It's been a strange start to the New Year. First I went to my niece's wedding near Queenstown. After going to another recent wedding on my own where I knew no one except the immediate family, who were all of course totally occupied, I made sure that this time I had someone with me - my lovely neighbour Jenn, who knows my niece and her parents. It made a huge difference, and she was a big hit - she grew up on an Otago farm, so she was completely at home with the bride's farming parents and their friends, in a way a townie like me can never quite manage. Harvey used to tease me about it, in the nicest possible way. I was terribly impressed (and so were the boys) the time he stopped the car, hopped over a fence and set a cast ewe on her feet again. (In case you're even more ignorant than me, a cast ewe has managed to get herself onto her back and can't get up.)
After the very beautiful wedding, Jenn and I set off for a few days in Central Otago. I hadn't been back since Harvey took me and the boys there for our first summer holiday together, in January 1980. It was amazing how little I could recognise, but when I did it was both comforting and sad. Arrowtown, still so charming but so much more upmarket now. The road along what is now the dam that drowned Cromwell, but in those days was still the river bordered by old gold workings and the best apricot orchards in the country. Butler's Dam, where I took a photo of Jonathan being a dinosaur and Patrick being a caveman with a spear. They were good kids to take away - put them into an interesting landscape, especially one with water and big rocks, and they were off, making up their own world.
Back then we had perfect weather every day. This time it was mostly showery, sometimes really wet, and even cold. But we did manage to wander round the hills, and I filled my pockets with stalks of the wild thyme that grows everywhere. I didn't think to do that thirty-four years ago.
I know this isn't my food blog, but for me food comes into everything. I took it back to the bach and used it to make two things: Nigel Slater's sticky chicken wings, and a very simple pasta sauce with garlic, tinned tomatoes and white wine.
It had a much stronger and yet more smoky, subtle flavour than garden thyme. I felt as if I was eating the essence of Central as it was, with all the memories, and as it still is.