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!



Filled 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.




Filled 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!



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.

Filled 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.

Filled 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!

Filled 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.

Filled Under: food



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.

Filled 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!

Filled Under: food



The ultimate local food in Florida

Grapefruit is the ultimate local food in Florida. These beautiful, sweet, red fruits came from a friend’s backyard tree. This time of year, when citrus is plentiful around here, I have one every morning with my breakfast. All of those claims about grapefruit helping keep your weight down really do seem to be true. I’m not sure how it works, but every time I commit to losing a few pounds and have a grapefruit before breakfast (and sometimes dinner) it’s so much easier.

Filled Under: breakfast, food