Food, Feelers, and Fantasy

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.

Preparing for Gita

Just some of the weekend’s harvest.

I have been AWOL from the blog for longer than usual. I have good reasons, one of which is whirling toward New Zealand as I type. Cyclone Gita is bearing down on us, and though we aren’t likely to bear the full brunt of her damage at our place, we will get heavy rain and gale-force winds.

So I’ve spent the last two days bringing in the crops that might be damaged by her—wheelbarrow loads of corn, soy, black beans, borlotto beans, tomatoes, and apples. This summer’s intense heat and sufficient rainfall have not only encouraged excess cucurbits, but also increased my bean harvest—picking took far longer than I expected, and I will spend the next week shelling them all.

But when the rain starts later tonight, I’ll be able to relax, knowing I’ve done as much as I can to protect the crops. And the rush to bring them in means the job isn’t still hanging over me, lingering on the to-do list.

So I may not have posted the blogs I’d hoped to, but I’m ready for whatever Gita throws at us.

Little Beach Poems

Spent some time at ‘our’ beach today, watching waves, birds, dolphins. Here are a few little poems I wrote there:

Terns wheel and bob
Above each dolphin
Like balloons on a string.


Wave rises, crests
Wind blows foam back

Like errant strands of hair.


The hiss-swoosh of wave
And rolling pebbles
Rounds all edges.


Shag arcs and dips its head.
The body follows
And is gone.

Summer Soup 2018

I feel like a broken record sometimes (those of you under the age of 45, ask your parents what I mean by that). The garden season repeats itself each year in a pretty predictable fashion, and I find myself blogging about the same events every year.

Saturday was Summer Soup day, which I’ve blogged about more than once before (in 2015 and again in 2016). This year’s production was 25 quarts of soup and 6 quarts of vegetable stock, bottled and ready for quick meals throughout the year. Production time, just over 14 hours.

It always feels good to fill every pot in the kitchen with delicious vegetable soup…at least for the first hour or so. But by the end of the day, I’m sick of being in the kitchen and ready to collapse. I need to remember the feeling later in the year when I’m feeling guilty about just pulling a jar of soup out of the cupboard for dinner. I’ve put in the time. We all have, because even the kids help pick and chop vegetables for summer soup. We’ve earned every ‘free’ meal we get from it.

Crazy Cake Season 2018—#2

My son left it wide open for me this year. He wanted his usual spice cake (the one I’ve marked with his name in the cookbook), but he left it up to me how I decorated it.

I swear that was more difficult than being told what he wanted.

After many hours scouring the cupboards and looking at cake photos online for inspiration, I came up with a large geode.

Most geode cakes online are, frankly, weird—an ordinary tiered cake covered smoothy in fondant, with a slash down the side filled with geode crystals. They don’t look like a geode at all, and some look disturbingly like vaginas. I didn’t think my son would appreciate that. I strove for a more natural geode look.

I also hoped for a tastier geode material. I was inspired to do a geode by a bag of crystalised ginger in the cupboard. Most geode cakes, though, are made with rock candy, which isn’t the nicest accompaniment to cake. On a spice cake, I thought crystalised ginger would be a much more appropriate flavour (and texture). Unfortunately, my experiments with colouring ginger were uninspiring—the ginger had a beautiful sparkling appearance, but light colours looked grey on the yellowish ginger, and dark colours looked black. I couldn’t manage a nice geode-like lavender.

So I made purple hard candy and broke it into shards for the crystals.

The result was reasonably geode-like, and easy to make. And better than a crystal vagina.


I realised a shocking thing the other day. My son will finish high school in December this year. We all hope he’ll be leaving home for university shortly thereafter.

Next year, my teenage boy won’t be here all summer to eat vegetables.

Next year, I’ll need to plant a smaller garden, or be completely overwhelmed with food we can’t eat.

This is the last summer I will ever have a garden this big.

I’m having a harder time adjusting to that thought than I am the thought one of my kids will leave home in a year. Oh, I always knew that someday I’d scale back the garden, but ‘someday’ in my mind was always when I grew too old to manage so much garden.

But ‘someday’ is next year.

How am I going to cut back? Which varieties will I not plant? How will I curb my zucchini problem? What am I going to do with my time, if I’m not forced to spend every daylight hour in the garden from September to December?

It’s a good thing I have several months to prepare. This is going to take some getting used to.


The courgettes (zucchini) will recover, in spite of all the broken leaves.

The remnants of cyclone Fehi hit New Zealand yesterday. We didn’t receive the brunt of the storm, and I am thankful for that. But we didn’t escape damage.

After Fehi’s wind dumped rain on the West Coast, it swooped over the Southern Alps and raced down the other side, heating up as it went. We were blasted by the hot, dry wind—gusts at least 130 kph (and higher, by the damage inflicted), and a temperature that reached 35ºC by early afternoon.

Parts of the garden will not recover. I’m glad we ate our first sweet corn earlier in the week, because it might be our last—the corn lies flat on the ground today.

The greenhouse plastic was shredded, and the stakes holding the greenhouse in place were pulled from the ground. Only my paranoia about the greenhouse taking flight in the wind saved the structure—years ago, I’d tethered it to y-posts driven deep into the soil. They were the only things left holding the structure in place.

Today is cool and rainy. The change will help the garden recover from yesterday’s thrashing, but it can’t bring back the stripped fruit, broken branches, and fatally flattened vegetables. It won’t fix the greenhouse.

We pick up the mess and get on with it. The damage is discouraging, but I am not discouraged. If gardening (and life in general) were not laced with setbacks and disaster, we could take no pride in our accomplishments. I will be extra-pleased with every tomato and cucumber we eat for the remainder of the summer.

And, by the way, if cyclone Fehi did nothing else, it reminded me where the name Debbie’s chutney came from—cyclone Debbie stripped the apples from the trees before they were ripe. We made chutney from those apples, and named it Debbie’s. Perhaps we will be making Fehi’s chutney this weekend.