Espaliered oranges

Sailing Stones

Death Valley is located at the lowest altitude in the USA and is known for its extreme heat and cold. There’s a phenomena in Death Valley where black dolomite rocks as heavy as 140 kilos mysteriously hydroplane across the desert lake bed leaving trails in their wake. The occurrences confounded scientists since the 1940’s. Some believed that electromagnetic fields generated by UFO’s were responsible. There are even records of the happenings in Native American rock art depicting something unexplained up in the sky.

Modern technology enabled a couple of determined geologist to solve the mystery in 2014. The geologists set up a weather station and recorded the moving stones on camera after attaching GPS trackers to them. It took two years, a lot of patience, and perfect DSC05553winter conditions before they witnessed the rocks move. A day after rain the pond was covered with a thin layer of sheet ice.  The ice formed around the rocks lifting them clear of the lake bed. When the ice started to thaw and break up during the day some of it clung to the rocks forming a floating seat and the wind was enough to move them across the surface.

Winter carries with it a sense of slowing and contracting. There’s a temptation to curl up on the coach with a cuppa and a book. Mornings are crisp and cold and I often wake up in the clouds. Plant growth slows and aside from a little weeding not much happens in the patch. There are of course those ‘other jobs’. The ones I’ve been avoiding as they are as boring as waiting for stones to levitate across the ground. In fact one of them does require moving stones. Hundreds of them.

I have espaliered citrus trees in front of the house that enable me to step out onto the deck DSC05548in winter and pluck oranges and tangelos for breakfast. The trees are mulched using stone mulch as we live in a high fire risk area and I didn’t want to put flammable material right next to the house. It does make maintenance labor intensive however. I’ve been contemplating for over a year the task of taking up all the stones to give the trees a really good feed and compost to boost production. The rock wall surrounding the citrus also needed some repairs where it had subsided.   I finally attended to the tedious task this week. It’s quite meditative but it did make me wish for UFO’s or ice sheets to lend some assistance. Just imagine getting up one morning to find all those stones moved to one side without any effort from me.

Speaking of tedious we are still working our way through all those pumpkins, not to mention the kale. I did grow our first edible pomegranates this year which add a bit of zing and variety to a dish…

Kale and roast pumpkin salad with pomegranate molasses and almonds

Ingredients:

  • Pumpkin peeled, seeded and cut into small wedges
  • Bunch of kale
  • Handful of chopped almonds
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1/2 lemon juiced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 small pomegranate – seeds removed. The easiest way to do this is slice off the crown and expose the white membrane. Score around the pomegranate from top to bottom making four quarters. The score should reach the white membrane without cutting the fruit open. Soak the pomegranate in a bowls of cold water for a few minutes then gently pull it apart and remove the seeds which will sink to the bottom of the water.

Method:

  • Heat oven to 180C (fan forced)
  • Toss the pumpkin pieces with 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses to season then tip onto baking tray and roast for 25 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
  • Blanch the kale in boiling water for a few minutes then run under cold water to stop it cooking. Drain and dry in a salad spinner or with kitchen paper.
  • Toast the almonds in a dry fry pan.
  • Whisk 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix the kale with the dressing and stir in the spring onions.
  • To serve, tip the dressed kale onto plates, place the roast pumpkin on the kale and sprinkle with almonds and pomegranate seeds.

Image: espaliered oranges

Kale leaves

Food fads

A few years ago kale became a ‘thing’. There’s even a cookbook called 50 Shades of Kale that apparently makes kale sexy. Personally I’ve never been a fan of cabbage. Kale is an older relative of the cabbage from the Brassica family and a close relative of my least favorite vegetable, the brussel sprout.

I resisted kale for a long time. I thought it looked like a chewy bitter, fibrous and indigestible green that would leave splinters in my mouth if I ate it. Cellulose on steroids. It wasn’t until a friend offered me some kale chips he’d made that my curiosity was tweaked. What doesn’t taste good with oil and salt after all?

I wouldn’t say I’ve climbed onboard the fad train. You certainly wouldn’t catch me having kale smoothies for breakfast, but I do grow it now. It’s easy to grow and it tough. It loves the cold and survives just about anything. A few plants I grew last year lasted right through the summer and were the only thing still standing after I’d cleaned out the summer garden. That means the only home grown produce I have ready to eat at the moment are kale, the pumpkins I picked a few weeks ago, kiwi fruit and preserved figs and quinces. Luckily there’s supermarket I can go to.

Melbourne has turned cold all of a sudden and it will take a little getting used to. It’s great to have some rain though. The garlic has popped as have the peas I planted a few weeks ago, but it will be a while till I have some to eat.

I do need to wade through all those pumpkins and like to eat from the garden as much as possible so I wanted to find something I could do with kale and pumpkin. Kale chips are easy but preparing kale for other things can be a bit of a pain. If you want to eat it raw you really need to massage it. Maybe that’s where the 50 Shades of Kale book came from. It’s a vegetable that improves with a bit of rough and tumble. Massaging breaks down the cellulose and the kale becomes more easily digestible. I prefer it cooked myself and I think its particularly good in soups. Here’s the recipe for a pumpkin, kale and broccoli soup I made this week. It’s got loads of garlic as well to keep the vampires at bay.

Pumpkin, kale and broccoli soup

Ingredients:
• 5 Garlic Cloves, crushed
• 1 large bunch Kale – cut out the woody stems and chop roughly
• 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
• 2kg Pumpkin, peel and cut into pieces
• 1 head of broccoli
• 1.25L Stock or well seasoned water
• 1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
• Season with salt and pepper to taste

Method:
• saute garlic and kale in olive oil for 3-4 minutes in a large pot.
• Add pumpkin, broccoli, stock, nutmeg, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
• Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until pumpkin is tender.
• Blend ingredients until smooth.

Image: curly kale in the patch

Old brown kelpie standing next to a pile of japla and butternut pumpkins

Smashing pumpkins

It was time to clean out the remnants of the summer vegetable garden this week. The patch had descended into a variety of browned off, shriveling plants and an infestation of weeds. Its quite cathartic bringing order to chaos in the garden. Under the supervision of the brown dog (pictured) I ripped out the dried out corn plants standing sentry, the shriveled tomato plants that will no doubt self seed again next year, and the exhausted zucchini. I picked the dried beans off their vines to plant next year crop and foraged for pumpkins. I compost all the waste.

Once I’d cleaned out the weeds I raked over the beds with a three pronged cultivar to loosen and aerate the top few inches of soil, fertilized with some manure and blood and bone, added a load of compost then covered the beds with pea straw to leave for a week or two.

This year I got a bumper crop of butternuts and kent pumpkins. You need to harvest them when the stem goes woody and preserve about 5cm of stem as it helps to keep them longer. You can store pumpkins in a cool dry place for about 30-90 days. So I’ll be making loads of soup in the next few months. Here is the recipe for the first soup I’m making this season – Pumpkin and roast red capsicum.

Ingredients:

  • 4 red capsicums halved and de-seeded
  • 1/2 large butternut pumpkin, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1/2 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped or 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • Handful of chopped parsley or coriander

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180 C
  • Spread capsicums, onion and pumpkin on a large oven tray, season and drizzle the tablespoon of oil over them
  • Bake the vegetables in the over for about 20 minutes until the edges start to blacken to give the soup that nice roasted flavour
  • When the capsicums have cooled remove most of the blackened skin and chop roughly
  • Heat the rest of the oil in a large saucepan and add the baked vegetables
  • Add the stock and chilli, bring it to boil them simmer for about 20 minutes until all the veggies are soft
  • Blend the soup with a hand blender or food processor

Re-heat and serve with a handful of coriander or parsley. You can also add fried diced haloumi and/or roasted nuts if you want a richer flavor.

Image: Jarrah the brown dog showing off the pumpkin harvest