We’ll Never be Royal … Except During Artichoke Season

Just a few of the artichokes…

It’s artichoke season again, and we are officially overwhelmed. It’s no longer a question of whether we’ll have artichokes for dinner, but what we’ll have with them. I seem to have permanent spines in my fingertips from preparing them, and my fingernails are stained an unattractive grey from the purple ones. 

But the spines and the stains are worth it. Having this many artichokes makes me feel like a queen—who else could indulge in such a luxury? (Never mind that a queen wouldn’t have to prepare her own artichokes.)

This weekend, if I can manage it around open homes, I’ll bottle (can) a year’s worth of artichokes. It’s nearly a full day’s work. Picking and prepping 60 to 70 artichokes in one go is daunting, but then we’ll have riches year-round, and all we’ll have to do is open a jar to get them. Not too hard to take.

Garden Gifts

Our house went on the market today. We’ve spent the past several weeks painting, tidying and weeding to make the place look its best. On Sunday evening, after a hard three days of work, I wandered around the yard. The air was sultry—oppressive heat slowly giving way to the comfort of a lazy summer evening. The freshly cut grass was soft and cool underfoot as I padded past purple baubles of blooming chives, snow-in-summer spilling onto the path in frosty profusion, multi-hued pansies nodding in the light breeze, and pale irises standing tall. I strolled the rose garden, only just beginning to flower. A lone peony sported golf-ball-sized burgundy buds. The last of the pittosporum flowers perfumed the air.

In short, the garden was at ease in its lush maturity—the result of fifteen years of hard work, on top of the botanical history of a hundred years of landscaping. I thought of all the plants the property had gifted us with—roses, dahlias, naked ladies, camellias, irises, and others. Discovered among the overgrown gardens, often nearly choked out by weeds, the plants responded well to love and care, and formed the core of what we’ve done with the yard.

Then I thought of our new property, a bare paddock, its botanical history limited to pasture grasses and clover. There will be no gifts, discovered among the weeds. No heirloom plants needing only a little love to bloom and thrive.

The thought was depressing as I strolled the mature plantings we will leave behind. Starting from nothing but rock and clay is a daunting prospect.

But this property will gift us plants yet again—hundreds of seedlings, cuttings, bulbs and divisions sit in pots, awaiting transport to their new home. One day, they will be the botanical history of the new property. One day, I will stroll among them in contemplation, just as I did among their predecessors at the old house.

Spring Bounty

What a difference two weeks make!

Last time I went to the grocery store, I scanned the isles looking for a few decent seasonal vegetables, because there was little in the garden.

But virtually by the time I’d brought the vegetables home, the garden exploded with good things to eat.

Artichokes and asparagus are both coming on strong. Every day a new cauliflower suddenly bursts, creamy-white among the leaves. The purple sprouting broccoli plants are covered in florets. The spinach and lettuces seem to double in size every day, providing crisp springtime salads. 

It seems we’ve gone from famine to feast overnight. I shouldn’t be surprised; it happens every year. But it’s always a delight.

A Day Off

Cathedral of red beech

Sunday dawned warm and sunny, and I prepared myself for another day of hard work in the garden, in spite of my aching back. It would be a crunch to finish what I needed to stay on track—my garden to-do lists get longer each week, and I don’t dare fall behind at this time of year.

Meanwhile, my husband was fretting about the lectures he still needed to prepare for this week. But he’s much better at relaxation than I am. Before I had a chance to gather my tools, he suggested a hike instead of a day of work.

So we ignored our pesky to-do lists and enjoyed a day at Hinewai. 

Hinewai Reserve is privately owned, and encompasses 1250 hectares of the outer Banks Peninsula. It includes a glorious mix of vegetation types.

The track forms an avenue within a dense kānuka stand.

Probably the most impressive are the 50 hectares of old growth forest. The red beech create a green cathedral, shading out much of the undergrowth. The effect is in stark contrast to the dense kānuka stands that blanket other parts of the reserve.

At this time of year, the gorse is in full bloom. Management at Hinewai allows this invasive weed to grow, because it provides an effective nursery for native trees. Eventually, the native plants will overtop the gorse and shade it out, but in areas recently disturbed by fire, the gorse is thick. On Sunday, the tops of the hills looked like they’d been capped with bright yellow snow, for all the gorse.

Gorse in full bloom in a recently burned area.

With 330 species of native vascular plants, and 60 species of fern (including six species of tree fern), Hinewai is probably the most diverse site on the Banks Peninsula. We never fail to see interesting things when we visit. This visit was no exception. A bright purple fungus creeping along a rotting branch was probably the most unusual find on Sunday, but we were treated to tree fuchsia in bloom, kererū swooping overhead, and pīwakawaka and tomtits flitting around among leafy lacebarks, kahikatea, tōtara, and kōwhai. I enjoyed seeing my favourite filmy ferns, with their translucent fronds. Large quantities of ongaonga (tree nettle) supported the red admiral butterflies that were enjoying the warm day along with us, flitting through the dappled light in the forest.

View down to Otanerito/Long Bay

And, of course, as with most spots on the Banks Peninsula, the views from the clearings at Hinewai were spectacular. 

My weekend to-do list forgotten, I had a lovely day enjoying the outdoors. Next weekend’s list is necessarily longer now, but it was good to take a day off. I must remember to do that more often.

 

First Day of Spring

Last Sunday was the first day of spring, and it was as if all of nature wanted us to know it.

The day dawned crisp and sunny, and by mid-afternoon the temperature had climbed to a summer-like 27ºC.

The weeds in the garden seemed to have put on extra growth, and I hauled almost a dozen wheelbarrow loads of them to the compost pile as I began preparing the garden for the upcoming planting season.

Daffodils, snowdrops, and bluebells nodded in the sunshine, carpeting the yard with colour.

Willows everywhere suddenly burst into leaf, the fresh green of their branches like a beacon.

Bees hummed in every flower, and midges danced in lekking storms that sounded like rain against the windows.

We spent the day outdoors, threw open the windows, and drank in the warmth, going inside only when hunger drove us in to dinner.

Even the sun seemed to linger, painting the evening with golden streaks of promise.

Once a Gardenaholic, Always a Gardenaholic

This past weekend was the beginning of the gardening year. The first of the seeds are in flats in my office. My plan was for a minimal garden this year, since I’ll be splitting it between the old and new places—caring for so many plants on two properties is a daunting prospect.

But of course, when I started planting, all thoughts of restraint evaporated. I’d splurged when buying seeds—that purple cauliflower looked gorgeous in the catalog, and who could resist a small-stature eggplant with glossy dark fruits? And once I had the seeds, there was no question I’d plant them, along with all the regular varieties, of course. Never trust a new variety until it’s proven itself.

So here I am, one weekend into the new garden year and already overdoing it.

Some things never change.

Winter Baking—Anise-scented Fig and Date Swirls

After a week of frosty mornings and gloriously warm sunny days, the weekend has brought us cold, drenching rain. 

So, the only thing for it was to bake!

I stocked up on my homemade granola and made a batch of Mommy’s Magical Crackers, but the fun baking for the day was a batch of fig and date pinwheels. I’ve only made them once before, but loved them. Flavoured with anise and rich in figs, they have a unique taste and texture that improves with age.

These are straight from my favourite cookie cookbook (the book itself is a work of art), The Gourmet Cookie Book. They take more time to make than many cookies, but the results are as attractive as they are delicious—well worth the effort.

1 cup dried figs
1 cup pitted dates
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbs ground anise seeds
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
125 g (1/2 cup) softened butter
125 g (4 oz) cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup raw sugar (optional)

In a food processor or blender, puree figs, dates, water and 2 Tbs sugar. Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, anise, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl beat together butter, cream cheese, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, egg yolk and flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Form dough into a disk and wrap in wax paper. Chill about a hour, until firm enough to handle (I found in my winter-cool house I didn’t need to chill the dough at all).

On a floured surface, roll out dough into a 33 x 25 cm (13 x 10-inch) rectangle about 8 mm (1/3-inch) thick. Gently spread fig and date mixture evenly over the top, leaving a narrow border around the edges. Starting at one long edge, roll the dough into a jelly-roll-like log. Optional: roll log in raw sugar to coat. Wrap in waxed paper and chill 4 hours until firm.

Slice into 8 mm (1/3-inch) rounds and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake about 13 minutes at 180ºC (350ºF) until golden.