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Bathroom Orchids

bathroom orchids

I so love having fresh flowers in my bathroom these days. My bathroom “Worth the 30 Years’ Wait” has hanging baskets all around the edge, lilies along the side, and I’ve discovered orchids.   This orchid is right next to the shower-   I can admire it while I soap myself.  It is the forth orchid to flower this year, and so far my favourite with its delicate mauve centres.

I’ve never been huge on growing flowers before.  A nice fertile bit of soil and a choice of what to plant in it and an edible has nearly always won out.  I do like the beauty of many flowering edibles – they feed my native bees, attract predatory insects, and yield seeds for next year’s planting.  Right now I have mustard with bright yellow flowers – great for salads and going to be brown mustard seeds for sprouting and for curries and for pickles.  I have the waxy white flowers of kailan, or swatow broccoli, again wonderful in salads.  I have the purple flowers of endive, going to be seed for next year but mostly just because. I have dill flowering with yellow umbrella heads, good for salads and seed as a spice, and for attracting predatory hoverflies, lacewings, wasps and ladybeetles.  I have Queen Anne’s lace planted for the same purposes.  Soon there will be the lovely little blue flowers of Nigella that I grow for its peppery seeds for pickles and curries.  I would have nasturtiums for salads too but the wallabies found a hole in the fence again and they love nasturtiums even more than I do.

But flowers grown just for themselves are a rare thing for me and I’m discovering a whole new indulgence.

This river lily is growing under the towel hooks. Back when my mother was a girl, orchids and lilies in corsages were a gift for a special date.  It feels very luxuriant to have them all the time.

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Spinach and Bocconcini Rolls

spinach and bocconcini rolls

For about 9 months of the year we have silver beet, (or Swiss chard if you are in US).  There’s a few months from midsummer to midautumn when the grasshoppers feast on any left in the garden, but there aren’t many left because most spring plantings just bolt to seed.  Egyptian spinach – Mulaheyah – fills the gap.  But proper English spinach, now that’s another thing.

Spinach is up there with kale, one of those superfoods with enough vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients to make vitamin pills look silly. In particular, cooked spinach is a stunning source of Vitamin K, useful for preventing osteoporosis among other things.  Silver beet substitutes for spinach in most recipes, but real spinach, soil grown in season, is a treat. I’m at the edge of the climate range for real English spinach, but for a month or so each year in late winter we feast on it.

Silver beet is a bit tougher and does better for longer cooking.  Spinach though just needs to be blanched.  Under a poached egg, with lemony garlicky mushrooms, in Greens as Themselves.  Or in these little spinach and cheese rolls that are not baked but shallow fried so they come together fast.

The Recipe:

This makes just a dozen little canape sized rolls. I like making recipes in small quantities myself – it saves leftovers and often there’s a quantum leap in how fast and easy it is to make a little batch to a big batch.  And for you, a small batch gives you a chance to decide if you like it or if you want to tweak the recipe for your own taste before you commit too many ingredients.  But, having said all that, the recipe can easily be doubled or trebled, and I would think they would freeze well before frying –  just like ravioli, in layers separated with greaseproof paper.  Which would allow you to just take a few out to fry for lunch boxes whenever. I am looking forward to trying them out on nearly 3-year-old Teo but I imagine they might be very kids lunch box acceptable.  They are very adult lunch box acceptable.

To make the wrappers:

Blend an egg with ½ cup of plain flour (wholemeal or unbleached) and a pinch of salt to make a kneadable dough.  If it is too dry, add a teaspoon or two of oil.  This is a basic pasta or won-ton recipe, so I would think you could use bought wrappers if you like, but making your own is so very easy and you get to use real egg.

Let it rest for a minute while you make the filling, then roll the dough out with a rolling pin on a well floured benchtop, or with a pasta machine, to make a long strip, about 10 cm (4 inches) wide.  Make the ends as square as you can so you don’t have to trim too much off to square them up.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

Blanch a bunch of spinach in boiling water for just a minute or two to wilt it, then drain and squeeze it to remove all the liquid.  It will reduce to about ¼ cup.

Put it in the food processor (you don’t need to wash it after the pastry blending) with

  • 1 ball of bocconcini (or you could substitute 35 gm or so of mozzarella or any really melty cheese)
  • 1 slice parmesan or any tasty cheese

Pulse the spinach in the food processor with the cheeses very briefly, just to chop it all together without blending it. Taste the filling and add salt to taste.   I like adding half a teaspoon of grated lemon rind too.  Or, for adults, a little touch of wasabi. Taste and see what you think.

To assemble and cook:

Mix a dessertspoon of plain flour with a little water to make a paste.  Use a pastry brush, or just your fingers, to spread it thinly over the pastry.  Leave a smidgen for later.

Lay the spinach mixture down the middle, then roll it into a log.

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Paint the top side with the leftover flour and water paste and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Cut into 75 cm (3 inch) lengths, then let them sit to dry on a floured benchtop for 10 minutes or so.

Heat 10 cm (½ inch) or so of oil in a heavy bottomed fry pan.  (I use light olive oil for frying like this because it has a high enough smoke point and it’s monounsaturated). Fry the rolls until they are golden, turning with tongs.

They are wonderful warm but also ideal for lunch boxes or made-ahead hors d’oeuvres with a spicy dipping sauce.

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Cabbage Love

cabbage

Some years I don’t bother with European cabbage.  My winters are short.  The cabbage moths are active right into autumn, and back by mid-Spring. Cabbages take up a surprising amount of room.  You harvest them once (unlike broccoli or silver beet) and then they’re gone.  Chinese cabbages are easier and fill the same slot, sort of.

And then I have a cabbage year and remember why I love them and vow I will plant cabbages every year.

We’ve been eating pink coleslaw, with homemade mayonnaise, shredded cabbage, grated carrots and beetroot and finely diced red onion.  We’ve been eating shredded cabbage sautèed very quickly in half butter, half olive oil till it gets little crispy brown bits. We’ve been eating mini vego Chico Rolls.  We’ve been eating minestrone. We’ve been eating Okonomiyaki – Japanese cabbage pancakes.  We’ve been eating soft boiled eggs chopped up in a bowl with diced cabbage and a little mayo for breakfast.  I’m even thinking I might make sauerkraut this year.

Remind me next autumn that cabbages are so worth it.

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Maybe I should. Should I?

fern

So here it is, almost a week past Imbolc and I still haven’t Imbolc’d.

Imbolc is an old Gaelic word, there in the earliest of writings. It means “in the belly” and it is easy to see why this turning point in the old Celtic and Gaelic calendars was named for it.  It marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  Since the winter solstice the days have been getting longer, but so slowly and by such a tiny amount that you are forgiven if you haven’t noticed.  From now on though the exponential growth part of the curve kicks in.  It’s almost like watching a 15 year old boy grow.  If you look at it on a graph, it’s the spot half way between solstice and equinox where the long flattish part of the curve turns into a steep slope. It’s such an easily noticed change that pretty well every culture in the world has some kind of festival marking it – Groundhog Day, St Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Setsubun, Vasanta, Tu BiShvat. And  in the eightfold year calendar, Southern hemisphere variety, it’s Imbolc.

I find this calendar really useful as a gardener.  The seasons creep up on you.  Today I have the wood fire going as we pass through a cold snap on the heels of the east coast low.  But in the leafy planting break coming up, I shall plant basil and molokhia and resist the temptation to whack the last of the cabbage seeds in anyhow.  Planted now, they would just bolt to seed if the cabbage moths didn’t get them first, because cold as it might feel, Spring is just about here.

But I like it better than that even.  It gives me a gentle nag to make time for those things that are important but not urgent, the things that get pushed aside in the busy-ness of life. So Ostara (the Spring equinox) with its rash of eggs and flowers and lambs and calves makes thinking about children and hope and future really obvious.  Beltane maypoles are hot and sweaty and great for remembering how good it is to have a fit and strong and healthy body.  Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set on the midsummer solstice. Lammas at the end of January celebrates achievement. Mabon on the autumn equinox brings in the harvest with gratitude. Halloween remembers the ancestors and Yule reminds us that in hard times there is always friends and family and community.

Imbolc is about the still not obvious beginnings of things.  At Imbolc each year I try to take a few days out to reflect on: What is there, waiting to be born, in my life?  What am I nurturing, anticipating, brooding?  As the first of the chooks start going clucky, I wonder, what are the eggs I’m sitting on this year?

This year, with the vocational education system in a right old mess, my “other job” has fallen out from under me. I can’t say I’m happy about it but I have a Pollyanna streak in me, and it has freed up time.  I could take on a new major project.  I could, I just about could, do something big and new. Maybe I should.  Should I?

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In My Winter Garden

winter garden

The green doesn’t look real does it?  But it is, late winter in my garden and skies that look too blue to be real and garden greens that look too green to be real.

There was a lean patch there for a bit, where I didn’t reap what I didn’t sow a few months ago.  But it’s back. This is such a productive time in my part of the world.  Spring here is often harsh – windy and dry and unexpectedly hot.  It means seedlings need shadehouse raising and coddling, and I am always a bit stingy with watering as I wait to see what the fire season will bring.  Summers lull you into a false sense of great expectations, with rainstorms often enough to keep things going so long as they are well established and there is plenty of mulch, but then comes a frizzle day – a single day with temperatures in the 40’s and a hot dry north-westerly wind and you can’t stay home all day to rig up shade and mist and it’s all gone in one fell swoop.  Then the late summer-early autumn floods when you find out if your drainage really is good enough.

And then comes this, late winter in my frost-free garden, with a season of just-enough rain and lots of clear, bright winter days and bandicoots kept (mostly) out of the garden beds and wallabies kept (mostly) out of the perimeter fence and bush turkeys kept (mostly) from doing too much damage and I think the resident possum has met up with the resident carpet snake so we are between possums.

Spinach is the glut crop.  Real spinach grown in the ground in season is a different thing to the little packets of hydroponic baby spinach you get in the supermarket, and now is about the only time of year you will find it at farmer’s markets and in gardens.  Spinach  triangles and gozlemes and frittata and gnocchi and pie and piroshki and polenta and pikelets and pakora  and soup and saag (both with and without meat) and under a poached egg or mushrooms for breakfast most mornings.  And today little spinach and bocconcini rolls that I’ll post a recipe for sometime soon.

Lettuce is the other glut crop, with some kind of winter salad most days. There’s any amount of the leafy annual herbs – rocket and parsley and coriander and dill and  spring onions too.

We’ve started harvesting asparagus, too early but there you go.   Broccoli and snow peas and cauliflower  and  celery are coming on nicely, and carrots and leeks and and beets. My  broad beans are flowering. It’s really too warm for them here but I have hope of at least a little crop.  I have a nice stash of macadamias, hopefully enough to last through till the pecan season in autumn. The last of the limes to go with avocados.  The last of the  mandarins to last through till the strawberries (now flowering) start

A late winter garden in sub-tropical climate is a lovely thing!

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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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