"But what do you DO here" said one of the Ikea delivery men, perplexed, bewildered and completely freaked out by the gravel road that had finally led them to a friend's house on a farm out of town. They had set out from the city in the morning and called her to say they would be at her place in a couple of hours. "No, you won't," she told them but they didn't seem to listen.
They arrived the next day, shaken more by the isolation of the house into which they would put the sofas rather than the unexpected length of the road trip. "Seriously, what do you do. There are, like, NO shops".
Ikea must have since implemented a policy to never again send a truck to postcode 2400, especially for the few hundred dollars they charged Kirsty, (I have tried). That's no surprise, it could only have been a total moron who agreed to the deal in the first place. But those delivery men aren't the only ones to be shocked by the remoteness, even here in Moree, an area that people from Longreach would consider suburban. It's all relative I suppose and the isolation of rural life in any of its degrees of outback-ness can be confronting, depending on who's looking.
If I am tired or in a bad mood and happen to be driving though an expanse of bare black cotton fields - those never-ending stretches of treeless plains baking in the sun - I want to weep with loneliness. I start fantasising about living on a farm in Europe where there is an artisan baker selling his sourdough a short walk away, where the village markets sell cheese, wine, seafood and amazing croissants every Wednesday. Where the next village is less than 100kms away. Where there are people and stripy awnings and plane tree courtyards with tablecloth covered folding tables and bistro chairs.
But here with the long stretches of nothingness and their accompanying loneliness also comes a sense of freedom - freedom to do whatever you want because there is no one there to be checking up on you. Australia's ever increasing rule book with its infuriating "slippery when wet" signs is somewhere off in the distance, closer to the coast. You can put the windows down, crank the music and sing at the top of your lungs while belting down a straight trafficless road at 100kms a hour. When it rains, you can take your clothes off and run around outside, drenched, ecstatic and muddy. You can have bonfires, let off fireworks, roast a lamb on a spit. You can turn into Uma Thurman from Kill Bill and kill snakes with a hoe (well, not me, but you did Kirsty) or a massive rifle (that's you Anne P) because there is no one else to do it for you.
I had a real sense of the richness of country life when we stayed at Dave's house the other night, a farm just across the road from where the Ikea men were shaking their heads in disbelief.
We ate lamb he had raised, butchered and then left to age in the most beautiful coolroom linked to his kitchen by a little gauzed-in verandah. He marinated the chops with basil leaves out of his mother's garden and charred them on the barbie. For breakfast we collected eggs from his chooks near the machinery shed and ate them poached on toast. The kids had honey from an enormous bucket which a beekeeper gives Dave as a thank you every year for letting him not only keep his hives in the canola paddocks but also stay in one of the cottages. We woke up to the sunrise with its cockatoo soundtrack - those beautiful birds which at night perch themselves on the ridge of Dave's steep tin roof and slide down on their claws, like screeching snowboarders with wings for an in-built ski lift to take them to the top again.
It may be isolated, but it is not always lonely. And as I left Dave's house with a dozen eggs, two jars of honey, some Russian garlic, a particularly photogenic platter, some veggie seedlings and a pleasant pimms-induced hangover, I wasn't pining for European farm life at all.
Fig leaf semifreddo
This is what we ate for dessert at Dave's. The recipe is a keeper for three reasons. It tastes incredible, you do not need fresh figs (which is a complete revelation for me as I lose almost all my ripe figs to the birds) and you do not need an ice cream churn. By using the fig leaves to make a syrup, the semifreddo has a very delicate figgy flavour that I may even prefer to that of the full-blown fig. If anyone would like to try this and does not have access to a fig tree let me know and I can post some leaves to you or you can drop by and pick some up.
You'll need 8 egg yolks, one cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of water, a few fig leaves torn into pieces and two cups of cream and 100 grams of finely chopped dark chocolate, 70 per cent.
First lightly whip the cream and put aside in the fridge. Then with an electric mixer whip the egg yolks until light and creamy. Leave in the bowl while you turn your attention to making the syrup. Put the sugar, water and torn fig leaves into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and let simmer for about three minutes. Strain into a little jug, reserving the leaves. Go back to the egg yolks and with the beaters whipping away, slowly pour in the strained, hot syrup and keep beating until the mixture is cool, at least three minutes. It will actually look less like egg yolks and more like a very gooey, pale meringue mixture. (I guess it is much like a cooked Italian meringue but with yolks instead of whites). Fold in the whipped cream and chopped chocolate and pour into a mould lined with glad wrap (I used a small loaf tin). Cover with glad wrap and place in the freezer overnight.
You can now place the sugary fig leaves into the oven at about 180C for ten minutes so that they become a crunchy garnish for the semifreddo. Watch they don't burn.
To serve, remove the top layer of glad wrap, place a platter over the top and holding the tin and the platter together tightly, flip. Ease out of the tin, remove the rest of the glad wrap and scatter the candied leaves over the top.