Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Craft Beer - Smog City Brewing

Over the last few years  growth in the craft beer industry has been phenomenal. In 1980 there were just three craft beer breweries in New Zealand, now there are currently more than 90 listed on the Brewers Guild website.   Not only have small commercial breweries mushroomed around the country but brewing beer as a hobby has also become very popular.  My own son enjoys brewing, and, of course drinking, his own beer.  He makes beer purely for his own use and to share with friends and family but Jonathan and Laurie Porter have taken Jonathan's brewing hobby to a whole new level and set up the successful Smog City Brewing in Torrance, South Bay, California.

Smog City Brewing
I first met Jonathan and Laurie when they came to New Zealand on their honeymoon around ten years ago.  Laurie's parents are long term friends of my brother and since my brother was out of the country he asked that we host and entertain them while they were here.  We did so and it was an absolute pleasure. They are now also my friends, I am pleased to say.

Laurie and Jonathan at my home on their New Zealand honeymoon
 While in New Zealand their plan was to visit as many New Zealand boutique breweries as possible to absorb and learn as much as they could.  Having met at university in Philadelphia where they were both taking a photography course and then working together in the photography business they decided to fulfill Jonathan's dream and venture into the world of brewing.   He told us that he started home brewing in 2003 and before long his hobby had turned into an absolute passion. We were struck by both his and Laurie's enthusiasm and their excitement at the prospect of developing and running their own brewery.  Now ten years later it is amazing to see what they have achieved as the proud owners of Smog City Brewing.

Spoilt for choice at Smog City!

Both  Jonathan and Laurie have put in a lot of hard work to get where they are today, Jonathan having put in many long hours working from the bottom up at a number of breweries
around the LA region.  He told me that 90% of brewing is cleaning, it is hard physical work and he would often end up exhausted at the end of the day.  Starting out on their own it was  Laurie, juggling work with caring for their young son, who would use her own car to drive around dropping off kegs of their brew to bars and restaurants and those kegs are heavy! They are co-directors and equal partners of the company, Laurie is artistic and very social media savvy, her roles are in publicity, marketing, sales, distribution and a myriad of other management roles, Jonathan is the chief brewmaster and overall manager.

Fun times beer tasting with Laurie
I had long wanted to visit their brewery so my recent stop over in LA gave me the perfect opportunity. Located on Del Amo Drive Torrance the brewery is much larger than I expected with huge tanks brewing all different types of beer.  The popular tap room, or bar as we would call it,  caters to more than 100 customers a day offering an extensive range of beer from Saisons, to sours to ales and porters (appropriate!). Many of the beers are made from foraged fruit, such as their popular Kumquat Saison and the labels are quirky works of art. The tap room has a relaxed and friendly vibe with a great  spirit of friendship and camaraderie between  the staff and the customers.  I had a brilliant time...and got to try a number of their beers.  The Coffee Porter is sensational and was awarded a gold medal at the American Beer Festival in 2012,  it is my personal favourite and I only wish I had been able to bring more back to New Zealand.

Back in New Zealand my envious son sporting a Smog City T Shirt with Coffee Porter and Kumquat Saison
I am greatly  impressed at how Porter and Laurie have converted a hobby and a passion into a successful business. They work so well together as a team with skills that compliment each other.  Their business is expanding and just recently they opened a satellite taproom at Steelcraft, Long Beach, California.  I wish them well.  Success only comes from hard work, as the saying goes 'It takes years of hard work to become an overnight success'.  There is no doubt that Jonathan and Laurie  have worked hard to fulfill their dream.

If you are in Torrance I recommend a visit to Smog City Brewing.  I can assure you you won't be disappointed. www.smogcitybrewing.com

Saturday, 21 January 2017

California Dreaming

It's always great fun to meet up with family or friends when you are overseas so my short stop over in Los Angeles was the perfect excuse to meet up with family friends, Laurie and Jonathon.

Manhattan Beach Pier
I arrived at my hotel on Hermosa Beach late at night so it was hard to see much but what a pleasant surprise it was  to wake up the next morning and look out over those famous golden sands. I was going to meet my friends later in the afternoon so breakfast by the beach and then a leisurely stroll along The Strand to Manhattan Beach  was the perfect start to the day.

The Strand

The Strand is a cycling and pedestrian walkway which runs from Will Rogers State Beach, north of Santa Monica, all the way along the coast to Torrance County Beach, a distance of 35 kilometres. The sand and beaches seem to go on forever,  punctuated only by numerous volley ball courts, surf life saving towers and the occasional jetty protruding into the sea to provide fishermen with a perfect spot to catch dinner and for me to watch the surfers enjoying the waves.

Tiny courtyards with chairs in a row

 I was fascinated by the tiny front courtyards of the beachfront properties and their rows of chairs lined up to take in the view. This is a very popular place to bike or stroll. It has a cool laid back vibe and I noticed everyone looked happy. I had enjoyable chats with quite a few friendly locals along the way who were rightly proud of their beautiful beaches.The next morning I walked in the opposite direction from Hermosa to Redondo Beach. Ahh!  Teenage memories of the Beach Boys! " If everbody had an ocean, across the USA, then everbody'd go surfing, like Califon-i-a...."
Iconic California  - golden sands, endless ocean, volley ball nets and life saver towers
In the afternoon my friend, Laurie, came to meet me.  It was so good to catch up with her after too many years. She kindly took me on a tour around the area. Firstly we visited the brewery owned and operated by Laurie and her husband, Jonathon. (Amazing! and will be the subject of my next blog) Then we drove through Torrance City collecting their delightful young son from school on our way and on out to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.   I had never been there before and was completely enchanted by it.  It is a stunning place, with a deep navy blue sea foaming on rocky headlands,  bush clad hills and valleys, clean air and sunshine. Unsurprisingly it is the location of several upmarket residential areas.

The light house at Palos Verdes.  The crane is part of a film set..
Our first stop, to enjoy the view, was at a lighthouse close to a small museum.  There was filming in progress beside the lighthouse, so appropriate in the movie state! Next we visited the sublime Wayfarers Chapel overlooking the sea.  Designed by Frank Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, the chapel, built almost entirely of glass, is nestled amongst trees.  I absolutely loved it, it is so serene, so beautiful, so at one with nature. It is a place you could sit peacefully and meditate, think, relax, whatever you want, for hours.  Laurie told me it is a popular wedding venue.  Such a lovely place to get married.
The Wayfarers Chapel, designed by Frank Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright.  So serene.
Our next destination was a nearby gated community where peacocks run free.  It reminded me of our own Titirangi in Auckland with large blocks and  houses set into the bush. We were lucky enough to spot a few peacocks and a couple of chicks scampering about.  Young Emmett was a genius at finding them.

Peacocks enjoy the freedom of a bush clad suburb, Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Back home we found Jonathon already cooking dinner, which was delicious, by the way.  We ate it at their table with a wonderful view right down a valley and watched as the day turned to night and the lights of Torrance came on.   Good food, good wine, good conversation and superb hospitality.  All in all a wonderful and memorable day. Yes, California dreaming indeed. Thank you, so much, Laurie, Jonathon and Emmett!

The Beach House Hotel, Hermosa
HINT: If you have a stopover in LA why not try the Beach House Hotel on The Strand at Hermosa.  It is only about  15 minutes  from LAX and closer to Orange County if you want to visit the attractions there. I loved it.  With really generous sized rooms, it is right on the beach so you can go for a walk, get some fresh air and get away from the bustle of LA for a while before continuing your journey.  I have no connection to the hotel and have not been asked to mention it. This is simply my own opinion.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Luscious Peaches - and two peach recipes

This year my minuscule, dwarf, peach tree is simply dripping with peaches, I have lost count of the number.  I planted the tree just 18 months ago and my first harvest consisted of only four so it is a thrill this year to go out each day and pick one or more perfect, sun ripened peaches all warm and downy and, well, peachy. Of course it is a battle to beat the birds, who love peaches as much as I do, so I have set up an intricate system of bird netting and screens to protect my precious fruit.  So far, so good.
My morning's harvest
 This delectable fruit is a real taste of summer, and the best way to eat it is fresh from the tree.
Sometimes, just for a change, I like to use them in a recipe. This peach dessert is a favourite of mine.


Halve and stone the peaches and place cut side down on a tray
Dab with butter and grill until just starting to brown or bubble.  Don't worry if the peaches get a little scorched, the scorched skin will peel away easily. You do need to keep watch, though.
Turn the peaches over and drizzle with honey.
Place a dollop of cream cheese in the hollow where the stone was.
Place back under the grill until the cheese is just starting to brown
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Serve with a scattering of walnuts.

You could vary this recipe in lots of ways and  maybe even cook it on the barbeque.  Try it with maple syrup instead of honey or leave out the cream cheese and serve with cream or ice cream.  I have also made it with brown sugar and coconut threads but prefer  honey and cream cheese. It is surprisingly delicious for something so simple

My grilled peaches with cream cheese and walnuts...mmmm!
One of the most famous peach recipes is the Bellini, a cocktail invented in 1948 by  Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry's Bar in Venice. This is a decadent, summery, girly drink.  Perhaps I should put a Bellini at Harry's Bar on my bucket list, now there's a romantic, dreamy thought!


White peaches skinned and blended to a smooth pulp
Sugar syrup

Blend peaches, sieve and then refrigerate the pulp.
Blend with 1 part sugar syrup to 2 parts peach puree.
Pour 20mls of the puree into a champagne flute and top with the prosecco.  Stir well just before serving.  Warning: It's impossible to have just one!

Enjoy!  The peach season is short but worth waiting for.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

New Year - Don't make resolutions just make plans.

Happy New Year everybody!  I hope the year so far, all eleven days of it, is treating you well.  Here in New Zealand we live a topsy turvy life according to our northern friends.  Of course, to us, it is the good folk in the north who lead the topsy turvy life.  So while the northern hemisphere is blanketed in snow or suffering icy blasts we are basking on beaches and enjoying barbecues.  Because Christmas and New Year fall in summer here this is the time schools close down for 6 weeks, it is when  most people takes their annual leave and when  families head off to do what New Zealanders love best, holidaying at the beach.

Beach fun for my grandchildren
My family and I have just spent a blissful week at a lovely beach north of Auckland, Matheson Bay.  We swam, played with the children, gorged on fresh oysters and drank wine, barbecued hearty steaks and sausages, played ball games, loafed, read and admired glorious sunsets.  In short had a perfect holiday.
My son's a happy chap with fresh oysters and beer
Now back home my thoughts have turned to plans for 2017.  Probably like most people I'm hopeless with new year resolutions.  I've usually forgotten what they were after about a week 😞 What really works for me is writing a list of things I want to achieve through the year in a book  and checking it on a monthly basis to see how I'm doing.  I have done this for the past nine years and find that every year I achieve most things on the list.  Things I don't achieve are forwarded on to the next year, sometimes there is nothing to forward, or one or two items at most.
Making plans

These are the headings I use:

TO DO: this is usually things like staining a fence or getting power sockets repaired, tidying out the workshop or painting rooms.  At this time of the year I walk around the house and make a note of what needs doing and write it in my book.  It is a great incentive to get on with the jobs.  I always note the date jobs are completed and if the year is marching on and jobs are still to be done you should see my flurry of activity towards the end of the year!  It's a badge of honour not to leave things.

TRAVEL: as an enthusiastic traveler I like to write down some goals for travel for the year.  I have to be realistic about this, though, because, you know, money! Sometimes I will just go away for a couple of days to explore a place close to home or even take an inexpensive day trip ( I need things to write about, after all!) I  am often surprised at how much I have done over the year.

MAINTAIN FITNESS:  I  have a regular fitness regime, walking, exercising and playing golf but writing it down and checking the book regularly keeps me on track.

MAINTAIN FRIENDSHIPS: as a widow living alone this is important and I work at this, not that I see it as work, fun more like.  I belong to a few groups and clubs, keep in touch with friends for meals and coffee, organise a dinner group and spend a lot of time with my family.

OTHER: these are the additional bits and pieces like writing this blog, minding the grandchildren on a regular basis, maintaining my garden, growing vegetables etc.

LEARN A NEW SKILL: each year I try to do something different. I have taken a photography course, a writing course, learnt how to use power tools, researched the family's genealogy and completed the family tree, to name a few.

VOLUNTARY WORK: I have been involved with a few groups for several years now.  I feel it is important to do my bit and give back.  

I'm sure you can think of other headings.  Give it a go, it is very satisfying to end the year with most goals achieved....and good luck!  I hope you have a happy and fulfilling 2017.
Glorious sunset from our holiday home