Friday, February 29, 2008

A problem shared

The person who came up with the saying that "A problem shared is a problem halved" must have been completely deluded. I've been sharing my current problem of weed attack with Bob, my father-in-law, but it doesn't seem to have halved the problem at all. It did however make the legs and back ache slightly less than it might otherwise have done.

Having got the flower beds weeded and mulched it was time to start on the soon to be herb and salad garden and the remaining land around the house. After about 4 hours of work between us we've cleared about 20 square metres. Not a bad effort but just think about how long this is going to take to tackle the other couple of acres of weeds.

Still, armed with my fork, trowel, weed hacker and my trusty garden cart I shall set forth day by day to try and clear the worst before the rains come and they multiply all over again. But hey, it's all in a day's work eh out in the country!

Site of the soon to be herb and salad garden

Just to prove that I'm not playing up the extent of the weed problem. My prize thistle and dandelion field.
Back by popular demand - this is what Fortnum and Mason do to contribute to the weed busting effort. Playing together in the sun (that's after they've been shooed off the area being weeded where they like to lie right where you are working)

For more on my garden.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A treat never hurt anyone!

It's been a tough time for the bassets since their op's made harder by Fortnum's longer recovery. However, we try to make it as much fun as possible for them with an occasional treat to cheer them up.

Also, Fortnum's been increasingly allowed to take his hat off and run free and wild. He is much happier when it's like this but because he needs to be supervised all the time to ensure he doesn't start licking his wound it can only be a short respite. He looks so depressed when you pick up the buster collar on but despite his hatred of it he placidly accepts that's the way it's going to be.

Fortnum and Mason are just such different characters. Mason is the bold, clever (sneeky) and athletic of the pair. He is a real attention seeker who loves to make mischief but pretty obedient in training. Mason's not really food motivated too much and would rather snout around and play in the flower beds given the chance rather than sit with a food toy to distract him.

Fortnum is almost the opposite. He's the follower, more tolerant and loveable in his inability to be agile. He's a big boy and lumbers around although content to sit or lie on the veranda sniffing into the wind. Most of all he loves food - pretty much any sort. Most of all he loves his bones, pigs ears and treats. In the morning he loves to play picking up his soft toy stingray as he hurries out the door to do his business first thing. He gets very upset when Mason doesn't want to play and will bark for attention before heading into the corner to sulk or find a way of flopping into your lap for a cuddle.

Every day you see them both develop physically and their characters. There is no doubt they create huge amounts of work but they give enormous amounts of pleasure too when you watch them goofy around or simply kicking back basset style and laying in the sun.

Mason getting his chops around his chew

Fortnum is not taking any chance with his treat and hording it in the corner away from Mason who might try and nick it from him
You can see more of Fortnum and Mason.

Houseblogging - end of an era

Today I closed down my companion site - Kaitoke Grand Design. A blog designed to chronicle the build of the house. You can check it out.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Plants are thriving

Despite the hot weather the garden is starting to thrive with the plants in the beds around the house really setting down roots. It is starting to look like a real garden should. The bees are loving the plants close to the front veranda which makes it difficult for maintenance during the day. Best to wait for the bees to go to bed.

Only another 20 plants to put in this week and then that's it for this growing season as the remaining plants we need are simply not available at the nurseries at the moment. Still, there are plenty of thistles to be dug up so that will make a change from putting plants in the ground!

January 2008

End February 2008 - not bad eh!
Click for more garden blogging

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Set back in recovery

It's not been a good time for the bassets this week. There was a set back this weekend in Fortnum's recovery following his insistence on licking his stitches. As a result he was packed off to the vets to get a buster collar fitted and antibiotics/painkillers.

It was an alarming experience for both of us when he first put on the collar. He simply stood in a catatonic state staring at me with complete bewilderment. He did however start to realise that standing in one spot forever wasn't going to be helpful and by the evening he was starting to womble around a bit getting his big hat caught on the ground.

It was a pretty sleepless night on Sunday as he got it stuck and started barking and then pleading with me in the wee hours of the morning to take the thing off. The hard hearted person I am refused but did allow all 22kg of him to climb into my lap for him to go back to sleep.

By Monday he was getting used to his new attachment and has increased his capability to play, run, drink and eat whilst wearing his collar. However, the moment we take it off for some relief he promptly heads for a good lick of this stitches. But he is starting to recover now and hopefully by the weekend we'll be able to relieve him of his collar.

Mason has been frustrated and upset by it all too. After all he lost his playmate and the rough and tumble that he loves to have has been curtailed. Also he's been losing out on the attention stakes making him dream up as many new ways of being mischievious to get attention as possible.

I can't imagine what it must be like to wear a big plastic cone around your head but I'm proud of Fortnum for being such a placid dog and tolerating it as well as he has. There is no doubt he'd rather be without it but the recovery is now back on track and before he knows it he'll be back to normal.

Today the puppies were treated to some time with their two legged domestic executive being allowed to sit on the veranda outside DE HQ. It wasn't long before Mason was exploring over the door threshold and having real fun with me chasing him out again. Oh, not to mention pulling all the paper out of the waste basket too!

Here's some basset blogging to demonstrate.

Fortnum in his rather fetching buster collar. Note Mason is already breaching the house rules and heading into DE HQ
Fortnum with his hat stuck!
Puppies exploring the inside of Domestic Executive HQ

Banished to the veranda for a snooze!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Love thy neighbours

I've never been hugely lucky with neighbours apart from a lovely older couple in Ouston, Chester-le-Street, who had the downstairs flat. Although they fought all the time and I could listen to what they watched on TV they were really friendly and always concerned for me. I like to think that I reciprocated this neighbourly friendship (well not the arguing and loud TV).

Here in New Zealand I think we may be luckier with our neighbours. Last night we held a neighbourly get together with 10 of the neighbours around for drinks and a nosey in the house.

Here's the roll call so you know for future:
  • Jim and Kathleen - the people who sold us the land, a wonderful Irish couple . Jim is a self confessed nosey neighbour when it comes to house building and kept a close eye on development during the build. Kathleen is a very useful person to know, she works at the local council!
  • Ross and Janet - the people who own the first section off the road, parents to our immediate neighbour Doug. They keep sheep that keep escaping and the beef cattle that lived in Doug's paddock for a while.
  • Mike and Andrea - he's from Essex and Andrea's a kiwi. Their house build is underway on the middle section of the sub division.
  • Doug and Shilo - Doug's a real country boy and spends hours hunting wild boar in the Rimutaka hillsides. He's currently living in a bach (looks more like a garden shed) until he starts building his house at the end of this year. Shilo is is long suffering girlfriend who puts up with his wild hunting ways.
  • Lee and Keith - the neighbours whose trees set on fire a few weeks ago. Keith's parents are British, from Redcar and London.
Jim and Kathleen took some pictures of our house from their section and brought them with them to the neighbourly soiree. I thought this was a deeply thoughtful thing to do as it would be rare that we would otherwise be able to see this view.

I know I am biased but I do think the house looks really cool - nestled amongst the landscape in a sympathetic way. Good to know that they can't see into our bedroom windows!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

2 Years and counting

It's been two years - that's 730 days - since I arrived in New Zealand to start my new life as a Domestic Executive. Those painful first few hours after stepping off the plane are starting to fade to the long term memory but it's still hard to believe that I've really started to achieve what I set out to do. But it is amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it.

As a professional coach I spend hours helping others to achieve their goals and wonder whether things might have been different if I'd had a coach at the time. Probably not as I'm not the most coachable person as my own coach found out.

The key to it all motivation. You have to want something really really bad to make something happen. You also need to have a really clear picture in your mind what it will be like. With those two things upper most in your mind everything else that might get in your way will drift away as a minor irritation.

It's been a roller coaster time since I called New Zealand home. At last I feel like I'm on the antique merry go round rather than the corkscrew that used to be at Alton Towers. I ran away to get a more balanced life as a domestic executive living in the country and I've largely achieved this. Now the challenge is to start living the next part of the dream.

In coaching we'd call that setting new goals. So what are the goals for the next two years:
- to establish the kitchen garden and start to be more self sufficient in terms of food
- to build a "lifestyle business" that means life comes first but not at the expense of earning a decent living
- to help my puppies grown into loving and obedient adult bassets who will lie quietly on the floor and watch and intellectual documentary on the tv
- to be wake up every day knowing that this domestic executive life is no longer a dream!

So let's see how the next two years goes.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Getting bigger every day

I forgot to update you bloggers of how big the puppies are growing. They were weighed at the vets this week and as you might expect they are getting bigger and bigger.

If you look back to previous posts you'll see how far they've grown:

To the strapping lads we now have with Fortnum weighing in at 22 kilos and Mason at 17.3 kilos.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Weed warfare

This week I declared warfare on the weeds on our land. I know that I'll be fighting a losing battle for years to come but you have to start somewhere.

This decision followed a rather painful lesson in weeding - make sure that your teeshirt meets your shorts at the back. After spending several hours digging up thistles and dandelions that were establishing themselves on my lawn (Ok, the place where the lawn should be) and in my new flower beds I found to my pain that my teeshirt didn't quite. Still I've a lovely patch of tan which looks faintly ridiculous but gives me renewed determination to get rid of the weeds.

After clearing the flower beds it was time to use blanket amoury in the form of bark mulch. After a big truck deliver 5 cubic metres of the stuff it became a family affair to get the beds covered. I have to say that credit goes to my father-in-law for the most mulch shifted from the pile although the rest of the Treanor family got in at the end of a long day to finish up the last bits.

Long may this mulch keep down the weeds. However, I suspect that they will be back soon in another part of the garden!

Can you tell who didn't wield a shovel all day?
The master learning the finer points of mulch shifting

Now doesn't that look nicer!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Snip snip

It was a big day for our basset boys - time for their snip. Given that they've been fighting a bit more than we'd like we decided to get them done sooner rather than later as it may help to calm them down. Also, Fortnum had a missing bit which needed to be found to avoid it turning cancerous.

They were very confused with more changes to their routine - what no breakfast this morning? I'm pleased to say that their op's went well and Fortnum and Mason have official had their manhood removed. We found Fortnum's missing bit (lost somewhere behind his leg) so that's all good too.

They were very sleepy when I picked them up from the vets and generally feeling sorry for themselves. This got worse when they went into their bedroom to find that it's been divided into two and they were being separated although they could still see and touch each other through the bars.

Still, the separation thing will do them some good and them being sleepy makes a change from them hooning around like demented puppies. Now we just need to get back on top of the toilet arrangements which seemed to go to pot since they came back from their holidays with their basset family in Woodville :O(

Fortnum cooling off his stitches on the floor tiles

Might as well go to sleep they thought since we can't play......

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shop N Go

One of the things I do miss from England is my beloved Waitrose. You could always rely on Waitrose to serve up interesting things to eat that tasted delicious. They also did amazing recipe cards which we continue to use regularly here causing much frustration as we can't find all the ingredients that are standard in a Waitrose store.

Here is kiwi land the closest thing to Waitrose is New World but there isn't a New World in Upper Hutt, the nearest town to where we live. This is a double blow to this domestic executive but I'm learning to live with the limitations of my new friends at Pack N Save ("where all we do is to save you $").

One of the main savings that they make - as their name suggests - is you have to pack your shopping yourself (not like New World) and there are no carry bags, you have to bring your own (not like New World which must have the world's record for carrier bag usage). You have to be quick at the checkout ready with your cool bag and cotton bags ready assembled in the trolley to be able to catch the produce as it comes off the line and pack once. If you don't the check out operator will simply pile everything in your trolley and you have to repack again.

On good day shopping at Pack N Save is like a new olympic sport but if you get a grumpy checkout person or they are busy it's really not much fun. To try and overcome the checkout battle I've signed up for Shop N Go, the scanner shopping system that they operate. It's very like Waitrose's system, which incidently I never used but someone it brings me closer to my shopping roots!

Now Shop N Go is a good system in theory but it definitely takes longer to get your shopping done and it's always quite stressful as you never know whether they are going to demand a spot check and you have to get all your shopping rescanned and repacked which somehow defeats the object of the exercise.

As a full time domestic operative shopping systems are something close to heart. Whilst supermarkets are convenient I am increasingly starting to feel like Nigel Slater wanting to shop every day at the local suppliers and producers. But New Zealand isn't like North London with a multitude of right on foodies. This is a country with an economy based on commodity farming.

Still, there are gems around - Meet on Tory Street (meat that almost tasted as good as the organic farm in Buckinghamshire), Pacific Fresh fish (although I get panic attacks looking at the fish which I hardly recognise and don't know what to do with it even if I did), vegetables from the farmers market at Poirirua (although for a farmers market there poor choice of only one veg seller but a multitude of options for honey, jams and olive oil.

I think that the only solution to this dilemma is to grow our own so roll on the autumn when the kitchen garden will be open for business.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Queen Victoria Day"

Cruise ships are a regular sight in Wellington, usually so big to make the cake tin stadium look like a muffin case. The latest cruising attraction to arrive this weekend was the brand new $676 million, 90,000 tonne ship - the Queen Victoria - stopping off as part of its maiden voyage, a 15-week world tour.

It called into Auckland, Napier and Wellington before departing for Melbourne last but it was Wellington that showed them a kiwi welcome with coastguard boats, the port's three tugboats and a flotilla of fishing boats, yachts and runabouts making lots of razzamataz to welcome them to the Capital City. We sure know how to throw a party!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Basset breakout

The bassets have turned terrorist since they returned from their holiday. I'm trying hard to see this as a natural process of them growing up but am starting to feel victimised a little and increasingly convinced that these little ratbags are giving me the runaround after careful planning.

Yesterday I was taking five during the afternoon only to wake from my snooze to hear bassets bounding up and down the veranda. Hmm, me thinks that's not right, last time I left them they were locked in their puppy pen.

We had a basset break out and they were roaming around free range. Not sure how long but it's marked a turning point in our housekeeping arrangements with them. As well as the gate being latched at the top we're now tying the bottom of the gate which they'd worked out how to push out far enough for them to escape.

In my paranoid moments I have visions of them sitting in their dog house with Mason running terrorist training camps for the next retaliation for them being left behind when we went on holiday. It's certainly not Fortnum leading this behaviour he is simply too laid back to want to exhert unneccesary energy on such high jinks.

It is however hard to be cross with them for long. So back by popular demand, here's some classic basset poses.

"Now if she's tying the top that leaves the bottom free and if I push hard enough we'll be free"
"Us. we're doing nothing, just looking at you!"

In this picture you can see why Mason's litter name was "wrinkle". He's taken to wanting to sit in my lap, something he really didn't do before. This of course creates tension with Fortnum who's been climbing into my lap ever since he arrived.

Classic Basset pose in the sun.

Aren't they handsome?!



Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bloggers welcome

Just in case you've been visiting this week and found not much to read you should now be able to catch up with the domestic-executive musings as I've finally got the blog posts up to date. Sorry about the interuption in service, hopefully things will be better from today!

Water, water

Down in Golden Bay there is no shortage of water. In fact we saw some of the purest water to be found. Pity that other parts of New Zealand are missing this, there has been drought declared in the Waikato region. As one of the largest farming regions in New Zealand this is really not good news.

Just over the Rimutaka Hill in the Wairarapa the water thing is just as scarce. People are sending their stock off to slaughter because they can't get feed or they need to cut their loses whilst they can.

We don't have any shortage of water here in Kaitoke which has lots of passing clouds this week. In fact last night we even had hail which was a spectacularly noisy moment under the veranda.

Take a look at this picture, its water in a stream in Golden Bay - so clear and pure. Check out the slight ripples on the right if you don't believe me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Domestic Executive Lifestyle

It's been a real challenge this week to play the Domestic Executive. I've had great domestic plans but then the executive in my was required meaning two trips to the big smoke.

I was performing my first Catapult gig helping to facilitate a strategy review session for a cross Government project. It was interesting to observe and help focus the discussion which might otherwise have gone the way of most strategy reviews - way down into the detail and never looking back to look forward.

It was good to be using the brain again although the tensions of puppy care and domestic duties seems to make the stress levels rise. Boy was I pleased for Friday to come around and be focused on taking the mud off the kitchen floor and nothing else!

We've had lots and lots of rain this week which has been great for the water tank but not so good for keeping the puppies amused. They hate being caged in under the veranda even more than huddling in their dog house exposed to the elements. It tends to make them stir crazy so when the sun comes out again they start leaping all over which makes for a frustrating time when it's their muddy paws they are dancing on.

Funnily enough it's been hard getting into the swing of things just like when you're back at work. You need time to catch up with your emails, make contact with a few mates and have an unproductive time working down your to do list until at last you have to knuckle down and get something done.

I've high hopes for next week. Maybe the fencer will ring me back, the outstanding plants delivered, the weeds stop growing and my kitchen floor not continuously in a muddy state. Don't get me wrong this is what I wanted and I look for excuses to stay at home all the time!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Photoblogging backlog

Well bloggers I'm afraid that my holiday photoblogging is going to be pretty restricted until Bob comes back from his South Island tour - he's been the master photographer and I need to pinch some of his images to give you a real flavour of Golden Bay. In the meantime, here's a taste of the marvellous views.

Abel Tasman from the Headland Walk
Golden Bay looking across the deer farm
Ligar Bay from the veranda where I spent a lot of time!

That's when I wasn't in classic sofa pose - yes had required inside for the sun which kept streaming in!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Camping it up on a culinary Kiwi tour

For those people thinking of where to come when they visit New Zealand, here's a few ideas from this week's Observer. Many of these places are in striking distance of Domestic Executive HQ.


From fine dining in Wellington to seafood shacks on the beach, Emma John takes a gastronomic road trip across New Zealand and finds a food revolution under way
Emma John,
The Observer, Sunday February 10 2008

People go to New Zealand for lots of reasons: the outstanding scenery; the skiing in the South Island; the beaches in the North; the delusion that they're going to encounter a hobbit. But there was one thing that no one, ever, went for - the food. Until recently, if you had asked for Kiwi cuisine you would probably have been served a sloppy shepherd's pie or a throat-laceratingly dry roast. Any local could tell you that there were 10 times more sheep than people on the two islands, but that didn't mean they knew how to cook them.

Thanks partly to its wine boom, and partly to a generation of Kiwis with well-travelled tastebuds, New Zealand has begun to realise its own potential, from its wealth of seafood to its locally reared farm produce. My friend Matthew and I have arrived for a two-week road trip with a simple plan: to spend a week exploring the local flavours before attempting to recreate them ourselves. In other words, a week of five-star indulgence, followed by a week in a camper van with a tin opener.

In Wellington, where we begin our culinary exploration, we discover what must be the most civilised introduction to a place: a walking tour of foodie haunts, with plenty of tastings along the way. Small and pedestrian-friendly, Wellington likes to trumpet its cafe culture, and Cathy Cordwell, who runs 'Zest Food Tours', knows all the good spots. Our three-hour meet-and-eat walk shows us the relaxed and aspirational side of the city, where young Kiwi guys and girls mooch about over their 'flat white' - espresso with steamed milk - and butchers dispense tips on how to hang lamb until it's curling off the bone. At an indoor market, we're introduced to the indigenous fruit and veg: the kumara, a sort of sweet potato; bright red yams that look like witchety grubs; and golden kiwi fruit, sweeter and softer than their sharp green cousins.

'I remember going to Britain in 1988,' says Cathy, 'and thinking I didn't want to come back, because in New Zealand we had no cafes, no delis, no good food.' The most adventurous cooking came from overseas: restaurants were invariably French or Chinese. Now Wellington boasts four fine-dining restaurants that could hold their own in any metropolis. Over-ambitious, we attempt two in one day, Logan Brown for lunch, and Rex Morgan's award-winning Citron for dinner. Half way through Citron's nine-course extravaganza, we realise we've attempted a feat that would make Michael Winner blanch; although undeniably tasty, the tasting menu feels rather like a month-long siege. By the time we reach the cheese course, Matthew has fallen asleep at the table.

An hour and a half from Wellington is the Wairarapa valley, a weekend retreat for Welly's middle classes and a gastronome's paradise. Once beyond the hills that encircle the city, we drive past cattle fields until we reach Martinborough, whose main street is lined with bakeries and cheese shops; a dozen or more boutique wineries cluster within walking distance. In the early 1980s a handful of winemakers were drawn here by the soil and climate; Ata Rangi, Dry River and Martinborough vineyards are now making some of the best Pinot Noir wine in the world.

A short drive further north is Greytown, all verandahs and clapboard, like some gentrified Wild West outpost. Among the antique shops and boutique B&Bs sits a tiny chocolaterie called Schoc, which creates savoury-sweet combinations even Willy Wonka might think twice about - apricot and rosemary, ginger and wasabi, lime and chilli. It's owned by an idiosyncratic pair called Roger and Murray, an erstwhile hippy, and a psychotherapist respectively, who have invented 'chocolate therapy' and claim they can decipher your personality by which flavours of chocolate you prefer. Matthew loves the strawberry flavours which, apparently, makes him kind, placid and accommodating. I'm an 'almond', the kind of person who wants things their way and will eat poor strawberry types for breakfast. All of which is true, and none of which bodes well for our upcoming week in the camper van.

We leave with a slab of strawberry-and-cracked pepper, and Murray's recipe for chocolate gravy, and head for the ferry across the Cook Strait to the South Island. Locals moan about the three-hour crossing and prefer the half-hour flight, but no visitor would want to miss what has to be one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world, through the Marlborough Sounds, a majestic series of fjord-like inlets that create a meandering coastline more than 1,500km long. After an overnight stop in Picton, a pretty little port town unfairly slighted by our Lonely Planet guide, we head east for New Zealand's most famous wine region: Marlborough.

Home to the New World's finest Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough is the commercial heartland of New Zealand winemaking, and with so much to sample, hiring a driver for the day seems a justifiable extravagance. My local pub serves a Marlborough wine called Spy Valley and I'm incredibly excited to discover that its tangled rows of vines are in fact planted next to a government intelligence-gathering base (although I'm even more excited to discover that it only costs £8 a bottle).

As well as the pungent, fruity delights of its Sauvignon, the region can boast the cooking of Hans Herzog, who won a Michelin star in Switzerland, but left for New Zealand to produce the kind of wine that ends up being sold at exclusive London restaurants for wallet-thumping sums. The restaurant on his estate, which he runs with his wife, is rumoured to be the best in the country, and very reasonably priced. Unfortunately, it's also only open for six months of the year, and we've managed to turn up two days early. We look enviously around its elegant interior and idyllic gardens, charmed all the while by Hans's wife Therese, and briefly meet Hans himself - a silent giant with Marlon Brando's brooding looks. Leaving them without supper is heartbreak.

In fact, so is leaving Marlborough. We've been staying at Old St Mary's Convent, a nunnery built at the turn of the 20th century, whose cells have been knocked through to create five luxury bedrooms; the refectory has rather cheekily become a gentlemen's billiards room and bar. It's certainly the plushest convent I've ever seen - I doubt many sisters have plasma screens, or rose petals in their toilet bowl - and I'm not that keen to leave it for our new home, the VW Camper now squatting obtrusively next to the deconsecrated chapel.

Motor homes are a frequent sight on New Zealand's single-lane highways, and most of the major companies can rent you a modern-day Tardis that includes kitchen, shower, toilet and bunkbeds. We, however, have gone for style over substance. Our camper van may only offer the basic bed, sink and gas canister, but it does have all-over graffiti, which means horrified locals can spot us from more than a mile away. The rental company, Escape, ('freedom to sleep around,' boasts its website) decorates each of its vans with a uniquely lurid paint job. Our design includes a snail, a butterfly and some magic mushrooms.

We take off down the east coast, leaving behind the beautifully manicured gardens of Marlborough for the wild coastal road to Kaikoura, which winds past goats on one side and seal colonies on the other. Crayfish is the local delicacy here, and we've been told that we will find it on sale at a roadside caravan called Cay's Crays. We spot it late in the day; a large bearded man with a grey ponytail is already packing away, and Matthew makes the mistake of asking if he is the eponymous Cay. 'Do I look like a Cay?' he snorts. Swiftly purchasing the biggest creature we can see, we hand over $50 (£20) and retreat to the van to suck delicious slivers of meat out of the pincers - tough on the hands, tender on the tongue.

One great incentive to roam, on any New Zealand road trip, is the extraordinary proximity of its different landscapes. A few hours' drive can take you almost anywhere, from the coastline to the snowline; you can eat prawns for breakfast on the beach, lunch on farmed venison on the plains, and drink your sundowner atop a 3,000ft mountain. Looking west from the beaches at Kaikoura we're tempted by the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps, so we head for Arthur's Pass, the steep and arduous road that crosses the island, via the Alps. And while our attempt to cook lamb fillet, kumara mash and chocolate gravy on the side of a mountain falls foul of the lashing rain (we end up cooking it in the kitchen of a local hostel), the weather is dry and bright by the time we arrive on the west coast, thanks to a strange South Island climactic quirk.

Our destination is Hokitika, one of the towns where you can still experience New Zealand's time-warp effect: the small arcades here are dotted with tearooms and the pace of life probably hasn't increased since the 1950s.

Blackboards everywhere advertise whitebait fritters; whitebait here isn't the crispy deep fried version you'd recognise, but small translucent fish the consistency of jelly, which you whisk into a frying pan with an egg and serve on toast. There's a vaguely illicit thrill to buying whitebait direct - coastal families sell it out of their kitchens, ziplocked in plastic bags and wrapped in newspaper. We purchase two packets of East Coast finest, drive up to the seafront, shelter the gas canister from the wind and fry up; then we sit eating them on the beach as the surf rolls in. On the same stretch of coast, when the morning tide goes out, you can gather green-lipped mussels, gigantic castanets hiding plump pillows of flesh; or, if you brave the cold of the ocean, snorkel for paua, the exotic shellfish that sell here for around $30 a kilo (although you're only allowed to harvest 10 a day).

The camper van has proven surprisingly cosy, at least once we discover the fan heater stowed away beneath the bed, and the gas cooker, basic as it is, has served us very well, handling everything from sirloin to stir-fry. But for all our DIY pride we want more: we want to forage. And so, for our last trick, we fly north to Rotorua, the North Island's Maori heartland, where Charles Royal, a Maori chef with 10 years of service as an army cook, promises to introduce us to some real bush tucker. Well, the pleasant stuff. We're not celebrities, after all.

We jump into his jeep and head out into the forests that surround Rotorua's volcanic lakes. There are, apparently, seven types of edible fern native to New Zealand, and much used in Maori food. While nature isn't my strong subject, even I can spot the famous fiddlehead fern, although I can't say I find it particularly flavoursome. Then there are herbs and peppers, and Charles is particularly excited to spot a manuka plant, which oozes a dewdrop of sap on each of its spiked leaves that can be gathered to make honey.

Happily, having gathered a few handfuls, we've earned a rest: Charles takes us to his favourite hot spring. Rotorua is a literal hot bed of geothermals; every lake, crater, and hole in the ground bubbles and steams. The town itself thrives on geothermal tourism: every new business is a spa, a mud bath or a beauty salon. But you don't have to venture far to find the springs themselves, and every weekend the locals head for a 'quiet little spot that they know'. We're gratified to know, as we slither into the warm water, that 10 minutes bobbing about in the mineral-rich water is considered a health-giving experience in itself. With all the overeating and liberal drinking, I successfully petition for half an hour.

Charles builds a fire and cooks us an alfresco meal of salmon in horopito (a spicy pepper) and unwraps a delicious flatbread cooked with ferns. The flavours are extraordinarily pungent and spread through parts of my mouth I didn't know even contained tastebuds. I try to explain the sensation, and Charles just smiles. 'These herbs are something special,' he says with a burp. 'They'll keep coming back all day.'

A foodie's New Zealand address book

·Zest Food Tours offers a number of food-themed walking tours around Wellington. The four-hour Walking Gourmet Tour, with lunch, costs $210 (£85). 00 64 4801 9198;

·Logan Brown restaurant in Wellington serves sophisticated bistro-style food in the stately interior of a 1920s bank. A three-course set lunch costs $39.50. 00 64 4801 5114;

·Citron Fine dining experience in an intimate, 30-seater venue in central Wellington. The degustation menu costs $78. 00 64 4801 6263

·Ata Rangi This award-winning Martinborough winery is run by Clive and Phyll Paton; the winery shop is open 1pm-3pm midweek and noon till 4pm at weekends. 00 64 6306 9570;

·Schoc Chocolate This tiny confectionery shop in Greytown has a nationwide following. 00 64 6304 8960;

·Marlborough Travel runs all kinds of gourmet tours around Marlborough, including tailored wine tours. About $80 per adult for a half-day tour. 00 64 3577 9997;

·Spy Valley Wines Leading family-owned Marlborough vineyard producing a full gamut of white and red wines. 00 64 3572 9840;

·Herzog World-acclaimed Marlborough winery and restaurant; three-course degustation menu $89. 00 64 3572 8770;

·Maorifood Trails Spend anything from one morning to a week in the Rotorua bush with chef Charles Royal learning about New Zealand's indigenous ingredients. 00 64 7345 3122;


Emma Johns's trip was organised by Tourism New Zealand:

Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; has two flights a day to Auckland, via Hong Kong or Los Angeles.

For tailor-made packages visit

Escape (00 64 21 2888 372; hires camper vans from Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Queenstown and Wellington from $34 (£14) a day.

Old St Mary's Convent in Marlborough has five rooms (the honeymoon suite was the chapel), from $350 a night; 00 64 3570 5700;

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our boys are back

Whilst we headed off for our holiday to Golden Bay, our boys - Fortnum and Mason - were back home with their mother. Yes, their real one - she's called Abbie.

By all accounts they've been very well behaved. They seem to have left this behaviour in Woodville and started a new terrorist style of retalliation here at home. If you're wondering what this might look like I wish I could post a photograph but they are dashing around like puppies demented that it's almost impossible to capture them on the camera.

So what's changed in our boys? Well first of all they went away babies and have come back smelly teenagers. They smelt like dogs (or rather I should say they smelt like other people's dogs). They have become surly and petulant and go out of their ways to ignor or give a cursory response.

They house training seems to have gone completely to pot as they leave me a pile of messages in the morning. This is one of the most frustrating things as they never "soiled" their room overnight when they were puppies.

They have also become much more snappy and grumpy with each other - less tolerant of each other and down right agressive and possessive. This has resulted in a few fisticuffs which are not pleasant but tend to be shortlived with no winner either side.

It's been hard work sometimes but to be fair to them, they are still only babies and have had their routine changed. Although they are definitely being friendly (especially around feeding time) they are also trying to prove that they will pay me back for leaving them.

Little do they know that the dog trainer is back next week to see if we can work on some particularly annoying behaviour and they are booked with the vets to have the snip to see if we can nip this aggression early on. Fortnum might need to have a slightly bigger operation as he's only got one, well you know what I mean, and if this doesn't drop it can be dangerous so he'll be feeling particularly sore and grumpy I am sure.

Hopefully they will start to be more like their normal selves again soon and we can re-establish total domestic harmony. If not, it's only two hours to Woodville where I am sure that they will be welcomed back with open arms.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hello bloggers, back again. Hot foot from Golden Bay.

Without wanting to sound smug to all those suffering in the northern hemisphere winter, life in Golden Bay couldn't have been more golden. We had stunning weather with balmy evenings which made for a fantastic break away.

As well as the good weather the location was pretty good too! It was a bit of a hike to get there: 3 hour ferry ride, and three more hours driving including the Takaka Hill which made the Rimutaka Hill look like a small bump in the road. Nevertheless it was worth the effort to see empty golden beaches and the stunning Abel Tasman national park.

Where we stayed in Ligar Bay there was nothing but kiwi baches and beach houses so the typical kiwi seaside hideaway. The Abel Tasman National Park was only a short drive away (up an unsealed road) so we headed off there for walking and a scenic boat ride along the Tasman Park coastline.

This whole area is designed for outdoor living - camping, tramping and kyaking are the order of the day. If you're into that sort of thing you can see why people return year after year. I'm not sure that the bassets will appreciate the long car journey so maybe next time we return we'll take the flight from Wellington to Golden Bay (if only we could guarantee good smooth flying weather).

Lots of photoblogging to share but no time for that it's back to routine but watch this space over the next few days.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Out of “blog” message

It's time for this Domestic Executive to take a holiday – yes a proper, get away from it all – break away from home. We're taking Fortnum and Mason back to their first home to live with another 7 basset hounds for the week whilst MT, I and parents head off to Golden Bay.

Golden Bay is in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand, top of the south island. For more see We're staying in the Villars of Legar Bay and you can check this out at

There is no sky TV, no DVD so we're packing the radio, petanque set and maybe a pack of cards. Not to mention the mountain of magazines and books I've been longing to read but never seem awake enough or have enough time to curl up and enjoy.

Whilst we are away the house is being invaded by builders again. They are going to remedy the broken under tile heating, dodgy plastering and wallpapering and hopefully completing the painting outside and in. I imagine that it will take a couple of days to take the dust away from the rest of the house when we're back. Fingers crossed that they manage to complete everything without any major hitches.

Since my last blog it's been the usual domestic executive business. I've got back into coaching with my two private clients and spent a day with Catapult colleagues, firstly, listening to Australia's youngest person to climb Mount Everest and then an afternoon bonding as a team. It was so tiring to engage the brain in ways that I haven't done for a while. It was fun too but I think it was my in-laws who had the most fun back at base puppy sitting with Fortnum and Mason. By all accounts they were terribly well behaved (the puppies that is) and a good time was had by all.

Brace yourself for when I return and there will be a mountain load of photo blogging from Golden Bay and tales of Fortnum and Mason's return to their roots.