Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Litchfield National Park

Over the past couple of years I have heard a lot of talk about the Tropics of Northern Australia.  It was these conversations that I reflected on as we headed towards Litchfield National Park.  For weeks I had imagined myself dripping in sweat, with a machete in hand as I tried to penetrate the multiple layers of thick, lush, dense foliage.  However, the landscape that surrounded me as we approached the park was not the tropics that I had expected.  I am not sure if I was surprised or disappointed with the oh so familiar landscape of rugged sandstone terrain covered with countless eucalyptus trees and other scrub bushes.  I couldn't help but feel as though I could be anywhere in Australia.  However, over the next couple of days as we  explored the nooks and crannies of the area, I came to appreciate the ancient landscape that has been shaped over millions of years, and its sandstone vine-forests.  
Litchfield National Park is located about 120 kilometers southwest of Darwin.  The 1500 sq km area was scarcely known until it was proclaimed a National Park in 1986.  Today, the park receives more than a quarter of a million visitors yearly.  Locals and tourist are drawn to the park by its numerous perrenial spring-feed streams, permanent crystal-clear waterholes and spectacular waterfalls.  
Of course we didn't visit the park for the water but, instead, we hoped the hike the 39 kilometer Tabletop Bushwalk.  Unfortunately, due to recent rains, the trail was closed.  Instead, we did several shorter loops in the park and we were treated to a numerous rock holes, moonson forests, and gushing waterfalls. It was during these walks that I came to appreciate not only the role water has played in the formation of the land, but how its continual presences distinguishes the area from other parts of Australia.

Cascading Plunge Pools At Buley Rockhole

Florence Falls

Moonsoon Forest Near Wangi Falls

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Different Take On Artichokes

This week's PhotoHunt theme is purple.

These artichokes were not harvested and one of them has turned into a beautiful purple flower.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Traditional En Nogada Turns To Chicken

One of my favorite Autumn foods is Chiles en Nogada.  The dish is traditionally made each September when Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain--the primary colors of the plate (red, green, white) represent the Mexican flag.   September also happens to coincide with when the ingredients are in season.  When making the dish it is important to use the freshest walnuts for the sauce, or you won't be able to peel them and the sauce will come out brown.  This year when I saw a new crop of pomegranates and walnuts at the market (which happens to be in May here in Australia), I not only had to whip up a batch of Chiles en Nogada but I adapted the recipe to make stuffed chicken en nogada as well.  My recipe for Chicken Roulade en Nogada was adapted from Rick Bayless's Chiles en Nogada.  

Pollo en Nogada

18 fresh walnuts in their shells
1/2 cup milk
1/2 slice firm white bread, crust removed
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry sherry
1/4 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons oil
1/2 small white onion, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 poblano chile, roasted and peeled
1 tablespoons currants
1 tablespoon dried mango
1/2 small pear, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 small apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons silvered blanched almonds
1/2 cup neufchatel cheese

4 boneless chicken breasts
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoon oil

pomegranate seeds

Crack open the nuts and remove the meats in the largest pieces possible. Drop the walnut pieces (about 6 at a time) into a small pan of boiling water and immediately remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Peel the thin brow skin that covers each piece (if the nuts are nut fresh this will be a very difficult task).  Place the peeled walnuts into a blender jar with milk, bread, sugar, salt, and sherry. Blend until the puree is silky smooth (check by rubbing a drop between your fingers.)  If the mixture is too thick to blend you can add a little bit more milk, but just enough to get the blades moving. Finally add the cream and blend for a few seconds. If sauce is too thick you can thin it with milk. Taste for salt and sugar: the sauce should have a slightly sweet edge with just enough salt to bring out the flavor of the walnuts.  

Lay chile on a baking sheet set about 4 inches below a preheated broiler. Roast turning occasionally until soft, blistered and blackened. Remove chiles from oven and place in plastic bag with 1 tablespoon water. Let sit for 10 minutes. Peel the charred skin off the chiles and rinse. Remove seeds and veins and dice.

For the Filling:
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoon oil in 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion a cook, stirring frequently, until soft. Add the garlic and poblano and cook until fragrant. Stir in the currants, dried mango, pear, apple tomato, thyme and cinnamon. Add 1/8 cup broth, mix well, reduce heat and simmer until the apples and pears are tender (but not mushy). Season with salt. Remove from heat and cool.
While mixture is simmering, heat the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the almonds and fry, stirring constantly, until they are a deep golden color. Remove from oil, drain and cool on paper towel.
When cooked mixture and almonds are cool stir into the 1/2  cup neufchatel. Mix well.

Use a sharp knife to cut east breast horizontally, stopping 1/2 inch away from the edge so that the halves remain attached.  Open up the breasts to create 4 cutlets. Place 1 cutlet at a time between plastic and pound to 1/4-inch thickness.  Trim cutlets to form rectangles that measure about 8 by 5 inches.

Preheat oven to 325° F (160° C) 
With the thinnest end of the cutlets pointing away from you, spread 1/4 of the cheese filling evenly over each cutlet, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the short sides and 1/4-inch border along the long sides. Roll each breast up as tightly as possible without squeezing out filling. Use two pieces of twine to tie the bundles together. Pat each chicken roll dry.  
Place flour, beaten egg and water, and panko bread crumbs in three shallow dishes. Season the bundles with salt and pepper. Coat each chicken bundle with flour. Then dip in the egg wash and finally roll in the bread crumb mixture.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add, the chicken bundles and cook until golden brown on all 4 sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer rolls to oven proof dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until fully cooked.

Spread a thin layer or walnut sauce on plate. Place chicken bundles on top and garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shedding Crocodile Fears

Ever since we arrived in Australia a trip to the Top End has been in the planning, but somehow it never seemed to make it onto the calendar.  Something always stood in our way--nearly 3,000 km, a sold out train, the wrong season, very expensive airfares, or no space at the inn.  With enough advanced planning each of these obstacles could easily be over come, but there was one big hurdle that would be hard to get around--the area we planned to visit was a natural habitat for crocodiles and I am terrified of this beast.
Whenever my fear was discussed with other people that had visited the area, I was always assured that the National Parks did everything in their power, through warnings and closures, to keep their visitors safe.  But I wanted to know how on earth could they monitor a true predator in thousands of acres of its natural habitat?  Sure, the highly visited tourist attractions would be crocodile free, but what about the less visited longer hiking trails?  Couldn't there could be a large voracious aquatic reptile hiding in the tall grasses, just waiting for a tasty nibbly to walk by.  My only hope would be that it didn't fancy a tasty New Mexican treat.

One friend tried to convince me that the crocodile's bark is worse than its bite.  Perhaps that person didn't grow up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, because I don't exactly remember the Sunday evening doco of my childhood depicting  this wild creature as docile. Another Ex-pat confided that the the crocodile myth was just a bunch of croc made up by the Ozzies to scare foreigners.  Hmmm, what about the young girl that was drug away by a crocodile while playing on the riverbank a couple of summers ago?  The photos from the news reports are still vivid in my mind. 
Even though I was not convinced that the Top End was the safest place in the world, this past April I decided it was time for me to face my fears and we began to plan our trip for June. The timing seemed perfect since it would be the end of the wet season and start of the dry.  This meant that the dirt roads in the National Parks would be passable and hiking trails would be open.  Airfares were still affordable because it was the shoulder season, and we were able to finagle tickets for travel on the sold-out Ghan (I welcomed this opportunity because I was lacking the segment from Darwin to Alice Springs in my crossing of the continent from north to south and east to west by train).  It seemed like it was all coming together nicely, or at least it was until we started to look for accommodations.  There were plenty of rooms, but the the prices were outrageously high, and all of the hotel reviews stated warned avoid staying at the properties at all costs.  Camping had been ruled out after hearing stories of crocodiles roaming through campgrounds.  
Mark and I sat frustrated in front of the computer.  We were on a site trying to figure out why at one Caravan Park you could camp for less than $20, but a dumpy private en-suit unit was well over $200-- when suddenly we realized that the solution to our problem was simple.  We had rented a RAV 4 because of all of the dirt roads we would be driving on, and we could easily sleep in the back of the vehicle.  It wasn't like we hadn't slept in the back of such a car before.  We would be safe from any roaming crocodiles, and the only problem we would encounter would be the nighttime trek to the restroom.  This could be solved by limiting fluid intake in the evening.   So, with the addition of sleeping bags to our hiking gear, we were now ready to tackle the famous National Parks of the Top End.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nessie Of The Outback

This week's PhotoHunt theme is six

I was very fortunate to catch a glimpse and take a photo of this mystical six humped creature that lives in one of the many salt lakes of the Australian Outback.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Celebration Time

To help celebrate my 200th post, today I am serving up flan at mayarn.  This recipe comes from my mother's recipe box.  I have made the flan countless number of times since she taught me to make it when I was in my teens.  Of course, over the years I have played with the recipe--real vanilla, different types of sugar, cream, half and half--but decided to share the original recipe with my readers and let them adapt as they see fit.


Caramelized Sugar
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar

5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups milk

To make the caramelized sugar, heat the sugar in a small skillet and heat over medium, stirring constantly, until the sugar turns a light golden color.  Pour the liquid sugar into the bottom of an ovenproof plate. (I use a glass pie pan.)

To make the custard, in a sauce pan scald the milk over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Just before the milk comes to a boil remove pan from the heat.
In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a wire whisk until light colored. Then beat in the sugar and vanilla.
Return milk to flame and whisk in egg mixture.  Cook over medium low heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Make sure not to allow the custard to boil or it might curdle.
Pour mixture through a sieve into the carmel coated baking plate. Place the plate in a pan of hot water.  Cook in a 350° oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the custard comes out clean. Remove the plate from water, cool on a wire rack, and then refrigerate.  To serve, loosen the sides of the custard with a knife and invert onto a serving plate.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Birds Eye View

As I looked out the tiny window I was surprised to see lush, green hills surrounding Adelaide. In less than a month the rains had worked their magic and brought the land back to life.  As the airplane traveled northward I tried to settle back into my seat, but I couldn't resist an occasional peek out the window.  It was easy to visualize the land that passed thousands of feet below us--the green wheat fields, the undulating hills of the Flinders Ranges, and the wide open spaces.  It didn't take long for me to spot what I was looking for--Lake Eyre.  The great salt bed glistened in the sunlight.  As we followed its western lakeshore towards the northern lake the sparkling white sands slowly turned blue.  I knew that this was not a mirage.  The summer rains of the north had been plentiful and the normally dry lake bed was slowly filling with water.  Oh how I wished that the plane could swoop lower and allow us a closer view of this spectacular sight.  But even from my distant seat I was able to catch a glimpse of some of the great inland rivers that were bringing water and life to the normally dry and barren landscape--a sight to behold.
As we left the lake behind us I marveled at the multi-hued land below us.  The browns, yellows, whites, greens and reds indicated we were passing over the painted desert.  I searched the horizon for Coober Pedy, but was unable to spot the Opal Capital of the world.  As we continued to cross the continent Mother Nature changed her kaleidoscopic pallet for the vibrant red that defines Australia.  It was here that I had to turn from personal knowledge to imagination.  I was unfamiliar with what lay beyond the red center.  I had read about and heard stories of the top end, but I had yet to experience the tropics of Australia.  As I closed my eyes for the remainder of the trip visions of our visits to Costa Rica and Puerto Rico filled my mind.   I couldn't help but wonder how they would compare to what Northern Australia has to offer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

They "Say" It's Her Birthday

Yesterday, June 14th, was a public holiday in Australia--The Queen's Birthday.  It is interesting to note that the holiday was in honour of the British Queen, and it wasn't really her birthday.  However, since Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the official head of state is the Monarch of Realms we are treated to a Public Holiday in honor of the Queen's Birthday.  
The Monarch's Birthday was first celebrated in Australia in 1788, when Governor Arthur Phillip declared a holiday to mark King George III's Birthday. Originally the celebration occurred on the anniversary of the actual date of birth of the King or Queen.  However, after the death of King George V in 1936 the Second Monday in June was designated as the public holiday, no matter the actual birthdate of the reigning monarch.  Of course, there is always an exception to the rule.  Western Australia forgoes the June holiday, since the State has already set aside the previous Monday for Foundation Day.  Rather than celebrate two long weekends in a row, each year the Governor  designates a date to honour the monarchy.    

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bubble Bean

This week's PhotoHunt theme is bubbles.

It is not uncommon to come across these transparent bubbles on the beaches of Holdfast Bay.  I don't think they are jellyfish, but I think they maybe some kind of egg.  I've never seen anyone else give them much attention.  Do you know what they are?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Am Now A Stocker

Last January, just about the time that Australia was in the middle of a heat wave, I came across a blog for a recipe for Homemade Vegetable Stock.  At the time I wasn't about to whip up a bowl of soup.  Well, maybe a nice cool gazpacho, but nothing that required a stock.  However, the recipe caught my eye because it has been a long time since I've bought a can of broth or stock at the grocery store.  I make my own with chicken, and I tend to use it across the board.  So when I read the simple recipe that the blogger claimed changed her into a "stocker", I book-marked the page for a rainy day.  Well, that day has come and gone and I have to share the fabulous recipe with you.  I know that my readers in the Northern Hemisphere are in the same shoes I was several months ago, but I suggest you note this recipe for future use.  You will not be disappointed.

Vegetable Stock
Adapted from Phoo-D

2 leeks, rinsed, trimmed and chopped
3 medium onions,chopped
6 carrots, washed and chopped
8 celery stalks chopped, no leaves (they impart a bitter flavor)
1 bunch parsley stems
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
24 cups cold water

Place all ingredients in a large soup pot over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour.
Line strainer with cheese cloth and strain stock into a large bowl. Be sure to gently press down on solids to extract all flavor and liquid.  Discard the solids.
Stock can be used immediately, refrigerated or frozen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Little Batty

A trip to Sydney would not be complete without a visit to the Royal Botanical Garden.  The botanic garden, one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere, is located in the heart of Sydney's CBD (Central Business District).  The 30 hectares of gardens occupy a prime location on the shores of the Sydney Harbour.  They are the perfect place to learn about over 45,124 plants species, as well as to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the busy city.  Guided walks through the park are offered daily at 10:30 and leave from the Palm Grove Center.
In addition to being home to thousands of plants, the park also boasts a large population of Grey-headed Flying foxes. For 20 years these nectar and fruit eating bats have camped in the Royal Botanic Gardens.  22,000 Flying-foxes can be seen roosting during the day in large treetop colonies.  Unfortunately, the threatened (venerable to extinction) species is causing extensive damage to the heritage landscape and scientific plant collection.  However, there are current relocation programs planned.  The animals will be encouraged, through the use of noise, to roost in alternative camps but feed in the gardens at night.  The removal of the animal should not incur any injuries or deaths.  The relocation is scheduled this month.  
So next time you are in Sydney keep your eyes open and you may see a camp of these critters.  Last month, in different locations across the city, I saw several large bats flying around in the evening.  For those of you in Adelaide you may want to keep your eyes open as well.  I recently read that small colonies of Grey-headed Flying-foxes have been seen in Adelaide's eastern suburbs, and they might soon be moving to a neighborhood near you.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Let The Rain Fall Down...

As I stood in the kitchen preparing our evening tea, a sudden flash lit up the dark horizon.  The unexpected burst of light was soon followed by a loud crack that caused the wall of glass windows to rattle.  Over the next half an hour I was treated to an orchestrated light show--a visual and aural experience that only Mother Nature could provide.
The show announced the arrival of the rainy season.  We had experienced a few sprinkles over the past few months, but the amounts of precipitation were minimal and not  enough to bring the earth back to life.  But the threatening storms that were now gathering on the horizon were different.  Even though I could barely make out the clouds in the dark night, I knew they were heavy with water.  Their arrival would bring the much needed moisture.  The  rains would reverse the destruction that had occurred during the long, hot summer.  The ugly, barren, hills that had been drained of life by the blaring sun and hot wind will soon become vibrantly alive.  The dry river beds once again will flow with water.  But with the deluge will come a different kind of destruction.  The hardened land is incapable of absorbing the amount of water that is about to arrive.  A lack of vegetation will lead to erosion as the strong down pour swiftly carries away the dirt.  Below the sheets of water, that connect the sky to the earth, puddles will quickly form and flood the roadways of the concrete jungle.
In the wake of the storm we will look past the destruction.  We will rejoice, because even though we are able to live with the dust and dryness, it is a countryside textured with life and color with which we dream.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Twinkle, Twinkle....

This week's PhotoHunt theme is sparkles.

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées sure sparkles at Christmas time!  It isn't hard to see why in France the street is known as the most beautiful avenue in the world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Take A Walk On The Harbour Side

With the Sydney Harbour Bridge being one of its most famous icons, it should be no surprise that Sydney is located on Port Jackson, an inlet on the Pacific Ocean.  Port Jackson--aka Sydney Harbour--is a drowned river that extends 19 km between its entrance at the Headlands and the Parramatta River. 
It is impossible to visit Sydney without becoming familiar with Sydney Harbour--after all, the waterways are an integral part of the city.  What will vary, is how visitors choose to familiarize themselves with what many consider the finest harbour in Australia.  
There are those who will choose to take to the waters by ferry, water taxi or boat.  Others will sit at one of the many wharves and enjoy an elegant meal.  Some will settle for a swim.  The more adventurous may want a panoramic view with an adrenaline rush and join a guided  climb to the summit of one of the world's most famous bridges.  Most likely, all will stand on the Quay (pronounced key) to admire the Opera House.

On previous visits to the Harbour City I experienced many of the above.   I even had a birds eye view--no, I didn't dish out the big bucks ($300) to climb the bridge--, when I was treated to a holding flight pattern over the harbour.  As for as a dip in its waters, that just will not happen for this land lover.  Last month when we returned to Sydney, I decided that I was familiar with its famous body of water, but I really wanted to get to know it.  I wasn't sure how I would accomplish this.  So when I discovered a series of brochures created by the Walking Volunteers I was thrilled.  
I used the detailed brochures to map out a 50+ mile walking tour.  I started at North Head, worked my way up to the Parramatta river, and back to South Head.  Since the harbour has many bays and inlets each map gives several routes to walk, but I tried to stay as close to the water as possible.
Over 5 days I walked along shared bike paths, streets, and single track paths.  I crossed 5 major bridges.  I visited dozens of distinct neighborhoods, several National and Local Parks, numerous wharves, various lighthouses and countless bays.  I contemplated ancient aboriginal drawings.  I peeked in to the past at the historic Quarantine Station and former Forts--the tunnels, open batteries, barracks and trenches--that date back to the 1830's. I  delighted in  Mother Nature's treasures; her white beaches, rock pools, massive sandstone cliffs, kookaburras, and water dragons.  Of course, the entire walk was not picture perfect.  There were several stretches of busy roads, graffiti, and dilapidated areas.  However, what I found the saddest was the amount of garbage entering the water.  All I can say is that in this day and age there is just no excuse.
I realize that walking the entire Sydney Harbour is not for everyone.  However, I really recommend that any visitor to Sydney take some time and get off the beaten path.  If nothing else the views of the city skyline are spectacular.  To help in planning your walk--which can easily be coordinated with public transportation--pick up a Walking Costal Sydney Brochure or check it out online.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oysters A LaMaya

My husband loves oysters, but I don't like them and won't eat them. However, with world class oysters being produced less than 60 kms away--as the crow flies--I have learned how to cook them.  After mastering the more traditional Oysters Rockefeller, I began to play around with the ingredients and have adapted the recipe to have a more Southwestern Flavor.  Mark gives the following recipe rave reviews, though I can't comment since I have yet to try it!

One dozen fresh oysters on the half shell, oyster liquid reserved
4 sprigs Cilantro
2 green onions (including the green part)
1/8 cup fresh celery leaves
3 fresh tarragon leaves
1 small pickled jalapeño (adjust to you taste)
1 tsp fennel seed
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Rock salt 
Lime slices

Finely mince the cilantro, green onions, celery leaves, tarragon and jalapeño. Mix minced ingredients with the fennel, bread crumbs and the softened butter.  Make sure you don't over mix, you want a textured paste.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat your broiler. Lower the top rack to the middle of the oven. Line an ovenproof dish or baking sheet with one inch slightly moistened salt (this will keep the oysters level under the broiler, so that they won't tip over).  Plant the shells in the salt, making sure they're level. Place one oyster in each shell, plus a little bit of oyster juice. Spoon an equal amount of the prepared herb/butter mixture over each oyster.
Place the dish/baking sheet on the middle rack and broil until the edges of the oysters have curled and the herb butter is bubbling, 3-5 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure you don't overdo it. Serve immediately with lime slices.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

There's Nothing Like Australia

It is no secret that pre 2000, I had no desire to visit Australia.  It was as I watched the Land Down Under ring in the new millennium that the country became a blip on my radar.  At first I envisioned NYE at the Opera House, but as Europe became mundane in my eyes I started to dream of life in a distant, exotic land.  Then my dream came true.  In just two years Australia has exceeded my expectations and it never ceases to surprise me.  It has gone from a distant remote dusty corner of the world to a place I believe everyone should visit.
Tourism Australia also feels the world should visit their lovely continent and they have just unveiled a new international ad.  According to discussions I have seen on Facebook, Blogs, and in the media it seems like the campaign may not be as successful as it creators had hoped.
Personally I find the song a bit annoying, but in my eyes the visual images manage to capture the depth of what Australia has to offer.  The ad makes me want to hit the road and see all that is out there.  How about you?  Does the following video put Australia on your bucket list?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

'Tis The Season...

Today is the first day of winter.  For some who live in other parts of the world this may seem strange.  After all, for those in the Northern Hemisphere the short days of winter are becoming a memory as you look forward to summer.  However, if you were schooled in the same way as I you will not officially announce summer until June 21st.  If the seasons between the Northern and Southern hemisphere are opposite, then it would seem logical that winter would start on the same date.  So why am I announcing the arrival of winter on the 1st of June?
Since moving to Australia I have learned that even though the calendar is divided into the same four seasons as other parts of the world,  the "official" start date does not coincide with the equinox or solstice.  Instead, here in Australia the change of the season is marked on the 1st day of  December, March, June and September for the start of Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, respectively.
So once again my cross-cultural experience has taught me that even though internationally in temperate zones seasons are divided into 3 months and have similar characteristics--amount of daylight and temperatures--, the actual start and end date varies across the globe.