If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

As if we needed another sign that everything that is old is new again (see also, the return of 90s fashion, sexual harrassment, the gender pay gap), learning the ‘secret’ meanings of flowers is apparently in vogue. Yes, just like our Victorian forebears (and generations before them), we are all supposed to be fascinated by the symbolism of floral tributes. This could be for real, or it could be a spurious story cooked up to promote Valentine’s Day flower sales. I’m not convinced either way. That said, I do have to share a floral fact I’ve recently learned: fuschia flowers and berries are edible. True story.

I’ve long admired fuschias – there was a large, lovely fuschia overhanging the front door at the house I grew up in, and the house I live in now has a dainty miniature bush at the front gate. But it wasn’t until I read this post about foraging by the always-excellent Jane Wrigglesworth that I realised they were edible. While Jane suggests dipping them in tempura batter, I prefer dipping them in something far more refreshing.

Fuschia fairy cocktails
You can make this with any kind of edible flower, but it’s hard to go past the elegance of a fuschia. Tiny rosebuds would also be sweet.

The base syrup is useful to have in the fridge and can be used in any kind of drink – use prosecco or sparkling wine, or soda water.

1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup hot water
3 tsp rosewater

Fuschia flowers
Gin or vodka
Prosecco or sparkling water

Put the sugar and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let bubble away for a couple of minutes until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a glass jar and stir in the rosewater (add more if you like, but it’s best to start with a light hand). Store in the fridge until ready to use.

To make a proper fairy cocktail, put three tiny fuschia flowers in a champagne glass. Add a tablespoon of syrup and one to two tablespoons gin/vodka. Stir well, then top up with very chilled prosecco, sparkling wine or soda water. Stir gently and serve immediately.

Happy Valentine’s Day x

Last week I wrote a ‘best of times, worst of times’ kind of essay on Christmas food (and much more besides) for Your Weekend magazine. I ran out of room to include this section, which looks back at last Christmas. How can it be a year ago?

Coconut Eton Mess with berries and pomegranate molasses

Christmas Day 2016, Wellington

My brother stands in the kitchen, taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne. My sister puts on her glasses to read a recipe on her phone. My husband rinses grit off a pound of West Coast whitebait while my nephew patiently teaches my daughter how to play Old Maid. My brother-in-law explains a complex psychological theory to me while I wrangle two kilos of pork loin into a roasting dish. I have been looking forward to this for months – Christmas under my own roof, with visitors from far away. Not even the discovery that our ancient car was stolen overnight bothers me. I have taken the advice of the kind woman on the insurance helpline who told me at 8am that “there’s nothing we can do about it today, just enjoy Christmas”.

Weeks earlier, I had not felt so good. I had just started a new job and was more unsettled by the Kaikoura earthquake than I wanted to admit. I needed a distraction and the Christmas menu fitted the bill perfectly.  I send emails to my siblings; my brother responds with a link to a Fanny Craddock clip on YouTube. My sister directs me to a Nigella Lawson recipe. I show my husband a photo. “Excellent choice,” he says. “But we’re having a ham too, right? And whitebait?”

In the end we have all of these things, plus new potatoes dug out of the garden on Christmas Eve. My brother makes a kind of Eton Mess with coconut yoghurt, cranberry-studded meringues and swirls of pomegranate molasses. My daughter makes us pose for family portraits with the hideous robotic toys she has been sent for Christmas. We laugh so much the neighbours must think we are mad. We want for nothing.

Later that night I crawl into bed, thinking about the person who stole our car. They broke into our neighbour’s car too, stealing his five-year-old’s brand new bike. I don’t care so much about our car, but I hope the bike has made someone happy.

 

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you have a happy and safe one with people you love.

The scene: A suburban charity shop in Wellington, New Zealand. Two elderly women (let’s call them Beryl and Meryl) preside over the counter, keeping an eye on the shoppers on a cold Saturday morning. A much younger woman (let’s call her Lucy) approaches them, clutching a water-stained and battered paperback.

Beryl (looking at the book, then at Lucy): “Are you one of those Elizabeth David junkies?”

Lucy (somewhat taken aback at her aggressive tone): “Err, umm, well, yes, I suppose I am. And I like saving old books.”

Beryl (picking up the book gingerly): “Hmm. Yes, we get people in here like you. There’s another Elizabeth David down the back you know, called ‘Cooking in Summer’ or something.”

Lucy (smiling): “Yes, I saw that one but I’ve got that already and I thought I’d leave it for someone else.”

Meryl (suddenly taking an interest): “What’s this book? French Country Cooking? Who’s Elizabeth David?

[Lucy begins to speak but Beryl overrides her]

Beryl: “Some sort of cookery writer. Normally we sell her books on Trade Me because (sniffs imperiously) there are these junkies who want to buy them.”

Meryl (looks at Lucy to assess junkie-ness, then at the book): “Oh. Isn’t that funny? I’ve never heard of Elizabeth whats-her-name. I thought all the great chefs were men.”

Beryl: “Well, yes. $3 please.”

 

Tahini, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: there were three in yesterday’s Three Ways With… column, these tahini bars are so good I could probably eat the whole tray by myself, and Ottolenghi’s green tahini sauce is one of the most delicious things you could ever make. Then there’s my breakfast standby – sliced fruit, Greek yoghurt and tahini – and my rescue for those ‘oh-no-we’ve-got-no-peanut-butter’ moments, aka tahini on toast. Are you a tahini lover? Here’s another way to use it.

Tahini, banana and almond bites

If you’re an early-morning exerciser, one of these is just the ticket before you head out the door. Extensive research by my sample group (which is to say, me), found that eating one of these prior to a pre-dawn 10k run produced excellent results. They’re also good if your idea of exercise is limited to putting the kettle on.

1 ripe banana

2 Tbsp tahini

2 Tbsp date syrup (or honey)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup rolled oats

a good pinch of salt

2 Tbsp sesame seeds

12 whole almonds

Heat the oven to 180C. Mash the banana to a puree with the tahini and date syrup. Add the cinnamon, rolled oats, salt and sesame seeds and mix well.

Press the mixture into the cups of a 12-hole muffin pan (I use a silicone one for easy removal; you may like to grease the cups of a conventional tin) and press an almond on top of each one.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture feels set when pressed with a finger. Remove to a rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Makes 12.