Tag Archives: Auckland

Sharky Oven Gloves goes on holiday

Signs of life have been rather limited on Sharky Oven Gloves over the past ten days or so, but don’t worry, I’m still very much alive and kicking.  I quite simply haven’t had time to blog – I mentioned in my last post that my mum is visiting me, and we’ve been too busy having a generally marvellous time and enjoying the fabulous weather (sorry if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere and having to make do with sleet/ice/snow/rain/all of the above).  Anyway, we’re off on a little ten day tour today (in fact, as this post publishes, we should be enjoying a hāngi – the traditional Māori way of cooking meals) and since I’m unlikely to have proper internet access and don’t really feel like attempting to blog from my phone, Sharky Oven Gloves is taking a little break until just after Christmas.

Of course, if I’d been super-organised, I’d have had all my recipe challenge entries sorted and a whole series of posts lined up ready to publish, but the key word there is if…  My general lack of organisation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to most of you though.  On the plus side, at least you’ve got one less blog clogging up your Reader, vying for attention in the run-up to Christmas…  Silver linings and all that.  Speaking of Christmas, have a great one, and stay sane in the final stretch of the run-up!  Unless you don’t celebrate Christmas of course, in which case, carry on as usual!

Anyway, on that note, I’ll leave you with the sunset over the Waitakere Ranges seen from the top of the Sky Tower on Friday evening.

Who doesn't love a sunset?

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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Sunday Smiles: Knackered by a volcano

Sunday SmilesSo here we are heading into the second week of December, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened – in keeping with the rest of 2012, December seems to be flying by.  And yet it feels like I wrote my last Sunday Smiles post seems an age ago.  I think part of the problem is that I’m utterly knackered this evening and actually struggling to keep my eyes open whilst I type this post (but I’m still forcing myself to do it, otherwise I’ll end up skipping Sunday Smiles on a regular basis, which somewhat defeats the point).

So I’m going to keep it short, and we’re going to head right in to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • You know what’s great?  When a teabag makes you smile (minds out of the gutter people).  This week, my camomile tea asked me how I was doing.  Or more specifically: “‘Sup brew?”  As groan-worthy as it may be, it actually made me laugh.

Don't judge me for my terrible sense of humour…

  • The hands-down most exciting thing to happen this week was my mum’s arrival in NZ on Friday.  I haven’t seen her (Skype doesn’t count) since I moved to NZ in February, and she’s here to visit me for three weeks.  Even whilst I was waiting for her at the airport I couldn’t quite believe she was actually finally arriving.  Anyway, this was definitely the highlight of my week and probably explains why last Sunday seems more than a week ago.
  • Today we went on a little expedition to Rangitoto Island, Auckland’s most recent volcano (recent as in 600 or so years ago).  The island is made entirely of volcanic rock, but surprisingly has around 200 species of native plants growing on it, many of them apparently quite rare (I’m very much not a botanist, so I’ll believe the guide books on this one).  Anyway, we climbed to the summit, were treated to some truly stunning views, acquired some super-hot backpack tan lines and ended up thoroughly knackered by the time we got home.  If there are any grammar or spelling errors in this post, or if it quite simply doesn’t make sense, then that’ll be why.  I also haven’t had time to upload all the photos from my camera to my laptop yet, so you’ll have to make to with this particular offering from my phone:

Can you spot the Sky Tower?

  • Rangitoto is also home to the world’s largest pōhutukawa forest, and the pōhutukawas are starting to bloom in earnest.  Since the flowers are red and most abundant around Christmas time, the pōhutukawa is nicknamed the New Zealand Christmas tree, and trees in full bloom really are stunning, particularly in contrast to the black volcanic rock of Rangitoto and the impossibly blue sky and turquoise sea that we were treated to today.

Volcanic rocks, flowering pōhutukawas and beautiful sky – welcome to NZ (on a sunny day in December)

  • And finally, I just love pōhutukawas so much that I’m going to leave you with a close-up of the flowers, which are actually made up of a whole bunch of stamens.  I’m sure that these won’t be the last pōhutukawas to feature in Sunday Smiles

Close-up time!

What made you smile this week?

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Sunday Smiles: Skyfall. That is all. Well, ok, not quite… (but it rhymes)

This hasn’t been the best of weeks – I feel like I’ve spent most of it running into a brick wall.  Actually that more or less covers the last few months, but this week feels like I’ve been sprinting into said brick wall.  Happy days.  Anyway, I don’t really want to go into details – this isn’t meant to be a wallow-in-pity post.

So let’s move right along to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • To be honest, this week was more or less single-handedly saved by Skyfall, which was finally released in NZ on Thursday.  I’ve already mentioned how amazing it was, but I just feel the need to re-iterate that.  It’s a serious contender for my favourite Bond film ever.  I could almost stop my Sunday Smiles here – finally seeing Skyfall actually made me week.
  • But I’ll carry on with these adorable photos of baby hedgehogs, or hedgehoglets.  Hedgehogs are actually covered in fleas, which is a little disgusting, but they’re so cute (from a distance further than a flea can jump).  And I’m guessing these adorable little ones haven’t been infested yet, so we can just revel in their cuteness: everybody saw awwwwww!  (Photo source)

  • One of the main purposes of the internet is to provide us with cute baby animals (right?) and it came up trumps twice this week, because there’s also a hilarious baby red panda that is even cuter when it gets taken by surprise.
  • Ok, enough cute baby animals, let’s move onto some killer whales that made an appearance in Mathesons Bay near Leigh.  One of them came right up close to the beach and seemed to be seriously considering snacking on the dog that was paddling around in the shallows.  By the way, this isn’t in Sunday Smiles because of the poor dog (which displays a fabulous doggy version of the “oh shit! face), but rather because it’s rather awesome to see them so close to the beach, and the free-diver’s not-so-elegant clamber onto the rocks.  I did actually think the whale was going to beach itself to try and catch the dog.  A couple of my labmates went free-diving in the same area a week or so later but didn’t see the whales.
  • Mt Tongariro had a little eruption this week (this is the same volcano that erupted back in August).  It seems that it wasn’t really that big of a deal, just venting off some steam – kind of like the volcanic version of a burp from what I can gather.  Rather awkwardly, apparently the scientists thought that Mt Ruapehu was likely to go off in the next two weeks, rather than Tongariro (lucky we’re not in Italy then…).  Anyway, since nobody died or anything, we’re allowed to laugh and what with The Hobbit premiere next week, the NZ Herald’s cartoon made me laugh. (Cartoon source)

  • Time for some low-brow now, courtesy of Susan Boyle’s PR company.  Apparently she’s releasing/has released a new album, so they decided to come up with a hashtag for it and settled on… #susanalbumparty.  Uhm, woops?  How unfortunate, but it did keep me amused for a whole day (it’s been a bad week… and my immaturity always wins out).
  • Public safety videos are usually either all school-marmy or overly graphic and shocking.  Here’s one that’s fun, clever and animated (so it won’t put you off your lunch): Dumb ways to die.  My favourite one is “use your private parts as piranha bait” just because it’s such an idiotic idea.
  • And finally, apparently Christmas is officially here because today was the Farmers’ Santa Parade, an Auckland institution which consists of lots of floats on a parade around the centre of town.  (Farmers is a department store here by the way, not farmers as in agriculture.)  I’m usually a total scrooge about Christmas until the 1st of December, but I made an exception today.  Anyway, it was slightly surreal to see children dressed as snowmen when it’s 20°C outside, but my favourite surreal part was the floats that were shooting out fake snow.  A lot of it wasn’t particularly Christmas-themed (a haunted house float (?), Chinese dragons, cheerleading squads, etc.) which was somewhat perplexing but it was still fun to watch.  And of course, there was Santa, and all the kids in the crowd got totally excited, which was lovely to see.  I was minorly disappointed that Santa’s sleigh isn’t pulled by kiwis here – how amazing would that be?  But no, he has reindeer here, too.  Oh well.

What made you smile this week?

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Sunday Smiles: A surprise and a relief

We acquired a new labmate this week – a Kiwi guy, which puts him firmly in the minority… twice.  I acquired a sudden keen interest in horse racing which lasted for the whole 3 minutes of the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.  This may be more to do with the fact that it was an excuse to temporarily escape the lab and watch the race in the nearest pub than anything else.  And I lost $1 because the horse I picked in the sweepstakes didn’t finish anywhere interesting.  I won’t be launching myself into a gambling addiction any time soon.  I’m afraid not many funny things came my way this week, so today’s Sunday Smiles is rather short on content (I’ve made up for that with rambling though…).

On to this week’s (rambly) Sunday Smiles:

  • I went to the Armistice Day memorial service at the Auckland Cenotaph this morning and was rather surprised to discover that Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were also in attendance.  I knew they were visiting New Zealand as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations but I didn’t think they arrived until next week.  I’m clearly a poorly-informed subject.  They did a little walkabout afterwards and I was just close enough to manage a photo of each of them (I thought it only fair to let veterans get to the front to shake their hands, but apparently not everybody felt that way).  Aside from it being a sombre occasion, it was pretty exciting, I won’t lie.  I think I may be in the minority, but I actually really like Camilla.

  • Speaking of royalty and, by extension, the aristocracy, series three of Downton Abbey came to a close this week.  Goodness, it was a roller-coaster of a season and kind of all over the place, but still totally addictive.  I can’t wait for the Christmas Special!
  • Yesterday I headed across the Waitemata Harbour to Devonport to go climb Mount Victoria and North Head, both volcanoes on the North Shore of Auckland.  They aren’t particularly especially high – at 87m Mount Victoria is the taller of the two – but they make excellent view points, especially of Rangitoto, Auckland’s most recent volcano.  It was wonderfully sunny and warm yesterday so perfect weather for a little picnic lunch on top of a volcano (as you do).

  • I don’t know if you heard, but the US elections were held this week (it wasn’t mentioned much on the news).  Unlike the last elections the time zones were very much in my favour with the results coming in through the day rather than in the middle of the night.  Did you see Chris Rock’s hilarious (and swear-word-containing) endorsement of Obama?  From a rest-of-the-world point of view, I was mightily relieved that Obama has been re-elected.  And I was amused by many of the election-related memes that exploded across the internet, particularly the ones involving Sesame Street.  And then, once the election was called for Obama, we switched to Fox News in the lab, which turned out to be a great source of amusement (I’m a bad person, I know).
  • Still on the topic of the US elections, I can’t remember which of the debates it was but I’m sure you’ve heard of Romney’s infamous “binders full of women” quote.  Not only was it turned into a whole bunch of memes (this is my favourite), but I’ve just discovered that it bubbled over into Amazon’s review section as well.
  • To finish on an uplifting note, though still on the subject of the US election, apparently Obama’s victory Tweet became the most retweeted Tweet ever – a record previously held by… Justin Bieber.  Thank you Obama, perhaps there is some hope for humanity.

What made you smile this week?

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Sunday Smiles: A truthful calendar & discovering an island

Uhm, somehow we’ve ended up in October.  Can time slow down a little please?  September seems to have whizzed by, and this week seems to have whizzed by, too.  Possibly because we seem to have spent most it eating cake.

My Sunday Smiles for this week are:

  • A new month means a new calendar page, and once again, my desk calendar speaks words of great wisdom: “Remember that everything looks better in the morning*  * except for your hair which, quite frankly, looks like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards”  The dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards look seems to be one of my particular specialities – how does it know?

  • All that cake that I mentioned?  It might be a little self-indulgent of me, but one of my highlights this week was the egg-free spiced date cake that thankfully worked wonderfully when I really though it had all the odds stacked against it.  Phew!
  • Ok, so, if you’re a regular reader, you may have figured out that I have a rather cheesy sense of humour…  No surprises then that this made me chuckle (cartoon source):

  • It was James Bond Day on Friday, marking 50 years since the release of Dr. No.  The theme song for Skyfall was released, and I don’t know what reviews it has had, but I really like it.  It reminds me of the old school Bond songs.  Have you listened to it?  What did you think?
  • Feeling a little down and want something to make you smile?  These photos of “happy” stingrays will sort you out – I stumbled across them this week and I couldn’t help but crack a smile at them.  (PS – Happy stingrays are a total anthropomorphism, but we’ll just ignore that for now.)
  • We took a day trip to Waiheke Island yesterday which was marvellous fun – discovering a beautiful island 40 mins from central Auckland by ferry is a fabulous way to spend the day.  Particularly when it’s full of vineyards…  Ahem.  The weather was rather blustery (didn’t help the messy hair situation) and couldn’t make up its mind between sunny and overcast, but it didn’t rain so it’s all good.  And the weather doesn’t particularly matter when you’re indoors for wine-tastings…  I can’t wait to go back and explore more wineries of the island – I’m not remotely surprised that people go visit it and then just end up setting up there.

  • And finally, on our way back from Waiheke we were treated to this dramatic view of Harbour Bridge.  I really like it (not so much the associated weather though…).

What made you smile this week?

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Sunday Smiles: Spring is on its way!

Huh?  It’s September?  Already?!  Are you sure?  Yes, it really is September.  Normally at the beginning of September I’d be looking forward to the leaves turning pretty colours (which is pretty much the only part of autumn that I like) and very much not looking forward to the days getting shorter and weather getting colder and worse.  But this year, September means that spring is on its way and after the snowdrops in early August, flowers are starting to show their faces in the parks and the days are getting longer.  Yay!

Here are my very spring-oriented Sunday Smiles for this week:

  • I was totally surprised to discover that there are magnolias here, and they’ve been in full bloom the past couple of weeks.  I love magnolias, they remind me of Louisiana (which unfortunately got rather battered by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac this week – my heart goes out to you, Louisiana) and also of our house in Norway which somewhat bizarrely had a stunning magnolia tree in the garden.  I particularly love the colour of these ones in Albert Park.

  • The daffodils are also showing their sunny yellow faces, and it’s difficult not to smile whenever one sees them!

  • My favourite bit of spring though, is baby animals.  Specifically lambs.  We went to One Tree Hill and Cornwall Park this weekend which includes a farm and it has lambs.  Lambs!!!  Oh my gosh, so cute!!!  I only just managed to resist the urge to take one home with me.

  • It’s difficult to move on from such adorable lambs, but in non-spring related news, the Paralympics have started!  I haven’t quite finished watching the Opening Ceremony (but I’ve enjoyed it so far) and haven’t watched any of the events yet since I’ve been busy this weekend, but I’m totally excited about procrastinating catching up.  And discovering new sports to get distracted by watch.
  • Viviane from At Down Under posted these stunning photos of Budapest this week.  I’ve never been to Budapest, but it looks beautiful and these photos make me want to visit.  A little impractical from New Zealand though, so that’ll have to wait!
  • One of my best friends sent me this cute little shark cartoon, which made me laugh.  Poor white sharks, so much pressure.  (Cartoon source)

  • Sticking to the shark theme, another of my good friends sent me a link to this Jaws-themed nail art.  I find nail art a little odd – how do people have time to create such masterpieces?  And how do they stop it from chipping??? – but these are seriously impressive (I love the swimmer).  And I’m pretty sure the shark nail could be used as a mini weapon.

  • And finally – a little bit of self-indulgence here (sorry!) – I was Freshly Pressed yesterday!  Ironically, I hesitated to publish the post as I thought it might just be a bit silly to talk about the sound of gas cookers.  Looks like I was wrong (or that people enjoy silly posts about gas cookers…) and waking up to that made for a rather smashing start to the weekend!

What made you smile this week?

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Sunday Smiles: Olympics withdrawal, laundry baskets and conclusively disproving the theory of evolution

I’ve already mentioned the post-Olympic void in my life.  In fact I’ve had several search results this week for “the Olympics are over, now what,” so I’m clearly not alone.  At least the Paralympics are coming up soon (hurry up already!).  You might expect the Olympics Closing Ceremony to feature as one of my Sunday Smiles but if I’m honest I spent most of it somewhat bewildered and wondering what on Earth was going on (goodness knows what the rest of the world was thinking).  Plus, it was the end of the Olympic Games.

So my Sunday Smiles this week, which contains a couple of Olympics withdrawal cures, are:

  • First up, Dan Chung from the Guardian covered the Olympics solely using an iPhone (and a couple of extra lenses), which might not sound too promising, but he had to be pretty inventive for some of his shots and they’re actually rather impressive.  I wish my iPhone photography skills were half as good.  Seriously.  Please refer to Instagram if you’d like proof.
  • Somebody set up a tumblr (a tumblr?  Is that correct?) called Mo Farah Running Away From Things, which is exactly what it says.  My favourites are him running away from the Black Riders, the one below, and him running away from dinosaurs, because, you know, dinosaurs (= awesome!).  Although don’t tell the Creationists, or it’ll probably end up in a textbook since Photoshop this photo shows that dinosaurs and humans are both clearly alive at the same time and is thus conclusive proof that contradicts the theory of evolution.*  (Photo source)

  • In non-Olympics news, the lovely Camilla from Little Macaroon sent me a link to a shark-shaped laundry basket.  Most fabulous laundry basket ever?  Yes!  My birthday isn’t too far off, so uhm, anybody wanting to get me a present…  Ahem.  *Cough*  In the meantime, I wonder how difficult it is to sew large pieces of felt together…  (Photo source)

  • One of my labmates told me about Western Springs Park so I decided to investigate on Saturday afternoon since it was sunny and fairly warm.  There’s a lake in the middle that you can walk around, with plenty of ducks, black swans (there were even a few cygnets!) and other water birds.  But the most amazing thing is that the lake is full of longfin eels (Anguilla dieffenbachii), NZ’s only endemic eel species.  There’s a bridge which they seem to cluster around and the water was teeming with them.  It was so cool to see!

  • The Sky Tower was all multicoloured this weekend to celebrate its 15th birthday.  The colours kept changing and it was a little bit mesmerising to watch.

  • And finally, something that I’m looking forward to next week: one of my friends from St Andrews is in Auckland this weekend and we’re going to the All Blacks vs. Australia match!  SO excited!!!

What made you smile this week?

*The fact that there are kids being taught through a legitimately recognised school system that A) the existence of the Loch Ness Monster has been conclusively proven and that B) this means that the theory of evolution is balderdash utterly terrifies me, so I have to make a joke out of it to cope.  As for the line about Apartheid, words actually fail me.

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Just bear with me whilst I wax lyrical about Auckland’s public libraries

I mentioned in this post that I’d requested a copy of the River Cottage Veg Every Day! book from my local library.  I requested it back in April, but apparently half of Auckland had the same idea (ok, a slight exaggeration perhaps…) so there was quite a waiting list for it.  Of course, I could have just gone and bought it rather than wait, but I’ve resolved not to buy any more books (cookbooks or otherwise) if I can borrow them from the library because A) books from the library are generally free, B) books from the library only temporarily eat up valuable and limited bookshelf space, C) library books won’t take up expensive box space when I next move country, D) if I detest a book I can just give it back rather than being annoyed that I spent good money on it when I could have used said money to buy butter or gin, and E) if I love a book so much that I know I will definitely read it again or realistically cook more than ten recipes from it, I can then go out and buy it, knowing that it will be a worthwhile investment.  Basically, it’s like test-driving books.  Particularly when it comes to cookery books (so should that be test-cooking?).

This plan only works because the Auckland public library system is brilliant.  All the public libraries across Auckland are managed by the council (apparently this is a relatively recent development and only happened in the last couple of years) and all linked up to the same computer system.  So when I request a book, it will come from whichever library has it available, it’ll be delivered to the library of my choice, and, most importantly, there aren’t any inter-library loan charges involved.  To me this seems the most blatantly logical way to run a network of libraries, but apparently it doesn’t work like that in, say, Edinburgh.  Since this system covers 55 libraries (yes, 55!), you won’t be too surprised to hear that the selection of books is very comprehensive and includes the latest releases (albeit often accompanied by long waiting lists).  This was something that I was extremely pleased, and indeed impressed, to discover.

So anyway, back to River Cottage Veg Every Day!, which is what this post was actually supposed to be about, rather than my over-enthusiasm for Auckland’s public libraries.  I finally made it to the top of the waiting list and was able to pick up a copy about a fortnight ago.  Flicking through it randomly, there were plenty of recipes that I wanted to try and I couldn’t choose what to try out.  I decided to be logical and start reading from the beginning and pick out one recipe to start with.  I got as far as the second recipe, chachouka, a North African dish which I’d never heard of but looked pretty damn delicious in the accompanying photo.  It’s a spiced (but not spicy) and flavourful sort of stew that consists of peppers, onions and tomatoes, topped with baked eggs.  It’s perfect for a lunch or light dinner, and I loved it!  The egg means that the leftovers don’t reheat all that well, so I’ll be keeping this one bookmarked for when I have guests over.

Chachouka

Serves 4
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Every Day!

Be warned that this dish does take a wee while to cook, but it isn’t difficult to prepare and doesn’t take too much effort.  This is best eaten as soon as it is prepared, accompanied by a simple green salad and bread to mop up the egg yolk.  This dish doesn’t really make for great leftovers – unsurprisingly, the egg yolks cooked completely when I reheated the leftovers for lunch the next day, so I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as when freshly cooked, although the pepper and onion mixture was still delicious.

Ingredients

3 tbsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
2 medium onions
2 garlic cloves
1 red peper
1 yellow pepper
¾ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch of saffron
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
4 eggs

Directions

1.  Pell and finely slice the onion.  Heat the rapeseed oil in a large frying pan (use an ovenproof one if you have one) and add the onions.  Cook over a medium heat for 8-10 mins, stirring frequently until soft and golden.

2.  Meanwhile, deseed the peppers and finely slice them (I’d suggest slicing more finely than I did in the photos),  Feel and finely chop the garlic cloves.  When the onion is ready, turn the heat down to low and add the peppers and garlic to the pan.  Cook for at least 20 mins, stirring frequently, until the peppers are softened.  Add the spices about 10 mins in.

3.  Add the tin of tomatoes, including the juice, and season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook over a low heat for 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally.

4.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

5.  Adjust the seasoning of the pepper mixture if necessary.  If your frying pan isn’t ovenproof, transfer the mixture to an ovenproof baking dish.  Make four hollows in the mixture and carefully break an egg into each one.  Bake for 10-12 mins, until the egg white is cooked, but the yolk is still runny (it can be a little difficult to tell if the egg yolk is still runny, but basically remove it from the oven as soon as the egg white is cooked).  Serve accompanied by bread and a green salad.

Enjoy!

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Honey, wine and more wine: Auckland Food Show 2012

On Saturday I went to the Auckland edition of the NZ Food Show, held at the ASB Showgrounds.  Having never been, I wasn’t too sure what to expect so decided that I would assume it was along similar lines to the Edinburgh Foodies Festival, which is really my only other experience with a food show or festival.  And indeed it was along similar lines, although much bigger, indoors (excellent idea in winter!) and with significantly less gin, but a heck of a lot more wine – it seemed that about a third of the stands were wine stands.  There were also masterclasses (although they cost $50 to attend, so I passed) and free cooking demos organised.

There range of products on show and on sale was impressive to say the least – honey, wraps, wines and liqueurs, breads, meats, etc. etc. etc.  But there were also non-edible products such as Tupperware (since when is it all so pretty and colourful?!), knives, Skoda cars (no idea what they were doing there) and Kenwood had a huge show area that I didn’t venture into too much because everything was shiny and tempting (and expensive).  There were some very large and commercial companies there (Kenwood, Tupperware, etc.), some that I recognise from the supermarket (Hellers, Dilmah tea, Farrah Wraps, etc.) but also much smaller producers, which I was most eager to discover.  Uhm, I should probably mention at this point that I got a little distracted by all the samples and wine tastings so I have hardly any photos.  Woops.

There were plenty of chutney and jam stands, but they’ve all more or less merged into one in my memory, as have the wine stands (taking notes might have been a good idea since the number of wine stands there made things a little hazy…), and to a certain extent some of the honey stands.  The producers that really stood out for me were:

  • J Friend & Co Honey – I made a beeline (badum-tschhhh!) for all the honey stands, but this is the one that stood out for me.  All their honeys were fantastic, but I particularly enjoyed the pōhutakawa one.  They also had honeycomb available, which was wonderful.
  • Lighthouse Gin – a NZ-made gin and wonderfully smooth.  Also the only gin stand (sad times).
  • Shott fruit syrups – I love fruit-syrup based drinks, but outside of France it can be difficult to find good syrups.  These, however, were fantastic.  My favourites were the honey blackberry and the lemon, ginger and honey (have I mentioned that I love honey?)
  • Genevieve’s Cuisine pâtés – wonderfully smooth and delectable French-style chicken liver pâtés (or parfait as they call it) in a few different flavours (original, black pepper and truffle).  I hope they’ll expand their range from just chicken, because they certainly know what they’re doing.
  • Moreish butchers – a bit of an unusual butcher in that it’s entirely online, but all their meats are free range and organic.  I prefer to see what I’m buying, particularly when it comes to meat, but since I’m still looking for a good butcher here, I might give this a go, depending on their prices.  Their sausage samples were certainly excellent though.
  • Lewis Road Creamery butter – creamy and heavenly and quite possibly the best butter I’ve ever tasted.  Oh, and makes really good butter sculptures, too, in case you were wondering.  Amazing!

So there you go, that’s my little round-up of the NZ Food Show, Auckland.  If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend going along to get a taste for what’s available in terms of local products – the next edition is in Christchurch from 14-16 September, then in Wellington from 24-26 May 2013, and then back in Auckland in August I should expect (all details are on the website).  I think there might be a bit of variation in producers across the different food shows, depending on which producers are local and so on, although I’m not 100% sure about that.

Were you at the Food Show?  What were your highlights?

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your day!

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Filed under Reviews

Apple & pecan streusel cake

There’s something about seeing boats and the sea that always soothes me, whether the sea is calm or stormy, and if I ever feel a bit down and just need to get outside, I tend to seek out a view of the ocean.  This was easy enough in St Andrews, where there was only a squat church and some rather high cliffs that separated the end of my street and the sea.  I was spoilt – there were plenty stunning sea views around town, and most of them no more than a 5 minute walk from my flat, if that.  Here in Auckland, I’m not quite as lucky, but the Viaduct harbour is a 15 minute walk from my flat, and full of beautiful yachts, so I can’t complain too much.  This weekend I happened to be near the harbour as the sun was setting, so I headed over for a wander around (incidentally, there are restaurants and bars around the harbour, so there are always people around and it feels quite safe to hang around even in the evenings).

I hadn’t realised that I’d been feeling quite so down until I got to the harbour and watched the sun set over the gorgeous yachts.  Feeling more at peace (and having satisfied my Instagram addiction for the day), I headed home and baked, just to reinforce my improved mood.  I find the process of creating something scrumptious out of butter, flour, sugar, eggs and a few added extras really therapeutic (well, when it works… which isn’t always the case).  The only problem with baking to cheer myself up is that, whilst I do have a sweet tooth, there’s no way I can eat an entire batch of cupcakes or a whole cake all by myself before they go stale (except that Greek yoghurt and honey cake, which provided me with breakfast for several days, thanks to the syrup that kept it moist and flavourful).  Luckily the issue is easily solved by bringing surplus baked goods into the lab, and they get polished off rather quickly.

My post-harbour baking choice was an apple and pecan streusel cake, a fantastic autumnal combination made with the last of the season’s apples (actually, I think the season might have just ended here, so I guess we’re now getting the stragglers that were hanging out in storage).  I love pecans, but sadly they tend to be a little expensive, so I hoard them whenever they’re on sale (which is how I happened to have 325g of pecans lying around).  The cake itself is moist thanks to the apples, with a bit of crunch running through it due to the pecans, and topped off more pecans in the form of a crunchy pecan and brown sugar streusel topping (I never said it was a healthy cake).  I really think it’s the topping that makes this cake so special.  Some of the topping fell off the cake in transport (although more of it stayed intact than I was expecting), and once all the cake was gone, fingers were surreptitiously dipping into the cake tin to pick up remaining bits of topping.  The tin was exceptionally clean by the time we were done…

Apple & pecan streusel cake

Makes about 25 squares
Adapted from Bubby’s Brunch Cookbook

This cake makes a wonderful afternoon snack, accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee, and is delicious served both warm or cold.  It would also work very well with walnuts instead of pecans (the original recipe actually uses walnuts).  The cake will keep for a few days in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the streusel topping:
150g pecans
110g light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
15g unsalted butter

For the cake:
100g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
312g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
175g pecans
2 large apples
225g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
250ml (230g) sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions

1.  Line a 22 x 30 cm baking tin with baking paper (or if you don’t have such a large tin, use a 19 x 25 cm baking tin and a 9 x 20 cm loaf tin).  Preheat the oven to 175°C.

2.  Prepare the streusel topping.  Roughly chop the pecans and mix them together in a medium mixing bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingertips until crumbly.  Set aside.

3.  In a small bowl, combine the two sugars for the cake.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt.  Set both aside.  Roughly chop the pecans and dice the apple into 1cm pieces.  Set aside.

4.  Using an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter in a large bowl for 2-3 mins until pale and fluffy.  Add the sugar gradually, and mix until fully incorporated.  Then beat in the eggs one by one, making sure to beat well between each addition.  Mix in the sour cream and vanilla (don’t worry if it looks like the mixture has curdled, this will be fixed in the next step).

5.  Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated, but with no visible flour.  Fold in the apples and pecans.

6.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tin(s), and try to spread it out more or less evenly (I found that the batter wasn’t very spreadable, but just do the best you can, and make sure to push it into the corners).  Evenly sprinkle the topping over the cake.

7.  Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 mins before either cutting into squares to serve or allowing to cool fully on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods