hey there little insect

There aren’t a lot of good things you can say about extreme cold weather, but the one positive of cold climates is there are fewer insects. In Canada, there were flies, black flies, and mosquitos, plus the occassional other annoyance in summer. In Australia, it never gets cold enough to kill things so there are a lot of different bugs. Flying bugs. Crawling bugs. Spiders. Flies. All varieties.  A common phrase in the house is
“Hey, wanna see the ‘coolest’  ‘most interesting’ ‘freakiest’ (choose one, or two, or all…) bug you’ve ever seen” and often it is cooler or freakier than the one that elicited that statement a couple days earlier. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourite, least favourite, and most interesting ones. Unfortunately, many of these are very transitory and also appear at night, so we don’t have a lot of good photos. Which we know you all really want to see! Some of the photos here are ours, some borrowed…

Beetles: By far the most interesting (well, maybe not, there are some fascinating bugs here) insect around. There are something like 2000 different beetles in Australia all falling under the generic name of Christmas Beetle, because in the two or three weeks leading up to and surrounding Christmas, they are everywhere. Everywhere.

This beetle (borrowed photo) is very much like the common ones around here. He's probably the size of a Canadian nickel.

This beetle (borrowed photo) is very much like the common ones around here. He’s probably the size of a Canadian nickel. They are really fascinating bugs…google Christmas beetle for some interesting facts. Or lmgtfy.

As night falls in Wagga, they wake up and get stupid, flying into lights, walls, people, whatever they can run into. If whatever they hit is hard, they bounce off and land on their back and then squirm around like a turtle for a while, trying to get upright. Dumb bugs. And if what they hit is soft, such as a person, they stick…to your clothes, hair, whatever. Lisa finds them annoying, partly because of how many there are – they chase us indoors in the evening, because on our little patio there could be upwards of 100 at a time, buzzing, bouncing, sticking… They sometimes would get into the house, if we had the patio door open or they could squeeze in other ways, and this thrilled Lester to no end. Mmmm, crunchy snacks!  Usually, these beetles only come out at night, but there are odd occasions when you will see them in the day – such as when we were down in King Valley for New Years and cycling one day around noon on the rail trail. They were out in abundance that day, huge ones too, bouncing off of us. It was like a game of frogger except with bugs and bikes.

This mantis came for lunch one day, enjoying our poinsettia as we dined on the patio. It may or may not be the same one that has been hanging around for the past 8-10 weeks...no idea of their lifespan.

This mantis came for lunch one day, enjoying our sole xmas decoration (thanks Joy) as we dined on the patio. It may or may not be the same one that has been hanging around for the past 8-10 weeks…no idea of their lifespan.

Jumping/flying bugs: We’re going to lump grasshoppers, mantids and crickets together. No reason really except sometimes grasshoppers and crickets look and act the same, and we’ve also been confusing our grasshoppers with mantises recently. We usually have a mantis of some sort hanging around the house. Usually literally hanging on…they like to be on the walls and windows. They are a lot bigger than the ones we were used to in Canada.

Thanks to this borrowed image, you get to see a brown matchstick on green grass. We could have just posted a photo of our brown grass or brown mulch and made you play Where's Waldo with the grasshopper.

Thanks to this borrowed image, you get to see a brown matchstick on green grass. We could have just posted a photo of our brown grass or brown mulch and let you play Where’s Waldo with the grasshopper. We do have green ones too, but not a lot of green grass right now.

At times, we have also thought that some of them – usually the brown ones  – might be stickbugs but are pretty sure they are just some sort of mantis. Then this year we’ve had a lot of matchstick grasshoppers, cool skinny stick-like bugs that are almost impossible to see until they move.  The green ones look like a blade of grass; brown ones blend in perfectly with the sugarcane straw mulch we have on some of the garden beds. Even when you see them go, you might see them land but not be able to find them.  Then there are the crickets. Big black field crickets, all over the place. They are in the garden, on the patio, in the garage…occasionally one gets into the house for Lester to play with. They aren’t a worry at all, and really no reason to write about them except to point out that they are huge. And they seem to have a short lifespan, and end up dying on the patio and front steps, where they get devoured by ants.

A blurry photo of ants eating a cricket! or a beetle...too blurry to tell, and too covered in ants to tell. Luckily these ants don't like the taste of human flesh. Or haven't needed it yet.

A blurry photo of ants eating a cricket! or a beetle…too blurry to tell, and too covered in ants to tell. Luckily these ants don’t like the taste of human flesh. Or haven’t needed it yet.

Ants: Everywhere. Tiny black ants, always seeming to be going somewhere in a long line, back and forth. And something we have learned about ants since moving here is that they are carnivores – at least these ones. Crickets, spiders, beetles, etc., when they die, quite quickly get devoured by a bunch of ants. Some days, it seems that there are endless trails of ants, scurrying about doing their ant business, back and forth on a very determined path. One day, it got a bit much…their paths were going over our feet on the patio! So Dan went to Bunnings for some ant spray and sprayed the patio. Well the ants are too smart for that: next few days, ants all over the table and chairs. Luckily the spray didn’t work to well and they are now back on the ground where they belong, keeping the other dead critters cleaned up.

This is a trio of mud dauber nest on the side of our house, in a window behind the barbecue. The top one recently hatched; the bottom two are still feeding, waiting to emerge.

This is a trio of mud dauber nest on the side of our house, in a window behind the barbecue. The top one recently hatched; the bottom two are still feeding, waiting to emerge.

Wasps and bees: There are some really cool wasps in Wagga: mud daubers and potters. Mud daubers are the most common, and they build little tube-shaped ‘nests’ or ‘cells’ out of mud on the brick of our house. They then sting a spider to paralyze it, put it in the nest and lay an egg on it, then seal off the cell. The baby feeds off the spider, then eventually emerges from the cell. Potters wasps are similar but the things they build are bigger and more like a dome. We haven’t seen many of these.

And then there are the many varieties of bees that hang out in the herb bed, harvesting pollen. They aren’t honey bees, as in a commercial colony nearby harvesting. And they aren’t all the same…some are really odd – that “hey you wanna see a cool bug” call-out one day was because the basil plants were infested with bees with purple spots on their backs. WTF?

A bee gathering pollen on a mint flower. We didn't even know that mint flowered...but like bugs, herbs also thrive in this climate.

A bee gathering pollen on a mint flower. We didn’t even know that mint flowered…but like bugs, herbs also thrive in this climate.

Anyway, there’s always a lot of bees playing around in whatever flowers, and they don’t seem at all dangerous.
We have some cool flowering ground cover in our garden, and there’s usually hundreds of bees swarming on it…Dan walks across it to get the newspaper (we think the delivery guy tosses it there as a challenge), or Dan sticks his hand into whatever bunch of herbs to harvest some. Notice we say Dan does…Lisa isn’t that dumb. But though these aren’t honey bees as such, we are really curious to know what happens with the pollen they gather – what would honey taste like made from a combination of mint, basil, and fennel flowers?

So that’s a bit of a quickie rundown on the bugs around Wagga.  A few of them anyway…we didn’t mention that potato bugs, the thrips, the week of little tiny flies that made us break down and by a bug zapper (that we were worried was going to blow from overuse on its first night), the cool ones with an X on their back (at some point the “hey, you wanna see the…” call will get answered with “that’s not as freaky/cool as the one with an X on its back”) or the various orange and black things flying around (not sure why, but those seem to be common colours…maybe there’s a footy team that most Wagga bugs follow), or the spiders. Because spiders aren’t insects…but we could tell you stories about how they’ve reacted to the heat…a fence covered in big black spiders, redbacks in the house (!!!!!!!), huntsman in the house (!). But those are tales for another day.

This can't be good. All three cats hanging out together by the door (i.e. a place that isn't sealed - remember, not a lot of weather-stripping in Oz) probably means something got in. Get the bug spray and a tissue...

This can’t be good. All three cats hanging out together by the door (i.e. a place that isn’t sealed – remember, not a lot of weather-stripping in Oz) probably means something got in. Get the bug spray and a tissue…

Posted in Australia, beetles, bugs, insects, Uncategorized, wasps | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Satellite of Love

Some of you have been wondering where we (waggadventure) have been for the last couple of months, so we’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. We’re sorry to be so quiet, but in June of last year we moved house. We thought we were moving to a new suburb in Wagga; apparently, we relocated to the outback of Australia… that dry, red desert of no internet connections! Yes, you read that right. We have been without reliable internet access for more than 6 months. Now, the important thing to remember here is that we live in a town of 65,000+ plus. We are not in the outback. In fact, service in the outback is probably pretty good — better than pockets of Sydney, Melbourne and Wagga, certainly. So, let us tell you about this longstanding adventure of the past few months.

This is a picture of our new house! We live in the middle of the outback with nothing but dust all around. Apparently...

This is a picture of our new house! We live in the middle of the outback with nothing but dust all around. Apparently…

Once the initial shock wore off, Lisa went into overdrive problem-solving mode. Our house is brand-spanking new, completed and put on the market by the builder in November 2011 and we moved in mid-June 2012. It’s all very modern and energy efficient, so we have solar panels on the roof, modern air conditioning and a contemporary open-concept kitchen/living design.  This is a new development, but the suburb got its start about 10 years ago. We have neighbours; new houses are still being built.  We are not in the middle of an empty paddock of sheep, but it sure feels that way.

In our last (rented) house, we had unlimited high-speed ADSL. We could download movies, Skype with friends, email at all hours of the day…you know, normal behaviour for many people. And essential behaviour for people like us, who work in internet-intensive industries. Lisa quite often major grant reviews using an online reviewing system and with a very tight deadline; not having the internet isn’t only restricting access to cute cat videos, it’s putting a major crimp into our working lives. Here’s why we’re in this mess…

We've been denied access to funny cat memes. The horror! The horror!

We’ve been denied access to funny cat memes. The horror! The horror!

Our house is on a system called “pair gains” (sadly, we’ve learned more insider language from the telcos than we ever wanted to know!). Basically, the developer didn’t run enough lines into the neighbourhood, so our house shares one line with the house next door, split in half to provide “service” (can they really call it that??) to both homes. These half-lines can only handle one service – i.e., a home phone. Now, we could really care less about having a home phone. We both have mobile (smart) phones and Dan doesn’t even know the number for our home phone. We have one, so that we can benefit from cheaper long distance to call back to Canada, but that’s not an essential service. So, when we first called Telstra to transfer our home phone/internet package, we were informed that we were SOL (shit-outta-luck) and could only have a phone. Here’s how the conversation went:

Lisa  (L): Wait…we don’t need a phone at all! We want to use our half of the line for internet.

Telstra (T): Nope.

L: Well, can you run another line… since, you know, it’s the 21st century and since, you know, there are a ton of new houses being built and we’re all going to need internet?

T: Nope. That’s too expensive. And since the government is bringing in the National Broadband Network (NBN) to hook up all households to the grid, we have no interest in paying for new lines.

L: Can we pay to have a line trenched into our house? Not sure what that might cost… but we’ll consider paying for that. We’ve been advised by the NBN that it’s a multi-year process and may take anywhere from 2 months to 7 years (!) to get to us.

T: Nope.

L: So, what can we do.

T: Move (laughs… Lisa’s blood pressure rises and Dan thinks he can see smoke coming out of her ears while her eyes turn a deep, blood red). No, seriously, we have mobile broadband, so you can flip over to that.

Much banging of head ensued...

Much banging of head ensued…

L: Well, no… that doesn’t work. Because not only am I living in the internet outback but my mobile service is really crappy too. Mobile broadband works off towers and there aren’t enough of those. After 7am (you know, when everyone’s awake) the system cuts out and may not come back until after midnight. So mobile broadband doesn’t work for us.

T: Well, according to our online service map there is great coverage in your neighbourhood. So you have to flip to our mobile system and continue with your contract; if you choose to break the contract you’ll have to pay $800 in fees. And that’s only if we allow you to break your contract. [Dan notices that Lisa’s starting to pace, voice rising, red eyes getting more intense…]

Another 30 minutes of arguing; supervisor gets involved; Lisa walks away having been released from the contract with no fee, but vowing never to sign on for Telstra internet if/when she gets on the grid; agrees to keep basic home phone to allow for long distance calls to family.

We start to wonder – who’s to blame in this situation? Telstra, for being so unhelpful and cheap? The developer, for being so cheap? Wagga Council for not treating internet services the same as other core utilities and demanding appropriate infrastructure? So many people have said to us… ‘But, you have water, right? You have electricity? How can you not have internet??’ Think about your own home… if you’re reading this, you have internet (duh!). You might be on your smart phone or on your home computer. We’re not. This is being written in a hotel lobby using their free — unlimited! — internet.

Dan was fully prepared to dig his own trench.

Dan was fully prepared to dig his own trench.

Once the blame game ends, Lisa gets back to business. Okay – Telstra’s not the only game in town, right? There’s Optus, iinet, TransACT… there are a ton of companies out there. Yeah, well, guess what? The telco monopoly is alive and well because they all rely on Telstra’s infrastructure,  piggy-backing on lines that are already there. Some of them talk about other possible systems… but none of them are available in our neighbourhood. We even investigated ‘naked internet’ (not what you think… this doesn’t mean that Dan stands on the roof naked with his smartphone, hoping for a signal); this would allow you to use the existing line for internet instead of phone (i.e., a ‘naked’ line, stripped of its home phone). Yeah, well… Telstra stopped offering that a couple of years ago. Probably wasn’t profitable or something…other companies say they offer it, but not on this kind of line.

After contacting every company that services NSW and the ACT, Lisa hangs her head in defeat… and waggadventure goes silent. All internet access is devoted to work, just to be able to keep up with things. Funny cat videos go unwatched; the family back in Canada will miss seeing us on Skype on Christmas Day. Finally, Lisa loses it… 20 December, just when Australia is winding down for the holiday break, she sends an email complaint to the NBN and to our local political representative. She mentions moving to Wagga from Canada, where even the polar bears have internet. She mentions her internet-intensive work and how this all makes Wagga/Australia look like a 19th century backwater (but using nicer language).

If Sam Neill doesn't come and build one of these in our back yard, we're moving to Parkes.

If Sam Neill doesn’t come and build one of these in our back yard, we’re moving to Parkes.

The very next day (who’s even working on the 21 December?) she receives a message from the NBN. They’ve investigated their files on our neighbourhood and determined that we won’t see internet here until at least 2015. However, based on the info provided (including her attempts to resolve with various telcos) they believe that we qualify for Interim Satellite Service (ISS) and we can call if we want more details. Lisa does this, immediately, and works through their eligibility interview. And yes, indeed… just like people living in the real outback, we qualify for ISS. What this means is that the government will pay for the installation of a satellite dish on our roof and the electronics to go with it, and we will just have to pay for regular internet fees, like every other person on the planet! This is an ‘interim’ service, so will be in effect until we can flip over to a regular NBN service.

Installation is planned for this week… so, with luck, we’ll be back on the grid and surfing the web very soon. Lolcats, here we come!

Dan’s addendum: I’m posting this over our new internet connection! Dish was installed this afternoon…dish isn’t quite as big as the one used to track the moon landing, but it dwarfs the television dish that is also on the roof.

Posted in internet, Moving, national broadband network, outback, rural life, satellite | 1 Comment

hot hot hot

OK, so it’s been a bit too long since we posted anything. At the time of last writing, Lisa was in Canada and Dan had been left behind to keep blogging. And now, she’s back in North America for a few weeks and Dan will be blogging again. Hmmm, seems like the failure to keep it updated when she is in Australia must then be hers!  And so this blog will be in first person again, with me/I being Dan.

This was before it got hot that afternoon...

This was before it got hot that afternoon…

So, what has happened in the 10 weeks since last post? Let’s see, we’ve learned a bit about heat. On Saturday, 5 January, 2013, we lived through the hottest day we’ve ever encountered when the temperature in Wagga hit 43.5 C. It was, barely, bearable. Thankfully we have refrigerated air con – we spent most of the day indoors. But wait, there’s more: Friday, 18 January was even hotter, topping out at 44.1. Not that it was noticeable – at that point, a half a degree makes little difference! But the opposite effect is that when it starts to cool off in the evening it becomes very noticeable, with Lisa running for a jumper when it got down around 25!

We also, in mid-December, learned that blinds are very expensive in Wagga.  We bought some new ones, better ones to replace the useless verticals that were here when we moved in, for the east facing windows. The purpose was originally to cut the morning light so we could sleep in, but now we’ve also realized how much heat they keep out. Those are the only windows that get a lot of direct sun, but we’ll do the rest of the house eventually. Without them, the air con would probably have been working even harder to keep us cool. Covering five windows cost us more than to do the entire house in Edmonton…but that’s Australia.

There is absolutely no point to this picture of a reindeer cakepop that my dentist gave me after a pre-christmas visit.

There is absolutely no point to this picture of a reindeer cakepop that my dentist gave me after a pre-christmas visit. It just happened to be one of the more interesting photos on my phone (that I couldn’t foresee needing later).

And how cool does it make the house on those hot days? Well, when it was 43 outside, we could get it down to a comfortable 23 or so indoors. Remember, as we wrote about in the winter, this heating system doesn’t really have a proper control, so we just turn it on and let it run. We’ve learned to use the timer to shut it off at night, otherwise we wake up in a 17 degree house.

Had a couple of visitors during the early January heatwave too. Nephew George and his partner Sarah are living in Australia on work tourism visas, traveling around working as much as they can (up to that time, picking fruit). Unfortunately most of the continent shuts down late December/early January so they had a bit of spare time to hang with us before moving on. Which seems odd because fruit and veggies are thriving at that time of year.

OK, so they might not look perfect but there's nothing tastier than tomatoes that actually ripen on the vine!

OK, so they might not look perfect but there’s nothing tastier than tomatoes that actually ripen on the vine!

Which leads me to a follow-up of a previous post about our garden. Still hate it…grass is pretty brown despite regular watering. But our tomatoes (I say tom-ay-toh, Aussies say to-maa-toe…) have done incredibly well. Initially we planted 8 plants, 2 got frosted and replaced…the result: 6 tomato trees that bore amazing fruit, one that didn’t do much of anything and one that produced fruit that rotted as fast as it ripened. Problem is, we didn’t keep track of which variety any were, so next year will be just as experimental as this season was.  And when I say ‘amazing fruit’, well, we’ve eaten home-grown tomatoes every meal for the past 6 weeks, and still have a couple weeks left. Last night I trimmed back some deadwood and got rid of the useless plants to make it easier to water. We’ve had luck with both cherry and full-sized tomatoes, some yellow, some almost black (intentionally).  They pretty much took over the little beds we have. And people often comment that we were lucky not to have fruit flies…just luck I guess. Nestled among the tomatoes were some salad greens that don’t do well at these temps, an apple cucumber vine (tasty, but a bit tough-skinned…still producing) and a sunshine squash plant that did really well. And we’ve got lemons and limes bigger than golf balls! COOL!!!!!!!!!

What else have we not told you? Well, with the heat comes things like fire and insects. Neither endangered us this year, but both can be a bit annoying. One of us will elaborate on that. And Lisa promises to write a post about the importance of satellites to regional Australia. I will write one soon about fast twitch versus slow twitch muscles and cadence versus power and how those affect speed and endurance.  And we’ll entertain you with stories of christmas beetles and really cool grasshoppers. Stay tuned; I promise it won’t take another 10 weeks (I’m sure you are all dying to know about slow twitch muscles!)

Following up on the last entry, I also have to say my prediction about Courtney Barnett doing well is spot on – she has become the most common search term sending people to our blog, overtaking ‘Bobs Birds and Pets.’  So hey, to direct more traffic to the blog, I’ll tell you about more music: just bought a compilation called Nuggets: Antipodean Interpretations of the First Psychedelic Era. Long story short, it is bunch of Aussie bands covering tunes from the original Nuggets compilation and while all of it is good, some of it is spectacular! I’ve only heard 3 of the 18 bands before (even own a disc by one of them, Pond…) so it is great to be exposed to some new artists. And by new, I mean that for many of them it is their first recording.  But I’m now looking forward to hearing more from, in particular, Pearls, Step-Panther, and Baptism of Uzi (who contributed an amazingly quirky krautrock meets blues instrumental of Baby Please Don’t Go).

And not that anyone cares I did manage to track down the Gareth Liddiard album I mentioned in last post. Ummm, hard to describe…glad I’ve heard it, but it is more political/socially conscious than the Drones albums…but it is in no way easy listening…interesting and good, but in a way that makes you just a bit (lot?) uncomfortable….

Posted in fruit, gardening, weather | Leave a comment

In the taxi home, I’ll sing you a Triffids’ song

We have a huge backlog of posts that are started and not finished, or thought about but never even started.  This is one that has been in the works for about 15 months; the origins of it are from before out ship came in and we had no television and no CDs. Our home entertainment was an iPod with a radio tuner. We listened to a lot of TripleJ radio. So we decided we should write about Australian music. We knew nothing about it really, but started a post about what we were hearing (too much Gotye!). Now, much later, it is Australian Music Month and time to resurrect this post.  Stuff in italics is from then…normal font is current… and FYI, this is mostly a Dan post (and those who know us know that Lisa hates a lot of what Dan listens to, so take all recommendations with that in mind) so switching to me/I, not us/we for much of it.

Australia is a long way from Canada, but with the internet and other forms of mass communication, you would think that Canadians would have heard a lot of Australian music. Not so, it seems.

Yes, there are the big names. It was pretty hard to avoid AC/DC, for example (Dan grew up with Back in Black and Highway to Hell). Crowded House were huge worldwide (though not as good as the Finn brothers earlier band, Split Enz, and actually from New Zealand). Midnight Oil were big for a while (lead singer is now in Parliament!). That Keith Urban guy is huge in country music, though we don’t think either of us have actually heard him (Kasey Chambers is an Aussie country musician Dan likes). And of course there is Nick Cave, the god of Aussie rock. And there are some other bands that Dan know, such as Saints, Hunters and Collectors, Hoodoo Gurus… So Australian music has made a bit of a mark in Canada. But not much.

But there’s some great unknown music down here, and every day we listen to the radio we marvel at how much of it there is, how good it is, and wonder why we don’t know more about it. Granted, we aren’t the most knowledgeable people about current music, but still, we didn’t live in a cave in Edmonton. We know some new music from around the world, but not much about the music from here.

Thanks to a really good national broadcasting system, that is changing. ABC is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is something like CBC but good.

And that’s where it ended off last August. How do we feel now, more than a year later? Well, TripleJ gets a bit annoying in that it plays a lot of, well, music that is meant to appeal to everyone. It is quite mainstream, and very retro 80s synthy. And it says it is a youth-oriented station, but if youth really listen to music this safe and boring…well, then there isn’t a lot of hope!  And they have a tendency to rave about how fantastic bands are who are 1) quite mediocre and 2) completely unknown. “Their long awaited debut” is a common phrase – long awaited by who? The band?  Anyway, we won’t name all the Australian bands/musicians think are way way over-rated and over-hyped, but instead will talk about a few that we’ve discovered who are very good and, for the most part, not hear much (at least on jjj).

First off, Magic Dirt. Evolved from a noisy, grungy, lo-fi to a slightly more mainstream but still hard edged band. Right along the lines of what I like, a little bit punky a little bit droney and a lot of good. After the death of one of the founding members, their singer Adalita Srsen made a solo album that was very different, mostly just her and a guitar and a lot of effects and more ‘sensitive’ lyrics. Hearing her on TripleJ led to the earlier band. Like them a lot,  both the band and Adalita solo.  Here’s one of her own songs, Perfection,  but the real gem is an amazing Madonna cover, the first thing I heard on the TripleJ ‘like a version’ that happens every Friday morning. It can be heard here – Burning Up starts about 13 minutes in, her own The Repairer is at about 3 1/2 minutes, the rest is interview. And a whole bunch of Magic Dirt here.

The Triffids. How the hell did I not know about them before. I probably had heard them decades ago but forgot them. Still haven’t heard a lot of them, but what I have heard is great. They were around in the 1980s, playing what now seems like some odd post-punk roots hybrid. I don’t really know what more to say…there is something about it that makes it sound like Australia – big, stark, hard to understand, but wonderful.  Because of the era, there isn’t a lot available on youtube, but videos are available here and here, and the audio of two of my favorite songs are here and here.

Drones. I recently compared them to Tom Waits…and the person I told that bought one of their albums based on that. I should have elaborated that they don’t sound like him, but there seems to be some drunken earthy down-trodden thing that has the same vibe, but if Crazy Horse was backing him up.  I love this band!  Rock and roll by people who don’t give a fuck about about trends or sales or what anyone thinks about it, just making music because its in their blood. There is some video available but here’s just audio of my favorite song, Shark Fin Blues.  Good video of the band here and here. And I have to get around to buying the solo album by their main writer/singer Gareth Liddiard. It was recorded in a shed not too far from Wagga (well a couple hundred km) with an acoustic guitar and a lot of whisky. What I have heard sounds quite good.

Courtney Barnett. OK, so the others have been a bit more well known (or established) but  just recently discovered this young singer/songwriter/guitarist from Melbourne. She’s been getting a bit of play on jjj, first with a quirky but endearing reverby slightly twangy Liz Phair meets Dandy Warhols meets shoegazer Lance Jr. So far she’s released a total of 7 songs, but I think she’s got a lot of potential.  And there’s this odd thing…most musicians, I can’t tell where they are from. But I can actually here the Australian accent, especially near the end of her new single History Eraser (which ends with the lyrics that gave name to this post…which seemed quite fitting).

And while searching for material for this blog I found this gem: Adalita Srsen and Gareth Liddiard from the Drones doing a Saints song! Skip past the first 3 1/2 minutes of bad television for some great Aussie music.

Posted in adalita, Australia, courtney barnett, drones, magic dirt, music, triffids, triple j | 2 Comments

the yard is nothing but a fence

With Lisa away, I need to fill some blogging space so I thought I would complain about our garden.  As I suffer through the horrible sunny high 20s/low 30s weather, she gets to enjoy the last throes of ‘superstorm’ Sandy bringing wet and snow and cold to the eastern half of North America.

Oops, sorry, I guess that I should have said that the other way around: as I cycle, garden, and dine on the patio in the Wagga spring that is more pleasant than an Edmonton summer, she suffers through an unseasonably cold Ontario autumn.  But look at it this way, it is probably more pleasant than your next trip there in January will be (when I hopefully get to see Elvis Costello play on a summery winery lawn…).

I wasn’t gardening at night, just out taking horrible photos with my phone. This kangaroo paw, that lived in a pot at our old house, is thriving now that it is in the ground.

So anyway, back to the point, as I sat on the back patio this evening, enjoying the weather, looking out at our garden (yard in North American terminology…though I prefer this quaint British term), I realised how much I hate it (the garden, not the weather). Well, not hate, just am ‘not satisfied’ with it. Unfortunately the landscaping basics were done before we bought the house, maybe even a notch beyond the basics…there is a good structure with nice rockery. But there is a whole lot of really horrible grass that needs to go.  At times, given our lifestyle, I think it would have been better to move into a completely blank dirt-coloured canvas (as we did in our house in Edmonton) because that would have given us inspiration to do something quickly. There, we created a really nice space because otherwise it meant living with mud. Here, with the basics already done, it is livable so there is less incentive to replace (very) boring and (very) ugly, but (barely) functional space when we could be paying off the mortgage instead (note to property developers: not all of your potential customers have children, so when you build spec homes, think about people like us – high income, no children professionals who don’t need room for a jumpy castle or a pool).  Because what we have is pretty dismal and needs work.

This Australian white iris is the kind of thing we want more of. They require almost no work.

Yes, we’ve done a few makeshift things already, like plant some citrus trees that we are already endeared to and will need to work into any plan we come up with. And our little veggie gardens that are thriving. But for the most part, our not having put our own stamp on the garden has been constrained by three things:

  • money – yes, we could afford to do it, but…well, if there seems to be an inexpensive solution, why not try that first…even if it turns out to be a waste of both money and…
  • time – not time in that we don’t have time to work on it, but more that in the time we have been here we don’t know what we can do, what grows, what we want, etc.
  • knowledge – we have no idea how to garden here. We learned a bit in the rental house but not much. And that soil was very different, and the sun was different, and…we don’t have a clue what we want to do.

Too bad we can’t find a turkey to stuff, because sage grows well in our little herb garden. As does coriander, dill, thyme…

What we do know we have a large block (lot in North America…and large by North American city standards, here…not so much) of grass that we don’t need or want. We could play cricket on it if it were flat and level. But we know nothing about cricket, so what we want is a low maintenance, low water, native garden.  Things that flower. Things that look nice. Things that attracts birds. And some veggies…not necessarily native, because we don’t know what that might entail, but a good size salad garden that we can enjoy in the warm months. Sort of like what we had in Edmonton, except here things will actually have time to grow. There we planted things and watched try to grow before they froze. Here, They will thrive.

The strawberry plants don’t do well where I put them, but there is hope yet!

And though not every meal since Lisa has involved a salad from the greens we planted, most have. Or if not, made good use of the herb garden (Note to Lisa: you aren’t going to recognize it when you get home…you might not even be able to see over the cilantro trees. And I think I have finally got the basil problem solved…). Our tomatoes are doing well, I ate a blueberry off our little bushes, and there are squash that will be ready to eat soon.

So yeah, gardening in Australia, in case you haven’t figured it out, is different from gardening in Canada (haven’t mentioned the citrus trees, have I?). Just have to figure out how to do it properly, with less grass and more flowers and food.

* for those wondering about the blog title: I have a habit, both here and in Edmonton, of ending up in the yard cutting the grass, weeding, taking low-light photos, etc, after the sun goes down. And every time that happens, my mind turns to one of the greatest ‘rockeries’ of all time:


Posted in citrus, Edmonton, gardening, house, strawberries, wagga, weather | Leave a comment

Profapalooza: Hurricane Edition

Okay, so I (Lisa) know that I promised that part 2 of Profapalooza would be a continuation of my national Australian tour, but I had to take a side-trip before publishing that post… just a little side-trip, into the heart of a hurricane in the North-Eastern US. Yes, I’m here in Baltimore at the ASIST 2012 conference; what a great way to celebrate the Association’s 75th birthday! Apparently there will be a cake tonight; and judging by the number of people who have left, I’ll be able to have plenty of slices.

Here’s one of the pics from space showing the hurricane (on the right) and the cold front (on the left). The two forces will combine to create a “superstorm.” Where’s Baltimore? Somewhere in the middle of it all.

I’m now sitting in the lobby of the Baltimore Hilton, waiting patiently for Hurricane Sandy to come ashore. The trees are starting to sway, and only a moderately heavy rain at the moment. My prediction that the storm would ensure a captive audience for my conference talk materialized somewhat — we had 60+ people for our panel yesterday and a large crowd for my Sig-USE keynote, too. But many people have cancelled their trips here entirely (at last count, 80 didn’t show for registration) or they arrived in Baltimore and left again, almost immediately. A few people hopped back on planes while others booked vans to make the long journey home. Of course, when you’ve traveled here from Sweden, the UK, Australia, and even parts of Canada, driving is not really an option. And now that Monday is here (the big day when the hurricane is expected to make landfall) driving is REALLY not an option. Same for flights or trains (airports, etc. are now closed). So, here I sit. The hotel staff are calm and collected. There are no sandbags, no evacuation order; we have lots of food and the hotel bar is fully stocked. The conference receptions are overflowing with food, since so many people have left. The hallways are quiet. There are fewer staff here than expected, since the buses and light rail transit are cancelled; but the staff that are here are wonderful – friendly and helpful, with a good sense of humour.

Good to see that some people have kept a sense of humour through all this…

I’ve only been in a hurricane once before, when I was about 9 (I think) on a family trip to Florida. I remember sitting in a Denny’s (or something) somewhere on the East Coast and watching the waitress close the curtains while the sky darkened. Seemed odd at the time (and when I tried to peek outside, the waitress gave me hell); like, if you don’t see the storm, it isn’t there? I don’t think that’s gonna work this time around. Like most new hotels (and this one was only built 3 years ago) there are windows, everywhere. There are no curtains (except in my room, of course; so I can always hide under the covers if things get really bad). Now, that may worry some people; what if the windows blow in? Well, we’re not expecting that the winds will be that bad. The hotel is surrounded by others and a few streets away from the water. People who know this area expect that the surrounding suburbs will be hit with the storm surge (typically the biggest cause of damage and loss of life in hurricanes) and possible power outages (due to downed power lines; 400 homes lost power last night but all were back on this morning). Happily, there are no power lines at the hotel; everything is underground. And, the hotel has a generator. So I should be able to blog to my heart’s content.

And what I learned during that first hurricane (as a nervous touristy kid from Canada, wondering why none of the locals were freaking out) was that the locals often know how to respond to these things. You don’t do anything stupid; if you’re told to leave, you leave; if you’re told to take precautions, you take them. And if things look reasonably sane, you close the curtains and get on with your day. We all remember the devastation of Katrina, but that doesn’t mean that we should panic. The key thing is to be aware, follow directions and stay calm. And that’s what I’m gonna do for the next few days. So, expect some photo updates as the storm moves ahead.

One of the many creative uses of Photoshop to represent the storm. Did I mention that Halloween is my favourite time of year? Maybe this is why they don’t celebrate it in Australia…

Of course, what’s scarier at this point is watching and reading the news coverage. And I’m sure that many of you, reading this from your homes around the world, will be worried by what you see. The US news media is doing its finest work with this one! I woke to a “Halloween Superstorm Special Report” on the local news, where I watched news reporters standing in the water off the coast (stupid!) and talking all sorts of doom. Now, there’s no doubt that this will be a wicked storm; there will be damage and some people have indeed been killed in Haiti and the Carribbean. The problem is that it’s too early to tell what will happen here next, particularly inland. I’m expecting that things will be shut down for days, that streets will be flooded, and that most of the damage/outages will be in the outlying areas. But, for now, I’m trusting in the local expertise of people who live here and have seen storms like this in the past, as well as the professionalism of the hotel staff. Just now there is a woman cleaning the turnstile at the entrance nearest me, where people’s wet shoes have caused a mess when they have come into the hotel. If they start putting sandbags at the door or suggesting that I move from my 15th floor hotel room to a lower floor (since a power outage would mean no water at higher elevations) or say that I need to move quickly to an inner conference room, away from the windows, I may get worried. I may stockpile rations from the conference tables, I may fill my bathtub to ensure a good supply of water…

The view from my hotel room at 9am this morning. Since then, a bit of rain and wind, but nothing too dramatic yet.

But for now, I’ll just continue to enjoy the conference sessions, hang out with my close friends and colleagues, and watch the wind blow.

Posted in Conferences, floods, Hilton Baltimore, homesickness, Hurricane Sandy, weather | Leave a comment


Ernest Hemingway, according to our tour guide when we visited Cuba in the late ‘90s, spent a lot of time sitting in a tiny bar in Havana knocking back mojitos at an unhealthy pace.  It seems he also rode a bicycle once in a while; maybe that’s how he got to the bar. I know he rode a bicycle because I occasionally see a quote (posted on Facebook pages like the Murray to Mountains cycling page), attributed to him: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”

And you know what? The old drunkard was spot on!

With Lisa away, I’ve been able to do something good for the frail Australian environment and leave the car in the garage most days.  Yes, I often ride when she is here, but she still drives (likes to look good and smell nice at work, silly girl), so the car is still making that 16 km trip traverse from the southern to northern extremes of Wagga.

But what Hemingway didn’t elaborate on was that you not only get the contours of the country, but the sights, sounds and smells. It is on a bicycle that you really get to know where you live, and the more you do a ride, the more precisely you get to know those characteristics. So now, because I need something to write about and the most interesting thing I have done this week is ride my bike to work (not as pathetic as it sounds!), here’s a bit of a description of the ride from Hilltops to the CSU Wagga campus that people in a car or bus can’t experience. I won’t get as detailed as I could – I know every pot hole and magpie on the route – but just an overview of my commute.

Nothing too eventful here, just some roos and friarbirds. Will be nicer when it isn’t unseasonably cold in the mornings.

Leaving home is pretty much a standard suburban ride…unless you are a Canadian living in Australia and kangaroos make you giddy! Because this morning, and many mornings, there are kangaroos on our street.  What a great way to start a day! The first two kilometres have a few undulating hills, but mostly they undulate down, so it is a quick ride into an older treed neighbourhood that is full of birds. Yes, some of them are magpies (grrr!) but there are also always flocks of parrots and honeyeaters and cockatoos that make me smile. Hemingway’s ‘sweaty part’ comes at about 4 km, a bit of a hill up Bourke Street toward Fernleigh Road (details of interest to those who know Wagga), and the more I ride it the stronger my legs so it is becoming noticeable.

The most worst part of the ride, the only one that is even slightly worrisome (and only slightly). But at least if I get hit here I am near a hospital.

Back down it though…well, unlike Hemingway, I don’t coast. This is an opportunity to fly, and I usually get up over 50 km/h over the next 2 km (Fernleigh to Edward). This is a bit of a scary section though, because the street is very (VERY!) bumpy and there is a lot of traffic. And stupid things like roundabouts and train tracks and a hospital that generates a lot of traffic… I like to be through this area by 7:30 before it gets busy.

After that, a pleasant jaunt through central Wagga, old neighbourhoods with wide (flowering) tree-lined streets lined with nice houses with beautiful gardens full of birds. A place to go fast, but also to enjoy the surroundings.

As much as I like this area for its flatness, one day a couple weeks ago I was riding with someone and we were discussing how much we both hate it! Partly because you feel like you are getting nowhere, and partly because you know what is coming next.

Next up, North Wagga. People who know the area or were reading the blog last February and March will know that North Wagga is a flood plain. That, in bicycle terms, is a good thing: flat!  Yes, there is a stretch where you just don’t seem to be getting anywhere because the only landmarks are cows, but overall it is a great ride, and a nature lover’s paradise. In the 8 or 9 minutes it takes to ride though N Wagga, there will be an assortment of ducks, a variety of parrots, some egrets, herons, kites, kestrels, kookaburras…maybe even some pelicans! And cows, sheep, horses…things that make a ride pleasant. And magpies, though swooping season might be over.

Not only a hill, but this area has killer magpies! But pretty nice way to start the ride home.

After this flat, however, comes the final climb to work.  The last couple of kilometres to campus it isn’t a steep climb, not one you would actually notice in a car (well, maybe that first hill coming up to Boorooma Street…) but the worst gradients are the ones you don’t see! A short steep hill, no worries! A long slow one wears you down.  If this was early in the ride, it wouldn’t be so bad, but after just pushing myself to the limit for 30 minutes, the last bit is a killer! Recently, I’ve done some of the group rides, such as NSW bike day and Australia Ride to Work day, and because those are more of a fun event, I’ve been less worn out and the hill didn’t seem to be as noticeable. But on the solo days, when my goal is to see I can beat my best time (all recorded in a really great iPhone app called Cyclemeter), I’m dead by the end of the ride!  Maybe I am going at this all wrong; if I paced myself better earlier on I’d probably have more oomph left for the last bit.

But in case anyone reading this is thinking of starting to ride to work (uh, Lisa…) it really isn’t that bad. Lots of people do it at a saner pace than I do!

The trip home is pretty much a mirror image – down, flat, up – but with its own quirks. You can get going really fast leaving campus. But for some reason, Wagga is almost always windy in the afternoon, so the N Wagga flat can get a bit interesting. Today, for example, sustained winds of almost 35 k and gusts in the 45 range made it a bit wobbly!  And Wagga is a lot busier on the way home, so the roundabouts in central, around Gurwood and Trail streets, for example, require a lot of attention.  Going home they are right turns, so third exit, whereas the mornings are all left turns (one exit…much safer).  And if school is in, there is a really dangerous spot where parents picking up their kids angle park on Gurwood Street (which, with its canopy of trees, is otherwise beautiful)…please look before you back out into traffic! If you can’t see that extremely bright flashing light on my bike, not to mention the big guy in a bright red jersey, maybe you shouldn’t be driving! And if you can see me, don’t do anything you wouldn’t in front of another car; this is a school zone, with a 40 k speed limit and I am going almost as fast as a car here! But the consequences, for me, are much worse if you do something stupid.

Then, the great morning downhill becomes a less pleasant afternoon uphill. First is the hospital area, where the street is a narrow and there are always parked cars (note to drivers getting into their cars: please don’t open your door to get in when I am coming toward you. Would you do this if I were another car? Probably not!). This is also where I occasionally have some idiot yell at me from their car that I am in their way!  It is usually either some guy in a tricked-out ute with roo bars or a woman in an SUV, neither of which make any sense in a city, and all who probably think that bicycles are for kids. Well, they aren’t – they are for people who are interested in the environment, in fitness, and just having fun (safely and legally).

In the morning there are a lot of parrots in this section. The problem here is that I do it on a service road and there are a lot of ‘traffic calming’ things…like it just keeps ending and I have to go onto footpath for a few metres. Annoying. Safe, but annoying.

Then there is the hill…less steep but longer going south.  But I’m getting better at it, as my legs get back into shape after a sedentary winter. Today, I only geared down two gears…which is probably as good as it will get because the roundabout at Urana and Bourke, ½ way up the hill, is busy and there is no way I will whip through it at full speed (well, I did that on Sunday morning but it is too busy on a weekday afternoon).  And then from Fernleigh I head back downhill, onto a service road and then a trail into Bourkelands, undulating up to home.

The odd thing was that from our rental house in Kooringal, I could get home faster than I could get to work (30 minutes there, 29 home). Hilltops, on average, 37 minutes going and 38 back home. But really, the length of time of the commute isn’t a worry, because I can’t think of many better ways to spend an hour a day. Yes I do it for the environment and for my health, but really I do it because riding a bike through Wagga is fun. I just want  to get it down to under 35 minutes each way. Or 34. Maybe 33…or I could just relax a bit and not be killed by those hills at both ends.

Posted in bicycle, cycling, magpies, parrots, rural life, Uncategorized, wagga, wagga wagga, wildlife | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

herding cats, the Saturday morning edition

Unlike most of our blog posts that are full of wisdom and insights about our new life, this one is pretty much about nothing. Lisa is off to North America, and has left me (Dan) behind with really one task – take care of the cats. This isn’t really too hard; they need fed and watered (mostly Lisa’s job, but I do it too), litter box needs to be kept clean (my specialty), and the water fountain needs cleaned weekly (which she taught me how to do last week…easy).

So, other than that, nothing. Except take them for their annual vaccinations. Take three cats to the place they hate the most.

Saturday morning, I spent an exorbitant amount of time catching them and loading them into their carriers so I could take them for what should be a 15 minute appointment. And Ellie, the first one trapped, probably felt like she spent an unreasonable amount of time in her carrier because she was first one caught. Then Lester, who wasn’t too hard to get either. It is Malachi who is good at finding that exact spot under a king-sized bed that can’t be reached.

Wagga is a rural area, and so the website for our vet says many of the doctors specialize in ‘herd health’. We have 3 cats, maybe they should come to us – that is a herd – rather than us having to go there.

Once all where caged up, off we went to see the doctor. I get there right on time for a 10:30 appointment and am greeted at the clinic by chaos. It probably took 10 minutes before anyone acknowledged I was there, because they were completely frantic on the dog side. Our vet has two doors – a dog reception and a cat reception. They go to the big room, with just a reception desk area separating them so there is  still a lot of barking and huffing and whatever else dogs do, but at least they can’t see the cats and the cats can’t see them.

Seems there were a lot of dog emergencies this weekend. Not sure why, maybe has something to do with it being snake season. And other emergencies too, being handled on the phone where the receptionist  just kept saying the doctor would be out that afternoon. Probably out to see someone’s horse…it sounded like it was going to be a long day for the vets.

He’s a sweet and docile kitty until you get him near a doctor…then you need to get Max von Sydow in to stop his head from spinning.

Overall, when we finally got in for our appointment at 11:15, things went really quickly. They get weighed, vet looks at them (and says how wonderful they all look…Wagga isn’t really an indoor cat city, so I’m sure she’s used to seeing a lot of scruffy cats), checks hearts and temperatures, gives some shots and we’re done and dusted.  Out the door in 15 minutes, with a 20% discount for a multi-cat visit…and back home.

It wasn’t really as pleasant as it sounds, because Lester, normally the happy one of the bunch, was his usual vet-office crazy, hissing and biting at everyone (me, Ellie, Malachi, vet, assistant…).  Malachi wouldn’t come out of his carrier, but did Ellie find a nice warm computer to sleep on.

What a strange idea, a cat carrier to carry a cat in. Maybe this will catch on in Wagga.

The fun part of the trip was seeing the other clients and animals at the clinic. Like the woman carrying her cat in her arms, who marveled at the nice carriers I had. “What a great idea to put them in suitcases. They almost look like they are meant for animals.” Duh.

Then there was the guy who came in with his scruffy little black dog that has been “sicking up” for a couple of days. And then that morning outside eating grass and “diarrhea-ing it right back out like green water.”  I don’t know if sicking up is a common Australian term, and have never heard diarrhea as a verb before. It could be that this guy’s vocabulary was right up there with his animal care skills. Oh yeah, the dog has also been falling over a lot the last couple of days. Conversation went something like this:

  • “Do we normally see your dog here sir?”
  • “No.”
  • “Well, we’re really busy, we’re behind on appointments  and we have a lot of emergencies ahead of you. Where do you usually take him?”
  • “Nowhere.”
  • “And how old is your dog, sir? How long have you had him?”
  • “Seven years. Got him when he was a pup.”
  • “And you don’t have a doctor for him? Has he had his shots?”
  • “Yeah, he had his shots when I got him.”
  • “And you haven’t had him in for shots since?”
  • “No, he had his shots before I got him.”
  • “OK sir, because your dog hasn’t had any vaccinations in 7 years, let’s go outside and talk about this…we probably won’t be able to see him today, but we can go outside and I will tell you where the other hospitals in town are that might be able to see him this morning. But we really need to go outside right now because your dog is very sick and HASN’T BEEN VACCINATED IN 7 YEARS!”

So out they go, have a brief chat, guy puts his dog in his ute (front seat, not tray) and way they go…

quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle

One of the emergencies involved a woman talking something in a cardboard box, reassuring the animal (that I couldn’t see) that everything would be OK. When reception finally gets to her, turns out it is a magpie was referred to this vet by WIRES, an animal rescue agency.  I asked the nurse about it when we were weighing the kitties. WIRES sends most of its  Wagga cases there, they evaluate, fix and send back for rehabilitation. Or euthanize, if not able to save. This wounded magpie had been found in The Rock, a little town about 30 km south of Wagga. She didn’t know any more at the time.  Later, she told me that it had to be put down, because it had one of its legs chewed off by probably a dog or cat.  Readers will know that I have a serious love/hate relationship with magpies. The Australian magpie (a very different bird from the magpies in Canada) is a really cool bird – it has one of the most incredible songs of any bird. But they are also mean bastards who attack cyclists – I have been hit by 7 of them this year, and had at least a dozen more close calls. So though I don’t like to hear of any animal suffering, at least it was a magpie and not a parrot.

This was interesting because it followed closely a conversation I had late last week with a Wiradjuri woman at work about birds; she spends a lot of time in local schools, talking to kids about Indigenous culture, and Australian flora and fauna, and always tells them keep your cats inside because they are destroying the native bird population. And then it happens…might not have been a cat, but still it was some introduced domestic animal, like that poor doggie that was sicking up. When I left, the receptionists were freaking out because they had called all the other clinics in town that are open on a Saturday and he hadn’t shown up at any of them. They were reconcile sending him away…but they couldn’t have handled him that morning.  And that guy is an idiot. His dog shouldn’t suffer because he is too bloody stupid to take care of it…he shouldn’t even be allowed to have a dog.  He would probably let it attack a magpie.

Posted in birds, cats, magpie, magpies, wagga, wagga wagga | Leave a comment

How to speak Australian, part dukkah

We had one of those odd language issues this week at the Artisan Baker, where we go every Saturday morning to buy baguettes, a pain rustique or campagne, and a couple of tarts for dessert – our weekend treat.  Often we get tart citron…Bernard Hoff is a French baker living in Wagga who makes real French goodies and things don’t get much better than a lemon tart made with lemons that were probably on the tree that morning! But we’ve been branching out recently, sampling the frangipane-style tarts that he also makes – this week, Lisa got raspberry and Dan had apricot. This last one was the one that caused the problem.

Bernard is French and so are some of his staff. Their English is mediocre, but they weren’t the ones challenged this week. The rest of his staff are Australian. Their English is perfect, as is ours. We just speak a different English. So, Lisa says we want one apricot tart. Canadians and Americans probably read that sentence as we were asking for an a-pricot (short a as in Adam) tart. Australians probably read that Dan wanted an ay-pricot tart (long a as in Aaron).  It was a bit busy in Bernard’s…with two other customers in the little industrial space where he has been selling his wondrous goods* it becomes a challenge to hear well; so the young woman behind the counter (probably a student learning to bake) gets us an apple tart. We figured out the problem, Lisa tried to pronounce the word correctly (while the staffer laughed!) and finally did our pointing thing, like we do with the French-speaking staff. We got what we wanted [Lisa edit: and next time, Dan will have to settle for whatever he gets!]

This is one type of dukkah. It is just seeds, and it is very very good.

And then we went to the farmers market to buy, among other things, dukah. Or dukka. Or maybe it is dukkah. Dukkah is something that we have discovered since moving to Wagga. Not only have we seen it spelled many ways, we’ve also heard it pronounced with a short u (as in duck-a) a long u (as in duke-a) and with differences in where the emphasis is (DUCK a, duke A). But however you say it, dukkah is a wonderful thing! We don’t understand why it took us until now to discover it. We have no idea why Canadians don’t eat it.

Dukah is a dry dip for bread. Or you can put it on salad. Or put it in soup. Or do pretty much whatever you want with it (Dan recently had a ‘burger’ with dukkah on it…more on why those ‘ ’ marks are around the word burger later). And it also seems you can make it however you want.

This dukkah is a bit more complex – same spices but some ground nuts. Also yummy.

The origin of dukka seems to be Egyptian (we think). Basic ingredients are spices and nuts and seeds, but what combination is extremely variable. We currently have three in the pantry. The simplest one is just a blend of sesame seed, coriander seed, cumin seed, and some salt and pepper.  It is very good.  The second is more complex and probably more traditional. It has a base of almond meal and hazelnut meal with coriander and cumin and sesame. Number three adds things like poppyseeds and paprika and turmeric.  It is our favourite (and made here in Wagga).  According to the person who made #2, there is only supposed to be one nut, not two, in a real dukkah and that should be cashew. But it seems like you could really put anything you want in it if you make it yourself (which we will get around to doing some day. It can’t be that hard. Wader…after you taste it, you’ll probably start making it!)

So what do we do with dukka? Dip some bread into olive oil, then into the dukah and enjoy. Why it isn’t a universal treat, we have no idea but we’re going to work on that.

The best of them all. Less Ks in the name, but a lot more spices. We asked them how long it would last…as in if we buy a few, will it go bad. The response was that it should last a long time in the pantry because it is just nuts and spices, but no one ever has it sitting around for long!

The one we like most is made at Magpies Nest, a restaurant by the uni. They also pickle their own olives, make their own chardonnay, and sell amazing carrot poppyseed bread that we think is too good on its own to eat with the dukkah. So their fare is the basis of a lot of meals in our house…it doesn’t get much better than a meal based around interesting local ingredients, made by people who just love the food they are preparing and selling you – so Bernard’s bread, dipped in Wollundry Grove oil, and some Magpies Nest dukkah, a bowl of Magpies Olives, a salad, some local wine and cheese…a common, simple, and spectacular meal in our house.

And now back to that burger. The lunch special at Thirsty Crow one day last week was a burger – the special board said dukkah-crusted lamb with beetroot relish and fetta (another Aussie oddity, feta is spelled with 2 t’s here).  Dan (and a work colleague that he was dining with) orders one, expecting a nice juicy pattie of lamb mince (ground lamb for all the North Americans); instead, in between the top and bottom of his burger bun is a pile of lamb cubes resembling souvlaki. Odd. And hard to eat… He ended up just jettisoning the top half of the bun and going at the rest with a knife and fork.  Delicious, but would have made more sense in a pita.

So, that’s the story of dukka. Maybe we’ll look into starting a business producing and selling it for the North American market; we’ll have our own dukka dynasty (pronounced dine-asty by North Americans…din-asty by the Australian A&E television network).* As of Wednesday, 17 October, Bernard will have a new home, closer to our house and in a more retail-y area as opposed to in a corner of the local bus garages. Yay!

Posted in Artisan baker, Bernard, dukkah, farmers market, food, Magpies Nest | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Gobble, gobble, gobble

Yep, that says it all…

Well, it was officially Thanksgiving back in Canada on the weekend. You know, that time of year when we give thanks for family and friends… and that there’s no snow on the ground yet (we hope!)… and for all the amazing food that we’re going to stuff ourselves with over the long weekend. Ah, Thanksgiving… Interestingly, this wasn’t something that we really celebrated in Edmonton, since our families were back in Ontario. Some years we would get home and enjoy our moms’ home cooking. But, most years, we would do “alternative” Thanksgiving dinners with friends (i.e., other Edmonton “orphans” who couldn’t get home for the weekend), often involving Indian or Lebanese-inspired meals.

Well, that all changed when we moved to Australia! Here, there is no Thanksgiving. Well, except in the minds and memories of we expats (including the Americans, though they don’t celebrate their event for another 6 weeks; sadly, that will get a bit of media attention… but the Canadian version goes by without much ado). Our theory here is that since food grows year-round there’s not much point to a “harvest festival” – well, every day is harvest day, we suppose! And if there were such a festival here, it would fall around Easter time, which seems a bit silly. Well, except for the wine harvest of course; but we digress…

Mmm…turkey skin…

The strange thing is that when you live in Canada, where turkeys are advertised in the grocery store flyers at 99 cents a pound for weeks and you don’t really see what all the fuss is about (except you get a long weekend – and who doesn’t love that?), you can take or leave the holiday most years. But here in Australia, where you can’t find a turkey to save your life (well, we’ve been told you can order one at the butcher, but it will probably run about $200 and may only be available closer to Christmas), the cravings are deadly. Turkey… stuffing… cranberries (Lisa edit: Ew! We never ate cranberries in Canada; you can’t crave that now, Dan)… mashed potatoes… turkey skin (you know, the super crispy stuff)… and don’t forget about the “leftovers,” turkey soup, hot turkey sandwiches… oh my!

Oh, wait… did I mention pumpkin pie? This has to be the cruelest twist of all in the “Australia’s just like home in so many ways!” mantra. There is “pumpkin” everywhere; it pops up on menus and is served in every home. You can get pumpkin as a side with your lamb, as a soup, on pizza… but by “pumpkin” the Aussies really mean “squash”. But can you get a real, orange pumpkin here? You know, appropriate for making Jack O’Lanterns at Halloween… oh shit; they don’t celebrate that either! What’s wrong with these people?! All the good holidays are missing!

Okay, but back to pumpkin. Look… you can’t make a good pumpkin pie with Butternut [Pumpkin] Squash. You just can’t! And pumpkin pie is the one thing that we really, really want. You know, with Cool Whip on top? Well, you can’t get Cool Whip here either. Help… send food! Oh wait, quarantine will just confiscate it at the border. They say it’s because of worries about pests, but we know the truth; the quarantine officials understand how wonderful these treats are and they take them home and eat them with their families, while Canadians die of starvation… Okay, we’re getting carried away here now. But, seriously, these are the types of strange cravings that you get when you are in a country where you can’t easily go to any Mac’s Milk and buy a case of canned pumpkin pie filling, a crate of maple syrup, a dozen boxes of Kraft Dinner and all the ingredients needed to make Nanaimo bars. All the things you swore you didn’t care about and really didn’t eat on a regular basis (we haven’t eaten KD in years… and actually, we don’t crave that at all; but still, it’s the principle damn it!). We can order some delicacies online at O Canada — but they charge $12.49 for a can of pumpkin pie filling! It may come to that, in time… Anyone want to invest in some gift cards to make a couple of nostalgic Canadians really happy?

Is it sad to crave something that is so heavily processed and comes in a can?

Now, we know what you’re thinking. Thanksgiving isn’t all about food, it’s about getting together with family… yadda, yadda. Well, that’s true. But the memories of family, of spending time at Pike Bay and the house in Owen Sound, are closely linked to family meals. Yes, we also miss everyone; this is the first Thanksgiving without Dan’s dad and many of our memories are of the amazing spread of food in the kitchen – pots warming on the stove as we filled our plates, put up the TV trays, and talked and laughed with family that we hadn’t seen in months or years. We would go for a walk, enjoy the changing colour of the leaves, shiver at the first biting winds that told us that winter was just around the corner. We would take a drive with Lisa’s parents to look at Inglis Falls or have lunch at the Inn in Harrison Park during these visits… then, returning home to the long weekend and all the pie we could eat.

So, while there are so many things in common between Canada and Australia (you can still buy Valentine cards and Christmas lights down under), Thanksgiving is a tough one for us. In another 5 weeks we’ll see that the Uni staff club is hosting an American Thanksgiving lunch… with turkey roll and cranberries (Ew!)… But it’s not the same thing. Nope, for that we’ll just have to make the long trek home and hope that the family doesn’t suddenly decide to shift gears and go out for Chinese food on Thanksgiving weekend. So, families if you’re reading this, take note… Lisa’s coming home for a visit soon and she’s DYING for a piece of pumpkin pie. Can you please help a girl out?

Posted in Canada, family, holidays, homesickness, pie, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment