Would you like some Vegemite with that?
Three days into our US trip and a last-minute decision to toss a tube of Vegemite into my handbag was paying off. After flat-out refusal from our junior travellers to eat anything that Qantas bestowed upon them, they should have ravenously devoured whatever was set in front of them stateside. Not so. The supposed special treat, room-service delivery of unfamiliar fare, gave way to tantrums, tears and rejections. For the next couple of nights, it was much easier (and cheaper) to give in to a bread roll smeared with the familiar taste of home.
Transferring through to New York, nerves were tested and breath held at Dallas/Fort Worth airport when the carry-on bag went back and forth through the scanner several times, the officials staring into its packed depths before plucking out the yellow-and-red squeezy tube. Gloves were donned, swabs produced and a sample analysed for its potential to cause a disaster. Results? Salt and yeast. We were good to go.
On day five, we hit small-town New England, discovered the diner and mealtimes became a whole lot more pleasant for everyone. Pumpkin pancakes with maple syrup? Check. Bacon and egg sandwiches? Check. Milehigh apple pie? Check. Throw in a Reuben sandwich and a Cobb salad and all family members were happy.
Lou’s Diner in Hanover, New Hampshire, got a double thumbs-up from the little folk for supplying Wikkistix, which are small plastic-coated pieces of wire, similar to pipe-cleaners, that can be twisted and bent into all sorts of creations. Our two spent half an hour happily fashioning spectacles for each other and chuckling madly at their reflections in the mirror-covered walls. Adding to the hilarity at the table, our waitress gave us that classic American rundown of multiple salad dressing choices (I counted 12) without drawing breath. Impossible to absorb that level of information while trying to keep a straight face, I wimped out and opted for a simple vinaigrette.
Meandering through the back roads of Vermont, our collective sugar fix was suddenly well catered for with all things maple. The small vat of syrup we purchased to take home was scoffed within days and on a necessary repeat visit to the Morse Maple Sugarworks Farm, just outside Montpelier, we came out with maple butter, maple toffees and the most scrumptious of all soft-serves, the “maple cremee”.
In New York, street food became the order of the day. We couldn’t walk a block without the children begging for hot dogs, hot nuts or pretzels. The lunchbox of carrotstick snacks I prepared each morning got harder and harder to sell to the troops who had firmly decided that while in New York, eating happened on the run with food preferably purchased from a cart. But they did make an exception and actually sat down for lunch on our last day for tasty hamburgers that were well worth the table queue at Central Park’s iconic Loeb Boathouse Cafe.
Preparing for the trip home, I cleared my handbag of the guff generated from a month of road-tripping with small children. Right at the bottom, adhered to a Dunkin’ Donuts serviette, the Vegemite reappeared for the first time in weeks. Its familiar yellow-and-red packaging felt somewhat reassuring. I asked the six-year-old what he was most looking forward to about going back to school. “My old favourite lunches,” he replied. That would be cheese and Vegemite sandwiches on “normal” bread.
Street food vendor in New York, left