Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: New Zealand

A Study in Sourdough

I brought back a sourdough starter from New Zealand, from one of my homestays.  The starter is from a German woman, and I’m thinking she got it from Germany and brought it to New Zealand.  And then she gave me some dried up chips to bring back to the U.S.!  That’s something I love about sourdough starters– the passing it forward aspect.  I wonder how many households are using this same starter around the world?  And what’s cool is that all the loaves of bread, or other bread-related foods, all probably taste and look really different.

Here’s my sourdough starter, sitting in a mason jar after having been revived from a dried state back in December when I came back to the U.S. after my most recent travels:

starter

And here is a collage of some of the loaves I’ve made.  I’d say I’ve probably made close to a dozen loaves in the last months.  And each one has been different.  I haven’t quite hit upon the right combination of ingredients.  But I’ve learned a ton just from the process.  It’s always amazing what you can learn from doing something over and over and over again.  Like running– there are all these learnings from running that have been documented: Haruki Murakami wrote about these learnings (a great little collection of essays) and there are lots of blog postings about lessons learned from running.  Just type in those key words into your favorite search engine, and a slew of posts come up.

loaves

So here are my learnings from making sourdough bread using a sourdough starter.  Let’s start with the more practical, mechanical learnings.

  1. Managing a starter is a big part of the process.  And it’s not as difficult as one would think.  You just want to keep your starter bubbly and happy, and you can tell when it’s not happy. Happy = elastic, gooey, bubbly, white-ish, and yeasty-smelling.  If it’s grey, liquidy, and stagnant, then no good.  And the way to manage a starter is just to feed it flour and some water every few days.  More frequently if you leave it on the counter (like every other day or so) and less frequently if left in the fridge (once a week or so).  You keep it in the fridge if you don’t use it every week.  That’s what I do.  I make a loaf every 2nd or 3rd week or so, so I take the starter out of the fridge a few days before I want to make a loaf, feed it, and then use it.  And when I’m not making bread, I leave the starter jar in the fridge where the molecules just rest a bit.
  2. Pay attention to the starter but not too much attention.  It doesn’t need to be severely monitored, but it also likes some love every once in awhile.  That’s what’s great about a starter, it’s pretty low maintenance, like succulents which don’t need a ton of water or care.  I appreciate the low maintenance of this little organism.  It needs me but not too much!
  3. Just estimate measurements, but maybe start with a more exact recipe.  I’m more of a cook than a baker.  I like to use a recipe as a starting point and then make my adjustments, like adding more of one spice than another or substituting sour cream for yogurt or adding in different vegetables.  That’s why I can only do quick bake recipes like chocolate chip cookies or banana bread.  Anything that requires a lot of measurement and exact protocols is annoying to me.  It’s funny because I’m totally not like that in real life– I’m incredibly detail oriented and concerned with protocols and precision.  But when in the kitchen, I like to let that go.  It’s my chance to unwind and be free of the work-mentality.  So with sourdough bread, I started with a recipe, got comfortable with how the dough should look and feel, and then started to improvise from there.  I added a bit more honey or tried a different kind of salt or oil or flour.

And from there, the more meta-level learnings:

  1. Learn to let go.  As I said, I’m usually a bit of a control freak about things.  So making sourdough bread has taught me to be more free and improvisatory.  I’ve experimented with the recipe I started with, and just yesterday, I tried a completely new recipe, incorporating yeast along with the starter.  That resulted in a new texture to the bread.  I think I’ll try it again and add more salt and some honey.  Every loaf I’ve made, I’ve done something a little different.  I’ve had some success with some and some that weren’t so great (that went to the chickens!).  But I’m learning to go with the flow and be more flexible about bread-making, specifically and life, more generally.
  2. Make your own food.  I’m learning to look at the things I eat and see where I can cut back on processed, store-bought, ready-made consumables.  It’s really interesting to see how much you can “take back” into your own kitchen.  I’ve only bought two loaves of bread in the last six or so months.  And those were both when I had friends in town and was making bruschetta or something special that the sourdough bread didn’t quite work for.  Bread is my big project right now.  I’m not sure what other foods will come next in my journey of making my own food!  Any suggestions?
  3. Be in it for the long-haul.  Making bread is a lifelong process, I would say.  Because I’m not really using exact measurements and have been experimenting with different recipes, I keep playing around to find a really good loaf.  And even when I find that really good loaf, I’m sure I’ll keep maneuvering and wiggling to find another really good loaf made in a different way.  But I’m excited each time I put the loaf in the oven to see what will come out an hour later.  Besides the assortment of ingredients, things like climate, elevation, and water affect the bread, and that’s always variable.  So I can never come out with the same loaf twice.  But that’s part of the journey!

OK, I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure this list could go on and on.  But I like a series that just has three parts.  I’m still looking for good recipes for sourdough breads, so if you know of any, send them along!

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Reflections on 3 Months of Travel

I’ve been back in the U.S. for a little over a week now (it feels so much longer already!  My travels seem like a dream!), and I thought it would be good for myself to do a post on my overall reflections from my travel.  At the halfway point, I wrote a reflection post; and just for the sake of closure, and for my own processing, I’d like to use the same format to look at the 2nd half of my trip (quickly) and also my overall trip.

SECOND HALF OF MY TRIP: (Nelson, New Zealand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

LOWLIGHTS

  • My first few days in Bali.  I was overwhelmed by the heat and humidity and the touristy facade to EVERYTHING; and it being Thanksgiving, I was a little homesick, too.  Once I hit Amed for the scuba course, though, everything turned around.
  • The heat, humidity, pollution, dust in the big cities in both Bali and Malaysia.  I missed the fresh, cool air of New Zealand.
  • Getting tons of mosquito bites and even some allergic reactions to tiger balm (that’s my diagnosis, at least) on my left leg in Malaysia.  I was so itchy for days it wasn’t even funny.  The Malaysian mosquitoes were quite vicious (and that was confirmed by another traveler I met).
  • Saying goodbye to New Zealand.  I was so sad to leave that beautiful country.

DSC06206

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The biggest highlight (not only for the 2nd half of my trip but overall, I’d have to say) was getting my Open Water Diving scuba license.  It was such an amazing experience from start to finish, not only because it was so fear-inducing and fear-conquering but because I was able to see beautiful aquatic life 15-20 meters underwater.
  • The markets in Malaysia.  Sights, sounds, smells, tastes (the ones I ate at)… all amazing.
  • Cooking meals for my host family in Kerikeri in New Zealand.  We ate so well together, and they were so appreciative.  It was great fun.
  • The food in Melaka, Malaysia.  So mouthwateringly good.  And like nothing I had ever eaten before.  I wish I could have some now.
  • Riding a scooter around Pulau Pangkor.  It was so liberating and fun.  I wasn’t even going that fast, but it was so nice to be going faster than walking speed and not be in a car.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Traveling in Southeast Asia as a single, young-looking (because I look a lot younger than I actually am) woman raises lots of people’s curiosity and admiration.  I was surprised by this because in New Zealand, it was quite common to find other single female travelers. In Asia, though, that was something that was not common, and I always had to figure out what kind of answer to give and was even wondering why they were asking.
  • I am not a great tropical-region traveler.  I always knew that I’m not good with heat and humidity, but being in Bali and Malaysia during their rainy season where I think the humidity was even higher than other times of year was quite a challenge.  I kept hoping it would cool off in the evenings but it didn’t.  And my spirits were definitely a little lower as a baseline because of the humid weather.  If I could travel in a tropical area and always have a pool or ocean to jump into to cool off, I think I’d be much better off.
  • Bringing some laundry detergent with me was a good idea.  I was washing some of my clothes almost every other day in Southeast Asia because 1) I didn’t have a lot of clothes and 2) I was sweating profusely each day and didn’t want to be a smelly person.

OVERALL 3 MONTH TRIP

LOWLIGHTS

Overall it was an amazing trip, and I didn’t experience ANY mishaps, accidents, dangerous moments.  I was pretty good about staying alert and not doing anything too risky (except for diving, but that was with an instructor, and it didn’t seem dangerous to me), so I was OK.  So the only lowlights I can really think of that stand out were

  • mosquito bites
  • the over-tourism of Bali
  • some of the traveler’s guilt I felt in Bali and Malaysia, especially the poorer areas

HIGHLIGHTS

  • As stated before, I think the scuba diving course, staying in Amed at the Geri Geria Shanti Bungalows, and meeting the amazing people there was a highlight.  I will never forget those first days diving in the amazing reefs and the shipwreck.  It was truly amazing and life changing.
  • All my WWOOFing placements were great, and I am still in touch with most of the people and hope to go back someday.  I learned a ton, got to really get my hands dirty (literally), and got more in touch with nature than I ever have.
  • Seeing lots of sunrises and sunsets in all three countries was wonderful.  I was basically awaking with the sun and sleeping when it got dark, rarely using an alarm clock at all, even when I had things I had to do.  I was outdoors most of the time, and I really enjoyed that– the hiking, the walking, the exploring, getting to know new flora and fauna.
  • FOOD!  Both in New Zealand and Malaysia.  In New Zealand because so often it was organic, fresh from a garden or a farm and often homemade.  In Malaysia because it was just soooo good.  I wasn’t crazy about the food in Bali.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • I really, really enjoyed traveling on my own, and I don’t think there were any moments that I felt like I couldn’t do something because I was by myself.  However, I think it would have been enjoyable to have a companion at various points to celebrate the high points together (or even to have some company when I was homesick over Thanksgiving.).  On the one hand, I’ve really gotten to enjoy and value solo travel, but I don’t think I’ve been put off from traveling with someone(s) for ever.  It’s nice to have someone to reflect with at the end of the day, to talk through decisions with, and to enjoy the good times with.  I think that’s why I really enjoyed the places where I met great people with whom I could talk and connect with.
  • Keeping an open mind- being ready to meet new people, try new foods, go down new paths- is important to me for travel.  I could have planned everything before I left, down to the hour, but I didn’t have the time nor the energy to do that kind of preparation.  So I ended up figuring out my general itinerary a few weeks in advance and then went day by day.
  • Tripadvisor is a great resource for accommodations.  The reviews that I read were accurate for the most part.
  • Having a Schwab account with ATM card was a HUGE asset.  No ATM fees anywhere, and I could withdraw any amount of money from any ATM machine.
  • I went the cheap route for as much as I could but splurged here and there– last dinner in a town, the scuba course, last hotel for all my travels.  Those splurges were nice treats to myself, especially when I had gone budget for everything else, including walking that extra mile with all my baggage instead of getting a taxi.

FOR THE FUTURE

I know travel is always going to be a part of my life, as it always has been.  I’d love to go back to New Zealand and explore more of the North Island and the southern part of the South Island.  I’d also like to try WWOOFing again at some point if I can, maybe somewhere else in the world– Italy, France, Japan…

So to wrap things up, here’s my itinerary:

  1. Landed in Auckland from Los Angeles.  1 night.
  2. First WWOOF home outside of New Plymouth.  10 nights.
  3. Wellington with a family friend.  2 nights.
  4. Seresin Estate in Renwick.  15 nights.
  5. WWOOF home outside of Christchurch.  9 nights.
  6. Wanaka.  3 nights.
  7. Franz Josef.  3 nights.
  8. Punakaiki.  2 nights.
  9. Nelson.  4 nights.
  10. Wellington.  1 night.
  11. Intercity overnight bus.  1 night.
  12. WWOOF home outside of Kerikeri.  8 nights.
  13. Auckland airport.  1 night.
  14. Ubud, Bali.  4 nights.
  15. Amed, Bali.  5 nights.
  16. Sanur, Bali.  2 nights.
  17. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  18. Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  19. Melaka, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  20. KL, Malaysia.  3 nights.

TOTAL: 86 days

  • 3 countries
  • 16 towns/ villages/ cities
  • airplanes, trains, boats, scooter, taxi, buses, cars, bicycles
  • almost 2000 photos and short videos
  • three pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and tanktops, my Keen shoes, a pair of Tevas, and other clothing

I’m happy to share more detailed tips and information for anyone that’s looking to travel to these places.  Ask while I still remember!  Leave me a comment!

Goodbye, New Zealand…

I have left the country. Moving on to warmer climes.

Two months in New Zealand, and I have put down some roots that make me sad to leave. I really have to come back here again someday (or even somedayS).

There's so much I'm going to miss about New Zealand:

  • the rolling green hills
  • the turbulent winds
  • the craggy, snowcapped mountains
  • the many moods of the sea
  • the lambs and sheep dotting the hillside
  • the beautiful Kiwi people with their open hands and warm hearts
  • the rich soil for planting bountiful gardens
  • the slower lifestyle
  • morning and afternoon tea time
  • the flora that I have come to know bit by bit
  • the trilling, unique song of the Tui bird and the bellbird
  • the Kiwi accent and uses of the words “heaps,” “wee,” “flash,” and “love” (to address people)

I wonder if I had spent more time, like a year, here if I would grow tired of this place. Is part of the beauty of this place the novelty? The first-time, honeymoon factor? And like anything or anyone else, would it start to lose its sparkle if I were to get more settled and rooted?

I have heard of some expat Kiwi critiques that they feel New Zealanders are provincial, small-minded country bumpkins, not aware of the world outside the small islands. And I wonder if I would start to feel isolated and in a bubble, disconnected from the rest of the world. It's been easy in my time here to forget to read or listen to the news or to think about what's going on in the Middle East, for example.

But I guess rather than thinking like that, I can just leave it as what it is– a sabbatical for myself to go to the other side of the world to expose myself to new experiences and learn new ways of living. THAT mission was accomplished beyond my expectations. I take back so much new information in my brain, that it's going to take awhile to process it all. I brought a 100-page journal with me and have already filled half of it with just reflections on my time in New Zealand, Aoteaora.

So to you readers out there, if you're feeling antsy; if you've always had a travel bug bite that hasn't been scratched adequately; if you just want a change of scenery… save up some money, set a goal to go somewhere, and make it happen.

I did a search for “travel quotes” and came upon these two that struck me as a piece of what I'm carrying away from my New Zealand travels:

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. — Maya Angelou

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain

 

A Wee Post to Reconnect

It's only been a few days since I last posted, but each day feels so long here on my travels since so much happens, I think. Not that so much REALLY happens, but I'm doing something different each day, learning new things, seeing new things, talking about new things, and each day feels more than its usual 24 hours. As a result, one day passes, and it feels like more have elapsed.

View of beach at Paihia, on the bus en route to Kerikeri

I am now in Kerikeri, almost at the top of the North Island of New Zealand. I'm at a lovely couple's home in the countryside. They own 13 acres and have it used for gardens (veggies and plants and flowers), for livestock, and left for paddock. I'll talk more about the WWOOFing in another post.

I can't get over how amazing this time in New Zealand has been. Food, people, fresh air, sights and sounds. I haven't really done anything spectacular or adventurous; but I've met beautiful people, reconnected with the earth physically and metaphysically, and have extricated myself from a desk-technology-centered life for just a few months (well, except for my iPad and iPhone).

Instagram-ed photo of the Tasman Bay in Nelson, from the bus on our way to Picton

When I talk to people and tell them that I quit my job before coming out there, I often get the reaction that I'm brave or that it takes a lot of gumption to up and do that. I didn't feel that brave or gumption-ful at the time– it just felt like it was time to leave the job, and I could have gone on to find another job and continued on with life in that fashion.

I'm going back home to the U.S. with new insights, with new ideas, with new friendships, and with a new appreciation for lamb (I never used to eat it, but free-range, grass-fed lamb is quite tasty!).

I'm getting clearer ideas of what I want to do and where I want to be when I get back, but I'm not quite ready to share with the world yet. I know I have to, not only just to let people know but also I'm realizing the importance of feedback and support from others. I'm anticipating big changes up ahead. I need the courage, also, to take the big leaps because I know I am capable. I fear failure and slow-going and mistakes. I have to learn to embrace all that and accept that things are always messy when there is big change involved.

So just wanted to reconnect with my inner self in this post. And to once again appreciate all that has allowed me to be here, in this place, at this time.

V is for “Vast”

The world is both small and big at the same time.

Small in that we can travel to any part of it on a plane in, at most, two days.

Small in that we can talk to anyone anywhere anytime.

Small in that we can run into people we know in any part of the world coincidentally.

Big in that there’s so much to see that it’s really hard to see it all in one lifetime.

Big in that driving across the U.S. still takes a lot of time, in actual hours.

Big in that the sun takes awhile to cross the skies of all parts of the world.

I’m going to be seeing just a bit of that vastness in my travels.

Here’s my planned itinerary:

By car:

  • Boston to Niagara Falls, Canada to Chicago, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri to Aurora, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico to Globe, Arizona.

By plane:

  • Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles, California to Auckland, New Zealand to Bali, Indonesia…

And that’s as far as I’ve got planned right now.  I’m hoping to throw in a few more countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Korea at the end.  I’m leaving soon.  September 3rd to be exact.  Excited and nervous.  Trying to finish my packing.  Last night could only sleep 4 hours.  The days are passing [too] quickly.

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