Wednesday, 19 December 2012

50 Shaves of Ham

Last night I ate the first ham steak I’d had since, well, like, forever. Foodies may be appalled, but my recipe is a sure fire Boxing Day winner: hack off thick, hand sized hunk of ham, pan fry in butter with a pineapple ring (from a can) until golden, serve with leftover salad. Delicious.
Why was I tucking into ham-delights a week before Christmas? Leftovers from a festive dinner hosted last Saturday. Problem is, we go away on Friday, only two days left to finish Bogus.
‘This ham is amazing,’ claimed one diner.
‘We raised it,’ I replied. Said diner looked alarmed. So I didn’t go into the fact the swine in front of him had had a short but happy life often dining on: overripe pineapples, persimmon and pawpaw from the fruit shop and day old jumbo muffins and wraps from the famous Vudu cafĂ©.  
‘Did it have a name?’
‘He was called Bogus.’
‘Eww,’ said the diner again.
If Christmas ham munchers prefer their ham shrink wrapped, I’m fine with that, as long as the porkers weren’t raised in pens. We’ve raised 6 weaner pigs of exotic breeding over the years. To date I’ve enjoyed the fruits of my slop-hauling-labours. Succulent roasts mid-winter, nestled on beds of thyme, mustard, apple and cider (which reduces to an amazing jam-like condiment). Crispy pork belly crackling that pops in your mouth. But raising Bogus and Beans almost did this pig farmer in.
I collected them as weaners from Stu, a Gore farmer. We met at the Municipal Pools car park, Alexandra, 11am, April 2011. A wool-pack tied with binder twine, squirmed and squealed on the back of Stu’s pickup.
‘I hope they’re going to fit,’ he said, standing tall in his navy blue overalls.
‘So do I,’ I said, re-positioning the hay lined dog kennel on its side in my stationwagon.
Stu undid the sack, reached in and pulled the first not-so-little porker out by its rear trotters. ‘Guide the head and front legs in,’ he instructed. Ger-plop down went the first piggie. Stu grabbed the second and we repeated the procedure. They were cute. Berkshires. Black, with gingery bits.
I handed over my cheque for $160 then high tailed it back to Queenstown. They were blasting at the Nevis Bluff with waits of an hour; I didn’t want a boil-up kicking off in my boot.
            ‘We’re not going to eat them,’ I told husband, when we unloaded them. ‘Best Pig in show,’ I declared, staring into Bogus’s one ginger eye. ‘I’ll train them.’
‘Yeah right.’
Husband was right, of course. The initial crushed-barley and warm milk feeding period is fun. Then before you can say, pork crackling the little blighters have turned themselves and their home into, well… a pig sty.
The May rain came. I donned gumboots and an old ski jacket and hauled slops. Bogus always stood waiting in the trough on his hind legs screeching, then he’d drop down often sending putrid gloop face-wards, next he’d press a trotter into each concrete corner, obstructing his brother while he hoovered the tastiest morsels. Beans trotted back and forth, outsized and waited for the muddied remains. You always get a fatty and a skinny with pig pairs. Fatty for ham and bacon; skinny for chops and roasts.  Bogus’s appetite dictated his destiny.
Whoever said pigs are clean was definitely confused. They tend to use one corner of their pen for a toilet, but Bogus and Beans didn’t bother. They could multitask in fact: drink water and wee at the same time. The ground froze in June, they kept warm lying tummy to tummy, snout to snout inside hay cocoons in their A-frame; munched through kilos of veg and leftovers and got bigger and bigger. I did not admire their growing hams, as advised by Little River Cottage Pig Farmers dvd, I tended to porcine bedding and dietary requirements and longed for spring. All the while Bogus stared at me for MORE, with his piggy ginga eye.
When I collected the boys in plastic wrapped bits from the Omakau Abattoir, the back of my car sunk on its axles. 118kg of frozen pig.
A year later, we have a bag of chops and two pickled hocks in the freezer, as well as Bogus’s last leg. Someone needs to publish, ‘50 Shaves of Ham – a recipe book’, I thought at 7.05pm. I was stuck for another ham-meal idea. I ate the kids leftover broccoli salad then made the perfect ham sandwich: soft white bread spread generously with butter and a smear of Dijon, stuffed with several slices of freshly carved ham.
It seems whatever way your ham gets to the table; even feint hearted diners come back for seconds.
Merry Xmas ham lovers!
Tasty Tuesdays on

Monday, 10 December 2012

Xmas Shopping Booby Trap

For those of you who have already started, or done you Christmas shopping – GOOD ON YOU. I wait until panic sets in, in ten days time, then I hit the shops.  If I start too soon, I end up re-shopping; adding items to those already purchased for each lucky recipient. I worry that I may have been stingy, but end up overdoing it.
However, I must admit to a couple of forays into my little town’s shops recently; it could be the curious encounters I’ve had which have turned me temporarily into Madam Scrooge…
I was in the Warehouse with, daughter 12 purchasing an outfit for the Remarkables Xmas Spectacular. When I spied a young woman, petite in stature and large of hips, casually trying on jean shorts mid shop. Using only her thin mini sun dress to hide her modesty, this was not a vision you’d want to linger over. She tried on several pairs. (I only know this because I was to-ing and fro-ing to the changing rooms, the place most people feel comfortable wriggling in and out of tight clothing). If the jean shorts did not fit, the woman biffed them on top of the racks and grabbed another. Strangely, no red-shirted employees seemed to notice.
The next day I was shopping with both daughters, still trying to find a remarkable costume, when a young European backpacker stepped out of her changing room, in her bra and undies and tried to summons the sales person. What’s going on, is there no shame, I thought.  Where will this brazen display of flesh, with no water in sight, end?
In between the changing room boobs, I managed to make my first Xmas purchase: some overpriced boy-band beach merchandise. Phew. But it hardly broke the back of the 20 odd presents our family gives each Christmas. So I decided to go lingerie shopping. For myself. My drawers runneth over with bras in various forms, but what women isn’t always on the lookout for the most comfortable and flattering bra ever made by MAN. And hands up who’d prefer to shop for themselves, when a long list and a worldwide deadline lingers.
I entered the tiny bra laden shop and to my surprise found three tall men looming above the racks like misplaced orangutans. Two were in a security company type uniform. What was going on, some sort of booby trap perhaps?  Then I smiled. Of course, they were buying lingerie for their wives or girlfriends. How cool. They knew what they wanted too.
The first man bought a bra and knicker set. ‘That’s one ticked off the list,’ he boasted.
I didn’t want to stare, so I rifled through the sizes of a beige Madonna-esque bra I’d found.
‘I want a nightie for my wife,’ said another man, now right behind me.
‘Do you know what size she is?’ asked bra-doctor 2.
‘She’s a small 12,’ he said proudly.
‘Do you know her cup size?’
That drew a blank. ‘Has she got big boobs.’
‘No small,’ he admitted. I felt like saying anything bigger than a handful is a waste of time mate, at that point, but didn’t.
‘What about a red nightie?’
‘No, she’s got red hair and she doesn’t like blue either,’ he said authoritatively.
‘Black is always safe.’
He chose mauve. She probably has fair skin, his wife, mauve would set off her red hair beautifully. Good choice.
I disappeared into the changing room and stripped off. A few moments later Bra-doctor 1 asked if I needed any help. Then for some unknown reason I let her into the cubicle with me.  I had never done this before, ever, and I wasn’t sure why I did it then. Had those confident male lingerie shoppers lowered my guard, along with the casual approach to trying on clothes in a public place I’d witnessed. I’d already used the tape measure hanging there. I’d passed Bra Fitting 101. I had my correct size.
Bra-doctor 1 lingered too long. She slipped my selection off their plastic hangers and undid their hooks, all the while offering kindly advice without looking directly at my boobs (already testing the merchandise).  I won’t let it happen again.
I made my purchase. I qualified for the $50 off. Tick.
On the way home daughter 12 pulled my intimate-apparel from its nest of tissue and said, ‘OMG what’s this?’
‘A teddy. It’s just a bra and undies all in one. I had heaps of them in the 90’s. Put it away please.’
‘Eww it’s weird.’
Maybe to her, but the net results of my afternoon shopping: an early Xmas present-to-self.  Luckily for me I still have fifteen shopping days left. And while I’m out there, I’ll remind myself of those thoughtful men in the shop and the reason we give gifts: to show love and give pleasure.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Milford Track - What a Legend

When our beaming blond hut warden announced at evening-talk-time; ‘You can call me Katie, Kat or my favourite Katie-pai.’ I half expected her to slap her khaki thighs, stamp her rubber toe-shoes and break into a haka.
‘How did you find the walk today?’ she shouted.
‘Good,’ mumbled a few weary trampers.
‘I couldn’t hear that,’ boomed Katie. ‘How did we find the walk today?’ she repeated, and tried to orchestrate a shout, or possibly a Mexican wave with both arms.
Talk about excited. Crikey, it was like discovering our very own Steve Irwin beavering away undiscovered on the Milford Track. What a legend. Katie-pai could have tackled a moa with her enthusiasm, had they not been wiped out by hungry immigrants 600 years earlier. But at the end of a five hour tramp, her over-exuberant enthusiasm was not instantly contagious. I sat amongst, Kiwi-Team-15 and oozed a little cultural cringe. The audiences deadpan response would have been any stand-up comics worst nightmare, but it fell off Katie-Pai like a Milford waterfall.
‘I’ve been a guide at this this hut for 12 years. I’m so excited about the place,’ she continued unfazed. ‘I talk a lot and I talk fast. Can everyone understand me?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ we all said.
‘Can you do the bird growl?’ shouted the youngest member of Team-15.
Katie-Pai had her spiel and she was sticking to it. Ross had given us his nature talk the night before, complete with taxidermied rodents and male bird calls. He’d talked up Katie’s female kiwi sound; vouched for its authenticity. I checked my pack-sore shoulders for abrasions and fidgeted, along with 39 other trampers. Katie-pai was just warming up.
‘I’m so excited,’ said Katie-pai. ‘I’m excited about rain. The annual rainfall on the Milford track is around 7 meters.’ I started getting excited about then, my raincoat had leaked after about an hour, in what you’d probably term drizzle in Fiordland.
‘But there’s nothing you can do about the weather. And the forecast is actually good for tomorrow. Perfect for your walk over the Mackinnon Pass, where the views are SPECTACULAR!!! We’ve also just put in a new hut for you. The last one blew away.  Oh and the toilet. We’ve made that special too. We’ve put a window in so you can look at the view while you’re doing your business. There’s a rope on the inside which you need to hang on to if you don’t want anyone to walk in on you. Are there any questions?’
‘I’ve got a question,’ said the kiwi-scottish member of Team-15, a little too politely. ‘If you’re holding the rope…how do you wipe your bum?’
Katie-pai had had hecklers before, she played it cool. When the laughter died down, our youngest member asked again, ‘Can you do the kiwi bird growl now.’
Katie-Pai pretended not to hear and carried on. ‘It’s going to rain on day 4 when you’re walking from the Dumpling Hut through to Sandfly point. As I said, us hut wardens love the rain. It makes the bush sparkle. The greens are brighter, the mosses and ferns come alive. The waterfalls are bigger.’
Stuff the raincoat. I’ve got merino. I’ll be damp but warm. Katie-pai’s job satisfaction was finally soaking through. I was loving the bush already, but if it was better in REAL rain? Bring it on!
Next we got the fire safety drill, then finally, some wildlife. Two pairs of brown kiwi lived near the hut. Cool!
‘They’re big, they come up to here on me,’ informed Katie-pai holding her knee. ‘The male’s call is like a short sharp whistle. They come out at night or you can get up at 5am to see them.’ Then she went almost quiet, her voice lost its boom, her Steve Irwin-ness disappeared. ‘Okay, like Ross said, I can do the female kiwi call. But you may not be able to think about me in the same way afterwards.’ Fat chance. She even looked nervous as she placed her hands back on her thighs and braced herself. She took a deep breath. We gripped our seats. The sound that came out, three times, in a row, was more like a hoik (minus the spit) and a grunt. We all clapped enthusiastically. Junior member stamped his feet. Ross told us she was good. Kei te pai Katie-pai.
It was 8.20pm; most of us crawled happily into our sleeping bags. At the five the next morning, a male brown kiwi whistled, 4-5 short sharp shrills right outside the hut, then repeated himself. I waited for his female, but sadly she didn’t reply.
Katie-pai was already on the job when we departed after breakfast. She was possibly doing track maintenance or shoveling a summer avalanche with her long handled spade. It didn’t rain for the remainder of our tramp. A pity, because for the first time in my life I wanted to experience the bush in a downpour.
Good on ya Katie-pai.

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