Monday, July 20, 2015

Cathedral Cove and Oatmeal (Raisin or Chocolate Chip) Cookies

After seeing Cathedral Cove by boat, I decided I needed to see it on foot. It's a fairly easy, excepting some rather brutal stairs at the beginning of the return trip. Going at a leisurely pace, it's maybe a 45 minute hike. 

I recommend eating breakfast at one of the nearby cafes. then heading on your hike. You want to get there before the tour buses show up. Go too late, and the trail will be clogged with extra slow moving tourists. If you go early in the morning, it's just you and the crazy in shape locals who like to run the trail. If you're me, you're also trying to beat (yet another) storm.

There's nothing better than a deserted beach.

How do oatmeal cookies tie in with a deserted beach early in the morning? They don't really except these might be the most perfect oatmeal cookies I've ever made and they'd be perfect to bring down to the beach as a snack. These are the oatmeal cookies dreams are made of. Unless of course, you don't like edges that are crispy-chewy, with the occasional toffee like bites, courtesy of the turbinado sugar.

I grew up in a house divided, not on politics or sports, but on raisins or chocolate chips. Oat of habit, I split the dough and did 1/2 chocolate chip, 1/2 bourbon soaked raisin. That's right, bourbon soaked raisin. Chocolate will always beat raisin in popularity contests, but maybe that's because raisins need a little help to change the status quo. Raisins benefit tremendously from a warm soak in bourbon (or rum! I had bourbon on hand.) They go from dry and curmudgeonly to plump and merry. But, since they're oatmeal raisin, they're basically a balanced meal, and definitely can be had for breakfast. 

And I am always on team cookies for breakfast. 

Oatmeal Bourbon Raisin (or Chocolate Chip) Cookies
Adapted from David Lebovitz
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar 
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 3/4 cup old –fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups (240 g) raisins OR 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup bourbon or rum (optional)

Optional step if using bourbon: Heat the bourbon in a small saucepan over medium heat until boiling. Add the raisins, turn off the heat, and allow to sit until cool. Drain any remaining bourbon if necessary.

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, if you're lucky enough to have one, beat the butter and sugars until combined. If you don't have a stand mixer or even a hand mixer, grab a large mixing bowl and a fork. Mash together the butter and the sugars until you can run a fork through the mix without finding any butter streaks. This will take about 10 minutes, and will make it so you don't feel bad eating an extra cookie.

2.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat or stir until thoroughly combined. Stir in the vanilla extract.

3. With the mixer slowly running, or carefully by hand, add the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and oats and mix until mostly combined.

4. Add raisins or chocolate chips to the dough. Make sure they get well distributed. If you're struggling, use your hands.
5. To bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

6. Scoop your dough for your preferred cookie size. I like rather small cookies to increase the edge to middle ratio, so I went with 1 1/2 - 2ish tablespoon scoops. Place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.

8. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, longer if your dough is chilled, until they just start to turn brown around the edges.

Remove from oven and cool completely.

Storage: Once cool, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week, or frozen for up to two months.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Coromandel Penninsula

I'm trying hard to come up with the words to describe Coromandel Peninsula. To get there, you brave windy, sometimes unpaved, likely one-way roads through jungles that looks like they belong in Jurassic Park. You get stuck behind the semi truck that refuses to pull to the side so you can pass.  It rains on and off, sometimes torrentially while you turn on the turn signal instead of the wipers because everything is on the opposite side.

You plod along, trying to remember that you're still getting to see magnificent scenery, and if the drive in is this good, then the destination will be worth it. (Note: I have no pictures of the drive in because, well, I was driving.)

Luckily, your patience will be rewarded. Ideally, with retreating clouds.

Head towards Hot Water Beach and you'll start seeing signs for boat tours. You should follow those signs. They'll take you to a cul-de-sac and it'll seem all wrong. Make your way down to the beach, and if the weather is nice and they're not out on a tour/lunch/nap break, you'll find an EZ Up and an inflatable boat. Reserve your spot for the tour that takes you to the blowhole, (2 pm for us), then go find yourselves lunch.

There are some cafes within a kilometer of the beach, but if you're after a beer with your lunch (you're on vacation after all), go back the way you came and go to Hot Water Brewing Co.

It's hard to go wrong with the mussels, but the burgers also looked fantastic if they're more your speed. 

Once you've had your fill, head back towards the beach where you'll don the finest of life jackets and board your inflated vessel. 


Even on a windy, stormy day, the water was calm. 


If you timed your tour right, you'll get to go in the blowhole...which is the only way to see it. 

If you're really lucky, when you exit the blowhole (or one of the many other caves) you'll be find a pot of gold.

It's not quite time to make your way back to land yet. There's still a few more things to see. 

 Like Cathedral Cove.

But more on that later. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Huka Falls

Well, that was a break I hadn't intended to take. I put finding a place to live over writing a post for my mom to read. Where are my priorities?


It's time to get the heck out of Auckland. Because Auckland is kind of boring.

Off to Waikato! Only 1.5 hours from Auckland and it's a town.

Okay, so maybe not so exciting. But, it's centrally located to three things high on our list of "stuff we want to see": Lake Tuapo, Waitomo Caves, and Hobbiton.

After depositing our belongings in the new Airbnb, we set out for Lake Tuapo, the largest lake in New Zealand, and also a massive crater leftover from a massive volcano eruption 27,000 years ago.

Which is cool and all, but since we didn't have a boat, we were more concerned with seeing Huka Falls.

Which lived up to the hype, even if we skipped the jet boat adventure option, and my pictures don't do it justice. Did I mention it was cold and wet? It was cold and wet. We didn't need to add jet boat induced hypothermia.

Freezing, we hustled back to the car so we could hunt down priority #1. Which, we all know is food.
The Crafty Trout Brewery to the rescue. The Crafty Trout is a brewery with a strong Alpine Lodge influence. If you can't handle listening to variations on the Chicken Dance, I'd recommend going elsewhere, but you'd be missing out. The steak and ale pies were perfect to warm up with. The pint didn't hurt either.

Delicious, but if I don't get to eat grilled food in warm weather and sunshine at some point in 2015, I will seriously begin to question my life choices.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Anzac Day - Part 2

The service we were planning on attending for Anzac Day was taking place at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. What no one had mentioned to us was that the museum is free on Anzac Day. Crowded, but free.

Everyone rocks a poppy on Anzac Day, including us...

and the museum grounds.

We had plenty of time to wander the museum, which had more exhibits than either of us were expecting. There is an entire floor dedicated to Maori and Pacific Island history, and the museum has the largest collection of Maori and Pacific Island artifacts in the world. It's filled with intricately carved tikis, spears, boats and even a building called Hotunui, which the museum is in the process of restoring.

One of the panels up close and personal

Apparently, only men were allowed to carve, and the wood was considered sacred. Any scraps had to be burnt so they weren't used for a cooking fire. Or touched by women.

The second floor is  home to the natural history galleries. It was my least favorite floor.

Finally, the top floor is the history of New Zealand's involvement in World Wars I and II and New Zealand Wars. Because it was Anzac Day, very crowded, and it felt slightly inappropriate, I took very few pictures. There is an incredible exhibit called Scars on the Heart, which was created using personal experiences of the men and women of the armed forces and those who stayed behind.
Here's the one picture I did snap, because it made me laugh.

Having gotten our fill of the museum, we made our way outside to the cenotaph where the service was going to be held.

All of the chairs you see here would eventually be filled by veterans and the families of veterans. The service started with the honor guard filing in.

Photo credit: Katie

The guard had the privilege of standing facing the cenotaph for the whole service... which clocked in at over an hour. Their ability to stand still is far, far greater than mine. I once had a yoga teacher tell me to stop fidgeting.

The veterans, active military, and various military groups filed in changing our view slightly, but definitely for the better.

The service was very moving, with one flaw. Which wasn't actually part of the service. The worst dog in the world was behind us. It barked incessantly and liked to lunge at other dogs. The worst part though was the smell. It was a horrible combination of dirty dog and excessive flatulence, of course upwind from us.

After the service, we decided to take much needed naps before going out. We've known each other over 15 years and had never gone out before. 

The real highlight was when at our 3rd bar of the night, California Gurls came on and Katie and I lost our collective minds. There was dancing, singing, and wild gesturing to convey that we were in fact California girls which no one noticed much to our disappointment. Anzac night was sponsored in large part by tequila. Thanks tequila. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Anzac Day - Part 1

It was 4 in the morning when I discovered my hopes a red-eye flight would make for minimal jet lag were misguided.

I do not like being wide awake at 4 am, but if there is ever a good day to have it happen, it's Anzac Day. Not just any Anzac Day, the centennial Anzac Day. It's even better when you're sneaking down the hall for a glass of water and realize your travel companion is wide awake as well.

Anzac Day, for those not in the know (which is pretty much everyone not in Australia, New Zealand, or Turkey) is the day the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (or ANZAC) invaded Gallipoli during World War 1. Unfortunately, "while there may have been no military victory, there was victory of the spirit as New Zealand soldiers showed courage in the face of adversity and sacrifice." 

Anzac Day is kind of a big deal here. The day starts with a dawn service at 6 am, and there are more services throughout the day. Being up at 4 am, Katie and I were optimistic we'd be able to make the 6 am service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. We did not.

Having missed the dawn services, we decided to try our luck at Mount Eden instead. We pulled up, and found the gates locked until 7. Undeterred, we thought we would traipse on up to the top (which didn't look too far), dressed in Anzac appropriate service attire.

Of course, there was no traipsing about it.

Mount Eden is the highest point in Auckland.

One does not simply traipse to the top of Mount Eden.

We huffed and puffed and swore our way to the top. Our reward? 360 degree views of the city. Oh, and rather large, well preserved crater.

See the island off in the distance? It's Rangitoto. You'll be hearing about it in detail eventually.

This is the crater.

Then to make us feel bad, 20 people came running up the hill, with barbells on their backs. As if that weren't enough, THEN they commenced with their workout.

This hill, to be exact.
We took that as our cue to leave.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Muriwai: Water's End

Apparently, in addition to not knowing how to eat a feijoa, I also do not know how to eat muesli.

You'd think it's something I would have learned at some point in my 27 years, but you would be wrong. Since it most closely resembles non clumpy granola, I assumed it's eaten like like granola. Aka, sprinkled on top of yogurt.

Apparently, it's treated more like cereal and eaten with milk and yogurt. Jeanette was shocked I was eating her (very good, homemade) muesli "dry".

My American was very clearly showing, but she'd never heard of granola, so at least there's that.

Eaten right or wrong, muesli is just the ticket before you set off for an adventure. Especially when said adventure will include amazing fish and chips. 

We'd planned on spending the day in the Coromandel, but it was looking like rain, and Gerry pointed out that it was a holiday weekend, so our destination was sure to be packed with Aucklanders fleeing the city.

He directed us toward Muriwai Beach instead, which is one of New Zealand's black sand beaches. It was our first day out and about, so of course we stopped for some pictures en route.

Photo stolen from Katie's Facebook. I'm "windswept". 

For all 40 minutes of the drive we sounded like broken records.

"Oh my God it's so pretty"

"It's so green"

"So pretty"



"Is it lunchtime yet?"

Fine, the last one was just me.

After a few wrong turns, and we ended up with a bird's eye view of the beach.

Which, in predictable New Zealand fashion, was gorgeous.

Speaking of gorgeous

As for me...I stuck my landing.

Which is always surprising.

Down on the beach, there's a path that will take you up and over this cave. You can walk through it at low tide, but having not consulted our tide tables, we got there as the tide was coming in.

We scurried up the trail instead, trying to stay ahead of the field trip hot on our tails.

Because having gorgeous beaches isn't enough, Muriwai is known for it's colonies of gannets.

This is not the local term for surfer, of which there were plenty, albeit off in the distance.

Alas, a gannet is... a bird. 

Most of them had fled by the time we arrived (thank God). From August to March, the rocks surrounding the beach are covered in them.

If it were a month earlier, I could have pissed off ornithologists by being the shrieking blonde Californicus nativus. 

Since we weren't really dressed to go tramping through the bush, we went back to the cave for a few final pictures.

Where I tried to take one without my sunglasses.

Not shown: the tears streaming down my face .5 seconds later. 

So sunglasses on it is. 

As we were leaving, buses of kids began arriving. We might not be able to time tides, but we avoided the hoards of children.   

But we didn't get our fish and chips.