How to be Australian: The Tim Tam Slam

Of all the Australian foods that I’ve enjoyed while living here for the past two years, by far the best is the iconic Australian biscuit, the Tim Tam.

A package of the most delicious biscuit in the world, Tim Tam. Image courtesy of Arnott’s

I’m not a chocolate lover at all but I will make the exception for a Tim Tam.Tim Tams are cookies made of two chocolate biscuits, filled with a chocolate cream, and coated in chocolate. One in every two households in Australia have a pack of Tim Tams on hand, which translates to Australians consuming over 400 million biscuits each year. According to the manufacturer Arnott’s, the biscuits were named after a winning horse in the Kentucky Derby in 1958. It’s so Australiana that it’s probably part of the citizenship test.

No one really knows the origin of the slam, but it’s probably started by some bored kids (or adults, I don’t judge) playing with their food. The closest thing I can think of to a Canadian/North American version would be the Oreo dunk but even that’s stretching it. There’s really nothing like a Tim Tam and certainly the slam.

How to do the Tim Tam Slam, also known as the Tim Tam Suck, Tim Tam Explosion and Tim Tam Bomb:

  1. Get a Tim Tam. Any flavour will do but the purest in me will only do the slam with the original variety. My favourite non-slam Tim Tam is white chocolate. I don’t think it’s available in Canada yet, but here’s a list of retailers in Canada that sell the delicious original flavour biscuits).
  2. Get a cup of hot tea or coffee. You can also drink it with hot chocolate or Milo, which is malted beverage (Ovalatine is a good substitute) but make sure it’s hot.
  3. Bite off diagonal corners of the biscuit.
  4. Use those ends of the biscuit as a straw and suck up the hot liquid through the biscuit.
  5. Slam it! Once you can feel the liquid has made its way through the biscuit, slam that delicious biscuit in your mouth fast! You just tasted the best thing in your life, my friend. You’re welcome. You have to move quickly or the biscuit will start to disintegrate and then you’ve ruined it and will have to start over. It’s the most devastating thing in the world to drop a biscuit in your tea and spend the rest of the time fishing out the chunks.

Hate reading? Here’s a video on how to do the slam

Thank you Australia!

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In praise of singing in cars

Brisbane is a commuter’s paradise.

Its smaller population and small town vibe allow for an easy and short commute. Driving into the city in the mad rush of the mornings is an easy 20 minute drive. Yup. 20 minutes.

Let me put that in Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton terms. That would be like driving from the corner of Bathurst and Bloor to Yonge-Dundas Square. In Mississauga, it’s the equivalent of starting at Burnhamthorpe and Hwy 10 and making your way to the QEW. And from Brampton’s corner of Steels and Hwy 10 to Bovaird. Congratulations! You made it to the QEW in 20 minutes but you now have to battle the traffic with the rest of the cogs heading downtown which could put another 30-40 minutes on your drive time depending on your final destination. I might be giving the benefit of the doubt to some of these, but you get the idea. Time is precious and you can’t travel very far during morning rush hour.

Don’t get me wrong. A short commute is ideal and there’s plenty of research showing a correlation between commute times and physical health and your relationships with loved ones. The negative impact commuting has on environmental issues like pollution, CO2 emissions, etc., all point to the solution that we should be using more public transportation, carpooling, walking or biking to get to work. But there’s something to be said about the alone time you have when it’s just you – and only you – in the car and faced with a 20 minute or more drive ahead of you. Taking public transit, carpooling, walking or biking just doesn’t cut it. You need the feeling that no one is watching, no distractions from other people, no eavesdropping, nothing. Just you, your car, a cup of tea/coffee from Tim’s, a cup holder, and the stereo.

Here’s why commuting to work is awesome by yourself if you have a long enough drive (and a car).

    1. Pondering life’s mysteries. Should you try Nepalese food? What is Nepalese food? Do you really like pad thai or do you think it’s weird to have peanuts with noodles? Why does everyone like garlic? Why are the other drivers idiots? Why is Two and a Half Men so popular when it’s not funny? Why aren’t I a millionaire? All these questions can be answered during your drive to work.
    2. Career coaching. The time commuting to and from work was usually when I thought about my career journey, where I pictured myself working in two, five and ten years, how I could have handled a work situation better, female leaders I admired, how/when/where to network, etc.. This sometimes turned into a negative tangent about colleagues, their skills and abilities, and I’ll admit some colourful language was used to describe these things. However it was a valuable learning lesson for me to stop all those negative feelings and it’s still a work in progress. It’s very easy to blame everyone else for why things went wrong but the challenge is to find your part in it and how to approach it next time so that the end result is successful. Did you effectively get your message across? Though they’re colleagues, did you make sure you knew your audience and how best to communicate to them? Did you make sure they understood what you were saying? Instead of getting uptight about others, I looked at it as an area where I could improve.
    3. Checking out other people and what they’re doing. Everyone’s curious and does it. What are people eating for breakfast? By looking at their wardrobe (and car) you could guess where they worked and the title they held. But this has the potential to be harmful to your health because we’ve all seen it: the nose picker. As I mentioned before, you need the sense of being alone for self-discovery and alone time, but that does not mean discovering that the huge cranial booger needs to be immediately removed in the middle of the Gardiner. Cars have windows, people. Others can see you and all your grossness. Leave personal grooming and disgusting habits for the privacy of your bathroom. I really can’t stress that enough. Even seeing women putting on eyeliner and mascara irritates me. Don’t get me started on plucking eyebrows in public. Don’t.
    4. Singing. Now this is the reward for driving by yourself. You could probably do it with others in the car but they’d have to be your partner/best friend/parent/child under the age of whatever it is before they learn to talk back. And there’s really no going back once you’ve open this can of talent on a work colleague. Belting out your version of Adele, Beyoncé, or any of the top 40 hits, is cathartic, empowering and boosts your mood. Awkward Moments has a story about what happens when someone sees you singing like no one’s watching.

Remember this? Don’t lie … you know you rocked out to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Image courtesy of Collection of Awesome.

Is there a perfect amount of commuting time that facilitates and aids self-discovery, mental health, and the self-indulgence of singing at the top of your lungs to your favourite songs? For the last two years, I’ve walked to work which took no more than 10 minutes. That’s just enough time in the hot sun when it’s 8am and the temperature has already reached 28 C degrees. Make-up ruined? Check. Hair a big ball of frizz? Check. Look like a hot mess? Check and double check. I’ve decided for me the ideal car ride to work is around the 20-35 minute mark. That’s just enough time to solve all of life’s mysteries for one day, sing about five to ten really good songs but not be in the car for an excessive amount of time. There’s evidence that anything longer will make you miserable and it’s even worse if you take public transit.

What’s your ideal commute time and what do you do to pass the time while idling in traffic?

Australia’s native species: Australius Boganus (The Bogan)

Australia’s warm, subtropical climate creates the perfect environment for one of the nation’s greatest native species: the Australius boganus, otherwise known as the bogan.

The bogan’s easily identifiable features include:

  • Mullet
  • Missing teeth
  • Acid-washed jeans
  • Driving a Ute (that’s Australian for utility vehicle aka pick-up truck)
  • Use of “truck nuts”
  • A propensity for swearing
  • Swearing at/around your children
  • Wearing Ugg boots outside (Uggs are meant to be only worn indoors as house shoes)
  • Using white sandwich bread as the bun for your hot dog or sausage

The Australian Bogan. Image courtesy of The Punch

The bogan’s natural habitat can sometimes be difficult to identify, however if there’s a car in the front yard, a couch on the porch, and a collection of empty beer bottles lining window sills or doorways, you know you’re in the presence of the elusive bogan.

The genetic North American cousin of the bogan, the white trash and redneck variety, thrives in North America. But the bogan is evolving. It’s coming into money, big money. It’s getting richer. Enter the CUB; the “Cashed Up Bogan”. This offshoot has recently appeared in Australia, typically on the west and east coasts where jobs on oil rigs or in mines are plentiful. The term was “used by one marketing researcher in 2006 to describe people of a blue-collar background now earning a high salary and spending their earnings on expensive consumer items as a matter of conspicuous consumption”. You can find CUBs at five star restaurants wearing jeans and running shoes, high end resorts wearing beer/alcohol-branded t-shirts, at gambling establishments, anyone on jet skis and anyone going to an Eminem concert (true story, it happened yesterday).

Vibewire.org wrote a great article about CUBs, comparing them to hipsters but with more money.

Interested in learning more about these native creatures? Check out the blog “Things Bogans Like”.

Melbourne: The Toronto of the Southern Hemisphere

A few weeks ago, my guy and I headed south to the lovely state of Victoria to take in all the sights and sounds of its capital city, Melbourne. We’d been to other states like Cairns (Queensland), Sydney (New South Wales), and Perth (Western Australia) but we always heard from others, locals and expats alike, to visit Melbourne. So last Australia Day, we set out to spend the long weekend and explore the city, which turned out to be one of my favourite places in Australia.

Here’s a photo of the Crown Casino’s hourly fire show. Yes, this happens hourly outside the complex.

Hourly fire show at Melbourne's Crown Casino

Hourly fire show at Melbourne’s Crown Casino

Here’s why: it reminded me so much of Toronto. Am I pinning for Toronto? Completely, without a doubt. I had been back to Toronto eight months ago, and that visit only made me miss it more. The sights, sounds, smells, and even the traffic made me realize how much I had missed it over the year and a half of living abroad. It felt as though my two weeks were compressed into only a few short days and I desperately wanted to drink it all in. I would live in Melbourne without hesitation if it weren’t for the fact that we moved from Toronto to find something different. It would have been a a disappointment to make the long haul journey to Australia and end up pretty much in a city that’s eerily similar to the one we left.

Locals describe Melbourne as the European city of Australia. It’s not like Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, and definitely not like Cairns. Melbourne has a unique history and is generally known as the melting pot of Australia as many immigrants from Greece, Italy, China, and Vietnam made Melbourne their home. It’s a beautiful and welcoming city, and equally fantastic as Toronto.

Here’s my theory on why Melbourne is the Toronto of the Southern Hemisphere:

  1. Streetcars. Public transportation geeks unite! Melbourne offers a free City Circle Tram that travels around the city centre and provides a recorded message of some of the interesting points of buildings, local attractions and neighbourhoods. Yup, free. Could you see Toronto offering a service like this? In addition to the free city centre service, it was very comforting to hear the sounds of cars driving over the streetcar tracks.
    City Circle Tram

    Melbourne’s free City Circle Tram [image courtesy of onlymelbourne.com.au]

  2. It was cold. Like 17C cold when we arrived. In my opinion, that’s not normal for Australia during the summertime. People who live in Melbourne say they can go through all four seasons in a day and I completely believe them. It was like Toronto on a cool autumn day.
  3. Amazing food. Here’s where things get “European” in my opinion. Like many European cities, Melbourne has dozens of laneways and alleyways where amazing food is served day and night. That’s the only difference in terms of where you actually find food. Toronto doesn’t have the alleyway restaurant culture simply because of the weather. If Toronto had the same climate as the South of France where the only threat comes from a chilly day and potentially rain, then Toronto would all over it. Unfortunately, Toronto is faced with -32C, snow, sleet, hail and everything else that drives outdoor eating inside.
  4. Diversity. Not just for food but cultures and people. It was incredible to walk down the street and see different nationalities and cultures living in one area. Melbourne, in my opinion is the most diverse city in Australia.
  5. Gardens, boulevards, and parks. Like Toronto, Melbourne is full of green space. We’d walk past numerous parks and will the streetcars going by, the large open areas, it felt as though we were walking into High Park.

    Parliament Garden

    Parliament Gardens

If you’re ever on this side of the world and are pinning for a bit of Toronto, then head over to Melbourne for a few days. With its mixtures of cultures, from Europe, Asia and of course Australia, it’ll satisfy any craving. Bonus: no Rob Ford.

Amanda

From maple syrup, double-doubles and beavers to Vegemite, flat whites and kangaroos

My guy and I moved from Mississauga to Brisbane back in April 2012. Our plan was to live in Brisbane for two years then head back to the Great White North where we’d again face the realities of family and non-family commitments, four distinct seasons and possibly a polar vortex. Living in a tropical climate has its perks for sure.

Brisbane’s population just surpassed 1.8 million making it the third largest city in Australia. Not as many as Toronto’s 2.7 million, but they’re getting there. Despite the third from the top ranking, there’s still a sense of small town living that you don’t experience in Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and which you certainly don’t experience in Toronto. Is it the noticeable lack of commuter traffic, really quiet neighbourhoods and plenty of sandy, beautiful beaches that lends to this sense of space?

Here’s a promotional video from VisitBrisbane.com.au

For those of you contemplating a move to Brisbane, here’s the nitty-gritty from an insider ex pat.

The good

The weather in Brisbane is simply amazing. Countless days of nothing but blue skies. Seriously. Not even the white fluffy kind in the distance. Same with the beaches. They’re breathtaking. There are so many beaches that there’s no need to cram everyone onto one so there’s always space to spread out and get comfy.

There’s nothing quite like the taste of Vegemite. Really. Having never tried it before coming to Australia, we heard a lot about it and made sure it was one of the first items on our grocery list. I like it. I like it a lot. It’s salty, savoury, and yeasty. My guy describes it as “super concentrated, salty pan drippings”. That’s a pretty good description. It’s actually quite healthy as it’s made up of all the B vitamins. All in a salty flavour bomb.

Vegemite ... yummy salt bomb

Vegemite … yummy salt bomb

Kangaroo is delicious. It’s lean, flavourful and best served medium-rare. That’s all I’m going to say.

I don’t drink coffee, but I hear a flat white is the best coffee. Ever. If you want to order one in North America, it’s a ‘no-foam cappuccino’. It’s from Australia/New Zealand. Many Aussies who visit North America are heart-broken (and sometimes fuming) when they can’t get a decent flat white abroad.

The bad

Despite being geographically located near many Asian countries, Brisbane’s cultural diversity is nothing like Toronto’s. This is probably one of the things that disappoints me most about being here. We were so privileged to have lived in one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. We saw a diverse view of different cultures and had access to any and all type of cuisine. Brisbane is just starting to embrace the different cultures which reside within but it’s a long road to get to where Toronto is. Melbourne and Sydney are up there with decades of immigration from all over the world contributing to its diversity in food, landscape, and architecture. It took ages to find a Vietnamese restaurant who could make a decent phở and it’s still not as good as the one we get back in Toronto. They have Mexican and Italian restaurants here, but they’re more “Mexican’ish” or “Italian’ish”. I think the issue is that they’re catering to the Brisbane palate, where their idea of cheesecake is cream cheese and sugar spread onto a pre-baked cookie base. I’m sorry but that’s not a cheesecake. That’s what I throw together when I’m craving something fast and sweet to eat and don’t mind being ghetto. Same with hot dogs or sausages. They deserve the respect of a proper sausage/hot dog bun, not a slice of white bread.

Television and movies are far behind that there’s no wonder people download movies illegally. If you want to watch shows as they air on regular cable in North America, you have to pay for premium cable or wait weeks, months sometimes even years before you can watch it. Australia just aired the first season of their version of The Bachelor. Welcome to 2002!!! The movie 12 Years a Slave is only just being released this week.

Need I say more?

The ugly

Chauvinism is alive and well here. And it’s accepted. That’s right, not just tolerated, but accepted. I once had a supervisor tell me that the next person they hired in the department would have to be male because the group they would be working with didn’t want to work with a female. The supervisor was male. Is that even legal? I put it forward to HR but nothing came of it. A male was hired for the role, just in case you were wondering. Is this due to the small town mentality where men run businesses and women get together with other women only for coffee catch ups and brunch all while wearing pricey yoga gear and full make-up? This whole ‘full make-up yoga outfit wearing’ thing kills me. Are you going to the gym or out for eggs benny? Does that crazy expensive shiny watch have a timer so you know when to transition from a run to a walk? I don’t get it.

Australia has a drinking culture unlike anything I’ve seen in North America. It’s as though people want to find any excuse to drink and drink to excess. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people stumbling out of bars completely drunk off their faces. The route I walked to into work in the morning had me passing by three bars and after a football, rugby or cricket match, there was always remnants of someone’s sick on the sidewalk. Not pleasant and not pleasant to think about as Australia loves sports so there’s always a game on and yes, another reason to drink. Melbourne Cup is a notorious event for people drinking to excess. The horse race, held annually in November, is all about drinking. The main race is held around lunchtime and only lasts for 10 minutes… tops. People get dolled up in their finery, ladies wear fascinators, men wear suits and they look fantastic. The drinking starts at 10:30am and doesn’t stop until 8pm. I’ve seen extremely large men stumbling home, walking out in front of traffic and almost causing accidents because they were too intoxicated to walk. Tragically, there has been a number of alcohol-fuelled deaths. The number of ‘king hits’ (what we call a sucker punch to the head) are on the increase as a result of booze-fuelled violence.

So, having gone through the good and the bad of living in Brisbane, I can honestly say it’s been a great experience; one that I’ll cherish and remember for the rest of my life. We’re set to head back this June and I’m sure it will be difficult to leave such a wonderful and beautiful place.