A winter's afternoon.

In the last four days, we have wild, windy weather and three power cuts.

I don't mind, since our roof is firmly attached and we have a woodburner.

We get a break every now and then.


Christmas in June? Are you mad, woman?

While I’m on the subject of holidays, I know I’m not the only expat in New Zealand who thinks about Christmas at this time of year.

There are quite a few expats who are originally from the northern hemisphere living in NZ.

Hotels in town usually advertise Christmas dinners (not that I necessarily recommend that you go to any of these), and offices and other groups have Christmas in July parties.

At this time of year, it really does seem like a northern hemisphere Christmas.

It's mid winter. The days are short, and the nights are long. It’s cold. It’s a perfect time for roasts, yuletide puddings, a cozy fire, and maybe a mulled wine.


Today is Father’s Day--in America only.

In New Zealand (and Australia), Father’s Day is September 6. Or 6 Sept, as we say in N Zed.

Having Father’s Day fall on a different day in the US is really inconvenient. I get confused about which day Father’s Day actually is, because it’s not in June on NZ calendars. And in June it’s nearly impossible to find a Father’s Day card. So my poor dad in America usually misses out. Sorry, Dad!

The real issue is that my husband has been getting to celebrate two Father’s Days. An American Father’s Day and a Kiwi Father’s Day. Clearly, this is not what the universe intended.

As we live in NZ, we will be celebrating Father’s Day 6 Sept, and only 6 Sept. And in September I will be stocking up on Father's Day cards, so next year I will appear clever and organised. Oh, and I’m starting my Christmas shopping.



Where are you from?

Whenever I speak, people hear my accent, and of course they know right away that I'm not a native New Zealander.

Where are you from, they ask politely.

There are a few ways that I can answer this question. Sometimes I say, San Francisco, which is the last city that I lived in. But usually I just say, Ohio, which is where I grew up.

My accent is all over the place. Surprisingly, a few people have guessed that I'm English. But not because I have a posh accent.

At least I don't mumble.

A couple days ago, I wrote this post. And then, coincidentally, today in the Dom Post's Saturday magazine, there was a nice story on the New Zealand accent. I would link to it, but I can't seem to find it online.

Edited to add. The brilliant article in the Dominion Post was by David Killick.


I really like Norfolk pines.

dedicated to my parents who are celebrating their wedding anniversary

Norfolk pines are not native to New Zealand, but they are widely planted here.

I think they look like Christmas trees.


I want to opt out.

Lately, I have been refusing to participate in surveys. Here's an example of a recent call:

Survey: I’m from a market research group, and I need to know if there is anyone between the ages of 18 and 34 in your household to take a survey.

Me: No, there is no one here in that age group.

Survey: I’m happy to have a person in the household take the survey anyway. It will take five or ten minutes...

Me: There is no one who wants to take a survey here.

I don't want to be rude, but I practically have to hang up on her to get away.

I know these people are just doing their jobs. But there is something intrusive about being cold called at home.

I would be much more receptive to direct mailings.


Don't forget to lock the door.

New Zealand is the world’s most peaceful country. It’s been mentioned here and here and here, and now I suppose it’s my turn to rub it in blather on about just how peaceful life is in NZ.

It is peaceful. There are such low levels of violence. Maybe because of strict gun control. The police are not generally armed. Children can walk to school by themselves.

However, NZ has its problems. Last week there was a rash of burglaries in my village. The thieves entered back doors that had been left unlocked, and they also forced a window open. They took wallets and the keys to a car (the thieves even managed to steal that car). The deli and the hairdresser's were also broken into. Shame.

Edited to add. About the blathering. I was just talking about me. Those other bloggers (that I linked to) are very articulate. They don't blather. Really, I've got the blathering covered.


Some of the best caffeine in the world.

In the Dom Post’s Saturday magazine (sorry, I couldn’t find a link), London cafe owner and former Wellingtonian Matthew Clark was quoted as saying, “It’s universally acknowledged that New Zealand has some of the best caffeine in the world.”

Um, really?

Well, I suppose New Zealand’s coffee has improved. When I first arrived in New Zealand, the Kiwis that I met drank instant coffee at home. Once, as a special treat, my husband made coffee in a percolator.

Now that I have been living in New Zealand for a few years, I can see the appeal of instant coffee powder. Like if I was tramping (hiking) in a remote area. Although in that situation, I just might prefer tea.

In fact, I was expecting a nation of tea drinkers, and without a doubt, the tea drinkers are a very prevalent group. Coffee drinkers are simply a different breed.

Kiwis drink their tea and coffee white (with milk), at any time of the day or night. If you want to get strange looks at the cafe, order an espresso. Otherwise, the flat white is a nice concoction. It’s sort of like a latte, but with less milk and less froth.

The popularity of coffee in NZ has been a welcome surprise. And at home, I have grown to love my coffee plunger. I never thought I would admit this, but it is completely superior to my American drip coffee maker.


See, all the best and brightest do move overseas.

New Zealand is a great place to live, if you are not ambitious and you are not driven by a need for material things.

You probably never will get rich in New Zealand. Or even be able to pay off your student loans.

One in five Kiwis have left New Zealand for greener pastures overseas. And Australia is one place that Kiwis go, as NZ citizens have the right to live and work there.

Last week, my husband was offered a promotion in Brisbane. A big step up on his career path, and the salary would be like THREE TIMES what he makes now. In Australian dollars.

And I actually like Australians. Sometimes I wind my husband up by telling him how much I like the Aussie accent.

Anyway, then we saw that story on 60 Minutes about Paul de Gelder, the navy diver, who was attacked by a shark in Sydney Harbour (and lived).

All of a sudden, New Zealand seemed pretty darn good. We’re broke and we can't afford to buy a house, but we have better lamb and cheese. We can swim in the harbour and the sea. There are no snakes and no crocodiles. Just a few Australian spiders. The possum is not protected. And the child can wander into the bush with no worries.

Well, the child could get lost in the bush, and we never would be able to find him, but at least he would not get attacked by a croc.

Wellington Harbour, in March.


Sausages in beer.

It is comforting and enticing to smell my dinner cooking in the slow cooker. And it takes so much pressure off the dinner hour, when the child is just getting out of his bath.

Here is another recipe adapted from Joan Bishop’s New Zealand Crockpot and Slow Cooker Cookbook. I love you, Joan.

Lately, I’m having fun with recipes that call for wine or beer. I feel all chef-y and the sauces are great.

Sausages in Beer
6 sausages (I used venison sausages)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup tomato paste
1 can beer
1 cup green peas, thawed if frozen

Preheat the cooker for 20 minutes. Don't forget, like I did, or dinner will be a bit late.

Heat a frypan, add some oil and cook the sausages until brown. Remove from pan, let cool, and slice each sausage into four pieces on the diagonal. Put the sausage pieces in the cooker.

Turn down the heat and add the carrot, onion and garlic to the frypan, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and beer, mix and bring to a simmer. Pour into the slow cooker, stir, and cover with the lid. Cook for 2 ½ hours.

Thirty minutes before serving, add the peas. Served over mashed potatoes.

And the child ate it. Well, some of it. Don't worry, the alcohol cooks off.


Mashed potato, mashed potato.

Mashed potatoes are cheap and easy to make. They are great with sausages or roast chicken.

Mashed potatoes
Peel four large floury potatoes (I like Agria) and cut into quarters. Half fill a medium pan with water and bring to a boil. Boil potatoes for approximately 15 minutes until tender. Drain cooked potatoes, then mash with a nob of butter. Add a little milk at a time and continue mashing potatoes until creamy.

Edited to add. At Wellington Road, we make a dairy-free version, with dairy-free margarine and rice milk. Still delicious!


Please don't pop in on a recluse.

When I first moved to New Zealand, my husband and I lived in a suburb of Wellington.

It was where my husband grew up, and at the time, a lot of my husband’s mates still lived there. They would stop in unexpectedly to visit us. All the time.

Can’t they ring us on the phone first, or at least send us a text? I would ask, exasperated to be found at noon or later in my pyjamas.

No. Kiwis value hospitality. You are supposed to hide any inconvenience to you and go out of your way to make visitors feel comfortable and welcome.

One of my husband's mates stopped by so often that I started calling him The Pop In.

My mother-in-law popped in, just as I was getting out of the shower. I was walking naked from the kitchen to the bedroom. And once my husband’s sister popped in, while we were Doing It.

So we started trying to remember to lock the door. But if we did remember to lock it, some persistent visitors would try the back door, or just continue knocking.

For a blissful short while, we didn't have as many visitors calling in as we used to. Of course, we moved up the coast, and most of my husband's mates moved away, to Auckland and Australia.

Now I think I might be on the brink of gaining real acceptance in the village. My acquaintances are starting to pop in more and more. Bugger.


NZ wine is world class.

New Zealanders have a grudge against the French. For nuclear testing in the Pacific and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. Don't even mention the rugby.

So for the Kiwis, beating the French, at anything at all, is very satisfying.

In the past few weeks, there have been a couple stories comparing French and New Zealand wines. That's right, French wine. The best of the best.

There was a story in the Dom Post about the $1800 French Bordeaux that LOST, in a blind test, to a $60 Hawke’s Bay red.

And there was a story on Campbell Live about a French winemaker who came to New Zealand to learn a little something about winemaking.

These stories are examples of the Kiwi insecurity complex. If you visit New Zealand, you will notice, from practically the moment that you deplane, that Kiwis are asking you what you think of New Zealand. And they want to hear that New Zealand is world-class.

This low self-esteem comes from being a little country with big aspirations. A little country in the middle of nowhere. A sure way to rile up a Kiwi is to suggest that there are no world-class cities in New Zealand.

Luckily, with NZ wine, the claims of being world class are holding up well. Especially, in my opinion, for riesling, pinot noir and syrah.

NZ wine. Too good to quaff.


Another easy dinner.

It had been ages since we had had risotto. I don't know why. It is so easy and satisfying.

There is quite a bit of stirring involved, but as usual, the child was happy to help.

Red wine risotto with mushrooms
adapted from Julie Le Clerc

4 cups of very good chicken or vegetable stock
Olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup red wine
Salt and pepper
4 large mushrooms (eg, portobello)

In a saucepan, heat stock. Heat another large pan, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and the onion, then cook over low heat for 5 minutes.

Raise the heat and add rice and garlic. Stir for two minutes. Add the wine to the pan and stir over medium heat until reduced. Add a cup of the hot stock and stir until the stock "disappears" and the mixture is nearly dry.

Continue to add stock, a cup at a time, until it is all absorbed, and the rice is tender to the bite, about 15-20 minutes. Season to taste.

At the same time, pan fry mushrooms in a little oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve mushrooms on top of risotto.

Even the child liked it.


Super easy, quick dinner.

It had been a very long time since we had had Hokkein noodles. You can make this easy dinner in 10 minutes.

1 tbsp oil
400g pork or chicken
stir fry vegetables
400g Hokkien noodles

Stir fry sauce:
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp black bean sauce

Mix together ingredients for stir fry sauce in a bowl and set aside. Heat wok (or your stir fry skillet) and add oil. Add meat and stir-fry until brown. Add stir fry vegetables (I used carrots and celery, sliced on an angle, and spring onions) and stir fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the Hokkien noodles and stir-fry sauce and cook for one more minute.

Slippery Hokkein noodles. So good.


I might not be the first Yank to live in this bach.

After the child was born, we moved to a village up the coast from Wellington. During WWII, American marines were stationed near this village. And it's possible that our house was an American officer’s house.

It’s definitely a bach (Kiwi for holiday home).

I used to think bach was pronounced like the composer (instead of like "batch"). And my husband never lets me forget it.

Please don’t get him started on how I used to say Dunedin (“Dune-din”).

My husband has painted three sides of our house. The fourth side is not being painted. And no, these windows are not double-glazed. Our landlords totally have a cash flow problem.


It's the Queen's Birthday.

Baffling holidays are part of an expat’s life. There are the holidays that are celebrated differently, and the holidays that aren’t celebrated at all. And then there are the new holidays.

Even though New Zealand is almost a republic, we still celebrate the Birthday of the Reigning Sovereign.

Of course, as a Yank, I was taught to oppose the idea of monarchy.

I’m also opposed to winter, which officially begins today.

Oh, well. Any excuse for a long weekend.

The Queen's real birthday is in April.