Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Long Weekend of Loves: Animals, Gardening and Cooking

Last Thursday through Monday were some of the happiest, relaxing days I’ve had since I arrived in Dunedin.  Most of the time I’m feeling pressured to go out and do something new and exciting (which I usually end up enjoying despite being a little hesitant at first), but last weekend I decided to hang around in Dunedin, and I finally got to do some things that have been on my domestic list since the beginning...

Thursday morning after my 8 am class, a fellow Pennsylvanian I had met my second weekend here caught up to me and asked if I wanted to accompany her to the local animal shelter.  Yes!!  She had told me about this place when I initially met her, but it’s a bit of a walk and I haven’t found the time to make the trek since.  We grabbed a third friend and walked briskly up the hills of Dunedin to go meet the animals.

First, I got to take the four-month-old puppies for a run while one of the keepers cleaned their pens:

[This is Temperance, the bigger of the two puppies.  She was pretty feisty - she even put a hole in the bag I brought with me.  I forgot how sharp those puppy teeth can be...]

[And this was the timid Reebok.  He was sooo skinny and skittish.  Temperance wouldn’t leave him alone, so to escape he would jump up on the bench and take turns sitting in our laps.  He’d just flop down and look at us with those impossible-to-resist puppy eyes.  So sweet!]

Next, I volunteered to walk one of the older dogs.  They had so many!  There were cages upon cages full of howling and yapping dogs.  Of course I was given one of the more energetic dogs, Smokey.  She bounced several feet in the air while we unlocked her cage, and then she dragged me up and down the hills for the next twenty minutes.  (Her strength definitely made up for her smaller size.)  I kept her for a while after that so we could actually take a walk at my pace.  She was very sweet and was super excited to be out and about.

[My new friend Smokey!  As the keeper described her: ‘a sweet wee gal full o’ beans.’]

I was cutting it pretty close for making it back to my one o’clock class, but I couldn’t bear to leave without saying hi to the kitties!  I gave Smokey a big bowl of water and then went up to the  cat houses, where there were separate rooms for the kittens, the females and then the males.  Of course I started with the babies....

[This little guy came in jumped up in my lap as soon as I crouched on the floor.  There were so many kitties!  About half of them were locked up in cages, taking turns with the ones that were running around.  They ranged from very very tiny to just about mature.  Some were a little scared, but most were happy to chase a few toys and bat at some string.]

I said quick hellos to the big kitties and then jogged home in time for a quick shower before class.  I loveeee animals, but there was no way I could go to class smelling the way that I was... Can’t wait to go back!

Then, on Saturday, I signed up for an urban gardening workshop through the university’s environmental club and the Otago Polytechnic Institute’s LivingCampus initiative.  I helped clear part of planter right next to a building at the Polytechnic Institute, and then got to take a tour of the beautiful gardens that were already established on the Institute’s campus and their compost centers/worm bins.

[An example of one urban garden.  They were everywhere!  Big gardens, small ones... sometimes just little patches of parsley or rosemary, ready for picking.  These gardens are completely open to the public, and there are just a few signs explaining the project and asking that everyone harvest sustainably.  There were lots of dark greens, beans, onions, carrots, cabbage, herbs, etc.  The gardens are also used to supply the Institute’s student café.  Very cool!]

[To the left, our new gardening space.  To the right, all of the stuff we had to rip out of it.]

After our tour and our little harvests, we returned to the spot we had cleared and started a workshop with one of the Institute’s agriculture professors, Michelle.  We talked for a bit about urban agriculture initiatives, and then began working on our ‘no-dig’ or ‘lasagna’ garden.  We made raised beds by layering compost, cardboard, mulch, and hay until we had a nice fluffy place to put our seedlings.

[Micelle directing us as we made the raised beds]

[Lettuce seedling nestled nicely in the compost and hay]

[Another example of a LivingCampus garden.  This one was made entirely out of terraced raised beds.]

After a couple hours of work, I said my thanks you’s and went back home, both very dirty and very happy!  I’d love to see Juniata’s garden and farm expand into a similar project.  Maybe someday...

After a nice relaxing Sunday during which I interchanged napping and reading, Monday came again.  That evening was my last European cooking class.  This time, we got to make Portuguese food.  Since it appeared that everyone was going to do their own thing like last time, I stepped up and took control of the main dish.  This involved dicing and frying onions... Zuzana laughed every time I sniffled or wiped my eyes on my sleeve.  We ended up with a VERY yummy meal.  I want to say it was my favorite yet, but I feel like I say that every time!

[Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale Soup): Zuzana had trouble finding kale, so we went with cabbage instead.  It was a very light, thin soup, thickened a little bit with onions and flavored with red pepper and parsley.  I think I would have enjoyed the kale a bit more, but I was perfect for such a cold, rainy day.]

[Ervilhas com Ovos Escalfados (Green Peas with Poached Eggs): I didn’t really know what to expect with this one, but it turned out sooo well!  We cooked some onion and garlic, tossed in some water, peas, and canned tomatoes, and then as it simmered, we put in whole eggs to poach.  Served over rice cooked with more onions, and it was a very tasty, hearty meal.]

[Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts):  And of course, my favorite, dessert!  These were very simple tarts, made with nutmeg and cinnamon-dusted custard inside a puff pastry shell.  They were nice and warm and sooo yummy.]


I was sad to see my cooking class end, but I was glad to take so much away from it.  She taught us some valuable skills, introduced us to new foods, but most importantly for me, she improved my confidence in the kitchen.  I don’t always do exactly what the recipe says and I’ve gotten a little lazy with my measurements.  She taught me that was completely okay, and that I should cook by tasting, not by following a recipe word-for-word.

It was nice to do some comfort-based activities for a weekend.  I love my adventures, but as time goes on and I become increasingly homesick, it’s soothing to know that I have some of the same loves here that I do at home: furry animals, gardens and cooking.  I will be so happy to see my pets again and play in gardens and cook in kitchens back home, but for now I have some more distractions.

Well, off I go on my next weekend excursion: Lake Manapouri, again!  This time my study abroad program paid for me to go on a weekend-long kayaking/camping trip.  If I can lift my arms on Monday, I’ll tell you all about it!


  1. Shhh! I can't really comment on this too loudly or Sylvester, Cye or Candie will here ~ and they will be JEALOUS!! Seriously, though, so glad that you found a place where you can get your pet fix and NOT have pets. Also glad to see you playing in the garden, living up to your Atwood adage of "at the end of a spring day, you should smell like dirt." Bet Margaret wouldn't mind that it's Kiwi Fall and not spring. And finally, but certainly not least, let's talk about that custard! You will have to make this for me every Sunday, and maybe on some Tuesdays, and definitely on some Fridays... Loving you lots, missing you, too, but it's all good since you are obviously having an incredible experience. Write again soon ~ we are all loving your "postcards" so much!