The Golden Age

I am unimaginably homesick today.  I know this because I desperately want Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  The kind that comes in the blue box, with the envelope of cheese-like powder, and the old-school elbow macaroni.   It looks something like this:

This is remarkable, because I haven’t eaten Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in probably a decade.  One day I looked at the neon orange cheese-like powder and said, “This can’t be right” and walked away from the KMC.    

Cheese-like powder. 0_o

KMC was a staple of my childhood.  It was cheap, effective, and about one of the only things I’d eat.  I still remember the salty tang of the sauce made from the cheese-like powder.  I have fond memories of that cheese-like powder.  (And yes, I find this as disturbing as you probably do). 

The thing is, I don’t really want the KMC.  I want the comfort of a nostalgic past, one that is swathed in a blanket of peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese and blissfully free of discord and struggle. 

KMC is my golden age. 

While—again—this is likely disturbing, I’d like to think that all of you know what I mean.  We have memories, objects, places that anchor us to what we think of as the best parts of ourselves, the best parts of our past. 

This leads me to talk about two things: stuff and movies.  These are two of my favourite topics.  I could jaw about stuff and movies all day long.  Be glad that I don’t. 

But on the topic of stuff, why do we have it?  Why do we keep it?  Why do we fight like hell to be the one who has Grandma’s old, broken-down faux-crocodile handbag? 

This may be too simplistic, but in my mind, we keep stuff—especially other people’s stuff—because the stuff is something we can wrap our hands around, something we can feel, something we can say, “Yes, this is you.” 

I am, of course, talking specifically about dead people’s stuff.  I am thinking specifically about my mom’s stuff. 

It hit me the other day that next week will be the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death.  It does not weigh heavily on me, per se, but it is remarkable how present it is in my mind.  Perhaps it’s because I’m quickly approaching the age that she was when she died.  Perhaps it’s because it happens to coincide with Thanksgiving this year, and I am very far from a home of four-day holidays, pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce, and Black Friday.  Perhaps it’s simply because I miss her and wish she were here to help me figure out where I’m going and whether I’m making the right choices.   It’s hard being a responsible grown-up sometimes.

Sometimes, you feel like you’re in uncharted territory and you’re trying to hold it together in such a way that everyone assumes you know what you’re doing. 

Actually, let me revise that. 

I think most of us go through each day feeling like we’re in uncharted territory.  I think we careen and bump along from one side to the next and just pray that we get through the day without seriously screwing up the relationships and the things we value most. 

When we feel like that–when we’re breathing a bit more quickly than normal, feeling uncomfortable, and far outside of what we know–I think most of us yearn for our own KMC golden ages.  Looking back at the known past is easy; facing the uncertain future is hard.

Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, explores this very issue.  Of course, it is gorgeously shot, has a great soundtrack and relatable characters, and patented “Woody Allen patter”.  It’s so much more than that, though.  He explores this idea of “golden ages” and comes to the conclusion that the only true golden age is the present.  The right now.  This moment. 

I like that idea.  As uncertain as we feel some days, as much as we mourn the things (the people) lost, as fondly as we remember the past (including cheese-like powder and blue boxes of macaroni), the reality is we also create joy in *this* moment, in *this* now.  Our feet may be anchored in the collective experiences of our past, but if we’re lucky, our arms are spread wide and open, ready for the unknown adventure that is our future.

What a thrilling thing.

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Home again, home again, fiddle-de-dee-dee

“You can never go home again.”

I’m not sure who said that, but I have to disagree. You can go home again, and it can be a wonderful and poignant experience. At least that’s what it was for me.

To explain my six-week absence (in part), I went home for three weeks. Back to Georgia. Back to North Florida. Back to everything I knew before moving to New Zealand.

I’ll be honest. I was nervous about it. I was afraid that I would see my beloved cities and friends through different eyes. I couldn’t bear the thought of that, really. What if I didn’t feel connected to anything anymore? What if my friends had moved on without me? What if the US felt foreign and like a scratchy shirt, cut strangely, and two sizes too small?

The reality is, I did see everything through different eyes, but not in the way you might imagine. There was no rejection, only thankfulness and appreciation for my past. For my friends. For my family. For my life.

Maori have the concept of whakapapa (Fawkahpahpah), which is used to mean genealogy. What it literally means is layers stacked upon layers, with papa defined as anything flat and hard, like a stone, for instance. Imagine a building of long, stacked stones and that is whakapapa. Whakapapa is our foundations.

That got me thinking. What are my cornerstones? What are my capstones? Are my layers strong and supple? Can they withstand a good shake? As it turns out, they can. I joke that you can take the girl out of Georgia, but that you can never take the Georgia out of the girl. It’s not really a joke, though. It’s my whakapapa.

All of us have whakapapa. Some of us (like me, admittedly) spent a long time pushing it aside, trying to forget it, trying to find something that I perceived as better. There are a lot of reasons for that, many of which are valid. But the reality is, even if you believe that you can’t go home again, you can’t run away from yourself, either. Our layers run deep and long and they are more firmly entrenched than we could ever possibly imagine.

I left Georgia three weeks ago with the profound sense of knowing who I am—more than I knew myself before, I think. I left Georgia knowing that the people I count as my closest friends are my friends for a reason. Loyal, kind, and true. I left Georgia knowing that there is much to embrace about my family, even if there’s a lot to reject, too.

The experience that best sums this up, I think, was visiting my grandmother in her new retirement village patio home. She’ll be 92 in January. She’s much frailer than the last time I saw her, but she’s still spry and sharp and full of fire.

I spent the day with her, talking about family, friends, and other important things. As the day drew to a close, Grandma turned to me with a serious expression on her face. She leaned a bit closer and I could see her lips twitching, ready to tell me something important. I was ready. Waiting. I leaned in too.

“I don’t like the new girl who fixes my hair,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.

“What?” I asked, blinking a bit, not sure if I’d heard her right.

“My hair. It’s all flat and lumpy. I can’t go out of the house with this flat and lumpy hair. She’s nice enough, but she’s young and she doesn’t know how it’s supposed to be fixed.”

With that, she pushed herself up from her chair and started shuffling towards her bathroom. “Come fix it for me, Sug,” she called out behind her, her Southern accent drawing out the diminutive of Sugar into an elongated, Shuuuhhhg.

Dutifully I got up and followed her. I found her waiting patiently in front of the bathroom mirror, teasing comb in hand. For the next five minutes, I backcombed, fluffed, and backcombed some more, her sharp gaze watching and making sure I was getting it right.

We chatted about silly things, like the time when I was seven and I convinced Grandma to have my hair cut short, only to be deeply hurt when the other kids in the neighbourhood thought I was a boy. We chatted about my mother and the crazy things they used to do ‘Way Back When’ to get curls in girls’ hair.

I reached for the industrial sized can of Aqua Net beside her on the counter and gave her a good spray. I refused to think about the environmental sins I had likely just committed.

“Better?” I asked her as she craned her neck this way and that, looking at her hair from all angles.

“Better,” she said as she shuffled out of the bathroom and back to her chair.

It was only later, while driving to Savannah that I thought about the significance of that very small moment. The rituals and history of families—even estranged ones, ones separated by thousands of miles—can never be completely undone. How, in that moment, I realized the breadth of my whakapapa and what it meant to have history.

The day I called the Wellington Central Library a toliet

I confess.  It’s true.  I called the Wellington Central library a toilet.

It was completely unintentional.  You see, I called it a wharapaku (pronounced FAR-eh-pah-koo), instead of a whare pukapuka (FAR-eh-poo-kah-poo-kah).  The importance of this will soon become clear.

I have always loved languages.  Over the last few years I have slowly been delving into Te Reo Maōri, which is the Maōri language.   It is an evocative, beautiful language.

But even if I didn’t love learning new languages, living in New Zealand requires a very basic understanding of many common Maōri words and phrases.  Regardless of whether you’re Maōri or Pakeha (non-Maōri European), everyone knows that you eat kai (food); that when you say Kia ora, you’re informally saying hello; and that the world needs more aroha (love).  Morena is “Good morning” and ka kite ano (pronounced kah KEE-tay AH-no), roughly translates to, “See you again.”  Iwi (pronounced EE-wee) refers to a tribal family, but it also means bones. 

Place names in New Zealand are often made up of component words and are poetic translations.  You can usually puzzle out what many words mean simply by knowing what each component means.  For instance, Aotearoa (OW-te-ah-row-ah) translates to land of the long white cloud and is the Maōri name for New Zealand. 

Another good example is Wainuiomata (pronounced Why-new-ee-oh-mah-tah).  Wainuiomata is a suburb of the HuttValley, just outside of Wellington.  Wai means water.  Nui means big.  O means of, and Mata could refer to a person’s name.  So, one possible translation is ‘the place of Mata’s big water’. 

I did a little bit of Googling to see if I was right.  According to wainuiomata.net, I was close.  It states:

The origins of the word are disputed, but one commonly accepted translation refers to the women who came over the Wainuiomata Hill to evade marauding tribes from the north, and who sat wailing by the stream after the slaughter of their menfolk. From this we have ‘faces streaming with water’ or ‘tears’ although it could equally refer to the large pools of water which lay over the swampy surface (face) of the northern end of the Valley, and which led to that area being known to the first settlers as ‘The Lowry Bay Swamp’.

 See?  Fabulous.  There are all sorts of great stories behind the origins of Te Reo Maōri words. 

Te Reo Maōri is also constantly evolving.  For instance, traditional Te Reo Maōri didn’t have a word or concept for airplane.  So the Te Reo Maōri translation for airplane is waka rereangi, which literally means canoe sailing in the sky.  (Generally speaking, waka refers to any and all forms of transport). 

As part of that evolution, you find a lot of transliterations in Te Reo as well.  The traditional word for Monday, for example, is Rāhina (RAH-hee-nah), but its transliteration is “Mane” (pronounced, MAH-neh). 

To be fair, though, knowing a little Te Reo is like knowing a little French—you generally wind up unintentionally insulting someone when trying to ask for a glass of water.  And that’s exactly what happened when I called the Wellington Library a toilet.

The word for toilet in Te Reo is wharepaku, which (as I understand it) translates roughly to small (paku) house (whare).  (Though in this sense, I think “small” is less of a description of size—which would more likely be “iti’—than a description of stature). 

The word for library whare pukapuka roughly translates to house of books. 

I realise that these are very distinct concepts and words.  However, for someone who knows so little about the language, wharepaku sort of kind of maybe sounds a bit like whare pukapuka. 

So, as T and I strolled through theWellingtonCBD one Saturday afternoon and I pointed to the grand Wellington Central Library and said, “Look, it’s the wharapaku!”, you can imagine why he choked on his soda and started laughing. 

As you can see, the Wellington Central Library is not insubstantial. And it is definitely NOT a toilet!

Te Reo Maōri is an official language of New Zealand, but there was a time when children in school were forbidden to speak it.  There was a time in the not so distant past when it seemed as if Te Reo would die an unceremonious and needless death.  Through many recent efforts and much encouragement—both private and public—there is now a slow and steady movement towards more New Zealanders having a working fluency in Te Reo. 

I tell this story (and give you this lesson) because I think it’s important to preserve indigenous culture.  A huge part of that preservation is maintaining a base of knowledge of the language.  Without the language, we are lost.  I realise it may seem odd that an American living in New Zealand is saying this.  Maybe it is odd.  I don’t know.  I guess part of it is that so much of the Native American culture is now lost, as are the people, the languages, the crafts.  The history.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so keen on this topic.  For me (and for my wounded pride) I hope that means that many, many more people will proudly (albeit mistakenly) point to the library and exclaim, “Look!  There’s the toilet!”

To Wellington, with love

I had intended to blog about a recent disastrous skirt purchase, but after walking the waterfront this morning, I decided that an open love letter to Wellington was in order. There was just something a bit magical about today, a jumble sale’s worth of mish-mashed activities and things all coming together and reminding me what I love best about Wellington and New Zealand.

My day started like most Sunday mornings.  I walk to the Sunday Market almost every week.  The Sunday Market is a farmer’s market, first and foremost, but is also a haven for foodies and those who live by the idea of local, organic ingredients.  In addition to my onions and broccolini, I can get fresh fish; ethically farmed and butchered venison and lamb; and organic, free-range eggs.  I can also enjoy an authentic quesadilla, Cantonese noodles, Roti, Brazilian barbecue, French pastries, and Maori specialities, all while listening to a variety of buskers singing the likes of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and traditional Maori songs.

Placard for a Sunday Market food stall

Brazilian barbecue, anyone?

Delicious jams and cakes for sale!

 

 

This is the view that greets me when I leave my apartment and head towards work (or in today’s case) the Sunday market. People say that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  It’s true.

Wellington, on a gorgeous day.

One of the best parts of my Sunday morning is spotting the markers for the Poet’s Walk.  This one perfectly describes what the day starts like in Wellington.

On the wharf, part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

Before I got to the market, though, I came across this.

Of course I had to take a quick glance.  A quick glance turned into an hour and the purchase of two signed prints and a new handmade leather journal.  But these tickled me.  “Hotties” are essential in the winter here.  I never understood the joy that is a hot water bottle nestled at your feet until recently.  And of course, a hot water bottle by itself is boring.  It definitely needs some tarting up!

"hottie" covers, handmade from felted wool.

Finally on my way to the market, I stopped at Te Papa (the national museum of New Zealand) and enjoyed the window displays.  In addition to everything else going on, Wellington is also hosting the World of Wearable Art, or WOW.  It is a celebration of art displayed on bodies instead of canvases, with endless categories.  This is a display of a dress made of ground tarps and bottle caps.  Amazing!

One of the previous WOW dresses, made from industrial materials.

Detail of the dress: painted tarp ruffles and bottle caps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally getting to the market, I elbowed my way through the throng and snapped up veggies for the week.  Avocados and peppers were on sale (usually $3 and $5 each, respectively this time of year), and I heard the voice of veggie tacos calling.

One of the veggie stalls at the Sunday Market

Care for some Japanese bok choy?

On my way back—ladden as I was with veggies, prints, a new journal, and a chocolate brioche from Simply Paris’s (a gorgeous little French patisserie just down the way from our apartment) market stall, I stumbled across another one of my favorite Poet Walk quotes.

Part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

I reflected on that as I strolled home and I thought about everything I’d see today—the ingenuity, the creativity, the community coming together, and the meld of disparate cultures and ideas, all melding together into one dazzling day—and I realized that’s what I loved best about Wellington, what I love best about New Zealand.

So, to my beautiful Wellington, thank you for always making me smile and for reminding me on a daily basis all that is truly good and wonderful in this life.

Yours,

Kiwijenn

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel: Day time TV in Kiwi-land

Instead of spending the Fourth of July foisting American barbecue standbys on my Kiwi and other ex-pat friends (in the middle of winter, no less), I’ve spent the last two days in bed with a horrible case of the flu.

Today was the first day that I felt human, so I migrated to the couch and turned on the TV.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  But here is what I do know: daytime TV is terrible, no mater what country you live in.

Here are my musings on daytime TV, Kiwistyle.

First of all, from what I can tell, there is no Kiwi daytime programming (aside from the news).  Instead, it’s mostly American and British programs, with a few Aussie shows thrown in.  This is sad, because I’ve really fallen for Kiwi programming.  “Outrageous Fortune” is an absolute gem.  It tells the story of a West Auckland family (wrong side of the tracks, location wise) trying to rise above their low-level crime roots and make an honest go in the world.  Well, at least that’s what the matriarch of the family would like.   It was raw, foul-mouthed, racy, and not something that would have ever flown on American TV (from the naked body parts and preference for dropping the F-bomb at least 10 times per episode).  But it was full of the real stuff that people—all people—grapple with: love, redemption, grief, mercy, and greed.

I watched all six seasons over the course of several weekends a few months ago.  Too bad it finished its run last year.  It really was an amazingly good show.

Then there’s the hysterical “7 Days” comedy show on Friday nights.  Two teams of irreverent, politically incorrect comics commenting on the last seven days of Kiwi news through a series of challenges.  These guys (and gals) are sharp, smart, and seriously funny.  There’s a unique brand of Kiwi humor that is hard to describe.  Dry and incisive, like the Brits, but broad, like the Americans.  Well, if you’ve seen “Flight of the Concords”, you probably know what I’m talking about.  It’s an intriguing mix and one that I really like. If you can youtube Ben Hurley, do so.  At his best, he will have you in absolute hysterics.

I’ve even gotten hooked on a show called “Go Girls”, a show (from what I can tell) about five 30-somethings trying to make meaningful lives in Auckland. (Apparently, the only people who live in New Zealand live in Auckland.  We Wellington folk—the capital of the country, by the way—merit little more than the Parliament channel.)  Again, while some of the women are just so beyond my reality, I know women like them.  Mostly, though—like a good, forgettable pop song—it has a good beat, and I can dance to it.  Kiwi comfort TV at it’s finest.

I even find the curious and somewhat provincial “Country Calendar” enjoyable.  I’ve learned a lot about organic, sustainable farming and bee keeping.  You know, essential skills for my day job.

But back to daytime TV.

Where are my Frasier reruns?  Friends?  No.  No, instead, I get some show called Emmerdale, which is apparently a British soap opera set in the Yorkshire Dales. There’s really nothing more I can say about that.  Mostly because I didn’t understand anything that was going on, or what anyone was saying.

Then there’s The Fashion Show, a terrible knock-off of the far superior Project Runway. I’m sorry, Kelly Rowland, I love your music, but you cannot match the power of Heidi Klum’s austere frown and her definitive “You’re Out!”  And Isaac Mizrahi?  I love your designs, but you’re no Tim Gunn, either.

T and I are addicted to Project Runway.  Admittedly, we’re about a year behind from when the current series originally aired, but if Mondo doesn’t win, we’re both going to be screaming: “He was robbed!”  (The utterance of this phrase usually only occurs when we watch the rugby).  The final is this Thursday.  I’m away for work, but we’ve vowed to internet chat with each other throughout the episode.  We’ve only ever done that once before–the “Outrageous Fortune” finale.

Switching back to the daytime TV issue (sorry, I’m easily sidetracked.  I blame it on the flu). Mildly enjoyable from the accident-on-the-highway perspective is a show called the Jeremy Kyle show.  Imagine Jerry Springer with bad British accents and in which every story involves a DNA test.  However, after too many of the “Is he or isn’t he the daddy” stories, you start making a game of it.  Yes-yes-no-yes-no-no-yes.

One show I actually liked was a British show called “Come Dine with Me.”  The premise was a group of 5 people who eat at each other’s homes every night, scoring each host as they go.  Catty!  Fraught with kitchen disaster!  Terrible décor!  What more could you want?  This was like the prime rib of daytime TV. So of course, it was nowhere to be found today.

Rachel Ray rounds out the day.  I didn’t like her at home, I don’t like her here. Like The Fashion Show, she ain’t no Oprah.

Fortunately, the day is almost over and watchable TV will soon be on.  In fact, I should go.  Coronation Street starts in an hour.

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.)