Saturday, October 26, 2013

Vegan dumplings

I love dumplings, but I'm not a big meat eater. Recently I've been reading a travel blog about an American couple cycling slowly around the world, who are currently in China. They are yoga fanatics and vegan when possible, and I like their relaxed attitude to travel particularly when it comes to making compromises. Like when food ends up on your plate not quite what you thought you ordered. Having travelled with some very demanding, and at times rude, vegetarians, it's refreshing to see people who treat other people's food choices with respect. Their blog is My Five Acres and this vegan recipe is inspired by them.

For my dumpling wrappers I used wholemeal spelt flour, simply because that's what I have at the moment, but any flour will do. Note spelt isn't gluten free, but I'm not gluten intolerant, if you are, sorry to hear it. I usually find that a cup of flour makes enough dumplings for 1-2 people, you just add  enough cold water to make a crumbly dough, knead a few times then wrap in plastic (or cover with a damp cloth, lets be kind to the environment whilst we're about it) and let it do its magic for 30-40 minutes. meanwhile, make your filling.

I had some Taiwanese couch surfers stay with me a year or so ago, and they always carry a dumpling maker with them. To my surprise I already owned one too and hadn't realised it. You can get them in kitchen shops and Asian stores for next to nothing and they're not a bad travel accessory if you plan to do your own cooking a lot.

A usual dumpling filling involves a meat mixture, but for this vegan recipe, I'm using broad beans. I soaked the beans overnight then boiled them. Broad beans have a great earthy taste and texture.

To the beans I added garlic, 

lots of chives from my garden

and of course, chillis!

After chopping them up in the whiz I added olive oil and some curry powder and finished pureeing them with a bamix attachment.

This ended up very green indeed, with quite a bite!

I use my pasta machine to get a consistent thickness for the wrappers. I usually stop at the second last setting as I find the thinnest setting too hard to work with. Alternatively, just use a rolling pin. Then use the opened back of the dumpling maker to cut your rounds.

I had a little trouble using the dumpling maker with my wrappers in this recipe, I think because the flour was still quite doughy and sticky, but usually I place the round in the maker, fill with a teaspoon of filling, moisten the edge with a little water then fold the two sides together. This makes a perfect looking dumpling, like these ones

This time I just did free hand, placing a teaspoon of filling in the centre of each round then folding into the middle.

Then they are placed in paper lined steaming baskets and steamed. Bamboo steamers are also really easy to find in shops and asian stores.

Once cooked, transfer to plate, sprinkle with soy sauce and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


How is my garden going? I hear you ask. Damn fine thank you!

My house sitter this time around did a wonderful job of looking after my dog, house and garden. Not only did I arrive back to a cleaner than clean house, a very content pooch and a pantry still stocked with food, but the garden was alive and wasn't a weed infested jungle. Thankyou Mel, feel free to use me as a referee for future house sits.

Whilst I was away it rained. A lot. In fact it's still raining. This is extremely unusual for Geraldton, but has resulted in very happy plants indeed. Especially the fruit trees.

One of the grape vines I planted earlier this year has almost climbed to the top, but the passionfruit has gone bananas. It won't be long before I'm harvesting my first crop!

The mango tree is putting out some lateral shoots, and I need to keep an eye on what's causing the browning of its leaves. Probably a nutrient problem - a never-ending complaint with our porous soils.

The dragonfruit plants have all put on lots of new succulent growth. I'll be expecting a greater quantity of showy flowers and fruit next year. Hopefully from more than one plant too...

Meanwhile in the backyard the mulberry tree has produced a bumper crop. I'm gorging myself on these berries high in Vit C and antioxidants, even if my guts are purple from tongue to ....

I planted a number of papaya trees along the northern tropical patch, and one is now budding. I've had a few smaller fruits drop too early, but I'm hoping that this one will grow to maturity.

The fig tree has pushed out a couple of little fruits, but it's not actually fig season so I suspect they'll drop soon enough. I struggle to get figs to grow here - no idea why, it's a mediterranean climate.

In the patch itself I've just planted watermelon and rockmelon seeds. I planted too late last year and the heat knocked em off. Hopefully I'll be harvesting by Christmas.

The citrus are all in need of a little TLC but it's mostly cosmetic. After stressing the lemon out a couple of years ago transplanting it, it at last looks like its roots are off and away and there's a promise of fruit.

Next time I'll give you a veggie update.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Inner angst

The last few weeks since my return home have been difficult. Something really fundamental has shifted somewhere in my psyche and I am no longer content.

In fact I'm impatient.

Impatient to get on with my life and get out of the rut I find myself in. A rut that will take more than a little effort to climb out of.

Like many professional people my age I was able to enter the real estate market at a time when housing was affordable, and I now have assets worth up to 4 times what I paid for them. I also have no children to look out for me should I become infirm, so these assets are my way of ensuring I can grow old without financial worries.

I am a Taurus. I am not going to sell everything up for a "live life now" philosophy, my nature just won't allow it. There has to be a safety net, a backup plan should things go awry. I know what it's like to swing from monetary crisis to monetary crisis (it's happened in my own past as well as figuring highly as a causal factor in the poor health of many of my patients) and it is very unpleasant. I am not a free spirit.

Due to my investments over the years I have a lot of debt, and although I am receiving good income, I am not yet receiving enough to both reduce debt and provide a passive income. So the need to continue a paid job to reduce my debt remains.

I get paid quite well. I work for an NGO, I'm on a salary, I only work part time, but the pay is excellent. I could work more, but there lies the problem: I can't.

I seriously can not make myself work more shifts. I don't think I hate my job or workplace or anything, I'm just totally over the drudgery of going to work every day, listening to people's problems and helping them solve them. If I was to describe how I feel, it's boredom. It doesn't excite me, it doesn't challenge me, it bores me!!

Friends have suggested I might be happier in a different setting, working in private practice or something. No dears, seeing patients is the boring bit, and I can tell you that the medical scenarios I see working in Aboriginal health are a darn sight more interesting and challenging than "tears and smears" in mainstream general practice. Nup, I'm so over it.

I feel that I have given a large part of my life to a really good cause (caring for the first peoples of Australia) and am ready for something new. I certainly don't believe that I still owe anyone (especially not the government that provided me with a free education), that I have to keep being a doctor because that's what I'm trained to do. I think I've done my time, and I want to now expand my horizons.

I'm continuously befuddled by people who don't understand. Apparently doctors are seen as vocationally pure, that is, we want to be doctors till the day we die. Do we apply the same logic to teachers, nurses, carpenters, craftspeople, etc, many of whom have alternate careers?

I have to say, I still enjoy teaching, and am interested in policy, though appalled at the politics, of health care. One of the reasons I work part time is it gives me time to do teaching, although when I have attempted to expand this role I have not always been successful. Perhaps because I have been reluctant to reduce my clinical load knowing how much my knowledge and experience is appreciated. It's a fine line to walk indeed...

So here I am, coping with the drudgery of a paid job, but happily saving the pennies it brings in and watching the debt recede. I'm also trying to pass on the teaching culture and knowledge to some of my colleagues, so that they can carry on when I leave.

I'm staying until the end of 2014, mainly because of teaching commitments I've made. After that, I plan to be free.

I can't keep taking long holidays every year to stay sane. I have to get out of the mad house. These last few weeks have shown me this, that even long breaks are no longer working.

Please don't feel sorry for me. I'm perfectly capable of extricating myself from this predicament. And I'm putting it out there so that I don't waver in my commitment to get out of the rut.

By the end of 2014 I should have

  1. reduced my debt enough to be able to finance my travels from passive income.
  2. renegotiated the terms of any loans I still have so I am not forced to pay off principal as well as interest (it's a lot easier to renegotiate an interest only loan when you have a substantial pay check coming in). 
  3. trained up my colleagues to take over the supervision of training for medical students and GP registrars.
  4. sold some property to consolidate my income into the better performing properties and reduced my overall debt
  5. decided whether I will renovate and keep my beach house, or sell up and leave
Yes, number 5 is the big one! Do I keep my little piece of paradise in Drummond Cove, or do I cut myself loose? Selling would reduce my debt to zero, and would remove the angst of caring about whether someone was looking after a place I still had a close personal attachment to. I still don't know where I stand on this, but it's now a possibility in the equation, whereas six months ago I had not even contemplated the notion of giving it up. I guess it will depend on how my savings progress over the next few months as it may not become necessary. Then again, it may be what I need to truly cut myself free.

That gives me 15 months to get my shit together. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

In the lap of the gods

Roundhill: closed. Cheeseman: closed. Craigieburn: closed. Porters and Broken River: marginal. Temple Basin: too far, also marginal. So I drove to Methven and asked in a ski shop: "How's Olympus?"

I'd heard that Olympus had good snow cover, that it hadn't lost its snow with the heavy rainfall over the last few days, and was good spring skiing. It was either there or Mt Hutt and I desperately wanted an authentic club skifield experience. Plus I had a Chill Pass, meaning I could ski Olympus for free. So off over the Rakaia River I went to Windwhistle and turned left into the mountains.

It's freakishly remote up there. The bitumen turns to gravel, then soon you are on a narrow winding track heading up a valley. The scenery is jaw droppingly spectacular. This is someone's sheep property, and up the top of this mountain somewhere is a ski field!

I arrived at "the bottom hut" about 3:30pm and radioed up to "the top hut" to find out if the road was clear. It was, but I had a little food left to cook, and could save a few pennies staying overnight down below. I've stayed in worse backpackers hostels than this hut, it was so cosy!

Sitting by the fire with a full belly watching videos on my laptop, a car drove up, the door burst open and two lads from Melbourne loped in. They were continuing up the mountain and needed to radio ahead to let the top hut know they were on their way. Because you've got to take a rope tow and ski up to the top hut. They gave me some very helpful advice for the morning and off they went.

Next morning I headed up the shale track to the top carpark. This is not a road for the faint hearted, and making it up there in my little 2WD chariot, even without it being icy or needing chains, was a test of skill and nerves. I almost got bogged in the soft stones, but I just reversed back down and tried a new approach. Dodging the large rocks brought down by slides also took a bit of concentration.

and then she got snowed on!
Up at the top carpark I found myself a tow belt and nutcracker in the shed, hoisted on my backpack, donned boots and skis and proceeded to the first rope tow of my life. The lads had suggested I radio up and let them know I'd never used a ropetow before, because this particular one is fast and pretty tricky. Down came Ange, one of the patrollers, who took me through the process. Thankfully, she stopped the tow, I clamped on, and then she turned it back on, so it was relatively painless. I just needed to make sure I kept my hands out of the way of the pulleys, and kept the rope on them. Here's what I'm talking about:

At the top of the access tow are a few other tows. The main tow takes you up the mountain, the other takes you a short way up so you can ski over to the top hut. I chose to walk. Being a resort skier, I've never spent much time with a backpack on, and this one had all my gear for the next few days. Falling over with that weight on my back wasn't something I wanted to experience, particularly if the falling over was me trying to get onto a rope tow! So the walk of shame it was!!

The Top Hut is a true mountain lodge. A large area for dining and socialising, as well as a verandah facing the hill, a well stocked bar with commercial espresso machine, a very warm drying room, great bunk rooms with individual storage space and reading lights, and a hot tub. Yes, a hot tub!!

This is a ski in, ski out experience. You literally clip out of your skis, drop your poles and walk on in to the hut. And everyone is so friendly and welcoming you feel right at home within minutes. A good coffee helps too..

After meeting the few other hardy souls who'd come up the hill and the staff who keep the field ticking along, it was time to don the nutcracker and learn how to ride a rope tow. Let me just say this took a long time, and a lot of very friendly and helpful advice from everybody else. And I got some very impressive bruises for my efforts in the most bizzarre places.

By the time I managed to coordinate myself and make it up the hill it was getting on for lunchtime, and the visibility was pretty soupy. I asked a couple of young lads the way down and they suggested I follow them, "jumps being optional". All very well if you can see the kicker to avoid it in the first place! Raw nerves sliced to bits, I shakily arrived back for lunch.

After lunch I headed out with Peter, a chap from Cairns who normally skis at Craigieburn, but they were closed weren't they. He's a telemark skier; that's like going down a mountain doing lunges. Respect!! We did a few runs and I started to get a feel for the mountain terrain (nothing is groomed here) even though the visibility was shit. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I persisted.

Heather's photo of me with my snazzy nutcracker belt
The following morning we woke to the beautiful silence of snow falling, quite a surprise given the warm conditions, although it had been freezing getting out of the hot tub the previous night!! Once the mountain manager and staff had dug out the tows and assessed the safety of the snowpack we headed out into the white. I didn't do too well by myself, but went out later with Heather, a local lass, and we skiied the tow line where we could actually see. It was lovely soft dry snow, but by late afternoon it was pretty sloppy and sections of snow were breaking away. Only small, but still avalanches. This is a mountain where you always ski with a beacon, shovel and probe.

Thanks to Heather: me skiing pow!

Thursday dawned sunny with blue skies, so we followed the sun skiing corn till it got too heavy. Some of the flatter sections became very gluggy, which caused a few hilarious sudden stops! The sun gave me a chance to bring out the GoPro, so you get to laugh with me. Imagine having to do a fast descent to get across a long flat section without poling. That's this clip.

Then imagine that the flat section softens up and gets a bit gloopy, creating a pretty effective brake, and you take the descent at the same speed without realising what is about to happen.

Welcome to backcountry spring skiing!

Olympus was a real eye opener to me. I met people who don't mind trekking or skinning to find some good skiing, who take safety very seriously, but also don't mind just sitting around marking a school paper, or watching the America's Cup, rather than skiing every hour of the day. The club atmosphere, the well stocked bar, the crazy cocktail combinations, the great food, and a nightly soak in the hot tub all made it an experience I'd like to repeat.


I even cooked sticky date pudding and shared my recipe with the chef!!

Olympus, the goddess will be back!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Excuse me, there's a baby seal in my soup!

You go places and you hear about the wildlife right? About how you can see whales, and dolphins and seals and sea birds blah blah blah. Of course you expect you'll have to pay someone a pretty penny for the privilege. And then there's Kaikoura.

Admittedly, going out on a boat to experience the whales and dolphins will cost you a minor fortune, but luckily, the seals come for free. They are frigging everywhere!!

Kaikoura is about 2 and a half hours drive north of Christchurch, but I took all day due to numerous detours down roads to cute beaches, including these awesome cliffs near Gore Bay.

The final drive into Kaikoura hugs the ocean, alongside the railway line, because the mountains literally meet the sea around here. The highway passes through numerous small tunnels and would be an enjoyable scenic drive, but for the chance of being rammed up the arse by a big truck if you slow down too much!!

Kaikoura sits on a small promontory, sandwiched between the sea and the mountains, with a deep ocean trench just offshore which attracts all sorts of pelagics to feed in the upswelling currents of nutrients. This is the place to see sperm whales, as well as southern right whales, both almost hunted to extinction back in the bad old days when we needed whale oil and hadn't worked out how to drill for fossil fuels. It's sobering to think how much we humans have plundered our natural resources in just a couple of hundred years...

It's not really whale season at present, and far too freaking cold to go swimming with dolphins, so I saved my precious pennies and headed out to trek the peninsular loop instead. Oh, and acquaint myself with a bunch of lazy old seals sunning themselves along the promenade and in the carparks.

I don't know of that many places where seals live in such close proximity to human habitation, or where the authorities allow such intimate interaction. I suspect quite a few tourists get attacked and bitten each year in their enthusiasm to get photos, but with a no blame insurance policy in NZ, I guess the authorities can just put up the warning signs and leave the punters to take responsibility for their actions. Seems quite sensible really.

The walk along the cliffs is very pretty, but a sunny day would have made the colours sing more. Then again, I am in New Zealand....

Home of hobbits and faeries...

The following day I headed up the highway a few clicks to Ohau (yes another one) Stream, where baby seals hang out in a large pool with waterfall whilst their mums head off to sea to feed. When the babes get hungry they head back down to their birthing rock and wait for mum to return so they can get a feed. When mum thinks they are big enough to wean off the breast she just doesn't come back. Then our hungry chappy has no choice but to head out to sea to find himself some fish. I'm thinking there might be a few orcas hanging offshore waiting for this little opportunity....

So here's a few photos of this wee stream and waterfall. They station a volunteer ranger up there to stop the tourists getting too friendly with the wee ones. He told me a month ago there were over a hundred babies in the pool!! Imagine that..

And a little video of them swimming in the pool here

On Monday, the sun came out. I almost stayed another day, but I decided to have one more attempt at reaching a club ski field. That's next!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ski Goddess heads north

It hasn't been the best ski season in New Zealand this year, as far as snow cover and quality is concerned. What started with a huge bang in late June, with snow falls over 2 metres in 24 hours in some parts of the Alps, also caused some nasty avalanches which knocked out lift infrastructure at a few ski fields. Then it just didn't snow for a month and the weather didn't oblige by staying cold, and when precipitation happened, it fell as rain. Some fields never really recovered.

Treble Cone was lucky, with the Saddle Basin being at a much higher altitude it maintained its snow cover all season, even if the off piste was sometimes so firm it was unrideable. But the main front basin was a different story, with trails only maintained by creative snow shifting and snow making when the temperature dropped low enough. Which wasn't very often! It was a very warm July...

Lower altitude fields, like Coronet Peak, suffered dreadfully from a lack of snow cover, as did many of the Canterbury club fields and by the time the ski goddess headed north from Wanaka, many had already closed for the season. But a few were still open, and a great day was had at Mt Dobson skiing corn. For those not in the know, "corn" is the term used for spring softened snow that has the consistency of softened butter. Spreadable but still firm. Melts too much and it becomes heavy and slushy. The trick is to follow the sun as it softens the snow to just the right consistency, and then move on to the next softened stash.

Those are my sweet lines baby!

After Dobson, the ski goddess decided to take a chance at getting to Craigieburn before the forecast bad weather. After dumping Nigel in Springfield, which according to Nigel wasn't dissimilar to its Simpsons' namesake, the goddess headed back up Arthurs Pass and the narrow little mountain track that passes as skifield access to Craigieburn. Arriving at 2:30, the mountain manager immediately informed me that the mountain had a 90% chance of being closed the next day. As it turned out, it closed for the season. I'd missed my chance.

Back down the road in Springfield, Nigel had seen all there was to see and was ready to board a bus to Christchurch. As he hasn't yet mastered the concept of regular Facebook updates we may never hear from him again. The ski goddess and Lambie, on the other hand, headed north.

We'd left Tekapo that morning, and after a few hours of driving, including the Craigieburn detour, the ski goddess was a little tired. The nearest BBH hostel on the drive north was in Waipara, a wine growing district a mere hour north of Christchurch. And the hostel was a gem - old train carriages turned into bunkhouses, the station house into the kitchen, and free eggs and freshly baked bread for breakfast!

Just down the road was the local pub, where a 3 course dinner could be had for a mere $20, and the local wine came filled to the brim and at 2/3 the price of what I'd been paying in tourist town Wanaka.

The locals were a motley crew of vineyard workers who worked hard, played hard, smoked incessantly, and invited me to join them playing a few games of pool and choosing songs from the jukebox. It was kind of refreshing to spend some time with local kiwis, the ones without the incomes to support a ski habit. I lost a few games, danced to a few songs, and staggered home to my carriage for the night.

Free breakfast eaten, the chariot packed and back on the road, we continued north. Slowly, via numerous detours down roads to beaches,

 including one small community that reminded me so much of dear old Drummonds that I felt positively homesick!

And then we arrived in Kaikoura...