Category: Musings

Fast Times in Tahoe

When I go travelling, I like cities. I like galleries, museums, bustling streets, cafes and bars. So when Ollie and I booked to spend four days at Lake Tahoe, (obviously, I prepared mentally by listening to Fast Times in Tahoe on repeat) I was excited but never expected to have so much fun. To get out of the car into the cold, clean, dry air was like heaven. We stayed at Basecamp Hotel which was perfect, it is run by really helpful people and has a great breakfast to make full use of before setting out for the day. We did outdoorsy things- we hiked, we biked, we climbed up mountains and through forests and had the most amazing time.

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Even when we close our apartment windows at night, we can still hear the traffic outside, so to be in the silent, crisp air was refreshing in so many ways. Although Tahoe is an alpine region, it still has plenty of deciduous trees to give me my autumn leaf fix (I miss seasons so much living in San Francisco). It made me realise that when you live in a busy city, it can be nice to get out amongst nature when you need a break.

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If you are visiting Tahoe, I would recommend doing the Mt Tallac hike. It is a 16km round trip climbing 3300 feet through forest, past lakes, and over rocks to the Mt Tellac peak. We had lunch at the top, surrounded by breathtaking views. Luckily we were a little better prepared than the day earlier where we set off with just a jumper and a brown paper bag with our lunch in. This hike needed jackets, thermals, water, suncream and a camera.

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This is us at the top! I was feeling especially proud of myself as I am now sporting an ever expanding bump that has been leaving me rather exhausted and nauseous.

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We have now decided we are going to set out and explore the hikes within driving distance of San Francisco, so any tips are very welcome. The perks of not drinking- waking up early in the weekends, ready to go adventuring!

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And I’m back… with some midweek spaghetti

A couple months back, I finally found myself a job and started working. As well as being busy during the day again, I was a little under the weather and I didn’t feel like cooking much. Uninspired, I fell back on old favourites. I stopped blogging. Things got busy, new habits developed and in this case, they didn’t involve blogging. Life ambled on.

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I hadn’t really thought much about the blog until a few days ago when I received a beautiful email from a wise student who inspired me, kind words from another friend about how she misses my recipes, another wanting to know what I have been reading. And so I’m back. Back to the blog and looking forward to it. I’ve been talking with a very-talented-certain-someone about making it look prettier and have been thumbing through new and old cook books getting excited.

I thought I would start with a quick and easy pasta dish that is perfect for a midweek, after work dinner. It’s quick to throw together, and can be used by scrounging around at the back of the fridge- there always seem to be half eaten jars of olives back there. I think it is great because of my love of anything that is either salty or vinegary. Don’t worry about chocolate or cakes for me, but salt and vinegar chips are a winner. Pickles, olives. fries and mustard are also good options. This is slightly healthier than the items on that list, but tastes just as good.

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Midweek Spaghetti 

1 handful of olives, I used a mix of green Sicilian olives and black Kalamata
3 diced tomatoes – I used Early Girl
1 big handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 red onion very finely chopped
1 Tbsp capers
Salt and pepper
Big, big glug of olive oil
Small glug of balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 handful of rocket
1 handful of fresh basil and Italian parsley
Spaghetti

In a large bowl, add the destoned, halved olives, capers, tomatoes, red onion, tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic. If you leave these for half an hour, they will slowly marinate in their own goodness and the bite will go from the red onion. While the spaghetti is cooking, add the rocket, basil and parsley to the bowl, then toss in the spaghetti. You want to eat this immediately, while the spaghetti is still hot, and it tastes great with some slithers of parmesan over the top.

DSCF3983It’s fresh and tasty and perfect for a summer’s evening.

It’s good to be back.

Anna x

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.

 

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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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.

How Things Turn Out

I made the switch from working in museums and taught English at a girl’s school in Auckland for the last two years. It was the most rewarding, energising, and exhausting thing I have ever done. My students challenged me, frustrated me and amazed me every day. When I left, the tears, kind words and hugs were overwhelming and I knew I had found the career that I would continue for the rest of my life. I think about my students all the time and wonder how they are going, what they are reading and whether they are continuing to grow into the incredible young women I know they are.

I believe in education to expand student’s minds, they should ask questions and say when they don’t agree with something. I don’t think they should be consumed by rules and rote learning. So when I was offered a job at a school here, I thought long and hard, about the school itself and my very bizarre interview in which I was asked nothing about my teaching practice, and decided no. It was not for me.  I didn’t want to settle for a school which did not allow me to teach the way I teach and put the emphasis on the wrong things.

You never know where life will lead next. For me, it is to beautifully designed skin care. I will be working at Aesop. Not what I initially planned for living and working in this country, but I think it is going to be exciting. Their products are amazing, the design, beautiful and the other people that work for the company seem so lovely and friendly.

I start tomorrow so decided to treat myself and splash out for a hair cut so I’m looking good for my first day at work. I now have hair of varying lengths, a short and crooked fringe and a significantly lighter wallet. I am deeply unimpressed by my first American haircut. And Ollie is in China this week for work so I couldn’t even come home to rant at him about it.

But when I got home there was a beautiful book waiting for me, a delivery from a special friend far away. And so I sat down to write a blog post on things never quite being how you expect them to be. And how that isn’t such a bad thing.

Pasta al Pomodoro

Yesterday I talked with a friend who is back in the stifling summer heat of Milan for a wedding. I was taken back to my time living there and how the two of us realised we were living just down the road from each other, friends from school who had fallen out of touch. I could see her as clearly as if it was yesterday, in gumboots on the side of Viale Gran Sasso in the slushy grey snow as she waited for me. We were getting our first of many espresso together in the city we Kiwis were choosing to call home. Sometimes it seemed like we were the only sane ones in the whole city, other times it seemed like we were the ones creating all the drama. I was taken back to the friendships and the adventures, the flavours and fragrance of an Italian kitchen. The bag of tomatoes in my fridge were calling to me and I knew what I had to do with them.

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Last Night’s Pasta al Pomodoro

A generous glug of olive oil
1 big garlic clove
2 anchovy fillets
A sprinkling of chilli flakes
1/2 red onion
6 big fresh tomatoes (I had a few yellow cherry tomatoes I threw in too for good measure)
A peeling of lemon skin very finely chopped
6 green olives
1 Tbsp capers
Salt

Cover the bottom of a thick bottomed pan with olive oil and then add your whole garlic clove. When you can start to smell the garlic, add the chilli flakes and anchovy fillets and slowly slowly fry these until they dissolve into the oil making a delicious salty, spicy and garlicky oil (I have been known to finish here and coat the pasta with the oil for dinner. If I learnt one thing from Italy it is that simplicity is always best). Next, finely dice the red onion and add this with the lemon zest to slowly soften in the oil. Fill a bowl with boiling water and drop your tomatoes in. Leave for 30 seconds and then pull out and peel the skin off. Chop the tomatoes up and add these to the onion. There will be a lot of liquid from the tomatoes at this stage, so you want to leave them to simmer and thicken until you are left with a deep red sauce. Add the capers and stoned and cut up olives and you have yourself a sauce. Cook your pasta – I think something long and skinny is best for a sauce like this – and combine them. You don’t want your pasta to be swimming in the sauce, but nicely shiny from it. Top with grated parmesan to really make your meal amazing.

The beauty of pasta al pomodoro is that there is no one way to do it. I am sure there are many nonne out there who are shaking their heads at this recipe, but there seem to be hundreds of variations on eating tomatoes and pasta together. It can be as simple as oil, garlic and a tin of tomatoes. Either way, you know it is going to taste gooooood. It is my go to food, my comfort food and my favourite dinner in the world. Plus, I can put away serious amounts. Very happily.

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While the pasta cooked, we had a little marinated zucchini salad which was a lovely combination of fresh crunch, zingy vinegar and soft mozzarella. 

Marinated Zucchini Salad

Half a green zucchini
Half a yellow zucchini
1/2 clove of fresh garlic minced
Olive oil
The juice of a lemon
Salt
A splash of white wine vinegar
Handful of fresh basil, torn
A few balls of fresh mozzarella
Handful of baby spinnach
A few pieces of prosciutto torn into smaller pieces

Finely slice the zucchini and put in a bowl with the olive oil, garlic, basil, lemon juice, vinegar and salt. Leave these for a couple of hours to marinate. Just before you serve, add the baby spinach, prosciutto and mozzarella. Easy as that.

Buon appetito a tutti. And Livs, I wish I was there with you x

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Passing Time

I am sitting at the table by the window, nail polish drying on my finger nails, cup of tea close by as I try to distract myself from my impending job interview. One o’clock must be one of the worst times to have one. I feel like I can’t really do anything this morning, because what if I am late? I am very good at being late. But it is also a long time to sit around drinking tea and wondering what questions they might ask, what questions I should ask them…

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So instead, I will tell you what we had for dinner last night.

Slow Cooked Chicken Tacos

For the chicken

2 chicken thighs
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp spicy paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of brown sugar
1 garlic clove finely chopped
1 small handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
Enough water to cover the bottom of your dish

For the slaw

1/3 small red cabbage
1/3 small green cabbage
1 big handful of baby spinach leaves
1 handful of fresh coriander
3 radishes
2 spring onions
1 small tin of pineapple
Juice of 1 lime
Olive oil
Salt

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Place your chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, in a dish with a lid. Combine the ingredients and pour on top of the chicken -they want to be snuggled in there quite tightly so they don’t lose all the delicious flavours.  Add some water to the bottom of the dish – this stops it from drying out- and put in the oven at 150 degrees celsius/300 fahrenheit for about two hours or until the chicken falls easily off the bone with just a fork. Take the skin off, pull apart and then pour all the delicious juices over the top.

While the chook is cooking, finely slice all the ingredients for the slaw, combine in a bowl with the lime juice, olive oil and a splash of the juice from the can of pineapple for the dressing. You can use whatever you want for the slaw, you just want to make sure you have a combination of flavours so there is earthy, spicy, tart and sweet crunching in your mouth.

Serve on either corn or flour mini soft tortillas and top with hot sauce should you wish. We have this amazing stuff that is made by firefighters in Palo Alto- sounds too good to be true huh?

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Normally by the time we have finished dinner the wind is blowing and the mist is swirling, but last night the evening was surprisingly balmy, so we climbed up to top of Buena Vista Park and looked out over the lights of the new city we call home.

A weekend of finding free things!

This week things have started to fall into place. I have managed to get myself a subbing job in a bookstore, met up with some old friends, made some new friends and found some awesome free things in our area. Friday night was an album release party at The Mill with a band playing, free Josey Baker breads, 4505 nachos plus BYO beers- it felt like a really fun house party in a cool space. Saturday was more free drinks, live music and food at the Public Bikes opening in Hayes Valley. So after that and an afternoon of eating ice cream in the sun, we wandered up the hill for a dinner at home. Herb crusted roast chicken with yummy summer salads.

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Herb Crusted Roast Chicken

1 onion quartered
1 lemon quartered
A big handful of fresh herbs – I used parsley, mint and basil as that is what I had, but wintry sage, rosemary and thyme would also be a good combo
Small handful of capers
3 cloves of garlic
Zest and juice of a lemon
1 Tbsp grainy mustard
BIG glug of olive oil
Sea salt

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First of all, stuff the cavity of the chicken with the onion and lemon. Next, finely chop the herbs, garlic and capers and mix them with everything else. Slather all over the chicken and pop her in the oven for about an hour. While she cooks, pull the tray out of the oven and scoop up the liquid from the chicken and pour it back over so the chicken doesn’t dry out.

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I served the chicken with an insalata caprese – three types of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and plenty of good olive oil and sea salt – and a zucchini and quinoa salad – three types of zucchini, loads of fresh herbs, slowly cooked onion, quinoa and a smokey dressing. It was lovely, the company was great and we found that the wine from Bi-rite is very good.

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On Sunday we went down to Civic Center to watch the final of the world cup and it was awesome! Heaps of people, flags, food trucks and cheering. It seems to me that there is plenty to do in this city without having to pay. Here’s to a week to follow up a good weekend.

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Memories of Strawberry Jam

When my friend Anna was pregnant with her gorgeous Maxime, she loved strawberry jam. Whenever I have it, I am taken back to her little home. We are sitting and talking together by the warmth of the heater, her drinking milo, mug balanced on her tummy, me drinking chamomile tea with honey, and the tree outside the window is heavy with lemons. Anna is eating strawberry jam on toast.

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With Anna in mind, I had a go making strawberry jam. I didn’t do a great job of measuring, watching the pot in case it boiled over or timing things, but the end result tastes pretty damn good with plenty of butter on toasted fresh bread.

Anna K’s Strawberry Jam

Strawberries
Brown sugar
Seeds from one vanilla pod
Juice of a lemon

If you want it to set more and be more jammy, use equal amounts of sugar and fruit. I just think that is a whole lots of sugar to be eating, plus I’m not really a sweet tooth, so I would rather have slightly sloppier jam that tastes like fruit, so I used less sugar, more fruit. Up to you with measurements.

Quarter the strawberries and put in a pot with the brown sugar. Leave for a couple of hours at room temperature. Apparently fruit likes to do this before it is made into jam, I don’t really understand why but other blogs told me so. Then put on the element with the other ingredients and bring to the boil. Be careful here, as it likes to overflow everywhere and get really sticky on the elements. I boiled mine for about half an hour and then poured it into a sterilised jar and left to set.

Enjoy this as a strawberry hit on vanilla ice cream. Or with butter, toast and tea, thinking of friends like Anna as I am.

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