Tag Archives: road trip

A train, a monkey and a fiesta

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It’s still Friday somewhere in the world. Happy Friday!

This was one of those weeks. Catching the cold that is sweeping through city offices. Photos disappearing from the SD card (huh?). Scheduling this post to publish on Friday 15th rather than Friday 8th (huh??).

A Fiesta

Belatedly, may I present some photos from Myanmar (Burma), as I dash over to take up my duties as co-hostess of this week’s Fiesta Friday. My co-host Margot @ Gather and Graze has been there for hours, pouring out her signature Dame Edna cocktail, and generally being wonderful. Think of Margot as your on-time, organised, gracious chatelaine. And me as the sitcom-style comic relief (“icing sugar!” “monkeys!” “photo disappearing trick!”).

Please come and join us, last week there was a flood of zucchinis and chocolate and a cat dressed up as a human as a cat. I can’t wait to see what this week’s party will bring.

A train

Not many train lines in the world become attractions in their own right. One of them is the train over the Gorteik viaduct in Northern Myanmar (Burma). When it was built, was the largest railway trestle in the world, and has been described as one of the most beautiful train rides. It also featured in Paul Theroux’s book The Great Railway Bazaar.

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The journey starts at 4am in Mandalay. It is 12-15 hours to get to the mountain village of Hsipaw, and several more hours to the end of the line in Lashio. (The same journey to Hsipaw is 5 hours by bus.)

We ambled, lurched, stopped, reversed, shuddered, lurched and even went forward! It was so bumpy in “ordinary class”, we may have been airborn. Something to do with narrow gauge tracks, and the train not fitting perfectly – gulp.

And, it was one of the highlights of my trip. Where else would you sit with a group of sleeping soldiers, with durians and clay pots under your feet….

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… feel extremely brave as you lean out the door of the train, holding the handrail, to get the obligatory “we are going over the Viaduct!” photo? We comforted ourselves with the thought that, if we fell off, at least there would not be a slow lingering death …

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… and catch the first glimpse of Hsipaw as you roll in, slightly battered, 15 hours later?

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And a monkey

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Wanderlust 3, from the snowy mountains to the sea

*A post! For Fiesta Friday no less! brought to you by a messenger mangosteen, and that awesome breakfast paratha, freshly made, fluffy, wonderously layered, drizzled with condensed milk AND sugar…*

Here’s Part 3 of the Wanderlust series.

I’m taking you away from steamy hot Yangon, back to late autumn/early winter in the Snowy Mountains, Australia. The Snowy probably evokes all kinds of folklore-ish associations for Australian school kids, from that Banjo Patterson poem about the man from Snowy River, the history of the Aboriginal people, and later, gold mining in Kiandra and the Snowy Hydro scheme. A place of legend and history and old fashioned pioneering.

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We drove from Albury, through the Upper Murray Valley, and into the mountains for a couple of days. Part of the Valley is a floodplain, punctuated by the occasional abandoned town and many skeletal trees.

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After the floodplains, the mountains became closer and closer. They became a backdrop to fertile farms and really neat, pretty localities. Sometimes, it’s just the general store, pub and the petrol station. Occasionally, it was just the pub (at least the priorities are right, right??). Once, there was even a hipster cafe that would cut a dash in Sydney.

But the main event was always the mountains themselves. Especially the climb to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak.

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The climb was made, really, embarrassingly easy by the ski chairlift (as this is part of the ski field in winter). Only a 13km return journey, all of it on a steel mesh/rocky gravel boardwalk – I think they also serve to protect the environment from the flocks of tourists. This short walk was full of “oh look over there” views of the surrounding mountain ranges, as there are no trees at that altitude and we had an uninterrupted view around us.

In particular, the mountains faded in colour as they were further away, creating a gorgeous, hyper coloured layers of blue. Blue that matched the sky. I wanted to stay there until sundown…

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Wanderlust 2 – vintage railways and a windmill

*Also sending this to Fiesta Friday 22 at Angie’s, this time with a messenger monkey! I think he likes anything and everything food and drink, and sometimes cameras*

A few years ago, I discovered a book called “100 great books in haiku” by David Bader. Witty, sometimes plain funny, it was a great way to while away an afternoon.

For Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, party of the haiku was:

“roadde trippe!” (the rest, appropriately for Chaucer, was a tad demi-scatological…)

Ever since then, before every road trip, I always said to myself, “roadde trippe!” (childish, isn’t it?)

I said the same thing before heading off to Myanmar. And before our regional NSW road trip during the Easter/Anzac Day break. So in the spirit of road tripping and wanderlusting, here are some more photos from that trip (the first lot of photos are here).

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This trip unexpectedly became a journey around historic railway monuments in our regional centres. Some were sad relics. Like these wooden truss bridges in Gundagai. What a project! The bridges spanned the Murrumbidgee River flood plains (by the way, isn’t Murrumbidgee a great-sounding word that just wants to roll around your tongue?). The first was the Prince Alfred at 922 meters, which formed part of the Old Hume Highway. The second was part of the Gundagai to Tumut railway at 819 meters.

But the engineering ambition was greater than the size of the public purse, or something. These bridges fell into disrepair later in the century.

Despite some equally ambitious, perhaps utopian, restoration plans, they remain crumbling and fenced off with no public access. The sign described the pair of bridges as a ‘managed ruin’. Poetic, more than a little sad, especially in the twilight hours.

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Musings, and road trip #1

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As our northern hemisphere friends forage for spring-related things, we antipodeans are (reluctantly? raucously? slumberingly?) settling into nesting mode. Time to ditch the strappy dresses and sandals, hello to soft, faded jeans, softer wool jumpers and snuggly boots. Although we still get days of sunshine, there is a hint of chill in the air to remind us that, Toto, we’re not in summer anymore.

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With this season of change comes ideas, potentials and impossibilities. Work has been throwing up complicated, fascinating questions: we have long talks about could, should, would; bits of how-do-we and bobs of what-if. I distracted myself with thoughts about different jobs, new pastures, talking to people about what is ‘out there’. (The answer? Things, stuff, stories, bluff. Some luck, a dose of passion and a pinch of swagger.)

In between such seriousness, friends and I have laksa runs, ramen-in-a-cup, strange salads and trashy pies. We have wild talks about the meaning of life, gawk at literary meals, and joke about travelling with a llama (my second favourite quadruped) to some faraway corner where – Wallace and Gromit-esque – we eat cheese til the cows (or llamas) come home.

Then there’s baking and cooking. Quince, figs, persimmons. A strangely addictive bird seed bread, and Liz’s tofu marinara.

bird-seed-bread-2-05-tileAnd. And. There’s our Easter road trip. Here is the first batch of photos, all about the crisp mornings, brilliant sunshine, brooding sunsets, plus one rather gorgeous peacock. More coming soon.

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The alphabet post: Apples, Batlow, Cake

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We are almost at the end of our road trip, and have eaten our way around a few villages and towns.

Sure, there are more Aussie meat pies and pub steaks than you can poke a kangaroo paw at; and at least one dinner in an RSL (soldiers and veterans) club Chinese restaurant, which served local favourites like honey chicken and sweet and sour pork… But, we also had freshly caught trout from the pristine Snowy Mountains lakes, home made jams and tea cosies (ok, tea cosies aren’t food, but they might just deserve a post to themselves), local beer, wine and schnapps, just baked bread and pastries, good coffee in surprisingly hipster cafes, and new season apples from Batlow, one of Australia’s apple producing regions at the foot of the Snowy.

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If food was the icing on the cake for the trip, then the rural environment revealed itself to be a multi layered and endlessly fascinating cake.

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One day we were climbing the granite peaks of Mount Kosciuszko, snuggled up in gloves and beanies; another day we were bare feet on the beach, having driven through a patch of rainforest, across rich dairy farms, on a dirt road (in our small city car! and we made it!!) and to the ocean. We looked at a wooden cabin tucked away on oh-so-picturesque acres and wondered if it could become our holiday retreat (maybe, if we had a sea plane that can land on the nearby lake, or became a lady & gent of leisure).

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For days, I had that broad, slow-spoken rural Aussie accent in my ears. Farmer types that greeted each other with “G’day”, “yeah mate”, occasionally “strewth“, and generally as few words as possible. In the evenings, even in the smallest communities we visited, guys greeted other guys – and the publicans – in the local pub over a social beer or two.

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New season apples began appearing in the shops before Easter, and I made this apple cake. While apple season lasts, I’ll probably make this a few more times.

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The recipe is Marie-Hélène’s apple cake, from Dorie Greenspan and adapted by David Lebovitz. Many bloggers have written about this recipe, including the French Fridays with Dorie crew and Fiesta Friday party-goer Patty (though the experience was more, um, exciting for her). This really is a perfect example of pared back elegance.

The cake has more apples than cake batter, it really is all about the apples. The batter is simple, though heady with vanilla and calvados (apple brandy). The whole thing bakes into one moist, wonderful, fragrant whole. It tastes clean, homely, sweet but not too sweet. The combination of apples, vanilla, calvados tempts you back for just one more slice – time and again – until somehow there is no apple cake left.

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This time, I dared to temper with perfection and added a hazelnut/cream topping, which added an extra bit of crunch to the cake. Think of a streusel topping, but with less than a quarter the amount of streusel.

And, to make easy sharing, I baked these in mini cake pans and mini pie dishes. The pie-cakes stayed at home as dessert. The mini cakes went to work to be shared with friends.

I’ve found this is a great way to show off those heirloom apple varieties, as the minimal, simple batter sits back and helps the apples’ flavours to shine, rather than distracting you from the apples.

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Tonight, because it’s Anzac day, I’ll be serving some of our apple bounty baked, with an Anzac biscuits (cookies in American English 🙂 ) crumble topping. This is one of my go-to Anzac biscuits recipes, and the Sydney Living Museum blog recently featured a post about this Aussie and New Zealand food icon. Tonight’s crumble will be improvised with beach house pantry staples, probably with a handful of macadamia nuts and spoonfuls of local honey. I might even get some of the Fiesta Friday crowd to play two-up – but only if it’s legal to play on Anzac day in your state!!

Before my excitement bubbles over, I’ll leave you with the apple cake recipe.

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French apple cake
(based on recipe from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)

Ingredients

Cake
3/4 cup or 110g flour (I’ve also used 70g plain flour + 50g finely chopped almonds instead)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (a mix of varieties)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar (I used mostly castor / granulated sugar plus a bit of brown sugar)
3 tablespoons calvados/apple brandy, substitute good brandy or dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or more if you don’t have calvados)
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature

Topping, I made this bit up
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon castor sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.

2. Heavily butter a 20-23cm springform pan and place it on a baking tray. (Or, 5-6 mini-things, like pie dishes / cake pans)

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almond, baking powder, and salt.

4. Peel and core the apples, then dice into small-med bits. (If using mini-whatever, slice them smaller and thinner, as they will spend less time in the oven)

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy-ish, then rum/brandy and vanilla. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then stir in half of the butter, do the same with remaining flour /butter.

6. Fold in the apple until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape them into the cake pan.

7. Bake for 40 minutes for full sized cake (about 20-25 min for mini-versions), mix topping ingredients together and randomly dollop over cake(s). Return to oven for another 10-20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean-ish. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, loosen from the pan and remove.

An adventurous Easter: sourdough hot cross buns

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On this road trip, we’ve noticed the different types of place names that you can find in Australia. Words from England, Scotland, other places in Europe, and from the Aboriginal languages.

We have our share of Inverary, Baden Powell, New England, Kingston, even Neuhaus. Words from the old world. Then, we have words from our first people, strange and beautiful sounds. Araluen, Adaminaby, Cootamundra, Tumbarumba, Wagga Wagga, Wee Waa, Jindabyne, Gundagai.

A trip into regional Australia becomes a jumble of these names and sounds. A pair of city slickers finding new sights and sounds, new air to breathe.

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We have seen a lake and a river (any large body of water inland of our dry continent is a mesmerising sight); so many cows and sheep, and glimpses of the Snowy Mountains. We have also seen old train stations with cast iron lace, rusty sheds, ruined timber bridges. And that’s only the first few days.

I knew we would be on the road, so I made hot cross buns early this year, and using sourdough starter called Patrick, no less! I’ve nurtured wee Patrick since Christmas, but have only started baking with him.

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Gubana: Italian Easter bread for an Australian road trip

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We are on a road trip!

Tonight, we are in the inland town of Gundagai. First stop in what is shaping up to be a trip through historic inland towns and villages.

I haven’t driven our car for weeks, and for at least a couple of months before that, since I prefer to walk or take public transport to get around our patch of inner Sydney. It took a while to get used to the manual gears, the road, other cars, but then I settled back into familiarity with our good little car, and we were away, to quieter and greener places.

When I was not driving, I nibbled on a slice of gubana.

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Gubana. A special Easter cake/bread I stumbled across almost by accident. I made the recipe, and found the flavours intriguing, lingering, in a way that says old fashioned good things. Bread-like, not quite as rich as brioche or challah, crammed full of walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, chocolate, hazelnuts, and more. The bread is almost like panettone, and filling is so flavoursome, with a lingering sweetness that comes from dried fruit rather than sugar.

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