Wine and Karri trees

The last time I travelled almost 300kms by road* I ended up in the capital city of another country, exchanging one language, monetary system and culture for another. This time I swapped the dramatic cliffs, pine forests, snowy fields and deep fjords for endless sweeping fields, flame coloured native christmas trees and towering forests. Rather than north we went south, stopping in at places known by the locals as ‘Bunners’, ‘Busso’, ‘Cow Town’ and ‘Margs’, proving that even within the same country, a language can change.

Margaret River, or Margs, is WA’s best known wine region, full of vines, big wineries, boutiques, chocolate stores and restaurants. Within minutes of sampling a local Cab Sav** you can be swimming on white sandy beaches or surfing in legendary beaches, or descending into ancient caves to see towering forms and fossils. If this sounds like I’m writing copy for a tourist magazine, keep in mind that when describing this area, it’s hard not to wax lyrical. Plus for a WA woman who has been to other, more famous regions, I maintain the right to be proud of the work of my fellow WA folk, from a state where we are not usually known for creating fine wine, art and culture. As we tasted Shiraz and Petit Verdot, chatted with the owners of the little, boutique wineries and drove along the tree lined, rural roads, it felt like another land where the days of indulgence and sun would meld into each other, and where we forgot about the days to come after the holiday. It was not this way for the whole of the holiday however.

We arrived in Busso with rain clouds dragging behind us, fat and sleepy from the food and relaxation of christmas, ready to drop our stuff and get started on the holiday mood. On our first and only stroll to the beach, just behind our accommodation, the clouds opened up and wind howled, sending us back to our rooms questioning our plan for an afternoon swim. Heading into town for groceries and dinner we went to have a walk on the jetty, which at almost 2kms long is the longest wooden jetty in the world.

Clouds approaching the jetty

Clouds approaching the jetty

Despite the intention to trek the whole length, the weather again conspired against us and with sheets of rain drove us back to our car, laughing and dripping. We dried out over dinner at a pub, and fell asleep almost before our heads hit the pillows, barely noticing the raucous chatter of our new neighbours.

The first full day had been planned sometime before, and so we headed off fairly early to our appointment at a jeweller, where we got a reality check and a day to think things over. After which we scoured the Margaret River breweries for a free table and eventually fed ourselves, lining our bellies for the wine to come. A chocolatier and a few boutique wineries followed in a haze of deliciousness and an edge of tipsiness, ending at a brewery that had just the right mix of casual and quality, and brought about a heart to heart and a happy glow to the end of the day. The glow extended as we happily contemplated our haul of wines that evening, and enjoyed a few glasses over our picnic dinner.

How do you know that a decision you make while on holiday, when your tastes run a certain way, and when you know that they could change, is the right one? Especially when it’s something that you will, quite literally, carry with you for the rest of your life? This is what we did on the next morning, confirming the order and walking out feeling simultaneously buoyed and flummoxed. It was done and there was no going back. From the forests of Yallingup, which translates as ‘The place of love’ in the Indigenous language, we followed winding roads to the Wardan Cultural Centre, where we were able to meet someone wonderful. We took a tour with her and her daughter, where we were shown the trees, flowers and fruits that her people have survived off for tens of thousands of years. We tasted the balga and the snakebush berries, and chewed peppermint tree leaves, and learnt of the sheoak and how to make a moi moi. Most of all we got to spend time with an elder who knew herself and her land, and was as much a natural leader as anyone else I have ever met. It was a privilege to hear her speak about survival, joke about people she’d met and watch her daughter learn, the girl’s eyes following everything and completely comfortable in her place.
I hope to be able to go on one of the survival camps she runs one day, so I can learn how to survive on the land that I call home. Even after most of my life lived in it, I couldn’t live on it.

From the life and tranquility of the bush we continued to sample wines, lunch in Margaret River and make our way further down south. The landscape changed from Marri and Jarrah forest, to Jarrah with absurdly tall, Dr Seuss-like balgas, paperbark swamps and recently burnt scrublands. In time we began to spot the trees that I love most of all, tall, white trunks sticking out among the old marri trees. They are the tallest trees I have ever seen, and when they fill the forest in looks like a haphazard temple, the columns and green canopy unmoving as we pass underneath.

Panorama from our cabin

Panorama from our cabin

We stayed at a well known resort just before Pemberton, where we had also enjoyed our first ever getaway holiday years before. In a cabin overlooking the artificial lake, with the rushing of the waterfall and the stately karri forest reflected in the water, it was another world.

Beedelup falls

Beedelup falls

It was a world that we shared with the wildlife, including ring necked parrots that didn’t take any encouragement to gobble the seeds that I put out for them. The resort provided them as an alternative to the bread and snacks and would otherwise make the birds sick, and they clearly knew the drill, warbling to bring in the whole gang as soon as the seeds appeared.

The local gang

The local gang

They also knew where the seed was coming from, and had a go at opening the plastic container with the seeds before I hid it, then watching me with eyes that were a bit too knowing. When no more seeds appeared, they moved on to the next sucker with a final squawk and beady stare.

Can I have another?

Can I have another?

Our own dinner was a more civilized affair with less mess, and without wifi or internet connection we were able to relax and enjoy the scenery and peace of the lake. All too soon we had to leave, with a hot, filling breakfast in our bellies and a few hundred kms of road ahead of us.

Morning view

Morning view

Before turning north, however, we couldn’t leave without properly seeing the karri trees and so I had my first go at proper off-road driving, albeit in an old Volvo.

Old growth by the river

Old growth by the river

A karri valley

A karri valley

Going off-road among the karri

Going off-road among the karri

The track wound down to a river, and through magnificent old growth forest, ending at the 75 metre tall Bicentennial Tree. It can be climbed with metal spikes covered by a net, which I didn’t attempt, despite what must have been an amazing view.

The Bicentennial Tree

The Bicentennial Tree

Leaving the beautiful trees and ancient forest behind, we went north, stopping for lunch, and an ice-cream at a lavender farm. We of course visited one final winery, an old favourite that didn’t disappoint, and so it was that we arrived home satisfied, laden with wine and chocolate and dreaming of the forest that awaits the next holiday.

* By strange coincidence, the distance between Göteborg and Oslo, and my home and Margaret River is exactly 293 kms.
** Cabernet Sauvignon, for non-Australians

Places visited:
House of Cards Wines
Gabriel’s Chocolate
John Miller Design
Ashbrook Wines
Cape Grace Wines
The Beer Farm
The Cheeky Monkey Brewery
Wardan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Thompson Brook Wines
Balingup Lavender farm

Baking away the darkness

To complement the hordes of articles that seem to be popping up in newspapers and magazines lately about how to deal with the oncoming darkness and not go crazy, I thought I would add my little bit of advice. I have learnt it through a combination of instinct and necessity, and unlike pretty much all of the advice that others seem to be spouting, it doesn’t involve leaving the house. Or even the kitchen. And you eat it.
Oh yes.
I’m talking about baking.

My home town in the middle of November at 3:30pm. On a nice day.

My home town in the middle of November at 3:30pm. On a nice day.

(If you’re reading this from Australia or somewhere else that isn’t currently getting dark by 3.30pm, pretend I am making ice-cream, or whatever else you like that suits weather over 5 degrees.)

It started some time ago, when I realised that this whole making bread thing isn’t as hard as I thought and that if I make bread my partner gets a bit giddy with excitement. I found an amazing recipe that makes bread rolls in about 45 minutes, from start to finish. And they are perfect. I’ve done it three times now and both times there was a sense of a miracle as I took the tray out of the oven. The second time was also the time when I realised that this baking thing was becoming a thing. It was halloween, and as mentioned in that post, I decided to do some traditional, themed baking. There was the Roman dish, soul cakes and the bake that was not quite a cake.

Successful soul cakes!

Successful soul cakes!

It was the first of my recent failures and it stung. A few weeks later I decided to use the scrapings from the halloween pumpkins to make pumpkin bread for book club. It… did not work. We agreed that it made decent slice though, and left it at that. I brought tiny vegemite sandwiches to make up for it.

However I kept going, making another delicious pile of rolls (oh the burgers, oh the joy), and it started to creep up on me that there was a pattern in my behaviour. I’d wake up, do weekend things and somehow find myself in the kitchen, wearing an apron and spraying flour dust around the counter, while outside the sky lowered and rain fell. The oven would be on and though kneading and cries of ‘oh damn, why is it still sticky!’ lay ahead, I knew at the end would be something warm and comforting, and edible achievement that perhaps in some way made up for the cold and inability to picnic.

Bread rolls

Bread rolls

It was around this point that we began to get creative. By now my partner had decided he wanted in on this baking thing, and not just as the happy recipient of baked goods. Prior to my baking revelations he had been the house baker, proud owner of the knowledge of how long to leave the yeast to grow and at what temperature, how elastic the dough should be and how many times to punch it before baking. And he does certainly make very fine bread. So when I said that I was curious about making rye bread he fiddled on his tablet and replied soon after that he might be interested in making barley bread, using ancient recipes. So after a trip to the shops for the correct flour and extra yeast, the bake-off was on.
Except without officially being a competition, because I don’t like competitions. And neither of us are especially graceful losers.

We set to in the kitchen, wearing our respective aprons and were soon thoroughly dusted with flour. There was much kneading, poking, tutting about consistency, watching dishcloths slowly rising and finally carefully putting them in the oven. Both turned out great, especially just baked and slathered in margarine. Most certainly a victory for us both.

Rye bread

Rye bread

This has all been leading, as the best stories do, to a climax. Last weekend we had been invited to dinner by a good friend and I offered to bring dessert. My inspiration, as I leafed through cookbooks and the internet, was chocolate. In the end I found a chocolate cake that was not only egg and milk free, but it had the word epic in the title. After recent cake incidents I wasn’t feeling confident and there were minor details that I could have done better (such as reading all the instructions before getting halfway through) but at the end, when I assembled it at the friend’s house and stood back to consider, I decided it was damn good. You should have tasted it. In fact, there is still some in the fridge now, if you’re quick!

Chocolate cake. Mmmm.

Chocolate cake. Mmmm.

So I suppose what I mean to say is that I’ve found my own personal type of activity/therapy to while away the crawl to the day of least light. It requires practice and concentration, there is always something new to learn and I can pretend that watching The Great British Bake Off is studying. Plus we eat the results. I’d be curious to know what other habits or hobbies others are taking up to keep the darkness at bay. Whatever it is, may it be satisfying and keep you sane.