A Kiwi Thanksgiving

What do you do when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and doesn’t have turkeys, cranberries, and all other “Thankgsiving-ish” foods available in late November?  You improvise.

Yesterday, T and I had our second annual “Kiwi Thanksgiving”, which consists of Chinese takeaway and homemade desserts.  Why Chinese takeaway?  Because I was so over trying to make things from home in a place that doesn’t have things from home, that I just gave up.  Chinese it was, and it was delicious.  It all started with the dessert, you see.

Last year, I made gingerbread pumpkin trifle.  It’s a thirty minute recipe, assuming you have gingerbread mix, Cool-whip, Libby’s canned pumpkin, and Jello vanilla pudding mix.  When you have none of these things, it’s a five day recipe.  Between roasting pumpkin, whipping cream, researching how to make pudding mix (this could be the subject of a blog post all on its own!), and paying $10 for a bottle of molasses to make real gingerbread, this became the most expensive and time-consuming dessert in history.  To make matters worse, when I was finished, I was universally confronted with the following questions:

“Pumpkin for dessert?  Really?  Why would you ever do that to a pumpkin?”

These questions were usually followed by slight shivers and vaguely green cast to the skin of the questioner.

This year, though, I was prepared.  Not only did I make sure I had vanilla pudding mix from home, I used crushed gingersnaps instead of gingerbread.  And I made sure to make two other desserts–chocolate pecan pie and cranberry orange apple pie.  That, plus some creative papermaking ideas from this blog, and I was set.  We had sixteen guests this year, and plenty of orange beef and egg foo young to go around.  Here are some pictures from the event.

To all of my friends at home, happy, happiest of Thanksgivings to you.  Know that I thankful that all of you are in my life.

Our buffet table. (I spent an hour ironing that sheet. I'm not very good at ironing...)

My Thanksgiving "fast facts". Did you know that Thanksgiving used to last for 3 days

The thankfulness basket--anonymous and read aloud after dinner. This is always fun. Especially when you can tell who wrote what! We got a lot of thoughts of thankfulness for good friends and family, but a few thoughts for bare-chested, very fit men running in the summer.

Banners! (We, perhaps, went overboard)

Dessert!

What says Thanksgiving like Chinese takeaway!?

why not have some fun with the descriptions?

Yes, one more banner....

And finally…

The Thanksgiving Smurfs are courtesy of our good friends Anna and Paddy, who found them in a second-hand shop last year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all I know and love!  To my friends at home, eat some pumpkin pie, cornbread dressing, and cranberry sauce for me.  (And some turkey, too!)

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.

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

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.)