Cheesy Scones

I came home late earlier this week. No time to really cook. So I pulled out a couple of jars of summer soup and made savoury scones (biscuits to the Americans) to go with it.

But I didn’t want plain scones…

These are what I threw together, and they were divine.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
60 g butter (about 4 Tbs)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped dill
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 small leeks (about 1/2 cup), finely chopped
3/4 cup milk

Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter in until it’s the consistency of coarse meal. Mix in the herbs, cheese, and leek. Stir in the milk. On a well-floured board, knead the dough gently 4 or 5 times, then roll out to 1.5 cm (5/8 inch) thickness. Cut into squares or use a biscuit cutter.

Bake on an ungreased sheet 15 minutes at 200ºC (400ºF).

An Abundance of Artichokes

It’s a terrible thing, having excess gourmet vegetables. We are in our usual springtime artichoke excess. It’s not unusual for us to eat eight or nine artichokes five days out of seven.

A quick online search shows artichokes currently selling for anywhere from US$3 to 10 per pound (that’s NZ$9-31/kg). Given we easily eat a kilo per meal…Well, you get the idea. If we had to pay for them, we couldn’t afford them.

Of course, the problem remains–what do you do with that many artichokes? We preserve quite a few for use at other times of the year, but that still leaves plenty to enjoy during the season.

We eat a lot of artichokes in risotto, pasta, pizza, and gratins. The other day, I tried a new way of preparing them–crusted with parmesan and baked.

It’s simple, if a bit time-consuming (it would be trivial if you simply bought canned or frozen artichokes).

First, prepare the artichokes: snap off the outer leaves, peel the base and stem, trim off the top 1/3 of the leaves, remove the choke and any spines on the inner leaves, and cut the remaining heart into wedges. Drop wedges into a bowl of lemon juice and water as you go to avoid browning. Drain and steam for 3-5 minutes, until just tender, but not falling apart.

Then prepare the breading: mix in a medium bowl 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp paprika, 1/8 tsp cayenne, and black pepper to taste.

In another bowl, beat two eggs.

Dredge the artichoke wedges first in the egg, then in the breading to coat thoroughly. Arrange in one layer on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes at 190°C (375°F) until brown.

I served them plain, but they would be lovely with a dipping sauce like aioli or skordalia. They made a delicious accompaniment to the tiropitas (spinach and feta triangles) and salad that rounded out the meal.

Stress Free…sort of

I’m getting better at this. Sort of.

Two weeks to plant out day, and I was able to spend a day at the beach without stressing.

Not that I didn’t stress, actually. I worked hard all day Saturday, and then scrambled to get more done Sunday morning before we left, and then scrambled to finish the rest when we got home Sunday evening.

But from the moment I stepped out the door to the moment I returned, I didn’t think about weeds, plants, animals, cleaning…nothing on the to-do list.

I slipped momentarily, sitting at the edge of a wood-chipped playground…There was a twitch plant growing up through the woodchips. I was sorely tempted to reach out and yank it out, but I stayed strong. That weed is still happily growing, though it was a near thing.

Maybe some day I’ll be able to take an overnight trip without stress. Baby steps.

Subterranean clover

Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum), like other clovers throughout the world, is an important pasture species. And it’s also a weed.

I’ve grown quite fond of ‘sub-clover’ as it’s often called. It’s much smaller than red or white clover, and the flowers form in clusters of only 2-5 in each head (as opposed to the large clusters that make up each ‘flower’ of other clovers). It also has the interesting habit of turning its flower heads downward after germination, so that the seed pods develop underground (hence, its name).

What I like most about subterranean clover is the thick mat of low-growing greenery it can produce, even in the dry rock where the old driveway used to be. Without it, some areas of the lawn would be bare year-round.

I also like the fact clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant. The clover in the old driveway is improving the soil for other plants as it grows and dies. With its help, grass might some day thrive there (though I’m not holding my breath).

Unfortunately, sub-clover dies. Dramatically. Just when we’re desperate for green. It’s a winter annual, meaning it sprouts with the autumn rain, grows through winter and spring, and flowers in early summer. When summer turns hot and dry, the plant dies, its life cycle complete. The lawn outside my office is composed almost entirely of sub-clover, so when it goes, it’s grim.

The only consolation is that the grass dies shortly after the sub-clover. Summer is simply brown here.

So for now I’m enjoying the lush greenery underfoot. It’s wonderful while it lasts.

Wasp 1: Cleaning 0

I try to keep a clean and tidy house, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

I was going to dust this weekend, but the first spot I ‘dusted’ was the dining room windowsill. It’s a big window and, for some reason, most of the insects that get into the house seem to end up there when they die.

Next thing I knew, I had a handful of dead insects in a petri dish and was looking at them through the microscope. Most were insects I was familiar with—old friends I was catching up with—but this lovely lady was new. A tiny parasitic wasp, but I couldn’t quite place her family. Several hours, a couple of taxonomic keys, and a stack of entomology books later, I still wasn’t certain, but I tentatively put her in the family Pteromalidae.

Oh, and the cleaning was entirely forgotten.

Restaurant Review: Crazy Corner Cuisine

“I e-mailed you a picture. I want a blog.”

I find it difficult to blog about a meal I haven’t cooked myself. I can’t give you a recipe or even a detailed ingredient list.

So I’ll have to blog as though I went to a restaurant for a fine meal…

I walked into Sedgemere’s finest vegetarian restaurant, Crazy Corner Cuisine, early–my reservation wasn’t until six–but I was ushered into the lounge and encouraged to relax with a book while I waited. As I reclined in a delightful window seat overlooking the restaurant’s herb gardens, the wonderful aroma of my meal wafted through the restaurant.

Crazy Corner isn’t your usual restaurant, where the meal is prepared behind closed doors. At Crazy Corner, the chef consults with the patrons, tweaking the meal to suit their tastes. In fact, on this visit to Crazy Corner, I was given a colander and allowed to enter the restaurant’s garden to pick my own salad.

Crazy Corner Cuisine grows nearly all the vegetables used in the restaurant, so you can be sure that whatever you eat, only the freshest ingredients are used.

On this visit, dinner included a beautiful polenta ‘lasagna’–layers of herb-filled polenta and thick lentil stew rich in mushrooms and spinach generously topped with cheese and baked to perfection. The portions were generous, and the side salad was the perfect foil to the hearty lasagna. The meal was accompanied by an excellent New Zealand Merlot.

I have to put in a good word for the kitchen staff, too. Though quite young, they cleared the table efficiently and I heard them industriously washing dishes as I left.

The whole experience was delightful and relaxing. I highly recommend a visit to Crazy Corner Cuisine the next time you’re in Sedgemere.

My First Selfie

So I’ve been doing a lot of weeding lately–clearing beds, dealing with a winter’s worth of growth…

As a rule, I don’t take selfies, but I felt a picture of the compost pile needed a person in it for scale. It was hard to get any shot that included both me and the top of the compost pile, but, here it is–my selfie with Mt. Weedmore.

Spittlebugs

Spring is spittlebug season. Just about the time I want to start picking and dehydrating the perennial herbs, the spittlebugs descend upon them. In bad years, it makes harvesting herbs a slimy task.

Spittlebugs are also known as frog hoppers. As adults, they are cute, squat, dun coloured insects with spectacular leaping abilities. They really do resemble frogs (with a little imagination).

It’s the nymphs that have the disgusting habit of spitting. Well, it’s actually not spit at all. The foamy slimy ‘spittle’ is a combination of fluid from the insect’s anus, and slimy gunk from glands on the insect’s abdomen. The insect sits head downward on the stem of a plant and exudes the ‘spittle’, letting it pour over its body and cover it completely. The resulting mass keeps the young insect protected from enemies and from drying wind and sun. Gross, but effective.

Like humans, who usually stop blowing bubbles in their milk as adults, spittlebugs leave off spittle production when they grow up. As adults, they use their hopping ability to avoid predators.

Some species of spittlebug can become significant agricultural pests, stunting the growth of herbaceous plants and some forestry trees, but in the home garden, they’re usually not much more than a minor nuisance.

A New Weed!

I found a new weed in the garden the other day. I don’t know whether to be excited or dismayed.

This one is beaked parsley, also known as bur chervil (Anthriscus caucalis). This weed is native to Eurasia, where it appears it is pretty much ignored. It’s listed by the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs as an indicator species for high value arable margins, but beyond that, it rates little mention in its homeland. It is apparently neither particularly tasty, nor poisonous. It is apparently not used for any medicinal purposes. It’s just a plant that’s neither particularly common, nor particularly rare.

Nor is it mentioned often in the many countries where it is a weed. If it is mentioned at all, it’s usually lumped with its close relative, wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris), which appears to be more of a problem. It apparently prefers riparian zones, but is quite happy to live in drier areas, too.

The seeds are covered in curved spines and hairs that cling to fur. The plant almost certainly arrived in New Zealand on the back of an imported sheep.

With so little information about the plant available, I am naturally intrigued. What secrets is this unassuming plant harbouring? Its family–Apiacea–includes such well-known plants as carrot, poison hemlock, fennel, parsley, coriander, dill, caraway, parsnip, celery, anise, lovage, and many others. Many of these plants produce defensive compounds, some of which are incredibly toxic to humans, and some of which are sequestered by caterpillars in the genus Papilio (swallowtail butterflies) for defence.

So I can’t help thinking that bur chervil might harbour some interesting chemistry and ecological connections, if only someone would have a look.

 

Am I Weird?

Stepping into my office the other morning, I had a moment of clarity, in which I saw my desk as a stranger might.

It was pretty scary.

The most obvious thing was the computer. Okay, that’s normal. But that’s where normality ended.

Strewn around the computer there were papers. There were notes for a non-fiction book proposal that included calculations for the intrinsic rate of increase of pea aphids, notes about parthenogenic reproduction, and a list of potential titles, many of which included the word ‘alien’. There were also a smattering of papers and notes from the workshop I attended last weekend, a note about my son’s shoe size, and the beginning of a short story set in New Zealand’s not so distant future.

That’s not too weird, though the story is a little bizarre…

Making a lump under the papers were three D&D dice. I use them for my students–they can roll the dice to choose a random writing prompt from the list of 500 prompts I’ve made for them. Honestly, I don’t roll the dice to see if a character lives or dies in a story (though that could be fun). The dice sit on my desk between classes because they’re fun to roll around in my hands while I’m thinking.

Well, that’s not too strange…

Also on the desk was a stem of the storksbill I’d blogged about the day before. It was still there, though I should have thrown it on the compost when I was done with it. It was interesting to look at…

And nearby was the Weeds of New Zealand book that I’d used for reference when blogging about the storksbill. I’d gotten sidetracked after the blog post was written, and spend a good half an hour perusing information about weeds. I left it sitting out because, you know, everyone needs a weed book on their desk.

And here’s where the tableau on the desk got…um…interesting…

Two dead bumblebees nestled together near one corner of the computer. They’d been there for days–ever since I found them on the floor and noticed that one of them had a drop of venom on her stinger. I put it under the microscope at the time for a photo shoot, but then kept the bees on my desk as…as…well, for no good reason really, other than that I enjoyed looking at them, especially as their parasites (mites) started to abandon their dead hosts and crawl all over my desk, questing for a new bee.

That’s not weird, right?

Over on the other side of the computer was a dead German wasp in a plastic bag. She was in the bag because I’d just taken her out of the freezer. Um…yeah. She was clearly a queen looking for a good nesting site (and she was a non-native pest that I’m deathly allergic to), so when I found her in the house, the only sensible thing to do was to kill her. But there was no point in wasting her. I popped her into the bag and into the freezer to kill her without damaging her, thinking I’d pin her later and keep her for teaching.

That’s definitely not weird. Everyone stores bugs in the freezer, right?

And thankfully out of sight inside a folded piece of paper was the dead mosquito I’d brought back from Auckland because it was a species I don’t see much of here, and when I saw it land on my ankle to bite me, I thought it would be a good specimen to keep.

Weird?

*Sigh*

It was definitely time to clean the desk before someone came to visit.