Saturday, 24 December 2011

Festive Thermal Cooking

I have never made Christmas pudding but decided this was the year to try!

I used a recipe from Simple Savings intended for a slow cooker - and I did use the slow cooker for some of the mixture, to make six mini-teacup puddings.

The remainder of the mixture was used in a normal-sized pudding bowl cooked in the thermal cooker, following the method described here.  We went out looking at Christmas lights last night, so I checked on the pudding after we got home and had settled Vaughan with a story etc.

In all our pudding was in the thermal cooker for around 10 hours - and looked perfect when turned out.  Of course, it smells pretty good too and we are all looking forward to the official tasting!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Festive Fudd!

December 2010 - The Bluff, Yowah
December 2011 - Festive Fudd!

There was considerable disappointment last year that Elmer wasn't decked out as a reindeer for our Yowah Christmas/New Year adventure. The notion came to us quite late in the preparations, after shops had sold all their antler stock (and we did ring quite a few, just to check)!

The night prior to departure, Nick wrapped Elmer's bullbar with tinsel.  Even that simple gesture drew a fair amount of attention on the roads, though Elmer generally does get looked at!

We were determined not to miss out this year.  Nick and I spotted the set of car antlers back in November - and they have been safely stashed since. The ongoing rain interfered considerably with Elmer's costuming but clear skies this afternoon saw us dressing him for the festive season!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Armchair Travelers

As much as we would like to be on the road/camping more often we have work, school, Uni/TAFE (and other) commitments. When we aren't traveling, we spend time researching destinations and sometimes just enjoying stories of other people's adventures.

We have made good use of the library throughout the year and borrowed a number of 4WD trekking DVDs. In amongst those was 'Too Long In The Bush - Len Beadell Looks Back', which we highly recommend.  'Len Beadell is regarded as the "last true Australian Explorer" for opening up over 2.5 million square kilometres of rugged Australian Outback.'

Since watching that DVD we borrowed one of his audio books, which we also thoroughly enjoyed.  The library stocks many of his (printed) books and praps we might get to read them over the Christmas break.

Seat Swap

Prior to heading up to Yowah last December, we bought Elmer two lumbar support cushions from SuperCheap Auto - one for each front seat. The total outlay was $30.00, in keeping with our budget at the time! While the support cushions were an improvement on using the seats without enhancement, our backs were still crying out for a far greater degree of comfort.

In early December Nick spotted some older model Recaro seats on eBay, which we subsequently won at auction. Nick's first welding project was to modify Elmer's existing rails to suit our "new" seats. We now sit slightly higher than previously and although we are yet to drive a long haul, the seat swap-out seems a very worthwhile exercise. (The old seats have sold on eBay to offset the cost of the changeover).

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Thermal-cooked pudding

The Hamby Campers were very happy today!
The afternoon scone success inspired me to try another experiment, something else I had been thinking of trying for a while - a self-saucing pudding.  I found this video and decided the method could be adapted for one of my usual recipes.

These days chocolate and/or coffee give me an instant headache, so are best avoided - sadly!  (Of course, my faithful taste-testers have no aversion to chocolate but where's the fun in cheffing if the chef misses out on the sampling)?!

I spread the batter evenly into the top (greased) pot and arranged pear slices over the surface.  Our fridge is currently overflowing with pears, so I took the opportunity to reduce the stockpile - if only by one! 

The sauce was then poured over the batter, via the back of a spoon for more gentle distribution.  The large pot was about three-quarters full of water and had been simmering on a hotplate while I prepared the pudding.  I placed the top pot into the bottom pot, put the lid on and left the pudding to stand over the simmering water for about 20 minutes.  I then transferred both pots to the thermal cooker for a further 60 minutes, before "plating up" with custard.

Mmmmm - another success!

Thermal-cooked scones

Thermal cooking experimentation on a rainy day ...
I've been meaning to try scones in the thermal cooker for quite some time - probably since a fellow camper raved about them in July last year!

I used the Thermal Cookware recipe for Golden Syrup Scones - with a few modifications to the method, as though I own the Thermal Cookware insulated bag, I don't have the Thermos Shuttle Chef cooker it (and the recipe) was intended for.  The recipe lists an egg in the ingredients but doesn't include any further instructions, so I mixed the egg and milk before adding them together.

My thermal cooker (purchased from Aldi) has two inner pots, one large/deep and the second much shallower.  I greased the top, smaller pot for the scones and used the larger pot for hot water - about three-quarters full.  The scones simmered on the stove top for about 25 minutes (covered) before both pots were moved into the insulated thermal cooker.  I expect the scones would have been ready after another 30 minutes but we left them in the cooker for around 90 minutes, with no ill effect.

The mixture was more the texture of dumplings than scones, so I was keen to sample the end result.  They are different to what I usually make but quite nice.  Erin declared them "tasty" and Nick also commented favourably - therefore the experiment was a success!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Damper dessert

Given our successful K.I.S.S damper back in July, we wanted to try for a repeat performance - and were even more chuffed with this effort!  There were no burnt edges and the crumb (technical bread-talk!) was quite fine.  Hooray!

Camp oven roast

Ready to roast!
Our last camp oven roast cooking experiment had been with a piece of beef, so we tried a lamb shoulder this time - studded with rosemary and garlic.

I had watched quite a few YouTube camp oven cooking videos in the lead-up to our "forest finale" and the common theme for roasting pumpkin was to leave the skin on, to prevent the flesh from falling to pieces as it cooked.  (The pumpkin pieces fell through the trivet last time and then burned on the bottom of the oven, imparting a not entirely unpleasant smokiness to the meat)! We tested the skin-on theory this trip and it worked very well - though Nick and Erin are not at all keen to eat the pumpkin skin!

In addition to the pumpkin we roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots.  Green beans and gravy were cooked over the fire in billies.   Yes, it was a feast!

Of course, it is a sign of how good everything looked/smelled that there are no shots of the finished product or the "plating up"!

Fire sculpture!

Nick found a mostly hollow log when out cutting wood for our camp oven experiments - and so we commandeered that piece for an impromptu fire sculpture.

Nick cut mini legs and a mouth with the chainsaw, then Vaughan drew a face with charcoal. We had forgotten to bring the block-splitter, so bottle-cap eyes weren't an option (much to Vaughan's disappointment). Even so it was a pretty good effort, though not as long-lasting as some of our other creations.

Forest finale

Making smiley faces ...
We returned from "the Ridge" with just a few days left of school before the term break. 

Unfortunately, we were a bunch of sickies over the holiday fortnight so our vague plan of several nights forest camping was revised to a day trip, which we enjoyed on the last day. It was a fairly laid-back adventure, which definitely suited our energy levels!

Vaughan and I decorated cup-cakes that I had made the night before. Nick collected fire wood and we all poked the fire into coal-production for our camp oven roast dinner.

In between times we checked on the Bower Bird's bower, netted for tadpoles (on a catch and release basis), fed the currawongs and spotted for lizards!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Note to self

The station attendant was startled by the flash!
Carry cash!  At home we rely heavily on EFTPOS, so make a conscious effort to remember to have  "real money" with us when traveling into more regional areas.

We had collected Erin from the zoo around 4:00pm.  As fuel wasn't an issue then, we didn't stop again at Dubbo but continued on - conscious that Nick would have to work later that night.  By the time we reached Merriwa (pop. approx 1,000) at 8:00pm, Elmer was desperately in need of a drink!

The town was in darkness and we at first thought this small petrol station was closed too, which was somewhat concerning!  A fellow came out though and fortunately advised he couldn't take EFTPOS before he started filling our tanks.  (As we were only 230ish km from home, we weren't expecting a cash-only service).  We were directed to another servo up the road but it was shut.  Luckily we found an ATM, withdrew some cash and returned to fill the main tank.

We finally arrived home at around 10:00pm (after stopping for Hungry Jack's near Cessnock).  Nick managed a far too brief one-hour nap before heading up to Newcastle for a midnight start.   

Barrel of dreams

It is fairly typical that we photographed the welcome sign - on the way home!  These agitators, more usually seen attached to cement trucks, were a common sight at Lightning Ridge - though generally not as well painted!
We only stayed a few minutes because we were keen to get moving. It was a long road home - even longer than the trip up as this time we were making a 60 kilometre detour to collect Erin from Western Plains Zoo (at Dubbo) en route.

Heading home

Given neither of us was feeling 100% (nor had we slept well), the pack-up was achieved fairly smoothly.

Vaughan assisted to deflate the airbeds, then wandered off - at least he didn't hamper our efforts!

You can see Simon and Rachael's fantastic trailer in shot - with their up-ladder, cubby house bed.  They traveled with kayaks - and a coffee machine!

We were quite impressed by Simon's handiwork.

Sunrise ...

Our tent is made from a polyester material and therefore the morning light filters inside with very little blocking.

We were up early every morning but even beat the "alarm clock bird" on our last day!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Lorne lunatics?!

Our camp is behind the buildings you can just see.
Nick and Vaughan went exploring while I had an afternoon nap (trying to sleep off a lurgi).  They returned to camp, keen to show me what they had found - the missing Lunatic Hill overburden!

The two of them had ridden across the paddocks on bikes, which was an impressive undertaking.  I wasn't up to bike-riding though, so we all returned in Elmer to marvel at the man-made "mountain" and sit for a while overlooking Lorne Station.  Vaughan embellished his earlier mutant lizard rock drawings, before we all headed down again.

Missed a bit(e)!

A very blonde (and cranky) shingleback!
These guys look slow (and often are) but when cranky, they move a lot faster - just ask Nick! 

Vaughan has been instructed not to catch shinglebacks  by the tail as they can swing round and bite.  He caught this one first, muttering to himself about not touching the tail.  The lizard was quite agitated though and understandably Vaughan put it back down fairly quickly.  Nick then had a turn at capturing but didn't follow his own advice, so  was bitten - hard!  He said it felt like his fingers had been slammed in a vice.  And yes, there was blood!

I missed getting a photo (or footage) of the actual bite - sadly!

More water!

Simon and Rachael had told us about more flood waters just outside of town, so we went for a look when taking Elmer for a test drive.

We turned down Onyx Street and soon found all the water.

Bush Mechanics!

The bush mechanics ...
Nick had jacked Elmer up and checked underneath a number of times throughout our stay.

When the noise worsened so dramatically though, identifying the source was much easier - a very worn universal joint.

Unfortunately, there was no mechanic available to fit the part.  One was off sick and the other quite stressed/cranky by the backlog of work.  We were able to purchase the necessary universal joint (from a mining supply shop as the mechanic was out of stock) and then Nick worked to replace it back at camp, using what tools he had.  A neighbouring camper, Simon, very generously offered much-appreciated assistance and additional oomph!

(The new part went in relatively easily, it was getting the old one out that took most of the time/effort). 

Dubbo bus

Sadly, I didn't get a pic of the cranky bus driver!
Erin's TAFE class had an overnight excursion to Western Plains Zoo and she had arranged to meet them in Dubbo, which meant catching the bus from Lightning Ridge at 9am.

It had been our plan to break camp that morning and start heading home soon after farewelling Erin at the bus stop - but unfortunately not all plans pan out as they should!  Elmer's "appointment on the hoist" earlier in the week had done little to alleviate his clunking/whining noises and indeed they had worsened most alarmingly over the weekend.

Struth, they're lousy!

Vaughan feeding the breakfast crowd!
When I was a kid at Yowah, these birds were known as Happy Jacks, rather than their more common colloquial name of Lousy Jacks.

Of course given their constant foraging, they could also be called Hungry Jacks!

We refer to them more formally as Apostle Birds - and enjoy listening to their chatter (which you can hear via sound file at the above link). This family group usually numbered 11 but there were a few occasions when only eight or nine showed up and we did wonder what the missing guys/gals were up to! (Two of the group each had a foot issue and we discussed that also).

Although we have several bird books, I found some new information when writing this post:-

"The family group usually consists of a dominant male and female together with the progeny from recent nestings. It takes three to four years for birds to become adult. The only obvious indicator of adulthood is the eye colour - when adult the eyes are greyish with a pearly coloured outer ring. Young ones have brown eyes."

so will be studying eyes (as well as feet!) next time we are out in Happy Jack country!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Now, that's a torch!

Podargus strigoides
We were visited by this fellow as we sat around the fire.  Nick got out the spotlight, so we could see our visitor more clearly - and we heard our neighbours exclaim:  "Now, that's a torch!"

There is Tawny Frogmouth information here where you can also download a sound file of it's call.

Earlier in the year we had a Tawny Frogmouth WIRES guest staying with us.  Unfortunately in the Sydney/Central Coast areas, the birds get a parasite in their brains/spinal cord and their central nervous system becomes compromised.

Room with a view?!

I had a bit of a giggle each time we passed this camp with its painted "window" (including curtains)!

Generally the camps were more rustic/make-do housing - we even saw a few that had rocks weighing down the roofing iron!  However, there were many that were quite civilised and obviously well looked after.

Some are listed for sale (under the Western Lands Lease system), ranging in price upwards from $15,000 - depending on their size and level of sophistication!

Lookout, lunatic!

Views of Lunatic Hill Open Cut
There are various fees and charges associated with any claim but miners pay a far more substantial bond (and higher total fees) before commencing an open cut.

Effectively the bond is to ensure the great, gaping holes in the earth are refilled at the conclusion of the mining effort.  I am not sure of the exact process but in simple terms the bond is returned when the overburden has been restored to its original location.

So what happened at Lunatic Hill?  As you can see, one of the signs advises that the open cut has been  "... preserved as a unique part of Australia's opal mining heritage."  Interesting.

When we had chatted with Brian (who lives on the other side of the open cut) earlier in the week he told a different story.  Seemingly, the Lunatic Hill miners had an informal agreement with a local property owner to store the overburden on his land.  He had died by the time they wanted to re-fill the open cut and the new owner refused permission for the overburden to be removed from his land - so the open cut remained, er, open!

Big sucker!

The "blowers" were all sizes.  This was a larger version.
We deviated from the red car door track a little and came across this machinery in operation.

Claystone rubble from the mine is brought to the surface via a series of pipes and a super-powerful vacuum "blower" (mounted on the blue heavy-duty trailer).  We sat in the car and waited (waited, waited) for the hopper to spill a load into the truck.  It is a sign of how long we waited that the shot is cropped across the truck's wheels, rather than being more properly framed.

The airport is quite close to this point and later in the day we met other miners who speculated that the operator of the blue "blower" was actually mining beneath the airstrip!

Red car door tour

We headed out early for some geocaching (yes, there are caches at "the Ridge) and another round of car door touring. When we had first done the red route (the day after arrival), we were too busy checking out the scenery to take pics so made a better effort this time to record some "footage"!

The morning after ...

... the night before!  The night-time insects were so many during the latter part of our stay - they sounded like soft rain falling against the gazebo roofs! 

In the morning, we were greeted by their desiccated bodies, layered on the lantern cover.



It really was amazing that someone had taken the time to lay out so many rocks in this huge walking track maze - and equally amazing that we had missed seeing it on our first visit! Nick, Vaughan and I all traipsed the whole circuit properly to the centre, which took a lot longer than I expected!

Vaughan walked most of the way out again (though Nick and I "cheated" through the exit stage).

In hindsight, I probably should have tried for a shot while standing on Elmer to give a better view of the layout.

Watch your children!


After lunch we returned to the Green Car Door tour/Nettleton's First Shaft for another look around. As instructed, I watched my children test the echo in one of the (barricaded) mine shafts!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tailgate tucker

We found some shade for a late lunch ...
We drove to where the January flood waters had cut the usual Lightning Ridge road.  There was so much water!  It was amazing!

In June, the NSW state government granted additional funding to improve the alternate Lightning Ridge route, so that the school bus in particular had reliable access.  We spoke to one of the Grawin parents who said the (Lightning Ridge) school had made special allowances for the local children, as their classroom performance and home work were affected by the additional travel.

If you find yourself at Sheepyard Inn, we can highly recommend Una's chilli relish!  We bought some (prickly pear) cactus jam too but didn't try that till home again - and were sorry we hadn't bought an extra jar of chilli relish instead!


We were told the overburden dumps were "large" but even so, the reality surpassed our expectations.  Huge or massive may well have been better descriptions!

Some people do well noodling/fossicking through the rubble but we weren't so lucky.  We didn't stay long though (and Erin stayed in the car with Keegan) as it was hot and the white-rock glare was quite strong, even mid-afternoon.  Perhaps on another occasion we will be better prepared to find our fortune!

An interesting mob!

Sheepyard, Glengarry and Grawin are a group of opal fields about 75km west of Lightning Ridge.  The January floodwaters from Queensland had cut the usual road though, so we took a 60km detour - and were glad we did. 

We stopped in at Sheepyard and while we didn't "get drenched" (as per one of the roadside invitations!) we did enjoy cold drinks while perusing the noticeboard and chatting with a few locals.  Vaughan showed off some of his rocks, which earned him a pocketful of opals from two of the miners! 

Free camping is available across the track from the pub and we investigated that with a view to a return visit for more thorough exploration of the area.  See here for an interesting article on Sheepyard.

It's rude ...

... to stick your tongue out! 

I wasn't in the right spot to take the best shot of this guy/gal but could understand the sentiment.

He/she was another victim of Hudson Pear.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Shear talent?!

After rescuing the frog we all wandered over to Lorne's former shearing shed, now Art Gallery.

We picked a good time to visit.  The artist later collected various work to show at a nearby fair the next day!

Barking up the wrong tree?!

Not surprisingly, the barking tree intrigued us.  Erin and I had speculated for several days as to the source of the barking.  We each had attempted to sneak up and identify the culprit, without success.  The very dry vegetation crackled underfoot and whenever we got too close to the tree, the barking stopped. 

If you play the short video, you can hear the noise (about 5 seconds after the start) - just once.  (You can also hear some of the bird-song we listened to while at camp).  In reality, the barking was fairly evenly spaced and reasonably constant.  By the fourth day of our stay, it definitely seemed that the noise was louder and occurred more often.

The barking seemed far more urgent that evening and I tried another sneak on the tree.  I could see many ants running down a small hollow branch and as I watched a green head emerged.  Before I had fully identified the creature, it looked over and then made a huge leap to me! 

The fat, green frog was distressed by the ants, so I carried him/her over to Erin for a quick "bath" and subsequent relocation to the nearby jade bush.  (Many frogs had been located to a huge jade bush during our Christmas/New Year stay at Yowah in Louie's shack).

Harold's teeth!

The Australian Opal Centre has plans to build "an amazing national museum in an energy-efficient, 100 metre long, two storey underground building ..."

Land has been acquired and funding approval sought from the Australian government.

Currently, only a very small selection of the Museum's collection is on display. Even so, there was plenty to look at. As much as I enjoyed looking at the various fossilised/opalised bones, shells and plant seeds/fragments - it was Harold's opal dentures that really caught my eye!

Elmer's appointment

Elmer had been making some odd clunking and whining noises, so had an "appointment on the hoist" after lunch.

Although the mechanic topped up the diff oil, the noise was unaffected - sadly.

Picnic in the park

There was a park adjacent the Visitor Information Centre and we picnicked there after doing some missions in "town".

Each of the tables had a drill as the support, which was quite nifty!

Cooper's Cottage

The cottage has been left standing in the main street.
"Coopers Cottage is an authentic abode of the early miner, built in 1916 ..."

Well, authentic but for the television screening promotional footage for Chambers of the Black Hand!

The construction of the cottage was not unlike the that of the shack I had lived in at various times as a child at Yowah.  I showed Vaughan the fuel stove in the kitchen area.  I attempted to explain how the stove worked but typically he was far more interested in catching a gecko that had been hiding behind one of the oven doors!

Dreaming of digging!

Whenever we were at camp, Vaughan took every opportunity to dig!  He usually needed a fair bit of persuasion to eat breakfast before he started excavation for the day.  Similarly, it was difficult to convince him not to continue digging by torchlight after the sun went down!

Vaughan's favoured digging area was not beside us but adjacent to some other campers - and for a couple of days he recruited their daughter, Shannon, to assist his efforts. 

One morning, Nick overheard Vaughan telling Shannon that he had been dreaming of digging!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Twenty Questions

A few years back, Erin and Nissa both received a 20Q toy for Christmas.

The hand-held games were great fun and one remains in operation. 

It often comes camping with us, though was forgotten this trip.

(When playing with a team mate against the 20Q gadget, the object choice is whispered to the other player, so the device can't hear)!

Vaughan was keen to play the game "without the orange gadget", so we did - while sitting under the stars around the fire and waiting for our dinner to cook.  (You can play an online version of the game here).

Goddess of 1967

The Yellow Car Door tour notes state the church was purpose-built for "a weird art house film", Goddess of 1967 - which was released in 2001.

I googled to read the storyline and "weird" seems an apt description!

The Fun Bus

Chambers of the Black Hand was a Yellow Car Door stop, so we continued along the track at the end of the tour.   

(The temptation of the underground shop was too much for Vaughan, so he and I headed back to the surface before anyone else).

Brian's "Fun Bus" camp was adjacent the Lunatic Hill open cut.  He had lived at Lightning Ridge for 45 years.  His blue eyes twinkled as he confessed he'd been saving the current claim for his retirement - and decided at age 82 "that he should get on with digging"!

One hundred million dollars had been taken from the nearby open cut but Brian hadn't dug much of value.  We enjoyed chatting though and he laughed hugely when he heard of Vaughan's excavations in the middle of the Lorne Station driveway!