Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dunedin: Southern and Scottish

Dunedin: if you believe the welcoming sign, this city actually begins in a field of cows about 30km before its actual skyline. In which case, it's one of the only places I've visited where the "urban" population of bovines may exceed its human counterpart.

Further up the road on the way to Christchurch, we came across a beach famous for its boulders. Skeptical? We were, too, until we found out these perfectly round rocks appeared out of the ground--shaped not by water, but by the pressure of the sand and soil! It was like coming across a nest of dinosaur eggs.

Kaikoura: Dolphins for the rich, Seals for the Annies

Kaikoura is a choice destination for two things: swimming with dolphins, and eating good seafood. Me, I stood the appropriate 10meters from a seal and scowled into the early morning sunshine, and then ate a yummy lunch of tomato and basil from the hostel's garden. Alas, I don't know the name of this amazing tree, but I reckon "Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree" could be put into Latin quite nicely.

Kaka Point, the Caitlins

Kaka Point, a small beach town that heads off the Caitlins. Rubber ribbons of seaweed tangle up the shoreline.

This trio of plants embraces most of the coolness of NZ fauna: a cabbage tree spikes up in the background, flax's funny flowers claw the sky, and, alas, I don't know the name of the fiery flower in the foreground, but it's everywhere around these parts.

Christchurch: Baking Pavlova

Emus: large, flightless, frighteningly crabby. Chickens: small, not very flight-oriented, frighteningly hungry all the time. Christchurch: European-imitation city on the midway point of South Island's east coast.

In an abundance of eggs, one must make PAVLOVA, New Zealand's favorite cake. Basically you whip 4 egg whites into submission with a cup sugar. When it's stiff, you add a teaspoon of lemon or vinegar, and bake it. My own Pavlova, although with fresh eggs from that morning and delish organic sugar, fell flat and ended up being either a marshmallow or a sugary omelet, depending on your point of optimism. I'm happy to say it was very good for me, thanks to the eggs, and I slept about 3 hours, thanks to the sugar.


Milford Sound is supposed to be the most beautiful "tramp" in New Zealand. Hike, that is. I found it wet. And yes, magical.

On the way out we got stopped by some cows. The delay was about 15 extremely cow-smelling minutes.

Apple, Peanut Butter and Cheese Sandwiches

Hitting the lower latitudes of South Island: rain, mist, glaciers. Meeting Kea (alpine parrots, the only of its kind in the world). Watching the towering rocks cry waterfalls. Perpetually being cold; astounded.

The beautiful thing about sandwiches is the lack of rules.
Here we combine the protein, dairy and fruit sugars of three New Zealand products: leguminously soil enriching peanut butter (nothing too lofty for my favorite spread), local apples and cheese.

My Only Lord of the Rings Reference

Apparently this is "Scenes from Middle Earth." It's outside Queenstown.

Wanaka: Monkey Trees and Afkhan Cookies

St. Patrick's Day found me in a tent, eating a simple meal of rice. However, I'm extremely excited to announce I also discovered AFKHAN COOKIES, a NZ/Oz treat that combines the powers of cocoa powder AND cornflakes to make an extremely delicious, highly unlocal treat. If you've been good and eating your garden-grown veggies all day, then yes, you may have this recipe.

Wanaka is also host to the Monkey Puzzle Tree. Take note of its spikes. Now ask yourself this puzzle: How does a monkey climb this tree? Hence the name. Shameful botanical humor.

Pancakes Rock!

The West Coast of South Island, New Zealand, is reputed to be the wildest corner of the country. My foodie eyes lit up when the map said "Pancake rocks". Boy, was I ever disappointed when they turned out to be ancient and mysterious geological formations spitting spumes of salt water. I wanted pancakes, man.

Here's a good pancake tip I learned in upper North Island: when you want fluffy pancakes, whip the milk before adding it to the batter. Also, if you're going to put pancake batter in the fridge overnight, when you take it out the next day, add another sprinkling of baking soda.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Live from the CENTER of New Zealand!

Nelson, on the South Island, claims to be the Center of New Zealand. Alas, it turns out the actual center is in the middle of the Cook Strait. It's too bad you only find that out AFTER ascending the unbelievably steep hill to the viewing point and placard which (misleadingly) suggests you've made it. No, turns out you have to swim to get there. Forget it!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Blueberry Pirates

One of our tasks on the Blueberry Farm was to work fairs, vending pancakes and ice cream and, of course, blueberries. Lucky me, the first fair I went to featured not only Scottish bagpipers, but PIRATES! Actually, that was us, post-tatoos-extravaganza. And p.s.: WHAT is a fudge bag? I now know, but do YOU?


Wellington, home to tons of art and film stuff is also really, really beautiful. There ya have it, erudite and succinct. The Te Papa, Wellington's big, exciting Everything Museum, was worth a visit for the architecture as much as the content.

The Blueberry Farm and Bakehouse: Upper Hutt

4,000 blueberry bushes, two calves, many chooks (chicken), a cafe and trailer: that's what it takes to make a Blueberry Farm.

Upper Hutt, about 45 minutes outside of Wellington city, looks a lot like Northern California. Here's the view of the farm, the blueberry nets obvious enough. The icy river cuts a narrow path along between the mountains and the blueberry orchard.

Blueberry Chocolate Biscotti

Turns out, biscotti are genius and easy to make. Challenged to make a dessert for the Blueberry Farm Bakehouse, I came up with this recipe. The chocolate dipping sauce, which I paired with black pepper and lemon (don't knock it 'til you try it!) offered a sweet-savory pair to the slightly sour hint of the tart blueberries in the dry cookies. Mmm! Pass the tea and bikkies!

BISCOTTI (with blueberries and chocolate chips)
2 cups white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
1 egg white
2 tbs grated lemon peel
chocolate chips and blueberries to taste/appearance

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Mix dry ingredients and gently beat eggs. Mix dry and wet ingredients, then turn in chips & berries. The dough will be a little wet, but don't fret. Using a spatula and floured hands, scoop out 1/2 the dough and form a log about 10-12" long. Make a second log of the remaining dough. Space them at LEAST 6" apart on a cookie sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes, until just firm. Remove from oven, and cut at a harsh diagonal (see below photo) into slices about 1/2" thick. Reduce heat to 325*F and bake for 15 minutes. DO NOT OVERCOOK! They'll harden as they cool.

To make the chocolate dipping sauce, the easiest way is to set up a pan of water and put a bowl in it as the water boils. Put a bar of chocolate in the bowl, add milk and a bit of butter, and then your flavorings. I seasoned it with black pepper and lemon (to taste). The more/less milk & butter you add, the texture and thickness of the dipping sauce changes. Duh. It's delish and easy.

Other killer combos: dried fruits dipped in a honey-tinted chocolate sauce; chocolate chip biscotti with lemon sugar sprinkled on, and cinnamon biscotti with honey. I mean, you can't go wrong. Yum.

Fine Farm Dining: Frittata Night and Thai Delights

In my ten days at The Blueberry Farm and Bakehouse in Upper Hutt (just above Wellington, and the site of many a Lord of the Rings scenes), don't think we just cooked with blueberries! My dinner debut on the farm featured a Swiss Chard Frittata, lentils cooked up in apple juice pressed from our wee orchard, and oatmeal-manuka honey cookies with museli.

I pulled lavender from the garden to soak in our drinking pitcher, which took a bit of the tap-water edge off.

Dinner number two was "Thai themed" by popular demand. Rice boiled with peanuts was the side to a garden-based veggie mix and home-made peanut sauce, and dessert featured the decidedly unlocal and delicious pineapple charred in butter-tossed coconut flakes. To compensate for the ahem, "carbon footprint" of the pineapple, I also threw in some backyard blueberries tossed in lemon-and-lavender sugar.

Kiwi Berry

Kiwi fruit, originally the "Chinese Gooseberry", is seen here bald, shrunken and seccant (pff, did my mouth pucker!). Did I mention also, overpriced? But how novel!