The Liverpool Hut Fiasco

Freature image-6898

The plan was to hike to the Liverpool Hut in Mt. Aspiring National Park. It’s a 6 hour hike: 4 hours along the Matukituki valley then 2 hours up the mountain. What was supposed to be an early departure from town turned into a 2pm start time. We packed some booze, the board game Risk, and a delicious dinner. When we crossed paths with the warden of the Mt. Aspiring Hut around 4pm and told him that it was our intention to go for the Liverpool Hut that night, he suggested we reconsider our plan. We still had 5 hours of walking ahead of us and the last two were quite steep. It would be dark when we arrived at the hut.

Our initial reaction was, this guy is like 80 years old and is underestimating our ability. Side note: In the states, the park rangers often overestimate the time and skill level required to complete a hike. On the east coast, we look for descriptions that say strenuous because that is where the interesting hikes begin. In New Zealand though, the time estimates are accurate, and strenuous means you will sweat your ass off.

Walking along the Matukituki valley

Walking along the Matukituki valley

We continued past the warden in silence, quietly walking and mulling over the plan.

“We could do it. It would be like 9pm when we get there, but we could do it,” Someone said.

There were a bunch of yeah, mmhmm, I think we coulds from the group then a moment of silence. The woods are going to get dark a lot earlier than the valley though. I mean, we have headlamps, but do we really want to be faffing around in the woods at night when we could be playing Risk in the hut?

Dominating the world, from the comfort of the woods

World Domination.

We called it quits after two hours of walking and started setting up the board game at a communal table in the Mt. Aspiring Hut. Throughout the evening, we ate all of the bacon, drank all of the Jameson, gobbled down massive quantities of chocolate, and played the game of world domination with two Israeli guys who discussed their strategy in Hebrew before moving pieces. By midnight, we were too drunk to care about the pitch black night’s sky, positively littered with stars.

Oh my god, look at the stars!

Mmhmm, I’m going to bed. Where’s the water?


We woke the next day at 10 and set out around 11 for the Liverpool Hut. We left our packs where we had stayed the night before and brought only our lunch and water bottles, which we refilled in the streams that ran off the glaciers above us. The beginning part of the hike was all photo ops and river crossings until we got to the base of the mountain, which seemed to form a 60 degree angle with the valley floor. Hand over foot we climbed, assisted by roots that served as ropes, up the thousand meter ascent. Two steps forward, one step up, stopping frequently to enjoy the views and catch our breath. Boob sweat, back sweat, sunscreen in your eyes, we climbed. No one could be bothered with pictures. An hour and a half later, we spotted the little red Liverpool Hut that we had seen in pictures at the car park. Hut! the first person called, Hut Hut! the second in line shouted back. But still, it wasn’t close. We stopped for lunch on the trail with a great view, but not at the hut where we intended to be. Fuckit, let’s eat.

Group shot

After lunch we split up. A few of us went on and some started the descent. The hut was on a ridge, 30 minutes from where we first spotted it. It was there for a reason. That ridge had the best view of Mt. Aspiring of anywhere in the valley. It was stunning and only confirmed my suspicion: we will be doing this hike again. I need to stay in that hut and sit on the porch, with a cup of coffee in hand, watching the sun come up over  Mt. Aspiring. It was 3pm when we arrived at Liverpool Hut. We stayed for 10 minutes, knowing that we had a 5 hour trek back to the car, an hour drive back to town, and no more food. The walk out was gorgeous, but I had shaky legs and kept thinking about how far we had to go.

As soon as we got cell service, we phoned in an order for burgers for pick up. We took them home, sat on the floor and unwrapped their beautiful, greasy paper before attacking them like a pack of wild dogs.  Twas a phenomenal hike, executed in entirely the wrong way.



Babysitting, FDA Style


Today’s headline from the New York Times: “F.D.A. Offers Broad New Rules to Fight Food Contamination.” Usually me and the NYT jive pretty well. We’re not a perfect match, but this time I’m the Red Sox to Stephanie Strom’s (and her editors’) Yankees. These new rules are a huge step back for small farmers and their future in the United States.

Basically, the new regulations will institute several policies designed to prevent pathogens from contaminating food. The rules call for things like installing bathrooms in fields for workers, irrigation requirements, and “ensuring that foods are cooked at temperatures high enough to kill bacteria.” The FDA, long reactionary instead of anticipatory, is trying to get ahead of the eight ball. How could anyone oppose a law that will make people safer and keep them from getting sick? Oh, easily. Here’s how:

I have three major problems with these rules. They’ll put small farmers out of business, destroy the nutritional value of the food they’re meant to protect, or both. These are serious threats to public health and, in fact, make us less safe. Job well done, FDA.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a small lettuce grower in California. You produce enough to make ends meet and keep food on the table. With a stroke of a pen, now you’ve got to rent and pay maintenance costs on toilets in your fields for your workers. Even if you’ve never had a problem with contamination and you know and trust your workers not to pee on the arugula, you must comply. This could be a crippling blow to you and your farm. At the very least, it will raise your costs and therefore prices. Who will feel the brunt of this? The small guys that can’t take advantage of economies of scale when it comes to renting port-o-johns. This is why lettuce at the farmers’ market is expensive! Frankly, this also screams of collusion between the FDA and larger producers. Land of opportunity, right?

If you’re still with me, I probably don’t have to explain why fewer small local farms is a bad thing. But just in case, the gist of it is: more fruits and veggies produced far away will be consumed, adding food miles by the truckload (pun very much intended) and more food will be treated with irradiation to keep it “fresh” for the journey. I’ll have the uranium on the side, thanks.

On the second point, cooking raw ingredients (like peanuts) to ever-higher temperatures destroys their nutritional value. We’ve been eating raw peanuts for much longer than this has been a problem. Continuing the sports analogy, how have we ever survived an entire baseball game? I know I’ve been to some that felt like they’d kill me, but that didn’t have anything to do with the peanuts.

But what’s most amazing is how obvious this should be. It says it right in the title! “Broad New Rules” just don’t work if we’re going to have many different sizes of farms. The small guys just can’t hang with the big ones when it comes to installing expensive infrastructure.

The FDA should be focused on accountability and transparency in the system for every size producer. Conveniently, a great system exists when you buy your lettuce directly from the gal who grew it. It’s the time-honored tradition of “looking her in the eye.”

Don’t make farmers jump through more hoops. Let consumers decide if they trust the lettuce from their farmer, or the bag that it comes in.


Why Farming?

This is the second in a series of posts on politics and food. Please forgive us if it gets a little heavy in here for the next few weeks. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.

Beliefs are based on many different factors. Some we inherit from our parents, some from our teachers and peers, and others from media. But the most lasting and powerful beliefs come from personal experiences. Sometimes the circumstances are right and these things align to make us passionate about something. This is how I became interested in food and farming. I hope that the story of my influences will help you consider why you believe the things that you believe.

It began, as many great things seem to, on the couch. Several years ago I was looking for a way to kill a few hours in front of the television, and popped in a DVD that had been collecting dust for several weeks on my bookshelf. It was a Netflix mail order disc that I’d received by accident and felt compelled to watch before sending it back for something more action-packed. It was a little documentary called Food, Inc., and it made an impression on me.

Still, I didn’t act immediately. Sure, I started “voting with my wallet” and buying more local and organic products. But I didn’t drop everything and become an activist waiving signs and stomping around Washington. My life continued pretty much as it had for the last five years.

A few months later I picked up a copy of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dillemma. At this point I was a vessel primed for Pollan’s preaching, so he converted me to the ways of the green revolution fully. This was no longer just something I thought about; it was part of who I was.

My diet in college consisted of prepackaged foods filled with preservatives and chemicals. Now I was eating better and my body was thanking me for it. I felt better waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. Maybe cutting out drinking thirty beers every other night helped too, but we’ll never know. Anyway, I felt like a million bucks and that was good enough for me. If other people were still eating fast food and guzzling soda that was their problem.

And then Christina came home one day from work (she was teaching fourth grade in the South Bronx) and told me about the breakfast program at her school. The previous year, the school began supplying students with a small breakfast: cereal, milk, sometimes fresh fruit and yogurts. Some of the kids went from eating nothing at all before school, or worse, guzzling an energy drink loaded with caffeine and sugar, to being provided a real, reasonable meal. According to her, productivity skyrocketed. The morning became their most useful time. Behavioral issues disappeared. Students were more focused and had fewer “stomach aches” that were really just hunger pangs. A simple breakfast transformed her classroom and thus the lives and futures of the students in it. Oh, and her principal was considering cutting the breakfast program because it was too expensive.

This sent me into a blind rage. “How could anyone be so short-sighted? What is your principal thinking?! Find the money!” I know the realities of budget management require tough decisions, but Christina’s descriptions of the students before and after the breakfast program were undeniable. Kids need food to learn. Have you ever tried to dig a hole without a shovel? Having the right tools are essential parts of a job, and food is the most basic of our tools.

Now I was ready to act. I couldn’t do much to save the program at her school (which actually received an eleventh-hour stay of execution), but I could take some action in my own eventual backyard. So I’m in New Zealand, learning a trade and traveling the world, with my loyalties to home stronger than ever. I’ll return to the US armed with the skills and knowledge to bring more good food to markets where it’s needed most. Stay tuned for more about that last point, serving the underserved, next time.


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.


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


People vs. Issues


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!


Adventures in the Mountains

View Bring a Snack.com in a larger map
Check out the new map feature that Zach whipped up! Its permanent home is up top next to the the About Us tab and should help to keep track of where we are when we start moving around again. We plan to stay in Wanaka through the end of the season, but will be on the road again toward the end of March.

One of the main reasons we decided to stick around Wanaka is because it is so close to epic hiking and climbing. None of our adventures have taken more than an hour to get to, some of them being only 10 minutes away. I can’t wait to share it with some of our friends and family. My parents are coming in January, our friend Matt is coming in February and Zach’s dad and his girlfriend are visiting in April. As we are out and about, we often talk about “Your dad would love this…” or “This reminds me of a hike I did when I was little…” Being here is amazing, but sharing in person it is going to be even better. The pictures in the gallery below are from our days climbing at the Mt. Iron and Riverside crags with our friends Zach and Courtney from Denver, the Diamond Lake track, a short hike overlooking Lake Wanaka, and the Rob Roy track in Mt. Aspiring National Park.


How to: NOT Make Homemade Whiskey

I post words on the internet therefore I’m a pretty big deal and it’s my civic duty to educate. Thus, I present the first officially licensed BringaSnack.com How To. In this case if you do everything the opposite of the way we did you might end up with a palatable whiskey, or at least something that won’t blind you.

“Have a taste,” my partner in this disaster said to me, as we were siphoning the partially-made whiskey from its fermenter to the distilling pot.

“Tastes…vinegar-y,” I said. “Good, but…yeah, vinegar-y.” We had no idea at the time, but this wasn’t a good sign. We pushed on with the distilling process.

Above all, make whiskey. Don’t make vinegar. I can’t stress this enough. Careful sanitation is priority number one when preparing for fermenting. If a single stray bacteria or wild yeast particle gets in after the boil, the result will be ugly, or at least not what you’re looking for. In our case we ended up with some pretty tasty malt vinegar, but that’s a very, very small consolation.

Yes, that's a toilet.

Yes, that’s a toilet.

But, assuming you’ve gotten through the fermenting process unfazed and have achieved something alcoholic, don’t distill in a small room, like a bathroom. Leaving aside the obvious sanitation problems, if there had been any alcohol in this pot, its vapors may have seeped out through a leaky hose fitting (mistake number three). Confined alcohol vapors plus open flame equals BOOM! So we dodged a bullet there.

The goal of distilling is to separate the substances in your pot so you get the good stuff and can discard the rest. The temperature of the liquid is raised slowly, allowing certain bits to boil and evaporate and then be cooled by a condenser and turned back into liquid. Usually the condenser looks like a big copper coil and is cooled by air. Ours was a slightly fancier water-cooled version.

The first thing that we needed to watch for was methyl alcohol, which evaporates at 64.7 degrees celsius. This is poison and must be tossed out unless you want to go blind/crazy. So we had to keep a close eye on the temperature and when it reached the magic number we’d know the methyl alcohol was evaporated and we were safe to save the rest.

Unfortunately we were using an infared thermometer and trying to get readings off of a shiny metal pot, which kept showing suspiciously low temperatures. Hmm. As it turns out, infared thermometers work by magic light and are thrown out of whack by shiny surfaces (mistake number…oh hell I’ve lost count).

So, even though we were boiling vinegar over an open flame in a tiny bathroom and had a leaky fitting, we managed to squeeze in one more mistake. I hung the condenser from the ceiling a few feet above the distilling pot and connected the two via a meter-long plastic tube. This means that the vapor particles had to travel all that distance to get to the condenser, but they never got there. They were cooled by air in the rubber tube and ran back into the heated pot. They were effectively condensed before they reached the condenser, which never got a chance to divert the liquid into our old timey moonshine jars. That’s one thing we got right. When making bathtub booze, always, always use old-timey jars.

It was a learning experience. I hope your attempts go better, or at least you love malt vinegar. Regardless, for all the “don’ts” this taught, it also reminded me of an important “do”: try, try again.


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.

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