Friday, January 26, 2007

PJ and Maya's first week of summer school ..

PJ and Maya started their summer session earlier this week. The two weeks before the new session starts is structured as fun days and each day has a specific theme. This seems to be quite cool and the girls have been excited and looking forward to school.

On Monday was recycling day. When we asked Maya what she wanted to do, she said that she wants to recycle PJ. They built a castle out of various recycled paper. We were not aware that summer school ends at 1:00 pm. Mari got a call on the cell at 1:30 (for once we were actually carrying it). She and Cecile were in the Richmond area wine tasting, so they got to school quite quickly. Tuesday was jewelry day, where they made bracelets. On Wednesday they made beautiful name plaques. PJ used some pretty paua (abalone) shells on her plaque. Thursday was camping day. We did not have our tent available (its at the new place where we've kept some of our stuff), so Maya and PJ played with the other kids tents. Friday was wheels day, so they took their bike and tryke to school.

They've been making some pretty good lunches too at school, mousetrap (vegemite and cheese sandwich), stuffed pita pockets, veggie bake and baked bean sandwiches. Mari has been taking them on some brutally long bike rides and they are exhausted by dinner time. We've been having dinner much earlier this week (5:00 pm or so). They also like to wash their own dishes and can spend quite some time in this activity. Mari bought some plastic tubs to use as sinks and they soap and scrub their bowls and plates. Kinda cool to see them growing up and entertaining each other

Restaurant Review: Sushi House

We love sushi. We've been craving good sushi since we got here and the local sushi places did not look very good. Most of them sell pre-packaged boxes of california roll, unagi and salmon. I read a good review of Sushi House (5 Bank, Nelson, 03-546-6665). We decided that we'd get takeaway for our friday night sushi dinner. Maya was obviously very excited and thrilled hear this.

On thursday, I walked by this place at 5:00 pm or so and it was already closed since it was out of stuff. They did not have a takeaway menu either, and seemed like the other sushi places we've seen in Nelson. They also had a sign asking people to call before 2:00 pm if they wanted to order a sushi dinner. Mari called them Friday morning. Since we did not have a menu, we asked them to make a dinner platter to feed 4 adults (we consider Maya an adult when it comes to eating sushi). We also added some salmon sashimi to the dinner platter

I picked up the food at 4:00 pm or so on Friday. Instead of a takeway box, the owner Masao, gives me the sushi in a beautiful japanese wooden tray covered with saran wrap. He takes down my name and number and checks when I would be able to written the tray back. For NZD $50, there is a fair amount of sushi and sashimi in it ( approx 36 pieces sushi and 5 slices salmon sashimi). The platter was made up of: inari, unagi, sake, tomago, sake / egg / cucumber roll, salmon avocado sushi and roll, amaebi, cooked shrimp, beef / cucumber roll, ebi, and a seaweed / salmon / avocado tiny roll.

The quality of the sushi was excellent. The rice was soft and sweet (much tastier than sushi rice i've had in the past). Maya gorged herself silly on everything and even tried a bit of wasabi. PJ amazed us by eating inari, tomago, unagi and a sake.

Overall, this was a great find for us, and I suspect it will make it into our regular takeaway schedule. My only complaint was it had too much salmon in it. Next time, we'll ask Masao for more variety and to include other types of raw fish. I'd give it a 7/10 and am hoping with more variety their rating will increase. We'll also try a few more rolls the next time. Mari was very pleased with the food and glad she found a place to get her protein fix :)

Cecile in Auckland

(from an email that cecile sent us!)

I just wanted to thank you again for inviting me over for the winter break! Auckland was nice! i was able to do everything that i wanted to do there. i hopped on an air bus to the city when i landed then got dropped off at a stop and just walked myself over to the auckland domain. I figured out where the museum was and decided to have lunch first. so i walked over to fishmonger's, everything was pretty easy to find. everything sounded and looked good. i tried their thai fish cake with a side of their polish beetroot salad with cabbage and mustard seed, then i figured i was eating pretty good and splurged for an order of kumara chips with aioli dip. couldn't finish those, so i took them with me to the museum. it was a yummy snack for later. i was quite happy with my choice for lunch. thanks for the recommendation.

then i walked back to the museum. that museum is big! i didn't have time to go to every room, but i was able to hit what i wanted to see, like the vaka moana exhibition and the other maori exhibits. i even saw the cultural performance, that was nice, i was able to take some pictures. after the museum, i realized i didn't have too much time to look for a cute coffee shop, the chocolate boutique to be exact. i found it, it was okay, not the best. i had a long black that actually worked very well with the very sweet cheesecake that i had got. i asked them what they thought was quite popular over there. if you ever get a chance to go there, i would suggest to try another place, it was actually not very exciting to me at all. when i left the place and kept on walking down parnell, i found other cafes that i thought may have been a little better. the chocolate boutique was just too overwhelming with a menu that was sooo long. menus that are usually very long sometimes tend, in my opinion try to do too much. sometimes, again, in my opinion, sometimes i think its better to just focus on a few things and have them taste yummy. this place was just too overwhelming. small place, cute, but small with every type of candy you can think of with mediocre dessert choices.

anywho, that was okay, two out of the three things that i did were a hit. i must have walked the whole perimeter of the auckland domain, trying to get to the bus stop, but i made it safely back to the airport and met a lady from wellington on the bus ride. so, my day in the big city was quite busy, but nice. very hot. i really enjoyed my time over there. hope all is well. it was really hot over there. i'm sure its very hot over right now, the weather here is actually not so bad. the flight wasn't so bad either, i had a window seat and an empty seat in the middle. i couldn't really eat all the food on the flight, it just wasn't very good to me, but i did make sure i had a glass of merlot. the flight wasn't full at all! it was busy at the airport when i got home, it was like everybody got on the same flight. i stayed up and kept myself busy, even went for a nice run and sprinted! anywho, thank you once again, tell the girls i said hello! be safe and i'll talk to you soon!

Monday, January 22, 2007

cecile's last blog in new zealand

The time has come where I must depart and say goodbye for now to the ever so relaxing Nelson, New Zealand, where you "live the day". Although, I have always favored Richmond, NZ's motto better, "It's all good!" Anywho, as I write here thinking of what to say because I'm suppose to write something, New're never too far from a nice hill or mountain to walk up or a flat white or even a pack of sheep. My four weeks here where spent eating, hiking, running, and an occasional bull chasing me down a hill...okay, maybe not being chased so much, more like kindly being escorted out of the area semi-calmly, oh and I almost forgot waking up to the bright days even when it was cloudy or muggy and two little girls coming into my room screaming to wake me up. It was nice. Much has happened since Nelson Lakes, but I'm sure all of you know already if you keep up with these blogs, so I will tell you about Akaroa. The weather was a bit iffy in Christchurch and we weren't sure if we should go, but we decided to take the chance and it was a hit! Although, I'm not fond of the windy roads (I got a little woozy), the trip was well worth it! I got to see the little french town of NZ. I rode on a boat that took us far off into the sea, okay, maybe not so far off, but it was a good while, saw some dolphins, saw a cave and foliage only native to NZ, ate smoked eel, had a paua pattie, oh and ate some decent crossaints, ooh, I even saw was good! The weather over there couldn't have been better. It was sooo nice! I think I may have even gotten more tan over there than any other place I had went to in NZ. So, that trip was good. Let's see, so much has happened since then...last night I was able to see a comet, very exciting and today Mari and I went to the Hoglund Art Centre and Gallery to watch some glass penguins come to life and this really cool vase being made. Doesn't sound so interesting, but it was, we ended up staying there for 45 more minutes. Then after that since it was my last day, they thought it would be nice to take me wine tasting, so Mari and I went to Waimea Estates Winery where they have "Nelson sunshine in liquid form". Their known for their white wines and had quite tasty food. (Their wine has made it to the states...Alameda, to be exact. Check out the New Zealander, Spinyback Wine) It was such a beautiful day, it was like it would never end! Sunset isn't until like 9-9:15pm. And dinner was quite nice as well with veggie pakora's and two types of salmon-curried and some type of soy ginger, both quite nice. So, it was a nice end to a very relaxing trip. I enjoyed myself! Every corner you look, you can't help but just stare...New Zealand is really beautiful!
Last thoughts...somewhat sad that I have to go now, but I'm sure I'll be back sometime in the future and we'll all see the Lobo's soon enough! So, good times and back to the bay I go. E noho ra to all!

Bye Bye Cecile ...

Cecile is headed back to the US tomorrow. She was here for 4 weeks and they went awfully fast. Too bad the weather was not the best when she was out here (was cold and wet for a large part). The weather does seem to be turning and looks like summer is here. Pretty good timing considering that the kids started school today and folks are heading back to work after their summer vacation etc

It was quite nice to have Cecile around for the past 4 weeks. The kids enjoyed her company, we did a fair amount of cooking and baking, some travels around the top of the South Island, and drank a fair amount of wine (our one experiment with mojito's was a dismal and miserable failure). We were able to do quite a few hikes since logistics are much simpler with 3 adults and 2 kids, plus you have company on a long hike and/or bike ride etc

We'll definitely miss having her around and wish her good luck for her final semester at school.
Our next scheduled visitors are not expected till the end of march. So if anyone is thinking about a visit, just do it NOW. So go ahead, book your tix and jump on the next plane over ...

Restaurant Review: Gary Danko San Francisco (by Lynne C)

Our friend and neighbour in Cole Valley, Lynne Carstarphen, is a foodie extraordinaire. We've shared many fine meals with her and rely on her to give us the latest on the food scene in SF. She is also an awesome writer and food critic. She sent us this writeup of a recent meal at Gary Danko. Without further ado, here's the review:

i went this week for my birthday and it was a very enjoyable experience from the time i made the reservation---they answered the phone promptly, there was a good time available, and they wanted to know if it was a special occasion (i have a feeling they get quite a lot of special occasions at gary danko).

we arrived a bit early because we found street parking only a block away (i thought we would have to circle for a while before giving in to he valet parking). i was with my friend katrina. they took our coats at the door. the interior is very soft---all soft light, gleaming wood, and a few black touches that i thought were not quite compatible with the wood, and two enormous buddha heads in corners that also looked out of place. it feels like a very grown up restaurant; often in san francisco i feel like everyone in a restaurant is within the same ten-year age range, but gary danko had a nice diversity, agewise. we sat at the bar and had rose champagne, served on little square white napkins made out of linen (points for style and reusability at the same time). while we were sitting at the bar the cheese cart went by and it was a bit like being passed by a movie star. we stared a little too obviously.

one of the best things about gary danko is the service. very attentive and knowledgeable but they don't hover or feel obtrusive the way they did at manresa. there was a special truffle tasting menu (six courses), but the main menu was so enticing that we went for that instead. we chose five courses with wine pairing by the waiter, i wanted the meyer lemon tart but katrina pointed out that lemon makes for a very difficult pairing, and the waiter agreed but said he had something perfect, so of course i had to get the lemon tart just to see if it was perfect.

i started with the seared foie gras with caramelized red onions and fuji apples. katrina thought foie gras was boring but it was my favorite dish of the meal. it came paired with a hungarian tokaji, a dessert wine, and the honeyed taste of the wine mixed with the richness of foie gras was perfectly offset by the caramelized onions. it might be one of the best things i've ever had in my life. katrina got the escargot, they came out of the shell and looked very elegant on the plate, completely un- slimy or snail-like.

next i had the roasted lobster salad with abalone mushrooms and edamame. i never eat lobster out here (it's so rare to see it on a menu) and it was very yummy, delicate and buttery and meaty all at the same time. the best part is they serve it on the shell, as opposed to in the shell, so all you have to do is poke it with your fork and it slides right out. katrina got seared sea scallops with spaghetti squash, cippollini onions, sour cherries, and almonds. that was her favorite thing. i tasted a bit and the scallop was perfect, and it reminded me of how good scallops are when they're fresh, not rubbery like the frozen kind you get at the grocery store.

mains: i had roast guinea hen breast and leg confit with cornbread pudding, brussels sprouts, and quince. guinea hen is darker than chicken but lighter than duck or quail, with a pleasant gaminess. katrina had lemon herb duck breast with duck hash and cardamom-poached pears. by this point i was feeling a little full.

then the magical cheese cart was wheeled around to our table. the cart had about twenty cheeses on it, ranging from hook's cheddar to goat cheese from indiana to what i'm fairly certain was an illegally smuggled less than 30-days-aged raw milk cheese from france that had no little tag on it saying what it was. i had: hook's cheddar (not as good as appleby's cheshire), abbaye de beloc, a sheep's milk cheese from the pyrenees, i think, a valencay, a flat-topped goat cheese pyramid that was napoleon's favorite cheese, and a jean de brie that the fromagiere had whipped truffles into, very heady and perfumy, truffles are a little overwhelming, i think.

i had no room at all for dessert but still wanted to see if the pairing was perfect. it was! they also brought a birthday surprise (some kind of chocolate raspberry thing that i didn't actually care for as i don't like the chocolate/raspberry combination) and a plate of little cookies and a little treat all wrapped up in gold foil to take home (kind of like a chocolate sticky pudding, british-style. yum!)

the best part: the cheese cart
second best part: the pairings
best dish: foie gras

i give it a 9/10 (and i've waited a few days to see if my opinion changed the farther away i was from the meal).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Change is good ...

So its coming close to two months since we left our home, friends and family in San Francisco and moved down under to Nelson, NZ. As some of you who've been following this blog a bit too closely know, the first few weeks were a bit rough and unsettled (relatively speaking). However, now that we have settled down and gotten pretty much most things sorted out, Its time to step back and revisit the situation and our thoughts about it.

Mari's brother, Ruben, is famous for his "Things Change" statement made at a family function a few years ago. I'd like add a corollary to that: Change is Good that definitely applies to our current situation.

It has been great for us as a family. We've become even more outdoorsy than we were in San Francisco (yes, hard to believe, but true). We spend a lot more time around the kitchen table during breakfast and dinner having a good chat (with some decent wine most of the time!)

The kids have blossomed and are well on their way to becoming truly certified beach bums. Maya insisted on getting boogie boards for PJ and herself so they could join the other kids and go boogie boarding. They do look quite funny with their swimming goggle's and pulling their boogie boards. We pretty much go to a swimming pool or the beach on a daily basis.

The town is small enough and the traffic quite sparse that the kids can ride their bike and tryke to most places including the playground and swimming pool. Very different from what we used to do in San Francisco (drive to Sausalito with their bikes). I suspect this might change a bit when we move to our place in Tahuna, since its on a fairly steep hill.

We also frequent the library on a weekly basis and get the kids to pick up a few books that they fancy. This seems to be working out quite well as we get to read them different books on a weekly basis. We dont miss the different books we had in san francisco. Maya still has her fascination with books that revolve around hospitals and doctors, and she insists on those being read at least a couple of times a week.

We do a whole lot of cooking and baking to replicate the things we miss from SF. Its been nice to be eating all the yummy treats Mari and Cecile have been baking from the wonderful Tartine cookbook. We've also tried quite a few new dishes in the recent past to add a bit more variety to our repertoire. Last nite we made a pretty awesome mussel marinieres dish with locally grown Havelock mussels (I suspect i'll be making this dish for visitors!)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Restaurant Review: Flax and Rimu Grove Winery

We went to Flax earlier today for lunch for Maya's birthday. Flax is located in Mapua (30 kms south of Nelson) near the wharf and the smokehouse. We had a sampling of various items from the menu. The kids had the nachos which was surprisingly very good with a great roasted tomato sauce and awesome sour cream (yes, the sour cream was very tasty, not sure how exactly they did make it). Mari, Cecile and I shared the oyster and mushroom soup with toasted ciabatta bread. The soup was a bit tart for me, but mari and cecile liked it quite a bit. We also had the market fish (grouper) on a roasted potato cake and greens. This was quite good, but personally I dont think grouper is a very tasty fish to be used in this setting. We also got the chicken liver parfait with pita chips and a variety of jams and pickles. The jams and pickles were most excellent, the pita chips ok, the parfait was a bit too livery (according to Mari and Cecile). Definitely not as good as the version at Hopgoods. Overall, I thought we had a pretty decent lunch and we'll probably go back for a more relaxing dinner. I'd give it a 7/10

On the way to Mapua we stopped at Rimu Grove Winery. Rimu Grove is a small winery (20 acres or 7 hectares) run by a couple who are expats from the Bay Area. Barbara Stowe took care of us and we had a good conversation with her about things that we miss from the Bay Area (mexican food!). We tasted the Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir. We ended up buying a few bottles of each and we'll review them later (when we actually drink them). The winemakers are The winery has a picnic area which overlooks the mapua estuary. I suspect we will go back there with some other visitors in the near future. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the nelson area.

Restaurant Review: Boatshed

We went to Boatshed, the famous Nelson seafood restaurant earlier this week. This used to be our favorite restaurant ever since we first visited Nelson in 1999. We also went back for a pretty good dinner last year when we drove through Nelson with Lara.

We did go back for lunch for Mari's birthday a month ago (dec 16). The food was quite good though not exceptional. Since Cecile is leaving town soon, we decided it might be worth going back. A mistake, in retrospect :(

We ordered the usual culprits, the mussel in tomato / chorizo sauce, the sashimi, the seafood chowder and a marlin cordon bleu (recommended by the waitress). The sashimi platter was quite diverse and very good (but then again its hard to go wrong with raw fish when you have excellent seafood all around you!). The marlin was quite good also, i liked the sides around it more than the fish itself. The mussels and the seafood chowder were quite awful, to put it nicely. Overall, I'd hesistate to give it more than a 5/10

The BoatShed does have a great reputation, an awesome location and a pretty good buzz. I also think there are better restaurants in and around Nelson that might be worth visiting in future. Its been a good ride, bit its time to say farewell :(

Small town nelson ...

Nelson is indeed quite a small town :) We have not been here too long (7 weeks) and pretty much we run into a few folks that we know on a regular basis (and we dont know too many folks). A few examples to illustrate the point..

  • We run into Diedre and Wally (Shakespeare House) landlords every few days
  • We've run into teachers from the Montessori school a few times during the summer holidays
  • We rented a place in Brook valley for a week a few days ago. Since then we've run into both the husband and wife who run the place
  • We met fellow SF'ers (Lane and Jason) last week at Morrison Street Cafe. Mari and the kids ran into them this morning at the farmers market
Kinda nice to run into folks you know. It happened very rarely in San Francisco ... (though it did happen quite a few times at Vik's in Berkeley)

Happy birthday Maya ...

Maya turns 4 today. Wow, time does fly quite fast and its amazing how quickly your small baby grows up into this walking talking person that you can have a pretty good conversation with :). Once again, we've managed to spend Maya's birthday in another country. She spent her first three birthdays with my family in India, and this year its a relatively small affair with just Cecile and us.

Cecile was kind enough to bake a wonderful Devil's chocolate cake (recipe from tartine book). The cake turned out very nice and we had it for breakfast!. We also had gougiere's for breakfast but they were largely ignored in favor of the yummy cake. In true Kiwi style maya wants to go for a picnic for her birthday. We are off to Kaiteriteri beach later this morning. She also wanted PBJ sandwiches in her lunch box for the picnic. Kinda cute that she likes the simple stuff :)

Maya and PJ are getting along extremely well and play together quite nicely. They currently are entertaining and having a performance for 4 bears all of whom spent time with PJ at St. Catherine's. Cake is being served after each performance. We've been doing a fair amount of reading from adoptions books to Maya and PJ and this seems to be incorporated into the play. PJ is quite proud to be from St. Catherine's while Maya proclaims she is a Kaiser baby

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Other Nelson, NZ blogs ..

Here are some other blogs from folks who live in and around Nelson.

Kinda nice to read about other folks perspectives of living in the same place ..

And now we have bicycles ...

We continue our acquisition spree for things that we did not bother to get over from home. I thought we could buy good second hand bicycles here, but Nelson is too small a town to have a second hand bicycle market (though it has a HUGE second hand car market, kinda sad that there so many more cars than bikes).

We went to the nice folks at Stewart Cycles and spoke to Mike the owner Turns out that they have a pretty decent buy back policy and we can return the bike in 6-9 months time and get back upto 50% of what we paid. We decided to go for a more comfortable flat bar road bike. Mari bought the Diamondback XR3 and I went for the GT Legato 4.0. Mike and the Stewart cycle folks are definitely recommended for folks in the Nelson area. We also did stop by Kevin cycles, they did not seem to have the range of bikes or a buy-back policy :)

Let the riding begin ...

Rainy Days in Nelson

What to do in Nelson in the summer … “pause” when it rains? : )

Walking to the library with cool bumble bee umbrellas is fun the first day, but when it rains 3 days in a row, it’s time to take the children elsewhere to expend excess energy.

It was pouring non-stop the 2nd day so we drove to Chipmunks. Cecile took the girls there for a good 3 hours. Thanks Cecile! When I went to pick them up they didn’t want to leave. There was a huge inflateable slide they had to climb stairs to get to, and a climbing structure/maze with balls, etc. There was also a fenced off area with tricycles, and wheeled locomotives requiring pedal power. Another area had 3 video game monitors for improving hand-eye coordination. On a rainy day it was crowded, but not so crowded that the girls got trampled on. Since adults weren’t allowed up the slide with them, Maya and PJ watched out for each other and waited for each other at the top of the slide. After 20 minutes of watching them go up and down, I saw that they waited patiently for the crowd to all slide down before they themselves went down. It was good to see several Chipmunk staff wandering around and making sure the children played safe.

Adults are free to come in and watch their children. There is also café food and seating both inside and outside.

We have been going swimming everyday because the children are interested (they really enjoy the hot shower), the public pool is about 3 blocks away (Maya insists on walking to the pool) and swimming gets them very, very tired. At the Riverside Pool, there is a toddler pool about 2 feet deep. The water is on the cool side so kicking and moving around is a must. Maya and PJ love taking turns on the pool’s boogie board because they are able to float on it and kick across the pool. They have gotten very comfortable in the water, so much so that they like to wear their goggles, Maya likes to dunk her face in the water, while PJ likes to blow bubbles.

Another activity to do in Nelson when it rains is go to the Museum.

It's pretty good. Maya and PJ lasted about 1.5 hours in the museum. There was an outside patio where they had snacks, ran around and yelled a lot. There was one big photo puzzle, divided into about 20 squares (24x24") that Maya and PJ had fun putting together.

It stopped raining after the third day. : ) back to riding bikes, trikes, and walking in the sunshine.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Restaurant Review: China Town Seafood, Christchurch

Have noticed that there is a dearth of restaurant reviews for NZ, more specifically for the South Island. I'll do my little part and contribute brief reviews of places that we have eaten at.

We just returned to Nelson from an excellent long weekend trip to Christchurch. Did some research on potential dim sum places (out here its called yum char) and came up with two names. China Town Seafood in Christchurch and Foo San in Riccarton (near the university). Since we were in downtown, we opted for China Town, plus my research indicated it was potentially a better choice. It also got a decent review in Cuisine. China Town is located at 71 Kinmore Street.

We were heading back to Nelson after lunch, so we opted to eat early and got there at 11:30. The lower section is closed on Monday which gave us a slight fright, as we thought the restaurant was closed, however the door to the upper section was open. We were the only party at that time and were seated quite promptly. A few of the seafood dim sum items were not yet ready, but there was enough to get started. Overall we thought the dim sum was quite good, and the quality of the seafood was very good. We had a few plates of shrimp, scallop, chicken and vegetarian dumplings, pork sui mai, pork and corn dumpling, turnip cake, steamed bok choi and fish balls (the kids really liked this and gobbled them up). For dessert we had sesame seed balls and egg tart. We had not had dim sum since we left San Francisco 6 weeks ago, and we were pleased with this place. Mari thought it was better than Good Luck Dim Sum in SF, I thought it was not as good but a very viable alternative (the quality of the seafood used was significantly better here). It was also extremely reasonable and our bill was NZD $46. A similar meal at Ton Kiang would have cost us USD $75 or so

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More Christchurch adventures ..

Kinda nice to be in a relatively big city. So many things to do and see, so little time. The weather has not been great, but fortunately we have not been rained out either.

We visited the farmer's market at Lyttleton yesterday. It is quite a nice farmers market with great food (and good coffee also) and some good produce and fruit. Unfortunately we are not staying around for too long and have a relatively long drive back, so we could not stock up as we would have liked to. We got some great bread (baguette and foccaicia), some brie cheese, cilantro pesto and tomatoes for picnic sandwiches. We also munched on scones, pies and an eccles cake for breakfast. As in most places in NZ, there was an excellent playground next door so we hung out with the kids and other parents for some more time. By this time, PJ was super tired and needed a nap, so we headed back to Living Space and put her down. Mari and Cecile went to the Arts market in the square while I entertained Maya at home.

Later the evening we visited the QEII leisure center in New Brighton. The have a pretty good pool for toddlers including a wave pool. Mari entertained the kids in the nicely heated pool while Cecile and I went for a quick run along the beach in New Brighton. The weather was overcast and foggy, so it was not a very scenic run. But we did get our exercise for the day. We wrapped up the day with a pretty good dinner at FishMongers. We had the grilled Akaroa Sallon with Salad, a grilled mahi-mahi with tempura and the family portion of fish and chips. Overall it was a pretty good place and not as greasy as most regular fish and chips places.

The weather outlook was not very promising as we walked for our morning dose of caffiene at Vivace Espresso. Quite a few locals rate this place as the best coffee in Christchurch. The coffee was quite excellent and we'll be back tomorrow on our way out :) The muffins were moist but a bit bready, but the almond cake was quite delicious. We decided to chance our luck and headed out to Akaroa. The weather gods were smiling on us, it was warm and sunny in Akaroa. We stopped at the visitor center and book the Black Cat Akaroa Harbor Nature Cruise. Akaroa has a pretty good playground next to the beach (obviously!), so while the kids were playing there, Mari and Cecile headed into town to explore and buy some delicious croissants from one of the gazillion french bakeries / cafes.

Mari, Cecile, Maya and PJ went on the harbor cruise. Since we had done the same cruise last year, I elected to take the Heritage Park hike for the next couple of hours. I met up with them after the cruise and we lunched on some delicious BBQ Salmon and Lemon Fish Ciabatta sandwiches from a stall near the wharf. We also had some paua patties from the local fish and chips shop (since it had received excellent reviews in general and specifically for it paua). I suspect paua is an acquired taste. Its supposed to be abalone, but did not look or taste like abalone to me ..

We are headed back to Christchurch tomorrow. I suspect we'll stop at a winery and potentially Hanmer Springs on our way home. We'll try to do a yum cha (dim-sum) meal in Christchurch before hitting the road ..

The morning tea ritual ...

Its quite amazing to see how our habits have altered after the move and its interesting to figure out the reasons behind it.

We've started making masala tea (tea with milk + ginger + cardomon) every morning and sitting around the breakfast table eating and chatting. We used to do this in SF also, but without the tea and probably a bit shorter.

Not sure why and how the tea part came in, but its now become something of a ritual. I suspect its primarily because we are still in the process of making friends here and this seems like a good way to begin the day as a unit :)

Mari's theory is because the kids are on summer break, we need to plan and figure out what we'll do each day with the kids. We are not in a rush/hurry to go anywhere and hence the lingering around the breakfast table. Having a good cuppa tea ensures a smoother start to the day etc. In SF we had a pretty good schedule and would get the kids out of the house relatively early ...

Friday, January 12, 2007

To Christchurch we go ..

We decided to visit the beautiful city of Christchurch and spend an extended weekend in the big city. Last year, Mari, Maya, Lara and myself had spent a week in Christchurch and liked the city a fair amount. We also figured it would be good to show Cecile the sights and sounds of a relatively big NZ city. We made reservations for a two bedroom apartment at Living Space (we also stayed here last year, obviously we are creatures of habit!). The place is quite excellent, has great facilities and you interact with interesting international folks. Its also close to Christchurch center and to some great coffee shops and restaurants.

The weather did not look very promising on the coast, so we delayed our departure to 7:00 am. We took the coastal route and stopped for breakfast at McDonald's in Blenheim. Yes, I know, McD's is not something I recommend, but their breakfast is quite good and we get a craving for it on a quarterly basis (including Maya!). The McD's out here are few and far in between, so some planning is involved if you want to stop at one :). The play structure was quite nice and fancy with some fairly fast slides. I suspect they need to do this to compensate for the erratic weather. Summer out here has so far been more like winter in San Francisco. Fairly cold and quite a bit of rain (significantly more than what CA has gotten so far!).

From Blehheim, we continued south on Hwy 1 towards Kaikoura. The scenery changes quite abruptly midpoint thru. Near Blenheim the mountains are quite brown and bare (one of the few places in NZ that is not very beautiful), midway thru, the coastal rainforest scenery kicks in. Not sure what causes such changes and why, even though you are on the same coast etc.

At Rakautara (20 km north of Kaikoura), we stopped at the famous Nim's Bin for some crayfish. We purchased a medium sized crayfish ($45) with garlic butter and a dozen mussels ($10). This apparently is a bargain compared to what you pay at restaurants in Kaikoura. The location was quite nice, next to water, cute gardens, nice picnic benches etc. The mussels were fresh and quite excellent. The cray fish was very meaty and the garlic butter complemented it quite nicely. Personally, I thought it did not have a lot of taste compared to dungeness crab. Not sure if size matters in this case. Will definitely try it a few more times before we pass our final verdict. We continued our journey to Kaikoura. The day was still quite overcast when we arrived in Kaikoura. The kids played on the beach for a couple of hours. The adults took turns going on 45 minute walks before we packed up and started heading towards Christchurch.

I was driving and forgot to fill up at Kaikoura. 30 mins later I remember that we are a bit low on fuel, and am hoping that we will see a gas station sometime soon. I start quizzing mari on how many more miles to the next big town, how many more miles in the mountain etc, trying to remain calm etc. Luckily 30 mins later we do see a gas station and fill up (and in accordance with Murphy's law, we then see a gas station every 10 minutes).

We reach christchurch in a few hours, and decide to jog our memory to see if we can find the Kapiti Cheese Store so we can buy some dinner provisions. Unfortunately our memory is not great, and we circled the city a few times and did not find it. We then headed to Living Space, checked in, parked the car and took the kids out for a walk to the Cathedral and the square.

Christchurch is definitely much more livelier and active than Nelson at 7:00 pm. I remarked to Mari that we've become country folks and are not used to the busy city life :) The kids ran and jumped around the square for some expending their stored static energy (from sitting in the car a bit too much). We saw a fairly busy soulvaki place (Dimitri's Soulvaki at 709 Colombo Street) and decided to dine on Gyro and Falafel. We bought a vegetarian falagel, a chicken soulvaki and a pork gyro. All three shared the same sauce and additional stuff. The falafels were not very good, but the bread and the sauce combinations made up for it quite nicely. The chicken and pork gyros were quite good and hit the spot. Definitely a place to go if you want a quick meal.

Got quite a few food places and cafes on our list for this trip. More reports as we experience them. The weather is supposed to be quite miserable (rain, rain and more rain), hopefully the forecast will be wrong

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Restaurant Review: Hopgoods, Nelson, NZ

Mari and I went to Hopgoods for dinner earlier today for our 8th year anniversary. We are pretty casual and had completely forgotten about the date, however our good friend, Dave Greenberg, reminded me about it later that day and all of us had a good laugh about it :) Since Cecile is here, we decided to take advantage of the situation and go out for dinner, leaving Cecile in charge of the two lovely kids.

The two places on my list in nelson were Hopgoods and The Cut. We decided to goto Hopgoods since our local friend Paul had also mentioned it and the chef Kevin Hopgood uses a lot of local Nelson produce and wines. Mari made a reservation and off we were on date nite ...

We got there on time at 6:30 pm and were seated immediately. Seems like folks eat dinner more like 8:00 pm or so out here and the restaurant was quite empty at 6:30 pm. Since Mari likes red wine we ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir from Orinaki (i suspect i have the spelling wrong, will fix this later tomorrow) which was quite good. We started off with an appetizer of blue cheese and apple tart for mari and a chicken liver parfait with home baked walnut and raisin bread for me. The appetizers were quite excellent (9/10) and set an incredibly high standard for the rest of the meal. The toasted walnut bread was just divine and perfect with the parfait, my favorite dish of the meal.

For our main course, Mari chose the pan fried dory with crispy potatoes, asparagus and fried ravioli. This was quite delicious, the dory was a wee bit overcooked and a bit dry, bit overall it was a good combination. I chose the slow smoked tasman bay lamb (12 hours!) over garlic smashed potatoes, green beans and tomato jus. The lamb was incredibly tender and quite flavorful (personally I would have liked a wee bit more fat on it!), i loved the mashed pototaoes along with the yummy soft garlic. Overall I thought the mains were quite good but did not match the excellence of the appetizers :)

I was quite stuffed and drunk at this point. Mari insisted on having desert (which to her is the most important part of the meal). We ordered the bitter chocolate with orange sorbet, but switched the orange sorbet for the white chocolate icecream. The dessert was ok, not as good as the flourless chocolate cake from Pizetta 211 (the best pizza in SF, if you have not been there, go there NOW), Mari did like it and managed to finish off the whole thing. She did claim that she was super hungry and famished after swimming for 60 minutes or so at the local pool.

Overall, we though Hopgoods was quite excellent and well worth a repeat visit. Mari gave it an 8/10 and I gave it a 7/10 for restaurants at that price, fairly high marks for us :). The service was quite attentive yet casual. We took a good walk by the Maithai river to walk off the yummy food and I suspect we'll be back with Maya, PJ and Cecile sometime in the next couple of weeks. Including wine and a decent tip the meal cost us NZ $150 which is fairly reasonable.

If you are in the Nelson area, you should plan on eating here :)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Top ten things to do with (or without) kids near Nelson

Here is my list of the top ten things to do in-and-around Nelson

  1. Visit PJ, Maya, Mari and Lobo :)
  2. Drink a flat white and fluffy at Morrison Street Cafe
  3. Tahunanui Beach, the playground and the beach cafe
  4. Walk around Wakefield Quay and a meal at the Boatshed
  5. Kaiteriteri beach
  6. Mapua and a visit to The Naked Bun and/or The Smokehouse and/or Flax
  7. Hike / Kayak / Swim Cable Bay
  8. Hike to Center of NZ and return via Founders Park
  9. Fish and Chips at Haven Fish and Chips
  10. Visit the Nelson Saturday Market

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Trip Report: Queen Charlotte Wilderness Park

PJ, Maya, Cecile, Mari and me spent the past few days at Queen Charlotte Wilderness Park (QCWP). It was an amazingly awesome experience and I'm quite glad we found the place on the web and chose to go there. I thought we had a reservation from Jan 1 - 3, however when i sent a confirmation email to Ron, he reminded me that our reservation was not till the 5th. Since they did have room, we rescheduled it for the 1st. A day later Ron sends me a mail saying we should come on the 5th rather than the 1st since the weather forecast is quite bad for the first few days of 2007. This was amazingly nice of Ron, and I suspect happens only in NZ :)

We left Nelson early in the morning (6:30 am) to catch the Endeavor Express ferry to Cape Jackson. We had a quick breakfast at Le Cafe in Picton, which was ok (5/10, good scones, average coffee). We had heard good things about the Village Bakery, and we bought a croissant, chocolate croissant and a savory scone. For the first time in the past 4 weeks we've had a decent croissant, however the scone was quite awful which negated the experience.

The boat ride to Cape Jackson was quite nice and pleasant. The weather was sunny and brisk, the scenery quite wonderful (lots of green mountains). There were quite a few people on the boat doing the Queen Charlotte Track and/or day walks in the area. I suspect Mari and I will be doing that track sometime over the next few months (when we have some good visitors to take care of the kids). Its a 3-nite / 4-day hike and relatively easy. You can get your backpacks transferred to the next destination by boat to make it even easier, and stay in decent lodges and/or backpackers along the track.

There was another couple from London along with a 16 month baby, Miranda, who were also headed to QCWP. That was good for the kids since they had another kid to play with. LinkPJ had a good time playing with Miranda for most of the trip, and was surprisingly quite gentle with her. QCWP caters breakfast and dinner, but you are on your own for lunch. They have a well stocked store (had an excellent Pinot Noir from Sanctuary Wines for dinner the next day). They also had 4 dogs which made the kids a bit tentative for a large part of the trip. The hiking trails around the lodge are quite extensive and well described here.

It was quite excellent to have Cecile with us, since we managed to do quite a few of the hikes and took turns taking care of the kids. Ron was an excellent host and offered to drive us to the lighthouse with the kids the next day.

Part of the group started the hike towards the lighthouse in the morning. The dads stayed behind and played with the kids. A couple of hours later we got in the land rover and started towards the lighthouse. The ride was quite interesting and bumpy. Our timing was quite excellent and we met the moms at the end of the track. We had a picnic in the area and could see the old retired horses grazing in the meadow. They do come upto the ridge when they see the truck, since Ron gives them a few treats when he passes by. After lunch, Ron took mari and the kids back to the lodge, while the rest of us marched towards the lighthouse. It was quite a interesting hike and the wind was intense. It did seem like the wind could pick us up and fling us around any minute.

The walk back was quite nice and pleasant. I had also done a fair amount of this hike the previous day with Mari. It was good to be out and about in nature. The trail meanders between the two sides of the island and its quite nice to see both sides periodically.

Dinners were quite nice and filling. I would not call the meals gourmet, but they were quite substantial and hearty. This was probably the only area that could benefit from an upgrade. They did cater to Mari's vegetarian/seafood request, even though it was a last minute request. We had garlic bread, venison, mashed potates and pumpkin cake the first night, and pineapple bread, baked chicken, chocolate cake and ice cream the second night. Mari and Cecile also shared fabulous home-made tartine lemon bars with the group the second night.

The third day we packed up, bid farewell and got back on the ferry for the long ride home. The ferry on the way back stops at all the places to pick up and drop backpacks and/or passengers for the Queen Charlotte track. We spent a few hours in Picton, had a pretty good lunch near the playground from a roadside stall and headed back home to Nelson. Overall we gave the trip a pretty high rating and will head back there with some other visitors.

The best part about QCWP is the business model. Ron and his family purchased the park in 1993 or so. They own approx 1500 acres and 20 km of coastline. They stopped farming the land in 2003 and are in the process of removing all the introduced animals, sheep, cattle, pigs, and goats, which is not an easy task. This enables the forest to recover and grow back to what it was a few hundred years ago. In 2003, QCWP became NZ's first commercial carbon sink. Since a forest by its very nature, consumes carbon and emits oxygen, QCWP is consuming excess carbon generated by industry. They sell this "excess carbon" to a third party who estimates the amount of carbon that is consumed, and then re-sell this to other parties. There is a fair amount of information on commercial carbon sinks etc on the web and I think is part of the Kyoto protocol (obviously i don't know enough about this). One more thing to learn more about ...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Trip Report: NZ and Nelson Lakes (by cecile)

kia ora to all! so, its been a week since i arrived. nelson is quite the quaint little town, but it is the big city over here! i've been around town trying to fit in with the locals, today i just bought one of those reuseable handy dandy, green eco friendly bags. it was pizza nite once again. i must say, we make tasty pizza. what have i done so far, well, i went on a couple of hikes and periodically run the river in the morning. i'm trying to run up this one mountain, but haven't quite succeeded yet! i more like run, walk, more like walk. it's called the centre of NZ, but really isn't, i did find out at the bottom where there's this big field was where the first NZ rugby game was held. that was quite interesting. i am getting bit here, more so than when i was in india, interesting. let's see what else, i bake a lot since i've gotten here, so that means extra running for me in the morning. everything is very pretty and serene over here. very peaceful, weather is interesting, never really going to know what the weather will be like. we're going on this wilderness thing tomorrow, so i better go to bed, have to wake up nice and early. all in all, i've been enjoying myself over here!, i have about a week left over here until i depart for the winter town that i call home. anywho, so Nelson Lakes. i'm suppose to report on that. well, we went to Nelson lakes on New Years i believe. we had a nice breakfast of homemade pancakes and went off with our journey to Nelson Lakes. It's about an hour and a half drive from Nelson. The roads are quite windy over here. i think i started getting sick after awhile. anywho, right before we got to the lakes, we stopped at Elaine's coffee shop, which was probably the only coffee shop around, suppose to be the best coffee in town (because it was the only one) turned out that it wasn't. After that we headed off towards the lakes. Once there, Lobo and i went for a hike that they call "the loop" while Mari and the girls stayed behind. the little track maps said that it would take about one and a half hours, but i think it was a lot shorter than that. it was a nice little hike, when we got back from the hike, Mari and Lobo went for a hike while the girls and i walked around and biked. it's a cute area. a lot of water and a lot of trees, during their winter its suppose to be a nice ski area as well. anywho, so that was Nelson Lakes. On the ride back, i started to get a bit woozy again, so i took a nap. And that started the beginning of my year. Happy day!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Some NZ photos ..

So we've finally uploaded some photos onto Flickr. We paid for a shareware export tool, FlickrExport and it worked out quite nicely. We'll export most of our iPhoto albums over to Flickr over the next few weeks. The Yahoo! photos iPhoto plugin did not work for us. Did some more research and realized it did not work for quite a few other folks. Kinda sad :(

Anyway, here's the Flickr Set of the kids in NZ. Most of them are family photos rather than the awesome NZ scenery. There are also some photos when we first met PJ at St. Catherine's