Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sweet New Zealand #27 Round-up

At last, I can count the remaining days of the fit24 challenge on just one hand. Like I've mentioned before, the sleep and steps were a breeze but not having sugar was absolute torture! 
It was nice to see that the rest of the blogosphere has not subjected themselves to the same challenge and have given me the pleasure of living vicariously through their entries for this month's Sweet New Zealand round-up. 

First in the roundup is from Alessandra, the lovely lady who started Sweet New Zealand, and her Vanilla Cupcakes with Italian Butter Icing. They feature on the front cover of her new book Party Food For Girls and shows us how easy they are to decorate with pretty edible flowers from her garden!

Next, we have Carmella at Easy Food Hacks, with a Caramel Cake with Sea Salt from Jordan Rondel's recipe book, The Caker. The rustic looking cake is lightly infused with mandarin and the sprinkle of sea salt on top of the caramel sauce is just genius.

Egged on by her flatmate, Bridget at After Taste made a fantastic looking Cherry Ripe Mud Cake. While Cherry Ripes aren't a favourite in my household, her picture makes me want to give it a try in cake form. We always have a few at the bottom of a Cadbury Favourites packet that I could use..

After being inspired by a picture of a layered Cheesecake/Carrot Cake on Pinterest, Alice from Alice in Bakingland created her own, easier version: Carrot Cake Cheesecake. I don't know about you, but anything with cream cheese frosting gets my tick!

Not one for super ripe bananas, Sue at Couscous and Consciousness made Caramelised Banana Bread by sauteeing still firm bananas in butter and sugar. This was a slight twist on a Donna Hay recipe and was made as part of the breakfast food theme at the I Heart Cooking Club.

Amanda at Move Love Eat decided to forgo store bought custard and make some Homemade Custard and Stewed Fruit. Considering that I'm on a no sugar month, I'm delighted that none of it appeared in Amanda's recipe for custard (she used artificial sweetener) or the stewed fruit (I guess the fruit is sweet enough by itself). She has even posted nutritional information!

Upon hearing of my sugar free month, Alessandra quickly sent me a recipe from her Only Recipes blog which featured a very vibrant Pretty Fruit Salad. With watermelon season coming up, this will be a very refreshing treat to have on a hot day.

Being able to host Sweet New Zealand this month has been a real pleasure for me. It has been so exciting to see new blogs and meet their owners through great recipes and I look forward to participating next month when I have full use of sugar again!

Thank you to everyone who participated and thank you Alessandra for introducing me to this wonderful bunch of bloggers. Next month's host is Mairi from Toast who will be looking for your November entries. See you there!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chicken and Sesame Cakes

So we're about halfway through the fit24 challenge at work and, I have to say, it's not as easy as I thought it would be. Just to recap, this is a well-being challenge my work has put out to all employees to complete the following tasks for 24 days this month:

1. At least 7 hours sleep
2. At least 10,000 steps
3. No sugar

As I expected, the sleeping was the easiest challenge for me as I rarely get less than 8 hours but was quite surprising to see that many of my co-workers struggled to get the required hours at the beginning! This challenge has forced them (well, some of them) to make small steps towards shaking the bad habit of working into the night and making sleep a priority in their lives.

Pictured: most of the ingredients
Getting 10,000 steps while working in the office was a little harder. Most of us were aware that office based jobs offer little in the way of physical activity, but never realised how inactive we were at work. 

Research shows that completing 10,000 steps a day dramatically reduces the risk of developing lifestyle illnesses such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.

During our trials with our pedometers, a group of us measured less than 3,000 steps each during work hours and I only managed 6,500 when I took an hour long site visit. On average, about 10 minutes of physical activity equates to 1,000 steps so fulfilling this challenge was great motivation to get out off our butts! I've also used this as an opportunity to explore cycle ways around Auckland with Jason.

At the office, we've been having lunches away from the office (which is a nice incentive to try new places), trialing walking meetings and using the stairs instead of the elevators. I'm also more keen to get up to change the channel instead of asking Jason to pass me the remote (yes.. I'm very lazy sometimes).

By far the hardest challenge for everyone is the sugar ban. We were given a list of foods that needed to go, which includes the obvious things like sugar, honey, desserts but also dried fruit, certain sauces and dressings, fruit juice and "low-fat" products which contain a surprising amount of sugar when you check out the nutritional information. Any item with more than 10g sugar per 100g must go.

Most people have had to rethink their workplace snacks as museli bars and chocolate biscuits are no longer viable. Instead, I have seen them replaced with mixed nuts, rice crackers and, my favourite, cheese and crackers. I've been eating mandarins and grapes when I feel like a sweet hit.

This, so far, has been working for me but I would be lying if I said I hadn't used any of the 6 cheat days we are allowed (I allow myself dessert once a week when we visit Jason's parents). One of my poor Japanese co-workers can no longer make teriyaki chicken at home because of the amount of sugar contained in the sauce :(

My favourite part about this challenge, so far, is how much great discussion it creates around the workplace. I love hearing new ways people have managed to complete their 10,000 steps and the woes of no longer being able to have dessert after dinner.

Coming at a close second, is cooking without sugar at home. This recipe is something I actually made at the beginning of this year and have only just gotten around to posting. These Chicken and Sesame Cakes make for an incredibly easy and light lunch or a very yummy party snack.

Has anyone else tried to go sugar free? What about taking on a difficult challenge?

Chicken and Sesame Cakes (makes 16 patties)


500g chicken mince
1/2 cup fresh coriander (have some extra as garnish)
2 Tbs sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 zucchini
1 red chili
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs sesame oil
1/2 Tbs white pepper (I used black pepper because I couldn't find white pepper..)
Oil for frying


1. Grate your zucchini and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Discard the liquid.
2. Put grated zucchini into a bowl with all the other ingredients and mix together with your hands. If the mixture is a too wet, add some breadcrumbs.
3. Divide the mixture into 16 balls and flatten them slightly to get a disc shape.
4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set the shape.
5. Heat some oil in a frying pan and add the patties, frying for about 5 minutes on each side until they are golden on the outside and completely cooked through.
6. Serve with rice and a cool salad.

Note: the mixture can be divided up into smaller balls as a party snack with sweet chili sauce for dipping

Friday, October 4, 2013

Eurotrip, chapter 2: Berlin, Germany

..Continued from Eurotrip, chapter 1: Venice

After 4 days in Venice, Jason and I were itching to see a big city again. We had seen everything we had planned to and even discovered a few new places we would now recommend to others.
Left: Bifi Roll and Contessa Lebkuchen (Gingerbread)
Right: Rausch Christmas Chocolate
Our first German experience actually came in the form of airplane snacks courtesy of Air Berlin. We took 2 flights (with a stopover in Stuttgart) of about 2 hours each and were treated to the best airplane snacks I've ever had. The Bifi Roll, a thin salami wrapped in a wheat roll, was our favourite and we were quite disappointed that we didn't get any on our connecting flight.

Our tiny room at easyHotel
It was dark when we arrived in Berlin but we were far from tired. My need to be super prepared, paired with the city's super efficient public transport system meant that we arrived in Hackescher Markt in short time (we caught the TXL to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and then the S7 if anyone is interested..). However, I got a little lost once we got to our station and luckily Jason's inherent sense of direction got us to our hotel.

When planning our trip, Jason and I tried to be as thrifty as possible, while staying away from backpackers and hostels as we don't really like to share rooms with strangers. This made easyHotel a very easy choice for us -although we didn't anticipate just how small it was! There is just enough room for a double bed and a bathroom -which is separated by partially frosted glass. We're lucky we know each other well, or else it would have been awkward.

Clockwise from top left: Chestnut ravioli, Celery baked
in nori crumb, menu, Pumpkin risotto
After getting settled down, we met our friend Sian who was in town for a few days to see the famous Christmas Markets. We consulted her Lonely Planet guidebook and found a neat vegan restaurant near our place called Kopps. The restaurant had been booked out but we were able to dine in the lounge area near the bar. We admired the modern and trendy interior while I slowly felt more and more out of place in my puffy Kathmandu jacket..

Luckily, the wait staff were super welcoming and did not even take a second look at my tourist attire and showed us the menu. Our dishes were immaculately presented and were full of flavour -which, I'm ashamed to say, is not something I usually associate with vegan dishes. Our highlight was the baked celery which was very tender and the nori crumb gave it a fishy flavour. After only eating pasta and bread for half a week in Venice, we were very glad to eat some vegetables again!

Snapshot of our travel diary that day and a Lucy original illustration
The next morning, we were up early to catch a train to Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) where we met Miguel, our walking tour guide. We were joined by two Australians, Bonnie and Ian, as well as a Brazilian couple who's names we never learned. I think you'll understand, from the above illustration, why that was.

We found the walking tour advertised in a pamphlet we found at the airport and only cost us 12€ to join.

Snapshot of walking tour clockwise from top left: Sinti and Roma Memorial, Reichstag, Holocaust memorial, Brandenbury Gate
Our tour started in west Berlin and made our way across the Berlin wall to the east. Along the way, Miguel told us all he knew about German history. As neither of us had taken history at high school, Jason and I were fascinated at how much history was packed into this city and very impressed that so much of it had been preserved. Miguel pointed out a brick trail along the ground which marked where the wall had once separated east and west Berlin (pictured further down) and we were surprised to find out that Hitler's bunker has now been turned into a car park!

We got a great tour of the city and managed to visit 20 or so sites within the 4 hours we had! The only downside was that we were not able to spend much time at each point of interest.
Snapshots from the Christmas market at Alexanderplatz
By the end of our tour, we were starting to get hungry so we made our way to the Christmas market at Alexander Platz for lunch. This was the first time in my life that I had felt like it was Christmas. Each stall looked like a little lodge in Santa's village -decorated with fairy lights, tinsel and Christmas music playing in the background. The smell of Glühwein (mulled wine), roasted nuts and Bratwurst permeated the air and I knew that this was where I wanted to be.

Thüringer Rostbratwurst, Currywurst, beer and glühwein
We were very thankful to get our hands on some warm food after walking around in the winter cold. The spicy, melt in the mouth bratwurst was my favourite and went perfectly with the hot wine. The currywurst was a little strange to us as we had expected a smooth curry sauce. Instead, what we got was some fried pork sausage, cut into slices with tomato sauce and curry powder sprinkled on top. After trying currywurst at another food shack, we realised that this is just what the dish is and that it wasn't for us. I still don't see what the fuss is about!
Top: Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market
Bottom left to right: Berlin Wall trail, Stolpersteine 
After lunch, we headed back to a few places that peaked our interest during the tour such as Checkpoint Charlie and the museum underneath the Holocaust Memorial. The museum follows the stories of many holocaust victims and each exhibit did well to explain how their everyday lives were destroyed in a single day. I could have spent ages there reading letters and listening to stories but, alas, we had to leave at closing time.

Another highlight for me was spotting "Stolpersteine" or stumbling blocks.These were placed by artist Gunter Demnig and are commemorative monuments for victims of the Holocaust. Each Stolperstein remembers each individual and is placed outside where they lived, worked or studied. They also contain information on when they were born, where/when/how they died and, if they were deported, the name of the concentration camp they were sent.
As we wandered around the city, we noticed the cutest looking pedestrian crossing lights wearing hats -but only in certain areas. It was later explained to us that these were the Ampelmännchen ("little traffic light man") that was adopted in East Berlin when traffic lights were introduced and were never changed. The way history has been integrated into the modern times instead of being relegated into a museum was one of the things I appreciated most about Berlin. We sure had a lot of fun spotting these from afar!

Obligatory beer and soft pretzel at the airport
I was very sad when we had to leave. One and a half days in Berlin was definitely not enough. Even though we managed to cram a lot in the little time we had in Berlin, we didn't allow ourselves enough time to take it all in. A city so full of history and culture deserves so much more and we have decided that we will definitely come back in the future. 

Next stop: Osnabrück, Germany

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sweet New Zealand

Today marks the first day of my work's fit24 challenge. This means, for the whole of October, all competitors must try and last the month with:

1. at least 10,000 steps a day
2. at least 7 hours sleep and..

This is a great attempt at getting everyone in the office more active, less stressed and more aware of what they are eating. I'm told there are prizes so my hopes are high.

Needless to say, I'm going to find the last item super super hard! So while I'm not to let sweet temptations pass my lips, I will be calling on all the New Zealand bloggers to submit their delicious sweet treats to me for October's Sweet New Zealand so I can live vicariously through you.

Sweet New Zealand is a monthly blogging event started by Kiwi food blogger Alessandra Zecchini and I am delighted to be hosting this month. It's a great way to share recipes and meet new bloggers. In fact, it was through this even that I "met" last month's host, Carmella, and tap into a huge list of New Zealand bloggers I never even knew existed! 

For her August roundup, come here for inspiration and I can't wait to see your entries! For those who are new, here's how to enter:

1. This event is open to all bloggers living in New Zealand (even if you're not a Kiwi), as well as all Kiwi bloggers living and blogging overseas.

2. You can enter anything sweet: cakes, biscuits, slices, desserts, even drinks. You may submit as many entries as you like, including old posts if you want. 

3. Your entry must contain the phrase Sweet New Zealand, the Sweet New Zealand badge (choose your own size), a link to the host, and to this post - so if you are submitting an older post remember to update it accordingly.

4. To submit your entry email me at by 28th October 2013 with:
  • your blog name
  • a link to your blog
  • a link to the post you’re contributing (and name of recipe)
  • a photo from your post (not more than 250 kb if possible)
  • your name

I will be doing a roundup of all the submissions at the end of the month so get your entries in!