Tag Archives: lunch

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. 

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One fine croissant, and other stories

Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places? There’s one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open up a store called Hello Toast.
~ Fran Lebowitz, journalist

So many things affect our experience of food. Who cooks. Who serves. Where we eat it, and with whom. How we eat it. Our mood and hunger levels at the time of our meal. What we eat. How it’s cooked (or not cooked).

Eating is seldom straightforward – even though, on the surface, it is a direct attempt to satisfy hunger. Every eating experience is a delicate dance between tens and possibly hundreds of hidden questions, thoughts, factors and functions all going on at the same time.

Good food, though, is a lot simpler to define: good food nourishes us. On many levels, or all at the same time if you’re exceptionally lucky. I’ll leave “good eating” for another post, shall I, so this doesn’t become a book stuffed into a blog post?

The topic of “good food” has been on my mind a lot this year, mostly in between dreams, plane rides and everything else. Travelling definitely makes me think about good food a lot. From the time you get on the plane, depending on the airline you’re with – you could be very thankful or very revolted looking at that box of stuff that’s meant to tide you over till you land! And, once at your destination, depending on a range of things like budget, availability, who you’re with and whether you’re the kind to dine in style or in hiding when alone – there’s a whole range of possibilities for meals that are different from and better than (you hope) the options at home. If you have dietary needs, then that adds a layer of stuff to consider and all your options under further examination, too.

I flew to sunny Nelson this last weekend – just a bumpy 30-minute plane ride away from Wellington. My belly was surprisingly unresponsive; I subsisted on three meals over two days despite my best attempts to make myself hungry. (Admittedly, one of the meals was had at none other than Burger King since there was nothing else close by and open, and my mind was too engrossed in work to travel much further in search of food).

But something unexpected did happen to me belly-and-food-brain-wise in Nelson; I was surprised by a croissant.

I had just returned to Nelson city from the airport on Saturday afternoon, slightly miffed that flights to Wellington had been disrupted and I was ‘trapped’ for an additional day in Nelson with a lack of clean clothes. This was probably the only moment in Nelson where I was suddenly attacked by hunger pangs… so I googled a place I had walked past the day before to check their opening hours and find their address, and promptly headed to The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – about half an hour before they closed.

As luck would have it, the only likely lunch options left were whole loaves of bread, or a solo croissant sitting in the cabinet. I wasn’t really in the mood for pastry, though this one was very pretty with its brie and chutney stuffing. And alas, this didn’t look nearly capable of killing off Hungry Monster, which was by now causing my belly some distress. Still, the lady there was so nice that before I thought about what I was saying, I bought it and hurried back to the place I was staying at (after casting a longing look at the pretty items on their shelves which I had to leave there since I had no space in my carry-on to bring anything home).

I warmed it slightly in the microwave, took out a pen to keep working and popped a corner of the warm, oozing croissant into my mouth. I thought I’d do the whole eat-and-work thing which I profess to hate but do anyway so as not to disrupt the crucial flow.

Well, I had to hit pause on work because this croissant was too good to be true.

Perhaps I was just overly hungry and everyone knows that food tastes better when you’re hungry… but I’m pretty sure this is one of the yummiest bakery items I’ve eaten in New Zealand. And NZ has a lot of very talented bakers around. But it’s hard to get everything perfect – a croissant, for instance, can be just a little too flaky (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too soft (meh); or too full of stuffing (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too salty; or too floury… or something. Not that I can be bothered being so fussy ;-) …… and this croissant was PERFECT. Flaky, without raining flakes on me. Soft, without being limp. Melting cheese. Perfect chutney. Fresh, savoury, flavourful. Yummy! I really enjoyed it. It killed off Hungry Monster, too.

And while it contained neither meat nor veg it really nourished me – sustaining me through an inspirational afternoon at the The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum. :-)

P.S. Not too difficult to see why Lonely Planet put in a good word for them, too!

The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – 54 Bridge Street, Nelson – Phone: 03 546 8685

Food Alley

A smiling face is half the meal.
~ Latvian Proverb

Those who know me may know about my not-so-secret tendency to avoid most food courts in New Zealand. Mostly, food courts here bring to mind stale sushi, artificially-flavoured milkshakes, grease-coated chairs and a collection of brightly coloured, mass produced, scary food.

In other words… bad food.

In my mind, bad food has less to do with dirty seats or cheap food than it has to do with authenticity, freshness and a real love of and respect for food (as opposed to a penchant for overeating/eating anything and everything).

I love hawker centre breakfasts in Singapore, for instance – even those open, humid places where stray cats strut around your feet, seats are slick with other people’s sweat and grease, and Singaporeans do this awful, unreasonable quirky thing of using packets of tissue paper to “reserve a table” while they go and get their food (also known in Singapore as “choping” a table… gotta love it).

Anyway, if you successfully navigate all challenges at a good hawker centre, it’s worth it. Everything will be forgiven and forgotten when you get to sink into that $1.50 mug of warm fresh soybean milk (not to be confused with New Zealand soy milk), and stir fried chai tow kway/char kway (rectangular slabs of daikon cake with eggs, garlic, sauce) or $3 plate of mee siam (thin vermicelli in a spicy, sour and sweet broth complete with dried bean curd, boiled egg, tamarind, chives, spring onion and a squeeze of fresh lime juice)… it’s quite difficult to make it sound as good as it is, but you’ll know what I mean if you’ve tried it!

Anyway. When I first heard about Food Alley in Auckland, I was a little skeptical. Warning bells went off in my head as I contemplated stale sushi and brightly coloured sweet and sour pork.

It turns out that I needn’t have dragged my feet so much the first time I went there with my colleague.

Really, it’s the one food court in Auckland that I won’t say no to going to more than once every month. It gets madly busy at lunchtime, and I can quite see why. A rapid lunch for under $12 on a busy day is a great thing; a spicy flavoursome break from salad and sandwiches is similarly good when you want one.

There’re plenty of choices available – think steamed buns filled with pork/chicken/red bean paste; spicy Thai larb gai (minced chicken salad with chilli and citrus – palate cleansing!) and sticky rice; fried Malaysian char kway teow with chicken, seafood or beef; bento boxes; Indonesian fried rice… they have everything you need for a quick dash to Asia, right in the heart of Auckland Central.

You can expect tasty food cooked to a mostly consistent standard on every visit, with perhaps a little more salt, spice and oil than you’re used to. Freshly cooked food (with the number of people who pass through, you can be reasonably sure that you’re not eating stale reheated stuff). Quick service. A few dirty seats and a sticky floor.

In the unlikely event that Food Alley leaves you outraged and disappointed, though, just remember you’re not spending very much for a very generous lunch.

Food Alley – 9-11 Albert Street, Auckland

Royal food for lazy folk #2

Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality.
~ Clifton Fadiman

It resembled a generous slice of magic swirling dessert set to gather smiles from the Tooth Fairy…

It brought to mind a curious word I seldom think about…

It was better than dessert and the consideration of calories…

It was a jolly good Sunday lunch.

What you do – you slice some of your favourite bread (I used sourdough), lay it flat and add the layers:

    cheese*
    +
    honey**

…and if you are lucky like me and have a beautiful friend who makes you fig and walnut salami, you can add a little of that on too.

Sweet like a cherry on a cupcake.

* This triple brie with black truffle sandwiched in the middle is made by Over the Moon Dairy Company and is as amazing as it sounds :-) I picked up my wedge from a nice gentleman Roland at Grey Lynn Farmers’ Market on Sunday.

** I received a goodie bag on Sunday which included this jar of Northern Rata honey from J. Friend and Co… I very much enjoyed its delicate/earthy flavour and elegant texture, and look forward to experimenting more with it!

Tis the season to have salads

Celebration and inspiration on a plate.

(This is the mandarin and watercress salad with crumbed jalapenos, brazil nuts, baby beets and cherry tomatoes…)

Estadio – 17-19 Blair Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 801 7960

Cervejaria Luzmar, Cascais

I went travelling from 18 Nov – 18 Dec. I’m now blogging about some of the places I went to… posts are not written in chronological order.

One of the best meals we had on this trip was at Cervejaria Luzmar, situated in sunny Cascais – a short distance away from Lisboa, Portugal.

It was indeed a fantastic meal.

This place was red, neat and so inviting. It also did not have the annoying waiters standing outside shoving menus in our faces (the reason we did not step into the other restaurants nearby).

We felt welcome from the moment we stepped in. The service was flawless, delivered with smiles and finesse. The menu was extensive and delicious… it was so hard to pick what to order! In the end, we settled for one platter of grilled fish and squid and vegetables to share, and some shellfish soup.

We were served baskets of bread, cheese and olives before our meal came. (Here is where we learned the Europe Bread Lesson the hard way: if you eat the bread, you pay.)

The waiter taught us how to eat this unique cheese – slice it into wedges, spread it on bread with salt and pepper, and eat. Oh my word, I am not the type to eat blocks of cheese in one sitting – but I really couldn’t resist this. I ate my entire pudding of cheese with much delight. Tender, beautiful and nicely complemented by the salt and pepper.

They were SO generous with the bread… (ok, I am not resentful about the price of this meal, I am not!) The bread was good. We ate most of the three baskets they served us – both the fresh and toasted varieties were perfect.

While waiting for our food to arrive, I looked behind me and took in the sight of the fresh seafood with a big smile on my face. Yum!

The shellfish soup tasted of the sea, and of love. That is all I can say.

We eagerly tucked into our grilled and salted fish and squid, and softly cooked vegetables. It is impossible to describe the meal in terms of taste – it seemed to be sweet, salty, sour and bitter all at once, coating the tongue like a well-made carpet. The seafood was impeccable, mostly because it was so fresh and salted just enough to bring out its freshness. Also, I didn’t see the chefs, but I think they are happy people… such is the food that happy people produce.

In short, this meal emptied our lunch pockets and filled our hearts. We were all quite surprised when we saw the bill. 112 Euros for one main platter, one bowl of soup – and the extras we did not know we would be charged so much for.

We stumbled into the sunshine after lunch, and eventually forgot about the bill (well, until now) as we continued to discover the joys of Portugal…

Cervejaria Luzmar – Avenida Marginal, 48, Cascais 2750-427 – Phone: +351 21 484 5704

Oeuf cocotte

I myself prefer my New Zealand eggs for breakfast.
~ Elizabeth II

3.30pm, eggs on the bench, ramekins in the cupboard and trusty Google open on my laptop – this is how I came to have some magnifique oeuf cocotte for lunch today.

It was so simple to make, and this recipe is one I anticipate being able to easily tweak and experiment with without devastating consequences!

I ate my oeuf cocotte standing in the kitchen, reading an e-mail from a friend, feeling a tingle of pleasure travel slowly up my spine… the melted cheese, a warm wave of comfort and gentleness, slipped slowly over and under my tongue. The eggs were just cooked – not rubbery in the slightest. The bits of broccoli were soft, capsicum slightly crunchy – both were oh-so-sweet. The herbs, salt and pepper provided subtle and necessary flavour.

And of course, all this goodness was contained inside my white ramekins (I’m glad I made 2 small portions to double the goodness) – what can I say? Food served in ramekins mysteriously increases in tastiness and elegance.

    Ingredients:
    1 egg
    handful of diced broccoli
    handful of diced capsicum
    handful of grated cheese
    1 tbsp cream cheese
    salt
    pepper
    dried parsley
    dried oregano
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Grease a small ramequin, lay vegetables and cream cheese at the bottom, and break the egg on top. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Top with cheese and dried herbs, rubbing the herbs between your fingers as you sprinkle them to release the flavour.
    Put the ramequin in a deep ovenproof dish, and pour hot water in the dish to about half the height of the ramequin. Put in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs (mine were perfect at 10).
    You can sprinkle on paprika and fresh herbs, and serve with warm crusty bread as suggested on Chocolate & Zucchini – but I ate them just the way they were, and it was perfect for me.
    Yields 1 serving (I made 2 of these today).