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 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.

Friday, 3 October 2008

You want dinner?

Not all those who wander are lost.
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

Dinner with friends is always a good time but there are so many options. So you don't want to cook? You can go out for dinner...

Lone Star with a couple of J's friends. I had a highly adapted version of their vegetarian burrito...and definitely better the second time around.

But if you do feel the urge to enter the kitchen you can invite a couple of friends round for a quiet meal (and some not so quiet games)...

You can't go wrong with homemade pizzas...

...and Apple and Plum Crumble with custard

But if you want something bigger but don't feel like cooking for an army, what about a Pot Luck?

My Pot Luck dinner plate: roast vege salad, roast potatoes, tofu and vermicelli noodle curry and homemade pizza (my contribution!)

My Pot Luck dessert bowl: fresh pineapple and strawberries, Triple Threat Chocolate "Cheese" Cake (my contribution with the recipe from My Sweet Vegan), Lite Licks hokey-pokey soy ice cream and grass jelly with brown sugar.

And because I can, how about some more cheesecake?!