Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The changing of seasons, especially from summer to fall, always makes me long for home. A sense of cosy comfort, a place to curl up with my knitting (or quilting), warm tea and watch the world change in its own infinitely beautiful way. As much as I am enjoying Christchurch and New Zealand, I find myself of late feeling quite unsettled and nesty. I look through home decorating books, browse the blogs of young mothers and try harder and harder not to think about what we'll do after I graduate. Most importantly, make a home.

I'm homesick for a place that is still only in my dreams. Just waiting to be born.

Hmmm. . . . . I have an idea.

In other more exciting news, we helped one of our friends celebrate his 30th birthday. He's a big car guy, so we whipped him up a sporty green '77 Corvette Stingray (which just happens to be his - in real life too, not just cake life).

It proved a success and was later followed by a smaller and more economical mini (which was also devoured).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Home Again

It's been an exciting few blogs, so I thought I'd bring it down a little and update you on the little things we've been up too.

My fervor for quilting has not abated and I've been stitching together a quilt top for our bed, as well as continuing with Kierans quilt. All I did was go to my favorite fabric shop, pick out my favorite fabrics and put them all together. I quite like the modern looking outcome. I even left a nice white patch where the cat likes to sleep so she can do her own designing with her fur.

Stephen on the other hand has had an exciting week. Thus, the note I received:

Sorry, short post today. But you now all know what happened to Stephen and his argon.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cooking with Possum

Photo courtesy of

Well, it's done. Last night I pulled the possum out of the fridge and wrestled it into a pie. As it baked away in the oven my stomach was in knots - would it be good, would it be ok, would it be edible? I had searched the internet to no avail and none the game recipe books at the library made any mention of possums, even in the sidebar. What was I to do? I had to make it up.

The one note I had read at the library mentioned that cooking game in wine helped reduce the chewiness that is often associated with game. So some wine, stock, juniper berries and sage all went into cooking the meat. Lovely strong flavours to complement the possum. And what to put with the possum? Well, kumera seemed like a good place to start, a semi-wild food as well, the sweetness of it might help balance the strong gamey flavour. Then carrots and beets, two tasty, earthy foods drenched in the gravy made from the stock liquid and wrapped in a flakey pastry crust. I mean, how does that not sound good? Oh yeah, possum.

While the pie cooked away in the oven I was also concerned with what I might serve it with. I'm used to meat pies, and game meats in general, being served with a delicious fruity chutney to contrast the richness of the meat. Unfortunately, all I had in the freezer were blackberries (another semi-wild food here) so they would have to do. I was surprised and a little hopeful at the glorious (and very rich) smells that were emanating from the kitchen - perhaps not all was lost.

After almost at hour in the oven, the crust was nicely browned and I wanted a taste, so I pulled it out of the oven and cut myself a piece. It certainly smelled good. I dropped some chutney on the plate beside it and tucked in.

It was delicious. Amazing. Very rich and tasty with pockets of sweet, earthy beets. Wow!

I took it next door where we were meeting with our neighbours and offered it out. There was certainly a poor reception to start, but once Stephen (he had to taste it - it was our dinner that night) said it was good, a few of the braver folk tasted it and came to similar conclusions. Yessss!!!

So I have attached the possum recipe here in case anyone else in the world decides one day to give it a go. I found about 4 different recipes on the internet (all involving lots and lots of chili peppers) so this will vastly improve the culinary choices for cooking with possum. I hope those of you who try it enjoy it as much as we did.

Awesome Possum Pie

*Note: make sure you have a freshly killed (ie., not poisoned, or diseased) possum and age it appropriately in a cool place. We left ours in the fridge for a good 3-4 days. Also, the fat on possums is not good, so remove as much as possible before cooking it.

1 small possum, skinned, cleaned and jointed
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 - 1 1/2 cups red wine, Merlot was good
10 juniper berries
4 sage leaves

6-8 kumera, depending on size
a knob of butter
a splash of milk
Salt and pepper to taste

2 carrots
3-4 small beets
Olive oil

~1 Tbsp. butter
~1Tbsp. flour (equivalent to however much butter you put in - you're making a roux)


1. While jointing the possum, try to remove as much of the thin film covering the meat as possible, this will save time later. Place in a stock pot with stock, wine, juniper berries and sage leaves and enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature and simmer covered for ~1 1/2 hours.

2. Peel and chop kumera, place in boiling water and cook until soft. Drain water and place pot back on stove (heat turned off, the element should still be warm), mash kumera with butter and milk until you desired consistency of mash is produced. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3. Chop carrots into small cubes. Set aside.

4. Slice beets thinly and place on pan. Oil lightly and bake in oven at 200oC/400oF until soft, about 20 minutes.

5. Make flakey pastry of choice and chill in fridge.

6. Remove possum from pot, retaining stock liquid for later. Once the possum has cooled to touch, remove as much meat from the bones as possible and place it in a bowl. Discard bones.

7. Now, make the gravy. Place the butter in a pot and cook over medium heat. Once the butter has melted add the flour and stir until mixed. Keep stirring a little longer to toast the roux (this adds a little flavour and removes the floury taste). Add 3/4 - 1 cup of possum stock liquid (skim off the fat) and whisk until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and heat until the desired consistency is reached.

8. Add your meat and the carrots and beets, mix until everything is evenly coated. Pour into prepared crust. Spread the kumera mash over top and place in 200oC/400oF oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the crust is a nice golden brown. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes.

Best served with a lovely berry chutney. Mine was made with frozen blackberries (recipe at


PS. In New Zealand it is a widely known fact that possums are carriers of Bovine TB which humans can contract. However possums who contract this disease usually die within 6 months and are extremely rare to find (~2% chance of finding a possum carrying it). Other wild game, like deer, chamois and hare can also be carriers of this disease, but no one mentions this. . . .is there perhaps some bias here. To learn more, check out

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cass-Lagoon Saddle Tramp

Stephen has been on holiday now for nearly two weeks. Last weekend, we took the opportunity to do a little tramp in the Craigieburn mountains just 2 hours drive from Christchurch. A lovely group of mountains where there are 5 ski fields in winter and thousands of sheep and cattle in summer. We skied here a few times last winter, so we thought we might explore it in summer as well to see what back country potential it held for the upcoming ski season.

The trip started on a decidedly relaxed note as we slept in and went to the Lyttleton market to finish up our groceries for the trip and the week. It was a lovely cool morning, so we were quick to pick up our blueberries and apples and got back home by 11am. Then we quickly (yet relaxedly) finished packing, stuffed it all into the car and left. By about 1pm - definitely off to a good start.

After dropping off Stephen's bike at the end of the tramp (a good 10km by road) we parked in the little parking lot and headed off down the dirt road that was our trail. Cass is a rail stop on the Arthurs Pass rail line, the pass we were heading for into the Craigieburn range was named after the station which was named for a pioneer surveyor who surveyed the area. Presumably there is or was a Maori name for the area as well, but that has been wiped from the maps and minds.

The afternoon sun was lovely and warm and kept our spirits high for reaching the first hut before dark - but the long shadows kept us marching at a faster speed than normal. Unfortunately, this also meant there were to be no pictures on this part of the trip. Apparently, it slows me down . . . so we marched down the road, across the river, up the river and onto the trail. And on and on and on and up and up and up.

As the valley got narrower, the sky got darker and the air got cooler. We were definitely racing for a shelter now. The first hut, Cass Saddle Hut, has only 3 bunks and with four other cars in the parking area there was the distinct possibility someone might already be inhabiting the hut - which to Stephen meant we would have to keep marching to Hamilton Hut (another 2-3 hours hike). I on the other hand knew where I would be sleeping and it was not another 2-3 hours away. However I kept this to myself and doggedly marched on behind Stephen.

We reached the hut at the top of a steep climb from the now trickling Cass River. Tucked into a little clearing in the beech forest, the hut, although tiny, shone with the promise of warmth and a place to sleep. It was empty. Hooray! We dropped our packs and collected some firewood for the little stove inside. As I worked away on the fire, Stephen got dinner together and cooked us up some delicious stir-fried rice. We tucked ourselves into bed on our plywood bunks and slept.

Kind of. There was a mouse.

Scuttling about, we could hear it digging through our bags. . . .and into our food. Stephen lept out of bed (ok, he crawled out - neither of us was eager to get out of our snuggly nests) and gathered together all the food and hung it from a nail in one of the roof beams. I told him about the candy in my backpack, but he figured it would be ok (foreshadow warning!!!). Once back in bed, he switched off the flashlight and we both tried to sleep with a noisy mouse scuffling around.

At some point, I must have slept because I woke in the morning to sunlight filtering through the roof window. Stephen was already up making a fire and getting breakfast on the go (scrambled eggs - yes, we camp posh because we carry no tent). The eggs were delicious, but our warm beds were calling so we crawled back into them and slept for another little while. Ah, how relaxed you feel when there is absolutely to rush to get anywhere in particular. Eventually, we got out of bed, dressed and began to pack. Which is when I discovered to my horror that our candy had been infiltrated and pooed on in a most rude manner. I mean geez, couldn't he at least have shat outside the bag, then some of it might have been rescueable. It appeared as though we would have to continue without candy. A palpable sense of animosity and blame floated throughout the hut, until Stephen told me about the two giant chocolate bars we still had. All was saved and we could continue with no deaths.

The day was absolutely gorgeous. After a 5 minute hike we emerged into lovely alpine tussocks and spikey plants and climbed gently towards the saddle. The valley behind us slowly disappeared, while the world in front of us opened up. A new landscape to explore and learn. We followed the side of the mountain a little ways watching the keas fly overhead, examining the map to see which ski field we were behind and where this winters turns might be had.

We dropped down into the beech forest and quickly lost elevation. I was sorry to loose the view, but the forest was pretty ethereal with lichen draped over the gnarled old trees as they clawed their way up to the sun. Tiny rivulets of water trickled their way amongst the tangled roots and fell laughingly down into the valley below. Eventually, you could see blue and yellow in between the twisted trunks and we emerged rather quickly into the open grassy river valley. At the far end, where the forest crept back to the rivers edge, we could see the hut tucked up on an embankment, mountains rising up all around it.

Hamilton Hut is absolutely fabulous. It is a serviced hut, so has 20 bunks (with cooshy mattresses), a big fireplace, tables, benches, counter tops for cooking on, running water (spring fed) and amazing views. We dropped our packs, took off our boots and just enjoyed the birds, the river, and the quiet. We had the whole place to ourselves. Although it was only lunchtime and we could have easily made it to another hut, we decided to stay the night and enjoy the place. We napped, read, wandered down to the river and generally, did nothing. It was wonderful. As the valley filled with the rich golden rays of evening, we made up a fire and cooked up some dinner. As the last of the sun scrapped the tops of the mountains, we cleaned up and climbed into bed to play cards and sleep.

The next morning, as we lazed in bed and enjoyed the sunrise through the front window we debated our next move. Or rather, whether we would move. It was unanimous. There would be no moving tonight, we were staying put. There was just too much nothing for us to get done. So we slept some more. Eventually, we got up and ate. Stephen chopped some wood (and met a little Tom Tit who liked going into the chopped wood and pulling out all the yummy little bugs there) and I drew quilts. We eventually got bored and decided to go for a walk down the valley towards Lake Coleridge. With lunch packed into our little bum bags we sauntered off down the road (there's a 4WD track about 15 mins from the hut). It was a lovely walk and despite all the river crossings my feet stayed dry (Stephen's didn't - he carried me, what a gentleman). We lunched down with some cows (New Zealand's beef - all grass fed) and watched two DOC (Department of Conservation) trucks drive by heading up the road we had just walked down. The wind was picking up so we decided to head back up to the hut and see what our visitors were doing.

When we got back, we found three DOC rangers unpacking the truck. So we helped carry their gear the 15 minutes back to the hut and settled in once back. They were here for general maintenance, checking bridges, painting, cleaning and such. At dinner time, we talked a little about skiing in the region (they've all worked at different fields in the area) and hiking.

While cleaning up, Stephen encountered two very forward possums outside. I presume they had been fed by previous visitors because they had to issue coming right up to your toes (I never stayed still long enough to find out what they would do once they had reached my toes). We offhandedly mentioned them to the guys inside who promptly grabbed the nearest hard objects (small broom and fire poker), their flashlights and headed out to find them. After some general ruckus one of the guys came into the hut and said, "We got one! Do you have a plastic bag?" I pulled out an empty food bag and insisted on joining him. So Stephen, myself and Tim (one of the rangers) went back outside to find Jim (another one of the rangers) with the possum bleeding out the neck (apparently, the best way to kill a possum is to grab it by the tail, hit it on the head with a hard object and while its' stunned slit its throat with a knife). Tim then started pulling fur off the critter and stuffing it in the bag. While the animal is still warm you can just pluck the fur from the skin. Once that was done, we asked if we could have the meat too. Tim laughed, but Jim has happy to meet someone open to trying new things. So he happily skinned and cleaned it for us, presenting us with the torso and hind legs to cool overnight. We went back inside and had a good chat about hunting, food knowledge and invasive species. By about 8pm we were all knackered and fell into bed.

The next morning after an early breakfast, we packed up our stuff and hit the trail. The sky had clouded over the night before and ominous dark shapes were churning in the direction we were headed. With a dark sky, the forest seemed to come alive. Creatures hid behind trees, words were whispered on the wind and finally, the first cold drop of water fell down my neck. Once the rain started it didn't want to stop. The trees provided some protection, but when we were out in the river bed there was nowhere to hide. We climbed up and up and up. As the ground got soggier we arrived at Lagoon Saddle Hut. We quickly ducked into the little alpine shelter and grabbed some food. I changed into some dry clothes for the final bit of the hike and we pushed on.

The climb over the saddle was wet and mucky, but quite pretty. Alpine environments tend to steal my heart and this one was no different, despite the chilly, soggy clime. We trudged through muck, having to guess which puddles were only an inch deep and which were calf deep. We clambered over creeks and between giant grass tussocks and eventually we came around the hill to see our final destination. As we dropped into the military ranked trees of someones tree farm, Stephen sped up as he would bike back to the car and come back to pick me up.

Downhill is always harder than you think. My socks were wet, so made my feet slip about in my boots. I could feel a blister on my left heel and my right knee was getting twitchy, but there was no rest, the trail just kept going down. I would stop every once in a while to listen to the rain and the birds and the far off highway sounds - "Is that Stephen? Or could that be him?"

Suddenly I saw the hut. I went in out of the rain and changed. And then I waited. First I read the visitor log book, their always interesting for a story or two. Then an old newspaper magazine. I knew I was getting desperate when I started flipping through the mens magazine, but Stephen arrived and we were off. Back home.

Next up - how to cook a possum!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mount Herbert

On Easter monday Stephen announced he was going to climb Mt Herbert and I was more than welcome to join him. The forecast was for mostly cloudy and chance of showers in the evening. This was good enough for me so join him I did.

We quickly packed our leftover pizza in a box, stashed some apples and peaches in a yogurt container and stuffed the rest of the chocolate in our pockets. Some water and our rain jackets in Stephens' pack - oh, don't forget the camera - and we were off to Lyttleton.

As we emerged from the Lyttleton tunnel the clouds hung low over the hills, obscuring our destination for the day. With plenty of optimism we locked the doors and wandered down to the ferry dock. The ferry between Lyttleton and Diamond Harbour (where we were going) is a part of the municipal bus service so we could use our bus cards to catch the 10 minute ride across the bay. Despite its' shortness in length, the feeling of getting out on the water really worked wonders in making me feel like we were really getting away from the city. The magic of boats - I've always loved them.

By the time we got off the boat in Diamond Harbour the clouds were lifting and we could see the table top summit we were heading for. So off down the trail we went.

The trail wanders up a steep little valley from a rocky beach with houses on either side. Heavily forested - or rather, gorsed - it feels quite cozy and secretive. We even found a giant nest tucked into the crook of a tree. I quickly jumped in to play, but the trail was calling (or was that Stephen?), so the stop was not for long. Not much further on we cross a road and clambered over a fence into a sheep paddock, the trees dropped away and the trail climbed upwards ahead of us.

The trail itself is mostly on private land and all in paddocks. Sheep, horses, and cows wander along the track and stare quite disconcertingly at you as you pass by. But the scenery was lovely and the animals kept to themselves so onwards we marched. Up and up and up.

Towards the top the wind was starting to really pick up. In fact, if you stood facing into it and jumped you would go backwards. I was glad I had thrown my touque and scarf into the pack (though I missed my mitts) as we climbed the final section to reach the top. We quickly ducked down into a semi-protected nook on the other side of the summit to munch our cold pizza and hot cross buns. We watched as wisps of clouds were whipped past our heads and down into the valley below. Food gone, we packed up, spoke briefly with a couple of guys who had just arrived and headed back down.

At this point I was really missing my gloves. The middle two digits on my finger had gone sheet white from the second knuckle up, while the rest of my hand was bright red. After trying to warm them up against my skin, with my breath and up my sleeves, I decided the only way to warm them up was to get all of me warm. So we started running. It was either going to be my fingers or my knees. Fortunately, I warmed up pretty quickly (once I started running back uphill) and my fingers regained their normal hue.

The rest of the walk back was pretty uneventful - we saw more sheep. We stopped at the old hotel in town for some nice warm tea in their lovely garden. Then caught the ferry back to Lyttleton and home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Weekend

Happy Easter everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend filled with nice things. We certainly had a great couple of days. Though I must admit it's a wee bit different having Easter in the fall, or rather, Autumn as it is known here (people just look at you funny if you call it fall). It most definitely feels like an imported holiday to celebrate rebirth and the life, when the trees, bushes (and my garden) are all coming to their ends. Strange feelings. But a wonderful time none the less!

Saturday morning, Stephen, Nina, Matt and I headed over to Lyttleton for the Market. The morning had been crisp when I had gone out to water my plants in the morning and had put some tights on under my skirt. By the time we got to Lyttleton the tights were striped off and the sun screen was slapped on. It was a roasting 20 degrees and climbing. We all dove into the market to buy fruit and vege for the week ahead.

By noon, we had everything we could want for the coming week (and enough of shoulder, elbow, bum and head bumping for the year). We stashed our goodies and wandered down to the waterfront to try and catch the water taxi over to Diamond Harbour for a little walk. Unfortunately, everyone and all their children had also had this idea on this absolutely stunning day, so the line for the boat constituted about an hours wait. Not willing to wait, we got back to the car and drove over to Sumner to wander along their beach. Not a bad second choice.

In the evening, Stephen and I visited our friends, Alex and Daniela for Easter dinner. It was an extra special meal as Alex was cooking because poor Daniela has had surgery on both her feet (simultaneously - her choice) and can't walk very well (who would have guessed). He surprised himself most of all with an absolutely delicious roast chicken.

Sunday morning was filled with chocolate, crepes and a grey, cool river walk. We had planned to go geocaching along the Avon, but found halfway there that our GPS had run out of batteries. I settled with taking photos and Stephen patiently waited as I experimented.

We then spent a quiet afternoon at the library and swimming pool. And are now cozy at home making pizzas to curl up with to watch our movie - The Boat that Rocked - anyone seen it? Is it any good?

All in all a lovely relaxed weekend. Very different from what we're both used to, but that's what this whole experience is all about.

Take care.