Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mango Madness

I'm going to pause my travel stories for a moment, and fast forward to the present.  As America picks over Thanksgiving leftovers and gears up for Christmas, I'm loving summer here in Australia, because summer = mango season.  Andy and I are mango-obsessed, so I was not terribly unhappy to leave the US in the end of October, saying goodbye to this:

Especially because it meant coming home to this:

And this, which I think is prettier than any Christmas tree.

Within two weeks of coming home, we have welcomed about 100 mangoes into our home.  Not all at once - the most we had at any given moment was 59, but we've been eating them and adding more.

You might think this is overkill, but last year's mango season had so much promise, and was then cruelly cut short by the stupid wet season.  So we couldn't resist, on the bike path one afternoon, the mangoes that looked to be within reach that were just starting to blush.  We pulled over, and found that they were higher than they looked, and even Andy's extreme 6'6 reach couldn't grab them.  Did we let that defeat us? Hell no - Andy boosted me up, and somehow we managed to come home with a backpack-full of big, Bowen mangoes.

Later in the week, we went out with Dee and BoaB and their amazing telescopic pruner.

Then we went to the uni and scoured the trees there.

And the next weekend we bought two buckets at the markets.  I did mention we were a bit obsessive, right?

We've been eating a few fresh mangoes every day.  Usually straight up, but also with ice cream, crumpets, or tapioca pudding.  Or, this morning, in pancakes (recipe here).

In smoothies.

In green mango salad (made with fresh tumeric, chilli, and lime juice from Dee and BoaB's garden - delicious!).

And in spicy mango salsa, on burritos.

Our goal, in addition to eating as many fresh, delicious mangoes as possible, is to preserve them in lots of different ways, so we can enjoy mango-deliciousness all year round.  I wish we had a preserving kit, or even the gear that let us jar stuff in a sterile and long-lasting way. I also wish we had a giant freezer.  But we don't.  We do, however, have a dehydrator, a bread maker, and an ice cream maker.  So we put them to use.

We've had a few batches of dried mango slices.

And fruit leather.

And we've made some mango-ginger-lime sorbet, which admittedly won't last us all year long, or even all month long, but it is delicious.

And we put the breadmaker to use on a few batches of mango jam.

We've got four methods of getting into mangoes in our repertoire.  First, for mangoes that are on the underripe side, and which you want to cut up the whole thing, including the fruit around the seed - peeling the skin works best.

Just be careful not to peel yourself. It hurts.

For mangoes that are quite ripe, and which you want to cut up the whole thing, including the fruit around the seed - score a shallow X in each cheek of the mango, then peel the skin off with your hands.  If you want just the cheeks of the mango, and aren't so fussed about the seed (for example, to serve at a dinner party with tapioca pudding...) you can just cut the cheeks off and scoop out the fruit with a spoon.  If you just want to eat the mango, and not bother with cutting, our favourite is to cut off the cheeks, score, and then pop out.  We refer to it as 'porcupined', but it doesn't look that much like a porcupine I guess.

Barring any unforeseen, mango-wrecking rains, we should be living this lifestyle for another few weeks at least. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Up an Alp in Appenzell

I'm going to use our day trip to Appenzell canton to make some generalisations about Switzerland, but please take them with a grain of salt - my conclusions are based on 3 full days and 2 half days, plus conversation with Andy's sister-in-law, who has lived there for nearly 2 years now. I'm using Appenzell as my example because it epitomises so much of what is Swiss about Switzerland, so even though the cities are not so much like this anymore, there are undercurrents of the traditionalism and conservatism demonstrated by Appenzell throughout the Swiss culture.  But also bear in mind that most Swiss make fun of Appenzell for being so backward (hello, giving women the right to vote in 1991).

First of all, Switzerland is an active country.  We took the adorable, red Appenzellerbahn, a small train with a whistle that sounded just like a toy train, to the base of Ebenalp.

This is a supposedly small mountain, at a mere 1640m tall.  There were two ways up - cable car, and walking.

And three ways down - cable car, walking, and paragliding.

We - three young, reasonably fit people - took the cable car up, and then walked partway down to have a look at the caves, with evidence of prehistoric human inhabitants.

The wildkirchli, or Wild Church, where hermits used to worship.

And the mountain restaurant. When we got here, it was full of people - who had walked up. People in their 60s & 70s. We were easily the youngest people on the mountain, and we were surrounded by people who had hiked all the way up.  Impressive.

Especially when, on the walk back up to where we had started, which was uphill but not steep, and maybe about 50m walk, we were so puffed we had to stop and take a break. As 60 year olds passed us without even working up a sweat.  As we sat on the bench, appreciating the scenery, a cloud rolled in.

We decided to wait it out in a truly Swiss way - in the cafe on top of the mountain.  Yes - there were two cafes on this mountain. Andy's sister-in-law translated the menu for us, pointing out in particular the "light choice", which was a salad served with a huge, greasy schnitzel on top.  This allows me to make another generalisation about Switzerland - they eat crappy food. Their meals are rich, full of sausage, cheese, and cream. As a result, it is not a terribly vegan-friendly country*.  The Swiss have the highest per capita consumption of both cheese and chocolate, but because of how active everyone is, climbing up mountains and that, they have generally low levels of heart disease, and they age really gracefully.

The cloud didn't let up, so we took the cable car back down, and returned to the town of Appenzell.

This place seemed to thrive on tourism, mainly from other parts of Switzerland, so it was full of stereotypes - cowbells, Swiss army knives, and cheese. 

Oh, the cheese was just horrible.  Appenzeller cheese is renowned for its strong, tangy smell, which pervaded the whole town of Appenzell. We went into a shop selling cheese, and were browsing in a different section, looking at all the flavours of schnapps, and it was such a strong smell that you just never get used to it.

We were just deciding whether we should stick around Appenzell or head back to St Gallen when we were surprised with an Appenzell tradition. Every autumn, when the farmers gather their cows from the surrounding mountainside, they celebrate with a cow parade through town. The cows were preceded by a deafening roar, the source of which we were unsure. Then we saw these poor cows with giant bells around their necks, and flowers on their heads.

Which leads me to another generalisation - the Swiss love cows.  Although, as a vegan, I am opposed to the concept of using animals for human gain, from a welfarist point of view, cows are generally well treated in Switzerland (except when they have to wear bells bigger than their heads and parade through town...).

We finished our day with a trip through a Swiss supermarket, Migros, where we picked up some epic Swiss junk food - Paprika flavoured potato chips, and - get this - peanut butter flips.  As in, like, cheese puffs, but peanut butter flavoured.  Best Ever Junk Food. And all vegan.

So in a nutshell - Switzerland is conservative, in a traditional sort of way. They love cows, cheese, and chocolate, but they're constantly moving so we saw loads of healthy-looking people everywhere we went. And, mainly, it is a country full of adorable, beautiful, quaint scenery.  So be prepared to go "Awww!" a lot if you ever visit.

*Though, I will admit that the following day in Zurich we ate a beautiful meal at the pay-by-weight buffet Hiltl, Europe's oldest veg restaurant, which was good but So Expensive. And in St Gallen's market, we picked up some vegan croissants, made with sunflower oil.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Around the world in... Things that made me giggle.

I'm taking a break in the chronological description of our trip to show you some glimpses, if you will, from all of our stops.  This post will perhaps give you a glimpse into me and my own weird sense of humour, because these are photos I took of things that made me go "heh".

In the small town of Hammondsport, in Western NY, this sign was on the side of a building.  First it made me go, 'huh?'.  Then it made me go, 'heh'.

This is maybe what happens to people who eat too much Burger King - they turn into a monster. In Niagara Falls, Canada.

In Lake George, in upstate NY, the souvenir shops gave Andy a good posing opportunity.

Lego Atlas, at the Rockefeller Plaza Lego Store in NYC.

Maybe it's not funny, but I was amused by what I assume to be this overly dramatised 'deep water' sign in Glendalough, Ireland.

At a Very Old Church in Dublin, St Audoen's Church, these skulls watch over the congregation every Sunday.

In Schaffhausen, Switzerland, we were reminded just how tall Andy is, especially compared to Ye Olden Times.

We lul-ed over this sign in St Gallen, Switzerland. No dragging children on leashes, no warming your hands over fires, and definitely no dance parties.

I didn't think it was real when I saw this sign in Hong Kong for the "Dirty Sanchez Burger".  This was in the expat neighbourhood, and we saw the sign from the escalators.

A vending machine full of cold corn soup, AU$1.20 each, at the Central Pier in Hong Kong.

A tee shirt for sale in Hong Kong - "You Gut I Gut".  I have no idea.

A shop called Wanko, in Hong Kong.