My first year as a freelancer – and an out-of-office message

I’ve now been freelancing for over a year. Although I enjoyed and valued my time spent in-house, it’s been great to branch out and take on work from a range of publishers – including still working on a fair number of projects for Penguin Random House, where I worked for five years as an editor (first at pre-merger Penguin, then post-merger Penguin Random House) and two in the publicity team at pre-merger Random House before that. It’s also allowed me to broaden the range of work I do, from editing, proofreading and indexing to project management, writing, research, repackaging and more. I do miss my colleagues but staying in the industry means we keep in touch, and in my new life I’ve found myself surrounded by a fantastic group of self-employed women, who are always available for coffee, cake and company.

I said in a previous post that one of the things I love about my job is that often my eyes are opened to a subject outside of my little world, and I feel very fortunate to make a living doing something that allows me to learn about other lifestyles, viewpoints and experiences. And sometimes I just feel lucky to be spending my day gazing at photos of and reading about delicious food.

In my biggest project of the year, I was commissioned by Penguin Random House to act as co-writer helping Makaia Carr get all her thoughts on body positivity and well-being into her first book, Keeping it Real: love your body, love your life.

Makaia says in her acknowledgements that ‘our connection was instant, mutual respect immediate and our work seamless’. Makaia was a dream to work with – flexible, warm, gracious, open. I really enjoyed the experience and am keen to do more of this kind of work, though I’m aware that not all co-writing projects run quite as smoothly!

One of my first freelance projects was editing The Art of Simple: recipes and ideas for a calmer way of life, by well-known food and lifestyle writer Eleanor Ozich. This book really resonated with the changes going on in my own life, as my husband and I upped sticks and moved to Waiheke Island and in the process found ourselves living a slower, simpler, calmer lifestyle.

Other editing projects have included Eco Home: smart ideas for sustainable New Zealand homes, by the very clever Melinda Williams. If you’re looking to build or renovate, or just make some slight adjustments to your household to live a greener existence, I highly recommend this – Melinda’s writing style makes it a real pleasure to read and while it is full of useful and thoroughly researched information it never feels pointy-headed or overwhelming.

On a similar theme is Repurposed: New Zealand homes using upcycled materials and spaces, by Catherine Foster, who I’ve now had the pleasure of working with on three books. While at PRH, I project-managed Small House Living; which was so successful Penguin Random House Australia did their own take on it, and did a little work on the follow-up, Apartment Living, as well as having my own apartment featured in the book

Projects such as The Tart Tin (Matt Cross), America: the great cookbook (various)Black Barn (Gregory O’Brien, Jenny Bornholdt, Brian Culy), Eat Up (Al Brown), Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery (edited by Alice Waters, et al.), Little Bird Goodness (Megan May), New Zealand Restaurant Cookbook (Delaney Mes), Wild Delicious (Amber Rose), Burger Wellington (Wellington on a Plate), Francesca’s Italian Kitchen (Francesca Voza, James Stapley) and The Cuba Street Project (Beth Brash, Alice Lloyd) have allowed me to indulge my love of food and cooking, which kind of feels like being paid to play at a hobby. I was also commissioned to write a food travel story on Sicily, and a top-tips-style piece on the Amalfi Coast, for Dish magazine.

200 Women and Wild Land are two big Blackwell & Ruth projects with worthy messages to convey. 200 Women has a tie-in photographic exhibition in New York (now with a smaller version showing in Auckland) and is ‘inspired by a belief that you can’t empower women without listening to their stories’. It features women from all over the world – well-known and unknown – sharing their sometimes uplifting, sometimes heart-breaking thoughts on various topics, as well as beautiful portraits by talented New Zealand photographer Kieran E. Scott. Wild Land, by South African photographers Peter and Beverly Pickford, travels to the most remote parts of the world to capture landscapes and wildlife that are all too often threatened by the lifestyles of those living in the world’s most populated and least natural environments. This book made me cry into my keyboard.

A slightly more unusual project saw me commissioned to repackage – selecting and reworking – content from a well-known writer’s previous books into a new collection. It was a satisfying and enjoyable project and another task I’d be interested in doing more of should the opportunity arise.

I’ve also worked on a collection of moving speeches by one of my idols, Helen Clark, a memoir from a Kiwi cop and one from Parris Goebel, a collection of profiles of the country’s best hideaways and one on its best road trips, crime novels, children’s books, Colin Hogg on Sam Hunt (who once upon a time wrote a poem about my mum), Bruce Ansley’s take on the wild journeys of Aotearoa and Lizzy Marvelly’s take on the local state of play when it comes to feminism, a look at how the European emigré population influenced this country’s art scene in the twentieth century, a tour of the ‘sh*t towns’ of New Zealand . . .

But by far my most important project of the year was in my personal life – and as of the beginning of August, I’m on maternity leave while I wait for a wee baby to arrive. The bump has already been enjoying regular in-utero readings of Hairy Maclary, Oliver Jeffers, et al. I’m not quite sure how long I will be away from my desk yet, but I know that I’ll be happy to return when the time is right.

Some of the projects I worked on in 2017/2018
Lettering by Ashlee Kate Davidson @heyashpash

Savouring salad season

At a friend’s for dinner recently, she apologised for the ‘90s’ salad she’d made to go with an incredible crayfish Américaine. While there is a time and place for a simple salad, especially with a punchy dish that won’t tolerate any competition, it made me think about how much salad culture has changed in New Zealand since that decade, when lettuce-tomato combos, and maybe the occasional coleslaw, reigned. Rather than a sad side, a decent salad will often be the main meal at our place now, and as well as the requisite veg will usually contain some kind of grain or pulse, cheese, nuts and possibly some fish or meat, often a dollop of hummus and sometimes a knot of sauerkraut or some other pickle on top.

I was given Peter Gordon’s Savour: Salads for all seasons for Christmas and at the end of March, as the autumn veges were appearing in stores, I realised I hadn’t yet made a recipe from it. A cover endorsement from Yotam Ottolenghi, the king of veg, could convince me to pick up any cookbook, but really Gordon’s own name is enough of a selling point. Years back when I was a work experience student at Penguin, I proofread one of his cookbooks, and although I assumed they weren’t entrusting this task to the intern alone, it was a thrill to be working on a collection by a big-name New Zealand chef who had made it overseas, especially one with a reputation for being a lovely guy. This collection was published by Jacqui Small in the UK, who also publishes fellow expat Dean Brettschneider.

Although I’m not a strict stickler for food photography on the cover, the vaguely food-based painting here didn’t do much to tantalise my taste buds, but that’s the risk you take using artwork: it’s highly subjective. I am a bit of a sucker for the gold foil type though. I like the clever use of the endpapers and the way the veg-filled banana boxes (do they call them that in the UK?) fit perfectly into the book dimensions satisfies the compulsive in me. The creative recipe photo placement seems a little out of sorts with the fairly conventional font and text layout choices, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing to adventure beyond the rarely-departed-from norm of full-bleed images set opposite recipe text.

The introduction gives handy information on ingredient choice (‘salad leaves should be plump and firm’), quantities (I appreciate a cookbook that advises ‘two handfuls’ of rocket rather than a fiddly 100g – you can’t go too wrong freestyling a salad), growing microgreens and sprouts (though after accidentally waterlogging my first attempt at sprouts in about 20 years, more detailed information would be good here) and dressings (‘as a rule, I use three and a half parts of oil to one part of vinegar’). The contents page lists the sections as Simple Salads; Veggie Straight Up; Veggie Grains; Veggie Cheesy; Fish and Shellfish; Poultry; Meat; Dressings. So far, so standard, but Gordon’s famous fusion style leads to some unique flavour combinations and a creative use of the term ‘salad’ has allowed for the inclusion of a few recipes that are as far from our familiar slaw as you can get. Also not necessarily a bad thing.

Ignoring the not-really-a-salad recipes (such as the seafood in broth, where the small amounts of samphire, tomato, mushroom and lentils only just save it from looking like it got lost on its way to a different cookbook), I decided on the baby beet, broad beans, tarragon, goats’ curd and hazelnuts. This choice was partly a challenge to myself; I have never really warmed to broad beans. My mum loved them and would grow them in her large and impressive vege garden and then cook them with the unappealing grey papery skins intact, so I never knew they were a vibrant edamame-green underneath and refused to eat them. For this salad I slipped the skins off one by one, which along with toasting the hazelnuts and then rubbing them individually in a clean dish towel to take the skins off, makes this a fairly time-consuming recipe. But the broad beans were more than tolerable, and I’d use them again in something like this salad, where they’re not the star ingredient. Beetroot, hazelnuts and goat’s cheese is a favourite combination that I first tried at Prego, so it was a bit of a given I’d like this slightly more elaborate version.

I’d recommend this book if you’re feeling stuck in a stale salad repertoire, or god forbid, still getting your veg quota through lettuce and tomato with claggy mayonnaise. There are plenty of substantial recipes to satisfy an autumn or winter appetite once the warm weather is truly over for another year, and I’ll try the octopus, potato, bean and dill salad or the seared salmon, nori sauce, crispy buckwheat, gomasio (ground toasted sesame seeds with flaky salt) and avocado next. I may even try the clams, mussels and puy lentils, but I probably won’t be calling it a salad – sorry, Peter.

Savour: Salads for all seasons by Peter Gordon (Jacqui Small, 2016)