In Auckland when we lost our internet connection ( and alongside it, very quickly our sanity – #firstworldproblems) it was normally storms, power cuts or greedy teenagers gobbling up our monthly allowance.
But in the almost 2 years since we moved to Paradise, even though we are distinctly of rural setting and have lived through some significant events including earthquake, our wifi has never been affected.
A few minutes ago I heard something I never thought I could hear in this life or any other.
Ladybirds had managed to find a way to take up residence in the receiver box on the roof and block the signal. Not just any old insects or ( as expected) likely rodents….., no, these were ladybirds. About 50 of them.
And then the clincher, “ and this is about the third time I’ve seen this happen over the last few weeks….”, said our straight faced technician. So, serial wifi blockers.
Why is it that the thought of ladybirds gathering in such a way is almost poetic and they are so easily forgiven for the disruption they’ve caused to my ability to work and ( let’s be honest) be on social media today! A mouse gnawing through a cable would receive much harsher comment…and treatment.
So, we may be able to survive earthquake and storm but when it comes to ladybirds, there is no contest.
I’m now off to liberate said clever ladybirds into a new and not so disruptive environment.
I used to be able to buy a glass ( or bottle) of wine without a care in the world – especially for those who toil on a daily basis to create what fills that particular glass or bottle.
In the relatively short time we have been the proud new parents of our little vineyard in paradise, we have had more sleepless nights , stress and worry than any of our collective three offspring or two labradoodles ever brought us.
Don’t get me wrong. Like actual new parents, we love it. We are bursting with pride, we tell anyone who stands still long enough all about it and like childbirth, you forget the pain quickly as you appreciate the benefits!
However we have a new found respect for the hard work of those making the decisions to ensure that harvest brings the best quality grapes that , in turn, will make the highest quality wine.
Yesterday in the vineyard was the green cut or final thinning ; the time you take out a varying quantity of grapes, depending on what mother nature has thrown at this particular vintage. Certain weather conditions will bring greater numbers of bunches per vine and heavier weights of bunches. All of this is critical to the winemaker to ensure they get the best product for them to weave their magic in the winemaking process.
‘Waste not want not ’
Now it may be my Scottish blood, but I’m no fan of waste. Seeing beautiful bunches of grapes ( that taste sensational!) lying disregarded – even if for the ultimate sacrifice – makes me sad but then, more positively, makes me start looking for ways they can be used.
We’re not alone, a quick drive around our neighbourhood shows many of the vineyards doing the same thing in their quest for the perfect vintage.
I spent part of the day collecting the disregarded bunches and distributing them to family and friends ( ….funnily enough not as much of a novelty for them in this wine region, as it would have been in urban Auckland…!).
New friends find it wildly amusing that my newcomers eyes still marvel at the produce around us – and the amount that goes unused and unloved. They tell me that over the years I’ll get used to it.
I’m not so sure.
I love the idea of using everything I can – for ourselves and sharing – and I have set myself a challenge this year of making maximum use of everything we produce. Not quite self sufficiency- I’m nowhere near capable enough for that ! – but at least a step in its general direction.
To be honest, some things are easier than others ! Apricots ? Plums ? No problem.
So I up my challenge to try to make things I’ve never done before.
‘Fun with grapes’
Finding good productive use for the surplus grapes is the current challenge.
After a quick trawl on-line, thoughts turn to verjuice and delicious natural juice from sun kissed grapes that on another day would have made stunning pinot noir. Then there’s jams, jellies, raisins – thanks to a borrowed dehydrator- and when all else is done, there’s compost!
I have added them to my growing list of ‘things to produce’ in my search for using as much as I can from this wonderful little pocket of the world that we call home.
Of course there is always a silver lining – the birds are happy with this suddenly readily available and easily accessible food source so hopefully , if we are very lucky, they may focus on that and leave our netted precious bounty alone.
You can also follow me on Instagram at nzgoodlife See you there !
It’s 12 days to Christmas so my heart was filled with joy at the countdown to my favourite time of year. This was to translate ( at least in my head) into witty festive repartee and sugar plumy recipes for all things wonderfully Christmassy!
And then, as it does, reality kicked in.
With the exception of the Doodles, our house is an animal free zone and is intended to stay that way. All the animal capers that we seem to attract – of which there are many – are at least outside . Or were until today.
I can only describe what happened when I went into my office this morning as surreal. As I walked through the door a black cat was running circles around the walls – I kid you not – like one of those motorcycle trick type people. We don’t own a cat – and at the risk of alienating someone – we don’t even like cats. Judging by the amount of urine spider cat then directed at me ( while running round the room, half way up the walls), I can see that the feeling was mutual.
The more I tried to open windows to free the beast, the more it peed. It even got me. I must admit to being secretly impressed with its agility to run, scale walls and pee at the same time.
The Doodles just gaped in amazement and awe – which is their typical reaction to anything that nature fully intended them to chase and savage.
Whoever made cats had a cruel and sadistic streak when they gave them their potent weapon of pee. It’s revolting. It’s also now on almost everything in my office.
I now know several ways of removing said revolting smell – most involving vinegar . My office now smells of fading cat pee and pungent vinegar. Yesterday it was Cinammon and vanilla candles.
So, all thoughts of sugar plums have been cancelled for today and Christmas cheer is rescheduled again for tomorrow….
Now that’s quite a claim. Many of my friends have recipe books going back generations and I’m sure there will be a Christmas cake in there somewhere that they will remember as being something special.
But I’m laying claim to this one and ( hopefully) starting a generational thing that will be shared for many years to come. There are many things I would like to be remembered by and this could just be one of them !
It’s a sad sign of the times when most people I know are simply too busy to even think about making a cake at this time of year. Ok, I know it’s not a top priority but that’s the thing. What are the priorities? I don’t even think it’s the cake that’s the problem. we are all just too busy doing ‘ stuff’ that one more thing to do could just be the step too far.
But tradition is good. It’s a link to our past, our heritage and where we came from. Christmas may be the last bastion of tradition so I for one am keen to keep some of the behaviours peculiar to our family going for as long as I can. And that includes cake.
So, put on some Christmas music, light a candle ( Christmas scent preferable) , pour a glass of egg nog ( ok, wine is absolutely fine as a substitute ! ), switch off the phone and start your own traditions….one slice of cake at a time….:)
I use a 26cm cake box – lined on the inside and then wrapped in newspaper and tied with string around the outside to ensure it doesn’t cook too quickly on the sides.
2kg mixed dried fruit – raisins, currants, sultanas etc
500g brown sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp salt
125g chopped blanched almonds if you like
Brandy (be generous)
2 tbsp cornflour
8 eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
chopped glacé cherries if you like
Put fruit in covered bowl overnight with generous swigs of your chosen tipple until it’s well sozzled ( not a technical term but you get my drift) .The smell is divine and it will take all your will power not to eat it all there and then and forget the cake!
Next day put the drunken fruit, butter, sugar and golden syrup into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to stop the mixture burning ( very important!). Add lemon, spices, salt, chopped almonds and a bit more brandy.
Stirring continuously, simmer for 10 minutes, then add cornflour. Mix well and remove from heat. Leave to cool thoroughly.
Beat eggs. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda, add alternately to cooled fruit mixture. Bake in the middle of the oven at 160˚C for 30 minutes. Then 120˚C for 4 hours. (Cooking times may vary depending on the oven.) Cool in the box, then wrap in greaseproof paper and foil to keep it moist. Put in air tight container somewhere dark and cool.
Bask in the heavenly scent of the cake.
I suggest you make the cake about 5 weeks before the big day and then every week carefully unwrap it and use a skewer to make a few holes to allow a few tablespoons of brandy to soak through it.
Then for the icing. Our family tradition since I was little involved my Dad “making” the cake. Actually what was really the case was Mum doing everything , including making a royal icing but Dad then swirling it on the cake to make snow patterns and placing Santa and decorations on top. His cake 🙂
Whether you have children helping with making christmas biscuits or cookies or whether you gift yourself time to do the whole cake thing in splendid Christmas peace , make time to create and enjoy your own traditions.
The earth moves in mysterious ways. Often noisy, threatening and destructive ways.
No one in my part of the world will forget in a hurry where they were at 12.02am on Monday 14th November.
I was naked underneath a door frame.
Not an image I want to linger on for many reasons but most importantly because they broke all the rules for earthquake survival.
The earthquake lasted about 90 seconds. It seemed less. I nearly vomited ( they don’t tell you that in the adverts). The motion sickness stayed with me for two days. We held on as we surfed with the waves and then when it momentarily calmed, we grabbed some clothes and shoes and went to grab the Doodles ( who were fine throughout) ,got into the car and drove away from any potential house or tree collapse. Thankfully that was only a short distance down the drive as we are pretty much on open land.
Aftershocks followed and the car happily bounced around oblivious to the severity of the cause. The sky was white and no birds sang. It was eerie . Almost other worldly.
Elsewhere others were not so lucky.
I used my phone to get radio, as well as get instant texts out to family and friends across the world who would be hearing about the incident very quickly and we could therefore head off their concerns for us and also ensure our communications did not get tied up when we may need it most. The main news source was from callers to the radio graveyard shift and they knew no more than we did. We checked on neighbours and friends.
What we did know was that something of that power had to have done some significant damage. And it did. Our neighbouring town of Kaikoura – 130 kilometres from us- was suffering .
The following days were weird. News of damage to property came through quickly once the media was able to get amongst the action. Fatalities were small but it only takes one to change many lives forever.
But the mass weirdness was something that was felt by many and no one quite knew how to describe it or even to admit to it. It was something I had never felt before.
It was a clumsiness. A sadness. A blackness.
It was headaches, nausea and fear.
It was internal torment of being practical and realistic about what may or may not happen in future, coupled with irrational fear at every minor tremor that followed.
There have been over 4000 aftershocks in 7 days.
It calmed and disappeared in the days ahead and the experience became part of the learning and reflection of what to do if there is a next time.
We have been told to expect another major shake in the next 30 days. Some people will not be lucky. But most of us will again be fine with minimal damage.
Life is back to normal for most of us. Local businesses are desperate to demonstrate that, and it is our responsibility to help them continue trading. People are being kinder and the support for our neighbours who are suffering reinforces faith in the human spirit.
What have I learned? Apart from the blindingly obvious requirements of being able to look after yourself and your family for at least three days should you lose power, contact, food etc – something we ( and most of New Zealand) have been prepared for, for years ;
Don’t sleep naked. Or if you must, keep some clothing nearby!
Have a pair of shoes beside the bed.
Don’t stand in door frames. That’s stupid ( as I now know) .
Drop to the ground and make yourself as small as you can , Cover your head and go under a strong table. desk or bed and Hold on.
Have your phone fully charged. Always.
Use social media. It informs family and friends quickly and preserves your battery for what you may need it for. It also connects you with others nearby and gave me an immense feeling of support.
Be realistic. This is nature at its powerful and destructive best. Respect that but don’t be fearful. Keep everything in context.
Keep a supply of chocolate at hand ( this came from Civil Defence so who am I to argue! )
Although not just something . I know exactly what it (they) is (are).
There were a few things that failed to make it on to the property particulars when we moved to Marlborough and, more specifically, to Paradise.
One was the wind in late spring / early summer. Although we had visited the area many many times, we must have just hit lucky on avoiding the wind. Windy Wellington – your more beautiful and slightly wine addled neighbour across the Strait can most certainly give you a run for your money on the wind front – at least for part of the year.
But that’s not it.
What’s bugging me is bugs.
Not affecting me personally, but there’s most certainly a fleeting possibility of threat for our precious babies budding out in the vineyard.
At a certain time of year (now) , the brown beetles or May bugs ( creatively named after their annual appearance in the northern hemisphere ) awaken from neighbouring paddocks to strike fear into the hearts and pockets of grape growers. The bugs choose to burst into life as the sun sets on beautiful days and, from nearby paddocks, aim for the moon and land on the vines. If they get their chance they will then happily procreate and eat their way through the leaves and buds, potentially causing damage.
My first reaction on hearing about our unknown challenge was confidence that there must be something that could deter them ( or more accurately blitz them into oblivion). But being organic, with a karma-esque attitude to living things, we have found our options are limited.
So, our ritual now is an enforced walk of the vineyard every night as darkness creeps in. Torches in hand, we inspect the leaves and flick the bugs to the ground, where they can no longer do any damage.
No matter how many times we are told by those who have considerable experience in this : “ you’ll know when you have a problem” – ( thankfully, we haven’t found out so far) – we still spend our time cursing the little bug(ger)s and counting how many we knock off. Although a swarm in the thousands is what we are told will indicate an issue (?!) , we still feel the overwhelming need to protect our babies and that’s where it gets compulsive. We are the equivalent of first-time parents. Anxious to do the right thing but no experience yet to give us any real perspective. Being told that we are probably the only growers paying such attention is little comfort.
Although small numbers of bugs will not cause damage, the very fact they are there ‘bugs’ M & I . So we currently spend our evenings knocking as many off leaves as we can, while acknowledging nightly that we can’t get around every single vine.
But we still try.
A good friend who is born and bred in both the area and the industry and therefore experienced in such matters, not so reassuringly said to me, “ you really don’t have a problem until they’re mating on your eyeballs….” .
Now there’s a less than comforting thought to hold for the next few weeks…..
And there’s always a but!
This has given us the pleasure of having a nightly walk together under glorious inky skies. The doodles happily chase hedgehogs and whatever else they pick up a scent on. We talk. We appreciate our surroundings. We count blessings.
It’s been on my mind a lot of late that more and more of us are looking to upcycle, recycle, reuse and repurpose. Some through necessity but mostly out of choice.
I don’t think it’s just an age thing – although age certainly does bring increased sentimentality. But also, I’m finding, a desire to reconnect to the past through objects that have seen their fair share of history and, in turn, have many stories to tell.
When we moved into Paradise – one year ago to the day – there were many connections to the past. The original homestead burned to the ground some years ago but the fireplace and sliding lounge doors were saved and are now part of our farmhouse. When M and I first saw them ( not knowing the history) we immediately talked of changing them but a year has softened out attitudes to many things. History and connections to the past being high up on the list. Horseshoes litter the paddock that is now home to about 3000 baby vines (just planted for your future Pinot Noir drinking pleasure!) and a variety of broken bits of old china, glass and some parts of old farm equipment that cannot be explained.
We also have a woolshed. A fabulous, wildly romantic, over 100 year old woolshed overlooking the vines with the beautiful Wither Hills in the background, that I dream of converting to a wonderful accomodation retreat for visitors ….. Sadly my enthusiasm has met with the bare faced practicalities ( from those who know far more than me) that it is riddled with wood borer and likely to collapse at any time…..But, not to be outdone I am playing the repurposing card and tugging at the historical heartstrings, so we may yet find a way of keeping her raw and natural beauty for generations to come to enjoy – even if she’s being enjoyed in a slightly different way than our wooly four legged friends !
We have also taken a real pleasure in sourcing pre-loved furniture that can be lovingly restored and given new home and meaning. Visits to antique shops and on line searches have become a hobby that only a few years ago would never have been part of our thinking. And I love it.
I also seem to have come full circle in my style choices. When living in the North Yorkshire Moors, my 19th century ‘Weavers Cottage’ would only entertain being filled with suitably old style furniture and effects. Sadly these were no longer wanted as they made way for a modern style in the next life stage and I pine after their loss.
Thankfully there are a few items we still have and treasure from family that take pride of place in our home . M’s favourite chair from his beloved Granny which could tell many a tale, being just one.
Sentimentality and connection are such a powerful part of who we are and those items that reflect that are to be cherished.
On the many visits to Marlborough before making the permanent move , I have always loved seeing the large but elegant fans in the vineyards which make up the stunning landscape of the area.
They were almost reminiscent of days spent in Holland and the beautiful windmills amongst the fields of bulbs .
That’s where the similarity – if indeed there ever was one – ends .
Our baptism of frost came on day 2 in Paradise . Frosts can wipe out your budding vines and destroy your crop for the current vintage year and even beyond . It’s not a vineyard owners friend at this time of year . Fair to say , no one thought to mention this on the sales particulars …..
But , enter the fans . Without getting all technical , they warm the air by helping it circulate around and stops frost from settling . To do this they are big .And tall . And noisy . Very noisy .
We are surrounded by vineyards so the culmination of all the frost fans jumping into life is loud – and unmissable .
Last year , as first timers , our response system was based on watching the weather forecast from several sources ( in case one was wrong ) , then based on that , me waking up every hour to look out the window to see if the temperature sensitive alarm lights were showing the right colour for us to leap into action . There are 3 colours of alarm . One says get ready to move , the second says run quickly to your vineyard and the third says find another day job . Suffice to say that after you see the first colour , your chances of sleep after that – until the sun has risen and starting spreading her warmth – is limited at best.
Then there are the frost pots . Or Dante’s Infernos as I fondly(?) renamed them . Fiery scary noisy heaters that warm the areas the fans can’t reach.
And then there are the helicopters . Larger vineyards bring them in at massive cost to fly low and move the air around their vines. A skilled and precise job with no air traffic control and only night sight vision keeping them , and all of us below, safe. Not for the faint hearted . No surprise then to know that Richie McCaw was piloting over our heads most of the night . ( I can’t say that didn’t add something wonderful to the overall experience !)
I’ll never forget one moment when standing in the middle of all of this , having the thought that it’s the closest ( thankfully) I’m likely to get to a war zone.
M , being the more practical , was thinking of the commercial opportunities of offering overnight frost experiences to Marlboroughs visitor population …!
Our first night was spent walking around making sure everything was on and operating and then waiting in the hands of Mother Nature .
The payback for this disruption to your nights sleep however is more than compensation . Achingly beautiful sunrises – the likes I have never seen before .
Thankfully these frost events, we were assured, were few and far between and there had never been two in a row . That is , until our third night in paradise .
But this time I knew the drill and knew what would make an overnight stay amongst the vines, more palatable .Pillows, blankets , food , hot drinks and extra clothes are now a permanent fixture in the Ute and ( to be really honest )make it a bit of fun and you always have a spectacular sunrise to look forward to in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. Reality kicks back in when you then just have time for a quick shower before travelling somewhere or skyping a client !
As I’m typing this I’m on a flight heading home to Paradise with frost predictions for the next two nights . It’s the weekend so slightly more manageable than a busy travelling work week , but the thing I’m most excited about is seeing the next most amazing dawn .
Well it does actually. And it should be enough to fill up the multiple water tanks that are an essential part of growing our future wine- drinking pleasure.
And as with many things we have started to learn, there always seems to be a but….
After the heaviest rain of the year, we were smugly congratulating each other on how well set up we were for the forthcoming and expected dry season.
Water becomes a major talking point when you live in the country. I can’t say I gave it much thought as a city dweller. Tap on , water out – simple and uncomplicated. But after a year of living off what you collect, you start to pay more attention.
Or, let’s say, you should pay more attention. As we now know, it’s not enough to think that heavy rain necessarily equates to full tanks. It’s a fair assumption, but that would only be if there was an actual way for said rain to make it into the tanks……
Which there wasn’t.
After many years, debris collected in our ageing gutters had finally claimed victory and by way of punishment for being neglected, was redirecting our precious water gathering to a flourishing and plentiful weed supply.
Is it just me or is it never a ‘normal ‘situation when you run out of water?
It’s never when you are showered and not going anywhere important or when you have filled the dog bowls or when you have no guests arriving to stay.
It’s always ( in my far too extensive experience) when you are filthy, have no back up water in the fridge and the dogs are ready to leave home in protest ….
Water is your best friend. Treat it well. Respect it. Don’t take it for granted or it may well, one -day, decide to seek pastures new…
In the absence of rampaging sheep this week and with precious little time to create anything new and delicious in the kitchen of late, I have been thinking a lot about what it takes to go in search of the good life.
I watched a wonderful TV programme the other evening about a fairly new business run by a young couple, near where I live. They made a conscious choice to look for the good life for themselves and their young family. Their business idea was good – growing a goat herd and making the milk into artisan cheeses – and I am delighted that they are being very successful.
But what really struck me as their absolute defining factor was their unwavering commitment to each other and their family.
That underpinned everything and drove all of their decisions. Both of them had their own responsibilities and had full trust in each other. Both respected ( and admired) their particular differences and what that brought to their lives and knew it was the bedrock of their success. You got the feeling that as a result of this, they put a lot of love into their products and had fun together doing it.
For them the good life is creating a livelihood that allows them to balance looking after their family and each other. You just know that that was the most important thing for them.