little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: family escapades

A dinner of the many and a dinner of the few


Of the many

Tonight’s dinner was a good one, a stir fry in which the experience of 20 years, a well-seasoned wok, the good sense of Nigel Slater and a pleasing selection of raw ingredients came to delicious fruition.

We met as student vegetarians, one of us with a wok and the other with an aptitude for slicing vegetables, and so the stir fry was an early feature of our culinary relationship. We learnt some tricks early — get the chopping done before turning on the heat, slice thinly and with an eye for the elegant line, wash the rice well before steaming it, do not peak at the rice while it’s cooking, keep the seasonings simple, come to the table hungry. Others took long to learn — use pretty bowls, use good knives, go for a variety of textures, crank the heat as high as possible.

But it is the latest lesson that has been most revolutionary. Cook each ingredient separately. For this, we have Nigel to thank. I hope he wouldn’t mind the first name, for it is how we refer to all our favourite food writers. “What would Nigel do?” we say, confronted with a spartan cupboard, a new vegetable, a cut of meat. We get our answers from other writers too, but Nigel’s pretty damn reliable. Anyway, he points out that the wok works best when it is not overcrowded, when things can move and flash and the sauce coats but does not pool.

So, that’s our new trick. I put the rice on and get everything sliced, then Ian takes over the frying. One ingredient at a time, a shake of soy for some, oyster for others, teriyaki for the meat. Bowls on the table, happy children, some leftovers for lunch tomorrow, a warm feeling in the tummy.


Of the few

dscn0400Strangely, the meal reminds me of another good one we had recently. We didn’t get our potatoes planted this year, or we haven’t yet, I suppose there is still time, but some came up anyway, the scattered progeny of the ones we missed last year.

I watched the plants grow without thinking much about it, making the mistake of thinking something accidental would be of limited value, and then we dug them up to make room for the spreading zucchinis. Well, what a joyous surprise that was! Red, white, purple, some whoppers, some tiddlers, all with the fine, earthy skin of the newly dug and a gloss when scrubbed like polished stones, curved amber, oiled wood. I weeded, Ian dug, the Cat took photos, the Rabbit harvested, the chickens ate the weeds, Stella kept us company.dscn0377

That night, I made a simple potato salad, nothing more than boiled potatoes, slivered green beans, a torn anchovy or two, a handful of capers and a mustardy lemon oil dressing. It was magnificent.
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Each of us, together

20161126_192610Well, that was a week. Ian went to Kaikōura to cover post-earthquake things, and all manner of bollocks descended on me at work.

Home was good, though — our new after-school childcare person is a footballer, so the boys are well thrilled. He is also a jolly good cleaner, so I am well thrilled too. The boys are used to being journo kids — they missed their dad, but flicked straight into helping-out, getting-on-with-it mode.

I kind of enjoyed the quiet and calm of the week, but realised within half an hour of Ian being home that the volume in the house had quadrupled and I had slowed to snail’s pace. I guess we had all been managing and looking after each other and that was good, but we need Ian to relax us and let things go. It was a good reminder of the ways we balance each other, of the dance we do as opposites.

The boys were pretty scratchy, but by the time we had eaten bento, driven round the harbour, played soccer, made a sandcastle, conducted watery experiments on the sandcastle, snuggled on the sand, driven round the best inlet in the city, seen baby stilts and a kingfisher and got home, we seemed to have made it back into ourselves again.

20161126_192514And then we each found our own peace. Ian tidied up and did chores. I planted 40 zucchini seedlings out, picked a salad of baby leaves and flowers, and cut back some lupins and sorrel that had gone to seed. The Cat watched soccer videos. And the Rabbit made things.

He started by cutting back sorrel, but was interrupted by his bowels, which we only knew about because he left the bathroom in a less than ideal state. Then Ian found him in the workshop with a large piece of wood in the vice with the words “side 1” written on it. “What are you doing?” Ian asked. “Making a run for the guinea pigs,” said Rabbit.

Later, we were having dinner. Ian was drinking wine, eating pasta and talking to me. I was drinking wine, eating pasta and reading a book. The Cat was calculating the value of our car relative to the weekly income of a professional footballer (low). The Rabbit was drawing circles and cutting cardboard. Five minutes later, he had finished a set of traffic lights.

20161126_190707“What’s your plan for the lights?” we asked. “I’ll shine a torch on them,” he said. Damned if it doesn’t work, too.


Ooops, I didn’t mean to be away that long

Awkward. I was going to write a post about my new job and then I was going to write a post about Fiji and then I was going to write a post about Rabbit’s bike and then I was going to write a post about family life and then I was going to write a post about books and then I was going to write another post about my new job and then I was going to write a post about something else, chickens or politics or coffee or washing or Lionboy or asparagus most likely, and probably definitely about the garden at some point, which has been The Project most weekends lately and now we have 46 kinds of edible things growing in it and here’s some spring evening photos because I’m sorry I’ve been away and I might be back.

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Rainy day

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Good shot, little Rabbit!


There’s a new activity in our household, and it may be the salvation of us. It’s parkour, or — as we called it in olden times — playing outside.

I’ve been encouraging the boys to get outside forever, and they seem strangely resistant unless they have an adult with them. The Cat bemoans our lack of a soccer pitch, which is an odd thing to expect a house to have — although he would settle for a flat bit of lawn — and somewhat unnecessary given that we have four or five school playgrounds, two public gardens and three playing fields within 20 minutes walk of our front door. Not that I expect them to trot off alone because kids don’t do that these days, but they do have fairly regular outings to places where they can kick a ball around.

Anyway, the soccer at home seems a bit fraught and I find the afternoons get swallowed with chores and cooking, so we often end up inside more than any of us really need or want.

But then we discovered this parkour thing. My acquaintance with the sport is extremely nascent, but it seems to be basically moving in interesting ways around urban environments. This gorgeous video shows what you can do with some walls and a fence, and this one takes things a bit further with a field of aeroplanes and high-level gymnastic skills. We have neither aeroplanes nor gymnastic ability, but we have a deck, a path, some fencing, garden beds and a guinea pig hutch, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with those ingredients. Essentially, the trick is to find a space with some stuff in it, then work out how to run, jump, climb, crawl and slide around that stuff. We can do that.

The Cat has made up a basic route around these items, and everyone in the household has had a go. I like the way it draws on the different skills and characteristics that we each have: the Cat’s inventiveness and spatial creativity, the Rabbit’s agility and love of play, Ian’s sense of fun, and my enjoyment of movement and dance. It’s also completely non-competitive, so the boys can go outside, make up a route and each have a go without it descending into a scrap over rules and outcomes.

It was so successful yesterday that they moved on to picking blackberries down the back of the property and harvesting zucchinis and potatoes from the vege patch without any maternal prodding or, indeed, attention. There was a wee incident with the spade, but we resolved that one without major bodily harm. So, parkour for the win. We’ll head out this weekend and try it in the urban wilderness.

After that, things got a bit busy while Ian did the frying part of the stir fry and I lit the fire, and through it I had a vague sense that the Rabbit was up to something, possibly in the bathroom, but I assumed it related to a bodily function and ignored it. So then I met him coming out of the bathroom looking damp and on-a-mission-ish. The bathroom also looked damp, and there were five facecloths in the sink and a sneaker and a fair bit of dirt in the bath. “I’ve just been washing things,” he said. “My hands, all these things (gesturing at his clothes), my shoes … well, mostly my shoes. They were very muddy, but they’re clean now.”

Which is delightful, because I had been fearing all week that my inability to get the bathroom cleaned was procrastination or laziness or poor time management skills or something morally questionable like that. But, no. It was prescience.

And a tent my shelter shall be

We went camping! In tents and everything! Like real Kiwis!

The PTA at the boys’ school co-ordinates a family camp at the start of every year. The set-up is a piece of organisational genius — the location is the campground at Naseby and any family that wants to go sorts out their own accommodation, food, etc, but we’re all there together, so the kids spend the whole weekend outside playing and the adults enjoy a mix of walking and biking activity and sitting under the trees chatting.

We bought a small tent for the boys and borrowed a slightly larger one for ourselves (thanks, Nona!), Dad’s truck got us and our gear there then turned into a food pantry and kitchen bench, and my Great-Aunty Nan’s folding table and chairs served us well at mealtimes. We cooked on the little Trangia that Ian’s parents bought us 20-odd years ago, and the weather was still and hot. Some basic logistics appealed to my city-girl soul: our coffee pot, hot showers, a kitchen for doing dishes, the table and chairs, a couple of lamps.

The boys spent hours with their friends — the Cat’s gang played ball tag and hid out reading their books and having boy chats, while the Rabbit’s lot roamed around digging things, finding pine cones and rusty chains, racing their bikes up and down the drive, getting filthy and popping back to the parentals when they needed a hug, a bandaid or some food. On Saturday, everyone spent the afternoon at the swimming dam, sinking into the soft green water, mucking around in inflatable boats, wilting in the sun, retreating to the trees, falling in, clambering out, dripping and drying and floating through the day together.

I like a bare, grubby life; I like to wash it off. The wilderness retreats fast when you return to the city, home, chores, work, school. But it’s never that far away.

On the island

Rakiura | Stewart Island is one of my homing spots. My family has been coming here for many years; slipping into the bay on the ferry — the boats, curved beaches, quiet bush all around — always makes me feel like dropping anchor and staying put for the rest of my days.

The proportions are right here — lots of birds, few people, fewer roads, more boats, and everywhere the water and the trees. We walk everywhere, avoid screens, sift through our memories and dream of new beginnings. We take turns cooking and test relationships with epic games of Monopoly. The Cat rejoices in the birds, the Rabbit and little Squirrel get sand everywhere, an uncle builds boats, an aunt reads stories and gives cuddles, a grandfather lends a gentle hand, and we walk through the rain and the sun and the grey and blue and green of it all,  not talking much, just taking it all in, breathing it all out.

We are also fairly silly, as you will see.

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The Wellington summer post

P1090875A funny day to be writing this, with 140km winds and the rain gusting in. It’s been nice though, and will be again, so I shall reserve the snark. In any case, I’m tucked up in a café while Ian braves the zoo with the boys, so it behoves me to be civil.

Ian’s up here for work reporting the Summer News, and we’re his hangers-on. We did this last year too, and we were a bit quicker to get into the swing of capital holiday mode this time. We’re only halfway through the visit, so there might be more to say later.

In the meantime, lists, I think. With illustrationP1100023s from an event I wasn’t part of.


Beautiful sights

  1. Dear family friends standing together as their baby boy was baptised, a little oasis of loving calm that we didn’t completely ruin by arriving late and dramatic after a delayed early morning flight.
  2. Rabbit wearing full soccer kit — Barça shirt and shorts about five sizes too big, knee-length socks, boots, plus red-framed sunglasses — and walking along the street eating his first chocolate éclair. His face a perfect mix of wonder, delight and determination to finish the damn thing.
  3. P1090999The Cat, who has a tendency to freeze when grown-ups attempt to engage him in conversation, confidently and politely advising a couple of women about which bus would take them to the railway station. Also his strong sense of the necessity of giving some money to anyone busking or begging.
  4. My lunch today — a coffee with cream, a tasting platter of small and delicious vegetable dishes,  flatbreads and crackers. I feel vaguely greedy and conspicuous, but mostly very happy. There’s a salad of garden vegetables (chard, slivered carrots, radishes), beautifully dressed and enriched with nuts and dates, there are pickled plums and salsas of avocado and eggplant, there are creamy potatoes, green beans in a tomato sauce, a soft, spicy tangle of onions and capsicums, and a little dish of capsicums, olives, walnuts and herbs.
  5. P1090922The boys playing in the rocks at Plimmerton, looking for crabs and discussing the characteristics of sea worms/centipedes.


Memorable meals

  1. This lunch, obviously. It’s like my Platonic lunch ideal, the lunch of all my dreams and desires and imaginings. It’s from the legendary Lido café, and you should try it if you ever get the chance. The chef is going to send me the recipes. None of the staff seem to have seen the dish before, which makes me wonder about any number of things, but mostly makes me hope they get a taster soon. I think it’s only just made an appearance on the summer menu.
  2. P1090923Pizzas at the Mediterranean Food Warehouse. We walked up to Kelburn through the bush and via a soccer match. The children scrapped like feral warthogs until the food arrived and peace descended. The adults shared a glass of red. We worked out which European and Asian cities we each most resemble.
  3. Lunch at our friends’ house in Petone. Beautiful food, a soccer match on the lawn and another at the school, easy, enlivening conversation, the kids enjoying each other.
  4. A café lunch in Plimmerton, but only for the gossip, which cannot be shared.
  5. Still to come, I hope.


P1090957Best activities

  1. Football matches on Sky.
  2. Working through maths and reading activity books with the Rabbit, who is VERY KEEN.
  3. Bouncing along the street with the Cat while he assembles dream football teams and I nod sagely from time to time.
  4. Sleeping.
  5. Seeing friends.
  6. Running and walking up lots of steps.
  7. P1090964Buses, trains, no car.
  8. Long, ranting conversations with my fella.
  9. Discovering that GoFugYourself recapped a TV series of Wolf Hall, which brings together, I don’t know, at least ten of my favourite things in this world.
  10. Visiting my favourite ceramics and knives shop.
  11. Gelati.
  12. Walks along the esplanade.
  13. Family football matches. In case anyone was missing the theme.
  14. Popping into Unity Books every time we walk past.
  15. Riffing on the new family insult: you great, big … potato.




City living

P1080684We did half of Dunedin’s Street Art Trail last weekend. We were planning to do the whole thing, which is estimated to take 60 minutes, but it took us a good couple of hours to bus into town, trek around the first half, take photos, write notes, wrangle children, climb on anything climbable, kiss a lion and stop for coffee, cold drinks and an antipasto platter. More to come, I guess.

Anyhoodle, the trail is awesome. You’re basically tromping round the city, but doing art at the same time. My boys are disastrous in galleries (although the small one loves the DPAG kids’ room) unless the art is extremely interactive. Lego was a winner, and the funny blow-up landscape thing almost was but the staff were so uptight about that one that they kind of sucked out all the joy, y’know. So, back to topic, doing art outside with buildings and trees and streets and graffiti and BIG, CRAZY, EXUBERANT pictures is the way to go.

Thanks for the art, Dunedin. And thanks for the photos, kids.

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