Nadia Lim gets her hands dirty a year on from lockdown –

Posted: March 23, 2021 at 2:17 pm

When she was a child, Nadia Lim and her lizard caused a car crash.

I was the kid who was entertained for hours catching little frogs. That was my idea of fun, she recalls.

I had pet lizards that I would catch during school lunchtime. Then Id sneak them back in the car on the way home. Until one escaped and ran all over the car and caused an accident.

When Lim was six, the family moved to Kuala Lumpur for six years, where the chance to get out and into nature was limited (we had snakes in our garden, in the long grass. If you found one, you had to call the local snake control guy, and hed come and chop its head off. It was quite horrific). But from a young age, she was interested in how things grow.

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She remembers helping her grandmother in her garden, back in New Zealand, weeding and learning in equal measure.

These days Lim, the woman with her name on more than 10 cookbooks, one picture book and a magazine, the co-founder of My Food Bag, the winner of MasterChef, the host of New Zealands favourite lockdown cooking show, and as of next week, Lifes newest columnist, is still happiest getting her hands dirty, chasing chickens and pruning pea shoots on her farm, just outside Arrowtown.

The family - Lim and husband Carlos Bagrie have two sons, Bodhi, 4, and River, 2 - upped sticks for the country just months before Covid-19 hit, finding their special slice of paradise after years of searching for the right property.


The joy of being forced to slow down was a treasured time for the 35-year-old as both a mum and a cook.

We feel so lucky and so grateful for the timing of our move, she says, a year on from the country being put into Level 4 for the first time. And we are so lucky to have all the space that we do.

The space - both physically and mentally - helped, at least in part, with Lim becoming New Zealands Queen of Lockdown Cooking last year. Her off-the-cuff TV show, Nadias Comfort Kitchen, filmed at home on the farm, with Bagrie behind the camera and her boys running around in the background, was watched by more than 1.2 million of us. We lapped up the idyllic country kitchen scenes, and her ideas for what we could cook when wed lost the ability to easily nip to the supermarket, deep in Level 4 drudgery.

Lim says during that lockdown, she went to the supermarket just twice - and (ironically) only to buy supplies needed for the TV show.

[During lockdown] we had all our own vegetables, and hunted meat, Carlos would go out and get rabbits, deer, goat. We had wild boar bacon and sausages already made, luckily. And we had our own honey and eggs, so we were pretty much self-sufficient.

Im inundated with the amount of produce we grow. We dont have to buy anything, except for flour, milk, oil, salt, pepper - and wine! she says.

Its clear Lim knows she is fortunate. But the joy of being forced to slow down was a treasured time for the 35-year-old as both a mum and a cook. And it allowed her to indulge one of her greatest passions in the kitchen - ingenuity.

I get an almost anxious feeling in my stomach if there is waste. And lockdown made me become even more resourceful. I would not waste a single scrap. I was going out and picking elderberries and making syrup. It was almost like this squirrelling activity, where you were stockpiling for a rainy day.

Its a feeling she thinks many of us shared, coupled with a chance to stop, and concentrate on the simple things, when what was going on in the world around us was far from straightforward.

People really, really enjoyed getting back to basics. And thats what a lot of us are missing in our crazy, busy lives right now. Im a hypocrite - I fill my days up, and I cant say I have a simple life, because I fill it up from head to toe doing all sorts of things. But lockdown really honed in on the fact that, deep down inside, everyone craves simplicity.

And hopefully people have held onto some of that. I know I still think about it.

It wasnt perfect though. Balancing working from home with two young kids was never going to be. And Lim says like many children, her eldest son struggled after the initial excitement of having the family all in one place for such a long time.

To begin with, [the kids] thrived, she says. Hanging out with mum and dad, and the novelty of it all. But at the three-week mark, [Bodhi] started to go, what is going on? How long is this going to drag on for? And he started getting quite depressed. It was really sad to see that in a little three-and-a-half-year-old. Hed just lie around, and you could see his brain thinking, what is going on?

It was a situation even us grown-ups struggled to comprehend at times. In the same boat as parents around the world, Lim and her husband explained things to their children honestly.

Weve never hidden anything from them, and that goes for life and death on the farm, too. [Bodhi] knows exactly how that works; from when he was two, and he could understand words, wed show him things, and explain that this animal is dead. Poor animal. And it was the same explaining coronavirus, we just explained how it was, and he seemed to respond well to being told the truth.

For Lim, a self-confessed introvert, the time away from the hustle and bustle of normal life was a welcome retreat. While she wasnt exactly putting her feet up - remember that making-a-TV-show-from-scratch decision - there was a comfort in the wider world slowing down.

We are quite isolated here, but I don't mind that. Ive never minded that. I could quite easily become a bit of a recluse, she says, with a bit of a laugh. It felt like we had gone back in time...which I loved, because I should have been born 100 years ago, she says.

I was very busy. But I think I was mentally and physically okay almost by default. Because there were no cars, and because there were no planes, all you could hear were the birds - day and night. And thats got to be so good for your mental health.

And for someone consumed by food, this rural life is utopia.

Lim has just finished writing best before dates on egg cartons for her chickens finest, as she starts to wander around her garden. While we speak, she talks admiringly of the 7 hectare of sunflower fields, and the golden ripples of ripening barley. Soon, she and Bagrie will be planting a sea of blue lupin, and hopefully adding more to their collection of 12 bee hives.

Later, our conversation will be interrupted by Rocky the rooster, normally the farms alarm clock, cock-a-doodling the day awake at 5.40am. Today, he just wanted to (loudly) remind Lim he still needed feeding.

[The farm] is pretty much all we think about and talk about, and it forms part of the bigger picture with what weve always been involved in with food, Lim says, reflecting on a career that started 10 years ago when she swapped her job as a dietitian to take the MasterChef crown.

Ive always been involved with whats on your plate, and Ive felt a deep responsibility to be involved with how the food gets there.

Its all constant, constant learning. I knew this already, but the best farmers are observers of nature. You have to look, every day, at how things are changing. I keep a little diary, and so does Carlos. But you take notes, and it really does teach you; you start to pick up on natures rhythm and become almost quite in tune with it.

Todays entry is going to be about her cauliflower and the current battle with white butterflies. Yesterday, she wrote about a heritage corn experiment which proved exactly where in the garden gets just enough sun to ensure a bumper crop - or at least, where to avoid.

But its the same as my cooking; its mostly self-taught, and is helped by an innate interest in it.

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Nadia Lim gets her hands dirty a year on from lockdown -

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