What the Heck is a Persimmon?

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Just a quick post about persimmons as it’s been awhile since I’ve talked about food here. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a persimmon before. It was one of those fruits that didn’t scream out ‘Eat Me!’ and I didn’t want to pay too much to take the chance on it. I was in an op shop the other day and they had a couple of baskets full marked 3 for $1, so I figured now was the time.

I asked one of the ladies what they tasted like and even she wasn’t too sure. Another woman wandered into earshot so we asked her. She said they were sort of sweet and you could eat them skin and all. She claimed some people liked them soft, while she liked them a bit harder, with a crunch. I purchased them and they’ve been sitting on my counter ever since.

They look like a tomato, with a lighter orange colour and they feel a bit dense. I see that they’re grown in the U.S. but even there, they somehow evaded my grocery basket. Feeling a bit peckish, with nothing much to eat here, I decided the time has come to find out what these persimmons were all about.

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I cut into it vertically (not knowing the correct way) and was a bit disappointed to see that looked like a tomato, minus the seeds and pulp. I cut a sliver off like you do an apple and took a bite. Meh…nothing spectacular. I had expected it to be sweeter and have a more distinct flavour. What I got out of it was a softer crunch than an apple and then tried to pinpoint what it tasted like. I’m getting mild cantaloupe and maybe a tiny bit of carrot with a hint of that dryness in your mouth you’d get if you bit into a banana peel. new zealand persimmons

This was about the time I went to Google to see where these things were grown and that’s when I realized I cut into it the wrong way! Slicing it horizontally yielded a cool design, but still no seeds. They must be in there somewhere. Google again. Turns out some have big black seeds and some don’t! There is even a way to predict winter weather according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac:

Cut open a persimmon seed. (Find persimmon fruit in your supermarket. It should be locally-grown to reflect your weather.)

Look at the shape of the kernel inside.

  • If the kernel is spoon-shaped, lots of heavy, wet snow will fall. Spoon = shovel!
  • If it is fork-shaped, you can expect powdery, light snow and a mild winter.
  • If the kernel is knife-shaped, expect to be “cut” by icy, cutting winds.

Well, winter just started here yesterday so I guess there’s no chance in predicting what will happen by looking at my persimmons. Maybe a lack of any seeds means it’ll be warm. Hah…probably not a chance of that happening!

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Another Summer Christmas

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Christmas Lilies

It’s been an interesting month since the earthquake. We had thousands of aftershocks and when it finally started calming down, there were about 5 noticeable shakes yesterday registering 5.5 or lower and one on Christmas morning. A few days after the big quake in November, I finally gained residency! It was a huge relief without much of a plan B in place for what I’d do had I not gotten it. I can officially call New Zealand “home” now and am happy to be here.

I can’t say that I’ve gotten used to being warm on Christmas or having the flowers and veggies starting to grow. My neighbour gave me a couple of stems from her Christmas lilies and img_0425proclaimed, “Now your house will smell like Christmas!” Well who would’ve thought anyone would associate lilies with Christmas instead of pine trees? I love the smell of lilies so I proudly displayed them as Andy sneezed and complained they stunk. She also gifted me at least a pound of fresh, large strawberries from her garden…the best I’ve ever had. The woman has a talent when it comes to growing.

My strawberries are now going through a growth spurt and are getting bigger leaves and flowers. They’re sweet and juicy and I love picking them while perusing the garden, still warm from the sun. The raspberries are also taking off and I’ve put baby mantises on them as well as on top of the flowering celery where flying bugs go wild. I hope to give the babies a head start on life and find them flourishing in the yard by the end of summer. I estimate that there were well over 800 babies born in this yard alone!

Baby mantis on the raspberry bush
Baby mantis on the raspberry bush

The tomatoes I started growing over a month ago have gotten huge and one is finally turning orange. I’ll have a bumper crop, ending up giving most of them away. The strawberries near them are also getting large.

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The first bell pepper (or capsicum as they call it here) of the season is doing great! I have used seeds from one I bought at the store to make more. I’ve also got a red chili plant and am starting to grow jalapenos which are very expensive and rare here.

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As an interesting aside about the  major quake, I read that all non-fruiting vegetables immediately went to seed. Thinking they were under attack from the violent shaking, it was their way of making sure the next generation survived. Plants are so amazing!

My freaky cauliflower bloomed and I harvested it the other day. To me, it tasted nothing like cauliflower but it wasn’t bad. I grew it because I wanted to have something different. The first time I saw one was in California and was amazed there were actually plants in the nursery here, so I grabbed some.

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The red grapes are slowly making their way to maturity and I also found that we have some cherry plum trees across the street! I’d never noticed or heard of them before. A mix between, you guessed it, a cherry and a plum produces a large cherry looking fruit that tastes like a plum. The pit and flesh is just like a plum with a slightly sour skin. They’re a bit mushy when red, but hey…they’re free!!New Zealand cherry plum

My other neighbour enlightened me to loganberries…a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. They often have a banana taste to them which blows my mind. They’re great in cereal! She had a huge crop and is more than happy to share those along with the lemons on her hundred year old tree.

New Zealand cherry plum loganberries
Cherry plums & loganberries

The feijoa tree has been blooming with gorgeous little flowers that remind me a lot of the pohutukawa tree blossoms, popular along the coastlines during summer. Lots of yummy feijoas on the way!

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In other news around the yard, the calla lilies I also didn’t know about last year made an appearance….the most beautiful colour ever! A light purple mixed with cream and light green. I’m so fortunate to have them!

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purple calla lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was lucky enough to find an Angel Trumpet at the garden center too! These remind me of Central America, as they’re all over the place there. So majestic and beautiful, their aroma is strongest at night.

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For a very brief few weeks, a beautiful bunch of flowers appeared from out of nowhere with the most intricate petals. It reminded me of a swan.

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Another unexpected surprise was the appearance of a hedgehog living under the house! The dog alerted us to it one night by scratching and barking at the back step. I shined a flashlight in there and saw a bunch of quills so that was exciting! Apparently the hog was out before dark in the yard and the dog had a go at it. I have no idea how he manages to keep it in his mouth. The quills are very sharp and I came out to find him or her in the typical ball, waiting for things to calm down. I waited patiently and it finally uncurled and crawled back to the safety of the house. They are a great addition to the garden, eating slugs, creepy crawlies, grubs and other pests. As my mother said, “Your garden is magical!”

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My garden where I find hedgehog digging spots
My garden where I find hedgehog digging spots

Another trip to Pollard Park found the roses in full bloom (over 800 different bushes!) and some wild blue flowers that looked fake coming off of a large succulent.

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Gigantic roses

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Tequila Sunrise roses
Tequila Sunrise roses

I have no idea where they come up with rose names but a lot had to do with drinks like Hot Chocolate, Raspberry Ice and this Tequila Sunrise.

 

 

 

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These zinnias and lilies were happy in the sun!

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It’s amazing the work that goes into making these huge flower beds in the park. This time it was for The Lions Club.

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It’s been nice to have over 15 hours of daylight but the weather continues to be unpredictable. We actually had to start the fire yesterday afternoon! It’s time to get in some exercise after many, MANY months of hibernation! I hope everyone has a great new year and that America’s new leader will make a change for the better.

 

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!!

 

California….FINALLY

When I think of California, this is what I picture
When I think of California, this is what I picture

I took a little trip back to the states for a month and finally got to see California for the first time. I stayed with my BFF in Pebble Beach so I was living the good life! They recently purchased a home off of the famous 17 Mile Drive and close to the ocean, so I’m glad I got to see it and help around the yard.

The "Gingerbread House" in Pebble Beach for rent
The “Gingerbread House” in Pebble Beach for rent

Like New Zealand, California is also known for its wine production and we visited MANY tasting rooms and a few vineyards. I couldn’t help but notice a some similarities in the coastlines and the flora. There were a lot of those creepy trees I love so much as well as the same types of flowers and bushes.

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I was also lucky enough to go to the Monterey aquarium a couple of times and got in plenty of shopping (my downfall). We also hit up Big Sur and ate lots of great food in the time I was there. I’m happy to say I fulfilled my requirements for seafood, Mexican and BBQ and some stuff I had forgotten about like this cheese steak sandwich!

Mmmm Philly cheese steak!
Mmmm Philly cheese steak!

Some of the first places they took me were to the wharf and Cannery Row. I was overwhelmed with all of the free clam chowder being sampled along the walk and took advantage of just about all of them. THAT was something I hadn’t had in a while. The gigantic crab legs were hard to miss as well.

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We saw these great little squid air plants and I made a friend in the gift shop.

Squid air plants you soak in water once a week
Squid air plants you soak in water once a week

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There were sea lions and otters galore, like this one who found an urchin to munch on (very carefully).

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I was really impressed with the aquarium, so much that I went back a second time. The jellyfish and cephalopod exhibits were outstanding. I spent a lot of time staring at the flamboyant cuttlefish. There was a touch pool for skates and rays and a beautiful shallow pool with anemones.

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Skate – totally looks like a scary alien face

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Pharaoh cuttlefish

The jellyfish were so mesmerizing, it was hard to get out of the exhibit! They had quite a few octopi as well.

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Big Sur is a must do if you’re in the area, so they kindly took me on the drive and we stopped in at a nice place to eat overlooking the ocean.

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Closer to home, we went to Carmel Beach for some sunset shots and pictures of the infamous cypress tree. This is allegedly one of the most photographed trees in the U.S.

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Another trip took us to a sunset while drinking wine and having some appetizers.

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Carmel Beach had this one spot where the sand was pink. When mixed with the black and white sand then dried, it became purple. Of course I had to bring some home with me!

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While I still have food on my mind, there was some great fruit at this farmer’s market and I saw some odd cauliflower at a market outside of town. I’m also constantly amazed by the cereal aisles that I miss so much. Ours here is about 1/4 of that size and 50% more expensive!

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Thanks again, Dahnelle and Remo for making my first visit memorable and I look forward to coming back!