Snow Soup for You!

I hate snow. I hate shovelling snow. I hate it when I have to get up at 0-dark-thirty to shovel out a spot of grass so the dogs can answer the call of nature. I hate scraping ice off my car. And I really hate it when the snow on the roof turns into ice dams and water leaks into the rafters to come out. . . oh, anywhere. 009When the hundred-year blizzard hit DC in 1996, I was attending a conference at Wilton Park in the UK. I came home to find all my upstairs window wells an inch deep in water. I hated that. I hate that people put salt on the sidewalk that irritates my dogs’ feet so I have to wash their paws whenever we come in from a walk. I hate people who think that just because there is snow on the ground, they don’t have to pick up after their dogs, as though the poop will disappear with the spring thaw. I hate leaky snow boots. Snow ice cream? Yuck. Snowmen? Depressing when they melt. And they always melt. I, ladies and gentlemen, am a snow Scrooge.

So why, whenever there is a big snowstorm on the east coast of the United States like the one this past weekend, do I get homesick? After all, one of the things I like best about living in Wellington, New Zealand, is that it never snows. So why, when CNN started warning, mid-last week, that a huge, hundred-year blizzard was headed toward Washington, DC, did I feel the urge to run to Countdown and stock up on toilet paper, white bread, and milk?

Why do I feel this longing to get my hands on a snow shovel? Why do I keep checking on to see if the Federal Government is closed? Why do I want to Scotty to beam me back to DC?

The truth is, while I hate the snow, I love the magic of a snowstorm. It isn’t just the old cliche of waking up to a wonderland dusted with icing sugar. It isn’t just that the sky is never bluer than on the morning after a massive snow dump. 008I love what a snowstorm brings out in people. Some of my best memories of my old neighbourhood in Annandale, Virginia, involved snowstorms, when everyone came together to dig out the parking lot and make sure our neighbours who were unable to shovel themselves would have clean and safe stoops and sidewalks. We built an iceberg in the cul-de-sac from the snow we cleared from our parking spots. It was a kid magnet. We were all in the same boat, and it was, for the time being, a boat that wasn’t going anywhere. You might just as well sit back and enjoy the ride. So we went to each others’ houses for supper; we shared snow shovels; we traded videos. We were neighbours, at least for a few days.

And the dogs. Every dog I’ve ever lived with got in touch with their inner wolf when it snowed. This wasn’t a surprise in the case of our two Samoyeds — Nikita and Piroshki. They were never far from their inner wolf. But Miss Peanut, Crackerjack, Shakespeare, and Cully all got a far away look in their eyes when it snowed, as if they were ready to hitch up  the sled and go mushing.

Even crabby old Cindy Dog got her inner puppy on when it snowed. Granted, in his last couple of winters, Crackerjack, at 16, had decided that he was over snow. But, for the most part, my canine family always went just the teensiest bit feral when the snow began to fly.

I was born in a mini ice-age, between two historic nor’easters that hit the DC area in February and March 1958. I remember there being one or two big dumps of snow each winter in the 1960s. The biggest was in January 1966. CCI26012016_3I got a sled for Christmas the year before — a blue plastic toboggan that looked like a space ship. It was one of those Christmases — much like Christmas of 2015 — when the temperature hit 70F on Christmas Day. My ever amazing Dad pulled me around the yard on the toboggan, on the grass. So, when the snow hit, the sled had grass stains. Jeannie et. al.2Our house was on a steep hill — excellent for sledding and snow fort building. Not so excellent for shovelling out the driveway. And since we lived on a dead end street with only three houses, Dad had to shovel all the way up to Sharon Chapel Road. Dad — a son of Milwaukee and lake effect snow — didn’t love snow.

Perhaps that’s why he decided, a year later, to move us to Georgia, where he could be assured that there would be no blizzards. Now, it’s true there aren’t blizzards in Georgia, but there are ice-storms, which can be much worse, really. All the the cold and wet without the fun and, often, without electricity and cable. Once in a blue moon it would “snow” — which wasn’t really snow but accumulated sleet. And we did have snow days. My freshman year in High School we got an extra week of Christmas vacation because it “snowed.” CCI26012016_2My friend Andrea broke her leg sledding and spent the next several months in a full-leg cast. Usually, though, snow in Georgia meant some version of ice. Any Yankees who are tempted to make fun of how we Southerners panic at the first sight of snow, I defy you, or anyone, to drive on the sheets of ice that form on untreated roads in a Georgia ice storm. One year, during a particularly bad ice storm, one of the pine trees in our yard came down under the weight and took down our electrical lines. It was so cold in the house that our budgerigar and my Siamese fighting fish died. Dad, not one to take chances, and in revenge for the lost, cut down all the rest of the trees in the yard. Overkill? Maybe.

When the first wave of Snowmageddon hit DC in January 2010, I was in the UK, at a conference at Wilton Park. Sound familiar? Spooky, huh? Anyway, I managed to get on the first flight back from London — when we landed at Dulles, we sat on the plane for about an hour because no one who knew how to drive the gate had managed to get to work. Then we waited for another hour in customs. None of the baggage handlers had made it to work, either. That was nothing compared to Simon’s ordeal. My adorable new husband, bless his cotton socks, made what had to be a harrowing drive to the airport to meet me, and we slipped, spun, and slid home in his trusty RAV4. The experience was so shattering, Simon was never able to drive on the Beltway again.

As a newcomer to DC, Simon wasn’t up on the culture of panic  pre-snow shopping, so for the next week or so, while the Federal Government — and hence my place of employment — remained stubbornly closed and our neighbourhood roads remained stubbornly unplowed, I became a pantry cook.

I always keep a sizeable stash of dried beans, flour, and canned things, so there was plenty to work with. I channelled my homesteading ancestors. OK, I didn’t have any homesteading ancestors, but my grandparents lives in Eagle River, Wisconsin during the Great Depression were challenging enough. I baked bread. I made long, slow cooking soups. I baked dog cookies. We shovelled snow. We watched a lot of videos because the snow had blocked the satellite dish — leading Simon to insist we get cable. They were golden days.

One of my blizzard rituals is to make a big pot of stock. This goes back to my carnivorous past, when chicken stock was a pantry staple. The store bought stuff is never as good as homemade, but making large amounts of stock presents a challenge when it comes time to cool it. It isn’t really safe to leave a pot of meat stock at room temperature for the hours it would take to cool down. But put in in your fridge and you run the risk of warming up the cold food faster than you cool down the hot stock. During a blizzard, you can bury your hot stock in a snow bank. It’s the next best thing to a blast chiller.

I don’t make chicken stock anymore, but snow — even snow ten thousand miles away — still triggers in me the urge to get out the stock pot. Instead of chicken bits, I gather up excess veggie bits — the tops of the enormous leeks, green onions and celery I buy at the market, onions, slightly dry mushrooms, carrots, a couple of waxy potatoes, the odd apple or pear, a parsnip, maybe a bulb or two of fennel, and garlic, always lots and lots of garlic. If I’m feeling industrious, I chop everything. If not, I just leave it in chunks. Add enough water to cover the lot, throw in a couple of bay leaves, a few black peppercorns, a handful of whatever herbs you have around, and some kosher or sea salt and bring it all to a simmer. If you want a dark stock that looks and tastes more like beef stock, you can caramelise some of the vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, potatoes) in a very hot oven until they are good and brown. Don’t let them burn, though. Brown is good, but burnt just tastes like burnt.

Caught in a blizzard without a fridge full of vegetable bits? Peel a couple of heads of garlic (yes, the whole thing), add a bay leaf, a spring of fresh thyme (or a teaspoon or so of dried), some black peppercorns, a bay leaf, a teaspoon of salt, a glug of olive oil, and two quarts of water. Simmer that. It smells heavenly and tastes just like chicken stock. I kid you not.

So, next time it snows, forget the white bread and Doritos. Gather up your veggies, add water, and just let the whole delicious mess simmer, and simmer, and simmer. Long and slow. Go outside and shovel snow. Build a snowman. Make a snow angel. Come inside. There’s soup for you!

Out with the Old, In with the New

While the New Year’s Black-eyed Peas simmer in the slow-cooker, I’m rising to the challenge issued by my soul sister, Joani, at Unorthodox and Unhinged. Here is the Kale Whisperer’s New Year’s Eve stock take of the transitions of 2015 and what’s to come in 2016.

In / Out

Live to Cook / Live to Work

2172-kyle-lockwood-silver-fern-nz-flag-final-cr-4Silver Fern / Union Jack

Riverfront Farmers’ Market / Supermarket

Tatoos / Scars

Indian Summers / Downton Abbey

IMG_1079Morning Workouts / Sleeping in

Cricket / Baseball

Ma’a Nonu Toulouse / Ma’a Nonu All Blacks

Enthusiasms / Regrets11855805_10153119619681915_806051139039152709_n

Kitchens of the Great Midwest / Like Water for Chocolate

Baby Kale / Massaged Kale

She’ll Be Right / It’s All Good


accordion babesPlaying Accordion / Playing Candy Crush

Make it / Buy it

Metric / Old Money

Celebrating my Family / Mourning my Parents

Dreams / Nightmares

Kitchen Notes / Footnotes

Quinoa! / Quinoa?quinoa-seeds

Air New Zealand / United Airlines

Cooking Therapy / Therapy Therapy

Southern Hemisphere / Northern Hemisphere

Rugby / Gridiron

Hating Kumara / Hating Sweet Potatoes

L & P / Dr. Pepper

Permanent Residence / Talent Visa

brokenwoodBrokenwood Mysteries / Midsommer Murders

Gum Boots / Snow Boots

Cook Strait / Mason & Dixon Line

Armchair Master Chef / Armchair Strategist

Cookbooks on the iPad / Cookbooks on the Shelf

Wellington Lions / Potomac Nationals

Cheese Toasties / Grilled Cheese SandwichesBBkingStory-620x400

Lower Hutt / Annandale

Alpacas / Chickadees

Sol3 Mio / B. B. King

FanClub2Chosen Family / Nuclear Family


East Enders / Rachel Maddow

sweet as

Sweet As / Cool

Centigrade / Fahrenheit

Polenta / Grits

Hedgehogs / Chipmunks

Smoked Tofu / Bacon

Audible / Books on Tape

I Bleed Black / I Bleed Red and Black


It’s true. I will.

I bleed black

Waitangi Day / Independence Day

Trundlers / Shopping Carts

Rimu Furniture / Cherry Furniture

Counter Tops / Counter Terrorism

Recipes / Power Point Slides / The Five Thirty-Eight

Oodles of Spoodles / A Ridiculous of Cockapoos

Silverbeet / Chard

Thug Kitchen / Politico

Kiwi Pies / Quiche

God Defend New Zealand / The Star-Spangled Banner

EFTPoS / Cash

nz-dollar-1The Kiwi / The Greenback

It’s Yesterday in the U.S. / It’s Tomorrow in New Zealand

Size 38 / Size 7

Slip, Slap, Slop / Be Sun Safe

Hangi / Cookout

ponytail gatePonytail-gate / Benghazi Hearings

Manuka Smoke / Mesquite Smoke

Raw Honey / Processed Sugar

TuiTuis in the Garden / Cardinals in the Garden

Southland Cheese Rolls 
/ Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

My Cute Accent / Simon’s Cute Accent

What We Do in the Shadows / Dark Shadows

Large-WetaWetas / Snakes

Kune Kune Pigs / Leftovers

Winter in July / Washington Heat Waves in July

Coriander / Cilantro

14.3 / Pi DayPi Day

New Zealand Sourdough / Annandale Sourdough

Mindfulness / Panic Attacks

Christchurch Cathedral Earthquake Damage / National Cathedral Earthquake Damage

Flat White / Cafe au Lait

we will rebuild

Donald Trump, You’re Fired  / Kim, You’re Dot Gone

Hell’s Pizza / Valentino’s Pizza

Kale / Collards

Right-hand Drive / Left-Hand Drive

windy wellingtonWild, Windy Wellington / Hot, Humid Washington

Kale Whisperer / Bomb Thrower

Wearing Chucks to Accordion Lessons / Wearing Chucks to Work


Food Processor / Word Processor

Cage Free / Free Range

Alpaca Nuts / Peanuts

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc / California Chardonnay

Coloured Pencils / Dry Erase Markers

Antarctic Cold Front / Arctic Cold Front

ANZACANZAC Day / Veteran’s Day

Hokey Pokey Ice Cream / Butter Brickle Ice Cream

Adult Colouring Books / Whiteboards

Radio NZ / NPR

The Haka / The Countdown


Chips / McDonald’s French Fries

Sub-Tropical North / Sub-Tropical South

Hydropower / Superpower

Word Press / Work Stress

Happy 2016!

happy new year 2016 photos 7

The Eleventh Cookbook of Christmas: The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook

Jack Bishop

I am a simple soul. I wear jeans and t-shirts. I prefer Chucks to heels. I don’t wear make-up.  And my favourite ice cream flavour is vanilla. Less is more. When watching Masterchef, I am frustrated when the judges and contestants yammer on about “technique” and “plating.” And what is the point of foam? My cooking mantra is “Let the food be the food.” DSC01787My favourite foods are simple: mashed potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper; tomato sandwiches with tarragon mayonnaise; pasta with sautéed vegetables and a little parmesan; pizza margarita with sweet tomatoes, basil from the garden, and milky, fresh mozzarella cheese. I am also a great believer in cooking what’s in season. There is nothing more delicious than a perfectly sun-ripened tomato; and there are few things less appealing than a pale, flavourless winter hot-house tomato — no amount of technique will make it taste good.  I defy anyone to come up with anything more exquisite than an ear of sweet corn straight off the stalk with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper.

I prefer food that is only one degree of separation from the soil.  I’ve dined at three-Michelin-starred restaurants, but too often the experience left me cold.  DSC01792I appreciate the art and science behind modernist cuisine, but I cannot warm to a dining experience that puts so much technology between me and the food. I’m suspicious of “fusion” cooking that confuses me with too many moving parts. Dining in the dark? Spare me. If a recipe has forty steps, I reckon that is about 35 steps too many. I don’t have a single squeeze bottle in my kitchen, unless you count the ones Simon’s HP Sauce comes in.  As my adorable partner put it, I have no time for precious food.

A few years ago, I  spent a month in Sancerre, a picture book medieval walled city in the Loire valley. 1929893_15495843409_3121_nI was immersing myself in French at the Coeur de France Ecole des Langues.  Every morning, I walked into town and bought my food for the day.   A croissant or petit pan au chocolate for petit dejeuner. A baguette at the boulangerie, a handful of haricot verts and champignons at the greengrocer, a wedge of cheese here, a bottle of wine there. We went on a field trip to a chèvre farm where I milked my first goat.1929893_15495833409_2522_n  Most days, I lunched at the Cafe des artes, where the friendly staff would patiently suffer my feeble French (I’m sure I saw their ears bleed). Once, I had a long and spirited argument with the veg vender from the market about George W. Bush. He loved him. I didn’t. 1929893_15495858409_4008_nI rarely ate dinner out. My evenings were given over to homework and working on my vocabulary by watching badly dubbed episodes of NCIS and CSI. And I cooked, simply, and with whatever looked good at the market on the day. It was spring, so the market was teeming with some of my favourite things: asparagus, tiny artichokes, and haricot verts.


The Bubbles were pretty nice, too!

My neighbour, Anita, and I spent a long weekend in Paris in 2011. I think she would agree that one of the best meals we had there was a simple omelette, salad, and a glass of house red wine at a corner cafe near our hotel. I had a similarly memorable meal in Giverny, just outside Monet’s house. In Lisbon, sardines grill over open wood fires all over the city, and the aroma is tantalising. My favourite meal in Brussels was pommel frites with mayonnaise.

I visited Venice briefly in 2013, and spent much of my time wandering around side streets and exploring the fruit and vegetable markets. I got lost. I got hungry. I stopped for a plate of linguine con vongole and a glass of Orvieto at a cafe at the edge of the vegetable and seafood market. I walked more. I got lost again. I met a lovely man who made carnival masks. I chatted with another artist selling his watercolours outside one of Venice’s ancient churches. I bought two. I walked more.

Got lost more. Ate lemon gelato. Finally, having managed to find my way back to the train station, hot, footsore, and happy, I drank the best mug of beer I’ve ever had. The most expensive, too, but that didn’t matter. It was a golden day.

The Kale Whisperer’s Eleventh Cookbook of Christmas, Jack Bishop’s The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, honours the beauty of simple food.  This book is full of the kind of simple, fresh food that I love: polenta, pasta, and rice with seasonable vegetables; frittatas, tortas, and pizza; salads and bruschetta. Bishop is an editor at America’s Test Kitchen, and he provides plenty of good, practical advice.  His step-by-step instructions mean the recipes here are manageable by even a beginner. I particularly appreciate the serving suggestions that follow each recipe. None of these recipes require any special equipment. Not a foam canister in sight.

I probably cook from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook more than any other single book on my cookbook shelf. I especially enjoy it in the summertime, when no one wants to eat hot, heavy food. Packing a picnic for an outdoor concert? This is your cookbook. One of my favourite picnics consists of a vegetable frittata (my favourite is the Zucchini Frittata with Parmesan and mint), the Roasted Potato Salad with Herbs and Red Wine Vinegar, and a loaf of crusty country bread. I am a huge fan of pasta e fagioli, and Bishop’s version, with lots of garlic and rosemary, is among my favourites. I also love the Chickpea Soup with Fennel and Orange Zest. I have borrowed that flavour combination — chickpea, fennel, and orange — as a pizza topping, too.


Jack Bishop wrote another excellent cookbook, Pasta e Verdure (Morrow, 1994). Sadly, it is out of print, but there are used copies for sale on Amazon. In it, Bishop presents 250 recipes for simple pasta and vegetables. The books has chapters for 27 different vegetables, so if you come him from the farmers’ market with fresh, spring favas, or all you have for dinner one winter night is some pasta and cauliflower, you can find something delicious to cook. I often use Bishop’s flavour combinations as pizza toppings. If you can put it on pasta, why not pizza? Each chapter opens with advice on how to choose, clean, and store each vegetable. Many of the combinations he presents here have become standards for me: the hot pink sauces (tomato + red pepper flakes + a little cream) is a particular favourite. My mother used to make what we called “crummy spaghetti”, which was simply spaghetti tossed with bread crumbs toasted in a little butter.  Bishop has several scrummy variations on that theme: Spaghetti with Wilted Spinach and Breadcrumbs and Linguine with Asparagus, Toasted Breadcrumbs, Lemon, and Garlic. My biggest deliciousness surprise was the Fusilli with Shredded Brussels Sprouts, Orange, and Almonds. Think you hate Brussels’ Sprouts? You won’t if you try this!

Let me finish by mourning another much-loved but tragically out-of-print cookbook: Marlena Spieler’s The Vegetarian Bistro (Chronicle Books, 1997). Spieler does for simple French cooking what Bishop does for Italian Vegetarian cooking. I haven’t even bothered to flag the “to cook” recipes here, because I can literally open the book to any random page and happily cook whatever I find there, knowing it will be delicious. If you can track down a used copy (they are available on Amazon, too), buy it. Then cook the Lentilles “Dom Perignon” (Lentils cooked in Champagne — don’t worry if you don’t have left over bubbles, it works with any dry white wine). Just lentils, shallots, garlic and white wine.

Simply. Delicious. Food.


The Tenth Cookbook of Christmas: Delia’s Vegetarian Collection


It is almost Christmas and I am remembering Christmases past. Christmas with my father was a winter wonderland. When I was very small, we had a very large spruce tree in our front yard. Every Christmas he would string those big, old-fashioned coloured lights on the tree so Santa could find our house from way up high in the sky. CCI22122015Every night, before bed, he would pack me into my red snow snuit and we would stand out in the cold and admire the lighties. Those are some of my earliest memories.

For several years after Dad died of Alzheimer’s disease, I couldn’t bear Christmas. My Mom made it through two more Christmases, and she couldn’t bear them either. The two of us would hunker down in her little apartment at the assisted living facility and watch endless versions of Jane Austen on her VCR. How many times did we watch Colin Firth dive into the pond at Pemberley? Oh, hundreds!Darcy I stopped laying down new Christmas memories when Dad died. For me, Christmas was about family, and our little family had dwindled to one.

Don’t get me wrong. I am blessed with a wonderful extended family on both sides, and I love my cousins like siblings. But, I have written before about the importance of chosen families, and I have such a lovely one that I want to celebrate them. There is Dorothy from Norwich, who was my roommate through a nearly three-week adventure in Palestine in 1993. My soul sister, Joani, in Virginia — check out her excellent blog,  And my besties, Susan in Virginia and Elizabeth in Oxford. We three musketeers have shared so many adventures. Now we are joined by my beautiful fairy goddaughter, Alex.

I’ve traveled all over the world with my Elder Sis, Katy, and I’ve drowned many a sorrow with our bro, Tony.


With Katy and Tony, after drowning a sorrow or two

And I cannot leave out my sourdough starter’s foster parents, Mary and Wade. In Athens, there are Carolyn and Kline, and Nash and France who all supported my parents, and then me, in their final years. Nash and France adopted my Dad’s beloved cockapoo, Maxwell, and gave him the loving retirement he so richly deserved. Nash still keeps me posted on the goings on at my old high school. Pete and Anita, our dogs’ uncle and auntie, are soon moving from Virginia to Minnesota — near my family in Northern Wisconsin.

My Southern Hemisphere chosen family is growing and multiplying, too. Thanks to Julian and Anna in Sydney, I have a new “niece,” Ayla. Peter is the crusty old uncle I never had. I did have an amazing Uncle, Billy, but he was too funny and loveable to qualify as crusty. Carl is the pesky little brother I never had. Chris has long been Simon’s chosen family in New Zealand, and now he’s part of mine.

I discovered the Kale Whisperer’s Tenth Cookbook of Christmas, Delia’s Vegetarian Collection (BBC Books, 2002) while visiting another branch of my chosen family in Sydney, the lovely Lise, her husband Cahn, and my “nephew” Jacob and his brand new baby sister, Eliana.


Pizza by Jacob, I’m pretty sure those are slices of beetroot, not pepperonis!

Having essentially invited myself to visit en route to the United States earlier this year, I would not have been surprised (or disappointed) to dine on take away food. But Lise, despite juggling an active (and, as it happens, sick) three year old and an adorable six-month old, spoiled me with delicious and beautifully prepared vegetarian fare from Delia’s Vegetarian Collection. Even before I left Sydney, I ordered myself a copy from It has already become a favourite in my kitchen, too.

There haven’t been any celebrity chefs or cookbooks with lots of gorgeous, full colour illustrations among the The Kale Whisperer’s Twelve Cookbooks of Christmas.  It’s not that I have anything against celebrity chefs or beautiful photographs of food. It’s just that I find those sorts of cookbooks, for the most part, disappointing. It’s as though they are written for people who don’t cook and don’t really intend to start, but who want to have some attractive cookery books as accent pieces in their designer kitchens. And I’ve had some real disasters. Take the celebrity chef cookbook I bought most recently, which shall remain nameless. So far, not a single recipes I’ve tried has worked as advertised. I ended up serving my beloved a zucchini pie with raw rice. Do these people even cook the food they put into their cookbooks? A word of advice: if the directions don’t make sense to you (trust me, the liquid from the zucchini will cook the raw rice), they probably don’t make sense. I’ve had good experiences with the few Jamie Oliver recipes I’ve downloaded, but I haven’t bought his books either because, frankly, I find him a bit preachy and annoying.

But Delia is different. How can you not trust and respect a woman who is willing to make a public spectacle of herself in support of her beloved Norwich Canaries?

Would I make a spectacle of myself in support of my beloved All Blacks? You betcha. In fact, to hear Katy tell it, I did that already while watching the 2012 Rugby World Cup Final with a group of Aussies in Bali.


Offering up a word of thanks in Ubud, Bali

Which brings me to a digression. I had a long argument with myself (I do that — it’s an introvert thing) about whether or not to include Julia Child’s original Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf, 1961). I really think every cook should read it, often, but I don’t actually cook from it very much. Julia is pretty meat-centric. That said, I just got out my copy — which was previously my mother’s copy — and it fell right open to the recipe for Soufflé au Fromage. My Mom made heavenly soufflés. I don’t. But seeing as the book is out, and I accidentally bought 32 eggs at the farmer’s market last week, I think I’ll give it another shot, with Julia on my shoulder.IMG_0275

But back to Delia. This is a gorgeous book. If you are looking for a gift for your favourite vegetarian, and want to split the difference between useful and pretty, this is your book. The illustrations are stunning. There are a few I’d like to tear out of the book and hang on the wall. And the recipes work. I have a massive rosemary bush in my herb garden, so I can make the Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup, all year round. Simon grew up in the UK, and this book has vegetarian versions of his childhood comfort foods, including Shepard’s Pie, Spinach Pasties, and Not-Pork Pies (which will please our Kune Kune pigs). Everything Lise prepared from Delia’s collection was wonderful, and only tasted better for being made with love and eaten in the best of company.

I’m not folding down the corners of this book, but it is full of multicoloured post-it flags. I gave up on the cheese chapter. I’ll just cook, and eat, my way through the whole thing. There are two oven-baked risottos, for those nights when your feet are tired or you have blisters on your thumbs and don’t want to stand at the stove and stir. I rarely cook sweets — neither of us eat them much — but as soon as I send this off, I’m headed out to the garden to see if I have enough rhubarb for the Rhubarb, Almond, and Ginger Crumble.

Wait. I just re-read the recipe for Crumpet Pizzas, with blue cheese, walnuts, olive oil and sage. I’m off to the grocery, now, to buy some crumpets. The rhubarb will have to wait.



The Ninth Cookbook of Christmas: The Thug Kitchen

Thug Kitchen


logo-parentaladvisoryToday is Monday. As my hero, Bloom County’s Bill the Cat, would put it: Blech! Ack! Thbbft! Granted, it’s the Monday before Christmas, not your usual, run-of-the-mill, shoot the alarm clock Monday. Still, Monday is Monday. Before I had a nervous breakdown and opted out of the rat race, I’d start dreading Monday about 5 pm on Saturday. The biggest advantage of Monday holidays was that I could enjoy spending half of Sunday with a pot of coffee and the Sunday New York Times without a pit in my stomach. I was a Monday hater of the first order. So much so that I started hating Sunday because all I had to look forward to on Sunday was Monday. I hated Monday even when I was enjoying my job.

Bill did it better

Sorry, Miley. Bill really did do it better.

My lunaediesophobia — yep, there’s a word for fear of Mondays — was to do with the prospect of having to drag my self out of my safe, restorative little introvert cave, put my happy mask back on, and gather the energy to play the role of an extrovert for another week.

It only makes sense to introduce my Ninth Cookbook of Christmas, Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck (Rodale, 2014), on a Monday. This is a cookbook with a Monday sort of attitude. But it is also a cookbook that should come with one of those “explicit language” labels Tipper Gore made the record companies put on Death Metal and Gangsta CDs. Gordon Ramsay has nothing on these guys. I am not shy about foul language, so it doesn’t put me off. When I was a military history graduate student, we employed the f-word liberally as noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. I had to go through f-word detox before I re-entered polite society. And I can still let rip under the right circumstances (and I find there are a lot of right circumstances), much to the chagrin of my gentle, non-swearing husband. A recent study found that a large vocabulary of profanity indicates a larger than normal active general vocabulary. I heard this on Radio New Zealand — — so it must be true. I can swear in more than one language. I must have a gargantuan vocabulary, despite the fact that my Facebook word cloud says the word I use most often is “accordion.”Gordon Ramsay

Even if you are squeamish about the f-word, please try to get past it and get this cookbook. Especially if you are vegan, but even if you are not. Even if you have impressionable children and have to hide your copy in your underwear drawer. Even if the only way you can cope is to black out all the bad words in your copy, which will wind up looking an US Air Force response to a Freedom-of-Information request for documents on the aliens at Area-51.  Why? Because it is far and away the most awesome f-ing vegan cookbook in the whole f-ing universe. That’s why.

I am not vegan. At least not yet. I still eat eggs and dairy, but I struggleGo Vegan with both. I can resolve my misgivings about battery chickens and my suspicion that in New Zealand, as in the US, the “free-range” designation on eggs is dubious by keeping my own chooks. But it is highly unlikely that we will adopt our own cow. And recent exposés concerning cruelty in the New Zealand dairy industry make it increasingly difficult to look the other way. not your milkSo, I try to cook vegan often and am constantly on the lookout for amazing vegan recipes so that, if and when we make the leap, I will have a solid cooking foundation. Most of the time, I am disappointed. Thug Kitchen, and the website from which it is compiled, is a standout, a mother-ing awesome standout.

What is so awesome about Thug Kitchen? First of all, these are Thugs on a mission to liberate their world from crappy food. As they point out, “there is an aura of elitism surrounding eating well, and so many people tend to associate health with wealth.” Why do I love this book? The intro says it all: “Welcome to the Thug Kitchen, bitches. We’re here to help. We started our website to inspire motherfuckers to eat some goddam vegetables and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Our motto is simple: Eat Like You Give a Fuck.”Swiss Fucking Chard The Thugs really are speaking to an audience of people who probably never cooked and quite possibly never ate food that didn’t come from a drive-in, a box or a can. The thug life is about overcoming struggles, disadvantages, and bad influences to succeed and thrive despite any obstacles. The Thug Kitchen is “a fucking wake-up call. This for that section of the grocery store that you avoid. This is for the drive-thru lines so long that they block traffic. This is for ketchup and pizza qualifying as fucking vegetables. This is for everyone who wants to do better but gets lost in the bullshit.” The Thugs understand what Jamie Oliver doesn’t: Have a f-ing sense of humour!

Then there is the food. It doesn’t strive to be cute and clever, and it doesn’t rely on play meat. This is vegan food jam-packed with flavour and attitude. Every recipe I’ve tried in the cookbook has been f-ing delicious. So far, my favourites have been soups and tacos/burritos. Eat no AnimalsThe Thugs are absolutely spot on when they warn that the Chickpeas and Dumplings could cause a “f-ing food coma.” It really is that good. So is the Wedding Soup with White Bean Balls and Kale, a more than plausible veg version of traditional Italian Wedding Soup — especially if you make it with the Garlic Broth from the Kale Whisperer’s Fourth Cookbook of Christmas, Mediterranean Harvest, which you will have bought by now.

The Mexican-style recipes are kick-ass. The Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burritos are regulars at our house, as are the Roasted Beer and Lime Cauliflower Tacos with cilantro coleslaw. In honour of this week’s festivities, I’ll make them with purple cauliflower because I am a woman who is willing the push the boundaries.

And the BBQ Bean Burritos with Grilled Peach Salsa is the bomb, even when peaches are out of season and you make the salsa with strawberries and tomatoes instead. Got a Superbowl Party coming up? Thrill and amaze your friends with Thug Kitchen’s Pineapple Guacamole. In fact, don’t wait for the Super Bowl, that over a month away! Make it right f-ing now!

The Roasted Sriracha Cauliflower Bites with Peanut Dipping Sauce are a satisfying stand-in for Buffalo Chicken Wings.


The Kale Whisperer’s Buffalo Cauliflower Pizza

Don’t believe me? Try them. The cauliflower bites also make a dandy pizza topping with a little blue cheese and chopped celery. I also use the spicy chickpeas from Thug’s Spiced Chickpea Wraps with Tahini Dressing — a sort of deconstructed felafel — as a pizza topping. And how can you not love a cookbook that recognises that Sriracha is a major food group?

I cannot sell my adorable soul mate on kumara (sweet potato), which isn’t a huge problem since I’m not much of a fan myself. But if you are a kumara fan, the Smoky Black-eyed Peas with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Collards (or Kale) are the absolute f-ing bomb.  If you aren’t, make the peas anyway and eat them on a white potato. Or maybe some polenta/grits. I just thought of that. I’d try it this very f-ing moment, if I didn’t already have a Complete Beet Pizza in the pipeline.

And pizza does count as a f-ing vegetable when it has beets on it.

HRS Hipster bun

The Eighth Cookbook of Christmas: Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

Sundays at Moosewood

I first made rumpledethumps for Christmas dinner in 1990. I made rumpledethumps for every subsequent Christmas dinner for at least 16 years at the request of my father. I’ve also made them for the occasional Thanksgiving dinner as well as for countless cold winter nights curled up in my jimjams after particularly stressful days. Before I met the love of my life, Rumpledethumps nursed me through several broken hearts and other singleton tragedies. Rumpledethumps are my chicken soup.  Rumpledethumps have the advantage of being both fun to say (really, try to say rumpledethumps without smiling) and delicious to eat. And they combine two of my favourite foods: mashed potatoes and brassicas. My rumpledethumps recipe comes from the Kale Whisperer’s Eighth Cookbook of Christmas, Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, by the Moosewood Collective (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1990).

As I sit here on the last Sunday afternoon before Christmas, waiting for Paul and Oliver to come shear the alpacas (our new pre-Christmas tradition), I’m paging through Sundays at Moosewood and being reminded of meals I’ve cooked and countries I’ve visited. This book is a compilation of recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant’s Sunday “ethnic nights.” Sunday is pizza night here, but if it weren’t, I could prepare a meal honouring the alpacas with Chilean Garlic Soup, Torta de Papas, Ensalada Olimipica, and Pan de Navidad. Maybe I’ll do that next year, if the shearing isn’t on a Sunday. Rules are rules. Or perhaps I’d try to recreate the delicious Apfel Kuchen Simon and I ate when we visited the German settlement of Fruitillar during our too-brief visit to Chile in 2012.

When I first bought this book, in 1990, I hadn’t yet discovered the joys of those handy little, bright coloured Post-it flags for tagging recipes to try in a new cookbook.

post it flags

Sometimes I colour code my flags: say, pink for must try immediately, green for ways to cook things I can never find recipes for. Trouble is, I usually forget the code.


In those days, I folded down the corners. I can hear all you bibliophiles groaning, but folded corners are far from the worst abuses my cookbooks suffer, what with all the drips, splashes, and the occasional dog attack. As I look at my copy of Sundays, it seems like every other page is turned down. I’ve tried many of those recipes. Others, I’ve yet to get around to making. But I don’t remember a clunker from this collection, and that it saying something.IMG_1233

Sundays at Moosewood is organised into 18 regional chapters, that include countries or regions from every continent except Antarctica, plus a few very useful appendices. Now that my consciousness has been raised, I note the absence of a Pacific Islands chapter. But this is likely to reflect the fact that Moosewood never had a Pacifika chef. Chile, China, Finland, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico and France (Provence) all get their own chapters. Africa is divided into sub-Saharan and North African chapters. The British Isles, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia are treated regionally. The Jewish diaspora gets its own chapter, separated again into Ashkenazi and Sephardic recipes. And from the United States, New England and the Southern US are singled out for special attention. I’ve relied heavily on the Southern US chapter over the years.


Cocola salad traditionally involves cherry Jello, canned cherries, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, and cream cheese. I live in horror of jelled anything, but try it if you feel brave.

It includes a vegetarian version of that beloved (said with a touch of irony) Southern Christmas favourite, Cocola Salad. That’s how Southern it is.

In addition to rumpledethumps, among the pages in my copy that are either curly or to which the book opens on its own are: Yellowman’s Banana Lime Bread, Mu Shu Vegetables with Mandarin Pancakes, Buddha’s Garden (with my favourite vegetarian stir-fry sauce), Hernerakkaa (Finish Yellow Split Pea Soup), Dal and Tomato Kachumber (a sort of Indian salsa), Mother Wolff Soup (a Jewish paprikash), Sopa de Lima (Mexican Tomato, Lime, and Tortilla Soup), New England Corn Bisque, My Favorite Philippine Breakfast (a sort of fried rice concoction with vinegar, pickled peppers, and a fried egg that is also excellent for dinner on a night when you need comfort food and all you have in the pantry is rice, eggs, and a jar of jalapeño peppers). I wonder if that last has a proper name in Tagalog. Maybe one of my Fillipino readers will tell us.

The appendices are useful, too. The menu planning section, in addition to a nice collection of suggested menus, includes a page of Related Cuisines so you can mix and match on your own. It also includes a few examples of how to build interesting menus combining divergent cuisines. There is a Guide to Ingredients, Techniques, and Equipment and my all-time-favourite-ever-in-a-cookbook appendix, What We Mean When We Say, “One Medium Onion. . ..”

New Zealand produces enormous leeks. Giant_Leek_Photographic_Prints.jpgIt would not be an exaggeration to say that in the high season, the leeks here approach the size of a baseball bat (but not a cricket bat). When I come across a recipe that calls for “4 leeks, white and light green parts only,” that could easily amount to about a ton of chopped leeks. Okay, maybe not a ton, but a lot more than you’d get from your standard, American, grocery store leek. What We Mean helpfully tells you that 1 medium leek = 3/4 cup chopped or 3 ounces (85 grams).

Do you ever find yourself, wanting to throw your arms in the air and cry “what the hell constitutes a medium zucchini?” as you cope with summer zucchini ranging from wee ones with the flower attached to a giant suitable for Wallace and Grommit’s Giant Vegetable contest? Wallace and GromitHere’s your answer: 1 medium zucchini weighs 10 oz (285 grams). The most useful thing I’ve learned from What We Mean: a medium bunch of spinach leaves, 10 ounces (285 grams) of fresh spinach by weight will turn into 1 cup (236 ml) of cooked, squeezed dry spinach. There are also weight equivalents of various cheeses and nuts by volume and a handy customary / metric conversion chart.

If you love to travel, but don’t always have the money or the time, Sundays at Moosewood is a good way to wander the globe in your own kitchen. Or just to explore new cuisines without having to buy a new cookbook. All the Moosewood Collective books are good, but this one remains my favourite.

Now, off to Chile to shear the alpacas, then back to Naples to eat some pizza.


The Fourth Cookbook of Christmas: Mediterranean Harvest


It’s Tuesday. I need to use up the two pounds of asparagus I bought at the market on Saturday. My plan to pickle it has been foiled by my inability to find dill seed in the Hutt Valley. (This year, I’ll remember to hang on to the end-of-summer dill flowers.) So, I just whipped up a batch of fresh pasta to make Asparagus Pasta with Herbed Béchamel, a recipe from one of my all-time favourite cookbook authors, Martha Rose Schulman. Under the circumstances, it seems appropriate that today’s cookbook recommendation is her Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine (Rodale, 2007).

While I consider myself a culinary adventurer when it comes to trying new cuisines, I must confess that my heart lies in Italy. For me, food is merely a delivery system for olive oil and garlic. One of the very first cookbooks I ever bought was a Gilroy Garlic Festival cookbook. Schulman’s recipe for garlic broth — which, I promise, tastes almost exactly like chicken stock — is worth the price of the book all on its own. It’s my failsafe for when I need vegetable stock and the freezer is bare. It’s also a good way to use up slightly past its prime garlic. You know, the ones with the green shoots about an inch long. As my Dad used to quip, no one needs to worry about vampires at my house.

Come to think of it, though, I’m also quite fond of vampires. REAL vampires — Dracula, Lestat, Barnabus Collins, and Spike — not today’s domesticated, broody teenage angst vampires. Which reminds me, you must immediately get on Netflix and add What We Do in the Shadows to your watch list. It is the perfect marriage of old-world Vampires and new world New Zealand. Nosferatu meets The Flight of the Conchords. It will make you want to move here, just for the vampires. And the werewolves. And there really was a bar called The Big Kumara, but it’s closed now. Sorry.


Now, where was I?

Mediterranean cuisine is among the most vegetarian-friendly in the world, given its emphasis on fresh ingredients and simple preparations. Mediterranean Harvest is by no means limited to the food of Italy. It includes recipes from around the greater Mediterranean region: Algeria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Greece, Iran, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. The book is organised topically — Breads, Little Foods, Pasta, Sweets, etc. — rather than geographically, but there is a list of recipes by country in the back. The lion’s share of the recipes here are French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish, but it does include some important outliers. Schulman includes a (slightly) slimmed-down version of one of my favourites, Persian Rice, that uses four tablespoons instead of the usual quarter pound. In my opinion, it needs fresh fava beans or baby limas mixed in, but you can do what you like.

My favourite chapter is “Little Foods: Starters, Snacks, Mezze, and More.” Here’s where you will find all those delicious little tapas and other tidbits that are such fun: filo pastries, dips, spreads, and marinated things. A few of these, a cold bottle of prosecco, and some lovely fresh strawberries and you have a party. Okay, maybe a few bottles of prosecco. I’ve been over hummus since 1993 when I traveled to Palestine and ate hummus every breakfast, lunch, and dinner for nearly three weeks. You’ll find traditional hummus here (if you really must), but also some nice alternatives: White Bean Brandade (a vegetarian version of the classic French white bean and salt cod puree), Turkish Hummus (spicier, with no tahini), and Fresh Fava Bean Puree. There is also a useful section of suggested toppings for bruschetta and crostini.

Do you love risotto but never make it for company because you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen stirring over a hot stove during cocktails while your guests are snarfing up all antipasti? Schulman will tell you how to cook it part of the way in advance, reducing the final prep to 15 minutes. And her easy polenta will save you the ordeal of stirring polenta (in one direction only) for 30 minutes and blistering your thumb. Perhaps a purist could tell the difference, but I sure can’t. Except that I don’t have a painful blister on my thumb.

While I’m on the topic of polenta, a word about grits. If you adore grits as much as I do, and live outside the Southern US, polenta can be your saviour. You can do pretty much anything with polenta that you can do with grits. It’s not going to be the same as real, stone ground grits; but it will be way better than <gasp> instant grits. On Masterchef Australia last year, the eventual winner — Brent Owens — made grits out of popcorn. I’ve been meaning to try that. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Sadly, if hominy exists in New Zealand, I haven’t found it.

Martha Rose Schulman is also a food columnist for The New York Times. Her focus has long been on healthy eating, and her column, like Mediterranean Harvest, is replete with meatless, lower fat versions of classic international dishes. But don’t mistake healthy for worthy and boring. I have her recipe box bookmarked in the Times Cooking app on my iPad. (If you don’t have the Times Cooking app yet, download it immediately. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian.)

Every vegetarian cookbook collection should have at least one good Mediterranean cookbook, mine has several, including others by Schulman. Her newest, The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking (Rodale, 2014), is prettier — with loads of lovely colour photographs.  But in terms of culinary breadth and basic kitchen knowledge, Mediterranean Harvest is a must have.

And Remember: eat garlic every day to keep the vampires away.


Chosen Families, Chosen Homes

As on most Saturdays, I have a batch of vegetable stock simmering away on the stove. Today, the pot includes the trimmings from a couple of enormous leeks I bought at the market this morning, a couple of slightly overripe hothouse tomatoes, a bulb of fennel that failed to make it into last week’s dinners, the other half of a celery root (the first half went into a roasted vegetable pizza), a huge carrot, a few less-than-perfect green IMG_0249beans, an onion, three small potatoes, a couple of orphan courgettes (zucchini), a handful of garlic cloves that were too tiny to bother peeling, some odds and ends of dried mushrooms, sprigs of parsley, coriander, and mint, some sea salt, a bay leaf, and a few peppercorns. This is a pretty typical spring stock. By summer, the celery root and carrots will go, to be replaced with corn cobs, basil, and bright summer tomatoes.

Before 2013 — the year I emigrated to New Zealand — this would be the weekend I would be making hearty, autumn stock with caramelised onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery, and mushrooms. That bold, dark, flavourful stock would then get reduced to become the foundation of Thanksgiving dinner. It would flavour the cheese and nut loaf that filled in for turkey at our vegetarian celebration, as well as provide the base for mushroom or sage and onion gravy. Some would go into a hearty vegetable soup for the night before. During Thanksgiving week, it seemed there was stock simmering on the stove all the time. It smelled like comfort. And home.

All the time I was growing up, my parents and I lived far from our extended family in Wisconsin. So, traveling there for Thanksgiving was impractical. We were just three — Dad, Mom, and I — and Dad hated turkey, so a big Thanksgiving bird presented something of a challenge as well. But, wait. This (mostly) isn’t a sad story of Thanksgiving deprivation. Rather, it is a story about chosen families.


An early Thanksgiving. My first, perhaps?

My first chosen family consisted of my mother’s best friend in Washington, Aunt Suzie, her daughter, Kamie, and Suzie’s mother, Grandma Ambler. [One year, when I was living at their house during an internship, I made the mistake of mentioning to Grandma Ambler that I liked popcorn. I was, subsequently, nearly loved to death by popcorn. I still can’t eat popcorn without thinking of her.] Kamie was , and remains, the pesky little sister I never had. In latter years, Suzie became my Mom-away-from-Mom. And when I was little, every year, we rode “over the river and through the woods” to Suzie’s house for Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And Easter. July 4th was at our house — fireworks and all.

In 1967, my Dad got a job teaching German History at the University of Georgia and we moved south. WAY south. So far south that they still had dry counties. Mom threatened to call and having the moving van turned around. Eventually, Dad became a sort of bootlegger, driving to Fulton County — the closest county where one could purchase hard liquor — once a month to lay in a supply for all the boozers in our neighbourhood. arcadeBeer, fortunately, was a bit closer. For that, we drove to Arcade, Georgia:  a town in nearby Jackson County with a population of 229, according to the 1970 census, no liquor tax, and one package store that sold whatever beer had fallen off the back of the truck for deeply discounted prices. Apart from cheap beer, Arcade’s other claim to fame was as one of Georgia’s notorious speed traps. Athens is much bigger, now. So, I gather, is Arcade.

It took a while, but we gradually built a new chosen family in Athens: Dad’s best bud, Jim, his wife Betsye, and their daughter, Lexi (the second pesky little sister I never had) and Ben and Neva and their various grown daughters. The holidays rotated. Ben and Neva did Christmas. Jim and Betsye did New Year’s Eve. And we did Thanksgiving. The bird, gallons and gallons of mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie. Always pumpkin pie: the one on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can, which is the last pumpkin pie recipe you’ll ever need. Trust me.

Libbys pumpkin pie

The Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe. Now you know everything you need to know about making pumpkin pie.

My contribution was the stuffing. Next to mashed potatoes and gravy, for me, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner was the stuffing. Which, in my lexicon, is stuffing, even if it never sees the inside of a bird (or anything else). You may choose to call it dressing. I’ll forgive you. My Dad had a fabulously productive chestnut tree in the front yard. And yes, it was spreading (but not spreading enough for a village smithy). So, starting in the early 1980s, when the tree started producing fruit, I started making chestnut stuffing, and never looked back. At least, not until Dad, growing old and tired of picking up the prickly outer shells, cut down the tree. Turns out, when run over by a lawn mower, they become potentially lethal projectiles.

Chestnut stuffing — chestnut anything — is a labor of love. First you have to cut an X in the shell (not even as close to as easy as it sounds), then either roast or steam the chestnuts, then peel off the still really, really tough shells. But it is worth it. The meat of the chestnut is rich, musky, and a bit chewy. It makes gorgeous turkey stuffing, but it is an even more rewarding vegetarian stuffing, cooked in a dish instead of a bird.

Apart from the chestnuts, there was nothing tricky about my stuffing. It had all the usual suspects: a package of Pepperidge Farm dry stuffing mix (I’ve tried making my own croutons for stuffing out of home baked bread. It isn’t worth it. I don’t sew my own shoes, either), a couple of chopped celery stalks, an apple or two, some poultry seasoning, a lightly sautéed chopped largish yellow onion, and enough vegetable stock. How much is enough? Enough. It depends on how wet (or dry) you like your baked stuffing. I like mine pretty mushy; more like bread pudding than pilaf, if that makes sense. With lots and lots on gravy on.


Preparing chestnuts for chestnut stuffing. Judging from the hair and the vintage 1970s decor, this was early 1980s. As 70s wallpaper goes, though, this wasn’t bad.

When I moved back to Washington to pursue my brilliant career, I found that the trip between DC and Georgia was a bit too long to make twice in a month’s time. My priority was to go home for Christmas, so I was a Thanksgiving orphan. Most years, I returned to the folds of my original chosen family — Suzie and Kamie.  I spent Thanksgiving 2000 glued to CNN, following the unfolding drama of the “hanging chads” (in case you missed it, Bush won in a TKO) unfold in Florida, with a great bottle of wine, and a turkey TV dinner. A couple of years, I flew out to spend Thanksgiving with my friends Karen and John in Corvallis, Oregon. A long weekend of eating beautiful Oregon produce and tasting Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Heaven. The year my father died, Mom and I spent Thanksgiving (and Christmas) at home, watching Jane Austen DVDs, trying not to cry and pretending the holidays weren’t happening. I don’t remember what we ate. If we ate. Grief made everything taste like sand.

In 2009, I married the love of my life, and we built our own little chosen family with our neighbours (and dog sharers) Pete and Anita, some years, with their son Mike and his lovely bride, Mary Beth. As Mike and Mary Beth are almost vegetarians, we established a new Thanksgiving tradition. I made the cheese and nut loaf and gravy, they provided sides, and Anita made the pumpkin pie. Most years, I also made some roasted brussels sprouts. In addition to kale, I fancy myself an evangelist for all misunderstood brassicas. We proved that it is possible to eat yourself into a coma without a single turkey being harmed.


Our last Thanksgiving in Virginia, with Pete and Anita. And that is not a dog at the table.

This will be the first Thanksgiving since we moved to New Zealand that I won’t be out of the country on travel on the fourth Thursday in November. It won’t be Thanksgiving here. It will just be the fourth Thursday in November. I have an accordion lesson scheduled. It’s just another day. Moreover, it will be just another spring day. There are no environmental triggers here that say : Hey! You! It’s almost Thanksgiving! The farmers’ market was full of fresh asparagus, favas, spinach, and strawberries — none of which rode here on airplanes or cargo ships. There are no specials on turkeys, or cans of Libby’s pumpkin stacked in the aisles at the grocery store. In fact, cans of pumpkin are hard to come by, here. You have to find a store with a special “American food” section, and then, you may or may not find a can of Libby’s pumpkin.

I think I will try, though. Maybe a Libby’s pumpkin pie is just the right thing to bring a little Thanksgiving to my new chosen home in New Zealand. In her touching new memoir/cookbook, My Kitchen Year, Ruth Reichl mentions that she roasts her Libby’s pumpkin a bit to caramelise it and intensify the flavour. While, in general, my position is “don’t mess with the Libby’s pumpkin pie,” maybe I’ll try that. A new pumpkin pie for a new chosen home in a land without Thanksgiving. And, in time, we will build a new chosen family. We are making a good start. They know who they are. And perhaps, in another, year, our new chosen family will come together for a chosen Thanksgiving, not to honour the autumn’s bounty, but to celebrate the promise of spring.