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Embracing the spirit of French cooking

I had my first French meal and I never got over it.
~ Julia Child

I remember only a few things about my first trip to France. Being fascinated and enamoured by the French dish and its name – soupe de poisson (fish soup). Discovering the folly of eating at McDonalds in France (never to be repeated). Trying to enjoy the view from the Eiffel tower while the cold wind whipped my hair into a formidable tangle.

Then, I was a child too young to grasp the notion of romance, or the charm of the French spirit and culture. I was cold, and unaccustomed to eating so much dairy, or indeed, what seemed to be very rich food no matter where we went. I focused on the wrong things, like trying to spot signs in English, or getting my parents to buy me a miniature Eiffel Tower to take home. I ate escargot In Lyon without fuss – thanks to my food-loving family – but without the appreciation for the novelty of eating escargot in France which I would now have.

Years later, the magic of France would once again beckon, this time through a friend asking me to join her at the Alliance Française for evening classes. She had recently fallen for a French man. I rolled my eyes but oui, I went along. And twice, after class, we took the train down to a little French restaurant nestled in Little India in Singapore where we ate – I forget what now, except that our meals were unbelievably delicious. As life will have it, mere weeks later, I encountered a French man who – despite my inhibitions – managed to make me lose my head briefly. Alas! My friend had told me it would happen. She had warned me that I would find a French man “irresistible”. No, that will never happen to me, I had said to her, I will vomit if someone is too romantic. Also, it would be such a cliché.

Never be proud. Never say never. Or you’ll have to eat your words one heavy morsel at a time … c’est la vie

I went back to Paris in 2010 with my friend Annisha, after I spent a few days visiting her in London. We were there for a day. Our brief visit was nice but a little less than what we had hoped it would be. Annisha was feeling quite ill, we were so cold we could hardly think, and we were not successful in getting to the places we had hoped to see. The main redeeming moment for me was us, lost and hungry, stumbling upon a small humble hole-in-the-wall shop that turned out to have the most stunning slice of Tarte Aux Pommes.


From my visit in 2010

Here we are in 2017 and my heart aches for some of the things that have taken place and are taking place in beautiful France (not to mention the rest of the world). Yet as I pen this post I know that there are some things which will endure for as long as the French spirit endures. Her timeless beauty, her rich history, her elegance, her decadence, her soul, her charm, her deep connection with the seasons, her rituals, her ability to celebrate the everyday, to name a few …

For some reason France has been on my mind a lot of late, and yesterday, looking at some leftover wine from our dinner party last week, I decided to try making a version of coq au vin. I can hardly describe how good it smells frying sliced white onions and diced carrots in a pan just recently used to fry tiny strips of bacon and brown a few wine-stained chicken pieces. Sadly the finished dish did not turn out as I had hoped, despite the good smells and presence of good wine and a pretty bouquet garni. I had not followed any one recipe for it in particular, but I have definitely learned now that it is not a dish that deals well with indecision or an attempt to shortcut the process. It is a simple dish, but it is not easy … it is not a dish you can make without presence of mind and attention to detail. I have no doubt a well-made coq au vin would make a memorable meal … some time I will try again.

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After spending the afternoon in the kitchen, I asked my husband if he would come with me to visit the Green Bay Street Food market. We went along, it was delightful, and – still in French mode – I could not resist a crêpe with Nutella from the friendly couple running The Fab Truck. Verdict: C’est délicieux!

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This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, having had a series of unsettling dreams. For some reason or other I found myself looking up Julia Child’s recipe for scrambled eggs online. I then went into the kitchen, placed a saucepan on medium-low heat, and slid a generous chunk of butter into the saucepan. While it melted with a pleasing aroma, I beat two eggs quickly in a bowl with a dash of salt and pepper and slid a slice of frozen bread into the toaster. Swirling the butter in the saucepan until it evenly coated the bottom, I poured the eggs in, and cut up some leftover chives I had in the fridge. I stirred the mix with a wooden spoon, watching as the bottom started to cook – at which I added in a dribble of milk and gave it a slow stir again. The slice of toast popped out nicely brown. I put it on a plate with a sprinkle of grated cheese, and stirred the soft egg mixture again till it looked almost done. I took the saucepan off the heat, ladled the egg on to the toast, added the chopped chives over the lot … and found The Cure for Unsatisfactory Sleep.

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… And perhaps gained a little more practical understanding of the spirit of French cooking: taking care and effort, being unafraid, allowing elegance and simplicity to meet in a dish as simple as scrambled eggs.

Bonne journée.

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
~ Julia Child

Dinner for 11

This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.
~ Alice Waters

Last Saturday we were happy hosts to 9 friends, who joined us for a dinner party.

I think it is safe to say that all 11 of us adults + 1 baby + 1 dog had a great time :-)

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Our menu for the evening:

Food
Mezze platter, pita wedges
Smoked salmon
Itamar’s bulghar pilaf
Cucumber and poppy seed salad
Leg of lamb with oregano and lemon
Roast kumara with pomegranate molasses (not pictured)
Green beans with olive oil (not pictured)
Sweet layers – hubby’s creation

Drink
Water with lemon and mint
Orangello
Les Fiefs d’Aupenac 2013 – Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun
Coffee and tea

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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Taumata

Seamless storytelling. Captivating. Bravo!

A super treat last night – my friend Katherine’s company plus a ticket to see Taumata – Four New Works at Q Theatre. A quick Google search piqued my interest, and indeed the brilliant performance of the dancers swept me off my feet!

Delivered in four separate yet connected acts, they took me to the secret place between humanity and divinity. In barely an hour we covered a lot of ground. The black stage set took on, for me, different dimensions throughout the evening – a fertile soil supporting life; imagination; a womb; a final resting place; mystery and desire; the point of no return; black night.

I loved quite a few things about Taumata – the sense of harmony throughout the evening. The way music carried movement and movement submitted to rhythm. Taane Mete’s impressive portrayal of the rawness of birth, living and death. The flowing dresses and startling story of womanhood told through the beautiful women in Sisters of the Black Crow (act 3). The absolute grace and agility of the dancers in Eve, bringing together the poise and beauty of ballet with the strength and fun of acrobatics.

It reminded me of the awesome knowledge that we are small … we are the crown of creation.