As the title of this post suggests, this week I've experienced the very best and worst of what the internet has to offer. I've been the victim of some unwanted and rather "creepy" attention - a sad reminder that not everyone out there uses the internet with the same decency and respect that you or I might. However, I'm not going to dwell on that. At the same time, I've been reminded just how much the internet in general, and the food blogging community in particular, can enrich our lives.
When I first started my blog, a little over four years ago, it was really to find an outlet for expressing my food and travel experiences, and a place to record the food that I love to share with family and friends, so that others may be able to share it too. It never for one moment occurred to me that this would become an avenue for meeting some truly wonderful people and developing great friendships.
The very first time I arranged a meeting with a fellow blogger, it seemed a little strange. The lovely Sasa and I had been visiting each other's blogs for a little while, and exchanged a few tweets. When we both happened to be visiting family in Auckland at the same time we decided to meet for a coffee. I have to say, I hadn't gone out to meet a complete stranger since the last time I'd gone on a blind date (most unsuccessfully I might add), almost 30 years earlier. So I was nervous. What would she be like? Would we find plenty to talk about? You know ... the usual stuff. I needn't have worried. From the instant we met there was never an awkward moment. And what do two food bloggers meeting for the first time talk about? Well, you might reasonably expect that it would be about food, right? But no. We talked about relationships, both past and present; our families, and our relationships with them; travel; yoga; studying and making a new start; old jobs and old habits; hopes for the future; and so on. In short, all the things that a couple of friends who'd known each other for years might talk about.
And so it has been with every food blogger that I have gone on to meet since. I know now, without a shadow of a doubt, that a passion for food and generosity of spirit go hand in hand. I know now that the common denominator in this food blogging community is not just the obvious love of good food - it's warmth, passion, kindness, compassion, generosity, a zest for life, humour, creativity, and so much more.
Through my love of all things Ottolenghi, which you're all by now very well aware of, I came across Beth Corman Lee's blog OMG! Yummy and, through her blog, discovered the wonderful Tasting Jerusalem community, hosted by Beth and her long-time friend Sarene Wallace. From the outset, I was impressed not just with Beth's lovely food, but also her warmth and enthusiasm, her genuine excitement at discovering and experimenting with new ingredients as we cook together, and her very obvious hunger (pardon the tragic food pun) to learn more.
So, once I planned this trip to the Bay Area of San Francisco, and discovered that Beth lived nearby, I knew that I wanted to meet her. And, despite her busy family life, and my fairly busy holiday schedule, we managed to connect this week and arrange to meet for lunch in Mountain View (the small city in Silicone Valley where I am staying).
The main street of Mountain View is a lovely tree-lined boulevard, with probably half a mile of side by side cafes (both sides of the street), covering just about every type of cuisine you can imagine. I can tell you that the smells wafting up the street, come midday, are absolutely amazing. So as you might expect, we agreed to meet outside a cafe, and then we strolled, eyeing up the many choices on offer. It didn't take us long to discover a Mediterranean cafe called Ephesus, with predominantly Greek and Turkish influences, that looked promising. When the menu revealed to us a number of dishes that, through our shared love of Ottolenghi's food, we had either tried or have on the "must try" list, we knew this was the place for us.
Of course, starting our meal with the hummus was a no-brainer, and discussion of its merits by comparison to those of Ottolenghi's naturally ensued. On the recommendation of our waiter, Beth opted for The Alexander - a veritable mountain of shaved lamb and beef in a rich tomato sauce, served over chunks of bread, with a cooling pool of yoghurt on the side. As soon as I noticed Maqluba on the menu, I couldn't not have it. Maqluba is a layered savoury "cake" of tomatoes, aubergine, chicken, cauliflower, rice and spices, and I've had this one marked to try in my Jerusalem book since the day I bought it. I loved the way at Ephesus they had made the dish in individual moulds, and now I can't wait to get home and try making this dish.
So, food aside, just as in the case of every other food blogger I've ever met, my conversation with Beth revolved around family, children, growing up, our travels - places we've been and places we hope to go, work history, our hopes for the future, and our time together ran out long before we ran out of things to talk about. It was such a joy to meet Beth and lovely to make a new friend.
Speaking of Ottolenghi, at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week our theme is Gorgeously Green. Now I've been cooking like a mad thing this week - lasagne, shepherds pie, fish and caper kebabs, Jamie Oliver's fantastic fish pie, a batch of Nigella's flourless chocolate brownies, a batch of chocolate caramel crispy cakes, a batch of these divine raw lemon & coconut truffles, and numerous big batches of roasted tomato pasta sauce - all to stock up the freezer for my daughter before I head back home to New Zealand. But in terms of coming up with something gorgeously green to share with you this week, well I'm afraid I just dropped the ball and somehow it didn't happen. To compensate, however, I thought I'd give you a little bit of a round-up of a few gorgeously green Ottolenghi dishes I've made and shared in the past. Hope you find something you enjoy.
Baked Artichokes & Broad Beans: This was one of the first Ottolenghi dishes I ever made, and still one of my favourites. The use of artichokes and broad beans makes this a quintessentially spring dish, but with both vegetables being readily available jarred and frozen this is a great dish to bring a little bit of the lightness of spring to the table any time of the year. Leftovers I found kept well for a couple of days.
Broccoli, Leek & Blue Cheese Pie: This pie got rave revues in my house when I first made it - so much so that I was called upon to make it twice in one week. It is both easy and economical to make, tastes great both hot and cold, and reheats well should you be lucky enough to have leftovers. In actual fact the leek filling tastes so good that half of it usually doesn't even make it into the pie, and I imagine it could be used as a great accompaniment to some grilled or roasted chicken.
Fried Zucchini, Pea & Quinoa Salad: This is one of those great recipes that you can play around with to suit what you have on hand. Apart from the fried zucchini, which is really the hero of the dish, anything else goes. In this instance I used peas instead of edamame, quinoa instead of pasta, and feta instead of buffalo mozzarella. Get the picture?!
If you would like to get to know Yotam Ottolenghi a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...
... or check out Jerusalem and Ottolenghi's other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Fishpond NZ.