him belly full, but him hungry…

…a hungry man, is an angry man!

I’ve taken to listening to a local Reggae-all-the-time radio station instead of National Radio. The mix of hardcore left politics, quirky christian imagery and a zen-like focus on simple pleasures (food, weather, love) is comforting to me. More comforting than the news, which, lets face it, is always bad.

(Also, I can instantly tell if it’s 80s reggae because of the inclusion of a saxophone. The saxophone to the 80s is like the ukulele to…whatever this decade is called.)

Around 5pm each day, I ‘shop the garden’ and whatever I can scrounge out there goes into dinner. It’s often an odd mix.

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I grew banana chillies for the first time this year. They grow big! As big as teaspoons. They are mild and child-friendly…like a slightly hot capsicum. I will grow them again.

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From my summer garden this year I learned:

-I don’t like to eat artichokes

-tomatoes thrive without coddling (I was away at peak growth time & came home to a tangled tomato forest which fruited abundantly.)

-despite a record hot long summer, it is not hot enough in the Manawatu to grow watermelons. FAIL.

-Cape Gooseberries are little orbs of time-travel.

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This is a clock. A clock of summer.

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At the start of summer, I thread a bead and a bell onto some embroidery floss and as the chillies grow I impale them and hang in the kitchen where they dry. There were many other chillies which got eaten along the way, or given away to friends…but some made it on to the chilli string so that we can have their heat all through the winter. A dried chilli is not an attractive thing, but looks aren’t everything.

There are manifold ways to measure time. There are lots of ways to be hungry. There are immeasurable ways to make a living – the best is to Live a Making.

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harvest time…again…

preserving

As it’s harvest time – around the country there is a fair bit of preserving going on – jams, relishes, sauces, bottled fruit and all that good stuff. But here is something that happens to me sometimes – I get to this time of year and look in my store cupboard and see that I still have X jars of Y left from last year’s harvest season. This doesn’t put me off making more preserves, but I do get motivated to use up last year’s, as it’s not good to keep it too long – I like to eat mine within the year (ish) it’s made if I can.

Of course, one solution is pass it on – friends, food banks, school gala days…

But I am tight thrifty when it comes to food, especially food which I grew myself so I thought I’d write a bit about other ways to use up relishes, pickles and chutnies, in case anyone else has a glut around this time.

Relishes etc. are most commonly used as a cold condiment to a sandwich or snack, but relish is just vegetables/fruit, sugar, salt, vinegar and spices so when you think about it – these are flavours which are good added to lots of things. Change your way of thinking about them – they aren’t just a condiment, they are like a little flavour booster. Just try to match the flavours in the pickle with what you are cooking. We think of relish as a cold food, too, but there is no reason it can’t be used in hot food.

I have a few jars of a dark and yummy plum/beetroot pickle that has been around for too long which I will be using up over the next eight weeks.

Here’s some suggestions for using up relishes and pickles to make way for this year’s batch:

-add 1 tsp to a tbsp to flavour mayonnaise…curry-based relishes + mayonnaise would be good with egg or potato salad, more vinegar/sweet relishes would be good with green salads. You could do the same with¬†vinaigrette, too, of course.

-sitr through plain yoghurt as a raita alternative and serve alongside dahl

-stir 1-2 tablespoons into a 1 tbsp of oil and use as a marinade for meat or tofu.

-rub a teaspoon of relish into meat, fish or tofu before you put it into the oven to bake

-tomato/vinegar based relishes can be added to pasta or pizza sauces to give them a flavour boost. (Not too much! Just 1 tsp-1 tbsp.)

-add 1 tsp-1 tbsp to the flavour base of fried rice…as you frizzle your ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sayce etc, add a bit of pickle at this stage.

-use a little bit in soups to boost flavour, just as you would with packet stock. A tablespoon of tomato relish into a tomato soup really boosts the flavour. Of course you wouldn’t usually ‘waste’ relish doing this, but if you are using up a glut – go for it!

-use a little bit in casseroles, stews and oven bakes…

In other words – if you can add it to what you are cooking and it would improve and deepen the flavour, do it!

And of course, eat lots of it on water crackers with tangy cheese.

(I’m not sure if this post falls into the ‘teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’ category or if this is actually helpful, but anyway…pickle it up, folks!)

 

 

the easiest preserve I ever made

In early autumn, when our apple tree was fruiting, I read an article about making apple vinegar.

I had a go, and it was the easiest preserve I ever made!

You fill large jar/s (sterilised, as per preserving) with apple cores and peelings. Obviously it is easy to do this when apples are abundant and you are cooking with them a lot. That’s the second reason this is so cool – you essentially get something from waste.

Fill the jar/s with cold water so that all peelings are submerged. That’s all the ingredients! Apple bits and water.

Tie thin cotton or muslin around the top. (It needs to breathe. Don’t put a lid on or you’ll end up with a mouldy mess.)

Put away in the back of the cupboard for 3-4 months.

3-4 months later, remove cotton, skim layer of fermented scum off the top with a spoon, then carefully pour through some cotton or muslin into a bowl.

Bottle in sterilised glass containers.

Here’s what it looked like after three months, before bottling. The scummy stuff around the top is an expected and natural part of the fermentation process:

It tastes like a slightly milder version of the apple cider vinegar I buy from health shops. (Maybe it would go stronger if I’d left it longer – I left mine for three months.)

I love how the colour is so much the colour of apples!

Now that I’ve had a go at the easiest possible fermentation product, I’m keen to try some more. There was a post about fermented vegetables over at TEND yesterday. I like the look of that book he mentions.

I have a special cupboard for preserves and because my mother also does preserving it is getting pretty full. The preserves cupboard makes me come over all ‘little house on the prairie’ as it speaks to a time when preserving (and fermenting) weren’t quaint hobbies but a matter of survival over winter.

In my preserves cupboard I have: bottled apples, plum jam, crabapple jelly, feijoa chutney, plum sauce, marmalade and now….apple vinegar.

the last

I write about the seasons a lot, don’t I? I can’t help it. I grew up in a small town in the middle of farmland – my Dad was (still is) a hunter and fisherman and so we ate with the seasons and the seasons were meaningful in a way they may not be for city-folks. Most of my friends lived on farms, so the drying off of cows marked the start of winter, new lambs heralded spring. Because I do write about the seasons so much, the editor of The Comforter, Helen Rickerby, organised the book into seasonal parts. I still can’t believe it didn’t occur to me to do that – but that’s why you need a good editor, right? To show you things which are right under your nose but you can’t see because you are over-exposed to your own work.

Anyhow, of all the seasons, autumn is my favourite. The harvest, the golden days with cold edges, the sense of melancholy. Garden fires, washing the woolens which have been in storage since September, quinces, feijoas, walnuts…picking apples – we have two apple trees at our place:

In my book, there is a poem about the beginning of autumn, the final day of daylight saving. There is a point at the end of summer/early autumn, if you are a gardener and eat seasonally, like we do, where you know it is likely to be the ‘last’ time you taste that particular thing for some time. That final meal has autumnal melancholy all over it – it’s a farewell to summer. In the poem, ‘the last’ has a deeper resonance – because of my beliefs about the environment, I feel that anything could be our ‘last’ time, because our existence on this ailing earth is so precarious right now, and growing more so.

Late summer this year, we ate corn for a good eight weeks, thanks to the 60 corn plants I grew – & no, I didn’t tire of it, like I do with some gluts. With the last of our fresh corn, I made a bean succotash which also contained the last of our tomatoes:

Also, ‘last’ for the season – I made a ‘pistou’ or paste with the last of our bush basil, some pine-nuts, garlic, olive oil and salt. It’s always a sad day when the last of the basil goes. We ate it on pasta. ¬†I like to grind such things up in my big mortar and pestle, rather than blitzing with an electronic device. It’s calming and meditative to hand-grind.

I know, I know – I was born in the wrong century.

(A Wellington friend who has never visited me at home was surprised to learn that I don’t live on a farm – he thought I did from reading my blog. I don’t know if it was just him, or if others have that impression as well – but just to be clear, I live on a very average not-quite quarter-acre section right in the heart of Palmerston North. You can take a girl out of the country, but she’ll bring her small-town/country ways to the city!)

Anyway, here’s that poem I mentioned, from The Comforter:

FALL BACK

Insects everywhere – dead bees in the garden, moths

stud the bathroom ceiling like dusty ornaments, praying

mantises crawl out of the compost bucket. The flies.

The last day of daylight saving. Everyone

tired and wistful on Sunday. That feeling

like you lost something all day.

The last-day-of-summer pasta sauce – made with the last aubergines,

last cherry tomatoes, the last zucchini. The garden now

full of fledgling winter vegetables: spindles of cabbage, arrowheads of spinach.

Manawatu gothic. Even these bright days are tinged

with a kind of violence. There is a black velvet ribbon

threaded through your head, collecting debris.

The last dinner on the dehydrated lawn.

*

made in april

I made a big mess on the living room floor for a week or so, putting together vintage paper packs out of my big stash for the Craft Country Shop in Featherston:

We have a crabapple tree so I made a pile of unappetizing-looking crabapple mush into this glowing jelly – how that dull mush can turn into that jewel-coloured jelly is a wonderful act of kitchen-alchemy…

Yucky…

…turns yummy:

And finally, I made this dining-chair cushion (shown here at half-way of being sewn up), which I would pronounce a fail, except my kids have declared they love it and I can’t throw it out. The unfortunate colour-choice, plus the bulbous nature of the stuffing means that the kids alternate between calling it ‘the salami’ and ‘the bowel’ – either way, they insist it stays, meaning I get to ‘enjoy’ my latest crafting fail.

When I saw this idea on flickr (of knitting a big long tube, stuffing it and stitching it into a spiral to make a dining chair cushion) my witty friend Emma McCleary said ‘just don’t knit it in brown’ (it took me a second to get what she meant) – looks like not knitting it in mottled bluey red meat tones would have also been a good idea.

a saucy experiment with green tomatoes

Last week I wrote about leaving the green tomatoes on the window sill to slowly ripen but then on the weekend I had a change of heart and instead thought I’d make a tomato ketchup with them, only green!

I had in my mind a lovely bright green sauce which tasted just like red ketchup.

I read a couple of recipes, one for green tomato chutney and one for red tomato ketchup and sort of morphed the two recipes, taking bits from both.

The mixture smelled delicious as it cooked – sweet and vinegary – but as they cooked, the green tomatoes lost their bright green and the whole mixture turned a kind of swampy greeny-brown, which was not quite what I’d imagined and did not look very appetizing.

Luckily, I had some dark-fleshed plums going a bit soft in the fruit bowl, so I chopped them up and threw them into the mixture (channeling MacGyver – with his mad problem solving skillz) and -whew- that took the mixture from unappetizing pond-scum to dark ruby red. (Not tomato sauce red, mind you, but still, at least it looked edible.)

When the mixture was cooked, I pureed it and bottled it in Agee jars.

It tastes somewhere between homemade ketchup and a BBQ sauce. I don’t know what to call it – but name or no name – it tastes good!

(Don’t ask for the recipe – my experiment was highly unscientific and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for ensuing disasters. My kitchen methods are pretty renegade.)

 

so I went op-shopping again…

Yes, you can take the clutter away from the girl, but you can’t keep the girl out of the op-shops. To be fair, where I used to op-shop weekly (even daily when I had a small baby I needed to walk to to sleep in the pram and we lived two blocks from an excellent op-shop) – I’m now go perhaps once every two months. I enjoy it a lot more for going a lot less, too.

It had been so long since I went, I had a great time. I saw an old mattress base with this incredible 50s fabric on it, which I didn’t buy but photographed for your enjoyment:

I bought some very useful work-clothes in the op-shop’s half-price sale and I also bought these sweet, and useful Agee jars. I’ve never seen the little lidded ones before. I have a soft-spot for Agee jars – they were always what bottled peaches and plum jams came in when I was a kid and people used to preserve more. I love the old-fashioned font – it might say ‘Agee’ but it says ‘Happy’ to me.

& they make sweet vases, right?