Thursday, August 30, 2018

Elder Immune Wisdom

It was bright sunshine a couple of days ago, now  it's hailing outside. It must be August. It is a surprise every year, the days begin to lengthen, everyone begins to look forward to spring, then winter really hits. The temperature has been hovering around 10 degrees  but the weather app tells us it "feels like" 5 (unless it is hailing and then it plummets close to zero. No complaints from me, I am grateful for the rain and wish I could send some of it eastwards to the drought affected farmers.

I adore days like today, a good reason to stay inside and catch up on production, study, craft projects and begin to sort and throw in preparation for true spring cleaning once the sun is back. It seems that this between seasons weather is
when our immune systems become more vulnerable and need some extra support. This summer gifted me an amazing crop of elder berries which is rare in these usually warmer climes. Stripped and dried, they had been waiting for winter. Two weeks ago, on a day rather like today, I turned them into an immune boosting syrup.I have been taking a spoonful each morning as a preventative measure and so far have avoided catching any of the colds and flu around me. The addition of some warming spices makes it easy to take and adding the cooled extraction to the honey helps conserve the properties of our unique raw bush honey.

Elder Immune Booster

2 cups rainwater
2/3 cup dried elder berries
2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, crushed
2 sticks of cinnamon bark
zest of one lemon, peeled

Place all ingredients except honey in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil.

Reduce heat and simmer on a heat proof pad until reduced to about one cup.

Allow to cool.
Press through a sieve, then strain through a muslin cloth.
Stir in equal amount of honey until dissolved.
Bottle and label with date.
Store in the refrigerator.

Dose: 1 teaspoon on an empty stomach first thing in the morning as a preventative.
1/2 - 1 tablespoon every two three hours  when symptoms occur.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Straws Suck: joining the ranks of the recycling madwomen

Plastic Free July again. after the last few years, my single use plastic consuming has dropped drastically. This year the focus of PFJ is on plastic straws. I haven't used them since the children were small, and then only for craft projects, so no challenge for me there.

mix your own jasmine tea
My PFJ pledge is to give up using tea bags...a hidden source of plastic. We have all found the empty tea bags in the compost, tea leaves, tags and string are long gone but the bag persists.

It is difficult to track down which tea bags contain plastic, which include an adhesive made from pvc or polypropylene used to seal their edges. This is how the fill your own bags work..ironing melts the plastic to seal the bag. The only way to be sure if your bags do not contain any plastic is to contact suppliers. In the Uk, Co Op Foods with Typhoo removed plastic from their teabag range and PG Tips made the change to seal their bags with cornstarch.

Tea pouches are available, they either  have a fold in flap much like a pillowcase or two holes punched in their open end so they can be suspended over a cup. Infusers come in all shapes and sizes.The options are many, not forgetting the delights of a full pre warmed tea pot.

There are still quite a few teabags in the pantry so I have pledged to collect the tea bags strings to knit a tea bag free celebration scarf.

This is Irene who inspired me  to take on this mission: Her scarves are a labour of love that have involved the whole community and they look amazing.

I see the process as a reflection of the persistence and tenacity we need to address the problem of plastic in our environment. One tiny tea bag at a time.

Irene tells us we will need 2000 strings to complete a scarf. There are certainly not that many in the cupboard so I will cheerfully accept donations.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The crop that keeps on giving!

made in March
Three year old capsicum bushes were pumping at the end of summer. Roasted capsicum sauce glows orange in the depth of the freezer, many have been stuffed and much stroganoff has been eaten.

It's  July, just past the shortest day, what to cook? I knew there were lots of greens in the garden and four jars of preserved capsicums dated March are still lurking unopened in the fridge.

Two were an untried Italian recipe which involved rolling  vinegar blanched strips with anchovy fillets and olives. Secured with a toothpick and laid in a jar covered in EVO. 'Pizza!' says brain!

picked in July
A couple of ice blocks of pesto quickly defrosted while I waited for the oil to soften in the capsicum jar. I sliced a mushroom and some diced sheep's feta . I was worried it may be salty so didn't add olives...a rare event for me! After a stint in the oven, I topped it with baby rocket from the garden, picked in the early winter dark.

Felt quite pleased with my instant dinner of homemade produce and the fact that I was using some of the summer stash...until I went out between showers in the daylight today and discovered these. The second GF pizza base needs eating...looks like a quesadilla for lunch!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Who said you can't?

By late summer, many gardeners run screaming at the sight of yet another zucchini lurking in the garden. The delightful finger long babies guiltily picked at Christmas are long forgotten as more sneak their way into the chook bucket. Every year I seem to come across a new zucchini tip and here I have one new one that dispels the myth about freezing zucs, a dehydrator recipe and a Kofta recipe that is a beauty.

grated and blanched
Spiralise your zucchini.
Blanch by pouring over boiling water then refresh with cold water.
Allow to drain.
Pack into a box or sealed bag and freeze.
Defrost in a sieve or colander to allow excess moisture to drain.
Use in your favourite recipe.
It does not need cooking, warm through if you like.
I cooked some mushrooms, melted in a block of frozen pesto and stirred through the zucchini with some pitted olives...divine!
It has a certain chewiness of texture reminiscent of al dente pasta.
One 20cm zuc will feed two people.

This is an old favourite that I am happy to repeat:


Slice evenly, sprinkle with salt and allow to degorge.
Pat dry, sprinkle with pepper and salt.
Dehydrate till leathery.
Flip slices and continue to dry till crispy.
Store in an airtight container.
Serve as a snack or with dips.
Use as a gluten free 'pasta' layer in lasagne
NO fat and virtually no calories!
One 20cm zucchini makes two trays/one coffee jar.

A recipe for the cook who shared the spaghetti secret with me!
Serves 4 with rice and is gluten free. For a vegan option replace dairy with coconut milk


500g grated zucchini, salted and squeezed, save liquid.

1 green chilli, chopped fine
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2tsp grated ginger
2Tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
2Tbsp chickpea flour

Mix all well and form into 16 balls.
Fry quickly till brown or brush with oil and bake at 180 degrees.

2 onions, chopped fine
rice bran oil
Heat oil and fry till transparent

1/2 tsp turmeric
pinch cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground coriander
Add and cook for a minute or so, till fragrant

225g canned or fresh tomatoes, chopped
zuc water from above
Add to onions and spice, simmer until reduced in volume by half.

250ml cream or yoghurt
1/2 tsp garam masala
Gently warm through, pour over koftas and sprinkle with whole roasted cumin seed or fresh coriander.

I hope you all enjoy the last of the season - in the middle of winter!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Big Dig for Change

My mind and my garden have been chaotic with more than just the usual summer challenges of watering, possums, rats and other wee beasties. Repairs to the septic system have been in process....the excavating to take place between a wall and a raised garden bed with a total width of 2 metres to maneuver.

Gardens were dug out, climbing roses pruned to within an inch of their lives to allow the side boundary fence to be taken down for access through the thankfully empty neighbouring block, fences, gates, paving, pots and plants needed dealing with. Everyone close was warned and asked to shut their doors and windows  and not hang out washing for the day.

My anxiety levels rocketed as the garden was dismantled with me wearing the hats of planner, site manager, gardener, accounts person and the tea lady. Plants ten years old and more were sacrificed, others pruned to within an inch of their lives. Fences and gates lovingly painted only months ago were taken down, some damaged beyond repair.

The night before the excavator was due, I stood in the garden at dusk, looking at what we had done and instead of sadness at the destruction of years of hard work, I felt a feeling of space, boundaries coming down. An opening up of new possibilities  - room for the new and a frisson of excitement for the possibilities of change.

It's a week on,there is paving to be relaid, gates and fences to be rebuilt. A massive pile of prunings, old irrigation and the carpet that was laid to kill the kikuyu grass 17 years ago are piled on the road verge. An unexpected couple of cubic metres of clay dug from the hole will be a bonus in the sandy garden soils and there is the buzz of planning new garden beds. There is relief that the destruction phase is over and rebuilding can take its time. The stress of the costs involved, dealing with various tradesmen, excavating power and phone lines, keeping  the mess and confusion to manageable levels have faded. The fears and the uncertainty of dealing with what was, for me, a huge project have blossomed into a new confidence in my abilities. By asking questions, treating others with respect and trusting their judgement, taking care to keep the workers safe and fed, everything progressed smoothly and with good humour. Well done all of us!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Everlasting Fragrance, Hot Chocolate and Impotence

The vanilla story continues...
There are some botanicals that hold their fragrance for years but was surprised to discover that properly stored vanilla pods can retain their flavour and fragrance for fifty years and like red wine, improve with age. Store in an airtight container away from heat and light in a cool place and you will always have pods on hand.

Or you can use them.

Tinctures are one way to capture active principles of plants and that's what we do when we make vanilla essence. The shaking replaces the usual sucussing of the tincture.

Here's two recipes - one with and one without alcohol.

Vanilla Essence

Vanilla pods
Brandy, vodka or spirit of choice

Chop your pods into 1cm lengths and place in a screw top jar.
Cover with brandy or vodka.
Leave to steep at least a month, longer if you can wait that long, shaking daily.
The liquid should be dark brown and fragrant
Strain through a coffee filter if you wish a clear liquid or leave the seeds as they are.

Alcohol Free Vanilla Essence

Vanilla pods
Vegetable glycerine
Distilled water (optional)

The method is the same as above, simply cover the pods with glycerin or 50/50 blend of  glycerin and water and use as you would any other vanilla essence. at suitable for vegetarians unless it is labelled as vegetable glycerin.

You can also split and scrape out the seeds either before or after infusing them and add to the essence.
Scraped pods can be added to sweet dishes or preserves and removed before serving, they also contain lots of flavour. Try adding to hot milk used for making chocolate for an Aztec experience!

Vanilla essence made with alcohol can be used in essential oils perfumes as it blends well with all woody, resinous and oriental scents.

It has no known pharmaceutical use apart from as a flavouring for medicines. A rumor started in the 17th century that it could cure impotence probably came about as it it known to be difficult to fertilise!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

John the Woodman and the Vanilla Bean

Every winter for twelve years, John the Woodman regularly bought me generous loads of pre split firewood which he stacked neatly. Into his eighties, wearing tiny shorts in all weathers, he continued to arrive in his battered old ute full of seasoned 'ping ping' jarrah. Kind and considerate, always polite, funny and self deprecating, his determination to never to slow down was admirable.

 Always up for a chat, he was especially curious to hear of our holidays in Indonesia, having lived there as a child.  We encouraged him to revisit but he always said that he didn't want to see it changed, that he wanted to remember it as it was. John had fond memories of Indonesian food and one night we invited him to share an Indonesian feast starring  kangaroo rendang with us, thinking the meeting of two cultures would amuse him.

I had been lucky enough to be given a kilo of vanilla pods and after the meal had been savoured and a doggy bag packed for John to take home, I bought them to the table for John to see. It had an impact I could never have imagined. As a child in Java, John had played in the vanilla plantations. I am not sure if his parents owned them but he certainly knew a lot about them. It was a profitable business to be involved in and much favoured by the Dutch.

Vanilla planifolia originated in South America and was 'discovered', along with its culinary partner, cacao and was taken to Europe, where it failed to thrive. The only known pollinator, a melipone bee, did not exist outside of Mexico and the orchids refused to set pods for the next 300 years until Charles Morren, a Belgian botanist, developed a method of hand pollination. Each flower, open for only a few hours for one day must be opened and hand pollinated to produce one pod, each taking about two months to develop.

The process of curing the bland green pods to the fragrant sticky brown ones  involves sweating the pods at temperatures up to 65 centigrade with high humidity, wrapping and storing and repeating each day. The process may be started by immersing in boiling water or by being laid out in the sun for a few hours in the morning before being rolled up in blankets and stored before repeating until the pods are brown and fragrant. This can take up to 14 months.They are then laid out to dry. Add to the time involved the fact that crops are often decimated by cyclones and tropical storms and do not begin to flower until they are 3-5 years old we can appreciate why the world's favourite flavouring so expensive to buy.

Johns eyes filled with tears as he inhaled the sweet fragrance. John was a young boy when the Japanese invaded Java and with other Dutch families were herded into detention camps, the men to prison camps. We heard many stories that night of life in the camp, the hardships and lack of anything for the children to do. John was a lucky one. The Japanese were aware that for the vanilla crops to continue, the groves would need to be worked. Being young and agile, John was released early each morning to walk the many miles to the vanilla groves.Using a sharpened stick, he gently eased the pollen  out to press behind the stamen. Over and over, up and down ladders, on his own until it was time to head back. He was proud of his work, the freedom it gave him and the extra food he was sometimes able to find. Three years later, the Japanese were defeated and the Dutch East Indies became Indonesia. John and his family went to live Holland  from where he immigrated to Australia.

In 2016, John seemed to be slowing - a couple of accidents in the bush while working alone didn't stop him and his sons gave him a mobile phone. The death of his favourite dog impacted on him and his ute often refused to cooperate. We wondered if it would be better to stop ordering firewood as no matter what, he would deliver, though one of his sons was often with him now. Last year he seemed to vanish from sight, the phone went unanswered and was eventually disconnected and I stopped bumping into him in town. No one seemed to know where he was.

Just before Christmas I decided to use some of the vanilla and started some vanilla essence, extract and sugar. I gave all my friends a bunch of pods for Christmas. A call one evening in early January told me John had died. It was especially poignant that I had been surrounded by the fragrance of vanilla for the last few weeks. I would have loved to have bought you some John but ever the gentleman, you didn't want a fuss and left quietly.

This little part of the richness of your life that you shared with us I cherish. Your memory will live on for me in your story, in the warm fragrance of vanilla and as I use the sturdy chopping block you cut for me.

Go well my friend x Nirala

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Wood to water: the seasons turn

Our response to light is primal. Its change with the seasons brings a feeling of gentle disquiet, as we ease into its dictates.  Spring and autumn are energising, transitional times of change that call for a reevaluation. Yesterday, I cleaned the ash from the fireplace and removed the wood buckets. Watering replaces woodchopping, the outdoor furniture retreats into the shady spots and cooking is planned for early in the morning or after dark.

Daikon radish pods
In the garden, the days take on their own pattern. The early morning is the time to pick leafy greens and soft fruits then, as the dew evaporates, calendula and lavender flowers. Early evening, I am  harvesting the winter seed: poppies, coriander, rocket, daikon and watercress and  in a week or two will be picking pick sun warmed tomatoes and capsicums at their end of day best. There are water bowls, bird baths, pot plants and the pond that need topping up with water and rainwater tanks to monitor. The reassuring grinding as the mechanisms in watering stations turn on and off tell me my plants will survive if I am not here for a few days.

I monitor the flow of the river over the weir with great interest, willing it to continue as long as possible. Gently tapping the side of the tanks I check their levels to evaluate how long they will last.

The wrens and the silver eyes thank me for the a bath under the sprinkler every couple of days.The black skinks have appeared with the bobtails and I hear snakes are about too. The bush rats are into my seed buckets and I have bought them inside to clean and pack away for autumn planting. The warm nights allow us to reacquaint with the ring tailed possums and mosquitos while enjoying the music of the frogs and the moon carolling magpies. The day time chorus is of crows and kookaburras, cicadas and sandgropers.

It is a shift in awareness from wet to dry, cold to hot - a changing of clothes, diet and activities. The world expands, comes out to play to plan holidays and enjoy the beach and the forest. I am grateful for this reminder of change and renewal in nature. The seasons here may not be as dramatic as in other climates but it is there. Wherever you live and whether you will be eating pudding by the fire or lobster at the beach, I wish you all a gentle joy in the turning of the year.

Go well, now and always,


Monday, December 4, 2017

Spring harvest

November, the last of spring and the garden is soft and lush, ablaze with colour and movement. Like  the northern hemisphere we are about to go into our time of extreme weather and have mini harvest time for the soft  vegetables and flowers that are at their best. Red cabbage has been made into a brilliant red kimchi,  the lemons have been juiced, pickled, preserved and made into Lemon Power and  gremolata for the freezer.  The deep red petals of  the 'Mr Lincoln' rose are large, dark and fragrant, not yet beetle prey they are being dried to make Turkish delight for  after a short stint being admired in a vase. Calendulas are being deheaded daily, the best season in years. Don't be squeamish about picking them, you will get so many more in return and you can just pick half each day.I will have an abundance for oil extractions and tincture and enough to sprinkle on salads and add dried later to rice before cooking.

It is also the best time to harvest my favourite old fashioned mint before it flowers. Diamond-backed moths and rust are making their way up the stems and making a mess of it. Cut now, the damaged leaves stripped, the bunches are hung indoors in the shade. Rub the leaves through a wire sieve when dry. Do not leave dried herbs hanging too long, they get cobwebby and dusty, especially in summer. I think dried mint works better than fresh in spanakopita, palak paneer and mint sauce and I always have some in the cupboard.

A friend called to ask about elder flowers and came an harvested a basketful for Elder Fizz for Christmas. Inspired, I began a batch too. The grandchildren love this very grown up drink and non drinkers enjoy its champagne like bubbles. There is still plenty of time if you would like to try. Two weeks is the minimum fermentation. Best tip....don't decide to do it the day after recycling has gone unless you have a great stash of wine or beer bottles. I have been promised I can bin dive at a friend's accommodation cottage for my next batch!

Elder Fizz

This is a tried and true recipe at our house, usually made in time for Christmas ‘champagne’ for the non drinkers and children. The flowers contain natural yeast that assists the fermentation.
Will fill 10 wine bottles.

9 litres water
700g white sugar
1 lemon, juice and rind
30ml cider vinegar
12 elderflower heads

In a large saucepan, bring the water to the boil.
Stir in sugar until it is dissolved and remove from the heat.
Gently shake the flowers to remove dust and insects and remove as much green stalk as you can.
When the water has cooled to room temperature, add the flowers, cider vinegar and lemon juice and rind.
Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.
Filter through muslin or a clean tea towel and bottle in clean screw top bottles.

Let sit for two weeks to mature and serve chilled.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Minty and fruity - drying soft herbs and natural pink fizz

Warm weather is on its way again and there is a rush on to harvest all the soft herbs before they bolt and flower and send all their energy into seed production. While the weather is still cool and dry, the essential oil content is at its highest level and your herbs will be pungent and potent harvested now. Always pick after the dew has dried and before the full heat of the day.

The mint I picked, bunched and hung two weeks ago is ready to strip before it collects dust and cobwebs and loses a lot of its colour.  The leaves are hard and brittle and should crumble easily. Gently pull the leaves from the stems. Store whole leaves in an airtight jar and store in a dark place. Use for teas and
tinctures. To process for cooking, rub gently through a metal sieve, discarding the hard stems and veins. Chuck out all the old herbs in your pantry as you process the new crop. The sticks make fragrant twigs for the fire or can be chopped up and added to the compost bin. This process will work for  oregano, marjoram, yarrow, lemon verbena and sage but not for fleshier herbs like basil and plantain..

 I got creative with the two batches of elder fizz now bottled and waiting for labels. A lovely pink version was a great success after I added 4 rosehip and hibiscus flowers tea bags to the hot syrup. A nice natural red fizzy drink for all the grandies. Now for the labels!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Can I have a micro chip please?

My website is down. Ten days now. Ten days of struggling to understand the terminology, searching Google for help, dealing with the few hardy folk who managed to contact me in other ways to place orders, participating in 'live' chat that had was more dead than alive in it's responses and  a few days generally tearing my hair out. All this perfectly timed as a follow up to all the advertising that has gone out for March workshops with the website link for bookings.

Technology...fantastic when it works, a head-splitting, ego crushing nightmare when it doesn't.

Each day I have  logged in to stare at the flat line graph registering zero page views.  Today I managed to find out I no longer had an account with my domain host - the result of having changed my email address two years ago. My renewal notice had bounced and I had gone into "redemption."
This meant I had 45-60 days to reinstate or my domain name would be deleted and removed from the registry which meant anyone who wanted it could pick it up. It has been  57 days...I could not change my details as my account was not active.I could not reinstate until I paid a fee.I could not pay that fee online. Many hours and $140 later, I am waiting to see if it all comes good.

I have done what I can, a small over sight has cost me dearly. With the speed which technology continues to change, the learning experience I am proud of today may not be appropriate tomorrow. Every new device involves a new set of understandings. I find I need to write things down and keep hard copies more often, I can't rely on my phone or computer to do it all for me when there are internet outages, power failures, updates and all the other strange glitches that can happen.

When the Australia card was proposed in the early 70's, I opposed what I saw as an invasion of privacy. My opinion has changed. I would like a micro chip in my wrist that I can scan instead of remembering a million passwords, that contains all those cards I have to carry, my medical records in case I have an accident and where I live so if I should go wandering in my old age I could be returned home safely. If you want to steal my identity, you will need to bring a knife!

Meanwhile, if you need me -

Go well,

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Big Girls Panties for 2017

It has been an extraordinary year. A year of extremes: unexpected political events that included Brexit and the American election results, deaths of thousands of civilians in civil wars and terrorist attacks, deaths of popular iconic figures, natural disasters, plane crashes.....and on it went relentlessly.

Many people are feeling emotionally battered and bruised, fearful of financial insecurity, political turmoil, terrorism, fearful of the changes in technology that are out pacing the time to learn them, worried about jobs, houses and a safe environment for their children. The 'old ways' no longer work and must break down before a new path can be envisaged. Never has there been a greater need for change. Remember: 'Just when the caterpillar thinks it is all over, it becomes the butterfly.'

Someone always asks about new years resolutions at some point in January. My unrehearsed reply was: to be brave. Surprising to me as much as anyone else. Fear can paralyse. Courage allows us to open doors, embrace change, move forward. Courage can be smiling at a stranger,  saying 'yes', starting a new venture,  listening to your heart. Risking a little (or a lot). Some days it's just being brave enough to get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other and face the day. For me, it will mean gently putting aside the thoughts that whisper seductively: can't, don't, shouldn't, and transform fear into excitement, change into progress.

I wish I still up might be an easier resolution to keep!

Into my big girl panties!

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 superfood . 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.