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April 2, 2013

i feel it in my bones | spiced beetroot & caramelised onions on bread

There's something special about coming home after going away. Today I returned to Maitland and tonight J followed suit. The kitchen is filled with gifts we've brought with us - spring onions from Mum's garden and lemons from the tree at Fitzroy St, organic leek seeds from the Hill St farmer's market my parents frequent, an old book of music with some familiar tunes for the piano, milk and quark from Merrell, wild thyme from somewhere around Cromwell, eggs from Moeraki. We're lucky and blessed here - and tonight I definitely feel appreciative of the people whom I always miss, in some way or another.

For Easter I flew back to Wellington, where I grew up, to see the family. Pictured above is Mum, Dad and I at the top of Brooklyn hill on Easter Sunday. Shortly after this photo was taken, the rain set in, and we returned home completely drenched (but happy). My brothers and sister still live in Wellington and it's hard sometimes to be the only sibling on a different island. Even though it's not that far when you think about distances in astronomical terms (although no distance on the Earth seems large when you think about exactly how great a distance one light year is...) I still miss them. In many ways, though, we're still close. My current favourite pair of jeans initially belonged to my brother A, my brother S recently visited, my sister E (pictured with me below) probably still has her hair in the French braid I did this morning at the airport for her. In my parents' fridge there's a jar of aubergine pickle and they're also enjoying roast apricot jam: both made at Maitland. 

Perhaps the highlight of my Easter weekend was when A came and cooked dinner, and S drove up the hill after the game at the stadium, and the lounge was filled with all six of us, just like it once was almost every night. And I guess even though Dunedin and Maitland are now my home, it's always so good to be just the six of us: whether it's in Wellington over Easter, in the Wairarapa over Christmas, or in fact, anywhere in the world. The place doesn't matter so much as seeing those other five familiar faces ...

You might have wondered where I've been. Just like life has its ups and downs, so does my cooking motivation. The past couple of weeks I've only just had the energy to make simple lentil curries or baked spaghetti squash (more difficult than it first appeared). However, perhaps due to watching a couple of Hugh's autumn at river cottage episodes over Easter, my inspiration has returned! Here's a recipe for what I made for dinner last night .. 

spiced beetroot & caramelised onion on bread

I thought very carefully about what to call this one. Technically, you could call it a "toasted sandwich" but those words together in my mind conjure up an image of spaghetti and cheese toasted sandwiches, a favourite of me and my siblings for those after school afternoon teas. There is no appetite like the after school appetite of a teenager!

It might seem like this is a bit fiddly, using multiple pans, but it's the perfect thing to make when you're really just moseying around on a Sunday evening/night, maybe put some emily king on, and really enjoy chopping and cooking and stirring ..

2 baby beetroot (or 1 medium-sized)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 onion, red or brown
1/2 tsp honey
balsamic vinegar (about 1/3 cup, but I never measure this)
olive oil
butter or a high-heat oil, eg coconut
bread - if you're me, it will be something seedy
cheese - optional, but I used quark and also a bit of cheddar 
cherry tomatoes or 1 tomato
spring onion
thyme (optional)
1 lemon

The first job is to caramelise the onion. Chop the onion into fine half-rings and briefly sauté in a hot pan with a little oil or butter. When they've cooked for a couple of minutes, add the honey and balsamic vinegar. Cover, turn the heat down to medium, and cook for 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The next job is the beetroot. I didn't peel these, just removed the top and long roots, and grated them with a cheese grater. Heat a small amount of butter or coconut oil and add the mustard seeds and ground cumin. Chop the garlic finely, and add both the garlic and beetroot to the pan when the mustard seeds start making a popping noise. Cook for about 10 minutes on a medium heat.

Chop the tomatoes and spring onions into small pieces. Add chopped thyme if you've got it, and make a simple dressing with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil.

If you've got a sandwich press the next part will be simple. We don't, and it's not too difficult. Slice the bread, assemble, press down a little and then toast in a hot pan (I reused the caramelised onions pan) until golden on the outside. Slice, and then tip the tomatoes over the top.


If you clicked on the emily king link above and enjoyed "georgia" - why not enjoy even more this version - made by some talented folk including one of my closest friends' talented brother who's been playing the piano in a remarkable way since pretty much forever. He's the one on the keyboard. 


title from step - vampire weekend


  1. you know the thing I miss most about nz is the rain !! drenched and happy, sounds dreamy x

    1. Due to an uncharacteristically dry spell the past couple of months, we've been missing the rain too. And when it comes, instead of sighs, the feeling is of relief. It rained here yesterday and so many times I heard "isn't this rain so good!" .. x

  2. Oh i just cannot seem to get enough caramelised onions, so delicious and partnered with beetroot, oh my. What a beautiful song, loved it. xxx

    1. I think it's maybe an autumn thing - I always crave onions as it gets colder .. x

  3. Delicious food, loving family, beautiful country...what more could you wish for. :) xx

    1. I know, so lucky in so many ways.. x

  4. This sounds delicious... is beet root the same as beets? I've never heard the term before. Glad you got to catch up with your family too, it always does feel good.

    xox Lilly

    1. Yes - beetroot is the Southern hemisphere term for what you Northern hemisphere folk call beets! Or maybe it's a British word - not sure. They are the same thing! x

  5. There's a lovely warmth in the family photos. I'm really into piling on lots on toast at the moment. Yep it's an Autumn thing. x

  6. Such a beautiful family you have. Makes me happy ours will be a big one too. This looks delicious and, even though I have declared myself on a cooking break, I am tempted. Perhaps once I harvest my winter beetroot (if the chooks will just leave the seedlings alone...) xx