Wine Tasting Weekends in Tasmania and Wellington

We were craving some good Pinot, and rather spontaneously decided to book a couple weekends away in Pinot land: Launceston in Tasmania and Martinborough in New Zealand.

Thank goodness for winter air fare discounts – although we got quite lucky with regards to the wineries in Launceston. A lot of them are still closed during this lull season, but some had reopened beginning August, which was when we visited.

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Because we were only there for just a day and a half, we just crammed the itinerary with winery visits. Managed to hit 8 in that time frame, and went a little nuts buying over two cases of Pinot, Rieslings, and Pinot Gris. Three of our hits: Goaty Hill, Sinapius, and Velo. Actually, our top favorite Pinot was Velo’s 2010 Reserve Pinot. Such a beautiful example with beautifully balanced notes of earth, spice, strawberries, and a silky mouthfeel. Would have loaded up, but we’d already shipped two cases of wine back!

This past weekend, we went off to Wellington and Martinborough in New Zealand, to continue our Pinot trail. This time around however, we strove to limit our purchases, given our excesses in Launceston, and because shipping back to Sydney wasn’t free. Nonetheless, we still managed to come back with 6 bottles (plus a bottle of Moon Over Martinborough’s lovely olive oil!).

Martinborough is only an hour’s drive from Wellington, but what a gorgeous windy, mountainous route through verdant cliffs shrouded in light mist and fog. We made our way across mid-morning, having only arrived in Wellington past midnight and sleeping only at 330am. But the wineries in Martinborough are tightly packed together just at the outskirts of town, so we left our car there and wandered around on foot.

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In this way, we managed to hit 6 wineries in 4 hours, and bumped into many of the same wine tasters who were also making their winery hop on a drizzly Saturday. Favorites of the trip were Margrain (amazing Gewürztraminer!) and Schubert (their Pinot and Con Brio, a Bordeaux blend, were standouts).

We had an early afternoon flight Sunday, so decided to explore the many parks in Wellington instead – if only we’d more time to do a bit of a tramp along the non-urban stretch of the Te Araroa trail!

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Happy SG50

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Last night, we had a bunch of Singaporean friends over for dinner. Made chicken satay and bak chor mee, my cousin brought mini durian ice cream mooncakes, TPR brought ang ku kueh and kueh dadar, and another friend hand carried Old Chang Kee fish balls and curry puffs all the way back from Singapore!

Great evening of much fun and good companionship. I’m really going to miss TPR when she moves.

In my last post, I’d said that I don’t consider Singapore to be home anymore. And I don’t really. It’s hard to, when the city changes faster than I can keep up with every time I go back, and old friends are now living out their own very different lives.

Still, you can take a girl out of Singapore, but you can’t take Singapore out of her. Only with Singaporeans can you develop instant camaraderie over food, and engage in endless debates on the best spots for specific cheap eats – point me to another country where its citizens reminisce over diner-type food – whilst stuffing our faces over a meal. And I do love it when I can break out into random bursts of Singlish, and everyone understands me perfectly!

Happy birthday Singapore!

Of whales, opera, and home

Last weekend, we headed up to Forster. I’d wanted to check out the oyster farms there, and the much lauded lakes with waters so still that they are a perfect mirror of the sky overhead.

As it turned out though, we didn’t spend much, if any time, by or on the lakes. And as for the oyster farms, we only stopped by a shack to slurp up a dozen oysters in the dusty parking lot.

Still, we had a whale of a time (sorry, couldn’t resist). On a whim, we signed up for a whale watching tour. And did we see some whales! So stoked, even now, thinking how close those majestic creatures sidled up alongside our boat.

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Mid-week, we caught Don Carlos at the Sydney Opera. Sadly, we weren’t very taken with the production. With the exception of Rodrigo (Jose Carbo again! We heard him the week before as Germont in La Traviata, and then, as this time, he stole the show) and the king (Ferruccio Furlanetto, whom I’ve loved hearing in Ernani, Simon Boccanegra, and Boris Gudunov). We weren’t very taken with the singing from the rest of the cast, and felt that they seemed too careful, too static. Even the stage directing seemed very blocky. But what do we know – all the reviews we read online heaped on lavish praise. Ugh. I miss the Met. And the Lyric – especially as this next season looks particularly exciting (Bel Canto! Pearl Fishermen!)

Speaking of the Met though, we will have a chance to catch a production this year! Il Travatore with Anna Netrebko (and hopefully Dmitri Hvorostovsky if he’s given the clear from his chemo)! Haha, at literally the last minute, we’ve managed to push back our August 1 flight tickets back Stateside to later this year.

And speaking of Stateside, my coworker asked me today where I considered home. Chicago? Or Singapore? Thought about it a bit, and then said, Sydney now. Which makes a lot of sense – there’s really nothing tying us to Chicago anymore (apart from friends and some wine). And as for Singapore, I haven’t lived there in years, and Jeff hasn’t before. So that’s really our home either. I guess, at the end of the day, it’s where we both are, which reminds me of a conversation I had with my aunt years ago, when I asked her the same question.

Of some of my favorite things

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Sunday: Made Bar Chor Mee, or literally, vinegary pork noodles. It’s my favorite dish in Singapore, and I managed to make a tasty version of it, if I say so myself. The secret is in the chili and black vinegar. I.e. don’t skimp! In fact, I boasted about it enough to my friends so that now they’re somehow coming over for dinner to celebrate Singapore’s National Day. Hehe.

Monday: Caught La Traviata at the Sydney Opera House. It’s one of my favorite, favorite operas. Glorious music from start to finish. And even Jeff stayed awake the entire evening without me needing to nudge him in the ribs! We both agreed: The set was sumptuous and intricately thought out; Jose Carbo as Giorgio Germont stole the evening. We weren’t that big fans of the other two leads, especially when compared (perhaps unfairly, but let’s just say, she was the most believable singing Violetta at the end heh) to the others we’ve seen in the role. Superb evening though. I came into work today still high from the beautiful pieces and erm, subjected to my coworkers some arias on the office music intercom (but it sounds way better than some of the shit I’ve had to grind my teeth through!).

Enjoying a relaxing weekend in

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The forecast was gloomy this weekend, so we didn’t really book anything on but decided to take it easy.

Love how there’s always a farmers’ market to explore around the area on the weekends. Yesterday, we hit up the North Sydney produce market and walked away with heavy grocery bags of beets, ginger, chorizo, blood sausage and honey. Which made for a lovely alfresco breakfast on the porch this morning.

Enjoying the simple pleasures. Heheh but also looking forward to upcoming weekend trips to Tasmania and New Zealand that we booked rather spontaneously last night!

Six Months!

In a blink of an eye, we’ve been in Sydney for six months already. The clock is ticking, but we want time to slow down.

It’s been such a trip! We’ve done a lot it feels like, and yet, there’s still so much more on our bucket list:

1. More bushwalking in and around and outside Sydney

2. More diving – especially up at the GBR

3. More kayaking (kayak netball)

4. More climbing (Nowra and Blue Mountains)

5. Sailing (well it’s not at the top of the bucket list, but it would be neat to sail down the Sydney Harbor at least once)

6. Astrophotography in Australia (man, haven’t done that yet!)

7. More surfing

8. More travel around this part of the world

Here’s to travel, adventure and to life!

Surfing at Maroubra

Of all the weekends we had to sign up for a surfing lesson in Maroubra, we picked the coldest weekend yet. It was overcast, with a slight breeze, and quite nippy at 8 degrees C. But we donned our wetsuits on, and grit our teeth, and once we were in the water, it was actually quite OK.

This morning’s waves were the mildest we’ve seen at Maroubra, which worked to our favor. There weren’t many people in the water, and we had ample time to catch our breaths and properly line ourselves up. Our instructor, J, dished out good advice on how to read the rip tides, and tips on proper standing techniques (from plank, place my back foot first before sweeping out my front).

Beginning to get the hang of this. I managed to catch my own waves and come to standing for a good distance till I gently bumped onto land a few times. Now for more practice!

Easy evening in

Nothing like an evening in with some wine (2012 Greenock Creek Shiraz Seven Acre, thank you very much), opera (medici.tv starring Anna Netrebko, Elena Zhidkova, Jonas Kaufman, Thomas Hampson, Ildar Abdrazakob, again, thank you very much). Makes learning R programming all the more enjoyable.

Man, I miss good wine and opera. Not that I’m complaining about life Down Under…

Food for thought… what makes it right?

Food for thought. Just now, I noticed a Facebook post by some dude on a photography forum that I’m on. He was requesting feedback on an innocuous and frankly lovely picture of two girls in a meadow, but my eyes immediately jumped to his profile picture: an unapologetically bold Confederate flag. By the time I’d come across that post, there were already over 100 comments. Intrigued, I clicked to read.

As I’d expected, only a few of the comments actually related to his question about the photo of the two girls. Everyone else jumped on his “offensive” profile picture. One commentator noted: “… the confederate flag was used as a symbol of people who supported the institution of slavery. It also was and is STILL used to promote many racist organizations in the U.S. which makes it offensive to many people. You can’t display it and not expect many people to call you out on it. Freedom of speech is: the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint by the government. It doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with you and think you’re a bigot because of your choice to display the flag, or we can’t bitch about the fact that you use it as your avatar on social media. All free speech protects you from is the government making you take that down as your icon. Members of social media can still tell you that your choice of avatar is ignorant and offensive. And posting pics on a forum and asking for critique with that as your avatar is like going on American Idol dressed in a KKK robe wondering why the audience is booing you before you even get to sing.”

I ‘liked’ that comment. It made sense to me. I didn’t find the flag necessarily offensive, but it distracted me from critiquing his picture. I found myself wondering about his motivations. Then, I noticed that some of the commentators had profile pictures that they’d colored with Facebook’s ‘Celebrate Pride’ rainbow colors. And someone else called out one such commentator who had railed against the original poster’s poor choice of a profile picture: “xxx, you’ve got your flag in your profile pic, don’t judge yyy for his profile pic.”

Fair enough. Just because today, this week, the tide of opinion has turned against the Confederate flag and most everyone I know is celebrating SCOTUS’s ruling (finally, but big massive YAY!), doesn’t make one camp automatically wrong and the other right.

For the record, I get the argument that some people have made for their continued display of the Confederate flag. They had ancestors who had fought, bravely, in the Civil War, for what they had stood for. Not just to fight to keep slavery, because in the first place, that had not been the original intention of war. It’s too easy to paint everything in black and white; actual narratives do not typically fit so neatly into a box. HuffPost gave a more nuanced reason: “The war was fought over state’s rights and the limits of federal power in a union of states. The perceived threat to state autonomy became an existential one through the specific dispute over slavery. The issue was not slavery per se, but who decided whether slavery was acceptable, local institutions or a distant central government power. That distinction is not one of semantics: this question of local or federal control to permit or prohibit slavery as the country expanded west became increasingly acute in new states, eventually leading to that fateful artillery volley at Fort Sumter.”

It is most unfortunate that the KKK and other white supremacists have taken up that flag as their rallying symbol. But for all that, I think it a misstep for all these corporations to publicly pull sales of the flags from their stores, and especially for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to demand the removal of the flag from statehouse grounds. I believe it’s a wrong response. A cop out response. Why not address the real reason why all those people died? Why not go after the banning of guns? Why instead attack those who respect the Confederate flag for own non-racist related reasons?

Anyway, some random thoughts on a otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon.

Gourmet night in

imageOur friend Eric is visiting from the States, so this entire week, we’ve been eating out for dinner every night. To try compensate, I brought in lunch every day. Achievement unlocked! Hehe.

But tonight, we decided winter or no (which is really no considering how gorgeous the weather has been this week), we should give Eric the full Aussie experience and grill some dinner.

Since he was down at the Pyrmont Fish Market, he picked up a beautiful huge slab of barramundi. Jeff and I got some salad ingredients and sparkling wine by our local market. And boy oh boy, this meal matched some of the lux ones we’ve had this week!

The fish, marinated in soy, lemon, white wine vinegar, olive oil, and topped with freshly cracked black pepper, sea salt, ginger and onions, was divine. We wrapped it in foil and cooked it on the barbie. Greens with avocado and tomatoes on the side. Are the avocados in season right now! They were the most aromatic ones I’ve had! And a delightful lively sparkling from Yarra Valley.

So, cheers to good friends from afar, a beautiful (warm) winter day, delicious dinner and wine!