Welcome Tammi Jonas and Motorhome Mama Cookin’

Now one of my dearest and closest friends, @tammois and I met on the twitterz and have since cemented our friendship around many tables and fires, cookbooks, meals and bottles of wine. Tammi and the rest of her brood, The Jonai, are at present on a magnificent three month Rebel Farm Tour of her homeland, the USA, in the world’s coolest RockVan.

You can follow their journey at her blog Tammi Tasting Terroir, on Crikey’s Back in a Bit travel blog and on twitter but this here is what Mama’s been cookin’ up on the road …

A question food folk love to both ask and answer – ‘what can’t you live without in the kitchen?’ – is one that most of us rarely have cause to put to the test. But flying across the Pacific with nothing but a suitcase of clothes to drive across America in a ’77 GMC motorhome provides the perfect opportunity.

I knew there’d have to be cast iron, a good knife, a wooden chopping board and either a mortar & pestle or a hand blender. The hand blender won in deference to space considerations (I can hardly claim it was the weight given all the cast iron…). A mixing bowl or two, a large-ish pot, some wooden spoons and a whisk pretty much rounds out the essentials.

We picked up a cast iron griddle and a frypan for a song at the thrift shops of Front Royal, Virginia, where I also scored a hand blender for $5, and complete sets of utensils, cups and plates for a few dollars. Due to the small stove, I leaped at a narrow, tall stainless steel pot on sale for $15 new at Target, and a large, new, wooden chopping board with a non-slip mat underneath from Camping World that’s designed to sit atop RV stoves to save space and stop the rings from clattering on the road.

A good knife eluded me for over a week – we’d bought a Wüsthof paring knife at Bed, Bath & Beyond hoping it would tide us over until I found a quality Japanese high-carbon steel chef’s knife. I quickly lost patience and knuckles chopping garlic with this woefully inadequate tool, but we’d scoured all the ‘home’ or ‘kitchen’ shops we could find, all of which were of the large, generic franchise sort, and found only Wusthofs and Globals and something branded by one of those ‘pretty women who cook on tv’ whose names I can never remember. And then we stumbled across Country Knives.

We were just past Intercourse, Pennsylvania on a tiny byway (340) after exploring Amish country when the sign appeared. There was no town nearby, and the sign appeared to be at the front of somebody’s home. I figured there would be a charming but useless collection of ‘country craft’ knives – perhaps with carefully whittled handles for the grey-nomad types to admire and purchase only to continue to despair at cooking as they’ve never known the joys of a good knife. I was utterly mistaken.

Inside was a wonderland of knives – some 8000 the owner told us – everything from hunting knives and throwing stars to high-quality chef’s knives. Bingo. The beautifully curved 10” Shun Classic twinkled at me from behind the glass. Just to be circumspect, I handled three or four, but it was love at first sight, and it was with intense pleasure that I handed over my credit card to make the Shun mine. It hasn’t disappointed, as I’ve chopped my way down the Appalachians, rhythmically maintaining an otherwise scattered sense of self from Pennsylvania to Mississippi.

A secondhand 4-quart cast iron pot with a lid was even more difficult to secure, and without it, there’s no hope of making bread in the RockVan’s small oven whose designer clearly mistook ‘distribute’ heat for ‘localise intensely at the bottom middle’. We picked up a simple heat dissipator for a few cents at one of the many Habitat for Humanity’s Restores we’ve frequented, which should make basic baking more successful, but bread’s a fussier beast, so cast iron was required.

Yet again, patience paid off, and I found what I needed at a Lodge Cast Iron factory outlet outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Since the recession, Lodge made a decision to put pots and pans with minor defects out on ‘seconds’ shelves rather than re-melting them for another attempt at perfection. Thanks to this reportedly popular new policy, I scored my pot for $26 rather than the usual $60, all because it has two nearly invisible little concave bubbles in the bottom.

So now that I’ve waxed fetishistically on about knives and cast iron, surely you’re wondering what I’ve cooked with it?

Those who know my penchant for making sourdough damper when we camp might have wondered whether I’ve baked yet. For one, I miss Fran, my sourdough starter whose daughters I left with family in Oz in hopes of returning to her in September. Next, there is the issue of the small oven that seems to think it’s an inverse griller. Finally, it’s been so freaking hot there’s no way I wanted to put the oven on! However, having found my cast iron pot and lid finally, I’ll make my first RockVan loaves soon … whether in the oven or on the stovetop will depend on the mercury.

The ready availability of quality tortillas and dearth of decent bread across small-town America has resulted rather logically in a surfeit of Mexican cooking in the RockVan. Of course it’s ‘Tex-Mex’, and frequently inspired by what we’re finding in the taquerías to be found in even the most seemingly ‘white bread’ towns. It’s also inspired by the brilliant variety of chilies found everywhere (even – gasp – in Walmart!), anaheims, poblanos, jalapeños, habaneros, and serranos to name some of the most common. And don’t be fooled by some of their capsicum-like appearance – most are very bloody hot – as I discovered during an out-of-mind experience three bites into ‘testing’ the hotness of one type.

And so burritos de frijoles negros, tacos de carne asada, quesadillas, enchiladas de pollo, and many bastardisations of all of the above have been our lunch and dinner staples, plus the odd breakfast burrito here and there.

Still, it turns out even the bean-lovin’ Jonai cannot survive on tortillas alone, and so I’ve experimented with drop biscuits both on the griddle and in the oven. It’s surprising how well they work on the griddle, though it’s tricky to keep them from burning on the outside while ensuring the middle isn’t doughy. Then having learned about hoecakes, which are a sort of cornmeal pancake/biscuit, I’ve been working on a technique with thinner biscuits for the stovetop. I’ve also rather enjoyed making these southern staples for my aunts and uncles, all of whom grew up on them, but are pleasantly surprised to find that their ‘Australian’ niece makes them ‘like Mama did’, even though they themselves now make pop-out biscuits.

Free-range eggs are often found for sale along the roadside – usually for $2 or $3 a dozen – and so eggs, biscuits and gravy are a popular brekky. I broke in the hand blender with a classic ‘tammindaise’ the day we did happen to have bakery bread and after planting our little herb garden in the kitchen window.

The ever-present truck-wheel fire ring grill at all the state parks has meant some barbecuing as well – ‘grass-fed beef’ is pretty easy to come by, as is free-range chicken. Vegetarian options range from the black-bean Mexican favourites to tofu burgers and an old standby, a Sri Lankan style mustard eggplant curry. We even made a Limburger and avocado pasta one night, and although the stinky-socks smell of the cheese challenged the brood, they gobbled it all up.

One night, just for a lark, we cooked some turkey dogs for the kids, and Stuart even taught the kids the ‘bend the can’ trick to cook some creamed corn on the grill, which they universally despised, I’m happy to report.

When Oscar spiked a fever, it was roast capsicum and garlic soup on the menu, and when he recovered and requested fried chicken, I proved it’s possible even in the little RockVan.

When I stumbled across fresh pita breads at the Central Markets in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we had to have kebabs, and here in the South, we seem to have coleslaw with nearly every meal.

The opportunity to cook in ‘real’ kitchens while visiting family and friends has been a lovely respite from the RockVan’s confines and a great way to say ‘thanks for having us’. I’m surprised that nobody has blinked an eye as I stride in with not just ingredients but my kick-arse knife as well.

Texas lies ahead, so our Mexican fetish should crank up a few notches when I pick up tortilla presses for me and the wonderful Zoe, our gracious host here on PDP. But first, we’ll be traveling through Cajun country in southern Louisiana, where I hope to learn the mysteries of Gumbo, Jambalaya and crawfish étouffée. If you want to see how that goes, be sure to tune back in for the next instalment of Motorhome Mama Cookin’. 😉



Emica’s camp cooking challenge; or, the search for the perfect scone

Possessed by the spirit of our straitened times – and the rubbish value of the pound against the Euro – The Man and I decided to have a staycation and spend a week’s summer holiday camping in the Lake District. Key words to note here: camping; Lakes; England. What can I say? The Man must have caught me at a weak moment. Perhaps I was distracted by a Queen of Puddings or some other delicious fancy.

While not virgin campers, we are definitely novices and our previous test runs coincided with a spell of perfect English summer weather – blue skies, puffy clouds, burbling brooks. On these occasions it seemed only a matter of time before Ratty and Mole punted past our tent. We hadn’t taken cooking equipment on the brief test trips and I’d been equally impressed and alarmed by the other campers’ kitchens and what was considered essential camp cooking kit (a fruit bowl? Really?). So with visions of warm evenings grilling some little something picked up at a local grocer, we booked a week in a tent in the Lakes.

We’ve stayed in those vast, tarmaced caravan parks before (on honeymoon in Dorset in a 1979 Kombi camper van) and this time specifically sought out a camp site that would be a bit closer to nature. The first site was absolutely beautiful – a few farmer’s fields littered with boulders, criss crossed with dry stone walls and with long views across the valley to the fells above.


Well, I say that now. I only discovered these charms on about day 3 when there was a brief break in the pelting rain and gale force winds and I could actually take in the surroundings rather than scuttling between car and tent, head down and zipping the fly sheet behind me.

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Pamela Does Damper


Installments one , two, three, four, five and six.

There are few things in this world as simple or as satisfying as the humble damper. There are many master damper makers out here in the desert, and I’ve recently had the opportunity to sample some fresh off the fire. Oh, the guilty pleasure of indulging in a bit of damper with butter and homemade jam for breakfast, lunch and dinner – all on the same day! I submitted willingly even though I could feel my soft bits getting softer with every bite.

This particular bush trip was part of a week of celebrations, workshops and cultural activities that is the “Blackstone Festival”, put on by Papulankutja Artists. Check out their blog at http://papulankutja.blogspot.com/. They make beautiful paintings at Blackstone, well worth a look if you are in the market for something sublime that is also ethically produced.

The first of our dampers from this particular bush trip was made by a great chick from Margaret River named Jodie. She put a lot of love into that damper but it was unmistakably the product of a white girl still learning, shaped rather like a very large Hershey’s chocolate drop. Nevertheless it was delicious, and we ate it with gusto and lashings of butter and slightly fermented fig jam (the pot I bought in Waikerie some weeks ago).

The second of our dampers was produced by an older lady who learned how to make it almost fifty years ago, at a time when there was a bounty on the heads of dingos and flour was the major commodity sought after by people from this area in exchange for “dog skins”. Here’s her recipe, and some photos of the process. Continue reading

Pamela’s Eating Tails


Installments one , two, three, four and five.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I ran into Camel Man’s Wife and begged for a fillet of camel to play with in the kitchen but to date they have yet to deliver. The camp dogs have done better, with the Camel Man’s Boys dropping off enormous sections of back bone at various places around the community for them to chew on. We had one little dog drag a stinking piece of hump fat at least twice his weight into the arts centre last week in an effort to keep it for his own exclusive pleasure. He was most indignant when promptly chased back out.

I have nevertheless managed to get my paws on a little bit of dromedary on the sly. A friendly sparky called Richard had been staying with the Camel People while working on various jobs around the community, including fixing our hot water system (we had endured over two weeks of luke warm showers). Over coffee one morning before the sun had much of a chance to warm the day he offered me some freshly dried camel jerky. Marinated in sweet chilli sauce and coriander seeds, it was among the most tender, tasty jerky I’ve eaten – and having lived in Namibia for a couple of years where biltong from all kinds of bush meat is a fav snack, I’ve tasted quite a bit. Nice work, Camel Man. I almost forgive you for being so tight about providing meat for the rest of us.


Ever wondered what a camel’s oesophagus looks like?

Despite the lack of camel there have been some other unusual menu items to get excited about. Roo tails are a favourite camping meat out here and can be purchased frozen at both the community store or road house for $7 a pop. Surprisingly there is considerable variety in the quality of tails – I am reliably informed by a long time connoisseur that the black ones sold at the road house are a little tough.
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Pamela’s eating Creamed Corn and Charcoaled Lizards


Instalments one , two, three and four.

I’m in lovely Warakurna community at the moment, located at the base of the Rawlinson Ranges in Western Australia. The remote Giles weather station, located just up the road, was built in 1956 and was the first permanent colonial occupation of the area for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. Many older people living at Warakurna now were children at the time, their families living independent existences centred around the myriad of rock holes and hunting grounds scattered throughout the ranges.

By virtue of its tenure as a piece of Western Australian Aboriginal reserve excised by the Commonwealth government fifty years ago, the weather station is the only place in the entire Ngaanyatjarra Lands where alcohol can legally be consumed, and officially only by the station’s six employees. Have I considered dropping into the weather station to say hi and flashing my big blue eyes in the hope of a cold one? Not for a moment. My research permit is far too valuable. Luckily for us, Coopers make a convincing birell (brewed without alcohol) that tastes great straight out of the freezer. While barbecuing steaks over our fire pit on Saturday night, for a brief moment I almost forgot it wasn’t the real thing.

With some time on my hands over Easter, some of the ladies organised to go out hunting for tirnka (little goannas). Armed with crowbars as digging sticks and billy cans as shovels, 8 women and 2 dogs packed into a troopie and made our way to tirnka country.


Tirnka country

We wandered through the bush for a couple of hours, stopping to dig at holes where there was evidence of recent action. It was a very successful hunt in the end, with eleven (!) tirnka bagged. We made a fire, sat down with a cup of tea and proceeded to cook up the catch. The preparation process involves removing gut then burning off the skin in the open flame for a couple of minutes. The lizards are then buried in coals and left to cook for about twenty minutes. The cooked flesh is delicious – pale white, smooth and tasty –hints of chicken (!) and fish and just a little bit smoky. No salt required. We got back to town on dusk, the ladies subsequently missing the Easter Sunday prayer meeting and making me three hours late for a sausage sizzle being hosted by the neighbours. Not good manners, but at the end of the day I think we were all where we really wanted to be.


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Pamela Faye has reached the (unb)eaten track – Tjukurla Community


Instalments one , two and three.

It’s been a long and arduous couple of weeks of eating, but have finally found my way into the Ngaanyatjarra lands and some civilised eating options. I arrived in the tiny community of Tjukurla from the tourist resort of Yulara at Uluru a couple of days ago, and have been eating fabulously, if somewhat humbly, since.

My enthusiasm for food has been somewhat diminished over the past fortnight by a persistent stomach bug that left me feeling exhausted with nausea but thankfully with few other symptoms. Not that I was missing out on much. With the exception of some excellent home cooked meals with friends in Alice Springs, eating since leaving Adelaide has been a rather mundane affair. Under siege from a meat craving, I ordered lamb shanks and mash at the dubious Glendambo Road House, our overnight stop between Adelaide and Alice. These shanks were enormous – quite literally an example of the proverbial mutton dressed up as her younger sister. But they were rather tasty and quite possibly the only redeeming feature of a place that otherwise makes no apologies for the appalling state of their accommodation. The bunk-house we were offered looks so bad that my travelling companion and I opted for sleeping rough on a tarp next to the ute rather than risk bed bugs. A sprinkling of rain initially left us doubting this decision, but then a cold, strong wind blew the clouds away and we slept contentedly under the magnificence of the Milky Way.


Ginormous Glendambo Shanks

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Pamela has made it to Adelaide


Instalments one and two.

Day 6: Glenelg, Adelaide

I’m currently holed up in a motel in the Adelaide beach-side suburb of Glenelg. Kind of like Perth’s Fremantle without the hippies, or perhaps Melbourne’s St Kilda minus the cool. Sleeping 300m from an ocean beach is my idea of heaven, but turned into hell yesterday when the stench of 500 rotting carp dead in a nearby waterway wafted over the area. A cool breezy change is helping clear the air, and not a moment too soon.

I’ve spent the past couple of days in at the State Library of South Australia and the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia looking through albums of photographs from early exploration parties through central Australia. Exhausting work (no, really, it is!) and I’m already over it. It could, however, be much worse – the guy next to me in the library reading room appeared to be attempting to reconstruct a cricket test match from 1937.

Eating these past few days has been non-remarkable, partly because of fiscal restraint on my part, partly because of lack of inspiration. Restaurants abound in Glenelg, but most are over-priced Australian-fusion fare. But this morning’s breakfast at a café in Henley Beach was fantastic: creamy scrambled eggs with a side of warm smoked salmon tossed in baby rocket and served with perfectly browned toast and great coffee. I sat and ate as I watched a group of teenagers haul themselves out of a rough sea at the end of a 2km ocean swim. I had driven north to Henley this morning hoping to attach myself to an informal training swim held by the local Aussie Masters club, but took one look at the churning sea and thought better of it. I think I’ve a way to go before I’ll be swimming the 20km Freo to Rottnest.

During my meanderings through the archives I came across the following entry in an account of a government expedition into Ngaanyatjarra country in 1903. It was written by a young Herbert Basedow, whose life’s work was recently celebrated in an exhibition at the National Library of Australia. This one goes out to all my fellow photographers, who know as well as I do what a pain in the arse we can be:

“After I had spent some time with the natives and taken several photos, an old man gave me to understand that my presence was no longer required. In fact, he actually turned me round to face our camp and gave me a slight shove towards it.”

For those of you who have no idea where Ngaanyatjarra country is, here is a link to a map of the area that familiars call “the Lands”.

Given my pre-occupation with the library this week, the only photo I have for this post is of a gem I picked up in amongst shelves crammed crocheted footy earrings, decorated jewellery boxes and jars of tomato chutney in a little craft shop in Waikerie. The name of the shop, “The Cobweb”, doesn’t exactly in still a sense of confidence in the freshness of their products, but this jar of fig jam was clearly made with love. A lot of love. I’m looking forward to sharing it with Edwina, who will be hosting me during my stay at Warakurna community. Being a good country girl from Hay, she is herself a great enthusiast of the stuff. Thank you, lady number 53A from Waikerie, we will enjoy it.