Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rainy Days and Cooking Adventures

Wednesday, 6th April, 2011
Nelson, NZ

I had two days off in a row on Monday and Tuesday, and Matt had Monday off too. While originally we had hoped to go in search of some surf, a cold autumn-y gale blew in off the Strait, and it poured rain all day and the wind buffeted the house rather spectacularly until evening- there's no doubt that the change in seasons is making itself known. We spent a cozy day inside, bundled up and drinking back-to-back cups of tea, reading, baking, and getting to know our housemate Jamie, who is home a lot while she tries to find work. She's really fun to talk to, and it's nice to share thoughts with another American, and see what her perspectives are on New Zealand, as she's been over here several different times.

We made our weekly batch of bread, and it's so nice that it's become habit now. While we are here, we have the luxury of a lot of free time when we're not working, but we're not keen to spend on much besides groceries and the occasional treat, so we've been filling our time by learning new recipes and skills, and it's been great. Matt is throwing himself into learning more cooking skills, and quickly mastered kneading and judging the right consistency of the bread dough. He's a much more precise cook than I am, and when it comes to bread, that really pays off. It was so nice to have fresh bread baking on a cold fall day that I was inspired to go one step further, and made a batch of cinnamon rolls! They were surprisingly easy, and I was incredibly pleased with the result, as well as the recipe, which I found in a baking cookbook from the library.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

Just to make sure the oven got a proper workout, we made lasagna for our rainy day dinner, including a tomato sauce made from scratch, after watching a Masterchef Masterclass a couple weeks ago and realizing how easy it is. It's SO worth it, the taste is amazing and the smell of it cooking beats all. Here's a very basic version of the recipe (proportions are a matter of taste, really, so mess around with it and come up with what works for you):
Easy Tomato Sauce

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a skillet. Add chopped onions and garlic, and cook until the onions start to go transparent. There should be enough oil in the pan that they are cooking in the oil, not on top of it.

Add a couple cups of diced tomatoes. Fresh is always best (I like to take the skins off, for texture reasons), but canned or tinned tomatoes will work fine. Matt and I decided to beef up the sauce by adding some more vegetables, so we put in finely chopped carrots and sweet red pepper as well.

Let everything cook down for awhile, it should be bubbling steadily and have enough oil in it that you can see the olive oil in the sauce. After a few minutes, add a handful or two of chopped fresh herbs. Basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, tarragon, marjoram, rosemary, there are lots of options. Basil and oregano are most crucial to a true Italian flavor, but lots of things taste great in the sauce. It will smell amazing as the herbs cook into the sauce.

That's pretty much it! Just let it cook down until it becomes nice and saucy, and make sure to salt it well, although you won't need too much with all the other flavors in there. Use on pizza, in lasagna, or served on pasta. You can also fry up some ground beef (mince) and add it to the tomatos for a nice meaty sauce. You can also puree the sauce (sans meat) for a smoother texture.


To round off the kitchen goodness of late, I came home from work tonight to find this multi-talented man of mine in the kitchen mixing up bacon, spinach, cheese and red capsicum (sweet pepper) scones for dinner. They were superb, deliciously savory and a joy to eat. He sauteed all the savory ingredients together before adding them to a standard cheese scone recipe, and they came out great. We ate them with simple steamed veggies from the freezer.

We're down to working only 20 or so hours per week now, and spending most of our free time at home, to avoid spending money, so cooking is providing a lot of our entertainment, as is reading library books and blogs and taking in as much information as we can about homemaking, chickens, saving and managing money, and other skills we hope to put to use as we restart our lives back in Portland this summer. It's an interesting change from all the traveling and roadtripping we've done on the North Island, to living such a settled, routine-filled life here, not leaving town, barely driving, and thinking so much about our return home. This is a time of major planning and information intake for us, as we launch ourselves into the reverse of all the work it took us to get here; now we have a lot of work to do in order to get home; belongings to sell, priorities to set, and last travel plans to be made. In some ways we've been struggling with feeling a bit stuck, like if we were home right now, we'd be able to do more with our time, but I'm also realizing that there is such value in not having every part of our trip be awesome and adventure filled. This way I know that we had a true life experience in this country, living and working and spending money and making money, cutting corners and forgoing things we might want, occasionally splurging on something special--- all things we would do at home. We're truly living life here, not just traveling and sightseeing. As stir-crazy and unexotic as that feels sometimes, I believe it's a very good thing that our entire trip hasn't been a touristy, lackadaisical one where we ignore the realities of life and don't recognize that this country is not just a destination, but a regular country and homeland where people work and live and go about everyday activities. It's not all tropical beaches and humid, starry nights on the road without care or responsibility, and it's good that we know that.


Alina Harway said...

Yum! Love reading these blogs and pictures of cooking adventures!
I am so looking forward to your return to Portland. We should have cooking dates. :)

duchess_declutter said...

Hi - I followed over from Laura's Wee Farm. Have been watching for a little while, but first time comment. I think you 2 are having an amazing trip - I did something similar in NZ quite a few years ago. Loving all the cooking you're both doing too - well done! cheers Wendy