love

I am thinking about love.
 
Why, you might ask? Well let me tell you.
I have just been reading the results of leading online wine retailer Vinomofo’s inaugural Great Wine Census. Australian consumers’ purchasing, cellaring, drinking  and faking it habits, revealed.
Apparently what we all imagined to be true, is. Australia is, indeed, a nation of wine-lovers. 26% of the 6000 surveyed, cited it as one of their greatest obsessions.
But, and here’s the bit that got me thinking…despite their love of wine, 64% of Australians feel intimidated by restaurant wine lists and 47% feel nervous making a choice in a wine store. That’s a lot of anxiety. 31% confessed to having faked wine knowledge to impress someone and 6% refilled an expensive bottle of wine with a cheaper one. 
Just read the last part of that sentence again. I’ll do it for you: 6% refilled an expensive bottle of wine with a cheaper one. That’s 360 people passing off cheap wine as expensive. 
Wow.
But back to the love aspect. It made me sad to think that something that engenders love can also produce such anxiety and feelings of not being good enough. 
And yet this is so often the case. The things and people we aspire to, look up to, feel impressed by and love, can sometimes be the things which make us the most nervous. We want to be valued and loved and we feel afraid that we don’t know the right way to make that happen and that simply being ourselves just might not be good enough. 

It should be ok to say that we don’t know. To say what we like and don’t like and to ask for some help.

And with the right person, or wine shop or sommelier, it is.


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sweet as

Pierre Roelofs is a chef.
Originally from New Zealand, although his name and accent do not give that away, Pierre’s name has become synonymous with deconstructed dessert fantasies.
In a career which has seen him work through a three year apprenticeship in the Swiss Alps, work in Michelin starred restaurants in England and Spain and pretty much everything in between, it seems incongruous to find an international class chef producing sophisticated innovation in the humble context of a little 25 seater cafe off Fitzroy street every Thursday night.
Friendly and open, Pierre eschews the molecular gastronomy label, but having spent time at the Fat Duck in England with Heston Blumenthal, there’s more than a nod to some of the science-meets-magic flair that Blumenthal has become known for. 
But this is no circus. Elegant and ethereal are the words which come to mind as the dessert tube and then three ‘courses’ are presented to me.
I do not have a sweet tooth. I see the Life is short, just eat dessert t-shirts, I watch the American tv depression cure of huge tubs of ice cream, I read that Graham Kerr, whoever he is, said, “I prefer to regard a dessert as I would imagine the perfect woman: subtle, a little bittersweet, not blowsy and extrovert. Delicately made up, not highly rouged. Holding back, not exposing everything and, of course, with a flavour that lasts.” I get it. People love dessert.
I don’t.
So. A dessert dégustation. It felt as though I was entering a marathon. I really did have a feeling of dread at the sugary path that lay ahead of me. Clearly Pierre Roelof is a genius. Obviously what he does with sugar and various other specially chosen ingredients is high gastronomic art. But I knew it would be too much for me.
So. Last night I went to Cafe Rosamond at 191 Smith Street, but really on Charles Street, just off Smith Street. As I entered the small, woody restaurant, sugary, vanilla-scented warmth enveloped me. It was cosy, given the icy climes outside.
The wait staff were also warm. I felt welcomed and looked after.
First up, the signature dessert tube. This month the glass tube was filled with a deconstructed oreo cookie. The idea is that you loosen the tube in warm water for 3 seconds then suck. Suck until your mouth is filled with vanilla gel, chocolate cookie and chocolate mousse. Rich, chocolaty and also light. One inhalation and it’s gone.

 
Next, is a lemon gel, crème and crumble with carrot and coconut gel, carrot squares, roasted peanuts and peanut cake. Salty, sweet, tart and smooth. All at once. A tiny sculptured piece with dollops of gel and squares of substance.
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I am not sure this was the case last night. The second offering was substantial and contained a lot which I would have called traditional. Incredible flavours and textures, but there was a lot there. I enjoyed the contrast of the salty toasted oats against the vanilla foam and vanilla ice cream with marmalade jelly and spice orange and brown sugar crumble but it did overwhelm me.

To finish, a tiny architectural feat on a large white plate. Salted chocolate parfait, chocolate sponge crumbs, chocolate and ginger crème, ginger meringue, candied ginger, freeze dried raspberries and raspberry wafer. So much in such a small space. The raspberry wafer offered a flavour explosion of tart crispness, the ginger meringue melted immediately on the tongue. Velvety chocolate mousse was offset by spicy ginger pieces and the chocolate sponge earthed the whole dish. 

Having achieved a sugar coma, I floated back down Smith Street and somehow got home.
Pierre Roelof is a very clever chef. And I am still full of sugar.

Orleans

When you are 12, 358 kilometres from the birthplace of the food you are eating, it pays to go with an expert. And I am lucky that I could.

Orleans bar and restaurant in Auckland’s Britomart offers an ambient soupcon of Louisiana style. As much as it can, from so far away.

First up, a jug of big, easy punch. I wouldn’t have chosen this from looking at the menu, but as I say, when you go with one who knows, whole worlds are opened. This icy jug of Damson vodka mixed with blackberries, lemon juice, mint and Root Beer transported me from the chilly Auckland evening to a much headier time and place in the southern states.

Now Root Beer is a fairly specific taste. And a fairly specific primary ingredient, that being the root of the sassafras tree. My first thought was wintergreen, and I have just discovered that I wasn’t wrong in that sensory conclusion. Most commercial root beers have replaced sassafras extract with methyl salicylate, the chemical compound found in wintergreen. Interesting.

And refreshing alongside the slight tartness of the lemon juice, the warmth of the vodka, the freshness of the mint and the burgeoning serving of blackberries resting on top. I liked it.

Next came the decision about food. Orleans offers various options. Small bowls; their obvious counterpart, big bowls; po boys and side bowls.

We went for a small bowl and two big bowls and that was plenty, both in terms of flavour and satiety.

I wanted the Nola BBQ shrimp for two reasons. One, BBQ shrimp just sounds cajun/creole to me. Two, I’m reading a book which features a girl called Nola. Ah, the subtle power of the written word. Nice touch with the presentation, a basket with a fictional June 19th newspaper page and the beady eyes of the prawns just asking for fingers to get dirty with the peeling and extracting of slightly spicy and very buttery flesh. Food interaction is good interaction. Textures and tastes a symbiotic entwining.

(Now I realise that I headed down a fairly verbose line there. Basically, I like having to work for the food and the shrimp was delicious.)

Next was the Big Easy Gumbo, which made two Big Easy choices in our evening. I am guessing that you may well be more enlightened than I, but I have only just learned that The Big Easy is a nickname for New Orleans, and possibly a reference by musicians in the 1900s to the relative ease of finding work there, as well as describing the slower, more carefree nature of the city when compared to larger cities like New York. Perhaps if I had been more assiduous in my cinematic education and had watched the 1986 crime thriller, The Big Easy, I would have discovered this fact much earlier. Learning. Every day.

Back to the Gumbo. Chicken, Andouille, clams, shrimp, soft shell crab. Traditionally gumbo has a strong flavoured stock, meat or shellfish and vegetables. Sometimes rice is added, as in this case. Gumbo is a hearty, fragrant stew originally made from leftover meat or shellfish, some stock and some rice. AN economical and filling meal. The Big Easy Gumbo was a little more fancy pants than that. Tasty and certainly comprising the elements and feel of a gumbo. But having had gumbo cooked by the aforementioned expert, I can’t say that Orleans provided the best example I have had.

And lastly the sticky pork ribs with BBQ sauce. And I don’t have a photo of these as once they were placed on the table, the tactile eater in me couldn’t wait to get my hands on and my mouth around the smoky, succulent meat. Just picture ribs. On a board. Being very tasty.

No room for an aptly named Sweet Bowl, but if we had wanted a sweet finish, there is a variety of cheesecake, cookie sandwich, butterscotch pot, maple bread pudding or sweet pie offerings.

And just to leave you with a thought from the creole world, there is a proverb rom that part of the world that goes something along the lines of bon temps fait crapaud manqué bounda, which, if you haven’t been learning creole on your Duolingo iPhone app means: ‘idleness leaves the frog without buttocks’. Which has nothing to do with anything, but it’s making you think, isn’t it?

a ruffian wind is bliss

Wind is the core element to sailing. And there is a lot more to the wind than potentially ruining a carefully coiffed hairdo. It occurs to me that sailing has many parallels to life, so the fact that the difference between true and apparent wind is of vital importance when sailing should have been obvious from the outset. True wind is the wind you feel when you are standing on the dock. It’s the wind that blows across the land or water and the one we hear about in weather forecasts, for example, 10 knots. Apparent wind is the wind that is generated by our movement in combination with the true wind. The only time there is no apparent wind is when we are at rest and allowing the effects of the true wind to play around us. As soon as we move, the wind we feel is apparent.
I am fairly sure I don’t need to spell out what this made me think of. But you know I’m going to. In our quiet, still moments, we are our true selves. If you are into meditation, I guess allowing the stillness of our true selves to just be could be the idea behind meditation. As soon as we start moving, whether it’s amongst the people, or alone, we are filled with the distractions and influences we pass and even by the sensation of our own propulsion. And we need both winds. For different reasons.
Apparently every sailor has a different ideal for wind range. 7 to 15 knots seems to be a general favourite. Whatever the speed of the wind, you need wind in your sails to move forward. And a ruffian wind, or strong and playful wind, if respected and harnessed and coming from the side rather than rushing up behind you or pushing against you, well, that’s the key.
A ruffian wind is bliss.
And the bottom of a boat needs to be cleaned once a season so the passage is smooth.
A boat can lose 20-30 % efficiency if its keel is not cleaned regularly. Barnacles may be small, but a collection of them on the underside of a boat will slow you down. Barnacles need the current to bring them food because of their lack of fins and flippers to get them round. They use their ‘heads’ to attach to a firm surface, like a rock, sea wall, dock or boat, then build plates around their body for protection. They are stubborn in their need for nutrients. And tenacious. You can’t blame them for that. But you can’t let them stay. Particularly if you want to get out on the ocean and go places.
Ridding ourselves of those small, insidious things that we become attached to should be a seasonal endeavour. You may need to pry them loose with a plastic putty knife or scrub them away with a stainless steel scrubber. You may even need to apply a fresh coat of paint. These measures take time, but if you can move forward with a ruffian wind in your hair and a clear view of the horizon, that’s what it’s all about.
Our passions are the winds that propel our vessel. Our reason is the pilot that steers her. Without winds the vessel would not move and without a pilot she would be lost.
  

Vellington


Wellington. Our nation’s Capital. Some say the Melbourne of New Zealand, although I’m not sure why we have to categorise cities as particular genres. I understand the comparison. Terrible weather, ergo rich and quirky cultural life. But Wellington is really very different to any other city.

Its geography alone, perched precariously on the very bottom edge of the map of the North Island, provides much of its character. Colonial wooden houses stacked up on one another all sliding down to a central core of business, diplomatic hub, political machinations, excellent food, world class coffee and the sea.

A good friend of mine maintains that ‘you can’t beat Wellington on a good day’. That may well be because Wellington doesn’t have a lot of good days. Or maybe that’s unfair. The weather is certainly variable and can certainly be nasty; it is not haphazard that Wellington bears the nickname, Windy Wellington. But on a good day, wow. When the sky is an impossible blue and a sharp contrast to the brilliant white of the cumulous which edge the horizon and you are walking along the waterfront or even sitting with a glass wine and just taking it all in, in that moment, you really can’t beat it.

I love Wellington. I love the idea of the people coming down from the hills to go to work and drink coffee and activate the small valley. I love that Wellington has some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. I love the fact that, for a nation’s capital, Wellington doesn’t take itself seriously. It is willing to embrace a more alternative perspective to life; Middle Earth references, surely one of the stranger parliamentary buildings in the world; a museum that is far from dusty and staid and now, a reputation as the home of vampires, Viago, Vladislav and Deacon.

Taika Waititi is a clever director. The promotion of his film, What We Do in the Shadows, through social media, a beer label and through changing the W on the Hollywood style Wellington sign to a blood-red V, if nothing else, ensured that the horror comedy mockumentary was received in the style it deserves.

Seen through the eyes of the documentary film crew who follow them, we roam the Wellington streets at night as the trio try to get into nightclubs, meet girls, and find sustenance. Receiving rave reviews from moviegoers and film festival audiences, Waititi’s film has had mixed reviews from critics.

For me, it was comic genius. Deadpan, awkward New Zealand humour at its best. Watching it at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington with an equally appreciative and very lovely  moviegoer was the ultimate treat.

 

 

Imperial Lane

European pastries, a creative breakfast and then light meal menu projected onto a concrete back wall, gourmet hot dogs, and a carefully chosen wine list.

Imperial Lane oozes industrial charm and European sophistication. I hesitate to use the word European because why do Europeans have the monopoly on sophistication? The Imperial Building on Fort Lane in Auckland has a style all its own and is one of the many reasons New Zealand is starting to make quite a name for itself on a global foodie scale.
Ostensibly a dimly lit laneway with brick walls and exposed pipes, Imperial Lane is housed in the historic Imperial Building, a former picture theatre, in Auckland’s vibrant viaduct precinct, along with bar and eatery, Everybody’s and nightclub, Roxy.
The team behind Imperial Lane have left nothing to chance. Coffee by New Zealand’s iconic Wellington roasters, L’Affare. Melt in your mouth almond croissants, fruit tarts and apple strudels are supplied by Michelin-star Danish baker Kristina Jensen, of Elske. Meat for the hot dogs comes from boutique butchery, Neat Meat. You can decide whether you are feeling more Spanish, Moroccan or Danish as you select your El Matador, Marrakesh, or Polser sausage with all the trimmings, nestled in a brioche bun. Now I understand you may well question ‘nestled’, but believe me, a baseball hot dog may well not carry off any kind of nestling, but these babies…they are nestling with the best of them.
Small wonder that Imperial Lane is so impressive. The inspiration and savvy business genius behind it, Pack and Co, have already proved they are a force to be reckoned with. Having taken over the reins of 51 year old Wellington Institution, Matterhorn; brought champagne, cocktails and excellent food to Queens Wharf, Wellington, at Fox Glove; delivered town to the beach at Takapuna’s The Commons, not to mention the other various gourmet pies they have their fingers in, the Imperial takeover was always going to work. And it does.

7 Fort Lane or 44 Queen Street, Auckland