Up in the frozen northern tundra it may not be time for a springy sangria quite yet, but here at Bring a Snack we’re all about keeping you prepared. Think of it as training for the climate change apocalypse. Anyway, we hope that your weekends are soon sunny and warm, and you’re able to enjoy them with this quick, delicious, and manly white sangria.
BONUS CULTURAL LESSON: here in New Zealand you’ll often hear “as” appended to the end of an adjective to indicate extremity. “Sweet as” is the most common, but I’ve also heard “stupid as,” “fun as,” even “dangerous as,” which doesn’t have the same ring to it. Thus, “cheap as” white sangria. This officially ends your BONUS CULTURAL LESSON for today.
Ginger Simple Syrup:
250 ml water (about a cup)
250 g sugar
2 knobs grated ginger (a few tablespoon before grating, exactness not essential)
500 ml light rum
2.5 l dry white Chateau Cardboard (again, cheap as)
Lotsa diced fruit
Ginger simple syrup to taste – start with 250 ml
1. Heat water and sugar for ginger syrup over medium heat, add ginger and let cool.
2. Mix hooch (except blueberries and soda water) and chuck it in the fridge overnight so the fruit can make sexy time with the liquid. Hopefully minimal breeding will occur.
2. Pour hooch over ice and still-frozen blueberries.
3. Top off with soda water for taste bud excitement.
4. Consume far too much.
On the fruit: we used apples and apricots because we could pinch them from nearby trees (with permission!). Use whatever lighter-colored fruits you like, are cheap, and would taste good. For example: banana would be a mistake. Strawberries would be awesome. Juicy berries would make a darker sangria, but would taste good. Go crazy!
What’s better than a nice, long, hike up a gorgeous valley through untouched native forests? A nice, long, hike up a gorgeous valley through untouched native forests that ends at NATURAL HOT SPRINGS!
That’s right folks, we just returned from our latest adventure, a two-day, 36km walk to Welcome Flat Hut on the western end of the Copland Track. The full track connects the Fox Glacier area with Mount Cook Village, via Copland Pass over the Southern Alps. Copland Pass is notoriously dangerous and difficult, but the trek up the valley approaching the pass is quite easy and stunningly beautiful. Simply turn around and hike out after a night at Welcome Flat, avoiding the pass and any need for connecting transportation.
Oh and did I mention there are NATURAL HOT SPRINGS at the hut? And when I say natural, I mean natural: no concrete in sight. Bubbling, gaseous water is literally seeping out of the ground mere feet from the hut and pouring into several pools ranging from bathwater warm to “perhaps I’ll poach an egg in here” hot. A strange soft green mud lines the bottom of the pools, with which we promptly and thoroughly exfoliated. Who needs a spa? Nature’s got it sorted.
To top it off, the glacial Copland River flows steps away from the pools, so if you’re game you can easily go back and forth between sizzling and shivering. Sensory overload? Check.
A few words to the wise: bring some sandals for the path back and forth from the springs to the river and hut, unless your Kiwi Feet are well-trained. My tender dogs were a bit sore after jogging between the river and pools a few times in bare feet, and I paid for it on the six hour walk out the next day. Speaking of the next day, take a leisurely start and another wake-up dunk in the river/pools, then head up the valley past the hut (leaving your packs behind) toward Douglas Rock for about an hour. The views of Mt. Sefton and the rest of the craggy Southern Alps only get better and the track is often empty. Plus, now you’ll have the majority of the crowd well in front of you for the walk out.
Photos by Robyn Wilson. Thanks Robyn!
“Two rocket salads, gorgonzola salad, one anti board,” Head Chef Matt calls out as the new ticket comes through.
“Got it,” I tell him, while brushing the bread with garlic oil, before putting it under the salamander to warm. I grab two bowls, one for each type of salad and start putting the lettuces in that I washed earlier in the shift when I hear the printer again and listen for which part of the next order pertains to me.
“Tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate,” he calls.
“Yup.” Okay, Two rocket, gorgonzola, antiboard, tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate. Shit, get the bread.
Thankfully, one of the other cooks has already moved it to a lower shelf where it won’t burn and has started on the desserts. The kitchen at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is tiny, as is the kitchen staff, but there is a creative, all-hands-on-deck, let’s-make-this-happen kind of vibe.
I’ve been washing dishes at Francesca’s since it opened at the end of December and have just started training on the larder station. When I applied for the job I said in my cover letter,
“I have never worked in a restaurant kitchen, but I am passionate about food…I have come to New Zealand to learn how to grow food and raise animals, to learn where my food comes from. My goal is to return home to the United States and start a farm-to-table restaurant. I want to create a friendly space that provides healthy, delicious food to excited patrons. Working in a restaurant kitchen is my next step to achieving that goal.”
While I didn’t have the experience to be a prep cook, they took me on as a “dishy” and said they would train me up to work on a station, which is precisely what is happening right now. My schedule here in Wanaka quickly changed from lazy days by the lakefront to working 40 hour weeks again. Work clothes, work shoes, after work drinks, payday, staff meal, it’s all coming back to me now. But I picked it and it is an exciting thing to pick a new job.
I’ve started splitting my time between washing dishes and training with another cook during dinner service. I help prep for dinner service and scrub massive pots of Napoli sauce all afternoon. If I am dishing, you can find me standing in a puddle, up to my elbows in gray, chunky water, rinsing ramekins of aoli and scrubbing cheese off of the forks from 7 until 11pm. Knowing that this job is temporary and that it is opening doors to something that I want to do makes it far more bearable.
When I am training though, I get a little taste of the excitement. I practice making multiple orders at a time and when it gets really busy, another cook will hop in and help out. I’ve quickly realized that working dinner service isn’t really cooking, but more listening, assembling ingredients and staying organized. It is both terrifying and interesting, and time flies by when I’m not dishing. Needless to say, this will be a challenge, but one that is really exciting.
I don’t know if I want to be a cook for ever, but I do want to be one for now. I want to learn what makes a good cook and collect skills that will help run a successful, efficient kitchen when it comes time to launch the Master Plan.
My mom and dad were here in New Zealand for almost three weeks. They rented a campervan and after a few days of hanging out with our friends here in Wanaka, we hit the road together for a grandiose tour of a very small part of the country. They didn’t try to drive around the whole country and see all of the sights. They didn’t go to Marlborough or see Fox Glacier and will probably meet someone who has and exclaims, “How could you not?!”
But we did it better. We stuck to the southern part of the South Island and soaked in the people, the mountains, and the striking beauty of the country that you often miss if you only have one day in a town. When we drove into Mt. Cook National Park, Mt. Cook was shrouded in clouds and the typically turquoise Lake Pukaki was an uninspiring slate gray. Lucky for us, we spent three days there. We saw the mountains in different light, from different elevation, and by the time we left, we felt like we got to know the place a little.
Our plans were flexible enough that when a local told us to spend the morning at the Moeraki Lighthouse, we could take his suggestion. The lighthouse was 8km down a dusty, unsealed road and poorly marked. It wasn’t much of a tourist attraction. No one else was there. Well, except for a huge colony of seals and some penguins waddling around the grasses. There were no fences other than those at the edge of the cliffs or around the paddocks. While exploring the rocky shoreline, Dad nearly stepped on a massive, dozing seal who was camouflaged among the rocks until he sat up and roared, sending Dad sprinting in the opposite direction.
Whether eating PB&Js on a mountain or sharing a bottle of Central Otago Pinot Noir, we are so grateful that we had the chance to travel with my parents. Our friend Nico from German said, “I think I am a little bit jealous that your parents came and traveled with you.” It wasn’t just a visit; we got to share a perspective with them.
Thank you, guys!
“What are you going to to when you go home?” is a question we hear with some frequency. It usually follows “are you ever going home?” Don’t worry, moms and dads, the answer is “yes.”
We do plan to return to the US, and our plans for when that time comes are still taking shape. Now we call on you, fair readers, to poke and prod and hopefully, make helpful suggestions to our plan.
A few months ago we publicly announced that we’re interested in starting a farm, but that’s pretty vague. Farms vary wildly in size and purpose; there’s everything from the small self-sufficiency holding to the massive corporate behemoth. Where do we want to fall on that spectrum? What do we want to grow?
We certainly want to be larger than the very small guys. We want to be as self-sufficient as possible, but we also want to live off this endeavor and buy things that we can’t produce: coffee, chocolate, entertainment. Maybe we’ll make our own honey and beer, but we want the flexibility to buy stuff: gadgets, books, or The Meaning of Life (with free shipping!) on eBay. We haven’t gone completely off the deep end.
And we definitely want to be smaller than the big guys. We don’t want row crops or a concentrated feeding operation. We don’t want to poison the earth with herbicides and suck the nutrients completely out of the ground.
So now that you’ve got a pretty good idea what we don’t want, maybe what we do want will make more sense. We want a diversity of vegetables, fruit trees, and animals. We love pork so pigs are pretty much guaranteed. Their ability to consume a lot of farm by-products is also a plus. These kiwis have taught me a lot about the value and ease of sheep, though they are “dumb as,” in the vernacular. The farm-raised lamb chops, which are probably the juiciest cut of meat I’ve ever tasted, didn’t hurt. Goats are smart and efficient at turning grass into milk, but cows cut down on the labor involved in harvesting that milk. So we’re still up in the air in the dairy department. Chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl are also very likely in our future. Geese and their midnight honking are definitely not. So we’re going to produce a lot of different stuff. What are we going to do with it all?
At first, we’ll sell at markets and add value with prepared foods: spreads, sauces, etc. We’ll need a licensed commercial kitchen to keep Johnny Law off our backs, but we’re hoping to rent a space for food preparation until we can build our own.
Ultimately, we want to open a full service restaurant on the property. We’ll operate as a casual cafe for breakfast and lunch, with wifi access and delicious coffee, baked goods, and a small menu of simple food. For the dinner service we’ll move up market to a slightly fancier version of the same. Our dining room will be a place you wouldn’t mind taking your kids at 6 o’clock or a date at 8. Prices will be accessible and again, the menu would be limited. And of course, we’ll supply as much of the food served as possible from the farm. We’ll welcome patrons to take a walk around and see where the pork chop that they’re about to eat rooted for nuts, or pick an apple off that tree with heavily laden branches for a snack before their meal. We’ll bring food to people and bring people to food. Our vision is for a welcoming place that inspires the community and makes people excited to spend time there, be it on a date or just to swing by for some eggs.
Further down the line, we’ll incorporate education. We’ll host a small army of WWOOFers, welcome school groups, and offer courses to the public. We’ll have an internship/apprentice program and bring our products to underserved markets.
Finding the right place for this will be difficult. We think that a 20-30 acre plot of land will be small enough to be manageable at first, while giving us room to grow as we get better at this farming thing. Climate and length of growing season are factors to consider, but we’re prepared to use greenhouses and tall tunnels to artificially lengthen the season. Annual precipitation and access to water are huge factors, and we’d rather consistent rain than committing to constantly moving irrigation around.
We need a community that would be excited about supporting a farm-to-table restaurant, but doesn’t already have lots of great options in that category. We need a location that’s accessible for the walk-up cafe crowd, but also a significant chunk of land to do our growing. For our own sanity, we need outdoor recreation close by; we’re avid rock climbers, hikers, and cyclists. We’d like to be within a few hours of an international airport, so we can get out and welcome visitors without too much hassle. We want the perfect spot, and, I think, this will be the most difficult part of this endeavor. Or at least the first most difficult part.
I hope you can see that we’ve thought about this a lot, and also that we’ve got a long way to go. We have a solid idea of what we want, but really don’t know anything at all about achieving it. So we need your help. Comment, email, text, Facebook, smoke signal, or carrier pigeon us your thoughts, advice, reservations, whatever.
Last week, Christina and I walked the Milford Track. Dubbed “The Finest
Wok Walk in the World,” we had high hopes for this trip. After 53.5km of tumbling waterfalls, epic vistas, and misty mountains fit for the finest of wizards, let’s just say that our expectations were totally exceeded in every way. Here are a few photos from the trip:
We were running late, as usual, and didn’t have a lot of time to search around town for the restaurant. Fortunately, when the address you’re looking for is “Fleur’s Place, The Old Jetty, Moeraki, New Zealand” you can be pretty sure that there’s not much else in town.
Moeraki is on a tiny peninsula jutting into the vast Pacific Ocean, and on its lone, weather-beaten pier rests Fleur’s Place, a corrugated tin clubhouse that doubles as a destination dining experience. The once-bustling pier was where Moeraki competed with, and ultimately lost to, its northern neighbor Oamaru as the shipping hub for the area.
We learned of this hidden little gem a few months ago, when someone handed Chrstina a copy of Fleur Sullivan’s autobiography. One of New Zealand’s most well-known and influential chefs, she rose to national fame managing Oliver’s, an innovative restaurant and lodge in Central Otago. After reading her book and learning about her new concept: seafood straight from the boat to plates; her restaurant in Moeraki quickly rose to the top of our to-do list.
Like the rest of New Zealand, Fleur’s Place is casual, welcoming, and a little rough around the edges. The aesthetic is best illustrated by the array of mismatched teacups and saucers perched on the bar: what was once precious is now a little absurd. And the parallels here to other high-end cooking are almost too easy. As gourmet food has veered further and further toward molecular gastronomy and farther from its, well, bread and butter: delicious, fresh ingredients; it’s become a caricature. I’d rather ultra-fresh ingredients than foams any day. And most of all, that’s what Fleur’s Place hammered home: sometimes it’s not about complicated recipes or processes, but sourcing excellent, locally produced ingredients and getting out of the way.
While the menu has its share of classics and old standbys, we never considered anything but the fresh fish for which Fleur’s Place is famous. The seafood chowder was thick and heavy on shellfish that tasted like they’d hopped off the rocks and into the pot. New Zealand’s famous green-lipped mussels, cockles, and clams were the stars of the rich, tomato-based soup, slicing through with savory meatiness.
The day’s catch was blue cod, brill, sole, tarakuhi, and moki. Cod is somewhat of a workhorse fish, used frequently for the popular and ubiquitous fried fish and chips, so it wasn’t the obvious choice for a nice meal out. But just because something is common (and commonly done badly) doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious. And it turned out to be the perfect example of the point: use good ingredients and get out of the way.
A year ago, I never would have lobbied for a whole fish versus fillets. The sight and thought of the fish head staring back at me and the prospect of picking through tons of little bones to get every last bit of flesh off the skeleton would have directed me elsewhere. But not anymore. Through our experiences traveling (butchering, fishing, dealing with carcasses) I’m far more comfortable staring down a whole fish and digging the delicious medallions of meat out of his/her cheeks. Plus, filleting a fish leaves a lot of delicious meat on the bone. I’ll happily deal with a few bones if it means having enough left over (after completely over-eating) for fish tacos the next day. Bring it on.
Grilled and doused in a caper berry (not to be confused with their little brothers, capers) and almond brown butter, it was decadent but not excessive. The proportions of ingredients were exact, allowing the fish to stand on its own, complimented (but not dominated) by the salty caper berries and crunchy almond slices. And why else would you go to a seafood restaurant than to eat fish that tastes like fish? Too often a plate of butter is substituted for decent, fresh seafood. Not at Fleur’s.
Maybe its the rustic setting, or the fish gutting station outside the kitchen door, or the dish towels hanging to dry in the sun just beyond the view of diners, but Fleur’s has authenticity bursting from its seams. Don’t come to be entertained by tricks of the kitchen, come for the freshest fish imaginable and simple, skilled preparation.