Easy mulled apple tea with honey and bay

About a month ago we went mad and had a Matariki party. ‘Bring your kids,’ we told our friends, then winced as we realised there were going to be nearly as many people under 15 in our house as there were adults. This is why I spent the next day cleaning children’s muddy footprints off my bedroom walls, though how they got there I’m still not sure. At least the adults were well-behaved.

To get everyone into the winter party spirit I made mulled wine for the first time in about two decades, mixing together apple juice, red wine, spices and a large amount of sugar. It was certainly a party-starter, but it also felt like a headache waiting to happen. This less-sweet, no-alcohol version is much gentler. Use a really good apple juice (I am a big fan of Mela Juice, made from 100 per cent New Zealand apples) for best results.

Easy mulled apple tea with honey and bay

It’s easy to increase or decrease the quantities for this as needed. If you’re planning a party and want to get ahead, make the mulled apple tea as described below and store in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat to simmering point to serve.

2 cups apple juice

2 cups water

2 rooibos tea bags (or ordinary black tea)

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

1-2 whole star anise (an aniseed-like star-shaped spice)

1 Tbsp honey (add more to taste)

Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and let stand for five minutes. Remove the teabags and decant into a jug. Pour into heatproof glasses to serve. Makes 1 litre.

Sweetcorn and kumara soup

T.S Eliot may have claimed that April was the cruelest month, but he hadn’t experienced Wellington in early August. By now, the gloss of wearing one’s winter coat and boots has well worn off (especially if you’ve been wearing them since March) and the grimness of rain, wind and more rain is starting to eat away at any joie de vivre you have left. Or maybe that’s just me. I can cope with June (a long weekend, a half-marathon) and July (my birthday, school holidays), but August is rough. Thank goodness for books, binge-watching and bowls of soup accompanied by lavishly buttered baguettes.

Sweetcorn And Kumara Soup

Sweetcorn and kumara soup

After a recent Three Ways With column extolling the virtues of frozen vegetables I had a large bag of frozen sweetcorn taking up valuable room in our tiny freezer. I am emotionally scarred by the frozen vegetables we had to eat at boarding school and the other members of my household are fervently anti-corn campaigners, but I was determined to use it up. This sunshine-y soup is the result.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

600g (1 large) golden or orange kumara, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

3 cups good chicken (or vegetable) stock

3 cups frozen corn kernels

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon

A splash of cream

A handful finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery, plus a large pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to colour.

Raise the heat slightly, then add the spices and kumara. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat the kumara in the onion and spice mixture, then pour in the stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the kumara is nearly tender. Add the corn and cook for three minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree (with a stick blender, ordinary blender, or food processor. Don’t try pushing this one through a sieve, you’ll hate yourself – and me.) Return to the pot and add the lemon juice and zest, then taste and season appropriately. Reheat gently until piping hot, then serve in warmed bowls topped with a swirl of cream and a scattering of parsley. Makes about 1.5 litres, freezes well.

What are your tactics for surviving the bleakest month of winter?