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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…

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Picking the Right Time to Travel

Before packing our bags three months ago, Christina and I talked a lot about whether or not this was the right time for us to travel. We came to the conclusion that it was, without a doubt. Assuming you’ve been persuaded by the tales of our travels, I hope this post helps you choose the perfect time to hit the road for some long-term world travel.

Our situation was clear: we had jobs that we were ready to leave, we had some (but not a ton of) savings to make things easier, and we had a little bit of perspective on the world and ourselves. We’d both done smaller-scale trips before and spent more than five years in the workforce. I firmly believe that this last point: maturity or some sense of “knowing what you don’t know” is vital.

Here are the general options, and some pros and cons for each.

After College/Pre-career

Pros: most disposable time, most time afterwards to benefit, least risk of lost income
Cons: least maturity, least money

This is a popular option, both in the US and abroad. We meet a lot of travelers taking some time between college and a career to “find themselves” or stretch their legs as adults. I think this is a great thing for young people to do, but it’s not for everyone.

I’m certain that the experience gained by living in a new culture and meeting different types of people is excellent training for all types of life. Potential employers will look favorably on the skills gained: organization, negotiation, problem solving, and critical thinking are just a few of the valuable traits that some time on the road can provide. However, not all of us are automatically able to learn these things. Some need a bit of priming in a career to have the perspective necessary to make the most of their time traveling (or time-traveling if you’re Marty McFly). I know I wasn’t ready to take such a leap at 18 or 20.

There’s also the wee problem of money at this stage. While recent graduates are rich in time, they’re usually broke in the traditional sense. This is hard to solve outright, but can be helped by traveling cheaply and utilizing work trade programs like WWOOF and Help Exchange. And honestly, it isn’t as expensive as you might think.

Early Career

Pros: Some time, Some perspective, some disposable income
Cons: Potential career interruption

This is the option that we chose, so obviously I’m a proponent. I think it’s the perfect balance: you’re likely to have some money, you’ve primed for positive changes, and you aren’t taking a massive risk dipping out of the workforce at this stage.

Mid-career

Pros: Disposable income, lots of experience and maturity
Cons: Greatest cost of time, potential family obligations

If you’ve got a young family, this would be incredibly difficult. We do, however, hear of parents packing up their kids and hitting the road for a while. I can see such an experience reaping huge rewards for the kids involved, but it takes very unique people and circumstances to make it viable.

If you don’t have kids I can see this being successful, but not without some significant costs. Prime earning years are lost and the future benefit is diminished. These factors may not matter if you’ve got plenty of disposable income, but you could say that for all of these categories.

Post-career

Pros: Plenty of free time, lots of experience and maturity, some disposable income
Cons: Physical things may be impossible

This is another popular option. Retirees that are suddenly blessed with time and eager to use every bit that they’ve got left routinely pack into motorhomes and putter around the countryside. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not one to wait for. It’s likely that age will prevent you from doing some of the adventurous things you might have done in your youth.

It’s also risky to bide your time for too long. Every day you wait gives other things a chance to get in the way and derail your plans. So pack a bag, bring a snack, and come out and join us, whenever works best for you.

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Projects!

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

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

 

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

 

Courtyard before: Construction site

 

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

 

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

 

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The Amberley A&P Show

 

Is there anything more cute than a lamb on a leash?

Zach and I wandered into the food tent at the Amberly A&P show, where we knew the butchering demo would be taking place. Neither of knew what time it was, so we grabbed an IPA and made ourselves comfortable on a hay bale. We were chatting with Lyndal when a woman got on the microphone and asked for volunteers to guest judge for the Lamb portion of the upcoming Hoof to Hotplate competition. Lyndal, knowing how fond I am of eating, grabbed my elbow and shoved my hand into the air. Sure enough, I had a spot!

Zach also got a spot and we took our places at the guest judges table, located between the real judges table and the beef butchering demo that was taking place right next to us. We chit chatted a little with the other guest judges and were then presented with a spreadsheet and a glass of Pinot Noir.  As I was trying to make sense of the spreadsheet, the master of ceremonies told the gathering crowd that we would be tasting twenty four different lambs.

Did she just say twenty four?!? But, how? Oh boy, not really sure what we got ourselves into.

The portions were about the size of a domino, prepared medium rare, and were scored on aroma, flavor, tenderness and texture. When the first bite arrived, I peered across to the real judges to check out how they were going about judging their meat, first sniffing, then cutting, chewing, pondering, and often doing it again. After about four different lambs and a refill on my pinot noir, I started to get the hang of it. The thing is though, they were all really good. Even the one that I ranked the lowest would have been a treat to have on the dinner table.

After about every six plates, there was a lull, during which we watched the butchering demo. The whole afternoon was really quite phenomenal. I had a parade of lamb bites going on in front of me, a crowd of 50 people to the side of me, and when I turned around, a cow carcass hanging behind me. The butchers wore chain mail gloves and worked their knives through this cow like a conductor in front of an orchestra. Zip, zip, zip! Three cuts and the skirt steak was out. Zip, Zip and there is your rib eye. My jaw fell open. Nick, the butcher from Harris Meats who was doing the demonstration, could butcher a  half a cow in 1 minute and thirteen seconds. I did a half a pig in six hours.  Hats off to you, man. During the butchering demo, Brian Harris was educating the crowd about abattoirs, knives, and why cuts are priced they way they are.

Harris Meats beef buchering demo

We had to leave before the finals round, so we did not get to find out how our taste buds compared to those of the judges, but that was just as well. After we left, two more volunteers took our places and got to share in the experience. I wrote down the numbers that I liked best and looked them up online afterward. For the record, my favorites were Sally and Malcom MacKenzie’s Dorset Down X and Denis Rhodes’ Poll Dorset X, Zach enjoyed Robert Sloss’ Romney Dorset Down X. We learned what type of lamb we enjoy and had the best seats in the house for enjoying the butchering demo. I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience the Amberly Show.

 

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Gallery: October Adventure

1,910

Hiking Mt. Somers

mt-somers-5424

If the Mt. Somers hiking trail isn’t one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” I’m excited to see what’s made the cut.

We began our hike, or “tramp” in the local lingo, at the Sharplin Falls parking area, near Staveley, about an hour from Christchurch. Our route was Sharplin Falls to the Woolshed Creek Hut (bypassing the Pinnacles Hut), where we’d spend the night, and then to Woolshed Creed parking lot the following day. We met an affable Czech named Jan overnight in the hut, and he graciously provided us a ride back to our car.

Our first day was the longer of the two, with five hours on the trail broken up by a leisurely lunch at the Pinnacles Hut. The morning featured a steep climb up to 800 meters followed by a wonderful jaunt along Boyers Creek. Due to spring runoff, the creek was more like a raging river, taking parts of the track down with it and slowing our progress, but the challenge of hopping from rock to rock along the riverbed with our packs did nothing but add to our enjoyment. We climbed out of the river valley and into the sub-alpine bush above and arrived at Pinnacles Hut for lunch around one o’clock. At our stop there, I learned that the rock formations directly behind the hut (the “Pinnacles”) are home to some excellent sport climbing routes. As I salivated over the lines, I concocted a plan to return with ropes and gear for an extended stay at Pinnacles Hut.

The weather turned worse as we departed the hut, with rain changing to sleet and eventually, snow. We felt two worlds away from our humid morning jumping from around in the creek bed, but again, the journey, and its attendant challenges, are the point. As the weather continued to decline, the terrain eased and we hurried our pace, eager to dry off in front of a fire at our day’s destination. A few hours and several frigid river crossings later, we had arrived, hanging our soggy socks behind a crackling fire.

I’ll reiterate Bill Bryson’s point from A Walk in the Woods: besides the beautiful scenery and physical rewards, hiking’s appeal comes largely from deprivation and then return of basic comforts. As I sit in front of that fire, warming my frozen toes, I felt tremendously fortunate to have simple warmth.

As we patted ourselves on the back for our decision to bring our camping stove, we enjoyed a simple vegetable soup and chatted over tea with our new Czech friend. I discovered that he was also a rock climber in need of a belay partner, so we exchanged contact information and discussed the lines at the crags we’d gawked at on the way in. Tired from our long day fighting the wind on the trail, we turned in early to read a few pages of our book before nodding off to a restful sleep.

We awoke to find our fire burnt out and a strong chill in the air. The hut sat down in a deep valley, so while the sun was shining on the hilltops, it hadn’t yet reached the few inches of snow that accumulated overnight lower down. The cold motivated an early start, so we were on the trail again before eight o’clock. While the signs outside the hut indicated it was a three hour trip to the end of the track, we hustled through it in half that and were back at our car and relaxing in the Staveley Village Store, drinking hot coffee and snacking before 10am. This was backpacking at its most luxurious.

New Zealand’s backcountry huts provide an unprecedented and unequaled level of comfort, especially compared to those I’ve visited in the northeastern United States. They’re equipped with wood stoves and firewood, sleeping mats, sinks with clean running water, and, most importantly, four walls and a roof. The shelters in the United States are simple platforms with leaky roofs, open on one side to the elements and, if you’re lucky, near a running stream or fire pit. New Zealand’s backcountry huts are the Ritz-Carlton to the United States’ Motel 6.

Tickets to stay in one of the country’s extensive system of huts ($15 per person or $120 for an annual pass) are available at Department of Conservation offices, many visitor’s centers, in the general stores at each end of the Mt. Somers Track. The Staveley Village Store is worth a stop anyway for a delicious savory brioche and a cup of coffee after a few snowy and windy days on the trail.

This hike came recommended by a few different guide books (Fodor’s, Lonely Planet), so I had high expectations. Despite (or possibly even because of) the weather, it exceeded all my hopes. The terrain was challenging but not difficult while changing from lush forest to rocky alpine terrain. There were exciting river crossings and comfortable huts spaced relatively close together. At the beginning of December we’re scheduled to hike the Heaphy Track, which is part of the “Great Walks” system. These are the most popular tramps in the country, and come with special (higher) rates and an online booking system. If Mt. Somers didn’t qualify as a “Great Walk,” I’m excited to see what has.

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Time Travelin’

Since I left the United States three months ago I’ve grown further and further from the realm of time. I haven’t worn a watch since high school, but I’ve had a cell phone and its clock strapped my hip – wait, I’m not quite that nerdy – in my pocket ever since. Now that I don’t have a “real” job, or any commitments that require time-specificity, I’ve abandoned the clock entirely. Take that, progress.

I still have a rough idea of the time: I know when breakfast, second breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea time, and dinner are. Hey, the blog is called “Bring a Snack.” What did you expect? Everything else just slots in somewhere between. Sometimes I have to be places, but my appointments are measured not in quarter-hour increments, but in approximate days. Jobs start “around the 15th” or “at the end of the month.” So I get up when the sun does, work until I’m hungry, and go to sleep when it gets cold and dark.

Slavery to the clock has been the latest pillar to fall. I used to perform the “phone/wallet/keys?” Ritual of the American Male every time I walked out the door. Now I only check for my wallet and knife. I suppose that in itself is indicative of how my life has changed. I wonder what’s next?

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October Camping Journal

As Christina mentioned in her last post, we’ve struck a nice balance, both financially and mentally, between jobs and time off to explore New Zealand on our own. Most recently we’ve been in adventure-mode, spending the last week bouncing around the Canterbury region of the South Island. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

October 10: Camped in Little Akaloa, a tiny village on the sea on the Banks Peninsula. The drive along Summit Road at sunset was stunning.

October 11: We had a lazy morning reading and relaxing in Little Akaloa, then rode our borrowed bikes up the hill beside town. We chose our destination because the street at the top had a nice name: Long Lookout Road. It turned out to be very poorly named, but the descent back to town was steep and exhilarating.

October 12: Spent the night in Peel Forest. Paid $30 to camp in a Department of Conservation site and be harassed by a power-tripping warden when we didn’t vacate the campsite promptly at 11am. Did I mention we were the only ones there? He and I had serious communication issues. The hikes around Peek Forest were tedious and I wouldn’t recommend them. But to make myself feel that it was money well spent I took a shamefully long and hot shower. And I’d do it again! I hope you’re reading, Ranger Dick.

October 13: After refusing to pay for the world’s most expensive parking spot again, we camped under a tree on the side of the road. This isn’t explicitly allowed in New Zealand, but there weren’t any “No Camping” signs and there was a public bathroom nearby. We don’t need much else. We paid for our bravado with a sleepless night, fearing our shade tree would collapse under a relentless gale and sheets of rain and awoke to find the windows in the van were stuck in the down position. In the rain. ‘Twas a challenging string of events.

We spent the day resupplying in Geraldine and visiting some very odd tourist attractions: the largest knitted sweater in the world and a handmade reproduction of the Bayeaux Tapestry with millions of tiny pieces of metal. As we limped up the mountain out of town the pounding rain relented into a gorgeous, peaceful snow.

In Lake Tekapo we spent the evening soaking in piping hot thermal pools, with giant Christmas-y snowflakes gently falling around us. The snow continued to fall as we went to sleep – nearly a foot was forecast.

October 14: We awoke to van doors frozen shut and thus minor panic set in, but we took a deep breath and rolled over for another quick snooze to let the bright shining sun go to work. Soon we were freed from our early-90s winter tomb and greeted by a high blue sky and blinding sun bouncing off the white hills around. The forecasts had proven to be aggressive and only a few inches were on the ground. It was too cold to relax, so we donned our thermal underwear and went for a hike around Lake Tekapo in the snow. By the time we returned, most of the snow had melted and the newly-shorn sheep were relieved.

October 15: After an off-road adventure in Nissan Serena Williams, we found a nice secluded camping spot on the shores of Lake Pukaki, with panoramic views of the Southern Alps and Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. We took a very muddy and bumpy bike ride in Ruatawhini Conservation Park and came to the realization that some kind of suspension is pretty much essential for mountain biking to be fun. I spent the afternoon getting my monthly dose of adrenaline, bouldering along the Mt. Cook highway.

October 16: Stayed a second night at our gorgeous spot near Pukaki. Awoke to more potential van problems, but (we think) they were quickly corrected with a fluid top-up at a mechanic in Twizel after a half-hour on the highway in second gear. Cross your fingers for us that Nissan Serena Williams holds together for another ten months. We feel that we’ve already dodged a few bullets.

Back on the road, our plans were again derailed in Mt. Cook National Park. We’d planned to do a short hike in the morning then go up to Mueller Hut for the night, but our discussion with with the ranger at the visitor center went something like this:

“Mueller?” He looked down at our feet. “In those boots?”
“Uh, yep.”
“Do you have skis?”
“Nope.”
“Hiking poles?”
“Nope.”
“Any avalanche training?”
Fully emasculated now: “Nope.”
“You’ll never make it. Come look at this.” We walked to a window of the sparkling visitor’s center and he pointed at a giant icy blue shelf that looked like it was about to tumble down on the mountainside and us below it. “That’s where you’re headed.” We quickly changed our plans and made the prudent choice: relaxing in the Old Mountaineer’s Cafe with a glass of whiskey.

October 17: Hey, that’s today! We’re back at the Old Mountaineer’s, caffeinating and writing. Today we’ll head back to the Tekapo hot pools for another soak and a day off from hiking/biking. We’ve both got a knee that’s barking and could use some extended R&R. Tomorrow we’ll be back at it with a hike around Mt. Somers on the way back to our WWOOF hosts.

Traveling like this provides constant freedom, but with that comes a few challenges. We’re always making plans then scrapping them with changes in the weather or our attitude. We’ve learned its useless to have more than a very rough sketch of your next few days, and the best skill you can have is flexibility. The Mueller Hut hike is on my NZ bucket list, so I was bummed to learn that it wasn’t possible this time, but I’m content in telling myself that it’s a reason to return to the area later in our trip.

Despite the challenges of the last few days, I still feel incredibly fortunate to be here. I only need to look out the window at the jagged mountains surrounding us to be reminded that this is a special opportunity.

Mt. Cook/Aoraki

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What it Costs

If you have been following along with our adventures (we love all of you who are!), you can see that we split our time between working on farms and traveling in our tres chic van, Ms. Serena Williams. You may also know that our plan is to be here in New Zealand for about a year, with no income other than the occasional odd jobs here and there. One thing we are constantly minding is how we spend our time and money. There are endless opportunities to spend money on really enticing looking adventures like rafting, zip lining, jet boating, zorbing, and alpine climbing expeditions, but we would be flat broke after a week of that. We didn’t save for that. We saved enough to live very simply and to see the country by exploring on our own. This post is a break down of how we are making it work without an income.

By balancing our time between working and travel, we get different benefits and can live fairly inexpensively. WWOOFing (working on farms) gives us the opportunity to learn valuable skills, get to know people, and our meals and lodging is provided in exchange for 4-5 hours of work. We have been lucky enough to stay with farmers who want the work to be something that we are interested in, while also being of use to them. They ask questions like, “What do you want to learn and do while you are here?”

While WWOOFing, we spend most of our time on or very close to the farm. We get to know the surrounding area well, taking occasional afternoon trips to the mountains or the beach. Our only expenses are on extras, which are usually just wine and cookies. Except that our current hosts provide plenty of both. (Thank you L&S!) Who needs packaged cookies when Lyndal made mousse au chocolate on a Tuesday night?

In the last two weeks of WWOOFing, our expenses totaled $74.50:

  • $50.00 Doctor’s visit and antibiotics for my foot (which is slowly, but surely on the mend)
  • $20 Torlesse Vineyards Pinot Gris
  • $4.50 Foccacia from the Farmer’s market

While traveling in the van, our costs are higher, but we have the freedom to make our own schedule, to sleep late, to spend the morning sitting on the beach, wearing my straw hat and sewing up the holes in the armpit of my denim shirt, or to keep going on a dirt road just to see what is at the end of it. With that freedom also comes the challenge of stretching the dollar by buying day old bread and brownish bananas and finding activities that are free. (Hello, hiking and biking!)

Our costs for one week of living in the van and exploring come to around $600.

  • $400 gas
  • $50 campsite fees (Freedom camping when possible and shelling out for a Dept. of Conservation campsite when we really need a shower)
  • $100 camping food (box of wine, pb&j supplies, oats, nuts, canned beans, lentils, farm stand veggies)
  • $20 entry to Lake Tekapo Thermal Pools (50% off thanks to bookme.com, kinda like a Groupon)
  • $25 breakfast at a farm stand cafe.

It is the balance of these two ways of living that makes our long term travel work financially possible and rewarding. Balance between time spent with new people and time alone. Balance between boxed wine and vineyard tastings. Balance between sleeping in the van and in a bed. It all evens out to make it work pretty well so far.

 

Oh, and the money we save by eating canned beans will allow us to afford a few splurges like bungee jumping and knife making :D

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The Mysteries of Farming

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