Thursday, 8 October 2015

Swan eggs

I am lucky to have had a good supply of duck eggs for a couple of years now. Apparently every duck egg I bake with is one less duck my colleague and her husband have to worry about, so I'm happy to take those worries off her and bake up a storm in spring time.

These are swan eggs rounded up from black swans. Like duck eggs, each swan egg consumed is one less chance of these birds overpopulating their habitat at this time of year. They are equivalent to about four chicken eggs, although some are bigger than others. I have only ever tasted them in baking so can't comment on their flavour.

Swan eggs with a chicken egg for comparison
Dad has entrusted me with two of the precious swan eggs he was given. He didn't say it outright but I know he expects me to practise baking his sister's famous swan egg sponge cake with them. Just one swan egg topped up with a couple of chicken eggs makes a big fluffy sponge and no-one does it better than my aunty. Her sponge cake is legendary in our whānau.

Swan eggs take quite a bit of cracking open. I have memories of Mum trying to break into one by dropping it on the back doorstep. Dad seems to think the edge of a knife and a granite bench will get me into these beauties.

Now that I have the goods, I need to work up the courage to tackle the sponge cake. I'm glad I have two eggs to experiment with, just in case the first sponge doesn't work out. As usual, photos will follow if I'm successful in my mission. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Coffee cup stack

Wandering around the Eastbourne Carnival last November, I came across a stall for Studio 86 exhibiting the art work of Whanganui artist Tina Drayton. Tina's paintings are bold, colourful and funky in a style that appeals to my taste. She has painted several series with themes of kiwiana, home and beachside living, animal, café and fashion that also show her sense of humour.

Over the years, I've always had a hang up about not buying art until I had walls to put it onto. I collected a few small pieces that could be stored and transported easily, but nothing big. That would come with the walls, I promised myself.

One piece caught my eye. Coffee cup stack is an original piece (acrylic on canvas?), although there are others in the series with different colour schemes. Each coffee cup has a different pattern, is simple yet funky and abstract (just how I like it) and sums up this coffee drinker perfectly. I kept coming back to the stall to look at the painting. When I was almost certain I wanted it to be mine, I txted a friend who lives nearby and asked her to come and be an enabler for me. "Buy it," she confirmed. Who was I to argue?

The colours are far more vibrant than they appear in the photo. Also, the canvas is BIG - 1.2 m high and 30 cm wide. Now I understand all the comments at the fair along the lines of, "Do you have somewhere to put it?" and, "Are you sure it will fit in your kitchen?" Yes, it does - but thankfully we have high stud ceilings.

My original coffee cup stack painting is absolutely one of #myfavouritethings. It gives me something bright, cheerful and happy to look at every day and has received numerous positive comments from friends and visitors. I love it so much that I returned to the Studio 86 stall at the Petone Fair in February to buy another of Tina's pieces ... but that's another blog post.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Biking the Martinborough wineries

There is something incredibly romantic about the idea of cycling idly through acres of picturesque vineyards on a summer's day. The bicycle has a basket and a bell (practical and fun), it's sunny, the air is fresh and there are pretty spring flowers everywhere. Ahhh.

The reality is a little different. Getting a group of fourteen novice riders together and keeping them together between multiple venues along various stretches of road can be challenging. Still, it can be done and that's exactly what we managed to achieve last weekend in the wine village of Martinborough. Five vineyards, lots of laughter and several more additions to the wine list made for an excellent day out.

Our first stop on Saturday morning was at The Cabbage Tree Vineyard. We enjoyed meeting the vineyard owner and winemaker, David Bull, for a free wine tasting session. Cabbage Tree is a boutique vineyard set on 3 acres with 4000 vines, meaning 4000 bottles in a good harvest. All their wines are cellared before sale, which made for noticeably smooth drinking on all four samples. We also cleaned out their supplies of quince jelly and bagged walnuts. I love walnuts!
  • Semillon 2013. This is the only semillon produced in Martinborough. It has quite an up front acidity that I didn't like.
  • Chardonnay 2013. Apparently chardonnay will grow almost anywhere. This chardonnay is fermented in barrels for almost a year then bottled. Too much oak for me.
  • Pinot Noir 2009. This dusky red wine was barreled for nearly two years (sooo oaky!) but the finish was smooth because it had been cellared for five years.
  • Merlot 2010. Not often grown in Martinborough, the merlot vine flowers for just four days in November but a strong wind can blow off the pollen and destroy all the crops for that year. Gosh! It had a beautiful, rich red colour and was smoother than other merlots I've tasted, making it onto my maybe list.
Next up was Palliser Estate Wines. This was an elaborate and informative wine tasting experience hosted by manager Sara Benton and cost $5. I knew from our Wellington on a Plate dinner with Dai and Dal two weeks ago that the Palliser Estate Methode Traditionelle 2009 is becoming a firm favourite of mine and had this confirmed once again. We then sampled eight more wines across the Pencarrow and Palliser Estate labels - two each of pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Just around the corner is Muirlea Rise, a boutique vineyard specialising in reds. I'm not much of a red wine drinker so sat out this tasting but hung around for the entertainment from host Shawn Brown. He was full of good advice. For example:
"You wouldn't trust a skinny cook, so why would you trust a sober winemaker?"
Good point. We noticed that the labels on some of the wine bottles were upside down. Apparently this is because their wines should be cellared - and it can be hard to see what you're storing when you pull wine bottles out from a rack, so an upside down label suddenly becomes the right way up. Bam!

Across the road is the appropriately named Martinborough Vineyard. We tasted seven wines for $5 and I added one more wine to my yes list.
  • Te Tara Sauvignon Blanc 2014.This is a juicy, fruity style wine. Less up front than a Marlborough sauvignon blanc, it had a soft, smooth finish.
Other wines we sampled but were nos for me but some found favour among our group:
After lunch in the village square, we headed in the opposite direction towards Poppies Martinborough. Poppies is a boutique winery operated by wife and husband team Poppy and Shayne Hammond, formerly of Dry River Wines just across the road. This picturesque venue was hectically busy by mid-afternoon, with several large groups either waiting for $5 wine tastings or enjoying their famous platters.

Poppy the winemaker was our host and we sampled all six of her wines. It's important to note that Poppies wines are only available at their cellar door, so you won't find them at a wine distributor or supermarket. None of them made it onto my yes list but I enjoyed hearing about each wine's nuances from Poppy and learning more about how they were produced.
  • Rose 2015. Very light and subtle in flavour.
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2014. Quite different in style to other savs. Subtle flavour but too sweet for me.
  • Chardonnay 2014. This old-style chardonnay made from the Mendoza clone is just about to sell out. Oaked in larger 350 litre French oak barrels, it makes for a slightly more subtle oaky finish.
  • Pinot Gris 2015. This newly bottled wine was only into its second day of tasting. Very, very sweet, it was made from a Mission clone from Hawkes Bay.
  • Pinot Noir 2014. This wine had a beautiful ruby colour and is made from 33 year old vines that were there before the winery began producing for Poppies.
  • Late Harvest Riesling 2014. Not as sweet at some other sticky wines with 55 gram of residual sugar. Still far too sweet for me.
A few tips if you're thinking of biking the Martinborough wineries:
  • Start out by grabbing the latest wine map from the Martinborough Information Centre or download a copy before you head out. While most of the wineries are situated close to each other along one road, there are others just a few blocks away that are well worth visiting, too. 
  • Check out the cellar door hours. Most are open 10.30-4 on weekends but winter and weekday hours vary.
  • If you're planning to buy bottles of wine along the way, wear a backpack or make sure your bike has a basket. Some wineries do free deliveries to your accommodation later in the day but not all offer this service.
  • The cost of most tastings averages $5; some are more, some are less and a few are free. Some wineries will refund your tasting fee if you buy a bottle from their cellar door; others won't. Not all will accept credit cards or EFTPOS for tasting fees so carry some cash.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Bugsy Malone (1976)

Bugsy Malone (1976) was on tv tonight. Bugsy Malone! I couldn't say how many times my brother and I must have watched this musical movie as kids but I do know that the last time I saw it must have been at least 25 years ago. Could it possibly be as good as I remembered?

This all-child cast featured the very cute Scott Baio (who can believe he's now 54!), Jodie Foster as nightclub showgirl Tallulah, the tough talking Italian Fat Sam and the cleaner forever waiting for the tap dancing audition that never comes. These tap dancing gangster kids were the height of sophistication and cool, slinking around the back streets of 1920s Chicago at night with their pedal cars and splurge guns shooting gallons of whipped cream.

Even after all these years, I can vividly remember random lines of dialogue and musical numbers word for word. For example, here's what happened the first time Bugsy and Blousey met.
"What's your name, anyway?"
"Sounds like a loaf of bread!"
"Blousey Brown."
"Blousey Brown! Sounds like a stale loaf of bread!"
And then there's Tallulah's big nightclub act:
"My name is Tallulah, I live 'til I die.
I'll take what you give me and I don't ask why.
I've made a lot of friends in some exotic places.
I don't remember names but I remember faces."
It all came flooding back tonight as I rewatched Bugsy Malone, hoping my nostalgia for a childhood favourite wouldn't be tainted by a dated, badly acted movie. Thankfully, I sat through scene after scene with a cheesy grin on my face right until the gloriously messy, cream-pie filled finale.
"We could have been anything we wanted to be ..."
Here's the trailer - for nostalgia's sake.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Mistaken identity

Apparently our minds are good at playing tricks on us. Information overload can wreak havoc on our brains and it's been found that childhood memories are often a figment of our imagination. Scary, but true.

Our primary school class photos have started resurfacing recently on Facebook. Many of us are still in touch while others are reigniting old friendships after 30+ years. Most of the class photos were scanned by an old friend, Allie, and are tagged with captions along the lines of, "Gosh, we were so cute then!", "Whatever happened to so and so?" and "Phil, you don't look so happy. Was Murray punching you again?"

There have been lots of laughs and memories, along with several profile pic changes to our younger selves. Those who care to stalk me online will now see a shy, pig-tailed girl in a blue school uniform who bears a remarkable resemblance to my father. Another friend, Serena, cropped a class photo and used it as her profile pic. So did Allie, the instigator of all this.

Here's where it gets tricky. Serena and Allie have used the same cropped photo as their profile pics. Allie has noticed this and asked Serena why she's used her photo as her own. In the meantime, Serena has messaged me from the UK to ask, "who's this Allie person and why is she using my photo on Facebook?"

Although it was a long time since we were all in that photo, I know who is right. I just don't know how to tell Serena that she's not the little girl she thinks she is.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Dylan Moran - Off The Hook

As a big fan of Black Books, I was introduced to the comedy of Irish comedian Dylan Moran and the hilarious and intelligent Bill Bailey. Having seen Bailey peddling qualms and in Limboland, last night it was the turn of his Irish counterpart to come to town.

Moran's opening line of "It's been a long time since all the stuff" immediately set the scene and he delivered two rambling 45 minute sets. This man is a weary, middle-aged father just trying to survive everything that life and his kids throw at him. It's not easy spending eight years giving up smoking and subsequently replacing it with food, especially since everything good in this world is designed to go into your mouth. Moran's four stages of life are sharp and scarily accurate: birth, failure, old, death. Kids (or lack of them), pets, a dislike of eating animals who names have only three letters, German (and Finnish) humour and a plethora of made up words and phrases all worked their way into his routine.

At times it was hard to work out just how far Moran had planned to ramble before pulling it all in again. The white wine was swapped for red at the interval and the bar leaner was well used. A couple of half-hearted hecklers were painstakingly shut down as his general frustrations in life took centre stage.

The laughs came hard and fast and the reviews are favourable. Dylan Moran's unique brand of charm may well have got him Off the Hook last night and endeared him to a full Wellington house.