Hi readers!

Thanks for reading and following for the past two years!

This site will no longer continue to be updated, and I will probably take it down relatively soon.

But there is an all new, redesigned site with all of the old posts, as well as new posts that I’ve written in the past couple of weeks:

kiwiandkumara.wordpress.com

I hope that you’ll join me over there.

Thanks!

–Val

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The beauty of the southern night sky is one of my favourite things about New Zealand. It’s often cloudy in Wellington, but on clear nights, the stars are so beautiful and bright. Now that it’s winter time and gets dark so early, it’s beautiful to look up in to the sky in the evening and see the Southern Cross in the heart of the Milky Way.

In another part of the sky, the Pleiades (or Matariki, as the constellation is known here) begin to become visible in the early morning just before dawn. When Matariki appears in the early morning sky in early winter, it signals the start of the Maori New Year.

To celebrate Matariki, my work place had an early morning ceremony on Monday (which I sadly missed because my train was late!) But I was able to participate in celebrations on Friday when my workplace offered hangi for lunch.

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Hangi (as seen at the bottom of this photo with my lovely hangi model) is a traditional Maori meal cooked in a pit oven in the earth. Stones are heated in the pit, the food is put inside baskets on the heated stones, and then everything is covered with earth, and the food steams for several hours before being uncovered and served. Hangi has a beautiful, rich smoky flavour, and it just melts in your mouth. The hangi lunch we had included kumara (sweet potato), potato, cabbage, stuffing, chicken, mutton and pork. I only ate the vegetables and stuffing, which were so good! My meat-eating sources confirmed that everything was just perfectly cooked, with the meat soft and juicy, and just falling off the bone.

On Saturday we had another kiwi treat — we’d attended the Home and Garden show back in May, and I’d won $100 worth of native plants from Kereru Discovery. Kereru — also known as wood pigeons– are gorgeous native birds that you don’t see much here in the city, but I’ve seen them a few times when we’ve gone tramping up in Waikaremoana, and more locally at Battle Hill up in Paekakariki. Anyway, when I won the prize, Kereru Discovery were really fantastic at inquiring what kind of a section we had and what plants would suit. We put in a special request for colourful grasses and flaxes of short/medium height, a kowhai tree (trees with gorgeous yellow flowers in spring that attract tui birds), and a manuka bush. In addition to all that, we got a lemonwood tree, a tree with some fancy name that is more commonly known as ‘bushman’s toilet paper’ due to it’s large leaves, tussock, and some gorgeous native iris with beautiful orange foliage that will produce white flowers.

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This was awesome on so many levels. The previous owners of the house had a terraced garden with some native plants, but for the most part, the gardens were a bit random. We’d previously planted veggies in the planter boxes, and had success with silverbeet (swiss chard), curly kale, celery, and lettuce. The spinach, cabbage, and carrots thus far have been less successful (though I think the carrots just need more time to grow!)

But on one side of the house, there was a crazy big lavender bush being strangled by ivy growing all through it, and then some sort of mystery fragrant silvery ground cover plants, again with ivy growing all through them, which should have been trimmed or shaped at some point, but clearly never had been.  Ivy is considered a pest in New Zealand, and we’ve been trying to clear as much of it from the property as we can. So, with the arrival of a bunch of beautiful new native plants, we decided it was time to get out in the garden.

This is what it looked like before:

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The flax in the foreground is the only native plant in this photo.

This is what it looked like after we pulled out most of the random silver stuff and started putting in the new flax.

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That’s as far as we got on Saturday, because it started to get dark, and we had plans for Saturday night– pizza and roller derby!

We bought an Entertainment Book this year, and one of the coupons was for Chicago Bar and Grill– right next to the TSB Arena where Wellington’s Richter City Roller Derby League plays. So we figured we’d get some pizzas with our buy one get one free coupon, and then head to the bout– Smash Malice vs. Brutal Pageant.

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All in all, it was an awesome evening!

On Sunday, we braved the rain and headed to the veggie markets in town, stocking up with fresh produce for the week. And then  we decided head back outside to the garden and keep planting, even in the rain. We left a bit of the silver stuff, just because it does smell nice, but we might take it out later.

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I’m excited to see how the garden progresses as the new plants grow!

After our epic planting session in the rain, we headed inside and got to work making homemade pretzels, and then watched the Bruins game online. All in a all, a pretty excellent weekend!

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You guys, I am totally hopeless at writing these days. Actually, that’s not true. My writing abilities aren’t the issue. The situation is  that my job title contains the word “digital” in it, so I am on the computer ALL DAY at work. And the last thing I want to do when I come home in the evening is turn the computer on. Evenings have become my sacred time at the house with my love and the cats, spending time being present in the moment with them.  So that means far less writing either blog posts or emails, but far more time spent actually living. Still lots of cooking of beautiful food– my homemade matzoh this year for Passover was fabulous– but less posting about it here.

I mean, come on, if you had this little guy at your feet to play and snuggle with, I think you’d move away from the computer as well!

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And when I do turn on the computer, I have to take a lot of breaks to protect my wrist and right forearm, which have been really sensitive lately due to the aforementioned all day on the computer at work. So my writing for pleasure is now far more sporadic than it used to be, even when I desperately want to write. And then I end up with all of these way outdated drafts that I don’t end up actually posting here.

I think it’s time to go back to good old fashioned letters to friends back in the States.

Below is a post I started two weeks ago, and never got back around to. But it’s a topic dear to my heart, so I’m going to post it belatedly and incomplete anyway.

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One of New Zealand’s infamous big gay rainbows.

Back in August, at the first reading of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, I wrote about my hope for marriage equality in both of the places I call my home — the United States and New Zealand. And last week, New Zealand made history by becoming the thirteenth country to legalise same-sex marriage. (And congratulations to Uruguay and France as well).

Last Wednesday, Laura and I watched the Parliamentary debates with an open heart, and were gratified to see so many members of Parliament explaining how they were proud to be a part of history, and to make marriage equality in New Zealand a reality.

National MP Maurice Williamson’s speech got the most attention, with his “big gay rainbow” over his electorate, but Green MP Mojo Mather’s speech was one of the most heartfelt and beautiful of the evening.

I am still very hopeful that the United States will come to a just conclusion as well.

In New Zealand, autumn officially begins on the first of March. But for me, it’s the equinox that marks the changing of the seasons. The weather here has been incredible this summer. Last year was a cold, dreary, rainy mess. This summer couldn’t have been more different. It made national news at the end of January, when they predicted 10 days in a row of sunshine. In Wellington, that never happens. We live in a temperate rainforest. The weather is much like Seattle or San Francisco. Most days its grey and rainy, and chillier than you would expect. But then there will be a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky that makes up for all of the grey days.

Except this year, that wasn’t the case. This year, it was blue skies and sunshine, not just for the 10 days in a row that was initially forecast, but for weeks and weeks. Wellington had its longest period without rain in 74 years. While that meant warmth and sunshine and lots of people at the beach after work, it also meant that the region entered a pretty severe drought without anyone really noticing. And in a place where water is usually plentiful, people don’t give too much thought to conserving it.

So about a week ago, Wellington officials realized that we only had about 2o days worth of water left in the city’s reserve. Which is crazy. Since then, people have been conserving water, and we did have a decent sized rainfall on Monday and Tuesday. But still, the landscape which is normally lush green is now totally brown and dry.

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Last year this would have been a vibrant green pasture.

It’s crazy. Walking through the bush, the rainforest is just totally parched and wilted. And farmers are beside themselves.

We’ve had a bit of rain lately, but not even close to what’s needed to end the drought. And the forecast is for more sunny days ahead.

 

One of the quotes from the Wellington Writers' Walk.

Man, it has been a while since I posted a recipe! Sorry about that! I was looking through the photos on my camera and realized that I’m definitely behind on writing about the delicious things we’ve made lately. I will try to be a bit better about that!

In the meantime, today was Wellington Anniversary Day, and so we both had the day off of work. It’s become a bit of a tradition to go for a hike on public holidays, and Laura and I had decided to go to the Orongorongo Valley to walk around there. But despite a promising weather forecast, the blue skies that we woke up to soon turned to grey and sprinkles. Normally that might not deter us from taking a walk– sometimes overcast days are the best days for walks, actually. But this morning I was feeling entirely knackered, so we decided to stay closer to home. Laura went for a bike ride while I slept in, and then I spent some time on my yoga mat.

I keep a green folder on our bookshelf, filled with recipes that I brought with me from the States. One of them is a typed recipe from my friend Karen who I did my yoga teacher training with. It’s a quick and easy recipe for quinoa salad, and one that works in pretty much any season. Normally I make quinoa salad with kumara (yams), but yesterday there were just a handful of tiny, overpriced kumara at the farmers’ market since they’re not in season at the moment.  We found some adorable buttercup squash instead — the first of the season — and we couldn’t resist.

I have to admit though that quinoa and I have a bit of an uneasy relationship. It’s a high protein grain from Bolivia that is super healthy, but because of that, it’s skyrocketed in popularity around the globe over the past few years, meaning that it’s now unaffordable to the Bolivians who have eaten it for centuries. So like fish, I tend to think of it as a once-in-a-while healthy food, instead of a staple healthy food.

That having been said, we had a half package of quinoa left in the cupboard, and we’ve been trying to finish up the items in our pantry. So quinoa salad it was. The quinoa we used in this recipe was a blend of white, red, and black quinoa with amaranth. The squash became quite soft as we were mixing it and virtually melted into the quinoa (since I failed to follow my own instructions of letting it cool first!!), as this photo shows. (It was delicious regardless.)

Quinoa salad with squash, cranberries, and lemon

Quinoa salad with squash, cranberries, and lemon

n.b. This particular recipe was designed for a potluck, so it makes heaps, but you can easily adjust the amounts down to make less!

Recipe: Karen’s Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 kumara (yams) or a squash of your choice
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (preferably without added sugar)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • chopped fresh chives or small green onions
  • 1/2 cup (at least!) chopped fresh parsley
  • sea salt to taste

Method:

  1. Measure the amount of quinoa you will be using, and then rinse thoroughly through a fine mesh strainer. For the amount of quinoa you have, place twice that amount of water into a saucepan with the quinoa. (For 1 cup quinoa, 2 cups water, etc) Bring water to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer on low heat for 15 minutes until the water is mostly absorbed, then turn off the heat and let stand until the water is fully absorbed.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the kumara or squash by cutting into large chunks and roasting in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, until soft and golden, 10-20 minutes depending on size of the pieces.
  3. Place cooked quinoa and yams in a large bowl and allow to chill in the fridge before adding other ingredients.
  4. When the quinoa and kumara are cool, add in the remaining ingredients, and mix well.
  5. Enjoy!
Another shot of the salad and the beautiful new bowls that we picked up from Cheddar Valley Pottery in Whakatane on our road trip.

Another shot of the salad and the beautiful new bowls that we picked up from Cheddar Valley Pottery in Whakatane on our New Years road trip.

As I was writing up highlights from 2012, I realized that it was going to be way too long for just one post, so here is part 2, with a taste of where what I was up to from July – December 2012.

July 2012: Caught a massive cold, which knocked me out for days, but had the bright side of inspiring an article for my Yoga on a Plate column. Applied for an extension of my work visa, which was granted; had a visit from my dear friend Leah from the US and several of my partner’s friends from Ireland; and found a sunny day to go tramping through Butterfly Creek in Eastbourne. And, I began teaching my weekly yoga class at Brooklyn Community Centre in Wellington.

View from Butterfly Creek, 29 July 2012

View from Butterfly Creek, 29 July 2012

Wellington Harbour's windblown man sculpture

Wellington Harbour’s windblown man sculpture

August 2012: Celebrated one year of being in New Zealand with an enormous bouquet of flowers from my lovely partner and some cheap and cheerful Malaysian food. Enjoyed some fantastic food and beverage during Wellington on a Plate, the city’s annual two-week long food festival.

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My beloved crepes pecheur from Simply Paris — buckwheat crepes with smoked salmon, spinach, sour cream and capers.

September 2012: My contract finished at the wonderful museum where I had been working since September 2011, and I interviewed for a new position at a different institution. (My life’s not all yoga, food, and travel, even if that’s what I write about here!) It was a tough month and I felt very far away from loved ones back in the US. I took a lot of long walks around Wellington to seek solace in beauty and find peace amongst uncertainty.

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October 2o12: Started the new job, and submitted my residence application, which was approved, making me an official resident of New Zealand. Went to WOW (World of Wearable Art), took an early anniversary trip to Taupo over Labour Day weekend (which I never actually got around to writing about here, I don’t think!), and helped organise the Off the Mat, Into the World, Yoga in Action training in Kapiti.

Nothing says spring in New Zealand like a tui in a kowhai tree (pronounced, ko-fai)

Nothing says spring in New Zealand like a tui in a kowhai tree (pronounced ko-fai)

View from Paremata

View from Paremata

View of Lake Taupo

View of Lake Taupo

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Huka Falls, Taupo

November 2012: Began learning more about Maori culture, visiting a marae for the first time, and singing my first waiata. Bought a used bike and went wine tasting in Martinborough. Celebrated our two year anniversary by participating in a cooking class together where we learned to make seafood paella with fresh mussels, calamari and prawns– delicious! Saw the solar eclipse, and lined up to see stars at the world premiere of The Hobbit.

View of Wellington from Mt. Kaukau

View of Wellington from Mt. Kaukau

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Organic wines at Vynfields in Martinborough.

Homemade seafood paella

Homemade seafood paella

December 2012: Visited Auckland for the first time (another thing I never got around to writing about here!), worked, taught yoga, and hit the road for a 10 day camping trip around Hawkes Bay and the East Cape for Christmas and New Years.

Sky Tower, Auckland

Sky Tower, Auckland

View from Sky Tower

View from Sky Tower

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Tolaga Bay, East Cape

Looking back on these photos, I’m amazed by how many places we visited, and so grateful for the opportunity to live in New Zealand and continue to explore.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and wishing you a healthy and happy 2013!

It seems crazy that it’s already the new year, and I apologize that it’s been so long since my last post! These last few months have just flown by, but here’s a little taste of where I’ve been and some highlights from 2012, my first full calendar year living in New Zealand…

January 2012: I began formally teaching yoga in Wellington at a couple of gyms and yoga studios, went to a wedding, and took a couple of really lovely walks. Also, I wrote my first column for The Yoga Lunchbox.

New Years Day morning, 2012

New Years Day morning, 2012

New Years walk to Red Rocks, January 2, 2012

New Years walk to Red Rocks, January 2, 2012

February 2012: Upheld my Pennsylvania roots by hosting a Groundhog’s Day barbecue; celebrated Waitangi Day by taking a hike, taught lots of yoga classes all over the city, and ate ourselves silly at the Greek Food Festival.

Walking through Belmont Park, Lower Hutt, 6 February 2012

Walking through Belmont Park, Lower Hutt, 6 February 2012

Mount Victoria, Wellington

An afternoon walk through Mount Victoria, Wellington, after the Greek Food Festival, 25 February 2012

March 2012: Double birthday celebrations for my partner and I, a wedding, and a weekend of wine and olive oil tastings and good food in Martinborough.

Vineyards in Martinborough

Vineyards in Martinborough

Olive groves in the Wairarapa

Olive groves in the Wairarapa

April 2012: My parents came to visit and we headed down to the South Island: Queenstown, Milford Sound, West Coast, Kaikoura, and then off to Brisbane for a few days for my first visit across the ditch to Oz.

Flying over Wellington en route to the South Island

Flying over Wellington en route to the South Island

Milford Sound, April 2012

Milford Sound, Fiordland, April 2012

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Koalas and a kookaburra at Lone Pine Sanctuary, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

May 2012: Back to the United States to visit family and friends…

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Late spring in the Berkshires

Late spring in the Berkshires

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5Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, New York

5Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, New York

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania

Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania

June 2012: From the east coast to the midwest to visit family and friends in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and then back home to Wellington…

Split Rock lighthouse, Duluth, Minnesota

Split Rock lighthouse, Duluth, Minnesota

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Stay tuned for photos from July – December 2012, coming soon…

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