Thursday, December 27, 2007


Tomatoes are terrible even at Whole Foods in this dark and unproductive season. I decided that today was the day to use the slow roasted tomatoes that I froze last summer (see New Recipe). What looked good at Whole Foods was trout, which probably was raised on a Canadian farm not far from here. So far: locavore! As a side dish I made potato pancakes. Maybe they were even Michigan potatoes.

What else looked good at Whole Foods? Satsumas from California. Not so local! We served this meal to our friends Elaine and Bob. For appetizers, we had a selection of crisp vegetables and an Israeli vegetable spread. For dessert, Elaine made poached pears.

Also of note: we carried 6 bottles of wine back from Whole Foods in a wine carrier I received for Christmas from my friend Sheila. This is consistent with my upcoming New Year's resolution to reduce the amount of packaging I use.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Polish Christmas Dinner

Our friends invited us to a traditional Polish Christmas dinner. The first course was a delicious fish in aspic.

After the fish, we had beet borscht with pirogi filled with mushrooms, then lamb roast, two other types of pirogi, and a potato, tomato, and olive casserole.

I made this apple pie. We also had poppy seed cake, poppy seed pudding, and other pastries from a Polish bakery. What a great meal!

Here are our hosts Michal, Anuska, and Nicholas:

This is the second year we have had Christmas dinner with them. Last year's dinner can be seen at:

Christmas Dinner

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pubs in Wellington

Pubs facing the water are beautiful along the Wellington harbor. Beer and french fries seem popular. When you are done, if there's a little of the sour cream accompaniment left -- a gull will dip his beak in it:
Pub food also seemed very good. In a pub on Tinakori Road we had shellfish chowder and lamb shank:
The fries we ate at the Backbencher were kumara fries. The kumara is a sweet potato that the Maori brought with them to New Zealand:
The Backbencher is across the street from Parliament, so naturally, along with beer it features larger-than-life caricatures of politicians. Needless to say, we recognized no one, but identified the "types" completely:

And here is one cafe -- another type of casual dining -- where we had breakfast several times, and dinner once:
After yesterday, the longest travel day I can remember (Wellington-Sydney-Los Angeles-Detroit), we are home. I can now say that the food throughout the trip was fabulous. We enjoyed these casual places. We ate in the cheap neighborhoods across the harbor from the hotel. And we sampled the more formal establishments on the wharf. All the locals seem to recommend Shed 5 as the best for elegant seafood. We definitely had a great meal there but also had many others.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lunch in Middle Earth

I think a hobbit would have approved of the lunch our tour guide served us while we were in Middle Earth. Egg with ham in filo dough, rolls with ham or smoked salmon, sticky date pudding slices, and chutney-like relish seem more like Bilbo's kind of thing, but we enjoyed eating out under the trees with a small flock of sheep lurking in the near distance.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Martinborough Wineries

The most famous and largest wine-growing area in New Zealand is Marlborough. We saw the vines as our scenic train went through that area on Thursday. A smaller, and more boutique-like wine area is near Wellington: Martinborough. We toured there on Wednesday. Interestingly, the vines in New Zealand all seem to be planted in open, flat fields, rather than on hillsides like French vineyards.

Throughout our tour, we enjoyed the atmosphere of small, owner-run wineries, including lunch at the Alana winery. At the Schubert winery, we found the German-style wines quite appealing. Our favorite wines were from Ata Rangi, where a pinot noir and a dessert wine were the best we tasted. Unfortunately, neither of these are exported. The dessert wine, in fact, is sold only at the winery. Current airline travel being as it is, we aren't in a position to bring any back with us, either.

Our guide, Murray, told us quite a bit about the history of New Zealand wine, which started in the 1980s when Britain joined the Common Market and virtually discontinued importing bulk foodstuffs from New Zealand.
The sheep farms, cattle farms, dairies, and other farms suddenly had to rethink their commodity production -- which they had depended on for over 100 years, since the invention of refrigerated ships. Value-added agricultural products were an obvious solution. Sheep pastures became vineyards. Dairies began to make specialty cheeses. Murray says as a boy, he never tasted an olive. Now olive orchards are beginning to make a variety of high-quality olive oils. The agricultural region is quite beautiful.

Kaikoura in Maori means "Crayfish Dinner"

The Maori didn't have a French Chef like the one in the restaurant where we ate. What a beautiful surprise!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Good Eating

Though they may have exotic seabirds for sale in the fish market, I find that the food we've been eating here in Wellington has been delicious and very well prepared. Above is a tuna nicoise that I had on Saturday night. Lenny had fish with chanterelle mushrooms. The woman sitting next to me had duck breast, garnished with little beets, shown in the next photo.
At lunch yesterday, one of my fellow wives and I were in a very strange mall, where she had been shopping for New Zealand knitting wool. I had noticed an oriental restaurant "Satay Kingdom" serving a really appealing curry of New Zealand mussels:
At the conference banquet, we had scallops and New Zealand lamb, very nicely prepared, and a lemon tarte for dessert. The views from the banquet room were dramatic. Wellington is a city of hills and valleys, so that one constantly finds glimpses of the beautiful hillsides and the harbor.
Another night, we had splendid Indian food at a restaurant called Indus. The aloo gobi was really delicious, and I also loved the dal and the mixed vegetables.

Exotic Food

The muttonbird is a wild seabird that lives in this part of the world. I knew that these birds were prey for early people in this land, where the sea was a major source of food. I was really astonished to see that they are still sold as seafood.

Quote from the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand: "Also known as the sooty shearwater or titi, the New Zealand muttonbird is Puffinus griseus and belongs to the order of sea birds known as petrels. As a name, “muttonbird” appears to have originated among early European settlers in Australasia and is said to refer to the taste of the flesh. At least as probable is the theory that the name refers to the rather woolly appearance of the downy young."

My discovery that people eat these sea birds was especially startling, as our restaurant meals here have been quite wonderful -- but not in the least exotic as to ingredients.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It was Babka

Babka has always seemed to me to be a rather elaborate yeast-raised cake native to Russia and Jewish bakeries of New York. My friend Natasha (from Jerusalem) made a delicious apple babka several times during her visit to Ann Arbor a few years ago. I knew that New York bakeries that I had never been to made chocolate babkas. In today's New York Times is a long article about babka: An Old Hanukkah Treat. In it are Joan Nathan's interviews with several chefs -- including Evelyn's favorite baker Ann Amernick whose photo I lifted. Each one describes how they make it.

Suddenly, I realized that what we called cinnamon bread when I was a child is definitely the simplest type of babka as defined in the article. Its ingredients were flour, eggs, milk, and yeast. Swirls of cinnamon-sugar were in each slice. Our favorite commercial version came from Pratzel's, my father's preferred local Jewish bakery. It was rather dry, really like bread, and had only cinnamon in the swirls, no raisins. I'm sure that the local bakers never used chocolate or more elaborate fillings, such as today's article describes. They always made it in a loaf, never in a tube pan as Natasha did, and as in some of the pictures.

When my father bought this cinnamon bread, we ate as much as our parents would let us. Sometimes we spread the slices with cream cheese. Sometimes we pulled it apart along the cinnamon fault-lines. We liked the most cinnamony slices, and especially the ends. The top was sticky with cinnamon-sugar, but didn't have a crumb topping -- the bakery made other coffee cakes with crumb toppings. Some of them might have also been varieties of babka. Other bakeries used crumb topping on their cinnamon bread.

My father's Aunt Goldie made the dough for cinnamon bread approximately the same way she made challah dough. She never measured, but added ingredients, kneaded, and used her hands to feel whether the dough was right. We thought her cinnamon bread was the best in the world. My father said so. I remember it as a little richer and less dry than the bakery version. She made it all year, as the article says, not just at Hanukkah. I can't remember ever hearing the word babka. Now I know.

Sunday, December 02, 2007