Sisters in NZ

It is so wonderful to have Alli in our midst once again.

Alli and her friend Courtney arrived early two mornings ago, so we have spent two great days with them so far.  The first day, I had to work so Brendon took the girls downtown to explore the sights, sounds, and tastes that Auckland’s downtown core has to offer.  A visit to both Little B and Ben proved unsuccessful in actually locating Ben himself (it must have been his day off), but the girls did get to experience a mind-blowing cupping of the Amaro Gayo with beans that Alli brought back from Transcend Coffee in Edmonton. Brendon was excited beyond words, explaining to us later that he had tasted notes of black cherry.

We enjoyed a lovely picnic dinner that evening atop One Tree Hill, literally just meters away from some grazing sheep.

Some L&P was definitely called for on this location.  Lemon & Paeroa, also known as L&P, is a sweet soft drink manufactured in New Zealand. Traditionally made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town of Paeroa, it is now manufactured by multi-national Coca-Cola.

Day 2 held a trip to Auckland’s North Shore, beginning first with a stop at Jam Organic Cafe in Takapuna.

After a short walk on a cool rock ledge that borders the beach near Takapuna, we found a quiet little beach to picnic on.  I find this area especially neat because of all the volcanic rock on the shore, which must be the result of the erruption of the volcano on Rangitoto island many years ago.

While on the North Shore, we also made a trip in to Devon port, a quaint village that very much has a Victorian feel.  Art galleries, hand made jewelry shops, and Devonport Chocolates were among our stops.

We also stopped in for a stroll on Brown’s Bay, where we literally stumbled upon some star fish.

We were intrigued because some of the bigger starfish had up to 11 arms, while some of the smaller ones we saw initially had only 5 or 6.  We wondered if starfish sprout more arms as they mature, or if it’s a genetic thing that some are born with more arms than others.  Our questions were all answered when we found this medium-sized starfish with 6 long arms, and a number of stubby ones sprouting on one side.

Apparently they do grow extra appendages.

We head off today for a weekend adventure approx. 3 hours north of Auckland.  We haven’t really explored much outside the Auckland region yet, so we are excited to see what the northern New Zealand has to offer.

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New Zealand Bound: One Little Alli and her Sidekick Courtney

My Sister is on her way to New Zealand!!  24 hours from now, my sister, Allison, and her friend, Courtney, will be here with us in Auckland.  I truly can’t wait, as this has been a visit we have been looking forward to for a quite some time.  I have composed a lengthy list of “must see” places to take them to (within the Auckland area only), but I have a feeling that we may run out of daylight hours before we hit them all up.  I think it will be really cool to have Alli here to experience this place with us, for her to actually see some of the places that we talk about and experience some things, such as the taste of the NZ dairy, which really can’t be adequately described.  It will truly be a special visit, I am sure.

Alli and Courtney will be staying in the guest room of East Wing while they are here.  They plan to rent a car for 5 days and travel around to explore other parts of the North Island.  Alli will be here for three weeks, and Courtney for two.  I am sure that the time will fly by all too quickly, but it is gauranteed that some epic and memorable times will be had.

New Zealand Barista Championships 2010

The day began as all good days seem to: with a cup of coffee. Allpress Roastery was the venue for a great day of coffee exhibiting performances. There were many people who came out to enjoy the event, including our new Canadian friends, and the energy was tangible.

There was competition not only in the coffee but also in standing room and prime photo positioning.

With their well-rehearsed sets, 7 competitors: 2 representing Christchurch, 3 from Wellington, and 2 from Auckland went head to head, battling it out with their finest espressos, cappuccinos, and signature drinks.  This time, there was only minimal spillage, no ruin of signature drinks, no sweat droplets falling off competitor’s faces into judge’s drinks, and no overtime (though a few were very close).  The professionalism and level of knowledge and passion was indeed on display.

Brendon was the official timekeeper and runner of station 1, and was caught multiple times stealing sips from the drinks he took off the judges table.

David Huang of Espresso Workshop here in Auckland kicked off the competition with a solid performance and a signature drink that was slightly modified from last competition.

Laurel and Mel enjoyed the vintage turquoise cup and dish set of the second competitor, Matt Troughton.

Kayoko gave another fantastic performance, her many hours of preparation and meticulous practice showing in her high technical scores. I (Brendon) found her espresso to be probably my favorite of the day.

Nick Clark wore a great hat and gave an entertaining performance, definitely scoring points with the audience for his personality and flair.

Luciano Marcolino, a two-time champion previously, gave an intense performance, pulling some interesting moves that included getting the judges out of their seats and coming over to him at the other side of the table.  He also wore magic white gloves during his set up time, which we were intrigued by. He used a single origin Ethiopian coffee that was big blueberry flavor. His signature drink was fantastic, great smooth syrupy texture and bursting berry flavor.

Erin Luke gave an excellent performance that really let her unique personal style shine through.  Mel was fan of her super cute outfit and pastel cup set, and thought the colorful, fragrant bouquets of flowers were a lovely touch as well.

Hideyuki Kono gave an inspirational performance to an epic soundtrack (we have yet to determine which Disney move it was from) and presented an interesting drink that was more like a science experiment.  He placed a drop of a lemon syrup into a bowl of water containing some kind of chemical that would instantly gel the outside of the lemon syrup, creating a capsule that contained the lemon fluid.  The judges were asked to place the capsule in their mouth, then take a sip of his espresso beverage and break the capsule, releasing a burst of lemony flavor to taste with the espresso.  Having coached Hide in his training, Carl Sara was definitely nervous watching this performance, but all worked out in the end.

With a lineup of solid performances, no one could give a guess as to who might come out on top.  When the results were called, it was the seasoned veterans who took the top spots:  In third place came our friend, David Huang.  Second place went to Hide from Crafted Coffee in Christchurch. And a clean and intense performance by Luciano Marcolino earned 1st place from the judges.  The top 3 competitors have all touched the podium at this event in previous years, and all 3 receive a trip to London for the World Barista Championships.  Luciano will be the representative from NZ but all three will get to experience the great atmosphere and networking that takes place at the WBC.

We are proud of our Espresso Workshop friends for earning 3rd and 4th place spots in the country. David was needless to say a little disappointed, and having a flawless technical performance (the only deductions were from a crease in the table cloth and a finger print on the side of the machine), makes him realize that if his coffee was tasting just a bit better it would have made all the difference in moving up on the podium. Kayoko did great in her first year of competition, the many nights of practice showed in her poise under pressure and great technical score.

In conclusion it was a great day full of great people and great coffee. It was a very well-run event and kudos to Emma Markland Webster who again organized the whole day.  Following the presentation of awards, Allpress hosted a great reception with excellent food and drinks for all attending. Great company and conversation about the day and all things coffee related.

As the competition continues on the world front, we wish Luciano the best of luck as he reprents NZ at the World Barista Championships happening in London in June.  If anyone feels like sponsoring Brendon to go to this event, I know he would love to be there to meet up with his buddies from Transcend who will be there, as well as learn valuable things from the barista experts who will be there.  Brendon is now taking donations for this purpose.

The Littlest of b’s

Our friend and cafe owner Ben Boyle, owner of Ben cafe, recently opened up a second cafe downtown on Cross Street, affectionately named Little b.  The shop has been up and running for about a month or so, and we have been by several times to hang out.  Little b is in fact a smaller version of the mother cafe, Ben, but with some unique features that give it its own identity.

While it has the same marble countertop as its mother cafe, Little b has more of an edge.  The lightbulbs dangling down on cords from the unfinished ceiling, graffiti-style artwork, along with the exposed pipe on the side wall, give the cafe a raw, urban feel.  Little b also exudes a freshness that is exhibited in the wooden tree at the counter, and decorative grass bunnies that sit atop the large work table.

Jess, Ben’s partner, prepares all the baking and food for both cafes.  She does all the food prep from the kitchen in Little B.  Jess is quite the baker, and chef, for that matter.  While Ben’s cafes don’t offer full meal options like most other cafes do, they do offer a delectable assortment of sweet and savoury snacks.  Instead of trying to do it all, Ben has a clear focus on what he wants to provide for his customers and be known for: good coffee.  Similar to another cafe back home we are quite fond of… Transcend, you will forever remain in our hearts.

Ben and Matty roast all the beans for the coffee served in the two cafes in Ben’s tiny 3kg roaster at the original location. Along with high quality, fresh-roasted coffee in his espresso blend, Ben also features single origin coffee, available in syphon.  As far as we know, Ben is one of few cafes in Auckland offering this brew method.

Another draw to Little b is the building within which it is located.  The Ironbank Building is an ecologically sustainably designed building, with a unique, modern design, but more importantly some key features that led it to be named second best office building in the world last year.  Solar water heating, rain water harvesting, and a unique car stacking system are just a few of the features that set this building apart.  When in Auckland, this is one cafe, and one building, to check out.

Feels like home

All it takes is a few Edmontonians to make NZ feel like home.  It’s surprising how the presence of people from your home country, yet alone your home city, can be so comforting.  It’s easy to underestimate the value of having someone who understands what you mean when you say words like “winter,” “Oilers,” or “Garneau Theatre.”  The shared experience of having lived in the same city, and now meeting up on the other side of the world, is pretty crazy.

We just met up with Mark and Laurel this past week, but it was a meeting that was destined to happen sooner or later in our lives.  Mark and I actually went to the same high school in St. Albert, way back in the day, and I was in the same grade as his younger brother Jon. Interestingly, Mark and Laurel also attended and met at Taylor (NABC), two years before we got there.  And Brendon was Laurel’s brother (Andrew’s) RA at Taylor, and the two of them became good friends and ate lots of late nite Big Mac’s together.  I also went to the U of A with Laurel’s brother-in law, Tim.  Though this is truly the tip of the iceberg as far as our connections go, this is all to say that we have a ton of mutual friends who informed us of the other party’s intended plans to move to New Zealand.

While picnicing atop Mount Eden, watching the sun set, we marveled at our many connections, and got each other slightly up to date as to what we had been doing with our lives the past couple of years, and what had brought us to New Zealand.  Our first date with Mark and Laurel went pretty smoothly (from our perspective), and they agreed to the possibility of a second date.

We were delighted to meet Brandon and Kristen, friends of Mark and Laurel, when we met up at Pakiri Beach (near Goat Island).  Brandon and Kristen made the move from Edmonton to Auckland over a year ago, so they were the veterans among the six of us.  After a glorious afternoon of playing in the waves, taking in the sun, and throwing around a rugby ball on the lush white sands of Pakiri, Brandon and Kristen kindly invited us back to their house for a roast dinner.  We were even lucky enough to enjoy some fresh molten chocolate cake from Tui, the neighborhood baker, as well.  Even though the store had technically closed hours ago, the boys went down to see if they could convince Tui (who often stays late at the shop to bake) to sell them some baked goods.  Brandon’s persistent knocking, Mark’s charm, and Brendon’s good looks were enough to sway her into handing over one of her prize winning chocolate cakes, which lived up to the hype and was moist and decadent.

It was a great day and it seems somewhat odd to be hanging out with people from our own city on the other side of the world, yet at the same time, marvelous and comfortable.  NZ is developing one fine collection of Edmontonians.


Moments

It’s a weird thing to try and comprehend the reality of this journey that we are on.  In some ways, it feels like forever since we were living in our spacious basement suite in Millhood back in Edmonton, or drinking Transcend coffee or a Transcend chai, and spending time with friends.  But in other ways, we still experience a strong sense of connectedness to our people back home, thanks to skype, facebook, and traditional letter mail.  We can imagine how much harder it would be to stay in touch without these fabulous technological advancements.

The past 13 weeks have been a whirlwind of new experiences.  We’ve definitely had moments of questioning, “What are we doing here?”  Crazy Kiwis beeping their horns all the time… (no, Kiwis aren’t always super laid back, especially on the road)… it is often when driving or out shopping that I experience the deepest sense of alienation. Like when people are beeping and you have no idea why they’re beeping, or if they’re beeping at you, or when you just want to buy some inexpensive furnishings for your home, but don’t know where the deals are.

Feeling like a foreigner without a deeper sense of belonging can grow tiring.  There are times when it feels instinctive to call up a certain friend to hang out, but that friend isn’t in New Zealand.  We have a strong desire to get more connected and become part of a greater community here, but that process takes time.  We know that this will probably happen to a greater extent once we decide on a church to be a part of, and move out into our own flat.  A teaching job for Mel would also help with that feeling of being settled.  We are trying to not let the “unknowns” of our journey here affect our enjoyment of these times, and embrace the adventures of the present.

There are indeed other moments where it feels so completely natural to be here, almost as if to say “of course we’re in NZ.” The cafe’s the beaches and fresh produce make it feel so right.

We’ve been enjoying writing this blog, both for keeping our friends and family back home updated, as well as a reflection for ourselves.  In contemplating what to include in future blog entries, we would love to hear from you, our loyal blog followers, as to what you would enjoy reading about the most in future posts.  Feel free to post a comment expressing your thoughts on this.

Easter Down Under: Top 10 Highlights

1.  Easter Art Exhibit:  Birkenhead Community Church, on the North Shore of Auckland, held an art exhibit entitled “Reflections on Easter,” and featured over 23 original works of art reflecting the stations of the cross.  All works were recently created by local artists, some belonging to the church and others just from the area.  There were some really stellar pieces in the collection, and I thought it was a very cool way to reflect on the meaning of Easter.

2.  Sunrise Service on the Beach:  At 6:30am, an Anglican church called St. Mary’s on the Sea held a sunrise service on Torbay Beach.  Being on the beach and watching the sun rise over the water was a great way to begin the day.

3. Easter Morning Breakfast: Welcoming the day of Resurrection and reflecting on the hope that is ours with the Keels (Mimi, Tim, Mabry & Blaise) over a delicious Easter breakfast.  Mimi had the table decorated so festively with Easter egg plates and an abundance of chocolaty treats.

4. Feast of Gluten: Glutenous treats from dawn till dusk after giving them up for lent. Including but not limited to: Hot cross buns, Pain de Chocolat from a french bakery, cinnamon rolls, cae, and focaccia bread. Yum.

5. Post-breakfast hang out with the Keels:  All of us full of gluten and other good things, debating whether or not to give into the the urge to fall asleep, keep watching the boys playing Madden, or read food magazines.

6. The always loved and rarely-achieved afternoon nap:  All that gluten can tucker a person out.

7.  Sharing traditions:  We were surprised to learn that Easter meals are not typical in this land Down Under.  Easter itself doesn’t seem to be celebrated in the ways that North America does it (i.e. with large family meals similar to that of Thanksgiving and Christmas).  The Williams Family, who moved to NZ from Australia over a year ago, joined us at the Keel’s for what would be their first “traditional” Easter meal.  It was fun to share this new experience with them.

8. Mimi’s glazed ham:  Mimi cooked a delicious glazed ham that will be talked about for years to come, complimented by a delicious array of salads and other delicacies including deviled eggs and a blueberry cake.

9.  Bunny cake: No Easter is complete without a bunny cake.  Every Easter, for as long I can remember, my mom has made a delightful bunny cake, and I endeavored to continue that tradition here in NZ.  I couldn’t find a cake pan big enough to hold the whole batter, so I ended up using 3 little ones.  With the help of Blaise and Olivia, we pulled together 3 fantastic looking baby bunnies to feast on post-dinner.  Brendon kindly crafted some ears for our delicious new friends.

10.  Easter Fireworks:  Around 8:00 in the evening, we heard loud blasts from outside, and look out to see fireworks.  This is not just your average backyard fireworks show, but it is in fact a competition between two different parties to see who can set off the best show.  Surrounding neighbors clapped and cheered, and when we thought the show was over, it just kept going.  Apparently, no Kiwi Easter is complete without a round of fireworks.  He is risen indeed!

Autumn in New Zealand

We woke up one morning to find that fall had definitely hit New Zealand.  The air felt a lot cooler than it had previous mornings, with a crispness that felt new but also familiar.

I briskly walked to school wearing a “jumper” (sweater) and a wind breaker, nearly wishing I was also wearing mittens and pondering how it was possible that yesterday I had made the trip to school in short sleeves.  By late-afternoon, I was surprised to find myself in shorts and a tanktop once again.

It has officially been “fall” in New Zealand for a couple of weeks now, but we haven’t seen much evidence the change of season until just recently.  I’ve been curious to know what fall will be like here in NZ.  There are certain things I have typically associated with fall back in Canada.  In the past, the word “fall” has typically connoted for me the beginning of the school year, brightly colored leaves on trees, pumpkin flavored everything, children dressing up in costumes on the 31st of October, cooking with a variety of root vegetables and squashes, drinking Chai tea, and crunching leaves beneath feet.

They certainly don’t have Halloween over here in New Zealand, and I have been told that we won’t see a lot of the leaves changing color here in Auckland, although down on the South Island you will.  So far, I have discovered that the subtle changes that fall brings include a more drastic temperature change between early morning and daytime, creating the need for layering.  They don’t heat their houses here in New Zealand, nor do they insulate well, and so we have been told that we will have to get used to waking up and going to bed in a house that feels a lot colder than what we’re used to.

We have indeed observed a small percent of the leaves changing color.  There is a lovely tree outside our kitchen window here on campus that is exhibiting an odd color changing pattern.  Instead of the whole tree changing color at once, as would be typical in Canada, just select branches, or even single leaves on the tree are exhibiting a vibrant color change.  It is really quite intriguing, and lovely.

Not only are pumpkins a NZ favorite, but they are also abundant this time of year.  We have been doing quite a bit of cooking with the NZ crown pumpkin, in such dishes as soups, risottos, and salads.  Pumpkin is also common as a pizza topping over here… will have to try that one soon.

Just the other day, a teacher at school introduced me to a magical green fruit, about  the size of an egg, called a Feijoa (pronounced “fee-jo-ah”).  The taste and aroma of this fruit is really quite amazing, like nothing I have tasted before.  When asked to describe the taste of this tropical fruit, Breno says, “There are no words.”  Maturing in autumn, this fruit has a sweet, aromatic flavor.  The flesh inside is a sweet, juicy pulp, and as you move closer to the skin, the flesh becomes more grainy and slightly more tart.  It is eaten most commonly by slicing in half, and scooping out the pulp with a spoon.  This autumn fruit has quickly become a new favorite.

Also in season this time of year is the Cadbury Creme Egg.

Not sure if the news made its way to Canada yet, but the Cadbury Creme Egg has stirred up quite a lot of controversy this year.  In previous years, Creme Eggs were manufactured at the Cadbury Plant in Dunedin using NZ dairy, but this year, NZ imported their Cream Eggs from the UK.  There has been public backlash against Cadbury, including tv ads and facebook groups that protest the changes to the Cadbury Eggs this year.

What’s so different?  Apparently, “The centre filling is not as runny as it’s produced in a different way. In New Zealand, the filling would be injected into the shell version but in the UK .. it goes in as more of a blob,” says Daniel Ellis, spokesperson for Cadbury New Zealand.  The fact that it’s not made with world-renown New Zealand Cream does not sit well with the Kiwi Folk either.

Well we had to try out these “new” and “different” Cadbury Eggs, only to find that they were pretty much exactly the same as we were used to back home in Canada.  I sure wasn’t opposed to this year’s Creme Egg, and enjoyed the familiarity of this yearly treat.  I would, however, be most interested in sampling one of last year’s NZ-made Creme Eggs to experience that difference that everyone is talking about.  Maybe someone’s got one of last year’s batch still frozen in their freezer…

Although we hear that cooler weather is coming, we are still enjoying the +20 degree daytime temperatures as they hang around for the moment.  We are trying to make the most of this new season of Autumn in NZ, and experience all it has to offer.