Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Letter From New Zealand #6

My friend Peter Huck, journalist and windswept adventurer, recently moved away from Los Angeles with his other half, the lovely Barbara Drake, to beautiful New Zealand. They are living in a tiny apartment in Auckland with a very, very small kitchen. Since their excellent and mostly vegetarian dinner parties were such a feature of my social life here, and sadly missed, I asked Peter to think about writing a monthly letter from down under as a kind of mirror to my own efforts and experiences here. This is the sixth letter.

One of the pluses that New Zealand boasts, from a carbon capture perspective, are its forests, which cover 7.5 million hectares, or almost 30% of the land area. We've spent the past week up on Two Caravan Hill, our Coromandel property, working with a local team to add a few hundred native trees to the national total, countering some of our carbon emissions as well as restoring biodiversity. After several days of heavy rain - up to 10 inches in one deluge that precipitated huge mudslides on the twisting road over the steep Coromandel Range to our east - we struck a dry window of clear, still, warm days, and bone-chillingly cold nights with temperatures near freezing, that made clamoring up steep banks (sometimes chain-sawing giant gorse plants to gain access) a little easier and less uncomfortable.

Having sourced our plants – native species that included totora, rewarewa, puriri, matai, pohutukawa, hebe, pittosporum, flax, ti kouka, akeake, karaka, kowhai, tanekaha, horoeka and nikau to give them their Maori names - from local nurseries and Project Crimson, a national group which supplies free plants, we stockpiled compost, mulch and stakes around the property and got stuck in .

The crucial thing when attempting to reconstruct a forest is where you plant. Thus certain trees – the rewarewa and totara for instance – like free-draining areas and work on slopes. Others, including many grasses – planted as part of our ongoing stream restoration - and the cabbage trees, can tolerate wet feet. Indeed, cabbage trees would seem to grow anywhere: I’ve seen them on high slopes in dry limestone country in Hawke’s Bay. Others, like karaka, handle wind, no mean consideration on Two Caravan Hill, where gusts routinely box the compass. Soft-leafed plants, pace the puriri, do best with some cover. We solicited advice from experts, walking around the landscape to site specimens, and frequently consulted books as we tried to imagine what plants would look like in three, five, ten or twenty years. Podocarps like matai, totora or kauri (which we’ll plant later) live for centuries. The trick is not to give into temptation and overplant, although in severe wind areas we massed fast growers like pittosporums to break up gusts.

This was our second large-scale planting – Barbara was in charge of the first last August, when it rained – and we’re starting to see more bird life (attracted by plants that provide food in the form of berries). Fantails fluttered around as we spread mulch, they often follow people as we disturb insects when brushing through bush; California quail burst from cover when we approached; tuis, famous for their repertoire of grunts, coughs and chortles, sang nearby, as did bellbirds and one afternoon I watched a kahu, or hawk, ghost silently over the tree fern glade beneath our bach, using its wings to back and hover, as it searched for prey. I didn’t hear the morepork this time.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fish For The Landlocked

After a trip down to Angelino Heights this morning I scooted up through Echo Park to pick up the 2 freeway to Glendale for lunch at Fish King. Nestled in a green leaved, landlocked naeighborhood  on the edge of the foothills, it's hard to believe that some of the best fish in LA can be found here. I was first introduced to it verbally by a couple who would drive in from the west side to buy for the relevant course at their posh dinner parties. Fish King does have a couple of small tanks for shrimp and lobster, but if you want live, 99 Ranch (see sidebar)  on Valley Boulevard in Monterey Park has many huge tanks with more things than you can imagine swimming around in each. The big attraction at Fish King is the little restaurant adjoining it, with the most delicious platters cooked to order. I enjoyed deep fried oysters with coleslaw and fries, served with the usual cocktail and tartare sauces. If you need wasabes, sri rachas or hot sauces there is a condiment bar which would satisfy. Well worth a trip if you need to stop of at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's which are just a bit south on Glendale Boulevard and a block apart from each other.