Sunday, 31 January 2016

Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! - Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and a completely colourful individual. Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character is an edited collection of anecdotes, stories and undoubtedly tall tales that was published in 1985, three years before his death. They paint him somewhere between adventurous, eccentric and downright dodgy. Even though it's been many years since I studied physics (or science in general) and I found myself caught up in trying (and failing) to follow his logic, it didn't distract from Feynman's knack for storytelling.

The way the anecdotes are collated makes me wonder when Feynman actually found the time to do the physics he was renown for. From his obsession with safe cracking, to learning how to draw then play the bongos, Feynman's stories are recorded in a way that I can imagine him reminiscing in front of an audience. It's hard to get a sense of time lines with some, although it doesn't distract from the book's overall flow. Funny, nostalgic and embellished in all the right places, some rambled while others were sharp lessons in life. All gave a glimpse of a scientist's view of the world and an insight into how they see everyday life.

I'm not sure where the imagination ends and the truth begins but Feynman's memoirs certainly make for an entertaining read.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

High tea at Hippopotamus

Having done most of the rounds of high tea in Wellington these past few years, I've been determined to save the best for last. High tea at Hippopotamus Restaurant in the Museum Hotel is one of two grand high teas that I've been looking forward to for a very long time. Today's high tea celebrating a friend's birthday was a very grand affair.

There are several high tea menus to choose from. Given that Hippopotamus is as well known for its celebrated cocktails as for its food, I had the hip high tea of savoury and sweet treats, coffee (instead of tea) and a refreshing apple daiquiri for $45. What was even more special for me was the attention paid to special dietary requirements. I'd asked for capsicum-free food and mine was specially presented deconstructed on an elegant board. Others shared the traditional three-tiered presentation.

Deconstructed high tea at Hippopotamus
We worked our way through nine impeccably presented items across three courses. There were so many flavours presents that I couldn't identify them all (or remember them afterwards), but included a ham club sandwich, arancini, egg savoury, salmon terrine, lemon meringue tart, cherry and chocolate cupcake, mandarin and coconut creme mousse and chocolate custard filled mini eclairs.

The silver service and ambiance of the Museum Hotel makes high tea at Hippopotamus Restaurant an elegant step back in time to enjoy the finer things in life for a few hours.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Mission Estate Winery

No wine or food trip to the Hawke's Bay region is complete without a visit to Mission Estate Winery in Taradale. After our wine tasting evening in October, we decided to take up Cellar Door Manager Trevor Mason's offer of a guided tour of the homestead and cellar if we visited. Trevor had already told us some of the history of the homestead and how it was constructed then moved to its current site. It was wonderful to be able to see it first hand and also look through the much more recently built cellar.

Mission Estate main entrance
The rain was just about to fall but this didn't put a dampener on our arrival at all. We meet Trevor in the tasting room and went straight downstairs to the cellar. There weren't too many cases being cellared when we visited but I really liked how the displays were set out.

Cellar display
This well is a tribute to the French missionaries who built the original homestead and established the vineyard in 1851. It also provides hydration for the wine being cellared.

Cellar well
From the other end of the cellar, you can walk out to the back courtyard of the homestead and look over the rows and rows of vines. It's no surprise that weddings are continuously held on the grounds as it's such a beautiful venue.

Mission Estate back courtyard
This is the view across the vines, moments before the rain came down. This part of the vineyard has no artificial irrigation system due to a river flowing to the right of this picture that keeps the vines permanently hydrated, even during drought-like seasons.

The former chapel has been deconsecrated and can no longer be used for weddings. It is now an elegant stand-up function room. Staff were busy setting it up for a large function when we arrived, so we moved back to the cellar door for a wine tasting.

Former chapel, now a function room
Wine tasting costs $5 and you can choose whichever wines you want to sample. You also get to take home an elegantly boxed Mission Estate-inscribed wine glass as a keepsake.

Wine highlights:
  • NV Mission Fête. There's a lot to be said for wine tasting in situ. This non vintage sparkling wine was a maybe during our earlier wine tasting but a definite yes at the Mission. We came away with a bottle of it for Christmas Day dinner, where we absolutely loved it.
  • 2014 Mission Estate Riesling. Once again, this aromatic riesling was a delight. We already had a couple of these bottles in our wine rack so didn't buy more but it's now a definite favourite.
  • 2015 Low Alcohol Pinot Gris. Who knew low alcohol wine could actually taste good? This light pinot gris is unexpectedly fruity, tangy and smooth.
  • 2015 Mission Estate Rose. A refreshing and fruity Malbec Merlot rose. This would make a great summer wine.
And then there is the award-winning Mission Estate Restaurant. Being a busy time of year (first weekend in December), the restaurant was fully booked for two of the nights we were in town. We returned for a fabulous Sunday dinner two days later, which I will eventually review on Zomato.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Wine tasting in Hastings

Hot on the heels of a day biking the Haumoana wineries, we spent some time at the Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market. The Sunday morning market in Hastings is a small scale City Market in a picturesque setting. I grabbed a coffee and we ordered bacon and egg butties from The Bacon Sandwich Co before wandering around collecting goodies and fresh produce. The black forest danish from Harald's Bread World was delicious and I bought a one litre bottle of my favourite garlic infused olive oil from The Village Press. If you're in Hawke's Bay at the weekend, the market is a good destination for foodies.

Hastings is also home to the Gimblett Gravels winegrowing district. We could have sampled some wine at the markets but did a quick GPS search for wineries close by instead and headed in their general direction.

We turned off at the first sign of a vineyard, Pask Winery, and managed to have a private $5 tasting session just as they were opening for the day - and just as a large tour bus pulled in behind us. Although we didn't like any of the wines we sampled enough to buy a bottle, our host was really helpful in telling us about the Gimblett Gravels district and gave us a wine map of the area.

Wine highlight:
  • 2015 kate radburnd berry blush rose. Kate is one of Pask Winery's winemakers and makes small batches of specialist wines. We enjoyed this fruity, slightly floral berry blush rose.

Trinity Hill's cellar door is in a striking building with great displays of their wine all along the length of the building. Wine tastings cost $5 and this amount is refunded with a wine purchase.
Trinity Hill wines and barrels
Wine highlight:
  • 2014 Hawke's Bay sauvignon blanc. This was an absolute standout sauvignon blanc for these Marlborough sav fans. Lots of passionfruit up front and a soft finish saw us buy a bottle to take home.
Ngatarawa has free wine tasting in their farm gate cellar door. A repurposed old stable is set amid gorgeous grounds. We were greeted at the car by their super cute chocolate Labrador, Ra. There were no wines from our tasting that appealed enough to purchase so we took a moment to enjoy the sunny surroundings before heading back onto the trail.
Ngatarawa farm gate cellar door

Our final wine tasting for the day was at Abbey Cellars, which also doubles as a craft brewery. This relaxed wine tasting cost $5 and was refunded when we purchased a bottle. Unfortunately we couldn't sample any beers but learned a little bit about the abbey's history and winemaking traditions.

Wine highlight:
  • 2014 Riesling. This medium-dry riesling (17 g/l of residual sugar) was every kind of wonderful and a bottle came home with us.
There is so much wine and food to explore in the Hawke's Bay region that visitors are spoilt for choice, but we figured we'd done enough for one day - considering it was still only early Sunday afternoon.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Cycling to Pencarrow Lighthouse

It's been several years since my 101 in 1001 project began and ended. One activity I never ticked off the list was #13: Walk/cycle to the Pencarrow lighthouse and have a picnic. It's something I'd done years ago (both walking and cycling) but, even though it's relatively close to home, had never repeated. When an opportunity came up this week to cycle to the lighthouse with a group of friends, I grabbed it. We packed a picnic lunch and set out from Burdan's Gate in Eastbourne.

The ride is a flat 7.5 km each way, taking roughly 25 minutes to get there on a gravel road. There are actually two lighthouses at Pencarrow. The original lighthouse up on the ridge was built in 1858 but, due to its altitude, was occasionally shrouded in fog. From memory, there is a grave of a young girl (perhaps 8 years old) near the lighthouse, creating a very rich history. The steep path up to this lighthouse can only be reached on foot and  is currently out of action.

Looking north towards both lighthouses
The second lighthouse was built on the shore in 1906 to supplement the first. Small 12v halogen lamps now provide the light, which can be seen from up to 16 nautical miles away. It has been automated since 1960. The power supply is from solar powered batteries, vastly different and more efficient to the original set up from a century ago.

We had a picnic lunch, seeking shelter behind the bottom lighthouse. It can be really windy and exposed so watch the weather forecast before setting out and allow yourself a couple of hours if you are cycling and longer if you walk. The easterly view across Wellington Harbour is quite novel if you've never seen the city from this direction.

Pencarrow Lighthouse
That's where this blog post was meant to finish - as a happy ending to what was a relaxing and long overdue summer break.

Shortly after leaving the lighthouse to head back to Eastbourne, there is a cattle or stock stop along the road. I'd dismounted and walked my bike over it on the way there but felt braver going back and decided to ride over it instead. Bad decision. I came off my bike and ended up underneath it. My sunglasses broke and left a nasty, deep gash above my left eyebrow and quite a bit of blood on and around me. My left shoulder was wrenched against the side of the bridge, and I had to pull myself back and up not knowing if anything was dislocated or broken. I had packed a travel first-aid kit and a friend did a great job of using all the bits and pieces to disinfect grazes, bind up my head wound and later create a makeshift sling for my arm ... but we were still 7 km out from the car park.

Cycling wasn't an option for me so I walked while my partner pushed my bike alongside his and my friends went for help. Help didn't arrive as vehicle access is apparently only allowed on that road with a permit (the wedding party that drove past us must have had one) or an ambulance. Having neither, I trudged along for an hour and was surprised that not one single walker, runner or cyclist stopped and asked if I was ok all the way back to the gate. By this time I had quite a bit of blood on my face and body and was nursing an ice pack from the picnic lunch against my bandaged arm. It's not like most people could have done anything for me but I found it interesting that I didn't get a second look. Hmm.

After five hours in Hutt Hospital Emergency Department, I was discharged with an immobile left arm in a strong sling resulting from a moved shoulder joint, a glued and taped up head wound (hooray for no stitches!), a tetanus shot, a prescription for pain meds and instructions for physio rehab. No using my left arm means no return to work for me this week and cancelling various plans.

So this post was written painstakingly slowly on my phone and finished with one hand on my laptop. I'm tired, sore and generally gluggy but doing ok. It could have been so much worse though and I'm thankful nothing was broken or stitched.

I just know that I would have stopped and asked if I could help if I saw someone injured approaching. Definitely. With no hesitation. No doubt about it.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Biking the Haumoana wineries

About 15 minutes out of Napier is the settlement of Haumoana, home to a group of four wineries in a beautiful coastal setting. We hired road bikes from Coastal Wine Cycles. It's not cheap at $40 per person so plan ahead, get there early and make a day of it. The cycling itself is a gentle round trip of 20-25 km, depending on how far you want to ride. We had a beautiful, sunny day with warm breezes and 29°C - weather that is almost unheard of in Wellington so we cycled all the way out to the Cape Kidnappers entrance and back through the township. The first three wineries are just a few kilometres away from picking up the bikes.

Cape Kidnappers
Our first stop was at Clearview Estate, which is technically the third winery along the road but the first to open for the day. Is it too early to taste wine at 10.30 am? We discovered that it's just the right time to get started! We'd already experienced an entertaining wine tasting with owner Tim a few months earlier. This helped put Clearview Estate Winery on our travel list. The setting at Clearview is beautiful and rustic, with a large marquee extending the restaurant.

Morning tea and wine tasting at Clearview Estate Winery
Wine tasting is free and you can choose as many as you'd like to sample. Given the time and that it was our first stop of the day (and also because we'd already sampled a wide range from Clearview previously), we decided to stick to whites and wines we hadn't tried before.

Clearview Estate wine selection
Wine highlights:
And then, partly because of the time (only 11 am) and partly because it was so darn appealing, we had scones with jam and cream for morning tea before heading back up the road to our next winery.

Coffee and scones with jam and cream
After morning tea, we back tracked to the first winery along the road, Beach House Wines. This boutique winery was established at Haumoana 20 years ago and has received numerous accolades over the years. The cellar door is in a picturesque setting with a rustic beach house feel. Wine tasting costs $5 per person and this amount is refunded if you purchase a bottle from the cellar door. Our host was owner and chief wine maker Chris Harrison.

Wine barrels

Wine highlights:
  • 2014 Riesling. Really fruity, sweet and full of flavour. It wasn't until after we'd bought (and consumed) a bottle that we realised it was actually low alcohol!
  • 2015 Rose. Lots of berry flavours: raspberries, cherries and strawberries. Good for summer drinking.
Elephant Hill is the height of luxury at Haumoana. The restaurant is a destination venue for lunch. Wine tasting costs $5 and you can choose any six wines from their sampling list. They were extremely busy with several groups at the cellar door when we arrived and just one host, who was racing between everybody and pouring wine but had no time to talk to anyone about what we were sampling. We came away none the wiser about the winery or its wines but enjoyed the view over its luxurious vineyards.

Elephant Hill wines

Much further along and 500 metres off the road is Rod McDonald Wines. It's a bit more of a trek to get to this winery but the scene once you reach the top of the gravel driveway is serene.
Rod McDonald vineyard with views to the coast

Wine tasting costs $5 and is refunded if you buy a bottle.They do things are little differently at Rod McDonald as they enjoy the luxury of several specialist labels. One Off means they can make single batches of wines depending on what they have planted, allowing room for experimentation and variety. Their other labels represent various vineyard locations.

No wines caught our fancy but we enjoyed the warm hospitality of our hosts before heading back out into the sun for the return ride.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

I was a child of the 80s and that was the era of the original Star Wars trilogy. My brother and I spent many weekends watching A New Hope (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1981), so much so that we knew most of the lines and scenes by heart. When my standard 2 class went to see Return of the Jedi (1983) as an end of year school trip, I remember my teacher spelling it 'Return of the Gedhi' on the permission form. She was clearly taking us all as a selfless Christmas act as she had no clue what it was all about.

Fast forward to around 2000 and a new Star Wars trilogy of prequels began to emerge. Promising to tell the back story of Anakin Skywalker, who became Darth Vader, The Phantom Menace (1999) proved little more than a gorging feast of visual effects and I completely lost interest in the next two.

So it was with much trepidation that I approached the latest iteration of Star Wars movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). This is the first movie in a trilogy to follow Return of the Jedi - in 3D, no less! (As a glasses-wearer, I'm 3D-averse but felt obliged to give it a go.) After the disappointment of the prequels, could it be any good? Original cast members were to return in various cameos, although it's been a long time since we've seen some of them on screen. I didn't watch the trailer online, even though I've embedded it below. I managed to avoid spoilers via social media and kept away from those who saw it on or around opening night. La la la la la! *blocks ears with fingers*

Until this week. Christmas gift movie tickets were put to use and we saw The Force Awakens in 3D - and I loved it! The movie played out as a kind of recap of the original trilogy, very much setting it up for the next two installments while paying homage to what came before it in scenery, script and cinematography. I don't know how to describe it without giving away any spoilers so won't go into the plot or details except to say:
  • The 3D enhanced the visuals instead of detracting from them, adding depth rather than pushing images out into your face. If you're unsure about whether you should watch in 2D or 3D, I'd say give 3D a go.
  • Harrison Ford is as on form as ever, providing humour and sass in his role as Han Solo - but we wouldn't expect anything less, really.
  • Despite all the talk about an aging cast, Chewbacca is the one character that hasn't aged a bit! Sure, his arms are a little scragglier now, but whose aren't after 30 years?
  • The stormtroopers are as expendable and ineffective as ever - except for one, who carries it off very well.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

High tea at Whitby's

It's a shiny new year. To celebrate the start of 2016, we used a voucher from the Wellington Wondrous Advent Calendar for high tea and bubbles at Whitby's Restaurant in the James Cook Hotel. It's been years since I last had high tea at Whitby's so this voucher was well timed for a return visit. Check out the sample menu.

Three tiers with a total of twelve different items made for a substantial lunch time feast. We were served coffee and a glass of bubbles then started on the bottom tier. There were three types of delicate club sandwiches: smoked salmon, lemon and ginger roasted chicken, and cucumber and egg. Two other savoury items rounded off the bottom tier: mushroom and spinach vol au vents, and lamb and mint croquettes.

We then decided to jump to the top tier, as the items on it seemed more like what you'd find in the middle of other high teas. Cinnamon scones with jam and cream, chocolate dipped strawberries, and Shrewsbury-style biscuits with strawberry jam in the middle. Yum! But we were already starting to feel full ... so the middle (final) tier was mostly packed up into takeaway boxes and consumed later. I enjoyed the chai crème brulee and chocolate dipped profiteroles. The green tea cheesecake and bubblegum cupcakes became a sweet encore once I got home.

High tea at Whitby's
High tea at Whitby's is a great way to relax and indulge on what turned out to be a very rainy afternoon. Wondrous Advent Calendar vouchers can be redeemed until the end of January (book ahead) but high tea is available all year round.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Brunch bagels

Happy new year! I've been meaning to bake bagels at home since my bread making class a couple of months ago and the new year seemed like a good time to get to it. Homemade bagels filled with salmon and cream cheese or Christmas ham are nothing like the hard store bought bagels I'm used to. They're also easy to make by hand at home.

This recipe is a mash up of two different bagel recipes. It was an experiment that seemed to work and makes eight bagels. Make the dough in advance and leave it in the fridge overnight to proof. This cuts down the amount of time you need to spend working on it the next morning and means you can actually have fresh bagels ready in time for a lazy brunch instead of lunch!

Brunch bagels

  • 2 t active dried yeast
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 T honey
  • 375 ml warm water
  • 500 g high grade flour
  • 2 t salt
  • cornmeal or polenta to dust
  1. Put the yeast, sugar, honey and warm water in a bowl and stir until dissolved. Leave in a warm place for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. Bubbles should appear on the surface and the mixture should be frothy.
  2. Put half the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add salt and the yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden paddle, adding the rest of the flour until the dough is stiff.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 10-12 minutes until smooth and stiff. Add more flour if the dough is too soft or sticky.
  4. Divide the dough into eight portions and roll them into smooth balls. (I weigh my portions so they cook evenly.) Cover with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
  5. Line a baking tray with baking paper and dust with polenta or cornmeal. Set aside.
  6. Roll each ball into a long rope approximately 28 cm long. Dampen the ends slightly but do not taper them. Wrap the dough rope around the base of your fingers to form a circle and seal the seam by overlapping the dough ends by about 4 cm. It should be the same thickness all around with a hole in the middle. Place on the prepared baking tray. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel and refrigerate overnight (12 hours).
  7. Remove bagels from the fridge 20 minutes before cooking and allow to reach room temperature. Preheat oven to 210°C.
  8. Bring a medium sized pot of salted water to the boil. Using a slotted spoon to pick up and turn the bagels, poach each bagel for 1 minute then turn over and poach for another 30 seconds. (I use the timer on my phone to make sure I don't overcook them.) Drain and place on two lined baking trays.
  9. Brush boiled bagels with egg wash all over and add toppings of your choice. I used sesame seeds to top these.
  10. Bake bagels for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Brunch bagels