Fabulous Fennel

100_4031 smThere’s not a lot coming out of the garden at the moment. The summer crops are pretty well finished (though we’re still scrounging the odd pepper or eggplant from the tunnel house), and the winter crops barely had a chance, with the hot dry weather we’ve had until last week. But among the few crops that are available right now is fennel.

This little-used vegetable is versatile and delicious in the kitchen, and attractive and useful in the garden. Leaves, seeds, and bulb are all edible.

Fennel grows year-round here, though the cooler months are when we appreciate it most. I plant it in both spring and autumn, but it seeds in readily, and we eat as many volunteer fennel as we do planted ones.

Fennel has a mild anise flavour that goes well with many other vegetables. When raw, the flavour is refreshing and numbing.

Raw fennel, sliced thin, makes a crisp and refreshing addition to salads. Or it can make a salad all on its own.

It can be braised and eaten as a side dish, or chopped and added to stews or casseroles. It goes particularly well with potatoes in a cheesy gratin, and makes a delightful risotto.

Fennel leaves can be added to salads and stews, even if the bulbs aren’t ready to harvest.

The ground seeds make a zesty addition to burgers, chai, and cookies, too! Or just crunch a few between your teeth after a meal to sweeten your breath.

In the garden, fennel’s big yellow flower heads attract all sorts of beneficial insects that help keep pests in check, and when the plants get too big and rangy, I can feed them to the goats, who love fennel as much as I do.

Corn Chips

2016-05-29 17.58.56Usually, when I want tortilla chips, I first make tortillas, then cut them into wedges, brush them with oil and bake them. It makes absolutely divine chips, but it’s rather labour intensive.

Last night my husband made a vat of chilli for dinner, and I gave in to my craving for chips. Instead of the usual tortilla chips, I made these simple corn chips. They take almost no time to mix up, and are quite good, though fragile. There wasn’t a single crumb left by the time the meal was over.

1 cup cornmeal

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 T dry milk powder

½ cup water

¼ cup vegetable oil

Combine the dry ingredients. Add the water and oil, and mix well.

Grease two large baking sheets. Divide the dough in two, and roll each half out quite thin (about 2mm) directly onto the sheet. The dough will be very oily, but you may need to dust your rolling pin with flour to keep it from sticking. Cut into triangles.

Bake on fan bake for 12-15 minutes at 175°C. Remove from the pan when they are browned, and cool completely on a wire rack.

If you’re a fan of flavoured chips, you might add paprika, smoked paprika, chilli powder, or finely grated parmesan cheese to these chips.

Don’t try to use these in nachos—because they are baked, they turn to mush when smothered in toppings.

Pumpkin Pie for Breakfast?

2016-05-29 07.08.49 smI made a variation on my standard pancake recipe this morning—pumpkin pancakes.

They were good—moist and heavier than plain pancakes. A bit like eating pumpkin pie for breakfast. Mmmmm! This recipe makes a huge stack of pancakes—enjoy!

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup cornmeal

3/8 cup sugar

3 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp cloves

½ tsp ginger

3 eggs

2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin flesh

2 cups milk

6 Tbsp butter, melted

Combine flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Whisk together eggs, pumpkin, milk and melted butter in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and stir just until combined. You may need to add more milk to get the right consistency if your pumpkin is particularly dry (mine was, and I added another ¼ cup).

Fry on a preheated griddle or frying pan, as for normal pancakes.

 

Saturday Stories: Rehearsal of the Deathcapella Choir

100_2185“Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap!” called the choral director, waving his baton at the podium. The baton itself made no sound of its own, being made of memory and shadow, like its wielder.

The choir’s chatting continued unabated.

“Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap!” the director said louder, waving the baton emphatically. What could these people have to chat about that they hadn’t discussed a thousand times already? They were dead, for God’s sake!

Of course, that was just a figure of speech. God had nothing to do with their deaths, as they all now knew. But the habits of a lifetime are harder to break than the lifetime itself.

The director gave up on the baton and shouted, “Shut up already!”

The unruly choir members quieted and gave the director their attention.

“From the refrain, please.” The conductor raised his baton, beat out the tempo, and the choir began.

To say the choir sounded heavenly would be a gross exaggeration.

No.

It would be a downright lie.

The basses croaked like bullfrogs with emphysema. The tenors sounded like a dozen reciprocating saws. The altos might have held it together in a moan, but they were completely overwhelmed by the sopranos’ unearthly, and completely off-key, wail.

The choir director smiled.

“Lovely. Lovely! A little more Altos.”

It took a particular aesthetic to appreciate a deathcapella choir. Being tone-deaf helped, but more important was a love of gothic horror.

The choir came to the rousing finale of the piece. The director held them on the last note for just a hair longer than any living man would be able to endure. The effect was masterful!

“Well done! Well done!” he said, applauding soundlessly. “Now, the All Hallows Eve celebration kicks off at nine tomorrow night. I expect you all to be here, dressed in your most gory outfits and ready to go by eight forty-five.”

One of the choir members raised a hand.

“Yes, Alistair?”

“What time will we be finished? I’ve got a haunting at twelve I have to be at.”

“We should be done by eleven-thirty. The lesser demons take the stage at midnight. Those of you without other commitments should stick around for them—I hear it’s quite a show. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for some, I’m told.”

There was an appreciative chuckle from the choir.

“Anything else?” the director asked.

“Do we have to do the gore this year?” asked Bella. The director sighed. Every year it was the same. Bella, a former country western singer, had auditioned for the Heavenly Choir after her drug overdose. She didn’t make the cut, and had ended up in the Deathcapella Choir instead. It was a bad fit.

“Well, it wouldn’t be much of an All Hallows Eve celebration if we all came gussied up for church, would it? People want fear and terror. This isn’t Christmas!”

The choir tittered, and if Bella had still had blood in her, she would have blushed.

“Right. If there are no more questions, you may all go. Remember, eight forty-five tomorrow. Don’t be late!”

“But we’re always late!” called one of the basses.

The funeral parlour echoed with their ghostly laughter as the choir floated out through the walls.

Another excellent practice, thought the choir director. Perhaps next year they should enter the Death’s Got Talent competition.

Promise of Spring

2016-05-27 12.53.09Tomorrow’s forecast is rather wintery, but I’ve been fortified today. The preying mantises must know their time is short—that one of these storms is going to do them in for good—because over the past couple of days, they’ve been laying eggs all over the place.

There are new clusters on the fence posts, on the rosemary, and even on my office deck.

Though the adults will succumb to the weather, their eggs will rest snug all winter in their cosy egg capsules—a promise of the spring to come.

 

Pass Me a Brick, Hold the Mayo

The one in the middle used to fill its space...

The one in the middle used to fill its space…

I’ve mentioned the pest birds at our property more than once in this blog. Today I was musing on them again, as I watched a whole flock of them descend upon our brick fire pit.

Yes, our fire pit.

It was the bricks they were after.

Whether for the grit or the nutrients, I don’t know, but I’m inclined to think the latter. The clay for the bricks came from some other location, so it’s bound to contain nutrients our property doesn’t.

As it turns out, this is a worldwide issue with sparrows and finches—they love bricks and mortar. It’s not a particular problem for us—the fire pit isn’t exactly an essential structure. The only bricks that really matter on our property are the ones in the chimney, and the birds don’t seem to like those.

In fact, they’re quite selective about the bricks they eat. Perhaps they go for the softest ones, or perhaps there are subtle differences in the nutrient levels in different bricks. The birds aren’t telling, and as far as I can tell, no one has ever felt the need to study the issue in detail.

Regardless, they’ve foolishly chosen to focus on a brick in the centre of the fire pit. One of these days, they’re going to break through it, and the bricks on top are going to fall on their heads.

A very slow form of pest control?

Stalking the Wild Tardigrade

2016-05-25 14.50.00The recent rain has got me thinking about tardigrades. Tardigrades are, of course, one of the most awesome creatures of the animal kingdom–able to survive freezing, desiccation, radiation, intense pressure, and the vacuum of outer space, just to name a few. I mentioned them in a sci-fi short story I wrote over the summer, and have been meaning to go looking for them ever since.

Well, the moss is nice and wet now, so I figured it would be a good time to find some. I collected some moss, soaked it, squeezed out the water and, voila!

I found springtails,

And mites,

And paramecia,

And nematodes,

And some things that looked and acted like microscopic leeches…

But no tardigrades.

I peered down the microscope until my eyes crossed. I squeezed out more water from my moss.

No joy.

No tardigrades.

Of course, that just makes them all the more exciting. Now I have a challenge—stalking the wild tardigrade.

Stay tuned…