Monday, December 25

Happy Christmas!!

Hello everyone, Happy Christmas!

Well, it's not quite Christmas day here yet but for some of you it is, and we're thinking of you. Christmas eve day here and while it comes with most of the usual excitement, it is also tinged with a little sadness and a longing for home... or shortbread.

We have very eclectic and simple decorations this year, but they suit the apartment. We also have a small tree made of rosemary!

Our rosemary tree
My step sister and her partner arrive today, hopefully, although they're currently stuck in Phoenix airport due to the inevitable delays. The weather here has been really intense the last few days, with thunder storms and lots of rain, and it's turned cold now, but still no real chance of snow for us here in Texas.

It looks like we're having a pretty big Christmas, with about 14 people from work and friend networks, mostly Aussies! Jo and I are in charge of cooking the Turkey, so we'll see if we can pull that one off. It may be an early start to Christmas morning, but it's all good. Dad has passed on his treasured 'Christmas Milk' recipe so I'll be maintaining family tradition and preparing that in the morning. It's a milky whiskey drink, sweet and totally drinkable, but not thick like eggnog (or eggy...) It doesn't seem to last very long though...

Anyhow, thinking of you all and missing you even more. Have a wonderful Christmas. All our love-

Jo and Jac ^_^

Saturday, December 23


Pronunciation: 'tär-dE
Function: adjective
Inflected Form(s): tar·di·er; -est
Etymology: alteration of earlier tardif, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *tardivus, from Latin tardus
1 : moving slowly
2 : delayed beyond the expected or proper time
Example: Blog entries on Jac Wabbit goes to Texas

Friday, December 22

Portland Part 2

Jo and I were lucky enough to find ourselves in Portland, Oregon for a week earlier this month. I'm collaborating with some great people there so it was mostly work for me, but Jo got to spend most days walking the city (stay tuned for her post - coming soon!).

For backstory, my previous Portland posts are Here and Here, although there may be other references lurking in May and June of the archives...

Portland is a great city and makes me feel totally at home. Read that as "Jac is head over heals for the place". I'm not sure if it's the cold, the mountains, the hot tea, the rain, the multitude of subarus, or the political leftness... but it's all good! We stayed in what is probably my favorite hotel thus far, the Benson. It's a small hotel that has all the good stuff, including lovely sheets, bathrobes, good cable and room service french onion soup, while not being at all tacky plasticky and nasty. They even have a lovely little Asian lady who knocks on the door at 5.30pm 'you want bed turned down?' and when you invariably say no she hands you a bunch of candy and a little card with the next day's weather on it.

Portland was FREEZING cold! Literally. It was ranging from -1 to about 8 degrees C, but we were lucky not to get any rain the whole time we were there. San Antonio has been a lush 25-30 degrees the last few weeks (unseasonal perhaps) but we did have a very cold week just before we left for Portland so we went and found ourselves a good quality jacket each. Columbia for the win :) I don't know if you can see the mountain in the background, I think it's Mount Hood (the one everyone seems to get lost on lately but it is the most climbed mountain in the US so the stats are stacked against it). Anyhow, totally covered in snow! Gorgeous.

Portland was great for getting us in the mood for an American Christmas. Not only was it bitingly cold (even with our new coats we still needed at least 3 layers before venturing out) there were also lovely carols playing everywhere, even in the taxis. The hotel itself had the whole old style American Christmas feel, with an enormous tree in the lobby. No only that, but every edge of the room was lined with pots of poinsettias!

The other cool Christmassy thing about the Benson was the HUGE gingerbread house (nay, castle) in the lobby. It was made by the chief pastry chef who is now an architect! All made out of food but totally not edible (something to do with fixatives...I did not try to stick my tongue in the lake) The windows were my favorite - made with smashed and melted pieces of Jolly Ranchers!

I spent most of the week working, but we also had some lovely dinners (no surprise for this blog perhaps), including one at a place called 'The Farm Cafe' that uses all local produce. I had an amazing crab risotto and Jo had wild mushroom fettucini. We also had warmed Oregon brie with an apple cider sauce and local hazelnuts.

One of the loveliest things about Portland has got to be the trees, the variety, the density, the hills surrounding the city that are still densely forested... There was even a hint of the Autumn (fall) colouration remaining!

One night, before going to dinner, we walked through the freezing city to go and check out chinatown, which turned out to be small, but heading home we stumbled upon a fabulous night market! It was called 'Art Happens' and wasn't a regular thing, just a one off for pre-Christmas, but there was some beautiful stuff - earrings and hand made bags etc. It was fun to walk though the square filled with Christmas lights and market stalls.

On the last day there we went out to the hills just outside Portland and did a wine tasting tour. They make some good pinot! The countryside was lovely and reminded me a lot of the Northwest coast, but without the gum trees. Lots of hills and farms and gorgeous mountains all around. It was a great day, mostly sunny even. Some of the wines were terrible and we were thankful we were sharing a tasting glass, but some were lovely. Our favorite place was a winery called the Red Barn that had a lovely farmer type in denim overalls running the tasting. Very down to earth and friendly, not at all snooty like some of the other places. He brought out cheese and crackers, and in true American style, brownie bites! Not sure how they went with the wine because the cheese was too yummy to go there. They're one of the older vineyards and they send their grapes off to different winemakers, so we were trying a range of wines all grown on site. They had a very drinkable pinot gris, which is usually the bane of my existence, and some good pinot noirs :)

The bad side to the Portland trip is the Jo has now realised that the rest of the states is nothing like Texas/Florida... She even found a little house, right up in the park above the city, that she'd 'quite like to live in'. Sorry Texas, you'll never win her heart now!

Thursday, December 7

The yumminess that was Thanksgiving

What do vegetarians in Texas eat for Thanksgiving?
That’s right Tofurky!

mmm yummy?
On Thursday the 23rd of November we celebrated our first Thanksgiving. Everyone we talked to seemed a little sketchy on the details of exactly what we were giving thanks for (something about the pilgrims) but they all agreed the entire point of the day was to cook and eat a mass of good food. Sounded a little like family Christmas for us so we figured we could handle it.

Thanksgiving was held at John and Joanne’s because Joanne’s folks were visiting from Oz. In total we had 13 people, with a clear over-representation of Aussies (there were eight of us!). Jo and I got there bright and early to help cook, including the 20 pound beast of a turkey that took more than 5 hours to cook! Given the size of the bird we planned for an afternoon meal, and everything went surprisingly smoothly (considering the last minute realization that if the turkey was in the oven, NOTHING else could fit!).

While the food cooked we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which apparently is the traditional thing to do. Lots of amazing floats, most of them including a ‘hot air balloon shaped like X’ where X was pikachu (a pokemon) or nemo, mr potato head, supergrover… There was much dancing and many cheerleaders, although since it’s held in New York and it was 2 degrees and raining, everyone was rugged up to the eyeballs! The parade finished with santa, just to remind us all that Thanksgiving is only the beginning of the crazy holiday season.

before the spread
I won’t go into too many details but the entire event was lovely, and a lot of fun. We had a great group of people, including a strict vegetarian, and it was great to hang out with a bunch of aussies and pseudo-aussies. It was a gorgeous 27 degree day, clear and sunny, but we hardly ventured outside! We began with prawn skewers sprinkled with old bay seasoning and grilled (or mixed veggie skewers for the non-fish eaters), champagne (Jacobs Creek) and punch (although the lads did have an esky of beer). By this point the room was full of turkey smells so the skewers not only kept the masses happy, but they injected a little bit of Oz into the whole traditional American holiday thing.

The dinner was amazing, and we managed to time it surprisingly well given the total chaos in the kitchen and the fact that different people had contributed different items that all needed heating/cooling/dressing etc. Lorena, our resident vego, brought the Tofurky and it was a surprisingly handsome (and tasty) beast. Being a true American she also supplied the mash and the green bean casserole, but I guess I should tell you the menu…


A MASSIVE roast turkey, golden brown, with a bread/bacon/mushroom stuffing
Fried slabs of smoked ham
Roasted veggies, including potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, onion, parsnip and garlic
Steamed asparagus
Steamed cauliflower with white sauce
Vegetarian friendly couscous stuffing with cranberries, orange, and pistachios
Traditional green bean casserole, made of a mixture of long green beans, mushroom soup and chili, with crispy fried onions on top - sounds bad I know, but was very good!
Mashed red-skinned potatoes
Cold cranberry relish that was a little sour and had nuts in it
Cranberry sauce
Two types of gravy (the turkey juices made the BEST gravy!) plus a vegetarian ‘gravy’
And finally, there was the Tofurky!

While attempting to digest all that yumminess we watched ‘Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving’ in a attempt to work the whole thing out. For good measure we followed it up with the Garfield version (the original cartoon, not of the CG stuff). Once we had regained some measure of composure, and just before we all fell asleep, we unveiled the dessert table! We had lemon meringue pie, a huge pavlova (mad by one of the other aussies) and, of course, pumpkin pie! Jo helped make the pumpkin pie the day before, so she has the details of what went into it. It was tasty, because of the spices, but I wouldn’t have gone back for seconds. It was served with either whipped cream, or cool whip, which is a scary white substance that is almost entirely unlike whipped cream.

Anyhow, I highly recommend thanksgiving. And it was a good test run for Christmas, where we get to do most of it all over again!

Sunday, December 3


Here’s the belated account of Florida, land of palm trees and beaches. This is a tag team entry!

Jac was in Florida attending back-to-back conferences and I was tagging along which is why it’s my job to write this one up! We flew direct from San Antonio into Tampa international, which is a surprisingly handsome airport. We were headed to St Pete Beach, which is on the other side of Tampa facing into the Gulf of Mexico. We stayed at the trashy Trade winds Resort, which boasted it’s own private strip of beach, complete with beach cabanas and a huge inflatable waterslide, which was a handy landmark when walking down the beach.

The high points were having a number of lovely pools to swim in, and a man-made lagoon/waterway running through the resort that you could navigate in a paddleboat. We had a couple of boating adventures and Jac navigated both times, which was probably a good thing. The worst bit was sailing under “The Flying Bridge” which was the bar built over the lagoon looking down on the pool.

We only ate at “The Flying Bridge” once, and swore never to do it again! However, we did sip cocktails there one night and they were a much better standard, although as Jac points out, it’s hard to make a bad bloody mary.
Each day Jac went off to her morning session and I would pack my bag and head for the beach. My favourite thing to do was to walk up to the non-tourist end. It was much quieter with only a few condos, most of which were empty, and instead of people there were masses of seabirds! Gulls, Pelicans, and Herons diving for fish. One day I saw a dolphin rise up out of the water not ten meters away from me.

Ok, it’s Jac here now… Jo appears to be having trouble remembering just how ‘fake plastic’ the whole resort experience really was. Poor thing must have been more jet lagged and confused than I thought! The resort was one of the nicer ones on St Petes Beach, which somehow allowed it to be even more tragically daggy, with towering fake palms inside the atrium and piped steel drum music throughout every inch of the place, including all outdoor areas. There was one tune that got stuck in my head for a full week after we got home. I needed steelpan detox. I’m sure it was only some local council rule that saved us from having the same aural nightmare follow us onto the beach.

We had one of the bigger rooms that looked out onto the ‘lagoon’…a disneyland style snake of water that circled most of the complex, fully equipped with paddleboats, koi, and a pair of indifferent swans. The highlight of the lagoon was watching a small but fierce bird (perhaps a heron) break the core rule ‘never eat anything bigger than your head’ as he spent a full 10 minutes swallowing a massive fish he’d pulled out of the water. The whole ‘fish still flipping while sliding down the tiny neck’ was a little much for the two ladies behind us, but we were loving it and have most of the carnage on film.

The room came fully equipped with big but saggy beds decked out in the brightest coloured linen I’ve ever seen (think children’s wards in the 80s). However, it did have a wide selection of cable (we overdosed on the food channel) and a kitchenette, which allowed us to stock up on real food type supplies from the supermarket down the road.

The best part of the resort, aside from the amazing diving pelicans and sea birds helpfully supplied by one end of the beach, was the deep, blue and heated swimming pool. There were multiple pools but that one was my favourite, partly because it was so deep and partly because it was totally neglected by almost everyone else. The temperature for most of the time we were there was lovely. 30-35 days, dropping to quite cool in the late afternoon-evenings. One day even hit 40, and luckily it was also the slowest day of the conference, so I got to bake myself a little (Jo on the other hand was well and truly lobster girl at this point and had to go buy some special blue burn gel).

On the second last night we were there a huge electrical storm hit just after we got back from dinner. We sat on the beach watching the lightning for a while and then had the sense to go back in before the rain hit, and hit it did! The storm turned out to be huge!! Heaps of rain, wind and lightning, with the most incredible thunder. Sadly that was the same set of storms that sent the tornados up through the Carolinas :( We were also under a tornado watch, but we didn’t know it at that point, probably for the best. The next morning the entire strip of resorts had no water! Kind of weird in a hotel. Jo discovered the weather channel and was instantly hooked.

We also got to catch up with friends of ours (Chris' relatives) and that was just wonderful, like hanging out with family again ^_^

All in all, it was a fun trip :)