Saturday, 6 May 2017

High tea at Martha's Pantry

When you hear the name Martha's Pantry, it's hard not to think of high tea. Martha's were one of Wellington's high tea pioneers when it enjoyed a big resurgence in the mid-2000s. In its heyday, bookings had to be made well in advance and nothing less than sheer decadence was on the menu. I've enjoyed many events at Martha's Pantry over the years and looked forward to returning for high tea to celebrate a special family occasion.

An extensive tea menu awaited our arrival, which unfortunately was not taken advantage of by our mostly coffee-drinking family. Luckily we could choose substitutions from the blackboard drinks menu. The special children's high tea menu was a big hit with the two youngest members of our family, who were served quickly. Drinks orders were placed and then our high tea services arrived.

High tea service
A selection of club sandwiches and savoury tarts helped whet our appetites.

Savoury to begin
The second course was bite-sized scones, one each with jam and passionfruit curd and piped with whipped cream.

Second, scones
To finish, we had brownie, mini lemon meringue tarts and vanilla cupcakes.

Sweet treats to finish
What's not to love? Sadly, I think the golden days have passed. I appreciate that family and business circumstances have changed, but Martha's Pantry seems a shadow of its previous glory. Now the food is not quite as fresh, the decor looks tired, the paper napkins are Pam's and the little touches of luxury that were all part of the experience have faded away.

High tea is (still) always a treat, but I fear others may now be outclassing Martha's Pantry at their own game.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Ed Byrne - Outside Looking In

The 2017 NZ International Comedy Festival roared into life last week and saw the return of my favourite international comedian, Ed Byrne. After a traditional Wellington welcome consisting of an aborted plane landing, an unforeseen return flight to Auckland and then an eventual landing at Wellington airport, Ed sauntered onto the stage, beer in hand and looking barely worse for wear after the ordeal. He's been here before so knows it works.


Outside Looking In features Byrne's brand of observational comedy. Everyday activities get overthought, taken apart and regurgitated in a delectable Irish accent. Byrne covered topics like the futility of interviewing athletes after a race that lasted just 10 seconds, an awkward TV and radio experience with the notoriously arrogant New Zealand broadcaster Paul Henry, plus I learned far more than I ever wanted to know about diarrhoea. (These last two skits were unrelated although they sound like they go together well.)

This year's show was completely different to Roaring Forties from two years ago, apart from the odd cheeky reference thrown in to see which of us were paying attention last time. If anything, it was even better! (Apart from the diarrhoea, that is. No-one saw that coming.)

Monday, 24 April 2017

Golden syrup

I have a sweet tooth. I always have. I occasionally give in to it but if I had a choice between savoury or sweet, sweet would win every time.

I keep my sweet tooth in check by never drinking anything sugary but still indulge in half a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee (or a full spoon if I'm making a triple espresso at home). I can  drink coffee without sugar but I like it slightly sweetened. I prefer dry wine, though. I don't drink juice, soft drinks, energy drinks or other versions of lolly water. But I still like to eat sweet stuff. I guess everyone has a vice.

One of my favourite things is golden syrup, both on its own and as an ingredient. As I think about whether to bake something for Anzac Day, I do know it will contain golden syrup. Just look at all the things I've already baked using golden syrup! I've loved this gooey sugary caramel goodness since I was a child. I remember using a knife to lever the lid off the tin with varying degrees of success. If you were messy when spooning it out and spilled some in the groove along the top of the tin, it would become really icky and glue-like next time you tried to wrench it open.

Loving golden syrup seems to be a family thing, especially for my dad. He taught us that golden syrup can go on or in almost anything - whether or not it should. I keep some of the pourable variety in my pantry for when pancakes, crumpets or waffles need a quick topping (I'm not a jam or marmalade eater), but it's not as good as the thick stuff that comes out of the tin.

Golden syrup goes especially well with another one of my favourite things: hot cross buns. There's nothing better than butter and golden syrup on freshly baked hot cross buns, right? Well, it seems like no-one outside of my family agrees. Here's a quick Twitter poll I ran to find out what people have on their hot cross buns. The results, and the restrain they implied, astounded me. Hmm.


(I'll admit: I cheated on this poll. The single vote for butter AND golden syrup is mine. I thought at least a few others would agree or even be curious, but no-one admitted to anything other than butter - except for a single comment voting for peanut butter. Now that's just wrong.)

So it looks like I'm alone in my love for golden syrup, at least as a topping for hot cross buns. Now that I've confessed my secret indulgence, what's yours?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Missing Richard Simmons

Missing Richard Simmons is a 6-part podcast series that hit the digital airwaves in February this year. Created by filmmaker Dan Taberski, it explores the so-called mysterious disappearance of 80s-style fitness and lifestyle guru Richard Simmons, whose departure from public life almost exactly three years ago has been the cause of much speculation.

If you don't know who Richard Simmons is, conjure up your most vivid memory of an over-hyped 1980s leotarded Jazzercise video and turn up the volume. Picture a harem of devoted followers of every age, shape and size. These are the people Simmons helped to lose weight and gain health. He had a personal connection with them all, and his many grand gestures show how much he cares. He would never leave his loyal followers without saying goodbye ... and yet he somehow did by not turning up to class three years ago and not being seen since.

So what's the big deal? The podcast is less about the fact that Simmons disappeared but more interested in the way he did it: quietly and totally out of character with his very public persona. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so extraordinary if he'd gone out with a characteristically energetic bang than this muted whimper? Nobody expected a quiet disappearance from this very public figure.

Maybe he is merely missed, rather than missing? Or perhaps it is a publicity stunt where the mystery of his disappearance is fuelling interest in his brand and leading to further sales? It's possible but doesn't seem likely given the circumstances outlined by his ever-faithful followers.

Dan Taberski tells a good story. He has his own personal connection, of course, and explores some theories about what may have happened to Simmons, none of which really reveal anything. However, it makes for great entertainment that has captured the minds and mouths of social media these past few weeks. And so Taberski's own grand gesture in the form of a one-man tribute ends in a manner that parallels the narrative: quietly.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A little bit green

Earlier this week, I attended a presentation with the endearing title, "Are we all doomed?" Naturally, the presenter immediately grabbed the audience's attention. The subject was climate change and the context was our actions: what are we doing to save the world? Whose responsibility is it to make changes? Will it make any difference?

This topic has been on my mind for a very long time. I describe myself as a little bit green but know there is plenty of room for improvement. I'm a follower of the every little bit helps school of thought in many areas, and this approach was reaffirmed during the presentation.

Here is a quick inventory of my everyday green actions:
  • I use reusable shopping bags at the supermarket, although still resort packing fruit and cold cuts in plastic bags.
  • I have a coffee keep cup at work and at home; it's rare that I ask for a takeaway cup. (This happens most often when I'm travelling.)
  • I recycle as much as possible, reuse or donate second hand items (clothes etc) as much as I can and generally try not to buy too much crap ... generally.
  • I reuse plastic containers for other purposes (especially freezing food) and recycle what I don't need.
  • I use public transport to commute to and from work. Occasionally I get a ride from someone else going in the same direction but never drive to work alone.
  • I turn off lights, computer monitors and appliances when not in use and unplug chargers when done.
  • I'm planning a small vegetable garden and have started by planting herbs. The neighbourhood's snails and caterpillars have given up eating my produce this year, meaning I get to enjoy what I grow.
  • I avoid using my car for short, quick errands and try to walk, where practical. It helps that I live on the flat and close to many amenities.
But is it enough? Can the smallest actions make any difference when the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and energy-based industries?
It's a start. I know there are plenty more things I could and should do. But apparently small actions do add up. If everyone adopted three small green behaviours, it would make a big difference and we may not be doomed after all. I might not be saving the world by myself, but hopefully I'm helping.

How are you helping to save the world?

Sunday, 26 February 2017

February snapshot

At the risk of sounding like a giant cliche ... time is going so fast and I can't believe February is all but over. We haven't had much of a summer this year but have still been really busy with summery events - and that's Wellington for you. We can't plan on good weather so just get on with it anyway. Here's a snapshot of a few things I've been up to this month.

February snapshot

I've started Zumba again! I was worried about starting from scratch after 5 (may 6) year break, but it turns out that my muscle memory has stored lots of the moves for me and it's just a case of linking them together in different combinations. There are a few moves I'm struggling to unlearn and relearn but most others also have arms and legs flying in random directions with huge grins plastered on their faces, so I'm in good company.

Guns N' Roses came to town for their Not In This Lifetime tour. The rain cleared just enough for us to make our way to a stadium filled with 31,500 other wet bogans. I know I predicted that the tour would be a tragic, train wreck of an event, but still bought tickets ... and I'm so glad I did. The concert was better than I could have imagined and a full-on Slash show, who I now respect far more as a musician than I thought possible. Appetite for Destruction survives another decade.

Despite the best of intentions for Round the Bays last weekend, I ended up too sick to get out of bed on Sunday, let alone walk 10km. So that event will go back on my list for next year.

We enjoyed our annual camping trip at Himatangi Beach with around 20 friends. It was fine enough to pitch our tent overnight for what is likely to be our only camping trip this summer.

I read the novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. And then I watched the movie of the same name. Wow. As always, the book is far more detailed and nuanced than the movie, which rushed through the suspense and made it far too easy for viewers to guess what was going on. But, I repeat: wow! No clues or spoilers from me, just a recommendation to read the book (essential) and then watch the movie (if you feel the need).

It's actually been quite a musical month. I took my dad to see The Hollies Highway of Hits concert on Friday night. Core members of the group have been touring almost continuously since forming in 1962, which is an impressive feat. I'd seen The Hollies when they toured in 2011 and this show was pretty much the same as that one, but this time I had Dad in tow to enjoy a stroll down musical memory lane.

I ordered a present for myself: The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days recipe book. The original Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook is one of my favourites and now has a sister publication. I christened the book by making chocolate chip whoopie pies for Good Bitches Baking this weekend. I'm pleased to report that my first ever batch of whoopie pies passed the Weka household's quality controls with flying colours.

Chocolate chip whoopie pies