Tag Archives: food

The Night Of Couchsurfing That Turned Into Two Weeks

14 Nov

“Just to let you know, I collect body parts,” said Kimmii, shortly after greeting us.

My boyfriend and I just finished a long weekend of camping up at the Dorrigo National Park and hadn’t had a real shower in days. We swam in rivers, took sponge baths and wore hats but something had to give. When we drove down the windy mountain road back to Coffs Harbour we had two choices: check into an out-of-budget caravan park and have a shower or send out a last-minute couchsurfing request and hope that someone would invite us in.

I sent out two couchsurfing requests explaining that all we really needed was a shower and that we had a van to sleep in. After waiting for half an hour, our impatience got the best of us and we decided to have an ice-cold shower in the public bathrooms of the local surf club. As we got back into the van, our teeth chattering and our hair soaked, I had a message. Two empty nesters with a couple of spare rooms offered to let us stay and insisted that we sleep inside.

When we pulled up to the house Kimmii came to greet us at the front door while Paulie prepared the pizza dough for our dinner inside. Kimmi was in her mid-40s, a half-Aboriginal bipolar woman whose manic episodes led her to $3,000 shopping sprees on ModCloth for her 20-something daughter. She was short and overweight, outspoken, jovial and completely comfortable in her own skin. Paulie was a balding ex-surfer whose music and book collection filled me with envy. He was a talented cook but rarely ate his own creations, preferring a simple meat and potatoes meal instead.

Within minutes the wine was flowing and we were already telling deeply personal stories and laughing our asses off. Kimmii had this incredible story-telling ability and a wit about her that left Matt and I in stitches (even when she was only explaining what she did for a living!). We told her she should do stand-up and Paulie shouted from the kitchen, “Oh no, don’t encourage her!”

As we dug into the homemade pizzas Kimmii told us we were her first couchsurfers and that she signed up because her daughter would be backpacking across South America in a few months and she wanted to give back in the hopes that someone would do the same for her. She told us that after their four children had moved out they’d had several guests come and go. Some stayed for a few weeks and others for up to 9 months. When Kimmii invited us to stay as long as we wanted I thought it was such a tempting and generous offer but never expected that we’d actually take her up on it.

In a warm, wine-induced haze we said goodnight and crawled into our respective beds. Matt and I wanted to pinch ourselves when we felt the thread-count of the sheets and prefect firmness of the mattress.

A woman after my own heart!

“I really like them,” said a half-asleep Matt.

“Me too. I love it here,” I said in a daze.

“Someone stayed here for nine months!” said Matt.

“I know, but we’re not going to take advantage of their generosity. We’ll keep looking for jobs in the morning.”

And we did, but the day turned into two and then three. Then Kimmii left for a business trip and encouraged us to stay with Paulie while she was gone. He had a serious lung condition that often left him gasping for air and she felt more comfortable knowing someone was there with him. We happily stayed, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes and scrubbing the tubs to contribute.

Paulie made us amazing food every night: Moroccan, Mexican, Greek, and Lebanese. Well-fed and well-rested, we continued the job search with new enthusiasm. I attended an RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certification course and Matt contacted all his old rigging buddies for information on current projects.

At night, Kimmii and Matt talked politics while Paulie and I talked music and watched concert DVDs. I copied all his CDs to my hard drive and he’d pull out biographies of my favorite bands and tell me obscure facts about the members. We became a family and we got used to our routine.

When Matt received a high-paying rigging job offer, the news was bittersweet. We packed up our van the last night and Paulie made pizza for us to take on the road. Kimmii and I watched a documentary about Obama and Mitt Romney before she went to bed and Paulie and I talked about Jimmy Page and Jim Morrison one last time. We hugged goodbye, promised to stay in touch and when we locked up the door behind us in the middle of the night, Matt and I turned to each other and said, “I’m really going to miss them,” almost in unison.

Not every couchsurfing experience is like this but now my Australian family feels larger. We still keep in touch and if we ever make it back to NSW, we know where we’ll stay.

Kimmii also loved collecting sea shells.                                                                                                    I left this one in the guest room so they’d have something to remember us by.

Waste Not! Foodies On a Budget

27 Sep

We only have one fork.

Cooking without a kitchen or my usual gadgets has made me a more inventive and skilled cook. My recipes are simpler, my dishes are few and I do just about everything by hand. Living out of the van has taught me to use my resources and to see every bit of food as having the potential for a gourmet meal. My boyfriend and I constantly surprise ourselves when we taste the dishes we’ve concocted and it’s inspired us to waste as little as possible and to stretch that dollar as far as we can.

We can still scratch our foodie itch while on the road and a budget – all it takes is a little creativity. We’ve always got a few non-perishables on hand, such as refried beans, canned veggies, rice, pasta and noodles, but we’ve also got the important stuff, like peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, olive oil, honey, Himalayan sea salt, and my homemade exotic spice kit. (We may be living out of a van but that’s no reason to leave my herbs de Provence at home!)

We also try to limit our trips to the grocery store, only buying fresh food once we’ve used up what we already have. However, sometimes we’re in remote areas and don’t have a choice. That’s when the real creativity blooms! Last week, for instance, we camped in Corindi Beach, NSW and the nearest grocery store was 30 minutes away. There was, however, a tiny corner store within walking distance but the half empty shelves, inflated prices and lack of gluten-free items forced us to see how long we could go before stocking up again. I saw it as a challenge.

Challenge 1:

We had some strawberries that had frozen and unfrozen and were no longer appetizing since they were a mushy mess. We also had some pork chops that needed to be cooked that night. We were coming up with side dish ideas when the light bulb went off and I suggested we mash the strawberries, add some honey and sage, and use it as a glaze for the pork chops.

“That could be alright,” said the boyfriend with a raised eyebrow, and I proceeded to cut off the leafy strawberry tops and mash the flesh with the glass bottom of my truffle oil bottle. I handed him the concoction for grilling and then chopped up some broccoli and spring onion (which was also approaching its expiry date) and tossed it in some truffle oil before giving it a quick saute.

The results were amazing and we mmm’d and smiled the whole meal through. We couldn’t believe how well we eat considering our circumstances. (I wish I had photos to share but it was one of those impromptu dinners made with a glass of wine in hand and some music in the background and, I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it. Sorry, readers!)

Challenge 2:

While looking through our “pantry” I found brown bananas that needed to be eaten two days earlier. Banana bread was out of the question so I made a toastie using our gluten-free bread, extra-chunky peanut butter, the sliced extra-ripe bananas, some honey and a little Himalayan sea salt. The ooey-gooey crunchiness of it all was enough to make me look forward to the next culinary challenge and that’s when I found the blue-brie cheese that expired in two days…

Challenge 3:

With the brie in hand I took stock of our fridge and some items stood out to me: a few slices of bacon, the last of the chicken lunch meat, some lettuce, one gluten-free wrap, a tomato, a very ripe avocado and heaps of condiments. This was a no-brainer: I’d make a chicken-cordon-bleu-style quesadilla! I smeared the wrap with our roasted raspberry chipotle sauce, covered one side with slices of the blue-brie, then layered the chicken and cooked bacon and threw it on one of the public barbies. I let it brown on each side then opened it up and added some chopped lettuce, tomato and avocado.

I surprised my boyfriend with half when he was elbows-deep in some IT work and he looked at me in wonderment, not knowing how I could look at the same half-empty fridge as he, and come up with this concoction. But then, he surprises me too sometimes…

Challenge 4:

Our fridge was empty. We had no meat, no eggs, no milk, no fresh veggies except for two small potatoes and half an onion. We were craving fish n’ chips and considered blowing our budget for the day and ordering some from the corner store. But then my boyfriend spotted the ‘prawn-man’ (think ice-cream man but with seafood, kangaroo, goat and duck meat instead of desserts).

My carnivorous boyfriend chatted up the prawn man and bought a couple of flake filets for the price of one mediocre fish n’ chips meal. He pan-fried some potatoes and threw in the filets, which he marinated in onion, lemon juice and herbs de Provence. It had  a beautiful flavor-complexity and was much healthier than the fried and battered stuff we could have gotten down the street. Halfway through the meal I asked what kind of fish flake was. He looked at me like I was a dumb blonde and said, “Shark, honey. Shark.”

I thought shark would be tougher for some reason but this was light and soft (which must be why Aussies call it flake). I ate the rest of my meal, with sadistic pleasure, happy there was one less shark in the water below.

 I daresay we eat better on the road than at home, but at the very least we enjoy it more because of the strategizing that goes into each meal. When I think of all the times in the past that I threw out the perfectly good leafy tops of a celery bunch or those broccoli stems, or when I let veggies go bad because I bought too much of them, I cringe because I’ve trained myself to view food differently. Now, I’d make a soup, a giant salad or I wouldn’t have bought more than I needed in the first place.

Once you challenge yourself not to waste any food, eating your meals has an added sense of satisfaction to it. Now I’m passing the challenge over to you – whether you’re backpacking, living in a home, on a boat, in a flat or in a van – let’s see how little you can waste!

What are some of your favorite cheap meals that pass the foodie test? Do you have any tricks for minimizing waste?

Tourist in My Backyard: San Francisco Treats

20 Aug

The fog engulfs the Golden Gate bridge one summer day.

When I get a case of the travel bug and running off to South America, Egypt or some other equally exotic location isn’t possible, I like to pay a visit to California’s ‘ City by the Bay’: San Francisco. Since my best friend, Kat, moved there two years ago I find any excuse to board the hour-long flight: The Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, Halloween, spring break, a Tuesday in the middle of semester, a cheap flight alert… and I’m off!

The city’s charm extends beyond its unique architecture, hilly streets and foggy summers and into the culinary realm, delighting the palates of foodies and laymans alike. These are the five San Francisco treats I can’t miss:

1. The ‘Dirty Hipster’ at Loving Cup – You won’t find this amazing frozen yogurt concoction on the menu but it is the number one treat I have to have while in San Francisco. Frozen vanilla yogurt, oreo cookies and nutella swirled and ground to perfection make the Dirty Hipster a creamy, gritty indulgence that I don’t dare pass up. The Loving Cup specializes in rice puddings (which are also worth trying) but its their custom blended yogurt that everyone adores. 2356 Polk Street

2. ‘Green Eggs and Ham Benedict’ at Pork Store – This spin on traditional eggs Benedict is also not on the menu, but makes ‘special’ appearances  from time to time and is worth asking the waiter for, with a little wink and a nudge. Poached eggs, country ham and asparagus sit atop a toasted English muffin, covered in green hollandaise  sauce on a warm plate with hashbrowns. It is the ultimate hangover cure and the perfect way to start your Haight-Ashbury sightseeing since it sits right in the heart of the infamous hippie district. 1451 Haight Street

3. Cocktails at Absinthe – The only experience I had with absinthe before discovering this bar was a few wild nights in Europe – sugar cubes, lighters and all. I had to destroy the evidence because the burnt forks I used to melt the sugar into the strange green liquor connotated a heroin habit and I wasn’t about to raise any suspicions.

Absinthe is the perfect place for a date with its dim but warm lighting and impressive range of gourmet ingredients and appetizers. It has an old-fashioned feel and stands out in a world of generic bars and obnoxious clubs. If you’re a cocktail connoisseur who appreciates ingredients such as kaffir lime-pepper syrup and brandied cherries, then this is your place. 398 Hayes Street

4. Crepes at The Crepe House Any crepe is amazing here. Savory, sweet, a la mode … you can’t lose. I prefer ‘the Mediterranean’  (cheddar, onion, tomato, feta, olives, artichoke and avocado) or the ‘Hawaiian’ (cheddar, ham, onion, mushroom, brown sugar, soy sauce and pineapple) for my meals and the Nutella-strawberry dessert crepe for any other time of day. The Crepe House flourished in the last sixteen years and has expanded to included three San Francisco locations. Take your pick! 429 Gough Street, 1755 Polk Street or 1132 Valencia Street

5.‘The Breakfast Burrito’ at The Grove – Be warned, this breakfast burrito is huge! I like to get it for breakfast and save the other half for lunch. The scrambled eggs, refried beans, cheddar and jack cheeses, salsa, and avocado mixture wrapped up in a grilled tortilla is very Californian and the rosemary country potatoes are its perfect accompaniment. The inside of the Marina location has a ski-lodge vibe and the outdoor seating is prime for San Franciscan people-watching. And if you’re only in the mood for a drink, skip Starbucks and try their lavender lemonade or mocha chai. Choose from any of the four San Franciscan family-owned locations: 690 Mission Street, 301 Hayes Street, 2016 Filmore Street or 2250 Chestnut Street

Friday Night Wine Downs

12 Oct

Photo: Caitlin Ryan

 

The wine is poured, the food is on the table and the children are playing in the backyard. The work week is over and the residents of Fern Drive are ready to Wine Down.

What was once a street full of strangers and passing acquaintances became a tight-knit neighborhood after K.D. Molnar introduced the idea of starting monthly Friday Night Wine Downs and last weekend, Fern Drive residents celebrated their 20th event.

“I thought, what do we all have in common? Everybody likes wine, right? Who doesn’t like to wind down after a long week?,” said Molnar, who was nicknamed Julie McCoy, after the cruise director from the Love Boat television series, for her ability to bring the neighborhood together.

“It started out with a bang and it’s been going ever since. I think the thing that is so special about it is that it’s a family thing. It’s not get a babysitter, it’s not we all have to get in the car and get all fancied up. Everyone walks down the street,” said Molnar.

The Wine Down idea evolved out of Molnar’s family’s annual Donut Day, where friends and families met at her parent’s home to socialize and eat. When Molnar moved to Fern Drive, she knew it was the place she would live in for the rest of her life and wanted to find a way to get to know her neighbors. She decided to host her own Donut Day.

“I’m a graphic designer so I printed out post cards and told my story of why we’re doing this Donut Day and I’m sure people were like what is she trying to sell? Insurance or Tupperware or Amway? Why is she offering us free donuts on a Sunday?” said Molnar.

But several neighbors did show up and by the time Molnar came up with the Wine Down idea, she had ten families to send invites to.

“Whenever I tell anyone about it they’re like, ‘oh, I want to live in your neighborhood! I want to wine down!’ And I tell them: start one! You just have to get a group of people together that are willing to come together once a month.”

There is also a ‘wine fairy’ amongst the group, whose identity is unknown, that drops off personalized, hand-painted Lolita wine glasses on unsuspecting neighbor’s doors. Eight women have received the glasses, which have different sayings painted on them, such as ‘social butterfly’, ‘aged to perfection’, and ‘it’s five-o’clock somewhere.’

Many of the families on Fern Drive credit their friendships to the wine down gatherings and have become a source of support for each other. The moms arrange play-dates, or ‘mom swaps’, where they take turns watching each other’s kids, and some have started walking groups. Some families vacation together and others do business with one another. And when one of the neighbors announced he was battling throat cancer, everyone rallied together to help his family in anyway they could.

Molnar insists that anyone can turn their street into a community if they find something to bring everyone together, whether it be a Wine Down, a book club or a Bunco Night. She encourages anyone interested in starting their own Wine Down to email her at KD@duggandesigns.com for guidance.

Originally published at  Fullerton Stories

 

%d bloggers like this: