It's a shame, really, that Wellington doesn't get much of a look-in with the tourists that ply New Zealand. Time and time again, when we speak to visitors, we hear the refrain of "Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo-Wellington just for one night before we get the ferry - everywhere on the South Island". No matter how many times Lonely Planet calls it "the coolest little capital in the world", no matter how often the guidebooks say it punches well above its weight, size wise, and no matter how much the locals shout loud about what a very interesting, friendly city it is to live in, those tourists just keep ploughing southwards.
And we do have lots, actually, to offer. Not only the obvious stuff like Te Papa (been here 4 years and I still haven't worked my way round the whole thing) and The Weta Cave (those clever people who have worked on a couple of little local films), but how about taking a day and mooching along the Writers' Walk, or drive around the 30km of coastline that's right here in the central city, stopping off at Maranui Cafe for lunch then on to see the seals at Red Rocks?
Most of all though, at this time of year, you should check out Wellington Summer City. There's, like, a million things going on, most of them for free and out of the goodness of the council's hearts. The best ones are the concerts and the films. Already this year we've been to an Ohmygodtherearesomanypeoplehere Beatles tribute band in the Botanic Gardens, but the one that has got everyone pretty excited is The Princess Bride showing. Yes, all my friends and I are of a certain age. What of it?
At these events, it's up to you what you take with you, and you see all combos from the sleeping bag and a 6 pack of beer, to deck chairs and smoked salmon. For us, I tend to go somewhere in the middle, with blanket and cushions (never forget the cushions, especially if you are at the same certain age as us), a bottle of our finest champagne (coughLindauercough), crisps, ostensibly for Andy although I will eat them and whinge about them being Salt & Vinegar, dips, and something delicious and homemade.
And this, people, this will be gracing my picnic blanket at every event from now on. I'm utterly addicted. It started off by daydreaming about those lovely carrot salads you get in France - do you remember those, doused in oil and lemon and parsely? Divine - and ended up with me spying a riff on this in my new Ottolenghi book, Jerusalem, a Christmas gift from my lovely in-laws. It has those lovely sweet, fresh flavours you get in the French carrots, but with a knockout spicy punch of flavours that come from the spice paste. I dressed it with parsley, rather than the suggested rocket, at the end, because I had lots of it (seriously, it grows like a weed here), and I personally think that parsley is an even better fit for carrots than coriander is - I'd love to see Carrot & Parsley soup on a menu.
And yes, I know, I know, it includes a paste that you have to make in advance. Don't hate me. BUT you can use shop-bought harissa, AND believe me, you want to make this paste, AND I will give you the recipe next time. I just wanted you to really want it.
Come to Wellington, and you can share a bit of mine. I'll even give you some of Andy's crisps to go with.
Spicy Carrot Salad
Adapted from Ottolenghi, Jerusalem
6 large carrots, peeled
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Pilpelchuma paste (recipe next time) or 2 tablespoons harissa paste
0.5 teaspoon ground cumin
0.5 teaspoon caraway seeds
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
0.5 teaspoon sugar
small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
In a large pan, cover the carrots with cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until they are just tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain and cool.
Meanwhile, heat half the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, and fry until golden brown.
Cut the carrots into slices about the thickness of a coin (pound or dollar; take your pick).
Put the carrots and onions into a mixing bowl with the rest of the oil, the spice paste, cumin, caraway seeds, vinegar, sugar and plenty of salt. Mix well until everything is evenly coated.
Now, leave it. Walk away. Give the flavours at least half an hour, just to give them a chance to mingle.
When you're ready to serve, dish it up on to a platter or tupperware box, scatter your parsley over, and get ready for your tastebuds to be blown away. As you wish. And if you got that reference, welcome to the Of A Certain Age club.