Saturday, June 30, 2012

Look What I Made!

For days now the rain has been coming down, well, sideways, by the bucket with little bursts of sunshine in between that are just long enough to lour us out of doors.   We are allowed, for a brief moment, to think that we might actually get something substantial done in the garden, only to be driven back inside by hurricane winds five minutes later. 
Flax Plant

I've decided to make good use of my indoor time this winter by taking a flax weaving course.  Flax (unrelated to the flax seeds we eat) is a native to New Zealand.  It is revered in Maori culture for its fibre and medicinal uses.  It seems that flax can be made into just about anything-baskets, mats, clothing, shelters, ropes, shoes, fishing lines.  Though it's not as heavily relied upon for daily life, flax weaving is still popular today.  Different varieties grow all over the island so material for weaving is plentiful and easily harvested.  There is a particular protocol or tikanga surrounding the gathering and weaving of flax.  I have found that learning this protocol is important, not just because of traditions and taboos, but following it helps the plant in its regrowth, encourages progress, and also protects the weaver.  Apparently, even just a bit of the sap from the plant can be a strong laxative.  I'd rather not experiment.  I'm not sure how I feel about the idea that once a weaving project has been started it must be completed.  Not really my style, but probably something I should work on in many areas of my life. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Today is a good day

    Today is the 24th of June.  One month since Lizzy and I set foot in New Zealand.  31 days, (33 w/ the leap forward) since we said our good-byes to our families and got on a plane.  I have to tell you, today is a good day.
    We spent the weekend with Mr. & Mrs. Fishman, our benefactors here, their son Zev, and their daughter Anu whom orchestrated this whole adventure here.  Last night we cooked an amazing vegetarian Thai dinner all together, sat down afterward and watched the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team trounce the Ireland national team 60-nil, then had tea and oatmeal cookies.  Today we walked the property with Anu who is the visionary of everything going on here at Uma Rapiti and received the run down of everything going on.  Today is a good day.
    Lizzy and I went into Auckland on Thursday to celebrate our anniversary.  It just so happens to coincide with summer/winter solstice depending on which hemisphere you are in, and the Maori New Year called Matariki.  We went out to eat at a fantastic Israeli restaurant called Ima, then followed it up by the opening performance of KAHA by Atamira dance company.  When we missed the 10:15pm ferry back to the island, we sat and had a beer while listening to two young guys rock out on guitars acoustically while singing their butts off.  Today is a good day.
    I found out my brother whom trashed his knee dancing with his wife last Saturday only has a separation  and will be up playing Softball in two weeks.  In addition, he finally got a marketing job that's right up his alley after being unemployed for a long time,(not by choice) and a stint as a teller at a soul-sucking financial institution.  Then today I learned my youngest brother was accepted to TVF&R as a volunteer firefighter, which is dang hard to get, and at the same time has been requested for an interview in Roseburg,OR after passing two tests.  This is for a career position.  I'm so proud I cried.

Today is a good day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The "Path to Enlightenment"

    There once was a path.  A slippery path.  A muddy path that was treacherous whilst exiting the shower, after a slight rain, or exiting or entering the pavilion of "Enlightenment".  This path threatened to claim the clean bodies and able backs of any caught unawares while traversing it.  Especially mine at 9 at night while raiding the "Enlightened" pavilion goody bin.  After several near spills and one slightly wrenched back on one of those late-night goody runs, it was determined that something must be done!  And immediately!
  So, with the blessing of, "Yes, Yes!  Something MUST be done!" from the good god-fairy Tana, we set about rectifying the issue.  Chad went shopping!

Laying out pavers after digging gravel drainage

  After returning home with 20 brand new 300mm x 300mm cinder block pavers (approx. 12 inches for you American-types), and about 1/4 m2 of gravel from the local landscape supply, we were ready to start.

First we laid out our area to dig up for gravel drainage in the most offending area: Right in front of the step-down from the work area of the Woolshed.  This is a low spot where overrun from the shower, rainwater draining downhill from the Pavilion, and a puddle from the Woolshed all meet.  Danger!

Mud pit dug out and prepped for gravel
  As you can see, it also slopes downhill an toward the Woolshed, so you're looking at about 8 inches down on the side nearest the shower and 2-3 inches down on the furthest side.  In addition, we went ahead and laid out the pavers to try and get spacing and form.  Oh form... How do you form the form of the formless?

Experimental layout #218 with offset pavers from Pavilion

After filling in our drainage area with gravel and getting our layout finalized, we scribed the dirt along the edges of the pavers for our outline of where to dig.  And let the fun begin!

Lizzy digging away
Chad digging away

  "See Lizzy dig.  See Chad dig.  See Lizzy and Chad dig together.  Dig guys dig!"  And dig we did.  Amazingly enough this dirt was no where near as clay-filled as the area in back of the Woolshed.

Senior Foreman
General Planning Committee

 After dry-fitting pavers in the channel we just dug, we received the go ahead from the Senior Foreman and the General Planning Committee to begin permanent setting.  (No zoning laws or building codes were violated in the making of this path.  Maybe some worms.)

Setting pavers in a sand base clandestinely acquired from an undisclosed location.
Once the pavers were set, we back-filled with dirt excavated from the trench we cut, the re-seeded with grass seed to facilitate stability and aesthetics.  The path to the "Enlighten" Pavilion was complete!

From the rear of the Woolshed
From the Pavilion


Now to just En"light"en the Pavilion.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happy Birthday to my Mom!

You know, I really think it was a combination of her interest in good nourishing food, stories from her grandmother's kitchen, and encouraging my siblings and I to cook and bake on our own that lead to my own interest in culinary exploration.  In addition, working on farms, each with an abundance of fresh produce and farmhands filled with fresh ideas has lead me to seek out traditional ways of preparing and preserving food.
I know it's not for everyone, but I find it very grounding if I can devote a few hours each day or a couple of full days every week solely to food preparation.  Our schedule and responsibilities here definitely allow that.  In fact, they almost demand it.  What else am I suppose to do when the sun goes down five hours before bedtime?  A girl can only read so many gardening books and watch so many movies. 
So when my hands get tired of digging in the dirt (very rare) or my brain gets tired of watching documentaries on the economic meltdown (easily done) there are peppers to be pickled, olives to brine and plenty of yummy things to ferment-like milk into kefir, cabbage into kimchi, and apple juice into vinegar.  It is very necessary to combine the fermenting and brining projects (which won't be ready for weeks or months) with those of more instant gratification.  So while Chad and I are dreaming about the salty fermented cabbage in our future, we'll be nibbling on lemon poppy-seed bread, and putting fresh basil pesto on everything. 

Kimchi (in the bowl), olives, vinegar, kefir
Oh, and then there's the potato leek soup that Chad raved about for so long after I made it the first time that I made it a second time this week.  (And we have more leeks than I know what to do with.)  Chad's been on my case about writing down recipes as I make a dish so it can be repeated.  I started with this soup and it's the fastest, easiest soup I've ever made so I've included the recipe.  Unfortunately, no one who is reading this has potatoes or leeks in their garden right now, but perhaps come September, just when you're thinking, "why did I plant leeks again?" you'll remember this recipe and make yourself a batch. It makes 2 Chad-sized servings and about 4 servings for anyone else.

Potato Leek Soup

2-3 Leeks, greens removed and the rest chopped
2-3 cloves Garlic, chopped
5 or so medium Potatoes, chopped
Veggie Broth
Fresh Thyme
Whole Milk
Salt and Pepper

Saute leeks and garlic in butter.  Add potatoes and lots of thyme and then at least enough broth to cover (more if you want thinner soup.)  Simmer till potatoes are cooked.  Mash potatoes (or don't). Add about a cup of Milk, salt, and pepper and heat thoroughly.  Serve with chopped chives, cheese, and fresh bread.
Outing to Stony Batter

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In Response to the Comments...

Inside of our sleepout
From what I've gathered a sleepout is like a bunk house and refers to a small shelter separate from the main house exclusively for sleeping with no kitchen, bathroom, etc.  Our sleepout is lavishly decked out with a bed, shelves, a desk, a small built in table, and...well that's about it.  It makes up half of a building of which the other half is a tool shed and storage space.

This second sleepout was just recently built to house Wwoofers and guests.  It's clean and simple and all of the windows open up to the wooded area on the south side of the property and is a bit more secluded from the garden.  We're thinking about moving in.


Covered portion of the Pavilion
The picture with Chad and his oatmeal from my previous post is not the sleepout but what we call the pavilion.  This acts as our kitchen (minus the running water and refer).  There is a little two burner propane stove, storage boxes of food, all of our utensils, and a cob pizza oven.  There is a small section that is covered, but the seating area does indeed get wet when it rains.  There are differing opinions about whether or not we should put a permanent roof over it.  While there is plenty of rain now, it stays pretty dry through the summer.  I guess I'll just continue to cook in my muck boots and rain jacket.  Where do we get water, you ask?  By collecting that rain water all winter long.  There is no source of fresh water on the island so everyone collects water in their rooftops and stores it in cisterns or rain barrels.  For watering the garden we use water from the rain barrels and for dishes and cooking there is a pump that brings water from the cistern to a sink outside of our sleepout.  The toilet, as I mentioned, composts all of its contents instead of flushing it away with water to some unmentionable place never to be seen or heard from again.  Nope, we keep it all right here on the farm.  But more on that when it comes time to empty it out.  The pump also brings water to the shower which is connected to the most marvelous contraption-the solar hot water heater!  It is so efficient we can take a hot shower in the morning before the sun has even come up.  (Remember that it's winter here so the sun doesn't rise until about 8:30). 
The most beautiful outdoor toilet I've ever seen

It doesn't snow in this part of New Zealand, Anna, we're too far north.  On the south island of NZ, however, there are mountains and plenty of skiing.  I don't think I'll be sending you a homegrown pineapple but I'll be sure to send you a picture of me eating one with the juice dribbling down my chin and a thorough description of how it tastes. To the right is a picture of the current state of our pineapple plants.  If it looks like they are just pineapple tops stuck in the ground that would be because that is exactly what they are.  I have my doubts.

I didn't realize that Chad just answered many of these same questions.  Oops!  I suppose it doesn't hurt to reiterate just how cool the solar shower is.  Now the outdoor bathtub is also sweet feature but is only a winter luxury (while there is plenty of water).  It is heated from the main house and isn't near our quarters but definitely worth the hike up the hill at twilight when there's no one else home, when there's a full moon and a far off lightening storm to watch. Add a few fresh lavender flowers...beautiful

And one other interesting tidbit I'd like to add: Chad and I were interrupted from our afternoon tasks the other day when the neighbor's guests for the holiday weekend arrived by helicopter!  We were dumbfounded as we watched not one, not two, but at least seven choppers land on the apparent helipad that the neighbors have in their backyard.  We have yet to meet these neighbors but we hear they make delicious wine.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A tour, flowers, & battle bamboo...

   So everyone keeps asking if we sleep in the cooking pavilion, so we thought a brief tour was in order to allay fears and show you what our accommodations were like.  So, here it goes: This is the facility where we live and sleep.  A.k.a. the woolshed.
  The front half is our actual living quarters, while the rear half is a tool shed/workshop/gardening prep area.  We have an auxillary cooking area on our front porch to use when the wind and rain get a bit too intense to use the pavilion.  Like last night... Whew!  There is plenty of light and space has not been an issue thus far.  We'll try to post some pictures of the interior at a later date.  It also has proven to be relatively comfortable as well except for this odd phenomenon where it's actually warmer outside than inside in the morning...  Hmmmm.....  Thermodynamics anyone?

This is a shot from the pavilion looking out over the upper garden bed.  On left you see the geodesic greenhouse we use to start our starts... heh.  On the right is our holding tank for all the water we use with a glimpse of the composting toilet in the background.  Amazingly enough, completely smell and fly free.  Humanure is a fledgling idea that is being entertained here.  I'm still a bit leery, but Lizzy seems down with it.

Here we have one of the best features on the farm in my opinion.  An outdoor shower complete with solar water heating system.  This isn't your black bag hanging in the sun all afternoon for a 30 second spit bath.  This bad boy will not only get hot enough to scald you, it's that temperature at 7 am when the sun hasn't come over the hill yet.  Plus, I've taken a 20 minute shower and still had enough hot water to do dishes after!  Hooray for science!

    Above is a collection of some of the flowers in bloom right now.  Take into account that it IS winter here folks!  The first one is a passion fruit blossom, the second is a day lily I think, the third are snap dragons, and last, but not least, we have an "I have no clue".  I'm sure we shall see much more of those as the year progresses...  Ha!

    This brings us to our latest adventure here at Uma Rapiti.  We do quite a bit of something called sourcing here.  This is just a fancy way of saying we grab as much free stuff as we can when it's available, then discover a use or, "McGyver" the heck out of things.  Which happens to be my second favorite thing behind piping hot solar showers!
    We found in the local paper a woman whom wanted a small cropping of bamboo cut down in her back yard.  We were delighted to find this since bamboo is a great building material and we've been trying to source some clumping variety to plant here on the farm.  Of which this fit the bill.  As you can see, it was quite large in diameter and about 20 ft. (7 m.) tall.  Hooray!  Till it came time to cut.  Of course it was raining.  And of course the wind was gusting up to about 30 mph. toward the backyard neighbors house.  To make matters even more entertaining, my dang chainsaw, which just came out of the shop, wanted to die after every single cut!!!
    Plus the condition and arrangement of the woman's backyard added to the fun.  Obstacles abounded and a narrow path to the loading area were there to help us on our way.  Unfortunately we have yet to get to the digging up of the bamboo.  I'm sure this is going to prove to be just as entertaining if not more.  We'll let you know how that turns out in a future post.

    But, through all the wind and rain, Lizzy and I were victorious!!!  Nothing a little tenacity, verve, and a sprinkle of sheer stupidity to get you through the day.  Cutting down bamboo is a whole lot harder than it looks.  We know!

 For the feint of heart or queasy of stomach, please stop reading here.  This next part is not very pretty.  The cutting down of the bamboo took place yesterday, Tuesday the 5th of June.  Today, Wednesday the 6th of June I was tasked with defoliating,(yes it is a word), the bamboo for drying and usage.  I spent the better part of 2 hrs. swinging a machete with all my might, hacking away the leaves and stems.  All the while I had this nagging daydream of me lopping off a finger or two.  Miraculously my dream was not realized.  Until I put the machete down on top of the pile I was working with in order to go take an outdoor bath under the moon and stars.  Somehow I stepped on a shaft of bamboo, springing the machete up into the air towards me.  Of course I put out a hand to deflect the blow, and this is the result:

    Notice the little dribble of blood still on the offending weapon.  I think it was mocking me a bit.  I knew it was too good to be true that I managed a few hours of swinging a sharp blade without harm to myself.  In hindsight, I almost wish I had not just sharpened Mr. Machete.