Interesting things about Wellington, No. 4; Ginger Crunch.

Ginger Crunch

Ginger Crunch

No, it’s not New Zealand’s Next Top Exotic Dancer. Quite the opposite in fact, as a serious Ginger Crunch habit can turn a young woman into the human equivalent of a badly swollen, velour lounge suite. Two years people, that’s all it takes. Make Good Choices. 

Ginger Crunch is a slice, comprised of a layer of too-dry, biscuitty dough, tar-sealed with a slightly thicker layer of ‘ginger’….stuff. I’m not even really sure what this layer is, it’s sort of like a cross between caramel and icing, flavoured with slightly bitter powdered ginger yielding the cheeky aftertaste of a joinery factory.

However, In a young and hungry country, Ginger Crunch has taken on cult status as an incontrovertibly ‘Kiwi’ dish. Unlike pavlova, it has so far remained free from nefarious Australian attempts to claim its heritage; It seems there’s not a lot of competition for a weeping, mid-brown slice not unlike chewing on a wincingly sweet sheet of asbestos.

Ginger Crunch (I looked this up) comes by its iconic status honestly. It is one of the stars of the New Zealand’s baking bible the “Edmonds Cookbook”. Established in 1908 this popular cook-book formed the backbone of a parochial, colonial cuisine. The Edmonds cookbook is brimming with recipes, covering everything and anything that can be whipped up out of three cups of sugar and a fern-root.

Baking is extremely important in New Zealand culture, which is something I never realised until I returned after a long spell overseas. Cafes, yes, even inner city smarty-pants ones, feature their cakes and slices front and centre. A cafe without a good selection of slices no smaller than your average bathroom tile will simply fail to hold the public attention. And bakeries (yes, even wanky sourdough ones) often market themselves as cakes and slices first, bread second.

Last week I watched a group of women at the counter of an inner city cafe in Wellington grind to a halt when one of them claimed that she would only have a gourmet pork and beef roll (sausage roll), for lunch without a slice. All was not lost though, as each savoury dish is served with half a cup of syrupy tomato sauce. Yum.

I have to say that even though this isn’t my choice of food, I LOVE the joy and satisfaction of those for whom it is. New Zealanders, like Australians, are constantly chastised by governments fretting about them being too fat, but surely there’s some measurable public health benefit to being; A) happy, and B) a bit bloody warmer.

Having lived in Sydney’s shiny-belt (eastern suburbs) where tiny blond women race up and down footpaths shrink-wrapped in glistening black sportsgear delicately slurping soy-trim-mocca-uppa-downer-whiteys there’s something very heartening about watching people tuck into a slice that represents the daily caloric intake of Somalia.

PS. If you want some really good food in Wellington – Gypsy Kitchen in Strathmore. That is all.

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Interesting things about Wellington, New Zealand; No. 3; Mould.

Oh, hello there!

Oh, hello there!

From the air, Wellington looks like the work experience kid got left in charge – the entire city is laid over steep hills and valleys, with houses perched over vertiginous drops or buried amongst sunless thickets. As a result, some houses never see the sun at all, and many more are dug into steep clay hillsides. The back rooms of a house or apartment, usually bedrooms, can remain in perpetual darkness.

The natural light in these ‘dark rooms’ is limited to an eerie verdigris glow, filtered through a thin film of window-moss. The average inner city Wellington bedroom can feel somewhat incomplete without a complement of expanding MDF furniture and an axolotle. The results are predictable – a ceiling in the traditional ‘hot-coco’ style  (spreading patches of brown-black mould) and a wardrobe containing enough polar fleece to upholster a whale.

Polar fleece, incidentally, is New Zealand’s tartan. I am reliably informed that it cannot sustain mould, which I am inclined to believe – even mould won’t cling to something that smells like annealed vomit.

What I am overlooking, of course, is the hidden genius that is Wellington’s building stock – it’s mostly timber, which rolls and bounces with the frequent earthquakes. Having had the entire city wobble over a couple of times, the early settlers abandoned their grandiose colonial dreams of stone and masonry in favour of heartwood Rimu and other beautiful local species, which of course subsequent generations efficiently plastered over with woodgrain laminate. Thankfully, many buildings are now revealing their origins, including  timbers now commercially extinct, such as Kauri.

Five things about Wellington. Number One; Zealandia.

Te Kata Tiripi (Gaza Strip)

Te Kata Tiripi (Gaza Strip)

I’ve just returned from a week in Antarctica’s northern-most base-camp, Wellington. Actually, the weather was beautiful some of the time, so I won’t get too carried away, but it was certainly…..refreshing.

Here, in no particular order, are some things that Australians might find interesting about Wellington.

1. Zealandia.

Zealandia is a 225 hectare bird sanctuary between the suburbs of Karori and Brooklyn. You can read more about it on their website, so I won’t reproduce that information here. What isn’t mentioned, however, is that the sanctuary abuts many houses – it literally runs right up to the edge of the suburbs. In a country where the damp is so comprehensive it has risen up and gone back down,’bushfire risk’ is a quaint, but utterly foreign concept, like effective insulation or government corruption (New Zealanders try hard, but come home hungry on this one).

Aside from the organised ‘activities’ at the Zealandia centre (which I never went to) the sanctuary is basically an enormous fence encircling remnant and regrowth native bush surrounding the water reservoir. There are walks through the sanctuary, but there’s also a track along the outside of the fence, separating houses, scrub and easements from the sanctuary itself. I assume this is to stop the possums from leaping over the fence – New Zealanders are very athletic. It means you can access the bush and the birdsong from many places – often just down a little track or driveway.

For me though, the most striking thing about the sanctuary is that there are now native birds, and their song, all over the suburbs. The cats of Karori have never been happier.

This is a dramatic change that has taken place in about twenty years (the last time I spent any real time in Wellington). There are also other little patches of bush around the sanctuary, connected by walking tracks – the Birdwood reserve for instance – that connects Karori with the Karori tunnel, and forms part of some people’s daily commute. Imagine if half of your 40 minute walk to work in the CBD was spent in a green tunnel of forest?  You’d have to listen to Alan Jones on your iphone.