Our House

Our house it has a crowd/There’s always something happening/And it’s usually quite loud
-CSNY, Our House

Our house on Warren St. is a 3 bedroom house. Last week there were nine of us here. “How do you come to have so many gypsies crashing at your house?” one of my coworkers asked me the other day. Well, it usually happens while hiking or at a hut and goes something like this:

Friendly stranger making conversation: “Where are you living?”

One of us: “Wanaka”

FS: “Oh man, I want to get there at some point.”

Us: “If you are ever in town, shoot us a text and you can stay at our place.”

And then a day or a week or a month later, someone turns up. With a massive pack. Needing a shower and a couch and so excited to bake in an oven. Sometimes they stay for a few nights, sometimes a week, sometimes two.

It might sound strange, having someone stay at your place that you’ve only met for a few minutes, but there is an unspoken understanding that makes it work. Everyone that has come through keeps the kitchen tidy, chips in for toilet paper and laundry detergent and adds warmth to the house. Sometimes they go to bed early, sometimes they’re up until two am, but never in a way that affects anyone else. It is exciting to come home from work at 12:30am and not know what the vibe is going to be. When Nico and Lena from Germany were here, we played games and Nico sang and played Tenacious D on his guitar. When Comi, a veterinarian from France who is hiking the length of New Zealand, was here, he made crepes and mousse au chocolate while we watched movies. There always stories and conversation to be had, but sometimes quiet is necessary and it is an amazing thing when there are 4 people in a room, all reading by the fire. When everyone needs a little book reading and internetting.


You never know who is going to be in the kitchen when you wake up, who is making scones or their grandma’s onion tart with caraway seeds. I came home the other night to a Chilean couple making Capiroska cocktails and had a really good conversation with a girl who was a school psychologist in Chile. For the first time in a long time, I spoke with someone who understood my teaching experience in the Bronx. Except that hers was in Chile. Amazing, sparkling kids, massive amounts of paperwork, overcrowded classrooms, hungry stomachs and nine year old sass. I didn’t have to explain anything, she knew. It was awesome.

Nicki from Australia makes art to brighten up the house

When we got to Wanaka, we needed a shower and a home base. A place to relax and not think. Robyn and Stephen, the original tenants of 60 Warren St, opened the doors and were super generous. We learned so much from sharing a space with them, be it about cooking, or finding cheap flights on Air Asia, or British TV series that we’ve carried it on and plan on continuing the trend when we have a place in the states.

Sometimes it is nice to have alone time. Sometimes we take a time off from having people stay over. But having people stay, who are independent and respectful and happy, is a fun change of pace. We used Couch Surfing, a website that provides travelers with free places to stay, when we first got to Auckland and had a great time as travelers, and are enjoying the other end as hosts as well.


Who said adults can’t have slumber parties anyway?






Internet Tendency and Dependency

Over at The Verge, Paul Miller recently published a remarkably depressing but fascinating piece on living without the internet for a year. I share a lot of his thoughts, and have had an opportunity to live for the last ten months with limited internet access…until now. We’ve recently broken down and had broadband installed in our shared house in New Zealand, and it’s been an interesting experience.

My life in the US revolved around computers. I worked exclusively on web-related things, communicated with friends and family on the internet, and parked in front of a computer for most of my leisure entertainment time. But we’ve been traveling since last August without a cellphone data plan and I’ve had to adjust to a disconnected lifestyle. These have been my stages of internet dependency withdrawal:

First comes an uncomfortable feeling of missing out. I felt as if news was happening and important emails were piling up, usually to log in a week later to discover that not much had happened and I only had a few non-urgent emails to answer.

Then comes “alone and helpless.” This is when you do nothing but think of questions that would be easily answered by all-knowing Google, but are next to impossible to find out otherwise. Stuff like “who is that actor?” and “what’s 350 degrees fahrenheit in celsius?” This is a very frustrating period.

Acceptance is next. You are resigned to the fact that you won’t be able to turn to the internet for answers and begin to strike out on your own discoveries. I like to think of this as throwing off the shackles of technology and becoming more self-sufficient, but then I remember that we operated for many years just like this and didn’t think it was difficult. It’s a skill that needs re-learning, anyway. Yes, it turns out that movie showtimes are still listed in the newspaper.

Now you start spending more time reading stuff of greater value than blog-drivel (present company excepted, of course) and Reddit comment threads. Well, considering I’ve been waist-deep in a certain fantasy epic currently being dramatized on HBO, I can’t exactly make distinctions between high and low literature at the moment. But at least it’s written in compete sentences.

And right when I’m starting to feel less dependent, the tap is turned back on. It’s nice to have the internet back in our home, because it’s a powerful tool that makes a lot of things (checking the weather!) a lot easier. But it’s also a massive distraction. The time I used to spend brainstorming, writing, and editing for this blog has been shifted toward other pursuits, mostly fantasy baseball. But if I want to research something, I can find it very quickly. As with everything, it’s about balance. Sometimes that means removing yourself from distractions and other times its using the tools that are available. I love the power and democracy of the internet, but wish it was easier to turn off.


What the World Eats

Photographs by Peter Menzel from the book "Hungry Planet"

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

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

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

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



Stockpiling for the Winter


It is officially Autumn here. They don’t say Fall. Autumn. And in winter, the cost of electricity doubles. Doubles! When you need it most! We have made a no-heater rule and plan to heat the house using just the wood stove and hot water bottles. So on a bleak day, after a cold night, we went out foraging at “the spot.” 15ks out of town and 7ks down a dirt road, there was rumored to be heaps of driftwood from where a river meets the lake. After borrowing a chainsaw and making two trips to the spot, we have enough wood to make the winter in our breezy, not at all insulated house a super cozy one.


The Boston Bombing Made Me Feel Feelings

Boston Syria

I’ve written this post four times in the past week. The titles have evolved from: Seriously? The Marathon? WTF? to On Being Mad at America to It Happens Just About Everywhere to the final and very profound title I settled on.

A few months ago I asked an American friend, who has been living on this side of the world for a few years, if he would ever go back to live in the states. “Maybe when they stop shooting one another,” he replied, only half joking.

Hmph. Good point.

Since we’ve been gone, our country has experienced the Newtown shooting and the school shootings that followed, tons of shit I haven’t kept up on, and now the Boston Marathon bombings.  I mean schools? A marathon? Is nothing sacred? It’s infuriating. I don’t want to live in a place where you can get blown up for doing something commendable and challenging. Like teaching. Or running a marathon. It’s not normal, but it seems like it is becoming so. As normal as going to see a movie.

Living in New Zealand while my country goes through traumatic times feels a little like standing on another planet and peering out at what is going on over there. It is easy to forget about the rest of the world while living in a small (hobbit) town in the middle of the ocean. There aren’t massacres, guns are for hunting, and the media isn’t totally insane. It’s refreshing, but also uncomfortable when I know friends are hurting. You can’t give hugs from half a world away.

For a minute there in the week of feelings, I was starting to think that America is totally effed. That I couldn’t go back. Canada, maybe. I was pretty down on our  country and our government (as if we are the only country that has problems). But then I started talking to our friends here in Wanaka, who are from all over the world. Our friends from Northern England who won’t walk home after dark, or those who have traveled in Africa and China and listened to stories of violence and fear all over the world. Listened to friends describe the kinds of things that I skim over in the newspaper every day (okay, once every two weeks when I look at the newspaper). The kinds of things that happen to them, in those countries, where this kind of stuff happens all the time. And to many people, this stuff happens all of the time in America. People shoot each other. Things get blown up. Unfortunate, but those things happen there .

I guess the point is that it has been an interesting experience being surrounded by non Americans and seeing the spectrum of reactions from my own quiet, livid feelings to compassion to totally not surprised. Or maybe the point is that it sometimes being away is hard. I don’t know what the point is, which is why this post is titled The Boston Bombing Made Me Feel Feelings.

Laura McClain, Matt Ford, and friends in Boston, I’m sorry we aren’t there to do some sorrow-drowning shots and have some hugs. You guys have been on my mind lots recently.


Why New Zealand? This is why.

We’ve been veering mainly toward food-related things here at Bring a Snack for the past month or two, and will continue to do so. But now, something completely different. Sometimes people ask us why we chose New Zealand.  This is pretty much why:


Restaurant Review: Pegasus Bay Winery


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

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

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

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

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


An Unexpected Autumn Adventure


Cromwell is 56k south of Wanaka. In The States, we would give it some kitchy name like  The Fruit Bowl or the Wine Belt or something like that. It doesn’t look like much, the hills are pretty brown and the town is basically a big industrial park, but they grow massive amounts of fruit. So last week I took a trip to Cromwell to stock up on fruit and check out some of the vineyards.

My plan was to drive, but when I stopped by the house with the cats (where I often stop for a snuggle), the Cat Dad/our neighbor asked if I was driving or hitching. I decided to make an adventure of the day and hitch a ride. After ten minutes with my thumb out and a makeshift sign in my notebook, I hopped in with a grandpa who had just come from the medical center and had two bandaged knees from a fall that morning. We spent the next 45 minutes chatting about aleuvial soil and bizarre rock formations before parting ways at Aurum vineyard where I sampled Pinot Noir and their delicious White port made from Pinot Gris.

I bopped from Aurum Vineyard on the edge of town to Quartz Reef’s tasting room, located amongst the lumber yards and heavy machinery rental outfitters. I walked into a room full of vats and barrels and quietly slipped into the back of a group tour until a man tells me, “Oops, no, um. This is a private tour. They all work together and this is kind of a good bye party for some of their staff.” Being discreet has never come naturally me.

He kindly led me through a tasting on my own, but after my 5th or so question about how they make their sparkling wine, he brought me back to the private tour so I could get the full explanation of how they get the cork in. I mean really, the whole popping of the cork seems kind of like a one way trajectory, doesn’t it?

$15 bucks in fruit from Webb’s fruit in Cromwell

I stopped at a fruit stand before heading home since that was my “reason” for coming to Cromwell. With a bottle of Pinot Noir and a backpack full of peaches, pears, and apples all labeled “seconds,” I found a ride back to Wanaka.

Once home, I got down to business with my new favorite toy: the food dehydrator. Our friend lent it to us and I wouldn’t recommend this model or brand as it makes an annoying noise (like a hairdryer) and takes forever (6-10hours), but it does result in an exciting final product. Drying peaches took 8 hours, but now we have dried peaches for the winter. I’ve read that the fully dried fruit can be stored in jars, but I left some moisture in mine (think more like dried apples, less like banana chips) so I am concerned they they may mold in jars. One of the chefs at work has a vac pac that he uses for the sous vide machine, so I’m eager to give it a whirl on my fruit. Plastic bags are not the most eco-friendly storage solution, but new toys + possible solution to the problem = let’s give it a whirl!

Ultimately, I’d like to be using a solar dehydrator and find a way of storing the fruit that doesn’t involve plastic bags. But like any project, the second time around is where you improve.

Dried pears, apples, peaches and strawberries are going to be so good in oatmeal when the snow is falling and the fire blazing!


Old Bay in Da House!

Old Bay-5953

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

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

Roasted brussels sprouts with Old Bay


Gibbston Valley Wine & Food Festival

Tasting at Gibbston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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