March 30, 2015

Drum roll please….

It’s time for…........THE FOOD BLOG! Hurray!

The time has come to talk about some of the food highs/lows of my stay so far. Let’s dive in with the lows....

Things that do not exist in New Zealand:
I’ve checked in every local supermarket I could find, to no avail. Plantains, as far as I can tell, just aren't sold here. During the beginning of March I was craving tostones (friend plantains) like no other, too. It was a rough time…

Ah tostones...
-Graham crackers-
I’m not going to lie, I freaked out a little bit when I heard that graham crackers aren't sold in New Zealand. Graham cracker crust is one of my favorite things, regardless of the type of pie it’s holding. What do they use for crust? How do kiwis make s’mores? :(

-Cookie dough ice cream-
Cookie dough, in general, is not made in NZ like it is in the US (i.e., in super convenient pre-made tubes that you can buy to eat your feelings and maybe bake into cookies…if any dough makes it to the oven), but it’s also just not put in ice cream. I was told that there was a company once that made cookie dough ice cream and marketed it as “manly ice cream” …but I’ve yet to find it on the shelves. The closest cookie dough ice cream substitute I've found was this ice cream bar:

It was a bit like the Chocolate Eclair ice cream bars that are sold in the US, but tasted enough like actual cookie dough ice cream to do the trick. Don’t get me wrong the ice cream here is DELICIOUS, but the range of flavours usually includes mint chip, vanilla, hokey pokey, cookies ‘n cream, and/or various fruity flavours, only. 

Hokey pokey ice cream, with the honey comb bits!

NZ/US Differences:
Kiwis (and probably everywhere in the world but the US…heh) are on point with their portion sizes, but sometimes surprising with their prices. I realise the prices are probably higher, too, because I’m living in a “big” city and because NZ is an island nation, but still, prices were something to get used to.

I went to McDonalds the other day because I was told I had to try their burgers at some point, since they “actually taste like burgers” rather than the "is this meat...?" burgers you get in the US McDonalds. The burger actually wasn't half bad...but you could tell it was still fast-food. Anyway, the cashier rang my order up as a medium combo and I immediately panicked, knowing there was no way I was going to finish that much food. When my order came….it was the same size as a US small. Just enough. 

Items in the US that you can get for super cheap are sometimes unexpectedly expensive here, too, and vice versa.Take that burger combo, for example. In the US that combo would've costed $8-9.00, if that, but here that same combo was $10.50.

Or take Coke, for example.

In the US your average vending machine/convenience store Coke is 20 fl. oz, which is equal to 591 ml, and costs maybe $1.50-2.00. Here, the average convenience store Coke comes in 200 or 400 ml sizes. The 200 ml bottles are usually $2, the 400 ml bottles are $4-$4.50. So, in the US, the standard is 3x the amount of Coke for the price of a small NZ Coke bottle.
(Fun side note: NZ Coke “Zero” does, in fact, have calories :O)

Or, for another example, coffee.

A “small” coffee in the US, say at Dunkin’ Donuts, is 10ish fl. oz. The small is about the same size here, sometimes less, but will cost you $3-4.50. In the US a small coffee would cost you barely half that. Honestly, it's totally worth it though, because NZ coffee is AMAZING. I've only had coffee out a few times because it's so expensive, but every mocha I get is just the right balance of coffee/chocolatey flavour. Even the insta-coffee here is amazing, which is saying something. 

Regular sized mug, small NZ coffee.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are also a few things here that are really cheap compared to their price in the US. Take dates (the fruit ;) ), for example. I love dates, but in the US they’re SO expensive. Here you can get a medium-sized bag of dates for less than $3.00, whereas in the US the same size bag would probably cost $10-15.00.

Food highlights (other than those I've previously blogged about):
-Condensed milk…in a tube-
This really needs no description; whoever invented this was a genius. Condensed milk only comes in cans in the US, and I almost never use to whole thing. Condensed milk in a tube reduces all that waste.
-Cookie dough-Pretzel-
I don't think this is unique to NZ, but it was still amazing. The cookie dough was wrapped in, and baked with, the pretzel so that you got salty and sweet all in one delicious bite. Nom. 

Only half the pretzel made it to the photo...
-Tim Tam Slam-
Tim Tam Slam: the art of drinking a hot beverage through a Tim Tam biscuit after biting it at both ends. Have napkins on hand, because the biscuit immediately melts into a gooey, super yum chocolate morsel. 

After biting at both ends, these rectangular biscuits work like straws.
Life-changing experiences:
I know this heading might seem dramatic, but this is no joke. After eating the following foods here I will never be able to look at them the same way again.

Going to my first sushi bar was life-changing. Instead of buying a roll of 8 small pieces like in the US you chose the sushi per-piece, and the pieces are HUGE. There were so many interesting, different flavours, too. Plus, the soy sauce comes in an adorable fish shaped packet! What more could you ask for.

So cute!

-Red bean frappuccino-
Ever since I heard that Starbucks sells red bean frappuccinos in some countries I've wanted to try one....and here, in NZ of all places, I found a place that sells them. It was soooo good and just the right balance of refreshing and savoury, as red bean flavoured items usually are. Behold:

Finally, one custom that I've definitely enjoyed here is "tea time", aka a time to take a step back, relax, and have a snack. For almost all the IFSA Butler trips we've been given snacks, tea/coffee, biscuits, or other treats in between meals, and for Uni orientation we were given the same "tea time" before we started the day. Even some touristy activities like hiking, kayaking, etc all come with a "tea time" break if you hire a guide to go with you. This is certainly something I could get used to. It's nice to be constantly on the go and exploring, but rarely in the US (at least in my experience) do we take the time to just sit back, relax, and have a morning/afternoon beverage and biscuit. It's really refreshing.

Anyway, that's all for now! I'm sure this won't be my last food blog. Have a great week, you reader you!

March 24, 2015

Weekend in Rotorua!

So this weekend I rafted off a 21 ft waterfall…

Wait, WHAT!?!?
Yup. It happened.

But let's start at the beginning. Last weekend the IFSA crew and I went on a trip to Rotorua where we had the chance to mountain bike, luge, and white water raft.

First on the list when we arrived in Rotorua was mountain biking. Biking through the forest was really different than the road biking I'm used to, but it was really awesome and something I’d definitely do again in the States. It's cooler and somehow more relaxing biking through a forest rather than on a road, even though you're going over roots, jumps, and rough terrain. 

I'm right down the middle!
We started out as a group on the kiddie trail and then moved up to a grade 2 trail (trails are ranked from grade 1-6). Here we split up; some of us moved to the grade 3 trail and some of us (myself included) went on a more scenic side trip through a glade of teenie-tiny palm-like trees beside a steam.

Standing on a bridge over the stream.

Very, very cold water.
The bikers in their natural environment...

After mountain biking we headed to the gondola that would take us up to the top of the luge track. I was pretty nervous about luging because I just assumed, I don’t know why, that we would be basically hurtling down the mountain at top speed without any control. Not true. Luging was actually really fun, and not dissimilar to go-karting. The only difference was that instead of going around a track we were driving on a track down the side of a mountain, past thickets of large ferns and other fauna on either side.

View from the top of the luge track. 
That night we went to a café near our accommodation for a champions feast, and, again, the food was amazing. I got a burger that was ENORMOUS, but so good that I ended up finishing the whole thing. 

Along with the beef the burger was also topped with an onion ring, sauce, an egg cooked over-medium, and stringed beets, in addition to the normal burger-y things like lettuce and tomato. Even though it’s a little strange to an American’s taste, I really like how kiwis put beets on burgers. The savoury beef and sweet-ish beets compliment each other well.

I was super tired that first night, but kept waking up because of the smell. No, not MY smell…I showered, silly…THE smell. Rotorua is built on and around an area with geothermal activity, so as soon as you drive in the first thing that you notice is the sulphur smell of rotten eggs. That night I kept waking up thinking “what the heck is that smell?!?” and then nodding off again when I remembered where I was.

The next morning we cooked breakfast as a group on two stand-alone griddles in the geothermal park across the street from our accommodation.

In the park, steam from a hot pool in the background.

Bubbly mud!
Around the park were pockets of fenced-off bubbling water and mud pits, and in some places there were even huts with pools of cooler, but still heated, water that you could soak your feet in.

Soaking our feet.
After breakfast we headed off to rafting! For some reason I was super scared for luging but not at all scared for rafting…maybe I just didn’t know what was to come! Well, what was to come was the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, the 21 ft waterfall I mentioned in the beginning.

The ride downstream wasn’t as jolting as I thought it would be. The rafts were super buoyant and stable, and the half of the group that I was with stayed upright the whole time. We were soaked by the end, but we stayed upright even over the 21 ft waterfall where the other half of our group in a separate raft flipped over. 

But yeah…so I did this…I'm in the third row of the raft sideways.

We survived!
On the way further downstream we had the chance to jump off a ledge that was twice my height into deep water and float through a rapid feet-first without the boat. Jumping off the ledge was awesome and even though it was high and kind of scary, in my mind I was like “psh I got this, I’ve watched Bear Grylls” ;)

After rafting by the lake.
After rafting, we celebrated with a picnic of fish and chips and L&P (a lemon-y kiwi soda) in a park with huge redwood trees, then headed back home to Auckland.

Quite an awesome weekend. 


March 17, 2015

Culture and Adventures...

‘ello there! Check this out!

Fun fact: NZ is as large as the east coast of the US! As I’ve been planning travels I keep forgetting that NZ is larger than it seems.

Another quick fun fact: pedestrians here don’t have the right-of-way.

The big joke in the US is that New Jersey drivers (where I’m from) are the worst...but compared to here, NJ drivers are saints. Drivers are pretty aggressive and do some crazy things. I talked to my running partner about this and her opinion was that the craziness was a result of the mix of Asian, European, Pacific Islands (etc) cultures that come to NZ from places with different road rules/driving etiquette. This actually makes a lot of sense. Everyone in the US learns on the same roads. Moral of the story: even though you can legally jaywalk here, it's probably not the greatest idea. 

My favourite thing to see here regarding driving is how kiwis parallel park. Instead of driving up alongside the spot and backing in, I've seen numerous drivers simply drive into the spot up over the sidewalk, and then attempt to straighten their vehicle and put it back in the road. It looks pretty ridiculous and probably ruins your tires, but hey it gets the job done. 

Anyway, now on to adventure talk. Last last weekend, the weekend of March 8, we took an IFSA Butler sponsored chartered sail to Waiheke, an island off the coast of Auckland city, where we had lunch at a vineyard and got to try archery and clay bird shooting. Don't panic...for the clay bird shooting the guns were shot guns that had been outfitted with lazers. The little plastic, not clay, disks that we were shooting registered when we hit them, so basically we were doing stationary lazer tag ;). The chartered sail was on a 47ft yacht named Tequila and the weather was perfect for sailing, nice and clear with the right amount of wind.

Steering with one hand, like a pro.  
We took a short shuttle from the port to the vineyard and during the drive we had some amazing views of the ocean from the hills on the island. I wish we had had more time to explore the island itself because what we saw from the boat and car was really beautiful.

At the vineyard we were served a wine/beer tasting and kiwi pizza, which was totally different than the good ol’ NJ pizza I’m used to (NJ pizza is still the best, sorry NZ). 

After lunch we headed over to the archery range/clay bird shooting area. So far while in NZ I’ve done archery twice, and both times it was super awesome and something I’d definitely do again when I get back to the states. I was absolutely horrible at clay bird shooting, but it was still fun!

After our sport we headed back to the mainland via ferry, had gelato near the dock, and headed our separate ways. It’s been a while since I was on a sail boat like that, and that night every time I sat still I felt like I was bobbing back and forth on a boat!

IFSA Butler gang, standin' on the dock of the bay. 

In other news, this past Friday a couple of friends and I went to watch the sunset from the top of Mt. Eden, a large hill south of the University, where there's an amazing 360o view of Auckland city and the surrounding suburbs...

Skytower in the distance.
Chewing on some grass watching the sunset, no big deal. 

Finally, for adventure news anyway, this Saturday a couple friends and I took advantage of free bus service to Takapuna beach to soak up some rays! The free bus service was intended to shuttle people to Takapuna beach so they could watch their fellow Uni students compete in “The Great Waka Ama Race” (Waka is NZ Māori for canoe/boat, Ama refers to the paddle/outrigger part….so a Waka Ama race is a race for outrigger canoes). 

For the race students had to row the outrigger canoes from Takapuna beach to Rangitoto Island, run 5km to the top, get a flag (or something…I think?), and then row back to Takapuna beach. You can see by my incredibly detailed knowledge of the event that my friends and I were clearly dedicated fans who watched every second of the race, and weren’t just using the bus service to go to the beach or anything…

Rangitoto Island

Hah nope, we were totally just there for the beach.
I think that just about sums up my most recent adventures. School and clubs are starting to pick up a little bit so I have less free time now, but I definitely feel settled in and I’m really enjoying my time here. This weekend the IFSA Butler group and I are headed to Rotorua where we will be mountain biking, luging, and/or white water rafting!

Until next time…ka kite ’aka’ou! (kah kee-tay ahka-oh: see you again!)