When In Rome, Err Melbourne

Coffee at home courtesy of Nespresso

Coffee at home courtesy of Nespresso

Italians arguably have it mastered. Espresso, any way you like it; with more milk or water in the creation, it’s just the perfect cup of “Gio”.

Since my first trip here a year ago, I have become enamored by how well Australians make a cup of coffee. I had a lovely “Flat White” times two in Chinatown at The Mess Hall www.themesshallmelbourne.com, at the Café Bar Mile on Flinders Lane http://espressomelbourne.com/cafe-review/mile/ (amazing and pretty food, see below), and each morning at the hotel which had a push button machine to spit out your favorite brew (which was surprisingly decent). Honestly, the only way to mess a good cup of coffee up is, well, to make it yourself.

Avo and egg on sourdough toast at Cafe Bar Mile

Avo and egg on sourdough toast at Cafe Bar Mile

Once we moved here in January, it became evident we needed a decent coffee maker as the auto drip one my husband initially purchased just to get by wouldn’t suffice. You become a bit of a coffee snob once you’ve experienced reeeeaaalllly good coffee.

We acquired our first Nespresso right off the bat and shortly thereafter, double-walled espresso glasses. We had an experimental phase of buying the intense capsules and using lungo vs. espresso settings, which had us buzzing. Now we’ve sorta got it down. Hubby prefers running the same capsule through twice and adding light milk, and I prefer 2 capsules on lungo setting and adding my full cream milk. Note: this is not (nearly or ever) a substitute for half and half but it’s all about adapting to change, right??

We’ve kept our auto drip for the mornings we both need to get as much volume of coffee in our systems as quickly as possible. We still buy the Italian ground coffee for this purpose. Coffee is simply dominated by Italians. Lavazza, Vittoria, L’Or, they’re all the best part of waking up.

So my unspoken (until now) theory of the Italian migration here is starting to make sense. There are a lot of Italians in Melbourne and the surname such as Azzopardi is nearly synonymous with Smith back home. I know this as we have a teacher at my daughter’s school as well as our rental agent who share this last name in our suburb, yet are not related. I’ve since heard this surname several times. While I have yet to discover the reason behind the migration, which has clearly permeated Australian society and beverages, I will for now, embrace the joy of drinking a luxurious cup of coffee. Side note: I’ve been to Italy and traveled to Venice, Florence and Rome but unfortunately coffee was one thing I gave up while seven months pregnant!

As we were leaving the States, it was of no surprise to me that Starbucks announced the “Flat White” debut on their menu. I look forward to “giving it a go” when I return. If you happen to venture down under, here is a blog guide to getting your favorite cup of Gio upon your arrival, as Starbucks cafes are NOT on every corner. http://sydneymovingguide.com/coffee-in-australia/

Double walled espresso glasses. Look closely you'll see "Australian Design" at the bottom of the glass.

Double walled espresso glasses. Look closely you’ll see “Australian Design” at the bottom of the glass.

Bye, Bye My Amazon Prime, Hello Whiskey and Rye


basket-156835_640Since arriving to Australia, I’ve had to completely overhaul my atypical (to me at least) American shopping habits.

For one, my aversion to malls. Before I came here, I may have gone to a mall once a year and that was to go to the Apple Genius Bar for warranty service on my MacBook Pro, buy a last minute gift (even that would be a stretch because I relied on most purchasing through Amazon Prime) or return an item because it was more convenient that mailing it back.

Now, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time at the mall. The answer is simple; it’s where you purchase nearly everything you need in addition to standard clothing, shoe stores, mobile phones, banks. Butcher, baker, (still looking for a candlestick maker), produce stands, seafood market, and nuts in every possible variety and flavor. Anchor stores are big grocery stores like Coles, Woolworths (aka “Woolies”), and Aldi. Add a Target or a Big W for housewares and the standard liquor warehouse. Yep, everything in one place.

My initial visits to the grocery stores were lengthy and mentally exhausting ones. I spent my time exploring each aisle in search of some semblance or similarity of products back “home”, reading a lot of labels, stocking up on all cooking and baking staples, converting measurements and currency, and just trying new things out. Steggles brand reminds me of Perdue, Uncle Toby’s is branded on Cheerios and other General Mills-like products, but Kellogg’s is Kellogg’s. Rice Bubbles are Rice Crispies and to my family’s dismay, there are no original Cheerios here, as the original Uncle Toby’s kind here is the multigrain. So far I’ve found zero breakfast cereals that do not contain sugar as one of the first few ingredients.

What I do love here especially is the produce. It’s huge, beautiful, freshly picked and usually a good price. Pick dates are usually within a few days to appearing on store shelves which makes it last longer and retains its freshness.

I also love the variety of certain items and am amused by the British influence. Where else can you find an almost entire aisle wall of canned beans? Or chocolate? Or dairy products like eggs, creams (dessert), yogurt, milk, and cheese? One major thing missing to my daily ingestion is half and half for my coffee. Why oh why does this not exist when there are so many creams but not even mixed with a bit of milk? Hopefully I am just missing something and I can find a good substitute; it’s full fat milk for me now. And canned tuna fish, in so many flavors, it’s unreal.

Tuna variety

Tuna variety

Finding the same products we like from back in the states has obviously been an expected major feat. There is a USA food store but I don’t intend to go there, as I know we will survive without everything we used to know and love. I do enjoy that Costco has a presence here and we have already made two trips there. Membership from the US works here so we will be good until renewal time. There are some comforts from home like Ruffles chips and the standard Kirkland items we use, like extra virgin olive oil and trash bags. Do not take them for granted Americans! All other trash bags in Oz do not compare to the strength of the Kirkland brand, hands down. Unfortunately we bought many brands and learned the hard way. Trash bags do not fail me now!

Now, it only makes sense that I can get housewares delivered by the likes of Target, Harvey Norman, Myer, etc., however I was thrilled to discover that the grocery stores deliver, and this includes wine, beer and liquor! Now that I’ve done the perusal and shopping in-store, my items are saved in my online profile and I can simply reorder. It’s a welcome change from ordering online and swinging by to pick them up like I used to. Delivery of our groceries along with our gin, beer, and wine made my break up with Amazon Prime membership just a bit easier to swallow.

Left, Left, Left, Right, Left


Aussies march to the beat of their own drums, so why should driving be any different?

As a transplant now with my 4th week on the roads under my seatbelt, this military mantra guides my train of thought while behind the wheel. When people back home ask me what it’s like I explain it’s a lot like a video game where you’re a driver and you have to react to everything that’s coming at you but you don’t have a frame of reference. Your instincts and reflexes are defied in ways that make you think you’re on the show Top Gear.

We drive on the left here. Steering wheel on the right side. Turning signal side swapped with windshield wipers (except on certain model cars like mine). Gears on the left. Go with automatic transmission, this is a gift.

There are no rights on red; you must wait for the green arrow. Roundabouts keep things merrily humming along but you better act quickly because Aussies are generally aggressive drivers. They wouldn’t think twice about cutting you off and taking a parking spot or nearly mowing you down in a parking lot, but in a pinch they’ve got your back.

What made my driving experience feel as close to home and partially within my comfort zone was our choice of car. We spent a day at the nearest car dealers and almost walked away with a Ford Kuga (pronounced Kooga). I had to laugh as I am in my mid-40s and all I could think about was the Cougar stereotype. Good lord, was I about to get this car? Considering cars here are very expensive compared to same model cost in the US, we weren’t about to go back to our Lexus/Volvo cars we had at home. The whole experience was leaving me half-hearted and non-committal and it wasn’t from the haggle (there’s barely a negotiation). Until, my husband spotted a vehicle that was just like mine back home, a used Volvo XC90 SUV! Oh dear, that would no doubt be a pretty penny here! And it kinda was.

Cars are expensive here; it bears repeating. I drove a 2007 version of this car back in the States which we bought used in 2008 at 27k miles. We sold it before we came here at 107k miles for $10k. This one had 100,000 kilometers (do the math it’s about 60k miles) was a 2008 model and we bought it for the same amount of money the 2007 cost us, at a year old!! These are $85,000 here new. Wha?? Nearly 3 times the price. BUT, what made it worth it (at least for me) was knowing I didn’t have to learn the car while learning to drive, so I am happy, albeit poorer for this choice. Bonus is it’s a 7-seater so we welcome guests and you won’t have to drive here!!

Anyone driving with me knows they will be traveling in nearly complete silence.

When I drive my kids:
“Sorry kids, no Taylor Swift, mommy needs to concentrate.”
“No, mommy doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head while driving here.”
“Your drink is staying on the floor until we stop.”
“I can’t see what your sister is doing to you right now but if you make another peep about it, I am pulling over!” This is not a veiled threat; I really do pull over.

So, I can’t multitask the way I used to but it’s for the best. My kids have really become the best backseat cheerleaders with hoorays and claps AFTER I make it through a roundabout successfully. My oldest whispers “Go Mommy Go, you can do it!” as she doesn’t want to distract me. Even she knows this is like driving on the moon!

Everyone I know that’s previously had to drive on the other side of the road gave me great advice and reassured me I’d find myself off the shoulders, in the ditches and hitting curbs. I’ve not kissed a curb yet, nor a parked car, or wing mirror; and I write this while knocking on my wood table and crossing fingers. All of the input from others was great, but as the driver, you need to get into your groove with it.

I simply remember (and chant to myself) to stay left, left, left until I have to turn right (or overtake!), then I pull into the right lane of the 2 lane road, whiz around the roundabout with my right blinker on and take what is the 3rd exit off the roundabout for my right turn and then it’s all left again. Whew I’m tired, someone else take the wheel!