Welcome to our last day in Australia!
In today’s blog post, we have a whole lot of photos, a video, a field trip, two recipes, a book and a stage play. Hold on to your hat, mate!
If you’re looking for an easy way to learn about some Australian animals from the comfort of your computer screen, you really can’t do much better than Curious George. This episode just happened to air yesterday, to our stay-cationing delight:
But if you’re lucky enough to have a local zoo as world-class as the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, you don’t have to stay home with Curious George. It’s worth the field trip to go meet a few Australian animals for yourself!
The field trip:
A warm(ish) winter day was all the excuse we needed to head for “Australian Adventure” at the Zoo.
One of the newer areas at the zoo, “Australian Adventure” has been lovingly built with great attention to cultural education and interesting animal exhibits. The décor (and even music piped through outdoor speakers) is thoroughly Australian, even to the “dingo fence” that surrounds the entire area.
The “Kookaburra Station” is the centerpiece of the entire area. It is designed to look like a genuine Australian outback station, complete with barn, outbuildings, giant tree house in a yagga tree, and a nearly full-sized sprawling 18th century farmhouse.
In the barn and its attached contact yard, during the summer you can pet typical Australian farm livestock such as sheep and miniature ponies. They even have an exhibit with a few European rabbits in their own pen, with some information about the way that the rabbits have become a virulent invasive species, taking over much of the continent of Australia. Plenty of other cool animals in this area, too, including a deceptively snuggly-looking dingo.
There are plenty of other things to visit around the Australian Outback, and lots of great animals (koalas snoozing in eucalyptus trees! lorikeets you can hand-feed!) but the station house is one of my favorite hidden treasures at the Zoo.
It does not have any animals inside, so it’s often skipped over by zoo visitors eager to see the animal exhibits. But the station house is loaded with little treasures for global stay-cationers! We spent nearly an hour “playing house” in this full-size exhibit, pretending to eat some of the Australian food on display inside the model kitchen,
pretending to play with the boomerangs and cricket bats in the foyer,
Examining the exhibits hiding inside the kitchen drawers (like this drawer with a bit of kangaroo fur inside that you can pet) and on the walls (posters about “bush tucker” and other Australian delicacies),
And (most fun for mama) examining the recipes of traditional Australian foods on display all over. We went right home to make this traditional “Damper” bread from the photograph of the recipe. (Don’t worry, I won’t make you cook from a photograph. I’ve reprinted the recipe below — with a few helpful changes.)
After we were finally done playing house (and warming up — brrrr, we could wish it was an Australian January, not a Cleveland one!) we went out for the most important visit of our Australian staycation:
A nice walk among the friendly free-roaming animals in the Wallaby Walkabout.
Because, after all, what is Australia without kangaroos? (Or are those wallabies? They share this particular space and I can never tell them apart.)
On our way out, the children tried their hand at jumping as far as a kangaroo. Not a chance, mates.
Then we went home for one last meal of Australian foods — including damper and pavlova!
Recipe #1: Damper Bread
Damper is an iconic Australian outback recipe, traditionally baked among the ashes of a campfire. It incorporates a few simple ingredients that can be carried easily when traveling deep into the outback.
The damper recipe pictured above calls for “self-rising” flour, but I don’t know anybody with enough extra space in their kitchen to be able to keep self-rising flour around. Certainly I don’t. So I’ve incorporated the extra baking powder and salt needed to make regular flour into “self-rising” flour. You can thank me later.
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 cup milk
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a round cake tin.
- Mix dry ingredients together. Add butter and mix well.
- Add liquid ingredients and mix well.
- Knead dough for about 5 minutes.
- Shape into a flattened round and place in the prepared cake pan.
- Bake about 30 minutes.
- Slice and serve hot.
And if, after all that bread, you’re still hungry for dessert, don’t forget to make the best dessert ever…
Recipe #2 : Pavlova.
Serves 4 with reasonably sized portions. Or maybe 2 very hungry people with a good-sized sweet tooth. It’s that good.
One cannot visit Australia or New Zealand without being informed that Pavlova is the national dessert of THAT country. Aussies and Kiwis compete about the provenance of many of the recipes we’ve included in the Australia section here, but perhaps none so much as the Pavlova, the iconic meringue-and-fruit concoction reportedly created in honor of one of famous ballerina Anna Pavlova’s tours “down under” in the 1920’s. A friend from New Zealand told me that Pavlova is “as light as the ballerina on her feet.” And indeed it is — or, I suppose so, anyhow, not having any personal experience with Anna Pavlova.
If you want to compare dessert to ballerina, you can always watch an old recording here:
And here’s the recipe:
- 4 egg whites*
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. fine white sugar
- 1 tsp. cornstarch
- 1 tsp. vinegar
- 8 oz carton heavy whipping cream
- 2 fresh kiwis, peeled and sliced (you can also use any other combination of fruit — berries, peaches, mango, etc.)
*a word about separating eggs: you Absolutely Must be sure not to have even a Speck of yolk in your egg whites. In order to get the high, stiff egg-white foam you need to make the meringue, you cannot allow any oil into your egg whites. That means you need to have scrupulously clean bowl, beaters, utensils, etc. Try not to get even the oil from your fingers into the bowl, utensils, or egg whites. Break eggs one at a time into a separate bowl before dumping the whites into the primary mixing bowl, so that if you accidentally break one yolk you don’t ruin the rest of your egg whites with it. This has been a Public Service Announcement from the Been-There-Done-That school of home baking.
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Dust the top of the parchment paper with a bit of cornstarch.
- In a large bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. It should look more or less like this:
4. Add 3/4 cup of the sugar VERY gradually (1 tsbp. at a time), continuing to whisk the whole time, until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Add vinegar and mix well. (I know it seems weird to put vinegar in dessert. Just go with it. The acid in the vinegar does something magical to the meringue, and it makes it taste divine.)
5. Mix together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cornstarch and lightly fold into the stiff mixture.
6. Spread a layer of meringue on prepared parchment paper in a shallow, slightly bowl-shaped mound about 8-9″ in diameter.
7. Bake in a 250 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
8. Turn off oven, but leave meringue in oven for at least an additional 30 minutes or until entirely cool. Crack the oven door open if possible while meringue is cooling.
9. When cool, the meringue should be hard and slightly golden-brown on the outside, with a soft, pillowy inside.
10. Whip cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add 1-2 Tbsp. sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
11. Spread cream into the bowl-shaped depression in the meringue and top with kiwi (or other fruit).
12. Give the leftover whipped-cream beaters to the child who’s been begging for them since you started.
13. Now slice and serve immediately (it will start to collapse quickly once it’s assembled). Watch your family gobble it up faster than almost anything else you’ve made so far in your stay-cation…
So we’ve talked about Australian animals, and we’ve talked about Australian food, but wait! I’ve saved the best for last — a book about Australian animals eating Australian food.
We happened upon this little treasure entirely by accident at our local Salvation Army while out shopping this month. For 75 cents, we became the proud owners of a not-too-beat-up copy of a perfectly marvelous little book:
Possum Magic, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas.
This book traces a Grandmother Possum and her invisible granddaughter Hush, who go on a journey through Australia to find the right kind of human-food to cast a “visibility” spell to make Hush visible again. On their journey they encounter all manner of other Australian animals, and they taste all kinds of Australian food. But what is it that finally makes Hush visible again??? Vegemite, Pavlova and a Lamington. Delicious!
As children’s books go, this one is a keeper for sure. Now if only I could find any of the “Grug” books at our local library, we’d have a complete Australian stay-cation in book form.
Fortunately for us, the Cleveland International Children’s Theatre Festival was kind enough to import the stage production of Grug last spring, and we took the kids to see it. It was a bit before our stay-cation began, but absolutely delightful, so it’s worth sharing with you. Here’s a little clip — an appropriate way to end our stay-cation.
Last but not least, the stage play:
OK, yes, that’s finally all from us down under, in the land of the January sunshine.
Check back in a couple of days after we travel due north to China, just in time for the Lunar New Year.
Until then, g’day!