Tag Archives: wellington

Full circle

Perhaps I am stronger than I think.
~ Thomas Merton

Have we all gone Hobbit-mad around here? Perhaps…

I rather like our airport looking this way (see above), really. Heh heh heh! :-)

I confess that my attention on Hobbit premiere day was less focused on the red carpet and the stars than on the blistering sun, general crowds and the people sitting atop Hope Gibbons (note tiny human silhouettes below)… anyway, it was really nice to see everybody in such high spirits even if I don’t tend to get manic about things like that myself.

Hobbit-ness aside, one thing I truly love about New Zealand is the way, well, anything goes. Perhaps I say this because I spent four years in Dunedin, a period filled with fond, challenging and bizarre memories… previously I would never have considered wearing socks over my shoes, sliding down frosty paths on a garbage can lid or wearing a cow suit down a main street.

Perhaps I would never have had a neighbour who climbed on to the roof and mooned me (he graced my previously spotless skylight with his unprotected bottom) or met anyone with a car with doors that had to be shut in a synchronised manner (the driver’s door would fly open when you slammed the passenger’s door shut, and vice versa). I could have done without Nude Day… but I guess you’ve gotta take the good with the bad.

So here I am in Dunners now, my first time back in about four years. Reflecting on life, working remotely and having a great reunion with my good friend Michelle, who I haven’t seen in far too long. Taking some time to lower my current stress thermometer reading… hopefully…

Have a great weekend, all :-)

P.S. Mmmm, Capers pancakes! Big and fluffy and stuffed with fruit and yoghurt / cream. Just as :-) as ever.

Capers Cafe – 412 George Street, Dunedin – Phone: 03 477 7769

Yes to Arthur’s

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.
~ James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

I look forward to visiting Arthur’s again.

Perhaps it was the gingham tablecloths, or the fact that they had two dining rooms, or the way every part of the place was beautifully furnished (including the bathroom). Perhaps it was the friendly women, the fresh mint on the table, the striking art on the walls, the candles in the stairwell… oh, it’s hard to say. How shall I describe it? Can a place feel charming, dignified, historic, manly and playful all at once? I feel like Arthur’s is all of these things. It also feels familiar… walking in feels like going home, except the place (sadly) isn’t yours.

My dining companion and friend, Herman, and I met in Dunedin – so of course we had to order a plate of their “Dunedin cheese rolls” to share! Warm cheese oozed out of these snug toast blankets… thoroughly satisfactory with their homemade relish.

Trying to decide what to eat was a capital challenge – so many lovely-sounding options. Eggs and soldiers, Ploughman’s Lunch, pie of the day – I was spoilt for choice. In the end, I followed my stomach and ordered poached eggs served atop bubble and squeak. I wanted comfort and I got a double dose of it :-)

Herman enjoyed his pie of the day quite a lot (cottage pie).

I know it’s not the done thing to take photos in the bathroom, even when you reallyreally like the decor. I did it anyway (see below).

Arthur’s – 272 Cuba Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 385 7227

Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables

She turned to the sunlight
   And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
   “Winter is dead.”
~ A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

One of the pleasures of living in Wellington: walking down to Harbourside Market on any Sunday morning and leaving with a bounty of goodness for a reasonable price. I also like the fact that the vegetables are likely to stay fresh for almost twice as long as their supermarket equivalents!

Last Sunday, I exchanged $9 for a bag of garlic, a bag of lemons, an aubergine, capsicums, zucchinis, and a generous selection of big and little tomatoes… I was a happy woman.

I cooked this mostly by sight, taste and feel, and the oven door opened and shut more than I usually allow for in one session of cooking, but hey – dinner got done, nicely, and that is what matters.

    Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables
    Ingredients:
    1 cup orzo
    ½ onion
    1 aubergine / eggplant (use your favourite vegetables – pumpkin could work well too?)
    1 zucchini
    1 capsicum
    6 or more small tomatoes
    4 sprigs asparagus
    1 tbsp demerara / brown sugar
    1 lemon
    Olive oil
    1 tbsp butter
    Salt
    Pepper
    Ground chilli
    Paprika
    Dried mint (or torn fresh mint, if you have it)
    Fresh herbs of your choice (optional)
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a flat baking tray with aluminium foil or baking paper, and lightly grease it.
    Peel and dice the onion, and set aside. Zest half a lemon, and set aside. Cut off the ends of the aubergine, then slice it into rings approximately 1cm thick, and halve those rings. If you have time, sprinkle them with salt and leave them to sweat for about 30 minutes – this will tenderise the flesh, reduce any bitterness and make it less likely to absorb too much cooking oil later (I admit I skipped this step on this occasion, as we were hungry). Vertically slice the zucchini into 4 strips. Cut the capsicum into 6 pieces. Place these vegetables with the tomatoes into a bowl, add in some olive oil and toss to coat well.
    Arrange the aubergine, zucchini and capsicum pieces in a single layer on the baking tray, and place in the oven (on the centre rack, if possible) for 10 minutes. Then remove the tray, flip the aubergine slices and bake for a further 10 minutes. Once the aubergine pieces look nicely golden, remove them from the oven and place on a dish. Flip the zucchini and capsicum slices, add in the tomatoes, and replace the tray in the oven. After 10 minutes, take out the zucchini and capsicum. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and leave the tomatoes to bake to perfection.
    All of this may sound terribly confusing, but it basically comes down to this: when the vegetables tell me they are ready with golden faces, I take them out. Also, tomatoes don’t mind staying in the oven for longer if you lower the heat before too long.
    Meanwhile, place some water in a deep saucepan and bring to the boil. Shake in some salt and the orzo, and cook according to packet instructions. Remove the orzo when it is about a minute from being completely cooked (after approximately 7 minutes of cooking), and drain off the liquid.
    Over medium-high heat, heat the butter (or use olive oil if you prefer), add in half a teaspoon of chilli and paprika each, and a pinch of dried mint – rubbing the mint between your fingers as you go. When you can smell the onion and it begins to turn translucent, break the asparagus sprigs into thirds and add them in. Sauté the lot for 2-3 minutes. Throw in the drained orzo and lemon zest, add in a dribble of water, allow it to be absorbed before adding in a little more (kinda like how you cook risotto), and cook this way until the orzo is cooked through. Stir in the demerara sugar.
    Pour the orzo and vegetables into a large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Add in chopped fresh herbs, if using. Toss the lot until well combined. Rescue the tomatoes from the oven, which should now be looking juicy and ripe to burst. Arrange them like jewels on an orzo crown. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3-4 servings.

Harbourside Market – Corner of Cable Street & Barnett Street beside Te Papa, Wellington – Phone: 04 495 7895

Lamb and coffee

I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.
~ Simon and Garfunkel

Glory of the humble steak.

For all its fuss-free ease (under eight minutes from pan to plate), it is one of my favourite experiences. Whisking clean laundry away into the bedroom (to avoid catching smells). Watching tiny showers of oil blitz with the sound of microscopic rockets onto the surface of the gas stove. Feeling fresh Wellington wind whip against my cheek as I stand at the hot stove with the kitchen window wide open. Seeing the meat lose its healthy blush and take on a golden, plate-ready glow. Slicing it, noting its soft seared / brown / pink layers… and just a trickle of juice flowing on to the plate.

Yesterday’s dinner: lamb steak, seared with ground chilli and a flick of oregano – and a fresh cup of black coffee on the side. I don’t want to say it was “magnificent”, since that seems too grand a word to bestow on a rapid dinner that took less than 20 minutes to prepare and eat… but to be honest, that is the word that flashed through my mind as I ate ;-)

And that is all I wanted to write about today. Good morning!

Gipps St Deli, Karori

But some secrets are too delicious not to share.
~ Suzanne Collins

I have long forgotten his name, but I remember well the weight of his words. Something to the effect of: “you’ve got to make at least 500 coffees before you can even start practising being good at this. You know why? If you serve even one bad coffee – that customer will tell three friends, and each friend might tell another, and then your business will go bust. Now can you please tip what you just made into the sink, and start again?”

A few years ago when I graduated without a clue as to what to do next, I waltzed into a cafe and asked a man to teach me how to make coffee, just ‘cos. He thought he only taught me the basics of how to steam milk, make a good espresso and make a leaf pattern thing on the top of a latte; the truth is, my milk-steaming talents (?!) could do with a lot more work… but I learned a lot more. Practice practice practice. Passion. Skill. Craft. Successful business. Quality. Pride in one’s own work, even if it’s ‘just’ coffee. Keeping customers, not just getting them in.

One valuable thing about business he taught me then, that is so simple yet so often overlooked, is the importance of always being sincere and always making every last thing you sell bloody good so people come back, with their friends, again and again, always. (I imagine that feeds back a thousand times into one’s own soul and life too, loving people like that… love breeds more of the same, right?)

See, people talk about the two degrees of separation in New Zealand – it’s true. Everyone knows everyone (I began to experience this even in my first five years of living in this country). And word travels fast… always sooner rather than later.

Case in point: without the two degrees of separation and people-sharing-the-best-with-their-friends thing, I would probably not have embraced gusty unfamiliarity (windy Karori) and discovered Gipps St Deli. You see, way before I stepped through their doors, I heard one rather passionate review about Gipps St Deli’s brownie. So when a lovely friend of mine suggested an afternoon catch-up at the place, I jumped at the chance.

We stumbled into the place after a sunny and very gusty walk from the bus stop, and were met with a delightful looking spread of goodies. Light streamed in; I saw colourful cushions and white tables, a smiling girl behind the counter, art on the walls, and other things which made me feel instantly glad to be there. Perhaps it sounds cheesy to talk about liking a place at first sight. But that is how I felt.

We may have ordered a little too much for us two, but it was all very delicious and we had a substantial amount of roast veg left over which made a yummy meal for me today. Salad with crisp sweet apple matchsticks, a tasty risotto, perfectly seasoned and roasted vegetables, and slices of baking that were a pleasure to eat. See, I was so eager to tuck into the food that I was too impatient to take a proper photo:

Particularly dangerous was the coffee and walnut slice. I really don’t want to be addicted to ANY slice… but if I were ever to become a hopeless slice addict… this might well be it.

We polished off the brownie and slice between us. Too much sweetness, especially since I am partial to savoury flavours these days – but I lacked the willpower to leave any of it behind.

I know that before long, I’ll be closing other two-degree gaps with songs about the slice and sunshine at Gipps St Deli ;-) … starting with this post!

Gipps St Deli – 4 Gipps Street, Karori, Wellington – Phone: 04 476 4741

Back in NZ’s little capital of cool / Boulcott Street Bistro

We must let go of the life we had planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
~ Joseph Campbell

I’ve been trying to write this post for over an hour, and words are failing me. What can I say? It’s good to be back. I am wrapped in a blue blanket, fighting the final remnants of a cold I caught in Singapore. I have Welly mud on my shoes and Welly food in my tummy. Life is tiring, crazy, charming and beautiful. I have no complaints.

Besides working, catching up with a couple of friends and overdosing on sleep, I have spent two evenings catching the tail end of Wellington on a Plate. Yes, though I may be slightly ill with a less-than-intact appetite… I couldn’t resist :-)

Thursday found Brad and me at Soi munching on very delicious burgers – listed as “Zany Zeus organic feta and corn-fed free range chicken with oregano and tzatziki on homemade fennel buns, with lemon–pepper fries” on the menu, these went down a treat. Oozing feta, juicy chicken, spices and addictive fries came together to form a very tasty plate indeed…  mmmmmmmm! And of course the view at Soi is amazing, especially in un-windy/wet conditions :-)

And following a gelato run with Jeremy late this afternoon, we made the spontaneous decision to try Boulcott Street Bistro’s WOAP menu. Though the price be quite a lot more than I would usually pay for a meal out, I figured WOAP doesn’t come often and I was pretty sure it would be well worth the price at Boulcott Street Bistro.

Luckily, this was the case :-)

We arrived just a few minutes after they opened, but already the place was packed with people… and we were ushered up a narrow staircase into their lovely dining area upstairs.

Brief thoughts on our meal are below –

Chilli pumpkin soup with coconut foam

Jeremy’s thoughts: a marble visual with an incredibly smooth and silky texture that disappears into your mouth as you eat. The pumpkin and coconut flavours complement each other so well you can’t separate them – before the subtle chilli aftertaste.

My thoughts: The soup arrives looking like dessert lovingly poured into a votive holder, and as I taste my first spoonful, I think of a slow wave rolling – first with the marriage of warm, fragrant coconut and sweet pumpkin breaking against my tongue, followed by the subtle chilli as the wave recedes down my throat. If I could compare the soup to a marble floor, it is so craaazy smooth you’d be bound to slip, even with ‘super-grip’ shoes. 

Line caught snapper, parsnip puree & sauce vierge

Jeremy’s thoughts: Deliciously crispy exterior with smooth meat that still has bite. The tomatoes and onion are fresh and juicy – sauce has a good kick to it (tart and rounded with a subtle honey flavour).

Mel’s thoughts: I am about to discard the fish skin as is my usual habit, but upon seeing Jeremy’s facial expression I decide I have to try it – and I exclaim in surprise. Crispy, salty, flavoursome, it is so good – especially with the fresh, creamy flesh. I like the tiny bits of sweet onion and the way the textures and tastes come together so beautifully to form my favourite course of tonight’s dinner! 

Manuka smoked beef shin with petit sirloin, confit potatoes & crushed garden peas

Jeremy’s thoughts: Nice, smoky flavour to it with a rich sauce that complements the meat. I like the potatoes too. The peas taste fine but I’m not sure about the texture…

Mel’s thoughts: Perfect (bar the peas, but only because I don’t really like peas). I also really like the crispy bits with seared, salty edges on both the potatoes and the beef! 

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir chocolate mousse with vanilla bean brûlée and berry sorbet

Jeremy’s thoughts: The sorbet is light and refreshing with a prominent fruity flavour, a subtle minty aftertaste and the flavour of basil coming through. The chocolate is exquisitely thick, dark, rich – with a dense texture. The brûlée has a perfect crust, crispy with a well-caramelised finish. Smooth and intense in flavour.

Mel’s thoughts: death by dessert! I mean this in the best way possible – dessert, for its appearance of petite pleasures – packs a punch. The sorbet tastes like minty, refreshing snow. The chocolate mousse is rich, so rich… and I manage only half of the brûlée, which is like custard on a motorbike for me. Fast and powerful. It is possible that I don’t enjoy dessert as much as I normally would because I’m still a little ill and the wine is getting to my head too… oh, and on that note, I manage just under a glass of wine and refuse the second glass which is included in the dinner set. The pinot noir brings to mind currants and cherries trapped in wood, woven into a silky ribbon and stretched and reduced to liquid… I like it! 

And it is way past my bedtime… good night!

Boulcott Street Bistro – 99 Boulcott Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 499 4199

Soi – 305 Evans Bay Parade, Evans Bay, Hataitai, Wellington – Phone: 04 386 3830

Wellington on a Plate

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