Backing up the truck. With a bowl of noodle soup.

I’ve been writing this blog for quite a few months now. I started 8 months ago with a post about Minestrone, it being winter at the time.

When I started, I envisioned myself as a food blogger. Creating recipes, sharing new products or retailers I’d discovered, and writing about our travels. Mostly that has been how my blog has turned out.

Except I’ve accidentally started writing about myself, my emotions, my health and most recently, my children. So I’m not sure whether I can truly call this a “food blog” any longer. I’m reassessing what I want to write about, what makes me happy, and equally importantly, what seems to be resonating with you lovely people who take the time to read.

I’m going back to basics. This will likely take a while as I suck intelligence from the brains of my dear friends, then get my own brain on the thinking treadmill to get some clarity. WordPress are helping with “Blogging University”, to try to build some discipline into my day, to get the basics right (or as close as I can, within reason…). They say I should tell you all about myself, but I think I may have done that already. Some may call it “oversharing”, but they’re mean and I don’t talk to them any more.

I will keep writing about food. The name of my blog will continue to be Katrina Horton Food. But food in the way that feeds us, body and soul. Food that complements the stories of me and my family.

So you may notice a few changes while I try a few new things and think it all through. I’ll likely be writing a bit less, but I think that’s probably a good thing. No-one has time to read a daily blog anyway (or write one for that matter). Quality over quantity.

And now you get a recipe for being so patient.

VIETNAMESE NURTURING BEEF NOODLE SOUP

A delicious bowl of fragrant noodles, herbs and beef. I don’t come from Vietnam, but when I eat this, I really wish I did.

SOUP:picture-080-v1
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions roughly chopped
large thumb ginger roughly sliced
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
1tsp whole peppercorns
2 litres good quality beef stock
1/3 cup fish sauce
500ml water
2 tbsp raw sugar

4 pieces of sirloin steak (approx 150g pre-trimmed), fat trimmed
250g packet rice noodles

TO GARNISH:

Coriander
Mint (Vietnamese if you can get it)
Spring onions, sliced
Red onions, thinly sliced
Lime wedges
Red chilis, thinly sliced
Chili oil
Fish sauce

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over a moderate heat.
  2. Add onions and ginger, and cook until beginning to turn brown
  3. Add spices and cook until fragrant
  4. Pour in stock, fish sauce, water and raw sugar and bring to the boil
  5. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until reduced by approximately a third
  6. Meanwhile, cook noodles in boiling water as per instructions. Drain, rinse and set aside
  7. Heat a barbecue or griddle pan until very hot, and sear steaks very briefly (no more than a minute each side) until steaks are charred but still very rare in the middle
  8. While steaks are resting, arrange noodles in four large, deep bowls. Strain soup, discard onions and spices and pour over noodles
  9. Slice steaks thinly and arrange on top
  10. Serve with garnishes and allow everyone to garnish their soup to taste

NOTES:

  • Vietnamese mint is really hard to find in Auckland (I’ve had no success so far). It’s not quite as authentic as I’d like, but I use common mint instead
  • Luke Nguyen recommends using cassia bark. Cinnamon sticks are a suitable replacement (which I’ve used above), but if you can find cassia, use that instead in the same quantities
  • If you want to substitute beef for chicken, change the stock to chicken stock, and change out the beef for chicken breast or thighs, depending on your preference. I would recommend  poaching the chicken until cooked, which you can do in the soup base for approximately 15 minutes or until no longer pink in the centre.

Salad of the Week: Grilled Nectarine, Prosciutto and Mozzarella

I made this for a couple of girlfriends for dinner the other night. Husband was away on business, kids were eating burgers, we were drinking wine and carnage was raging. As it tends to do with six kids in the house.

Anyway, a simple salad seemed like the logical thing to pull together. I wanted it to be easy (so I wouldn’t drink one glass too many and forget what I was supposed to be doing) with just a few ingredients and fast to make.

So here you have it. If you wanted to be even lazier, you could skip grilling the nectarines and just cut them into wedges.

BTW, I used nectarines instead of peaches because they come away from the stone cleanly. And I’m all about the presentation (as if).

GRILLED NECTARINE, PROSCIUTTO AND MOZZARELLA SALAD2017-02-22 20.23.15 HDR v1.jpg
Serves: 4

2 ripe nectarines, stone removed, quartered
100g rocket leaves, give or take
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
80g prosciutto
1 ball mozzarella
Handful fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Vincotto

  1. Heat barbecue or griddle pan until smoking. Grill nectarine quarters until very brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. Arrange rocket leaves and red onion on a platter
  3. Top with torn mozzarella and prosciutto (also torn), and nectarine quarters
  4. Tear basil leaves, and sprinkle over the salad
  5. Drizzle with vincotto and olive oil to taste
  6. Serve immediately.

 

Breakfast snacking

My daughter is no fan of breakfast. Which is a source of constant concern for me, seeing breakfast is easily my favourite meal of the day. And a source of exasperation as I try to run through a range of breakfast options.

She doesn’t like eggs any longer. She was eating muesli (homemade) with fruit and yohurt which felt pretty balanced. But then she decided that even that was more than she wants to eat at 7am.

So we’ve settled on giving her something that she can eat in the car on the way to school. She has a bowl of fruit before we leave (while her brother chows down on eggs, toast and a banana smoothie), and a homemade muesli bar to eat in the car.

This is my recipe. No time in the oven, just melt the butter, sugar and honey together, stir in dry ingredients and leave to set. This makes about 16 bars, enough to get us through a few weeks of breakfast fights….

MUESLI BARS
Makes 16

150g brown sugar
100g butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup pumpkin and sunflower seeds, toasted
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, sultanas, etc), roughly chopped

  1. Melt together honey, butter and sugar until sugar is dissolved
  2. Mix together all dried ingredients
  3. Press into a 30 x 20cm slice tin. Smooth out with a dampened spoon
  4. Leave to set, and cut into squares to serve.

 

I’m the mother of a teenage girl. It’s emotional.

My daughter turned 13 last year. Which makes me the mother of a teenage girl. Which makes life interesting, shall we say.

I figure having a teenager is a bit like when you’re pregnant – there’s a whole world of stuff that no-one ever tells you. It’s like there’s a secret society and you’re not getting the key to unlock the code until you’re in the quagmire and up to your neck.

I know there’s books. So. Many. Books. And I can honestly say I haven’t read any of them.

My baby girl is as in the dark as I am. She’s negotiating the path between child and adulthood with more than a little trepidation. She’s fierce on the outside, but can still burst into tears at the smallest imagined slight. She steals my makeup, but still wants to climb into bed with me for a cuddle.

Nowhere is her internal dichotomy more apparent than in her emotions. Her height, appearance and outward demeanour all belie the internal challenges she’s grappling with as her new adult emotions emerge.

It reminds me of the animated movie Inside Out. The console the main characters use to control Riley’s emotions becomes more and more complex as she gets older. When she’s a baby she only experiences Joy and Disgust. Then comes Anger, Fear and finally, Sadness. My daughter was like this. Throughout her childhood she was generally happy, waking every morning with a smile on her face, overwhelmingly positive, and ready to please.

Once puberty hit, new emotions started to show themselves. She started to think more deeply about life and with that, started to feel the sadness that comes with a broader understanding of the world. She started to question her place in the world, then her value, then whether she deserved to be here at all.

This was terrifying.

We’ve since had some counselling, where she presented herself as incredibly well balanced and well adjusted. She talked about her wonderful friendships, her stable and loving home life, how well she was doing at school, and how excited she was for the year ahead.  Which was helpful.

Then some different counselling, where she talked about how much her brother annoyed her, how she couldn’t see any use for many of her classes and how she had thought about suicide.

Again. Terrifying.

She’s now been referred to another therapist within the Auckland Health Board, who specialise in teenage psychiatric issues. The great news is that they do not consider her to be a threat to herself, and while she will continue to see someone for a few more weeks, no medical intervention is required, merely some cognitive therapy to help her to better deal with her new emotions.

Because that’s what it’s all come down to. So much of what she’s feeling is entirely new to her. Her incredibly happy childhood ironically left her ill equipped to deal with the complex negative emotions that have developed as she grows up. Her new emotions are unfamiliar and have been rarely experienced, so feel stronger and more powerful than they feel to those of us who have felt sadness throughout our lives.

As she enters her second year of puberty, as her hormones settle into a more reliable cycle, so her emotions seem to be settling. I travelled to Japan with her last month, and spent a week away from her brother and father. It was amazing time, which reminded me of how intelligent, mature, loving and fun she is. She’s going to be an amazing adult.

PS. This TED Talk from Brene Brown is worth watching and sharing with your teenagers.

 

 

Salad of the week: Salmon Nicoise

This salad came about as a result of having some smoked salmon in the fridge which I’d forgotten about. Never a great thing. Luckily it was still within it’s use by date, so with the addition of a few extras, it became a quite delicious Friday night dinner. With the added advantage that everyone in our family ate it with relish. Even my notoriously picky son.

A traditional Nicoise salad includes anchovies. I left these out this time (more kid friendly), but have included them below for you to add if you like. I added capers for extra salt/zest, but up to you again whether you wish to or not.

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(serves 4)

6 new potatoes
150g fresh green beans, top and tailed
4 eggs
1 cos lettuce, washed and leaves torn
1/2 red onion finely sliced
1/4 telegraph cucumber, cut into 2cm cubes
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes, sliced
12 pitted black olives (I used kalamata olives)
200g hot smoked salmon
handful fresh basil leaves

Dressing:
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
6 fresh basil leaves
salt/pepper

Optional:
1 Tbsp capers, and/or
6 whole anchovies (the best quality you can find)

  1. Cut potatoes in half, and boil in salted water until just cooked (about 10 minutes). Drain, refresh in cold water, drain again and set aside.
  2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add green beans and blanch until bright green (about 1 minute). Drain, refresh with cold water, drain again and set aside.
  3. Bring another pan of water to the boil. Remove from the heat, add whole eggs and boil for 7 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water to stop cooking and set aside.
  4. To make dressing, process all ingredients with a stick blender until emulsified.
  5. To make the salad, line a salad bowl with torn cos leaves. Top with onion, cucumber, tomatoes and potatoes.
  6. Remove skin from salmon and break into pieces. Place salmon on top of the salad.
  7. Top with green beans, olives and either capers or anchovies (or both).
  8. Peel shells from eggs and quarter. Top the salad with the eggs and toss over basil leaves.
  9. Pour over salad dressing and serve.

Into the great beyond.

My son has a tendency towards perfectionism.

This in itself is not a terrible thing. We haven’t put him into therapy, he’s reasonably well adjusted, his room still looks like a grade 5 cyclone has torn through it. Aside from his need to line his shoes up in perfect rows.

The perfectionism comes out at school. He’s brilliant at maths, because there’s a very clear right answer. And conversely, a very clear wrong one. At least at this stage of his educational life.

The challenge comes when the answer is not black and white. When his own opinion comes into play. Then his perfectionism kicks into high gear, because he can’t operate if there is no “right” answer. His mind can’t make sense of the question, he starts to panic, he procrastinates, he runs out of time to answer the question, he forgets to ask for help.

The result is that he can be afraid to take risks. And it’s holding him back.

We’ve started talking a lot about the importance of being a risk taker. Both of my children’s schools place risk taking high in the list of qualities they desire in their pupils. I always struggled with this as a concept, until I saw how fear of new challenges played out in my own son. And I started to think about how my own fear of the unknown has impacted my personal development through the years.

I am, by nature, a people pleaser. I like people to like me, and become distressed when conflict arises.I try to avoid conflict by doing what’s expected of me, doing the right thing. While I am far from a perfectionist, my need to do the right thing results in the same situation as my son is experiencing – I’ve been afraid to take risks.

This has played out throughout my work life. I’ve been afraid to push myself forward professionally, until I felt that I completely possessed the skills needed. I was never prepared to step outside of my comfort zone, for fear of letting down my colleagues and my clients. That I might be “told off” for getting something wrong, creating conflict, and a view that I wasn’t good enough. Better to make safe decisions that keeps everyone happy, than take a risk and get into trouble.

It also means I can find myself in situations where I find myself being pushed by others to do something that I am not comfortable with. I don’t want to create conflict, so I go along, for fear of risking a relationship. Which made for some interesting times when I was a teenager!

Slowly, over the last 12 months, I am reversing the habits of a lifetime. The first step was quitting my long term career and stepping into the unknown, to pursue a career in food. The second was learning that risk taking is sometimes not as obvious as you think it might be. Sometimes, it’s sitting back and letting opportunities present themselves to you. To allow things to happen, rather than trying to control them. To be brave enough to let go, instead of trying to steer the plane. To jump and let things fall as they may.

I had no clear path when I left my well paying job. I have been asked to return many times, and have been tempted. My inner coward would rather return to the fiscal safety of permanent employment. Fortunately my new inner sky diving, bungy jumping, free falling heroine is becoming dominant, and is committed to pursuing the excitement of the unknown.

That said, I still feel fear. I still worry that I might not be good enough. That I am kidding myself. That my cooking isn’t enough, that my writing isn’t enough, that my photography is worse than average. Fear is ok. Fear prevents complacency. Fear drives improvement, a desire to be better. But it shouldn’t override bravery. It shouldn’t become a barrier to new challenges or new ideas.

I still have no real clear path and I’m ok with that. It took 6 months to start writing. Another 3 months to start writing about my emotional and physical wellbeing. I’m still evolving, and new opportunities are presenting themselves to me every day. I’m open to what the fates may offer, and finally feel brave enough to take the risks associated with the unknown.

 

Eating Japan: Hokkaido

I’m using Hokkaido loosely as a catch all area to cover the two towns we stayed in, Furano and Niseko. Both are ski villages, so using “Hokkaido” to name this post is a little misleading, as we didn’t venture far from the ski resorts. However, we did eat well and often.

In Furano, much of the food we ate was at restaurants on the ski fields. In Niseko we ate out far more often, so I’ve tried to cover a few of the places we ate both on and off piste.

FURANO

Ramen is pretty dominant here. We ate it until we were sick of it!

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Miso Ramen, Furano ski resort (by the bottom of the gondola, Kitanomine side)
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Coffee stop 1: Whiteroom Cafe (across the road from the gondola, Kitanomine side). They sell Allpress. Enough said.
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Coffee stop 2: Rojo Coffee cart (bottom of the gondola, Kitanomine side). Lovely people, great coffee. Try to avoid busy times!

Getting fired up at Teppan Okonomiyaki Masaya, Furano.

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Chicken burger, Ajito Bar. They serve good simple food, and have a pool table. What’s not to like?

NISEKO

Niseko is far more of an upmarket ski resort, compared to Furano, and with it comes more upmarket options for dining out.

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Agadashi Tofu, Bang Bang
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Sashimi, Bang Bang
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Sukiyaki, King Bell (top of the gondola, Grand Hirafu)
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Spicy miso and miso ramen, King Bell (top of the gondola, Grand Hirafu)
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Burger and fries, Musu, Grand Hirafu (in the Odin building)
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Snow crab ramen, Hanazono 338, bottom of the gondola 
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Koko Bakery, Grand Hirafu. The chef is a French baker, so you know it’s good.
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Gorilla Niseko – a cafe and gourmet grocer, ground floor of the Shiki Hotel

Snow falling outside The Barn, Niseko. Worth a visit for the fois gras sushi alone!

Salad of the week: Grilled eggplant with goats’ cheese

For someone who writes about food, who spends quite a bit of time thinking about food, and the rest of my time making food, my salad repertoire is proving to be more than a little woeful.

My default is a green salad with leaf, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, red capsicum and avocado (if I can time the fine line between rock hard and mush brown correctly). The only innovative thing about it is a vinaigrette. And half the time I just sprinkle over olive oil and red wine vinegar.

It is nice enough, just a little sub-par.

So, this year, I am lifting my salad game. This is my first effort.

The irony that it contains many of the above ingredients is not lost on me. Baby steps.

GRILLED EGGPLANT AND GOAT’S CHEESE SALAD
(Serves 4)

1 eggplant, sliced into 1cm slices2017-02-01-19-51-58-hdr-v1
Olive oil for brushing
Mescalin greens
1/2 red onion finely sliced
50g goats’ cheese
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful mint leaves, finely sliced

Vinaigrette:
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt/Pepper

  1. Heat a barbecue until very hot
  2. Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill until charred and soft on both sides. Set aside to cool, then cut into chunks.
  3. For the vinaigrette, pour ingredients into a jar and shake to combine.
  4. Assemble all the salad ingredients in a large shallow salad bowl or platter and dress with the salad dressing. Serve immediately.

All the green stuff

I came home from Japan with matcha tea.

If you haven’t ever tried it, you should. It’s delicious, in a grassy, savoury kind of way. It’s

6c2d70a3d1b57ac2c6403c8ba37a480d.jpg
Credit: frasideilibri.com

green tea, ground into a fine fluorescent green powder, and is the highest quality powdered green tea available. The Japanese drink it whisked into boiling water. It’s quite the ceremony (as Japan and tea often is), with bowls and whisks and small, beautiful cups.

Being Westerners, we’ve then bastardised this idea in our own special way by adding milk and turning matcha into a latte. This seems very Starbucks-like (they do a version but it’s horrifically sweet and to be avoided in my opinion), but is actually brilliant. So good, you can buy them almost anywhere in Japan.

Matcha is high in antioxidants, especially catechin, which is recognised for cancer fighting properties. Read more about the health benefits here.

Anyway, being summer, it is hot in the afternoon. A warm matcha latte will not be as beneficial as I would like. I also find myself a little peckish mid-arvo, so I created a smoothie using matcha instead. It’s good.

If you want to give it a protein boost, add a scoop of protein powder. If it’s not as cold as you’d like, add a handful of ice cubes. If it’s not sweet enough, add maple syrup or honey to taste.

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GREEN MATCHA SMOOTHIE

1 tsp matcha powder
1/2 banana
handful spinach leaves
1/2 cup natural unsweetened yoghurt
1 cup coconut milk

Blend all ingredients together.

 

 

I’m not keeping up

Keeping up with the Joneses.

The concept of trying to have as much money, as nice a house, be dressed as nicely, be as fit, successful, attractive as “insert-their-name-here”. Because there’s always someone wealthier, prettier, thinner, more stylish than you.

It’s a trap. A bit like being in a mouse wheel, running flat out, never managing to go anywhere or to stop. Running after something you can never catch. Because there’s always someone wealthier, prettier, thinner, more stylish than you.

We don’t just put this pressure on ourselves. We also put it on our children. Comparing our children’s performance in the classroom, on the sports field, on the stage, with our friends’, colleagues’, acquaintances’ children.

 

I can get totally sucked into that void.

But I’m trying to change that. The first step to moving away from “keeping up” was selling our house. It was a big house, on a large section, in a wealthy suburb. I’d installed a chandelier in the living room, an enormous mirror over the fireplace. The garden was planted with standard roses and box hedging. All obvious displays of our wealth.

Except that we had an enormous mortgage to pay for it. And both my husband and I needed to have high paying, high demand jobs to meet that mortgage. And I rarely saw the house (or my children). And the beautiful garden and enormous house needed so much work, which we didn’t have time to do because of said high paying jobs. And couldn’t pay someone else to do the work because of said enormous mortgage.

So we sold it. We moved to a townhouse in a nice, but slightly less wealthy suburb. We have a courtyard, rather than lawns and roses. Most importantly we have no mortgage.

Rationally, it was the right thing to do. I’ve been able to pull out of the high paying job to write about food and myself, which I rather enjoy. Besides, we have more money available to spend on life experiences, which tie nicely into my goals for 2017.

Emotionally, it’s been an interesting time. Because the Joneses keep knocking. I loved having people over to our old house. I was proud of the work we had done, and of how successful it made us appear. On the other hand, I also love our new house, its simplicity, its more manageable size, its proximity to the beach.

But I have to stop myself from feeling like its a step down. Like we are somehow less successful than we were. That we’re not keeping up.

It is impossible to keep up. Every time you think you’re the one in front, someone passes you. So where does it stop?

It stops when you reassess your priorities. When you realise that a house is just stuff. That having a thin body can be a road to physical illness (and possibly mental) and is impossible to maintain. That your children’s success at primary school is not as important as their happiness. That on your deathbed you won’t reflect on your life and say “thank God I had a bigger engagement ring than my friends”.

You’ll be reflecting on who you loved. The many experiences you had and the memories they made. The time spent with your children, watching them grow into amazing adults.

Recognising that success takes many forms. Embracing simple joys over material items. Living a good life and making good memories.

So I’m closing the door on the Joneses. They’re not my friends.