For more than 30 years, Annabel Langbein has been a presence in most Weekly readers' homes. Her recipe books and television shows have helped us navigate all the major food trends and to cook interesting meals for our families.
But for the past 18 months, Annabel has been on a quest to find herself after so many years as a successful career woman.
"I only have one regret about that time and that was that I worked way too hard and lost me," shares Annabel. "I paid a price and got really burnt out in my late 30s and I hope my daughter doesn't work as hard when she has a family.
"I always thought that I could never get off that bus because if you got off it, you might not get back again. I thought that if I lost my financial independence, I would lose my sense of self."
At the age of 63, she has finally stepped off that bus. She has finally given herself time to find "me".
"I made the decision after I wrote my memoir Bella that I wasn't going to be in the front any more, pushing ideas. I found myself feeling that I was really cooked. It has been a huge change for me."
Annabel has been reading Madeleine Albright's latest book Hell and Other Destinations, which has resonated with her.
"She wrote something when she was 63, exactly my age – 'I was intent on making the next stage of my life more exciting than the last.' I said, 'Hell, yes' to that. That's the energy I'm channelling in my life right now."
Annabel says she has pivoted. "I'm looking to make my cooking a touchstone in a bigger life with new challenges."
Talking from her home in Wanaka via Zoom during lockdown with her husband Ted Hewetson, on a very wintry day, Annabel has just been cooking with her daughter Rose, something they love to do together, and is keen to talk about the steps she has taken to pull back from her busy life.
"Sometimes you can just be so busy with your head down and then suddenly a decade has gone by and you think, 'Oh, heck, I need to think about the things that really make me happy and allow me to be useful.' "
Annabel says she's still interested in adding value to people's lives as she has with her cookbooks and TV shows, but she's become less interested in business life. And while she's still happy to help with things, she will no longer be leading the pack.
"With this pandemic, it has become a time to be reflective, to think less about doing and more about being. To think about what is my rhythm for life.
"It's quite a shift and I had to work hard at sitting with that decision. But it's also amazing how I could relinquish it all so easily. I was so ready to go there."
First came the pottery class she took in Nelson for a few weeks, followed by a two-hour lesson most days, and then had the freedom to work with a wheel and create some pieces.
"My mother was a great potter, but I hadn't touched a piece of clay since I was 15 years old. I had no idea how much I would love it – it was like a meditation just pulling this clay up. It sounds stupid, but I was in the zone!"
Annabel gets up and takes her laptop over to the window where she has arranged the most beautiful collection of white bowls on a table. They really are special.
"They're not glazed yet, but aren't they great?" she says proudly.
The experience of learning how to make pottery ignited a desire in Annabel to explore her creativity, which includes writing. Not cookbooks, but more writing stories as she did in her memoir.
"I guess by nature I'm a creative person, so it's nice to just sit with that and see what comes up for me."
One thing Annabel has returned to in a big way is nature. She has always had gardens, and in Wanaka she has beautiful gardens, and like many people, being outside makes her feel the best she can be.
"Ted built me a greenhouse last Christmas and I spend so much time in there every day growing things. If I couldn't get there, I think I would throw a huge tantrum,"
Annabel is also reaching back into her youth when she hung out with Maoist hippies in the bush and also spent time as a possum trapper, all revealed in her book Bella.
"When I left school, I got out of Wellington so fast because I didn't want to live in a city and I feel that strongly. We made the decision to move down to Wanaka permanently and live in our studio in the garden because it felt like what I needed."
And with that move came some new friendships with women who made her feel welcome in her new neighbourhood.
"For a lot of my life, I don't think I was a great friend because I was always so busy," she admits. "One of my oldest and dearest friends in Auckland pulled me up on this and made me realise that I had to learn how to be a good friend."
Annabel still has her old pals in Auckland, but in Wanaka she has made friends with a range of women who all have different professions, from midwife and nurse to a business owner and a marketer.
"We have a group we have loosely called a film club, but I think we've only managed to see one film. We have a WhatsApp group and someone will message that we should all have a drink at a bar, or go for a walk or do a yoga class.
"Moving to Wanaka has given me a real sense of community. I can be with these girls and have a really bad day, and they just don't care.
"It made me realise that I wouldn't go back to my busy corporate life for anything."
While Annabel has been making personal changes for the past 18 months, it has coincided with the existence of Covid-19 and everything that has brought with it to change the world we live in.
She says she had terrible anxiety in the early days because her son Sean, 29, who is a doctor in England, was working intubating Covid victims and got sick with the virus himself.
"He looked like wallpaper glue, all transparent, and I couldn't do anything for
him or be there to help," she laments.
Rose, 27, was living in the lower east side of New York, where there were riots.
"I felt like there was this hum of anxiety in the world and I got really anxious," she recalls. "I had to turn off all media to get through it."
And, like many Kiwi families, her children have started returning to New Zealand. Rose decided to come home and is now living next to Annabel and Ted in a cabin on the property.
But what has remained for Annabel is a need to feel grounded and to acknowledge how lucky she is to live in Aotearoa. And she is also thinking about how she can best help others.
"I don't have an answer, but I do know that I am at a stage in my life when I can help in some way. I can go on Instagram and share a recipe for scones because in lockdown anyone can do this. And in a world where it's increasingly difficult to feel successful and useful, cooking is a thing that can actually be a little bit of your day that you can own. It can make you feel whole and you can nourish other people."
Annabel pauses for a moment, then says, "I sound like I'm ranting."
She's not ranting. What she is doing is thinking hard about what it means to be in this world, especially here in New Zealand, as many of us find ourselves doing at the moment.
She's angry about industrial food practices marketing terrible food to our children and wants to be a part of building a country the world admires. She is planting lots of flowers to bring herself joy, learning and practising meditation every day, as well as reading more books because "they expand your world view".
Oh, and she's helping to launch a new gin later in the year – a flash of the old Annabel peeking through into her new life.
"I have about seven buckets outside, each with 20 litres of different gins I've been experimenting with. I go out occasionally and taste them with a teaspoon!"
But mostly she feels she has nearly found what she has been looking for, by stopping searching and letting her curiosity and serendipity take over.
"I'm clawing back that time for me, being curious and open to creativity, and I feel that leaves the way open for serendipity. The space is open for wonderful things to happen.
"I've got my feet firmly planted on the ground. I'm not crystal-gazing, but I'm now taking the time to look up and be open."