gardening

Repurpose

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.

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recipes

Market

market flowers

Should you ever need inspiration to cook, connect with community or remind yourself of the basis of life, find your local market. I make it my business to take regular trips, because I leave mine not only with a bounty of produce, but also with a prosperous soul.

To be amongst our food in its purest form, watch buyers make their selections with reverence and sellers deal in a rhythm that indicates years of involvement, creates an awareness of the essence of life unlike most other experiences. Regardless of age or background, we are people and we need good food. And to all present at the marketplace this is the shared value.

I know what I want, but I love to observe the selections of others. Sometimes I ask how they will prepare their unfamiliar purchases, and have found that people speak passionately about their methods. Observation is as rewarding as interaction at the market.

amongst the produce

As we leave the market, trolley loaded, culinary inspired and economically satisfied, we know we are part of the population and (very thankfully) our place on the globe.

market trolley

Inevitably though, with aspirations larger than realistic consumption, it is usual to be left with the ordeal of excess. Once family and neighbours have been exhausted with handouts, there is no other recourse than to cook. And as it so happened on our latest excursion, the contents of the tightly packed commercial banana box ripened quickly. An over-supply. So I turned to my good friend Delia who of course had the answer: a lovely Banana and Walnut loaf. The beauty of it lay not only in the demerara crunch topping, but the fact that the recipe calls for four bananas. In three loaves time, I was cheerfully a dozen bananas down.

This loaf is an absolute breeze to bake – and consume. Rather than me taking the credit, you can pay Delia a visit yourself here and she will pass her recipe on personally.

Banana and Walnut Loaf

And so, the box is ready to be broken down now, only to make way I guess for the next windfall to be proudly marched home and stored in its place.

banana box

Postscript: and just knowing the market, that hive of energy and abundance is always there, provides a sense of security that as humans in 2014, we often overlook.

recipes

Floret

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.

cauliflowers

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.

gardening · health and wellbeing

Plot

vegetable garden plot

There aren’t many places more grounding than a vegetable plot.

To potter amongst the growth, inspecting leaves for bugs and looking for signs of a budding flower – or better – a spent flower giving life to its fruit, is a most pleasant way of expending time. A quick morning reconnaissance with a cup of coffee in hand, can become an hour in what seems like no time.

A vegetable patch, aside from the obvious benefits of bountiful produce, provides a place of introspection and digestion of all that has taken place in your busy world prior. With only snails and the occasional thrip to hear your thoughts, your mind is given licence to open itself to broader pastures, normally fenced off by the chatter of indoor living. New resolve, clarification and acceptance are often arrived at as a tomato branch is secured to a stake or withered foliage is removed to make way for new. The patch is a place to reassess, formulate and commit to future steps.

Gardening expertise comes not from books, a degree or birthrite but by simply – gardening. The former will certainly put the icing on your earthy cake but the latter: turning over soil, planting and watering provides the knowledge that embeds itself and becomes second nature – over time.

Start small. Mark out  an area to dig and fertilise. Mine is located several steps from the kitchen door, to ensure quick retrieval of herbs in mid-stir or a greater likelihood of a visit when the weather becomes inclement. Choose a few vegetables that appeal and some herbs for instant gratification. No doubt some will flourish, others will die or be feasted upon by invertebrates before you, but inevitably your place of inner sanctum has been established.

broad beans

Postscript: and your horticultural career has begun.