February 10, 2016
“A bach (pronounced ‘batch’) is a small, often very modest holiday home or beach house.”*
This summer we were lucky enough to score ourselves a bach holiday in Scandretts Bay, about one hour’s drive north from Auckland. Four nights, right on the water, in two simple dwellings with bunk beds, linoleum floors, formica tables, cupboards reserved for old books and board games with dice missing and mismatched furniture sourced exclusively from garage sales and secondhand stores. Getting the booking for eight adults and our three associated kidlets was essentially a lottery win as the baches are managed by the Auckland Regional Council who maintain a complicated booking system which defies logic and leaves ninety per cent of interested parties bereft. On the day that bookings for summer opened (six months earlier, in winter) my Mum was lined up outside the council offices at the crack of dawn and I was at home, on the phone, listening the soothing sounds of nineties pop music, the same three tracks on repeat.
Finally, I got an answer from a real, live person and the booking went something like this “Scandretts Bay! Any time in December or January! We don’t mind which baches! We don’t care how many days!” Time was of the essence as other customer service reps were booking at exactly the same time. The woman I spoke with looked up option after option, with many a “Oh, that might work! Oh no, it’s just been taken.” Finally, after much problem solving, we had our four nights. I promptly called Mum who had been less lucky. By the time she got to the counter just a few minutes later all the available bookings had vanished. That we’d secured two whole baches for four whole days was cause for much whooping and cheering.
February 3, 2016
Glorious citrus. It’s that time of year over here: beautiful, ripe, fragrant oranges, tangelos, mango and blood oranges, grapefruits and sweet limes in abundance on the store shelves. No, they’re not local, but they’re…kind of?…in season. In California. Anyway, I can’t let a January go by without at least thinking of making marmalade, though, admittedly, sometimes the thinking is as far as I get. And if it’s turning into that kind of January, I always take the lazy way out and make whole orange muffins, a recipe given to me by my friend, Anna.
And they’re great–tangy and light, moist with raisins and easy to whip up. Trust me to stuff some of those flavours into a cookie and then try and make them gluten-free. What?
These are not refined, elegant cookies. They’re granola-esque. Squat and burly. Maybe a little bit lumberjack. Bear with me if that descripton made you think of beards and sweaty plaid shirts. I decided to nix the raisins this time in favour of chocolate chips, because when is that NOT a good idea? There’s one of my new favourite flours in there too–pumpkin seed flour. High in protein and fibre, and that gorgeous green colour. And while you’ll see a bowl of chopped walnuts in some of the photos, I haven’t included them in the final recipe because they took the cookies to a lumberjack extreme and I didn’t think we wanted that. Not this time, anyway. There’s half a whole orange (sounds like a contradiction but it’s not) and enough coconut to give the cookie a nice chew. Homely, perhaps, but tasty business for a wet January in need of some sunshine.
Whole Orange Cookies with Coconut and Chocolate Chips
Adapted, sort of, from this recipe
*Note that you’ll need GF oats and other ingredients to make it truly gluten-free. That’s not a concern in my house, so I don’t worry so much.
1 cup oat flour (you can blitz rolled oats in the food processor if you don’t have the flour on hand)
2/3 cup pumpkin seed flour (you could try this too, though I bought mine pre-ground)
1/2 cup panela sugar (or brown sugar, though brown will make the cookies slightly sweeter)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt (if using table salt, use less)
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips (or more if you like your cookies loaded)
1/2 a whole orange, chopped roughly
1/4 cup grapeseed oil, or other oil
Preheat your oven to 350 and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Mix the oat flour, pumpkin seed flour, baking powder, salt and coconut in a bowl. In a food processor or blender (the former will work better), grind the chopped 1/2 orange until it’s fairly smooth. There will be bits of rind and that’s okay. Add the egg and oil to the orange and blend. Pour the wet ingredients from the food processor over the dry ingredients and stir to combine evenly. Then fold in the chocolate chips. Let the cookie dough rest in the fridge for about ten minutes to firm up a little. Form the slightly chilled dough into balls and place on the cookie sheet about an inch apart. They don’t really spread, so no worries about crowding. Press down gently on the cookies to flatten them a little.
Cook for between 14 and 16 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through. My oven runs a little cold, so keep an eye on your cookies, as they could brown more quickly than mine do. Leave the cookies on the sheet for a few minutes after removing from the oven–they fall apart if you try to lift them off right away. Once slightly cooled, move to a rack and cool completely. They’ll lose any tasty crispness if you store them in an airtight container, but they’re enjoyable regardless. This recipe makes about 12 cookies, though, so you may not have any for tomorrow.
January 27, 2016
Last year we were fortunate enough to go to Europe – Croatia and France – to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. It’s no secret I’m a huge francophile. The french chapter titles and macarons in my first book, The Colour of Tea, no doubt gives that particular game away. If I could I’d be one of those people who split the year between New Zealand and Europe; you know, just casually, but ahhhh….#reality??!!! I love France and the more I see of the country the more there is to see. My first trip was in a campervan named Fred with my friend, Brad, when I fell in love, hard, with Dordogne, Brittany and Paris. Those places never left my memory or my wishlist to scoot back to as soon as I could get the chance.
As always, food plays a part in my romance. Of all the meals I love best in France breakfast is my absolute firm favourite. Who does breakfast, that potentially dull meal, better than the French? The flaky pastries, the bright jams, the dark, thick bowls of chocolate. During our most recent trip we stayed at several Bed and Breakfasts (much better and easier than hotels when travelling with tots, see my blog post here!) and were spoiled with breakfasts fit for royalty. Not permitted to dine and dash, each one featured several courses – cheeses, eggs, gently poached fruit, local specialties, hand-squeezed juices and breads – and long conversations about education, politics and history.
When you are in love with a place there is no souvenir you can bring home to adequately remind you of the memories you made there. Nothing to replicate the multi-sensory experience – smells, sounds, touch and taste. Photographs are too lifeless, trinkets are just trinkets. But food can almost do the trick; which is why we have been having french breakfasts at home lately.
It sounds much fancier than it really is. Here is the recipe: Firstly, I don’t make courses, don’t even bother with anything savoury, instead going straight to the sweet-stuff (my modus operandi). I would like to say I make the croissants from scratch but I don’t. I buy them par-baked and frozen, made by Paneton, and then just pop them in the oven after a brush with egg. I buy Bonne Maman jam – the cherry one is drippy and delicious – and pair it with Lewis Road butter because NZ dairy gets a thumbs up from me. I fill a huge teapot with cocoa, sugar, dark chocolate, boiling water and milk to make enough french-style hot chocolate for all of us. We use paper napkins. The girls pick flowers from the garden and put them in little glass bottles. I use a linen tablecloth. We eat off melamine plates I bought at Mont Saint-Michel, with pictures of princesses and dinner etiquette written in french. So it seems fancy but it’s not. Still, it embodies a little of what I love about true french breakfasts. Things hot and sweet and decadent, attention paid to settings and company. Flowers, a little frill, a moment to appreciate good food and good company. And, most importantly, an absence of rush.
Clearly, the little people agree with me… (Although that could be chocolate / jam / pastry love going on in that expression there)
Do you recreate food from your travels? What are your favourite food + travel memories?
PS. You can read more about our European trip avec Littles here and here. Plus, Beth of BabyMac fame, was on part of the trip too, you can go spy on her incredible photos if you like. Here is her Nine Things to Love about Croatia, Top tips for Long Haul Flights with Kids and a Wrap-Up / Best of the Best of the Entire, Incredible Adventure.
PPS. That top photo was taken at our all-time favourite accommodation in San Malo, Brittany, a bed and breakfast named La Malouinière des Trauchandières. The huge, beautiful house is an old ship Captain’s house from the 1700’s, set on five acres of land. Our breakfast with Agnes and Claude featured fresh baked brownies, the famous, local yoghurt, poached apricots and eggs with knitted covers. We loved our meal so much that Claude burned a copy of the music that was playing during it and gave it to us before we left. I wanted to adopt Agnes and Claude and bring them home in my suitcase.
January 21, 2016
Celebrations–don’t you love them? Birthdays, yes, but also seasons, babies, raises, whatever gets you cake. Today I felt a celebration coming on, but of a different kind. Hannah’s written before about the job of being a writer and how some days are good and some not so good. And I know she’d agree with me that we artists shouldn’t complain because we get to make art and that’s, well, kind of frivolous. (I’m not saying the arts aren’t important–believe you me, I’m a big supporter of the Humanities on all levels. But as this wise lady says, making art is mostly not the same as doing open heart surgery on someone. It’s necessary, but it’s not a defibrillator.)
Which is to say (whew!) that while I won’t whinge about the difficulty of making art, the celebrations–the real, relief-filled, soul-satisfying ones–can be kind of few and far between. So when they actually happen, it feels like a big deal (to us, in our little writing spaces, with likely no one around to hear our little cheers).
Maybe I’ve worked this into too much anticipatory lather–no, I didn’t get a six figure book deal (anytime, universe!). But I had one of those days. I’ll call it a YES day. It wasn’t even the day I handed something in or finished a big story. It was just one of those rare days when I wrote my ass off and got somewhere and felt like I might even be able to keep 40% of the words. It felt like YES when so many other writing days feel like MEH, or NO WAY or UGH or SNORE.
Huzzah. Jam tarts were in order.
The thing about jam tarts (my jam tarts, anyway) is they are such easy, un-pretty, childhood-memory-filled morsels, yet they give just as much celebratory pleasure as a big slice of chocolate cake. [Damn. Now I want chocolate cake.] There’s the miniature factor and the cute factor and the jamminess factor. They’re just pastry and jam, for goodness sake. Isn’t it a bigger feat for two lowly ingredients to achieve that nostalgic power than the ten that go into fussy old chocolate cake (love you!)? All hail the jam tart, I say. Strawberry or apricot or plum or what have you. And all hail YES days.
January 13, 2016
I have a theory that whatever natural feature, resource, phenomenon surrounds you when you are young embeds itself into your psyche. It forms a part of who you are. If you grew up by mountains, you are going to crave mountains. If you grew up near fields, you’re going to need open space.
There was a beach at the bottom of the hill, a fifteen minute walk, from where I grew up. Mum says I was one of those children that wasn’t graced with modesty early and was still lolling about in the sand, buck-naked, at a time when most kids were concerned about such things (I’m talking six years old or so, in case you were worrying). I remember afternoons at that beach, with neighbouring families and primary school friends, efforts to dig the deepest hole and doing “supermans” on the waves. There were rock pools to paddle in and sea anemones to prod fingers in. Once a month or so, the Bird Rescue lady would come down with boxes of injured blue penguins, to let them splash in the rock pools. Bruised and broken, missing eyes or bits of flippers, I thought they were the sweetest things I had ever seen.