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Career

Annabelle White's recipe to living a happy, contented life

''That's the marvellous thing about getting older – you can be more and more eccentric.''

By Kelly Bertrand
"Talk less, smile more." So goes a line from the hit musical Hamilton and it's also a mantra Annabelle White is trying her best to adopt.
It's not going very well.
In the hour the Weekly has been chatting with the beloved "cuddly cook", we've yarned about everything and anything, including holograms (she's been made into one), Carly Simon (and her night of passion with Warren Beatty), op shops (the best place to buy Easter gifts) and McDonald's fish burgers. ("They're so underrated!")
A conversation with Annabelle roars along; it takes delightful twists and turns along unusual tangents before finally ending up back where you started.
"To cook is to love, and to love is to cook," she says as she pulls on an apron to pose for our photos at Auckland's Chelsea Bay, the visitor centre and café at the iconic sugar factory, home to the hologram version of Annabelle, which people can activate with the push of a button.
"A mother of a little four-year-old boy came up to me the other day and told me how much he loves coming here – he loves pushing the button and seeing flour go all over me! He finds it hysterical. I'm thrilled! If dousing me with flour encourages a smile and a laugh and encourages kids to bake, I'm the happiest girl ever. I don't mind. The only thing I insisted on for that was no nudity."
Annabelle would rather share frozen pizza with great people than endure fine dining with difficult guests.
Her enthusiasm is infectious and her positivity endless.
Take her recent experience in Christchurch, where she shared her signature brand of comedy and cooking at The Food Show.
"It was just joyous," she says.
"The Christchurch food show was an extraordinary insight into the human condition. I was expecting people to be somewhat sombre, I was expecting people to be really sad, I was expecting people hard to warm up – I want them to be warm when they're baking! I have been humbled – and I really mean that, sincerely hand on heart. I was humbled by the love, the attention, the incredible spirit that was there."
Annabelle herself is, as she's thrilled to report, remarkably content, and she's only too happy to pass on tips and tricks as to how she's managed such bliss at the young age of 61.
"Here's something I learned the other day... I'm finding how to talk less to people – not because I don't want to, mind you. It's just that I know I get overexcited, so for everyone else's sake, I should talk less.
"It turns out that people don't approach you when you're wearing a serious knee brace. I had an accident the other day while I was running to my office to file an annual return. (That's another tip – one should never run to the office to file a return.) And since I've been wearing the brace, no-one wants to talk to me – they don't want to hear about the injury. So make it look like you're slightly impaired and no one will talk to you!"
Yes, life according to Ms White is unashamedly authentic, so here are a few life lessons, some food-related, some not, that she's happy to share with her beloved Weekly readers.

Annabelle’s advice for a happy life!

"I do mix the silly with the serious, but I'm being serious now... I really do believe that the secret to life is to do things with warmth.
Be warm and be yourself – that's something my friend Paul Henry has always said, and it's easy for me because I'm not clever enough to do anything else! What you see is what you get. But you should be warm and you should be generous.
I have to say, that's so important. When I'm doing a cooking class about the wonders of baking, people love it if I'm handing out cookbooks or a tea towel. They absolutely love it and it's interactive."

Why conversation is more important than food

If someone makes you feel like the food is more important than the conversation, don't invite them back. I would prefer to have the company of great people and a frozen pizza than fine dining with difficult guests.
They say, 'Always sit opposite the best-looking man at dinner.' Rubbish. He's wonderful to look at, but normally not that interesting – they're usually somewhat self-involved. Sit beside the least attractive man; he'll be more interesting. That's good advice."

Annabelle's perfect day

"My perfect day would be waking up, checking on my mum and dad – they live next door – then going for a walk or a swim. Then half an hour or so of reading and some time to cook.
I know I may look it, but I'm really not a nightclub kind of girl. I don't like a fuss. If you asked me where I want to go to dinner tonight, it would be the Malaysian place up the road."

The marvellous thing about getting older

"The other week, I was away in Chicago writing a travel story. (You'll get to read about that in the Weekly in a few weeks!) I staged sit-ins at restaurants until the chef would come out and talk to me – they must have thought, who on earth is that strange woman sitting in the dining room in that funny hat and raincoat?
But that's the marvellous thing about getting older – you can be more and more eccentric. I love it. I'm as happy as can be! But I do suppose I'm at the age and stage where I'm pacing myself."

Why people take christmas too seriously

"I think it's really important for people to not be too hard on themselves. To all the busy mums and dads and grandmothers out there – you're doing a good job.
New Zealanders are amazing bakers and incredible cooks. The only thing they need to be told is to stop doing so much. Take Christmas – people will make chocolate éclairs, trifle, pavlova and meringue, for goodness' sake. Stop! Delegate or make one thing. If people want a trifle, they can do it themselves!"

Annabelle’s Easter tips:

  • "If you're going to someone's place, do take a present. Don't take them something from the petrol station or an Easter
    egg – put a bit of thought in. If they love Frank Sinatra, go to the op shop and get some old CDs. There's nothing wrong with saying, 'I was at the op shop and thought of you.' People love that kind of thing."
  • "Don't stay too long and do offer to help. A friend of a friend had George Clooney and his wife for dinner. He not only cleared the plates, but he stacked the dishwasher! George could do whatever he likes – in the kitchen, I mean. I think he'd be an amazing man!"
  • "Don't call it a dinner party – keep it simple. Tell people you're just having hot cross buns and a chicken salad, and say, 'Come on over.' It gets so complicated now. I understand why people are loath to have people around."
  • "If I were having friends around, I'd make my easy summer fruitcake. It's on my website. You can chuck whatever fruit
    in there. The experts say that if your love life is a little bit lacklustre and the man of your dreams is under the
    age of 60, cinnamon does the trick. If he's over 60, it's vanilla. So I say, put heaps of vanilla and cinnamon in everything and you have all your bases covered."
Annabelle learned from her broadcaster friend Paul Henry
that being authentic is the secret to life. "What you see is what you get!"

Annabelle’s Top 10 Baking Tips

1. When baking, it's important to follow the recipe. But, you can make adjustments. For example, if
it's an apple and cinnamon cake, you can make a pear and ginger cake, if you want to. But stick to the original recipe on your first go.
2. Unless the recipe calls for melted or ice-cold butter, always have your butter at room temperature. It creams so much better.
3. When you're creaming butter and sugar, go further than you would think. It changes colour, yes, but it must not be granular. If you find butter at the bottom of your cake tins, it's probably because you haven't creamed it properly. Chefs have told me that this is the number-one baking mistake.
4. Separate eggs straight out of the fridge, because cold eggs separate far better. But room temperature eggs make a
far better muffin or cake.
5. Sift your flour – this is really important. For a sponge, sift it three times. And don't skimp – buy good quality flour.
6. Before you measure out baking powder, always stir it. And if moths fly out, for goodness' sake go and buy some more. One shouldn't use mothy baking powder.
7. Though the recipe may give you a cooking time, you know your oven. If your oven runs hot, check it after 50 minutes if the recipe calls for 60.
8. If you have a baking malfunction, a sprinkle of icing sugar covers all manner of sins.
9. If you're a guest and you're presented with a burnt cake, don't state the obvious! Don't say anything. And if you're peanut-allergic, vegan, vegetarian or all these things, offer to bring your own food.
10. If your host offers you tea and coffee towards the end of your visit, look at your watch. You have 20 minutes to leave the building. Do not stay on after 20 minutes. If you go to someone's place for afternoon tea, don't stay longer than an hour and a half. People have things to do. Kiwis are way too nice to tell you to leave!

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