Monday, 25 April 2011


We had visitors this week - two of our UK friends have been in NZ for a couple of weeks travelling round and they arrived in Wellington on Sunday night, flying in in one of the autumn's first gales (it was apparently a bit of a heavy landing...). They were staying with another friend up in Upper Hutt, but I booked myself a day and a half off work (unfortunately I had meetings on the Monday morning) and met up with them for a bit of sightseeing. It was bitterly cold, and we almost got blown away up on the look out, so, once they had had a look around, we decided that an indoor venue would be a little bit nicer, and we headed down to Te Papa for a couple of hours (which I'm now getting to know quite well! There is still something new each time we go, though, so it doesn't ever get boring - this time, we visited an exhibition of the photographer Brian Brake). Then, a quick trip up the Cable Car to the Botanical Gardens (some plants still in bloom, even this late in the year), and it was time to head back to the Hutt for some supper. We visited one of our local Indians, Little India, and had a very pleasant evening.

The weather was better on the Tuesday (still windy, but there was no ice in it), and so we headed round to Owhira Bay, south of Wellington itself, where the map said there was a seal colony where the seals spend the winter months. We parked up, and began walking - there was a track which could be driven on, but only for four wheel drives and motor bikes (we saw a couple of each, but we were able to share the path easily).

The air was very clear from the Bay, and we could even see South Island and the snow on top of the mountains.

The wildlife was out in force, with cormorants sunning themselves between fishing dives.

The tide was going out, and had left behind this beatiful starfish. It was still damp underneath, so I got the bottoms of my jeans wet and put it back in the surf - I couldn't leave it for the seagulls!

Even though the wind had dropped slightly, the waves were still crashing on the rocks - this wasn't a place for going surfing!

We headed on round the bay, and came across a Seal Watching tour coming round the bend the other way. They told us that there were a number of seals very close by, and, indeed, when we rounded the bend, we nearly walked right over one pretending to be a piece of driftwood

and another lying in the middle of the pathway at the very aptly named "Devil's Gate." The signs up told us that we had to stay further back than 20 m, and not to get between the seals and the sea. Fortunately, this one was very much enjoying his doze and barely blinked as we walked between it and the side of the cliff (we left it its escape route to the sea, just in case!)

The sea was still whipping round the rocks when we crested the hill through the "Gate"

and when we looked down, we spotted a number of seals below.

This one was very much enjoying his snooze in the sun, so much so that he really didn't mind me getting in close for this shot.

Then, as we were watching, another seal came out of the surf onto the rocks in front of us.

We were also very lucky to spot this Little Kingfisher who was very interested in us as we passed.

The seals certainly weren't phased by us at all - one distinctly appeared to be posing!

As we turned to head back, a yacht appeared sailing round the bay.

I am sure it was far calmer sailing further out from the rocks!

It was a glorious walk in the late autumn sunshine, and a place that I definitely want to visit again.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Chilli Jam

With about ten pots of chilli plants (most of which have at least two plants growing in them, many have three), plus my five pots of tomatoes (and the two little ones which have grown from 'windfall' tomatoes, I have had quite a glut of fruit sitting in the fridge. Whilst John may beg to differ, there are only so many chillies that you can put into a dish without it becoming inedible. And so, I took a look on the internet for a recipe which would use up the chillies and tomatoes and be something which we both could eat (John not liking the taste of tomatoes, and me not liking my chillies to be overly hot).

I found this recipe over at BBC Good Food, but it called for ingredients which I didn't have (red wine vinegar for a start - who leaves their red wine open long enough to go sour? ;-) ). So, I decided to have a play (using the Good Food recipe as a basis) and got together a 'take some' recipe for Sweet Chilli Jam which didn't turn out too badly, even if I do say so myself.

Tomatoes (I used cherry, as that was what I had growing)
Chillies (There are at least three different types growing in the garden - some of which I think are more of a sweet chilli (i.e. less hot) than the others) - approx three - four times the amount of tomatoes
Capsicum / Salad pepper - I used one large and one small - orange and red look nicer than green, but I don't think make much difference to the overall taste.
Ginger - I used a couple of teaspoons of pre-grated stuff, but fresh would have been even better
a few cloves of Garlic
Red Wine
Sugar - Approx 100g for every 150-200 ml of Wine
a squirt of tomato ketchup

Roughly chop up the solid ingredients (leave the seeds in for the tomatoes and chillies) then blitz them in a food processor - they don't have to be puree, but should be reasonably runny.

Add into a thick bottomed saucepan with the liquid ingredients - the amount of wine should be enough that the solids can easily move around, but aren't too 'sloshy'.

Bring to the boil, and simmer for 50 mins, stirring every 5 or so so that it doesn't stick on the bottom of the pan. After 50 mins, the mixture will have reduced enough that it starts to go thick - keep stirring until thickens and looks like molten lava. (about another 10 minutes)

Decant into sterilised jars (I found it easier to pour into a glass jug first). Half a bottle of red wine made about 600 ml of finished jam.

Goes very well with cheese and cold meats...


It's been nearly 18 months since we arrived, but we have finally got our hands on a car! It has been a little bit longer than planned, as the friend who was going to be selling it to us delayed a little while... (about six months!)

Whilst it has been nice to think that we have been kind to the environment in either using public transport, Shank's Pony or car sharing, it has started to get a bit wearing (particularly when yet another train is delayed or cancelled, or when you are trying to juggle four full shopping bags on a tiny bus), and there are only so many times that you can get someone else on the hockey team to carry the goalie kit to and from training and matches.

So, we are now the proud owners of a Ford Mondeo, and this last week has been brilliant. My 20 minute walk to / from TKD is now under 5 minutes; my journey to hockey (train and walk) is now 7 when on the way out, it would be 20 mins - half an hour (depending on how long I waited at our station), and on the way back it could be anything up to 45 minutes (as the end of hockey practice and the trains did not tie up at all) - I now no longer have to wait on a cold, dark station. This weekend, we did our shopping, including a trip to the library across town, in 2 hours (normally at least 3, and the library trip would usually add another half hour), and were then able to go up to Upper Hutt to the cinema (We went to see Paul, which was only showing late in our local cinema. It's a good film - full of geeky references, with some really nice touches.). Today, as well as the hockey match (which we won, 13-0...), we also headed out to the friend who sold us the car (a half hour car journey or an hour and a quarter on the train) for lunch and a quick spot of board gaming.

Whilst we aren't going to be overly frivolous with the car (petrol is not quite as dear here as it is in the UK, but it is getting close!), we suddenly now have a whole load more freedom to get out and explore some more of this beautiful country - I can feel some more photo heavy posts coming up!

Sunday, 3 April 2011


The hockey season has well and truly started now. I'm in the seconds team again, but, due to the way the pitch gets divided out during practice, get to train with both the firsts and the seconds, depending on who is using the goal at the time.

Our first match was technically last weekend, but the opposing team defaulted (i.e. they weren't able to get enough people together to make up a team), and so we won 5-0 without having to go out into the cold and the rain.

This week was much better for playing hockey - blue skies, with enough of a breeze to stop it being too hot, without that biting icy wind which I know will come later in the season. This was a good thing, as I was playing twice, once for the firsts (standing in for their goalie, who was away), and once for the seconds. It's very nerve-wracking to be asked a couple of days before a match whether you are able to play, and I'm just very glad that there was enough time between games that I wasn't going directly from one to the other.

Both games were good in their own way - the firsts game we drew 2-2, which was a bit frustrating as we had been dominating for most of the game 2-0, but two very quick goals off of two penalty corners put us level pegging. I did save a few others, so the scoreline could have been a lot worse. The seconds game we won 1-0, but the match was much more even with neither side really having overall control. I'm very pleased, though, we have two very good players at the back, and so for that game, I didn't have to actually do a huge amount apart from tell them where to go!

Overall, though, a good start to the season - I hope that we'll only improve as we get to gel as a team; we have a number of new players this year, so it will take a while to get used to everyone's playing styles.


I couldn't let the summer completely disappear without a quick post about our luffa plant. I haven't treated it very kindly, I do have to say - it is a vine plant, and I'm paranoid about letting it grow 'wild' in the landlady's garden or greenhouse. So it has been pot bound, and has sulked at me all summer (flowering but not really fruiting; fruits growing but withering before they got to any size). But then one fruit did start to grow, and, although it never got very fat, it did get to be almost the length of my arm. It then seemed apparent that it was not going to get any bigger, and the luffa itself was trying to flower, but the effort of flowering and fruiting at the same time was definitely too much for it.

So - I found a nice website which told me how to prepare a luffa, to turn it from this:

into a loofah to take into the shower with me.

It was far simpler than I imagined - I peeled it:

- a little bit harder than it should have been, but I think that the size of the luffa meant that it didn't have a solid 'core' for me to press against when I peeled, and so I missed little bits.

Next, I squeezed out the middle jelly like insides, and attempted to get most of the seeds out (I've saved them for next year, but I'm not sure whether they were mature enough). Then I left it on the windowsill to dry:

And that is it - I now have my very own loofah:

It may not be long enough to clean my back thoroughly, but for a first try, I'm very proud of it. And it works perfectly well in the shower :-)

The luffa plant was so pleased to have the burden of the fruit taken off that it has started flowering again already. I'll move it into the greenhouse when autumn really starts setting in and see if I can keep it growing through the winter.