❤️ your library (and your bookshop)

It might seem against my interests to promote libraries given my livelihood depends on book sales, but recently I have once again rediscovered the joys of the library request system. With something like a cookbook, it gives you the chance to try before you buy. Most Fridays I swing by the library to pick up whatever requests are waiting for me, and borrow any other books or magazines that look like good weekend reading.

Sometimes I’m happy to flick through and maybe try out a recipe or two before returning a cookbook, while other times I just don’t want to give it back, and decide to buy a copy.

The public library system is such a fantastic free resource, offering much more than book loans – libraries provide a place for interest groups to meet, activities for kids, computers, internet and printers for those who do not have access at home (my local even has a 3D printer). You can ‘book a librarian’ for personalised help, and have books delivered if you are housebound. The fairly new Waiheke library building has become my office-away-from-home, a cosy and quiet (and well-designed) place to work when I need to get out of the house and don’t feel like lurking in a cafe. And I am not alone – many local freelancers use it regularly.

‘A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination’, wrote the great-value British author Caitlin Moran when lamenting the ‘cost-saving’ library closures all over England. It makes me sad that a large number of Auckland librarians recently lost their jobs, especially given that the various libraries I frequent in Auckland seem well-used.

So I say #loveyourlibrary

What do your cookbooks say about who you are, and who you want to be?

Inspiration or aspiration? In 2016, cookbooks sales were up 12% on the previous year, meaning they’re not going out of favour any time soon, despite changing lifestyles meaning we all eat out more and cook less, the existence of a world of easily accessible online recipes, and forecasts that ebooks would be the end of print books. I think this is because they are generally well-designed objects, and also because they provide a statement about who you are and what you want to be, rather than merely a collection of recipes (indeed, apparently on average people only ever make three recipes from a cookbook).

Thanks to my friend Ema (pimpiknows.com), who drew my attention to a fascinating BBC World Service podcast called ‘The Unlikely Power of Cookbooks’. From the blurb:

Even if you’ve never picked up a book of recipes, cookbooks will have had a huge influence on how you live.

What may appear to be mere collections of ingredients and cooking methods, sometimes tell us just as much about social class, politics and gender.

We explore how cookery books have been used to demonstrate power, strengthen colonial and soviet ideology, and divide society by class and race.

Do we see these dividing lines reflected in today’s publishing industry? And what does your choice of cookbook say about you?

Listen to it here.

The Grain Bowl

9780714872254I am usually a bit dubious about such specialised cookbooks – how can a book be interesting and varied while focusing so narrowly on one type of food, and a potentially boring one at that? But I’m a big fan of grains, so I put my prejudices aside for this collection.

I need not have worried that it would be boring – all 90 recipes are quite different, and as well as being good to look at (check out the ‘look-insides’ on the Phaidon website), I have flagged a decent number of recipes to try. A rainy, blustery weekend and Saturday night rugby on TV called for something hearty to warm our souls as we watched a soggy All Black team lose to the Lions; the Quinoa and Buckwheat with Chorizo, Tomato and Watercress was just the thing. I’ve mentioned before my relaxed attitude to following recipes, and for this one I used barley instead of quinoa and buckwheat and fresh baby rocket from the garden instead of watercress. I also cooked the barley in with the rest of it rather than separately, creating a flavoursome, substantial one-pot meal, and played fast and loose with the quantities, meaning the stated two serves was actually four: dinner and lunch the next day for two.


I have flagged the Black Rice Chicken Congee, Barley with Slow-Cooked Beef Ragu, Oats and Millet with Mango, Figs and Lime and Buckwheat and Oats with Sesame, Puffed Amaranth, Blackberries and Clotted Cream among other recipes to try next, and will be buying a copy of this book. (This has become my new test of a book actually. If I borrow it from the library and don’t want to give it back, it’s worth buying.)

The book begins by looking at the ways cultures around the world incorporate grains into their cuisines and some of the advantages of doing so (but with more of an emphasis on the enjoyment of them, rather than the more pointy-headed nutritional stuff, which it does touch on), and also gives a cooking guide. At the back it has a glossary for those new to grains and a supplier list for the US, the UK and Australia.

The Grain Bowl by Nik Williamson (Phaidon, 2016)

Banana chocolate loaf

IMG_3621I made up this unintentionally dairy-free (apart from the lashings of Lewis Road Creamery salted butter on top), wheat-free, refined-sugar free banana chocolate loaf the other evening when I was craving something sweet and had over-ripe bananas to use up, but didn’t want to leave the house for ingredients I didn’t have in the cupboard already. You can easily substitute the flours and sugars according to what you have in your own pantry, or possibly leave the sugar out completely if you have very ripe bananas. The banana makes it really moist and it’s perfect warmed up and ruined with heaps of butter, with a cuppa.

3/4 cup oat flour (or buckwheat or potato flour, if keeping it wheat free; otherwise use any flour)

3/4 coconut flour (as above)

1/2 cup raw cacao powder (or cocoa powder)

pinch of salt

1 cup coconut sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 very ripe bananas, mashed

1 egg

1/3 cup olive or melted coconut oil

1 tbsp cacao nibs

1/2–1 tbsp coconut sugar (or use a grainer sugar such as brown sugar crystals for a crispier crust)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a loaf tin or dish with baking paper, leaving a bit of overhang. (I used a glass loaf dish.)

Combine all dry ingredients except cacao nibs and second measure of coconut sugar in a medium–large bowl.

Combine all wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then mix into dry ingredients. Add a little more oil if needed; it should be in between a runny batter and a firmer dough.

Spoon mixture into prepared tin or dish, smooth the top, then sprinkle with cacao nibs and coconut sugar.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Lift loaf using the edges of the baking paper and leave to cool slightly.

Eat warm with lots and lots of salted butter to avoid feeling too virtuous or smug.




Lisbon: Recipes from the Heart of Portugal

300x600I actually remember where I was the first time I tried pastéis de nata. While still at school I got a job at Pandoro Panetteria, which at the time was the artisan bakery/café in Auckland and one of the only places to buy proper sourdough and other European breads, pastries and cakes (it started as a weekend job which on graduation turned full-time and managerial, fully sucking me into the hospitality world for a while). I haven’t been in there for years – as anyone who has worked in cafés or restaurants knows, you get to the stage where you can’t face the food served there, and I believe it went downhill after the original owners sold the business, too – but my time at Pandoro was a culinary education and it was there that I was introduced to the pillowy, crispy yet chewy, creamy and not-too-sweet Portuguese custard tart.

I have to admit I only picked up this cookbook because we have friends who are on holiday in Portugal and their foodgrams have been making me hunger for the perfect pastéis de nata. I knew that they were quite a palaver to make, but I wasn’t expecting two whole pages of recipe method, all tightly packed text in paragraph style rather than numbered, or at least spaced, steps. Too much effort for this busy Saturday.

Instead, because we were going to an ‘Indian subcontinent’ potluck dinner*, I made the Caril de Peixe à Moda de Goa, or Goan Fish Curry. Goa was a Portuguese colony for a few hundred years until as recently as the 1960s, and a lot of cultural and culinary exchange took place between the two places, so this collection includes quite a few Indian dishes including spicy onion bhaji and samosa alongside other curries.

The fish curry is straightforward but a little fiddly (though not as much as the tarts); instead of using coconut milk, you combine 500g desiccated coconut with the spices (freshly ground black pepper corns, coriander and cumin seeds and turmeric powder and dried chillies) and a little water to make a paste, then blitz it in batches in a blender. You then squeeze out the liquid in batches, and discard the solids. It always feels like a waste to me to discard ingredients (especially $5 worth of coconut), and I was tempted to sneak some of the spice-infused coconut into the sauce, but the fact that the recipe tells you to strain the liquid into the saucepan to further separate out any solids made me think that perhaps the coconut would make the sauce gritty, so I did as I was told for once.

Once this liquid, with the addition of grated onion, has cooked out for 15 minutes, you add the seafood. I stuck to the recipe, using prawns and firm white fish (snapper) but I imagine it would be good with whatever seafood you had on hand. I added some red rice to the basmati for interest, and topped it with fried curry leaves and mustard seeds sizzled in coconut oil until they started to pop. Just before serving, I sprinkled lots of coriander over the curry.

You could just use coconut milk for this recipe, but making it the traditional Goan way was kind of fun – I enjoy recipes that involve getting my hands dirty, and this one certainly delivered, with my hands stained yellow from the turmeric. Unfortunately the book, and my whole kitchen, got rather dirty too. This method does result in a slightly watery sauce, so if you want a richer result, coconut milk or cream may be the way to go. I often find Indian food too rich and filling, but this curry is very light and doesn’t overpower the taste of the seafood so I’d leave it as is.

I haven’t been to Portugal and my grasp of the geography, culture and cuisine is pretty sketchy really – for some reason it’s never been top of my wanderlust list but there’s a page of ‘Places to visit’ (all food-related) at the back of the book so that could be a handy reference if you were planning a trip, and like me, base holidays largely around what’s good to eat. The colourful illustrative cover and chapter openers and luscious food and location photography are a welcome burst of sunshine in midwinter Auckland; maybe as I try more of the recipes it will inspire me to visit Portugal next time I’m in that part of the world. And I might just be tempted to invest the time into making custard tarts.

Lisbon: Recipes from the Heart of Portugal by Rebecca Seal (Hardie Grant, 2017)

*Winter is a time for cosy dinner parties, and I love a good potluck, especially if the host picks a theme that brings you out of your usual cooking repertoire. I don’t cook a lot of Indian food at home, so it was great to sample everyone’s offerings, which ranged from a hearty lamb curry to a highly fragrant vege curry and little stuffed, spiced pancakes.