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St. Kilda, Melbourne

When I think about a mid winter’s farmer’s market, onions, potatoes, cabbage,  and jams come to mind. And vendors shivering, possibly clutching a cup of coffee with two gloved hands. I didn’t expect much from the St. Kilda Farmer’s Market. So when we arrived at the colorful, bustling, market boasting roses and daffodils, oranges, pistachios and tomatoes, chai tee, coffee, beer and wine, and cuts of meat from every beast under the sun, I was flabbergasted and wishing I had a kitchen. We sampled meat pies and Mt. Zero olive oil, spinach dip and home made bread and got a recommendation for a brunch spot that serves bloody marys. It has been a year since I’d had a bloody mary. It didn’t disappoint.

On our way from the market to “the diner with the bloody marys”, we passed Veg Out, a massive community garden and oasis for creativity. It was the wonky iron fence and prayer flags that first caught my attention, and the exploding plots of green and chicken noises that drew us in. What is this magical place? Rhinestone adorned statues, mailboxes in the gardens, chickens that look like Tina Turner and food growing everywhere. I want to be here all the time. I felt like I had found my place. Zach marveled at the composting set up while I checked out the community kitchen.   We walked among the plots, checking out the leeks and greens, and planned to bring a place like this to a place that doesn’t have one. That, we decided, would be a good use of our energy.

Veg Out is a shrine to healthy, delicious food. It is a place for people to come together and dig and chat and make soup.

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Thanks, New Zealand

In the last year I have:

Served as a guest judge in a lamb competition.

Delivered pizzas while loudly singing along to classic rock radio.

Learned a variety of food preservation techniques including fermentation, curing, dehydrating, and jarring.

Relaxed in natural, mud-bottomed hot pools after a seven-hour trek across treacherous swing bridges.

Learned how to make butter, cheese, bread, and whiskey (kind of).

Spent hundreds of hours climbing the schist cliffs around Wanaka and the limestone boulders of Castle Hill.

Failed (twice) to solve very simple problems with our van, which in my defense was of legal drinking age in the US.

Saw the sunrise on Mt. Cook/Aoraki with avalanches falling on peaks around me.

Visited and tasted wines from dozens of little-known-yet-world-class vineyards.

Harvested oysters, mussels, and red snapper from the ocean.

Learned how to skin, gut, and butcher poultry, small game, goats, and pigs for consumption.

Met dozens of new friends from all over the world (England, Australia, Argentina, Germany, France, Chile, Israel, New Zealand…) that I’ll share the rest of my life with. (But don’t worry, old friends, I still love you and miss you all.)

Got engaged to be married to the woman of my dreams.

It’s been a good year.

622

The Day I Yelled “Fuck” in the Middle of Dinner

Kitchen Group Shot-6212

“Here, chug it.”

“We’re chugging wine?”

“Yes. Someone get Alfie. Rikki! Leave the dishes and get over here. Cheers!”

And down the hatch it went. Chugging red wine from paper cups on my last night of work in the kitchen.

Except, holy shit, WTF is that sludge in the bottom of the cup?! Gulp gulp, gulp, tastes like vinegar…. ABORT! ABORT! Definitely vinegar.

“Fuck! What was that!?”

And just when I thought, Was there soy sauce in there? Am I going to barf? an onslaught of condiments came hurtling toward me. Cream pie to the hair, a heavy dusting of cocoa and a shower of oil from squeeze bottles had me cowering in a banana box, yelling expletives while normal people had lovely desserts at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. Laughing and crying and dripping, I got got. Apparently you aren’t supposed to trust anyone on your last day in the kitchen. I didn’t know that.

 I had an awesome job in Wanaka. I worked with people who helped me make a career change from teacher to chef (though I don’t feel comfortable using that title quite yet). I made friends with four chefs who taught me everything I needed to know. How to use the meat slicer, segment oranges, make sabayon, skin a ham, trim a filet, make pastry cream, plate food and do that little smear of caramel on a dessert plate.

They taught me what its like to work in a kitchen, to use scales and timers, to label things and always be looking at tomorrow. They showed me how to work during those in between moments during service, to prep more lettuce for the next rush, or get the hazelnuts roasting so tomorrow you can just come in and get started on the praline. Or to caramelize apples in the middle of service because people are eating twice as much dessert tonight (they do that when its cold).

I loved learning skills and spending my whole day working with food. In New York, I looked forward to preparing food when I got home from work, but now I get to do that for work. But the thing is, I don’t care too much for stress. And I like eating dinner. Neither of which jive too well with making many other people’s dinner all at the same time. Despite not loving dinner service, I’ll probably wind up doing it in several more restaurants, as it is an awesome arena for learning new skills.

I decided to send my knives home and will pick up an all purpose knife along the way. I’m going to miss the scales, kitchen aid mixer, and easy answers from experienced chefs, but as a going away present, my kitchen fam gave me an awesome travel spice kit so I can still work some magic over the camp stove or in the communal hostel kitchen.

Hopefully our paths will cross again. Maybe next time it will be in front of a pig on a spit at our farm :)

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Winter Gallery Through a New Lens!

We just upgraded from an iPhone3G to a 4 and have been having so much fun having a phone that takes decent pictures and can load data at a reasonable speed! We’ve also activated an Instagram account for Bring a Snack, so feel free to check us out there. Here are a few pictures from the past week, walking around the lake, some of the dishes I make at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and downhill skiing at Cardrona and cross country skiing Snow Farm.

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Rain

We’ve had cold, nasty, nonstop rain for days. Translation: an excuse to bake bread and drink tea all day. Pistachio biscotti, Will’s rye, Gerard’s vegan pumpkin and a fig loaf from work.

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A good book _____________________________.

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I’m reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked. I haven’t read any of his books other than the Omnivore’s Dilemma, but from the first page, I felt like I was spending time with an old friend. If you haven’t read anything by Pollan, do. He will teach you things that will change your life and make you laugh while doing so. In Cooked, Pollan learns how to cook. (Duh.) He divides the book into sections about cooking with fire, water, earth and air.

As he learns about cooking with each element, I feel like I’m learning a little alongside him. Learning about what exactly happens when you are salting or browning a piece of meat. Pollan is takes concepts that I kind of know, or often do, and explains them clearly. For example:

If you begin by sauteing a mince of diced onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil (and perhaps some garlic, fennel, or parsley), you’ve made a soffritto, the signature of an Italian dish. However, a “sofrito”-when spelled with one “f” and one “t”- is a dice of onions, garlic, and tomato in place of celery, and identifies the dish as Spanish. (Cajun cooking begins with a dice of nions, garlic, and bell pepper- “the holy trinity.”) If a recipe calls for a base of diced spring onions, garlic, and ginger, you’ve left the West entirely and made what is sometimes called an “Asian mirepoix,” the foundation of many dishes in the Far east… Even if we’re unfamiliar with these terms or techniques, the aroma of these chopped up plant bases instantly tells us where in the world we are, culinarily speaking. (Pollan, 127)

So while walking home today I was thinking about how to use up the ingredients we have in the house and still eat something exciting. Onions, carrots, potatoes, noodles….. Not exciting. I wasn’t getting anywhere until I came back to that onion. I’ve been been reading about the onion for days. The onion is the base for most flavor profiles around the world. So instead of thinking about what the end product was going to look like, a pile of roast veggies, or a soup, I thought about what kind of flavor I could make with my onion. A woody stub of ginger and some garlic that were hiding in the bottom of the fruit bowl brought me to asian, which reminded me that we have Pak Choy in the garden of winter greens that Zach has been cultivating. Bam! Instead of settling on a random pile of ingredients that need to be eaten, I had an awesome stir fry. It just took thinking about it from a different angle, which is what Mr. Michael Pollan helped me do tonight.

A good book keeps me thinking even when I’m not reading it. It improves real life. And this good book made dinner better. That’s a winner!

1,662

What the World Eats

Photographs by Peter Menzel from the book "Hungry Planet"

I originally saw this on Reddit, but tracked down the source to Time Mag and a new book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. It’s interesting to see how widely a diet can vary based on geographical circumstances. Some thoughts:

Japan: So. much, packaging.
Italy: tomatoes and bread. Typical, Italy.
Chad: $1.23. Per WEEK. For SIX people. SIX.
America: Pizza, natch.
Mexico: Looks pretty healthy, lots of fruit and veg. WAIT, WHOA that’s a lot of Coca-cola.
Egypt: Cook me dinner, please.
Ecuador: Best smile award.
Mongolia: That’s a large pile of meat.
Great Britain: Reppin’ Cadbury.
Bhutan: Beautiful photo.
Germany: $500!

The thing that strikes me most is that such wildly different diets can produce similarly sized and healthy-looking adults. Also, so many people spend money on expensive bottled beverages and juices. Lots of empty calories and waste products here. What are your thoughts on the differences (and similarities) here?

Photograph by Peter Menzel from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

 

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Restaurant Review: Pegasus Bay Winery

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When you eat at an award-winning restaurant, you can be fairly sure that you’re going to have a good meal. Those kind of places just don’t let bad food leave the kitchen. At this tier, what separates the good from the great is more subtle: things like proactive service, thoughtful menu design and a setting that transforms you to another place. On all those subtleties, Pegasus Bay shows why it was named New Zealand’s top winery restaurant three years in a row.

Think of the last time you had a hard time choosing a meal at a restaurant. You were seated and you just stared at the menu for a while. The server came by and asked if you had any questions. You said you didn’t, but needed a few more minutes. They came back a few minutes later and you picked something arbitrarily to get on with the meal. There are two possible scenarios when this happens: either nothing on the menu appeals to you or everything does. The latter is how I felt at Pegasus Bay. I could have closed my eyes and picked anything on the menu and been excited about it showing up in front of me. There were no bad choices.

Next, think of the last time you chose to eat outside, then regretted it halfway through the meal. The wind picked up, or the sun went behind a cloud and the temperature dropped precipitously, or maybe you were sweating through your t-shirt and couldn’t drink enough water to avoid an inevitable headache. Did the staff realize this and suggest you move to a table that might be more comfortable, dragging along all your plates, glasses and silverware? No, because that would be a hassle and they didn’t have time or care enough to realize you were cold. Not at Pegasus Bay. Before we even considered moving to a table in the sun, they suggested it. Thoughtful service is more than just recommending the perfect wine.

These kinds of details, plus fantastic food and a gorgeous dining space that transported us to a garden somewhere in Mediterranean Europe, added up to a memorable dining experience. Expect to spend a shiny bit of coin, but if you’re traveling near Christchurch, New Zealand, put Pegasus Bay on the to-eat list.

Oh yeah, and the wines are awesome! Try the Reisling (dry and off-dry), Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet/Merlot blend. Oh hell, just try all of them. The region (Waipara) is known for its Pinot Noir and Reisling, but Pegasus Bay shows there are many more good varietals being produced there.

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Old Bay in Da House!

Old Bay-5953

Last week we met Dan from Maryland. I am from Maryland. We met on the internet through, you guessed it, the Facebook. He lives on the North Island of NZ and was cruising through Wanaka while on vacay, so we met up for some grilled lamb chops on the lake front. He came bearing a can of Old Bay. Old Bay is what home tastes like. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is the seasoning that is heaped on steamed crabs, which are a local tradition in Maryland. It is the seasoning that gets in your nails and up your wrists when picking crabs for hours on end, it flavors your corn and your french fries when you use said grubby hands during your intermission between crabs, it scums up your beer can, and inevitably gets all over your jean shorts. And now it is here with us in Wanaka.

The thing is though, we don’t have any crabs. The can says that it is perfect for “seafood, poultry, salads, and meats,” but what it should be followed by is, “if you don’t have crabs or shrimp.” So today it went on brussels sprouts and was awesome. Not the same (how could it be?), but the sprouts were an excellent Old Bay delivery system.

Roasted brussels sprouts with Old Bay

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Gibbston Valley Wine & Food Festival

Tasting at Gibbston

On a recent weekend, the dozen-ish vineyards in the Gibbston Valley held their annual wine and food festival. I like wine. I like food. I like festivals and sunshine and fun. Count me in! The event proved to be an awesome experience, but it wasn’t without a few disappointments.

The Gibbston Valley is home to a small sub-class of New Zealand’s Central Otago wine region. Like the rest of the region, it’s known for growing pinot noir, but a range of white wines are also produced. The valley is a short drive from Queenstown and about an hour from Wanaka, where we originated.

After we paid our entry fee ($15) we were given a tasting glass for the event that contained three small cards with winemaker logos. These represented free tastings at the corresponding tents. This was a nice touch; if we were just given three free tastings at the vineyard of our choice we would have probably picked the most well-known or critically acclaimed vineyards; or, actually, the first three we found. Their specific free tastings forced us not only to try new wines, but walk around the grounds searching for specific vineyards and seeing all else that was on offer in the process. Also, because there were four of us attending together, we were able to share tastes and get a bit from nearly every vineyard in the region. Standouts were: Highgate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Kalex Dry Riesling 2011, Kalex Medium Riesling 2011 (though I do have a bit of a sweet tooth).

In addition to the tents offering taste and glasses, there were blind tasting events and workshops throughout the day, led by winemakers and vigneron of the region.

The absolute highlight was the blending workshop ($10) lead by Sean Brennan. It was an opportunity to taste the 2012 Brennan pinot noir vintage straight from the barrels and create our own concoction. We sat down in front of four bottles from different clones and barrel types (old and new oak) and then blended them like mad scientists into a “finished” wine. They began as fizzy grape-like juice with biting tannins and emerged as something resembling wine! Sean tasted our concoctions, offered his opinions and we went back to the drawing board. It was amazing to see how a bit more of one kind of clone from old oak adds a completely different character. We really got to play winemaker for an hour.

So while the “wine” part of the festival was completely satisfying, the “food” part wasn’t. It’s not that the food was bad (it was good!) but when I think of a food festival, I imagine the best local chefs coming together to show off their finest creations. This was more a collection of the same half dozen food trucks that I’ve seen at events all over the area. They were good, but didn’t leave me wanting more. The event was definitely wine first, food second.

I’d recommend the festival to others and encourage you to attend the discussions and tasting events, but I suggest the organizers drop the “food” part of the name. It’s just a little misleading. Expect small crowds, lots of great Gibbston Valley wines and really knowledgable people giving you straight answers on both simple and complicated questions.

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