This website is an odd mix of my interests as a writer, entomologist, naturalist, gardener, and educator. You’ll find blog posts about rural New Zealand life, links to my books, and some of my favourite recipes. Feel free to explore, drop me a line, and sign up for my e-mail list.
One of the pleasures of the short days of autumn is doing morning chores in the dark.
I know that sounds weird. I don’t particularly enjoy tripping over the tools someone forgot on the lawn the day before, nor am I overly fond of the cold wind slicing through my jacket.
It’s the sights and sounds of early morning that I enjoy.
Yesterday morning was particularly spectacular. The sky overhead was clear and star-studded—shimmering glitter strewn across the blackest velvet.
But the stars to the south were blotted out, and lightning flashed and forked far out at sea. The storm itself was silent from my distance, but the surf roared with a storm’s fury.
By the time the sun rose, birdsong, barking dogs and the drone of tractors drowned out the sound of the waves. Sunshine masked the flash of lightning as the storm stalked along the coast. The day dawned serene and mundane.
Other wonders have been revealed to me on my morning chores over the years.
A bioluminescent worm in the chook paddock.
Shooting stars streaking from zenith to horizon.
A bioluminescent sea creature frozen in snow and deposited in the garden.
The aurora australis pulsing green in the southern sky.
Rats tiptoeing along the top wire of a fence (I know, rats, ick. But it was an amazing feat of balance).
Little owls cackling in the treetops and swooping silently overhead.
The graceful undulation of a fence during an earthquake.
The comforting warmth of a goat’s flank on a frosty morning.
The gentle caress of a nor’west gale before it turns violent.
The rhythmic heartbeat of the sea at rest.
The clarity of thought on a crisp dark morning, before the stress of the day intrudes.
I know it’s been over for weeks, but there have still been eggplants, peppers and tomatoes coming out of the tunnel houses. Before I moved the chooks, I harvested the last of those summer crops. We’ll savour them over the next week or so, and then it will be full-on winter from a culinary perspective, at least.
I’ve stocked up on barley to cook with our dry beans in bean-barley soup. Maybe I’ll add a bit of mushroom stock made from this autumn’s haul of porcini.
I’ve baked up some pumpkins so I have cooked pumpkin on hand for pie or galette later in the week. I’ll add frozen spring peas and summer corn to the galette, and garlic, stored in braids in the shed.
I’m eyeing up the secondary head of cabbage, sprouting from the remains of the summer crop. They’ll make tasty winter salads to complement warming meals.
i’ve planted out the winter crops, too—lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. They will provide us the late-winter vegetables we’ll crave come August.
So while I farewell summer, I welcome the culinary delights of winter. Not so varied, perhaps, as summer fare, but no less delicious.
Last Thursday was frenetic—I had a challenging work day and then ran errands in heavy afternoon traffic. By the time I arrived at my husband’s work to pick him up, I was tired, and my brain restlessly analysed the day’s events.
The day was warm, and I sat in the car with the windows down waiting for my husband. Time to catch up on my e-mail …
Twee-dle … A lone bellbird called lazily from a nearby tree, cutting through the sounds of the city and the clamour inside my head.
I pocketed my phone and closed my eyes as the sound transported me to the bush where I lay in a tent listening to the forest wake up. The clamour in my head stilled. Somehow my email no longer seemed important. The conundrums of the day lost their urgency. My shoulders relaxed and I took a deep breath.
There was time to savour. No need to worry.
Trouble could wait. I needed a few minutes in the bush.
All I needed to do was listen.
Stepping out the door one day last week, I met with this lovely skink on the porch. It’s not unusual to see them on our property, but it is unusual for them to sit still for photographs. The cool morning must have made this one sluggish, because he happily waited while I snapped a few pictures.
I’m always pleased to see skinks; native vertebrates are pretty rare out here in the middle of the Canterbury Plains. We’ve deliberately landscaped to protect and encourage skinks, as I’ve blogged about before. It’s nice to know our efforts have been successful. On sunny days the native plantings rustle with unseen skinks, and the rocks sport basking lizards. I’ve learned not to leave garden hoses lying on the ground, lest a lizard take up residence in the open end.
The common skinks in our yard aren’t in any danger of extinction (unlike many of our native lizards, which are), but it’s nice to know they thrive here. Seeing them makes me smile.
Last Wednesday was a glorious, chilly, sun-sparkling autumn day. A perfect day to climb up over the main divide on the Mingha-Deception Track. The track starts where the Mingha River joins the Bealey River. It follows the Mingha upstream through beech forests to the tussock-covered Goat Pass. On the way, it passes a spectacular hanging valley over which tumbles Kennedy Falls—150 metres tall. Kennedy Falls reminds me of one of the reasons New Zealand is so special. This spectacular natural feature sports no access road, no interpretive signage, no gift shop, not so much as a footpath to reach it. It spills down the mountainside in all its glory, unsullied by tourism. By the time you get to view the falls, you feel you’ve earned the privilege.
Goat Pass Hut, set in a hollow just north of the pass, is a spacious hut which we shared with just one other group of trampers Wednesday night. As we ate dinner, a group of noisy kea flew overhead. Thankfully, they didn’t call in at the hut to tear apart our shoes drying on the porch. About ten-thirty, while we all lay snug in our sleeping bags, great-spotted kiwi began calling around the hut—males and females duetting and answering one another. The great-spotted kiwi is a nationally vulnerable species, with a population around 15,000, and I always feel lucky to hear them in the wild.
Thursday morning saw us scrambling down the boulder-strewn upper Deception River on the other side of the main divide.
Formerly known as Goat Creek, the Deception River got its name in 1900 when surveyor Mr. N. A. Harrop warned engineers building the rail line along the Otira River that the water level in the little river was deceptive—they had no idea how much water could come down the river where it flowed into the Otira River. Three months later, the river flooded and crossed the Otira Valley, damaging the new rail line. It has been called the Deception River ever since.
The day we scrambled down the Deception was one of those deceptive days—the river was lively and powerful, but the water was clear and low enough to cross on foot. Tumbled and scoured boulders left no question about what the river could be like, however. It’s not a place you’d want to be in a storm.
A few hours downstream, we passed a pair of whio (blue ducks) sitting on the rocks preening and ignoring us. Like kea and kiwi, whio are threatened with extinction. There are fewer than 3,000 remaining, so seeing a pair of them was a treat.
The Deception Valley is narrow and steep, with many side streams pouring into the river, often in waterfalls that would be tourist attractions in their own right if they were anywhere else. Old slips, scoured into crumbling cliffs by the river, speak of a landscape in constant motion. A section of the river smells of sulphur from warm springs nearby—a reminder of the intense geological forces that have shaped the land.
As we emerged from the valley onto the wide flat where the Deception meets the Otira river, the deceptive nature of the river revealed itself again. Freshly tumbled rocks lay in drifts on the forest floor, far from the river’s current flow, showing the extent of recent flooding.
We had a glorious two days, with perfect weather, great wildlife encounters, and good company. Definitely a track to recommend.
That’s what happened yesterday afternoon when I decided I had to do something with the remaining apples and quince before they went bad.
I wondered…was apple quince pie a thing?
A quick glance at the internet told me it was, and confirmed my suspicions that the quince needed to be cooked before being put in the pie.
So, making it up as I went, I created this absolutely stunning pie. It was fabulous warm with whipped cream, but I think it was even better at room temperature the following day. More work than your average apple pie, but this isn’t your average apple pie.
4 cups sliced quinces
4 cups sliced apples
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbs flour
Pie dough for a single-crust pie
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
5 Tbs butter, melted
Place quince slices in a medium saucepan with a few tablespoons of water and cook gently until soft (5-10 minutes). In a bowl, combine apples, flour, sugar and spices. Stir the cooked quince into the apple mixture. Roll out your crust and place it in a pie plate. Combine all the topping ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork until crumbly. Pour the apple mixture into the pie crust and top with the topping. Bake 50 minutes at 190ºC (375ºF).
Bringing down an international dragon smuggling ring requires bravery, teamwork, quick thinking, and a touch of arson.
Do Ella, Nathan, Tui, and Oliver have what it takes, or will they become casualties in their own war against the smugglers?
This is book 3 of my Dragon Slayer series. I’m currently writing book 4–Taniwha.