Country Roads…Take Me Home…

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I’m writing from home – not the flat – Tim and I flew up yesterday morning and already it feels like I’ve never left. Funny how quickly you adapt to your surroundings. We had Mum’s vegetable soup last night for dinner and not only was it instantly soul-nourishing and delicious- it was much nicer than mine. Some things are worth traveling miles for…

Tim and I went out for brunch for my birthday on Thursday (it was supposed to be breakfast, but I always take too long to get figure out what to wear.) The weather was cold and miserable and I was half-tempted to stay in and make pancakes or somesuch but we persevered in the name of paying someone else to do it for us. We ended up at Epic Cafe on Willis Street, where the servings are large and the prices aren’t terrifying, and you can briefly feel like a character from Sex and The City for dining so well. Unfortunately the foul weather ruled out any would-be Carrie-style clothing creations, I went for practicality in jeans, hoodie, scarf and Chuck Taylors.


Above: I ordered the savoury French toast with sauteed vegetables and pine nuts, plus a side salad. There weren’t actually any pine nuts on mine…but the combination of their delicious hollandaise, tangy tomato sauce and amazing toast won me over, and, being the pansy that I am, I didn’t complain. The side salad was pleasant enough – for $3 – although I would have preferred some dressing. You’ll have to excuse the badly lit photographs – they were taken rather hurriedly – not only was the waitress looking at us funny but I was far too hungry to make more of an effort.


Above: Tim got the El Rancho Fryup, which featured perfectly cooked eggs and delicious, sweet-salty bite sized corn fritters that I longed to steal off him (I did manage to exchange one for a bit of my French toast.) Not to mention enough beans for one to want to avoid polite company for some time after.

We met up with my aunt who has been child-wrangling at a boarding school in Western Australia, it was fantastic to catch up with her and we spent a leisurely and loquacious afternoon in Smith The Grocer cafe in the Old Bank Arcade. Tim and I were still far too full from brunch to eat anything but I can tell you that their cups of tea come with a deliciously spiced complimentary wafer. She gifted me all sorts of wee foodie goodies including some black food colouring which I am very excited about trying out (she suggested an All Blacks cake – as if!)


Above: This is what I made for my birthday dinner. Because we were leaving for three days the next morning I couldn’t do anything too wildly extravagant – which was probably for the best, considering what it might have cost – but I did splash out and purchase some bacon. I fried and deglazed it with Vermouth, and added it to a vat of pasta along with brocolli, peas, lemon juice and the last of the creme fraiche. It was a lovely combo and also managed to use up a few things loitering sadly in the fridge. Please excuse the low-rent photo (noticing a theme?) the lens kept steaming up and this was my most serviceable shot. Any tips from more seasoned bloggers on how to prevent this?

Other things we have been eating lately…


Above: I made this free-form tart the other day for dinner, and though it really shouldn’t have worked…well, it did. First I made pastry out of 125g each of butter and flour, and bound it with a little buttermilk. I did this by hand, as I couldn’t be bothered dragging out my food processor (and there was anyway no benchspace for it) but I quickly was reminded why it’s worth the effort, as rubbing all that butter into the flour takes forever and strains the wrists substantially. Eventually I had a lump of something resembling pastry, so I rested it in the fridge, rolled it out, and started to freak as it began to almost melt on the tray, which had been heated by the oven underneath. In a blind, twitchy panic I flung my ingredients at it (creme fraiche, tomatoes, capers, pine nuts) and baked it at 200 C.

I expected to see a gooey, floury mess 25 minutes later but miraculously the pastry had come together. The tomatoes became deliciously scorched in places, making them even sweeter, which contrasted rather fabulously with the salty capers. The pastry itself was buttery and flaky, even though it really shouldn’t have been. Not the healthiest dinner, but a delicious one all the same, and something rather more “restaurant-y” than we normally get. Try it yourself – maybe even get out your food processor – and use whatever you have in your pantry that you think would go well together. I can imagine thinly sliced courgettes and parmesan being wonderful, for example…


Above: I don’t really go in for stir-fries that much – they seem kind of overdone and it’s easy to make them claggy and oily (not to mention all that damned fiddly chopping!) However upon seeing a can of water chestnuts gathering dust in our pantry I decided to make something resembling one for dinner the other night. We didn’t have a heck of a lot of vegetables so it comprised of courgette, carrots, garlic, ginger (the real, knobbly, amazingly zingy thing, not the acidy stuff from a jar), sliced water chestnuts, and cashews. A fairly slim meal, yes, but there were only two of us, and once it was banked up against a pile of brown rice and had a few judicious droplets of sesame oil, it was quite substantial. I flavoured it with fish sauce, lemon juice, and a little bit of black bean sauce. Black bean sauce is so slow moving and it is impossible to scoop it out of the narrow bottle with a spoon, so I made the mistake of shaking it over the pan with the lid off…which resulted in salty black streaks all over the wall.

All that aside, the end result was quite lovely, the water chestnuts have an intriguing texture and it was gratifyingly salty. Also, anything accompanied by brown rice makes me feel instantly Zen; a nice payoff for the long time it takes to cook.

On a “happy birthday to me” whim I purchased Jill Dupleix’ Lighten Up from the warm and friendly Unity Books on Willis Street. I have often flicked through this book and thought “eh,” but closer inspection revealed that it was actually full of exciting recipes. I’m quite wild with anticipation about trying her Lentil and Sweet Potato Pie for example… There is something about Dupleix’ authoritative “tone” that can be a bit annoying, even laughable at times, but on the whole her cookbooks make very enjoyable reads. Mum and Dad gave me a $100 grocery voucher for my birthday so I can’t wait to go buy lots of vegetables and get cooking from it. Speaking of purchases, today they bought a shiny shiny new oven (the last one made industrial grinding noises every time you turned it on which was most disconcerting and it never got hot enough). The new oven is self cleaning! What an age we live in…

11 thoughts on “Country Roads…Take Me Home…

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow Laura all that food looks lovely. Must be great for you to be back home too.Photo tips (lol here ‘cos I’m no expert) but I tend to stand a far way back and use my zoom to get closer, then either put in ‘flower’ or ‘macro’ mode to take the pics.George xx

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  2. Kay says:

    Pleased you like the homemade soup. It’s one of my very limited repertoire of seldom-fail recipes. Though, any fool could do it, I guess. And for my next trick ….corned beef. I can definitely see a change in your photography since the beginning of your blog – so the course must be paying off. Now that we have a new oven (a self cleaning one heh heh)the challenge is to use it enough to get those little cleaning panels earning their keep. I guess I’m obliged to do more than reheat frozen food and grill frozen fish cakes. Feel free to make use of it any time you like.

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  3. Helen says:

    I know what you mean about the lens steaming up. I know this sounds a bit obvious but I just wait for the food to cool down a bit. I do still take shots while I’m waiting for it to do this by doing it quickly! Then I whip the camera away from the food in between shots to avoid unnecessary steaming. I always panic because I think the food will get too cold but it never does…

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  4. Linda F says:

    Happy belated birthday Laura, I am hankering for that Jill Dupleix book, look forward to hearing what you think. Have missed having you around on the pantry, enjoy your break!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Laura, lovely to see you again and share your birthday tea on Sunday. Guess you are back to the grind now, but dont forget to eat whilst doing your assignments, so we can read about your latest gourmet inventions….no.. creations. love you heaps, Nana

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