This morning I’ve been for a run around the harbour and a quick dip in Oriental Bay on the way home. Spring has a bad reputation in Wellington (expressed best in this calendar), but today feels like one of those mythical ‘can’t beat it on a good day’ days that the city’s tourism campaigns are built on.
Spring, of course, means strawberries. Like living through a brutal Wellington spring day, growing good strawberries is mostly an exercise in hope triumphing over experience; some years are better than others. I’m stil optimistic that my homegrown crop will come good. If you’ve got a surfeit of strawberries from your own garden, try them in this exceedingly pretty and festive-looking salad (from the Spring section of Homecooked).
STRAWBERRY, RADISH AND CUCUMBER SALAD WITH MINT DRESSING
This is one of my favourite photos from Homecooked, not least because photographer Carolyn Robertson and I spent AGES trying to figure out all sorts of different ways to shoot it. Then we got over ourselves, I just threw the salad together and the photo more or less took itself (well, with Caro’s exceptional skills involved!)
For the dressing:
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
½ tsp honey
3½ tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp salt
For the salad:
250g (1 punnet) strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1 medium-sized telegraph cucumber, peeled, deseeded and sliced
1 cup sliced radishes (about a small bunch, depending on size)
150g feta, crumbled
small mint leaves, for garnishing
Make the dressing ﬁrst: put all the ingredients in a blender or small food processor and whiz until smooth. Taste for seasoning and set aside.
Tumble the sliced strawberries, cucumber, radishes and crumbled feta into a serving bowl. Drizzle over the dressing and toss gently. Garnish with mint leaves and serve.
Have you got any strawberry growing tips? Do share!
I’m a bit of a self-harmer during the festive season, to be honest. I know I don’t have gas left in the tank to Do All The Things For All The People but that doesn’t stop me from offering. I do try to cut a few corners where I can though.
This year I’ve shelved Christmas baking for a bit of un-baking instead. This recipe is brilliant because you don’t need anything particularly fancy, there’s no tortuous icing or rolling out of dough, and people go mad for the results. If that still sounds like too much work for the last few days before Christmas, rest assured that the slightly heart-shaped pretzels make these appropriate for Valentine’s Day too. It’s good to create the illusion that you’re getting ahead, right?
CHILLI CHOCOLATE PRETZEL SANDWICHES
If you want to skip the chilli and the alcohol, make sure you add a teaspoonful of good vanilla extract instead. These can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week after making. To make these dairy-free, use coconut cream and coconut oil in place of the cream and butter.
125g good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
¼ cup cream
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp rum, brandy, whisky or a liqueur of your choice (optional)
100g bag of pretzels (about 60 pretzels)
Flaky sea salt
Put the chocolate, butter, cream and rum into a small pot and set over very low heat, stirring often, until melted. Stir well, then pour into a small bowl and chill in the fridge until firm but not rock-hard (about 45 minutes).
Line a baking tray or large plate with baking paper or foil. Take a small teaspoonful of the chocolate mixture and use it to sandwich two pretzels together. If the chocolate mixture has set too much, let it sit at room temperature until it softens. Repeat with the remaining mixture and pretzels. Store in a covered container in the fridge. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and chilli flakes before serving. Makes 30 chocolate pretzel sandwiches.
Mere Kirihimete everyone. Be careful and kind out there, see you in 2022!
Having just outed myself as a pavlova-denier, I should probably head into witness protection for a while. To prove that I’m not a complete monster, here’s my wonderful Aunty Pat’s peerless recipe. It’s unbeatable!
Aunty’s Pat’s never-fail pavlova
At the risk of offending everyone else I know, no one makes a pavlova quite like Aunty Pat’s. She’s got no time for fussy recipes with fancy ingredients or complicated instructions – her pavlova (which may have originally sprung from a Plunket cookbook) is a ‘bung it all in the bowl and beat like hell’ number (my words, not hers).
3 egg whites
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vinegar
Pinch of salt
3 Tbsp boiling water
Heat the oven to 160C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.
Put all the ingredients, except the boiling water, in a bowl. Start beating, then add the boiling water. Beat on high for 15 minutes, then scrape the mixture onto the baking paper in a rounded shape. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven to 100C and bake for another hour. Turn off the oven and let cool as long as possible (Aunty Pat suggests leaving it in overnight). Serve topped with whipped cream and seasonal fruit.
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?
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.