Archives for posts with tag: summer

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I found these photos on my phone this week – they’re a bit out of date, taken on a camping trip Perrin and I took in early December last year.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

Almond and Orange ShortbreadI remember one particular Christmas day when I was probably about 8 or 9 and it was hot. I was given bright yellow togs (swim suit) for Christmas that had a keyhole clasp at the back and I think they had a brocade like pattern on them. I swam in those togs until they near wore through and the bright yellow faded to the colour of butter. But that Christmas we spent all day in the garden playing petanque and in the afternoon we turned on the sprinkler and christened our new togs. I remember these togs so fondly for this was possibly the last Christmas day of endless hot sunshine.
rolled in almondlike a dough caterpillar The next year we were in long sleeves and jeans. And every year since then our summer in Wellington seems to have shifted and come Christmas we are still plagued by spring winds and the accompanying unpredictability. Last week we had two days of 25 degrees and it was glorious. Everyone was optimistic for a hot, even if brief, summer. But north of New Zealand cyclone Evan lashes the islands of the Pacific and the cyclone’s most southern tendrils might just whip the North Island by the end of the week. Two days ago, from the hills down to the harbour, Wellington was shrouded beneath a thick fog.
orange and almond log
When we wait with trepidation nearly every year to see what Christmas weather will bring, knowing it’s likely to be dull, it seems quite sensible for Christmas to be in winter. A day spent inside with a lit fire, hot drinks, heavy roasts and biscuits scented with the most warming of spices. But down here in the south Pacific we hang on desperately to this idyllic image of a barbecue Christmas playing beach cricket and wearing t-shirt and shorts. In Wellington we should find a happy medium. I’m guessing we’ll find this through food, somewhere between the spinach and tarragon stuffed turkey breast wrapped in bacon and the bright red strawberries and soft raspberries.
like a long ficelleorange and almond shortbread
However, after all that hand wringing and lamenting at the often appalling Wellington climate which, I’m sorry, seems such a feature of this blog, there are a few Christmas mainstays no matter which you hemisphere you reside: Christmas cookies. I like the romance and the heady spice of an Italian or German Christmas biscuit; spiked with citrus, perhaps of the candied variety, and almost potent with cinnamon, ginger, mace and cloves. But it is the decidedly more British biscuit, the shortbread, that caught my attention this year.
almond crusted shortbreadbrushed with orange blossom
Whether the Scots believe in adding ground almonds, orange zest and a splash of orange blossom water to their beloved shortbread is yet to be investigated, but I definitely do. These biscuits are good; it’s barely half six in the morning and I’ve already eaten two, contemplating the crispness, the shortness, if you will, of the biscuit. There is the smallest of shatters as you bite beneath the almond crust, and the familiar flavour of buttery, mellow shortbread comes to the fore. But then there is something else entirely – the sweet zest of orange, the woody green hint of cloves and the dab of orange blossom water brushed onto the surface of the hot biscuits whispers floral notes.

It’s strangely Christmas-y in this regard, perhaps of the southern hemisphere sort with summer flowers and our native Christmas tree.

Orange and Almond Shortbread
Recipe heavily adapted from here.

It is best to be timid when brushing the liquid onto the hot biscuits. The almond is a subtle flavour and you don’t want anything too overpowering nor do you want to soften the biscuit.

180 grams soft butter
125 grams icing sugar
80 grams ground almonds (plus extra for dusting and rolling).
115 grams plain flour
65 grams cornflour
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
finely grated zest of half an orange
orange blossom water or orange liqueur

Cream the butter and the icing sugar until pale and creamy. Sift the dry ingredients plus the orange zest. Mix with a spoon or your hands until just combined. On a clean dry surface sprinkle ground almonds and turn out shortbread mixture. Roll dough through the ground almonds and form into a long sausage shape, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. In the meantime pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line a baking tray.

Unwrap the dough and slice into 1.5 centimetre rounds. Place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. Once the biscuits have been removed from the oven use a pastry brush to lightly brush on orange blossom water or another orange liqueur like Cointreau. Leave to cool for 30 minutes before dusting in icing sugar if you choose.

Most Monday nights we try to do dinner; Ollie and Jason, Francesca and myself, flatmates, sisters, a few strays we have picked up along the way. Sometimes we are four, sometimes eight. Sometimes the meals are elaborate multiple course affairs, where we sit around drinking tea or wine for hours, only to realise it’s nearly midnight and about time we drag ourselves home. Sometimes they are simple, short and sweet. But there is always cheese, wine and fruit paste. And nearly always dessert. They are a great start to our week.

During the past few weeks we have made cannelloni with spinach from our garden, spaghetti bolognaise cooked slowly in Jason’s Le Creuset, roast red onion and kumara, Nigella’s green beans with butter and lemon, we have made gravy and apple cake. We have eaten a lot of cheese.

Last Monday Jason made Strawberry Cloud Cake. It was delightful, cold and light, with little air bubbles that sort of carried the flavour along. Most definitely worth sharing, I told him. It is less of a cake, I think, and more of a pie with a candy floss pink, softly whipped filling. It sat nestled in our freezer while we ate our very wintery, too wintery, beer and beef stew.

The weather has warmed up recently, a late summer hit. Some days are warm and cloud free, barely a ruffle of a breeze. All I want to eat is crisp salads, and melons, and strawberries. I want grilled pineapple with mint sugar. I want fresh tomato and basil salsa.

And then, Jason arrived with his Strawberry Cloud Cake. It is a little bit like frozen ambrosia, slightly sweet, but not overly so. As you put your fork through the dessert it is the texture of marshmellow, maybe a soft moose, and then you hit the biscuit base below. It breaks cleanly into bite sized chunks, each one like a little pink island. The biscuit base holds it all together; it could be too buttery, too savoury perhaps. But then, you realise, this base with the toasty taste of coconut is just what the pie needs to intensify the flavour of the strawberries. It is just what I needed too.

Strawberry Cloud Cake
From Annabel Langbein, Free Range in the City

For the base:

150g plain sweet biscuits (made into fine crumbs)
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 1/2 teasspoon cinnamon
100g butter, melted

Line a 26-28cm springform tin with baking paper. Mix base ingredients together and press into tin, along the base and sides. Refrigerate while preparing the filling.

For the filling:

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 punnet strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all filling ingredients in a clean dry bowl of an electric beater. Beat on high for 6-8 mins until mixture is very thick and fluffy and the sugar is dissolved. You should not feel any gritty sugar after this time. If you do beat for longer. Spoon over chilled base, smooth top, cover with baking paper and freeze for at least 4 hours. Will keep in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one month.

Serve with raspberry or strawberry compote, or fresh berries.