4,917

Crash Course

Last week we returned to Steve and Lyndal’s, the farm where we butchered the pig, to help prepare for their housewarming party. Their whole property is centered around growing and preparing food, so it made sense that their party was an elaborate feast. Lyndal said that this party was a way to say thank you to all of the people who helped them develop their farm. I like that idea.

The food showed off what they were up to and allowed everyone to enjoy in the final product.  And I got to spend the week in the kitchen working with gorgeous ingredients largely from the farm and learning all sorts of new techniques.

Wood burning cooker

On Monday morning, we made a chart for the week that broke down all of the dishes into parts that could be made ahead of time so that the morning of the party was simply assembling the parts. Over the course of the week, we made enough food to put 50 people into food comas.

Their cooker is not your typical oven and stove setup. It is a wood stove and the temperature is controlled by airflow and the type of wood on the fire. It takes a long time to heat up, requires constant tending and baking often takes longer than in a conventional oven. But, it is way more fun to use!

 

Because the oven operates differently, following recipes is harder and often impossible. So you have to think, “Okay, why does the recipe say to do this? Is there another way to achieve the same result?” When we started cooking together, my first instinct was to google the answer. But Lyndal would say, “Oh don’t look it up, use your brain! It’s why you have one!” And that is when I started learning. The week felt like an apprenticeship. I was given a lot of freedom to do things like make fava bean hummus or follow the recipe for ham croquettes, but there were also lessons. I told her and showed her that I wanted to learn, so she told me and showed me things I didn’t know.

“You need to know how to make pastry. Want to watch me or do it yourself?” Lyndal asked. “You also need to be able to read recipes in French. Go see if you can figure out the pate a choux recipe and then we’ll go over it together,” she nodded toward the three inch thick cookbook, 2000 Recettes de la Cuisine Francaise while up to her wrists in butter and flour.

And so I did. Except that my translation went something like this: Heat butter, cold water, something something, eggs, something, mix flour until it sounds like “plouf pouf.” She filled in the gaps in my translation and showed me how to make eclairs, reminded me of the need to prep ahead of time, the difference in her knives, and made me appreciate good vinegar.

18 month old air dried ham for croquettes

At the end of the day, when we talked about our highs and lows for the day, mine was always about new things I learned in the kitchen.

Peeking in at the ham in the smoker. This was Zach’s baby.

 

Haloumi cheese while still in curds and not yet cheese.

The party was a smashing success. People dropped in and out all afternoon and evening and there was enough food that everyone left happy and full. But for me, since it wasn’t my house and they weren’t my friends, the best part was all the work leading up to the party.

The dessert spread at the party.

P.S…. Can you tell that I wish it were my party? One day, friends. One day…

1,263

Nose to Tail Butchering

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According to the Great Code of the Omnivore, we should try our damnedest to use as much of a slaughtered animal as possible. Our recent experience butchering a pig has given us a chance to put that in practice. Here are some of the things we’ve done with commonly discarded parts of a pig.

Head: Pâté de Tête. Also called headcheese or brawn. Not pretty to process, but delicious. Every soft part of the head, save the eyes and ears, is used. Cheeks, tongue, neck, snout, lips, etc.

Ears: Crispy Pig Ears. Fry ‘em up. “Sounds” good, eh? Eh? Sorry, that pun was “offal.” Oooooh!

Brain: Again, fry it. A helluva challenge to extract in one piece, but, like most things deep fried: tasty. Unique texture. Watch out for shot.

Heart: Some of the inner bits are very tough, but cooked right the meaty parts can be interesting. Note I didn’t say “good.” Could also be thinly sliced and layered in a terrine with a pate for a completely different texture. Maybe with some fried brain?

Blood: Black pudding, also known as blood sausage. Delicious.

Liver: Pâté, duh.

Kidney: Deviled Kidneys. River Cottage has a recipe that looks good, but I haven’t tested it.

Small Intestine: Sausage casings. Not sure what crazy bastard had the idea to clean the poop out of the small intestine and stuff it with bits of spiced meat, but s/he was a genius.

Stomach: Some people love tripe. I’m not one of those people. I prefer my food to smell like things other than poop. Pretty much anything else.

Caul: This is a net-like layer of fat attached to the stomach. It’s handy for wrapping up roasts and rolled loins. Or herding cats.

Skin: Left on the meat for delicious cracklin’, or could be processed for fine. leather. goods. Treat yo’ self!

Trotters (feet): Added to brawn, or their gelatin extracted by boiling and reducing and used in place of, well, gelatin. Bill Cosby would be so proud.

Tail: Also added to brawn. Watch out for a million increasingly tiny bones.

All joking aside, imagine how many of these items are discarded daily, and how much food they could produce. A little bit of creativity makes the animals killed for prime cuts go lot further. Any other ideas for making use of these or other commonly discarded pig parts?

1,137

From Pig to Pork

Knives set up for skinning and butchering

We’ve spent the past four days up to our elbows in either pig or pork. Literally. Part of me thought that the process of slaughtering and butchering a pig was going to be sad and disgusting. But it just wasn’t. It was intense and it was challenging and there absolutely was one sad part and one disgusting part. But that is nothing compared to the rest of the process, which was absolutely invaluable. This is the story of how it went. Note: I feel that pictures are absolutely necessary to this post, but some images are quite graphic.

Around 2pm, Lyndal and Steve’s friends came over to shoot the pig. After discussing whether to use a .22 or a shotgun, and how to kill the first pig while keeping the second calm, the six of us headed out to the pig pen. Lyndal gave Squeak a pile of acorns to munch on while their friend quickly and calmly loaded the gun and BANG! Bubble let out a short squeal and fell to the ground.

GATE! EVERYBODY GRAB A LEG! NO CHRISTINA, LET THE BOYS! DRAG HER OUT, QUICK! SOMEONE MAKE THE GUN SAFE! BUCKETS, GET THE BUCKETS!

Bubble was dead within seconds of being shot, but the muscles in her legs continued to thrash violently, making it tricky to grab on. Squeak barely noticed that anything had happened. She was eating acorns while we were outside the pig pen, holding Bubble still and collecting the blood from Bubble’s jugular, both to drain from the carcass and to use for blood sausage later.  The four guys loaded the pig on to the back of the trailer and drove her around to the front of the barn to hang in the gallows. “You alright?” Lyndal asked as we walked across the warm, sunny field, back toward the barn. “Yup. Just a little adrenaline-y” I said, as that was the only way I could describe it. Watching Bubble get shot and collecting the blood was uncomfortable. But after that, the pig stopped being a pig and became a carcass.

After the pig is killed and before it’s butchered, it has to be either skinned or scalded to remove the hair and then gutted. Otherwise we would have hairy bacon and our tenderloins might smell like poo. If a farmer is going to sell the meat, slaughtering, scalding and gutting must be done at an abattoir. Since this meat is for personal consumption, it can be done at the farm.

Bubble in the gallows

The boys took Squeak to be scalded in a bathtub full of hot water while us girls skinned Bubble, who was too big to fit in a tub. Using a skinning knife and starting at her ankles, Lyndal and I carefully cut the skin away from the fat and meat. This took about an hour and required intricate knife work since we didn’t want to damage the meat or puncture the belly, where the organs were held. When we got to the head we stopped, cut a circle around the head, and removed the head and the skin from the rest of the animal. This went into a wheelbarrow to bury in a hole.

Bubble with large intestine exposed

Next, a line was cut down the center of the body to expose the organs. Not going to lie, this was the disgusting part. It smelled like hot poop. Because it was hot poop. Most of what is inside the pig is a gigantic large intestine that looks like a very full balloon, about to explode. Lyndal asked me to press against said warm, gigantic poo balloon to keep it from falling out. This way, she could remove the organs that she wanted to use for pate and terrines. I stepped to the side and gingerly put one hand on the large intestine.

“No, I mean really hold it,” she said.

So I lifted the other hand and leaned into the sack. Am I going to barf? No, you’re not. We’re cool. You got this. FUUUUCK that smells bad. Oh my god. Stop being a baby. But my finger is sliding in. And if it explodes… A few minutes later we were done. It didn’t explode. The mass of intestines slid into the wheelbarrow. It was bad, but the impending shit storm never came.

Shortly thereafter the boys returned with Squeak. We compared pigs, shared about what each technique required, cleaned up and collapsed with a glass of wine and a plate full of cassoulet, made from last year’s sausages.

 

 

To get ourselves warmed up for the Day 2, day of marathon butchering, Zach and I had watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Pig in a Day, a DVD about butchering and preparing cuts of meat. The DVD was an hour an a half. While both instructional and exciting, it turns out they skipped some parts.

The first step to turning our two pigs into pork was to saw the pigs in half down the middle and then in to quarters so that they could be carried into the house where they would be butchered into cuts of meat. They skipped this part in the DVD. This first step took two hours. I was pretty bad at sawing. The handle got slippery with pig fat and it was a very awkward task, moving in and out of the gutted body cavity, but I tried. Zach picked up where I fell short. (Thanks, Zach!) I do think that we will raise and butcher our own pigs, but I am also keen on getting a fancy electric saw to make the job a little more bearable.

Once inside, we were set up so that Zach and I each had a half a pig and Lyndal had two halves. She would demonstrate on one half and we would watch, then we would each make the cuts on our pig. After staring at my pig for a few seconds, I had a Eureka! moment, “OOH! I think I found the tenderloin!” I did a little dance and pointed at it, nestled next to the ribs. I was very proud of myself for recognizing it from the DVD. “Cool, cut it out!” Lyndal told me. What? Stop. These pigs are their livelihood. They will provide meat for the next year, and here she is telling me, a totally inexperienced non-butcher, to go cut out one of the most prized cuts of meat. Just go do it. You’ll be fine. If you need help, just ask. That is kind of how they run things around here. They trust us to do a good job and to ask for help when necessary. It is wonderful to be trusted, but I often feel like, Who? Me? Do that? Okayyyy…. Which is exactly how I felt as I carefully cut away the connective tissue that held the tenderloin in place.

Trimming the silver skin off of the noisettes

We cut tons of bacon sliced noisettes, deboned hams and removed ham hocks. We trimmed cuts from the belly and back and rolled them up for roasts, butterflied loins that would later but stuffed with pate, and cut up bits for stir fries, stews, and sausages. They butcher for the cuts of meat that they like to eat, which meant no chops and no ribs. Because they had not had good ribs. Okay, fair enough. But I make good ribs. So I took on making convincingly good ribs and Lyndal let us butcher them out.

This went on until both carcasses were gone, which was about 7pm. The sun had gone down and the foot and a half  tall piles of bacon were threatening to fall over. Cutting boards and piles of fat littered every imaginable surface and each of us just stared at each other, knives dangling beside us, totally exhausted. Time to call it a day.

I by saying that this experience was intense and challenging. Carrying a quarter of a pig, or sawing through bone requires strength and the tiny knife work it takes to debone a piece of meat requires focus. It is no wonder that I was wiped out at the end of each day. I just had no idea how much work went into making something as commonplace as bacon. Just throw it in the pan, right?

Ribs for dinner

We feasted on plates of huge ribs, mashed potatoes and Caeser salad. After a few bites, Lyndal pointed at her bone and said. “I like these.” Simple as that, and yet it meant loads to me. I represented Amer’ca well and won the approval of a farmer, our teacher, and fabulous chef.

463

Filleting Blame

pledge-5322

Over the last few days, we’ve participated in the slaughter and butchering of two full-grown saddleback pigs, Bubble and Squeak. These pigs lived a good life. They had plenty of room to run, root, and wallow in the mud. They had shelter from the rain and shade from the sun. They ate vegetables multiple times every day. They lived and died so that we could slaughter them humanely and eat their meat.

This is a stark contrast to the life of an animal raised in a factory farm. They spend every minute of their life confined in a box so small that they can’t turn around, sleeping in their own shit and piss, and being force-fed a cocktail of chemicals designed to get them to optimal size as quickly as possible. You may think that the villains here are the owners and operators of factory farms, but they’re simply providing us with a product that we’ve asked for: cheap meat.

The real criminals are the consumers, loading their grocery carts with beef and ham that’s easy on the wallet at the cost of cruelty. Is your conscience really only worth the few extra dollars that it costs to buy from your local independent farmer? Does convenience trump morality? I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been guilty of these crimes every week of my life, until now.

I’m happy to pledge that, beginning today, I won’t buy or eat meat of questionable provenance ever again. It’s a difficult step to take, but it’s the right one. It means that, when ordering at a restaurant or dining at a friend’s home, I’ll have to awkwardly ask if the meat they’re serving is humanely raised. If enough people ask, restaurants will be forced to buy better meat. Perhaps in the meantime I’ll be eating a lot of salad, but that’s not a terrible option. The alternative is far more disgusting.

Will you join me?

970

Before We Butcher

On Saturday we’re butchering two nine month old Saddleback pigs named Bubble and Squeak. They’ve lived the last nine months together in a big paddock between the goat pasture and the pines at the edge of the property where they have plenty of room to run, root, and roll in the dirt. In addition to their grains, Lyndal and Steve feed them everything from table scraps to garden weeds to castoffs from the local fruit and veg store. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they get tummy rubs between meals. The pigs live a great life, but they’re being raised for their meat.

A few years ago I watched Food Inc. and read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was how I became interested in where my food comes from. It pissed me off to see a billion chickens crammed into a tiny little box, pooping all over each other, gobbling antibiotics for breakfast, just to make a profit. And there I was thinking that chicken is healthy, while it’s full of chemicals that can kill you. I felt like I’d been lied to.

So I started paying attention to where my meat comes from. It turns out that meat from local, small scale farms is usually more expensive, which just means that you can’t afford to eat a lot of meat. And that’s fine by me. Let it be special, and tasty, and exactly what it claims to be.

We came to this farm specifically because Lyndal and Steve invited us to participate in butchering Bubble and Squeak. Their pigs are raised humanely, and they’re killed with a single shot in an environment that’s familiar to them. They’ll be killed together, so that neither will be traumatized by the loss of their friend. Then they’re butchered into the cuts of meat that Lyndal and Steve prefer, reducing waste.

I suppose I’m writing this because at some point, I’ll be helping to cut off a pig’s head and I’m a bit apprehensive about that. But, some animal’s head had to come off every time I eat a pulled pork sandwich, or a steak, or a salad with grilled chicken. Someone had to raise that animal, to care for that animal, and then butcher that animal so that I could buy it’s meat in the store. I feel that if I can purchase meat in the store, I should be able to stomach where it comes from. It also makes sense that everyone involved cares about how it’s done.

656

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. 

Schubert

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.

 

Haythornthwaite

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.

829

Olives

Uma Rapiti grows olives, but as of last week, no one here was a fan of green olives. There were however, six massive, dusty, jars of olives that had been brining since May, which needed to be prepared for eating. Except that no one really wanted to eat them or knew how to prepare them.

Olives are one of those things that I have wanted to like for years. They seem classy and good with wine and cheese. But I only like the black ones. Well, this seemed like a great opportunity to get over that and learn to like green olives. I stepped up to the plate, fired up laptop and asked O Holy Google, knower of all things, how to marinate olives. I found a great website that featured recipes like “Just like Mama Used to Make,” “Tried and True,” and “Old Tradition from the Middle East.” Figured I couldn’t go wrong with recipes as confident sounding as those. I mean, an Italian grandma is NOT going to lead me astray.

Pay you a dollar to eat the olive snot…

So here we go:

Step 1: Prepare a new brine. They had been in a 10% salt brine and needed to go into an 8% salt brine so your blood pressure doesn’t go through the roof upon snacking. I boiled 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of salt, then let it cool. Actually that is a lie, I boiled 3.7 liters, since we don’t do gallons on this side of the pond.

Step 2: Scoop off the moldy, snot like substance that had accumulated in the jars.

Step 3: Rinse the olives.

Step 4: Grind spices, chop herbs, slice garlic and lemon.

Step 5: Layer spices and olives in a jar, top with brine, give it a shake, seal and label.

In the process, I snacked on runaway olives and started to mind them less. We might even say I started to like them, considering how many I ate. The process took the whole afternoon, but it was my kind of work and thus, didn’t feel like work at all. I expected olives to be the sort of things that get better the longer they sit, but after just a few hours they had already absorbed much of the flavor of the marinade. That said, I officially like olives!

Olive photo shoot. Work it girls!

The best marinade was Lemon, Cumin, Oregano, Garlic and with just a splash of Olive Oil on top. So good, I’d recommend getting a plain ole grocery store container of olives and adding those herbs before your next dinner party. Or just your next dinner.

 

1,145

Oyster Huntin’

Lizzy and I were in the midst of weeding the mandala, a spiral shaped garden hosting a combination of flowers, herbs and veggies, when Chad walked up and mentioned, “It’s 10:30, so if you want to get oysters, you should do it while it is low tide.” I was up and dusting off my hands before he even finished his sentence. I knew what time it was. We had been talking about going oyster hunting for a week and had checked the tide schedule the night before.

 

We grabbed buckets, chisels, mallets and Betty the dog, and headed across the road, down the muddy path, and out on to the rocky beach that is Cable Bay. Though we’ve been at Uma Rapiti for ten days, I had yet to venture down to the beach. I didn’t realize a) how close it was or b) that it was more oyster mecca than beach. Within three steps of the path and out onto the black rocks, I was crunching oysters under my feet. It was impossible not to step on them as they covered everything. I reached down, grabbed one and twisted it off the tip of the rock and tossed it in my bucket. Beginners luck though; none of the other oysters were that easy to get off.

 

Lizzy showed us how to chip the oysters off of the rock, but mentioned that if we broke the shell, it was best to eat them right then and there. So we squatted down where we were and started whacking away at the rock,  carelessly breaking shells left and right. Since we had to eat them, I downed the first four plump, salty oysters that I attempted to harvest. Woops?

“Stina, you think it’s ok if they come off in a big cluster?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“Ooh, look at this one!”

Grinning ear to ear, teetering from one rock to the next, and snapping ohmygod this is so awesome pics, we were on cloud nine.

Before the moment flew by, I perched on a rock to soak it all in and give a silent thanks to the powers that be. Holy  shit. This is actually happening. Eating oysters right off the rocks. In New Zealand. Part of me couldn’t believe how exhilarating the whole experience was.

That pause also allowed me to realize that I could easily overindulge if I kept slurping oysters at a that pace. Also, I still only had one in my bucket, so I slowed down and worked a little more carefully from then on out, making sure not to break the shells.

Lizzy went off with Betty to collect driftwood and Zach and I unintentionally parted ways, as we both walked, noses down, in opposite directions down the rocky coastline. I could hear the chink chink chink of him collecting what I thought to be WAY more oysters than we four could eat, so I focused on looking for mussels, which were nestled in the tide pools and far less abundant.

About an hour later, we headed home to figure out how to shuck, fry, and consume the morning’s haul. Inspired by the fried oyster salad at Miss Shirley’s in Baltimore, we set out picking lettuce from the car tire planters in the garden, and roasting root veggies in the toaster oven. Zach figured out how to shuck and once he got a hang of it, taught me. The first one was the hardest, and I thought for sure I was going to impale myself with the shucking tool, but after a few, I got a hang of it. I imagine shucking oysters is a bit like killing an animal, in that it makes you appreciate something that is pretty hard to do, that one often takes for granted. Oh, they don’t just come on the half shell?

Harvesting, shucking, cleaning, soaking, battering (in cornmeal, not abuse), then finally fried and served up atop a salad. To celebrate our luxurious lunch, we unscrewed a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Jurassic Ridge, a vineyard up the road. As we sat down to eat, someone pointed out that the oysters came from the beach, the herbs, lettuce, veggies, and oranges in the salad were all from the garden, and the bread baked fresh that morning. The salt, pepper, butter and oil were the only things not from within a mile of the farm.

The meal was the culmination of an awesome, inspiring experience. The day was the perfect combination of favorite activities, exploring new places, and  learning practical skills. And yes, shucking oysters is practical.

586

Tasting Notes: Goldie Vineyards

Goldie Vineyards

I have a complicated relationship with wine. I probably don’t need to explain why I like it, but the flip-side is more subtle. It’s just that its impossible not to sound like a snotty sophisticate when talking about wine. I feel like every time I open my mouth I’m saying “mmmyes, Alfred, I’ll have the ninety-nine Chateauneuf du-Pape.  Post haste!” Why can’t I talk about the way something smells without sounding like an affected debutante? Wine is way too wonderful to have artificial barriers erected around it. Some producers agree with me, and I’ll go out of my way to support them.  Goldie Vineyards on Waiheke Island is one of those producers.

Goldie came recommended, and was steps away from our afternoon work at the burger truck.  We checked out the website and found they offer tastings for just $5! Giddyup. This was way more our pace than some of the ritzier places on Waiheke.

We coasted down the dirt drive and tossed our bikes against a nearby tree.  Hmm, the tasting room was empty.  Not just of clientele, but staff too. No problem, we’ll find someone that can help us.  We hunted around a bit until we found Heinrich, who greeted us warmly.  He was a young man in his early thirties, hair unkempt and wearing a weathered sweatshirt.  We felt right at home.

Heinrich, whom we later found out was actually the winemaker at Goldie as well, expertly guided us through four generous tastes of wine, detailed below.  More than just a wine tasting though, we got to know him a bit.  He and his wife emigrated here and he was interested in our plan, or lack of plan as it were. The conversation veered to and from the wine, and we learned not just about what was in the bottle, but what went into making it.

Chardonnay (2011) – awesome. very smooth, buttery, oaky. High praise from Stina: “There’s no chardonnay I’d rather drink.”

Rosé (2011) – Good. Big strawberry nose. Almost candy-cane on the nose, but not an unpleasantly sweet taste.  A totally different rosé.

Syrah (2011) – Delicious. Light bodied, heavy vanilla and smoke nose. Smooth, silky tannins. My favorite.

Cab/Merlot (2010) – Good. Medium/full body. benchmark of the style. Plum and dark berries. Soft and velvety. “Silky.”

Heinrich highlighted the difference in body between the two reds. It turns out 2010 was a very wet year on Waiheke, while 2011 experienced a drought. I prefer lighter reds anyway.  I loved the syrah and found the 2010 very good.

The Goldie experience was excellent.  We felt welcome and at home.  Maybe because it was a weekday in the winter, but it was an uncommonly casual wine tasting experience.  Wine shouldn’t always be so stuffy and sophisticated.  It’s a beverage, not an investment opportunity.  Well, I suppose for some its both.  I sincerely hope its not only the latter.  But many vineyards strive to achieve a certain caché that drives consumers like me away.  I’d rather feel welcomed than part of some exclusive club.  Goldie does that perfectly.

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A Day in the Life: Waiheke Eco-Lodge

The Eco-Lodge

As you may know, we’ve thrown off the shackles of our former life for a simpler existence trading work for room and board in New Zealand.  Sounds nice, right? But what does that mean, practically? How do we spend the hours between sunrise and sunset?  If you’re wondering how we go about our daily lives as WWOOFers, this is the post for you. I present a new series here, called “A Day in the Life.”  As we move from place to place – roughly every two weeks for up to two years – we’ll document an average day to give you a better idea of what it’s like to do this.  First, a bit about our surroundings.

Waiheke Island is a 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland, which is the most populous city in New Zealand and main entry/exit for international travelers. Locals tell me the island was settled by farmers seeking a self-sustaining, utopian ideal.  Some of the crunchy flavor still exists, but is increasingly being pushed out by the rich. Satellite images show opulent homes with helicopter pads adjacent to old farmhouses.  On summer weekends, the island fills with tourists from the city seeking refuge.  Imagine Martha’s Vineyard in a jungle, and you’ve got Waiheke.

We’re working for Sue and Dave, the owners and operators of the Crescent Valley Eco-Lodge.  The Eco-Lodge is a small, secluded bed and breakfast in a less-traveled part of the island that offers guests rest and relaxation in an earth-friendly environment. They compost extensively, use a rainwater collection system, and grow a lot of their own food. As a personal testament to their methods, in a week here we’ve produced about ten small pieces of actual trash – far less than a full bag – and nearly all empty Tim-Tam wrappers. Yes, in one week we’ve developed a crippling chocolate biscuit addiction. I’m not ashamed.

In exchange for a few hours of work per day Dave and Sue provide us with a simple cabin, breakfast, and lunch. A average day goes something like this:

We wake up between 7:30 and 8:30am; no alarm is necessary because our small outbuilding doesn’t have a toilet. I like to think of it as getting up “naturally.” The mornings are a bit chilly here, so we get bundled up in our fleece and long-underwear and walk a few feet down the hill to the lodge, where Sue has already set out our breakfast.  It varies day-to-day (awesomely), so one day may be muesli and yogurt and the next eggs and bacon.  I love the surprise. We eat a leisurely breakfast in the dining room of the lodge while reading, writing blog posts, editing photos or wasting time on the web.  It’s just like home!

A surprising benefit of the time zone difference is the flow of email.  Because the US workday ends at 9am our time, I can check (and usually delete most of) my email in the morning and I’m free from the slow trickle of messages throughout the day.  Usually when I check again at in the evening there’s nothing new. This is ideal.

At 10am we split up to do our daily tasks.  Sue and Dave also run a catering company that operates a food truck, so one of us is usually assigned cashier/sous chef duty on the truck.  The other stays at the homestead and does prep work, landscaping, or cleaning around the lodge.  Landscaping can be as easy as pulling weeds or as hard as hauling buckets of rocks a few hundred feet up the hill.  Prep work has been: cutting a bucket of onions (oh, the tears!), making dozens of burgers, or similarly monotonous tasks. We both prefer the truck. Sue and Dave seem to know everyone on the island, so it’s cool to meet all the locals that stop by for lunch. I’d argue that the landscaping work is more rewarding though; it’s nice to see immediate results.

At two o’clock the prep/landscaper person rides (coasts, really) one of the rickety bikes that are available for our use down the hill to the truck for lunch.  We serve delicious burgers (chicken, venison, or beef), sausages (boar or venison), and other very meaty things. So far, the venison burger is my favorite, but I haven’t worked my way through the entire menu just yet. I learned just yesterday that venison has less than half the fat of beef, which makes eating it every day a bit less disgusting.  A bit.

At Onetangi Beach with friends Javier and Leandro from Argentina.

After lunch we’re free to explore the island or relax for a few hours. We’ve become fond of the wine, the beaches, and the general beauty of Waiheke, so even sitting back at the lodge and enjoying the day is often enough. We’re constrained to a smallish portion of the island by the aforementioned rickety-bike-transportation-situation, but still, we’ve found plenty to do and plenty of joy in not doing a whole lot.

Dinners, as Stina mentioned in a previous post, consist of lots of fresh veggies from the market and a few ingredients from the garden.  Every few days she’ll ask me to go pick some lemons or rocket or rosemary, a task that I find immensely pleasurable.  I’ll always be amazed that a tiny seed can sprout into something delicious and nutritious with a little water, sun, and soil. It’s magical.  So I’m happy to gather what we need for dinner; knowing it came from the ground a few steps away makes the food taste better.

The sun sets around 5:30pm and we eat dinner soon after – it feels right to eat just after dark.  By nine we’re usually yawning and crawling under a heap of blankets in our humble little cabin up the hill, with a book that we’ll try to read for a few minutes before nodding off reluctantly.

It’s a simple life, but one to which we’ve adapted easily.  The crowds of the city seem galaxies away.  Now we take pleasure in providing food for ourselves and others; the most basic and fundamental of joys.

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