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May 30, 2013

let's not try to figure out everything at once | baked polenta with tomato

There are many things in life you can't control. Sometimes I find it best to deal with these things by distracting myself - with work and cooking and people and food. This works for a while, and then there's a week where everything catches up with you.... I had that week last week. But even though there were many moments when I questioned my sanity or purpose - it all worked out in the end.

Now I'm feeling a little burned out, but looking forward to less chaotic June filled with winter dinners and lab work. As it would happen, the other morning we woke up to silence - true silence.. and a blanket of snow covering our hill and city. It's an unusual enough occurrence to spell a snow day for us - so we made porridge this morning and ate that in our pyjamas, before venturing the long way into town to look at the snow.

After a few slips and slides down the hill, I purchased a few more onions and made french onion soup to warm us up - I used red wine this time, as it was all we had, and it made a hearty, salty broth. It warmed us up - especially needed as that day the temperature didn't get over four degrees!

This time of year can be hard - it's dark when you have to get up, dark when you come home from work, difficult to get out of bed in the mornings, and there's still another month of the days getting shorter to get through before the solstice. Also, it can be cold - the kind of cold that settles in your bones and stays there all day; the kind of cold that requires thermals underneath your pyjamas and at least two hot water bottles ... the kind of cold that requires a hot, warm, easy to eat dinner.

This dish is perfect for those times where you feel a bit unnecessarily irritable, or flighty, or unsettled. When all of a sudden there's a wind through the house, slamming doors and making maracas out of the leaves. When there's so much to do you don't really want to spend time cooking but you don't have the money or inclination to go out. When it has been cold for a while and, despite loving soup, you're a bit tired of it. You can make it any time of year, it's gluten free, and you could easily make it to be dairy free too. It's hearty, filling, and simple to make.

baked polenta with tomato

You won't believe how little this recipe requires in terms of effort. It's inspired by this recipe with just a few changes.

2 cups coarse polenta/cornmeal
1.5 L water
1 tsp salt
50g butter
1 tsp chili flakes
1/2 cup grated, or about 50g cheese - any kind, the stronger the better! 

2 onions
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 can tomatoes (or fresh, if you've got them)
1 tsp chili flakes

bay leaf
optional - other grilled vegetables like aubergine, olives, mushrooms, courgette.. 

Pour the polenta into a large, oven-proof dish, large enough to contain 1.5 litres of water. Add the salt, and water, and stir until the water goes a bit cloudy. Bake at 180ÂșC for 45 minutes.

While the polenta is cooking, make the sauce. Lightly cook the onions, add the tomatoes and chopped garlic and spices, and let reduce for a while. If you have some red wine handy, you could add this in for a heartier flavour. Keep warm until the polenta is ready.

After 45 minutes, take the polenta out of the oven and stir through the butter, cheese and chilli flakes, and cracked pepper if you like. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes. It will be done when the top is dry, and the polenta doesn't wiggle too much. The polenta will hopefully be the consistency of a thick porridge, creamy and delicious.

To serve, spoon the sauce over the polenta. Eat with grilled vegetables if you like, and you can add extra cheese to the top if you so desire as well. Enjoy!


I've been finding myself thinking lots of India recently - perhaps because I am in the process of finalising a different trip overseas - this one is a lot more unexpected and I am feeling very lucky to have the privilege of travel.

When I think of India at the moment, I think of sounds - a camel braying at a camel farm just outside of Bikaner. The hauntingly beautiful Muslim prayers broadcast into the desert air five times a day - the first thing I'd hear in the morning and the last thing I'd hear at night. The soft whumpf-whumpf of the pigeons that nested under the windows in the guest house we stayed at in Pushkar. The deep and sustained snoring of one of the most obnoxious men I've ever had the (questionable) privilege of sharing a sleeper car with. The chai-wallah's particularly unique way of offering their wares. The cracking sound of a stick on a dog's back. Horns, of all different timbres, usually all at once. The loveliest Japanese man playing ravanahatha so beautifully on the first morning of the New Year... so many sounds I'll always remember.


title from the national - fake empire

May 12, 2013

worn as a train on rails of old steel wool | late autumn comforts



1. The view from my bed one April morning.
2. Amaranth porridge with honey - smooth and soothing and delicious.
3. Birds eye view of hummus, made a while ago to farewell some friends.
4. The day R and E visited and we were almost blown off the beach at Aramoana - that night there was the first storm of the season.
5. Dark and bitter, just like a good stout is: chocolate guinness cake made with NZ brewed stout. Recipe to follow.. 
6. Starting the day right. 

Could it have really been a whole month since I've written words for this space? Well, no, it hasn't been a whole month. There are several half-written recipes in my drafts folder but they've never quite made it to the blog - I could attempt to tell you why with half-baked excuses but .. I don't want to be another person complaining about the season or their full life. Because at the end of the day, I've really got nothing to complain about.

Let's just agree that this time of year, late autumn, is hard on us all. Winter's definitely just around the corner, hiding in the frosty temperatures in the morning, in the dark blue smudges of clouds that sit over the hills at sunset, in the golden leaves piled over our garden path and rotting in city gutters. There's another month of dark mornings and short days to get through until the solstice - and everyone feels like hibernating - or hibernating by having evenings in a warm kitchen or a warm bed. 

Even though it's especially difficult to find the motivation, I do love this late autumn season. As the tree silhouettes change finally to their bare sticks, their golden leaves seem like a promise of spring. And I think ahead to September, when the cherry blossoms bloom and the lambs are born in the Taieri. With the knowledge of spring on its way, the impending winter seems survivable: and even though Dunedin winters can stamp on positivity with two feet in muddy gumboots, even though it gets so cold sometimes you wake up in the night with a sore jaw from clenched teeth to stop shivering .. we always do survive, and spring always comes after winter.

It's fitting that tonight J and I ate homemade beans, the first recipe I ever posted. Next time I'll write about beetroot tart, or chocolate guinness cake, or baked polenta (any preferences?), but maybe I won't tell you much more about the chesnut soup making venture that ended up the colour of slate. We later figured out that our cast iron pan was precipitating iron and required a 'season'. 

What have you been eating this autumn? I need some new inspiration! 


title from tiny ruins - old as the hills. you owe it to your ears to listen to this
Linking here..