The kitchen fireplace

DSC_0017 cropIt used to be that every kitchen had a fireplace. It was what you cooked on, after all! It’s unusual these days, but we are blessed to have a fireplace in our modern kitchen.

When we gutted the kitchen years ago, we talked about tearing out the fireplace. It’s an open fire, and very small (originally for burning coal), so it really only serves to make the house draftier. It is a superhighway for mice from under the house to the kitchen. The beige tile around it is, frankly, ugly. And we could use the space for more cupboards, or countertop.

But it’s a fireplace in the kitchen! What is more romantic and cosy than that?

The fireplace stayed.

Most of the time, it remains covered with a mouse-proof, draft-proof board that I painted with a fake fire in which the flames are fire-related quotes and sayings.

But there are times when you just need a fire in the kitchen. On those rainy nights when the kids have friends over, it’s a great place to make s’mores. On crisp autumn evenings with a party in progress, when you want the atmosphere of an open fire. When the hot water cylinder has been off for days (because we’ve been away, or the power has been out) and the quickest way to heat up all that cold water is the wetback behind the kitchen fireplace.

Or when we just feel like it.

So, though there is absolutely no practical reason to have the kitchen fireplace, I am happy it’s there.

Biscuit Stars

100_3639 smYesterday, I came across a lovely looking chocolate bread online that used the technique of cutting and twisting the dough to create pretty patterns.

I thought it would work in biscuit dough, too, so this morning I gave it a try.

I made my usual rolled biscuit dough, then divided the dough into quarters. I rolled out one quarter into a round about 20 cm (8 in) in diameter and 1 cm (1/2 in) thick and placed it on an ungreased baking sheet. Then I spread jam generously over the entire round, and topped it with another quarter of dough rolled out to the same size, pressing gently to bind them together. With a knife, I cut the stacked round into 10 wedges, leaving the centre uncut. Then I gently flipped each wedge over, to give it a twist.

Then I did the same with the other two quarters of dough. For the round on the left, I flipped each wedge in the same direction. For the round on the right, I flipped adjacent wedges toward each other.

I baked them at 190°C (375°F) for about 20 minutes.

The results were pretty and yummy, too!

Capturing water

100_3635 smSummers are dry here. Nor’west winds whip hot and dry across the plains, sucking moisture from the plants and soil. Though I protect my garden as best I can, with mulch and shelter, there is no escaping the need to water, at least once in a while.

That’s in a good year, when it rains occasionally during the summer.

Last year, we got almost no rain from October to February, and our autumn and winter have been unusually dry as well. The prediction with climate change is for more of our years to be like that.

Which naturally leads me to worry about water. For now, there is plenty of water in our well to keep the vegetable garden green in a dry year. But if we have more and more dry years, who knows what might happen to the water table.

So this year, when we needed to address some aging guttering on our sheds anyway, we tried to arrange things so we could make better use of the rain that does fall on the property.

We had a rain barrel before—a rusty old 55 gallon drum of unknown origin, from which we were able to draw rust-flecked orange water in an emergency. It was great for flushing the toilet after the earthquakes, but it wasn’t particularly pleasant, and it wasn’t enough water to make much difference if we needed to use it on the garden.

Now we have a 900 litre tank collecting water off our large shed roof, set up so I can easily attach a hose and draw off the water when I need it. And the water from the small shed’s roof is being directed into the pond, so that, hopefully we won’t need to refill it with water from the well when summer evaporation threatens to dry it up. Any overflow will water the garden around the pond.

There is still a lot of water we don’t capture, but the rain off the house roof currently runs out into perennial garden areas, including some of our fruit trees, so it’s reasonably well used.

Waste not, want not. At least, we hope so.

Broomrape

Belgian white carrot in a broomrape embrace

Belgian white carrot in a broomrape embrace

We have a moderate infestation of broomrape (Orobanche minor) on our property. It shows up here and there in perennial beds and in the vegetable garden.

Broomrape is a parasitic plant. It contains no chlorophyll, and when it is not flowering, the entire plant is below ground. Its fibrous, root-like tentacles encircle the host plant’s roots, sucking off nutrients and water from the host.

Though it “officially” prefers clover, in the vegetable garden, it seems particularly fond of carrots. I regularly find carrots being strangled in a broomrape embrace.

The gardener in me is dismayed every time I find one.

The scientist in me is fascinated.

Many parasites are very host-specific, that is, they only live on one or a limited number of host species. Orobanche minor appears to have a wide host range, but there is evidence that individuals parasitising different species are actually genetically isolated from one another, because the parasite’s reproductive cycle is tied to the host plant.

Eventually, that isolation could cause Orobanche minor to speciate…or maybe it has, and we haven’t noticed yet.

Perhaps some day my carrot-loving parasites will be different enough from my clover-loving parasites that they will have a new name. Maybe Orobanche carota!

Use it and Lose it

100_3629 smI opened the jar of sesame seeds this evening, and the glass lid slipped from my hand, fell to the floor, and broke. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Another one of my favourite antique jars was gone. There is only one left now.

I don’t know how old these lovely Atlas jars are, but they are certainly older than me, possibly much older. I should probably not be using them at all. But they are beautiful and useful—it would be a shame to pack them carefully away to preserve them. Better to let them live out their lives as useful kitchenware, as they were meant to.

I believe in using the things that I enjoy. So I use those antique jars, the 150 year old steamer trunk, the antique chairs, the collection of early 20th century teacups.

The quilt that I spent seven years embroidering goes on the bed every summer, and the newest quilt (over a year in the making) serves us all winter.

The result is, of course, that things break, fade, and wear out. Slowly these little treasures disappear, no matter how much care we take with them.

But I like to think of these objects as having a life, a presence that is tied intimately to their utility. If they are not used, they cease to exist as they were meant to. By using them, and ultimately breaking them, I keep them alive. And when I wrap the broken shards in newspaper and inter them in the rubbish bin, I know that they have lived and died well.

I hope I can say the same of myself when I reach the same point in my life.

Greek Salad

Greek salad3 smIt was a raw, overcast day today, and I spent most of it outdoors. So I thought I’d do a little summer dreaming for today’s blog to warm me up.

Dreaming about Greek salad—the essence of summer.

Fresh tomato (preferably Brandywine),

Fresh cucumber,

Homemade feta (from our own goat milk),

Big, fat black Kalamata olives,

Fresh basil,

Balsamic vinegar,

South Lea olive oil, made just down the road.

Serve it with some crusty homemade bread and a glass of wine.

Nothing could be better!

Mushroom Leek Tart

IMG_3455Driving home today with a kilo of mushrooms in the car, I devised the following mushroom and egg tart for dinner.

It was delicious!

Approx. 1 kg fresh mushrooms, sliced (I used buttons and portabellas)

10-15 g dried porcini, soaked 30 min in hot water

4 small leeks, sliced

small handful dried tomato, chopped roughly

Fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley to taste

½ c. grated parmesan cheese

8 med eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté leeks, mushrooms, tomatoes, rosemary and thyme over medium heat until well-cooked, and the mushroom liquid has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Make pastry for a double crust pie. Roll it out in one large sheet and line a jelly roll pan with it.

Sprinkle half the cheese over the crust. Then spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the cheese. Top with the remaining cheese.

Crack the eggs onto the tart, one at a time, arranging them neatly across the tart.*

Bake 20 minutes at 190°C (375°F). Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*If I made this again, I’d bake the tart for 10 minutes, then add the eggs—20 minutes is a bit too long for the eggs.