USA

Flight Of The Puffins

I saw my first puffin in Iceland in 2007 and immediately fell in love with these quirky little birds. At the end of 2007, I adopted my first puffin through Project Puffin, an organisation that helps restore puffins and other seabird colonies to islands in the Gulf of Maine.

Every year I receive an update of what my puffin got up to on Eastern Egg Rock Island over the past summer. Sometimes the news is happy and sometimes sad. I celebrate when my puffin’s chicks fledge, and cry when they don’t. The worst updates are the ones informing me my puffin didn’t return to the island. EN 53 was my first puffin, followed by the intriguingly named Q. Sadly, neither of these puffins have returned to the island. My current puffin is MR 795.

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Since adopting my first puffin, it has been a dream of mine to travel to Maine and visit Eastern Egg Rock Island. Ten years after I adopted my first puffin, I fulfilled that dream. The best way to see the puffins and Eastern Egg Rock Island is on a puffin cruise. As I had traveled a long way to get there, I treated myself to a morning and evening cruise.

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My first puffin trip was Cap’n Fish’s morning cruise which left from Boothbay Harbor. A Project Puffin staff member joined us for the trip and gave an informative talk. As we made our way to Eastern Egg Rock Island, puffins were spotted in the water. I leaned over the side of the boat and saw a group of puffins bobbing in the waves. They were so close! I watched as their orange feet paddled under the water and marvelled at the way they launched their black and white bodies into the sky. The closer we got, the more puffins we saw. There were puffins flying across the skyline, some with beaks filled with fish. We watched as they flew to the island and landed on the craggy rocks. We spent a good amount of time circling the island and watching the puffins go about their daily business before returning to Boothbay Harbor.

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My second puffin trip was an evening cruise with Hardy Boat Cruises in New Harbor. We departed around sunset, so although the trip was similar to the morning one, it had a very different feel. Watching puffins fly across the sky at dusk was magical. Again we saw puffins bobbing in the waves close to our boat. When we we arrived at Eastern Egg Rock Island, we actually picked someone up from the island. We watched as a Project Puffin staff member was rowed to our boat, boarded, and then watched as the rower returned to the island. This was an unexpected surprise. I’m so glad I did both trips.

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When I received my latest puffin adoption update I was happy to discover that MR 795 was at the island when I visited and successfully fledged a chick called A4 and adorably nicknamed “McFluffin.” I’ve already asked if I can adopt McFluffin if she/he ever becomes available 🙂

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Witches & Fireworks

Last year my partner and I spent July the 4th in Salem – The Witch City!

Our day began at around 6.00am as our overnight plane from Seattle arrived in Boston. We caught a shuttle to the subway, and with the help of friendly train staff, caught two trains, finally arriving in The Witchy City.

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One of the first things to catch my eye was the Superior Court. Unfortunately this stunning building made me think of the witch hunts.

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Then I saw a newspaper vending machine which put a smile on my face.

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One of the things I was really excited to see was the statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens! It was unveiled in June 2005 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bewitched. I thought it was fun and suited Salem. A local resident, recognising my Australian accent, asked me what I thought of the statue. When I told her she replied “It’s ugly and I hate it!” With that stinging endorsement ringing in my ears we left Samantha and continued our exploration of The Witch City.

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Ever since I saw an episode of Bewitched that featured a spooky bedwarmer trapped in The House of the Seven Gables, I have always wanted to visit the historic house in Salem. The beautiful home was the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name. Coincidentally, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem on July the 4th, so we thought it was the perfect time to visit. We arrived just in time for an afternoon tour. One of the first things we saw was a bedwarmer! There was also a secret staircase which we got to climb. After the tour we spent time investigating the grounds.

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On our walk back to our hotel we stopped at the Old Burying Point Cemetery, the oldest burial site in Salem. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notorious great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, is buried there. He was a judge during the Salem witch trials and earned the nickname the “Hanging Judge.” Next to this cemetery is the Salem Witch Trial Memorial, a sombre and thought provoking memorial which consists of granite benches anchored into a low stone wall. Each bench is inscribed with the name of an accused witch, how they were executed and the date of their execution. I wonder what the “Hanging Judge” would think of the witches memorial sharing his resting place?

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The evening was upon us so we headed down to the harbor for the July 4th fireworks. Paul and I love fireworks and Salem delivered! Burst after burst of colourful fireworks crackled across the sky as we cheered in appreciation. It was a special moment for me. I’ve always envied America their Independence Day. Australia is still part of the British Commonwealth and I have always wanted us to break free and become an independent nation. Deprived of an Australian Independence Day, I happily latched on to this one and roared with the crowd. When the fireworks ended, Paul and I linked hands as we slowly walked through the misty streets of Salem to Gulu-Gulu Cafe for last drinks before bed.

We spent the night at The Salem Inn because I loved the name. Happily it was a lovely place and I adored the antique furniture in our room. After breakfast at the inn, we hired a car for our trip to Maine.

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A few days later we returned to Salem to drop off our hire car. There was only one way we were leaving Salem – and that was in a Witch City Taxi!

You can read more about my visit to witchy Salem and other parts of America in Bites and Pieces of America. The Salem chapter includes recipes for Waffles, Crepes, Omelettes, a luxurious Death by Cocoa and my spooky witches brew – Dark Ale Spider!

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Bites & Pieces

I celebrated the Winter Solstice weekend by launching my first travelogue cookbook!

It’s called Bites and Pieces of America: Exploring food and friendship in Whidbey Island, Salem, Boothbay Harbour and Boston. It’s filled with pieces from my trip last year from Australia to the USA where I got to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City, visit puffins in Maine and meet a baby sloth in Boston. There are also many bites of recipes from the foods that inspired me along the way.

While I’m hoping you’ll rush out and buy the book 🙂 I will share parts of the journey here. I’ll also include recipes that nearly made it into the book but just missed out like my Stout Pancakes (below). These are perfect for Winter in Australia. If you’d like pancake recipes that are more in tune with Summer – like Blueberry Pancakes or Carrot Cake Pancakes – you can find them in my book!

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Bites and Pieces is currently available from Lulu. An ebook is on the way and it will be in other online stores soon 🙂

Stout Pancakes

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons maple sugar*
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup stout**
butter for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and stout.
Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Heat a small amount of butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour some batter into the pan. Remember that the bigger the pancakes, the harder they are to flip, so don’t make them too big.
Cook until bubbles start to form.
Flip and cook for a further 1 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with your choice of toppings.
I like them with a good drizzle of pure maple syrup, golden syrup or honey.

*You can substitute brown sugar for the maple sugar.
**Try different flavoured stouts like chocolate or coffee ones. I used a maple flavoured stout.

A Twitch Of History

Growing up I hated learning history in school. Our lessons seemed to be focussed mainly on memorising dates which made history boring and devoid of life. Happily there was one place that taught history in a fun and exciting way. That place was my lounge room and the vehicle was Bewitched, one of my favourite television shows.

Throughout the eight seasons of this magical show, a bevy of historical figures were zapped into the future and forced to deal with the modern world. At other times characters were zapped back in time to experience history first hand. During the ensuing mayhem I learned so many things, not only about history, but about race relations, class prejudice and gender politics.

One historical lesson I thoroughly enjoyed was when Samantha and Darrin go for a holiday to Salem, Massachusetts. One of the places they visit is The House of the Seven Gables, an historic New England home and the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name. This episode features a spooky bedwarmer that follows Samantha and Darrin back to their hotel room at the Hawthorne Hotel, named after Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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Bedwarmer from the historic Altona Homestead in Melbourne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem on July 4th, 1804. It is believed that Nathaniel added the “w” to Hathorne to distance himself from his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, a notorious lead judge in the Salem witch trials. Nathaniel used his ancestors as inspiration for many of his novels which explore colonial times and puritanical beliefs. He died on May 19th, 1864.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary this Saturday is a special one for me. Last year I fulfilled a childhood dream to visit Salem Massachusetts and The House of the Seven Gables. I did this on July 4th, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthday. It was also Independence Day which added to the magic. My trip to Salem, and other parts of America, was so inspirational that I have written a book about it. I’ll be doing the final edit on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s deathiversary.

Before visiting The House of the Seven Gables for my own spooky adventure, I stopped in a cafe called Gulu-Gulu for a fortifying steamed milk drink. My version has a touch of Halloween pumpkin because I can never think of Salem without thinking of Halloween 🙂 

Pumpkin Pie Steamer

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Ingredients
I cup milk
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree, (homemade or canned)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix*
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
whipped cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Place the milk, pumpkin and spice mix into a blender and blend until smooth and combined.
Pour into a small saucepan.
Whisk over medium heat until warm.
Add the maple syrup and keep whisking until the milk is simmering but not boiling
Poor into a heatproof cup and top with whipped cream if desired.

*Pumpkin pie spice mix is a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice.

This is my version:
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Mix the spices together in a small bowl.
Store unused spice mix in a spice container or small jar.

You can experiment with your own version but cinnamon should be the dominant spice.

Act 1 – Shakespeare Around The Globe

This Sunday is both Easter Sunday and April Fools’ day and I know which one I am most excited about!

April Fools’ Day for me is a day to celebrate the spirit of the tarot Fool. The Fool is the first card in the major arcana and it is the Fool who journeys through the tarot and learns the lessons of the cards. The Fool is so important it is the only major arcana card to be represented in modern playing card decks. In these decks the Fool plays the role of the Joker.

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fool card from the dracula tarot

The Fool symbolises new beginnings, adventures and journeys – that’s why I have adopted April Fools’ Day as my personal New Year’s Day. On April Fools’ Day I take time to look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead. What is most exciting for me is that my plans for this coming year are intertwined with the journeys I made this past year.

Last year I travelled to America and fulfilled a childhood dream of visiting Salem, Massachusetts. I also got to meet in person a friend I have known online for many years. Plus I visited the island where an Atlantic puffin I sponsor spends their summer. A few weeks ago I travelled to America again to attend a giant panda fan convention in San Diego, something I have wanted to do for many years. I ended this trip with a visit to San Fransisco where my partner Paul and I celebrated 30 years of not being married by walking on the Golden Gate Bridge 🙂 Both trips have been enriching and will provide me with inspiration – and recipes – for this year’s blog posts. They may also have given me material for a book or two!

What does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well Shakespeare was no stranger to the power and importance of Fools. Many of his most memorable characters were witty and clever Fools. Plus, it was two Shakespeare inspired establishments that provided me with comfort and nourishment in San Diego. That’s right – Shakespeare’s influence extends around the globe!

One of the things I love to do before I travel is research places to eat. Two of the places I picked in San Diego were the Shakespeare Pub & Grille and Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea. I couldn’t wait to visit them.

The Shakespeare Pub & Grille was established in 1990 by British expats. It is modelled on a traditional British pub in English Tudor style. The food is classic British comfort food and the bar stocks beers from around the world. We ordered a couple of beers and their signature dish – Fish & Chips. We were treated to crisp and crunchy pieces of beer battered cod with peas and chips (fries) served with tartare sauce and malt vinegar. It was delicious. After such a tasty meal we had to try their desserts. Paul chose Sticky Toffee Pudding – a steamed light sponge cake covered in a sweet and sticky toffee sauce. He couldn’t decide between custard and ice cream so he had both. I chose something I have never tried before but have always wanted to – Spotted Dick! This amusingly named dessert is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit and is traditionally served with custard. YUM 🙂 Each bite melted in my mouth and I was rewarded with the scent and taste of a soft, warm and spicy fruit cake. The custard was smooth and creamy and complemented the pudding perfectly. We were ready to go back to the hotel and have a nap but we had one more culinary stop to make.

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Next door to the Shakespeare Pub is Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea which is run by a British family. We had hoped to have a cream tea in their patio tearoom but we were too full from lunch. Instead we decided to check out the store and see what they had on offer. Not surprisingly the shelves were stocked with British produce. Missing my nightly tea and shortbreads, I was happy to find a box of Earl Grey teabags and a packet of Scottish shortbreads. I also found an interestingly shaped spoon which the staff told me was a Black and Tan spoon used for pouring layered cocktails. As a fan of layered cocktails, I had to have it. In the fridge I saw a jar of clotted cream which I was so tempted to buy but valiantly resisted. When I went to pay I noticed they were selling scones to take home. I looked at Paul and he knew exactly what I was thinking – Cream Tea for Dinner! We grabbed scones, a jar of strawberry jam – and the jar of clotted cream 🙂 That evening we sat on the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed our cream tea. We even had enough scones, jam and cream left for a cream tea breakfast the next morning.

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While there may not have been too much “Shakespeare” in this story I shall make up for that in Act 2, which tells a tale of my Shakespearean adventures in Melbourne. It will be closely followed by Act 3 – a recipe inspired by these tales.

If you are need of more adventure this Easter weekend there is a Full Moon to celebrate. And for those of us in Melbourne, Australia, due to time zone differences, this will be a Blue Full Moon!