December 8, 2016
You know when you see a sunset so smackingly gorgeous you can help smiling? Or the smell of summer flowers that takes you to three different places–or just the exact right one–in a single exhale? The ticklefest with a toddler that turns into an exhausted bear hug? The combination of spicy basil, acidic tomato and rich, luscious mozzarella with a dash of earthy balsamic vinegar? I don’t believe in perfect partners or jobs or books. My idea of perfection is just a moment that lives larger than itself. It’s a kind of perfection that’s fleeting and immeasurable.
Cue segue to butter.
These cookies with a cup of tea and rain sluicing down the windows, or late afternoon sun hitting your shoulders–these cookies are a moment. Simple, crisp, buttery and nostalgic.
They’re also my go-to for cutting out shapes for any occasion–Easter, birthdays, Halloween, Christmas–you can dress them in all manner of icing and decorations and they can be baked slightly soft or golden and crispy. A doubled batch of dough keeps in the freezer for weeks, probably months, which is the way I like to do it because going from dough to baked cookies is so much better than starting from scratch.
December 1, 2016
Getting away…from the kids. It’s been a long time coming for DH and I. Which is kind of unbelieveable because we’re the sort of people who jump at the chance to go off and enjoy ourselves, even if it means leaving the little ones at home. And yet.
I was at work a few weeks ago when a co-worker commented that he hadn’t been to a movie in ages–“since that one with the blue people.”
“Yeah,” he said.
That was 2009. Seven freaking years ago. I know that DH and I, as pre-parents, would never have imagined we’d go so long without walking across a pop-stained, popcorn-crusted theatre floor. And while it hasn’t been that long for us, mostly because our first kid wasn’t born until 2011, I can now understand how that could happen. Seven movie-free years can just happen to you.
So we decided recently to take the plunge, as it were, and go away for two nights–58 hours exactly–so as to restart the Avatar Clock, as I’m now going to call it.
There are several funny things about being away from your kids.
- How bad the last hour before you leave is. I’m sure it’s because you know you’re going away and there won’t be pee to clean off the floor or tantrums to calm in a coundown of minutes and part of you is already gone. Or maybe it’s that the kids sense something is up with their spidey senses. And that you forgot about three extra things you need to do before you can go. Whatever it is, the last hour is awful.
- The constantly swinging balance of how much you miss/don’t miss them. There are other people’s voices in there as well as your own, telling you not to worry, not to think about them. They’ll be fine! Just enjoy yourself. As if enjoying yourself is the thing you have to do with the most ardent furvour, no matter what. You must enjoy the hell out of every moment! Except that you think about their faces and wonder if you can FaceTime with them. But you shouldn’t–because you really are having a good time and seeing them might dampen that. Is that bad? Shouldn’t you be able to have a good old time without them playing with your thoughts like they’re marbles?
- The blessed honeymoon of coming home. The outstretched arms, the little voices, the sweet-smelling hair. The feeling of home after being away. Maybe, conversely, that’s the best part, the thing you do all the rest of it for. All the preparation, the departing angst, the frenzied enjoyment, the battle of guilt and bliss–it’s all for the first three hours, or maybe twenty-four, that you’re home. We missed you. No, we missed you. Squeezing all together on the couch, little knees digging into your ribs, the little one with his over-silibant S’s spraying into your face.
- And then they start hitting each other and an elbow knocks a cup of milk on the floor.
Here’s to getting away, and here’s to ice cream. Both noble and delicious pursuits.
November 22, 2016
I want you to meet the woman who saved my life.
Okay, a bit dramatic. I want you to meet the woman who saved my sanity. This is Rebecca Jones.
I’m guessing that you, like me, sometimes feel some, er, disdain, for dinner. Perhaps it’s not cooking the dinner but the preparation that goes into cooking the dinner (with kids / pets at your ankles and work / chores / worries on your mind). Perhaps it is deciding what to cook for dinner. Or, days earlier, figuring out which ingredients you need. Or shopping for said ingredients. Shopping for ingredients while children hang off the trolley like wild monkeys demanding and tantrumming like they just know your mental health is perilously fragile. Do any of these activities make you feel less than chirpy?! Don’t worry, I know those feels. And so does Rebecca Jones.
Thankfully, instead of losing her own sanity after the birth of her third child, Rebecca put those frustrations to good use and set up a business to cure them. Village Kitchen, Rebecca’s business and “baby”, as she describes it, provides delicious, hearty, home-cooked dinners. Think – slow-cooked meats and roasted vegetables, ribbons of papardelle, tangy fresh slaws, Mexican fajitas, Thai salads studded with pieces of pineapple or Beef Bourguignon. Traditional with a twist, I’d describe it. The kind of food you really, really want to make… but don’t have the time, patience, energy or inclination to do so.
Since our youngest was born we have been getting Village Kitchen meals for Matt and I several times a week. The meals are so hearty, tasty and “real” – they don’t use packet mixes or bought sauces and do not taste like takeaways – that we now have a subscription we simply roll over week to week. We know the food will be great and the portions generous – it is really good value for money – but frankly, mainly, Village Kitchen simply makes our lives a LOT easier. Initially I felt a bit guilty about getting help with dinners but now I just feel really lucky to have access to a service and business like Village Kitchen. Plus, it is so satisfying to support someone like Rebecca, who is creating a wonderful, thriving and meaningful local business.
Rebecca, tell the good people how Village Kitchen came to be:
Long story! It definitely didn’t happen overnight. It came from an idea I had after I had three babies…close together! We had no family anywhere near, and life was hard – so so hard! All I remember in that hazy blur was 1) how hard it was! 2) how, at the end of the day, when we’d finally got everyone into bed, all I craved was a beautiful, home-cooked dinner and some quiet time with my husband, and how that never actually happened and we always ended up with takeaways – EGH! And 3) the kindness of people, two in particular, that I met through Plunket [baby healthcare support and organisation in New Zealand]– local girls both with daughters born within 2 days of my eldest. In the early years, these lovely souls would appear at my door to take one or more toddlers away for an afternoon of fun – always just when I needed it most. So I got this enormous appreciation for doing things for others – it really resonates with me, because I really know how the teeniest act of kindness can make a world of a difference to someone (it did with me, a lot!).
Obviously doing nice things for others out of the goodness of one’s heart is not the sort of hard-nosed strategy one might build a wildly successful business around, but I feel that that philosophy does underpin everything we do at Village Kitchen. It genuinely makes me happy to know that what we are doing is lightening people’s load – lots of people! We know many of our people by name, we know what they like, what they don’t like, and we genuinely care about the meal that each customer will receive each evening. The feedback we receive on a regular basis makes it all so worthwhile. Village Kitchen has elicited an incredible response – I knew it would – so to be sticking to our values, and attracting new customers each week (as well as retaining our loyal fans) – well to me, it’s all good! I really believe that business doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be all ruthlessness and no heart – there is most definitely flexibility.
It seems to me that business-building really resonates with you, really fits who you are as a person. Was this always the case? Tell us about some of your past life jobs…
Okay, I’ve had some interesting ones…. Sorting dags (dictionary definition: lock of matted or dung-coated wool), pulling claybirds (from a 1m3 dugout for 2x 12hr days), clearing an acre of gnarly scrub by hand, scrubbing a vast cigarette-stained ceiling (stiff neck!). The awful ones spring to mind, but there have been so many interesting past life jobs. A best friend and I set up a ‘handyman/odd job’ business one school holidays. We charged $5/hr for both of us, and we cleaned windows, scrubbed toilets, polished silver, water-blasted, weeded, cleared out garages, cut back hedges – basically anything that needed doing. We were booked every single day of that summer hols, made several hundred dollars each and managed to fit in a huge amount of fun. It was most definitely a case of work hard, play hard. Neither of us will ever forget it – so much fun (despite most of it being back-breaking, smelly and horrid)! I’ve always craved independence, and to me having your own hard-earned money is hugely gratifying. That’s always been my big motivator – to earn your own money, and do with it what you will (for me, the big goal was getting overseas, to as many places as possible, off my own bat, which I did, and loved). It’s something I want to impress upon my own kids. To learn the value of a hard day’s work. Plus, I have huge determination. Tell me it can’t be done and I’ll be forced to prove you wrong. I don’t know where this craziness comes from! Sometimes it’s painful (ask my husband!).
Is that the advice you would give others who might want to start their own business – Be Determined? What do you advise others? Was there a pivotal event that spurred you on?
Erm… hang on tight? It is such an emotional rollercoaster! So many ups, and many downs – but these all balance out, and in the rare moments when I’m able to step back from the business, I get a huge sense of pride in what we have achieved, and continue to achieve.
The pivotal event I experienced wasn’t so much a ‘kick up the bum’ moment – because I was almost desperate to get Village Kitchen started – it was more that the tiny flicker of a dream I’d harboured, over the course of seven years of the demands of tiny people and domesticity, had grown into a raging bushfire! Our second daughter starting school in 2015 combined with reading a book on business by an entrepreneur I very much admire were the catalysts – I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer with Village Kitchen. So I started. And that part was remarkably easy – looking back!
So if entrepreneurship is at your core or in your blood….what lead you to work with food?
Well, I always loved food, and cooking, and I’ve got a massive sweet tooth. From 1997 to 2007, I lived in Europe – ten years in six different countries. During that time I experienced quite a few years of ill-health. It was not attributed to anything and never explained, until one specialist tested for coeliac disease. When I got the positive result I really despaired about the rest of my cake-eating future. Actually I got very down about it – such a sweet tooth, never to eat cake or biscuit again! But necessity made me look outside the square and actually the coeliac thing became very easy to manage. I found ways to build the sweet stuff back in (told you I am determined!). In recent years the popularity of gluten-free food, and even better ‘clean’ eating, has been so great for people like me. There are so many incredible sweet treats to be had that are kind to my tummy.
Who is your favourite chef or cookbook author?
Many many. My style is casual, but properly thought out, rustic, whole, homemade, seasonal, delicious. I admire the style of Al Brown and Jamie Oliver, people like that. Starting Village Kitchen brought me into contact with chef Jeremy Schmid. Such a dark horse on NZ’s cooking scene, but has excelled in almost anything you can think of in the industry. Not at all precious, very down to earth, incredibly clever, and so generous with his time, knowledge, equipment, supplies (especially in the early days when I was learning about ordering, quantities, suppliers, etc). I don’t think we’d be where we are without his guidance over the past 15 months. So yep I’d have to say Jeremy (and yes he’s a 3-time cookbook author – there’s nothing the man can’t do).
Pet food hates?
What about dream dinner party guests?
My Brick Lane (London) posse; all nine of us. School and university friends who ended up living together in London’s dodgy East End (it was dodgy then!) for several years. We would be sitting around our rickety old kitchen table, where we had so so many laughs, parties, tears, drama – but mainly laughs; with copious amounts of wine. And we’d likely be eating a curry from one of the world-famous Brick Lane curry houses we lived up the road from. We are spread out all around the world, so I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get together again but… one day!
Finally, what is life like as a business owner and parent of young kids? Which qualities are most important for the work that you do?
The business is like a fourth baby, but instead of fitting in around the other kids, as subsequent babies usually have to, this one takes front and centre stage for all of us and we all just squeeze in around it. Such a show off! I have to say, in the past 15 months my actual three children have become hugely resilient! Which I joke about, but secretly makes me feel pretty chuffed.
As for the qualities that are most important… Guts, stickability, determination, heart and compassion.
As you know, we don’t do sponsored posts around here (we are willing to accept very large donations from adoring fans, however) but I will make this one public service announcement / plea – Please don’t feel guilty about resenting (insert swear word) dinner or getting help to get it on the table. We all have mad, busy, full lives. We all have big and small humans to connect with, to love and to support, work to be done and projects to be completed. If you are lucky enough to be able to support a local business – and, therefore, family! – to give you a helping hand then I say – do it! In my experience, outsourcing dinner has made cooking more joyful again and gives our family extra opportunities to connect with one another.
So, thank you, Rebecca. My mental health gives Village Kitchen two thumbs ups, a huge hug, several high-fives and a big kiss.
November 17, 2016
Last year around this time I wrote about the Jane Austen tradition I wanted to start for Little e, given that she was turning an impressive four years old and it was about time to get meaningful. (Yes, I have written this year’s letter.) And now that she’s five (FIVE!), I felt my creative birthday juices flowing again.
It needed to include transit—the more modes the better—and yummy food, most of which would be types of dessert, and going somewhere super fun, of course. I had hoped to make it an overnight thing, but there wasn’t a ferry off our island at a reasonable time, so we settled for the first sailing in the morning and a really long day. More on that later.
November 9, 2016
You’ve probably realised my biscuit / cookie fanaticism by now. Absolutely love cake but if it’s me baking there’s just nothing better than “bikkies”. It might be because they are fast to make. It might be because you can eat the dough. Well. I know you’re not supposed to eat the dough. Raw egg alert! Don’t do it! But I totally do (purposefully buying the free-rangey-ist, organic-ist eggs I can lay my hands on, just so I feel a bit less wary when I’m neck deep in the mixing bowl).
I’m always surprised when others don’t share my enthusiasm for biscuits. I was even surprised when my kids suddenly became keen on cornflakes. The cornflakes I keep in the pantry only for making afghan biscuits. Not as a breakfast food!! Another shocker – my husband – who recently said “You know I’m not a massive biscuit fan.” – to which I could barely look him in the face. Who says that? It’s like this: “Look – a rainbow. Ewww. Gross.” Who isn’t keen on biscuits? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!
Such is my enthusiasm for bikkies that when B1 had a friend over for a playdate this week – a friend that is very intolerant of dairy and soy products – I made it a personal mission to make her chocolate chip cookies that were dairy-free. You probably don’t think you need another biscuit recipe in your life, but this is a good one to have up your sleeve. Besides which…BISCUITS. Need I start shouting again?
Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
Makes approximately 30 cookies. Recipe could be halved but I like to make and gift and hoard and feast.
1 cup coconut oil, softened but not melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons of peanut butter
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped dark chocolate
Cream together the softened coconut oil, sugars, egg, and vanilla extract (on medium-high speed if using a mixer) until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the peanut butter.
Add in flour, baking soda and salt, and beat on medium-low speed until combined. Fold in the chopped chocolate by hand until just combined.
Use a large tablespoon to measure out dough, then shape into balls and place them on a large plate. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade or 350 fahrenheit. Place chilled dough balls at least 2 inches apart on a baking paper / parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges are just set. The centres may look slightly undercooked. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Serve immediately or store in a sealed container for up to 1 week (Pfff. As if they are going to last that long). You can also freeze the cookies for up to 3-4 months (I know, right? Even funnier.)
This is a bikkie that’s cake-y inside and gooey and leaves your fingers covered in crumbs and chocolate-spotted. Sure, it’s a pain to chill the dough overnight, but it’s worth it and the biscuits hold together better that way. Clearly you’ll need to check if your guests are allergic to peanuts before offering them one, but if they are that does mean more for you. I was happy with them, the kids gave them the chocolatey thumbs-up and, as for the husband – he may have to move out if he continues making such crazy and flabbergasting remarks about baking.
Wishing you much happy, high-risk dough-eating,