15 Things I Miss The MOST About Living In Wellington, New Zealand

Monday, 9 October 2017

I can't believe it's almost a year since we left New Zealand. No wonder why I have been missing Wellington lately like I've never missed it before. Yes, I have been reviewing our photos over and over again for the last two weeks. This actually gave me the reason to reflect on a few things that I really miss about this beautiful little city I once called home.

1. 67 Hawker St, Mount Victoria
- This top floor flat has everything that we needed and wanted in a flat- beautifully decorated with a combination of classic and modern furniture and some impressive artworks, two spacious bedrooms, open plan kitchen, shiny wooden floors, clean and good-sized bathroom, happy looking ornamental plants and a balcony with the most amazing view of the Wellington harbour. It was the perfect place for us to officially start our life together. 

The house sits on top of a hill, in a quiet neighbourhood next to one of Wellington's most famous landmarks- the St Gerard's Church. It's few minutes climb up to the popular Mt Victoria lookout and it's at least 15 minutes walk to the city centre.

I miss everything about the house, including our very nice and obliging landlady. She would pay random visits, and we chatted like we've always known each other. Because of her, I finally learned how to keep plants alive. :)

Ah, I miss waking up to birdsongs and watching Tui birds hanging out in our balcony. Furthermore, I miss chilling out in our living room or in our balcony admiring this magnificent view:

2. Ei
- I met Ei on my first day at Dress For Success- during the time when I thought I've escaped from my old friendly self. Before I left for New Zealand, I promised myself not to get too close to anyone anymore especially Filipinos (yes) after numerous bad experiences with many of them in the past. I was happy and contented with the few Filipino friends I've got left in the UK. However, there was something special in Ei that made me break that promise. As soon as I heard her speak, I knew she wasn't one of them. Then suddenly, I was "Miss Friendship" once again. So, we went for coffee after our volunteer work that day and that's how our coffee dates and most especially our friendship started.

I miss Ei because I enjoyed being with her. She is very easy to hang out with. I learned so many important lessons from her and she probably doesn't know that. She was my food, travel and walking buddy in New Zealand. She was also our official third wheel (hehe). Above all that, she was my Welly best-friend (she probably doesn't know this either). 

I still believe that perhaps, one of the reasons why I didn't get a job in Wellington was so I could spend more time with Ei and get to know her better. She is indeed one of the most wonderful people I've ever met, and she is a treasure I want to keep forever.

3. The Rest Of My Welly Girls (and Darren)
- I met the girls and Darren through Ei. This group really made my stay in Wellington extra special. Their admirable authenticity and contagious positivity are just two of the many things I love about these girls. I was (and still am) blessed to be surrounded by these happy souls.

4. Watching the Wellington sunset from our balcony
- Retrospectively, I should really have taken photos of the fiery Wellington sunset every time I watched it from our balcony. Unfortunately, when I am "in" the moment, I often forget to document it. But seriously, watching the sunset (on a good day) was one of my favourite hobbies in Wellington. 

5. Fumptoid
- Our car Fumptoid was our first car ever, that's why he remains very special to us. He wasn't fancy or anything, but he was perfect for us. Now I really miss our weekend drives in Wellington.

6. Pandoro in Allen Street
- I miss Pandoro because that's where Ei and I usually had our coffee dates. We would meet up every Monday - after my gym class and before she went to work. We only spent an hour each time but it was always a worthy hour. Pandoro, to say the least, sealed our friendship.

7. Weekend Drives
- I definitely miss the freedom of going out of the city every weekend, even just for a few hours. It was easy for us to do so in Wellington because we had Fumptoid. Ah, how I wish it's that easy in London.

8. Wellington on a good day
- Wellington is apparently the windiest city in the world and I can't agree more. Our flat moved with the blustery wind. I couldn't really tell whether it was an earthquake or just the wind. I thought London was cold, but Wellington for me was definitely colder. I was layering up even in the summer.  Apart from that, it seemed like it was always raining when we were there. But when it's a good day? Well, you can never beat Wellington on a good day, as they always say.

9. Coffee
- I became accustomed to coffee culture properly in Wellington. Whilst flat white is the coffee of choice over there, I consistently ordered my trim (aka skinny) latte because I am a creator of habit. I probably only had flat white twice plus the random sips from J's cup. Needless to say, I've had the best coffee experience in Wellington, hence I miss it. 

10. Food trips
- Honestly, I've never eaten so much in my life like I did in Wellington. It was good that I shared the same passion for food with my Welly friends. When we ate, we ate like there was no more tomorrow. There was no fuss whatsover. We were quick to decide where to eat because we are all easy to please. We were not worried about gaining weight or the food being unhealthy. We basically ate anything that we wanted - and that's what I really miss.

11. Yum-Cha at Majestic cuisine
- We currently live right next to Chinatown and I have been to six out of the ten best Chinese restaurants in Soho on Tripadvisor's list (for dimsum), but I still haven't found a restaurant that I could say is on par with Majestic Cuisine. And I'm talking about the quality and quantity of food, the affordability and the service. 

12. Dress For Success
- Dress For Success was my regular "job" in Wellington and I truly loved my experience there. Working for them made me realise that it is possible to be in a working environment where everyone is genuinely nice. 

13. My Gym Class
- Every Monday, I went to a gym class with ladies at least 20 years older than me. I always looked forward to this class because I really loved our pre and post gym chitchats. They were all nice, fit and very inspiring. Pulong, our instructor was equally nice. He always had this welcoming smile on his face whenever he greeted us at the staircase. I attempted to join other classes but I really didn't like being shouted at just to get motivated. At least with Pulong, it was fun and easy. 

14. Brunch
- I've been back in London for almost a year now and I don't think I've ever been to brunch yet. In Wellington, it was one of my favourite things to do on a regular basis, either with J or Ei. 

15. Baking
- Unfortunately, I haven't baked a single cake since we got back because I don't have baking utensils. I decided not to buy anything because we don't have enough cupboard in our kitchen. I can't wait for us to move to a bigger place so I can start baking again.

Wellington will forever hold a special place in my heart. Those ten months were some of the best times of my life. Wellington was my happy place. I felt so at home in the capital. I was at peace with everything. I was my very self. And I miss it so much.

TIN x


The Most Successful Main Dishes I've Ever Cooked

Thursday, 31 August 2017

I only took the kitchen seriously over two years ago when J invited me to his flat and said, " I would like to show you my mad cooking skills". For a while, he did all the cooking until I finally felt challenged and took over the kitchen indefinitely. I am very much enjoying the art of cooking at the moment. I never realised how rewarding it is to be able to cook for your loved ones. No wonder Kris Aquino claims that cooking is her language of love. 

Anyway, from breakfast and brunch meals, here are the most successful main dishes I've ever cooked: 

1. Duck
-  There is no doubt that (anything) duck is one of my favourite dishes. But until a few months ago, I was reluctant to cook duck because apparently it needs to be cooked precisely (as suggested on recipes by cooking experts), otherwise it would be dry and chewy. Then one evening, I was up for a kitchen challenge and decided to give duck a try.

The first duck dish I've ever cooked was Duck in Orange Sauce, inspired by Gressingham(sans the chilli, flour and parsley). As a substitute, I garnished the duck with raisins and chopped almonds, and served it with steamed spinach.

I also tried the roast duck legs and it was a success indeed considering it was also my first time to cook roast duck. The only seasonings I used were salt, pepper, Chinese five spice and a dash of extra virgin olive oil. I served this with stir-fried baby kale and roasted vegetables.

2. Lamb Shanks
- I never used to like lamb, but when I was in New Zealand, it became my favourite. So now, it has become a regular meal at home. 

The most successful lamb shank I cooked was meant to be slow cooked in beer, however, we don't drink alcohol anymore so I used chicken stock on its own instead. I used Jamie Oliver's recipe as a guide, but tweaked it as usual. I grilled the lamb shank first (instead of frying) before I cooked it slow in a mixture of ketchup, strawberry jam and raisins. Because I was hungry and impatient, I only cooked the lamb shank for over an hour instead of the recommended 3 hours. So perhaps it wasn't slow-cooked after all. The meat was still soft to be fair, but it was meant to pull away from the bone easily. Next time, I'll make sure that I have more time to cook this. I thought that the perfect partner for this dish was my home-made mashed potato and some blanched string beans. 

3. Kare-kare (Oxtail  in peanut butter sauce)
-  Kare-kare is the only Filipino dish that I can proudly say I can cook without doubting myself. I have cooked this dish multiple times and everyone who has had it loved it so far (even J). Unfortunately, I still use peanut butter from a jar. :)

Basically, I season the oxtail with salt and pepper then slow cook it for at least two hours. After that, I stir in two tablespoonfuls(or more) of peanut butter until it dissolves. I let it simmer until the oxtail is coated in peanut butter, and then add the vegetables (pak choi, string beans and aubergine). 

4. Naked Burger
-  Simply because I took out the bun. It was my first time to make burger from scratch and I was very pleased with the result. However, it's one thing that I probably won't cook often. I didn't follow any recipe for this. I essentially mixed ground beef, salt and pepper, minced garlic, chopped onions and a beaten egg, and then shaped the mixture into balls. After which, I rolled the balls on bread crumbs and fried them until they were golden brown. I used lettuce gems and large vine tomatoes to garnish, and served it with grilled sweet potato fries.

5. Chicken Tikka Masala
-  J loves Indian food and it would be a real shame if I couldn't cook at least one of the many Indian dishes.  It took me about five tries before I was able to successfully cook one dish- the chicken tikka masala. The first four attempts, I followed recipes but I ended up making a mess in frying the paste first. So, I decided to do it my way by sauteing the chicken in garlic and onion first, then adding the paste and (fat-free) yoghurt. This time I only used a small amount of coconut milk and it surprisingly tasted better. I served it with grilled mixed baby bell peppers and brown rice and quinoa. 

6.  Nilagang Baka (Filipino Beef Stew)
-  "Wow, it looks better than the food in that Filipino restaurant", was the comment I received when I cooked Nilagang Baka for the first time in a very long time. But what would Nilagang Baka be without the clear soup, right? Unfortunately, my loyal patron is not very keen on watery dishes so I served my Nilagang Baka with very little soup. I used oxtail and chuck(steak) because I love a little bit of fat (I know). I boiled the meat for over two hours or until soft, then added the baby potatoes first followed by the corn and then lastly, the spring beans and the gem lettuce. We don't have white rice in the house, so I used mixed quinoa instead.

7. Adobo
- You have no idea how happy I was when I finally managed to cook adobo that tasted like adobo. This was way back in New Zealand when I cooked for my friend Ei. Then about two weeks ago, I thought I'd give it another try and see if I could do it again and I did! I really don't know what the proper way of cooking adobo is, but I now have my own style. :) I actually asked my brother how to cook adobo but disregarded his instructions anyway. Sorry Manong. Hehe.

I found that frying the pork first works better than boiling it in marinade. I sauteed onion first in low heat until it turned soft and glossy, and then added the garlic. Once I could smell the garlic, I added the meat seasoned in salt and pepper. When the pork turned slightly brown, I added dark soy sauce, vinegar and my "secret" ingredient. I let it boil until I could smell the vinegar. That was the only time I added the dried bay leaves. I left it to simmer until the sauce or broth (whatever you want to call it)became thick and almost completely evaporated. And then voila! 

I was so proud of my pork adobo that I cooked the chicken adobo a few days later. :)

8.  Grilled Salmon
-  Salmon has been an integral part of our weekly menu. For me, it's the easiest fish to cook. I usually just season it with salt and pepper and then brush it with chopped ginger mixed in oyster sauce. I prefer grilled salmon over fried. I normally serve it with either salad or roast vegetables. As simple as that.

9. Beef Steak
-  Steak has always been a challenge. I hate frying first of all. Secondly, I wouldn't be able to know when it's rare, medium rare or well done. After J told me off for burning his steak, I promised myself to try harder. And with his guidance, I was able to finally cook steak  just the way we both wanted it to be cooked- well done! Well, at home it's well done but when we're eating out, it's medium rare. 

10.  Scallops
-  I wasn't intending to cook scallops because I thought it was tricky, but thanks to one of my cooking inspirations (Farrah) for encouraging me to try. Apparently when frying scallops, you have to ensure they're dry so I patted them dry with kitchen towels first before frying them. I initially fried them in extra virgin olive oil, then when I flipped them over, I added butter. 

The scallops were served with stuffed pepper (I used mashed potato as stuffing) and grilled baby topped carrots. 

11. Pinakbet (Steamed Mixed Vegetables with pork)
-  I think pinakbet is the only dish that I was interested in cooking when I was growing up - mainly because of "bagnet" (deep fried crispy pork belly). I know that you can also use fish or even shrimp with pinakbet, but I only like it with pork - fatty pork actually. As an alternative to "bagnet", I have been using "Mr Porky".

Cooking pinakbet is quite easy, I have done it a few times. What I normally do is sauté the pork in garlic and onion, then I set it aside. Then I layer the vegetables in a pot, starting with the one that cooks the hardest first. Essentially, squash at the bottom, then the aubergine, followed by the bitter gourd and lastly, the beans. I often season it with salt, pepper and fish sauce (because I don't have anchovies). After that, I put the pork on top and let it steam on low heat for almost an hour or until the vegetables are tender-crisp.

12. Sautéed Chicken Liver
- I cook chicken liver at least twice a month, and I always cook it the same way. I usually sauté the chicken liver in garlic and onion then add shiitake mushrooms a few minutes before the liver is cooked. When both liver and shiitake mushrooms are cooked, I add a bit of teriyaki sauce, let it simmer for a bit and that's it. We normally eat it on its own, or sometimes I serve it with baby kale and mixed quinoa.

So far, I've only cooked a dozen successful dishes but I am still learning. I am quite lazy and I know I am not trying hard enough to learn how to cook. But to be quite honest, I have gone a long way since those days when I used to cry because I couldn't even cook for myself. So, no matter how little effort I have put into my cooking, I think it's still fair to say that (at least) I have achieved something. Besides, I don't follow recipes step by step. I seldom buy the exact ingredients on the recipe. I often just use whatever I have in the pantry. I don't even measure. My cooking is all about following my instincts -as it is in my life generally. :)


TIN x

Happy 17th Birthday In Heaven, My Keith!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

It's that time of the year again. Keith would have been 17 today.

It has become my tradition to look back at his old photos a few days before his birthday or his angelversary. This is not to say that these are the only times that I do this. At random times, I catch myself looking at his photos (and kissing his beloved toy Meowmeow). The truth is, I miss Keith everyday. I always wish that he's still with us so I could watch him grow into an amazing young man. However, the Almighty had other plans for him, and I do understand that now. I can finally say that with confidence because I know that I have gone a very long way since that painful reality in 2012. 

And while I was browsing through his photos, I came across an open letter that I wrote in 2014 (two years after he left us). 

****

Dear Keith,

When God took you away from us more than two years ago, I was so devastated. That was the most painful thing that ever happened to me. I questioned God and my faith. I kept asking myself: if there was a God, why would He allow a child who was so good-hearted, talented and beautiful to die at 11? I knew I wouldn’t get an answer. People would tell me that God had a purpose and that things happen for a reason. Yeah I got it, but I wanted to know what His purpose was- straight away. I was being impatient. I was bitter. I would get jealous looking at 11 year olds. I would get jealous at mothers telling their children off for doing something silly. I would rather you be here doing silly things, than not have you at all. I became selfish. I kept telling myself I didn’t deserve to lose you. There are people in the world far worse than I am. I have not done anything wrong, and even if I did and if this was my punishment, it was too much. And even if our family is dysfunctional, we didn’t deserve to lose you.

Your passing may not have done a great deal of damage to me physically or even emotionally (meaning I didn’t go crazy or didn’t hurt myself), but it certainly had some bad effects on me. For the first year since you left, I suffered with anxiety disorder – self diagnosed of course. I didn’t tell anyone because I knew I could deal with it on my own. I had panic attacks so often that I think it affected my memory somehow (don’t ask me how and how is it relevant). I would burst into tears at random times, in random places. I had sleepless nights, asking why, why, why? This went on for a whole year.

The second year was a little bit easier. Although I would say I haven’t completely moved on from your passing, I was learning how to live my “new normal”. Letting go of you was the hardest thing to do, but I knew I had no choice but to accept the fact that you were no longer with us and that I will never see you again. Somehow, acceptance helped me get through that very painful journey.

I remember one of my religious friends telling me that everything will become better after two years. I didn’t take that seriously, until I was faced with yet another life changing situation just a few months before your second angelversary.

Two years on and here I am, about to begin another chapter in my life. It now dawned on me that God indeed had a reason for taking you and that things happen for a reason. I have since become a firm believer of this.

God took you away from me to prepare me for something that He knew would have potentially ruined my life, if it were not for you. I think I know myself too well to be able to say this now. He knew that after losing you, I could withstand life’s challenges no matter how difficult they may seem. And this is also probably the reason why I didn’t get any answers when I wanted them so badly.

So basically, this is just to say thank you and thank God for preparing me for all this. You have given me all the strength that I needed to face this challenge. Because of you, our family and my friends, I found the inner strength that I thought I never had. I have learned how to maintain beauty and grace in times of adversity. I have learned to put on a good fight without having to sacrifice my integrity and my dignity. Most importantly, I became the bigger and better person that I have always wanted to be.

Thank you Keith. As you have always believed, “Kaya ko po, Ako Pa”. I am proud to say that I did it! Thank you for being my inspiration and for teaching me how to be strong. It always makes me cry whenever I relive that moment when Mama told me she knew you were suffering a lot from pain but never showed them. You never complained. They never saw you frown or grimace. They never heard you cry. All they saw was that lovely smile on your face - that of courage and strength.

I am sure you have been looking down on me all this time. I just hope that I have done you proud.

As I take on another journey in life, I take comfort in your belief that I can do everything. You will always be in my heart. Mommy Tintin loves you so much and I miss you every single day.

****

That was three years ago. Although I am in a better place now, it remains painful at times especially on days like today.

I know there is nothing more I can do because Keith is no longer with us, but I am not giving up on my dream to do something big in his memory- one day. For now, I will continue to do the little things to honour the 11 year old boy who showed nothing but courage, strength and positivity.

On Keith's 5th death anniversary, I made a firm commitment to give blood on or before his angelversary and birthday. So, a couple days ago, I gave blood for the second time this year. I pray that I remain healthy so I can fulfil my commitment to give blood in Keith's memory for the rest of my life. 

When I woke up this morning, I went to my "Keith's corner" in the house, lit a candle, played his favourite song "Lighters" and said a little prayer. I promised myself not to cry anymore because I know that Keith is now in a better place but I couldn't help it. I guess tears will never run out for Keith. 

After that, I called home and spoke to my family. They are celebrating Keith's birthday as usual. And then I had a heart to heart talk with one of his good friends. It always makes me feel better knowing that I haven't lost connection with Keith's friends, and I am very grateful for this.

I always wish Keith never left us, but with what's going on in this world right now, I guess it is better that he is spared from all the uncertainties. But still...

I will forever miss this wonderful kid. My love for him will never end.


TIN x

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