Home Fires Burning

Cat enjoying a good book by the fire.

I woke yesterday morning shivering under the summer quilt on the bed after a restless night listening to icy rain on the roof.

Time to switch to winter mode, I suppose.

I lit the first fire of the season.

It wasn’t long before the cat joined me by the fire. Then my daughter, then my husband, then my son…Nothing like a hearth to draw everyone together.

I think about the angst over today’s youth, separated from face-to-face interactions by their devices, and I think that perhaps what we all need are small, poorly insulated houses heated by inefficient wood burners. In a big, centrally heated house, it’s easy for everyone to retreat to their own rooms—shut the door, pull out the phone and troll the internet. But in our house, the only comfortable room in the winter is the 3×4 m living room. A teen who retreats to their room and shuts the door pretty quickly returns to warm up by the fire.

Yes, we may all sit here doing our own thing, but by gathering around the fire together, we share what we’re doing with each other. Someone might share a good line from the book they’re reading, or show a dumb cat video they thought was funny, or ask for help on a maths problem. Simply by virtue of proximity, we connect in other ways.

I will admit that on winter mornings, crawling out of a warm bed into the freezing air to light the fire, I dream of luxuries like heat pumps. And sometimes it would be really nice to have some space to myself, rather than do my knitting cheek-by-jowl with a teenager practicing a new juggling trick. But on the whole, I suspect the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. We humans are hardwired to sit around the fire talking to one another. Our ways of relating to one another, passing on wisdom and culture, and finding our place in a community evolved around the fire.

So, again this winter, I will keep the home fires burning.

Watermelons Rule

Nothing says summer like watermelon—a seasonal fruit that matures during the hottest days of the year, and doesn’t keep.

Watermelon is an unreliable crop here. Twelve years ago, when we first arrived, I was told watermelon doesn’t grow in Canterbury. I’ve planted it every year, regardless, because I can’t imagine a summer without it.

Some years we get nothing. The plants don’t grow at all, or they grow too slowly to produce mature fruit before the first frost, or they’re nailed by herbicide overspray. Some years we get a few smallish fruits that we savour as rare delicacies.

This year we are awash in watermelon. The fruits aren’t big—even the largest hasn’t reached the weight the seed catalogue says this variety should—but they’re the largest watermelons we’ve managed to grow here. And most importantly, they’re sweet, crisp and delicious. And there are lots of them!

As I sit on my office deck spitting seeds, I am reminded of the magical poem by John Tobias—Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity.

I wonder if my kids will remember this year of watermelon as Tobias wrote…

“…During that summer—
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was—
Watermelons ruled…”

Crazy Cake Season 2018—#2

My son left it wide open for me this year. He wanted his usual spice cake (the one I’ve marked with his name in the cookbook), but he left it up to me how I decorated it.

I swear that was more difficult than being told what he wanted.

After many hours scouring the cupboards and looking at cake photos online for inspiration, I came up with a large geode.

Most geode cakes online are, frankly, weird—an ordinary tiered cake covered smoothy in fondant, with a slash down the side filled with geode crystals. They don’t look like a geode at all, and some look disturbingly like vaginas. I didn’t think my son would appreciate that. I strove for a more natural geode look.

I also hoped for a tastier geode material. I was inspired to do a geode by a bag of crystalised ginger in the cupboard. Most geode cakes, though, are made with rock candy, which isn’t the nicest accompaniment to cake. On a spice cake, I thought crystalised ginger would be a much more appropriate flavour (and texture). Unfortunately, my experiments with colouring ginger were uninspiring—the ginger had a beautiful sparkling appearance, but light colours looked grey on the yellowish ginger, and dark colours looked black. I couldn’t manage a nice geode-like lavender.

So I made purple hard candy and broke it into shards for the crystals.

The result was reasonably geode-like, and easy to make. And better than a crystal vagina.

Downsizing?!

I realised a shocking thing the other day. My son will finish high school in December this year. We all hope he’ll be leaving home for university shortly thereafter.

Next year, my teenage boy won’t be here all summer to eat vegetables.

Next year, I’ll need to plant a smaller garden, or be completely overwhelmed with food we can’t eat.

This is the last summer I will ever have a garden this big.

I’m having a harder time adjusting to that thought than I am the thought one of my kids will leave home in a year. Oh, I always knew that someday I’d scale back the garden, but ‘someday’ in my mind was always when I grew too old to manage so much garden.

But ‘someday’ is next year.

How am I going to cut back? Which varieties will I not plant? How will I curb my zucchini problem? What am I going to do with my time, if I’m not forced to spend every daylight hour in the garden from September to December?

It’s a good thing I have several months to prepare. This is going to take some getting used to.

Crazy Cake Season 2018–Cake #1

It’s that time of year again, when I get to indulge in all things cakey.

The girl asked for ‘a mossy hummock with life’ this year. I had fun creating invertebrates and fungi from Mexican paste. In hindsight, I should have made more critters—when it came time to place them on the cake, it felt sparsely populated. But the final effect was fun, and the overly decadent chocolate cake underneath was spectacular.

Good Mum, Bad Mum

It rained all day today, as it did yesterday, and as it’s supposed to do tomorrow. The weather is fine by me–plenty of water for the garden, and I have lots of writing to do–but for the kids, three days of rain in the middle of the summer is hard to manage.

What can a mum do under these circumstances, but bake, and enlist the kids’ help? So we made soft pretzels and zucchini cupcakes (see previous blog post). It doesn’t take all day, now the kids are teens, but it gave them something to do for a little while, and treats to eat afterwards.

I felt like such a good mum…

Then I thought about the fact I let my kids eat soft pretzels, pickles and brie for lunch, with a big frosted cupcake afterwards (not to mention licking the bowl and beaters).

Such a bad mum!

All those times we’ve fed our children healthy, balanced meals…you know what they’re going to remember? Yep. Pretzels and pickles for lunch.

I know this, because the meals I most vividly remember my mother making when I was a kid were the naughty ones–hot apple pie with milk (for dinner–the whole meal!) and raspberry shortcake (again, the entirety of the meal). Those meals were legendary, precisely because they weren’t healthy and balanced. They were naughty and we knew it.

Such a bad mum!

Such a good mum!

The Things We Do for Love

I’m not fond of pickled onions.

To be fair, I haven’t tried pickled onions since I was a kid, so who knows what I think of them today.

But I would never have planted, watered, and weeded pickling onions; I would never have spent a day prepping, brining and canning them for myself. 

No, all that work was for my son. 

He’s never had pickled onions, but I think he will adore them. He eats the garlic cloves from the bottom of the dill pickle jars, and loves onions in every form. 

 

 

So the pickled onions are for him. I’ll be curious to try them myself—maybe I’ll like them, too. Seeing how pretty they are in the jars, I wouldn’t mind an excuse to make them again next year.