My mom and dad were here in New Zealand for almost three weeks. They rented a campervan and after a few days of hanging out with our friends here in Wanaka, we hit the road together for a grandiose tour of a very small part of the country. They didn’t try to drive around the whole country and see all of the sights. They didn’t go to Marlborough or see Fox Glacier and will probably meet someone who has and exclaims, “How could you not?!”
But we did it better. We stuck to the southern part of the South Island and soaked in the people, the mountains, and the striking beauty of the country that you often miss if you only have one day in a town. When we drove into Mt. Cook National Park, Mt. Cook was shrouded in clouds and the typically turquoise Lake Pukaki was an uninspiring slate gray. Lucky for us, we spent three days there. We saw the mountains in different light, from different elevation, and by the time we left, we felt like we got to know the place a little.
Our plans were flexible enough that when a local told us to spend the morning at the Moeraki Lighthouse, we could take his suggestion. The lighthouse was 8km down a dusty, unsealed road and poorly marked. It wasn’t much of a tourist attraction. No one else was there. Well, except for a huge colony of seals and some penguins waddling around the grasses. There were no fences other than those at the edge of the cliffs or around the paddocks. While exploring the rocky shoreline, Dad nearly stepped on a massive, dozing seal who was camouflaged among the rocks until he sat up and roared, sending Dad sprinting in the opposite direction.
Whether eating PB&Js on a mountain or sharing a bottle of Central Otago Pinot Noir, we are so grateful that we had the chance to travel with my parents. Our friend Nico from German said, “I think I am a little bit jealous that your parents came and traveled with you.” It wasn’t just a visit; we got to share a perspective with them.
Thank you, guys!
“What are you going to to when you go home?” is a question we hear with some frequency. It usually follows “are you ever going home?” Don’t worry, moms and dads, the answer is “yes.”
We do plan to return to the US, and our plans for when that time comes are still taking shape. Now we call on you, fair readers, to poke and prod and hopefully, make helpful suggestions to our plan.
A few months ago we publicly announced that we’re interested in starting a farm, but that’s pretty vague. Farms vary wildly in size and purpose; there’s everything from the small self-sufficiency holding to the massive corporate behemoth. Where do we want to fall on that spectrum? What do we want to grow?
We certainly want to be larger than the very small guys. We want to be as self-sufficient as possible, but we also want to live off this endeavor and buy things that we can’t produce: coffee, chocolate, entertainment. Maybe we’ll make our own honey and beer, but we want the flexibility to buy stuff: gadgets, books, or The Meaning of Life (with free shipping!) on eBay. We haven’t gone completely off the deep end.
And we definitely want to be smaller than the big guys. We don’t want row crops or a concentrated feeding operation. We don’t want to poison the earth with herbicides and suck the nutrients completely out of the ground.
So now that you’ve got a pretty good idea what we don’t want, maybe what we do want will make more sense. We want a diversity of vegetables, fruit trees, and animals. We love pork so pigs are pretty much guaranteed. Their ability to consume a lot of farm by-products is also a plus. These kiwis have taught me a lot about the value and ease of sheep, though they are “dumb as,” in the vernacular. The farm-raised lamb chops, which are probably the juiciest cut of meat I’ve ever tasted, didn’t hurt. Goats are smart and efficient at turning grass into milk, but cows cut down on the labor involved in harvesting that milk. So we’re still up in the air in the dairy department. Chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl are also very likely in our future. Geese and their midnight honking are definitely not. So we’re going to produce a lot of different stuff. What are we going to do with it all?
At first, we’ll sell at markets and add value with prepared foods: spreads, sauces, etc. We’ll need a licensed commercial kitchen to keep Johnny Law off our backs, but we’re hoping to rent a space for food preparation until we can build our own.
Ultimately, we want to open a full service restaurant on the property. We’ll operate as a casual cafe for breakfast and lunch, with wifi access and delicious coffee, baked goods, and a small menu of simple food. For the dinner service we’ll move up market to a slightly fancier version of the same. Our dining room will be a place you wouldn’t mind taking your kids at 6 o’clock or a date at 8. Prices will be accessible and again, the menu would be limited. And of course, we’ll supply as much of the food served as possible from the farm. We’ll welcome patrons to take a walk around and see where the pork chop that they’re about to eat rooted for nuts, or pick an apple off that tree with heavily laden branches for a snack before their meal. We’ll bring food to people and bring people to food. Our vision is for a welcoming place that inspires the community and makes people excited to spend time there, be it on a date or just to swing by for some eggs.
Further down the line, we’ll incorporate education. We’ll host a small army of WWOOFers, welcome school groups, and offer courses to the public. We’ll have an internship/apprentice program and bring our products to underserved markets.
Finding the right place for this will be difficult. We think that a 20-30 acre plot of land will be small enough to be manageable at first, while giving us room to grow as we get better at this farming thing. Climate and length of growing season are factors to consider, but we’re prepared to use greenhouses and tall tunnels to artificially lengthen the season. Annual precipitation and access to water are huge factors, and we’d rather consistent rain than committing to constantly moving irrigation around.
We need a community that would be excited about supporting a farm-to-table restaurant, but doesn’t already have lots of great options in that category. We need a location that’s accessible for the walk-up cafe crowd, but also a significant chunk of land to do our growing. For our own sanity, we need outdoor recreation close by; we’re avid rock climbers, hikers, and cyclists. We’d like to be within a few hours of an international airport, so we can get out and welcome visitors without too much hassle. We want the perfect spot, and, I think, this will be the most difficult part of this endeavor. Or at least the first most difficult part.
I hope you can see that we’ve thought about this a lot, and also that we’ve got a long way to go. We have a solid idea of what we want, but really don’t know anything at all about achieving it. So we need your help. Comment, email, text, Facebook, smoke signal, or carrier pigeon us your thoughts, advice, reservations, whatever.
Last week, Christina and I walked the Milford Track. Dubbed “The Finest
Wok Walk in the World,” we had high hopes for this trip. After 53.5km of tumbling waterfalls, epic vistas, and misty mountains fit for the finest of wizards, let’s just say that our expectations were totally exceeded in every way. Here are a few photos from the trip:
We were running late, as usual, and didn’t have a lot of time to search around town for the restaurant. Fortunately, when the address you’re looking for is “Fleur’s Place, The Old Jetty, Moeraki, New Zealand” you can be pretty sure that there’s not much else in town.
Moeraki is on a tiny peninsula jutting into the vast Pacific Ocean, and on its lone, weather-beaten pier rests Fleur’s Place, a corrugated tin clubhouse that doubles as a destination dining experience. The once-bustling pier was where Moeraki competed with, and ultimately lost to, its northern neighbor Oamaru as the shipping hub for the area.
We learned of this hidden little gem a few months ago, when someone handed Chrstina a copy of Fleur Sullivan’s autobiography. One of New Zealand’s most well-known and influential chefs, she rose to national fame managing Oliver’s, an innovative restaurant and lodge in Central Otago. After reading her book and learning about her new concept: seafood straight from the boat to plates; her restaurant in Moeraki quickly rose to the top of our to-do list.
Like the rest of New Zealand, Fleur’s Place is casual, welcoming, and a little rough around the edges. The aesthetic is best illustrated by the array of mismatched teacups and saucers perched on the bar: what was once precious is now a little absurd. And the parallels here to other high-end cooking are almost too easy. As gourmet food has veered further and further toward molecular gastronomy and farther from its, well, bread and butter: delicious, fresh ingredients; it’s become a caricature. I’d rather ultra-fresh ingredients than foams any day. And most of all, that’s what Fleur’s Place hammered home: sometimes it’s not about complicated recipes or processes, but sourcing excellent, locally produced ingredients and getting out of the way.
While the menu has its share of classics and old standbys, we never considered anything but the fresh fish for which Fleur’s Place is famous. The seafood chowder was thick and heavy on shellfish that tasted like they’d hopped off the rocks and into the pot. New Zealand’s famous green-lipped mussels, cockles, and clams were the stars of the rich, tomato-based soup, slicing through with savory meatiness.
The day’s catch was blue cod, brill, sole, tarakuhi, and moki. Cod is somewhat of a workhorse fish, used frequently for the popular and ubiquitous fried fish and chips, so it wasn’t the obvious choice for a nice meal out. But just because something is common (and commonly done badly) doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious. And it turned out to be the perfect example of the point: use good ingredients and get out of the way.
A year ago, I never would have lobbied for a whole fish versus fillets. The sight and thought of the fish head staring back at me and the prospect of picking through tons of little bones to get every last bit of flesh off the skeleton would have directed me elsewhere. But not anymore. Through our experiences traveling (butchering, fishing, dealing with carcasses) I’m far more comfortable staring down a whole fish and digging the delicious medallions of meat out of his/her cheeks. Plus, filleting a fish leaves a lot of delicious meat on the bone. I’ll happily deal with a few bones if it means having enough left over (after completely over-eating) for fish tacos the next day. Bring it on.
Grilled and doused in a caper berry (not to be confused with their little brothers, capers) and almond brown butter, it was decadent but not excessive. The proportions of ingredients were exact, allowing the fish to stand on its own, complimented (but not dominated) by the salty caper berries and crunchy almond slices. And why else would you go to a seafood restaurant than to eat fish that tastes like fish? Too often a plate of butter is substituted for decent, fresh seafood. Not at Fleur’s.
Maybe its the rustic setting, or the fish gutting station outside the kitchen door, or the dish towels hanging to dry in the sun just beyond the view of diners, but Fleur’s has authenticity bursting from its seams. Don’t come to be entertained by tricks of the kitchen, come for the freshest fish imaginable and simple, skilled preparation.
My parents have been here for two weeks, romping up into the mountains, across the South Island, and down to the beaches in the Catlins. The following post is contributed by my dad, Judd Anderson. Thanks, Dad!
New Zealand is so much more than you can imagine from the Internet or anywhere else. Some of both the silly, serious, wonderful and inspiring are the following:
A Kiwi is a person (New Zealanders actually like being called one), Kiwi-bird is THE bird, which most Kiwis have not seen, even if you go to Stewart Island where you have the best chance of seeing one. More common and beautiful are the Kea which are like mountain parrots, green with bright orange armpits. They meow like kitties when they fly over. They visit you in the mountain huts, looking for camper food. Most common phrases in NZ are, “No worries” (if you say thank you to the person giving you a latte, this is what they’ll say back); “It’s all good”, which can be substituted for “no worries”; or, less common, but fun is, “She-be-right, mate,” which actually means “It will be all right, dude.” Short e sounds in words such as neck, deck, pest or Czech (someone from the Chech Republic) are pronounced nick, dick, pist and chick. So you can actually have a barbecue on your “dick” or store a kayak on your dick (so says Jacob, one of Christina and Zach’s NZ climbing buddies).
There are no big animals in NZ, so possums, rabbits and everything else small are called pists (pests) cause they have no predators. What’s great about hiking and camping is that you don’t have to worry about bears, wolves or anything else that might scare or eat you or your food. NZ doesn’t even have foxes or coyotes which could do a great job on the overabundance of rabbits and other pists. But they have something called a sandfly which is so small and bites without being felt that only later do you realize the ring of bites on your ankles is from their having had you for dinner. But if you walk they are so slow they can’t keep up. The yellow-eyed penguins are unafraid of you, especially the unfledged whom we walked up to, examined, photographed and watched star-struck for 2 hours near Moereki (barely touched on in the guidebooks) as are the sea lions and fur seals which roll on the beaches like large blubber bags, flipping warm sand onto themselves. The Hector dolphins swim around you off the Catlins (the southern most beaches) ride the waves and play by jumping in the air, right along side the human surfers. Of course the sheep are everywhere, both inside and outside of the fences, on the roads and in towns and are herded by tall manly-men in really short adidas soccer shorts like we used to wear 20 years ago. Even the flag men on the road construction crews have tenaciously held to the 4 inch inseam.
The colors of NZ are really striking. The mountain lakes and rivers (which you often cross on beautiful simple suspension cable bridges that look like Indiana Jones bridges, warn you of the number allowed on at any one time – 1 to 5 and sway and bounce as you walk across with your pack) of both the Mt. Aspiring range (we hiked and camped for 3 days there) and the Mt. Cook National Park (4 days) turn multiple shades of blue/green/slate and often look like aqua milkshakes, thick and creamy. No need for bringing your water on mountain hikes: just dip your water bottle into any stream. When you hit glaciers, eat the snow but stop to listen for avalanches which we heard and saw numerous times on our way to Mueller Hut (dedicated by Sir Edmund Hilary in 2003) in Mt. Cook Park. The sound of an avalanche is, first delayed by many seconds and, second, as loud as a sonic boom.
In two weeks of living and traveling with Christina and Zach we have eaten a breakfast out once, split a breakfast (at the Mountaineer’s Cafe at Mt. Cook), dined at Francesca’s (an elegant place where KCA dishes and preps) and Fleur’s Place in the Catlins. Otherwise, we have always eaten together out of our campervans, up in the mountains, on beaches and have never eaten so well. Food is always better at a campsite, especially when you pick your own mussels from your beach walk (Cathedral Caves Beach), or from an unattended roadside vegetable stand where you find new potatoes, that, when cooked, taste creamy even without any butter.
For all of NZ’s incredible God-given beauty (we still have Fiordland to pry open in the next week), wonderful people (or should I say NO people…hardly anyone lives here) it has been the traveling, tramping, hiking, trekking, exploring and “hanging” with Christina and Zach that have filled us with incomparable joy.
What makes something your favorite?
For me, it is comfortable, delicious, snuggly, perfect. I want to hug it and be best friends with it and I need nothing else. A chubby cat, my Ithaca Rock Climbing Club sweatshirt, a cupcake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine, dad’s coffee, a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, or a good book will do the trick. The sweatshirt is self explainable, but I want to focus on the good book part. My version of a good book is somewhere in the realm of modern fiction: The World According To Garp, Bonfire of the Vanities, or The Art of Fielding. A piece written by an intelligent person that is not flashy or arrogant, but subtly genius, with characters that make perfect sense set in plot that is neither obvious nor contrived (Jodi Picoult, I’m looking at you).
But of course, if I indulged in favorites all the time, I’d wind up obese, covered in cat hair, laying in bed amongst the cupcake crumbs, with permanently stained teeth. You can’t live on favorites alone.
I was for awhile, reading mostly modern fiction. When I am the boss, that’s what I pick and I am totally the boss of my kindle. Since we have been traveling though, I have also taken to raiding the bookshelf wherever we are staying. This provides me with someone else’s selection of books, ones that I would not usually choose myself, and also balances out the cost of buying books. As a result of this practice, I’ve met Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and been inspired by his River Cottage cookbooks, discovered the we decided to be farmers, but have no idea what we are doing genre, and also attempted to broaden my horizons by reading Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. While Portrait of a Lady wasn’t enjoyable through and through and it was often tiresome trying to figure out what James was saying through his flowery language, it worked my brain. I learned a few things about gender roles in the 1800s and by page 400 actually found myself enjoying the story. It was not a favorite, but a really valuable activity. And it makes coming back to your favorite genre all that more enjoyable. I just picked up Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot and by the second page, knew that it is going to be a favorite. It tasted like cupcakes after a week of bran cereal, but I needed that bran cereal.
My suggestion is two fold: go read something that is good for you, then pick up something from your favorite genre. Here are a few that I’ve really enjoyed this year:
The World According to Garp, John Irving
A hilarious and heart wrenching novel. My favorite book ever.
A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain
Disclaimer: Bourdain is a total bro and this is more food porn than literature. He boozes and eats his way around the world and will make you want to do the same. I read this book with a notepad next to me: Spain To Do: San Sebastian tapas bar crawl.
Once Were Warriors, Alan Duff
An iconic New Zealand novel about a Maori family living in government housing. Ficticious, but felt very much like the struggles that my students in the Bronx faced. Interesting to see what those problems look like in another culture.
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbaugh
Set on a college campus in upstate Michigan, Chad Harbaugh’s writing is spot on. His characters became my friends and the book may as well have read itself to me.
Life, on the Line, Grant Achatz
A celeb chef memoir + cancer survival story that is the best of both worlds. Written by chef and investor, both of whom are quite competent writers.
“There’s plenty of good wine, but NO good beer in New Zealand,” I heard from a fellow traveler a few weeks before departing the Uh-merica for the Land of the Rings.
“Uh oh.” I was coming from New York City, which, with apologies to Denver and Austin, was rapidly moving up the charts of beer nerd heaven. Within blocks of my apartment I had beer bars, beer specialty stores (much love, Top Hops), even Chinatown bodegas filling growlers with local brews! “This could be a problem,” I thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice glass of wine with food or a movie, but there are some events that just call for beer: sports, mostly. How could I watch Syracuse b-ball with a glass of pinot noir? I’m not one to tempt the wrath of Boeheim.
Luckily, my traveler friend was wrong. There’s plenty of good beer in NZ. There’s also plenty of very bad beer and golly, the good stuff is expensive. So I find myself strategizing more in my purchasing decisions. Maybe back home the question was: good or cheap? Here, it’s: bad and not so cheap, decent and expensive, or excellent and worth its weight in gold? This isn’t a good situation for a broke beer nerd to be in.
But I’ve found options in every category that satisfy my hop withdrawals, or at least some that don’t make me cringe.
Cheap: Ranfurly Draught. $24 NZD/18 pack 440ml cans. 4.0% abv
Brewed in a nearby town of the same name and shipped all over the South Island, Ranfurly has become my go-to cheap beer. The best I can say for it is: it’s better than it looks. Yeah, it’s marketed as a cheap beer: the label screams “GIANT 440 ML CANS!!!11!” But I’m ashamed to say that I had it next to a Budweiser and I preferred the second son to the King of Beers. Rich and creamy with a inoffensive aftertaste, I’ll take it over lighter lagers any (every?) day of the week.
Decent: Mac’s Hop Rocker Pilsner. $26 NZD/12 pack 330ml bottles. 5.0%abv
For a while I was put off by the relatively cheap pricepoint of Mac’s. And the fact that its a hopped pilsner threw me for a loop. But after sampling it at a recent barbecue, I can say that its probably the best value in New Zealand beer. Lightly hopped with the crisp, bright citrus flavors of a pilsner, its a nice medium ground between huge IPAs and traditionally wimpy pilsners.
Gold Standard: 8wired Brewing Company HopWired IPA. $12 NZD/500ml bottle. 7.3%abv
Number 8 wire is the duct tape of New Zealand. Any problem with a car, laundry machine, or health care system can be fixed with “a bit a number eight wire, mate.” And this, if you were wondering, is the provenance of the 8wired Brewing Company’s name. But anyway, I was floored by this beer. I’d put it up against any of the famous US microbrewery IPAs: Dogfish Head, Russian River, Heady Topper, etc. I’m not sure who would come out on top, but I know that HopWired would give them a grudge match. The label mentions “passion fruit, limes, oranges, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes” as flavors. While I won’t go so far as to confirm this from my experience, I can say that its a unique and delicious brew, full of massive hop flavors and a nice malty character. Full disclosure: I’m enjoying a HopWired right now. Life is good.
Don’t believe the beer snobs when the tell you everything sucks, and don’t sleep on the top tier of NZ beers. There are some real treasures here. Cheers, mate.
A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation by The Localizing Food Tour, a group that puts on presentations and hands on workshops for communities to help them create a sustainable, local food supply. It was a super charged, energetic talk on food politics and issues like the upcoming food bill that is to be passed here in NZ, the possibility of a new trade agreement with the States and China, genetically engineered crops, and how these things affect us common folk. Their mission seems to be two fold: to educate people about food politics and to facilitate action in the community.
One would hope that the discussion around food would be about feeding and nurturing people, just as one would assume that decisions about education would be focused on educating students. Ultimately, food politics, like education politics, isn’t about how to support and strengthen people. It is about control and money. Shocker.
Jon Foote, the presenter, spoke about genetical engineered foods and how people’s eating habits have changed from whole, real foods, to packaged, processed foods and the corresponding rise in diseases and learning disabilities. I learned about irradiated fruits and vegetables, a process that keeps perishable foods from rotting and bruising, but kills the nutrients and puts radiation in your food. Irradiated foods do not have to be labeled.
Doesn’t that piss you off? That you make a point of eating healthy food, but you aren’t getting what you pay for? That you are trying to put something good in your body, but really you are consuming radiation, which we all know, treats cancer by killing cells. Killing nutrients. This is a legal practice. Why is this legal? Certainly not to provide healthy food to citizens, but simply to make money.
The solution is to learn about what you are eating, about what is in season and what grows well in your region. Support the community and good, honest people who specialize in growing good food. The presentation ended on a high note, imploring people to think about how you spend your dollar and what you do with your time. They also stressed that communities are stronger than individuals, so support one another and help your neighbors. I like that.
The Localizing Food Tour led a two day workshop developing an action plan to provide a sustainable, healthy food source for the people of Wanaka, just as they had done in Southland, Dunedin, Oamaru, and will do in almost every town in New Zealand over the next year. They emphasized community gardens, edible plants in public spaces, land sharing between farmers who may not use all of their land and those who want to grow food, but have no land. They brought attention to what Wanaka is already doing, to people who are saving seeds that grow well in this region, to the group who is developing a food forest outside of town, and to various community events.
Throughout the presentation, people referred to “what’s happening in America.” They talked about how large corporations, like Monsanto and the corn industry, influence government decisions regarding food and the health of the nation. They spoke about us like a bunch of uneducated fat kids, following a manipulative government that picks on all of the little guys. And for the most part, they were right, but it was uncomfortable to hear people who I respect talking about my country with so little respect.
Zach and I want to change that. We want to be a part of a community like Wanaka, but need to be that positive force in an American community. We’re not done traveling. We may never be done traveling, but that is what we plan to do when we get back.