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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Easter Monday evening and “The day is done,”

My mother had a good memory and flair for reciting poetry and as a child it was common to hear excerpts inspired by a moment as she went about her household tasks. How could I not hear Mum’s voice as I shut the hens in their coop tonight and enjoyed the cloud formation lit by the rays of Easter Monday’s setting sun.

When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,

excerpt from: Song – The Owl by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The cattle, sated after a long day of grazing grass, languidly bovine and disinclined to poetic gestures, were settling for the night under the Totara trees by the stream.

The day is done, and the darkness
 Falls from the wings of Night,
excerpt from: The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

No Tennyson’s white owl lives in my world. Gertrude clucked her defiance at my attempts to corral her with the other hens in the hen house. Always there is one last worm or one last slater to find. Tastier still would be my Kale seedlings that now must be grown under bird netting in the new raised garden beds.

So I sit in my garden. And I wait for the white hen to go about her routine. After a busy weekend, it is a quiet reflective moment, a chance to enjoy nature’s celebration of Easter Monday evening.

Five visitors stayed overnight so we have had a full house. There were six kids and five adults in all with one extra person who came to dinner on Saturday. The garden hosted the kids’ Easter egg hunt. Kitted out with torches, the sugar-rushed children ventured into the moonlight to explore the night world in their treehut, in the paddocks, under the trees and along the stream.

Eels transformed into alligators, pukeko assumed vulture-like proportions, deep shadows morphed into monsters and grunting possums grrrrd. Oh! How I just love The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree written by Dr Seuss.

 

 


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One Hour to Dinner ~ Lamb Curry

Not feeling like cooking tonight after a busy and tiring day. But put dinner on the table I must – particularly as the Type-II diabetic member of the household must follow a regular and healthy eating plan. The whole family can eat the same meals and everything cooked in one-dish is a quick way to get a meal to the table. By no means an expert, I am now used to making sense of the nutritional numbers on food labels and I make sure there are suitable packets and tins of convenience food staples in the pantry. My garden vegetables and herbs provide that vital fresh green element. It is important to reduce fat, not add salt and to enhance flavour with herbs and spices.

Blood glucose levels are directly affected by the kind and amount of carbohydrate foods eaten. Non-starchy vegetables like aubergine, chilli, onions, pumpkin, silverbeet or swiss chard and zucchini are less likely to raise blood glucose levels. One tip I picked up at at a diabetic dietary seminar was to decide the kind of carbohydrate and then to build the dish around that. Wild and long grain rice would be the ¼ plate serve of carbohydrate. Tonight’s ¼ plate serve of  protein was diced lean lamb.

Tonight’s recipe, if it can be called that, made about 5 to 6 servings. We eat off small dinner plates – a dietary portion control tip. Flavours and quantities were decided at random as I cooked, using whatever was to hand in the fridge and on the shelf.

Lightly spray the cooking surface of an electric frypan with Canola oil. Preheat the frypan.

Sauté 1 large chopped onion, 1 finely chopped yellow chilli  and 1 heaped teaspoon each of crushed garlic and ginger pastes.

Add 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, cardamom, dried coriander flakes and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Stir and continue to sauté for about 1 minute.

Brown about 500 grams of diced lamb that has been trimmed of excess fat. Stir in about 2 cups of peeled, diced pumpkin and 1 medium diced aubergine.

Add 250ml no-added salt vegetable stock. Stir and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Dice 1 large zucchini and shred several leaves of silverbeet or swiss chard. Add to the meat mixture and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in and gently heat through 165ml coconut cream (no additives).

Taste and adjust flavours as desired.

Microwave pre-cooked wild and long grain rice according to instructions on packet.

Serve and enjoy.

 


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Scrabble is addictive ~ be warned

The local Scrabble Club is a group of very sociable players who go into meltdown if they cannot play Scrabble at least once a day. I learned that playing online gives a temporary fix, that club day is a big buzz, and that tournaments are the ultimate rush. Keen to play face-to-face games, I signed up to this madness in 2012.

Every story has a prequel. In the pre-internet era, I was always a scrabble board player with the family. Himself no longer plays because he says I used too many big and suspect words and that the dictionary was wrong!. Immaterial to Himself that it was the Oxford Dictionary. Unaware that Scrabble Clubs existed, I did, and still do cryptic crossword puzzles. Work and family commitments left little time for leisurely pursuits.

Seeing patterns or paradigms when doing cryptic crossword puzzles helps when thinking abut making words from scrambled letters. Four years ago when I joined the local Scrabble Club, I never imagined I would use way out words, ever play in tournaments. I certainly had no idea about the scope of the competitive nature of the game.

Play evovaes in your next game of scrabble. Wait for the challenge. “Is that a real word?”

Himself thinks Scrabble players are a sad lot to get excited about creating a vowel-dump word out of a rack of impossible tiles. Even when it is pointed out to him that the game is also about strategy, calculation and tile tracking, he remains unimpressed even though many top players have mathematical and computing backgrounds and think in logical fashion.

Late one evening early in 2013, while playing online scrabble and watching a late TV show, I forgot about the time. Eldest grandson was coming next day to do jobs to earn money for his school’s work day fundraiser. This 16-year old expected freshly made chocolate cake but I could not decide whether to bake before I go to bed or play another game of scrabble. Never did make the cake. I felt guilty early next morning and as I needed to make a pavlova for another occasion, I doubled the recipe. As teenage boys do, he ate most of the pavlova without complaint. Was that an early warning sign scrabble was interfering with my life?

When euoi, tranq, eejit and u-less Q tiles plagued me, I search for a hook to dump such vowel loaded words? Yes, they are legal. Should I change those tiles and hope to pick up higher value letters? Think! In 2014, I grappled with the strategic  intricacies of the game. It is cut-throat competition for points against the clock, of playing without a dictionary, of tile-tracking, of challenging phoney or obscure words, of being challenged, of national and international ratings, and of course the nice bit, recognition with a prize.

When my name was inscribed on the MINP trophy for the most improved new player, I probably was hooked. Competitors of all ages, from diverse backgrounds from all over New Zealand competed in the two-day tournament hosted by our Scrabble Club. A caterer did lunch and club members provided morning and afternoon teas. I made the sarnies, incidentally a 7-letter word + 50 points for a bingo, or sandwiches to non-scrabblers.

It was an easy drive north to the Hokianga Harbour in  March 2015, it with twelve Scrabble Club members and one player from an Auckland Scrabble Club for an unrated round-robin tournament. That weekend, we ate overlooking the upper reach of the harbour, wined, winged about rotten tile draws, laughed and played scrabble. Four New Zealand rated players played and I managed to beat three of them to achieve second place. Dumb luck really, the tiles fell my way, but I took full credit.

A bonus was the restored historic house we stayed in was New Zealand author Jane Mander‘s childhood home, moved from the Port Albert where area where her novel The Story of a New Zealand River was based. Jane Campion based her film, The Piano, on this novel.

“Okay. It’s only a 40-minute drive and it is only a one-day tournament. Right! I’ll play. It’s good to support smaller clubs.” That was my side of the conversation in November and what a day. A personal best score that included 250 bonus points from five 7-letter words.

Scrabble Tournament Nov 2015 PB Score

Scrabble Tournament Nov 2015 PB Score

Never go to an Annual General Meeting if you do not want a job. Earlier this year, I forgot this cardinal rule and left as President of the Scrabble Club. Too slow to say “no, thank you”, I mumbled that I would do the job for one year.

Last week, it was all credit to Himself, he agreed to go to Rotorua for a few days so I could play in a Scrabble tournament there. This city has long been our weekend escape place. We love soaking in the thermal mineral pools. The trip also meant we could catch up with my brother and Aunt who still live in the Matamata area, location of  Hobbiton, Lord of the Rings film set.

The tiles fell my way again. I will play in the NZ nationals in Rotorua in June. Thinking to be helpful, I suggested he dust off his fly rods and do some trout fishing. Himself sighed – pleased, but resigned to joining the Scrabble widowers and widows club that operates on the fringes of tournaments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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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Cookery class at school in 1958

In 1958, we were given a small textbook, Home Science Recipes when we were taught cookery in Standards 5 and 6, or what is now called Years 7 and 8. Words and phrases used then make me smile now.

“all parts of the dominion”, “domestic instruction”, “helpful to the small family”, “young housekeeper”, “apron”, “never waste anything”, “Housewifery and Laundry Work”

Wordy echoes of strong colonial and emotional ties to England, preparation of girls for marriage and motherhood, and always, a vivid memory of want and hunger experienced by our parents’ generation during the depression and war years. New Zealand as  a country grows food well. This text was compiled by a generation of educators intent on building a nation of self-sufficient citizens and healthy families.

The ingredients then reflected the predominant farming and small country town lifestyles we lived in the 1950s. I shudder now at the thought of using animal fats of “lard”, “dripping”, “suet“. Beef and mutton were staple foods. Home killed meat roasted in a fat was common.  Dad would butcher a sheep about once a week. I recall how my brothers, sister and I lined up as he did so waiting to grab the knucklebones so we could play the game. No sentimentality then. That is how it was.

My mother and mother-in-law always kept a bowl to store the dripping from roasted beef. My grandparents and parents all loved spreading dripping on bread in preference to butter. They had  lived through food rationing. As if that was not enough to fill growing large baby-boomer families,  New Zealand mothers served baked goodies for morning and afternoon teas and  puddings. All recipes used great quantities of animal fats and sugar. Unpasteurised, creamy milk collected as the cows were milked was drunk daily. Thank goodness our outdoor lifestyles meant we were physically active and hardworking compared to present day.

Essentially, we their daughters in the school cookery classes, were cementing household practices of generations before the 1950s. Incidentally, the Window Cleaner recipe in  Cleaning Materials, still works a treat and is cost effective.


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Lemons Three ‘olden’ ways

Was it really fifty years or more since I attended cooking class at school? I felt quite ancient when 11-year old grandson talked about his first food technology class and his first recipe for a Fruit Smoothie, a printout pasted into his exercise book. The blender was put to work and the smoothie made an excellent after-school drink. But, he was not really that interested in Nana’s old school handwritten cooking exercise book, or the recipes. It must have looked like lots of hard work.

In 1958, I used non-electronic kitchen equipment and we measured in pounds and ounces.  Girls at my age  were used to cooking at home with our mothers. The boys did carpentry and metalwork instead. For fun, I revisited two recipes, one from my old schoolbook and the other from a recipe given to me when I was first married. The third way with lemons is about hand care, something my mother routinely did in the kitchen.

Lemon Honey, or Lemon Curd as some call it, is delicious. Living on a farm, we kept hens, lemon trees grew well and butter was cheap. Lemon Honey was commonly made. This recipe makes about one and a half cups. I store it in the fridge. It never lasts long in this family. It can be rippled through creamy icecream, swirled through yoghurt, made into lemon tarts or as I did today, added to the centre of lemon muffins.

Lemon Cordial is another oldie. My mother-in-law made it when Himself was a child. My sister-in-law and I continue to make this drink. It becomes a  refreshing summertime drink when made up with finely julienned fresh ginger straws, crushed mint, ice and chilled soda.

Lemons are nature’s cleanser. I can see Mum now, at the kitchen bench, rubbing a cut lemon over her skin and around her nails before dipping her hands into oatmeal and rubbing this all over her skin. Oatmeal leaves a soft feel to the skin.

 


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Watermelon eater

Grandson has been watching these grow for ages, now he gets to try them !! Perfect juicy, summery, yummy dessert.

He is becoming quite the gardener and has had a hand in planting and growing most of the veggies in the colander.

Big excitement also was younger brother’s Brown Shaver chicken, Strawberry, is now a big girl and is laying eggs. Nice for breakfast.