On Saturday we’re butchering two nine month old Saddleback pigs named Bubble and Squeak. They’ve lived the last nine months together in a big paddock between the goat pasture and the pines at the edge of the property where they have plenty of room to run, root, and roll in the dirt. In addition to their grains, Lyndal and Steve feed them everything from table scraps to garden weeds to castoffs from the local fruit and veg store. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they get tummy rubs between meals. The pigs live a great life, but they’re being raised for their meat.
A few years ago I watched Food Inc. and read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was how I became interested in where my food comes from. It pissed me off to see a billion chickens crammed into a tiny little box, pooping all over each other, gobbling antibiotics for breakfast, just to make a profit. And there I was thinking that chicken is healthy, while it’s full of chemicals that can kill you. I felt like I’d been lied to.
So I started paying attention to where my meat comes from. It turns out that meat from local, small scale farms is usually more expensive, which just means that you can’t afford to eat a lot of meat. And that’s fine by me. Let it be special, and tasty, and exactly what it claims to be.
We came to this farm specifically because Lyndal and Steve invited us to participate in butchering Bubble and Squeak. Their pigs are raised humanely, and they’re killed with a single shot in an environment that’s familiar to them. They’ll be killed together, so that neither will be traumatized by the loss of their friend. Then they’re butchered into the cuts of meat that Lyndal and Steve prefer, reducing waste.
I suppose I’m writing this because at some point, I’ll be helping to cut off a pig’s head and I’m a bit apprehensive about that. But, some animal’s head had to come off every time I eat a pulled pork sandwich, or a steak, or a salad with grilled chicken. Someone had to raise that animal, to care for that animal, and then butcher that animal so that I could buy it’s meat in the store. I feel that if I can purchase meat in the store, I should be able to stomach where it comes from. It also makes sense that everyone involved cares about how it’s done.
While we are at a farm we usually have the afternoons off, but I have come to enjoy a quiet afternoon reading books poached from the farm bookshelves or puttering in the garden. I have also been nursing a bum foot, so we haven’t been out exploring much. It is in between our WWOOFing gigs that we get to see the country and much of what we see isn’t too far off the main road. Here are a few pictures from the past few weeks.
James Brodie demonstrated how to tie down the canes, or branches, of the Pinot Noir vines in the vineyard behind the house he shares with his wife Anne, here at Brodie Estate. He grabbed the cane, twisted it around the wire, snipped off the end, and secured it with a twist tie, like the kind you would find next to the plastic bags in the produce section of the grocery store. “So, you think you got it?” he looked at me and Zach.
“Uh. Yeah.” We all kind of looked at each other.
“All right then, I’ll leave you to it,” and he lumbered off to buzz around the property on his ATV. Zach and I spent the day twisting the canes, initially wincing at the cracking sound they made as we wrapped them around the wires, but growing more confident in our ability to handle the vines without knocking off the precious buds that would ultimately produce the Brodie Estate 2012 Pinot Noir.
Between the opened bottles leftover from the weekend’s Cellar Door tastings and those opened for prospective salesmen, there is always a selection of Brodie wines at the dinner table that need drinking. Their 2008 Pinot Noir was my favorite from the moment I stuck my nose in the glass. One of those wines that doesn’t require any thinking. I like it. That’s it. I don’t need to try any others. It has dark berries, mushrooms and a rich earthiness on the nose and palate. With smooth tannins and a finish that lasts into the next topic of conversation, it is a wine that feels special. I wish we could afford a case to keep in the back of Serena Williams.
And though I found the one that I like, we did go and try the neighboring vineyard’s wines. Just to make sure they weren’t making something better.
Brodie Estate is located in a Martinborough, a boutique wine town. Not boutique as in snobby, but as in small and full of people who put everything they’ve got into their wine. After the morning’s work and lunch with Ann and James, we have the afternoon to ourselves. Guess what we have been doing? I’ll give you a hint: not running. That’s right, we have been judging, er tasting the neighbor’s wine.
Pinot Noir is the red and Chardonnay is the white in this town. People grow other grapes, but these two are where it all starts. We visited 10 out of 15 vineyards in town, and of those a few stood out from the rest.
Is a 3 acre vineyard in town that produces very fine wines. 3 acres is tiny. Basically a backyard operation. Except that the product of this backyard operation tastes better than many of the large scale vineyards around. The winemaker’s eccentric wife led us through a tasting of three of their wines, which took about 45 minutes. If you have ever tasted three wines, you know that it doesn’t take 45 minutes. Between each sniff and swill, she yammered prolifically on topics from organic wine making to property prices to god knows what; we couldn’t understand half of it. And then she offered us a job to take over when they “inevitably get too decrepit to run the place.” I respectfully declined. It was the first thing I’d said in 45 minutes.
The Chardonnay was awesome and I rarely say that. It was full bodied, smelled like vanilla cake, and was kind of funky like a Viognier can be. It had more character than your typical full bodied California Chard and has me thinking about it days later. I’d give Cabbage Tree Best Chard in Town.
Other than Brodie Estate, this place is producing the most distinct and exceptional red wines in town. Their Cabernet Merlot blend (which usually does not excite me) smelled almost like a spicy, jalepeno pepper. It warmed you up with a familiar, dark berry taste and stayed with you after drinking.
Another place that was run by a real character. An older guy in a red and black plaid flannel shirt that fell almost to his knees, led us through a tasting of nine wines. He asked us if we wanted to share a glass because “it is just so hard to pour a small amount.” Melissa, I smiled at you here. This seems like a problem you could appreciate.
“Thanks, but we’ll have our own,” we told him. Five of the nine wines were Gewurtztraminer, which happens to be one of my personal favorites. No one else in Martinborough is growing Gewurtz. From dry to off dry to sweet and dessert wines, these were what set him apart. They all had hints of lychee in them, with varying degrees of sweetness and weight. The off dry was almost like a floral Pinot Grigio while the same vines produced a wine a few years later that tasted more like a Sauterne dessert wine. It is crazy how much the wines varied from year to year, while the only variable was the weather. We stood around and picked his brain about wine and his vines. He told us stories about how he and his wife split a bottle between two big glasses and go for walks around the vineyard to “check on vines.”
And then when it was time to go, he waived the tasting fee since we were WWOOFing at a neighboring vineyard. What a pleasant surprise. And yet, it fits so nicely with Kiwi hospitality.
When I asked Zach if I should mention any of the other vineyards in this post, he said, “those are the places I’d take people to,” which I think says it all. There is a lot of very good wine grown in Martinborough, and amongst the good wine is some really exceptional wine. It is a shame that it is such an expense for small winemakers to ship to the US. With each of the wines that I get really excited about, there is a friend or family member that I wish I could share it with.
Maybe I’ll come home with no clothes and a backpack full of wine.
For some reason, New Zealand businesses haven’t caught on to the “bring customers in with clean bathrooms and free wifi” ploy. So, despite our hesitance to patronize fast food joints, we recently found ourselves at a McDonald’s restaurant outside of Taupo. Somehow we avoided the siren song of freedom fries and lamb burgers – though the latter is particularly tempting. Lambs are even cuter when sandwiched between two greasy buns and a quarter-inch of mayo. Trust me.
Anyway, it had been about a week since we’d checked our email – practically an eternity for two former members of the smart-phone set, and we were starting to twitch and scratch ourselves raw with withdrawal. Finally, the golden arches answered our call. I slid past a massive man knuckle-deep in an aforementioned lamb burger and glued to his appropriately massive laptop as I sat down in front of Christina, anxious to see what junk mail I’d accumulated in such a long period of disregard. There was a blonde German woman fussing with her connection behind us, swearing under her breath in a way only Germans can.
“Must be the computer club,” I said.
The large man at our table smiled and laughed. “You guys in town long?”
“No, unfortunately, we’re leaving early tomorrow.” I asked him about a free place to camp nearby.
“Go back up the hill out of town and follow the signs for Huka Falls.”
“Yeah. The campground is on the way. And you should go to the falls tomorrow morning before you go. The gates will open around 7:30 or 8. It’s just an immense amount of water. Oh, and–,” he looked at the ceiling and thought to himself in careful consideration. “You got a pen?”
Nope, I had no pen. But I was curious as to what this kind local would tell me. Was this an offer for free accommodation? Maybe a secret watering hole with cheap booze and hot showers? I could use lots of both after a week sleeping in the back of our van. Kiwi hospitality was legendary, so with dreams of silk sheets I eagerly found a pen. He tore his receipt in half and started scrawling on the back. He was a lefty, just like me. This is what he produced:
“Ok, so when you get to the falls, there’s this big parking lot. I put a P here, for parking lot. You can go over on this side where everyone else stands – but – if you want to see something cool, follow this.” And he described a secret trail that led down to the river after the falls and ultimately, underneath them.
“At the end of this metal fence,” he pointed to the map, “there’s a trail, you can’t miss it. After about ten meters you’ll see a rope tied to a tree. Last time I was there it was an electrical cord,” he said with a toothy grin. “But yeah – use that to get down. It can be pretty slippery so be careful. Then you’ve got to follow the trail along the river until you get to the falls. There’s a part where the ledge is really narrow. I’m only telling you this because it looks like you’re solid on your feet, just be careful.”
A huge smile crept across my face. This was going to be an adventure.
“When you get near the falls the rocks get really wet so it’s slippery. Creep up to the falls and reach in, there’s a really good handhold just inside.” He latched his hand onto an imaginary hole above the McDonald’s table. “Water will just be pounding down on your back. You’ll get fucking drenched, but you can go inside. It’s a really cool spot. Climb in on your hands and knees if you have to. There’s room for about seven or eight people in there.” I went from excited to a bit scared. I get nervous around open water, forget about immense waterfalls pounding on my back. But it was too tempting to pass up a genuine local adventure.
The next morning, we set out for Huka Falls. After checking out the scenic lookouts with all the tourists and being bowled over by the volume of water that was headed over the falls, our nervous energy turned to real worry. Was this guy messing with us? Was he a crazed local sending travelers out to their death? The whole thing seemed a bit insane.
We walked down the path he described, to the left of the falls, and noticed several potential trails. Doubting my ability to recollect what he instructed, I examined each one before deciding they weren’t trails at all and moving on. My apprehension grew stronger. But soon we reached the end of the metal fence and an obvious trail emerged, exactly as he’d said. No more than a few feet into the woods we came to the rope tied to the tree that he described, and gingerly lowered ourselves down. This was definitely the way.
“How are we going to get back up?” Christina said after we’d both descended. I scratched my head, examining the sheer wet rocks and soaking wet rope. It didn’t look easy.
“Hmm. Well, we’ll deal with that later.”
Pushing on, we followed the trail back upstream, closer and closer to water level and the pounding of the falls. There were long-fallen trees in places over the trail, but also signs of life – beer bottles and snack wrappers half-buried in mud. Yep, we were on the right track. My confidence grew. Descending on the rope proved to be no problem, maybe he was exaggerating the difficulty of this detour.
And then we came upon the narrow ledge he described. Tiny and covered with wet moss, stepping on it was akin to ballet on a hockey rink. We’re both experienced rock climbers that would have no trouble with such an obstacle if we were wearing our climbing shoes instead of hiking boots, and if it weren’t just after dawn and barely above freezing.
But we’d come too far to turn back. After carefully traversing the ledge with icy fingers and clumsy feet, the path leveled out and tucked into some very interesting caves. The acoustics of these structures gave the river a intense bass that rattled the ground better than any sub-woofer in an Escalade. It was the kind of noise that wasn’t even heard by your ears, but deep within your stomach. As if our stomachs weren’t already unsettled enough.
We continued on through a few more shallow caves and over some more fallen trees, and found the secret room just as he’d described, underneath Huka Falls. Sorry, pictures don’t begin to do it justice. The morning sun shone through the thundering water, sending delicate rainbows into the sky. The sound of millions of gallons tumbling overhead was surreal. Mother Nature, you are one powerful lady.
Thanks, stranger in the McDonald’s in Taupo. It turns out you didn’t want us to die a soggy death, you were just being accommodating and picked us for hearty adventurers. I’m flattered.
We hiked out a little damp but unscathed and saddled up for a four-hour drive south. And it was a great drive. Adrenaline is the real breakfast of champions.
Last week was spent driving, sleeping, reading, cooking, eating, and not showering in our Nissan Serena van, who we have aptly named Serena Williams. Serena Williams has provided us with adventure that we didn’t even know we were going to have, and would not have had if we were backpacking or staying in hostels. We have to park her at a campground (many grocery store parking lots have No Van signs), so each day inevitably ends at a campground. And from what I have seen thus far, New Zealand doesn’t have KOA campgrounds just off I-95, wedged between the truck stop and the dump. Each one has been tucked away in a gorgeous spot, not listed in our Fodor’s guide.
The speed limit on the road to Coromandel Town was 100km/hr, but we never went more than 60 km/hr. We frequently pulled over for locals to pass us, as the road curved sharply, in and out, with each bay and peninsula that defined the rocky coastline. The sun began to set as we turned inland onto a gravel road that wound back and forth through brilliant green sheep pastures, climbing the mountains of the Coromandel range. At each turn, the road on the map became narrower and narrower and after we lost the sunlight, we were just kind of following a map through the darkness. What started as a windy, but exciting gravel road up the mountain, became a terrifying, dirt path descending through the pitch black bush in toward Stony Bay. And then it started raining. We drove the last 30 minutes in first gear, trying to avoid mud puddles and not thinking about old kidnapper men that might be lurking in the jungle. That’s when I started to wonder if we would make it through the mud, and if we did, if we would be able to get back out.
We ate our bread and carrots, set up the bed in the back of the van and read on our respective e readers until we fell asleep. I just started The Art of Fielding, which had my attention at page one, so I was up longer than anticipated.
It was rainy, dark and muddy when we closed the curtains the night before. When we opened them, this is what we found:
I have been nursing a variety of foot injuries* and Zach was itching to go climb a mountain, so we decided to split up. After importing our pictures, Lightroom organized them by the timestamp on the file. It’s pretty fun to see that while I was diddling around on the beach, Zach was in a sheep pasture, or while I was basking in the sunlight at the look out, Zach was barefoot, crossing a freezing stream.
While I was at the lookout, I met a local, Keith, who was baiting traps for weasels, stotes and possum. “I suppose that was your partner I saw a bit ago,” he mentioned. Beard? Yup. Ponytail? Yup. Orange backpack? (Go CUSE!) Yup. Well then, it sounds like you did. I sent him on a different route; the one where he was headed was quite boring. See that green patch in the saddle between the two peaks? He pointed at where the mountains meet the sky. You get 360 degree views from up there. That’s where he is. You all should have mirrors so you can send signals with the sun.
He sat down to roll a cigarette and I sat because that was the plan for the afternoon. We talked for about an hour while he smoked cigarettes and I ate my PB & J. The weasels, stotes and possum are predators of the ground dwelling Kiwi bird. They snatch up their eggs. The Kiwi was on the verge of extinction with less than 1,000 in all of New Zealand about 12 years ago when conservation efforts really started. Stony Bay is one of the first Kiwi preserves that began with 13 birds and is now up to 138 birds, with most of it’s population approaching breeding age. (Go Kiwis!) Somewhere in our conversation about living in the bush, mountains, and backpacking, we got onto the topic of how food tastes better when you go without something for awhile. I mentioned that we were planning to eat pb & js for dinner because we had yet to procure a pot, to which he quickly offered one of his. I didn’t have to tell him where Serena Williams was parked. He and the other park workers saw us come in last night and were laughing at us, creeping through the rain.
We made mashed Kumara (NZ sweet potatoes) with garlic, onions and a fried egg on top. By dinner time it was freezing cold. I finished cooking in my full on winter gear and we scuttled inside to eat at our dining room table/fold up bed. Never before has a HEAP of hot potatoes out of the back of a van tasted so good. So that is kind of how living out of our van goes. You do without some stuff and everything else gets that much better.
Uma Rapiti may be the only place in the world where you can watch your neighbors landing their helicopter while squatting over a composting toilet. That’s also what makes it perfect. Bankrolled by two American expats, it’s a permaculture “lifestyle block” on the once-crunchy-but-rapidly-gentrifying Auckland suburb of Waiheke Island. Operated by youthful farm managers and staffed by young travelers seeking adventure and knowledge, it’s a rotating door of energy and enthusiasm, but not always expertise.
It’s edges are rough. Staying there as a WWOOFer (named for the program that connects young travelers and farms: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) means working 4-5 hours a day, seven days a week, and living almost completely outdoors, but its benefits are great: free accommodation in a beautiful setting, ample healthy food, and most importantly – knowledge.
Make no mistake, living outdoors is vastly different from the average day spent on car camping jaunt. There’s something psychologically jarring about being exposed to the elements: rain, wind, mud, and cold, year-round with no hope of a warm fire and a good book with a cuppa tea. All the routines of daily life are more difficult. Oh, it’s raining? Your shower will be colder than you’d like. Is that a bit of wind? Good luck keeping the propane flame lit to heat up dinner. But the rough life can be rewarding. Bad days are tolerated, while good days are cherished.
The farm was established in 2007 adjacent to a newly constructed home in the ritzy development of Park Point. Nestled between million-dollar houses designed by award-winning architects and panoramic vistas of looming Auckland, it’s a bit of an oddity. While the neighbors are planting olive groves and pinot noir, Uma Rapiti is fretting over kale and brussels sprouts. Why are these grungy kids rubbing elbows with Auckland’s elite old guard? Why are they huddled around a pile of soil, examining it as if it were nuclear launch codes?
According to the US Department of Agriculture, over the last century, nearly 70% of the farms in the United States have closed. Without the small farmer, our food choices will skew increasingly toward the easy-to-grow and easy-to-ship, rather than the healthy and delicious. Imagine a world where our most basic of needs are monopolized. It’s a scary thought, and we’re headed straight for it at dangerous speed. Uma Rapiti is one of those slowing us down by training young people to grow their own food.
The potential power of this type of arrangement is immense. Each year, several dozen young people interested in farming arrive at Uma Rapiti starry-eyed but ignorant, and leave armed with the knowledge and motivation to start their own version of the farm in their own corner of paradise. With small family farms disappearing, programs like WWOOF and facilities like Uma Rapiti are essential to the health of our society.
We are in the midst of a transition, from Waiheke Island (A), through Auckland, to Coromandel (B) for a few days, Martinborough for a week (C) and ultimately down to Canterbury (D) on the South Island by the end of the month. We need a vehicle to make this transition and continue on with our travels. It is time.
On Sunday we attended the Auckland Car Fair, held at the Ellerslie Racetrack outside of Auckland. We have known about the car fair for awhile, but were hoping to buy a van through word of mouth. We tried that, but it didn’t work. Time to turn to the professionals. (Professional used car salesmen? Mechanics? Scam artists?)
We got off the train with the rest of the tourists and traveled in a herd of languages: Japanese, German, Spanish, to the racetrack. Lost tourists trying to navigate their way may sound different in each language, but looks exactly the same: swiveling heads, scouring the streets for clues and signs. My instinct was to walk faster and beat the pack, but I am nursing a stubbed toe and had to accept that we were not going to be the first ones in. Dammit. I like being first. (Oh, hello little New Yorker tendency.)
We headed to the camper van row and started sizing up the cars, none of which I had heard of before. Toyota Estima? Hiace? Nissan Largo? A middle eastern guy had gutted his dented 1990 Toyota Estima taxi cab, complete with cigarette stank and stained seats, but was only asking $2,700. There was the 1985 Toyota Hiace with 300,000 km on it and completely gutted of everything except the two front seats that was going for $7,000. Then there was the dready guy and his gal pal who were lounging in tailgate chairs in front of their lifted, purple, 1999 Toyota Hiace with a bed, kitchen, and collapsable table inside. Too bad they were asking $9,500.
It seemed as if everything was either too expensive, too old, too many miles, expired this, broken that, too ugly, too small, too big, too whatever. We spent the rest of the day calling individual sellers, other car dealers, and mechanics. Twice we thought we found something, but after the pre purchase inspection, were told to stay far, far away from the vehicle. We across town and back again to look at vehicles, which by the end of the day, all looked about the same. After the fair had shut down and we were waiting on another van to arrive, the fair mechanics offered us a mid day Heineken, which was much needed and took the edge off before we geared up for another round of “How tall are the tales you’re telling me?”
In the end, we found a car that passed inspection. It is a red, 1992 Nissan Serena, which I dismissed it at first because the interior is ugly as sin (think frayed, beige poly-rayon curtains, with a possibly used mattress covered in primary colored geometric print fabric in the back) Thank god that Zach can see beyond that stuff. There will be a funeral pyre as soon as I can find some cheap material to redecorate with. It has a good engine, good cooling system, new tires, brakes work, whatever. That’s the important stuff. And that the search is over. Now off to explore!
It turns out we were both working on posts about how things have changed since we left New York. Written individually but presented together, we hope they offer some insight.
It was a difficult decision to drop everything and travel. I gave up a job I liked for an organization that I believe in. I said goodbye to an amazing group of friends that continuously brought new and exciting things to my life. I left behind the best city in the world. In the days and months approaching my departure, I spent many sleepless nights wondering if I was doing the right thing. Would I miss it? Would I regret making this move? After a month on the road, I’m confident that I made the right call.
But I wasn’t wrong about the things above. I miss my job. I still check in on my old projects religiously – and the paycheck was nice. I certainly miss my friends and family, whom I think of often. New York restaurants make my mouth water from the other side of the globe.
It was still the right decision. In a few weeks I’ve realized immense clarity about myself and my future, a clarity that has eluded me for my previous twenty-eight years. A supernova-sized weight has been lifted off my shoulders. If that weren’t enough, I’m learning how to do things that I’m excited to take back home and having a blast. Without this fresh perspective, filled with new people living different lives and new experiences outside of the cocoon I’d constructed, I never would have been able to examine my priorities this way. I didn’t even realize that I was unhappy in my old life. So I guess there’s one less thing to miss.
If, unlike me, you’ve got the self-awareness to acknowledge your own unhappiness, make a change. The answer might be hidden in one of those cracks that you haven’t examined in years. Sometimes shaking things up is the only way. Yes, you have responsibilities you should be aware of, but all too often we create a false sense of obligation. Give your two weeks notice, put your couch on Craigslist, take care of the things that are tying you down, but don’t let them dictate your life. You aren’t obligated to live a life that doesn’t completely fulfill you. A job is mostly just a way to pay your rent; a couch is just a collection of fabric and wood. Give up the things standing in your way.
This doesn’t necessarily even equate to an extended time traveling. Maybe it’s moving to a new city, or separating yourself from an unfulfilling situation, or opening yourself up to a new experience. Travel is just a convenient way to remove oneself from a previous life and force the kind of introspection required for real answers. Plus you get to meet new people, experience new cultures, and become inspired along the way. If you have the tiniest of inclinations to travel – do it. Find the means. There was a time in my life when I thought I might never discover what I wanted to be. Escaping from that over the last month has been one of the benchmarks of my life, and I want everyone to experience this euphoria. Please join me.
3:45 am Woke up to pee like an hour ago. Can’t go back to sleep. Writing always helps. The BIG IDEA here is that life is changing in a major way and I don’t think I can or want to go back. I like living simply. I like growing food. I like being on a farm.
This trip started out as a bit of an experiment. When we first set out, farming was something that I was interested in, but working on farms was largely a means of traveling. Not any more. The more I learn and do, the more this way of life makes sense and feels right.
For example, composting table scraps makes sense. We have yet to fill one garbage bag in the three weeks that we have been here at Uma Rapiti. We eat as much as possible from the garden, compost food waste, then put it back into the garden. All while reducing the grocery bill and eliminating the need for soil mixes from Home Depot. Having chickens that lay eggs make sense. All you do is feed them and they give you eggs. It is like getting a present every morning! Oh really, Stina? You’re impressed that chickens lay eggs? Did you miss that part in first grade? No, I didn’t. I have just never seen it happen. I have never had free eggs. FREE! (Note: Free Range, Organic eggs are $8 at the Union Square Farmer’s Market)
Maybe that is my favorite part of all of this, that we are helping to produce the best tasting, healthiest food and it is free if you just put in the time and work. I can totally do that. I can only imagine having a pig and eating that, too. So many delicious parts… loins… chops… ribs…. And that is what now guides our next step. I can only imagine having a pig. Okay, so let’s go see what having a pig is like. September is a vineyard, October is TBD and November is pigs, cows and chickens. Or chops, milk and eggs.
I learn something new every single day. Whether it is through talking to Chad and Lizzy, the farm managers here, who have worked with all sorts of animals on farms of all different scales, through the books we are reading, or by getting my hands dirty in a new project. How to keep slugs out of the garden, use a table saw, brine and marinate olives, use a sewing machine, how to fish. Doesn’t it make sense to know how to fish if you eat fish?
I’ve also figured out that my interest in farming stems from a good meal: good for you, good tasting, and sustainable so you can do it again and again. I love learning about food and spending time preparing something that makes others happy. There is some combination of plants, animals, cooking, eating and sharing with others will be how we make our way in the future. I’m not sure what it is yet, but I’m curious and excited to find out. We are going to spend this year exploring anything and everything that seems interesting. What do we like? What could we see ourselves doing? Our trip has become a workshop for our next phase of life.
Uma Rapiti grows olives, but as of last week, no one here was a fan of green olives. There were however, six massive, dusty, jars of olives that had been brining since May, which needed to be prepared for eating. Except that no one really wanted to eat them or knew how to prepare them.
Olives are one of those things that I have wanted to like for years. They seem classy and good with wine and cheese. But I only like the black ones. Well, this seemed like a great opportunity to get over that and learn to like green olives. I stepped up to the plate, fired up laptop and asked O Holy Google, knower of all things, how to marinate olives. I found a great website that featured recipes like “Just like Mama Used to Make,” “Tried and True,” and “Old Tradition from the Middle East.” Figured I couldn’t go wrong with recipes as confident sounding as those. I mean, an Italian grandma is NOT going to lead me astray.
So here we go:
Step 1: Prepare a new brine. They had been in a 10% salt brine and needed to go into an 8% salt brine so your blood pressure doesn’t go through the roof upon snacking. I boiled 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of salt, then let it cool. Actually that is a lie, I boiled 3.7 liters, since we don’t do gallons on this side of the pond.
Step 2: Scoop off the moldy, snot like substance that had accumulated in the jars.
Step 3: Rinse the olives.
Step 4: Grind spices, chop herbs, slice garlic and lemon.
Step 5: Layer spices and olives in a jar, top with brine, give it a shake, seal and label.
In the process, I snacked on runaway olives and started to mind them less. We might even say I started to like them, considering how many I ate. The process took the whole afternoon, but it was my kind of work and thus, didn’t feel like work at all. I expected olives to be the sort of things that get better the longer they sit, but after just a few hours they had already absorbed much of the flavor of the marinade. That said, I officially like olives!
The best marinade was Lemon, Cumin, Oregano, Garlic and with just a splash of Olive Oil on top. So good, I’d recommend getting a plain ole grocery store container of olives and adding those herbs before your next dinner party. Or just your next dinner.