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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sauv Blanc Cake

Came across this recipe in one of the wineries in NZ, the original calling for Chardonnay and fresh grapes. The alcohol stash is mostly red wine but there were several bottles of Sauvignon Blancs (and they are similary fruity - so not bad a substitute), and raisins are originally grapes (which the original recipe called for) - so just a couple of substitutions and the curious case of the white wine cake was solved. Some of the proportions have been changed according to (my) taste - another one of those instances where a recipe is not strictly followed. (a bit funny how I try to write them down again - they will be tweaked and changed the next time around anyway!)

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 cup caster sugar
50g softened butter
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
grated rind of 1 lemon
grated rind of 1 orange (or substitute 1 tsp orange essence)
1 cup Sauv Blanc
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dried fruit, rehydrated in 1.5 cups of warm water
30g melted butter (for brushing)
4 tbsp brown sugar (for sprinkling)

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease/spray a cake tin (or a rectangular tin).

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the 50g butter, sugar and olive oil until smooth. Add eggs, rinds, vanilla, then add flour mixture, alternating with the white wine, in 3 additions. Mix until free of lumps, then pour into cake tin. Drain rehydrated fruit, and sprinkle on top. Bake for around 20 minutes or until set, then brush top with butter and sprinkle with sugar, then bake again for another 30-4o minutes, or until a skewer comes clean.

Sprinkle (again!) with some icing sugar (serve with lightly whipped cream if desired.)


A Sunday roast is not a Sunday roast without some form of potato accompanying it. There's boiled potato, mashed potato, roasted potatoes and with a little bit of time then maybe .. stuff em.

Serves 4 hungry people

Cut 4 giant potatoes (like Desiree potatoes) into 2, lengthwise. Thoroughly coat with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 180C oven for about 45 minutes. When done, take them out and spoon the flesh (be careful not to break the skin), into a mixing bowl. Add chopped spring onion, minced chorizo, a huge dollop (or two) of lite sour cream, a couple of sprigs of parsley, an extra round of cracked black pepper, and mix well. Spoon back into their casings, top with grated mozzarella cheese, and finish under the grill for around 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.

Make sure to wear elastic pants for tummy sufficient room.

Cinnamon Sugar Muffins

It was another one of those weekends where the brain just goes on a lull (lull-er than the usual daily default setting) and whatever life is left of it is somehow, devoted to the kitchen (for some reason). Slavery in a different form - under the power of whisks, baking powder and silicon mats, spices and spice grinders and spatulas... and one of the powerful aromas that could easily turn the knees to jello-o is cinnamon. Woody, intense and sexy - it doesn't need a complex recipe (especially for the brain dead).

Dead simple :
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup water
1 egg
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 200C. Mix cinnamon with sugar and set aside 1/3 of the mixture.

Sift flour and make a well in the center. In a separate jug, mix egg, water and golden syrup. Pour into flour and mix until well incorporated. Fill muffin tins halfway and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (from the 2/3 mixture), then top with the rest of the flour mixture until muffin tin is 3/4 full. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve with coffee or tea!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Auckland in a Weekend

It was a necessary escape.


If arriving very late at the Auckland Airport, the required mode of transport to go downtown would be a cab. There are plenty available, so no issues there, expect to pay around NZ$60. If it had been some time between 5am to 10pm, the way to go would have be to take the Auckland Airbus Express, departing every 15 minutes at $22 (adult return). Definitely of good value, as it drops off passengers on the main bus stops within the city (a stone's throw to most accommodations).

There is a free City Circuit bus that goes around the city (did you guess that?!) but if you got your runners on then best to walk around town to see the sights. As any sane tourist would, do drop by at the Skytower, (because it is mandatory!) and if you would like to see the city from up there. If not, then just take a picture for the archives - whatever suits! Stroll up the harbour side, have lunch at any of the restaurants that entice you at the Viaduct. There is a good selection of cuisine to suit everyone's personal taste. There is also a Maritime Museum, if museums are your thing.

the SkyTower

Take the Fuller's ferry from the Ferry Terminal at Quay St Pier 1 and in 10 minutes time you'd be in Devonport, a quirky historical maritime town North of Auckland. Walk up (or drive up) Mt. Victoria and take in the magnificent views, looking back at Auckland and beyond the North Shore views. This would probably inspire further walking around to discover the shops and quaint stalls around.

looking back at downtown Auckland from the ferry
that's the Skytower jutting out of the skyline, and the Auckland Harbor Bridge

view from Mt. Victoria

If the walk proves to be a bit weary, stop for a pint or two at The Patriot, featuring British, Welsh, Scottish and Irish grub and booze. Sit by the fire and enjoy the ambience and the beer.

For a nightcap, take the ferry back downtown and head to Vulcan Lane to sample a Belgian beer or two at the Occidental Belgian Beer Cafe - Flemish food, giant mussels, or just for that sexy strong dark ale Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit. There is an Irish Pub beside it but hope you don't get across she-who-does-not-know-how-to-pour-a-proper-pint.

On the next day, if you're tired with walking then won't be a bad idea to rent a car and drive west to the Waitekere Ranges Regional Park and make sure to stop at the Arataki ("Pathway to Learning") Visitor Center for a sneak preview of the beautiful (and windy and very cold) views from its decks including the Lower Nihotupu Dam and the Manukau Harbor.

from a viewing deck at the visitor center

In front of the building there is a carved pou (post), what appears to be a totem pole of sorts, and whakairo (carvings) inside the center are the main highlights of the center. According to the guide they were "carved out of two kauri trees taken from the great forest of Tiriwa (Waitekere Ranges) by Te Kawerau a Maki, and depict their illustrious ancestors". Better see for yourself.

the pou

There are heaps of picnic spots and walking trails, but if just venturing for the day then Karekare beach could be a good first jump off point. Then head up north to Piha Beach, Anawhata then Te Henga (Bethels) to complete a 'west coast' drive. There are several stops along the way - being on the 'scenic drive' there are plenty of options to snap for a photo or just go for a short walk like Pukematekeo or Rose Hellaby House (an English cottage style house with a view). Make sure you bring your windbreaker.

this way to Karekare beach

this way to Piha Beach

this way to Anawhata beach

There is even some time to go to Murawai, a rugged coastline home to the wide range of birds particularly the gannets (takapu). You have an option to stop over at the Matua Winery to sample their really nice Waiwauku Pinot Noir (a bit pricey but hey you're on a holiday so might as well take the best picks!).

At Murawai, there are two viewing platforms that give an up close and personal experience with these birds. However this time of the year they are off to Australia, and will come back on July and October to mate have a family.

Takapu Refuge - the scene in a spur of a gray moment - and the rocks clawed away by the birds so that their eggs can be lodged!

All being well during the day, the drive could definitely make you hungry. Dinner would be worth the wait (or book in advance to avoid the wait) at Angus Steak House. When they said they serve the biggest and best steak in town, you better believe them and go try it yourself. At NZ$31 per steak (inclusive of an eat-all-you-can side dishes of good variety), it is money worth spending. Pick your own cut and let them know how you want it cooked - and it will be cooked to perfection. Definitely scores ten out of ten.

pick your cut - option of beef, pork, lamb and veal as well.

best partner of the evening - Mac's dark beer.

rare is the way. selection for the evening was a t-bone steak. absolutely yummy.

Now if that it is not to call it a day, don't know what else would!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


these little blood suckers, lovingly known to us Pinoy mountaineers as limatiks, found in Victoria
at the Southern Circuit hike, Wilson's Prom
is such a PLEASANT surprise :)

baka nadala ko galing Tawangan trail sa Mt. Pulag...hahahaha!

Spicy Squash Bread

Having had a piece of butternut squash teasing me from afar in the vegetable stash, thought I'd give it a joy ride and experiment on this dense, moist, spicy bread.

1 2/3 cup wholewheat flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
80g butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 teaspoons (or more, depending on your taste) garam masala
1 small butternut squash, roasted and deseeded, and mashed (around 1 1/2 cups)
2 eggs
salt, to taste
mustard seeds, for garnish.

Grease 2 small loaf tins and pre-heat oven to 180C.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. (i find that a wooden spoon is best for this, if your hand mixer is broken!)

Mix eggs, until well incorporated.

Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, garam masala, nutmeg and squash. Add sufficient milk until mixture is wet and well combined. Taste and add salt and garam masala according to your taste.

Transfer to the loaf tins, sprinkle with mustard seeds, and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean.

Serve hot, or let the flavors deepen and serve the next day!

Best with tea!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

SpiceStop : Harissa, Sunday version

Inspired by the abundance of chili from a recent harvest, this creation was conceived - Harissa, a version of an African hot red sauce usually made with dried chilies, coriander, garlic and cumin. After further research though, some recipes also use black cumin, caraway, and sometimes some other herbs like rosemary. I presume that it is just like any other mix where no two recipes are the same, depending on the region that it is made and the personal preference of who made it. Hence, this is Sunday harissa, a personal version!

This particular recipe is made of a combination of chilies (not sure if you would like to try this at home!)

12 thai red chilies
5 dried red chilies
2 small habanero
1 red bell chili
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black cumin (slightly more bitter than the regular cumin, found at the indian store near you)
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
5 sun dried tomatoes in oil, excess oil strained
4 tsp tomato paste
olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt, to taste

Rehydrate dry chilis in warm water for around 30 minutes. (option to remove the seeds)

Dry roast spices until fragrant. Let cool then grind up (either manually or in a spice grinder). Blitz together (or manually pound in a mortar and pestle, like in this case) all ingredients except for the olive oil, until well incorporated. Mix in 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil until it resembles coarse mayonnaise (?!). Spoon into screw top jar (sterilized, if possible) and top up with more olive oil. This helps to keep the mixture. Remember to top up the olive oil and make sure none of the chili mix is exposed to air. Keep refrigerated.

Makes 2 small jars of harissa.

To use, pan fry a nice chunk of salmon, skin side down, until skin is crisped and finish in a 180C hot oven for around 5minutes, let rest for around 2 minutes and slather a generous (well, depends on your heat index!) layer of harissa on top (either on the skin or on the other side) and serve with your favorite side dish.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chili Cappuccino Souffle

A souffle is a fluffy baked cafe from a base of custard and egg whites beaten to a soft peak meringue. The base custard provides flavor while the egg whites provide the lift, which makes the souffle rise as it should be when taken out of the oven. It falls flat rather quickly, around 5-10min afterwards.

This experimental souffle is made of :

160ml buttermilk
1 heaping teaspoon instant coffee (espresso)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
50g caster sugar
50g cornflour
25g butter + extra for greasing ramekins
2 teaspoons extra caster sugar for ramekins
1 tablespoon caster sugar for egg whites
2 eggs, separated
2 ramekins (or 4 small ones - which is actually preferable)
chili flakes and icing sugar for garnish

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Prepare the ramekins by buttering the sides, then drop a teaspoon of sugar into the ramekin and swirl it around to coat the sides evenly. Remove excess sugar.

In a small pan, heat buttermilk, coffee, cayenne pepper, the 50g of sugar, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture about to boil. Set aside.

coffee custard

Melt butter in a saucepan, then whisk in cornflour.

Add milk mixture and let simmer til it thickens. Let cool. Meanwhile, beat egg yolks, then add to the slightly cooled milk mixture, making sure that you mix rapidly (otherwise you'll have scrambled eggs).

In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites and sugar still soft peaks form. Add a dollop to the milk mixture, mix to slacken the mixture a bit. Fold in remaining egg whites, incorporating as much air as possible. Spoon into prepared ramekins.

Bake for around 12-15 min or until risen and top is golden brown.

preliminary rise!
keep an eye out without opening the oven door

Sprinkle with icing sugar and chili flakes and serve immediately before it flattens out!

Surprisingly light and fluffy, with a hint of chili. Next time, probably the savory versions need undertaking!

Remembering Borubudur

One of the World Wonder Heritage Sites, Borubudur is 42km northwest of Yogyakarta, initially constructed between 750 and 842 AD (300 years before Cambodia's Angkor Wat!)

Built by King Samaratungga, it has 6 square terraces and 3 circular terraces with 72 small stupas, each of it has a Buddha statue inside.

On top of it is where the great stupa where the Buddha statue is located facing the west, representing Nirvana.

Every terrace symbolizes stages in life, and hence anyone who wishes to attain the level of Buddha must go through every stage. This means one has to walk through at least 5 kilometers of open air corridors whose walls have intricately carved relief panels depicting Buddhist doctrines and 9th century Javanese life.

A massive restoration project began from 1905 to 1910 led by Dr. Tb. van Erp. UNESCO aided the second restoration from August 1913 to 1983.

one of those times when one feels so small, at the sight of something so grand

the intricate carvings on the wall

Friday, June 12, 2009

Scribe's Notes : Southern Circuit

Another long weekend gave four intrepid hikers an opportunity to wander around Wilson’s Promontory, Southern Circuit. The previous hike was a great summer experience, so with the changing season came a change of challenge, as well as deep interest in finding out what was on the southern side of this wonderful park.

The weather prediction indicated a wet climb:

Friday :Partly cloudy. Patchy morning fog. The chance of showers from the late morning until late afternoon. Light winds. Temperatures between 11 and 16 during the day.

Saturday : Cloud increasing. Patches of light morning frost. Patchy rain during the evening. Light winds. Overnight temperatures falling to around 6 with daytime temperatures reaching between 11 and 16.

Sunday : Cloudy. The chance of thunderstorms until late afternoon. Isolated showers. Winds north to northwesterly averaging 10 to 20 km/h. Overnight temperatures falling to around 8 with daytime temperatures reaching around 12.

Monday : Cloud increasing. Isolated showers. Winds west to northwesterly averaging 20 to 30 km/h. Overnight temperatures falling to around 7 with daytime temperatures reaching around 13.

Perhaps it was one of the best ways to experience the Melbourne rain - out there with your bare essentials… well, for these crazy hikers at least!

The plans were put into place :

* The schedule plotted for a 3 day hike starting at Telegraph Saddle Carpark through to Halfway Hut, Roaring Meg, Little Waterloo Bay, Refuge Cove, Sealer’s Cove then back to the Carpark. It sounded easy until you compute for the distance which is at least 52km.
* Bookings were made to Wilson’s Prom for an arrival Friday evening to camp at Tidal River, and an early start on Saturday for a nice warm up hike just worth a couple of hours.
* Meal plans for lightweight, healthy but substantial food
* Gear : sufficient waterproofing (i.e. wrapping stuff in plastic bags or zip locks), thermals for the expected cold nights, raingear for the expected showers, gloves, beanies, the works
* Where to meet as there was no mobile phone coverage at Tidal River

And so, the scribe writes :

Friday night

So it is the long weekend, and avoiding holiday traffic was one of the main hurdles. Attempting to leave office early enough is a huge challenge in itself, so having been able to sneak out at 4pm was sheer luck. Unfortunately, traffic from Citylink up to Cranbourne was a gigantic mess and had taken up 2 hours of travel time. We arrived at Tidal River at around 8:30 pm.

The tent was pitched, and the car parked from a distance. The moon was out, the skies were clear, and wombats roam free while the birds glide shamelessly and perch on the car. A flask of brandy by the sea under the stars felt like a luxurious treat – its always great to be outdoors!

The other two trekkers arrived at around 10pm, having been caught in traffic as well. Tents were pitched side by side at the overnight hiker’s campsite. A bit more brandy for a quick night cap, and the lights were out by midnight.

Tidal River - Telegraph Saddle Carpark – Halfway Hut – Roaring Meg

Summary :
0932 – 1115hrs Telegraph Saddle to Halfway Hut : 7.4km
1130 – 1315hrs Halfway Hut to Roaring Meg: 4.8km
Total : approx 12.2 km

the birds who stole some breakfast

While there was no extreme rush to hike as the day’s plan was around 4 hours of walking time, the early birds had a heavy breakfast of packed rice and adobo (a meat stew flavored with garlic, onions, soy sauce and vinegar). The plan was to arrive in time for lunch at Roaring Meg, which is also the campsite for the day. The rucksacks were packed, and the cars were driven out of Tidal River and parked at Telegraph Saddle Carpark, about 7 minutes drive away from the overnight hiker campsite. From here, the hike eases into a steady track, nice and easy.

quite a gloomy day

The Halfway Hut was an interesting icon in the trail, as it had survived most bushfires around the area (and there have been plenty). It had been there for a long time – having been made of stones it provided the strength to last a lifetime. There were two logs that served as comfy seats for a quick snack.

the halfway hut

looking back at the trail (view from halfway hut)

the view from a distance

The dark clouds were out and already hinted rain, but as the group reached Roaring Meg at there was only one tent being pitched there, a mother and son tandem who we first met at the Halfway Hut. The rain started late afternoon, and the rest of the hikers arrived soaking wet at camp, while the early birds were lucky enough to be dry inside the tent – well, some at least – as the tent had been a disappointment and failed to deliver a quality expected of its caliber. When the rain didn’t stop, patches of plastic had to be laid on top of the tent to stop water from dripping in. It appears that the waterproofing of the tent had gone bad despite the delicate care everytime it was used. It meant that instead of the rainwater gliding and sliding all the way to the ground, the tent absorbs some of it and then drips inside, completely defeating the purpose of a fly sheet. Good thing we had spare plastic bags – these were meant for waterproofing the gear, really – just wasn’t keen on waterproofing the tent itself.

Anyway. Another excuse to get a new one.

Dinner was Sinigang (a sour Filipino soup, great for a rainy day) and rice. The pork was pre-cooked (boiled with onions, tomatoes and salt), drained and zip-locked (as part of the meal planning prep work on Thursday night at home), so at camp, water was boiled, the pork dumped into the water and the dried tamarind powder mixed in, plus some veggies (brussel sprouts in this instance – not a typical sinigang veggie but it would do anyway). Quick dinner, perfect for ‘indoor cooking’ (it was raining, so no choice but to cook at the vestibule area of the tent). A couple more swigs of the brandy for post dinner drinks completed the menu. Sleep was difficult, paranoid about the flood that could accumulate inside the tent (no it didn't happen). The rain didn’t seem to stop. So far the plastic bags did their work quite well. The new Denali self inflating camping mattress was pretty good and had so far excelled in its maiden voyage. Lightweight too. It came with a stuff sack that had a reversible fleece lining that can double as a pillow. Life’s little luxuries outdoors!

0745 – 0935hrs - Roaring Meg to Lighthouse : 7.2km
1000 – 1200hrs - Lighthouse to Little Waterloo Bay : 10.9 km
1300 – 1530hrs - Little Waterloo Bay to Refuge Cove : 7km
Total : approx 25.1km

The lighthouse from afar

Breakfast was oats with dried fruit, on an early day that started at 5:30am. This day was anticipated to be where bulk of the hard work was, considering the total length of the walk and the degree of difficulty in the terrain. Walking up the lighthouse via the walking track was not too bad, a good combination of uphill and downhill and great scenery, but the assault to the lighthouse was interesting, you can really see the steep grade from a distance.

this way up

up close and personal

this leads to a "viewing deck" below

this way to Little Waterloo Bay - walk the long stretch of white sand
LWB is that little curved area at the far end

the grains of sand, as big as rock salt

sea sights - this was not from one of us

The site was the day’s designated lunch area and had arrived on schedule. The kettle was put on, the smoked chicken sprinkled with chili flakes, soy sauce and cracked black pepper, with rice of course (cooked the night before and packed for convenience) - Basmati rice has a low GI for a steady burn so it was much appreciated during the rest of the hike.

creek water.
this was BEFORE the tea bag was put in :)

little waterloo bay

At Refuge Cove, the tents were pitched at an exotic location (“beachside villa” as we called it) as the group had arrived early. Despite the gray skies, it was not as cold as anticipated, and the group had a chance to have a proper ‘socials’ – cooking and eating together (‘dining out!’) and sharing bourbon and brandy under the full moon – what a sight. A game of Monopoly would have been in order if not for the long day that had transpired. It was early to bed. Unfortunately, the plastic bag band aids have dried and will not stick to a dry tent (so the quick-dry feature was still functional) – only when it rained by around 9pm were they taken out and plastered away. The rain did not stop until morning.

that was where we went

0820 – 1010hrs - Refuge Cove – Sealer’s Cove : 6.4km
1010 – 1315 hrs - Sealer’s Cove – Telegraph Saddle Carpark : 10.2 km
Total : approx 16.6 km

Refuge Cove

Morning was a bit of a slow start as it was still drizzling and made repacking quite a pain. However the motivation was just to complete the circuit and head home, back to dry land and clothes! And so the walk began. This trail was more familiar as it was also the last leg from the previous hike. It is expected to have some steep ascents but the rest would have been rolling terrain spanning quite a distance. The rain kept going and some parts of the trail had turned into mini waterfalls – it was quite nice to see that there was no water shortage at the Prom, at least. The Berghaus rainjacket was a great investment and had at least kept the upper body dry. I had no issues getting the trekking pants wet as waterproof pants tend to not give the legs room to breath.

Reaching Sealer’s Cove felt like a milestone and the group stopped for a quick water break. There was no other option but to seek shelter near the toilet area (preference was "stinky" over "wet"). At that point there was a girl with an umbrella and a (still) cheerful hello. (Lovely weather to walk around with an umbrella…ella…ella…eh…eh…eh…. )

And then there was the crossing that used to be easy last summer, just traipsing above the rocks and boulders - but the rain had increased the water so no other option but to wade across thigh-high waters. No point removing the shoes and socks at this point as it looks like the rain wasn’t going to stop anyway – so everyone pretty much just waded across. After that, everything else was easy to wade through (and because of the heavy rains, there were several water crossings).

The next target was Windy Saddle and from this point it was just around 45 minutes back to the carpark. It was a huge push, the rain still hasn’t stopped, and definitely made the hike more interesting. There were some fascinating flora rejuvenated by the rain, so the tree trunks that have been made black by the bush fires had some bright green shoots sprouting from different directions. It was beautiful in its own way. Some giant ferns splashed color against the black and brown backdrop of dried leaves and burnt branches.

where's the magic mushroom?

Reaching the finish line was just bliss – and it was interesting how to change into dry clothes with such stiff hands. Legs and shoulders were sore, but in the end, it was a successful hike, everyone survived and made stronger to do it again someday!

Things could have been worse (we could have been in office you know!) but who would not fall in love with this place where the trail is so different in each leg, it is never boring! In some tracks the leaves make the path soft as a carpet, some have marble pebbles, some have huge rock faces and some have sand that crunch under your shoes. The foliage keep changing, and this time around there was a generous sprinkling of mushrooms all over the place. At night when the gray skies get blown a bit away, the full moon stands out and keeps the campsite bright, there is no need for any other light.

In the silence of the forest where basic needs are compressed in a backpack, where the birds provide great company, the wind a refreshing treat, and the sea a reminder of a grand and great natural entity, life is simplified a hundred times over…sometimes I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Those Who Stopped By

Scribe's Notes

This pitstop is where incoherent ramblings seem to have meaning, where things or events are thought of and assessed, where great things are documented and perhaps any not-so-good happenings are written down in attempt to be forgotten!

So from the diversely abstract to the intensely specific, it's off to making tracks, and it is here where it stops for a thought or two.

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