It takes a special sort of person to make chocolate and chickpeas sound like natural partners. Nicola Galloway – chef, author, gardener, mother and general all-round good egg – is that person.

Nicola’s lovely blog, Homegrown Kitchen, has just turned two. Here’s how – and why – she manages to fit writing it into a very full life.

What’s Homegrown Kitchen about?
Seasonal & wholesome recipes and the occasional homemade craft. I think the word ‘homegrown’ encompasses many things, partly it is about cooking with food we grow in our garden, but it is also about keeping things simple, eating local where possible, making food from scratch, getting back to the basics.

When did you start it? Why?
Almost exactly two years ago. I already had a website with recipes from my cookbook, Feeding Little Tummies, and other seasonal recipes but it didn’t have much energy or rhythm to it. I was wondering how to make it more interactive and around the same time was introduced to food blogging. It was quite a new thing in New Zealand at the time and it has taken a while for people to catch on. However, I really like the interaction and regularity blogging adds to my week and my writing and photography skills have improved immensely.

What’s your day job? What else do you do?
I am a food writer for several magazines, and author, and I run cooking workshops in Nelson and around New Zealand. I am also a Mum to two young children so most days I am juggling work and family life.

30-minute pad thai (photo: Nicola Galloway/Homegrown Kitchen)

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?
I am a trained chef [dip, professional cookery 1999]. I travelled and worked as a chef for about five years before changing direction into food writing and running cooking workshops.

Who’s your food hero?
My Nana taught me to cook and will always be my no.1 food hero. I also love Nigel Slater’s rustic cooking style, and Sandor Elli Katz and Sally Fallon give me regular inspiration from their exceptionally researched and thorough cookbooks.

Describe your kitchen in three words.
Rustic, wooden, the heart of our home.

Salted caramel coconut flan (Photo: Nicola Galloway/Homegrown Kitchen)

Who do you cook for? 
My family of four (husband and two young children) and anyone who visits, there is always food going on around here. As I said, our kitchen is the heart of our home, it is a large open plan kitchen / dining room that spills out into a sunny conservatory. I am often recipe testing and have extra food that needs to be eaten if friends drop around.


Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?
Not for me, I don’t have a lot of spare time to watch TV. But if they increase the interest of home cooking it has to be a good thing for those who do watch them.

What’s the last cookbook you bought?
The Unbakery Cookbook by Megan May – absolutely brilliant if you want to learn more about raw food.

Cauliflower crust pizza (Photo: Nicola Galloway)

What has been the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Oh gosh that is a hard one… let me think. We had some pretty memorable meals on our trip to Cuba last year. I remember one cooked by ‘the Aunties’ – my Mum is married to a Cuban and lives in Havana – it was very simple, beans and rice with a special goat curry [although not spicy], and large platter of the creamiest avocados I have ever eaten dressed with lime and olive oil.

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?
Of course just talking about Cuba one of them would have to be from our trip – Salted Caramel Coconut Flan, also 30-Minute Pad Thai + Behind the Scenes and Yogurt & Honey Panna Cotta w/ Roasted Strawberries.

Tell us about another blog you love.
My Darling Lemon Thyme by Emma Galloway – one of the first food blogs I started reading. I am asked often if we are related and recently found out we are distant cousins but have never met (yet!)

Roasted strawberries with yoghurt and honey panna cotta (Photo: Nicola Galloway)

What’s for dinner tonight?
Lentil dahl with yogurt sesame flatbreads – I learned the recipe from a Pakistani woman about 12 years ago and it is still my favourite dahl recipe. I must share it on the blog one day.

Would you like to be my guest? Drop me a line…

You might think The Hobbit is the only game in town in little old New Zealand this month, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong. The sensible among us have been hiding out until it all goes away, while the very sensible have been baking up a storm (you’ve got to have something to do while steadfastly ignoring breathless and blanket coverage of just. one. movie, don’t you?).

Here’s the Sweet New Zealand roundup for November.

First out of the gate was Frances of Bake Club, who set a high standard with these dazzling Rainbow Cupcakes. Aren’t they fab?

Next came Zo at Two Spoons – a very elegant blog, I must say – with this Rhubarb and Coconut Cake.

If you’ve ever wondered how to make clotted cream, lovely Lesley of Eat,Etc, has the answer. I won’t give the game away completely but it involves a slow cooker. Genius.

And if you’ve ever wondered how to make an equally lush but non-dairy treat, Lissa at My Kitchen Rebellion has the answer to that: it’s Vegan Dark Chocolate Velvet Pie. Lissa also has lots of good advice on adopting a plant-based diet, should you be that way inclined.

Even if you don’t like the sound of Orange Mango French Toast with Honey Roasted Strawberry Compote, you need to check out the very cute strawberry crockery on Sue’s post at Couscous and Consciousness. The strawberry jug is particularly adorable (and the French toast looks great too!)

Brave Monica of Delissimon made her Sweet New Zealand debut with these Rose with French Vanilla Cupcakes – welcome, Monica, do come again (and bring more cupcakes).

Should you be reaching a bit of a sugar low by now, one of these high-protein, low-sugar, gluten-free Hazelnut and Orange Cookies, made by Nicola at I Cook Family. Nicola is a chef and nutrition consultant and her blog has lots of good, useful info, especially if you’re feeding little people.

Speaking of little people, marvellous Michelle, aka Mummy to three boys and one of the Munch crowd, found the time to whip up these Double Chocolate and Raisin Biscuits. I don’t know how she does it, but I’m glad she did.

It’s been years since I ate a Moro bar, but Anita’s incredible Moro Gold Max Caramel Cupcakes (try saying that quickly) make me want to dash to the shops. I’d probably need to run to the shops in Taupo (ie, nearly 400km away) to burn them all off afterwards, but I reckon it’d be worth it. There are lots of similarly tempting things on Anita’s blog, On To The Plate. Read it at your own peril.

The ever-glamorous Mairi at Toast belongs to a supper club and her Sweet NZ entry this month – Passionfruit Mousse – comes from one of her recent soirees. Darling, it’s gorgeous.

Bridget of After Taste is a woman after my own heart – in her Sweet NZ post this month she declares you can never have too many lemons. Here’s her latest lemony creation – Lemon Cornflake Slice.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas over at Pease Pudding, where Alli has been baking Spelt and Rye Spiced Biscuits. I could really go for one of these right now, couldn’t you? And would you mind putting the kettle on too?

The last word goes to the unstoppable Alessandra Zecchini, founder of Sweet New Zealand, who has gone all-out this month with no less than FOUR entries from her blogs. Yes, that’s blogs, plural.
Here’s the Fig Cupcakes from her Only Recipes blog…

Next up, Marinated Strawberries with Greek Yoghurt and Dried Lychees from what I think of as her main blog, Alessandra Zecchini.

Then there are the Pineapple Agar Agar Jellies from her vegan blog

She also got her talented daughter in on the act, with this video showing how to make sugar roses. Amazing!

That’s all from Sweet New Zealand this month. Have a great weekend everyone x

After telling the great and the good of the New Zealand Food Bloggers Association that I didn’t like food blogs that focused on pets, a group of cheeky minxes started tweet-bombing me photos of their furry friends. When that joke got tired they turned into the baabaarazzi*, sending me photos of frolicking newborn lambs.

The silence of the lambs Image: Shirleen Oh

Now, I am pleading with them to stop. Those telephoto lenses must be very intrusive and I hate to think of those wee lambs getting stressed. I prefer photographing my little lambchops when they are snuggled into a tray with agria potatoes, garlic and olives (with a little parsley to remind them of grass).

Tray-baked lamb, potatoes and olives
This combines all the things we love in this house – lamb, potatoes, olives, anchovies, garlic and lemons – in one super easy dish. Throw the half the ingredients in the oven, get on with bathtime or having a strong gin, throw the other ingredients into the dish, make a salad, set the table and dinner is ready.

6 good-sized roasting potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
8 lamb leg chops
2 onions, peeled and cut into wedges
4 cloves of garlic
1 cup of kalamata olives, stoned
4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Heat the oven to 200C. Splash a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large roasting dish – I use the giant ones that double as racks in our oven – and toss in the potatoes, onions and garlic so everything is coated in the oil. Put the tray into the oven for 30 minutes, shaking occasionally.
Put another tablespoon of oil into a bowl and add the anchovies, then the lamb chops. Rub the chops with the oily anchovy mixture and season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.
When the potatoes have cooked for 30 minutes, remove the tray from the oven. Make spaces for the chops and scatter the olives on top. Return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the chops and your preferred level of done-ness. Squeeze the lemon over the top, then sprinkle with lemon zest and chopped parsley. Serves four.

* Thanks to Shirleen for ‘baabaarazzi’. Isn’t it genius?

I am currently caught in a frustrating battle to figure out what exactly has gone wrong with the connection between my camera and computer. I can’t imagine anything so basic happening to Vanessa and Ingrid Opera, the sister act behind New Zealand food blog Foodopera.
These two juggle blogging with babies, magazine shoots, day jobs and photography – but Vanessa still found the time to fill in the blanks for this week’s Be My Guest.

Vanessa and Ingrid Opera (Image: Gemma Cathcart Neuendorf)

What’s your blog about?

Our blog is about food, recipes we love, recipes we have created and beautiful photography. It also features some behind-the-scenes posts relating to lighting and how to get published, as well as a list of child-friendly cafes.


When did you start it? Why?

Our blog started when we created a few sets of recipe gift cards sold in boutique gift shops. We wanted a place to share our recipes and photographs and, over time, wanted to create a portfolio of work.

We are busy working mums so our food reflects things that are relatively easy, not too heavy on your wallet and of course delicious to eat. We have also added a few posts that feature behind the scenes of our photoshoots and tips on becoming a published food blogger. One of the best things that has come from our blog has been the chance to meet other bloggers and attend the first New Zealand Food Bloggers Conference.

Peach Pastries (Image: Foodopera)

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?

Nope, neither of us are professionally trained. Our father, who is Italian, probably sparked our interest. I have been really keen on cooking from a young age, while Ingrid has found her feet in the last few years.

Both of us have spent time working in hospitality, ranging from a fish and chip shop, bakery, rib and wedge joint, brasserie-style restaurant, a Pizza Express in Dublin, running a cafe in a golf course in an English village and finally cooking in an upmarket French ski resort.

Who are your food heroes?
I know Ingrid quite likes Bill Granger, his simplicity and freshness. I used to be really into Nigella Lawson, I just loved her appetite for everything food. Rick Stein is also a bit of an old favourite too. However currently I am into anything Asian, I love Kylie Kwong, her books and TV show.
I own HEAPS of cook books so its actually really difficult to have just one hero. My aunty recently gave me the book Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi that has amazing ways with vegetables and I picked up “Dinner at Matt’s” by Matt Moran at the library. It features fancy pants food that you could cook at home. The photography is great too.

Chilli choko chutney (Image: Foodopera)

Masterchef and TV food shows: hot or not?
Ingrid’s not too fussed on Masterchef, however I LOVE it. I have a series link booked on MySky and watch it most nights. I actually auditioned for New Zealand’s second series but nerves got the better of me and I told one of the judges (Ross Burden) how to make scrambled eggs instead of custard.
The food channel is one of my favourites too. I will watch anything food-related.

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?
The balsamic mushrooms one, in which we try to recreate the mushrooms at Dizengoff café in Ponsonby, Auckland.
How to love brussel sprouts – they really are delicious done this way.
And for pizza and pie lovers, our sister vs sister cheese food fight.

Brussel sprouts sauteed in wholegrain mustard (Image: Foodopera)

Tell us about another blog you love.
This is a hard one as there are so many awesome food blogs.

A favourite from when we started is Cannelle et Vanille – it’s pretty, romantic and it looks like she is living the dream.
We like the simplicity of Spoon Fork Bacon and the great styling and design.
I have also been checking out Sips and Spoonfuls recently – it’s lovely.
What’s for dinner tonight?
You have me on this one. I don’t know what Ingrid is having but it’s got to be healthier and more exciting than dinner at our house tonight. It’s oven chips (if you try hard you can imagine they are hand-cut and fried in goose fat!) and pork sausages with a good squirt of tomato sauce and mustard. There is a glass of chardonnay in my hand too.

Crispy fried calamari (Image: Foodopera)

What are your day jobs? What else do you do?
I am a teacher at a North Shore intermediate school, currently teaching graphics/design and English to mostly Korean students.

Ingrid is a graphic designer/art director for a large publishing company. We are both currently on maternity leave having had our second babies nine days apart – how convenient is that?!

We are currently juggling our time looking after our kids, writing our blog and growing Foodopera the brand. We are currently writing our third food fight spread in New World’s REAL magazine and have just finished the Christmas shoot.

Who do you cook for?
We both cook for our boys, both little and big. We get a list emailed at every family gathering saying who’s cooking what and Ingrid is stoked to be elevated from the regular ‘green salad’ to more complicated fare. We also cook for our nanny (Nana Val) whenever she is around helping us out (always). She loves her coffee and often specifies exactly what she would like for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
I used to mix dried herbs into our family cat’s jellymeat and would always bring her treats home from a restaurant I worked at. She would hear my car down the drive and come running.

I did something pretty scary on Friday afternoon. I stood up in front of a group of very dedicated and fervent bloggers, who had gathered for the second annual New Zealand Food Bloggers Conference, and told them what was wrong with their writing.

First I risked my life by quoting the author Stephanie Johnson, who has described blogs “as the compost of your life”, then I told them I didn’t like blogs about cats. I told them to take their fingers off the exclamation mark key (!) and that there would be trouble if I saw one more blogger describe anything as ‘devine’ (for the record, it’s D-I-V-I-N-E).
 
But I also told them that I loved being part of the blogging community and that I saw food blogs as an important way to communicate the joy of cooking and eating. The sharing of recipes and stories – especially those shared during the preparation of food or over a meal – is an intrinsic part of human life and culture. The internet and cheap technology have made it possible for anyone with a camera and a keyboard to connect with strangers and friends from thousands of miles away – and that has to be a good thing.

 

However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that some blogs aren’t written very well. Of course, what I think is good writing and what you think is good writing may be completely different. That’s fine. I think good writing is about knowing your audience and engaging them in what you have to say. It’s about finding a voice and knowing that less is often more. Good writing is about pace. 

One of the main differences between bloggers and ‘real’ (ie, paid) writers, is that bloggers don’t have editors. Writers have sub-editors, who correct grammatical errors and typos, who know the difference between palate and palette and pallet. Writers have editors who tell them exactly what they want from a story. Writers are told how long a piece should be. They don’t have to worry about html or formatting or taking photos while the light is still ok.

Bloggers have to do all of those things, all in their own time. So that means the onus is on you to remember where to put an apostrophe. It’s up to YOU to take your finger off the exclamation mark and to run a spellcheck before you hit publish.

You might think that’s boring or feel that it stifles your creativity. Too bad. Cleaning up after your writing is like doing the dishes after you’ve been cooking. Tedious, but necessary. If you want to be a better writer, if you want people to continue to read what you have to say, then you have to get that noise out of your work so we can hear the music of your voice.

Bloggers can become better writers the same way as anyone gets better at something. It’s called practice. And experience. Even good writers have to work to become great writers. And I’ll let you in on a secret: there are lots of ‘real’ writers who are terrible at their job. Honestly. Even some really well-known ones whose bylines you see in your newspapers or online every day.

It’s fine to pour out your heart about something, but that doesn’t mean you have to click publish immediately. Let it sit for a bit. Have a think about it. Go back and polish it up. Your first draft isn’t necessarily your best.
Whatever kind of writer you are, you’re only as good as your last sentence. So if you really want to be a writer, you may as well make sure that last sentence is a good one.

There were lots of questions I couldn’t answer afterwards – nerves and a hacking cough rendered my brain a bit feeble – but there are lots of amazing resources about writing and blogging available.
Make sure you check out Dianne Jacob’s great site and read this piece by Amanda Hesser. Thanks too to Lauraine Jacobs (no relation to Dianne) and Sarah Nicholson for their wise words. Drop me a line if you have found any other links that might be useful and I’ll paste them in.

Lastly, huge thanks to Alli and Shirleen for organising such a brilliant event. You can put cats on your blogs any time!