Of mushrooms

Growing up in semi-rural Canterbury, one of my joys was the occasional opportunity to collect wild mushrooms. These were typically the field mushroom, which I’m told is Agaricus campestris, though some of the larger specimens may in fact have been the horse mushroom (A. arvensis). Even then, I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at free food, and in these days of getting all kinds of food and drink from the supermarket, there is something special about finding fresh food in the wild (these weren’t the only ones; we would occasionally harvest mussels from rocky beaches, or catch fish).

It so happened that the other day I found a wondrously large mushroom (though not nearly as big as some, such as the giant puffball, large specimens of which have been rumoured to be mistaken for sheep) growing in the overflow car park at work. So naturally I brought it home, as both a learning and a culinary opportunity.

A cluster of horse mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis). Copyright Wikipedia user “Luridiformis”.

Stargazer was delightfully mercurial in her response, one minute declaring that she didn’t like it, and the next completely changing her tune! That girl definitely responds well to a courageous example. Having eaten some bits of it fried up with butter and a little garlic, she declared that she loves horse mushrooms. Honeybee on the other hand cut to the chase and demolished her portion. The truly reluctant members of our little band were Grace’s parents. Apparently, they aren’t really to be blamed: the wilds of North America are full of toxic fungi of all kinds, and children there are told that distinguishing between the toxic and edible specimens is all but impossible unless you’re a mycologist. Myself, I think that’s probably over the top, at least as a lesson to carry into adulthood when the more subtle distinguishing characteristics can be observed; but I digress.

I would of course be remiss if I didn’t point out that gathering wild fungi is not for the unobservant. Even in New Zealand, we have instances of the aptly named death cap, Amanita phalloides, which in one of God’s little jokes looks more like either the field mushroom or the horse mushroom than most other species of edible mushroom do in New Zealand. But it doesn’t look extremely like either if you know what you’re looking for:

  • The field mushroom and horse mushroom are white to light brown on top; the death cap is pale yellow-green.
  • The gills (on the underside of the cap) of the field and horse mushroom are pink or flesh coloured, darkening to a dark brown as the cap ages; the gills of the death cap are white.
  • The death cap has a bulb at the base of the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms do not.
  • The death cap has an upwards opening collar on the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms usually don’t have a collar at all, but if they do it opens downwards.
  • The death cap when bruised, cut or damaged turns vivid yellow.
  • The death cap emits a foul, sulphurous odour while being cooked; the field and horse mushrooms smell, well, like mushrooms.
Amanita phalloides, the death cap. Do not eat! Copyright Wikipedia user “Archenzo”.

Having said all that, if you’re unsure what a mushroom is, do yourself a favour and leave it alone. This is especially important if you have young children with you at the time, as it’s important to set a good example!

Happy foraging,

~Victor

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Tempus fugit

A major challenge of starting any new initiative, like a blog, is incorporating it into the rhythms of life, and time flies by, so a weekly update is the order of the day. Grace is asleep next to me as I write, battling a cold; we are both looking forward to a restful break over Christmas as this has been a demanding year. We are also looking forward to celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. Time flies when you’re having fun, and marriage and family are a great adventure.

Our week was thrown out of gear when Grace’s dad became seriously ill and was rushed to hospital. Coming home from work to find an ambulance parked in the driveway is an interesting welcome, but panic is for other people. By God’s grace he has pulled through and is now back at home recovering.

Meanwhile, negotiations on the block of land we mentioned last week went very smoothly: our offer was accepted and we now have to complete a due diligence investigation. This is multifaceted, and I think each aspect of it merits a post of its own. Nevertheless, we are greatly encouraged, and look forward to next steps.

Grace, meanwhile, is looking into the raising of birds. The conventional option is of course chickens, but we’re looking at other options including turkeys and various kinds of game bird.

Meanwhile, the year draws to a close for Stargazer and Honeybee, who have their kindergarten’s Christmas party next week. Our children have a love for learning and taking on new challenges, which we think will stand them in good stead for our adventure.

New beginnings

Dear friends,

Well, it has been a long time! And of course much has happened in the world outside, and in our little family too. When we last posted it was the depths of winter, and all felt dull and dreary, with sickness and stress… and now it is the first day of summer (as New Zealanders reckon these things) and it feels like everything is full of life and hope. For those who follow such things, tomorrow is also the first day of Advent, which means in some sense it’s the start of a new year… what better time to reboot this humble blog!

Anyway, since we last left, we have these updates:

  • We understand better Grace’s health condition, and she went in for the procedure that had been postponed. It revealed nothing structurally wrong, which is good! We have also been able to test out some new alternative therapies that look very promising.
  • We finished and sold our house in the city! That has at times felt like a real mission, but God has led us through it. We opted to sell privately (i.e. without using a real estate agent), which turned out to be a very good decision in this particular case. It won’t necessarily work for all people, though, so use your best judgement if you need to sell a house – but if you are selling privately we’re happy to share something of our experience. By God’s grace, we got more for the house than we had put into it (including improvements we made), so we are now even better set up for our next steps (and, as Grace has reminded me, for our nest as well).
  • Not only have we sold, but we have settled and moved out. This itself was a massive undertaking, and made even more tricky by the fact that we had only two weeks from “confirmation” (the contract going unconditional) to settlement and possession, and the first of those weeks I was out of the country and Grace was recovering from the aforementioned surgery. What a pickle! But with the help of family and many kind people from our church, we got there in the end.

Now for the really fun stuff. While all this was going on, we put in two offers on land, both of which fell through (Boo! Hiss!). But we believe it was for the best. In one case, the property was really in the sticks, the boonies, what have you… it was a beautiful plot of land, but internet would have been by satellite if at all, and it was quite a way from the nearest sizeable town though doable. More awkwardly, though, the people trying to sell it to us didn’t own it themselves yet. It was very complex, and by the time they could confirm to buy it, we were moving on to other options and had to withdraw.

The other property turned out to be a bit of a trap for the unwary. The owners were subdividing their land, and didn’t want to go to the trouble of running electricity to the boundary fence. Instead they said that on the other side of the road was sufficient. No big deal, right? Just as well we checked with the electricity distribution company in the area! They said it would be probably about $30,000 to put in a new transformer and jump the street. With that kind of commitment needed to even start developing the section, we offered a lower price – as you would do – and the owners wouldn’t have it. It’s their choice, but we definitely think we dodged a bullet there.

And now comes the really encouraging part. Grace had spent weeks bashing her head against the keyboard, so to speak – I think she probably has a permanent QWERTY indentation on her left temple by this time. Finally, she tried a different approach, by going on to Trade Me and looking specifically for private vendors, after getting frustrated with real estate agents who don’t call back (though some of the real estate agents we dealt with have been exceptional, like Linda, Jessica, Glen and Kate). The rest of you, some friendly advice – don’t take on too many listings, for the sake of your vendors! Anyway, we found a property advertised by a fellow who has put a lot of work in to develop it and it seems to be just what we want – a little over four hectares, stunning views on all sides, and a complete lack of covenants. We aren’t going to go into detail yet, because we’re putting in an offer – but watch this space!

Take care,

~Victor

A “Grace-full” evening

My birthday fell this year on a Monday.  Birthdays are the few days a year that we go out for dinner, so we decided to go a night early.  This year I wanted to try a small Japanese Restaurant in Rangiora called “Secret“.

Secret Japanese is hands down the best Japanese I have eaten in New Zealand.   I have tried many different restaurants all over the globe, but this one is up there with the better ones.  New Zealand Japanese Food is usually about par for the course (excuse the pun) with the likes of pop-up sushi shops on every corner, but tonight I got to taste some pretty darn good sushi from their sushi and teppanyaki chef.  The evening’s meals consisted of 3 sushi rolls which were quite large quantities compared with most and reasonably priced.  The most substantial roll had 14 large pieces.  We shared one rainbow roll, one dragon roll and a new one for me which was called a Godzilla roll.  The Godzilla was a California style roll with shrimp instead of the usual imitation crab.   It also had cashew nuts sprinkled on top and a wonderfully sweet glaze with a sharp, tangy ending note.  We also had their teppanyaki, mostly because it was late and the kids get bored quickly.  Little Duckie is still feeling unwell too, so it was nice that she wasn’t too easily disturbed by the shouts and cries of her older sisters which have become standard experiences when out to eat.  The manager was very accommodating and came around many times to clear dishes or entertain the little ones so that we could enjoy our evening in peace.   The customer service at Secret is fantastic.  When they did not have an item they sent someone out to get it rather than having to change my order.

The teppanyaki was delicious.  Each course was not overly rich or oily and had mild to moderate spice to complement the choice of meat, vegetable or fish.  Our two oldest girls had salmon (a treat I know, but they eat it rather than play with their chicken, so it works out more cost-effectively with very little on the floor).  Victor and I had a mixed set from the menu which came with seafood, steak, veggies, chicken, and rice as well as the customary miso soup and salad.   My parents also had set menu items as well as my brother.  After dinner, the manager greeted my husband and I privately and said that the kid’s menu item did come with a bit of frozen yogurt, but he didn’t want to offer it to them without speaking to us first.  So they enjoyed a nice dark chocolate one.  He also informed me that I would be welcome to have a frozen yogurt on the house because it was my birthday.  I shared this with Victor too as it was much too large for me to eat after such a wonderfully large dinner meal.

Cost wise I’d rank Secret as somewhere in the modest middle for a meal of this size and quality.  Each of adult dinner sets runs from $35-50NZD, drinks are extra, but water is free and served cold.  The restaurant itself is immaculate and well presented.   The music played varies from classic rock, soft rock, and some lighter notes with classical music.  It was not loud and even when other families were chatting I could always keep up with conversations around the table.  As I’m hard of hearing on my left side it’s quite nice to have a conversation and not have to shout because of the noise.

We ended the night’s meal and returned to my parent’s house to round out the night with an ice cream “Mud Pie” which is my preferred dessert for a birthday cake substitute.

It was a good night.  Hope you had a good one too!

~Grace

New Ground

Hi Guys,

Instead of posting the pictures on my last blog post I will include them in this post.  Victor and I have set off on this adventure with new vigour.  We’ve contacted several banks as well as talked to the local council in the area we are considering purchasing land.  We also got some positive comments back on one property that appears to not only be in our budget but also has very sensible covenants.

A Covenant, also called a building scheme, is a restriction placed on a title or a LIM usually with the aim of maintaining the quality of the subdivision and the value of the properties subject to the covenant.  These can sometimes be very aggressive with regards to what the purchaser can do with his or her newly acquired land, but most of the time the restrictions are just about what type of house you can put on it and other things like that.  I’ve read about one particularly nasty section with covenants which mainly limited the buyer from growing anything on the 5-hectare block except for standard grass. The developer said that even pumpkins were considered “pests” and would become out of control if allowed.  Can you imagine having 10 acres of lawn?  I can’t… that’s like having your own golf course for a backyard.

Please have a look at this beautiful stretch!

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New Ground

The land is advertised to be 4 hectares (10 acres) in size. It has some extra bits which we think make it a bit more special than the others available in this subdivision.  It’s a bit more affordable because the developer believes the included creek and trees are a downside to the property.  It does contain a significant drop off on the second level, but that part is fully fenced off and contained so that animals cannot get to it.  The trees do make the middle section a bit more damp in the rain, but they made some improvements to the drainage so it won’t cause any issues for stock.  The trees are mostly over the creek area which is not somewhere we would build and not somewhere stock would go anyway!

You can’t see how significant the drop off is from these angles, but I will probably get a better shot of it at a later date if we go ahead with the purchase of this property.


The property has deer fencing, and all the paddocks are enclosed.  I’ve tried to show you as many shots of the various tiers as I could, but I didn’t go into the upper or lower sections.

So what do you guys think?  As always if you like seeing our adventures and you like reading our blog please like, subscribe and share it with your friends so we can continue to bring you content!

Thanks for reading!

~ Grace

An Unexpected Journey

Yesterday was a warm Saturday afternoon in late autumn. During the week, we had found another possible rural property, this one in the valley of the Okuku River, one of the tributaries of the Ashley River in North Canterbury. About 3:30 in the afternoon, we left where we are staying, drove out there, stopped at the bridge to walk the puppy (more on her later) and were on our way back around about sunset.

This is where things got interesting. I was driving, as I usually do on family trips, and when we were in the village of Loburn and about to turn right to go to Rangiora and so eventually back home, Grace asked me to turn left instead. It was about 5:00, and late afternoon was giving way to sunset.

We headed up the valley, a pleasant green space mostly occupied by small farms. We passed one or two more farms and blocks for sale and made a note to look them up later, and through Loburn North and on to White Rock, which we think got its name from a stunning limestone outcrop, now an active quarry and lime works but still with the rock face clearly visible to travellers. We wished we had brought our good camera with us. Note to self, do so in future.

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The route over the Okuku Pass and through Lees Valley. We made it approximately 40% of the way before our path was blocked by the Okuku River.

The last few houses petered out, and we headed up towards the Okuku Pass. We climbed on a narrow gravel road through mixed pine and beech forest, and up into subalpine tussock and matagouri. At this point, we hoped to follow the road through to Lees Valley, coming out near the Ashley Gorge and the town of Oxford.

Coming down from the Okuku Pass, the road became more challenging and the countryside more isolated. Descending down a series of hairpin bends, we came upon a murky stream of uncertain depth that blocked our path. We tried to go around on what appeared to be a dry weather route, and the bank was too steep for our car. We were just considering turning around when another car (not a four wheel drive or SUV) came along and drove calmly through the ford. The driver said he was just going for a drive, but seemed a little lost and asked us if the way would take us back to the main road. Thinking he meant the main road at Oxford, we said it would and set out after him.

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The crossing of the Birds Eye Stream, the first of many fords we encountered on our journey.

For the next half hour or more, as darkness fell, our impromptu convoy drove through a starlit landscape of barren hills, punctuated by the occasional farm gate, somewhat more frequent fords over the small streams that drain the hills, and various animals (mostly rabbits and hedgehogs, but also two horses). Finally, we found our way blocked by what we think was the upper Okuku River, still a substantial stream and impassable to either of our vehicles. After some work to get out of the gravel riverbed typical of Canterbury’s braided rivers, we turned around and went back the way we had come under the dim light of the rising new moon.

The following clip is a typical ford crossing in our people mover. You can hear Grace practicing her poise and dignity while Stargazer cheers us on from the back seat.

We were a little concerned for our travelling companion, a road construction worker, who said that he was low on petrol and furthermore that one of his tyres was flat, so we took care not to lose him as we drove back. It was now well after 7 p.m. and he would have to make it to Rangiora, the nearest town by road with a 24-hour service station (or, for that matter, any service station). Seldom has a sealed road and the sight of the distant clustered lights of a large town been more welcome than when we came back over the Okuku Pass and down into White Rock.

Not long after that, our lost companion (who had been trying to make it to Waiau in far north Canterbury, accessible via a quite different road) pulled over, saying that his tyre was so flat as to be unusable. In a strange injection of modern city slicker technology into a country setting, we performed a field tyre change by the light of a smartphone (we, naturally, carrying a jack and a wheel spanner with us at all times). We finished the day’s adventures by escorting the gentleman to the nearest petrol station, taking a hungry and weary family to McDonald’s, and returning home for a long sleep.

We still don’t know all of why Grace was led to feel as though turning left at Loburn, instead of right, was the thing to be done. But for us it was an opportunity to learn more about trusting God, help someone in need, and have a family adventure. We also learned that there is a limit to the remoteness we’re physically and mentally equipped for as yet, a valuable lesson as we consider our next steps.

~ Victor