Loving our farmers’ market

After my last entry I thought I would this time write about something that makes me happy. I think it’s important to take time to think about what is good as well as what is troubling (and I am spending a lot of time thinking about what is troubling!). I am definitely learning to take joy in small things, and feel incredibly grateful for the country I live in.

I’m hoping to put together several posts about this small planned community with a big vision. We have been in our new home here  for just over a year. Moving from an established suburb to a brand new area has been way easier than we expected. Hobsonville Point has very quickly become home.

One of the things I love most about living here is that I can now walk to a farmers’ market (which has always been something I have wanted to be able to do). I am becoming increasingly convinced that supporting our local community, producers and economy is incredibly important. The market’s not a big one, and is the process of transitioning to a new space which means a bit of patience is required during this period, but it’s one of the highlights of my weekends.

To be able to stroll down, pick up some free range eggs, freshly baked bread, honey and partake of the odd treat still feels like such a special thing to do. The coffee is always amazing, there’s usually a busker adding to the ambience, it’s nestled down at a wharf in one of the prettiest inner harbours in Auckland – what could be better!

 

Is it that time of year already?

I have been a little envious of all those people who have managed to blog through the Christmas and New Year period. Finally today I feel like it’s time to sit down in front and write something and it’s January 11 already!

Maybe it’s something to do with our summer Christmas. We have spend most of the last few weeks down at Waihi Beach with our extended family. While there was a rather large amount of lazing round and doing nothing, the beach always seems to make it difficult to sit down and be disciplined!img_3784

We trialled  some new traditions this year (well potential traditions) so our children didn’t have to juggle spending time with both us and the in-laws on Christmas Day which is getting more and more complicated each year, especially now there are grandchildren as well.
I’m very happy to report that we successfully celebrated Christmas down at the beach house with everyone on December 27. It took a lot of planning and logistics (how to fit in and feed 17 people and accomodate 5 dogs and a cat being the most pressing.

December 25 was a little odd. We decided that the four of us already at the beach would treat it as if it wasn’t Christmas yet so just had a delicious breakfast of French toast and then watched Christmas movies and read everyone else’s FB updates.

Boxing Day was when everyone started to arrive, kids, spouses, grandkids, uncles and a great grand-mother and happy chaos ensued. When everyone woke up the next morning, it definitely felt like Christmas Day. We started off with our traditional waffle breakfast which we have not been able to do with everyone for years and then spent the rest of the day opening presents until it was time to attack  a Christmas feast of ham, turkey and smoked salmon. There was a mountain of presents under the tree! I have to say our family is very good at gifts. They don’t spend lots of money and don’t buy stuff that will be thrown away once Christmas is over but make or buy things that are perfect for the recipient. It was a lovely relaxing (if noisy) day and it was so nice for everyone to be able to just go to bed rather than driving home at the end of a long day. So much easier for the grandchildren as well as we just bundled them into bed as they got tired.

We even managed to get a family photo, dogs and all!

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Most people stayed a few days, and one of our sons and his wife stayed to see the new year in (and we had friends arrive for that as well so the house was still quite full). We had fun letting off some fairly spectacular leftover fireworks.

And then they were all gone. Christian went up with his older siblings to spend time with them before he heads back to the UK later in January so there were just three of us. I did heave a small sigh of relief that I was no longer preparing food for the hoards.

Days for the rest of the break revolved around the weather (sun = swim, cloudy = walks and books); what to eat (very important) and scrolling through various media devices.

But now I am back and at that exciting stage of planning a fresh new year. I have a few things that I am blue-skying at the moment. I think that will be another post though!

I know that 2016 has been a troubling year in many ways but for me personally it has been a very special one. We have welcomed a new grandson and spent 9 weeks on a glorious overseas adventure. Who know what this year will bring?

So somewhat belatedly, but very sincerely, I pray that 2017 will be a great year for you all.

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Christmas food trial #1

It’s the first of December here in New Zealand! That is crazy. Having been away for so long I am mentally two months behind which means I am actually two months behind in Christmas preparation.

However I have been doing a bit of experimenting with Christmas dessert ideas this week to try and get myself back into the swing of things and I was rather pleased with these. This isn’t so much a recipe as a guide for assembling. What I liked about them is you can make as much or as little of them from scratch – depending on time, patience, confidence, inclination or stress level.

Mini lemon and chocolate tarts

You will need:

Mini pastry cases. I made mine in mini muffin tins using a polenta pastry, but you could make any sweet pastry, use store bought, or use ready-made cases.

Lemon curd. Either home-made from your favourite recipe, or from a jar you bought at the supermarket…either is fine. I had some in the fridge that I made last week as we have a surfeit of lemons. Lime curd would also be delicious.

Ganache. Ganache is so quick and easy to make that I would recommend making this rather than buying it. Make it at the beginning so it can cool down in the fridge.

Ganache is basically equal proportions of good quality dark chocolate and cream.  I used 250gms of each. Heat cream until nearly boiling, place roughly chopped chocolate into the cream and wait a few minute. Stir together until smooth. Cool in fridge until firm. If you want to use some later as an icing or chocolate sauce just gently reheat. It will keep in the fridge for at least several weeks.

Toppings: Strawberries, mint leaves, pistachio nuts chopped finely, whipped cream and raspberry powder (optional). Chop a few strawberries finely, add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of caster sugar and a few chopped mint leaves. Obviously you can add or change these toppings. It’s a great way to use up Christmas ingredients that may be languishing in the fridge or pantry.

To assemble:Fill half the cases with curd and half with ganache. Top with cream and fresh raspberries (and freeze-dried raspberry powder if you have some); and the other half with cream, chopped pistachios and the strawberry mixture.

Easy! Festive! Delicious!img_3847

 

 

 

And so it ends…

And so to the final week of our journey. Still behind in my writings as we are now home. I think I have  a theory that if I don’t blog about it, we will still be there somehow. However that is an avoidance technique that is not very helpful so here is our last week of the trip.

A whole week in London! Taking as long to Uber to our apartment by the Tower as it did to drive from Cambridge to the hire car drop-off at Heathrow was a somewhat frustrating experience, but finally we checked into our very cute space late afternoon. What a fantastic spot. Right next to the bustling tourist spot of the Tower and its surrounds, super close to the tube. Perfect.

Quick Wagamama to fill those empty tummies. Then off to the Hammersmith Apollo to see Josh Widdicombe. Formerly the Hammersmith Odeon, this stunning Art Deco theatre has seen so many famous musical names perform, but we were here instead to watch a comedian Josh was filming his DVD which made the night feel a bit special. His gentle Millennial humour gave us a perfect feel-good night out.

Next day we did a mix of touristy stuff. Churchill’s War Rooms –  a long wait to get in but a fascinating look at a space that basically was left as it was the day the war ended. hearing Churchill’s speech while we were down in the bunker gave us a small sense of the hope  and vision of that he carried.

I then spent a very happy hour wandering round St James Park. I am going to miss these stately parks in the middle of such huge cities like London and New York. Despite all our green open spaces, ironically we don’t have a big park in the middle of Auckland.

Wayne went off on a wee adventure by himself for the weekend, a BBC history weekend in Winchester. This meant I could do a sneaky trip to Harrods (just as gloriously tacky and over the top as I remembered it!). Then dinner with the young ones and one of my most anticipated events – Les Miserables at the West End. I have seen this show several times but was not disappointed by seeing it at the theatre where it all started. And it was Les Mis’s 31st birthday and the Queen’s Theatre’s 109th birthday. A really special night to attend.

Hillsong London in the morning – what a great church! Then time to finally say good-bye to Christian (although only for a couple of months) and Sophie (sadly for about a year).It felt really weird and sad walking away, but  I’m so glad they have each other while they are in the UK. And London is much closer to Cambridge than Cornwall so they will have a slightly more normal/less long-distance relationship from here on in. Cute couple xx!

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The last few days went by in a blur – Victoria and Albert, re-visiting our favourite bits of the British Museum, checking out the Borough Markets and Shakespeare at the Globe – what a privilege to get to see this (even with our seat at the back of the upper gallery).

Then it was our final night and we had decided well before we started the trip that we wanted to do something very special on our last night so had booked at Dinner – Heston Blumenthal’s London restaurant. Perfect food, wine and service made this a night to remember.

And then before we knew it, we were checking in at the airport, and then settling down for the double leg 24 hour journey back. I love Air NZ, especially when I am flying home – there’s something about hearing the Kiwi accent from the pilots and stewards that makes me smile.

On the flight I had the most amazing opportunity to photograph some mountains that were poking through the clouds. I think we were flying over Greenland. I have never seen anything quite like them while flying before.

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It’s going to take a very long time to process all of our experiences. I have come back changed by what I have seen and learnt about the richness of our shared history and the beauty of our world. But working all that out will have to wait. For now it’s about catching up with the rest of the family (especially the grand-children), handing out lots of presents and boring them with photos and anecdotes.

My  blog will revert back to its more eclectic range of topics from here on!

 

Galileo said it perfectly

A low-key but lovely morning was spent getting our sleeves rolled up and cooking our own lunch. We did this in the midst of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscape – it was almost impossible to tear our eyes and cameras away from the scenery stretching out in front of us  to go inside.

A simple menu of bread salad, pasta with vegetable ragu and tiramisu kept us concentrating for the morning. We got to keep the recipes as well, so once I am home I’ll probably make some of the menu again and post the recipes if they still taste this yummy!

It’s easy to forget how easy it is to throw together perfect silky smooth pasta, even without the help of a pasta rolling machine. We were a mixed group cooking skills-wise, so the cooking school did well to keep everyone happy and also make sure we served ourselves edible food.

The meal was matched perfectly with accompanying wines as the cooking school was (surprise surprise) attached to a vineyard. We treated ourselves to a beautiful red and I also bought myself a tee-shirt with this beautiful quote from Galileo Galilei.

  Wine is sunlight, held together by water 

Perfect!

A vineyard with serious history

The beautiful villa where Machiavelli was under house arrest, spending his time writing , fuming and plotting – now a wonderful vineyard. The house still has much still intact from Machiavelli’s time including some magnificent furniture. For us it was a chance to absorb yet more history, check out some local wine, sample some local food, and relax in the perfect afternoon sun. Not quite sure how I am going to go back to my ordinary existence!

(A very random aside. Those of you who are Black Books fans will appreciate my photo of the cheap and dusty wine! )

A bridge, a prison and a reunion

We departed Santa Cruz with the intention of checking out both Apple and Google HQs. We were stymied by the road system around Apple, ending up on the wrong side of six lanes – twice! Wayne blamed navigation, I blame the driver. We did get a glimpse of the building and 1 Infinity Loop roadsign. Google however was a piece of cake to find and travel around. Very unprepossessing campus for a company that influences  so much of our lives. 

Then off to San Franscisco. We were congratulating ourselves on how successfully we were manoevuring around the city, and then we hit the notorious and insanely steep roads. A four way stop sign every few hundred meters (and we still hadn’t quite got the hang of the “whoever gets there first goes first” rule) and we were very glad to finally find our hotel down by Fisherman’s Wharf. Of course after dropping the bags off we had to drive back up said streets and at one point as our under-powered rental car was required to make a hill start, we thought we would slide all the way back down.

And then we were free of the car and grabbed some lunch and a hop-on-hop-off bus to orientate ourselves. We pretty much fell in love with San Francisco from the time the bus started winding its way through some pretty iconic architecture. Through the gorgeous Golden Gate Park and then there was that bridge. The temperature must have dropped about ten degrees as we crossed but it was worth it for the views on the other side.

We had arranged to catch up with Christian for dinner and made our way to the stunning Yelp HQ in the heart of town. Slightly disconcerting to see him come out with all the other hip young coders looking more grownup and self-assured. The bandage on his hand had been replaced with a sci-fi looking  splint and he proudly showed us the pins sticking out of his healing finger. So good to put my arms around him and give him a real hug. Dinner at the Ferry Building and lots to catch up on. 

I had a brainwave to solve the tea issue and wandered to a nearby Walgrens to buy some tea bags. Feeling that some post breakfast burrito exercise was needed I decided to tackle Lombard Street (Wayne decided to stay back and watch soccer).  According to Fitbit that is 22 flights of stairs – must be very long flights! Mission accomplished and it was a wobbly legs walk back down to find the elusive tea bags. There was only find one box of Liptons  tea amongst (and I am not exaggerating) three shelves from top to bottom of coffee and coffee-related drinks. Should last Wayne a while! We then had a fun morning spent in the Haight and Ashbury hippy district. Some tie dye may have been bought, as well as a cute hat to replace my stupidly left-behind Panama. Hipster spotting also took place…
Then time to join the younger generation at MoMA  (and another real hug for a loved young person as Sophie was now with Christian) to spend the  afternoon soaking up the treasures within. After waiting so long to seriously travel, the impact of seeing such stunning creativity was quite overwelming. Burgers for dinner and a cable car ride rounded the day off nicely. 

Sunday we had a bit of a treat with a foodie tour around the permanent market at the ferry building. Delicious food and lots of background info about some of the producers. Local sourcing and sustainability  is so common now, but San Francisco was doing this long before many places so it was good to get some of the history (and taste it!). Fresh sour dough baguette, gooey cheese, perfect macarons and the most amazing autumn fruit pastry still hot from the oven.


This was in stark contrast to our afternoon – Alcatraz. History of another kind carved into this forbidding island. Tales of attempted escapes, most ending sadly. The ranger who told us these stories commented that the punishment wasn’t Alcatraz itself, that the prisoners were treated fairly well. It was being able to see, hear and even smell normal everyday existence so tantalisingly close that drove people to try and make their escape. 

I wonder what it must have been like for people in the city as well when the prison was open. It is unusual to have a prison so clearly in  view. Not only would the prisoners have been able to hear life on the mainland, I would imagine that the sound of gunshots and sirens would echo across the bay from time to time. Did they worry each time this might be the time someone escaped successfully? 

We spent the evening with a delicious  dinner at Waxman’s celebrating a raft of things – Christian’s upcoming birthday, his great first year results and Sophie’s acceptance into a prestigious UK university. Conversation ranged broad and deep – they seem much older than their teenage years and I was excited to think of where they might go and what they might do.

Monday we discovered a great little breakfast place that felt like home, and I had a San Francsico favorite, a  lavender latte (yum). In the afternoon we were privileged to get to visit Christian  at his internship. Had to sign a non disclosure agreement so can’t really say anything except that it’s a pretty cool place to spend your summer break. 

We finished our visit with the San Franscisco classic of clam bisque in a sour dough bowl (with a side of fresh sour dough…) perfect way to end and we were sad to say good bye to this beautiful city. Vibrant and funky, I hope we will get back.

Looking forward to New York – it has been a dream of mine to visit this city for a long time. I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

So the adventure starts…

And we are off. After a surreal 24 hours where we were completely packed, my insanely long to-do before we go list was all ticked off, lots of meals in the freezer for the young man left behind  (so that theoretically he won’t exist on pizza alone), hugs given, grandkids kissed, and goodbyes said – we set off on our longest time away ever.

Great flight to LA (love our national carrier). 

First challenge was on arrival. It was a  biggy: learning to drive on the wrong side of the road as we headed up to our first stop, Santa Barbara. We would find over the next few days that driving and navigating unfamiliar territory while ignoring every instinct to drive on the left is a very good barometer of your marriage health. We came out pretty well with only a few tense/terse moments. We drove up the coast and the weather was glorious, the sea sparkling and the car staying on the correct side of the road!

Slightly jet-lagged we got to our first rather quaint inn. Larger than life and very friendly hosts lifted this above its old fashioned decor and noisy fan (no air-con). A quick change and out to explore the beautiful waterfront. Coming from winter to this just made our hearts sing – so balmy and a stunning sunset. Breakfast in the morning was a very quirky and slightly random collection of pastries and cereals with our hosts proudly showing us the Vegemite. Guess we are going to have to get used to being mistaken for Australians! Unfortunate his experience with the habits of Antipodeans didn’t extend to much of a selection of teas rather than coffee.
The morning was still and misty and we spent a couple of hours walking along the almost deserted beach, enjoying the shrouded shapes of boats moored along the way. The pier loomed towards us as the sun started to come out and we decided it was time to get back on the road.
And then we were back on the road – a little more confident this time. Road trip music was added. We drove up through the hills which were magnificent. Steep climbs revealing deep valleys and dramatic drops. Everything was brown and dry due to the drought.

San Luis Obispo was our next stop. Slightly inland, dry, hot – wine country! And that was the order of the afternoon, some lunch in the very pretty town and then a spot of wine tasting. We did choose the first vineyard purely because it was a right hand turn in from a very busy road, but it was an excellent choice. Pretty nice day to sit and enjoy delicious Californian wines. Giant pizza for dinner (just a tad overkill on the toppings) and then we were delighted to find Olympic coverage of some NZ athletes on our TV. 

Breakfast again was very eclectic. The inn was run by an English lady so we had scrambled eggs added to the collection of pastries and bagels, along with salsa. Again Wayne was discriminated against by being a tea drinker. This was to become a familiar experience as our trip progressed. 

And then we were on the road again heading up to Santa Cruz via the famous Pacific Coast Highway. But more about that next time.

Winter Goodness

Having spent a cold wintery week stuck inside feeling a little sorry for myself with a very enthusiastic cold, I decided on Friday that rather than heating up yet again more  store-bought chicken soup (or giving in to getting Friday night take-aways) I would make some for us  – this is what I came up with. I was lucky enough to have everything in the pantry or fridge so it was an efficient meal as well.

The general consensus was that a delicious, fragrant  and steaming hot chowder is an instant antidote to coughs and colds, and most definitely needs be made next time one of us starts sneezing.

Chicken and Corn Chowder

1 small onion
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tspn minced garlic)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks halved and then diced
1 carrot diced
1 large potato diced
1 kumera (sweet potato) diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tbsp plain flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
2-3 cups cooked chicken (I used  left-overs from a  rotisserie chicken)
1 420 gm can corn kernels
salt and pepper
Fresh parsley to serve.

 

Gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. add celery and carrot and continue to gently fry for another few minutes. Add the chicken, potatoes, kumera, stock and thyme. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Take some of the hot liquid from the soup. Cool a bit and then mix in the flour. Return to the saucepan and stir until mixture thickens slightly. Add chicken, corn, milk and cream and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with crusty bread.

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Mexican Quinoa and Beef Stuffed Peppers

We are being over-run by capsicum in our small but prolific garden. They are huge, healthy, and at the moment refusing to change colour to red. I was forced to pick a few just to give the others a chance to grow and also picked a few chillies off our new member of the vegetable garden family.IMG_1811.JPG

I’ve never made stuffed peppers before so thought I’d have a go at a Mexican-style recipe – got the thumbs up from the two males in the household so that’s always good. I kept this pretty mild as a first go.

Fills at least 4 depending on the size of the peppers – these were monsters!

 

Mexican Quinoa and Beef Stuffed Peppers

4 large capsicum (bell peppers). Red is preferable but green is fine.

1-2 chillies (add more or less depending on your heat preference)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp chilli powder (add more or less depending on your heat preference)

1 tsp chipotle salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

1 red onion

1/2 cup quinoa

500 grams beef mince

1 400gm can of black beans or kidney beans

400 mls passata

1/2 cup beef stock

2 tsp lime juice

I cup grated cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Tortilla chips,fresh coriander and lime wedges to serve

Slice off the tops of the peppers and cut out the stems and cores. Wrap in foil, place in an oven dish and bake at 200°C for around 20 minutes to until they are starting to soften. Remove from oven and unwrap from the foil. Set aside. (You may have to drain water out of them when you take them out.)

Cook quinoa according to packet instructions and set aside.

Heat olive oil in pan and sauté onion, chiles and garlic. Add cumin, chilli powder and coriander and fry for one minute.

Add mince and fry until browned. Combine with passata and beef stock. Simmer for 20 minutes at least. If you would like a spicier mix, taste test and add some more chilli powder or chilli paste according to your preference.

Add lime juice and cooked quinoa.

Lightly oil oven dish and place peppers back in. Spoon mixture into peppers, pressing down firmly. Cover liberally with grated cheese and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve with fresh coriander, lime wedges and corn chips.

 

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