It’s that Time of the Season

It is a strange thing being in another hemisphere from most of our friends and family. As we are enjoying the last of the long evenings and noticing that mornings are nippier than usual, our friends in the states are thinking about the farmer’s market and pastel colored jeans.

Wanaka has already started emptying out and is making it’s way back toward the quiet town we landed in in November. Since Christmas, it has been buzzing with bus loads of 19 year old German sightseers, timesharing Aussies, and Kiwis in town for weddings. Last weekend was the Wanaka A&P Show, which was a bit like the local version of Labor Day Weekend. One last big party.

Horses frolic in Lake Wanaka after the A&P Show

This weekend marks the first of our friends to leave town. On to Bali, Norway, Figi, England, Vietnam, and Prague, virtually everyone we have become friends with is moving on in the next month. Some will come back in June to work and take advantage of the skiing at Cardrona and Treble Cone, and some won’t. I have to admit, all this talk of Lonely Planet guides, cheap Air Asia flights, and hole in the wall restaurants has a part of me itching to hit the road again.

And we will continue on, just not right now. Because right now we are up to something. Our decision to stay in Wanaka through the winter wasn’t difficult. I have just moved from dishwasher to line cook at the restaurant and am excited about work, excited to learn and to get better at working on the line. I learn a new skill or recipe new every day, be it how to make home made marscapone, flavored olive oils, or chocolate truffles. While I work in the kitchen, Zach will start a new job working at the pizza truck, and we try to find a balance between climbing, skiing (!!) and saving a bit of money for flights to India in September.

The people we met here were a major reason that we decided to stay in Wanaka back in November, but as the summer comes to an end and those people continue their travels, we are here, ready to make new friends and continue to learn about food and potential business options from our posts in the kitchen and on the food truck.


Cheers to a great summer and a new chapter in Wanaka!



Step by Step, it Comes Together


It’s almost noon and I’ve been laying in bed, drinking coffee, reading Lucky Peach and making diagrams of salads…ehm… doing research all morning. Last night was a big night: I worked the larder station for the first time on my own, which was exciting and scary and fun all at the same time. I went to bed quite pleased with myself for not screwing anything up, dreamed about the meat slicer (affectionately), and woke up totally inspired. Not inspired to get out of bed or even to make breakfast, but rather to read food porn, brainstorm delicious meals and take notes on things that I want to eat around the world. (Melbourne and San Sebastian, we’re coming for you!)


I’d been brainstorming what to make for dinner when Zach’s mom, Pat, and step-mom, Lydia, come in ten days. The cooks at work say you don’t make friends with salads, but I beg to differ. Especially when there is cheese involved. As I fantasized about paper thin slices of beetroot, I remembered that the tools that we have in our kitchen are all from the Op Shop and the knives smush tomatoes instead of cutting them. This beetroot carpaccio would be impossible given our pathetic assortment of tools.

I ordered two knives a few weeks ago and have been anxiously awaiting their arrival so that I can practice chiffonading basil and dicing mire poix at home. Feeling slightly dejected that they had yet to arrive, I got up to pee, when what did I see, but a package for me!

A package containing the sexiest knives I’ve ever laid eyes on!

No one was home to share in my excitement, so I skipped around the house in my underpants, clutching my package, giddily looking for something sharp enough to get through the packing tape. I laughed out loud (innocently at first, then maniacally) when my new knife slipped through a potato like it was room temperature butter.

The big boy. Little brother not pictured.

Today is going to be a Very Good Day.


Working in Wanaka


“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.


“The Trip of a Lifetime!”

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!


Christmas in Wanaka

Wanaka Xmas Poppies

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.

Saturday morning cricket in Pembrook Park

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:

Donna Hay Christmas photo shoot in Broome, Australia. Pic courtesy of Australia’s North West FB page.


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:

Some things are best explained with a piece of chalk and a venn diagram!

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.

Wanaka Xmas


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Folks!


The Crime Line

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.

From 28-11-2012

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.


Welcome to Wanaka!

Photo courtesy of Andy Woods Photography

We left the Death Star WWOOFing experience and headed west to climb. Our plan that morning was just to get out of there and do something fun. Once we had achieved that, we would figure out the rest of the plan. On our way out of town, a friend that we had met at Castle Hill texted, “Come to Wanaka aka ‘Heaven on Earth!’” So we did.

And what did we find when we got here? Heaven on Earth. Wanaka is a funky, young town on a gorgeous lake at the base of some killer mountains. There is climbing, mountain biking, boating (note: we are actively looking for a friend with a boat), bars and really nice people our age who like the same stuff as us.

On our first day in Wanaka we went climbing, showered (!!), went to a BBQ, made new friends, and played Risk with said friends. All in one day, in a brand new town! We spent a few days sitting on the shore of the lake. Every day I thought, “I want to swim in you every day this summer.” So we’ve decided to try to stay in Wanaka for the summer season. I applied to a bunch of kitchens to work as a kitchen hand and Zach is going to look for farm work.

We are currently in this awkward position of not knowing if I have a job yet, not really having a place to shower and do laundry, not really knowing if this plan is going to work. But we are giving it a go!


Communication is Sexy

“Something isn’t working,” I said to Zach, while staring at the road ahead of us.

“I know. What is it?” he replied, as we continued driving through the fields of sheep, toward the Castle Hill climbing area.

I sat there and thought. I could feel the lump in my throat. I hate these conversations. Zach and I usually have them about once a year, but since we have been on the road, we have had to talk about what’s working and what’s not working more often.

“I don’t know,” I said, feeling stupid for not having the answer. At home, if I were in a funk, I’d go to the gym or grab a drink with a gal pal and after a day or two, things would be back to normal. But in the van, if one of us is in a funk, the other has to endure it as well.

“It doesn’t feel like we are on the same team.” It sounded totally pathetic to say it out loud.

“It’s just business, we are dealing with a lot of stuff and making a lot of decisions.”

“Maybe…. but that doesn’t work for me. I’m still your girlfriend.”

“Okay, yeah. I know that. I’m sorry. I’ll work on that. I love you.” He took his eyes off the road to glance over at me, smile and squeezed my hand.

I sat there still feeling incomplete, knowing that it takes two to tango. “So what is it that I’m doing or not doing that is making you frustrated?”

“We just have a lot of decisions to make. I need you to be clear about what you want and how you’re feeling. And to be decisive.”

“I can do that.” And like that, our team of two was back on track. There wasn’t much conversation for the rest of our drive, but we both smiled and breathed easy as we wound past lakes and through mountains back to our campsite.

Here we are, pushing thirty and we are still working on being nice, sharing, and talking about our feelings.

Before we left for our trip, I was a little nervous about spending all day, every day together. Quite simply, I was worried that I would annoy him and he might annoy me. We work great as a couple; we bring different perspectives and strengths to the table. Zach is careful, systematic, analytical. I am impulsive, creative, and light hearted. But we have never spent this much time with one another. When living in the city and working separate jobs, being greeted at the end of the day with this other personality was a great reprieve from one’s self.

Living in a van and spending most of every day together is totally different. As expected, it’s been a challenge. We work together, eat together, climb and play together. We’re constantly planning, budgeting, reworking our travels and looking at one another’s writing. It’s a lot and it is usually pretty easy. But that kind of sharing, critiquing and communicating requires an open and comfortable space so that amidst the working relationship, we can still have a romantic relationship.

When a problem does arise, there’s no avoiding it.  It sits in the center seat of the van and makes it feel crowded. We have to address it. Things like being nice to one another when frustrated, creating alone time, being organized, and communicating clearly have come up as issues that wouldn’t otherwise come up if we weren’t living in a small space and spending all of our time with each other. I can’t make a pile of my stuff in the corner because the corner is the whole room.

We’ve been together for a long time and had been comfortable in a routine, but this trip is making us face new challenges. Though it isn’t always comfortable, we share an understanding that change is a good thing and there isn’t anything we can’t do. And for that, I am grateful.



Though our blog posts may indicate that we have been flouncing around on mountains and cuddling baby goats all day, we have also been quite hard at work. Here are some of the projects we have been working on:

A shelf! Zach built it and I did the hooks and paint job. Watch out, Pottery Barn!


We extracted seeds from last winter’s hardiest pumpkins for next year’s planting. It is spring here and it warmed my soul to smell pumpkins in October.


Courtyard before: Construction site


Courtyard after: Well on its way to being a great communal space!
Zach built the fence and hung the gate. I built the zen garden and chamomile lawn. The stairs were a group effort.


The weeding is never ending! We weeded three plots and planted beans and lettuces that have just started to come up.



A Day in the Life: Brodie Estate

Making some new friends

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.

What we drink in the van VS. What we drink in the house















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.

Cow crossing on the way to Cabbage Tree vineyard















Cabbage Tree

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.

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