GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.

Cauliflower rice – try something different

Cauliflowers are fresh, plentiful and cheap at the moment – only $2.50 at our Farmer’s Market last Friday.  There’s just one problem – you have to cook them the right way or they can be pretty uninspiring AND most children just turn their nose up at them.  How I like them best is in Indian cooking – they lend themselves to being spiced up, and the French found a away by covering them in cheese sauce, but none of that was going to work with what I was making for my daughter’s birthday dinner – a Moroccan lamb tagine.

This simple dish was inspired by the latest trend in serving cauliflower blitzed to crumbs in a food processor, usually as a carbohydrate substitute, such as rice or quinoa, and often served raw – that wasn’t going to work for me, but it got me thinking. I liked the idea of it chopped really finely but  I wanted to turn it into a cooked vegetable accompaniment to my lamb dish with couscous – and something the children MIGHT like.

Well, it worked.  Everyone loved it and two out of three of the children asked for seconds – now I call that a winner.  Most of the family didn’t even realise that it was cauliflower that they were eating and enjoying so much.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

  • 1 cauliflower
  • half cup flaked almonds
  • half cup chopped fresh parsley

METHOD

1. Break the cauliflower up into pieces and blitz in a food processor until it resembles large breadcrumbs.  Don’t continue past that point otherwise you will end up with a pulp – not what you want.

2. Heat up a wok and, without adding any oil, toss in the flaked almonds and stir around for one minute, or so, until they look toasted – be careful not to let them burn.

3. Remove the almonds and set asidenow add the blitzed cauliflower to the wok and stir around for one minute until the crumbed cauliflower softens a little and bits start to turn golden.  IT’S COOKED.  Now add the toasted almonds, chopped parsley, freshly ground pepper and salt and serve – that’s all you do.

A five minute dish that is cheap and healthy.

WHY IS CAULIFLOWER GOOD FOR YOU?

  • Cauliflower is an excellent source of Vitamin C – that’s why just lightly cooking it like this is a good idea – the Vitamin C is not destroyed.  Boiling it is not such a good idea.
  • It is also high in Vitamin K, Vitamin A,  B6, Iron, Calcium and other phytonutrients.  
  • Like all vegetables it is good for your gut and is high in fibre and is a powerful antioxidant.

 

Seasonal Planting Guide

WHAT to plant and WHEN? Planting guide for the sub-tropics

 There are some jobs in the garden that are just plain fun – like seed saving

NOTE: I have found that I have the most success by using local seed – something passed around from gardener to gardener – they tend to be better fruiting varieties and more resistant to pests and diseases.

I have had very little luck with seed produced by the large companies – they are just not meant for our part of the world – the sub-tropical east coast of Australia. Growing your own vegetables from seed is a great way to really get you in touch with your garden; it’s a fun activity for the whole family, doesn’t involve any heavy work, saves you money, helps to save valuable heritage varieties – and best of all – if you plant a few seed at a time, but on a regular basis (like lettuce) you will have salad greens when you want it and nothing goes to waste.

If you don’t have time to grow your own from seed then buy seedlings from a local supplier.  I get mine from a grower at our local farmers market or our rural co-op.  Those sold in large hardware stores are often grown out of your climactic zone and won’t be as successful those grown locally.

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What’s for dinner?

TOP TIP: Understanding PLANT FAMILIES  – who is related to whom – will benefit you and your garden. It helps you decide what to plant next to each other, solves crop rotation dilemmas, does companion planting for you and looks wonderful because a productive garden can’t help but be beautiful.

A- Annual
P – Perennial

Autumn/Winter 

Amaranth A
Beetroot A
Broad beans A
Brussels sprout A
Broccoli A 
Carrot (Chantenay) A
Cabbage A
Cauliflower(Romanesque) A
Celery (Chinese) A
Ceylon spinach P
Chard A
Chinese greens – boo choy, pak choy, tatsoi A
Coriander A slow bolting
Cucumber A use local seed + plant late winter
Kholrabi – eat fresh or cooked
Garlic A  – harvest late spring
Horseradish P – divide in autumn
Kale (Cavalo Nero) A/P
Kangkung P  – water spinach
Leeks A
Lemon Grass P – divide in autumn
Lettuce A  
Onion
Mustard Greens A
Parsley A/P (flat leaf -Italian)
Peas  (Longpod, Honeysnap, Snow) A
Potatoes (Kipfler, Desiree, Dutch Cream) A
Purslane P
Rhubarb P  – ready to pick early spring
Silverbeet A
Sorrel A/P
Spring onion A
Tomatoes A  – use local seed + plant late winter
Warrigal Greens P
Watercress A
Wild rocket P
Zucchini A – use local seed + plant late winter

Spring/Summer

Asian greens A  – not after December
Beetroot A
Bush basil P
Bush beans A
Capsicum A
Choko P
Climbing beans A
Corn A
Cucumber A – not after December
Dill A
Eggplant  (long, Asian)
Fennel A
Italian basil A
Leeks A  – not after December 
Lettuce A – not after December
Melons A
Okra A
Pumpkin A
Radish A
Snake beans A
Spinach A  – not after December
Spring onion A
Squash A
Sweet potato P
Tomato A  -not after September
Winged bean A
Yacon P
Yam bean/Jicama P
Zucchini A  – not after October

You don’t need a lot of land to grow your own food – you just have to start!


My Mullumbimby garden where I have over 50 perennial food plants scattered among the flowers and shrubs.  The annuals I grow in raised beds and pots.

Plant of the Month: Clerodendrum, Bridal Veil

  • BOTANICAL NAME: Clerodendrum wallichii (used to be known as C. nitidum)
  • COMMON NAME: Bridal Veil
  • Family: LAMIACEAE

 

This is just the most gorgeous shrub that has been putting on this spectacular floral display for over a month now in my garden.  It is not a plant you see very often but I think it should be more widely grown because it is just lovely.

WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?  This is often a good clue on how to grow the plant so if you think what a plant from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma and Vietnam might need you will be at least half way there.  Think warm, think tropics and think frost-free.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? This is a shrub with glossy pointed leaves that becomes deciduous in late winter, flowering from January to May in the sub-tropics of Australia.  It’s a small shrub that grows to about 2m and is best pruned after every flowering to encourage new growth.  Flowers are borne in flowing panicles of white sprays that have persistent reddish sepals – hence the common name Bridal Veil 

TOP TIP: Because it loses its leaves in late winter, it creates an opportunistic gap in the garden that can be filled with spring flowering bulbs.  I have white November lilies planted all around mine that pop up in spring and get supported on the frame of the Clerodendrum while they are flowering.

WHAT DOES IT NEED? A protected, sunny position in a rich, free-draining soil.  As with most plants from the tropics, it needs a nice, rich, free draining soil with a covering of mulch.  I have had the best display of flowers this year and all I can put that down to is an exceptionally warm summer followed by a wet and warm autumn (it’s May and still 26oC today)

HOW DO YOU PROPAGATE IT? Semi-hardwood cuttings in autumn seems to be the perceived wisdom.  They can also be grown from seed – this shrub sets a red, berry like fruit.

DOES IT HAVE ANY OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS? Yes, about 300 from climbers and shrubs to tree-like species.  If you have ever travelled to Asia you may be familiar with this stunning specimen of Clerodendrum – the Pagoda Flower.  I took this photo in Bali in 1989, obviously taken with the beauty of these shrub even then. You may also be familiar with the climber, Bleeding Heart Clerodendrum splendens with lovely red and white flowers.

NOTE:  This plant is in the Lamiaceae family – one that contains the word wide family of mint plants, and many other species in this family have aromatic leaves – just like the common mint; C. bungei apparently smells like burning rubber! and C.trichotomum – peanut butter.  Scratch and sniff in the garden?

You may have to hunt the Clerodendrums down but, believe me, its worth it.

Italian Spiced Apple and Nut Cake

Stanthorpe apples and pears

Our recent trip out to Stanthorpe, three hours north-west from where we live, took us into the heart of a cool climate wine and orchard growing area – and, at this time of year, laden apple and pear trees that are dripping with ripe fruit.  In fact, right now our local Mullumbimby Farmers Market is full of this luscious autumn harvest where I picked up a load of baby pears for baking, some delicious eating and cooking apples and a bag of freshly picked pecans – then I thought of this cake.

With a busy family, I am often wearing my grandma hat to my seven little darlings and picking them after school, which means the first thing they are going to ask me when they walk in the door is “what is there to eat”. A vegemite sandwich is good, but homemade cake puts a real smile on their little faces.  This cake may seem a little strange (coconut??), but go with me – it’s really good.  I’ve made it a few times now and refined the recipe so its easy to make and doesn’t involve three processes and as many bowls – not the kind of recipe for me!  It was also an opportunity to get out my favourite teapot.

Recipe Italian Spiced Apple and Nut Cake

  • 2 cooking apples, peeled and cut into small chunks and tossed in a bowl with juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup sultanas
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp grated nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 150 g best butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbs amaretto liqueur (or substitute with 1tsp vanilla or almond essence)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Set oven to 180oC
  2. Grease 23cm (9″) round cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper (what did we do without this stuff?)
  3. Peel and cut apples into small chunks.  Add to lemon juice and set aside in LARGE mixing bowl.
  4. Add sultanas to the apple mix.
  5. Toast pecans in oven for 5 minutes.  At the last minute, add the coconut and toast with the pecans FOR ONE MINUTE ONLY – otherwise it will burn.
  6. Tip pecans, coconut and 1 tbs of brown sugar into mortar and pestle and lightly crush. The smell, at this stage, is divine!
  7. Add to the apple mixture and stir well and set aside
  8. In a food processor, cream together the butter and 1 cup brown sugar until light fluffy.
  9. Add eggs, one at time and process until creamy
  10. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg and process until thoroughly combined
  11. Tip this mixture into bowl with apple mix.  Add Amaretto and fold all together.  Add pinch of salt.
  12. Turn the mixture into prepared cake tin.
  13. Bake in centre of oven on 180oC for about 45 minutes or until cake is firm to touch and skewer comes out clean.
  14. Sprinkle with icing sugar when cooled
  15. Serve with thick yoghurt or whipped cream

NOTE:  I recently read an interesting memoir by Italian/Aussie, Zoe Boccabella, called Mezza Italiana whose grandfather migrated to Australia as a 14 year old and became an apple orchardist in Stanthorpe  Well worth a read – has family recipes in it too and this cake was evocative of her story.

 

 

 

Discovering Australia – New England, NSW

Miles from anywhere, close to everything ……….

There’s a lot to be said for discovering your own back yard, hopping in the car and taking the road less travelled and one that avoids going anywhere near an airport.  That’s exactly what we did for two weeks over Easter – we tossed a few things in the back of the car and took the back roads and byways from our home in northern NSW,  heading south to Canberra where our choir was performing at the National Folk Festival.  In two weeks we travelled over 3,000 km and, I have to say, it was absolutely wonderful – stimulating, easy and relaxing.  I came back feeling as though I had been away for two months, not two weeks, which is always a sign of trip worth taking.

I had booked farm stays en route, and I am happy to report that Australia has moved into the 21st century – finally.  All the accommodation we stayed in was comfortable, clean and charming with everything I wanted  – real coffee, local maps, dishwasher, chopped wood, stocked pantry (with olive oil), good bathrooms, classy linen and COMFORTABLE PILLOWS – I didn’t need to use my own from home once.  Oh, and that’s before I have mentioned the stunning locations, heavenly views and peace and quiet.

FIRST STOP – Wollombi, New England

We drove south through Ballina to the the big river country with timber houses on stilts surrounded by swaying paddocks of emerald green sugar cane to Ulmarra which has to have one of the most well stocked book shops in the country – I could barely see the owner sitting behind her cash register. Who said print was dying?  Ulmarra also has a fabulous converted pub on the banks of the mighty Clarence River that has been turned into a classy eatery, and I can’t think of a better place to have a break, read a book and eat a plate of scones with a cup of tea.

On to Grafton,  then headed west on the Waterfall Way to Armidale – our destination a  beef stud of Angus and Charolais cattle with a stay for a couple of days in the old farmhouse.  I knew that this trip was going to turn out well when young Lucy – seventh generation of farmers on this land, turned up with a loaf of freshly baked bread to greet us.  Engaged to be married, she has taken on the farm-stay as her project and, if she does everything else in her life with such passion and attention to detail, she will make a success of whatever she turns her hand to.  Now in my seventh decade I know that I probably should have married a farmer!  I love cows and being on a farm – which is a long way from the East End of London, where I was born.  Is there still time, I wonder?  Lucy had created a lovely cottage garden around the house full of late flowering roses and dahlias and, lucky us, a vegetable garden, and I was able to out and pick fresh zucchini, basil and tomatoes for our dinner.

I just went out walking – early morning, twilight – didn’t matter – I was happy – trying to identify the trees, grasses and late summer flowering wildflowers – like these Paper Daisies, Xerochrysum bracteatum , noticing the health of the trees and pastures and appreciating the effort and love that the custodians of this land had put in over the past 160 years.  Not every farm is like this.  The New England tablelands are incredibly lush and beautiful and I urge you to get out there and take it in.  It’s a particular treat at this time of years when all the exotic trees are in their autumn glory; golden poplars, scarlet claret ash, fiery liquid ambers ……………………….

This undulating land had 4 km of trout river and me mate was itching to get a rod twitching – next time maybe, for we will be back.  The air was crystal clear in all shades of blue to purple – all you could hear were the birds calling and the odd moo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soundtrack to our stay:  I like to play music while I am cooking dinner and yipee, I found an ancient, dusty ghetto blaster with a basket of cassette tapes that mostly worked – remember those?  Me mate was happy – what was on offer was Dire Straits ‘Sultans of Swing’ and the best of the Eagles and some homemade tapes that were an eclectic mix of Aussie rock, English punk and Dean Martin!  On the road it was Vivaldi and Van Morrison.

Australia has over 500 National Parks and I have a long held desire to visit them all – this is
my ‘bucket list’ if you like,
and I purposely booked our accommodation for this trip close to a National Park so that I could begin to tick off some I have never been to before.  We started with New England National Park, but it could have been one of about 30 that we have in our region within a few hours drive of where I live in Mullumbimby.

A quick sketch of some of the National Parks of our region.

 

New England NP – all 673 square kilometres of it, is high up on the Great Dividing Range that runs like a backbone down the east coast of Australia, so every walk takes you up where the birds soar on down into valleys with rushing streams and cascading waterfalls – it’s magic.

New England National Park – why you should go

  • Welcome to country:  This magnificent wilderness was once home to the Djungutti, Anaiwan and Gumbaynggirr Peoples.  The Aboriginal name for Point Lookout Berngutta roughly translates as ‘prohibited area’ by virtue of its sacred character.  It is home to the legend of the giant wombat that was feared by all and able to cause the earth to tremble and winds to sweep down the valleys. I acknowledge and honour the elders of this land and past custodians which was their country for more than 60,000 years.
  • The views:  At 1560 metres above sea level there are many walks that take you to vantage points that look out over the Bellinger Valley and Dorrigo Rainforest and you can see for miles and miles. Start with Point Lookout – an easy stroll from the carpark which you can turn into a day walk if you have the time.

    View from Point Lookout – watch out for the giant wombat

  • The country: This is a World Heritage Wilderness area with an ancient volcanic history – the last, about 18 million years ago.  Its weathered basalt lava flows form an undulating landscape with precipitous cliffs and plateau edges that plunge into valleys of 500 million year old sedimentary rock that have been carved into densely forested peaks and ridges.  Eagles Nest Track 2.5km takes in some of these features with lookouts and soaring rock faces.
  • The vegetation: Step back into a time when this wilderness area was  part of Gondwana, the mighty southern land when Australia formed one land mass with Antarctica, parts of Asia, Africa and South America, and the ancient  Antarctic Beech forests in this Park are a living reminder of its past geological history.  Take the Cascade Walk(5.7km) to experience this ancient remnant forest with cascading waterfalls and amazing scenic views   The Park contains a rich flora of over 1,000 species of plants in an interesting variety of plant communities – from cool temperate rainforest to more subtropical vegetation and mallee, swamp and heathland that put on a spectacular display in the springtime.

The paths are clearly marked with great information signs and maps and we did two circular walks from the car park of a couple of kilometres each.  This is a Park where the rocks drip, the moss glows in the dark and lichen hangs in the trees like an old man’s beard.

Looking east over New England and Dorrigo National Parks towards the Pacific coast.

Perched high up where the eagles circle, we couldn’t see one building or any signs of human habitation, just undulating hills and treetops – it was like a green velvet cloak had been thrown over the land, and then something very special happened.  We were walking through a mossy covered ridge line when I suddenly heard all the birds of the forest, one after the other calling, and I realised I was listening to a lyrebird mimicking its feathered forest friends.  The naturalist David Attenborough has said that of all the creatures he has encountered in his long years of exploration, he considers the lyrebird to be one of the most remarkable.  And then we saw it, and I stood transfixed as this male scurried about the forest floor, displaying his extensive vocal repertoire and fluffing up his magnificent tail feathers – his calling card to attract the female of the species.  In all my years of walking in the bush I have often heard lyrebirds but never sen one before.  I managed to capture some video footage – not fantastic quality for I was trying to stay hidden, but thrilling nevertheless.

TOP TIP: On the Point Lookout Road that goes into New England N.P., is the Dutton Trout Farm where we bought a really delicious pack of smoked trout fillets that had been seasoned with native bush pepper.  You can take tours there but its also nice just to have a wander around.

Cycling in France – Beyond Bordeaux – Day 2 Graves et Sauternes

DAY 2  St Macaire to Origne 57km
Day 1 Cadillac to St Macaire

Ahh, the romance of the grape.  The end of day one of our cycling trip out of Bordeaux found us in the delightful old village of St Macaire which is steeped in the history of winemaking with cellars and wine stores on every corner. As we were wheeling our bikes up the cobbled street, in search of our hotel, we even encountered a bloke rolling a barrel of wine down the road – a first for me.  

Our stopping place for the night was the charming Hotel Les Feuilles d’Acanthese (Leaves of the Acanthes) a restored 16th century wine cellar with pool and spa in the basement and very good restaurant.  However, being Sunday, there was not much open when we arrived so we had a late lunch in the local Pizzeria that had lots of local dishes on the menu, including one of my favourites Gesier Salad – duck gizzard salad. (The first time I had this I had absolutely no idea what I was eating – I just knew it tasted damn good).  And when I saw the spa, back at the hotel, I knew that things were really looking up and where I was going to spend the rest of the afternoon.

Dinner that night in the hotel restaurant did prove to be a treat and this is what I had; mille feuille de tomatoes – a flaky pastry tart with tomatoes, goats cheese and parmesan, followed by the chap on the left with his local sturgeon, lentils and baby carrots, then a delicious salted caramel tiramisu, all washed down with a crisp bottle of rose – yum. 


Our comfortable room was part of the converted stone wine cellar with walls two feet thick, blocking out all noise.  So, with all that pedalling, soaking, eating and drinking under my belt, I slept like a baby ready for the next day on the bike through the famous Graves and Sauterne vineyards.


The start of Day 2 proved to be a real challenge for we quickly realised that the route was not on the quiet bike tracks we were used to from previous cycling tours ; but instead found ourselves negotiating busy roads and motorways.  We tried to be smart, taking various ‘shortcuts’ and detours. but ended up in a real pickle on the wrong side of a crash barrier with trucks and cars hurtling by.  A traveller on foot, with an Eastern Rosella on his shoulder, came to our rescue and helped us negotiate the labyrinth of very dangerous roads and then kindly helped us lift our bikes over the barrier to safety.  He was very surprised that I knew what his bird was and, in my halting French, explained that we too came from Australia and flocks of them were regular visitors to our garden.  With a broad smile, exchange of pleasantries and a handshake we parted company.  That’s one of the nicest things about these cycle trips – you never know what delightful chance encounters you may have.


The day improved as we travelled into the countryside of Premier Crux Sauterne  with many chateaux dotted on the hillsides, charming villages and old churches, stopping for a while by the ruined castle of Budos (1306) amid the grape vines with the clouds gathering and crows soaring.  Our route had become decidedly more rural and we had a few hours of stress free cycling through verdant vineyards with the late summer harvest ripening on the vine. 

There was not much going on anywhere, but as we rode into the village car-park in Budos we were surprised to see a large group of pensioners, in a picnic shed, having a cook-up and drinking Ricard at ten o’clock in the morning.  They started to wave their arms about and remonstrate with us about something we didn’t understand until we realised that we had cycled over their especially prepared gravel boule court – all marked out and ready to go! Quelle horreur.


On we cycled, through the villages of Sauterne, past its chateau and the imposing Chateau Yquem, Chateau Clos Haut Peyraguey, Chateau de Villandraut and Chateau Rayne Vignau – all normally open for wine tasting but closed on a Monday.  

Nothing here would tell you that mind boggling wealth lurks amid the picturesque vine-laden slopes and hollows.  The unprepossessing village of Sauternes has a wine shop where bottles of the celebrated Chateau d’Yquem 1990 gather dust on rickety shelves, next to hand written price tags demanding 500 euros for one bottle.

We were now coming out of farmland and into the forests of Landes de Gascogne, heading for our guesthouse in the village of Origne.  This Regional Natural Park stretches from here to the coast and is another good reason for visiting Bordeaux and the Gironde – it’s very green and you can get away from it all in acres and acres of forest.


This forest covers over 10,000 square kilometres and is, what is known as Atlantic mixed forest – which is mostly maritime pine with oak, alder, beech and holly.  Until the nineteenth century this was a vast swampy area and when struggling agriculture was abandoned and a massive reforestation programme was undertaken, draining the swamp and planting thousands of trees.


We were going to have a real contrast tonight after St Macaire,  staying in a small guesthouse, La Maison Rose, with our hosts cooking dinner for us – we weren’t really sure what to expect but the ominous storm clouds made us hurry on to seek shelter and find out.

The Town Hall in the centre of sleepy Origne

I was expecting rustic sleepiness at La Maison Rose, but what we got was a very chic converted old house and our hosts Corinne and Gerard de Rochefort, of similar age to us, having made a tree/sea change from Paris with accompanying chic decor and comfort.  Bonus, the place also has a swimming pool.
 
Blue hydrangeas were the theme in our room and, initially, I was a little disconcerted by all the guest signs dotted around our very comfortable suite. – an extra 20c for milk in my tea and slices of lemon indeed.  It seemed that our stay was to be governed by a lot of rules and regulations and I was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable – (would I remember to put a coaster under my water glass on the bedside table?).  All this fell away when we appeared for dinner and met our hosts, and told by them that we were to take dinner en famille – with them in their gorgeous dining room, and started to swap mutual grandchildren stories with accompanying photos (what would we do without smart phones?).  Lovely simple, home cooked dinner of jambon with melon and feta, lamb cutlets with rosemary and a platter of cheese with fresh peaches – perfect. 


The dining room  at Maison Rose laid for breakfast.

Early to bed, for tomorrow the adventure continues!

Tamarilloes – how to cook and grow them


ABOUT:  Tamarillo (Solanum betaceum) is a native to southern Brazil in the tomato Solanacea family and easy to grow in tropical and sub-tropical gardens. It is a fruit I was not familiar with until I came to Australia, but love it’s fresh clean taste and versatility in cooking.   I have four plants in my suburban garden and they hardly take up any room at all, being an open and shrubby small tree that responds well to pruning after fruiting – so the fruit are easy to pick season to season – they will get to 4m if you let them.

This fruit typifies what sustainable living and cooking with abundance is all  about.  We may have to re-jig our taste buds and learn some new recipes but you surely this is better than buying out of season, tasteless, plastic boxed strawberries from a supermarket that started their journey hundred of miles away? 

I have found that tamarilloes are happy to be ignored (I just feed them a couple of times a year) as long as you don’t let them dry out or get completely waterlogged – mulch, mulch and more mulch.  They need sun for at least part of the day, but will take some semi-shade.

Because they are quite shallow rooted they are a fantastic plant to incorporate in a food hedge as they don’t over compete with the plants around them for water and nutrients – just remember the mulching.

In late summer they produce a crop of ovoid fruit, either orange, purple or a yellowy colour.  The skin is never eaten as it is very bitter, and flesh scooped out to be eaten fresh or cooked.  Grazing children love to just bite the top off and squeeze the tangy, tart flesh straight into the mouth.  Oh – did I mention their amazing nutritional properties – here goes?:

  • TAMARILLO and NUTRITION: The tree tomato is an excellent source of antioxidants because it contains a type of flavonoid known as anthocyanins. Furthermore, and more importantly it contains the carotenoids lycopene and beta carotene (vitamin A).
  • Lycopene’s principle health benefit is to neutralize or inhibit oxygen derived free radicals. Free radicals are implicated in causing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Lycopene, along with the other carotenoids, beta-corotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, help protect and repair cells against DNA damage, thereby helping to prevent premature aging. However, of the four carotenoids, lycopene has by far the most antioxidant activity.
  • The group of flavonoids called anthocyanins are found in red or purple plant color pigments, known as phytochemicals.  These flavonoids are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and they help neutralize free radicals. They can also provide health benefits against diabetes, nuerological diseases, cancer and aging.
  • Tamarillo is also a good source of vitamin C, as well as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium and magnesium.

USES IN COOKING:
Poached:  I first had them this way at La Luciola Restaurant in Bali – ahhh!

1. Score the pointy end of the fruit with a cross so that when they are cooked it peels back like a flower.  
2. Simmer a couple of tablespoons of honey in some water and either star anise or a scraped vanilla pod. 
3. Add the washed and scored fruit and poach for about 5 minutes. 
TOP TIP – leave the stalks on.
4. Let them cool and peel the skin back – very pretty! I have served them like this many times since, often with a sweet baked ricotta or vanilla yoghurt.  They are also good stewed with other fruits and berries – just scoop them out of their skin  first.

Jam:  They make a fabulous jam – either by itself or with other fruit – that sets really well because they are so high in pectin.  I made some the other day with mango, guavas and peaches – really yum!

Chutneys:  I have come across various recipes for this.  As soon as all the crop is in (and we stop eating them!) I will try some and post up the recipe.

NOTE:  Click here for the link to a scrum my Tamarillo Yeast Cake recipe – an extremely versatile tea cake that I make all the time.  Somebody liked it!

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Octopus Salad

Octopus Salad,
 Mitsos Taverna, Corfu, Greece – cooked by Agatha, caught by Spiros
 
Octopus, and the rest of the family of squid, calamari and cuttlefish are sea creatures I would never have eaten as a child in London – I had to wait for the delights of savouring these for travels in Europe – Spain, Italy and then Greece.
 
These days I know that my holiday has started when we arrive in Athens, settle into our favourite hotel, and then wander up the street to Strofi – a restaurant with a rooftop garden where you can sit, sipping a glass of wine, and watch the sun going down behind the Acropolis.  The first thing we order is their octopus salad – a revelation of tender, meaty, lobstery tasting delight – perfection.  The shoulders relax, travel fatigue drops away and I begin to enjoy my holiday knowing that there’s plenty more of this where that came from.

 

It’s a shame that most people I know would never dream of attempting a dish like this because they think that the cleaning is going to be complicated and messy, and the cooking difficult – all not true.  Apart from being good for you, as well as delicious to eat – it is cheap.  When you look at most seafood around the $25-$35 mark and compare it to squid and octopus at $5-$12 – there’s nothing not to love.


IS OCTOPUS SUSTAINABLE?  This question is of increasing concern to most of us as fishing stocks are depleted by unsustainable fishing practices.  My advice – buy local.  I get mine from a large seafood shop in Ballina that sells everything that is caught when the trawlers go out but is not valued as much by the fishermen – by-catch.  This is generally the seafood I favour; squid, sardines, octopus and red mullet and other small fish.  If it turns out to be not that good for eating I make stock out of it.


WHY OCTOPUS IS GOOD FOR YOU:  


These days we are repeatedly being told that seafood is good for you and we should be eating it at least three times a week and avoiding meat.  Apart from being low in calories and saturated fats and high in protein, seafood is increasingly being shown to be helpful is fighting autoimmune diseases – like multiple sclerosis.  So what are the nutritional facts about octopus – bearing in mind that I actually eat it because it tastes damn good!


1.  Octopus, like nearly all seafood is lean and low in calories and saturated fats.  It is however quite high in cholesterol but, like all things, eaten in moderation it won’t do you any harm.  It’s a staple food for coastal Greek people who have the famous benefits from eating the so called ‘Mediterranean Diet’ that includes all kinds of seafood, including octopus – with lower rates of stroke and heart disease.


2.  Iron.  One serve has all the daily requirements for men and half for women – add a handful of parsley girls and your done for the day!


3.  B12.  Octopus exceeds your daily requirements of this important vitamin that is essential in the production of new red blood cells and supporting everyday brain function.


4. Selenium. One serve of octopus provides more than you daily requirements.  An important trace mineral that plays a role in protein metabolism during digestion.



A NOTE ABOUT ROCK BASHING!  You may have seen or heard stories about octopus fishermen bashing their catch on rocks to tenderise it,with tentacles and froth flying.  This is certainly true if the octopus is going to be flash fried or barbecued – otherwise it is like chewing rubber.  However, there is absolutely no need to do this for a dish like this where it is simmered first in water – it honestly renders it delectably tender.

 
Now, don’t be scared – trust me!
 
 
What to Buy
For this dish you need the octopus to be large with thick tentacles – the opposite for when you are buying them for chargrilling on the barbecue – then you need small ones.
 
Fresh octopus should smell sweet with no trace of ammonia.  Use it as soon as possible after purchase, certainly within 36 hours, and do not store with the guts intact – the same goes for squid, calamari and cuttlefish.  
 
How to Clean
Simply cut the head off whole – this way you will not disturb the ink sac, and discard it.  Cut the octopus in half and pop out the black ‘beak’ from the middle and discard.  Cut the tips off the tentacles and discard.  That’s it!

Cleaned octopus ready for cooking 
 
How to Cook
1. Place the cleaned octopus in a saucepan and cover with cold water. 
 
2. Add to this one dessertspoon vinegar, a bay leaf and one clove of garlic sliced.
 
3. Bring to boil and simmer for 20-40 minutes.
 
4. Us a small sharp knife to check when it is cooked – it should have lost its rubberyness but be firm and tender.
 
5. Don’t over cook or it will turn to mush.
 
6. Drain straight away
 
7. As soon as the octopus cools a little rub off the dark skin – the is best done wearing disposable gloves.  This is a very simple and quick task.  There is no need to remove the suckers.
 
Cooked octopus – just need to get the rest of the skin off
 
Preparing the salad
 
1. Slice the cooled octopus into bite size pieces and place in a serving dish.
2. Cover with olive oil, sliced fresh garlic and sprinkle with dried oregano and thyme.  It may need a little salt at this stage.
3. Serve with wedges of lemon, fresh black pepper, sprinkle of parsley and crusty bread.
4. If the octopus is fully submerged in the oil it will keep for a week or so in the fridge.
 
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War the author Henry Miller went, for the first time, to Greece to visit his friend Lawrence Durrell and stayed for nine months traveling from Athens, around the Peloponnese, Corfu and to Crete.  His experiences are recorded in one of the best travel books you will ever read, The Colossus of Maroussi.  
 
Maybe it just has a real resonance for me because I too went to Greece and fell in love – with the varied landscapes, the romance of being on the edge of Europe and the beginning of the East, the history, the marvelous island journeys, the best swimming in the world, THE FOOD and, most of all the Greeks.  I agree with Miller when he says in the book “I like a good Greek meal better than a good French meal, even though it be heresy to admit it”

Cycling in France – Bordeaux and beyond Day 1

in 2015 we did a cycling trip from Innsbruck to Verona and it was so wonderful that we wanted to do the same kind of thing again, only somewhere different. We love the south-west of France and had glimpses of Bordeaux on a previous trip, vowing to return – the city and whole region is just so lovely.  This was where our trip in August 2016 started.

How bad could cycling through the premier wine growing of France be with its chateaux, historic villages, the forests of Aquitaine to the seafood heavens of Arachon and Cap Ferret on the Atlantic coast – staying in comfort and eating and drinking some of the best food and wine you are going to get anywhere in the world?


First let me point out that we own no lycra, but after last years’ experience we did get some cycle touring shorts that have a kind of padded nappy insert – as me mate lovingly said “all ready for the nursing home Nanma”?

 

  • The companies that we organise these tours through take all of the stress out of the trip – you just have to turn up, get on  the bike and pedal! 
  • They organise: the bike – touring upright kind with panniers and basket,
  • Repair kit for the bike,
  • Helmet,
  • Book hotels in advance with choice of standard (we go 3-4 star – come on, I’ve been on a bloody bike all day),
  • Take your bags from hotel to hotel.
  • Provide you with comprehensive and detailed daily route maps that include places of interest, historical background and recommended restaurants and lunch stops.
Place de Bourse, Bordeaux where our trip began
 
DAY 1  Cadillac to St Macaire 50km  28th August 2016
 
Our trip started in Bordeaux after a short flight from the UK.  We opted to spend a couple of days here and, let me tell you, Bordeaux is wonderful.  See my previous post for a rundown on what to do if you have a couple of days here.
The leaning clock tower of Cadillac
 

We were then taken by taxi on the 30 minute journey to Cadillac where we spent the night at the lovely Chateau de la Tour Hotel which had the added bonus of an outdoor swimming pool and three acres of  leafy  grounds.  Things got even better when we realised that the restaurant in the hotel had a pretty good reputation so we booked for dinner that night on the terrace – we were not disappointed.  Unexpected delights like this, we have discovered, are one of the features of these cycling tours – you go to lots of places you have never been to before and probably never go to again – a real adventure, with fabulous food thrown in savouring the novelty of it all.

Medallion of pork with truffle oil potatoes & roast capsicum sauce
Cadillac has a lot to offer for a stopover – no pink American cars but an historic 15th century chateaux,  12th century church and cobbled market square.  My luck was in because it was market day and a short stroll into the town from our hotel turned into a two hour culinary adventure.

 

Ah, the joys of a traditional French produce market – which I ate my way around and bought some pate de campagne from the butcher for our picnic the next day (he had four different homemade kinds).  With that and some REAL bread and tomatoes we were all set.
Next day we set off bright and early on our bikes, which had been waiting for us in the grounds of the hotel, looking forward to our ride through the premier Bordeaux wine country.  The weather forecast was promising a scorching hot day of over 36oC – which I was not looking forward to – my thermostat does not work too well these days, so we wanted to get the bulk of the ride out of the way before late morning.
The start of our adventure – outside the Cadillac Chateaux
 
We started out on a bike path along the lovely Garonne River and then headed into rolling vineyard country and past many small chateaux with wine tasting – just a tad bit early for us though – 8am on a Sunday morning.
Could see from the outset that this was going to be more of a walking/cycling trip – with my bung knee paining me and the heat I just couldn’t get up the hills and ended up walking a fair bit!  What an absolute joy it was to be out here though – a great sense of freedom.
 
Arrived in the lovely village of VERDELAIS, cycling through the beautifully proportioned town square lined with plane trees still dressed in their summer emerald green foliage. and stopped at the only place open for a coffee watching the locals turn up for Sunday morning mass in the 16th century basilica.  I was drawn in when the choir began to sing with the congregation joining in – a moment of peace, joy and cool!The bell tower is topped by a magnificent gilded copper statue of the Virgin Mary, after whom the basilica is named – Notre Dame.  I wondered, at the time, if this town was particularly devout as the church service was packed – not the half dozen elderly ladies you get in St Michael’s in Mullumbimby on a Sunday.  I subsequently discovered that the church houses a famous shrine – a 14th century wooden statue of Our Lady of Verdelais, that is said to perform miracles and is on the pilgrim route through France. I also read of a ‘Black Virgin’ cult centred around this statue and the church – intriguing non?

 

Our short coffee stop got even more interesting.  The small hole-in-the wall cafe, opposite the church, I am sure was just open on a Sunday to take advantage of the post service need for refreshments by the huge congregation for the rest of the place was as quiet as the grave. In fact, the cafe overlooked the village graveyard which snaked up the hillside and, mooching about, I was astonished to read,  on a faded sign by the gate, that Toulouse Lautrec was buried there – the renowned Impressionist painter of can-can girls, famous singers, prostitutes and the cafes around Montmarte, Paris at the turn of the last century.  As a teenager I loved his poster art and had a copy of the famous ‘Jane Avril’ on my bedroom wall – all that talent, dazzling paintings, debauchery and absinthe drinking – what was not to love for a nice girl from Brockley.
Lautrec was born in Verdelais and was living here in the family villa when he died of a stroke, aged 36, in 1901, after suffering years of alcoholism and venereal disease  Its hard to believe that a recent painting of his sold for US22 million for his grave is unlovingly neglected and looks hardly visited.
Magnificent bell tower of the Basilica of Notre Dame in Verdelais topped with her gilded copper statue.
 
So after cycling through verdant vineyards, with this year’s vintage ripening on the vine, and after 50km or so, we finally cycled into the charming and historic village of St. Macaire to find our hotel, where we were met with our sight for the day – a man rolling a barrel of wine down the street!  To be continued……..
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 

 

Trombone Squash – Summer Survivor

Summer Survivor

A favourite summer vegetable – trombone squash

We have recently had some early summer scorchers, with very little rain, that has just decimated the garden – the heat and humidity have been intense, so this thought is not far from everyone’s mind.  WHAT FOOD CROPS WILL SURVIVE THROUGH THE SUMMER?

Delicious finger eggplants – great for the barbecue
 

This was the question that my neighbour asked me the other day and my answer was almost spontaneous; okra, snake beans, amaranth bi-colour, eggplant and the trombone squash – all subtropical plants to survive our weather conditions.  I leave the corn and sweet potato for those with more land than me.

 

I still have some tomato, kale and cucumber plants struggling on from winter and spring but, in this heat, you can forget lettuce, Asian greens and other green beans.

Amaranth bi-colour – the spinach alternative.  Very nutritious and easy to grow – you just have to get the right variety – this one!
 

 

Snake beans – they just keep on coming
 

Trombone Squash
Cucurbita moschata
Zucchini tromboncino (listed by this name in the seed catalogues)


WHY is this one of the most rewarding summer vegetable crops?

 

 

 

 

52cm in one week!



1.  It is very easy to grow, surviving the summer heat and humidity – it just needs a frame to grow over – like a trellis or an arbour. Plant the seeds, that you have saved from the year before or bought from a reputable company like Diggers Seeds of Green Harvest (I got mine from my mate Dave) in the springtime.


2.  This zucchini/courgette/squash is a fast mover –  you can virtually watch it growing in front of your eyes.  This one reached 52cm in one week – I just love it. There aren’t many plants that having me dashing out with the ruler, first thing in the morning, and gaping in awe at just how fantastic nature can be.


3.  It is very prolific – one plant will give you heaps of fruit.  You just may have to intervene and help it along by hand pollinate if it raining and there are no pollinators around.  This is easy.  The male and female flowers are borne on the same plant – the female giving you the fruit and male the pollen for fertilising – and their structure easily tell you which one is which. So you just pick the male flower with the pollen on his pokey-out-bit and stick it in the female – bingo – who said gardening was boring?


4.  This is a nutritious and versatile food that I turn into lots of delicious dishes; corn and zucchini bake, bubble and squeak and the really yummy haloumi and zucchini fritters.  I also like to serve it as a side vegetable – simply sliced and tossed in some hot olive oil with garlic and black pepper, then finished with a squeeze of lemon juice. You don’t have to peel it!

Zucchini Bake



5.  You only use the long stem part which is seedless, less watery than ordinary zucchini and has a firm nutty flavour.  The round bit at the end contains the seeds – which you can discard.


6.  I always let one hang on the vine until it is dried and hard – the seeds will begin to shake around in the rounded base.  Store these in a cool dry place for next year.