The Grandparent Connection
This post will be more along the line of the essays my regular readers are accustomed to: a discussion of a children’s book. It might also help to answer the obvious question: Why has the author of a grandparenting and family blog written six episodes of a travelogue? In this final episode I will share with you some of the ways I tried to make my trip to Australia come alive for my grandchildren and children while I was traveling. As time goes on, I will continue to build in some additional connections for them by referring back to photos, stories, souvenirs and birthday gifts I acquired along the way, especially with the littlest ones. I might do the same here.
Throughout the six previous episodes, I’ve made mention of several Australian foods, such as Pavlova, which stood out as the most amazing dessert I’ve ever eaten, but also Vegemite, Lamington Sponge, Pumpkin Scones and Mornay. The source of my interest in these foods, and in the element of fun that sent me on a quest to find each of them as I traveled, is the children’s book author, Mem Fox. Her delightful story about a somewhat forgetful grandmother and her very patient grandchild describes magic gone wrong, and the creative quest for Australian foods that will reverse the wayward spell.
Possum Magic is my very favorite Mem Fox book. It begins in the most traditional and charming way: “Once upon a time, but not very long ago, deep in the Australian bush lived two possums. Their names were Hush and Grandma Poss.” I am just the kind of grandma who, if I knew any magic at all, would probably get my spells mixed up. My granddaughter Bean is very helpful, and often wanders around the house with me trying to imagine where I put down the earring I was carrying when she asked me to brush her hair (that was this morning) or what I was thinking when I put my coffee in the refrigerator. So she immediately recognized lovable Grandma Poss. “She’s just like you, Grandma – forgetful!”
Australian brush possums are cuter than American possums. At least I think so. When Mem Fox tells how her book came to be, she said her publisher had asked her to change the characters from mice to possums because they were “more cuddly.” What do you think? I sent postcards of bush possums home to my grandchildren after seeing some at the Caversham Wildlife Park at the beginning of my journey. I would have also bought some possum stuffies if I had seen any; I purchased cuddly koalas and squishy emus instead.
Mem Fox has kindly provided recipes for some of the foods in Possum Magic on her web site: ANZAC biscuits*, Lamingtons and Pavlovas. Just click on “latest gossip” then put recipes in the search bar and select the January 1, 2013 article.
In Fox’s words: “They ate Anzac biscuits in Adelaide, mornay and Minties in Melbourne, steak and salad in Sydney, and pumpkin scones in Brisbane.” All to no avail. Hush remains invisible. On my own scavenger hunt, I ate steak and salad in Freemantle, ANZAC biscuits in Melbourne, Minties on the train to Oakleigh, and fish in a Mornay sauce in Sydney. In Darwin, Hush and her grandma found a Vegemite sandwich, and Hush’s tail finally became visible.
Vegemite is special like that. My first discovery of Vegemite on this trip was on the Great Ocean Road, when Darren took us to his favorite ice cream shop. Vegemite ice cream tasted like salted caramel. I remembered Vegemite on toast from my childhood, and so when given the opportunity by a big box store in Melbourne to purchase a personalized jar of the tangy yeast spread, I did so.
I didn’t come across any pumpkin scones, but I came home to several unused pumpkins left over from Halloween and Thanksgiving, so I made some for Bean. In Perth, Hush and Grandma Poss ate a piece of Pavlova, a decadent dish in which a baked meringue bowl is filled with fresh fruit and covered in whipped cream. I should have paid more attention — it only took one piece for Hush’s legs and body to appear. But I ate the whole Pavlova** each time it appeared on my plate — in Perth and Melbourne and again in Sydney.
Hush and her grandma then traveled to Tasmania, where a nibble of Lamington sponge reappeared Hush’s head. Lamington was on the final menu of my wonderful train journey from Perth to Adelaide, and I tasted that too. That particular dessert had a little bit extra: a thin layer of rasberry jam was inside the sponge cake squares (top shelf) that had previously been dipped in liquid chocolate and rolled in coconut. Delicious!
Eating my way through Australia had its down side. I discovered when I arrived home that all my clothes had shrunk. I’m eating lots of salads now. But it was fun while it lasted!
I haven’t finished with Australian stories yet, but they’ll pop out when they are supposed to. There is a Vegemite sandwich in Bean’s future, and one of these days I will sit down with her and show her on a map of Australia where I traveled, and where I found each of the foods on my scavenger hunt. But that can wait. Right now I’m busy perfecting my baked meringue technique. Not for the British Baking Show — for my grandchildren.
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*ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Allied Corps. Sweethearts and mothers often baked ANZAC biscuits, which were quite durable, to send to soldiers during the First World War.
**Named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. There is a long standing debate about whether this dessert is native to Australia or New Zealand.
This is the end of my travels around Australia series. Next month I’ll return to writing my monthly commentary on families and food, reflections of being a grandmother, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I hope you’ll come along for the journey. If you’d like my posts to come to your email each time I write one, just type your email into the subscription form on this page and send it to me. If you’d like to continue this conversation, please do so in the Comment section below.