What’s exciting about Easter when you’re a kid? The chocolate. When you work full time? The chocolate…and the five day weekend. Since I’ve finished uni the holidays have completely dried up so I’ve been anticipating this long weekend with glee for quite some time. Tomorrow I’m zooming up to Auckland to see the Bridge Project production of The Winter’s Tale (a play by this underground, cult author named Shakespeare) which has made its way round the world to New Zealand, leaving excellent reviews in its wake. Even at face value it’s interesting – the Oscar and Olivier award-winning Mr Kate Winslet, Sam Mendes is directing it and it features a jaw-dropping cast including Ethan Hawke, Rebecca Hall, and Sinead Cusack. For a Shakespeare nerd like me, it’s going to be one heck of an evening. Sunday morning I’ll be back in Wellington to make hot cross buns…and I’m almost as excited about that as I am about the play tomorrow.
For some reason, it has been forever since I've made couscous – the food so nice they named it twice. I can't think why, other than I've been distracted by brown rice for too long, because couscous is the perfect fast food, just add boiling water and you’re good to go. I can’t think of any other starch that’s so utterly instant. Even after having a glass or three of wine at a a colleague's farewell get-together on Wednesday, I was able to deal with it and make a perfectly acceptable dinner. If I’d had to make something that required more concentration, like a risotto, it’s quite feasible that I could have flagged the lot and headed out for fish and chips instead.
Just as easy as couscous is what I made to go with it – halved tomatoes, roughly chopped butternut squash, cauliflower florets and foil wrapped beetroot, bunged in the oven and roasted for an hour. Not fast, but also not requiring any great amount of thought or committment. When the veges were nearly ready, I heated cumin, coriander and fennel seeds with a dash of cinnamon and ginger in a dry pan, then added the couscous and mixed them altogether. At this stage they smelled heavenly – just the sort of spices you want to have on a chilly evening. Boiling water was poured over, I removed the pan from the heat and covered it with a plate. A bare minute or so later the granules of couscous were tender and swollen, and I forked through a little butter before dividing the lot between two plates. On top of this went the vegetables, a tumble of baby spinach leaves, and chopped capers and walnuts. For a dinner so simple, comprised of ingredients in such unadulterated form…it was delicious.
Today has been pleasantly blue-skied but you can tell it’s Autumn and not midsummer January – it’s chilly in the shade. Tim and I decided to capitalise on our time in the sun and set off towards the beautiful Botanical Gardens (or "the botans" as we call it), a mere ten minute walk from our flat to feed the ducks, a favourite activity of mine. Never mind that whenever we go we are the only twentysomethings amongst the toddlers and encouraging parents, it’s really fun. Tim and I got to the duckpond and noticed with trepidation that there were bits of bread floating untouched in the water. I tossed a morsel of bread hopefully towards the water where it landed with a splash, and was met with a look of disdain by one of the ducks. One of them – I swear – actually sighed. It slowly paddled towards the piece of bread and ate it dutifully before looking at me as if to say “Happy now? We’re full, give us some peace already!” I guess we weren't the only people who had decided to feed the ducks that day.
Dejected, we left the duck pond. Fate had other plans though, because as we headed up the road to our flat, we were lucky enough to see a tui – one of New Zealand’s native birds – barely a metre and a half away from us in a tree, singing his wee heart out. If the ducks had complied and done what they were supposed to, we would have missed the tui completely. Must have been meant to be.
(photo care of google images - I'm good, but not that good)
For some reason there is quite a significant urban tui population in Wellington. Whenever I see them I always wonder if they go and visit the tui in the forests and countryside, and talk about inner-city pressure and complain that you can’t get a decent kowhai flower in the middle of the night or something. Anyway, I’ve never seen one so close before and this particular specimen was adorable – quite rotund and almost like something out of a Disney cartoon as its stomach puffed in and out comically while singing its distinct, discordant call. Presently, a second tui appeared and Tim and I decided that there was some kind of burgeouning courtship happening, because both of them engaged in this hilarious behaviour where they fluffed out their feathers, and coyly pretended to ignore each other while hopping from branch to branch. Eventually they flapped off together to another tree – I get the feeling Tim and I were cramping their style, and obstructing how they were trying in their way to be free. (ahem, can't resist quoting Leonard Cohen unnecessarily there). I’m no audobon, heck, I'm not usually even that fussed on nature, but it was quite an enchanting moment and completely unexpected in this big-city setting.
Hmm. Somehow we decended into the ornithology round-up segment, my apologies for those of you who were expecting recipes and instead ended up with curmudgeonly ducks and rutting native birds.
By the time we got home I was hungry and managed to convince myself that the best course of action would be to make us some instant ice cream, as it would use up some of the fruit taking up space in the freezer, plus there was this bottle of cream in the fridge rapidly deteriorating. Nevermind that we’d just gone for a hearty walk, my need to create food comes first!
Yes, that’s right. I decided to make ice cream as a quick snack. But how? I hear you cry. Well, with the glazed eyes of a fifties housewife in an advertisement, I’ll tell you! Once you try this, no other foodstuff will satisfy!
I put two frozen, peeled bananas and about a cup of frozen boysenberries in the food processor and whizzed them to an appealing purple mess. Then, with the motor still running, I emptied in about 250mls cream. To explain it scientifically, the whole lot just kind of seizes together and turns into ice cream. The most deliciously textured, amazing ice cream you will ever try. The trick is to eat it right away, because freezing it for another day ruins the beautiful texture. Not only does the flavour of the berries shine through, you also get the delightful taste of fresh cream. And the colour is out of this world. All that in about 30 seconds and it fed Tim and I generously. For more people, just add more stuff. You could use any combination of frozen berries – or try with just frozen bananas. The important thing to remember is to keep the ratio of liquid to frozen fruit fairly even. You could of course use yoghurt, which wouldn't be wrong, but I can't emphasise enough how lovely the simple taste of cream and fruit is in this.
It’s just as quick to eat as it is to make, too. And yes, Tim did eat his out of a beer glass – or ‘barfighting mug’ as we call them. What can I say, he's a student. I had mine in a Nigella Lawson measuring cup. What can I say, I'm weird. But seriously - make this stuff. It’s so good it actually deserves it’s own fifties-style Madmen ad campaign in celebration of it - something along the lines of: “with this instant ice cream, now I have more time to iron his shirts!”
I hope you all have a lovely Easter break and do whatever it is that makes you happy. As I said earlier, I'm pretty hyped up for my hot cross buns on Sunday, but the age old question must be raised - to add or omit chocolate chips? I know they're not traditional, but then neither am I, and I did the trad thing last year...Any suggestions?