Tuesday, 30 April 2013

April's Autumn Richness

Totally exhausted.  Bone-weary and dog-tired.  That's what April-May means in gardening and harvesting terms!  When overabundant blessings become a curse!  Collecting fruit every day and trying to either eat, give away or preserve the bounty, means long hours in the garden and kitchen.  Stirring bubbling pots of jams, jellies, chutneys and purees long after bleary-eyed weakness sets in.  Oh boy!  The April/May holidays come just in time every year, for this final Autumn cache of garden delights to last the long sparse winter hibernation.  Can't wait for that fireside cave-time when I can gather my thoughts and be creative indoors as temperatures plummet outdoors!


Feijoa puree without any sugar or additives - pure goodness!

5L bucket feijoas collected every day, along with figs and olives

Feijoas ready to dehydrate

Feijoa Ginger Jelly
For my daughter's birthday cake, I figured instead of the usual chocolate cake, I would make her a birthday fruit-of-the-month cake.  The recipe comes from an ex-colleague and is easy to make and tastes so delish, fruity and moist!  I use egg substitute so that my husband can partake and enjoy as well (he is egg-free, so we tend to be as well).

Feijoa cake

Moist and fruity
kylie's feijoa cake recipe
125g butter
1 cup raw sugar
3-4 feijoas, grated, skin included
1 egg substitute (or real)
1  1/2  cups flour (white or wholemeal)
1 tspn baking soda
1 tspn mixed spice
2 tspn cinnamon

Melt butter in pot, add sugar and feijoas and egg substitute.  When mixed, add the rest of the ingredients enough to mix and pour into a greased cake ring tin.  Add topping and bake at 180degC for 35 mins.

25g butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tspn cinnamon

Last week began with a hiss and a roar of activity - I made several jars of feijoa jelly, guava jelly, apple chutney and dehydrated 15 trays of feijoas (in 3 rounds of round-the-clock craziness).  And then there was a mid-week, on-the-spur-of-the-moment spasm, where I suddenly got the urge to make ginger-flavoured muesli!  A big batch of it, cradled in a blend of honey and organic sugar coated oats, splodges of cinnamon,  cashews, brazil nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds and of course, finely diced sprinkles of crystalised ginger.  Very, very nice! Spicey but oh, so nicey!


Ginger chunk Muesli
6 cubic metres tree mulch resembling my muesli base!

Add to that long-hour lunacy, I worked like a Trojan in the garden, clearing large patches of weed-infested, vine-crowded tracts of ground underneath the fig and several feijoa trees, loading and carting barrow-loads of newly delivered tree mulch to throw over the newly-bared earth to suppress future weed proliferation.  Okay, so I am not in any way suggesting that one can keep up this break-neck pace, as I proved so impressively to myself - come Friday evening, I was knackered!  And I don't even have any!  Maybe girls should be knickered while knackered should be kept expressly for the male species!

Crazy-sized Monty's Surprise apple dwarfs Granny Smiths

Homegrown ingredients to make chutney

2 Large 1L jars of Spicey Apple Chutney
Anyway, I was totally knickered, and vowed that my second week of holiday should be spent pursuing more sedate forms of entertainment.  So we went and picked olives instead, ours and someone else's on Saturday.  And we hosted some friends for lunch on Sunday - so I spent much of my time, guess where - in the kitchen again!  Can't seem to get out!  Then this morning (Monday), I was back in there, baking a feijoa birthday cake for my daughter for her 18th birthday!  Happy birthday Shayni!

Last holidays, I sneakily made a throw out of old jerseys and bits and pieces I had amassed in my sewing paraphanalia, for her birthday, along with some seat covers for her little car and  money toward upkeep of said possession.  She spent a day washing and waxing her car and cutting out and pasting the name of her little bright red bubble car onto the cleaned and waxed side: "Jellybean".  Now she will never be able to travel incognito again!  She also gets a massage and hot rock massage from moi, to top her birthday treats and then we are off for a big screen movie performance of Iron Man 3.  

red cherry guavas

1.2kg red cherry guavas collected every second day

Guava Ginger Jelly

Guava Jam

Fig jam on left
So after a fruitful week, I am now set to slow the pace right down....... zzzzzzz

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Zeytin, or Olive, by any other name!

The trees we raided today
 3 years ago, Mike read a couple of books about English folk having olive farms in France.  He was so inspired that he wanted us to have our own little grove on this tiny piece of edible landscape.  So we planted 14 olive trees,crammed into a space wherever we could find an empty spot.  Last year, we picked a small jar of olives and bottled them (around 30 olives in total).  On hearing about this "success", we were invited by our local Dutch olive farmer, Bert, to pick what he termed "bird fodder", after his harvesting of olives for olive oil production.  We managed to pick about 3 buckets of olives for pickling and we hope to repeat that experience this year, but today we went up to local Henri and Megan's place to pick a half-bucketful of olives from their 5 trees.  And to boast of our successful olive increase: yesterday we picked about half a bucketful of our own olives, a huge improvement from last years tiny bottle of olives!  And they are big and fat!
Our own trees' harvest
"French Henry", as he is known locally, and his wife Megan, run a pizza and bread making business and are so busy with that, that they do not have time to pick their own olives, so today we went to their block of untamed wilderness and with a child's rake tied onto the end of a wooden pole, we combed the branches to pull out the olives onto a waiting tarpaulin spread below the trees.  It took 2 hours to half-fill a bucket and we were able to exchange 2 bags of organic coffee, a jar of last-year's cured olives, home-made herb salt, organic pasta and rice cakes.  Megan then gifted us 2 sour dough ciabattas!  What a wonderful life, to connect with local people and exchange goods!
We spotted this iridescent kingfisher on our way up ... camera shy.
The name Zeytin is Turkish for olive, and is the name of our most favourite restaurant in downtown Tauranga.  The decor is impressive, like a real Turkish trattoria, and makes wonderful vegetarian dishes.  We love Indian food, but then we equally love Mediterannean foods!  So yesterday, I made a HUGE batch of hummus,  about 1.4 kg!  It is easy to freeze in pottles, which we you can take out of the freezer and defrost before stirring and eating.  Hummus, with olives, olive oil, sesame seed dukka, avocado and soft white home-made bread - mmmmn, simply delicious!

1.4kg hummus 
I have been on holiday this week, and yesterday it hit me how exhausted I was, after a week of intense harvesting and preserving all our Autumn fruits!  This is where blessing becomes curse!  I am hell bent on not allowing any food to go to waste which, of course, is a whipping rod for my own back and creates a flurry of activity.  What I have been unable to  process, I have given away to the local backpackers, rest home and friends.  Each day, I pick up a bucketful of feijoas, a 2L bowl of red cherry guavas every second day, a 2L bowl of figs every second day, apples - boxes full ever second or third day - all needs to be processed, eaten or given away!  Much too much for a family of 3!
Olives from Henri and Megan
Note the cork with several iron nails hammered into it,
used for piercing the olives for the curing process.
Our own olive trees are growing at a crazy rate, and have to be pruned back real hard every year.  The soil is too fertile and we have high rainfall which makes them grow too quick.  Both Mike and I had a unfortunate experience of having our eyes poked with olive leaves, which have a nasty prickly point.  From now on, we have decided to wear safety goggles when picking or pruning them - it took me about 2 days to get my vision cleared, I think it has a little anti-viral component which irritates the eye.   Mike is still nursing a red eye!  I have been reminded to boil a few olive leaves in my next immune-boosting cold teas.  I have been making a concoction of sage and chamomile, sweetened with honey, quite pleasing to the palate when cold.

Discovering the source of information on olives, brings to mind the fact that Olives are the signature food for male testicles (if my memory serves me well).  And I am sure that science will back this match, in relation to the good oil and what it does for fertility!  In fact it is listed as the tree of health, wealth, peace, hope, light, wisdom and fertility!  The olive leaves can boost immune systems over winter, so I am going to collect some of our leaves from the pruned olive trees and dry them, so I can regularly use them in our infusions through winter.  This is taken from http://www.oliveoilmani.com/index.php/en/olive-leaves/olive-tea.html:

Tea from Olive Leaves
The leaves from olive trees can be useful in tea production. You may use either leaves directly collected from the tree or buy from the market.
Recipe: Pestle the leaves and pour 1 or 2 spoons in boiling water. Five or ten minutes later leech and add some sugar or honey. The tea from olive trees can become very bitter if you boil it much time.
This tea gives you much energy and it is recommended for adults to drink one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one at night, for young children one cup of tea per day and for school students one cup in the morning and one in the evening.

Now starts the tedious task of covering the olives in water, which is changed daily for the next 30 days, before making up the brine to preserve them.  Mmmmmn, will have to be patient, as they need a further 3 months to cure after the water washing process.  Damn, no wonder they are so expensive!  A labour-intensive process to the final end product!  I guess I can open up a few more of last year's jars now.  I had been saving them  like a miser hoards and saves his pennies for a rainy day, but now that we have started the new process, we can begin to tuck into last year's bounty!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Playing with Nature

I participated in a Eco-Retreat at Prana Retreat in Opoutere a couple of weekends ago.  It was organised by our kindergarten organisation and several speakers shared different ways of living or teaching within an environmentally-aware state of being.  It was a real breath of fresh air to be in the Great Outdoors, spending time with others who feel motivated to be involved at this level.  Organisations can become too "corporate" in this day and age and it is most refreshing to be involved with one that still cares about the greater environment!  

Prana has that "ye olde Hippy Commune" feel about it, as you drive along the winding driveway, flanked with tall pine trees, catching glimpses of old buses, outhouses and caravans between the tree trunks.  There is the massive 6m diameter yellow tipi, the hand-painted native bird-festooned retro caravans used for accommodation.  At $30 per head per night, accommodation in the caravans is not cheap, but then one needs to pay for solitude and peace!  Hell, if it were cheaper, they would be overrun by humanity.  Of course, there is one composting toilet in keeping in harmony with nature!  Not too unpleasant, though it did bring back childhood memories of living with an outside long drop in Coffee Bay, Wild Coast, Transkei!  I remember as a kid, waiting until I was so busting, then a quick dash outside, a frantic search by torchlight for snakes or spiders, then sitting down and hoping that nothing would slide in under the door as you waited impatiently for business to proceed!  There was nowhere to exit, no place to go if attacked from the doorway!  Snakes loved the warmth of the composting toilet on cold days!  Eeek!  Glad I don't live in Africa no more!

Pine cone fire-starters
Back to Prana, I met Walter.  I immediately like Walter and we set up a conversation about India (him having lived there for some years and my husband having just returned from a stint at an ashram there) and about hope for the world and everything in between.  Walter is the 70-ish caretaker who has lived at Prana for about 20 years.  The kaitiaki (caretaker).  For some reason, his whole being resonated with  the spirit of my father who died about 4 years ago.  A free spirit, roaming through the world, observing others and gathering a quiet wisdom along the way.  My charismatic father, Mdesaleni, could draw a crowd of  cocky, sure-of-themselves young bucks and entertain them with his wisdom and knowledge of wine, women and the world!  He could flatter any lady, irrespective of age or colour, at the ripe old age of 70 and have them eating out of his hands (or sometimes, bed!).  Or he could command the attention of locals on Xhosa traditions, laws and tribal conundrums.   R.I.P Mdesaleni!

Ephemeral Beach Art
At Prana Retreat I shared a retro caravan with a colleague and a small baby mouse, much to her horror, in the morning, when we found it under her bed clothes, having cuddled up to her most of the night, as evident by all it's little mousey ablutions left as evidence.  We didn't sleep a wink on account of the rain beating a constant rhythmic cacophony on the tin roof, and sleeping in cocoon-like sleeping bags.  Reminds me why I don't really go for camping expeditions!  I love my home comforts, soft and cosy bed and pillow and access to a flushing loo on night-time calls of nature.  It's that dichotomy in me - a love of nature and a loathing to be cast into it!  Tramping through bush - mmmn, not for me!

However, I did thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to be part of a group working on some ephemeral art (something that does not last, is temporary and leaves not a trace of human litter and fall out).  We walked down to the deserted rain-squalling, wind-swept beach and without any fore-planned group discussions, set about collectively creating art-on-the-beach with foraged natural objects like seaweed, driftwood and spinifex seed balls.  The result was something of temporary beauty, something which would last only until the next high tide would wash it all back to the tide line again.

On a more somber note, on such a pristine, deserted beach, that at first glance seemed free of  negative human impact, I managed to collect a small handful of mermaid tears (small plastic beads) in a matter of 5 minutes in a 20cm area.  Unfortunately our negative impact is wide-reaching!  Say "NO!" to plastic!  These endemic little plastic critters now form part of beaches on every shore in every part of the planet and are choking our oceans, shores and sea life, all because of our obsession with PLASTIC!

Curious Seagull checks out the art

Come a little closer m'dear, take a look at this artwork!

Art on the Beach
Our Eco-Retreat was a real treat!  All food was catered for, and vegetarian, meaning no animals had to suffer or lose their lives for us humans to indulge in a Feast of Death!  Hooray!  A little like the Ephemeral Art - the earth did not have to suffer for our penchant to be entertained.  I gave a talk on Waste Management - sounds a little one-dimensional, but really it covers all aspects of our lives.  We seek not to leave a trail of waste for the earth to have to deal with, across the spectrum of our living practices, from food to medicine and healing!  Ever thought how much chemicals are thrown into landfill or flushed down toilets in the form of unwanted tablets, pills and medicines?? More poison for the earth!  Not to mention the waste of water-borne human excrement, filled with antibiotics, artificial hormones, steroids and other medication.
Having fun with shells and patterns

Simple Symmetry Mandala
Coming back home is always a treat for me.  It's our sanctuary, our safe-haven from the busy-ness of the world.  To quote Gandhi: "There is more to life than increasing it's speed."  I may not LOVE being thrown out of my comfort zone to live IN nature, but I sure LOVE being surrounded by nature and working with and in it!  I get up close and personal in my own backyard with the rolling tides and seasons of nature unfolding before my very eyes.  We are collecting so much Autumn bounty at the moment- apples, bananas, feijoas, guavas, raspberries and figs!
A veritable feast

Coddling Mothed apples

Cabala juice - a zestful zing to start the day!
It is this time of the year that becomes such a busy kitchen time!  Increased harvests mean increased preserving, bottling and a freezing frenzy!  A time when I feel what it is like to be a farmer's wife!  I have made several bottles of jam and chutney already, with many more to go.  I have bags of frozen queen peaches to make into jam, plums awaiting chutney reincarnation, figs for jam and guavas for jelly in the freezer.  The April holidays is a good time to wash out the glass bottles and set about massive kitchen marathons of jam and jelly and chutney making.  The weather is proving to be good indoors weather, so I look forward to filling the larder for winter.
Preparing to make courgette chutney

Guavas, bell-chillies and yard-long beans

Bananas ripening in the shed
I have been experimenting with making up a potting and seed raising mix which seems to be working well.  I mix equal amounts of river sand, pea-pebble scoria, garden soil and compost in the wheelbarrow.  A tiny amount of weeds come up in my seed trays but they are easily pulled free to allow the veg seeds to come up.  Saves money and makes sense (no chemical fertilisers added).  I am sure there is a more scientific approach to making the right potting mix but this works for me.  I hate anything too calculated or specific, spoils my fun!

Mixing our own potting mix

Hibiscus plantings, with soapnut berry on right
After a weekend of deluge rainfall, I look forward to some dry days ahead, so I can head out of the kitchen, into the backyard and do some clean up to make way for the garden's Big Sleep called Winter.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Photos by Shayni

New garden tools from a garage sale.  Total cost of sale: $6
Photo by GreeNZPeace
One man's junk is another man's treasure.  I LOVE garage sales and opp shops!  Taking away someone else's unwanted goods to give them a new lease on life!  Our new/old garden fork and long-handled loppers will surely come in handy!  The garden is currently in a harvest peak.  Apples, figs, grapes, berries, feijoas and guavas have just arrived on the gardenstore-front.

Produce.  Photo by Moi
I happened to go to a talk last week about food security and was gifted these wonderful little cobs of strawberry popping corn!  I de-kernelled one cob to test it out and found that I couldn't use the air-popping method as it kept on spitting them out - too light to stay in there.  So I tried the pot and dash of oil method - they really did pop - one cob of kernels made about half a cupful of mini popped corn.  Tasted good.  Mmmn, might try to grow them next summer.  This year I went hell-for-leather planting out my corn (organic sweetcorn, multi-coloured Hopi corn and black Maori corn) - only to discover that I had neglected to account for the deciduous tree growth which would preclude most sunlight to their sun-hungry lifestyle.  So sadly, most of the corn was left to dry as it was not good to eat, but will keep the cobs for seeds and/or feeding the chooks.   Humff!  But not entirely a waste of time and energy as the corn would be leaving a precious gift of nitrogen in the soil for future plants.

Crazy little strawberry popping corn.  Photo by Shayni

Corn kernels in the popping machine hatch

The end result, after pot-frying them.  They look burnt but
it is just the dark colour of the hulls.
The garden is giving up so much bounty that we need another family to help us eat the food!  It is apple and feijoa time!  Heaps of apples, along with a steady drop of roughly 10-15 feijoas daily.  The size of feijoas varies considerably, from around 3cm circumference to 7-8cm!  The smaller feijoas tend to be sweeter.  Been making crumbles, feijoa relish and dehydrating some.

One of the bigger feijoas
Another steady harvest includes Zucchini Rampicante.  While the warmer-loving common zucchini plants have long succumbed to going mouldy and being relegated to the compost heap, Z Rampi is perfect for extending the season of Zucchini-Harvest.  Z Rampi are cold-hardy and very easy to grow.  The long neck is seed-free, while the bulbous end carries the seed.  They are great for making layered lasagne-type meals, using the thinly sliced rounds as one would use pasta sheets.  Or for marrow chutney.  If they are on the ground, they tend to curl up into crazy S-Bends or goose-neck shapes.  The vines that head for overhanging foliage tend to grow long and straight (about 1.2m) and it is not uncommon to harvest specimens as below, resembling rocket launchers!  
Craziest vegetable ever!  Zucchini Rampicante.
Cradled by the Wild Woman of the Woods.  Photo by Shayni
(I did ask for a shot without the head!!)
With me hubby away in India, visiting an Ashram for 17 days, I was running around trying to fit in all my regular chores, as well as his.  But it also meant I had more time on my hands in between chores, to say, reupholster a couple of dining room chairs (as you do, of an evening).  Have staple gun, will reupholster!

Threadbare chairs...

Everyday wear and tear as bottoms slide on and off 

First, remove previous staples to release old threadbare fabric cover

Cut new fabric to size and tuck a turned back edge and staple in place

Continue to turn back edges and staple in place till all 4 sides are in place

Voila!  20 mins later.  A sample of fabric forms a new chair covering

And while my husband was swanning around and meditating in India, I also managed to re-house and cover his Sobukawa or Buckwheat pillow.  Initially, I thought of pouring the innards into the compost bin (much better to use one of these eco-option pillows than a synthetic, allergy-free polyester one which probably takes a hundred years to break down in landfill!) but then thought I could perhaps just extend it's life a little further by recovering it.  It was a pleasant little challenge.  I might have to repeat this process with mine as soon as I gather a few more spare moments.  The next time the cover gets really icky (took about 7 years), I will probably use the composting option.

Cat admires new fabric covering for old, stained pillow

Buckwheat hulls are poured into bucket and then sifted to remove dust which
discolours the covering.  Tedious, but fun.  Finally, the hulls are then poured
into the new pillow covering.

Might I say, quite an arty- looking pillow now!

My sock-life-extenders - adding an extra bit of old sock tops
to the heels extends sock life.  Only takes 2 mins each!
And on the same theme, before Mike returned from India, looking decidedly Om Mine Padme Hummish (or relaxed in non-meditation talk), my daughter and I also managed to move about 2 cubic metres of tree mulch to cover areas of the garden, including the pathway at the back of the house.  The 2 new little skittery skattery chooks were moved off of bed number 2, we piled on 2 barrow-loads of newly made compost and it is ready to plant up with winter veggies.  Looking good, Sister!
Leafy glade with newly laid mulch

Bed 2, all ready for new beginnings
After carefully choosing which of the 8 little chickens we would keep, my daughter told me she had named the lighter one, Lux, which means Light in Latin, and that I was free to come up with the other chicken's name.  Without hesitating, I said: "Blackboy!"
She gave me a look of pure disgust (17yr olds have managed to perfect this look over the last half-decade of their life) and said with obvious disdain, that the chicken was a GIRL!  So I replied that Blackboy was in honour of the dark-skinned peaches which are so delicious and of the same hue.  She gave me that look, the one which withers leaves off of trees but one which I am used to, so I said, "Okay, what about Bibi?"  Didn't tell her that it was short for Blackboy, but I think she guessed, coz she wheeled around and headed indoors in exasperation.

Anyway, Blackboy is doing just fine, alongside her sister, Lux!  They seem to be growing every day, but are quite the scaredy-cats (or chickens) and are not as friendly as Liz and Spence.  (My daughter never objected to one of them being called a Male name!)

Our 2 new little chicken friends, photo by Shayni
One night, whilst left to our own devices, as I lay on the couch, ever the Lazy Housewife for the evening, my daughter, in the absence of her father to tease, decided to decorate my foot!  A rather ticklish experience, but none too awful.   I required her to take a photo for prosperity.  Great Sole Art! She also likes to take sneaky pics on my camera.   When it comes to download my photos, I'm like, "Hey, who took this one?"  Need I ever ask??  Often, they are of her pulling a variety of strange faces! It does make me smile!

Now she's demanding I acknowledge her contributions!  Hence the title of this blog.  All un-acknowledged photos are by myself.  And yes, she does take better ones than me as she has patience and time on her hands, I am too busy doing all the things I am blogging about!
Sole Art - photo with permission, by Shayni

Photo by Shayni