when in rome

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I bought a breadbaking book last week, in the hopes of reviving my dormant baking love - it has proved to be fantastic reading but given the price of good quality breadmaking flour in Malaysia.

So I'm going to take the when in rome attitude and focus on cooking Nyona food - which is to me the pinnackle of Malay cooking.

The locals would disagree in a way - unless they came from that background, they prefer the street foods like nasi lemak (which is a great breakfast)

For those who have not already heard. I am in Malaysia for the next 5 weeks or so. It is for work so not really a holiday.I reckon I will be doing close to 50 hours a week work. Which is nothing compared with what I ended up doing on hard projects in Optus (there 12 hour days for 6 days in the week were not uncommon)

So have had some free time to look around and kind of like what I see. I am in the cbd district the so called golden triangle. Which is mostly overpriced and western. Checked out Chinatown yesterday it was a giant disappointment. The people are nice though. Vego food is more difficult to find than in say Thailand but still it can be located. The food generally less chilli than Thai but is still good.

Surprised at how moderate they are for a majority Muslim population.

My preferred msic genre - Black Metal is banned though. I guess that ban is as ineffictive as the ban on pornography and pirated DVDs which I saw plenty of in Chinatown yesterday.

Had my birthday drinks with work colleagues on Friday night but realistically I was the only one drinking as the Muslim Malay and Christian Indians don't drink. That left me and one petite Chinese girl who had one drink before taking off leaving me throwing back the beers solo. Not much fun to drink solo really.

The things I have been enjoying the most is real food and Aussie items in the supermarkets.

It might seem to some to be a stretch to compare Black Metal and Reggae, but both are part of a phenomena that their country of origin produces far too much influential music when you look at the proportion of music created per capita.

I was never brought up to listen to or enjoy Reggae, a fact that surprised me when I finally started to dig into this genre and discovered how much seminal music came out of Jamaica during the same period as the supposedly "classic rock" that I was instead raised on.

Recently I have been pounding the 3 CD collection Big Youth - Natty Universal Dread from Blood and Fire who have for many years consistently been reissuing absolute gems many of which never originally received much exposure outside of their native Jamaica.

One of the deepest joys for me in Jamaican music is how the same riddim gets reused, reworked and recycled over and over again. This is the origin of sampling, of rap music and so much more.

One riddim that has really got me going the past week is Strange Things, originally recorded by John Holt. John is more known as a bit of a crooner but this is a real dark gem. The lyrics are thought provoking and the moody sparseness of the riddim is as powerful as it's solid groove.

In his trademark style, Big Youth had too much to say that he could not just version this riddim once. He really works the space and flow of the original in "Miss Lou Ring A Ding" bringing out all the sorrow and beauty into something that is much stronger than it's constituents. Whereas on "Same Something" hand percussion draws out the spacey dub element of the original groove.

I'm keen to hear other re-interpretations of this great riddim, John Holt is better known for his time with rock steady group the Paragons, who are most famous for their very frequently covered "The Tide Is High" but who also originally performed "Wear you to the ball" which was versioned so expertly by U-Roy in 1969.

In my mind this riddim ranks up there with the Fisherman riddim by the Congoes as both a great riddim and an amazing original track.

Praha so far

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Visiting Prague again has been interesting, the last time I was here I met Astrid and my life has been different ever since. However in truth I was not that impressed with Prague last time but acknowledged that I was suffering from an overdose of cosy historic towns. My experiences further south had ruined me as I was already accustomed to many of the things Prague offered. Italy had given me great art, fantastic food and Illy coffee. Slovenia had offered so much in such a small and accessible country. This time around I discovered a different city, transformed by my time in Norway I had very different expectations to last time when maybe I had been given over-realistic ideas of what to expect.

My needs have been simplified by Norway, I have got used to bad coffee, no vego food options whatsover, bad overpriced beer and cheap drunks on expensive alcohol.

However I have also been educated in "cosy" as an attitude for getting through long cold winters.

Also I better understand the pre Christian concept of Yule and how deeply it informs the Northern European version of Christmas

So keeping all of this in mind helps explain why one who dislikes Christmas so much actually enjoyed strolling through the yule markets in Prague.

We have not done too much touristy things this time around mostly focused on relaxing and enjoying ourselves in a cosy and romantic city.

What Prague had in store for me was romance but at the time that was unbenownst to me.

This time around my perspective is different, now a married man and accustomed to life in Norway.

To the Nameless Dead

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Been listeningto the new Primordial album this morning. Their last album blew me away and was my album of the year. Still formulating an overall opinion on this new one, but I am already hooked on As Rome Burns - what a powerful track.

Proper seasons

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One thing I have definitely come to appreciate since moving to Norway is the proper distinct seasons I had never got autumn in oz but driving to Bergen today after work was absolutely sublime I had seen the amazing landscape before but seeing the russet tones combined with the unique light that Norway has makes it all the more special. The weather was crisp and clear and we drove with the setting sun in the west illuminating the fjords deepening the autumn tones and reflecting the forest on the calm water. It is the perfect way to end a busy week and very centering for body and mind.

after it seemed like the Norwegian post had decided to lose my parcel i was very happy to find it had arrived last night. Much hacking ensued and now I have an iPhone. Writing this blog entry on the phone now. Movable type has a plugin to allow a more streamlined interface which seems to work great I like this little gadget a lot apple have really thought it through well and the spell correction works so much better than I ever expected I am amazed

This morning, in Australia, John Howard did what he should have done months ago. He called a general election.

I have no like for Little Johnny Coward as my father loves to call him, but I have actually spent my entire adult life living in a country run by Howard and the party he represents.

One of the reasons I so strongly dislike Howard is the way he plays this political game, which of course should never be treated like a game at all. To sum it up, he is a canny old bastard.

Take the announcement of an election on a Sunday, one of the things that has confused people - including me about this year's election is that they have changed the laws about the cutoff date for electoral enrolment.

This SMH article states that electoral rolls close the day the election is announced. Yet this time around Howard has announced the election on a Sunday, a non working day. Further confusing the issue.

Looking at the official electoral web site they can't even get it right or advise Howard correctly.

Howard has stated that Weds 17th is the cutoff if you have not yet registered and Mon 22 is the cutoff if you have registered but need to update your details.

However Monday is a full day public holiday in one tiny part of Oz, so the cut off for enrolment updates is actually Tuesday 23rd.

So those of you have have never registered to vote or have dropped off the electoral roll, you have THREE days to fix it!

This is all quite deliberate, by creating confusion, dragging out the announcement of the election, Howard will deny first time voters, overseas voters and also many in their 20s who move house a lot from voting due to the very small time window to enroll or update your enrollment.

These are all groups who might swing things away from Howard, he's very canny and he learns from the bad examples in the US where similar tactics have been used to deny minorities from being able to vote.
The following is all speculation, I don't even live in Oz any more and have no access to polling surveys or anything.

In London there's a huge expat community - many of whom are happy to be out of an Australia screwed up by John Howard. They have a right to vote, and would be more likely to vote labour - but they have to jump through more hoops to actually vote and unlike Australians living in Oz do not get penalised for not voting.

First time voters will have been influenced by their families and have seen how much more of a struggle it is to get started in the workplace under the reforms Howard has introduced, I would guess that they would also vote Labour if given the chance.

Twentysomethings have enjoyed the financial prosperity and me culture that Australia has moved towards progressively over the last decade. However the recent housing crisis has hurt them badly. They are more likely to live in the big cities, but now cannot afford to do so. It is possible they will be locked out of ever owning their own home unless their parents are able to help them out. But their parents are a bit young to be part of the baby boomer generation where all the wealth is concentrated in Australia. So they are likely out of luck. Last election this group mostly voted for Howard, it's possible this time around with they might vote differently.

Howard has made a huge about face on the aboriginal issue this year. However he still won't say sorry.

Also it may be argued that his stance on Aboriginal reconillation and the strongarm approach to the problems that remote Aboriginal communities face is really for the benefit of White voters who want to be reassured that Howard cares about all Australians.

Howard's approach to solving the crises in remote Aboriginal communities is carefully constructed to show immediate success so as to garner votes. It will fail shortly after and then be deliberately underfunded and forgotten.

Of course he will say that the AEC has spent a lot of money advertising the upcoming election and encouraging people to enroll, but in reality - most people don't even bother to take action until the election has actually been called.

Another detail on the timing of the calling of the election, by doing it on Sunday Morning, well after the deadlines for most newspapers that are printed at 10PM on saturday, this news will not be so well publicised till Monday. My sister could not even find a mention of the election announcement on the Canberra times website.

Wasn't my intention, but hey I think I had a right complain.

One thing that continues to really piss me off about Norway is the absolutely craptastic service you get wherever you go. Now I get the egalitarian social attitude of this country and mostly agree that it is a good thing. Yet, I think that there is still room for decent service even if everyone is equal.

The problems to me seem to focus around the following, firstly - Norwegians put up with it. In the UK or Oz bad service would be the death of a shop in the long run. Possibly with the exception of Glebe's "Badde Manors", where the name pre-warns customers.

Secondly, the government almost over-protects the workers. It's so opposite to the situation in the US or even under Work Choices employment contracts in Oz. Base salaries are quite high and overtime/weekend salaries can't be removed in some fine print of a contract. In addition, it is much easier to take significant amounts of time off for being burnt out or work related mental illness, and your job will likely be protected until you return.

This makes employees expensive, and means employers can't afford to have 5 staff working a cafe on a sunday when only 2 would still keep the place open.

Thirdly, there is a fundamental problem attitude wise in Norwegian culture, potentially this is because of the egalitarian culture, I'm not sure. Workers will not structure their workflow in such a way as to maximise all customers satisfaction and reduce queues, instead they will rudely focus on serving the first person in the queue even if that is obviously going to cause the queue to ballon to 4 times it's length with quick fix customers. Nor do staff work together to make a more efficient workflow, like one person taking orders and another making coffees. The same person does it all, takes your order, makes your drinks, clears your table. Notice I made no mention of bringing your coffee to you, in Norway you hover around the bar waiting for your coffee to be made so you can carry it to the table. This just further clutters the long queue that inevitably forms at any cafe or service orientated shop.

Today we went out for Pizza to a chain restaurant. We ordered quickly and waited, after 40 minutes we enquired about our pizzas, coming soon they said. Twenty minutes later another enquiry started to bring pizza to the table, but they were stone cold.

Turns out they had made the Pizza, but not told the single girl who was taking orders, bringing food to the tables and then cleaning the tables.

We were adamant that we would not pay full price for cold 1 hour late Pizza, and both Astrid and I made a point of telling this young woman how bad the service was. When I said that I had experienced plenty of bad service in Norway, but this event took the cake, the waitress retreated tears in her eyes.

I later apologised, as it wasn't my intention to upset. However I thought that the proper reaction on being told that the Pizza was cold was, we're very sorry it has been busy tonight and you can have the Pizza for half price/free whatever. Instead they completely screwed up the handling of their customers by ignoring the issue until pressed.

Yes they are young and inexperienced, but when we asked to see the manager, they were off on "mental health leave" due to being burnt out.

Someone needs to remind the Norsk population that the service industry is now the largest of any in the world finally having overtaken Farming for the number one spot. While they are at that it could be good to remind Norwegians they are mostly not farmers any more and that their queuing skills could be vastly improved by studying the mindless mass movements of sheep!

With the seasons turning very rapidly we sit here at the cusp of the equinox.

Today the thermometer registered that it was still above 10 degrees but it felt a hell of a lot colder, wind chill factor and all.

The past few weeks, perhaps in subconscious reaction to the coming cold months Astrid has been cooking soups, all have been good and I am glad to see her confidence flower in our own kitchen after she barely tried to cook in the previous rental place, mostly cause of her dislike of gas cooktops.

The soup courtesy of Astrid that I have most enjoyed is that slightly daggy yet great 80s classic French onion soup complete with good bread and melted cheese.

Come this weekend, I find myself with way too much time on my hands due to Astrid juggling a working weekend with a fair social schedule.

Last night I went solo to the opening night of Stardust, one of the rare examples where good fantasy gets properly translated to the screen..

Today I caught up with a gadget loving friend who has imported and hack an iPhone to work here, doubt we will see the real thing for a long time, we are an insignificant market who is already supersaturated by Nokia and Sony Ericsson.

Tonight, noticing the cold was biting more strongly - I kick-started the fire and proceeded to turn the mass of root vegetables I picked up at the town market today into my own trademark soup.

I like to make a rich and flavoursome soup with a base of pale aromatic vegetables kind of melding mirepoix and soffritto which usually features whichever I can obtain of the following: parsnip, fennel, onion, leek, swede, potato, celeriac. The vegetables must be sweated in a little oil or butter for quite a while, it is the key to bringing out all the flavour in the raw ingredients.

I perfected a rich and flavoursome version of this dish back in Oz, with a strong focus on celeriac, fennel and potato sweated generously then simmered in a pressure cooker till very soft then puréed. This was mixed with some fresh herbs, lemon juice and some white miso dissolved through before serving, producing a lovely creamy yet vegan vegetable soup that was bursting with flavour.

Not having access to good quality Fennel in Norway very often I have adapted this again using more of the root vegetable family to great success. This version had carrot, celeriac, potato, swede, parsnip, onion and chickpeas in it. Due to the addition of pulses I didn't bother to purée it. With a dash of white miso it was great and hearty.

With the weather has also come a shift musically, with Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain featuring in the high rotation playlist for the first time in quite a while.

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