Summer Idyll

I have been extremely lackadaisical about writing my blog over the Christmas period. Perhaps it was all the cooking and general busyness. Perhaps it was the aftermath of eating and napping. I have become like one of the cats: sunning my belly on the deck and snoozing away the afternoon.

Even though there were only four of us, Christmas lunch with my parents was still pretty complex. Homemade pies with beef cheek slow-cooked in red wine. Ham triple-glazed in cranberry sauce and manuka honey. Corn on the cob. Potato & egg salad. Coleslaw of red cabbage, kale, carrot, celery, and sunflower seeds. Another salad of rocket, parmesan & pear, tossed in garlic salt & balsamic vinaigrette. And then we followed that with fruit salad, ice cream, and pavlova with cream and strawberries. A good (if elaborate) summer lunch. And then cheese and crackers, which became my dinner as well.

I deliberately bought the smallest ham I could find (and free-range, of course). It was 1.6kg (about 4lbs), so we’re still left with quite a bit of ham in the fridge. My husband will no doubt do what he can to make it into sandwiches, and perhaps it will find its want into an omelette or soup, but at least it’s a much more manageable size than the ham we gave away. The leftover salad was taken care of within 24 hours, and there was no leftover dessert. There’s still a lot of cheese, and booze, and chocolate, but everything will dwindle with time. The napping may also have been an side-effect of the ongoing snacking.

After lunch, for some reason my family felt motivated enough to drive out to the lighthouse on the Manukau Heads. None of us had ever been there. Only thing is, it’s a long, narrow and windy road, and it turns out that the gate to the lighthouse reserve closes at 5pm – at least that’s what the sign said. So by the time we’d picked our way up the peninsula we never did get to see the lighthouse, but I look pictures of the landscape just to entertain myself. The feathery grass, the pitted sand bank, the rough moss and bracken. It was quite beautiful in its own way. Rugged and windswept – part of an older world.

It is frankly a miracle to be able to spend both Christmas and Boxing Day with my husband, and neither of us have to work. We went down to the beach on Boxing Day (where I slipped over on a rock pool and sliced my hand open on the barnacles). The beach was virtually empty, which I guess meant that everyone else was out shopping. We wandered around the point at low tide and found a freshwater spring and a small cave. My husband made jokes about hunting for signs of “sea-squatch”. We found oysters and tiny crayfish, but left them alone. It was an idyllic way to spend a quiet, lazy day.

Now… back to that ham.

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Dinner

It’s undoubtedly a sign of how shitty your work week has been when you come home on a Friday night and get out the cider and a giant Toblerone.

This wasn’t actually my dinner. I cheered myself up by making venison, butternut and feta empanadas, which I’ve been meaning to make for ages. I bought the venison steaks on special about a week ago and they’ve been staring at me in the fridge ever since.

But, in retrospect, I ruined them. They were leaner than lean – I mean almost purple they were so dark. It’s easy to ruin venison when it’s this lean. I rubbed them with cumin, cilantro, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon. I flash-fried them in a hot pan for less than 60 secs per side. I let them rest in the same pan so they could release their juices and lose all of that sizzle-tension that causes them to shrink in the heat. And then I sliced them up. And they were beautiful – medium rare, soft as butter, delicious… But then I folded the slices into my empanadas and cooked them again. They turned from soft and buttery to slow-cooked flaky, and lost some of that wondrous flavor.

I should have just done venison steaks and coleslaw for dinner. They were perfect before I cooked them again. You live and learn.

And then my lovely husband came home with flowers because he’s lovely. And Scrappy fell asleep against me as I lay on the couch – curled up against my cheek with his head on my cleavage, as he twitched and fidgeted and dreamed. It was sweet. This is the stuff that makes me carry on.

This and, you know: cider and chocolate.

Giving Thanks

Why exactly do we insist on giving thanks by eating copious amounts of food? It does kind of make sense if we are thankful for a harvest, and if the weeks leading up to this have been starving times where we waited impatiently for the food to come… But like most people in the Western world, I have a supermarket nearby, so the highs and lows of subsistence farming no longer affect me. Basically I’m just showing thanks through gluttony.

And there’s still Christmas to come.

My husband was grateful though. Grateful that I would rush home after 11 hours at work to cook a big meal so that he could come home from his work day and eat dinner with his wife. And I am grateful that he is wonderful and he wants to have a meal with me. And that he will do the dishes.

I’m grateful that we finally found a section to buy, and figured out how to make the loan work, even though it’s currently crippling us financially.

I’m grateful that we have a happy home, with 3 sometimes-lovely cats (even though Scrappy kept jumping up on the table throughout dinner and trying to steal turkey off our plates).

I’m grateful that our plants are mostly growing, and in a few months there will be harvests of our own to do.

But mostly I am grateful for him and how supportive and kind he is. I am grateful for that every day.

Despite the harshness of the past winter, there is so much to be grateful for this year.

 

Summer is Still Coming

It’s surely a sign that the hot weather is nearly upon us, but I’m craving fresh, cool and crunchy tastes at the moment. Plus it’s hard to find good Mexican food in New Zealand – and if my husband wasn’t home then I’m the sort of person who’d be eating Mexican food every other day. Still, after a sunny afternoon out weeding the garden and planting vegetables, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I sat down and ate all of this. But it’s mostly vegetables and fruit, so surely that makes it ok.

I also don’t usually write recipes, because I’m an “instinct cook” and tend to just make things up and improvise the quantities of things on the basis of how I feel on the day. It does make it hard to replicate my successes, but it also means that I’m never fully sure what will appear after I’ve spent some time in the kitchen – so that keeps it fun and interesting. “Yes, I tried adding nutmeg to that… no, it didn’t work.” There’s not really much you could do to muck up something like this though, and you could just add or subtract bits as needed. Got strawberries? Toss those guys in there! Don’t like avocado? No biggie. So here goes my version of a recipe:

Chicken fajitas. Chicken strips marinaded in lime juice, olive oil, salt, cilantro, chipotle, ground cumin, and liquid smoke. Then fried until golden. Then add sliced bell pepper, onions and remaining marinade to the same pan and reduce while the chicken rests. Wrap it all in soft tortillas.

Blackened corn pico de gallo. Grill a fresh corn cob with a little olive oil and salt, until the kernels start to char. Leave to cool, then slice off the kernels. Toss together with diced red onion, diced tomato, diced avocado, torn fresh cilantro, a little chili powder, and a little lime juice.

Watermelon salad. Slice strips of fresh watermelon and dice cucumber. Toss together with olive oil and lime juice, then add finely cut mint. Crumble through some feta, and finally sprinkle with a dash of garlic salt.

And that’s it. It took about an hour to marinade and about 30 minutes to do all the other prep and cooking. Plus my husband ate Mexican food with me, so that’s a bonus.