Arrivederci 2016 (almost)…
Screw the good people of Colombia: anyone who has made it this far reading the 2016 Year in Review — The 16 of Trumps (Depicted above via crude Photoshopping of President-Elect Donald Trump in all his midprandial splendour. Srsly, never thought I’d write that sentence…) truly deserved a Nobel Prize! Previously, we have run through #16s, Tweets, Footballers and Exotic Bet Types; #15s and Journalism; and #14s and Gigs. Taking a ride in the chair today, though hopefully not at Dreamworld, will be #13s in Films, TV, Albums and Books, along with a discussion on the Best Food of 2016. Considering I have spent much of the year battling an eating disorder, this could be painfully funny or simply painful.
#13 in Films…
Can you believe that this Coalition of the Willing thing is still going on? We are still at war with Afghanistan, though mercifully we have won our second war with Iraq and peace, prosperity and democracy now reign in that nascent utopia, so much so the Middle East’s newfound stability has been rewarded with the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Well done! But as I mention, that pesky little conflict with Afghanistan drags on, now into day number 5,553. Congratulations Western Society! At the start of this obviously winnable war, the US army and its tangential agencies put a whole raft of third party services out to tender, and essentially anyone could bid (/underbid) for these contracts. You could win the right to purchase bulletproof (hopefully) vests from some leftover Balkan militia and then reappropriate them for America’s brave boys and allies, making a tidy profit in the process. Everyone’s a winner, except maybe the kid who gets shot in the chest only to discover the kevlar has been extracted and replaced with rice crackers. Look, it was not an exact science and some of the business people attracted to this market were not the most scrupulous. This is the game of choice for the physically and ethically adipose Jonah Hill and his otiose but altogether more likable pal Miles Teller (obvs these two actors are playing characters with different names). Jonah proves himself an adept at gaming the system to win contracts and make huge cash money for the pair, all while foisting much of the danger and responsibility onto Miles. Both are brilliant in their roles, as are the supporting players Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas and Kevin Pollock. This is a genuinely funny and exciting film about a genuinely terrifying subject matter, recalling similar cinematographic explorations of America’s Arabic bellicose misadventures like Three Kings; Good Morning, Vietnam; and Tropic Thunder. The military-industrial complex is a murky milieu — you are going to meet terrible people, you are going to have guns pointed out you, you are going to risk everything that matters — will the money be worth it?
#13 in TV…
Insanely prescient, the fifth season of Veep saw President Selina Meyer and her rabble connive to maintain their slipping grasp on power, by way of recounts, nefarious Electoral College math and, finally, shameful horsetrading to secure votes from the Congress. Meanwhile, Meyer must also come to terms with her daughter’s surprising choice of soulmate, the demise of a family member and the guffawing incompetence of her close-knit staff. Veep’s absurdism could easily devolve to grating but the comedic dexterity of Julie Louis-Dreyfuss, who must be the world’s premier televisual laugh generator, and the metred out exposure to breakout characters like the obnoxious Jonah, the rubicund Richard, and the stoic Will, allow the narrative to develop steadily and the jokes to flow with near ceaseless abandon. Special credit goes to Veep’s vacillation between cerebral, high-brow witty repartee to downright dirty vulgarity. Only the self-evidently classy can sufficiently pull off vulgarity — otherwise it just comes across as common and unrefined — Veep doesn’t shy away from toilet, bodily function and Alzheimic humour: that’s to our mirthful benefit. And Hugh Laurie!
I never used to think about what food I was eating. For seven years as the universe’s leading appliance journalist (you know what they say: write appliances, see the world; write politics, see Canberra) I would attend many, many PR events and munch on argosies of canapes, thoroughly enjoy fine dining to its fullest extend and, when o/s, gorge on room service, fast food and whatever other comestible delights were thrust vaguely in my direction. Then, of course, there was the alcohol.
So this year when I decided almost by accident to lose weight and get healthy. I did so by eating less, eating traditionally healthy foods, drastically reducing my alcohol consumption and exercising a seriously high amount. So much so that in the space of first third of the year, I lost 40 kilograms, settling in to a new weight around the 75-kilogram mark. Obvs the positives of this are I can walk around the block without requiring an oxygen tank, I can wear nice designer clothes for the first time in my life and I can receive an extraordinary amount of compliments from people when they see my new form factor for the first time.
Losing a lot of weight quickly has made me hyperaware of how much society prizes and fetishises thinness. Conversely, there seems to be this perception that overweightness is a moral failing. My obsequiousness to body image pressures has led me to develop a weird and hostile relationship with food. You will have to now forgive me a moment of vulnerability: I have become trapped in a cycle of eating and exercising in which I perceive food as a poison to my wellbeing and working out as the cure. Strange thing is, doesn’t really matter if I immediately stopped caring about food, ceased physical exercise and regained those 40 kilograms: my life wouldn’t be substantially different in any way, except I would have to go back to wearing the clothes I already own.
I used to think eating disorders were utterly ridiculous, and you have to believe me when I say this is not easy for me to discuss openly, curable by simply eating some food, which is one of the most pleasurable things in the world to do. But now I realise just how insidious an issue it can be, and I can only imagine how tough it is for young women, resulting in me experiencing a heightened period of personal growth. I now have a lot of empathy for people struggling to live up to society’s unrealistic expectations of us, whether those expectations focus on our appearance, who we choose to love, what we choose to believe and the way we choose to live our lives.
All that being said, you might now be surprised to see me list my Top 16 Foods of 2016, many of them being decidedly unhealthy. For a lot of these digestions I had to overcome an internal dialectic bordering on torture — I wouldn’t force it on my worst enemy — simply to convince myself that I was allowed to eat. Anyways, you wouldn’t think it from reading this section but this is supposed to be funny. Entertaining, anyway. So let me hit the comedy reset button and I hope you enjoy the feast for they eyes that is the Top 16 Food of 2016…
16. Airport and airline food…
People whinge a lot about the food available in airports and served on flights, especially longhaul flights, but in my vastish experience, provided I can source food that meets my dietary requirements (in short, non-diary, non-fungal, non-avocado), mile-high dining is pretty good. I wish I had taken a photo of some of the fare offered on Air India but I was too busy holding on for dear life, so you will have to make do with the above visualisation of Pringles and Danish beer available at Paris-CDG. There are curries, a sempiternal supply of peanuts, a bottomless well of grog and even apples available.
15. Dinner at the Tudor Hotel in Redfern, specifically the pan fried salmon fillet with quinoa, fennel, roast tomato, capers and mint.
Food just tastes better when it’s free b/c of trivia winnings!
14. Pizza with Phil and Tim at Franco Manga in London
Delicious pizza, delightful friends, a great final night in Europe!
13. Crust Pizza on Election Night in Australia
I found the above image by Google Image searching for ‘Turnbull worried’. I don’t eat pizza very often but this one was memorable because I watched the returns at my friend Paul’s and we inhaled a couple of scrumptious pizzas and rapped on the state of Australian politics. Like Turnbull’s political capital and ethical foundation, no image survives of the pizza.
I eat a lot of apples, like many per day. My faves are Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Fuji and Sundowner. Royal Galas are okay. I hate Red Delicious.
11. Burgers in Amsterdam
I had not eaten a burger in all of 2016 — my last one was at Bar Luca in Sydney with my friend Dan before a taping of that media minor celebrity quiz show by the Chaser sometime in maybe October 2015 — because I can’t stand brioche buns, which are essentially a mixture of butter, milk and cream held together by a single sesame seed. So imagine my happiness when I rocked up to a pub in Amsterdam to watch Manchester United v Leicester and the TV was instead showing Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders (recorded for posterity above). But also imagine my happiness when I discovered the brioche bun craze hasn’t yet reached the Netherlands, which is doubly surprising when you consider how easily the Germans invaded the Low Countries. They were bloody good burgers!
10. Rump steak with chips and salad at the Megahole
Okay so the above image is not of a rump steak nor is it from 2016 and the condiment selection is no longer offered (I bring my own wholegrain mustard with me) but you get the idea. This steak tastes even better when you pay for it with trivia winnings. Make it rain!
I gave up meat for June. And because I don’t eat dairy products, it essentially meant I was a vegan tourist for 30 days. My reason for doing this wasn’t just so I could say ‘Vejunetaria’ at every single possible opportunity (complementary to No Schoon June) but so I could empathise more thoroughly with my vegetarian and vegan friends. It really is hard to find nourishing and delicious restaurant meals when you are sans flesh, normally there’s some lazy mushroom risotto tacked onto the end of the card, and you find yourself leaning very heavily on chips with tomato sauce. I don’t have any moral qualms with eating meat and I love the taste so I can’t see myself converting fully just yet but I did take satisfaction from successfully navigating Vejunetaria and more fully evolving into a fully formed person of fullness.
And these weren’t just any RIBS! They were London RIBS! From Hotbox Bar & Grill near Shore Ditch. When I arrived from my lunchtime rack, the dining hall was emptier than the space between an Arsenal defender’s ears and I thought this doesn’t auger well. By the time I had polished off the above chopping block of ribs, sweet potato fries and collared greens, the box was verily hot! Sometimes you just gotta have RIBS!
7. Dining in Byron Bay and at Splendour in the Grass
The main drag at Byron has some fantastic pubs and nowhere is the scene better repped than at Balcony Bar & Oyster Co, where Wednesday is $1 oyster day. Conveniently, the night before Splendour Day Zero was a Wednesday! Also good up that way is Miss Margarita Mexican Cantina, where I enjoyed fabulous fajitas (which I pronounce phonetically) on the Monday following the festival. While at Splendour, I ate green apples and vegemite on toast for breakfast, Aldi off-brand parabolic potato chips, this brilliant paella from one of the food trucks and, y’now, litres upon litres of exorbitantly overpriced mid-strength beer acquired through the exchanging of tedious perforated liquor coupons. Incidentally, I’ve decided to unilaterally drop the v in vegemite to lower case.
6. European cafes: doing crosswords, reading Infinite Jest
The premoninate Phil recommended Bocca Coffee in the Dam and so ventured there one fine morning DWF tome under my wing to enjoy breakfast and read the hardest book ever written publicly. Speaking of long and boring, when I was planning the Year in Review, I thought I’d give myself an easy Monday by scheduling Food for today, thinking I could knock this over in no time, all 2-minute noodle like, little did I expect it to drag on and on all 18-hour slow cooked Hog’s Breath Cafe steak like. For those playing along at home, 2-minute noodles are more likely to make this list than an HBC steak. My fave flave is Oriental.
5. Toasted bagels for Saturday brunch at Swerve while doing the crossword with my Mum
My only real gripe with the cafe industry is their general aversion to crunchy peanut butter. I am superfan of toasted bagels but they are superhard to find in cafes. One fine purveyer of these delectable wheels of wheat was Swerve on Military Road in Mosman. I thoroughly enjoyed many a Saturday morn there in 2016 trying manfully to inculcate Mum in the finer points of extreme crosswording. And then one Saturday I rocked up and it had been transitioned into a news agency. And people wonder where transphobia stems from.
4. Bistro opposite Gare du Nord with Mum (she’s featuring a lot in this instalment: I don’t want people to think I’ve got some crazy Psycho thing happening where I am actually eating all these meals alone and concocting conversations as though someone else is with me)…
So I got the Eurostar across from London to Paris to then fly Air India to Sydney via New Delhi and carved out two hours in the autumnal dusk to have one last Gallic meal with Mumsy. I ordered the chicken (breast on the bone) with fries and Mum got the duck maybe I can’t remember. For dessert I swashbuckled the lemon sorbet, which comes served with a side shot of vodka. It was divine!
3. Oktoberfest Schnitzel at Bavarian Bier Cafe in Crows Nest
I ate that. I fucking ate that.
2. Steamed corn specifically and vegetables generally
But this is more like it. Corn, broccoli, carrot, beans, pumpkin and Brussels sprouts (unpictured) is my go-to dinner. Steamed, naturally, in my expensive stainless steel stovetop set that Mum (Jesus — there she is again — I need to see a shrink. Or at least I need to see another shrink.) got me. I dab some Tabasco on the corn but otherwise eat it plain. It’s delicious but it is also kinda soulless and empty.
1. Degustation at Le Jules Verne Restaurant, 110 metres up the Eiffel Tower
Up top is the menu, down low is the honard au four, petit épeautre aux tomates. Six plats of pure French cuisine indulgence, crammed down my gullet while my eyes feasted on the most magical vista in the world: Paris in the nighttime. Thanks Mum! Oh dear God please somebody help me!
#13 in Albums…
(Australia #1, US #1, UK #5)
Eighteen tracks is far too long but the smooth and vowelshy Canadian with the freshly shaved pate delivered a funky collection of upbeat alt-pop anthems, bookended by two highly infectious collabs with those French robots. Lana Del Rey, who my Mum loves, pops up for half a song, while there are also pleasant if mostly unnessecary guest vox by Future and Kendrick. Weeknd is rarely effective when sharing the microphone. His voice is too hypnotic and the production, furnished by a veritable army of hit makers, combines in a incendiary conflagration. Starboy is a credit to the old-fashioned notion that songs should have verses, bridges and choruses. It creates great fodder for singing along! The joy I experience listening to Weeknd is best visualised as a WWII GI that has just been shot receiving a morphine injection and then giving that knowing nod to the medic to keep the comfort flowing all the way up to to that big rec leave in the sky.
#13 in Books…
(= reading experiences of the year. I am aware these books were released in years gone by)
Borrowed this book from a dear friend who is quite brilliant and she had scribbled cramped notes in the margins so I was able to read this touching story of 9/11 loss told through the prism of an adolescent struggling to socialise with a spectrum disorder and simultaneously receive cogent insights via the running commentary, meaning I didn’t have to do too much thinking and could still pass off sophisticated commentary on its literary merit as though I had done all heavy lifting myself. I had already seen the film so the twists and turns were hardly impactful, and I struggle to muster up any empathy for the German homefront during WWII, not even Dresden, but there is still a lot to like about this post-modern novel. I like authors that play around with form and technique, aspiring to tell their story and ply their craft in new and innovative ways, and Jonathan Safran Foer is one such exponent. Perhaps not at DFW levels but good nonetheless. Enjoyed devouring this while summer was on the wane, and I have pleasant memories of sitting in the Hyde Park sunshine with Extremely Loud & Incredible Close incredibly close to my nose.