New Year’s Eve. Home and Away, 2014.

As I cast a lazy summer’s eye over the year that was 2014, one thing stands out clearly. We travelled a lot. Overseas trips were interspersed with hard work at home, followed by more travel to recover. Mr T and I made an early New Year’s Resolution to travel less in 2015, but I have noticed some overseas bookings creeping into the 2015 calendar: only because the fares are so ridiculously cheap and because we are irresponsible old gypsies at heart.

Our year away begun in January with two weeks spent in West Java and Sumatra. The highlights of this trip included time spent with my old friend Banardi and his partner, Adam in their house in the mountains near Puncak, West Java. Daily cooking lessons were the highlight of this trip as well as spending time with B’s family. Lake Toba, Sumatra was an exotic side trip and an intriguing foray into Batak culture.

B cooks up ma storm in his Indo kitchen
Banardi ,the barefoot chef ,cooks up a storm in his Indo kitchen
Chinese New Year in Jakarta with B's Family.
Chinese New Year in Jakarta with B’s Family.

Thanks Banardi and Adam, but also our big thanks goes to B’s family, especially Baria and family, Tony and Li Li and all B’s extended family, who made our stay so special.

Side trip to Lake Toba, Sumatra. Our xx by the shore,
Side trip to Lake Toba, Sumatra. Our losmen by the shore.
lake Toba
Lake Toba from our terrace.

After returning to Melbourne, we soon set up camp in our family compound by the sea on the Mornington Peninsula. This annual camp is as old as Methuselah and involves four generations of family members. As we travel between homes, our regular home and our ‘canvas’ trailer by the sea, various family members and guardian angels take care of things left behind at either end. Thankyou for watering our garden and looking after our chooks, and thanks to the ‘guardians’ down by the sea.

Family Play time
Family play time
Gloriuos sunsets of Port Phillip Bay
glorious sunsets of Port Phillip Bay

In May we set off for our annual trip to New Zealand. The North Island is still wonderfully clement in May, and as the prices for hiring a motor home plummet to $30 a day, it’s a mere hop, step and jump to fly to Auckland and then on to the glorious bays of the North. The natural scenery in New Zealand is breathtaking. And the local seafood is pretty tasty too. We have decided that NZ is not to be classed as an overseas trip since we share the same sea and a few relatives¬†as well. Thanks Rachael, Andrew and Renato for monitoring things at home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thats
I’m always keen to hunt for shellfish!

On returning from New Zealand, things turned rather cold in Melbourne and it was just as well we had our holiday booked for Thailand, China and Indonesia. After a few days experiencing Bangkok and its Coup, we headed off to China for a few weeks in Yunnan province and then a further two weeks with our wonderful friends, Tia and Carol in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.¬†The food, the glorious days in ancient walled cities: China stole my heart. Thanks Tia and śĚ圆Ϭ†for the wonderful long drive through the countryside of Sichuan, and Carol and husband for the great trips around Chengdu. Also thanks to Richard and Jo Jo for the great day out at the Panda¬†zoo in Chengdu.

Ma Po Dofu
Ma Po Dofu

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Night market food stall in Kunming.
Night market food stall in Kunming.


On the way back from China home, we called into Indonesia again for a month, this time in Pemuteran in the North coast of Bali, an ideal spot to snorkel, dive and relax. This area is not a major tourist destination- unlike some of the other hotspots in Bali. It is restful, shopping free and remote. We also flew over to the island of Flores, followed by a lazy week back in Sanur. Thanks Helen for being such a relaxing and easy-going travel companion and to Rosalie and Ian for your great company and friendship too.

Balinese culture endures, despite the tourist influx.
Balinese culture endures, despite the tourist influx.

We did stay put for six weeks of Melbourne winter and then headed off to the outback, via South Australia, a rather slow meander through lovely countryside. It’s good to be a toursit in your own country.

Baby emus in the Flinders Ranges
Baby emus in the Flinders Ranges

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quick five day trip to the Murray River with family in November, saw the cousins get along in the great outdoors.

A bend in the Murray River
A bend in the Murray River

And in December, our annual trip to my favourite beach, Lake Tyers, in Gippsland provided a fitting finale to the year, along with a side trip to Paynesville and Raymond Island to visit the land of our great grandparents. Thanks Kerrie and Bruce for sharing this trip with us.

A Double rainbow. over the fifty mile beach at Lake Tyers, Gippsland, Australia.
A double rainbow arches over the fifty mile beach at Lake Tyers, Gippsland, Australia.
The iviting h=jetty at Fishermans Landing
The inviting jetty at Fishermans Landing. A good spot for a picnic.

And thank you my dear readers if you got through this rather long and indulgent New Year’s Eve¬†Post. I hope you had a great year too. Best wishes for the next one. Capo¬†d’anno.¬†F xx

Two Postcards from Broken Hill and the Outback.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPostcard from Francesca.                                                                                      

¬†Travelling east from Flinders Ranges in South Australia to Broken Hill in New South Wales involves a long, monotonous drive with few distractions. I love the big outback sky and the low rugged scrub but 469 kilometres of straight road can drive one a little bonkers. I found two things that caught my eye along the way. ¬†This sign amused me. As we waited for the light to change, I envisaged strange scenarios of what might happen if it didn’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The other highlight was the drive towards the small settlement of Cockburn. The idea of having a beer in the Cockburn pub was very appealing, which lead to a lengthy discussion about strange English spelling contractions and how the ‘cock’ part of this name can miraculously blur into ‘co’. Try telling this to the average rooster, or adolescent male.

We arrived in Cockburn only to discover that the pub had chosen to call itself the Coburn pub. Hugely disappointed, we drove on.

The Coburn pub in Cockburn!
The Coburn Hotel in Cockburn!

On entering the outskirts of Broken Hill, we noticed mobs of feral goats grazing along the roadside and nearby bush. ¬†It is interesting to see that in the Flinders Ranges, 100,000 goats have been ‘removed’ over the last 15 years by pastoralists, park rangers and volunteers working together to remove this pest. Perhaps a roundup is needed here too.

This sign, in Flinders Ranges, lits the native bush that feral goats like to eat, and destroy.
This sign, in Flinders Ranges, lists the native bush that feral goats like to eat, and destroy.

Postcard from Mr Tranquillo                                                                          

Arriving in Broken Hill from South Australia is a visual jolt after driving through seemingly endless kilometres of arid country. It was a monumental feat to build a city in such a hostile and dusty environment.

Victorian architecture and mullock heaps.
Victorian architecture and mullock heaps.

Broken Hill has bold Victorian architecture, flamboyantly celebrating its wealthy heyday, like the gold rush-era towns and cities of Victoria. In the back streets, corrugated iron miners’ cottages predicted the modern Australian love for building homes in this material by a century or more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The city celebrates its working and mining history, claiming credit for the introduction of the 35 hour working week in 1920 after a protracted strike, and proudly displays its view of the importance of egalitarianism.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To a casual visitor the landscape around Broken Hill may seem like just another desert vista, in hues of grey blue saltbush, coloured earth, and big skies, flattish, with a smattering of low hills. However, the city and surrounds have inspired artists, with about 25 art galleries in Broken Hill and nearby Silverton, the latter almost a ghost town. Film-makers have been similarly attracted, with Wake in Fright, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Mad Max films as well-known examples.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Broken Hill’s destiny is changing, as a reflection of the winding down of mining. The population has fallen to about 20,000, and numerous old pubs, having lost their miner clientele, have been converted to other uses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Will tourism and the arts sustain Broken Hill?

Silverton is a testament to what can happen when mining becomes uneconomic.
Silverton is a testament to what can happen when mining becomes uneconomic.

 

Art and Beauty in the Australian Outback

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Flinders Ranges enable the visitor to experience beauty on a grand scale, either through walking and hiking trips or driving around the ranges. The day trip to Bunyeroo Track and Gorge, through Brachina Gorge, as well as the Aroona Valley, the latter with a bush camping ground and natural spring, passes through some of the most beautiful outback landscape in this country.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s not easy to capture this beauty, either in words or photos. Travelling through this landscape, I am overawed. ¬†My thoughts race, beyond reason, beyond words. I am a small creature passing through a momentous art installation. ¬†I begin to recall the works of ¬†Hans Heysen, whose art was popularised in print form, commonplace in homes and motels in the 1960s. That tasteless retro era comes flooding back, childhood memories tinged with melancholy, and I see this bush again, I am a part of it, it’s there in my consciousness but I’m not prepared. ¬†The land is dignified, venerable, unspeakably beautiful. I think of the traditional owners of this land, whose love of country is unsurpassable and is inextricably woven into their legends, culture and identity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is about being: experiencing beauty on a grand scale, limitless skies and ancient forms, and letting go of all else. A passing cloud highlights the relief of that distant ridge- chiaroscuro, a stage, a light show. Next minute, it has disappeared, new colours and shapes emerge. Art and theatre.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Do the landscape paintings of your memories influence and enhance your perception of the landscape? Or does the power of landscape simply remind you of the painting? Do older Australians have a pre-disposition towards this beauty, based on learning through art and history?  Would this landscape be so familiar and lovely to the visitor from the northern hemisphere, whose eyes are trained to see younger, greener and moister views?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Outback Camp Kitchen: a New Approach.

Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges
Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

Setting up a base camp in the outback takes organisation and planning. Supplies are available but they are usually extremely expensive and limited to the basics. While Mr Tranquillo takes charge of things like batteries, the fridge, testing solar panels, and setting up good lighting, I like to plan a functional camping kitchen.

Before leaving home, I tend to pack in this way:

  • tall bottles in one box (extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, tomato sauce, passata, good vinegar, other sauces depending on length of stay).
  • dry goods box, includes, jasmine rice, arborio rice, dry falafel mix, plain flour, atta flour, fast cooking oats, lentils, dried coconut milk, couscous etc.
  • cans box includes, tomatoes, chick peas, borlotti beans, baby beetroot, tuna large and small, other canned fish.
  • breakfast basket¬†–¬†muesli, spreads and jam, tea bags, coffee, small long life milk packets, cups, picnic set, bread board, bread well wrapped ( more important for days when travelling)
  • root vegetable bag, includes a big bag of Nicola chats, onions, garlic, ginger, beetroot, sweet potato, ( carrots best in fridge)
  • car fridge includes fresh milk,plain yogurt, tasty cheese, parmesan cheese, fetta, fresh herbs, fresh vegetables,¬†butter or Lurpak. Fish as found on route.
  • the spice box. (more about this below)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Along the way, I begin to rearrange these boxes. Despite our camping rule, to do the major cooking prep in natural light, sometimes this isn’t possible as long walks and day trips demand¬†a later start. So a new method of sorting emerges, one based on ethnicity or cuisine.

The indian bag
The Indian/Middle Eastern bag

An example of this approach can be seen with the Indian cooking bag containing:

  • coconut milk powder
  • red lentils ( masoor dhal)
  • curry leaves
  • atta flour
  • chick pea cans
  • besan flour

The spice box is a permanent feature of the camp kitchen and stays in its own compartment in the kitchen, and is regularly refreshed. In it are spices, dried herbs, salts and black peppercorn, whole chillies and stock cubes.

The spice box
The spice box

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis new approach can be seen in action on the day I decided to make some chapatis on an open fire. I simply grabbed the Indian bag and started the chick pea curry on the gas stove, a simple dish involving four steps:

  1. Finely chop onion, garlic, ginger and gently fry in plain oil (canola) till soft.
  2. Add the following ground spices, coriander, cumin, turmeric, big handful of curry leaves. Stir through for one minute.
  3. Add 1 cup of reconstituted coconut milk plus a little extra water to loosen. Stir then cook for two minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add a can of chick peas, drained and well rinsed.
  5. Let cook slowly while making the chappatis. Taste, add salt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The chappatis are made with atta flour, water and nigella (kalonji) seeds. These were rolled out using an empty Riesling bottle, then cooked quickly on hot wood coal. Asbestos fingers are handy: so are tongs.

Chappatis ready for the fire.
Chappatis ready for the fire.
chappati cooked on open fire, raita, chick pea curry.
Chappatis, raita, and chick pea curry. Please pass the tamarind chutney.

Another Indian treat is a simple potato chat dish. Peel and parboil nicola (yellow fleshed) potatoes. Add Indian spices such as mustard seed, salt, lots of curry leaves, and fry in a little canola oil in a super hot wok over coals. Serve with then a squeeze of lemon if you have one. 

Indian chat, beer snack.
Indian chat, beer snack.

My new organisation also has a wonderful Italian bag -naturally. Basics like cans and sauces stay in the original boxes. 
I am keen to hear from anyone who enjoys packing food supplies for long getaways, especially where there are no shops and electric power is limited.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Abandoned Cottages of the Outback, Sunday Stills.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe history of settlement of the outback, South Australia, particularly around the Flinders Ranges, is intriguing, especially if you have travelled north of Quorn or Hawker and noted the many abandoned stone cottages. ¬†Idealistic farmers, many with German background, hoping to make their fortune in wheat growing, took up large tracts of land in this semi desert area, believing that ‘the rain would follow the plough’.

The basic premise of this theory was that increased human settlement in the region and cultivation of soil would result in an increased rainfall over time, rendering the land more fertile and lush as the population increased. The theory was widely promoted in the 1870s as a justification for settlement in the Great Plains of America and was¬†also used to justify the expansion of wheat¬†growing on marginal land in South Australia during that period.¬Ļ Despite the warnings of ¬†climatologist, George Goyder¬≤ in 1865, farmers continued to believe this fallacy and took up land north of Quorn, near the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

Today we can witness hundreds of ruins and shattered dreams along the highways and small tracks in this area, as recurring droughts eventually drove these settlers away. Their abandoned¬†hand-built stone houses are hauntingly beautiful, set amidst plains of grey-green saltbush, red sandy earth, with a backdrop of purple escarpments and ranges. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Thanks Ed,of Sunday Stills, for this week’s prompt. ¬Ļ.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_follows_the_plow 2.¬†http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goyder%27s_Line http://ashadocs.org/aha/03/03_04_Young.pdf

Outback Cuisine in Orange/Sunday Stills

I am currently surrounded by orange. The rock faces of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia are bathed in orange at different times of the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The road to Brachina Gorge is an orange drive all the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I just cracked a large Kent Pumpkin. As we are camping off the grid and have limited cool storage, orange cuisine is on the agenda. Recipes will follow another time. Camp cooking is never dull. Thanks Ed from Sunday Stills for the suggestion.

Vegetable soup featuring pumpkin and carrot, parsnip, potato and found herbs.
Vegetable soup featuring pumpkin and carrot, parsnip, potato and found herbs.
Fire roasted pumpkin and beetroot salad with fetta and rugola.
Fire roasted pumpkin and beetroot salad with fetta and rugola.
Indian pumpkin fritter mix of grated pumpkin, shallot, besan flour and spices.
Indian pumpkin fritter mix of grated pumpkin, shallot, besan flour and spices.