Monday night, the babes are asleep, and it’s Anzac Day eve. We’ve just returned from a long park outing with a stop along the way home for Australian-grown almonds, peanuts, spelt flour and, unexpectedly, a little dried coconut at my favorite store in my neighborhood, the bulk foods shop. Would you like to try an Anzac biscuit? the friendly woman at the counter asked, which then led me to tucking a bit of the coconut into a paper bag so I could recreate them at home, spontaneous baking often being the best baking I do these days. There’s still one slice left of the chocolate cake I baked last week but I cannot resist a new recipe, especially one which has historical significance. Tomorrow is this country’s commemoration of the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War and the major losses suffered during the Gallipoli campaign. According to the Australian War Memorial website, it’s not known when or why exactly these biscuits became associated with Anzac day but nonetheless they have become tradition. While not flashy they are quite, quite delicious (I credit the butter).
Someone asked me today how we are settling and I said, well … great? It doesn’t feel so much like settling as resuming a life that is marked by its simplicity and ease. I won’t deny that being in a country where English is the main language goes a long way towards accomplishing this. I first struggled in Morocco with my lack of Darija and paltry French then had a better time of it in Saudi where many spoke English and I was often surrounded by expats, but there was more than one instance where I wished I could have communicated with the black veiled, smiling-eyed ladies at the checkout in Carrefour, my Arabic skills being totally non existent. So when I order my coffee or chat about the recent rains — friendly! friendly! everyone is so pleasant and friendly! — it’s bizarrely normal. Even more bizarre is how normal life in Riyadh became, from the soon commonplace sight of the heavily armed and guarded entrance to the Diplomatic Quarter where we lived, the traditional Saudi dress of white thobes and black abayas, etc., my being forbidden to drive a car, the multiple daily prayer time closures and the loud call to prayer throughout the day that helped me to tell what time it was without looking at a clock, to the arid, pale, incredibly dusty scenery. Now ensconced in a world of green and with the ability to walk a mile or so to a saltwater inlet where boats jostle softly with the tides that previous life is fading to a dreamscape.
I was telling my husband that the seemingly sudden international moves we undertake leave me feeling strangely out of step for awhile, even if I embrace the new country in which we find ourselves. While rationally I know that our house in Riyadh was packed up and no longer exists in the iteration in which we created it I can still see it exactly, Sierra’s toys scattered around her little playroom slash study, with the old blue chairs (RIP) from my San Francisco days faithfully staying the course in the large window overlooking the neighbor’s identical dwelling. I can still hear the wind chimes hovering above the broken tiles outside our front door or the birds perched on the dead antennas on the roof. Our near-silent house, so dark and enormous, never felt like a good fit to me but it became home for awhile and with months yet to go before we receive the rest of our belongings it’s easy to imagine they are still there, coated now with a film of desert dust and waiting for our return. But we won’t return. I doubt I’ll ever set foot again in the Magic Kingdom unless we are pulled back there for work. It’s almost impossible to enter without a work or family visitor visa so no whim will allow us on a plane to go for a visit. And I don’t miss it exactly but I do miss certain aspects of life there. You get used to living with a certain amount of deprivation and when the options open up again it’s almost overwhelming.
Yet not too. Already we are finding a bit of a rhythm and for me that means mastering my fan-forced oven and induction stove so I can indulge in my usual rounds. I have an enormous bunch of rhubarb in the fridge which seems like it should be out of season here (it’s autumn) but I’ve seen a lot of it in the grocery store so couldn’t resist — it will go into a galette or a crumble. What a treat to live in a country that grows rhubarb; it’s been almost four years. The produce, o lovely lovely homegrown apples and kale and squash and beautiful fruit, continues to be appreciate. And did I mention the coffee? These anzac biscuits would go alongside my first cup tomorrow morning quite wonderfully, and I can’t wait for that first sip even more than is usual. I don’t think I will make a dawn service tomorrow morning but I love that it exists. How beautiful and fitting a memorial.
And I can’t stop thinking about these lines from Seamus Heaney, by way of Rachel’s new year post, tonight. They somehow feel so right.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.
― Seamus Heaney
I read one recipe that exhorted that you must follow the recipe EXACTLY or else it wouldn’t be a true Anzac biscuit — agree, sure, but I didn’t have golden syrup so used New South Wales (local!) honey instead, dropped the amount of sugar a bit, and used whole grain spelt flour in place of the all-purpose. Some habits never die. These are still pretty true to the original anyway. Use gluten-free oat flour to make these gluten-free and/or substitute coconut oil for the butter (plus maple syrup for the honey) to make vegan.
Makes about 18 biscuits.
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup spelt flour or gluten-free oat flour
1/2-3/4 cup raw sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
125 grams unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons boiling water
Heat oven to 350 F (or if you are like me, 160 C on fan forced with a hail mary). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together the oats, flour, sugar coconut, and salt. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat melt the butter and honey. In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and boiling water, then add this to the butter mixture. It will foam and increase in size. Pour into the flour mixture and stir well to combine.
Roll dough into golfball sized balls and very lightly flatten them between your hands. Place on the prepared sheet about 1 inch apart, place in the oven, and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, gently remove to a wire rack, and let cool.