Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Souped up for spring

One hundred and twenty five kilometre an hour winds are due to arrive some time in the next hour. Its pretty wild and pouring with rain outside for the first week of spring with the odd rumble of thunder passing by.

Spring is delicious for so many reasons...literally too. Green leafy vegetables plumped with winter rain, bright happy strawberries and the first sexy asparagus at the Farmers Market last weekend- I am happy. The mint in the garden is abundant, perfect for the spring lamb. The ancient chickens have been stirred by a little sunshine and the longer days and are laying at least one egg a day between the three of them.  I love the change of diet that comes with the change of season.

The swiftly changing weather is hard to predict and there are a lot of colds and flu around and our bodies need a boost. I reach for one of the spring gardens unsung heroes, watercress. At its best now in ponds, paddocks and fast flowing streams, nasturtium officinale is actually a member of the brassica family and rivals kale as a super food . Rich in vitamins A, C, K, iron, calcium, manganese and other nutrients, leaves flowers and seeds are all edible. It is a useful forage plant but a word of caution: when harvesting in the wild, do not gather from areas that are either down stream from or part of grazing paddocks or have any sort of water contamination. Watercress is a favourite food for a freshwater snail that acts as a host for liver fluke which can effect humans.
Dulse (palmaria palmata) is another super food. Add some dried dulse seaweed (available at your health food shop) and you will gain the benefits of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C and E potassium, calcium, phosphorus, chromium, iodine, zinc and trace elements.

This soup is the best spring tonic, warm and nourishing, one of my all time favourite recipes of forager Fiona Bird  and is from her book "The Foragers Kitchen" given to me by a dear friend who spends a lot of time on South Uist, the island where Fiona lives. See more about the legend that is Fiona on her Facebook page. Her books are available to order on line in Australia.

This recipe calls for smoked haddock, (I use smoked cod) and pin head oats. I have used a tablespoon of quick oats with no ill effect. I suspect they are there to prevent the milk curdling as it simmers.

Smoked Haddock, Dulse and Watercress Soup

30g butter
1Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
250g potatoes, peeled and diced small
1Tbsp dried dulse flakes
2 Cups milk
1Tbsp quick oats
200g fillet smoked cod
300ml water
2 Tbsp roughly chopped watercress (or more!)

Melt butter and oil in a saucepan, add onion, cook briefly before adding potatoes, dulse and oats.Stir well, cover and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring to check the potatoes are not sticking to the pan. Add a little of the milk if necessary.

Add the milk and the fish, skin side up. Cover and continue to cook slowly.

After 4-5 minutes, lift the fish out of the liquid and peel off the skin. Flake the fish and return to the pan. Add water and watercress and cook 2-3 minutes. Test that the potatoes are cooked before serving.

Taste for seasoning...smoked fish is nowhere near as salty as it used to be. Add a generous amount of black pepper if you like it and top each bowl with a little extra watercress.
Serves four as a starter but I serve as two hearty main meals to enjoy while waiting for the next sunny day!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Glass Pickles

shade grown
It is not often that two of my obsessions overlap in a serendipitous way. At the end of autumn I was walking with a friend along along estuary where he lives when I realised we were standing at the edge of a marshy area full of samphire.  I have never seen it near home so I harvested a small handful to take home to pickle. This Australian member of the genus salacornia, I believe to be tecticornia halophytea favourite plant of mine. Looking very much like the succulent 'Dead Man's Fingers' it thrives in tidal rivers, estuaries and salty marshland where it acts against erosion. A small shrub, it appears to have no leaves, only succulent stems. In shaded areas, it can double its height when given year round water. New growth is brilliant green,   during summer the older branches become pink or red.

Common names include 'sea asparagus', 'sea bean', 'sea pickle' and 'pousse-pierre' after the patron saint of fishermen. comes the link to another obsession,,,,'glasswort' is another common name for samphire. Prior to the nineteenth century, the ashes of glasswort and saltwort were used as a source of soda ash for glass making. Other varieties are used as a source of biofuel, salt and building materials.High in nitrogen, it can be a good source of fodder. Aboriginal Australians collected the seeds to grind into flour.
washed for pickling
Samphire is a useful foraging plant. As with any native plants, it is best to check local regulations before harvesting. With samphire and marsh species, it is important to check the waterways in which they grow to avoid contamination. The best time to harvest is in spring when they are plump and juicy and the waterways have had a good flush of rain. I harvested mine at the end of summer and some of the stalks are a bit tough. Only take the top of the green shoots so as not to kill the plant.

The taste varies from  seaweed-salty to green-bland when it is grown in freshwater. It can be eaten raw, steamed or preserved. Traditionally it is served with seafood and historically, in spring, English fishmongers would present a bunch with every purchase (which was often binned by the ungrateful customer as 'poor' food).

Nutritionally it is a good source of vitamin A, calcium and iron. It can also be a source of selenium, which it draws from the soil and transpires into the atmosphere. This may need a note of caution not to consume large amounts in areas of samphire from soils rich in selenium.This is not usually a problem in Australia as our soils are selenium poor, except possibly where there is run off from commercial grain producing paddocks.

spice jars are the perfect shape
There are lots of methods to pickle samphire. After washing and removing the tough parts of the stems, either blanch in boiling water, drain and let dry then cover with cider or white wine vinegar, with or without spices. Or simply pack into sterile jars and pour over boiling vinegar and seal.
As a side dish, lightly steam and dress with lemon and butter or olive oil. Use raw is salads, pickled with fish, white meats and mild cheeses.

Samphire plants have recently appeared in nurseries in the coastal plants section. Tough and water wise, they are a worthwhile addition to your garden for so many reasons. I have taken some cuttings.I don't think the homegrown varieties will have that lovely salty taste but if you have high levels of salt in your water source, it could be just the plant for you.

As for collecting glass...that is purely for pleasure!

glass by Gerry Reilly

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bush, Bog Rolls and Bikers

The new track
No apologies for today's title. 

Just after Christmas, work began on widening the southern half of the Margaret River walk trail, closing the loop along the river. It being summer holidays here meant an increase of traffic on the northern side.The new path, when it opened was shocking...a wide expanse of bare orange dust, in parts through newly cleared forest.  Two weeks later we had an unexpected downpour and our new path turned to mud.

There were grumblings amongst the regular forest users. They are an eclectic bunch, most of us know each other and our dogs, by sight, if not by name. Since The Hairy Marron, the new bike shop, opened at the bridge, the amount of mountain bike traffic on the paths has increased and walkers need to be alert.They don't have time to chat, pat the dogs or to admire the new sculptures by our rock man, who quietly creates sculptures from stones along the path that vanish within a few days. Nor the woman you will find perched on a log or a seat chanting in the early morning.
Rock man at work

At the weir, the new path has made the entrance to the southern portion more obvious and is has become a magnet for illegal campers who strew the car park with litter and the forest alongside with used toilet paper and worse.These visitors who speed through miss a lot, the strange sound of the 'nail gun' tree which leads you to think there is a building site in the forest and its mate on the south side who screeches like a possum. They don't see the bright yellow leeches who cross the path after rain and miss the wonderful giant caterpillar that turns into one of the largest moths in the forest and the shy birds that come near if you are silent. I wonder if in spring they see the orchids and the marron who crawl lazily under the bridge?

We live in paradise here, it can make you selfish. Change is often difficult. The forest has changed and more people can now appreciate it, which hopefully will mean care for it too. 

New karris to meet
The summer rain and following high winds have softened the path with fallen leaves The extreme heat has caused the karri trees to begin shedding their bark and helped it settle into the landscape. The Rotary Club has installed some benches  and the workmen have left the odd large rock along side the trail that can be used to rest a while too. We are beginning to appreciate the fact we can now walk three abreast and no longer have to watch for snakes in the damp spots close to the water (although the snakes have been seen checking out the new path too.) We have met some new trees and cheer on the Zamia palms pushing through the compacted dirt. At the end of the path, 'Hairy' welcomes us with a smile and we can appreciate their excellent coffee and the boys in bike shorts setting off on their bikes while we moan about the tourists!
Fat as my thumb and long as my finger!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tropical glow without the juicer

The turmeric is halfway through its growth cycle at the moment. There is no sign yet of the creamy white fragrant flowers. It will be the end of summer, if not autumn, before the tops start to die back and a few weeks more till harvest. This is my third year growing turmeric. I am still amazed it is still alive after our cool wet winters.

It was originally planted in a pot of good quality potting mix enhanced with various manures and mulched with lupin hay. Being in a pot makes it easier to shift its position if the weather gets too cold. Last year I placed them in the shade of the north facing fence which here, means it is warmed all day by the sun. This year they are again north facing but under shade cloth against the rendered brick walls of the raised beds where I can keep an eye on them from the kitchen window.
The first year I left it be in its pot. That meant that much of the root in the centre of the pot had become sodden and too rotten to harvest. Still, there was over a kilo of fresh root in that pot, plenty to play with.

If you wish to dry your turmeric, it is best done soon after harvest. After washing, finely slice the roots into equal thicknesses, not bothering to peel them. Lay them on racks, evenly spaced. You can dehydrate in your food dryer, I simply left them in the house on the dryer racks and they were dry within a week. You can store in an airtight jar and grind as needed or grind the whole lot into a powder ready for cooking.

Homemade turmeric powder may not seem as brightly coloured as commercial powder. This depends on many factors, including the fact that imported turmeric is irradiated when passing through customs which strangely enhances the colour. The taste and the aroma of home grown are infinitely superior in my experience. This crop from one pot will last me for cooking until the next is ready.
Turmeric is much in favour at the moment as a gentle anti-inflammatory due to its active compound, curcumin, which gives it the lovely yellow colour. The United States National Library of Medicine’s database, Medline, a bibliographic data base, shows over 600 potential health benefits. However, curcumin does not become active until it is a) heated, b) eaten with black pepper to increase its bioavailability and c) adding ghee, coconut or olive oil when cooking. So, stop juicing it right now and start frying it gently and adding it to your meals. Otherwise you will have a very low absorption rate and waste all those precious attributes.

 It is all very easy… Look to traditional Indian recipes, they all follow these principles: curry powder always contains pepper and all curry pastes are gently fried before adding other ingredients.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Nasty Christmas?

Today is January the 4th, time to get back to work for many of us. Living in a tourist town, the time to walk, swim, shop and drink coffee is before ten in the morning. The summer crowds begin to gather then, driving me to head for home and settle down to work.

Last year was a particularly good year for nasturtiums in the garden. Now you have all opened your Christmas presents and I won't be spoiling the surprise, I can share how I made them.
Theses recipes are from 'Cooking with Flowers'...coming soon!

Nasturtium Vinegar

Fill a jar with the reddest nasturtium flowers you can find.
Top up with good white wine vinegar and put lid on.
Allow to steep for a week.
Strain and bottle.

Pickled Nasturtium Pods

Fill a jar with young nasturtium seeds, they need to be small and green. If they are pale and hard, they are too old to pickle and will turn out like ball bearings, leave them for next years crop of plants.
Cover with water.
Rinse each day for 3 days.
The water will smell dreadful, it is the bitter principles leaching out.
Day 4, place in a sieve to drain and dry slightly before returning to the jar.
Top up the jar with cider vinegar to cover the seeds and replace lid.
Leave a week or more before using as a great substitute for capers. 

So, that as the present...
Here's the recipe that went with it:

Nasturtium Dressing

1 egg yolk
1 tsp  French mustard
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp nasturtium vinegar
2 drops of Tabasco
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or with a stick blender.
Sunflower or grape seed oil
Gradually drizzle in until the mixture thickens.
2Tbsp pickled nasturtium seeds, chopped fine
1 small gherkin, chopped fine
1-2 tsp finely chopped fresh lemon thyme

Serve with seafood, potatoes or as a salad dressing.
If you would like to see it a stronger shade of pink, chop 4 red nasturtium flowers and stir through. Stir again before serving OR mix in 2 tsp of tomato sauce if flowers aren’t available.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dog food from the stars

I found the last of the chickweed hiding in the shade in the vegie patch today, a sign summer has arrived. During the cooler months it acts as a lush green ground cover over much of the garden.

Chickweed, named stellaria media for its small white flowers, is one of my favourite wild herbs. Rich in vitamin C, it is a useful winter green in salads and as a cooked vegetable if you can harvest enough of it.

Medicinally, chickweed is one of the best herbs for inflammation and itching and useful in the treatment of eczema and psoriasis, bites and stings.  Chickweed dries well so you can store enough to last the warmer months. Harvest before the flowers open and chop into 1-2 cm lengths before spreading on a rack.
My chickens love its soft juicy leaves and I encourage it to grow along the fence line where they can graze on it through the wire. My biggest animal success with chickweed has been with the dogs. I rescued Louis, my long haired dachshund six months ago. He was underweight, nervous and had scaly, itchy skin and scratched and lost hair continually.
I have fed my dogs a 50% meat/50% raw vegetable diet for years and to this I now added two big handfuls of fresh chickweed, 5 tablespoons of ground linseed for each kilo of lean meat and for Louis 2 fish oil capsules. I also make a strong brew of chickweed vinegar which I add one tablespoon of to the final rinse when he gets bathed. His coat is glossy and the hair loss is much reduced. He still scratches but much of that is due to the seeds and prickles he picks up while being the mighty hunter he thinks he is!
Never have the dogs had vet visits for anal gland problems. Toto lived to the ripe old age of 20, despite losing all his teeth when he was 11. Lady, the other dach, is now 17 and doing well on the diet too.

Dog Dinners
1 kg lean meat (I mostly use kangaroo)
800g carrots
2 stalks celery, with leaves
1 stalk broccoli (eat the florets yourself)
½ beetroot
Handful of fresh parsley
5 Tbsp ground Linseed (flax)
Grate all vegetables in a food processor and mix in linseed and meat.
Store in meal size containers and freeze.
Add fish oil capsules daily as needed.
I also feed the dogs chicken necks and the occasional raw bone and avoid processed food as much as possible.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Clean Green Screens

Last weekend,  as part of the celebration of Plastic Free July in Margaret River, I ran a Clean Green workshop. What a fantastic morning we had making various brews. Ten lovely women, all committed to finding safer, greener and sustainable alternatives. Morning tea in the winter sunshine was an opportunity to share ideas, solutions and alternative options for everything from plastic wrap to firelighters and everything in between. Looking around the happy places, I couldn't help but think 'I love my "office".' It got me thinking about other cleaning dilemmas.

Lovely lemon power
I have recently (bravely) become a lap top girl with a touch screen. It sits on my kitchen bench and it can get really grubby, just like the screen on the mobile. A bit of searching and I came up with an alternative to those little (plastic) bottles of clear liquid they will happily sell you at the electrical stores that will cost you cents to make.

You will need:
A clean micro fibre cloth (other cloths and paper can trap particles that may scratch your screen.)
White vinegar (not any other sort)
Distilled water (tap water contains chemicals that may harm your screen)
A clean, recycled spray bottle

Mix a brew of half /half vinegar and water and pour into the spray bottle.
Turn off and unplug your computer/phone/tablet.
Squirt a little of the mixture onto your cloth. It should be damp, not soaking.
Gently, with minimal pressure rub the damp cloth in small circles over the screen. 
If you press too hard, you may damage your screen.
If the screen is very sticky, repeat using another part of the cloth.
When the screen is smear free, use the mixture to clean the case too. 


I will be repeating the Clean Green  workshop on September 4th.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Nothin mousey about him!!

Every spring I rustle around in my seed collection to plan the summer vegetable patch.  In the cupboard I came across an envelope that Lyn, an avid seed saver, had given me last autumn."Mouse Melon" said the label. Visions of a melon, just perfect for one or two serves, that didn't need a lot of space to grow, swam into my imagination.

The tiny little plants that came up looked very much like baby Black Eyed Susan and soon sent out tendrils to grasp the trellis. When it reached a metre high, no flowers in sight and began  rampaging through a neighbouring rosebush I thought it was time to find out more.

Dear little thing turned out to be a cucumber designed as a watermelon. Native to Mexico and Central America,its Latin name is Melothria scabra. Iwas reassured to find they were'slow to start'

then read on that they can 'often reach ten feet. In the UK they grow them indoors.
They are waterwise and drought tolerant. I can vouch for that as the old barrels are notorious for drying out. Now, at the end of summer, it is looking a bit raggedy but still producing and doing no harm to the Rose it is hanging over. It really is a darling little plant, its 'cucmelons' hang like lanterns and totally foil the parrots, who have never seen anything like it before.

The skin is slightly lemony and gets a bit tough if left unpicked for too long. They are wonderful in salads and as a garnish and apparently pickle as well as their larger cousins. I haven't managed to keep enough to pickle yet, too busy playing 'show and tell' everywhere I visit.

It really is a darling little plant. I will be saving seed if you folks in Western Australia would like some, send a stamped, self addressed envelope to me at PO Box 353, Margaret River and I will send you some.

Happy Gardening,


Wednesday, February 11, 2015


This summer every vegetable eating creature on gods' earth has descended upon my garden, with the rats taking the prize as biggest pest from the 28 parrots, whose little ringed necks I would happily strangle if I could catch them.
The rats have always been around, each year when the thumping and squeaking in the ceiling get too much, we trap and bait until life quietens down again.  Not this year.

The cost and the damage

Through the jarrah
In the last two months we have had to run new phone cables and rewired the whole meter box. two weeks ago a nest of baby rats died in the air conditioning ducts in my car during a heat wave, costing me many hundreds of dollars to remove them and the stench. Every day, another precious cucumber is chewed to nothing. I did have one win thanks to the cucumbers when I found one dragged up to the hot water system. When I removed the cover I found a lovely nest ready for babies. The cover remains off for now and the dog keeps a close nose on that spot.

I entertain dinner guests with the sight of rats chasing each other along the dining room window sill -it can be a bit off putting for our city friends! Never mind the crowds in the fig tree at sunset throwing figs and the race track around the verandah which operates day and night.

The strategy

Two sorts of traps and three different baits later and we have more rats than ever.
Making sure the chickens were fed only in the morning feeders were kept empty overnight.
Making sure the dog bowls were not left out.
Block all possible entry points with either scrunched up bird wire or timber.
Check wood and compost heaps and hay for nest sites.
Feed baby rats to your protein!
Throw things at them. (I use this with the parrots too, I am not allowed to shoot a gun in town, doesn't work for them either but I feel better)
I am strongly considering posting a  Jack Russell up into the ceiling for a nights hunting while I sleep elsewhere!

And the smell...

The past few nights have been quiet although the dead smells that ooze from the ceiling have chased me from room to room.
If you can get a volunteer to go into the roof and pick up bodies, this is the best remedy but they seem to die under the insulation or in hard to get areas so this is not always a solution.
A small ceramic or glass bowl with a square of folded kitchen paper topped up regularly with eucalyptus oil is cheap and effective. I am also burning incense while home.
Open all doors and windows and run all extractor fans as long as possible during the day.
The hotter the weather, the sooner the smell will fade, go to the beach is my best advice,

If you have any ideas to share, I would love to hear them but right now, I'm off to the beach.

Blocking the superhighway-they just ran in the gutters instead

Monday, April 14, 2014

Shooting Bamboo for the Pantry

You don't have to shoot bamboo, though when you live in the subtropics, this time of year you would probably want to.This time last year, I spent some time with a dear friend who lives in the hills behind Mullumbimby.The micro climate there allows her to grow an amazing variety of food crops from stone fruit to sub tropical species.

In April her giant edible bamboo is sending up massive shoots that grow as you watch. I was happy to spend an afternoon harvesting and processing them.

Thick gloves, long sleeves and a machete are essential. Theses shoots are tough and covered in itchy hairs.

After trimming them at ground level, the outer leaves are stripped and the shoots cut in half lengthwise.

This exposes the wonderful pattern of chambers that will stretch to become the hollow interior of the bamboo stems that make them so structurally strong and flexible.. It made me want to rush off for some
paint and paper to do some block printing with them.

They are then cooked in salted water until they are softened and a creamy yellow colour.

Drained and rinsed, they are then ready to use, cryvac or bottle. They keep well in the fridge.

My respect for bamboo has grown another notch. Fast growing without fertilisers or chemicals, we have have the most fabulous source of  material for making structures, bowls and plates, simple garden stakes, woven baskets, fabric, fuel, food and medicine. It can stabilise slopes and riverbanks and there are varieties to suit all climates. Investigate this fabulous resource further: plants, pictures and a data base  How why and what of bamboo

Monday, April 7, 2014

Blessings on us all

A bit cloudy they said, after a gloomy old weekend. Not looking forward to a day of shopping and cleaning.
Then a totally unexpected 7 ml of steady warm rain and now glorious sunshine.
The garden is totally luscious, my cupboards are full and the house is clean.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bali Anyone?

afternoon office
In a desperate attempt to rediscover my muse, I took off to Bali for a week with two friends. We all had writing missions and had committed to be disciplined to produce a thousand words a day. Our villa was surrounded by high walls so the only distractions were the noise of an occasional motorbike or voices of people passing.on the gang. Each morning after a swim or yoga and breakfast we set ourselves a start time and chose ourselves a spot to set up. We agreed there would be no conversation until the next break time, which usually coincided with mealtimes.

So, into the confronting silence, the blank screen and a mind busy with everything except the task in hand. A blank notebook, a pile of dog eared recipes with food stains and scribbles, a few reference books and a new lap top to do battle with. I shuffled paper for a while then began writing a list of contents - a blueprint of everything I planned to include. It felt a bit silly, like writing a book backwards, but from then on it was like painting with numbers.

There is something rather beautiful about silence that helps me to settle and focus, bring clarity to the task at hand. Now I'm home, silence and lack of distractions are rare. The luxury of time and space in a comfortable, supportive environment are a distant memory.Writing might be three hours with my lovely writing friends or a greeting on a birthday card. I have written a workshop, a proposal, and many shopping lists and am attempting to post a blog each week.. I have discovered to keep my writing alive, it is important to write everyday, no matter what form it takes.

The book remains as I left it, a massive 10,000 words in eight days.
Anyone want to come to Bali?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Learning is for Life

The other day, someone made a comment that resonated within me. The exact words are gone now but the gist was 'Don't say you can't do something - the way to learn how to do it is to go ahead and do it.' This seemed revelatory to me but when I mentioned it to other people, they ALL confessed that is how they approached everything. It seems that I have been lacking in either self esteem or the courage to open myself to failure for a long time.

I joined the new branch of University of the Third Age two years ago, hoping to be able to hop on board for all sorts of learning experience's served up on a plate. Instead, here I am administering a website with an alien format, producing a newsletter, taking minutes and stacking chairs. I am learning, not just new computer skills but patience with myself and others and growing an appreciation of the different skills and qualities we have to offer each other and the amazing results that happen when we work together.

Squishing last years three hour hands on presentation into an hours talk for our local Living Smart course was a challenge that provoked me into inventing new ideas,  Googling madly for the latest research and organising a new box of tricks to show people, I learnt lots of new things, they did too and sustainability awareness spreads a little further.

Teaching provokes me to learn and the joy of discovering something new makes it a joy, not a job. It's got to be time to advertise some workshops...especially some I've never done before!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Raining leaves and garden treasure

The weather is starting to change, the quality of light in the mornings, a slight chill in the air but summer temperatures continue. We have had two mls of rain over the last  three months, high winds and the ever present threat of bush fires. Clouds of dead leaves are raining down from the marri trees on the neighbours fence line. In the garden, the deciduous trees are crispy around their edges and the orchard and most of the garden beds are sleeping, a mat of yellow hay and wood chip mulch waiting for rain. Tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers are all finished, the nights too cold for fruit set and the pumpkins are starting to ripen.

The food forest that usually comes up in the gaps in the paving is reduced to chicory and English dandelion - tap rooted perennials. If it wasn't for them, the chickens would be very short on green food. Fortunately, you can take every leaf off and they will sprout away again quite happily, as will comfrey.
Its a great time to be pulling out the summer crops, cleaning seed, planning for the winter vegetables and sowing a few greens in anticipation of rain.

The strange summer weather has suited some plants, the night flowering jasmine has been flowering non stop. In the evenings you can imagine yourself somewhere tropical quite easily even if you do need a jumper some nights.
.  One small rhizome of turmeric came to me from a friend after she divided her pot last autumn and together with my pot of galangal, has been treated like a baby all summer.

After two summers the galangal is ready for dividing and eating. Hand watering this morning I found that my turmeric has sent out a wonderful flower stalk. It was well into spring before there was any sign of life, two leaves all summer, then this lovely surprise!

While we are all concerned about global warming and extreme weather, lets not forget to enjoy the wonder and delight of the ever changing potential of nature to adapt.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Many years ago, this pie recipe featured in an article written in The Sunday Times by Jan Oldham that reviewed a lunch bar called Kitchen Express that served wonderful home made pies, including this vegetarian one. The newspaper cutting has survived being tucked in various books and recipe files, being dribbled on and nearly set fire to. This week it has starred on Face book after I took it to a friends house for dinner so I thought it was time to pass it on. Perfectly timed for pumpkin season!

Kitchen Express Pumpkin Pie
about 2kg  Butternut pumpkin
1 uncooked 9 inch pastry shell
2 eggs
1½ cup Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup spring onions, chopped
2 Tbsp mixed fresh herbs
2 pinches nutmeg
½ tsp each,salt and pepper
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
8 Black olives, pitted
Preheat oven to 180C.

Deseed pumpkin. Cut into chunks and bake on an oiled oven tray till soft then peel and mash flesh.

If the skin is soft, you can mash the pieces in the food processor and retain all the nutrition that sits just below the skin. You should have about 4-6 cups of mashed pumpkin but the amount is not critical.

Bake pastry blind for a few minutes as per the instructions on the packet.

Mix pumpkin flesh with eggs, herbs, spring onions, nutmeg, salt and pepper and half the cheese.

Spoon filling into pastry and top with the remaining cheese. When making as individual pies, heap the pumpkin up like a little mountain before sprinkling with the pepitas.

Sprinkle with pepitas and arrange olives on top.

Bake for one hour in middle of oven for a large pie, 35-40 minutes for individual ones.

Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes before cutting a large pie so it can firm up.

TIP: Don't be shy with the fresh herbs, they are the secret to the success of this recipe. You can use basil, chives, sage, rosemary, parsley, celery leaf, marjoram, in any combination or your choice but do choose at least three different ones.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Autumn Harvest

A lovely workshop last weekend. Everyone worked really hard, cooked, cleaned, laughed a lot and ate well. I had my rangehood and a nasty kitchen cupboard cleaned by the girls trying out the cleaning properties of lemon...maybe they would do windows this week, or is that pushing my luck?

This weekend we are into a bit more hubble bubble for the second half. An all girls group this time, we will be heating the cauldrons to create hand cream and other treats. There will be more food too.

Here’s a recipe that everyone loved:

Five Minute Lemonade

1 Lemons or 2 limes
50g Sugar

Chop the whole lemon into 1 cm cubes and place in a heatproof jug.
To each lemon add 50g of sugar / rice syrup or honey, adjusting to suit your taste.
Add boiling water to cover, put a plate on top of the jug and leave for 5 minutes.
Process with a blender.
Add  500ml cold water.
Strain through a sieve into a jug half full of ice.
Drink immediately.
 In winter, make this with honey and add hot water and drink while hot.

There is rarely time to take a rest in the garden. In the gap between the workshops the quinces have been thumping to the ground. Massive things that would brain one of the chickens that so generously fertilises it all year, demanding to be rescued from the parrots. Four crates ready for sale and three basketfuls for us...and the figs are coming on too.

Better get back to the kitchen!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tie up your tights

My father banned me from wearing stockings when I was a teenager. The poor man had seen far too many lumpy white legs bulging in his time, thought the idea of his young daughter in a suspender belt was far too much for him. Thank goodness that in the late sixties we saw the first stay up stockings, then came the revolution of panty hose.
Once we used to darn our stockings and glue them to our legs with nail polish when they laddered, now tights are so cheap to buy (and so much easier to wear) they have almost become a throw away item. It can get cold here and the extra warmth a pair of tights can give is often necessary.  At the beginning of each winter, I am thrilled when it turns out my drawer has pairs of cobwebbed with snags, sags, holes and runs.

It's exciting as a retired pair of tights is a great resource that can stretch to a long list of uses!

Classic use is to create ‘grass heads’ for children to grow.
To do this, cut the foot plus about 10 cm from the leg of the tights.
Place 1 tablespoon off grass seed in the toe and cover with cup of potting mix or sand.
Tie the open end into a knot that sits up tight to the filling.
Roll in your hands until round or oval in shape.
Add stick on or embroidered eyes at this stage if you like.
Fill a cup or glass with water and sit the head in it, so it rests on the rim while the tail hangs in the water.
Keep moist and watch grow.
I have experimented with filling these completely with wheat. In the hope I could hang them in the chicken pen for green feed. It didn’t work...the tights are too fine for the hearty wheat shoots and they get very congested.  Worth trying again with smaller seeds though.
Toe bags are useful to protect individual fruits from bird attack
They will simply slide over the larger fruits and their elasticity will hold them in place.To protect smaller fruit tie gently above the stem to secure.
You can also tie paper bags with thin ties. After all, you only get two feet per pair!

My fave!
Begin by cutting the legs off the pant. Leave enough leg attached to tie a knot in.
Cut across the legs in 2 cm strips create a collection of useful rubber band type thingies that you can use to tie up your hair.
Cutting them into strips makes the most excellent garden ties. They will stretch for miles and are very gentle on the stems of plants. They are strong and durable and will survive a whole summer of intense heat before they lose their elasticity. Best of all, thgey stay put if you tie them in a bow so you can remove them easily!
If you need longer and wider strips for heavier jobs, cut each leg down the sides into two pieces.

Tie a knot at each leg hole.
Stretch the waistband over the sides of the basket. Pin in place with pegs while filling with potting mix, remove after adding your plants.
Again, tie off the leg holes.
Slip the tights over a plank that is cut to the size of the backing board you require that has a predrilled hole in it for hanging.
Pull the pants up from the bottom over the timber.
While flat fill firmly with damp peat moss or sphagnum moss.
Tuck the fern pup into the waist line, leaving the shoots free, and tie with a long leg tie to secure if needed.
I also have a very nice clump of Spanish Moss (tillandsia usneoides) that has been growing nicely tucked into one of these ‘bags’ for two or three years.

Absolutely essential for making scarecrows
The pant tops make great heads if you don’t want to use tights for the can leave the legs on and create pony tails or twist them up into little topknots.
Take three pairs of tights.
Cut the legs from one pair and tie off the pant legs to make a sack.
Stuff with straw and insert a broom handle or long stake.
Tie off the excess to secure tightly to the stick or wind around with gaffer tape. 
Body: Take the other two pairs.
Stuff fairly firmly with straw, including the legs.
One pair will be top of body and arms, the other will be hips and legs.
Tie knots at the ends of the ‘arms’ to shorten. You can knot again if you wish to create hands as well, remember to push some straw down so they are not ‘empty.’
Lay your body pieces on the ground and tuck one into the other to form the waist.
With a sacking needle and string or a bodkin with wool, sew together around the middle, rolling him over as you go. 
Dress your scarecrow .
Fix a crossbeam just below the head to support the arms then secure your scarecrow to his support.
If you would like him or her to pose on a chair or perch in a tree, cut the centre pole to the length of the body before dressing.