No blog posts for ages and then, what? A sandwich? I’m afraid so. Truth is, I feel like I’ve lost my food mojo in the last couple of weeks. Life seems to have overtaken me; there seems to be too much going on and not enough time to do it in. I’ve been doing a lot of running, so I’m perpetually hungry (and tired), and spending hours in the kitchen is a luxury I don’t seem to have. 

Anyway, I’m hoping normal(ish) service will resume soon. In the meantime, here’s a sandwich I perfected earlier in the year, when I was on holiday, combining lots of running with lots of gardening, lots of reading and lots of sitting on our newly finished deck, thinking how life was pretty sweet.

The perfect tuna sandwich

Not surprisingly, good tuna and good bread are essential to the success of this sandwich. The absolute best baguettes I’ve found in Wellington are the Acme sourdough baguettes from Prefab, the best tuna is the Sirena brand (the one with the mermaid on the tin).

1 x 185g tin good quality tuna in oil, drained (reserve the oil)

2 tsp green peppercorns in brine, drained

2 tsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped

zest and juice of a lemon

2 tbsp mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Put everything in a small bowl and mix well. Add a little more oil if necessary. Pile into a halved baguette with some crunchy lettuce. Eat immediately.

What have you been up to while I’ve been away?

Less than two weeks in and I think I’ve cracked why parents get weepy about their child going to school. It’s not the thought of their little darling growing up, it’s the realisation that it signals the start of more than a decade of making school lunches.

As much as I know I should aspire to be the kind of ‘perfect mother who turns her kid’s lunchboxes into art’, it’s not going to happen. Especially because I am determined that lunchbox duty is a job to be shared by other members of this household who are old enough to handle a knife and go to the shops unaccompanied.

Here we have peanut butter, cream cheese and broccoli sprouts in a flatbread, some carrot sticks, a little parcel of Brazil nuts, a homemade chocolate muffin that’s much more nutritious than it looks (recipe coming soon!) and an apple.

But, crumbs, it’s hard to get my head around. I remember from my own childhood that all I wanted for a long period was luncheon sausage and tomato sauce in my sandwiches (the tomato sauce was Mum’s homemade one, in my defence). I recall my mother inserting all manner of ‘interesting’ things in my lunchbox: a pork pie (unsuccessful), nut-flavoured yoghurt (a disappointment) and – very occasionally, those triangles of plastic cheese (then, my idea of heaven). Nearly 35 years later, I still remember the shame at finding two used teabags in my teal-coloured lunchbox. My little friends Bernie and Jean-Anne ran to the staffroom for help – where the kind Mrs Wilson pointed out that, in fact, they were dried figs. Such things were rare at Atiamuri Primary, where other kids got little packets of crisps and shop-bought biscuits, or sandwiches wrapped up in the blue and white paper that the Sunday bread came in. Some even went home for lunch, returning with slabs of freshly baked Maori bread slathered with butter. There were probably others who had little for lunch and even less for breakfast.

Of course, that’s a far cry from what kids eat today – at least, if you believe everything you read. Pinterest is full of weird charts, which seem mostly designed for dieting adults (‘this snack is only 100 calories’ etc) and I feel thoroughly depressed at my culinary and parenting skills whenever I read Amanda Hesser’s Food 52 blog on what she puts in her twins’ school lunches.

Obviously I spend more time worrying about the contents of their lunches than I do about the weeds in my garden…

So I’m very grateful for Nicola Galloway’s advice on healthy school lunches, which is just about the most useful thing I’ve come across in the last couple of weeks is (and there’s a great cracker recipe in the post too). The basic message is not rocket science – kids need a balance of ‘good’ carbohydrates, protein and fibre to keep them sustained and alert, just like adults do.

I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is that makes them actually eat all their lunch at lunchtime (“I didn’t eat it Mum, I was too busy”) but it is getting eaten (and then some) for afternoon tea so I must be doing something right.

So tell me, please, what do you put in your kids’ lunchboxes? There are only so many more peanut butter and sprout sandwiches I can make this week…

UPDATE: I’ve just created this Easy Tasty Lunchbox Ideas Pinterest board to collate some ideas. Check it out – and let me know if you’d like to contribute!

T. S Eliot was wrong. April is not the cruellest month – at least not in the southern hemisphere, where it means a slew of public holidays, Easter and settled autumn sunshine. April is all about chocolate and hot cross buns and house guests and ‘is it drinks o’clock yet?’. At least, that’s how it was at our place.

First, the chocolate. As well as the gorgeous gilded bunnies I made with my pal Agnes (I was allowed to do the gilding, she did everything else), the single best Easter chocolate that passed my lips was a dark chocolate bunny filled with cinnamon-infused salted caramel from my local chocolatier, Bohemien Chocolates. I ate it in about three bites, then lay on the sofa in a state of complete satisfaction.

I made two huge batches of hot cross buns – the ones pictured above are made to the Little & Friday hot cross bun recipe, though I found the recipe in the book itself to be rather counter-intuitive and fiddled with it a bit to be sure it would work. I’ve found this to be true of several Little & Friday recipes and I think it’s more to do with editing than anything else. But it’s not very helpful to first-time bakers, is it? Anyway, these were good, but pretty heavy going to eat. I made a mega-batch of the Dan Lepard spiced stout buns the next day and they were much better. A little fiddlier to make, sure, but with better flavours and a much lighter texture.

As for the houseguests – they were of the very best kind. They performed magic tricks, provided high quality childcare, filled the fridge with exciting foodstuffs and good wine and cooked lovely dinners. The house hasn’t been quite the same since.

Instead, I’ve been cheering myself up with this – quite possibly the BEST peanut butter I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t think anything could top Pic’s Peanut Butter (the one with a poem written inside the label, if you can ever soak it off in one piece), but Fix and Fogg Peanut Butter is incredible. The super crunchy is so crunchy you need to spread it in a thick, chunky layer. Essentially, it’s peanut butter made for eating out of the jar. I am addicted. If this keeps up the only thing keeping me from the debtor’s prison will be that I’ll be too wide to fit through the doors…

What helped you get through April?

Have you ever heard the expression, ‘an army marches on its stomach’? Whoever was in charge of provisioning the Antipodean soldiers in World War One certainly hadn’t. Researchers now believe poor diet was one of the contributing factors to the doomed Gallipoli campaign due to be commemorated in Australia and New Zealand tomorrow.

Not only were the hapless Anzacs on a hiding to nothing in terms of their strategic position and lack of equipment, they were given the most basic of rations and suffered greatly as a result. Like the song says, war – what is it good for?

I’m not sure that modern Anzac biscuits are that nutritionally sound either, but they surely rate highly in terms of improving – even in the short-term – one’s psychological state, especially when consumed with a good cup of tea. Ending (or even starting) the day with a bowl of Anzac Biscuit Ice cream offers a similar emotional health benefits. But if you’re looking for something a little more wholesome, then this easy Anzac-inspired bread could be just the ticket.

Anzac Bread
This is bread for beginners – there’s no kneading and very little hands-on effort required at all. Mix the dough before you go to the dawn service and it will just about be ready to stick in the oven when you get back.

350g strong or high grade flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
50g rolled oats
50g desiccated coconut
1 tsp dried yeast
20g butter, cold
1 Tbsp golden syrup
325ml warm water

Put the flour, oats, coconut and yeast into a large bowl. Grate in the butter and then stir vigorously to mix it in.
Add the golden syrup to the water and pour into the bowl. Mix well until a wet, sticky dough forms.
Cover with a damp tea towel or plastic bag and leave in a warm place for three to four hours, until the dough has risen and nearly doubled in size.
Turn the oven to 210C. Grease a standard loaf tin (about 21 x11 cm) and line with baking paper.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and deflate it by pressing with your fingers until it forms a rectangular shape that’s slightly narrower than the length of the loaf tin. With the short side closest to you, carefully fold the bottom third of the dough into the middle, then over again. You should have a loaf shape sitting in front of you. Carefully transfer this to the prepared loaf tin.
Let rise for 30 minutes, until it is puffy and an indent stays when you press it with a finger. Slash the top with a sharp knife, dust with a little flour and put in the oven.
Bake for 35 minutes, until risen and golden brown. Let cool for five minutes before you turn it out of the tin. Leave it on a rack to cool completely.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Do you dream of waking up on Good Friday to a trayful of freshly made hot cross buns? Me too. Over the years I’ve tried many ways of achieving this, ranging from buying them in the day before, to getting up at the crack of dawn. Neither one is particularly good – especially if you already get up at the crack of dawn and everyone in your household is ravenous at breakfast time. The first hot cross bun of the day is like the first cup of tea; you shouldn’t have to wait for it.

But this way – using a clever, no-knead, no stress method – is perfect. All you do is make up a batter-like dough the night before and leave it in the fridge overnight. Then all you have to do in the morning is wait for the oven to heat up, then these lovely, light, buttery buns are ready to eat 15 minutes later. If that’s not an Easter miracle, I don’t know what is.

Easy Easter Brioche Buns Recipe And Photo: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

Easy Easter Brioche
If you’ve had hot cross bun disasters in the past or are a novice yeast baker, this is the recipe for you. There’s no kneading, just a bit of energetic stirring with a wooden spoon. If you don’t have a muffin tin you can make a giant loaf in a 23cm cake tin – it will take more like 25-30 minutes to cook.

200g raisins or sultanas
50g mixed peel (or finely chopped crystallised ginger, or other tangy dried fruit)
150ml milk
250g strong or high grade flour
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp dried yeast
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
grated zest of one orange
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs, lightly beaten
140g unsalted butter, softened but NOT melted, and cut into little pieces

Put the dried fruit in a small heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water from the kettle. Leave to steep while you get everything else organised.
Put the milk in a small pan and bring to nearly simmering point, then remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm.
Put the flour, sugar, yeast, spices and salt in a large bowl and stir well. Drain the dried fruit and set aside.
Pour in the milk, the orange zest, the vanilla, the eggs and the dried fruit. Beat well until you have a smooth batter. Set aside in a warm place until doubled – this will take about an hour.
Beat the risen batter until it deflates, then add half the butter and beat well with a wooden spoon until it is all mixed in and there are no lumps. Repeat with the remaining butter and beat until the batter is smooth.
Grease the holes of a 12-cup muffin pan with a little butter or oil, and divide the mixture between them.
Cover the tin with a plastic bag and put it in the fridge.
In the morning, turn the oven to 170C and take the tin out of the fridge. When the oven has reached temperature and the buns have lost their chill (about 35 minutes, in my house) put them in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until risen and golden brown.
Leave them in the tin for five minutes, then gently ease out with a spatula. Makes 12.

Have a wonderful Easter, everyone x