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A fridge clean out

So, it’s July and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. The last time I posted I left on a high note of an optimistic future with new, challenging cooking and baking and bread making. But for the next few days, indeed the whole month of June, rather than buying new flours or attempting three tier cakes I thought about realism and the luxury of changing our minds.

I love how often I can change my mind at the moment. I say at the moment, because while I guess I have been enjoying indecision for most of my life, it feels as if I am on fast-forward to a time when I must make a decision and stick with it. Every week I have a new life plan, a new five year plan, or a new 6-month plan. But this latest plan feels like a keeper, something I can do. So in preparation for a time when I must make a decision and stick with it, I’m going to share it here. After complaining bitterly about university and study for over a year now, I’ve seen the light, so to speak, and had a change of heart. I’m thinking honours, perhaps not next year but definitely soon and looking towards a professional career. It wasn’t so long ago I was writing here of how irregular working hours would likely be the norm for me and trying to find balance (read: steady income) within a writing life. I’m grateful to be able to change my mind, to plan and re-plan my future.

Bacon and corianderPumpkin

In truth, the last post left me feeling overwhelmed and uninspired, because really, simple and understated is where I draw my inspiration. I like a meal to begin simply, the ingredients understated, perhaps the limp and the lonely from the crisper drawer, but the key is for the dish to be well-seasoned, perfectly cooked, delicious. I guess that has been the premise of cooking for most of history, so why change a good thing?

PattieMoulding pattie

So enter, an everything pattie, a leftover pattie – spicy pumpkin, bacon and quinoa. Our fridge gets full over the week with little bowls and containers of this and that, a small triangle of pumpkin that someone had the foresight to think would be useful, spring onions beginning to lose their springiness and the last few rashers of dry cured bacon, thick and dark pink in colour. The leftover quinoa had sautéed leeks stirred through it, I found a hunk of chilli and a curly bunch of coriander; people were getting hungry and lunch was coming together.

corianderLunchLa table

As I made these patties it never entered my mind the promise I had made to extend my kitchen education. For me it’s almost instinctual to take the leftovers and play around with them – which is what I encourage everyone to do.

I give a rough guide below but really a good pattie can be compressed down to this – a starch or grain (or both), seasoning (chilli, salt, pepper, coriander, or any herb or spice), plus a beaten egg to mould everything together.

Spicy Pumpkin, Bacon and Quinoa Patties

a piece of pumpkin
some cooked quinoa
spring onions, thinly sliced
fresh chilli, thinly sliced
garlic clove, minced
bacon, roughly chopped
a small bunch of coriander or other herb, roughly chopped
1 egg lightly beaten
salt, pepper

Cook the pumpkin until tender – mash. Mix in the quinoa.

In a frying pan heat a splash of oil, add the onions and fry with the garlic and chilli until lightly browned, add to pumpkin and quinoa. Cook the chopped bacon in the frying pan, then stir into the pumpkin mix with the beaten egg, chopped coriander and salt and pepper. If the mixture feels a bit too wet, add a sprinkling of flour or bread crumbs. Mould into patties, heat more oil and lightly fry the patties until browned.

Serve with salad, cold meats, chutney and preserves.

Camp fireBeneath the tree

I found these photos on my phone this week – they’re a bit out of date, taken on a camping trip Perrin and I took in early December last year. It was a great weekend. We were in the middle of nowhere, well that’s what it felt like to me. I couldn’t tell you where was north or south and we drove a winding gravel road through farmland and scrubby bush to get to the little plot of land Perrin’s mother owns. We slept in a tent – boiling, sweating hot one night and absolutely freezing cold the next – and traipsed around in gumboots, bathed in a creek, dug a hole for the toilet – the whole 9 yards.

We had to slash down thigh-high thistles with an axe to navigate our campsite and we built a fire beneath the long, sweeping branches of a willow tree. In one corner of the property was an old, crumbling school house which looked as if a vagrant or two had taken shelter there over the years. The red brick chimney had fallen down so we negotiated the rotten floor boards to ferry bricks across the paddock to build a fire.

fireFire and logs

We roasted marshmallows on twigs whittled at the end to make a spike and we ate hot, greasy fried egg and bacon sandwiches on the first night. We wrapped potatoes in tin foil and when they were cooked, we broke them open to release the steam and nibble at the hot, fluffy insides. This sounds funny, but even now, 6 months later, I remember the potato tasting just how you imagine a potato to taste, savoury and earthy and clean, before you add the salt, pepper, butter, cheese, stock or herbs.

Marshmallows on sticksChocolate biscuit marshmallow sandwichfire streak onefire streak twofire streak three

The second day the drizzle cleared to be fine and hot. We found broken branches suitable for hiking sticks and walked through the nearby pine forest. The forest was filled with light streaming through the trees, giving everything a silvery touch. Wild goats ran along the path in front of us before they would dart up the hillside. There were fox gloves everywhere with slender, bell shaped purple flowers and bowed heads. We found an old boot on a tree stump and I wondered which forest worker had walked out with only one shoe on.

old bootwild goatsfox glovesfield of fox gloves

That night, because I’m a lucky lady, Perrin treated me to boil-up. Perrin waded in the creek to find the wild watercress, and we hacked two carrots and more potatoes with Perrin’s hunting knife. If approached like pot-au-feu I can see how boil-up would be great – potatoes, carrots, sausages or chops, and watercress in a broth. Salt would have been nice, but there is something humbling in eating so simply.

watercressboil-upour camp sitebon appetit

A few weeks ago Perrin and I spent our Friday night moving stock at his mother’s olive grove – winding and unwinding electric fence cord, moving and re-positioning fencing rods in between rows of olive trees. We wore old farming clothes and gumboots and trod through cow manure. It was fun. I took my camera.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about (semi) rural living – of giving up my town mouse life and moving to a smaller community where houses are on big sections perfect for rambling vegetable gardens. I’d like to have a lemon tree and own a lawn mower.

I thought about this while I rubbed blisters into my fingers from coiling fence cord and walked into well-woven spider webs, and later when I pulled a small nest of twigs from my hair. Could rural living become my everyday and not just a funny way to spend a Friday night? Sarah from The Yellow House wrote an interesting post about the value of rural living, of finding balance between city and country.
Olive groveOlivesOlive leavesdroughtlushmushroomneighbouring fieldfieldsflowers and fieldsthe workthe cowswaitingcowscorn next door fielddone

This colour! Look at it!

It seems more likely the colour of a winter scarf – the burst of colour tucked under the collar of a dark coat. Or perhaps the colour of a beach kaftan – sort of lustful and carefree all at once like a day spent at the beach with nothing to do but swim and lie in the warmth. This is what is on my mind at the moment. This deep fuchsia could be a berry sorbet or a berry muddle in a cool glass ready for mint, gin and soda. This is also on my mind at the moment.

But in a similar thread to the last post what is really at the forefront of my mind is healthful good food so I can keep going, keep working, keep healthy. Days spent at the beach in the warmth of the sun and nights spent with good friends and berry gin drinks are a while away yet.

But that’s ok. We are winding down to the end of the year, and whew, it’s been a quick fire busy year. To see the peak of the rise, the grass on the other side, if you like, is an extra little nudge towards longer hours and full days. For as well as that green grass on the other side I can see the energy I have when I work well and the fitness I have gained from being on my feet for so many hours a day. I can see the health of my bank account(!), and the renewed will to be more organised and to live as well as I can.

I have been thinking a lot about the way we work; what it means to work and to earn a living. I know a lot of people who have recently graduated from university or are about to and are deciding how to live and how to work; grappling with life decisions. To choose how we live within our income, whatever amount that may be, is how I want to approach my life. The 9 to 5 working day may never be how I choose to live and to earn but this means I can make beetroot hummus, or go for a swim, or meet a friend for coffee before starting my work later in the day. You get used to this backwards sort of day.
roasted beetroot - like a cut plumbeetroot hummus
The morning I made this hummus the light was shifty and high in the sky being buffeted and lifted by the wind. I wrapped the beetroot in tinfoil with a bit of oil and a good grinding of salt and pepper. As they roasted I could hear the sizzle and the spit within the foil parcel. It sounded like drizzly rain inside my oven; slightly disconcerting at first, but after a while rather comforting. The sweet earthy smell, slightly herbaceous and vaguely of mushrooms, filled my kitchen.

The first buzz of the blender as the roasted beetroot was added, deep red and almost translucent in its tenderness, and the colour that burst throughout the pale beige of the hummus made me smile and reach for my camera. A few photos too many for the light was difficult to work with and I was running a little late for work – it’s not all blissful morning cooking and coffee dates. There is a rush to squeeze what is probably a normal Sunday routine into the few short hours between waking and working at midday.

But then I found myself at work – polishing glasses or making sandwiches – and thinking, dreaming, of this beautiful colour. To open my little lunch box during my break and see big dollops of bright, bright deep pink amongst my salad is cheering; a metaphorical clink of glasses, a toast to roasted beetroot hummus.
crudités and hummushummus in the afternoon lightfuchsia pink hummus
I have a standard leaf salad I turn to time and time again; it’s my tried and true. You can’t beat the taste of fresh and clean and good – cucumber with snap and lettuce with crunch – but I think the virtue of salad, the feel good factor of salad is sometimes greater than the taste of lettuce leaf and diced vegetables. Sure, salads can be jazzed up – a sprinkle of sunflower seeds, cubes of feta and vinaigrette are always good ideas. But this beetroot hummus is the way to go, perfect for a working lunch.

Roasted Beetroot Hummus

I used two large cloves of garlic and the heat of the garlic was a bit too strong and overwhelmed the sweetness of the beetroot. It did improve after a couple of days left to mellow. Next time I might try with one small clove, or leave the garlic out altogether. Also, I have watched my mother make hummus a hundred times and now make it following her very loose set of instructions. I am guided by a desired consistency – more like a thick soup than a thick paste – than by real measurements so the measures below are a rough guide only.

2 medium sized beetroot
1 can chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini
1-2 cloves garlic (see the above note)
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 to 1/2 of olive oil (see the above note on desired consistency)
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C. Cut the stalk end off the beetroot and discard. Place the beetroot in a piece of tin foil with salt and pepper and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Wrap the beetroot loosely but seal the tin foil well. Roast for an hour, then check to see if tender when inserted with a knife. (Careful of the steam when opening the foil parcel!) I roasted my beets for one hour and fifteen minutes.

In a blender place the drained and rinsed can of chickpeas with the tahini, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and lemon juice and blend until quite smooth. Once the beets have roasted, open the parcel and leave to cool enough to handle. Gently peel off the skin of the beetroot – this should slip off easily. Dice the beetroot then add to the blender and blend until smooth.

This makes a large amount of hummus but will keep in the fridge for a week.

Whenever a new season rolls around and the fresh produce definitive of that season fills the market stalls it never feels real or true until I have cooked some of it myself. There are tulips, fresh new green leaves and blossom in the gardens; I am wearing ballet flats on my feet and I never leave home without my sunglasses; and in Wellington during spring it is wild and windy. But I had yet eat to buy and cook asparagus for myself. Only then would it really be spring.

I bought a bunch of asparagus – slender stalks with dark tips, pointed and almost feathered – and cooked them the way I like best: sautéed with a drop of oil, a knob of butter, salt and a grating of lemon zest. Cooked like this the spears are al dente, a slight crunch beneath tooth. The sweet and bitter flavour mingles with the butter and the lemon. Even with the slight charring and whithering of their skin the asparagus remains elegant – long and lean.

Accompanying the asparagus was a generous slice of pork, tarragon and ostrich egg terrine from Big Bad Wolf Gourmet Charcuterie. The terrine was herbaceous, rich and flavourful, yet a perfect light lunch with a simple salad or sautéed asparagus.

Big Bad Wolf is located on Wakefield Street next to Commonsense Organics. It is a beautiful store – painted white brick, wooden tables and hanging light shades made of fencing wire. The chairs are mismatched and above the counter, hanging from the ceiling are two pieces of old gardening equipment, a pitchfork and perhaps a hoe. Hanging from these are dried salamis, chorizo, and a bunch of lavender tied with string.

But it is the charcuterie products I love – sausages, terrines, patés, rillettes, bacon, prosciutto, chorizo, Iberico ham, preserves and chutney… Everything is made on site by the skilled and innovative chefs, except for the Spanish and Italian cured and dried meats. The variety and flavours of the sausages are endless – spicy kidney and heart; salmon and sweetcorn; pork, watercress, potato and anchovy; lamb, pork, feta and roast capsicum; beef, caramelised onion and blue cheese; beef carbonara – beef, pork, mushrooms and parmesan; snail, pork and parsley; venison and raspberry; pork, saffron and leek…..

I write this as an avid consumer, but also, I’m lucky enough to work at Big Bad Wolf. On our first day we did a tasting of the terrines and patés with one of the chefs. It was 9am but a good a time as any to try duck liver parfait, hare and mushroom terrine, duck and cranberry terrine, farmhouse terrine, salmon and white fish terrine, pork, tarragon and ostrich egg terrine, chicken and thyme paté…. I knew I was going to love working there.

I hope to write more about Big Bad Wolf as new products come into the cabinets. We introduced our own bacon this week – middle bacon, chilli middle bacon, and ginger middle bacon. It is perhaps the best bacon I have ever eaten.

Meals have been a bit hit and miss around here lately; you may have noticed a certain quiet in this space. Time has become quite precious and while moments standing at the stove stirring, or at the bench chopping are always enjoyed, there have been other things to do.

Three meals a day – three opportunities to sit and eat – have not necessarily been on the cards for me. Breakfast and lunch blur, not so much in the form of pancakes or eggs benedict as one might expect of the blurring of breakfast and lunch, but I tend to find myself looking for crusts of toast with peanut butter at one in the afternoon. Dinner, I confess, has sometimes been more about the bourbon or Pinot than vegetables and protein.The term “fridge-raid supper” has taken on a new meaning in recent weeks, and from these scrape-together-meals have come some lovely things – roasted celery for one. The celery from our garden is nearing its use-by date and has taken on a strong, bitter, grassy flavour. Now it is best roasted for 20-30 minutes with oil, salt, pepper and a half teaspoon of smoked paprika. In the last few minutes throw in a handful of chopped almonds and a knob of butter. Braised celery, I have discovered, is also very good with lots of butter, salt, plus a sliced shallot and a peeled, diced pear, all slowly cooked until tender. This combination of flavours and textures would make a tasty risotto, too. But the stand out here, an accidental discovery that may very well slip into my “fridge-raid supper” repertoire, is a toasted open sandwich. An occasion where the choice of toppings lends itself more to a pizza than a sandwich. This past week there was a large brown paper bag containing a basketball sized loaf of bread on our kitchen bench and written on the side, “Please eat me.” I did so, happily.

One evening I began slowly cooking leeks in butter with a splash of white wine. I toasted the bread and thinly spread on some Dijon mustard, topped with the soft and slippery leeks and grated cheese, then under the grill until bubbling and golden. The sharp mustard and sweet buttered leeks made for a delicious supper. Caramelised onions, perhaps a few anchovies or crumbles of blue cheese could be equally as good – a sort of pissaladiere tartine.

Butter and salt seem to be a trend here. Long may that continue.

This coming Sunday the 3rd of June will mark a year since I returned from France. It has gone by so fast. I think about France often; the weekends away, the skiing, the people I met, the food I ate, the wonderful places I visited. This blog constantly reminds me of France and seems to hold me to these memories. I started blogging in France and came to find such enjoyment in the blogging community and the discipline of writing regularly.

It is so lovely then to be nominated for The Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. Sarah from More Than Greens kindly nominated me for this award. I like Sarah’s blog because, while duck confit and a perfectly medium rare steak are some of my favourite meals, I do agree with her that vegetarian food has so much to offer in terms of diversity, taste, colour, texture and health. More than just rabbit food, as she says.

The nomination for this award requires me to also nominate five other blogs for Excellence in Storytelling. Some of these blogs I have read for a while, and others I have only recently discovered. But either way, they each offer wonderful snapshots into other culinary lives.

  • Down Under – a fellow Wellington blogger, though originally from France, this blog is an interesting perspective of my favourite city
  • As Strong As Soup – I think the title is great, as are the many French cake recipes
  • Eat, etc – a recent discovery and I look forward to reading more
  • Vegetarian Ventures – I love the style of photography here
  • The Patterned Plate – the header first drew me in, now I love the writing too

Be sure to click on these links – they are great blogs.

I went to the market on Sunday. It was one of those clear crisp Autumn days and the market was bustling with people. I bought quince, courgette, green beans, a leek, purple kumara, fuscia pink radishes and palm sized flat mushrooms. I overheard a french couple debating the merits of the leeks they had in their market bag: were they white enough? Oui. No, but pour la soupe, they must be very white. It made me smile.

At home on our kitchen bench was a bag of beautiful, soft, deeply purple figs; two bags of the most fragrant feijoas and five large round and squat sturmer apples. “The best cooking apples,” my mother said, “lip puckeringly, eye wateringly, back molar stingingly sour when eaten raw, but they cook up into sweet apple clouds.” I like that.

I haven’t really wanted to cook recently. Nor have I needed to. I have spent lots of time at home with my family in the past few weeks. When everyone is on holiday home is such a lovely place to be. My mother cooks, I read the recipes, we set the table, pour wine and enjoy a meal together. It is not very often there are four people around our table these days.

A return to my normal schedule left me feeling rather uninspired in the kitchen. All I needed though were some interesting ingredients, something a little out of the ordinary to make me sit up and take notice. I didn’t need to cook anything particularly outstanding, the ingredients would speak for themselves. I simply wanted some time to reacquaint myself with my own kitchen.

On Monday night I made a red and green vegetable soup using the bitter greens from radish and beetroot and spinach from our garden. The beetroot stalks turned the broth a milky mauve colour. It is quite an ugly soup, more of a vegetable stew really, so all is forgiven for being ugly. I imagine it would be great slumped over some brown rice, or even with a poached egg nestled among the strips of wilted greens.

On Tuesday morning I stewed the two sturmer apples and a quince. Quince is a surprisingly solid fruit. The canary yellow and downy skin could fool you into thinking it is soft and delicate. But the skin is tough and inside it is grainy and crisp. It smells almost tropical, like hot fermented fruit. That sweet tropical tang lasts when stewing. And the apples! My mother was right, apple clouds. I left the quince and apples to stew and after fifteen minutes I opened the pot lid to see puffs of pale apple, not unlike the look of crushed ice. Today, I have been snacking on cinnamon and vanilla french toast with thick unsweetened yoghurt and spoonfuls of stewed apples and quince.

On Wednesday afternoon my mother made Fig and Almond Tart: wonderfully crisp and buttery pastry with a sweet almond filling and fig halves, cut side up. The almond filling rose around the figs, holding the juices in their frond-like interior.

Happy Eating everybody!