29 June 2010

Ladies, an Evening

It's a shame it wasn't 11am and about the right time for morning tea and warm scones, however tucked inside the lovely L'affare on a wintry evening armed with a wine, a sesame seed dipped club sandwich and an audience with Alexa Johnston – the author of the gorgeous “Ladies, a Plate” and “A Second Helping”, was a pretty close second. Millie and I (yes after a very long blogging respite on my behalf!) recently attended the evening with the award-winning custodian of kiwi home baking, Alexa Johnston, run by the Book Council of New Zealand.

It was truly a pleasure to talk baking with the grandmas, aunties, mothers, daughters, granddaughters of Wellington, and of course Alexa – whose exuberance and flair made the evening a lovely homage to the accomplished bakers of yesteryear.

Bespectacled and perched on a bar stool, Alexa told stories about her childhood kitchen experiments,her earlier years flatting with Ray McVinnie and their masterpieces, her love of trawling through second hand bookshops for her much loved community cookbooks, her treasured recipes and their creators, and her obsession with old fashioned kitchen utensils. Alexa had the audience giggling away, and recalling their favourite traditional pud' recipes for her up and coming book “What's for pudding” due to be released in 2011.

The books themselves are collections of traditional kiwi home baking – the kind of fare that graces the tins of your granny, your great aunt and your mum, and the tables of community get-togethers. The photographs are a beautiful portrait of what Alexa describes as an “honourable tradition”, and were all lovingly taken by Alexa in her home kitchen – complete with embroidered tablecloths, floral china and doilies. The recipes are all referenced to the lovely ladies who once contributed them to some community cookbook or other throughout New Zealand history.

Our appetites thoroughly whetted, Millie and I raced back to Millie's for homebaked cookies and tea. A lovely evening – if you ever have a chance to hear Alexa speak, she is really engaging and along with her books, is highly recommended!

A well thought-out evening. And who doesn't like being around people obsessed with food?!!

20 June 2010

Baobab Cafe, Newtown

Yesterday I found myself in Newtown after heading over to a fantastic fabric sale in St Anne's Hall.* I had dragged E along on the pretence of having breakfast somewhere in Newtown ("Oh, look, a fabric sale...! We can have a quick look... right?") and after a 'quick' look turned into nearly half an hour (yes, he was thrilled) both he and I were getting pretty desperate for food.

We popped into Baobab Cafe, where I'd been plenty of times for coffee and counter food but never for a full on meal. Like neighbouring Newtown cafe Pranah it's got sort of a natural, earthy vibe, relaxed and inviting, perfect for the weekend.

My peachy-hued banana and persimmon smoothie ($6) didn't taste too strongly of one or the other, but had a delicate hint of both fruits. I ordered it just because it sounded different and was delighted - I think it was the first time I've had persimmon in a smoothie, too.

Although I had set out intending to have breakfast food, I ended up ordering off the lunch menu, because come on, macadamia crusted baked goat's cheese ($13)? I couldn't resist. It came on two hot wedges of crispy polenta and a salad of fennel, rocket and parmesan. The nuttiness of the little chunks of macadamia was matched in the nutty parmesan and contrasted beautifully with the tangy goat cheese. And the textures in this dish! Crispy, crunchy, creamy: it was a celebration of contrasts.

The only thing I would have liked even more was if the cheese had been baked slightly longer to that almost-melting consistency, but it was wholly satisfying as it was.

E stuck to the breakfast menu, and was rewarded with these chocolate chip pancakes ($13) with feijoa and almond compote, maple syrup and whipped cream. These were so good (I kept sneaking bites). I almost never eat feijoas at home because they're one of those fruits I tell myself I don't like too much, but when I have them as part of a restaurant dish I'm suddenly all over them.** Needless to say I ate most of the compote (sorry, E!) but the pancakes themselves were beautiful, not too rich, a good balance of chocolate chip and pancake.

Baobab's menu has some refreshingly different offerings from your average cafe and we were both pleasantly surprised. Not pictured but worth mentioning: our coffees (a long black ($3) for me and a flat white ($3.80) for E) were good and they use Supreme's fair trade organic beans. Also, for a Saturday mid-morning it was busy, but not overwhelmingly so as some of the places in town can be on the weekend, and our food and drinks arrived in reasonable time. We'll be going back again for brunch/lunch, I think.

Baobab Cafe
152 Riddiford St
(04) 380 0470


Open Mon-Fri 8am-5:30pm, Sat-Sun 9am-5:30pm

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*Not that I'm a pro with the sewing machine or anything, but I did get a couple lengths of nice fabric that'll be perfect for skirts... ooh!
**Like a while back, when my Mum and Dad were in town and I took them to Floridita's for breakfast... the vanilla-poached feijoas that topped my yoghurt were divine. I couldn't stop thinking about them for days.