Saturday, March 27, 2010

We'll call it even...

This was a kind of strange week. I couldn't ever really get focused, and with a great weekend planned, I was very ready for Friday. Ok, I won't lie. I was ready for Friday end-of-work time! And to make that waiting even harder, I did some package tracking and discovered that both my new iPod and new Teva sandals were arriving that afternoon.

So you can imagine that when I left the office, I was ecstatic. But I suppose that my day was going a little too well for the universe, so on the way home, I both stabbed myself on a spork and was hit in the cheek by a piece of gravel that came in the open window.

But in the end, I won. All the packages I arrived, I was indeed done with work for the weekend, and I had raw oysters and buffalo shrimp for dinner :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The New Zealand food and drink update (lots of beer)!

One of my favorite things about being in any different country is, to no surprise to anyone know knows me, the food and drink! I am a huge fan of eating and drinking. I'm not picky, and will try nearly everything once. That being said, New Zealand is not one of the countries that pushes the frontiers of crazy food. Just different enough, and awesome.

One of my favorite things about food in New Zealand is the lamb! Not only is it good, but they have it frequently.  It's their standard everyday meat, which is awesome to the visiting Americans who usually only have it for Easter and Dad's birthday. It's funny-they consider lamb to be such a usual thing that whenever kiwis entertain, they serve another meat. It led to an awful situation last time we visited where, because we were guests, we were actually fed ham over and over again. I'm not a ham fan to begin with, so getting ham when I expected lamb was crushing. This time though, the hints were dropped (not at all subtly) that we wanted lamb, and lots of it! Legs, chops, we got it all. It was amazing. One meal was TWO roasted legs of lamb. I was so happy.

Another thing we always eat way too much of in NZ is fish and chips. Now, this isn't Captain Ds or some restaurant frying up a piece of fish they couldn't sell any other way. This is real, wonderful fish fillets (of all kinds) and hot, fresh chips (fries) and sometimes even oysters! And it's all wrapped in the classic newspaper, sometimes even tied with twine. I had at least four fish and chips meals.

The seafood overall deserves mention. There was tons of it, and it was fresh and amazing. Particularly awesome were the bluff oysters, which are from southern NZ and are totally amazing. We had them fried a few times, but the real deliciousness was having them raw, dipped in pepper-laden malt vinegar. Unbelievable.

Another interesting side note on food-they eat something called kumura, often as kumura chips- it looks like a sweet potato on the outside, is a bit darker than a regular potato on the inside, and tastes kind of like yucca. It's actually very good! I don't remember seeing it on my previous trips...

Last food: fried, meat-filled pastries of goodness and heart attacks. We're talking mince pies, sausage rolls, and all other manners of fried things. They are absolutely one of my traveling trash eats! I think we grossed out my NZ family by actually eating that kind of stuff...Kiwis in general are a really health conscious people, and don't usually eat such crap.

On to beverages! I won't lie, I focused on the alcohol, but first, there are a few non-alcoholic ones that need mentioning. The first is classic-their lemonade. It is not like ours, all actual lemon and sugar. Theirs is carbonated and clear to very light yellow. It's maybe more what we would think of as a lemon Italian soda or a Sprite even, but not as sweet-just really good and refreshing. And one drink we had on this trip that I didn't remember was Lemon&Paeroa- an awesome lemon drink sort of based on their lemonade.

Alright. So I will preface this next part by saying that I was sent to New Zealand with the mission of assessing the beer situation. This all started when my Mom and I asked my Dad one day about the beer in New Zealand and what it was like. When he couldn't answer (beyond the fantatsically helpful "it's just beer, it's like beer") we gave him choices--were there stouts, wheat beers, light beers, all kinds? He still looked confused, so we went to brands. Which one did he stop us on? Bud Light.  So NZ beer is like Bud Light. Ok. It might be good to know that my dad will only drink really crappy beer, and only in a can-he's a real fan of Natty Light and Coors Light-but still. Could he be right? I told some friends and was told to check it out, and that if that was the case, we were opening up a microbrewery in NZ ASAP. So, while on this trip, I tried as many beers as I could. Here's the list as far as I can remember:

Tui (named after a bird, has absolutely hilarious billboards-google image Tui beer ads-they have three books of these bilboards. I read through one and laughed the whole night).

Mac's Golden Lager
Mac's Coudy Wheat
Mac's Sassy Red
____ Armageddon IPA
Canterbury Draught
Monteith's Radler
Pilsener from Sewell's Brewery(?)
And I know there were others...

The verdict? I was actually disappointed. By far the most interesting was the Radler, and it was the first one I had, so I was excited. It was really light in color but had one of the most complex flavors I've ever had. Awesome. The others were mainly just bland! Several relatives (and future relatives-Trent!) gave me beer tastings, which was awesome. I was at one point warned that my next one was a really strong beer that I might not like (one of the IPAs-Tui maybe) and it was really nothing at all. They told me that there are a lot of microbreweries (they call them boutique breweries) down there now, so maybe some of those would be more interesting. I do wonder if maybe US beer has a lot more sugar, preservatives, etc, in it and so has more flavor? Don't know. It was definitely fun to try all the beers though. And, knowing that NZ is big into wine now, I made some room in my schedule for that! I mostly had sauvignon blanc, and it was excellent.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm back from the (smaller) land down under!

Hello! Sorry it's been a while-I was so busy in New Zealand I didn't really have time to sit down and post. I'm now realizing I should have though, since I've got a lot to say! I'll just start at the beginning.

Haha, first, I'll note that I am very attached to my music. I almost never leave the house without my iPod, just in case. The morning we were leaving, I was going to load a few last minute songs onto my iPod. I went to turn it on--and nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. I frantically went online and looked for what to do. I figured out how to reset it and finally got the little apple to come up. I was unbelievably relieved until it started making a strange noise and the saddest image popped up--an iPod with "X"s for eyes and an unhappy smile with the apple support webpage URL below it.  


I tried everything I could find on how to fix this, and finally came to the sad conclusion that my iPod had died on me. Right before a 30 hour period when I would be only in airports and planes. I was not pleased. But, the show went on! I left for the airport.

So, to save the misery of the flying, I'll (mostly) skip it. Just know that we flew from Atlanta to Dallas to LA to Auckland to Wellington to Christchurch. That's five flights, plus a 5 hour layover in LA. That's inhumane. The bright spot is that our flight across the Pacific was only half full so we could spread out a bit and actually sleep.

We left Atlanta around 2 in the afternoon on the 6th, and arrived in Christchurch sometime in the afternoon of the 8th. Damn the international date line stealing my vacation days!

It was so nice to arrive and find family waiting in both Auckland and Christchurch! My dad is from a large family, so I have a healthy set of aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins once removed (children of my cousins) scattered around New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia.

We arrived in Christchurch, as I mentioned, in the late afternoon. It was great seeing everyone, but we hadn't eaten anything real in WAY too long, and so basically growled that we needed food and were immediately offered fish and chips. DELICIOUS fried goodness.

Then it was on to Ashburton, where my Dad's oldest sister and husband live, as does one of their daughters and her family. The drive was interesting-we hadn't been to NZ in seven years, and a lot had stayed the same but a lot had changed as well! First, there were drastically less sheep and more cows. Apparently the only way farmers can make money anymore is through dairy, not sheep. And from what I've always seen, NZ is more livestock than crop oriented.

They also have something called "lifestyle blocks" which, to us Americans, looked like incredibly compacted neighborhoods.  Another thing about NZ is that the houses nearly all have fenced in yards. Good fences make good neighbors, I guess! But these lifestyle blocks have the fenced-in houses fitted together to take as little space as possible, leaving very little personal space. But kiwis seem to like them a lot. Something new.

My aunt and uncle have a great house that is fenced in with vegetation instead of, uh, a fence. They call the vegetation boundaries fences or hedges (which led to an interesting story when my parents, still dating, first visited down there, and my dad's mom told them that Dad's father had gotten drunk and cut down the fence. Mom though that was strange until Dad replied, "Oh, that's ok, it'll grow back). But anyway. The house is very cool, and the garden is amazing--lots of roses and other cool flowers, as well as fruit trees, including a plum tree I nearly harvested all by myself, and this cool prehistoric monster plant! I'm short, but otherwise human sized, so you can tell that's a big leaf.

While in Ashburton (a small town about an hour from Christchurch, the largest city on the much less populated South Island), we visited a random man-made lake, went to my dad's nearby hometown, visited my uncle's farm in Darfield, where we got the amazing view below, and really got to see a lot of the family which was great. It was my Uncle's 77th birthday while we were there, so we had a great meal of TWO roasted lamb legs, and then had another great dinner the following night where my dad and his four surviving siblings got together.  My awesome cousin Michelle hosted both dinners, which is amazing. Keep in mind there were 18 people there the second night! Oh, and I learned to drive a dirt bike without harming myself or anything/one else!

We also split up one day, sending the boys down to Dunedin so my brother could check out the paleontology program at the University of Otago (I hope he goes so I can visit!) while the girls did some damage in Christchurch. We wandered, shopped, ate, shopped some more (there was a craft fair, come on!), and checked out the cathedral. The cathedral was pretty nice, but then we noticed something strange. There was an enormous fake seagull/albatross hanging from the ceiling in the front. We were very confused and asked an usher about it. He told us that that was Gilbert, and that he had had something to do with the previous Sunday's service, but that they had forgotten to take him down...

Though most of my dad's family has stayed near Christchurch, his youngest sister headed up to Auckland, so we flew up there for the weekend to catch everyone while they were off from work and school. Their family is fun and matches ours pretty well in terms of ages of the kids (except for their fourth, a nine-year old), so we always have a good time together.This time was no exception!

Our first full day we drove north out of the city through beautiful hills. We went to a farmer's market in Matakana (aside: I love Maori words, and it seems like everywhere in New Zealand either has a really English or Maori name). The farmer's market was awesome-really it was more like a food fair, with every stall cooking something, from pork buns to whitebait fritters (small whitefished cooked with  egg and served on break with lemon, salt and pepper-amazing!) to chocolates and coffee. We ate ourselves to death and then had to run to our lunch reservations :) We ate up at a brewery in the hills, which was really pretty. We then went to the beach. First was a rocky one we had to hike a bit to get to, but it was beautiful!

The next day, we went to downtown Auckland. We shopped on Queen St for a while and then got on a ferry to Devonport, across the harbor. It was a lovely little place to wander around on a Sunday afternoon-we got meat pies and ate in a park by the beach. Then it was home to watch Charlotte (the 9 year old) play flipperball, which is water polo for younger kids. That inspired her and so she dragged us older kids to the pool to play real water polo, which none of us Americans had ever done before. The kiwi cousins beat us soundly, but we all realized together quite how out of shape we were! Water sports will do that...

After dinner that evening, someone demanded we play SingStar. I didn't know what it was, but the title gave me reason for guessing that I wouldn't like it. My voice is something best used for speaking and singing in the car. Alone. With all the windows up. But no, this was family karaoke, and I was a participant. A forced participant. It was funny and terrible. I was awful, as expected. To punish the people who made me sing, I did  "A thing called love" by the Darkness though :) That was fun. We played SingStar for two nights. At one point, my cousin got a text from a friend five houses down asking what on earth was going on!

Then, suddenly, it was our last full day. My sister went to school with a cousin, and the rest of us headed to Muriwai beach-a beautiful black sand beach that we visited on a cool and misty day. We then got some absolutely amazing fish and chips and headed home. Our final dinner was another roast lamb leg! Oh so delicious...

Alright. There's more than that, and I'll do more NZ posting, but for now, that's enough! This is an essay!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Going to New Zealand!

So now that I've started a blog about traveling adventures, I think it's time for me to travel so that I can practice the whole blogging thing.  And voila, I'm going to New Zealand! How convenient. My dad is from NZ, and we go every so often to visit the many relatives we have scattered around the country. This will be my fourth time there, but I haven't been since 2003 and am so very excited. Such a great country, and I happen to know good people! We'll be on the South Island first, visiting Christchurch, called the Garden City, as well as the surrounding towns of Ashburton, Methven, and Darfield. We then fly to Auckland on the North Island, where there has been talk of a beach house being rented...

I'm also on a mission. I am to assess the beer and BBQ situation in NZ. My father has led me to believe that NZ beer is on par with Bud Light. Terrifying. I did though, get a six-pack of a beer (Steinlager) from there and it was truly awful, so he might not be totally exaggerating. But I'm better at finding good beer than he is, so we'll see how I do.  The BBQ part of my mission is related to the decided lack of pigs in NZ--in fact, ham is a delicacy there, much as lamb is one here.  Oh, how I would love to eat lamb on my sandwiches every day and never see ham again! 

And so I am off! This will be a great trip, but you should not have to take my word for it. There will be pictures and almost certainly some good stories.