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Preserving the Summer

 

For all you northern hemisphere folks, spring is on its way. But  here in New Zealand, winter is coming. We are taking advantage of the summer’s bounty so we can continue to eat well while our favorite flavors become so last season.

946

You say PAP-ri-kuh, I say pap-REE-kuh

735px-Spanishsmokedpaprika

What’s paprika? No, I know its a spice. I know its red and comes in a few varieties. Its taste is kind of hard to describe. But where does it come from? Is it a seed like cumin or pepper? Is it a leaf like basil or sage? Is a fruit? Does it grow on a tree? As it turns out, it’s a vegetable.

Paprika is literally dried, ground, and mixed bell and chili peppers, or “capsicum” if you consider tea a substance worth warring over. In fact, the word “paprika” means “pepper” in Hungarian, which is where the spice is commonly produced.

To add to the confusion, there are a number of varieties of paprika beyond just the “hot” or “sweet” versions that we’re used to in America. From Wikipedia:

• Special quality (Különleges) the mildest, very sweet with a deep bright red color.
• Delicate (csípősmentes csemege) – color from light to dark red, a mild paprika with a rich flavor.
• Exquisite Delicate (Csemegepaprika) – similar to Delicate, but more pungent.
• Pungent Exquisite Delicate (Csípős Csemege, Pikáns) – an even more pungent version of Delicate.
• Rose (Rózsa) – pale red in color with strong aroma and mild pungency.
• Noble Sweet (Édesnemes) – the most commonly exported paprika; bright red and slightly pungent.
• Half-Sweet (Félédes) – A blend of mild and pungent paprikas; medium pungency.
• Strong (Erős) – light brown in color, the hottest paprika

I’ll try pretty much anything described as “Pungent Exquisite Delicate.”

1,098

Step by Step, it Comes Together

Bed

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.

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“Cheap As” White Sangria Recipe

sangria-8287

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)

Hooch:
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
Frozen blueberries
Soda water

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!

2,161

Our Vision: Bringing Food to People and People to Food

farmer-zach-5900

“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.

733

Restaurant Review: Fleur’s Place

Fleur's Place

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.

Covert Laundry

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.

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New Zealand Beer: The Awesome, the Decent, and the Very, Very Bad

Beer Lineup

“There’s plenty of good wine, but NO good beer in New Zealand,” I heard from a fellow traveler a few weeks before departing the Uh-merica for the Land of the Rings.

“Uh oh.” I was coming from New York City, which, with apologies to Denver and Austin, was rapidly moving up the charts of beer nerd heaven. Within blocks of my apartment I had beer bars, beer specialty stores (much love, Top Hops), even Chinatown bodegas filling growlers with local brews! “This could be a problem,” I thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice glass of wine with food or a movie, but there are some events that just call for beer: sports, mostly. How could I watch Syracuse b-ball with a glass of pinot noir? I’m not one to tempt the wrath of Boeheim.

Luckily, my traveler friend was wrong. There’s plenty of good beer in NZ. There’s also plenty of very bad beer and golly, the good stuff is expensive. So I find myself strategizing more in my purchasing decisions. Maybe back home the question was: good or cheap? Here, it’s: bad and not so cheap, decent and expensive, or excellent and worth its weight in gold? This isn’t a good situation for a broke beer nerd to be in.

But I’ve found options in every category that satisfy my hop withdrawals, or at least some that don’t make me cringe.

Cheap: Ranfurly Draught. $24 NZD/18 pack 440ml cans. 4.0% abv
Brewed in a nearby town of the same name and shipped all over the South Island, Ranfurly has become my go-to cheap beer. The best I can say for it is: it’s better than it looks. Yeah, it’s marketed as a cheap beer: the label screams “GIANT 440 ML CANS!!!11!” But I’m ashamed to say that I had it next to a Budweiser and I preferred the second son to the King of Beers. Rich and creamy with a inoffensive aftertaste, I’ll take it over lighter lagers any (every?) day of the week.

 

Decent: Mac’s Hop Rocker Pilsner. $26 NZD/12 pack 330ml bottles. 5.0%abv
For a while I was put off by the relatively cheap pricepoint of Mac’s. And the fact that its a hopped pilsner threw me for a loop. But after sampling it at a recent barbecue, I can say that its probably the best value in New Zealand beer. Lightly hopped with the crisp, bright citrus flavors of a pilsner, its a nice medium ground between huge IPAs and traditionally wimpy pilsners.

 

Gold Standard: 8wired Brewing Company HopWired IPA. $12 NZD/500ml bottle. 7.3%abv
Number 8 wire is the duct tape of New Zealand. Any problem with a car, laundry machine, or health care system can be fixed with “a bit a number eight wire, mate.” And this, if you were wondering, is the provenance of the 8wired Brewing Company’s name. But anyway, I was floored by this beer. I’d put it up against any of the famous US microbrewery IPAs: Dogfish Head, Russian River, Heady Topper, etc. I’m not sure who would come out on top, but I know that HopWired would give them a grudge match. The label mentions “passion fruit, limes, oranges, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes” as flavors. While I won’t go so far as to confirm this from my experience, I can say that its a unique and delicious brew, full of massive hop flavors and a nice malty character. Full disclosure: I’m enjoying a HopWired right now. Life is good.

Don’t believe the beer snobs when the tell you everything sucks, and don’t sleep on the top tier of NZ beers. There are some real treasures here. Cheers, mate.

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Christmas in the Garden

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.

967

Francesca’s Italian Kitchen

Francesca's logo

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 :D

1,024

So You Think You Can Cook

Today’s challenge: One pot, one burner, no fridge. The meal must be tasty, nutritious, and cheap. You will have the duration of the days hike to plan your meal and you must use as little fuel and water to prepare the meal as possible. Bonus points will be awarded to the meal that holds heat the longest.

That’s kind of what cooking dinner is like these days. Except that Zach is my only judge and meals usually earn a thumbs up, even if it is just bean stew. The trick there is to get tired and eat late; then anything that is hot tastes good.

Rice, beans and stir fry veggies in our back of the van bistro

Growing up, my parents would pack the red Suburban full of tents, sleeping bags, food boxes, coolers, kayaks and bikes. They would leave a little nook for me and my sister, Clare, to climb in and sit with our knees about six inches from our faces on our respective sides of the Car Food Bag. The Car Food Bag was separate from the camping food bags, which were more for meals rather than in transit consumption. Example: Pringles, carrot sticks, and cheese and crackers in the car food bag, whole tomatoes, loaves of bread, and smores supplies in the camping food bag.

I don’t remember ever hearing Mom and Dad hash out the meal plans before we left for a family vacation, probably because I was in the basement watching Roseanne or cutting up socks to make outfits for my troll dolls, but there was a plan. I know there was a plan because there were always enough cheese slices to last two days, which is about how long cheese can last (according to Dad, who was the only one to eat the last three, squished together, greasy pieces of cheese from the bottom of the ziploc bag). We always ate meals and had exactly what we needed to make those meals, be it olive oil, or salt and pepper, or salad greens. There was stuff in the cooler that we couldn’t eat because it was being used for dinner in three days.

“Nope, nope, nope. We are eating that with the shrimp.” Mom would say.

“Uhhh! But there isn’t any shrimp in here!” I would counter as I surveyed my options of things to snack on in the cooler.

“Ha! Course there isn’t. Hasn’t been caught yet! We’ll pick some up from a truck on the way back from the beach.”

There was the plan. Before we even left for the trip, Mom and Dad were thinking about fresh shrimp and made sure we brought everything else. Now Zach and I are camping and we have our own food box. Some people are making babies, but we are taking it slow and making a food box.

Some notes on the fine art of backpacking and camping meals

If we are camping for a week, we usually go shopping on Sunday and Thursday for fruits and veggies. Breakfast is usually oatmeal and lunch is usually a pb&j, an apple, and some chocolate. A week of dinners may look something like this:

Dinner 1

Fresh off the grocery run, in a park with running water, on a warm evening. Spaghetti with leeks, garlic, mushrooms, broccoli and blue cheese.

Dinner 2

In a park with running water on a warm evening. Canned four bean mix, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, silver beet (swiss chard’s cousin), garlic, leeks, s&p

Dinner 3

Free camping in a park without running water. Stir fried veggies, ramen noodles, garlic, hot chili sauce.

Dinner 4

Free camping in a park without running water. Garlic and leek mashed potatoes and carrots, s&p, fried egg on top

 

We don’t eat much meat while camping because it is expensive, needs to be refrigerated, and adds another element to clean up. We can get away with a rinse after dinner and using the pan again the next  night. Our meals are simple, but always satisfying and make things like hamburgers that much more glorious when we do eat them. Speaking thereof, I think it might be time for a treat….

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