Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Soundshell

It’s summer time in Wellington, and one part of the city’s programme of events is the ASB Gardens Magic concert series, which is, as the name suggests, a series of concerts. In a garden. The Botanical Gardens, to be precise, which has an area known as the Soundshell, built precisely for this purpose.

The concerts stretch over 3 weeks, and we’ve been meaning to go to one for a while now…but the weather has either been inclement or there’s been something else happening on the night we wanted to go. Finally, however, we made it on Wednesday.

Many moons ago, we won the quiz at the Shepherd’s Arms in Tinakori Road. Due to the fact that I rarely go to Tinakori Road, we hadn’t in fact been back there (although Nicola visits it every Monday, to rehearse with the choir), we hadn’t used out winnings, which came in the form of a bar tab for $50. Tinakori Road is, however, extremely adjacent to the Founder's Entrance to the Botanical Gardens, where the Soundshell is. This, we decided, was the perfect opportunity to use our winnings, so we went and had dinner there of Thai beef salad and blue cod ‘n’ chips, washed down with some Speight’s beer in my case and a glass of the inevitable sauvignon blanc in Nicola’s.

We’d brought along some of our picnic equipment – blanket, glasses and glass holders, to hold our bubbly. The concert proved to be a popular one, and all the flat area in the Soundshell was occupied when we got there, so we were in the reduced-visibility section on the surrounding slopes. 

Picnickers and pizza-eaters

We could see and hear what was going on, as Jesse James and the Outlaws gave of their best. The musical style was folk, and they played a couple of waltzes as well; they invited people to come up to the front and dance in competition for one of their CDs, but I think we were too far away to take the trip to the area in front of the stage. Looking on, no-one was really waltzing that well, so had we gone down I’m sure we would have swept the board with our well-honed waltzing chops. Another opportunity missed.

Jesse James and the Outlaws 

As the evening progressed the sky darkened, and the lights under the trees added to the atmosphere. 

Spookily-lit trees

The band continued to play until about 9:30pm, then we wended our way home over the crest of the hill in the Botanical Gardens, and downhill to The Terrace.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Having lost the test series (of 2) 1-0, the Blackcaps are now taking on Pakistan in a 6 match ODI series. The first match was played at Wellington’s Cake Tin stadium, so we wandered down after lunch, as the game was scheduled to be a day-night affair under floodlights.

We were a bit late setting out, and when we got there the match had already been underway for three quarters of an hour. In that time, Pakistan had advanced to 30/3 – hardly an impressive start, and scoring at under 3 an over. The Blackcaps continued to chip away at them and Pakistan never really looked like getting going – despite the efforts of Misbah who managed a 50 off 89 balls, he eventually ran out of partners and Pakistan finished on a dismal 124 after 37.3 overs.

So, New Zealand came in to bat. Unfortunately, it was my turn to go and get the drinks and due to the huge queue at the coffee stall, I missed the first six overs. As I returned to my seat, they had advanced to 50 for no loss. For those of you doing the maths, this is more of a Twenty20 type score. Ryder had been doing the damage throwing his bat around. For the first over back in my seat (the seventh), NZ added 19 runs. Clearly, we thought, there must be something on the telly that they’re desperate not to miss!

After knocking out 50 in 29 deliveries, Ryder eventually succumbed for 55. That slowed the Blackcaps down a little, but not much. The scoring rate dropped down to single figures per over, but in the 18th over they cracked the target with no further loss of wickets. A resounding win for New Zealand, hopefully setting them up for a better result in the ODI series.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Isn’t corporate sponsorship wonderful?

There’s a company here that is the team sponsor of the Black Caps, as New Zealand’s cricket team are known (nearly all the sports teams are “the Black xxx” – notable exceptions are the All Whites and the Silver Ferns). And one of the things they do is hand out freebies to their staff. One such freebie is a voucher for 2 tickets to a test match, or a one-day international.

Today is the third day of the Second Test against Pakistan, being played at the Basin Reserve here in Wellington. And so it was that we found ourselves taking the final hour off work, and heading down to watch the final session after tea, and New Zealand taking 6 wickets to get Pakistan out for 376 (having themselves posted a total of 356). New Zealand then batted 5 overs for 9 runs and no loss.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast isn’t favourable – it looks like rain tomorrow, and showers the day after, so it will probably end in a draw. But weather forecasters have been wrong before, so we’ll keep an eye out, and fingers crossed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Once again, we were entertaining for Sunday lunch on The Terrace. This time, I’d changed the menu about a bit, and cooked:

Scallops, minted pea purée, black pudding
With mesclun salad and sautéed potato

Moroccan lamb tagine
With mint and coriander cous-cous

Pear tarte tatin
With cinnamon ice cream

Devoted followers of this blog will notice that I served the same pudding as last week. There are two reasons for this: (i) it’s easy to make; (ii) it’s yummy. Nuff said.

Once again, the main course surreptitiously used another of our cinnamon quills. Beware, folks! Dinner at our place will, in some way, require you to consume cinnamon in one form or another ;-)

Barbie Time

We were up with the lark as we had a lot to do in one day. To start with, I checked that I had received my first pay from the job…and yes, the credit was there on our bank account. We had already made a plan to celebrate this event – breakfast at Matterhorn, so off we toddled, down to Cuba Street. When we got there we found that it wasn’t open yet, so we got a weekend paper and went to a café for a coffee, whilst we waited for 10 o’clock.

Shortly after 10 we returned to Matterhorn, found them open, and ordered breakfast. Very good it was too, and I’m sure we’ll be back to check out the rest of the menu at a later date.

Next on the agenda was shopping. We have two events over this weekend – a barbecue on Saturday evening, and a lunch tomorrow, so we went down to the butcher’s, the fish shop, and the supermarket to stock up on everything we needed for these.

For the barbie, we had decided on hamburgers in wraps, rather than the more prosaic white buns. So, back home to make the burger mixture. Early in the evening we prepared ourselves with swimming gear, loaded up the picnic bags with beverages, burgers, sausages, salad and wraps, and headed down to Thorndon Pool, where the barbie was being held. The raison d’être was that two of Nicola’s Treasury colleagues were leaving to return to the UK after 2 years in Wellington…so there were a lot of Treasury folk about, some of whom I’d met before, so we were able to be sociable! The pool is heated, so there were no problems with the water, but the wind had picked up (those of you following the New Zealand test match against Pakistan probably know all about this) and it was a little chilly outside, particularly in the shade. Nicola braved the pool, but as I’d already started on the beer, and it was cooling down, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. They had an inflatable floating assault-course type thing on the pool, like they use in Wipeout! Which Nicola had a go on. Unfortunately I didn’t get my camera out in time to get a shot of her wiping out, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Two guys took over the barbecue management and started cooking everything that had been piled on the side:

Afterwards we straggled home up the hill, in the teeth of the oncoming gale, for a quiet night in. Tomorrow – further adventures in the kitchen!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lunch On The Terrace

Well, my life has got so boring now that I’m in employment, and I’m aware that I haven’t blogged for a week, so I thought I’d share with you the menu for our lunch today, when we invited one of Nicola’s work friends, who’s also been a stalwart of our quiz team successes:

Sesame-crusted seared tuna
With wasabi mash and chimichurri sauce.

With Greek salad

Pear tarte tatin
With cinnamon ice cream.

I was watching Masterchef UK the other day, and the bit where they send the contestants off to work in a professional kitchen (it was Asia De Cuba) involved one of the cooks making seared tuna, with the above accompaniments. I decided to improve on this by crusting the tuna in sesame seeds rather than just salt & pepper, and cooking it in sesame oil. I’m told (by my highly biased audience) that it worked.

Chimichurri sauce is basically a South American version of salsa verde. With added chillis. I may “improve” this again next time by using fresh green chillis rather than dried red ones.

Moussaka – well, you don’t need a receipt for this, but it does get to use up one of our surfeit of cinnamon quills.

Talking of which, I made cinnamon ice cream to accompany the tarte tatin. I looked up various recipes on the interwebs, and tried to synthesise them into something that would work for me. Whilst I can hardly claim this as original, I adapted the quantities and such, so it’s not a direct copy of anyone else’s as far as I can see; I can also tell you that it works:

450 ml cream*
150 ml half-fat, semi-skimmed, “slim”, milk – not the grey stuff
125g caster sugar
6 egg yolks**
2 cinnamon quills

Put the cream, milk and cinnamon in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then leave it to cool for 30 minutes to infuse. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until pale yellow. Strain a little bit of the cream into the egg mixture, then reheat the rest of the cream to boiling point, let it cool for a couple of minutes, and strain the rest in gradually, mixing it in all the time to stop the eggs scrambling. Pour the mix back into the saucepan and heat gently until it’s thick and coats the back of a spoon, but don’t let it boil.

Chill overnight (I do this by pouring a stiff G&T and watching the telly, but each to their own ;-))

Then churn the custard in your ice cream machine, until…er…you’ve made ice cream. Simples! ;-)

So there you are. A blog about our life in New Zealand that also includes recipes…what’s not to like?!

* NZers don’t seem to have the concept of single and double cream, but it looks like single to me.

** Everyone says “What do you do with the whites?” You can make a pav if you like, but frankly I don’t, really. I just flush them down the sink. They are the least economically useful part of the egg (apart from the shell) and I don’t mind chucking them out.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry

Well, it finally happened – some enterprising and far-sighted organisation has seen fit to make me an offer of employment, so it’s no more lollygagging and daytime-television-watching for me. I’ll be up with the lark for the long commute (10-minute walk) into the office, there to put in an honest day’s spreadsheeting. So far it’s a only a 3 month contract, but it may lead to something further.

I started on Friday, as the person I’m working with will be going on his holidays next Thursday and wanted to get me started before he left…so I’ll see him again on Wednesday (New Zealanders get two days off for New Year’s), then I’ll be released on my own recognizance to get on with stuff whilst he’s away. By the time he returns I should be well acclimatised, as it were.