And so, after an entirely pleasant afternoon getting waylaid in Miramar, we finally made it to our destination - Timaru, where I was born, and grew up and lived until I went to university, many many moons ago. And where my parents and brother live.
It is terrific to see them. It has been a pretty frantic year, what with renovations, and burgers, and a couple of bands and whatnot. And my Ma admits she's nervous about feeding me, now that I am one of the nation's most prolifically verbose eaters.
Pfft - patently ridiculous! She managed it for 18 years while I lived under their roof, I can't really see how it should make that much difference now I have this platform for expressing my love for food, and eating. And she always turns out an awesome spread, anyway. Honestly, if she and Pops eat the way we ate over the weekend, I am way proud of them both.
For starters, they have something that I am as incapable of as I am of following a recipe well enough to bake anything. They have a fully functioning vege garden. They grow peas, and zucchini, and potatoes, and garlic, and carrots, and lettuce and herbs. It is awesome. It is so good to cook with stuff that you have just picked, rather than stuff that has come from the supermarket in little plastic packages.
There is also the not inconsiderable factor that South Canterbury (and its near neighbour, North Otago) has fabulous produce - berries, stonefruit, potatoes.
When we arrive, we enjoy a meal of which the centrepiece is one of my father's signature chicken and mushroom pies. He makes the pastry from scratch (which I never do - I have "hot hands"), and cooks the chicken and makes stock and strips the carcass. They're pretty bloody good. Ma also has an astonishing pantry, fridge and store cupboard - seemingly hundreds of jars of nuts, and herbs and spices, and oils, and dried fruits, and yoghurt, and eggs. Coupled with the fresh veges from the garden, it is easy to whip up a meal in their kitchen.
The next day we take a trip out to Geraldine, where New Zealand's greatest living songwriter, Jordan Luck, grew up. Disappointingly, there is no plaque commemorating great compositions such as Why Does Love Do This To Me? and Airway Spies, but there is a knitwear store called The Giant Jersey, so that will have to do. There is a factory shop for the excellent Barkers range of juices and syrups and chutneys, and an amazing shop called The Pantry, which has brown paper bags filled with every kind of rice and grain and dried fruit and nuts. But the reason we have come here is that mother has had a reliable tipoff that there is a micro-brewery café just a few kilometres out of town.
The Valley Brewing Co and its in-house Brewery Café is tucked away in a place called Gapes Valley. And - lemme tell ya, right here, right now - it's an undiscovered gem.
We try a selection of their beers - just $5 for a selection of four: a wheat beer, a lager, a pale ale and a red ale. All are tasty, and hoppy, and refreshing, the pale ale is probably my favourite. And the menu - good, honest, hearty fare: a beef and bacon burger, beer-battered cod and chips, and a ploughman's platter that Plus One and I share. Ma and Pa have the cod, and I manage to snaffle some from her plate - it deliciously fresh and light. The ploughman's is thoughtfully selected and packed with tasty bites - cheese, bread, pickles, slices of apple, walnuts, relish and salad - and, rather than your run-of-the-mill ham or salami, the included meat is slices of very good corned beef.
After we finish eating, we get to talking to owner Raewyn Olde-Olthof about the place. The café has been running for six months or so, still lunchtimes only. They have launched an application to be able to host dinner guests, but say they have been blocked by some of the neighbouring residents, on account of how it may lead to wild debauchery and binge drinking etc. Um, somehow I think that that is pretty unlikely, and that anyone going to the Brewery Café is unlikely to be planning on getting walloped. Silly.
I would say the sooner they get their licence granted, the better - it is an excellent spot, and their food and beers are top notch.
That evening, after the requisite apres-lunch nap, I cook the pork roast I got during my day in Miramar (from the Harringtons butchery shop), with sage, garlic and wine. I make couscous with figs and hazelnuts, with parsley from the garden, roast some pumpkin and pears and red onions. And, I make my current fave salad of mandolined zucchini, with mint, chili and lemon. It's pretty good, if I do say so myself.
And so, a trip to visit the folks has been effortlessly turned into yet another eating trip. And there's still a couple of days to go.
South Cantabrians - what other culinary jewels can you recommend? Anyone else been to the Brewery Café? And - Giant Jersey - whoa!
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