Nici Wickes: Love (and feed) thy neighbour

By Nici Wickes

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Whitebait season has begun. Photo / Jacqui Church
Whitebait season has begun. Photo / Jacqui Church

Today I noticed the nets were out. Like great, white billowing sails they float above the river, droplets raining down like glitter, before being dipped again. Another whitebait season has begun.

When I came to live in this small community on the west coast, just south of Auckland, a startling thing happened the day I moved in. The gruff man next door hailed me over the fence. He thrust a newspaper-wrapped bundle at me. "For your tea." I went inside and quietly wept. With joy. I was part of that club, the one where neighbours share such prized treasures as freshly caught whitebait.

That was ten years ago and since then I've been the grateful recipient of freshly caught snapper, a few live crayfish, smoked mullet still warm, sun-ripened peaches, wild ducks, shot and plucked, buckets of plump figs, coconut ice and cupcakes from the girls next door in the school holidays . . . the list goes on and on.

One deathly cold day when a power cut had gone on for too long, I fired up the gas burners and cooked up a huge chicken and red wine stew and divvied it up between the dear 80-year-old across the road, the 23-year-old larrikin two doors down, whose music sometimes drives me crazy, and myself.

It warmed us all up beautifully. I've made meat pies for the boys who helped get my car started and homemade Malay-style roti canai for the couple who saved me at 10pm one night by having an egg when I needed it for a cake recipe I was testing.

Food is a gift and it's meant to be shared. Go on, make something this weekend and surprise your neighbour with it.

- VIVA


* Look for Viva food editor Nici Wickes' report each Friday.

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