Friday, July 31, 2009

Different? Yes. Delicious? You're asking the wrong girl.

I was watching TV the other day when I saw some guy offering people tastes of Vegemite. They were all commenting on how creamy it was. It was definitely Vegemite they said, but different. Turns out it was an ad for the NEW Vegemite. A New Vegemite? I couldn't possibly imagine what could be done to Vegemite to make it more appealing. In my experience, you either love it or hate it. There isn't much of a gray area. You can count me amongst the haters, but still, I was intrigued.

Our entire household isn't full of Vegemite haters. In fact, I'm on my own in my disliking of this salty brown tar paste. The Handsome Australian and both of our children count themselves in the lovers camp. No one more so than my girl. She really LOVES Vegemite. She could eat it all day every day. So it was for her that I picked up a bottle of this New Vegemite at the grocery store this week.

It looks kind of like the old Vegemite, but is screaming out for a name. In fact, KRAFT is looking for some good inspiration in that department and asking consumers to submit their naming ideas. Turns out the original Vegemite was named by the Australian public in a similar fashion way back in 1923. It'll be interesting to see what the Aussies come up with now.

Overlooking this New Vegemite's obvious identity crisis, I decided to serve it to the Vegemite connoisseur in our household this morning. The package promises it will be, "A deliciously different Vegemite experience." Hmm...she'll be the judge of that I thought.

I told her that I found a New Vegemite at the grocery store and asked if she wanted to try it. I told her I'd heard it was creamier than the original. She was excited. She's an enthusiastic kid. "Oh, yes please Mommy. I'd love to try it." So I went to the kitchen to put the bread in the toaster and she came around the corner with a thoughtful expression on her face. Then she said, "Mommy, can I taste a little bit first--before you spread it all over my toast?" Ah ha! It seems 30 seconds of processing by the five year old led her to the same conclusion I had--what the heck could they have done to the Vegemite to make it taste better? She went from enthusiastic to suspicious.

So I put a little bit on the spreading knife and she dabbed her finger in it. She put the finger in her mouth and tasted it. I waited. "Mmmmm...." she said.

"Do you like it?" I questioned.

"Well, it's not sour. I like it sour. This isn't sour. I want the other Vegemite on my toast please Mommy."

Sour? What did she mean sour? Vegemite is sour? How the heck would I know? I've only tasted it a few times and all I remember is that I don't like it. Again, I was intrigued. So against my better judgement, I tasted the New Vegemite. It was creamy and lighter in colour. It tasted like Vegemite, but not as much. It was a more subtle Vegemite flavour. It just didn't have the Vegemite bite.

I hadn't bothered to read the label on the New Vegemite at the store to ascertain exactly how it was different from the original, but after tasting it, I was curious. So I had a read.

Turns out they basically added cream cheese to the original formula. Interesting. That would explain the creaminess and the less concentrated flavour.

It was clearly not fair to taste the New Vegemite without comparing it with the old and so I had a small taste of the original. By 'small', I do mean 'really, really small' because I haven't completely lost my mind.

Oh yes. It was salty and yes, I guess sour in a way. I remembered yet again, why I don't like Vegemite--because it's disgusting. I couldn't help but thinking, however, that much like bad reality television, Vegemite is oddly compelling. I keep coming back to it and marveling at the fact that people actually eat and enjoy it. Then I try it, and it's still disgusting.

The ingredients of the original Vegemite are much more straight forward. Despite it's super concentrated flavour, I think the original has a lot going for it. As it clearly states on the label, it's suitable for Vegetarians and I couldn't help but think--people with milk allergies like my nephews. The New Vegemite isn't as friendly in that way.

If that's not enough to put you off the New Vegemite, then I read this, "Refrigerate after opening. Best consumed within four weeks of opening."

No, no, no. I'm not going to refrigerate my Vegemite. The beauty of Vegemite is that it's low maintenance. I can chuck that tube in a back pack for a day out with the kids. I can pack it in my suitcase and lug it around the USA for months at a time (as I've been known to do). No sir, there will be none of this New high maintenance Vegemite for us. We'll stick to the original, thank you very much.

Wait, did I just say, "we"? I told you, it's oddly compelling. I've just put up a case for why I prefer the old Vegemite to the New Vegemite. Not to mention the fact that I've actually tasted both today. I still don't like it, yet I'm still here talking about it. What can I say, it has a strange power over me.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make my way to the KRAFT website to propose my name for the New Vegemite: I Mite Not.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Things are different Down Under

Let's face it, the Handsome Australian and I are raising a multicultural family. Not only do our children have one Australian parent and one American parent, but they have an entire extended family that is Lebanese and well, there are the Texans on the other side. Yes, a very rich heritage indeed. Given the various influences on their language and diet, I think our children move between these worlds (as I like to think of them) quite seamlessly. They've been lucky enough to be surrounded by a very interested and involved network of family and friends--each one imparting the best bits of their culture to our little sponges. Their vast knowledge of these various worlds came to light recently when their American cousins came Down Under for a visit.

We've been fortunate enough to make annual trips back to the USA since the birth of our first child five years ago. So fortunate, in fact, that our daughter made her sixth trip to the USA just before her 5th birthday. This means that our children have had significant exposure to all things American, and more so, all things Texan. Our daughter figured out long ago that Americans use different words for some things than what we use in Australia. When she is in the USA, she does a good job of converting her vocabulary so that she can be understood by her American cousins. Such a good job in fact, that I don't think her cousins really picked up on the fact that things in Australia are quite different to the way things are in the USA. Lots of words are different, food is different, weather is different--it's all really, really different.

When our Texan cousins came to visit a few weeks ago, I watched as my daughter acted as their unofficial tour guide in this strange and wonderful land. I overheard things like:

My girl: "My Dad's going to take us to the Milk Bar to get an icy pole."
My nephew: "What's an icy pole?"
MG: "Oh, in America you say Popsicle. In Australia, we say icy pole."
MN: "Y'all call Popsicles 'icy poles'?"
MG: "Yep that's right. We do. We also call ketchup 'tomato sauce'"
MN: "Y'all do?"
MG: "Yep, we do. We say a lot of things differently here."
MN: "Why do y'all say those things differently?"
MG: (Authoritatively) "That's just the way they planned it."

Yes, I never said she understood the reasoning behind the differences, I just said she recognised the differences.

It was really fun to see Australia through the eyes of a five year old American boy for two weeks. This kid has a lot of Texas pride and was making constant comparisons between things here in Australia and things he knows in Texas. Australia came out ahead in two areas--my mother-in-law's freshly squeezed lemonade was, "better than my Mommy's lemonade" and the bacon from our local deli that the Handsome Australian fried up one morning was, "better than Houston bacon." Other than that, he pretty much resolved that we should just move to Texas because things are generally better there.

His most surprising observation, after watching my toilet training two year old run around pant less for the good part of two weeks, was, "Mommy even the penises are different here. They are pointy." His mother just quietly agreed and left the whole circumcision discussion for another day. Ah yes, things are different Down Under.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A day at the footy...

What better way to immerse ourselves back into Australian culture than spending a wintry afternoon at the MCG watching a game of Australian Rules Football? The Handsome Australian's beloved Geelong Cats were playing against the Hawks from Hawthorn and he was determined to be there to watch it all happen.

We've been to the footy many times, the Handsome Australian and I, but we've never been to the footy as a family. Last season, the Handsome Australian took our daughter to her very first footy match and she's been a huge fan ever since. She loved it. It was the coldest, rainiest day of the year and she sat through the entire match. Never complained and hasn't stopped asking to return. For one reason or another, the Handsome Australian hasn't managed to take her back to a game. Geelong plays a lot of night games which we thought would be too late and too cold for her and they play a lot of games in Geelong which means we'd have to travel quite a distance to get there. This weekend though, all the stars were in alignment and it was meant to be.

As for our little fellow, he'd never been to a footy match before. Nearly 3 years old now, we decided he'd probably be able to handle a game of footy--or would at least welcome all the food bribes we'd be offering throughout the match. When we told him the news, he was excited. He kept saying, "Take me to the footy match. I want to go to the footy match." So take him we did.

Knowing that I'd require a small bit of convincing to take our two young children out into the chilly winter air and endure four hours of their antics whilst he was engrossed in the football, the Handsome Australian offered a sweetener--if we got organised, we could leave early and have lunch on Victoria Street in Richmond before the match. As much as I hate to admit it, I was easily swayed by this suggestion. I love Vietnamese food and I love eating it in Victoria Street at my favourite Vietnamese restaurant, Thanh Phong. Just the thought of their tasty spring rolls and a bowl of rice vermicelli with beef and lemongrass and I was in the car wearing Geelong colours before the Handsome Australian even put his shoes on.

Our lunch at Thanh Phong was delicious. The children love the spring rolls, the Handsome Australian digs the prawn rice paper rolls and we all love one of the vermicelli dishes. The staff are friendly and they are great with the kids and most importantly, the food comes out quickly.

Full and happy, the Handsome Australian indicated we needed to get moving and get ourselves to the MCG. Not interested in fighting the traffic that would surely be swarming the MCG at this stage, the Handsome Australian suggested we leave the car behind in Victoria Street and make our way to the stadium on the public transport. So we walked up the top of Victoria Street and caught a train at East Richmond station. Two stops later and we jumped off at Jollimont--right at the doorstep to the MCG.

The Handsome Austrlian forged ahead and queued for tickets. We got General Admission tickets which meant we didn't have assigned seats. The tickets were $20AUD each for adults and the kids were free. Even better!

Tickets in hand, we navigated our way inside the iconic stadium and decided our best bet for seating would be on the upper deck. Instead of climbing the endless flights of stairs with two little people, we found a lift and took it straight to the top. When we walked out into the seating area, it struck me just how high up we were and how immense the MCG really is. Previously, I've always sat on the lower level quite close to the field and the atmosphere has felt intimate. From the top deck though, things looked a lot different. We still had an excellent view of the field, but I spent a great deal of time worrying that the little fellow was going to somehow topple down the super steep seats. Definitely not a place for anyone who suffers from acrophobia.

The children were rife with anticipation as we watched both teams warm up on the field. The Handsome Australian was answering their questions and pointing out different players to them. Before we knew it, it was game time. Shortly after the first bounce, the little fellow curled up in my lap and fell asleep. Yes, he fell asleep. Crowd roaring, whistles blowing, buzzers ringing--none of it stopped this kid from sleeping. It was amazing.

Our girl watched the match intently and peppered her father with questions. Unfortunately, her father had brought along his pocket radio and had the earphones in one ear so he could listen to the commentary of the game. You'd think being there would be enough, but apparently you also need to listen to someone else explaining the play. Watching the game and listening to it on the radio simultaneously is pretty much the extent of the Handsome Australian's multi-tasking capabilities, so I was left to answer many a footy question from the inquisitive five year old.

"Who's that player Mommy? The one with the number 3 on his shirt?" she asks.

"Oh number 3, that's Jimmy Bartel (luckily one of the 5 players I can name). He won the Brownlow Medal once (a bit of trivia emerges from the depth of my brain surprising even me)."

"Does that mean he's a good player Mommy?"

"Yes, he's a good player. He's also really hot!"

"Hot? Is that because he's running around a lot and it makes him hot?"

"Yes, that's it. That's exactly what Mommy meant."

Ah yes, conversations like these were had throughout the match. I'm sure she learned heaps and heaps of very accurate details about the football. What can I say? I'm a true fan.

The match itself was always very close. Geelong was behind for most of the game, but found that little bit of something special in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. With minutes left, they managed to pull even with the Hawks. For all intents and purposes, it appeared as if the game would end in a draw. Then in the dying seconds of the game, Jimmy "the Hottie" Bartel took a mark. Then the buzzer went. When you "take a mark" in Aussie rules, you are entitled to an uncontested kick of the ball which meant that Bartel had one last kick to make. He only needed to score a single point to ensure a Geelong victory. The crowd inhaled deeply and waited...Bartel kicked the ball and scored the needed point. The crowd erupted. It was so exciting. The Handsome Australian and our little girl were jumping up and down. I was jumping up and down.

Meanwhile, sleeping beauty who'd been awake all of 5 minutes was looking at us like, "What's the fuss all about? How come everyone is screaming and most importantly, where's my apple juice?" Yes, I think the thrill of the game was lost on the little fellow. Maybe next year he'll get more out of it. I'm certainly keen to go long as there are spring rolls involved that is!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Settling In...still

Wow. Where has the time gone? It's been nearly 8 weeks since the little people and I returned from 2 months in the good old USA. After an initial week of jet lag and self imposed quarantine (seems everyone was convinced we'd brought the swine flu back with us from the USA) we returned to our usual activities...for a week or so. Then school holidays came along and some of our American relatives turned up for a visit. Two weeks went by and another set of American relatives turned up. We've been busy, busy, busy!

Why so many American relatives and why all at once? Well, it turns out that both the Handsome Australian and I have siblings that reside in the USA. In the same Texas city in fact. Yes, it's true. Wait, how did that happen? My sister lives in Texas because well, she's always lived in Texas. The Handsome Australian's handsome brother lives in Texas because, he's married to an American girl too! What can I say? Good taste runs in the family.

So it was the Handsome Australian's handsome brother and his gorgeous little family that arrived first in Australia (two weeks after we returned from the USA). Much like our annual pilgrimage to the USA, they generally make an annual trip here to Australia to visit with the Handsome Australian's family. This makes my inlaws tremendously happy and it makes their extended family even happier. A festival atmosphere begins and there is night after night, day after day of large family gatherings. There is lots of food, plenty of drinks and heaps of laughs. It's a good time. We always enjoy their visits. This year was no different. We had the little ones up late night after night as they spent time playing with their cousins. Bedtimes seem irrelevant when you consider how precious these moments are for these two families living so far away from one another.

As the two weeks with the Handsome Australian's brother came to a close, my sister arrived from the USA with her husband and family in tow. They overlapped the Handsome Australian's brother by one day. So we said goodbye to one set of cousins and geared up to entertain another set. This was my sister's (and her husband's) third visit to Australia and the second one she's made with her children. The children were very young the last time they came, so we had plenty of ground to cover. There was much to see and do in the short time they were here. Here are a few highlights of what we got up to:

*A visit to the Melbourne Aquarium where we saw a very lame performance by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

*A visit to Scienceworks where we saw the special Star Wars exhibition. Star Wars loving brother-in-law was pleased with this.

*A trip to the Tivoli Theatre in Malvern to see a production of Jack and the Beanstalk.

*A trip to Chadstone...the Fashion Capital.

*Swimming at the local indoor pool

*A self guided tour of the Queen Victoria Market in the City.

*Greville Street and Chapel Street walking tour in search of music stores.

*Visits to the many local parks

And because I wanted them to have a complete tour of Melbourne, I also took my nephew to the Emergency Department at Cabrini hospital one weekend at 2am. He was released three hours later without too much drama and was almost as good as new the following day. For his parents, it was an interesting peek at the Australian health care system. What can I say? We like to offer the full package.

This second set of American cousins departed for the USA last Tuesday. So now it's just us here in Australia again. Back to normal....whatever that is. It's been so long, we can't really remember. Time to find our feet in Melbourne again...