Tuesday, 23 December 2008

I can't fit any more in!

Not only are the present lists well under way, the food lists now have come to the fore, because for some reason making one meal on Christmas Day with enough leftovers in the fridge to scavenge on until the supermarkets open again is a big deal. A big enough deal to send the entire female population into a food frenzy. And although I can rationalise that, can logically realise how silly it is to get sucked into all the panic, I do it again, like every year.
- The Secret Diary of a Grumpy Old Woman by Judith Holder

Our family Christmas parties are always filled with some kind of drama which is, I suspect, a common occurrence for most families. What is it about Christmas that brings out all this tension? Anyway, this year's party was no exception...but at least there was some good food!

My contribution was a tofukey since the idea always cracks me up. I found the recipe somewhere on the net last year (when it had its first outing) and basically it's a basic stuffing inside a tofu and nut mixture which is then spread with a marinade and baked in the oven.

Here's the tofukey served up with cashew gravy, roast veges, green salad (mostly grown in Mum's garden!) and pasta salad. My soy sauce I used this year was a bit strong so it tasted overly salty. Bit of a disappointment but a lesson for next time.

Of course, the main meal of the family Christmas party is dessert! My contribution, as always, was the famous trifle in it's chocolate form.

Basically it's a light chocolate cake spread with raspberry jam in the centre with fresh and tinned fruit on top of that (strawberries, pawpaw and a tin of mixed berries) topped with a thick chocolate custard and chocolate shavings. SO delicious!

Here's my HUGE dessert bowl (it's not often we get dessert so you've got to make the most of it!). I've got chocolate trifle, apple crumble and Christmas pudding (care of Mum...she is the pudding expert).

Friday, 19 December 2008

Not long to go...

Here in the trees it was much easier to believe the absurdities that embarrassed me indoors. Nothing had changed in this forest for thousands of years, and all the myths and legends of a hundred different lands seemed much more likely in this green haze than they had in my clear-cut bedroom.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I'm feeling a little jaded this afternoon. Tomorrow night is our family Christmas party so I've spent pretty much all of today in the kitchen preparing some of the food for the evening...but you'll have to wait until next time to find out what's on the menu! Of course, before ending up in the kitchen we got up not long after 5am for the final spin class of the year complete with champagne and strawberries! Then it was home to have breakfast of last night's tofu scramble. What a way to start the day!

This is actually last night's dinner but hey, breakfast looked pretty much identical so deal with it.

Anyway, on to more exciting things. Last Friday I got to meet Theresa from The Tropical Vegan for lunch as she was visiting Auckland for a conference! Being my usual self I was a nervous as anything but, as usual, there was nothing to worry about!

Meeting up in town meant the obvious place to go check out was Raw Power. Theresa ordered the Tofu Burger which I've talked about here. Despite being a fairly warm day, I had a craving for soup (needing comforting perhaps?!) so got their soup of the day, Curried Vegetable Soup served with focaccia bread and hummus. It was creamy and delicious. Washed down with one of their freshly made juices, it hit the spot perfectly.

Since you can't really go past dessert if it's offered I got a Caramel and Date slice (or at least that's what I think it was but I couldn't even remember by the time I'd decided what I'd wanted let alone now, a few days later!). We took our treats to enjoy in the sun (you have to make the most of it round here sometimes!) in Albert Park across the road from the university.

That evening we drove up to our family beach house at Wai Kauri Bay to escape for the weekend and enjoy the fine weather. As usual we had to check out the Matakana Farmer's Market on Saturday morning which included an On Yer Bike chocolate smoothie which you were supposed to blend yourself by riding this stationary bike attached to the blender. Unfortunately no amount of pedaling was getting my smoothie blended...I must have broke it!

In the afternoon we took our bikes over to Tawharanui Regional Park for a bit of adventuring (and a bit of scaring of the farm animals as we came flying past). We got some awesome views at the end of the peninsula looking all the way out to Little Barrier Island.

It may be summer now but that doesn't mean the water is warm and inviting for swimming but hey, all you gotta do is toughen up right? Anyway, after all the mountain biking in the hot sun, a little cold water never hurt anyone!

The jetty at Wai Kauri Bay

Monday, 8 December 2008

Take the Northern Gateway...it'll cost you $2

"It was simply marvellous. But, Laurie -" She stopped, she looked at her brother. "Isn't life," she stammered, "isn't life -" But what life was she couldn't explain. No matter. He quite understood.
"Isn't it, darling?" said Laurie.
- The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield

On Sunday we had the unique opportunity to bike the nearly-completed Northern Gateway, a new toll road North of Auckland bypassing the old route through Orewa and Waiwera. The motorway isn't scheduled to open until February next year but they opened the road for bikes (in the morning) and walkers (in the afternoon so they didn't get mowed down by us bikers!) for the day so we could get a closer look.

The Johnstone's Hill Tunnels

The new stretch of motorway is a pretty impressive feat of engineering combining design, engineering and attention to the environment (believe it or not!). The site of the motorway is home to native wildlife and special care were in place to minimise the impact on both flora and fauna along the route. The route crosses several main waterways and there are two eco-viaducts over some of the more sensitive areas.

Inside the Johnstone's Hill Tunnel

It was cool looking down the sides of the bridges to see lush plantlife rising up below and extensive revegetation is planned for other areas of the route.

Looking down the river towards Waiwera

My parents were walking the 14km round trip later in the day when it was so scorching hot that they got tar stuck to their shoes. They also got held up in huge traffic jams trying to get to and from the start of the motorway. The irony is of course that this motorway, designed to minimise traffic holdups, was causing them as curiosity got the better of everyone!

Cruising down the motorway.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Pineapple-coloured summers

They had both seen the lattice of streaky black clouds that climbed the horizon and scudded towards them, fleeing from the dying sun.
Lord of No Time by Louise Cooper

It's been a little while since we've had cake right? So it was about time for another birthday!

I doubled the recipe for the Pineapple Right-Side-Up cupcakes from
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. The centre is filled with a single batch of the pineapple topping and a toasted coconut cream cheese frosting. Then the top has more of the cream cheese frosting along with chopped dark chocolate, almonds, and some rather alcoholic cherries Mum had given me a while back. Delicious!

Of course, life isn't just about cake though (but that would be nice!)...

Lunch at my parents after raiding their pantry and freezer! Leftover veges and tofu luncheon on puff pastry. Unfortunately it stuck to the tray despite me spraying it first. Hmmm...

Although on the whole it's getting really hot and humid here, we still have the odd cold night. Corn Chowder after running home from work in the evening really warms you up (plus makes lots of leftovers for delicious lunches!). No recipe required...just my head as usual.

J had never had polenta before so it was time to whip up a batch with some stir-fried asparagus (I left J in charge of those...one has to delegate sometimes!) and baked tempeh (always a favourite). I cooked up the polenta in the morning, added some sun-dried tomatoes, smoked paprika and sheese, then chilled it in a pan until the evening when I cooked it in slabs over the fry pan.

As an aside, is it really December already? I don't think I'm ready for this!

Monday, 24 November 2008

The journey of the fauxsage

'You mean,' said Arthur, 'you mean you can see into my mind?'
'Yes,' said Marvin.
Arthur stared in astonishment.
'And . . ?' he said?
'It amazes me how you can manage to live in anything that small.'
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

It was Friday. It was hot. I had some time on my hands before I had to go out in the afternoon. So what did I decide to do?

I made a double batch of Celine's
Ginger Hoisin Fauxsage. Not being a fan of seitan, I really wasn't convinced I'd like them (especially 'cause they had a really weird smell before being cooked and the texture before baking was kind of nauseating) but actually it was delicious! And the bonus? J loved it too.

We've since had the fauxsage in a creamy stir-fry (it's amazing how creamy an avocado and some sheese can make a dish when you're not even trying)...

...and in several sandwiches (it's perfect!). Here's my sandwich from work the other day with the peanut butter spilling out the hole in the top of the bread (I'd run out of hummus).

Not content with just the fauxsage making, I also whipped us up a batch of giant cookies (after all, if you hardly ever have cookies why not make them HUGE!).

And prepped dinner (in amongst cleaning and washing)...I am
so a domestic goddess!

Marinated and baked tofu cubes with potato rosti, stir-fried broccoli (fresh from my Mum's garden!), avocado and homemade tomato sauce (care of J's Mum).

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Tonic and Grin

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
- Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

It's been pretty hectic round here lately...

The weekend after we got back from our South Island adventure I was competing in 
TONIC (The Orienteering North Island Champs), 4 days of full-on racing on various maps in Woodhill Forest. From fast, open forest to thick native bush to the Maze, an open area filled with impassable patches of scrub that proved a technical minefield it was one very intense weekend.

Here's the last control on Day 2 (this course was one hell of a bush crash) peeping out from the forest.

The view down towards the West Coast and the Kaipara Harbour on the road into Day 3.

Fruit salad in the sun after Day 3's racing. Glorious.

The next weekend was spent putting in some last minute mountain bike training at Woodhill before competing in the P6 the following weekend. The P6 is an annual 6 hour adventure race held North of Auckland by Lactic Turkey, known for some pretty fun and crazy events. This was no exception. The event involved mountain biking (always my bane), running and tubbing (swimming down a river inside an inner tube from a car tyre) as well as mystery activities to earn extra points all while trying to navigate your way around the course.

Chaos as the beginning of leg 2 as everyone tries to work out exactly what's going on.

The P6 was our first race together as just the 2 of us and hopefully not our last. Just next time we'll remember to bring sunblock!

While visiting my new local health food shop, Huckleberry Farms, in search of lara bars for the various races I discovered they now also stock a selection of Clif and Luna bars so obviously I had to get some to test...

First up, Luna Bars. So far I've tried Caramel Nut Brownie, Cookies 'n Cream Delight and Chocolate Peppermint Stick. Honestly? They taste kinda artificial or something but I keep desperately trying to like them (they look so pretty after all!). Perhaps a non-chocolate flavour will be better. I have an Iced Oatmeal Raisin flavour so I'm hanging great hopes on it!

Clif Bars. Here I've only tried the Chocolate Brownie and Oatmeal Raisin Walnut flavours and J has tried the Cranberry Apple Cherry. I definitely prefer the Clif bars to the Luna bars but the Chocolate Brownie was way too dense and sweet, especially before a race! Next time, stick to the fruity, oatmeal flavours!

So basically, Lara Bars win hands down! I've yet to meet a flavour I don't like.

Amongst all our adventuring we've still had to eat. Here's last night's dinner - Pumpkin Gnocchi with soy sausages, capsicum, courgette, mushrooms, baby spinach and tinned tomatoes. One day I will have to try my hand at making gnocchi but for now Delmaine make a pretty good version for those days you don't have much time to spend in the kitchen (like every day lately!).

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The queen of paradise

But then a strange thing happened.
Why, those pants began to cry!
Those pants began to tremble.
They were just as scared as I!

I never heard such whimpering
And I began to see
That I was just as strange to them
As they were strange to me!

- What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss

We have seriously been in need of a holiday for quite some time and Queenstown was somewhere I was itching to go back to after a work trip there earlier this year. J borrowed his Mum's car and we drove down from Christchurch ready to explore.

Stopping in Ashburton we discovered the spring blossoms out in full force. Totally gorgeous and so rich in colour and life.

The drive to Queenstown takes the better part of a day (it's about 700km) so by the time you arrive (if you're like us anyway) you'll be tired, exhausted and starving and in need of a quick and easy dinner. So after dropping our bags off at the apartment we were staying (ah the perks of work!) at we made our way into town to Fergburger for refueling. 

I remembered coming here last time I was down in Queenstown for work. The Holier Than Thou tofu burger (without the aioli) is really delicious. Filled to the brim with tempured tofu and veges you can't go wrong.

We awoke the following morning to beautiful blue skies and clear views across the lake. Above is the view from our apartment. The mountains across the skyline are called The Remarkables (fitting?).

Breakfast with a view...nothing could be better.

On a day trip to Te Anau we visited the Wildlife Centre there which J remembered from when he was a child. New Zealand has an array of native birds, many of which are endangered and this is place where you can see some of these birds up close. J's favourite was the Takahe. Pictured below is Alpine, an elderly female who we watched for quite some time.

The Takahe is often confused with the more commonly found Pukeko so to avoid confusion I've included the information board they had at the enclosure.

We were totally exhausted (and starving again) by the time we got back to Queenstown after our Te Anau adventure but somehow managed to stagger over to Winnies for dinner.

Winnies freshly baked bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Delicious.

The Zucha pizza without cheese and added mushrooms and sundried tomatoes. Not quite so delicious but not too bad all the same.

The following morning dawned clear and bright again so we thought we'd tackle Ben Lomond which I'd been dying to do last time I was here (but I had to work so there wasn't time for a full day trek). Below is the summit of Ben Lomond taunting us.

As you may be able to work out from the picture, the track is pretty steep. You basically climb straight up for a few hours until you scramble up the last part of the track to the summit and then you turn around and come back down...attempting not to slip!

We saw a kea on the track. Not the best of photos but the sun was directly behind it and we didn't want to startle it and have it fly away. I'd never seen a kea in the wild before so I was bouncing up and down like a little girl! The kea is supposed to be one of the most intelligent and curious parrot species and are known for pulling apart the rubber edgings on cars and stealing your lunch!

Once we got close to the saddle the wind really picked up but it died down just long enough for us to enjoy lunch on the summit. Ah, sandwiches and a view...perfect!

The climb to the top of Ben Lomond is pretty demanding but well worth the effort for the 360 degree views you get of Queenstown and its surrounding mountains. Possibly the worst part of the climb though is the steep descent afterwards. My legs were achey for a few days afterwards!

After a good soak in the (rather fancy) bath I managed to put together a dinner. Tofu and chickpea patties with spinach on toast and broccoli with a soy yoghurt and sweet chilli dressing. It is amazing what you can do with just a handful of ingredients when necessary. If only I could have done something for the aching muscles!

The South Island has some of the most incredible scenery and we found ourselves stopping all the time on the trips both to and from Queenstown to take photos. Below is Mount Cook or Aoraki (Maori for cloud piercer) and New Zealand's tallest mountain and is located in the Southern Alps which run down the west side of the South Island. My eldest brother has climbed Mt Cook from several angles back in his mountain climbing days.

Here's Mt Cook in its full glory from across Lake Pukaki on our trip back home. I love how the early morning cloud has cleared just enough to reveal the mountain for us in all its glory!

Ah, South Island how I love thee so...

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

City of the tropics

But often the essential is indeed a smile. One is paid by a smile, repaid by a smile, quickened by a smile. And there is a kind of smile, too, that is a death warrant.
- Letter to a Hostage by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

Flying in from Auckland where it had been drizzling and windy the week before we left, we got quite a surprise to find that Christchurch was positively tropical! Flowers were in bloom and there were monarch butterflies everywhere in the botanic gardens.

We made the most of the gorgeous weather by trailing after J's parents for a hand at
geocaching. This is basically like one huge worldwide treasure hunt with a GPS. Good fun but the heat was wearing us out by the late afternoon.

As far as eating in Christchurch goes,  you really can't go past a falafel souvlaki from
Costas. After one of these, kebabs can no longer satisfy!

Last time we were in Christchurch we tried to go to
The Lotus Heart restaurant in Cathedral Square but it was closed for some unknown reason (we made it to their cafe though). This time I was determined we would get to eat there so on a Friday night (after checking the website several times for any hints that they might be closed again) J, my friend B and I headed off in search of good food. Thankfully this time we were in luck...

After much decision I ordered the dal and a side of roasted seasonal vegetables (I think it was kumara, potato and beetroot). It was so delicious, especially the vegetables which J kept stealing off my plate!

Dessert was a must since it's not every day I can eat anything from a desserts menu. We all seemed to think alike and all ordered the Banana-Nut Pie for dessert. A bit too healthy tasting for my liking since I was, well, feeling decadent enough for dessert! But full marks for presentation!

On the way out I got an oaty energy cookie to take away with me. Warmed up the next day it was delicious.

We actually managed to venture further afield than Christchurch this time but that is still to come otherwise you would go cross-eyed from staring at your screen for too long.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Attic eats

Try not talking. Just listen. Really being there for someone without opinion or judgement is one of the best gifts you can ever give.
- Living with a Black Dog by Matthew and Ainsley Johnstone

This week is
Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand and today is in fact World Mental Health Day. Not much more to say really...

In other news, we have moved! No longer are we in an apartment in the city but are in fact in a house in Royal Oak (the New Zealand Post site is convinced we're in Onehunga but we're 200 metres from the Royal Oak roundabout for goodness sake!) and are living in the attic on the top floor. It's a bit like something from one of my childhood fantasies.

So last week was kind of about trying to use up some of the food we had stockpiled in the pantry and freezer! First up was nachos. Once upon a time I had a recipe for these but goodness knows where that went so as usual it was created as I went along. Boy do I love cans of kidney beans and chopped tomatoes. They are there to make my life so much easier! But because of this I tend to stock up on them whenever they're on special and forget I have them (I suspect I get this trait off my Mum as once I was cleaning out her pantry and found she had over 20 tins of tomatoes despite the fact that she used them in plenty of dishes each week!).

Garden of Eatin' cornchips are awesome, especially the yellow and blue corn chips. Grilled in the oven with a large serving of bean mix and some sheese and we're rolling.

I also had some soy sausages sitting in the freezer (and more of those tins of tomatoes...I told you I take after my Mum) so a tomatoey sausage mix on pasta was a must. Plus it's great comfort food to aid with the stress of packing (I don't like moving).

Here is our last dinner at the apartment as I cleaned out the freezer. A veggie pattie of some description with the last of J’s Mum’s spicy tomato sauce, kumara fries and stir-fried capsicum and mushrooms with tahini.

One of the things I will miss about living in town was the Mercury Plaza Food Court or, more specifically, Ruang Thong Thai Cuisine. What better place to have our final meal before we headed off to our new home on Sunday night.

This is the vegetarian Pra Ram Long Song with tofu. Naturally being a kind of satay dish it is my favourite (my regular as J calls it).

So our first proper meal in the new place was definitely about comfort (by proper I’m meaning not out of a packet like the first night when we had some curry from the freezer section of the supermarket…don’t get me wrong, it was nice but home cooked food is always best). Satay tofu and rice. Actually, it's satay made from leftovers of a jar of almond butter and a new jar of cashew butter...so is it still allowed to be a satay?! The damn supermarket (our new local, Pak n'Save...remind me not to go there again in a hurry) didn't have any decent peanut butter (they could have at least had some of the Aussie Sanitarium stuff considering they had organic cashew butter!).

In fact, this dish (the peanut butter version) was the first meal I ever cooked for J so it must be good 'cause he stuck around! Admittedly though, it's never the same twice. That's why it's so good 'cause you can just use whatever you have on hand.

The weather's been a bit crappy this week so there is nothing better than arriving home after work (well, we actually ran home from work but that's another story) to the smell of fresh bread. I love bread makers and the lovely timer function! I served up the bread with a tofu scramble. Delicious!

And of course the true test of a kitchen is whether you can bake in it. We had 3 very very very ripe bananas (the smell was SO strong!) so what else could I make but banana bread?! I made the Lower-Fat Banana Bread from Veganomicon using half white and half spelt flour with the additions of chopped walnuts and chopped dark chocolate. It was perfect.

It's not quite warm here in the evenings yet so J and I often finish up the evening with a warm drink. At the supermarket the other day I discovered vegan gingernuts and was so excited I had to get some so some dunking was required.

Tonight we're off to Christchurch and Queenstown until next Sunday. I SO need a holiday.