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—
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
My children’s school held a showcase concert last night featuring the best of the music department.
The performances ranged from classical to jazz to swing to folk music to rock to heavy metal. Some pieces were by famous composers, others were written by the students themselves. Students dressed for their performances in clothes ranging from torn jeans and t-shirts to suits and ties and floor-length gowns.
The mood was supportive and celebratory. It recognised that the musical achievement of a student interested in heavy metal is no less than that of a student interested in classical piano. It celebrated the diversity of student achievement as well as the achievements themselves.
How different from my own high school’s showcase concerts, filled with little beyond classical and religious music, with the odd show-tune thrown in. I distinctly remember the shock in the auditorium once when a group of students not sanctioned by the school showed up and played rock-n-roll.
If you didn’t sing in choir, you didn’t sing. If you didn’t play in the marching band or the orchestra, you didn’t play. I wonder how many students decided they didn’t like music because the only music they were allowed to make was the sort they didn’t identify with. I wonder how many good musicians let their own music die because it wasn’t valued by the school and the adults around them.
My kids enjoy diverse music. Though they both play instruments, neither of them is likely to go on to become a professional musician. Still, I’m thrilled their school encourages students to explore their own music, and recognises that musical skill can be demonstrated in an ear-splitting heavy metal guitar riff just as effectively as in an operetta.
My daughter needed to visit a few native forests today to work on a science project for school. Darn. I hate it when we’re forced to do that. 😉 One of the places we went to was Woolshed Creek. Though it was a sunny day, places in the shade were quite frozen. In some of those places, the frost was spectacular.
We ran across a patch of ferns with 5 mm ice crystals sprouting off the fronds in such profusion that they looked like they’d been snowed on. A truly spectacular display.
The show only lasted as long as the shade did. As soon as the sun hit, the ice melted. The plants returned to their normal, unadorned state, and the tracks turned to mud. More pleasant, perhaps for us, but not nearly so beautiful. As usual, you’ve got to put up with some hardship to experience the best life has to offer.
I made Irish soda bread to go with dinner today. As I mixed up the dough, I remembered making soda bread back when the kids were preschoolers. The recipe I have is easily quartered, so I would make a full batch, and each of the kids would make their own quarter-sized loaf. It didn’t even require any calculations—I simply gave them a smaller measuring cup (1/4-cup and 1/4 tsp to my one-cup and 1 tsp measures) and they could follow the recipe just like I did.
They loved baking their very own loaf, and then seeing it next to their plate at the dinner table.
Of course, these days, the teenagers are less keen on baking the bread and more keen on eating it, but I reckon one day they might make their own Irish soda bread again and remember making mini-loaves with Mum.
The recipe I use comes from Beard on Bread, by James Beard. I don’t know if this wonderful little cookbook is still in print, but I encourage you to find a copy—if you’ve never made bread before, Beard will walk you through it. If you’re a seasoned baker, Beard’s comprehensive selection of recipes will give you plenty to riff off as you experiment.
3 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
Combine dry ingredients. Mix in enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured board for 2-3 minutes. Form a round loaf and place on a buttered baking sheet. Cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife. Bake at 190ºC (375ºF) for 40-45 minutes.
So, with the family head cold this week, my daughter got a fever. She’s terrible at being sick. She can’t stand not being constantly in motion, but the fever dragged her down so much she couldn’t do anything. It was bad enough feeling icky, but to not be able to go outside and ride her unicycle, or do some climbing, or build something was a fate worse than death.
I suggested some paracetamol to bring the fever down, but she refused (she hates taking medicine). I was a bit frustrated—the brunt of her bad mood landed on me (because I was sick, too, and we were both confined indoors).
Then I remembered that my mother used to give me crushed ice to eat when I was sick. I reckoned it might just do the trick.
She briefly refused the ice, but I think the novelty of a glass full of crushed ice and a long-handled spoon to eat it with won her over.
The results were brilliant—a glass of ice, and she was out the door and on the climbing wall. The fever came back in an hour or so, but the window of exercise did the trick for her mental health. When the fever spiked again, she happily retreated to the fireside to read a book. When she got antsy to get out once more, I made her another glass of ice.
Proof once more that Mother knows best. Thanks, Mom!