My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

"I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills," William Wordsworth


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Chocolate Truffle Cake ~ glorious, rich and decadent

The first three weeks of March have been very busy. Family occasions involved five birthdays, two wedding anniversaries and Easter. This meant time spent in the kitchen, baking and cooking.

Sixty years set them apart, and Himself and two grandsons had a date to blow out candles together on a birthday cake. 12-year old Grandson in particular, is a chocoholic and Poppa is a diabetic. Athletic and fast-growing into teenage-hood, Grandson designated himself as his grandfather’s deputy to eat Poppa’s slice of birthday cake, chocolate in all its glorious richness, decadent it had to be. Chocolate Truffle Cake it would be.

Measurement of ingredients is typically a ‘roughly about’ thing when I cook. I understand very well the intricacies of baking special cakes, but it is not an everyday practice. Precise measurements were a must for this recipe. Care and attention must be paid to time when working with couverture chocolate, cream, egg yolks and sugar. Assembling the elements was to be my new chocolate cake experience. Getting a glossy and smooth coating was my challenge. I trusted Australian food writer, Donna Hay’s instructions.

Ingredients Truffle Cake

  • ½ C plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/3 C caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 80 gms butter, melted

Ingredients Truffle Filling

  • 450 gms dark couverture chocolate
  • 2 C single or pouring cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 C caster sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.

Sift the flour and cocoa three times and set aside. Place the sugar and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until pale and thick and tripled in volume. Gently fold through the flour and cocoa and then the butter.

Line the base of a 20 cm springform tin with non-stick baking paper. Pour in the mixture and bake for 25 minutes or until the cake comes away from the side of the tin. Cool in the tin.

While the cake is cooking, make the filling. Place the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until melted and smooth. Place the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat for six minutes or until thick and creamy. Fold the chocolate mixture through the egg mixture and beat for six minutes or until cold. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To assemble, remove the cake from the tin and cut in half horizontally. Place the bottom layer back in the tin and pour over half of the filling. P lace the top layer on the cake and cover with the remaining filling. Refrigerate for five hours or until set.

To serve, place a warm tea towel around the tin, which will help to ease the cake away from the side. Carefully remove the cake from the tin and use a heated palette knife to smooth the edge.

Decorating the Truffle cake

Easter pending and staying with the chocolate theme, I used strawberry-filled Easter eggs and a purchased chocolate disc with ‘Happy birthday’ written in white chocolate. I noticed a few rough spots on the coating and thought more truffle filling could have been poured to make a thicker middle layer. Too scared to lift the cake from the tin base, I left it. But hey, no-one cared. Eight grandkids and their Aunts all swooped. It’s chocolate, for goodness sake. What else did you expect! One candle for each birthday boy completed the picture.

Chocolate Truffle Happy Birthday Cake

Birthday cake for Poppa and two Grandsons

Chocolate Truffle Birthday Cake

Chocolate Truffle Cake with strawberry filled Easter egg

 


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Jemima duck waddled into my garden

Jemima seemed most fitting to name our latest feathered friend. She waddled into our lives one morning about three weeks ago. Shy, yet trusting and friendly like Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle Duck, she has let us hand feed her and even give her a cuddle, and she stops, holds her head in a way looking at us that suggests she is listening to us chat to her.

We think she is an escapee, that being from our neighbour’s duck pond across our stream where hundreds of ducks of different breeds live. Bruce happens to like ducks and geese. What child has not loved listening to Beatrix Potter’s stories about garden and farmyard animals being read to them? When they were little, I used to take my grandsons to scatter grain at feeding time. It is fun to stand in the middle of the noisy rush of quacking and honking birds, like a big city rush  hour which I no longer  miss..

In the  relaxed way things happen here, one day, we will wander over to Bruce and ask if he is missing a duck. His answer will be laconic and he will not know or even worry that Jemima has herself a new home. Bruce took on six ducks recently because their owner could no longer care for her pets. Jemima is probably from that small flock. She is earning her keep and is doing a great job scooping up the bugs and slugs in my garden. For now, Jemima can sleepover at our place and be one of the poultry girls.


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My Garden ~ grandson tells a goodnight story

Now that we’re living and working offshore, it’s always nice to keep up with how things are going at home in our absence. Our neighbour runs his cattle over to graze our property and so animals are still a presence at our place. And  it’s great to get photos of what people are doing. Number 2 Son recently sent us some snaps of his toddler son. A year ago before we left NZ, Himself read and re-read the story to our grandson about a black and white cow. This children’s story is based on a real life situation that happened a few years ago in New Zealand. The storybook has become battered as do children’s favourite things but evidently the reading habit has stuck – as grandson shows his moo(ve)s.  He is holding one toy cow from his farm animals toy collection that he’s had since he was two years old. 


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My Garden ~ handing over the garden trowel to Number 2 Son

Thanks Anymont for reminding me about my blog. As I mentioned back in October, My Garden blog is going on the backburner for a couple of years because Himself and I will live offshore on account of my work. Number 2 Son and his family will look over our place. Today he was out restoring order in the jungle that was once my reasonably orderly vegetable garden. He’s head-gardener now. He’ll make this his patch and do his thing. Don’t expect him to write a blog. Unbelievably for someone who’s stared at a screen for years as an IT web developer, he now prefers such physical pursuits. I have been thinking how best to stay in touch with different groups of people at different levels.  It’s easy enough to set up another blog for the travel aspect. There’s a plethora of web-based communication tools (that I’ve not used) to choose from. I guess I’ll get organised eventually. 

It’s been so dry lately – but, it is summer after all. Things have grown since I last wrote and I have been harvesting the produce. But, we’ve enjoyed the purple cabbages – it should be obligatory for every gardener to have these show-off vegetables in their gardens. The pure richness of the purple and the graceful spread of the large ribbed leaves have been a visual delight. The scarlet-splotched Borlotti Beans and Purple Beans are just as amazing. I love colour in the garden as much as I love colour on the plate. And my new potatoes planted a few months ago – what can I say? Just steam and add freshly picked chopped mint. Savour the taste sensation.

Mindful I won’t see my brothers and sister for a while, we spent a few days on the road before New Year. We stayed a couple of nights with my sister and her husband at Coromandel. We  typically have a barbeque (always others are invited to this) when we stay there. As they live on the coast, B-in-law and my nephews had dredged fresh scallops and gathered rock oysters.  No restaurant anywhere could compete for the freshness and flavour of this food.  The scallops were lightly seared in a touch olive oil with a hint of lemon juice and pepper. The oysters were simply steamed. 

They had also hunted wild pig on the mountain range – the boundary at the back of their hill country farm. We’re used to eating wild pork and prefer the lean meat and its gamey flavour to farmed pork.  The wild pigs come out of the dense bush at dawn to dig for the rhizomous fern roots that grow freely at the margin of the farmed land. These pigs really do make a mess of farm pastures. They are considered to be pests. Other than fresh rosemary or thyme, pepper and olive oil, we do little else when cooking this game meat on a BBQ. B-in-law had also proudly dug the first of his Urenika (blue potaotes) crop from seeds I’d given him a couple of years ago. These Maori potatoes are the perfect accompaniment – oh, and the NZ Pinot we were drinking.

Next on the itinerary was a stop with each of  my brothers in the the Waikato. More food. More wine. Lots of chat. It was the first occasion we’d got together since Mum’s funeral in May. My sister, and Uncle (Mum’s brother) and Aunt, joined us for a special lunch at the farm we grew up on (now owned by my youngest brother) before we scattered Mum’s ashes over the paddock where Dad’s ashes are. No ceremony. No fuss.  This was a happy spot for them. They’re together eternally in a place that also has special memories and meaning for us their four children. Now, that chapter of our lives is over. The closure was as it should be. The important thing is we honour Mum’s wish we stay in touch with each other. For the moment, we must move on.

We agreed we’re all facing significant life changes. My nephews are at various stages of their young adult journeys with girlfriends entering the scene. My brothers and their wives are in a state of flux as they are acutely feeling the redundancy of their parental roles.  My sister and I told them that their ‘boys’ will be back! If not for money and food! But, they’ll be back – for babysitting services. My older five grandchildren are involved with their friends, sports and schoolwork. It chokes me to know I’ll miss the growth of the four-month, one and two year olds though. However, it’s time for their grandfather and I to do our thing.

Mum, before she died, was most interested that I was considering an overseas teaching contract. I accepted the offer and anticipate leaving NZ at the end of this month. There’s been so much to do and to think about.  The qualities and attributes I’ve developed as a gardener in caring for the soil, the plant life and microorganisms, will stand me in good stead in my new work. I’ll need to be curious, flexible, observant, patient,  reflective, resilient, resourceful, receptive to new ideas. It’s a privilege through blogging to have been able to glimpse over others’ backyard fences into their lives. Take a glimpse into  Te Parapara Maori Garden in Hamiton City in the Waikato – my backyard so to speak. Te Ara Whakatauki, the Path of Proverbs, reminds us that as the plants that we eat nourish our bodies, so the words that we hear nourish our souls. In New Zealand, Maori have many sayings that  beautifully illustrate  the range of human experience and knowledge.

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi

With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive

 

 


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My Garden ~ Birds’ Nests, Lazy Cats and Granddaughter’s First Post

When she was a toddler, Granddaughter and I made up scrapbooks about anything and everything when she and her twin brother stayed with us. We’d do drawings, paste in leaves and flowers, and pictures and the like. I’d scribe the dictated little stories about what we’d been doing that day. These battered books are now tomorrow’s treasures. It’s the school holidays and today, blogging is the new scrapbook.  We had fun choosing a new photo of our countryside for the header. This is her first post. 

Nana and I thought how clever birds are when they make their nests. The thrush used the grasses to make a warm nest. Her nest looked like part of the clump of the same grass on the driveway bank. Pukeko is nesting in the long grass near the electric fence in front of the house. We took some photos and I wrote about them.

 

Sometimes the cats come for a walk with us. We didn’t want to stay near the birds’ nests for too long, otherwise the cats might sniff out an easy meal.


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My Garden ~ it must be spring

Things are looking up. The daylight hours are longer, the sun has been seen to shine, and wonders of wonders, the slush and the mud is drying out. I actually got into the garden and sowed evergreen Broad Beans directly into the soil. The soil felt warm on my hand. So that’s a good sign. This season, I’m trying out a Dwarf Broad Bean variety. Back indoors, I sowed cherry tomato seeds into a seed raising mix: Baxters Early Bush Cherry Tomato and Black Cherry Tomato. My plan is to pot up and grow these tomato plants in the warmth of the polyhouse. I also sowed cauliflower seeds. I chose a mini variety because it will take less space in the garden and will mature in about 80 days from sowing before the hotter months happen in our part of the world at the end of the year. Pumpkin ‘Triamble’ is my favourite and seeds are being started in the warmth of the polyhouse. Still lots more to do – but it’s a start. 
Even better, I was able to weed the raised strawberry beds. Their dormancy is definitely over. Fresh green leaves and a few white blossoms are happy signs. I gave the plants a good feed of organic sheep pellet fertiliser and a layer of mulch. A great few hours in the garden is an antidote to soggy seasonal affective disorder.        
After work, it’s good to pull the gumboots on and get out in the fresh air. The bird song is uplifting at this time of the day. Three-year old and his little toddler brother love visiting our neighbour and feeding food scraps to the farmyard menagerie. It’s a good opportunity to tire out little legs before the dinner, bath and bed routine. The walk was not without its heart-stopping moments particularly when Turbo-toddler tore towards the stream-bank to throw a stick or stone into the water. Older brother inspected every stick for its potential to be wielded as a light sabre sword. But we did get to our destination as the photos show.         


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My Garden ~ it’s a boy

Number 8 grandchild, born in the eighth month of 2008, weighed in at 7lb 11oz. He arrived into our world at 7.12 this morning. There’s some lucky association with the number 8  linked to this birthday – I haven’t made sense of it yet. It’s very special to have been invited by son and D-in-Law to be present at the birth as well as the other grandmother. At present, Himself and I are babysitting the older two boys – twenty-one month old Turbo-toddler and Three-year old. Three-year old, when told that Mummy and Daddy had a nice surprise for him, thought it’d be a Benten or at least a new Spiderman toy.      

At least the weather cooperated  as we drove into town early this morning. It is pleasantly cool and conditions are drying out. I was able to get into the garden to pick a few flowers (freesias, daffodils, calendula, borage) to make a litte posy for each boy to give to their Mummy. Before we entered the maternity annexe, we had a ‘serious’ discussion about using quiet voices, walk only, how to hold a bunch of flowers and hold onto Nana and Poppas’ hands. The cute factor lasted about five pre-schooler nano-seconds after we entered Mummy’s room. Turbo-toddler patted new-born brother on the head and was then ready to be off to ‘explore’ the interesting new surroundings. Needless to say, it was a relatively short first visit.

Given that the magnolias are making a great show and that the Kowhai have started to bloom, I think I’ll probably choose one of these as the baby’s special tree. Last year, I wrote about tree-planting as a living remembrance or celebration of life.  The sound of Tui has been heard recently – a harbinger of spring. Tui love the Kowhai nectar and it enjoys a special bird status in the hearts of New Zealanders.