Monday, June 30, 2014

Fiji Us Part 3: South Sea Island

We took a boat trip to smaller outer islands off Viti Levu’s west coast and spent a few hours at South Sea Island. The package includes coral viewing from semi-submersible boat, lunch and open bar.

South Sea Island is a tiny island in Mamanuca group of Islands and only half an hour away from Port Denarau Marina. We picked this option so we could spend time leisurely on this charming little gem.

The sand is white; the water is blue and warm. It was warm when we were there, honestly. The coral viewing would have been fantastic had the reefs not been damaged by the successive cyclones in the past two years. Bob walked around with his camera – I walked around the island (didn’t take long!) and picked a huge bean bag under a canopy to flop on and read my kindle. The island is so tiny – luckily on our trip only 20 people picked this stop so it was far, far from being crowded (imagine if it were school holidays!) There are 20 staff members stationing and servicing the island and they even have an accommodation that can house 30 backpackers but the island still maintained a nice and peaceful atmosphere in this shoulder season.

The island crew was wonderful and entertaining – barbecue lunch was good. On the way back we cruised around the islands to pick up and drop off passengers. It was a nice experience.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Meet Jedi

Jedi is my mother's new puppy (although he might think he's a warrior when he's up and about attacking his towels and toys without his saber!). The breeder says he's a teacup long-haired Chihuahua but at only 10 weeks he's already too big to fit into a teacup so he's quite likely to be a teapot size, IMHO.

My mum lost her old faithful dog more than a year ago - and a month later her beloved elder sister passed suddenly. Early this year my father's also gone to heaven. My brother and I think that it's the right time for her to enjoy a young life in the form of this four-legged pest. She is happy and so are we.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chocolate Ganache Frosting for Birthday Cake

This time it doesn’t look like a dalek. The Birthday boy asked for chocolate cake but my chocolate frosting was quite intense; I just baked the butter cake to balance it out.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
100 mil cream
150 grams good quality Milk Chocolate (I use Whitaker’s)
2 tablespoon icing sugar

Chop chocolate to small pieces. Boil cream in a jug in the microwave then add chocolate. Stir until all chocolate pieces melted and smooth. Set aside to cool down for about an hour and whisk with electric mixer – add icing sugar half way through and whisk further until pale and thick. Apply to the cake and decoarate the way yuou like it.

I used cookie cutter as a template for hundreds and thousands.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fiji Us – Part 2: Kata, Garden of the Sleeping Giant & the Market

Before we went to Fiji, we were planning to go out on the boat trip to visit other outer islands but we thought we should shop around when we were there. We spent our first afternoon at Port Denarau to check out the eateries and tour kiosks.

When we walked past one bright kiosk with the sign offering super discount boat trip – we could not help but stop to read. One of the guys in blue uniform spotted us (a couple of hapless tourists) and managed to chat us up. It turned out that he was trying to get us to be at the sales presentation of some sort of timeshare apartments the next day. We agreed – we had to put $20 towards the boat trip and this would be returned when we showed up at the presentation. We were quite intrigued and checked it out a bit on the Internet that night but didn’t go too deep as there was no danger that we would buy any timeshares in a million years. Apart from the fact that we have never liked the format of timeshares, we don’t have that kind of money to waste (or invest – in some people’s term!) Most of all, we wanted to know more about their marketing technique and tactics. Kata, the guy at the kiosk rang to remind us the next morning (yes, that’s how we came to know him). He also offered to take us to Garden of the Sleeping Giant in the afternoon for a small fee after the presentation (we expressed our interest the day before).

We turned up at the presentation –the product is a spin-off of timeshares with even more abstract than substance but nevertheless the marketing operation is very sleek. In other places, I could imagine that it would be a high pressured selling pitch but in Fiji – it’s more relaxing. I ended up hugging the sales consultant before parting with 2 free tickets for boat trip to South Sea Island (as recommended by Kata).

During the ride to the Garden, we got to know more about Kata – he used to work for the bank but he didn’t see his family as much as he liked. He wanted to move to Australia for the better education of his 2 boys so he decided to call it quits at the bank and moved to his present job which has some tie with Australia (part of the marketing operation in Asia Pacific region with HQ in Australia). Last we heard that they wanted him as one of their sales consultant because of his selling skill. He is a Pentecostal Christian and believes strongly in Fiji tourism.


Garden of the Sleeping Giant is located north of Nadi, about 45 minutes drive from Denarau – the late Raymond Burr  leased the land to house his collection of orchids. We saw variety of orchids as well as other tropical plants and flowers. If you take a group tour from the resorts, it will cost around NZD65 per person. This is one of tourist attractions in Fiji and it’s a must if you’re interested in orchids and tropical plants or a keen photographer.


We stopped at the fruit & vegetable market on the way back from the garden to buy pineapple – peeled and quartered for FJD3. The mandarins were abundant when we were there. Twenty mandarins cost FJD1 from roadside stalls or 10-12 mandarins at the same price from the market but they were still cheap. This market is heaven for fruit lovers.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Fijian Dog and His Little Master

Minis is super cute and friendly. We arrived at his home in Lautoka with his master, Kata (and maybe that’s why he was very friendly with us). Kata is our new friend. He drove us around for a few days while we were in Fiji. How we got to know Kata is a long story but an interesting one that I will share in the next week or so. 

Kata has a young family with two boys age 7 and 2. That day we met Nathaniel, his youngest son. Nathaniel is very smart beyond his age. He always has a small remote control in his hand to mimic grownups with their cell phones! When I took pictures of Minis with my phone, Nathaniel also took picture of the dog with his ‘cell phone’. I think this little guy is an old soul.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

About Pork

I did not know until recently that New Zealand imported as much as 7,000 kilograms of pork a week – over 40% of pork consumed in the country. I bought a pack of nice looking (with marbling) pork steaks last week and it had US Pork sticker on it. So I made steak version of Crumbed Pork Chops   and bread rolls.

New Zealand imports pork from US, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia and China and more than 90% of imported meat is made into ham, bacon and other preserved meat. (Source: NZ Pork  & NZMPI )

Very interesting isn’t it? To call for ban or blocking of imported food is not that simple, as patriotic as one can be. Biosecurity issues will have to be looked into carefully as New Zealand is also an exporting country itself.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fiji Us – Part 1

This winter Bob was badly in need of a relaxing holiday so we decided to make a quick dash to the near-ish Islands of Fiji. It takes only 3 hours on the plane with no time zone difference. Funny that they are not far from us and we had been here and everywhere but not one of these beautiful Pacific Islands.

We were in Fiji for several nights in early June. The weather was nice, around 28 degrees C during the day and 23-24 at night. And because it was our first time there, we chose to stay on Denarau Island, not off the beaten track.

Some people like Fiji and some don’t. We are in the former category. We like Fiji – although the immigration was very slow and took us 45 minutes to get through (after we were warmly greeted with Bula and a small band playing lovely music in the arrival hall) but the people were nice enough. We took one of the yellow cabs from the airport to our hotel and paid 25 Fijian dollars (about NZD19).

We stayed at the Radisson Blu on Denarau and were upgraded to the ocean view room which was very nice – not far from the beach. We were Bula-ed everywhere. Some might say it’s all commercial - it might be true as the islands thrive on tourism (and sugar export) – they even have University in Nadi teaching tourism for the region but hey, they must have done something right because they made us feel good to be welcomed at all time we were there.

The beach itself is not wide and the sand is not white – but it is still nice and the water is warm in June (it’s their ‘winter’). We sailed in one of their toy Hobie catamarans 2 days in a row when we were back at the hotel from our daily excursion. Non-motorised water sports equipment is free to the guests at most resorts. We rarely ate at the hotel apart from some nibbles and lots of cocktails and mocktails at Neptunes, their beach bar. There are a lot of eateries that one can choose in Denarau - we often had breakfasts at the other resorts and dinners at the marina.

Denarau itself is a reclaimed land 30 minutes by car south-east of Nadi, where the international airport is. Their west coast seems to be drier than the other parts and most resorts are not very far from Nadi. Denarau has 6 or 7 resorts plus holiday homes and apartments. You can hop resorts for food and drinks. You can travel around on one of the Bula buses, which run in loop to and from the marina until late at night. The buses stop at every resort (plus the Golf & Racquet Club). The ticket costs FD8 for all day ride but you can buy 4 day pass for FD24. We were told the Bula buses used to be free but to deter locals from free joy rides, they have to charge some fee – a bit higher than what the local yellow West Buses are charging - to make room for us tourists, who do not mind paying and perhaps are too lazy to walk on our holidays.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fish Pie with Lime Zest

I didn't like fish when I was young but when I get older (and older) I find fish is good for my tummy although I prefer pan fried fish more than steamed or poached. I don't normally 'love' fish pie - but lime zest gives this pie a lift and I have to say that I have become to love it a bit.

300 grams white firm fish flesh, skin removed
1 1/2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
¼ cup frozen peas, microwave for about 1 minute
¼ cup flour minus 1 teaspoon
40 grams butter + 1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon mustard powder
Zest of one lime (or lemon)
Salt & pepper
1 cup mashed potato (I use potato and carrot mash), seasoned

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Place fish in a saucepan - add milk, pepper corns and bay leave. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat – simmer gently until it is cooked (about 4-5 minutes). Strain the fish, discard bay leave and pepper corns, break into small pieces and set aside – reserve the milk. Add water to the milk to make up to 1 ½ cup liquid.

Melt butter in the pan with canola oil, when it’s getting frothy add flour. Fry quickly for 30-40 seconds. Remove from heat then add milk, 1/3 at a time – keep whisking to get smooth texture. Return to heat – add mustard and stir. Cook further until the sauce bubbles and thickened.  Add seasoning and lime zest.

Spoon half of the sauce into baking dish, layer with fish and peas and then cover with second half of the sauce. Let it cool down a little bit before topping with mashed potato. Use the fork to make ridge patterns on top. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve warm. 

I am going to have a short winter break for a few days and escape to the warmth. Hopefully will start some interesting posts by next Friday.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Small World Festival

My old school friend who is now living in the US with her American husband co-founded this charitable organisation called “Toys for Thailand back in 2005. Toys for Thailand’s main aim is to improve quality of lives of Thailand’s hill tribe children through health and educational promotions.

My friend, Sasha, started this by collecting her own kid’s and friends’ and neighbours’ unwanted toys and gave them away to the children in need in Thailand whenever she went home to visit. Her initiative has now snowballed into the organisation (sorry, Sasha – still British English spelling here:) that provides supports to more than 20 schools in remote parts of Thailand’s northern province of Maehongson.

Over the years, it has attracted volunteers from around the world and funded a number of projects such as Pig Breeding, Barber Stations, Solar Panels, Water Filtration Systems and  Playgrounds – just to name a few (there are loads more!)

Small World Festival is an annual event that T4T co-sponsors every year on Christmas Eve in Maehongson City Centre where hill tribe school children and their teachers showcase their wares and cultural traditions.

So if you happen to be in Thailand around Christmas, you might like to take an excursion to join the festival in Maehongson. Wherever you are planning to be, spare a moment to think of these children and give a little through T4T’s website.