some like it hot

22 01 2011

Can I just say, it is boiling down under…

Oh – and Happy New Year!

I will attempt a bit of a recap from my last post which was… checking … UH OH, almost two months ago. I’m not sure what happened there, I meant to increase my posts not dive headfirst into blogging obscurity. It is a new year – I can freshen my intentions and leap for the sky. I’m in a bit of a leaping mood, actually. I don’t know much about stars and alignments and biorhythms but I’m feeling change afoot. I’ll take it!

Now for the recap.

Zuzu graduated from her school and was awarded a big silver cup for ‘Most Outstanding Student of 2010’. I was very fortunate to have a variety of friends scattered through the school hall who, very thoughtfully, took photos for me. My camera sat on my lap as I watched my little girl, through very blurry eyes, stand on stage and speak so eloquently about her years at the school.  A beautiful day.

December arrived: Everything seems enhanced, somehow, during the holiday month. School is out and southern hemisphere heat boils our blood; mismatched ornaments dangle from odd corners of the house; children are wide-eyed and full of optimism; eftpos pin numbers are loaded into retail machines all across the land. ‘Tis the season…

At this time of year, we are often confronted with our belief system.  We attempt a reconnaissance, of sorts, and gather our  rituals to best represent our perspective. We may include magical Santa stories with our children and the simplicity of Christmas carols;  dreidel games and candle ceremonies;  untangling from or rejoicing in the mysteries of religious adherence and of course our fervent declarations of intent for the coming year. These kinds of symbolic observances are dear to us and we rely on the reminder that we are thoughtful creatures with our own values and practices.

I love the idea that ritual can support the model that each of us have chosen as our ‘raison d’être’.  I particularly love that we can borrow from all kinds of sources to create these rituals and if we do so mindfully and respectfully then we are certainly perpetuating a positive cohesiveness. For example: the wonderful candle lighting practices of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa can be mesmerising and any family gathered around a candle light may find their conversations deepen and their intentions clarified by such a ritual.

2011 entered elegantly and I was very pleased to greet it. Oh, what is it about the fresh year – starting from scratch, almost. Although I deliberately refuse to tie myself to a 1. 2. 3. system of resolutions,  I do renew some of my intentions and kick out some of those badgering annoyances that shackle me to failure – such as: completely cleaning out my downstairs storage before such and such a date and ironing all my wrinkled clothes in one massive effort.

This annual transition, whether you are bundled up in front a fire or hotfooting it to the water’s edge to escape the burning sand,  is a fitting time to step back and look at what you have created. Reflectively observing your life provides a perfect opportunity to add mindful rituals to enhance what you have decided is important – it is also a wonderful time to discard those behaviours and patterns that do not work. On weekdays, I wake up early and spend an hour with M – talking and sipping coffee or walking briskly in the pre-dawn light (and talking through my panting). This one-hour morning ritual is about connecting and staying close and current with one another’s lives. It is invaluable.  On the flip side, I do not want to find myself heading to the pantry at 4pm on the dot, to grab an easy snack of cookies or chips. I must find a way to remove myself from the house at 4pm each day – as that snacking ritual has become an absent-minded trek and it does not serve my best interests.

Early in the new year my little girl became a teeny-bopper. She had been counting down to her 13th birthday since last September and at midnight on the day, we all whooped and hollered and celebrated. Zuzu was so ready and I think her frame of mind has had a huge influence on me. I watch her navigate her life with such poise and determination and I am so inspired by her attitude. She believes in herself and in her ability to create her dreams – I shouldn’t be surprised, I taught her these things – but the ease with which she moves from decision to action is impressive. After a week at a very high intensity sailing camp – she was exhausted but she’d decided to enter the annual island wharf to wharf run the next day.  Zuzu had never expressed a particular interest in running but the idea had caught her fancy and she was quite determined. On one of the hottest days of the summer,  she and her partner in crime (her oldest friend) ran the 7km and the little dude came 3rd in her division. That is some impressive follow-through!

After many months of pondering on it, we have a kitty. Well, Zuzu has a kitty. She named her ‘Thirteen’ and this little grey ball of fluff has insinuated herself perfectly into our hearts and our lives. She is plucky and sweet; twitchy and acrobatic; smoochy and – all in all – a charismatic little character.

Finally, I have plopped myself headfirst into yet another University programme. I have enrolled in a Post-Graduate Diploma of Creative Writing.

This was not my plan. I was all set to renew my New Zealand teaching credential and was accepted into my University of choice,  I even had my ID photo taken. All that was left was to enroll in the certification course. I got my application off, just after the deadline, but that was all fine. I went along to a literacy test just before Christmas which I passed easily, the next step was an interview. This was all starting to seem quite serious and I marveled at how things had changed from my first go-round in the ‘olden days’. Everything went swimmingly and although there were only 60 places (give or take) to be filled and over 400 applicants, I was quietly confident.

From time to time through the holidays, I found myself thinking about the course but instead of the excitement I had expected to feel, there was a jittery sort of discomfort. It was strange. No-one had coerced me into this –  it was my idea and a good one.  Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was about to spend a year or so in drudgery.  The letter came – “Congratulations, you have successfully made it to the wait-list!”  I realised that getting a rejection letter would have given me a way out and I had been, at some level, hoping for it. The wait-list, however, bought me a little time.

How nutty to be vigorously pursuing something that I really didn’t seem to want to do. I started looking around online at other programmes that tickled my fancy – just looking, mind you. M suggested I look at Culinary Institutes that specialised in Vegetarian cooking – wherever they might be in the world. I did find an amazing one in New York and a very promising one in India, if you are interested. Then, by an inadvertent stroke of the keyboard, I found a Creative Writing Center that offers a post-graduate course run by established and well-known authors. It is affiliated with a major University, yet cocooned in a small alcove of the institution – which means I would not have found it by browsing the catalogue.

The joyous feeling that immediately bubbled through me was both emotional and physical and I knew I wanted it.

So, here I am – embarking on this wonderfully impractical course of study. I am simultaneously intoxicated and terrified by the idea that I will have to stand and read aloud my small creative offerings – I will have to present my very being for critique.  How deliciously scary.

Naturally, through this busy month I have been fiddling with food and recipes. It is so hot, though, I am often just pulling out vegetables and fruit to make a platter for dinner that we can all nibble on. There is one dish that makes a regular appearance, these days, because it is simple and we all really like it.

Antipodean Black Beans


Antipodean Black Beans ( remodeled from the traditional Caribbean dish)

Step 1: Sauté  in a little oil – 1 large chopped onion; a couple of minced garlic cloves; 1/2  red and green capsicum diced – until tender (about 5 mins)

Step 2: Add a can of diced tomatoes and stir for a couple of minutes

Step 3: Stir in 2 cans of black beans (undrained)

Step 4: Add 1/4 c lemon juice and 1/4 c orange juice

Step 5: Add 1/2 tsp of cumin, oregano, and sage

Step 6: Season with salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste (I usually add more than a pinch because we like it spicy)

Step 7: Cook gently, stirring often, until the mixture begins to thicken

Step 8: Sprinkle coriander on top.

This looks and tastes beautiful with some Cuban yellow rice – which  is traditionally long grain rice cooked with annato seeds and yellow asafetida powder.  However, I  use turmeric, and sometimes saffron, to colour the rice and I add a cup of peas just as it becomes tender.

I love this with pineapple or mango chunks and sour cream on top – although, neither Zuzu nor M  would dream of sullying a dish with any kind of cream.  I  just love the abundance of sweet/tart pineapple and savoury flavour and a dollop of sour cream on black beans is heavenly to me.


I think we may have this for dinner, actually. Writing the recipe has made me hungry for it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my blog evolves this year – my one year ‘bloggiversary’ is coming up on the 28th of this month. I am intent on being more regular with my posting and perhaps a little more varied in my content but my passion for cooking and teaching myself to be a great cook remains and I can only assume that it will be reflected in almost everything I write.

Let the New Year of the Rabbit begin!


for all the wry treasons…

21 11 2010

I meant to make banana bread today. I had planned to bake a couple of dozen chocolate chip/cranberry cookies. I wanted to prepare both a lasagna and a vegetable Quiche to freeze. However, as often happens, my best laid plans went awry. Instead, Zuzu and I attended a colour workshop at the local Steiner Waldorf school.

At three years old, Zuzu was a student at this beautiful little school, settled into the nook of a farm where the chickens run free, the geese perch on fences watching the children play and the pigs are fed lunch scraps. When we moved to the island, I was already impressed with the Waldorf principles of child learning – impressed by the focus on the significance of  the childhood journey, that is,  not Steiner the man – who was an Austrian gentleman of his era (1861-1925),  with a wealth of unique ideas and dubious opinions.

I had enrolled us in the Waldorf  “Mummy and Me” classes when we lived in California and I enjoyed the gentle and mindful focus on the ‘whole’ child and her experiences. I loved the imaginative and fantasy worlds that the children were encouraged  to create with natural and beautiful objects and the fact that gardening, playing in mud puddles and making huge messes, were part of the curriculum at the school.

Zuzu and I were a part of the Waldorf community until she was of legal school age in New Zealand and then I co-created a homeschooling group with a group of like-minded parents, who felt that there really was something to the idea of a nurturing school environment that supported learning rather than institutionalizing it.  As we traveled a lot, at that time, homeschooling gave me the freedom to continue her education anywhere in the world. It was a wonderful experience.

When I heard that an International Baccalaureate Primary/Middle School was destined for our small island, I was overjoyed. The IB curriculum has always been a stand out for me for its focus on inquiry and child centered learning. Basically, the IB structure teaches children to teach themselves by offering a process for understanding and presenting subject matter. It is not for everyone and it takes some getting used to but I am a fan.  Zuzu was enrolled as a foundation student and has had an amazing experience as a pupil of the school. She is winding down her time there, now and in less than a month she will be a former student.

Returning, today,  to her old alma mater, as it were – her little ‘kindy’ class – was moving. It was lovely to see her fit back into the pale pastel rooms decorated with felt angels, fairies, woodcutters and kings and fresh flowers; to be with her as we remembered long-ago colouring techniques involving wet paper and just one brush; to see her snuggle into the little cave that sits in the corner of the room – built purposefully to be safe and cosy and filled with soft cloths and cushions; to watch her listen to the lesson of how colour interacts with our lives and how we relate to different hues and tones.

At intermission, we enjoyed some tea and home baking – I wryly spied the cookies and fruit bread that were so beautifully laid out for us and decided emphatically that my day was well spent eating the treats provided and reminding myself of the magic and opportunities this colourful world has presented to us.

Zuzu will begin a new school, next year – one that she has chosen, interviewed for and been accepted to. It is a new adventure and an exciting time and I am thrilled to see her world opening up before her eyes. I love knowing, however, that every now and again we can pause, toss aside our best laid plans and celebrate the journey.

mulling it over

21 11 2010

There is no doubt that it was a rainy winter, here in the Southern Hemisphere. In spite of that,  I had a wonderful time gathering with family and friends,  playing, learning and of course, cooking. Now that spring has put a bounce in everyone’s step, I want to briefly look back and pay a small homage to a winter comfort that so ably warmed and encouraged us on the coolest of evenings and under the darkest of skies.

Many years ago, I spent a season working in a well-known ski lodge resort in the Sierra-Nevada mountains.  It was a fashionably rustic and very high-class retreat, complete with a French gourmêt chef, Chinese sous-chef, a multi-ethnic kitchen staff. Then there was me.

My friend and I had managed to charm our way into a job at this resort. We didn’t blink when we were given skin-tight lycra ski suits to wear, nor did we hesitate when we heard that the resort was way out in the Wilderness and could only be accessed by snowmobile , skis or charming horse-drawn sleighs – upon which the guests would arrive, in their finery, ready for a 4 day retreat.

Whilst my friend spent her days lighting fires and cleaning loos,  I sat in the cafe attached to the lodge, overlooking the lake for a few hours each day.  I would very gladly  greet the day skiers who found their way out to the lodge, chatting with them and gathering an address book of helpful contacts whilst  feeding them chili, chocolate and beer.  I was very happy with my draw of the straw.

We were both responsible, however,  for ensuring the guests felt at ease, mingling and chatting together. Primarily, we were required to make intelligent conversation and keep it going but our specific duties included such things as hostessing a high tea at 4pm, serving tasty treats with loose leafed Earl Grey.  We were also required to sit at the dining room tables for each meal and facilitate group conversations. On the dot of 6pm, however, we could be found in the lounge ladling mulled wine from a large pot settled on a pot-bellied stove (very picturesque)  and offering baked brie and other delicacies whilst making scintillating conversation with the fabulously wealthy and well-read guests. I was 19 years old and I had a blast.

Step 1: Pour one bottle red wine  in to a pot ( no need for fancy wine – I’ve made it with nice Pinot and basic red)
Step 2: Add 2/3 cup brown sugar
Step 3: Add a few cloves
Step 4: Add 2 tsp cinnamon (can use cinnamon sticks)
Step 5 : Add 2 tsp ground ginger
Step 6: Add a sprinkle of nutmeg
Step 7: Add 1 cup orange juice (include slices of orange, lemon or lime if you have them)
Step 8: Add 1/4 cup of brandy – optional
Step 9: I also sometimes add a cup of ginger ale or ginger beer

Heat SLOWLY until sugar melts and spices have integrated.

These days, my socializing intentions are much more discriminating. I love being in a group of interesting people, talking and listening and discovering universal resonances. I have a wonderful, eclectic  collection of dear friends on the island – some of whom are recent but others with whom I have gathered  for many years now. I love that Zuzu is surrounded by people, at home and in the community, who enjoy discussing and debating issues – from global to local.  I want her to feel comfortable representing herself authentically in her interactions and to understand that communication is the first step toward every resolution.  On top of that, sitting chatting with friends, whether at morning coffee in a café or over a cup of mulled wine on a winter’s eve, is plain good fun.

Sunday, Sunday…

20 09 2010

One of my Nana’s old sayings came back to me, yesterday morning, as I stood with M on a secluded beach with gusts of wind fairly punching us and sharp streaks of rain hammering our heads – “that’ll blow the cobwebs out”.

It was wild, woolly and magical and I was overjoyed to be out walking in it, feeling refreshed and energised by the power of nature.  We managed to get home just before a torrential downpour which encouraged a certain smugness – as if we were at one with the awesome temperament of the weather.

I feel viscerally affected by the sound and the might of a significant wind. I believe I become quite unfocused and more susceptible to mood changes. We were prepared for these storm conditions, due to the glut of doom and fear media coverage but aside from making sure we had candles and water,  no other accommodations were made.  There was nothing to do but ride it out.

We spent most of the day in a lazy haze of chatting and watching movies; napping on the sofa and cooking.  M, who is working towards his PhD, attempted to add a little research study to the mix but was uncharacteristically distracted.  Zuzu was in her own little world – alternating between cocooning herself in her warm and cozy bedroom and trailing me around the house, feeding me little snippets of interesting information.  At one point, we all sat down for a conversation about getting a puppy and a kitten.  It started with somewhat of an agenda which included time frame, duties and responsibilities and swiftly moved to breeds and colours and names.  I’m not sure we accomplished much more than agreeing we would all like a puppy,  soon-ish.

M mentioned that he hadn’t had cornbread for years. Zuzu couldn’t remember ever having cornbread (although I am sure she has had her share at Thanksgiving dinners in the U.S).  Suddenly, I was compelled to make cornbread. I did a quick search on google and found some strange-looking cornbread recipes as well as cornbread forums and heated discussions over such things as the efficacy of sugar in the recipe and oil vs melted butter.  I did not let that deter me and found a simple recipe that allowed me to use organic polenta  in place of fine cornmeal. I used this basic recipe from  The Fresh Loaf :

Basic Polenta Cornbread

Step 1: In one bowl, combine: 1 cup polenta, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar (I used brown sugar), 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt.

Step 2: In another bowl, combine: 1 cup milk, 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted butter, 1 egg.

Step 3: Mix them both together and pour into a greased pan ( I used  a square pan with parchment paper).

Step 4: Bake in 190°C oven for 20 – 25 mins. I left it in until the top was browning a little.

Zuzu wanted to make chili and I was happy to let her. I love knowing she is developing a nice little collection of meals that she can comfortably put together. I would like her to discover an interest in healthy and hearty cooking in her own way – I periodically solicit her help with my meal preparation (while it is still more fun than a chore) – and so far she seems to have a confidant attitude to creating interesting and tasty dishes.

The  recipe she used was a super quick  Can Do Chili that I discovered many years ago and have adapted to suit just about anything I have in the fridge or cupboards.

Step 1: Sauté 1 chopped onion, a few cloves of minced garlic, a ¼ tsp chili powder, salt and pepper.

Step 2: Stir in 3 cans of beans – drained and rinsed (this means anything from chick peas, four bean mix, black beans, lentils, cannellini beans, lima beans, broad beans, kidney beans). Add more cans if you are making chili for larger gathering.

Step 3: Stir in 1 can of peeled, chopped tomatoes (or more if needed).

Step 4: Add 1 can of spiced chili beans – usually found in the International section of the market near the tacos.

Step 5: Stir, checking spices and altering according to taste. Simmer on a low heat until ready to serve. I have also made this in a big pot during a power outage and put it on top of the fireplace.

There is so much you can do with this basic recipe. I often add fresh spinach at the last moment or corn kernels – I will use red or green lentils in place of beans, if I feel like it.  It really is up to you!

The wind was steadily howling all through the day and by the evening I found myself feeling a little fragile and weary. I sequestered myself for a few hours and vehemently insisted on some privacy – much to Zuzu’s annoyance. It was strange to have felt so buoyed by the wind’s tantrum in the morning, only to find myself having my own Greta Garbo – like tantrum in the evening.

"I want to be alone"

Later that night, as I lay with Zuzu talking about moods and behaviours, I couldn’t help but feel so fortunate that her temperament is so temperate. From time to time she has small outbursts which she clears up remarkably quickly and moves on without a trace of a grudge or residue irritation. I think that attitude will serve her well and I am doing all I can to learn from her.

a spring in my step

19 09 2010

There is an international consensus to acknowledge the 21st as a date of seasonal change – be it March, June, September or December. Here in New Zealand, however, we insist that Spring begins on the 1st day of September. A case of wishful thinking after a rainy winter, perhaps.  Still, there is no denying that the air is warmer; the sky is bluer; the birds are trilling in the trees and I am no longer filled with flu and such …

How glorious it feels to be well. I am clear-headed and bursting with flavour – think more artistic potential than ripe blueberry…

I have spent the last few weeks enjoying the company of one of my dearest friends – Jandy.  She popped down to our little island from London, to chat with me until the wee hours; to play board games with all of us; to sample the wines at local boutique vineyards;

to shop and indulge her impulse to buy stylish outfits for Zuzu; to watch Bergman movies from M’s massive movie collection – having sat through my share of those bleak, cerebral, Swedish  masterpieces, I slunk out during the opening credits. However, I deigned to join in the Kubrick love fest…

Jandy and I bopped our way through adolescence together, in style – from ivory tower academics to Sierra ski resort bums; Alaskan fisher-folk to creditable professionals. Our paths diverged about 10 years ago and we were out of contact for some time, but a few years ago Zuzu and I met up with her in Paris and the three of us hailed the New Year together on  Petit Pont, overlooking  Notre Dame – a poignant realisation of  one our teenage intentions.

Now, we find ourselves living in different time zones leading very different lives. She: an important mover and shaker with an office in the Tower of London and Me: a mumma, a student and a novice ‘cooker’ – my little 3-year-old Zuzu used to say “Mumma, you a good cooker” – living by the beach, on an island, way down under.

Reminds me of a Michelle Shocked song.

I think we are both very happy and grateful for our beautiful lives.

While Jandy stayed with us, I wanted to cook for her.  I suppose I wanted to share my new passion and show her my achievements – a far cry from the English muffins with peanut butter we survived on whilst living in a small Aleutian island fishing village, 90kms from the Russian water border.  Cooking somehow  illuminates, for me,  the contentment and abundance I feel in my little island oasis and allows me to express the gratitude I feel for the beautiful people I am so lucky to love.  Sharing this with Jandy was my way of including her.

Jandy was genuinely appreciative of all of my offerings but she seemed to enjoy one dish, in particular. I have fiddled with Vegetarian Moussaka for some time and have tried all kinds of combinations and variations in the layers between the eggplant and the creamy sauce. Finally, I have found a rich and tasty concoction that I love.

Prepare the Eggplant:

Step 1: Thinly slice an eggplant (or 2 if you are making a large Moussaka).

Step 2: Liberally salt the eggplant slices, leave them for 10 mins, then rinse them well and pat them dry.

Step 3: Spray a fine film of oil on both sides of the eggplant and bake on a greased tray (or on parchment/baking paper) in a 180°C oven until just brown – around 20 mins.

Prepare the secret layer:

Step 1:  Thinly slice 2 zucchini (courgettes) lengthwise.

Step 2: Thinly slice 1 apple (cut in half and cored)

Step 3: Cut 1 red pepper in quarters and remove seeds and ribs.

Step 4: Place zucchini, apple slices and red pepper on tray with oven proof paper and bake with the eggplant until pepper skin is blistered and zucchini is browning.

Step 5: Let red pepper sit for a few minutes then peel the skin.

Make the Filling:

Step 1: Sauté 2 large onions in oil. I usually spray a non-stick pan with olive or bran oil.

Step 2: Add a few crushed garlic cloves; 2 cans of kidney beans (I often use one can of kidney and one can of black beans); 1 can of peeled tomatoes (I use crushed);  1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Cook well, roughly mashing the beans as they soften to form a thick sauce.

Step 3: Add salt and pepper and a little sugar to offset the bitterness of the tomatoes.

Make the creamy sauce:

Step 1: Beat 1 cup of natural yogurt  with 1 egg. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.

Construct the Moussaka:

Now for the fun…

Step 1: Layer the baked eggplant slices into an oven-proof dish (I have used round and rectangular).

Step 2: Cover the eggplant with half the bean mixture.

Step 3: Layer slices of zucchini, apple and red pepper on top of the beans.

Step 4: Sprinkle a little layer of cheese (optional). M and Zuzu do not care for cheese but M can tolerate a little Mozzarella and Zuzu can handle a small sprinkle of Vegetarian Tasty – so I have been known to separate the dish into 3 parts. I know – very forbearing of me!

Step 5: Repeat the steps,  finishing with a final layer of eggplant. Pour on the creamy sauce and lightly dust with  paprika. Add a little more cheese if you like – Parmesan is a wonderful choice for this dish.

Bake for 40 mins or until topping is golden and bubbly. Serve with your choice of lightly steamed vegetables or fresh salad.  It is worth any fiddly bits – pour yourself a glass of wine in a really nice glass while you cook – this Moussaka is delicious.

Jandy is now back in her busy world and I am firmly planted in mine – both of us happy in our respective skins. However, there is something very comforting about spending time with someone who has known you for so many years. They know your funny little ways and can tease you about things you might rather forget; they have seen you try on versions of yourself and tweak them accordingly;  they know challenges you have met and pain you have endured; they have shared successes and celebrated triumphs with you.

My daily life now includes wonderful connections with many intelligent, mindful women who inspire, support  and challenge me.  I feel so grateful to be surrounded by these new ‘soul sisters’ and I believe I have learned to have  such a relationship with these women, in great part, through my abiding  friendship with my dearest Jandy.

commotional mussiness and other more delightful distractions…

16 08 2010

I find it suits me best, when my life appears to be thrown into topsy- turvy disarray, to settle back and experience the ride.

This month I had a birthday; appreciated a glorious excursion to the South Island of this beautiful country; experienced a magnificent ‘one-of-a-kind’ sunrise, played Yahtzee and introduced M to his first Devonshire Tea with scones/jam/cream – whilst enjoying a scenic coastal train journey from Christchurch to Kaikoura; was mesmerized by a dynamic vista of snow-capped mountains and expansive ocean…

I awoke to the majesty of the Kaikoura Seaward Ranges on my birthday...

I also found myself knocked sideways with swine flu and a secondary infection; lost my sense of taste and smell; coughed until everything was rearranged inside me…

Now, I very much hope,  that is – I should like to believe – I am on the mend. Tinctures, aromatherapy, sleep, water, wonderful loving ministrations and 2 courses of hard-core antibiotics (possibly the only 2 that I am not allergic to) may finally be working.

Having no sense of taste or smell has been a strange and awful experience. I have had no appetite which has meant no real passion for cooking. Admittedly, the looser jeans are a nice bonus but I really missed flavours and bouquets and all the yummy combinations of spices and herbs. I persevered at first with some healthy soups and found that by adding hefty doses of chili and other strong spices, I could detect a faint ‘taste’. Of course, Zuzu and M ate their portions with streaming eyes and gallons of water.

Last night, however, I had a hankering (and this is why I suspect I am feeling better in spite of how I may look and sound) for a tasty dish. I thumbed through some old favourites until a lentil pattie recipe caught my eye. Suddenly, I was determined to make  Fettuccine and ‘Lentil-Balls’.

It is the easiest recipe and is perfect to doctor – adding and subtracting based on the contents of your pantry. Originating in the wonderful Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook , which is one of my favourite sources, the recipe can be used as a Lentil Loaf (with some added whole wheat breadcrumbs), Vegetarian Lentil Burger Patties (with added chopped nuts to make it heartier), Lentil Balls or even Lentil Pâté (with a little added vege stock and a whiz in the blender).

Step 1: Boil 1 cup of lentils (green or brown) for 20 mins in water.

Step 2: Sauté 2 chopped onions and 2 grated carrots in a pan with a little oil until soft.

Step 3: Add chopped garlic to the pan (I added 4 cloves because I really wanted to taste it) with ½ teaspoon of cumin and ½ teaspoon of coriander.

Step 4: Add cooked lentils to the pan and stir in some salt and pepper.

Step 5: Add 1 tbsp lemon juice and ½cup of chopped parsley (I used basil).

Step 6: Mash or blend in processor until mixture can form balls.

Step 7: Gently roll in flour and cook in a small amount of hot oil to seal the outside of the ball.

Step 8: Place balls gently in oiled roasting dish (or parchment/baking paper if you like) and bake for 20 mins at about 200°C – rotating balls periodically.

Serve with fettuccine and your favourite tomato sauce. I made a quick tomato pesto sauce with a can of chopped tomatoes, softened onion, fresh basil, s&p and 2 tbsp pesto. It was tasty!

I would say that ordinarily I have a great capacity to be delighted and moved; engaged and intent; concerned and determined – affected.  When I am quite sick, however, I am afflicted with a very short attention span; one half a magazine’s worth of reading at most and possibly a couple of Anderson Cooper interviews on YouTube. I have felt a disconcerting sense of disconnectedness – a vague detachment from my usual interests and concerns. It is a little like watching the world through a gauze veil and I have to admit that I have enjoyed the feeling.  I liked being removed from the need to evaluate my moments – for example: I found myself doing dishes in Kaikoura, a chore that I usually avoid.  As I stood at the sink, gazing out at the awe inspiring snow capped peaks – my hands soaking in warm, sudsy water – I was able to acknowledge the process of a job well done and genuinely savour the experience.  As I heal, I feel myself pulled back into a more emotional connectedness and I can appreciate the difference. For someone like me with a busy, monkey mind, it is a gift. A birthday present.

these are a few of my favourite things (today)

14 07 2010

I have just finished watching yet another cycle of the magnificent BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. M bought me the DVD collection last year and will happily watch it with me. He gets a kick out of the great Lady Catherine de Burgh and Charles Bingley and finds the language and formality of the period as charming as I do.  M is the quintessential polymath and I appreciate that – so very much – about him.  Even Zuzu, who trots in and out of the room through the marathon viewing sessions, has come to know many of the lines…

I am all astonishment.” – (Caroline Bingley to Mr Darcy)

Are you not diverted?“-  (Mr Bennett to Elizabeth)

and, of course, this delicious line –

You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Mr Darcy to Elizabeth).

Ah,  the beautiful language and enchantment of Jane Austen’s work. A wonderful counter to the brisk pace and witty repartee of my other favourite series ‘ West Wing ‘ which I have to admit, with a small amount of sheepishness, I have watched six times complete – that is 7 seasons, 155 episodes. M and I now pick and choose episodes when we need a fix and we even play a ‘quote-a-long’ game where the winner can recite the most lines verbatim. What?? Is that odd?

Of course, I am perfectly capable of carrying more than one preoccupation at a time.

For a comfort read and between other more lofty novels, I pour through the glorious pages of small town Provence with Peter Mayle.  ” A Year in Provence ” is one of the early ‘foodie novels’ and Mayle’s evocative presentation of the taste, texture, scent and sight of authentic French cooking is not to be missed. I find, however, that there can be a distinct disadvantage to ending the evening with this or any of the books in that trilogy, when my stomach begins to rumble and my mouth waters in anticipation of the perfect heirloom tomato paired with just the right amount of olive oil and balsamic and the freshest basil. I have to say that even for a vegetarian of more than 3 decades, his descriptions of the old Provençal farmers enjoying a hearty Boeuf Bourguignon, can be enticing.

Culinarily (ooh – great word), I am having a small yet passionate dalliance with Bruschetta.  With very humble origins, Bruschetta has become a very popular and extremely varied appetizer with many people having quite particular recipe preferences. In 15th century Italy, however, it was merely an appropriate way to use bread that was going stale as well as to sample the fresh oil from the olive presses.  Toasted and rubbed with garlic, the bread was coated with the olive oil, salt and pepper and eaten immediately. Today, however, Bruschetta is understood to mean the topping on the toasted bread and the recipes cover all tastes and palates. Variations  include toppings of tomatoes, spicy peppers, vegetables, beans, meat, and cheese.  The most common restaurant version includes garlic, basil, fresh tomatoes, onion and mozzarella.

I have, of course, my preference. I had the most delicious Bruschetta appetizer, once,  in San Remo on the Italian Riviera. Since then I have had an unaltered favourite topping. The movie Julie and Julia served to cement my bias with the most intense and tasty Bruschetta-eating scene. I defy anyone to watch it and not find themselves with a sudden hankering for sloppy, oily, garlicky tomatoes on crusty toast.

This recipe is rather vague as it really depends on how many tomatoes you intend to use and how many people you wish to serve. Ingredient amounts tend to alter around that fact.

Step 1: Slice in quarters or eighths, a selection of tomatoes into a bowl – any variety will work. I like to include cherry tomatoes as they are so sweet and delicious.

Step 2: Pour enough oil to coat the tomatoes. I usually use a garlic or tomato infused olive oil but, again, you can use what you have (I sometimes use rice bran oil).

Step 3: Slice a handful of fresh basil. I like to keep the pieces long and thin but it’s just an aesthetic preference for me.

Step 4: Chop 4 or 5 cloves of garlic. This is entirely a matter of taste – I LOVE garlic and will use it at every opportunity. Gently stir together the ingredients.

Step 5: Toast your choice of bread. I use baguette and slice it in small rounds when I am serving it as an appetizer or in half (as above) when I make it a meal.

Step 6: Rub a clove, or 2, of garlic over the toasted bread. This grates the garlic onto the slice and makes a delicious base for the topping. From time to time I will spread a little pesto on the toast before the topping.

Step 7: When you are ready to serve, add a generous sprinkle of salt to the tomatoes – this releases their juices – then, spoon the tomato mixture over the toast.

Serve and Enjoy!

Now, I am off to enjoy another favourite indulgence – rose and vanilla tea in one of my beautiful Royal Albert: Old Country Roses teacups.

My Nana had a large collection of tea cups and when I stayed with her as a child I loved the ritual of morning and afternoon tea, which she observed faithfully. My grandfather would come in from the garden and my Nana and I would have laid a beautiful table with fine china, delicious loose leaf tea and all the fruits of our morning baking efforts.  Invariably, I would choose the Old Country Roses teacup for myself and savour every pinky-waggling sip.

These days I have my own Royal Albert tea set. It was given to me by Zuzu’s daddy for my birthday in 2000 – which happens to be the same day she and I left our California home to begin a life here on this little island.  It is a prized possession, made all the more special by his thoughtfulness.  Zuzu and I continue the tea ceremony in our own fashion.