Annabel’s search for simple pleasures

ANNABEL Langbein, the free range cook, grows much of her family’s fresh produce in extensive organic vegetable gardens at her Auckland home and rustic cabin on the shores of scenic Lake Wanaka.  

She is a member of the Sustainability Council of NZ and a passionate advocate for using seasonal ingredients as a means to cooking and eating well.
Her runaway best seller in NZ and Australia, the 2010 book “The Free Range Cook”, was recently named Best TV Cookbook at the 2012 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and earlier this she she returned from her cabin with a new batch of recipes based on her use of fresh natural ingredients prepared in a no-fuss way. These recipes make up her new book, “Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures”.

Readers are invited to share a drink and canapé with Annabel and preview her new book at “An evening with Annabel Langbein, the free range cook” at the National Press Club, Barton, Wednesday, September 26, 6pm-8pm. The event is hosted by Dymocks Canberra Centre and the NZ High Commission.

“Like many New Zealanders, my roots are deeply tethered in the earth in a satisfying cycle of growing, harvesting, cooking and sharing around the table,” she says.

“My father, Fred, who worked in a downtown city office, would come home each night to tend his vegetable garden and his bees. His washed and trimmed vegetable offerings would arrive at the back door, ready for the creation of a delicious dinner.

“My mother Anne was a natural cook and a home science university graduate. Her well-honed cooking skills and astute relationship with Cyril, the butcher, coupled with father’s prodigious garden efforts, provided us with a nutritious and interesting diet.

“Coming out of World War II, my parents were thrifty and resourceful. Nothing was wasted, but ours was no dour, mean-spirited household.
“Each evening my mother took the trouble to set the table with candles and a pretty posy from the garden, and we gathered to discuss the day’s happenings.

“Entering my teens in the 1970s as a fully fledged hippy and feminist, I railed against domesticity, consumerism and the urban world in general, leaving school and home when I was just 16.

“My mother took me to Europe, no doubt in the hope of convincing me that the real world had merit, but on my return I promptly moved up the Whanganui River with some friends to an alternative lifestyle growing vegetables, cooking over a fire and living off the land.”

For several years Annabel hunted and fished for much of her  own food; caught eels, ran trap lines and jumped out of helicopters for live-deer recovery as a means of making a living. “What I caught I cooked, experimenting endlessly in a learning process that drew where it could from what I had seen in my mother’s kitchen,” she says.

“For the most part, my learning was unfettered by tradition or the rules of any particular school. Some things worked, others failed. I never formally learned to cook (aside from a couple of residential courses at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York later in my career), choosing instead to study horticulture at Lincoln University in NZ.

“Understanding how plants grow is incredibly useful when it comes to cooking.

“They say you go back to your roots as you age. In the recall of those simple childhood traditions we find ways to enjoy our own lives and families.
“Eating homegrown, home-cooked food is part of the way we live as a family today. It connects us, even if only in a small way, to the rhythms of nature. Wandering around my garden at the end of a busy day to find something to serve for our evening meal is incredibly satisfying. So, too, is the daily ritual of setting the table, lighting some candles and sitting down together to enjoy simple, freshly cooked food.

“Working professionally in the kitchen for the past 20 years has also taught me that along with good-quality ingredients, confidence is the key to cooking success. All my recipes are thoroughly and professionally tested in our kitchen to ensure you get stress-free, foolproof results.

“My aim is to be your guide. I want to share my knowledge, skills and experience so that your cooking can be more rewarding and fun.

“The language of food is universal – we can all share and take pleasure in it. No matter what the season, the budget or the company, good food is the right of us all.”

“An evening with Annabel Langbein, the National Press Club, Barton, Wednesday September 26, 6pm-8pm. Tickets $35 available from Dymocks Canberra Centre 6257 5057. 

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