Thursday, 16 January 2020

The summer of plums

Several years ago, I noticed some beautiful spring blossoms appear above our fence. A year or two later, we noticed a tree on our property that seemed to be growing some kind of fruit. What was it? And how did it get there? Neither of us have very green thumbs. Should we have been looking after it?

It seems that Mother Nature or one of her helpers had self-seeded a #SurprisePlumTree in our front yard and it was preparing to bear fruit! We culled some lavender bushes underneath that were stifling its growth and wondered what to do with this strangely shaped tree. We were delighted when the first season yielded a few dozen dark purple plums (not sure which type). I took some advice from a keen gardener and had a go at gently pruning the tree, cutting the long branches back one third each year to finally shape it into something that might actually produce fruit - and this year we were rewarded with a bumper crop!

In mid-December, the tree looked like this. Things looked promising.
A hint of colour
Shortly after Christmas, the fruit started to colour ...
Steady progress
... and then last week the neighbourhood birds announced that the plums were ready! After a frantic day tying and re-tying netting around the branches to beat the birds at their game, recovering plums that had already fallen to the ground and rescuing slightly pecked fruit, we started collecting beautifully ripe plums. And then some more. And then even more. Yum!

Two days' pickings with more to come
It's lucky that we like summer fruit and plums as they now accompany every meal. Bags have been shared with neighbours, family and friends. Plums get added to fruit smoothies and also contribute to the compost bin. I've experimented with recipes and already baked sooooo many things with plums with more planned for next week, including:
I'm not at the sauce, chutney, stewing or jam-making stages yet as we don't really eat these, but ask me again next week and I might change my mind. In the meantime, I'll keep searching for more yummy plum recipes.

We're enjoying our summer of plums and are thankful to whatever planted and cared for our #SurprisePlumTree until we were able to look after it ourselves.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019 Ta Da! list

2019 has almost finished and a new year beckons tomorrow along with the promise of shiny fresh starts, hopes and possibilities. Some insist that we're also about to start a new decade and are busy recounting on social media how the last decade has played out for them. Although not technically correct (yes, it depends), I'll play along.

2019 has been an epic year for me. It sped by as I learned and did things I could never imagine this time last year. There were some bumps in the road but overall the good things outweighed the bad this year.

As someone whose To Do lists frequently get the better of me, I've made a Ta Da! list reflecting on 2019. The To Do lists can wait until tomorrow. 

Things I'm proud of

  • I fought for something that really matters to me and learnt to make it a priority.
  • I've always known that there's nothing more important than whānau and was reminded of this again as we banded together when it mattered most and supported each other through various health scares.
  • I started to use my professional voice after keeping it quiet for so many years. This led to professional opportunities that may have previously passed me by. 
  • My professional volunteering experience in Bangladesh left me tired, refreshed and overstimulated all at once as I processed what I experienced while well out of my comfort zone. I started learning to look for optimism and hope in adverse conditions and gained a new perspective on life. Giving, giving back and giving forward has led me to take on a role in a professional committee but also to know my limits.
  • I said no when someone asked me to do something waaaaayyy beyond my boundaries. I felt terrible about it for ages thinking how I'd let her down, but it turned out just fine and we're still really good friends - because good friends understand and respect boundaries and limits.
  • I didn't buy much this year and was more contemplative about what I already have. I'd rather do things instead of buy things with my money.
  • I was a Good Bitch 17 times, baking 17 batches of sweet treats for charity recipients, nine birthday cakes and several care packages for friends and whānau.
  • I completed this year's Goodreads reading challenge after some sleepless nights finally pushed me over the finish line. Yuss!

Things I've learnt

  • My sense of identity is stronger than other people's perception of it. I'm especially proud of this one.
  • If contracts are like sprints and permanent jobs are a marathon, then a fixed term role is a half-marathon. You can't run a marathon by sprinting like a contractor. The same goes for life in general.
  • Life, misery and exhaustion is not a competition. We're all in different spaces and that's absolutely fine. I've learnt to empathise and support but not be dragged into someone else's negative space just because they're having a tough time.

Things I'm still working on

  • Saying yes to people and experiences without taking on too much.
  • Managing, protecting and nurturing my energy. Sometimes this involves having ridiculously early nights.
  • Pacing myself. I just can't be or do everything I need or want to all the time. 
  • Letting go of the shoulds
And so I finish the year tired but not completely exhausted, looking forward to a break but energised by the possibilities of doing things (or not) over summer. Bring on 2020!

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Christmas high tea at the Intercontinental

I set myself a Christmas watershed of 1 December 5 years ago as a way of managing the annual Christmas madness. For some reason I'm feeling quite festive this year so lifted it a day early, officially declaring the Christmas season open by celebrating Christmas high tea with friends today.

The Intercontinental puts on a spectacular high tea (or high coffee). This year they have a special Christmas high tea available every day until Christmas Eve. The menu is extensive (17 items!) and drinks include the usual tea selection or coffee and either a festive mocktail or a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

An excellent start
Half the fun of high tea is matching the extensive menu with the food presented to you. Sure, it was explained to us by staff but 17 items is a lot to keep your eye on. And then a bartering system began. "I'll trade your asparagus roll for my ham slider" was followed by "you can have my eggnog cheesecake if I get your cheese scone." We all passed our pumperknickel with blue cheese to one person who declared that four was enough!

Christmas high tea
So what did we eat? The savoury tier included a cheese scone, asparagus roll, cucumber sandwich, smoked salmon blink, champagne ham slider and pumpernickel with blue cheese.

Sandwiches and savoury
Things started getting sweeter. Eggnog cheese cake, strawberry tart, white chocolate choux, mini gateau, Christmas pudding panna cotta, a Christmas fruit tart and a cute little gingerbread man. I needed to pause during this tier.

Slightly sugary
The finish was very sweet. Macarons, trifle slice disguised as a Christmas pudding, a welcome palette cleansing berry fruit salad and a fun chocolate and popping candy lollipop.

A sweet finish
I didn't make it all through the menu (although my friends did!) so took home a takeaway box of four items to have for dessert tonight. What a deliciously decadent start to Christmas 2019!

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Return of the dragon yum cha and beer tasting

One Welly on a Plate event I hoped would return after an epic event two years ago was an evening of yum cha and beer tasting. Although most people wouldn't see these as a natural pairing, I was really excited to see Return of the Dragon in the festival events programme. On Friday night, Dragons Restaurant and Garage Project had a full house serving four courses of delicious regional yum cha dishes with matching locally made beer.

A lot has changed in two years and this is now a well organised event. Each course was made up of 3-4 regional dishes and served with a matching beer. There were top ups available, which Mr Weka enjoyed, and entertainment provided by some very cute dragon-style Chinese lions.

Onto the food. The first course was Sichuan themed and waiting on arrival. Here's what we ate from left to right in each photo and the Garage Project beer match. My favourite for each course is marked with an asterisk (*).
  • Hot and spicy shredded chicken salad
  • Chinese style canape with beef, Chinese sausage and vegetables
  • Mixed nuts with spinach *
  • Beer match: Hazy IPA with Mosaic and Motueka 7.2% (not bad for an IPA)
Spicy Sichuan starters
The second course was Cantonese-style dumplings and a delicious mushroom and pork mince bun.
  • Mushroom and pork mince bun
  • Prawn dumpling with golden garlic sand *
  • Pork and peanut dumpling with squid ink
  • Cumin chicken dumpling
  • Beer match: Shaolin Sour dragon pearl jasmine aged sour 6% (pleasant at first but tasted more like vinegar with each sip)
Cantonese dumplings
The third course featured Beijing style food.
  • Crispy jumbo prawn and cuttlefish ball
  • Shredded duck bean curd roll
  • Sweet as BBQ pork bun
  • Crispy prawn beetroot rice rolls *
  • Beer match: Spezial K Kellerbier, unfiltered lager 5.1% (heavy bitter malt flavour - no thanks)
Beijing third course
Finally, dessert. I saved the best for last; the warm sweet cocoa bun was heavenly and the beer match sublime. I also regretted being the sober driver (yes, I literally just sipped each beer twice to sample it) as I could have easily finished off a glass of the 12.5% Super Deluxe beer. It which was rich and warming - the highlight of tonight's beer tasting.
  • Walnut and white chocolate cocoa bun *
  • Sweet-scented osmanthus and coconut jelly (we had to Google osmanthus)
  • Beer match: Super Deluxe bourbon barrel aged dessert stout infused with organic bananas 12.5% (tasted like a rich porter or even a glass of port)
Hong Kong dessert
A great evening of food and beer enjoyed with friends. We'll definitely be back next time.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Chocolate masterclass at Baron Hasselhoff's

I love chocolate. The Hands-on chocolate masterclass at Baron Hasselhoff's caught my attention in the Wellington on a Plate programme. After enjoying the Wellington Chocolate Factory Find your inner chocolatier event last year, Baron Hassellhoff's seemed the next logical event. It was a great choice!

Baron Hasselhoff's (no relation) has been operating from the old L'affaire au Chocolat premises in Berhampore since 2012. We were warmly greeted by owners Clayton and Erin, a glass of Lindauer Special Reserve, the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and some delicious samples.

Almond mole bar inspired by a visit to Mexico
We headed into the kitchen and learned about the origins of cacao near Mexico, the introduction of chocolate to Europe and how it developed into the form we know and love today. We peeled husks off cacao beans, a process called winnowing, which is quite therapeutic in small amounts. We used a mortar and pestle to gring the beans into a paste. The kitchen smelt amazing!

Winnowing or shelling the husks from the cacao beans
Despite learning how to temper chocolate and acquiring much of the equipment needed to make chocolate, I've never actually done it at home so this masterclass was a good incentive to give it another try. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate to create form V crystals, resulting in a glossy finish and a crisp snap.

Clayton teaches us about tempering chocolate
Then it was onto making chocolate bars and truffles. Tempered chocolate was poured into a mould and then shaken on a vibrating table-type machine to get rid of the bubbles. We could choose how to flavour the back of our bar before leaving it in the fridge to set. Here is the selection we were offered.

If you can imagine it, it just might work
I followed the lead of someone else in the class and split my bar into two flavour profiles: freeze dried raspberries and marshmallows (sweet) and hazelnut chipotle chilli brittle and sea salt (savoury).

My chocolate bar creation
We learned how to dip sea salted caramel and coffee espresso truffles into tempered chocolate. This is not as easy as it sounds.
Chocolate truffles that taste better than they look
Finally, we wrapped our chocolate bars in a personalised chocolate label and bagged up our truffles to take home. I bought some other goodies to enjoy later.

Chocolate for breakfast? Don't mind if I do!
A huge thank you to Clayton and Erin for such an enjoyable evening. I love how they shared their expertise and enthusiasm for chocolate and am excited for everyone else who has booked in to visit Baron Hasselhoff's at their upcoming sold out events.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Psychological gastronomy high tea

Artisan at the Bolton Hotel hosts a great high tea. Their 2019 Wellington on a Plate event is Psychological gastronomy and described as "a not-so-traditional high tea" where savoury and sweet may not be as they seem. In fact, they're the complete opposite. Every item that appears savoury tastes sweet, and every item that looks like it should be sweet is savoury.

This was actually quite a challenge. Where do you begin? The high tea tradition of starting at the bottom savoury tier and working all the way up to the sweet finalé clearly wouldn't work here. We pondered the menu over coffee and a glass of Giesen Classic Cuveé.

Things are not how they appear
Here's how we played out our high tea strategy.

Savoury that looks sweet
  • Duck pâté domes on sable biscuit
  • Cheese profiterole
  • Spinach and blue cheese cupcake with truffle icing
  • Beetroot macaron with goat's cheese
Somewhere between savoury and sweet
  • Compressed melon tartare with Chantilly cream
Savoury looking but actually sweet
  • Brioche sandwich with chocolate and banana
  • Rice pudding arancini with vanilla
  • Chocolate pie
  • 'Salmon' raspberry mousse with sweet blini and berry 'caviar'
This was a very fun high tea with a twist. The flavours were clever, delicious and beautifully presented. I hope Artisan holds another high tea event next year. We'll be there!