Back To The Stomping Grounds: Part 2 – Virginia & Texas

BBQ at last!

Virginia: the place I spent my formative years until I left in 1989 (or was it ’90?). Although I couldn’t wait to leave, looking back, I’m glad I grew up there. A place rich in history and no end of interesting museums to visit in Washington, D.C., it was a melting pot of ethnicities which shaped who I am today.

My mother, knowing full well my love of BBQ (and specifically, Blacks BBQ from Lockhart, Texas) placed an order of my favorite ribs and brisket for a post birthday celebration. These Flintstone sized ribs easily make for a few meals and are fall apart tender.

blacks bbq ribs

Since I only get these when I come to the States, I try to get my fill as much as possible. Having quite a few things on my foodie wish list, a couple of things fell by the wayside so I could eat these ribs as much as possible (it wasn’t easy).

Camille enjoying the friendly banter

Bob and Camille arranged their trip up north to coincide with my arrival in Virginia and we played catch up after 4 years. We had met at mom’s while we hashed out our book together. Although it was too chilly to go for a walk around the lake (she was hoping I’d encounter another snake), we snuck out for a short walk up the street.

Cute as a button mushrooms

After a lovely dinner (and chocolate souffles), Camille unwrapped birthday gifts ranging from New Zealand honey products to an assortment of flavored lip balms (something she’s never without).

Bob and I exchanged stories of Belize and reminisced of how it used to be which gave me the warm fuzzies. Maybe someday we can all go back there together!

Here’s to our 12 year friendship and many more!

Another thing I look forward to when visiting is going to the grocery store. While you guys take this for granted (and see it as a chore), my eyes light up like it’s Christmas and I could spend way too much time seeing the amount of STUFF available for purchase.

I was absolutely blown away by the different kinds of fruits I saw in the store in my mom’s small town. A testament to the amount of immigrants who want a taste of home. I had never before seen jackfruit anywhere but Central America, yet here it was, among dragonfruit, huge aloe leaves and many other fruits. I love the idea of dragonfruit and always want to buy it when I see it, but forget how it can often be quite bland. Mom told me to get it since she had never eaten one. We weren’t impressed. With a name and look like that, it should be extremely exotic tasting. I combined it with a mango for breakfast and the colors looked great together.

Now here’s a little example of the difference between the U.S. and New Zealand:

Ice cream aisle in the U.S. (yes, it goes all the way to the end)
Ice cream section in New Zealand
Cheese selection in the U.S.
Cheese selection in New Zealand

Now some may say, “How many choices do you really need?” And honestly, I can say I miss Monterey Jack, Velveeta on occasion and some types of swiss cheese. But other than that, I can’t complain too much. Plus, I rarely eat ice cream so that doesn’t bother me. But when I want a decent cheddar, a very small piece can cost $12 here which doesn’t thrill me.

This display, however, stopped me dead in my tracks:

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Being that mom lives far from a major town, a lot of driving was done and we visited some smaller towns nearby, like Woodstock.

It was fun looking at the antique shops and I even picked up a “new” computer from my childhood days!

A “computer” from 1972 which worked in mysterious ways

We popped into a vineyard one day and immediately found #48 row to mark my current birthday. I’m still getting through 48 therapy.

There was a crazy Trump house along a road we’d pass by often, so I just had to take a photo. I’d be mortified to be a neighbor.

I also spent a lot of time going through my stuff in storage. Mom was great about keeping things that were important to me as a child; one of them being this giant teddy bear I received from my Great Uncle when I was a few years old.

Not as plush as he used to be, but heck, he’s as old as me (and I’m not as plush either!).

Unfortunately, the time went by quickly and I was off to the great state of Texas to visit with dad at his lakehouse.

7 out of 10 people prefer a truck

BBQ was first on the list so we went to Opie’s and parked right next to the meat smokers….YUM!

Upon entering, you’re presented with the board of choices and a big pit where they kept a selection on hand.

I opted for the ribs as usual. That pork loin at the top puts NZ’s to shame.

Although it doesn’t look like much, it sent me over the edge as far as getting hungry again anytime soon. We took a lot home (other stuff not pictured).

The lake was lovely and buzzing with animal activity! Things I used to take for granted like lizards, birds, fish and deer all caught my attention as if I had never seen them before. I’m really deprived in NZ of this stuff.

No room for you!

Too many turtles to count! I liked feeding the little fish off the dock and seeing all varieties of water birds and hummingbirds go about their day. The deer were all over the place with little Bambi’s running around with them.

We took his boat around the lake for a tour of the upper 3% and pretty much found nobody to be home.

We visited a nice winery with the most immaculately manicured vineyard I think I’ve ever seen. A gentle reminder not to carry your gun inside was present at the gate.

A fat lizard chased ants around the patio and sat still long enough for a shot.

Cashing in on my recent birthday, Dad arranged a dinner at the old Chainsaw Massacre house for me! My friend and I had gone there a long time ago to meet the cast, have dinner (not THAT kind of dinner) and watch Chainsaw Massacre outside on a big screen. We even spent the night in one of the railroad cars on site. It was nice going back. They had added on and there was a large bar area, separate from the house itself.

The original Chainsaw Massacre house in Kingsland, Tx.
Me being choked by Leatherface on the first trip there

Craving seafood, I got the fried shrimp and huge baked potato and was surprised by a chocolate brownie cheesecake with amazing mascarpone cheese topping.

With my time nearing an end, we drove into San Antonio on a typical 100 degree day.

Ahhh it was already feeling good to be back home. It had been five years since I was there and where my new life began in Costa Rica. I hardly recognized 281 when approaching the city limit due to the amount of stores and housing going up. We passed by the Thousand Oaks exit near where I used to live and work and the memories came flooding back.

Seafood fondue at Bourbon St. Cafe

My friends indulged me and my craving for seafood fondue at a restaurant that was down the street from my old house. This is my “death row” meal, consisting of shrimp, crawfish, mushrooms and plenty of cheese and garlic bread. Far too much for me to eat this time around for a mere $12.

Fondue at the Melting Pot was another place on my list and was just as good as I remember it. We could’ve used more chocolate (although my thighs were screaming NOOOOOO!).

Dad was staying downtown at the Emma hotel near the Pearl, which was pretty unrecognizable to me with a lot more buildings having gone in since I was there last.

Pool at the Emma Hotel

I went back to this area of the riverwalk over the next couple of days and took advantage of the river taxi to take us down to the original section of the river and save my feet.

Little duckies look like bumblebees

I also made a visit to the Witte museum and saw these animatronic dinos.

My last day in San Antonio provided a final lunch of BBQ across the street at the Smoke Shack. The line was out the door so you know it had to be good.

I can still taste those ribs and that mac n cheese with brisket was brilliant. What I’d give for this again.

As I was being driven to the airport to begin the long journey back, I became a little misty. Feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted and the memories of leaving five years ago only served to remind me of where I am now. I still don’t regret any of my choices I made back then and know that San Antonio will always be there when I want to come back. I miss the people and places I knew so well and will try not to stay away so long.

Thanks to friends and family for making my visit the best ever! It means so much to me that you took the time and indulged me in my culinary desires. You’re welcome any time to this side of the world (just be sure you eat plenty of Mexican and BBQ before you come)!

 

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A Little Taste of Home

We had the opportunity to take a short trip over to Hastings and finally experience some American BBQ along with a chili and chili dog eating contest. Bareknuckle BBQ was serving up some food as well which I’ve been looking forward to trying. We grabbed a fried chicken burger, a pulled pork sandwich, some waffle fries and a couple of Corona’s. $53 later, lunch was served!

Unfortunately, the pork missed the mark with me. Had it not been for the flavour of anise in it for some odd reason, it would’ve been great. Hefty American servings left me far too full and unable to finish everything.

As we waited for it to be served, a chili eating contest was going on. First the jalapenos (which I missed) and then on to the habaneros. Wow…I can’t believe anyone, much less the sole woman, would even participate in that. I’m sure they’re feelin’ the burn tonight!

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you who won the contest, but here were the baskets of prizes!

Samples from the chili contest were being handed out, nice and cold…New Zealand style. Something about cold chili that doesn’t quite feel like home. First rule: chili should not be chilly.

bare knuckle bbq chilli contest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of them weren’t that bad though. We didn’t stay long enough to find out who won.

Then began the chili dog eating contest. Ughhhhh…I’m still full after watching it. The dogs were way larger than American hot dogs, no doubt about it. They set about 5 in front of them, giving them 3 minutes to see who would eat the most. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Getting ready
That’s a lotta dog
May the best man win
This poor kid was having issues with the first one

I’m feelin their pain at this point

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This was about the time the MC extended the contest by one minute
Still plenty to eat!
My man Matthew keeping control of the situation
After another couple of one minute extensions, time was coming to a close. The crowd was very sympathetic.

Comparing what’s left on the trays
The winner is announced!

Apparently, they were overly optimistic about how many dogs would be eaten. A few more trays were brought out and the vultures swooped in!

This was the first American event I’ve been to here and it was fun hearing so many familiar accents again. We had a good time and will be back for the next one!

bare knuckle bbq

 

 

 

 

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.

Skate
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!

Thanksgiving in New Zealand

Turkey sticker shock
Turkey sticker shock

I was looking forward to having an actual turkey this Thanksgiving after two years without one. It’s usually been Chinese food (sort of like ‘A Christmas Story’ movie) or pizza. But this year, it would be different. Weeks ahead of time, I searched the frozen section of the stores. The big store here had quite a selection. And then I saw the prices. Keep in mind this is in New Zealand dollars, so it’s not quite as bad as it may look. That $108 turkey is $78 USD for 14 lbs. I settled for the $43 one at a different store which came out to $28 for a 7.7 pounder. I feel like more of a Butterball than this thing.

Who's the REAL turkey here?
Who’s the REAL turkey here?

Yep, looks kinda like a chicken, doesn’t it? Once it cooks down it may become a ‘cornish’ turkey. I was able to find jellied cranberry sauce (my favorite) in a jar(!?) which ended up oozing instead of slipping out. Bought some potatoes, corn, rolls and made a rhubarb/strawberry/blueberry tart for dessert. The Pepperidge Farm stuffing I ordered from the American grocery store in Wellington even showed up today!

It’s odd feeling this connection to a holiday back home being over here. I have such fond memories of Thanksgiving with my family with all the chaos and decibel levels nearing heavy metal proportions. It was always a good time to be around everyone enjoying themselves. I miss it and it’s just not quite the same this year.

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A Rhublustrawberry tart
A Rhublustrawberry tart

On to my favorite current subject, THE EELS! Last you may have read, we went to Nelson to feed the tame eels. Just up the street from us is a caravan park with a huge sign talking about ‘Home of Eddie the Eel’. That would indicate that there are indeed eels in this creek, so we went looking one day. We never did see any (saw a trout though) and I decided to come back with food next time. Doesn’t it always do the trick? Sure enough, within minutes the eels started appearing and a new past time was created for me. Here’s quite a long video showing some of the eels. There are usually around 8 that appear, all different sizes. I’ve even started naming them (yes, I can tell them apart). Of course I can’t resist naming the big one Lucille (heh heh…get it?).

Well, here’s the cool part. I had a really long branch of bamboo which I was using to skewer the pieces of meat onto. The eels have bad eyesight but their sense of smell is pretty good. Most of the time it could be right in front of them and they wouldn’t even notice. My tactic was to softly brush the bamboo against their bodies and they’d follow their way up to the food. It worked really well! I used the bamboo stick on three separate visits.

So the one day we went back, it was just for a quick feeding and I didn’t use the bamboo. I just threw the pieces into the water and within minutes, they all showed up. Then I saw two different eels run into small branches stuck on the creek bed and they bit at them! One followed the branch to the top and opened his little mouth! What smart eels! They learned!! What’s even more impressive is that they remembered. Well, they were disappointed of course because it wasn’t my bamboo stick and there was no treat at the end of it.

Being that there are hardly any animals in New Zealand, this is about as good as it gets for me. So please forgive my enthusiasm over the eels…this is life in the slow lane!

I did take a nice trip out to Kaipupu Point which is a nature reserve that was created to give native wildlife a chance to flourish. In 2008, they constructed a fence around the 42 hectare section of this peninsula ‘island’ to keep out rats, mice, possum, stoats, etc. It was quite an undertaking and you really have to give it to these folks for wanting to save the natives. They may introduce kiwi here eventually and they’re hoping the little blue penguins show up one day as well.

Kaipupu point
Kaipupu point

Our group, who got to go out here for free and attended a two hour lecture beforehand, climbed up to a lookout of the Sounds and took a lovely stroll through the forest.

Lookout on Kaipupu Point
Lookout on Kaipupu Point

Here are a couple of photos of the predator free fence, one which leads down to the water.

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Trapping box

IMG_2174_1 We heard birds singing and I was able to spot a couple of quail but they were pretty elusive and I got a bad shot of one. It was a really lovely day here and I was grateful to have had the opportunity to get out there and see what this place was all about. The admission is free (donations suggested) and you must take a boat to get there which can cost around $30 round trip. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a more affordable way of getting there, but maybe in the future they will figure out a way.

Tree ferns
Tree ferns

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In other news, my little veggie gardens are finally starting to produce some PRODUCE. I have three beds with tomato, lettuce, celery, bell pepper, (soon to plant jalepeno’s), rhubarb, strawberry, spring onion, parsley and broccoli. Plus a few little weeds in there that are relentless.

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My rock garden out front is taking shape and the colors are popping!

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The mandarin tree has started making tiny fruits and the lime tree has even bloomed! You can barely get limes here for love nor money so hopefully they come out good…this could be a revenue stream for me!

Tiny mandarins
Tiny mandarins

Summer is less than a week away and I’ve never been so ready for it in my LIFE. At least I don’t have to light the fire in the mornings lately and I don’t sleep in layers anymore. So, bring it on, New Zealand!!