Tag Archives: new zealand

Lebkuchen (my version)

Taking the leap, trusting the fall.
~ Dani Shapiro

These babies came to be because I wanted to bake with honey, and because my kitchen felt like being doused in Christmas perfume.

I used this recipe as a guide. While I doubt this is “authentic” lebkuchen, it does yield a bounty of beautiful-smelling bars which keep for a good length of time, becoming softer and lovelier each day.

Photos from Marcel’s Great Pancake Race

No story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.
~ George Eliot

The luckiest people in the world grow up with a plentiful shower of stories, traditions, legends and tales in their childhood. I certainly did. I read about them in books, learned about them at school, and of course my family celebrated some of them – e.g. Christmas, Dumpling Festival [or Duan Wu Jie], Mooncake [or Mid-Autumn] Festival, just to name a few.

In the last few years, I’ve lost my fascination with and anticipation of some of them. Or, at least, I have never stopped loving the stories and the memories, but I haven’t felt as eager to celebrate them. It’s not New Zealand’s fault; perhaps it is just that to revisit some of those things make me unbearably homesick for what I can never retrieve now and do not hope to. The present has too much goodness in it to stay rooted in the past.

For now, it is good enough to keep listening to people’s stories and exploring different places and cultures whenever I can.

So, recently my friend Gudrun and I joined Marcel’s Great Pancake Race before we went to work. Marcel and team did a great job organising and facilitating this, and from various facial expressions around me I gather that everyone enjoyed themselves – and I imagine that more than one of us discovered the joys of Marcel’s pancakes!

People raced down neat green lanes with mini skillets and pancakes in hand, flipping as they went (a little harder than it may seem)… and then we were all treated to fresh pancakes with a delicious choice of toppings. Hardly a bad reason to stumble out of bed at 6.30am, if you ask me :-)

Are you reading this and wondering what the deal is with pancakes and running? To be honest, my brain didn’t make the connection between Lent and Pancake Day and pancakes until a few days later (I know…).

The tradition has a rather funny (to me) story behind it – the story goes that in 1445, a woman lost track of time cooking pancakes, found herself terribly late for Shriving service, then ran (à la Maria in The Sound of Music, in my mind) – down to church still decked in her apron, clutching skillet and pancake. Her neighbours then (as neighbours do) turned this incident into a race to see who could reach the church first and collect a “Kiss of Peace” from the verger (bell-ringer.) And the rest, as they say, is history… coming to form what we today know as Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day/Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday.

These links paint a better picture about Marcel’s race and the story behind the tradition better than I can: click here, here, here, here and here.

Thank you Marcel and team, for bringing colour to Auckland and for a beautiful morning.

In lieu of food, I bring you weekend photos

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Hello, strangers, from the Land of Busy. That’s where I’ve been hangin’ out lately. You know, those times when major decisions need to be made, your laundry pile suddenly looks like a mini Everest, and all your friends seem to get married, give birth, visit from overseas, etc all at the same time?! That is happening to me at the moment. Read: wonderful and exciting/hideous and tiring all at once. But I am not complaining. I’m merely trying to apologise [or make excuses] for not popping in with a recipe or something yummy in the last few days…

Though you probably wouldn’t have found my rambles on salmon bagels/juicy plums on the go/instant noodles/various takeaways that exciting anyway, right? ;-)

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos from a recent trip to Napier for Art Deco Weekend! I enjoyed myself immensely with a great bunch of friends and friends-of-friends. There was plenty of sun, a mass picnic, a vintage car parade (and a short ride in a vintage car), hot chocolate/live jazz, lots of dancing (or attempting to dance…), a nice assortment of handsome men in uniform, etc… oh and we visited an excellent farmers’ market in Hastings on Sunday where I found gorgeous walnut brittle, biersticks, great vegetables (see pics below) and delightful decaf coffee. I felt like I was gliding along a stage set/time machine preview all weekend. On Saturday night we drove with the windows down, the stars above looking like a shower of white pepper across an inky soup, and the wind so strong I thought of holding down my eyelashes so they didn’t pull away…

Till next time, eat well and keep smiling!

Scattered Saturday thoughts

I am moved by the way history is folded right into the present, where it can remind people of who they are, where they come from, and how they were shaped.
~ Ann Kidd Taylor, Traveling with Pomegranates

If there is one thing I both like and dislike about New Zealand, it’s the way I feel removed from history, culture and something else I can’t quite describe. Of course NZ has its own story, its own “Kiwiana” things and attitude, and so many little things that are strongly unique to it… but it misses a certain gravity, collective history and force of character that is present in other countries. When I walk around here, I am seldom reminded of anything but the “here and now”. And after almost nine years of living here, I think I can say that many people I know live very much for the here and now.

Which, of course, has its merits.

Why live in the past, or focus too much on the unpredictable future when both are out of sight, out of mind? People here know how to appreciate a sunny day, and to put their feet up and rest on the beach; they sure know their coffee (or maybe I should say Wellington people do ;-)); when there’s a problem they fix it themselves. They go on OEs. They are adventurous. NZ is home to some of the best people ever and the kind of strangers who you meet and instantly want to be friends with. Also, it is crazy how people here are so trusting, I have met strangers who have trusted me with their homes, cars, babies and contact details not long after we meet. For all these and more, I well and truly love NZ.

So I hesitate to write the next bit, lest I sound rude or offensive. I honestly don’t intend it as a criticism or complaint – it is just what it is.

What I feel is the “here and now-ness” here also involves a certain ignorance; something that says “I don’t care where you come from, or where you’re going”. Something that doesn’t appreciate the heightened pleasure of a perfect moment after a century of storms. Something that doesn’t really grasp hard work, patience, or the wonder of a dream fulfilled. Something that is resistant to other people’s traditions and culture. Something that doesn’t fully appreciate the vastness and stories of the “beyond NZ” world… despite Auckland being one place where I’ve met people from a huge number of different countries and backgrounds. (Seriously… I have observed many people getting impatient with foreign accents, who confuse China with Korea, and think everyone in India eats butter chicken).

Why have I been thinking about all of this? I guess it’s because I’ve met people from very interesting places in the last fortnight… including Montenegro, London, Columbia and Italy and as you can guess I have had a ball with them talking about all sorts! It’s funny, these days I feel like I have morphed into one of those “citizen of the world” sort of people (yes, I hate that phrase too, but truly I feel like I find a bit of myself in people from everywhere…)

On that worldly/exploratory note. Last night, I started reading “Traveling with Pomegranates” by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. A beautiful book which has evoked an avalanche of thoughts and memories… this morning I awoke thinking about the day I visited La Sagrada Familia last year. A beautiful place which features prominently in travel books/websites, but no book could have prepared me for the immense joy and light that flooded my being when I walked in. I remember it because of what had happened just earlier that morning, when I broke down and cried in a sandwich shop… much to the bewilderment of the poor staff there. Anyway! It’s too long a story to go into now.

Life is beautiful. Today is a marvellous day. I am going to go and see Kath now. Ciao!

P.S. Pictured: breakfast today! Warehou roe with Grandma’s shrimp and chilli paste atop potato sourdough from the market. A strange combination but one which was, for some reason, strangely delicious.

A peek into GIAPO’s kitchen

Chefs aren’t made in the kitchen.
Chefs are made from something they have deep inside them –
an inner flame that burns brightly… with purpose, curiosity and passion.
In reality, true chefs pursue the creation of something better than yesterday and when they think they got it, they realise they don’t.
~ Gianpaolo Grazioli

A smiling face opens the door, and we walk through to the area behind the counter. I peek into the cosy kitchen and see that it resembles a laboratory – only it is fitted with stove facilities and edible ingredients. A purple cap finds its way to my head. I take in the sight of 24 cracked eggs caught in a bowl, yolks bobbing in the gloopy pool of whites. I smile at the myriad of utensils, pots, bowls, trays and litres of milk that line the shelves and fridge. I stare out the window at the other humans walking to work (and smile knowing that I will join them soon… BUT not just yet).

Slowly, a sense of unfounded familiarity and tingles of exhilaration wiggle through my toes.

I am in GIAPO’S kitchen.

This morning, Giapo is baking brownies to make brownie gelato. Fresh cream is whipped till it tries escaping from the mixer with violent jerks, and leaves in its wake a beautiful mound of butter. No store-bought chocolate is used (he uses fresh butter, choice cocoa powder and cocoa butter). Giapo gives me a sample of cocoa butter to taste – I am a little put off by its name because it sounds like a lotion, but I am struck by the luxurious quality of it, the way it reminds me of an edible bar of creamy soap – creamy but clean and not sticky in any way (“wow!” is what I want to say). In the course of the morning, he also makes a beautiful batch of dulce de leche and the bit I taste fresh from the pot leaves me feeling a little like I am walking on air.

The way everything whirls, mixes and cooks around me reminds me (just slightly) of one of my favourite Disney moments. I am as intrigued by the beautiful brownie-making process as I am by Giapo’s solid understanding of the science behind food/cooking. (The science of food is not yet my forte. I cook and bake by way of a certain random madness, and without an understanding of why ingredients act the way they do).

So I enjoy myself immensely watching the brownie come together, but I can’t shake off this funny feeling that lingers in my mind the whole time I am in the kitchen… until Giapo tells me he’s going to make a chocolate gelato and combine that with the brownie to make brownie gelato.

This is the moment at which everything feels illogical and marvellous all at once. Questions and answers start flying in and out of my head in rapid succession.

WHAT! WHY! I want to say. How does any of this make sense? Does everyone even really see/understand just how much work goes into this? Couldn’t you take more shortcuts? Couldn’t you use less good (and thus costly) ingredients? Why don’t you let supermarkets/stores etc carry your products? Why do you bake brownie from scratch? Why and how do you invent so many new flavours every single week? Why do you do what you do?

I’ve asked some of these questions before. But even as these questions surface in my mind, everything now makes complete sense in my heart. I already know that yes, GIAPO is a business with overhead costs. Yes, there is nothing to stop them from taking a few time and money-saving shortcuts. Yes, they could easily rely on market knowledge and stick to flavours that have been proven to be popular with the masses (rather than take a chance with experimental flavours). Yes, they could arrange for supermarkets and other stores to stock their gelato.

But the way I see it, GIAPO is not your average business. It’s a people-loving business/”Wonka factory”/thought leader/research lab/innovative centre/delicious gelato parlour and more, rolled into one magic entity. I think it’s less about sticking with the proven, or focusing on profits, or abiding by what some would label as “sense”…

The way I interpret it, it’s about the execution of a mission. Loving food and loving you. Fanning that inner flame. Embarking on a quest to experience life by tasting everything. Combining science, art and passion. Holding strong to values and principles in a society that doesn’t do this as much as they should. Pushing boundaries. Following a dream and vision. Having the courage to go where passion says to go. Making something gobsmackingly delicious, just ‘cos. Revolutionalising gelato, food and eating. Taking pride in their work. Having fun along the way.

And, as they say, giving you food that is as it should be – good for you. With a lot of love, commitment, excellent techniques, quality time and ingredients (no shortcuts or artificial content), and a sparkling dose of genius.

It’s taken me two days to write this post, and still I am not sure I have expressed myself adequately. But thank you for reading my clumsy words. If you’re in Auckland, please visit GIAPO and bring everyone you know. If you are not in New Zealand, well, get here. It’s a thoroughly beautiful country. And go to GIAPO.

Grazie mille Giapo, for the lovely privilege of spending an hour with you in your kitchen!

Giapo – 279-291 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677

Welly Weekend

A toothache, or a violent passion, is not necessarily diminished by our knowledge of its causes, its character, its importance or insignificance.
~ T. S. Eliot

Le weekend involved:
A bumpy plane landing (which caused an involuntary smile).
A Hello Welly Coffee at Mojo at the Airport with D, HL and H (H had his Farewell Welly Coffee before catching his flight).
My friends E and C becoming Mr. and Mrs..
A wonderful chat with a writer on Cuba St who let me buy his poetry with coffee.
Splendid hours with friends old and new.
A delicious meal (pumpkin and vermouth risotto and chocolate berry fondant) cooked by gracious friends.
Oriental Bay by night.
Gust and sun in equal measure (both as intense as Wellington espresso).

It was nice.

To wander around in a reverie of familiarity and not have to consciously try to find my destination.
To know, rather than hope, that my coffee would be good.
To have a few chats where in five minutes flat there was established an invisible wire connecting another human’s mind and mine and no social rituals or formalities were required.
To have time to lose myself in Arty Bees.

Finc just keeps getting better every time I visit too. Once upon a time I didn’t like spending my pennies there; on each subsequent visit now I enjoy it a little more. This time, I loved walking in to see sailing puppets and colourful animal-shaped chalkboards gracing the walls and complementing the tasteful decorations, and a cabinet laden with delicious-looking treats. M and I met here to talk about books, words, toffee, life over breakfast… she had a sturdy looking sweet for breakfast while I opted for a mix of two yummy-looking (and, as it turns out, tasting) salads and two cappuccinos. Balance is key, you know?

WISH I had time to pop into Deluxe. Next time.

Thanks, Wellington… it was good to see you again, wind and all.

Finc – 122 Wakefield Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 499 2999

Giapo = gelato buonissimo

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.
~ Ralph Marston

I’m repeating myself here, but following another visit to Giapo today with my beautiful friend Emily, it’s about time I stop giving them passing mentions and actually wax lyrical about them in a FULL POST on my blog.

Giapo… is glorious.

Think of your favourite ice cream or gelato flavour. What is it? Strawberry? Maple walnut? Chunky Monkey? Lemon sorbet? Mmm, that’s a pretty good thought, isn’t it? Okay, hold that thought…

Now imagine inventing an ice cream or gelato flavour of your choice. What would it be? I remember one frosty night some years ago, when a few of us played this “invent an ice cream flavour” game after dinner… there were suggestions of watermelon, jasmine, bubblegum (guess we already have goody gum drops in New Zealand), peppered steak and toothpaste (yeah, seriously… the last two options weren’t mine).

Now, enter Giapo… which would have taken the cake and stolen the crown in that “invent an ice cream flavour” discussion. I love quality and I love surprises, and Giapo delivers on both fronts. I think of the Giapo team as a real life Willy Wonka and Oompa-Loompa team (ref: Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), inventing all sorts of amazing and surreal goodies, and offering them in a space masquerading as a relatively normal-looking gelateria.

It’s like they’ve taken gelato and dressed it in every possible garment, painted it with every hue and shade in the paint box, and sprayed it with a library of scents to rival Demeter’s… and somehow done it exceptionally well, too. Antipasti and pinot gris. Wasabi vanilla. Dark chocolate and smoked salmon. Seaweed and sauvignon blanc. Pinot noir and espresso coffee. Scallops and strawberry. Pumpkin and amaretto. Christmas fruit mince pie. Whisky and blue cheese. And of course, they have tamer flavours like lemon/coconut/organic cocoa sorbet too (note: by “tame” I mean more normal-sounding, but terribly good and nowhere near mediocre).

Tasting these, you sort of expect magic things to happen in the store, or Oompa-Loompas to come trailing out with whisks and berries in their hands, or something.

From the frequency at which new flavours appear and from the generous smiles of the team there, you’d think they just effortlessly muttered gelato into existence while sleeping. But if you think they’ve just taken a bunch of random ingredients and chucked them into the freezer together for a laugh, think again. The combinations are carefully thought out – Mr. Grazioli said, for instance, that the salmon and chocolate combination was born out of those two elements sharing similarities at a base molecular level. That sounded very foreign to my Bachelor of Arts ears, but tasting this harmonious and madly delicious gelato, I’m prepared to believe it. The way I now see it, salmon and chocolate might appear as different as night and day, but they’re probably distant cousins on some level. And very good blended.

I like so many things about Giapo. For one, there is only one Giapo in Auckland – no franchises or supermarket versions. You seldom get the exact repertoire of flavours every time you visit (this says to me that their gelato is very fresh, and they are constantly seeking ways to improve/delight their customers). The gelato is immaculate in colour, substance and form. The chairs are cute. There is an art and science to everything they do. The team is patient and friendly, happy to give you a taste of anything while you are trying to make up your mind. Wonderful, too, is the fact that they don’t skimp at all on ingredients. Indeed, I think they don’t skimp on anything – they use only the best of everything.

No one’s told me this, but I suspect the Giapo gelato you down in a few minutes is the stunning result of countless hours of creativity, fun, thought, experimentation and research. For all of what I’ve written in this post and more, the Giapo spirit is one that more eating establishments and consumer goods providers really need to catch and embrace.

Giapo – 279-291 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677