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DAY 360: Making beer at Mountain Goat

26 Aug

I DON’T drink beer, but upon arriving at Mountain Goat microbrewery in Richmond, I’m moved to admit a beery workforce is a happy workforce.

Sloshing around in hops slops and digging encrusted barley out of fermentation tanks with a cheerful industriousness hitherto only seen in Fraggle Rock, everyone’s relaxed and chipper – and then they get to go home smelling nice.

Cofounder Dave Bonighton is giving me a few lessons in beer making today. Dave went to economics school in the US for three years and travelled back via Europe, sampling the real ales of the UK and Belgium en route. Returning to the sparkling lagers of Australia – and a boring job – was something of a comedown. Inspired, he started making homebrews in a disused town hall in country Victoria and, after some scrambling for funding, he and business partner Cam established Mountain Goat.

Stare-off in front of the fermentation tanks.

One of the staff – they’re encouraged to experiment – is tinkering with using rye. A new success story is Seedy Goat – a coffee IPA. Another is experimenting with wine yeast, which is more tolerant to alcohol. Since alcohol’s a toxin, if you try and brew past eight per cent strength using normal beer yeast, it starts poisoning itself. Use a hardier yeast and you’ll end up with a thicker, stronger beer.

TASK ONE is to simultaneously sterilise one keg with caustic cleaner, while filling another with frothy nectar. Luckily, all I have to do is load the kegs up and press a couple of buttons, and a machine called Gunther (he’s from Germany… all the machinery have names here, like Bender and Patrick) does the grunt work. Only one of us screams when high-pressure beer slops comes shooting out of a nearby grate though.

TASK TWO is to measure the pressure and temperature. I fail at this task, as I’m not strong enough to work the gizmo.

TASK THREE is to test the pH and temperature of a random bottle with a probe. I succeed at this, and so does the beer, which clocks in at around 4pH.

Dave won’t go so far as far as to say his beer’s good for you, but it is preservative-free, with no stabilisers or head enhancers.

You can get your own free guided tour at 6.30pm on Wednesdays, or just drop into the bar for a pizza. And a beer.

Keeper? Probably not the career for me, but good to try.

DAY 351: Touring Sydney Fish Market

17 Aug

THERE’S a quaint olde English saying that has been passed down from generation to generation – why, it was even scrawled upon the bottom side of the climbing frame at my local playground as a child. If a girl smells of fish, it dictates, she’s nary a doubt been to Billingsgate.

The Australian equivalent would be the Sydney Fish Market, and no doubt the glamazons in the lifts at the women’s mag later are whispering that I’ve been there, but that’s okay, because I have.

I’m up at five this morning, to take the tour. The Sydney Fish Market’s actually the third most popular tourist attraction of the city, but I’m here to thrash my fear of seafood once and for all.

Bailer shell

My guide, Portia, is fresh out of uni and says she has neither a background in fishing or tourism, but likes the idea of being an expert at something. Knowledge, for her, always has to have a purpose and earn her a dose of approval.

“I’m the same!” I exclaim, fudging my philosophies endearingly. “I could just do something new every day without documenting it, but it’s like the one hand clapping in the woods. If nobody’s around to acknowledge it, did it even happen?”

Portia gets exactly what I mean. What’s more, we soon establish that she too has been to a peep show recently, as her mate gave her a behind-the-scenes tour. What a smashing bond we’re forging. Now, on to the fish.

Part 1 of the great fish tour – consisting of me, an authentically beardy ex-fisherman called Horatio, and his girlfriend – involves watching the morning auction. The buyers bay abuse at the auctioneer, or at each other when someone bids too early. It’s a reverse auction system, based on the way the Dutch would auction flowers, so the price starts high and goes down, rather than up.

Pink ling.

Down on the floor, Portia walks us through some of the 100 species being bid for. We’re shown how to discern the sex of a blue swimmer crab (it’s all in the plate underneath: it’s either shaped ‘U’ for uterus, or ‘V’ for Viagra).

She picks up a pink ling, which is dripping with frothy mucus, but which is a good ‘starter fish’ for kids as it has big bones and makes non-fishy fillets. Then there’s the flashing silver ribbonfish, which looks stunning but tastes pretty foul. It’s mainly dried and used in Chinese cooking.

We learn that flake and hake, on a fish & chip shop menu, is shark; see what a cuttlefish bone looks like when it has a cuttlefish around it; peer into a bailer shell (“poor man’s abalone”) and peel off the jacket of an ocean jacket. I cut the tour short when we come to fiddling with live lobsters.

Ribbonfish.

Keeper? Yeah, pretty interesting. Although for the next three days I can smell fish particles in my hair and clothes. Kudos to ya, Portia.

DAY 345: Eating jellyfish

11 Aug

APOLOGIES, creatures of the sea, but I’m on a roll.

For someone spooked by glass noodles, and who used to hide any fish dishes in a vase as a child, ordering jellyfish is a foolhardy gesture, but when I see it on the menu of this Chinatown joint I feel obliged to do it and get it over with.

While stretching out the shredded jelly for the photo makes my stomach Zumba, the salad itself is pretty good. The jellyfish is surprisingly crunchy due to being semi-dried, adding texture to the dish. What’s more, it’s a great source of protein.

Keeper? Mayhaps. Probably wouldn’t start cooking with it.

DAY 344: Eating sea urchin

10 Aug

EVEN more fearsome than the sea urchin underfoot is the sea urchin trundling nakedly around the conveyor belt in Sushi Roll, World Square.

They don’t mention this on the menu, but what we have here, in all its quivery glory, are the sea urchin’s massive gonads. All five of ’em!

Shucked of its spiky shell, mine looks solid enough, but then slips through my chopsticks like custard (in the Orkney Islands, they use it instead of butter).

In my mouth, it has the consistency of a mushy mussel, and the texture of a tongue. Happily I can swallow it without our tongues coming into too much contact.

Keeper? No, but at least I’m probably 90 per cent more potent now.

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DAY 328: Hogging down at Hooters

26 Jul

I DON’T want to come to Hooters with a gaggle of girls doing the testosterone tourist thing. I want to come alone, to hit it like a SWAT team, soak up its juices and browse what I imagine will be quite fetching cotton merchandise.

You’re supposed to pull your obnoxiously large Subaru into the parking lot before entering – that becomes obvious when Hooters turns out to be a 25-minute walk from Parramatta station.

“Welcome to Hooters!” a disembodied voice calls out.

There are 460 Hooters across the States, and more restaurants in 27 other countries.

At the bar today is a group of fluoro-vested men, here for the beer, but it’s only 5 o’clock so the cavernous joint is largely empty. It’s done up like a kid’s party, with orange and black balloons, coloured lights and comfortable, wipe-down booths. My booth has a TV screen, my own dedicated bottle of barbecue sauce, and a whole roll of kitchen paper.

I peruse the menu, which is littered with boisterous humour and has a misplaced apostrophe, here: “EXTRA’S”. It’s got a friendly enough tone, though; I like it.

Fittingly, I’m reading John Birmingham’s collection of essays, Off One’s Tits. Birmingham’s like the last bastion of blokehood; he directly challenges the masculinity of any man not admitting to a carnivorous mania. Here’s a sample passage: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a pack of hefty blokes in possession of a good appetite must be in want of a pork fest.” And another, from another essay: “real chicks dig guys with cars, scars and bacon breath”. Elsewhere he observes that tweedy-looking college boys seem like “a good fuck and some pork crackling might be the end of them”. You catch his drift?

I think Birmingham would disapprove of the fact that my Hooters Girl turns out to be a middle-aged man in a finely striped shirt. Maybe this is down to the multiple lawsuits Hooters has had to contend with in the States, from litigious larrikins who were denied employment on the grounds of not having humungous breasts. (If this cracking down on funbags strikes you as unfair, you can always subscribe to Hooters Magazine.)

My signed memorabilia.

I order a soy latte and my serving man doesn’t so much as flinch. Then I order a smothered chicken burger with curly fries, and it arrives within 10 minutes. It’s hot, salty, and indeed smothered to death by capsicum, mushrooms and Swiss cheese: all for a mere twenty-two bucks. The spiral design of my potatoes keeps me amused for so long (much in the manner of crinkle-cut chips, when they were first invented) that my smothered chicken burger goes cold. It’s no less tasty, though. (NB: If you’re a bloke of the Birmingham persuasion, you should be ordering ribs. Hooters are famous for them.)

Meanwhile, there’s nothing for the surrounding Hooters Girls to do, so a bunch of them choreograph a boot shuffle to Steps’ ‘5,6,7,8’, which is blaring through the speakers: “My rodeo romeo / A cowboy god from head to toe…” I will report that their hair is disappointingly unboofy, but points are won back when one picks up a hula-hoop and starts spinning in her regulation orange hot pants and white tank top, apropos of nothing.

Back to me, and I’m having both stomach pains and palpitations. I’m not sure what the former’s about, but I’m putting the latter down to my revamped salt intake.

And on to that merch. I’m sorely tempted by a $40 tight tee, and I like the tasteful owl logo… but I’m concerned that plastering ‘Hooters’ across my chest might invite ridicule from the sort of men I’ve seen at the bar. I might appease myself with a laptop bag, baseball cap, or even a kid’s tee for the young nephew, but instead I opt for a $15 stubby cooler – it seems churlish not to.

On the way home, a Doctors Without Borders fundraiser corners me at Redfern Station. After just 30 seconds of startling stats about starvation in Kenya, I thrust that incriminating cooler deep into my bag and resurface with my purse, signing up for two years of donations on the spot. And whaddaya know – my indigestion eases.

Keeper? Ye-es. I think.

DAY 310: Visiting the Castlemaine Rock Factory

8 Jul

IT was closed.

Keeper? No.

DAY 308: Roadtesting an anti-energy drink

6 Jul

THANKFULLY I overcame a brief infatuation with energy drinks last year (You mean I can literally just drink this and then feel 75 per cent more agitated? Cooool), but I can’t resist trying the new kid on the block: ESC.

ESC is an anti-energy drink, if you will. It contains valerian and chamomile, with the intent of fixing you a ‘zen state of mind’.

The other ingredients are sugar, fructose and sweetener though, so it’s as much a crock of crap as energy drinks, and has much the same effect: sharp mood swing, followed by a crash.

Keeper? Sure, why not.