When perusing a seed catalogue with a view to vegetable planting for the coming season, it’s easy to have eyes bigger than available plot space. I have experienced this in the past and with novice gardener’s enthusiasm have attempted to grow too many varieties resulting in what can only be described as a crowded, unsuccessful tangle. This season I am narrowing my selection to three plantings based on what will grow best and what we will actually eat. It’s all very well sowing several rows of hollow-crown parsnip seeds, but what do you do when upon harvesting your glut, everyone at the table pokes at the mash suspiciously or makes polite excuses? So this winter, I plan to slice the heads off cauliflower and broccoli and uproot a good supply of leeks because these are the staples that appear in many of our cold weather meals. There will also be some fenugreek seeds going in, a herb to be added to winter Indian curries, and based on the fact they will prosper independently in terracotta pots, they won’t be part of the head count.

When you keep chickens, it’s amazing how generous people are with their empty egg cartons. I have accumulated a tremendous supply from well-wishers who I suspect, like me, are not comfortable tossing away these resourceful cardboard packages and share a collective relief that there is a good home to be found for them. There is however, a limit to how quickly my brood of five can fill them, so I do have a considerable stockpile. You can then imagine how pleased I was when I saw these gems planted up as seed sprouters, that when the seedlings have reached maturity, can be planted out directly in the garden within their own biodegradable pods. Less shock to the seedlings and nothing to be disposed of – a perfect gardening scenario.

When sliced down the centre, the bobbly half of the carton with the 12 egg craters is filled with seed-raising soil (after being pierced with a skewer for drainage). Simply insert the exact number of seeds in each pod and gently water with a spray bottle. Each of my seed planters sits in its own aluminium baking tray and is covered with cling film to create a mini hot house. The cardboard lip that was formerly used to close the carton is a fabulous place to write the name and planting date of the seeds.

The plan is, once the sprouts have appeared, all but the strongest in each pod will be culled – survival of the fittest, natural selection, runts of the litter – whatever biological theory you subscribe to, will be the way the most superior, robust seedlings with the greatest chance to produce will go forth to the great outdoors and provide us with a groaning table of winter veg. Well, that is my theory. For now they sit lined up near a sunny window and I have a new daily task assigned to lift the cling film, give a light spritz of water, watch and wait.




Cauliflower cheese

Autumn gradually segues into Winter, and as it does by 5.00pm kitchens throughout our suburbs begin to emit aromas of succulent roasted cuts. As to what constitutes a ‘roast dinner’ is as unique to each family as the padprints of its members. Raise the topic and prepare for an onslaught from passionate folk who will wax lyrical over their family’s version.

Life is busy and as a consequence, meals are pared down. Let’s not allow our sacred roasts to become casualties of modern times. What was originally a family meal with many accompanying side dishes, is sometimes reduced to meat and basic veg. Coursing through the bloodlines of our particular family roast ancestry, are baking dishes of golden cauliflower cheese. So, when I spied these beauties at our local supermarket this week, a culinary genome was activated.


That night, positioned beside a crispy golden bird, roasted potatoes and blanched greens sat a piping hot baking dish of Cauliflower Cheese. And as the metal serving spoon broke through the crust to scoop out the  florets nestled in their creamy sauce, I’m sure I heard a collective gasp from the heavens.

1/2 large or 1 small cauliflower
40 g butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
generous handful of grated cheese
1-2 rashers bacon

  1. Slice cauliflower into manageable florets and steam or microwave until tender. Arrange in baking dish.
  2. Melt the butter over medium heat.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the flour until lumps disappear. Return to heat and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add milk and increase heat, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Add cheese, reduce heat and keep stirring until sauce is smooth and thick (add extra milk if required).
  5. Pour sauce over cauliflower and sprinkle bacon over the top.
  6. Place in a 180 degree celsius oven and cook until sauce begins to brow and bacon crisps – about 15 minutes.

cauliflower cheese with roast potatoes

Postscript: This side dish is but one of many that families across the globe serve with their roasted meats. I wonder what yours is.