Tag: New Zealand

My State of the Union: We Lack Good Meat Pies

Most Americans have never had a good meat/savory pie. Why? I don’t really know, but yesterday I was in Seattle and drove by a restaurant named Pie. I nearly drove off the road turning my head to see if they had meat pies or if it was just another attempt to miniaturize a dessert food and sell it to me with a cup of $5 coffee. It was not. I turned my vehicle around, decided to eat lunch an hour before I had planned and soon found myself trying to decide which savory pie I was going to order.

Meat Pies

When I lived in New Zealand for a year I discovered meat pies and when I say I discovered them I mean I discovered them like Columbus discovered America. Meat pies had always been there (or at least as long as I had been alive which is all it takes to exist forever in my book) but I discovered how tasty meat pies were at my school: Mount Roskill Grammar. A few of my mates (that’s what we call each other in NZ) bought meat pies at the little food stand in the courtyard where seagulls pooped on everyone and there was a large painted sign on the roof of the school building that said, “Yankee Go Home.” I think the sign was meant for someone else and it never really bothered me because after being in NZ for a week I considered myself a Kiwi because I learned to say “Mate” and took a liking to tea and piekelts. Anyway, I ate my first meat pie (yes, I had eaten the American version of a meat pie: the awful pot pie) and decided that these New Zealanders had discovered the perfect way to eat a meal, put it in a crust and make it delicious.

A VERY delicious lamb and rosemary meat pie, a...

A VERY delicious lamb and rosemary meat pie, at the Milawa Cheese Factory. (from Flickr) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I returned to NZ a few years later, savory pies were on my list of things to eat. This list included anything less than $2. Around the corner from where I put in some time (we won’t call it working because that sounds like I would need a Visa to do something like that) was a pie shop. They had a metric ton of pies: Chicken and cheese, steak and bacon, lamb, bacon and egg, chicken curry, steak and mushroom, chicken and mushroom… Each day during a little break from my activities I walked to the corner and ate two meat pies, my goal was to try all the good sounding ones and even a couple bad sounding ones. I ate many, many pies during breaks from activities.

Homemade curry chicken pot pies.

Homemade curry chicken pot pies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So yesterday when I saw the pie shop, my heart did a little leap, I carefully turned my car around,  found a free parking space, and scampered into the pie shop. The variety was limited: Chicken, beef, pork, steak and peppers, bacon and egg, and then several vegetarian flavors that I ignored, but the three pies I ate were all good.

Why aren’t there pie shops on corners all over America? What is wrong with us? There are four terrible Mexican restaurants in every city in America, but trying to find a pie shop is like trying to find a teenager that doesn’t say “like” every other word. Come on America! We can do better. I propose that we set a goal to be the #1 meat pie producing nation in the world within five years. I don’t think there is a great deal of competition out there. If we can map the human genome, fly to the moon, and spend more money than all the rest of the world on defense (weapons) then surely we can lead the world in meat pie production. Don’t do it for me, do it for the millions of Americans who have never had the pleasure of a great meat pie.

I am Water

The Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas is where I was born. It was the wrong place for me to be born. I don’t have much in common with Kansas. Kansas is dirt, I am water.

I was moved to Chicago not too long after my birth. It is the first place I remember seeing water, real water. Lake Michigan is real water, expansive and blue. My parents rode my sister and I around the rim of Lake Michigan on the backs of their bikes. We (my sister and I) sat in flimsy, fold-up child-seats, wind blowing through our hair, gazing out at this mysterious body of water.

Then we moved to Montana. There are two Montanas (Joe is not one of them): Western Montana is wild and mountainous, eastern Montana is a pancake of a place. We moved to eastern Montana, dirt. Water became reservoirs, ditches and creeks. We no longer rode around an expansive body of water, we visited leach infested Hell’s Creek. Picking leaches off your body after a swim is Montana. Montana was not built for soy-latte drinkers.

Then we moved to California. People assume California is a wonderland of water. It isn’t. There are several Californias: Northern-hippie-burn-out-California, coastal California,   mountain range California, Southern California, the Bay Area California, and then there is the Central Valley. We moved to the San Joaquin Valley where water was backyard pools and irrigation canals. We did not have a pool. My friends had pools and it is where I discovered that I am water.

Someone gave us an above-ground pool. They were getting rid of it. They probably had a fancy cement pool built in their backyard and wanted to toss out the white-trash pool. Instead they gave it to us.  I spent hours in the water. I couldn’t dive into the pool (at least when my parents were around), I couldn’t dive down to ten feet and sit next to the drain, I couldn’t brag about having a pool because above-ground pools were like ugly girlfriends, but I could become water.

Then we moved to New Zealand for a year. New Zealand is water. There is a North Island and a South Island, but it is all water: Beaches, bays, rivers, lakes. New Zealand was foreign, but I have never felt more at place. It was like visiting Heaven for a year.

When I looked for a college to attend I didn’t realize that I was water. I picked land-locked Spokane. Spokane has water, but it is scenic water. When you are water you need to be in the water or on the water, not seeing water.

For twenty years I have lived surrounded by water. I have bathed in rivers too cold to bathe in, I have felt the heave of the ocean beneath boats, I have rolled in waves waiting for a chance to breathe, I have discovered water. I do not understand people who fear water. Water surges through and surrounds me.  I am water.

Ugly Americans on the loose

A Curse Upon Both Your Houses

Ugly Americans on the loose

I can point to the moment I was first cursed with the travel bug. It was 1979 and my whole family traveled to New Zealand to spend a year. It was an odd arrangement that seemed perfectly natural to me. My father was a Presbyterian minister and had managed to exchange pulpits with a minister in Auckland, New Zealand. So the whole family packed up and traded homes, cars and churches for a year.

We landed in Auckland and my life was never the same. I went to Mount Roskill Grammar school. I learned to play rugby, cricket and tennis. I discovered BBC comedies and ate new and delicious food. We went to the beach and I learned to body surf, we traveled the entire country of New Zealand and I didn’t want to leave when the year was over. When I came back to the US, I was changed. I could no longer view the world from a strictly American viewpoint. When I watched the news I wondered what was happening in New Zealand (a country at that time that was hardly known in the US.) The internet did not exist and I felt like I was living in a world with blinders on. I hadn’t yet read Plato’s allegory of the cave, but if I had, I might have felt like someone else understood me. Sure, there was Mork and Mindy  but I missed Faulty Towers and rugby and cricket and the beach and climbing Mount Eden and the slower pace of life in the South Pacific.

These were thoughts I knew I should not utter aloud. As an American, I had a duty to believe that my country was the greatest country ever established on the face of the Earth and if I didn’t believe that then I should march on off to Russia and live in a gulag. I had trouble swallowing this because New Zealand had damaged my brain. I could no longer see the world as the US and then a bunch of moron countries that survived simply because we decided to allow them to exist.

Travel has a way of damaging your brain. Travel is a Pandora’s Box. Once the spirits of travel are let free you cannot put them back. Which brings me to one factoid that is troubling to me: In 2011 only 30% of Americans held passports. (Good thing we don’t need passports to invade countries. Cheap shot, but I couldn’t resist.) As a comparison, 60% of Canadians and 75% of UK citizens have passports. The US certainly has a lot to see, but if 70% of Americans never leave the country there is a problem.

I began thinking about this the other day when my son and daughter started to talk about missing Europe. We are not a wealthy family, but we have traveled to Europe as a family twice. I’m sure there are people who think it was a complete waste of our hard earned money, but I have always believed in investing in memories instead of things. I also believe that there is no better learning experience than traveling. You can always read about places or watch Youtube videos, but travel brings more meaning to what you read and how you think.

Would the US be a better country if more Americans traveled? I believe so. Would the world be a better place if more Americans traveled? I believe so. We misunderstand a good portion of the world and the world misunderstands us. Americans might be more willing to change their perspectives on education, health care, transportation and military spending if we traveled more. Ignorance of the world only breeds fear and fear makes us reluctant to change. I am proposing that we take the money Newt Gingrich wants to spend on a moon base and instead of sending 1,300 Americans to the moon, we send 13 million Americans to another country for a month. It couldn’t hurt.

Manna from Moo Cow

New Zealand 2007

Image by Szymon Stoma via Flickr

Who knows how old the meat was, but when meat is free does it really matter? I don’t mean you should eat old meat if there are worms in it, but if the meat has been frozen…then so what? It might not taste like you expect but life is full of adventures if you just let yourself get there. At least that is what my experience has taught me. Pass up an opportunity to eat free meat and two days later you might regret it.

Now I doubt that I would steal meat out of a freezer today, let me rephrase that, I doubt I would liberate meat left behind by tourists today, but at the time I was slowly running out of money and the meat was a risk I was willing to take.

My friend, Andy, and I had been touring New Zealand on our bicycles for about two weeks when we found ourselves at the Pauanui Pines Motor Lodge in Pauanui, New Zealand. We ended up there the same way we ended up everywhere else on that trip: dumb luck.

We left Auckland one day and just started pedaling southeast. We had no reservations anywhere, we had no general idea of where we would end up each evening, we just started pedaling and after it started to get late we would begin thinking about where we wanted to sleep. Most of the time it just worked out. We didn’t have a tent, we didn’t plan more than about two hours into the future and I must admit, it was one of the best trips I have ever taken.

The Pauanui Pines had little bungalows around the property with a couple beds, a television, a dining room table and a kitchen. We arrived just after the holidays so the place was nearly vacant and the rates were favorable.

So how did I go from staying at the Pauanui Pines to stealing meat? That is a good question. It happened on the way to the shower. Andy and I had a long day of swimming in the ocean, sunning on the beach and basically acting like bums, but even bums need a shower on occasion and so we grabbed our towels and headed over to the shower rooms. The showers were the kind where you drop in a ten-cent piece and then scrub like a madman hoping to remove all the soap and dirt before the water turns off. I believe there is probably some laboratory where they see how quickly someone can actually take a shower and then they set all of the pay showers to about ten seconds less than that.

Since Andy and I were super cheap I don’t think the time limit was going to affect us, if the shower turned off too early we would have just finished with a garden hose. On our way back to the bungalow we thought we should check out the clubhouse but once we got in the door we realized that it really was just a big kitchen for the campers with a few stoves and lots of table space. Two weeks earlier, during the holidays, I am certain that the clubhouse was packed with families, but on this evening it was just us.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of needing, I mean really needing, to look in unfamiliar freezers and there were two freezers in the clubhouse. I don’t know how Theodore Davis felt when he discovered Tut’s tomb, but I suppose he felt about as good as I did when I opened the first white freezer in the clubhouse. The freezer was packed with food. We checked the other freezer and it was also filled.

There are some people who would consider our next move stealing, but really is it stealing if someone leaves something behind? You don’t get arrested if you pick up a broken couch that is sitting alongside a road. You don’t get arrested when you find a twenty-dollar bill on the ground. Is it stealing if something is left for the good of humanity? Well Andy and I did not spend a great deal of time discussing the finer points of the moral dilemma before us. We each slipped a couple of loose hamburger patties into our towels and strolled back to the bungalow.

Andy and I had been surviving on potatoes, lamb sausages, barbeque sauce and beer for two weeks so it didn’t really matter to us how old the meat was. It might have been there for two years for all we knew, but hamburger is one of those beautiful meats that cannot be ruined, it is ruined as soon as it comes out of the massive grinder that combines all the crap they can’t chop into steak.

So, that evening we dined on two very well done hamburgers, I may not believe that hamburger can be ruined, but I do believe in cooking mystery food thoroughly. We ate those burgers with a generous helping of barbeque sauce and potatoes, and then began plotting our next shower. We certainly didn’t want to get caught hauling meat out of the freezer, but at the same time we did not want to pass up the opportunity to have a free meal provided by the generous people of New Zealand.

We showered twice a day. Our quick showers were always followed by hearty meals of mystery meat and potatoes.

The days were warm, the surf broke wonderfully, the beach was lovely, the few campers we talked to were friendly, but the showers were always exceptional.

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