there’s no business like show business

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The time has come once more for me to assume the authority (authority that I don’t really have, hence “assume” instead of, say, “gather”) of writing up the Wellington Food Show. You know how some people really get into things like the Superbowl? The Food Show is my Superbowl. And it comes but once a year. Between working full time and growing older the year sweeps by alarmingly quick, the upshot of which is that this year the Food Show approached a lot sooner than I thought it would.
The following is a selection of the foodstuffs we sampled on Sunday. (And the drinkstuffs. At one point I remember telling Tim “I like margaritas. They help me make decisions.”) There are some points you should bear in mind as you scroll purposefully through them.
1) I’m mad useless at composition on the fly. Sorry, companies (and readers).
2) While I only talk about the good stuff, it’s not the definitive list. There were 185 stands, so out of practicality not all of them will be mentioned below.
3) I may or may not be half asleep while I’m writing this. Apologies for any inaccuracies or metaphors that go nowhere.
Firstly a massive “cheers” to The Wright Sprouts who actually sent me a pass to the show, which was both unexpected and very cool. It is entirely without agenda that I reiterate my genuine love for The Wright Sprouts’ products (their sproutput, if you, um, will). A wide range of nutty, crunchy, juicy organic sprouts that you can easily polish off by the handful straight from the bag or use in actual recipes. I know sprouts don’t necessarily spring to mind when you contemplate awesomely delicious food, but friend, let them spring.

The Wright Sprouts
Contact: (the lovely) katrina@wrightsprouts.co.nz

One of the hugely exciting highlights of the day was seeing Ray McVinnie’s cooking demonstration. He’s become a lot more well-known lately as a judge on NZ Masterchef but I was there in the front row simply as a long-time fan of his writing for Cuisine magazine. His Quick Smart column has always been a favourite of mine and it was nice to see he’s every bit as excellent in person as he is in paragraph form.

Total rockstar. Seriously. He made these two stunningly excellent sounding dishes, one a chicken dish sweetened and soured with damson jam, red wine and moscatel vinegar, and the other a chorizo and prawn dish. He was engaging, thorough, sensible of advice and humorous of anecdote. He even quoted Nigella Lawson. I know. He even kind of gestured at Tim and I at one point and asked if we could smell cinnamon, I seriously couldn’t but nodded eagerly all the same, not one to let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
To the food!
Freedom Farms
Harmony
Sunset Free Range

We were so happy to see the SPCA stand back once more to raise awareness of the importance of free range eggs and meat with their mighty omelets. I made the decision a while back to only purchase free range eggs and meat, for all those obvious reasons (like feminism – gotta look out for our feathered sisters and their wellbeing) and the deliciousness of the bacon and omelets we tried at this stand only further backed up my happiness in this decision. I realise it would be even more humane and actually just much better to just not eat eggs or meat at all but…not yet. Just love them too much really, and I’m happy to support people striving to get me those eggs and that meat in the best way possible.
Contact: gregor@freedomfarms.co.nz
Contact: orders@harmony.co.nz
anita@sunsetfreerange.co.nz
Essential Cuisine

There ain’t nothing wrong with a little getting someone else to make your stock. Essential Cuisine has the goods, light years away from the murky, salty, 2-minute noodle sachet type stuff donning a mask and calling itself stock these days. They make mighty fine pesto too and all their products come in these alluringly prod-able, jewel-coloured pouches.
St Andrews Limes


These guys have been around for a year or two now, so it was more of a perfunctory visit to their stand that I made. However I shouldn’t have been so presumptuous as their “Just a Dressing” – the stuff in the ramekin on the right – was so deliciously mustardy and sharp that I wanted to devise an elaborate plan to distract the people in charge of the stall so I could quickly swipe the bottle and drink the lot.
Contact: limes@limes.co.nz
Lisa’s

Lisa’s is another company that has been around for a while, but still shaking up the hummus scene with her ridiculously delicious new range. The above was roast kumara and chickpea hummus topped with glossy pumpkin seeds. It was lusciously silky and nutty, an amazingly good combination. We spent some serious quality time with it.
Contact: info@lhf.net
The Collective Dairy

I LOVE this yoghurt.

What to say. It was wonderful stuff – cold, thick, creamy and swirled with fruit. Their halloumi was so delicious – salty, squeaky, soft but solid. Actually that makes it sound kind of awful, but trust me it was genuinely heavenly. Top ranking stuff all round.
twitter.com/collectivedairy
Contact: ilya@epicdairy.com

Sweet Smart

These guys did sugar-free sour cola bottles that tasted real. Well, as real as actual sour cola bottles could get. They have an awesomely comprehensive range of sugar-free products online and were really friendly. Considering it was day three of the Food Show and all.
Contact: erika@sweetsmart.co.nz
Lindt Chocolate

One of their reps was strangely cold-mannered, they didn’t seem to have any business cards to hand and there’s not even an NZ website to speak of. From this cavalierness I would assume Lindt clearly don’t need me to promote them on my blog. Still, I kind of liked this picture. And their chocolate is just so knee-bucklingy delicious, particularly those legendary Lindor balls which are solid on the outside and meltingly truffly on the inside. It sells itself. You can find it in most supermarkets. I ended up buying a bar of 85% dark chocolate which I look forward to eating eventually – I’ve never had chocolate quite that dark before, maybe if it gets any darker it just turns into a charcoal briquette.
Loaf Handcrafted Breads
One of the perils of going to the Food Show on the last day is that some people might run out of food. Like these jammy dodgers from Loaf, whose shelves were nude but for what you see in the photo above when we got there first thing in the morning. While I love to make my own ginger slice, their take on it was pretty darn exquisite – soft, fudgey, and dark with gingery heat. Between the quality of their product and the disarming friendliness of the guys at the stand I’m not surprised at all that they were completely fleeced and ready to go home after our first lap of the stadium.
Contact: daniel@loaf.co.nz
Orcona Chillis’n’Pepper

Just the perfect thing to awaken the tastebuds mid-afternoon. Orcona has a fabulous range of chillis and chilli-related products. We were particularly taken with their harissa and their chilli feijoa relish – strangely sweet and hot at the same time and very moreish. I haven’t got tastebuds that can really stand up to the bullying heat of chillis but if yours can then look these guys up for sure.
Orcona Chillis’n’Peppers
Contact: orcona@xtra.co.nz

Moana Park of Hawkes Bay

This was the wine used in the aforementioned Ray McVinnie cooking demonstration and I felt obliged to show them how their advertising dollars had paid off handsomely in brand recognition. While I drink wine here and there I can’t say I know an awful lot about it in the technical sense, apart from what you pick up from listening to other people and reading and so on, but I really did like their Malbec – it had a good, robust, confident flavour. I then tried something called a “sticky” which frankly isn’t the name I’d choose to classify a wine but again, what know I? It was very good but awfully sweet, the sort of thing that would be nice with stone fruit or perhaps poured over a cake of some kind. The man at the stall was very nice, which is always appreciated when bumbling your way through this sort of thing.
twitter.com/moanaparkwinery
Contact: dan@moanapark.co.nz
Lemon-Z Limoncello
Lemon-Z is first an foremost a fabulous locally made limoncello, smooth, resiny and incredibly lemony. They also make a brilliant ice cream out of such reassuringly familiar things as cream and egg yolks. I felt a bit bad as I made a massive hash of all my photos of their drink, but not toooo bad as they’re doing alright for themselves without my awful photos – their international awards are many and prestigious.
Contact: info@lemon-z.co.nz
Soprano Limoncello

The Soprano limoncello was rich and fragrant, deliciously sour and with a sprightly liqueur-y kick. They’re relatively new to the limoncello party but clearly know exactly what they are doing. I liked it a lot.
Contact: sopranolimoncello@xtra.co.nz
Rejuva
I love it when people do the dinky shot-glass lineup thing, because it looks so pretty in photos. Look at them twinkle! Rejuva’s aloe juice is so strangely delicious that you won’t even think about how scarily spiky the actual aloe vera plant is, or how strangely gluey the sap encased within its spikes. Rejuva’s range of juices include Pomegranate with Aloe and Green Tea with Aloe. The flavour is a little hard to pinpoint – a little cucumbery, a little grapey, but overall light-textured, refreshing and delicious. And really, really good for you.
Contact: aloe@rejuva.co.nz
Lighthouse Gin


There’s a really long and complicated distillation process that makes Lighthouse gin a cut apart from the rest of the gin-peddlers out there, but the one thing I can remember is that they use hand-cut orange rind to flavour their gin, instead of the rather more pith-bitter dried stuff that most other makers use. Which appealed to me, as did their robustly delicious product, full of the evidence of that hand-zested fruit and whole spices.
Contact: james@lighthousegin.co.nz
Honourable mention to the following –
Martinborough’s Coney Wines, from whom I sampled two incredibly good Reislings. Their wines are named after music references and the people at the stand were incredibly friendly. I took advantage of their deliciousness and good value and bought myself a bottle. It was pouring with rain and the endless walk out of the stadium is completely unsheltered. The paper bag that the wine was in grew soggy, broke, and the wine smashed onto the ground. Aaaaaargh. Began to hate whoever designed the walkway out of the stadium (seriously, this walkway it’s about forty kilometres long, no roof at all, in Wellington of all places). Nevertheless, I’ll still be looking out for them in shops, only if it’s not raining.
Coney Wines – contact info@coneywines.co.nz
Las Margarita Restaurante Y Cantina from Lower Hutt, who were serving icy margaritas and wonderful hot-sauce doused, cheese-filled rolls called flautas, and the girl serving margaritas complimented me on my hair.
Contact: 04) 566 2646/bookings@lasmargaritas.co.nz
Piako Gourmet Yoghurt – another incredible NZ dairy product, unfortunately by the time I got round to them I was completely over taking photos. Wonderfully thick, delicious yoghurt in such alluring flavours as coffee walnut and lemon curd. Really, really gorgeous stuff.
Contact: logan@piakoyoghurt.co.nz
Oxfam, who were collecting signatures to petition supermarkets to stock more Fairtrade products. Fair deuce, said I, and signed up happily. Then he gave us a whole block of Whittakers chocolate to say thanks. I could not have been more filled with love for the Food Show at that moment.
And that, good people, is it, more or less. Less, rather than more, as I really only captured a bare sprinkle of the goods on display, but there you go.
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Title via: the formidable, deeply talented Ethel Merman (they don’t name ’em like they used to).
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Music lately:
Notorious B.I.G feat Method Man – The What from Ready To Die You sure don’t need me to tell you why this is good but one day when I’m more awake I might just do it anyway.
Best Coast, When I’m With You. I don’t know much at all about these people but I love this song – its lethargic, foot-dragging guitars and Hole-ish vocals are very appealing.
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Next time: Cheers for reading, everyone, I realise it’s a bit of a hike. So much new food to eat now – can’t wait. Maybe by the time the next one rolls round I’ll have my own cooking demonstration or something. Am secretly tempted to look at flights to Auckland for their leg of the Food Show…

ceci n’est pas une new post

This is a bit of an interim thing. The equivalent to those four songs in the middle of a teen pop album from the late nineties. We’ve officially moved into our new stomping ground on Cuba Street and I’ve started cooking again, with a gas-top stove and an expel-air, oh untold joys abounding. But, if my free time were a pizza, right now unpacking boxes and arranging the objects that represent our lives to fit in this new space is eating nearly every slice of my time-pizza, not to mention my side order of headspace-fries with aioli.

To tide you all over – because I will start posting with soothing regularity asap to assuage the palpitations of the heart that surely start in my prolonged absense – I thought I might do a round-up of all the restaurants and cafes that I’ve reviewed since starting this blog in 2007 so that they’re in one nifty post. This idea may fall flat, especially considering my international readership, but whatever. This is my blog, I’ll openly pad it out with recycled filler material if I so wish. And if you should ever find yourself in Wellington – and why not? It’s easily the best city New Zealand has to offer the world – consider this a starting point for where to eat.

Auckland

Read about what we thought of Auckland’s Wagamama – back in the dark days before a branch opened in Wellington – and the Wendy’s burger joint: click HERE

Read about Alleluya Cafe on K’Road, home to an excellent Jewish Ginger Cake: click HERE

Wellington

Read very briefly about Satay India, which deserved more of a review than I gave it because it was delicious: click HERE

Read about the faint-makingly fantastic chocolates on Featherston Street’s Melting Perfection chocolaterie: click HERE

Read about the Black Harp Irish pub, where wonderfully hearty meals are served daily and where we have dined several times with family and friends: click HERE

Read about Kelburn’s as-seen-on-TV Red Tomatoes cafe, where the pizza is flipping brilliant even if the service is a schmeer patchy: click HERE

Read about the Maranui Surf Cafe which doesn’t even need my endorsement because it’s always packed, rain or shine, and with good reason: click HERE and also HERE (this one has pictures)

Read about Deluxe cafe, which is so cool that I felt as though it was my fault when I didn’t enjoy it that much, Roxy Cafe on Cuba Street which has the BEST hash browns, and Casablanca, a cheap and cheerful BYO: click HERE

Read about Rise Cafe on the Terrace, where a good coffee and excellent service can be found: click HERE

Read about the gorgeous La Bella Italia on The Terrace, which has utterly marvelous food and is infuriatingly not open on weekends: click HERE

And there it is, friends. A rough guide to eating hither and yon across Wellington and a competely understocked guide to eating out in Auckland. A little something to let you know I still am very much in existence.

On Shuffle whilst I type:

Horehound, the debut album by The Dead Weather, ie how much more wine can Jack White squeeze from his mind-grapes? The man is relentless! As is the seriously brilliant album. Jack White, you genius, you’ve done it again.

Next time: for one thing, an actual post with pictures and recipes. I’ve got a whole mess of baking planned for this weekend, and our espresso machine has finally entered the world so I also predict affogatos every which way to Sunday. On top of that there is something quite bewitching about living on Cuba Street. I’m noticing things I’ve never seen before. Like the Babylon Kebab shop – why didn’t they just call themselves Kebabylon? Or, for maximum flair, Babylon Kebabylon? There is a quilting supplies shop just down the road from me that I never knew existed. At Moore Wilson’s the other day (now divinely close to our house) Tim didn’t even twitch when I bought tofu and actually actively suggested that I buy Israeli couscous. This from the fellow who once thought there was no discernable difference between canola oil and extra virgin olive oil. There may have been salty language employed to let him know the difference. You know what I’m saying.

housekeeping

Kia ora readers. For those of you who don’t keep candlelit vigil on my Twitter account, you may not have absorbed the news that Tim and I are moving house. In the grand scheme of things, a little ho-hum maybe, seeing how people do this all the time. Especially young people living in flatting situations. But considering that we’ve been at our current digs since November 2006, it’s pretty significant.

There’s no one real reason we are moving out, but there have been various frustrations that we will be glad to leave behind – including the olive oil on the kitchen shelf regularly solidifying in the cold, the sight of breath in front of our faces as we talk to each other inside the house, the bathroom where long-legged spiders rule with eight iron fists each on slowly crumbling walls, or perhaps the undulating and loose-bricked stairs leading down to our flat from the road which bely the idea that a landlord should have their tenants’ wellbeing in mind.

When we first moved in in 2006 it was tantamount to being in a mansion compared to our first flat – there was carpet as opposed to billiard table covering, the toilet wasn’t in the same room as the shower, our rent was halved, and there was a hot water cupboard! Oh, and the landlord wasn’t going to try and run us down with a steamroller (we had some ‘issues’ with our first one) And we were students, living with a group of friends, life could not have been sweeter, really. The theme song from Cheers could almost be heard whenever you walked in the door. Now that Tim and I are the last ones left of that initial group and while we could easily carry on living here for a good long time – it’s not that bad – we decided that this was to be our final year here.

And then one of my colleagues who is moving overseas lives there and sent round an email asking if anyone knew anyone who knew anyone who wanted to move into her fantastic place in town. Not to be overly dramatic, but I knew this was it. Luckily my instincts, while hysterical, were accurate: the other guy living there seemed to like Tim and I. We got the room.

One of the many exciting things about this new place we’re moving to next month – perhaps the single most exciting thing (apart from the fact that it has a sauna, I know) is that it gets sunshine. Real, genuine, sunshine. Imagine you’ve spent your whole life using synthetic, cheap vanilla essence and then suddenly you inhale the scent of a real vanilla bean (possibly smearing its shiny black seeds on your face to enhance the effect). That’s what it will be like. Amazing.

Which will mean exciting things for my food photography potential. Much as I’d personally take content over photography, the wider body of blog-readers seem to demand exquisite, magazine-ready photography as well as scintillating, original prose. Not that I’m claiming I can (or do) provide either, just…I’m going to be in a better position to take nice pictures, which can only be a good thing for us all.

Just realised I used that vanilla analogy in my last post. So much for original prose. And come to think of it, I could have just said “imagine you’ve been living in a cold dark house and then you move to a nice warm sunny house.” Hmm. Anyway, I predict lots of reminiscing from Tim and I between now and when we move, possibly resembling one of those cheesy clip shows that surface occasionally on things like Friends, and Home Improvement, and Saved By The Bell, which was really one giant clip show in a way. Or, knowing Tim and I, it might be more like THIS.

What I’m listening to: They Might Be Giants and Michael John LaChiusa.

Next time: Chocolate Guinness Cake!

the show must go on

Take a deep breath. If you were at the Wellington Food Show over the weekend, you’d be needing the deep breaths anyway, because no doubt all the pesto and organic ice cream and free range bacon has rendered the passage of air from the heart to the lungs and back again a little slow and laboured. And if you weren’t there, you’ll need the extra oxygen because this is going to be one heck of a post: it’s my annual Food Show Review (well, I did one last year, and in these uncertain, Gen-Y-ruled, recession-at-your-heels times, doing something more than once is quite enough grounds to call it a tradition.)
Perhaps a little ill-advisedly, Tim and I turned up at to the Westpac Stadium – known affectionately/derisively as “the cake tin” due to its severely grey round shape – at about 10.30am and stayed there until 6pm. You could say we got our money’s worth out of the place. You could say we are lunatics. You could say many things. We wouldn’t have answered, because our mouth would have been too full of food samples.
Here’s a few of my favourite things (and my apologies to any of the following businesses, I’m no Ellen Degeneres so don’t expect a wild upturn in sales of your product as a result of my grainy photography and almost-witty comments…on the other hand I think my blog is awesome and frankly you could do worse than to be recommended by me.)
In order of how the photos were stored on my hard drive…
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I’ll be honest. I don’t have an ice cream maker, but I make ice cream all the time. I’m sure there is some kind of pact amongst ice-cream-maker-makers, to convince you that you can’t possibly create something worth eating if you haven’t churned it in an expensive piece of machinery. Bollocks, I say. They just tell you that so you buy their products. And further to this, I think the ice cream I make at home tastes better than any shop-bought ice cream I’ve ever tasted, even better than the well known, celebrated gourmet brands in New Zealand as well as the more commercial juggernaut types.
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Except… Kohu Road ice cream is the very best, non home-made ice cream I’ve ever tasted. And so it should be, at $17 a litre (luckily the samples were free and plentiful!) and I know it’s crass to mention the price when they are a small company, who use local produce and are commited to the environment but…that’s very expensive. But – how do I put this – you can taste every dollar. You can taste the golden syrup, the bergamot, the subtle differences between their milk chocolate and dark chocolate flavours. Buy this, savour it slowly, perhaps with one other lucky person, don’t for goodness sake eat it while watching TV, and you’ll realise that there is some merit in having a little of something astoundingly delicious rather than 2 litres of something cheap, full of colouring and preservatives and unnatural fats and not much else.
As well as this, the people at the Kohu Road stall were lovely, including the highly pleasant Greg Hall who was more than happy to allow me to photograph the ice cream, and the rest of the people working there who never so much as glared at me even though I returned multiple times to sample all the delectable flavours…
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Many a nip of this utterly delightful New Zealand made lemon liqueur was had on our travels round the stadium. The friendly people at the Lemon-Z stall were more than happy to refill our tiny glasses and also added a splash of cranberry which made a delicious drink of complex tanginess. But my favourite was just the limoncello on its own – this particular brand is smooth, not in the slightest bit acrid, and delightfully, utterly lemony. And also triumphant – you can see on their website how many awards this has won internationally. I long to pour it over vanilla ice cream…
I don’t like beer. Can’t stand it. I haven’t yet found the best way to explain what it is I don’t like about it – the harsh taste, the strident bubbliness, the weird after-bitterness, I don’t know.
I kind of loved this stuff though. I don’t think I could drink huge amounts of it, but that is no indication of its quality – as I said, I’m just not a beer person. If you are a beer person, however, please look them up. Not only is it made without additives or preservatives, it’s made with certified organic Artesian water and comes in such alluring flavours as Manuka honey and Feijoa, as well as classic Artesian. And the people at the Mata Beer stand were fantastically friendly. It made me wish I could drink more beer, which is honestly not a thought I often entertain…(that’s a compliment by the way)
Look at all those jams lined up, twinkling like jewels…Barker’s as a brand has long been associated with fruity things in New Zealand, but of particular interest to Tim and I at the food show were their range of no-added-sugar jams. According to the website this means they can’t legally be termed jam, to which I say: oooh, subversive! With 99% fruit content, a card-carrying diabetic like Tim can hardly go wrong. As well as being worthy these jams are also delicious, but with all that fruit in there taking up the space that sugar and artificial flavours take up in other jams, how could they not be?
I only tried this briefly, but was entranced. Normally I like to make my own marinadey-rub-saucy stuff but I realise not everyone is as militant as I. At Raymond’s stall was a range of flat mushrooms, each swimming appealingly in its own individual marinade for the tasting. I tried the Persian one and it was gorgeous – enticingly warm and spicy, which contrasted beautifully with the juicy, meaty mushrooms.
Avocado oil is special, and this Grove Avocado Oil is some of the finest avocado oil that I’ve had the pleasure of dipping a piece of bread into. It’s actually delicious stuff – rich but not cloying, mellow and flavoursome and, you can hardly tell from my hastily taken photo, the most gorgeous, luminous verdant green colour.

7. The Wright Sprouts (so organic that they don’t even have a website!)

I guess it goes without saying that I’d be into sprouts. Since I’m also a known lover of the rolled oat and the lentil. But whatever, I say, these are really, really good. And I don’t mean just “good for, you know, sprouts”, I mean good. Crunchy, wholesome, light, crisp, juicy, leafy tasting sprouts are what the Wright Sprout people do and they do it well. And they gave me an extra bag for free (now I have five bags of sprouts!) so in my mind they can do no wrong.
As I said earlier, I’m one of those cooking freaks who likes to make their own stuff, but if you are like the 99% of people who don’t have the time or the inclination to make lime curd, then I can wholeheartedly recommend the stuff that St Andrews Limes makes. The lime curd itself is wonderfully tangy and full-flavoured with a particularly beautiful texture, that so many other commercial brands get wrong. Also in their impressive lineup of products is a saffron infused lime curd – intense in flavour and deeply golden in colour – and Lime Burst, which they describe as an “eggless aioli”. It is sour and salty and seriously addictive (you’re allowed to sample the products at the food festival but I wanted to run off with the jar and drink this stuff.) All products are gluten free and made without additives or preservatives – bravo! And their website features all manner of enticing recipes.
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I ate about a kilo of each type of sausage that they had on display. I don’t think they’re organic or sustainable or anything like that but their sausages are ridiculously good and sometimes that outweighs everything. Don’t hate me.
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Also there’s something about the word “smallgoods” that makes me giggle. We were there for seven hours, okay?
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I left this till last because frankly, words fail me when it comes to even attempting to describe the deliciousness of the Canaan cheeses and yoghurts. The yoghurt surpassed any I’ve ever tried – including in Europe – thick, soft and voluptuous in texture and creamy yet tangy in flavour. I ended up buying four pots of the stuff. Don’t even get me started on their halloumi. For those of you who don’t know, halloumi is a special type of cheese that holds its shape when pan-fried. And as with the yoghurt, the Canaan brand is quite the nicest I’ve ever had, quickly fried on the spot in front of me and handed on a toothpick by the charming people at the stall. All the cheeses are Kosher, made with vegetarian rennet and without preservatives. I have nothing but praise for this company and frankly there’s little I’d rather do right now than lock myself into a room with nothing but a vat of their strawberry yoghurt and a spoon for company. Buy some, and soon!
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Honourable mention must go to the Petone House of Knives, whose lovely representatives managed to charm me into buying a potato ricer when I wasn’t even entirely sure that I needed one; the fantastic Freedom Farms bacon being given out by the good people at the SPCA; Tim was happy as a clam with his 5 containers of Kono Mussels for $10 (including Manuka Smoked ones); and the good people at Lindt who were handing out the faint-makingly wonderful white chocolate Lindor balls with gay abandon; the fragrant LemonFresh Pantry Essentials stall who handed out beautiful little cakes and whose stall I could have stood by inhaling all day; and the SeJuice Feijoa juice which was just…perfect.
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We also managed to take in a presentation by charismatic NZ fabulosity Peta Mathias, who enrobed shrimps in yoghurty marinade and potatoes in ghee while telling us tales of the cuisine of Rajasthan. She finished by singing La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf to one of the event organisers, which was bewildering but also touching…I was disappointed that my favourite Cuisine magazine writer, Ray McVinnie, was only presenting on the Friday and Saturday, but perhaps next year…I was also disappointed that we didn’t win the Electrolux fridge. I just was.
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So there you have it. This is by no means a comprehensive review – (it’s ad hoc, as I say when I’m at the office) – and there were many other fantastic companies presenting food. It wasn’t perfect – it felt as though there were slightly less exhibitors this year, although I’m not one of nature’s gaugers so I could be wrong. In spite of heaters blasting at intervals (usually near wide open doors) the venue was pretty freezing. And again, the lack of Ray McVinnie on Sunday was a little dampening. But on the whole it was one heck of a day, opening my eyes to a range of new, exciting products and of course, enabling me to partake in one of my favourite hobbies, sampling free food.
On Shuffle while I’m writing this:
For once, no Broadway, but instead a mix of Okkervil River tunes as we’re going to see them tomorrow night and I want to get in the zone.
That said, I have also listened to Birdhouse In Your Soul, by the beautiful Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene, from the soundtrack to the equally beautiful Pushing Daisies soundtrack, oh, 18 times this evening…
Next time: I make my own butter. Lovingly.

It’s Gonna Be A Happy New Year…

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I’ve been joyfully camping in the great outdoors for the past few days and will return soon, this being just a brief respite for those modern wonders – high pressure showers, the sound of a flushing loo, the internets. The camping I do is nothing too taxing though – I’ve never drunk so many gin and tonics nor eaten so much blue cheese in my life and yesterday I read one and a half books in the space of a sunny afternoon. The only footwear I brought with me are jandals and ugg boots, so there’s no fear I might have to go hiking anywhere. Yes, that sort of camping. My whanau have been going to this particular beach yearly since I was but a wee baby and in coldest, rainiest July (remember, New Zealand’s seasons are opposite to the Northern Hemisphere) I think of camping with longing. I’m certainly not going to reveal where it is that we go however, it’s already far too crowded. (Anyone who has seen the Outrageous Fortune Christmas special episode will understand – “This is our spot!”)


Christmas itself was a jolly affair, with several dishes from Nigella Christmas making their debut successfully. It is this time that I really love though, when it’s neither this-year-nor-last-year and all I have to do is lie about in the shade – being pale as I am – and re-read beloved novels. I have also been reading lots of newspapers and magazines as they appear and have noticed that they all seem to have a round up of the years events. I was planning on doing my own recap of the year, and I typed it all out, but got to November (I know, so close) and suddenly got bored and did an abrupt volte-face on my idea. However who could forget this moment:

Just before the faint-makingly good Rufus Wainwright concert in February, Tim and I met Siobhan Marshall and Antonia Prebble, who play Pascelle and Lorette West respectively on Outrageous Fortune, the best New Zealand TV show there is (and I mean that in a straight up way, not a damning-with-faint-praise way).

Another exciting moment- in April, my first ever photo accepted to Tastespotting.com, that wonderfully inspiring website that can be something of a necessary evil to food bloggers. I wish I could say that my blog would have been as successful without it but frankly I don’t think it would have. Either way, this shot of a spoonful home made creme fraiche made it on there which was a huge boost to my confidence as a blogger.

And of course, Oscar the kitty and his death-defying faceplanting skills was there to boost morale at regular intervals.

There are a million other things I could have included here (these are just the photos I have handy) but the point is, it has been a long, varied and at times arduous year. As all years are in their own way, I suppose. I’ll be back in Wellington and cooking up a storm soon enough, and this place will once again resemble a fully-functioning food blog. I tend not to go in for wild revelry at this time of year, in fact sometimes I wish I could skip New Years altogether because that whole, desperate, “we must have FUN” thing can be all too stressful, and I prefer to have fun on my own terms rather than at the dictation of the calendar. All that Scrooge-ness aside, I sincerely hope all my readers have a fantastic time wherever you end up, and that 2009 heralds a vaguely more optimistic time for us all. Anyone have any New Years resolutions they plan on actually sticking to? At this stage nothing has really occurred to me personally, but I’d be interested to hear any – especially the more obscure. Has anyone here resolved to put on weight? To speak in an affected French accent for at least a month? To dye their hair a different colour each week? To take up carpentry? Do tell, and do have a safe start to the coming year.

PS – title quoted from RENT…what else?

Seasons of Love

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Because it seems to be the done thing in blog-land these days: Merry Christmas y’all. Or happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa…or even just happy nonstop-cheesy-movies-on-TV-season. Whatever you may or may not be celebrating right now I hope everyone has a grand old time and I’ll see you again soon.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

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I’m flying down to Christchurch on business early tomorrow morning, and won’t be back till Monday afternoon. I was hoping to get a post out about the roast pork I made earlier this week (I even had a punny title ready, but I’ll not reveal all my cards at once) However, Tim and I went to see the ballet Don Quixote tonight and so real life is getting in the way of blogging, as it should. I actually took ballet lessons for about thirteen or so years – long after the point where my childbearing knees and womanly shoulders and inability to reeeally pirouette made it painfully clear that I would never have a career in it. But even when it was causing my self-esteem to plummet it was still the thing that made me happiest, and I was highly excited to be immersing myself in ballet again. Don Quixote was one of the few big ballets I’ve never seen before… and it was utterly fantastic. It has been a while since I’ve seen a Royal New Zealand Ballet production, I used to go all the time in the nineties, so there was only one name I really recognised in the company – Sir Jon Trimmer. If you’re not from New Zealand you may not know who he is, but he’s not just a ballet legend, he’s just…a legend. He has been dancing with the RNZB forever and got awarded an MBE before most of you were even born. It was such a treat to see him again, playing the titular Don with great aplomb. I didn’t know the story of the ballet and for some reason was expecting it to be really dark, but it couldn’t have been a perkier time. Stunning sets, constant hilarity, the classic happy ending with multiple fouettes…I highly recommend it.

So, how ridiculously exciting was the American election? I realise that I’m probably the squillionth blogger to comment on it now, but let it be said once more: “WOOHOO!” I couldn’t be happier that Obama won. But so confusing was their system of feeding through information (ie, “this just in: Obama takes the state!…..we predict”) that I thought actually McCain had it. During Obama’s speech I was literally standing on the couch, I couldn’t remain seated. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to actually be American at that moment. It was enthralling…amazing…wonderful. Disappointing though, was that Prop 8 passed…who are these people that vote for it – that think it’s right to suppress and take rights from people for no good reason? Baffles me beyond belief.

Today I voted for New Zealand’s upcoming election. It was my first time voting – last time I was in England and had a meltdown trying to do it over the interweb – and I must admit I got a unique thrill being there in the booth. I already knew which party I wasn’t voting for – unfortunately I suspect they’ll end up being the party in power – but I read up diligently on everyone’s policies prior to making my final decision. It was exciting to think that my voice is worth something, and that whatever happens, I’ve done my part. And I felt soooo deliciously grown up.

Above: Pistachios – the loveliest nut in The Pantry…Yesterday I recieved the sad news that one of the founding members of a tight-knit online cooking forum I am part of had died. She went by the name of Pistachio and will be dearly missed by many. I never met her – she lived in Spain – and didn’t actually “know” her as well as some but I know that her presence online – and now lack thereof – will not be forgotten soon.

Power To The People

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So, you’ve raised your kids in a small country village of verdant New Zealand farmland. There’s a school, and a church, both of which have been there for over a hundred years. There’s a hall…several animals of a bovine persuasion…a long-disused pub…and that’s about it. People who live there tend to stay there. It’s tiny, but clearly loveable. And then it conspires that Waste Petroleum Combustion Ltd – the WPC – the owners of a waste oil treatment plant – want to relocate. Across the road from your house. A mere 80 metres from the aforementioned school and the preschool behind it.

It might look something like this:

What would you do? Well, in the case of my father, he not only became president of the Kinksianly named Otaua Village Preservation Society, he went one further. He conceptualised, wrote, directed and produced (aided by the technological whizzery of my brother) a monumentally, fists-in-the-air awesome protest song and video. Now this may not be your problem. You may not care. You probably don’t live in New Zealand. You might be thinking “where are the recipes and the moderately competent food photography already?”

But do me a favour and watch the video. You won’t just be helping me – you’ll be helping the village that I grew up in, the school I was schooled at, the church I was baptised in, the cows that eat the grass next door, the ducklings that gambol in the meadows…I apologise for the rampant sentimentality and blatant attempts to tug at your heartstrings. Just to bring us back to earth, I should probably warn you that there is a break-it-down rap segment in the middle. Anyway, the video is amazing, and stars my dad (with a cameo from me on the trumpet!) and several other neighbourhood personalities like…my brother and our cat.

All attempts at a witty sardonic tone aside, your time taken to watch this video is hugely appreciated.

“Some things I cannot change but till I try I’ll never know” Elphaba, Wicked
“It’s too close to home and it’s too near the bone…I’ve seen it happen in other peoples’ lives, and now it’s happening in mine” Morrissey
“How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” Bob Dylan
“I stand for the power to change” Idina Menzel
“You built a house of cards and got shocked when you saw them fall” Jack White
“The more you ignore me, the closer I get” Morrissey (he’s quite the fertile hotbed for pithy quotes!)
“Moo with me” Maureen, Rent (as if I could let that one slide. She has a protest song too!)

Thank you! If you have a youtube account and would like to add a comment/favourite it/etc click here.

Next time: my blog will not be masquerading as an audio-visual suite.

"They’ve Closed Everything Real Down…"

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If there are any confused readers stumbling about, scratching their heads befuddledly and looking for recipes, this is my own personal catharsis post. Scroll down for normal food rambling…but if you have a heart, keep reading.

By the time you read this, Rent will have played its very final show on Broadway. I am in a strange position to comment on this, as in a way, having never been to New York, I’m mourning the loss of something I’ve never had, and now never will have. Before you make a hasty exit because I’m wallowing in mawkishness – well, maybe I am – please watch “Seasons of Love”, taken from the tenth anniversary in 2006, where the entire original Broadway cast reunited for a one-off performance. This song is the heart of Rent, and it’s incidentally the song that people who hate Rent seem to like, so everybody wins… It is also one of the most beautiful things ever written. The sound and visuals aren’t the best but the message comes through, and what a message: measure your life in love.

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I first came to know Rent through the DVD of the film adaptation. It is particularly special in that six of the eight original Broadway cast reprise their roles for it and it caught my eye because of Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs, who originated roles in another favourite musical of mine, The Wild Party. As soon as I heard those harmonies in “Seasons of Love”…and the driving sound of the drums at the start of the title song…I knew it would change my life. Sounds overwrought, I know. Even while I was watching it my mind was trying to come to grips with whether it was monstrously cheesy or utterly, heartbreakingly brilliant. Funnily enough, the pendulum swung towards the latter. And so I am forever thankful that this film exists. In spite of its debatable flaws – not enough Taye, the most haunting part of “Goodbye Love” cut, no New Year sequence and surely I can’t be the only one with an entire screenplay of “Christmas Bells” in my head – it is a gift in particular to people outside America who have had no chance to see it at the Nederlander theatre in New York. And there is no real way of explaining what it’s like to see Idina sing “Over The Moon,” in all its wide-eyed, ferocious, doofy glory for the first time.

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You don’t need me to give you a full-on history of Rent. If you’ve already decided that you hate it then you won’t want to know, if you are vaguely intrigued then you’ll hit wikipedia and if you’re anything like me you know it all already. So rather than tell you about it, I’ll let Rent speak for itself. Some of the most intriguing, clever…stick-in-your-brain, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that lyrics I’ve ever heard come from this musical. And, frankly, a few of the clunkiest (although I love that the character of Benny gets to rhyme “seductive” with “counterproductive.”) Here is but a bare smattering of phrases, snatches of sentences, reasons why Rent sticks with me like a lump in my throat.

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“How can you connect in an age where strangers, landlords, lovers, your own bloodcells betray?”

“Christmas bells are ringing, somewhere else – not here”

“No day but today”

“Will I lose my dignity?”

“Live in my house, I’ll be your shelter…be my lover, I’ll cover you”

“Follow the man, follow the man, with his pockets full of the jam”

“Once you donate you can go celebrate in Tuckahoe”

“The only way out is up…a leap of faith”

“This is Calcutta – Bohemia is dead.”

“To fruits, to no absolutes to Absolut, to choice, to the Village Voice”

“To being an us for once, instead of a them – la vie boheme”

“Hey mister, she’s my sister”

“German wine, turpentine, Gurtrude Stein, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kurosawa – Carmina Burana!”

“And Roger will attempt to write a bittersweet evocative song…that doesn’t remind us of Musetta’s Waltz.”

“Life’s too short babe, time is flying, I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine…”

“To people living with living with living with not dying from disease”

“The opposite of war isn’t peace…it’s creation.”

“Take me for what I am”

“Without you, the ground thaws, the rain falls, the grass grows…”

“Marky, sell us your soul! Just kidding!”

“That’s poetic…that’s pathetic.”

“Just came to say, goodbye love…hello disease”

“I don’t own emotion, I rent…”

“We’ll somehow get to Santa Fe, but you’d miss New York before you could unpack”

“There’s only us, there’s only this, forget regret, or life is yours to miss, no other road, no other way, no day but today.

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Jonathan Larson, the creator and writer of Rent, died of an aortic aneurysm the night before the show’s first off-Broadway preview. He would never see it win Tony awards, the Pulitzer prize, Drama Desks…he would never see his original cast flourish in their further careers, never see his show become the 7th longest running Broadway musical, never have a hand in creating the film adaptation. And he would never be able to write such lyrics as those that I reproduced above. Which makes so much of Rent all the more heart-wrenching to absorb. When AIDS-afflicted Roger sings of his desire to write “one song, before I go,” when Mimi says “you don’t want baggage without lifetime guarantees,” it becomes so much more than mere storyline. Of all the lyrics, “no day but today” I think is particularly brilliant – a consise improvement on that old cliche, “live every day like it’s your last.”

Sharp-eyed readers will know of course that this very blog takes its name from the title song from Rent. “We’re hungry and frozen, some life that we’ve chosen…” Rent is unfinished, raw, imperfect…perfect.

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I’m going to wrap up here otherwise I’ll ramble on ad infinitum. Okay, I’ve never actually been to the Nederlander to see Rent. But put yourself in my position: I’m from New Zealand. I’m never ever going to be able to see it. I’ll never get to have a photo of myself beside that famous wall. I’ll never be able to try for the cheap seat lottery. I guess I just thought it would wait for me forever… And despite not being a part of the generation of Rentheads from the mid-nineties – well how could I have been – my love for this show is so fierce that I just had to write something, and be it self-indulgent or incoherent, its my version of closure.

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I felt more empty today than anything else, especially when, sometime this afternoon I realised that the show would be winding up in New York. And then I saw this video of the final curtain call, and…the floodgates opened. I embraced my inner Mary Anne Spier and wept. The look on Tracie’s face, Gwen’s final high note, Anthony’s claps up to Jonathan, Wilson and Jesse standing together, Eden singing her heart out…I kid you not, it really made me cry. If you’re not a fan it probably won’t mean so much to you, but if you are, tread softly and carry a big hanky.

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Thank you, Jonathan Larson.

The Dark Of The Matinee

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Overheard:

Tim: That was amazing.
Me: Oh my gosh yes. I haven’t been this moved by a film since Rent.
Tim: *exasperated silence*
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Well, since everyone else in the world is talking about it I might as well too…Just a quick post to say that we (myself, Tim, Emma, Paul, Scotty and Matt) went to see The Dark Knight when it opened here in New Zealand on Tuesday night…okay it was actually 5.30 in the afternoon but it was pitch black and howling with sleety wind so none of the excitement was lost. Anyway; WOW. I hate scary movies and go out of my way to avoid them, but this wasn’t so much scary as intense and brilliant. The hype is pretty well justified, I’d say. Heath Ledger was just electrifying as The Joker but it was eerie seeing him, so recently dead, 20ft tall across the screen. And Christian Bale is quite amazing as Batman/Bruce Wayne – darkly charismatic. Maggie Gyllenhaal I could take or leave, but Micheal Caine was as fun as ever. A very, very good movie.

In other housekeeping, I’ve just discovered that I have about 470 assignments and presentations due over the next three weeks so posting might be a little light. Or, you know, daily. I am also having…erm…camera issues…and clumsiness issues…and warranty issues (you join the dots) which is very depressing and might take a while to sort out, thus impinging on my already dubious ability to take blog-worthy photos.

You can find my articles (2 so far, another one on the way) for Tearaway magazine here, if you feel like wincing at my overeager attempts to sound down-with-the-kids, or indeed trying the recipes, which are quite good I think.

And I’m done. Cakes below. Not sure whether I’ll pop back in here or not at this stage, but have a good weekend!