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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stick a Fork in Me

Stick a Fork in Me, I’m Done
49 Flavors in Auckland

Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Stuffed (American “stuffed,” meaning full, rather than Kiwi “stuffed,” meaning screwed). I came, I saw, but did not quite conquer The Food Show in Auckland. I attended with my friend, Emily, an American living with her Kiwi husband and 3 small children in Auckland, and Alex, a Russian living with his 9-year-old son in Emily’s apartment on the first floor of their new home.

We paid $22.50 each to jockey for position with thousands of other wanna-be foodies at the ASB Showgrounds in the Greenlane neighborhood (it’s near One Tree Hill, namesake of a U2 album, which no longer possesses its one tree). Imagine shopping and sampling at Costco (giant American food-and- everything-else warehouse, for the uninitiated) on a Saturday during lunch, then multiply by 56. The gourmet learning experience, the “cooking with gas” version of the food show is this: Buy your ticket, attend cooking demonstrations of New Zealand and international fare, maybe pay for a class, and learn a couple or 3 new culinary techniques. The low-road, the “microwave” version of the show is the path we trod (towards the end, I lurched like a Neanderthal, heavy-laden by too many purchases hanging from my shoulders and too much food samba-ing in my belly. 
Emily and Alex at The Food Show

My more restrained compatriots could still walk upright). Instead of watching demonstrations, taking notes, soaking in knowledge like an eggplant soaks up oil, we (okay, I) bellied up to dozens of display booths, noshing on naan, feasting on figs and swirling, sipping (not spitting – what a waste, and hey, I didn’t drive) wine.

More than 400 vendors hawk food, drinks, gadgets and utensils at the Food Show. It’s sample heaven. It smells of sizzling sausage, smoked garlic, fresh-baked bread, wine, chocolate, hot sauce, curry and mustard - and so much more, all at once. Who needs a real meal when you can tantalize and utterly confuse your palate with dozens of different tastes and scents? I’d pick all day if I could. It’s in my genes (You wonder where my last name originated. Maybe it’s food-related). My kids know this – I’m famous for telling them, “No, I don’t want dessert. I’ll just have a bite of yours.” Just a bite can be a dangerous habit. Before you know it, you’re asking the flight attendant for a seat belt extender.

Here’s what I learned from following my gut along the path of food persistence:
-I’d make a lousy food critic, because nearly everything at the show tasted “great.”
-A job in the food industry would have me tipping the scales at around 200 pounds (91 kilograms). Remember “Fat Monica,” from Friends? Let’s move on…
-It’s okay to return for a 2nd sample, so long as you buy some product or duck behind another patron before slinking off to the next booth.
-It is not okay to elbow Granny out of the way while reaching for an ounce of pumpkin-ginger soup. Unless you really, really like pumpkin-ginger soup.

I can’t remember the myriad foods and drinks I’d tried – I slipped into some kind of sample-induced delirium which erased part of my short-term memory. So I grabbed a program to see just how many different products I ingested during the nearly 4 and-a-half hours we danced the food-booth-boogie at the convention center. Keep in mind, we’re talking sample sizes of anywhere from a cheese crumb to several bites of chocolate pudding cream puff (profiterole). 

After an hour of grazing, I felt fattened and ready for pasture, or at least, to be directed to the vomitorium for  a good, old-fashioned Roman-style purge (disclaimer: unless I’m violently ill with flu or food poisoning, food does not evacuate the same path it entered). Here, in alphabetical order, are the exhibitors I visited and what I ate or drank:
-Alison’s Pantry: dried nuts, fruits and sushi crackers
-Alitassa: Roobios tea
-Annies Marlborough: Dried fruit leather
-Basilur tea: Jasmine, Christmas and Green tea
-Black Barn Vineyards: Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano
Fine wine from Hawke's Bay, NZ

-Blue Coconut: Coconut water. I didn’t try the coconut oil, which my rail-thin friend, Emily, bought in a giant tub. The sales rep said, “Coconut oil is great for weight loss.” She reported this while looking directly at me. So I beamed her on the head with a jar of Tikka Masala and ate her liver with a nice Chianti and some fava beans (Burp).
-BRITA Water: water (All that sampling makes you really, really thirsty. I did attempt to quench my thirst with champagne, with only moderate success).
-Brown Brothers Wine: Shiraz, Red blend
-Caffe L’Affaire: Hot chocolate
-Carbon’s Golden Malted Waffles: Waffle bite
-Cathedral Cove Macadamias: Macadamia-encrusted fish
-Chai Gold: Masala and ginger chai
-Clearview Estate: Shiraz and sweet red wine with chocolate. 

By now, Alex, the Russian, who understands and speaks trace amounts of English, is shaking his head whenever I taste a new wine. I’m out-drinking a Russian. This can’t be good. The Russian smiles when I try to toss a plastic cup into a rubbish bin, 2 feet away, and miss.

-Clevedon Buffalo Company: Buffalo mozzarella and yogurt (spelled “yoghurt”)
-Cranberries Westland: Cranberry relish
-Danny’s Pita Bread: Pita and falafel
-Delish: Ginger, chocolate and muesli slices (2x)
-Donovan’s Chocolates: Feijoa milk chocolate, chili lime dark chocolate, chocolate-covered almond (I bought bars of the first 2 chocolates for $5)
-Esk Valley Winery: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir
-Farro Fresh: Flat bread and red pepper spread
-Fortune Cookies: Chocolate-drizzled fortune cookie remnant
-Fresh to Go: chicken and noodle lettuce wrap
-Gravity Coffee: Mini mocha
-GU: Chocolate gu (like molten fudge)
-Henergy Eggs: Omelette
-Invivo Wines: Sauvignon Blanc
-J Friend Artisan Honey: Honey (2x)
-Kapuka Pork: Sausage
-Kiwi Biltong: Biltong (dried meat, like jerky)
-Lighthouse Gin: Gin & tonic
-Loaf Handcrafted Breads: Lemon, ginger and chocolate cakes
-Mahana Red & Tomatoberry: Apple slice and cherry tomato
-Matapiro Olives: Bread and olive oil
-Moana Park Winery: Some kind of white, some kind of red
-Mustardmakers: 3 kinds of mustard
-Nelson Naturally: Condiments. I forget which ones.
-Pacific Cooperation Foundation: Samoan hot sauce
Oh, yeah -the sauce is HOT!

-Pams: Profiteroles (like a chocolate-pudding covered cream puff)
-Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter: Crunchy peanut butter
-Pitango Innovative Organic Cuisine: Vegetable Korma Curry, Ginger Pumpkin, Sweet Potato with Coconut & Ginger soups (bought all 3 for $10)
-Robert Harris Coffee Roasters: Plunger bag coffee
-Savour the Taste: Fig vinegar
-St. Andrews Limes: Pickled lime

-Sweete: Brownie bite
-Taihiki Orchards: Fig compote
-Tandoori Palace: Buttered chicken paste and tandoori paste on a pizza base (bought 5 jars for $15)

-Taste Greece: Kalamata olive oil
-The Malaysia Kitchen: Dhaal, curry
-Tohu Wines: At this point, who the hell knows which kinds of wine I tried? I’m pretty sure I sampled this brand, though.

The preceding is not an exhaustive list. I wouldn’t swear to it on a stack of bibles in court. Maybe I omitted a winery or 2, a cheese crumb or bread nimble. Also, I forgot about the frozen yogurt. I sucked its wild berry sweetness from a tiny paper cup. Twice. The point is: The Food Show was a caloric vortex that may require weeks, if not months of rehabilitation and recovery. I must relearn how to eat normal meals consisting of 3 or 4 items, instead of a sample platter containing 49. And, by my inexpert calculations, I’ll need to run about 350 kilometers within the next 7 days to avoid bumping up to the next wrestling weight class. Thank God I don’t wrestle.

Emily (who, I'd bet a bag of chips won’t gain a single ounce following The Food Show – she’s the anomaly, the truly skinny cook you can trust) drops me at the YMCA to collect the kids after my 270 minutes of gluttony. I lumber, like a dinosaur, to where the kids are playing. A sinister aroma stings my nostrils. It’s familiar and somewhat frightening. Oh my God, it’s freshly-baked gingerbread cookies with chocolate candies. “Hey, Fiona, how about giving Mom a bite?” I can’t believe those words escaped my crumb-encrusted lips. I can’t believe anything escaped my lips besides a belch, thanks to the liver of the woman I ate at the coconut oil booth. She tasted tropically greasy.

I bring the kids back to the house, waddling behind my little charges like a mother duck who’s eaten one of her young. Emily’s husband, Wayne, has just returned, and is about to take his evening jog. “Do you want to run up Mt. Albert with me?” he asks. “That would be lovely,” I say. “I could really use a run.” Short term memory obliterated by too much food and a wee bit of wine, I’ve forgotten about the 49 flavors swirling in my gut. I change into running gear and bound out the door with Wayne and Alex, the Russian. Alex looks at me in my ball cap and running tights and says, haltingly, “You – run?” The glint in his eye is not one of admiration, but of bemusement. I can almost hear the conversation he’ll have with his wife afterwards: “You would not believe Crazy American who ate like pig, then ran volcano.” (Only, I’m pretty sure no one speaks pidgin in their own language). I barely keep pace with Wayne, who’s likely halved his speed to accommodate me. The Russian stays on our heels. We turn from Mt. Albert Road to Summit Drive, where the real climb starts. I stop talking to conserve energy. Must keep running, I tell myself. Wayne does not sound winded. Not a damn bit. “Mt. Albert has quite a large recreation area,” he says. “There’s an archery range, a playing field, a picnic plateau...” I can’t think about picnics right now, because I can feel all 49 samples duking it out in my belly. Was this a good idea, running 2.5 kilometers uphill after 4 and-a-half hours of eating and drinking? I try not to think about pickled limes, red wine, tikka masala and the liver of the woman peddling coconut oil. It’s like trying not to think about the elephant in the room.

We near the summit, and The Russian is gaining ground. Wayne sprints to the top. I cautiously eye the final frontier, a set of concrete steps, the-freaking-end-of-this-run. The enemy. About 20 of them. Must-beat-Russian, I think. I’ve no idea why this is important, but it is. I pound the steps and emerge, gasping, at the top. Wayne, who still does not sound the teensiest bit out of breath, starts explaining the landscape: “This is one of the best views in Auckland. You can see the central city, the harbor, Mt. Eden, the other dormant, or extinct volcanoes – I’m not sure how long it has to have been since the last eruption to be classified one or the other…” I find my breath and mumble some version of “That’s cool.” We zip downhill, me and my 49 samples, all of us grateful to not be working so hard. We return home to do – what else? Eat dinner.

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