My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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The Sunshine Blogger Award

screen-shot-2018-02-07-at-4-26-28-pmToday, we stayed indoors because of heavy rain. Small lakes formed in the paddocks as water breached the stream banks. While the ducks paddled and the Pukeko splashed, and to our relief, our dodgy internet sprang back to life and beamed a ray of sunshine into the house. Ann Marie Bryant had left a message to let me know she had nominated me for The Sunshine Blogger Award.

Please check out her site, Ann Marie Bryant, and read her Tales of Family: Finding My Way Home. Having an active interest in genealogy myself, I find her stories of her ancestors make interesting reading. 

The questions Ann Marie Bryant asked me

  1. What inspired you to start blogging?

Knowing I like to write, my tech-savvy son challenged me to start a blog using the scribblings in my garden diaries as prompts. Hence the blog title, showing a distinct lack of originality, My Garden. Writing a blog is quite different to my diary notes where I write for myself.  I have noticed an evolution in my writing style and the ideas I write about. I tend to think of My Garden as a metaphor for my everyday life. It is taking me some time to free up my style and to move on from the formal academic and functional professional writing formats so ingrained over the years. Reading other bloggers’ posts is the best. The breadth of expression and dialogue is enriching. 

  1.  What is your favorite article on your blog?

Mmmmm! My favourite article. Plural perhaps. Anything I write about respecting nature such as how I love that the Totara trees stand in silent witness and about protecting our stream water. And watching the living creatures that act out their antics in our rural lifestyle backyard.  But then I surprised myself with the WordPress prompt, Loophole, and had fun with the memes I read at the gym.

  1. What is one thing about you that surprises people?

I have been caving. Not the tourist type activity. I faced my fear of being in tight crawl spaces. The fun bit was black water rafting.

  1. Who is your hero?

Two women actually. My New Zealand-born great-grandmothers lived during harsh colonial times. One, Pakeha, was widowed at a young age with seven children to care for. The other, Maori, petitioned the government against the unjust confiscation of ancestral land after military conflict. Both women were among the first adult women in the world to vote in New Zealand’s general election in 1893. Voting is a privilege and a civic duty that can be taken for granted. Both these women’s right to vote was too hard-earned to forget. I always vote.

  1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you be?

Hard one for a patriotic New Zealander to answer. I loved living in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. I love its ancient history. I love the people. I love the food and the culture. Yes. Al Ain it would have to be.

  1. What is your favorite possession?

My wedding ring.

  1. What is the craziest thing you have ever done all in the name of love?

So long ago. Probably defying my Dad to go out on my first date.

My Nominations

 My Questions for You

1. Who inspires you and why?

2. Where is the most relaxing place you have been?

3. What song/music puts you in a good mood?

4. What kind of weather do you like the most?

5. Do you have a favourite quote that you like to share?

 

Sunshine Blogger Award Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the questions sent by the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate new blogs to receive the award and write them  new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog.


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ANZAC Biscuits ~ Kiwi classic recipe

ANZAC Biscuits is a New Zealand classic recipe. Crunchy outside, chewy inside, Kiwi kids love these delicious rolled oat-based biscuits which are quick and economical to make. They keep well – well, that is, if they do not get devoured by ever-hungry kids who prowl the pantry in search of food.

There is a blend of fact and fiction surrounding the origin of this legendary biscuit recipe. We grew up with the story that during World War I, people back home baked and sold goodies to help raise funds in support of the New Zealand war effort. Military historians found that these were not the biscuits that were sent to and eaten by the ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli.

gallipoli 300x194 The ANZAC Biscuit“Biscuits! Army Biscuits! Consider the hardness of them. Remember the cracking of your dental plate, the breaking of this tooth, the splintering of that.” From Army Biscuits by Ormond Burton.

Staff at the National Army Museum did some research and found that contrary to popular belief there were no ANZAC biscuits at Gallipoli. The standard Army biscuit at this time was a rock hard tooth breaker also called the ship’s ANZAC biscuit.

Like many home cooks, I sometimes modify the recipe by adding dried fruit, nuts and seeds and adjust ingredient quantities to suit. It is a beginner-cook-friendly recipe. It is 25 April and in keeping with the spirit of our national remembrance day, I used the recipe from another Kiwi icon, Edmonds Cookery Book, to make a batch of ANZAC Biscuits.

Fresh-from-the-oven, the biscuits got the seal of approval from youngest grandson and his two brothers.

 

 


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Chocolate Cake ~ firm family favourite

 

This image of the 1950s Edmonds Cookery Book is part of my cooking heritage. My mother, like many New Zealand women, referred to the recipes in her battered copy to bake a range of goodies for daily morning and afternoon teas. Sadly, we no longer have her copy of this particular edition that my sister and I used when we helped Mum in the kitchen during busy times on the farm feeding workers and visitors. Over the  years, we modified the recipes and adapted ingredients.  Classic Edmonds recipes that we used in the 1950s have stood the test of time.

Mum’s great-grandchildren love eating the same goodies we enjoyed as children – and this chocolate cake never fails the yummy test. 9-year old grandson, owner of an Edmonds Beginner’s Cookbook reprinted in 2015, is proud of his baking efforts. Chocolate cake baking tradition lives on.

Ingredients One-Egg Chocolate Cake

  • 50 grams butter
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup standard plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • few drops vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup milk

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
  • Prepare one 20cm cake tin. Line with baking paper. I often prepare a muffin tray to make 12 mini-cakes
  • Melt butter and syrup in a small saucepan.
  • Put melted ingredients into a bowl. Add egg and sugar. Beat well.
  • Sift cocoa, flour and baking powder together. Fold sifted ingredients and vanilla essence into egg mixture.
  • Dissolve baking soda in milk. Fold into egg mixture.
  • Pour the mixture into cake tin.
  • Bake 30 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.
  • Leave cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes.

Decorate to suit

  • Quick chocolate icing. Mix 1 to 2 cups icing sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon softened butter, vanilla essence and a small amount of warm water to get a smooth consistency. Spread icing over cake. Sprinkle desiccated coconut threads over icing.
  • Cake could be split into two halves so that a filling of whipped cream and sliced fresh fruit e.g. strawberries can be added.
  • Top of the plain cake could just be lightly dusted with icing sugar.


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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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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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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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Spider webs ~ capturing a fleeting moment

About 6.00 a.m., a line of mist hovered along the paddock highlighted by rays of early daylight as the sun appeared over the hills. The awakening moment fogged over as the heavier morning mist rolled in low along the valley, dressing the trees in ghostly cloaks. But, the sun, relentless, rises even more, the fog dissipates and the chooks and cats let us know it is beyond their breakfast time and that we would be reported if food was not forthcoming.

Kitchen food scrap bucket and grains in hand, I walked across the wet grass dotted with small blankets of spider webbing before heading down some steps past the cabbage tree (Ti Kouka) covered with sparkling silky spider webs. My, how the spiders have been busy weaving the night away while we slept. They are hungry and set their gossamer traps to snare the insects that frequent the tree.

The circular webs are delicate and lacy in a way that seems not to be of this world. Dew drops glisten like fine diamonds on the filigree threads clasped to the small branches. I pause and ponder intent on capturing the moments of the morning.

Finally, I remember my task was to feed the chooks two hours ago. The sun has risen well above the trees and it promises to deliver another hot windless day. To a squawk the chooks have voted me the worst hen mother ever! Some busy pecking of the organic wheat and scraps ensues and it is not long before they scamper to scratch for bugs under the trees.  As I return to the house, I notice the spider webs like the fog, have gone.

Poof! A fleeting moment is now a memory.