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.