Thursday 28 February 2013

Watermelon juice, a job's end and a child's view

Today was the last day of my contract at work.  It heralds big change in my life.  Then I think about all the change in my job over 9 years.  It is time for reflection.  I thought I would share with you my breakfast, my thoughts and Sylvia's view of the world.

Breakfast first.  Always have breakfast first.   Of late, I have been in the habit of drinking a smoothie with soy milk, oats, chia seeds, banana and berries in the morning.  Today I was sampling a peach slice, so I kept my smoothie simpler.  A large chunk of watermelon, half a banana, a handful of strawberries and a peach whizzed up with my hand held blender.  Hmmm, I don't really need to write that up as a recipe.  It was delicious and just slightly creamy.  (Oh, I just remembered that the second glassful is in the fridge.)

Yes I made peach slice.  It is actually this plum slice but using peaches instead of plums.  The peaches had to be used.  One of my colleagues brought along a tub of yoghurt.  The slice was delicious with the yoghurt spooned over it and a tim tam on the side.  Enjoyed following a delicious beetroot, bean, walnut and feta salad served with dips and bikkies and dolmades.

So you see I have some generous colleagues whom I will miss.  And there are many more wonderful people I have worked alongside in the past.  And a few oddballs.  Thinking back about all I have seen in this job makes me feel old.  Yet I spent years bouncing around from job to job as I travelled.  I worked in a recruitment company for a while and noticed on cvs that people who stayed in a job for a long time often had opportunities.  I found that to be true.

I started my job on a 3 year contract without any guarantee of it continuing beyond that.  I accepted the job without even understanding the organisation for which I was employed (it being nested within too many centres and departments).  I had opportunities to develop skills, gain a deeper understanding of my country, work closely with brilliant minds and be involved in innovative ways of working.  It was a job of constant change and complexity.  Here are some numbers:

9 years (including 1 year maternity leave), with 3 contract renewals
8 titles I used to name my workplace over this time (depending on whom I was talking to)
7 conferences
5 cities where we held our symposiums
4 CEOs plus 3 acting CEOs
4 office moves and 1 change of building
4 different websites I worked on
3 supervisors
3 computers
2 employing organisation
2 child care centres
1 job title and yet many roles
1 peer reviewed paper I co-authored
1 induction I organised where one attendee failed to show because she had a car accident on the way to the airport.

I'd like to also count the meetings, the documents created, the colleagues, the morning teas, the interstate flights, the working groups, the drinks after work and more.  My memory isn't as sharp as it used to be.  So many memories.  So many stories.  Much has to be left unspoken. 

One big change at work was going from full time to part time after having Sylvia.  It makes finding more work harder but it also gives me more reason to spend time at home.  Her view of the world helps me see it with new eyes.  Here are a few comments from her lately that made me smile:
  • When our electricity went off a week or two ago, she asked if it was because the paint bottles weren't lined up together on our bench.
  • We were discussing kinds of boats today and she said to me, "and there are boats for mice".
  • She asked me about why we have fingernails.  I said maybe for protection and digging and then I asked her why she thought we have fingernails.  "To put nail polish on", she suggested.

So I head into a time of change, of uncertainty, of trying new things.  A little scary.  A little exciting.  Honestly, I am ready to leave this job.  I am also tired.  I am looking forward to a wee break.  But not for long.  Some work beckons on the horizon.

Monday 25 February 2013

Animal cupcakes: chicks, pigs, frogs and mice

Last week found me making two batches of cupcakes for Sylvia's birthday.  One was decorated with sprinkles and the other batch became farm animals inspired by Hold the Beef and Pinterest.  I baked and decorated the cupcakes after work.  It was a challenge that saw me cycling to the supermarket in the dark for icing sugar, allowing Sylvia stay up late to help with some and finishing around midnight.  They made the kids happy.  That makes it worthwhile.

I made about 18 cupcakes (using cupcake papers that are slightly smaller than muffin papers) using the Butterless Butter Cake recipe that I had used for her birthday last year.  Then I found I didn't have enough icing sugar.  Hence my emergency dash to the shops.  When I returned Sylvia wasn't asleep.  She was up and waiting to help out.  I know I should have sent her to bed but she was so sweet helping me.  She knew she had to be on her best behaviour.

The animals that Conor made in Hold the Beef were a chicken, mouse, pig, and monkey.  Sylvia decided we had to have frogs.  I think it might have had something to do with her best friend having frog cupcakes last year.  I was pleased to have some green cupcakes, even if I couldn't find a template to do exactly as I wanted.  A little improvisation was all the was needed.  (But I urge you to check out Conor's drawings she made to plan her cupcakes.)

As you can see, we had far more lollies that we needed - m&ms galore, jelly beans and marshmallows.  (A note on the marshmallows.  The ones we used had gelatine and weren't vegetarian.)  When you see my piping, you might understand why I love decorating with lollies.  Maybe it is a lack of practice, but I can't pipe icing to save myself.

It was lots of fun.  We ate too many lollies, despite being on best behaviour.  I got food colouring all over my fingers.  Sylvia was a mess of sweet and sticky.  We took the cupcakes to childcare the next day.

Sylvia was very proud of the ones she had helped to make - the white ones - but she chose a pink one each for her and her best friend.  I had worried that they kids might argue over who got which cupcake.  I shouldn't have worried.  The kids loved discussing which animal they had chosen.

How to make animal cupcakes:

There isn't a recipe.  These are easy enough that we could make them by looking at the pictures.  So I will just share a few comments and advice.

  • Use your favourite cupcake recipe for the cakes and make icing (frosting) using icing sugar (confectionary sugar) with a blob of butter and a dribble of water.  I didn't follow a recipe for the icing but used a bit of trial and error.
  • Have all your lollies ready before icing the cakes.
  • Make the icing quite stodgy - thick enough so it clings to the knife but smooth enough that you can spread it - you don't want the icing sliding off these cakes. 
  • Go easy on the pink food colouring for the pig.
  • To make the four types of cupcakes: start with a batch of white icing, then do two bowls of green and pink - mix cocoa powder into the green icing to make brown for the pig nostrils and the mouse whiskers; and make the pink into dark red (using more red and pink and a tiny bit of the brown icing) for the frog mouths.
  • Dust your scissors with icing sugar when cutting marshmallows, but when I did this for the piggy ears it left a bit of white icing sugar on the pink marshmallows.
  • I suspect these icing decorations could be adapted for round sugar cookies.  But I prefer cupcakes myself.
  • If you use cupcake papers then the icing and the papers will keep the cakes fresh.  I guess there are some good reasons to use icing!

The easiest one:
Decorations: red and orange jelly beans, brown mini m&ms, orange m&m (needs to be pushed in firmly to stand up as the beak)

The chick, the chicken, the chook or, as Sylvia called it, the chooken.  This was so easy that Sylvia could make them with very little guidance.  These are the only truly vegetarian cupcakes.  I think they would be good for Easter.  Maybe next time I would like to try some yellow icing for these ones. 

The one the little girls loved
Decorations: pink marshmallows, brown m&ms, icing nostrils.

The pig.  Goodness I wish it wasn't so stereotypical but this was the one Sylvia loved because it was pink.  Not that she necessarily associates pink with girls.  When my dad arrived, she insisted that he had a pig cupcake because she was sure that he loved pink too.  And the marshmallows were the first bit to be eaten.

The one that could be many animals:
Decorations: dessicated coconut, marshmallows, pink jelly bean, brown m&m, icing whiskers

We had quite some discussion about if these were cats or mice.  Finally we decided mice.  I am sure with a little changes to the ears they could be cats or dogs.  There are probably other options for the ears rather than marshmallows so that they would be vegetarian.  Orange cats with orange fruit leather?  Cutting out jubes?  Conor used chocolate sprinkles for the whiskers.  I think next time I might like to try some fine slivers of liquorice.

The one that I loved the most:
Decorations: marshmallows, brown mini m&ms, icing mouth

Sylvia asked for frogs and she got frogs.  I was quite pleased with my end result.  I had fun placing the eyes differently on each frog.  The cut marshmallows were sticky enough to have the m&ms stick without needing any icing to glue them on.  Yet again my piping was not great but it was close enough for jazz.  I did consider just making a mark of the mouth with a stick but I think the coloured mouth was better.

More on Sylvia's birthday soon.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Pasta Please, spinach and walnut pesto and a pasta dish

Last Friday was the sort of day when I felt like just opening a tin of baked beans and collapsing.  Too hot.  Too narky.  Too tired of work.  Fortunately I had been looking at a few pasta ideas for dinner at lunchtime that meant once E took Sylvia off for a nice cool bath, I could get dinner together fairly quickly.  It could have been easier if I didn't make the pesto and roast the capsicum but at least the yoghurt balls were marinated.

I had an idea that I would make spinach and walnut pesto.  I wished for more spinach (like in the original recipe) but had bought a silly little one serve bag.  I should have known we always get through a bigger bag of spinach.   I could have added a bit more oil to my pesto, or even better kept a bit of pasta water to loosen it up once I added the pesto to the pasta.  I had also liked a recipe I had seen for spinach and walnut pesto with mustard in it but forgot about that.

I served the pasta and pesto topped with microwaved broccolini, blistered and skinned red capsicum and my garlic, chilli and rosemary yoghurt cheese.  It would have been better if the pesto was a bit looser but the yoghurt cheese gave it great flavour and melted into the pasta like an additional sauce.

I still was longing for the day to end but at least I was pleased that dinner was slightly more upmarket than a tin of beans.  The  pesto wasn't quite right by itself - I think the seasoning needed adjustment - but was quite nice on a rice cracker with promite and tomato the next morning.  In the evening we had panzanella with the pesto, basil olive oil and tofu bacon.  It was delicious.

I am sending this pasta dish to Lisa of We Don't Eat Anything With a Face who is hosting the Pasta Please challenge this month.  The theme is peppers (or capsicums, as we say in Australia).  The event is coordinated by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: WHB Basil pesto
Two years ago:  Marinated Minestrone
Three years ago: Serendipitous Plum Jam
Four years ago: Frozen Fruity Fun with Icy Poles
Five years ago: HoTM #12 Prune and Bean Casserole

Spinach and Walnut Pesto
Adapted from Krissy's Creations
serves about 4

50g spinach
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2-3 tbsp olive oil (mine was basil infused)
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, crushed
 pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper

Blend to a paste.  Keep leftovers in fridge.

Pasta with pesto, broccolini, red capsicum and yoghurt cheese
serves 2

about 250g packet of spaghetti (I used bavette)
2-4 tbsp spinach and walnut pesto (see above)
1/2 bunch of broccolini, chopped
1/2 red capsicum (red pepper)
4 marinated yoghurt balls

Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions (mine took 8 minutes).  While the pasta is cooking, roast red capsicium over a gas flame and cool slightly.  While capsicum cools, microwave the broccolini until cooked.  Peel the skin off the capsicum and cut into thin strips.

When draining the pasta, keep a little pasta cooking water.  Toss the pasta with pesto and add a slosh of cooking water to loosen the sauce.  Serve in a pasta bowl.  Top with broccolini, capsicum and torn yoghurt balls.

On the Stereo:
Liege and Lief: Fairport Convention

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Margaret Quinn's brown bread - served with MLLA stew

It is only Wednesday and yet it feels like a long week.  Already we have had a heatwave, a picnic in the rain, powercuts, a haircut, and unsettled nights.  The bread I bring you today is just the thing for such weeks.  I made it a few weekends back when we didn't have bread in the house and Sylvia and I were about to head off for a swim.  It seemed easier to make a quick loaf for lunch before we went than to faff about with a yeasted loaf.

Don't get me wrong.  I love yeasted bread.  I love kneading and rising and waiting.  It is just that some days I can't organise my life around a loaf.  I also was given the Irish book, Bread, Scones, Stories and Songs, for my birthday.  It interested me because the breads were all yeast-free.  Some had eggs and butter but quite a few didn't.

I am familiar with the tradition of soda bread from Ireland.  This book has a range of breads of which soda bread is but one.  These are recipes from home cooks who can whip a loaf of bread together in no time at all.  No doubt it is eaten just as quickly by large families.  Families who believe in fairies.  Well some do it seems, according to the book.  The best tidbit of information in the book is the belief by some that the slash in the bread is to let the fairies out. Doesn't that make the slashing a more joyful activity!  I am curious to try more of these breads.
Some terms used in the book are foreign to me.  Bextartar (cream of tartar) and bread soda (bicarbonate of soda or baking soda) are explained.  I am not quite sure what is meant by "sweet milk" in the recipe I used.  I used soy milk, which is what we have on hand these days.  It always seems a wee bit sweeter than dairy milk so I thought this would be fine.

The bread took me quite some time to cook.  I used a skewer when the timer rang because it just didn't feel/look right.  Sure enough the skewer came out of the middle with mixture still on it.  I blame my oven not the book.  When the bread finally came out it was craggy and quite dense.  It was an excellent rustic loaf to be enjoyed with cheese and vegemite or stew.  E noted that it wasn't very salty.  I didn't mind this as I thought it still had quite a bit of flavour.

The  stew that I served with the bread was a pumpkin, kale and chickpea curry.  It was ok but not brilliant.  I quite enjoyed it the following day when I added some extra coconut milk and salt.  I have written work-in-progress next to the recipe but I think that it was rather good once I tweaked it but I feel I need to make it again and check the recipe is right.  I almost made it again tonight but instead I decided to make this stew which I loved first time round and is quite similar.

I am sending the stew to Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen who has generously taken over responsibility for My Legume Love Affair, the monthly event celebrating beans and lentils and legumes that Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook founded.  Lisa is also hosting the February edition.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: NCR couscous salad with chermoula
Two years ago:  Chocolate cashew fudge and nut roast love!
Three years ago: Shrove Tuesday Blinis
Four years ago: MLLA8 Dal Makhani
Five years ago: PPN #52 Gyoza and Salad

Margaret Quinn's Brown Bread
From Bread, Scones, Stories and Songs by Breezy Willow

4 cups (500ml) white flour
2 cups (1 litre) wholemeal flour
1 heaped tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp bicarb soda
pinch salt - generous
450 - 650ml of milk (I used soy)

Mix the dry ingredients and add the milk.  Mix to a soft dough and knead lightly for a couple of minutes until it comes together into a big scone.  I added 650ml and it was quite sticky but was fine with a little extra flour when kneading.  Place on a floured baking tray.  Slash a cross on top of the dough with a sharp knife.  Bake at 190 C for 45 minutes (my oven is a bit slow but it took me 1 hour and 10 minutes).  Cool on a wire rack.

Pumpkin, kale and chickpea curry - work in progress
Adapted from Spark People
Serves 4

1 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
10 curry leaves
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp stock powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli paste
400ml coconut milk
3 x 130ml tins of water (I added these gradually)
2 tins (of 400g each) chickpeas and cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
550g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and diced
1/2  bunch kale, destemmed, chopped and washed

Fry onion in oil in large saucepan until browned.  Add garlic, ginger, curry leaves, turmeric, cumin seeds, and mustard seeds.  Cook for a minute or two until the seeds are smelling cooked.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

On the stereo:
The Moths are Real: Serafina Steer

Sunday 17 February 2013

River Cottage Veg, Tomato salad, and yoghurt cheese

Today I want to share a summer salad that was inspired by thoughtful birthday gifts.  The post however is about little victories.  It is about overcoming my dislike of tomatoes, about overcoming my uncertainty about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, about overcoming my bemusement at yoghurt cheese and enjoying life in spite of the challenges it throws up.

For my birthday I was given River Cottage Veg Everyday (by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and a wonderful package of foodie marvels from my family.  I have always been a bit disinterested in Hugh FW due to my image of him as a rabid carnivore.  Watching his Christmas special at the end of last year made me finally decide that he was a chef of interest when it came to vegetarian recipes.

I had browsed the book in the stores and put it down a few times as well as seeing it on blogs.  Finally I was ready for it.  I haven't read it thoroughly.  Yet I found the introduction both heartwarming and a little disappointing.  I was pleased at his championing of vegetarian cooking.  He speaks of meals without meal being essential in reducing the amount of meat we eat.  However, as a nut roast enthusiast, I always feel a little misunderstood when people start saying that vegetarian cooking is not about old fashioned veg cooking.  It always seems to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  I have said many times that nut roast have made it so much easier to share a roast dinner with the meat loving members of my family.

So when Hugh FW dismisses nut cutlets and has not one whiff of tofu in his meals, I feel like he is avoiding some really good sources of protein and refusing to explore some of the great recipes in veg*n cooking.  It means that he relies more on egg and dairy, which (despite my love of cheese) interests me less and less.

Having said that, he has many recipes that I'd love to make.  Kale and onion pizza, Macaroni peas, Halloumi, new potato and tomato kebabs, Stuffed cabbage leaves, Courgette and rice filo pie, Herby, peanutty, noodly salad.  The book is beautifully presented and it encourages the use of fresh vegetables.  I am looking forward to spending more time with it.

I find that the book leaves me in a mess of contradictions.  Despite all my protestations, many of the recipes I like have cheese in them and the recipe I first tried I managed to deveganise by adding cheese.  The yoghurt cheese was a present from my family.  I was unsure how to use it.  (I keep meaning to just spread the cheese on bread but manage to keep forgetting.)  I wanted to try it in a recipe that was simple enough to let the cheese shine.

The Tomatoes with Herbs recipe in River Cottage Veg Everyday caught my attention because the picture is so beautiful.  Tomatoes are beautiful.  Yet I have never been a big fan of raw tomatoes.  I still find it odd that Sylvia could eat a punnet of cherry tomatoes if given the chance.  I've got better at eating tomatoes as I have gotten older.

It was the cheap tomatoes at the supermarket that finally convinced me to try the recipe.  And the fact that I could add yoghurt cheese so I didn't feel I was just eating tomatoes. I served it with refried beans, guacamole and tortillas.  A perfect simple summer meal.  A great way to use my new tiki salad servers.  It would have been even better to have remembered to season the salad.  Next time!

I said at the start of the post that I would also share a few titbits of overcoming challenges in my life.  So here is one.  Sylvia and I had a long walk to Coburg Lake last Sunday when I made the salad.  We headed for the playground by the lake.  When we arrived, I couldn't believe how busy it was.  A peaceful lakeside area was transformed into a fairground that was the Anatolian Friendship Festival.  The playground was teaming with kids.  Fortunately there is another playground close by that we could walk to.  It was much quieter.  More our sort of place.

Another challenge is that, after 9 years and quite a few contract renewals, changes in my workplace have meant that my contract will come to an end in a couple of weeks.  I had an early farewell dinner last week.  Above is the beautiful bunch of roses from the Board.  I am not sure what this year will bring in work.  The one certainty is that I will not work fulltime in Sylvia's last year before she starts school.  There will be many changes.  It is both exciting and scary.  As well as roses and a Kindle, my workplace gave me a therapeutic Oxfam chocolate pack!

Lastly, we finally returned to our regular haunt, the Fitzroy Market for the first time since October.  Life has been too busy to get to the monthly market over the last few months.  It was great to be back.  We all had a sausage in bread.  It was a warm day so we were really pleased to get the second last icy pole.  It was a wonderful combination of chocolate and avocado.  Sylvia and I shared it, though quite a bit of it landed on her dress, dolly's blanket and the asphalt.  We also shared a vegan cookies and cream cupcake.

Yes this is Sylvia eating her icy pole while dolly and friends sleep under their blanket in the dolly stroller.  She got quite a few smiles at the market.  It was cute but not overly practical.

Lastly, E and I haven't been watching lots of telly lately.  Sylvia's sleeping has been quite unsettled what with hot weather and a couple of crazy months messing with her routines.  We have been working on it and have got it to the stage where we have both watched two full episodes of Midsomer Murders tonight and last Sunday.  It feels like a huge achievement!

I am sending the tomato salad to Karen at Lavender and Lovage for Herbs on Saturday because it has a generous amount of basil.  (She is encouraging bloggers to submit recipes with foraged herbs for this month but I wouldn't even know where to start foraging herbs.  Maybe I should look about me next time I am at the lake!)

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: On the Stereo: the soundtrack to my life!
Two years ago:  Earl Grey cupcakes and nutritious ganache
Three years ago: Feta Scones in a Flash
Four years ago: Potato salad, freak weather and bushfires
Five years ago: About Me Me Me Me

Tomato salad with basil and yoghurt cheese
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday
serves 2

500g tomatoes
1 to 2 tbsp basil infused olive oil
1/2 to 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
small handful of basil, roughly cut with scissors
about 4 balls of yoghurt cheese

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices and arrange artfully on a shallow bowl so they overlap to share the dressing.   Drizzle with olive oil, then balsamic vinegar.  Scatter with basil and torn pieces of yoghurt cheese.  Season.

On the Stereo:
Renaissance of the Celtic Harp: Alan Stivell

Saturday 16 February 2013

NCR Coronationl Potato Salad

Jac announced potato salad as the theme for the No Croutons Required event that she and Lisa hold each month to share bloggers' recipes for vegetarian soups and salads.  I was certain I didn't need another potato salad on my blog.  I have already posted 6 potato salads.  Yet there is always another idea.

Last year when all the Jubilee hoo-har was on. I came across a recipe for Coronation Chickpea Salad.  While E tells me his mum used to make Coronation Chicken Salad, I don't remember this retro dish ever being on offer in my childhood.  So I was interested when I saw a vegetarian version.  This I saw Karen of Lavender and Lovage post a Coronation Potato Salad.  Fortunately I was reminded of this recently.

It was surprisingly spicy.  Wasn't old school British food meant to be bland?  E found it pleasing.  I served it with a salad that was meant to be mock tuna but ended up being all the odds and ends in the fridge that I needed to use and could chop up on one of Sylvia's unsettled nights.

We both agreed that the vegie salad wasn't an ideal accompaniment for the potato salad.  I revisited the leftovers with a burger.  (This is a Fry's Traditional Burger.  I bought it out of curiosity because these are the "vegetarian meat" that Sylvia often has at child care and loves to bits.)  The salad was much better.  I also think I might try adding sultanas next time I make the Coronation Potato Salad for added retro vibe.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: MLLA Nicki's vegetarian dumplings with fried rice
Two years ago:  Pizza with carrot and leek and recent food
Three years ago: Valentine Scones - raspberry and white chocolate
Four years ago: Tofu Burgers and Tennis
Five years ago: Wanton Dumplings in Ginger Broth

Coronation Potato Salad
Adapted from Lavender and Lovage
serves 4-6 as a side dish
  • 500g potatoes (preferably new potatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chives
  • 4 teaspoons mango chutney
  • 2 teaspoons apricot jam
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • handful of sultanas (optional)
  • spring onions or chives to garnish
Chop potatoes into chunks and boil for 15-20 minutes.  Drain.  Add remaining ingredients and gently stir until combined.  (Or you could mix the dressing ingredients together before the potato is cooked and toss through the cooked potato.)  Eat at room temperature.

On the stereo:
Hal David and Burt Bacharach: the Songbook Collection:
Various Artists

Friday 15 February 2013

Auckland: Devonport, Corellis and the University

I'd never been to Auckland before my trip last week.  After a quick internet search I still wasn't sure how to fill in my free afternoon.  The museum sounded interested by I wanted to get out and see the city.  So after a quick spot of shopping, I gravitated towards the shores of Waitemata Harbour.

At first I was disappointed.  It was an industrial area with a few arty park benches and a shipping crate that had been recreated into an art installation.  Then I explored further and found the cafes, the ice cream shop and the ferries.  I bought a jam doughnut ice cream and sat in the sunshine for a bit just enjoying the view.

Then I went to a ticket desk and asked about a cruise.  I just wanted to see a bit of the harbour.  I was surprised to discover the ferries to Devonport did not go to the town in Tasmania (what was I thinking!) but a suburb of Auckland.  They went regularly and I was told that Devonport was a charming seaside town of history, cafes and gift shops where I could walk up a volcano or along the beach.

So I went across the sea to Devonport.  It was indeed charming.  Very des res.  Large houses on the waterfront.  Lots of interesting shops - jewellry, soaps, toys, environmental crafts, chocolates and more.  Having been up early for my plane, I had eaten two breakfasts but no decent lunch.  I found I was peckish.  Many eating places presented themselves.  I rather liked the look of one called Corelli's.

It was the sign that promised mulled wine and Baileys latte that grabbed my attention.  When I looked inside I liked the look of the rustic wooden tables and pottery goblet displays.  I wandered in to look at the display cabinet and check out a menu.

If it had been winter I might well have ordered a mulled wine.  It was more an ice cream type of day.  The menu had a few good veg options.  I liked the sound of the bean nachos served with guacamole, sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.  I couldn't believe how huge the bowlful was when it arrived at my table.

While I found the addition of sweet chilli sauce an odd choice for nachos, it worked with the huge mound of sour cream and the very satisfying bean and corn chilli.  The corn chips were wonderfully crisp and I ate a lot of it.  It was just so lovely to be able to sit and relax at a cafe with good food and my book.  A rare treat these days!

I had found a couple of veg-friendly restaurants online but after the nachos I was full.  I would have loved to have visited Revel Cafe.  I did visit Revive.  It didn't have lots of ambiance but they had lots of healthy salads.  I dropped by and brought Frooze Balls on the way back to the Braemar on Parliament B&B where I was staying.  These balls were amazing.  Full of fruit and nuts, they were just what I needed to get me through the evening.

Given that the Maori community makes up about 10% of the New Zealand population, I had hoped to see some influence in the buildings and street architecture in the city.  The only Maori art that I saw (other than in gift shops) was in these windows on the High Court Building near my B&B.  Unfortunately I didn't have time to go inside as I was en route to my conference.  John from the Braemar also pointed out the below posh bus shelter that used to be the entrance to a grand residence but now stands against a plain wall.

My conference was interesting both for the content and for the technology that was used.  I've never encountered Google Hangout before and was fascinated to see it used to bring together a panel of three speakers from three different continents.  And the vegetarian food was really good.  Mini toasted bagels with tomato and avocado at morning tea were delicious.  (It was especially impressive given that the conference registration was only $20.)

Being on campus at Auckland University, I couldn't resist a walk around the grounds during afternoon tea.  The campus is very spread out and I only saw part of it.  It is in the historic centre of Auckland and includes are quite a few interesting buildings.  The bell tower was impressive, even with the scaffolding.

Opposite the university is Albert Park.  The statue wearing the traffic cone on its head signified that I was still in the world of students, despite the frown on the statue of Queen Victoria.  These gardens were pretty with sprawling lawns, colourful flower beds and a large fountain.  It was tempting to join those relaxing on the grass rather than heading back to the conference.

It wasn't a long trip but I enjoyed seeing a little more of New Zealand.  Auckland is a city of volcanic hills, waterside views, and pedestrian traffic lights that count down the seconds.  I enjoyed exploring and relaxing by myself.  Coming home, I found the best gift shop of my trip (Artport) was through customs at the airport.  After flying long haul with a three year old last year, flying solo felt like luxury.  I was able to eat my meals and watch movies (Argo and The Perks of Being a Wallflower) without interruptions.   For those who are interested in my meals, I have an update on my plane food post.

46 Victoria Rd
Devonport, Auckland
09 445 4151