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wild-raspberries

Teo made his first cake.  The cake was not bad at all for a two year old. The wild raspberry topping was the highlight. He and Grumpy (Lewie) went hunting and found all the wild raspberry patches nearby. Only a small proportion made it back for the cake.

Berries are only in season for a short, spring season.  My strawberry patch this year is a victim of a very determined bandicoot all winter, so it’s not the big bowlful a day of some years, but still enough for strawberries and pawpaw and orange fruit salad for breakfast, with toasted macas and yoghurt.

strawberries-for-breakfast

Strawberries should be a luxury food.  A couple of months of indulgence a year, sweetened by a whole year of waiting.  There’s this thing with seasonal luxury foods, that they start out expensive and the price encourages every kind of scammy hereticism, pushing them to grow until you get something that is cheap and very very nasty.  Like salmon.  And turkey. And strawberries.  Strawberries are one of the “Dirty Dozen“, and the best way to stay classy is to let them be what they are, a late spring treat.  From your garden, or buy organic farmers’ market ones now, for a month or so, and remember how good they should be.

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spring-fruit

Back in June, I posted a picture of my new very beautiful Yule gift of this fruit bowl, filled with mid-winter fruit – lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges, grapefruit.  Yule bowl

Now it is strawberries and pawpaws in my part of the world.  They make my very favourite breakfast smoothie.  (Maybe I lie there.  I have many favourites – custard apple and orange is a strong contender too, and our mango trees are laden with babies, so no doubt at New Year I’ll be telling you it is mango and yoghurt, or maybe mango and pomegranate).  If you are keeping calories down, paw paws and strawberries both have the added advantage of being surprisingly low.

pawpaw-and-strawberry-smoothie

And they make the best fruit salad, especially if you can find a late orange to add too.

Paw paws don’t travel well, so if you are not in a tropical or sub-tropical region, you will probably be as disappointed with any you buy as I am if I ever make the mistake of thinking I will find good apricots in northern NSW. But up here, we are in paw paw heaven this time of year.

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first strawberry

A few days ago….

And today….strawberries

And nobody else knows about them yet, so they were all mine.

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It looks like dessert rather than breakfast doesn’t it?

My daughter came home from a sleepover at a friend’s house when she was little, with a very exciting story to tell.  They had apple pie and custard, for dinner, first! And apparently they did it often in her friend’s house and why couldn’t we have just dessert for dinner?

Once I established the details, I thought, why not?  It was home-made real apple pie with wholemeal crust, with real egg custard.  A perfectly balanced nutritious dinner.

We don’t often have dessert for dinner, but I quite like dessert for breakfast.  Real egg custard is sooooo easy, I really don’t get custard powder. Eggs are also a superfood, high in protein, B12 and choline, which is brain food.

The Recipe:

There are lots of methods for custard.  This is my super simple, working morning fast method.

For one – multipy by the number of serves.

  • Put ¾ cup of milk  in a pot with one teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of (real) vanilla essence.  Low fat milk works fine, as does soy milk or oat milk, and I like to substitute treacle for sugar, though it does make the custard a dark colour.
  • Heat till it is very hot, just before it starts to rise.
  • While it is heating, blend together one medium egg and a good teaspoon of cornflour (or corn starch in USA).  I use a stick blender, but you can use a blender, food processor, or an egg beater (though the latter means you need a helper for the next bit).
  • With the blender going, pour the hot milk into the egg.
  • Tip the mixture back into the pot and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for literally one minute until it thickens.
That’s it.  Now why on earth would you use custard powder?
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(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” .The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)
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It’s unusual spring weather this year.  Much cooler and wetter than normal, the result of another La Ninã pattern in the Pacific and positive dipole in the Indian Ocean.  It’s perfect weather for slugs and snails.  Here I am with the best strawberry patch for a few years, the reward for getting it together to pot up runners in midsummer last year, replant them in a well composted spot last autumn, and mulch them heavily in early spring.  And it has to go and be perfect slug weather.  Not fair!

Each morning early I’ve been picking strawberries, half for the chooks, slugs and all, and half for me.  Luckily half is as many as we can eat, but it does seem very decadent for the chooks to be getting a punnet of strawberries a day! I’m thinking I should put out some beer-traps.

The Recipe:

Use an egg beater to beat one small egg per person with just a little bit of milk.

Dip slices of good bread in the egg mix and  fry in a little butter or macadamia oil until they are crispy golden.

While the french toast is cooking, hull and halve the strawberries and put them in a bowl with just a teaspoon per person of honey and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. (Maybe I am weird, but I like a grating of black pepper too. )   Toss through to coat the strawberries.

As soon as the toast comes out, turn the heat off and while the pan is still hot, toss in the strawberries marinade and all.  Cook for just half a minute or so, just to warm and glaze the strawberries, then tip them out onto the toast.

Serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt.

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(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” .The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

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If  you’ve been following The Breakfast Challenge then you’ll know I’m a bit ambivalent about porridge.  I’m trying to like it.  Oats for breakfast are hugely healthy – low GI, cholesterol busting,  lots of  B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – but regular old porridge is a bit bland for my tastes, unless it’s loaded up with brown sugar and cream, which sort of defeats the purpose.

So this is my kind of porridge – porridge with the flavours cranked right up.  But it needs a warning. Half the people I’ve tried it with love it (including me), half find it too confronting.  I think the test is, do you like pickled ginger? Or crystallized ginger? That sweet-hot combination? Then you will probably like this.

I’ve also added my recipe for skim milk yoghurt.  There are quite a few good recipes for yoghurt online, including Christine at Slow Living Essentials and Rhonda at Down To Earth.  I’ve avoided posting mine because I’m not sure which bits are really necessary to make it work and which bits are superstition!  But someone asked me in a Comment for my Skim Milk Yoghurt recipe, so here it is.

First the Spiced Strawberry Porridge Recipe:

For a single serve:

In a small pot, over a medium heat (too high and it will boil over) cook for around 5 minutes:

  • 1/3 cup plain (not quick) rolled oats 
  • 2 cups of water
  • ¼ teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger (start with ¼ – I like a bit more)
  • 1 good teaspoon of honey
  • good pinch salt
  • good pinch freshly ground black pepper ( Not as strange as it seems -strawberries and pepper are a classic combination)
  • little pinch powdered cloves

While it is cooking, hull and halve a cup of strawberries.

When the porridge is nearly thick enough, add the strawberries and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes longer.  You want the strawberries to be just softened and the porridge turning pink.

Serve with a dollop of:

Skim Milk Yoghurt

Ok, this is deceptively simple but there’s lots of chemistry involved.

  • You want skim milk with the whey proteins denatured by heat.
  • You want slightly more milk solids than in regular liquid milk.
  • You want as little dissolved oxygen as possible.
  • You want the yoghurt bug and no others.
  • And you want a nice warm environment for the yoghurt culture to grow in for 10 to 16 hours.

So, my method is to use powdered skim milk.  This already has the the proteins changed in the process of powdering, and I can make it a bit strong.  If you use fresh skim milk, you need to add a spoonful or two of powdered milk, and heat it up till it just starts to rise, then cool it down again.

I mix it fairly gently by shaking, not using a blender or eggbeater, to avoid incorporating air, and once it is made, I leave it right alone – no shaking, stirring or hassling at all.

I use boiled water to mix it, and I sterilized the jar I make it in (by pressure cooking it for 5 minutes) originally, so as to eliminate competition from other cultures.  (I have tank water with no chlorine, so maybe you don’t need to do this.) Then I just make another batch in the same jar, using the last of the last batch as the starter.

And I use a variety of methods to keep it all warm long enough – the warming oven in the wood stove, a wide mouthed thermos filled with hot water, a blanket and the dashboard of the car out in the sun.

The Recipe (Adapt to Suit)

If you are making it for the first time, sterilize a jar and its lid.  Once you have a jar going, you can just keep using it.

In the sterile jar, put

  • 2 big spoonfuls of plain yoghurt from your last batch, or bought yoghurt of a similar kind (I used Yalna Low Fat Greek Yoghurt)
  • ½ cup of skim milk powder, plus 2 dessertspoons more powder.  I make these last two spoonfuls full cream milk powder, just to add that little bit of richness, but it works with all skim milk powder.
  • 1½ cups of boiled water, cooled to just a bit warmer than “baby bath” temperature.

Put the lid on and tip the jar upside down then up again enough times to dissolve the powder and the yoghurt, without getting it all frothy.

Tip a kettle full of nearly boiling water into a wide mouthed thermos and put the jar, with its lid on, in the thermos.  Put the lid on the thermos, wrap the lot in a towel, and leave it sit without disturbance for 8 hours.  Check. If the water has cooled down, refill the thermos with nearly boiling water and leave it alone again.  It takes between 10 and 16 hours to set, depending, I think, on how vigorous the original culture was.

When it is set you can put it in the fridge, or use it to make labne.  Don’t forget to leave the last two spoonfuls in the jar to make the next batch.

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We picked the first of the season’s paw paws this morning (papaya in USA).  And Brian brought me a bucket of mulberries from their magnificent tree – the earliest around.  After months of citrus and custard apples, the berry season is here!

You don’t get to enjoy mulberries unless you have a tree (or know someone like Brian, or can find an unharvested neighbourhood tree) – one of the many fantastic foods that have never made it into our commercialised system only because they are too soft to transport and store.  Mulberries are  hugely healthy – most foods with that deep colour are rich sources of anti-oxidants, and mulberries are also a really good source of iron along with a batch of other vitamins and  minerals.

The best way to eat mulberries is to be ten years old and sitting up in the fork of the tree,  near naked to save clothes from stains, maybe with some other kids to chat with or maybe just with your thoughts, selecting the fattest purple berries to go directly from tree to mouth.  Failing that though, paw paw, strawberry, mulberry and citrus fruit salad is one of those made-in-heaven combinations.  With home made yoghurt and oat nut crumble….

Oat Nut Crumble

Get all the ingredients assembled before you start.  This cooks really quickly and is easy to burn.

Put a heavy bottomed fry pan on over a medium-high heat.

Add just 1 teaspoon honey and 1 teaspoon macadamia oil, then, as soon as they are warm and mixed,

  • 2 dessertspoons rolled oats
  • 3 dessertspoons seeds and nuts – I used one each of pepitas, sunflower seeds, and macadamias.

Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes until they brown and the seeds start popping.

Best fresh made, and it only takes a minute.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” .The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

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I’m planting carrots, parsnips, spring onions, and beetroot, all by my standard method.  The floods really knocked all my root crops around so I’m keen to get a new round in.  However my main job this week is to refresh the strawberry patch.

The strawberries have finished bearing now.  I have two patches in different beds.  The one-year old patch I’ll clean up, remove runners, feed with seaweed brew and add mulch, and I’ll get another round of fruiting next year.  The two year old patch though is becoming very ratty.  Fungus and virus diseases have started to build up, runners are crowding the plants,  and the original plants have just got old. Strawberries are real surface feeders.  They have used up all the supply of nutrients in their little root zone by now.  If I top dress too heavily, I will cover the crown and they’ll rot.

So I’ve selected the strongest of the young runners, radically pruned them of any leaf with even a sign of disease, and repotted them in a rich mix of compost, worm castings, and creek sand.  I’ve watered them in with seaweed brew and I shall keep them in a fairly sunny spot in the shadehouse till they are well established.  Meanwhile, I’m preparing a new bed, well away from their previous home, with lots of sheet compost and mulch. The new spot will be on the northern side of a bed because strawberries are short and won’t shade the things to their south as they come into full maturity in late winter.

And then, having used up all my seaweed brew, I shall just have to go to the beach for a few days.

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My strawberry patch is laden at the moment, but despite the netting many of the berries are pecked. It’s pretty hard to beat a strawberry just as is, but they don’t travel that well in a lunch box, and this recipe is a good way to use the less than perfect ones.   Strawberries are one of the best sources of folate which is important for cell division, so growing kids know what’s good for them!

This recipe also has decent levels of protein and calcium in the cottage cheese and yoghurt, and of course eggs are a super-food rich in a whole range of nutrients.

If you liked the Passionfruit Cheesecake Slice back in Term One, this is the same concept.

This is the last Muesli Bar Challenge recipe for Term 3 –  recipes for lunch box baking based on  in-season fresh ingredients that are  healthy (low in sugar and saturated fat, low GI, wholegrain),  easy, and that my school age reviewers rate as preferable to the overpackaged junk food marketed as lunch box food.

The Recipe

For this recipe you need a shallow cake pan that is 21 cm diameter, or (preferably) a similar area in a square or rectangular shape, eg 18.5 cm square, or 14cm by 25 cm rectangle. Grease it with butter and line with greaseproof paper.

The base:

In the food processor, blend together:

  • 60 gm of butter,
  • 1 ½ dessertspoons of brown sugar,
  • ½ cup wholemeal SR flour and
  • ½ cup shredded coconut.

Press into the base of a pan so that it is about 1 cm thick.

The filling:

Rinse out the food processor, and blend together:

  • A scant ½ cup low fat cottage cheese or ricotta
  • A scant ½ cup low fat plain yoghurt
  • 2  eggs
  • 1 good dessertspoon cornflour (or cornstarch in US)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1½ dessertspoons brown sugar.
  • 200 grams of ripe strawberries.

Pour the filling over the base and bake in a moderate over for about 45 minutes until set. It will firm up a little more as it cools. Cool before cutting into 8 squares.

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