Half of my family can frequently be found in trees and bushes. Not because we have missed an evolutionary step, but because we simply like fresh food. What a joy it is to find that forgotten apple tree or to spot the first brambles of the season. This back-to-nature attitude to food is exactly what Annabel Langbein promotes in Simple Pleasures, the second part of her Free Range Cook series.
Lifestyle cook books are very much the fashion nowadays. Whether we want to eat fast and easy, organic or be the perfect host of classical candlelight suppers, there is something for all of us. In this book, New Zealand’s most beloved cook teaches us about fresh food, slow cooking and making cooking and eating with the people you love a part of daily life. She uses food that is home grown, directly supplied by farmers or simply handpicked locally. With her colourful background in the self-sustaining hippy culture and horticulture, she has some lovely stories to tell about cooking outdoors or encounters with fishermen and farmers.
So, the book is in itself a pleasant read, but it’s certainly not one of those many cook books that just end up on the shelves. I tried a whole variety of dishes; like bread, pasta and vegetables and also several cookies, cakes and fruity sorbets in different flavours. They were not that difficult to make and I really enjoyed trying fresh ingredients, some of which I usually don’t use much. Although in my view it’s not a book for beginners, it’s perfectly accessible for someone with basic skills – also on a daily basis. I hadn’t yet encountered a cook book that I wanted to use so often – and I made some recipes several times. This is because most recipes are a bit exotic – but not too unknown. Most ingredients are readily available at stores and shops, and Langbein gives clear instructions for the intermediate cook. And they often leave room to add your own twist to a dish.
I like the fact that Langbein is not afraid to make use of ready-made products, like pastry; but if you have the time you can make them yourself. Her recipes aren’t pretentious, but rather laid-back and therefore perfect for bon vivants, home-cooking enthusiasts, and foodies of all shapes and sizes. Not only does she promote slow cooking, but simple and fast dinner solutions as well. But what I like most are her ‘Fridge Fixings’ and other things you can prepare in advance. I loved her tapenade, her phenomenal Provençal crust and the raspberry vinegar which all add so much flavour to so many dishes.
There’s only one little snag. This book promotes cooking with products that are in season (as you’d expect). I suppose Annabel can’t help that the rest of the world does not have New Zealand’s perfect climate, so we will have to make do with our own, rather rainy seasons. In terms of ingredients this means that some things you’d find in more tropical or temperate settings will not always be at hand fresh. Also, the book’s idyllic visions of long summer evenings spent cooking outdoors won’t often be realized here!
Still, it’s a lovely book. It has the quality to become a frequent source of inspiration for many cooks. On top of that it is a good read while lounging on a couch in a sunny conservatory, surrounded by fresh herbs, a cup of tea and preferably a piece of Annabel’s lemon tart. Life is sweet.