It's less than two weeks until Christmas, but you wouldn't know it from looking outside. The only time you really catch a whiff of it is when you go shopping, where suddenly there are Christmas trees, garlands, and mall Santas dressed inappropriately for the weather. On the one hand it's pretty awesome. This time of year our yard should be full of snow to shovel, and instead we've got this:
Not bad at all. But celebrating the holidays in summer after a lifetime of white Christmases does toy with your brain. You feel like something's not quite right: what's really going on here, NZ?
So, to get a bit more into the mood and convince ourselves it really is Christmas, we decided to seek out some holiday cheer in Aotea square, where the spread was most definitely not traditional but still fun. We had some ice cream, enjoyed live music, learned about the electromagnetic spectrum, hung out with tons of birds, and flattened some old copper pipes (because, you know, Christmas). I am always happy to be in NZ when we travel outside the city, but today I really enjoyed just being in Auckland. It made me feel like a kid, which in its own way is pretty Christmassy.
Nothing gets you in the Christmas spirit like cookies, so when we got home we decided to make some. Our kitchen inventory is limited to whatever our landlords own, so no crazy shapes or decorative icing, but we found a recipe with some (I think) pretty festive flavors: ginger, brown sugar, dates, and walnuts.
We're not sure why they're called "Chinese Chews"-- I googled it and couldn't find anything definitive on the name. Given that this is an old recipe, it's very possible that this cookie is a little racist, so...I can't guarantee its integrity, but I can 100% vouch for its deliciousness. The hardest part is making the candied ginger (which is actually much easier than it sounds), and after that it's smooth sailing. Make it. Try it. It's delicious.
Oh yeah, vanilla extract is called vanilla essence here, so...don't go spraying perfume into your cookies. ;) Also, if it's not clear, our cookbook was written by a company that makes flour and baking powder. The first books were published in 1908, and since then it's become a Kiwi staple--like The Joy of Cooking in our corner of the world. When it first came out, couples could apply for a free copy of the Edmonds cookbook when they got engaged. Now it's the best selling book in NZ. Those sneaky devils.
Anyway, we hope you're all getting into the spirit back home. Enjoy the snow for us!
Walking through Cornwall Park, we discover that sheep have way more in common with ants than we ever would have guessed.
We also found the center of the venn diagram where public park meets farmland. We haven't had this kind of agrarian awesomeness in the U.S. for a while. I'm glad New Zealand is keeping the tradition alive.
This afternoon we took a short drive to Muriwai beach to see the Gannet colony. The land is striking: a mix of wide, smooth shore, rugged rocks and melting cliffs--and flax bushes everywhere. In early November we're starting to see those first truly gorgeous spring days. There were a good dozen surfers out, at least as many fishermen, and heaps of people like us on the trail to the colony. We got to a point on our path where the air thickened with the smell of guano, and we were looking out onto 1000 couples nesting over every square foot of rock. Nothing in such large numbers is ever cute--at least not for me. Give me a single ladybug and I'm happy. Show me 1000 of them in tight quarters and those adorable little bugs take a turn for the grotesque. But once I looked closer at the birds they charmed me: creamy white and gold-washed, Gannets are made up of beautiful, clean lines, with wings that fold in with the neat precision of origami. They glide through the air on those paper wings as open and still as a kite, cutting through wind gusts on barely a flap, landing like a hang glider. They reminded me of those first canvas planes, and made me wonder if it weren't for birds, would we ever have imagined we could fly? I get the feeling nature is more creative than any of us ever will be.
Rugby is kind of a big deal here. Every time there's a big game, gas goes on sale. People get up in the middle of the night to watch games on the other side of the world. The Rugby World Cup finals started at 5am this morning, and pubs all over New Zealand got special dispensation to open up their doors and sell beer before dawn. Getting up before sunrise to watch a game and drink beer sounded too crazy not to try, so we set our alarm clocks for 4am and headed to a pub in Takapuna.
What we didn't expect was to find almost every possible road closed for a marathon (of course there was a marathon). By the time we found a road that would take us there every pub in the area was already filled to capacity, and all of us stragglers were left to watch through the windows like a crowd of sad Peter Pans. Well, not too sad--I did feel a little teased by the promise of warmth and food inside, but it was fun to have a front row seat to many grown men jumping up and down in drunken group hugs, chat with the bouncer about highlights, and overhear friends tauntingly calling each other "Aussie" on the street. I'm not going to pretend to fully understand rugby, but there seemed to be just enough threat to make it an interesting game.
So I didn't get a chance to drink a pint at a ridiculous hour of the morning, but hey, it's always 5 o'clock somewhere.
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