Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jock's Ice Cream

Australia isn't known for it's ice cream, and with good reason. Quality ice cream is a hard thing to find in the land down under. The variety of ice cream outlets and even grocery store options are something I took for granted during my time in the USA. I never realised that the rest of the world lived without Ben & Jerry's. OMG! I didn't appreciate the Blue Bell Homemade Peach (the Texans among you know what I'm talking about) until it was too late. Honestly, I'm not even a true ice cream connoisseur. Deep down, I'm a Slurpee girl at heart. So when I first moved to Australia, I didn't even take notice of the lack of good ice cream. I just wanted to make sure there was a ready supply of Slurpees.

As it turns out, I married an ice cream fanatic who, unfortunately unbeknown to him, happened to live in a country with paltry ice cream offerings. The Handsome Australian loves nothing more than a cold bowl of ice cream at the end of the night. Until we lived in the USA together for a stint early in our marriage, he was quite happy with the ice cream he'd grown up eating in Australia. Then I introduced him to Ben & Jerry's and the like, and thus began his dissatisfaction with the Australian ice cream industry. He couldn't believe the myriad of flavours on offer in the USA, nor the quality. Just as we wondered how Americans survived without Tim Tams, we also wondered how Australians survived with out Ben & Jerry's.

After living in the USA, the Handsome Australian became a true ice cream snob. It was the only part of his food snob persona that had yet to be cultivated, so it was no surprise really. He was all ready a coffee snob and a restaurant snob; to become an ice cream snob as well was really the logical next step.

As you can imagine, once you become an ice cream snob, not just any ice cream will do. You want to eat really good ice cream all the time. How do you do that when you live in a place where really good ice cream is hard to find? Well, you pack the wife and kids in the car and you drive across town to visit Jock's.

83 Victoria Ave, Albert Park

Jock's Ice Cream & Sorbet is both a well kept secret and an institution. Tucked appropriately between a Pizzeria and a Video shop on Albert Park's Victoria Avenue, Jock's always has a steady stream of customers. The place seems to do a roaring trade with the locals who all arrive on foot, bicycle, skateboard or scooter. Some come just for one scoop, while others arrive with cooler bags and grab a couple of litres to take home. How lucky are these folks to have Jock in their neighbourhood?

Then there are the diehards like us. The people who have driven over half an hour to marvel at Jock's wall of awards (yes, there is a wall full of framed awards in case you were in doubt about the quality of the ice cream) and drool over the offerings in the freezer case. There is a definite quirkiness about Jock's and a true originality when it comes to flavour offerings. On our most recent visit, the Handsome Australian chose "Baked Apple" to top his cone. Imagine a baked apple pie, but as an ice cream flavour. Honestly, it was so smooth and subtle yet extraordinarily delicious.

I was enticed by the "Obamarama", which was peanut butter and jelly ice cream.


Seriously. I wouldn't normally go for that kind of a flavour, but after tasting the Baked Apple, I knew that Obamarama, while unusual, would not disappoint. It certainly didn't.

Our little fellow loves lemon. If there is a lemon sorbet on offer, that's what he wants. Inevitably, we always have to eat half of his cone because it starts to melt before he can finish...or that's how we explain it to him anyway. This means I've tasted a lot of lemon sorbet over the years and Jock's version of the lemon sorbet is definitely the best I've ever had.

Loves a little Lemon

As for the little lady, she loves anything involving a mixture of chocolate and vanilla. Jock's answer for her was a flavour called, "Chocolate Ripple". This is another popular Aussie dessert, Chocolate Ripple Cake, as an ice cream flavour. Nothing but smiles from her, confirming yet another winning flavour combination.

Her smile has a ripple effect

After the hard work of choosing your flavour is over, you can relax on large communal benches outside or take your ice cream for a stroll along the beach which is a short three blocks away. Fantastic ice cream in a lovely neighbourhood right next to the beach. Who could ask for more?

Not this guy, he's in heaven!

If the ice cream is this good, how could it still be a well kept secret? This is the one thing I don't understand about Jock's. When I mention the place to people in our area, no one has heard of it. Yet the newspaper clippings and magazine articles singing the praises of Jock's line another wall inside his store. Some things just can't be explained, but I'll tell you this--run, don't walk, to Jock's today for your own little scoop of ice cream heaven.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Starting all over again...again.

Two short weeks ago, I started over. My oldest child began her first year of primary school here in Australia and although I've been living here for 10 years, this experience has been a whole new ball game. I felt once again, like I'd just arrived. I know lots of parents have to adjust to the difference between preschool and primary school, but I can't help but think that as an expat, there is another dimension. I feel like, in many ways, I've got far more things to consider than my Australian counterparts going through the same transition.

Australians have a basic working knowledge of the school system here because they were educated in the very system in question. I, on the other hand, was educated in the American public school system. I can't help but constantly feel like I'm on the back foot and everyone else is two steps ahead of me. The school schedule, the daily routine, the curriculum, all seems to be second nature to most of the other parents, but I'm taking in the information as quickly as it's coming and I still feel a bit like a deer in the headlights. The Handsome Australian is a good reference for me because he was schooled here in Australia, but his memory is vague. Really, really vague. (Is there a man out there that remembers details? Anyone?) So I soldier on, trying to work it all out.

The basics are all there, but the approach is vastly different to what I remember of school in the USA. During a Parent Information Evening last week, our daughter's teacher was explaining the "No Worries" approach that the school takes with the children. If they make a mistake, they are told, "No worries, we all make mistakes. " That seemed fair enough. Then she said, "If they forget something at home like their hat or their jacket or their show and tell item, please don't rush home and get it for them even if they are crying. We just say, 'No worries'. It's okay, you forgot." I appreciate that these kids are very young and teaching them to not sweat the little things is probably good for their resilience, but gee it seems really laid back to an American like me. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it's different. It's many subtle differences like this that mean I have to constantly rethink my expectations, readjust my understanding and review the process.

Then there is the whole social side of things. Just like my daughter in her new class, I've got to make new friends with the other Mums. I've always said Melbourne social circles can be a hard nut to crack. My prior experience here has taught me that most Melbournians have well established friendship circles full of life long friends and family which leave very little room for expats like myself. I'm not saying Melbournians are unfriendly, I'm just saying the lack of transience in their culture means the ties that bind are that much stronger than a more transient society like the USA. Which means as an Expat, you have to work that much harder to create a network for yourself--especially when you spend 2 months out of the year back in the USA, which has been the case for our family for the past 4 or 5 years.

Yes, just as the school year is settling in, and we've started to learn the names of the other children and parents, we pick up and go back to the USA for 6-8 weeks. When our daughter started preschool, I thought nothing of our trip to the USA and its social implications for either of us. When we returned from our trip I realised the friendship groups in the class and among the parents had formed and we were on the outside looking in, once again. This isn't a problem that doesn't solve itself over time, but it's just the constant feeling of starting over, starting over, starting over. Of course as soon as we settle in to the group, the year is finished and the following year is a different class or even a different preschool...and repeat.

Now that my daughter is at primary school, I know we'll be in one place for quite awhile so the friendships we make now will hopefully be lasting ones. Still, with a trip to the USA pending 6 short weeks after the beginning of the school year, I am doing everything I can to meet and befriend as many of the families as we can to try and avoid that starting over feeling again once we return from our trip. Who knew there would be so much to consider?

I thought I'd gotten the hang of this country, but here I am starting all over...again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A peanut butter injustice!

The Handsome Australian and I had the opportunity to take our little people to lunch at the local cafe today. We don't exactly live in a suburb that is overrun with first rate eateries. In fact, I can't think of a single one in a 2-3km radius. Most of the places near us are typical suburban cafes. Nothing fancy, prices are reasonable and the coffee is generally 'good enough'. As the Handsome Australian is a self professed "food snob", it takes a bit of convincing to get him to eat locally. He much prefers the inspired menus, award winning barristas and slick fit outs of the inner city eateries. Unfortunately, for the Handsome Australian, you can't be cool 100% of the time--especially when you have kids.

Our cafe of choice today is one frequented by the children and I on a regular basis. We pop in to have coffee, milk shakes and smartie cookies at least once or twice a week. It has a real neighbourhood vibe. We always know at least one or two other customers when we arrive. The kids love the place because there is a bucket of toys in a corner in the back and they spend the entire time playing with their mates while I catch up with the other Mums. It's not flashy, but it serves a purpose. It's a good neighbourhood meeting place for the desperate housewives of our little slice of suburban Melbourne.

So when we went today for lunch with the Handsome Australian, I tried to prepare him for what he'd find upon arrival. I told him the coffee wasn't going to compare to the ones he gets from the award winning barrista across the road from his City office. I told him the menu was limited and to be honest, I don't actually eat there, we usually just grab drinks and cookies. I wanted to lower the expectations as much as possible because when the Handsome Australian goes for a meal, he doesn't like to be disappointed. I thought I'd done a pretty good job of lowering the bar...

When we arrived, we found they had a kid's menu which was very reasonably priced (they aren't paying City rents are they?) with many options that our children would find appealing. After a brief discussion, our oldest decided she'd have a Vegemite sandwich and our youngest chose to have peanut butter and jam (or jelly for the Americans out there). The Handsome Australian and I chose a couple of foccacias and then we waited.

The waitress brought out the kids' sandwiches first. They are served on plastic kid friendly platters with cute pictures. They are cut up into bit size squares that kids can easily handle. So far so good. Then I looked over at the little man's peanut butter and jam and my jaw hit the floor. There were piles of margarine oozing out the sides of his sandwich. (Don't believe me? Have a look at the photo above? Large quantities of margarine clearly visible!!) This was a real, WTF? kind of moment. Who puts margarine on a peanut butter and jam sandwich? Isn't the butter in peanut butter implied? Do you need to add butter or margarine? Never in my 30ish years have I ever seen such a disservice done to the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Who knew you could tamper with something so pure and simple? Wow.

Poor little man didn't eat it. I wonder why? I've never understood the Australians' need to put margarine on the bread of every sandwich they make. Surely common sense should prevail in a case like this. From now on I'll be ordering the peanut butter and jam sandwiches WITHOUT the butter!!!

Yes, this is a crazy, crazy place. Or perhaps this particular well meaning suburban cafe is a crazy, crazy place. One thing is for certain, after seeing this crime against peanut butter and jam, the Handsome Australian will never set foot in this cafe again. I guess I just didn't lower the bar could I have known?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Expat or Texpat?

I was shopping recently and came across a sales woman with a familiar sounding accent. She was clearly American, and once she heard me speaking to my son, she realised I must be as well. She asked, "Are you from North America?" (Which is the polite way to ask someone if they are American by the way, because if you ask a Canadian if they are American, well, you'll never hear the end of it. The accents can sound very similar sometimes especially with a little Aussie lingo in the mix that you can never be sure. So to be on the safe side, go for the whole continent and then work your way down). I said, "Yes, I am." So then she asked me even more politely, "What part of North America? Canada or the US?" To which I replied, "Oh me, I'm from Texas." Then we had the standard conversation about how she couldn't believe I was from Texas (always a hard sell) because I don't sound anything like a Texan (insert stereotypical accent here). We talked about places she'd been in Texas and the fact that she actually lived there for five years once herself. Turns out this particular saleswoman was from Chicago originally, married an Aussie and is now settled here in Melbourne with her very own Handsome Australian and a couple of kids.

When we finished with our pleasantries I wished her a good afternoon and continued my shopping. As I walked along, I replayed the conversation in my mind and started to think about my response to her question about where I'm from. When she said, 'Canada or the US?' I didn't even blink and shot out 'Texas'. Why? Maybe I was just trying to skip the next question: whereabouts in the US are you from? I don't think that was the case though. I think it was a case of Texas pride, because we Texans are, amongst other things, a proud people. Yes, the more I think about it, I wanted to make it very clear that I was not just from the US, but from Texas.

You know, there is a saying that goes: Texas. It's like a whole other country. The longer I live in Australia, the more I feel that way about Texas. When we make our annual trips to the USA to visit, we visit Texas almost exclusively. I've got family spread out all over the state and it takes us the entire 6 weeks just to fit them all in. So we really aren't visiting the US, we are visiting Texas and it is like a whole other country to us.

So I'm thinking instead of the 'Expat' label, perhaps 'Texpat' is more appropriate.