Saturday, 31 December 2011

Hot Buttered Breads and Bananas

Here I am on holiday, with all the time of day to work away in the garden but a rain of cataclysmic proportions threatens to make Noah's ark a thing of beauty and wisdom!  Everything in the garden hangs limply, heavy with rain.  Some sunflowers lie horizontal to the ground, having fought hard at retaining their upright stance stoically until now.  The fig tree which leaned in an easterly aspect with the last heavy rains, and was righted with support structures, now leans precariously to the west!  I think I shall prune it ever so hard at the end of fruiting, to encourage deeper root set.  I hope the little hedgehogs are okay, perhaps they have grown gills over the week of Big Rain.

Yesterday I accompanied Mike on his milk route.  For two years now, we have tried in vain to buy unpasteurised milk, paying premium price for organic homogenised but unpasteurised milk from the supermarket.  Pasteurization of milk is basically the heating up of milk to boiling point to render all micro-organisms inert, in other words, to kill off all bacteria, both good and bad in the milk.   Homogenisation is the decreasing of the size of fat globules in the milk, under high pressure, so that there is less tendecy to seperate and form a creamy layer on top.  There is research to support both of these processes rendering milk less digestible for the human system.  There is a world of differing opinions out there about organic, vs non-organic and pasteurised vs unpasteurised.  So you just have to make up your own mind but according to our wholefoods guru, Don Tolman, raw unpasteurised milk is one of the most healthiest foods known to man.  I go with that.  He states that milk is best derived from an organically raised house cow from nearby.  Failing that, (hence the 2 year quest where I even researched keeping a milk goat to no avail, council bylaws, size of section etc.) we finally discovered a dairy farmer just outside our village, who would happily exchange 5L at a time, for a donation of $5.  Note, he may not sell it to us. There is so much political shtummff about selling unpasteurised milk which I shall not go into here, but I guess that big dairy companies need to protect their interests by ensuring all milk is processed through their greedy paws.  Now the milk we donate against, is unpasteurized but unfortunately it is not organic, i.e the farmer does not necessarily employ earth-friendly practices or may well use chemicals and antibiotics.  So it is not the best situation, but a better one than buying our milk pasteurized and homogenised, from the supermarket at greater cost.  There is no plastic waste from bottles and so we justify this option as one to suit our needs until we can find an organic supplier.  This makes our milk supply much more personal, and I may yet kick the habit if I go more often and see any untoward treatment of the cows..............  Luckily, in New Zealand, our dairy practices are still much much more humane than in countries such as the United States of America.  Eeek!  Don't watch Food Inc. if you still want to eat the same as you always did!

A gaggle of ducks crossing the road on our way to the dairy farm.
I was yelling at them, "not that way", as they headed under the gate
into a kiwifruit orchard, with all it's toxic spray regimes.  They didn't
heed me!

Mike at the pump, filling our reusable milk container.

Sheep lounging alongside the farm tracks
I came home cradling a big warm 5L container of fresh milk between my feet as we drove home, and immediately set about making a huge crock of milky vanilla sago pudding.  Mmmmmn!
Today we both sped outside during a brief lull in the voracious rain!  I know rain is not synonymous with appetite but the weather seems decidedly in that ilk.  But I digress.  I walked around and surveyed the rain damage at a time when all fruits and vegetables are craving long, hot days.  And I managed to pick a small box of zuchinis, berries, tomatoes, beans and nectarines.  Most of the nectarines on the tree have rotted,  Some tomatoes had to be pulled off and chucked away, splitting skins are a receptacle for organisms of rot unfortunately.  And then rounding the corner at the back of the house I gasped and yelled for Mike to quick-as fetch the ladder and saw.  A huge drooping bunch of bananas were ripening quick-smart and I knew it was now or never!  We hastely strung the heavy bunch up in the nice dry and warm garden shed, harvesting more than half of the very ripe top bananas.   As some were on the over-ripe spectrum it was a forgone conclusion even before I had got the banana stash inside -  banana bread!

Beautiful bananas with some of the over-ripe specimens on the
 left hand side.  Note the crystal apple cucumbers on top.
I had already set a loaf of bread to bake in the breadmaker (thank God for appliances).  So while the smell of fresh baking bread filled the air, I skinned the ripe bananas and set about making 2 small loaves of banana bread, one to eat immediately and one to freeze.  I use the recipe listed previously on one of my blogging efforts.  Easy Peasy.  Suddenly the house was overtaken by the smell of sweet, fresh cake to stimulate the salivary glands.  I tried out the new Ceres coconut flour - imparts a textural aspect to the cake and bread.  We also cut up all the berries (strawberries, blueberries and yummy berries - not sure of their name), added a TBspn icing sugar, allowed to sit and blend, then scoffed that between banana bread.  Oh well, guess that was our hors d' oevre, now for lunch, hot buttered bread with almond butter and honey maybe............

Freshly baked coconut flour bread

Banana loaves, fresh out of the oven.
Cabin Fever.  Hence the second blog in one week!  Yesterday my son asked me to cut his hair.  I have no official training in this vocation, except some poor desperate school friends whom I convinced that hair-cutting skills were in my genes.  My own mother would use her huge silver fabric scissors to lop off my hair, once, whilst still in a plait.  Straight off.  She said that way, I could sell my hair to a wig-maker if I wanted!  Anyway, I have had further practice since boarding school days, first cutting then shaving my husband's hair (shaving is easier!).  And of course, I have cut my kids' hair every since they were born, with each of them having attended a "real" hairdresser 2x in their lives.  One of each of those, was to cover up a terrible home job!  I am grateful to the huge amount of trust my son invests in my abilities, despite shaving a huge 4cm diameter off the top of his head by accident, not too long ago.  I was trying out the "thinner" attachment on the shaver and the attachment became dislodged, exposing the cutting edge and before I realised, I had taken all the hair off at the scalp!  Luckily it was on the very top of his head and I told him that as long as he never bowed his head to anyone, no-one would notice!! So now he won't let me thin his hair again!  Anyway, he realises the trade-off, a home-cut means he doesn't have to fork out any money on a cut, and he can spend it on his car instead!

 My daughter went off to work at Exodus this morning, a huge New Year's Eve reggae event, expected to draw crowds of up to 6000.  Last night she got me to braid her hair in the absence of my dread-locking skills.  I so felt like a hair-dresser by profession yesterday!!  She left with rain-gear and gumboots.  But I think she may yet need an ark!  I am sure it will still be a great experience for her, feeding head-bopping, back-beat throbbing reggae-crowds.  If it all still goes ahead, despite the deluge.

The end result.

This morning's pic before she left
I might find time to blog again within a short window of time, due to this weather!  Rain forecast till Tuesday!! 

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Spikes and Lavender

Two spikey things came to mind this morning.  The first being the lavender in my garden, of which I harvested 2 big bunches yesterday.  I have an all-time favourite lavender bush - one with the longest spikey stemmed fragrant flowers.  I still don't know which variety it is - French, Spanish, Italian or English.  But it speaks to me in my nasal olfactory senses in a way the others don't.  One of the bunches I harvested was placed in a vase to inspire me while cooking, while the other one was hung upside down from the ceiling of my kitchen to dry.  This will be my pillow-sachet filler.  My last one is so well used that it doesn't carry much scent anymore.  I place it under my pillow at night and when turning over, am rewarded by a faint scent of summer.
I once entertained the idea of planting a whole field of lavender in the garden.
Bee fodder

The other spike which comes to mind is the pair of visitors we have welcomed to our garden this morning.  We were sitting and having our cup of organic, fair trade coffee when there came an urgent knocking on the door.  Our excited neighbour breathlessly told us to come and rescue a mamma hedgehog and her 3 babies on the driveway, or else her dog would kill them.  Well, wildlife rescues are best left to my daughter, so I unceremoniously ran upstairs and rushed her out of a warm cosey late morning bed laze.  Just the word "hedgehog' and 'rescue" was all it needed to get her springing out of bed and running for the task, albeit still in her pj's!

 Alas, mother and babies all scattered at the first sign of human interest and only one baby was caught with mum.  The other 2 shimmied under the driveway fences and despite a concerted search and rescue effort, couldn't be found.  So Josephine and Napoleon (rescued rodents-like critters) have been released into our garden, along with another half a dozen who have all been gifted to our garden by caring neighbours.  No wonder we don't seem to have such a major slug and snail problem this year!  I have read that hedgehogs were so named, for their fondness of living under hedges, and their likeness to hogs or pig's snouts.  They have apparently changed little in over 15 million years!!  Come to think of it, they do look a little prehistoric!

Feisty little critter tried to escape, quite
capable of climbing the box!
Mum Josephine and baby Napoleon
 We have just returned from a wee holiday in Turangi, south of Taupo.  Not being the outdoorsy type of family Turangi draws for winter skiing, trout fishing, hunting and hiking, we grew tired of the cabin and the very spartan view of the tarred driveway.  So instead of luxuriating for a week at a popular holiday destination, we cut it all short, unanimously voting to return to our little haven, after a few spectacular short walks in the area.
The view from our sliding doors!!
Note that lack of screening vegetation!

The cabins, sparse and not a pot plant in sight.

The mighty Tongariro River

The one I had to leave behind............
I did bring 5 small ones home with me for hot rock therapy.

The rocks, oh the rocks!  Thousands of beautiful smooth rocks
of every size and shape!

I fossicked on the lakeside, collecting bits of driftwood and pumice
to create these garden sculptures upon our return.
Sometimes you have to leave home to realize how good you have it!  We came home to these wonderful outbursts of colour in the garden:

The sunflowers stand at over 2 meters tall!
 So with inclement weather setting in, I shall take this wonderful time to do indoorsy activities like read, sew, create, make and bake.  Bliss.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Wet, wet, wet!

Unbelievable weather!  Should be sunny but am considering whether I should be googling plans to build an ark!  How much water can one little island really soak up??  People further down the line haven't fared so well in this wet wonderland: floods, land slides......
We have limped from wind storms to apocalyptic rain deluges, all this in a month typically linked to sunshine, beach wallowing and surfing opportunities!
In a brief respite from the rain, I managed to sneak out into the garden and take some photos to document the growth and movement of crops.

Elderberry flowers cowering under the distinctive yellow foliage.
Last year I picked enough elderberries to make one bottle of elderberry syrup.  This is truly delicious on top of vanilla sago pudding, or swizzled on home-made banana ice-cream.  We have an Oscar juicer, which makes the most delicious and healthiest banana ice-cream.  I simply freeze excess over-ripe bananas and then put them through the Oscar, along with brazil nuts and dates - gives the ice-cream a toffee-like texture and taste!

The corn is as high as an elephant's eye............. nearly!
 I sent my now-deceased father some of these black Maori corn seeds some years ago, to the Transkei in South Africa. He reported showing them to the older Black folk in the area and that they were really excited, as they remembered their grandparents growing similar corn many years back!  We stand to lose so much of our heritage seeds, which is why I like to grow these unusual varieties unavailable in the supermarkets!

Wildflowers in bloom

The blue of wildflowers abuzz with pollinating bees, which is the
main reason for planting them under our orchard trees.

Such prehistoric-looking buds of poppies..........

This deep crimson flower of a pelargonium.............. I think I might
get into the different hues till the garden is a riot of colour!
Apparently there are 200 different varieties!

The Pohutukawa-like flowers of a feijoa........... the black birds love to
feast on them.  Tend to rip them to shreds but then feijoas are
 pollinated by birds, so I leave them to it!
I was reading an article about feijoas on the net and discovered that this plant was imported into New Zealand in the early 1900's, and is native to Brazil and Uruguay.  In terms of yeild, these trees are prolific producers - Year 3 plant approximately yield 2kg of fruit then doubling each year until 20 to 25kg of fruit.   considering we have 8 of these trees, in our garden, that could equate to 160kg fruit!!

The monkey tail of a baby ponga fern frond
The ponga fern frond is a symbol of many New Zealand sports teams logos and the "koru" shape used in many representations in Maori art.  It reminds me of the Nautilus shell.

The beauty of our natural world

The view from our bedroom window, the chook house visible on
the left, over my newly harvested broad bean bed.

My son Cam's outdoor recycled rimu cottage.  

The kitchen garden, with netted strawberries
So although Mike's garlic crop is ruined,  the strawberries are swollen but not very sweet, the stone fruits will probably develop mould and blight, some tomato plants have succumbed to wet rot, the wildflowers are lying horizontal on the ground, seedlings have damped off and rotted, all due to the excessive rain, mostly, the garden still flourishes!

And we suffer from cabin fever, but this too shall come to pass!
 Christmas presents have all been sorted, so we can relax.  Mike and I decided to share a gift for ourselves which would bring some change to others - you can't change the world but perhaps you could make the world of difference for someone in need.  Oxfam has a programme called Oxfam Unwrapped, where you can purchase a worthy gift on behalf of someone, which then is gifted to impoverished communities.  Our choice was a gift of bees to a community in Samoa.  The humble honey bee does so much.  Not only does it make delicious honey, it helps pollinate fruit trees and vegetable crops.  This gift also provides training for beekeepers to make the most of their hives and earn a better living.  What a great sense of the true spirit of Christmas!  Do we really need another sachet of bath bubbles, a bottle of perfume or another box of  chocolates?

Okay, maybe just another box of chocolates...............

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Wild winds vs wild flowers

Abundant verdant growth of early summer, with chamomile flowers
in the foreground.
The weather remains unpredictable, with heaps of rain, heaps of sun and high humidity and heaps of wind!  4 seasons in one day!!  Anyway, the garden isn't complaining.  Everything grows at a phenomenal rate, including weeds!
Our black corn crop doing extremely well, despite high winds.

The wind and cold of yesterday had me hunkering indoors, creating Christmas gifts.  Quite good weather for it really!  I didn't feel guilty not tending my garden.   Mike, however, rucked up against the cold and did the lawns, compost turning and then as I had mentioned the wind-damaged broad beans needed to be cleared, he took it upon himself to do the big task.  Later in the day, I asked him how many beans he had harvested.  He gave me a blank stare.  "Where are the beans?", I repeated.  He shrugged and told me that everything was in the compost bin.  And that I had not mentioned harvesting the beans before dealing to the plants!!  Men definitely are from Mars!!  Like the time I asked him to check if the laundry was dry.  Some time later, I noticed the laundry still hanging on the line.  "Is the laundry still wet?", I asked.  No, came the reply.  "Well, then why is it still hanging out there?" - "you never asked me to bring it in, only to check if it was dry, which I did", he replied!  (He has since gone and recovered a 4L bucket of broad beans from the compost bin!)
The wildflowers proliferate under the washing line.  Makes
 hanging up a pleasure!
Anyway, the chooks are now on bed 8, cleaning up after the broad bean massacre.  Broad beans, like most leguminous plants, fix nitrogen back into the soil, which green leafy plants take out, hence rotation of crops becomes essential, if you want to have healthy harvestings!  Talking of chooks, Liz and Spence have been decidedly lazy over the last month or so.  I am now going to lock them out of their sleeping quarters during the day.  They have been huddling up in their hidey-space almost all day, every day.  So in order to make them earn their living, I will try to exclude them from nesting in the day.  


The giant sunflowers lining the pathway to the
washing line.  A shady avenue.

A single poppy.

The dizzying beauty of colours reaching up towards the laundry!
I have been having some life lesson tutoring with my teenage/adult son on contributing to the life and times of the family.  These things have to be done weekly as they have short attention spans and selective amnesia.  I coerced him into the garden, with the promise of the thrill of harvesting a mother of a cauliflower.  He stood up and beamed at the sheer pleasure of holding up something that he personally had harvested.  That night, we had Aloo Gobi (Aloo = potatoes and Gobi = cauliflower).  A delicious curry which my Indian friend taught me how to make:
Aloo Gobi Recipe:
Place 1 - 2 Tbspn ghee (clarified butter) in a pot and fry a teaspoon of each of the following: black mustard seeds, tumeric, cumin and coriander, and 1/2 tspn crushed chilli and 2 tspns of garam masala powder.  Add 1 - 2 chopped onions and fry till soft.  Add 4 - 5 fresh tomatoes, chopped, or a half can of tomatoes and fry a further 10 mins, adding 2 tspns salt.
Then place your bite-sized, chopped potatoes and cauliflower florets into a oven roasting pan, with 2 Tbspn ghee.  Stir in your spicey tomato mix, bake at 180deg C for 40 mins, stirring to mix and coat vegetables every 5-10 mins, or until soft.  Add more salt if required.  Serve with home-made rotis or rice.  Simply delish!  And easy-peasy to make!
A humungous cauliflower which grew seemingly overnight!

The proud look of a young hunter with his first vegetarian cull.
So I thought I would add some recipes that I put together yesterday, for gifts.  They are fun to make, economical and non-toxic.  
GreeNZ Herb Salt:
Place 3 cups Good Salt (not supermarket salt which is pure sodium chloride and not worth it's salt!)
into a blender.  Add 3 cups of dried organic herbs of choice (I used a selection of basil, rosemary, parsley, marjoram and chives).  Blend till thoroughly mixed.  Bag and label.

GreeNZ Herb Salt
Next week I'll add some recipes for facial scrub, herbal tea blends and foot scrubs.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Weather Woes

The calm before the storm.
Haven't blogged for a while as it has taken me some time to get my thoughts into cohesive alignment.  What an action-packed 2 or 3 weeks it has been!  Both at work and at home.  We have had visits from the Education Review office at work and visits from friends at home. We have had a celebration party in recognition of our EnviroSchools Silver Award and lots of end-of-year preparations and planning at kindergarten.  

In between all that, we have dealt with Wind Storms from Hell!  It blew for 7 days non-stop, gale force winds.  We watched as the leaves on trees turned brown and branches were wrenched off their parent plants, our fig tree blew down and just when we thought it could get no worse, our plastic German-precision-built hothouse blew over and tumbled into the nectarine tree!  On that Saturday morning, we lay in bed as the wind ramaged outside and I truly wondered whether our house would withstand the fury of Mother Nature this time.

We surveyed the damage and I felt overwhelmed by all the clean up required.  But soon as that thought slipped out, I quickly gave myself a mental lashing - "Don't be such a girl!  This ain't no earthquake!  Imagine cleaning up after that!"  That put my misery into perspective and quick-as set me right!!  So we righted the hothouse again and in the after gusts of wind, lashed the structure down as best we could.  My hot house tomatoes I had gotten a headstart on were ripped out and snapped off!  It was a bit heart-breaking as these plants are my "babies" which I tend with care.  They had green tomatoes on the size of small oranges!  Gone with the wind!  As too, all my seedlings - tipped out in one giant pile of rubble!  Capsicum, eggplant, aster, dahlia, coriander, tomatoes and many more- all damaged beyond salvage.
Our hothouse bears the scars of it's wind-borne travel adventure.

So later in the day, we put on a brave face for the help-exchangers who arrived from the States and they set about helping us around the garden.  Just in time.  They took our mind off all the damage (our neighbour also lost a plum tree which also crashed through our driveway fence).  But at least the house, cottage and shed are still standing.  Plants can be replanted.  I spent most of Saturday doing just that - sowing new seeds.  There is always hope!  Seeds of hope.

Our new helper friends were set to weeding, composting, pruning, thinning, sanding and other jobs which freed us up to "recover" lost ground after the storm.  While Corinne did much of the garden work, Warren set about converting 2 kiwifruit bins into a super rustic daybed!  A week rushes by quickly when you are in the company of friends and all too soon, we farewelled them this morning.  We enjoyed their wonderful musical ensembles in the evening, with both being very accomplished musicians and singers!
A fine place to read the afternoon away................

like this!

The Evening Time Crooners
This evening (Monday) after work, I went out into my garden for a little down time.  It had been raining all of Sunday, a welcome wetting of the dry, dry wind-parched earth.  Gardens are miraculous!  They don't take long to recover!  I delighted in the many colours and shapes of the wildflowers, a-buzz with bees, and while picking my chamomile, I had to smile when I heard this strange scratchy-growly noise coming from one of the hollowed ponga (tree-fern) logs that line my pathways.  I knew instinctively that it was a hedgehog.  We had spied one pulling into our main gate entrance last Wednesday evening, making a sharp left for the garden!  I tried peering into the blackness and then had an epiphany - I pointed my camera inside the darkness and took a flash-photo!  Check out the results!!
Note the snails and the little grass lined burrow, with the hedgehog but jammed in tight!

German Chamomile
So all things considered, there was not so much damage on the grand scale.  Mother Nature wreaks havoc but she also performs miracles!  The garden still feeds us abundantly and this is a pic of last week's haul.  We are still harvesting broad beans, asparagus, kohlrabi, strawberries, artichokes and radishes.  New to the plate is black currants, rhubarb, and green peas.