Thoughts while washing dishes (or why I cook)

There is a certain quiet in the kitchen when everyone has eaten and left.

Sleep starts to tease your eyelids as your hands work methodically to soap and rinse the sprawl of pots, plates, utensils … getting slower as you start yearning for bed, then quicker as you look at the time and remember that your alarm clock will ring in 6 hours.

It is work, you work harder than you have all day at your day job. You hop off the train, kiss your husband, run to the store, come home, march into the kitchen, don an apron, get moving. When guests expecting dinner are due in 45 minutes, there is no pointless dawdling or twiddling of thumbs, no pointless scrolling, no staring at the clock willing 5pm to come sooner. It’s work shift #2 after a full shift #1, but it’s rewarding work – chopping, measuring, sniffing, stirring … eating … talking … checking that guests’ glasses are full and bellies filling. You whip cream and make tea. You co-host. You listen, talk, laugh, catch up. And then, just as quickly as it began, it’s over. They go home. Time to wash up and then to go to bed.

But THIS moment, washing dishes, marvelling at how cooking smells and laughter give way to crumbs on the table and oil splashes on the stovetop. THIS silence is golden. You understand that time is your own to do what you want with it. You understand why people are the most important thing in the world. You understand that all the work that goes into cooking and feeding makes sense and is worthwhile, even though food takes effort to cook and less effort to eat and once done it is a cycle to be repeated in the days to come.

Finally – when people have left and the plates are clean again, you can feel the difference it has made. You have given, but received so much more in return. You are satisfied with food and the fullness that comes from eating together with others. And you are filled with gratitude.

That’s why I do it. To feel good, to have fun – but equally, to enjoy the satisfaction of working hard with my hands and feeling rested, well and grateful.

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Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals

On my birthday last month, I drove purposefully to Sabato. One has to be strong (as I learned) to shop there with self-control! On this particular day, full from brunch with friends, I thought I might manage …

When I got there I was greeted with a smiling face, pleasantly-stocked shelves, a table with various oils and vinegars to taste. I took my time, dipping cubes of bread into oils and vinegars, gazing at cheese and chocolate. It was difficult to maintain my resolve to pick up just dinner ingredients and a treat or two. In the end, I left a little guiltily with a brown paper bag filled to the brim with goodies.

After all of that, I didn’t enjoy our dinner that night that much, though J complimented me very kindly on it.

But this dish, made a few nights later with one citrusy Sabato purchase, won both of us over.

    Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals 
    Ingredients:
    Olive oil
    Pasta spirals
    Fresh heirloom tomatoes – halved
    Garlic cloves, minced (we used 3 for 2 of us)
    Shoulder bacon, roughly diced (we used 100g)
    Sundried tomatoes, chopped
    Handful mushrooms, sliced
    Chilli flakes
    Ormond Rich Cream or white wine (optional)
    Mandarino* oil by Marina Colonna
    Salt
    Pepper
    Method:
    Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Salt it generously, then add in pasta spirals**. Ensure that the pasta is well covered with water. Cook till al dente, stirring every so often to prevent the pasta from sticking.
    While the pasta is cooking, place a skillet over moderately high heat and add in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is warm, fry the tomato halves until they smell sweet and begin to collapse, then remove and set aside.
    Add in a little more oil if the skillet is too dry. Throw in the chilli flakes, minced garlic and sun-dried tomatoes – sauté. Once you can smell the garlic, deglaze with a splash of Ormond Rich Cream (you can also use any white wine or water) and cook for a minute or two till it evaporates. If you add in too much liquid at this point, just take some of it out with a spoon and set aside.
    Add in the bacon, fry till they turn a rich pink and brown in bits. Add in the mushrooms. Add in excess liquid from above if any – or add another splash of cooking wine / water, as well as a tablespoon of water from the pasta pot. Stir and lower the heat. Add the cooked tomatoes back in.
    When the pasta is ready, drain it, shake off excess water and stir it into the ‘sauce’.
    Now for the finishing touch*. Drizzle on the Mandarino, and serve immediately. Add freshly ground salt and pepper as you wish.
    * In lieu of using Mandarino, perhaps you could leave it out / experiment with another infused oil, or perhaps with adding a pinch of sugar, some chopped preserved lemon or a squeeze of fresh orange juice?
    ** Depending on the cooking time of the pasta, you may wish to adjust the order of cooking so the pasta and bacon ‘sauce’ are ready at the same time.
    Measurements are not exact as I cooked this rather spontaneously (i.e. without measuring things) – this post is intended to serve as a guide / inspiration rather than a definite ‘how-to’. :-)

Summer simplicity

One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by.
~ Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

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The easiest, most delectable cookies

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There’s something to be said for creating a recipe that is both easy, and yields delicious results.

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I don’t even know what to say. See for yourself. Swoon with the simplicity of it all. And if you’re still reading this … don’t hesitate. Bake a batch of these lovelies* and give the best-shaped one to your clever husband**, and watch his eyes light up.

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Eat up.

You’re welcome.

* I skipped the freezing step – instead just placing the dough in the fridge for approximately 15 minutes while the oven was heating up. It turned out well enough!

** My man suggested that we use our baking dish – something a little like this one – rather than our usual steel tray, to help the cookies cook more evenly. Mini batch #1 – baked my way – came out after 23 minutes cooked to perfection on the top and slightly burnt on the bottom. Mini batch #2 – husband’s way – emerged after a lengthy 40 minutes, cooked to perfection all the way through. And guess who’s the patient one in our family!

Slow discoveries

The slow arrow of beauty. The most noble kind of beauty is that which does not carry us away suddenly, whose attacks are not violent or intoxicating (this kind easily awakens disgust), but rather the kind of beauty which infiltrates slowly …
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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Today was the best kind of day, the kind one usually gets to enjoy on a relaxing vacation.

There was so much time. To do, to meander, to discover.

There was time to take in the fragrant beauty of a ripe rockmelon … to admire a stranger’s handsome dog … to enjoy the breeze outside a lovely café with my husband, a sweet slice (orange and pistachio), his laptop, my pen and paper.

There is a place I want to tell you about. Earlier this morning, I was on my way home, driving towards a roundabout, when I paused. Left to go towards home; or right to a place I hadn’t noticed before, but seemed to beckon to me today. I turned right and parked outside Nola’s Orchard, noting the sign that announced that it had been in business since 1935.

My eyes took a while to adjust to the darkness, but not before I saw the first thing that made my eyes light up – “handmade ciabatta rolls”, for a very decent price. I looked around for the baskets, saw a lady get one from a neat stack behind me, and followed suit. Inside there was a delightful selection of produce, all fresh, all priced more than fairly. Most of all, there was a welcome lack of marketing, big lights, big ‘price drops’, or perfect-looking fruit with no character or taste.

Here food looked real … something I begin to appreciate more and more in the times we live in. I could smell the fruit and see the uneven bumps on them. I could savour the sight of fresh, beautiful vegetables. I left with a good bounty in a box (bonus: customers can help themselves to boxes in the store for their buys free of charge) – cherry tomatoes, rockmelon, pineapple, garlic, carrots, sprouts, bread and more … I loved doing my shopping there today, and look forward to going back.

The day got better from there …

There was time to talk, to walk, to laugh, to clean, to eat, to write, to plan, to do …

And hours still remain.

:-)

Nola’s Orchard – 474 West Coast Road, Oratia, Auckland

A new January

We can’t control the sea but we can learn to ride the waves.
~ Said a few wise people

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Happy new year, everyone (or no one?) :-) I have no idea who still reads or subscribes to this blog, but I was told recently that treehousekitchen showed up as a hit in a Google search for Tessa Kiros’s ceviche (first page!). Somehow, that piece of news winked at me ;-) Thanks, Kath, what a fun email to receive.

I spent a bit of time clicking around on the internet yesterday. Peeking at blogs I used to enjoy reading. Some still brought a sense of delight; others were dull with marketing; many seemed to have hit Pause or Stop sometime around 2013.

The internet, along with the rest of the world, is going through such revolutionary times. I mean, life has never ever stood still, but is it just me, or is change just happening faster and faster, more and more (in real life, and 1000x more ridiculously on the internet)? Looking through some older blogs and noticing the amount of change we have been through in a short length of time – just with the average style and quality of photographs on websites over the last seven years for instance – is amazing. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when you might have been the only one in a circle of friends who kept a ‘blog’ and ‘blogged’ on Saturday nights while everyone else was out getting pizza … now heaps of people have operated some kind of blog before and have, in fact, moved on to more significant endeavours.

Sitting down intentionally now to write (or even blog) feels slow and unnecessary; like attempting to knit myself a scarf when I could just buy one from a store. Or like doing something ‘unimportant’ when I could be reading emails or 200 social media updates instead.

I keep glancing up at the time, seeing the minutes tick by as I pause between thoughts and words. I hear a whisper of panic in my heart as I wonder if I always took so long to compose posts in the past, or whether this is taking longer because I am out of practice? And as the fear grows, other questions sprout. Can I do this? Should I do this? Is it going to at least change the world or something, for it to be worthwhile?

And as I write this, I smile with the sincere silliness of these questions.

Can’t we just cook*, blog, publish just for the simple desire of doing so? I ask myself.

And I shall leave it here today.

* Or, in this case, assemble – bagel halves, a full spread of cream cheese, slices of avocado and a fine vine-ripened tomato, smoked salmon, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper – served alongside a generous pinch of micro-greens. 

Making ginger loaf for the first time

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