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Getting lost in Canberra

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

If I had a sense of direction, I wouldn’t stumble upon Asian lions guarding the rear end of the Australian Parliament house, ready to pounce upon diplomats intent on a secret smoke break. But then again, I wouldn’t feel like I was going to be hauled in by the Federal Police, for wandering into somewhere I really shouldn’t be. I forget sometimes that I’m in Australia, where they seem to be a little less uptight about that sort of thing. I mean, you can walk on the roof of the Parliament House here, provided the grass isn’t frosty. There aren’t even guards with funny black earpieces and formidable eyeglasses to avoid.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, I had my first tourist experience in Canberra. I had a little tour (there are more pictures on flickr, of the inside of the building), and I also walked to the National Museum and had a look. This is where I ran into this guy:

This guy knows how to live.

This guy knows how to live.

He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. It was a gorgeous day, so I don’t blame him. The Museum was actually pretty awesome, and free. The building was impressive, in a very modern, “I intend to be an important piece of architecture” sort of way:

Imposing. But free!

Imposing. But free!

That’s Canberra for you, though. The whole city is relatively new, and is full of man-made monuments symbolizing all sorts of things. It also happens to be huge, despite its relatively small population. I walked to the National Museum and Parliament house, and it took me about 5 hours to get through both of them by foot. It’s definitely a collection of suburbs, spread out and designed for automobile transport. So it’ll take me a while to see everything. After all that walking, I really wanted food. Lots of it, fast. So I did a warm salad, with bits and pieces from the fridge.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

I threw free range bacon, mushrooms, pecans, apples, bok choy, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a pan (add the bok choy last), cooked it until everything was nice and soft, and threw it over some mesclun greens. It was just the thing after a long walk — sweet and savory and warm (it’s winter here, remember). And with the blue brie, fresh bread, and fig jam with fennel, it was a nice way to end a rather long day.

Oh yah — I almost forgot:

I could only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

I can only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

That was pretty good, too.

Tomorrow? Well, there’s work, and dinner at a collaborator’s house, for which I’m making truffles. And the experiment. Of course. But I bought a book on Canberra. Hopefully I’ll find something a bit more interesting food-wise to share. I know it’ll involve a bus or two, or perhaps a bike rental. The supermarkets around here have been rather mundane, so I’ll have to try a bit harder to find some of the more interesting ingredients I was hoping to try. Not that I’m complaining.

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Filed under Australia, bacon, dessert, main, politics, quick meals, stories

Such sweet things

Our first strawberry

Our garden’s reveling in the summer sun, throwing up signs of contentment in little shoots and buds. Sprouts of questionable heritage yielded spindly little seedlings, which eventually transformed into our little patch of controlled chaos in the backyard. Along with it, creatures emerged — little slugs and aphids, butterflies and ladybugs. Signs that soon (well, now, actually), we’d be competing for the very produce we made possible.

Tomatoes!

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, which makes the transition to the “wilderness” of the national parks we just visited back to civilization an interesting one. It’s a comfortable book, meandering through the seasons — and his garden, in each — with a thoughtful ease. And while it’s preachy at times, I think his point about America’s view of nature is dead on. Yes, we invented the concept of national preservation areas, where wilderness could be preserved for all to see. And yes, as the ranger in Prairie Creek State Park pointed out, we have cleared virtually every single old growth forest outside of those preservation areas since we decided to settle here. Pollan’s explanation of this is that we have an “all or nothing” view of nature, and how we manage it;

Once a landscape is no longer ‘virgin’ it is typically written off as fallen, lost to nature, irredeemable. We hand it over to the jurisdiction of that other sacrosanct American ethic: laissez-faire economics.

Yes — big developers. Because who wouldn’t want more condos? It’s already ruined, right? This is despite the fact that, as Pollan points out, man has had a profound effect on nature as we see it. We’re part of it, and we influence it, in our introduction of foreign species, our management policies, and our understanding of our role in its history. Most of the time, we’ve had a more profound effect than we know. His point? We have, in essence, become “gardeners” of our landscape, responsible for its care and general health.

We’ve done a good job, in some cases (the State and National Park systems, an example of which is shown above, are a case in point). But in a lot of instances, I think this all-or-nothing concept (which seems to pervade our thinking, really — politically, environmentally, economically, and socially) is dangerous. It gives us license to write off our responsibility, to ignore our role in the planet’s future. Yes, it’s easier to manage; the lines are black and white, easily placed into the law books for all to see. But just as industrial ag is easier on a large scale, it’s not necessarily better.

I guess that’s why we started this garden. And why I’ll keep it up. I didn’t think I’d like it… I thought it’d be just another chore. I mean, this is me — I barely water the house plants; I used to kill them before James came along and started watching over them all. But I find myself going out to visit it every morning, to keep tabs on the soil condition, the new buds, and the creatures I find myself learning more about, in order to defend our plants’ tender leaves. It’s all the more interesting when you can’t just spray a few chemicals about to take care of whatever your problems are. So far, everything is doing pretty well. We’ve had to share our strawberries with the birds, and had some hungry leaf miners eat through the first leaves of chard. Other than that? We have strong, healthy tomato plants, and some amazing squash and cucumber coming along. Our carrots seem happy, and the potato we planted from the Union Square greenmarket is finally pushing a few buds up out of the soil. And we have more lettuce than we can eat — a few plants are going to seed, and I’m just going to let them, just to see what happens. Oh — and I can’t wait for the tomatoes.

So, with that, I’ll leave you with a recipe. Well — this isn’t really a recipe. I just threw a few veggies, some pasta, and a sauce together and called it lunch. But it’s really tasty (with sort of a satay flavor), and makes use of the garlic scapes that seem to be the only new and interesting thing at the Wooster Square farmer’s market at the moment. It’ll be perfect with our yellow pears, carrots, and spring onions later in the season. I only hope I’m still in New Haven when things start to get really exciting.

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Filed under books, carrots, environment, gardening, garlic scapes, ginger, main, pasta, side, vegan, vegetarian