Friday, February 27


It doesn't happen to me often but occasionally I develop obsessions. Luckily they're not usually anything life destroying. For example, ever since my palate-blowing Tanuki experience, I have become obsessed with tsukemono, or Japanese pickles. Why? We only had a very small tasting of house-made pickles at Tanuki, as well as kimchi (so it isn't just a Japanese thing) but somehow that was enough for me to devote a large portion of my brain to thinking about nothing else. I want to know what they all taste like. I want to know every ancient technique for making them. I want to know what things you can pickle and what you can't and why...and it is driving me mad! I have four different kinds of homemade pickled diakon in our fridge right now (yes 4). And that is before my super do-it-yourself tsukemono book and pickle press arrive from Amazon! Right now I'm running blind and I still love every one of them...well ok maybe not the one I drowned in salt but even that was edible!

Daikon four ways

I know pickles are a weird thing to get obsessed with (especially since I'm not the pregnant one) but it is the process as much as the eating. The other thing I am currently somewhat obsessed with (and have been for a while) is a particular diaper bag. I have to call it that because nappy is a racial slur here so I'm trying to train myself to use diaper. Usually I would just stick with the Australian word (rubbish not trash) but not when it could be an insult. Anyhow, this diaper bag is perfect. Utterly perfect. It is also expensive, hence obsession rather than ownership at this point. No matter what I do, no matter how many other bags I look at, none of them come close. I am not going to link it because I'm not looking for a debate - I'm just ranting about obsessions and the odd directions mine seem want to take.

Anyhow, still no fix on the Tuesday home movie so for now you'll have to be content with another week 19 snapshot.

Tuesday week 19 - Hand to mouth

Tonight is Hell's Kitchen night, where we hook up with Matt and Claire for dinner and watch Gordon Ramsey speak morse-code (thanks to US censorship) while people cook in the background. It wasn't on the other week so we watched an episode of his British show The F Word (which I guarantee will never be shown in the US). He was trying to get his kitchen team to cook a simple appetiser of scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms, and by popular demand it looks like I'll be attempting it tonight! Lets hope I can do better than the people he had on the show.

Wednesday, February 25

Attack of the 5' 7" preggersaurus!

Today is Shrove Tuesday so we're having pancakes for dinner - well that's my excuse anyway! This time last year we were at Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

A couple of updates. I mentioned a little while ago that there was some medical stuff going down in my family. Well my Dad (Michael) has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. That came as a bit of a shock, as I'm sure you can imagine. He has opted for the surgery which will be early next month, and I am optimistic (good Gleason score of 3+3, no evidence of spread on CT plus he's fit as a horse) but of course every surgery comes with great risk and the side effects of this surgery can be pretty bloody awful.

Also, some updates on the preggersaurus and her ever growing hump! All is going well. Week 20 now and Jo is starting to feel kicks and pokes, probably more than she wants to! She nearly dropped the laptop on my head the first time and accused me of jabbing her! She's not really putting on much weight but her belly sure is growing (remember what she looked like at week 14?)

Sexy new maternity jeans. For when buying 'one size bigger' normal jeans just doesn't cut it anymore.

There is also evidence of the move in the background - yep our house is covered in cardboard debris.

And one final bit of news about Tuesday...It's a BOY! For proof, see below. We actually have some video from the last ultrasound but it is in a weird format so I need to convert it before I can trim it down and put it up here, but this is a still from said footage.

We move house on Saturday so email me if you want our new address. It's going to be great to have a change of scene, and a second bedroom, for the last leg of the Texas journey. Let the nesting begin!

Wednesday, February 18

Tanuki - best meal ever? (probably!)

(Warning: eat before reading)

If I had asked my daruma for the ultimate food experience I would be colouring in its other eye right now. Tanuki was that good. I have been trying to get this post out for days, but I’ve been finding it really hard and that’s because I fell head over heals, intoxicatedly and stupidly in love – with the food, the sake, the dinky space that had more attitude that almost every San Antonio restaurant combined, the waitress who managed to perfectly balance presence and absence, and the chef... Janis Martin what have you done to me!!

A little background first. In Japanese folklore Tanuki is the loki-like raccoon dog trickster who spends most of his time mischievously acquiring sake and a free lunch. He also has unsettlingly large testicles and the ability to shapeshift them into all sorts of useful items such as a boat, tent or raincoat. In short a fabulous choice for the patron saint of restaurants.

Yeah those parachutes...they're attached

Tanuki in Portland, Oregon in a kind of izakaya, a bar serving food that goes with beer and sake. It is not Japanese tapas but the concept is similar. In fact, it is not strictly Japanese food either, crossing several cultural and continental boundaries to offer the best beer food from Japan, Korean, the Philippines and beyond.

The outside of Tanuki - Great things come in small packages right?

Given my current mental state I will do my best to refrain from using absolute definitives and give you what I can piece together before my mind turned to happy happy jello. I first heard about Tanuki from this blog that I read. Her review sounded way too good to be true, but since I’m in Portland occasionally and always up for an adventure I decided the check it out. The more reviews I read the more skeptical - and stupidly excited - I became. My colleagues in Portland, Mary and Patti, surprised me by not only willingly indulging me but also agreeing to be completely led on food choices!

Chef Martin affectionately describes Tanuki as “a scuzzy little dive bar” but when we arrived on Tuesday evening we walked into a small (maybe 20 seat) room filled with warm low light, earthy colours and the delicious smell of pickles, sake and anticipation (I might have brought the latter). There was a muted TV on top of the sake fridge showing a nonsensical Japanese program that seemed to consist of manikins modeling 70s knitting patterns in a late night and somewhat twisted version of East Enders, or maybe that was my take. I felt like I had come home!!

We took up residence at a tiny table near the bar and entrance to the kitchen (although, given the size of the place, that describes most of it!) We only looked at the menu long enough for me to begin drooling before aforementioned exceptional wait-person was making us feel right at home and talking me into perhaps the most enjoyable sake I’ve ever had. It might have just been that it was exactly the right night to be drinking it, in the right place with the right food, or it could have just been that good. I stupidly forgot what it was called but lucky for me super chef remembered (yay for email) – it was the Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo 55, unfiltered. I need to get my hands on some more for a second sampling!

Instead of trying to make a choice from the daily changing menu, we all decided (ok I decided but my lovely companions agreed) to take the omakase option. That is, we let the chef decide and suggest how much we should spend. Don't get me wrong, for the agreed price we had the perfect amount of food for three and we all left well satisfied, but in retrospect is seems an insanely small amount to have spent considering the quality of the food we ate. I plan to make it up to Janis by returning and drinking a lot more of that sake... eventually!

We were immediately presented with a bowl of chilled edamame that initiated the ‘blow Jac’s mind’ chain reaction. These were not your standard soy bean pods drenched in salt served at most Japanese joints, these were subtly lemon and sesame flavoured with a big togarashi punch (Japanese red pepper spice mix) and I couldn’t get enough of them. While we were still popping these beauties, a tiny plate of the freshest uni sashimi I have ever seen appeared, studded with real wasabi, not that pappy mustard powder crap. Uni is sometimes called sea urchin roe but it is more like the gonads – Aussies who have eaten really good scallop roe will understand. It was light, sweet and so delicate and everyone at the table really enjoyed it (I didn’t explain what it was until later mind you).

From this point on I lose track of exactly what appeared when or was brought by whom. Chef Martin herself delivered some of the dishes and explained them to us with helpful tips on how best to consume them (no pretentions here). In my enthusiasm I took a few photographs of the food and I now feel terrible that I didn’t ask permission (I’m having dreams of Janis tracking me down with her wicked chef’s knife…). She may call her space a skuzzy dive bar, but every dish was impeccably presented with stunning yet simple plating and not a scrap of inedible filler ‘fluff’ to be seen (no clichéd beefsteak leaves, grated daikon threads or carrot roses to be seen). Every dish was a tribute to her skill as a chef; perfectly balanced flavours, serious knife skills, fresh local produce and a sense of style that seemed to transcend boundaries of tradition, pretention and expectation.

To continue on from the subtlety of the uni we were brought hamachi sashimi (yellowtail) plated on slivered lemon wedges lightly seasoned with ponzu-like sauce and a little nub of that delicious wasabi. If you’ve ever had a bad raw fish experience, this would be your miracle cure. This delicate dish was followed by the mind blowing ankimo – monkfish liver pate on slivers of sesame toast with refreshing herb salad that was at once familiar and unplaceable but tasted so good! Citrus and herbs, and fire in the form of a hot sauce that I practically licked off the finished plate.

Hamachi sashimi

The next offering was a plate of kushiyaki – three skewers of sweet, sticky, broiled unagi that had none of that fishy eel taste and all of the melt in your mouth deliciousness, and a skewer of miso hotate; tiny sweet scallops lightly flavoured with mirin and miso and mustard, none of which dominated the sweetness of the flesh. Next time I must also try the ahiru kokkoro, or duck heart kushiyaki.

Chef Martin then delivered a larger plate of fried rice intermingled with lap chong, Dungeness crab meat, fluffy scrambled egg and her homemade kimchi. Nestled on top was a tiny raw quail egg, which we tipped over the dish and mixed through the rice. This was a table favorite, simple, elegant and so delicious that we couldn’t get enough of it. Every bite was different depending on whether you hit a pocket of crab, a sweet piece of sausage or some heat from the kimchi. I don’t think there was a grain remaining when we were finally able to relinquish the plate to our wait-person of infinite patience.

Kimchi chahan with the quail egg and accoutrements

The heft of the kimchi chahan was followed by the absolute delicacy of ebi nikkei; prawns poached in cinnamon tea with bok choi. The prawns were perfectly cooked, slightly salty and the poaching liquid was divine with a slow building fire. We were then served a wonderful plate of half-moon sandwiches of longganisa (Pinoy or Filipino style skinless sausage) between grilled lotus root slices with a selection of four sauces including an umami-rich house-made worcestershire and a squid ink sauce. To top it off this plate had an added bonus in the form of a pile of marinated shitake, again house-made!

Renkon nikuzume - pity I completely hit the lotus and sausage (no hide the sausage gags!)

The meal was quickly balanced by two sweeter dishes. The first was a soft, slightly sweet bun topped with a tiny vein of what tasted like delicious vanilla custard to me and piles of sweet, slightly malty flakes which were actually shavings of dry cured pork belly. Lucky for me I had previously experienced this meaty, candy-like goodness thanks to a fellow food-whore here in San Antonio but this was definitely the best incarnation of the stuff that I have yet to put in my mouth. The second dish was Mary’s favorite: niku dango or wild boar meat balls drenched in a sweet, smoky Korean soy on a bed of rice (to suck up the residual stickyness). The meatballs were delicious, with the texture of pulled pork rather than mince so as you bit into them you scored sticky, meaty chunks of meat so soft you could separate the fibers with your tongue. Or maybe it is just me who does things like that... The meatballs were served with a choko (tiny cup) of a chrysanthemum infused Korean rice wine (Kauelkukhwa) with a light, lemony front and soothing herbaceous finish that kept us from reaching our sticky pork saturation point, to the degree that I think all of us could have done that course a few times over!

The sweet bun with pork belly shavings - the vegos would never know!

Janis then provided us with a bowl piled high with asari kimchi to deglaze our sticky palates – clams steamed with sake then chilled and served with kimchi shaved ice. This one was certainly a favorite of mine, and I loved the way the flavor went from chilled to heat and yet stayed so refreshing. The masterpiece was completed with a final dish of broiled mackerel flavored with the remnants of the sake making (kasusaba) and a selection of house-made pickles including sour plums and daikon. Another huge hit with the table and the clean pickles were such a wonderful way to finish that we opted out of the miso soup offered as an optional final course (a decision I later regretted but only because I never wanted to stop eating Janis’ food).

One of my companions, towards the end of the meal, was trying to articulate why our experience seemed quite so magical and I think she nailed it. She said ‘it felt as though the chef had cooked a special dinner just for us’ and it really did. It makes me so happy to know that a place like Tanuki exists, and if I lived in Portland I would be a regular (pest, stalker... call it what you will). If it is within your power to get there, go and go now. Me? I’m still wearing my grin (and my Tanuki t-shirt) and plotting my return to Portland. The beloved’s fish allergy the biggest spanner in the work, but Tanuki has so many vegetarian options that she won’t miss out entirely!

Saturday, February 14

Portland in Winter

I'm home from a few days up in Portland, Oregon where it was deliciously wintry. The flight went via Denver (it is a long way from San Antonio to Portland!) and as soon as we got near Denver there was a sudden change in the lands beneath...Snow! And frozen lakes, and white spiky mountains and, of course, the eye-watering glare.

There's snow on them there hills!

I have a collaboration with some glaucoma researchers in Portland and they are just the best people, lots of fun and really welcoming so I don't mind so much when they work me really hard.

One of the great things about these trips to Portland is that they always put me up at The Benson, which is my favorite hotel in America. Not because it is ritzy or has special shampoos, but because it is absolutely classic in the old school sense. It's not all false pretenses and veneer like most 'pretending to be posh' hotels nowdays.

Simple and elegant, and the bed is memory foam!

It is a 6-7 hour flight so when I first got in Mary (one of two fab collaborators) took me for a stroll around NW Portland where some of my favorite shops are. I popped into Lush (after smelling it from a block away) to get some bath yummies for the beloved. We also discovered a couple of markets or gourmet corner stores full of delicious cheeses, meats, vegies and such (that I'm sure weren't there last trip).

Part of said 'corner store'...I could have spent a lot longer browsing

Since I was pretty tired and there were no real plans that night, I decided to put together a picnic dinner that I could have in the comfort of my hotel - a couple of cheeses including a blue castello (common in Oz, not so much here), some mixed green olives and some salami. And some freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice to wash it all down :D


On the third day of the trip, after a fabulous breakfast at the St. Honoré Boulangerie (fabulous French bakery) I realised it was SNOWING! And not just the odd flake but a constant flutter. All the trees on the hill behind us were covered in a decent dusting of white! I got so excited - and I think that  was a surprise to my collaborators who had already suffered through an unusually white winter and to whom the current fall was small fish... plankton even.

See, trees, coated!

Ahh snow, glorious snow.

A gorgeous little red bush that looked so pretty in the snow

The pine needles just hold the light snow so beautifully. Mind you, I wasn't game to stand underneath any of these because I wasn't sure just how tightly it was holding that snow!

All in all it was a great trip, not quite 4 days in total. We got a lot of work done, and I ate a lot of great food. And yes, I know there's still a big ass food post owing. Manyana...

Wednesday, February 11

oh my!

Twice in as many days I'm lost for words, but this time th reason is completely different. I just experienced the most incredible foodie-heaven dining experience. I'll blog it properly as soon as I get home but I just need to say OOOGAH!

And to top it all off, it snowed today here in Portland, and not just a little snow, I'm talking a billion exploded feather pillows! It didn't settle enough to make driving difficult, just enough t make everything look stunning.

And to top it all off I got some good results on the analyses I've been running while I'm here - woot!

Pics and food review coming soon.

Tuesday, February 10

Not sure what to say

For once I am lost for words. We have been watching the news of the fires in Victoria, the heat waves, the flooding, the devastating loss of life and property - and it just seems to keep going. We're thinking of all of you who are affected by this - even if it is just the mind-numbing helplessness of watching it all unfold.

Also an update on what's happening here. There's more radio silence than usual because I am in Portland at the moment working with my collaborators here. I have a lot to post about but I refuse to do it until I can get the photos off my camera, so you'll have to wait until at least Thursday.

Also we've had some bad family health issues to deal with in the last week (my family) that I may or may not blog about depending on how those involved feel about it. It has, however, shaken me up somewhat.

And since this is probably the least uplifting post I have ever written I will now offer you something completely from left field that never ceases to entertain me (I am simple reall...) Go check out the Random Recipe Generator! You just have to refresh the page to get a new one. Here's an example:

Pickle Surprise
Serves 2 You will need:

* 80g chocolate
* 130ml hot pepper sauce
* 150g pickle


1. rinse the hot pepper sauce
2. melt the hot pepper sauce
3. throw the hot pepper sauce away
4. grill the pickle
5. defrost the chocolate
6. Throw it all away
7. Go down to the pub!

Friday, February 6

Australia Day revisited

I meant to do a follow-up post about Australia Day and I completely forgot! Bad blogger.

Nothing like a giant inflatable roo to lure the punters in, although someone did call it a rabbit!

So I was baking all those Anzac biscuits because the Aussies here at work decided to host an Australia Day lunch for all the poor sods who had never experienced the joys of a vegemite sandwich. There are nine of us Aussies here in the Department of Genetics so we figured we could put on a pretty decent spread. There were homemade sausage rolls, mini egg and bacon pies, vegemite sangers, fairy bread, pavlova, anzac biscuits, lammingtons, solo, cheezles, twisties, flake, tim tams and all sorts of other goodies! We also realised that the 26th of Jan is also Indian Republic Day so we invited the Indian members of the department to share in the fun and they provided wonderful homemade tandoori chicken, samosas and wonderful crunchy spicy snacks that had multiple names, none of which I remember.

Part of the spread while we were still getting set up. That may or may not be my hand pinching more of the spicy crunchy things!

Well the lunch was a great success and I think maybe we had sixty people or more come through! The vegemite sandwiches were really popular and people were surprised that they liked them (although there was usually much trepidation in the initial trying process). The problem is that if you give a jar of vege to your average American they think they need to spread it on thick like peanut butter...blergh. The anzacs and sausage rolls were also popular, dashing our hopes for leftovers!

An empty plate where the vege sangers once were. The sausage rolls have also gone by this point.

In other exciting Australia Day news, my Uncle Wally was awarded an Order of Australia medal! The official statement read 
"For service to the community through support for a range of charitable organisations, and to the music industry as a manager and promoter." 
But I think it's more because he's just one of those people who make the world a better place.

Congrats Sir Walter, King of the Hill :D