Culinary Adventures with Hope

June 3, 2013

It’s time to give you another taste of nourishing meals. So, grab a snack, your beverage of choice and pull up a comfy chair.

Not the best opening for my tale but my first night in Wellington was, well, sketchy. My recommendation for putting such things behind you is to embrace the beauty, hope and joy of life even more fully the next day. And, whatever you do, don’t carry the ooglies with you.

So, after an outrageously great start at Memphis Belle the next morning (thank you so much to everyone there, especially my friend in the Iron Maiden tee), I was ready to explore the city and surrounding areas.

As mentioned in a previous post, I found my way to Zealandia (more available in Photo Galleries). There, I spent hours hiking hills, rainforests and reservoirs over several kilometers. When I finally stopped, it was to take a seat at Zealandia’s Rata Cafe. I must admit that I went in with mediocre expectations for a dining establishment in an animal sanctuary. I was superbly surprised. Not only was it gluten-free but it was a collection of local, seasonal flavors that warmed the spirit and the body.

Rata Cafe at Zealandia

Bleu cheese, harvest vegetable risotto

With a busy agenda and many things still to see in a few hours, I didn’t get a chance to nourish myself again until later that evening. On my way to my new accommodation, I stumbled across a politically irreverent, totally fun and top-notch restaurant called The Backbencher Gastropub. I treated myself to three delectable courses and some chit-chat with the wonderful staff.

Starter at Backbencher Wellington

Pistachio tomatoes, haloumi, balsamic

Salmon carpaccio

Citrus salmon, dill, peppercorn, pecorino

Venison linguine

Venison linguine, chilli, shallots, BBQ, boconccini, spinach, herb crème fraiche

The next day took me via ferry (more like cruise ship) to the South Island. On the way, I met a fantastic, gifted new friend from India. She and I connected immediately, and it made the journey that much more remarkable. Once ashore, I grabbed brunch at Seabreeze Cafe. This healthy twist on fish and chips was gluten-free, not greasy at all and super fresh.

Healthy fish and chips

Pan-fried fish with lemon, tartare, chips, salad

Later the same day, I was further blessed with a late afternoon stop in Kaikoura—known for crawdads, tourism and delightful cafes. Groper Garage called me in with its glowing fireplaces, mix of metal and wood decor, and the smell of grilled seafood.

Groper Garage in Kaikoura

Mix of wood, metal, fire and irresistible

This gluten-free pizza was called Lord of the Squid Rings and was unbelievably awesome. I was in a rush to catch my bus, so I offered the few remaining slices to a young backpacking couple at a nearby table.

Lord of the squid rings

Garlic olive fish, mussels, calamari pizza

The following day, I took the TransAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth. I highly recommend KiwiRail, the onboard staff, the breathtaking views and the whole experience. It’s hard to fathom but even the food on the train was pretty good. However, what I will share next is The Landing Restaurant in Franz Josef, just around the corner from my motel.

Shanks for the memory

Lamb braised in ale, potato cake, veg, jus

With a glacier hike ahead of me the next day and a strong desire to linger near the warm wood stove next to my table, it was easy for one of the managers to “talk me into” a comforting dessert.

Dessert splurge

Apple strudel puff pastry, ice cream, crème anglaise

After rain, snow, ice, hiking, walking and dodging rockslides, I didn’t hold back on dinner the following night. I walked over to Canavans at the Scenic Hotel. I think the hotel staff thought I fell off the mountain with my layers of clothes, windblown hair and ravenous look. Still, they served me a nice meal.

Kicked up calamari

Chilli salt squid, mesculin, feta mayo

Curried cheese pie

Curried cottage cheese pie with cheese fried rice

Admittedly, it took me a couple of days to rebound from the grains, gluten and fried food. I sustained myself on tea, soup and eggs (ok, one fig and walnut chocolate trouffle). Then, on my second day in Queenstown, I found Avanti Restaurant. The server was sweet and skillfully handling the lunch crowd solo. Still, she took time to coach me on their allergy-conscious menu options. This gluten-free penne was tasty beyond words.

Pasta at Avanti Cafe

Chicken, sundried tomato, pesto penne

Next, I was thrilled to arrive in Dunedin. Despite a long walk from the relocated bus terminal in the industrial district to the Octagon in the city center, I was full of hope for my time there. The city has a strong Scottish influence, lots of architectural character and a bustling culinary scene. Potpourri Vegetarian Cafe was a little gem that popped out immediately. In fact, with gluten- and dairy-free options, I visited it on two separate days for lunch and breakfast.

Mixing up the veg

Potato, beans, pico, Moroccan chickpeas

Pre-travel breakfast

Porridge with cranberry, banana, honey

Ah, but going too long without a snack is a dangerous gamble. For the sake of food intolerances, I should have been more mindful about my dinner selection. But this sign and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective playing on the bar television was too hilarious to resist.

Witty sign in front of Alibi

Witty sign in front of Alibi

Alibi was a hopping spot and offered a remarkable menu of flavor combinations.

Gourmet pate

Chicken liver pate with brandy and pistachio

Duck wraps

Spiced up duck wonton wraps with micro greens

In lieu of jumping the bus to see the castle, trekking to the university or rambling along the harbor, I took it easy the following day. I started at the award-winning Nova Café Dunedin. I wanted to be extra cautious about my selection, so the chef and server were gracious enough to turn three gluten-free, dairy-free sides into one phenomenal breakfast. I could not give higher praise for the taste, the presentation, the service or the ambience.

Creation of sides

Smoked salmon, spinach, potato cake

Fueled with nutrients and hope, I visited the free Dunedin Public Art Gallery next door. Taking a momentary artistic tangent from my culinary report, my favorite piece was “Hope” by Edward Burne-Jones (view it). I highly recommend investing time in the outstanding collection on the ground floor.

A few hours later, I headed to the Dunedin Chinese Garden. Sitting amidst a zen space of tradition, tea and scholarly inspiration was exactly the reset my travel-weary spirit needed.

Dunedin Chinese Garden

Winter warmer afternoon tea

For dinner, I chose to sample the treasures of Cambodia. All I can say about San Restaurant is “wow.” Had I not veered onto a new path walking back from the Chinese Garden, I would have never found it. I was so intrigued that I walked in at 5:30 p.m., right as they were opening for the night.

San Cambodian cuisine in Dunedin

San Cambodian cuisine in Dunedin

The restaurant is owned by a family of female refugees, who have gracious spirits and a love for inventing new spice combinations. The San dressing (their signature accompaniment) is addictive. I took my server’s recommendation and added chilli flakes . . . yummmm. Gluten-free was a bonus, as the light dishes, Halal chicken and fresh veg danced on the palate. If you are ever in Dunedin, not stopping here would be tragic.

Khmer rice rolls

Prawn and veg rolls with amazing sauce

Bring on the ban chow

Chicken pancake, bean sprout, San dressing

Making my way north again, I have to give a nod to this snack in a little cafe in a little town on the east side of the South Island. They were in such a bustle to close up at 3 p.m., and I was in such a flurry to reboard my bus, that I failed to catch the name. Regardless, the break and bite were appreciated.

Tea and snack break

Sencha green tea and veg frittata

On to my final day in New Zealand . . . just down from the ferry terminal in Auckland, I found Ebisu. It was the day before Queen’s Birthday (a Kiwi holiday) and there were just a few patrons in for early dinner.

Ebisu in Auckland

Interior of Ebisu, Auckland waterfront

I researched and deliberately chose this restaurant as a last hurrah. All of the airport food, bus stop snacks and hours without a substantial meal left me craving my favorite thing: sushi. I was anything but disappointed, as I savored, sampled and sipped my way through a five-course meal.

Oysters on the half shell

Bluff oysters with tosazu, jalapeño salsa

Sushi at Ebisu

Sashimi, cucumber, tobiko, ginger, sesame dressing

Salmon sashimi

New Zealand salmon with gold leaf, seasonal blossom

Seared duck breast

Duck breast, soy and ginger pickled nashi pear, shichimi pepper, green tea salt

Final New Zealand treat

Red bean ice cream, handmade truffle

So, having explored the nourishment of New Zealand and tried some incredibly tantalizing dishes, I am returning to the smaller portions and mindful eating that works best for my sensitive system. I’m not looking at it as deprivation, as some of my choices (although delicious) were pretty tough on me.

Upon arrival in Sydney yesterday, I stopped for the lunch special at Bar 100. I chose a salad and side combo that is gluten-free and full of flavor. Oh, and the staff was increasingly friendly during my patio dining experience.

Winter salad and potatoes

Chicken, radicchio, rocket, fennel, tomato, feta and smashed rosemary potatoes

Right this moment, I’m sitting in a Bohemian-inspired apartment in Newtown, sipping my green tea, and nibbling sweet orange and ginger hazels (hazelnuts) from a farmers’ market. I hope that being present with my food choices will honor my body, enabling me to feel and act with a lighter state of being. Everything in hopeful moderation.

I Found Soul in Auckland

May 19, 2013

I’m a foodie. With that in mind, there is a special bond between my chapter “Hope is nourishment” and my everyday life. Friends, I reiterate gently that what you consume matters to your well-being.

This wall of confections did in my willpower at Honolulu Airport. Aloha melty, indulgent happiness.

Hawaiian confections

A plethora of Hawaiian confections

Normally, I don’t care much for ultra sweet treats; however, if it involves dark chocolate, roasted nuts and sea salt . . . forgettaboutit. This box stood zero chance of leaving the country intact.

Dark chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

Dark chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

Even the airplane food (thumbs up Hawaiian Airlines) was good: fresh fruit, cheese and tea were all pleasant surprises. Entering New Zealand, I felt comfortably nourished, which was especially nice at the exhausting hour of 10 p.m. local time.

One of my first Kiwi culinary “wow” moments was at an eclectic little bistro in Devonport. Correlli’s Cafe was my safe haven from the rainy streets, with the promise of a hot pot of tea and this outrageously good lamb burger. (I opted for bunless and they graciously gave me extra veg.) The service was exceptional.

Bleu cheese lamb burger and field salad

Bleu cheese lamb burger and field salad

Next, came a pleasant encounter with a vegan, gluten-free restaurant in Auckland Central called Raw Power Cafe. It took me a moment to get used to grilled tomatoes but the eggs were awesome. Breakfast foods are hard to beat on the get-the-day-off-to-a-hopeful-start scale.

Vegan breakfast at Raw Power

Vegan breakfast at Raw Power

Being a foodie means I have spent countless hours watching cooking shows, culinary competitions and chef tastings. It also means losing myself in the kitchen after a busy day and being inventive. So, I ventured up the street to a local market. The selection was truly impressive.

Amazingly fresh produce

Amazingly fresh produce

With supplies in hand and a sense of hopeful creativity, I opted to let New Zealand cold smoked salmon be the star of this show. Below are rice crackers topped with lightly aged goat’s milk brie, a hint of evoo, green leaf lettuce, avocado, the salmon, a squeeze of lime and a dash of sea salt. Mmmmm.

My spontaneous salmon creation

My spontaneous salmon creation

Ok, when I decided to journey to the Shire in Matamata, I loaded up on snacks, unsure of what menu options I would have to choose from. Lo and behold, I found a cafe called Eat. Urban Foodstuffs with this all-vegetable pizza (even the crust is dehydrated veggies).

Super colorful vegetable pizza

Super colorful vegetable pizza

Next up is the Ponsonby district in Auckland, full of boutique shops, little cafes, a cute Lululemon store and a bunch of culture. Landreth & Co. has one of the best menus I have seen and, as an added bonus, put up with me working online for around 90 minutes (a bit long by New Zealand standards). This is the Waikanae crab, paprika and spring onion omelette with fresh lime. I added their fabulous dill potatoes. It was perfect and didn’t even need cheese or any extra seasoning. No wonder they have won awards.

Crab omelette and dill potatoes

Crab omelette and dill potatoes

I wish I had taken a picture of the stellar vegetable risotto that I had at Mecca Chancery in Auckland. The server was a sweetheart and the patio dining was the ideal way to recharge my hopeful outlook midday.

My next ferry excursion took me to Waiheke Island, where the hiking, fresh air and waves resulted in a profound appetite. I refueled with this corned beef, potato, poached eggs and herb specialty at Wai Kitchen. I’m not much of a red meat gal but their corned beef was prepared without a flaw. The view from the glass patio overlooking Oneroa Bay didn’t hurt either.

Housemade corned beef

Housemade corned beef

Let me pause for a moment to advise you that New Zealand dining is relatively pricey. So, when I found a $13 Thai lunch special, including soup, I was skeptical. The ambience at Sukhothai was open and inviting, so I sat down. I ordered the deep fried monk fish cakes (one of two gluten-free starter options) and the green curry chicken. Loved the soup, liked the spices in the fish and enjoyed the bright heat of the curry. It had some vegetables I wasn’t used to seeing in curry in the States as well as a thinner sauce but, overall, was nice. Word to the wise: Kiwi hot is plenty.

Green curry Thai lunch special

Green curry Thai lunch special

My playful side cannot help but mention this fun place, which happened to be closed as I passed by. The concept is delightful and, should I venture back through Auckland, I sense I will need to get my milk and cookie mustache on.

Milk and cookie bar

Milk and cookie bar

As I learned the area and met outstanding contacts around town, my hope for fabulous dining experiences grew. I was not disappointed by this lucky find or, as I refer to it, the soul of my culinary journey. Soul is across from the docks and just down from the ferry building; therefore, I walked up expecting a selection of seafood. I could not have been happier with their menu or their personable service. Both the hostess and my server were truly wonderful women. They accommodated me without a reservation (shhh, don’t tell) despite a busy Friday evening crowd and even followed up as I left to ensure I had a superior time. The food shined. From the oysters with ponzu, chive and caviar, to the salt + pepper calamari with saffron and mint . . . seriously, blew my tastebuds away.

Oysters and calamari

Oysters and calamari

And, just when I thought my night could not get any better, they delivered this pièce de résistance: lightly smoked Gameford Lodge duck breast with mandarin puree + autumn beets and grilled haloumi. Holy heaven, Scrooge McDuck. (Forgive the lighting; it was all candles and street lamps.)

Duck, beets and haloumi

Duck, beets and haloumi

Last, but in no way least, was the culmination of my sushi reconnaissance. I could not believe how many so-so, takeaway, preprepared sushi joints there were in the city. So, I had to really work to find an authentic sushi bar. I definitely hit the jackpot with Sharaku.

Entrance to Sharaku sushi bar

Entrance to Sharaku sushi bar

I was going to post the New Zealand salmon sashimi (light, delicate and fabulous), the tamago, the kanpyo roll, the shinko roll (Japanese pickles) or the red snapper. Instead, I will highlight this tummy-warming wonder: chawan mushi, or steamed egg custard with chicken and prawn. The broth, the lightness and the decorative presentation made for a savory finale to the meal. My compliments to the cheerful staff.

Chicken and prawn custard

Chicken and prawn custard

To close, hope is a lifestyle. If that lifestyle involves healthy choices, food explorations and a balance of nourishment, then you are on your way. That’s why so many cultures toast meals “to your health.” Treat your greatest tangible gift (your body) with the greatest of care.

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