Bastille Day in New Zealand

Bastille Day at Clos Henri

We went to a local winery who was celebrating Bastille Day (a few days early) called Clos Henri. According to Wikipedia (because I didn’t pay attention in history class), Bastille Day Commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, and the unity of the French people at the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790.

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People stood in line, salivating at the smells coming from the food truck, while others warmed up with some coffee as the French music played in the background. The era of the music sounded like it could’ve been coming from an old phonograph. Images danced in my head of a mad butcher chopping up his meal while laughing maniacally. It set the scene for what was yet to be found around the grounds.

A huge sow easily dug up the top of the grass with her nose, unable to find much to eat, occasionally being handed a half ear of corn from her keeper.

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Watch out, kid…you  might be next!

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As I sampled some of their Sauv, the man explained that the two types (clay side and rocky side) were divided by the fault line. Even though they weren’t far from one another, the taste was quite different (I liked the rocky side best).

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There was a local honey producer on site with a small display of bees and some samples of yummy manuka honey…the good stuff! I’ve mentioned before about manuka honey and it being some of the most expensive type of honey available due to its medicinal qualities. Two little girls pointed out the queen to me, with a blue spot painted on her back.
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Another interesting sight was this fake guillotine. Nice backdrop though, if you really had to go this way!IMG_4668

Although it was chilly and we left right before the rain hit, it was a nice experience and we didn’t lose our heads (helpful when needing to drive home).

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The Foods of New Zealand

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THE yummiest seafood chowder I’ve ever had at Dodson’s Pub in Blenheim

I had been asked to do a post on the foods of New Zealand a while back and I finally got inspired to do one today! I’ll preface this by saying that NZ is not known for its cuisine and the prospect of going out to eat is a bit underwhelming. Here, you won’t find your plate spilling over with food as you do in the U.S., nor do you EVER get a free starter to munch on while waiting for your main to appear. More often than not, in the starter section of the menu you can find bread on offer for around $6 to $10 USD. Wow…I know. We’re used to getting it free, aren’t we? I will say that recently I had one of the best seafood chowders in my LIFE (pictured above) that had fish, mussels and I believe clams (which are few and far between here). It came with two slices of bread and cost $13 USD.

Carrots in wintertime
Carrots in wintertime

But I’m not going to talk about restaurant food today. It’s about what you’ll find in the homes and on dinner tables of the locals. The one great thing about being here is that a lot of folks grow their own fruits and veggies. I love being able to do this. It’s not only therapeutic, but it also saves money on the sometimes very expensive produce at the store, plus you know it’s ‘clean’ and chemical free.  I’ve just planted cauliflower, carrots, celery, spring onions and more lettuce. I’m pretty sure these should be cold weather veggies, as I recall still being able to pull carrots and cut off broccoli down in Middlemarch in the dead of winter.

I’ll categorize these and try to include photos where I can. I figured one of the best places to find some were in the grocery store flyers that seem to appear about 18 times a day in my mailbox. So here we go!

Breakfast Foods

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Ahh the good ole Vegemite! Can’t say I’ve actually tried it, nor do I have any intention to. You’ll find it in almost every home here and they spread it on toast or plain bread. Somehow, “concentrated yeast extract” just doesn’t scream out EAT ME!! But hey, they seem to love it.

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I’m constantly amused by how cereals we know and love back home are named something completely different here. Rice Krispies are Rice Bubbles and Raisin Bran is Sultana Bran. You say “raisin” here and people just look at you funny. As I had eluded to in a previous post, the cereal aisles here are dismal. You can find Fruit Loops (at a premium) and Coco Puffs, Special K, Cheerios (but they taste nothing like the ones we have in the U.S.) then a bunch of other healthy type cereals I have no interest in. Which brings me to Weet Bix.

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These are weird. They’re compacted, dry, crumbly bars that turn to mush immediately once milk is added. You see these in just about every household too. They now have different kinds and this has to be THE most popular cereal (as the blurb on the box suggests) I’ve ever seen here.

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I’ll add in honey here since it’s also used on toast for breakfast sometimes. Back when I first arrived in NZ, I was introduced to creamed honey. I fell in love immediately. I wanted to take this bottle to my room and eat it all to myself. It’s basically honey whipped full of air and it is simply amazing. Manuka honey is also popular here which comes from the nectar of the manuka tree. It can be found in different price ranges from around $8NZ to $150NZ for a small jar. It has been used as a hospital grade product for combating nasty infections that can’t be healed by traditional medicine. There have been reports here recently of people stealing beehives that are known to produce manuka honey. It doesn’t taste that much different, but the properties of it are what make people nuts for it.

Fruits & Veggies

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Kiwi. There are a couple types here, the green and the golden. Always plentiful and delicious, packed full of vitamin C and other goodies your body craves. The golden kiwi are a bit sweeter and also more expensive. Kiwi’s grow on vines and you’ll see them set up like a grape vineyard, just a lot taller. I recently did a YouTube video discussing feijoa, kiwi berry and kiwi’s if you’re interested in watching it here.

Feijoa
Feijoa

Speaking of the feijoa, we have a tree bursting with them currently. They look like tiny avocados and have the texture of a pear. Very sweet smelling and easy to eat, they’re a nice sweet treat any time of the day.

Then you have the usual suspects…mandarin, orange, grapefruit, apple, strawberry, cherry, pear, plum, peach, lemon and sometimes lime. Our mandarins are starting to ripen now and we have a bumper crop!

 

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On the veggie side, one of the first things that comes to mind are beetroots.They seem to be used in almost everything here. A strange little root here is called a kumara. First time I saw them was down in Middlemarch sitting in a metal bowl on the floor in a back room. They looked like little red bumpy carrots and I had no idea what they were. Can’t say I’ve ever tried them but they seem to be popular. They call zucchini “courgettes” and refer to broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower as brassicas (which technically is the scientific grouping of cruciferous veggies).

Prices vary during the year for things like tomatoes, which can reach $17 USD a kilo in the winter. This is when I become unhappy. Fruits skyrocket (might as well buy frozen) and I feel like scurvy is starting to set in.

Meat

I always get depressed when I go to the meat department. It’s still hard for me to convert NZD to USD on the fly so when I see a steak is $15, I scrunch up my nose and envision money flying out of my wallet. That translates to $10.32 USD which is still highway robbery. I’ve NEVER had a filet mignon here simply because two tiny ones…and I mean fit in the palm of your hand, cost about $17 USD. Meat is not a good subject for me which is now why I see sausages as being so popular here. I’m lucky enough to get chorizo here but don’t eat it very often.

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And by the way, hot dogs are a no-go here. You can find what they call “American hot dogs” packaged like they do above, but they look even creepier than the ones back home. They do a LOT of sausage sizzles outside of hardware stores or for fundraisers which include grilled onions if you want them, wrapped in a slice of white bread with either BBQ sauce or tomato sauce (NOT ketchup) for about $1.75 USD.

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PIES! Oh god…the pies. You’ll find these in every bakery, grocery store, gas station and the likes. Finding GOOD ones though is the challenge. You get to know where they are eventually, but a lot of the time it’s goopy filler and yucky crust. These are savoury pies, not fruit pies. Most of the choices go something like this: steak, steak & mushroom, steak & cheese, pepper steak, lamb, vegetable, chicken, pork. We have a little place that’s wildly popular on Saturday that sells jerk chicken pies. People come from miles to get them. They have a really nice steak and bleu cheese too. Those cost about $4USD and are a bargain considering how filling they are. I can eat one for lunch and not be hungry for 7 hours.IMG_3981

New Zealand is known for its lamb, but seriously, how could someone eat something that darling!?!? Not me! I don’t even want to talk about it.

I made the mistake once of buying corned beef without actually knowing what it was. I was looking for a normal beef roast and couldn’t find one but there were a TON of these silverside roasts. They weren’t exactly cheap either, so I went with it. Threw it in the crockpot and waited all day. Only to find it saltier than the dead sea. Learned my lesson. I actually did find a beef roast the other day which set me back around $11 USD and was only enough for 1.5 meals. It’s a splurge.

Seafood

You’d think that being an island in the middle of nowhere, we’d have a wide selection of seafood, right? Wrong. I’m a die hard shrimp fan (or prawn, as they call it here) along with scallops and even a crab now and then. I have never seen shr…errr…prawn come out of NZ. EVER. It’s all from Australia or Asia and it’s expensive. AND they always have the head on so you’re paying for something you just throw to the cats. I’m completely over it and rarely buy it. Scallops are crazy pathetic. The “sea” scallops aren’t much larger than bay scallops and they always come with the roe attached and are also expensive.

You want fish or mussels? You came to the right place. During the summer, whitebait is really popular. These are tiny silver fish that are only used in patties and eaten whole. People go nuts for them here. I’ve seen them frozen in blocks all stuck together and they have cute little blue eyes. Sniff.

You can find mussel shells scattered all over the beaches here. Matter of fact, I have some shells at my feet. They are HUGE! No, I’m not at the beach. Don’t ask why they’re in my living room.

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There are different kinds, green lipped (which are smaller) and these (no idea what they’re called). You can also find scallop shells, but not in the same numbers as these.

I buy breaded frozen fish because it’s affordable and actually very good. It’s usually Hoki which is a nice white flaky fish or Tarakihi. You can also find Gurnard and Cod…all good. Fish and chips obviously is the thing here with a lot of takeout shops wrapping it up in butcher paper. Unfortunately you are charged for very tiny packets of tartar (tartare here) sauce or tomato sauce (still no ketchup) and you’ll be lucky if they throw in a lemon wedge or two. But it’s extremely filling, rarely being able to polish off those fries (chips).

Desserts

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Marcel’s Bakery in Nelson

Last, but not least we come to the sweet section of New Zealand food…DESSERTS! I’m not exaggerating when I say there are at least 2 bakeries on every corner of any given town. If memory serves me correctly, I’d say there are at least 15 in my little town which includes coffee shops because they all have cases with bakery items in them.

You’ll always find “slices” which are basically some type of bar such as lemon curd, caramel, brownie and jam types. Dangerous little things. Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a bakery freak. I dream about them, I frequent them and I drool over pictures of them. However, since coming to NZ, I’ve learned to just feed my eyes instead of my stomach. It ain’t easy, but my waistline thanks me. I rarely treat myself to anything anymore but I do pop in to take a good long look at what’s potentially available.

Pavlova
Pavlova

One of the most popular desserts here is Pavlova. It’s a meringue type cake that has different toppings on it (kiwi is usually present). It’s very light being that it’s whipped egg whites and crunchy. One slice is never enough. I think this particular pavlova was devoured in one sitting during Father’s Day down in Middlemarch when I was on the sheep farm. Very popular for Christmas also.

So that about wraps it up. Hopefully this gave you some insight as to what New Zealand food is like. Curry and Thai food is popular here as well and I’ve started making more of it at home because it’s really good. If anything, the lack of exciting food has taken me on more adventurous routes to different cuisines. Oh, you also won’t find Mexican or BBQ here which is a serious bummer for me. I’ll re-emphasize that you folks in America have it really good, so don’t forget it!!

 

Year Three

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Well here I am, at my three year anniversary since leaving Texas and my old life behind. I recall lying in bed in Costa Rica the first night I was there wondering how long I would last. At that time, I only planned one year ahead. I knew I wouldn’t give up for at least a year, but where I would actually be was anyone’s guess. If I would have had a crystal ball and saw that three years later I would be living in New Zealand, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Yet, here I am, no longer moving every couple of weeks — comfortable and happy.

It’s Easter here today, but you wouldn’t have known it. I’ve been out in the vineyards before harvest takes place, trying to catch a last glimpse of the grapes. The leaves are starting to change color which makes for some fantastic photos. I hope you enjoy them and thanks again to everyone who still supports what I’m doing!

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Tuatara Heaven in Wellington

Wellington from the top of the cable car ride
Wellington from the top of the cable car ride

In keeping with tradition of taking a vacation after a vacation, we took a trip to Wellington after I got back from California. By the way, my feet still ache a week later while writing this. Walking 15 miles in one day wasn’t what most people would typically consider a vacation. The most depressing part is that it only burned about 1000 calories. But I digress…

I really liked Wellington last time we were there and didn’t get around to seeing a few things like Zealandia and the botanical gardens. We took the (far too long) trip by ferry boat across the Strait with me turning slightly green again. We had a nice hotel room across town from where we were last time and it was in a great location for shopping and restaurants.

Zealandia was at the top of the list of places to see, so we took the cable car up the hill (which I’d never done before) and thought we’d take the shuttle to Zealandia. This is where the REAL walking all started. It would be a 30 minute wait but we could walk there in 25, so we opted to do that. In hindsight that was great because there was a German bakery along the way I visited TWICE.

Top of the hill
Top of the hill

The cable car was $7.50 for a return ticket and had four stops. I never realized Wellington was so hilly until this trip. All I’m saying is that it’s worth the money. Plus you go through this psychedelic Willy Wonka tunnel which is almost worth the price of admission alone.

9:30 was a good time to get to Zealandia before the buses and people arrived. This is a large sanctuary where they protect native wildlife from predators. If you recall the place I went in the Sounds called Kaipupu, they had built a fence to protect the birds. Zealandia built a fence too and here you can see kiwi, tuatara, takahe, cuckoo cormorants, geckoes as well as a weird owl called a Morepork! I saw more birds here than I have anywhere in New Zealand.

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Looks like his head is in the clouds

We hit the trail first and came across this feeding station which had Kaka birds…I’d never seen them in person before. They’re a cousin to the Kea parrots and were extinct in Wellington since the early 20th century until they were brought to Zealandia in 2002.

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As we walked the main trail, I couldn’t help but scamper toward the suspension bridge. There seem to be a lot of them in New Zealand and I’ve gotten over my fear of walking across them. Even when some wise guy decides to swing it from side to side.

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As we walked back to the entrance, we noticed a group with a guide peering over the fence into the bush. Finally catching on that the big cartoon pictures of tuararas stuck to the side meant there were probably some sitting on the ground, I was like a 3 year old again. It was the first time I’d seen tuatara in the “wild” even though this technically was fenced in.

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Such beautiful little faces! But then you look at one head on and you’re reminded of a Welsh Korgi with its too fat legs and feet. Something just doesn’t look quite right. Reminds me of some bad sand sculptures I’ve done of iguanas.

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But hey, I still love them and saw at least 8 of them. This little hippy chick caught my eye (they were all tagged):

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Can you find the little tuatara in this next photo? Click on it to enlarge.

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Where’s the tuatara?

If you guessed top middle you were right! I’m surprised I saw it at all! Wonder how many we missed that day.

Since the botanical garden was right next to the cable car, we decided to visit it instead of coming back the next day. Huge mistake. We had a lapse of judgement and decided to walk back to the cable car instead of waiting for the shuttle once again. This was when the second stop at the German bakery occurred; this time getting lunch to take to the garden. We were practically crawling by the time we got there and found a bench to sit on to eat. We both kicked our shoes off and complained like children in the back of a station wagon as we stuffed our faces.

You want to talk hilly? The gardens were nothing BUT very steep, knee scraping kind of hills. It took about two nanoseconds to decide today was not the day and tomorrow was not looking good either. Therefore, I have nothing to report about the gardens unfortunately.

After nursing our feet back from the dead, we went on a relaxing sailboat cruise around the harbour the next morning which was great. The weather had been perfect during our stay. The sun was shining and the wind was just right to put up the sails.

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Wellington from the harbour
Wellington from the harbour

We didn’t see any sea critters, but it was nice to get some sun and NOT be walking. Afterward, we were attracted by the colorful flags and crowds of people along the waterfront. There was some competition between schools and they were asking for the crowd to vote on the best team.

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Speaking of colorful, have you ever used a Gaytm before?

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And so another vacation comes to a close. It was great fun and we got plenty of exercise. I promise to do the botanical gardens next time!

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