Monday, November 30, 2009

A Vegetarian in Samoa

I have wanted to go to Samoa for a long time; I love tropical islands, the Polynesian culture and, like many, I truly cherish the chance of a sunny break from the Auckland winter rain.

The tourism industry in Samoa may not be as yet as sophisticated as in other popular destinations like Fiji or New Caledonia, but there is already a great choice of places to stay, from traditional family run fale, to top of the class resorts. Because we were travelling with children my husband and I looked for a resort with several facilities and activities and, on the little ones request, a kid club.
We choose the Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Resort and Spa, on the main island of Upolu, which is the newest sister resort of the famous Aggie Grey’s hotel in Apia. With 140 rooms the resort is large by Samoan standards, but it is also well spread out among extensive gardens, and each room faces the beach, or better, a succession of little beaches. As a result the place didn’t feel crowded or noisy.

There are four restaurants to choose from and, although tropical islands are not exactly vegetarian high cuisine destinations, each eatery offered a few vegetarian options. The children enjoy the pizzeria, and so did we, but opted for the pizza with cheese rather than the vegan one which included mush potatoes among the toppings (sorry, blame my Italian blood but couldn’t try that one!). Each restaurant also had a children’s menu which very much resembled New Zealand children’s menus. Needless to say that my kids ended up ordering from our menus, which offered more choices for the veggies.
Light meals included samosas and spring rolls, simple salads and home made bread with dips (possibly the best option). At the time of our visit room service had only one vegetarian choice: rice with stir fried vegetables, possibly low on the protein front, but OK for one evening.
But the best restaurant for us was the Asian-Fusion one, the only one with a tofu dish. They also had soba noodles with mushrooms and broccoli, and vegetable tempura.

The breakfast buffet was truly Kiwi style: cereals (but no soy milk), toasts and vegemite, and a variety of cooked items. Personally I am not a ‘beans on toast’ type, I may have an egg or pancakes, but not everyday. I also felt that most vegetarians would find it difficult to watch fellow holiday makers using the same serving spoon to pick up the meat and the supposedly meat free items on the hot buffet.
The one of the thing I really liked for breakfast was the pastry selection, in particular the banana slice and the sweet buns dipped in coconut milk: I had plenty of those with coffee! I was also grateful for the large trays of fresh fruit, something that you would expect in the Tropics.

To compensate for all the sweet pastries I had I made sure that at least half of my breakfast consisted of papaya and bananas, and sometimes pineapple. I also tried a green mango, but it was rather sour.
Papayas and banana trees are to be found everywhere on the resort grounds, and we picked quite a few for afternoon snacks. I also found it useful to bring a few dried snacks from New Zealand, things like biscuits and nuts, and noticed that a few guests on the resort, especially those with children, had done the same.

In addition I usually travel with a little bottle of extra virgin olive oil, small enough to fit in my toiletry bag, and big enough to last me an holiday, in case the food taste bland. During a trip to Apia we visited the market and bought a few vegetables, which then became salads with the aid of the olive oil, and some borrowed salt. For sure I found the markets more interesting than the supermarkets, which don’t have enough for vegetarians. In the markets you can also buy fresh coconut, cooked taro, and a variety of inexpensive souvenirs. In central Apia there are a few European style cafes, and worth a visit is also the historic Aggie Grey’s hotel, where they make good cocktails, with and without alcohol.

All in all I found Samoa fascinating: I enjoyed seeing all the little (and the not so little) churches, the villages on the roadside, the lush interior, and the whole atmosphere of the place.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, November 27, 2009

Terra Madre Day in Waitakere

Ranui Community Gardens invites you to a celebration at the gardens on Saturday the 5th December from 11am to 2pm
at 22 Marinich Drive, Ranui celebrating the wonderful diversity of our community, the locally grown vegetables in our garden, and a year full of achievements:
the wonderful perimeter fence
the planting of flax and the tropical garden
the building of a community plot and the local growers
Slow Food Waitakere invites you to celebrate Terra Madre Day with us at the garden and take a look at our Slow Food Kitchen garden, the work of the children in the first Slow Food Class and to help us plant seedlings of food plants to grow up the new perimeter fence and community plots outside the garden. There may even be a chance of getting some fresh veges.

Meet us there - just look for the red snail in the first plot on the left as you go into the garden.

Photo by Brian Dowling

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Ravenna’s grandeur and fame date back to Graeco-Roman times, and its heyday was when it was capital of the Western Roman Empire (from 402 till 476) and an important seaport. Today, the name of the town is primarily associated with its impressive heritage of Byzantine mosaics. I also liked to see so many churches built with bricks, below is the church of San Francesco which has some Neonian mosaics in the crypt.

Yes, there is water in this crypt, (enlarge to see the mosaic floor), and even goldfish inside...just beautiful!

A must is a visit to the Basilica di San Vitale

With the famous mosaics represanting the Emperor Justinian,

Like Parma, another beautiful city in Emilia Romagna, Ravenna is also a city of bicycles...

... And culture. Of course I needed to do a pilgrimage to the tomb of Dante Alighieri...

And for something more contemporary I visited an art exhibition by artist Marco Teatro at the Galleria Mirada

For shopping: in the city of mosaics you can buy all sort of mosaic glass and murrine

And for a quick feed try a Piadina, the typical flat bread of Romagna.
You can choose among several fillings, and I liked stracchino (an Italian fresh soft cheese) with rocket salad.


In the Italian guide Gambero Rosso they reccoment the Gelateria Tutto Gelato and it was amazing. Here my daughter was very keen on the meringue flavour, while I reccomend pistachio! My son? He always takes the darkest chocolate available!

Our host and guide Giorgia took us home for dinner. The family had just made the yearly batch of tomato sauce and there bright red jars everywhere. Tomato based dinner for the vegetarians: they made spaghetti with tomato sauce, tomatoes au gratin, and stuffed eggplants with tomato sauce. It was all divine and excellent with the local Sangiovese di Romagna

After dinner out for the evening promenade, and some more gelato.
Another fantastic artisan gelateria is Bianco, also recommended by the Gambero Rosso Guide. My daughter claims that these were the best yogurt and mango flavours ever!

We stayed at the Hotel Corallo in Marina Romea, just outside Ravenna, on the beach. Very friendly place, good for children, lots to choose for breakfast...although I don't eat much breakfast myself. Many of the Corallo's clients are English, American and German, but most are from Emilia Romagna, especially Bologna, and they come to the same place year after year.

This was the view from our balcony.

And this was the view from our beach umbrella (provided by the Hotel)

One evening we ate by the pool the most amazing pumpkin tortelloni (tortelloni di zucca), the children gulped them down, even my daughter, who doesn't particularly like pumpkin!

Staying at the seaside was great, because in the city can became really hot in summer! We only had three nights there, but I did manage to get a little bit tanned...well, ok, pink! :-)

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini © inlcuding the last one, self-portrait with mobile phone :-)

For further information about Ravenna see:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cous cous with Broccoli Romani

I am the very happy owner of a few brassica plants. I grew them from seeds, bought from the Kings Seeds catalogue, and now that it is spring I am harvesting the last brassica to make space in the veggie garden for other seeds and plants.

But does it get tiring eating broccoli and cauli every second day? I need more recipes, and I found that Enza from Io da Grande had a lovely post on cous cous, and that she was using Broccoli Romani.

Yes, I had some in the garden just ready!

Broccoli Romani from my garden

Enza blanches the broccoli with boiling water, to which she adds salt and olive oil, then drains the broccoli and uses their water to cover the cous cous (the pre-cooked type, of course) while she fries the broccoli with olive oil. Finally she tops the cous cous with the broccoli.

I followed her instructions but made a few variations: I only added salt in the boiling water, and then added a little olive oil to the cous cous before covering it with the broccoli broth. I covered the cous cous with a lid and waited 5 minutes and then, because I have a weakness for cous cous with lemon, I stirred in the juice of half a lemon and one tablespoon of finely chopped Italian parsley.

Also, I did fry the broccoli in olive oil, but I also added 4 garlic cloves.

Considering that the broccoli, garlic, lemon, and parsley came from my garden I only had to buy the cous cous, salt and olive oil for this dish. Even the water is rain water and comes from my water tank, fulfilling a few of my self-sufficiency fantasies!

And here the last image from my veggie garden, I know that it has nothing to do with the recipe, but it is such a good looking cauliflower, and apparently it is also Sicilian (so the seed pack says...), so I am gifting it to Enza as a thank you for her recipe.

Cavolo di Sicilia from my garden

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, November 23, 2009

Some Japanese recipes from Slow Food Waitakere...

Yesterday Slow Food Waitakere held a wonderful cooking class, and by clicking here you can find some wonderful Japanese recipes, some Vegan, and some for meat eaters.

Money raised from these classes go towards community food projects, like school gardens and children classes. To support Slow Food please join us now!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

'Chicken Soup' for Vegetarians...and a Ukulele Festival

Yesterday I went to the ASB Ukulele Festival 2009. Great day, my son was playing with the Kiwilele, and hopefully they broke the Guinness world record for the most Ukulele players playing all together at one time (about 1200...).

It was a sunny and warm day, but I woke up with a terrible cold, I could not breathe nor smell or taste anything. I rarely get a cold like this, and it is quite funny to notice how some people come up to me and say that I have a cold because I am a vegetarian (??).

Of course suggestions follow.

Some non vegetarians would say that this is time for chicken soup, but for a vegetarian the idea of drinking the water where a carcass has been simmering is enough for making you feel even sicker.

A vegetable stock is good enough for me, but I needed something more, comfort food... and protein. So, since I had bought some Chinese dumpling wrappers, I decided to make some tofu dumplings to go with the soup. Before leaving home to go to the Ukulele Festival I cut one block of organic tofu into small pieces, put it in a bowl and added three tbsp of Japanese soy sauce and one of black toasted sesame seeds. I left the tofu to marinate for half a day. Upon my return I added 1 tbsp of sesame oil, half a grated carrot and an handful of parsley leaves (I didn't chop the parsley, once cooked the dumpling parcels becomes quite transparent and it is lovely to see the different colours of the whole leaves and carrots strips running through). At this stage you can also add some chinese mushrooms, but I didn't have any.

I filled the round dumpling pastries with a little tofu, making sure to push all the air out when closing them. I used a little water to seal the dumplings.

This dose makes about 50 dumpling, feeding 5-6 people, or even more if it is just a first course.

These dumpling can be steamed and eaten by themselves with a little tamari or chili sauce on the side, but I like them in soup. I just used some vegetable stock from Rapunzel, and when I had my simmering bowl under my nose I added plenty of freshly grated ginger. Not only I could finally taste something, it was really comforting, healing and the perfect dinner for a bad cold.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nga Waka o Neherā

The history of New Zealand is fascinating, and particularly fascinating is the history of the early settlements of Maori who voyaged by canoe (waka) across the oceans to reach Aotearoa.

ISBN: 978-1-877514-04-3


Finally back in print after more than five years, this is the essential reference work to the traditions of Maori canoes that voyaged to New Zealand – including lists of the waka, names of crew members and vessels, karakia and waiata, and maps. A must for lovers of history, students of Maori and nautical enthusiasts.

This is the second in a programme of short-run reissues of important New Zealand books by Libro International.


Jeff Evans is a writer and photographer who works for leading clients in New Zealand and overseas. An authority on Maori canoes, Jeff is also the author of Waka Taua: The Maori War Canoe, The Discovery of Aotearoa and Maori Weapons in Pre-European New Zealand, and editor of Elsdon Best’s Notes on the Art of War. Jeff lives in Waitakere City.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Slow Food Waitakere Gardening Class

Here are some photos of the Slow Food Waitakere
Gardening Class for Children, in the Slow Food Garden in Ranui.
Click here to read more about it.

Photos by Buffie Mawhinney

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Borage Fritters

After fried borage flowers (done the same way as fried zucchini flowers), borage flower tempura (I use the ready made Japanese tempura mix) and borage frittata (I just add borage stems, flowers and tender borage leaves to a frittata batter), here are some very very very easy borage fritters.

Just pick the borage stems (only the tips with the very young leaves and flowers), make a batter with eggs and bread crumbs, dip the flowers in the batter and fry with extra virgin olive oil until golden on both sides. Dry on kitchen paper, add a pinch of salt and, if desired, drizzle with lemon juice at the table.

This time I also had a lot of sage flowers in the garden, so I added some to the mixture as sage goes very well with fried food. I also decorated the fritters with sage and borage flowers.

For more borage flower recipes click the label Flowers

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What is the meaning of blogging?

I just read this post by Arfi of HomeMadeS, and it made me think.

What is the meaning of blogging, and in particular of food blogging? Arfi mentioned an 'IN' crowd, and possibly there is an 'IN' crowd, 'top of the range' bloggers, 'award winning' blogs (although I don't think I actually understood what they won, but maybe I am just misinformed...), but are we blogging to achieve status? More friends? Admirers? Money?

Maybe some of us are just blogging because it is fun. Maybe for me this is enough...

What follows is my answer to Arfi, and possibly my answer to myself.

Happy blogging to all


Ciao Arfi,

I try to understand what you are feeling right now, you know, there are so many blogs around, some are so 'professional' (? is this the right word?) that they almost look like magazines but you know what? Many often lack 'soul', and the sincerity of a home made blog (or my understanding of what a blog should be in the first place).

Some are so perfect they almost look scary.

I am not putting down those wonderful people who put a lot of work and creativity in their blog here, not criticizing, and actually praising those bloggers who are talented and/or who manage to pull together a community...

...and sometimes communities become cliquey, and other times visitors have no time, or are too shy to post a comment. I noticed this with NZ visitors in particular, they don't post, but maybe this is because I tend to know well some of my visitors so they send me an email instead :-)

Maybe what I mean here is that it may happen that some bloggers become 'competitive', even envious, looking at who receives more comments and visits, and this may leads us (consciously or unconsciously) to post things to impress.

Yes we should challenge ourselves and improve, could be with better writing, better photography, better topics, but we should always remain ourselves too!

You have a beautiful blog Arfi, come on! I have just included your link to my blog because I think this.

In fact I think that I am going to put a link to this post too, (including my reply) because I think that we should encourage people to blog because they enjoy it!!

If it becomes a stress, if it is done only to 'please' others, it will lose authenticity.

In a way I feel privileged that I can blog for free (thank you google :-) !!!!) and that I can come across bloggers like you. So chin up, I accept your glass of wine and look forward to more relaxing days drinking together and talking about food and life in general, like good virtual friends can do.



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Beautiful Parma...and a few cities in the province of Reggio Emilia

Recently I visited Parma, and I thought that it was so beautiful that I had to return for a second visit after just a few weeks. I told a NZ friend about it, she was visiting Genova, and she took a day to go to Parma from there. She was also impressed, and thought that it was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and with very pleasant citizens!

Founded in Roman times, the city had its heyday during the Renaissance period. Many buildings constructed under the duchy of the Farnese family, including the Farnese Theatre and the Palazzo della Pilotta housing the “National Gallery of Parma” still dominate the city. The National Gallery displays masterpieces by Correggio, Parmigianino, Leonardo da Vinci and
El Greco.

The city is elegant, clean and beautiful without being over-rated.
And there aren't many tourists.

Parma is also a city of culture, art and music (Giuseppe Verdi, Ildebrando Pizzetti and

Impoverishing culture enriches ignorance

And Parma is a city of bicycles, bicycles everywhere, just wonderful!!!

I stopped for a non-alcoholic Mojito (based on fresh lime and mint) and the waiter brought to the table a vast array of free snacks (olives, crisps, focaccia, pizzette...); the French couple sitting next to me was impressed with all the free food "c'est beaucoup!"

I had my friend Luca as a guide for the Famous Teatro Farnese
(unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos)
and the Duomo Square

Antelami's octagonal pink marble Baptistery (above)

Inside the Cathedral (below)

I stayed in the beautiful Hotel Stendhal
in the heart of the city and near the Palazzo della Pilotta

My room...

... And the view from my window.

I also stayed with Luca's family, outside Parma (in Boretto, which technically is in the province of Reggio Emilia but it is close enough to Parma), so I had the chance to see also the surrounding small towns of Guastalla, Gualtieri, and Brescello, all gems!

But the most precious gem of all was Luca's mum! She cooked and she cooked like
only a donna emiliana can cook.

Here is the dough for gnocco fritto

And here is the final product....

...with a variety of cheeses for the veggie guests.
My husband and the children looooooved this!

And thanks to Luca's family I also made a very important cheese discovery:

And then there was fresh pasta, made by hand of course...

and ravioli filled with spinach...

and home made sweet pastries with home made jam...

and home made gnocchi...

Thank you guys, I felt like a Pope!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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