Hypochondriac? Me? With pears poached in mulled wine.

We have a challenging relationship with illness in my family. I’m not talking serious illness (at least at this point), but just your average, common-or-garden varietal colds, sore stomachs and aches and pains.

In my family, there’s a divide between my mother’s and my father’s sides of the family. My mother comes from a family of Scotsmen, which I guess sums up all there is to say about stoicism. Or damned bloody mindedness, for a more direct turn of phrase.

The general approach to sickness among our clan is to suck it up and get on with it. My mother’s approach to handling me as a unwell child was “go to school and see how you feel”. Code for “unless you have the plague you’re not staying home”.

When it came to my grandmother, her approach was benign, but as it turns out, deadly. She avoided going to the doctor at all costs, lest she be found malingering. She’d talk to the doctor about his personal problems, rather than her own (I should mention my grandmother was Scottish, white haired and under 5 feet tall. Like a miniature Mrs Doubtfire). Ultimately, a sore above her top lip, which she’d avoided having treatment for, developed into a malignancy which had to be cut out, leaving a nasty scar. She died far too young at 70, after complaining for months about breathlessness caused by issues with her legs. Her actual issue was that she was diabetic, and as a result had heart problems, which could have been easily treated. We didn’t find that out until after she died from a heart attack.

My father’s side of the family takes a completely opposing approach. My paternal grandmother lived to be 98 (albeit with dementia), unbelievably sound of body, if not mind. She walked, played croquet, worked in her garden, and took herself off to bed at the slightest hint of a tickle at the back of her throat. We were warned not to kiss her, unless we fell to “the Bot”. Not really sure what that’s short for.

My father has followed in her footsteps. Even a hint of illness warrants a doctors visit. Much to my mother’s chagrin. She sighs, rolls her eyes, and talks about his hypochondria. Dad is healthy as an ox in his mid-70’s, goes to the gym three times a week, plays sport, goes fishing, is generally active, and rarely unwell. Mum, has angina, polymyalgia (a kind of rheumatism), a high risk of bowl cancer and takes a raft of medication, which has subsequently given her kidney issues.

I should mention my father’s family were based in New Zealand in WW2, with all the opportunity that afforded. My mother’s family were in Scotland, and were far more exposed to nutritional and environmental challenges that shaped the way they thought and behaved.

The point of all this is how it affects the way I think. I am rubbish at being sympathetic when my kids are unwell. I have, embarrassingly, adopted my mother’s suck-it-and-see approach to sending kids to school when they’re feeling sick.

I feel terrible every time I do it and get the call later in the day from the school nurse.

I always feel like a fraud when I go to the doctor. I’ve recently had an allergic reaction which has resulted in a rash over most of my body. I tried, for 10 days, to treat it with antihistamines, until I finally caved and went to A&E. If I’d been more prepared to face a doctor before it became unbearable, I might have saved myself $100 by making an appointment with my GP. That allergy has become chronic urticaria, which if not resolved in the next week, will lead to visits to an immunologist.

So I’m not sure that taking the stoic approach is best. While I worry my kids are missing school, the alternative is to send them to school and have their potential virus spread like wildfire. An illness that could be easily resolved by getting onto it early can end up being something far more serious without treatment (as demonstrated by my late maternal grandmother).

Time to suppress the little voice in my head that says I’m a fraud, or that my children are pretending, or that my husband is a hypochondriac and take the time to look after ourselves. Better to live a long healthy life, with the odd day in bed recovering, than a short life, with head held high because I could “suck it up”.


Red wine, in small doses, is shown to have great health benefits. Good for body and soul. Here’s a recipe that makes great use of seasonal pears, which I’ve prepared for my friend Charlotte. Her blog A Beautiful Mind, to raise awareness of possible ways to prevent Alzhiemer’s Disease. Her blog this week is all about red wine, so make sure you go and have a read.

2 cups red wine 2017-05-27 08.37.26
1/3 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
Peel of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
4 pears, peeled (I used buerre bosc)
200g mascapone
100g greek yoghurt

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat red wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange peel and vanilla essence. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar as dissolved.
  2. Add pears, bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 1 hour, turning carefully to keep the pears evenly coloured.
  3. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled.
  4. Check red wine syrup for thickness. If sauce hasn’t reduced during cooking process, strain our spices and return sauce to the boil. Cook until desired thickness is reached.
  5. Mix mascapone and yoghurt together until evenly combined.
  6. Serve pears drizzled with red wine syrup, with mascapone alongside.

In season: cherries

In New Zealand cherries are synonymous with Christmas. They arrive from Central Otago in their cardboard boxes, looking like festive gifts, the fruit itself just like Christmas baubles. Except far tastier.

They are most definitely a treat. With a retail price generally close to $20 per kilo, buying cherries is out of the reach of many, but I think they’re worth every penny.

How good are cherries for you?

I’m focusing on sweet cherries here. Tart cherries are equally amazing, but I haven’t seen them fresh in New Zealand, and since this series is about what’s in season (and available fresh)…

Once again, the colour is the giveaway with deep red cherries. They’re high in antioxidants, which have cancer preventative properties. As they ripen, the colour darkens, producing more antioxidants, so they get better with age. Alongside that:

  • They’re high in potassium, which helps to control blood pressure.
  • They’re packed with polyphenols, which aid our digestive bacteria (and which I harp on about endlessly).
  • The anthocyanins in cherries have anti-inflammatory properties, to offer health benefits for gout, arthritis, fibromyaglia and sports injuries
  • They’re high in melatonin, which regulates circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.
  • They’re high in fibre, and low calories. Their sugar content is high, but this is offset by the fibre.
  • They’re high in vitamin C, which aids in the formation of collagen, and helps the body absorb iron.

So how can I use them?

I have to say, you’re in a very fortunate position if you have a glut of cherries at your disposal. At the price they’re currently selling for, I’m buying them in small quantities and eating them as is!

That said, not everyone lives as far from Cherry Central as I do, so here’s a few thoughts on how to handle your fortuitous excess:

  • Make a trifle with layers of sponge, cherry jam, fresh, stoned cherries, custard and cream. Drizzle kirsh over the sponge if desired.
  • Make a cherry compote by cooking stoned cherries with some sugar (at a ratio of about 5 to 1 by weight, cherries to sugar), lemon juice and kirsh or brandy. Remove the cherries and reduce the juice until thick.
  • Steep stoned cherries in brandy or vodka for a week or so to make a delicious liqueur.
  • Make a Black Forest Eton Mess by mixing together whipped cream, crumbled meringues, chopped dark chocolate and fresh cherries.
  • Make a Black Forest gateaux, by drizzling kirsh over your favourite dark chocolate cake, and layering with halved, stoned cherries and cream. Google images to find true 1970’s cake decoration inspiration!
  •  Add cherries to a red wine, beef jus. Cook until the cherries are soft, and serve with duck, venison or beef.
  • Melt vanilla ice cream until very soft (not liquid), and stir through stoned, chopped cherries, slivered almonds and chopped dark chocolate. Return to the freezer to reset, then serve.
  • Make a salsa with cherries
  • Halve cherries and toss through a green salad

Or try this cherry cheesecake recipe:


125 g crumbled malt biscuits
75 g butter, softened
300 g cream cheese
60 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp lemon juice
250 ml cream, whipped
500 g fresh cherries, halved and stones removed
100 g sugar
100 ml vodka
100 ml lemon juice
250 ml cream, whipped to serve

  1. Line a 20cm springform baking tin with tinfoil.
  2. Put the biscuits and butter in a food processor and pulse until well combined
  3. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of the tin. Put into the fridge to set (approx 20 minutes)
  4. Using the food processor again, pulse together cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice until well combined and smooth
  5. Transfer to a bowl, and fold through whipped cream.
  6. Pour cheese mixture over the biscuit mix, and return to the fridge to set (approximately 3 hours or overnight)
  7. Put the cherries in a saucepan with the sugar, vodka and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and cook until cherries are beginning to soften.
  8. Remove cherries with a slotted spoon and set aside. Continue to boil juices until thick.
  9. Cool and add cherries back to the pan. Refrigerate until needed.
  10. To prepare the cheesecake to serve, remove the cake from the tin. Top with extra whipped cream and cherry compote. Garnish with a few fresh cherries and serve.


Source: eatingwell.com, nutrition-and-you.com, Best Health Magazine, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, Al Brown, Peta Mathias, Kylee Newton, orchardfresh.co.nz

Video Recipe: Chocolate Mousse

Upfront, I have to say, this is not a traditional chocolate mousse. It does not have any eggs to thicken it. It also has no added sugar (other than the chocolate). It’s thickened with gelatine, which means it’s not vegetarian, but also means it doesn’t split and always sets. And it tastes as good as the real thing.

I’ve based this on a recipe by Jo Segar, but I’ve added a bit here and there. I worked out quickly that this recipe provides a fantastic base to add whatever extra flavours you like. In this video, the two I’ve suggested are orange or almond flavours. To both options I’ve added a healthy shot of booze, so perhaps leave that out if you’re looking to serve this to kids. Just saying.

I’ve gone for 50% cocoa solids in this version (kid friendly again), but if you like your chocolate stronger and more bitter, you could step this up.

(Makes 6 generous serves)

10g powdered gelatine
2 tablespoons cold water
200 ml cream
250g dark chocolate (60% means not too bitter)
500 ml cream

  1. Soak gelatine in cold water until soft
  2. Bring 200ml cream just to the boil
  3. Remove from heat and stir in gelatine until dissolved
  4. Add chocolate, stir continuously over low heat until melted and combined
  5. Put aside until cool (not in fridge as mousse will set)
  6. Beat 500ml cream until thick. Fold into chocolate mixture until combined
  7. Pour into moulds and refrigerate until set


  • Add zest and juice of an orange and 2 Tbsp orange liqueur
  • Add chopped hazelnuts and 2 Tbsp hazelnut liqueur

Sticky datey goodness

Sticky date pudding just never fails to make people happy. Unless there’s something seriously wrong with them. When the nights are long and cold the combination of soft date pudding combined with warm caramel and cold cream (or icecream if you’re that way inclined) is hard to beat.

This recipe is one my friend Deborah kindly shared with me a number of years ago, since then it’s become a firm favourite. It’s quick to make, generally I have all the ingredients (other than cream) to hand, and baking in muffin tins makes for perfect sized portions. Enough to make you happy, not so much to be guilt inducing.

Any leftover date sponge can be frozen for up to 6 months, or will keep in an airtight container in the pantry for about 4 days.

2016-08-06 23.13.43.jpgDEBORAH’S STICKY DATE PUDDING

Date Puddings
200g pitted dates, chopped
1 cup cold water
1 tsp baking soda
60g butter
2 Tbsp golden syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups self raising flour

Caramel Sauce
100g butter
1/2 cup cream
1 cup brown sugar tightly packed
1 tsp vanilla

  1. Place apricots, dates and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Set aside for fruit to soften and cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 170C grease and flour 12 muffin tins or 20cm springform tin.
  3. Cream butter, golden syrup, sugar and vanilla together then beat in eggs.
  4. Fold in sifted flour then stir in cooled fruit and liquid.
  5. Pour into prepared tins and bake 20 – 25 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.
  6. For the caramel sauce, place all ingredients in saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until butter melts and sugar is dissolved. Boil 2 minutes until mixture is syrupy.
  7. Serve puddings warm, pour over caramel sauce and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.


  • If you don’t have self raising flour (I never do) use the same quantity of plain flour, and add 1 tsp of baking powder for every cup of flour (in this instance 1 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • I prefer to eat these pudding with something a bit tart to cut through the sweetness of the caramel. I combine equal quantities of plain greek yoghurt with whipped cream.
  • Instead of greasing and flouring the muffin tins, I use paper cupcake cases. That way they never stick. Just remember to take the cases off before serving.