Friday, November 18, 2011

For the Love of Food, And Cookies

HALP!! Can someone please tell me what day it is? What time of year?? What am I supposed to be making for dinner?!

I am so confused!

The weather’s just gone all glorious in Wellington in the past week or so, and all I want to do is sit outside with a sweet, fizzy adult beverage and read my book. But then when I read the blogs from America they’re all about Christmas and the cold and winter and leaves falling, and my body says, “Yes!! That’s what you should be feeling right now, the intense need to wear sweaters and bake massive amounts of cookies!!”

My cookies talk to me, do yours?
Well, I’ve certainly got the baking thing down. That might even be my life’s motto: When in doubt, bake. Maybe I should rename my blog to that?
Speaking of blogs!! I attended the first New Zealand Food Bloggers Conference last weekend in Auckland! My head is still exploding with all that I learned and the people that I met. It really was an amazing (and slightly scary) experience for me.

Many of the attendees have already posted their impressions and photographs from the day, so I will not attempt to beat a dead horse into the ground. However, I will try to put into words the important things that I took away from the conference. And then I will sweeten the deal with a cookie recipe – actually the cookies that I made to bring to as a wee giftie to Mairi for hosting me. Seriously, Mairi, you were awesome and I really do love the ‘eclectic chic’ style of your house! And your wine rack, yummm.

It all started off with a bit of a blogger’s slumber party at Mairi’s house – she generously offered up her lovely home to four of us Wellingtonians (Mrs. Cake, Domestic Executive, @ Down Under). We all talked shop over nibbles and pretty pink rose’, cookbooks and blogging and celebrity chefs and food... I had my phone out and was taking notes on new books that I had to have and new blogs that I had to read.

Saturday morning came around quicker than my not-a-morning-person-everrrr body would have liked, but it was a gorgeous morning and we drove out to The Tasting Shed all aflutter with anticipation. Not many of the bloggers had met other bloggers at that point, so there weren’t any pre-formed groups to try and break into, which is one of my all-time social fears. There’s nothing that makes you feel smaller than a mouse when you walk into a big group of people who all actually know each other and you’re the new one. So the fact that we were all (mostly) new to each other actually made it easier to talk to lots of different people throughout the day, without feeling like I was intruding.
Brownies and fruit for breakfast?  Yes please!  Thanks Tasting Shed!

It’s not often that I get to eat such lovely food as was provided by the Tasting Shed, and being newish to the foodie-sphere I was tasting things I had even heard of before. Harissa sauce?! This needs to be in my life now, forever. Pork cheek? So amazing that it was very hard not to scarf it all down myself. I had to send it down the table away from me and my line of sight. I was secretly doing a happy dance inside as each dish came out, the day could have ended at lunch and I would have been happy as a clam.

The one photo I did get of lunch and the harissa sauce that is now my fave!
 The talks given by fellow food bloggers were absolutely fantastic and gave me a lot to think about. Andrea Wong from So D’lish talked about the technical side of blogging, including layouts, which put in me in mind of all those Marketing classes I took in college and trying to figure out what prompts consumers to buy things. So what makes blog readers look at certain parts of a webpage and not others? Time to step out of my writer’s shoes, put on my marketing hat and get to work on the physical appearance of this thing!

Jaco Swart from Rainbow Cooking, a blog about South African cooking in New Zealand and new to me, talked about how to utilise social networks along with your blog. It’s a funny thing for an introvert to try and promote their blog when the whole blog thing really started as a way to say things without using your real name! I started blogging because I really loved the anonymity of it, knowing that the only people that were reading it were my parents and maybe some friends, but now that other people are reading it I sometimes have internal existential conversations with myself. “Why am I doing this?! People who know me are reading this, more than just Mom and Dad, they might be judging me! Wah!!” Going to the conference and meeting lovely people who are most definitely not judging me for what I write or how my photographs look was a great wake-up call, and allowed me to free myself from some debilitating fears. Now I’ll be able to use what Jaco’s talked about and put myself out there.

We got a reality check about writing for different media from Alessandra Zecchini, whose honesty about what it’s like to be writing for yourself versus writing for a client has made me (and a lot of us I think) stop and really think about where we’re going with the whole bloggy thing. She challenged us to write about only our own recipes for a month if we’re thinking of writing a cookbook or for magazines, and seeing how I’ve only conjured up about two of my own originals, I really don’t see myself going down the path of publications. Cue more internal existential debating, as well as the realization that you may think that you came up with something new, but just give it a Google and you’ll find out that brilliant idea has already been thought up by someone else. So now I’m thinking to myself: is this all about coming up with my own recipes, or sharing awesome ones that I’ve come across with other people?

With all this internal strife, good thing there was good wine and conversation to take the edge off. Wine is one thing I do know a decent amount about, having taken a few courses in college and have visited who knows how many vineyards and cellar doors and tried as much wine as possible in the name of research. I love varietals that are not mainstream, so the Cooper’s Creek people had me when we walked through the door and they said “gruner-veltliner”. Hell yes, give me some more! There was also a beautiful non-pinoty pinot noir that I declared I would jump into the vat of, and probably the best sticky wine I have ever tried – a dry late-harvest Chardonnay. The only reason I didn’t buy any right then and there was because I wouldn’t have been able to carry as much as I wanted through the airport. I’m getting it shipped. :)

A happy-drinker snap during the wine tasting at Cooper's Creek, conveniently across the parking lot from the Tasting Shed!
To end the day, Bron Marshall gave us a bit of a primer on food photography, of which she is an absolute pro and I love her work. We didn’t have too much time for the practical application of it beyond some playing with reflectors and diffusers, but even just that little bit was enough to get the juices flowing! I’ve even found myself analysing photographs in the food magazines I read, in the hopes that when I finally do get around to making something photo-worthy I will be able to apply what I’ve learned. And also I just like pretty colours.
How to hold up reflecting cards and direct light to your food - hardware store clamps!
We had dinner at my new happy place – Cook the Books. Cookbooks plus food equals heaven. And their food, oh my, the corn and miso cakes were like little pillows of heaven. It’s really a good thing they weren’t put down in one place, because I would have parked myself next to it and never stopped eating them. Of course I did buy a book – the Tassajara Bread Book, which I am really excited to get stuck into and eventually wean us off of grocery store bread entirely. Is there anything better than fresh homemade bread? I made toast out of some White Mountain Bread (from the Bread Bible, which I borrowed from the library and then copied like, 15 recipes out of) with some of Mairi s marmalade, and good golly miss molly that was a new level of breakfast nirvana. Srsly.

The demo kitchen at Cook the Books and source of heavenly corn and miso pancakes.  Drool!
To top off a fantastic day, Mairi  took the Slumber Party girls out to The Bramble for a cocktail and I’m pretty sure my Lemon & Passionfruit Meringue cocktail was just about the very best liquidy non-chocolate thing I’ve ever had. My new mission in life is to recreate it. Our liquor cabinet assures me we will succeed.

So what have I learned from this experience, other than I need to park myself in front of my blog and tweak the hell out of it, and also maybe get Jonno to learn some HTML (it’s always the men that do those things, isn’t it?)? I’ve learned that it won’t kill me to get completely out of my social comfort zone for a weekend, especially if I get to chat with lovely people who love food as much as I do. I’ve never met a group of more interesting, sweet, generous, and incredibly creative people, and it just inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing – eating, cooking, baking, and photographing everything that goes into my mouth.

So here are the cookies, as promised. They’re from the fantastically wonderful Bakerella

You can't resist these, so stop trying.

Dark Chocolate Chip Comfort Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 packet dark chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350F/180C degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, mix flour, cocoa, soda and salt using a wire whisk and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, cream butter, sugar and peanut butter until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
  5. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and mix until combined.
  6. Stir in dark chocolate chips.
  7. Roll cookie dough into 1-1/4 inch balls, or scoop using an melon baller.
  8. Place on parchment paper covered baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes.
  9. Cool on rack and try not to burn your mouth on the hot ones.  Luckily they cool fast. 
  10. Makes about 30 2-inch cookies.


  1. Such a sweet post, I agree totally! I can't imagine a more lovely creative group of people, everyone so so fun. I can't wait to do it all again, would love to join you for a slumber party and cocktails!
    Looking forward to following everyone's blogs more closely in the meantime.

  2. Was fun wasn't it, what a lovely group:) those cookies are calling to me....!

  3. Yes the cookies are talking!!! :-)
    Thank you for the report, hope I didn't scare you too much about trying to write 'original' recipes, blogging should be fun and not stressing, but it is a good practice just starting with variations, and then move on from there, or transform oral recipes into written recipes, or reproduce by yourself something that you tasted :-).

    Thank you for the reportage!


  4. Great post...was so great to meet you & see a few more foodie (and wine!) adventures in the future! I am so making these cookies as can attest, as can my work colleagues, that they are amazing!

  5. Great post - really enjoyed it. Lovely to meet you and I agree too about the scary bits! Felt a bit like you initially but everyone was so lovely, it was so relaxing.

  6. Very amusing post and recap of the day. We were lucky on our lunch able that the others ate less and left the rest for us :0) I am fortunate to be going to a 7 course dinner next week at the tasting shed, can't wail, must wear loose clothes.

  7. Those clamps were amazing - I bought 6 small ones at BUNNINGS for $4 each!
    I am remembering the brownies at the NZFBC - YUMMO! Your cookies look like they will hit the spot too.
    Great to meet you...
    Vanessa and Ingrid

  8. Yeah, it was a really fun day! Very nice to meet you :)
    I'm getting to Bunnings to buy those clamps this weekend, I suspect they will change my life!

  9. Fabulous post! Made me smile and giggle. And yes, who would have thought hardware store clamps would come in handy for food photography?! It was lovely to have met you. I'm sure we'll catch up again soon with the other Welly bloggers. :-)


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