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


Monday, 6 February 2017

Revisionist History

It's been a summer of podcasts for me as I gradually clear the backlog of series and episodes that I would listen to "when I had time". Revisionist History is one of them, having been downloaded months ago and sitting in iTunes ever since.

Revisionist History is a bit different to your everyday podcast series. Presented by Malcolm Gladwell, whose famous works include The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005) and Outliers (2008), Revisionist History examines concepts and events that first appear one way but, upon exploration, are not quite what they seem. I found it hard to get into the series at first as I was always wondering "what's the twist?" and "why this angle?" But from the third episode onwards, when Gladwell examined societal inequities in the education system, I was hooked and raced through all ten episodes of series 1.

I enjoy Gladwell's brand of storytelling. He has an accessible and engaging style of presenting social psychology that invites listeners and readers to think and think again. Check out Revisionist History on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Dear 30

The baby of our group celebrated a special birthday while we were away at new year. She was turning the big (little) 3-0 and feeling quite distraught about it. She worries her youth is over and is not yet convinced that she's actually entering the best decade of her life so far. Fair enough, too. I remember the painful third-life crisis that hit at 30. And then 32 became the five best years of my life.

Here are some things Dear 30 absolutely does (or does not) believe at this point in time but will soon learn - and it's just the beginning.

Dear 30

"I can have dessert now AND cake when we get back to our place. I go to the gym, you know."
Sure you can - but just for tonight because it's your birthday. Soon, going to the gym will no longer give you a lifetime pass for two desserts.

"My favourite shoes aren't that comfy but they look really good."
One day you'll reverse that statement and breathe a sigh of relief.

"I don't need to write it down. I'll remember it."
Ha ha ha ha ha ha! What's that thing called that you tow behind a car? Oh, a-a-a ... caravan! What three things did I need from the supermarket? Not the four things I came out with. Why did I walk into this room?? No idea ... *retraces steps and gets distracted by something else*.

"I don't need as much sleep as you guys. I can get up the morning after a late night out and still be fine for work."
Sleep is now the ultimate prize that you will do anything to win. You will come to covet it more than money, wine or a new car. #fact

"I dye my hair because I like it to be different shades, NOT because I have grey hair."
Yes, for now. But stretch out the time between colouring it just a bit longer than normal and check again.

"I'm ALREADY grown up. I've faced some pretty big life situations and dealt with responsibilities you'd never have dreamed of."
True, you certainly have. I had, too, by 30. But I vividly remember the moment I felt like a grown up. I was driving home from work after a very difficult day and night. I'd spent much of the day trying to deal with an unimaginable scene that had presented itself 24 hours earlier. I'd just been on the phone and made what I realised was my very first grown up decision. I was 35.

"I'm still young. Well, at least I'm younger than all of you."
Yes, you are. But soon age will become just a number and you'll choose to embrace it like we all have.

Happy birthday, Dear 30. The best is yet to come.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Someone Knows Something

I was a huge fan of series 1 of the Serial podcast. A true crime story told over several weeks, I marathoned one episode after another two summers ago and was left hanging out for more. The second series didn't grab me so much. I couldn't develop any empathy for the protagonist so have put it aside while hoping there may be a third series in development.

Someone Knows Something (SKS) is similar to Serial in that it is a true-crime podcast that develops over eleven episodes. Presented by Canadian writer and filmmaker David Rigden, SKS investigates the cold case of 5-year-old Adrien McNaughton, who disappeared without a trace while on a fishing trip in Eastern Ontario in 1972. It's a small town story re-examined decades later through fresh eyes.

SKS is not as sharp as Serial. Its pace is slower and generally less engaging. It's almost a journey back to a time to when things operated differently to how they do now. But it's still an interesting case and one that I enjoyed delving into.

Stories such as this cold case blur the lines between investigative journalism and what could (or should) have been part of a police investigation. I couldn't help asking myself why some potentially key witnesses were never interviewed at the time or aspects that we'd now consider standard practice in any investigation were seemingly overlooked. There may be valid reasons. Perhaps these techniques weren't available in 1972? Surely someone would (should) have sent out sniffer dogs before cadaver dogs were deployed to search for remains more than 40 years later?

I've already downloaded series 2, ready to listen to, perhaps in the form of another marathon session or during the next rainy weekend.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Rule of fifty

Life's too short to read a bad book. Actually, I decided a few years ago that life's too short for a lot of things, but I'll focus on books for now. You see, I've been reviewing the titles on my TBR (to be read) list and it's now longer than ever. I didn't manage to achieve my Goodreads reading challenge last year but have reset it once again to 24 books in 2017, or approximately one every two weeks. It doesn't sound like much but when my brain is at full to overload capacity, reading is one of the first pleasures to drop off.

I plan to stay on track with my reading challenge this year. Yes, really. You see, this year I have a strategy. I'm getting better at choosing books I'll finish but still struggle to abandon a book part-way through. It's just not in my nature to stop pursuing something; even if it takes forever, I'll finish it one day.

Book lover Nancy Pearl has come up with a true pearlism. It's called the rule of fifty and makes perfect sense to me as a reader. To quote Nancy Pearl:
"If you're fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up.

If you're over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100. The result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.

Since that number gets smaller and smaller as we get older and older, our big reward is that when we turn 100, we can judge a book by its cover!"
I still have many years until I can judge a book by its cover, but for now I'll give the rule of fifty a go and hopefully meet (or exceed) my reading goal as a result.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Kayaking to Cathedral Cove

Visitors to the Coromandel are spoilt for great scenery with lovely coves, bays and beaches interspersed with hilly landscapes and farmland. Having done most of our exploring on land, we took to the water to visit one of the region's most famous attractions, Cathedral Cove. Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours organises guided tours to the cove, which is only accessible by foot, boat or kayak.

Sea kayaks
Leaving from the beach at Hahei and paddling through the marine reserve at Mercury Bay on tandem sea kayaks, the tour is about three hours long. It took us an hour to kayak around to Cathedral Bay (at a leisurely pace - and with breaks to admire the scenery and learn about the landscape). We came ashore for morning tea at adjoining Mare's Leg Cove and walked through the beautiful, naturally formed archway.

Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove from Mare's Leg Cove
The Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours website boasts world famous cappuccino for morning tea. We certainly were impressed with the range of barista-standard coffees prepared on the beach by our guide while we explored the cove. You're seeing hot chocolates, lattes and a flat white in this picture.

Beach barista
The return journey took about 45 minutes, aided by rafting the kayaks together and putting up a pirate sail that pulled us along for a bit. The tour is quite expensive but still a great way even for beginner kayakers to experience this part of the Coromandel.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Wine and liqueur tasting at Purangi Winery

Although the climate in the Coromandel is warm and sunny, it's not really known as a wine growing region. Purangi Estate winery is a great place to stop for food and drink on the way to nearby Cooks Beach.

Established in 1985, Purangi Winery uses traditional methods to make wines and liqueurs based on organic principles. There is something really refreshing about a relaxed countryside winery that presents itself without the frills and grandeur of many modern vineyards set up to mass produce for overseas markets.


For a gold coin koha (donation), you can sample your way through their cellar list. We tasted several fruit liqueurs including boysenberry, plum, rhubarb and guava, feijoa, passionfruit, persimmon and ginger, as well as limoncello. Most were too sweet for my palette but we did like the aged port and bought a small bottle to take home.


If you're after some lunch, there is a quaint, rustic style bar and restaurant serving wood fired pizza, along with a games room and outdoor picnic tables.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Horse riding at Rangihau Ranch

Rangihau Ranch  is a family-owned ranch at Coroglen, south of Whitianga. It has been farmed for 35 years by the current owners, who clearly love the land and everything they do on it. Their stables are well maintained and their horses beautifully looked after, healthy and happy. We visited Rangihau Ranch at new year and had a great afternoon trekking around sheep and beef farmland.

Rangihau stable
We had some very nervous (and downright scared) riders in our group but the staff were very patient and supportive. Having not ridden a horse since my early 20s, when I used to trek each month or so, I was hoping it would be much like riding a bicycle. I was delighted to discover that it was! My body remembered what to do when riding up and down hill and moved into the right position for some short trot sprints. There was no cantering or galloping this time, so I'll save that for my next trek.

Beware the horse!
If you're looking for a way to enjoy some beautiful Coromandel scenery from land, then take a horse trek at Rangihau Ranch.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Hot Water Beach

Happy New Year! 2017 is going to be epic.

We're in the Coromandel for new year. It's my first visit to this part of the country and one that's long overdue. It's a great place to relax with friends. We're enjoying the beautiful weather and a range of activities within an hour of our accommodation, but more about that later.

Yesterday, we drove out to Hot Water Beach, famous for its ... well, hot water pools on the beach. Considered one of New Zealand's premium destinations, visitors flock to this tiny town armed with spades to dig their own little spa pools in the sand. And the water certainly is hot.
It's hot in there!
The water is heated by a reservoir of hot water and heated rocks two kilometres beneath the surface. It is a remnant of volcanic activity that occurred in the Coromandel region 5 to 9 million years ago. There are two springs that are accessible for two hours either side of low tide.

This is the tranquil view you'll meet when you first arrive at Hot Water Beach. It really is beautiful.
Hot Water Beach
This is the view of the side where the hot water pools are. Zoom in and you'll see hundreds of people clambering over each other in a relatively small patch of sand. Some are digging and damming sand dunes while others are enjoying the fruits of their labour. A few pools that have cooled down are left abandoned as the tide rushes in and their patrons have jumped into another in search of hot water.
Hot water pools
We stayed for an hour, jumping between holes and soaking our feet in various hot pools. It's a beach like no other. Imagine my surprise to read this article about Hot Water Beach etiquette on the very day we were visiting. Sure, it's crazy and hectic but it's also a wonderfully unique experience in a beautiful part of the world. I don't think beach goers would expect to find a deserted attraction, especially during the busy summer holidays.

Don't let the busyness put you off. Hot Water Beach is definitely one to tick off your travel bucket list.