You see the problem was that there were just too many delicious recipes that we wanted to make for Christmas and we were worried that we would get too full. So our room mate Steven hatched the idea of a Christmas Tasting Menu. We celebrated on Christmas Eve Day since I was working on Christmas. There were eight of us for dinner, which started around two in the afternoon and lasted well into the night. Each person prepared a tapas sized course and paired their course with a beverage. The next person up on the menu did the washing up and then plated their course. The result was an epic garden party and a feast fit for kings.
Zach and I celebrated Christmas by going out to dinner at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, the restaurant where I am working as a dishy. Francesca’s had opened the day before and I had only worked two shifts, but after seeing the ingredients and the plates of food that came out of the kitchen, I knew exactly where we were going for Christmas.
The meal was phenomenal, the vibe was laid back, and the sun still shining at 8 pm when we sat down to eat. We started with cocktails, beef carpaccio and beetroot agniolotti, which was easily the best beet dish I have ever had. The beet filled pasta sat in a bath of nut butter and fried sage. We worked our way through the wine list, which featured both local Central Otago wines and a few Italian wines. Zach had the Lake Hayes 2009 Pinot Noir, which went from good to perfect when paired with the carbonara he had for dinner. I went with the Montepulciano and gnocchi with italian sausage. Chubby, pillowy, delicious gnocchi. It was one of those, take a whiff of my wine and make a delicious bite of what I ordered, then sniff and taste some of whats in front of you, and back again kind of meals that ended with a tiramisu and scotch. In my book, that is synonymous with “happily ever after.”
We hadn’t been out to dinner since July in New York. Our last meal out was at Momofuku Noodle bar in the East Village and while we enjoyed it, we didn’t appreciate it. We were spoiled rotten by good food, fancy cocktails, cheap wine, and super cool restaurants, but didn’t really know how special that was until we couldn’t find that. Most places here are either super expensive or just not that good. But Francesca’s is different. It reminds me of a restaurant you might find in New York. Except that you wont. Because it’s Wanaka’s little gem.
A big thank you to Pat and Lydia for dinner
This is the first in an upcoming series of posts on politics and food. Please forgive us if it gets a little heavy in here for the next few weeks. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.
For a long time I was ashamed to say that I wasn’t politically active. I thought (rightly so) that responsible members of society cared about the things that are happening in their government, and (wrongly) that this manifested itself as being active in political campaigns for candidates. But recently, I’ve realized that even though I don’t contribute much to campaigns, I’m politically active in ways that are far more important than the people on the ballot.
This began with a conversation that I had with fellow travelers on the day of the recent elections in the US. We’d spent the whole day climbing together, away from news and internet connections and cell phone reception. As the day drew to a close our thoughts focused more and more on the unknown results of the election. We’d heard whispers from others throughout the day that the race was neck-and-neck, and we were nervous to learn of the result. As the sun set over the mountains they went off to check the results, and would deliver the news to us in an hour or so.
As we waited that hour, with no new information to give us hope or worry, we could do little but sit and stare out the window. We were too occupied by our thoughts to focus on anything else. When they finally arrived, waiving huge thumbs up and sporting massive grins, we could relax. We were proud to be Americans.
High on adrenaline and relief, we sprang into a discussion about politics, and I admitted that I was happy to be disconnected from most of the election hoopla. They shared some of the same sentiment, and put it in a way that changed how I think of political engagement: Why are we always talking about people, and not about issues?
After further reflection, I realized that I am engaged on a political level, far more intimately than I imagined. I’m in New Zealand, learning a trade (self-sufficient, natural farming) that I intend to take back to the US and implement. This kind of engagement in an issue is far, far more meaningful than making phone calls on behalf of a candidate. If we all stopped wasting time talking about people and focused instead on problems and solutions, we’d be a more efficient democracy and a improved society.
Gotta admit, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas here. I’m not bundled in giant scarves and wrapping presents, not getting last minute tickets for the Bolt Bus to Baltimore, not wrapping books for my students or drinking everything in sight at holiday parties. Here, the sun sets at 9:30pm and there are peonies and cherries at the farmer’s market. In New York, the words farmer’s market and Christmas don’t even go together, because I’m pretty sure the only thing being sold at the market are potatoes and onions.
It feels like the Christmas I know is only on the internet, where people are posting pictures of their trees and blogging about DIY decorations. I forget that it is mid december when I walk barefoot to the post office, past the cricket game and the rose bushes in full bloom. The sign outside the post office informs wee ones of Santa’s mailing address and the line of customers with parcels under an arm is out the door. Okay, so it is my Christmas on the internet and in the post office.
They do Christmas here, but it is as if you were doing a really fancy Christmas in July party. We just received the December issue of Donna Hay, which is like a cooler Aussie version of Martha Stewart. They feature DIY projects and recipes, but it is a mash up between Christmas, summer flavors and garden party. Check out the Christmas photo shoot:
The dessert recipes are for things like white peach and raspberry pie, gingerbread man ice cream sandwiches, and fig and date ice cream cake with brandy syrup. It is really interesting to see the how seasonal produce and traditional flavors influence dishes that everyone associates with Christmas. I’ve created a venn diagram to better illustrate this point:
It’s strange not doing Christmas my way, but a lovely change of pace. The most obvious difference is that there isn’t so much of an emphasis on presents and spending dough, but that may also be because we have been hanging out in a town full of travelers on budgets. I’ll miss my family for sure, but plan to eat and drink plenty at the Orphan’s Christmas dinner that we will have at our house here in Wanaka on Christmas Eve.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Folks!
View Bring a Snack.com in a larger map
Check out the new map feature that Zach whipped up! Its permanent home is up top next to the the About Us tab and should help to keep track of where we are when we start moving around again. We plan to stay in Wanaka through the end of the season, but will be on the road again toward the end of March.
One of the main reasons we decided to stick around Wanaka is because it is so close to epic hiking and climbing. None of our adventures have taken more than an hour to get to, some of them being only 10 minutes away. I can’t wait to share it with some of our friends and family. My parents are coming in January, our friend Matt is coming in February and Zach’s dad and his girlfriend are visiting in April. As we are out and about, we often talk about “Your dad would love this…” or “This reminds me of a hike I did when I was little…” Being here is amazing, but sharing in person it is going to be even better. The pictures in the gallery below are from our days climbing at the Mt. Iron and Riverside crags with our friends Zach and Courtney from Denver, the Diamond Lake track, a short hike overlooking Lake Wanaka, and the Rob Roy track in Mt. Aspiring National Park.
I post words on the internet therefore I’m a pretty big deal and it’s my civic duty to educate. Thus, I present the first officially licensed BringaSnack.com How To. In this case if you do everything the opposite of the way we did you might end up with a palatable whiskey, or at least something that won’t blind you.
“Have a taste,” my partner in this disaster said to me, as we were siphoning the partially-made whiskey from its fermenter to the distilling pot.
“Tastes…vinegar-y,” I said. “Good, but…yeah, vinegar-y.” We had no idea at the time, but this wasn’t a good sign. We pushed on with the distilling process.
Above all, make whiskey. Don’t make vinegar. I can’t stress this enough. Careful sanitation is priority number one when preparing for fermenting. If a single stray bacteria or wild yeast particle gets in after the boil, the result will be ugly, or at least not what you’re looking for. In our case we ended up with some pretty tasty malt vinegar, but that’s a very, very small consolation.
But, assuming you’ve gotten through the fermenting process unfazed and have achieved something alcoholic, don’t distill in a small room, like a bathroom. Leaving aside the obvious sanitation problems, if there had been any alcohol in this pot, its vapors may have seeped out through a leaky hose fitting (mistake number three). Confined alcohol vapors plus open flame equals BOOM! So we dodged a bullet there.
The goal of distilling is to separate the substances in your pot so you get the good stuff and can discard the rest. The temperature of the liquid is raised slowly, allowing certain bits to boil and evaporate and then be cooled by a condenser and turned back into liquid. Usually the condenser looks like a big copper coil and is cooled by air. Ours was a slightly fancier water-cooled version.
The first thing that we needed to watch for was methyl alcohol, which evaporates at 64.7 degrees celsius. This is poison and must be tossed out unless you want to go blind/crazy. So we had to keep a close eye on the temperature and when it reached the magic number we’d know the methyl alcohol was evaporated and we were safe to save the rest.
Unfortunately we were using an infared thermometer and trying to get readings off of a shiny metal pot, which kept showing suspiciously low temperatures. Hmm. As it turns out, infared thermometers work by
magic light and are thrown out of whack by shiny surfaces (mistake number…oh hell I’ve lost count).
So, even though we were boiling vinegar over an open flame in a tiny bathroom and had a leaky fitting, we managed to squeeze in one more mistake. I hung the condenser from the ceiling a few feet above the distilling pot and connected the two via a meter-long plastic tube. This means that the vapor particles had to travel all that distance to get to the condenser, but they never got there. They were cooled by air in the rubber tube and ran back into the heated pot. They were effectively condensed before they reached the condenser, which never got a chance to divert the liquid into our old timey moonshine jars. That’s one thing we got right. When making bathtub booze, always, always use old-timey jars.
It was a learning experience. I hope your attempts go better, or at least you love malt vinegar. Regardless, for all the “don’ts” this taught, it also reminded me of an important “do”: try, try again.
If you want to know what’s going on in Wanaka, read The Upper Clutha Messenger. It is how everyone in town finds out about job openings, cat sitters, live music, used bikes, happy hours, farmers markets, garage sales, and anything else going on about town. It also includes the Crime Line, the police blotter written by one of the four police here in town. It is a hoot to read! Here are some excerpts from the last few weeks.
**It is also important to note that no one here locks their houses, bikes are left propped up outside of the grocery store, and people regularly leave the keys in the ignition of their cars. **
We have had only a few arrests this week which is great from our point of view as it frees staff up to get stuck into crime prevention and traffic patrolling.
A letterbox was also set alight with fireworks over the weekend. Dangerous considering the close proximity of the house at the address and the wind – far higher value damage was at risk.
A local male was processed by Police under the boy racer provisions for sustained loss of traction (wheelies) in a local residential street. He will be attending Court for his driving behaviour.
I’m picking with the increase in local youth coming to our attention over the last couple of weeks, school must almost be done for the year. – Watch your behaviour and/or your alcohol consumption, – it may seem fun at the time, but the next day when you realise there are consequences, there is no fun involved.
Some good for nothing thief has helped themselves to 500 litres of petrol from one of our hard working farmer’s properties in Cardrona. Someone out there knows who did this and we want to talk to you.
On the lighter side a couple of tips: 1. If you park your car on a hill and don’t apply the handbrake, yes, it will roll away and crash into things. 2. If you sunbath nude by the lake, people will complain. Yes, spare a thought for Mel who attended both those crackers on Tuesday.
Clothing was stolen from a washing line in Albert Town, a scooter was stolen from Kahu Youth, and a mountain bike stolen from an alleyway in town. There was also a report of a vehicle stolen from a car pack in town, which was later relocated in a residential street. Please do not leave your keys in your vehicle.
A 51 year old Wanaka resident was arrested for shoplifting from New World. (the grocery store)
A vehicle crash was attended by Police on McKay Road, where the driver fishtailed and overturned into the middle of the road….I was disappointed to hear a tractor drove around the upside down vehicle while the driver was trapped inside and unsuccessfully struggling to get out. Are you serious? When did we stop looking after each other?
I love that stolen laundry and blown up mailboxes make the news. I love that the police blotter is also a reminder to be a good neighbor and caring person. I really love that last line.
Travel presents a lot of chances to go off the rails of a plan, but sometimes what seems like a challenge is really an opportunity. Over the last few weeks we’ve encountered a string of problems that have left us angry, frustrated, and even physically ill, but we’ve solved pretty much all of them and now we’re way better off than we began. Sometimes it’s hard to see an opportunity lurking, but it’s always worth it to look.
After our nightmare WWOOFing job, we came to Wanaka on a whim and I promptly got sick. This wasn’t just a little cough and cold. I had a fever, chills and hot flashes, and had to run to the bathroom every hour, doubled over from stomach pain. I don’t get sick often, but when I do I get really, really sick. This was no exception. Whatever devil-spawn disease I had, it was miserable. And if being sick weren’t bad enough, being sick while living out of the back of a van made it doubly awesome. Just when I was ready to throw in the towel and go to a doctor, I was miraculously better! In your face, mystery disease.
While I was cursing every bite of food I shoved down my throat, we fell in love with this little town. It’s a little sister to Queenstown, which is an hour to the south and known around the world as an adventure sports haven. A lot of that rubs off on Wanaka, and it boasts similarly spectacular views of snow-capped peaks over a massive lake. It reminds me of a lot of Lake Tahoe, California, without the proximity to grimy Nevada. Oh, and it’s got great rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking, and we’ve made an incredible group of friends here in just two short weeks (most of which I’ve spent on the toilet, unfortunately). What else could we want? So we’ve decided to stay here for the summer and take a break from WWOOFing for a bit. We’ll be back, but we really enjoy making our own schedule and operating independently, two things that don’t exactly jive with WWOOFing. So, the reckoning is upon us: we’ve got to get real J-O-Bs. Shudder.
Christina jumped right on the opportunity (while graciously nursing me to health) to pursue her next career: working in a restaurant kitchen. It’s spring here, so local restaurants are heating up for the coming tourist season and a lot of them are hiring. She hit the pavement, dropping resumes off around town and talking to people. She had her eye on one job in particular, at a new Italian restaurant that’s opening soon and is headed by a well-known chef: James Stapley of Whare Kea Lodge.
After more than a week of silence, she was disappointed. She assumed that she’d been passed over, not only for her gig of choice, but for all the fall-back options she’d applied for as well. She was on the verge of giving up this first attempt at pursuing her dream; she had an email drafted, indicating her willingness to accept a front-of-house job for which she was more qualified and was in heavy demand. I even had a different version of this post written, whining about how sometimes things don’t work out and sometimes you need to accept your second (or third) choice.
And then, the phone rang. It was James Stapely. He wasn’t calling to set up an interview or ask her for more information. He was calling to flat-out offer her a job. He’d liked the passion she displayed enough to overlook the massive gaps in her experience. She’ll get an opportunity to learn on the job and grow in her role, as well as see a new restaurant getting off the ground. Next time, she won’t need to worry about gaps in her experience.
That leaves me. I’ve done the restaurant thing, and it’s not my bag. I want to be outside. There aren’t many paying farm jobs to be had, and other kinds of labor are less appealing to me. One can’t help but question your self-worth if you see few opportunities that you’re qualified for in a town where everyone seems to be hiring. It doesn’t help if you’re shivering and sweating and can’t stop pooping at the time. But I do have a small freelance project that I’m working on and lots of writing and photography to pursue, so I’m seizing this opportunity (while keeping my eyes and ears open) to focus more intently on developing my skills and selling my work. But hey, if you know anyone that needs some help with social media or email marketing, send em my way. I’m officially accepting new clients.
We’ve gone from a miserable situation to something that’s virtually ideal. We’re both developing important skills for our future and having a damn good time doing it. And it wasn’t hard. In Christina’s case, it took putting herself out there and taking a chance at failure. For me, its was as simple as recognizing that this was a shot to do something I’d always wanted to do: focus on writing for a chunk of time. Maybe I’ll call my first book “Sieze the Day.” Surely no one has thought of that.