Two of the coldest winters of my life were spent in the Ureweras, where I made a living as a possum-trapper and occasionally as a jumper for the guys running helicopters on live deer recovery. Winters were the time when the fur prices were the highest, so we would head into the bush for two or three weeks at a time, coming out only to replenish supplies and get our skins tacked and dried.

I was 18 when I first signed up for this lifestyle. I had a 185cc Yamaha trailbike, which got me an hour up the track and from there it was another hour's tramp on a less well-marked path to "home", a euphemism if ever there was one, for the miserable, cold shack in the middle of the bush that I shared with my boyfriend and a red setter called Missy.

At the start of each season we would lug all our supplies and gear to this hovel, fording thigh-high rivers with camp ovens and toastie-pie makers, sacks of rice, pumpkins and onions, bread and spices, cheese and butter, toilet paper and toothpaste, packfuls of bedding and clothing. We never had to worry about anything going off — the whole place was one giant fridge.

My daily routine involved checking and laying lines over a radius of about 3km. I would get home tired, hungry and cold and then have to turn around and get a fire going in order to cook dinner. Everything went into the camp oven, emerging a hour or so later as some kind of stew or soup (curry powder, cumin and soup mix were pretty much the sum of flavour profiles in those days). We would eat, huddled over the fire, before retiring, usually fully clothed, to bed. In the mornings it would be so cold that the eggs would be frozen.


I have no doubt that this all sounds like some kind of nightmare but I remember how much fun I had and how happy I was. I loved the bush and the freedom and the sense of being so connected to nature. Even though it was bone-chillingly cold and we lived on the smell of an oily rag, I have never felt so alive.

Now, when it's cold and stormy outside, I think back to this time of my life, living outdoors without any of the trappings of modern life. I know that these experiences gave me the appreciation that I have for nature and have sustained my ideas about living resourcefully.

What better way to eat close to the earth than with vegetables. Roasted, pureed or baked to creamy tenderness, they are nature's salve for the soul.

Roasted Beet and Rocket Salad

Ready in 1 hour
Serves 6

Roasted beetroot and rocket salad. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Roasted beetroot and rocket salad. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

4-5 medium beetroot, peeled and cut into 2cm wedges
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp soft brown sugar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
200g rocket leaves
25g baby beet leaves (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup roasted almonds
120g feta cheese, crumbled or grated

Preheat oven to 180C fanbake. Place the beetroot wedges in a large roasting dish lined with baking paper and mix through 2 Tbsp of the oil and the sugar, vinegar and salt and pepper. Spread out into a single layer. Roast for 40-45 minutes until tender and just starting to shrivel. Allow beets to cool in the roasting dish. Toss rocket leaves and baby beet leaves, if using, with the lemon juice and the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. Divide between 6 serving plates. Divide cooled roasted beetroot over the top and scatter with almonds and feta to serve.

Annabel says: Caramelised beets, creamy feta and crunchy almonds make a great combination in this simple salad. I often serve this with a roasted chicken for a winter weekend lunch.

Parsnip and Carrot Mash

Ready in 45 mins
Serves 6-8

Parsnip and carrot mash. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Parsnip and carrot mash. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

500g baby carrots or 5-6 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 medium parsnips, peeled and diced
4 Tbsp butter
2 tsp tarragon or parsley, chopped
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Boil the carrots and parsnips in lightly salted water until tender (25-30 minutes). Drain thoroughly and mash well by hand or whizz in a food processor. Add the butter and tarragon or parsley, season with salt and pepper and stir until smooth and well combined. Serve hot.

Annabel says: This is really good with any kind of slow-cook or braise. Take the idea and create your own mash combos with roots such as beetroot, carrots, parsnips, potato or kumara as well as pumpkin and roasted cauliflower. You want one starchy vege in the mix to give the mash a creamy smooth texture — cauliflower and potato are good, as are beet and parsnip.

Creamy Pumpkin and Sage Gratin

Ready in 1¾ hours
Serves 6-8

 Creamy pumpkin and sage gratin. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Creamy pumpkin and sage gratin. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

1.3kg pumpkin, seeds removed
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup cream
½ tsp ground nutmeg
60g butter
16 fresh sage leaves

Preheat oven to 180C fanbake. Season pumpkin with a little salt and pepper, place in a shallow tray and bake until tender — about 1 hour. (This can be done well in advance as it keeps 2-3 days in the fridge.) When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and place in a food processor with stock, cream, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and ground black pepper to taste. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a shallow baking dish or divide between 8 gratin moulds and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. While gratin is baking, heat butter and sage leaves in a small pot over medium-low heat until leaves are crispy and butter is lightly browned. Spoon sage butter with leaves over cooked gratin just before serving.

Annabel says: Serve alongside roasted meats or braises or as a standalone vegetarian dish accompanied by a salad.