Opshopping highlights – February/March

My opshopping habits have changed in recent years. I go much less often, I buy much less, and I try not to buy stuff for other people like I used to. (Sometimes I see absolutely perfect gifts, and break this rule…mind you.) However, I do still love a good rummage. Here are the best ‘thrift scores’ of the last two months.

I bought these two cups just because I instantly fell for the colours, the glossy glaze and the leaf motif. The mark on the bottom says ‘Tams ENGLAND’. After some internet research, I found that they were from a pottery in Staffordshire started by John Tams in 1875. These cups are from the 1970s.

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We have PLENTY of cups (I have a weakness for a nice cup) and Fraser has forbidden me to buy more…but if there are new cups I really can’t resist, I wriggle around this rule by culling a couple from the cupboard and returning them to the flow of the shop of opportunity…

I also found this raised relief rose vase – I’ve been on the scope for one for a long time, found plenty, but they are usually chipped to hell and in shabby condition. This one does have a couple of tiny chips, but is in the best condition I have ever seen. Very stoked to find this. I’ve probably been looking for one for at least five years. (Do you have a running list of things you are searching for from the op-shop?)


Cotton 1970s tunic, in amazing condition, given it’s vintage – who could resist this happy green and navy print?


A PRISTINE Poole dish in the most dreamy colour. I may have panted slightly when I spotted this.


& in the category of ‘bought just for my amusement’ – this 1940s recipe book. I love the font on the cover, it’s full of classic wartime NZ advertisements, lots of gag-worthy recipes, unmentionable things done to offal (like poaching it in milk) and horrible slimey desserts (junket with nutmeg, anyone?)


I love this diagram of the best way to organise your kitchen shelves, a la Mrs Beeton, 1943:


I thought it was odd that there was a section on ‘Marketing’ in the sub-title. I thought ‘Oh maybe they mean how to present your jams and cakes for selling at stalls, etc’ but no! The verb ‘marketing’ in 1943 meant GOING TO THE MARKET, and the ‘marketing’ section is tips for savvy and frugal shopping and how to not be outwitted by shop-owners.


Maybe we should reclaim it and instead of ‘going to the supermarket’ we could say ‘I’m supermarketing?’ Aaaand, maybe not.

Anyway, thank you PN op-shop goddesses, for some great finds so far this year.



Apple season

Apple cheeks, apple weeks, the race against the birds…

The inherited tree which has the codlin moth – I know it’s time to strip the tree when the birds begin to peck at the apple tops – this means they are sweet and ready. Cutting around the moth tunnels, making apple sauce which turn into breakfast or crumbles or just eaten with a teaspoon standing at the fridge when I realise I’m starving but have to do the school run in two minutes. (I continue to ‘battle’ against the codlin moth. They are determined creatures.) The commitment of using seasonal abundance. It’s a gift, sure, but it’s work. Sometimes hours and hour of work. Sitting at the table, making the meditation ‘can I take all the peel off in one go?’ Buckets and buckets of practice later tell me that I can’t, but it’s fun trying.

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The Ballerina apple tree which was a wedding present 20 years ago, and moved with us from flat to flat in a big pot, finally planted into the ground here and produces the most beautiful green and red apples, like the ones from Snow White…


This tree on an abandoned section – the way fruit trees give and give, regardless of how they are tended or neglected. Walking onto ‘private property’ to pick the apples. Respecting the tree’s gift more than the human’s claim. Not wanting the generosity of the tree to go unnoticed, unappreciated. Leaving plenty for the birds.


At my permaculture course, Duncan brings two beautiful baskets of apples from his small farm. Four heritage varieties – enough for everyone to take a few home to taste. On the permaculture course, people are passionate about plants, about fruit trees, about the earth. People have strong opinions – in discussion time the debates are weighty, rich, sometimes a little heated…but at lunch time, we sit around munching Duncan’s apples. That they are fine, crisp, tasty apples, we all agree on.

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The beauty of the simple backyard apple, wet from being rinsed in cold water, fresh-picked off the tree.


victory gardens / mend and make do

I’m very inspired by World War Two imagery around Victory Gardens and Mend & Make Do campaigns. I’m also fascinated by the Land Girls / Womens’ Land Army, and the way WW2 changed work life for women in the West forever.

I recently had a pile of WW2 social history books out of the library and wanted to share with you some of the images. (Sorry I didn’t have the time/patience to scan them, so they are photographs of book pages. Not ideal. Forgive me.)

I don’t at all idealise the 1940s. I’m know it was a very hard time, a frightening time, lots of death and fear and sadness and people worked very hard just to keep their houses clean and keep their families fed. All the same, I enjoy the parallels between the Victory Garden movement and the 21st zeitgeist of backyard chicken farming, raised bed gardening, community gardening, CSA schemes, Seed Banks, recycling, upcycling etc….the similarities are strong.

There’s a great shop on etsy which sells modern day ‘victory garden’ posters – great witty designs. It’s called ‘The Victory Garden of Tomorrow’. I so want to buy something from the shop for my kitchen, but I can’t make up my mind which one I like the best!

Here are some of my favourite WW2 images from the books:

Women darning their tights….


In today’s world of ‘from sweat-shop to landfill’ fashion, I’m proud to say I DO mend my clothes…as below…


Dig for victory NOW!


I would join this girl gang of happy gardeners!


Have you ever seen a sugar beet? Not the most inspiring of vegetables…. 


The lawns of Kensington Park in London were dug up for food production….


Love the way the word ‘FOOD’ is made from vegetables here… 


Even Yardley face cream got in on the victory gardening trend for it’s advertising… 





good year, bad year

Good year – beets…

Bad year – carrots…

I love the way vegetable gardeners (and farmers, no doubt) talk in terms of ‘good year’/’bad year’ for produce.

It has not been the best summer ever in my vegetable garden, but like every year there have been highs and lows.

Bad year:

Corn – after several excellent corn years – this one was a wash-out. Instead of the usual few weeks of corn eating, we have had just a few days. I try to rotate big crops, but I think the corn did not like the spot I put it in this year. Also I grew painted mountain corn for fun. It might make great masa (if you grow craploads, …like a paddock’s worth) but it tastes like arse when it’s fresh – woody, bland, chewy. I won’t be growing it again in my small urban garden, but it was good to have tried it and it is very pretty.

Pumpkins – I usually grow a dozen or so. Today’s inventory – I can only see five. Not enough to get us through the winter.

Garlic – my garlic just did not swell this year. It’s still in the garden, stunted and shallot-sized. Pathetic.

I continue to not be able to grow a decent carrot. I keep resolving not to try any more because they are SO CHEAP…but then I do try again because I am stubborn…this time they are at least big enough to be worth picking and eating – even if they are stubby and mutant. Look at the verdant, beautiful green foliage! I was sure there would be some giant carrots underneath – but no, they are ‘all mouth and no trousers’ as a friend of mine says to describe people who promise much and deliver bugger-all.


Good year:

Beetroot – big fat pink globes. Beetroot remains in my top ten of vegetables to grow for being easy, pretty and tasty.


Basil! Glossy bunches of basil in salads, on pasta, mmmm….pesto. I love you, Basil!

Tomatoes! Is there anything more joyful than picking a bowl full of sun-warm tomatoes every day for dinner? So pretty, so delicious, so heart-warming.

Apples – both of my apple trees have an abundance of apples this year and they seem to be ready earlier.

When crops fail I try not to think of the money, labour, water, time, energy spent on them….& focus on the crops which are obliging me! I’m sure a cost/benefit analysis of my vegetable gardening would prove that buying vegetables works out, if not cheaper, then the same….but then what would I do for entertainment around these parts?




a wish for you, a wish for me

Recently I saw THIS NECKLACE on etsy and fell in love. I’m going through a bit of a love affair with Dandelion. It’s a mysterious yet common plant – it has manifold healing properties. It is rich in history and symbolism. You can eat all parts of it. You can’t ever kill it off your property. It grows pretty much all around the world. To me, it’s a magical, special plant – I find it sad that people see it as a weed….I love a lot of ‘weeds’.

I thought, ‘maybe one day I will treat myself that necklace’….but then, I was in Spotlight and I saw some small glass bottles with cork lids, and I had an ‘aha’ moment. Why buy dandelion seeds from America when I have them all over my own back yard?

So I bought a couple of the wee bottles, harvested some dandelion seed, poked the seed inside with a knitting needle and voila! dandelion seed necklaces for me and a friend who was having a birthday!




Dandelion seeds represent wishes – I think it’s a nice ‘totem’ to carry a bottle of wishes around your neck through the world.






Interview with Johanna Knox author of ‘A Forager’s Treasury’

forager_treasury_coverAs a keen forager myself, I was so excited to hear that my friend Johanna Knox was writing a foraging guide for New Zealand, but despite the fact I was pre-disposed to like it, I am truly impressed and in awe of what she has produced. It is a beautifully written, helpful and down-to-earth book with great illustrations and in a handy format for toting along on foraging expeditions. I talked to Johanna about foraging recently and here is what she said:

HL: Congratulations on your new book, Johanna! Can you tell me how you got into foraging? 

JK: Thanks Helen! I was always fascinated by all the uses of plants, and I experimented madly as a child and a teen. As an adult I got into it again after I had children. I saw the natural world anew – through a child’s eyes again. Plus I got interested in food activism, and foraging kept cropping up as part of that.

HL: Why do you think foraging is an important skill to have? 

JK: In the Western world we’ve grown so distant in our relationships with the plant kingdom. Obviously there are exceptions – all the amazing researchers and trampers and wanderers, and gatherers and growers like you, who are maintaining and developing give-and-take relationships with the plant world. But as a society in general we’ve become disconnected from the truth about how we need plants for our survival and wellbeing.

If we forget how all that works, we also forget what plants need from us in return. That way lies disaster. So foraging is a fun and productive way to help revive that relationship.

You can definitely save money foraging too! Plus it’s empowering to be able to look around you, wherever you are, and see the ingredients for food or medicine or perfume or dye. johanna_2 

HL: What have you learned from your foraging adventures? 

JK: To be patient about knowledge! To not try and identify everything and know all about every plant at once.  That’s just frustrating. You have to read and listen and think and observe, and gradually things dawn on you. You can short circuit parts of that process if you get someone to show you stuff directly, but you still have to do your own research and observation and thinking.

HL: Do you dumpster dive, too, or is your ‘foraging’ restricted to natural foods? What do you think of dumpster diving? 

JK: Dumpster diving is admirable. I haven’t been party to it since before I had kids. Maybe I’ll take it up seriously one day …  I like the idea of doing it as a 70 year old.

HL: What would your ‘Absolute Top Five List of Things To Forage (even if you are not a keen forager)’ be, and why? 

JK: This is hard! I reserve the right to change this list tomorrow.


Kawakawa: my first native plant friend, so easy to identify, so abundant, so useful in so many ways.

Fennel: I never used to like fennel – it gave me a stomach ache, but once I learned to use it more subtly in cooking and also found you could dye things almost fluoro yellow with it, I gained a new appreciation for it.

Nasturtium: Every part is edible – and nutritious – and medicinal in that mustardy old-time-remedy way … And it’s so decorative. Good for party foods.

Elderberry: Gather the flowers around November, and the berries late in summer and gather heaps. Make bulk syrup and freeze it and then use it in everything all year round. It’s so expensive in shops, and so cheap to make your own. And this tree is not endangered in the slightest.

New Zealand mint: I love it that New Zealand has a native mint. But like many New Zealanders it’s a bit reserved and self-deprecating. Tough though, with hidden depths … and it gets louder when you mix it with alcohol. If you can’t find it wild, grow it in your garden as a ground cover.

HL: How has foraging changed the way you see the world? 

JK: I think I have a much greater appreciation for New Zealand’s native plants now, what they need, and their enormous value in ecosystems, as well as all the amazing things you can do with them.

HL: Do your family & friends ever get embarrassed when you forage and collect windfalls when you are out with them? 

JK: Not so much embarrassed – just impatient! I always hope I can sweep them along in my own enthusiasm, but there are times when I have to accept they’ve got other things on their mind!

HL: Do you forage for mushrooms? Just how dangerous is it? 

JK: I have anxiety around fungi. I realise rationally that if you know what you’re doing it’s not dangerous. And I can identify certain fungi that are edible – like boletes and basket fungus… but I can’t bring myself to eat them.

I gathered field mushrooms once, cooked them up, and ate them. I knew beyond reasonable doubt that they were field mushrooms. But for a couple of hours afterwards I was still hyper-aware of my body, and every odd twinge, wondering if I’d poisoned myself.

I’ve been wondering if this goes back to reading the Babar books as a child.

Do you remember that bit where the old king elephant eats a ‘bad mushroom’ and dies? There’s this awful picture of him lying on the ground all green and wobbly. That’s one of my most vivid book memories from my preschool years – staring and staring at that picture in horrified fascination, trying to comprehend it … Now I wonder if that book set me up for a lifetime of anxiety around wild mushrooms!

Whatever the reason, A Forager’s Treasury takes a botanical approach rather than a mycological one.

HL: Is there a foraged food you eat almost every day? 

JK: There’s no one foraged food, but definitely a recipe I pull out more regularly than most others – that’s weed pakoras. It’s such an easy, substantial, satisfying way to use any edible weeds you can find near your house, and whip up a meal or a side dish when you’re running short of stuff in the pantry

HL: What is your best discovery in terms of our native plants? (Recently, I had delicious tea at a cafe which had Kawakawa in it, and now I’m keen to try that.)

JK: Perhaps harakeke. There are so many varieties, and you never stop learning about it. It’s just this most incredible multi-purpose plant – the nectar as a sweetener, the pollen as a nutritious condiment, the seedpods as a rich chocolate-brown dye (and I love the smell of them), the sap as a healing gel … and that’s not counting all the uses of the leaves as fibre.

HL: Does foraging have a spiritual element to it for you, or is it strictly pragmatic? 

JK: I’m not a very spiritual person I’m afraid. I was brought up in a family of geeky atheists. But I think science has served some of the same purposes for me as a spiritual or religious path might for some others.

It’s given me a sense of awe and wonder about nature and the universe, a feeling of being just a small part of something grand and mysterious, and a reassuring sense of my own insignificance. It also helps provide the co-ordinates for a moral compass (however hard it is to follow that compass sometimes).

I can’t say it’s helped me fully come to terms with human mortality – I’m still working on that one! But I have the impression many people on spiritual or religious paths struggle with that one too.

When you’re out gathering, all those feelings and ideas certainly come into play.

Thanks so much, Johanna! Over the next couple of weeks I intend to post a review of ‘A Forager’s Treasury’ and Johanna has also given me a recipe to share with you all as well.

If you want to learn a little more about Johanna – look HERE. HERE is a recent review of the book, and there is a website which goes along with the book HERE.

Happy foraging!



picking up what the wind drops

I took a walk to a nearby section where an old house had recently been demolished. They are building shops there. I dug up a wormwood plant and rescued an iron gate from a skip which I’ll use as a frame for beans in the vegetable garden. 

When I walk I am looking for stray plants and clues of what other humans are doing, their leavings, their signs.

So many gardens are neglected and full of mistakes – odd plantings, strange schemes gone wrong. It’s a lexicon of thwarted plans, migration, human error. But I love all the gardens, all of them. I love where weeds come in and grow where no one thought there was any dirt. I love the twee tidy gardens around the brick units where the widows live – all pansies and polyanthus and tight little roses. I love the student flat gardens with the crushed comfrey and the gnarled old lemon trees. There is a place deep in my heart for the gardens inside the gates of kindergartens – old tractor tyres full of marigolds and strawberry plants, glitter and matchbox cars.

These dahlias were planted behind a tin-shed, hard up against a damp bank…..in entirely the wrong place and where no one can see them (except me, because I creep and snoop) so I pick them and drop them at a friend’s door.


I pick up windfall apples from the house across from the supermarket. They are a bit bruised but will do for pie. At another house someone has left ice-cream containers of passionfruit for $2 each on their fence. I take one and leave a coin in the letterbox.

I don’t fully understand my own instinct for gleaning. It’s more than acquisition. It’s something to do with control, and side-stepping capitalism and burrowing into a universe where people trade in fruit and the urban environment is one big shared playground. I like my own company but I spend too much time in it and then I read the street and try to draw meaning from the random and the incidental.

Occasionally a garden is stunning and special and makes perfect sense, but these gardens are rare:


Right now, there is an American oil company doing exploratory drilling in the hills near Dannevirke. If they find enough, they have plans to frack for oil. Local farmers and  Iwi have been protesting there this week and it is getting almost no media coverage. There are similar exploratory tests going on near Whangarei, but for gold.

I have been following the effects of fracking in Pennsylvania, USA where fracking for natural gas has been happening for some years now. None of the news is good. Profound pollution, deformities and stillbirths in animal stock, rising cancer rates and the tap water is flammable.

Hold a lighter to your running tap and it lights up. Imagine.

Parts of the Manawatu River are so polluted from intensive dairy farming and factory run-off IT SPONTANEOUSLY CATCHES FIRE.

Water on fire. Water on fire.

On the way to pick the youngest up from school I pass a house with a big walnut tree. There are walnuts all over the path, so I pick them up. I always carry a cloth bag in my hand bag for spontaneous foraging. It’s like maybe if I notice the trees enough, maybe if I honour the fruit enough, maybe if I pick up enough windfalls and rescue enough plants….maybe then…? Maybe then.