We were privileged this past week to receive a visit from my old friend Nicole and her partner Neil. I met Nicole back in Fall 2004 in Swansea, Wales when I studied abroad for a semester. The two of us became fast friends and despite having a relatively large group of Americans and British friends while living over there, Nicole is the only one of them that I've remained in regular contact with. She and Neil were in town to carpool to Queenstown with Neil's sister, who is a dairy farmer near Christchurch. This is a good fact, because that means the two of them are likely to visit again before we leave and Kara and I both enjoy their company quite a lot. The four of us are peas in the same proverbial pod.
After giving them the grand tour of Christchurch (i.e., showing them the crater that is downtown) and chatting for a while at our place, I went with both of them to Neil's sister's dairy farm where I got to see how cows get milked industrially first-hand. It was crazy! The cows are on a 50-cow carousel spinning around as they get milked. And they like it; they really like it. I guess we've bread cow to have such large utters now that they are literally stomping their hooves in anticipation of being milked. They knew that they're doing from start to finish, with the workers hardly having to do anything more than attaching the milking device and removing it. Each cow gets milked twice a day, 12 hours apart, and only sits on the carousel for about 15 minutes or so. It was an amazingly efficiently operation. The cows here are also pretty much all grass-fed, free range cattle. Apparently the cattle are just as efficient as in the US, but live much happier lives.
I hate daylight savings time, it just is such a joke. I know farmers like to have light when they wake up, or something like that, but most of us aren't farmers and having to adjust all of our schedules for them is really a pain. Granted, I like the bonus hour I got last night with the end of daylight savings time, but I'll just have to give up an hour in six months. The trade-off isn't worth it. That being said, Autumn and Winter here are very strange. In the Northern Hemisphere, Fall comes with Halloween and Thanksgiving (at least in the US), and Winter is heralded in with Christmas and New Years. There's literally none of that here. I guess Easter is the equivalent of Christmas, but the anticipation for it is a lot less and its migratory nature on the calendar makes it just harder to get excited about. In any case, that's at the start of the season, too. In Fall. Winter in New Zealand literally has no major holidays, nothing to get excited about. And the lack of insulated houses is already making ours feel colder. Throw on top of that New Zealand Standard Time, with its sunset at 6:00pm and sunrise at 6:00am and you have a relatively dark existence. Until yesterday, our evenings were light and enjoyable, but tonight just feels like it's going on forever. The darkness came so suddenly, and I really don't like it. Granted, this is the time it should be according to the late Pope Gregory and his calendar, but if we stuck to the same time year-round, we could acclimate to this sudden darkness, not just get pitched into it. Blarg.
Cooking has gone somewhat to the wayside lately but I have been refining my sourdough and putting my jalapeños to use. The sourdough bread is becoming slowly better as the sour flavour comes out, but it's taking its sweet time. I'm not sure why it is taking so long, but at least I have the cooking end of things down pat. I've been using the bread machine, since it is insulated, to help the bread rise, while I can also use its mixing function to stir in new amounts of flour and water occasionally. While bread isn't the healthiest thing in the world, at least sourdough rises by eating its own gluten sugars, which means it is relatively sugar free.
Over the past two weeks, we've also made two batches of jalapeño hot sauces. The first batch was with green peppers and it is very much in the style of most taquerias, although it is slightly on the hot side. My red pepper blend, though, puts the other batch to shame. It is HOT, too hot, really. I dillute it with the other sauce when I use it, but man it's just fire. Because it was made exclusively with red peppers and a few sweet tomatoes (small ones), it has a slightly sweet taste to it, making it taste a bit like Tabasco sauce or Tapatillo, neither of which I like much. Fortunately it's so hot that you can hardly taste the old flavour anymore. I still have a whole bag of mixed peppers and we have a few more traditional chilis growing in the garden, all of which we want to use to make a hopefully milder salsa.
Lastly, I harvested the seeds from four (mostly three) sunflowers this afternoon, washed them, boiled them in salt water, and plan to roast them tomorrow. I'm not sure how they'll turn out, but Kara will eat them on our trip to the North Island if they are edible. None of the seeds look like the sunflower seeds in America, but Kara tried one and said it tastes pretty much the same (i.e., fibery). Fingers crossed that the seeds will be edible.
Ups & Downs
Another two weeks, another lack of hiking anywhere interesting. We drove around a lot, though, with Nicole and Neil. We finally visited the Christchurch Cathedral, which though in the middle of town is surprisingly difficult to get to. It looks awful still—much of it collapsed in the 2010-2011 earthquakes. We drove to Sumner afterwards and then up Summit Road to the top where we hiked to an overlook of Lyttleton Bay. Surprisingly, on the south bank, nearly completely isolated from the rest of the world, a whole little town was flourishing with a small craft harbour just near the mouth of the bay. So crazy. It must take those people 45 minutes to an hour just to get to Lyttleton and another 20 minutes to get to the nearest decent grocery store. Some people really like their isolation, I guess. Other than that and a short walk around the dairy farm, the weeks have been pretty dry with hiking. During our North Island trip, we are going to regret that fact very much as our feet collapse beneath us. Ugh.
Most of my time the past two weeks has been spent working on my thesis. I have a chapter due on May 1st which, to be fair, is still a month away, but I will be gone for two weeks of that month, beginning on Tuesday. I got all my book reading done for it but I have a number more articles to read. I've already written a 5,000-word draft of the chapter, but there are no quotes or citations in it yet and I suspect that large portions will have to be re-written before the end. During our trip, we both plan to work in the evenings when possible, despite wanting to check out the towns. Fortunately, for our sakes, the smaller towns along the way close down at night, and with daylight savings time now over, darkness may also convince us to not bother with going out at night. We'll see. We are in Auckland for three full days, though, and one of those days is designated for studying-only (within reason). It doesn't make for an ideal vacation, but I have to prove to my supervisor that I am capable of writing a thesis chapter. Hopefully this one does it. I have far more sources than I need and I also have quite a few primary sources, all in Modern French, Middle French, or Church Latin, so that's got to help me out some. We won't know, though, until it's submitted and assessed.
The Kiwi Way
Public holidays in New Zealand are a strange phenomena that cannot be explained by religion or logic. Easter, the pinnacle of the Christian holidays, wins the award for strangest of them all. First off, Easter is a big deal here, at least in regards to marketing. The United States has Easter egg hunts and candy and whatnot, but not like the Kiwis do. When you walk into the department store here, you get bombarded with giant chocolate easter eggs. They are everywhere. Large displays in the middle of the store and little bits here and there. And they have shark eggs, and dinosaur eggs, and Star Wars eggs, and, of course, Biggy Piggy eggs. Yum. Second, Good Friday is a public holiday. A mandatory public holiday. Only essential businesses are open, nothing else. Fair enough, except that New Zealand is one of the most secular states in the world with fewer than 48% of the residents being Christian divided between all denominations including Mormons. Saturday is, naturally, a normal business day, at least as far as Saturdays go. Easter Sunday itself, meanwhile, is sort of a holiday, but mostly in that Sunday-is-always-a-holiday kind of way. As a business holiday, Easter is celebrated on Monday (Easter Monday), which is another mandatory public holiday. See reasons why this is stupid above. Lastly, Tuesday is celebrated by some businesses as the increasingly silly Easter Tuesday, a holiday with literally no function other than to give people yet another day off for a religious celebration they don't celebrate. It mostly is for schools, probably so kids can return home from a long weekend or something. Woo!