little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: food glorious food

Quince and cabbage

I didn’t think cabbage would be the thing to break a year-long blogging drought, but there you go. I made dinner, it was good, I want to share it.

The base recipe is Nigel-ish, with a bit of Jamie perhaps.

We had this with fish braised with lemon and white wine, a green leaves and apple salad, hasselback potatoes and a carrot and orange salad.

1 quince, quartered, cored and sliced
¼ cabbage, finely shredded
mix of fennel, cumin and cardamon seeds
1-2T grapeseed or other plain oil
1-2T white wine vinegar

Boil the quince in water until it is just on the edge of tenderness.

Drain and combine with the shredded cabbage.

Toast the spices in a dry pan.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan, then add the quince and cabbage until the cabbage is softened but still has a little bite.

Add the spices, white wine vinegar and salt. Cook a little longer, then serve.

Slow on the uptake

So, I’m halfway through my week of holiday and I’m not fully there yet with the relaxing because work and kids and lists, but I’m more relaxed, which is progress. And the kids are cool.

But the most amazing thing happened last night, which is that I discovered that you can order and pay for pizza online and set a time for when you want to pick it up. So when you’ve spent an hour at the sports stadium watching the 11-year-olds play futsal and the 6 and 7-year-olds roll around on the floor being animals (I mean, not like badly behaved, but like beavers or hedgehogs or puppies or something) and it’s been a long, hot day and no-one is listening and there’s still bedtime to deal with, you can just swing in by the pizza shop and let the 6-year-old run into the shop and emerge a couple of minutes later carrying one box of pizza with the shop man in tow carrying the other one. And then you can sprint down to them and take the shop man’s box and apologise and it’s all cool because he’s a nice person and it’s a warm night and you haven’t had to stand in the shop for twenty minutes negotiating with the kids about toppings and bases and sauces and yes, the dairy-free one needs corn on it, but no, not quorn because that shit is weird and yes, he’s dairy-free but also he would like fifteen kinds of meat and yes, the other one can have dairy but he’s vegetarian but also very fond of seafood so calamari would be awesome and trying to read the menu and decipher the combo options and price everything up and then wait agonised while the kids whine about being hungry and where’s my pizza and I’m so BORED because you did all of that already without the waiting. In fact, so genius is this system that the order you gritted your teeth through a month ago is recorded on the website, so all you had to do was find your password, delete your pizza because are you kidding, why would I eat pizza when I could have homemade minestrone instead and exactly the way I like it because everyone else is eating pizza and find your credit card because you can never remember the little three-digit number thing from the back and calculate a pick-up time based on the duration of two soccer matches and getting two children in the car and driving back through town. Which, comparatively, felt really fucking simple.

And this is why, at the grand age of 41, I still believe in trying new things and being open to change and finding out stuff that I really should know already. Because some of us just take a bit longer, is all.

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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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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Mothers’ day song


This year’s Mothers’ Day post comes with a theme tune, lists and links. It was that kind of day.

Previous instalments
Non-ideal, but better than expected
Much improved

Rough timetable
5.30am: Wake to smoke alarm. No smoke, but alarm has to be dismantled to get it to stop. It’s on the hall ceiling, so the dismantling involves two children waking, a stool on top of a chair, and Ian’s long limbs. Awesome.

After that: Not much sleep.

Later: Rabbit comes in. Ian goes to make breakfast. Rabbit stays in bed to “keep mama warm”.

7.30am: Croissants and coffee in bed. Also, children in the bed. Cards and flowers. Lots of cuddles. Not too many crumbs.

Too much of the morning: Getting organised and doing stuff.

11am: Gorgeous outing to Pūrākaunui to collect cockles on a wide-open mudflat. Birds everywhere, and the water coming in.

20160508_141624_resized1pm: A feast of pasta, homemade tomato sauce and steamed cockles.

Afternoon: Idle parenting by the fire, chores, digesting.

6pm: Probably the last BBQ of the season.

Evening: A deep, hot bath. Bed.

Overall rating: One of the best.



Starting right

Sometimes we get breakfast exactly right.  20160403_082731_001 20160403_08275320160403_082821


Chicken (& garden) update

The girls are what I think we could call “established” now — their routines, personalities and quirks are firming up, becoming easier to discern and decipher.

Tilda is the Leader of the Pack, first to get to me when I take in food, occasionally inclined to peck her sisters on the side of the beak, seemingly the only one who knows how to open the mash feeder.

Her assertiveness and speed to treats got the better of her for a week or two when she went off the lay, then started laying shell-less and soft-shell eggs, disturbing things that she would drop anywhere then eat with the other chickens. Clearly, this is non-desirable chicken behaviour and led to much late-night, anguished Googling. The solution, in the end, was simple — bring the chickens in from the paddock to the run earlier in the evening and give them fewer treats so that she was forced to make the mash a greater proportion of her diet. Her shells are still lighter and smaller than those of the other chickens, but they are proper shells and she is back to laying them in the nest boxes, so we will count that as a win for Farmer McLaughlin.

Angelina, my dark-feathered girl, is probably next in the ranks. She is beautiful and sweet, but dim, regularly confused by fences and the intricacies of the mash feeder. She particularly likes to scratch in the dirt for bugs and often asks me to pick her a blade of grass, her elegant little head tilted in a model of chook quizzicality. She was my first layer and seems the most reliable, producing a strong brown egg every morning and sporting the reddest comb and wattles.

Helen is my wayward girl, my dreamer. We brought the chickens down to the vege patch the other day in an attempt to harness their weed-destroying, seed-eating powers for the greater good. Getting them into our makeshift enclosure was a bit of a trial, involving detours through the rose bushes, mutually alarming encounters with the cat, and Farmer McLaughlin’s best impersonations of a sheep dog. In fact, I can see the potential in a new television show based on the dog trials that were one of the highlights of my childhood viewing, but with chickens in the place of the sheep and gumbooted, straw-hatted editors taking over from the dogs.

Anyway, we got Angelina and Tilda safely enclosed and focused on their dirt-maintenance duties, but Helen had her heart set on a much more exploratory morning, around the back of the shed, over the piles of tree pruning and building supplies, and off to God knows where. She was also the first to take a dust-bathing break, rolling in the dirt like a small, demented, feathery emperor wondering where her peeled grapes are, just get with the programme already, will you, people?

So, that’s the chickens.

In gardening news, we are slowly getting things a bit tidier and I am getting to that point of house maintenance where I’m ready to stop maintaining someone else’s garden and am distilling ideas for how to make it more my own.

We have three key problems: weeds, colour and coherence. We are taking a “just deal with it” approach to the weeds; in areas where we don’t have anything we particularly want to keep, we are clearing the ground and covering it over with sacks, carpet, tarpaulins or newspapers.

Our colour woes are largely because the previous owners favoured a kind of muddy purple and a harsh orange that spectacularly fail to float my boat. We’re getting braver about taking out things we don’t like, although some of them are damn deep-rooted and hard to eradicate.

We’re also moving some things so as to free up space for more coherent planting. I’m moving swathes of sweet william from the “salad” vege patch to the “woodland” plot near the front gate. I think I’ll shift some stuff from the long strip down the side of the house there too, and my new plan — which I am pretty excited about — is to build a raised bed right along that strip and fill it with herbs.

A magnolia at the front and small fruit trees on the bank should assuage my need for more trees and spring blossom, and that just leaves the rockery between the vege patches, which is a weed-infested disaster zone. And various banks and scraggly areas, which sprout grass and dandelions to no identifiable purpose apart from giving us a ready supply for the guinea pigs.

Anyway, the top part of the rockery thing features roses, while lupins have gone from being a bright highlight of the lower part to completely crowding out both the buttercups and dandelions (great!) and all the other little pretty things I’ve planted there over the last two years (not great!). So what that leaves us with is a set of conundrums, for which I invite solutions. Do I move the roses and mass plant with something else? Do I welcome the lupins as effective ground control or do I get them the hell out of there before they TAKE OVER THE WORLD? Do I rebuild the rock wall or put in a wooden one? Do I cling to the hope I can create a beautiful French-style cottage garden or do I turn my sights to bold massed colour and easier maintenance? Who knows? Not I, said the little pen.

Where we have succeeded this year — and somewhat against the odds, not being here for most of the summer and not hoeing as often as we ought — is with productive gardening. We’ve had good crops of garlic, lettuce and potatoes, the carrots are small but ready to harvest, the tomatoes and zucchini are producing at a steady rate, we left the fennel too long but it was a good meal, we ate broad beans to our heart’s content, and we planted the yams very late, so who knows what’s going on in there. The broccoli, corn and celery went nowhere but I am nurturing small hopes of a late-season burst of growing energy from the latter two, the herbs are thriving, and we have a better sense of the timings and systems required to grow food for ourselves. Things felt out of control and under-maintained most of the time and we are just starting to recover from the panic and madness of rampant spring growth mixed with NO TIME and LOTS OF RAIN, but we have often had something home-grown in our dinner, and every now and then most of the meal comes from the garden.


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.




Tomato and feta salad

P1090736I really should wait until I have photos, but how about I just write the damn post and promise to take photos next time I make this little beauty? (Edit: done.)

Tomatoes are my go-to feel-better food. Mum said that as a small child all I would eat was boiled potatoes chopped up with tomatoes. Now I turn to thick tomato sauces, vine tomatoes roasted with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and olives, shakshuka, that sort of thing. They cure sadness, lethargy, over-indulgence, bugs and illnesses, stress, grumpiness, the lot.

And with the weather warming up, the nights lengthening and barbecue season starting, I’m hauling out my long-term favourite: tomato salad. This recipe is adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s; it’s easy, quick, cheerful and life-giving. Get into it! I can’t find her recipe online, but it’s in this book.

P1090733Tomato and feta salad

tomatoes (various shapes, colours and sizes if possible)
red or spring onion
olive oil
salt and pepper
lemon zest
fresh basil

P1090724You know this is basically an assembly job, right? I make this on a flat plate or platter with a raised rim to catch the juices. I’m a ceramics fiend, so I have a few to choose from — just use something that makes you happy. This dish is all about the happy.

P1090725To cut the tomatoes, you will need a small, sharp, serrated knife. You will also need to remove the stalky bits. If you’re okay with those two requirements, my friend, I’m coming for dinner. This is a good opportunity to get a little bit creative and cut different kinds of tomatoes into different shapes — slices, wedges, dice, whatever. I would prefer that you are consistent within varieties, i.e., all the cherry tomatoes should be cut the same way, as should all the romas. But they can be different from each other. Also, don’t do anything too fancy. I’m a bit fussy about knife work in the kitchen. I know, I know, y’all thought I was really relaxed and not in the least bit uptight or picky. Being an editor and all. Sorry to burst that bubble. When you’ve sliced the tomatoes, jumble them on the plate, more or less in a single layer.

P1090727That’s the hard bit done. Now very finely slice a small amount of red onion or a larger amount of spring onion and scatter it over the tomatoes. I like red onion, but I cannot stand large slices of it. I don’t know why people do that. You’re eating a nice salad or a deeply satisfying salmon and cream cheese bagel and then there’s these enormous half moons of sharp onion in your mouth. It’s horrible. I would use about one-sixth or less of a red onion (a wedge) or pretty much a whole small spring onion. I have to say that I like the spring onion more at the moment. I think it’s really lovely with the feta.

P1090728Next, pour some olive oil over the tomatoes and onion. Praise the lord, I have no strong feelings about the quality or type of olive oil, but keep a light hand and get the olive oil on before the rest of the ingredients. It provides a nice base for everything else to adhere to, and I think it starts to mollify the onion a bit.

P1090730Then it’s just a matter or scattering on some (or a lot of, if I’m in charge) feta, freshly ground salt and pepper, lemon zest and ripped-up basil. Let it sit for a little while, perhaps, then eat.

P1090732I don’t think the prettiness of this salad can be overstated. And it just gets prettier as you add each ingredient. It’s good as leftovers too, although it won’t last beyond the next day.

Have fun!


Peasant soup

P1080936It’s one of those scrambly afternoons today (soccer), so I’m going to be making peasant soup. That’s my name for it. Jamie Oliver wrote the recipe I base it on, and he calls it “Leek and Chickpea Soup”, which is either a more or a less descriptive name depending on your leaning towards connotation or denotation. You can probably figure which way I tilt.

P1080934Anyway, it’s a terrific soup and at the moment everyone in the house seems to be on board. I often find a meal that I think everyone likes, but, with time, preferences for variations emerge and so I can end up making three different tweaks of the same meal, which is a big pain in the arse. And, yes, they could all cope with the same version (apart from the allergy issues), but what can I say, I’m a sucker for an appreciative bunch of eaters, often to my own detriment.

This is another of those earthy protein and greens type soups. You can blend it to varying degrees or leave it unmushed. I used to blend because that’s what Jamie says to do, but now I blend half for the boys and leave the adult version straight. I find the textural ying/yang of al dente potatoes, round chickpeas with their slippy skins, melty leeks and hot, sweet broth deeply satisfying — the blended version tastes good but is more boring.

As opposed to an actual proper recipe, I’m going to live-blog this one. If that turns out to be a DISASTER, I’ll bail and update once everyone is fed. There may be typos. Fair warning.

5.25pm It would be good to get started now. We got home at five after soccer practice. The Rabbit was tired and hungry and the Cat was tired, hungry, hysterical and thirsty. A drink, some food and the iPad seems to have solved most of those problems FOR NOW. Preemptively, I am going to have a drink and unpack the lunch boxes.

5.30pm Am actually going to start now. First empty lunch boxes, then light the fire.

5.49pm Fire is going well, lamps are on, curtains are pulled, screen time is in final lap, compost is out, animals are fed, bedroom heaters are on. I CANNOT BELIEVE A UNICORN DID NOT MAKE DINNER WHILE I WAS DOING ALL THAT. DOES THAT MEAN I HAVE TO DO IT? Briefly scan what is left of my brain for other chores that need to be done first.

5.51pm Right, will get out ingredients.

5.55pm Have bread, parmesan, yoghurt, leeks, chickpeas, potatoes, salt, pepper, stock, olive oil and garlic. Forgot to have a drink. Doing that now.

5.57pm Boil kettle and peel potatoes. I’m not going to give you quantities. It’s too hard. I do what I need to do in this household, but if I had my way, there’d be less potato and more leek and chickpea.

5.58pm Ian is home and I hand over responsibility for children.

6.07pm Potatoes are chopped and in a pot to boil. You want them in chunks. Small enough to fit on your spoon, but not so small that they’ll fall apart if you boil them five minutes too long.

6.08pm Ian wants to help. I tell him he’s on accompaniments. That’d be oily toast and yummy things. Actually, he just reads this over my shoulder and gets to work. Don’t you, darl?

6.11pm I’ve drained a can of chickpeas and Ian has poured a glass of red. Cheers!

6.17pm Washing leeks is annoying. Nevertheless, do that, then slice then thinly and sweat them in olive oil with sliced garlic and a bit of salt. That’s what I’m doing now.

The children are at the end of screen time and getting ratty. Ian is starting on the bread.

The potatoes are boiling, so I turn them down.

6.23pm Drain potatoes. Decide to move half the leeks to the rinsed-out potato pot so that I can cook the boys’ soup separately and therefore adjust potato/chickpea quantities for their respective audiences.

6.26pm Ian has oiled the bread and put it under the grill. The Rabbit is doing train work. The Cat is dragging out his screen time by deciding to do something too difficult and time-consuming for this point in the evening. The leeks are all sliced and starting to cook.

6.32pm Ian has been commandeered to play hallway soccer. The bread is out and the leeks are a juicy tangle. The garlic is in, more for the big people than for the small. I add the potatoes and chickpeas to each pan, pour on some stock and take a deep breath.

P10809336.36pm Lids on for ten minutes. A word about the stock. I just used powdered, okay. THEORETICALLY, I understand that homemade chicken or vegetable stock would be ideal here, simmered with loving care for an hour or so, the chicken — had there been one — organic, free-range, the centrepiece of a calm and delicious roast meal. But, clearly, we’re not in those realms tonight. We’re never in those realms when I make the soup. If you’re in those realms or are one of those horrendously organised people who not only has homemade stock in your freezer but can also remember which pottle it’s in and how long ago you made it, then bless you and go right ahead and use it.

I have more chopping to do.

6.40pm Oh, and put some pepper in that soup. And turn it down to a gentle simmer.

P10809316.49pm Table is set, soup is done. I’ve put out little bowls of olives, sundried tomatoes, some leftover tuna, cucumber and a bit of avocado. I take photos and realise how much crap lives semi-permanently on our table. Time to blend and serve. Also yoghurt and parmesan.

P10809376.59pm Everyone is eating. Of COURSE I got soup on my top when I blended it. It looks good though. The soup.

If you have lemons, add a squeeze of lemon juice. That’s life advice right there, not just for this recipe.

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