When we first moved to New Zealand, high on our to do list was to buy a Campervan. When we first met, in Australia in 2006, we took a trip in a Camper up the East Coast. Three years later, en route to NZ, we repeated the same trip in reverse. We are head-over-heels in love with the Campervanning lifestyle - it's as close to camping as I can be comfortable with. And so a couple of years ago, we welcomed the newest member of our little family. Nicknamed Wilson for reasons long forgotten, he's a 1991 Toyota Hiace and has given us sterling service. Sadly, a subsequent move close to the sea has meant a significant rust problem, and he ain't getting any younger, so we are determined to make the most of owning the van while he's still ours. Last year we did a big trip round the South Island but this year, having just done three winters back-to-back, we were sun-starved and longing for the subtropical North.
And wowzers, we had such a lovely time. 11 days of sunny, warm bliss, a thousand miles figuratively away from the city and its stresses. It's been an ambition of mine for some time to make it right up to the very top, to Cape Reinga, so that's what we did. We nearly got blown away - and we thought Wellington was windy!
We ate really, spectacularly well in our 11 days away, including some notable meals out. At Mangonui Fish Shop we ate Fish and Chips with the most perfectly designed view. If Carlsberg did Fish and Chip Shops...
Another biggie for me was getting to Leigh. The name of my hometown in England is Leigh and, well, let's just say that the differences between NZ warm, seaside, charming Leigh and English northern, industrial Leigh are considerable. Leigh is famous for its Sawmill, which in turn is famous for music and food. I ate more fish there - it seems to be my default option whenever I'm by the sea. The only let down with this meal were the crushed potatoes, which were quite dry. Nevertheless it's a great place to eat if you're in Leigh (never thought I'd type that sentence).
By a long shot though, the best food that we ate was the food we cooked ourselves. I often think that, and by no means are either of us the best cooks in the world (no, honestly!). Just cooking what you feel like, when you feel like it, using fresh ingredients, and eaten in the open air next to your beloved Campervan with a glass of wine - well, there are no words. So I won't even attempt it. Who knows how long we will have our van for? I certainly don't, possibly only the mechanic and the bank manager know for sure. But whatever the future holds, I will be able to recreate these meals again, and pretend we're right back there, in the sun.
This was my favourite dish, cooked by Andy.
Mussels in tomato and chilli sauce
From The Great Bloke's BBQ Cookbook, Kim Terakes
Use your own palate and preferences to dictate the amount of chilli you use. The original recipe calls for the sauce to be blended until smooth, but a blender isn't a tool we carry with us, so he left it chunky. I wouldn't change this next time I make it.
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 chillies, chopped
1kg Greenlip mussels, cleaned and any open shells discarded
6 basil leaves, finely sliced
6 parsley leaves, finely sliced
In a large pan with a lid, heat the oil over a high heat and fry the garlic and onion until soft. Add the tomatoes and chillies, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are mushy.
Turn the heat back up to high, and add the mussels, putting the lid on immediately. Cook for 3 minutes, shaking the pot from time to time. Check that the mussels have opened - cook for a minute or so longer if most haven't. Add the fresh herbs, black pepper, and serve immediately with crusty bread.
Serves two blissed out campers.