365 Days of Food

100_3831 smHere I am at the end of my 365 Days of Food blog challenge. Reflecting on the year, I am pleased–and a little surprised–I’ve managed to blog every day. Yes, some days were…um…half-hearted at best, and some posts were written in advance, to be posted automatically on days when I had no internet access. So there was a little fudging, but only a little.

And what did I learn from this exercise?

DSC_0009 smI gained a heightened appreciation for how much of my daily life revolves around food—planting, caring for, harvesting, preserving, preparing, eating…and cleaning up from all of the above. There were times during the year when I felt that dealing with food was the only thing I was doing, and I wondered if I needed to get a life.

But what is more basic to life than food? What is more fundamental to human cultures than sharing food with friends and family? On the last day of the year, I come full-circle—back to my first blog post of the year:

DSC_0016 copy“[Food] feeds us physically and emotionally. It is an integral part of our celebrations, and is the scaffold on which our days are built.”

After a year of blogging about food, I would add that it underpins our economy, is woven into the fabric of human history, impacts the health of the planet, reflects our personal values, and is an inseparable part of our identity.

DSC_0015 copyThank you for reading and commenting all through the past year. Though it is the end of my 365 Days of Food challenge, it is not the end of my blogging. There will be more…maybe even a new challenge for next year.

Stay tuned!


Eating Together

100_4263 smAt the festive time of year, it seems right to blog about family meals.

There has been a great deal of hoopla over the past ten years or so about family meals. Some researchers have claimed they reduce childhood obesity, raise GPAs, reduce depression, reduce delinquency, and a host of other benefits.

The truth isn’t quite so amazing. When factors such as socioeconomics, family structure and other demographics are controlled for, it appears that family meals slightly reduce childhood depression, and that’s it. All the other ‘benefits’ are simply correlated with the other features that contribute to a family that sits down together for a daily meal.

But I like to think that, just as smiling makes you happier, sitting down to a family meal every day makes the family better. It makes it more likely the family will have the other characteristics that lead to higher GPAs, lower obesity, etc.

A family meal is a time to talk to each other, to discuss current events, ideas, and feelings. It’s a time to teach children manners and respect for one another. It’s a chance for quality time with the people we love—why not take advantage of it? You’ve all got to eat—make the most of it.

We eat dinner as a family every day, and on weekends, we eat lunch together. Sunday, we even sit down together for breakfast. Sometimes I’m reluctant to take the time for a family meal, particularly lunch, when I’m in the middle of the day’s work, and would prefer just to grab a quick bite and be on my way. But a family meal forces me to slow down. It forces me to check in with my family and see how their day is going. A family meal reminds me that my work is less important than my family, and I regularly change my day’s plans based on what I see the family needs when we sit down to eat.

Because we eat together, I not only talk to my family more, but I play more games with the kids, I do more projects with them, I go to the beach more often, and I stress less about life.

So pull up a chair. Fill your plate. Sit down, and tell me about your day.



Homemade and Home grown

100_4265 smMy family loves food. We eat well. We eat a lot. But what I’ve come to realise is that we don’t just love food for its own sake. We don’t go out to restaurants, and we don’t wax lyrical about our favourite products from the grocery store.

For us, food is as much about how it gets to our table as it is about what it tastes like there. Food is a labour of love, a creative endeavour, a team effort. Food is inseparable from its origin.

Years ago, my son asked, “If we didn’t grow the ingredients ourselves, is it really homemade?” That is how deep our relationship to our food is.

I sometimes wonder if this is healthy—this obsession with food. But it really isn’t so much about the food as it is about the process and all the corollary benefits.

Producing our own food, we stay fit without paying for gym memberships, we have food security in the face of natural disasters, we learn to work together as a family, the children gain a sense of worth from helping to feed us all, we eat better, we reduce our impact on the earth…the list goes on and on.

Producing our own food is a way to nurture the family, a way to acknowledge our place in the natural world, a way to celebrate each day of the year and the gifts it brings.


100_4247 cropsmOur laundry room smells like a boys’ locker room next to a sulphurous hot spring…and I’m happy about that.

Sitting on the benchtop in the laundry is a large ceramic crock filled with fermenting cabbage—in six weeks the bacteria bubbling away in the crock will turn it into sauerkraut.

Making sauerkraut is incredibly simple—it’s nothing but shredded cabbage and salt. But it’s not a pretty process—fermentation is smelly, looks disgusting, and should never be attempted by the squeamish. The end result, however, is delicious.

Being a good Pennsylvania Dutch girl, I love sauerkraut. It’s great on burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, and goes well with almost any potato dish.

But I’m thankful we can make two years worth of sauerkraut at once, because the smell of fermenting cabbage could put you off the finished product pretty fast. Once the fermentation is complete, I’ll bottle the lot in pint jars—the perfect amount for a meal—and give the laundry room a really good airing.

Best Christmas Gifts

bagholderThe best Christmas gifts are made by hand and predicated on an intimate understanding of the person receiving the gift. My husband is supremely talented at these sorts of gifts.

This year, he made for me a clever rack for drying zipper bags. We use these bags over and over, washing them between uses. But the drying bags take up space on the kitchen counter and blow around the house on windy days. Not anymore! This lovely rack holds the bags open to dry. It is bolted in a convenient, but out-of-the-way location, and has arms that move independently and fold out of the way when not in use.

It’s a gift I know will get near-constant use for a very long time.

A Day Off

DSC_0020 smI don’t do anything on Christmas Day. I take the day off. Well, okay, I have to do the milking and the other animal care, but I do only the essential daily tasks.

Before Christmas, I make sure the garden is well-weeded, so I’m not tempted to pull any on the day. I make sure all the picking and processing of fruits and vegetables is caught up, so I don’t feel I have to make jam or sauerkraut. I make sure the laundry is all done the day before, so I don’t feel a need to do washing. As soon as I’m done with the morning chores, I put on a skirt, just to make it harder to do work.

I don’t even cook much. Christmas breakfast—sticky buns—are made the night before, and left to rise in the fridge overnight. All I do is throw them in the oven in the morning. Lunch on Christmas is leftovers from Christmas eve dinner—usually calzones. Christmas dinner is salad, cheese, and bread. Easy and summery.

So I take a day of rest, and I enjoy it a great deal. I read a book. I take an afternoon nap. I do a little sewing, I play games with the kids.

The problem is the next day.

My body is obviously made to be in motion. Sitting around all day is not good for it.

The morning of the 26th of December, I can barely get out of bed, my back is so stiff and sore. I hobble around groaning for the first hour of the day.

So I’m happy to be back at work on Boxing Day, weeding, harvesting, doing the laundry. Good thing Christmas comes only once a year!

Summer Christmas

Photo: Ian Dickie

Photo: Ian Dickie

It took me a while to get used to Christmas in the summer. Walking past shop windows frosted with fake snow while wearing shorts and a t-shirt, decorating a tree with lights that we don’t bother turning on because they can’t be seen in the long summer days, listening to Christmas carols that speak of snow…it’s all a bit ridiculous here.

But I’ve learned to be flexible and view Christmas as a summer holiday. And we’ve picked up a few southern hemisphere Christmas traditions.

Champagne with strawberries—nothing says summer better than a little bubbly with a fizzing strawberry in the bottom of the glass. Anytime after 11 am on Christmas day is time for a little champagne.

Christmas camping trips—this is a Kiwi tradition we’ve embraced wholeheartedly. We enjoy a pre-Christmas tramping trip every year to get us in a festive mood.

Trips to the beach—The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without at least one day on the beach. It should also include ice cream.

A laid-back approach to life from mid-December to mid-January—it used to really irritate me that I couldn’t count on anyone being in their offices for the better part of a month around Christmas. I was the sort of person who worked up until Christmas eve, and was back at it no later than the second of January. But I couldn’t get anything done because everyone else was on vacation. Eventually I got the message—it’s summer. Relax. The work will still be there in February. It can wait.

Have another glass of that champagne.

Seasons greetings to you all!

Vegetable Dip

100_4256 smChristmas day is a low-key affair at our house. We work like mad up through Christmas eve, preparing food, baking cookies, getting caught up on all the weeding, harvesting and processing of vegetables. Then Christmas day, there is nothing to do but enjoy the fruits of our labours.

To that end, I made a vegetable dip for our Christmas dinner, which will be a Mediterranean feast—bread, cheeses, olives, salad, and fresh vegetables.

Inspired by a variety of recipes, and by the lovely herbs in the garden, I made the dip up as I went. Taste testers declared it delicious, and we’re looking forward to enjoying it tomorrow with carrots, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and broccoli from the garden.

1 (8oz/225g) pkg cream cheese, softened

2 small spring onions

small handful fresh flat leaf parsley

2 small stalks cutting celery (or ½ celery stick)

small sprig fresh savoury

½ tsp paprika

juice of 1 lemon

Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Chop herbs and onion very fine and stir into the cheese along with the paprika. Add enough lemon juice to make a dipping consistency.


Raisin-filled Cookies

100_4251 smOkay, one more cookie recipe, then I’ll be done for the year…maybe.

These are one of my all-time favourite cookies–big soft cookies that taste like raisin pie. Mom made them every Christmas when I was growing up (at least that’s how I remember it…), and she wrote down the recipe for me when I left home. The index card is stained and bent, but carefully guarded in a little wooden recipe box.

Like many handed-down recipes, this one is incomplete—little more than a list of ingredients. You have to know what to do to turn them into cookie dough. I’ve added more instructions below.

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup shortening (I use softened butter)

2 eggs

½ cup milk

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

4 cups flour (I usually need about 1 cup more)

pinch salt

Mix baking soda into milk and set aside to thicken. Cream brown sugar and shortening together until fluffy. Beat in eggs, then milk and vanilla. Gradually add flour, mixing until you have a stiff dough.

Refrigerate dough at least 2 hours.

While the dough is chilling, make filling. Place in a medium saucepan and boil until thick:

2 cups chopped raisins

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 Tbsp flour

Allow to cool to room temperature.

Roll the dough thin and cut out 2-inch circles. To form the cookies, place a circle on a greased baking sheet, put a scant tablespoon of filling in the centre of the circle, and top with another circle. Press the edges firmly together (a fork does a nice job and leaves a pretty edge). Bake at 190°C (375°F) for about 10 minutes.

Harvest time, Time to harvest

100_4237 smI picked peas today.

That was all.

Well, yes, I did a few other things, like laundry and cooking dinner and whatnot, but my day was pretty much given over to picking and processing peas.

Tomorrow I will do the same with currants and raspberries.

The next day we will pick cabbages and make saurkraut.

And it will be time to pick peas again.

When George Gershwin wrote the lyric, “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” he obviously wasn’t thinking like a gardener. Oh, food is plentiful—more than plentiful—but getting that food to the table or stored away for leaner times doesn’t make for easy living.