Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lemon Poppyseed Cookies

I first made these cookies about 2 weeks ago.  They turned out great, and the six of us finished an entire batch with lunch.  Made them again this afternoon...  just as good.  Not too sweet, great flavor, easy recipe.  The recipe is adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, one of the best cookbooks ever written.  This recipe makes about 3 dozen small cookies.


1/2 c. soft butter
3/4 c. (packed) brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 t. vanilla extract
1-2 t. lemon rind
1/3 c. poppyseeds
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt


Cream together butter and sugar, beating until light. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Finally, add lemon rind and poppyseeds, and beat well again.  Sift together dry ingredients. Add to wet ingredients and mix carefully with a spatula until just barely mixed. Don't over-mix, or the cookies will be tough instead of flaky.

Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F.  Spoon 1 tablespoon drops onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. The cookies do not spread much, so either flatten the dough into drops for flatter cookies, or leave in drops for thicker cookies.  Bake ~10 minutes, less if the cookies are flat, or until the cookies are starting to become lightly browned.

Oh, Tiny Skink

We've been having fires in the stove this month, since the weather has been cool and rainy.  This past weekend, a little hitchhiker caught a ride in the wood basket and joined us inside for a few days!

little hitchhiker

I kept seeing her here and there--first at the foot of the stove, then under the couch, then on the stairs.  We finally got her cornered, and Dave coaxed her into a bowl so I could bring her outside.  I spent several long moments watching her in the bowl, remaining motionless until she stopped her frantic wiggling and came to a rest.  She stared at me.  I stared at her.

looking at me?

I took a few pictures so I could zoom in later to wonder over her tiny details.  Perfectly interlocking scales on the back of her head.  Did you know that had elbows, like us?  And digits, too:  miniature toes, complete with claws a fraction of the size of a grain of rice.  She was so amazingly constructed; I shivered thinking that there were hundreds of thousands of perfect little lizards wandering around the gardens and hedgerows of New Zealand, invisible to us.  And that's just lizards--there are millions of perfect little spiders, perfect little songbirds, all types of perfect little critters, not just here, but everywhere.  Amazing.  One Great Dewdrop, indeed.

the smallest toes

She got frantic again.  It was cruel to keep her too long in a bowl.  I let her go.

one last look

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Last Week in New Zealand

We're coming down the home stretch.  One week from tomorrow, we leave Tuateawa for an overnight on the benches of the Auckland International Airport.  What's new?

Tree Planting:  Mission Accomplished

We started off with about 1,200 acacia, eucalyptus, and fruit trees, as well as several dozen natives, like nikau palm, pohutakawa, hoheria, and even a few kauri.  We planted well over 1,000 of the non-natives, and a large chunk of the natives, as well.  Cat and Mel together were planting machines, and I estimate that I personally planted around 300 trees.  There are around 125 non-natives left in the nursery that will be used for in-fill in sparse areas and to replace seedlings lost to rabbits.  I might plant for another half day in the next week, but for all intents and purposes, the massive tree planting effort has concluded.  Cool!

Bye Bye, Cat and Mel :-(

Our cute little Canadian friends are on a plane to Canada right now.  Both Dave and I had a great time working with Catherine and Melanie.  The work here is not easy and is quite tiring, but they always managed to have a sense of humor about it (even when I wasn't in a smiley mood!).  The month of June wouldn't have been nearly as fun without them.  I'm so excited for Mel to be heading to med school and for Cat to pursue her dream as a vet!

Enough Rain, Already!

Rain usually doesn't bother me.  I like sleeping in the rain, the pitter-patter of the drops lulling me into peaceful slumbers.  But, golly darn it, I don't like torrential downpours that soak the ground to the point of standing water under the tent, which the mattress soaks up like a big sponge!  After removing our soaked mattress from the tent for the third time in as many weeks, Dave and I have (finally) decided to move out of the tent into Cat & Mel's old room.  Strange to sleep inside again!
Finishing Cabins

The walls for both cabins are up.  The lower cabin has a roof, walls have been nogged, and we're starting to hang plywood.  The upper cabin needs a bit more work--it has rafters but no roofing iron, partially nogged walls but no plywood.  This week, we're going hard on the cabins to get them as close to done as possible.  I got to cut roofing iron one day, which was fun because it involved playing with power tools, and painful because of all the sparks flying everywhere.

That's All, Folks

It's been a quiet weekend.  I'm catching up on emails, arranging couchsurfing hosts for our ~2 weeks on the road, talking to family on skype, and doing a crash course in Bhasa Indonesia (literally, "the language of Indonesia").  Plus, it's nice to have some time with just Dave, since we won't get a lot of quiet time while we're on the road.  Time to make dinner...  maybe I'll bake cookies or watch a movie tonight.  :-)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Buying Boots, Making Decisions

One week ago, right before Dave and I watched a few Good Keen Kiwi Bachelors in an alpaca-herding contest at the agricultural field days, we reaffirmed our decision to stay in New Zealand through the end of the year.  We would work on various organic farms for the winter before returning to Tuateawa for a third program in September.  For a lot of reasons, neither of us was very excited about the plan, but we both felt confident that we could "live with it."

Before we left field days, I decided to buy a pair of good Skellerup steel-toed men's size 6 work boots.  My hiking boots are on their last legs (heh), and stepping in cow pies and dropping hammers on my feet is far more pleasant when I'm not working in sneakers.

There's a proverb that says the best way to make a difficult decision is to flip a coin.  In the second the coin is in the air, you know, in your heart, how you want it to land.

Buying those work boots was like flipping the coin.  As we were driving back to Tuateawa, the van bumping and screeching on the dirt roads snaked around the hillsides, I imagined myself wearing those Skellerup steel-toed men's size 6 work boots for six months.

I whispered to Dave, "It's time to go."

And so, we're going.

...To Auckland on Saturday, July 3...
...To Sydney, Australia on Monday, July 5...
...To Darwin, Australia on Tuesday, July 6...
...To Singapore on Sunday, July 11...
...and to Jakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday, July 14.

It might seem like not enough time in Australia--only a week! it's an entire continent!--but I think of this as less  an exercise in "doing" a place and more an exercise in slow travel.  In other words, we'll be on the move for about 10 days, making our way from New Zealand to Indonesia, where I imagine we'll stay for the duration of our 30-day visa (unless we don't).  Why Indonesia?  Because I know only two people who have been there (one stayed on Java for a month; the other visited when he was 5).  And why not!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Climb Away!

This past weekend, we took a trip to Wharepapa South, one of the largest rock climbing areas in New Zealand. We climbed at the Froggatt Edge crag, specifically on the Slug Wall and Main Wall, which probably won't mean anything to you unless you've climbed there.  I really enjoyed the rock; in contrast to the Gunks, it felt like there were almost always options for fingers and toes in the pockets formed by volcanic gases as the rock cooled eons ago.

rock porn :-P

We started off on Slug Wall.  Dave led two of the bolted routes and dropped top ropes for us to play (Jon led a third, which Dave, Jon, and I climbed).  Dave's two leads here were named Teenage Mutant and Ninja...  the third route we climbed was at the left of the wall, the last route to involve the ledge.  Too bad I don't remember the name of the third climb, because it was my favorite: challenging enough to be interesting, not so hard as to be difficult.

beautiful Bexie's yoga grace is obvious

One of the highlights of the trip was climbing with Bexie, Cat, and Mel.  They hadn't climbed before, but I was so impressed by their willingness to give it a go.  Cat learned to belay, and ended up belaying me with Jon backing her up.  Bexie wasn't even planning on climbing, but she sent one route (i.e. climbed it to the anchor at the top) and started working on another.  And Mel?  We didn't have properly fitting shoes for her, so she climbed in her Vibram-soled, approach style hiking shoes.  Bad ass French Canadians.  :-)

i look on in awe at the display of bad ass-ness happening next to me

After climbing on Slug Wall, we went around the corner to Main Wall.  HOLY STUNNING!  Dave led Terror Incognita, which was a really beautiful, sustained route that started with some slab climbing, went around a roof, and finished with some tricky face climbing 25 m off the deck.  I was really proud of Dave, and I was so happy he enjoyed the route.

just think...  he hasn't gotten to the hard part yet

We were planning on doing more climbing on this wall, but the sun set quickly and it started to drizzle.  I only climbed four pitches over the course of the day, but considering how little climbing I've done over the past year, it was enough to roughen my finger tips on the sharp volcanic cheese grater.

that's me, at the top of something or other

The setting at Froggatt Edge is lovely.  The crag is actually in a farm, a working farm, so we carefully stepped around cow pies at the base of the climbs!  The rolling hills are covered with grass colored in the vibrant greenness of spring.  I hate to bring LOTR into it, but seriously, couldn't you picture the Fellowship camping out at the base of this?

no new zealand blog post is complete without a lord of the rings reference

As part of the same road trip, we went to the agricultural Field Days outside of Hamilton, where we were entertained by Good Keen Bachelors herding alpaca (I'm not kidding); to Rotorua, where we were entertained by the smell of rotten eggs and bubbling mud (yay, geological phenomena); and to another kiwi house, where Dave saw his first, and probably last, living kiwi.  Good times.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Long Walks on the Beach, Etc.

Today, I took the doggles for a scamper down the beach at Kennedy Bay.

kennedy bay

Dogs are so "in the moment."  Evie and Ninya chase seagulls like every seagull is a demon that will end the world.  No matter how many seagulls they have already tormented, as soon as any bird comes within barking range, they explode down the beach with the speed of a rocket entering the stratosphere as if they've never seen a seagull before.  At one point, Ninya found a half-rotten fish head.  Nothing I could do--including grabbing her muzzle and trying to extract the gooey fish bits from between her clenched jaws--would persuade her to leave the fish head alone.  In her mind, she and the fish head had become one...  and I was standing in the way of her realization of reality!

dogs with wings on their feet

I was surprised by the variety of critter remains I found while walking on the beach.  Puffer fish...  starfish (or whatever the seven-legged version is called)...  shells...  things I couldn't identify...  I don't remember ever seeing diversity like that on the Jersey Shore.  Sorry, JerZ friends.  :-P  (And I think our beaches here are cleaner, too!)

Also, today I made three loaves of bread:  one whole wheat loaf with poppyseed; one whole wheat loaf with currants and mixed spices (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves); and one whole wheat and rye loaf with mixed herbs (celery seed, coriander seed, mustard seed, and dill).  It was the first time I've done three loaves in a day, and they all turned out well.  I'll be a baker by the time I leave New Zealand!

Guess I don't have much to say, but I did want an excuse to share some hopeful news:  next week, I'm looking forward to rock climbing.  It's been months since I've climbed anything, and...  my heavens...  it might be a year since I've climbed on real rock.  Is that even possible?!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Welcome Back to Tuateawa

We've been back in Tuateawa for almost two weeks, and the June program is in full swing.  What's new and not-so-new?

Tree Planting
My main focus lately has been tree planting.  Over the next month, we hope to install 1,200 trees in the earth of the valley.  We are planting mostly acacia species for ground cover and mostly eucalyptus species for shelterbelts.  In the first week, with the equivalent of 3.5 days of a 3-person planting team, we've planted just about 30%...  an excellent start.

There is just as much non-planting work, however.  I've recovered and saved seeds, and planted seeds into root training trays.  We also have to pound stakes into the ground, paint the stakes, staple plastic tags into the stakes, and label the stakes with the code of the tree that will be planted next to it.  It's a huge effort with logistical challenges, as there are only 6 of us, certain people must do certain tasks, and certain tasks must happen before other tasks.  So far, I'm loving it, as one of my main motivations for coming to New Zealand was environmental conservation work.

Lettuce House
On one of our first days back, Dave and I built a glass house cover for our lettuce beds.  Since the weather is cool and rainy, the little lettuces need some extra warmth and protection from downpours to flourish.  It was only a one day project, but it turned out quite nicely.  We built this out of two old windows and some scrap wood.  Creative building material reuse:  check!

Plenty of Water; No Heat
It all started when the wood-burning stove inexplicably began to leak smoke into the house.  Time for a newer stove!  The old stove, however, was connected to the hot water supply, a smart way to use excess stove heat to reduce energy use by the hot water heater.  In the process of draining the hot water tank, we accidentally "drained" the tank all over the living room and the kitchen, resulting in an inch of standing water in most of the house.


To make matters worse, the heating element in the hot water tank burned out once the tank was empty.  Result:  no heat from the wood-burning stove and no hot water.  Hilariously, one of the burners on our electric cooking stove short-circuited, leaving us with an electric kettle as the sole source of heat in the entire house.

There is a happy ending to the story, however:  handy Dave figured out and repaired the hot water tank.  My hero!  :-)

New Friends
Two French Canadian young ladies, Melanie and Catherine, have joined us for June.  They are so much fun...  always laughing and telling stories!  I really appreciate their enthusiasm for tree planting and working outside.  I think we are going to have an awesome time working and playing together.  (And I'm not just saying that because they might read this!  :-P )
Quality Time with the Doggles
I actually don't have anything to say about the dogs; I simply love this picture of "smiling" Ninya.  The doggles are an endless source of entertainment and companionship.

Hiding from the Rain
All of the rain that we didn't get this summer has fallen in the past few weeks, and it will probably keep falling for the rest of the month.  It is certainly winter, the rainy season, here in our temperate rainforest.  The air is always damp and the weather changeable.  It's still warm enough to sleep outside, though, so we are happy in our tent.  It is mostly dark by 5:30 p.m, and it doesn't start getting light until 7:00 a.m.  North Americans, enjoy your daylight!