I’m lucky enough to live in Sydney where the weather allows for a great outdoor life. I love cycling and walking along the river, I love watching the kids messing about in the little wooden canoe that The Rock Climber built and I love finding new spots to go away to for the weekend. Here are some of our adventures.
My book has been out for just over a month now and what a fantastic month it’s been. The publicity has been amazing and my book has been received with open arms by shops, newspapers, magazines and radio shows. So many people have said to me that I’ve hit a nerve – writing and styling a camping cookbook that contains fresh, healthy, easy to make recipes that look delicious and use minimal cooking equipment. I’ve also had so many positive comments about the photos of family and friends who appear in the book. I was a little worried that it might be too much, but it seems not. I always wanted these kinds of shots in the book to make it genuine and add some reality. And as a bonus, what an amazing record our family now has of this particular time in our life.
So, pretty much every Australian state newspaper has done a review or asked me to write an article, several women’s magazines including marie claire, taste.com.au, NW and Women’s Day have reviewed it, an article I wrote about cooking while camping has been taken up by tonnes of fantastic websites and I am currently in the middle of a busy schedule of radio interviews. Wow, what more could I ask for?
The radio interviews were nerve-racking to start with, but I soon realised that there isn’t anything controversial in my book for the presenters to trip me up on, the radio presenters are interested in it and I’m the expert! The questions have been varied and apart from forgetting where one campground is (yes I know, I know Honeymoon Bay is in Jervis Bay!) I haven’t faltered in any of them. The only slightly off-putting thing that happened was when the airport changed the flight path schedule just as I was about to do a live phone-in interview, so every couple of minutes a plane would take off rather loudly pretty close to our house. At one point, the presenter interrupted me to jokingly announce “there goes flight QF77”!
I’ve also been having lots of fun finding my book in the shops and, of course, rearranging it to give it pole position. Move over Jamie and Nigella that’s my spot!
So a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has bought, or who is intending to buy, my book, to all the newspapers, magazines, websites and radio presenters who have been plugging my book and for all the lovely comments I’m getting, it’s been a wonderful month.
Now, time to get started on the next one!
Photography Natasha Milne (copyright Explore Australia Publishing)
If it’s not on the list, it won’t get packed!
I have a ‘thing’ for lists. My mum gave me a note pad once called ‘my list of lists’ and I have an entire document folder on my computer entitled ‘lists’ and it is full of packing lists.
My camping lists are doubtless the most used. I have a winter camping list, a summer camping list, a short trip list and a long trip list and so on and so on. My lists evolve as new equipment is bought or our requirements change, but I can’t think of a time when I haven’t gone camping and I haven’t been crossing off those final few things as everyone else is piling into the car. Although I’m sure trips would still be good if my pc crashed and no list could be printed off, for me, life is so much easier if I have the right tool for the job and if I have a list I know I have the tool.
And rather strangely I also get nostalgic for old lists! I’m sure you must be thinking I have far too much time on my hands if I think about these things. But if I come across an old list it will have things like nappies, security blankets and musical box on it, all the things that we used to have to lug everywhere with us that we no longer need as the kids grow up. You might think it makes travelling a lot easier, but no, these things have just been replaced with other things like boogie boards, wetsuits and bicycles!
Another advantage to my list making is that when a friend who is new to camping asks me ‘what do I need?’ I just email them a list. But my obsession with my lists can have a downside – when I am unable to ‘think outside the list’. I get so hung up on what is ON the list I forget that maybe there is something missing from the list and it never gets packed! I’ve learnt from this too, so now I take a few minutes away from my list going through things that I might have forgotten. And, of course, if I do think of something it is immediately added to the list ready for updating that particular list on our return!
So here’s my tip, whether you’re new to camping or you’re a seasoned camper start a list, it will make finding things and packing that much quicker. Happy packing and happy camping!
Our whole family loves camping, which is just as well really considering how often we do it! We all get something different out of it and I thought it was time to share some of the things that the kids love.
Freedom! Our kids get the freedom to roam, the freedom to explore, the freedom to splash and the freedom to roar!
Water…. They get to play in rivers, build dams, float on their backs and splash each other …. endlessly. They get to swim in the sea, hunt for shells and jump in the waves.
Trees …. Climbing trees, cycling around (and occasionally into!) trees, discovering new trees and checking out the amazing bark on scribbly gum trees. Looking up into the trees to spot possums, kookaburras and cockatoos.
Fire…. Gathering bundles of kindling, building the perfect fire, poking sticks in the fire then cooking over the fire.
Animals…. Kangaroo, wallaby, dingo, emu, wombat, possum, platypus and snakes, the list is growing.
Food…. Camp cooking is loads of fun and is a chance for the kids to get involved without worrying about a messy kitchen. Favourites are filled tortillas or pitta bread, honey and soy marinated sausages, damper on a stick (recipe here), decorating cupcakes (recipe here) or helping me create new recipes – especially if it’s cake!
The daytime sky…. The home of wedge-tailed eagles, flocks of noisy galah and the endless expanse of a stunning blue, blue, blue Australian sky. It’s amazing what you can spot.
The night-time sky…. Constellation and satellite spotting. Following the length of the milky way and if they’re very lucky the rare thrill of a shooting star – quick make a wish.
Sleeping…. Crawling into a sleeping bag at the end of the day, reading by torch light, listening to mum and dad chatting quietly outside, drifting off to sleep hearing real (or imagined) wombats munching on the grass by the tent or the thump, thump, thump of a kangaroo hopping by.
Then silence! Camping is there anything better?
What do you love about camping?
Recently we’ve become more adventurous with our desserts while we’re camping and I’ve set myself some challenges to create ever more delicious desserts cooked over a camp fire. This rich, gooey chocolate pudding is my latest creation and was most recently used to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday while camping at Abercrombie River National Park. It’s a fantastic end to a meal eaten under the stars, but it can just as easily be cooked in your oven at home (see the end of the recipe) and for my friend’s 40th, I stuck candles in the top and served it as afternoon tea. It’s pretty forgiving so don’t worry if you can’t follow the exact measurements. If you’re cooking this while camping, make your life much easier by following these three suggestions:
1: before you leave home, weigh out the dry ingredients for the pudding and the sauce and put into two labelled ziplock bags,
2. write the remaining ingredients and quantities on one of the bags in case you forget the recipe,
3. write the liquid capacity of your camping mug onto the mug itself, so then you can use your mug for the wet ingredients instead of having to worry about a cup measure or a jug.
All that dark stuff on the right is the gooey sauce that forms while it cooks!
Serves about 8 (although our latest one served 6 adults and 6 kids)
150 g (1 cup) self-raising flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
100 g (½ cup lightly packed) brown sugar
80 ml (1/3 cup) vegetable or olive oil
125 ml (½ cup) cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
thick cream, to serve
berries, to serve (optional)
125 g (¾ cup lightly packed) brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
310 ml (1 ¼) cups boiling water
Brush the base and lower sides of you camp oven with some oil. Combine the flour, cocoa and sugar in a large bowl.
Make a well in the middle and add the oil, milk and egg.
To make the gooey sauce (which will end up on the bottom), combine the sugar and cocoa and sprinkle over the top of the pudding.
Slowly pour the water over the top of the pudding until it is all covered. Put the lid on.
Put your camp oven in amongst the coals, but do not sit it directly on the coals or it will burn. Put some coals on the lid as well. Cook for 25-30 minutes or until the pudding springs back when gently pressed, the time really will depend on the heat of your coals. Scoop out the pudding and the gooey sauce at the bottom and serve with lots of cream. If you’ve got any fruit like blueberries, raspberries or strawberries these will go really well too.
* If you’re making this at home, put all the ingredients into a Le Creuset or similar ovenproof casserole dish, cover with a lid and bake for about 25 minutes at 170 degrees C or until the top feels springy.
For more great camping recipes check out my cookbook Hungry Campers Cookbook (published by Explore Australia) available from BigW, Myer, Dymocks, many independent book stores and on-line.
So spring has well and truly sprung in and around Sydney and the weather is so glorious it’s more like summer than spring, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to load up the car and head out for the weekend camping. We chose Burralow Creek, near Kurrajong Heights in the Blue Mountains National Park because we didn’t want to take time off work and this area is perfect as it’s only about a 90 minute drive from home. Although driving up in the evening means arriving and having to set up our tent in the dark, it also means that when we wake up on Saturday morning we are all set up and have the whole weekend ahead of us.
On this trip we were with another two families and all the kids are great mates, which makes for happy kids and happy adults. As usual we did a check of the small river close by and ascertained that it was so shallow they were completely safe playing there without adult supervision. On all our camping trips, our kids get a lot of freedom to roam and explore the great outdoors. This is one of the huge appeals of camping – giving our kids the freedom they don’t get in their city lives. However, they also know they have to come back to camp regularly so we know they are all safe and in turn an adult will also wander down to whatever river is close by to see what they are up to. In the case of this trip, never has so much fun been had with a couple of logs across a river, yucky jelly-like brown algae and 5 kids! Bicycles were even wheeled across the logs while the other kids clapped and cheered. With the bikes on the other side of the river the possibilities for even greater adventures were endless. Oh happy times.
From Burralow Creek campground it’s about a 20-25 minute walk to Bulcamatta Falls. The walk is interesting because it starts off as what I would term Australian bush, towering scribbly gum trees and other eucalyptus, a yellow dirt path and fallen trees and branches. But all of a sudden you realise it has become more like rain forest with masses of bright green ferns nestling under towering tree ferns, one of my favourite plants. Bulcamatta Falls themselves aren’t particularly spectacular during the day but at night they sparkle with strings of glow worms. If you’re walking from the campground at night, don’t forget your torch. To the kids the falls were another source of adventure and I lost count of the number of times they went back and forth.
As is usual for me I got stuck into the cooking. I prepared Friday night’s dinner before we left as although I don’t mind putting up a tent when I arrive in the dark, starting dinner from scratch isn’t so much fun. I made a pasta salad with bacon, avocado, roasted cherry tomatoes and rocket. This salad can be eaten warm or cold and as it was a cool evening I quickly heated it up in a frying pan over the fire that, luckily, our friends had built before we arrived. See here for the recipe.
The whole weekend was wonderfully relaxing. I did go on a short walk, I couldn’t even call it a hike as it was just a stroll through the bush to see what we could spot and to see where the path lead to. The answers being lots more trees, a classic huge blue Australian sky and a path to nowhere!
Probably the greatest excitement of the weekend was coming across a very large brown snake sunbathing by the toilet! I have no idea what type of snake it was, although as with all snakes I will presume it was venomous. I was in such a relaxed state of mind walking to the loo that when I saw it I barely reacted except to say to no-one in particular as I was alone “oh there’s a rather large snake” before it slithered back into its hole under the toilet! Future visits to the toilet weren’t such relaxed affairs, but the snake was never spotted again.
And finally, I also spent a bit of time during the weekend trying out some new recipes and I think I’ve perfected a rather delicious gooey chocolate pudding cooked in my camp oven, but I’ll save that for another time!
For more PRACTICAL INFO about this campground click here
Water: You’ll need to bring all your own water for drinking and washing.
Firewood: Fires are permitted in the steel fireplaces only. Bring your own firewood and kindling. Firewood can be bought from service stations in Richmond, North Richmond and Kurmond.
Facilities: There is one non-flush toilet, bring your own toilet paper. There are no showers or washing facilities.
Phone: There is mobile phone coverage.
Access: There are two routes in. From Kurrajong Heights, take the fire trail off Burralow Road, 4WD only. Alternatively from Bilpin take the Patterson Range Fire Trail, also 4WD although AWD should make it. The signpost for the Fire Trail is pretty hard to spot and if coming from the Richmond side is just before you get to Bilpin itself.
For more information about camping at Burralow Creek, go to:
This salad is great to cook before heading out on a camping trip so you’ve got a healthy, filling meal to eat when you arrive or once you’ve set up your tent. Alternatively, cook this while you’re camping and if you know you’re going to be cooking this for lunch or dinner, cook extra bacon at breakfast and store it in your cool box until later. And of course it can be cooked at home too!
600-700 g cold cooked pasta (or 300 g dried pasta cooked, drained and cooled)
6 middle rashers of bacon, cooked until crispy, roughly chopped or crumbled
2 avocados, diced
250 g cherry tomatoes, quartered
Couple of handfuls of rocket or other salad leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic or white wine vinegar
1 red chilli, seeded and finely diced (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Put the cooked pasta in a large bowl. Add the bacon, avocado, tomatoes and rocket* and mix well.
2 Combine the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Mix well and if you have time, leave for about 20 minutes to allow all the flavours to mingle. Can be served warm or cold. If taking on a trip, store in an airtight container in an esky (cool box).
*If you’re making this in advance, leave out the rocket and toss it through just before serving.
For more great camping recipes check out my cookbook Hungry Campers Cookbook available from BigW, Myer, independent book stores and on-line.
Photography Natasha Milne (copyright Explore Australia)
These delicious little meatballs are perfect for barbecuing or char-grilling. They also taste great cold, so pre-cook some and take them on a picnic or in your lunch box. These can also be prepared in advance then frozen – perfect to take for your first meal when you’re camping. The lettuce leaves, bean sprouts and mint leaves are easy to pack separately, but if that’s all too hard the meatballs are delicious on their own too. If you’re on the move with these meatballs, pack the lime dipping sauce in a small leak-proof container. To make them kid-friendly leave out the chilli, although they’re not really that spicy.
Serves 4 (makes 16-20 small meatblls)
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
6 cm piece lemongrass, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
Vietnamese lime sauce:
2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons lime juice (or lemon, but the sauce won’t be as tangy)
1 teaspoon sugar
To serve: crisp lettuce leaves, 100 g bean sprouts and a handful mint leaves
Put the pork, chilli, lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce and chopped herbs in a bowl. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper then mix with your hands until the pork turns a paler pink, this helps the meatballs stick together. Form into 16-20 meatballs, then cover and chill for 30 minutes.
To make the Vietnamese lime sauce, put all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Shortly before you’re ready to serve, arrange the lettuce leaves, bean sprouts and mint leaves on a serving plate.
Preheat a barbecue or chargrill pan to medium–hot. Cook the meatballs for 8–10 minutes, turning regularly, until just cooked through. Be careful not to overcook them, otherwise they will become dry. You can also thread the meatballs onto metal skewers to cook; for ease, thread four onto each skewer.
To serve, invite each guest to place a meatball in a lettuce leaf with some bean sprouts and mint. Spoon over a little of the sauce, then wrap up and eat. To make this a more substantial meal, serve some rice or noodles on the side.
I’d known for many years that it was always The Rock Climber’s dream to live in a converted church, so when a just-about-affordable one came up for sale at exactly the same time as we were selling our house, it was a done deal, we were going to do everything in our power to make it our home and luckily for us we did.
I always have a bit of a chuckle when I walk past the front doors (which are no longer used as the front doors) as the door knockers are a skull and crossbones. We don’t know where they came from and I very much doubt they were on the door when it was the local Anglican church!
Coincidentally, we are known as the Jolly Rogers by some of our friends, so these knockers seems very appropriate!
And of course the doors themelsves are a fabulous backdrop for zombies on Halloween!
Stews are one of my favourite dishes to cook when we go camping. Of course, they are brilliant in winter to warm you up before you climb into your sleeping bag for the night, but even on the sunniest of summer days, I love to finish a busy (or not!) day with a big bowl of stew and some damper for mopping up the juices. I start my chopping in the late afternoon, then as the sun starts to set I get the onions browning away. Then I add a few more ingredients, pop the lid on and sit my camp oven (a cast iron cooking pot) among the coals. With a few stirs and some gentle cooking, within an hour I have a delicious dinner. I add potatoes (or sometimes beans) and plenty of vegetables so I don’t have to cook any vegetables separately and voila I have a one-pot meal that can be served in a bowl and there’s very little washing up!
Cooking over a fire is one of the best things about camping. There’s no ‘preheat the oven to 180′ or ‘line a baking tray with paper’, it’s just get some wood, strike a match and off you go. If you’ve never done it before, there may be a bit of trial and error, but so what, you’re not going anywhere in a hurry! Get everyone involved in gathering a lovely big pile of wood and building your fire. One thing, always be aware of whether it’s OK to take wood from the bush. Many national parks don’t allow you to collect fallen branches as these provide important habitat for wild animals. Many campgrounds do, however, provide free fire wood, so check before you start collecting. Otherwise bring your own.
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, sliced
300 g pumpkin (squash), diced
1 large fennel bulb, sliced (optional, but definitely worth adding)
800 g skinless, boneless chicken thigh or breast fillets, cut into large pieces
200 ml (a small wine glass) white wine
About 12 waxy potatoes, quartered
1 Heat the oil in a large camp oven or casserole dish on a grill rack over the fire. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly until they start to turn golden and caramelise – ensure the pot isn’t too hot, or they will burn.
2 Add the carrot, pumpkin and fennel and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring every now and then. Add the chicken, stir well to combine and cook for 2–3 minutes, or until the chicken is starting to brown. Add the wine and bring to the boil for about 1 minute to cook off the alcohol.
3 Add about 400 ml water (just over 1 ½ cups), then add the potato and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and bring to the boil, then move to the side of the fire away from direct heat or sit the camp oven in amongst the coals (rearranging them as needed and topping up as needed) and cook for about 30–40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the potato is very tender. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary, then serve in bowls.
Organise a game of cricket while dinner is cooking or calm everyone down with some reading or drawing.
This recipe is taken from my soon-to-be published cookbook the Hungry Campers Cookbook. For this recipe and loads more like it, see here for more information. My book will be available in the shops in Australia on October 1st and in the UK from May 2014.
Thanks to Natasha Milne for the photography. Photography copyright Explore Australia.
Kids big and small love eating cupcakes. If the little ones are too young to help with the cooking they definitely aren’t too young to get involved with the decorating! At my kids’ birthday parties when they were toddlers, I used to bake a whole heap of cupcakes and make a cream cheese and jam frosting, which is the perfect sticky base for the decorations. Then I’d set out a table with all sorts of decorations – sprinkles, crumbled chocolate, mini M&Ms and marshmallows then let them go crazy decorating the cupcakes. I always found it funny watching which kids ate only the toppings and which kids ate only the cake!
Even though my kids are older now, they still love decorating cupcakes, so sometimes I take a batch of undecorated cupcakes when we go camping. Then when we are in need of some quieter time I bring out the frosting and some sprinkles. I don’t have quite the variety I had at their parties, but a few different things will keep them amused for a while, and the benefit is that they decorate so many the adults get to eat them afterwards.
100g butter, softened
185g caster sugar
½ teaspoon natural vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
125ml (½ cup) milk
200g self-raising flour
250g cream cheese
3 tablespoons strawberry jam
Sprinkles, crumbled chocolate flake, mini M&Ms
1 Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 12 hole (80ml (one third cup) capacity) muffin tin with paper cases.
2 Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer, until pale and soft.
3 Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until just combined. Add the milk and flour alternately in small amounts and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Do not overmix.
4 Divide the mixture evenly between the paper cases, then bake for 15–20 minutes, or until cooked and golden on top. Remove from the oven, leave in the tin for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
5 To decorate, beat the cream cheese to soften, then add the jam and mix to combine. Put the different sprinkles and chocolate into separate small bowls. Put the cupcakes out and let the kids decorate them. Using a blunt knife, spread them first with the cream cheese frosting, then add the toppings.
More fun kids’ camping recipes can to be found in my cookbook Hungry Campers Cookbook being published I October 2013.
Photography Natasha Milne (copyright Hardie Grant Explore)