Friday, April 25, 2008

A divinely chewy, butter-rich flavor that lingers long after the last legal two-up game is over

One of my favorite things to do is celebrate Australian national holidays. I find it gives my fellow Americans pause, as friends and coworkers wonder why I am wearing the green and gold. It also presents the opportunity to educate anyone who will listen about Australia's history. (This makes me very popular at parties.) Most important, it is a fantastic excuse to consume Australian snacks; what higher honor can there be than to bake and eat delicious treats in commemoration of an antipodean paradise's statehood and distinct national identity? I mean, really.

(For example, here I am last year, wearing my Australia jumper, embarrassingly chewing a homemade ANZAC biscuit.)

25 April is ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day commemorates the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during World War I: the Gallipoli campaign. Allow me to quote the Australian War Memorial Web site, for it describes Gallipoli more eloquently than I most likely could:

When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federal commonwealth for only 14 years. The new national government was eager to establish its reputation among the nations of the world. In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the allied navies. The plan was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire and an ally of Germany. They landed at Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians at home and 25 April quickly became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in war.

Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives of capturing Constantinople and knocking Turkey out of the war, the Australian and New Zealand actions during the campaign bequeathed an intangible but powerful legacy. The creation of what became known as the "ANZAC legend" became an important part of the national identity of both nations. This shaped the ways they viewed both their past and future.

(The inspiring and artistically/architecturally fascinating ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney.)

(The sculpture inside the monument, titled "The Sacrifice," is arresting and immensely thought-provoking. The sculpture depicts "...the recumbent figure of a young warrior who has made the supreme sacrifice; his naked body lies upon a shield which is supported by three womenfolk -- his best loved Mother, Wife and Sister and in the arms of one is a child, the future generations for whom the sacrifice has been made." There was a sign asking visitors to refrain from taking photographs of the statue in order to respect its meaning. However, rule-breaker Husband was moved and intrigued by the work and felt the need to take this shot surreptitiously. A quick Flickr search proves that perhaps we need not have been so concerned.)

Now. With the history lesson complete, on with the baked goods! ANZAC biscuits are said to have been devised to travel well: according to many sources, they were an integral part of care packages sent to Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers fighting abroad in World War I. Over the years the ANZAC biscuit has become a culturally, historically and culinarily important cookie. The oat-y, coconut-y, golden brown and delicious treats are synonymous with 25 April and consuming them is one sure-fire way to celebrate ANZAC Day. Indeed, they are often used as a fundraising tool for the RSL (Returned and Services League of Australia) veterans organizations. Like Girl Scout cookies, only way cooler and much more buttery.

(These are Greg's ANZAC biscuits, baked a few days ago. I include this photo both as acknowledgement of Greg's supreme baking skills and as an example of ANZAC biscuits baked by an actual Australian.)

Though this post is really about ANZAC biscuits, I would be remiss if I wrote a missive about ANZAC Day and did not mention two-up. Two-up is a phenomenally simple and awesome gambling game that was played by the convicts, then by men in Australia's goldfields, then by Australia's soldiers fighting in WWI and now by Australians on ANZAC Day. Two coins are placed, heads-up, on a paddle called a kip. The person throwing the coins in the air, called the spinner, bets, which is matched by someone in the crowd. The spinner throws the coins: if they're both heads, the spinner wins; both tails, he loses. If one is heads and one is tails, he throws again. Observers in the crowd can bet as well, with the tail-better holding the money until the result is decided. The game is illegal every day of the year except on ANZAC Day, when it is allowed in tribute to the soldiers who played two-up in the theatre of war. (Though I understand a version is legal in some Australian casinos.) Along with the parades and the laying of wreaths and the red poppies and the delightful biscuits, two-up is an important part of the commemoration of ANZAC Day.

When I visited Australia in 2004, I was lucky enough that my visit coincided with ANZAC Day -- so I got to experience the holiday up close. What follows is my journal entry from that day.


Sunday, 25 April 2004

ANZAC Day. I have a little bit of a sleep in, and then a relaxing brekky of heavily-buttered toast in front of the TV, watching the ANZAC march. It is much like Memorial Day, but focused mostly on WWI. It commemorates Gallipoli, but it makes sense in my mind that it would be a day to honour veterans in general. But I can't really get anyone to confirm this to me. What I do get is, one should eat some ANZAC biscuits and play some two-up. Fine with me! I read some cooking magazines, catch up on some writing, etc. and mid-afternoon Greg and I head to the Penrith Whitewater Stadium and the Sydney International Regatta Centre -- both in Penrith, both Olympic venues.

The whitewater rafting place is totally man made, with turbines that create the chop. You can have a go at the rafting, should you desire, but Greg and I watch from the sidelines. People are capsizing and flopping about left and right, and it looks like loads of fun. A very short drive away is the Regatta Centre, which I remember from TV. The dais is still there that the medal winners used, so I stand on it like a jackass with my hand over my heart and lament that Greg has no sort of award to bestow. We get some good photos with the "Sydney 2000" logo in the foreground, although to me it looks like it says, "Sydney Zooo!"

We stop at a bar on the way home to witness some two-up, and I am dying to bet but do not, fearing my American accent may disqualify me from this special patriotic activity. Greg tells me this is a rough, industrial, blue-collar crowd, but they look meeker than your average New Castle resident to me. But what do I know? -- they are Australian, and therefore do have a sort of hand-me-a-Vegemite-sandwich toughness. So, none of my money changes hands, but I do leave feeling that much richer.

Back at home we get ready to host Lance, Lynn and Chantelle for drinks. Chantelle looks the exact same to me, very beautiful. True to form, the adults look great, again not aging. We spend several hours catching up -- Kerrie and Greg haven't seen them for awhile, either -- looking at photos and sharing stories. They are amazed that I send them a Christmas card each year. Again, people, shocked at simple written words. But it is very sweet. We watch the video of tonight's episode of "My Restaurant Rules" after they leave and, as I predicted, the underdog Perth restaurant survived, with Sydney getting the axe. Kerrie and Greg are surprised, but as a reality-show-viewing veteran, I have a few things to teach them.

*Forgot to mention, John Howard was all George W. Bush today, and made a surprise visit to Australian troops in Iraq to celebrate ANZAC Day with them.


This Friday (or Thursday evening, if you want to be technical about it since Australia is currently 14 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time), bake a batch of ANZAC biscuits. The biscuits are incredibly quick and easy to make and their somewhat rustic appearance belies a divinely chewy, butter-rich flavor that lingers long after the last legal two-up game is over. Though I might be tempted to augment my celebration with an a capella rendition of "Advance Australia Fair" -- or at least a couple spins of Diesel and Dust and Hi Fi Way -- just baking the ANZAC biscuits is a tasty way to pay proper respect to our friends in the Southern Hemisphere.

A happy ANZAC Day to all of you fine Australians!


ANZAC biscuits
Adapted from Bills Sydney Food, by Bill Granger

Bill says, "These hero-sustaining treats are said to have been devised for sending in care packages to Australia and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers serving in World War I. They must be chewy, so be careful not to overcook them."

1 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. unsweetened coconut

2/3 c. brown sugar

1 c. rolled oats

4 oz. (1 stick) butter (salted)

1 T. golden syrup (My local gourmet market sells golden syrup, and of course you can order it online. However, if you can't find it and/or don't want to order it, honey or light Karo syrup can be used as a substitute.)

1/2 t. baking soda

2 T. boiling water

Preheat oven to 315 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, my oven doesn't have a 315 mark, so I put it roughly between 300 and 325 and it works out well. Place flour, coconut, sugar and oats in a bowl. Mix well.

Place butter and golden syrup in a saucepan over medium heat and melt. Place baking soda in a small bowl and add the boiling water. Whisk to combine.

Add baking soda mixture to saucepan and stir. Pour over oat mixture and stir all ingredients together. You may want to use your hands to make sure the mixture is incorporated well.

Roll about a tablespoon each of biscuit mixture into balls and place on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking tray, leaving room for spreading. Flatten each ball gently with the palm of your hand.

Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown at the edges. Don't over bake them and you'll be rewarded with a chewy cookie. Allow to cool slightly on trays before transferring to a wire rack.

You can then consume them in honour of Australia and her military sacrifices, or you can pack them up and send them off to Gallipoli. Personally, I will doing the former.

Makes 20 biscuits.


= John = said...

You can please send me the AUSTRALIA jumper you are wearing in the picture along with a week's supply of your homemade ANZAC biscuits! Cheers, mate = John =

Sue said...

Is April 25 really ANZAC day? Amazing, because it's also Italian liberation day - you know, the day they strung up Mussolini and dragged his body through the streets?

Dianne said...

Yes, April 25 is really ANZAC Day!

Sue said...

By the way, I love the sculpture and its symbolism!

Dianne said...

I knew you would!