Thursday, 26 February 2015

Lynfer Estate wine tasting

We have joined a wine club. Each month, a different winery hosts a tasting of their wines. This week, it was Lynfer Estate from Carterton.

Lynfer Estate is a boutique winery in the Wairarapa. Established from bare lane in 2000, the vineyard now spans 9 hectares with about 27,000 vines grown on stony terraces. Spread end to end, the vines would reach from Wellington to Paraparaumu.

Hosted by owner David Boyd, we found out about his journey around the world from his home in Northern Ireland via various army stations, through the Falkland Islands (where he met his wife) and eventually to settle in New Zealand. We learned some facts about wine and he told us more about the specific varieties we were sampling. I was interested to hear that screw caps on bottles may now mean that wines which usually are best drunk very soon after bottling (for example, sauvignon blanc produced within the last two years) can now still retain their fresh flavour for an extra couple of years.

We got to try small samples from four varieties of wine. The tasting began with the driest wine (sauvignon blanc) and progressed through to sweetest (pinot noir).

2013 Sauvignon Blanc - 54% of wine produced in New Zealand is sauvignon blanc, which suits us sav drinkers just fine. The four star 2013 sauvignon blanc is dry and not sweet with just 2 grams of residual sugar. I didn't find it particularly fruity or descriptive.

2013 Pinot Gris - This wine is a bit sweeter with 5.9 grams of residual sugar. It has a pleasant aroma and quite a tangy taste. Surprisingly (being sauvignon blanc drinkers), this was our top pick for the night.

2013 Pinot Noir Rosé - This sweeter wine (9 grams of residual sugar) gets it lovely rose colour by leaving it to soak over skins for 12 hours, then is produced like a white wine. Again, I couldn't really taste the fruity undertones with this one, much less anything like the "strawberries and cream" description we were given.

2011 Pinot Noir - Apparently grape growing conditions in the Wairarapa are as close to Burgandy as you can get, making it ideal to grow pinot noir grapes. We tried a sample from Lynfer's alternate label, Flying Penguin, which is due to be exported to the Falkland Islands shortly. The deep colour comes from being soaked over skins for 10-14 days and it looks lovely but the flavour is not for me.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Round the Bays 2015

Wellington sure knows how to put on a good event. Sunday's Round the Bays is proof of that. I'm only a walker but there is something magical about being part of a big event that has such a positive focus on health and wellbeing. It's a great feeling approaching the start line in the middle of the bunch, then feeling the group pick up the pace and head off on their journeys. It's an even better feeling to cross the finish line.

I settled into my pace at around the 1.5 km mark. I seemed to fall in with a couple of joggers and our paths criss-crossed many times during the next hour and a half, with me striding along and them jogging at my walking pace. The weather was perfect: overcast with a light breeze. There were some hold-on-to-your-cap moments in a couple of notorious windy spots (Point Jerningham and Cobham Drive - I'm looking at you two) but otherwise the breeze was pleasant and welcome.

I always look forward to the entertainment along the way, usually in the form of a jazz band or music blasting from the houses around the eastern bays. This year, there was a great Strike ensemble percussion group at Balaena Bay. If I wasn't on such a mission, I'd have loved to stop and listen to them properly. The Kio Bay Fun Zone was in fine form and the residents were giving out jet plane lollies, although the only route to them seemed to be through a path of hoses and water pistols, so I passed up their offer this time.

I am convinced that Cobham Drive is longer as you head west than it is walking east. At least, it felt that way as the finish line seemed to stretch ever further in front of me. I was really pleased to trim about two minutes off my walk time, finishing 10 km in 1.27.17. I can also say that I'm never as happy to see someone holding out a banana and a water bottle as I am after crossing the finish line. And now, after a few days' recovery, I can once again wear shoes without my feet hurting and walk down stairs without hobbling. It's a great feeling to know that I've been part of this year's event and I'm already looking forward to next year's race.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Mug cakes

My mini cocotte fascination continues. I am slowly curating a collection of single-serve recipes that will fit in my cute little bakeware. A friend showed me a recipe book she had bought for mug cakes recently. They seemed the perfect size for mini cocotte desserts and the next thing I knew, I was ordering a couple of titles for myself online.

I have been 'testing' this book of Mug Cakes by Leslie Bilderback and can report success with a number of recipes so far. Inspiration usually starts with a craving for "a little bit of something sweet" after dinner, which leads to a quick perusal of the fridge and pantry for ingredients, then a browse of the index and voila! Dessert is ready a few minutes later.

The first recipe I tried was sour cream, apple and pecan mug cake. The other night it was plum thyme mug cake (I had lots of plums and no sage, hence the variation). Last night it was brown sugar mug cake with cinnamon and nutmeg. Gosh, this sounds like a regular occurrence ... but I swear it's all in the name of experimentation and quality assurance. ;-) Either way, I highly recommend this recipe book.

The other title I purchased is the one my friend showed me, Mug Cakes by Lene Knudsen. It's been touted as not too practical for making at the office. I'd have to agree that some of the ingredients are slightly more exotic and a few require substituting with local chocolate or sweet varieties. They also seem bigger and at more risk of overflowing in the microwave than Leslie Bilderback's recipes, which fit well in a 250 ml mug. Still, there are lots of good dessert ideas in there and they're quick and easy to make.

So, what's for dessert tonight?

Friday, 20 February 2015

Low hanging fruit

You know that feeling you get when there is so much to do (and it keeps on coming) but just don't know where to start? Or perhaps you've started and have several kettles on to boil, but the order you plan to boil them in changes every time someone asks for something urgently from another pot? (That reference is becoming quite obscure. Hopefully you know what I mean!)

Thankfully, my inbox is nowhere near as hectic as it has been throughout history. Better management means that surprise meetings at short notice are relatively rare, but my team's workload this past year has been extremely high. Even though the end of this project is almost in sight, there is SO MUCH to do before then and the sands still shift frequently. As the deadline approaches, we are scratching our head for solutions and ways that we can support each other to survive.

Now, I know all about eating an elephant; I've eaten a few in my time. This strategy is an oldie but a goodie. It works if you break tasks down into small, manageable bits.

I know for certain that flogging a dead horse doesn't work. I used to do that a lot (and have it done to me) in a previous life. Thankfully those days are over.

I'm adopting the low hanging fruit strategy, looking for small, easy wins that I can knock off and have some success with while still chipping away at the big jobs. It's kind of working.

One colleague has devised a copiously long To Do list. I advised her to cross off tasks she has completed instead of rubbing them out or creating a revised, shorter list. That way, it looks like she has actually achieved something instead of just facing what is left to do.

Another colleague has chosen to combine to all our approaches with a To Do list laden with low hanging fruit and other essential tasks. I totally understand the logic in this quote and may steal it for my own To Do list. We smile at her daily success. :-)

Of course, procrastination doesn't really help but it's a good stop gap for sanity at the most manic times.

What are your survival strategies for busy times?

Monday, 16 February 2015

Eddie Izzard - Force Majeure

Comedian Eddie Izzard came to town this weekend on his world tour, Force Majeure.

Looking incredibly sharp in an immaculately tailored Bond-esque dark suit and block heeled boots, Izzard took to the stage amid a flurry of lights and accompanied by a black umbrella and hat, both of which were quickly discarded. Bling was provided by way of sparkling earrings and a scarlet manicure - which perfectly matched his pocket square. And so the tone was set.

Izzard quickly got down to business with a somewhat prickly conversation opener: human sacrifice. Religion and history play a big role in his comedy and the pace of his storytelling is rapid, too fast even for hecklers to get a shout in. Concentrate and try to keep up or you'll be left behind! His dialogue and wit are equally matched: quick, sharp and all in the pursuit of wisdom.

The Death Star Canteen routine went down really well and the response from the audience showed that more than a handful knew it by heart. Here, it's been given the Lego treatment.

Force Majeure has been on the road for a couple of years now, travelling the globe and currently making its way around New Zealand. It's an excellent night of stories and belly laughs.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Ukulele renaissance

I joined a ukulele orchestra on the way to work last week.

Wait, back up for just a minute.

In a previous life, I used to run a lunch time ukulele orchestra. There were 15 regulars in its heyday and less as time went on, but for half an hour each week, a random group of workmates would congregate in a quiet room and strum along to cheesy pop songs with silly grins plastered all over our faces. I stand by what I said way back then: you can't take anything in life seriously when you're playing a purple ukulele.

It kicked off something of a minor ukulele obsession, much to my musician father's embarrassment. "You don't play in public, do you?" he checked. But ukuleles were all the rage at the time in certain circles. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain showed the world how it was done and other local ensembles had a go at imitating them. Sunday ukulele clubs popped up and everyone was in - or it seemed like they were. This post, where I shared a graphic of common ukulele chords and a ukulele masterpiece played by Jake Shimabukuro, remains the most-clicked post from my blog with a massive 62500+ hits since I first uploaded it in 2009.

But times change and things move on. The ukulele is less retro-chic now and more "so 2010, darling". Haters gonna hate and all that! Yet, here I am a few years later dusting off my ukulele, resurrecting my wiki, photocopying song charts and remembering how much fun it is to get together for a short musical oasis in an otherwise hectic and stressful week.

This time it will be different, though. I've promised myself I will simply turn up to play each week and will not end up running the group. Repeat: I will not end up running the group. I may chart a song or two, introduce a few new chords, teach a couple of intros and endings, get the group to practise some basic chord progressions. ... but I will not end up running the group. Uh huh. No way.

Old habits die hard.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Tyrannosaurs at Te Papa

Te Papa has been visited by a family of giant dinosaurs this summer. Tyrannosaurs - Meet the Family is a temporary exhibition that gives us glimpse of a world that existed millions of years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the land and life as we know it was unimaginable.

Tyrannosaurs introduces us to various members of the family with a mixture of actual fossilised samples and casts of dinosaur skeletons. The multimedia display of dinosaurs romping up and down Wellington's waterfront was a bit strange, but it led to a room where a life-size replica of Scotty the Tyrannosaurus Rex rightfully took pride of place. If you look to the far wall, you can see Scotty's shadow changing as he 'runs away' from something.

A life-size replica of Scotty the Tyrannosaurus Rex
The exhibit is really well curated. The displays are well spaced and the information panels include some really good leading questions for learners. Although the content is probably most suited to children with a reading age of 10-12 years, the tempting touch displays and multimedia interactivity means that even younger children will gain a lot of enjoyment from it. I bumped into my 6 year old nephew, who was on his third visit and proudly showed me around his favourite parts of the exhibition.

The Tyrannosaurs leave Te Papa after next weekend so visit them while you can.