Category Archives: Food

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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Filed under Food, Geography, Nature, Travel

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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Filed under Australia, Food, History, Lore

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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Filed under Australia, Food, Recipes, Video

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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Filed under Australia, Food, Recipes, Travel, Video

Reflections on Life, Travel, Work, and Australia

I feel I should mention that, despite the sadness expressed at leaving Australia, I have, since my first trip Down Under, created a fulfilling life focused on things I love: writing, sharing, history, food, culture, travel. I’ve been to dozens of other places (see my The World’s Fare blog for some non-Aussie travel tales), and I’ve had an additional two trips to Australia (which I’ll be sharing here). I had some amazing experiences on those trips.

But home is not bad, either. Like most people who are self-employed, I work harder for less money than many in the corporate world, but I’ve had the joy of being able to pick work that I find rewarding. I feel as though I’m living my favorite Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” (I have become insanely frugal, however, which allows me to live better on less money than many people do who earn far more than I do.)

While I’ve written books (including, of course, Waltzing Australia) and hundreds of magazine articles, a large part of my writing has been in the realm of education: history, geography, and language arts. I’ve worked for every major educational publisher in the U.S., including the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and National Geographic Learning. Sharing what I’ve learned in my travels and research is always a joy. I’ve even gotten to write student readers on topics related to Australia (one on the Great Barrier Reef, one on the platypus, and a couple on Captain James Cook).

For the last 20 years or so, in addition to education, I’ve been working in the arena of food history. Much of my travel has focused on place where food history is anchored: Mexico, South America, China, India, the Spice Route, and so on. More recently, I’ve been focusing on history closer to home. The combination of food history and home focus has resulted in my newest book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. If you look at the list of links at right, you’ll see I’ve also started a blog to support that endeavor.

So it did hurt to leave Australia, but I’ve found that joy can be found anywhere. It is not a place; it is a mindset and a journey and a feeling that one is contributing. Still, I will never stop loving Australia, and I delight in sharing its beauty, wonder, and friendliness with others–something I do not only through this blog but also through slide shows and speaking engagements. Australia is the anchor of my current life. It will always be part of me.

And there is still vastly more I want to share about it. So please do keep coming back.

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Filed under Australia, Book, Food, History, Thoughts, Travel, Writing

September 8, part 2

Only a few more towns now lay between us and the Barossa Valley–small, charming towns filled with character, surrounded by gum trees, and with an appealing, old hotel always close to the road. We passed through Freeling and then turned down Daveyston Road, back toward the Sturt Highway. We were in the Barossa Valley again, and soon back in Nuriootpa and “home.”

First order of business was shopping, not just food for my last evening but also for the coming week for Nikki and Richard. I always love visiting grocery stores when I travel, as it is a great way to see a very basic way in which life is different from back home. Australian grocery stores aren’t dramatically different from American ones, but they don’t have all the same products. There are British imports as well as Australian goods (including some wonderful, local cheeses), and a lot of wonderfully exotic produce. So I had fun doing even this.

When we got back to the house, Nikki took me on a tour of the garden. Richard has put in a pond for her, and she has filled large areas with beautiful flowers. Most intoxicating of all, however, was the hedge that surrounded the garden and had been grown into an arch over the entry grate—it was all rosemary. Every time I brushed against it, the fragrance of the herb surrounded me. Simply wonderful.

For dinner, Richard prepared a barbecue of kangaroo basted with his apricot/honey sauce. He was very pleased to get a chance to use his new grill. Nikki and I helped with sides: pumpkin, potatoes, and noodles. Of course, Australian wine was also on offer. Surrounded as we were by wineries, it was only reasonable to enjoy some local wine.
There was a lovely sunset and we were still outside when the afterglow turned crimson.

Afterglow

Afterglow

After dinner, we watched videos of Australian destinations, discussed books, and talked. Nikki put on Mozart and served port, coffee, and chocolates, as Richard set about helping me plan my onward journey across Victoria. He had an abundance of maps and valuable suggestions about places I might have the easiest time finding a nice hotel with lots of character and routes that might show the countryside to advantage. Lovely to have so much information before heading off again–and maps. Having not had maps for my Sydney to Brisbane drive, earlier in the trip, I was delighted to have maps for my next long drive.

I didn’t want the evening to end, but I need to get an early start and Nikki and Richard need to go to work in the morning. So we parted company with promises to try to get together again someday.

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Filed under Australia, Food, Geography, Travel