Morning at Christchurch Farmer’s Market

Enjoying the “Happy Buttie” sandwich at the Farmer’s Market

All the meals we had in New Zealand were great, but one of my favorite food experiences was the Farmer’s Market in Christchurch.

We almost missed it completely, though because … we had no idea it existed.

In fact, if I hadn’t been bored on the plane and hadn’t absentmindedly browsed one of those airplane magazines that people NEVER look at, we would’ve lost out forever.  I’m so glad for random airplane magazines. You too?

Anyway, to get this farmer’s market, we walked from our hotel through a couple little neighborhoods and a big city park. It turned out to the most lovely local setting right next to a little canal. 

What can I say about the offerings?

Well, there were so many beautiful looking fruits, vegetables, and pastries to buy and some new-to-me local specialties too, like feijoas and NZ Afghan cookies. More to come on those…

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We spent some time browsing all the vendors, getting inspired by quite a few things.

But there was a HUGE line to get bacon breakfast sandwiches, and we knew we couldn’t resist. I mean, check out the menu.

How cute is the “Happy Buttie”? It comes with a long list of yummy things and a HUG! (My husband turned down the hug, but of course, I obliged)

Anyway, this sandwich was so good, and we’ve actually made this at home twice since coming back. (On a side note, it seemed like almost everything in NZ comes with these colorful fresh greens)

The other thing we had to try was “Posh Porridge.” The concept is so simple, and I’m sort of shocked we don’t see this at farmer’s markets in the States much.

Basically, it’s organic oats topped with all sorts of tasty things. We got the banana, sticky date, peanut butter, and chocolate version. Look closely at the picture and you will see they did NOT skimp on the chocolate.

I loved it, and I’m so glad I got a picture of the sign, because I’m planning to make all those versions as well (blueberry and lemon curd, oh yes).

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Finally, can we talk about these Afghan cookies?

So these were a new completely new discovery to me (have you ever heard of them?), but they are a really popular treat in New Zealand.

This chocolate cookie has cornflakes in the dough, a thick swirl of chocolate on top, and a crunchy walnut. You can buy them in bakeries and grocery stores and we tried at least a couple versions of them in New Zealand.

I’m officially a fan.

 


Day Trip Through Otago Region, NZ

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Queenstown is a perfect location to spend a few days as your home base on the South Island.

From there, you can explore the Otago region for its lakes, glacier mountain pools, historic Gold Rush towns, and wineries. We thought about doing a few organized tours, but in the end, opted for the flexibility of a rental car.

Our first order of business was a visit to the stunning Blue Pools.

It was a little out of the way north of Wanaka, but it was worth it.

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You drive into Mount Aspiring National Park (isn’t that a great name?), then walk through a small wild mossy green forest across a wobbly suspension bridge, and then you reach these jewel colored pools that are absolutely clear to the bottom.

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This particular day was so dismal and overcast and I really didn’t think the water would be so vibrant. I thought there needed to be sun to get that gorgeous glittering blue, but I was so wrong.

The pools were the most beautiful color! They get their distinctive hue from light refraction of particles in the icy mountain water.

It’s sort of crazy to think about this beautiful place in nature just hiding in middle of a dense forest. I wonder how many more undiscovered places lie waiting around the world? And I wonder what the first people to come upon these pools thought about their discovery. 

Don’t you want to jump in?

After the blue pools, we did some more driving through Wanaka region, stopping to take pictures at every turn and seeing lots of sheep dotted across the countryside.

This photo sort of looks like a folk art painting to me. I love how there’s a layer of mist hanging low over the small village.

Remember our wine-tasting day at Waiheke Island where we befriended several New Zealand ladies? Well, one of the places they highly recommend to us was the Cardona Hotel.

This historic spot was built in the 1860s for gold miners. Today it’s a cozy little stop between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the food was fantastic! In addition to the tiniest retro sink in the bathroom (you could only fit one hand in at a time!) I’ll always remember this place for serving one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. (Eventually, I’m planning to write a post about New Zealanders and their obsession with coffee!)

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Driving back to Queenstown, we took advantage of our rental car to visit the Gibbston Valley winery and cheesy.

This winery with its red barn buildings, birds, and rose garden (still hanging on even in early winter) was so picturesque.IMG_0405

We spent a little relaxing while here sampling a few of their sheep and goat cheeses along with some glasses of Otago wine. There is a nice restaurant there too, where I would have loved to eat dinner, but we had plans in Queenstown for a meal instead.

Overall, our plan to rent a car and plot our own itinerary from Queenstown was the right decision. In fact, I highly recommend you do that if you’re planning a trip here too. There’s just so much interesting scenery and stops and you’ll want the flexibility to pull off the road when you want to.

 

 

 

 


Queenstown, New Zealand

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I’m excited to share with you our time in Queenstown, New Zealand.

In recent months whenever I mentioned this trip to friends and colleagues, they always said, “You have to go to Queenstown!”

Mountains. Fresh air. Beautiful views. Outdoor adventures.

And I’m so glad we followed their advice. This mountain village has it all.

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We stayed at the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside with views facing Lake Wakatipu. All this beauty was literally steps away.

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The first afternoon we spent leisurely walking around the lake and soaking up the beautiful winter sun. Queenstown is on the southwestern side of the South Island, so it was quite a bit cooler here than Auckland. It was bright and sunny, but a down coat was definitely needed!

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For lunch, we tried the famous Fergburger, which is said to have one of the best burgers in the country. It was good!

The next morning, we took the gondola up to the peak overlooking the city. We were lucky that the clouds lifted and we were able to get these panoramic views looking down on Queenstown.

It was still early in the season, so no skiing was available yet. But year-round, you can all do all sorts of other activities from there including hiking, paragliding, and the luge!

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Zip down the side of the mountain and take in the views as you go. Not bad, right?

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After spending a few hours at the peak, we decided to hike down instead of taking the gondola again.

It only took us about one hour and we appreciated getting the fresh air to stave off the jet lag.

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We spent 4 days in Queenstown, so it became our home base for lots of other outings and adventures including day trips to the famous Milford Sound, Lake Wakana, and Otagu region wineries.

We thought the natural scenery couldn’t get much better than here, but we were wrong. I’ll be sharing so much more soon!

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Waiheke Island, New Zealand

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We just got back from a two week trip to New Zealand!

Though we’re still getting over our jet-lag (NZ is 16 hours ahead), we’re still riding high from this trip.

Ya’ll, I’ve never seen such a concentration of natural beautiful landscapes in my life. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit films, you know what I’m talking about.

And in case you’re wondering, those rugged mountain landscapes, wild forests, and electric blue mountain lakes you’ve seen in pictures and movies are all REAL.

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Here are some shots from our first full day in New Zealand on Waiheke Island, a quick 45 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.

On this day, a wine tour called our names and we could’t have asked for a better day. Can you believe that ocean and greenery?

Incidentally, Waiheke island has its own special microclimate, so even though it’s early winter there, the temperatures stay mild year round. It was in the mid-60s and sunny while we were there.

 

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The first stop on the wine tour was Casa Miro, where we tried so many delicious wines paired with special taste enhancers like a piece of cheese, a candied walnut, or olive spread on bread. Such a fun way to sample wines and I really wish more wineries did it this way.

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This winery is a labor of love for the owner, a medical doctor by day, who grows grapes and runs this winery totally in his free time. He also has something of an obsession for Gaudi as you can see by his Guell Park inspired bar, which had us reminiscing about Barcelona.

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We could’ve stayed here all day, but soon it was time for the second stop, Obsidian winery, a tiny place tucked away in the middle of nowhere on Waiheke.

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It was here we got to chatting away with some friendly New Zealand ladies, who ended up giving us so many good “insider” recommendations for places to see and most importantly, restaurants to dine at. In fact, it was so fun and I got so into talking with them that I don’t even really remember the wines here.

When it was time to part ways, all four of the ladies gave me kisses on both cheeks ( I thought that was a French thing, but apparently, they do that in New Zealand too) I wasn’t expecting that, but I really do think it’s a nice custom.

The final stop was Te Motu Winery with its award winning restaurant, “The Shed”. This rustic winery was simple and beautiful and it was here that we stopped for lunch.

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We feasted on lamb shoulder, sliced beef with mushrooms, roasted potatoes with tarragon aioli, bean and fennel salad, and a special dessert.

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This dessert was a “deconstructed” cheesecake made with kumara, which is the Maori word for pumpkin. It had a sort of autumn vibe to it, which struck me as odd in June, but then I remembered that the seasons are reversed here.

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Weekend in Richmond

Head sculpture at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Last weekend, Sean and I packed our overnight bags and made a spontaneous trip to Richmond, Virginia.

Richmond is only about 90 miles away from us, yet we’ve only ever passed through the city on our way south. We spent our getaway exploring downtown and the old neighborhoods, visiting Museum of Fine Arts, and eating and drinking our way around the city.

Hope you enjoy the highlights!

Day One


Our first order of business in Richmond was food and drink, of course. We headed to the Naked Onion sandwich shop and got the famous Pork Belly Banh Mi (pictured above) and Manchego grilled cheese with red pepper coulis. These sandwiches were good and such a bargain as this take out place is a local cheap eats favorite.

From there, we needed a little refreshment and being cider fans, we visited the Blue Bee Urban Cidery. Since it was a cooler day, we sat inside one of the cozy stone walled tasting rooms. We’ll visit again on a warm day to enjoy the outdoor ambiance and the special hops and ice cream sandwiches they serve!

After lunch, we stopped in the famous Jefferson Hotel to admire the grand lobby with tall marble columns, burgundy walls, and portraits of presidents and snap a few photos. They serve a lavish brunch on Sundays and we made a note to return to enjoy that soon.

Next up was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which houses some great collections. We particularly enjoyed the Greek mummies and ancient Italian exhibits. In addition, the outside grounds are beyond beautiful and we were intrigued with the unusual sculpture of a head which changes from male to female depending on what angle you look at it.

At 4 o’clock, it was cocktail time, so we headed to The Rogue Gentlemen. This small dive bar serves the most interesting drinks, each labeled with its dominant characteristics (sweet/refreshing/citrus/herbal/bitter/smoky/etc ) so there’s little chance you can order wrong. Sean ordered a cocktail called “Vampire Kit to ward off Vampires” which had garlic infused Oster Vit, Beckerovka, rum, and lime. I know the garlic part sounds a little weird, but I promise you, this drink was really tasty and fresh!

They can also custom create a cocktail just for you. I jumped at the chance and requested something herbal and refreshing and got this lovely rum, blood orange, and basil creation.

When in Richmond (or anywhere in the South, really), you must eat pimento cheese. So we couldn’t resist the jalapeño pimento cheese crostini platter. This restaurant also serves a tasting menu with each course only $12. This is such a bargain compared to prices in DC and we observed some really tasting looking things coming out of the kitchen, but we had other dinner plans at Burger Bach, so we stopped with our cheese platter.

So, the burgers were awesome. Sean is so picky when it comes to burgers being from Texas and son of a rancher and all, but these were made from New Zealand beef and he approved.

Day Two

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On Day Two in Richmond, we made our way at 9 am to The Fancy Biscuit. When we arrived, there were nearly 50 people waiting in line ahead of us! Not ones to be deterred, though, we stayed in line. This is usually a good sign that the food is something special.

And it was so special! The Fancy Biscuit might be my favorite new restaurant.

They specialize in biscuits (hence the name) but not your plain biscuits with butter and grape jelly (though I don’t mind those either). These are biscuit creations with all kinds of toppings from goat cheese to collard greens to apple slaw.

We ordered two versions. One had pepper jelly, goat cheese, and fried chicken. The other had a poached egg, ham, and Sriracha hollandaise. So good! Will definitely be trying to recreate these at home.

Our final stop on our Richmond itinerary was the beautiful Maymont Gardens. It was the perfect early Summer day for a walk in the park, and this one featured both Italian and Japanese gardens. This park was absolutely free, which amazes me, and it was the best way to end our weekend trip to Richmond.


DC Eats: Pineapple and Pearls

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Don’t let the name of this restaurant fool you. It’s no frothy lightweight experience.

In fact, this year Washingtonian magazine ranked Pineapple and Pearls the number one restaurant in DC.

And let me tell you. Getting a reservation here is no easy feat. You have to be on the website the second- no millisecond – the reservations open and hit “reserve” before you can blink. There’s no hesitating at all.

This is how you beat out 2,000 other eager diners (so we were told by our server) for a dinner spot. But even then, your meal might start at an awkward time like 9 pm on a Wednesday night and go until almost midnight like it did in our case.

 

Even though I’m more of a person at heart who’d rather be in her pajamas in bed by 10 pm, we were so excited about going to eat here.

The restaurant is a classy tiny room with space for only about 30 diners at a time. Because we were a party of two, we sat at the chef’s counter, where we got to see all the action as it happened in front of us.

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Like our meal at Minibar, it is truly fun to watch the chefs in their habitat, and the whole scene unfolds like a perfectly choreographed event.

The meal starts with something called “Afternoon Tea” which offers up a trio of little bits including a foie gras canele paired with a teacup of gin with Cloosterbitters, rum, and quince.

Next, we had a series of more tasty dishes including beef tartare & caviar, charred octopus, split pea consommé, and a french omelet.

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All delicious, but I have to say I was partial to the octopus. Didn’t know it could taste that good.

The next course was black sea bass (another fish I didn’t know could be so delectable)

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This was followed by probably my favorite of the entire night, a sweet bread taco served along side a mescal tequila.

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At about this point, I could’ve stopped and been perfectly happy with the meal.

But there was one more savory to come!

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Like this trio of sides (persian rice, white beans, and dolmas) for the lamb dish.

The savory part of the meal completed, the next course was a resheshing pineapple granita with soda.

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This was followed by our last fancy drinks of the night, amari and coffee, served with dessert.

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I think you need a close up of the dessert. It was Okinawa purpose potato ice cream (close to our hearts) with chocolate cake and chestnuts.

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Finally, the meal rounded out with the most exotic fruit plate with starfish, banana chocolate lollipops, and candied gooseberries.

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All in all, the food was delightful and the service was top notch.

But in the end, perhaps one of the most luxurious parts of the experience is there is no bill at the end.

No check. No waiting. No figuring out the tip. You pay upfront for all of it when you get the coveted reservation (food, drinks, and gratuity).

So, you just decide when you’re ready to leave, get up, and go.


Greece Trip- Day 3, Santorini

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The next stop in our Greece trip was the island of Santorini. If you plan on visiting Greece, you absolutely cannot miss it!

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After a lot of research about getting there from Athens, we found the easiest and maybe most cost-effective way (considering time and effort) was flying. We booked flights through Aegean Air at about 69 euros per ticket, and the flight took about 30 minutes.

Many people stay in busy Fira or touristy Oia, but we stayed in between in Imerovigli. The Afroessa Hotel blew us away with its staggeringly beautiful views.

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All 10 rooms in this small boutique hotel have ocean views and a private terrace where you can enjoy breakfast gazing at the ocean or a glass of wine as the sun sets. They also have small kitchenettes so you can purchase some grocery items.

It was also really easy to get to both Fira and Oia by local buses, which only cost a few euros for a trip.

The first day, we hiked the famous trail from Fira to Oia. I highly recommend it!

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This hike is like nothing else… first, it winds up through the narrow maze of streets of Fira, past cafes, chapels, and curio shops. Next it takes you past hotels and homes with sweeping Caldera views, then through the rustic mountainside, and finally ends in the pristine white stucco village of Oia.

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Many people do this hike first thing in the morning, but we started it a few hours before sunset and arrived in Oia just as the sun was going down.

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Give yourself about 3 hours if you’re starting in Fira, and take lots of water, a hat, and sunscreen! There are so many wonderful things to look at along the way.

Trust me, it’s worth it!