Wednesday, December 9, 2009

But a World in You: Norwegian Apple Cake

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
- Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth

Today I walked along the beach with Rangitoto to my left. Glittering water beneath a summer sun spread wide between islands and shorelines. And as my heels sunk into the sand with each wave that washed away my footing, I thought about all the salty ocean water that has romanced me.

Hawaiian waves were the first, faced in the safe grasp of my father or mother when my legs were still too wobbly and chunky, but even long after my baby fat was shed, my family would make our returns to Hawaii. Dad and I would slip out the back door together and cross the field to soft white sand and cool water for our early morning swim.

Years later I met the turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean as they lapped against the stone wall on which I sat with an I "heart" Naxos sticker in my purse. Friends and I shared moments of awe and wonder from high on a ferry deck as we journeyed back to Athens, dark blue starry sky closing in on an orange sun that slipped beyond the horizon. Hundred Islands in the Philippines; Pacific waves that crash with Costa Rican flair; late night Mexican sand lit by beach fires and glowing cigars. Beaches along the Santa Barbara coast that acquired terms of endearment such as "good ol'" and "dear" refreshed my body and spirit, whether alone or bonding with new friends. There's homey Puget Sound, and there's the orange-lily-speckled Ibaraki coastline too.

I carry these images and memories in my heart, which tugs no less for the people with whom I shared each season than for the individual shorelines. Pebbles, shattered shells, black sand, and speckled white: I find pleasure in each circumstance and value in each face.

This little world living inside me, this world that Buechner speaks of, is indeed strongly comprised of people and places but it would not be complete without tastes. The taste of Norway on Christmas morning, India through friends' curries scooped up in wet orange fingers, Washington experienced in the sweetest of summer's berries and fall's apples.

And it's not all about geographical locations. It's about smelling coffee in the kitchen in the morning and thinking of my dad's espresso machine, eating leftover pear clafoutis with plain yogurt for breakfast and knowing my mother would have made extra for the exact same purpose, and it's about sitting down to a dinner without any vegetables in sight and wondering where the rest of the meal is. It's a marvel how much these stomach habits influence the psyche. Their disruption can depress, and their presence can comfort, restore, and inspire.

So it was that I was inspired in the making of this Norwegian Apple Cake. I was comforted in the process of halving crisp apples and turning their exposed pale faces down on the cutting board to be diced and swept into a pile on the side. I was restored in biting into something light and sweet and simple tasting that my own hands had made.

You see, I rarely spend time in the kitchen these days. And with that I have to say I miss it. I miss meal-planning and grocery shopping and knowing exactly what's going into my body. I miss the art and therapy and practicality of it all. But, in turn, I'm so grateful for the hospitality available to me in this season and will feel forever blessed by those who have opened their homes so freely to me.

Thus we return to the cake. (Sorry, this is what happens when I go too long without visiting this blog -- my fingers run away with me.) Mainly, what I'm wanting to say is that this cake was lovely. It puffed up airily in the oven and then settled into itself for a thin eggy inside and lightly crunchy top. The apples are the structure of the cake because the batter is thick and minimal in ratio, but if you use the back of a spatula it will spread out well enough in the bottom of your pan and all come together in the heat of the oven.

norwegian apple cake

norwegian apple cake

My accompaniment to this cake was a barely sweetened cardamom whipped cream. I wanted to emphasis the Nordic origin of the cake since it was being served at an international dinner and knew the warming presence of cardamom (so reminiscent of my grandmother's Christmas cookies) would pair well with apple. I got generous compliments on both and will be making this cake again. It's just the sort of thing that can cross over into breakfast the next day, like a proper fruit-filled crisp (or the aforementioned clafoutis).

I found the recipe on a brilliant food blog called Everybody Likes Sandwiches, which features a promising looking coconut bread recipe in the same post. And I must include the blog she got the original recipe for Norwegian Apple Cake from, as it is equally brilliant and lovely: Bunny Pie.

Recipe link: Norwegian Apple Cake.

norwegian apple cake

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving and Springtime

Well, it's the week of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving week, and I'm eating local strawberries and visiting the farmers' market for fresh tomatoes and spring lettuces. It's all a bit bizarre, but I love the oddity as well. In fact, I'd be content forgoing the heavy Thanksgiving food if I didn't happen to be around other Americans. But we seem to be inescapable people, so, of course, I'll embrace the festivities. (And, really, pumpkin pie goes down well any time of year.)

In the meantime, let's talk farmers' market. One of my favorite subjects.

This weekend was my first time to visit the Auckland City Farmers' Market, and while it was lovely, and I hope to go back, it was quite small. For the time it took to get into the city (not to mention park - I'll definitely bus next time), I was underwhelmed. I suppose there are other farmers' markets around the city, but this seemed like The One. If that's true, then a small city like Bellingham just put Auckland to shame.

Still, I'll go back. All the more reason, right? This place needs some lovin'. And ordering a coffee at the Kokako Coffee stall to sip while strolling by the cheeses, honeys, herbs, and pastries doesn't sound half-bad on a Saturday morning, even if you find yourself back where you started in five minutes.

I picked up some fresh hand-stretched mozzarella from a vendor whose name I don't recall and enjoyed it in a simple tomato-full panzanella yesterday. If only it was practical to carry a pot of basil home with me too.

Being that last Saturday was the market's third anniversary as well, there was live music by Reb Fountain. I didn't stay around too long for a good listen but liked the little I heard. Without her, her band, and their groupies, I'm curious as to the atmosphere of the market on the average day. Will it feel emptier? Quiet?

Only one way to find out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Three Lemons Make a Loaf

lemon loaf II

While this blog has diffused over the last several months into less and less of a food-centric blog, that has not necessarily meant that my activity in the kitchen has ceased. I'd never allow that to happen. But it certainly has declined.

Having just counted up the weeks since I arrived here in New Zealand (Eight! It's been eight weeks! I've been telling everyone five.) and then tacking on the ten days of road-tripping prior to our departure, I haven't been in a familiar kitchen since August 30th.

No wonder I was starting to get antsy for the browning of onions, drizzling of olive oil, creaming of butter and sugar, and the habit of a watchful eye on the oven.

I've made a few cakes for events and put together individual lunches but only enough to count on my fingers, and that's more than slightly out of the ordinary. My old ordinary anyway. Being in a home-stay situation for three months means that I'm getting to experience the hospitality of initial strangers, and I am so thankful for having been invited into family rituals such as the sharing of food. At times sitting down to a communal meal is far more important (and delicious) than having put together my favorite salad or soup.


While at a friend's last week, I noticed her two lemon trees full of large sunny yellow fruit. As I made my selection from the tree branches, I couldn't help smelling the sweet skin of each beautiful citrus. There's no comparing these and the thin-skinned ones at the supermarket.

I decided to modify a favorite recipe for these lemons. I had noted the suggestion of substituting lemons when I first read the recipe but always stuck with oranges, sometimes the Cara Cara variety. Making the switch to lemons proved entirely worthwhile. I held off on the suggested glaze until tasting the loaf (yes, I used a long, skinny loaf pan lined with baking paper instead), and I was glad to discover that the additional sugar wasn't necessary.

Everyone seemed to love this loaf and commented on its moistness. I love the visible bits of rind in each slice from coarsely mincing the boiled lemons. Bonus: it is gluten-free and dairy (not egg) free with very little fat.

lemon loaf I

If you're making it for an event, just be sure to give the cake/loaf a day for the flavors to brighten. If there's no particular occasion, do your best to practice self-control and save at least half for the next couple days. The taste will only improve.

Photos of my previous versions are here and here.
Recipe found here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fire in the Sky

While November in the United States means that the craft stores fill with cheap, mass-produced wooden turkeys and cutesy pumpkin-orange "Happy Thanksgiving" signs*, here fireworks stands begin to pop up and kids shift their attention immediately from their Halloween lollies to explosives and sputtering sparklers.

The month's much-anticipated holiday comes earlier here (November 5), but it tries to stretch out the length of its celebration as long as possible. While Guy Fawkes Day has great significance in the history of Britain, over the years it seems to have been reduced to one primary element (as holidays often are): fireworks. It seems that my neighbors have been conserving their firework stashes, because even as we were watching a movie last night -- three days after Guy Fawkes -- flashes of light were illuminating the darkness outside the living room window.

On Friday night friends and I got our fill of fireworks by driving out to Kumeu for a fireworks show that sent the young girl next to me on the crowded lawn cowering into her mother's arms. Crying out louder with each explosive boom that penetrated her small palms clapped over delicate ears, I felt sorry for the little one, but enjoyed playing with the aperture, shutter speed, and focus of my camera for the following shots.





*Just to be clear, I love Thanksgiving and all things fall related (okay, most things). It just so happened that today the inside of places like Hobby Lobby and Michaels popped into my head before turning leaves, pumpkin bread, and knit scarves. These latter things will always have a place in my heart.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Weekend by Weekend

I have one lament concerning Auckland. I acknowledge I was thoroughly spoiled by my last big-city experience. Three weeks in San Francisco somewhat raises one's standards of convenient local transportation and not only does Auckland lack this but it is so spread out in comparison to SF that walking is not nearly as much of a happy alternative.

So I'm covering this city inch by inch, weekend by weekend and that means I still have loads of ground to cover. Especially because when I say Auckland, I mean North Shore City/Auckland City. Just go with it.

Last weekend I got to explore new areas with a new friend and my feet loved the walk up Queen Street -- the mingling with the locals, the discovery of an orangey-red vintage purse on K. Road, the details on the old buildings, the worn signs on the new, the countless Asian discount shops, and the kumara chips (french fries) at Burger Fuel. (Yes, I have come to love a place with such an un-lovely name as Burger Fuel. But you would, too, if you tried their well-salted kumara chips with creamy, garlicy aioli.)

Details from the beautiful afternooon:




Saturday, October 24, 2009

Holidaying in Raglan

Like I have mentioned, among my most cherished moments in returning to New Zealand have been reunions with old friends.

Almost two weeks ago, two friends (one acquired at the age of five and the other as friend-number-one fell in love with and married friend-number-two) drove up to Auckland for long-awaited conversations carried out with no computer in between. Of all the people I've looked forward to seeing while here, P. and H. were among the top.

We headed down to Raglan on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to spend three nights at their bach (Kiwi for vacation home). It was a lovely two-hour drive south of the city to Hamilton and then due west. The road between Hamilton and Raglan climbed to stunning views, but I knew that attempts at truly capturing it through the car window, in all its splendor - the sharp peeks and diving valleys, some shaved to clean green grass and others populated with trees - were slim.

Once in Raglan, there were plenty of photo ops, but it turned out that my favorite place to pull out the camera was at a cafe called Tongue & Groove. We went there twice for coffee, and it was just the sort of place I'd like to always have down the road. Painted wood floors with the dark naked boards revealed from wear, vintage patterned counter tops in alternating colors, a chalkboard menu, and even a table fashioned from half a surfboard protruding from the wall and paired with old brown leather theater chairs. Lovely aesthetics, friendly staff, and a damn good cappuccino.

Tongue and Groove 1

Below is an earl grey tea that I purchased on my first visit. Then there's the brownie the three of us shared while sitting at the surfboard table.

Tongue and Groove 4

Tongue and Groove 2

But just so you know we didn't sit inside all day, here are some photos from around the area.




Thursday, October 22, 2009

Essential Details


One Hungry Soul has been haunting me. Each photograph my camera captures translates to something else to blog about - my new life in this gorgeous country deserves much more documentation than I am allotting it. And so, as I sit on my bed on this quiet night, I retrace my steps over the past few weeks, hoping not to miss the essential details that desire to be shared.

Here's one: Sharing a warm, dry home with a seven-year-old and his mother as the spring rain persists in the watering of already drenched soil.



I moved out of that sweet little house a week ago but want to offer a glimpse into my surroundings there before this blog moves on as well.




During the hushed gaps in the coming weekend, I anticipate a more thorough catch-up on life's photo log.

Beaches and plenty of cappuccino cups await.

beauty neglected

Sunday, October 4, 2009

With Old Friends


I think it is well established that New Zealand is a beautiful place. So let's not dwell on the lush fern forests and brilliantly green paddocks and the way some sort of flower always manages to be showing its face, no matter the season.

Just as wonderful as it is to be living in this aesthetically pleasing land, I find reunions with old friends equally soul-satisfying.


Yesterday a young man picked up my sister and I for lunch, a man who I last saw fifteen years ago, when he was eight years old and had round cheeks and the ability to sing a few octaves higher, surely. These days he's tall and thin and often in the company of his lovely fiancee, a startling realization of just how fast we have grown up.

The four of us shared a delicious meal together at Takapuna Beach, where the scenery, food, and company were thoroughly enjoyable -- even with the burst of rain on the way back to the car. Once the summer sun comes out to stay, I hope to venture back. Any place that serves poached feijoas and greek yoghurt over brazil nut and linseed granola (yes, they actually used the American term "granola"), especially within glass wall that face the beach, wins a bit of my heart.

When I start to wonder if New Zealand possesses any authentic "homey-ness" to me anymore, or if the years of distance have wiped it all away, the act of rekindling friendships comes as a comforting gift.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flickers of Memories


Nothing ages you quite like going back to a place you haven't seen in fifteen years. I feel like I have lived through multiple lives, the former one being so full of events and memories that have been fuzzed out by the many that happened in the latter. Everywhere I go, I wonder if my little blonde-headed four to eight year old self stepped foot here too.

And, yet, I know that in most cases the answer is 'no'. We lived in Glendowie and so stayed mostly on the other side of the bridge from where I'm residing, on the North Shore. Thus, most of this experience is genuinely new and lovely in all its opportunities for discovery and growth.




Yesterday, I went to a new place (I think) with some new friends. Muriwai Beach was reminiscent of Hawaii with its black sand, rocky cliffs, and turquoise waves. And, yet, walking along the shore in my sweater, only letting my toes occasionally touch the chilly water, I could have easily been back on the West Coast of the U.S.

I don't mean to break this beautiful scene apart into disparate parts of the world, and dilute its Kiwi-ness. It was genuinely its own, with gannets and surfers in ice-cold water and a mix of palm trees, evergreens, and sheep-speckled hills meeting the shoreline.


Tonight I'm straddling that fifteen year bridge again. I sit at a kitchen table in a home that is entirely new to me, but has been warmly opened to the role that I'm currently living as a grown woman, a college graduate who has moved away from mum and dad to establish myself (whatever that means, right?). And, yet, I sip a drink that surely passed my lips as a child, a drink that awakens flickers of memories. Milo's milky, chocolaty warmth passes through this ceramic mug onto my cold hands that have aged from chubby and naive to slender and scarred in the course of years.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Not So Long Ago

It feels like ages ago that my sister and I passed through Oregon, meandering down the coastline highway. We stayed on the slow, scenic 101 for as long as we could, taking in its charm and beauty. Forced to turn inland about midway down the coast, we parted ways with the long stretch of shoreline, widening and narrowing but always being met by powerfully crashing waves, icy from their origin in the northern Pacific Ocean.

I say that it feels like ages ago, but in fact it was last Sunday. And Monday. Here are some favorite photos.




I'm trying to keep Flickr updated with photos (especially since my blog is so behind). Stop by there if you'd like to see more.