Category Archives: travel

Canberra: Part One

The most immediately and continually amazing thing about Canberra is the exotically perfumed air. Overwhelming all else is the eucalyptus. Eucalyptus trees in many varieties are everywhere; there is one outside our bedroom window, a living incense. Close upon that are the agapanthus, jasmine, cedar, vast shrubs of rosemary, oleander, bougainvillea, and trees in the park that smell like cocoa butter on warm days. Add to that all the more typical summer smells of freshly mown grass, lavender hot in the sun, and the cool breeze off the lake and you are gloriously immersed in the heady bouquet of the Inner South A.C.T.

Agapanthus

A near competitor with the flora of Canberra is undeniably the fauna, specifically the birds. The are LOUD and varied. There are flocks of yellow crested cockatoos that sound like first cousins to flesh-rending Velociraptors, black and white speckled magpies that sound like dial-up internet connections, birds that always sound like they just heard a bad joke and ducks that mew like cats! There are black swans, tropical parrots, rosellas and doves that look exactly like our nephew, with the cutest little mohawks!

Yellow-Crested or Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos in Telopea Park

Black Swans in the Basin

The next thing you notice is that, to be the Australian Capital Territory, it is remarkably uncrowded, slow-paced. Locals 35 and under (and a few over) say it is the most boring, class conscious, unfriendly city around; 35 and over tend to say it is Australia’s best kept secret. I’m divided; our side of the lake, Parliament side, is lovely, full of parks, tree lined streets and easily walkable “villages”, museums, gardens,nature reserves, and memorials galore. The waterfront on the opposite shore is very nice as well. Then, there is The City and City Center: I found that area to be completely and inexplicably repellant, “big city” without any charm, mystery or quaintness to make it palatable.

Parliamentary Waterfront

Captain Cook Memorial at Acton Park waterfront

Captain Cook Memorial

National Carillon

National Gallery of Australia

N.G.A. Sculpture Garden

Suspended above N.G.A.

Speaking of palatable, now for the good stuff: the food. The food here has been terrific (and terrifically expensive!), with plenty of gluten-free options and honest to goodness European quality coffees and hot chocolates. The eggs have naval orange golden yolks (have you ever noticed that yolk colors vary region to region, and country to country?), there are more types of mangoes at the local market than I knew existed, and there always seems to be a friendly and knowledgable person around to tell you what things like wagyu, rocket, capsicum, and dukkah are.

The two areas whose gustatory offerings we have explored most thoroughly are Manuka (pronounced Monica) and Kingston. Manuka is trendy and bustling, with lots of cafes, and good people watching opportunities. My Cafe has been a mainstay of our trip, with good options no matter the time of day, but an especial favorite for finishing off the night with hot chocolate for Jason. Charmers does an excellent breakfast with perfectly cooked over easy eggs, the craziest, biggest, best bacon you ever saw (though if you like yours crispy, you should be sure to ask), and super friendly service. Public seems the place to see and be seen after work (if you can raise your eyes from the paella and flourless chocolate torte with berry compote) and Wasabi does beautiful sashimi. Kingston is a bit quieter, homier, with some seriously good food, if not as many evening options (many places in Canberra, at least the Inner South, seem to do half day service. Kingston seems especially full of cafes that only do breakfast and early lunch service). There is an italian restaurant in Kingston, L’unico, that does a gluten-free pasta you would never guess wasn’t the real thing. At the Kingston Grind you can get great coffees and some of the best salads I’ve ever had. Ideallic also does an outstanding coffee (and nice latte art) and good, affordable sandwiches, with gluten-free options available.

We still have a week and a half left here in the summer-land before heading back into D.C. winter so hopefully many more adventures and pictures to come.

Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets

Just a couple of miles down the road from us, here at the corner of Canberra Avenue and Dominion, past Manuka, Kingston, and the train station, are the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets. Inconspicuously settled amid warehouses and industrial parks, Fyshwick Markets do not conform to the image that typically forms in the mind when one thinks of local farmers markets, but give it a chance. If not in a typical setting, they also present more than your typical wares. These markets, open Thursday to Sunday, have wholesale and retail fruits and vegetables in seemingly endless variety with callers to advertise their goods (Try our Forbes nectarines, so SWEET and JUICY! Fresh, tasty rockmellon! Minty sweet rockmellon!).

Mangoes at Fyshwick

Sun Gold mangoes

mangosteens

Fruit Caller

pineapples

Then, organic and gluten-free butchers, fishmongers, an oriental foods store, deli gourmets with cases piled high with cheeses and charcuterie, shelves stacked with local olive oils, jams and goodies of every description.

Meat Market

Organic Meat Market

There are several coffee shops/cafes, a restaurant with cooking school, a health food store, and The Nut Shop, whose name completely undersells the wonder of their offerings. Not only do they have shelves loaded down with huge bags of (for the area) reasonably price nuts, there a also bins full of loose, shell-on nuts, giant bags of flours, grains (beautiful black quinoa that would cost you your first born in D.C.), spices, herbs, and loads of middle eastern speciality foods and ingredients.

The Nut Shop

Also in the market is Plonk, a bottle shop with more that 800 beers (including gluten-free), ciders, and an entire section devoted to the wines of the Canberra region, Crust, a bakery with a pretty decent loaf of gluten-free bread, and, strangely, a pet store.

Crust

If you are ever in Canberra this market is definitely worth a stop; be sure to go early in the day if possible (shopping at any grocery outlet in Canberra between the hours of 4 and 6:30 is fairly hectic, and not a good experience for those who value orderly conduct and personal space).

Feast

Feast.  To me that word is redolent of picnicking Pickwickians, the overflowing hampers and larders of Ratty and Mole, and Hobbits (classic British authors have a way of describing food with a most wonderfully sympathetic, gleeful greediness).  One of the favorite meals in our house is something we call Feast.  Feast has many forms around a basic formula.  Meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables, bread and/or crackers.  Nuts, chocolate, and jams, pastes and pickles are optional.  It is roughly akin to the classic cheese board, but so much better!  Feast is the base for the perfect, quick picnic, an elegant,yet casual dinner with friends or a cozy tête-à-tête with the one you love.

After a solid week and a half of eating out here in Canberra, we were ready for a quiet meal at home (don’t get me wrong, the food here in Canberra has been outstanding, but it is nice to have a break from going out).  One of Jason’s co-workers was flying in Sunday and we found a wonderful market during the week, so out we ran to get feast for three.

Rockmellon (American English: Cantalope)

Sweet Slices

Forbes Nectarine

The Pink Lady

Crudités

Feast

Our Basic Feast

Herbes de Provence Roasted chicken

fresh goat cheese

sharp cheddar

apple slices (tart in our house)

“carrots in sauce”  that is a Jason term for carrots and other crudite style vegetables tossed with a champagne vinegarette

Wasa crackers and brown rice crackers

Amazing Additions/Substitutions

smoked salmon

deli meats (ham, turkey, etc)

hard salami

boiled eggs

any and all of the vast world of cheeses (though we have yet to find a place for blue cheese in Feast. . .or much of anything)

grapes

grapefruit

mango

any fruit!

crudité style veggies

cornichons

quince paste

honey

nuts

dark chocolate

whole grain mustard

Have a feast of your own?  Write or send pictures and share!