Food therapy for reconnection

New Zealand food writer Nici Wickes.
New Zealand food writer Nici Wickes.
Nici Wickes is known for her cheerful, bubbly personality and enthusiasm for food but she admits it has all taken a knocking in the past few years.

Since writing A Quiet Kitchen, Wickes has been tested in ways she never expected.

"I’m all shook up! On top of the pandemic, climate changes have impacted me directly and have shaken me to the core, compelling me to consider how I’m living."

Her Port Waikato studio was flooded in 2023’s cyclone as was much of her community.

"I heard someone say it felt like a break-up with the whenua [land] and I wept as I realised the truth in that. I felt like I’d broken up with nature. Rain on my roof no longer felt comforting or good for the garden and water tanks, wind became unsettling. The raging ocean seemed intent only on gouging out our coastline.

"Nature no longer seemed to care about us — and who could blame her, given how careless we’ve been."

Then she got Covid and found she lost her appetite for food, cooking and life.

"Imagine me without my interest in cooking! I was utterly lost for some months."

But she knew she had to turn to her kitchen and cooking as a salve. So she made food that was uncomplicated and soothing, food that made her happy and took her mind off what she could not control.

"There is some food that just delights me and will always make me feel happier. Like a home-made burger. Or a pie. Fritters will always make me smile as they sizzle away in the pan. Or how about a gratin? Can anyone be sad eating forkfuls of such cheesy deliciousness? Dishes like these seem to whisper to me, you’ll be OK, just keep going."

Emerging from these upheavals she made a conscious decision to turn more towards nature, growing more of her own produce, taking walks up the hill nearby and along the beach and continuing to plunge into the ocean no matter the weather.

"I was determined to fall in love with my environment again."

Her latest book More from a Quiet Kitchen continues the theme of providing recipes for one or two, along with Wickes’ thoughts on life, love, challenges, health and much more.

Such as eating alone. Wickes loves eating alone and finds it surprising that others find it alarming. Although she does admit that it did feel awkward at first and she let those worries hold her back from what she calls one of her favourite hobbies.

"Being in a social atmosphere but not necessarily having to engage with anyone else can be a fabulous way to stave off loneliness if you approach it with the right attitude.

"Returning to the same place so the staff get to know you by name is lovely and you build loyalty and familiarity this way."

She also includes some money-saving advice — learn to cook and eat only what is in season rather than being tied to a repertoire of dishes that you cook regardless of time of year or the required ingredients.

Shop on the outside of the supermarket as much as possible rather than in the aisles where all the "nutrient-empty, processed food lives", just ducking in from time to time for tinned tomatoes, pulses and pasta.

"Mostly try to fill the trolley with wholefoods like in-season vegetables, fruit (fresh or frozen), meat or seafood, if possible. Yes, these can seem expensive, but they will ultimately keep you feeling fuller and healthier for longer and, if you buy what’s in season, it’ll be better for your wallet and your health long-term."

She also advises using what you already have in your pantry rather than "holding too much stock"and get resourceful sharing abundant produce.

"Being thrifty doesn’t always mean having to miss out on expensive ingredients, it just means being savvy with how you use them in a dish."

The Book

More From a Quiet Kitchen by Nici Wickes, photography by Todd Eyre, published by Bateman Books, RRP $49.99.

Ooh la la French onion soup

I can never go past onion soup on a menu, but rarely did I think of making it at home ...  until now. It’s deeply rich and will have you happily slurping in no time. 

Makes two scrumptious bowls


2 onions, thinly sliced (see note)

1 Tbsp each butter and oil

1 Tbsp plain flour

3 cups vegetable, chicken or beef stock

Splash of white or red wine (optional)

1 bay leaf

½ tsp brown sugar

½ tsp sea salt

A decent grind of black pepper

1 thick bread slice per serve

¼ cup grated cheese — gruyere is traditional but any will do

Fresh parsley to garnish


In a heavy-based pot over a medium heat, cook the sliced onions in the butter and oil. Do this with the lid on to let them sweat down. After 5-7 minutes give them a stir (lower the heat if they are getting too brown) and keep cooking, covered, for 5 more minutes.

Stir the flour through the onions, add a splash of stock or wine (if using) and cook for 1 minute until the flour has thickened. Then add the remaining stock, bay leaf, sugar, salt and pepper.

Simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning and add water if it needs thinning down.

To serve, grill the bread on both sides then top with cheese and grill until melted.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and place the cheesy grilled bread on top. Sprinkle with parsley and get slurping.

Note: The onions will cook way faster if you cut them as follows: halve your onion from top to tail, peel, then slice both halves from top to tail. Cooks three times faster. Science!

Lamb massaman curry

Massaman curry is a gently spiced, fragrant Thai-style curry. The ingredient list is long for a true massaman curry paste, so I save time by using a quality store-brought paste for this stunner of a dish. It’s often one I’ll cook for friends as it’s so impressive and easy, hence the ‘serves four’, but feel free to halve the recipe.

Serves 4


4 lamb hind shanks

6-8 baby/small potatoes, scrubbed clean

1 medium onion, sliced 80g (about 3-4 big Tbsp) massaman curry paste (see note)

300ml coconut milk

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2-3 whole star anise

2 sticks cinnamon

½ tsp chilli flakes

Rice or naan to serve

Fresh coriander leaves to serve


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Select a roasting dish or ovenproof dish that will hold the shanks nicely.

Lay lamb in the dish in one layer and scatter in potatoes and onion.

Mix the curry paste with coconut milk and stock and pour over meat and vegetables. Add the star anise, cinnamon sticks and chilli flakes. Turn the lamb to coat in sauce, then cover tightly with two layers of foil or a lid.

Bake for 1½ hours then remove the foil or lid (careful of the steam) and bake for a further 30 minutes, turning the lamb a few times to brown evenly. The meat ought to be super tender and the sauce thickened.

Serve with rice or naan and garnished with fresh coriander.

Note: I used to insist on making my own curry pastes from scratch but that was before there was such an outstanding array of additive-free choices so easily available. I use the Hart & Soul paste made in Thailand and available in supermarkets.

Gorgeous blackberry & apple galette

Galette for one? Why not! Small quantities of homemade pastry are quick to make and so gratifying. 

Makes one 12–15cm tart



2 Tbsp chilled butter

2 heaped Tbsp plain flour

½ Tbsp sugar

3-4 Tbsp ice-cold water


1 cup peeled and chopped apple

¼ cup frozen or fresh blackberries or other berries

1 Tbsp sugar + extra for sprinkling

1 Tbsp flour

zest of ½ lemon

1 Tbsp butter

milk for brushing

whipped cream to serve

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

To make the pastry, whizz the butter, flour and sugar in your food processor, pulsing until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of the water and pulse again, adding more water as you need for it to come together and stay together when pinched between your fingers. Turn out, roll into a ball then flatten to a disc, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a tray with baking paper.

To assemble, toss fruit with sugar, flour and zest.

Roll out chilled pastry to a 22–24cm circle. Transfer to the lined tray.

Pile the fruit in the centre leaving a 4–5cm rim free of fruit. Carefully fold up the sides, pleating and pinching them as you go. Dot the fruit with the butter. Brush the edges with a little milk and sprinkle over some extra sugar.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the fruit is soft and bubbling.

Serve with whipped cream.

Note: Feel free to use other seasonal fruit like peaches, nectarines, apricots and rhubarb.