Category Archives: Food

Trip 3:Wednesday, September 6 Part 1

Up at 7:00, had breakfast, and got a tour of Nikki and Richard’s wonderful garden. (The hedges around the front gate are rosemary, so the place is fabulously fragrant.) Then we packed the ute (an Aussie pick-up/utility vehicle), hitched up the camping trailer, and headed out bush again. Richard’s years as a tour bus driver and outback guide were about to be put to good use.

We drove out of charming Nuriootpa, through delightful Greenock, among the rolling hills and spring-green fields of the Barossa Valley. Grazing sheep, vineyards full of awakening vines, and flocks of galahs alternated with small towns and large wineries.

Brief stop in Kapunda, where I photographed the town’s centennial statue of a miner. Before even bigger deposits were discovered in Burra, this was an important copper mining area.

Then on the road to Clare, rolling through a countryside that might be English but for the gum trees. Into Gilbert Valley, where large patches were brilliant yellow with canola flowers.

Into Auburn, birthplace of poet C.J. Dennis, author of The Sentimental Bloke. I’m a fan, so I was pleased. If you’re interested in knowing more about Dennis and his charming verse, I posted about the poet last year: C.J. Dennis post.

As we continued through the Clare Valley, we were surrounded by vineyards, but then we drove into a grain-growing region—one of the best in the world, Richard told me. Their specialty is malting barley that is so highly regarded it is even exported to Germany.

Before long, we could see the lower Flinders Ranges in the distance, across the miles of undulating, green farm land. We pulled into Georgetown, a classic little old town with buildings of field stone, with iron lace and wooden verandas much in evidence. We past the old railway hotel, a feature of most of these old towns, and stopped at the charming 1912 General Store. The interior of the store was as iconically rural Australian as the exterior. Here, we enjoyed a lunch of excellent meat pies with sauce and locally produced ginger beer.

Then on the road again, heading toward Port Pirie, across the hills, then swinging north, with the lower Flinders to our right and Spencer Gulf to our distant left. Yellow, gold, and purple flowers lined the road.

We joined Highway 1 and continued toward Port Augusta. We stopped briefly to watch stumpy-tailed lizards crossing the road. Samphire flats stretched toward the water. (Samphire is an edible succulent plant, sometimes called sea asparagus, pickleweed, or sea beans, that grows on some shorelines, marshy areas, and mud flats.)

The country not directly adjacent to the water was drier than that we had left behind. The mountains got closer and higher. Glorious flowering bushes surrounded us. We got closer to Spencer Gulf as got nearer to Port Augusta.

Not surprising, of course, but it’s quite a bit colder here than it was at the top of the continent. However, as we drive farther north, the clouds are clearing and the bright sun is warming things up a bit. Fortunately, Nikki was able to lend me some warm clothes for camping out in colder weather.

And into Port Augusta. Just a short stop, to buy groceries for our stay out bush—and to stretch our legs after the long drive. After buying food, we headed across the street to the grog shop, to buy some Strongbow cider. (I had learned to love Strongbow during my first trip to Australia–well before it was available in the U.S.) Then we were off again, heading for the Gawler Ranges.

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Trip 3:Monday, September 4, Part 1

Up at sunrise. A moment’s excitement upon discovering a tarantula in the loo. There was a grasshopper, as well, but that was less daunting.

Headed alone to the beach for as long a walk as I could manage. I had until 9 a.m. at my leisure, but the tour was scheduled to end at 10, and we still had to drive to town. But that gave me a couple of hours to enjoy my surroundings. I was joined by wading birds, an egret, and sea eagles. Mud hoppers skipped across the mud. (Also known as mud skippers, these are fish that can actually breathe air.) Snails emerged from their shells and explored for food. Red rocks, black rocks, gray mud, blue water. Beautiful morning.

Mud Hopper

Layered Rock

Snails, large and small

I lingered on the beach till the last possible moment, then headed back to camp, to climb into the 4WD one last time.

Most of the gang was dropped off at the posh Mangrove Resort, but Athena, Belinda, and I continued on to the more modest, less expensive, but still very nice Tropicana. The yard was filled with flowers, particularly the wildly fragrant frangipani, so the place smelled heavenly.

We allowed ourselves half an hour for settling in and showering, and then the three of us met up and set off to see the sights. Our first stop was at the nearby Broome Historical Museum. It was a wonderful little museum, filled with relics, photos, and documents from Broome’s earliest settlement to the glory days of pearling through the devastation of World War II (Broome was bombed by the Japanese), and up to the present. There were artifacts from all the many peoples who have inhabited (and do still) the region: Aborigines, Europeans, Japanese, Malay, Indonesians. Delightful place, and astonishing history.

Leaving the museum, we walked on the road bordering the mangroves and beach. We continued to be amazed by the brilliance of the turquoise water and stopped frequently to photograph it.

We visited an art gallery and an upscale jewelry store (this stretch of coastline is famous for its huge, exceptionally white pearls, and they’re worth seeing even if they are too costly to consider), then continued toward Chinatown. The gum trees along the road were in bloom and were wonderfully fragrant. Ibises wandered on the court house lawn, and kites (the birds) soared overhead. We all commented that this was a good place to ease ourselves back into civilization, as there was enough of the exotic to make us feel that this was still an adventure.

Chinatown was a real shock. When I first visited, it was a quiet, sleepy area, even though it’s the center of town. The broad streets then were covered in red dust but otherwise featureless. There were no sidewalks. The cars parked somewhat randomly down the center of the street tended to be rusting, practical, and sporting protective bars to minimize damage when encountering kangaroos or water buffalo. The stores were very basic tin-roofed structures that were generally Chinese owned. Now, though still open and amiable, the area is very upscale, with nothing more than a couple of Chinese restaurants to give validity to the name “Chinatown.” Carnarvon Street now has sidewalks and a parkway covered with grass and dotted with palm trees. The street is lined with posh boutiques, souvenir shops, jewelry stores, health food stores, nail salons, tour operators, and delis serving quiche and mocha lattés. Wow! What a disappointment. I had so looked forward to the funky, rustic, multi-lingual Broome that I had been telling Belinda and Athena about before we arrived.

That said, at least it was a convenient disappointment. We browsed through a few shops, where both Belinda and Athena found gifts to buy for folks back home. Then we popped into the comfortable (air conditioned!!) and apparently popular Bloom’s Gourmet Deli, where I had iced coffee and the mixed salad plate (Greek, pasta, and potato). Athena asked if any of us had any sense of being in a remote corner of the Australian Outback. No. Well, at least not until we went to the restroom, which is a corrugated iron shack at the far side of the hot, dusty backyard.

One thing on Carnarvon Street that had not changed from my previous trip was Sun Pictures. I photographed it in the daylight, and we agreed to return this evening.

(For more on the changes in Broome, check out my earlier post on Broome Old And New. There, you can see contrasting photos of what I saw during my different visits.)

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August 24, Part 2

Our second stop of the day was at Keep River Gorge. Red cliffs and shattered rock were as common here as elsewhere, though the red walls here were dotted with, among other plants, boabs of varying ages and stages of development. Possibly the oddest element we saw as we hiked up the gorge was what looked like trees standing on tiptoe. During the wet season, heavy rains carry away lose dirt, leaving the roots of the trees exposed. Other than the exposed roots, the trees looked fine–green and growing vigorously. We were accompanied by cockatoos, butcherbirds, fairy martins, and splendid black and electric-blue butterflies.
KeepRiverGorge-rocks-boabs KeepRiverGorge-tree roots
And now we’re back on the rock road–which means my writing in my notebook looks a bit jumpy. As rough as it is for driving, there is something infinitely appealing, visually, about a long, red-dirt road stretching ahead.

The termite mounds we were seeing were different from those we left behind. I don’t know if it’s the species of termite or the quality of the soil, but the farther west we get, the more rounded and undefined and almost sloppy the termite mounds look.

Red rocks and blue sky defined our drive. It’s probably in the high eighties today, but it’s enough cooler than the last few days that it seems quite refreshing. Of course, it’s only 10:30 am.

Heading westward, toward Kununurra. We had to stop at the Western Australia border for a quarantine check and to dispose of any uneaten fruit or vegetables—to make certain no diseases or insects could be carried into the fruit-growing area ahead. We also set our watches back one and a half hours, as we were crossing into a new time zone. The border guard told us it was 40˚C here yesterday, which is roughly 104˚F – so I guess we’d better enjoy the cooler mornings.

And back to civilization. Showers and washing machines are welcome, but it is certainly less attractive than the wilderness. However, our campsite for the night is in a lovely location, near water and surrounded by trees.

Clothes washed and hung out to dry, and freshly washed ourselves, we climbed on the 4WD for the short ride to Kununurra. Shopping first: fly net and sock protectors, as more wilderness lies ahead, and we want to be prepared, just in case, plus postcards, to let the folks back home know of our adventures. Then we headed off to look for lunch. One might not expect to find focaccia or fresh fish at a take-away stand in an outback strip mall, but I have come to expect surprises like this in Australia. I ordered a hot barramundi sandwich, which was delicious. A few folks wanted to stay in camp, but Don, Graham, Belinda, Athena, and I hopped back on the 4WD for the short ride to Hidden Valley, in Mirima National Park.

This place was even more amazing than Keep River. Erosion is definitely one of the key geographic shapers in Australia, and here, that activity was abundantly demonstrated. A sign at the entrance to the park said the layered and worn rock around us was sandstone laid down 360 million years ago, in the Devonian period. We hiked through wonderfully strange, red gorges, surrounded by layered rock that was peculiarly carved into rounded domes and jagged shapes. (The weird carving and jagged edges, the sign had informed us, are because the layers do not wear down at the same rate.)
Mirima Rocks 1 Mirima -rock lamb
In addition to rocks, we also saw red-tailed black cockatoos and a wide range of plants, including acacia, rock figs, woolybutt gums, long grasses, and a variety of pea flowers.
Mirima -rock-grass

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Lance Corporal Bacon

I always like to remind people that, despite what most of us saw in textbooks long ago, history is not a line; it is a web. Everything is connected to myriad other things. I was reminded of that today, when I ran across an item about Lance Corporal Bacon. I’m working on a book on the history of pigs, which will be something of a companion volume to my book on the history of corn (Midwest Maize), since, at least in the U.S., pigs and corn are close to inseparable.

Reading a book on bacon, I ran across this bit of information: that the ANZACs, during World War I, gave a nickname to bacon that was almost all fat but with just a single, thin stripe of meat across the otherwise white slab. Because a lance corporal had only one stripe on his sleeve, the long streak of meat in the bacon became identified with that lone stripe of rank, thus making the fatty slab Lance Corporal Bacon.

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Lamingtons

It was fairly early in my first visit to Australia that I encountered the iconic confections called Lamingtons. These traditional sweets consist of rectangles of sponge cake dipped in melted chocolate and rolled in shredded coconut. Hard to beat that combination. I found them from one end of Australia to the other. Here’s a video that takes you through the whole process of making them — though one can simply buy sponge cake, rather than making it from scratch.

For Americans, be advised that caster sugar is what we call super fine sugar. If you don’t have super fine, just put regular granulated sugar in a blender for a few seconds. Icing sugar is what we call powders sugar. Corn flour is corn starch. And 180 decrees Celsius is about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I think everything else will be familiar. Hope you enjoy this Aussie classic.

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Midwest Maize

This is not about Australia–but it is about why I left the corporate world and went to Australia–to transform my life into that of a writer. Today is the official publication day of my book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. Books have actually been shipping for about a week now–all those that were pre-ordered–but now the book will start to go to bookstores and libraries.

The book is a food history–where corn/maize came from, how it diversified and spread, and ultimately how it created the U.S. region known as the Midwest–not just the farms, but the cities, as well–cities that would vanish if they weren’t supported by the region’s sprawling farmlands. But it is also a history of agriculture, of food preparation, of the contributions of different ethnic groups to the food culture of the region, of fairs and celebrations, and of people who raise, work with, trade, process, and cook corn today.

There is more information, plus a few early reviews, on the University of Illinois website, if you’re interested. Plus I’ve started a blog, to relate all the traveling I did and discoveries I made as I drove around the Midwest, pursuing the stories that fill the book. That blog is also named, not too surprisingly, Midwest Maize. I’d love it if you bought the book, maybe even “liked” the Midwest Maize Facebook page, but if all you do is enjoy a bit of the fun I had exploring the Midwest, that would be okay, too.
ClampittS15-smaller-B

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Meat Pies

I thought I’d interrupt my string of Slim Dusty songs with a break for food.

In Australia, there are few foods more iconic than meat pie. This is not just something you make at home. This is sold in shops, off food carts, in train stations, and at sporting events. It is as Australian as the hot dog is American. I became completely addicted to these during my first trip to Australia, and while I haven’t gotten around to making them back here at home, I always manage to tuck into a few on return trips.

The dish seems quite simple, but the fact that it uses two types of pastry — short crust on bottom, puff pastry on top — makes it a bit more labor intensive than one might expect of a food so ubiquitous. That said, I got the pie tins on my first trip, so I’m prepared.

This video notes that it is served with sauce, which is simply ketchup — so you don’t have to look for an additional recipe to finish this off. Just looking at it makes me think it’s time to dig out those tins and finally make myself a meat pie.

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