Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Summer Holiday

We farewelled 2007 on a wooden deck overlooking a landscape reminiscent of something idyllic, Italian. On closer inspection the banana trees and black-trunked ferns give it away, but the hills, softly, pinkly, lit recalled instantly the intake of breath that pushing open the shutters in Siena inspired a couple of years ago. Clichéd though Tuscany may be, in reality it is as breath-taking as the profusion of memoirs and calendars implore us, endlessly, to believe. New Zealand is as amazing, a whole lot quieter and blissfully, a whole lot closer, too. The beach at Hahei is pristine, the water an arresting pale blue. I would float on my back, eyes shut against the fierce sun, buoyed by gentle, calming waves.

The orchard we stayed on is working toward its official Organic Certification. An arduous and bureaucratic process. My step-son Edward, the eldest at seventeen, cracked a small net of their exquisite macadamias one afternoon (and yes, he did make many, many unnecessary ‘nut-cracking’ jokes in the process) for his cousin Samantha, the youngest of the lot, to coat in chocolate. They were swooped upon by all the following evening.

A rafter of turkeys, ranging freely around the orchard, would erupt into an hilarious wave of outrage, gobbling at the slightest movement and I couldn’t help thinking how lucky they were, given the recent bout of festivities. The silvery quail that would make himself at home in the (beautiful) garden each dusk was my favourite. Then there were the Tui’s, clicking and whistling as they swooped in to feast and the leggy Pukekos that generously allowed me to get just a glimpse of their nest.

kangaroo paws

Cooking? Not a lot. For the most part, I was cooked for. Strangely, I didn’t miss the kitchen commandant that I have channeled in the past on these holidays. A Christmas platter of mum’s home-cured gravlax with deep pink edges (the best use of grated beetroot I’ve come across in some time) glistening in soft folds at the centre of the table was a culinary highlight. A salad of mangoes and prawns with crisp, sugar-and-sea-salt-coated walnuts and another of triangular wedges of feta and watermelon, studded with glossy black olives sat on either side. Simple, celebratory. In New Zealand, the family took turns cooking for one another over ten days – a bubbling cauldron of moong dahl my singular, well-received contribution - and I discovered, among many things, hot-smoked tuna (just three words…oh, so much more) flaked into chunks and served with Michelle’s still-warm bread and dollops of wasabi-laced mayonnaise. Best of all was the smoked roe. If I cannot find it locally, I will have to start importing the stuff. In frighteningly large quantities to suffice my own, burgeoning, needs.

For those of you who come here for the food, all I can offer is an apology for the serious lack of a recipe. I don’t know about you, but it's been hard finding the kick-start this year needed. Maybe it was the sun that did it (I am now the proud owner of a deep, dark tan); maybe the swimming (worth staying in and getting wrinkly as a prune for), or perhaps it was the great company (both at ‘home’ in Sydney – a confusing notion of home, mine – and with my bloke’s family in New Zealand). Whatever it was, last week was nigh impossible to get motivated. By Saturday I was pottering away in the kitchen, singing to myself and layering different vegetables for a lasagne. Too rich for these summer days, but at least I was cooking again. The wild rocket planted last year was one of the few things that thrived in (and, indeed, survived in) the heat during our three week absence. I grabbed a few snappy handfuls and dressed them with good, grassy olive oil and grain mustard. It was perfectly delicious. Watch this space. Recipes, soon.

It will be a good year, this one. I can feel it already, deep within my bones.


Anh said...

Heaven, Lucy, heaven. Now I really want and visit NZ. On my list to do for sure.

Truffle said...

Beautiful words and photos Lucy. Sounds absolutely heavenly.

Johanna said...

I think it is healthy to have a break from cooking every now and again - and then to cook again when you get the urge - you will enjoy it so much more if you are doing it because you want to rather than because you have to! Your break sounds and looks lovely!

winedeb said...

Mesmerized! How beautiful Lucy! We all need to have a break from our everyday lives and be pampered. Being pampered by nature and family is a great way to spend time off. Your photos are showing me a place that I would just love to visit.
Glad to see you are back in your kitchen and tending to your garden. My garden is not happy with me when I leave it for an extended time either. Usually the only ones still happy are my herbs!

Suganya said...

New Zealand is poetic. And so are your words. Getting back to blogging after the festive season is tough (I now know, more than anyone!). Take your time.

Rosa said...

Everything they say about Tuscany is indeed true, but New Zealand looks and sounds idyllic.

It's good to take time off from cooking once in a while. Makes you appreciate it more when you get back to it!

Callipygia said...

Your travels and holiday sound gorgeous- that kangaroo paw, such an odd fellow. Who needs a recipe? I just need a plane ticket!

Simona said...

Happy New Year, Lucy, and thanks for the lovely photos and accompanying words. The birds of New Zealand: I have fond memories of their amazing songs.

Holler said...

I hope it is a good year for you!
Lovely photos and I enjoyed the post.

Wendy said...

Sounds like a wonderful break. Adore the idea of the family taking it in turns to cook for one another and applaud your ability to get out of the kitchen for a while. I struggle not to take over most of the time.
And Kangaroo Paws? Wonderful. :)

Susan said...

Like a tree house, that deck. And what a vista! I would be thrilled to hear the wild turkeys burst into gobbles. A very lucky time for you, too, Lucy.

Liz said...

I bought an asian pear yesterday, entirely wrong as it's undoubtedly out of season with the snow here, based on your last New Zealand picture. I've always thought that some views transcend photography, but yours just make me want to join you:).

Lucy said...

Anh - get saving I say. You will love it!

Thanks, Truffle, it is one of those closer-than-you-think kinds of heaven!

It is Johanna, excellent to take a break from cooking, if for no other reason than to learn about new ideas and flavours. It was great - have you been?

Oh, Deb, I couldn't have put it better - 'pampered by nature and family is a great way to spend time off.'. It is and it was! You know, I think you would love it there - the wines are outstanding, especially the savignion blanc. Yes, poor gardens...always surprises me which plants survive and which ones die off.

I will Suganya - it's just about finding a sense of rhythmn again for me. Hopefully back on track soon - happy new year to you!

Rosa, I'm getting back on track, but the break was much needed cooking-wise. I've just got a copy of the Rose Tremain book you mentioned. Can't wait to get started!

What I found interesting Callipygia was that kangaroo paws are native to Aust (no surprises there), but here they were thriving in a kiwi garden. My own attempts at growing them were disasterous...

Waking to their song every morning goes down as one of my favourite things ever, Simona. Glad that you have fond memories of them, too.

And I hope yours is brilliant Holler!

Wendy, I thought about how different our holidays were while away - you playing in the snow, me swimming in the sea! I'm a controlling cook too, so it was good to hold back this time. I learned that it's fine to let others have a go as well...love those paws - they really do look like the real thing (only more velvety and a deep shade of crimson).

Susan, it was a funny thing to see them (the turkeys, that is) making themselves known. Apparently if one wasn't careful about closing the doors the turkeys happily pop on in to see what you are doing inside! I found it hard to pull myself away from that view, I can tell you. Perfect spot for reading.

Liz, you'd be more than welcome! Dive on in I say! We could crack open a bottle of crisp, white wine, sit out on that deck and...hang on. I must do some actual work this year...sigh!

chou said...

Yeah! I finally feel warm despite the wind and snow. You just took care of my January blues.

Lucy said...

Very pleased to help out, Chou. It's comforting to know that even in the deepest, darkest part of winter, someone somewhere is having a lovely, warm-weather time.

Cynthia said...

This is like a welcome stop for me as I wade my way through the many posts I reading about food :) I wanna go to NZ!