Monday, May 28, 2012

Postcard from Britain 3

Tesco's, Woolworth's - Same, Same
I am staying in the village of East Malling, Kent, though there is not much of the village life left - just a pub, the King and Queen which dates from Tudor times, and a church.  It's mostly now a traffic snarl for cars doing a rat run to get on the M25 in and out of London.

West Malling is three miles away and has been a large market town for nearly a thousand years.  It was founded in 1090 by the chap in the village sign above, Bishop Gundulph who started a centre for Benedictine nuns under control of an Abbess.  Under charter from the Abbess it became a centre of rich agriculture which brought markets, fairs, shops and people. It was only the shenanigans of HenryVIII that brought about the dissolution of the monasteries and the demise of the Abbey after 500 years.  Early in the 20th century it was revived and still operates today.

The history of West Malling is depicted on the back of this wonderful statue in the middle of the High Street.  It's called 'Hope' by Sarah Cunnington.

During the Black Death in 1348 only 15 people in West Malling survived and the first game of cricket was played here in 1704.  The uprising against Mary Tudor was put down here by troops from West Malling.

Hope is about the only thing left for the survival of this beautiful old village because what the Black Death, Reformation and a thousand years of history has not managed to do TESCO'S HAS.  This once thriving centre for fresh food has been extinguished by this one supermarket that operates in the centre of town.  West Malling does not now have one remaining food shop within miles.  Everybody shops at Tesco's.  The market square, in the centre of town, is now just used for the Tesco trucks.

On a brighter note.  West Malling had an 'open garden' day yesterday and I had a happy afternoon cycling around the eight gardens on show.  I started off in a Georgian Villa with the brass name plate of 'Lucknow' on the front door -  I can just imagine some old colonel returning from India to a place like this.  It had packed full courtyard garden with this beautiful rhododendron.

Bourne House, next to the old Church of St Mary's, dating from 1670 was my pick for the day with  it's design formula from that pioneered by Vita Sackville West and Gertrude Jekyll in the 1920's - formal design with informal planting - termed English Revival and still popular in garden design - it's how my garden usually end up. They also turned on a top afternoon tea!

Bourne House had a lovely 'hot border' with red, yellow and orange plants including this spectacular Iceland poppy hybrid.

In the corner bed above they have more hot colours with the more muted pastel colours of lupins behind it - pots give a focal point in the garden - here indicating the corner of the pathway.

Alliums have also become very popular as perennial bedding plants.  They are a large group of plants in the onion family with wonderful globular flower heads - we can grow these!  They come in various heights with white, blue and all shades of mauve flowers.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Postcard from Britain 2 - Chelsea Flower Show 2012

"Oh to be in England now that spring is here"
Jilly and Carl's newly created woodland garden framed by a copper beech
My husband Michael's sister(Jilly) and mother live in a beautiful part of Britain - the Kentish Weald - otherwise known as the Garden of England for it's centuries old cultivation of orchards: apples, pears, plums and cherries, and berry farms - especially strawberries and raspberries.

Jilly and Carl have a lovely garden (about 2,000sq.m.) and are keen gardeners. It's wonderful to see, every time I return, the rewards of their labours.  Since Carl retired he has done a RHS horticultural course so we always have lots 'compos't and 'worm' type chats.

Kentish apple orchards with oast houses
Kent was once also famous for its hop gardens too (used in the making of beer), now long gone - the only memory in the landscape are the conical shaped oast houses that were used for drying the hops.  Many families in my grandparents era from the East End of London used to come to come to Kent for their summer holidays to go hop picking.
Flowering horse chestnut (for you Alison)
We have arrived in late spring and the beautiful old deciduous trees are in full, fresh green leaf - oak, birch, linden/lime, hazelnut, chestnut and my favourite - the copper beach.  They are also in flower and the air is full of the fragrance of hawthorn, chestnut and linden trees.

The house we are staying in is over a hundred years old and the backdrop that frames the garden are two magnificent copper beech trees (seen in the first photo above).Which brings me to the CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW celebrating it's centenary in 2013.  It's been a treat for me to watch the all-day live broadcasts from the Show, to hear the word horticulture dozens of times, and see the craftsmanship that goes into the bones of a garden: stonemasonry paving, hedging, pollarding, topiary, fencing, espaliering, plant selection and, this years star - pleaching.

Themes this year from the Chelsea Flower Show:

Laurent-Perrier Gold medal garden with pleached copper beech
Design: A formal Italianate garden was the Gold medal winner.  It had lovely water features, topiary and a pleached copper beach hedge - how to explain this - it's a sort of living fence, the trunks of which are bare underneath and then it is clipped to height and width.  I first saw this as a feature at Sissinghurst (Vita Sackville West's garden) with a pleached lime walk with spring bulbs underneath.

I don't think this is a trend that will take on in Mullumbimby - we don't have the staff to maintain them!  But, I do love the skill of separating spaces in the garden and creating privacy with plants and not built structures; we don't think of the vertical enough when designing a garden.
Recycled water was also incorporated into lots of designs as well as 'wild and sustainable plantings'.  There was another award winning very small back yard with an old caravan as the central feature and plantings reminiscent of an Enid Blyton 'Famous Five' holiday - hollyhocks, columbines, tumbling roses and forget-me-nots and lashings of ginger beer.  In fact, I sometimes think here, back in England,  that I am going to see Rupert Bear and Bill Badger appearing from behind a hedge at any moment.  Jet-lag allows you to welcome the dawn at 4.30am and as I look out in the garden I see rabbits, squirrels and hedgehogs scurrying about.  On my cycle ride back from West Malling yesterday - in a shady country lane - I came across a fox with a cub that stayed quite still until I got really close to them.

Colour:  Lots of metallic colours in leaves and flowers, silver, copper and bronze.  Note the use of silver artichoke as a feature plant in the garden above.

NOTE:  If you want to see the garden an Australian team won the gold medal with in 2013 go to this link.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Postcard from Britain 1

The bridge - doing it's best to hold up the sunset
I am taking an unexpected visit to Europe - mainly to give our siblings a brief break from the care of our elderly parents.  Mine live in Essex and are 85 and 90 and my husband's, who live in Kent, are both 94.  So the blog will have a different look over the next few weeks and I will only be able to post when I get access to a computer (we are travelling light!).

I find it harder and harder to leave home especially at this time of year when the garden is just becoming productive again and needs my attention (never mind the six grandchildren).  We were leaving on Singapore Airlines for London via Sydney so had a couple of hurried days there with glorious autumn weather, We are lucky to have a friend with a spare bed in Point Piper. With views like this it's not a bad starting point for our trip!

"IT'S TORTURE, AND YOU STILL HAVE TO PAY FOR IT" to quote my husband after we finally arrived at Heathrow after 24 hours to a foggy, grey chilly 4.30am morning, at least I think it was.  We came on the airbus A380 and while it's a fantastic plane and the staff are remarkably helpful (travelled on Qantas lately?) it is still no fun going' cattle class'.  I had an incredibly obese woman sitting next to me on the way to Singapore - the details of which I won't share with you - they were just too awful and I wished, for all money, that just for once I could walk down the Business Class tunnel or, even better, SUITES!

In the grip of Jubilee fever
Unbelievably the sun has been out since we arrived - it is even quite warm (about 26oC) and the locals are already complaining about how close it is.  JUBILEE, CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW and OLYMPICS fever have gripped Britain, even my mum is having a Jubilee garden party next weekend and keeps ringing me up with shopping requests for things like Union Jack serviettes and red white and blue 'bunting' (now that's a word I haven't heard for a very long time.  I actually have a photo of me at a Coronation garden party in 1953 (I was 3) and it seems a very long time ago.  Can't believe the Queen has shaking all the those hands, making small talk with monosyllabic footballers, opening factories, launching ships, attending dreary concerts and doing her best to keep the flag flying in the colonies for 60 years. Chelsea Flower Show next!
NOTE: Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in 1952 and was crowned in 1953
My effort for Queen and Country

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Recipe: Curry Paste with Fresh Galangal

Flowering galangal  Alpinia galanga
One of the fantastic things about living in the sub-tropics is being able to grow your own spice garden - ginger, chillies, kaffir lime, lemon grass, betel leaf, curry leaf, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, bay leaves, galangal, macadamia, pandan, lime, lemon - and they also make fantastic landscaping plants!

I came across this really versatile recipe recently and have been making it for a couple of seasons - usually at this time of year when the galangal is ready for harvesting.  You use the root rhizome - it looks a lot like ginger.  The aromatic leaves can also be used to wrap food before cooking on the barbecue

Betel leaf prawns with galangal paste
You can store portions of it in the freezer and use it when necessary. I usually make a large batch - it's makes a very useful addition to you freezer larder.

1.  It's great mixed with pumpkin/sweet potato/cauliflower with some coconut cream added for an instant curry. 

2.  One of my favourites though is with fresh prawns or a nice piece of fresh, fleshy white fish.  For this I just flash fry the fish/prawns with extra garlic, fresh chilli and add the galangal paste with a small can of coconut cream.  A little extra salt and a few fresh kaffir lime leaves and it's done in about 10 minutes.

3.  Also great with a tablespoon added to stir fried green beans and some toasted macadamias/almond flakes.

4.  Betel leaf grows easily around here and a spoonful of galangal paste added to some stir-fried prawns and topped with chopped peanuts, coriander, chilli and lime juice make a great appetizer.


100ml peanut oil
1 medium onion diced
100gm grated fresh galangal
6 garlic gloves, crushed
100gm grated fresh ginger
3 large red chillies
5 kaffir limes leaves
1/2 bunch fresh coriander
500gm tomatoes
125gm palm sugar
100ml fish sauce
200ml water
salt to taste

1.  Heat oil - add everything except palm sugar, fish sauce and water.  Cook for 5-7mins.
2.  Add palm sugar, fish sauce and water and simmer for about 30 mins until oil comes to surface.  Stick blend.  

Now what could be easier than that  - with most of the fresh ingredients coming from the garden?!!

The galangal is the pink ginger looking plant in the above photo.  It adds a sweet, aromatic pungency to Thai and Indonesian dishes.  Dried, it is a basic ingredient of Thai Tom Yum soups.  You just slice up the root and dry it in trays in the sun then store in an airtight container.
The finished galangal paste

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Economics of Happiness Part 2 - Share and share alike.

Sharing aubundance
Unbelievably the phrase 'share and share alike' first appeared in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in 1719 but came to mind just recently as a way of expressing what happens among people who grow their own food - THEY SHARE.  No money changes hands.  The only thing the giver expects is the joy of giving.  Pleasure is received from produce grown by your own hands and passed on.  It's kind of the way I grew up in London in the 50's and certainly what I am experiencing again in a small rural community in Australia in 2012.

On the morning of our monthly Garden Group last week I found myself unexpectedly showered with homegrown abundance:  lemons from Megan, bananas ginger and chillies from Grant, a beautiful jar of pickled cucumbers from Chris, a pumpkin from Alison and camellias from everyones garden.

From this, later in the day, I made a ginger and pumpkin soup - I gave some of this to my neighbour and in return she gave me some lemon pickle - the local produce cycle.

What has happened during this whole process of giving and receiving?  Heart and hand have been engaged AND NO MONEY HAS CHANGED HANDS.
I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation.  It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from and Old Manse

A lot of giving that I have experienced in my life has been associated with obligated reciprocity or indebtedness - something was definitely expeccted in return.  Gardeners are not like that.  They are all together a pretty equilibrious bunch - there's a certain generosity of heart that is very refreshing - nothing, except a smile is expected in return. It's one of the reasons why gardening, and the whole garden fraternity is so nurturing.
 There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.  ~Mirabel Osler
We live on the most easterly point of Australia, Byron Bay, and last Sunday was full moon with two minutes separating the sun setting and rising.  A picnic at the lighthouse with friends was a great way to  celebrate and be grateful.

THE WAY FORWARD:  Back to the Future?
Roadside produce stall, Skopelos, Greece

"You Have to go Backwards to figure out how to go Forwards"Katya Larisaiou
Poor Greece, it's now three days since the latest election with no government, a massive debt crisis and all seems doom and gloom.  But, I came across an article in the UK Telegraph that gave me hope.  "Bartering Greeks begin austerity Marathon"

It appears that in the town of Volos 320 kilometres north of Athens, the Greeks are taking matters into their own hands in ways that involve reversion to the past.

A common sight in Greece, drying wild picked herbs
The locals have implemented a bartering and exchange scheme that eliminates the shaky Euro.  Farmers are avoiding the large supermarkets and selling directly to customers at substantial discounts.  People are selling dried wild herbs picked from the mountainside and roadside produce stalls have sprung up everywhere.

Rather than wait for the politicians to improve their lot, these Greeks are taking the future into their own hands that looks to the past for answers.

In addition many Athenians, now out of work or on short time (22 per cent unemployment and 52 per cent youth unemployment) have decided to head back to their ancestral villages to rediscover the virtues of village life.  "Villages are the future for the Greeks.  You can maintain an acceptable standard of life and Greek nature is fantastic.  We have to get back to simple things"(Katya Larisaio 35) Katya has just returned to Volos after 10 years in Athens, opened a small cafe and joined the local alternative currency scheme that allows members to exchange goods and services. And a quote from Theodoros Mitropoulos a carpenter who lost his job in Athens and has returned to his family village in the Peloponnese "We have land for animals and growing vegetables, I can use some and sell some.  Village life is less expensive, people share things" Sound familiar?
Michelaki, the little fisherman of Symi pointing the way forward

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."
- Greek proverb

Monday, May 7, 2012

Recipe: Gigantes Plaki (Greek Baked Beans)

Milos Island, Cyclades - home of Venus de Milo (the French nicked it!) - she once adorned a now ruined temple on the hill above this fishing village. They are still looking for her missing arms!  Fancy a dip?

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 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"

 A good Greek meal - gigantes, bread, calamari, Greek salad 

Gigantes Plaki became one of our favourite dishes - it is a regular on most menus all over Greece.  The trouble was it took us a while to actually try it as it is often translated on the menu as BIG BEAN SALAD which, I think you will agree, sounds pretty unappealing.  Then you notice the next table having this fantastic looking rustic dish of casseroled butter beans bathed in a rich tomato sauce.  When you enquire from the waiter what it is and he tells you BIG BEAN SALAD you realize you are going to have to learn some Greek to find your way around this fantastic cuisine.

Fresh sardines with a fennel and carrot salad, Milos
Why do I love Greek food?  It's fresh, seasonal, healthy and flavoursome - honouring place, history and the people who grow it and cook it.  Simple dishes - like freshly caught sardines with lemon and REAL Greek salad to more complex slow cooked game, fish or lamb - humming with garlic, juniper berries, herbs and wine in a dish they call Stifado.

Maria's bougatsa, candied citrus and fresh apricots, Milos

Oh, and did I mention the cakes and pastries, either dripping with spiced and citrusy honey or crispy filo stuffed with sweetened stuffed cheeses and nuts(bougatsa) - and that's for breakfast! And the yoghurt, the dips,  mezze plates, Sifnos chick peas soup, Symi shrimps,
the bread, the TASTE of the tomatoes, sun kissed apricots, peaches and figs, local olives, manouri cheese, wild greens, rose petal jam..................!!
Back streets of Milos
Gigantes Plaki Γίγαντες πλακί

500gm lima/butter beans, soaked overnight and cooked until tender (you can used canned).
NOTE:  Don't add salt when you are cooking the beans from scratch - it makes them tough - add it afterwards.
200ml olive oil (this may seem a lot, but the Greeks use a lot of olive oil when cooking)
2 onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 celery heart or fennel heart
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
thyme, one sprig
small bunch of dill or fennel tops
1 kilo very ripe fresh tomatoes or equivalent canned
sea salt and black pepper
1tbs brown sugar
1tbs balsamic vinegar
Gigantes Plaki

1.  Heat oil in ovenproof casserole.
2.  Add onions and saute for 5 mins.
3.  Add celery, carrots, garlic and saute until soft.
4.  Add tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme and salt and pepper and cook for one hour.
5.  Remove bay leaves and thyme and stick blend until pureed into a thick sauce.
(Blending the sauce is not always done in Greece, instead they grate the onion and chop everything else really finely.  This is quicker and coats the beans better)
6.  Add cooked beans, brown sugar and balsamic and bunch of chopped dill (this is secret ingredient!) and cook in moderate oven, about 180C (with the lid on) for a further 1 hour.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and extra fresh dill or fennel.

Milos - the best swimming in the world!
TIP:  This dish is often served with the top a bit crusty - yum - to get this authentic look just remove the lid of the casserole 15 mins before cooked.

TIP TOO:  This makes a large amount and I freeze batches of it until I need it.  It's fantastic with eggs for breakfast, lamb dishes, seafood on the barebecue and grilled chicken (Geek style of course!!).  
"It is not an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking"  X. Marcel Boulestin 1878-1943, French chef and restaurateur - the first television chef.
Taj - 9 months - enjoying his gigantes.  This is a great dish to give to children being a good source of vegetable protein - along with all other legumes like peas, beans and lentils.