Jun 26 11

The Ultimate Steak Sandwich

by Emily Benjamin

Just like the ingredients in my potato bake, I am sure making of the ultimate steak sandwich is a contentious issue. Some of you might favour the gourmet steak sandwich, served with caramelised onions on a toasted ciabatta. Others might dig the Coffee Club special, served on thick toast with red lettuce. But for me, it’s a simple, soft and tender delight, with very little effort required.

Firstly, ditch the toast. I mean it – toasted bread for a steak sandwich, or any sandwich for that matter, and you’re doing it wrong. Toast is uncomfortable to hold, has poor absorption qualities for the condiments, and breaks into pieces when you bite into it. Instead choose soft thick bread slices, or if you’ll allow in this instance, a soft bread roll. Doesn’t matter the size, although we’ll come back to that when we get to the steak itself. Bread should be 70% soft at an absolute minimum. Any toasting, if required, should only be done to the inside of the bread. Soft on top with maybe a little toasting inside. Got that? Good. Let’s get some fillers.

Obviously, you need a steak! And this is probably the point that stops me from ordering steak sandwiches more often. You never really know what you’re going to get. Will it be a thick cut, still-bloody steak, that consumes all the other flavours of the burger? Or will it be a cheap, well-done, stringy, fatty mess that tears apart the whole sandwich as you try to bite through the grizzle. Neither! The steak should be thin, but not over cooked. It should still have a little pink in it, so if it’s a thin slice be careful not to cook it too long. It should be tender and stringy-fat free – the worst thing you want is to take a bite and have the whole steak slide out of the sandwich and drop onto your plate, because you couldn’t bite through the grizzle. Then you get all messy putting it back together – tsk tsk. So it’s simple – a thin, tender, medium size steak, preferably in a similar shape and size to your bread of choice. Maybe buy the steak first and find bread to match! Whatever you do, you want to avoid having a steak that is too small for the bread. Just think of how disappointed you’ll be when you get to the last bite of your awesome sandwich, only to discover the steak finished and only salad between the bread. What a let down.

Now we’ve got the bread and steak sorted, there are three more areas to consider. They are:

– salad/fillers

– condiments

– side dishes

Salad and fillers should include the following; cheese, lettuce, tomato. Although they’re not always necessary, and without careful inclusion they will overfill the sandwich, I will also allow onion, avocado, egg and bacon. But nothing else. No fancy sprouts or shoots, pickles, capsicum – none of that. Keep it simple – sliced cheese, ripe tomato and iceberg lettuce. But even these three can go all wrong if they’re not ordered correctly. Here is the only way to lay it all together;

Bread – condiment 1 – Steak – Cheese – Tomato – Lettuce – condiment 2 – Bread

Steak, then cheese, then tomato, then lettuce. Not the other way around, or in a different order. I’ll explain the reasons. Firstly, the cheese should be next to the meat. The warm steak will melt the cheese – heaven. But you don’t want the cheese flavour being next to a condiment so they stick to opposite sides of the steak. Then tomato, next to cheese and lettuce, but away from the bread. We’ve all opened our lunch boxes at school at some stage, to find soggy, wet bread because the tomato had juiced all over it. Thanks, Mum. Gross. Keep the tomato in the middle, and you’ll be ok. Lettuce is next to last because, well, it should be. Got it? Good.

Now condiments. Tomato sauce, mayonnaise, mustard and BBQ sauce are the options. If you’re thinking the word ‘chutney’ right now you can forget it – I said nothing fancy. I personally don’t like BBQ sauce, but I know some people that can’t live without it, so I won’t weigh in on that one. Tomato sauce and mayonnaise work well together, as do mustard and tomato sauce. You probably shouldn’t use all three because you’ll over saturate your soft bread and have a soggy sandwich. Not cool. Consider your ingredients as well – mustard tastes great, but not if you’ve put avocado on the sandwich. But avo and mayo go well, so maybe thats an option. Just pick two, and spread one to each piece of bread. Easy.

Finally, side dishes. Depending on the size of your sandwich, you may not need any. But if you do, hot chips can’t really be beaten. Maybe wedges, but you won’t eat very many and no one ever serves enough sour cream and sweet chilli sauce to go with them. Also, wedges are very filling, which might leave you with stomach aches after your epic steak sandwich as well. So either no side, or some chips. With sauce, of course.

There you have it – the recipe for a perfect steak sandwich. Inspired by a delicious steak sandwich I just had here in Rio de Janeiro, made almost exactly as I would make my own. Melted cheese, tender steak and soft bread that was mopping up all the juicy awesomeness. Mm mm, a proper steak sandwich can’t be beat!

Filed Under → Words
Jun 22 11


by Emily Benjamin

There isn’t a lot to say in this post. All I can say is that these artists took up 95% of the airtime on EuropaFM in Spain, which was the only English music station available across the whole country. Needless to say, after a few thousand kilometres, I never want to hear these artists again*.

Jason DeRulo
Katy Perry
Michael Jackson
Jessie J feat. Bob(?) – whatever, the song was Price Tag
Nelly Furtado
Enrique Iglesias

*Except Katy Perry’s Firework. That song is undeniably catchy. Even Monkey loves it.

(Image supplied by Google)

Filed Under → Words
Jun 21 11

San Sebastian

by Emily Benjamin

When planning for our time in Spain, I had my heart set on San Sebastian. I remember reading about it having one of the best inner-city beaches in all of Europe, beautiful views and delicious food, and it lived up to the hype. Although the weather wasn’t kind to us the whole time we were there, we made the most of the sun while it was out and wandered the streets, spent time on the beach and hiked up a small mountain to enjoy the views. Eventually we tracked down a restaurant called La Cuchara, and feasted on the best tapas I’ve ever tasted. If you can find the place, it is absolutely worth it – I’m only disappointed we didn’t find it sooner! I took a bit of a break with photos while I was there, but managed to capture this small set before we packed up and headed for Rio de Janeiro.

Filed Under → Travel
Jun 17 11

Barcelona and Catalonia

by Emily Benjamin

The more ‘hyped up’ a place is, the more pressure I feel to do it justice with my photographs. That feeling came to me on arrival in Barcelona, which in three words I would describe as colourful, cultured and confident. When I took my camera out on the first day, I was overwhelmed and came home with almost no photos. Fortunately we had three more days to explore the city and the surrounds, and I got my photo-mojo back – just in time for all the Gaudi, Dali and Picasso I could handle. Hopefully this set, although it’s not my biggest, captures the highlights of our time in Catalonia.

Filed Under → Travel
Jun 15 11

A finished piece about Gaudi’s unfinished works

by Emily Benjamin

First and foremost, let me be clear that everything in this post is only my opinion. I am not a designer, an architect or an expert critic of the fine arts. I went into this after recently admitting that when it comes to travelling, I’m not really fussed by two things – religion and architecture. Big churches, ornate cathedrals – I hate to say it, but they all look the same. So it may be controversial, but when it comes to Gaudi, I’m not really fussed.

I know, I know. A revered architect, one of the most famous Catalans of the 19th and 20th centuries, and designer/builder of the Sagrada Familia and six other UNESCO World Heritage sites. On paper, I shouldn’t really be messing with this guy. He designed and built these famous buildings and monuments from scratch, without using plans and blue prints, but just his imagination and some 3D modelling work. But seriously, maybe if he’d done some more planning and spent less time building the ‘abnormal’, he might have finished something.

That sounds a bit harsh, maybe. But the Sagrada Familia, which I am going to see tomorrow, is still not finished. Gaudi’s magnum opis, work began on this huge church in 1883. And it’s still going. Gaudi worked on this for the last 43 years of his life before passing away in 1926, but still 85 years later and the job’s not done. As I said, I’m not an architect, and I’m also not a builder, but if a builder I’d commissioned for a job took this long, I’d be pretty annoyed.

There is no doubt that his work is interesting. Curved walls, open spaces, lots of light and colour, compared to blocked buildings of grey cement. But it’s not exactly functional. How did one fit a flat bed frame against a curved wall in the Casa Battlo? Not sure what the feng shui would be in that situation. Gaudi did create furniture though, which must have helped when decking out his house with the essentials. Can’t find a chair that fits? Sit into a huge ball of clay, mould to your body, and create the chair from that. Which is what he did, actually. The chairs, benches, seats and door handles on display in Casa Battlo are carved to perfectly fit the average human form. That’s pretty nifty, I’ll admit. But these original chairs and seats are also on display in Park Guell, and who knows what other Gaudi properties around Barcelona. Original? Seems the guy took a leaf out of Ikea’s book and got into some mass production.

Gaudi is everywhere in Barcelona. Even the footpath tiles are an homage to his work. And if the catholic church has it’s way, there’ll be even more of him around soon – an application has been submitted for his beatification. As I understand it, that usually takes a bit of time. But so does Gaudi.

I’ll hop off my cubed, structured, solid and finished soap box now 🙂

Update: Have seen the Sagrada Familia now and it’s ok. But I imagine it might look a little strange when it’s finished in 2026, when the new stuff is all shiny while the rest of it is moulding from age. Otherwise, inside, it’s huge and spacious, but with so much detail it’s overwhelming and made me dizzy.




Filed Under → Words
Jun 12 11


by Emily Benjamin

I can’t be certain that I knew any more than this about Valencia: they have good oranges, and The Decemberists sung a song by the same name. But even with this limited knowledge, we packed a full day in the coastal city. First up was the old town centre, with huge halls, cathedrals and markets to be found through the winding streets. Here we enjoyed our first and only Valencian Paella and a fresh juice from the city market, busy with locals and tourists on the Saturday we visited. In the afternoon, we made our way to the City of Arts and Sciences, an eye-catching, futuristic complex that reminded me of scenes from Battlestar Galactica. The area houses Europe’s largest aquarium, so we spent a few hours here enjoying the touristy attractions Valencia had to offer.

Filed Under → Travel
Jun 12 11

Paella and Oranges, Valencia-style!

by Emily Benjamin

Ohhh Valencia. We came, we saw, we ate paella. A little salty, if you ask me, but my informants, err, inform me that the seafood would be to blame for this. We only had two nights in Valencia, and with long driving days either side, it meant just one full day to explore the town. Unlike the other cities, this time we opted to stay just out of town in a gorgeous bed and breakfast called Villa Casablanca, run by the absolutely charming Lyndon and Roy. Best bacon and eggs we have had all trip, and highly recommended if you are ever in Valencia! Just a 20 minute drive into the town from there, we set off for a full day of roaming the streets, taking photos and eating paella and oranges. By afternoon, we had covered the old centre and headed to the new, to check out the City of Arts and Sciences. A few hours at the aquarium (thus the dolphin), a quick IMAX film at Hemespheric, and we were back to the B&B for an early night before the drive to Barcelona. 

Filed Under → Words
Jun 10 11

Grand Granada and the Awesome Alhambra

by Emily Benjamin

After 2 nights in Madrid and another night in Toledo, we packed up the car and headed south to Granada, about 5 hours south of Madrid. It’s only about 70kms from the coast, but still has a backdrop of snow capped mountains even now in June. We settled in to Hotel Carlos V and when the sun finally set, we were out to dinner for some quesadillas and enchiladas. Om nom!

On the first full day here, we set off for a walking tour of the city. There is heaps to see – cathedrals, markets, colourful buildings – but a lot of the fun stuff required us to make our way up steep hills with hundreds of stairs. The last time I saw so many stairs was in Jordan, and there I had a donkey to take me up the hill. Here I had no such luck, and we slowly made our way up the hills on Wednesday afternoon to Plaza San Nicolas, where we were assured the best view of the Alhambra was.

We stayed up in the plaza for a while, listening to the guitarists playing spanish music, and absorbing the fresh air and beautiful views of the Alhambra. By then we’d seen a lot of the city and were keen to come back to this spot for dinner, so we headed back down the hill for a rest before catching a bus up in the early evening for dinner and drinks. We must have been just before the crowds because we got prime position in a restaurant on the cliff, overlooking the Alhambra at sunset. It was a gorgeous night, with clear skies revealing the snow left on the mountains behind the castle. Just stunning.

The next day we were up early to hike up the hill (again) for our 8.30am visit to the Alhambra, Nazarid Palace and Generalife, all a part of the fortress/castle grounds. They restrict the number of tickets sold each day, and split it into morning, afternoon and night sessions. Even a week in advance, we could only get the opening time, with nothing else available. But there was a huge advantage to this – although the photos don’t capture it, the air was so fresh, the sun was making the buildings glow, and builds were filling the open plazas within the complex. We tried to keep just ahead of the tour groups and fortunately got heaps of photos with no one in them – success! Although the average visit to the Alhambra is about 3 hours, we were there for five. But we had a packed picnic lunch and the place was just stunning, so we stayed until almost one before heading back down the hill for a rest before more quesadillas for dinner.

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect of the Alhambra, and because I didn’t get an audio guide when we visited, I still don’t know what it’s there for. All I know is that construction began in the 12th century and continued for many more, and was used as a fortress, castle and palace. I should do some more research, but for now I will make do with the 200+ photos I took while we were there, a selection of which are on my Portfolio page if you’re interested. The photos below are of Jamie and I around the town, enjoying the tapas and sangria. Must stop drinking sangria though – too much sugar!

Today we leave Granada and drive to Valencia, another 5 hours away. Again I’m not sure what to expect of Valencia, although we’re told they’ll have the best paella and orange juice in Spain. Ole!

Cheers, Em 🙂

Filed Under → Words
Jun 10 11


by Emily Benjamin

This may be my largest set to date! Despite Granada being the most popular city in Spain for tourists, more so than Barcelona, Madrid and even Ibiza, neither Jamie Talbot or I managed to do any research for our trip here. All we knew was that it was famous for the Alhambra, a towering fortress, castle and palace, perched on top of a hill in the centre of town. With tickets purchased for the 8.30am time slot (they have to do this to control visitor numbers) we trekked up the hill and explored the grounds, taking almost 5 hours to absorb everything there was to see. We also took ourselves on a walking tour of Granada, and on Wednesday night we found ourselves at Plaza San Nicolas, sipping cerveza and watching the sun set on the Alhambra across from us. In the four days we had in Granada, I took so many photos that I couldn’t help but include all my favourites here. There are a lot to get through, but there was a lot to see in Granada! Enjoy 🙂

Filed Under → Travel
Jun 7 11


by Emily Benjamin

We had just one night in Toledo, but that is still more time than most visitors spend here. By 6pm, the streets are nearly empty, as the tourists file back onto their buses to Madrid. But then you can wander quietly, taking in the narrow streets, towering cathedrals and spectacular views. I’m really glad we made time for a night here, and not just because it meant churros for breakfast the next day! Next stop: Granada!


Filed Under → Travel