Blender workout

Luke and I had a serious talk last night about our blender. We’ve decided to sell it since Taiwan has a different voltage and plug from NZ, so we won’t be able to easily use it. I love our blender so this was pretty upsetting at first. I use it pretty much everyday. It was also my first kind of expensive appliance purchase (ie. not a generic brand). We’re going to list it on Trademe tonight so before it sells, I am going to give it a few good workouts.

One of my favorite ways to give my blender a good workout is to make dried fruit and nut balls. Some serious blending goes on to make these balls. If I had a food processor, it would probably make more sense to use it instead. But with a few extra steps, my balls come out perfectly by using my mighty Breville blender.

Yummy Balls (for lack of a better name)

First, I soak 1 cup of dates and 1 cup of cashews in warm water and in separate bowls for about 10 minutes. (This step could probably be skipped if you have a food processor).

Dates soaking (cashews not pictured)

Then I drain the dates and chop them up.

Looks like turds but tastes delicious

Then drain the cashews and place them in the blender and blend the heck out of them until they are in small pieces. Use a spatula as you go to move the cashews around.

I'll miss you blender

Place blended cashews into a medium-sized glass bowl and then add the chopped dates to the blender and blend the heck out of them.

I hope I can find the same blender in Taiwan

Then put the blended dates in the same bowl as the cashews and mix together (I use my hands to smoosh the mixture).

Blended dates and cashews - hard work for my blender

Starting to look less like turds

Next, form small balls with the mixture and roll in coconut.

The finishing touch

And finally store your balls and the fridge and let your blender take a rest.

Blender workout complete

Ginger Gems

This week I am all about to do lists. I find it very helpful to see exactly what I need to do in a bullet point list. Even the process of simply writing the list makes me feel like I’m being productive. And of course, to do lists are worth it just for the feeling you get when you cross off something.

I have one thing left on my to do list from yesterday.

Keeps me out of trouble

I absolutely loathe having to call utility companies to notify them of a change of circumstance. The first thing they will do is try to keep you as their customer if you are moving. The salesperson is usually so well trained that he or she will launch into a 5 minute ‘why you should stay with us’ speech before I have a chance to explain we are moving to another country. After I finally get the opportunity to explain my situation, the salesperson will huff and then tell me the larger than life disconnection fee I have to pay. It’s an all around unpleasant experience.

Before I call, I’m going to make myself a snack and something to drink. Last night, Pearl came over for dinner and to hang out. After her big move to Wellington this past weekend, she’s all settled in to her University dorm room. She has a lovely corner room with large windows displaying views of Wellington. I’ll remember to take some photos to share when I visit her next. After dinner, I made some cookies for dessert. The perfect snack before I call the utilities.

Ginger Gems

adapted from this Vegetarian Times recipe

Ginger goodness


  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 TB blackstrap molasses
  • 1 TB vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 4 1/2 TB  lemon juice (the original recipe calls for lime, but they are mucho expensive here)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 190 c or 375 f . Coat baking sheets with cooking spray or line with baking paper.
  2. Whisk (or blend) together sugar, margarine, oil, ginger, molasses, vanilla and 1/4 cup warm water. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in separate bowl. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture. Fold in walnuts.
  3. Drop spoonfuls of dough 1 inch apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Cool 3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
  4. Whisk lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Dip cookies in sugar glaze. Let glaze harden on wire racks, then store cookies in airtight container.
Makes approx. 30 cookies
These are best enjoyed with a cup of Dilmah English Breakfast tea (which we have in our pantry thanks to Elizabeth staying her over the weekend!).

Ready to face the utilities

Photo shoot with Grandma and last days in the States

I am back in New Zealand after a long flight over the Pacific. It’s been great to be back with  Luke again and to catch up on our time apart. Today I am writing a big to do list of the things that need to happen before the movers come next Thursday. I thought it would also be nice to recap on my last few days in the States.

On Wednesday I went over to my Grandma’s to say goodbye. We decided to do a little photo shoot for fun.

Grandma loves cherry pie and scary dolls

Grandma also loves calling people on the phone (over and over and over all day long)

Grandma loves cuddling with the scary baby dolls

Grandma also likes posing like she's a mobster

On Thursday, I said goodbye to Mom, Dad, Natalie, Broca, the cats, and the snow.

See ya later, Mom and Dad

Ciao Nat Nat

One last lick from Broca

Bye Clarissa, Banshee (not pictured), and Salem (also not pictured)

Last time I will see snow for awhile

I flew from Cleveland to Chicago to spend the night with Jen before heading back to New Zealand. Rob was in Germany for work so it was just the two of us.

I got in around lunchtime, so we went out for lunch at this place near Jen’s called Southport Grocery and Cafe. It was so good.

My salad: beets, pickled fennel, goat cheese, pecans au poivre and a balsamic reduction

Hummus tasting platter to share

After lunch we walked around the shops for a few hours. There is an incomprehensible number of awesome jewelry and purse stores in Jen and Rob’s neighborhood. We got hungry again around 4pm, so Jen took me to Rise for a snack.  The food was awesome and I wish I could eat there everyday.

Edamame and Kirin Light

Niku Maki roll (shrimp tempura, avocado, spicy mayo, rolled in tempura crunch and topped with special yaku-niku sauce and cilantro

After chowing down, we went back to the apartment to chill out before dinner much later that night. I took some snaps of their kitties.



Time flew by and before we knew it, it was time to eat again. For dinner, Jen took me to Sunda a very hip and trendy ‘new asian’ restaurant. The  restaurant was buzzing with so many people and the food was just plain amazing.

Tuna sashimi roll with truffles, compliments of the chef

Rock shrimp tempura with glazed walnuts and creamy honey aioli

Crispy shrimp toast and spicy tuna jam

Baked Snow Crab Handroll - Alaskan Snow Crab, dynamite sauce, tempura crispies

Tail of Two Tunas Roll - Yellow Fin Tuna, pickled jalapeno, spicy mayo, super white tuna, fried shallots

Sisters at Sunda

To top off the evening we went and had a cocktail.

The next morning, Jen took me to Julius Meinl for good Vienna coffee and breakfast.

Strong and smooth

Almond croissant


Chicago was the perfect ending to my trip.

Chili Bowl Race and Delicious Dinner

On Saturday I ran in the Annual Chili Bowl Classic 5km race in Cleveland. Cleveland is about a 25 minute drive from my parent’s house, so it made sense for me to stay with Natalie and Broca the night before in Little Italy.

Natalie and her puppy, Broca

We hung out and watched Little Miss Sunshine and Toddlers and Tiaras (for comparison’s sake).

In the morning we woke up and I got ready for the race. (Nat couldn’t run as she has badly sprained her ankle and requires surgical intervention so her activity is restricted to walking Broca so he can do his business).

We took Cleveland’s RTA Train to where the race started in Tower City. I had no idea Cleveland had passenger rail. It was pretty sketchy but we made it, on time, and with only one police-related confrontation. Natalie had two unused tickets with her that clearly stated they would not expire until later this year. When she tried to use them to exit the train terminal, the machine beeped erratically and three policemen came over. One of the officers explained that the ticket was no good as purchased tickets expire 1 hour after they are purchased.  Huh? We both knew that made no sense at all as some destinations would take at least an hour to reach. Anyhow, we obliged and purchased the two tickets. We weren’t keen to argue with three (clearly bored) policemen.

Once inside Tower City, I found the race pack pick-up and got ready to run (which usually consists of drinking water, going to the toilet 3-6 times, drinking more water and adjusting my race garb). We went outside to the start line and I was immediately pleased with my decision to wear a heavy sweatshirt as it was really cold.

My teeth hurt from the cold

Mom and Dad joined us before the race started.

My fans

We exchanged high-fives, and I found a spot in the sea of people and started jumping around to stay warm.

Thinking warm thoughts

There were around 1500 runners which is pretty awesome considering the inconsiderate cold.

Sea of 1500 nut-bag runners

I finished in  22 mins, 10 seconds and placed 7th in my age division.

Home stretch

I think I could have done better if it wasn’t so darn cold. It took about 2kms for my muscles to properly warm up. (For the first km I really couldn’t feel my legs). The course was pretty nice. We ran past some big old city buildings, the Cleveland Browns Stadium, and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. My only complaint is that it was such a short run and over so quickly. I went through all the trouble of getting ready and experiencing pre-race jitters for a 22 min run? I finished feeling as though I could run more. I think I will seek out 10km races in Taipei to see how that distance is for me.

Post-race pose

After the race, we went to the restaurant, Yours Truly, for a late breakfast.

My eggwhite veggie omelet

And after that back to my parents house to start cooking for the evening. Josie, my Mom’s cousin, and her husband, Don, were coming over to see me. Natalie and I did all the cooking/baking.

Icing the carrot cake

Grandma helped by cleaning up after us.

Sugar addict

The menu consisted of:

Moroccan Spiced Carrot Soup, Adapted from Bon Appetit 

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and pepper to taste
For garnish:
  • lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • chopped cilantro

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened.  Add the garlic, ginger and cumin and cook another minute.  Add the carrots, stir, and cook another 2-3 minutes.

Add the broth, bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.  Add the allspice and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into individual soup bowls and add a dollop of yogurt, lemon juice and then sprinkle with cilantro.

Serves four.

Carrot soup

Spanakopita (My own recipe)

  • 2 pounds of spinach, washed and drained well (frozen is fine too)
  • 1/2 pound of feta cheese (I usually use low-fat variety)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggwhites
  • filo pastry, about half the package, thawed
  • butter (or cooking spray)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 f or 180 c. Spray a 9×11 inch pan.

Heat some oil in a saute pan and saute onions. Add the drained spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat.

One the spinach and onion mixture has cooled down a bit, place it into a large mixing bowl. Crumble the feta cheese into the bowl and mix it all together. Next add the eggwhites and combine well. Season with salt and pepper.

Depending on how healthy you want your Spanakopita, you can either use melted butter of cooking spray for the filo.

For the butter, melt about 2-3 tablespoons and place into a small bowl.  You will need a pastry brush,

Place about 3 sheets of the filo into the prepared pan. (The filo can sometimes fall apart and get stuck. Don’t worry- it is actually quite forgiving and doesn’t matter if this happens. I usually patchwork the filo together and it still comes out perfectly).

Spray the three sheets with cooking spray, OR brush with melted butter.

Repeat with another three sheets. (Repeat again if you like to have a bit more filo).

Spread the spinach/feta mixture evenly over the filo. Then lay another three layers of filo over the top of the mixture and spray with cooking spray or brush with melted butter and repeat with another three sheets (or more if desired).

Bake in oven for about 25-35 minutes. You can usually tell when the top of the filo is nicely browned and flaking.

Cool and enjoy.

Hands down my favourite dish

We also had salad and roasted mini red peppers

A popular side

Nice and sweet

The carrot cake was also a hit.

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and walnut topping

It was a great meal and of course really nice to see Josie and Don.

Don and Josie


I flew Air New Zealand from Wellington to Los Angeles. I’m a loyal AirNZ flier after having bad experiences with the other major airlines that fly from NZ to the States (one of which painfully stops in Fiji and makes you stand in line in a heat sweltering airport for 4 hours to tick your name off a random list). I think AirNZ has done an excellent job in marketing itself as a fun, stylish, and service-orientated airline. I like their range of products and I like that they are continually reinventing themselves. Like the cult of Mac owners consuming the product, and being seen doing so, makes you feel cooler by association. Plus they are price competitive which always helps.

I usually fly cattle class economy to the States. One exception was when Luke and I were flying over for Jen and Rob’s wedding and upgraded to ‘Cuddle Class’ or AirNZ’s Sky Couch . In my personal opinion the Sky Couch was not worth the money. Despite the fact that I could easily lay flat with my feet stretched out, add another person (a much taller person) and the space quickly disappears. As a result, I didn’t get much sleep. The person I was with, however, had a great sleep. But we both agreed it probably wasn’t worth the money.

Anyhow, this time I got to experience AirNZ’s Premium Economy. I got an email from AirNZ a few weeks before I flew that explained I could put in a bid to get an upgrade on my upcoming international flights. The programme called, OneUp is quite clever as it allows AirNZ to make a bit of money (via auction) off seats that would otherwise go to rewards travellers or unused. I was immediately excited by the prospect of getting to fly in a better class without paying the full price. So I did  some research. How much did I pay (despite it being a sunk cost). How much do Premium Economy tickets cost? After doing some calculations (and watching a few youtube videos touring Premium Economy) I decided that my willingness to pay was NZD$300. The week before I flew I received an email congratulating me on my successful bid. I was so excited. Over the course of the week before I left, I easily got $300 worth of value just getting excited thinking about the flight.

So what was it like and would I do it again?

The overall experience was incredible. And yes, yes, a million times, yes, I would do it again (if I could afford it).

Welcome to Premium Economy

Here is a lope-sided photo of my extra big, comfy seat.

My luxurious seat

The seat back reclines and the seat itself can be adjusted up and down. There was a purple bean bag foot rest that I could comfortable extend my feet onto. Being 5’2″ I fit into most small places pretty easily (including the regular economy seats). If you are taller than me, you would have plenty of room too.

Noise cancelling headphones and an amenities kit are also provided. The amenities kit had small tubes of Clarins face lotion and lip balm, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. Another bonus was when I was handed a menu. In addition the three choices of main dishes, there was an appetizer. This was something I thought would only be available in business class.

The food was outstanding as was the wine selection. First out was the appetizer (grilles salmon), along with a cheese and cracker platter. The dessert was also on the tray (chocolate mousse). The hostess came around with a selection of homemade breads (whole wheat, garlic, and sourdough) and little bottles of NZ made olive oil.

I scarfed it down pretty fast

Dinner while watching badass Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'

I went with the Groper for my main dish. It came with a side of steamed veggies and potatoes.

Groper and generous vessel of Chardonnay

After dinner, one more glass of wine (Pinot Noir)  and a Whittakers square of milk chocolate.

The chocolate was a nice touch

After I finished my second dessert and second glass of wine, I was ready to get some shut eye. The seat manual outlined the different position that you could assume for sleeping.

Seat positions 1

Seat positions 2

There was no one in the seat next to me (which was basically like winning the lottery) so I was able to lie flat and sleep. Hands down, the best sleep I have ever had on an airplane. According to my count, 6 full hours.

Two seats for the price of one

After a two course breakfast we landed ahead of schedule in Los Angeles.

Easy long haul

My flight was so good I felt like leaving tips for the hostesses. I was glad I decided to bid on the seat as it was certainly worth the extra money. I felt pretty darn awake and fresh as I navigated through immigration, customs, and baggage.

Once out of the gate, I located a Starbucks and ordered a tall, soy, vanilla, extra hot latte (a little tradition of mine whenever I land in the States).

Welcome home

Homemade Vegan Granola Bars

I’ve been at my parents house in Ohio since Monday. There’s a solid coating of snow outside and it’s darn cold. I told myself I would embrace the cold since we are moving to Taiwan where the climate can be unconformably hot and snow won’t feature in our life there. But instead of embracing the chill I’ve been staying inside wrapped up in big fleecy things cuddling with cats and drinking hot coffee. But I can’t avoid the cold forever especially since I am running a 5km race in Downtown Cleveland on Saturday. I have decided that today I am going to venture outside into the cold and run 2.9 miles (which is about 5kms) from my parent’s house to their office. Before I do, I will fuel up on one of the Vegan Granola Bars I made on Monday.

When I woke up on Monday morning and made my way to the coffee machine I found myself confronted with the most stressful bananas I have ever seen.

In a bad way

So I took one of those brown floppy things and made my favorite granola bar recipe. (Sadly, I only needed one so the other one was discarded).

Ta Da!

This recipe is packed full of protein and yummy things like chocolate. The recipe is also very flexible so you can add/change nuts, chocolate, dried fruit as desired.

Vegan Granola Bars

1 mashed banana
1.5 cups oats
1/2 cups shredded coconut
1/2 cups peanut butter
1/2 cups maple syrup or agave (I used agave)
1/4 cups chocolate chips
1/4 cups raisins (I used craisins)
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine well.

Wrap in plastic wrap and store in freezer, or roll into balls and consume now.

Stress free and delicious

Yields 15 mini bars.

All things Vegas

Last Saturday in Vegas we walked up and down the Strip. While walking I saw something I had never seen before – grown adults dressed up in costumes. They were EVERYWHERE. It was strange and creepy and clearly an everyday sort of thing. And as you can see from my photos below, the costumes range from popular comic/cartoon character to protestor with a Sudanese flag. Their raison d’être doesn’t vary too much – they are all doing it for money. Some are clearly formally employed and others are costumed homeless.

Spot the George Washington in Spiderman's belt

We followed him for awhile to see if he would climb a building.

I wonder what went wrong in his childhood.

A typical Vegas scene - Garfield with beer.

Mariachi Mexican. (This may not be a costume)

Occupy Vegas?

These guys looked legit.

They say, ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ but I’m pretty sure these images will forever haunt me wherever I go.

The Surprise

All the planning, lies, and expensive airfares were worth it to see my Dad’s face as he walked in the door…

Surprised face

We had a great time explaining how we pulled it off

Dad's face of disbelief and Mom's unsubtle amusement

We presented Dad with our homemade 60th Birthday card

Homemade is always better

Dad was a good sport and even played around with some of our gag gifts

Young at heart

Dad was well and truly surprised, he didn’t suspect a thing. He kept saying how he couldn’t believe it. The hardwork and secrecy certainly paid off. After we all settled down and it set in that we were all in Vegas together and would be for the next few days, we made plans for the rest of the day. We had dinner reservations at 7pm, so we had the whole afternoon to fill in. Since the weather was good, we all agreed to a walk down the Strip.

Complete with some gambling (note: it is illegal to take photo inside a casino…whoops)

For Dinner we went to Delmonico’s in the Venetian. We picked this place after a lot of research on the best steakhouse in Las Vegas (my Dad has a deep affinitiy for a good piece of steak). Personally, I was a little bit underwhelmed by the food I had. Since I don’t eat red meat, I did not get to sample the main event, so that’s probably part of the problem. The atmoshpere, however, was good and Rob picked out a stellar red wine that we all enjoyed. The restaurant was BYO and despite the hefty corkage fee it still worked out cheaper than picking off their wine list (see below).

$15,900.00...that's just plain ridiculous!

Dinner at Delmonico's

Their famous steak

My $42 USD scallops (you should have seen the look on my face...only 4?)

Natalie's tomato and fresh mozzarella salad

Special sorbet for Dad

After dinner we walked around the canals of Venice in the Venetian. I’m not sure how true to life it is since I have never been to Venice, but it is certainly something very cool to see.

Dad, Jen, Rob and Nat finished off the day with a bit of gambling. Mom and I went to bed.

Officially unemployed

Yesterday was my last day of work. I am now officially unemployed. I really think it is going to take me sometime for it to click that I am done with work and not just on holiday. My plans for my first day of unemployment are shaped around getting ready to leave for the States tonight. So I will be…


I always pack light

And cleaning

Clean bathroom

And I might even find a bit of time to bake something nice to leave behind for Luke.

The stance I typically assume when at home

This will be the first time since last August Luke and I will be apart. It’s going to be strange at first not having him around. I will especially miss having a buddy to fly with. But we’ll keep in touch by video chat every few days. He’s got a busy and exciting month ahead. Perhaps the most exciting event will be when Pearl and Elizabeth come down to Wellington to help Pearl move into her Victoria University Hall.

Luke and gorgeous Pearl (and Tiffany taking a picture of Me)

I get in the day Elizabeth leaves so hopefully our paths will cross somewhere in the airport.

Sweaty Luke and his good lookin' mum

Time to get to ‘work’.

Banana Coconut Chocolate Chip Delicious

Today was a public holiday in New Zealand, Waitangi Day. This is the first time in three years that Waitangi Day has fallen on a week day. A slight annoyance of mine (and probably most people) is that some of New Zealand’s holidays are assigned a date, rather than a day of the week, and so will change days each year and inevitably will land on a weekend  and you will be denied of that precious day off.

We lazed around the house for a good part of the day. We did some reading, coffee drinking, and cleaning. Even after our counters were wiped clean, there was still something that bugged me. Overripe bananas.

Irrational cause of stress

The sight of bananas turning brown stresses me out. It always has. We consume a lot of bananas between the two of us but sometimes (typically on the weekend) we can’t keep up with the supply and dreaded brown spots emerge. I have to get rid of them, but never ever will I throw a banana away (especially the ridiculously priced free trade ones our supermarket stocks). And so, I bake. Banana bread, banana cookies, and banana muffins are my go to ‘I need to use my overripe bananas pronto’ baked goods. I used to think Luke would sometimes lower his banana consumption just so he would get some fresh baking.

Since we are moving soon, I have been trying to cut down how much new pantry food we buy. So the challenge for me was to find a banana-friendly recipe that used as much stuff in my pantry as possible. And since we didn’t have any walnuts I had to get creative. I scanned the pantry and saw shredded coconut, coconut oil and chocolate chips.

A quick search and I found just what I was after (give or take a few ingredients due to the limitations of our pantry).

Here’s my Banana Coconut  Chocolate Chip Bread adapted from this recipe.

Preheat oven to 180 deg C/350 deg F. Grease medium-sized loaf pan.

3 large overripe (stressful) bananas, mashed

3/4 c brown sugar (I didn’t have white)

1 egg

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 c shredded coconut

1/4 c coconut oil

1 1/2 c flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt (I didn’t use)

Chocolate chips (as many as you want)

Sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together.

Beat egg and sugar together until nice and fluffy. Then fold in mashed bananas and shredded coconut. Sprinkle baking soda over this mixture and fold in. Slowly add coconut oil and mix well into the batter. Finally, fold in the flour in batches and then the chocolate chips and mix.

Bake about 45 mins or until a skewer will come out clean (unless you like your Banana Bread a little mushy in the middle).

Enjoy with coffee, tea, or red wine.

Stress be gone!