Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Buona Pasqua

"Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi" means "Spend Christmas with your family and Easter with whomever you wish".

Easter was celebrated with my flatmate around Mt. Egmont, however, not just in the vicinity of the mountain. Walking around it (to be precise). Not sure of actual kilometers yet, I'll have to confirm that based on our route. What a spectacular weekend walk. We held a pleasant pace even though we finished in 2 and a half days. We were out by lunch on the third day after only 3 and a half hours tramping.

'Tramping' is hiking to anyone from North America. But it was not a leisurely hike I was on, tramping is a more adequate descriptor.

It certainly required a good level of exertion, with some incredible climbs. A good puff required to get up the Fantham's peak track to access the upper level Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC).


When you are burning up those kind of calories, you have to eat. But tramping is all about what you can carry and although the caffetiera gets to go (coffee essential), most of the other ingredients for a typical meal do not.

Longer trips require lightweight freeze dried meals but for a short trip, I take semi-dried fruits, almonds and oatmeal for breakfast. Some condensed soups and energy bars to get through the day and pasta with a retort package of pre-made sauce is the tea of choice. After 7-8 hours walking, it isn't ideal but replenishes lost energy.

Strange that thinking. Eating solely for nourishment as opposed to enjoyment. Don't get me wrong, after that kind of day, it tastes mighty fine but is considerably different from what I would say that I enjoy. For overall dining pleasure though, the view definitely counts for something.

All in all, a wonderful weekend. And I really enjoyed the chocolate courtesy of Bernadette's mum after lunch on Sunday. Chocolate is the quintessential Kiwi treat and tramping snack so, after having made my lenten sacrifice of chocolate, it was a welcome dessert indeed.

Hope everyone's Easter holiday was wonderful.

Now, where's the Nutella?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Focus on the positive (and the cactus pears)

This is my darling better half standing in front of a cactus pear (Indian fig or "figadindi" to the Calabrese) plant in Hawkes Bay.

Fichi d'india are glorious fruit. Hiding inside a rough, very uninviting prickly exterior is a juicy and (usually) deep magenta coloured flesh. The flesh can vary from pale to golden yellow.

In Mexican cuisine, the paddles are also eaten. Marinated in salads, in soups and fried, the paddles (or nopalitos) are almost similar to tinned green beans if you are looking for a substitute. They can also be purchased tinned in Mexican markets. But the Italians celebrate the fruit. They are the jewel of the cactus plant.

He was surprised that no one was eating the fruit. And even more surprised was the woman (whose front section he is nearly in) when we asked if we could have a few. Explaining that these spiny cactus buds are cherished at Southern Italian tables over the holidays was a hard sell. Maybe in another year the imported ones will arrive, cost $5 each in a trendy grocery shop and people will look at the rotting fruit in the front section differently.

The list. Figs grow well here. Another sight that brought cries of protest were figs falling from a tree near a winery in Hawkes Bay. We talked to the proprietor who, having never picked the fruit since obtaining the property, has been entertaining the idea of chopping the tree down *gasp*. After tasting the wines we strolled back to the car where several figs had met their final moments with a swift slice of a woodhandled Opinel pocket knife. They were succulent and sweet.

And all the while complaining about the price of prosciutto.. (And justifiably, even locally produced specialities sell for about $95/kilo) we were also cooking up a storm with local ingredients and savouring it all. Pasta and mussels, seafood risotto, grilled salmon, lamb chops, and we even had the traditional salsa di capretto (kid) for Easter dinner. We enjoyed feijoas for the very first time, by the spoon and in a beautiful apple and feijoa crumble. I also managed to surpass my cheese quota with record breaking swiftness.

All without mentioning the scenery! Every night was a dining room with a view. We ate spectacular food in spectacular places.

And we drank well. Wine aside (never thought I'd ever say that!) for a moment there are some other gems in the spirit world lurking around New Zealand. Feijoa vodka is making quite a splash in the cocktail circuits in the big cities. The addition of passionfruit vodka to some classic Italian style cocktails (Passionate Negroni anyone?) lends a very NZ feel to the drink. And tasty too.

The wines we managed to drink in a mere 16 days is enough for another post.

But sadly, my newly converted NZ wine aficionado, is back in Canada. I am writing this on the one year anniversary of his inaugural NZ trip.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Into April

April already and I have not posted anything for over a month. Barbara from winosandfoodies has already given me a scolding for my absence. However, I don't imagine it was a stern scold after seeing her delightful picture in this month's edition of Taste magazine.

Thesis writing is full on work and I hope to complete this life chapter and get back in the swing of things, updating blog and visiting others' sites regularly. I only get a few minutes for the odd blog related project which is just never enough time to finish!

So I am definitely not starving. There has been baking with ginger, more feta, blue and ewe's milk cheese tastings (from Te Mata cheese and Talbot Forest) and a few new wines on the list. There was a Parmigiano-Reggiano fiesta and fruit salad galore with seasonal NZ offerings, feijoas, passionfruit and deep purple peaches.

Even in one month, there is so much that I don't know if promising to finish writing each piece is feasable. But there will definitely be an update.

Autumn is a great time to be cooking in New Zealand with the wonderful weather we have been having.. but never fear, comfort food days will be here soon enough.

Have a wonderful autumn everyone.