Tag Archives: Canberra

beetneggburger2

This Is How They Do It Down Under: Aussie Burgers

Can you be homesick for a place you have never called home?  I miss Australia. I miss the smell of the air, the sounds of the voices, the quality of the sunlight, and the amazing wildlife.  To try and assuage my longing a bit, I decided to make a very Australian version of an everyday food: the humble hamburger.

An Australian hamburger has several key elements that differ from the typical American variety:  sliced, cooked beets, fried eggs, and capsicum, a condiment made from bell peppers  and spices that is used as a sandwich spread.  Also, rocket, a play on the French rocquette or arugula, is typical rather than lettuce, at least in restaurants.   I wasn’t able to find any capsicum on short notice, but the beets, egg, and arugula were enough to bring a cozily reminiscent taste to the meal.

Of course, every burger needs a fry, just ask my husband.  His food wish is my command, so here are two recipes for the price of one.

Oven Thyme Fries

serves 4-6

2 med.-lg. russet potatoes, cleaned (and peeled if not organic), and cut in 1/4 to 1/3″ thick stick, or wedges, or whatever you like

olive oil

kosher salt

fresh or dried thyme

Preheat oven to 450.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Toss cut potatoes with olive oil, salt and thyme.  Cook in oven, turning over gently once, until goldeny brown or done to your liking.  Check at 15 minutes and again every 5 minutes after.

Aussie Burger

serves 4

1+ lb. ground beef (or turkey or your meat substitute)

kosher salt and pepper

bacon optional (a really, really good option)

rocket/arugula

red onion

tomato

1 cooked beet (canned or boil it yourself with water and a touch of vinegar), sliced

1 egg per person

capsicum (or condiments of your choice)

buns optional

Heat cast iron pan on medium heat.  Separate ground meat into four equal portions and, manipulating it as little as possible, form into patties.  Salt and pepper the outside of the meat.  Place on hot pan and cook to desired doneness.  Fry eggs in a bit of olive oil or butter (just a touch).  Layer on your goodies and enjoy this, perhaps unusual, treat!

Gandalf Trail

Down Under the Weather

Westlake, Yarralumla

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft agley,  Robert Burns

In other words, things don’t always go as planned.  I mentioned in this post that Jason and I would be returning to Canberra, Australia for the month of June.  We were really excited about the opportunity and it built up in our minds into a fairly important, potentially life-altering trip.  During our January sojourn health, happiness and suitability lined up so wonderfully that we were even considering a move to Canberra or a similar climate!  Can you see the expectations mounting?

The flights over went as beautifully as 26 hours of travel could go (Dramamine, where have you been all my life?!).  Setting down finally in Canberra, we disembarked into what seemed a remarkably mild winter .  Came the first surprise:  we were taken to an apartment we were sharing with two other guys!  Yep. . .I’ve never had a roommate, other than my husband; I didn’t live in dorms at college, and I had no full time siblings growing up.  I was feeling some trepidation about not knowing the rules of living with other people and how sharing space works (also fears of being loathed by Jason’s co-workers by month’s end).  Luckily, I’m pretty sure it was the easiest introduction to roomies that anyone ever had;   the guys were great and we bonded over rugby and the flu.

That’s right, surprise number two:  all of us got the flu; in fact, it seemed like all of Canberra had the flu.  Jason and I were able to hang on steadily through the first week and a half feeling a bit tired and run down, but completely able to function.   We took in the Canberra University vs. Wales game at the Olympic training grounds, visited our favorite restaurants (hi, Tom!),found some new favorites (Brodburger– best burger in Canberra), and spent as much time as possible up in the hills.

Canberra University vs. Wales

bottom of the hill

half way up the hill

top of the hill. . .lovely

Rain forced me inside several times this trip, allowing me to taking in an amazing exhibition of Antarctic photography , a stunning touring exhibition of von Guerard landscapes, and a really interesting series of paintings about the life and career of Ned Kelly at the NGA.

Sidney NOLAN, Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan. Image property of NGA

Finally, we both landed like a ton of bricks, oozing, hacking,wheezing and sneezing our second weekend away.  My insistence that fresh air would be good for us, and exercise boost our immune systems earned me a secondary upper respiratory infection.  After a successful trial run with the Australian health care system, antibiotics, and a few days of lying in bed with soup and P.G. Wodehouse, I convinced myself that I was well enough to spend my last full day up in the hills I love, watching kangaroos nap, kookaburras laugh, and myriad parrots, parakeets and cockatoos paint the sky with their dazzling plumage.

Wodehouse. . .I know, I have a problem

Gandalf Trail, Red Hill

Macedonian Orthodox Church St. Kliment of Ohrid

kookaburra on approach to Mt. Mugga Mugga

kangaroo on Red Hill

I’m glad that I got out that last day, even though I subsequently added a sinus infection to the list of woes.  Being sick when we could have been well, cold when we could have been warm, and watching the sun go down at 4pm, knowing it was shining on well into the evening at home was making us both a bit dour while we were trapped in the apartment.  Getting back up into the hills, being bathed in sunshine allowed for a return to balance and an important lesson.  Since moving to the D.C. area I have been both continually ill and ill at ease.  I’ve always wondered if I really dislike the area, or if it is merely a circumstantial prejudice.  Knowing how much I loved Canberra in January, and seeing how close I had come to thinking it a miserable hole while sick, I’m inclined to try harder to see the sunny side of D.C.  So, no, we are not moving to Canberra, the trip was a total bust for testing respiratory health in different climates and we were absolutely ready to come home.  We would love to go back, eventually, and I miss the gum trees and birds every time I go outside, but for now we are quite content to ‘bide a wee here in D.C.


frost at Fyshwick

 

arborio3

The Beauty of Butternut: Butternut Squash Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano and Pistachios

I love butternut squash.  Apparently, I’m not alone in this unlikely adoration.  Nearly every restaurant I went to in Australia offered several butternut or other winter squash options: spinach salad with roasted butternut squash, sun dried tomatoes and feta, pumpkin and butternut ravioli, purees,pastas and, my favorite, butternut squash risotto.  For nutritional reasons and honest preference I do not eat white rice frequently, but I knew after one bite I would have to have a butternut risotto recipe in my arsenal after returning home.  I wanted something creamy and warm but with a bright flavor, something that let the simple goodness of the ingredients shine through.  Here are the results (I’m not quite sure why there is a halo of light around the rice. . .I like to think it is glowing with goodness!).

Butternut squash risotto with parmigiana reggiano

Risotto in its most basic form consists of a sofrito, one or more aromatics such as onion or garlic sauteed in olive oil or butter, rice, wine, and stock.  Most people say that butter and parmigiana reggiano are also part of the basic list, though I’ve found a few dissenters.  Use of the correct rice is essential to a successful risotto.  Short grained round or semi-round rices such as arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano are the only rices with a high enough starch content to produce the creamy yet toothsome texture that makes risotto so enticing.  Arborio rice is the most readily available in the U.S.; carnaroli (actually a medium grained rice) and vialone nano have higher starch content, said to make for a creamier, less sticky finished product.  The richness of the rice, cheese and butter are cut by the citrus brightness of the wine and the delicate sweetness of the squash.  For an extra kick of protein and flavor try mixing in some smoked salmon.

arborio rice

pistachios

spanish onion

creamy, but with no excess liquid pooling

Butternut Squash Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano and Pistachios

serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a first course or side

Ingredients

1 c. arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice

½ of a small white or yellow onion, medium dice

olive oil

½ small butternut squash, grated

½ c. white wine, heated

2 ¼ c. chicken stock

(*arborio rice absorbs roughly 1.5 times its volume in liquid.  The rice you use may vary slightly.  It doesn’t hurt to have a bit more heated stock on hand the first time you make this.  Once you see how much liquid the rice you prefer absorbs, adjust the recipe accordingly.)

2 tsp. butter

1/2-3/4 c. parmigiano reggiano, finely grated

roughly chopped pistachios

In a small pan heat chicken stock to a simmer.

Sautee onion in 1 Tbs. olive oil until just beginning to soften. Add grated squash and cook until both are softened and onion is translucent. Remove from pan to clean bowl and set aside. Add more oil to the pan if necessary and add rice, stirring to cover each grain in the fat. Over medium heat sautee rice until it begins to become translucent and give off a warm, toasty fragrance, roughly five minutes. Add squash and onion back to the pan and mix. Cook for approx. two minutes longer, then add heated wine (if the wine is cold it will shock the rice causing the outside surface to flake while the inside remains hard).

When the wine has evaporated, increase the heat to medium high and begin to gradually add the simmering stock,one ladle at a time, stirring constantly from this point on. Before the liquid has completely absorbed add more stock. Continue the cycle of stock and stir for 15 to 20 minutes until two cups of the stock have been absorbed. Taste to see if the risotto has reached a desired level of doneness. If you like yours a bit less al dente, add and cook down remaining ¼ cup of stock. Remove from heat; add butter and parm. regg. and stir till smooth and creamy. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

enjoy

Can’t think what to do with that left-over squash.  Try this soup, or maybe these treats!

Summer birthday!

Canberra: Part Two

We are back home in Virginia now, longing for the sunshine we left behind and battling crazy jet-lag (that would be why I’m writing this post at 1 am and some bits of it might not be entirely coherent).  The last two weeks in Canberra were wonderful!  I had my first summer birthday, spent walking through courts of kangaroos, forests filled with gum and eucalyptus trees playing “I spy” for koalas, and desperately fleeing flies at Tidbinbilla Nature Park.

Up close and personal at Tidbinbilla

Male, female and joey resting out of the sun

It was amazing to wander among the kangaroos in their natural environment!

Flock of cockatoos in Tidbinbilla Nature Park

Sulphur-crested cockatoos

Jason at Tidbinbilla (surrounded by kangaroos. . .even though you cannot see them in this picture)

Koala: was released unsuccessfully into the wild by a zoo, he now lives in this snazzy hut in a gum forest with other, wild koalas

Summer birthday!

Also in those two weeks I, sometimes we, hiked gorgeous hills, observed the celebration of Australia Day, spent days lounging in the sun at an art deco swimming pool/bath house, and ate lots and lots more lovely food.

Art Deco Era Manuka Swimming Pool

One of many mosaics at the Manuka Swimming Pool lawn

In the kiddie pool

The necessity of staying in one relatively small place for work, rather than hopping all over Australia as tourists, allowed us to really learn Canberra, to have “places”, to get off the beaten path and to explore at our leisure all the city has to offer.  After spending most of the year being jostled about in the D.C. area, I most often opted to spend my days exploring outdoors, hiking the hills and nature reserves that surround and meander through the city, walking loops around the lake, or just walking through the neighborhoods.  Jason and I did explore some of Canberra’s wonderful museums and memorials, and spent our evenings strolling under the gum trees to dinners at our favorite restaurants and cafes, sometimes with friends, sometimes just us two.  Almost all of the food we had was really good:  fresh, fresh ingredients, cooked when you ordered it and kitchens always willing to accommodate food allergies if the menu didn’t already list allergy safe options (which 75% of the restaurants in Manuka and Kingston did).

Jason's BBQ Kangaroo burger. . .I know, it seems so wrong, but Australians swear they are cows that bounce (awful quality from video still)

Flat-white at Urban Pantry (another video still. . .Jason really liked videos on this trip!)

In those last two weeks we realized that nearly every cafe offered freshly squeezed juices and three kinds of hot chocolate. . .three. Also, milk is not a beverage typically ordered by adults, and Jason doesn’t need a translator in Australia (I guess Southern makes sense in the Inner South)!  It was summer, the sun was shining, we were together:  it was amazing.

Things to look forward to (inspired by our stay in Canberra):

Gluten-Free Banana Nut Bread (banana nut bread is EVERYWHERE in Canberra)

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Pecorino Romano (tons of risotto and squashes in Canberra as well, and combinations of the two)

National Carillon

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.