Saturday, 24 September 2016

September snapshot

So blogging hasn't been happening much for me lately. I exceed my daily word limit at work most days and don't have any left for reading or writing at night. I guess I don't have to blog; there are no kick backs or consequences if I do or don't, but blogging has been something I've done for nearly nine years now. Sometimes the words just aren't there, or the subject matter isn't anything worthy of a blog post. And nine years feels like a very long time to be playing this gig.

I'm going to try something different every now and then. It might tide me over while I experience blogger's block or lead me somewhere else entirely. Here's a snapshot of where I'm at right now. I'd love to hear what you're up to, too.

September snapshot

  • I've walked up five flights of stairs several times a day this month for Steptember - for every day I've been in the office. The first three flights are fine. The fourth and fifth flights aren't getting any easier.
  • I'm loving the beginning of spring, my favourite season, and can even forgive its tempestuous weather. I also can't wait for daylight saving to start tonight.
  • I'm revisiting an artist I hate to love: the incorrigible Terence Trent D'Arby. It annoys me to no end that he is as talented as he tells everybody. 
  • I don't mind emptying the bottom rack of the dishwasher (plates, cutlery and big stuff) but I HATE emptying the top rack. It's mostly filled with coffee mugs that don't stack neatly, none of which I use but Mr Weka manages to churn through with his endless cups of tea.
  • I've made a lot of potato bread lately. It's great comfort food.
  • This hummingbird cake recipe is great. It uses coconut instead of nuts and I've made it twice in the past fortnight, including for Good Bitches Baking tomorrow.
  • I'm half-watching Deadpool (2016) as I write this. Parts of it are quite funny but I'm not concentrating enough to work out if there's a plot. There probably isn't, but there's Ryan Reynolds and that's enough for me.
  • I've just polished off half a packet of soft Italian pistachio nougat for dessert. I'll be joyfully licking the bits that are still stuck in my teeth all night.
  • I still don't trust blue toothpaste. Striped is fine. White is best.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Steptember

It's September. It's spring. The days are getting ever so slightly longer and summer is on the way. This means leaving behind the comforts of winter (after the storms pass), getting lots of fresh air while the sun shines and, most of all, getting active.

Motivation is here to help. They call it Steptember. (I had to check that it really is a thing!) But instead of just aiming for 10,000 steps per day, my workplace has decided to step things up a level or four by making Steptember about walking up the stairs at work instead of taking the lift. That's five flights, or 120 vertical steps each time!

We were pointed towards StepJockey to sell tell us the health benefits of stair climbing, of which there are many. Apparently your body will burn roughly one calorie for every 10 upward step and one calorie for every 20 steps down. Even when climbing stairs at a normal pace, you will burn two to three times more energy than walking on the flat at a brisk pace or jogging. It's free, can be done indoors, doesn't require any special equipment and promises improved cardiovascular health, toned thighs and tight buns. Just two minutes extra stair climbing a day is enough to stop average middle age weight gain! (Yeah, right ...)

It makes sense, really. 10,000 steps isn't a big stretch on a normal day. I've always walked down the stairs at work, but up? I tried it once or twice before taking easier option with everybody else - but not any more. I have to say that the first three flights are pretty easy. I start to puff at around level 4 before feeling every other muscle kicking in as I approach level 5. Let's see how long my enthusiasm lasts.

Who's joining me for Steptember?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

How to throw a tapas party

I love entertaining and usually cater events I host myself, often with the help of a few keen volunteer kitchen hand guests. A long, relaxed event serving continuous finger food from start to finish is my preferred menu and it means I can usually cater for a wide range of palettes. I aim to prepare most of the food in advance and it takes away the pressure of needing to have everything ready at once. Even better is avoiding the inevitable mountain of dishes that comes after a dinner party, as most courses can be served on paper napkins and without cutlery.

Tapas are great for parties and they come in many forms. We learnt How to throw a tapas party at the Ruth Pretty cooking school yesterday. My interest was already piqued during last year's winter tapas demonstration. This weekend's class turned into an all day affair with a wonderful demonstration of how to create eleven different tapas dishes. We then got to enjoy them all before taking home the recipes to try for ourselves. Just look at the beautiful table setting!
The table is set
Every course was served on delicate crockery and accompanied with wine and coffee. It was hard to choose a favourite dish with so much on offer but I'm keen to try making the lamb cutlets, garlic prawns and chicken croquettes at home. Maybe it's a good excuse to throw another party sometime soon?

I'll let the photos do the talking.
Chicken croquettes with aioli
Coca with rainbow chard, garlic and almonds
Garlic prawns with chorizo
Lamb cutlets with orange and almond salad
Quesadillas with mushroom, rainbow chard stalks and cheese
Chocolate dipped brandy prunes with brandy crème anglaise

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Craft chocolate and soda night

Tucked away upstairs at the start of what is known as the Hannahs Laneway is a tiny soda factory that is taking on the Wellington food world. Six Barrel Soda Co make sodas and soda syrups that you'll find in bars, cafes and restaurants all around the region. It has been a pleasure seeing their business grow and develop from its humble beginnings in Newtown four years ago.
Six Barrel Soda Co sodas
Not too far away is The Chocolate Bar, a boutique bean to bar chocolate maker. There are very few bean to bar chocolate factories in New Zealand (Whittaker's is one and Wellington Chocolate Factory is another). They sure do take their chocolate seriously.
The Chocolate Bar
Both these wonderful businesses came together to host a Wellington on a Plate event this week, the sold out Craft chocolate and soda night. Hosted by Luke from The Chocolate Bar and Tegan from Six Barrel Soda, we got to sample ten (10!) different chocolate and soda combinations. It was a great way to taste our way around the world of New Zealand made craft chocolate, discover some new soda flavours and learn more about the process of bean to bar chocolate making.

Each chocolate and soda 'course' was introduced with a description of the beans used, their origin and tasting notes.
The first of ten chocolate and soda combinations
Wellington Chocolate Factory Peru 70% with orange and dandelion soda
This chocolate promised hints of apricot and honey. It turns out we started with one of the best tasting sodas of the evening.

Ocho Samoa 70% with creaming soda
Who remembers creaming soda? Yummy! Not as thick (creamy) as I recall but still delicious. The chocolate was made by Ocho in Dunedin, who source all their beans from the Pacific Islands. It had a really pleasant nutty, caramel finish.

Ocho PNG 66% with hibiscus soda
Much like PNG origin coffee beans, I didn't like the bold up front flavours of this chocolate. Also, the hibiscus soda was too sweet for me.

Hogarth Craft Chocolate Akesson Estate with raspberry and lemon soda
Hogarth Craft Chocolate is a new chocolate maker based in Nelson. This 70% chocolate using beans from Madagascar had a lovely raisin and raspberry aftertaste. It went well with my long time favourite Six Barrel Soda flavour, raspberry and lemon.

Ocho Beekeeper with lime soda
I'm not much of a honey fan but this 70% bar with manuka honey, bee pollen and puffed amaranth was really good. It also went well with my favourite citrus flavour, lime.

Wellington Chocolate Factory Dominican Republic with ginger ale soda
This dark bar was rich and with undertones of burnt marmalade - or so we were told. I couldn't quite taste it for myself but knew that I really liked the chocolate. I was also reminded that I still don't like ginger ale.

Wellington Chocolate Factory Bougainville Bar with pinot noir soda
There's quite a story behind how these cacao beans were sourced from Bougainville. The chocolate tasted raisiny and was worth the journey. The pinot noir soda was a little bit different: non-alcoholic, for one thing. Given that I don't care for either the wine or this soda, it seems reasonable to assume that pinot noir grapes are not for me.

Hogarth Craft Chocolate Conocada with cola soda
This chocolate was made with the same Dominican Republic beans as two others we sampled but the flavour palette for each was quite different. I liked the hints of caramel and toffee. The cola soda tasted a million miles away from Coca-Cola but is still not a flavour I like.

White Rabbit Cacao Dominican Republic with sarsparilla soda
Another chocolate bar made with the same Dominican Republic beans by a boutique chocolate maker in Bannockburn, near Cromwell. I don't remember much about this chocolate apart from its smooth finish. The flavour was completely overpowered by the cough mixture soda.

Hogarth Craft Chocolate Gianduia with coffee soda
We'd saved the best for last. I loved this soft, creamy gianduia chocolate with 30% Nelson hazelnuts and 70% Venezuela cacao. As for the coffee soda ... I'll stick with the real thing.

A big thank you to Luke and Tegan for a delicious and enjoyable night of sampling. We also got to take home one of my favourite bars from the evening to savour later, Wellington Chocolate Factory's Dominican Republic 70% single origin.
Wellington Chocolate Factory bars to take home

Monday, 15 August 2016

High coffee

It's no secret that high tea is one of my favourite treats. Sure, it's been pointed out to me many times that "you don't like tea". Most high tea venues are happy to exchange their selection of teas for coffee. Some will even upgrade you to sparkling wine. With high coffee for lunch today, I didn't have this problem.

The Intercontinental Lobby Lounge was the location for today's Wellington on a Plate event. We were presented with a selection of fifteen high tea items (I think - I lost count!) and a novel coffee selection to begin with: either an espresso martini or affogato on the side. Given that it was a work day and I had meetings to return to, I opted for non-alcoholic affogato, much to the disappointment of the maître d. "Shall I put a shot of something in it for you?" she asked. I have to admire her tenacity.
Affogato
We hatched a game plan early on and decided to take it slowly, pacing ourselves through the wonderful menu, but we were no match for what was placed in front of us. The savoury and sandwich layer included a delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagel, egg and cucumber club sandwiches, pumpernickel with blue cheese (not for me) and little scones with jam and cream. My attempt at the middle layer was pitiful; I managed a mini red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting, a lemon meringue tartlet and a few spoons of fruit salad in between finishing my affogato before declaring defeat. The leftovers (seven more dessert treats!) were packed up into boxes for later.
Intercontinental high coffee
Back in the office, my box of treats was admired and drooled over by my workmates. Mr Weka and I shared them after dinner and enjoyed an orange macaron, strawberry tartlet, lemon cheese cake, dark chocolate mousse cake, Gâteau Opera and a delightful chocolate and popping candy lollypop that fizzed and popped on my tongue.

High coffee at the Intercontintal is a decadent treat more suited to a long afternoon tea than a workday lunch ... so we'll make sure we do that next time.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Dairy Made

Wellington on a Plate 2016 has started. Two and a half weeks of endless food and local foodie events lined up. Wellington's food scene really comes alive at this time of year.

Our first event was hosted by one of my favourite foodies, Ruth Pretty. The Dairy Made was a celebration of all things dairy. (Think milk, cream, butter, cheese ... mmm.) Fittingly, the event was held at The Milk Station in Otaki, an old 1900s milk station converted into a beautiful venue and function centre. Check out the decor.

I'd love a chandeleir like this
(and a house big enough to hang it).
'Old school' milk and dairy memorabilia
This copper milk jug used to carry 5l of milk at a time.
We were warmly greeted by Ruth and treated to coffee and cheese scones. The tables were beautifully set and decorated with daffodils, reminding us that spring is just around the corner.
I love the huge wooden doors in the background.
They led through to an interior courtyard.
A touch of spring.
I confess to not having read the event description properly before we arrived. Imagine my surprise to discover a menu for a four course meal with wine matching! Each dairy-inspired dish was preceded by a speaker talking about various related topics (an introduction to the venue, the chemical constructions of dairy products and a talk about the free range pork we ate for the main course). This spread the meal out, meaning we could take time to enjoy each course before the next.

We began with the first course of smoked fish pie with walnut and Colby crumble and fennel lemon salad. The wine match was 2014 Soho Jagger Pinot Gris from Awatere Valley.
First course
As if one entree wasn't enough, we had a second! Double baked cheddar, mushroom and bacon soufflé served with a refreshing sorrel and radish salad. I hadn't eaten raw sorrel before. On its own, it would taste quite overpowering but the radish complemented the flavour. The wine match was Tietjen Witters Gold Chardonnay from Gisborne.
Second course
Even the palette cleanser between courses was a noteworthy dish of its own! I could easily have eaten this kaffir lime sorbet with poached pear and frozen yoghurt for dessert. Note the original 1930s parchment paper (a butter wrapper) place mat.
Palette cleanser
The main course was all about pork cooked three ways (plus crackling). Woody's Free Range Farm founder Daniel Todd talked about the challenges of feeding quality food to around 200 free range pigs to produce a quality pork product. We enjoyed pulled pork, pork belly and pork braised in milk with apple and pork jus. The creamy Swiss style cheese potato gratin was absolutely delicious. Note the token touch of green (broccoli)! The wine match was 2012 Georgetown Pinot Noir from Central Otago.
Main course
Finally, it was onto dessert. I hadn't tasted junket before but apparently it was a staple dessert before my time. I didn't care much for this rum junket but did like the crumble on top, along with the other dessert dish of Esther's gingerbread with poached quince and vanilla whipped cream. The gingerbread would also have tasted great slightly warmed.
Dessert
After dessert, we got to walk through the impressive wooden doors into an interior courtyard, where Milk Station owner Lindia Wood had opened some of the accommodation rooms for us to explore.
European style interior courtyard.
Thank you to Ruth, Lindia and the team for a delightful long lunch. Needless to say, I don't need dinner tonight!