Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Wellington Wine, Food and Craft Beer Festival

The third Wellington Wine, Food and Craft Beer Festival was held last weekend. This year, the festival moved venues and expanded to include a focus on locally produced craft beer. Waitangi Park is better suited for this festival than last year's Frank Kitts Park, offering a more space and a less cluttered layout. A calendar shift from autumn to summer also made for more pleasant weather. Inside, there were fewer food vendors but more space at each stand. More seating, sheltered tents, picnic blankets and bar areas made it more comfortable to come and go in between snacks and drinks.

We arrived for the Saturday evening session and joined the long queue for entry. Although everyone had already purchased tickets, it took a full 15 minutes of waiting until an organiser finally opened all four entry points to speed up the process, rather than insisting on everyone waiting to shuffle into just one lane. Apart from this slow start, this year's festival was far better organised and more streamlined than last year's event.

As Round the Bays was a mere twelve hours away, I chose Doris plum cider from Good George Brewing for my one and only drink. It was a great choice and I've found a new cider to enjoy.

So, onto the food. It was great to have each vendor's menus and prices printed on an A5 leaflet, meaning time spent in queues was for ordering and collecting food rather than deciding what to purchase.We started with Moroccan spiced calamari and a Rattle Ya Daggs lamb rump burger with beetroot chutney and feta and rocket pesto from The Crab Shack. Both were excellent and well worth the wait. The venison kofta pita with tabouleh and cucumber mint yoghurt from Foxglove was also very good, especially when topped with their house made barbeque sauce. Preventing tabouleh from escaping out of a pita pocket proved to be quite challenging; it's not a first date food. The bao burgers on soft steamed buns from Arborist Rooftop Bar were in hot demand. The chicken, chilli and garlic burgers had sold out by the time we ordered so we tried pulled pork, honey and ginger instead.

For dessert, we had a salted caramel rum cookie (gluten free, so it must be good for you) from Sweet Release Cakes and Treats, then finished with an incredibly decadent white chocolate buttercream doughnut muffin (vegan, so it must be even better for you). Who knew doughnut muffins were a) a thing and b) so good? Oh my!

A big huge MASSIVE thank you to Sweet Release for the tickets to this event. It's good to see the festival getting better each year. I'm looking forward to seeing how it evolves in 2017.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Round the Bays 2016

It's Round the Bays day once again. Wellington turned on ideal warm and overcast race conditions today for this annual event, leaving the sun to make its well timed appearance at the post-race celebrations. The coolness of the southerly was welcome even if the extra resistance it provided was less appealing.

A group of us from work entered different races. Some of us met at the start line before heading off to our various starting points. We somehow managed to be back at the office afterwards at almost the same time for an informal debrief. I entered the 10 km walk for the third year in a row. The course is a picturesque journey around Wellington's coastline with an extra few kilometres thrown in at the end in the form of a there-and-back jaunt to just past the Miramar cutting, finishing at Kilbirnie Park.

There is much fanfare at both ends of the race and plenty of encouragement along the way. Highlights this year included the percussion band at Balaena Bay and the family fun zone at Kio Bay, where jet plane lollies were on offer to passing racers. It's always disconcerting to see St John ambulance staff taking someone off the course and driving them away for treatment. I passed three of these along the way and was grateful that first aid was so readily available for those who needed it.

After last year's time of 1:27:17, I had ambitions of slicing a couple more minutes off to finish somewhere around 1:25:00. A sneaky glance at MapMyWalk at the 5 km walk had my time at 44 minutes, when I was aiming for around 40 minutes. I really wish I hadn't looked as I spent the next half of the walk realising I probably wouldn't be able to reach my goal. I powered on but started losing juice around the 8 km mark. I finished up at 1:28:18, disappointed with my time this year but still glad to be part of such a large scale positive event.

Friday, 19 February 2016


We've had a fantastic summer this year. Lots of warm, sunny days with very little wind and rain. Occasional weather tantrums have quickly given way to more of the good stuff. This is the kind of summer that future childhood memories are made of.

My own childhood memories of summer include a soundtrack of cicadas chirping happily from dawn til dusk. Cicadas hung out everywhere when we were kids: on tree branches, on the roofs of tree huts, outside windows and even up lamp posts. I always thought cicadas chirped when the temperature reached 17°C (or somewhere around there), so chirping meant it was a lovely warm day, but apparently it's more like 28°C. Whatever the actual temperature, there's something about this summer chorus that summons up memories of happy days and long, hot holidays.

I was alarmed to discover this week that not everyone feels as sentimental as I do about cicadasong. During an early morning shuttle ride to the airport this week, my driver complained of not being able to sleep because "the skaders" keep him awake all night. He had a reasonably thick accent so I wasn't exactly sure what he meant until he explained further: they're everywhere outside the house, banging against the window all night and some of them even come inside and make a noise! Ah. Not skaters.

Cicadageddon has even been compared to a horror movie. Here's where I confess my unpopular opinion: I love cicadas. Not so much the insects themselves, but what they represent. The chirping sound is male cicadas singing their lungs out to woo their women. It'd almost be romantic, if they weren't so creepy looking.

I say let's enjoy the sound of summer for the few short months it lasts. It'll be winter again before we know it and no doubt we'll find other things to complain about.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

How to feed a sourdough starter

I've really come to love baking all types of bread. The only bread I regularly buy nowadays is two loaves of everyday sliced bread for sandwiches and toast each week. I bake everything else, either by hand or with the help of my trusty Panasonic breadmaker.

Sourdough has always been one of my ultimate bread making goals. I've been on a sourdough baking binge these past few months after acquiring a cup of starter and accepting the challenge of keeping it alive. After much experimenting, I think I've found a stress-free way to make it work.

You'll need to find a recipe and make your own starter. It's probably easier and more reliable to ask a regular sourdough baker for a cup of their starter that you can maintain. My starter came from a bread making class I took late last year. I scrawled copious amounts of notes on my recipe sheet, putting instructions in order then crossing them out or reordering them as someone remembered another vital step. I got dreadfully confused so ended up just jumping in the deep end and trying it a few times for myself at home.

I'm pleased to report that, after successfully maintaining my original starter for about three months now, it's not too hard after all - even though I'm yet to find a name for it. (The theory is that you're more likely to look after something that has a name - but seriously, what do you call flour and water??)

I use a one litre glass jar with a hinged lid to store my starter. The jar easily stands upright to hibernate in the fridge. It's possibly too big for one cup of starter but the extra space is handy if you decide to 'grow' your starter to nearly double its size (like I did). You grow your starter by feeding it twice (a half measure at a time) without using any of it.

Sourdough starter, freshly fed
After just a few hours at room temperature, or even quicker on a warm day, you'll see your starter grow and begin to activate. You'll know it's been activated when it expands in size and bubbles. It'll also smell like it's starting to ferment. The more the starter activates, the more sourdough flavour your bread will have.

Activated sourdough
Remember that I'm not a professional baker and these instructions are based on my entirely unscientific sample size of one.

How to feed a sourdough starter

  1. Remove jar from refrigerator and leave to activate at room temperature for at least six hours, or overnight.
  2. Use however much you need. Most recipes require 1 - 1 1/2 cups of starter.
  3. Pour remaining starter in a large bowl. Feed it with equal portions of high grade (bread) flour and warm water and whisk until smooth. (To replace one cup of starter, feed with approximately 125 grams each of flour and water.)
  4. Wash and thoroughly dry your glass jar. Use a spatula to refill the jar with your starter.
  5. Put the lid on and leave to grow for at least six hours, then refrigerate to hibernate.
You should aim to use or feed your sourdough every 10-14 days. Mine has survived being accidentally frozen in the fridge, then revived at room temperature. Most importantly, it's still alive and well.