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Gallery: Adios Wanaka

Here are a few good shots from our last days in Wanaka and our trip to Christchurch via Castle Hill.

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Winter Gallery Through a New Lens!

We just upgraded from an iPhone3G to a 4 and have been having so much fun having a phone that takes decent pictures and can load data at a reasonable speed! We’ve also activated an Instagram account for Bring a Snack, so feel free to check us out there. Here are a few pictures from the past week, walking around the lake, some of the dishes I make at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and downhill skiing at Cardrona and cross country skiing Snow Farm.

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The Spectrum of Travel

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Even though we’ve been living in Wanaka since November, we still think of ourselves as travelers. Yes, we’re renting a house (or, “flat”), but we’ve never planned on staying here so it’s got a very temporary vibe. I like to think of this as just another mode of traveling, somewhere between basic backpacking and dropping permanent roots. On this trip, we’ve experienced most of the what I like to call the “spectrum of travel” and recognize that they all have their place.

Simple backpacking seems like the simplest, quickest and cheapest form of travel, but often it’s none of those things. It requires very little up-front investment, but you’re basically committing to paying for accommodations every night or finding a nice tree to sleep under (often illegally). Hostels can get expensive, and I imagine that fines can add up as well. But for short trips it often makes the most sense. If you’ve got the patience for late buses and can live simply it can be thrifty, but it’s usually uncomfortable. Your mileage may vary.

We’ve spent most of our actual travel time in New Zealand living out of a van. Yes, this has the highest initial cost, but it provides a great deal of flexibility and some comforts. We went where we wanted, when we wanted, and could carry a variety of food and cooking equipment. Hopefully we’ll recoup our investment in the van on the other end, but we’ll settle for a (hopefully large) portion of what we spent.

One less obvious form of travel is the way we’ve been living in Wanaka. We’ve rented a house, have steady jobs, and have built a community of friends, all of whom are also here for a short time so it still feels like “traveling.” This has been a wonderful opportunity to refresh our bodies and back accounts. As awesome as being on the road for a few years may sound, its pretty damn tiring and we’ve relished this opportunity to stop and take a breath.

We’ve also had a chance to make some lasting friendships here in Wanaka, which is a subtle and underrated part of this third type of travel. If you’re constantly on the move, you don’t get a chance to really get to know anyone you’re meeting along the way. Plus you suffer from a bit of introduction fatigue. You get sick of having the same conversation over and over again (“Where are you from? What brought you here? Where are you going next?”) and begin to just not bother. Traveling quickly can be like speed dating for friends: no real relationships are formed.

When we got to Wanaka we didn’t realize that we were missing having a community of our own, but it’s been great settling down for a little while and building our energy for the next step in our travels.

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Stockpiling for the Winter

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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.

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An Unexpected Autumn Adventure

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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!

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It’s that Time of the Season

It is a strange thing being in another hemisphere from most of our friends and family. As we are enjoying the last of the long evenings and noticing that mornings are nippier than usual, our friends in the states are thinking about the farmer’s market and pastel colored jeans.

Wanaka has already started emptying out and is making it’s way back toward the quiet town we landed in in November. Since Christmas, it has been buzzing with bus loads of 19 year old German sightseers, timesharing Aussies, and Kiwis in town for weddings. Last weekend was the Wanaka A&P Show, which was a bit like the local version of Labor Day Weekend. One last big party.

Horses frolic in Lake Wanaka after the A&P Show

This weekend marks the first of our friends to leave town. On to Bali, Norway, Figi, England, Vietnam, and Prague, virtually everyone we have become friends with is moving on in the next month. Some will come back in June to work and take advantage of the skiing at Cardrona and Treble Cone, and some won’t. I have to admit, all this talk of Lonely Planet guides, cheap Air Asia flights, and hole in the wall restaurants has a part of me itching to hit the road again.

And we will continue on, just not right now. Because right now we are up to something. Our decision to stay in Wanaka through the winter wasn’t difficult. I have just moved from dishwasher to line cook at the restaurant and am excited about work, excited to learn and to get better at working on the line. I learn a new skill or recipe new every day, be it how to make home made marscapone, flavored olive oils, or chocolate truffles. While I work in the kitchen, Zach will start a new job working at the pizza truck, and we try to find a balance between climbing, skiing (!!) and saving a bit of money for flights to India in September.

The people we met here were a major reason that we decided to stay in Wanaka back in November, but as the summer comes to an end and those people continue their travels, we are here, ready to make new friends and continue to learn about food and potential business options from our posts in the kitchen and on the food truck.

 

Cheers to a great summer and a new chapter in Wanaka!

 

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Joel Salatin in Wanaka

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Last week I went to a talk by Joel Salatin, the influential, self-described “lunatic farmer” profiled in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and many other publications. Salatin has been an important part of my conversion to food activism, so I was excited to hear what he had to say. I bought my ticket in advance – actually, so far in advance that I had ticket #1. I convinced a few friends on the fence to come, insisting that Salatin was a dynamic and engaging guy, and that he would put on a good show. I was half right.

Salatin is far less well-known here in NZ than he is in the US, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as turn out. I arrived a few minutes early to get a decent seat, and was pleasantly surprised by the number of people in the crowd. I snuck up front and sat next to an older couple that were getting involved in the local and sustainable agriculture movement after careers as high country sheep farmers. The rest of the room appeared to be folks from similar backgrounds: small farmers, younger activists, a dread-locked woman with a “McShit” t-shirt; an easy audience for a seasoned speaker like Salatin.


After a short introduction he came out to a warm welcome and quickly launched into his brand of farmer schtick. He talked about the evils of concentrated animal feedlot operations and the health benefits of food produced naturally. “Great,” I thought, “here comes the big finish.” But there was no big finish. He didn’t delve into any information that isn’t already better explained in his books. In fact, many talking points were repeated word-for-word. This left little time for discussion, and after a few massive softballs a good question came from the audience: “What do you do to replace the biomass that leaves your farm?” This was acknowledged as an excellent question and then forgotten as he spun into a discussion of integrating systems at the farm. I’m still curious about the answer.

I left disappointed and a little upset that I recommended the event to friends. I expected an enlightening discussion of new ideas and a real dialogue with invested parties and their unique problems so that we could all learn from the specific set of challenges that farmers in New Zealand face, which are undoubtedly different that the problems Salatin faces in Virginia. Perhaps he’d even learn something from us. But instead I got preached to as a member of the slow-food choir and a thinly-veiled public stroking.

Furthermore, Salatin’s delivery comes off less as the nice neighborly guy and more as a condescending know-it-all. His jokes were cheesy and he mixed in advanced vocabulary that felt as if it were pulled from a thesaurus to make him sound more polished and professional. Unless you’re speaking to a room full of mathematicians, calling something a “sigmoid curve,” when “s-curve” will do undermines the message. He talked AT us instead of speaking TO us.

Of course this doesn’t change the fact that I still agree with a lot of what Salatin says (though definitely not all), and I think he’s done the world a lot of good by preaching his message. I suppose I’ll just need to find another farmer rock star’s poster to hang on my bedroom wall.

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Working in Wanaka

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“Two rocket salads, gorgonzola salad, one anti board,” Head Chef Matt calls out as the new ticket comes through.

“Got it,” I tell him, while brushing the bread with garlic oil, before putting it under the salamander to warm. I grab two bowls, one for each type of salad and start putting the lettuces in that I washed earlier in the shift when I hear the printer again and listen for which part of the next order pertains to me.

“Tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate,” he calls.

“Yup.” Okay, Two rocket, gorgonzola, antiboard, tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate. Shit, get the bread.

Thankfully, one of the other cooks has already moved it to a lower shelf where it won’t burn and has started on the desserts. The kitchen at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is tiny, as is the kitchen staff, but there is a creative, all-hands-on-deck, let’s-make-this-happen kind of vibe.

I’ve been washing dishes at Francesca’s since it opened at the end of December and have just started training on the larder station. When I applied for the job I said in my cover letter,

“I have never worked in a restaurant kitchen, but I am passionate about food…I have come to New Zealand to learn how to grow food and raise animals, to learn where my food comes from. My goal is to return home to the United States and start a farm-to-table restaurant. I want to create a friendly space that provides healthy, delicious food to excited patrons. Working in a restaurant kitchen is my next step to achieving that goal.”

While I didn’t have the experience to be a prep cook, they took me on as a “dishy” and said they would train me up to work on a station, which is precisely what is happening right now. My schedule here in Wanaka quickly changed from lazy days by the lakefront to working 40 hour weeks again. Work clothes, work shoes, after work drinks, payday, staff meal, it’s all coming back to me now. But I picked it and it is an exciting thing to pick a new job.

I’ve started splitting my time between washing dishes and training with another cook during dinner service. I help prep for dinner service and scrub massive pots of Napoli sauce all afternoon. If I am dishing, you can find me standing in a puddle, up to my elbows in gray, chunky water, rinsing ramekins of aoli and scrubbing cheese off of the forks from 7 until 11pm. Knowing that this job is temporary and that it is opening doors to something that I want to do makes it far more bearable.

When I am training though, I get a little taste of the excitement. I practice making multiple orders at a time and when it gets really busy, another cook will hop in and help out. I’ve quickly realized that working dinner service isn’t really cooking, but more listening, assembling ingredients and staying organized. It is both terrifying and interesting, and time flies by when I’m not dishing. Needless to say, this will be a challenge, but one that is really exciting.

I don’t know if I want to be a cook for ever, but I do want to be one for now. I want to learn what makes a good cook and collect skills that will help run a successful, efficient kitchen when it comes time to launch the Master Plan.

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New Zealand Beer: The Awesome, the Decent, and the Very, Very Bad

Beer Lineup

“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.

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Localizing Food Tour

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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.

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