Annabel Langbein and her daughter Rose reveal the secrets behind their new cookbook

The mother and daughter duo have a very close bond. "We can almost finish each other's dishes, like sentences," Annabel says.
Annabel Langbein

It’s a beautiful, crisp day on the shores of Lake Wanaka as Annabel Langbein and her daughter Rose pick watercress for the soup they’re planning for lunch.

“Ooh, Mum, we could add some Tuscan kale,” says Rose.

“Yeah, and I’ve got some of that yummy Whitestone cheese,” adds her mother.

Dressed in jeans and gumboots, these two very natural foodies are literally in their element in this stunning pocket of Central Otago that Annabel calls home.

Her face we all know – she’s the blonde, beautiful “free-range cook” who has sold millions of books and hosted her own TV show around the world.

But today she’s just a mum in the garden with her gorgeous, statuesque daughter, who is about to head off for greener pastures.

Not, however, before putting the finishing touches on the cookbook that the pair have written called, aptly, Together.

“Rose helped in the test kitchen with my Essential Sweet Treats book,” explains Annabel about this one’s beginnings. “Working with her, watching her cook and seeing her interest in healthy eating, I wondered if there was a project we could collaborate on.”

It’s no surprise, really, that, as Rose says, “Food has been everything in our life and our family. We talk about it all the time, even when we’re eating it. But when I first left home and went nannying, I got so homesick because the family I worked for didn’t do dinner tables and I really missed that. I realised that I needed these family times.”

Indeed, when it comes to food, Rose is not your average 24-year-old, as anyone who has flatted with her will tell you. “I’ve got wonderful friends, but I drive them up the wall. They’ll say ‘picnic’ and I’ll spend four hours making salads when they want pies!”

And like her mother, Rose takes it seriously – she doesn’t eat meat and has strong views on ethics and sustainability – but she’s no wowser.

“The last two boys I flatted with had Coke and pizza every day! What I’m doing is the way I want to live, but I’m not going to shove it down anyone’s throat.”

Nor is she going to miss out on the good things in life. “I want to be healthy, but I also want to have cheese and carbs, and butter in my pancakes.”

Much of Rose’s own home cooking has been done on a student budget – lentils every night for a week, anyone? – but with a cook for a mother and a farmer for a father, she’s also hooked into what’s seasonal and local.

This focus on light, fresh, more plant-based eating forms the backbone of Together – do what’s good for your body and the world. And do it with the people you love.

“My tipping point was when I went to Antarctica,” says Annabel. “Such a beautiful, pristine place and I realised how fragile the environment really is. We can’t go on the way we are. And it’s only little steps. If we all made just a tiny two percent change in how we do things, we could really change the world.”

And that first little step begins at home, around the table Rose missed so much when she was a nanny.

“Sitting together and eating and talking is such a beautiful expression,” says Rose. “It’s living! Even if it’s just poached eggs on toast.”

Rose recalls her father Ted Hewetson lighting candles for breakfast even when they were just having porridge. Meal times were sacred and attendance has always been compulsory.

So that caused some strife in her teenage years, but look at her – she’s only 24 and has written her first cookbook!

“Food should bring joy and happiness,” she says.

And joy and happiness clearly abound in this lakeside family home. “We just love getting together, and eating and drinking,” says Ted as he stokes the fire.

And don’t let our photos fool you. Mother and daughter could easily pass for models, but they wouldn’t care to. They’re land girls.

“I went out and dug up the potatoes this morning,” Annabel laughs, holding up her somewhat tattered manicure. “I guess I should have done my nails after.”

Annabel’s happy place really is her multi-tiered garden, positively bursting with healthy goodness. When people are coming for dinner, she grabs her basket, sees what’s ripe for picking and decides what she’s going to feed them. The supermarket doesn’t get a look in. She also has a mind-boggling collection of preserves from which she can whip up a magical feast.

Clever creations “Last night, I took out some frozen risotto balls, popped them in the oven, then heated up a nice harvest tomato sauce with onions and zucchinis. But I opened the wrong sauce to begin with – tamarind and pear chutney – which gave me the idea for tonight’s meal, layered chicken curry.”

She is practising what Together is preaching.

“It’s about being resourceful with what is at hand – particularly if you don’t have time or money. Keep it simple. Don’t let the competitive cooking shows put you off!

“In a way, what we hope we’ve done with this book is make a fun road map for people. It’s a different way of eating and living.”

As for the hard grind of producing a cookbook? How did Rose – a Bachelor of Arts who majored in English Literature and Philosophy with a diploma in French earned at the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris – find it?

“I remember Mum saying it was like having a baby,” she laughs. And there certainly was some pain involved. During the process, she broke her back in a water-skiing accident and spent a lot of time lying on the couch “pointing”.

“It was definitely challenging, but I loved it.”

Says her mother, “I’m so incredibly proud of her. She has been steely to the end, just to make sure it’s done. These are intense projects – it’s costing time and money, and you need to be ‘on’. And she was, with never a quiver.”

So far, so fairytale, with these two peas in a pod. Annabel says, “We can almost finish each other’s dishes, like sentences.”

But anyone with a daughter or a mother will be pleased to know that the close working relationship was tested at times.

“There was one week,” recounts Rose, “where Mum was busy and I was busy, and she handed me the ball and I felt I like I couldn’t catch it, but I just had to.”

Annabel laughs, “Ever since she was little, I’ve understood her – this leggy, beautiful little mini-me.”

Counters Rose, “Which does mean we can wind each other up a bit.”

“I’ll think to myself, ‘Why are you like this?'” admits Annabel. “Then I realise, ‘Oh, it’s because I’m like this too.’ At times, she drives me nuts.”

“You drive me nuts too,” says Rose. “Because you’re my mother and you have to, otherwise I’d never leave.”

But leave she has. As we go to press, Annabel is tending her spring garden, blooming in the lengthening Wanaka days, while Rose is in New York, working in marketing for a high-end organic fast-food business.

But guess what? There’s another foodie in the family – 26-year-old Sean, who is studying graduate medicine at Oxford University.

“He’s the most foodie of all!” laughs Annabel. “Could never eat the same thing twice in a row.”

“He came for Christmas with me in Paris when I was studying there,” recounts Rose. “He brought a turkey in his bag on the Eurostar and spent the whole morning stuffing it.”

It’ll be a while before this talented family reconnects around their much-loved dinner table again, but one thing’s for sure – when they do, the food will be much talked about and delicious, but it’s the being together that will really count.

Annabel and Rose were dressed by were dressed by Escape Clothing in Wanaka.

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