Six weeks spent house sitting in northern California seems to have done wonders for celebrity Kiwi chef, Alison Holst’s, appetite. Funny how seeing rattlesnakes and mountain lions make you want to eat soup and salad.
AS I sit in my study with the gas heater turned up high, well aware that there is a good, hard frost outside, I feel weeks away, instead of a few days away from Northern California, where we have lived for the past six weeks, dog and house-sitting for energetic friends who were away cycling in Europe.
I would wake every fine, sunny, warm morning, thinking about this couple (in their early seventies), and the fact that they would be riding their bikes from 40 to 70 miles up and down hills each day, feeling that Peter and I had the best of the bargain! We would walk their energetic young golden retriever for 10 to 20km each day, through the beautiful tree-lined streets of their small town, along old railway tracks converted into walking and biking paths, beside tidal inlets and beaches where exotic birds congregated, and up and down the ‘mountain’ behind their home, through redwood forest trails.
I come back from such a holiday, full of new and exciting food ideas. I know that I can read my various foodie magazines at home, but it means a lot more when I read the same magazines, the food pages of the local papers, and supermarket weekly specials ‘on the spot’, walk down the hill to the nearest supermarket to buy what I need, then make the recipes straight away and share the results with other friends living locally.
WHEN you walk ‘off the beaten track’ in Northern California, you need to stay watchful. As I started up the ‘mountain’ path one morning, two women who had just returned from their walk called out as they got in their car. ‘Watch out for the big rattlesnake up the path a bit,’ they called, ‘he’s not at all scared of people walking by.’
I changed my route! At the base of the same hill, a mountain lion walked right beside a friend’s parked car, and the friend of a friend, living nearby, alerted by squawking in her yard, recently rushed outside to find another mountain lion running off with not one but two of her pet hens in its mouth. I often wish we had squirrels, chipmunks, moles, raccoons, turtles and deer living nearby, but I can certainly do without snakes and cougars!
While away, I made salads each day for lunch, as I usually do in warm weather. My lunch salads are never the same twice, but were usually based on a mixture of crunchy raw vegetables or leftover green beans; a small can of salmon or tuna; brown rice, couscous, burghul (bulghur), pasta or new potatoes left over from the previous night’s dinner; and whatever dressing I have on hand, thinned down. Now I am back to soups again, and I realised as I chopped up vegetables for my latest ‘brew’ that I use many of the same ingredients (apart from the fish). I guess my standby is soup similar to that made by my mother all winter, many years ago, and given to us to ‘warm the cockles of our hearts’ when we came in the door from school each day!
* Do you have a question about food? Just ask Alison Holst. Either e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or fax: 04 934 0852. It may not be possible to answer all queries, and no private correspondence can be entered into.
The Daily News, Copyright of Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2004