Friday, January 29, 2010

Burnt, Dehydrated, Overtired (But Definitely Out-there!)

As my cunning acronym inspired title may have alerted you, this is a post about Big Day Out – specifically mine and my lovely lady friends’ adventures at this years’ first Sydney show (22nd of January).

First, I’ll get my weather rant out of the way – it was bloody hot. Really. Very, very, very hot. It was like the sun noticed that there were 50,000 semi-clothed people dancing and singing away in Homebush and decided it would be a good time to turn up the UV and blast out some sunburns and some solid cases of heat-stroke. Which is exactly what happened.

Second, I need to get off my chest my feelings about the other festival goers’ attire (I know I should ignore them and just listen to the music, but I’m snarky and cynical and can’t help myself). Anyway, once at Olympic park, my friends and I quickly noticed that this season’s must-have fashion item was bare skin. Lots of it – shirtless, bikinis – it didn’t matter. You just had to have the skin out there. And preferably have it tanned to a nice burnt roast chicken colour. (Seriously, I thought most of Australia had caught onto the fact that tanning increases your chance of skin cancer? Apparently not.) However, the skin-cancer hunting hoards were not BDO’s oddest dressed (also, we didn’t spot any fabled high-heel wearing girls) – instead, the oddest dressed prize goes to the multitudes of bikini girls who wore tight, unzipped short-shorts. That’s right. Deliberately unzipped. This we couldn’t get over. Their plan seemed to be: find the smallest pair of shorts possible, making sure they were tight enough not to fall down, and then unzip them, exposing your swimmer bottoms or underpants. Am I missing something here? Are the girls in Sydney so much further ahead in the fashion stakes than me? Anyway. On to the music.

Travelling with three friends, we had an eclectic line-up of acts to see. I ended up catching Lisa Mitchell, Tame Impala, Kasabian, the end of Temper Trap, all of Passion Pit and Muse, most of Girl Talk and Calvin Harris, the beginning of Dizzee Rascal, most of Midnight Juggernaughts, all of Ladyhawke (she’s so cool!) and most of Peaches (who wins major hilarious awesome points for encouraging the last clothed 20% of the crowd to strip by saying she was having a competition between all the BDOs to see who could follow her instructions best: she chanted “shirts come off. Shirts, shirts come off.” Then everyone span their shirts round in the air. If a pop-star told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?)

The day started well when the little, red-lipped folky Lisa Mitchell went nuts at the beach-ball touting crowd after they tossed one-dollar coins on stage during her hit song “Coin Laundry”. This, apparently, is a major problem for her (my friends tell me a similar thing happened during her set at the Falls Festival). Anyway, Lisa Mitchell stopped the song at the beginning of the first chorus, swore at the crowd, and instructed them to punch anyone out who threw anymore coins. The crowd stopped throwing coins, she began the song again and the rest of her set went well, her scowling and close-to-tears look aside.

Lisa Mitchell swears at the crowd for their coin throwing tendencies

By three pm when Passion Pit started, the day was at its hottest. The ground was dry, t-shirts and bare backs were sweat drenched and those who tossed their water bottles into the air were hailed as heroes. Passion Pit’s set was energetic and full of enthusiastic electro-pop goodness. I was surprised at how well their high-pitched, synth-layered voices worked in a live setting. They played all their big singles from “Manners” and the crowd lapped it up and then sweated it out again (yuck. I just realised what an appalling analogy that was). But seriously, this was sweat-city.

Moving onwards through the Big Day and one of the big headliners, Dizzee Rascal was on. He jumped up on stage. And promptly took off his shirt. And started dancing. I was up the back for this set so the sound quality was rubbish, and admittedly, I didn’t hear Dizzee sing the hit “Bonkers” but I wasn’t that impressed. The best part of his set was, as one of my 30 Rock loving friends pointed out, the fact that Dizzee was probably channelling the character Tracy Morgan – a similarly shirt-shy dude known for crazy antics and self-promotion.

The crowd for Dizzee Rascal. I think all they did was yell "sing Bonkers!!!"

Even later in the day... I’ve never really listened to that much Calvin Harris but his set in the (mercifully shady) Boiler Room was outrageously great. The well-dressed, sexy-British accented Harris played fun, happy pop music that made you want to party. And party we did. Playing his major hit “Ready for the Weekend” on a Friday was perfect and the crowd danced around like the cast of Footloose crossed with the dancers from So You Think You Can Dance? (or at least that’s how we felt like we were dancing). He also really made an effort to engage with the crowd between songs and said the best possible things to us - “Sydney, you are fucking sexy!”

The indoor ferris-wheel in the Boiler Room. Points for awesomeness.

Very late in the day and people were flaking. However, I had friends who were keen as mustard to catch the epic-ness that is Muse. Though I’m not really a Muse fan, they certainly knew how to put on a good show. Their method? One: get lasers. Get lots of lasers. Screw it, get even more lasers. Lasers are so fucking awesome that we should have as many as possible, right? Two: write some epic songs. Preferably about not being over thrown, or about uniting the world or about black holes (they’re pretty epic, right?). Three: add 50,000 partying punters and shake. And that was Muse.

Muse. Now with epic lasers.

Big Day Out certainly lived up to its name. It ticked “big” – stacks of bands, “day” – it was a whole day of live music fun and “out” – you definitely knew you were outside, and out amongst it all.

Next time, Laneway Festival!

xx Esther

(All photos courtesy of the lovely Cleo who, unlike me actually bothered to take photos with her camera. I’m going to have to remember to use mine at Laneway…)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beess and co. café

After becoming quite lax with my posting (I encountered some major technical difficulties – I lost my clearly vital camera cord), I thought I should resume my blog activities with a post that fitted quite nicely with my recent state of laziness – lazy summer lunches.

Specifically, I’d like to write about one of my favourite Canberra cafés – Beess and co. at the Yarralumla shops. I’ve eaten both breakfasts and lunches at this fabulous place – and all have been pretty snazzy. But for some reason, (probably because you have to get up so early in the morning for breakfast), I've eaten a lot more lunches here. So a lunch review this is.

Back in the days when I was gainfully employed, I used to work in Deakin and really, the only benefit of my soul-crushing data entry job (except for the fact that it allowed me to pay giant central heating-bills… stupid Canberra winters) was that it positioned me to regularly buy lunch at Beess and co.

The first time I had one of their smoked salmon, avocado and salad sandwiches, with an olive oil vinaigrette, I was so impressed that I had to call my sister off my work phone (ok, another benefit) and tell her how I was blown away by the best sandwich I had ever had. She didn’t quite share in my amazement. Also, their long blacks are so good, that I used to wait til lunch to have my first coffee just so I could really appreciate their baristas' skills.

The amazing smoked salmon sandwich

Last week my fellow blogger, the charming Miss Grace and I decided to go to Beess and co. for an aforementioned lazy summer lunch. It was lovely, except I did see the CEO of my ex-work having a power lunch their with some board members. This was a little awkward so Grace and ate inside rather than under the trees (this was actually quite nice because it was air-conditioned inside).

For lunch Grace had the vegetarian lasagne – which she reviewed as quite a tasty dish. I branched out from smoked salmon sandwiches and ordered the coconut prawn and soba noodle salad. The prawns and salad were fantastic, though I thought the salad dressing could have been a little sweeter.

Vegetarian Lasagne

Coconut cream prawns and soba noodle salad

I have a lot of time for Beess and co. and hope that they can continue to be a quality urban café. At mine and Grace's lunch, as ever, the table service was prompt and friendly and the coffee fantastic. The prices, while not extraordinarily cheap, are really quite reasonable. It's often quite busy at lunch there, so it pays to book - this way you can also reserve one of the many tables that are located under some enormous leafy trees which provide some nice dappled shade.

xx Esther

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to the 80s

'The 80s Are Back' Exhibition Poster

I am a child of the vibrant, quirky decade of 1980s. While a few years ago I looked back with shame on the fashions and music of this decade, now it seems enough time has lapsed for the years of big hair and shoulder pads to become subject for nostalgia and fun for all ages. The curators the exhibition ‘The 80s Are Back’, held at Sydney Powerhouse Museum, had just this nostalgia in mind when they planned this fun show, currently running at the Muesum.

From the moment I made my way down the Perspex-covered, neon lit walkway; complete with strains of ‘Karma Chameleon’ and ‘Thriller’ in the background, I new I was in for some fun! The exhibition celebrates popular culture of the 80s, with a strong Australian emphasis. You can see snippets of ‘Neighbours’ and clothes worn by the shows stars, including Kylie Minogue, and the jacket worn by INXS frontman Michael Hutchins.

The 80s were a time of playing video games and disco dancing, each of which have a strong presence in the exhibition. Lots of kids (and adults) were having lots of fun playing video arcade games that were dotted around the exhibition. Having the activities alongside the exhibits contributed to the energetic, fun feel of the show. You can even dance in cube shaped mock disco. I watched as numerous exhibition goers (many with their young children and claiming disbelief at having lived through the decade)rocked away to strains of 80s pop tunes under the neon lights. If only I had remembered my leg warmers…

80s 'Red Robin' Active Leisure Wear, photo Bruno Bernini
I loved the fashion displays of ‘The 80s Are Back’! Examples of frilly rah-rah skirts, onesies (they have come back in fashion recently) and the women’s powers suit made me think that the fashion wasn’t all bad back then, though I do hope that shoulder pads never come back into fashion.

Speaking of design, on show are some example of quirky 80s furniture. Eclectic designs by the Memphis and Alessi design groups embody the emphasis on pastiche and excess that characterise the decade. The thought of looking at these in your home would probably give most people a headache, but they fit right in with this exhibition. The only thing is deciphering what exactly the pieces are meant to be, and what to do with them!

Ettore Sottsass for Memphis Designs, 'Carlton' Roomdivider, 1981, Powerhouse Museum

One of my favourite parts of this fun exhibition was a display of a teenage girls bedroom. I’m sure that many of the thirty something in the crowd (and there were a lot of them) had memories of watching ‘Footloose’ and reading dolly come flooding back when looking at the bedroom, complete with cassette tapes and even a ‘Dirty Dancing’ poster on the wall.

‘The 80s Are Back’ is one the best exhibitions I have seen in years! I spent hours making my way through the numerous displays. Entry to the exhibition comes free with the general entrance fee ($10 for adults, $6 for concessions). The powerhouse Museum is in Ultimo, Sydney, right near Darling Harbour, and is open every day from 10am-5pm. It is set to run until late this year. For more information, and to see more great pictures from the exhibition including the ones shown here, check out the website;


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Plundering Visitors

As I was making my coffee this morning, I noticed a couple of friendly visitors had discovered my plum tree. Two Eastern Rosellas that are just gorgeous! They remind of of the Rosella on Arnott's biscuit tins. This one of the most beautiful breeds of Australian birds, and I felt very lucky to have them visit my garden.

I kept watching the hungry bird, and it's friend until they both flew away. I have been wondering what to do with all those plums! And think, I didn't even have to put any birdseed out to attract the delightful guests.

Who knew I was a budding ornithologist?



Saturday, January 2, 2010

Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad

On principle, while I find it very wanky when people refer to their “signature dish” (seriously people, you’re not Tetsuya. You don’t get to refer to your food as a “signature”), as the case often is, I’m actually a giant hypocrite, given that I do have a wanky “signature dish” all of my very own. However, I hope the accompanying tosser factor is lessened by the fact that my “dish” doesn’t actually come with a strict recipe; it’s very much a make-it-up-as-you-go affair.

As the title suggests, what follows is my (make-it-up-as-you-go) recipe for my “signature” Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad. Let me note that I recognise that people across the world have been burnt previously by boring couscous dishes. As my sister’s famous review of a particularly bland serving of couscous testifies, it can often “taste like sand”. A fear of ever creating a sand-esq dish has motivated me to refine this salad to the point of it becoming a total flavour explosion. And it’s so packed full of tasty things that it’s basically a meal on its own (“salad” is a bit of a misnomer). What I’m trying to say is that this dish is very good times.

Note: The way I grill the vegetables requires a barbeque. It probably would work using an oven grill to cook the veggies, but I doubt you would get the same smoky flavours. This is actually one of my favourite meals to cook – the principle being that in summer, if you can’t cook it on a barbeque, it may not really be worth cooking.


2 medium eggplants, cut into rounds, 1.5cm thick

4 red capsicums, cut into quarters

6 zucchini, cut into long strips, 0.5cm thick

1 large Spanish onion, diced

A lot of olive oil. A whole lot. Make it some good stuff.

300g couscous

½ bunch Corriander or flat-leaf parsely, roughly chopped

Pine nuts (optional)

Balsamic vinegar (or another form of salad dressing)


Turn on your barbeque. Get it very hot. Brush the cut eggplants with olive oil. Be liberal with the oil brushing. Eggplant tastes amazing with lots of oil, and somewhat average without it.

Barbeque the eggplant rounds until they are close to collapsing (approx 20 minutes). You want them nice and soggy, not black and crispy. Meanwhile add the quartered capsicums to the barbeque, skin side down. Once they have blackened and blistered, turn them over (approx 10 mins). Also, lightly brush the sliced zucchini with more of the olive oil. Once there is space on the barbeque, add the zucchini. Cook them til they are light brown and floppy (approx 10-12 minutes).

Once you’ve finished with all your barbequing glory, take your veggies back inside. Put the capsicums inside two layers of plastic bags. Leave them to sweat for 5 or so minutes. Meanwhile, chop the eggplant and zucchini into small pieces, roughly half the size of your thumb. Put these pieces into a large serving bowl. Once the capsicums are sufficiently sauna-ish, take them out and rub them with your hands til the black skins peel away. Then chop the capsicums to a similar size to the other veggies.

Meanwhile, bring 300mL of water to the boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat and add couscous, stir couscous for 10 seconds. Then put a lid on the pot and let it stand for 5 minutes. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, fluff with a fork and pour in some (more) olive oil. Return to heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly, to dry and fluff couscous. Once cooked, add to the serving bowl.

Add chopped herbs and diced onion to serving bowl. If adding pine nuts, toast approx 1/2 cup nuts in a little (more) olive oil, making sure they don’t burn before mixing through.

For a dressing, add several tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and at least one more tablespoon of olive oil. Grind in lots of fresh pepper and sea salt. Alternatively, you can make a dressing specifically (ie. with more ingredients [mustard, lemon juice etc] in a jar) before adding it to the salad.


Esther xx