Back in Pennsylvania, when people learn that Graeme is from Oz, they assail him with questions about all things Australian.
One of the most common topics about which people ask is the wildlife, namely, the kangaroo.
Have you seen them in the wild? Do they roam through your neighborhoods? Are they a menace on the roads?
They must be common like deer is the typical assumption. This morning, I am going to address this comparison.
Before I do, I'll clarify a few details for those readers who may not be familiar with the wildlife of southeastern Pennsylvania.
Deer are medium-sized land mammals that typically live in forests. They are herbivores, and they enjoy a variety of plants from wild berries to petunias. The white-tailed deer is the official state animal of Pennsylvania, where it is hunted for its meat, called venison. In New Zealand, deer are farmed for this meat. In Japan, they are protected for their legendary role in bearing a god to guard the temple in Heijo-kyo.
The white-tail population in Pennsylvania is massive. In the Philadelphia region alone, there are some 1.5 million. As more and more of our farms are converted to housing developments, deer spottings have become more and more common. It is not unusual to see a herd of 5-35 crossing a road
or grazing in a field
or passing through the backyard, as these two were one June afternoon.
Their eyes glint in our headlights as we careen down the road at 45 mph, and our hearts race. They wander across our yards, and, as long as they keep away from the daffodils, we smile.
As the deer is a sort of icon of southeastern Pennsylvania, so is the kangaroo of Australia. Nonetheless, Bambi ≠ Skippy.
Although one may see the occasional roadkill on the open road in the country, kangaroo sightings are unusual. When one does see them out in the wild, it is a real treat.
I enjoyed said treat in 2007. Graeme and I were visiting with friends of his who had heard of several sightings by a reservoir not far from their home. We hopped in the car with Andrew, Jacqui and their three kids and drove about twenty minutes when we saw this:
When Jai, who was three at the time, shouted in excitement, the roos bounded up the hill and took off across the ridge.
We were with these friends again Friday night, for the first time in 16 months. There were hugs all around and double and triple-takes when we saw how the kids had grown in the last year. As we sat around the table, chatting about the present and recollecting the past, we looked back on that day. They had never seen anything like it, they had said three years ago, and they haven't seen it since, they said that night.
Now, while kangaroo sightings are uncommon in the wild, they are not so on the plate.
Kangaroo fillet (the -et should be articulated) is an Australian specialty, and it is prepared both in homes and in restaurants. Like venison, it is lean and can be a bit gamey.
Still on the family-visit part of our trip, we met Wayne (Graeme's brother) and Jan, their daughter Renee and her two kids, Noah and Ethan, for dinner, or tea as they call it here, at the Victoria Hotel on Thursday night, where I sampled kangaroo for the first time.
Toasty warm and comfy in my seat by the fire, I enjoyed char-grilled kangaroo on a bed of sweet potato crips and baby spinach, drizzled with a wild berry glaze. Medium-rare, thanks.
A bit gamey, but milder in flavor than I expected, the kangaroo was a little chewy and not as rich in flavor as beef. The sweetness of the berry glaze was a nice contrast to the roo's subtle flavor. All in all, it was a good meal. I would certainly order it again.
In fact, I already have. Last night, we zipped out to Vili's for a quick meal with a former piano student of Graeme's. Keeping my promise, I ordered the Kangaroo Bushman.
The verdict: eh.
I assumed the kangaroo pie would be just like the beef, just with different meat, but the gravy was sweet not savory, and in addition to kangaroo, the pie was filled with diced potato and ham.
It was alright, but I'll stick with the beef pie from now on.
So, for the record, as I sit here in Cibo's this morning, sipping my coffee, I don't expect to see a kangaroo bounce by, but if I go out for tea tonight, I wouldn't be surprised to find one on the menu. And I just might order it.