Jumpin' into Australian Wonders

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A five o'clock wake up probably isn't on anyone's 'favourites' list, but armed with cameras and coffee, we dingy-ed to the beach at Cape Hillsborough, Australia in hopes of capturing some spectacular photographs.

Years ago, every dawn and dusk, nearby kangaroos and wallabies would venture out onto the Cape Hillsborough beach for food and water. When people discovered this habit, they flocked to the beach, pushing the kangaroos and wallabies farther away until they no longer frequented Cape Hillsborough.

The Red Kangaroo is the largest surviving marsupial in the world and the most common of the four main breed of kangaroos living in Australia. A male Red Kangaroo can stand up to two meters tall at full height and weigh 200 pounds. The males can cover 8-9 meters in one leap, reaching a height of 1.8-3 meters. Their tails can grow up to 1.2 meters. 

While the males are the largest mammals native to Australia, the females are considerably smaller. A full grown female can weigh anywhere from 40-88 pounds, have a tail of 26-33 inches and stand approximately 1.5 meters tall. 

Before all of the Red Kangaroo's natural predators became extinct, these Roos had a clever way to outsmart their attackers. Being skilled swimmers, a pursued roo would lead its unsuspecting assailant into the water, where it would then drown its enemy.

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Nowadays, dingoes and eagles are the only remaining natural dangers to kangaroos, and only to joeys, who lack the size and aggressiveness that the larger marsupials have. When provoked, an adult kangaroo can stand up on its hind legs, using its tail as a tripod, to deliver a powerful blow with its large back feet.

Red Kangaroos prefer to live in scrubland, grassland or desert, providing there are enough trees for them to lounge in the shade of. These roos are somewhat Home-based, choosing an area to live in and only moving on when absolutely necessary. A lack of food or a drought could force a kangaroo family to move onto new feeding grounds. Sometimes kangaroos travel and live in groups of up to 1,500 roos. Kangaroos are fairly nocturnal animals, preferring to relax or sleep in the shade during the day and becoming more active at night during the cooler hours.

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When Europeans first discovered kangaroos when they explored Australia, they described their find as an animal with a head like an antler-less deer, who hopped like a frog and stood upright like a human. When these travellers saw a joey peaking out of its mothers' pouch, stories spread back home in Europe about the infamous two headed kangaroo.

Cape Hillsborough has, again, become a popular hangout for kangaroos and wallabies during the dawn and dusk hours. After the kangaroos and wallabies were pushed away by tourists, a local campsite manager began leaving food on the beach, luring them back.

Now, with a barrier in place so people don't impose, Cape Hillsborough is back in the tourist books. People gather on the beach at six in the morning, cameras poised, ready to snap shots of kangaroo silhouettes against the sunrise.


Cooking Improvisations

When we move to a different island with different stores and food options almost as frequently as normal people take out the trash, improvising for ingredients becomes a skill all on its own.

One evening, I was attempting to make a lime relish for some fish dad had caught, and the recipe called for currants. What even is a currant? I know what it means according to the ocean, but had no idea it was something edible as well.

So Wikipedia offline (because duh, we have no wifi) comes to the rescue: "a currant is a small, seedless dried fruit in the grape family."

Ok well that's helpful. Being in the middle of the ocean, over a hundred nautical miles from land in any direction, it wasn't very likely that I was going to be able to walk on down to a grocery store and pick up some currants. After digging around in a cupboard, being pumelled by a few cans of salmon, a jar of peanut butter and soup mix, I finally found a bag of sun dried tomatoes. They're both dry and wrinkly so those will work just fine.

Another day, I wanted to make pumpkin pie. Of course, no cooking adventure ever goes quite as planned. 'Pumpkin' as we know it in Canada is unknown here, so instead, I bought a squash from the local market. Close enough. A little extra cinnamon and you could never tell the difference. Thanks to Grandma, who being a good Mennonite, knows how to cheat almost any recipe, is always ready to Google a recipe for me and send it via our offline, satellite based email.

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And now another kind of culinary predicament presents itself. A canoe full of cute little local kids paddle up beside our boat and want to trade a bag of limes for balloons and pencil crayons. Their English skills are about as good as our Pigeon, so the request for only five limes doesn't quite make it across.

We hand over the pencils and balloons, and the smallest kid hauls over a massive bag of about 50 limes. Now the real question arises: What on earth are we going to do with all these limes?

Four key lime pies, three jugs of lime-onade, two batches of lime cookies and one container of ice cream later, we are still left with at least three dozen limes. Time to start squeezing and freezing. 

If you need to make a pie crust and haven't seen graham crackers in almost three years, I find that the best substitute is to make cookie dough and bake that into the shape of a pie crust. 

So if you're ever cooking and the recipe calls for some fancy name brand spice or another ingredient you don't have on hand, never fear. Most ingredients have a substitute. If they don't, then you just end up creating a whole new recipe. 


Here are two of my favourite boat friendly desserts to make:

Monkey Bread

For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water
1 package of yeast
2 tbsp butter and extra to grease the pan (Can be substituted with oil)
3/4 cup milk (Water works alright as well)
1/4 cup sugar and a pinch for yeast
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3 1/4 cup flour

For the coating:
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup chopped nuts
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar

  • Put the warm water and pinch of sugar into a bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  • Combine butter, milk, sugar, salt and egg.
  • When the yeast is foamy add the milk mixture and flour, stirring slowly. Cover and set aside to rise for 20 minutes.
  • To make the coating, melt butter in one bowl and set aside. 
  • In another bowl combine brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts. 
  • Tear off bits of dough and roll into ping-pong size balls. 
  • Dip in butter and roll in sugar mix. Place on greased pan. 
  • Let rise until doubled, about an hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 mins. Let it cool.

*This recipe is also very good for a garlic bread. Just leave out 1/4 cup sugar from the dough and roll the dough in a garlic, salt and butter mix instead.

Coffee Cake

For the cake:
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp vanilla (We never have vanilla so I use pancake syrup)
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup milk

For the topping:
1 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cinnamon

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla (Or that handy syrup)

  • Combine all the cake ingredients and blend well.
  • Pour into a greased 9 by 13 pan. 
  • Combine all of the topping ingredients. Pour evenly over the batter and swirl in with a knife. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. 
  • Combine glaze ingredients and mix until it's the consistency of syrup. Drizzle over the cake and it will set harder.

Traditional Vanuatu Sand Drawings

Vanuatu is a place full of friendly people, cheap chocolate and culture. I'm sure you can guess which is the main tourist draw.

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One of the main cultural experiences you can see here is their traditional sand drawings. Sand drawings are more like the illustrations for a story. As the artist draws the design in the sand, they tell a story or sing a song and the picture helps describe the tale.

First, a grid is drawn, which the artist will use as reference points to make sure each section of the drawing perfectly mirrors the section opposite to it. The artist won't take their finger off of the ground until the depiction is completed.

By the time artisan is finished the sketch, you won't be able to see the grid any longer, only the swirls and loops depicting the myth or legend they are telling.

In November of 2003, the UNESCO declared the Vanuatu sand drawings to be a "Masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity." Vanuatu was also presented with an award that recognized the outstanding cultural value of sand drawing and were encouraged to sustain this unique, traditional practice.

Personally, I think there should have been an award presented to the chocolate as well.

 
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Kindergarten in Fiji

Coming from the big, modernized island of Viti Levu, Fiji to the small, simple, even somewhat poor, island of Fulaga, it may seem a bit lacking. But could it actually be superior for some people?

For the last week and a half we have been anchored in Fulaga, Fiji. A beautiful bay filled with a smattering of tiny islands. The top of the crystal clear water is dotted with chunks of limestone whose bottom halves have been eroded and leave only a thin stem holding up the humongous rocks. 

 
 

We met up with a boat we knew from Tahiti with two kids and a guest and we were all invited to school for the day in the village. On this remote island, the local kids are only educated in their village until grade 8. Then, they move to the main island for the remainder of their schooling. 

Because my grade isn't taught here, I went to help in the kindergarten class. Kinsley, my friend from the boat we met, came with me. 

When we arrived in the oceanfront classroom, it seemed like the kids' first thoughts were, "Avoid the white ones!" Though it didn't take long for them to change their tune to, "Let's sit on the white ones and make them read us a million stories!"

At the beginning of the day, the teacher led the kids through their, 'Preparation for grade 1' performance. To start, the kids lined up side-by-side and announced their name, age, and what they wanted to be when they grew up. Most of the children were shy and, I think, a little nervous so they spoke quietly, while a couple of them yelled at the top of their lungs. When it was his turn, one little boy screamed, "I'm five years old and when I grow up, I'm going to be a soldier!" 

The teacher asked Kinsley and me if we knew any crafts that we would like to teach to the kids. Well, what better craft for South Pacific kindergarteners than cut-out snowflakes. When they each had coloured their papers, they stood in front of Kinsley and I, holding up their artwork until either she or I commented on how colourful it was or how much we liked the butterflies they drew. It took a while but, eventually, we helped 15 kids make their snowflakes, using only the most basic English words, that I'm not sure if they understood anyway. 

When these kids get older and they have completed the education that the school here can offer, some will stay on the island and simply not finish school. Some may move to the mainland and come back after they graduate. And there are some who may graduate and never come back to Fulaga. The people that live here are perfectly happy with their way of life, but when some of them get to the bigger islands and cities, they might find that the palm leaves are greener on that side of Fiji. The ones who stay here think they're better off, and the ones who leave think the same. 

But would you trade the simplicity of the joyful, content, tight knit community on this tiny isolated island, for the modern conveniences, amenities and opportunities that the larger cities have to offer?


Cooking Around the World

Since being on the boat, I've started trying my hand at cooking a little more. I love experimenting with some of the unique local foods to create different meals. While we were in Cusco, Peru, mom found a cooking class for her and me to attend. Since then we have kept an eye out for other culinary opportunities along our way.

Last week, I found another class for us to take in Denerau, Fiji. "Master Class Fiji" was a new program dedicated to raising money to help, "The advancement of women in our kitchens."

For one week, five different professional chefs a day from around Fiji would give a demonstration. Each chef was allowed to choose nine people from the audience to cook at three tables, working along with the chef. I was able to participate in the first two classes, but I only watched for the other two. (The day we went only had four classes.)

On the first class of the first day, Lance Seeta, who is an executive chef at Mala Mala Resort, gave a class on different meals with tuna. Mostly raw tuna, mind you. This was my first time tasting raw tuna, and surprisingly, it was very good. Maybe it was just the way I made it.

He made two dishes. The first one was with a partially cooked tuna steak, so that eased me into the whole 'raw tuna' thing. But in the second part of the first dish, there was no cooked fish. Only raw. Before we began assembling the plate, the chef asked us all to try a piece of the raw fish. I tried it, and I'll just say that there was a tad less in our bowl than everyone else's when we were ready to add the tuna to the main plate.

 
 

The third class of the day was taught by Amanda Young, a Master Chef Patissier. Unfortunately, I didn't get to participate in this class, but I was able to watch and eat. The dish she was creating was a huge, edible garden, displayed on a long metal table that was wheeled into the middle of the room. So, I suppose her 'dish' was really a table.

Using a humongous piping bag, she drew a tree using white chocolate mousse, Italian meringue and coffee anglaise. Then she used a blow torch to scorch the meringue, causing it to take on a bark-like texture. She used crumbled chocolate cake and edible flowers to decorate it, and sprinkled powdered sugar everywhere to look like snow.

She also made chocolate macaroons and blown sugar oranges out of isomalt, instead of regular sugar, which is some kind of fancy sugar I've never heard of.

After melting the isomalt down, she added orange food colouring and let it cool so that she could form it later. When the isomalt had cooled, she took a small amount of it and formed it into a ball. Then, she stuck a small pump thingy into one end and started blowing up the sugar ball to hollow it out.

While she did that, her assistant created leaves out of green coloured isomalt. When the oranges were finished, she stuck a stem into each of them and added the leaves.

Using a blow torch, she heated the tip of a knife and cut a hole in the bottom of each of the oranges. Then, she piped each orange full of Italian meringue and placed them around the tree branches.

Everyone in the audience and everyone who helped was given a spoon and told to dig in. It was awesome! Everyone took a spoon and smashed open the oranges and scooped up whatever part of the tree they wanted to sample.

The last class of the day was taught by Flavio Pisoni, owner of Flavio's Fine Italian Foods. His English was so-so, which made him extremely funny to listen to. That and he was just hilarious anyway.

Throughout his entire class he teased his assistants and asked for the English words of the things he was using. He disagreed that we called a beater 'a beater', because he was only using his to mix, not beat.

First he made tiramisu, which went into the fridge for later. He made quite a few appetizer type dishes, but my favourites were the Risotto and bacon wrapped steaks fried in some kind of sauce that was incredible!

At the end of the class, the host made a short speech and tried to send us all home, until someone yelled, "What about the tiramisu?"

The cooks had forgotten all about it. The tiramisu was amazing as well.

Though I don't remember the names of the other dishes Flavio made, when we get back to Denerau, I want to go to his restaurant and order the first thing I see that comes wrapped in bacon.