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How is that possible with such fresh, nutritious, reasonably priced food?

My cooking skills were a serious joke

My cooking skills were a joke

The problem, my friends, lay in Trader Joes’ freezers, where a selection of delicious, pre-made meals was always on display. It was so much more convenient to grab a few frozen burritos than to collect the ingredients necessary to concoct this dish on our own. Also when we got home late on a weeknight night it was a hell of a lot easier to cook (a.k.a microwave) these than make something from scratch. It was takeout quality food at supermarket prices. What can beat that in NYC?

In NYC ovens are used to hold sweaters. Are people really expected to cook in these crawl spaces?

In Manhattan ovens are used to hold sweaters. People do not actually cook in these crawl spaces

Living in NZ has torn Eliott and I away from our precious TJs and eating out at restaurants is quite expensive so we’ve taken to the kitchen with a new vigor. Our experiments have been mostly edible; of course there was the watery pumpkin soup and the not-so-pulled pork. But it looks like our cooking skills are on the up-and-up thanks to all the practice we’re getting this year and the obstacles we’ve encountered while cooking on the road.

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we've lost track of time so we'll have to go on taste

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we’ve lost track of time so we’ll have to go on taste

Learning to cook while traveling presents a number of challenges to any chef- especially a novice one. Every kitchen is truly unique. They’ve got their own selection of pans and every stove cooks at it’s own temperamental pace. However, learning to cook in an ever-changing environment reveals flaws in your technique that you might not have noticed in your own kitchen. It makes you hyper-sensitive to all the various factors involved in the cooking process. While you may over-cook the steaks one night, you end up a much more careful and conscientious chef in the end.

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Another challenge is the lack of a pantry. Believe it or not we don’t have room for a bag of flour and spices in our backpacks so we have to make use of the pantry provided. When we were traveling to a new place every few nights we also had to buy ingredients that we’d be able to use before leaving. This particular challenge has forced us to hone our culinary creativity. Take for example our roast chicken and all the extra ingredients from Thanksgiving. How do you stretch out the leftovers and keep it interesting? Make chicken dumpling soup with the bones and some pot pie cupcakes or a curry with the meat and veggies!

So we didn't exactly starve on Thanksgiving...

We didn’t exactly starve on Thanksgiving…

The last impetus that has pushed our culinary education forward is the company we’ve shared. As we’ve marveled before, New Zealanders have an almost universal “do-it-yourself” attitude and a laid-back disposition. In the kitchen, this means that they cook often and they tackle seemingly difficult dishes with ease. For example on Waiheke, Zion, the 11 year-old, offered to cook breakfast one morning. We came down to the smell of caramelized apples served in elegantly wrapped crepes. I was astonished and remarked, “Crepes are so difficult! You’re a amazing cook.” To which he replied, “They’re just watery pancakes…” He had a good point, and so when we finally had access to some flour in Wellington we conjured up our own chocolately crepes for dessert one night. You don’t need a fancy crepe machine as I’d previously thought, just a pan and some watery batter.

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam for dessert over here

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam slam for dessert over here

Needless to say, my preconceptions about the difficulty of cooking have been smashed. I’ve come to realize that cooking is not a mystery to be solved. It’s a skill to be practiced. And if all else fails, salt can make almost anything edible. So when we get home you will still find me browsing the aisles of Trader Joes, but I’ll only be stopping at the freezers for ice cream.

And speaking of WHEN we get home, we’ve finally booked our return trip to Boston! Since there was a sale on flights to Honolulu the itinerary had to include a three-day layover in Hawaii- just another of the many sacrifices we’ve made to keep our trip sheap…

Herrro America!!!

Herrro America!!!

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Since moving to Queenstown we have “flatted” with three Kiwis and two Brits. We have learned a lot about their cultures–New Zealanders love Pat Benatar; British people have tea upwards of five times a day. And I’m sure they’ve learned a great deal about ours–Americans make snarky comments at the television during reality cooking shows.

But the most interesting thing multi-cultural cohabitation has taught us is that we speak three different kinds of English. Here’s a list of unique New Zealand words and phrases. Just like a middle-school vocabulary list, we’ve included definitions and used each word in a sentence–specifically, a sentence pertaining to our trip.

bach: a cottage

Last weekend, Meg went to a lakeside bach with two of our flatmates. (Our other flatmate and I had to work 😦 )

bbq at the bach

bbq at the bach

boot: car trunk

The boot of our subaru is filled with tennis racquets and beach towels.

capsicum: sweet peppers (red or green)

Meg and Sarah recently planted capsicums in the communal garden.

car park: parking lot

On our Milford road trip, Cate did calisthenics in the car park.

entree: appetizer

The prawn entree at Fishbone comes with two jumbo shrimp.

flash: sensational or fancy

Our subaru is very flash.

Our subaru is very flash.

fringe: bangs

Most girls would agree, Zoe Deschanel has enviable fringe.  (that sentence doesn’t have anything to do with our trip, it’s just a true statement about fringe)

gutted: emotionally distraught

To say I was gutted when the Patriots lost would be an understatement.

jandals: flip flops or sandals

November through March is jandal season in New Zealand.

lemonade: sprite or 7up

During the brief period I quit drinking soda, I ordered a lemonade at a restaurant and it caused a relapse.

piss: beer

Flat photo: everyone's drinking piss.

Our flat went to Atlas and we all drank piss.

piss-up: a social gathering involving alcohol

our

We had a piss-up on Lake Wakatipu and drank out of a watermelon.

rattle your dags: hurry up, get a move on

Rattle your dags, “My Kitchen Rules” is almost on. (MKR is an addictive Australian cooking show; we think they put MSG in it)

scull: to chug a drink (beer)

Meg sculled both of these...just kidding!

Meg sculled both of these jugs…just kidding!

serviette: napkin

Cleaning up after guests at the restaurant has made Meg appreciate her mom’s enthusiasm for serviettes.

taking a piss: having too much to drink

Last weekend our flatmate Tom was taking a piss at his favorite pub, 1876, and woke up with this:

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

tomato sauce: ketchup

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

whinge: to complain

During road trips I frequently whinge about the cleanliness of hostel bathrooms.

zed: Z, the last letter of the alphabet

If you pronounce Z like “zee” rather than “zed,” people will laugh at you.

*********************************************

Don’t worry, there won’t be a vocab test on Monday. But if you ever plan a trip to New Zealand, save yourself some confusion and brush up on this list.

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Before we jump headstrong into Wellington we thought we’d share our thoughts on Auckland. We were only in town for a week, so our impressions were probably a bit skewed, but nonetheless here they are. Hopefully it’ll provide a bit of perspective for our adventures in the capitol.

Rain

  • Queen Street: Have you ever heard a New Yorker rave about Times Square? Then you get the idea, I don’t think many Aucklanders go off about Queen St either
  • Ponsonby Shopping: Was actually amazing (think Urban Outfitters but the clothes are actually from local and vintage shops) but I’m giving it a Rain because I wasn’t able to buy anything and the temptation was cruel #poverty #backpacking

Tempting windows. Heavy bags

 

Shine

  • Happy Hours: Fatboy Fridays and $5 drinks at bars all around Ponsonby, and even one downtown, made drinking an easy choice
  • Ponsonby Cuisine: Plenty of variety and again some good deals meant we dined like kings
  • Gallery & Museum: Well you guys read about these already, and if you didn’t- caught ya! Here’s your second chance
  • Hostel Mates: Cool locals and visiting Aussies made our hostel feel like a college dorm- pre-gaming, movie nights, and all
  • Hostel Gossip: For as many cool people, there were a few nutters as well, but they provided some good stories for dinnertime chats

Fatboy friday specials at Degree on the Viaduct

 

Overcast

  • Corporate Auckland: Those suits look just as miserable down undah as they did in NYC
  • The Sky Tower: Rather phallic. We’re over it
  • One Tree Hill: We got lost on the bus ride over and didn’t care enough to find our way, so we figured you wouldn’t either. JFGI

 

A bit over the top right?

 

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Our last three days in Gisborne were more action-packed than the latest Bond movie. All-hallows-eve in New Zealand was fun, but less of a spectacle than we experienced growing up. The loot was pretty tame compared to the monjo-sized candy bars we used to collect. #americanobesity

face paint in broad daylight just didn’t feel the same

Luckily, the lack of sucrose on Wednesday helped us squeeze into wetsuits for our surf lesson on Thursday. That’s right, a truly Endless Summer. We were a little nervous because kiwis are renowned for their extreme take on sports, but it all turned out for the best. The waves were pretty mild. Surfing with Frank was amazing! He drilled the basics, but got the both of us standing within 20 minutes.

unparalleled form right here

We even advanced to surfing the “green faces” and turning, which he said was pretty good for first-timers. “You’re freaks,” was the actual language he used. We hear that there’s good surfing outside of Wellington so we’ll try to keep our momentum going. Who knows, the surf may now be a factor to consider when we look for our home-base back in the US!

hanging ten-ish

We ended our lesson with a dinner party hosted by Greg and Sue. We enjoyed some local fermentations, a massive pork shoulder, and a signature NZ Pavlova with some of the neighbors. Our crew included a surprising number of Americans who had moved to NZ, including the Putnams from Cape Cod and Kris from Michigan. After spending 3 weeks in Gisborne we weren’t at all surprised by their moves, but don’t worry everyone- we still miss you too much to stay here permanently.

we’re growing a taste for the local flavors

Which brings me to our next and last piece of business, the highly anticipated announcement of Sheap Travel’s political endorsement. Well the wait is over folks:

the ballots were a bit confusing this year

So while our votes won’t be counted in Massachusetts (little snafu with the absentee ballots on our part), just know that the outcome on Tuesday might sway our inclinations towards NZ a bit further….

Just Kidding! Politicians couldn’t really influence our plans that much. In the end they’re all just a lot of bark, and never much bite.

too bad Rover’s not a citizen, he’s 44 in goat years and his foreign policy is second to none

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After graduation my friends and I began a little tradition of sending out pictures on our first days of work. I truly enjoyed this tradition (maybe because I sent out so many “first day” pics?) and we’re going to continue it here. We’ll be posting about our first day of work at each venue that employ us so you can get a feel for our alternative livelihoods, in case you’re in the market as well. However, we imagine the pictures will be a little different…

Our first work/stay position is at the Crescent Valley EcoLodge on Waiheke.

A view of Crescent Valley from the gardens below

Each day Eliott and I switch responsibilities; one of us does gardening and maintenance around the lodge while the other works in the food cart that the owners keep in town. Around the lodge the jobs vary by the minute. We keep busy with trimming, sweeping, chopping, and shoveling. Our hosts are also caterers so there is some food prep as well. We’re pleased to report at this point that all limbs are intact and no food poisoning has been reported. Knock on wood and please say a few prayers—there is chain-sawing to be done next week.

Hard at work or hardly working?

Down in the truck, The Flamin’ Burger Food Cart, we are one of the island’s finest purveyors of organic, farm-raised meats complimented by locally grown vegetables and homemade buns. It’s spectacular kiwi fare, with daily lamb specials, venison, “American” hotdogs, and the colossal kiwi burger, which includes bacon, cheese, and a fried egg. Dave or Sue, our gracious hosts, handle the cooking while we prep sandwiches, manage the cash flow, and entertain the locales with our cheery accents.

Definitely ask for the special sauce

Learning about the NZ cuisine is one of my goals during this trip. So it’s great to see the cart in action. Two lessons I’ve learned so far: 1.)  A layer of mayo is standard on almost every sandwich, slightly upsetting for me- Hold that Mayo, yo.  2.) Kiwis order from the menu and they don’t expect special treatment. This second lesson is one we could definitely learn back in the states. Let’s face it people, none of us are really that special, but these burgers sure are…

Suck on that Guy Fieri

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