Monday, February 13, 2012

Food glorious food

Most of my friends and family know that I no longer eat meat (apart from fish!). I would have to say that the overwhelming reaction I get from people is not a positive one which I find that difficult to understand.

For a long time I've enjoyed eating healthy food and cutting out meat is one more step in making my diet healthier. It's over a year now since I stopped eating meat and I don't miss it at all. A positive side effect has been a reduction in weight. I am guessing some of this can be attributed to not eating meat. Cycling to and from work everyday and tramping on weekends might also have contributed to the weight loss.

For me, the reasons behind this new lifestyle are health based. It's not an ethical issue for me. I am fitter, stronger and healthier now than I was previously. Maybe this can be attributed to the vegetarian diet. Maybe not. What this has taught me is that I don't need meat to satisfy my hunger. I thought I would struggle with not eating things like bacon and a good steak but this is not the case. What has happened is that this lifestyle change (which is what it is - it's certainly not a "diet") has opened up my eyes to a whole new range of food.

Eating out is not quite as simple as it used to be but that's not an issue as we only eat out on rare occasions. Usually there will be one or two items on a menu that are either seafood or vegetarian. We have found a few great places to eat around Wellington where the menu caters for our needs. One such place is Nature Vegetarian. This is a tiny Asian-style place on High Street in Lower Hutt (across the road from Pak n Save). Their food is pretty good. They do have menu items that include fake meat which we're not into but, if you're after a vegetarian chop, they can cater for you. Their golden fried tofu is a great starter.

Generally ethnic restaurants are a better bet than pubs, etc. We've had some great meals at Indian, Vietnamese, Turkish and Thai restaurants in the Hutt Valley and in Wellington. For the record, Kilim in Petone is the best Turkish restaurant I've eaten at for a long time. They're BYO and their food prices are cheap so it's possible to have a great meal out on a budget.

Hmmm, this post has turned into a bit of a restaurant review edition which was not my intention. I actually wanted to talk more about what we're eating at home. Of course we're lapping up all the wonderful fresh summer fruit and vegetables at the moment. Our grocery bill for the past few weeks has been around $45 for fresh produce from the markets. We've managed to avoid the supermarket for three weeks now although this weekend we'll need to go stock up on a few things.

Two memorable meals in the last few days have been homemade corn tortillas on Saturday night and then zucchini fritters, broccoli soup and fresh sweetcorn last night.

I can recommend making corn tortillas from scratch. They were delicious and super easy to make! We should have made more. For the tortillas you need to buy some Masa Harina. This is available from some New World stores, usually found in their specialty food / gluten free aisle. You can also buy it online - (their website looks slightly broken - especially when you access it via IE6!).

To make the tortillas you mix two parts Masa Harina to one part water to make a slightly tacky dough. Two cups of the flour with one cup of water should make about 12 tortillas. Roll balls of the dough between two sheets of waxed paper, cook in a hot pan with no oil (30 seconds one side, 45 seconds the next, flip back for a further 20 seconds) and you're done! Fill with beans, onion, carrot, lettuce, tomato (urgh), chilli sauce, etc and you have a tasty meal. Like I say we should have made more - the ones we made were inhaled pretty quickly.

If you're thinking of going vegetarian I think the trick is to embrace fresh produce and cooking at home to ensure you eat an interesting variety of food. If it all seems a little too hard you could always try reducing the number of meat meals you have and experiment with some vege meals.

Mt Taranaki trip

Our weekend adventures continued with some tramping on and around Mt Taranaki over Waitangi Weekend. The plan was to go to the summit via an alternative route which would involve a bit of rock-climbing. The route itself is not well known and the description we'd found for it was a little hazy in its directions. Nevertheless the trip was on. The photo below is what the mountain looks like. On a nice day.

We drove up from Wellington on the Friday night and slept in the porch area of the North Egmont Visitor Centre. Not a bad night's sleep although groups arriving in the early morning triggering the light resulted in a bit of a broken night. Day dawned and it was grey, soggy and quite miserable. Our early start was cancelled in favour of snoozing till just before 8 - that's when the visitor centre opens for business so we needed to be up and packed away by then. The decision was made to defer our day until after breakfast so we headed into Inglewood for a feed at Macfarlanes Cafe. After a leisurely meal the weather was no better so we decided to do a bit of a tramp that would take us to the area where the rock climbing route started. This would give us the opportunity to scope out where the route started and remove some of the uncertainty we would face when we would take that route the following day.

So it was back to the visitors centre and off along Veronica Loop. Partway along this track we deviated onto Ram Track, then onto Kaiauai Track, then onto Kokowai Track and finally onto Holly Hut Track. The weather stayed drizzly and grey so there was no view during this walk. We are pretty sure we located the start of the rock climbing route to the summit so made a few notes about that in preparation for the following day.

That night we stayed at a nearby deer farm in a converted barn. Certainly more comfortable than the concrete floor at the visitor centre. After an enjoyable meal and a glass or two of wine we checked the forecast for the following day and settled down for the night. Sadly we woke to conditions that seemed exactly the same as the day before. We had our breakfast then settled down to read for a while before heading back into Inglewood for an early lunch.
With the conditions being what they were the rock climbing route was ruled out. Wet rock and limited visibility would not have made for a fun day. Instead we took the normal route to the summit from the North Egmont Visitor Centre. The DOC estimates for this walk were 8-10 hours. We settled on a target of 5 hours to reach the summit and off we went. Three hours later we were standing on the top. In the murk. No view. Freezing cold.

There were at least another 100 people who made the trip to the summit that day. A lot of them were overseas tourists so I can imagine they were more disappointed than we were with the weather on the day. After a leisurely lunch we headed back down, back to the deer farm and a hearty meal and the inevitable bottle or two of wine.

The following day we packed up and headed for home. Of course we looked back towards Mt Taranaki as we drove away, just as the cloud lifted to a wonderful sight of the mountain in all its glory. Now we need to find a free weekend to come back and climb the intended route. In good weather, of course.