The full implication of our adventure hit us at the airport in Hong Kong, when we first exchanged our money for the colourful currency notes of our destination country, Australia. Yes, never before had we seen such “frivolous and fanciful” yellow, green, blue, red and purple plastic notes like the Australian currency, except in Monopoly.
Apprehensive and exhausted from the day’s tour of Hong Kong, my husband and I looked at each other seeking reassurance. A month-long holiday in India, honeymooning with family and friends had planted the seeds of doubt. Were we embarking on a quixotic escapade, flying off halfway across the world, to a country we had never been to, with two young girls in tow…
A battery of questions assailed us-
Are we doing the right thing?
Did we have to do this?
Are we chasing a mirage?
Is this self-banishment? Self-exile?
Couldn’t we have eked out a living in the land of our forefathers?
Our grandparents had been freedom fighters, and we…!
It didn’t help that on the day we first landed in Melbourne, it rained like it did on the night they killed Duncan. I was so inadequately dressed – in sandals and a cotton jumper- try as I might, I couldn’t find off-season woolens in the desert land that had been our home for more than a decade. Well, I did attempt to keep warm with a pair of socks inside the sandals – after all according to the girls, we were fresh off the boat!
We made our way to the shops during a lull in the rain, to buy groceries and essentials, mindful for the first time in years of a budget, still trying to get our heads around converting dollars to Omani rials!
We had no jobs, no credit cards, no mobile phones and no car.
Could we be more lost?
Shopping to stock our temporary pantry all over was like starting a home from the scratch –we bought salt, oil, mustard seeds and were surprised to find rice, red lentils and masalas and “poppadums” on the aisles.
Already, I had begun to feel better.
When we emerged from the store, it had already turned dark with the torrential rain and sleet. We had to literally plead a ride from a surprised (and scared) fellow shopper. The two of us stuffed our grocery bags in our unenthusiastic benefactor’s car- sullen and vulnerable - conscious that after so many years of climbing ladders we had slid down the snake, back to square one.
Back in the apartment, the cold and the wet chilling us to the bone, we were drawn to the fireplace like moths. Only when our brains had thawed a little, we warmed to the fact that this was the first time we were enjoying the much- romanticised sitting by the fire.
What really warmed us was the sweet surprise from inside the complimentary biscuit packs from the hotel that we had opened so unsuspectingly to have with a cup of hot tea.
The ANZAC biscuits – as we learnt they were called- had a lovely familiar flavour of coconut, brown sugar that tasted like jaggery and butter that reminded us of the roasted aroma of homemade ghee!
We would find out that ANZAC biscuits are tough, hardy and nutritious biscuits that the wives and mothers of soldiers in the ANZAC corps baked to send to their sons and husbands. These biscuits had a long shelf life and gave the much-required sustenance to troops in the tough Turkish battlefront. The biscuits also fed the brave men serving their nations in an inclement land with sweet memories of home and hearth.
“These biscuits taste like your “policha laadu” Mum,” said the girls, as we opened pack after two-biscuit handy pack and discarded the buttery choc chip ones for this delightfully brittle bikkie.
“Yes, the “policha laadu” that Aaji used to make for my tiffin dabba!”, said I, remembering the delicious, nutritious and convenient sweet laddus made with fresh or stale chapatis, home made ghee, gur, poppy seeds, cardamom and coconut.
Brave soldier-settlers on their first day in this new world, we clutched to this relic of the past we had left behind, and instantly felt at home.
I made these biscuits to commemorate ANZAC Day this year- in memory of all those who laid their lives for the country and continue to do so.
And to relive and remember all the battles we fought and lost and won in making a place for ourselves in this country- our home.
The recipe is classic ANZAC, except for the almond meal, cardamom, nutmeg and poppy seeds!
2 cups plain flour
2 cups rolled oats
1½ cups brown sugar
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup desiccated coconut (or more)
½ cup almond meal
1 tbsp white poppy seeds
1 tsp crushed cardamom
½ tsp powdered nutmeg
1 tsp salt
250 gms unsalted butter
4 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp boiling water
1 ½ tsp and a pinch baking soda
Sift flour into a bowl and stir in oats, coconut and sugar. Melt butter and golden syrup in a deep saucepan. Mix the boiling water and baking soda in a cup and add to the melted butter and golden syrup mixture while it is still hot. The minute you add this, the butter mixture will froth up. Mix through the froth gently with a spoon. Pour this wet mixture into the flour mixture and when slightly cool, mix it with hand.
Place rounded teaspoons of the mixture 5cm apart on greased baking trays lined with baking sheets. Alternately, roll a ball of the crumbly dough between two baking sheets till you get a sheet 1 cm thick. Cut out heart shaped or star shaped cookies and place them on the paper-lined tray.
Bake the biscuits at 150°C for about 20 minutes or until the biscuits feel almost firm. Remove from trays with spatula and leave to cool on wire racks.
Store in an airtight container.