As I type this a gentle rain is falling on an empty vegetable patch in my backyard in Canberra. There is little evidence of the tomatoes and chillies laden with fruit that I left behind three months ago. The plants are gone and the soil has been turned over and the garden is now littered with the newly-chewed bones of a desert dog called Sailor, my sole companion during the four day drive home from the Lands.
The journey south was broken up by a week in Melbourne spent re-civilising my wardrobe and my palate. I dodged swine flu but not the inevitable hangover that accompanied a night of fine dining with the man you may know as Nabakov. Should any of you ever have the pleasure, take note: he doesn’t do sardines or tofu, or any combination of the two, and likes his Scotch neat and in large quantities. I would have written a review of the evening but due to my own excessive consumption of wine and whiskey, details have been lost and I am left with only fragments and vague impressions. I do recall the barramundi was excellent and the cognac expensive, and that I laughed rather a lot and probably too loudly in between smoking all of Nabs’ cigarettes.
When I first got back to Canberra I took a few days to unpack, catch up with friends and try to get my head around the fact that I now have to write a very large thesis. It wasn’t until yesterday when I baked a batch of muffins that I finally began to relax. Baking, I have come to realise, makes me feel at home. For what it’s worth, here are some other reflections related to my original motivation for this blog. Over the past few months I have been constantly struck by the great efforts that people go to in order to eat well when they are living in difficult circumstances. Good food is celebrated and treated with respect. In this generalisation I include not only the many non-Aboriginal staff I met who delight in devising elaborate menus from basic items, hoard special ingredients and pay outrageous amounts of money for fresh green vegetables, but also the many Aboriginal men and women, some of whom are greatly advanced in years, who continue to make the effort to walk great distances across country in pursuit of the foods that they love: tirnka goannas, yams, kangaroo, bush onions etc. Sure, we are all guilty of the occasional chicken wing-ding from the local roadhouse, but that’s just what you eat when getting the food you really want is just too hard or too expensive.
My other observation is that it is the most temporary of places with the most transitory clientele that suffer the most from lack of care about food: the roadhouse restaurants along the 800km stretch of the Stuart Highway between Port Augusta and Alice Springs; the cafes at Yulara resort servicing the many thousands of tourists visiting Uluru every year; and the make-do meals I prepared for myself when spending a night camped on the side of the road.
One final recipe to share from my travels. During my last week in Lands I finally managed to secure the meal I had so greatly desired and long pursued without success. In their humble Warburton home, made cosy with a mix of boho Melbourne decor and wild desert paintings, the lovely Kate and Ben served me a fabulous feast of roast of camel. Our humped friend had been secured by the local camel hunter and did not disappoint: tasty without being overwhelmingly strong, firm but tender, no stringy bits and very little fat. Meat doesn’t get much better than this. With half a million feral camels wandering around Central Australia, I have to wonder why we aren’t eating more of it. Let’s get more humps on tables, I say.
Mr Fox’s Roast Camel
Embed numerous garlic cloves deep in the flesh of a large fillet of camel, preferably obtained from the back strap under the hump. Baste with red curry paste and top with bacon and other stuff as takes your fancy. Cook for a couple of hours in a slow oven – the longer it is cooked the more tender it will be. Serve with sides of baked polenta, rocket salad fresh from the garden and a spicy green tea. Yum.