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Archive for the ‘Things I like’ Category

Southern Trees

I’m running out of good tree photos, but unearthed this one from a road trip we took around this time of year back in 2016. The trees are macrocarpas, which I have written about before here (they are just outside my window as I write this.)

These trees are on the southern coast of the South Island, where the winds blow in fiercely from the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. We had driven south from Queenstown, via the Te Anau and Manapouri lakes, and then took what I see the map calls the “Southern Scenic Route.” It is remote, for New Zealand. We drove through farmland, and alongside cycle trails, lost reception for even our National Radio channels, and hoped we wouldn’t break down, until we linked up with Route 99, and drove southeast to Riverton. My cousin lives in this lovely little harbour town, and she had recommended taking this route, partly to see these windswept trees. I’m glad she did, as it is a reminder of the often harsh environment in the south of our country.

You can see that the trees have grown leaning in one direction, trained that way by the winds, and the green tops have been sheered off, whitened by the relentless elements. But the trees have survived nonetheless, and the ones at the back stand tall, protected by their neighbours’ sacrifice. I like that.

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I have a lot of posts half-written now – or perhaps, less than half-written. But they’re not ready to go, and today I’ve been distracted with other chores, so I thought I’d share a photo or two from a very pleasant walk I took at the end of last week with my husband. When the wind drops in Wellington in spring, it is time to grab the opportunity and get out and walk. This year we’ve been trying to find new places to walk, because – perhaps due to the lockdown – I’m a bit sick of walking around my neighbourhood, frankly. For years we have been driving over a particular bridge at the beginning of a valley, and I’ve looked at the river and the walking paths along it and thought or said or both, “we really should walk up there one of these days.” But the decades passed, and we always drove on, needing to check in with the in-laws, and getting caught up there. Now that they’re gone, though, we felt free to park under the bridge, and take a walk.

It’s a simple path, made for dog-walkers and human walkers and cyclists, along a river. There’s nothing strenuous about it, but perhaps that’s the point. It is relaxing, we were surrounded by green, with trees with new spring leaves lining the river, and on the other side of the path, a couple of paddocks, a driving range nearest the bridge, and an expensive golf course next to the path. This was the adventureland of my husband when he was a child, before the driving range, and when the paddocks still had cows and sheep, and before the bypass was built on the other side of the river.

In the midst of some small rapids on the river was a fisherman, casting his line out into the calmer water. We tried to imagine what he was hoping to catch. “There aren’t any fish in that river!” my husband exclaimed. But the water was crystal clear, running down from the mountains without travelling through farmland or industry, and so it would make sense that there are a few. We were passed by the occasional cyclist, a jogger with a very tired dog, and we never caught up to the woman pushing the pram way up ahead of us. We eventually turned and walked back to the car. The exercise was good to have, but better than that, we had time to breathe some fresh clear air, enjoy the sun, and feel some peace.

Note: I did not play with the colours at all on these photos. It really was that green.

Can you see the fisherman?

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“There’s such joy in good simple food.” I said that to my blogging friend, Dona, this morning, on her daily delights blog. And with that, I knew what I was going to write about today.

Thai food is a real joy to me. When I first went to Thailand as a 17-year-old exchange student, I had never eaten Asian food. Rural New Zealand in the 1970s was not a place to find even Chinese food. I remember celebrating when our small town first got a burger truck. Food in Thailand was an adventure. We faced it with a bit of trepidation when we first arrived at a hostel where we spent a week’s orientation, learning a bit about the language and culture surrounding us. But as soon as I arrived with my host family, I fell in love with the food, cooked by my Thai mother and a maid. It was a revelation to me, and it is still my favourite cuisine. I had a lot of favourites, but one dish in particular was a dark, sweet, soup-like sauce with hard-boiled eggs. The sauce was phalo, and I knew the dish as Khai Phalo (Egg Phalo or ไข่พะโล้), but it can also be made with pork or chicken. I tried to make it once or twice when I got back to NZ, but without success. (I do make Thai curries once every one or two weeks though.)

I can’t remember specifically eating it when I lived in Thailand for three years, and so I hadn’t eaten phalo again until our trip to South Australia, when we stayed in a small village in the middle of the famous wine-making Barossa Valley, and found a Thai restaurant just down the street from the old stone cottage. It was the first time I’d seen it on a Thai restaurant menu outside of Thailand, and I was overjoyed. They made it with eggs and pork belly. It was amazing. Just a week or so ago, I hunted up a recipe that sounded right. I searched out fresh coriander with plenty of roots attached (coriander root is a critical ingredient in many Thai dishes), and made it. It transported me back to the dinner table in the garden of the house in Navatanee village on the edges of Bangkok, and the delicious food we ate there.

Then last night, because I still had some coriander bunches left, I decided to make my favourite picnic food. I soaked the glutinous rice overnight, then steamed it, as they do in the north and northeast of Thailand. It became perfectly sticky rice – which actually isn’t sticky at all. You can roll it into a ball in your hands, and it doesn’t stick to your fingers at all. It soaks up sauces perfectly, and has a unique flavour. I love it. To go with the sticky rice, I marinated some boneless chicken thighs in a paste made of mashed coriander root and stems, garlic, salt, pepper, and garlic for several hours, before barbecuing it until it was nice and charred. It was classic gai yang, or barbecued chicken, that you can find on roadside stalls all over Thailand, and the best I’ve ever made it. And I steamed some veges and made a Thai dressing with lime juice, nam pla (fish sauce) coriander stems and root, and a bit of sugar. The papaya salad (somdum) that would normally go with khao neeo (sticky rice) and gai yang (barbecued chicken) isn’t possible here, as I just almost never see papaya for sale, let alone green papaya that is essential for the salad. I adore somdum, and miss it, but at least the dressing I made was reminiscent of it.

Two meals that were transformed from mere fuel into a walk down memory lane made me so happy. It has been eight years since we were last in Thailand, and we had been planning going this year, but a global pandemic put paid to that idea. Still, if I can’t go there physically, maybe I can keep trying to recreate it in my kitchen.

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