Finding peace in scones
It was the midnight blues that gave former office worker Vincie Billante a new career.
Formerly manager of the Building Recovery Office, which was replaced by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), Billante moved to the Building Consents Authority and worked with the royal commission of inquiry into the failure of buildings in which so many lives were lost in the February 2011 earthquake.
"At the time this was all happening, I developed a bad case of insomnia and would often bake in the middle of the night and bring in my creations to the consent teams in the morning," Billante says.
"They joked I could make a lot of money if I sold them at the market."
On her return from a meditation retreat where she had gone searching for some "inner peace", Billante found changes in the council management meant she wasn't needed any more.
"Funny how the universe delivers," she says.
"It suddenly took me out of a really toxic environment that was detrimental to my health and sanity to where I had no deadlines and nobody to report to, but of course, no income."
The change forced her to think about what she would like to be doing and the idea of taking her scones to the market appealed.
Next steps were to investigate setting up a business, and jump through the licensing hoops. Coming up with a name for her business, Gretchen's Kitchen, was the easiest part, Billante says.
"The business is named after my grandmother, Gretchen Hobbs. She lived in Reefton and was well known throughout the district for her baking. Her shortbread was legendary."
Billante began experimenting with different scone flavours and built up a repertoire of 25 varieties.
She says the favourite savoury flavours are the spinach and feta, and the bacon, blue cheese and onion scones.
In the sweet scones category, pumpkin, spice and chocolate are very popular, and her apple, cinnamon, maple syrup and walnut have a good following.
Her date scones are also a hit, which she attributes to their "double hit of dates".
"I use a date compote as the basis and chop more dates in the mixture, so there's the full flavour."
Making and selling scones has introduced her to people she would never have met otherwise.
"I met some terrible people last year who showed me the worst of human nature but they served to strengthen my resolve to stand up for what I believe in. And then I met so many talented and wonderful people who helped me achieve my dream and will be lifelong friends on this journey.
"Being able to bake my way through depression and destitution has been an experience. I think my Nana would be proud of me."
Gretchen's Kitchen is at Riccarton House farmers market on Saturdays and Riccarton Rotary Market on Sundays.