I have my first Motorhome Mama Cookin’ post up over on the wonderful @crazybrave’s Progressive Dinner Party. You can read all about my cast iron and knife fetishes, as well as our current Mexican binge, buttermilk biscuit-making & sourcing local produce for inspiration. 🙂
Fancy Gap fried chicken & artichokes
Having just made the most delicious fried chicken OF MY LIFE, I feel compelled to share immediately! First of all, anyone who wants to complain that ‘this is too hard/too much work/I don’t have the right [insert utensils/mod cons]’, it’s important that you know that we made this dinner in the RockVan, a 1977 GMC motorhome, deep in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Fancy Gap, Virginia.
So go for it â€“ you won’t be sorry.
1 free-range chicken, jointed (we were fortunate to have a Polyface chicken)
bread crumbs (making your own from a nice loaf of sourdough is best, but after drying slices on the dash while driving, then mangling them with our secondhand hand blender, Stuart reckons we’ll buy some next time for RockVan ease…)
salt & pepper
Soak the chicken pieces in buttermilk for a few hours (out of the fridge so it will fry evenly when the time comes).
Turn the onion and garlic into a paste â€“ you can do it with a mortar and pestle, but in this case, I cannot see why not to use the hand blender, which is all we have in the RockVan anyway. Set aside in a bowl.
Blend your bread crumbs until fine-ish, then add all the dried spices â€“ salt & pepper to taste, but I would encourage you to be liberal with both.
Pull pieces of chicken from the buttermilk, dredge very lightly in flour, then in the garlic/onion paste, then in the spiced bread crumbs. You can either shallow fry (with enough oil to virtually half cover the pieces) or deep fry.
Pop in the oven for 10-20 minutes â€“ totally depends on the size of your pieces, heat of your oven, etc.
Having served ours with artichokes tonight, I reckon I never need anything else for dinner. This is very happymaking food.
Y’all come back now. 😉
Pig bits, war and the Amish in Pennsylvania
My latest post on Crikey is up: Processed pig bits, Civil War sadness and meeting the Amish.
Here are some bonus photos from that leg of the trip. 🙂
Travels to Taste Tasmania (Part One)
Have you ever planned a Tasmanian holiday and thought, ‘gee, the ferry to Tassie will be a fun adventure with the kids!’? If you have, think again. I don’t get seasick, but travelling with three kids, two of whom get carsick, meant I was anxious the whole time. Also, as we were trying to do this on the cheap, I booked an internal cabin, which meant no windows. Whatever you do, book a cabin with windows. Otherwise, prepare yourself for an experience much like returning to the womb, but not your mum’s. And make sure you take your own food, as what we saw on board had the predictable monopoly pricing and appeared to be pre-masticated.
But enough about the ferry. Some of you may even like it. This is meant to be about Tassie, its beauty and the richness of its produce, not about how far it is by sea (it’s rather close by air, of course). I’ve already detailed our feasts from this trip, as we explored the many excellent producers across the island state.
First of all, for those who take the overnight boat, you will arrive very early in the morning. A voice will harass you to get out of bed and off their boat, and most of you will obey, but not all, leading to delays for the tight line of cars stuck behind Those Who Selfishly Sleep In. Oh, wait, I was trying to move on from writing about the interminable ferry rides…
So it’s early, and you’re in Devonport. My advice, based on our trip and the advice I received, is keep driving. If you’re headed in the direction of Launceston, whatever you do, do not stop at Etc in Elizabeth Town for breakfast. It may look like the first decent food on this route, but books/covers, okay? Just imagine the precise texture of a croissant straight from the microwave and you’ll get it. I dearly wish we had gone to Utsi Cafe in Perth, which is a very short detour from Launceston.
We also made a brief stop at Ashgrove Cheese Factory, and I’m going to recommend giving this one a miss as well, at least if you’re looking for cheese. Their ‘Green Milk’ (un-homogenised full cream), on the other hand, is lovely and we enjoyed many litres on our travels.
But on to the camping! Our first week was spent in the northeast at the very beautiful Bay of Fires, where we camped in the ‘Cosy Corner’ campground. Our site was just back from the beach where we were sheltered from wind and enjoyed the added protection of sparse trees. Fires are allowed, something we hardly ever experience as we typically camp in national parks and/or during total fire bans.
The real reason to go to Bay of Fires is for the intense colour saturation. The mixture of red-lichen-covered granite rocks, silky white sands, unfathomable aqua seas and Big Blue Skies left me with a sense of synaesthesia, as joy washed over me one tint at a time. The beaches are gorgeous, but it’s worth mentioning they’re not exactly swim friendly for kids. Not that it matters, as the lively rockpools and little protected shallows are ample playground for inquisitive little people.
We stopped for a night in Bicheno, a lovely little fishing village, to wash some clothes and bodies on our journey south before setting up camp again. We had a fried feast at the Sea Life Centre, where I’d recommend sticking to the local catch of course. The Trevalla and scallops were a definite highlight, but the oysters were a disappointment, even though they must have come from the marine farm where we’d been buying them live up above Binalong Bay. I guess we spoiled ourselves with all that fresh shucking…
Before making our way to Freycinet, we popped up for a picnic at Douglas Apsley NP, which was a nice, inland change with a decent river running through it attracting plenty of locals for an afternoon swim (okay, paddle). We feasted on lovely local produce sourced from Pasini’s Cafe in Bicheno (which included some divine pickled walnuts, as well as a Bruny Island ‘Tom’ and a luscious beetroot dip…) and watched the kids delight in the age-old pleasure of rock hopping.
We also popped in to Nature World for the kids to see some Tasmanian Devils, and were pleasantly surprised to find them in a healthy condition (unlike the mangy ones we saw nearly 20 years ago). There were quite a lot of them, as well as some snakes in grassy enclosures that certainly got the kids excited. Overall, for a place with animals in enclosures, it was a mostly positive experience (I still maintain, along with many others, that birds should simply never be enclosed in cages).
Next stop, Freycinet National Park, where we knew we had to at very least do the walk up to a view of Wineglass Bay. We also knew that much like Wilson’s Prom, there is a lottery some months before the summer peak season to get a campsite, but we were lucky that a friend from Hobart recommended we just cruise in to Friendly Beaches, which doesn’t require bookings. Friendly Beaches is only about a 10 or 15 minute drive from the carpark where all the bushwalks commence down the peninsula, and as promised, even in peak season, it was quiet and lovely.
I won’t mention how much it rained while we were at Friendly Beaches, except to say it’s lucky we got out of the Bay of Fires on time, just before St Helens had to close (and then lost) roads. It’s also not ‘normal’ for the time of year. Fortunately, as @crazybrave says, at least we have a ‘good camping spirit’. 🙂
As for the Wineglass Bay walk, we set off with three (mostly) keen kids, and by the time we’d made it the 1.5 km straight up to the lookout, with every intention of making it the 1.5km down the other side, we’d pretty much convinced the wee Jonai trio that the extra 8km around the point would be a flat easier option than the return mountain-goat route. And so the full 11km we did go, and even if it did start raining on the walk, it was a lovely family outing. Never mind that the visibility for about half of it is a rather short forests’ understory and Atticus was wearing a generic version of Blundstones for this walk… it actually was lovely, and the kids were proud of themselves for making it so far.
After a few soggy days around Friendly Beaches, we stuffed our saturated gear into the car and set off for Port Arthur. A stop at the Sorell Fruit Farm was a fun break as we picked kilos of fresh stone fruits and berries, but the business model is rather irritating â€“ you can’t even go along with the kids if you don’t buy a punnet yourself, which is pretty expensive. However, we did in fact want all that fruit, so it was fine for us.
At Port Arthur we stay in the Port Arthur Villas, which, while not cheap, were still excellent value at $240 for a two-bedroom flat with good-sized kitchen/dining/lounge areas. If you buy your tickets for Port Arthur from them (at no extra cost), they give you the key to the back gate, which is a stone’s throw from the property. We stopped at the delightful little fish market in Dunalley on the way down as well, where we not only picked up a beautiful trumpeter fish to cook that night for Ev and his mate Steve, who were similarly rained out, but also got the kids fish and chips for lunch which included delectable baby octopi! Now that is what I want from fish and chips!
As a fascinating way to bring history alive for the kids, you cannot go wrong with Port Arthur, by the way. During summer they have short performances in some of the restored buildings, which offer a really interesting and lively interpretation of the convict settlement’s grim past. The restored houses further offer great opportunities to discuss changes to the ways people live over the past 170 years â€“ of course my kids were particularly unimpressed with kitchens relegated to the back instead of being the heart of the house. 🙂
To be continued… next up, gentle Hobart, stunning Bruny Island, hobby farm life and the charming Cygnet.
Camp cooking, cast iron style
One of the major highlights of camping for me is the opportunity to cook and eat outside for days on end, coupled with the wonderful challenge of limited cold space and cooking with only two burners. When we accepted our lot as ‘car campers’ after having children, with whom we’ve been camping since the eldest was 5 months old (and #2’s first camp experience was at 11days old!), we discovered the joy of Cast Iron Camping and have embraced it in all its tasty results.
First, some basics. Although I would never suggest you *must* travel with these items to make good food (you need only look to Great Depression Cooking with Clara for proof), it certainly makes it more pleasurable for me. Therefore, I travel with two good knives (usually my Chinese cleaver and a 10â€ Dick – ahem, this isn’t a joke, it’s the brand), preferably my big chopping board, but a medium-sized one will do, a 10â€ le Creuset (any enamelled cast iron large pot will do â€“ we scored ours on somebody’s nature strip in North Carlton) and a 10â€ cast iron frypan. The lid for the le Creuset comes in handy for camp pizza on the frypan too.
I bring along a smaller stainless steel pot as well for cooking the odd sauce or hot chocolate for the kids. Obviously, a spatula & wooden spoon, plus a mixing bowl is helpful. I also try to bring one or two more plates & bowls than we need for dining to hold ingredients as I chop. Arguably not essential but rather pleasant to have along is a stovetop espresso maker… you can indeed make coffee old-school in a pot, but we all know which is tastier.
I like to bring a tupperware of my favourite spices, and absolutely essential (for me) is a container of salt flakes and a pepper grinder, as I can’t bear iodised, granulated salt or powdery pepper. Oh, and this year I started taking my sourdough starter along to make a leavened damper, and let me tell you, it’s worth it! But I’ll get to that…
We picked up a secondhand ‘Eva Kool’ esky a couple years ago after admiring our friends’ on repeated long, hot summer camping trips. This thing will keep brie in good form for 10 days, and in fact we’ve seen it keep ice for that long when kept in the shade and with wet towels over it in 40C weather. Between that and our vintage Coleman stove Stuart picked up at a garage sale, we are indeed happy campers. So what do we eat?
As mentioned previously, this is now a staple for us when we’re camping. I’m very glad I only took half of Fran, my starter, as a wallaby ate her halfway through the trip. She made some brilliant bread before she went though. My total aversion to supermarket bread also means we have to make our own while camping, as no good bakery bread will keep well enough. We do, however, rely on tortillas & Sorj bread as our ‘long-life’ option.
The recipe is simple. Pour some starter, flour, salt, water & a bit of olive oil into the mixing bowl. Mix/knead for a minute or two. Put dough in the le Creuset (this is why I bring enamelled cast iron, btw) with some oil in the bottom, rubbing a bit more on top. Cover & let rise overnight. In the morning, it will take about half an hour to bake â€“ you should flip it after about 20 minutes (conditions of your stove, the weather, your pot, etc will make this vary, of course). The result is a lovely, airy loaf with a crispy crust, thicker than foccacia but not as tall as a normal loaf usually, perfect to enjoy with eggs.
Brekky is important to me. (Stuart would say that’s an understatement.) Having grown up in America with a love of cooked brekkies, I’ve maintained my desire for nearly two decades in a land of muesli eaters. Don’t get me wrong, I like raw oats with nuts & Stuart’s stewed plums, but not as much as I like eggs and roast tomatoes. So here’s a sample of our camp brekkies:
- ham/cheese/tomato scramble on turkish rolls â€“ this was simpler than an omelette with the same ingredients as I would normally cook the fillings separately and re-introduce them to an omelette. While camping I was minimising extra washing up, because no matter how fun the cooking is, I’m less enthusiastic about washing up (especially with cold salt water…). I prefer mozzarella for this for the gooeyness.
- poached egg on mushies with prosciutto & pecorino on fresh sourdough damper â€“ I poached eggs in sea water with spectacular results.
- breakfast burritos â€“ egg, tomato, prosciutto, tasty cheese, optional yoghurt â€“ Mexican, or American versions thereof, is standard on our menus, and brekky burritos make a nice change to the regular fry up, as well as being a simple option on a day without damper.
- fried eggs, Boks bacon, fried tomato, fresh sourdough damper â€“ we sought out local produce wherever possible along our Tasmanian adventure, and Boks bacon, though apparently only ‘bred free range’ instead of fully free range (and there is some controversy around all of this that I won’t go in to as I don’t know the story well enough), is really delicious bacon.
- roast tomatoes & avocado with hand-whisked hollandaise (on very boring local ‘bakery’ bread) â€“ I’m cheating here as we made this in a serviced apartment at Port Arthur, but I wanted to include it both to give Ev (who slept on our floor as we all escaped the endless rain) kudos for hand-whipping the hollandaise. It wasn’t as a thick an emulsification as if he’d had so much as a whisk to do the job (I gave him a fork…), but it was delicious nonetheless. You could definitely do this camping, and just fry the tomatoes.
- french toast from leftover Zum bakery sourdough, zucchini flowers stuffed with chevre & egg, egged & fried in butter â€“ I couldn’t pass up the zucchini flowers at the Hobart Farm Gate market, and we weren’t sorry.
- fried tomato & Rare Food bacon on fried day-old sourdough â€“ I know, we had bacon and we fried the bread. It was so bloody good we did it two days in a row. It’s an excellent solution to stale bread. The Rare Food bacon is from Matthew Evans of Gourmet Farmer fame’s pigs, which the Cygnet butcher then cures. It’s quality product, but the bacon is a little smoky for my palate.
You admittedly couldn’t eat such rich breakfasts every day of your life, but hey, we were on holiday and couldn’t resist all the local free range eggs, amazing produce, free range bacon and stunning range of cheeses. Besides, it was important that I share the amazing variety of options one has when camping with you, dear readers. I did it all for you, and I liked it. 🙂
Lunches are typically a deceptively simple affair when we camp as brekky and dinner are ostensibly the main acts. Their simplicity relies on picking up high quality local produce and making lovely rolls or a ploughman’s lunch with them.
- Ploughman’s lunch â€“ fresh baguettes, avocado, chicken liver pate, Bruny Island Cheese ‘Tom’, green olive tapenade, beetroot dip, tomato, cucumber, pickled walnuts â€“ we sourced most of these ingredients at the lovely Pasini’s Cafe in Bicheno.
- Wineglass Bay picnic â€“ fresh rolls, salami, cheddar, avocado, tapenade, tomato
- Hobart’s Botanical Gardens â€“ oysters, BISH smoked trout, Bruny cheese ‘Tom’, tomatoes, cucumbers, Zum Bakery bread
- camp pizza â€“ quick pita/pizza dough, passata, salami, tomato, mushie, shallot, feta, pepper â€“ make a pita dough from flour, baking soda, salt & water â€“ you can add a little oil to keep it from sticking. Set aside and prepare your toppings, roll out your dough (I don’t carry a rolling pin as a bottle of wine does the job nicely) and cook it first on one side, then flip it, add the toppings & cover. It should be ready in less than 5 minutes.
- oysters, oysters, oysters â€“ my new year’s resolution was to eat oysters every day we were in Tassie. Sadly, I failed to eat them on five out of 20 days, but I’m pretty sure I still ate my own weight in them. We reckon the best ones came from Get Shucked on Bruny Island.
- beef stroganoff a la bourguignon â€“ I often do some kind of beef stew when we camp, mostly because I’m happy to store beef for longer in the esky than most other meats, and it makes a very simple meal on around the fourth night. I improvise each time, and as I made this one, I chuckled to myself that I wasn’t sure whether I was really making stroganoff or bourguigon, nor could I remember exactly how I usually make either, hence I reckon this one was kind of both. I just cook up some onions, shallots & garlic, then add the beef and mushrooms. In the other pot, cook the pasta. Once the beef is just barely cooked, I push the bits aside, add a knob of butter (& a little reserved pork fat from that morning’s brekky), melt, then add flour and brown off before pouring in a bit of wine to thicken. Mix all the bits back through, strain the pasta and mix together in the big pot. You can add a bit of yoghurt or sour cream at this stage, as well as a healthy dose of freshly cracked pepper. VoilÃ â€“ a two pot bastardised but tasty dish. 🙂
- Chipolata sausages with onion, capsicum & garlic on cheesy polenta â€“ polenta is a genius camping starch, as is cous cous. I like to mix some mozzarella & pecorino through it to give it some creamy flavour.
- Soft tacos/fajitas with spicy bolognese, onion & capsicum, fresh tomato, cheese, yoghurt, fried corn tortillas â€“ I had some frozen bolognese, which served first as an ice pack in the esky, & later a very simple addition for a delicious dinner. I just added a bit of cumin and chili to change the flavour profile, fried up some onion & capsicum, & lightly fry the corn tortillas in oil to improve their store-bought texture. The kids go nuts for these.
- Sir Loin Breier Butcher’s eye fillet in shallots, served on fried potato/onion/garlic, topped with creamy mushies â€“ this butcher in Bicheno (never mind the silly name) is turning out high quality grass-fed beef, as well as a range of sausages and apparently smoked mutton bird in season. This very simple dinner is another camping staple for us. Also, as we had one and a half two many steaks (they were big!), the next day we had more lovely fajitas with them. I do this with lamb usually, making kebabs with garlic sauce and doing my own pitas.
- scallops with onion, garlic, capsicum, fish sauce, sugar, lemon, Vietnamese black pepper, rice â€“ once again, picking up the local produce pays off, and the scallops from the Freycinet marine farm were excellent cooked very quickly and served with rice.
- pasta with mushie/garlic/shredded zucchini cooked in passata â€“ I know I say everything is simple, but seriously, dried pasta for which one makes a sauce with passata and a couple of vegies, topped with the last of your pecorino (another great camping cheese as it lasts for ages) is easy enough for even the most reluctant cook, and an excellent choice after a week or so of camping when you’re meat free (assuming you were eating meat at all, of course) and need ingredients that keep.
- quesadillas made with Bruny Island ODO â€“ cheese, tomato, spring onion â€“ we always travel with tortillas, and quesadillas are a Jonai staple whether at home or away. Very quick, lovely served with yoghurt, guacamole, jalapeÃ±os, and/or Tabasco. These were a guilty pleasure using Bruny Cheese’s excellent ODO (One Day Old).
- vegie curry â€“ last jar of my green tomato curry with zucchini, ginger, garlic, shallots, garam masala, coconut milk, served on cous cous, enjoyed with Bruny Island Pint Noir â€“ I can’t imagine camping without at least one curry, and this one was particularly delicious. I credit the garam masala.
- stir fry with zucchini & egg, bit of vinegar with shallot, garlic & ginger, cooked in pork fat â€“ yep, you read it. There’s that pork fat again, making everything more delicious. It also means you’re saving and re-using fat instead of working out how to dispose of it responsibly in pristine wilderness. Another nice excuse, eh?
Those who know me or regular readers here will know that I’m not really a dessert person. I have a relentlessly savoury palate, much to Stuart and the children’s chagrin. However, some local nectarines and goat’s cheese inspired me to make one dessert on the Tassie holiday.
I should mention that for a long camping trip without a re-supply, I would usually cook & freeze one or two lunch &/or dinner options the week before, such as lasagne, quiche or stroganoff. This means you’ve got extra ice in your esky for the first couple days, and have a substantial, delicious meal as fresh stuff starts to run out. For our Tassie trip, we were only camping 3-4 days at a time with a break to re-stock and do some washing in between, so I didn’t bother.
Another useful trick is to freeze water in ice cream or yoghurt containers for the esky so that when it melts, you have containers for leftovers. 🙂 And always pre-chill your esky the night before loading it up for the big trip!
May your produce be fresh, your cast iron strong, your knives sharp, your esky cold and your cooking fuel never run out. 🙂 Happy camping, all.