Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Global cuisine - Turkish

Hmm, it's been a while. We have been following our pledge. I've just been rather lousy at posting about it. After our week in Morocco, we continued across the Mediterranean to Turkey. While I have always wanted to visit Istanbul and Hagia Sopiha, I have had very little idea about what Turkish food consisted of.

[Sorry, no food pic this time - pilaf isn't really that photogenic. Instead, a lovely picture from Lonely Planet of Istanbul, a city I long to visit]

I should admit now, it is a lot more work than I anticipated cooking a country a week. You have to choose a country, thinking about what's in season and available at that time of year. You have to find recipes (my two favorite places have been the internet and the public library) and choose those which coincide with seasonally available produce (at least in my mind you should). Then you have to track down any specialty ingredients you might need (Japan - Saki, France - Duck fat, Turkey - Grape leaves). And each night, after work or school, you have to be up for learning new techniques and trying new things. Don't get me wrong, it's a blast. But it has resulted in me looking for the simplest meals at times - which I suppose is something someone from any country would do after a long day of work. Leading me to admitting that while cooking Turkish food, we ate a lot of pilafs.

Pilafs are awesome. Essentially, rice, barley or couscous cooked in a flavoured broth with tasty bits added in. They take rice to a whole new level for me and the recipe I have below was my absolute favorite of the lot. While it only has 6 ingredients, the flavours are rich and delicious and the ingredients are super easy to find.

Chickpea Pilaf
1 can drained chickpeas (390g net)
175 g long-grained rice*
1 onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons butter
600ml stock (I like chicken)
1 large bunch of spinach, washed and chopped
Pepper to taste (salt is in your stock)

1) Melt butter in large pot, or wok, and add onions. Cook until soft. Stir in chickpeas and rice. Pour in stock, season with pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring often, until almost all liquid has been absorbed. Stir in spinach until it wilts in.

2) Remove pan from heat, cover with a clean, dry teatowel and press the lid down tightly. Leave to steam 15-20 minutes.

3) Fluff gently with a fork and serve.

*I am learning so much about the different types of rice, how they vary taste-wise and cooking-wise. It's great.

Another one?!

So far, we seem to average about one a year. Which, depending on how long we stay here, could amount to a fair number of cats.

While he was doing security rounds at school on Monday night for the end of year awards ceremony, Stephen had to haul this wee cat out of the performance centre which she was trying to infiltrate in order to pilfer the prizes. He called me up at home and requested I come get her as he was pretty sure she hadn't eaten in a while. So, I gobbled up the rest of my dinner, jumped in the car and drove on down to the school. Sure enough, the cat almost jumped into the crate in order to get the fresh fish and bowl of food I'd brought along. Once home, I tucked her into the bathroom with a hot water bottle and some more food and water. I think I've seen her up on her feet about 5 times since then (2 days later) and one of those was to go to the vet. She is one tired kitty. Hopefully, she'll be back on her feet in a few days and we can get to know her a bit better.

Meanwhile, we'll wait to see if someone is missing her. Otherwise, well, time will tell . . .

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011

Yeah. We were excited.

Hey, it was a long, hard game and it was such a relief in the end after those tense 80 minutes of nail-biting intensity.

I mean, there was this guy in front of me who turned away from the screen every time France had the ball. He didn't watch very much in the second half.

But, we made it.

And then, we had a parade.

Two days after the final game, after the parade in Auckland, the boys in black came to Christchurch to present us with the Webb Ellis cup. It was awesome. The park was packed. The people were happy. And the rugby players signed lots of balls.

Thanks guys.


On Saturday, October 28th Christchurch's downtown rebooted. After 8 months of not having a central business district the public was welcomed back into a small section of our forever changed downtown to kick start Cup & Show week, the coming summer and the long road to rebuilding our city's heart.

The walk into town one cannot but witness the still ongoing demolition that is taking place. Buildings are being taken down one by one, with only a very select few having been deemed structurally sound enough to stay up. But even walking past this is good. We have been kept out of our city for so long and some things have changed so drastically that it is good to be able to watch from a closer proximity and be able to take in the change as it happens.

Stephen and I arrived at about 3pm in the hot spring sun and Cashel Street Mall was packed with people. There were live music groups busking in corners, cafes sending out the aroma of coffee and baked goods, and bright, festive wares in all the shop windows. Not to mention to bright, colourful shipping containers that lined the streets, piled on top of each other. If the walk into town had been somewhat sobering, it seemed that everyone inside the new shopping district was drunk on the headiness of being in a place they had missed for so long.

The first thing that struck me on walking into the Mall was the amazing thought that had gone into planning it. I can only hope that there is more like this to come for the rest of the city as we rebuild it. Green spaces and benches for relaxing, buildings that are built to human scale (ie., not towering over us and blocking out the sun), small alleyways to pull pedestrians down to discover what interesting and amazing shops are down there, central areas dedicated to cafes where people can sit, relax and watch the people going by.

At the far end of the Mall the planners have built a timber fence which has, planned or not, become a destination in and of itself. People clamber up on the planter boxes in order see over and down towards the parts of town not yet cleared up. This small area is great, but it is surrounded by the reminders of what we are still missing. While we were sitting enjoying our lunch (after standing in line a good half hour), Stephen and I talked about whether Cashel Street Mall would last. Despite the festive atmosphere of the day, we wondered for how long people would make the long trek downtown to shop at very expensive shops. There are no offices nearby, there are only two small cafes and it does not serve passing traffic as there is only one road open through town and it doesn't come all that close to here. We hope that the businesses there will do well and that Christchurch people will work to help each other, goodness knows the next time I need a gorgeous dress I will be heading downtown to pick one out. Isn't someone out there having a wedding soon I can come to?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Global cuisine - Morocco

[Olive and lemon display in Meknez souq]

This specific choice was one I had been looking forward to. A few years ago, while still doing my undergraduate degree, I took a month to travel to Fez, Morocco and attend an arabic language school. It was a phenomenal experience and I think of it with great fondness, hoping someday to go back and see more of that magical country. One of the things I loved about the trip was the food.

The first three weeks of my trip happened to coincide with Ramadan, the month of fasting. From sun up until sun down, no food was allowed to pass the lips of any muslim. This is practiced in order to learn patience, spirituality, humility and humbleness before God. My last week there was Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting when the new moon is first spotted. This is essentially a big party with lots of food and celebration. Everyone was decked out in their finery and smiling. It was good fun.

For our week of Moroccan food here I was constantly telling Stephen stories about this meal or that one. He was even thoughtful enough to make up a batch of paratha dough early in the week, which allowed me to slice, fold and fry them up for breakfast each morning and store the remaining dough back in the fridge. Although parathas are not originally North African, one of the other language students at the school whom I lived with treated me to them each morning - slathered in butter and honey.

Moroccan food is about couscous, cinnamon, saffron, dates and olives. The tajine is probably the most recognized food from that area and a tasty one at that. One of the rules I remember learning from my host family was that the meat was always hidden under the mound of couscous which was in turn covered in vegetables. This ensured that children would have to eat through the important bits to get at the meaty treasure beneath. Another important lesson in a land where hands were the tools used for eating was that only the right hand was ever used to take food from the communal plate. And if possible, it was the only hand used at all. This presumably comes from the sanitary requirements for survival in a water scarce environment.

One of the highlights for me of the week was finally trying chermoula. This is traditionally used as a marinade for fish but we used it with delicious results as a sauce for carrots as well.

[Meat and carrot tajine with leftover chermoula on the carrots]


Taken from der Haroutunian, A. (2009) North African Cookery. Grub Street, London.

4 tablespoons oil
75g butter
1 onion, sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
50g chopped fresh parsley
50g chopped fresh coriander
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon saffron diluted in 4 tablespoons water (I didn't have any, it still tasted wonderful)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 bay leaves

1. Heat oil and butter in a saucepan and add all remaining ingredients. Cook over moderate heat for 12-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and serve hot or cold.

I cooled mine to room temperature and then poured over my white fish fillets. Leftover was stored in the refrigerator and used later in the week tossed in with cooked carrots.

Spring garden

[Recently finished quilt for a friends birthday]

Despite my increased work load recently I have enjoyed taking the time to enjoy our new garden. It's a small adventure every time I go out to see what new treasure has poked out of the ground. We are busily putting in our herb garden and strawberry fence (more on that later), and Stephen is putting together a wee chicken coop for our new additions (more of them later too). Life is teeming in the garden and the beautiful oasis it is turning into is a realm of peace and calm in the rush of our current lives. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn the names of our lovely blossoms.

[A lovely flowering tree that spreads white petals everywhere]

[One of many rhododendrons]

[Hellebore - grows in the shade of the first flowering tree shown]

[Wee blue fairy flowers]

[Our flowering cherry tree - seems to blossom in levels]

Global cuisine - Thai

[One of two fish curries served with brown rice and lime]

It has certainly been a wee while since I've posted anything up here. Lots to do lately, with deadlines and projects coming to a head. And spring too, seems to be bursting forth with no holding back. Despite our busy schedule, we have been keeping to our national food adventures. After our foray into French cuisine we wandered back East to try some Thai. Stephen had been wanting to try making Phad Thai, so we bought some rice noodles, some limes and some bean sprouts and got stuck in.

We began with something we were rather comfortable with - curry. Before taking on this experiment I never fully realized the huge differences in curries. I knew that several different nations made curries, but I was never fully appreciative of their unique qualities. Indian curries (well, the Westernized versions anyhow), for example, have quite deep, warming flavours, with cumin, fenugreek, and coriander (along with many others). While Thai curries tend to be more fresh and clean tasting. These are usually based around fresh ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, chilies and ginger. Our first couple of meals were fish curries, and despite using the same fish, we were able to make vastly different curries formed around these basic ingredients (along with fish sauce, sugar and coconut cream).

I must admit the Phad Thai we eventually made was a bit of a let down as it lacked enough sauce to make it really flavourful. But this was most likely the fault of the cooks rather than the recipe. We moved onto what was probably my favorite dish - spicy longbeans with(out) salty eggs. The latter subtraction was due to the 3 weeks needed to actually make the salty eggs. But it was pretty tasty even without. And finished the week with prawns with chili and basil.

[Prawns with chili and basil - tasty, tasty]

A rather tasty week, full of fresh flavours. It was lovely and light after the warm heaviness of french cuisine. One of the lessons we took away from the Thai week, was the mathematics of taste in a Thai curry. Too salty - add sugar, too sweet - add fish sauce, and too sweet and salty - add lime juice. Worked every time!

Spicy longbeans with(out) salty eggs

I have adapted this from the original and not included the salty egg bit, but you can find the full recipe in Bhumichitr, V. (2005) Vatch's Thai Kitchen. Ryland, Peters & Small, London.

Peanut or sunflower oil
180g ready-fried beancurd, finely sliced
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon Red Curry paste (see below)
250g Chinese longbeans (or green beans), chopped into 2.5cm lengths
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
4 tablespoons vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground roasted peanuts
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in wok on high heat. Add beancurd and fry until golden brown. Remove from wok and drain on paper towel covered plate.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok, add garlic and fry until golden brown. Stir in the curry paste. Add beans, soy sauce, stock, sugar, peanuts, lime leaves and fried beancurd. Stir-fry until the beans are done to your taste.

3. Serve and enjoy.

Red Curry Paste

Grind the following ingredients into a paste in a large mortar and pestle.

8 long red dried chilies, deseeded and chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped garlic
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
3 coriander roots, chopped (I didn't have any - it still tasted good)
1 teaspoon chopped kaffir lime skin, or finely chopped lime leaves
3 cm fresh galangal or ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spring is in the air

[Biking is the perfect way to get around in the lovely warm spring air]

After a couple of exciting snowfalls the air is getting warmer and the birds are getting louder. There are tiny buds poking out of my new garden and spring has arrived. We've been extremely lucky with the weather over the last couple of weekends, allowing us to get out and enjoy that glorious spring air. Below are some photos from the last couple of weekends which we've had the pleasure of enjoying here in Christchurch.

[Riccarton Bush Farmers Market]

[Cupcakes and cookies are always popular]

[There are many more flowers to choose from now]

[There are always numerous bakers from whom to buy your bread each week]

[It is still only spring so hot soup is most welcome]

[An outdoor exhibit of Yann Arthus-Bertrands Earth from Above photographs as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival]

[The images wend their way down Rolleston Ave. from the Hagley Park bridge, past Christ College to the Canterbury museum. Some amazing photographs and interesting stories.]

[On September 2nd, the Canterbury Museum opened up again after being closed since the February earthquake. It was wonderful to be able to go back through the familiar halls.]

[One new exhibit consists of over 4000 hand sewn hearts donated to Christchurch for the earthquake. Initiated by a woman in Napier, the hearts come from around the world and make their way around the room in a rainbow of colours. They are absolutely wonderful.]

[A detail of some of the hearts]

[While much of the museum was the same there were certain, minor differences - missing exhibits and individual pieces.]

[A temporary exhibit of the photographic works of Brian Brake, a New Zealand photographer who captured the world on film.]

[The Botanic Gardens were also filled with the signs of spring]

[An interactive water feature which always seems to prove popular]

[Waiting patiently for the parents to be finished their conversation.]

[The park was filled with scenes like this. Picnics abounded, so we decided we should have one too. Nothing like a lovely, warm spring day for a picnic in the park.]

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Global cuisine - France

[Steak au Poivre with truffle mashed potatoes and sauteed baby leeks]

Continuing on from our previous plan, last week we focused on French food. What a change from our previous week which had been simple, light, and easy. French food, with its profuse use of butter and cream and a multitude of techniques was very different. But that's what we were looking for so we dove straight in.

While it would be easy to get bogged down in the highly technical and fancy food of French haute cuisine we were more interested in finding recipes that were more the basic, eat around the farm table fare. Also keeping to our seasonal vege rule limited our forays into too many exotic areas. But good thing for us, leeks are in season right now. And if a leek is not the epitome of french cooking then I don't know what is.

Our first french meal was mussels gratine with green lentils and herbs. Rich with a tasty creamy sauce, the mussels were a lovely, cheap way to start things off. The next night, we had Steak au poivre (or pepper steak) with truffle oil mashed potatoes and sauteed baby leeks. Familiar with the carnivorous leanings of french cuisine (or my experience and knowledge of it), we wanted to see what sorts of vegetarian dishes were there. We had a tasty (and butter and cream filled) leek tart, leek and potato soup, and of course, french onion soup (so much better than my first taste of it at a highway rest stop on the Alaska Highway in the middle of the Yukon). And throughout all this I was researching and planning my coup d'eta - cassoulet. Unfortunately, this led me to realize that cassoulet was not a meal to be made in a day, or even a week really. So we will have to enjoy it a little later, once the duck confit is made and rested. And the beans are found and soaked. Then, say in three or four weeks (I've been told the duck confit improves with age), we can finally sit down for the finale. But for now, we're moving on - Thailand up next.

[Mussels Gratin with green lentils and herbs]

Mussels Gratin (from So French - A lifetime in the provincial kitchen by Dany Chouet and Trish Hobbs)

1.25kg mussels
2 large french shallots, diced
250 ml dry white wine
40 g unsalted butter, plus extra for grilling
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 egg yolk
50 ml cream
juice of half a lemon
20 g fine fresh breadcrumbs

1. Scrub mussels thoroughly under running water and pull our the hairy beards. Do not soak them or you will lose their precious liquid. Once clean, place them in a bowl and set aside.

2. Combine the shallots and wine in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes only and add the mussels. Cover the pan and shake. Continue to cook until the mussels begin to open. Remove the mussels as they open (allow them to get quite open, not just slightly). Throw out any mussels that do not open (these were dead before you cooked them and could make you sick).

3. Once all the mussels are out, strain the remaining juices through a fine seive and allow to settle. Remove the empty half of the mussels and lay the meaty ones in a large gratin dish (shallow baking pan with sides). Set aside.

4. Meld the butter in a saucepan over low heat, add the flour and stir until completely mixed (make a roux). Gradually pour in the mussel juice, being careful not to stop before any of the sediment at the bottom gets in. Whisk this until smooth, add the garlic and the curry powder and cook on low, stirring, until it thickens. Check your seasoning and add salt or pepper if you like. If it gets too thick add some water.

5. In a bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the cream with the lemon juice and some pepper. Add to the sauce.

6. Preheat your grill on high. Pour the sauce over the mussels, being sure to get some in each little shell. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top and dot with butter. Throw it under the grill for 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

- Chouet, D. & Hobbs, T. (2010). So French: A lifetime in the provincial kitchen. Murdoch Books; London. p.96

Backcountry skiing in New Zealand

[Kea hanging out at the parking lot]

Due to the various circumstances of the past year, Stephen and I had not gotten out skiing once this winter. We decided that this could not be and so packed our things one glorious Sunday morning and headed for the mountains. As our finances have changed since buying a house (which most of you are probably familiar with), we decided to do some backcountry skiing and save ourselves some money by not buying lift tickets. Hiking up is much better for your health anyways.

We arrived at Porter's Pass around 10am and unpacked our gear. There were already loads of cars parked in the small pull off at the summit below Foggy Peak. And we could see a large group of trampers trudging up the mountain through the snow. We figured that they were probably here for a course. Another couple of skiers pulled up while we were getting ready and we chatted with them about the route they were going to follow. Then it was back to getting dressed - snowpants, ski boots, PLB, fleece, mitts, toque, sunglasses, and jacket, hmmm, no jacket, it's pretty warm out.

Finally, we were ready and headed for the snow. We strapped on our skis and made to follow the other guys ski tracks. Two steps in I heard swearing behind me, I looked back and saw Stephen messing with his ski skins (strips you stick to the bottom of your skis to only allow you to slide one direction, good for climbing). Both skins had snapped in two. He quickly told me to keep moving and that he would catch up. Feeling that it would be best for me to let him deal with this on his own I trudged my way up the slope. There was a long ways to go and the more time I gave myself for breaks the better.

Stephen didn't take long to catch up. With his skis in his arms he followed the trampers tracks straight up while I twisted back and forth on the ski tracks (there's only so steep one can go with skis on even with skins). Up and up and up. Around spikey spaniards sticking through the snow and over hidden shrubs that would suck you in when you stepped on them. When we reached the first bench, we took a short break to strip down a layer. I was pretty sweaty already and we weren't even halfway up.

At one point we passed the trampers as they stopped for lunch. Stephen going up over the rocky ridge in the sun and my opting to stay low and cross the rather steep, shady bit of slope. Half way across I realized why the other skiers had decided to go over, it was almost sheer ice. I inched my way across the slope slowly and carefully. Thinking how embarrassing it would be to serve as a bad example for the tramping groups lesson plan. But eventually I made it across, with nothing worse than some rather shaky legs. I met Stephen back on top of the ridge and we sat down for some lunch.

After lunch we made the last dash for the summit. I was pleased as punch to have made it to the top and enjoyed the view East towards Christchurch and the ocean. While Stephen took a quick wander over to the other side, I had some tea and put my layers back on. Finally, we were all set. With our skis on we looked down the mountain and planned our route. It looked like there was a beautiful, open slope ready for us to carve down so off we headed.

I was at the top of the slope and about to head into the glorious powder, Stephen was waiting to let me have the first turn on that blank white canvas. I lunged into the turn, jutting my right leg forward and leaning into the hill . . . . but my back foot felt funny. It jiggled. It wiggled. And then, bewildered, I stumbled and watched as my left ski slid, rolled and tumbled down the hill to the bottom of the slope. I collapsed into the snow and howled with laughter. Poor Stephen, thinking I was hurt quickly came down to see if I was alright. He couldn't quite understand how it was funny. But I reassured him that nothing could be more hilarious. He had had to walk up the mountain, it seemed only fair that I walk down it.

So while Stephen gracefully carved his way down the hill, I slid, rolled and tumbled after my ski. We met up at the lonely ski and examined the damage. It didn't look all that bad, the screws that attached the binding to the ski had just come out. Though we figured it would probably be time for some new bindings. So much for saving money by going backcountry skiing. Stephen graciously passed his skis over to me and I took the next section of the mountain by ski, while he, braver than me, attempted to ski one legged. I have to say it was impressive that he could stay up, let alone steer. When I had the broken skis back, the best I could do was slide on them.

We made it back to the parking lot just as the trampers left. Utterly euphoric from the beauty (and adventure) of the day we had spent in the mountains, we packed up our gear, drank the last of the tea and headed for home.

[Packing up the car after a day in the snow - notice the ski second from the left missing its binding]

The next day Stephen found an old pair of telemark skis on Trademe that included a pair of skins. They're in the mail now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Global cuisine - Japan

[Miso rice balls (front) and teriyaki beef rice balls (back) in Diamond Harbour for lunch]

While life is an ongoing interesting adventure full of new things to experience and people to share with, sometimes it's nice to create an environment where you force yourself to try new things and experiment.

Now I consider myself pretty adventurous in the kitchen, trying new recipes and new foods as much as possible. But it's hard not to fall back onto those familiar foods we know how to make and can throw together with our eyes closed after a long day of work. A couple of weeks ago, I thought maybe we could try something to push our comfort and force ourselves to learn new things. So the idea of cooking global came up. For a week at a time, we would cook all our dinners (and lunches if at home) from a national cuisine. Looking at our cupboard and seeing what was in season, we decided our first week would be Japanese.

Now, I've never been to Japan, though I would one day love to go. Probably with my brother, who I would take as a guide as he has been there several times already and has a deep passion for all things Japanese. Despite this, I do enjoy their food, or rather, what has been presented to me by mass media as their national dishes - sushi, ramen, and okinomiyaki (a fried egg and cabbage omlette with shrimp and tasty sauce). Ok, the okinomiyaki is probably not a mass media thing, it was rather a dish my brother and dad brought back with them from one of their earlier trips to Japan. But this was what I thought of for Japanese foods. I knew there was more out there, so one of the 'rules' for this little experiment would be to cook things we hadn't cooked before - so no sushi.

I started by going to the library and taking out the cook books they had there. And, probably unique to Japan, I found a manga (graphic novel, comic book) devoted to the exploration of Japanese food. In each volume, Oishinbo explores a different aspect of Japanese cuisine. I had seen them floating around my brothers room back home, so I picked up the one they had on "The Joy of Rice". With my literary guides chosen I headed home to see what we could conjure up for our week of Japanese eating.

[Oishinbo, or "The Gourmet", looks into various aspects of Japanese food. I got my ideas for rice balls from here.]

The first night, a Thursday I think, we ate beef and udon noodle soup. It was absolutely delicious. The next night it was a bowl of rice with several toppings arranged artfully around the top (aesthetics is an important part of food preparation in Japan). On the weekend, I made three different types of rice balls some stuffed, some just coated in flavours. These worked perfectly for our lunches on our hike and ski outings. No worries about squishing bread, just an easy to eat, flavourful treat ready to go at lunch. In fact, towards the end of the week it was getting easy to experiment with our new understanding of flavours and ingredients to make up our own recipes. Although, on our last night, we fell back to our recipe book and made a simple (most of the food we made was surprisingly simple and non-fussy) and absolutely divine sweet miso marinated cod with noodles and fennel salad.

During this week, I learned a few things. Firstly, that by cooking from a specific cuisine we spent far less money on groceries as we only needed a few choice ingredients that we used up through the week (1x 500ml bottle of miso paste, 3/4 bottle of sake, 1/2 bottle pickled ginger, 1 packet soba noodles and 4 packets udon noodles, among others). Our fridge remained spacious and nothing went to waste. It was a satisfying feeling. Second, Japanese food (sushi) has always been presented (or perceived by me anyhow) as an exotic, fancy food for celebrities and executives. This has slowly changed over time as it has become more the norm to find sushi places around town (heck, in Whitehorse there are two, at one point even three, sushi places. This for a town of 25,000). However, the home cooking that we were doing was far from the complicated, many stepped ritual of preparing and rolling rice. We have put several of our experiments into our own little recipe collection for later use. Eventually, these once exotic recipes will become the easy fall back onto which we will look for sustenance after a long day at work.

Below are two recipes I particularly enjoyed. First, spinach gomaae. Always a favorite of mine when visiting a Japanese restaurant, this spinach salad with sesame dressing was something I really wanted to try and make. Little did I know just how easy it was to make. A word of warning, it does have a strong flavour. Although I love it, poor Stephen does not, which was good for me I suppose as I got to eat it all up. This recipe has been taken (and slightly altered) from the New York Times website (that source for all things Japanese ;-). Their link follows.

Spinach Gomaae

1 large bunch of spinach (younger leaves are more tender)

4 tablespoons of seasame seeds

1/2 tablespoon sugar (more or less depending on how sweet you like it*)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

a splash of water

1. First, prepare the spinach by chopping just the very tips of the bottoms off (keeping the leaves joined if they are young and keeping the stems if they are larger) and rinsing off any dirt clinging on. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and have ready a large bowl of ice water along side.

2. Blanche the spinach - In batches, place some spinach in a mesh seive and dip this into the boiling water. Using a large spoon make sure the spinach is submerged in the water and hold it there for about 30 seconds, then remove it from the pot and dump it into the ice water. The spinach can sit in here quite happily for a while.

3. Once you have blanched your spinach, remove it in handfuls, squeezing out any excess water. Chop into 2 inch lengths and throw into a bowl.

4. Now, prepare the dressing. Toss your sesame seeds into a dry frying pan on high heat and toast. Keep the pan moving and shake the seeds around until they begin to turn golden brown and become aromatic. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the seeds into a mortar and pestle and allow to cool.

5. Once cool (or at least mostly), grind the seeds until just crushed. You should have a few still whole, but most will be crushed.

6. Combine the soy sauce and sugar in a bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the sake and sesame seeds, pour in some water to reach the consistency you prefer. I put in about a tablespoon. Pour this over your spinach and mix.


The second recipe is the one we made on our last night, sweet miso marinated cod. You can substitute any white fish you like. This is from one of the cookbooks we got from the library, Japanese Pure and Simple by Kimiko Barber. It is simple and so delicious. And although it might look like a lot of sugar, dessert is not common in Japan, mostly it is just fresh, sliced fruit, so I would recommend following this dinner with just that. We served our fish with some buckwheat soba noodles and a fresh fennel salad (sliced fennel root massaged with 1/2 teaspoon salt and sprinkled with lemon juice from 1/2 lemon).

Sweet Miso Marinated Cod

enough fillets of cod to feed your crew

200ml sake

100g sugar

450g light-coloured miso paste (we only had ~350g but it was still tasty)

1. Make up the marinade by placing the sake into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow alcohol to burn off for a few minutes, then remove from heat. Add sugar and stir until dissoved. Add miso paste and whisk together.

2. Place fillets into a flat dish with sides and pour over the marinade. Marinade fish in fridge for a few hours, 2-12 hours (any longer and your fish will start to dry out and become overpoweringly miso flavoured).

3. Heat grill to high and place fish under heat for 3-7 minutes (depending on size of fillets). Turn them over once golden and finish cooking (a little bit of caramelization is not bad, in fact it's pretty tasty).

There you have it. Tasty, miso cod. (Barber, K. 2006. Japanese pure and simple: over 100 health-giving recipes. Kyle Cathie Ltd., London.)

Next week - french. I've always wanted to make cassoulet. . .

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Snow Day - take 2

We woke up the next morning to snow. Lots of snow. More snow than last time. The quiet, softness of it seeming to act like a sedative on the entire city.

After a weekend of throwing myself up mountains and down mountains, it was a pleasure to just slow down and relax in a world forced to slow down by snow. The cat slept on the window sill, we called family in Canada, Stephen baked and shoveled and I sewed. It was a gloriously simple and comfortable day.

In fact, the next two days were the same. The snow continued to fall and clung to the ground for a good three days, closing schools, slowing traffic and making people smile.


After spending so much time in a city, albeit in our own house, we were getting tired of the cars, the noise, the people, and the illusion of rush and worry. We decided that a weekend away in the mountains was just what we needed. And after a well-timed conversation with a friend at uni, we even had someone to share a ride with and maybe shoot something to bring home.

We decided to head up to Lake Sumner and Jolliebrook Hut. Tom, our hunting friend, wanted to go the unconventional route and Stephen, always yearning for a challenge, was keen for this suggested mountain route. I was happy to go along for the ride.

Early Saturday morning, despite the weather warnings for Sunday afternoon, we packed up the car, picked up Tom (and his mountain of things) and headed West towards the mountains and Lake Sumner.

After a lovely, though twisty, drive we arrived at the muddy pull out beside the farm track we were on and parked the car. We were immediately smothered in the rich musical calls of a male Bellbird courting a female. He would puff himself up like a bellows and then expunge the melodic enticement to arouse her attentions. Hopping from branch to branch, this little fellow followed the coy wanderings of the female without pause, like a wee green cotton ball tied to her leg.

I was soon reminded to focus on putting my stuff together so we could hit the trail. So, leaving these two to their indeterminate fate, I pulled on my boots and added some of Toms' food to my bag. Then it was off across the wee stream and around the hill, following the sheep.

Once around the hill, we came to the swing bridge that would take us across the river and to the base of our mountain.

Once we were across, we left the trail and headed up onto the snake-like ridge that came down the mountain to meet the river where we had crossed. After a short bush-bash we emerged onto a bald patch of the ridge and decided on a route for our ascent up the hill.

Of course, once in the dense tangle of beech forest it was difficult to determine which way we should head. Led more by the open spaces between the trees than an overall direction, we attempted to keep a course up slope. But this was periodically challenged by a thicket of tangled branches and clinging vines (appropriately named bush lawyer).

After a rough struggle through this maze of scratchy branches and clingy climbers, we emerged at the base of a steep, but open slope. We decided to follow it up along the edge of the forest, hoping for some easing in making our way up. Unfortunately, this open slope was covered in our friend the Wild Spaniard/Taramea, also known in our family as 'spikey death grass'. I was glad to be wearing long pants to provide some protection to my legs, but could definitely feel they didn't do much.

Despite having to avoid these sharp, pointy plants, the way was easier - I think. With my head down, I put one foot in front of the other, singing whatever song floated through my head to keep my mind focused on moving and not on how much my calves and thighs burned from the climb.

We stopped for a quick lunch (and nap) part way up the hill. Stephen was happily leading the march, while Tom and I straggled at the back (him with a sore head from a celebratory night before and me from simply being slow). The two of us were happy to simply follow where Stephen led, which when it came to the snowy bits made for easier climbing.

Eventually, we made it to the top of the ridge. Exhausted from the intense climb, we looked around and enjoyed the glorious view towards Lake Sumner and the Sisters range to our East and South. Unfortunately, this was not the summit of the mountain and we still had a ways to go to get there, along the ridge and down the other side where our hut was waiting for us. But with the sun still shining over us, we were not worried about getting there.

Rather than climb up and over the rest of the mountain, we decided to side slope around. Figuring that this would be an easier and hopefully faster way of getting round to where we wanted to go. So, clinging to the rocky, scree slopes we carefully made our way around the side of the mountain. Although the spikey death grass was much rarer here, there were other things to try and avoid - like slipping down the scree and off the side of the mountain itself.

Fortunately, we were all sure-footed enough and successfully reached the far side of the ridge. It was getting noticeably late in the afternoon by this point and we were still not all that close. Although we were on the right side of the summit now, we still had a ways to go along the top before getting to the right ridge that would drop us down gently enough and on the right side of the mountain. Our pace increased and we marched along the summit ridge with renewed purpose and energy. Although my legs were like jelly from the climb and the careful side sloping, I forced them on wards - thinking about the cosy hut we would be sleeping in tonight.

By the time we got to the ridge the moon was up and the sky was quickly turning to dusk. As we dropped down towards the river (and our hut), the grassy open slope turned to beech brush and soon we were submerged in the thick branches of the scraggy trees again. This time in the dark.

It is an interesting endeavor trying to find ones way in thick brush in the dark with a head lamp on. I couldn't tell you which is easier, with it on or off. With the light you can see only the immediate branches around your face, which I suppose allows you to avoid getting hit in the face. But you tend to feel trapped and almost claustrophobic as everything beyond is utter blackness. We worked our way down the hill in a random sort of way, meeting up every once in a while using Marco Polo to find each other. Finally, the sound of rushing water arrived in our ears, the brush opened up and we found the whisperings of a trail that would take us to our hut.

After 5 or so river crossings and what seemed miles (in fact was about 700 metres) we made it to a clearing and our wee hut. Tom cooked a magnificent meal of five-spice pork with udon noodles and chinese cabbage and we fell, utterly spent, into bed.

The next morning we awoke to an uncanny silence. The kind of silence I had not heard for so long. The silence of freshly fallen snow.

The world outside had been transformed overnight from a dark, sharp unknown to a bright, soft whiteness. The snow was heavy and wet and blanketed the forest around us with it's thickness. It was glorious. We decided that perhaps we should make a good start to see if we were going to be able to get home.

The hike back to the car was fairly uneventful. We followed the trail this time, shaving a good 4 hours off our trip time. Enjoying the beauty of the snow while it lasted, then resigning ourselves to soaking wet feet from the puddles and mud it created.

We eventually emerged from the narrow valley and into the farmed land beyond. We wandered amongst the cows and grasses and rejoiced in the easiness of the trail over our previous days trek. We were in high spirits as we rounded the mountain in the sun and were startled when seemingly out of nowhere, we were pounded by hail and snow and slush all at once. The last hour of the hike we trudged on with our heads down, set only on arriving at the car.

Finally, cold, wet and exhilarated, we crossed the swing bridge and walked the last 500 metres to the car, no sign of our romantic pair here today. We changed into dry warm clothes and drove carefully back along the farm track to the highway and onto Christchurch, where the sun was shining - though there were the threatening clouds of a Southerly on the horizon. Tomorrow would be interesting, but we were home. Exhausted from our weekend way, I curled up in front of the pellet fire like a cat and slept, dreaming of the snow I might wake up to in the morning.