What a fun few hours I have just had at the American Embassy here in Canberra. It was a privilege to be invited to do some social media coverage of the embassy’s annual Independence Day celebrations. There was a bewildering smorgasbord of things to see, eat and do. My head was spinning the entire time; not spinning so much, however, that I didn’t enjoy myself. I am not usually a blow-by-blow person, but today I think I may go the blow-by-blow route. I want to remember everything. First of all, it was freezing in Canberra today. When I arrived at the US embassy at 10:30 this morning, the mist was still swirling low and thick around us. I really do need to invest in those mittens keep your fingers cozy, yet still allow you to use your touch-phone. The security check went well, only the zipper in my boots set off the alarm. Phew! Even though I know I don’t carry dangerous stuff in my bag, those security checks make me perspire a little.
We were ushered in and given this fantastic book plus a run sheet of the day.
We followed our hosts into the large tent where we familiarized ourselves with the fenced-off press area, the place we would stand during the official part of the day.
While we were there the ambassador, John Berry came over to meet US Pacific Fleet Band who came to play for everyone all the way from Hawaii!!! They were very good.
Mr Berry also stopped to greet the those who were providing our drinks.
We, the photography crew were then ushered into the large embassy kitchen where Chef Tory McPhail was plating up some tasting spoons full of Spicy mustard and root beer pork belly. Turns out the tasting spoons were for us. The flavours were piquant: sweet and smoky, salty with some tangy heat behind it. The pork belly itself was tender and succulent.
The food of New Orleans and Louisiana is ‘the only indigenous food in the North America’, Tory told us as he worked. This cuisine is also the pioneer of fusion food. I had thought I tasted some echoes of my African childhood in that spoon of spicy pork belly, so I believe him.
Tory is passionate about changing how we perceive American food. He wants visitors to think beyond our preconceived ideas about the US being all about greasy fast food. His desire is for us to experience the fresh, culture-rich flavours that have always existed in authentic American cuisine. His restaurant Commander’s Palace in New Orleans is all about farm to table. He only sources ingredients from the most immediately local farmers.
After hearing him talk with such passion about his state, Louisiana and about slow food, I am more determined than ever to go to New Orleans. Tory was just getting his mini Peach Pies ready as we finished up our time with him. These are made from fresh American peaches, I believe.
I couldn’t stop to enjoy one just yet, so I asked Steve if I could take a photo of his peach pie. He obliged me by blowing some of the icing sugar off it. More about Steve later.
The hot dog and hamburger stands were up and running and came with a table full of all the fixings:
I found myself staring at people’s hands, keen to see what they were putting on their hotdogs. Yes, I was beginning to salivate.
All sorts of drinks were on offer also. I forgot to drink anything! Too much to do.
Our run sheet told us that there were 10 minutes before we needed to be assembled for the official proceedings. But we hadn’t had any GUMBO and everyone else was walking around with steaming cups of it. There was nothing for it. We joined the line, which was fast moving; thankfully. Tash and Jenny served us up our gumbo in a flash.
My first taste of gumbo. Chicken and fresh mushroom gumbo to be exact. This phone-pic does not do it any kind of justice. I probably should have asked for someone to plate me up a nice bowl of it! 🙂 What did it taste like? Peppery but not over spiced, I could taste the ‘holy trinity’ of Cajun cooking (celery, onion and capsicum) in there. The mushrooms were plump and juicy, the chicken pieces- morsels of juicy spicy goodness This taste sensation was 3 days in the making. I was so thankful to have tasted it!
We skidded into place in the ‘media scrum’ (OK, not really a scrum, but for a few moments it felt a bit scrummy) just in the nick of time, still slurping spoonfuls of our gumbo.
My position in the media scrum was in the front line. Yay!
But because of all the massive TV cameras behind me, I felt I should sit low down to stay out of their way.
Hence, my vantage point was pretty much looking up at the people standing on the podium in a less than flattering way. But, front line in the media scrum. How cool is that? The Chair of the event introduced us to the Ambassador John Berry and his partner Curtis Yee. Visiting Congressman Rohrabacher and Congressman Engel were also welcomed.
The US Marine Corps Color Guard marched in to drumming from the US Pacific Fleet Band. I had no clue at the time what a Marine Corps Color Guard is, and you may not either. It is a group of 4 marines, 2 who carry the Marine corps colors and 2 bearing rifles. Their presence and participation in formal gatherings of this nature is a nod of respect to those who have and those who do serve to protect and defend their country. This is my view of the Marines. See what I mean by my vantage point? I got this one a little later.
The Australian National Anthem was sung, followed by The Star Spangled Banner. The US Marine Corps Color Guard then marched out…
…and the Ambassador came up to give an address. He is articulate. funny and just so very engaging. He spoke about how far America has come as far as human rights. He also spoke warmly of America’s relationship with Australia.
Mr Cutis Yee and Mr David Johnston, the Minister for Defence.
A fellow scrummer:
David Johnston, the Minister for Defence, then made a short speech. The rapport and friendship between himself and the Ambassador is obvious.
And with that the formalities were done! As the crowds dispersed to do more eating and playing, the Ambassador and Mr Yee began greeting many of their guests. I took some photos of this….
…then I skedaddled to the play area.
Yes, there was fun stuff for the adults to do!! Activities to warm our bones! Places to get some friendly competition going. Golf Australia had this electronic gadget that observes your golf swing and then spits out feedback about it. Tony, a National golf coach was also on hand to give tips. It looked like fun but the line was too long for me.
AFL’s GWS Giants had a fun activity where you had to kick the ball into Holes 1, 2 or 3. It took me about 18 kicks but I was determined to stay there till I got that darned ornery ball in one of the holes!!!
I was all for trying the batting range where, the man running it told me, the simulated pitcher actually pitches a ball at you at, I believe he said: 90km/hour. This was way too fast for my reflexes, so I just took photos of others having a go.
My cold bones reminded me that we had been informed that the bottom floor of the Embassy was opened for viewing. I wanted to take a few photos of the interior and warm my fingers. First, I took a couple moments to enjoy a hotdog with the lot:
…a couple of these lemony shortbreads:
…one of Tory’s American Peach pies:
…and finally more than one of these divine red devil cupcakes:
…….then it was time to go see inside the Embassy! It is a lovely simple space. Actually, it made me want to go home and first clean my house and then minimalize. These photos do not do it any kind of justice.
The time had simply flown by. I really thought the celebration would be a little too overwhelming and that probably after all the official things, I might have skulked off home. But in reality, they had to kick me out! I was still there 35 minutes after the function had officially closed. That is a record from this introvert. As I left, I paused to photograph a couple of cars for Steve Dascorolis ( you met him earlier, blowing icing sugar off his peach pie) of the American Car Club of Australia. This fold car is Steve’s car.
Chic Henry, Summernats legend had me photograph his car also. 🙂
Ambassador John Berry, Mr Curtis Yee, Tory McPhail and all your hardworking staff, thanks so much for a top Independence Day Celebration! I had the best time.0