the drippy stuff that you normally get is a result of watered down hummus or badly dried salad stuff. When I make a salad, I dice the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds and water because I don't like a watery salad. I wonder if he does the same for his kebabs?

That being said, there is not a single decent kebab shop in the country. They also use that bloody meat on a stick concept which might make cooking easier, but it does not make for a great kebab. A beef kebab is always a bit foul as you end up with shavings of beef, and they always remind me of soggy wood shavings.

When I went through Greece about 15 years ago, I found myself in a market one day in a town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I was well off the tourist trail. The buckets of EU money that have since flowed into the country were nowhere to be seen back then. The backcountry Greeks lived like, well, poor backcountry people anywhere. Donkeycarts were the order of the day, plus women in black with big bundles of firewood on their head.

A kebab in Greece is a much simpler affair than one over here. For starters, their idea of meat on a stick is actually to stick small lumps of meat onto sticks and cook them over a BBQ or grill - proper little kebabs. Yes, it takes a lot longer to cook than slicing pre-cooked meat off half a cow on a stick, but the wait is worth it. The condiments are simple - spiced yoghurt if I remember, and maybe a bit of tomato. Possibly big chunks of iceberg lettuce. They didn't have daytime cooking TV shows selling them lettuce shredders and the like, so they just tore up big chunks of lettuce by hand. A kebab was a pretty brutal affair - simple, but tasty. I ate a lot of them. They were good. As good as our local non-drip guy is, he is still essentially selling shit. It's a fib of a kebab. A lie. Think of what McDonalds has done to hamburgers, and then think about what the half a cow on a stick has done to the kebab industry. Ok, the kebab is now fast food, but it's not good food.

I want a proper fucking kebab, not the ersatz version that we are stuck with these days. And I won't mind if it drips.

Saturday 20 May 2006

Mr Whippy - crap in a cone

Well bugger me, if I wasn't cleaning out the garage when a Mr Whippy truck pulled up right outside the kitchen window. I heard the Mr Whippy tune of "greensleeves" playing before I saw the truck, and my initial thought was that some wog had a really gay horn in his car. I couldn't believe it when the pink truck pulled in.

So I popped down and ordered 3 cones. The guy running the van was an old wog of about 80, missing half his teeth and a bit hard of hearing. However, the van came with all the old standards - single cones, double cones, chocolate sauce, crushed nuts and sprinkles. I was always a sucker for things like a banana split or a chocolate sundae as a kid, looking back mainly because of the crushed nuts. So I ordered a chocolate dipped thing for me with crushed nuts.

I got about 2/3 of the way through it and worked out that it really was quite dreadful. Sorry Mr Whippy, but I have been spoilt by living close to Balmain and the rather excellent gellato shop called something like Gellatisimo. I'll have to pick up a business card next time I pop in for a tub of hideously expensive frozen stuff.

What went wrong with Mr Whippy? Well, mainly it's because they are still serving the same soft serve mush that was a hit back in 1977 when there was only one type of icecream on the market (lite shit did not exist back in those halcyon days) and about 4 flavours - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and neopolitan. Icecream makers like Ben & Jerry's etc did not exist. You had a choice between icecream from the supermarket and soft serve stuff from the likes of Mr Whippy. Or, for those who did not fancy icecream, the only alternative was something like a Paddle Pop.

Nowadays we are of course spoilt for choice as far as frozen desserts go, and poor old Mr Whippy is a bit of an anachronism. He's kind of like the god-awful hotdogs that you get at the footy or the Royal Show. For some reason, people keep on buying them (possibly out of habit) and the companies survive. Frankly, all that soft serve stuff is just shit. It's goo. It's yuck. Coating it with chocolate and crushed nuts hides a bit of the hideous flavour and mouth feel, but it doesn't turn it into a lovely icecream.

The worst bit is the really, really cheap and shitty waffle cones. I can get a gellato in a cone up at the Balmain shop, and they use really good cones. Mr Whippy cones always taste or feel like slightly soggy cardboard. I got the feeling that the cone I just ate had sat in the back of that truck for 6 months. Ok, maybe it hadn't, but it crunched that way. Hang on, it didn't crunch at all - it just kind of folded up and goo'd in my mouth. Why, oh why, are these old codgers still driving around our streets dispensing this poop to unsuspecting customers?

Next time I hear that gay tune playing, I will stay in the garage. Or, hop in the car and drive up to Balmain.

Wrapido - Japanese for dyslexic

I had a really fun start to the weekend this morning - an 8am appointment with the dentist to get the fangs cleaned. The tooth scraper tapped away on a few teeth, ordered up some x-rays, removed a tonne of tartar and presented me with a bill for $350. And an appointment to come back in a month to get the rest of the tartar removed. And an appointment to come back in July to get a crown installed.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I hate going to the dentist. I didn't mind it in the old days when they just pulled out some wierdly shaped tool like something out of Scary Movie 9 and dug into your gums and scraped gunk off and you ended up with a mouth full of blood and tartar chips. These days, they want to use some new-fangled sonic gizmo, and it sets my teeth on edge. I always end up with a stinking headache afterwards because my neck has locked up from the tension. I must remember to ask for a bit of laughing gas - not for the pain of the gum prodding, but to reduce the tension in my neck.

That said, my dentist has some nice features. For starters, they have a big fuck-off fish tank in the reception area. It must be 5ft by 5ft, with glass an inch thick. I just love looking at fish in a tank like that. I don't like catching them though - I love to eat them, and I love to swim around looking at them, but the catching and filleting bit is just not my scene. Why anyone would want to spend their free time fiddling around with fish guts is beyond me.

Secondly, my hygenist (who does all the work) is a member of a running club that runs around the Bay at least once a week - they run pretty much past our front door. The spin out is that they do 2-3 laps of the Bay, and it is 7km a lap. That's not bad going. She told me that they never run in the cycle lane (very bad form) and that she hates packs of women who wander around yapping to each other and filling the path from side to side and they never, ever get out of your way. Ha! Nice to see a bit of solidarity between the runners and the wheelies.

All the staff at my dentist also speak English, and they speak it really well. That is a huge bonus.

However, those good points don't make up for the fact that she spent the first 10 minutes poking a bit of metal right into my gums and making me leap around in the chair as blood spurted hither and thither. She had read my records before I showed up, and noted that I never asked for an injection when they did that. I never knew you could get an injection! Fuck, what kind of wimps need an injection for a simple scale and clean? Lots obviously. I might try it next time....

After a good fang cleaning, I needed a feed to take my mind off the horror ......the blood, the calculus, the drool....... That involved dropping into Crows Nest to a place called Wrapido. As the name suggestes, they specialise in "wraps", ie wrapping stuff up in pita bread. They do a basic bacon and eggs for breakfast during the week, but on weekends they go all out with lots of very special specials.

The menu has changed since my last visit, so I had a ricotta hotcake with poached eggs, smoked salmon and - yes, you guessed it - hollandaise sauce. However, the hollandaise was made with dill and lime, and it was a stunner. Smooth, lots of it and very tasty. It also came with a few spears of asparagus, and no fucking roast tomato or mushrooms. It was good - really good. The salmon was almost red. I don't know what they are feeding those little fuckers in their pens down in Tasmania, but they must be producing fish that glow in the dark. It was so red, I could have been forgiven for thinking that I was eating thinly sliced, raw steak.

Just one problem - breakfast was about half the size of what I needed for breakfast, and it cost $15.50. I was not about to order another one, but I was famished afterwards. I tried to dampen my hunger with a chocolate brownie, but it was nowhere near as good as the Lashings brownie, and somehow a brownie is just not the right thing to have after breakfast. I go their famished, and I left hungry. Not the way a visit to a cafe is supposed to work.

My tall buddy Ian joined me for a feed, as he was in the area, and he struck two problems. The first was the ordering system - it is one of those establishments where you order at the counter, pay and get given a number. There were only 3 or 4 people in front of him at the counter, but they were the indecisive type - the kind that you just want to kill if you are stuck behind them. Instead of reading the menu and then deciding what they wanted and then going up to the counter to order, they stood in line holding menus yapping to each other, then got to the counter and decided to read the menu and work out what to eat. That then involved a long and tedious discussion about what they felt like that day, whether they were doing a yoga class later on, whether Jupiter was occluding Venus, whether they were on a soy protein only diet that week etc etc. Indecisive menu pondering shits me to tears. I can look at a menu and work out within 10 seconds what I want. Something always stands out and says, "eat me". I might spend another minute reading the menu in detail to see if something else trumps my first choice, but it is a rare feed when I change my mind. You look, you decide, you eat. If you can't figure out whether you want your eggs scrambled or fried, then you really have some serious problems with your decision making abilities.

Ian eventually emerged and joined me at our table, only to watch what he thought was his breakfast getting carried from table to table by the waiters. He managed to flag one down and enquired as to whether the wrap he was carrying was his, and the waiter figured out that although Ian had been given number 16, the dopey cross eyed idiot at the counter had written number 19 on the docket. The poor old waiters were running around looking for a non-existent customer. He got a luke-warm coffee and a luke-warm breakfast, but he was very happy with the taste.

So apart from the dyslexic, cross eyed idiot running the place, and the stingey chef out the back, it was good. In some ways, it would have been good to have eaten two breakfasts, as the other specials looked pretty tasty. I'm not sure the budget will stretch that far though.

Blondes vs eldsters

The Shitty Moaning Harlot has been bleating recently about the tendency of older drivers to run over and seriously injure or kill people. They seem to be trying to get all oldies out of their cars and into ..... what? Motorised wheel chairs? Non-existent buses? Hell, I don't want to be sitting next to a bunch of oldies on the train. What if they have dementia and have forgotten to wear their nappy and they wet themselves? What if they decide to take their dentures out and rub them on their sleeve halfway across the Harbour Bridge? No thanks. I'd rather they drive and keep their disgusting eldster habits to themselves. Besides, most of them are deaf and have no sense of smell, so they fart away blissfully unaware that they have just let rip a booming stinker. Keep on driving till you drop I say.

Some might complain that they doodle along at 30km/h when the speed limit is 90, but hey, this is Sydney, and most of the time the traffic is doing somewhere between 0 and 20. Eldsters puttering along on their way to the bowling club present no threat as far as holding up traffic goes. What worries me is that if they start pottering around in motorised wheelchairs, the buggers will end up on the cycle paths, and most of those chairs are as wide across the bum as Kim Beasley. Passing will be impossible. They'll just have to stick to driving their Toyota Crowns around town.

Anyway, eldsters are not the only ones suffering from dementia and slow reactions and general dopeyness. I was waiting at a set of lights near Darling Harbour last week when a blonde chick pulled up in the left hand turn lane (on my left) in a little beep-beep car. She sat their twirling her hair, completely oblivious to the fact that her left turn arrow had gone green. I almost lent over to say, "Lady, you've got a green arrow", but she probably would have freaked and maced me. Instead, I waited patiently for the impatient truck driver behind her to give her a blast on his air horn. However, the dopy sod just sat there quietly fuming.

Her light went orange, and I started to chuckle at her dopeyness, when she went and put the car into gear and drove through it after it went red! A few pedestrians had started to cross (when they got the green man) and they had to jump out of the way to avoid being skittled - she didn't appear to see any of them!

Sheesh, talk about being a complete and utter fucking idiot. I just sat there on my saddle with my mouth open staring at her tail lights as she meandered down the road in a complete daze.

I reckon she was in her mid 20's. Given that youngsters are over-represented in the car fatality stakes, we're probably better off not handing out licenses until people reach 30, and then letting them keep them until they drop dead behind the wheel.

Firing up the fire Brigade

I got a reply from the Fire Brigade today - from a Superintendent who is the "Professional Standards and Conduct Officer". My letter has been forwarded to the Zone Commander South 1 (whatever that is) and he is supposed to investigate my complaint.

I look forward to hearing from him, and finding out whether the Brigade is stuffed full of short sighted, colour blind dwarves. They've promised to write back with their findings at a later date. Hopefully, a pogrom against dwarves in the Fire Brigade will soon commence and they'll all be tarred and feathered and run out of the Darling Harbour on a rail.

Thursday 18 May 2006

You call that salsa, you pillock?

Another day, another breakfast in Balmain. Yes, it's tough being between houses and having all your frying pans tucked away in boxes. I forget which day it was, but we had a feed at a place called "our place". It must have been the weekend, as it doesn't open for breakfast before 10am or 11am on weekdays - whatever time it opens, it is way too late for me. I arise, I feed. Or more succinctly, the sun rises, I arise, I feed. I'll leave the sleeping in business to the teenagers.

Every now and then I like to tuck into a stack of corn fritters, preferably with some very crispy bacon stacked on top, something green like avocado or spinach, and something moist and tasty to go with it like sour cream or sweet chilli sauce or a home made salsa.

"our place" did something along these lines, although they fiddled with the fritter recipe by adding sweet potato or pumpkin - something orange anyway. I'm not sure whether it came with bacon, but the menu definitely said "salsa". I am a fan of all things chutney like and salsa-ish. Something chunky and tasty and preferably made according to momma's recipe in the kitchen out the back, or even better, made by momma at home and shipped over to the cafe once a week in big fuck-off jars.

So there I am, nursing my coffee and anticipating my salsa, when my plate arrives with a stack of fritters, some chunks of avocado circled around the fritters and some splashes of red stuff spread around the edge of the plate. I look around expecting the waiter to plonk down a little pot or saucer of salsa, but he fucks off back to the kitchen and shows no signs of returning with something chunky. Apparently the thin smear of red stuff around the edge of the plate is "salsa". Sorry, pardon me for breathing, but isn't salsa supposed to be chunky? Yes, for all I know it might mean 'sauce' in some wog language, but back then, sauce was not made with electric blenders. Blenders make a puree. Throwing tomatoes into a pot with other chopped up stuff and herbs and spices and vinegar ans sugar etc makes a lumpy sauce. At least it is lumpy when I try to make it at home. Besides, I have never seen a salsa that I can actually see through. A salsa should be thick enough that you can stack it up into a pyramid a few inches tall and all that runs out of it is a bit of fluid - but the chunks should hold their shape.

The chunks should hold their shape - sounds like a really wierd type of vomit.

So what the hell, I collect my wits, pick up the knife and fork and attack the fritter, after vigorously rubbing it around in the 'salsa'.

Fuck me! It's not home made salsa - it's Tabasco! Nearly tore my head off! I had the equivalent of about 9 bloody marys in one mouth full.

Lying pricks. Why couldn't they say, "Fritters, served with Tabasco, thoughtfully purchased from our local Woolies". I can put up with over the top advertisements for cars and things, but I think that a menu should be a bit closer to the truth.

That aside, it was a good feed. I've also had the big breakfast there and that is also a good feed. The big breakfast looked pretty dodgy when it came out - there was a certain look to it that screamed carelessness at me. I can tell when a cook has carefully put together a plate of food - someone who cares about the aesthetics - and someone who just slaps it down and hooks it out. The big breakfast looked like it had been plated by a prison chef who was more accustomed to heaving out grits, but it tasted bloody good. I was very pleasantly surprised. It is the first place that I have been to in a long time that served breakfast sausages that I actually wanted to eat. Most of the time, I have a bit of one and ignore the rest. Cafe cooks are trying too hard with the sausages, or not hard enough.

There's something about a breakfast sausage that makes it a very peculiar animal. It's quite different to a lunch time sausage or a dinner sausage. I like something that is not too spicy - I don't need a rush of chilli or pepper first thing in the morning (but bring it on at lunch), but not too bland. It shouldn't be too thick and heavy, as you don't want to start the day feeling like a bloated hippo. It should go well with egg. It should taste nice with coffee. Those are hard parameters to work with. If you are having a BBQ and everyone is drinking beer, you can server just about anything wrapped in bread and covered in sauce (or salsa) and it will be scoffed. In triplicate. However, breakfast is another matter entirely. Many tastes just do not go down well with coffee. Or egg. Our Place seemed to get it right. Just about every other place I have been lately has fucked it up beyond belief.

The search for the perfect sausage. Is it a lifelong quest, or is it the title of a porno film?

Lashings Mk II

Ok, after bashing Lashings last week I went back for seconds a few days back. After lugging boxes of books around all day, I felt the need for feed. This time, I went for a modern poncy burger called "The Moroccan". To me, that sounds a bit like a character in a 1970's police show on TV - "This week, the boys in Division 5 battle an evil gang of bank robbers, headed up by the arch bandit known as 'The Moroccan'".

The Moroccan is a simple chicken fillet burger where the fillet has been rolled in Moroccan spices. Lightly rolled. The burger flipper has clearly never eaten at Kazbah in Balmain, where the chicken is not lightly dusted with spices. It is not rolled in spices. It has spice packed and stuffed into it until it is 50% chicken and 50% spice. It is a bit over the top. I like a bit of tasty stuff, but I also like to eat chicken. If I wanted a spice burger instead of a chicken burger, I'd order a spice burger.

Thankfully, Lashings does the chicken burger with a hint of spice. It's not boosted up with pepper or chilli or anything like that - it's just a nice mix of Moroccan spices. Not the best mix, but a good mix. I liked it.

They live to feed me another day.

Except that the bastards were out of chocolate brownies. A thousand curses on their smelly feet.

Moving house - the equivalent of picking up turds with chopsticks

Let's imagine that you come home on Christmas Eve to find your dunny blocked. Someone who ate too much curry over the last week has plugged it up with soft turds. You ring plumbers. Only one answers, and he is drunk. His advice is not to flush, but to remove the turds one at a time.

The only tools you have are a set of chopsticks.

There are many turds.

They are squishy and picking them out with chopsticks is a big challenge.

Welcome to moving house.

"The Barn" - a place full of stupid cows

Moving and feeding don't mix. For starters, you get very hungry carrying stuff around, and all your food is either in transit or in the bin. Therefore, unless you want to live on vegemite sandwiches that are produced by smearing margarine and vegemite on bread with your finger, the only answer is to eat out.

As our move extended over 5 days, we ate out a lot. One establishment that we visited was "the barn" - note the spelling in lower case. the barn is off our usual beat, being in Rozelle rather than Balmain. It's advertised as a "cafe & grocery", with the grocery being the kind where a litre of organic sheep milk and a loaf of linseed and elderberry bread cost $118.54. It's a great shop to walk around, but without a shopping basket. I solve that by lugging the little monkey around. That removes my ability to grab things with my hands, like my wallet.

However, that did not remove the need to feed. We've eaten there before on a weekend, and the thing I remembered was the extraordinarily slow service and the dopey waitresses. There is not a waiter to be seen, and all the waitresses seem to be from the same place as Ikea. They speak English with an accent, which means they can read the menu, but can't understand an Australian accent, particularly when the speaker is tired and has a sinus cavity filled with dust and snot. Still, I'll try anything twice, so we gave it another go.

First thing to note - it seems to be the meeting place of numerous mother's groups. Pram parking is good. You can actually drive a pram from the door to the rearmost table without snagging on chairs or other patrons. Woopee doo. We didn't take the pram, as it was in transit somewhere. However, it meant that prams were continually being pushed past me, and for once I was not wearing a set of handle bars between the shoulder blades everytime a Mum went past, concentrating more on their little darling instead of looking where they are going.

So we find a table, have a seat and wait for a waitress. One turns up quickly, and hands out very groovy menus. They are attached to nice wooden clipboards, and the clip is a welded on fork, knife or spoon. It is a great effect. Good design. It's hard not to like the place. It has lots of lights hanging from the ceiling, and every lampshade is different. It's the kind of chaotic design I can appreciate. Like the place has been built partly from scrap. There is a particular orange UFO type lampshade that I want for the office at home. Wierd, stupid and likeable.

Sorry, there are no photos as the camera disappeared into a box and it only emerged last night.

The waitress gives us a minute, then returns to take orders, which is good as I am Starvin' Marvin by this point. I go for the seafood hollaindaise, which is advertised as a muffin, soft poached egges, wilted spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, oven roasted tomatoes and smoked salmon topped with hollaindaise sauce. After the Canberra disaster with the hollaindaise, I should have been off the hollaindaise, but I had a hankering for it rather than bacon and eggs. The others ordered, and we also ordered drinks.

Monkey started to munkilate (ie, scruffle), so I had to pass the time by carrying him up and down the aisles pointing out the organic muesli, the sheeps milk fetta, the strange Italian biscuits and the organic sugar. We did numerous laps of the cheese counter, which featured cheese I have never heard of at $9.90 per 100gms. I have never paid more than about $75 a kilo for cheese, and that was for the hideously expensive and stinky varieties like pont le veque (I think that is how it is spelt) and something similar. Forking out $99 a kilo for cheese takes it to a new level.

By the time I had done my 4th lap, I was expecting to return to our table to see it laden with coffee and hot chocolate. However, the table was bare. Same with the 5th lap, then the 9th lap. Finally, on about the 14th lap, I returned to find the table groaning with food - but no coffee.

Fuck it. I want my coffee to arrive before my food. I like the ritual of being able to drink somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of it before I eat. No more, no less. If I am down to half a coffee, it means there is not enough to go with breakfast, and the last dregs of coffee will be cold. If it arrives at the same time, I have to mix in my 1/3 of a sachet of sugar, which I hate doing once food is on the table. I want separation. I want some space between the liquids and the solids. I want to contemplate the coffee aroma, to feel the warmth of the milk and coffee between my fingers.

I certainly don't want the fucking thing to arrive halfway through my meal.

As it turns out, I almost forgot about the coffee as the food was very good. Sure, there were only two asparagus spears, but they were beautifully cooked - al dente. They did not sag when picked up, and they had a delicious crunch to them. The eggs had runny yolks, but the white was nicely set. The hollaindaise was wonderful, and plentiful. There was a sea of it left on my plate when I finished up. Everything was plated beautifully. It looked set to be a great feed.

Except that the mushrooms and tomato were crap. They would have been great with bacon and eggs, but they are a crap combination with smoked salmon. It's like mixing cheese and icecream - not a good thought. And then the coffee turned up just as I was puncturing my eggs - aaaaggggghhhhh! Puncturing the egg is a sacred ritual, and once the egg is punctured and the warm yellow inards have been released, then one has no choice but to eat quickly and mop it all up with the muffin before it starts to curdle on the bottom of the plate.

Imagine Greece or Babylon in about 400 BC and the King has gone to consult the Oracle or the witchdoctor or whatever and the gizzards have just been drawn from the chook and tossed onto the temple floor and the Oracle is intently studying the shape of the liver when some fool bursts in with a goatskin full of wine and shouts, "Sorry I'm late - anyone for a drink?" Their gizzards would have been the next thing on the floor.

So I am stuck with a full coffee that needs to have just a dab of sugar inserted and swirled, and an egg that is bleeding bright yellow goo and I am just ready to stab the nearest waitress with a not very soft asparagus spear. Right through the heart. As in "die like a baby fur seal", except that you can't club people to death with asparagus, especially when it is cooked.

After that, it was all down hill. I went to pay the bill and found out that the chick-from-Ikea-land had misheard an order for a "mini breakfast" and lumped us with the full blown number, which cost about $17.50. Stupid cow. My eyes must have gone the colour of oven roasted tomato when I got the bill as they took the drinks off (since they took so long), but it still came to just a bit under $50.

To cap it off, we get out to the car park and find that a garbage truck has parked us in. It took a 19 point turn to extricate the car.


the barn. Good food that costs the earth.

Useless pubes

Public servants - can't drown them, can't make them work.

Still no word from our esteemed Fire Commissioner. I thought his lazy staff could of at least have turned out a "Dear Loony, thank you for your correspondence" type of letter by now. It's not like there have been a lot of fires around the place recently. Maybe there has been a plague of cats of trees though to keep them away from the files and the paperwork.


Stupid Ikea instructions

Ok, so we made it out of Ikea alive, sane and in one piece. That was more than could be said of the wardrobes that we bought.

The stupid Ikea delivery people showed up on Monday morning. They carted in some long boxes and some short boxes. After they had left, we inspected the boxes and found that they had delivered what appeared to be a wardrobe and a shelving unit. We were so annoyed at what had happened in the shop the other night that we said we'd keep mum and hang onto the shelving unit unless they discovered their boo-boo and asked for it back.

Useless pricks.

As it turned out, the dopey bastards had delivered half a shelving unit and half a wardrobe. If we had started assembly, we would have been rooted. Thankfully, the useless pricks rang before we ripped anything apart to tell us that they would be back to collect the shelving unit and give us the rest of our wardrobe.

Under what fetid toadstools do they recruit such brainless nematodes?

The most important part about assembling our wardrobe was to invite a very tall person over to hold the top bits whilst I bashed away with a hammer or wrench or whatever else came to hand. I recruited Ian, our estwhile neighbour, as he stands well over 6 foot in his socks. Ian and I decided that the instructions were stupid, so we invented our own way of putting the wardrobe together.

Dumb idea.

Ikea furniture is the timber version of a kite. It's lightweight and relies on cross bracing to retain any structural integrity. If you don't put it together properly, it collapses like a souffle. Which is what ours did. The cunning little Swedes that designed the screws and dowels had done a very nifty design job. However, they were still working with chipboard covered in veneer. Chipboard is crap. We went to lift up the wardrobe in order to nail the back on and all the cunning fittings and screws tore out of the chipboard and the thing collapsed like a pack of cards, scattering gobbets of ripped chipboard from one end of the bedroom to the other. It was starting to look like a $750 assembly error, when we noticed that we could simply turn all the bits upside down and re-assemble it again as we had a whole new set of screw holes to work with. If that didn't work, I guess we would have tried liquid nails.

The thing is, the Ikea way of assembly is impossible without a handy Ian to hold up the top bit. Maybe the average height in Sweden is 6 foot 4 inches and they don't have a short person problem. Over here, it is a bit different. Stupid Ikea designers need to think about how dwarfs will put these things together.

The other thing I discovered is that it helps if you put the doors on before you install shelves etc. All the shelves and slidy baskets and things use the same screw holes as the door hinges. It was either a case of remove and shift the fittings for 4 wire baskets, or leave a hinge out. I couldn't be shagged - we now have two spare hinges.

The sad sods didn't drill holes in the doors either for the door handles, so the only way to open the bastard doors is to hook your big toe under the bottom lip of the door and pull outwards. Thankfully, the doors are paper thin and the hinges are not too sticky, so you can do it without risk of ripping your toenails off.

Ikea. Swedish for toe rags.

Friday 12 May 2006

Bashing Lashings

McDonalds might have conquered the market for hamburgers and fries, but there is still a place in the world for the corner shop selling good old fashioned burgers. Burgers that drip. Burgers that cannot be eaten one handed. Burgers that are not wrapped in environmentally friendly, biodegradable paper, but instead come in a good old fashioned dolphin killing styrofoam container.

We have two fast food outlets of note in the vicinity - the Best Fish and Chip Shop in the Universe, and Lashings. The fish and chip shop is very good. However, I did not eat there tonight. We tried Lashings instead.

Lashings advertises itself as "gourmet takeaway". That's marketing-speak for expensive hamburgers made with fancy ingredients. For instance, the Cajun burger is a "marinated breast fillet, mayo, rocket, grilled capsicum and Lashings own cajun relish". I have had a few. They are very good. They make the grade as a gourmet burger. They are also man sized. After a Lashings burger and chips, I am ready to waddle home and sleep for a few hours. After a McDonalds meal, I am ready for seconds. Lashings do not skimp on the grub.

Something must have gone wrong in the kitchen tonight, as my Lashings burger was quite dreadful. The Lashings is a burger with the lot - egg, bacon, pineapple, tasty cheese and beetroot. Compared to the other burgers on the roster, it is the most old fashioned. It is the kind of burger that would be familiar to a surfer who pulled over at a caravan by the ocean for a feed after a surf in 1970. It doesn't have fancy weeds like rocket. It doesn't have wog frippery like sun dried tomato and avocado. It doesn't try to get gay with pesto. It's just simple, yet loaded with stuff. If done well, it is immensely filling and satisfying.

It was not. I am not happy, Jan.

A Lashings combo meal will set you back a bit over double what say a Quarter Pounder meal will at Macca's. So it should be over twice as good. Some bits were. For starters, the Coke came in a can, which beats the daylights out of post-mix muck. And it was cold. It had bubbles in it. It did not get watery as it got warm.

That was followed up by an excellent bucket of chips. Chips, not fries. Lashings do not serve prissy little thinly sliced fries. They server reasonably fat chips. Not super fat chips that are a spud cut in half and fried, but chips that I reckon are the right size. They were hot and crispy and sprinkled with chicken salt, which is just magic as far as chips go. They were straight out of the frier too. Top marks to the chipper.

The burger was a disaster. The bun was burnt in several places. I can live with a burnt snag. I like bacon cooked to a crisp. But I detest burnt toast. Bread with carbon on it is just the pits. Eating it is like ingesting one of those BBQ briquette things. Charcoal might be good for the teeth, but it is bad for my tastebuds. Unfortunately, the immolated bun was just the start.

The lettuce was iceberg at its worst. The burger would have been better off if the iceblub had been swapped out with rocket. To hell with tradition. I'll take tasty weeds any day over tasteless iceberg. I don't understand what people see in iceberg lettuce. All I see is a waste of water and fertiliser. It usually has as much flavour as green paper.

The onion - there was supposed to be onion in there somewhere, but I was at a loss to find it. Good strong onion is a must in a burger. Ok, so your breath might stink afterwards, and it may provoke an outburst of farting, but it makes for one tasty burger. The onion was missing in action. A burger without good onion is like a car without petrol - it is a non-starter.

The beef patty - oh God, where to begin. The burgers are supposed to be "fresh 100% pure ground topside beef free of additives and fillers." Yeah - it was free of additives like flavour and moisture and taste. The patty was dry and tough and it kind of reminded me of boarding school. I think it was burnt as well, but it was hard to tell when combined with a burnt bun. To think that a steer gave its life to end up as a patty like that.....

"We hand roll each burger using a few of Lashings own herbs and seasonings". Yep - 'a few' being the operative word. Mr Scrooge must have been adding the herbs and seasonings. A few scrapings of dried things might have made it into the burger, but I couldn't taste them.

I can't say much about the tasty cheese, except that it kind of looked like cheese (yellow and gooey) and bits of it had a taste that reminded me of cheese, but it was not mind blowing tasty cheese.

I think I blew it by asking for BBQ sauce. I should have gone with mayo, but they never offer mayo. They just offer normal tomato sauce or BBQ. Frankly, if the place is selling gourmet food, then I expect gourmet sauces - preferably spicy and homemade. Squeezing in a bit of Fountain BBQ sauce is not a gourmet experience.

Still, I was famished after a hard ride home, and I polished it off like a dog with a fresh liver. All that was left was a bit of vegetable that resembled onion and the odd scrap of greenery that was once a lettuce. Oh, and a puddle of juice in the bottom of my whale throttling styrofoam container.

On the way out, I lashed out $2.95 on a chocolate brownie. It was the best brownie that I have had in years. It was really, really good. If the car had been parked any closer, I would have raided the ashtray for every gold coin and gone back and bought as many slices of brownie as I could afford. So clearly, they can do something right.

Next time, I am going for a modern gourmet burger. I'm leaving the old road trip surfie burgers behind. And I won't forget to leave room for a brownie.

Lashings. Generally great. Occasionally catastrophic. But I guess that's what happens when the food is fresh cooked instead of machine assembled. I can live with that.

Thursday 11 May 2006

How many oysters can you eat in one sitting?

A few weeks ago, I was invited out to lunch by some friends at the Oyster Bar at Circular Quay. It is a smashing place for lunch. As you can see by this photo, we were still there at dinner time. It was the best lunch I have had in ages - the weather was beautiful, the view was smashing and the wine flowed on and on and on, as did the stories and the bullshit. The only let down was the oysters.

Many years ago, I decided that I should emulate those great mean of the 18th century and have a dinner consisting mainly of many, many oysters. If you read the diaries of Samuel Pepys, which I have not - but I have flicked through them - then you'll find that he mentions many meals that seem to consist of oysters, wine and port - hundreds of oysters each, as well as many bottles of wine.

The location was Meads, a well thought of seafood restaurant in Perth. Thankfully, Meads has what I call "pensioner night" on Monday and Tuesday, where a dozen oysters only sets you back $8. I set to with another trencherman, and we set a target of 100 oysters each.

We learnt a few things.

Thames oysters must be tiny little creatures compared to the Sydney rock oyster and other Australian varieties, because it was ludicrously hard to eat more than 6 dozen. Ok, we goofed by eating bread that came on the side, and we might have been tempted by a salad as well, but 6 dozen was a lot of oysters. Of course we didn't stop at a measly 6 dozen - I managed to stuff a bit over 7 dozen down, but was knocked over by my partner in slime who sloshed down nearly 8 dozen.

Now I've seen cartoons of 18th century English gentlemen, and they all look as round and portly as a bowling ball. Clearly, they were masters at putting away their food. They make modern efforts at Supersize Me look tame by comparison. How any could eat over 100 oysters and drink say 4 or 5 bottles of plonk is beyond me.

Unless they were masters of the long lunch.

I think my next oyster eating frenzy will have to be a lunchtime affair, preferably one that starts about noon and stretches on past dusk. It should be possible to down at least 9 or 10 dozen over that kind of stretch. Trying to stuff down 7 dozen over dinner is a big ask, since dinner usually only lasts say 90 minutes in most restaurants.

The other thing is that oysters are salty little suckers. Funny that. You don't really notice it after a dozen, but after 4 or 5 dozen, the salt build up really starts to tell. As tragic as it sounds, the only thing that combats the salt is Coke. Wine and beer just won't cut through that salty rime feeling on your tongue. I think I drank 4 litres of water after my oyster frenzy, which meant I was up and down all night having a squirt at regular intervals.

As much as I like an oyster in its natural state with just a bit of lemon, it starts to wear thin after 2 dozen. Thankfully, Meads had a good selection of ways to do oysters - various asian dipping sauces, plus the old favourites like kilpatrick. Having a bit of everything helps to prevent a thick layer of oyster snot from building up on your tongue.

That being said, I attacked a few plates of oysters at the Oyster Bar. I had no hope of getting near 7 dozen, let alone 3.

For starters, a dozen oysters was about $30 a go. Ouch. Talk about gouging. The next hurdle was ordering the damned things - the waiters spent more time yacking to each other than oberserving the customers to see if anyone wanted to stuff in some more seafood. Then to cap it off, I didn't think that they cooked or served their oysters that well. The sauces that went with them just didn't do it for me. They were adequate, but not spectacular, and the $30 price tag certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.

Except that my lovely friends picked up the tab and I didn't have to pay for anything. Thank goodness.

So, to recap. Find a place that has a pensioner night. Order every variety of oyster that they have. Spread the gorging out over a number of hours - preferably an entire afternoon. Take lots of friends, so you can sit around telling stories all afternoon. Avoid all bread, salad and other condiments and side dishes. Just go for gloop.

Stupid sushi packs

You've got to hand it to the Japs - who would have thought that you could take rice and fish and make sushi? If you gave my grandma some tuna and some rice, she would have made up some sort of awful tuna casserole. If you give John West tuna, he turns it into horrible little shreds of fishy smelly stuff in a tin. I can't stomach tinned fish. Many years ago, I spent a few weeks in the north of WA and we lived on tinned tuna for lunch and dinner every day. It was never one of my favourite foods, but after you have carried a tin of fish around in your pack all day in the stinking heat, and then you open it for lunch and it instantly gathers a thick layer of flies on top, and then you shoo the flies away and try and put some tuna on a dry cracker before too many flies land on it, and then you try and stuff the whole thing in your mouth and chew before the flies start buzzing around inside your mouth making you realise that you are eating flies.... ugh. Big fat black flies. Yes, the tin was supposed to have fishy stuff in it, but the first time I opened a tin, the flies got in so fast, I thought I had opened a tin of really big caviar. Until it started moving...

So no tinned fish for me. But give me sushi any day.

Or sashimi.

However, those oh-so-clever Japs seem to have missed something when going from a sit down lunch to a take away lunch. At a sit down lunch, I get a lovely bowl of miso, a cup of tea, a box of something and a nice little dish in which to mix my wasabi and soy. I get a take away box, which is minus the miso, and the tea (which is no great loss - miso soup in a foam cup just ain't the same) - but where the fuck do I mix the wasabi with the soy? Ok, the soy comes in wierd little fish bottles, which is really strange. I can understand Thai fish sauce coming in little fish bottles, but why soy? Isn't soy a plant? Does soy taste anything like fish? Yes, both tend to be salty, but the similarities end about there.

I sometimes see Japs on the snow fields with little tins that they use to stub out and carry away their cigarette butts. Do they also carry around in another pocket a little dish in which to mix the green and black stuff together? Is this why Japanese sararimen all wear suits all the time - so they have a jacket with lots of pockets into which they can stuff things? Maybe it is like the formal version of the photographers waistcoat?

I have tried mixing it up on the lid of my sushi box, but the bloody thing is the wrong shape. It's too big. The only way to mix them is to tilt the lid ever so slightly so that it all pools in one corner. Then all it takes is some fool to bump your table and you have a nicely mixed splattering of hot green soy sauce all over your shirt and tie.

I think this is God's way of telling me to forgo the $9 take away sushi box and to sit down to a proper $15 bento box eat-in meal. Something that allows me to get endless refills of green tea, and sufficient time to read the Fin Review from back to front. The take away lunch really is a barbarous invention anyway. What is the point of eating in the office? Is the point to annoy all your office colleagues with the faint smell of fish? Eating in the office should be banned.


We had two year old in the house today. He announced that, "I have a poo that wants to come out". He made it to the bathroom, but decided that it was a very urgent poo, so he dropped it on the bathroom rug.

I can appreciate that feeling. It's why I never ride until I've done the morning business. I can think of nothing worse than being halfway to work and getting that urgent rear end feeling. It's not like I live out in the boonies where one passes lots of parks and bushland and the like and you can just duck into a bit of scrub for a crap. Most of the houses I pass are inner city terraces, and I am sure that the residents would not take kindly to me dumping in their flowerpot next to the front door.

What I don't understand are people that spend ages on the dunny. My shit stinks. It is a known fact. I don't want to be near it any longer than strictly necessary. Especially when I have a hangover. Does poo smell more when you are hungover, or is your sense of smell more acute? Beats me. All I know is that I have done a few after grog bogs, and then vomited immediately afterwards as soon as the smell has reached my nose.

People who take books or magazines to the dunny must have no sense of smell. Never trust a cook or a wine critic who has anything to read in their toilet. Clearly, their olfactory nerves are not to be trusted.

Grog is not the only thing that plays havoc with my insides. Skiing does strange things to the bowels. I don't know if it is the cold air, the altitude, the wierd schnapps at lunch, the exercise, the late nights - whatever. All I can tell you is that when the boys get together for a week in the snow, a competition soon develops to see who can crap the most times in the morning before the first run of the day. I am not talking about squeezing out a grape, flushing, then going back to squeeze out another grape later on. I am talking about full blown, bowl stopping turds. And I am talking about dropping several of them in the space of an hour. I think the record is five. And that is not achieved after doing nothing but fart for a few days - that was after several days of two or three early morning turds.

Women really don't want to know what guys get up to when they go away for a week. I know they always like to pry and want to find out - hopefully this post will make them think twice about asking in future.

Why is ACOSS so quiet for once?

Sheesh, the first tax cuts in living memory where there is the blessed sound of silence from the Popes of Poverty, otherwise known as ACOSS. I never thought I would live to see the day where no one gave a toss whether these tax and welfare clowns made a thunderous pronouncement or not. For all I know, they have been bleating on enviously about tax cuts for the "rich", but I haven't seen a crumb of a story in any of the fish wrapping rags. I have watched about 5 minutes of news on TV, and in that time, not one champion of the poor has been given any publicity oxygen. Normally, they'd be given a chance to mouth a catchy soundbite, but this time, the media seems to have grown sick of them and has written them off.

Either that, or after many bumper years of economic growth, everyone has figured out that if you are still stuck on welfare, you really are a hopeless bloody case and there's no reason why any should get worked up about your condition. Even the dimmest nuf-nuf can find employment in this boom. That is, unless you are Tasmanian and too damn lazy to pack up and move to the mainland.

The Democrats however provide some ripper ideas in their alternative budget. One of them is: "Provide incentives to motorists and auto manufacturers to take up fuel efficient cars."

Guys, the market is already providing those incentives. It's called higher petrol prices. In case the news hasn't made its way down to the bottom of the garden via pixie post, sales of 4WD's have plummeted recently. The Democrats want to bring in emissions trading to reduce CO2 output, but can't bring themselves to promote higher petrol prices as policy.


Monday 8 May 2006

Media monkeys and mining mayhem

Although Beaconsfield seems to be over run with media, the enormous quantity of journalists does not appear to be producing much in the way of quality reporting. I guess it is tough trying to come up with a new angle on a story when the action is 1km underground and there is no way to grab any action with even the longest telephoto lens. I guess Richard Carlton was told, "Come back with a story or don't come back at all".

Channel 9 has been having the best go at playing vulture, probably reasoning that if the Thredbo landslide could generate lots of ratings over an extended period, then maybe Beaconsfield could provide a lift to a sagging station. It will be interesting to see how the ratings work out. I'm a bit put out at why it has been termed a "disaster". One dead and two trapped is not a disaster. It's a mining accident with a bad outcome for one guy. More people died in the recent bus crash in Egypt and I don't remember it being lauded as a great disaster. I guess "accident" does not flog as many fish wrappers as "disaster".

Is this a sign of the new look Channel 9 under Captain Eddie? I'm trying to remember the name of the movie with Christopher Reeve about a TV station and the owner wanted to see a fire story on every news bulletin. Was it "Network"? People love fires. Beaconsfield would be so much better if it was a coal mine and it was on fire.

I've had a very jaded view of how the media reports these things ever since I was caught up in a hotel fire at Thredbo. It was the start of the ski season, I drove down to Thredbo with a bunch of friends, we bashed the snow all day, drank all night and then passed out in our rooms at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel.

Sometime after midnight, someone pounded on our doors yelling, "Fire!". I thought it was a drunk running up and down the corridor being an idiot, until I heard the fire alarm. I then thought it was a drunk who had set off the fire alarm and then run down the corridor banging on doors being an idiot.

I figured out that was not the case upon opening the door and finding the corridor to be full of smoke. We didn't know it, but the fire was in the rooms next door to ours, and they would end up being completely burnt out. Our room was not burnt, but we would have carked it in our beds from smoke if we had not split the scene.

Getting out was pretty tricky as we were pretty pissed and totally exhausted from lack of sleep. In that condition, we meandered up and down the corridors and stair cases trying to find a way out. I inhaled a lot of smoke in the process, and spent the next few months coughing up crap. As it was, we were the last to stumble out of the hotel into the snow.

The evacuation of the hotel, the putting out of the fire and the aftermath was a debacle of the first order. One thing that sticks in my mind is the arrival of the Thredbo fire brigade - it consisted of a cook and someone else in a ute with an Onga pump on the back - something that would be useful for putting out a BBQ, but not a three storey wooden hotel that was well alight. To cap it off, the cook appeared to be as drunk as I was. The Cooma fire brigade struggled up the hill at least an hour later, and they couldn't get their truck near the hotel to fight the fire as all the guests cars were triple parked out the front, and everyone had run outside in their pyjamas and left their keys behind.

Most people didn't want to stand in the snow all night in their PJ's, so they left the evacuation point and went and crashed elsewhere with friends. When the cops turned up and took control and did a headcount and compared it to the hotel manifest, they found themselves about 80 bodies short. The assumption was that those 80 people were dead in their beds, so the fire brigade wasted half an hour breaking down doors looking for people.

We ended up being led off to the Convention Centre, where we were given blankets and pillows and left to crash out on the carpet. After 6 years in the infantry, I can sleep just about anywhere, anytime, and I promptly passed out on the floor. No one else go a wink of sleep as thanks to all the smoke I had inhaled, I snored like a bear. Shaking me awake had no effect, as I would fall back asleep in 5 seconds or so. At breakfast a few hours later, I heard people complaining about, "that snoring bastard that would not stop".

There was a lot of speculation about how the fire started, and someone mentioned that it started after a fight in the bar on the ground floor. The bar had this big fire on a raised platform in the middle of the room, and somehow something must have been knocked over. Either that, or some lazy sod had not cleaned the chimney properly and sparks going up the chute set the chimney on fire.

I always like the fight scenario. When we got to the Convention Centre, I went to the toilet. Whilst I was there, a bloke came in with a split lip and black eye and he had skinned and bleeding knuckles. He was washing blood off his face. I had seen him in the bar trying to chat up this blonde who was wearing something like some tight leather jeans and a leather bra and not much else. Yes, it was a good look, but chatting her up was probably not a good option if she had a boyfriend (which she did).

Anyway, the way the media reported it, it sounded like very little happened and nothing went wrong and everything was peachy. Having been in the hotel, it was more like the Titanic. It was a complete and utter fucking mess. It was a really good first hand look at the disparity between what ends up being printed in the fish wrappers and what really happens.

I pity the poor buggers down the mine. They are going to come up blinking into the sunlight, get carted off to hospital and their families will present them with a wheelbarrow load of press clippings from every paper around the country. The two of them are going to be reading them saying, "Was there another mine collapse while we were down there?", because what they will read will probably have little in common with what happened down the mine.

The media - monkeys with cameras.

The nanny vs liberty

This is a great video of a cabbie having a crash, filmed using his in-cab camera. The silly bastard has nodded off and stacked it, and ended up being flung into the backseat due to the lack of seatbelt.

I know that libertarians (not librarians) hate them, but I am a big fan of seatbelts. If I am moving the car from the driveway to the front lawn to wash it, I'll strap myself in. I'm a fan because my family has had plenty of experience with using them. My sister has written off two cars by rolling them over. My brother also wrote off a car on the Nullarbor by rolling it. Dad wrote off a brand new Merc by running it off the road into the trees at 110 km/h, where it then caught fire and burned to a crisp. Mum nearly put four grannies in the grave by pulling out from an intersection and getting cleaned up by the grannies smashing into her at a rate of knots from the right. That is the first prang I remember - I was about 9 at the time and in the front seat. My personal tally is to have been hit by two drunk drivers, been collected by a driver who ignored a stop sign, one roo and a slide off a corner whilst driving too fast in the wet.

I think all up my family has been involved in at least 20 crashes. I am sure my sister had quite a few that she didn't tell mum and dad about. I lent her my car when I went to Europe for a year, and on my return, the only undented panel was the roof.

The worst injury that I have recieved from all that was a sprained little finger. Dad had a few days in hospital after his crash as he whacked his head into the windscreen when the car went into the trees. He had a lovely black bruise, but that was about it. My sister cried when the grannies hit us, but she was 6 at the time and it was a hell of a shock.

The one thing that all those prangs have taught me is that a crash is something that can happen no matter how careful you are. How do you avoid the drunk that runs up your arse when you are stopped at a corner? Bad things happen to good people and careful drivers. Smart people wear a seatbelt. Me? I strap myself in, drive for about 30 seconds and then give the belt another yank to make sure it is really firmly fastened. If I had it my way, we wouldn't have 3 point seat belts - we'd have four point harnesses like race cars as standard fittings.

The worst injury that I have had in a car is a big bruise on my thigh that resulted from some circle work in a paddock. I was in the passenger seat and we were drinking beer and going around and around in the mud when the ute stopped going sideways and tilted over about 45 degrees. I am amazed it did not roll. I had no belt on, and I was flung across the front seat into the "three on the tree" gear stick. Hence the bruise. After that, all circle work was done with a seat belt.

Bike helmets are another bugbear of mine. I have had two cracking stacks whilst cycling into work in the last 12 months. The first was when I was crossing some tram lines in the wet, and the front wheel went straight out from under me. Just like that. One second I am cycling, the next I am lying on the road bleeding. The second was when I hit a bit of packing foam, and the same thing happened, except that time, my helmet whacked into the concrete with a bit of a bang. Better that the helmet does it than my scone. I had a close call tonight when I went around a corner and nearly piled into an idiot cycling the other way on the wrong side of the bike path.

If you don't want to wear a helmet or a belt, go right ahead. Just don't expect an insurance payout or compo to pay for your wheelchair and nurse. It was simpler before modern medicine - people just died. People who don't want to wear a seatbelt should just have "Do not rescusitate" inked onto their chest.

Sunday 7 May 2006

Are house prices slumping or sliding?

The SMH reported on the weekend that:

"The Reserve Bank published figures yesterday showing Sydney house prices fell 1.1 per cent on average in the March quarter. Prices have now fallen 9.6 per cent on average since property prices turned, slashing the city's median home value from $570,000 to $516,000."

I've decided to start a spreadsheet of house prices in my immediate area focusing on the asking price each week in the paper, together with the final sale price. I want to see what the difference is between the opening asking price and what a house actually fetches. I also want to see how long a place sits on the market before it moves.

When we moved in 12 months ago, the place next door was being renovated. Six months later, it finally went on the market for $1.6 million. No one came to look at it. The owner changed agents. The asking price slipped to $1.55m, then $1.5m, then $1.45m. The agent starting opening the place for inspection on the weekends. On the first weekend, the only people that showed up were the neighbours having a stickybeak.

After around 6 months on the market, it finally sold a few weeks back for $1.315m. The owner has watched nearly $300k evaporate. I am amazed they got that much for it - personally, I think they did a bad job on the place. Not bad as in a poor quality job - just that they made what I would term "odd" design decisions. They renovated the kitchen, but left the 1950's bathroom alone. I don't know about what other people think, but a 1950's bathroom is ugly and is not very functional. Whoever bought the place will have to spend a bit more moola before they can move in to gut and redo the bathroom. To cap it off, the place also has an outside laundry. The only way to get to it is to walk down an outside staircase that has no overhead cover.

Let's think about it - it's Monday morning, it's winter, it's early and it's raining. You are dressing for work and you have no clean jocks. You have to wrap a towel around your waist and run down the outside steps in the rain, unlock the laundry, retrieve your jocks, lock the door (which is also out in the open with no cover) and then run back up the stairs.

If I had paid $75,000 for a beach shack, I would not be bothered by that concept. However, if I had just blown $1.3m, I would expect a place that was a bit more luxurious and serviceable.

I have no idea what the renovators paid for it in the first place. I guess I could go and spend $25 on one of those property monitor reports and find out, but I am not that interested. They might have come out in front after transaction costs, stamp duty, renovation expenses, interest repayments etc, and then again, they might have done their dough. If you just looked at the purchase price say a year ago, and then the sale price a year later, you might presume that prices have gone up a bit. However, how do you discount for renovation costs?

I imagine sales of Mercedes and BMW will go into a hole if tales of woeful speculation like this are repeated across Sydney.

Crap coffee in Canberra

When I visited Canberra as a kid, there was only one halfway decent place to eat in the entire ACT - a Chinese restaurant that is now lost to history. At least I thought it was good when I was young - these days, I can't stomach most Chinese food. Yum Cha is good, but all the other stuff is just bleah.

These days, the well off in Canberra are a well fed bunch indeed. Culinary standards have come a long way, baby. I was hoping that we could sample some good grub this morning at Verve, which is always a favourite of mine, but there were 10 of us for breakfast, we drank too much the night before and thus we were out of bed way too late to score a table.

A quick walk up the sidewalk showed that all the other good cafes were full. There was one though that had no one sitting in it at all, and we took that as a sign to avoid it like the plague. The only choice was to duck into an arcade and sample the cafes on the other side of the Manuka shopping centre.

This place met the key requirements - it had seating for 10, outdoor heaters and there were people sitting around eating and drinking. The menu also looked pretty good. I set quite a bit of store by the menus that a place puts out. If they have taken some care with the menu, then maybe they will take a bit of care with the food.

Well, in this case, we were fooled by the high standard of menu presentation. We ordered coffee - lots of coffee, and in many different varieties (flat white, flat white in a mug, capuccino, latte, long black - the whole nine yards of coffee), and all reported the same thing. It came out cool and watery. I am not a fan of coffee made with superheated steam that scalds the lips on contact, and I am a big fan of iced coffee, but I am not a fan of luke warm coffee. Coffee should be served at one end of the temperature spectrum or the other.

With a normal coffee, you couldn't stick your finger into it without wanting to rapidly pull it out before it starts to blister. With the Zucchero coffee, I reckon I could have pulled out my old fella and plonked him in my latte and I would have been none the worse for wear. Except that it was about 8 degrees outside, and my knob would have frozen once I pulled it out.

The coffee was also as weak as it was luke warm. I don't know who they had driving the coffee machine that morning, but either they had no idea how to drive it, or they were skimping on the steam and coffee beans. Coffee flavoured milk would be the best way to describe my latte. Most of us had to order a second cup in order to meet our morning caffeine quota. I broke my normal one cup a day rule and had a macchiato after my latte. I figured that if I could stop them from putting more than some milk froth into it, it might almost taste like a coffee. The macchiato was not bad, but it was not good enough to stop me dissing their general standard of coffee making. Look at it - you can almost see through it. Normally, if I drink two cups of coffee in a row, I get the shakes like someone with Parkinsons. Two cups of Zucchero coffee didn't even generate a twitch.

Breakfast was not much better. I was Starvin' Marvin by the time we sat down, but I didn't feel like a full breakfast (something to do with all the bottles of red consumed the night before). I plumped for eggs benedict with smoked salmon.

I will freely admit to not being very good at poaching eggs or making hollandaise sauce. I usually poach my eggs for too long, so they aren't runny by the time I pull them out. I can make hollandaise, but it never tastes like it should.

The eggs were fine. The smoked salmon was fine. The bread was fine. The hollandaise came as a lumpy lump perched on top, and it rapidly separated into water and melted butter. At first I thought they had just dropped a lump of mangled butter on top of my eggs, but a taste test confirmed that it was hollandaise. Very badly made hollandaise. Even mine doesn't separate on contact with eggs. And there was not much of it either. Call me a fat bastard, but I like my eggs benedict to be swimming in a soup of hollandaise. Soup is the operative word - a sauce should be sauce like, not lumpy like. The only sauce that should be hard and lumpy is that chocolate sauce that you squeeze out of a bottle onto ice cream. Instead, I had a dainty little spoonful of rapidly decomposing (or should that be deconstructing?) hollandaise chunks perched on top of my eggs, and it barely covered the yolk of one egg. Maybe that is how breakfast was served in wartime London when butter was rashioned.

The general size of the breakfast was also disappointing. One good thing that they had on the menu was a kids breakfast, but I got the feeling afterwards that I had somehow ended up with a kiddy serving rather than a starving adult serving. I had to follow up with some toast and jam in order to stop the growling stomach. It was tough ordering that. I had to send one of the guys at the end of the table inside on a mission to place an order for toast, and he ended up having to order several lots as there was more than one growling stomach around the table.

When we went in to pay, I found that they had some amazing looking cakes and things on the counter. Flourless chocolate cakes and that sort of thing. However, after putting up with watery coffee, slack service, tiny servings and a 10% Sunday surcharge, the last thing I wanted to do was to splash out another $12 on various cakes and things. To hell with them.

Next time, I'm setting the alarm and booking a table at Verve.

Saturday 6 May 2006

The most disgusting coffee on the planet

I am not what you would call a coffee afficiando. I do not sit around in wanky cafes drinking miniscule cups of coffee one after another, smoking french cigarettes and discussing beat poets and philosophy. I am more your read the paper and have a cup of coffee type coffee drinker. One cup per day is all I need. Any more and I start to get the shakes. My tastes are simple - a nice latte, not too weak, not too strong - just right. I know that a latte sounds like a girls drink, but screw it, I like them. If I have been drinking and it is late at night and I need a kick to keep me going then a machiato is the deal (is that the correct spelling) - a short, sharp hit of caffeine with sugar. However, the latte is perfect for lingering over the newspaper in the morning.

That being said, there are times when I like to have a second coffee, and my coffee of choice for number two is an iced coffee. There is just one problem - all iced coffee sold east of Broken Hill is disgusting. It is insipid, over sweetened muck. It is undrinkable liquid poo.

A few months back, I was walking down a supermarket aisle looking for Milo when I spotted a packet of Nescafe Iced Latte. I am usually suspicious of all dried stuff that comes in a packet, but my need for iced coffee was so bad that I forked out $5 for a packet and took it home in the desperate hope that it might be drinkable.

Boy, was I wrong. If you think the stuff in the fridge is bad (like Moove), then nothing will prepare you for the hideousness of Iced Latte. I should have read the contents list on the back - milk solids (40%), sugar, maltodextrin (from corn), coffee (7%), flavours, anticaking agent (554), emusifier (soy lecithin), contains wheat ingredients.

Hmm. I make iced coffee at home occasionally, and all it takes is milk, coffee, sugar, hot water and ice cubes. The idea of adding flavours, emulsifiers or anticaking agents is just a bit bizarre - after all, it is just sweet milky coffee that has been chilled.

My iced coffee of choice is Brownes Coffee Chill, but it doesn't seem to be sold outside of WA. Whenever friends or family visit from the west, I get them to pack a few cartons of frozen Coffee Chill in their luggage. Unfortunately, the visits are few and far between, so it can be months between each libation.

The Coffee Chill contains skim milk, whole milk, sugar, coffee powder, percolated coffee and flavour. It is described as "strong percolated iced coffee", which is what makes it streets ahead of the eastern states muck. It actually tastes of coffee and seems to contain about half the sugar of the Sydney brands. Drinking it does not make your teeth feel like they are about to fall out.

Up until a few months ago, Brownes iced coffee was available in Woolies supermarkets in NSW. It was not Coffee Chill - it was some half arsed iced coffee that they had tailored for the eastern markets. However, it still beat the living daylights out of the local product. I bought it in supermarkets on the north coast on a trip to Brisbane, I bought it in supermarkets on the way to Melbourne, I bought it on the south coast down below Nowra, and most of all, I bought it at the Woolies in Balmain. I used to trek over to Balmain on Thursday night (because that seemed to be the night they restocked the dairy fridge) and buy as many cartons of the Coffee Chill substitute as I could fit into my shopping basket. Then one day, the buggers disappeared, never to return. I rang Woolies soon after and asked for their dairy department, and when I was put through, they denied that they had ever stocked the product.

Either they don't know what they stock, or they are liars.

I rang Brownes today on their customer service line (1800 675 484) and left a message on their answering machine asking whether they are flogging iced coffee through any outlets in NSW. Brownes are now owned by Fontera Brands, which seems to be a good sized company. They must have some pull with the supermarket chains and should be able to stock some product somewhere. On the other hand, Brownes might be a behemoth in the West, but it is a nothing brand east of the nullarbor. You can go into just about any shop in WA and find a fridge full of Brownes products, including several different types of iced coffee. There is light weight fat free muck for the chicks, their version of "Real Coke" iced coffee, and Coffee Chill.

Until about 15 years ago, there was only one line of iced coffee (which I call the real coke version). Then, they decided to stretch the brand and came out with the pissy version and the strong version. Me, I prefer the new, stronger version over the old style traditional number.

You know my gripe? You can buy the god awful Nescafe product in supermarkets from coast to coast. However, you can't buy the best product on the planet east of Eucla. There is something wrong with this universe that we live in.