Sunday, April 16, 2017

must dos at tongariro national park, new zealand

Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Ruapehu. Magestic peaks in Tongariro National Park on the beautiful North Island, New Zealand. Whether you are a Lord of Ring fan or not, visiting Mt Doom is a must. What are other must dos in the area?

As a foodie, it is only right to mention first that the best lamb I ever had was at the Station Cafe, near route 4, close to Erua enroute to our hotel. Maybe because everything is so fresh in New Zealand. Maybe the chef is the best in the world. Maybe it's because we were hungry. I remembered the most mouth watering lamb in the universe from our dinner there. When my son was home a couple of weeks ago, we created a lamb dish similar to what we had and reminisced the magestic views.

After the good food, we had a good rest at the Tongariro Suites @ the Rocks. This place is a cross between a Bed and Breakfast and a luxury hotel. The best of both. You get the comfort of homy environment of a bed and breakfast with common areas where you can read a book, soak your sore body in the hot tub, play a game of chess or share stories with other guests. But then similar to a luxury hotel, you can choose to stay entirely private in an expansive room with a spa like bathroom complete with a huge free standing soaking tub overlooking Mt Ruapehu and a dream like walk in shower. Ample living area, your own deck, refridgerator and a table for 4 all within your room. And those comfy beds which you'll need after all the outdoor activities. This is the kind of place to stay for a month!

What comes to mind when you see these words: avalanche watch, crampons for getting through knee deep snow, ice pick to keep from falling into the crater? A live volano?  Adventure came to my mind!! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a must do if you are on the North Island. Summer for sure and winter if you are fit. In our case, after reading the treacherous conditions, Mr and I stayed back and enjoyed the beautiful grounds at the Tongariro Suites. We did send our son to check out Mt Ngauruhoe. Hehe. He is much fitter. And in the end, it was the right decision. As it turned out, it was an extremely difficult 19.4 km hike in the winter. Not only do you get the usual challenge of the mountainous terraine of steep hills and valleys, additional winter weather conditions make it even more treacherous with snow, ice and potential avalanche. Good health, excellent fitness and a tour guide absolutely recommened for a winter hike. Look at the magnificent snowviews my son was able to capture.

And if you find yourself near the Tongariro National Park in warmer months and still decide not to hike, you can take a helicopter ride to see the stunning Emerald Lakes. They are truly exceptional. Unfortunately it was winter when we visited and they were not visible with the snow.

We continued onto our journey after a couple of days. But we could have easily spent another week or two with so many outdoor activitiies available. Skiers will love the fresh powder snow at Turoa and Whakapapa ski areas. Non skiers can lose themselves next to the many magical waterfalls ( So many great memories at the park that we hope to return soon.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

velvety herb scrambled eggs

Eggs, eggs, eggs. Each year as Easter approaches, I find myself buying a lot of eggs for coloring. Easter eggs in all shades of the rainbow are fun and festive. I just could not resist coloring them and displaying them throughout this season. Yes. We eat a lot of eggs as a result using all kinds of recipes calling for eggs.

Herb scrambled eggs is a refreshing version of scrambled eggs for breakfast. Since watching Ina Garten make this dish some years ago, velvety herb scrambled eggs has consistently showed up for brunch on lazy Sunday mornings. I have modified Ina's recipe through the years to reflect my likes and personal tips.

There is nothing quite as invigorating as fresh herbs for a bright flavor to start out your day. Any herbs you have in the fridge will work. I've tried it with taragon, dill and basil. Personally I like to use just 1 type of herb at a time. What can I say. I am a purist.

Overcooking eggs is a sin! I find that starting with a hot pan will quickly cook the scrambled eggs once the egg mixture is poured in. Then you must take it off the heat immediately after a quick stir. This is key to make sure the eggs stay soft, fluffy and tender.

Velvety Herb Scrambled Eggs adapted from Ina Garten's recipe (serves 2)


* 4 eggs
* 1 Tbsp of cream
* 1 Tbsp of finely chopped herbs (vary amount depending on liking)
* 2 Tbsp of oil
* salt and pepper

Beat the eggs with exaggeration and determination till nice and fluffy. Lots of air please. Fold in cream and herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix it so they are evenly distributed.

Preheat a non stick pan on medium high heat till pan is hot. Add 2 Tbsp of oil and swirl around the pan. Once the oil is very hot, gently pour the scrambled eggs in. Give it a quick stir and take it off the heat to serve. Eggs should be lightly cooked and tender. The herbs should be bright green.

Monday, March 27, 2017

massaman curry

Cooking for two and cooking for 2+ is so very different. Now that my son is home this week, I find myself buying bigger packages of meat, extra vegetables and taking out bigger pans for sauteeing. The fridge is totally packed for just 2 days of meals!! Breakfast, lunch, dinner. You don't get to 6 feet with an empty stomach right? The stove is always hot and the sink always has dishes in it. It's a good kind of busy.

Cooking clean at home is easy. I can be selective of the ingredients and adjust the amount of oil. Tonight we are eating well with Massaman Curry Chicken. We like Thai food for several reasons. The dishes have strong warming flavors and they come with lots of sauce. Yeah, the sauce is heavenly with soft, pillowy white jasmine rice. Personally I find Massaman Curry to work the best whenever I need to vary the level of spiciness. Depending who is home, I can keep it mild or really spicy.

My secret to a delicious bowl of Massaman Curry is sauteeing the aromatics and curry in a hot pan until they are fragrant. Don't skim on this step. The pan should be hot. The oil should be hot before you put in the garlic, onion and curry paste. Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle! That will give you the special sauce you're looking for.  I cheated today with packaged Massaman Curry paste. You can also make your own blend if you're up to it.

Massaman Curry (serves 4)

*8 pieces of boneless chicken thighs (cut into large pieces and marinated in 1 Tbsp of soy sauce and 1 Tbsp of corn starch)
*2 cloves of garlic minced
*2 small potatoes (peeled and cut into small pieces)
*1 small onion diced
*Capsicum chili pepper thinly sliced (add depending on taste)
*2 Tbsp of Massaman Curry Paste (available in Aisan stores or online)
*1 Tbsp of fish sauce (or soy sauce if you don't have it)
*3 Tbsp of vegetable oil
*1/2 cup of coconut milk (optional)
*1 cup of broth or water

Marinate the chicken in soy sauce and corn starch (for a couple of hours). In a hot pan, add 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil. Sautee chicken till brown on both sides. Splash 1 Tbsp of fish sauce to the hot pan for more flavor in the chicken. Take out the chicken and set aside.

Add another 2 Tbsp of oil to pan and sautee the minced garlic, onion, chili pepper (if using) and Massaman Curry Paste till fragrant. Something about sauteeing the curry in hot oil really brings out the flavor of the dish.

Add potatoes at this time and do a quick stir. If you like coconut milk, add it now along with a cup of broth/water. Stir and wait till the mixture comes to a boil.

Put chicken back into the pan, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes until the dish is fully integrated and all the flavors have melded together.

Now pile up your plate!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

the perfect 1 day itinerary: south beach, miami beach, Florida

Our Florida adventure took us to South Beach, Miami Beach last month. It is a place to see and be seen. And there were lots to see. Here is an outline of some of the interesting sights and sounds for your 1 day in South Beach.

Start the morning on Ocean Drive. In addition to fitness gurus warming up along the beach, there are plenty of coffee shops and watering holes to quench your thirst while people watching. Join the walking tour for an intro to Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern from the Art Deco Welcome Center. 

When the tour wraps up, find your way to Lincoln Road. It is a smaller version of Las Ramblas in Barcelona with lots of shops and eateries. Grab lunch and some souvenirs.

Spend the rest of your afternoon on the white sand beach before catching the sunset at South Point Pier.

Stroll over to Joe's Stone Crab for some finger licking good claws followed by more people watching at Prime 112. It is very difficult to get in Prime 112 but you can always grab a drink across the street at the Hilton restaurant. Lots of glitz and glam as everyone arrive in limos and Ferraris. You can even follow some of them to area night clubs and dance the night away.

Yes. The night is still young!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

fragrant blooms, tea sandwiches ... Philadelphia Flower Show

If you live in the Northeast, you would have heard of the Philadelphia Flower Show. This is where many escape after several months of blustering cold. I just came across these pictures from the show that I took a couple of years back. They absolutely do not do justice for the phenomenal set up that takes up the entire convention hall in Philadelphia. But I decided to post them any way to give you a glympse of what the fuss is all about.

A unique show built each year to a defined theme, the Philadelphia convention center transforms into enchanting gardens overflowing with flowers, trees and shrubs. It does not end there. 

You'll find spetacular arrangements with many design styles, lifestyles vignettes that reflect the latest products and technology available, tablescapes, window boxes, miniature shadow box scenes made from plant materials, wedding creations and even culinary arts are on display!! 

It is full of inspiration and is pure heaven for our creative soul.

Unfortunately I am very far away from Philadelphia this year and will not be able to fly up for this memorable event. The 2017 show will run from Mar 11 thru Mar 19 and featuring my favorite country, Holland. To join in the fun from afar, I am savoring delicious tea sandwiches and reminiscing our last visit through these pictures. How about a sip of chocolate tea? Some cucumber sandwiches, Italian tuna fish on crisps and Mandarin orange chicken salad on wheat?  Scone with strawberry jam?

And I can almost smell the roses too! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

swimming with manatees

OK. OK. I lied. We did not get to swim with manatees. The swimming area was closed on the day of our visit. However we did get up close and personal with them at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.

What are manatees anyway, you ask. Adorable, with a stubby nose, manatees are peaceful marine mammals that graze mainly on water plants. They often swim upstream to warm Florida spring waters during the winter. We have only seen them in Florida. But supposedly they are also found in the Caribbean and parts of South America. Some eighty plus manatees were sighted on the day of our visit.

It was a beautiful sunny day at the beginning of Feb and we strolled along the boarwalk that hugged the bank of the spring. Several overlooks jutted out to provide a closer top down view of the crystal clear waters. We spotted a few mothers with their calf. Without a underwater camera, we were only able to capture the top down view. The flat paddle shaped tail is quite visible but not as clear is their egg shaped head and flippers.

We were amazed at the clarity of the spring water; which is at a constant 73 degrees. We also saw schools of bass, mullet and tilapia. There were quite a few kayakers, campers and hikers in the park. We did some people watching with the manatees. Then a picnic in the park wrapped up our little visit with these gentle sea cows. Our adventure continues as we explore more of our new home in Florida.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

a citrus note ... cheesecake and monster trucks

I made all things citrus today. My son visited us earlier in the week.  In lieu of taking him to famous Orlando sites, I requested that he accompany us to what Orlando was known before Walt Disney bought land here, a U-Pick Citrus Grove! Mind you, he is over 6', almost 30 and is no longer into childish endeavors. Oh the things my family puts up with me and my sense of adventure.

Florida Citrus

When we first moved to Florida, I looked for a place that sells locally grown oranges. Sadly, there aren't many orange groves operating any more. With more and more developments being built, many citrus farmers have moved out of central Florida; with large profits from the sale of their land.

Showcase of Citrus is one of the few left. To brand themselves as a tourist destination, they also run a 4x4 monster truck adventure with refurbished school buses through a portion of their 2500 acres of wilderness where you can spot alligators and feed buffalos. You just got to check out the size of those wheels!!

To complete the farm experience, this place houses a chicken coop. Feeding the chicken was so much fun. Once the chicken knew you have food, they just flock over to beg for more. Hahaha. And such shiny and luxurious feather. There is also a country store on site selliong all kinds of citrus and honey products you can ever imagine. Have you ever had citrus wine?

Showcase of Citrus

Honeybell, Minneola, Temple, Valencia and Navel oranges all mature at different times of the season running from Nov to May. That's when you can see the large ripe fruits dangling on the branches. Of course we picked more fruits than we could possibly eat. Now I am busy making orange cheesecake for dessert, citrus butter for popovers in the afternoon and lots of orange juice for breakfast. 

No Bake No Crust Citrus Cheesecake

There is something to be said about the sweetness, freshness and fragrance of fruits just picked off the tree. I always feel so grounded when I am in nature and I have such an appreciation for all who still work the land today. I think my son had fun too on our adventure!

Ingredients for my no crust, no bake citrus cheese "cake":

1 8 oz package of cream cheese (room temperature)
4 Tbsp of sweetened condense milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup of heavy cream (very cold)
1/4 cup fresh squeeze orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp of lemon zest

1) Beat the cream cheese with condensed milk, orange juice and zest.

2) Whip heavy cream till light and fluffy. Evenly combine into cream cheese mixture.

3) Spoon into molds. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to set.

4) Top with sliced oranges and syrup.

Serves 4 or more depending on the size of your molds. Since I don't like the crust in cheesecake, I created these without crust and eat straight out of the cup with a spoon similar to pot de cream.