Monday, 15 February 2016

Puhoi Retreat

Happy Chinese New Year!! Aucklanders were blessed with two long weekends in a row, which meant only one thing - Road trips! My sister, friend and I also took this opportunity to get away of the hussle and bussle of Auckland and retreated to a beautiful little town called Puhoi. Although it's situated only 45 minutes from Auckland, this place was a world a way. 

We left Auckland on Friday afternoon. I'd taken a half day at work, working overtime for the previous three days to cover the hours just for some extra down time on Friday. It was not easy waking up half an hour earlier, and finishing half an hour later. The days seemed even longer as leaving work later meant heading straight into rush hour and sitting in traffic for yonks. But it was worth it. Well, it took us two hours slowly inching northward to Puhoi, but when we finally arrived, it was a great relief. Clouds overcasted the lush green landscape with hills rolling into the distance. It was beautiful and we all felt an immediate sense of peace. Such is the power of Mother Nature. 

We were completely starving by the time we touched down at the lodge. With the music plugged into the awesome surround sound system, we unloaded our - so typical of us - bags and boxes of food. Obviously we overpacked! With so many choices of food, we settled on making a hearty, healthy soy bean paste soup, crowned with some simply delicious hard boiled eggs. The garlic bread was the perfect accompaniment. Dipping that cheesy, crunchy bread into the hot soup was just pure bliss. 

It was so nice being able to relax and share those moments with my sisters. Time does not wait for anyone and only when you stop and glance around do you realise how far you've come, how much has happened, how much you've forgotten. 13 years we've walked together. Each passing event we shared was a brick laid down on our paths into adulthood. We all felt that this year we've finally gained some stability in our lives. We were at a good place in terms of our careers, which meant a big portion of our previous worries has been taken care of. Each of us have our own goals outside of work that we were working towards. We now have the mental capacity to dream and the time to carry out those dreams! - That's when we're not dead from work anyway. But at least we have the time to dream and plan for our dreams! This is our twenties. This is our moment. This is our decade. 

It's a bit scary thinking that we're officially heading into our late twenties this year. But that makes us so much more determined to live life to its fullest. Everyday is a balancing act between enjoying the time of being a couch potato (Yay! No more assignments and exams), being the responsible adults that we are, doing chores and adulty things, and fighting to be better person, a healthier person, a more well-rounded person. 

Anyway, this trip was great. We spent a lot of time cooking. We realised that in a way, we were becoming more and more like our parents. If this was five years ago, we probably would've just winged it and bought all our food on the way up, or find a Four Square around the corner to grab some last minute groceries. But we found ourselves packing every little thing, from salt and oil to pasta and flour, to fruits and veg, to chili sauces, soy sauces, canned food. We were so damn sorted. So much so we had to overcook because we had too much food to eat! We were even crazy enough to drive back to Auckland to grab Chinese chives and vermicelli because we wanted to make dumplings on Chinese New Year eve. We even had the special vinegary dipping sauce to go with it! 

So, the second night, we stuffed our faces with three ginormous plates of pasta. I'd mistakenly grabbed canned tomato sauce instead of tomato puree so the pasta tasted a bit too sweet. But it was satisfying nonetheless. Danced and sang and laughed into the night we did after that. We also gave each other massages which bruised and relaxed us. We got super girly (one of us) and crazy creative (two of us) with nail art. Masterpieces were created that night, and we went to bed exhausted from all the food and laughter. 

The next morning, we woke up early to go for a run around the lodge. The view was still incredible and we met our lovely neighbours. Puhoi Cafe and Cheese Store was high on the recommendation list so we thought we must stop by. The cafe was packed to its rims when we got there and were lucky to find a park. We'd called two days earlier to ask if it was possible to make a booking and were told that we'd be able to get a table easily if we got there before 11.30am. Such surprise we got though! The place was buzzing with people and any free table we saw had a "Reserved" sign on it. Eventually we got a table. The overall experience was, in all honesty, quite disappointing. Perhaps we had too high expectations with the hype all built up from other people's testimonials. But we found the sandwich average, and the cheese fondues overly salty. Blue cheese lovers will probably have enjoyed it more though! We did see that the cafe has won many awards for best ice cream in New Zealand, so we'd definitely try that next time.

For some reason, it felt like we spent the majority of our third day making dumplings! Suzy amazingly prepared the dough - mixing, lots and lots of kneading, resting, rolling! We packed those little morsels with a yummy filling of cabbage, mushroom, egg, chives and vermicelli. We made so much that we had to eat it for the next three meals. Great following New Years tradition? We also had leftover dumpling filling which we used as omelette filling for breakfast the next morning. Peter is the omelette master but he wasn't there. So I attempted to make omelette, trying to remember how he makes them and I have to say, they turned out pretty good! Was secretly proud of my effort. It was fluffy and moist and soft and spongy. So good. And we had it with the toast that we bought for breakfast (which we didn't really eat because we kept eating leftover food that we cooked). 

On the last day the weather finally cleared up so we decided to go for a walk to explore our lodge. Remembering my mum telling us that they picked plums from the lodge, we went hunting for plum trees! 

And we found plums!! We found an entire orchard. Not a very big one, but one nonetheless. One with plum, apple and pear trees! The fruits look like beautiful jewels. Discovering these made our trip super fruitful. We thoroughly enjoyed the retreat and sitting on my couch at home, I really wished we were still back there now.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

New year. New goals.

It's been so long since I've written I almost feel like I've forgotten how to string words together to form a sentence. But it's the new year and one of my goals this year is to blog more often, so here I am!

New year, new goals. Having landed a job just before the year ended last year was a great relief. Some of my biggest worries and headaches last year was not knowing what I wanted to do and the fear of being jobless. But I was incredibly lucky to get the job that I'd hoped for. It's a junior immigration adviser role at one of the best locations in Auckland - Ponsonby! Everyone at the office is really lovely and I'm settling in well. There is free parking within walking distance of my office, which is an extra bonus. There are super hip cafes and restaurants around, which means lunch breaks are a treat. And most importantly, it's a role in which I can learn and progress, with the support of many incredibly talented and experienced people.

Stability is something I'm aiming for this year. Stability. Balance. Routine. Now that I've got a steady stream of income, regular working hours, a clear path (sort of) ahead of me, I am able to focus on other facets of my life more! So, besides working on my career, health is also a top priority. I need a new weekly exercise regime. Jogging, running, Zumba, yoga, hiking, swimming(!), kung fu, hockey, whatever, need to sort it out! Would be nice to participate in a few running events in Auckland this year. Need to start going to the Zumba classes again. Those were so much fun and are also a chance to bond with my sister. Yoga once a week/fortnight for flexibility and strength, and to calm my senses. Hiking, just because New Zealand is such an amazing place to hike in, and it's always great exploring new places, getting in touch with nature.

Food, diet goals this year - Don't have any particular new goals but to keep eating healthy. I should cook and bake and blog more this year though! Last year I baked a lot - mostly for friends' birthdays or for orders, but hardly blogged. This year, I reckon it'd be fun to cook/bake with my boyfriend more often - something we did a lot when we first started dating. Learn to make new dishes, up-skill, expand our horizons! I think last year I didn't really have the urge to make a lot of new dishes, mainly because I was so busy, but also because I wasn't inspired. I didn't read enough blogs/cookbooks. I didn't watch enough tGBBO or food tv. This year I should really up the game!

Another goal this year is to tap into my creativity more. Photography, art, fashion, painting, crafts, whatever. Just do it. Don't be lazy and let my camera go to waste. This means getting out of the house more. Weekends are now freeeeee. So no excuses! I have a tendency to pick up new skills but then don't actually master them. No more being the Jack of all trades. Time to be the Master of all (hahaha). Yeah right... if I can be master of one or two that's already something. But seriously though, one day. One day I'll be the master of baking, photography, soap making, knitting, and all the other random hobbies that I have.

You know something I realized last year - the reason why my room, the kitchen and the garage are so cluttered is because I have so many hobbies. I've got a bag full of yarn in my closet. I've got leftover fabric, paper and cardboard from book-making. The kitchen cupboards (and overflowing into the garage) are filled with my baking utensils and ingredients. And the garage. Haha... I've got my soap-making equipment, chemicals and bottles in there. I've got like ten tea-sets in the garage from the good old Dessert Club days. And the Chinese fans and ribbons from Selwyn College Multicultural Concerts are stuffed in one of the many boxes in that abyss. And because of all these hobbies, I also have a bad habit of not throwing anything away - what if I need that cardboard for...? Or that bottle for...? Decluttering and living a more minimalistic life are also the aim of the game this year. Great start on that goal because I gave away two bags of old clothes yesterday! Learning to let go - those jackets and skirts from Year 12 that I haven't worn in 5 years and obviously won't wear anymore, those can go to better hands. Learn to give more.

Something else related to creativity that I'd like to do this year is to learn to play the guzheng. This was something that I'd wanted to do ever since I was a little girl (well ever since I watched those girls playing it in all those Chinese dramas).  I love the sound of traditional Chinese instruments. There's so much spirit in it, yet it's so calming to the spirit.