Monday, 31 July 2017

A pretty lake and touch of Japan in Auckland

It is easy to neglect corners of your own city.  I guess because you know something is there and that it is readily accessible you don't feel the pressure to visit it.  It has been like that for me with the idyllic little lake in Western Springs Park, close to the city centre of Auckland.  I am ashamed to admit that the last time I went there was probably about 40 years ago, but, fear not, that has now been rectified.

As a lifelong Japanophile I had been itching to visit the newly opened Japanese Garden located within the park and was just waiting for a fine day to do it justice.  Thankfully the weather gods smiled on us over the last week and Sunday dawned, fine, still and gloriously sunny, a perfect day for a stroll by the lake.

What an eye opener!  I had forgotten how lovely the park is. Fed by fresh water springs the lake is a haven for wildlife so I strolled past ducks and swans gliding over a polished mirror reflecting weeping willows and rushes and native pukeko burrowing among the reeds. Happy families were picnicking, the adults chatting contentedly  as their boisterous children played in the large playground.  I thoroughly enjoyed my walk, the lake is so pretty and the bird life prolific, but uppermost was my goal of finding the Japanese Garden.

To give the garden its correct name it is the Fukuoka Friendship Garden and was gifted to the city by Fukuoka in 1986 when Auckland and Fukuoka became sister cities.  Originally located within Auckland Zoo it was demolished, amid huge controversy, to make way for more pet enclosures.  Thankfully the mayor of Auckland pledged its reconstruction within Western Springs Park, immediately adjoining the zoo.  The garden is 2 and a half times bigger than the original and incorporates all the traditional elements of a Japanese garden, including the relocated gate.  Japanese garden landscape experts flew in from Japan and worked with a   local bamboo craftsman, Mark Mortimer of Bambusero, in its creation. There is a tea pavilion, rocks, water, bamboo fencing, cherry trees, mass plantings of typical Japanese plants and a raked pebble garden.  It is small but exquisitely formed.  Still raw and new it will take a year or two to mature but it truly is a beautiful thing.  I was happily transported right back to Japan and know it won't be long before I'm back enjoying the atmosphere of the Fukuoka Friendship Garden right here in Auckland.   #bambusero

And here are some of my photos of the gardens:

Monday, 24 July 2017

12 Ways to survive winter

The last few weeks have been a bit chaotic at chez wandering widow.  I have had builders in renovating my bathroom and laundry and everything took longer and made more mess than I expected.  They have now departed and the end result is wonderful, I am delighted.  But the upheaval has meant no wandering for me so instead I thought it would be timely to republish this post from a year ago.  As it happens the last few days have been gloriously sunny but I am sure rain cannot be too far behind, hence my comments in the post about the rain.

Down here at the bottom of the world it is winter.  In New Zealand this means a lot of rain and, in the southern parts of the country, snow.  Every evening on TV we get breathless and hyperbolic reports about snow falls and flooding in various parts of the country.  Anyone would think this was a new thing but it is winter and it happens every year. We don't get particularly cold here in Auckland.  A cold day would be about 12 degrees although it is usually around 15 or 16.  That's not cold in relation to other parts of the world but we do get lots of rain.  Winter is when we get 'four seasons in one day' so we are never sure  what the weather will be like from one hour to the next - sunny, rainy, sunny, hot, cold, windy.  We learn to be prepared and always carry a brolly even if the sun is out. I have to say I am not a particular fan of winter but I think the best way of handling it is to enjoy the positives.

People don't notice whether it's summer or winter when they're happy
                                                                                          Anton Chekov

So here is my list of 12 ways to survive winter:
1.  Take time to read.  There is nothing more delightful than spending an afternoon curled up with a good book in front of a fire.
2. Make pots of soup, hearty casseroles, steamed puddings, and cheese rolls to eat in front of TV
(cheese rolls recipe at the end of this post)
 3.  Soak in a hot bath late in the afternoon and get into your pyjamas and dressing gown straight  after,  deliciously decadent and cosy.
4.  Stand at a window and watch the rain and/or hail.
5.  Wrap up warmly and go for a walk... exhilarating and you feel so virtuous.
A walk along a wild beach with the waves crashing in is exhilarating
 6. Marvel at nature's beauty in rainbows
7. Catch up on all those TV programmes you have recorded or watch whole box sets
8. Drink red wine, hot chocolate with marshmallows (good reason to go walking) and lemon, honey and ginger toddies

9. Enjoy the winter beauty of your garden, that is if your garden isn't buried under snow!

I enjoy the azaleas in my garden right through winter
10. Treat yourself to a trip to a hot spa. In New Zealand we are blessed with multiple hot thermal pools, a soak in one warms you right through to your bones.
11. Go to bed early and fall asleep to the soothing sound of rain on the roof
12. Make a point of calling in on friends for a catch up.  A cup of coffee or tea and good conversation makes any day seem sunnier.

 Japanese Proverb: One kind word can warm three winter months

And if none of that works and you are still suffering from Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD)  do what I am doing in a couple of weeks time, head off to a warm tropical clime for a break and some healing sunshine. Then just remember the wise words of a great poet:

O wind, if winter comes, Can spring be far behind?
                                                Percy Bysshe Shelley

And here is the promised recipe for Cheese Rolls, famous in the South Island of New Zealand:
Cheese rolls = comfort food

250grams grated tasty cheese
1 onion finely chopped
200 mls evaporated milk
1/2 a packet of onion soup powder
1/2 a loaf of sandwich bread

Put everything except the bread into a saucepan and melt gently, stirring frequently, over a low heat.  Once thoroughly melted remove from the heat and allow to cool down a bit before spreading generously onto slices of bread.  Roll the bread up and grill the rolls in the oven, turning frequently until all nicely browned.  I make up a batch of these and freeze them before grilling so I  have a ready supply of comforting snacks on hand to just pop under the grill when needed.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Was this really 50 years ago?

Today it is 50 years  since New Zealand changed from pounds, shillings and pence to a decimal currency system and it has set me on a nostalgic journey of memories.  As a just-out-of-school teller the change over had meant weeks of training at the bank where I worked, angst, excitement and anticipation. As it turned out the change over went without a hitch and life soon settled down into a comfortable, albeit less complicated, routine again. Although I did hear a story of a prisoner in jail concerned that the money he had buried would be worthless when he got out!

One pound became $2. $2 is now a coin.
Young people today might spare a thought for the 5 and 6 year olds of earlier generations, starting school and having to grapple with the complicated three column adding system which was as follows: pennies in the right column, shillings in the middle column and pounds in the left column.  To make matters worse 2 halfpennies made a penny, 12 pennies made a shilling, 20 shillings made a pound, 21 shillings made a guinea  There was no logic to it at all.  But it was not only currency that made learning maths difficult, New Zealand's whole system was in imperial measurements: distances, weight, land area, oven temperatures etc. etc.  So a primary school child had to struggle with 12 inches make one foot, 3 feet make one yard, 1760 yards make a mile and that's not counting furlongs, roods, acres etc., it was enough to put you off maths for life!  Those lessons must have really sunk in, though, because even today I still think of a person's height in feet and inches and, curiously, babies birth weights are still often reported in pounds and ounces. Even Britain, which has steadfastly clung to the names Pound and Pennies, has changed to a decimal system for their currency at least.

At the time of my banking career all interest payments were calculated on a daily basis by staff, (nothing so fancy as a computer or even a calculator, then)  and entered by pen in a column running down the side of a customers account ledger card.  I worked at this for a while and I must say it certainly brushed up my mental arithmetic. The bank employed elderly, retired men to double check the interest workings just to make sure they were correct.  These old men were great to work with and were affectionately known in the bank as "retreads" I remember one who wore slippers to work so, in order not to be seen by the public, had to take unbelievably long circuitous routes around the bank to get from A to B.

My first weekly pay was 7 pounds 10 shillings = to $15. It was a very reasonable pay rate at the time. I paid 3 pounds to my mother for board, and still had enough for bus fares, lunches, clothes and the odd trip to the movies etc.  We weren't really a consumer society then and most of my clothes I made myself but I still felt I was doing OK.  By the time I became engaged, a couple of years later, and after a couple of modest pay rises, I had managed to save $1000.

When I look at photos of those days in 1967 I can hardly believe that that was my youth, it looks so old fashioned!  Interestingly I worked for the bank for 6 years and do not have a single photo of myself in the work place, or even of my workplace, no one ever thought of taking photos at work, and besides, photography was expensive so kept for holidays and special occasions.

So here we are 50 years later and so much has changed, computers do a major part of banking work, actually the bank I worked for was the first in New Zealand to get computers and I was among the first to use them, and small coins became worthless so that now New Zealand's smallest coin is 10 cents, the equivalent of a shilling. Also, interestingly, while I worked at the bank staff were invited to sit a computer programming aptitude test.  I gained a high score, higher than some of the men who were selected for training in that area, but I was not selected because I was a woman "and would probably leave to have children".  I still, all these years later, feel some resentment over that. And I can't help being stunned sometimes  when young shop assistants have to use a calculator to add two very simple amounts leaving me to wonder what on earth they get taught at school these days.  Not like the good (not so good) old days, eh?

P.S. Another sign of the times is that the beautiful, heritage bank building I first worked in now houses a McDonalds.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Lemons are like Sunshine

It's the depths of winter here which means rain, wind and, if we're lucky, a few days of sunshine.  The past week ran true to form, several days sunny with a wet and miserable weekend.  Inside weather indeed but a great opportunity to make the preserves I had planned.

Little orbs of sunshine
I love lemons and anything flavoured with lemon. I also take delight in my lemon tree, its bright golden orbs of fruit bringing a bit of sunshine into my garden on a dull or rainy day. This year my  tree has gifted me a beautiful crop of fat juicy lemons so a rainy weekend was the perfect time to get in the kitchen, pump up the music and set to work.  

Out came the Edmond's Cookbook for a recipe for Lemon Honey.  For New Zealanders the Edmond's Cookbook is like a bible. First produced in 1908 as a marketing tool for Edmond's Baking Powder it is still the most popular cook book in the country. The recipes are simple, wholesome, and good for families. To date it has sold 3 million copies and I doubt there would be many households that don't have a copy stashed in amongst their fancy, expensive recipe books. I have had my copy since I was first married and it is dirty, tattered, splashed and worn but I still love it.  I have bought later editions but they have left out key recipes so I always head back to this one.   I hasten to add I can't claim all responsibility for its condition,  my three sons all used it to whip up breakfast, snacks and biscuits.  Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

First off, Lemon Honey and this is the recipe from the Edmonds Cookbook.  Tried and true, reliable and yummy.

500 grams sugar
125 grams butter
4 eggs
Rind and juice of 4 lemons

Grate only the yellow parts of the lemons, the white part of the rind is bitter.
Strain the lemon juice to remove pips
Beat the eggs a little
Put all ingredients into the top part of a double boiler or in a basin over simmering water. 
 Cook slowly until thick and smooth
Put into hot sterilised jars and cover when cold.

NB: you can sterlise jars by heating in an oven at 120 degrees for half an hour.  I put the jars in the oven at the same time as I start heating it.  Lids can be sterilised in boiling water.

Lemon honey can be used in tarts, on toast or scones, drizzled over ice cream, in an Eton Mess, on crumpets, or as a filling for meringues.  It is so good.


I love these.  They are an essential ingredient in Moroccan cooking and when mixed in with any cooked vegetable or salad make something mundane really sing.  Most people eat only the skin, not the flesh.

Clean scrubbed lemons
Coarse Salt
Any spices you would like to add.  I usually add a cinnamon stick some pepper corns and a bay leaf.
A sterilised jar with a good seal.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salt in the bottom of the jar.
Cut the lemons lengthwise into quarters being careful not to cut right to the bottom so that the lemon is still held together
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt into the centre of each lemon
Squeeze and squash each lemon into the jar
Top the jar with lemon juice to ensure the lemons are completely covered by juice
Sprinkle 2 more tablespoons of salt over the top
Seal the jar.

Leave in a cool place for a few days, tipping it upside down and shaking a little each day.  Then store in the fridge but remember to give it a shake every few days.  They should be ready to use in 3 weeks and will last up to 10 months.

It was a satisfying afternoon in the kitchen