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
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
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.
1+ lb. ground beef (or turkey or your meat substitute)
kosher salt and pepper
bacon optional (a really, really good option)
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)
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!
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.
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.
Good morning! For a change it is an absolutely radiant, though windy, day here in the D.C. area. I want to start off apologizing for the long radio silences this spring. To be honest, cooking has simply not been my number one priority. Innovative cooking and recipe testing have given way to tried and true recipes that take little time and preparation as I’ve been busy painting these,
hand painted stripes on bathroom wall. . .10.5 ft. tall bathroom wall!
my new shirt ( I have mad love for navy blue gingham)!
tagging along on work trips, visiting family and . . .preparing for Australia part 2! That’s right, on May 30 we will once again be heading down under for a month of work (for J), play and exploration. We are hoping to expand beyond the bounds of Canberra this time; any suggestions on must see places in the Sydney/Canberra region (remember, it will be winter while we are there)?
All of that said, I hope to have some good food to share with you soon. For the time being, I encourage those of you in the Northern Hemisphere to take advantage of the amazing fruits and veg that are flowing into stores and farmers markets: succulent strawberries, mind-blowingly sweet melon, refreshingly tart rhubarb. My challenge to myself every spring/summer is to try a seasonal food that I currently think I do not enjoy and see what happens. Our taste buds and perceptions of flavors are constantly changing; that formerly belittled berry may be your mouth’s new best friend!(On the opposite end of the spectrum you may still hate it and have the fun of lots of spitting and pulling faces.)
For anyone who is not yet entirely sick of hearing about our first trip to Australia, here is a video my husband put together from the hundreds of clips he took in January (he went recorder crazy)!
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.
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
1 c. arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice
½ of a small white or yellow onion, medium dice
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.
Can’t think what to do with that left-over squash. Try this soup, or maybe these treats!
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
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
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):