Quince tree flower up close

Mixing words, water and leaves

Kicking goals

This week has been a mixed bag. The implementation of my 1,000 word a day writing target is working pretty well as a motivator. I’ve been getting up at 6am and hitting the computer till the Scrivener bell goes off to tell me I’ve met my goal for the day – and what a lovely sound that is! Having a word count target (as long as it’s realistic) gives you permission to go and play when the bell rings.

Working with frustration

The structural edit is causing enough confusion at times to make me want to throw the towel in. That set off a different kind of bell – the one that told me to go back to basics. I made significant changes to the opening of my novel which has had a ripple effect throughout the story so I have had to revisit my outline to help get my story and characters clear in my head again. When I am happy with the revised outline I will use Scrivener to chop and change scenes IMG_1019around in much the same way I would pieces of paper or cards then fill out the gaps I create. This is one of the features of Scrivener I really like.

Giving myself permission to take a break

The front garden has been weeded and the vegetable patch is almost ready for the summer seedlings to be planted out. I have even spent some time just gazing at my favorite tree in bloom – the quince has the most beautiful, delicate pink and white flowers at this time of year.

It became evident early on that destructo dog liked water – any water – puddles, the river, the water bowl – all fair game for play. Soon after the puppy arrived, I had to fence off the pond to protect the water life when her first act was to leap onto the reeds in the pond and pee! The other day I wondered why the living room floor was covered in water then turned around and there she was sitting innocently on the sofa with a now empty water bucket IMG_1031in her mouth. I had a dog pool in the shed (the kelpie wasn’t interested in it) which I set up on the deck this week on a warm sunny day and expect I will get hours of entertainment from it.  Destructo dog thought it was Christmas.

Good food

The warm weather we’ve had makes me think of summer salads, so we made tabbouleh with the large quantity of flat leaf parsley about to bolt in the garden. We ate it with a delicious pomegranate dressing, baba ganoush and some lamb – yummo! Here are the recipes…


  • 1 cup Bourghal (course is better, but I used fine this time)
  • Large bunch of flat leaf parsley chopped (I had about 4-5 cups when it was chopped up)
  • Handful of mint leaves chopped
  • Coriander leaves (I don’t always include this, but had some left over so threw it in. Remove the leaves and keep whole)
  • 3 tomatoes chopped
  • 2 cucumbers chopped

Pour two cups of boiling water over the bourghal, cover and leave to sit and absorb the water. Pull off and roughly chop as much parsley has you can add a handful of chopped mint leaves and coriander if you have any. Mix the leaves in a bowl with the chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. When the bourghal is ready break up with a fork, drain off any excess water and mix through the salad.

Pomegranate dressing for tabbouleh (this is delicious)

  • 1/2 clove garlic crush with good quality salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Pomegranate molasse’s
  • Maple syrup to sweeten
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Olive oil

Chop the garlic then crush it using the back of a fork and some good quality sea salt. Mix some lemon juice and pomegranate molasses together to taste and add a bit of maple syrup to sweeten it. Mix in a pinch of allspice and double the mixture with olive oil. Shake it up and dress the salad.

Baba ganoush

  • 1 medium sized eggplant
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 tbs tahini
  • 3-4 tbs lemon juice
  • Salt

Burn the outside of the eggplant over the gas ring on the stove to give it that nice smoky flavor then pop it in a baking tray in the oven on about 200C (fan) till it collapses. When it’s cooled scrape out the flesh and pop it in a blender. Crush a clove of garlic with a bit of salt and add it, the tahini and lemon juice to the blender. Blend and adjust to taste if needed.

We cooked up some lamb cutlets on a skillet and served them with the tabbouleh and a generous spoon of baba ganoush. There is enough tabbouleh to last about three days so only dress what you are going to eat now and have it again for lunch and dinner the next day with some grilled chicken or snags.

How are your writing and cooking going?

Main image: Quince flower

Inset images: Destructo dog (Harper) checking out the new pool

Puppy with dead stuck down a hole she dug in garden

Blood and guts

This post comes with a trigger warning: may be unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you are squeamish turn away now.

Whilst the celestial orb was preparing itself for the early morning spectacle to slip into the earth’s shadow I was up to my elbows in blood and guts.DSC05587

In the early hours of Saturday morning the longest complete lunar eclipse this century occurred when the earth passed between the sun and the moon and caste the big white orb into shadow. The sunlight filtered and refracted by the earth’s atmosphere bathed the moon and gave it a bright red hue and its name, a blood moon.  The early morning was worth the effort to take a look.

Speaking of blood, destructo dog is now on a new diet.  We joined what I refer to as the dog cult recently (aka dog training school) as I’m keen for Harper to be a well-mannered member of society.  Anyhewz, they run a range of workshops on all things IMG_0731canine.  I went along to one on nutrition which ironically was facilitated by a vegan who was extolling the virtues of a raw food diet.  Subsequent research tells me that the raw food diet for pets is a controversial topic – why should all the controversy be reserved for people after all – but it does make logical sense to me. Before dogs realized humans are a great source of nutrition and security and domesticated us over 10,000 years ago, they didn’t eat carbohydrates, one of the key ingredients in many processed pet foods.  Apparently all carbs do is deliver a burst of energy and upset the pH of their stomach if they eat too much.  It can also contribute to what we call the ‘zoomies’ when doggo gets hyper at the time of evening when I’m ready for a quiet sit on the sofa.  In the wild hounds ate meat (often several days old), greenery, and dirt and have a digestive system designed to process these things.

The pup has had a few digestive problems since she arrived, the detail of which I will spare you, so I decided to give the raw food diet a go.  Off I went in search of the DSC05590ingredients and spent several evenings elbow deep in about 40kg of chicken, beef, turkey and crocodile meat and various types of offal, which has a distinctive metallic smell.  The whole exercise made me think of my grandfather who spent his working life as a butcher.  He was a short, charismatic but volatile man – maybe it was all that meat. I have made up enough meals to fill up the freezer that I installed in the shed for this purpose.  A week of probiotics and a slow transition onto the new diet and hey presto, the hound is already much improved all around.

Dogs love to help in the garden.  My old girl Jarrah used to like to drop her frisbee into any holes I was digging, Harper prefers to assist with the digging and helped me make a hole to plant a Mulberry tree this week, which I then had to fence off to ensure she DSC00508wouldn’t dig it up again.  I have also weeded the vegetable patch and popped seeds for tomatoes, basil, zucchini, cucumber and pumpkin in punnets and placed them under cover in a small greenhouse.  The broad beans are flowering and the other winter vegetables are sprouting with spring growth.

This week’s recipe has gone to the dogs and should not be served up to family and friends, but your four-legged mate will love this along with a bone every day.  Apparently you should not feed weight bearing bones but raw poultry necks and carcasses, kangaroo tails, ribs and wings are all good. Apply the same kind of food hygiene you would to your own food preparation.

Raw food recipe for dogs


  • 400g lean meat of your choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of good quality cod liver oil or half a can of sardines in water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kelp powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 eggshell crushed
  • 30 grams liver, kidney or brains
  • 30 grams broccoli
  • 30 grams capsicum
  • 30 grams spinach
  • I add a calcium supplement for the puppy


Put it all in a big bowl and mix it up. Adult dogs eat about 2% of their body weight, puppies up to 6%.

I feed my dog this mix, one bone per day and she’s had dog chips in a toy she can eat whenever she wants.

Image: Harper doing some excavating

Inset images: Blood moon; Harper; broad bean

New Yorker sign in NYC

New York potatoes

It’s been a busy week, though not in the garden.  Luckily I don’t rely on it solely for food or we’d be in trouble and living on citrus fruit at the moment.  I entertained myself with the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge last weekend.  NYC Midnight is a competition in which entrants receive a unique genre, location and object and are given 48 hours to write a story of up to 1,000 words.  The story must be written in the assigned genre, be based predominantly in the location given and the object must physically appear in it.

I was given a fairy tale, a veterinary hospital and a badge and had a lot of fun as I had not tried to write a fairy tale before.  There’s nothing quite like having a deadline to lifeensure you get a piece finished.  Short stories also provide a sense of completion and a bit of light relief from long form fiction which takes forever. Everyone who was given the same prompts will produce wildly different pieces which I look forward to reading when entrants start to share them in the discussion forums. Round two is in September.

On Wednesday I went along for the first time to a Writers Victoria workshop on voice and point of view facilitated by Robert Gott. I find being in a room with a bunch of other writers and talking about writing motivating and inspiring. A couple of us went along to the opening of the Melbourne Writers Festival at the State Library afterwards.  The theme this year is ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ and will explore issues like survival, fluidity, impermanence, joy, grief, loss, love, determination and empathy.

It’s fitting given the festival theme that potatoes are the food topic for this blog.  The humble potato is believed to have bought an end to famine in Northern Europe after it arrived Deaththere in the late 1500’s.  Then an infestation of potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) in Ireland in the late 1840’s robbed the population of their staple diet and about one million people died from the resulting starvation and disease.  During the Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, more than a million people also emigrated to save their own lives, mostly to America and Canada.

This week I paid homage to the potato and made gnocchi for the first time.  We had a surplus of potatoes after my partner and I had both bought some during the week.  I also had one lunchbox of frozen tomatoes from last summer’s crop still in the freezer, so I decided to give making gnocchi a go.  The gnocchi recipe is from Donnini’s Pasta which is full of recipes for pasta of all shapes and sizes.  It’s much easier to make than I imagined and is delicious.


  • 600g potatoes, unpeeled – try to select ones of similar size
  • 150g flour
  • 50g Parmigiano cheese, grated
  • 1 dessertspoon salt
  • Extra flour

Boil the potatoes with their skin on in salted water.  When cooked, drain and peel them whilst still hot. Mash the peeled potatoes ensuring the mixtures is lump free.  Incorporate the flour, Parmigiano cheese and salt into the potatoes. The mixture will be sticky but smooth.

Flour a board and your hands and turn the dough out on a board to knead making sure that you constantly fold the dough over onto itself.  The dough is ready when it is velvety to the touch.  Cut the dough into four equal sections and cover three of them with an inverted bowl while you work on the fourth.  Roll the section into a long sausage shape about 2cm thick.  Cut it into 2cm lengths with a sharp knife then roll each piece over the prongs on the back of a fork.  This thins out the middle of the gnocchi a little and the grooves help the sauce stick to each piece.

Make sure you have the sauce ready before you cook the gnocchi.  To cook, boil a large quantity of salted water in a big pot.  The gnocchi is cooked when it floats to the top of the water.  Remove with a slotted spoon and serve up with a dollop of sauce and fresh grated Parmigiano cheese.

Tomato sauce

  • Tomatoes – I had about 4-5 frozen which I defrosted and siphoned off some of the liquid from
  • 1 onion chopped
  • Garlic crushed (1 or 2 cloves)
  • tsp basil
  • Salt and pepper

Fry the onion in olive oil until translucent, add the garlic and basil and fry a minute or so more.  Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook until it is the consistency you want for the sauce.

Image: New York

Inset images: Melbourne Writers Festival Launch

vanilla bean growing up wall

Jack and the bean stalk

My partner and I went on a trip to Vanuatu several years ago and had an amazing visit to Epi. Epi is a volcanic island, 444 square kilometres in size, and with a population of about 5,000. We travelled to Epi on an eight-seater plane which landed at Valesdir airport. The airport comprised a grass runway, a small shed and a friendly welcome. Island access was weather dependent and driving on the dirt road from one end of the island to the other required a four-wheel drive due to the many potholes along the way.

We stayed at a guesthouse on the south west coast. At the time the owners were away and we were left in the hands of Carol and her young son Rob who worked at the guesthouse and lived in a nearby village. I felt very fortunate to have this experience as we had the place to ourselves and Carol and Rob were very gracious hosts.

Electricity was only available to those who could afford solar and subsistence agriculture was the how most of the locals made a living. Copra was one of the main crops produced and required significant labour. Coconuts were broken open, the water drained out and the kernel dried in a kiln heated with wood. The kernels were sold to manufacturers who crush them to extract oil which we use in baking and cooking. It’s a tough life which I am reminded of every time I pick up a pot of coconut oil.

Carol took us on a tour of her village and showed us their agricultural production. They grew cocoa trees and planned to expand into selling vanilla beans. I was fascinated by the vanilla orchid. It’s an elegant plant with long succulent lance-shaped leaves that zigzag up the tropical trees and bear creamy blooms. It looked quite magical and when I followed its upward trajectory I had an urge to climb it to satisfy my curiosity about what was at the top. I wonder if I would have felt this way had I not read Jack and the Beanstalk.

Jack and the Beanstalk is in part a study on class and wealth disparity (something I was very cognisant of whilst travelling in Vanuatu).  It’s also a Trickster story with Marxist overtones. The very poor, but charming, wily and mischievous Jack comes into conflict with the bigger and more powerful ogre. Jack wins against his more powerful adversary by tricking the giant with his craftiness. The wealthy and gluttonous giant represents both what Jack finds monstrous and what he envies. Jack is both the oppressor and the oppressed. He is absolved of all wrong doing (stealing and killing the giant) due to his actions being about reclaiming his birthright and his right to social mobility. I hope Carol has had some success with breaking into the vanilla bean market and managed to outsmart all those greedy businessmen she would have to deal with.

I was so enamoured by the vanilla bean that I decided to try and grow this tropical plant in Melbourne. I anticipated that this venture would fail but was determined to give it a go. I’ve located it in the warmest and lightest room in the house and it’s made its way up to the ceiling already. I have yet to see whether I can entice it to flower and fruit, but this week’s recipe is what I imagine I will make if I do, using my beans and rhubarb from the garden.

Rhubarb Panna cotta Tart (by Hummingbird High)

Brown Butter Tart Shell (makes a 14 x 5-inch rectangular tart)

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 5.5 ounces all-purpose flour

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta (makes enough for one tart)

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) powdered gelatine
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

Roasted Vanilla Rhubarb Topping (makes around 2 cups, enough for one tart)

  • 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch thick pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 vanilla bean

Use a 14 x 5-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom


Brown Butter Tart Crust:

  • preheat to 410 (F)
  • combine 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, 3 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and a pinch of salt in a Pyrex oven soft bowl
  • place the bowl in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, until the mixture is boiling and the butter starts browning.
  • remove from the oven, and add 5.5 ounces of flour quickly, by spooning in flour in 1 tablespoon sized chunks. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to stir in the flour until it pulls off the sides of the bowl. The mixture will bubble and smoke and make you feel like witch with a cauldron
  • Once the dough is cool enough to touch, use the back of your hand to flatten out the dough onto your tart pan. Use your finger tips to mould the dough up into the corners and sides of the pan. Use a fork to poke several holes into the crust.
  • Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake at 410 (F) for 15 minutes, or until the crust is light brown and starts to appear flaky. Once it does, remove from oven and let it rest on a wire rack. The crust is ready for filling when completely cooled.

For the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta:

  • Combine 2 cups heavy cream and 1 vanilla bean in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the cream. Whisk it gently until the seeds are incorporated throughout the cream. Throw in the vanilla bean pod and cook the mixture over medium heat until it begins to just simmer and the cream smells fragrant. Remove from heat and cover, allow the vanilla bean to infuse the cream for 30 minutes.
  • After 30 minutes, fish out the vanilla bean pod. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and reheat over medium heat. Don’t let it come to a boil; you want it to heat only until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot (but not boiling) throughout. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • While the mixture is cooling, bloom the gelatine. Sprinkle 2 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatine over the surface of 3 tablespoons water in a small bowl. Let stand for around 5 minutes, until the granules have softened completely, before scraping out into the cream mixture and whisking until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Let cool slightly for another 10 minutes, before pouring into the brown butter tart crust. Transfer to the refrigerator and allow to set for at least 2 hours, until the panna cotta is firm.

For the Roasted Vanilla Rhubarb Topping:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 (F) — if you’re making the filling immediately after baking the shortcakes, your oven should already be ready.
  • Place 1 pound chopped rhubarb in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup red wine — don’t worry if it doesn’t dissolve, it should just be a thick syrup. Drizzle over the rhubarb and toss to combine.
  • Split 1 vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds from the vanilla bean over the rhubarb mixture. Toss to combine and add the vanilla bean pods. Roast until rhubarb is very tender and the juices are syrupy, around 30 – 40 minutes. Let cool slightly on a wire rack before transferring to the panna cotta tart. Serve immediately.

Image: indoor vanilla bean


pile of dictionaries, pruning implements and an orange

The big prune

From the age of about eighteen through to twenty-two I lived in households sans television. The result was that I read voraciously. At one point I set out to read a dictionary cover to cover. It was the Longman Concise English Dictionary and I read all 1,651 pages. I still have it on my bookshelf held together with sticky tape.

There’s some great word games you can play with reference books like guessing the correct meaning of obscure words or who can come up with the most synonyms. The synonym, now there’s a beautiful thing. Found in a thesaurus – the treasure chest of words. A guy called Peter Roget, an avid collector of synonyms, developed the first thesaurus in the 1840’s and it’s my favourite reference book. A must have for editing. I’ve been doing some short story and chapter editing recently and the thesaurus has been getting some exercise.

I was thinking about editing whilst I was out pruning the fruit trees the other day, as you do. It turns out that editing and pruning have a lot in common. According to the online power thesaurus, edit and prune have twelve synonyms in common, and are synonyms for each other.

The thought processes for pruning and editing have a lot in common also. Is this the right place to cut? Will it improve the structure? How much should I cut? I also discovered that both pruning and editing are much harder with a puppy in tow. I’m thinking of changing Harpers name to Distractor, though Destructor might be more apt given the hole recently chewed in the sofa whilst watching Paris Texas. Maybe she just thought she was pruning.

Citrus and rhubarb are the garden produce of the moment in the food store until spring arrives. This roast rhubarb recipe is simple and delicious served on yoghurt for dessert or for breakfast.


  • rhubarb
  • orange zest
  • orange juice
  • honey

Cut the rhubarb into finger length pieces. Remove the zest from the orange and juice the orange. Mix zest and orange juice with honey to taste (I usually use a ratio of one orange and its zest to one desert spoon of honey). Combine and mix all ingredients in an oven proof dish. Arrange rhubarb into a single layer, cover with tin foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. Serve hot or cold.


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


  • 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.


  • 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

• 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

• 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


Autumn fruit

Clunes is a tiny book town in the central goldfields region of Victoria with a main street wide enough to turn a horse and cart, and a colonial streetscape ripe for a gold rush era movie set. Once a year Clunes tiny population of about 1,700 punches above its weight and hosts the Clunes Booktown Festival. As many as 18,000 book lovers, sellers and writers swarm to Clunes to celebrate the book and listen to author talks.

We took our sadness about losing our old dog and decamped to nearby Yandoit which has an even smaller population of only 154 and spent the weekend staying in a beautifully converted old dairy.  It was originally built in the 1860s and set on 21 hectares of pasture occupied by Lola the cow and a mob of kangaroos. At the Dairy we relaxed and, yes, read books in front of the wood fire in between visits to the festival at Clunes. The Italian heritage of Yandoit is evident in the old stone farmhouses and I could imagine myself toiling away in the terraced vegetable gardens. It was a perfect antidote to a difficult week.

Back in Melbourne it was time (a bit overdue really) to get my winter seedlings and seeds in. We removed the large net that covers the summer garden and fruit trees so the parrots don’t eat everything and I harvested about 100 kiwifruit.  I left the smaller, less ripe ones for my colorful feathered friends. Into the beds I prepared a couple of weeks ago I planted garlic, broad beans, peas, snow peas, broccoli, spinach, chard, coriander, lettuce, leeks, spring onions and shallots. Now I just have to keep them safe from snails, cleared of weeds and watch them grow while I focus on getting some other garden jobs done over the colder months.

The name kiwifruit, also known as the Chinese gooseberry, is neither a native of New Zealand nor a relative of the Grossulariaceae family to which gooseberries belong. The fruit was bought to New Zealand from China in 1904 and people thought the flavor resembled a gooseberry.  New Zealand started exporting the fruit in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War when the name Chinese gooseberry would have been a marketing catastrophe and kiwifruit was eventually born in 1959.

This emerald green gem is best fresh and stores quite well in the fridge. Kiwifruit loses some of its great color and sweet flavor when bottled but it’s good for freezing, drying, pickles and jams. I’m partial to a kiwifruit smoothie with some well ripened fruit myself.

• 2 kiwi , peeled and halved
• 1/2 banana , peeled
• 1 Apple juiced
• 1 cup baby spinach
• 1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth.

Do you have any suggestions for kiwifruit?

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.


  • 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


  • 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

Three large jars of preserved quinces and five small jars of quince jam. Home made

Preserving my sanity

It’s blowing a gale this morning. I live atop a north facing hill surrounded by bush land. I listened to the sound of the wind screaming through the treetops and rattling everything not tied down in the night until I could take it no more and closed the windows against the noise. It’s unseasonal for autumn in Melbourne which is usually characterized by morning fog clearing to fine, sunny days. A good day to stay indoors and deal with that pile of quinces in the fruit bowl.

I provided a commentary on poaching quinces in my Easter post. This time I’m going to move onto preserving. I currently have 22 fruit and nut trees in the garden as well as a sizeable vegetable patch. My mother in-law dusted off and donated her Vacola kit to me when it became evident that my frenetic gardening was going to produce more produce than we could possibly eat.

The Fowler’s Vacola system uses glass jars, rubber sealing rings and metal lids secured by tension clips to vacuum seal the contents. The Australian system was developed in 1915 – and looks like it. Whenever I get it out I feel like I should be wearing a hobble skirt or harem pants a’la Paul Poiret (who made a great contribution to freeing women from corsets). The fashion of the time was heavily influenced by World War I and the women’s suffrage movement and was a pivotal moment in the emergence of modern fashion.

George Fowler was a soldier who served in the British Royal Army Medical Corp as well as the Regular Army.  George clearly didn’t think much of the battle field quzine offerings and invented field cooking stoves and registered new patents for a food bottling and preserving system. His nephew Joseph Fowler came to Australia in 1912 to set up his own bottling business that grew to become the iconic Fowler’s Vacola Pty Ltd.  Fowlers  advertised ‘bring progress to your home by installing a Vacola bottling outfit‘. I can attest that despite feeling like I’ve gone back in time when I wheel out my Vacola, it has actually driven progress. I can now have home grown fruit and vegetables all year round and have almost no waste.

While the wind was blowing I preserved quinces. I used Fowlers preserving jars for this, but you don’t need to have a Vacola itself, just the jars.


  • 3 large quinces (multiply the recipe if you have more)
  • 300 ml white sugar
  • 300m warm water to dissolve the sugar


  • Place the whole quinces in an oven dish and bake at 160 C for 2.5-3 hours until the skins blister. Remove from the oven to cool.
  • Wash and sterilize preserving jars and lids
    To make the syrup dissolve the sugar in the water in a large saucepan and boil it until it thickens
  • Cut open the quinces and discard the peel, core and seeds and cut into large slices
  • Add the quince slices to the syrup and simmer for 10-20 minutes
  • Fill the warm sterilized jars with fruit and syrup, seal and keep somewhere cool for a delicious winter dish with porridge or yogurt.

Image: Preserved quinces and quince jam