Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Retirement Files:1

 
But what will you do? Many are bewildered as to why we, relatively fit and healthy 61 and 63 year olds, have sold up our 20 acre vineyard in lovely Marlborough and moved back to windy Wellington.
 
“What ever we feel like” we reply.  
 
Nine years of working on the vineyard was our first retirement. God knows why people call small vineyards lifestyle blocks.  They must consider constant chores and hard labour a desirable lifestyle.  Exaggeration, but it’s a tie that binds.  From mid September to late April there is always work to do. True, you can arrange your work to fit around the things you want to do, but like Damocles’  sword, it is always hanging over you.
 
The first challenge is downsizing from a house with lots of storage, a decent wine cellar (aka space under the stairs), a large double garage, a three bay shed and my girl cave (garden shed) to a three bedroom apartment with two car parks and two storage lockers.  
   
Bye bye house and vineyard
The hunter-gatherer has two motorbikes and the accompanying paraphernalia , and of course, far too much fishing stuff.  He’s had to rent a garage.
 
Despite what I thought was ruthless  sorting and chucking out while packing to move, it’s surprising how many things become less essential when you can’t find anywhere to put them. I’m on intimate terms with all the charity shops in both Blenheim and Wellington.  Both the h-g and I have become quite unsentimental about family ‘heirlooms’ and old photos. Of course digitising photos makes it easier to throw out hard copy albums. I must do that soon! 
 
So here we are. City dwellers again.
 
Hello city apartment
Month one has been dominated by organising tradies and delivery companies. And repair people. Exactly ten days after the new Fisher & Paykel Dishdrawer was installed it has turned up its toes. The h-g tried to unload it yesterday morning and couldn’t open the drawer. Locked tight.  No lights flashing - indeed, no lights. The F&P mechanic arrived this morning (a small miracle getting one to turn up within 24 hours) declaring it a 10 minute job.  Two hours later threw up his hands and said he was recommending a replacement. Glory be. I wonder how long we’ll wait.  Six people for dinner tomorrow night and I suspect the h-g will be up to his elbows in suds at night’s end.
 
Yesterday, on a splendid Wellington day, we took the mighty 4 wheel drive around the wilds of the South Coast to go visiting. 
Coming over Devil’s Gate on the Wellington South Coast
 Laurie and Isabel have lived there for about 40 years, and while the access is, in parts, not for the faint hearted, there is no better view in the world. Stunning is not overstating it. 
 
How perfect is that?
Aside from entertaining tradies, we’ve been to a comedy show, out for several dinners, socialised  with neighbours in the apartment building, watched two lots of spectacular fireworks (Diwali and Guy Fawkes), and I continued Russian classes (now finished). I started to learn Mah Jong - God knows why I didn’t learn when I lived in Hong Kong for three years; found my old massage therapist; am trialling a yoga studio - though no-one is as good as Trudy; found an exercise class I actually look forward to - it reminds me of late 80s aerobics; have connected with friends not seen for a while and know all the baristas at the downstairs coffee shop by name.
We’ve got plenty to do so far. 
 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Let the festivities commence

Hands up if you’ve heard of Landshut. Or Landshut Hochzeit 1475?  No? No-one? 
Landshut is a beautifully preserved town
 
Well neither had we until we we arrive at the home of our German friends and they announced we’re going there the next day and it would be fantastic!  The brochure they give us does little to enlighten me as my German is limited to counting to ten and what I learned from Hogan’s Heroes.  
An hour and a half on the train into southern Bavaria and we arrive at the medieval town of Landshut, founded in 1204.  The town is teeming with visitors as we arrive at one of the largest historical pageants in Europe, the Landshuter Hochzeit of 1475. What? The Landshut wedding between the Polish King’s daughter, Hedwig, to George, the son of the Duke of Bavaria.  While it was an arranged marriage it turned out pretty well for most concerned: the Polish King expanded his influence, power and reach and the “bride price” George received was in the region of 6.5 million Euro in today’s money.  It's unclear what advantage Hedwig gained. 
We walk up to the main street where the seating banks lining both sides of the street are crowded, but we manage to weasel our way between two bleachers to get a decent view of the wedding procession that's about to begin.
The procession takes almost an hour with about 2,000 people involved: town citizens, children with their nannies, mounted heralds, fanfare trumpeters, wagons with supplies, noble ladies and gentlemen, flag bearers  court jesters, church elders, the golden wedding coach - the attention to detail is meticulous as is each in period costume.  Men taking part are not allowed to cut their hair from the preceding November so they have the look for medieval fashion. I'm very taken with the schnabelshuh, or beak shoe, with its point upturned toe.
Love your shoes
The parade progresses with many call and return shouts of Hallloooooo! And Landshuuuuut!  Small garlands of flowers and/or box hedging are flung about to cheers and clapping.
Clothes not available at H&M
 There is a huge commitment from the town and all the citizens dress in medieval garments during festival days regardless of whether they are actively involved.  Because of the great pains they go to to preserve historical detail, spectators are not allowed medieval costumes.  An aside: I'm surprised, I don't know why, at the number of people who wear lederhosen on a day to day basis.  It always seems like a dress-up outfit to me, but it's worn with no irony. 
The wedding re-creation and festival runs for four weeks in July with people coming from all over Europe to attend. There are activities all day on weekends and every night during the week. In the evenings, at the Lager und Zehrplatz - Camp Ground - a medieval village has been carefully and accurately recreated and everyone gets carried away with medieval dancing, jousting, falconry, fencing, pageantry, cooking and feasting.  
At the original wedding, which is detailed in chronicles of the time, the feast included 320 bullocks, 1,500 sheep, 1,300 lambs, 500 calves and 40,000 chickens - no mention of kale or quinoa.     
Village life in the kitchens
 
I’m fairly sure the wedding party gets tired of the wedding banquet every weekend. We don’t get tired of touring the non authentic food stalls and drinking litres of beer. 
Grilled fish - not grilled in village kitchen
 Thanks to Jurgen, Barbara, Lou, Hannah, and Lukas for a one of a kind day out. 
Camaraderie!
   

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

International Rescue

 

Well gentle reader, I left you on the edge of your seat, wondering what became of us after we were unceremoniously dumped in Cortina, still with two and a half days to run on our six day walking tour. 

Leaving us and our bags at the hotel and driving off with the rest of the walking group, Gary, the least flexible tour guide in the business, said "we'll be here tomorrow night and meet you in the bar at 7:00".  Huh? WTF?  You seriously think we're keen to see you again?  

Meanwhile, back in the real world where tours are professionally run, our blokes were enjoying a 10 day motorcycle trip with paradisemotorcycletours.co.nz.  As luck would have it we find they are due in Cortina at lunchtime the very next day.  A discussion with the fabulous (and flexible) motorcycle tour operators Mike and Jo, reveals there is room in the support vehicle and an extraction plan is put into action. Cue Mission Impossible theme....

 

The excessively charming Hotel Senger in Heilingenblut

In fact it's much less dramatic; all it involves is Sue and I packing our bags and jumping in the van for a beautiful drive through the alpine passes.  The scheduled stop for the night is the small town of Heiligenblut which clings to the side of an Austrian mountain. Bonus! Austria wasn't on our Italian walking itinerary and the motorcycle riders seem happy to have us along.  As we enjoy a raucous evening we imagine Gary arriving in Cortina and being devastated that we've disappeared.

 

Next morning we watch the riders get a briefing before they head off to one of the highlights of the trip - the Grossglockner. At 2,800 metres it is the highest alpine pass in Austria, and the second highest in the Alps.  

Pre ride briefing

 

The h-g and his BMW 

Sue and I join the lovely Jo in the van and head up the same road.   I am sincerely glad I'm not driving the hairpin bends. 

 

  

 The views are stunning.  I wish I'd worn warmer clothes

 

It's freezing up here

 

Glacier emerging from the Alps

 

It's an enjoyable drive back to Munich and we're grateful to Mike and Jo of Paradise Motorcycle Tours, and of course the rest of the bikers, for letting us tag along.  We had such a good time and it was capped off with a farewell dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant in Munich.  Rather gloriously, my spaghetti with parmesan and truffle is finished in a huge parmesan wheel. 

 

Just delicious

And so ends that part of the adventure.

Next installment - surfing in Munich!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

What goes on tour stays on tour

At 61 years old, I never expected to be sent to the naughty step.  

 

That, and a little bit more happened on the Dolomites walking trip my friend Sue and I took after our days at Lake Garda.

 

We chose Right Path Adventures on the promises of their website http://www.rightpathadventures.com/ which states it's a luxury walking tour (and it would want to be at the price - $3,495US which puts it at nearly $5,000NZ) taking limited numbers, with "custom trips available for all ages, skill and fitness levels". Along with promises of world class cuisine, wonderful hotels, no single supplement, and no hidden costs, what's not to like? It promises one of the best weeks of your life. 

 

 

The owner and guide, Gary Scott, certainly knows the Dolomites and has set up great relationships with restaurants and hotels in the region.  The mountains are fabulous; the scenery breathtaking; the walks enjoyable, if challenging, in places; the hotels charming (but by no means luxury); the food is delicious regional cuisine.  

 

White risotto with herbs

 

There are only five of us on the trip with Sue and I being the slowest, in part because Sue had been suffering from a large blister.  However, in our naïveté we were taking "all ages, skills and fitness levels" literally.  

 

Small chapel

 

It would have been helpful to have more information about the walks each day.  Where were we going? How long was the walk? What sort of terrain, for example did it start up the plateau off? Or undulate?  What could we expect to see?   We hadn't received anything before the trip so expected a daily briefing at breakfast (where's Gary?) and debrief afterwards at dinner (where's Gary).  But Gary was like the Scarlet Pimpernel - hard to find.

 

 

But Gary likes to do things his way, and they aren't with the group.  He joined us for dinner the first night but never again, either at breakfast or dinner. 

 

You know when you give feedback at the end and people say "why didn't you say something at the time so I could've fixed it?"   Well I had the temerity to give a Gary the above feedback after day three, and that's when we got sent to the naughty step.

 

He told us in no uncertain terms he wasn't going to change the way he did things, he had 1,000s of satisfied customers who gave him big tips, people came back again and again and they didn't need an itinerary, he'd been successfully leading trips blah blah blah. Long diatribe short - he was throwing us off the trip and dropping us at Cortina. 

 

There are worse places to be exiled.  

 

  

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Hiking in the Dolomites

After four sweltering days at Lake Garda (35 C) it was a pleasure to move into the mountains, but not before enjoying swimming in the lake and visiting nearby attractions.

 

Desenzano dal Garda

 

A day trip to Sirmione reveals not only a blue haired million day trippers, but a castle fit for Game of Thrones!

 

Given my prep for five days walking in the Dolomites (the Italian Alps) was ensuring a zero fitness base then building on that with two months eating and drinking through the USA, it is no surprise to me that day one was a bit of a bitch.

 

 

Onwards and upwards

 

In fact, it was a pretty mild hike with a few sections of uphill and a steep downhill at the end, but otherwise undulating moderately. Hot sun and 28 degrees didn't help, but I've no one to blame by myself for my lazy approach and lack of match fitness.

Subsequently the story gets a lot more interesting, but in the meantime here's photos of the fabulous Dolomites and their surrounds.  

 

Made it to the top
 

 

 

You climb and climb, and suddenly! Cows - with bells
 

 

 

Shale and rocky bits
 
There's always a Refugio for coffee and strudel

 

And a chapel for a quick prayer

 

Going somewhere?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Rolling Down the River

Ready to roll - 220kms to go    The flight to Frankfurt and then train to Mainz go without a hitch.  On arrival in Mainz we realise we have no idea where the hotel is, so we pile our bags into a taxi and tell the driver Hotel Konigshof.  He turns and points 100metres down the road.  Sheepishly we unload the bags and walk across the street.  

 

We've booked a five day six night trip running along the Rhine from Mainz to Cologne (Koln).  Most days are 35 to 40-ish kms a day with the exception of one longer day (which you'll have read about in the last blog, many of you laughing unkindly at my misfortunes!)

 

We've arrived a day early to do some siteseeing.  High on the list is the Gutenberg Museum, as we recently saw  two early editions of the Gutenberg Bible, one in the Senate Library in Washington, and the other in the New York Public Library. Sadly, the museum is closed on Mondays.  The h-g was interested in the Museum of Ancient Shipbuilding.  Guess what!  Closed on Mondays.  Our disappointment was short lived when we went to St Stephen's Church - not closed on Mondays.  

 

I think this is the first time I've walked into a church and gasped in awe.  It's not really large and it's certainly not ornate.  What it has is a series of blue stained glass windows by the Russian/French artist Marc Chagall.  Just breathtaking.

 

Chagall stained glass in St Stephens

 Our bikes are waiting for us at the hotel. Three of us are on e-bikes and the h-g is doing it the old fashioned way.  It's my first time on an e-bike and I LOVE it.  You still have to pedal but getting the power assist up a hill, not that there's many going along the river, is wonderful.  

 

 

Loving the e-bike

 

Our trip runs from Mainz to Rudesheim, to St. Goar, to Koblenz, to Bad Godesberg, and finishes at Cologne. A couple of cable car trips give us stunning views of the landscape and river course.  

Vines around Rudesheim

 

 We're travelling through the expected: vineyards plunging down vertiginous slopes, castles perched on rocky promontories, and twists and turns of the bike path.  We rarely have to encounter traffic as the Rhine bike path runs its own route.  In fact it runs 1230 kms from Andermatt in Switzerland to Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. 

I guess that means we'll have to do the other 1,000 kms or so another time.  I'll definitely be on an e- bike. 

 

Yet another castle on the Middle Rhine

 

 

The longest sweep of the river

 

 

More vineyards

 

Monday, 19 June 2017

A bad day

l was looking forward (not) to day four of our cycle trip along the Rhine - 60kms and a feisty headwind.  We are leaving Koblenz to ride to Bad Godesberg. 

 

In Koblenz

Koblenz is lovely.  Sitting at the confluence of the Mosel and the Rhine it has lots of walking and cycling paths through parks and along the water. The old town is charming and beautiful.

 

Koblenz

 

I start the day well, genteelly falling off my bike as I put my foot down to the kerb, but miss.  Ankle, knee, thigh, hip - bruises will ensue.  The day only gets better when I inadvertently brush against stinging nettle and my leg suffers death by 1,000 cuts - or stings in this case.

 

After 40 ass burning kms we stop for the requisite beer and Germany sausage for lunch: Currywurst in this instance.  It turns out currywurst is not, as we expect, a spicy curry sausage but a regular pork sausage drenched in tomato sauce and sprinkled with the merest hint of curry powder.  Huh?  Actually this turns out to be the highlight of my day.  

 

The fries were really good - currywurst, not so much
We get to our accommodation 20 kms further on, after a series of strong discussions about directions adds another five kilometres to an already too long day.  My high moral ground (I was right about the directions, but overruled by the h-g) was immediately cut from under me as I open my saddlebag and realise I've left my bag -with passports, phone, credit cards, and several hundred Euro in cash - at the restaurant.  Do we remember the name of the place?  Most certainly not, we only remember the currywurst, against our will. 

 

What luck, in an historic first, I kept the receipt for the sausage fest so we can call the restaurant.  Yes, they have my bag.  Cue €55 taxi to restaurant and back to collect said bag, and €10 thank you to lovely waitress.  

 

Could the day get any better?  Only with alcohol.

 

 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Baseball. Not as boring as cricket

 

I've now had the quintessential American experience: I've been to a baseball game at Yankee stadium.  Woohoo!

 

We arrive at Yankee Stadium!

A native New Yorker friend took us to the game.  Bill knows everything there is to know about baseball, but has a healthy cynicism when it comes to the "hokey-ness" of the overall experience. He was the perfect guide.

 

It's the game crowd and the going-home-from-work crowd on the number  4 train uptown.  It takes about an hour and as we finally spill out at 161st street, the legions of cops heavily armed with military style assault rifles make me suddenly think: aaargghhh 40,000 people in a stadium - perfect terrorist target.  Yikes!

 

 

Inside Yankee Stadium

 

Who's on first?

 

But it's not our night to die for either terrorism or American sports.  

 

And what's more, we have fun,  although the cheese could not be laid on any thicker.  Stand and sing the national anthem, hand over heart, before play commences.  At the top of the 7th inning we recognise and applaud tonight's chosen one - not a sports hero, a combat veteran.  Yes, two tours in the Middle East  and we thank you for your service.  All stand and sing God Bless America, hand on heart again. It strikes me that Vietnam vets must be sooooo pissed off at the glory and gratitude bestowed on current servicemen and women after the way they've been treated.

 

Tonight's American hero

The game recommences with a rousing chorus of Take Me Out to The Ballgame, a song that's been on my mind all day - even though I don't know the words.   All the while we eat Nathan's famous hot dogs with mustard and ketchup, drink appallingly bad American beer, have a round of Nathan's fried chicken, drink more beer and lap up the atmosphere.  

 

 

Hot dogs, French fries and chicken

 

Hundreds of people, kids and adults alike, are sporting catcher's mitts, believing they'll be the one lucky enough to catch a fly ball or boundary breaking strike.  Anyway, there are balls to spare.  As soon as a ball touches the ground it is replaced.  Doesn't matter if it was dropped, hit, or used for practice.  Into the crowd it goes and a brand spanking new ball takes its place. The umpire, crouching behind the catcher, has an endless supply in his pouch - it's like Santa dispensing gifts from his sack.

 

The Yankees beat the Red Sox eight runs to zero so it's a good night for New Yorkers. The crush on the subway home is worse, if that's possible, than the way there.  But it's a good natured crowd - after all, we're winners!  Thank God it was only three or so hours, not five days

 

Batter up