Monday, December 8, 2008


The elaborate spread on the table looked more akin to a Thanksgiving Day feast than a standard weekday evening fare – roasted root vegetables with cumin sea salt, green lipped mussels in an aromatic lemongrass & coconut broth, a toasted red quinoa pilaf and sticky date pudding cake. I wondered if WWOOFers ate like this every night – not that I’m complaining!

Only a few hours prior, I had lauded the abundance of homegrown ingredients sprawled across the kitchen counter – lemongrass, garlic, carrots, potatoes.... I had expected the food to be fresh but I didn’t know that it’d be just-picked-from-the-garden-fresh, not to mention so ridiculously good.

The three nationalities that had worked to communally prepare the evening's meal working were volunteers through Worldwide Workers of Organic Farms (WWOOF) – an international volunteer organization that brings people together across six continents and more than fifty countries all over the world to work and learn on organic farms.

WWOOF formally stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. However, it is often referred to by it's old name, Willing Workers on Organic Farms. The organization maintains an active list of organic farmers in different countries worldwide, from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and elsewhere, who are willing to host travelers with accomodation and food in exchange for work. Volunteers who sign up with a WWOOF organization get access to this list and may arrange visits accordingly.

Generally speaking, 'farms' in this instance is not limited to traditional farms – although if that's the experience you are looking for, there are more than enough farms to be had! However, if you are looking to experience life with a chocolatier, on a vineyard or even at a surfing academy, then WWOOF'ing may be the way to go.

In my travels, not only was my hunger for knowledge satisfied, but also my enormous (yet lady-like) appetite (blame it on the manual labor!) Cooking and eating meals together while sharing stories and experiences allowed me to learn about a new culture, meet new people and get a taste of country life. For me, one of the best advantages of WWOOF'ing was getting to live with a host family. It's an experience enjoyed by thousands of people each year, from students to travelers to those hungry to learn about organic farming, and I'm proud to say that I'm a WWOOF'er!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's A Date!

No, it's not what you're thinking. This is better!! It's a recipe for Sticky Date Pudding! It's essentially a vanilla-flavored date cake that, when draped with a buttery brown sauce, transforms to what we would otherwise call Sticky Toffee Pudding. I quite prefer mine without the sauce, which I find cloyingly sweet. Instead, I had this with a dollop of home-whipped cream and didn't miss the sauce one bit!

Sticky Date Pudding
serves 6-8

1½ cups of pitted dates
1 tsp baking soda
1¼ tsp baking soda
1¼ boiling water
3 ounces of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 orange, zested and juiced
2 eggs
1 cup flour
optional: a dash or two of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Butter a 9 by 9-inch baking pan
  • In a small bowl, cover the coarsely chopped dates with the boiling water. Add the baking soda and let stand for 15 minutes
  • In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add in spices, vanilla, orange zest & juice and eggs - one at a time - while beating well
  • Sift flour and add in baking powder
  • Stir in the butter mixture
  • Gently fold in the date mixture (the mixture will closely resemble pancake batter)
  • Transfer mixture to the pan and bake for 40 minutes
  • Let stand to cool

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Waitakere This Way

The sign at the information centre indicated that in the 19th century, the Waitakere Ranges an area encompassing more than 50,000 acres of native rainforest and coastline to the west of Auckland was logged close to extinction by early European settlers. It wouldn't surprise me one bit though if, in my half day's worth of exploring, I did damage equivalent to twice that amount! Ok I'm exaggerating. But if you saw me in action dislodging rocks as I scrambled up and over, fracturing low-hanging branches as I clung on for dear life, single-handedly reshaping small ravines as I slid down their slopes of slippery wet clay then you might see where I'm coming from. At the rate I was going, continuing on might have been considered a crime against Mother Nature.

I mean the the walkway started out pleasantly enough. How intense could a walk through be if it shared its entrance with a golf course? Definitely fooled me! As I walked alongside my friend Masha on the gravel path through the rolling mown-grass hills towards the soft murmuring of the Waitakere Stream, I was quite excited to be joining her on her 'work project' to observe and tag the native robins in the park range. But as the suspension bridge that had led us over the stream faded further and further away in the distance and we veered into the bush, I noticed the pathway beneath me get muddier and muddier with each step. The totara, matai and miro trees became progressively larger. The sun increasingly dimmer. And I, increasingly slower. I saw snails passing me by, merrily going about their way while smirking at my mud caked feet.

As I winced from yet another sting of the tiny scale-like rimu leaves brushing against my cheek, I whispered to myself: who am I kidding? I'm not made for this! Up till about a couple months ago, my idea of the getting close to nature was frolicking about at Sheep's Meadow in Central Park. The rainforests of New Zealand... barely a blimp on my radar.

'Are you alright back there?' Masha's voice came from up over the cliff.

'Yes, I'm alright,' I replied under uneven breath, a silent plea for help.

As I gratefully grabbed onto my friend's hand and tumbled on to the rock, oh-so-(not)gracefully, I felt relieved for the moment's rest. My eyes followed her glaze outward into the distance and in one instant, the strenuous trek from only moments ago faded. The hike up was definitely no hop, skip and a jump on the subway up to Central Park but then again, the view was no New Yorker building either.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Quite Keen

Right out of the box, my Keen Newport H2 sandals have kept my feet well-cushioned and completely blister free. Not only does the all-synthetic upper lend itself to be light and quick-drying but the antimicrobial footbeds controls moisture and odors. Brilliant! At least my feet can stay fresh and clean if not the rest of me. All this, plus the red is so happy!

In the Land of the Long White Cloud

As the plane made its descent and the pillowy white clouds enveloping us receded, I could see the waves below shimmer and glisten as they danced and leapt with each gust of the ocean wind. The pristine blue of the ocean hurried past and suddenly, row after row of stand-alone houses on large, green sections sprawled out before us....

The view from my window could not have been more different than from what Captain James Cook must have seen in 1769 as the first European to land in New Zealand. It would’ve been close to impossible for him to envision the spacious, fresh-aired terrain before him with its vast lakes and sounds to transform from a sparsely populated land of 85,000 to 4.1 million in a little over two centuries time. And this was a man who was no stranger to eye-opening curiosities mind you – exotic Tahitian dances, an ‘eighty-pound mouse’ (we call them kangaroos now), striking cliffs made entirely of ice, you name it!

Who would've expected that this small archipelago of islands in the South Pacific would provide such stark contrasts between the familiar and the unexpected? Here, let me show you. Walk with me down this street. See that classic colonial style mansion towards the end, on the left there? No, not that one... yes that one. Well, it's a marvellous example of 19th-century 'Carpenter Gothic'... on the outside, you can just about make out the Maori influenced etchings of native fauna ... on the inside, there's a Star Wars Toy Show this week! Huh!? The name of this street you ask? Before I tell you that, let me let you in on something – the streets and cities with Maori names you see dotted across the country? Take care to pronouncing them. You may think the accent Australian or British but you'd be mistaken. Like so many other things here, it's completely unique with a distinct New Zealand spin. When you've fully taken in all of that, come back to me and I'll give you the name of the street!

Perhaps, no where else is the contrast more evident than in the geography of the land itself. The diversity of the country's varied and spectacular landscapes – stunning volcanic lakes, paradisial rainforests and majestic dunelands nestled amongst mountain highs, valley lows and icy vistas –is almost a physical representation of the many facets of New Zealand culture. It seems to suit that the two are linked together, I feel, for it's one of the few nations where the natural environment so defines one's lifestyle and mindset.

….This much was clear as the sliding doors of the airport swished open, golden rays of sunshine flooding eagerly in to greet me. “Kia Ora,” the early morning beams seemed to say, “Welcome to the Land of the Long White Cloud.” And I, smiling in reciprocation, basked wholeheartedly in their warm embrace.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And I'm Off...!