Saturday, January 24, 2009

Perfect picnics and imperfect events

Spontaneity can produce the most surprisingly perfect results whereas intricate planning can end up a bit of a farce - that says a lot for planning, doesn't it? But I guess if everyone and everything went spontaneously there may be a severe lack of order and predictability that makes most people comfortable.

I'll take spontaneity as it comes, one night in the form of an impromptu picnic and Shakespeare in the park on a balmy summer evening. Outdoor theatre by the water down in Bicentennial Park in Glebe as the sun's going down is ridiculously idyllic. Add to that the perfect little picnic and a most enjoyable version of a Comedy of Errors, and it's a pretty perfect night overall.

Hastily packed picnic

We dine on fresh Turkish bread and baba ghanoush as we view dragon boat race teams training on the water. We also have a mild Gouda and deliciously creamy blue cheese with wafer crackers washed down with a fruity chilled riesling. The setting and the views make me wonder why I ever do anything else. Being by the water a cool breeze delivers a refreshing welcome to the players and audience alike.

We enjoy the play (without once complaining of numb bottoms), the actors (especially the curly Dromeos), the wine, the food (as does a baba ghanoush-appreciating Lassie lookalike), the company, atmosphere and the spontaneity of life.

The next night I'm at an event for the launch of the Chinese New Year festival at the end of another sweltering day. I love a good festival, even more if it's outdoors. And if there's markets with food - well, I'm sold. As it's opening night for the festival there's fanfare to be seen and heard so instead of stuffing myself with tasty morsels on sticks and plates, I attend the formalities and cultural side of festivities first.

Chinese New Year Markets at Belmore Park, Sydney

The utter vibrancy and excitement of Chinese New Year makes for a contrasting second celebration for 2009. It's not about the booze (well, not entirely) and the cool parties. To me it's about family and hope so it seems so much more meaningful than fireworks displays over the harbour. Saying that, firecrackers give fireworks a good run for their money.

Following the launch ceremony in Belmore Park with the usual dose of politicians and pomp, I head to a reception generously sponsored by a spirits brand and horrendously catered in-house by a hotel. There is really no excuse for serving poor food if that's your business. I have an excuse. And to top it off, I think that the Chinese community are probably one of the most discerning when it comes to food. To serve sub-standard food to a crowd of the banquet loving population was a little embarassing.

A myriad of Asian 'inspired' tidbits made their way out from the kitchen, including Thai style salads, satay sticks, dumplings with highly questionable fillings, something that was supposed to be a crunchy noodle salad, mussels in a creamy or tartare sauce, duck pancakes, and filo pastries with grey coloured mushroom and potato filling.

Perhaps there was no room to budge on the hotel's catering menu so organisers picked anything remotely Asian. Perhaps revellers were supposed to be so 'distracted' with the sponsor's offerings that they wouldn't notice. At least there were plenty of cocktails available. And pre-food glasses of cognac on offer.

Pre-dinner drink?

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