Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Super powered birthdays

"You ought to write 'A Happy Birthday' on it."
"That was what I wanted to ask you," said Pooh. "Because my spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. Would you write 'A Happy Birthday' on it for me?"
- Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

It was J's birthday yesterday. After going out for dinner with a couple of his friends (we went Indian to Satya which has several vegetarian and vegan options) we naturally had to have birthday cake. After all, no birthday is complete without cake.

The cake is the carrot cake from The Damn Tasty Vegan Baking Guide (I love that book) with vegan coconut and cream cheese frosting and sliced bananas through the centre, more frosting on the sides and some store-bought coloured icing (good old Milly's to the rescue) for the Superman logo and top of the cake (I couldn't face making my own...too much icing to fiddle around with).

As you can see, J couldn't bear to cut through the Superman symbol!!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Waffling along...

Neatly, unselfconsciously, she opened a depressing-looking black plastic briefcase, pulled from it a depressing-looking walnut-veneer-style plastic folder and from that, an equally depressing yellow form. She immediately started writing.
- Ten Steps to Happiness by Daisy Waugh

So, it's a cold, wet and windy Sunday morning and there is no way you're gonna venture outside. How do you cheer yourself up? With a batch of homemade waffles of course! And just to be clear, it doesn't have to be a Sunday morning and it doesn't even have to be cold, wet or windy either!

Here we have some fairly basic waffles jazzed up to become rather decadent with the addition of vegan white chocolate chips.

(makes 6)
2 1/4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2-3/4 cup vegan white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups soy milk
125g vegan margarine, melted
1 banana, mashed
1 tsp vanilla essence

Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Mix in the brown sugar and white chocolate chips.

In a small bowl mix the soy milk, margarine, mashed banana and vanilla essence together. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth (well, almost smooth since the chocolate chips are, in their very nature, lumpy).

Heat up your waffle iron. Once at temperature, spray lightly with an oil spray and pour about 1/2 cup of the mixture into the iron. Cook until browned to your liking.

Enjoy with lashings of peanut butter and jam (from the local market).

Monday, 21 July 2008

When dessert comes knocking on your door

Last night complete despair! This morning perfect hope and cheerfulness! New plans constantly bubbling up in my brain! What could be more calculated to raise the spirits than a bright autumn morning with a heavy dew? Everything is rich colour, intoxicating freshness, and sparkle!
- Mr Simonelli Or The Fairy Widower from The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

You may have noticed already that J and I are rather big on ice skating so we could hardly miss the opportunity to see the Imperial Ice Stars perform Cinderella on Ice. So many spins, jumps and lifts that I felt positively dizzy by the end! They were truly amazing (but the costumes...all that glitter and sparkles can get a bit much). Anyway, beforehand we indulged in Chocolate Fudge Self Saucing Pudding for dinner (sometimes you have to be naughty and skip the dinner to make sure there's lots of room for the all important dessert!). Very VERY good! But then again I love chocolate and the darker and richer the better so I couldn't really go wrong!!

Pudding isn't the only way we've being enjoying chocolate lately. On my way home from the hospital on Wednesday (when I got my cast off) I was browsing Huckleberry Farms Wholefoods Supermarket when I came across this:

Raw chocolate! Oh sure, I'd heard it existed but I'd never seen it and certainly never tried it. What better time to treat myself?! It has a really weird texture but tastes pretty good although the cost for such a small bar is pretty steep so I'll stick to my usual chocolates but J really loved it.

While at the health food shop I also discovered oatmeal on special so got a box. People talk about oatmeal all the time and I've never been sure if they're talking about what we call porridge or not. Turns out that yes, it's just like porridge with the odd flavourings but it's delicious especially since we are well into winter now. I got the Nature's Path variety pack and so far the Apple Cinnamon flavour is my favourite.

Perfect with Be Happy tea in the morning.

Just before I go start dinner for another night (I'm making tempeh wraps...I have an arm brace so I don't do anything silly and damage the wrist again and I just order J to cut things for me!) I thought I better show you a couple of things (not particularly exciting) that I've done with the Sheese I bought a few weeks ago so far (we only opened it up a few days ago):

Mac and Cheez topped with Sheese but instead of using two pans and making a white sauce and a cheez sauce I just bunged both mixtures into the one pan and hey presto, it works (why was it supposed to be done in separate pans anyway?)!

Sheese, sliced tomato and peanut butter on homemade bread lightly grilled in the oven...another perfect breakfast.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Films and limbs

I have found that there are three times in life when life itself improves. The first is when you leave school; the second is when your youngest child leaves home; and the third is when you leave off work. At each of these steps your freedom increases. At school you spend most of your time doing what you are told to do by other people, then as long as you have children at home yo spend much of your time doing what they want you to do. When the youngest one decamps and there are just the two of you at home, you seem somehow to get a second youth. Finally when you leave work, that is the best of all, because every day becomes a Saturday.
- Freewheeling Through Ireland by Edward Enfield

The Auckland International Film Festival started last week. You get the program (and every year it gets bigger), trawl through it and mark all the films you want to see then attempt to narrow down the list to something your bank balance can afford and your eyes can handle. Consequently I got tickets to 3 films, 3 nights in a row!

The Film Festival is not only a great chance to see some fascinating film making but also to do some serious people watching. J and I have quite different movie tastes when it comes to this kind of thing so we've been off seeing our own films. When you're on your own it's a great chance to really have a look at people, to observe, to imagine, to construct stories...

Anyway, my first film was
The Silence Before Bach, showing at the Academy on a lazy Sunday afternoon while J was off at touch (rugby) practice. Well, once out of our apartment which was in chaos, it was lazy. The Academy Theatre is tucked away down several flights of stairs next to the library. Once you get down the bottom into the foyer you could be forgiven for thinking the place is much bigger and filled with way more people than it actually is...the illusion of mirrors. The theatre itself has these lovely big seats which go up high enough for you to rest your head on them. The guy sitting next to me was so tall he was like a giant and as he sat down it was like he was folding himself up! Maybe I was just really tired but I felt the film dragged a lot and the shots would linger on for so long before cutting to the next that you would wonder if they really were going to cut or whether it was going to be a Russian Ark kind of thing (which, admittedly, I really liked).

Monday night J went off to see Planet B-Boy while I was back at the Academy for Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, a documentary about troubled young children at the Mulberry Bush boarding school in Oxford. The children at this school had all been excluded from normal schools because of extreme behaviour and had often suffered severe emotional trauma. The school was their last chance to get back a normal life. It was extremely powerful and, I guess, brought back a lot of memories of parts of my past. Well recommended viewing.

Finally, on Tuesday night I went to see Ben X at the Civic Theatre. I love the Civic! As the lights go down in the theatre the ceiling slowly lights up with stars, then the clouds slowly start to drift across the sky and it really feels like you're in another world (always good if the show or film you're at gets boring). Although with Ben X there was no time to go looking at the ceiling. Another amazingly powerful film, it is about Ben who has a form of autism. He retreats into the fantasy world of his video game to escape the bullying and pain of the outside world.

So that's my film festival experience over for another year! But before this post ends I have something more to share...finally, a little over 6 weeks after "the accident" and 3 casts later I can finally see my arm again!

The blue cast below was the latest cast which they put on after accidentally removing the plaster one after 2 weeks. Although at the time it sucked (apparently they weren't supposed to remove my arm from the plaster for another 2 weeks at that point in case it moved the bone), the blue cast was so much lighter. I did love the colour choices the nurse gave me: blue or black. He suggested black to go with my business attire so I chose blue since my work attire (when I finally returned to work) is usually jeans, with or without holes depending on how dressy I need to be!

And here is my wrist all naked! I was very kind and gave it a good wash before taking this photo. Let's just say there was a fair amount of dead skin...

Friday, 11 July 2008

Town is the place to be today

Eventually there was nothing but silence, but it was that particular massive silence created by something moving very stealthily, as it might be, in search of something else. The smallest wizard ate the tip of his hat out of sheer terror.
- Sourcery by Terry Pratchet

I'm not a big fan of living in the heart of the city. I'd much prefer some trees, a backyard, to be near the beach. To live by a forest would be even cooler. My old flat was amongst the trees, like a big treehouse but it was very cold, damp and didn't even have a lounge let alone a decent kitchen. But sometimes you can't have what you want. We do live in a fascinating part of town though just by the eccentric K'Rd. One of the many bonuses is that there are 2 Asian supermarkets within a few minutes walk from our apartment.

Lim Chhour is my favourite. It's a fascinating grocery store to go adventuring in. Head down one of the aisles to the vegetarian section and you'll discover a wealth of fake meat products (fake gizzards anyone?!). Admittedly there isn't always an english list of ingredients on the packets so you do have to be careful. J likes the dried chilli jerky best but frankly I can't stand it. Anyway, we don't get that fake meat stuff often...more of a joke when we're feeling in the mood.

But right at the back, tucked away in the far corner fridges is a large collection of different soy and tofu products. In fact it's so kind of tucked away that we only discovered it a few weeks back and when I go down that end of the store I feel sure someone's going to tell me I've gone out of bounds and into the staff area!

Our first purchase was some Soy Easy tofu cubes (the curry flavour). For $3.90 (NZ) you get the perfect portion for 2. So what did we do with it? A good old stir fry...on wholemeal pasta because we were too lazy and hungry to wait for the rice to cook! There is a picture but it's managed to hide itself from me so you'll just have to use your imagination!

Oh look, I found it!

Another good thing about living in town is it's not too hard to find places to eat. I met my good friend from uni in town for lunch at Raw Power today where I finally got around to trying the baked kumara (I love kumara but so often I get distracted by the rest of their menu!). Baked with orange and corn, it's really delicious...like everything they make. I also had one of their fresh juices. I honestly can't remember what was in it but it was very refreshing.

Of course my sweet tooth needed indulging as well so I picked up one of their afghan biscuits to take away. Perfect for that afternoon chocolate fix.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

When food sparks interesting thoughts (or the lack of choice)

It is a known fact that nothing gets done properly in our house unless I do it.
- The Secret Diary of a Grumpy Old Woman by Judith Holder

One of my earliest vegetarian cafe experiences was at a place on Dominion Road called
The Blue Bird, one of several Sri Chinmoy cafes in New Zealand. To be perfectly frank, these places creep me out. I don't know a great deal about Sri Chinmoy and his religion but from what I have read it seems impossible to work out what's really going on. Their meditation centre is across the road from my apartment, in the charming red light district of Auckland (okay, that was just a random aside but it never seems like the most relaxing place to attempt to mediate at) and we have a HUGE banner of his face on the side of our neighboring building (sometimes I feel like he's watching me, and not in some pleasant way). If anyone does know anything more about these guys then I'd be fascinated to hear.

Anyway, I've taken to getting my order to take away these days (hence the photos below being taken in our kitchen) since the place can have a tendency to make my skin crawl especially when I'm in a foul mood and don't want to listen to the constant sound of gentle woodwind instruments while I'm eating. Yes, foul moods are not uncommon if I've ventured out that far in the traffic. One thing that keeps me going back again and again is the possibility they might have these:

These, my friends, are Kumara-Chip-Topped Tofu Spinach Pies (that is one hell of a mouthful to try and say in one go) and are the most amazing thing I have ever eaten (okay, that's a fairly bold statement and possibly not strictly true...let's just say they are ridiculously delicious). I love them so much that I even attempted to replicate them myself with fairly successful results. Next time I make them (I feel them calling me!) I'll post the recipe.

In the winter they have soups. Always different but always delicious. This is some kind of roast vegetable soup with a name I cannot pronounce and I won't even try to spell. It was good. Plus they give you a generous slice of bread which I topped with my homemade hummus and spinach pesto (it's what you have to make when you buy a huge bag of baby spinach and haven't even got through half by the time it's starting to get old).

They also have sweet treats like a damn good apple crumble (available with soy ice cream too!!) and cake...delicious vegan cake, and who in their right mind could pass on that?! Usual flavours are banana, chocolate or apple, walnut and date (the best but also the least commonly available). Below is the good old banana cake.

One Saturday, while we were biking around (clearly this was before the accident so I haven't been riding in several weeks), and spending too much money at the Parnell Farmer's Market (there are NO farms anywhere near Parnell so it's all rather amusing...but we did manage to pick up the odd bargain - 2 large bags of roasted unsalted cashews for $10, 2 big bags of homemade muesli also for $10, feijoa jam and some extremely hot homegrown, homemade potato crisps...J decided we ought to try the chili ones...I could barely get one down without gagging!) we picked up lunch to eat outside in the sun from the other Sri Chinmoy cafe in Auckland,
The Sweetness-Joy of the Unknown Beyond.

I got some tofu and brown rice loaf with mushroom sauce which I downed with a fresh, coconut milk smoothie.

The food was good but I ate too much (I still can't believe I ate the whole lot!) which meant biking afterwards was on the more painful side!
We're into winter now here so that was probably our last truly sunny weekend for a while! Auckland has a tendency rain every winter weekend (well, it also seems to rain half of summer too and if we have a Christmas without a drop of rain then it will be a miracle!).

When we were in Christchurch a few weeks back we visited another of the Sri
Chinmoy cafes (as mentioned here). Again it was a similar experience to those in Auckland but at least you will always find good food. Actually wait, the girl serving us there was a little bit different to anyone I've met at the Sri Chinmoy cafes in Auckland in that she was really chatty and full of energy and jokes (mostly at my arm's expense). Hmmm...

J brought up an interesting point the other night. He thought it was interesting that out of all the purely vegetarian cafes and restaurants we've been to half of them have been
Sri Chinmoy ones. I don't know what this means other than that, well, there aren't many vegetarian cafes and restaurants in the meat and dairy loving country that is New Zealand (despite our large immigrant population, especially in Auckland). We also found it interesting that Raw Power, another vegetarian cafe I always seem to be raving about, appears to be run by a group of Asians and yet is one of the more western style vegetarian cafes here. These are all rather random facts at this point and I don't know what they all mean but they did cause us quite some discussion!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Wave your flags for the truck parade

Reading is an act of friendly isolation. When we are reading, we make ourselves unapproachable on a tactful way. Perhaps that is exactly what has interested painters for so long in the portrayal of readers: showing people in a state of deepest intimacy not intended for outsiders.
- Reading Women by Stefan Bollmann. Foreword by Karen Joy Fowler.

Yesterday I met my darling cousin in town for lunch for a bit of a family gossip session (there is enough drama in our family for a whole soap opera at the moment!). Anyway, we decided to check out Revive, a vegetarian cafe near the bottom of town. We both ordered the hotpot (African Black Bean Stew on brown rice) with a salad. I must have seriously been in a bean kind of mood since I picked the Chilli and Ginger White Bean Salad!

It was pretty good but I really wasn't that hungry and I was definitely beaned out by the end. I probably should have got something more like D's salad, Spicy Mexican Potatoes.

Anyway, while we were eating we were discussing the big truckie protest scheduled for the next day (today). D was wondering how she was going to get to work on time since she lives across the bridge and the trucks were supposed to be clogging up all the main roads into town all morning as the descended on Queen Street (Auckland City's main street). The truck drivers are protesting against a sudden increase in road user charges in diesel vehicles. This kind of protest has been done overseas and D was telling me about photos she'd seen from Europe so we were definitely keen to check out the action.

So this morning J and I walked down into town to see what was going on...well, we walked out our front door, up about 200m to the main intersection at the top of Queen Street and were greeted by quite a sight. There were trucks everywhere, horns blazing, and police attempting to direct traffic (to get all the cars out of the way of the protest route). For a little city it was crazy!

The further down Queen Street we got, the more crazy it got. There were lines of trucks snaking up and down the street...a street where you would normally never even see trucks. People were out everywhere watching. From the general feeling of the crowd you got the idea most were in support of the protest (or just excited about seeing so many trucks all together in one place).

After dropping J off at work (well, walking to his building with him) I stayed around in town just watching and listening for a while longer whilst indulging in my latest addiction: a Pina Colada fruit chiller from Gloria Jeans (terrible I know!).

The sound of the truck horns echoed through town all morning, the different tones creating a strangely musical harmony. It was quite an experience!