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Archive for November, 2009

(For one of the multitude of restaurant reviewing sites out there. E.G. Restaurantica, Eatability Food and Drink Guide, or Restaurant Rants)

Some would say the USA doesn’t have any good healthy food. I’m not going to argue that point. I’m sure there is some out there, but in the meantime here in Melbourne, Australia, I was interested in finding some ‘greasy spoon’ fare (as we like to call it back in Atlanta, Georgia, USA where my biological father still lives.)  After visiting several establishments around town, where either the burgers were too small or too expensive, I found and enjoyed the Soda Rock.

greasy spoon

A typical 'Greasy Spoon' diner in the good ol' USA.

(Thanks to Omar Omar’s Photostream for use of this image via Creative Commons.)

Now let it be known this reviewer has been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, and the fact I lived my first ten tender years in the States may have something to do with it. However, on occasion I get a hankering for some junk food, and on this particular day my desires were happily satiated.

The Soda Rock is a typical American style diner, complete with plastic-covered booths and mini-jukeboxes at each table. It costs a dollar for two songs and the music is all 1950’s pop, soul, rock and country. A life-sized Elvis Presley stands watching over you as you attempt to digest chilli dogs, Sloppy Joe’s, onion rings, BLTs and chilli fries. Don’t try and dance right after eating this kind of food! Speaking of dancing, every once in a while a specified song will get played from a jukebox resulting in the entire kitchen crew taking to the floor to trounce about singing well known lyrics like Aretha Franklin’s, ‘R, E, S, P, E, C, T, Respect yourself!’

I ordered a Hubcap Burger combo with a side of French fries and Dr. Pepper drink. The burger tasted like a burger should, unlike most hamburgers served around Australia, or the rest of the world for that matter. I’m not saying I haven’t had awesome burgers elsewhere. In fact, the best burgers I’ve ever eaten were in Japan and Bali! But this kind of burger has a certain greasy taste melded with a squishy bun and American mustard, raw onions and ketchup, which is just plain unique.

Burger

This is a BURGER, a real hamburger, American style.

(Thanks to the Pointnshoot’s Photostream for use of this image via Creative Commons.)

The fries were good too, so I decided to order a chilli dog. Most Aussies won’t know what American chilli is, and if it’s made well, it’s a delicious treat. I can’t tell you how great this one was, because I was already too stuffed and should have stopped eating earlier. This is the curse of ‘greasy spoon’ cooking. You often can’t stop eating until you’re full. After a big night of drinking and liver destruction, this type of food binds all the crud in your guts so you can live another day. Hopefully, it’s more than just one day.

You can eat a Big Bopper, a grilled cheese and ham sandwich, American pancakes, cheese fries, tater tots, a chocolate malted, a blue heaven cookie shake, a raspberry float, a banana split or a rocky road sundae. If you don’t know what any of these things are, go check it out, but beware, there’s a reason Americans are the most obese people in the world!

obese

If I ate a Hubcap burger everyday...

(Thanks to Tobyotter’s Photostream for use of this image via Creative Commons.)

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(For one of the multitude of restaurant reviewing sites out there. E.G. Restaurantica, Eatability Food and Drink Guide, or Restaurant Rants)

I’m the kind of creature of habit who often goes to the same place for food or drink if I’ve found something good there. I’m always willing to try something new, but if all else fails I know there are certain places on the Melbourne map where signature dishes or drinks will be ready for degustation.

I am a chai fiend, a connoisseur, and a maniac for the Indian spiced tea with honey and soy milk; sorry, but I can’t drink the traditional milk because of my lactose intolerance. I began drinking chai on a daily basis long before it became popular in cafes and coffee shops. The first time I ever tasted it was at the Nimbin Mardi Grass festival where I was visiting to experience strange herbs, not spices. One morning at daybreak a monkish Hari Krishna-looking man came round to my tent calling out the fateful words, ‘Chai, chai tea, chai tea, great way to start the day!’

chai

The makings of a great chai.

Bleary-eyed for more reasons than simple lack of sleep, I paid the two dollars and tasted the cup of spicy soy milkiness. Needless to say I’ve never turned back to my old habits of Earl Grey or English Breakfast. I’ve now sampled chai all over the globe, and had an extensive range of experiences ranging from the nearly instant vomit variety to the ecstatic epiphany type.

After spending a fair amount of time sampling chais around various areas of Melbourne, I happened upon the Degraves Espresso Bar in the tiny alley called Degraves Street near Flinders Street train station. This area has a plethora of cafes, restaurants and eateries, all constructed in a European style with tables outside so people can have a chat whilst watching the many different kinds of human walk by.

I ordered a soy chai for two with honey (I wasn’t alone) and was presented with a massive teapot full of frothy goodness. It seems to be an unwritten rule amongst Degraves Espresso workers that skin must be inked if you are to work there; maybe it’s a subtle form of anti-discrimination. ‘Sorry you don’t have any tats, we don’t trust your kind here.’ My heavily tattooed waitress told me they made their own chai from scratch, a rare commodity in a city strewn with powdered chai, weak tea bags and pre-packaged mixes.

tattoo woman

Don't be surprised if your waitress at Degraves is this colourful.

(Thanks to the Alaskan Dude’s Photostream for use of this image via Creative Commons.)

The teapot, which cost $6.20, provided around eight full cups of tea, but it wasn’t the cumulative caffeine affect that made an impression on me; it was the chai. I’ve probably been back there three hundred times, and I can honestly report that the quality of the tea, in terms of flavour, texture and temperature, rarely wavers from the high water mark set on that first auspicious day.

Using a traditional honey dipper (you know, the ridged wooden ball on a stick) I drop spoonfuls of amber glory into the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and touch of aniseed black tea soymilk mixture. Having made its indelible mark on my soul, I know if fate is compassionate I will be sitting at one of these vintage, cramped hotchpotch art deco tables with blaring pop, rock, jazz or hip-hop tunes filling my ears again soon. The food’s pretty good too…

teacup

It's funny how far one can go for a cup of tea.

(Thanks to David Light Orchard’s Photostream for the use of this image via Creative Commons.)

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One of the changing points in my life was twelve years ago when I met my good friend and teacher Matthew Ceeda ‘Takdeem Proceedor’ Andersen. He proceeded to teach me how to play the didgeridoo, or as the Australian indigenous creators of this mystical and spiritual instrument refer to it: the yirdaki. My good friend Ceeda passed away suddenly about two and a half years ago at the tender age of 34 years (the age I am now), but I still play the didgeridoo, and I dedicate the songs to him whenever I play.

If you know anything about didgeridoos in Australia (you probably don’t!), you would have heard the name, Djalu Gurruwiwi. Djalu is known amongst yirdaki makers and players as the true master of the trade. He was also a very renowned player in his younger years, but in old age has lost much of his ability due to a debilitating condition to his vocal chords. Djalu has said the misfortune was the result of his refusal to pay a clansman who then placed a ceremonial malediction upon him.

Here are a couple of interesting articles about this little-known legend living under the noses of an otherwise unaware Australian populace:

‘I got more power, not enough for everybody – the life of Djalu’ Gurruwiwi and yirdaki.’

‘Djalu Gurruwiwi – Abridged Biography’

This is Djalu making a didgeridoo from scratch:

Djau’s son playing one of his father’s creations:

After one minute in this video, you can see and hear the man himself blowing life through the hollow tree:

 

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I went and saw the new French movie Seraphine last night about a genius artist who ends up in an insane asylum. It got me thinking; there have been so many stories of people with mental imbalances, disorders or signs of ‘craziness’ who have proved to be the most successful in their prospective fields of effort and enquiry.

The other day my partner and I were listening to some music by the late African American singer and piano player Nina Simone. We were marvelling at her musical creations, so I went to Wikipedia to find out more about her (as one does in this day and age). Nina Simone suffered bi-polar disorder.

A while back I went to see the pianist David Helfgott perform live here in Melbourne; he’s the guy the movie Shine was written about. Again we have an arguable genius matched by an acute anxiety neurosis. We have so many names for these illnesses and afflictions: Schizophrenia, Manic-Depression, Autism, Clinical Depression, Obsessive-compulsive and the list goes on reportedly ad infinitum.

Check out this PDF file that lists ‘Famous people with mental illnesses’

Here’s also a massive list of renowned people who have or did have bi-polar disorder and one for famous people with depression.

For society in general, if someone mentions they have been diagnosed with a mental issue, automatically others often make judgments and can stigmatise the individual, even if it’s in a very unconscious or subtle way. What a paradox! In one instance we laud the accomplishments of these souls who have created works of genius, yet in another light, we feel uncomfortable around them with their peculiarities and unpredictable actions.

The funny thing is, maybe we’re all a little imbalanced at times, and it is this that evokes so much fear in ourselves when we witness someone acting ‘abnormally’ or in a  ‘socially unacceptable’ manner.

Ernest Hemingway killed himself because of depression. Ludwig van Beethoven was bi-polar and self-medicated himself until he died of liver failure. Winston Churchill suffered the ‘black dog’ of depression and only survived by drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

If some of the people who’ve made the greatest impacts upon human society suffered from these painful disorders, it makes you wonder how you should judge the next person you see acting strangely, looking melancholy or anxious in the street.

Abe

'Honest Abe' Abraham Lincoln freed the African slaves in the US, but he was enslaved by great bouts of depression.

(Creative Commons image taken from scriptingnews’ photostream.)

Lennon

John Lennon taught us how to 'Give Peace a Chance; he had a rough time keeping his own mind at ease.

(Creative Commons image taken from C J Sorg’s photostream.)

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