Monday, 12 August 2013

Sports, Rugby and Worth-the-Wait Spag Bol

about to kick
Nice hat
more hugging....I mean tackling


I love sports. I have been playing some form of sport since I was a little girl. To me, sports are a key element of life. When we moved from the US to Australia, I was happy to see that sports were an integral part of life here as well. Whether your child plays on the Under 6 soccer team or you watch professional sports on TV, Aussies love their sports just like Americans do. However, the professional sports that are followed are not football, hockey, basketball or baseball. The popular pro sports down under are cricket and some form of rugby, all of which I know nothing about. Even now, cricket brings to mind white uniforms, funny hats, wide bats, and competitions that last for days. There are wickets and bowlers and currently an Ashes series. In rugby, there are scrums, hats, carries, tattoos and several different forms of rugby and many levels of competition. While you can get US professional sports here on cable TV, the games are rarely broadcast live due to the significant time change so they are usually shown on TV the next day. With all the social media and online news, you inevitably will see/read about the game result before you even watch it, so why bother? While I was never the type in the US to be glued to the TV watching sports, it's weird not to hear people talking about the pro football, basketball, baseball or ice hockey game that had recently been played. You don't hear about Fantasy Football team selections, who made the Final Four, which Super Bowl commercial was funniest, who should go to the World Series this year, etc. 

After 3+ years of living here, I thought it was time to find out more about sports down under. I had heard that going to a local Club Rugby game (think AA baseball league level) was a great way to spend an afternoon. So we finally went to a Manly Marlins rugby game. I enjoy watching live sporting events as there is lots of people, cheering, excitement and camaraderie going on. Given this, you would think I would've gone to a Rugby game long ago. Especially a rugby game in Manly; after all the town is called "Manly." It seems very appropriate, heh?!

The first thing that struck me as odd was being able to bring canned beer into the venue. Usually at US sporting events, they search your bags for weapons and alcohol. As long as your alcohol was in a can, it was fine to bring in. As we walked around the field to find our friend, I noticed lots of kids running around, playing, throwing balls and having fun. The men were on the sidelines, drinking beer and talking. After we found our friend and settled in, I looked around and saw very few women. I actually felt a bit odd and out of place. When I asked the men I was chatting to where their wives were, they told me that they "had the afternoon off." Then I realised it was a win-win for everyone - kids are at the game playing on the sidelines, Dads are watching the game and drinking beers with their mates and Moms have the afternoon off - sheer genius!

As I watched the game, our Australian friend gave me an in depth commentary on the game, how it is played, the key players, etc. What I took away was the basics - the Marlins play Rugby Union, which is referred to as 'gentlemen's rugby' as opposed to Rugby League which is also popular in Australia but has different rules. Rugby League, like the US NFL, has a system of limited tackles and chances to score while Rugby Union is more fluid and does not. Rugby Union also uses scrums more to restart play. I referred to it as man hugging and the man love play at the game. Probably not a wise choice of words:). I am sure this the tip of the iceberg but that was my basic understanding and a start. 

I will say I was surprised at how loud the players were. The talking, shouting and grunting from the field was impressive. We could even hear them from the street as we were late for the game. I wondered why they didn't use padding. While the Marlins weren't hitting as hard as NFL linebackers do, players were still eating grass with no padding and worse yet, no helmets. I learned their "hats" were to protect their ears and not their brains. If you don't wear a hat, your ears get pulled on and you can get cabbage ears. (see Google Images of 'rugby cabbage ears' = disturbing). I wondered if they wear mouth guards at least; I hope so. As expected, the players were very fit and cut with muscles. Some of the Islander players were just huge. I guess that is true of most high level athletes, I just forget how big and fit they are until you see them up close. There were also some great hairdos and headbands. In the end, the Manly Marlins won and I now have a small clue about Rugby. I know I have have only skimmed the surface, but it's a start. I would definitely go to a game again.

Rugby on a chilly winter afternoon calls for a hearty dinner. A favourite dinner in my Sydney neighbourhood is Spaghetti Bolognese. You know it is popular since it has its' own slang phrase - "Spag Bol." When I am feeling lazy, I brown some ground beef/mince and pour a jar of spaghetti sauce over it and serve it with pasta. When I have time and know I will be home for the afternoon, I make the recipe below. It does take effort but it is really delicious and full of flavour. It also makes the house smell wonderful. It is definitely worth the effort if you have the time.

(Matt Preston's 100 Best Recipes Cookbook)

3 tbsp Olive Oil
2 medium Carrots, finely chopped
3 medium Brown Onions, finely chopped
4 slices middle Bacon, diced into small pieces
2 Celery sticks, finely chopped
1 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
1kg/2 lbs Beef Mince/ground Beef
1 cup Red Wine
3 Bay Leaves (optional)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbsp Lemon Juice
2 regular sized tins/cans Tomatoes
1 cup Beef or Vegetable Stock

1) Add Olive Oil to large saucepan and heat until oil thins and spreads; careful not to burn oil.

2) Add onions and cook until translucent about 3-5 minutes. While cooking, cut up carrots, bacon, celery.

3) When onions are cooked, add carrots, bacon and celery. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes.

4) Add brown sugar, garlic and tomato paste. Turn up heat slightly and cook about 5 minutes, stirring through.

5) Dump veggies/bacon mixture into a bowl off heat, put aside.

6) Add a little oil olive to pan again and add raw mince/ground beef and cook until browned. Drain fat.

7) Add wine, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, tomatoes and stock. Turn up heat slightly and let the mixture simmer for 5-10 minutes.

8) Add veggie/bacon mixture back to the pot with meat mixture and mix well. Add Bay Leaves if using.

9) Bring to the boil covered, then remove lid and turn the heat right down.  Cook very gently for up to 4 hours. Stir occasionally to ensure the sauce doesn't stick and burn. If the sauce gets too thick, add some more stock and stir it in. I like my sauce very thick and hearty, like a ragu or stew.

10) Season with salt or more Worcestershire sauce if needed.

12) Serve over pasta. Enjoy!

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