Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Springy Stuff

Ahh, spring.

You spend all winter shuttered away. There's maybe nine hours of light in the day. It's dark. It's cold. It's wet. You don't go outside much. Illnesses travel around the community. Then suddenly, spring.

My children have gone from being near-catatonic (relatively speaking) to unstoppable balls of irritating activity. Leave them alone for ten minutes and they start wrestling, or playing soccer, or hurling javelins... and this is bad, because after the winter, they have the habit of being in the goddam house, which is really no place for javelin tournaments. (The cats hate it.)

Unfortunately, spring is also about the dodgiest of dodgy weather. Sunshine to rain to hail to sunshine again in the space of an hour. Or it can go the whole day, overcast and threatening, but the only rain you get is one or two brief showers which somehow unnaturally coincide with your every effort to send the children outside.

I do have a secret weapon, of course. When I need rain, I put the clean laundry on the line outside. When I need to send the kids outside, the laundry goes into the electrical-bill-inflating clothes-dryer. It's not a perfect system, but you'd only be surprised at how well it works if you were some kind of a believer in the dark magic of statistics, rather than a person like myself, who understands the innate, and personally-directed malice of the universe.

Today is one of those threateningly grey days. The weather radar map is inconclusive. The real question for the day is this: how much more Wii bowling with my kids can I withstand? 

It's been fun, I admit. For some reason, they've rediscovered Wii Sports, and we've been rebuilding our stock of little Mii avatars, since our old lot expired with the original Wii machine. We've built "The Question", the no-face, low-power superhero from DC comics. We've built a cyclops. A dinosaur-headed guy. A guy with a face that looks surprisingly like a dog's. We've build Jesus, Adolf Hitler, and Osama Bin Laden. We've also built a Samuel L Jackson avatar, and named him "Nick Furry". (He has two eyes, unfortunately. What was wrong with the designers of the Wii? Why can't you get a decent range of hats, eye-patches, fangs, whiskers, bizarre ears and excitingly gonzo hair for your little Mii avatars? This is unacceptable!)

Nevertheless, we're chafing a little.

Yesterday we took off; all of us. We drove across to Latrobe, and the Reliquaire -- that store of wonders. It was... damaging, as always. The Mau-mau now possesses a particularly foofy new dress in which to go to the ballet with her mother tonight. Genghis has a big brass padlock and key of antique style, and a freestanding cardboard cut-out Dalek nearly two metres tall. (I put it next to his bed last night while he slept. It was the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes this morning. I felt good about that.) And Jake has a lovely nib pen set, complete with inkwell, ink, multiple nibs, and a fine leatherbound journal in which to write.

We tried out a new restaurant on our way home through Launceston, on the recommendation of my friend the second-hand bookstore owner. Free plug for My Bookshop right here: this place is everything a second-hand bookstore should be. It's got good turnover, interesting stock, and pleasantly crowded premises. Best of all, the proprietor loves books and everything to do with them, and she's a big reader in speculative fiction. She's also articulate, funny, and loves nothing more than a chat about whatever it is either of us happens to be reading at the time. I try to get in there a couple times a month, and every now and again, I drop by with an embarrasingly large drop-box of books that have become surplus to requirements. She never complains.

Anyhow, it was the proprietor of said bookstore who directed me to Thai Buddha (great name!) in Charles St. I'm always interested in trying a Thai place, and this one is definitely the goods. It's a small place in a charming old building, but it's scrupulously clean, light and airy. The people who run it are lovely -- friendly and helpful without being in your face. Prices are good, but best of all, the food is top-notch.

It's not strict by-the-book Thai. The standout dish -- and it really was a standout -- from last night was a Chef's Special; a Thai-style salad built around Tasmanian smoked salmon, and shredded green apple. I was curious, so I gave it a try, and I was delighted.

The dish had all the right qualities for a Thai salad: the contrasting textures of the crunchy apple, and the creamy, melting smoked salmon. The dressing had the right notes of sweet and sour and salt -- but of course, neither smoked salmon nor green apple is anywhere near the list of canonical Thai ingredients. But who cares? The flavours married superbly. It was one of the most innovative and utterly delicious things I've eaten in a long time, and any chef who is prepared to extend the style of a classic cuisine to embrace signature produce from the particular region where he works has got a future.

If the restaurant has a flaw, it's that they're sparing with the chili. I like Thai cooking. I like fiery, furious chili. When the meal was done, and it was abundantly clear from the empty plates and happy expressions that we'd enjoyed it, I quietly asked the waitress if it might be possible, on a future visit, perhaps to have some thin-sliced raw chili on the side as a condiment.

Well, her face just lit up, and she apologetically explained that they'd learned to rein in the chili for local tastes, but they would be only too happy to cook extra chili into any dishes I requested. She looked so utterly delighted to find someone asking for chili that I almost laughed. I can understand it, though. Local tastes run to the blander end of the English and Scots spectrum, in regard to spices. I'm doing my best to educate people, but it's slow going.

All right. I'd better close up shop here. I've got a busy spring day in front of me. Adios!