Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Now Playing.. A Tuateawa Christmas!

This is the native Christmas tree, the pohutakawa, that blooms in red around Christmas time every year. Pohuktakawas bring a little Christmas color to an otherwise not-so-Christmasy environment.. Robin and I arrived in Coromandel in mid-December, right in time to see the trees while on long drives along the coast between the towns of Thames, Coromandel and Tuateawa... All of these towns are situated on the Coromandel Peninsula. Thames is the "service" town, located at the base of the peninsula on the West Coast. Coromandel town is an hour North from Thames, also on the West coast. To get to Tuateawa, we then cross over the mountain ridge to the East coast and drive through a small, sleepy town called Kennedy Bay. Neither Tuateawa nor Kennedy Bay have any shops, just homes and a few cows, at least one pig, a goat (that seems to get around as the lawn mower in Kennedy Bay) and dogs.. Why would one go to Tuateawa? Why, for the sea, the forest and the mountains. Our host, Jon, has a new house in Tuateawa, and it is officially my home in NZ. Robin and I came to the house with Jon on the first day he bought it. We've spent the last two weeks sorting out the house, cooking elaborate meals and baking at least twice a day.. In between kitchen duties, we've also transplanted banana trees, made Christmas decorations, painted, knitted, kayaked, and had many beach runs. Bur first... Christmas!

Snowflake-making brought a good Christmasy feel to the house, as Christmas comes in the middle of summer here, and besides Jon we were two Alaskans and a Minnesotan. However, it got to be a competitive sport in the house, as Jon turned out to be a natural..

We decorated our Christmas tree with popcorn strands (made while watching Star Wars and eating brownies) and bones (for Jon's dogs). Our tree was a local, slaughtered pine. Pines are an invasive species, so they're often chopped down by conservationists..

Our tree is in the background here. This is Christmas morning, post-fishmas breakfast (explained below)... Robin is taking down my stocking with care (a hat from Ecuador, my socks weren't big enough!). It was full of Cadbury chocolates and a knitting pattern for socks! Jon is already digging into his stocking, which is a big, woolly sock. He's got big feet.

This is the apron that my sister, niece and nephew made for me! It matches the Pohutakawa trees! It arrived at the perfect time, as I'm spending hours of every day in the kitchen. I wore it almost the entire day on Christmas, while playing charades (the hardest one that I succeeded in acting out was "Stratford-Upon-Avon".. I used lots of "sounds like"s... We were using an outdated British pictionary game for cards)..

I also wore it later that night while playing Settlers of Catan. We play lots of games here at the house, and Christmas was no exception!

And these are the socks that Robin knitted for me! Stripes! Between the socks and the apron, I am definitely the best-dressed house elf in Tuateawa! I'm also wearing my Christmas crown that I got in my cracker, which we filled with more Cadbury chocolates and pohutakawa flowers!

This is Robin and her brother, Aron, who joined us from the states at on the day we moved from tents to the house. Here you see our second round of hats and the headbands that I knitted for Robin and Aron.

Oh right, I forgot the BEST part (sarcasm is hard to convey in type). Jon renamed Christmas as Fishmas! It all started a few days prior, when he asked Robin and I "Do you guys eat fish?" Our answer was yes, but we had no idea that meant that Christmas would turn into Fishmas. Early on Christmas morning, he dragged Robin out to retrieve the net at sea, then spent hours cleaning and filleting the fish. I helped out by taking pictures, attempting to untangle the net and running the fillets up to the freezer. Then we had fish for Christmas breakfast, which Jon thought was great, though most of us just had fruit.
Here's Robin filleting...

And the Big Eye that was just too cute...

Even when it's not Christmas, we are oh so busy here in Tuateawa. Jon is like a New Zealand guidebook, and our walks and adventures always turn up something new like these cat-eye snails..

We've been sooo happy to have a kitchen and have made all kinds of yummy stuff. Digging through Jon's storage containers, we stocked the kitchen with all the necessary stuff.. After a few days, we had a(nother) party for Robin's birthday, one week later, as we were finally able to bake a cake!

It was good to have Aron here for Robin's re-celebrated birthday. We were also glad to have another stomach to feed!

This is Jon and I. Have I even explained what this house is for and who Jon is? Too much Christmas cheer...

so.. Jon runs a program called Earthwise valley. The "valley" is a piece of land that Jon owns near Tuateawa. It's situated on land that was used for Kaori logging (booo!) and, more recently, cattle farming (booooooo!). Jon is beginning this project after after running a different volunteer project, which he did for about ten years. His goal is to plant lots of native trees for birds and bugs, as well as establishing a fruit orchard, vege gardens, and ultimately building big volunteer center.. Last year, they built a pond for ducks (including the endangered Brown Teal) and a composting toilet. This is the second season of volunteers in the valley. The first year, they all lived in tents, and it was tough. Thus, the house is a necessity.. Jon also takes the volunteers on lots of fun trips: kayaking, rock-climbing, etc... The volunteers will be arriving in January, and thus the house is needs to be fitted for its new purpose.. We're bringing in beds and stocking the kitchen for big meals.. In the meantime, we were lucky to have the house for just the four of us over the holidays, and we quickly felt like a family! I'll be here for the first week of the program to ease the volunteers in (and make sure they know to respect the kitchen that I've worked so hard to set-up!)

Golden kiwifruits that we got on a shopping day in Thames.. Oh what joy are fruits and veges when you live almost two hours from the shops!

We're establishing a garden at the house. We planted lettuces and broccoli in a bed that we filled with dirt harvested from the valley, seaweed from the beach and duck goo from the pond..

The view from our house!

Wow. Now that I've started writing this blog, I realize that I should've been writing one everyday! There's so much we've done.. But here's one last pop! kayaking...

And a little blue penguin who was out people-watching while we paddled by...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The little train in wonderland

This blog is for Jake, my nephew, who has probably never read a blog before, but is a train fanatic. I have ridden trains in New Zealand, both large and small. Today, I'll tell you about this little train in wonderland, as I would call it. The Driving Creek Railway was built by potter Barry Brickell who wanted to collect clay from high up in the mountains. He realized that he could fund his project by bringing tourists up on the train, and Driving Creek was born. It's a great combination of art, train engineering and conservation. I have ridden this train twice now, the last time for Robin's birthday in Coromandel. It winds up the mountain through native trees and random sculptures and passes thousands of wine bottles, which are used to make attractive retaining walls.

The train ride zigs and zags up the mountain, using lots of switchbacks, which I imagine they use this doohickey for.

The final destination is the Eyefull Tower, with a view of the Coromandel.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wonderful, windy Welly

Wellington is wonderful. I'm staying at a house that is on the top of the hill, looking down over the city and bay. The wind sings all day and night sometimes, which makes hanging out in the house feel extra-cozy. I've been knitting and baking. But there is a whole city to explore. And a wonderful one!

I spent most of my week enjoying free city activities such as the library and various used book stores. I read the entire Harry Potter #6 book without purchasing it or getting a library card. This is definitely backpacker behavior! I also hung out at Te Papa, a superb (and free) museum. I spent several hours there throughout the week and would gladly spend more. There's four floors with all types of exhibits from art to science, including a colossal squid. The squid is the only one in the world on display. They also had a video that showed how the caught the dying squid and froze it. Then puzzled over how to unfreeze it...

The blue whale skeleton along the ceiling on the right was impressive..

As was the giant macabre aquarium (see the cute dolphin!)

I got to see many of the birds of New Zealand, at least those that aren't extinct. (there are at least 91 extinct NZ species)

I also went to a knitting group at a local bar. Lovely!

After about half an hour with my head in my scarf, I looked up and realized how funny it was to be in the middle of a bar with a bunch of knitters. We were getting some looks. The table next to use was a couple sipping wine, and next to them were some college boys drinking pitchers of beer and playing a giant game of Jenga.

Ginger Dreams... (baking in Wellington)

I have been listening to Minneapolis radio station (yes, The Current) online and have been enjoying the reports of blizzards and negative temperatures from afar. Cold is so romantic when you're far from it! Now I hear that even SF'ers are able to see their breath indoors. My advice, a healthy dose of ginger. It just so happens that I found a "ginger beer fruit cake" recipe and took a picture of it for a certain ginger beer-brewing friend to try out this Christmas, but I will have to include some of the numerous other ginger recipes in the book cuz I just got too excited. The cookbook is the quintessential New Zealand cookbook, by the major baking company Edmonds. It's in every household (the cookbook), as are old tins of Edmonds 'Sure-to-rise" baking powder and mixes. I think that it's just trendy to use the old tins and refill them from Bin Inn but maybe they just like to think about baking and never get around to it and the tins really are filled with the original baking powder..

As I happily reminisce about the crunch of snow and the smell of pine trees, ginger dreams...

The lady who I'm housesitting for is somehow related to Mr. Edmonds himself...

Fruit cake is actually quite popular here, as are many variations on it that come our at Christmas.

Bavarian creams and puddings are under "cold desserts" while sponge cake, (known simply as sponge) is under "puddings." I attempted a sponge today (sooooooo not vegan) and failed so I won't put the picture up. As a 8-year vegan (now dabbling in a no-rules diet), I find it hard to get eggs to perform for me.

Bin Inn, a baker's paradise with every imaginable kind of flour, dried fruit, nut, cake mix, and candy tidbits..

Also has brewing kits..

Edmonds tins

Want a bite? My sponge cake didn't turn out, but my brownies were pretty good. I should know, I ate most of them. I also brought some to the neighbors. Today, the other neighbors showed up with fudge (it's a Kiwi thing) shortly after I had eaten the last brownie. I was sad that I had nothing to give back!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An old farmhouse and Saturday market in Nelson

Robin and I WWOOFed for a few days outside Nelson in an old farmhouse filled with old stuff. The kitchen was kind of like an antique store. Our host had lived there for 40 years, since her parents had moved to Nelson as artists (potters). Most of the stuff in the house was still from the 60's. such as old biscuit tins that they used for food storage (I assume that they had refilled them at some point..). Our hosts had a passion for tango and salsa (though you wouldn't guess it!). Our first night we went to a rueda class, which is like salsa meets square dancing. Everyone dances in pairs in a circle and switches partners. It was fun, and totally unexpected! That's whats so much fun about meeting a new host. Wondering what their house is like, what they eat, what they do and will do with us... We feel a bit like the kids in a Series of Unfortunate Events, but its more like a Series of Fortunate Events..

For work, We trekked around eradicating weeds, including periwinkle. I never thought that the beautiful Crayola color from my youth was named after such a pernicious weed! We also washed the deck and stacked firewood.

And we built these little nests around the fruit trees. The trees weren't producing too much edible fruit yet. As WWOOFers, we rarely see the (literal) fruits of our labor. There were some sour grapefruit that we tried baking with honey and cinnamon to make palatable. Result was edible but nothing to write home about.. (Of course, blogs are a different story..)

We had a lot of fun in the town of Nelson. It's definitely a great New Zealand town, not too big nor too small. There's a little of everything. But on Saturday... oh the Saturday market! I've been to markets of all types. Farmers markets, art fairs, craft markets in San Francisco, Minnesota, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico... But this market wins! The sun came out, the town buzzed! There was fruits and veges, homemade jams, honey and fudge, and all manner of breads, cookies, gluten-free pastries, vegan marshmallow bars.. There was local artists selling homemade clothes, pottery, soaps, and even origami. The origami man was great. He made little mobiles and told me that he can make over 100 animals. The best by far was the kiwi! I have since tried to figure out how to make a kiwi from online instructions and youtube videos and only made paper messes! Here he is with his Kiwi..

The kiwi mobile..

and other mobiles..

Other wares at the market include handmade underwear..

Savoury pies, which come in all kinds of flavors as you see here.. Lamb and minted pea, Thai satay vege, venison and red wine, and "brunch"..

Recycled can sculptures..

Reusable shopping bags with cute NZ screenprints (I like the wood pigeon. It's a huge, fat pigeon that is endemic to New Zealand. It eats the large berries that none of the other birds can eat, and is crucial to the survival of many of the native trees since it is the sole bird that eats and spreads their seeds. The Maori like to eat wood pigeon, especially after its stuffed itself with berries, but its a protected species.)

After spending the whole morning at the market, we boarded the bus back to Picton, the ferry back to Wellington, and retraced our steps moving backwards but forward to new experiences.. housesitting in Wellington, Christmas in Coromandel.. A series of fortunate events, I hope!