It’s officially autumn in Australia, but summerlike temperatures persist in Canberra—this weekend was in the high 20sC (80sF) both days. We took advantage of it on Saturday with another picnic, this one at a park on Black Mountain peninsula. Despite its ominous name, Black Mountain is one of the landmarks of Canberra, looming just west of downtown, home to extensive parkland and topped by the Telstra Tower. The park we went to is on a spit of land right at the bottom of the mountain; it juts out into Lake Burley Griffin, which meanders through the center of Canberra and divides the northern (business and university) and southern (government) sides of the planned city. It had all the features I’m coming to expect from Australian parks: shaded picnic tables; extensive playground equipment; not much grass; and built-in, communal gas barbeque grills.
Yes, you read that right. The Australians’ love of grilling is known worldwide to the point of cliché, and for good reason, from what I’ve seen. Even so, I was amazed at my first encounter with a built-in, free, gas grill in a public recreation area. I was especially impressed that it was clean and in perfect working order. This has continued to be true almost everyplace I’ve eaten an outdoor meal: if it has picnic tables, chances are it also has a working grill. A few of them have been coin-operated, but most have been free, and all have been well cared for and functional.
I find this difficult to envision in any other place I’ve lived, or even visited. A machine that makes fire that hasn’t been vandalized, broken, or outright stolen? That people share among whoever happens to need it, and clean up when they’ve finished? The mind boggles.
We didn’t have any Australian grilling experts in our party, but we still managed to cook up a bunch of sausages with two New Zealanders, one Indonesian, two Americans, and one UK-born wandering preschooler contributing varying levels of expertise and commentary. Miss B met up with a bunch of slightly older kids who started teaching her to play cricket, while the rest of us ate sausages and accompaniments to our hearts’ (or is that stomachs'?) content.
Croatian cole slaw
This was one of my contributions to the picnic. To me this recipe is Australian, because I learned it in Australia, from an Australian who had learned it from a Croatian immigrant to Australia. But it definitely has the flavors of central European cooking; I recently described it to someone as “fresh sauerkraut”. It’s a great alternative to creamy cole slaws for anyone who is a salt or pickle lover.
1 head green cabbage of your choice
2 tbsp lemon or lime juice*
5 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Strip off the outer leaves of the cabbage, then core and quarter. Slice the cabbage as thinly as you can. As you work, place the sliced cabbage in a large bowl, and sprinkle regularly with coarse salt as you go. When you have finished, put a plate over the cabbage, then weight it down** and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours.
When you are ready to prepare the coleslaw, remove the weight and drain the cabbage of the water that has been released by the salting. Rinse the cabbage and dry it thoroughly. Chop the scallions and add to the cabbage, then mix thoroughly with the dressing and pepper.
* I used a combination of regular limes and the finger limes I bought at the Farmers’ Market recently.
** Use the heaviest thing you can find; this recipe didn’t work for me once when I didn’t pay enough attention to the weight. This time I used a glass jar full of change that was sitting on top of the fridge; it weighed at least five pounds and worked great