When she was a child, Nadia Lim and her lizard almost 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 I'd 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 he'd come and chop its head off. It was quite horrific"). But from a young age, she was interested in how things grow.
READ MORE: Nadia Lim’s rooster is living it up at her idyllic farmhouse near Queenstown Nadia Lim gives fans a peek into her semi-underground glasshouse Nadia Lim launches lockdown cooking show Nadia Lim and husband have gone ‘back to the land’ in rural South Island
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 children's picture book and a seasonal journal, the co-founder of My Food Bag, the winner of MasterChef , the host of New Zealand's favourite lockdown cooking show, and as of next week, Stuff's newest columnist, is still happiest getting her hands dirty in the veggie garden, chasing chickens and pruning laterals on her tomato plants 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 place.
"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 Zealand's Queen of Lockdown Cooking last year. Her off-the-cuff TV show, Nadia's 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 we'd 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.
"I'm inundated with the amount of produce we grow. We don't have to buy anything, except for flour, milk, oil, salt, pepper – and wine!" she says.
It's 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."
It's 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 that's what a lot of us are missing in our crazy, busy lives right now. I'm a hypocrite – I fill my days up, and I can't 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 wasn't 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. He'd 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.
"We've 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, we'd show him things, and explain that this animal had died. 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 wasn't 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. I've 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 that's 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 chicken's 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 farm's 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 we've 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.
"I've always been involved with what's on your plate, but I also feel a deep responsibility to be involved with the journey the food takes to get there.
"It's 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 nature's rhythm and become almost quite in tune with it."
Today's 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 it's the same as my cooking; it's mostly self-taught, and is helped by an innate interest in it."
- Yearly lockdown would be good for planet: Tsitsipas
- Yearly lockdown would be good for planet, says Tsitsipas
- Tennis-Yearly lockdown would be good for planet, says Tsitsipas
- Walkies coronavirus style: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk beagle Guy and labrador Oz as part of their daily exercise routine wearing bandanas as facemasks and carrying hand sanitiser during lockdown in LA
- Nadia Essex vows to ditch baby weight in candid post after welcoming baby boy
- Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton considered quitting Formula 1 during coronavirus lockdown
- 'Sex is essential in lockdown... else my husband goes nuts': Caprice, 48, reveals she and Ty Comfort, 53, are getting more action than ever despite feeling tired from homeschooling kids
- Lockdown can't end soon enough! Frazzled home-schooling parents reveal what their children have REALLY been getting up to - from emptying kitchen cupboards to being smeared from head-to-toe in paint
- Ferne McCann ditches her hair extensions for the first time in seven years as she credits lockdown for 'saving my bleached and broken hair'
- Coronavirus: Hima Das says she improved her cooking and painting skills during lockdown
- Nadia Sawalha larks around in 80s-inspired gym gear to take part in an aerobics class from home amid the coronavirus lockdown
- Loose Women's Nadia Sawalha reveals what infuriates her about husband Mark
- Coronaphobia grips the nation: Britons shun Boris Johnson's back to work plea because they fear lockdown is being eased too rapidly as a survey reveals most have MORE money in their pockets - especially the public sector
- A homebound Penn & Teller make magic for us during lockdown
- Lockdown is set to change attitude and design of apartment balconies
- From doing the dishes to getting frisky — get fit in lockdown doing household jobs
- Donald Trump Jr.'s doing what he always does: The vilest dirty work of his dad's political campaigns
- America's Cup: Team NZ's big rebound from lockdown losses
- Genius lemon squeezing hack means you can get the juice without it touching your hands – and you don’t waste any either
- Jacqueline Jossa wanted to 'restart' marriage to Dan Osborne after 'years of hell'
Nadia Lim gets her hands dirty a year on from lockdown have 1875 words, post on www.stuff.co.nz at March 23, 2021. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.