W is for Wellington

Let me just say, W is a tough letter. There aren’t a lot of W countries or even W cities. But fortunately, the capitol of one of my favourite countries begins with W and we even have a family member going to school near Wellington right now, so it wasn’t too hard to get the kids interested in New Zealand this week.

We started by looking at some of my old pictures from New Zealand from 1999-2000. I visited New Zealand and stayed with a friend near Christchurch many years ago and I enjoyed sharing my pictures with the kids. What I didn’t like was having my son point to a picture of my 15 year old younger self and ask, “Who’s that lady, mommy?” Some of the pictures are of a Maori cultural evening we attended near Rotarua including pictures of traditional Maori dances and that lead into our next project.

After viewing my pictures and a few videos of dances, we made ourselves some poi balls. These are soft padded balls the size of and orange with short strings attached. Dancers twirl them around as part of their dances and some of the routines are quite intricate. We made our balls with circles of cloth secured with rubber bands and used yarn for the strings to keep things simple. The kids watched a few tutorials and I put on some Maori music for accompaniment. They were quite proud to show off their twirling skills to Daddy when he got home.

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Finding a menu for W is for Wellington week was a bit of a challenge. Like Canada, New Zealand has a significant native (Maori) history as well as a strong early British influence and a smattering of dozens of other nationalities mixed in. It wasn’t easy to find dishes that were “traditional New Zealand” meals. I went with the obvious choice of lamb for the main course and used a recipe for loin steak that I found on the New Zealand lamb producers website using rosemary and mushrooms. In choosing a side dish one vegetable I do remember from living there was kumera. This was the Maori word for the small sweet potatoes that they brought to the islands and this name stuck even when newer varieties took over from the native ones after European contact. I made a salad with lettuce, mushrooms, red peppers and hazelnuts topped with roasted sweet potatoes and a balsamic vinaigrette. I also found a recipe for “traditional Maori fry bread”. This reminded me a bit of the Native Canadian bannock in that it was a dish using European ingredients but traditional techniques to make a traditional dish that had elements of both cultures. It was a very simple yeast dough that was rolled out, cut into triangles and deep fried.

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And the verdict? The lamb was popular with both my husband and my daughter and although I’m not usually a fan of sweet potatoes, I did really like the roasted sweet potato with the salad. The fried bread? Well, what can I say, it was fried bread, what’s not to like? It was a little bland on it’s own but went great with a little bit of jam.

To go with the meal we had our choice of lots of great New Zealand wines.Although a red may have been more suitable with lamb,  the north end of the South Island produces some great whites and we enjoyed a pinot gris from near Marlboro.

Dessert recipes were a little easier to find. For some reason, a lot of famous New Zealand recipes seem to be desserts. There’s hokey pokey, anzac biscuits (shared with Australia) and anything with kiwi fruit of course, but in the end I went with one of my favourites, the pavlova.If you’ve never tried it you really should.  It is a sort of large meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit and although it sounds pretty basic the finished product looks pretty impressive and tastes amazing, too. We had ours with kiwi fruit for New Zealand and strawberries because we had them and I thought the colours looked nice together.

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And that was W is for Wellington. Well, I suppose it was more like W is for Wellington and the Rest of New Zealand, but we had a lot of fun with it. And hopefully someday I’ll get back to show my kids all my favourite parts of this amazing country. But for now I’ll just have to keep dreaming.

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