A Quiet Kitchen by Nici Wickes
When the global pandemic spread around the world in 2020, Nici Wickes had just lost the job she loved and was living alone in a small seaside community. During lockdown, it was cooking that kept her grounded and sustained her. Using ingredients she had to hand, Nici posted daily videos on social media. These spontaneous, hilarious cooking sessions, recorded on her phone (which not infrequently fell off the window sill and into the food!) soon gained thousands of followers. Her easy tasty recipes were the inspiration for this cookbook.
Lockdown was also a time for reflection and in A Quiet Kitchen Nici Wickes has opened the door and welcomed us not just into her kitchen but also into her life. There have been lows: going through a difficult menopause, coping with depression, overcoming binge drinking, and some serious health issues, but also highs: a highly successful career cooking and writing about food, times travelling the world and enjoying spending time with family and friends.
Now in her mid-age, Nici is enjoying a slower pace and is content living in her little house in a small seaside community with her darling cat Joshua.
Each chapter begins with a brief story about a different phase of her life, followed by recipes that brought her joy at that time. Many of these are for single servings.
‘I may be single but that doesn’t have to mean missing out on the nurturing quality of homemade food or the celebration of a simple yet fabulous feast.' she writes.
She cooks a proper dinner for herself every night. But when you live alone, you can be self-indulgent and have pudding for a meal any time of the day. Crumbles and fruit sponges are her favourites.
Singles-serve recipes can be hard to find and are often a bit dour. Cookbook writers seem to be oblivious to the fact that there are lots of people living solo who are interested in good food and cooking. These people will love Nici’s recipes.
In another chapter, she looks back fondly on her many food adventures overseas and has posted some of her favourite dishes from all around the world including Sicilian meatballs, Balinese salad and crispy rice crackers, and chicken and prawn laksa.
When overseas travel was not possible due to Covid, Nici discovered the joys of travelling around New Zealand. Cooking in a campervan, she perfected the art of cooking tamarillo steamed puddings in empty tomato cans which were always to hand.
Her habit of binge drinking is over but although she no longer drinks her cupboards are still well filled with alcohol because it imbues such wonderful flavours to so many dishes. A tablespoon of brandy and rum in her boozy bananas is optional but it does add to the deliciousness.
When dealing with a serious health issue, Nici discovered that going largely gluten free and eating loads more vegetables helped greatly and she has also included many of these in her book.
I have cooked up a storm of her recipes this week. We especially enjoyed her autumnal cabbage salad (the dressing is made with pomegranate molasses), her tray baked potatoes (crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle), and the capsicum and orange salad for which the capsicums are pan fried and then tossed with orange segments and a fruity vinegar. Her Vietnamese caramelized pork claypot was so easy!
The decent seed crackers (much more affordable than buying them) were excellent served with soft blue cheese.
I have to admit we ate too many sweet treats, but no-one was complaining! Favourites were her gluten free ginger crunch to which sesame seeds added an appealing nutty flavour and the crinkly flourless chocolate cookies. I baked the one-bowl chocolate cake for my daughter’s birthday which fed us all generously.
Patience is not one of my virtues. I turned her gluten free rhubarb and apple cake out on a plate too hastily and it turned into apple crumble. Never mind, we enjoyed it for dessert!
Todd Eyer’s photographs of Nici contentedly cooking in her kitchen or coming out of the sea after her daily ocean dip looking radiantly healthy, perfectly capture the happy middle-aged, single, and childfree woman she is today.
Nici wanted this book to be a cookbook, but also a guide to become accomplished at living alone, healthily, joyfully, quietly, whilst still feeling engaged and connected to the world and staying open to the great mystery of it all. She has totally accomplished this!
Reviewer: Lyn Potter