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!

Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies

2016-11-23-18-32-40-smI know that for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, an ice cream sandwich might not be enticing at this time of year, but you’ll want to save this recipe for later. Better yet, turn up the thermostat and make them now, regardless of the weather.

When I first made speculaas, I thought the texture was perfect for an ice cream sandwich cookie. It’s been quite a while, but I finally got around to modifying the recipe to turn it into the perfect ice cream sandwich cookie.

2 ½ cups flour
½ cup baking cocoa
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbs milk

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and milk. Gradually add the flour mixture until it is all incorporated, and the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and roll to about 3 mm (1/8 inch) thickness. Cut with a knife into ice cream sandwich sized rectangles (about 5 x 12 cm (2 x 5 inches)), and prick with a fork for the classic look. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes at 190°C (375°F).

Allow to cool, then sandwich ice cream between two cookies, wrap in waxed paper, and allow to sit in the freezer for at least an hour. I cut the ice cream into the right size slabs with a butter knife.

 

Pick a Path

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A utilitarian path through the vegetable garden.

Paths are as important as the gardens they traverse. They set the mood and change how we walk through different places.

There are utilitarian paths. Straight and low-maintenance, these paths are essential in the production areas of the garden.

An untamed path meanders through tall grass.

An untamed path meanders through tall grass.

 

Wild and untamed paths don’t go directly to their destinations. They meander. They may be somewhat overgrown. They invite the walker to slow down and experience the world around them.

A formal path through the herb garden.

A formal path through the herb garden.

 

 

Formal paths invite strolling. They are straight and potentially utilitarian, but they’re more inclined toward the aesthetic. They may lead to nothing more than a view or a bench.

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Some paths aren’t much more than suggestions of a path. A few inviting steps that say, “come this way.”

Bridge over troubled water.

Bridge over troubled water.

 

 

Other paths are clear, built structures that provide a way where none other exists.

Just try walking this path without hopping.

Just try walking this path without hopping.

 

 

And some are pure whimsy, encouraging locomotion other than walking (This path, between the house and my office, makes it incredibly difficult to carry a cup of coffee without spilling).

I enjoy the wide variety of paths on our property. There’s a path for every mood and need.

A Little Too Much Indoor/Outdoor Flow?

Fine in the paddock, not welcome indoors.

Fine in the paddock, not welcome indoors.

I always assumed, growing up, that window screens and screen doors were there to keep insects out of the house. It never occurred to me that other wildlife would want to get in, too.

Two nights ago, we woke at 2 am to the sound of the rocking chair on the porch thumping back and forth and claws raking the bedroom window. At first, I cursed the cat—who often sits on the rocking chair meowing in the middle of the night—and rolled over. But the raking claws didn’t stop. The cat never claws at the window. I opened my eyes, then had to get up for a closer look, because I couldn’t believe what I saw. An Australian possum was sitting on the back of the rocking chair, leaning out to scratch the window.

What the heck? Was it trying to get in?

It got me thinking about all the non-insect wildlife we’ve had in the house over the years.

In Panama, there were numerous mice, rats, scorpions, whipscorpions, windscorpions, and tailless whipscorpions…naturally. But there also were a few geckoes, and a skink who spent weeks living with us. We started leaving out water for him on the table, and named him Smaug.

There were the bats. Mostly they were small ones, but occasionally we’d get a massive one, with the wingspan of a pterodactyl. They’d swoop in between the top of the wall and the roof, wheel around the house, then swoop out again.

There were regular chicken incursions, even after we evicted the one brooding a clutch of eggs there when we moved in, and there was a cat who came inside and had kittens on our bookshelf.

The largest visitor was probably the dog, who came into the house chasing a rat, then regularly trotted in after that to see if we had more rats for her.

Here in New Zealand, we’ve had mice and rats, including one bold rat who sauntered into the kitchen through the front door while I was washing dishes one day. Sparrows and the odd starling are regular visitors in the summer—they come in, poo a few times, and leave. Chickens and feral cats are occasionally pop in for a visit, too.

For one magical season, we had a piwakawaka, who would flit into the house every day. He would zip around inside, eating flies, then land on a bird mobile hanging from the kids’ bedroom, bobbing up and down like just another wooden bird.

I can only imagine what mayhem that possum would have caused if it had gotten in last night. Earthquakes would probably seem tame to the havoc of a possum indoors. You can bet I’ll be making sure the windows are all closed tonight—I think I’d like to keep that one outdoors.