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

Spring is in the air

It’s spring here in Australia, and with spring comes flowers. Not that there aren’t some things (trees, bushes and flowers) blooming in winter, but now, there are more. And one of the latest areas for spring blossoms to come to Australia seems to be the capital, Canberra, which is in a ‘cool climate’ according to the winemakers. Cool, not cold, according to anyone who has spent any time in Canada.

And so even though it is a bit behind Wagga, this past weekend was the middle of Floriade, a month-long flower festival in Canberra, celebrating, it seems, tulips. We went, sort of by mistake.

A few weeks ago, we decided to plan a trip to the capital. We haven’t been there together in a while, and there were a couple of attractions we wanted to take in; Lisa wanted to go to the Handmade Markets (something like the One of a Kind markets in Canada) and Dan wanted to see the Abstract Expressionism show at the National Gallery.  And we wanted to take our bikes and cycle around Lake Burley Griffin and Ginninderra Lake.  Little did we know that these inauspicious plans put us in the city on same weekend as Floriade, the Murrumbateman wine show and moveable feast, the Labour Day long weekend, and footy finals.

Every good festival needs a king and queen. These two were crowned at Floriade.

So, how did all these things go together for us? Driving to Canberra, we stopped at a couple of wineries in Murrumbateman, a small town about 28 km north of Canberra that is the heart of what is referred to as the Canberra Wine District. Murrumbateman gets hosed on this because there aren’t actually any wineries in Canberra and none of the other towns nearby with wineries (Hall, Gundaroo, Lake George) make plonk of the quality found in Murrumbateman (arguably the best shiraz and riesling in the country).  Not knowing that there was a wine event on, we were lucky that we went to Helm and Eden Road on Friday to beat the crowds. On the way home on Sunday, we stopped at Clonakilla and it was crazy…maybe 10 people tasting, which is about 10 more than normal! So even though we didn’t get to the Murrumbateman wine show this year, we are thinking we might work it into our schedule for next year. We’ll have to book accommodation well in advance though, because (as the locals mentioned to us) there aren’t many good places to stay or eat there;  it’s just too close to Canberra.

All these people rushed to Floriade in the morning so they could watch footy in the afternoon.

Footy finals…well, we don’t know enough about AFL or NRL to care, but we did see a lot of people wearing team colours. And, a really great beer store we went to (Plonk – a REALLY GREAT beer store) was having a sale on Sydney and Hawthorn beers (the two teams playing in the AFL finals on Saturday). Other than that, we listened to a bit of the NRL final on the radio while driving home on Sunday evening, but determined that sport on the radio works best when 1) it is a slow sport and 2) you know at least the basics of the sport. It was entertaining in a weird ‘let’s listen to a whole new world of sports lingo clichés’ way, but we have no idea what happened. Other than some guy bit another player’s ear.

The fact that it was a long weekend was just a bonus that we realized after the hotel, restaurants and cat sitter were booked, as we were planning on getting home late Sunday. This gave us a day at home to catch up on chores, do some gardening and go biking.

This water dragon wasn’t too interested in footy; he was tanning at the botanic garden.

In the end, we pretty much did just what we had originally planned: the show at the National was a bit disappointing…not bad, but we’ve seen so many good and great exhibitions of these artists (Pollock, Krasner, Rothko, Guston, etc) that this one, of works owned by the National Gallery of Australia, was just OK. But we did tour the Aboriginal galleries (had been closed when Dan was there a few months ago) and they are pretty spectacular, definitely worth seeing. Handmade Markets were fine…Dan didn’t hate them as much as he thought (and as much as the woman running the Eden Road cellar door said he would) because there were people selling interesting food. He also got some really funky beer glasses. The third thing on our list (the cycling) got scuttled by the weather – the forecast was so horrible we didn’t even take them. In the end, it wasn’t really bad, but quite rainy on Friday and both Saturday and Sunday mornings were pretty frosty.

So the cycling got replaced with Floriade and a trip to the botanical gardens. Floriade…whatever, you’ve seen one tulip, you’ve seen them all (think  “Ottawa Tulip Festival” but on a smaller scale).  The botanical gardens, however, were a treat. Lisa had been here before and knew that it was a great place for bird-spotting and to check out the native plants. We stumbled upon the 2pm tour group and the guide (after spotting Lisa’s binoculars and bird book) offered to show us a few hard-to-spot species. How exciting! We were able to add the tawny frogmouth and satin bowerbird to the list, as well as a male and a female gang-gang cockatoo flying overhead. GL – if you’re reading this – we’ll do our best to spot the frogmouth on your next visit; we now know the location of the tree where they nest.

Frogmouths are very good at hiding in trees…this is the male, who sits on the nest during the day. The female was a branch or two away and even harder to spot.

While the gang-gang and the frogmouth are both interesting (especially the latter…see photo), the bowerbird is a cool story worth telling.  They make bowers, these nest-like items on the ground (not their nests, which are in a tree) to attract a female. Basically a pile of sticks, that always faces north/south (unless it is a bowerbird in a different part of the country which does an east/west bower) around which they place blue things. Yes, whatever blue things they can find. So the gardens had to replace the blue ribbons they used to mark trails with yellow ribbons, because the bird who moved into the park kept stealing them for mating purposes. Unfortunately, both the bird and the bower were too well concealed for a good photo.

So, that’s a bit of how we spent a long weekend; next post, we’ll cover some of the culinary aspect of it…wallaby, plonk (2 versions), restaurants, etc…

Posted in birds, Canberra, festivals, footy, labour day weekend, market, wine | Leave a comment