We Came, We Saw, We Travelled At Home

Festival Jes Suis PAris So Frenchy So Chic Melbourne Werribee 2016 Travel at Home Many Cha Cha

This summer, we embarked on as many adventures as time and energy would allow. We have attended festivals, viewed parades and danced to live music. We’ve absorbed culture, experienced diversity and had a blast!

It’s only now, as the weather seems to be cooling (I think?) and we are settling into our new kindergarten routines, that we are slowing down a bit. So I thought I would do a bit of a photographic round-up of some “travel at home” adventures from our past few months.

So Frenchy So Chic Melbourne 2016 Many Cha Cha France Travel at Home Festival

In January the “So Frenchy So Chic” festival entered my radar and I didn’t think too much of it until the day of the event, when I woke up with the burning need to attend. It was a risky proposition (and pricey, let’s be honest), because Husband was working and I wasn’t sure if the kids would have the patience or stamina for a full day of Francophilia.

I needn’t have worried. Who could possibly resist the allure of lawn crocquet, gigantic bubbles, delicious delicacies and chic company, all to the live soundtrack of the best that French music has to offer (pictured above  on stage is Lou Doillon, who was great; insert pun about rocking cool jeans and genes). I was very grateful that the stage was audible (and just visible) from the face-painting queue, because that is where we spent a great deal of our time!

So Frenchy Je Suis Paris Melbourne 2016 French Festival France Travel at Home Kids

During February, Multicultural Arts Victoria held a series of concerts in the Fairfield Amphitheatre and we got along to a couple of them. They were a wonderful chance to spend time with friends and inspiring for the kids, who played instruments with one of the bands and danced to music from a variety of cultures.

Festival Multicultural Arts Victoria Thornbury Amphitheatre Concert Music Travel at Home 2016

We celebrated Lunar New Year in a number of ways. Chinatown in Melbourne thronged with people, lions and dragons, and the local Chinese community offered numerous activities for children.

Chinese Lunar New Year of the Monkey 2016 Chinatown Parade Melbourne Festival Travel at Home

And Melbourne Zoo took the opportunity to highlight its monkeys and decorate enclosures with bright red lanterns for the Year of the Monkey.

Melbourne Zoo Chinese New Lunar Year of the Monkey Travel at Home

Melbourne’s Moomba Festival has fallen in and out of favour over the years, but since I grew up with it I have a soft spot for the parade. Luckily, it was just our kind of thing; filled with fantastic music and dancing by local communities representing the world. My kids loved it.

Moomba Melbourne Multicultural Arts Culture Parade India Indonesia Travel at Home

Finally, last weekend we drove in the opposite direction, to Bendigo, to experience its Festival of Cultures.

Bendigo Multicultural Arts Culture Festival Travel at Home

We watched Karen people from Burma weaving cloth on simple looms, ate a fantastic lunch (including masala chips, YUM) from the Dhaba Truck, and enjoyed the live-mixing and layered vocals of Geoffrey Williams (pictured below).

This festival seemed to suffer from a slight lack of participation, which I’m sure is partly because there was another arts event on nearby and the huge annual Easter Festival planned for next weekend.

But it was a reminder: if we expect to have access to brilliant cultural events, live music, international artists and fun family festivals, then we need to get up and GO.

Festival of Bendigo Multicultural Arts Cultures Victoria Geoffrey Williams Concert Music

 

Beetroots in Ukrainian

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes Book

It’s a very welcome side-effect of writing this blog that my friends and family often suggest activities with an international flavour and on occasion proffer gifts that might inject some culture into our lives.

I was particularly delighted by this choice of birthday present from my very close friend, Karma: a book called “Mamushka; Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond” by Olia Hercules. Apart from what I might have gleaned from reading the amusing novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, I didn’t know much about Ukraine at all. Plus, Mamushka is full of fascinating recipes and ingredients that look delicious and unfamiliar (in an enticing way).

One ingredient that I am familiar with, and which I chose to use as my first attempt at some Ukrainian cuisine, is beetroot. We have grown it in the past –the beauties in the pictures are some we grew in Tasmania– but I bought some plump beets from our local farmers market for my foray into the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Beetroot Beet Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes

It turns out that beetroot is a particularly nutritious vegetable, which I’m thrilled to learn because it is a very popular one in our household. I grew up on tinned stuff, which is fine but basically tastes of vinegar. Now we like it fresh, and roasted until it caramelises. We eat so much that we laugh about our pink wee. (Don’t forget I have four-year-old boys…).

Ukraine Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Book

I didn’t start with Cold Beetroot Soup, although I gather it is a classic of the region. Instead I went with a very simple salad that combined intriguing flavours with the beets; balsamic and sour cream dressing with walnuts, prunes and a scattering of coriander.

Ukrainian Beetroot Walnut Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe

I served the salad with quinoa and it was dinner– very delicious and I found it really satisfying. Next time I would reduce the amount of balsamic and add more prunes because they were unexpectedly wonderful in this mix!

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Prunes

I have since done a little research into the culture of Ukraine (this blog gives some excellent insights) and I look forward to trying more recipes from this lovely book. Now, just to decide what clever “beet” pun to use for the title of this post…

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Beet

10 Ways to Travel at Home for Chinese New Year

Happy Lunar New Year  and 恭禧發財 to you! What a fantastic excuse to “travel at home” and enjoy some cultural treats from China, no matter where in the world you are located.

Of course the Lunar New Year celebrations are shared by many cultures (for example, the fellas in my family recently participated in a Vietnamese Tet Celebration— I am training them well!). But I adore China and I have brilliant memories of travelling there a few years ago. So here are my suggestions (quite non-traditional!) for how to imagine you’re in China and perhaps learn a bit about its incredible culture, heritage, history and impact.

1. Drink Tea. Chinese tea, of course– this blog is named after it! There are many resources online to help you choose a variety. Mine is Iron Goddess tea; astringent and cooling (I’ve written about it before here).

Chinese Lunar New Year Green Tea Vintage Doll Decor

2. Read about tea (and opium, and how it links to tea). The history of the relationship between “The East” and “The West” is caught up in tea and opium. The story is horrific and much more fascinating than any fiction; I think it’s important to have context to so much of our current world situation. To read about the world’s first– and probably worst– multinational company, see this article in the Guardian about the East India Company, whose story also reaches across to the beginnings of the American Revolution.

China Tea History Books Travel East India Company

3. Eat Chinese Food. That’s easily done, thanks very much, yum! I’m teaching my two how to use chopsticks with their fab toucan contraptions (it’s a game to them) and I will be attempting some proper Lunar New Year recipes from a fantastic family blog I’ve found called The Woks of Life. I’m also keen to make Tomato Egg Drop Soup which was my favourite when I was in China.

Chinese Luna New Year Geoff Lindsay Chow Down Noodles Kids Chopsticks

4. Read more books about China, its traditions, its more recent history (especially if you plan to travel there). The story of the Cultural Revolution is heartbreaking and the consequences can still be felt in China now. The influence of Chairman Mao and Communism is still evident, despite relaxed attitudes (and no, I don’t think Mao is ever appropriate as decor or fashion, I’m quite astounded at this retailer).

Memoirs are an invaluable way to understand the people of China; the incredible story of Wild Swans and Mao’s Last Dancer are well-known examples, or try Red Scarf Girl for a Cultural Revolution setting. If you are more interested in China as a world power, try these suggestions from Fortune of books to help explain its modern nuances.

Chinese Ma Jian Lunar New Year Books Proverbs Traditional Made in China

5. Watch Chinese movies or movies set in China. There are plenty of Communist propaganda films to help you toe the party line (here’s a famous one called Lei Feng), but I recommend every film by Zhang Yimou, or Kung Fu Hustle with the English overdub for belly laughs.

Chinese Tea Jasmine Films DVD Movies New Year Travel

6. Light some sparklers (the only “fireworks” we are allowed here), consider that gunpowder was invented in China and that gunpowder changed the world. Actually there’s a great film about a firecracker factory, called Red Firecracker Green Firecracker, that I could add to the list above.

Travel at Home China Gunpowder Fireworks History Sparklers

7. Go to a parade and observe fireworks at your local Chinatown if you have one; we’ll be doing that this coming weekend. It seems as though Lunar New Year has finally become mainstream: there are markets and events happening in the city all this week to mark the occasion.

Chinese Lunar New Year Many Cha Cha Lion Dragon Lantern Parade

8. If there is no Chinatown near you, create your own parade! We live in a small town and luckily we are known for marching around in costume, so nobody blinked an eye when we took our vintage lion head out walking to scare away last year’s bad luck.

Many Cha Cha Lunar New Year Kids Parade Lantern Chinese Dragon Mask Costume

9. Enjoy some Monkey Magic! Every year is year of the monkey with my two boys but I think it’s finally time I read the classic work, Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en on which so many fantastic Monkey adaptations are based. I would give anything to see this “opera” version by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz, even the promo video is exciting.

Chinese Lunar New Year Monkey Magic Journey to the West Remember Tibet

10. Remember Tibet.

Many Cha Cha Lantern Chinese Red Home Travel Decor Decoration

How a Cereal Box Can Set You Free

I receive daily requests for new costumes* and due to the volume of ideas and the high turnover of identities that my kids want to inhabit, I regularly suggest we make masks. I knew that The Carnevale, which is currently taking place in Venice, Italy, would spark their imaginations. Venice Masquerade Carnival Child Activity Free Recycle Upcycle Fun Easy Mask Make

(As a sad sort of aside: we were very struck by the death of David Bowie a fortnight ago, and while we played his music loudly and watched Labyrinth many times in the days following, it is his influence as a theatrical, costumed, fluid character that has the most impact in our house. This article about the history of masks in Venice talks about the freedom from social restrictions that they provided to Venetians and obviously Bowie also well understood this power of a “mask”. The ability to change your appearance at will is very appealing to my four-year-olds, perhaps as part of forming their own identities, and so for a day or two after Bowie died they became Ziggy Stardust).

David Bowie Death Children Ziggy Stardust Hero

When it comes to the masquerade in Venice, the children were familiar with this poem that I learned at school and can recite very quickly like a tongue-twister for laughs. We recalled the fact that Venice has water instead of roads, which is fascinating, of course, and difficult to get your head around when you first learn of it!

Venezia Venice Italy Mask Children Activity Travel at Home

We looked at many photographs of traditional masks and characters from Commedia Del’Arte and naturally the creepiest ones were the favourites. We created Brighella the villain in dastardly yellow (his ugly wrinkles have been painted over but nevermind).

Venice Carnival Carnevale Mask Brighella Commedia Del Arte

The other mask has a beak-like nose that resembles the costumes of the “Medico Della Peste” or Plague Doctors that filled their pointy masks wish sweet-smelling herbs to avoid breathing in the deadly vapours of their patients. I spent much of the afternoon pretending to be afraid and shocked when the pointy nose of this mask revealed itself around corners before its cackling owner.

Venice Carnevale Medico Della Peste Mask

(A basic template for how to make this mask, which was so satisfying to make and wear, can be seen below. We make most of our masks from cereal or muesli bar boxes).

Venice Carnival Carnevale Kids Activity Make Masks Upcycle Free Many Cha Cha

Whether the children are taking on new identities for a masquerade on the other side of the world or emulating a beloved pop hero, the lesson is clear: be whoever you want to be.

*”Mum, can you make me a costume? I wanna be Puss in Boots. No, no, no, The Hulk. Or Iron Man. Actually, an ogre… make it Shrek. Or how about a baddy from Star Wars! Yeah, yeah, a Storm Trooper. Definitely a dragon. A Leopard or a pelican or a meerkat. A Gorilla! I love gorillas! A knight. For sure this time. Yes, I wanna be a knight. Why are you taking so long to make my costume, mum?”

Venice Venezia Carnival Masquerade Plague Doctor Dottore

Christmas, Customs, Curiosity

Christmas Tree Farm Pine Pagan History

Christmas in Australia is a Travel at Home experience, because almost all of the traditions surrounding the holiday have been transplanted from elsewhere. Roast dinners, images of snow-men and reindeer, songs about a “White Christmas” — all of these are incongruous to our experience of a sweltering, summertime, Christmas Down Under.

So it was in this spirit of doing something outside our normal reality that we decided to visit a Christmas Tree Farm in the lead-up to December 25.

The plantation was located on a bush road about 20 minutes from us, and it was immediately clear that the field of young pine trees did not match the towering, grey gums surrounding it.

Christmas Tree Farm Kids Discover Learn

We observed our surroundings and these differences together and set off to choose a tree under the scorching sun.

The farmer let the kids climb onto his ride-on mower and even hold the chain-saw. They watched, fixated, as he cut down our chosen tree.

Christmas Tree Tradition Farm Kids

It wasn’t especially big and we were relieved to discover that it fit into the back of the car. The tree immediately infused the vehicle with its fresh fragrance, and in the heat we knew it was imperative to get it into water before it “got dead” as the children so eloquently stated.

While driving home I admitted that I didn’t really know why people brought trees into their houses at Christmas time. Some research later revealed that the tradition has many different roots (so to speak!) and that many of them have nothing to do with Christmas.

Christmas Tree Children Learn History Culture Curious Help

Our outing was a fun diversion which got the kids thinking about cultural traditions, particularly since we undertook this activity the day after Chanukkah ended.

Christmas Tree Kids Unschool Science Historic Traditions

It was also a great chance to discuss similarities and differences, and be reminded about what plants need.

(The kids also took the opportunity to kick up a dust storm, and they drenched themselves while attempting to water the tree; full disclosure).

Christmas Tree Learn Science Culture Kids Tradition Religion

Our efforts to erect and decorate a traditional Christmas Tree were not immediately successful.

But as a way to engage curious kids in the world around them, it was a super undertaking.

Christmas Xmas Tree Curious Kids Learn

The Best Mulled Wine in the World

Mulled Wine Winter Christmas Drink Spiced Simmer Warmer

In the “spirit” of investigative journalism I took it upon myself as a duty, during these recent cold nights we’ve been having, to learn about mulled wines around the world. The internet has been helpful, of course, but there’s nothing quite like experience, is there?

There are some very informative blog posts on the topic, such as this one sharing a family recipe for glühwein (Glow Wine! I love that) at “Dreaming of Winter” and this beautifully illustrated description of the Scandinavian version, Glögg (I also love that), which I haven’t tried but sounds altogether fruiter, spicier and more alcoholic. Yum.

In other places on the web, newspaper articles describe variants of mulled (heated) wine from around the world, while many cultures feature creative ways to heat and spice one’s alcohol, according to wikipedia. Some additions to the warm beverage that pique my professional interest include honey or maple syrup, amaretto or rum. As a journalist, I think it’s essential that I pursue these lines of enquiry quite seriously and I will.

Mulled Wine Gluhwein Ingredients Recipe Best Glogg Drink Winter

For now I would like to report upon two variations that I have put to the test in the last week. Firstly, a pre-prepared powder which I purchased from Guwurzhaus, one of my favourite sources of “travel at home” inspiration (it’s a sort of emporium of foody concoctions from everywhere; brilliant on the nose). Secondly, a thrown-in-the-pot collection of spices and things I had around the house: this amounted to sugar, black peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves and the rinds of orange, lemon and a Tahitian lime. Yes, I really had a Tahitian lime lying around: it’s the smaller and rounder of the two yellow fruit above (I’ll buy an ugly fruit if you give it an exotic name).

So which was superior, in my professional and scientific opinion? I really don’t know. They were both aromatic, warming and delightful.

Mulled Wine Red Gluhwein European Winter Warmer Drink Spice Recipe Best Glogg

As a result of my experiments, here are my tips to help you create The Best Mulled Wine in the World:

  • Choose a cheap wine that is not your favourite, but don’t stress about the varietal. I am very lucky to live in a wine-growing region and so I was able to source and experiment with a local Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which were quite nice without the extra spice and really delicious with it.
  • Put a lid on your pot as you allow your chosen fruit and spice blends to infuse. This is a trap for newbies: I let a great deal of mine evaporate away before I realised!
  • Don’t take any notice of any recipe that suggests you boil the ingredients for an hour or two. Your wine simply needs to be warmed for a while to infuse the flavours. If you’d like to ensure the flavours are imparted let time, as much as heat, do the job and let it all sit overnight.
  • Be aware that alcohol is easily evaporated and if this is important to you, perhaps begin by infusing your fruits and spices into sugar and water and adding the bulk of the wine at the end, simply to warm it.
  • Experiment with different warm beverage flavours: I recently indulged in hot buttered rum and I once enjoyed some white wine heated with asian flavours. I would also love to try some beer and some non-alcoholic cider variations, all in the name of research of course.

Thus concludes my important cultural report about delicious winter beverages from around the world, and certainly I’ve taken one for the team in compiling it. But honestly, I think a topic such as this is too vital to conclude in haste. Further research is required and I’ll happily take on the task.

I’m also sure there are other researchers out there who have essential contributions to make to this field… Please do by commenting below (I’d love to hear about your best winter warmer drinks!)

Mulled Wine Gluhwein Glogg Red Winter Spiced