Applesauce for Africa! And plum chutney and strawberry jam and guacamole and . . .


It’s plum season round here and, although plums are making a showing at a whopping $8/kg in the shops and stands, the trees in my neighbourhood are heavy with lovely fruit. I’ve certainly been known to pull one off the tree, give it a good shine on my shirt and eat it right there in the garden. But what happens when there’s far too much fruit to eat out of hand? Well, if you’re a kiwi, and it really does seem to be a kiwi thing, you can it. Well, first you make it into something delicious like plum chutney or plum jam, maybe even plum sauce. Then you put it in freshly sterilized jars and put it in the cupboard to enjoy on those plumless days midwinter.




Earlier this week you could find me and quite a few of my (neighbour’s) plums in my friend’s kitchen chopping plums and red onions for plum chutney. We made eight gorgeous jars of the stuff and our daughters proclaimed it (without even tasting it) New Zealand’s best plum chutney. Although you ought to wait about a week to open a jar, we had to open one that night with our lamb sausages. It was tasty as. And a bit spicy too, thanks to the dried chilies.


The very next day you could find me in another friends kitchen talking about her strawberry jam making. Turns out her very helpful husband brought her not one but two buckets of “jam strawberries.” These are the unlucky berries that didn’t make it (because of quality or size) into the punnets of perfect sale-worthy strawberries that sometimes sell for $4 or more a chip. $5 for a bucket is a great price! Two buckets becomes, well, a bit of a chore. That’s a lot of jam! Maybe enough to start sending it to the starving kids in Africa. But can it she did. It’s the kiwi way, it seems.

After hearing about her jam adventures, we wandered out to her garden to take a look at, among other things, her rather prolific apple tree. Although a bit early for apples here in the southern hemisphere, her tree was producing some beautiful and quite large, tart apples. Great for applesauce. I offered to help her pick some and one thing led to another. Back to the kitchen to start peeling and chopping. And then, what the heck, let’s make some applesauce. It’s not the first batch of applesauce she’s made. She had just put some up the other day. After getting a bucket of apples and making a big batch of the stuff, her husband, ever helpful, brought in another bloody bucketful. What a girl to do? Make more applesauce. Applesauce for Africa! The jars joined last year’s bounty on the shelf.


So did I take a day of rest? A day without canning or bottling something? Nope. Earlier today you could find me back in friend #1′s kitchen chopping cucumbers and capsicum (red bell peppers) for a yummy chutney that my husband loves. He’s not a big plum or applesauce fan so I really needed to make some of this cucumber and capsicum chutney. But chutney wasn’t enough. Oh no. I had stopped at the strawberry stand and gotten myself one of those $5 buckets of “jam strawberries.” This time it was the two girls who got busy prepping the strawberries. They made quite the mess, but when they were done we had two big freezer bags full of what were now known as “smoothie strawberries” for the freezer. There were a few strawberries that were just a bit too soft for future smoothies so I cooked them up into some lovely strawberry jam.


And now I’m tired. Thankfully, I’ve already made tons of guacamole from the big bag of avocados that I just couldn’t resist buying last week!



Posted Under: food



This New Zealand Life


For me, life in New Zealand has been all about lifestyle. We went from a harried lifestyle in the US to this New Zealand Life.

Most Saturdays find us mucking about it the vege garden. Usually it’s pulling weeds and watering, but today we did a bit of hand to hand combat with the compost pile, dragged giant ropes of grass roots from the side of the largest fallow patch and, once we stood back and looked at the work we’d done, headed straight for Mitre 10. And why not? It was clearly time to finally plant that fallow patch. So the three of us grabbed our jandals, hopped in the Wingroad for the 2 minute ride downtown and arrived at the local Mitre 10 Garden Center with dreams of potatoes, watermelon and rosemary bushes swirling round in our heads.

Less than half an hour later, armed with seed packets and our trusty hoe, we bedded in our newest crops. Yep, we got our seed potatoes, our watermelon seeds and a small rosemary plant among other things. Won’t be long now before we’ll be tasting the fruits of our labor.


Speaking fruits, we are looking forward to the most delicious summer ever with the fruit trees in our and our neighbours’ yards brimming with all manner of yummy fruits. We’ve begun to harvest raspberries in our own yard and the neighbour’s yard has a plum tree that’s dragging with the weight of its fruit. One plum cake down and many many to go.

Our grapes are finally looking like proper grapes. Should have more than we can eat by new year. We are definitely thinking wine. Hmmmm… I wonder if plum wine might be a good idea.


The kiwi fruits are looking absolutely darling! Such cute little things with their fuzzy coats. Unfortunately there aren’t too many of the cute little buggers, but homegrown kiwi fruits is still the dog’s bollocks if you ask me.


The lettuces continue to provide us with near nightly salads and today we were able to add two small tomatoes and a few fennel leave for some spice. This is definitely the life. the New Zealand Life.




Posted Under: food



The Incredible Edible New Zealand Egg


We moved to New Zealand to find the good life. We found the good egg.

The New Zealand egg, fresh from the hen, sporting a good bit of  whatever that is that is cleaned off of American eggs before they reach those pristine styrofoam cartons, big as life and, oftentimes, neither fully white nor fuly brown, could easily be a metaphor for all that is great about the NZ lifestyle. Gorgeous, delicious and not always what you expect.

The eggs here are dirty. At least the ones I’ve been getting. Whether they’re from a nearby farm stand or our neighbor’s chickens, they’ve got a bit of this and a bit of that that I’d rather not think about on the shell. Not to mention a feather or two on occasion. Nothing a quick wipe with a vinegar-soaked paper towel won’t fix, though. My NZ lifestyle’s a bit dirty as well. Mucking about in the vege garden gets one a bit dirty. And everyone’s got a vege garden. Loaded with cabbages and brussels sprouts and all manner of things that New Zealanders seem to actually eat! I’m not complaining… these are the sorts of foods I love.


The eggs here are big! Or very small! At least that’s been my experience. I’ve found a few mediums here and there as well. When my recipe calls for 2 large eggs, I’ve got to think a bit and rummage around in the egg basket for what I imagine the equivalent of 2 large eggs is at that moment. One of the rather large ones and one of the very small ones ought to do. And the banana muffins turned out great! My life here seems to be a bit like that, too, so far. Making do with this or that and having things turn out great.

The eggs I get come in a few colors as well. Of course there’s white and brown. But the white eggs don’t seem nearly as white as their American counterparts. And my brown eggs range from lightly beige to full on brown. And green. I love the green eggs. They’re not terribly green, mind you. Just a lovely green cast that makes you stop and look.

But what’s really amazing about NZ eggs is the way they taste. First take a look at a freshly cracked egg. The yolk is nearly Halloween orange. It’s that way from the hen’s diet. She’s likely eating bugs, greens and whatever she can scrounge up. The way nature intended. That yolk is going to be full of beta-carotene and omega-3 fats. Much healthier to eat. And the taste is not like any eggs I’ve had before. Believe me. You just have to try one…


We also get duck eggs from a friend. These are lovely. They’re about the size of the largest chicken eggs I get. But do really look different. The yolks are the same bright orange. But the whites are quite clear. And they cook up quite bright white!

So lately it’s been eggs for breakfast — fried and scramble — and eggs for lunch — hard-boiled and deviled. I’ve even made some gorgeous mayonnaise. Maybe I should fix eggs for dinner tonight. Fresh herbed frittata it is!

Posted Under: breakfast - chicken - duck - eggs - food - lunch - poultry



Zen and the Art of Cheesemaking


Making your own cheese is a great way to eat locally. Some local milk and some very local labor and you’ll be enjoying homemade cheese in under an hour.

My first memory of homemade cheese is from my teen years when my dad started making cheese. I remember cheesecloth balls draining at the sink. And yummy soft cheeses served just as is without even crackers. This was good stuff.

Looking back, I can see that my dad was an interesting mix of hi-tech gadget geek and a man longing for the old ways. When we lived in California we had an olive tree. So of course my dad set out to cure his own olives. Now that’s cool! My dad also made his own pasta, his own bread and, later in life, his own wine. His geek side meant that we had the first microwave, first VCR and first computer of anyone I knew.

I’m a bit of a gadget geek myself, but it was my dad’s hankering for homemade novelties that I remember most fondly. A few years before he died, my dad would wow relatives with his cheesemaking abilities, making a  beautiful, glossy, delicious round of mozzarella cheese in under an hour.

I like to think I take after my dad. For years, I have made my own bread, baked most things from scratch and helped with the family winemaking. (My geeky side means I have an iMac, and MacBook Pro and an iPhone.) So making cheese seemed like the obvious thing to do! In the last year or two, I’ve made mozzarella cheese a few times. With mixed success.

When it became clear that my dad was really dying, I set out to garner whatever cheesemaking ability he could pass on. So while my dad lay in his hospice bed in the living room (holding court as usual with lots of family members around), I set up in my mom’s kitchen with pots and bowls, thermometers and milk. At one point I snapped a quick picture of the developing curd with my iPhone so that Dad could take a critical look. That photo is here in this post. Yes, the curd was ready. Dad pronounced it! My perfect batch of mozzarella was soon ready to be tasted. I feel certain my dad was proud that day of that glossy ball of cheese. I’ll consider his wisdom passed on. So now it’s me that makes the cheese in the family (with plenty of help from husband). Some day I’ll pass the skill on to daughter.

I look back now and realize that the photo here was taken October 18, 2008. My dear dad passed away on October 22 (just days later). The cheese wisdom was passed on just in time!

For great information on cheesemaking and a recipe for mozzarella (and many more types of cheese) follow this LINK.

Posted Under: food



Do you speak my language?


As many of you know, I’ve recently made the big move to New Zealand. It’s been quite an adventure and one that is in no small way related to my quest for the best food I can find.

From my almost immediate trip to the local farmers’ market to my now weekly bread baking, my time in New Zealand has revolved around food. It must be said that eating out in NZ is nothing like it was in the US. I haven’t decided yet if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Family restaurants don’t seem to exist much here. Certainly not the way Americans know them. And yet the cities are teeming with cafes. We live in a town of  just over 3,000 people, but the small downtown of Warkworth has at least 4 cafes in its several blocks. We tend to eat at home a lot as a family. That’s a good thing. But where are the cheap Ceasar salads? That might just be bad.

That said, it’s easy to eat locally round here. You can’t go out driving without seeing hundreds of sheep as just as many cows. And they’re all grass-fed. The farmers’ markets and roadside stands are generous with local produce, including a few NZ-only fruits and veges.

So my lunch today comprised of the lovely NZ tamarillo, my freshly baked NZ-style rolls, a bit of sliced chicken from the deli (a definite low point in eating locally, but more on that in a later post), and a very generous smear of Vegemite. Although Vegemite is from the land of Oz, it’s NZ counterpart, Marmite (love it or hate it!), is just as tasty.

Posted Under: food



Red, White and Blue

Today, daughter and I made a red, white and blue cake. A simple chocolate layer cake made with fresh ingredients with freshly whipped cream is topped with local strawberries and bright blueberries. Yum!

Posted Under: food



Blessed are the cheese makers!

Things are looking up with regard to cheese making! I seem to have the process down, although grocery store milk is unpredictable at best. Liquid rennet seems to be the way to go. And bringing the milk up to about 95 degrees F seems to help as well. 

Husband and I made a trip out to the closest dairy (that we could find) near Marsaryktown. There we found gallons of raw milk for $7. Found out later that day that it makes the best mozz! Another local food success.

Posted Under: food



Alternative Meat

Many health-conscious folks have considered scaling back their consumption of beef. Easier said than done. Unless you are a vegetarian or a vegan, beef probably comprises a hefty portion of your protein intake. It’s readily available, even hard to avoid, and most omnivorous Americans eat it on a weekly basis.


Beef is not always the healthiest meat to eat. The meat industry cares more about profit than public health. That much is clear. According to the Seatlle-Post-Intellegencer, “American beef industry officials earlier this year opposed a congressional measure to ban downer cattle from consumption.” They have since changed their attitude when a downer cow was found to have made its way into the food supply infected with BSE. But the recent scares were probably just that, scares. It’s the

antibiotics, hormones and disregard for safe procedures that makes our beef less than optimal. This is true for our other common sources of meat as well. The poultry industry has its own issues with antibiotics, cheap feed and overcrowded cages, not to mention inhumane practices one hears about like the debeaking of chickens and the chaining of cows in small stalls.


So if health concerns have you running scared what are your options?


Take a look around your local grocery store. There, among the beef, pork and chicken, you’ll find lamb, goose, duck, bison. All have one thing in common. Besides being less common, or perhaps because of it, all have resisted attempts at (or been regulated against) mass production.


The eating of lamb is quite common in other countries, but is a bit of an alternative meat in America. Flavourful and simple to cook, lamb is a great source of protein for the dinner table. Most lamb is pasture-fed, making it higher in nutrients than animals fed commercial feed. Lamb can be prepared in many the same ways as beef. Ground lamb can be substituted for ground beef, and lamb stew meat can be used in place of beef stew meat and has the added advantage of cooking more quickly than beef. For some interesting ways to cook lamb, try an Indian cookbook. You’ll find such simple recipes as Ground Lamb with Peas or Lamb with Onions and more complex dishes such as Rogan Josh, an Indian restaurant staple made with lamb chunks stewed in an aromatic yoghurt sauce.


Lamb is not your only choice of interesting meats. My local grocery store carries frozen goose. The prices are comparable with turkey and organic chicken and the meat is a tasty alternative. I had to look to British chefs to find any good recipes for this traditional Christmas meat, but it was worth the search. A properly cooked goose is highly flavourful and extremely moist without being fatty. It’s also a great conversation piece for a dinner party! If recipes for cooked goose aren’t readily available to you, try using your favourite roast chicken recipe. Just buy more pounds per person, as goose tends to render less meat per pound than the average grocery store chicken. Roasting a goose has other advantages over chicken. The rendered fat from a roasted goose is quite copious and can be saved to use when roasting potatoes or even frying eggs the next morning.


Similar to goose, duck meat is highly flavoured and very moist. It does tend to be a fattier meat, though, so save it for your low-carb dinners. Duck takes a bit more preparation, but the results are quite amazing. The night before you cook a duck, take it out of its wrapper and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator. This causes the skin to dry out which allows it to crisp up in the oven during roasting leading to a bird with moist rich meat under a crispy delicious skin. The fat from a roasted duck is also excellent for roasting potatoes although you will get less than you would from a roast goose.


Bison (buffalo) is probably the most unusual of the unusual meats. I found it frozen in my local grocery in the frozen fish section of all places! Bison meat is quite close in flavor and texture to domestic beef. It can be used in place of beef in any recipe and your diners will probably not notice the difference except perhaps to comment on what delicious hamburgers, meatloaf or stew you’ve cooked. Bison is low in fat and high in protein, making it a healthful alternative to beef. It is also a minimally processed meat. It says on the package of frozen ground bison that I have in my freezer that according to F.D.A. regulations, no growth hormones can ever be administered to Bison. According to my local news radio station, sales of bison are on the increase so if you can’t find bison in your local grocery store now, keep checking.


If you still can’t bring yourself to give up beef but are concerned about the way it is processed, consider limiting your purchases to unground meat. If ground beef is on the menu, have the butcher grind it for you from a good, lean cut of beef. For that matter, find yourself a local butcher you can trust. If you develop a good rapport, he’s likely to point you toward the freshest cuts available. In addition, check to see what breed of cow your beef is coming from. Hereford cows are not among the breeds to have been found with BSE. In addition, Hereford steaks tend to be the tenderest, most flavourful cuts available.


In short, if you are worried about mad cow or hormones in your meat, think outside the box! Who knows, your guests might arrive for you next dinner party and find Pot-Roasted Partridges with Juniper Stuffing on the menu!  

Posted Under: Articles



Watching my dinner swim

In my quest to eat healthfully and locally, I’ve zeroed in on fish as the most obvious way to go. Living in Florida means that dinner can often be found swimming just hours before it’s on the table. Not really knowing too much about fishing, I looked to a colleague for information, advice, and, well, the actual catching of the fish to be honest. I’m afraid I did little more than ask questions and take a lot of pictures. But to anyone who would listen, I went fishing.

On a gorgeous January evening after work, I met said colleague at a friend’s dock. He pointed out a few different kinds of fish – mullet and sheepshead are the two I can remember – and pointed out the dorsal fin of a nearby dolphin. Quite a few pelicans hung out with what turned out to be two feeding dolphins. They were probably hoping to catch a few fish themselves. Duck, egrets and a few seagulls rounded out the resident wildlife in a scene that can only be described as breathtaking.

Enter the net. This was a big heavy thing that I’m not sure I could drag around let alone hurl out into the water. So I watched. And took pictures. And asked questions. Then it snagged a fish. A big (by my standards) mullet. The poor thing flopped around and looked quite helpless. I felt a bit sorry for it, but had visions of the perfect flour dredging and a pan of hot oil. I did blurt out an apology, though. I’ve been far too removed from my food source for far too long. A hunter I’m not. Not much of a fisherman either. My friend wasn’t doing too badly, though. Another mullet made its way into the net. This one a bit smaller.

Filleting was another occasion for me to stand around taking pictures. I don’t really care to cut up grocery store-bought chicken, so I’m certainly not ready to butcher something with eyes and a slightly shocked expression.

It wasn’t too much longer before I was in the kitchen watching Husband fry up some lovely pieces of tender perfectly-cooked mullet. He’s quite the chef is my husband and we all sat down for a very fresh, very local, very healthful dinner.

Posted Under: food - local Fish



Oat Cakes (or what to do with leftover oatmeal)


If you’ve got leftover oatmeal, pack it up and put it in the fridge for the next day. When breakfast time rolls around, add an egg or two to your now cold oatmeal. Mix it together with clean hands as if you’re making meatloaf or hamburgers. Shape it into little cakes and pan fry them until fox colored. Serve with chutney or achar. More on achar later.


I love the idea of frying until “fox colored.” This sweet little phrase came from a recipe husband came across while living in Japan. He was making the small meat-filled dumplings called gyoza. The directions, when translated into English said to “fry until fox colored.” Makes you think of the perfect shade of reddish gold. Just like your pretty little oat cakes.


Whereas oatmeal is usually a sweet breakfast dish, oat cakes are decidedly savory. I usually put a pinch of salt into the “batter” and a grinding of fresh pepper on top once fried. But it’s the toppings you serve them with that really make this a great breakfast dish. At our house, we love to serve oat cakes with achar. For those intimately familiar with Indian cuisine this is an addictive condiment served with everything from omelettes to freshly made parathas. 


Indians and Pakistanis believe that achar can cause sore throats or dry coughs. It’s definitely a bit spicy, but I’m not sure how it might contribute to a cough. Nonetheless, while traveling in Pakistan, having both and an addiction to garlic achar and a lingering dry cough, I ran into a bit of trouble. The family I was staying with insisted that I stay away from the achar to avoid prolonging my affliction. Not one to be put off so easily, I could be found most mornings in the kitchen begging the cook (who spoke as much English as I spoke Urdu) for achar using hand gestures and mime. Achar is good enough to risk both your respiratory health and family politics to get to eat it with your morning eggs or oat cakes. Try some!

Posted Under: food