Annabel Langbein's vegetable garden is growing slowly in Wanaka. The author's peonies are in full bloom and the roses are out and proud, but the veges are taking their own sweet time.
"We've got the first blush of beautiful spring flowers but in the vegetable garden it is really just snow peas, rocket and lettuce. It isn't until late January here that you get the summer harvest, which in Auckland you'll be getting about now."
The Free Range Cook is fine with that – she's taking some long, deep breaths after completing her recently released memoir Bella: My Life in Food, and excitedly gearing up for her 26-year-old daughter Rose to return home after years abroad.
When the Weekly speaks to Annabel in early December, Rose has just arrived from New York and is in mandatory two-week quarantine with her partner. Annabel can't get to Rose yet, but true to form she's made sure some delicious food has.
"I asked a nice friend to collect some goodies for a care package for Rose with yummy ciabatta, crackers, avocados, cheese, smoked salmon and wine. There's a wonderful sense of relief to know she's safely back – I'm counting the sleeps until I get to give her a hug!"
Despite Rose having lived away from home since she was 17, the pair are a tight team and Rose was the first to lay eyes on Annabel's book.
"I was a bit nervous and so I would send her the chapters and she would be my sounding board. She's incredibly well-educated. She studied French, philosophy and literature at Melbourne University, with her final year at Sciences Po in Paris and she has a great understanding of writing. It was really helpful."
Annabel will be returning that favour when Rose returns to Wanaka, where she will live in a self-contained cabin on Annabel and husband Ted Hewetson's land. There, Rose has plans to follow in her mum's footsteps.
"We get along so well and our brains seem to work the same way," says Annabel of their relationship. "I am so excited about her coming home because there are cookbooks she wants to write and I want to help her."
And she can because Annabel is enjoying a pause after writing her book, taking stock while she decides what happens next.
The stories Annabel's told in her recently released book have already garnered plenty of attention: leaving home at 16 to live commune-style in the bush, living in a squat in South America in her early 20s, where she was shot at by fascist police, and laying her eyes on her husband Ted for the first time, while hiding up a tree.
"The insight that I had while writing the book was that I'd used up a lifetime supply of adrenaline and that my interest in engaging in adrenaline is no more!" she says emphatically.
Asked how her parents coped with her wild younger years, Annabel says she understands because with Rose, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.
"She is very headstrong. She's a mini-me," Annabel says with a laugh. "She is very intrepid. She wanted to take a gap year after seventh form and spent about four months working as a volunteer in an orphanage in Jaipur. She flew there by herself and it was only when I arrived that I went 'holy cupcakes!' It was tougher than I could have ever imagined. It was lonely and she was the only English speaking person there, but she did it."
Annabel also recalls trying to convince a 20-year-old Rose not to travel alone to Myanmar, after spending 10 days on a drip in a Delhi hospital.
"She was so staunch and there was nothing I could do to change her mind. I said, 'You've been really sick and you are going to a country where there is even less infrastructure – wouldn't it be a good idea to go with someone?' But whenever I try to convince her of these things, she just says 'Mother, have you forgotten?'"
During New Zealand's first lockdown in March, Annabel spent five hours a day, seven days a week, remembering her own adventures.
"I gave myself the mornings to write," she tells. "The first and last chapter took a while, but the middle just came out. There were just so many stories that came back to me. I found all my old diaries and photos from South America, and they were like triggers for the memories."
Some of those recollections are gritty. These were fearless, off-the-beaten-track adventures.
"You would never speak to your parents because phone calls were so expensive – there were only aerogrammes to pick up from the local Poste Restante. They would go for months without hearing from me. I remember being in Bolivia for about three months and there were two or three coups during that time. I arrived in a town where the night before they had lined 20 people up in the square and blown them up."
The experiences taught her gratitude. "I would travel on the side of a truck with someone who had a tiny piece of bread that they would hold on to for dear life. I remember the hunger in their eyes and the big cracks in their feet. They were mining workers whose average lifespan was about 40."
It's easy to assume from these tales that Annabel was attracted to danger, but she says that wasn't the case – she had a desire to experience how other cultures lived. An urge she still gets.
"Recently, I arrived in Beijing to do some work for the government and we were staying in this hotel outside the tourist area and all I wanted to do was put a backpack on and go explore. It's a really visceral sense of adventure."
Writing the book provided a welcome relief from the anxiety she was feeling about her children, who were both living overseas during the chaos of 2020. Rose was in New York amidst the Black Lives Matter protests and Sean was on the front line in the UK, working as a junior doctor at Croydon University Hospital in London.
"Sean has had a really horrible year working for the National Health Service. They were told they would get Covid-19, and he did, and he has never been sicker in his life. He's okay now, but he looked translucent for months. He was being paid £12 an hour working 12-hour shifts in intensive care with people dying left right and centre.
"We have all seen the clips from the hospitals and the salutes to healthcare workers around the world, but I just think we don't have any idea here of how horrendous it has been."
That anxiety Annabel was feeling for her children was only exacerbated by the growing nerves she was having about her book.
"I thought, 'Holy crap, people are actually going to read this.' It wasn't like writing the cookbooks where I was sharing skills and knowledge, this was about my life and so I actually felt quite vulnerable.
"It isn't all peaches and cream, life can throw you all sorts of balls that are curvy and hard. I relived those experiences and I felt I was exposing parts of myself that I hadn't exposed before. Now I'm getting emails from people saying how moved and empowered they are by the book, so I'm feeling better, but it has taken me until now to feel like I'm back on an even keel again."
Life in lockdown was helped by Annabel and Rose making Instagram cooking videos to share with people at home. The pair would do day about – Rose in New York and Annabel in Wanaka.
"People loved it and want us to do it again. I love Instagram as a medium, for its immediacy, apart from the fact my husband would fail to tell me I was having a bad hair day. I'd look at the video and go, 'Why didn't you tell me about that bird nest at the back of my head!'"
But there is nothing like being together in person and Annabel is counting the days until she has her daughter home in the flesh.
"I can't wait to see that lovely smile," she says of Rose. "She is just a really fun, gorgeous person to be around and she and I bounce ideas off each other like crazy. Plus, she cooks delicious food so I know she will invite us over for dinner!"
And while she is looking forward to helping Rose with her cookbooks, she also believes her daughter has what it takes to start paving her own way.
"Rose has a great palate and she will be surprised by what she knows. She has been in New York for a couple of years and done a lot of work in food, and she's also had the opportunity to eat so many amazing things. Over lockdown, she would be popping off to Eataly [an upmarket food store in Manhattan] to get burrata and fresh clams and I would be going up to the vegetable garden and raiding the apocalypse pantry that seems to have been accumulating for years!
"Rose and I both love Christmas, so I get the chance to fluff a bit! I think Christmas is even more important for everyone this year – we have all had a hell of a year.
"I hope it will be less about presents and more about being together and creating memories. What Covid taught us is you are not defined by how much money and stuff you have, you are defined by your integrity and kindness, and the ideas you share with the world."