All you can eat BBQ challenge
Summer's longer days and warmer breezes bring with them a handful of truths: jandals are acceptable work wear if they are made of something other than rubber; an afternoon spent napping in the sun is an afternoon well spent; and for as long as possible, the stove should be rejected in favour of the barbecue.
Cooking outdoors for three days - in the name of journalism - sounds easy. Unless you live in Auckland where it rains at the most inconvenient times, or if you forgot to clean your barbecue properly in April, before you shoved the cover back on and forgot about it. But with a pre-clean done, oversized tongs in hand and gas bottle filled, I was ready.
I voiced just one self-imposed rule as we started this gas-burning adventure: No sausages, of any kind. I was better than that, more imaginative than that. It should have been easy. It was not.
They' say you should start as you mean to go on. Well, I hope ''they'' are great big liars because I think carrying on like this will end in hungry, angry tears.
The classic bacon and eggs should be a doddle. After all, the hot plate is just a bigger frying pan that doesn't move, right?
The meaty part of the equation was fine, as bacon tends to be - happy to mind its own business, all crispy and delicious-smelling.
It was the bowlful of scrambled eggs, milk, salt and pepper that highlighted the very slight, very unfortunate lean our newly-positioned barbecue was on.
Quickly, a calm Saturday morning turned into an attempt to save the Titanic. Eggs sped towards a poorly positioned gap, flooding it as the escape to uncooked freedom began.
Bacon was deployed to plug the hole. There may have been some desperate screaming for a fish slice. Marvellous.
With a few hours to recover, lunch was a much more stable affair: ciabatta, lightly toasted with a medley of smashed tomato, crushed basil, topped with crumbled feta cheese, all drizzled with an emulsion of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.
Okay, so it was tomato on toast, but at least there was no mess. Or tears.
By dinnertime the cooking gods decided to smile on me - no manning the barbecue tonight. A friend kindly offered to throw around some sausages and they tasted all the better for it.
It might have been breaking my only rule, but did you read the bit about the egg fiasco? Food I don't have to wrestle with is my favourite kind of food.
Last night's sausage fest was possibly downed with a beer or two, so this is less breakfast and more a late, late lunch. And I have weakened my resolve to avoid bangers even further.
I have no standards now; these ones have cheese in them. Why isn't it easier to cook pies on this thing?
To be nice to the parts of me feeling delicate this morning (afternoon - whatever) I throw a couple of tomatoes on there too; wrapped up in bread, it almost makes everything better.
After lunchtime's slack effort it was decided that dinner would be an extravagant affair. The Sunday Seafood Spectacular.
I'm usually a timid seafood chef, but chose to ignore all prior form and chuck prawns, mussels (I don't even like mussels!) and a bit of salmon on the barbecue, along with asparagus, a pot of minted potatoes and enough of a famous chef's smoked manuka butter mashed with garlic to do some damage.
By the time I start it's basically dark, but the mussels all open like they are meant to, the prawns are a pain to peel, but delicious, and the salmon makes the backyard smell, rather than the house.
We follow it with a plate of brownies and strawberries. Oh, did I not mention I made chocolate brownies earlier in the day? That's right, I baked. On a barbecue. Bet Nigella hasn't tried that.
Sure, they didn't turn out perfectly - after being in the 'oven' 30 minutes longer than usual, I got bored and pulled the pan out while they were still a little squidgy in the middle - but still, brownies on the barbecue! This has to be the meal of the weekend.
Thankfully we stayed up and scrubbed the barbecue clean of mussel juice in the dark last night - I doubt this morning's grilled pineapple would have been quite as tasty with the lingering flavour of Sunday Seafood Spectacular.
But if anyone had seen us this morning - alternating barbecue-babysitting shifts between pre-work showering, shaving, ironing and feeding the cat, in all states of undress - eyebrows may have been raised.
With the added challenge of dodging incoming rain, throwing the warm caramely pineapple down our throats as we ran out the door was a bit of a waste.
And I cheated for lunch. I completely forgot to sort out something portable to eat at my desk, so instead it was a sandwich from the cafe downstairs - though the veges inside it had been char-grilled.
To top off a disappointing cooking day, it turns out barbecueing after nine hours at work isn't the most exciting way to spend an evening.
Or maybe that should be, after three days of thinking of very little else, I can't be bothered. Tonight, our final meal before I biff the barbecue over the fence to avoid cleaning it again, is a rack of lamb, which I manage to both burn and slightly undercook.
It seems I can bake a cake but not meat on this thing. The veges - more asparagus (they've got to be the best thing about summer), eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms and the apparently controversial kale chip - fare a little better.
It looks pretty good on the plate and once the meat is sussed it doesn't taste too bad, either. My favourite part of this three-day challenge?
Throwing the cover back on, locking the back door and pulling the curtains so I can't see it any more... until I'm told we're having people over for a barbecue this weekend - and can I be on cooking duties?
Sunday Star Times