Sunday, December 28, 2008

boathouse on blackwattle bay, glebe

"The girl is back in town..." (sung to the tune of Thin Lizzy's Boys are Back in Town)

My dear brother's Christmas gift to motherflap and I was to take the family to the Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay. Then she wouldn't have to cook, and I would have blog material. How thoughtful! (Can you tell who reads this blog?)

We had a booking for midday for Sunday lunch and found the doors locked at five to midday. After exploring the surroundings a little, we climbed a set of stairs at five past midday to be greeted by this view:

We decided to go with some oysters instead of the starters on offer - the waitress recommended two of the six types of oysters available as particularly good. After taking our order, we were served these complimentary appetisers:

Tomato consomme with caviar, ginger and coriander. Quite pleasant, but it was tricky to eat the caviar if you wanted to because of the way it was served.

Mmm, oysters. We tried the Hastings River Rock and Macleay River Rock varieties as recommended by the waitress - both $4.20 each. They were served with a champagne vinegarette and dark rye bread sliced extremely thinly - at first we thought the bread had been frozen and was defrosting because it had a funny cold spot in the middle, but then we worked out that the melting ice from the oyster tray was dripping down into the bread plate. Not so good. We were also served complimentary sourdough and ciabatta (which everyone gets, even if you don't order oysters).

My brother had the famous snapper pie ($48). The pie is brought to the table on a trolley and then cut up in front of you to be served with mashed potato and smoked tomatoes. This is only half the pie on the plate - a very generous serving and delicious, but quite heavy. The sauce and the pastry tasted very buttery.

Motherflap and dadflap shared the bouillabaise ($88, to be shared between two). This was also brought out on a trolley, causing much curiosity among the other diners. There were four different types of fish according to the menu (Blue eye trevalla, coral trout, John Dory and sand whiting) as well as octopus, clams and mussels - much lighter than the snapper pie, but equally delicious.

I had the Sicilian style swordfish ($41). Plenty of pine nuts and parsley, and presented in an innovative way (when I first got it, I thought "they've turned my fish into a sausage!")

Side order of chips ($12) - crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and not too oily.

Mixed leaf salad ($8). Quite plain, but it helped to balance the heaviness of the snapper pie.

After finishing our mains we contemplated dessert, but unfortunately the restaurant had filled up quite a bit since midday and the waiters were being worked off their feet. After considering the dessert menu, we decided it would be more efficient to go shopping instead. Probably better for our waistlines too considering our Christmas indulgences and how generous the portions were.

A further note on the service front - there's a lot of criticism of the waiters on eatability. I thought they were very helpful but over-worked, so less attentive towards the later part of our meal. A bit worrying given the restaurant was only half to three-quarters full.

When we asked for the bill we were served some complimentary hazelnut gateaux:

Which made me regret not ordering a coffee ($5). Maybe next time.

The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay
End of Ferry Road
Glebe NSW 2037

(02) 9518 9011

Open midday to 3pm and 6:30pm to 10:30pm, Tuesday to Sunday

More information can be found here

Friday, December 19, 2008

mango pudding

This is a family favourite that we often take to bring-a-plate get-togethers. I think its popularity has something to do with the fluorescent orange-ness of it, combined with the smooth texture of the jelly and of course delicious mango sweetness. Once you try the home-made version you'll stop ordering it at yum cha!

You'll need:

2 medium-sized mangoes (you can try using tinned mangoes if you're desperate, but they don't quite taste the same)
2 packets mango jelly powder
500ml hot water
2 eggs
180 ml (1 small can) evaporated milk or 2/3 cup normal milk

To make:

1. Combine the two packets of mango jelly with the hot water. We like the Aeroplane Jelly brand - somehow the mango flavoured packets only appear sporadically at our local supermaket, so we stock up when we can!

2. Chop the mango into small cubes.

3. Combine the eggs and milk. The evaporated milk is more traditional and gives a slightly different flavour, but normal milk is fine (and some people prefer the taste that the normal milk gives).

4. Wait until the jelly mixture cools to at least body temperature, and then add the egg and milk mixture and mango into the jelly mixture. If the jelly mixture is too hot you'll end up with bits of cooked egg in jelly, kind of like a Chinese egg flower soup. Not really the look you're going for with mango pudding.

5. Pour entire mixture into a container and put in the fridge for at least 4 hours. This is our trusty mango pudding container which has been around as long as I can remember - but any container is fine.


Monday, December 15, 2008

acl reconstruction: a personal experience (lessons learnt)

In no particular order:

1. No-one is infallible
. If you're anything like me, you'll spend quite a while after your injury annoying everyone around you with the question, "why me?" People will respond with anecdotes about others who have also needed an ACL reconstruction - whether as a result of playing soccer or basketball, doing hurdles at the school athletics carnival or simply by falling down the stairs. In other words, it could happen to anyone. So don't blame yourself (or your skiing companion!)

2. Ice is your friend. I'm not advising you to turn to recreational drugs here. The best thing for the inevitable swelling/ contained explosion of your knee if you've torn your ACL is lots of ice (of the frozen water kind). You don't need anything fancy - two packets of frozen vegetables (peas are best for their ability to mold around your body parts) are more than adequate. Apply for 20 minutes at a time, every hour if you can - I'm working on a freezer-style device with a leg-shaped hole as an alternative to this non-culinary use of frozen vegetables (and that's the other thing, don't eat the vegetables after using them like this... although I must confess we did eat one packet and survive...)

3. Cling wrap is your friend. After the surgery, wrap the stitches/ dressing in cling wrap before showering to prevent unwanted seepage into the operation site. Nothing worse than a wound infection. For ultimate frozen vegetable swelling-defying force, wrap the packet that is going on top of your knee in cling before placing directly onto your knee. Then put the other packet of vegetables directly under your knee with a tea towel underneath to prevent condensation dripping onto your floor/ chair/ bed. If you're extra lucky you'll have a small dog on hand to lick the condensation off the vegetable packet as the vegetables melt (that's yapflap for you!)

4. Your friends and relatives are your friends. You may not want to rely on others after your injury. You may feel like you'll a burden on them, or that you can cope on your own. It's actually better to ask for a bit of help rather than risk injuring yourself further, as difficult as it may be to say, "it'd be really great if you could help me..."Given how common ACL injuries are these days, chances are that you may be able to repay the favour sometime in the future...!

5. Hospital essentials: dressing gown and slippers. I think a lot of hospitals send a suggested packing list pre-admission. I don't remember sure if my hospital did, but if there are two things that you should bring, I'd say a dressing gown and slippers. They made me change into the backless gown before I got taken up to my room, so I had to sit in the waiting room for a while dressed like that. Probably best for all concerned that I had a dressing gown on over the top of the backless gown (although they don't make you take your undies off, in case you were wondering). The slippers were handy for the day after the operation - you don't want to walk around the hospital barefoot, and even putting on proper shoes seems too much of an effort when you're being discharged!

6. Get travel insurance. It's very tempting not to pay the extra money for travel insurance. I'm so glad I did though. It would've added up to a very expensive trip if I hadn't been reimbursed for the medical costs (around $NZ150), cancellation costs (around $AU600) and changed flights (around $NZ400). It's just one less thing to worry about when you fall on your face or discover that your luggage has been re-routed to Egypt.

7. Get a mobility parking permit. I know there have been a lot of scandals about rorting of mobility parking permits, particularly in the city. But if you've suffered an injury and the doctor is willing to fill in the eligibility form for you, you are entitled to a temporary permit and it can be a God-send. Suddenly everyone seems more willing to take you places. Funny that...

8. Get a good physio, and do as you're told. Having the operation is only a part of the recovery process - you'll get a much better result if you strengthen up your muscles beforehand, and have a structured rehab program afterwards. It's also important to get a physio as soon as possible after the injury - it's scary how quickly your muscles waste away when you don't use them. Sure, the exercises can be tedious - that's why you need someone who'll give you a rap over the knuckles when you're naughty (and a gold star if you've been good). Also on the subject of rehab...

9. Celebrate victories (no matter how small they appear). Whether it's being able to do 1/2 turns on the exercise bike instead of 1/4 turns, stand on the injured leg without having getting the wobbles in your quads or showering without using up yet another roll of cling wrap, celebrating your progress will help you keep on the road to recovery. Just don't expect everyone to be as enthusiastic as you are about the incremental expansion of your baby bovine muscle.

10. It will get better. It's been 3 weeks since my operation now, and every now and then I forget that anything happened to it. Call it selective amnesia, but as they say, time heals all wounds (and also wounds all heels!) So just hang in there, and in no time you'll be back on the soccer field, basketball court or indoor rock climbing wall (although don't rush it too much, because my workmate told me that he ruptured his graft on the soccer field 6 months to the day of his operation). Now, where are those Whistler brochures I ordered...?

Friday, December 12, 2008

acl reconstruction: a personal experience (part two)

Soon enough it was the day of the operation. I had to get to the hospital at 6:15am in preparation for a 9am surgery. When I got there I had to draw an arrow on the leg that was being operated on, and asked numerous times which side the operation was taking place on (I was asked just before being wheeled into the theatre, "which hand is your right hand?" to make sure that I knew my right from my left). Taking my blood pressure and changing into the ever-so-flattering backless gown took up some more time, then I was taken up to my room where I would be staying for one night to drop off my things and hop on the bed.

Two cheerful orderlies came around 8:45am to wheel me down to the theatre. They said, "we'll wheel you down in your bed, you'll get put onto the table, then you'll wake up in your bed." This was the first time I'd undergone a general anaesthestic so I was a little apprehensive - I'm sure you've heard all those horror stories about people being awake during surgery but not being able to talk or move or scream. The anaesthetist put me at ease though by engaging in friendly chit-chat while inserting me with all sorts of sharp objects, then accurately stated "you're probably feeling like you've had a couple of drinks right now." The last thing I remember was being moved from my bed onto a hard surface in a room with lots of lights with it, and then having a plastic breathing mask placed over my face. Too late to back out now...

The next thing I knew I was in a different room altogether, along with some other patients. There was some strange contraption squeezing both my calves (to help prevent blood clots) and a drip going into my wrist. The nurse told me it was 11:30am, so I'd been out for 2.5 hours (the doctor said that the surgery would take between an hour and 1.5 hours). They wheeled me back up to my room (I was in my bed, as promised) where began half-hourly blood pressure and oxygen level checks by the nurses, which decreased to hourly checks, and then eventually to checks every two hours.

My drip was delivering a constant flow of hydration plus an on-demand dose of morphine. "Don't be afraid of pressing the button," advised the staff, "don't feel as though you should be in pain." It turned out though that I probably have a morphine sensitivity because I wasn't able to keep any food down from lunchtime on the day of the operation to morning tea on the day after. Or maybe I just got a bit too trigger happy. I wasn't able to get out of the bed on the first day because I was attached to it by the strange calf-squeezing machine, and besides all I felt like doing was sleeping. Zzzz.....

After quite an uncomfortable night (not being allowed to get out of bed + constant hydration = unpleasantness! Nurses definitely don't get paid enough...) the doctor came and saw me at 6am, telling me that everything had gone well and that I could go home as soon as I felt well enough. They unattached me from the bed so that theoretically I was free to roam the hospital corridors and antagonise the other patients. Unfortunately that was prevented by the continued throwing up, but I managed to struggle through a physio session without fainting (yay!) Finally hobbled home at around 4pm with crutches, aspirin (again to help prevent blood clots) and a crepe bandage over my knee.

The next couple of days was a blur of sleeping, ice to ease the swelling and feeble attempts at exercise. The pain actually wasn't too bad but I just felt very weak and sleepy. Having carers on hand to satisfy my every whim also didn't really motivate me to do much! On the Monday after (so 4 days after the operation, which took place on a Thursday) I went to the first of many post-operative physio sessions, which meant getting down to business (that is, going to the physio every day in the first week after the operation, plus exercises every couple of hours at home). The crepe bandage came off to reveal two waterproof dressings and a little hole on top of my thigh. Apparently the hole was as a result of a pin being inserted to tension the graft. Alarming!

So all the above is talk about my feeeeelings surrounding the operation. What, however, did the operation actually achieve? Turn away now if you don't like descriptions of medical procedures. Essentially it's performed arthroscopically, so all you end up with is two small incisions in the top part of your knee and about a 8cm incision in the lower part of your knee. The surgeon excises two of your hamstring tendons (some surgeons use patella tendons or an allograft from a donor) and inserts them where your ACL used to be, fixing the graft in with a screws in your thigh bone and calf bone. If you're really into medical procedures you can watch videos of it here. Then all the incisions are sewn up and you have an ACL again!

Previously the procedure involved opening up your entire knee, so that recovery would involve up to 6 weeks in plaster. The arthroscopic method now means there's no need for plaster or even a brace in my situation (different doctors may have different rehab methods). I was able to get off the crutches in about a week. After the stitches come out (a week or so after the operation) you're just left with two tiny crosses in the top of your knee, a raised line in the lower part (which settles down as the internal stitches dissolve) and a tiny scab in your thigh. Not bad considering part of your body has been transferred to another place!

Ultimately I've had a very positive experience with my ACL reconstruction. I'm allowed to get back into contact/ pivoting sports in 6 months, after 6 weeks of intense physio. The risk of rupturing the graft is about the same as rupturing a natural ACL, and there's little chance I'll get a blood clot because of all the calf-squeezing and aspirin-taking. The advances in surgical procedure are pretty amazing, although I've learnt more about knees than I ever thought I'd have to! I'll do one last entry on the operation to wrap up this little series, to sum up all the things I've picked up along the way.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

acl reconstruction: a personal experience (part one)

It's been nearly two weeks now since my knee operation so I thought I'd do a little review on what it was like. There's a lot of information on the internet already about people's experiences, for example these forum posts which I read before my operation and was slightly freaked by, and this information by a surgeon in the US whose technique my doctor uses, but I found some of it a bit technical and confusing. So this is just my personal experience - yours might not be exactly the same (and I sincerely hope you don't have to go through it, because it's not the most pleasant experience in the world!)

So firstly, why did I have to have an ACL reconstruction? In August this year I went to Queenstown, NZ with friends for a skiing trip. On the first morning on the slopes (Coronet Peak) I fell on my face (I can count the number of times I've been skiing on one hand... so I blame inexperience combined with incompetence) and felt this excruciating pain in my right knee. I knew that my skis had crossed at the front when I fell, so that my right knee buckled under in a most unnatural manner, but at the time I thought, "yeah, I'll just sit in the cafe and drink hot chocolate for the rest of the day, then I'll be back on the slopes tomorrow!" I apparently screamed loud enough though at the time to bring chapflap running back up the slope and a host of other helpful skiers to alert the ski patrol, who took me down to the medical centre in a sled (the snow looks very different when you're travelling with your face parallel to it at high speeds!)

At the medical centre they advised me to go back into Queenstown to have x-rays to ensure there wasn't any bone damage. They said they couldn't be sure exactly what had happened, and that only an MRI would reveal whether anything had happened to my ligaments. So into Queenstown we went, where an x-ray showed no bone damage, with the doctor saying that it was likely I had torn my medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments (MCL and ACL). The MCL runs along the inside of the knee on your right leg, and the ACL from the back of your knee through to the front. See the helpful diagram above.

The doctor sent me back to the hotel with instructions to keep off my feet and see the physio as soon as possible. Then began a flurry of teary phone calls and emails back home, as I tried to reassure my parents that (a) no, my leg hadn't fallen off and (b) it was really ok for me to stay in NZ for a little while longer... please? Ultimately it was decided that we should fly back to Sydney after a day or so. I went to see the physio the next day and she gave me a knee brace and applied ice to ease the swelling. At Queenstown airport the staff said that it was a particularly bad season for skiing accidents - they were seeing at least one person leave on crutches every day!

On arrival back into Australia I was whisked off to have an MRI. We were most worried that I may have damaged my meniscus as well as my ACL and MCL (the so-called "unhappy triad"), because that would require immediate surgery. Happily the MRI showed only a complete tear of the ACL and MCL and an intact meniscus. The MCL would heal by itself through physio and a knee brace, while the ACL would require surgery.

It's important to note at this point that ACL reconstruction is optional. You can get by without having an ACL, as long as you don't engage in activities involving a twisting of the knee (which could possibly give way without an ACL). The way the doctor put it though was, "well, you could twist your knee coming out of the kitchen - and eventually you'll want to be able to play with your kids in the backyard and stuff." In other words, if you do decide to go ahead with the surgery, it's better doing it as early as possible, to avoid further damaging your knee. Ultimately though it's up to each individual to choose whether or not to go ahead with the operation, depending on your own age, activity level and willingness to commit to a lot of physio (unfortunately the operation is only the first step in the recovery process...)

So we decided to book in the operation for late November, just after my uni exams. I had to wear the knee brace and be on crutches for about 5 weeks to allow my MCL to heal. There was also lots of physio to first re-build and then build up my rapidly wasting quad and calf muscles (it's scary how fast you lose things when you don't use them). These formed fantastic excuses not to do any housework, avoid public transport and generally act like a brat. Sadly, now that I've had the operation, those excuses are largely fading away...

I'll describe my actual experience of the operation in part two. Stay tuned...

Monday, December 08, 2008

nickel and dimed: undercover in low-wage usa by barbara enrenreich

In this thought-provoking read, Ehrenreich asks the question: "can you get by in the land of the free on the minimum wage?" She takes on cleaning jobs, retail, nursing work and waitressing - often simultaneously - and the answer is a resounding no. The biggest obstacle seems to be the prohibitive cost of housing - she makes barely enough to cover the rent for short-term housing or a motel room, let alone to save up a sufficient amount for a deposit for her own place. Together with the physical exhaustion of working 7 days a week, Ehrenreich shows that such a life is unsustainable - if it can be called a life at all.

While a bit heavy for the holiday season perhaps, I found this book really fascinating. It was recommended to me by a lecturer, along with Elisabeth Wynhausen's repeat of the experience in Australia, Dirt Cheap: Life at the Wrong End of the Job Market. If nothing else, it will make me treat those who form the backbone of the economy just that little bit better - after all, there but for the grace of God goes I...

Note: this book is available in the US under the title, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

Thursday, December 04, 2008

secret life of backpackers by barry divola

Being the type to turn my nose up at anything less than a Conde Nast reviewed establishment, I found this to be a fascinating glimpse into how the other half travel. Divola tackles the so-called "ant trail" - the well-trodden backpacker path from Sydney to Cairns, and meets some hilarious and interesting people on the way. Two experiences stand out in the book for me - firstly his night with a group of extremely drunk Irish backpackers (because he diligently records their conversation sound for sound - e.g. "foorty books fer the tuxi. We got screwed cos a'you") and the toilets at a tropical Queensland town, labelled "mangoes" and "no mangoes". There are great insights from those who have lived in the popular backpacker haunts such as Byron Bay and Airile Beach about how their hometowns have changed (or not) over the years, as well as the chance to see Australia (or at least a very small part of it) through the eyes of someone who stumbles off a twenty-hour flight, crams themselves into a undersized coach seat aboard what is affectionately known as "the dog" (as the most popular coach service among backpackers is Greyhound) and risks life and limb by swimming with stingrays, plunging off towers attached to an elastic cord and ingesting more alcohol in a month than most people would in their entire lifetimes. It almost made me want to give backpacking a go. For a few milliseconds or so.

Monday, December 01, 2008

under the paw: confessions of a cat man by tom cox

Having to sit still for long stretches at a time (to aid the recovery of my recently operated on knee) has allowed me to return to one of my best-loved pasttimes - reading. One of my favourite book genres is cat-related biographies, which I know wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. For those who are into feline tales, this is a recent offering by a Englishman who has owned (or has been owned by?) 12 cats to date. As Cox rightly points out, there are many books about cat-loving women - but not that many about cat-loving men. And surely there are men out there who love cats, considering how many pet cats there are in the world?

I would rate this book up there with other cat-related books such as Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat who Touched the World by Vicki Myron and Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Thoroughly enjoyable and well-observed, I especially liked the cast of minor characters such as Cox's Dad, who always speaks in CAPITAL LETTERS. A Christmas gift idea for a cat-loving friend, perhaps? (Therese, that's not a veiled suggestion from me!!)

See Tom Cox's blog here, starring everyone's favourite acrobatic cat, Maru :)