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August and looking ahead

07/08/2011

Today was a lovely day. We got up kind of early and walked over the hill to Lyall Bay for brunch at Maranui Surf Club. John had been there with his parents when they were here but I hadn’t been yet. It was delicious. In general we haven’t gone out to brunch a lot here, which I am okay with (it’s tough to spend that much on eggs, and also after all my years on the front lines of the brunch wars, it can sometimes stress me out, even as a customer) but as a treat it was absolutely delicious. An unexpected benefit was that Maranui was very busy (which we were expecting) but our 45-minute wait for food (they warned us and they brought coffee promptly so it wasn’t as painful as it sounds) meant that we got some dates and plans sorted out for our road trip coming up, which was very exciting.

While we were in line waiting to be seated we saw a sign for an open day at the Island Bay Marine Education Center and decided to go afterwards. It was a beautiful day (until it hailed – for serious) and we walked there along the coast. This turned into one of the most awesome unexpected parts of the day – they have three octopi, a huge touch tank (I touched lots of star fish and anemones and a sea cucumber!) and a turtle tank and a a seahorse tank (YES!) and in general it was pretty awesome, busy but not crowded. Also there were eels and baby crawfish.

Then we walked a longer and got the bus back into town, got a movie at the library for tonight, and by that time the weather had turned nasty. So it was nice to come home and find that Alex had turned the heater on so the living room was nice and toasty.

This is my last week at work and we are thinking about leaving Wellington around the mid-point of the following week. We’ll be coming back a few times before we leave (to spend the night before the ferry crossing to the S Island and then before our plane leaves) and that will be good – but it was great to have a beautiful day like today, to walk around the coast and look at the water and smell the salt and feel appreciative of this place.

California, Knows How to Party

19/07/2011

Hey folks –

As you may or may not know, I took a quick jump across the Pacific last Friday morning, leaving Wellington at 7AM and arriving in Los Angeles at 6:30AM – figure that one out!  I’m here for about 10 days to visit Margaret and Jimmy, and help them out in the last moments before baby-hour, which could come any minute, or not for a couple of weeks.  I’m here til next Monday, after which I go back to NZ, we work for a few more weeks, and then start our long road trip around the country.

It’s been a smooth landing all around – Friday I went from the airport to Richie’s house, slept in, walked the dogs, got lunch (a club sandwich – it had been so long – sliced turkey not being the ubiquitous commodity elsewhere in the world that it is here), and then took the subway down to Richie’s office, in LA’s beautiful old City Hall.  I feel like after our time in Napier, I’m a bit more attuned to Art Deco architecture, and realize coming back to LA that it’s full of it.  Adam C-K, who was in town for lots of fancy Hollywood type-meetings, and Emily both came to meet us at City Hall.  Then back to Richie’s for beers on the patio, amazing Mexican dinner, and back home for a few more drinks and some Carmageddon-related dancing:

Emily dons Richie's 405-closure Press Outfit to dance away the traffic spirits. She was apparently successful.

Saturday morning those guys drove me to the train station and I caught the Amtrak up to Ventura – where Margaret and Jimmy and Sprout (to the uninitiated, “Sprout” is the baby-in-the-belly – he’s large and likes to kick) arrived to pick me up.  We’ve had a great time so far – visits up to their friends’ Eric and Alice’s place and a trip to the Ojai farmer’s market (drool…), lots of cooking and hanging out and a couple trips to the beach already.  A few shots of our early culinary adventuring below:

Jimmy made cioppino with fresh-caught fish, shrimp and crab.

Jimmy preparing fried baby artichokes

I made a La Patisserie-style plum tart for Margaret to take to House Church

About 10 pounds of fresh apricots from their friend's tree, soon to be made into jam.

Other random observations after being in the US for just over 72 hours:

  • The smell of tomatoes growing on the vine is one of my favorite things.
  • A gallon of milk is just way too much.
  • Newspapers are narrower here – at first I thought this was a change since I’ve been gone, but then I realized I’d just gotten used to the British-style NZ broadsheet width.  That said, reading the New York Times in print is pretty great.
  • Getting used to driving on the right again takes about 30 seconds.  15 years of instinct vs. four months of intermittent driving.  Kind of cool to know I’m now driving-ambidextrous.
  • People are friendlier than I was expecting, or than I remembered.  I think I also caught LA in a moment of community-wide solidarity in advance of the (apparently overblown) weekend traffic nightmare.  It was like after 9/11 – people were opening doors for each other, and all on kind of their best behavior.  Except for the really mean lady who worked on the train.
  • I’m just back from seeing Margaret in action and lending a hand at a MICOP food distribution.  Feeling really proud of – and grateful for – the level of Spanish I’ve acquired in our travels.
  • Coming off a long-ass plane ride into the warm embrace of friends and family who you haven’t seen in 18 months makes for a pretty wonderful and cushy landing.

This doesn’t hurt either:


Winter is Coming

14/06/2011

(if you already got that the title of this post is a double entendre – part simple description of the seasons here in Wellington but part reference to the tagline of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series of fantasy/medieval intrigue novels, then a) you can skip the part below about what I’m reading these days, b) you are probably a first-class nerd, and c) we should find some time to talk soon – but don’t tell me what happens, I’m only part-way through the first book).

Oh, hello there!  Didn’t see you.  When did you get here?  Fantasy novels, no no, I don’t think I mentioned anything about that.  Surely you’re mistaken.

Indeed, however, winter is coming, or more accurately, seems to already be here in Wellington these days.  This means space heaters in the morning and at night, brisk walks to work, seeing my breath – and often the sunrise – in the morning, and daylight that bids us adieu around 5pm.  But it’s ok, because (we planned this so well), just as spring starts to roll in down here, we’re hopping on a plane back to the US to do it all over again!  Three cheers!

Actually, one piece of winter-related good news is that yesterday, the man came to clean out our fireplace!  It was very exciting, and during my day off yesterday (oh precious Mondays off, I love you dearly, and hope and pray I can replicate you somehow in my future), I went and got wood – a bag of big logs from the grocery store, and some kindling and middle-size stuff from the forest at the end of our street.  Last night we made a fire and it was warm and Hannah S bought marshmallows and all was right with the world.

The 'place in question...crackling away.

Which brings up a further note to self – in addition to Mondays off, another fact of life here in Wellington that I would like to somehow replicate in my future existence is living equidistant (two blocks) from an amazing Indian market in one direction and a forest where I can go to collect firewood in the other.  Implicit in this request – I would like to have a fireplace.  Too much to ask?

Having only happened yesterday (Monday), the roaring fire was sadly one of the only things missing from our celebration of Hannah’s birthday this past Saturday – we had people over in the afternoon for tea, drinks and cakes, and it was great.  Fun mix of people – theater people, coworkers, other friends, kids – who sat around in our living room chatting and trying to work our way through the mountains of delicious food that were brought.  Then people took off, and a second wave of stragglers arrived just in time for a viewing of xXx (with Vin Diesel – one of Hannah’s faves – though the “so bad it’s good” factor was possibly a bit lost in translation to the English, French, and German guests who viewed it with us).

A couple of pics from the party:

Before most of the food got there - chocolate tarts from Alex, a cake from La Patisserie, birthday flowers, and an awesome tea set that Hannah S found at Salvation Army

The crowd - friends from No Taste Forever on the couch, Sanna, Walter, Alex, Jen - and Marie's son Tivador playing with his trains under the coffee table. Man he likes those trains.

Work has been good.  We’ve been doing a lot of macarons lately – the little delicious french cookies with two circular sides and a filling in the middle.  Not to be confused (though likely to be) with macaroons, the coconut-based cookies that were sometimes around when I was a kid and are inexplicably sold in a can.  Here’s more on the difference, and what French macarons are all about.  We made some chocolate and passionfruit ones last week for Hannah’s birthday, and then sold the rest in the shop very quickly.  Also some plain almond ones with a raspberry butter cream filling.  They’re delicious – almost too sweet, but chewy and crunchy at the same time.  Also, I gather, becoming quite popular – Marie said she thinks they’re “the new cupcake” – ironic since they’ve been around since Catherine D’Medici.

The macaron goes so well with Hannah's awesome new silver cicada ring.

(I’ve had some musings about a little side-business making these guys wherever we land – maybe selling them at some kind of market on to order online.  Free box of 12 to the person who comes up with a good name!)

This could be yours! Competition note: plays on words should be undertaken with caution: i.e. "Big Mac's-arons" probably will not emerge the victor.

In other cultural-culinary news, we had a few fun themed dinner-parties lately.  First was a Chinese-themed party with our regular “Gluttons with Grace” ensemble, sadly minus Jen who is actually the only person from the group with any Chinese heritage.  We watched the DVD of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies (thank you Kate! Knew it would come clutch one day – inspired/terrified a whole new group of people) and I made dumplings, they were good:

note the red China theme, including lychee-based cocktails (Tanya Robinson inspired!)

Then last Friday we had a long-planned cena para personas hispanohablante (dinner for people who speak spanish) with our flatmate Hannah, and our friends Sanna and Walter.  We were successful – about 90% anyway – in carrying on the whole evening in Spanish, and had a delicious range of Spanish diaspora cuisine – albondigas con arroz amarillo (meatballs and yellow rice), squid salad, nachos, and churros con chocolate!

¡Que delicioso!

So we’ve been quite busy bees the last few weeks.

Anyway, back to my reading/listening habits.  Having had a hard time getting into several books in a row, I kind of decided to try something from a series, on the chance that if I liked one, I’d get 3 or 4 or more books that I knew I would enjoy.  I started off in a noir-ish direction, and read 1974 by David Peace, which, though interestingly-written and pretty engaging plot-wise, was WAY too bleak and dark to to read the next 3 installments of, especially in these cold and daylight-lean days.

So then, I was listening to my new favorite podcast, The New Yorker Out Loud, where once a week the editor of newyorker.com interviews one of the writers about an article they wrote in the magazine that week.  It’s great.  Anyway, there was an old one about this article about George R.R. Martin and his novels and his crazy, borderline mutinous community of fans, who constantly harass him for not having finished the fifth book in the 7-book series.  Fantasy has never really been my thing (in the words of my fifth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Fox, on Tolkien: “there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love it, and those who hate it”) but I decided to give it a try, downloading the audiobook of the first one.  Pretty great so far.  Makes my walks to work in the morning blessedly less consumed by podcasts of news shows from the US, which have been both grim and predictable of late.  So for the time being, I’ll take my political intrigue in the form of kings and dragons and dwarves, instead of Michelle Bachmann and Anthony Weiner, thank you very much.  Wish me luck – I’m about 8 hours into the first one and if this continues on, there’s about 140 hours more where that came from!  Don’t judge.

May Highlights

06/06/2011

The show I worked on came and went.  It was a fun little show and there were good people in it and on it.  I’ve felt very welcomed by the low-budget/no-budget theatre community here and that’s definitely been an unexpected bonus to life in Wellington.

John’s friend Drew came to visit and we went to Abel Tasman National Park with him.  Abel Tasman is a park right at the top of the South Island ( we flew down, it was half an hour in the air from Wellington and was the mellowest flight ever.  I cannot get enough of no security flying!!  Literally, you check your bag, they call the flight, you walk out onto the tarmac and then up the stairs to the plane.  Amazing) and it’s one of the most-visited parks … in the high season.  Seeing as it’s nearly winter here … we were usually the only people around – there was one other couple at our campsite and a group of three German girls staying in a cabin but we hardly ever saw anyone else out on the water (except for some birds and seals) and it was pretty blissful.

It was the first time I’ve ever kayaked (I think) – definitely the first time I’ve ever kayaked solo.  We had great weather for two days and on the third day, it rained and we got soaked – but luckily we were on our way back to the hostel where we’d stayed the first night and we got hot showers.  Literally when I took my boots off to get in the show there was an inch of water in my boot.  Unpleasant.  John says he’ll put some photos on Flickr but in the meantime here are two of my faves:

we also made mussels for Drew’s penultimate night and they were really fabulous and easy.  they have mussels here called ‘green lips’ which live up to the name as you can see

thanks, Smithsonian website! we ate all of ours before we had a chance to take a photo of them.

they were DELICIOUS – John learned how to make them from Nico – and surprisingly easy.  Sorry Mom and Dad and Kit and Ray, we were sleeping on greenlips when you came to visit.  Maybe next time?

 

I’ve gotten back into the Library and have been slowly making my way through Omeros, the Derek Walcott Odyssey retelling, slowly being the operative word.  I’m also reading ‘The Happiness Myth’ by Jennifer Hecht – I agreed with Publisher’s Weekly when they described it as an ‘energetic romp through the arbitrariness of history’s ideas about happiness … eclectic and entertaining, providing ample perspective on the rituals that make us human.’  I like rituals, and being human. And I’m interested in happiness, which bits are arbitrary and which are not.   I’d recommend if you are looking for some light but stimulating nonfiction.

 

We also saw a show called “Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants’ which was really fabulous – a mixture of noir and Borges and Kiwi humor all at once – very imaginative set and great acting.   It was developed at BATS, the theatre I’ve worked at a couple of times, and then picked up by one of the larger theatres in Wellington and given a longer run and some more money, and it was very well received.  Neat to see a sort of ladder of success story in the arts here.

 

Other than that, we’ve been working, mostly.  Things at the house are great.  John made falafel for dinner tonight and it was really yummy.  The Saturday vege market near our house continues to be a great, cheap source of fresh vitamins and excellent people-watching (although cucumbers were $3.50 EACH this week!  and $5 at the supermarket!  What the what?).   We’ve gotten into persimmons here (gringos emphasise the second syllable and Kiwis the first, which causes me no endless amusement) – this is what they look like:

thanks again internets!

 

the texture is not unlike an unripe tomato, and there’s a lot of vanilla in the taste, but it’s not unpleasant for all that.  Something in the bright bright orange color makes me feel full of ‘abbondanza’ as my father would say.  I’ve enjoyed lining them up on the windowsill to ripen throughout the week, like an empress counting her riches.   It’s also nice to have something BRIGHT to look at when mostly outside it looks like this:

I don't know where this photo was taken but seriously this is what it looks like outside almost all the damn time.

Wellington: First Week of May

08/05/2011

It’s Sunday night as I write this (Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas out there!) and John is in the kitchen making quiche for dinner.  This past week was pretty mellow – we both went to work and came home, repeat, repeat.  We did a couple of social things – I had a drink with a friend on Tuesday and a catch-up coffee with another friend on Thursday.  Also on Thursday we went out for South Indian food with Rick and Susanne (who we went hiking with when we first got here) which was delicious!

I’m stage managing a show that’s part of the Wellington Comedy Festival – it’s basically an hour of loosely linked together skits – and we’ve been having weekly production meetings about it since it opens in just under a week.  Everyone has been pretty laissez-faire about it which suits me; I’m happy to have the gig since it helps me remember that my office job isn’t the end-all be-all of my existence but I’m also fairly knackered at the end of the day.   So a week from tonight I’ll have a week of office daytime and theatre night-time, which will be tiring, but fun, and then over.  Just about right.   So Friday night I went to see another show that was part of the Comedy Festival and then watched a rehearsal for the show I’m working on, and came home around ten.

I saw this show called ‘The Boy With Tape on His Face’ – it’s a guy from New Zealand called Sam Wills who was quite successful at Edinburgh last year – he trained as a mime and a clown, but started out as a standup, and now doesn’t speak at all onstage.  It was a very enjoyable show – nothing incredibly complex beyond some very good puppeteering – but extremely fun and inventive.  If it comes to a comedy festival near you, check it out.

so you'll recognise him if you see him on the street

Saturday morning was a pretty usual morning – it was raining unfortunately but I did the vege market run in the rain – and met with John around midday for Isabella’s first birthday party!  It’s amazing to see how much she’s changed since we first met her and Carlos and Xime.  She’s thisclose to walking.

November 2010

April 2011

Our flatmate Hannah’s parents were in town for the weekend and they ended up taking all of us out for dinner last night to The Beijing, this Chinese restaurant in Newtown that I’d always wanted to try.  It was quite delicious.  My favorite thing we ate was eggplant fritters in a hot-sour-sweet sauce.  Yum.

Today we had brunch with a couple that I met working on the show in January – we couldn’t think of the last time we’d gone out for brunch!  Amazing how something can just drop in and out of your life like that.  oh, brunch, you are delicious.   John was excited because they had drip coffee (this is a culture where you can get your own plunger at your table or else espresso – so a drip coffeepot and refills is definitely news).  Then we walked over to Island Bay and looked at the water and took the bus home.   I sat for a while on the ridge behind our house after swinging on a big rope swing hanging from a pine tree.

John is reading this book about The Wire and I am making my way through ‘An Altar in the World’ by Barbara Brown Taylor, which is pretty great.  (thanks mom and dad for the books!!)  But I am definitely due a library visit this week – last week I had to avoid going in because they were having the USED BOOK SALE in the library and that is my budget nemesis.  But this week, it’s on!

long time no blog

07/05/2011

April highlights! (by which I mean, what we ate in April).

We learned how to make pastel de choclo, this delicious Chilean casserole topped with grated corn – Maria, a bona fide Chilean grandma, taught us how – so once we get back Stateside with our greda (the traditional clay dish) it’s on.  This is something we both really got to love eating in Santiago so it’s exciting to think about knowing how to make it and therefore being able to eat it whenever we want.

first layer is the 'pino' - meat and onions and seasonings

then you put the hardboiled eggs and the raisins

then you put the corn mixture on top and put it in the oven

then you eat it! yum!

The next weekend we went to a night market along the Wellington waterfront organised by the Association of South East Asian Nations (or ASEAN – ha!).  We had both been expecting romantic fruit being sold out of colorful boats gently lapping along the shoreline and the like – but it was cold and dark (since it’s almost winter here, boo!)  There was yummy food though – my favorite was this:

delicious alien snot and coconut milk

It was a rainy night, so even though most of the food stalls were outside, the action was all in a warehouse:

and by sheer luck we got there right before the Indonesian puppet show began, accompanied by live GAMELAN.  One of the major quirks about where I went to college was that we had an Indonesian gamelan (and a relatively well-regarded world music PhD program) – it’s a room-size percussion instrument that takes a well-coordinated team of people to play.   Of all the places in the world, I didn’t think that I would stumble across one in New Zealand.   But here it was!  And they’d set up a platform behind the puppet show screen so you could see the gamelan players:

the puppeteer was on fire.  he had a little head mike and spectacles and a big binder in front of him with the text of the show in English and what I can only assume was Indonesian and he was so focused and so awesome.  It reminded me of going to see Bon Jovi and having such a great time watching someone have a great time at their job.

ground level view

Over Easter our flatmate Hannah had invited us along to Waipatiki Beach, north of Napier, where some of her work colleagues had rented a house.  There were eleven of us in all but everyone had a place to sleep and only had to cook once due to some stellar organizing by Hannah.   Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays in New Zealand, so we left Wellington Thursday in the mid-afternoon, arrived at the house Thursday night, and stayed for 3 nights.

the beach was great, ten minutes down the road from the house.

for serious.

we also went for a few hikes in the bush – entrance to the trail about 20 minutes down the road in the other direction.

of course I took pictures of mushrooms

We went to an AMAZING thrift store on the Saturday.  I made John take a video because I needed to document it but I was too embarrassed.  He was a good sport.

John and I stayed an extra night in Napier, which was flattened by an earthquake in the 1930s and was then rebuilt in a mostly Art Deco style.  It was very fun to walk around but it was also raining (oh, New Zealand!)

   

we also stayed in a great hostel that had been a fancy hotel once upon a time and still had amazing stained glass  in the entryway and hexagonal doorknobs.  I highly recommend it for your next trip to Napier.

the Criterion Ho(s)tel

Friday the 29th the four of us in the flat stayed in and got Indian food carryout and watched the royal wedding.  Coverage started on TV at 7 pm (it was on all the networks). There was an amazing story in the newspaper that day about a woman who remembered when Elizabeth got married in 1947, they let all the children out of school early so they could go home and take naps before waking up again to stay up and listen to the wedding on the radio (!) It was a cosy, mellow night which was good because the next night we had a house party.

Sangria and St Michael's cupcakes

then we woke up and it was May!!

Excursions Southward, and the Arrival of Fall

01/04/2011

Hi everyone –

Greetings from a chilly Wellington weekend morning – it’s clear and sunny out, but there’s a distinct lining of frost around our window panes as the sun advances across the Newtown landscape out our window.  It’s beginning to feel a lot like fall in Wellington, and my parents brought me a new hoodie just in time!

We’ve been having a great time with Kit and Ray in town and in country – after a first week spent enjoying Wellington’s many offerings (restaurants, scenic drives, beachfront cafes, really interesting cultural exchange-based theater), we set off last Saturday for the South Island, specifically the Queenstown/Wanaka region. It’s a beautiful part of the country, rich with mountains, lakes, green pastures, and (because of the whole aforementioned it’s-becoming-autumn-here thing) trees turning various colors:

Mt. Aspiring and the Rob Roy Glacier in the background

Again, a full yet relaxing three days were spent in Wanaka – good meals both out and at home (my dad is going for the Guinness Book for “number of consecutive days eating lamb”), a trip to Puzzling World, Wanaka’s own weird tourist attraction, with several interactive exhibits based around puzzles and illusions – it was perfect for the only rainy day we had, and an epic drive from Wanaka to the base of Mt. Aspiring, with stunning landscapes and multiple sheep crossings along the way (video below).

On Tuesday, Hannah and I returned to Wellington to finish out the work week, and my parents continued to explore the South Island, heading north to Nelson, Picton and the Marlborough Sounds.  They get back this afternoon and we have a few more days to enjoy together before they settle in for the long journey home (via Sydney and LA/Ventura) on Wednesday.

Last night we went out with our friends Mark and Phoebe for great, cheap Malaysian food (kind of the only cheap eating out option here besides fish n chips, which I don’t really count) and then to Heat Beat Africa, an African music-themed night at a fun bar in town.  French hip-hop, belly-dancing, and an awesome high-powered afrobeat performance by Sam Manzanza and his band (the most diverse band ever: led by middle-aged African guitarist/singer, twenties-ish black guy on the drums, hipster-whitey on the keyboards, big white guy on the bass, Sikh guy – with beard and turban – on the big conga-ish drum, small white girl on some other percussion, 30s-ish black lady on the cowbell!).  It rocked.  Reminder to self – always take the opportunity to go see live afrobeat.

 

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