It is 42°F outside, and we are taking it easy as we rest up between jobs. This is exactly when I get the baking bug! David loves pumpkin pie, but I have not made a vegan version yet, and am up to the challenge today.
When we went grocery shopping the other day, we noticed the display of pumpkin pie making supplies – and then read the label on the pumpkin pie filling. Since we weren’t going to be adding sweetened condensed milk and/or eggs to our diet anytime soon, we decided to just get a couple cans of pumpkin and see what we could do with them.
I searched Happy Herbivore for a pie crust recipe. Found one that is incredibly easy, which is a good thing since I have minimal experience making pie crust. I was almost going to use the recipe for cornbread and make THAT the pie crust, but changed my mind.
Discovered that I don’t have a pie pan, so a rectangle pan is going to have to do.
I whipped up the crust recipe, then pressed it into the pan.
I was then in search of a no-oil, vegan pumpkin pie filling recipe. I didn’t find one, so I improvised and married two different recipes together.
Here is what it looks like going into the oven:
And this is what it looked like coming out of the oven:
Here are the recipes:
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 whole banana, cold
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt (I omitted this)
Combine flour and banana (a slightly unripe, still greenish banana is best) in a food processor, pulsing until there are no whole banana pieces left. Roll out on clean surface, or press into pan.
2 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened plain milk of your choice (I used soy)
1 Tbsp chia seeds, mixed with 1/3 cup warm water (let sit for 15 minutes)
2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or sub mix of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves)
Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Taste to adjust spices, as necessary. Pour filling into crust. Bake at 350° for 60 minutes. Out of the oven, let cool for 2 hrs or refrigerate until ready to serve.
David’s opinion: Two pieces are gone, so I think that means he likes it!
It’s Fall, the leaves are turning, and I am succumbing to the Pumpkin Spice movement!
Here is a healthy recipe that I found online, and made even healthier by modifying it to be WFPBOF (whole food plant based oil free). It’s how we roll. When you make these, please let me know what you think in the comments section.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from recipe by Cookie and Kate
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Serves: 12-14 muffins
1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
2 chia seed eggs (2 Tablespoons chia seeds in 2/3 cup water. Let sit for 15 min)
1 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 cup milk of choice (I used unsweetened soy)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325° F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce and maple syrup or honey. Add chia seed gel, and mix well. Mix in the pumpkin purée and milk, followed by the baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice or cloves.
Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined. If you’d like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit, fold them in now.
Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. The don’t “grow” much while baking, so it is OK to fill towards the top. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with a small amount of oats, followed by a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired.
Bake muffins for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack. These muffins come out cleanly when they are cooled, but will break up if you try to take them out too soon.
MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose blend works well instead of the whole wheat flour. STORAGE SUGGESTIONS: These muffins keep well in the freezer. Store them in a freezer-safe bag and defrost individual muffins as needed. CHANGE IT UP: You could really go crazy with add-ins here! Fold in chopped dried cranberries or crystallized ginger. If you are not nut-adverse, try chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts. And my friend Barry suggest trying peanut butter chips (but they are pretty hard to find in the vegan variety).
From Sydney, we headed towards Brisbane, NSW and the Gold Coast.
Our intention was to route through Canberra, the capital of Australia, but we decided to save that for our return trip, since it was more “inland” and we wanted to go along the coastal route as much as possible.
We got a pretty late start out of the caravan park, so our first day was a relatively short one. With the help of our WikiCamps app , The Rock Roadhouse was chosen as our free, overnight stop. We were the first of the van dwellers to arrive for the night, but were soon joined by many. Upon arrival, most chose a respectable distance between vans, and all was good in the world until about 11 pm when a rental van of three girls from Germany decided to park between us and our neighbor, and proceeded to open and close their doors and speak at full volume for at least the next hour. Even in RV living, or camping, we have all had THAT neighbor once in a while.
Yes, that is a gas station/restaurant that has been made to look like Uluru. Hence the name “The Rock” Roadhouse.
After a quick breakfast, we headed to the Seal Rocks lighthouse to see what we could see.
On the walk up the very steep path, we took a break to let others pass:
The views were stunning:
Back on the road and heading up the coast, we came upon a lovely beachfront town by the name of Port Macquarie. It had numerous free camping opportunities, as well as a reasonably-priced caravan park. There were surfing beaches and hiking trails listed as points of interest, so that it became our first real stop for the state of New South Wales.
Here is what Town Beach looked like upon our arrival:
The first night, which was really supposed to be the only night, was spent in a parking lot along – you guessed it – by the river, next to a hotel. It was quiet, and had public restrooms just a quick 3 minute walk away. There were two or three other backpacker vans, and we were treated to an evening show of flying foxes heading out for a hunt. There seemed to be thousands of them, and David tried to get a picture with his camera on the night vision setting:
Here is what they look like during the day –
That is a picture I pulled from the internet, as I did not seek them out during the day. Suffice it to say that they are very large, and there is a plentiful colony that lives in a nature reserve in Port Macquarie. The night show was impressive.
The weather in Port Macquarie is magnificent! One would not suspect it is late Fall, with the water so lovely and inviting, and the days around 80-85 degrees F.
We expected this to be an overnight stop, but the beach and town were just so lovely, that we spent the next 6 days lounging around, hiking, getting caught up on library wifi, and generally feeling like we were really on vacation, or “holiday” as they call it here.
The town is really cute and has a little something for everyone – major chain grocery stores and a mall, a lovely library with free internet, a modern art center that doubles as a visitor center, boutique shops and day spas, as well as numerous ice cream and coffee shops. The jewel in the crown was the magnificent beaches and walking trails. All of this was within walking distance of our overnight parking places.
One could see why this is the home of the Australian Ironman competition, which unknown to us, was completed the day before our arrival. The competitors cleared out by our day 3, and we felt as if we had the town and beaches to ourselves. The township of Port Macquarie was established in 1821, with many buildings from that time still intact.
As Port Macquarie became our home for 6 nights, between the great caravan park and the urban camping friendly parking lots, we averaged $7.60 AUD/night. Of course, that does not factor in our daily shared $5 AUD soy decaf flat whites. Yes, David has not only stopped giving me grief about drinking coffee, but I am sharing my drinks with him. It is a change in attitude I can live with!
Some of the highlights of our time here:
The Town Beach and an ocean that I actually went wading into, multiple times. (I don’t swim, and rarely go into bodies of water, so this was really meaningful to me. I even got knocked down by a wave, but got back up and still played some more:
The Koala Hospital and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail were both sources of entertainment. The Koala Hospital allowed us an up-close look at the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured koalas. It is the only facility of its kind in the world, and is run by donation and volunteers. The Sculpture Trail comprised of 50 unique koala sculptures placed in various places around town and the outlying area. These sculptures were created to celebrate the largest coastal koala population on the east coast of Australia. While I did not go about seeking these out, I took a snap of each one that I encountered along my way:
The Coastal Walk from Town Beach to Lighthouse Beach was a doozy through beaches for all kinds from surfing to fishing to dog-friendly to naked, with a rainforest canopy and a goanna sighting at a birthday party! The reward for hiking 10 kilometers across beaches and through rainforest paths: steps to the lighthouse!
On our final morning in “Port”, we shared Town Beach with our mothers, as we called them to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day. One last look:
It’s been two weeks since we have seen Hannah, and I am ready to invade her space again. We probably won’t take more than 3 days to get back to Melbourne; at least that is my hope.
We arrived in Sydney on a Sunday afternoon, and expected traffic to be less hectic. Along that same thought, we headed to famous Bondi Beach. After paying $7/hr for parking, we walked around, took some pictures, and wondered what all the fuss was about. I guess we are a little jaded, or maybe because the beach wasn’t filled with sunbathers and merry makers, but we just didn’t see the draw. It felt excessively touristy, but we did find the pool at the edge of the beach a neat touch:
It took us over an hour to get out of the city and into our caravan park. It was so nice to be parked in a lovely site at Lane Cove River Tourist Park. The park staff was very helpful at check-in, the amenities blocks were clean and plentiful, and we were given a nice site with lots of room. The park was quiet, while also providing free internet access in the game/TV room. For $37 a night, it was a bargain for the location alone. Everything else was icing on the cake.
We headed into Sydney on the train the next morning. Thank you, Alex and Sarah (previous owners of Spotto) for the Opal card with credit on it! We will pass these on to Hannah to use up the balance when we leave. The trip took about 30 minutes, and it was a relief not having to deal with traffic, parking, etc.
A free walking tour of Sydney started at 9:00 a.m., so we joined it. Our tour guide, Lydia, grew up in Sydney, and had historical tales and secret passages to share with us. The tour was 3 hours in length, but we left it halfway through, as we were near the Harbor at that point, and wanted to go at a quicker pace than the tour. But we would recommend it to future Sydney visitors, as it is a great way to learn about the city.
Here are some of the places we visited:
Forgotten Songs was an alley art installation. “Forgotten Songs commemorates the songs of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, which filter down from the canopy of birdcages suspended above Angel Place, change as day shifts to night; the daytime birds’ songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sounding into the evening.” If there weren’t so many people talking as we walked through, we would have really enjoyed it. And we tried to find this on our way back to the train station, but could not locate it.
A little tidbit about the Coat of Arms of Australia: the two animals, the kangaroo and the emu, apparently cannot walk backwards. Well, that is what our tour guide told us!
Of course, we visited the Sydney Opera House. One can’t miss it coming over the bridge on the train, and it was a major part of our visit.
One can’t really see the size when viewing it from across the water.
But once upon it,
It is clear that it is many pieces.
Here is an up-close view of the outer shell of tiles whose reflection makes the buildings shine:
It was a beautiful day and we walked all over the downtown and harbor area. On our way back to the train, we spotted these fellows enjoying a game of chess:
Now that we have experienced Sydney, we are pretty much finished with going into downtown areas for awhile. The highlights of the day were the meandering walks through the botanical gardens and the trek around the harbor and around the opera house. The lowlights were definitely the search for vegan food (we ended up with veggie sushi) and the packed malls.
We are now off to the Gold Coast, in search of some sun and white sand beaches.
We decided that while Hannah recovers from her torn plantar fascia injury, we will transform from parents to explorers in a van, and really make the most of our time in Australia. We set our sights on Sydney, a mere 1,000 kilometers to the northeast.
One our first day out, we came upon a town by the name of “Stratford on the Avon”. Since David (and the other Keane’s, including his father Harold) grew up in Stratford, Connecticut, we decided that this was a must-see. We were not disappointed.
This Stratford has an art walk, complete with an audio guide, an MP3 player, and a speaker, all available for pickup at the local theater.
Here is the Globe, the first stop on the art tour:
And the marker for Connecticut:
Here are some of the art pieces along the 1 hour walk:
It was great to spontaneously take part in the tour of the town, and we were invited back for the weekend Shakespeare Birthday celebration that is apparently the highlight of the year. We weren’t sure how far down the road we would be, but kept it as an option.
That night, we had a truly beautiful free camp site thanks to the town of Metung at the Chinaman’s Creek park. Here is the view that awaited us in the morning:
Our next destination was Raymond Island to go on the Koala Walk. A short ferry trip:
And we were on Raymond Island, following the Koala Walk. Koalas were introduced to this island in 1953 when Australians were concerned that the population was dwindling. The koalas that live on this island are very used to people, and are not spooked by the many walkers and photographers that come over on the ferry to take the short 1.5 km walk. As you can see here, David was able to get very close to his subjects:
Here are some of the special koalas we spotted on our hike around the island
In addition to the koalas, we spotted many birds
And about the birds on the main photo: these are the Tawny Frogmouth. What we first thought was just the top of an old tree, came to light upon closer inspection. They were very well camouflaged! We thought they were maybe owls, but a little research and we discovered their true identity.
On the ferry back to the mainland, we spotted many jellyfish, and had fun trying to get a good shot. Not the most cooperative photo subjects!
Our next two days were pretty much just travel and find a pretty place to stop for the night.
First, along the famous Snowy River:
And then in the town of Genoa, where the town provides a superb free campground:
We stopped in the little town of Tathra, NSW were we came across the cutest coffee shop/bakery called “The Wharf Locavore” and treated ourselves to a cup of tea before we tackled a little hike.
Just look at how cute this place is:
And the tea:
Yes, I could have stayed there all afternoon with those views and the tempting pastries. But, we are just hours away from our Sydney-area destination, and we must move on.
Visitors come to the center of Australia – called the “Red Center” (or, for you Brits and Aussies the “Red Centre”) to view and hike through some of the most wondrous land masses in the world: Australia’s most recognizable landmark, Uluru is also known as Ayers Rock; next to Uluru is Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas; and a few hours down the road is the stunning Watarrka, or Kings Canyon.
We were originally just going to hike around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but then decided to add Kings Canyon to the mix since we are here, and it is, too! We were very glad that we did.
With the temperatures getting up there to around 100 degrees F, we knew we needed to get an early start, as the trails are closed if the temperature is 36 degrees C (96 degrees F).
Kings Canyon is part of Watarrka National Park, with walls about 350 feet high. With three hikes to choose from, we started with the longest, a 6 km trail that goes from the base to the top of the canyon, with a dip down into the Garden of Eden, and finishing through a sandstone landscape that made us feel like we were walking on Mars.
Reading some of the placards on the trail, we learned that this canyon is an aboriginal sacred site in places, so we were encouraged to stay on the trails. After visiting the Alice Springs Reptile Center (https://rvgetfit.com/2016/05/05/alice-springs) you can rest assured that we were not going off trail! We found it interesting that the first European expedition to explore the canyon was in 1872 – which, once again, reminded us of how “new” Australia is to us non-aborigines.
The hike starts with Heart Attack Hill – and there were plenty of people looking up the winding steps wondering if they shouldn’t just wait for their tour partners in the bus. This was steep, and not for the faint of heart!
The colors of the rocks were just amazing.
And we felt that we were pretty much the only people out there
The route would take us up to the top of the canyon on the left side, around the rim, down into the canyon to the watering hole and oasis called the Garden of Eden, then back up to the rim for the right side view, before returning to the parking lot.
The canyon walls started to come into view
and we could see hikers on the other side
There were some steep ledges, with warning signs:
And it might have been the heat, but we were cracking up when we saw this one:
Some other highlights:
the textures were amazing
the stairs and the Garden of Eden
And, on the other side of the canyon, as we walked along the…
We were met by another goanna, as seen in the photo at the top of this post. Yup, two days after being bitten, David must have been sending off some serious goanna pheromone, because we had not seen much wildlife on the hike, and then this 6 foot long specimen saunters on by. Here is another view:
We finished up the main trail, and noted that the path going the opposite direction was closed due to the temperature.
The hike proved to be quite the challenge, with the heat and the flies! Oh, the flies. They were so pestering that we stopped at a visitors center to buy fly nets to put over our hats for the hike around Uluru and the Olgas the next day.
We consulted our free camping app, and found a nice place to shower for $3 AUD, and then went on to camp at the Sandy Way Rest Area for the night.
The next day, we were up early again and on to see Uluru and the Olgas. As we drove in, you could see it in the distance:
Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a sacred part of aboriginal creation mythology, and is considered one of Australia’s most recognizable natural icons. A large sandstone “island mountain”, it is an isolated remnant of the slowly eroding mountain range, and is thought to be roughly 800-850 million years old. Seriously.
We got to the big rock, and suited up! It was already hot outside, and the flies were relentless, but we were ready this time:
It should be noted that we intended to walk AROUND the rock, not to climb it. The aborigines have asked that visitors not climb their sacred rock, and we saw no reason to go against this wish. Some believe that if they are going to spend the $25 AUD entrance fee for the park, they are entitled to do whatever they want. Yes, it is a struggle for the park. There is a huge sign next to the carpark explaining the history and the position against climbing. And still:
The base walk is 10 km, or 6 miles, and we really enjoyed it. Once again, we went counterclockwise, and saw only a handful of people during the 2.5-3 hrs we took to explore.
So glad we had our nets, as they kept the annoying flies off of our faces; the rest of our bodies, not so much. David felt compelled to take this shot:
There were some caves
Some really cool erosion marks
Some shade structures if one wanted to take a break
The texture of the land was so interesting, and the colors changed as the sunlight shifted
We finished the Uluru base hike, and then drove the 53 km/32 miles to Kata Tjuta. There, we took the Valley of the Winds hike, which was another 7.4 km. Most people probably don’t do both hikes in the same day, but it is late Summer/early Fall, so we have the daylight to do this.
Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, is a collection of monoliths. The hike was much more strenuous than the base walk of Uluru.
Here is some of the scenery we enjoyed:
According to my fitbit, this was a 37,775 step day for me! I don’t plan on surpassing that anytime soon, but you never know where this Australian adventure will take us.
The big question we had for each other after the hike was, “How do you pronounce ‘Uluru’?”
Some of you may not be aware that David’s undergrad degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, from Keene State University in Keene, New Hampshire. Yes, he did attend a college, and live in a town, with the same name (different spelling) as his own. But that isn’t the point. The point is, that he has retained more of his undergrad knowledge from 1977 than anyone I know. Especially for someone who did not go on to work in that field.
A little nugget that he carried around in his brain is that Alice Springs, in the geographic center of Australia, should be visited, if for no other reason, then for it’s geographic-centerness. Totally sounds like a reason to drive 2,300 kms/1,500 miles to check it out in person, right?
And so, we did. On the fourth day of the Trip To Alice Springs, we actually arrived! And what a sight to behold! It has lived up to the hype, I tell you!
Kit (our oldest child, who is almost finished with his doctorate in Biology. Yes, we are so proud!) told us that Alice Springs has a Reptile Center (link: www.reptilecentre.com.au), so naturally we MUST visit! After a 4 day road trip, I know YOU would go straight to the see the snakes, frogs, and reptiles of the Red Center.
The Reptile Center displays over 100 reptiles of 60 different species. Open daily from 9:30 am – 5 pm, with demonstrations conducted at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3:30 pm, we arrived just in time for the 1 pm session led by a young lady named Grace, who presented several of the Center’s inhabitants.
First off was Ruby the Goanna; she roams the center freely, and is very used to people, we are told. Next, we had a bearded dragon, and blue tongued skink, then a python. The last half of the presentation was an instruction on the proper actions to take if one is bit by a snake while in the Australian bush. This was complete with a demonstration on how to wrap one’s limb in a bandage to constrict blood flow and thus to slow the advancement of venom in one’s system. It was all presented well and reminded us that we were now in the wilds of Australia, home to a ridiculous number of poisonous reptiles. It also made me pretty nervous about the next few days, when we intend to do some considerable hiking. On the positive side, the first aid instruction will be fresh in our minds.
Now that show and tell was over, we were given the opportunity to hold some of the reptiles. The skink was passed around the room, as was the bearded dragon.
I decided to be brave, especially since I was such a wimp all those years that our late son Kevin had reptiles (A monitor lizard, numerous bearded dragons, frogs, swifts – you get the idea).
Here I am holding the bearded dragon:
Please don’t ask why I have two pairs of glasses – they are for my pair of eyes, of course!
And here is David:
I decided to really go for it, so I stood in line to hold the celebrity of the bunch. David was on standby with the camera, because if I was going to do this, I wanted a picture to commemorate the event. I finally get to the front, handed my prize, turn around for the shot – and there stands David, with a skink in his hands instead of his camera ready! I had to wait for him to hand off that little guy, and was losing my nerve pretty fast. So, here you have it:
So many chins…
That was enough hands-on time for us, so we started about the rest of the center to see the displays. Ruby the Goanna walked up to David, and started using her tongue to smell his foot. We don’t know why she was doing this, but it was interesting to see this huge reptile and it’s super long tongue. The next thing we knew, she bit him! Yup, we were surprised and concerned. David quickly moved away, and Ruby turned to me. I took this picture of her at my feet so you can get an idea of her size:
David started bleeding from the bite pretty badly, so we sought out Grace the Presenter for some first aid. After she immediately put Ruby away, she explained that the goanna’s bite actually contains a chemical that inhibits the blood from coagulating. This is why David was bleeding so much. David cleaned the wound and put some bandages on it, and we went through the exhibits. It startled him more than it hurt.
This is what it looked like the next day:
My favorite reptile in the center was the Thorny Devil. I chose this as the “Feature Photo” for this post. Just look at this beautiful creature!
We spent a couple of hours in the Reptile Center, and David took loads of pictures to share with Kit when we see him in Tulsa later this year.
After a trip to the grocery store, we drove to the Caravan Park that we had intended to stay in, and just drove right on by. This place had people loitering around the entrance, and was really dirty and run down. We just did not feel comfortable staying there.
Souvenir shopping was next on our agenda – I really wanted a shirt that said “Alice Springs” to go along with my collection (which includes 44 North Coffee and El El Frijoles in Maine, University of Tulsa and San Diego State University, and of course, Amazon). But, this being Easter weekend, the majority of shops were closed.
We stayed the night at the Temple Bar Caravan Park about 10 km outside of town. I needed to do some laundry, but their washer was rusty, so I chose to wait until the next day and go back into town. There were many permanent residents in this park, mostly in small cube houses that looked more like tool sheds than homes. For $22 AUD, we had a grassy, unpowered site with water. Oh, and the view! See for yourself – here are our neighbors:
The next day, back into town we drove to do laundry before heading to our next destination. While we weren’t too sure what to expect from this remote location, I would say that we were surprised by the poverty and general unsafe feel of the place. It may have been because all of the stores were closed, so we couldn’t see hustle and bustle of the town; it felt like a ghost town. The landscape and red rock was lovely, but we were definitely ready to head out quickly, and we did.
As David’s foot started to heal, we headed to some serious hiking among some of the most beautiful and unique landscape we have ever seen. That will be our next story.