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March 17, 2016

but it ain't really a picture | roast potato, haloumi and mushroom salad

This could have quite easily been another post about soup. A couple of weeks ago there were beetroot at the farmer's market, the long kind rather than the round kind, and as soon as I looked at them I thought 'it's about time I made borsht again' to myself. And that's just what I did, one cold and autumn-like evening, staining my fingers red and using the last of the lemons Mum brought from her tree when she visited.

However, heading into winter, there will be many more times to write about borsht and its incredible colour and ability to warm you up even on the coldest day. Maybe that will be next time! There will be less of an opportunity to write about substantial, season-change salads. I have to say, I never thought I'd be a salad for dinner person. Much like in my first flat where half of the flatmates didn't consider soup to be a "proper meal" no matter how many potatoes I included, or whether I baked focaccia bread to accompany it, I just didn't consider a "salad" to be a proper meal.

It isn't really a proper meal, if you just cut up some tomatoes and a cucumber, and add whatever leafy greenery you have lurking in your fridge or garden. But if you add some lentils, or bulghur wheat, or israeli couscous, or roasted kumara, you've got the beginnings of something more substantial. I've found such a salad a great way to use up the ends of things in the fridge at the end of the week. Cooking for one means you have to be especially attentive to ensure your produce doesn't go to waste.

The salad below ended up being dinner for three nights. The first night, I had it just as it was. The second night, I had it with smoked salmon and my parents down south in the Catlins, and the third night, I seared a lamb steak and sliced that over the top. I've been incorporating the occasional red meat in my diet to combat extremely low iron levels.

roast potato, haloumi and mushroom salad

3 medium potatoes, or the equivalent amount of small ones
brewer's yeast
2 lemons
olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1/2 cup almonds
cherry tomatoes
leafy green - I used baby spinach
1 cup mushrooms
1 shallot
haloumi (as much or as little as you have, I used about 100g)

Scrub the potatoes (and peel them if you want, but I usually don't), cut into small pieces and place in a roasting dish. Add some olive oil, salt to season, the zest of a lemon, and about one tablespoon of brewer's yeast. Toss potatoes until they are all covered in the yeast/oil, and then roast at 200º for around 30 minutes, until they are cooked through and brown around the edges.

In the meantime, dry roast the almonds in a pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes, giving them a shake every now and then. Set aside. In the same pan, heat a little oil, then fry the chopped shallot briefly before adding the mushrooms to cook. When the mushrooms have cooked, remove from the pan, and increase the heat a little before frying the haloumi. For this salad, I chopped the haloumi into small squares (to hide how little there was!) but if you like, you can leave it large.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking for the potatoes, add the cherry tomatoes to the roasting dish. Make a salad dressing with the juice of two lemons, an equal amount of olive oil (about one tablespoon) and a teaspoon of mustard. Give the almonds a bit of a bash in a mortar and pestle.

Add everything together and enjoy while the potatoes are still warm, though it's great cold too. It's a pretty forgiving recipe - you could add/swap the haloumi and mushrooms for just about anything - bacon, feta, zucchini... whatever you have in your fridge.

There's something quite delicious about the combination of sharpness and savoury from the lemon and yeast that the potatoes are roasted in, and I've made these roasted potatoes many times since. If you don't have brewer's yeast, I think that a good sprinkle of cumin could work in its place.

Lab work, and the semester starting, meaning the return of my teaching and tutoring schedule, have kept me pretty busy, but last weekend my parents came to visit and we escaped the city for the weekend - driving down the coast to the very desolate and very rugged Kaka Point. We drove down the long way, out to the coast, and stopped at Tunnel Beach on the way, where I assured M & D that the doc sign was inaccurate and it wouldn't be a 1 hour return walk (it was), reminiscent of times when I assured them that driving to Moeraki would only take 15 minutes from Dunedin. Estimating driving times has clearly never been much of a strong point. 

It was so good to get away - the first two photos are of Tunnel Beach, and Kaka Point respectively - to get out of the city and spend most of the weekend outside, looking out to sea, and of course, just spending time with my parents is a treat too. Next week when I'm in the lab over the Easter weekend I'll think of these beaches! 

I've been noticing leaves changing on the deciduous trees as I walk to work, and with each passing week more and more leaves drop onto the lawn outside the museum. Winter is on its way, and I'm finding that for now, I don't mind. Though I would appreciate our flat radiators being functional, it has been a chilly few nights on top of the big house recently! 


title from wild imagination - kurt vile. It wasn't easy to find a song because I've mostly been listening to instrumental music recently .. 

Maybe next time I'll tell you about making croissants if I ever get around to actually doing it rather than googling and youtubing it! 

February 8, 2016

some days I don't miss my family and some days I do | green bean, lemon & spinach soup

It has been a while. I'm not sure exactly what it is that has me writing here again, after so long. Perhaps it was making kefir yoghurt again from grains gifted by C, an ex-Melrose resident. Perhaps it was catching up with a fellow foodie friend A who reminded me of just how much I love food and cooking. Perhaps it was writing a bit about Maitland St and the food we made for the Triangle project of another now-ex-Maitland St resident, B. Perhaps it was J phoning me while in the midst of preparations for a dinner party to impress with a couple of guinness cake questions. Perhaps it is that I now have the challenge of cooking for myself each and every night, so the type of meals I make has changed quite a bit, and finding the motivation to cook can be even more of a challenge than it once was.

So many things have changed. I no longer reside at Maitland St, and neither does J. I'm now living on a different hill in a new but still old (1907) "house" that is really more of a mansion. I live in the old servants quarters with 3 other ladies, on the third floor of the original house; the lower two floors of which is kept as a museum/gallery and open to the public. As much as I love the new place, there are times I still miss Maitland St and my room with a harbour view from my bed. Maitland St was home for a wonderful and also challenging three years, and I'll always remember my time there with a certain degree of sentimentality.

So many things have stayed the same. I still work in a lab, which has taken over my life more and more with each passing month. I still sometimes need to remind myself to cook a proper dinner and eat proper meals. When you don't have the expectation or need to cook for someone else it is much easier to convince yourself that porridge / boiled eggs / cheese on toast is an appropriate dinner. And sometimes it is, but the habit of cooking is a good one to nurture.

I can't promise I will be posting any more frequently than sporadically or whenever I feel the need to write something that isn't scientific or poetry, but you might see a few recipes here over the coming year. Most likely focussed on easy but also delicious meals you can cook for one or two. As much as I miss cooking for six (the default amount as I first started cooking for my family when I still lived at home), when it's only you eating it's best to not let the leftovers situation get too out of control. Not to mention our fridge/freezer capacity is pretty much always at maximum. However, I'm still pretty fond of soups and other easily scaleable things, and so even if you cook regularly for a few more people than I, hopefully you might find something useful.

green bean, lemon & spinach soup

Of course it would be a soup recipe! I often find that it is difficult to use up produce before it goes bad, and soup is an excellent way to use up anything that is looking a bit past it (but not quite at the furry stage). This was inspired by the lemon, lentil and coriander soup I've previously written about, and is perfect for those unexpectedly cool summer southerly nights. 

300g green beans
1 onion
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup water
2 lemons (or more), zest and juice
200-300g spinach
1 clove garlic
butter/olive oil
about half a can of coconut milk

sunflower seeds
flaxseed oil

Dice the onion and garlic, and trim the ends from the beans. Heat the butter or olive oil in a heavy fry pan and sauté the onions for a while until they start turning golden. Add the garlic and stir so it doesn't burn. Add the beans and lemon zest to the pan, and fry for about a minute before adding the vegetable stock and water in small amounts. You may not need all the water. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the beans are starting to soften a little. Add the spinach - I used baby spinach, but if you've got the big kind just rip the leaves off the stalks first, and remove from the heat while the spinach wilts. 

Blend in batches and transfer to a pot. Heat the soup through. If it's a bit runny, let it reduce on the heat for a while. When you are happy with the consistency, add the coconut milk and lemon juice. I used about 3 lemons because I like the flavour quite lemony. Don't be tempted to add a whole can of coconut milk, it's just there to make the soup more creamy, not add any flavour. Add salt to taste - I added about 1 teaspoon. 

To serve, toast some sunflower seeds, crumble some feta over the bowl, add a spoonful of herb paste and a small drizzle of flaxseed oil. All of these additions are delicious but not necessary. Eat with toast or just by itself. 

This soup freezes well and you can even freeze it before adding the coconut milk and just finish it off when you defrost it. The recipe's vegetarian already, and also appropriate for vegans if you use olive oil rather than butter, and omit the feta. The amounts I've used made enough soup for a dinner for three, with bread, or two dinners and two lunches just for me. If there's more of you, just increase the amounts. 


So, perhaps I will 'see' you again soon. The only recipe I half-wrote in the blog hiatus (really doesn't seem like nearly two years!) was for borscht, something I got mildly obsessed with over autumn, so perhaps that will be what I write about next. Though I have also been testing out our new-ish oven with a few kinds of baking, so, you never know..

The two photos at the top are of a particularly special beach not far from the city centre. 

title from the mountain goats - wild sage

June 9, 2014

the sun is shining on | this is my winter story

I didn't think it would take me this long to write this post. I have been avoiding it for several reasons - not knowing the words, not knowing how, not even knowing whether writing it was necessary. And yet I can't begin to write again here without acknowledging what's been going on. 

In 2009 I had an accident up a mountain in Wanaka. I was learning to ski that season, and my boyfriend at the time (a proficient skier) was racing a friend, on a snowboard, who was staying with us. I happened to be in the blind spot that both of them jumped into. My ex-boyfriend zipped past me, the snowboarder was not so lucky, and crashed directly into me from behind. My only memories of it are my ex zipping past, and then looking at sky hearing someone going nuts at my snowboarder friend. I landed on my back, on my bindings, which made for some interesting bruising, and didn't have a helmet on. 

A few hospital visits later and quite a bit of imaging, I was given a Philadelphia collar to wear for the next two months. It was determined after a ct scan that I had probably fractured my c1 vertebra - this is the first vertebra of your spine. Thankfully, there was no displacement; but to be on the safe side I was required to wear the neck brace for two months, at all times. 

In retrospect, the most difficult part of rehabilitating this injury was recovering my neck muscles after two months of immobility, but thanks to the support of my family, my ex-boyfriend, and my wonderful flatmates at the time, and probably my own bloody-mindedness when it comes to rock climbing, I gradually got better. 

Since then, I have always been more aware of my neck, but it's a fine line sometimes between being too aware and too cautious, or too stubbornly zealous. In the past five years, I've been learning to accept and acknowledge my limitations, not just neck-related, without letting them define me; and this is something I imagine I'll continue learning for the rest of my life.

In early April, I well and truly re-exacerbated my neck injury, mainly from exercising too much and getting slightly addicted to the endorphin rush of cycling to the salt water pool, doing an hour of my old swimming exercises, and following that up with a run along the beach before cycling home. Admitting that I am in pain is something I struggle to do, and on the day I finally did and went to the doctor for some effective pain relief, I also "actively witnessed" a near-miss incident between a pedestrian and a car by uni, and treated my seized muscles to some sideways whiplash. 

Recovering this time has been much more active, and involved physiotherapy with a physio I trust from the acute stage, and the endless patience from family members and friends around me has been truly invaluable. Pain can change your persona, and it takes really special people to understand that. I'm lucky for all the people who've given support, and who continue to give it.

I've never written here about emotional pain, and that's been a purposeful choice. I'm a writer, and for a long time I've written poetry as a means to express myself. Sometime in 2009, emboldened by encouragement by my Dad and sister, and from friends who already blogged like N, I started a blog where I share poems, called a pastiche. I called it "pastiche", because that was what it started as, but "pastiche" was taken, so it became "a" pastiche. 

At the beginning of 2011, two significant things happened. My best friend's mum Mary passed away on 4.01.11 after a long and brave battle with cancer. Two weeks later, my then-boyfriend of two years moved to Switzerland, and on the same day he left I started my first ever graduate job as a research assistant in a lab in Dunedin. Two months of strange, frustrating long distance communication later, we broke up.

In hindsight, it was impossible for me to separate my feelings of grief for Mary and my sadness on a relationship ending. Every time I felt the latter, I'd feel guilty because he was still alive, and Mary wasn't, and that was the tragedy. Mary was my other mother in so many ways. I don't think I'll ever not miss her, it's just that time changes how you miss a person. I'm not convinced it gets easier, either, perhaps more that you get used to bearing sadness with grace.

This blog, Maitland St Meals, started after someone I once cherished - the ex-boyfriend who supported me through my ski accident - took offence to a poem I wrote, and wasn't shy about telling me exactly how it offended him and what it made him think of me. I'm sure he had legitimate reasons I cannot possibly know for his reaction; but it made me question everything I had ever chosen to share, to read my words in a different light. It stopped me from sharing my poems online for a while, and soon after I changed lots of the settings on my poetry blog so now it appears more as a personal folio rather than a forum. I still go through cycles of self-doubt - and sometimes these cycles can be good to keep your feet on the ground. 

I've been so thankful for this blog and the comments people leave - it's served in equal parts me and you, I'm sure. That's because reading this blog (and I do read my old posts) reminds me how much I love food and eating and cooking and sharing food; and that's a comfort in times when it's hard to find the motivation to cook. 

Recently, that motivation to cook has been notoriously difficult. In November 2013, I found out, randomly, from Facebook that a good old friend of mine, AT, or Truesy as I knew him, passed away in July 2013, after a fighting brain cancer, just like Mary had. He was a great friend to me during my final years of high school, and I've got fond memories of taking him to my leaver's ball, and though we grew apart when I moved to Dunedin, we stayed in touch sporadically, as people often do. He grew up to be a paramedic, and while looking after the young pedestrian suffering from shock who I actively witnessed almost get hit by a car, they said through tears whilst walking to student health, "oh how do you know what to should be a paramedic or something," and later I thought, with a smile, about the great big cycles of the universe we cannot possibly hope to know. 

On the 4.05.14, another friend from our close-knit group of high school friends, Grace Yuki Kinsella, unexpectedly and tragically died in Japan. That's all the information we have. She was quirky and deadpan funny, and I miss her in ways I don't yet have the ability to describe. There were plenty of good times we shared. It's been somewhat of a comfort to imagine Grace and Truesy getting on like a house on fire somewhere beyond the sun, as they did at that (extremely over the top) leaver's ball. 

Throughout this past six months, I've been so lucky and grateful for other ways in which the universe has watched out for me - or at least, that's what its felt like. I'm still not sure what I believe in a spiritual sense and in many ways, I hope I never do because part of the privilege of being human is to wonder. There's two yellow tulips in a milk bottle vase by my bed, I've got a desk at an awesome underground studio in Dunedin, my lab work has progressed throughout this time, and I'm blessed with a great network of Dunedinites - the sort of people who, when their oven breaks, will bring over homekill venison steaks to cook at Maitland St and fill the house with cooking smells while J's away.

So life's been a bit hard recently, but that's okay. That's okay because I can still make haloumi from scratch, and two chocolate guinness cakes at night for an event the next day, and last minute "vegeree"- brown rice, caramelised onions, havoc chorizo, eggs, nuts, cheese, and something green, shared with friends T and T, and because there will always be more music to listen to. 

I went to Tiny Ruins on Saturday night, accompanied by friend A who took friend J's ticket at the last minute. It was the most unexpectedly delightful gig. The music was expectedly beautiful, and this song in particular made me think of grace yuki, whose middle name means snow in Japanese. It's definitely worth listening to the more recent releases too, where the additional instruments complement so well. The unexpected delight was in the intimacy of the venue, which encouraged and invited conversations that have left me intrigued; and I left that night feeling personally delighted that the ability to be intrigued by one conversation still remains possible. 

See you soon; and thank you, as always, for reading.


title from little bombs - aimee mann


images -
1. 9 January 2014, a pavlova by Grandma Jojo, transported to the beach by car, to celebrate my parents' 33rd wedding anniversary - it was a memorable dinner. 
2. Mayor Island, one of the many swims in January 2014, Waihi Beach. Kodak portra 160
3. Arranging onions sometime in February 2014. My trusty red digital took this. 
4. Rain on Bowentown, January 2014; Kodak portra 160. 
5. My Grandad Lawrie watching a sudden shower at the beach house. One of my favourite pictures of summer this year. Kodak portra 160, probably shot at 200. 
6. Kinloch, looking at the sun through a telescope. Ilford FP4 125, probably shot at 200 as well. 
7. Half moon, January 2014, Waihi; kodak portra 160
8. Reflections on a January 2014 evening at Waihi Beach; kodak portra 160

April 26, 2014

apple pie where my body's made of lead | april already?!

carey's bay dinner (fish burgers from the port fish supply) view, late March 2014

I did not plan on a hiatus - and nor do I apologise for it. Sometimes real life demands attention and for me, blogging is an indulgence I allow myself. It's also a funny thing, blogging; writing things and not really being sure of who reads and who doesn't; and I'm pretty much anti-labelling anything about myself to the point of absurdity..

What I'm trying to say is that things at Maitland are trucking along well. We've had visitors; people have moved in and out from below and above... My supervisor casually said a while ago "you know Maitland St sometimes sounds like a soap opera." and I grew up with Coronation St loving parents (ey Dad!) so I understood the comparison.

I'm thankful now for colder weather, slower songs, and being gentle on myself. Hope you're well, wherever you're reading this from.

title from apple pie bed - lawrence arabia