Let me start by saying this: the environment is a delicious place. You just need to take the time to really look at it. Then, you may see things a little bit differently.
An avocado the size of my hand [note: I have big hands for a little person], banana trees, olive branches, grapevines, lemons, limes, fresh herbs, zucchini flowers, oysters and fish from the bay, the list goes on – this little place produces such a range of delicious things. Everywhere you look, there’s something new to feast on.
Travelling on your own can be a lonely place, the highs are high, and the lows can be low. That safety net provided by your friends or family is gone. Luckily for me, I found a partner-in-crime called Marius, from Cologne, Germany, to tag along on this next adventure. Rewinding a little, we met at our hostel, where Marius was baking. He used leftover food to bake an apple cake for anyone staying at the hostel.
We travelled by ferry to the idyllic backdrop of Weiheke Island on a hot ‘late summers’ day. Similarly to Rangitoto, blue skies stretched for miles, white sailboats bobbed in the calm turquois tinted waters, white sandy beaches with bright green hills.
With the food-based stimulus around us, we quickly came up with a plan to cook on Little Oneroa Beach for dinner. That’s when all the foraging and (slight) stealing borrowing of front garden ingredients started. To be fair, we didn’t know we could forage nearly all of the ingredients for our beach dinner. Once we started exploring the area we saw how edible and exciting Weiheke Island’s landscape really was.
First stop: Marius’ hostel, which happened to have a vegetable garden. We collected crunchy kale, beautiful zucchini flowers, fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, basil, and mint, the spiciest chilli I’ve ever eaten (Marius took one for the team by trying it first), and in the ‘free food’ bin we found a potato, a pear and flour tortillas. As the saying goes ‘if life hands you tortillas, you make fish tacos!’ Ok, I might have changed that a little. From my food-based adventures I had ½ an avocado, a purple potato, a red onion and jam to contribute to the collection. Then Marius had some brown mushrooms in his arsenal.
We walked down the road, looking in every direction, losing each other because the other would wander off in search of something delicious. ‘Is that…?’, ‘look over here…’ – the questions and answers kept on coming. We spotted a lime tree, which told us to take 2. So did the nectarine tree. Oh wait, ‘there’s a banana tree, the leaf could be our plate’. Travelling to a winery I take a few grape leaves to wrap our fish. Just as we start talking about tomato salsa, a cherry tomato plant magically appeared at the side of the road. ‘I’d also like to find a money tree’, I put that out into the universe (still waiting on that one). Marius emptied his water bottle and carefully placed our prized tomatoes in there. We buy 50c worth of garlic from a local grocer. With a backpack full of produce and a clear idea of what to cook, we headed to the Te Matuku Bay fishmonger. The powerful Auckland sun was streaming down on us, rosy cheeks, shiny skin, and quizzical look on our faces (because we were lost), a nice lady called Michelle pulled over to ask if we need help. She then took us over to the beach. After shucking our oysters (see last post), we took the bus back to Little Oneroa.
During the day we shared food-based stories, ideas and travel tips. Marius stumbled upon a talk on urban farming by a Kelowna-based farmer whilst on the South Island – I know him. There was already a connection before we met. When as we got off the ferry and headed for lunch, as we walked and talked we bumped into 2 Kelowna-based friends of mine, and Marius is also from ‘Cologne’, which kind of sounds like ‘Kelowna’. The world is a small place.
We walked over to my place to cook. Rubbed some olive oil spread over the fish, added fresh thyme and rosemary, seasoned it with salt and pepper, added lime peel and wrapped it in the grape leaf. We walked down to the beach, fired up the hot plate BBQ. As afternoon slides into evening, the sun moved from right-to-left, and the Island began to blush.
400g (a massive 14oz) of fresh fish, homemade guacamole, potato and kale salad, cherry tomato salsa, sautéed mushrooms (with beer), zucchini flowers, caramelized nectarines and pear for dessert, and a 6-pack of craft beer all came to just $13.25 each. Excluding the beer $6.12 each, for a meal with 8 different components. New Zealanders are very lucky to have access to so much fresh produce literally on their doorsteps. The end product was much more satisfying because we knew where our raw ingredients came from, we worked hard for them, and there was a story. I honestly don’t think people would mind us taking a few ingredients; especially those fallen to the ground, if it means it’ll be eaten and enjoyed. We respected our food, embraced our eco-system, and just cooked.
When you start foraging or growing your own food, you start to see the your environment as a the delicious place it’s supposed to be. Our environment will look out for us and it’s about time we returned the favour.