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native-bees

We ate all the outside leaves of the young pak choi, mostly in won tons but also in soups and stir fries.  Then I left them to flower and the tiny, stingless native bees feasted on the flowers, giving us tiny amounts of absolutely delectable light champagney honey.  (And we stole some of their flowers for salads too). Then I let them set seed before feeding them, mature seeds and all, to the chooks.  Chooks fed canola seed lay eggs that have high levels of omega 3 and I would guess that pak choi seeds are likely to have the same effect.

feeding-the-chooks-pak-choi-seeds

Chooks in a permaculture garden are wonderful at this capture of yield from down the chain.  Crop plants gone to seed, outside leaves, spoiled fruit, grubs and bugs, kitchen scraps, bones and offcuts, fish heads,  yabby shells, water weeds that are themselves harvesting nutrient runoff – all rotated back through the system into eggs and manure that feeds the garden.  It’s a neat example of one of permaculture’s key concepts: look for flows of energy and water and nutrients leaving a system, and try to design ways to cycle them as resources rather than letting them go as waste.

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Which is a two part dish, consisting of an Asian style omelette in a mildly ginger laced vegetable stock sauce.  It’s surprisingly addictive! I used duck eggs for this one, just because we have them, but chook eggs work just as well.

We are just a few days away now from the Spring equinox, one of the two points in the year when the days and the nights are equal length.  Once upon a time in ancient Europe people used to gather to celebrate the spring equinox. The hibernating animals emerged from their winter burrows to breed, along with a certain mythical rabbit. The flush of spring laying provided eggs in such abundance they could be blown and painted just for the fun and beauty of it.  People marked the balance point between the lengthening days and the shortening nights, and celebrated the eternal cycle of winter death and spring resurrection.

We have “enough” eggs year round – just a few weeks when the chooks are moulting when they are actually scarce, which ironically is around the autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere.  But in spring even the geriatrics lay for a while and we have so many eggs that it is very easy to see how painted eggs became a spring equinox tradition.  Our son visited on the weekend and we fed him and his friends eggs for breakfast and sent him home with a dozen duck eggs.  My partner has the kind of liver that doesn’t produce cholesterol, so he’s eating a couple of poached eggs for breakfast every day. And any respectable  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge has to include eggs.

 The Recipe:

Get everything chopped and ready before you start, because it goes together fast.

The Omelette:

  • Beat 3 duck eggs or 4 large chook eggs with an eggbeater or fork until they are frothy.
  • Add a teaspoon of grated ginger, a pinch of salt, and a dessertspoon of wine vinegar, saké or sherry.
  • Cook in an oiled frypan over a low heat, lid on, till set.  Loosen the edges and turn the omelette over for just a minute, then tip it out onto a board.
  • Slice into strips, ready to add to the sauce.

The Sauce

Prepare all the vegetables before you start cooking.

  • Grate another teaspoon of ginger.
  • Julienne an onion (chop it in half, then finely lengthways) and a carrot.
  • Dice another couple of cupfuls of vegetables – celery, snow peas, peas, mushrooms, kale, silver beet, broccolini, asparagus, chinese cabbage – you want those kind of Asian stir-fry vegetables, but there are lots of choices possible.
  • Mix 1½ cups of stock with 2 dessertspoons of soy sauce, a teaspoon of honey and another dessertspoon of vinegar, saké or sherry.
  • Mix 3 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch in USA) in a little water.

When they are all ready, heat up a wok or a large pan with a little oil till it is hot.  Add the onions first, stir for a minute, add the carrots, stir for another minute, then add the ginger and the other vegetables and stir fry for two or three minutes.

Then add the stock and braise the vegetables in it for just a couple of minutes.  You want the vegetables to be tender but still have some crunch to them.

Add the cornflour and stir through.  The sauce should thicken immediately.

Take it off the heat, add the strips of omelette, and gently ladle into bowls.  Serve with extra soy sauce on the side for salt lovers.
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End of winter, it’s been a hard few months, and I don’t often get sick, but I feel like I might.  Phó is my go-to dinner when I feel like I need to ward off I-don’t-know-what.  This isn’t a real Phó, but it’s got that ginger/garlic/chili/anise/cinnamon/lemon grass spice profile that my immune system seems to crave.  And it uses lots of Chinese cabbage and kale, that I have in bulk even in my very neglected garden.  And egg noodles – the chooks are already in spring mode and laying (the ducks and geese too).  This comes together in the half hour of the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules, even including noodles from scratch.

The Recipe:

For two big dinner sized bowls.

Put a big pot or a pressure cooker on to boil with 5 cups of vegie stock.  While it is coming to the boil, make the egg noodle dough.

1. The Egg Noodle Dough:

Egg noodles are just pasta.  The story is that Marco Polo brought them back to Italy where they became spaghetti.  Easy to make, and so easy to make a small quantity that I don’t even bother to pull out the pasta maker.

In a food processor, blend for just a minute till it comes together into a dough:

  • ½ cup baker’s flour (high gluten flour) You can use wholemeal flour if you like.
  • an egg,
  • a spoonful of light flavoured oil like grapeseed oil,
  • a good pinch of salt.

Knead for just a minute to make a dough ball, then let it rest while you make the soup stock. To stop it drying out, I cover the dough ball with a wet cup upside down over it.

2. The Stock:

You’re going to strain it, so nothing needs to be elegantly chopped. Into the boiling stock add:

  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • a good thumb sized knob of fresh ginger, finely sliced
  • a thumb of galangal (if you have it), finely sliced
  • a stalk of lemon grass, chopped,
  • a chili, sliced
  • one inch of cinnamon stick
  • one clove of star anise
  • one or two bay leaves
  • the leaves from a couple of stalks of celery
  • the greens from a spring onion

Simmer for around 20 minutes, or pressure cook for about 7 minutes.  Then strain the stock, pressing down with a potato masher to get all the juice out.  Return it to the pot and bring it back up to the boil.

3: The Noodles:

While the stock is cooking, roll out the noodle dough.  If you flour the bench top well, and keep flipping it, you should be able to get it very thin.  Flour the sheet of dough and fold it over a few times, then, using a sharp knife, cut it into noodles.

Tease the noodles to separate them.

3. The Soup

By now the stock should be ready to strain and bring back to the boil. Add to it:

  • one spring onion whites, very finely sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, very finely sliced
  • 1 (packed) cup of Chinese cabbage, very finely sliced
  • 1 (packed) cup  of cavolo nero kale, very finely sliced
  • 2 cups of mushrooms, finely sliced.

Simmer for another 5 minutes, or pressure cook for a couple of minutes, then add the noodles and simmer for just a couple of minutes more.

Taste and add soy sauce and/or lime juice to taste (or just allow people to add their own).

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I don’t like winter.  I try hard, but even here in sub-tropical northern NSW, where it rarely gets lower than about 8ºC, I still don’t like it.  The short days, the need to be frugal with power when the solar panels are on such short rations, putting ug boots on to get out of bed…

The only good thing about winter is the crops.  Winter is a better gardening season than summer here, and way better for leafy greens.  The cabbage moths are all dormant. The lengthening nights convince them that there is snow coming (they’re not that  good at geography) so they don’t bolt to seed. And the cool days allow things with big green leaves to photosynthesise away without getting desiccated.

I’ve been picking outside leaves of Chinese cabbages for a few weeks now, but now is the first of the main harvests of the season.  I really like Chinese cabbage as a side dish, steamed with soy or oyster sauce, or stir fried with sesame oil and lemon juice.  But recipes that really do justice to a lot of Chinese cabbage as a main dish are not that common.

This took me a lot longer than the half hour of the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules the first time I made it. Sometimes I make something and I think, I know with practice that could be easy, but it is nice enough to be bothered practicing? This one made it through the test. If you are really pressed for time you can use bought wonton wrappers.  I find them in the fridge section in my supermarket.  But they are not difficult to make – a bit time consuming – they are the fiddliest bit of this recipe.  But once you get the hang of it not hard.  And if you make your own, you get to use real, free range eggs. It is exactly the same as making pasta – in fact you can probably use a pasta machine if you have one.

It looks like a lot of steps, but all the ingredients are familiar, and by the second or third time you make these, you’ll be making them in half an hour.

The Recipe:

Makes 28 wontons.  We can eat a dozen each very easily!

1. Salt the Chinese Cabbage:

Finely shred 2½ (very) packed cups of Chinese cabbage leaves.  I use a mixture of Chinese cabbages – at the moment it is mostly Bok Choy with some Tatsoi and some Choi sum, but any chinese cabbage is good.  Put them in a colander and massage through a couple of teaspoons of salt.  Leave to sit while you make the wrappers. Then rinse out the salt and squeeze as much moisture out as you can.

2. Make the Wonton Wrappers

In a food processor, blitz until the dough just comes together (just a few seconds)

  • 1 cup of bakers flour (I use the same Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour that I use for my sourdough, but any high gluten flour will work)
  • eggs
  • 2 dessertspoons (or 1½ US tablespoons) of  any light flavoured oil
  • good pinch salt

Flour the workbench and knead very briefly, kneading in enough more flour to make a smooth, non-sticky dough. Then leave it to rest for a few minutes while you make the filling.

3. Make the Filling:

The filling needs to be finely minced but not turned into a paste.  I find the easiest way to do this is to chop everything pretty small first (especially the garlic and ginger), then put it all into the food processor and blitz for just a few seconds to get a nice fine mince.  You don’t need to wash the food processor from the dough.

Make a fine mince mix of:

  • the Chinese cabbage leaves, rinsed and squeezed as dry as possible.
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • a good thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 spring onions, greens and whites
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 dessertspoon (¾ US tablespoon) soy sauce
  • 1 dessertspoon (¾ US tablespoon) lime or lemon juice or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 dessertspoon (¾ US tablespoon) cornflour (corn starch)
  • big pinch of pepper

4. Assemble

Divide the wonton dough into 20 little balls.  Flour the bench well, and with a floured rolling pin, roll the balls out very thin.  (If you flip them several times while rolling, you’ll find you can easily get them very thin without sticking.)

Put a heaped teaspoon of filling in the middle of each, and gather up the edges and twist together at the top.  Then twist the excess dough right off.

There’s a knack to getting them right.  You need the dough thin enough, the mince fine and not too wet, and to work quickly and gently.

When you have made all 20 wontons, you should have enough excess dough to roll out again to make another 8.

As you make them, put them on a floured board (or they’ll stick).

5. Boil:

Bring a big pot of water to a gentle boil and boil the wontons for just a few minutes till they rise to the top.

Remove with a slotted spoon and serve.  You can serve with a soy dipping sauce, or make a mix of soy, chili, lime and ginger for a fancier sauce.

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Chooks are such a good way to double the harvest.  These bok choy were self sown and if I’d been pressed for space I would have fed them to the chooks as greens much earlier.  We ate a few leaves, but then since I had nothing desperately needing the spot I let them go to seed – which they did very happily, producing lots and lots of seed (which is why I had self sown bok choy in the first place).

I have hung these upside down in with the chooks, and it is wonderful to watch their enjoyment.  A plant a day, along with our household scraps is providing them with all their feed and I don’t have to go to the produce store.  And in return, they will give me eggs with very golden beta carotened yolks.

I also aim to give them a barrow load of mulch or weeds or horse manure or azolla  most days, and if I can keep up that rate of organic matter for a month, the chooks scratch it in with their own poo and turn it into compost for me.

 My garden beds these days are fortress fenced against the wildlife – bandicoots, bush turkeys and possums being the most demanding of serious fencing. It does impose limitations – one of these days I’ll get around to a post about the inherent challenges in reconciling love of wildlife with serious scale food production. But it also has benefits – ready made trellising for one, and ready made chook fencing for another.

The ready made chook fencing is wonderful. If you keep chooks fenced in, they quickly denude their run, and diseases and parasites start to build up.  And you can’t go away even overnight without chook sitters. But if I let them free range, they do enormous damage to any garden they can get at, and they are vulnerable to foxes, goannas, and eagles even in the daytime. Being able to rotate them around fenced garden beds means I can keep them on new ground, with access to greens and enough space to be happy and safe.  The roost design means they can put themselves to bed, safe from carpet snakes, foxes, quolls, powerful owls and other night hunters, and if we don’t come home till late, or even if we go away for a day or two, they’re fine.

About once a month I move the chooks into a new garden bed, and then they can feed themselves for a week or so, cleaning up all the spent plants, scratching for insects, and clearing weeds.  Moving them is as simple as moving their carpet-snake-fox-and-quoll-proof roost to a new bed, along with their water bucket and mower catcher laying box, and a tarp that gives them a bit of extra shade and rain protection. Every bed is fully fenced anyway, and they all now have a metre length of galvanised pipe   donged in the centre of the bed, standing about 40 cm out of the ground, into which the roost just slots.

My timing is never perfect – I won’t plant anything new in the next two beds the chooks are going into, and only quick maturing things into the one after that, but there are always a few stragglers.  I have a bed they will move into next that has had spuds and broad beans and peas and carrots and beets, now all harvested, and broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbages all gone to seed and cabbage moth caterpillar ridden, and overmature silver beet attracting grasshoppers, and some gone-to-seed rocket and amaranth – all of which the chooks will relish. But it has some spring onions and leeks that I’ll be picking a bit younger than I would otherwise, a chili bush that the chooks will probably denude, and a whole lot of self seeded mizuna that we’ve been eating. But I just factor in a bit of crop sacrifice to the system, and they more than make up for it with the yield from a bed after they’ve had a month cleaning, manuring, and sheet composting it.

It’s a system that’s working well at the moment – I’m very happy that it’s already half way through summer and the new roost design is still keeping them safe. I’m daring to believe I’ve reached a new plateau in the co-evolution of a system that feeds snakes, eagles, quolls, bandicoots, bush turkeys and humans all at once.

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My partner’s favourite lunch is microwaved tofu and vegetables with chili (he’s a chili fiend).  I’m not a huge fan of either tofu or microwaves, but hey, I’m not purist. It’s mostly garden vegetables, and I am a huge fan of them!

I’m not a huge fan of tofu because soy beans contain a number of compounds that can cause health problems,  it takes a fair amount of processing to get tofu from soy beans, and they are one of the most genetically modified and unsustainably farmed crops on the planet.   Nutrisoy and Soyco are a couple of brands that don’t use genetically modified soy beans.

I’m not much of a fan of microwaves either, mostly because they have such limited uses for so much consumer electronic junk.  But Lewie has a microwave at his work and it is an easy, no mess way to cook lunch, especially if you have an inactive office job.

The Recipe:

Part 1: The Dressing/Marinade

I make a jar of this because we use it for all sorts of dishes.

In a jar, shake together:

  • 1 part olive oil
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part soy sauce
  • 1 part sweet chili sauce or chili jam
  • a clove or two of garlic crushed
  • a similar amount of ginger crushed
  • a little sesame oil or tahini

This dressing or marinade will keep in the fridge for weeks.  Use a few dessertspoons over the vegetables in the lunchbox.  They will toss themselves on the way.

Part 2: Tofu

Fry some cubes of tofu in a little oil till browned.

Part 3: The Vegetables

This is just simply chopped garden vegetables in season.

  • Chinese cabbage
  • Silver Beet
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Snow Peas
  • Red Onion

(I have a zucchini plant surviving in my garden, but really it shouldn’t be in season.)

Assembling and Cooking:

Vegies and cooked tofu in a microwavable lunch box with a lid, with a couple of spoonfuls of dressing.

At work at lunch time shake the lunchbox to cover everything in dressing and put the whole thing in the microwave for 4 to 5 minutes (more or less, depending on how crunchy you like your vegetables.)

Feel so glad you brought lunch rather than succumbed to a burger.

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