Month: August, 2014

Baking the Perfect Cake to Remind us of Italy

For the whole of 2013, Ollie and I were doing the big LD. He lived in Taipei, Taiwan and I lived in Auckland, New Zealand. We figured it was worth it as it meant I got my teacher’s registration and he got us a visa for the States, but it was pretty hard. To break up the year, we met in Europe, visited my sister who was living in Paris and some good friends who were honeymooning in Italy.

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While we were in Italy we drank lots of coffee and red wine, we ate obscene amounts of pasta and we looked at beautiful churches. We stayed with Courtney and Craig in a beautiful farm house in Tuscany, recommended by an Italian friend in Auckland. When we arrived, the dark clouds threatened rain and the countryside around us smelt of earth and the start of autumn. Stepping through the old doors, we were welcomed by a warm olive oil and lemon cake sitting on the big wooden table, it smelt incredible. We had espresso and cake and looked out over the olive groves as the sun peeked through the clouds. It felt like we were in a postcard. Italy.DSCF1691DSCF1604

DSCF1556DSCF1607Since then, both Courtney and I have been obsessed with olive oil cake. I made one the other day that tasted like disinfectant, but she sent me through the recipe for this one I made today. Heaven.

Olive Oil and Lemon Cake

3/4 cup of olive oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
I vanilla pod
1 1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 2/3 cup brown sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder

DSCF3796Whisk all the wet ingredients then add the flour and baking powder. Pour into a greased loaf tin and cook in the oven for 45 minutes at 180. Both the lemon and olive oil make this cake taste really fresh, mellowed by the vanilla and yoghurt. Perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon, but it would also be delicious with vanilla ice cream after dinner. 

You can also add finely chopped rosemary to this recipe for the ultimate cake.

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P.S. The pretty Europe photos are by Ollie. You can see more of his stuff here.

 

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Easy Sunday Lunches

Sunday dawned grey and dreary, the ground was damp outside from the light drizzle that never seems to turn into rain. We met up with some family friends to eat toast and drink coffee huddled against the wind and fog at the Mill, went to the farmer’s market then mooched around the apartment with the heater on. I wrote some cards (I love snail mail), finished reading Room by Emma Donoghue and then made us some pasta for lunch. It was ridiculously easy and was perfect for a Sunday.

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Zucchini Sunday Pasta

2 cloves of garlic
Half an onion
2 zucchini
A few leaves of basil and parsley
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
A sprinkling of pine nuts

Throw the garlic, onion and zucchini into a blender and pulse until finely chopped. In a pan, heat plenty of olive oil and then add the mixture seasoned generously with salt and pepper. Put on a pot with plenty of water for the pasta and by the time the pasta is cooked, so is your sauce. Add the pasta to the pan with some grated  parmesan, the lightly toasted pine nuts and swirl it all together until each piece of pasta is coated. Check for seasoning and then dish up.

Just in time, the sun came out. We opened the windows, greedily scraped our bowls clean and then ventured out to explore around the headlands by the abandoned Sutro baths in the sunshine. A perfect Sunday.

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What I’ve been reading…

I often get emails from friends asking what I have been reading lately, and there is nothing I love more than discussing books and how people felt about them. It doesn’t need to be an in depth literary analysis, deciding who would be the biggest babe of all the characters is just fine by me!

So here we have what I have read since I last posted about reading. Besides from my beautiful new copy of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries…

I just finished NW by Zadie Smith this morning. I enjoyed it, but not as much as her last two, On Beauty is such a great novel. I really enjoyed The Flame Thrower by Rachel Kushner but want to find someone to discuss the ending with. It was one of those ones where you turn the page and are surprised it is over. Goodbye Sarajevo is written by two sisters Hana Schofield and Atka Reid who escaped from the Bosnian war and came to New Zealand as refugees. It made me realise how little I know about the conflict, despite having been to the countries effected while backpacking round Europe. I also got on a San Francisco buzz and read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, a novel spanning generations of Chinese immigrants to the city. And a more contemporary take on the city, society and the impact of technology on our interactions, David Egger’s The Circle. To top this off, I have just finished the manuscript of a friend’s first book, very exciting!

Any recommendations of what to read next?

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Bonding Over Pineapple Lumps

About a month ago, Ollie and I went into a cool wee shop just round the corner from our apartment. The kind that sells beautiful greeting cards, necklaces, tea towels and candles. The girl working there was eating pineapple lumps so of course, we struck up conversation. She had just received a care package from her mum back in New Zealand containing the pineapple lumps and large amounts of Whittaker’s chocolate. She seemed lovely, so I went back in the next week and gave her my number. Now this may seem rather forward, but in a city where you don’t know many people and you meet a good one, you just have to be bulshy!

Turns out we have a whole lot in common, both having studied English and Art Theory, worked in galleries around NZ, and have since been hanging out. Last week we were going to be going to an art exhibition after work, but cold misty weather, tired feet and hungry tummies brought us up to our place with some red wine instead. I rummaged in the fridge and found a cauliflower, some chicken stock in the freezer, and this cauliflower risotto was made.

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Cauliflower Risotto – thanks Jamie O.

1 cauliflower
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 stick celery
1 glass of wine
1 1/2 cups of amborio rice
1 litre chicken stock
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan

For the Pangrattato
A chunk of stale bread, I used walnut bread
3 anchovies
Chili flakes
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
Olive oil

Firstly, attack your beautiful cauliflower. Trim the leaves off and cut out the middle trunk part so you are left the florets. Add these to your pan of hot stock and they will start to soften. Next, finely slice the middle trunk, the onion, garlic and celery stalk and gently fry for about 15 minutes, or until they have softened. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and fry until it is slightly translucent. Next add the glass of wine and stir until the smell of alcohol has disappeared.

You can now start adding the stock and cauliflower bit by bit, little by little. The more you stir, the creamier it gets. You can smash up some of the cauliflower and leave other bits larger to keep the texture interesting. Continue until the rice is cooked and all the cauliflower has been added. The rice should be soft, but still have a bit of bite.

Remove from the heat and add the parmesan. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. This lets the rice get really creamy and thick so don’t skip this step.

While this is happening, roughly chop the walnut bread. In a pan, fry the anchovies and chilli in the olive oil until the anchovies have melted down into a slaty oil. Add the breadcrumbs, stirring and tossing constantly until golden brown.

Serve with the pangrattato sprinkled on top, and some fresh parsley if you have it. The combination of the homely, creamy cauliflower and the crunchy, spicy and salty bread is heavenly. All the more so on a misty weekday night with a glass of wine and a new friend. The ultimate of girl’s nights.

Roasting Summer

I don’t have a sweet tooth, I don’t crave cakes or cookies. In saying this, after dinner I often feel like I need a little something else. This generally comes in the form of a cup of tea and piece of dark chocolate, but has taken a new turn with all the stone fruit we have in our fridge.

Roasted peaches are easy. You put them in the oven and then magically come out sweet, gooey and a bit like thick jam half an hour later. They are perfect to have with natural yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, and when you sprinkle some goodies on top, they are one delightful pudding.

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Roast Peaches

1 peach per person, white or yellow fleshed

On each, a sprinkling of
-coconut flakes
-vanilla seeds
-steel ground oats
-roughly chopped almonds
-honey/brown sugar

Simply cut the peaches in half, remove the stone and sprinkle with a combination of coconut, vanilla, almonds, oats and sugar. I personally don’t add the sugar as I think the peaches are sweet enough without it, but it is entirely up to you and your tastes. These are kind of like mini peach crumbles and if you have any left over, they are delicious cold as a snack.

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The Danger of a Single Story

Last year I taught Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel Purple Hibiscus to my Year 12 English class. This was initially met with resistance. There were words in Igbo, they didn’t understand what they meant, it didn’t have a sequel, it wasn’t set in a dystopian wasteland, I hadn’t taught a lot of them before and they wanted to push my limits. I asked them how many had read a book that wasn’t written by a white person before. I was met with shocked and silent stares, and only a couple of students put up their hands. I tried to explain the importance of reading a whole range of authors, of genres, of stories. It is in doing this we can move beyond a chiched understanding of the world, and begin to understand what is is really like to walk in someone else’s shoes. I decided I was not doing this idea justice. Who am I, a white middle classed woman, to tell a class of Samoan, Tongan, Maori, Croatian, Indian and Pakeha students this? So we watched this. It is amazing.

So when my friend Grace asked me if I wanted to go and see Adichie in conversation with David Eggers, I almost melted with excitement. I get to see her talk for real! I will let you know how she is. Amazing, no doubt.

If you want to read anything by her, she has written Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. And yes, she is the one that is sampled on that Beyonce song.

Enjoy.