Friday, May 27, 2011

I Have an Octopus!!

The amazingly talented Helena of Little Mo and Friends drew me a sweet custom girl octopus. It is the best octopus ever. :)

I have a hi res version and I can't WAIT to print it, frame it, and hang it oh... probably right above my desk so I can stare at it always.

Helena is currently on vacation but please bookmark her shop and check it out later, cause she has the most adorable drawings and items. And she also does custom portraits (or octopodes)!

Thanks, Helena!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hi, My Name is Lexa...

... and today I became an Australian Citizen. It feels kind of nice! I didn't think it would be quite so important to me. After all, I always took being an American citizen for granted (and often felt embarrassed by it!). But I feel like my journey to make Australia Home is finally over for me. Falling in love with someone halfway across the world and immigrating to their country is very much NOT an easy thing to do, even in this day and age of internet globalization. I mean, really, the process should be easier when it is so amazingly easy to meet someone and fall in love when you live in different parts of the globe nowadays! When we were still apart from one another, the fact I could not just go BE with him in his country drove me absolutely mad. Ok, Australia surely can't be the worst country to immigrate to, and it's not like I experienced hardships per se. But anyone who has moved halfway across the world will agree with me that it's a bit of a thing.

I'm not sure Chris and I would have formalised our relationship with marriage had we not been incentivised to do so to make immigrating easier. Both of us strongly believe in marriage equality and the fact that I can marry when very good friends of mine can NOT makes me feel a bit wrong inside. There is that traditional little voice in my head that likes being married and saying "my husband" this and "my husband" that. That's the bit of me that decided to change my last name. Cause, if I'm gonna do it, I may as well commit to the thing wholeheartedly. We could have gone De Facto, sure. Having spoken with my hairstylist who said she did that, I have a feeling they scrutinise those relationships a lot harder. We have a true, honest-to-goodness relationship and we can prove it, but having that legally binding certificate makes it that much easier to go, Look, let me in the damn country so I can be with my goddamn husband already! Ok, I didn't say that to the migration agent, but the process was relatively smooth, all things considered.

Still, I have felt like half my life is still in California, despite living here for more than four years now. California will always be a home to me, especially as long as I have friends and family there. But I am 100% legally allowed to be in this country with all the same exact rights as someone who was born here. They cannot kick me out unless I do something really awful! Chances of that are preeeeetttty tiny. Being a permanent resident wasn't enough. Other than having to prove it every which way I turned to reap the benefits, I was still not OF here. I'm still an outsider trying to fit in to a foreign society. I'm not saying I had weird experiences, or anything like that, but that's just how it felt every time I couldn't check citizen on something. This wasn't quite MY country yet.

It's always weird to find out things like this are actually kind of important. I'm not all rah-rah tattoo-the-Southern-Cross-on-my-bum patriotic, but I'm pretty proud to be Australian. And now I can add my one little voice to the lefties trying to get some important change done in this country. That's pretty cool.

Anyway, I did bring my camera along and I got a few nice photos that my father-in-law took from the night. I need to get proper high-capacity batteries for my camera, though. It eats normal batteries like popcorn. It didn't last till after dinner when I wanted to get a nice shot of Chris and I all dolled up. My father-in-law took the pic on his iPhone instead and emailed it, but I dunno to which email address cause I don't have it and Chris' personal mail doesn't either. Either it's in Chris' work address inbox or he sent it straight to my parents. Hm. THIS IS ALL BESIDE THE POINT. Sorry, late night rambling after too much booze is in effect...


Waiting pre-ceremony. Seats were assigned for those becoming citizens, but Chris and family were just next to me, so that was nice.

Saying the pledge.

Getting the certificate! That is the Mayor of Ashfield on the left and... some chick on the right. Also, I think I saw the mayor's face light up when he saw my name and realised it was totally pronounceable. Heh. I'm sad we're blocking the Aboriginal flag, though.

Better view of the certificate. It's printed crooked, that wasn't my scanner's fault.

Beautiful Darling Harbour. This is the view from where we sat eating dinner at Hurricane's Bar and Grill. I totally intended to take a foodporn pic of the awesome ribs I ate, but OH MAN I dug into them right away. SO GOOD. The place was recommended to me for the ribs, and it was not a let down. Everything I had was tasty, and I ended the dinner with a lovely affogato. Mm.

EDIT: Look! Chris found the photo in his work email. YAY. We're pretty cute here, if I do say so myself. Here is where the picture of Chris and I would be, had I a copy of it. Hmph.

Here is an abysmally terrible phone pic of the gorgeous opal necklace my mother-in-law gave me. I'll replace it with a better one when my camera isn't dead.

It was a lovely, important night shared with family. We're off to Melbourne tomorrow night and bright and early Saturday morning we have tickets to the Tutankhamun exhibit. Exciting! I hope to get camera batteries tomorrow so I can document the trip properly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Food Files: What I've Been Cooking (Warning: Long)

I've been cooking a lot more lately to help manage our food spending and such. Chris is paid fortnightly, so I plan out the meals I want to make for the next two weeks and do a big shop for it. I'm actually really enjoying the process of meal planning and making shopping lists. It probably helps that we do our big grocery hauls from and have them deliver, so I get to research, plan, and shop all at my leisure. For a delivery fee that is only a couple bucks more than major pizza chains charge you, it is so worth it to have two weeks worth of groceries delivered right into my kitchen.

I also have been enjoying trying my hand at cooking new things! I went through a big soup phase for a while, because soups are generally one-pot meals and you can make enough for days of leftovers. Great for meals on a budget. Plus, soups get Chris to eat veggies he normally wouldn't try. It's kind of fun seeing what I can get him to eat. Soups are still on the menu, with the weather turning colder every day, but I'm branching out to try other sorts of meals I've never made before.

I apologise for not having awesome photos documenting things for this post. I will try to take more from now on, but I didn't think of it at the time.

So, I started off with a classic last week, French Onion Soup. I used this recipe from Girl Cook in Paris, which also provides great instructions on making your own beef consommé. However, because of costs, I totally cheated and bought a box of Campbell's Beef Consommé. I would definitely like to try making my own, some day. But I've been really pleased with Campbell's box of stocks in my soups, so far, and so I was willing to give their consommé a try when it would provide a large part of the flavour of the soup. I'm certain homemade would taste better, but Campbell's didn't disappoint, either. I thought it was interesting that this recipe calls for a long sweat of the onions, but not true caramelisation, as many French Onion Soup recipies instruct. Since I didn't want to take forever making the soup, I sweated the onions for the prescribed hour. The soup was great, especially with the tasty Gruyère croutons, but I will try caramelising the onions next time to see how that changes the flavour. This recipe passed the Chris Approval taste test, too. Thankfully, he really likes onions.

Next, I made gyoza! Chris, despite not liking anything with noodles, loves gyoza. I haven't explicitly told him that gyoza skins are basically the same thing as noodles, though, so SHH. I didn't use a specific recipe. Mostly, I made up proportions of stuff based on what I like and looking at a few recipes to see what normally goes inside the dumplings. I used chives, spring onions, a LOT of coriander (I loooooove coriander), a few cloves of garlic, some splashes of sesame oil and a tsp or two of corn flour, salt and pepper, and mixed all that with 500g of pork mince. That made about 50 gyoza, and I don't normally like tedious cooking like folding endless amounts of dumplings. Luckily, I have a handy, dandy gyoza maker from JList!

I love this thing!

Gyoza-making was pretty speedy for doing it all myself. I've got about 30 of the suckers stashed away in my freezer now, too. I love food you can easily store for later. So the gyoza themselves turned out pretty well. The only change to my recipe for next time will be to add some soy sauce to the mince for a bit extra saltiness and flavour. I didn't mind them too much, since I eat my dumplings with a dipping sauce (I mixed together soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and, lacking sake, a dash of dry sherry). But Chris eats his plain, so I think the added flavour would help a lot. But I'm pleased with how they turned out for my first time.

And look, so pretty!

I cooked them with a traditional steam/pan fry combo. Delish. I don't have any photos of them cooked, cause we ate them all up too quickly.

Later in the week, I wanted to try something different for breakfast. I was looking up ideas to dress up my porridge in more interesting ways, and came across this recipe for Apple Cinnamon and Oatmeal Pancakes. (By the way, Closet Cooking is an amazing treasure trove of recipe ideas. I'm basing most of my meals next pay period on things I've found on that blog.) I made the pancakes pretty much to the letter of the recipe, except for adding apple sauce, since I just plain didn't have any or enough apples to make some. But I'm lucky Chris likes to have granny smith apples around to chomp on (he eats them raw, ew!), because I always have a good cooking apple handy. Can I just say that these are the best pancakes I've eaten in a long time? Cause THEY WERE. I ate them straight out of the pan, while I was cooking up the rest of the batch, so they weren't around nearly long enough for me to stop with a camera to shoot a picture. I just topped them with a bit more maple syrup and they were good to go. Yum. Also, I got to eat them all myself, cause Chris hates pancakes. Sometimes his weird food habits are to my benefit!

Last night, I tried my hand at teriyaki chicken for the first time ever. I knew the sauce was a simple one, and honestly, most of the ones you get premade from a bottle are pretty terrible. Apparently the sauce is extremely simple! I used the most basic recipe I could find: equal parts soy sauce and mirin (I used the low alcohol one you can get in any supermarket), with a couple tablespoons of sugar. Most recipes also call for sake, but that is way out of my price range for cheap, easy dinners. This dinner was the most disappointing one I've made in a while, though, but not because the sauce was bad, at all. The teriyaki sauce turned out fantastic and super delicious! But, even though I really should know better, the raw chicken thighs had been sitting in my fridge for about half a week. Let's just say they were a tad on the funky side. Not gone off, not nearly, but enough that even a coating of delicious teriyaki glaze couldn't get rid of the slight funkyness. I really DO know better, and next time, unless I'm cooking the chicken in the next day or two, it is going straight into the freezer. Chris didn't mind the tinge of funk and declared the teriyaki chicken a great success. (Guess who is eating leftovers?) I, however, had a nice dish of stir fried veggies on rice with teriyaki sauce. Could be worse! Also, as a last note, I will cook the thighs a bit differently, too. They were pretty thick, so even though they were cooked through from pan frying, they were still a tad under for our taste. I am used to being careful with chicken breast, because you need to get it to that just perfect point of cooked but not overcooked so that it stays juicy. Thighs can take the abuse and the texture is a bit soft if they aren't cooked thoroughly. I'll probably brown them in a pan and then finish them in the oven, so the heat really penetrates. This is exactly how I cook steak, and that never fails. But part of the fun of cooking is learning what to do better next time!

Lastly, I found myself today with some leftover rice. I love leftover rice. It means I get to make fried rice!! Normally, I make it very simply, with egg, rice and soy sauce. My grandmother used to make me fried rice and egg this way very often as breakfast growing up, and it brings back all sorts of great memories for me. However, I have extra seasoning and things lying around, so I decided to fancy it up a bit. I added in chopped  spring onion for a bit of green, and I cooked it in a mixture of olive and sesame oils. Also, I added a splash of mirin with the splash of soy sauce, to round out the flavour.


That massive plate of rice did not last very long. You're lucky I stopped to take a photo. The added flavours were amazing. Nothing is better than a great plate of fried rice!

So, those are my food adventures recently. Upcoming menu items are: baked potato soup, chili con carne, pot roast, corn chowder, and maybe irish stew!

A Followup about Health and Obesity

A friend on Twitter linked this really great article about obesity and health campaigns touting the dangers of being overweight. To quote:
Given we know that fad diets make the majority of people fatter, there is a need to work out how to shift women's habits away from dieting and body dissatisfaction, and towards exercise and a more healthy relationship with their body.
 Yeah, totally what I was saying! Anyway, the article is really great, and I think the study being conducted, as discussed in the article, is a huge step in the right direction. Give it a read!! Link here: