Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wild mustard (and happy new year!)

Mustard can be made from the seeds of various members of the Brassicaceae family. A few months back I tried drying seeds from what I thought was wild turnip. (It wasn't though. It was a close relative, although I'm still not sure which one!)

It was all a bit of a disaster. I got over-paranoid about whether the seeds were toxic, and the seedpods were too small and few to make more than a pinch of mustard from anyway. Then to top it off, someone knocked the drying seedpods off the windowsill and the tiny seeds spilled and vanished.

Anyway, now that I know what wild turnip REALLY is, I'm trying again.

I was inspired to make wild mustard after reading Euell Gibbons' 1962 foragers' classic - Stalking the Wild Asparagus.

Gibbons lived in the United States and wrote about making mustard from the seeds of Brassica nigra:

[The seedpods] ripen unevenly, and as soon as they are ripe, split open and the seeds drop out.

The best way I have found to collect these seeds is to gather the whole seedstalk ... just when the lower pods are beginning to shatter, and spread them on one of the large plastic sheets, which I have found such a handy help in foraging.

After drying out in the sun for a few days, they will be ready to thresh out by beating them with a flail. From one 9 by 12 sheet piled full of ripening seed stalks, I have winnowed out 1/2 gallon of clean mustard seed, and that is as many as I can possibly use in a year.

The clean dry seeds can be ground ... this will give you the same kind of dry mustard you can see on the spice shelves at your grocers, and it can be used in any recipe that calls for dry mustard.

To make the yellow pasty condiment that is called Prepared Mustard, put some flour in a pan and toast it in the oven, stirring occasionally until it is evenly browned ...

Mix this browned flour, half and half with ground mustard and moisten with a mixture of half vinegar and half water until it is the right consistency, and your condiment is ready to use.

In a New Zealand context, wild turnip might be one of the best plants to make mustard from.

The wild turnip round our house is covered in seed pods at the moment ...

My son and I picked some bunches:

And they've been drying for a few days now. They've almost all dried and split and released their seeds. (I've tried a nibble of the seeds, and they're nice.)

Hopefully we'll be making mustard in a day or two - although not in such bulk quantities as Euell Gibbons!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

NZ books for children and teens

For the summer '08 issue of Booknotes (the NZ Book Council's journal) I filled in for their regular children's book reviewer, who was on leave.

A few of the books I reviewed had themes relating to self reliance and the environment, so I thought I'd 'reprint' those ones here.


The Stuck There Forever Boat
Gillian Torckler; illustrated by Bruce Potter
(Picture Puffin, $17.95)

The book’s September release date could not be more appropriate. As I write, a group of small island states are calling on the UN Security Council to address climate change as a threat to international peace and security.

Set on an unnamed island based on those in the Tuvalu group, The Stuck There Forever Boat presents the effects of rising sea levels on small island communities in a clear and personal way.

I was disconcerted at first by the author’s notes at the end of the book pointing out that, for the sake of the story, she had sped up the time-course of events. But then again, I thought, arthouse movies get away with this kind of thing frequently, and what with the narrative’s mythic feel and Bruce Potter’s dream-like photo-realist illustrations fading into black around the text, the book is somewhat filmic.

While its subject is not an easy one for children, The Stuck There Forever Boat manages to end on a hopeful note by focusing firmly on the successful evacuation of the main characters from their island. That will be enough for some readers for now. However, for those who are ready to pursue the issues further, the book serves as a good starting point.


Tales from the Swamp
Kingi McKinnon
(Scholastic, $16.99)

McKinnon’s short story collection begins and ends with tales that contain supernatural elements, but sandwiched in between are depictions of everyday life that explore the nuanced and sometimes downright confusing relationships that can exist within families and groups of friends.

The characters banter, bully, scold, and care for each other deeply. Lucid and unflinching, McKinnon dives straight into the murky areas of relationships, avoiding obvious judgment, keeping a sense of humour, and giving the reader plenty of room to decide for him or herself what to think of each situation.

Fascinating in a different way are the depictions of rural life and food gathering – raiding an overgrown watermelon patch, hunting for wild eggs, shooting ducks, and torching for eels.

Reading these stories, it’s hard not to feel sadness at the untimely loss of McKinnon’s voice from New Zealand writing.


How to make a Piupiu
Leilani Rickard
(Raupo, $30.00)

With interest in traditional arts and crafts increasing, this book will be a valuable resource for many.

Instructions don’t get much clearer than Rickard’s. They are laid out in just the order you need them; the numerous photographs illuminate exactly what you want them to; and Rickard’s years of experience as a teacher are evident in the way her text anticipates questions and swiftly answers them.

A nice touch is the Gallery at the end of the book showcasing piupiu in both modern and traditional styles. In fact I would have enjoyed a few more pages of this.

How to Eat a Huhu Grub, plus a truckload of other mad, cool & dangerous ideas for Kiwis who like doing stuff

Nick & Conrad Turzynski
(Random House, $35.00)

In his introduction, Nick Turzynski describes this as ‘a book for kids who like doing stuff and for adults who like to do stuff with them.’

He goes on to suggest that if children really are becoming the screen-addicted couch potatoes that we often complain they are, perhaps it’s because we are no longer getting out there and showing them how to do exciting physical and practical things. Without wanting to go too deeply into my own parental failings, I suspect there is at least some truth in this.

Turzynski’s attitude may be epitomised in the chapter entitled, ‘The Dying Skill of Knifemanship’: ‘[My father] bought knives for my brothers and me, showing us how to use them safely …We kept them razor sharp and were always aware how dangerous they could be. In all the years we had knives we suffered a multitude of cuts and abrasions, but not one from a knife.’

The message: don’t shield children from dangers, but don’t leave them to their own devices either; work with them and show them how to negotiate those dangers.

Promoted as a New Zealand version of The Dangerous Book For Boys, it’s much less gendered, but is written in a similar lively style and has the same format – practical activities interspersed with lessons about nature and history.

For most activities all you’ll need by way of instruction is the book. There are a few, however, (such as making medicinal treatments from native plants) where most would want to hunt out some extra info before putting any suggestions into practice. And does the book really tell you how to eat a huhu grub? Absolutely. My son was rummaging hopefully amongst old logs for nearly an hour. Had he found any we would certainly have had a different dinner that night.


Scorched Bone
Chronicles of Stone

Vincent Ford
(Scholastic, $19.99)

This well researched novel, the first in a trilogy, takes place in the Americas over 10,000 years ago. It follows the journey of twin brother and sister Trei and Souk, along with their friend Crien, to try and help their tribe survive through lean times.

From the very first page, where young hunter Trei stalks a fawn suckling from its mother, Ford pulls the reader into a raw world where humans are keenly aware of their own animal natures and their dependence on the rest of the natural world.

The first few pages set up themes that are developed throughout the book – survival, nourishment, family bonds, and death. Ford doesn’t shy away from gore. Some of it may be upsetting, but it never feels gratuitous.

Ford’s elegant, spare prose rarely falters, and his third person narrative shifts frequently and seamlessly between the perspectives of the two main protagonists and that of a third invisible observer. In this way he skillfully maintains control of the story’s emotional impact.

The book is embellished with descriptions of hunting, gathering, and food storage techniques, adding another layer of interest. While I would place this book in the young adult category, I’m sure it will also appeal to intermediate students.

Juno of Taris
Fleur Beale
(Random House, $18.99)

In this futuristic page-turner, Beale continues the exploration of mind-control that she began with I am not Esther, and poses some big questions. For example, in certain situations, is there a place for mind-control?

The people of Taris live on a Pacific island within a protective bubble that shields them from the environmental and political threats plaguing the rest of Earth.

Every aspect of their lives is controlled by tradition and/or authorities, but central character Juno is not born to conform.

In the first few chapters, Beale leads us to believe this will be a classic ‘chosen one’ story, following Juno as she pursues her destiny. However, as the book progresses, Beale subverts this expectation. Free will elbows out destiny, and Juno’s friends reveal themselves to be more than side-kicks, and take on roles that are just as important as Juno’s in changing the order of things on Taris.

Of all the ideas the story offers, it is this one I personally find most engaging – that saviours and pre-ordained destinies are wishful thinking. Change is brought about by groups of people who take control of their own destinies.

However, the book offers plenty more ideas than that for readers to sink their teeth into.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kapiti cook-up

Last Thursday my children and I went to a solar cooking get-together with a group of home-schooling friends in Kapiti, hosted by Nikki.

It was lots of fun and somehow we had managed to choose the only day of the week that turned out to be sunny!

I love to see an army of solar cookers all working away together.

Lynda made these ingenious frankfurter cookers (I think they are from recycled Pringles containers?)

We were so hungry by the time the food came out, that we all forgot to take photos. About three quarters of the way through the meal I stopped and managed to get a bit of the wreckage ...

It was a lovely day. I even scored a nice new red cardi, as Free brought along a huge bag of un-needed clothes to share.

It was great to finally get to see Nikki's impressive garden, after reading and hearing so much about it. Maybe Free will have to hold the next solar cook-up so I can have a nosey at hers too. :) (Lynda's gardens I'm familiar with already - and they have been beautiful for as long as I've known her. I still have fond memories of that fresh-off-the-vine grape juice ...)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Small honey update

I just got this comment from Pip in Kerikeri, about separating honey from its wax comb. It's so useful that I'll cut and paste it in here, since I know things in the comment section often get missed:

Hi Johanna, we have just removed the frames from our hive. To start with we score the surface of the honeycomb, to open up the comb, with a normal fork. Then we leave it to drip into a bucket overnight. Most of the honey flows out this way and if there is any left we still want then we squeeze it. Enjoy, its so much fun!

Also, I put a basic honey junket recipe up on Wild Concoctions, and will put up some variations soon.

Lastly - a quick plug for Peanutbutterland peanut butter - available through Nature Foods. This is lovingly and labour-intensively made by a guy in Kapiti. (At least I think it's Kapiti. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong.) And it truly is the best peanut butter ever. It's not just ordinary home-made peanut butter. It's gone through a whole soaking and drying process, and been mixed with coconut oil, so it's way more nutritious and digestible than 'regular' peanut butter.

The reason I mention it in a post about honey is that my son and I have become addicted to having it with honey!

Friday, December 12, 2008


We don't have the room to keep bees, but even if we did, and I was prepared to put the time and effort in, I don't think I would. I LOVE the idea of it, but whenever I've read those 'Is Beekeeping For You' articles - there is one sticking point. Beekeepers get stung. (I know, I know, it makes no sense - I've given birth to two children, but I'm scared of the pain of a bee sting.)

Having resigned myself to never producing my own honey, this might be the next best thing - buying complete frames of raw comb honey, and doing my own processing.

You see, Deb and Ian at Nature Foods have just started supplying some delicious locally grown honey from 'Windy Bottom Farm'. If you haven't seen the Nature Foods website, take a look. There are all sorts of interesting, healthy, and yummy foods there. (They may not have put the honey up yet, but just enquire if you're interested.)

Some of the Windy Bottom Farm honey that they stock will be raw, some finely filtered, and some coarsely filtered - depending on what's available at the time.

I've got us some finely filtered manuka honey, some coarsely filtered kamahi honey, and of course that raw frame, which the grower says was 'collected in the Battle Hill area and so will be a mixture of pasture (clover) and bush honey, with probably also a high manuka content.'
It is absolutely oozing with honey, and our entire household has been tasting the drips, and exclaiming over their heavenliness. I have no idea why, but it is so much yummier than 'ordinary' honey.

My son may have nailed it when he said, 'Actually THIS is ordinary honey, and the stuff you buy in containers in a shop isn't. That's why this is yummier.'

Well, wish me luck with my processing. These are the grower's instructions:

The raw honey can be separated from the comb by squeezing the honeycomb in your hands over a collecting vessel (bowl) and the honey will run through your fingers to the bowl and you will be left with a lump of wax in your hand. This is how it's still done in some countries in South America.

If anyone reading this has done it before and has any tips - I'd love to hear them!

The frame weighs about 3kgs. I can't wait to see how much honey and how much wax I get from it. I'm looking forward to the wax almost as much as the honey, and yes, every one will be getting home-made balms for birthday presents during 2009!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Worm farm taken

Have found a good home for worm farm 2 now - that was quick!

Anyone want a worm farm?

Until a few days ago, I had never been offered a free worm farm. But over the past week I have been offered - out of the blue - not one, but two, on completely separate occasions by completely unrelated friends.

I guess it's the season for it?

I had already accepted the first one, when the second offer came in. So if anyone would like it - and could pick it up from a very nice person in Island Bay - drop me a line at johanna dot knox at - and I will put you in touch!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Transition Towners in World Sweet World

Also in the latest issue of World Sweet World is an article I wrote about the Transition Towns (TT) movement in New Zealand. It contains micro-interviews with a small selection of TT members from around the country.

Most of them have their own personal websites and blogs:

James Samuel - NZ's national TT co-ordinator - lives on Waiheke Island. His blog is Yesterday's Future.

Deirdre Kent is an amazing woman and a long-time sustainability activist with particular expertise in alternative currencies. Her blog, which focuses on her book Healthy Money Healthy Planet, is Local Currencies.

Hirini Reedy is a compelling voice and has his website here.

Kazel Cass is a young mum who co-ordinates the Opotiki TT group. She makes use of the blog facility on the national TT website here.

Rimu Atkinson co-ordinates my local TT group (Wellington South). When I'm out I often see him whizzing past on his electric scooter. His TT blog is here. He also has another blog which I don't think you will understand a word of unless you are a computer geek. :)

is a member of TT in Kapiti, and I'm always linking to her blog for many and varied reasons. :) But here she is again - at A Satisfying Journey Towards Simplicity.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Summer World Sweet World

It's out! This lovely magazine has made it to Issue 4, and thus through one whole year - with ever increasing distribution figures.

As usual, WSW is full of brilliant, creative ideas - including a scheme for Carbon Action Brownie Badges

I have an article in there on using wild blackberries. Since it was mid-spring when I wrote it, I had to trial the recipes using bought, packaged, frozen ones. They were nice, but had seeds the size of pebbles! And they were 'Packed from New Zealand and/or imported ingredients' - so they were undoubtedly injected with melamine, painted with lead paint, and treated with formaldehyde.

But at least they were 'Supervised and Approved as Kosher'.

I can't wait for the true blackberry season to arrive. Shouldn't be long. The blackberry bushes near our house already have some flowers ...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Food illustrated

Sarah, from my writing group, is a renaissance woman. Seriously. Not only is she a writer, but an illustrator, a designer, a musician, a crafter, a gardener and a cook. (And I'm bound to have missed something.)

Anyhow, she has a new blog - Garden Kitchen - where she cooks delicious (and eco-friendly) dishes and then draws them. It's beautiful!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

For sourdough fans

I've been rummaging through cookbooks that used to be my grandmother's, and among the treasures is Any one Can Bake - a 1929 promotional publication from 'the Educational Department of the ROYAL BAKING POWDER CO.'

You might get a laugh from their version of the origin of leavened bread - from a longer article entitled, 'The Evolution of Baking Powder'.

The Royal Baking Powder Co tells us ...

Yeast came first
Very early in written history we come upon mention of both 'leavened' and 'unleavened' bread, so the actual origin of raised bread is obscure. Some prehistoric matron, perhaps, was not too careful about washing out the vessel in which she mixed the grain and water for her baking. A stray yeast cell lodged in the scrapings and developed in the next moist mixing so that the loaf grew astonishingly. It was porous and softer than her ordinary loaves.

She tasted this unusual mass - and found it good. She added a bit of the magic dough to her fresh mixture in the hope that it would impart its characteristics to the new loaves - and of course it did.

Thus began the leavening of grain mixtures, and for generations yeast in some form or another was the only leavening agent known.

What can I say? Let's all pay homage to that prehistoric slattern whose naughty lapse in hygiene turned out to be a blessing for us all. And thank heavens that a single yeast cell just happened to come along at the right time! :P

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Elderflower and water kefir - a yummy duo!

Just had to share ...

On a whim, I mixed a bit of our elderflower syrup into some very tart already-brewed water kefir - and I tell you, it is DELICIOUS!

A quick google revealed that the combination of elderflower and kefir is not stunningly original, but it was new to me anyhow!

(And in passing I noticed some sites talking about the cosmetic applications of kefir . Anyone know anything much about that?)

Elderflowers galore

There only seem to be a couple of Elders in our immediate neighbourhood, but the other day my mother took my children and me to a spot where they grow prolifically. After my Mum asked permission from a property owner, we harvested two bagfuls of flowers.
There were many other Elder trees frustratingly out of reach - they were on someone else's property, probably not used by the owner, but we had no way of asking the owner at the time.

Home again, I made a few things, including syrup for elderflower cordial and even elderflower junket. (No one in the family liked that except me, but I am a junket addict, and I will eat it any way at all.)

The internet presents a bewildering array of recipes for elderflower cordial - as well as wine and champagne. Everyone likes to make it differently. Here are some thoughts on navigating through the confusion ...

Elderflower/sugar ratio
A big part of the trick with the cordial is to get the proportion of sugar to elderflower flavour right, but that's going to depend on your own personal tastes. If in doubt, err on the side of adding less sugar than you think you need. It's easy to add more sugar syrup at the end if you find you need it, but less easy to up the ratio of elderflower.

It seems important not to skimp on the lemons. They add something really important to the flavour. In my first batch I didn't use enough lemon (to my taste anyway), so I've been adding an extra squeeze to each cup as I have it.

What I did
I used the method at Gastronomy Domine - but changed the proportions, and didn't use citric acid. I will freeze some to preserve it instead.

My proportions ...
Around 20 elderflower heads
1.5 litres of water
3 cups sugar
3 lemons

I also heeded advice from other websites to remove as much stem from the flowers as possible. Some little stems are okay, but not the big ones.

There are these tiny little black bugs that like to live in flowers round here. They mostly crawl very fast, and I can't quite tell if they have wings or not. If anyone knows what they are, please tell me! Anyway, we found heaps in our elderflowers. I've also found big communities of them in gorse flowers, apple blossoms and roses.

Often it's good not to wash any flowers before using them, because -
(a) it can damage the fragile petals
(b) flowers readily release their fragrant/flavoursome/active components into water, and you don't want to wash any of that valuable stuff away
(c) if you're making something like wine, where you want plenty of wild yeasts, you don't want to wash yeasts off.

SO - I stumbled on a way to get rid of these wee beings without washing the flowers. It's a little time-consuming, and there may be a better way, but anyhow, I'll post that on Wild Concoctions a bit later today.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oh Good

My foraging article came out in Issue 4 of the wonderful Good Magazine this week. I like the dandelion smiley face they chose for it.

The article is sitting happily next to a delicious piece on Antipodean Christmas cake alternatives by Alessandra Zecchini - herself a foraging fan.

There is also a really rather inspiring editorial.

oops - sorry!

In my last post I gave the wrong link for the article Cultural Uses of Native Plants by Sue Scheele. I gave the URL for the contents page of the journal it was in, instead of the article.

Here's the correct link:

It's a great article.

Nikki - thanks for letting me know the link was wrong!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Foraging update

My good friend Lynda organised a Weed Walk yesterday for the Wellington region members of our foraging email list. Unfortunately for me, life stuff got in the way, and I couldn't go.

The walk was led by this Kapiti couple. Nikki has blogged about it here.

It sounds like a lovely afternoon! I wish I could have gone.

Still - I'm slightly consoled by having just found a fantastic article! It's Cultural Uses of New Zealand Native Plants by Sue Scheele at Landcare Research, who keeps a valuable database of this information.

It's a pdf file, and I haven't managed to get a direct link to it to work from my blog yet, so if you'd like it, just go to this address:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Apple blossom and raspberry leaf alcopop!

I'm pretty sure it's Sandor Ellix Katz who is responsible for popularising (among us westerners!) home-made t'ej - Ethiopian style honey wine. It's the first, and simplest recipe in his book 'Wild Fermentation'.

Basically - 1 part raw honey to 4 parts water. Stir to dissolve honey. Cover. Leave in a warm room for several days. Stir at least twice a day, and wait for the wild wine-making yeasts to take up residence. Once the liquid is bubbly and smells and tastes like wine - well, it is.

You can use the basic principle to experiment with any sweeteners and additional ingredients you like.

Recently I tried using sugar instead of honey, and using water infused with blackberry leaves (tannins for some dryness) plus the last blossoms on our apple tree. The idea was that the sugar would be less strong-tasting than the honey, and allow the subtle apple blossom taste to come through more.

I'm not sure if sugar water is as good a breeding ground for wild yeasts as raw honey though! The result (above) was a nice tasting drink that tasted somewhat fermented, but was only very slightly alcoholic. More a home-made alcopop really!

Oh well. Further apple blossom experiments will have to wait till next year (and this time, I'll get started before they've almost all fallen off!) Meanwhile I'll find some other things to try and make wild wine from ...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Solar cooking backyard get-together

So New Zealand now has a right-wing government, and Roger Douglas is back. I should be feeling angry and miserable, but actually I feel great.

Today, we had some lovely people from Wellington South Transition Towns round for a solar cooking get-together - and it was the perfect antidote to Terrible-Election-Results Blues. Who cares what the government does, when Transition Towns communities are starting to get together and try sorting things out for themselves?

It was just an informal event. We set up our solar cookers - one bought - two home-made, and invited TT people to drop round any time during the day. We had curry, peppermint tea, and pavlova on the go. (Thanks to Heather for the pavlova inspiration.)

Just a few people came in the morning, and then more in the afternoon.

It got extra fun when Jean-Fabien and Rose brought some tin-foil coated cardboard and started cutting out more panel cookers ... and more ... and MORE!

Lots of different ideas for constructing and using solar cookers were flying round - as well as thoughts for another solar cooking event.

Meanwhile, our curry and pavlova were steaming away. My daughter was absolutely desperate for the pavlova to be ready. Luckily Wayne and Ping had brought some chocolate biscuits for the interim. Whew.

A lot of people had to go before we got the food out, but hopefully they enjoyed the afternoon anyway.

The curry turned out great.

The pavlova was good too - um - in it's own way. But I'm going to contact Heather for some tips.

All in all, it was a fantastic day, and we even got two nice little bunches of flowers out of it.

Anne brought this from her garden - a fully edible bouquet. Very cool.

And Rose picked these on the way.

And there's our cat, the publicity hound, again. It even managed to get into Rachelle and Rimu's photos at the Transition Towns website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The joys of solar cooking at 41 south

I haven't posted a solar cooking update for a while, but we've been puddling away at it and having a few nice meals.

What's becoming obvious is that a solar cook's biggest challenge here in Wellington is the unpredictability of the weather. I don't mean from day to day, but from minute to minute.

Wellington weather is like - 53 minutes of sunshine, then 46.5 minutes of high cloud, then more sunshine, then a breeze blows up, then a huge, low rain cloud rumbles over and releases 23 drops of rain, then it's sunny for 5 minutes, then a howling gale rages for an hour, then the sun comes out again ...

As far as wind goes, I've got a bit better at dealing with that.

With the CooKit panel cooker, I anchor it down at the sides with bricks, and set up the pot in such a way that there's no risk of it sliding around inside its bag or tipping and spilling.

With the box cooker, I thought I was going to need to prop up the lid's relector panel at both sides, instead of just one, but so far I haven't needed to. I just made a better, stronger prop for the one side. (That may yet turn out to be unsatisfactory though.)

As for dealing with rain, I think what would be ideal would be to make a little shelter that we could put over the cookers at short notice whenever Welllington decides to turn on one of its brief, impromptu little showers. Must get onto that.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More good things in the mail

On a NZ email list I'm on, some of us decided to do a seed swap. Here are some of the goodies I've received in the mail - from Esther, Jackie, Karen, and Madz, who are all keen seed savers. (Unlike me. I really need to learn more about seed saving.)

In return, I sent out some Caspian Sea yoghurt and little sundew seedlings.

Actually that book on using natural plant dyes is from Lishelle, and wasn't officially part of the swap. It just arrived in our mailbox out of the blue. Lishelle had been cleaning out her garage and thought I might like it. (She's like that! :o)

I'm especially interested in dying with wild plants. So far I have only tried blackberries (nice pinks and purples). Next I have designs on a large local fennel plant for some yellows and greens.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Exceptionally fluffy pancakes

This morning I put Ruth's lively sourdough starter to good use, making Emma's sourdough buttermilk pancake recipe. (Except I didn't have any buttermilk, so used Caspian Sea Yoghurt instead.)

I think they were the fluffiest pancakes I've ever made. And they tasted good too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A post on the run ...

So many things I have been planning to post about, but work is full on right now, and everything made more tricky by having a broken ankle.

(I can't even carry my own cups of tea from the kitchen to my desk. I've taken to drinking iced coffee with lots of ice-cream in it, because it's the only thing that doesn't slop out of the cup when I hop. Yes - the sacrifices I am making! ;o)

Anyway, just quickly, I wanted to say I heard from Heather, who has made a solar cooked pavlova. Such a cool idea, and I feel very inspired to follow her lead and try one as well.

She is also an industrial chemist, and has an interesting blog about the things we use in daily life that rely on oil for their manufacture.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

There go my Labour Weekend gardening plans!

At the fracture clinic there was a very distraught little girl in the waiting room. Her Mum was trying hard to cheer her up. 'Look!' she said, pointing at me and my cast, 'Look at that lady! That's what you're going to have, too. Isn't that cool?!'

Her mum looked at me somewhat pleadingly, so I felt compelled to smile and nod. 'Yes, it's really cool. Really. I love it. It's great.'

I don't know how I feel about this thing of telling little lies just to get someone else through something difficult.

Parents do it a lot. So do politicians, I think.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My jar runneth over

Oops. Ruth's Westport sourdough starter is clearly rearing to go!

Thanks heaps Ruth. It made the trip well.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Foraging on National Radio tomorrow

Something fun I did this week was go foraging around the nearby park with Simon Morton from This Way Up. (Thank you Hannah, for making that happen.)

I think it will end up as a 10-minute piece, going to air on his show sometime between noon and 1pm tomorrow.

I will probably sit all scrunched up and grimacing with a cushion over my face, hoping I don't sound as much of a dick as I think I did.

At least he's promised to edit out my mad rantings about eating bugs.

Self-reliance salad

Well, sadly, it wasn't really. The greens were foraged from a nearby park, but the snails were bought in a can from a store, and the potatoes were from our CSA.

But what I'm thinking is that this could be an almost wholly home-grown and foraged meal, once our small potato patch is ready, and once I get a bit more organised, protein-wise.

I'd been thinking about how Sandra said that she feels more secure now she is producing her own eggs and has a homegrown source of protein.

I totally understand that, and wish we had enough room to legally and ethically keep chickens. We don't though, and we're not planning on moving anytime soon. So what are my options for protein security? Growing mushrooms, and gathering wild snails seem like good possibilities, and I'm looking into both of these.

Sharon Astyk's latest post, a recipe challenge, galvanised me to think about all this further, and so yesterday I made this warm salad. (I love warm salads.) I'm about to go post it on her comments section.

At least one other NZer has posted some lovely food suggestions there. If you are keen too, I think there is about one more day to go.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

ID'ing those pesky Brassicaceae

Right then. I'll start with the most confusing specimen, and finish with the most joyously straightforward.

The first Brassicaceae family member I took to Julia was something that I thought was LIKE wild turnip, but NOT wild turnip.

Just to be clear - here's a pic of what I always thought was wild turnip ... (Click on it to see it better.)

But then, quite a few weeks ago I started to see this (below) springing up all over the place, looking very similar but not identical. (Brighter flowers, slightly bigger and bushier, and upper leaves a different shape.) So, wondering what it was, this was the one I took to Julia.

Well, Julia is pretty sure this second one is actually wild turnip (Brassica rapa ssp. sylvestris). And now that I do a bit more googling, it all makes perfect sense. Wild turnip is supposed to have those heart-shaped upper leaves that wrap around the stem.

So what is the first one then? The one I always THOUGHT was wild turnip? It definitely doesn't have any heart-shaped wraparound leaves. If you look closely you'll see that its upper leaves are very straight and stick straight out.

Okay, onto the next specimen. I thought this was probably wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum ssp. raphanistrum), and Julia confirmed this.

It has hairy leaves and distinctively veined flower petals like this:

The flowers come in a range of colours from quite pink to pale yellow to almost off white.

And finally, here's the third plant I took Julia:

It has four-petalled flowers like other Brassicaceae. They are yellow and super-small. I took a sample of this one along to Julia on the spur of the moment. I had noticed it starting to grow around the place just recently, but I had no idea what family member it could be.

Well, Julia has ID'd it as hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale)!

So in summary, and unless new info comes to light:

- What I thought was something LIKE wild turnip IS wild turnip, and what I thought WAS wild turnip is something LIKE wild turnip
- What I thought was wild radish IS wild radish.
- What I had no idea about is hedge mustard. Yippee.

And all of them are edible - although some are more bitter than others. I would boil all of them, at this time of year anyway, to get rid of the bitterness.

Now just to provoke some debate ... what should I be calling this family of plants?

I've resorted to cumbersomely calling them Brassicaceae all the time now, because it's the only name for them that feels clear to me. Here in NZ I've noticed a lot of people - including the person I talked to at the Massey Weed database recently - call them Brassicas, but I find that confusing, because Brassicas are also a genus within this family.

On a number of international websites (and I think in an Owen and Nic Bishop book I read recently), they call them the Mustard family or the Cabbage family. But those names are confusing too. (I was calling them Mustards until recently, then found out that can also refer to the plants within this family that have seeds used to make mustard.)

So - call me pedantic - but wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A secret garden

About 10 days ago, I pleaded for a friendly botanist to help me distinguish between different wild, edible Brassicaceae species. And lo and behold - one answered!

So late last week, my daughter and I headed across town to Julia Stace Brooke-White's house with a big bagful of plant specimens to show her. The minute we stepped onto the long, shaded path up to her house we were enchanted.

The path was lined with miners' lettuce, raspberry bushes and other tasty flora, and finally opened out onto her gorgeous front yard, which my daughter said was 'like a secret garden'. My photo above doesn't do full justice to its magical atmosphere.

We took our specimens inside, and Julia examined them. Her job was made harder by the fact that I had picked them too soon, and they had wilted ALOT. However, she made some tentative identifications on the spot, and suggested we leave them with her to research further.

On the way out, she showed us lots of her interesting garden edibles - and even pulled some out for me to take home (insisting, when I thanked her, that she was just doing a spot of weeding. :o)

I was also very inspired by her style of gardening, allowing plants plenty of freedom to self seed and thus adapt to suit their environment.

We headed back down the path and onto the street with a bucketful of blue borage, miners lettuce, mustard lettuce, feverfew, and 'parcel' - a cross between parsley and celery.

It was a lovely experience, and I thank Julia very much. And yes, soon after, she did email with more definite IDs for our different Brassicaceae, but that will have to be my next post!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Coastal foraging

I'm thrilled to bits with beach spinach (Tetragonia trigyna) as a leafy green. It tastes mild, salty, and little sour. It keeps for ages in the fridge, and it holds its volume when cooked. (It's better cooked than raw.)

Like 'real' spinach it's relatively high in oxalic acid - so all the usual warnings and recommendations apply.

I've been looking for it every time we're near a coast.

So far I haven't found it on the south coast, only up the west coast near us. You Kapiti dwellers, I envy you!

We also tried gathering and eating ice plant. (Picture from Wikipedia.)

It's truly disgusting raw. Just a taste made me feel nauseous. But, as per the received wisdom, we tried chopping some up and pickling it in vinegar. We added some roughly chopped onion as well. All in all, it wasn't too bad like that.

I'm keen to have a go at lacto-fermenting it in brine or whey. I imagine that would break down even more of its undigestible components. I'll also slice it more finely.