Excuse me, Madam, but there’s a pumpkin in my soup.

Kumara.  Feijoa.  Silverbeet.  Courgette.  Capsicum.  Pumpkin.

Moving to New Zealand meant learning a new food vocabulary.  Some of the vegetables were the same, but I encountered many that I’d never heard of. Worse, there were some that simply went by different names. It took an embarrassingly long period of time for me to figure out that coriander was cilantro and the courgettes are zucchinis.

 

Red kumara

But there are entirely new things that I’ve encountered as well.  Kumara, for instance, is sort of like a sweet potato, but not.  It’s far more fibrous and starchy than a sweet potato and it has a very distinctive “kumara” taste.  The same for feijoas, an incredibly aromatic fruit that defies description.  Honestly, I just can’t explain what a feijoa tastes like, except to say that it tastes like a feijoa.

 

Feljoa

The most interesting vegetable I’ve worked with though, is the simple, unassuming pumpkin.  At home, the only time I ever ate pumpkin was in a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  Even then, the pumpkin came in a little convenient can, ready for the nutmeg and brown sugar.  Generally speaking, though, pumpkin is not used for dessert in New Zealand.  When I made pumpkin trifle as the dessert for my Thanksgiving dinner last year, the conversation with T went something like this:

T:  “What is that?”

Me: “Pumpkin trifle, for the dessert.”

T (Looking slightly green): “Uh, dessert?  Pumpkin?  Won’t that taste …”

Me: “Taste, like what?”

T:  “Uh, gross? It’s pumpkin.  It would be like having broccoli trifle. Oh, God, I think I’m going to be sick.”

(He loved the trifle in the end, by the way.  He said something like, “Sweetened pumpkin.  Who knew?”)

Poor T.  He is constantly subjected to my “experimenting.”  He’d like to forget the beetroot crisps of November 2010, and he’s not seeking a return of the chicken and prunes (my unfortunate foray into Turkish cuisine) anytime soon, either.

But once I got my head around the idea of pumpkin as both a savory vegetable (though it’s still inherently sweet) and as a main dish, my experimenting turned the corner.  The best result has been my pumpkin pesto pasta.  My good friend LA really likes pumpkin as well, so I figured I’d share this recipe with her and anyone else who might like to try pumpkin in something other than a delicious pie.

Jenn’s Pumpkin Pesto Pasta (serves 2)

 Ingredients:

One medium onion, coarsely chopped

5 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

3 cups diced crown (whangaparoa) pumpkin (acorn or butternut squash will also work if you can’t find a “sugar” pumpkin in the States)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

your choice of pasta (I used shells)

4-6 tablespoons of commercially prepared pesto sauce

Feta cheese to taste, reserving a small amount for garnish

Torn basil leaves for garnish

A word about pumpkin.  For my friends at home, the crown pumpkin looks like this:

 

crown pumpkin

It has a nice grey/green skin and is about the size of a two large cantaloupes. Again, if you can’t find this, the summer squashes will work as well.  You may need to adjust your roasting times, however.

In terms of working with  uncooked pumpkin, I have found that the best thing you can do is to cut the skin away first and then dice.  Otherwise, I find it too hard to cut.

 

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees (C)/375 degrees (F).

 

Toss the pumpkin, onion, and garlic in the olive oil. Spread evenly on baking paper (parchment paper) on a large baking sheet.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the mixture.  Bake until the pumpkin is nicely roasted and the onions are turning slightly caramel in color (about 20 minutes).

 

While the pumpkin is roasting, boil water and cook your pasta.  Drain and put back into pot.

 

Once the pumpkin is out, add it to the cooked pasta.  Then add the feta cheese and pesto sauce.  Toss lightly to combine.

 

Serve immediately with the reserved feta and torn basil leaves on top.

 

It looks a little something like this:

 

Jenn's Pumpkin Pesto Pasta

It really does taste better than it looks.  I promise.  And it’s very simple.  The tang of the feta is a perfect match for the sweetness of the pumpkin and the pesto brings it all together.

Yummy as.  (As they say in Aotearoa.)

The Accidental Sports Fan

I’m not really sure how it happened.  It’s inconceivable that it occurred at all, really.  I mean, I’m just not the kind of girl who gets into things like this.  But I did.  And there’s no turning back now.

You see, on Saturday, 20 March 2011, at approximately 4:30 pm, I realized that I’d become an accidental sports fan.  And not just a fan of any sport, but of cricket.  The greatest game ever played.

I was at a second-hand book shop and my choice came down to either “Sexual Palmistry: Unlocking the Power Within” or “How to Catch a Game of Cricket”.  Come on now, in a normal universe, that wouldn’t even be a contest.  Who WOULDN’T buy a book on sexual palmistry, for the sheer amusement value alone?  And anyone who knows me knows that I take a detour at the first whiff of team sports.  That’s, like, a hard rule.

But no.  No, I chose the wilder, more alluring path.  The one paved with images of the guys at fine leg, square leg, slip, and gully; the batsman at the stumps; the bowler ready with his orthodox spin; the beauty that is the game of cricket.  I went home with the book on cricket and read it in a day.  Then I checked out three more books on cricket from the library.

My fate was sealed.  Black Caps 4-ever.

The main fielding positions for cricket

Now admittedly, in the beginning, I didn’t understand a thing about cricket.  It comes in domestic and international forms, as well as short or long versions (more on that in a moment).  The rules seem designed to obfuscate their very purpose.  Basically, it looked like a silly, pointlessly complicated game.

My first taste of it was listening to the 2008 Australia/West Indies game on the radio on a rainy Christmas Eve night.  Insufferable was the word that comes to mind.  When the game replayed the next day (what I thought was a replay), the conversation went something like this:

Me:  “Why are we listening to this game again?”

T:  “We’re not listening to it again.  They’re still playing.”

Me:  “What do you mean they’re still playing?”

T:  “I mean they’re still playing.  It’s still the same game.”

Me:  “The SAME GAME?”

T:  “Yes.  It’s a 5 day test.”

Me:  “5 DAYS??  They play the same game for 5 DAYS?!”

T:  “Yes, of course!  What do you think a 5 day test is?”

Me:  “Insanity.  That’s what I think it is.”

T: “Then you probably won’t like the part where I tell you sometimes there’s not a winner at the end.”

I leave my reaction to your imagination.

But somewhere along the way, I learned how the game was played.  I saw how—over the course of 5 truly grueling days—a team could turn their fortunes around and win the unwinnable game (or lose the un-losable game, as the case may be).  I realized that cricket is an elegant contest of will, intelligence, and physical prowess.  I challenge any baseball team to play seven hours a day for five days straight with virtually no padding or mitts.  I don’t think most of them would last the day.

There are shorter forms of the game as well.  There’s Twenty20 (20 overs (sort of like innings) a side—like cricket on speed.  You can play a Twenty20 game in about 2 hours) and one day international (a full 7-8 hours of play) and one-day domestic (same).

You have to understand something.  The fact that I know that there are various forms of cricket is astounding.  More astounding still is that I know the players by name and even have a rudimentary understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.  Martin Guptil—amazing in the field, is hit or miss in batting.  Daniel Vettori—an adaptable freak of nature who has an amazing left arm spin and through seriously hard work has become a seriously good all-rounder.  I gasped when Scott Styris retired from all international cricket this week, and nearly wept when Vettori announced his retirement from the one-day form of cricket.  I know that Ross Taylor has been tapped as the new captain of the Black Caps, and I question whether he has the maturity and skill to lead the team.  I don’t question it because it’s something to question.  I question it because I’ve actually seen him play, heard him in interviews, and have a sense of who he is as a player and a potential leader.

This is very scary stuff.

I have always had a healthy disdain for team sports.  I never saw the point of them.  Admittedly, this may have had something to do with my basic inability to catch, hit, or throw small round objects masquerading as sports balls.  Being picked last (or the team protesting that they have to pick you at all) does something to you.  But despite that, my beloved Black Caps, and indeed the sport of cricket as a whole, have captured my attention.

I think it’s because I understand it now.  I understand why we watch grown men and women play with sticks and balls.  It’s more than a game.  It’s about the intrinsic concept of the human spirit.  Whether the human body will match the force of will required to say, “We WILL win this game”.  When it does match, it’s like witnessing a rare bit of magic.

I saw that happen in the New Zealand/Pakistan Twenty20 game at the World Cup in Barbados last year.  It was our fifth match against Pakistan, and we’d lost the first four.  It looked like we’d lose the fifth, after only putting 133 runs on the board (a very low score in this form of the game).  And yet, as Pakistan chased the elusive 134, the Black Caps rose to the challenge and forced them lower and lower into their batting order.  Finally, it came to the last delivery (ball).  Pakistan needed two runs to win. The bowler taunted Pakistan with the possibility of a big hit.  But Pakistan hit it high and right to square leg.  Waiting those few seconds (which seemed like an eternity) to see if the catch had been made was agony.  We won that game by a single run.  That was pure magic. And as I was screaming my head off,waving the New Zealand flag like a loon, I’d taken my first step towards becoming a sports fan.  Accidentally or not.

Pardon me, but do you know how to get to Downward Dog?

“Hello, my name is Jenn.

It’s been 11 months since my last yoga class.”

It’s a bit embarrassing admitting that.  I went from an average of 2 yoga classes a week to zero classes a year.  I’ve wanted to remedy it, but things always got in the way—a shocking lack of discipline chief among them.

It’s not as if I haven’t gotten exercise since I’ve been here.  Just walking home from the train sometimes required specialised mountaineering equipment.  (Okay, I made that part up, but there are some seriously steep ‘hills’ around here!)  But it isn’t the same as flowing through your vinyasas and really going for it in your Warrior poses.

Truth be told, I miss it.  I loved yoga.  I loved the way it made me feel.  I loved the mind/body connection.  I loved that I felt energized, strong, and centered all at the same time.  I haven’t ever found anything comparable.

Maybe that’s why I hadn’t found anything here.  I was used to my classes at home.  I liked them.  I didn’t want to have to do practice differently.  Or with different people.  Or in an upside-down hemisphere.  (Again, that’s just a bit of dramatic flair for storytelling purposes.  I’ve never been seriously affected by the different hemisphere.  Though, T would disagree with that.  Something to do with the time I fell into the car…)

At the end of the day, yoga was challenging enough.  I didn’t want the extra challenge of having to start over again.

Yes, yes, yes.  This is a big, deep, thinky metaphor for other stuff in my life, too.  Some days, I feel a bit too old to start over, to prove myself and what I can do. Sometimes I get frustrated and just want to shout, “Can’t you see who I am?  What I did?  What I accomplished??”  (Which, when you think about it, is waaaaay more embarrassing and shameful that admitting my fall off of the yoga wagon.)

I get over myself pretty quickly.   (Cheese helps the process immensely.)  Mostly because I realise that I’m framing my frustration in the past—what I did, what I accomplished, who I was.  None of that matters now.  And neither does the fact that it’s been 11 months since my last yoga class.

I think I found the answer.  Healium.

It was Healium’s bright, Robin’s Egg blue sign that caught my attention.  The fact that two lovely people from Philly moved to New Zealand and opened a studio clinched it for me.  Well, that and that the classes are convenient, close, and cheap. Regardless, there’s just something about this place that feels right.

I booked my first class for next Monday afternoon.  I forewarned the instructor that I hadn’t forward-folded in almost a year.  She smiled and said, “That’s okay.  We all lose and find our way again.  It’s just the way it works.”

I’m pretty sure she was talking about more than downward dog.

Like Sand Through the Hour Glass…

When I left Savannah a year ago—the heat already unrelenting, the sweet tea still lingering on my tongue, and my heart as excited to leave as it was sad—I had no idea that I would arrive in Wellington on an auspicious day.

June 14 is otherwise unremarkable, as I knew.  I mean, aside from being Flag Day, the day on which the Falklands War ended, and Women’s Day in Iraq, the date had little relevance to me.  The obvious exception that it marked the day that I took a chance (fuelled heartily by faith and blind curiosity) and moved to the other side of the planet, notwithstanding

But as it turned out, I arrived under the auspice of Matariki.

The arrival of Pleiades (Matariki) in the morning sky marks the beginning of the Maori New Year.  It signals a shift in season, a time to come to know yourself and your whakapapa (genealogy).  It is a time to reflect on the year that was, and the year that will come.  It is about regeneration.  Reinvention.

So yes, how auspicious it was that I arrived on the date that marked the beginning of a new year and a period of reinvention.

I’ve had a lot of adventures, more lost-in-translation moments than one would think possible, moments of incredible joy, moments of heartbreak, and lots of other moments this past year.  And so, now that Matariki has come back around again, now that June 14 has come and gone, I’ve taken stock of what I’ve learned about myself this last year.

I should mention that what’s great about living some place so far removed from “home” is that the lens people see you through is vastly different.  In one place, I might be considered demure; in the other, on the decency side of brash.  (I’ll leave you to work that one out).  It’s through that lens shifting that we really come to know ourselves, I figure.  So.  Onto the “list.”

The most surprising thing I learned is that my faith is incredibly important to me.  Living in the South, religion and faith are interwoven into everything we do, socially, culturally, and even in business.  New Zealand in many ways is as far removed from this as possible.  At home, I felt like a bit of heathen.  Here, I feel like people are afraid of the real possibility that I might spontaneously break into a Hallelujah or ask if I can get an Amen.  Okay, not really.  I don’t think I’ve ever asked if I can get an Amen, nor am I likely to.  But the reality is, I have faith, and it’s stronger than I realised.

I suppose for accuracy, it bears mentioning that there is the pre-conceived idea in New Zealand that if you’re from the southeastern United States, you have a bible for every occasion.  Whenever there’s a bible question in the Dominion Post’s daily quiz, the invariable response is, “Ask Jenn.  She’s from the South.  She’ll know.”  I can’t get too upset, because I usually do know the answers, but come on!  Who DOESN’T know the deal about King Solomon and the baby??

I also learned that you can take the girl out of the South, but you NEVER take the South out of the girl.  Nothing more needs to be said.

One of the hardest things I learned is that I don’t miss home as much as I thought I would.  That’s not a reflection on my life, or my family and friends.  I think it’s just a reflection on me.  I love living abroad.  I love discovering new things.  I love the point at which I realise that we’re all the same at the end of the day.  I suspect New Zealand is the first stop in a life-long pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

It’s not as if I never get homesick or frustrated or miss the comforts of the sameness of home.  I do.  Lots of times.   The joy of discovery overrides it most days.  But there are days when all I want is a sweet tea, a biscuit with peach butter, the ease of friendships that began a decade ago (or longer), and the Savannah sunshine.

But most of all, I learned that no matter where I live, I’m still me.  My core self hasn’t changed.  I’m still Jenn.  Just Jenn.  And I hope I’ll always be that way.

Maybe it’s true that you can never go home again, but I think I finally figured out what the guy meant when he said, “Where you go, there you are.”

Handmade

This past weekend, I played with wood glue, learned where the shank of a lamb comes from, what to do with a cow’s cheek, how to refashion broken pieces of jewellery, and make envelopes out of old calendars. I made soap and learned how to make fabric baskets out of scraps.

No, it wasn’t summer camp. (No glittered macaroni was harmed in the process of this weekend.) I attended Handmade2011. It was an inaugural event in Wellington, two days of recycling, upcycling, freecycling and cycling out of wholecloth your own furniture, clothing, accessories, and food.

At the end of the event, and assuming you’d taken every class offered (impossible), you could:

Have a homegrown dinner party, which included your own beer and cheese, as well as a palatable cow’s cheek, served on your homegrown greens and legumes. Then, you could eat your truly-made-from-scratch meal on your new dining room table, made of salvaged wood and pressed tin tiles. While wearing your new dress stitched together from two others you no longer wear. And accessorised by your new necklace, earrings, and charm bracelet made from those broken bits at the bottom of your great-aunt’s old jewelry box.  On the table, you’d have hand-stitched and upcycled linens.

You could then clean everything up with your homemade liquid dishwashing soap, laundry soap powder, and cake soap.

Afterward, you could send yourself a thank you note for such a lovely meal on your woodblock printed cards in envelopes made from your 2009 French Impressionist calendar. Maybe even drop off a flower arrangement snipped from your urban garden and put into a vase, which you salvaged from Trash Palace (the dump’s ultra-cool salvage shop. Think Dumpster Diving for the chic.), and tarted up with tissue paper wound around the base in a Japanese origami style.

I know a lot of people who would find the above scenario quite … quaint. However, the cool factor of recycling is quite high in Wellington. Indeed, throughout New Zealand.

Buying things second-hand does not come naturally to me. Neither does growing my own food. I have, however, come to embrace both concepts. The reality is, we are a small, remote island. Resources are limited and things are expensive. You don’t encounter the same “disposable” culture we have at home, whether it’s applied to food, clothing, or home goods. You can’t. And so you learn. While it wouldn’t have occurred to me to go to Good Will at home for anything other than a costume, here, I find dresses, skirts, and tops for work. I darned a fitted sheet the other day, simply because I couldn’t stomach buying new sheets when just the bottom needed a few stitches to get us through the winter.

But the idea of handcraft has always come easily to me.  Ask any of my friends who have been subjected to my brief forays into beading, card making, and my misguided belief in the versatility of popsicle sticks.

Maybe it’s my intrinsic belief that things made of my own hand mean more.  Are worth more.   Maybe it was growing up in the South, where you made pies for your neighbors and pickled anything that moved.  It’s a bit nostalgic, really.  A throw-back to a time when life seemed less complicated.  Is it any wonder that we yearn for that now in the “modern world”?

But mostly, it was nice to find another point of shared bliss between “home” and home.  It was like the embroidery thread of shared beliefs darted from one end of the world to the other, binding  my two homes together more closely, one elegant (or not so) stitch at a time.

 

Home is Where … Well, Where is Home Exactly?

I’m making my New Zealand residency application tomorrow.

I specifically chose Tuesday, 24 May 2011, to make the application. It’s not a particularly significant day, except that it’s approximately 3 weeks until my work visa runs out, and more than 11 months since T and I have been living together (a critical aspect of the residence application). I found it to be the King Solomon choice of days (though no theoretical babies were theoretically harmed in the choosing of this date).

It’s important that you know that it’s not a date than anyone has mandated but me. So, the obsessiveness with which I have required friends, family, and power companies to comply with my deadline is, perhaps, a bit over-wrought.

But then, I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t slightly obsessive and over-wrought. For instance, I’ve penned the date in Outlook and invited T to attend with me through his Outlook. (We’ve even booked lunch afterward. Also through Outlook.) I’ve made sticky notes and posted them in various places, like on my jewellery box, my desk at work, and on Georgina, my Apostrophe Police giraffe. I’ve made check lists and tick boxes. I’m on version four of my Summary of Information. My black binder of supplemental material (complete with tabbed sections and a half-page bullet point outline, followed by a 4 page comprehensive outline, detailing why I meet all of the qualifications for residency) is two inches thick.

I could probably have gone into Immigration New Zealand with a shoe box of papers in complete disarray, but no. That’s not my style. Over-preparation and a critical eye for apostrophe use (or misuse) is my style. It simply wouldn’t do to mark this kind of Major Life Event with anything but my own special punctuation.

And yes, I would classify applying for residency in a foreign country as a Major Life Event.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been so neurotic. I’m, of course, not giving anything up by applying for residency here, but it has a sense of permanency to it. A sense of, “Savannah is no longer my home.” But Wellington doesn’t quite feel like home yet, either.
At times, I feel like I’m living in between two worlds. Or maybe a better description is that I feel like I’m sailing in a beautiful sailboat, but I have nowhere to land. I have no anchor. Admittedly, that last bit gets into some very deep water, suitable only for 2 am conversations when soused on good wine or bourbon. But I think you can understand where I’m coming from. No one wants to feel, oh I don’t know, unnecessary, I guess. Or like you don’t belong. (Any more.)

It is an irrational fear, I know, but one that bubbles up at times when I long for the ease and comfort of front porches, cheap wine, and the kinds of conversations you can only have with your closest girlfriends—the ones who really know you and to whom you never have to explain or justify why you are the way you are.

But then, I’m reminded of a new friend. A work colleague who has lived a life as heart-breaking as it has been amazing. She’d commented several times on my silver charm bracelet from my Savannah friends, loving the sentiment behind it.

At Christmas, she gave me a greenstone necklace, a pounamu, if you’re in the know. These are very special gifts, ones that you cannot buy for yourself (bad luck).

When she gave it to me, she said, “This is so you always know that you’re a daughter of New Zealand. That Aotearoa has claimed you. It’s so you know that you whether you’re pointed North (Savannah) or South (New Zealand), you’re always looking at home.”

 

Taco Ephiphanies

I had an epiphany today while waiting for my vegetarian taco. No, it wasn’t that I was eating a vegetarian taco, it was that I had lived in Wellington long enough to recognize the constancies of the city—the sort of “in-jokes” that you can only get after living in a place long enough.

I had this epiphany while watching a sinewy black cat stroll across the wooden benches along the Wellington Harbor waterfront today, looking for cuddles and left over tuna. It wasn’t his first time. He’s an old pro with a soft touch. He doesn’t so much wait politely for a handout as he demands one by perching himself half on your thigh and half on the bench. He’s quite a picky little thing. I have learned that while he will eat my chickpea salad, he draws the line and carrots and cabbage.

The cat is not the only Wellington fixture. There’s also the busker in the train station who actually plays pretty well and is always ready to sell you one of his homemade CDs.

Or Blanket Man, a homeless man so famous that when he returned to Wellington after an unfortunate absence, his arrival made the paper.

But I suppose the real epiphany is that with every sighting of the things that make Wellington feel familiar, Wellington begins to feel a bit more like home.

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