Flowers in a Vase – A Splash of Late Summer Colour

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It’s been a while since I’ve linked to Monday’s meme hosted by the lovely Cathy at Rambling in the garden. I’ve been very busy harvesting figs and I’ve also started another very exciting new job. So I’m really pleased to have found the time to contribute this week. In fact I just couldn’t resist. On my way round the garden Seed Spotting I just had to pick a bunch of colour for the house. This is what I saw…..

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Pink Cosmos is such a joy in the garden. It is the easiest flower to grow from seed and it goes on, and on and on. We are well into autumn here in NZ and I can still pick vases and vases full of bright pink Cosmos. A real pick and plonk flower and I love it for it’s simplicity.

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I decided to add some ‘Love Lies Bleeding’. I grew this from seed. In fact I grow it from seed every year because it’s so easy to grow and I am fascinated by this unusual plant. It’s heavy, lime green tendrils fall like dreadlocks and add an exotic touch to any vase.

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It’s such a tactile plant! Like a cat’s tail or a bird’s plumage.

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They say that every vase needs a ‘Star’ and there is no star like this Lily that grows like a weed in clumps around my garden every year in late summer. My Mother-in-Law calls them Naked Ladies because they have no leaves. They simply grow on long purple stems straight from the bulb. Did I mention the scent? The scent of these lilies is Out of This World. Absolutely exquisite without being sickly. I can’t bear those showy, ostentatious lilies that can knock you senseless with their cloying perfume at 20 paces and stain everything around them with their yellow pollen. These delicate little beauties are far too sophisticated and instead scent the air with a delicate perfume that delights rather than intoxicates.

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I love the contrast of the bold hot pink and the soft pink and the acid green.

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Enjoy my little splash of colour. A simple vase that brings a lot of joy as summer ebbs away to welcome the subtle charms of Autumn….. Pop over to Cathy’s meme at Rambling in the garden and see the other offerings from around the world.

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Incey Quincey Jelly

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The very first post I ever wrote for my little blog was all about Quince Jelly. I have to admit it wasn’t a very good post because I didn’t actually include the recipe! Therefore, I thought I’d do a better job this time round 🙂 It’s interesting that I didn’t blog about quinces until May last year yet I made my first batch of jelly this year in March. Hmmm…that’s a bit of a Nerdy Thing to say isn’t it! Anyway, here is how I make quince jelly.

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First take your quinces and wash them. About 2kg should give you 3 – 4 jars give or take. The best bit about this recipe is that is requires very little preparation and by that I mean you simply chop the quinces roughly and place in a pan (pips, skin and all). Then cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer until you have a mass of peachy, pinky pulpiness.

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The next stage requires a little bit of structural engineering unless your home is equipped with a jelly stand. the first time I made this jelly I really went to town. I constructed two towers of recipe books; Nigella, Nigel Slater, Annabel Langbein, Leith…. They all jostled together in perfectly formed little towers and upon these edifices I balanced a cane tied with the pulp in a muslin bag. This year I used chairs. Why I didn’t think of chairs last year I don’t know. It’s a lot simpler and requires less lugging and lifting. I’d recommend using chairs rather than cookery books.

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So, there you have your little balloon of pulp gently and quietly drip, drip, dripping away overnight. Do not prod or poke the balloon of pulp. It won’t bite you but it will make for a cloudy jelly.

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So after a night of dripping you should now have a beautiful pink liquid that smells quince-ily fragrant. You are about to make it even more delectable….

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Measure out the juice and for every cup of juice add 1 cup of sugar.

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Then gently dissolve the sugar over a low heat. You’ll feel the grittiness of the sugar as you stir to begin with. Once the grittiness disappears you know that the sugar has dissolved.  Crank up the heat until you get a good rolling boil going. Ferocious! After 5 minutes start testing for setting point. Don’t be too anxious about this. Pop a saucer in the freezer. Take it out, spoon some jelly onto it. If it crinkles then it’s ready. If it doesn’t boil a bit longer. I once fretted and frowned over my quince jelly setting point and ended up Over Doing It and  the result was quince paste in a jar. Incredibly difficult to get out and with the texture of industrial glue. I’m sure I could have re-used it to mend things with.

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Pour into sterilized jars and label. Hmmmm….that photo isn’t doing much for my jelly.

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Oh yes. Much better. Much more representative of the little jar of sunshine that is Quince Jelly. I made 3 1/2 jars and used the little half jar to smear over a leg of lamb that I’d studded with garlic. I roasted this with veg and some quince that I’d peeled and chopped (like an apple). It was Very Tasty! Roasted quince is sweetly perfumed but has a sour edge which is just yum.

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Here’s my little quince tree.

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Such a beautiful part of Autumn. The first splash of yellow before the leaves start to turn.

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Lots more to harvest. I have a hankering for quince and vanilla sorbet…….

Fresh Ginger Cake

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Time to spice things up a little. I spent a good part of Spring and Summer growing various spices from seed. I was therefore drawn to this post by Bangers and Mash called The Spice Trail. Each month bloggers can submit a recipe containing the Spice of the month. This month it’s Ginger and ginger has been on my mind of late. A friend of mine is growing ginger in her greenhouse and I was going to Have A Go Too. Imagine home grown fresh ginger cake! The following recipe calls for fresh ginger and it’s a lovely, light cake with a subtle, more-ish warmth.

Fresh Ginger Cake

150g butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 tbsp black treacle
3 tbsp golden syrup
125g brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
250ml milk
2 large eggs
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda and 2 tsp warm water

Preheat oven to 170c and grease and line a loaf tin.

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Melt the butter in a saucepan. Once melted add the spices and stir for a couple of minutes.  Then add the treacle, golden syrup and grated ginger.

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Measure out the milk and whisk in the eggs and measure the flour into a separate bowl. At this point it’s just a case of combining the wet and the dry. Start by adding the egg mixture to the melted butter mixture and stir to combine. Then mix into the flour and finally dissolve the bicabonate of soda in the warm water and add.

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Stir everything together with a balloon whisk. It’s a very liquid batter but don’t let that put you off. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 45 minutes. I always cover my cakes with greaseproof paper to prevent burning on top and I pop the cake tin on a couple of baking sheets to prevent burning on the bottom. It’s also a good idea to check the cake after 30 mins and turn it so it browns evenly. That’s the theory anyway – my oven is a temperamental creature and tends to do what it likes.

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Mmmmmm… you’ll start to notice the fragrant spice snaking it’s way through the air way before it’s ready. A lovely warming scent to lift the spirits.

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And here it is.

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A lovely texture and subtle ginger flavour.

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Popular with the Little Figlets too! This cake can be frozen with great success. How about slicing it up and freezing individual portions to pop into lunchboxes?

This post is part of the Bangers and Mash Spice Challenge.

Nutty about nuts

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This post wears lots of hats; by that I mean it is going to cover many of the categories that I write about. This week has been more hectic than usual and I haven’t written a single post. Not One. I’m going to squeeze this post in to cover Week 2 of the Green Urban Living Challenge which is all about creating a meal (snack in my case) out of Local Ingredients. It will also cover Low Sugar Baking which is becoming something I’m really interested in and of course Seasonal. My garden is Bursting with produce at the moment. My veranda looks like a very messy grocers with buckets of quince, sunflower heads, the odd fig and now walnuts.

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Here’s my walnut tree. It’s a beautiful shaped tree and a favourite climbing tree of the Figlets. It sheltered the little figlet sticks for a year and produces enormous amounts of huge walnuts every year. I’ve been a bit unadventurous about processing this nut; I generally give a lot away and eat a few raw and some find their way on top of a coffee cake. However, this year is different. I’ve had this recipe in mind for a little while now. It’s from Dr Libby’s Real Food Chef Cookbook. Dr Libby is all about the Power of the Plant and how we should be eating a larger proportion of live green plants and less meat. After each recipe she gives information about nutrients within the dish and how they will benefit you. It’s impossible to cook one of her recipes without feeling Really Virtuous! So, without further ado lets get Virtuous!

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Dr Libby’s Brain Balls
2 cups walnuts
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup shredded coconut
2/3 cup cacao powder
8 fresh dates (or I used 16 dried dates)
1/4 cup water (you might need a bit more)
Pinch of salt

Combine the walnuts, sunflower seeds, dates and coconut in a food processor and pulse until combined (I added all the dry ingredients together).

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Add the cacao powder, salt and water and process until it firms up a little. Add more water if the mixture is too dry.

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Form the mixture into little balls, place on waxed paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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These little morsels taste satisfyingly chocolately and they feel like a little treat. However, they are so much more than that being full to the brim with monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory so good for the heart and brain. A good source of zinc and vitamin E and a great source of energy. What a little star. The downside is they need to be chilled otherwise they’re a bit crumbly but I might try them in a lunchbox with a small freeze pack to keep them firm. I think you could quite easily substitute other ingredients into this recipe. I actually added some raisins too but I was also thinking dried cranberries and apricots and perhaps use hazelnuts. As I was making them it put me in mind of Nigella’s Puddini BonBons made to look like mini Christmas puds. A splodge of white icing and a snippet of cherry and angelica and these would make a very healthy version!

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The Fig Diaries

It’s been a busy time in the paddock recently. I last wrote about the Figs in May 2013 when they were nearly a year old and now, another year on, they’ve started on the next phase of their growing journey. If you remember we made a make shift nursery for them under some trees. We had a few trials and tribulations to deal with. I had to finish off the last 100 figs in the car port because it was raining so heavily. That week saw me peering out the windows watching the giant puddle/small pond creep nearer and nearer to the little figs and then hot foot it over to them to drag them back from a watery disaster. The frost was also a trying time and a bit comical too. We draped some frost cloth over the branches of the trees which hung in swags and drapes like ghosts rather than a nice flat protective cover. We’re new to all this you understand! However, despite the low strike rate we ended up with 500 figs, 6 varieties (Koanga Black, Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Brunoro Black, Malta, Adriatic) and this is what we did next……

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These were the last few figs left in the nursery…..

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…..before being transported 100m to their new home.

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This is the very clever bit of machinery that planted the figs. Basically we loaded up the platforms with figs then as it moved forward it made a furrow, the figlet was taken out of it’s pot, dropped into the furrow and the two small wheels at the back pushed the soil around the fig. Planted!

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Just like that.

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Here they are a few weeks later surrounded by lots of weeds…. It was fab to see the figgery take shape! We still had another mammoth job to do though. Baby figlets need water – especially during  the Hawke’s Bay summers so we got in some fancy irrigation. Actually, it’s not fancy at all but wow has it made a difference. Before installing it Mr Fig and I were watering by hand with a leaky hose. It took a looooong time and we were getting a bit cross by the end of it I can tell you. There was much dark muttering to be heard in the Fig House.

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When this little machine turned up we were Very Happy and watched as it dug the long straight trenches to hold the water pipes.

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Littlest Fig was instrumental in this part of the operation.

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And very soon, before our very eyes we had a water source for the figs and the paddock.

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We could then start rolling out the black irrigation pipes.

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We had to lay it out in the sun to warm up and become more flexible before attaching the sprinklers.

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These are the sprinklers that I had to assemble (all 250 of them – I had blisters by the end of it!). We put them one between two figs.

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In the weeks following the irrigation we noticed the figlets double in size with lots of new growth and the odd fig here and there.

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See how the fig grows next to a leaf? The leaf supplies the fig with nutrients and water. When you pick a fig always take off the leaf first so you can remove the fig without ripping the stem. That’s a Top Fig Tip and you’re very welcome! It also prevents what I call Fig Picker’s Thumb. This is an ailment brought about by the repeated pushing back of the skin on the tip of the thumb that meets the thumbnail as it eases the fig off the tree and It Hurts!!! Otherwise figs are a pretty friendly fruit and fig picking a relatively peaceful and safe activity! We still have quite a bit more to do before the figgery is complete; ploughing up then grassing the paths inbetween the rows and netting from the birds but I can see it’s shape now and I can imagine what kind of space it’s going to be. Phase two concerns the rest of the paddock which will be ploughed and grassed at the same time as the fig rows. Yep, it’s all taking shape bit by bit…..