Free fruit

fruit

Though I’m reluctant to give any free advertising for a supermarket chain (though I must admit that I stand in the Meadowbank Countdown drinking in the colours and variety of the food on offer every time I arrive back in Auckland!) I think this is a very good idea – a basket of free fruit that parents can give their children to chew while they get the groceries.

I’m back …

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… in magical Raglan. I am staying in our generous friends’ beautiful bach and sleeping in the upstairs bedroom with its breath-taking view. I haven’t been closing the curtains and awoke this morning to a stunning scene – grey-blue water rippling with the incoming tide, whirling sea birds and a pure white yacht circling the harbour. Today was the kind of calm, blue-sky, turquoise-sea day that made up all the summers of my childhood in my memory. I walked up from Manu Bay to the look-out point in Bryant reserve (you can see the edge of the platform in the pic above). I sat there so long and so quietly that the cicadas in the bush around me resumed their song. One even alighted on a blade of cutty grass right beside me. The sound of summer. It would have been perfect if I had walked back down to meet my beloved coming out of the water after an epic surf and we’d shared breakfast at the Shack in town. But I’m here without him alas. The Shack’s coffee didn’t disappoint though!

Food for Deepavali

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We shared several Deepavali meals with friends and colleagues over the weekend. They couldn’t have been more hospitable and welcoming. And the deliciousness and quantity of the food was overwhelming. The amount of planning and sheer hard work that goes into the preparation of celebratory feasts like this is mind-boggling and the generosity of our friends here in Ipoh is amazing. We came home with containers full of food and will be continuing to enjoy Deepavali food for days to  come

Siam Celadon

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At our favourite Thai restaurant in New Zealand our delicious food was always served on beautiful light green dishes. When I asked the staff where I could buy similar china they just smiled. I guessed they had brought it with them from Thailand. So you can imagine my delight when we found the Siam Celadon shop in Chiang Mai. It is in a beautiful 19th century house, which is built around this attractive courtyard. The shop at the front is filled with green and blue pottery made using ancient Chinese techniques, which involve a transparent glaze that sometimes leaves the pieces covered in tiny cracks. At the back is the Raming teahouse, where we had lunch served on Siam Celadon china, and a lovely walled garden decorated with seconds (see pics below). For a china collector like me it was the perfect way to spend the day.

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Preserving the past

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Chinese seafarers were aware of Penang as early as the 15th century. Settlers from Sumatra arrived in Penang in the 18th century and in 1771 the sultan of Kedah signed an agreement with the British East India Company. Penang was also the capital of the Straits Settlements (which included Malacca and Singapore) for a while. One can almost feel the layers of history when one wanders through the narrow, winding streets of George Town and in 2008 it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. We visited Penang again a couple of weeks ago and had a delicious dinner in the Kebaya restaurant, which is part of the Seven Terraces Hotel – a row of seven restored 19th century Anglo-Chinese terraced houses (go to http://www.seventerraces.com/web/aboutus.htm to find out more). Investment banker Chris Ong, who grew up in Penang, and his business partner have done a wonderful thing here – he is passionate about his Baba heritage and the hotel and restaurant showcase his personal collection of Straits Chinese porcelain (for an interview with Chris Ong go to http://www.themalaymailonline.com/travel/article/10-things-about-chris-ong-hotelier-who-champions-penangs-heritage-shophouse).

Tin miner’s rice bowl

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I was browsing in an antique shop in Penang and saw a stack of these bowls. The pleasant and informative shop assistant told me they were given to individual tin miners for their rice ration. Each had a different pattern and many of them were etched with the name of the owner on the inside. The Kinta Valley in Perak (the state in which we live) was the centre of the Malayan tin mining industry from the end of the 19th century.‘Perak’ means ‘silver’ so it is possible that the area was named after the silvery colour of the tin. I bought this particular bowl because I liked the decoration, it has a faint mark on the inside signifying whose bowl it was and we live close to the area where the tin miner who used the bowl may have worked. It is a lovely object. Today’s workers in Perak eat their lunches out of polystyrene containers, which you then see lying in piles of litter wherever you go. That doesn’t seem like progress to me!

Betik

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Ipoh has a reputation for good food. Apparently people drive up from KL especially to have lunch or dinner in Ipoh. There is an abundance of restaurants here, ranging from street stalls, where you can get a meal for a few ringgit, to high-end establishments. A lot of local dishes are extremely spicy and many are too mushy for our taste – bowls of soft noodles floating with overcooked vegetables do not appeal. Even a salad will be served so saturated with dressing that there is no crunch left in the lettuce or cucumber. The local food I like the most is the fruit, particularly the papaya (betik in Malay), but also the melons, mangoes and pomelos. We each eat a bowlful for breakfast every morning and, even after living here for two years, view it a treat. When I was cutting up the papaya this morning, I was struck by its beautiful colour and the star shape made by the seeds, so I took this snap.

Picnicking at low tide

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We had a sushi picnic at St Heliers Bay on Sunday. Most enjoyable and the food was delicious. The tide was out, which gave the kids (like the little guy in the pic) plenty of scope for exploring the shore. It was quiet on the grassy banks where we were sitting because the Weetbix kids’ triathlon had just finished and everyone not involved had stayed away. The weather forecasts in New Zealand often mention sea breezes and we could feel them on Sunday – so wonderful to sit outside in the middle of the afternoon and feel pleasantly warm. The breezes also billowed in the sails of the numerous boats out on the water.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day breakfast with my daughters on a beautiful summer’s morning in Auckland – possibly the best way to spend the day despite being thousands of miles away from my valentine. Delicious pancakes with plums, raspberries and almond slivers served on Granny’s china in the garden.

Peace and quiet

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One of the most attractive aspects of life in New Zealand is the peace and quiet. I really miss it when I’m away. It seems even our vegetables are peaceable! I laughed when I saw this sign at a local market but bought a “peace” of  pumpkin and we had it roasted with our dinner that night – delicious!