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Christchurch

I spent last week scouting out local produce in Christchurch and beyond. I met some wonderful people: farmers raising ducks, organic chickens and pheasants; a goat cheese maker with a happy herd of goats and a great range of cheese, a walnut grower, a veggie grower and a traditional market gardener with glasshouses on the hill behind Lyttelton.

I’m back at my desk in Wellington and I’ve been writing up my research notes wondering if those glasshouses are still standing. Most of the food heroes I met spoke of the tough trading conditions following the last quake; most of them had suffered damage to their homes. All were hopeful they’d been through the worst.

I found a wonderful café and coffee roaster in Lyttelton. The coffee was good and the staff were friendly. I ordered bacon and eggs and took a couple of photos before I left. Does anyone know if  The Lyttelton Coffee Company survived the shaking that reportedly destroyed or damaged 60% of London St?

Lyttelton Coffee Co.

This café was one of many Christchurch eateries profiled in the latest issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller. The upbeat feature by Kendall Hill is titled ‘Christchurch is Risen’. It’s heartbreaking.

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I’m not in the habit of photographing what I’m eating in restaurants but this bouillabaisse was so good it said ‘blog me’.

Bouillabaisse – the fish soup of Marseilles – is one of those regional dishes that evolved from what was available and is now the subject of much debate as to what should or shouldn’t be in it. The bouillabaisse I ordered at the Bay of Many Coves Resort in Queen Charlotte Sound wouldn’t have passed the authenticity test – it included squid, scallops, prawns and green lipped mussels – but it was deliciously flavoured with stock made from fish bones and crustaceans and it was served with the requisite rouille: a mayonnaise type emulsion loaded with garlic and flecked with threads of saffron. The idea is to slather the rouille on pieces of toast which are then dunked in the soup. As you work your way down through the bowl, losing bits of toast and globs of rouille on the way, the soup gets messier and the flavour deepens. It’s a gloriously greedy way to eat. (more…)

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Bloggging Afloat

You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to maintain a blog in the middle of the Marlborough Sounds on a boat with no electricity and no Wifi.

It was my New Year’s resolution to organize myself blogwise. I still have no blog roll, no links to my published material and it takes me ages to position a photograph. Truth be told, I’m not even sure why I’m doing it but I am determined to get my head around the blog thing because I do like posting my thoughts about food.

With that in mind – and knowing I was going to spend a few weeks afloat – I bought an Ipad and a wireless keyboard. I’ve spent most of my time since then trying to work out how to use it. The biggest hurdle has been trying to get photos from my camera into my blog – it seems I need a connector thing. However, today I think I’ve made a breakthrough by emailing myself a photo taken on my mobile phone, picking it up on my ipad and then posting it into my blog. Hopefully, it’s positioned below.

Taken from the shore, this is our boat, Rongotai. A Jack Cox designed sedan with kauri hull and mahogany topsides, she was launched in 1939 and saw service as a naval patrol boat during the Second World War. Rongotai is reputedly the only civilian boat in NZ to have dropped a depth charge during the war – an explosive event that nearly sank her.

We bought Rongotai in 1992 and we’ve spent every summer (bar one) on her since then. Always in the Marlborough Sounds.

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We have finished the Christmas ham. Which not only means an end to the ubiquitous ham salad/sandwich lunch but it also means we must be about a week into our annual boating holiday. Having lost track of time, I’ve been measuring the days by ham.

I love the whole ham thing at Christmas. Despite the collective sigh of relief as we pick the last scraps from the end of the ham bag, it’s a family tradition I intend to keep up. The ritual starts  when I collect my pre-ordered whole-ham-on-the-bone from Bill, the Gipp St butcher. He sells Murellan pork (no sow stalls) and he prepares hundreds of hams every year. I also buy Harriet’s Glaze. It seems lazy not to make my own but Harriet’s a friend, a fabulous cook, and I’ve been hooked on her marmalade/star anise mix since she gave me some from the very first batch she produced.

Harriet left Wellington for Perth a few weeks ago. She sold her recipe to another caterer but she left me her Sabatier ham knife. I used it to carve this year’s ham, which was served warm from the oven with jersey bennies, slow roasted tomatoes, green salad and a dollop of garlicky mayonnaise. It’s always the same. Our warm glazed ham on Christmas Eve marks the start of the festive season.

On Boxing Day I attack it again, cutting it off the bone in two or three pieces so it can be more easily packed into the small chest fridge on our boat. (Our neighbour’s jack russell gets the bone, which is at least as big as the dog.)

And then it’s ham every day in the Marlborough Sounds: either sandwiches on the deck or sliced and served with new potato salad; shredded into a creamy pasta sauce or combined with gruyere and cream as a filling for French toasted sandwiches – croque monsieur in the cockpit for lunch.

And then it’s all over – another year, another ham. Bon appétit and Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

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Green Almonds

Fresh and Dried Almonds

Fresh and Dried Almonds

I have just discovered the taste of green almonds. I didn’t know you could eat them fresh off the tree. I’d only ever had the mature dried nuts – usually from a packet and sometimes after cracking open the hard pockmarked shells that enclose them.

There are hardly any almonds grown commercially in New Zealand so it’s perhaps not surprising I’d never seen them on the branch. But at Riverina, Graham Farnell and Gill Smith’s orchard in Marlborough, the trees were loaded. I had just been saying it was a shame I was too early for the harvest when Graham pulled some of the green fuzzy fruit off a tree and told me how nice the young nuts tasted. (more…)

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Cherries in Marlborough

Cherries. Ruth Gordon

Marlborough Cherries

Cherries Direct - by Ruth Gordon

Orchardists Jill and Ken Gordon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love cherries. They’re the colour of Christmas. Like festive baubles hanging from the tree just waiting to be eaten. You can see why the birds go mad for them.

These photos were taken by Ruth Gordon on her family’s cherry orchard in Marlborough. I worked there last week. Sort of. Unbelievably, I was paid to spend an hour under the netting tasting the various cultivars in a sort of reconaissance mission for a film crew. I did take it seriously. In fact, I did such a good job, I could hardly move for an hour or two afterwards.

Orchardists Jill and Ken Gordon of Cherries Direct grow seven varieties with names like Stella, Rosann, Santina and Sweetheart. The idea is to stagger the crop from mid December through January, but this year flowering was late and everything seemed to be coming on stream at once. I managed to taste most of them but it was hard to pick a favourite. Jill, a keen bottler, prefers Stella – a good all-rounder that holds its shape well when cooked. When I asked her to describe the perfect cherry, she said it should be juicy and sweet but firm with a texture that just ‘pops’ in your mouth. With that new tasting criteria, I just had to start all over again.

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Asparagus

Hautapu asparagus fields

Asparagus protector

Asparagus is a very weird looking vegetable – even more so when you see it in the ground. A single shoot pokes its way up through the bare soil like a periscope; a whole crop appears like an army on a blasted field.

It’s the lack of leaves that makes this crop looks so strange, but that’s a blessing for the pickers who have the backbreaking job of cutting each new crop of soldiers down – at least they can see each stalk as it appears.

Unfortunately, their solitary visibility also makes it easier for the hares who simply adore nibbling the fresh tender tips. The 10 hectare crop of asparagus I photographed is in Hawke’s Bay. It’s guarded by two fox terriers who spring into action whenever they see a pair of long ears appear over the plough lines. Nellie and Eddie give the hares a good run around but they have yet to catch one, which is a shame because a hare that’s grazed on asparagus tips must taste fantastic.

I love asparagus. Asparagus with hollandaise, asparagus with softly boiled eggs; asparagus with chicken, and asparagus with butter and parmesan cheese.

Here’s my recipe for asparagus risotto.

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Amazing but True

Amazing but true. Research from Alabama suggests the recent BP oil spill may have indirectly increased fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists at Dauphin Island Sea lab have found fish numbers in survey areas have tripled since the most populous part of the Gulf fishery was closed to fishing through spring and summer.

They say it will take several years to discover the full effects of the catastrophe but in the short term it seems fishing may be more of a threat to these fish stocks than the worst oil spill in US history.

Read the full article from Alabama.

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Happy Pigs

I don’t know if I can take any more pictures of suffering pigs so I’m posting a photograph I took in the weekend – a photo of some very happy pigs.

Pigs at Waimarama

Pigs at Ti Kouka Farm, Waimarama

These pigs live in a grassy field on an organic farm in Hawke’s Bay. They are fed on organic vegetable scraps and their troughs are filled with whey from the Hohepa dairy in Clive. They are organic, free range, locavore pigs and they make great bacon but they are expensive to raise and the pork they produce is not to everyone’s taste.

We are used to eating flesh from animals that have been raised inside in warm barns with not a lot of room to move. Their sedentary lifestyle produces soft pork – not terribly tasty but certainly more tender than animals that are free to root and roam.

The farmer who raises the pigs in my photo turns them into bacon and ham. The meat that’s not brined and cured tastes great too but it has to be cooked much more slowly than the flash-in-the pan cuts you buy in the supermarket. Truly free-range pork has a texture that’s more like wild pork. In fact it’s more like the pork people used to eat before farming became so intensive.

Which means if we really want to change the way people farm pigs, we have to change our expectations of what pork should be. Fat or happy? It’s a tough one.

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Café Polo billboard‘One fish, two fish’ was the catchy line on an invitation to an event at Café Polo last Sunday. The promise of a fish filleting demonstration, a tapas selection of small plates and  a few words on sustainability had me hooked.

Having recently sworn off tuna thanks to the unremitting pessimism of groups like Greenpeace and Forest & Bird, I was interested to hear how chef David Thurlow and fish supplier Rachel Taulelei would reconcile their own interests with the ethics of eating a dwindling resource.

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