Category Archives: Foodie events

It was muddy, but people came out to play

And because circumstances rarely match, and one afternoon can be a patchwork of both joy and horror, the taste of the soup washed through me. Warm, kind, focused, whole. It was easily, without question, the best soup I had ever had, made by a chef who found true refuge in cooking.
~ Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Do you ever feel like you want to be everywhere at once? I most certainly do. There are too many great places and people spread in a million directions. I want to hang out with friends in a dozen countries. Visit the places where I grew up. Feel my heart soar in La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Watch the sunlight skip across the glistening blue water at the Cape of Good Hope. Drink earthy, rounded coffee with condensed milk in Hanoi. See, smell, feel, listen, taste, be.

These few days, though, there has most certainly been no time to think about travel. So much on.

It’s been a delicious week, too. Emily and I swung by the NZ Food Innovation Showcase where we got to meet some of the faces behind a few brands like Venerdi (they do a pizza base which I’d be proud to feed non-gluten-intolerant folk too!) and Flyhidrate. It was fascinating too to go beyond the stuff on our plates/in our tummies and take a look at what is going on with packaging, research, exports… I enjoyed listening to people talk about their businesses too. I just wish I had had time to attend a seminar or two!

Emily and I also made a spontaneous decision to go to Taste of New Zealand. It was raining on the evening we went down to Victoria Park. We sought shelter beneath our red umbrellas as we walked from tent to tent, squishing along on the wet and slightly muddy grass. We talked, and laughed, and ate. Oh, and in true New Zealand style, we griped about the weather (really, though, I rather think the rain made it all more fun).

Memories of that evening are sparkling like coloured bits of stained glass in my mind as I type this now. Oh, how to sum up all the highlights?

It was great to meet and chat briefly with Pic, the man behind some really good PB. I will now associate that brand not just with yummy peanut butter – but a pair of very kind eyes too.

Chef Marco Edwardes/Te Whau’s stall was serving up seared Whangamata scallops with almond gazpacho, black olive, golden raisins, young cress, Te Whau chardonnay-vinaigrette. How could I resist? I was glad I didn’t. It was so fresh, you could taste each element perfectly and it was like Sweet and Salty were two equal-sized children sitting on two ends of a see-saw. The black olive dots were startling, like sherbert. Emily and I both enjoyed this! Also, I did a cooking class with Chef Marco earlier this year, so it was nice to say hello and talk for a few minutes too.

Emily’s eye fell on (and so we got a plate of) Cocoro’s prawn and courgette filo tempura, tartare and Worcestershire sauce, Tonburi and Wasabi Tobiko field and sea caviar. Yes, that’s quite a mouthful to recite, but eating these was not quite so difficult. The prawn and courgette pieces were like candles within filo lanterns – the batter was remarkable, light and intricate like crispy interwoven threads, coating but not stifling the warm fillings. The sauce was a backup singer to the lead vocalists (batter, prawn, courgette). I don’t know for sure that they used the principles of umami in this dish, but I’m prepared to hazard a guess that they did so (successfully). A delight to eat.

Regal Salmon held an interested audience with a lively demonstration up front and passed around some really delicious plates for everyone – in particular, I relished what closely resembled a fresh Spring rose (sushi rice wrapped with fresh salmon petals and topped with a few bright pearls of caviar).

The table holding Lisa’s yet-to-be-sold-in-stores range of dips held a crowd who were immune to “please let us through” signals from the people behind. I have to admit that when I finally got to try the Moroccan carrot, I pretty much had to be shoved out of the way, too.

The Neat Meat Company Ltd sure lived up to its name…

And oh, Petal Cupcakes sure are a treat! I have often been of the view that cupcakes look a hundred times better than they taste (kind of similar to the way I feel about pancakes). Well, these ones taste infinitely better than they look (and they are very pretty, too). Loved the peach and red velvet buttermilk cupcake bits I got to try!

The People’s Wine let us all unleash our inner artist:

Oh and this doesn’t even begin to summarise it all. There was a champagne and oyster bar. Live music. Some beautiful wine from the Canterbury/Otago border – Pasquale. A zesty range of soap from Ecostore (try the lemongrass!). A pleasing medley of beautiful cooking aromas. A demonstration of how to make nasi goreng. Addmore’s very delicious elderflower cordial. Fudge. Spicy macadamias. Capsicum jam. Vintage blue cheese. Pear cider. Soy and ginger tofu. Venison.

Some of these I tasted, some I averted my eyes from. You will understand that if I ate everything there was to eat, I would have exploded and that wouldn’t have been a nice thing to do to the people around me.

As this limoncello lingered on my tongue and slipped smoothly down my throat, I realised I didn’t want any other flavour getting in the way of that beautiful, beautiful taste. Luckily, Emily was quite full too so we left shortly after this, feeling sated.

The Skycity was looking pretty glam, though my camera unfortunately failed to adequately capture this (it refused to focus as it was feeling sleepy)…

And that wasn’t the last I’d seen of food for the night…

I arrived home to a lovely surprise: homemade fudge! From none other than sweet Kath!) So my breakfast the next day was a sample kiwifruit I got given at Taste (juicy juicy loveliness, thank you Zespri) and Kath’s dangerously good fudge. How’s that for a balanced and delicious breakfast? :-)

Places to visit:
Cutie pies!
A supermarket takes everyone back to 1987
Cloud cakes, and a beautiful pairing of pictures and words
We really need more people like him around.

The Food Show, and chocolate truffles

If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?
~ Marquise de Sévigné

Yesterday, T and I went to The Food Show. Lots of people, lots of food; and I was most pleased to see Caffe L’affare there by the entrance (I DO miss this place in Wellington!) Thank you, L’affare team, for the heady long macchiato.

Time passed quickly as T and I meandered through the stalls and people. There was a mozzarella man who demonstrated how to make mozzarella in 38 seconds; another man who sang recipes from a book. Every few seconds, it seemed, new food beckoned – mini samples of powdered Chai, Singapore curry, fancy crackers, Argentinian sweets made with dulce de leche, limoncello, elderflower cordial, oh it did not end… and we had random snippets of conversation with both stall owners and other Food Show attendees. I loved it when we stood at an oil stall and a man smiled at us and said, “it’s great oil – we use it in everything!” One of the things I most enjoy about New Zealand is the fact that a stranger will start a conversation with you while you both stand at a food stall (and does not do this to steal your wallet while you are distracted).

I picked up a few packs of salmon and luscious greens – and an interesting mini book on the Blood Type diet (not a new concept, but I have not previously looked into it). Also, T got us tickets to Annabelle White’s Whittaker’s Truffle Making Masterclass – just over an hour of chocolate…

My takeaway line from Annabelle is “taste it – commit that taste to memory.” Such a great concept, to commit a taste to memory. Imagine having a dependable mental catalogue of tastes to browse at pleasure! Less hungry moments and more success with cooking.

I tasted cocoa nibs for the first time in this session – they tasted basic, raw, full of potential. They brought to mind wood chips; Winter; straw; fair trade; and beginnings.

We were also asked to smell and eat bits of 72% cocoa chocolate – seriously, dark chocolate, please let’s stay intimately acquainted with each other for ever.

This class was warmly presented, with more than a few fun moments; and it eradicated all previous ideas that truffle making is impossibly hard (it is not). Also, we got a nice goodie bag to take home, which contained these (dangerous) gems:

I had a long-awaited rest day today, and tried the recipe for ganache truffles we got given in class yesterday. Just three ingredients in these – dark chocolate, cream, and cocoa powder to coat the truffles with. Simplicity!

I am now excited thinking about all the different flavours of truffles to make… what’s your favourite truffle flavour?

It’s only words

I really mind if people muck about with food… illiterately.
~ A. A. Gill

Will you read my blog even without pictures? Yes? Yes? Oh, come on! I’ll try to make it pretty even without the glossy images… time has been speeding by and I have hardly stopped to breathe, let alone take pictures – but I do so miss my camera – and I will try to take a few pictures to accompany my next post.

Meanwhile… well, where to start? So much to be happy about. Last Wednesday, I went for dinner with my dear friend Jian – to exuberant Gina’s – and Jian approached the menu in a way my friends seldom do. Actually, I don’t think anyone I know has ever done it this way. He asked me to pick what I’d usually not order. I was reluctant, but only for about five seconds – between us, we ordered the gnocchi quattro formaggi (gnocchi with four cheeses – gorgonzola, parmigiano, mozzarella and cream) and pizza agnello (with lamb, garlic potatoes and freshly roasted sage) to share. Hearty food and lots of great conversation – I like!

Actually, I think browsing the menu and then picking the thing you first twitched an eyebrow at feels so adventurous and is a great experience to open oneself to. It makes you think about your food and preferences more; it makes you willing to take risks in other areas the next day…

…But I am getting ahead of myself. The gnocchi was rich – oh so rich, like the robe of a King – creamy and cheesy, a warm garment on the tongue. It was tasty, but I cannot deny that I was VERY glad that we were sharing the pizza and pasta, as this would have been too much for just me! The pizza was nicely flavoured, though I had to squint to catch a glimpse of any lamb at all? This was my second visit to Gina’s and I would probably go again – probably on a rainy and windy evening when all I want is somewhere to thaw my frozen body and cold mind – Gina’s is warm in every way.

Friday, I discovered that even half a glass of champagne renders me useless for anything related to work. Unfortunate. What I did wake up for though, was that session with Al Brown and A. A. Gill… both people I was glad to discover.

My thoughts:
I was tickled by the fact that they went fishing – not the fishing bit, but that it involved Al Brown, who wrote “Go Fish” and A. A. with the surname of “Gill”. :-) As far as it went, I loved the dynamics between them on stage, and what struck me was Al’s generosity, courage and humility, and Adrian’s candid way with words, fast-working mind, and the way he seemed to grasp life firmly, as if life were the bulls of a horn… and needless to say – I couldn’t stop smiling at the way every remark that escaped their lips about food couldn’t help but betray their love for it (just the way it should be!) I plan to delve into their work soon.

Other notable quotes from A. A. Gill:
“You have to decide who you want to be when you are sober”; “the place makes the people”. The place making the people is an interesting thought – but I thought afterwards, how true – or, at least, the interpretation of a place makes a person. It’s probably not something unique to me, feeling colourful and flirtatious in Spain, materialistic and busy in Singapore, friendly and inquiring and eager to hang out in markets in Morocco… a post for another time.

Other A. A. Gill-related commentary here and here.

Le Weekend saw the arrival of my friend Ian, curly fries, cocktails, a potluck lunch, Kath’s rice salad, new faces, too much coffee, a dinner at Hulu Cat (composed of popcorn chicken, dumplings, bubble tea), and just… lots and lots of food and conversations. I also went to see “Peace Please” at the Writers’ Festival… thoughts on that one still in the pipeline.

Yesterday, I went to the library after work and spent an hour trying to forget my stomach’s existence as I flipped through a cookbook on Moroccan cuisine (keftas, tagines, cake with orange flower water and all – mmm!) and Tessa Kiros’s “Twelve”… and then dinner saw the bubbly Francine and I curling elegant pasta around our forks at Portofino… I love the fact that the pasta stayed smooth and constant and unclumpy throughout the entire course of our dinner. I can only aspire to do that in my own homemade renditions of pasta!

And much as I want to continue this post, I suspect that if I do go on, it won’t just be my eyes which are closing… so… good night!

PS. Oooh… and before I forget, I’ve been having the best things to take for lunch this week: celery sticks with Istanbul dip from a stall at La Cigale and… Kath’s rice salad! I’ll see if she will let me post her recipe for it here. :-)

Lantern Festival

The words of truth are always paradoxical.
~ Lao Tzu

Chinese New Year came and went like a quiet tiptoe for me this year; no ceremony, no celebrations. No extended family with me, I suppose, and I was caught up with the elements of change as well. My parents seemed to forgo all traditions entirely too, which was a little strange, but I did not protest. I feel like with each passing year, tradition slips away from me anyway and I learn to really celebrate life often for its simple things – good food, spectacular sunsets, lessons learned, bad things overcome and all; and less in calendar occasions or obligatory events.

It was quite nice to go to the Lantern Festival stalls at Albert Park tonight though with Mandy, Paul, Ben, Sam, and immerse myself in things I haven’t seen/heard for a while – dragon dances, crazy Chinese opera and all of that. Wow, is all I can say! It was strange, and fun, and lovely, and funny. An odd description, I know, but this is really how it was.

I guess I am what you could call a third culture kid… and each time I go to something like this, I feel at once a warm sense of affirmation and a huge sense of displacement.

I feel like I’m at a place I once knew a long time ago, a place I was familiar with and still dearly love – but a place I can no longer occupy/own and never will again. It’s like each time I come to this place now, it has changed and I have changed, and we remain on cordial but distant terms.

I’m a visitor at most places really, seldom fully at home. I don’t know what it’s like to want to hang my pictures up on the walls, leave my dirty socks on the floor and grow my own vegetables – what I do know is how to travel light, learn fast, speak with gestures if I need to and have fun on my own. Paradoxically, because I have no ‘main’ home – I have the capacity to make a place my ‘home’ for however long I am there. I learn the unspoken rules of the place, the language of its skies and people; I come to walk at the pace of everyone else, know the streets, recognise its landmarks, and add it to my internal map of my ‘homes’…

Each time I am at something like the Lantern Festival stalls, it’s like a part of me is awakened and attaches itself seamlessly to everyone and everything around me, while another part of me feels like running away to a distant island, because I feel different, or like an impostor.

Yes, it’s a little crazy.

Anyway! We navigated through mad crowds tonight, wandered beneath the faint beams of Chinese lanterns and ate Taiwanese sausages, satay, buns and other things like that. It was festive and relaxed, a great way to conclude the weekend!

And – oh yes, before I forget – tea eggs! Tea eggs, or cha ye dan as I call them [pictured above] – are eggs cooked in tea leaves, herbs and spices. Heady, spiced and flavourful – one of my favourite flavours in the world. Tea eggs always remind me of one of the most influential teachers in my life, a sweet lady named Mrs Lee from Taiwan. She had long curly hair, bright eyes and skirts which billowed around her ankles as she strode along the corridors… if anything, she was one of the first humans to inspire a love for language in me, to trust me with responsibility, to encourage me in all the things I enjoyed, amongst many other things… and, each year she made tea eggs for my class.

Tea eggs are a rare treat for me now; I cannot remember the last time I ate one. Each time I eat a tea egg now though, I think of Mrs Lee and I think about my childhood and primary school friends, and it’s funny (and totally cheesy), but I feel inspired and happy and a shadow of sunlight seems to dart quickly beneath my feet.

I had one tonight. All these good memories spun merrily between my toes as I bit into it…

Sunday with Sally!

Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing.
~ Walt Kelly

It was fun being at Moore Wilson’s Wellington Food Heroes Day with my sweet friend Sally yesterday – carrying our delicious cups of L’affare coffee, we meandered through people, smells and what seemed like endless trails of edible morsels. Pizza… roti… radish salad… gin… sausages… pastry… cheese… bread… macarons… Whew!

It was funky watching a team from Ruth Pretty Catering whipping up a neat line of burgers…

sharing a good ol’ hot dog…

and inhaling that rich scent of warm roti.

A live band, smiling faces and all made for a fun morning. We then went supermarket shopping and enjoyed a light lunch at my place: fried haloumi (which sadly failed to ignite like last time!), some crisp greens and lovely sundried tomatoes!

Thus satisfied, we rolled up our sleeves and spent the afternoon making baklava (for The Baklava Bake Off) :-)

We laughed our way through it, the measuring cup never made its appearance, and the perfume of butter and cinnamon invaded our pores! We also had a blobby muscovado sugar baklava surface… oops! The joys of creativity, I suppose?

Our version involved dates, filo, ground almonds, walnut bits, spices, muscovado sugar and butter. The syrup was a medley of cinnamon sticks, lemon, honey, a rather scary amount of sugar and some water.

After we carefully packaged 6 portions of baklava and labelled a bottle of accompanying syrup for the competition judges, we each sampled a bit and were pretty pleased with the fruits of our labour.

We packed up the remaining bits and took them with us to the town hall in the evening to share (we went with some friends to watch the Orpheus Choir perform “Bach Mass in B Minor” – soulful and really good – even though I did have to escape at half-time to get coffee and dinner!).

(A splendid dinner ensued with Haidee and Luke afterwards at Lido… but I will stop this post here, because I feel like I’m eating dinner all over again just writing this – not what I want to feel just before bedtime!)

Not just coffee

I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.
~ John Van Druten

A group of us went on a round-the-world tour on Wednesday night. Led by Bink and our noses, we journeyed through Papua New Guinea, Cuba, Ethiopia… it was wonderful. I’m talking about coffee cupping at Memphis Belle – if you’re in Wellington, don’t miss out on this very cool experience!

It was a pleasure to delve deeper into the world of coffee. We had 8 glasses of ground coffee placed before us, and I wondered what we were going to do. Coffee cupping was a new, foreign experience for me.

I could write more about how we circled the table, sniffing, tasting, commenting and marveling – but really, what captured me was less to do with what we were sniffing or seeing. I felt a fleeting sense of sadness at the thought of people in business suits who cheapen coffee by equating it with a cup of bitter blackness, the sole purpose of which is to wake us up to help us concentrate on our spreadsheets.

Because really, coffee is so much more than just brown beans/liquid stimulant. Coffee is a world phenomenon. As I tasted the coffee, registering the different notes – earthy, nutty, smoky, sweet – many thoughts came to mind.

We tasted coffee from different regions, farmed by different hands… and amazingly, when I really put my nose to the beans, I smelled alot more than just the generic pungent, robust smell of coffee. I swear I could smell peanut butter, peach sorbet, heck – one of the coffee glasses even smelt like roast chicken. I know, it’s bizarre!

What’s more, it smelled of energy. Farmers’ toil and pride. Fruits of the earth. Sunshine. Conversation. Beauty of the senses. It was so rich, so poignant.

We also had a discussion about fair trade coffee after that. They buy only fair trade green beans. What impressed me was the fact that I could see they weren’t doing this just to feel good about themselves, or to secure bragging rights about being Kind People. From what they said, it was obvious that they had invested much thought into the coffee industry, their values, ethics, passion, and how they could best help.

I think Nick, Bink and the rest of the Memphis Belle team are more than just coffee guys, or guys out to make a living. I was really impressed by their utter unmistakeable passion… passion about coffee, the different ways to brew and enjoy it (you should see their range of equipment, I’d never seen any of those gadgets before)! Passion about fair trade, more than just the ‘feel good’ factor of buying and selling ‘fair trade’ – but genuinely looking into the state of the world – the coffee market – the things that are wrong with it – and the way they can help put it right.

I think that’s really powerful.

Along the way, they shared their passion with us. I caught it. I think others in the room caught it too.

Good coffee = great. Following one’s passion = great. Not just complaining about the state of the world but doing something about it = great. Fair trade = great.

Memphis Belle – 38 Dixon Street, Wellington – Phone: 021 244 8852

Flight Coffee

You can also buy packaged fair trade coffee from Trade Aid

Pravda

Today, Rosa, Millie and Laura and I sat beneath beautiful chandeliers at Pravda (for a Wellington on a Plate lunch) and partook of something I can only describe as glorious.

It was pretty hard to choose two out of three tasty-sounding courses, but Millie resisted the lure of dessert and chose the starter (smoked fish and potato chowder with saffron aioli and toasted ciabatta) and the main… while three of us went with the main and dessert.

I think I can safely say we all enjoyed our meals immensely!

Venison and wild mushroom ragout with parpadelle pasta and parmigiano reggiano cheese – rich, tender and perfectly flavoured, this dish was really a pleasure to eat. Loved the ‘just-right’ portion and sweet burst of ripe tomato too.

Chocolate fondant served with mandarin cream – sliding my fork through it caused something akin to a smooth volcano eruption, as the chocolate oozed out swiftly and engulfed my spoon! Complemented by the delicate fragrance of the mandarin slices and cream, it was heavenly to savour.

Not pictured: a glass of Te Kairanga Pinot Noir each, and rich espresso to go!

Thanks ladies for a great lunch and conversation! :-) Rosa wrote a beautiful post about our lunch too – heck, reading it just about makes me want to eat it all over again.

Pravda Cafe – 107 Customhouse Quay, Wellington – Phone: 04 801 8858