We met our friends Derek and Kirrily Blomfield (The Conscious Farmer) and their sons Patrick and Reilly for a walk to kick start the spring school holidays on their property, "Colorado", at Caroona on the Liverpool Plains, NSW.
Kirrily suggested I bring morning tea and she would provide lunch. So thinking of something that would travel well, I cooked an old favourite, Carrot cupcakes by Matthew Evans. I tore this recipe from The Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend in 2001 and have made it countless times. It is also on the SBS Food website. I packed the cupcakes into a cake tin and then stashed them in my backpack. I packed the cream cheese icing separately so it wouldn't become a terrible cream cheese mess.
The boys climbed into the back of Derek's ute and we set out for the start of our walk. On the way, we pulled over at the base of a gum tree and Derek showed us a female koala and her baby high up in a fork of a branch. It was the first time Duncan, our boys, and I had seen a live koala in its natural habitat. We were amused by the mother's particularly fluffy ears. She had her back to the wind and was protecting her little one from the weather. We were able to see the baby's face from time to time, and like all babies, it was terribly sweet.
After a short drive we stepped out of the ute and Kirrily pointed out a spikey, barbed cactus called Tiger Pear and warned us to avoid it. Apparently it is very painful and not something you want to step on. Walking along a subtle track, we heard movement beside us and looked up to see a lace monitor scurrying up a tree.
When we reached our destination, a conglomerate outcrop overlooking a patchwork of crops and cultivated soil on the Liverpool Plains, we sat down and unpacked the cupcakes. "Is that icing?" Derek asked as I started topping the cupcakes and passing them around. The younger boys were more interested in climbing over the rocks and exploring the cliff face, but teenage Patrick and the adults were hungry.
Walking back towards the ute Duncan stopped to show me eucalyptus leaves on the ground, trashed by koalas, and bullet shaped koala scats. Then we looked up and there was another koala, holding onto a branch, swinging in the wind. So we'd seen three koalas in one morning.
Driving back to the house, where Kirrily's delicious quiche and salad, and meringue, fruit and cream waited for us, it was a pleasure to hear the chatter and laughter of boys on school holidays in the ute tray, avoiding the slober of an exhausted Jack Russell Terrier, Rusty.
Listen to ABC New England North West Radio's Kelly Fuller interview me for her segment, Little Book of Slow: Picnics here to start planning ideas for your next picnic.
Ingredients: 4 eggs, 220g caster sugar (I used brown sugar), 300g (about 2 medium) carrots, grated coarsely, 250 ml vegetable oil (I used rice bran oil), 120g walnuts or other unsalted nuts, chopped, 250g plain flour (I used stoneground wholemeal plain flour), 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp bicarb soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, ground. I added 2 tbsp LSA (linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds).
Preheat oven to 190C. Beat the eggs and sugar until pale. Add the grated carrot, oil and walnuts, and stir to combine. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients and combine with the egg mixture until smooth. Spoon batter into about 20 patty papers and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. I used a 12 cup muffin tray. Cool and ice. Recipe suitable for a larger cake, adding 10 minutes cooking time and covering with aluminium foil to avoid burning.
Cream cheese icing
500g spreadable cream cheese, 50g butter, softened, 200g icing sugar, few drops of real vanilla extract.
Let the cheese warm to room temperature for ease of mixing and spreading. Beat the cream cheese with the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and smooth. Add lemon zest or juice if you like the tang. Spread over the cupcakes or a bigger cake. Scatter with crushed nuts and cinnamon or nutmeg.