Friday I’m in love… with Wellington bargains!

The lovely and fabulous Frocks on Bikes team has organised a brunch at Duke Carvell’s this Sunday. Not only am I super stoked to get frocked up and ride my bike around town with a bunch of other awesomely attired ladies and gentlemen, but I am super excited to eat some yummy food at Duke Carvell’s.  I was also excited to take advantage of their BYO Sundays to make it a boozy brunch… but alas, as of some time recently, Duke Carvell’s have cancelled not only their BYO Sundays, but also their 2 for 1 Mondays!

It’s confusing to try to keep track of all the special weekly deals on in Wellington, and despite my attempts at finding some kind of definite list, I was unable.  So, I will compile here, for my Wellingtonian readers (and myself), various food & drink deals to be had around town.


2 for 1 pizza at Mediterranean Food Warehouse (be prepared to wait a while)

2 for 1 food at Chow

2 for 1 steaks at Crazy Horse

BYO at Cuba Street Bistro (Roxy Cafe) for $6 cork fee Monday – Wednesday

**UPDATE** I saw a sign in the window of the left bank Taco Shop saying “2 for 1 Student Mondays”.  They have the best tacos in Wellington!

**UPDATE** I read in the paper that Café Istanbul on Cuba Street does 2 for 1 mains on Mondays & Tuesdays, and is BYO.

Lots of choices for deals on Monday nights now…


$10 burgers and $10 cocktails at Monterey

2 for 1 dessert at the Library Bar

$11 films at Reading Courtney Place ($10 for students)

**Update** Café Istanbul on Cuba Street does 2 for 1 mains on Mondays & Tuesdays, and is BYO.


2 for 1 pasta at Med Foods Warehouse

2 for 1 cocktails at  Chow & Library Bar


2 cocktails for $16 at Betty’s on Blair.  I recommend the “Los Dios”  Yum!  They also have Dj’s on Thursday evenings.

2 for 1 cocktails at Good Luck on Cuba




2 for 1 cocktails at Chow & Library Bar



Other deals:

2 for 1 sushi at Sushi Bi after 4:00 pm every day (2 Woodward Street)

BYO at Joe’s Garage after 5 pm on Weekdays

$10 jugs of Monteiths at the General Practitioner Monday – Friday 7 pm to 9 pm

BYO at Little India on Cuba Street all the time

BYO at Ozeki Japanese all the time

BYO at Hazel (corkage $6 per bottle)

Maybe we should just start our own BYO pub like these folks in Christchurch did?

I am sure there are other deals and BYO places I am not aware of… please feel free to contribute if you know of any!  I am not particularly endorsing any of the above named establishments… though I have been to most of them and if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t post it here.

Thank you, pilgrims.

Thanksgiving is a big deal where I come from.  Growing up we would go to my grandmother’s house  and have the traditional turkey dinner and all the trimmings.  It was usually a pretty typical American 1980’s family dinner, with lots of microwaved cuisine and store bought mixes.   My stepfather’s mom lived in Jefferson Park, on the northwest side of Chicago, and as a child I remember her having an oil dripping rain lamp I was fascinated by that looked exactly like this:

Thanksgiving is always the last Thursday in November.  The day after, known as “Black Friday” is when the official Christmas shopping season begins.  For me, Thanksgiving is about spending time with the people you love, and eating a lot.  If your family is like mine, some one may even throw an ashtray at some one else’s head on Thanksgiving.  Since my family is 15,000 kms away, I invited all my friends and colleagues over to celebrate with me.

I started cooking on Tuesday.  This involved baking 2 loaves of wholemeal bread to be used for stuffing the turkey. Also I peeled, steamed and mashed the pumpkin for the pumpkin pie.

On Wednesday I made the pumpkin pie, sliced and toasted the bread for the stuffing, and started brining the turkey.

This is actually my pumpkin pie from last year. But it looked like this again this year.

Several people have requested the recipe for this pie.  I have posted it before, but here it is again!

On Thursday I prepared the stuffing, stuffed the turkey, roasted it, made the cranberry sauce, and also whipped up some jalapeno corn bread muffins and some guacamole.

The turkey, in all its beautiful glory.

I used Alton Brown’s brining & roasting instructions, and it was perfect. Last year I followed the Joy of Cooking’s brining recipe, and found that while the bird was good, the drippings were way toi salty to be used for gravy.  On the other hand, Alton’s recipe produced an amazing bird and delicious gravy!

Jalapeno cornbread muffins

I used Emeril’s recipe to make these cornbread muffins, but left out the cheese because I didn’t have any!  I used jalapenos that I grew from seeds last summer, and had been in the freezer for a few months.  They were spicy!

Guacamole and nachos

I didn’t have any cilantro so this guacamole was just mashed up avocado, chopped tomato and spring onion, some diced Thai chillies, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and minced garlic.  A little bit of cumin adds a nice Mexican dimension.

2 variations on cranberry sauce

My cranberry sauce (on the left) is basically straight out of the Joy of Cooking.  I was multi-tasking a bit too much and couldn’t keep my eye on how long it had boiled… so I took it off the heat before it had reached the right consistency, and I ended up with very runny liquidy cranberry sauce.  Brady’s cranberry sauce, on the right, is much more jellied and apparently Rachel Ray’s recipe, and I think it had grapes in it.   Both were made with frozen Sujon cranberries.  Since I didn’t have enough containers to hold all the leftovers, I combined the two in the end and now I have over 1 litre of cranberry sauce in my freezer.

"American" haute cuisine

Of course, what Thanksgiving would be complete without some classic American junkfood?  Thanks to Caroline and Brady for bringing Poptarts and Oreos.

Also on the table was a really nice platter of fried rice courtesy of Xai & Vahn, some Malaysian rice noodles and agar agar cakes from Rashidah,  a salad from Aien, an amazing green bean casserole from Marta, pecan pie from Grant, mashed potatoes from Alice, corn on the cob from Annalise, cheese and salami from Remy, and my special gravy from the turkey drippings.

Let's eat!

The thing that makes the gravy special is that I put some white wine in it.

Overall it was a splendid Thanksgiving full of wonderful people and wonderful food, well worth all the effort.  There were quite a bit of left overs, which I have been trying to use creatively.

I used the turkey carcass to make turkey stock.  I tried to pick the bones clean, then boiled it in 5 litres of water for about 2 hours, with some bay leaves and peppercorns.  Then I strained the stock with a sieve and put some of it in the freezer.  The rest of it I used to make Turkey fennel brown rice soup.  Which is done like so:

  • Use a rice maker or separate pot to prepare 1 cup of brown rice
  • Slice up a fennel bulb and 1/2 an onion and sautee until soft in 2 tbs of olive oil
  • Dice up the zest of 1 lemon, add to pot.
  • Add 1 or 2 litres of stock (turkey or whatever you have on hand)
  • Add left over turkey (or make it vegetarian)
  • Bring to a boil, lower heat, simmer until fennel is tender but not mushy.
  • Add 1/2 cup white wine, juice of 1 lemon, salt, pepper, diced chili, and the brown rice and simmer for 1 or 2 more minutes.
  • Garnish with some fresh parsley or the ends of the fennel.

This is probably my current favourite soup, which I usually make with veggie stock and no turkey, especially when I find beautiful fresh fennel at the veggie market.

Autumnal treats

My internal clock tells me that October is the autumn, and I should be eating pumpkins, cranberries, and baked apples.  In New Zealand, it’s spring time, but I did some autumnal baking last week anyway.  Me and my office mates ate everything too quickly to get any photos, but I have transcribed some of my recipes.  Here they are for you to enjoy.


Kiwi Pumpkin Pie

Vegan muffins


This has become my “go-to” muffin recipe.  If I don’t have soymilk on hand, I use regular milk, which works fine.  To make my autumn cranberry pumpkin muffins, I followed the recipe  as written, however omitted the rolled oats and coconut, used 1 cup mashed pumpkin instead of banana, and added about 1/2 a cup frozen cranberries (you should probably cut the berries in half before adding them to the mix, though I was lazy and didn’t), and about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries.


One night in Bangkok

A cockroach watched me eat my dinner.  It was khao pat, from a stall in front of the Hua Lamphong railway station, at 10:30 pm on a Tuesday night.

I just arrived in Bangkok and several things about the city strike me as different from the last time I was here, now more than two years ago.

The city seems grubbier, on the whole.  Billboards bigger than ones I have ever seen line an ultra-modern 8-lane expressway.  Perhaps it’s only because my perceptions have changed.  The smell of sewage and human waste is something I associate with my time in sub-Saharan Africa; not Southeast Asia.  I don’t actually recall having seen a roach in the last 2 years, and while I struggled to recall if I had ever seen one in my house in Vientiane, I suddenly had a very vivid memory of finding one in my tea thermos, which I then summarily filled with several cups of bleach.

I have a very strong aversion to roaches.  Yet, unfortunately, I have had to learn not to shriek and run for cover when one comes into sight, against my natural inclinations.   But the roaches of Thailand and Laos are nothing compared to the ones covering the walls of the latrine I had to use during my in-country training in Comé, Benin.  But, I digress.

Lying here in this tiny room, I remember how awesome being in Southeast Asia is.  If only I were here simply for leisure.  My data gathering hangs over my head like an ominous cloud.

Ticker would hate everything about this place.  The heat, the humidity, the dirty plastic cup I took my fork out of to eat my rice prepared in a thoroughly unhygienic manner.   The water pressure of the shower which can only be compared to a flaccid drizzle.  The thin foam mattress, the audible footsteps outside.

But hey, I love it.  I feel right at home here, and it feels so good to be back.

Tomorrow I catch the train to Nong Khai, then a bus to Vientiane.  But first… shopping in Bangkok!  Hooray!


tofu laap (or laab, larb, larp, etc.)

Twice a year a group of government officials from Southeast Asia come to Wellington to study English for about 3 months with an NZAID/VUW scholarship.  I have gotten involved in the programme as a “conversation buddy” to several students.  I really enjoy meeting all the students, but of course, I have a special place in my heart for the ones from Laos!

The programme administrator normally organises about 4 or 5 different functions during each study term for the students and their conversation buddies.  This includes 2 potluck dinners.  The most recent potluck I attended I brought a large container of tofu laap and sticky rice.  They were both gone within minutes. The Lao people were amazed and surprised that I had made the laap.  Several of them said to me “You made this?!  I thought it was a Lao person!”.

Most of the Lao people had never had tofu laap before.  Usually laap is made with pork, chicken, or fish.  Sometimes it’s made with raw water buffalo meat.  However, some restaurants in Vientiane, mostly catering to tourists, do have tofu laap on their menus.   So, that is where my inspiration for this dish came.

You need:

  • 2 blocks of firm tofu
  • 4 tbs of oil
  • 2 tbs of fish sauce
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro/coriander
  • 2 cups fresh mint leaves
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, minced
  • 3 cms of ginger, grated
  • 1 fresh Thai chili, minced
  • 1 tbs sticky rice powder
  • the juice of 1 lemon

Cut up your tofu into very small cubes, about 1 or 2 cms in length.  Heat your 4 tbs of oil and then gently fry the tofu.  You want to cook it only lightly.  Then, set it aside to cool.

Coarsely chop up your herbs, and mix them together with your fish sauce, lemon juice, chili, sticky rice powder, and ginger.  Add the tofu and toss gently.  Taste it and adjust the seasonings, adding more lemon juice,or fish sauce if needed. Serve right away or the herbs will start to wilt.

This dish is excellent with sticky rice, and should be served at room temperature.

the sugar diaries

If you know me, you know that I have an insatiable sweet-tooth.  Cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, ice cream, and, my Achilles heel, candy, figure far too prominently in my diet.  I definitely exceed the daily recommended allowance for sugar on a regular basis.  For some reason I have convinced myself that calories from sugar are better than calories from fat, because you can exercise, which I do a lot, and burn them off.  And deep fried shit is like, really bad for you.

But, I realize now, I have been deluding myself.  Sugar is like, really bad for you.

Not only does it make you fat and rot your teeth, it suppresses your immune system, among other things!  I was a ill a number of times this past winter, and I wondered constantly why I kept getting sick – I eat lots of vegetables, I exercise regularly, I take vitamins, I drink green tea, I get a good amount of sleep, etc.  My colleague who lives on rice and onions and works about 10 time as many hours per week as I do wasn’t sick a single day!

I see now, it must be the sugar.

While I do eat healthy, generally, and I don’t drink sugary drinks or put sugar in my tea, I do a lot of baking, and eat a lot of cookies.  When I feel hungry… my snack of choice is undoubtedly something sweet.  So, after listening to this podcast about how bad sugar is for you, I got to thinking… “I should really eat less sugar.”

This was at approximately 1’00 pm this afternoon, just after I had finished my lunch.  I had pulled out a small container of “Blackberry & Cream” flavoured low-fat yogurt which I was planning to have a little later in the afternoon.  I realized that so far that day, I had already made it to 1’00 pm without having any sugar.  I determinedly put the little container of yogurt back in the refrigerator, and willed myself to give up added sugar for an entire week.

This shall be the diary of my experiences.

I then spent about 2 hours looking up recipes for baking with stevia.  I haven’t  tried any yet – since my ill-fated and inedible chocolate stevia cupcakes of last year, but I will post about my experiences here.

I already felt tempted this evening, when, feeling peckish I opened my desk drawer in my office, where my eyes fell upon a bar of Lindt chocolate.  “Just one little square won’t hurt….” I heard myself say to myself.  I picked up the package and looked at the ingredients.  Sugar was right there, at the front of the list.

I resisted the voice telling me to eat it, and shoved it to furthest recesses of my drawer.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  I just keep telling myself I can save it for next week.

But who knows?  Maybe by next week I will be cured of my addiction to sugar !??!

For the purposes of this experiment, by sugar, I mean “added sugar” – ie – any food that contains refined, or unrefined added sugars, including honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, etc.  However, natural sugars found in juice, fruits, and vegetables are permitted.  And since artificial sweeteners give you cancer, no aspartame or sucralose.  Stevia, on the other hand, is not sugar or an artificial sweetener, so it’s ok.  It also has a pretty repulsive aftertaste, but if I get desperate, I feel safer knowing I can bake some stevia cookies.

You say sweet potato, I say sweet potata

I was just sitting here, procrastinating, and eating some left over roast veggies, when I began to contemplate the meaning of life.  I also began contemplating the various roast tuber bits I was eating, and why people in different countries called things by different names, and what it all meant.

So, after some serious investigating, and lots of confusion, I have figured out what is what in the world of tubers.  I will present my results in a handy table.

Picture & Tasting Notes
N. American name New Zealand name
This is an orange fleshed sweet potato, the kind most commonly eaten in North American when one says “sweet potato”.  It’s flesh can be firm or soft, depending on the variety, and sweet.  According to Wikipedia, at some point growers decided to start marketing soft-fleshed orange sweet potatoes as “yams” to differentiate them from the firmer-fleshed kinds.  However, sometime recently it was decided that any product marketed as “yams” in North America must also have the words “sweet potato” on them somewhere.  In New Zealand, the firm orange fleshed, soft orange fleshed, or white fleshed sweet potato will simply be called a kumara.The dish commonly served on holidays known as “candied yams” is basically sweet potato mash with maple syrup or marshmallows on top!  YUM! Sweet Potato or Yam Kumara
I have never actually seen this variety of sweet potato in N. America, but this is the most common variety found here in New Zealand.  According to the Sweet Potato growers of North Carolina it is called a “murasakio” sweet potato, or kumara in New Zealand.  It’s flesh is firmer than that of an orange sweet potato, and though sweet, has a different texture.  It’s almost a bit creamier.  I think I may actually prefer this to orange sweet potatoes!  Also… makes excellent sweet potato fries. “Murasakio” sweet potato Kumara
My flatmate came home one day and said “I brought you something that all Americans love – yams!”  I looked in the bag and said “ I have no idea what these are.”  Apparently what kiwis call “yams” are actually a South American tuber called “oca”.  Ocas (or Kiwi yams) are small, more like a root vegetable than a tuber. The consistency is more like that of a carrot, but the flavour is more like a potato but a bit sweetish.  Quite nice!  Another added bonus – no peeling or chopping necessary!  Just roast them and eat them whole! Oca Yam
So, what I would actually just call a “yam”, should probably be called an “African yam”, just to avoid any confusion.  Yams are very different from sweet potatoes or what people call yams in New Zealand.  First of all – they are huge.  They can grow up to 1.5 meters long, and weigh up to 70 kgs or something.  They have white flesh.  They are not very sweet and have a very slight bitter flavour.  I have eaten deep fried yam chips, and boiled yam chunks in soup, but by far the best way to prepare yams is the traditional West African “fufu” – or pounded yams, with a groundnut soup.  It’s delicious, trust me.  I haven’t seen African yams in any shops in NZ, though I have seen them in speciality African or Caribbean shops in North America. African Yam African Yam
Taro is a purple-fleshed tuber common in Polynesia and used in some Asian dessert dishes.  I think it has kind of a knobby, waxy texture outside.  If I saw it in a shop I might think it was an African yam.  Or a Jicama.  I have never actually cooked or prepared taro, but I have had Taro ice cream which is quite lovely. Taro Taro

I hope this helps to clear up any confusion about the delicious world of tubers.  Perhaps in the future I can include things like Jicama and other mysterious root-like things sold at the Mexican grocery stores in Pilsen.

Discovering and exploring the wide-world of produce can often be an overwhelming and bewildering process, as many things have alternate or local names that make things complicated.  I’ve only recently really began to truly understand the differences between a turnip and a parsnip, and greens are a whole different story!  Kale, chard, silverbeet, morning glory, collard, sorrel… the list goes on, and some of them are the same thing!

Squash, pumpkin, rocket, argula, oh my!