The first instalment of the tale of Pamela’s journey is here.
Day 1: Canberra to Mildura (700 and something kms)
This morning the Parents sent me off into the world with a stomach full of poached eggs and bacon and in a ute packed with donated blankets and clothes (thank you Wamboin craft group, and Trish and Glen). I only got as far as Yass before I stopped for a coffee (it was a slow start). It was the beginning of what turned into a disastrous day’s eating.
Handy Hint #1: If you are ever in the position of having to buy a tall flat white at McDonald’s McCafe, make sure you ask for a double shot.
The coffee was in fact so bad that I couldn’t drink it. But against all logic, I actually chose to stop at the next McDonalds (Gundagai) to buy another one. But this time, a long black. I figure there’s not too many people in this world who can ruin a long black.
Turning off the Hume Hwy, I made north for Wagga Wagga and then west through a landscape that produces so much of our food, gourmet or otherwise: the endless, empty wheat fields of the Hay Plain; the orchards and irrigation flats of the Murray-Darling basin rivers of the Murrumbidgee; the acres of land cleared for grazing around Balranald. I was playing tag with a truck carrying 600 sheep for live export to Saudi Arabia, the driver of whom stopped to check on his flock almost as regularly as I was stopping to pee.
I had completely forgotten about the “no fruit” rule in orchard country. The resulting loss was profound. Into the bin goes the kilo of NZ apricots brought at Woolies Dickson (no great loss, weren’t that nice anyway); a Tupperware container harvest of my own cherry tomatoes (these, on the other hand, were very yum); the one capsicum I had managed to grow this summer (just the one, lovingly tended for months!); and the last of the yellow plums off my tree in Kaleen. All this beautiful food now sits in the bottom of a bin somewhere on the Sturt Hwy. How depressing.
I was so upset I resolved not to buy any other food for the rest of the day. So I nibbled my way to Mildura on boiled eggs, carrots and a slice of tasty cheese. All washed down with sips of a long black that was getting on for six hours old. Finally pulled in to Mildura around 8pm, paid ten bucks for a tent site at a caravan park on the banks of the Murray River, rolled out my swag beside the car (who needs tents?!?) and popped on the billy to make myself a cup of instant miso soup. While waiting for the water to boil, I headed to the amenities. The Ladies featured a striking fake-plant-fairy-light-sculpture that I loved so much I considered stealing it.
Handy Hint #2: When instructed to mix instant miso soup with a small cup of boiling water, make sure the cup is VERY small. Or add a double shot.
Day Two: Mildura to Adelaide (a leisurely five hour drive)
Handy Hint #3: Check the weather report to make sure it’s not going to rain in the middle of the night when you decide to forgo the shelter of a tent and sleep out under the stars…
Today was Gourmet all the way. It started at Mildura’s most famous café, Stefanos, with a truly gourmet hot cross bun (generously sized with big, juicy raisins, perfectly spiced, glazed with marmalade and still warm – I would drive hundreds of kilometres just to get my hands on one of these) and a coffee. Perfect for a drizzly autumn morning. I don’t usually have a great deal of time for men who like to put their faces on bottles of sauce, but it has to be said that the presence of celebrity cook Stefano in the neighbourhood has given the local foodies something worth cooing about. And what a perfect place for Gourmet to be, with the best of fresh fruit, veges, meat, olive oil and wine all locally available. His cafe stocks it all, from blood-orange marmalade to squid-ink pasta. I couldn’t go past the “Murray River gourmet salt”, soft flakes of perfect pale pink harvested from local lakes. Delicious. My sagely frugal (and gorgeous) sister-in-law will be horrified to learn that I paid $8 for a bag of the stuff, but I figure I was merely spending a little of what I saved by sleeping on the ground in the rain last night.
I was in no hurry to get to Adelaide, so I pottered along the highway, stopping at wineries, fruit stalls and coffee shops along the way whenever the whim took me. I had a particularly tasty spinach pastie from the bakery at Waikerie (home of Nippys – the makers of the best commercial ice-coffee ever). The filling was a bit too salty but I was totally sold by the caraway seeds on top. Nice.
There is something particularly indulgent about tasting ten different wines at ten thirty in the morning, particularly if (like me) you have no idea about wine. I found a couple of organic bottles near Renmark, and a rather yummy 2005 cab sav as I came through the Barossa. Think I’ll save that one for next time I fall in love.