Australia

Democracy Sausage

Australia is having a federal election on Saturday 18th of May. Two interesting facts about elections in Australia:
Elections are always held on a Saturday.
Voting in elections is compulsory.

As voting is compulsory, there is always a big turnout for elections and many polling booth venues use election day as a great opportunity for fundraising. As Aussies love a fundraising barbecue sausage sizzle, this has led to the creation of an election day tradition –
the Democracy Sausage!

Having a Democracy Sausage is seen as a way of both supporting polling booth facilities, which are often held at places that need extra money such as schools, community halls and churches, and as a reward to citizens for being forced to go out and vote. Having a tasty hot sausage in your possession goes a long way to alleviating the boredom of standing in a queue. Well organised polling booths can even take your order while you are waiting in line.

In its basic form a Democracy Sausage is a meat sausage served on a slice of white bread. Grilled onions and tomato sauce are optional extras. Some places may offer a variety of sausages, sauces and optional extras. There are even places that cater for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan patrons. In addition to sausage sizzles, many booths also have cake stalls selling a variety of sweets.

Having a Democracy Sausage on election day has become such an important part of the experience that there are now websites which offer information on which polling booths are having a sausage sizzle and what they offering so you can choose where to go to vote. Now that’s what I call democracy!

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A Cup Of Coffee Comfort

I spent International Coffee Day (October 1st) thinking about how important a warm cup of coffee can be at certain times. My partner and I had planned a short trip to South Australia hoping to visit Adelaide and Monarto zoos. It was our second trip to the zoos this year. We went early in the year to see the giant pandas and for this trip we had a few more encounters planned. We were expecting our giant and red panda encounters to be cancelled as it is mating season, what we weren’t expecting was to drive into the worst storms in South Australia in 50 years.

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Pandacino at Adelaide Zoo. That’s right, a cappuccino decorated to look like a giant panda!

We drove through torrential rain, losing complete visibility of the road for one terrifying moment because the rain was so heavy. All we could think of was getting to our hotel safely and having a hot coffee and a warm shower. But as we continued driving we could see, or maybe not see, that there were no lights. The entire state was experiencing a blackout! We arrived at our hotel in almost darkness and had to sign in via candlelight. It was romantic and gothic. Hungry and in desperate need of a comforting coffee we were told that there was no hot food and no hot drinks. I didn’t care about the food but I did care about the coffee! As I sat down to eat my ham and cheese sandwich I did the only thing I could – order a coffee liqueur 🙂 The power came on just as we got to our room so at least we could have warm showers. Even better, there was hot coffee for breakfast!

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My first coffee in Adelaide!

The rest of the trip was quite an adventure. The blackouts continued and all of our Adelaide zoo encounters were cancelled. Happily, we did get to hand feed rhinos at Monarto zoo. We even found a restaurant that had its own generator so we could have hot food, and most importantly, hot coffee 🙂

Next time I travel I think I’ll take some of this granola so I always have some coffee with me. Naturally it goes great with a hot coffee – when you can get one!

Coffee Granola

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup cashews
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg white

Method
Preheat oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Mix together the oats, coconut, walnuts, cashews, coffee, salt, honey and oil in a large bowl until combined.
Whisk the egg white until frothy. Stir into the granola and mix until combined.
Spread mixture out onto prepared tray and bake for 50 – 55 minutes.
At the halfway point, remove the granola from the oven. Place a piece of baking paper over the granola and top with another baking tray. Carefully flip over so that the granola is now on the new tray, being careful not to break up the mixture too much.
Return to the oven and bake until granola is brown and dry to the touch.
Allow to cool completely before breaking up the granola into desired size clusters.
Store unused granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

You can try different combinations of nuts. I think macadamias, pistachios or brazil nuts would be great.

Remembering Halloween

As the Northern Hemisphere winds its way towards Halloween I cannot help but get caught up in all the excitement. As a Southern Hemisphere Witch I should be getting ready for Beltane, but I can’t. There’s just something about Halloween in October that feels so right for me – especially now that more Australians are celebrating!

flying witch - one of the houses near me has gone all out in decorations

flying witch – one of the houses near me has gone all out in decorations

When I was growing up I was one of the few Aussie kids that really loved Halloween. As a big fan of Bewitched, I looked forward to their Halloween specials. I always wished we celebrated it more here. There were some Aussies who held Halloween Parties but the spirit of the holiday just wasn’t there. You didn’t see streets filled with Trick or Treaters that I would see in the American shows.  And each year I lamented the lack of Halloween paraphernalia available in the stores. In the 80’s, a friend came back from a trip to England and surprised me by bringing back a whole heap of Halloween souvenirs for me! I was so happy 🙂

death by a thousand toothpicks - voodoo doll toothpick holder

death by a thousand toothpicks – voodoo doll toothpick holder

It’s been about 30 years since I received my coveted Halloween haul and happily things have changed. Now, when I walk into a store in October, I See Dead Things! Halloween decorations delight my eyes and Halloween candies make my mouth water. I know there will be Trick or Treaters coming to my door so I’ve stocked up on chocolate treats including an “emergency” pack of mini Turkish Delight Chocolates in case I run out. They’re really for me, as I don’t think many children actually like Turkish Delight, and I love them.

chocolate skeleton in Las Vegas, USA - where they really know how to celebrate Halloween!

chocolate skeleton in Las Vegas, USA – where they really know how to celebrate Halloween!

Some say that the acceptance and participation by Australians in Halloween festivities highlights the commercialisation of the holiday, others argue it symbolises the Americanisation of Australian culture, I just think about bloody time! While, the commercialisation of holidays to sell products is definitely a reason for Halloween gaining popularity, and Australia is also heavily influenced by American culture, it is important to remember that Halloween is not a traditionally American holiday but a Celtic one. Although America has made Halloween what it is today – and I thank them for that 🙂 It is ironic that a country so identified with Christianity has kept one of the most Pagan holidays alive and has spread its popularity throughout the world.

witchy cup and saucer - souvenir from Iceland

witchy cup and saucer – souvenir from Iceland

So when I think of Halloween becoming popular in Australia I don’t think of it as rampant commercialism, nor an Americanisation of our culture, but rather as a subtle re-Paganising of the world. Behind all the costumes and sweets is a memory of what this holiday is all about and who first started it – Pagans and Witches! We have been tortured and vilified throughout the centuries and our rituals and holidays appropriated by others. But Halloween is one holiday that has remained stubbornly Pagan.

So whatever you are doing this Halloween just remember that from the ashes of the fires we witches are returning, one cackle at a time!

witches convention? no just some broomsticks lined up at the panda reserve in Chengdu, China

witches convention? no just some broomsticks lined up at the panda reserve in Bifengxia, China

And now for a Halloween recipe 🙂

trick or treat?

trick or treat?

Coffin Bread

A variation on the aptly named Taiwanese street food filled with cauliflower soup, served with pomegranate molasses and garlic croutons.

Ingredients

for the coffin bread
1 small rectangular loaf of bread (approximately L 15cm, W 10cm, H 10cm)
olive oil

for the garlic croutons
leftover bread pieces from the coffin bread
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt

for the soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups chicken stock
450g cauliflower florets
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pomegranate molasses for drizzling

Method

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a lid off the top of the bread.
Cut out most of the bread inside, creating a basket to hold the filling.
Lightly brush outside and inside the bread and lid with olive oil.
Place bread basket on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden on the inside.
While bread basket is cooking make the croutons by tearing up the leftover pieces of bread and placing in a bowl with the garlic, olive oil and salt. Toss through and place on an oven tray with the bread lid. Bake in the oven with the bread basket until golden.
The lid and croutons may cook quicker than the basket so check and remove when ready.
When bread basket is cooked, place on a serving plate. If the soup isn’t ready yet, switch off the oven but leave the bread in the oven to keep warm.
Make the soup while the bread is baking by melting the butter in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and cook until softened.
Mix in the flour and the chicken stock, stir until combined.
Add the cauliflower and salt.
Simmer for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and cooked.
Puree the soup then return to the saucepan.
Simmer gently until the bread and croutons are cooked.
Pour the soup into the bread basket.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses.
Serve the bread lid and croutons on the side.

A Personality Of Pandas

1988 was a pivotal year for me; I started university, met my long term partner Paul and the Giant Pandas Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao toured Australia. We went to see them at Melbourne Zoo because they are Paul’s favourite animal. The one stuffed toy that Paul has kept since childhood is a bedraggled panda. He has always loved this very special black and white bear. I would also come to love them but in a most unusual way.

panda ball

panda ball

Into The Darkness 2000 was another pivotal year for me. I graduated from university and promptly caught a flu that would plague me for years and would almost destroy my mind, body and soul. After years of antibiotics and no respite from the flu I contracted Post Viral Syndrome – PVS (a form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Not much is known about PVS, in fact doctors didn’t diagnose me, a naturopath did! But it took me a while to get to a naturopath. First I sank into a deep mental and physical depression. I was semi bedridden for over two years. Those years are still painful to remember. Weeks would go by in a blur. I rarely left the house and exercise was a thing of the past. Being intensely private I didn’t want anyone to know how sick I was so when I was invited places I would drag myself out of bed, get dressed and go. I would have a good time and then spend about three weeks in bed to recover. This went on and on. I couldn’t see an end to the misery or the pain. And then an amazing thing happened. A television show changed my life!

happy dance!

happy dance!

onwards and upwards

onwards and upwards

Through the Bamboo Forest I remember Paul asking me if I would like to watch a documentary on giant pandas. Since it required nothing more of me than to lie on a couch and keep my eyes open I said okay. One hour later I was a changed person. What happened? Those damn pandas broke my heart. I watched as mother pandas groomed their fragile and precious cubs; cubs fighting for their survival and the survival of their species. I watched as the world fought to stop this precious creature from becoming extinct. Panda reserves and panda breeding programs had been established in China and with co-operation and participation from the rest of the world, the fight to save the panda was in full swing. I wanted to be part of that fight! The documentary ended with a cub making its first climb into a tree. As the dainty little cub struggled, I saw my own struggle reflected. There are plenty of humans on the planet but only one me – I was nearly extinct and I wanted to survive. When the documentary finished I started sobbing, for the pandas but also for myself. Like Scarlett O’Hara I vowed I would never be brought down so low again. Taking that image of the triumphant baby panda with me I began the slow process of getting healthy. Walking With Pandas I wasn’t alone on my journey. I had always had the support of my partner and I was lucky enough to find a naturopath who could diagnose and treat me. Through a combination of homeopathic medicine, meditation, diet and exercise I slowly regained the ability to live. I wanted to make something of myself but mostly I wanted to be able to give something to the animal welfare movement. So each day I would get up, get dressed and put one foot in front of the other. I began daily walking, some days I could only walk past two houses other days I travelled further. I began walking around the block and was soon walking 20 minutes to the local shops and 20 minutes back – with a coffee break in between! One day, after coming back from my now routine 60 minute walk, a neighbour called me over and told me how proud she was of me. I never knew that she had been watching me from those early days. She had watched me go from hobbling wreck to a – well not a power walker – but a walker with a surprising turn of speed! What she hadn’t seen was that I wasn’t alone on those walks. I had company – and what strange company they were.

a special scrunch

a special scrunch

The companions on my journey were pandas. You see the pandas came with me after that documentary. I was surprised, and slightly disturbed to find I had a cast of panda characters in my head. They had names, personalities and different voices. Some were old, some were young, most were female. They inspired me when I thought I couldn’t go any further. I even had an inner critic panda who would mock my valiant efforts! I’m a writer so I’m no stranger to insanity but this didn’t feel like I had gone crazy. Bizarrely it felt like I had evolved. Ancient Pagan Deities were often pictured with animals and some were depicted as animal or half animal themselves. That’s how I felt: part human, part panda and for the first time in a long time, all me. Not long after the panda invasion Paul and I saw a stuffed panda that had a scrunched face with a grumpy expression. He laughed and said it reminded him of me. And then he bought her for me – my first stuffed panda!! She’s my favourite and runs my pack of stuffed pandas with an iron paw. Unlike real pandas my stuffed pandas have bred – a lot! And I never leave home without a panda. I used to take a stuffed one with me but now I have panda tattoos – no chance of forgetting them when I go out!

miaow miaow & me

miao miao & me

Full Circle 25 years after Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao delighted us in Melbourne, Paul and I celebrated 25 years of not being married in the most symbolic way – we went to China to cuddle a panda! As I waited in line at the Chengdu Panda Base a few thoughts crossed my mind. Excitement was one! A few years earlier we had done the VIP tour in Adelaide to meet the pandas Wang Wang and Funi. We got to pat their heads but that was through bars. Now I was about to sit next to a baby panda! My inner critic panda popped up and suggested it was exploitive to pimp pandas out for pats. But then one year old Miao Miao was carried out and all legible thought was erased. All I could think was – baby panda!! When my turn came I eagerly sat next to the little panda princess who seemed to delight in greeting her fawning subjects. I patted her and held back the tears. I wanted to thank her and all the pandas for what they had done for me. I promised the little cub that I would continue to fight for the survival of all animals, especially pandas. If I had any doubts about the process they were allayed by the staff at the panda reserve. They graciously and enthusiastically thanked everyone who had paid for the privilege of patting a panda. They assured us the money would be used to keep the panda dream alive. And I know it will.

bamboooooo!

bamboooooo!

Our guide was waiting for us and he too thanked us for our support of the panda. He took us around the reserve and his love and knowledge were breathtaking. He knew the names of all the pandas and kept track of their progress. We couldn’t believe it when we saw a group of baby pandas laid out sunbaking on a plank of wood. That is the photo on my banner. Later we saw the same baby pandas asleep in their crib. Everywhere we looked we saw adorable pandas doing what they do best – eating, playing and sleeping. We ended the day walking with red pandas. Chengdu Panda Reserve was a great day out but we wanted more!

don't! wipe! my! face!!

don’t! wipe! my! face!!

The next day we went with our guide to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve. He was delighted at our reaction when he showed us Tai Shan!! We squealed – Tai Shan Butterstick! He was nicknamed Butterstick after a zookeeper at the National Zoo in Washington said that he was the size of a stick of butter when he was born. Next we were treated to some amazing baby panda antics. We were just in time to see two baby pandas about to be fed milk in metal bowls. They were so cheeky. One panda didn’t want to have its mouth wiped so it rolled on the ground and then rolled in spilt milk! We saw other baby pandas playing on plastic toys. These were images we had often seen on Pandas International and now we were seeing them live. We ended our day watching a group of five young pandas eating, playing and then chasing each other up trees. One panda climbed up a tree all on its own and put on quite a show. I was reminded of a little baby panda climbing a tree in a documentary; a baby panda that had given me the courage to get up and climb my own trees. Meeting the pandas in their homeland was a life changing experience. They gave me the courage to continue my journey in a new and wonderful way. This journey would involve an American artist, cartoonist and writer. It is a journey that has only just begun. And it is no surprise that the stars of this journey are pandas.

panda kindergarten playing UP!

panda kindergarten playing UP!

The Anne Belov Connection I first came across Anne Belov and The Panda Chronicles through Pandas International, a fantastic organisation dedicated to the giant panda cause. One day I noticed a panda cartoon from Pandas International on my Facebook feed. Intrigued, I clicked to see what it was. That’s when I met Bob T. Panda! If you love quirky and witty cartoons you must go and visit him. Needless to say I was hooked. I quickly bought the Panda Chronicle Books and followed The Panda Chronicles blog. Through this blog I met their delightful creator Anne Belov. We began interacting and I found her to be funny and generous AND she was as crazy about pandas as I was! I loved her pandas so much and I dearly wanted to become more a part of the Panda Chronicles. I noticed that her pandas, especially the endearing panda kindergarten, had a fondness for cupcakes, or as they call them – cuppycakes 🙂 I hatched a plan! Emboldened by my visit to China, I threw caution to the winds and emailed Anne with an idea for a collaboration. Luckily she said yes!! Anne has happily agreed to be my guest blogger so you can read all about her, the pandas and our planned book next time. Not Everything Is Black & White My beloved pug Wolfy passed away nearly a year ago. He was my Chinese panda dog and I miss him dearly. I was too devastated after his death to buy him his own memory box so I stuffed all his mementoes and condolence cards in mine. For Southern Hemisphere Halloween (April 30th) I finally got him his own red memory box. I started going through my box and pulling out his things. I cried as I re-read his cards and remembered his life. But then I stopped crying. There at the bottom of my box of memories was an article I had cut out. It was about the giant pandas visiting Melbourne in 1988. Way back then those peculiar black and white creatures had cast a spell on me and when I needed them most they came out of the bamboo forest and offered their help. My childhood search for a favourite animal has finally ended. I can think of no better animal than one that wasn’t chosen by me but that reached out with its own furry paw to touch and heal me mind, body and soul.

nap time

nap time

not a panda suit

not a panda suit

      I’ve always talked to the animals,

     but the giant pandas are the first ones who talked back

and they’re still talking!