A shadowIt’s funny sometimes how priorities change, stack up against each other, as if the different tasks and obligations one has are in competition with each other rather than with the time manager. This is how I feel sometimes, out of touch as everything seems to change around me, so I sit back and see what happens, see how the priorities rearrange themselves.
CauliflowerReady to roastAn eggplant
I realise, obviously, that how duties, assignments and relationships are prioritised and juggled is directed by me. There is not a universal power calling the shots telling me where to be, what to bring, who to email, who to call, what to read, what to write, how to eat well – though God, sometimes I wish there was. I’m a bit of a worry wart, an over-thinker. Some days my worries about things like climate change, recycling, the media, the food industry, the future, travel, careers, money (the list goes on) I find stimulating and motivating. But then there are days, as there have been recently, where I crave to be reckless, to be irresponsible, to live dangerously for a night – staying awake past midnight would be a good start.
ChoppedIn sunSlater like
At the moment, the best it gets is when I have to abandon everything I’m currently working on, leave the computer, put down the pen, and take care of the fruit and vegetables in my kitchen rapidly nearing the end of their life. There were peaches that needed doctoring earlier this week. Beautifully ripe, flavoursome and meaty golden queens, but with soft, brown spots dotting their velvet skins. I pan-roasted thin slices with butter, honey and cinnamon until the fruit was browned at the edges, golden of a different sort. All I had to take care of were those peaches.
LeekHalf rounds
Food – real food, good food – is my outlet, my down time. I like the quiet that settles over me when I look into the fridge or open the cupboard and know that soup can be made, a salad can be tossed and a cake can be baked. When I am in the kitchen everything else falls by the wayside and the desire to be nourished and to provide takes over – I like it most when this becomes priority number one.
RoastedGreen chilli
That is how we came to have this soup the other night, this earthy red, fiery, richly flavoured soup. With vegetables on hand I found myself there, in the kitchen, present in that moment, chopping carrots and an eggplant, de-seeding a red capsicum, dicing cauliflower florets and peeling cloves of garlic. When tossed with oil, salt, pepper and then baked, vegetables will always soften, sweeten. When soft, sweet roasted vegetables are added to a pot of spicy, lemony cooked leeks with vegetable stock and seasoning, well, there’s no going wrong.
Soup oneSoup two
Like most soups and stews, the flavours need a little time to develop. But after a day, or two, the lemon comes through and the chilli adds a heftiness, coating your mouth and stinging your lips. “Wake up!” it says. You can taste the vegetables, every one if you feel your way – the carrots are earthy and the capsicum is sweet, while the eggplant adds a smooth richness and the cauliflower is present in a “sturdy guy at the back” kind of way. The slow cooked vegetables, allowed to soften and crisp in equal measure, give the soup substance and make a hot bowlfull the right meal, the right answer to whatever is on your mind.

Spicy Roast Vegetable Soup
The inspiration for this recipe comes from one of my favourite food blogs, Food Loves Writing. Like Shanna says, it’s more method than recipe when it comes to making soup like this. My soup was on the thicker end of the soup-consistency spectrum and I thought this would be perfect to slump over some hot brown rice or other cooked grain.

Take a bunch of vegetables, chop them into roughly the same size, toss with a good glug of oil and seasoning then roast for at least an hour at 180°C until tender and golden.

While the vegetables cook take a leek or a large onion, chop into half rounds and cook in a large pot with a splash of oil and knob of butter, with chopped up chillis, garlic, ginger, lemon peel and any other spices you like. Once soften remove from heat and leave to sit.

Once the vegetables are cooked, return the onion pot to the heat and add the roasted vegetables with enough stock to just about cover and the juice of a whole lemon. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for a few minutes then purée.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or spiced yoghurt.

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Orange ginger honey cakePeople are going to think all I eat are cakes and desserts soon. People are going to think I look like all I eat are cakes and desserts; rolling about the place like a big, round cookie. But really, most of the time the meals I eat are simple and easy – salads, soups and what I call funny stove-top vegetable throw-togethers. There really are no boundaries with these sorts of meals. Last Tuesday night’s dinner was a fine example: Brussels sprouts halved, cooked in a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter then two diced tomatoes thrown in, salt and pepper, fresh thyme and cubes of stale bread. The bread had been sitting on the kitchen table for a few days so I diced it up before I could think too carefully and threw it in with a “what the hell” flick of the wrist. Sometimes not thinking in the kitchen is a damn good idea; this dinner was very, very good.

The Brussels sprouts browned at the cut edge while the outer leaves softened into translucency and the tightly wrapped insides were sweet and toothsome. The tomatoes simmered down to a sauce, herbaceous and with a bit of tang. The pieces of bread, nestled amongst the red and the green, absorbed the sauce and the juices until almost cake-like in texture.
HoneyOrange and Ginger
Occasionally I think people may want to read about these sorts of dinners; this funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I could write about my mother and her funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I think I learnt that brazen flick of the wrist motion from her. I love it when she says, while stirring a pot or searching through the spice shelf, “I have no idea what this is or what I’m doing, I’m just going with it.” I love that honesty in cooking, the thrill of being guided by instinct. Forget the recipe books for a while, I say, cook with abandon.
Beaten egg whites
But then I bake a cake and it seems exciting and something of a revelation. The margin for error is greater in baking, I think, than simply throwing together vegetables and herbs in a pan. When a cake emerges from the oven golden and perfect there is a small sigh of relief and then a celebration to be had for this small victory. My kind of cooking, my week day throw-togethers, take place in the moment and without occasion so very rarely are they eaten by anyone but me. These meals are flavourful, yes, and healthy, yes, but they’re not pretty like a cake or uniform like a biscuit.
Olive oil, honey cake
This cake, though, it’s a keeper. It has earthy, floral notes of olive oil and is sweetened with honey and fresh orange juice. The ginger and the orange and the honey; they go very well together. A honey sweetened cake is much more interesting than any white processed sugar counterpart. Honey feels balanced and produces a sweetness with a real flavour. Sugar is not a flavour. There are jubes of crystallised ginger in the batter and grated ginger throughout so there is a spicy warmth to the cake.

There appears to be a lot going on here – Orange! Ginger – ground, root, crsytallised! Olive oil! Honey! Wholemeal flour! But it works, perhaps it’s the wholemeal flours toning everything down a bit, maybe it’s the savoury of the olive oil. This cake is simple and honest. It’s wholesome, a quality I love in a cake. It feels approachable and user-friendly; it’s a scone cake, a Sunday morning tea cake, a snacking cake, a breakfast cake. It is not striving for centre stage or a grand feast, much like my on-the-spot dinners.

Orange Ginger Olive Oil Cake
I adapted this recipe from the Eating Well website – a very good reminder that sweet treats can be made and eaten well. I think this cake would almost be better with ground almonds instead of the mixture of plain flour and wholemeal. Let me know if you try this.

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup mild flavoured olive oil
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger root
5 tablespoons chopped crystallised ginger
1 cup wholemeal flour
2/3 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

juice of an orange
1/4 cup icing sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

In a small bowl mix together the honey, olive oil, egg yolks, orange zest, grated fresh ginger and the crystallised ginger.

Into a large bowl sift the flours, baking powder, ground ginger and salt.

In a third bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the honey mixture into the flours then gently fold in the egg whites with a spatula until the mixtures are well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.

Check the cake after 20 minutes, or bake until golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning onto a wire rack to cool. Mix the orange juice and the icing sugar together and drizzle over the warm cake.

Plum and Almond SpongeThe rain came, finally. The hills are misty and the sky is grey and for the first time in over a month the city feels quiet, calm and reflective. We have been high on summer here. Bright days and warm nights, restless without the weight of a sheet or a duvet. There is a sobriety to dull misty rain and while the humidity hangs heavy, for today, this could be the beginning of the end of summer. So to mark the transition of the seasons I sign off to summer with one last plum recipe.
Plums and red wineheartily spiced almond batter
It’s been a bit of a plum summer, really. Plums have been in my fruit bowl more than any other stone fruit this season. There is something humble about the plum quite different to the polished, white-fleshed peaches or nectarines and I don’t feel the plum has the same following of the apricot with their pleasing pink blush, downy skins and child-friendly pull-apart groove. Nearly every piece of food writing or poetry of the plum mentions the bloom – the silvery blue smudge to the skin of the fruit. The obvious association would be with the bloom of a flower, full of the promise of scent and colour. But when I read about the bloom on a plum I tend to think of algae bloom. Moving right along.
fading light, ready to bakegolden and warming
This recipe takes a different sort of plum altogether – the canned plum. The slick patent leather-like skins of the dark purple Black Doris have disappeared and the fruit sits in a sweet, lip-staining juice. (Good for a bit of colour and sparkle in a gin and tonic.) The plums are baked with dollops of heartily spiced, almond sponge spreading over the fruit like a winter quilt. The sponge is tinged burgundy in colour, not necessarily from the plums as you might think, but rather from a splash of red wine in the batter. I’ve made this dish sound decidedly wintery, and the ease of canned fruit does lend this dessert well to cold nights, but come back to the plums for they are sweet and light and fragrant.

The fruit, the fruit – plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines – they’re all so lovely and innocent, but sometimes you just need a bad-ass, a rebel. The red wine is robust; it delivers a strength to the sponge that perhaps contradicts with a traditional Victorian sponge and all its typical associations of lightness and delicacy. But the red wine; it works. It adds ooomph and character.
warm plums and an open crumb
Mum has been making this dessert for a while now; it’s part of our regular repertoire. Like many of the recipes in this rotation, they feel so normal, so regular; delicious for us four perhaps only because of their history in our kitchen. But these recipes are worth sharing and worth eating, no matter the weather.

Plum and Almond Sponge
This recipe comes from a small cookbook from the kitchen of Church Road Winery cook book. Every recipe in here looks great and every recipe lists wine in the ingredients, but we have settled on the plum and almond sponge; it’s our favourite. Time to branch out maybe.

100 grams butter
40 grams brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, separated
130 grams ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon caster sugar
6 tablespoons red wine + 4 tablespoons (preferably a weightier varietal like syrah, merlot or a blend)
1/4 teaspoon ground star anise
1 tin Black Doris plums

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cream butter, egg yolks and brown sugar, then add cloves, ginger, cinnamon and baking powder. Add the first measure of red wine (6 tablespoons), then the ground almonds and stir until just combined. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then whisk in the caster sugar. Fold the egg whites into the creamed butter mixture.

Place the plums in an oven proof dish and pour over the second measure of red wine. Sprinkle the ground anise over the plums. Spoon the almond batter on top of the plums and smooth with the back of the spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

We serve this with cream or yoghurt; crème fraîche would be nice too. The original recipe suggests a slice of blue cheese and a glass of noble semillon. That sounds very nice, indeed.

lentils with scallops and tomato sauceRick Stein is probably the first chef personality I became familiar with and remains the only one who I have any real affection for. I remember watching one of his TV shows as a child, French Odyssey – it was compulsory family viewing. I loved the sound of his voice, his dog Chalky and how he communicated directly and personally with the cooks, gardeners, growers and local food experts he met as they travelled by barge on a canal through south-west France. Rick Stein speaks as if everything is a marvel, a wonder. It’s easy to become absorbed in his language, moving with the intonations of his voice. To be a television chef engaging your audience is part of the job description but there is an authenticity to Stein and he seems so genuinely enthralled about the food and people around him, as if he too, like his audience, is learning and tasting things for the first time. Perhaps it was this show that first inspired a love of France – the countryside, the people, the language, but most importantly, the food.
brandy poured on prunesprunes soakingpastry base
When the show ended we bought the cookbook and after that our collection of French cookbooks seemed to expand – each one offering new ingredients, new stories and new recipes. But every year or so we come back to Rick Stein’s French Odyssey sometimes for a recipe, but often to look at the pictures and to read the words or the funny inscriptions Georgie and I wrote to Mum Christmas 2005.

Mother, my dearest,
This is your Christmas present
for you to use in 2006.
Make lots of dishes so delicious
our lips will be forever licked
Entrées and mains,
with this book you’ll be skipping
through French country lanes.
Savoury, sweet or sour,
everyone knows their mouths will devour!

Before Georgie came home for the summer she emailed us a “List of Delicious-ness,” all the things she would like for us to eat over the summer. Georgie wished for Caribbean pie, lamb and potato curry, Thai beef salad, chocolate self-saucing pudding, roast lamb, pork chops with caramelised apples and onions. Most of the items on the list are firm family favourites that we have been cooking and eating for years and like favourite films and books, none ever tire. I don’t dare to hazard a guess at how many times my mother has made lamb and potato curry. Every time all four of us sit down to a meal, the table set and wine poured, it feels so very long since the last time and even longer since this was habit and normal and the only thing we really knew.
Georgie and IPrunes in light
I have been thinking about what I wrote a few months ago about working and what my working life will look like as it begins to take shape. I thought perhaps I would never have a regular 9 to 5 job, that perhaps I would always have irregular hospitality hours and irregular writing hours on the side. But it’s becoming clear that what I value and look forward to is cooking and eating, most especially dinners. Dinners are great. Irregular hours here and there are not conducive to great dinners, or even dinners at all.
scattered prunesprunes ready for almond brandy mixthick brandy almond cream
So for Georgie’s last night in Wellington we had a great dinner, entrée and dessert taken from Rick Stein’s French Odyssey and the main event taken from Paris, another one of our French focused books. For the entrée Dad and I made seared scallops served on a muddle of lentils with a herb tomato sauce. The lentils were savoury and knubbly, the tomato sauce was bright and garden fresh and the scallops were sweet and tender. For the main course Mum made spiced duck with creamy, wilted, beautiful savoy cabbage. Then Georgie and I made prune and almond tart to honour the list of delicious-ness.
ribbons of brandy almond fillinggolden tart
The pastry is short, almost shatteringly so, with a rich and buttery flavour. The prunes are meltingly tender, moist jubes of brandy sweetness. Then the almond, in its traditional almond role, pulls everything together, balances it out, gives the tart substance and body. The almonds, the brandy, the succulent semi-dried fruit remind me of Christmas flavours. And Christmas in our house really only means one thing – family dinners (and breakfasts and morning teas and lunches and afternoon teas and evening nibbles…)
prune studded tartdessert
This tart recipe reminds me of the economy of many French dishes. While at first glance the ingredients list may appear daunting and the instructions a bit winded, the case is often a little of a lot. This recipe uses only 4 tablespoons of brandy (we add more, as can be seen in our adapted version below), 35 grams of ground almonds and 55 grams of sugar. There is moderation to be found in French cuisine, which Rick Stein I think understands so very well.

Prune Almond Tart
Adapted from Rick Stein’s recipe. Many thanks to Georgie for the gorgeous photos.

300 grams dried or half-dried (mi-cuit) prunes
6 tablespoons brandy
1 large egg, lightly beaten
35 grams ground almonds
55 grams caster sugar
250 grams crème fraîche
icing sugar, for dusting
Extra crème fraîche to serve

Pastry:
225 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
130 grams chilled butter, cut into pieces
1.5 – 2 tablespoons chilled water

For the pastry:
Sift the flour and salt into a food processor or a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of chilled butter and work together until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. With the processor running on low or with the blade of the knife if making pastry manually, stir in the water until it comes into a ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until smooth.

For the filling:
Place the prunes in a medium bowl and pour over the brandy. Leave to soak for at least one hour, turning them over every now and then to help them soak up the alcohol.
Roll out the pastry on floured surface and then line a greased tart tin, roughly 25 cm across the base. Prick the base with a fork and chill for 20 minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Line the pastry base with baking paper and a layer of rice or baking weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for another 4-5 minutes. Remove the pastry base and brush with a little of the beaten egg before returning to the oven for a further 2 minutes. Remove the tart, set aside and lower the temperature to 190°C.
Pick the prunes out of their brandy bath and scatter them on the pastry base. To the brandy add the ground almonds, egg, sugar and crème fraîche and beat until smooth. Pour the almond mixture over the prunes and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the tart comes away clean.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraîche, yoghurt or whipped sweetened cream.

Goodness, that last post was a bit heavy going.

My intention is never to sound political or preachy about food; those conversations can be had via different mediums. This space is simply for the pleasure of good food. So, today let’s talk about cream – beautiful, luxurious, voluptuous cream.
Roasted rhubarb, strawberry punnet, lemon brandy cream
Cream is effortlessly elegant, I think. I love the mouth feel of cream, the softness of the dairy and the savoury richness as it coats my lips. Even when poured onto a dessert or into coffee straight from the bottle with barely a shake, the cream seems to say, “forgive me, dear, for my casual attire.” The jeans and t-shirt of the cream wardrobe.

Cream is so easily transformed from a basic accompaniment to a dessert in itself like rhubarb fool or a frozen parfait. We made syllabub this summer, a light, brandy-spiked cream dessert when strawberries, cream and brandy were a near permanent fixture of our kitchen.
Diced strawberriesSummer redStrawberries and cream
My mother has a forest green ring-bound folder for her recipes. My sister and I have added a few over the years, our handwriting changing with each entry but most of the recipes are written in my mother’s fat, round teacher hand with a little indicator at the top of the page as to the origins of the recipe. We don’t consult this folder much these days; it has become habit to first look through the glossy, well authored cookbooks when seraching for a recipe. So this book, this understated green folder, feels like a memoir of my favourite childhood foods: chocolate caramel slice, weet-bix slice, Jill’s zucchini cake, best ever cheese scones and chocolate oat cookies. Somewhere between chocolate caramel slice and Gaye’s chocolate cake is a recipe for lemon syllabub.
Roasted rhubarb, poached strawberries
I’ve always liked the word, syllabub. Silly bub. Sybil, the silly bub, eats syllabub. It rolls and plays off the tongue in a child-like way. Although for most of my younger years, perhaps even before this summer, I only had the vaguest idea of what syllabub really is. I knew my mother had served it for dinner parties; it sounded exotic and sophisticated, as things are prone to sound when you’re only 8 or 9. Had I tried it, brandy and all, I’m sure I would have loved it.
folded and whippedbest-dressed dessert
But this summer, this best-dressed cream dessert is a new favourite. Cream, like yoghurt and butter, holds other flavours so well, folding them together and nurturing their finest qualities – the warmth of the brandy, the sweet of the strawberries, the tart of the lemon, the sour of the yoghurt. Good enough to eat with a teaspoon from the mixing bowl, but cream so glammed up benefits from a bit of ceremony.

Strawberry Yoghurt Syllabub

We served this syllabub with roasted rhubarb and strawberries, but could also be eaten by itself, perhaps with a dessert biscuit or as dressing for a cake.

250 millilitres cream
1 heaped teaspoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 teaspoons brandy
grated zest of half a lemon
8-10 strawberries, finely diced
1 cup yoghurt

In a medium bowl place the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence. Beat until very softly whipped. Add the lemon zest and brandy and continue to beat until just soft. Fold in the strawberries and the yoghurt.

Enjoy.

Greengages At the beginning of January I had to attend a week long uni course for a paper studying the creative process. Long days, 13, 15, 18 hours for some groups, in small rooms on hot afternoons. We had spent hours in the weeks leading up to the course thinking on our own creative process; what drives us, our passions, our forms of expression and our greatest influences. During the course we talked with our group, our lecturers and with complete strangers about our crossroads in our lives, our battles with our past or our present. People were desperate for tragedy, for drama, and for darkness; any of my contributions to these discussions were said to be on the lighter side and for that I was made to feel I should apologise.

When most conversations centred on the dark and twisted side of our lives – broken marriages and families, mental illness, lost love ones, destructive relationships – you can imagine I left the subject of food; how we eat, how we grow, how we buy, well alone during that week. What is important to me, what I am passionate about may have raised a few eyebrows, if not elicited a few indignant snorts. But, really, barely a day goes by when I don’t think about what we eat, how we produce and consume food, and how can I, a student in this strange limbo place between university and the ‘real’ world make better, cleaner, fairer food decisions.
Late afternoon sunautumnal blush across cheeks
This is why I’ve been quiet here recently; I’m figuring out how best to do this, this business of eating. I would like to make radical decisions like completely rid my pantry of white flour and white sugar. I would love to have a no-supermarket policy, except for non-food items. I would like to source some of my food directly from the producer, especially dairy products; raw milk, yoghurt and cheese brought from the farm gate or the farmer at the market. But, like so many things in life, we need to find our own style here – like choosing a car, or building a house, a career, a life with someone; change and decision influenced by personal style. I’m loathe to use this term after my week long uni course, but perhaps I’m at a food crossroads.
Cut halves
So, I start small, the very essence of think global, act local. I love the Sunday farmers’ market for its vibrancy and diversity. There is always a sense of anticipation before going to the market and the often chaotic atmosphere requires focus and a clear head. The market is an affront to the senses but this is preferable to the sterile aisles of a supermarket. I have always loved Moore Wilson’s Fresh for the smell – bottled market place, we’ll call it.
Orangede-stoned
But Commonsense Organics, right next door to Big Bad Wolf, is a new favourite place of mine. There is a feel-good factor to shopping here, even if my purchase is simply a couple of apples or the Little Bird macaroons sold at the front counter in glass jars. There are often specials, show casing the very best of the seasonal produce, which is how I came by a kilo of New Zealand greengage plums.
a honey orange syrupa summer windfall
Google delivered entire articles on the magic of the greengage. This notoriously fickle fruit appears to have a somewhat cult following amongst plum lovers. Their green skins, perhaps with a purple blush across the shoulders, yields to a nectar-like, honey yellow flesh within. I popped a few in my mouth, and felt the skins pull and pucker as the fruit burst and I could taste fragrant honey dew melon then the skin was a slight citric tang at the end.
Collapsed and juicya spoonful
I roasted most of the kilo, and I think this is the way to go. Their best properties – colour, tang and texture – are given the room to shine. Roasted simply with only butter, honey and the juice from one orange, this is one of those dishes where the whole is greater than the sum of all parts. Butter acts as the base on which sits the sweetness of the honey, then the citrus of the orange hops on board, while the greengages, collapsed and juicy, deliver a fragrant sweetness so typical of stone fruit. Right at the end of a spoonful, just shy of getting caught in your throat, these plums give a shout, a rather tart shout to remind us what we miss come mid-winter – the delightful balance of sharp and sweet.
a bright compote
Something as simple as a greengage plum, a little green orb, is perhaps insignificant to some. But right now, ingredients like the greengage are new and interesting. They re-direct my focus to broader issues such as provenance, seasonality and the efforts of the growers. A bowl of greengages on my kitchen table is something of an inspiration.

Roasted Greengages
Recipe adapted from the Martha Stewart site.

De-stoning the plums might seem like a hassle but is worth the effort. Get into a routine – slice, twist, tug out the stone.

1 kilogram greengage plums
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the butter in a roasting dish and put in the oven to melt. Add the honey and orange juice and stir until mixed – depending on the thickness of your honey you may have to place the syrup in the oven before stirring. Add the cut and stoned greengages and carefully mix to cover in the syrup. Roast for 30-40 minutes until beginning to fall apart.

Serve with yoghurt, cream or as a thick compote atop a buttery cake. The plums will keep for up to a week in the fridge but it pays to reheat before serving so the butter in the syrup melts.

Dried lavender and oregano
About a year ago we planted our first garden at the flat. Previously our garden had looked like an ecological war zone, but to plant vegetables, herbs and flowers was doing something good – a small give back to the land. We grew beetroot, celery, spinach and picked stems of oregano, parsley, coriander, thyme and rosemary for our cooking. Then the winter came and while the plants withered and were overrun by weeds, we grew lazy.

Spring came. The quarterly change of seasons, such a reliable stake in the ground as each year fills up and tumbles by. Perrin and I got to work on one of the first warm days of the season. I tugged and ripped up weed clogged earth, sacrificing the skin of my hands and arms, while Perrin built a planter box from salvaged wood. We tilled and fertilised, watered and planned what to grow.
Snow peasfrilled and capped snow peas
Now, a few months later, most of my garden is flourishing. I planted sweet corn, tall and with leaves that wave gently. Silk is beginning to sprout from the small bulges along the stalk; soon they will be ready. Spinach thrived here last year, and now if you look down from the balcony you’ll see two small square plots; one with dark forest green spinach and the other a hard wearing rosemary plant. Spanakopita will be on the menu soon.

Between the corn plants on one garden terrace, bright orange marigolds beckon the bees. The flower heads are nearly the size of my palm and new buds, long and slender like bullets, wait patiently their turn. Between the corn on the next garden terrace are two snow pea plants. Their curling tendrils grasp each other and the nearby oregano plant which oddly prospered beneath the canopy of winter weeds.
Corn ears and silkMarigoldsA flowering apple cucumber plant
The tomato plant, though, I am most proud of. It sits in all its bushy beauty in the planter box on my balcony. The balcony has glass sides creating a greenhouse effect, and sometimes I stand out there just to smell the grassy, peppery, fresh scent. I chose a green zebra tomato plant, a move away from the all too common red. I would love to see purple, black, striped and green tomatoes grace our market stalls, but until that day I might have to grow them myself.
Green zebra tomato Peppery sweet flesh
I have a strange affinity for the green zebra tomato plant, which is particularly strange when you consider that before last night I had never actually eaten one. During my last month in France when I lived and worked with the woman who ran a market garden we planted close to 200 green zebra tomato plants. It wasn’t until after we had carried them from the greenhouse to the truck, from the truck to the garden, positioned them along the rows, dug 200 holes and placed every last green zebra tomato plant, tucking the soil around their stems, that I realised green zebra, or grinzibra as I had heard it in thick French accents, were English words denoting their pale and dark green stripes. Jokes on me, kids.

Last night, a Saturday night, but any other night by my standards, a little harvest took place in my garden. I delicately snipped five fully grown snow peas above their pixie edged caps. I pulled whole lettuces from the planter box and peeled away their outer leaves to reveal the young shoots within, each one with a spine intricately curled upon the other. My one green tomato, soft yet firm to the touch, was sliced into eighths, each piece holding tiny green seeds.
A green saladSnap and crunch
I bought a bag of green beans, vaguely prickly to touch, but with snap and crunch. Fresh beans have piz-zaz and oomph. Next a cup of cooked quinoa, lemon zest and half a diced pear for sweetness. A strange combination, perhaps, but there was such a sense of satisfaction in its varied greenery, in the sweet earthy flavours and knowing the goodness of the ingredients. The next morning, a perfect hard-boiled egg and a few rashers of bacon and there was a breakfast salad.
Breakfast salad
My parents spent much of my childhood tending to their garden and I never really understood the appeal. But now, this summer, I fancy myself a grower, a cultivator, a green fingered girl. I dream of self sustainability, revel in seeing a worm weave its way through my soil and continue to marvel at the power of the elements in creating, or destroying, a garden.

Georgie Lowe Photography
After Christmas Perrin brought me a bag of plums from his sister’s tree. He called to tell me he had picked a handful to make a cake. I remember smiling down the phone at this guy who picks me plums and suggests cake making. He brought the plums back in a supermarket shopping bag, the plastic threatening to tear. Nearly three kilos of small cherry-like fruit with dark skins and flesh the colour of a ruby sunset. The ripe skins were beginning to burst. We got to work fast.
Georgie Lowe Photography
This french plum cake recipe comes from an old Annabel Langbein book, the font and photos harking back to the nineties. It has been years since we have made this cake, maybe not so long ago as the nineties but I had forgotten the exciting bite of a plum cake – the soft buttery crumb with tart lush plums, their juices bursting, running red through the pale batter with the pierce of a fork.

Normally the plums sink as the cake cooks and the batter envelops the dimple of the cut half, but our plums were too small, light enough to gently nestle into the top of the cake. It was a polka dot cake and, when you think about, there is a happy simplicity to polka dots whether on a dress, around the lip of a bowl or spotted across the surface of a cake.
Georgie Lowe Photography
A few years ago, for a creative writing course, I wrote a story about making plum and apricot cakes. The story, the way it read, was largely fiction but the memories it conjured for me were true. My mother, sister and I picked the fruit from our elderly, dying neighbour’s tree. I wrote of standing on vinyl covered chairs at the kitchen bench with tea towels tied around our necks pulling the stones from the halved fruit with our fingers. The fruit in the story was over-ripe too, nearly stewing in their ripeness, I wrote.
Georgie Lowe Photography
It was summer time in the story and ripening stone fruit – the scent, soft fruit in hand, juices seeping from torn skin – then and now, create a sense of urgency; these need to be used, no waste. There were associations made between the fragility of a life of a plum and that of a person. Perhaps a more straightforward theme of my story was the simple pleasures cake baking can bring to both the cook and the recipient. These feelings are only heightened when the plums have been hand-picked off a neighbour’s or a sister’s tree.

French Plum Cake

This recipe, from Annabel Langbein‘s book More Taste than Time, makes two cakes; one to keep, one to give away.

6 to 8 fresh plums or other stone fruit
3 tablespoons sugar
300 grams butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup milk
3 1/2 cups high grade flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Slice plums into a bowl and sprinkle with the 3 tablespoons of sugar. (If plums are small like ours slice in half, but quarter if using bigger plums.) Toss plums and leave to sit while preparing the rest of the cake.

Cream together the butter and the sugar. Add eggs, lemon rind, vanilla essence then stir in the milk, flour and baking powder. Divide batter between two tins and arrange plums on top.

Cook for 60-65 minutes – the fruit will sink into the cake as it cooks.

Serve warm with yoghurt or whipped cream. Best eaten the day of making – the second cake can be frozen.

Carrots, scrubbed and chopped lengthwiseI remember how I began 2012: in Central Otago, the peak of summer, drinking local wines and eating freshly picked stone fruit. We all sat outside on the first day of the year, in short sleeves, probably drinking rosé, rolling the number around on our tongues, 2012. It sounded good, clean, even. It was going to be a good year and, for the most part, it was. I was sorry to see 2012 roll ever so easily into 2013, with little ceremony or pomp. Thank goodness for Christmas.

Christmas always seems a far better way to say good-bye to one year and welcome in the next, and our Christmas this year, well, we let 2012 go out with a bang. On Christmas Eve, the temperature in the late 20s (celsius), Mum and I made mayonnaise, furiously whisking until perspiration glistened on our foreheads. But it was beautiful mayonnaise, the real deal, a shiny yellow and a flavour that you just want to keep in your mouth.
Hot smoked salmon platter + home made mayo
The next day was hot, fan yourself with your napkin hot – the hottest Christmas day in Wellington since 1934. We started with fresh summer fruit – melon, green and coral pink, nectarines and white flesh peaches, strawberries and plump blueberries. We stuffed a turkey breast then set a leg of lamb onto roast. I stirred a handful of finely diced dill into half of the mayonnaise and wasabi into the other half, just enough to make the back of your throat tingle. We began with a smoked salmon platter – buckwheat toasts, fried capers popped open like crunchy salty flowers, gherkins and oat crackers, and so began our afternoon, a tide like motion of ebbs and flows between the kitchen and the table.
marinade for scallops
Lamb leg ready to roastTender and moist turkey breast
There were scallops marinated with citrus, chilli and coriander – their delicate orange and cream spheres bursting with a soft sweetness and a mere whisper of heat. There was the leg of lamb, rubbed down with rosemary and garlic and roasted to a perfect medium – sweet, savoury, herbaceous – New Zealand lamb at its best. A turkey breast nearly halved, flattened and therapeutically beaten then stuffed with Big Bad Wolf sausage, char grilled capsicum and spinach from our garden. Our favourite Christmas salad, a trio of red, green and white, green beans blanched to a pleasing snap and brighter colour, crumbled feta with plum coloured smudges from the roasted beetroot. Boiled new season potatoes, the joy of summer Christmas, with curls of butter and torn herbs.
Cinnamon and cumin roasted carrotsorange rounds
Then this salad, my new favourite, roasted carrot and orange salad. It is no secret my love of roasted carrots – their tender sweetness and bright warmth pull me in every time, no matter the weather. The salad is a wonderful mess of shapes, colours and textures – long rectangles and full rounds, burnt orange and near yellow, flecked with dark spices.
Roasted carrot and orange saladA trio of saladsChristmas colours
In between courses we drank lemoncello, declared how much we all love it, and opened another bottle of Riesling. My uncle Adrian and his partner Nicola made dessert: fresh fruit of every colour, strawberries, grapes, nectarines, peaches and my first raspberries of the season. A dairy free and gluten free trifle that, had we not been told the slight nutty flavour was rice milk custard and the nubbly texture a ground almond sponge, would have fooled us for the more traditional cream and plain flour variety. We ate trifle by the bowl full. There were home made brandy snaps – thin and wafer biscuit like, holding within their lacy edges the taste of real ginger rather than a generic sweetness like the store bought sort. We filled them with cream as we ate them – fill, bite, fill, bite.
summer by the bowl full
It’s mid-January already. Christmas feels long gone and with it, 2012, but the feast we shared that day seems a good a way as any to welcome in a new year. There is not much we can do about the speed at which the years change, except to live each year wholly and fully. Perhaps that is why I loved 2012 so much and, also why I have barely realised 2013 is well under way.

Roast Carrot and Orange Salad
Taken from the Cuisine Christmas issue 2010 The salad is a cinch to make if you happen to have a bottle of orange blossom water lying around, but I’m sure it will be fine without.

600 grams carrots, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
sea salt to taste
4 oranges
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon orange water
1/4 cup finely sliced mint

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Place the scrubbed and cut carrots in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the oil, cinnamon, cumin and salt. Stir well to combine. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast for 40 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile place the juice of one orange in a large bowl with the remaining oil, sugar and orange flower water. Slice the rind and the pith off the oranges and slice into rounds. Set the orange slices to one side.

When the carrots are cooked add them to the orange vinaigrette and set aside. The salad can be served warm or cold so just before serving add the sliced orange rounds and sliced mint, toss well and place on a serving dish.

This salad goes very well with lamb.

PearsIt’s Christmas Eve and it’s sticky, muggy, humid, hot. The air is thick and still beneath the high wispy cloud – so typical this change in the weather after my last post despairing of Wellington’s Christmas climate. Long may it continue, until tomorrow at least.

Today we have made fruit and nut truffles of the whole food kind – walnuts and sunflower seeds blended until gritty then bound together with prunes, dried apricots, raisins and a glug of brandy. We have iced the Christmas cake with brandy butter icing; Christmas smells of brandy in our house. Today we made mayonnaise for our hot smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres platter we are having tomorrow. On one of our first truly hot days Mum and I decided to whip, vigourously I might add, home made mayonnaise. Michael Bublé’s Christmas album took a welcome break and The Eagles, Pearl Jam and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah played as we whisked and coaxed a buttercup yellow egg yolk and olive oil into beautifully thick, rich and bright mayo. Droplets of sweat appeared on our foreheads and our arms ached, but goodness, that mayonnaise, I could eat it with a spoon. Tomorrow will be delicious.
a de-constructed Christmas treefairy lights
On Friday we had our Christmas dinner with Ollie and Jason at their flat. A de-constructed Christmas tree is tacked to their kitchen walls, fairy lights are woven among branches, candy canes hooked between sprigs and baubles hang from the ceiling. We drank bubbles and pulled Christmas crackers; it felt very festive.

The boys cooked an absolute feast that we devoured with greed, each mouthful taken with a hmm and aah, and exclamations of “these potatoes!” “these beans and olives!” “this chicken!” Ollie makes the best roast chicken: moist and tender with crispy skin. There were potatoes roasted in duck fat to a crisp outside with soft white insides; a vegetable tian with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic and herbs; and green beans lightly sautéed to bright forest green in colour with black olives, lemon and garlic.
Christmas feastJason's lemon tart
For dessert Jason made the best lemon tart I have ever eaten. The filling was thick, high on the pastry and luxuriously creamy like a custard with the sweet tang of lemon. It was light yet rich, sweet yet thrillingly citric, the way only a good lemon tart can be.
bosc pearspear upside down ricotta cake
For dessert I made an upside down pear ricotta and lemon cake. We hardly needed two desserts but the idea for this cake had crept into my head and wouldn’t leave. After Christmas tea and episodes of 30 Rock this cake became our midnight feast.
roasted pearsyellow ricotta cake with roasted pearsimproved the next day, softer
I roasted slices of bosc pears in butter, brown sugar and a little salt until they become slips of sweet juicy fruit. I layered these on the bottom of the pan, a haphazard layering far from a delicate spiral, with the lemon ricotta mix on top. The ricotta lends the texture of ground almonds and gives an open crumb. The cake beneath the pale pears is buttery in colour and in flavour – the smooth, rich butter flavour that becomes soft and sweet in the oven. This is the same mellow butteriness that can be found in a good Chardonnay, in a pear itself and perhaps, even, a tissue thin slice of prosciutto or salami. There is comfort to be found in this buttery warmth, even when it is nearly 100% humidity.

Upside-down Pear Ricotta Cake
The ricotta cake base I adapted from a recipe I found on the BBC Good Food website: a wonderful site and one of my most trusted sources of online recipes. A few extra notes: I used defrosted ricotta which I had frozen a few weeks ago. It worked fine but I made sure to squeeze any extra moisture out before adding to the mix.

For the pears:
3 bosc pears, peeled, cored and sliced
a generous knob of butter
half cup brown sugar loosely packed
pinch of salt

For the cake:
175 grams softened butter
175 grams caster sugar
zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs, separated
250 grams ricotta
125 grams flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Place the sliced pears in a roasting dish with the butter, sugar and salt and roast until tender. About 20-30 minutes. Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.

Meanwhile prepare the ricotta cake mix. In a bowl cream the butter and sugar together until pale and smooth. Then beat in the lemon zest, egg yolks and ricotta. In a clean dry bowl using clean beaters beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold into the ricotta mixture. Sift the flour and baking powder together then fold into the cake mixture until just combined.

Once the pears have roasted use tongs to layer the pear slices with on the bottom of the cake tin with the least amount of excess juices as possible. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of brown sugar. On top of the pears pour the cake mixture and smooth. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for one hour before turning upside down onto a serving plate. Serve with cream or yoghurt.