A Christmassy Dinner

2016-11-30-18-07-51-smOnce a year, I make broad bean burgers. They’re a mission to make, because you have to shell them, cook them, then peel of the skins, then turn them into burgers. So once a year is enough.

As I mixed up the bright green burger mix, I thought about what I was going to serve with the burgers.

Well…

It’s the start of the holiday season…

A red and green meal was in order—green burgers with ketchup, peas, and strawberries!

Not exactly a Northern Hemisphere holiday meal, but perfect here.

Crane Flies

2016-11-29-07-27-59The crane flies are the largest family of flies in the world. There are over 15,000 species worldwide, with 1600 species in North America and 600 species in New Zealand.

The Māori name, matua waeroa, means ‘king mosquito’. You could be forgiven for thinking crane flies are giant mosquitoes—their body shape is similar. But crane flies cannot bite. The adults of many species don’t eat at all, and those that do sip nectar.

Crane fly larvae are sometimes called leatherjackets, because their exoskeletons are thick and leathery. They are aquatic or live in wet soil or rotting vegetation. Most feed on dead plants, though there are a few predators among the aquatic larvae.

When we moved to Crazy Corner Farm, and I turned the vegetable garden for the first time, I found the wet end of the garden teeming with crane fly larvae. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Every shovelful of earth came up with at least ten larvae. It was truly impressive, and the chickens loved me for the handfuls of larvae I tossed to them that year. The larvae must not like cultivation, though, because I don’t find them in the vegetable garden anymore.

I find crane flies endearing—awkward and gangly, they remind me of teenage boys who’ve just gone through a growth spurt and aren’t quite comfortable with their larger dimensions. The analogy might not be so far off. Crane fly larvae are legless and live in confined spaces. When they become adults, they suddenly have six impossibly long legs, and are airborne. It must be terribly confusing.

I spotted this beauty on my office door this morning, sitting on the glass with the white curtain behind it. I couldn’t resist photographing it.

 

Counting your Quinces

2016-11-28-16-39-54-smYou know what they say—don’t count your quinces before they ripen…okay, maybe they don’t say that, but they probably should.

I’m pleased to count the little quinces forming this year, though. I know we won’t get to eat all of them, but it’s the most fruit the little quince tree has ever set.

I can almost taste the quince paste now…

I had never encountered quince before coming to New Zealand. It’s an odd fruit. It’s sort of what I imagine pears must have been like before hundreds of years of plant breeding—astringent, hard, and gritty. They’re not a fruit you eat fresh.

But cook them, and all their glorious floral flavours come out. Turned into quince paste, they are one of my favourite foods.

Quince paste is delightfully versatile—pair it with cheese on a cracker for a salty snack or hors d’oeuvres, or spread it on toast for a sweet breakfast treat.

Making quince paste is a lesson in patience. First, you have to wait for the quinces to grow and ripen—they won’t be mature until autumn, and they’re not a fruit you find in the store, even in season. You just have to wait for them.

Then you have to simmer those rock-hard quinces for half an hour until they’re soft enough to mash.

Then you add sugar and cook oh-so-slowly for up to 3 hours, until the mixture turns red.

You pour the hot paste into jars and wait another few hours for it to set.

Finally, you can enjoy your quinces.

So, yeah, don’t count your quinces before they’re paste.

Bread Day in the New Oven

2016-11-27-12-28-41-smWhile there are still a few details to finish on the oven, we had our first bread day in it today. I say “we”, but really it was my husband who did all the work.

It started yesterday when he started bulking up the sourdough starter.

This morning around 7, he lit the fire and made the dough—20 kilos of flour in this batch!

Three fires lit and burned down, and both dough and oven were ready. He started baking just after lunch.

I swanned in several hours later and whipped up lemon cupcakes and walnut chocolate chip biscotti to go in after the last of his loaves came out.

2016-11-27-16-01-13-smAlmost 12 hours after the fire was lit, we pulled out the last of the day’s baked goods. The final tally was 27 loaves of bread, 20 sandwich rolls, 24 cupcakes, a batch of cookies, and a hefty ‘brick’ of bac-un.

So the oven works, and looks good, too!

For those who missed it a couple years ago when I posted it, you can visit our kitchen for a bread day in this time lapse video.

 

Entogeeks Anonymous

wellingtontreeweta3cropYou know you’re an entomologist when…

You find aphids on your lettuce, and eat it anyway.

You apologise to the grass grubs before squishing them.

You rescue the earwigs and lacewing larvae floating in the sink after washing vegetables.

You drop everything when you hear someone say, “Wow, look at that bug.”

You waste hours at work watching the spider on the window.

You keep a hand lens and a microscope within arms reach at all times, just in case.

The glove box of your car contains a folding insect net and several jars.

You sit down to write the day’s blog (a nice poem, you think), and get sidetracked for an hour trying to determine whether Mantophasmatodea is still considered a separate order or whether it is now grouped with the Grylloblattodea in the new order Notoptera.

*sigh*

Thanksgiving

2016-11-25-18-36-30-smTimed to coincide with the last of the autumn harvest, Thanksgiving is traditionally a celebration of the foods that store through winter—pumpkins, apples, potatoes, corn.

Which is why we don’t really celebrate it here. Not in the traditional culinary sense, at least. Apples and potatoes are wrinkled and old by November. The pumpkins are all gone.

But there is much to be thankful for at the beginning of summer, and our Thanksgiving Day meal reflects this—pasta full of spinach, artichokes, and peas; a fresh green salad; and strawberries for dessert. Indeed, every day is a harvest celebration at our house. Every day, I am thankful for the sun, rain, and soil. I am thankful for our ability to produce much of our own food. I am thankful for my children, who understand and appreciate the amount of work that goes into every bite they eat—who thank the cook and the gardener every day.

I am thankful for the partner with whom I share the daily tasks that provide food for our table. I am thankful for the neighbours who help keep animals and plants alive when we go on vacation.

Yes, I’m sometimes a grumpy farmer—there’s never enough rain, the pests are terrible, the neighbour’s weed-killer has wafted across the fence line again…there’s always something to complain about.

But however much I grumble as I’m pulling weeds or dragging irrigation hoses around, dinner is always a time of Thanksgiving.

Poroporo

2016-11-22-13-39-04Poroporo (Solanum laciniatum) is a native shrub, and one of our few native plants typically classified as a weed. A few years ago, I noticed a tiny poroporo seedling sprouting under our oak trees—planted, no doubt by some bird roosting (and poohing) in the branches above.

At the time, the chickens were quartered under the trees, so I fenced it with a ring of chicken wire to keep it safe from their scratching.

It has now grown into a huge sprawling bush easily three metres in diameter and as tall as me. It is currently covered in gorgeous purple blooms. Later in the summer, it will drip with teardrop shaped yellow fruits. Weed or not, the plant is eye candy.

Eye candy only—not to be taken internally. Like many of the Solanums, poroporo is poisonous (though apparently the fully ripe fruit is edible…sort of). Fever, sweating, nausea, and abdominal pain are the unfortunate effects of poroporo poisoning.

In spite of its poisonous nature (well, actually because of it), poroporo is grown commercially as a source of steroidal alkaloids used medicinally to make cortico-steroid drugs like birth control and eczema treatments.

A pretty and useful weed!