Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seeds: Reap What you Sow

  • It saves you money
  • Better germination rate
  • Staggered planting - you always have food
  • No waste
  • Conserves local and heritage varieties
  • Unless they are from a local supplier committed to organics - they invariably fail.
  • Seedlings/seeds bought from the hardware store/supermarket usually come from an climatic area totally inappropriate to yours and will struggle and ultimately fail.
  • If you are into conspiracy theories - this is fact not supposition !  The large agchem companies would love to have patent rights on ALL THE SEEDS in the world - then they can muck around with them - alter their DNA to make them resistant to herbicides/pesticides (for starters!) and render the seeds sterile so they cannot be saved from one generation to the next.  THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING ON A GLOBAL SCALE.
  • By saving your own seed you are being a voice for the farmers of the world and those who just wants to feed their family healthy food.  Resist.  Save your own seed.  GIVE PEAS A CHANCE!

1.  Wet Fruit - like Tomatoes, Cucumber,  Zucchini, Eggplant.
  • Leave a healthy, disease free 'fruit' to reach maturity on the plant.
  • i.e. let it get old and large.
  • Split in half and scrape out the seeds onto double sheets of kitchen paper.
  • Leave the seeds to dry in a cool, dry place until all moisture has gone.
  • Store seed in airtight, cool, dry place until ready for next season's sowing.  Label!
TOP TIP:  When you want to sow the tomato seeds you simply lay out the seed-studded kitchen paper on top of the soil, cover it in a bit of fine soil and keep watered.  The seeds germinate as the kitchen paper decomposes.  Divide up the seedlings and plant where needed.

2.  Dry Fruit and Seeds.  Carrot, Parsley, Cabbage family, Coriander, Lettuce, Beans etc.

  •  These are often really tiny seed cases and even tinier seed so patience is required - and small pairs of hands!
  • Follow steps for 'wet seed' - collect seeds from mature and disease free plants.
  • Store in cool dry place.

Drying coriander seed
Dried coriander seed
  • Make sure seeds are completely dry before you harvest them.
  • You can do this is the 'age old way' by hanging them upside down in a airy place.
  • Here I am drying coriander seed which is then used to replant next season and stored for my spice cupboard.


1.  Make sure your seed sowing mix is fine and free draining.  If the mix is too 'lumpy' there will be too many air spaces - the seeds do not fit snuggly and germination rate will be poor.  I usually make my own by sieving some garden soil and compost then adding it to washed river sand (about a third of each).  Finally a couple of handfuls of vermiculite of perlite (the shiny or white stuff you see in commercial mixes - a huge bag costs about $20 and lasts for years).  This gives bulk to the mix without adding weight and also holds water.

FACT:  Commercial potting mixes are often quite acid and contain a lot of undesirable material, some you can see - like lumps of wood and foundry waste - and some you can't.  As the source of the material in the mix is unknown I worry about potential contaminants and the sustainability of the product (i.e. where did they get the soil from?).  These concerns are compounded by the fact that it has probably travelled interstate to your supplier in a very large, non biodegradable, plastic bag.

2.  To plant directly in the soil or in a container first?  This another one of those questions I am always asked so lets try and clear up any confusion.
  • In the soil - large seeds and root vegetables.  Peas, beans, corn, carrots, parsnip etc.
  • In containers first - everything else (fine seed).  Lettuce, annual herbs (basil, dill, coriander etc), onion tribe, cabbage family etc.
3.  What kind of seed raising container?  EVERY TIME YOU DISTURB THE ROOTS OF A SEEDLING YOU SET-BACK IT'S GROWTH.  So it makes sense to grow seedlings in individual containers that are biodegradable like toilet paper rolls, egg shells, newspaper pots (simply dampen the paper and form it around the shape you want and leave to dry.  The egg container.  Recently, when I was traveling in Malaysia, I saw this wonderful idea in a 'green supplement' of the Straits Times.  Brilliant in it's simplicity.  You simply knock off the top of the shell with a knife when you want to use a fresh egg, punch a small hole in the bottom with a wooden skewer and use the egg carton as the seedling holder.
When it's time for planting you just crush the shell a little in your hand and PLANT THE WHOLE THING - the calcium from the egg shell also help s to feed the plant as it grows.  Note in the picture above of a cucumber seedling how healthy it looks and the roots already bursting out of the hole in the bottom.
Obviously this is impractical with very fine seed and I use conventional seed trays or punnets for initial sowing them plant them out later into individual containers.

The germinating seed.
4.  Caring for seedlings.  Start seeds off in warm shady place.  As the shoots emerge gradually move them into more light.  KEEP THEM REGULARLY WATERED with a fine mist - I use a spray bottle and keep it next to my seedlings.  This process of moving them into increasing light is called 'hardening off'.  If you don't - the seedlings become long and leggy and won't transplant well into the garden.

TOP TIPS:  (Courtesy of Colin Campbell on Gardening Australia) Water newly planted seeds with a fifth of a teaspoon of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), dissolved in a litre of water. The seed consists of an embryo – the part that germinates and puts out a shoot and root; the rest is food supply for the newly developing plant. The magnesium in Epsom salts helps activate the enzymes to break down the food supply for the new plant and keeps it going until the leaves have formed. 
(This is absolutely brilliant and makes so much sense!)

Plants suffer from stress too!!  It’s also important to water-in all seedlings with a solution of seaweed extract and water (I use COMPOST TEA - see previous post) Seaweed contains significantly higher levels of vitamin B1, and that helps plants overcome transplant shock and also results in a much earlier yielding plant. 

5.  When to plant out your seedlings.  WHEN THE SEEDLING HAS GROWN IT'S SECOND SET OF LEAVES (see above diagram).

Best Book about Seed Saving and Growing:  Seed Savers' Handbook by Jude and Michael Fanton 2001 $25.00 (available from NSW DPI) 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Renewable Energy - Danish PM shows the way forward

Incredible - a politician thinking about the next generation instead of just the next election.  Her name is Helle Thorning-Schmidt and she is the Prime Minister of Denmark.  This is the speech she gave this week to the EWEA (European Wind Energy Association) Conference in Copenhagen.  GO GIRL!

"Your Royal Highness, distinguished panel, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a real privilege to open the EWEA conference in Copenhagen. I am deeply impressed that more than 10.000 people are expected to participate over the next four days. This is truly the place to be when it comes to renewable energy and green growth.

As his Royal Highness underlined, the pressure on our climate, our environment, our resources and our planet is growing.

Essentially, this leaves us with only one way forward. We must take the green road ahead.

All of us present today are fellow travelers on this green road. The wind power sector is absolutely crucial on our common journey.

In Denmark, we have a long tradition of using wind energy. Through centuries, the wind - and we have plenty of it - has driven our ships, our pumps and our turbines.

Building on this strong tradition, the Danish wind industry represents 25.000 jobs in Denmark. Exports amount to close to 60 billion Danish kroner a year. In short, the Danish wind industry is a vital source of growth and prosperity in Denmark.

We need our wind industry to prosper even more. We need all green energy sectors to prosper. All over Europe. And you - the industry - need stable long-term conditions to do so. You need to know what the political framework is.

Let me outline today how my government strives to provide the best conditions for green growth in Denmark and in Europe.
* * *
Less than a month ago, the Danish government secured broad political support for an ambitious national energy plan for Denmark.

This is, I think, the most ambitious plan ever in Denmark and - to my knowledge -in Europe. Perhaps even in the world.

With the agreement, we have broad political support for a number of important objectives that Denmark should reach by 2020:

We will ensure that 35 percent of our total energy consumption should be generated from renewable resources.

We will construct new major wind farms. The goal is that half of all Danish electricity consumption will be provided by wind energy by 2020.

And we have charted the course to our next, even more ambitious goal: One hundred percent renewable energy in Denmark by 2050.

With our new energy agreement, we have set the bar even higher than before.

And it not only brings Denmark in the lead when it comes to the green economy transition. It is also estimated to create up to 8.000 new jobs in the next few years. Jobs that we really need.

The new energy plan gives you a fair wind to continue your course.
* * *
We are still in times of trouble and crisis in Europe. And in times of crisis, political priorities tend to shift.

There is a danger that long-term objectives give way to short-term goals. There is a danger that green ambitions are lowered. I know this is a concern throughout the green industry.

But my government firmly believes that the green agenda is both about job creation in the short run and about our climate in the long run.

Also, the green agenda is about reducing our dependency on scarce and very costly energy sources. We will save money, when we use less energy. And we will save money, when we are less vulnerable to rising oil, coal and natural gas prices. The cost of inaction today will only increase in the future.

Green investments are investments in both the present and the future.

And Denmark will be making huge investments where we will need contributions from competent companies all over Europe.

We will welcome numerous bidders for the Danish projects. And we will design the tender process in an open dialogue. In this way, we will ensure strong competition and the best possible end result.

Look at this as a very open invitation.

We expect the tender to be published next year. So keep an eye out for Denmark - you are already needed for the dialogue.
* * *
You are needed to create green growth in Denmark. You are needed to create green growth in Europe.

More than 20 million European jobs are linked to the environment in one way or another.

The Commission estimates that their proposal for a new energy efficiency directive will deliver about two million new jobs.

And the European Policy Centre in Brussels has even higher predictions for new jobs.

This clearly illustrates the potential of pursuing the green agenda.

But to realise the potential we must act. And we must act now.

This is also why Denmark works hard to promote green growth during our EU Presidency.

An overwhelming majority in the EU support that we forge ahead on the road to a low carbon economy by 2050. Some might still be hesitant but we remain convinced that this is the only path forward for Europe.

This is also the case in the ongoing negotiations on the next EU-budget. Denmark is working to ensure that EU funding is better targeted to growth and greening of the economy.

For many years, the EU has been a front runner globally on sustainable development and clean technologies.

Today, we need to scale up our investments in Europe's green sector. We need to move speedily to adopt the necessary legislation in Brussels. Because without the political framework things will not happen.

And also, we need your engagement, the private sector's engagement, in the green transaction.

My message is clear: Together, we can transform the European economy into a green Super Power. But we need action to do so.
* * *
Let me conclude: The potential for green growth is huge.

And two factors are essential to realize this potential:

First, a green and long-term political framework. Second, your innovation, growth and jobs.

This includes the innovations which you will present at the exhibition here at EWEA 2012.

I have been told that a wind turbine consists of 8.000 components. This certainly leaves room for numerous innovations.

I wish you all a good conference and four inspiring days.

Thank you very much for your attention."


Monday, April 23, 2012

Recipe: Beautiful Bread for Everyone

"We are not gluten intolerant, we are intolerant to the haste of modern life." Clive Lawler, fermenter and bread-maker

The following amazing stuff about bread is one of the reasons why this blog is called 'Slow Food'

I recently went to a fascinating talk by Clive Lawler about bread making - the 'slow' way and glutamates (umami) - the savoury taste in food - bread has it, along with a multitude of other foods that we enjoy, especially when they are cooked slowly.

He shows that traditionally bread was left to prove for a longer period than it is now - 12 hours instead of 2-3 and this process not only adds nutritionally to the bread but eliminates the problems associated with gluten intolerance.

I have been making this bread for a while now - a) because it tastes so good and b) because it is so easy! Everyone who tries it wants the recipe - always a good sign.  Use a large non-reactive pan that has a lid.

For one loaf you will need the following:
500g unbleached white 'strong' flour
Good pinch of dried yeast
Good pinch of powdered ginger
1level tsp sea salt
1 desert spoon molasses
2 tablespoons olive oil
350ml filtered/rain water, approx.

Sift flour
Mix dry ingredients together
Add oil, molasses and water until you get a 'beatable' consistency.
It should be pliable, but not sloppy.
Beat it for a minute or so until all ingredients are combined and the dough becomes elastic.
Here is the good news IT DOES NOT NEED KNEADING!
Put the lid on and leave for 12 hours - overnight.
 After 12 hours of being left in a draught-free warm spot (I use my laundry).  Note the bubbles.

Transfer to a pan of your choice.  I was using a 28cm spring-form pan because I wanted a largish/flattish loaf to go with a Greek meal.

Lightly oil the pan and sprinkle with polenta/sesame seed/ poppy seed/ dried herbs etc.

Leave to rise for another 2 hours in the same warm place, lightly covered.  Turn oven on!

After rising for another 2 hours in the pan, place in heated oven. on 190oC for 35-40 mins. until bread sounds like a drum when you knock it with your knuckle.

TIP:  Always turn bread out straight away onto a cooling rack.  If you leave it in the pan condensation forms on the bottom and makes it go soggy.

TIP:  If you want the crust to be crispy, spray water into the oven a couple of times while it is cooking.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Recipe: Pear Upside-down Cake and all things Pear

One of the things I would save if the house was on fire is my folder of collected recipes.  It's like a cullinary 'This is your Life'.  All kinds of people appear on it's stained and tattered pages - my god mother's handwritten recipe for 'Policeman's Pudding' (I think I must have been about 14), Roberta's lemon mousse recipe from over 45 years ago, when we started our first jobs together in London - and then a recipe club, my friend Nalini's handwritten Indian family recipes from Delhi - over 35 years old, my mother's wonderful recipe for Welsh cold tea cake (Barm Brack) and many, many more.  I have a hand-written 'best banana bread' recipe that has a shopping list down one side and a note on the other that says "don't forget to pick up the children"

One of the strangest in my collection is a recipe by Matthew Evans, over 20 years old, which I haven't been game to try yet.  You get one chicken, impale it on a can of beer (after drinking half of it), then cook it (well steam it) on the barbecue.  He calls it "up-the-duff-chook".  Brilliant in it's simplicity and just about the most Australian recipe I have ever seen.  The only deference to any kind of sophistication is stuffing some sage leaves under the skin of the chicken and rubbing it with olive oil and salt and pepper.  You stand the beer can on the hotplate, making sure the the legs of the chicken are not touching it, and cook for 30-40 minutes.  Anyone brave enough to try this - please let me know!
NOTE:  I have just had a message from my brother Paul, in London, who says that he has tried this with friends in Amsterdam and it was very good...........................mmmm?!

The first new season pears appeared in the farmers' market this week; Corella, Bartlett,  beurre bosc and Packhams are the usual varieties - all great either fresh or cooked.  They will be plentiful for many months and I think their versatility is underrated and below are a few of my favourite ways to eat them.

This very delicious pear upside-down cake is handwritten in my recipe folder and subtitled 'bad back cake' so I must have thought this one up over twenty years ago when I was laid-up for three months with my first bout of 'landscaper's back'.  I can see that I have tweeked it over the years with crossings-out and scribbled additions - one being the cardamom seed - which I think goes wonderfully with pear.  The original recipe had the zest of an orange instead of the cardamom - this works well too.

1 cup caster sugar
150 g butter
3 eggs
8 green cardamom pods with seeds removed - in mortar and pestle
1 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup milk
11/2 cups S.R. flour (I use half wholemeal)
1tsp pure vanilla essence
2 pears peeled, cored and sliced thinly
good pinch of salt
1/4 cup toasted almond flakes

1.  Butter well a round ring-form pan and place thinly sliced pear in pattern over the base.
2.  Heat oven to 170oC
3.  In food processor beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
4.  Beat in eggs, one at a time
5.  Add flour, almond meal and milk and pulse to combine
6.  Add salt and cardamom seeds, pulse again lightly
7.  Spread mixture over pears and bake in slow oven for 35-45mins
8.  When cooled, turn out onto plate and sprinkle with toasted almond flakes.

Pear and Walnut Salad
This fresh and versatile salad is a real favourite with my family - it goes really well with a good pizza.

1 under-ripe pear, with skin on, thinly sliced
2 big handfuls of salad leaves (rocket, baby cos, endive, chicory, sorrel, lamb's lettuce etc)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
80g feta (I prefer goat's)
walnut or macadamia oil
lemon juice
sea salt and black pepper

Wash salad leaves and spin very dry
Make dressing with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper
Toss sliced pears in dressing and leaves for 10 mins
Mix in with salad leaves and dress with walnuts and crumbled feta
NOTE:  This salad does not work with ripe pears, they have to be crisp and crunchy.

My artist friend Juta has a lovely habit of painting the dinners we have together.  Here is one she did about 20 years ago of a dish of poached pears. (I think she must be bored by the conversation!)

Poached Pears
There are many ways to do this.  Some recipes use red wine, some spice the poaching liquid - usually with cinnamon or star anise, but I prefer a more simple approach.
Quantity of peeled, whole pears (beurre bosc work well)
Place in saucepan large enough for them all to stand up without falling over.
Enough water to come half-way up the pears
Juice of 1 lemon and 6cm of peel
1 desert spoon sugar 
Cover saucepan with lid and simmer slowly until tender.
Serve at room temperature with vanilla'd yoghurt or simple chocolate sauce (melted chocolate cut with single cream)
NOTE: Once cooked, you can remove the pears, return the saucepan to the heat and reduce the liquid to make a thicker syrup.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Recipe: Muhammara - spiced capsicum dip

My neighbours' garden
Wonderful use of the climber Pyrostegia venusta Flame Vine
I have lovely neighbours with a lovely garden and I was going to cook for them on Friday night.  JUST SLIGHT PRESSURE - she is Belinda Jeffery the cook book writer, chef and television food presenter. I shouldn't really worry because she and Clive are all round lovelies and she always tells me she would be happy if someone made her a boiled egg.

We had decided on a Middle Eastern theme and I had tried a wonderful recipe for lamb shanks with figs so decided on that as the main course.  I just had the entree to sort out.  We were doing that sensible thing of sharing the load so Belinda was doing the vegies and desert.  I have been sharing meals like this with friends for years.  It was a particularly good idea when we had three small children and found it difficult to get out and expensive to keep paying for a babysitter.  I remember some wonderful dinners, shared with friends, and the added delight of trying other people's cooking.

Continuing on with the roast red pepper theme of a couple of weeks ago, I came across this Middle Eastern dip recipe.  It's wonderful sweet nuttiness with a little kick from the pomegranate and chilli is positively addictive.  I have tried to find out its origin and variously seen it referred to as Syrian, Moroccan, Turkish and Palestinian - cuisine from the Levant seems to cover all of those - anyway, it sounds romantic.  It was a big hit and everyone who has tried it wants the recipe - always a good sign.

2 large roasted red capsicum or 4 small (see previous post on how to cook and prepare these)
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup stale sourdough breadcrumbs
1 large clove very fresh garlic, crushed
2 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
sea salt to taste
Blend all the ingredients to a coarse paste.  Adjust seasoning.
Best served with flatbread or a Turkish style bread

NOTE:  As with all simple recipes, the quality of the ingredients reflects on the end result.  Only use the freshest and the best.
Byron Bay
Well, I was wrong about the weather.  Our normally wet Easter didn't eventuate and this is what we had instead.  Four days of stunning weather; clear blue skies, no howling winds, perfect temperature (about 28oC), clear night skies with a full moon and top body surfing waves - to be savoured as it doesn't happen very often.  Happy days!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

April in the Garden: autumn planting

April in Mullumbimby

First, just a little bit about design.
The day before Good Friday and the comforting smell of a batch of hot cross buns cooking in the oven fills the house. 
The weather is getting cooler, daylight saving is over, the rain has stopped and it's time to get out in the garden.  It's the beginning of the most productive time of the year in the vegetable garden that stretches from now until November.
NOTE:  Although, it will probably start raining again tomorrow morning because the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival is on and it always does.  The raincoat and rubber boot people make a fortune.

(Or how to have a Cottage Garden without really trying)
  • If you are lucky enough to be free of vegie garden BIG pests like wallabies, brush turkeys, rabbits, dogs, possums etc you can integrate your food plants throughout the garden beds without fenced protection and create a lovely natural feel to your food, herb and flower garden.
  • The denser the planting the less weeding you have to do.
  • Regular organic feeding and mulching pays great rewards.
WHAT IS IN THIS BED (starting with foreground and moving back)
  • Gardenia 'Florida'
  • Dhalia, burgundy pompon (unknown name - gift)
  • Cosmos, pink, self-seeded
  • Oregano, golden
  • Tamarillo
  • Turmeric
  • French tarragon, yellow
  • Sorrel
  • Gaura
  • Parsley, flat-leaf
  • Iris, blue, winter-flowering
  • Yacon
  • Salvia,purple perennial
  • Lemon verbena
I woke about 6am the other morning to a metallic tap-taping sound and thought "crikey, someone's up early", promptly turned over and went back to sleep.  A little later in the day I heard a repeated thumping on the roof, and then I saw the tail of this magnificent fellow hanging over the edge that he/she was banging it on the guttering!  The tap-tapping went on all day too.

This is the Pheasant Coucal, a marvellously brown bird that looks like it has been dusted with cocoa.  Then I remembered that I had seen them around (they always seem to be alone) about this time last year either scurrying across the lawn, dragging its tail, or dodging cars on the country roads.  They make the metallic tapping sound plus a loud oop-oop-oop that starts very early in the morning!

It's a ground-dwelling bird native to Asia and the northern parts of Australia and feeds off small mammals, frogs, lizards and eggs etc.  Boy was I happy to see this one because over the next few days it kept me entertained with it's flamboyant behaviour while feasting on the grasshoppers and locusts that were devastating my vegies.

Baby coucal (photo from web, unknown source)
Late one afternoon I heard a racket coming from this clump of bushes then the coucal emerged followed by what I can only describe as a little, brown, fluffy Ewok - it had a baby and was nesting in this undergrowth (check out the hair-do!). I was not quick enough for a photo.  Mine was a little larger than the one in this photo and had a black 'party wig' instead of this white one and a wonderful waddle when its scurried across the lawn behind parent.  Please show this to any of your neighbours (including mine!) who let their cats roam/leave them out at night/have an inordinate amount of concern for domestic pets and seemingly none for native wildlife.  Sorry, but I have just found my box of beautiful lettuce scratched up with a pile of cat poo where once were nurtured salad leaves-grrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Dense shrubby planting in parts of your garden will encourage the ground dwelling birds, like wrens, silvereyes and finches who, once common, are now becoming rare sightings.

WHAT IS IN THIS BED? (from left to right and then back)
  • Bauhinia galpinii, orange
  • Heliotrope sp.Cherry Pie
  • Helichrysum tomentosum, silver
  • Fine leaved grevilliea, pink, local (unknown species, gift)
  • Megaskepasma erythroclamys, red (try saying this without your teeth in!)
  • Tibouchina granulosa
Seed Saving - harvesting bok choy seeds
  • Broccoli
  • Broad Beans
  • Brussels sprouts (take eight weeks to mature before picking)
  • Bok choy and other Asian greens
  • Bush Basil
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Coriander
  • Garlic
  • Kangkung/water spinach
  • Leeks (they take ten weeks from seed to planting out)
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Potato
  • Rocket
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries (prefer a patch to themselves as they spread)
  • Tomato (in sunny, north facing spot)
  • Watercress
NOTE:  As much as you can SAVE YOUR OWN SEEDS or SWAP with others GROWN LOCALLY

Footnote:  We were with some friends in our local fabulous pizza place, Milk & Honey and got chatting to the nice young guys on the table next to us.  The conversation turned to dogs.  They said they had two huskies.  My border collie owning friend asked if they were hard to maintain and keep groomed in our climate.  Here is their reply.  "Not really, we have an air-conditioned room for them and when the weather gets too hot here in January we take them to Queenstown in New Zealand for a month"