Four months ago I was a spicy broth slurping machine, traversing the length of Vietnam enjoying the ever warm hospitality of the Vietnamese people. Back then I thought my kidneys may fall victim to the incessant humidity. Fully functioning organs reduced to a pair of sundried tomatoes. Recent worldwide events have given me a much needed attitude adjustment. How I long for the frustrating traffic, the acrid smells and character sapping heat. At this stage I reckon I’d nearly trade an organ for that sense of freedom and abandon that COVID-19 abruptly snatched away. History is awash of people who have lived a long and prosperous life with a bung kidney – if that was going to make coronavirus disappear I’d think long and hard.
Whilst the restrictions have eased somewhat recently, there is still an overarching flavour of caution in the air. The flavour of caution? Hard to pinpoint but for me it’s similar to eating a bony piece of fish where one false move could spell prolonged discomfort, this constant threat removes the majority of the enjoyment, leaving you yearning for the a simpler time. One where bone-riddled fish were replaced with greasy fish fingers floating on a pool of tomato sauce.
At the start I only left the house for work and to put washing on the line in the backyard. The virus had tethered me to the house so I needed to take stock and work out some rough plans for the next six months. What better way than to dust off my list of “Things I Have Been Putting Off For A Pandemic” and methodically work through these until everything had a thick black line cutting those words in half. I picked up the guitar and fifteen minutes later decided to go on the second item after the G-string snapped (the guitar’s G sting, I am a trunks kind of guy). The guitar will have to wait until it gets another fine film of dust on it or the string ends reattach themselves like a torn ankle liagament.
The second item was to catch up on some Oscar winning movies as well as some classics I had never seen. Films included Deer Hunter, the 1978 film with a young De Niro, Streep and Walken (3 & 1/2 stars); Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (I know, how could I be in my early 40’s and not have seen it?) but the best of the lot was the most recent recipient of Best Picture, the Korean movie Parasite. For those that haven’t seen it, stop reading this, it will change your life. On the streaming front I was going to start and watch Game of Thrones but for some reason started watching The Wire instead. Some sixty hours later I am well versed in the language of the hustlers on the street as well as being wise enough to stay as far away from Baltimore as I can. Game of Thrones is now on the same list as “pick up the guitar”. Between the film discoveries it wouldn’t have been Autumn of 2020 without ploughing through Tiger King. It’s a crazy world out there kids, full of big cats, ill chosen tattoos and shocking dentistry.
I’ve rediscovered my passion for music (the listening more than the playing as illustrated by fifteen minutes of guitar frustration). The stack of CDs that I had purchased over the last eighteen months and not yet listened to got some much needed attention. On top of this I also took advantage of the Spotify trial period. Unlimited music at my fingertips. The problem with Spotify is the sheer number of options which can become paralysing. However a great friend with a savant like music knowledge sent me their hand curated isolation themed playlist.
Everything from Tori Amos’ Caught A Lite Sneeze to The Replacements’ Take Me To The Hospital or I’m Aftraid of Americans by Bowie is there for your ears. A more exhaustive list of ailments than you would find on a doctor’s bookshelf. So click the link above and by the time you have listened to the entire list they may be days away from a vaccine? In addition to Spotify, live music gigs have been replaced with the weekend ritual of Isol-Aid (a virtual weekly music festival) where the nation’s top artists would play twenty minute sets over Instagram in their backyards/dining rooms/bedroom. A high tech/lo fi version of Live Aid without Bob Geldof with funds going to musical based charities. After the third weekend the older artists had got the hang of the technology just like their younger counterparts. Mobile phones were no longer zoomed in on their nasal passage and in most cases they were able to capture the majority of their face in the confines of the screen. One silver lining in all this will be a glut of new music to be released when society returns to something resembling normal transmission.
Never thought I would have to turn to krav maga whilst grocery shopping but the shortage of toilet paper and flour makes even the most level headed gent turn to the ancient martial arts for the last of the rationed four ply toilet paper. I feel ashamed of my actions so I won’t even go into the canard of the “Throwdown in the Aisle 9”, other than to say a tin of refried beans can persuade even the most ardent bargain hunter rethink their need for plain flour if wielded correctly. Why aisle 9? If you are going to come to blows in a supermarket best to do it near the pasta sauce, the consistency of the cheaper brands tend to match and mask the bloodshed. Even though I live by myself and have less need for toilet rolls than half the population I still scratch my head over the sudden fascination with stockpiling toilet paper. Chocolate or ventilators I could somewhat understand.
I did use this time to restock the pantry (not hoard) for the first time in living memory. My two pantry cupboards flank the fridge, the left has a distinct European flavour whilst the right is Asian centric – much like an atlas (if you can forget the large ice shelf/fridge that separates the two). If you need that cup of sugar or a tub of gochujang get in touch, I reckon I can source something for you.
There is no joy gained by staring at a full pantry however. Much like a new car it has to be put through its paces. What better time to rediscover my cooking skills. Dishes so far have been edible with differing levels of success. My handmade pork buns were that good I ate all nine over the course of two games of NRL on Super Saturday. My biggest frustration was my handmade pasta. I wedged flat leaf parsley between super thin sheets of pasta dough, thin enough you could read through it. My issue was that making pasta with a machine is a two person job. Once it gets that thin it is like having seven kids, hard for one person to manage on their lonesome. You try cranking the handle with one hand while trying to keep the machine from moving with your chin/elbow all whilst making sure the delicate wafer thin dough that is spewing out the end does not meet the floor. It’s stressful and a couple of times I swore at myself for not taking the easy option and opting for a $2 packet of penne when I was a flurry of knuckles in aisle 9. So if you are a gluten tolerant single lady knock on my door and we can make some hand crafted carbs together.
My overseas travel plans for April just gone were decimated. What was going to be a trip to South America will have to be wait for another couple of years. The closest I am going to get to anything resembling that part of the world in the foreseeable future is a bottle of tequila, those refried beans and the still too firm avocado on the kitchen bench. Knowing flights are still a pipedream I need to discover the hidden gems closer to home. My plan at this stage is a series of day trips to Brisbane where I hope to work my way through the cuisine of the suburbs alphabetically. “A” is for Annerley, Aspley and Acacia Ridge? Suggestions welcome, companions also. I will have to develop some guidelines but I think the idea may have some legs.
It had been three months since I had been in Brisbane so I took a Sunday drive down the range to the big city and see how the passing of time had aged the old gal. The trip felt like something foreign because it had been the first time in a long time I had:
- Driven on a road at more than 80km/hr
- Had a coffee from a mug rather than a takeaway cup; and
- Been able to share a meal with a friend in a public space
The venue for this groundbreaking excursion was a bar turned French inspired eatery, Bitter Suite. Like me you hear the term “French cuisine” and you immediately think pretentious food that is overrated and often requires a bank mortgage to settle the bill. Fortunately this was the exact opposite. The mood was casual, the food delicious, hearty and it didn’t cause too much damage to my credit card. The beef bourguignon even came with a couple of slabs of bread! If only I took some photos of the meals. However I did snap some other shots for those Francophiles. A reliable rule of thumb is “Would I go back and have another meal?” and I would respond with a resounding “Hell Yes!” The bottle of wine passed my “squint test” also.
Food wise the other surprise was a local cafe was ladelling out congee, the rice porridge which is the first meal of millions around the world. This one had chicken floating in it along with fresh ginger and chilli. Unfortunately it was only a short lived special but it won’t be forgotten until dementia wrecks my frontal lobe. It is the kind of dish that can be hit and miss but this one picked you up off the ground, slapped your cheeks, suffocated you in a warm embrace and buggered off. Was on the receiving end of some side eye from the other diners when some stray chilli didn’t go down the normal channels, causing a couple of coughs and runny nose that I was unable to suppress. Never fear, it’s not the start of the dreaded second wave just me trying to inhale food without chewing.
I am well aware that I am one of the extremely lucky ones. Nobody I know has contracted the disease, I still have regular employment and a roof over my head. Those basics that I used to take for granted – no longer, that was so 2019. And how good is it to have the Rugby League back thanks to Peter V’landys, my runner up for Australian of the Year. The recommencement of the competition has made the icy winter bearable.
Who would I give the big gong to? ….. all those medical workers on the front line. True heroes. Stay safe, stay in touch but keep that all important social distance. The ride has only just begun.
I guess it is time to fix that guitar string?