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In 2010, the first year of this blog, my asparagus started sprouting in the last week of September.  I looked back in my gardening diary that goes back over 25 years and couldn’t find an asparagus pick earlier than September.  In 2011, it was mid-September.  In 2012, we were eating asparagus by late August.  In 2014 it was mid August.

This year, well, here it is not even the last week in July yet and here we are, eating asparagus.

 

 

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Kangaroo Ragu

kangaroo ragu

It’s hard to do justice to a ragu in a photo, especially when it’s a winter dinner and there’s no natural light.  But a ragu in the slow cooker is bliss to come home to on a winter night, and there are a lot more vegetables in this meal than appear.

Vegetables are good.  I can grow most of our own in a very closed-loop system and be responsible about how they are produced. I can feed us in a way that doesn’t take food out of the mouth of our great grandkids.  But a bit of fish, and a bit of red meat, ethically harvested from the wild is good too, and the ethics of eating kangaroo meat is pretty unconflicted for Choice, and for me.

The Recipe:

For two large serves:

Slice 300g of kangaroo steak into strips. 

Plonk it in the slow cooker along with:

  • one and a half dozen sun-dried tomatoes, or tomato paste (about a heaped dessertspoonful)
  • one onion, two carrots and two sticks of celery all roughly diced
  • a couple of bay  leaves
  • a handful of oregano and a few sprigs of thyme roughly chopped (or used dried)
  • two or three cloves of garlic chopped
  • half a cup of red wine

Turn the slow cooker on to low if you will be out all day, or high if it is only a few hours till dinner time.

It’s wonderful over home-made tagliatelle with a bit of chopped parsley to garnish.

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Roast Pumpkin and Feta Pie

roast pumpkin and feta pie

The wildlife doesn’t share my sense of frugal.   The pumpkin stack is slowly going down now.  The cold has killed off all the vines so no new ones are being added. The bush turkeys going to town on the ones left in the garden, and I think it is a possum raiding the verandah stack because I keep coming out in the morning to find pumpkins with wasteful bites out of them. I’ve tried many ways over the years to store pumpkins, from suspended in nets just under the verandah roof to tea chests and trunks, and I’ve decided they are just too attractive.  Those oil rich seeds, that lovely orange carotene flesh.  At some stage (and often much earlier than this), the creatures just decide I’m being greedy trying to keep them to myself.

This is just my Pumpkin and Feta tartlets baked as a pie instead, and with the feta crumbled over the top rather than blended in with the egg mix.  And with an olive oil crust, though you could just as easily make it with a wholemeal shortcrust pastry instead.   Worth a post though because it was so good.  It’s been lunches for us for a few days now, eaten cold straight from the hand.  We still have a couple more weeks of them, then pumpkins are over for another year.

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Things Born of Mindfulness

I love having a craft activity in my life.  Simple, repetitive, meditative hand work. Knitting or hand-sewing or embroidery, whittling or sanding or carving, painting or potting or mosaic. You hear so much of how healthy it is to do daily meditation, but I don’t have the self discipline for it.  Life beckons from too many places.  And I don’t have the time, or maybe it’s the patience for colouring in books. I like mowing meditation but in these winter days there’s too little mowing to be done.  I like walking meditation but these days the sun is up so late and the day half gone by breakfast time.

It is one of the (many) reasons I so love our Yule.  Every year in my community we draw a name from a hat at the beginning of May and then have six weeks till the winter solstice to hand make a gift.  1st of May in the southern hemisphere is Halloween, the old traditional European festival that marked the mid-point between the equinox and the solstice when the days start shortening fast and we begin the descent into the long dark.  Long evenings in front of the fire, cold indoor days when immersing in creative craft feels just right for the day.  It is very easy to see where the practice of giving gifts at the winter solstice originated, and how far it has warped.  At Yule it feels pure – mindfulness practice that ends up with a thing, and that little motivating push to make a place for it in a busy life that a date with gift giving gives.

Most years I find that within the first few days of drawing a name, I have a gift in mind and it won’t let go.  Sometimes (ok, quite often) it is a craft I’ve never tried before.  One year a willow creel for the fisherman I drew just stuck in my mind till I learned how to weave with willow.  One year the idea of a Japanese lacquered paper mache tray for someone who often made Nori rolls to bring to parties got stuck in my mind till I learned how to do paper mache.  One year I had to learn how to knit socks.  Last year I had to (had to!) learn how to Shibori dye.  But this early fixation means it is never a stress.  Always a long slow process of learning how, gathering ingredients, practicing and doing some trial ones, making and then waiting like a child waiting for Christmas for the giving.

And every year, somehow, I completely forget that someone has drawn my name till I am standing in the circle round the bonfire as the gifts start being given.  We start with the youngest gift-giver, this year a five year old, so I have a wait.  I have been gifted some treasured treasures over the years.  A handmade book, a painting from a three-year old, my bedside table, a knitted rug, my bellows, Henry.  This year, Brett carved a fruit bowl from a burl of hardwood.  The most beautiful thing.

Yule bowl

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Bower Birds

male bower birdThis is the boy, and it’s hard to capture his true beauty in a photo.  He is a beautiful satiny blue-black and his eyes really are that colour.

And this is the girl.  She came inside to try to steal tomatoes and couldn’t figure out how to get out again.  Her plumage is a dull olive but her eyes are actually more violet, like her mate’s.
female bower bird

They are a nuisance.  They are hugely destructive in the garden, with a special partiality to broccoli or cabbage or cauli seedlings – anything with that blue tinge to the foliage.  They also like peas and snow peas and tomatoes and they peck carrots right out of the ground.  And they are intelligent – smart enough to Houdini their way in through fences and gates and netting.  The males steal anything blue to decorate their bower – pegs, pens, lego, bottle caps – you have to be really careful not to leave anything valuable (like a sapphire earring) on a dressing table.

The female was sure I was about to take revenge, but those eyes are so beautiful, it’s hard to stay angry.

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Planting Peas

pea plants

I’ve had to impose some discipline this month.  I have a whole southside,  two and a half metre tall fence around a newly chooked  garden bed that has nothing growing up it.  Normally this is a hotly contested kind of site.  Normally I have a tall climber – in summer beans or tomatoes or curcubits, this time of year peas or snow peas – impatiently hanging out in pots waiting for the chooks to be moved on so they can be planted out. Tall climbers planted around the south side of a bed will never shade anything to the north of them, and with roots in newly cleared and fertilised and mulched ground and all that vertical space for sun capture, this is the most highly productive space in my whole garden.

But I lost rhythm for a little while a few months ago, and the result is that the last lot of peas went in late.  That’s them in the picture.  A month old now and just starting their climb.  In a couple of months time they will be yielding all the peas we can eat.  If I plant the next lot too soon, there will be too many peas and I’ll be down to using freezer space for them or giving them away. And more to the point there won’t be any space available for a later lot, so glut of peas will be followed by want of peas.

So I’ve held my hand.  But today is a fruiting planting day, and I have six metres of fence with wood ash from the slow combustion stove dug in to well composted soil all along it, and some fresh Massey Gem pea seed, and climbing snow pea seed.  I shall plant the seed into wet ground then avoid watering till they are up, or they are likely to rot in the ground.  It rained last night so the soil is wet and there is not much rain predicted for the rest of the week.  It’s a perfect planting time.

I’ve already planted out the rest of the bed with seedlings of broccoli and celery and parsnips and celeriac in front of the peas, and silver beet and coriander and leeks and cauliflower in front of them, and spinach and lettuces and carrots and onions and parsley in front of them – staggered, mixed, sequenced nicely.  Once the peas and snow peas are up, the bed will be nicely planted out.

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pumpkin wat

I first had injera at an Ethiopian restaurant in Coffs Harbour, lovely spongy sourdough crepes that are the perfect soaker-upper for spicy stews and curries.  But a little internet research discovered they are made with “teff”, or Ethiopian gluten free flour made from a little grain the size of a poppy seed, and being as how I live near a little country town with an African population you can count on your fingers, the idea of trying to make them disappeared for a while.

Then on a run-out-of-eggs day with mushrooms and cream in the fridge and the idea of mushroom crepes that wouldn’t let go, I decided to have a go at making eggless crepes with sourdough culture, and they turned out pretty much exactly as I remembered injera.

So these very inauthentic teff-less injera have become somewhat of a staple in our house, preferred to chapati for going with curry, preferred to flatbread for going with tagines, preferred to crepes for going with creamy garlic mushrooms.  And all the better because, if you have sourdough starter, they are practically instant.

The pumpkin stew is slightly more authentic but not much. It’s a surprisingly sweet spicy stew that makes a meal that is mostly pumpkin and still desirable, even this close to the end of a long haul pumpkin season.

The Pumpkin Stew:

Makes four serves.  It looks like a lot of ingredients, but like most spice mixes, they are just a sprinkle of this and a dash of that, and everyone no doubt has their own version so if you don’t have an ingredient, you are probably just making a different version.

Pu a heavy pan or pot with a lid on a medium-low heat.   Add a large onion finely diced, then, in more or less this order, stirring as you go and keeping it all moving enough so the seeds pop but don’t burn:

  • ½ teaspoon  cumin seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds (not the pods, just the seeds)
  • Small thumb of ginger, grated (or a scant teaspoon powder)
  • Small thumb of turmeric, grated (or a scant teaspoon powder)
  • Chili – more or less depending on how hot your chilis and how hot your taste.  I use a teaspoon of dried bishops crown chilis.
  • 3 scant teaspoons paprika
  • pinch cinnamon
  • pinch cloves
  • grinding of black pepper and some salt
  • 4 heaped cups of pumpkin, chopped into 3 cm pieces
  • a jar of tomato passata
  • a bit of water, depending on how thick your passata is, just enough to give a nice stew consistency.

Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for about half an hour till the pumpkin is very soft but not disintegrating. Taste and add salt to taste. Sprinkle with fresh coriander.

Meanwhile, make the injera.

Injera:

My inauthentic injera are just fed sourdough starter, cooked as crepes.  So you need to start ahead by feeding your sourdough starter and keeping it in a warm spot for four or five hours, or overnight, till it is bubbly.  Add a little water if you need to to get a thin crepe batter.

Wipe a large, flat pan with oil and put it on a medium slow heat.

Add a ladle of batter and use the back of the ladle to spread it thin.  Put a lid on the pan and cook slowly till the batter is set but not browning.  You generally only cook injera on one side so it should be set all the way through.  You may need to flip it onto a plate.  They should end up soft and spongy and tender.

Serve under or alongside the pumpkin stew, or any kind of curry or stew really, and break off bits to scoop with.

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Jenga Bat

flying fox

In our olive tree this morning, no doubt blown around in the wild weather of the last few days.  Anyone a better bat identifier than me?  Is it  a very young, small black flying fox (Pteropus alecto ).  It’s the right face and colouring, but it is only about 30cm long and they grow to much larger.  And it was all alone and usually they roost in colonies.  And it is the southern end of their range.  Perhaps it is a little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus) with very dark colouring?  That’s more likely for size, but still it wouldn’t usually be alone.

Both species eat mainly nectar from native forest species and theoretically only eat fruit as a last resort. They must only get pushed to that last resort around here at guava season because our guavas are the only fruit they regularly raid.

And I’ll gladly pay them in guavas in their hungry season for the work they do as pollinators.  Pollinated flowers drop viable seed.  Viable seed grows into trees that I don’t have to raise and plant, trees that are useful for timber and firewood and shade and beauty and stopping soil washing away and most important of all these days, breathing in carbon dioxide and out oxygen.

Whoever you are, I hope you find your tribe little bat. You and your kind are an important little part of the giant planetary life support system we share, and each little jenga block we remove brings the whole tower that much closer to crashing down.

flying fox2

“You can’t see me now can you. “

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basket of citrus

Sunlight in my basket.

Limes, lemons, mandarins, oranges.  So many of them that I am making salted limes for adding to summer soda water and salted lemons for that little salty sour-sweet note that lifts so many dishes out of the ordinary.  I’m making lime syrup for cordial, but not being a real sweet tooth, mostly for Asian style dipping sauce for things like rice paper rolls.   I’m making Indian style Lime Pickle for curries (and for cheese and crackers), and mostly for giving away.  I’m putting lemon and lime skins in cleaning vinegar to make lemon oil vinegar for cleaning – it’s my one-and-only cleaning product for floors and stove and shelves.  I’m making lime and ginger marmalade – I can’t believe I’ve never posted that recipe.

But mostly, we are just using them fresh and glorying in the abundance while it lasts.  This time of year tomatoes are scant.  The ones you will be getting in the supermarket will likely be artificially ripened, tasteless, coming from a long way away, and very expensive.  I still get a few cherry tomatoes hanging on in my frost free garden but mostly that cooking niche that needs a bit of sweet acidity is filled by citrus.  So whereas in summer my pasta sauces are mostly tomato based – things like pasta puttanesca –  this time of year they are lemon based – things like lemon caper parsley pasta sauce, or Lemon Feta Tortellini.  Whereas in summer I add tomatoes to beans, in winter I add lemon.  In summer, soups nearly always have tomatoes in them, in winter a squeeze of lemon juice.  Summer salads have tomatoes and feta, winter salads have leafy greens and a lemon dressing.

It’s very neat the way tomatoes and lemons tag-team it.

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