Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Prince William, Kate, George...the Monarchy down under and Sour Cream Coffee Cake

We just celebrated Easter, autumn is in the air and I had  visitors! This is very exciting! After 4 years of living in Australia, a member from my side of the family visited and she brought my niece too. It is so nice to see my sister and niece and get to show them Sydney and our life down under. As an ex-pat, living far away from family is one of the hardest parts of being abroad. A crazy long 20-hour flight from New York plus expensive airfares makes it hard for friends and family to visit. Oh and did I mention jet lag?! That is the worst. So I am very thankful, grateful and happy that I was able to see some of my family.

I tried to be a good host by showing her the Opera House, city, Harbour Bridge, Manly Beach, art gallery, etc. I've made her try a flat white coffee, Tim Tams, lamingtons, passionfruit, mangoes, turkish bread, Shiraz wine, Aussie sausages, etc. I really hit it out of the park when we got to see Prince William, Kate, the Prime Minister and new State Premier up close and personal and all in one go. The royals were in Australia and the hoopla was huge! I can no longer say that I don't follow the royals as I was very excited to see Kate, checking out her hair, makeup, dress, shoes like someone on MTV's Fashion Police. She was lovely, gorgeous and genuinely seemed happy to speak with the Nippers (click on red link to read blog about Nippers) and people in the crowd. Prince William was very tall, gracious, and more handsome then he appears in photos. He too seemed down to earth and not as stiff as I had expected. The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, looked thrilled to be there with them and thankfully, he was fully dressed and not in his usual beach attire, budgie smugglers (see blog with Mr. Abbott). There was also the very new State Premier (aka Governor), Mike Baird, who only a few days before landed in this role as the former Premier lied about receiving a $3000 bottle of wine and resigned. I couldn't believe this happened. Compared to the lobbyists in the US and the politicians, a $3k bottle of wine is peanuts. I wonder if the former Premier's resignation was about ethics or was there much more brewing behind closed doors. 

A Royally good time: The Duchess met junior lifesavers on Sydney's Manly Beach as she and Prince William were mobbed by the crowds as part of her 19-day official visit
Kate talking to Nippers on Manly Beach,  source: Manly Daily newspaper

Two Aussies in their budgie smugglers. source: aussiedailynews.com

Of course, the main draw for this royal visit was Kate and everyone was hoping to get a glimpse of baby George. Unfortunately, we didn't see baby George at the beach. I had hoped he would come, Kate would take off her wedges for once and they'd both get their feet wet in the ocean. No such luck. Silly American me, royals don't so that....it's too casual. The excitement over their visit to Manly was crazy - people lined up (me, my sister and thousands of others), helicopters, a naval ship, police all over, police dogs, security guards, tons of press, the royal handlers. It was a zoo and I actually felt sorry for them, as they probably experience this often, living in such a fish bowl. No wonder Prince Harry once said he enjoyed being stationed in Afghanistan because he could live much more freely.
En masse in Manly: Thousands flocked to the Manly foreshore to watch as the Royal couple watched a flag race and chatted to young lifesavers
So many people lined up to see the royals at Manly beach source: dailymail.co.uk

After seeing all this madness firsthand, I started to wonder - would it be this manic if the royals
visited the US? I don't think so. Yes, everyone would want to see them, especially Kate and baby George. But there would not be the same pride and excitement and dare I say patriotism as in the US. They would be seen more as celebrities as opposed to royalty. This made me wonder - what role does Britain play down under? 

According to the ABS, 50% of Australia's 23+ million people are of Anglo-Celtic origins: English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. The Guardian newspaper ranks Australia as the #1 country where British ex-pats live. British influences can be seen throughout Australian society - the predominant language is English (including the British sayings, spellings and pronunciation of words), the parliamentary system of government, the Church of England, (Anglicanism)is the dominant religion, and British sports like cricket and rugby are very popular down under. In addition the Queen is present in daily life - she is on money, annual stamps and her birthday is a national holiday, although it is celebrated on a different date to her actual birth date).

In terms of a very tiny and very brief history of Australian government and its' political relationship with Britain, from The Monarchy Today , Australia was founded by England and became a penal colony in 1788. In 1901, the six separate British colonies of Australia joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1926, an Imperial Conference in London declared the fully autonomous status of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the other British dominions overseas, while stating that they remained united by a common allegiance to the Crown. From that point on the Governor-General became solely the representative of the Sovereign in Australia. So, today, Australia is a constitutional monarchy where the Queen is not involved in the day-to-day business of the Australian Government, but she plays important ceremonial and symbolic roles. On paper she is actually considered the Queen of Australia although I had never heard this spoken before. However, just this past Saturday night I was at an awards dinner with my husband and the speaker opened up the event and asked that we all hail the Queen of Australia. The Governor-General is her representative in Australia. There are also Governor Generals in each state. They are constitutionally empowered to make decisions that could have significant impact on government and laws, such as refusing assent to bills and dismissing ministers. In practice, however, the Governor-General and State governors play a largely ceremonial role. 

Given that the Queen plays a largely ceremonial role in Australia, there is an on again off again national debate about breaking ties to England and having Australia become a Republic where there is a President. In 1999, there was a referendum to amend the Constitution so Australia could become a republic. The republic referendum was defeated due to sustained opposition from monarchist groups and to division among republicans on how to select the president. I have mixed feelings on this topic. As an outsider born in the US, a country of rugged individualists where citizens have so many rights and freedoms, I don't agree with people being rich, famous, powerful and influential because of your family bloodlines. On the other hand, the Royals have a largely ceremonial role here so what's the fuss? Don't we enjoy the pomp and circumstance and the idea of fairytale Kings, Queens, Princesses? Most of us grew up being read stories about monarchies and watching princess movies. Also, having lived in the US and Australia, both very young countries, I do enjoy the history that the English monarchy has given to the world over many centuries. I definitely see both sides of the coin.

When trying to come up with a everyday recipe somehow connected with this blog, I had to think hard. So, for me, when I think of England, I think of tea. Hmm, what goes with tea? Scones? Yes but a bit boring without lots of jam and cream. Instead, I used a tried and true recipe, Sour Cream Coffee Cake. My mother made this recipe a lot growing up and it is a favourite. My family loves it and it doesn't last long in our house. It is probably one of the best cakes I make. Give it a go....you'll be happy.

Classic Sour Cream Coffee Cake
adapted from Betty Crocker cookbook
3 cups Flour

1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
3/4 teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 cups Sugar
3/4  cup Butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla
3 Eggs
1 1/2 cups Sour Cream

/2 cup packed Brown Sugar
1/2 cup chopped Pecans
1.5 teaspoons ground Cinnamon

1) Heat oven to 350┬║F. Grease 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch angel food (tube) cake pan.

    2) In small bowl, mix all Filling ingredients; set aside.
  • 3) In medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

    4) In large bowl, beat granulated sugar, 3/4 cup butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and the eggs with electric mixer on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in flour mixture alternately with sour cream on low speed. NOTE: batter will be quite thick and heavy. Don't worry or add milk. 

    5) Spread 1/3 of the batter (about 2 cups) in pan; sprinkle with 1/3 of the Filling (about 6 tablespoons). Repeat twice. NOTE: batter will be quite thick and heavy. It'll be hard to spread. Don't worry, it'll have a fabulous texture and taste very moist.

    Bake about 1 hour or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. 

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