Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Friday, 31 July 2015

All about Pesto

Tucked away in a rural corner of Levin is a secret that not many people know.  This is where the family run Genoese factory produces fresh basil pesto.  The basil is grown on the family farm in Fiji, where the warm tropical climate ensures a year round crop, and the hand picked herbs are flown into New Zealand twice weekly.

P7290014 Picking basil in Fiji

I had arranged to take our SLG friends for a factory tour and we were welcomed by Ron, the “founding father” of the company.  Before we could enter the food preparation part of the factory, we had to comply with Health and Safety regulations and don hairnets.  In Robin’s case, he needed another one to cover his beard.

P7290006 Ready to see how it is done

Pesto is a traditional recipe made from fresh basil leaves, olive oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts.  The fresh basil is put through the washing process several times to ensure it is perfectly clean, before moving on to the next step of the process.

P7290011 Washing the basil

The parmesan cheese arrives in large blocks and need to be finely grated before being added to the mixture..

P7290007 Grating the parmesan cheese

The ingredients are mixed in the correct proportions of basil, olive oil, cheese and pine nuts and come out the other end packaged in pots of delicious fresh bright green pesto.

P7290009 Pots of fresh pesto

At the end of our tour we were invited for a tasting.  We tried the original pesto, which we were assured, is delicious on pasta, potatoes, meat, fish and chicken, in fact, you are limited by your imagination.  Do check on the company website here to get ideas on how to use this product.  The company also makes a chunky pesto dip, a tomatoe dip, and olive tapenade.  All delicious and we made sure we gave them all a thorough “taste test”.

P7290013 Ron preparing for our pesto tasting

It was a very interesting tour and my knowledge has expanded from someone who didn’t even know what basil looked like to someone who is now a convert to pesto!  Thanks very much to Ron and his team at Genoese for a very interesting insight into the manufacture of basil pesto.

P7290015 Goodbye from Ron at Genoese

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Fire Officer Kerry at 60s Up Meeting

Fire Safety in the home was the theme of the talk at our 60s Up meeting – very appropriate as we are in the depths of winter.  Our speaker Kerry O’Keefe had the dual title of Fire Risk Management Officer and Specialist Fire Investigator, so was admirably qualified to talk to our members about this important subject.  Kerry told us that he became a fire fighter not long after the best friend of his little four year old son had died in a house fire.  The little boy had been playing with matches and set his room on fire.  Not knowing what to do, he then hid under his bed while the house burned down around him.   Kerry’s son said to him, “Dad, if you were a fireman you could have saved him”.  What a sad story, but Kerry has been fighting fires ever since.
 P7270002Fire Officer Kerry O’Keefe

Kerry’s talk was full of common sense good advice.   Such as having fire alarms in all bedrooms, not just the main one.  And for those hard of hearing, consider an alarm that also comes with strobe lighting.  And don’t waste your money buying those cheap $10 alarms either, a good quality one selling at $40 contains a long life photo electric battery which will last for 10 years.  He talked to us about having an escape plan, and leaving the keys in deadbolts while we were at home.  People have died while trying to find their keys and insert them in locks in the dead of night with toxic smoke swirling around.

Most fires happen in the kitchen, and the advice was never to leave a frying pan alone on the stove top.  If your pan does catch fire, turn the stove off at the wall and smother it quickly with something like a bread board, oven tray, or tea towel – a fire needs oxygen to continue burning.

Overloaded plug boards are also dangerous – it it feels warm to the touch it is overloaded!  And electric blankets are another area of concern.  They are not made to be slept on while the power is on.  How many of us have felt cold in the middle of the night and switched the blanket on?  Yes, I was only one of many who admitted to that.  Robin worked for the New Zealand Fire Service for some years in their Head Office, and related that most fire fighters would not allow their family members to have electric blankets – what does that tell you? 

It was a very interesting and informative talk.  Can I do without my electric blanket?  No, but I can make sure that I switch it off before climbing into bed.  (And don’t tell Robin – but I always rather like a man in uniform.)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Otaki and back

Otaki is about 20kms south from where we live and is a town divided into three areas.  The shopping area along State Highway 1 is known as Otaki Railway, and has become famous for it’s many “outlet shops”.  Midway to the beach is Otaki township which contains more shops and residential areas, and finally, Otaki Beach which is mainly residential.  We took a trip to Otaki township to stock up on some “real” sausages made by one of those good old fashioned butchers, none of those tasteless supermarket sausages for us.  And I couldn’t resist buying a piece of pickled pork either.  Then we drove back Otaki Railway to pop into one of those outlet shops which always seem to have a sale – you don’t really need to know what undergarments I purchased there.

We had a look around the historic Otaki Railway Station which has served the community since 1886, and was a major link between the town and the outside world.  From the 1940s onwards, the local market gardeners flocked to the station to load up their produce onto wagons.  Trucks lined up with tomatoes, pumpkins and greens, bound for markets in Wellington, Palmerston North, Wanganui, Napier and New Plymouth.   But times changed, the roads improved, and now the produce is moved by truck.  Sadly, the only train stopping at the station these days in the Capitol Connection commuter service which runs one service morning and night on week days.

P7230027 The historic Otaki Railway Station

Another local historic building a little further south is sadly no more.  The century old Red House Cafe at Te Horo went up in flames a week or so ago and I wanted to see what had happened to the building.   Starting life as a general store in 1911, it became the Red House Cafe in 2004.  Some years ago while still trading as a store, the owner caused quite a stir in the neighbourhood when he accepted an offer from Coco-Cola to paint the building red.  The locals were quite upset and some wanted to club together to buy some white paint and change the colour back.  But the bright red paint job made the building a State Highway 1 icon – everyone knew where it was.  We have enjoyed many a lunch and a couple of evening meals there.  The food was always delicious, and the old timber building had a lovely warm old fashioned feel to it. 

ImageThe Red House Cafe that was

P7230031 Sadly, all that is left now is a pile of rubble.

The demolition team were making short work of the rubble, there is not much left now to be loaded up on the large truck and taken away.  It was just as well that we drove down to have a look when we did – probably not long now till the site is completely cleared.  It is very sad indeed to see such a wonderful old building which was the hub of the community for so long totally destroyed.

P7230030 Big blue trucks to take the debris away

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Out and About around Levin

It may be mid-winter, but we are having glorious sunny days in our part of paradise lately.  With a few messages to do and places to visit, we took a little drive around the local area yesterday.  Here is yet another view of the Tararua Ranges with a light dusting of snow, with some of the local area market gardening farmland in the foreground.

P7220013 Local rural paradise

We stumbled across some old Levin history as we drove past the dilapidated buildings of the former Boys' Training Farm at Weraroa, later renamed the Kohitere Boy’s Training Centre.  This was first opened in 1905, and housed boys with behavioural problems – those identified at the time as 'delinquents' – though neglected and orphaned boys ended up there too. Occupational training was an important element of the institution's regime, to train the boys for a better life.   It seems that the land is now in private hands and the run down buildings are being removed.

P7220017 Now in a state of disrepair

Boys' Training Farm, Weraroa, 1912Threshing hay at Boys Training Farm back in 1912.

Back to the present time and a farm of a different sort – it was time for another trip to the Big Egg free range chicken farm to replenish our egg supplies.  Robin went in to make the purchase, mentioning that I was outside talking to the chickens, who tend to mob visitors, looking for hand-outs.  That won’t happen today, he was told.  These were young pullets, and it was their first day outside in the sunshine, so they were still getting their bearings and working out how things happened.  They have to get used to the feeder and water supply, and how things work inside in the barn.   The chooks  were quietly cluck-clucking away amongst their selves on their first venture into the big wide outdoors.  They were not at all interested in the likes of me and my camera.  No doubt they will soon be laying regularly, and don’t they look happy, out enjoying the sunshine.

P7220022 Free range pullets at the Big Egg

There is nothing nicer than freshly laid free range eggs for breakfast.  Perhaps it is time for another pan of bacon and eggs?

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

An Honour Indeed

It sort of sneaked up on us.  Just before the close of the Caravan Club AGM Peter stood up to speak.  Nothing unusual about that – as one of the club elder’s Peter has had years of club caravanning experience and likes things done “correctly”.   He and Elaine had made a nomination for Life Membership he started saying – who, we wondered as we listened quietly?  It was us!  We can’t tell you how unexpected that was, and what an honour it was to accept.  Thank you so much, Peter and Elaine for putting the nomination forward, and to the committee for endorsing it. 

P7180052 Life Membership Award presented to us by Derek

Monday, 20 July 2015

More from the Manawatu

Six of us had planned to attend the “Chocolate Éclair Rally” at Ohakune the previous week, but due to slips and flooding the rally was postponed for a month.  But, we decided, since we had to miss out going to Ohakune, we would enjoy a couple of those gooey squishy delights for Saturday morning tea at Foxton.  So we did.  Geoff was suitably jealous and wanted to know why we didn’t buy extra for him.  Tough luck, Geoff, they are all for us!

P7180048 How about these for morning tea?

The first bit of business to be attended to was to welcome Glennis and Dennis into our club, and Derek as President did the honours.  Great to have new members on board, guys.

P7180050Welcome to our club

The AGM then got underway, with the changing of the guard. Some left the committee, some joined, and some changed positions.  With such a keen committee we are ensured of a full and interesting year of caravanning. 

We had a meal out in the evening at the Foxton RSA, travelling in the courtesy van for a nominal fee each way.  With a lovely roast beef dinner, and fruit crumble to follow, we were well satisfied.  Especially with discount off for Gold Card holders, which we all were, this made it a very reasonably priced meal indeed.

Displayed in the dining room was a lovely carved door lintel, carved from an ancient piece of Kauri 700 years old, with polished paua shell used for the eyes.  A Taiaha, a weapon of war used by a chief, hangs above.

P7180057  On display in the RSA dining room

Saturday night was rather wild, with wind and rain howling around.  People were seen creeping around outside in their night attire rescuing objects which had blown around, and winding down the roof mounted TV antennas.  No wonder the temperatures had dropped, there was a decent snow fall on the ranges, and the wind had quite a wintery bite to it.  With reports of more bad weather on the way, most packed up and headed for their respective homes after morning tea.  We didn’t have too far to travel, so stayed on for lunch before  finally heading home.  It was a great weekend, which came with quite a surprise – more about that later.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Misty Manawatu Morning

We woke to a camp shrouded in mist this morning.  A little spooky, but luckily there was not a sign of Heathcliffe anywhere.  (He must still be up on the moors somewhere, I imagine).

P7170035 View out of the caravan door

P7170030 Gypsy Rover and Romany Rambler in the mist.

The mist slowly disappeared to be replaced in the sky by a rainbow.  According to Mr Google, who knows absolutely everything, seeing a rainbow is a sign of good luck.  But not if you point at it.  Hope this doesn’t mean that by aiming my “point and shoot” camera at this rainbow I will go from the good luck to the bad luck phase in life!  Symbolic meaning of rainbows as a celestial bridge is in old Norse traditions - referred to as the Bifrost, which spanned into the world of the gods.

P7170041 A lucky rainbow

One by one, our caravan buddies arrived in camp.  Bill and Val arrived mid afternoon and it was a good few minutes before the penny dropped – they were towing a brand new van!  Another Leisureline too – Leisureline owners are taking over the club, it seems.  They were kept busy with a steady stream of visitors checking out the new acquisition, and very nice it is too.

P7170044 Another new Leisureline van in the club

The obligatory 4zees took place then later a small group of us walked over to the Bowling Club for a very reasonably priced evening meal in the cafe.  But we had to return back to camp quite smartly as the Argentina-All Blacks Rugby match was on TV.  The blokes didn’t want to miss that!

P7170045 All our vans lined up in a row

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Just Us and the Birds

It was just us today, all on our lonesome at the Manawatu Caravan Club grounds at Foxton.  Now we know how “Nigel No Mates” feels, friendless, and oh so lonely.  There is a caravan club rally happening at these grounds, but it doesn’t start till Friday.  We thought we would arrive a day early, and have a three day weekend away, just because we can.  It sure beats working!


P7160002 All by ourselves, at the Manawatu Caravan Club grounds

Arriving in time for lunch, we soon had the caravan set up, plugged into power, and the TV antenna pointing in the correct direction.  After travelling just a short 28km, Muffy decided she needed a snooze to get over her jet lag and was soon fast asleep on the caravan settee.  With no arrivals on the horizon after lunch, we took ourselves off a walk, around the camp grounds and a little further afield outside.

There was a bright blue pukeko busily feeding on the bank of an adjacent stream not far from the camp grounds.  The strong red beak is used to pull at shoots, and to unearth corms.  They also take chicks from the nest,  and we have seen a group of them fighting over a poor little duckling as they each tried to tear the struggling baby from their neighbours beak – that was rather sad to witness.  

P7160010Pukeko feeding on the bank

P7160017 And here comes his mate, flicking the white tail feathers as it walks towards the water

Also foraging was a white-faced heron, creeping along the water’s edge with it’s long legs as it watched for any sign of prey.  These birds have plenty of choice in their diet, eating small fish, crabs, worms, insects, spiders, tadpoles and frogs, and doesn’t say no to the occasional mouse.  We always knew these birds (incorrectly) as grey herons, but our trusty bird book informed us they are white-faced herons.

P7160022 White-faced heron foraging in the water

There were several Mallard ducks enjoying the water too, bobbing about going head down in the water.  They feed on tadpoles, water snails and aquatic insects as well as water plants.  For such a small stretch of water, it was great to see so much bird life.  All the different species were just quietly going about their business. 

P7160008Pair of mallard ducks

And walking back to camp, we were treated to yet another birdie display – a sparrow and a blackbird were having a fine old time splashing about in a puddle together on the side of the road. 

P7160023  Sparrow and blackbird sharing a bath together

Who needs friends when we have all this glorious bird life to admire?  The two of us enjoyed a cuppa together, and soon after we looked out the window to see Gypsy Rover arriving, just in time for 4zees.  Friends are here at last, we are Nigel No Mates no longer!  And the rest of our caravan buddies should be arriving tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Bunny Rabbit for Dinner

Friend and neighbour Bruce, also known as “The Great White Hunter”, likes to range on them thar hills with his rifle slung over his shoulder.  He quietly tracks an elusive deer or two, and carries them out of the bush to be butchered and prepared into tasty treats.  Bruce also despatches rabbits when he gets the chance, doing his bit to rid the country of this scourge.  These little bunnies may well look cute and cuddly, but here in New Zealand they are considered a pest.  Rabbits were introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century for food and sport, but without any natural predators they soon became uncontrollable, reaching plague proportions in some areas.  Rabbits have cost New Zealand many millions of dollars, through the direct cost of controlling them, and the loss of production from farms.

Bruce presented us with a pack of venison sausages and a rabbit a while ago.  “I’ve given you a nice young one”, he told us.  The venison sausages were soon eaten, but the rabbit was hidden away in the freezer.  What to do with it – that was the question, I’ve never cooked rabbit before.  Luckily Bruce’s lovely wife Julie loaned me her NZ Game cookbook to give me some ideas.


Long slow cooking seemed to be the best way with rabbit, so I duly prepared a rabbit, bacon and mushroom casserole.  Mmm, it smelt great, but what will it taste like?  Not too bad at all, we decided.  Just as well we were not feeding a large family, as there is not a great deal of meat on a young bunny carcass.  But well enough for a meal for two.  Thanks very much, Bruce and Julie.

P7120044 Rabbit casserole

Robin has also done some rabbit shooting in his day.  As a High School lad, he would range far and wide around the hills, taking home dressed rabbits which his Mother would duly cook up for a family feast.  Those were the days. 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Watch out for Dinosaurs – Jurassic World

What could be worse than a brought back from the dead by DNA dinosaur?  How about one that has been genetically engineered with strands from various creatures.  With the sheer size and strength  of T Rex, colour camouflage capability of an octopus, and the hunting skills of a velociraptor all coursing through it’s veins, and goodness knows what other traits from the laboratory, it is no wonder that things went horribly wrong.


Located off the coast of Costa Rica, the Jurassic World luxury resort provides a habitat for an array of genetically engineered dinosaurs, including the vicious and intelligent Indominus Rex. When the massive creature escapes, it knows enough to rip out the GPS tracking device from it’s body and sets out on a killing spree, just because it can.  The resort is packed full of paying customers, and, just like the earlier film, a couple of kids related to one of the staff, who are running for their lives.  But they cannot escape from the island and are crowded in the buildings as all the predators run amok.

The two boys enjoying a ride before Indominus Rex escapes

Everyone is in terrible danger and there are killings and chaos everywhere but animal wrangler Owen and the boy’s Aunt Claire, the park’s Operation Manager join forces to eventually save the public.

And here he is

It is not just the rampaging dinosaurs who are out of control, a dastardly staff member manages to steal away some dinosaur eggs to safe keeping, ready to start the park up again some time in the future.  And why not, there is always room for a sequel. 

Did we enjoy it?  Of course, it was an exciting, sitting on the edge of your seat type of film.  Or in my case, cringing down low so that the dinosaur doesn’t eat me.  With a steely eyed hero, an attractive heroine, who incidentally managed to keep her high heels on while running through the jungle, a mad scientist, several baddies, plenty of blood and gore, plus those amazing dinosaurs, what’s not to like?  It was a great film, if you like this sort of thing.  And we certainly did!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday we joined our 60s Up group for their mid year Christmas Lunch.  Interesting enough, although it was held in the same restaurant as our earlier lunch with another group, we felt the meal wasn’t a patch on what we enjoyed at our previous visit.  Never mind, the price was good, as was the company.  We were talking so much that I never even got my camera out to photograph the occasion.  But once outside in the wintery sunshine,  I did manage a shot or two of the Tararua Ranges sporting a covering of snow. 

P7080012 Yesterday’s snow scene

But what a difference a day makes!  The snow line today was much lower and a sprinkle covered much of the lower hills in the foreground, although the higher hills were obscured with cloud cover.   And there was even snow falling on the grounds in our village, which brought great excitement.  Robin was outside with Danny the caretaker watching this phenomenon happen – it was not cold enough for the snow flakes to settle though.  How exciting, that doesn’t happen very often in little old Levin.


P7090029 Snow on the lower slopes

It’s so pretty to see, especially for people like us who live in an area that doesn’t have snow on the ground, and we always get a thrill out of seeing it away in the distance.  It would be quite a different story if we had to cope with dangerous icy roads which occur in other parts of the country, in the central plateau region and down in the South Island.  Meanwhile, we will enjoy seeing the snow on the hills as long as it lasts.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Sunday Brass Band Concert

The Levin and Districts Brass Band gave a “Pre National Contest Concert” on Sunday.  With the Rotorua National Contest coming up fast, the Sunday concert gave locals the chance to hear the band play its entire contest repertoire.  For the price of a gold coin donation, we joined the many other brass band devotees as we sat in the Salvation Army Hall and waited for the music to commence.

Conductor Colin Honey took the band through it’s paces playing the entire National Contest pieces.  We also heard two solos, both a cornet and a base solo, and both musicians will be competing for the first time in the veterans solo event.  Then there was a bit of shuffling around the stage as the  six piece ensemble took their seats to play their concert piece to us.  The ensemble recently won the Wellington District Brass Association’s Ensemble competition – so they must be rather good.

As a little light relief from competition music, the conductor announced, they would play Leonard Cohen’s 1984 composition “Hallelujah”.   I love this hauntingly beautiful  tune, which always sends a shiver up and down my spine, but must admit I had never heard it performed by a brass band before.  And I can’t be the only one who ponders about some of the lines in the song.   Leonard Cohen has said of the song's meaning: "It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value."

The concert finished with a rousing march, which is compulsory in the competition.  We didn’t get to see them march of course, but there was plenty of foot tapping sounds flavoured with the exuberant rat-a-tat-tat and boom, boom from the percussionists in the back row on stage. 

P7050003 Conductor Colin Honey and the Levin and Districts Brass Band

Sadly for me, the band didn’t play “76 Trombones led the Big Parade”, possibly because the tune is not a serious contender in national competitions.  But it was a great afternoon, and we wish the band the very best of luck on their trip to Rotorua.  But……here is a question which I’ve been pondering.  Why is it called a brass band when most of the instruments look like silver – or maybe chrome?  Someone is sure to know the answer.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Honky Tonk Starlight Express

It was a case of heightened anticipation down at Levin Station last night.  Cars were stopping to see just what was happening – after all, it’s not often a steam train is spotted on the Main Trunk Line.  And there she was, in all her glory, huffing and puffing at the station with an admiring group gathered around.

P7048867 Honky Tonk Starlight Express

Steam Incorporated were running the Honky Tonk Starlight Express early evening trip from Levin to Palmerston North and return.  The locomotive AB608 Passchendaele was built at the Addington Railway Workshops in Christchurch in 1915, and was pulling three historic carriages and a brake van.
 P7040014 Down at the station

P7040003 Plaque added to the refurbished loco

And looks what’s coming – it’s the Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train coming into Levin, pulled by a diesel engine.  What a contrast, the old and the new.  The passengers aboard were thrilled to see “our” engine puffing away, and waved enthusiastically to all of us standing on the station as their train travelled southwards

P7040010 Northern Explorer and AB608.

We had arrived bright and early for our 6.00pm departure, so we had plenty of time to have a good look around.  We could see the fire box blazing brightly and the engine driver kindly allowed me to clamber up into the loco and snap a few photos.  How kind, I was most impressed, and I’m sure you wouldn’t get that sort of service on a commercial train trip.  There is certainly not much room to spare – the engine driver sits of the tiny seat on the right and has to peer out the window.

P7040019 The fire box was blazing

P7048871Steam’s up

Then it was “All Aboard” and we went to claim our seats.  Every one came well prepared with plenty of warm clothing, and we had been warned that the vintage carriages do not have heating, which, we were told, is part of their character.

P7040030  Ready for our adventure

The trip took us up the Main Trunk Line, stopping at Shannon, and Palmerston North.  During the one hour stopover at Palmy musician Wayne Mason belted out honky tonk music on an old piano which was bolted to the floor of the guards van.  Wayne is just one of the keen volunteer members aboard the evening train, while others were doing duty as Car Stewards.

P7040042 Wayne Mason playing honky tonk piano

While the passengers enjoyed the music, and queued up at the coffee cart to get their coffee fix, we waited while the loco was unhooked, turned around and hooked up to the other end of the train.  Then the hard working volunteers had work to do.  The water tank needed replenishing, and we watched as a little chemical was first poured into the very big hose (to counteract boiler scale to aid the boiler to last longer) before it was hooked up and the water tap turned on.  And all those wheels needed another touch of oil.

P7040055 Getting ready to replenish the water supply

P7040063Adding extra oil
 P7048874 Brrr – it’s cold on the station at Palmy

Then it was back on-board again for the return trip. We walked over a brass plate on the floor.  Robin knew exactly what it was – a pivot point for the wheels underneath.  I was most impressed, how did he know that, I wondered?

P7048875 Brass plate on the floor

There was a bit of drinking taking place over the other side of the carriage, quite a bit of singing, and general fun and laughter as we steamed through the night.  With a freight train heading towards us on the line, we were safely stopped for a while on a siding at Koputaroa, a few miles north of Levin.  We waited, and waited some more, till the extra long freight train finally rolled past and we continued on the homewards journey.  Plenty of time while we were waiting to take an on-board selfy photo.

P7040037The trip is nearly over

Arriving safely at Levin, we gathered up our belongings and disembarked.  What a great trip – we love trains, and vintage trains are certainly something quite special.