Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Parsley - Top Plant

Petroselinum crispum var. neopolitanum
Flat-leaf parsley, Italian parsley

Parsley is one of the most nutritious plants we have - so if you never grow anything else, grow some parsley!  An added bonus is that it is the most versatile plant for cooking with - I know I use it just about ever day, so there are an infinite number of ways of getting that green goodness into you.

I was brought up with parsley, but we hardly ever ate it, it was just used as a garnish - usually with a slice of orange!  This was always the curly leaf variety and my parents grew it in a mixed border with flowering annuals - I only discovered the flat-leaf variety when I came to Sydney in 1970's and had my first tabbouleh salad in a Lebanese restaurant.

My attitude to parsley changed instantly and I have grown some, wherever I have lived, ever since.  It is very easy to grow, prolific and I love its emerald green colour in the garden and versatility in the kitchen.
My back garden, where I grow parsley all the year round as part of the perennial border.

  • There are more than 30 different varieties of parsley but the most easily identified are curly and flat-leaf.  To me the, the flat-leaf variety has a superior flavour and texture - stronger, nuttier and sweeter.  I also find that the curly variety is harder to eat - the curly bits tend to catch in the throat!
  • Flat-leaf parsley, also known as Italian parsley, is a hardy biennial, native to the Mediterranean that has been grown for more than 2000 years - originally for medicinal purposes and later for culinary use.
  • If you are a gardener, you would be familiar with perennials that return from year to year, and annuals that only last for one season.  Parsley belongs to a third group, called biennials, that need two years to complete their cycle of growth and setting seed.  In the first year it will only put on leaf; in the second it will start to produce flower stems - the continued production of leaves can be prolonged by nipping off those stems as soon as they appear.
  • However, I always allow some to flower as they are the most marvelous insect attractant and companion plant.  Being part of the carrot family, they give off that distinctive scent that helps to confuse and deter insects that may be looking for a meal in the plants around parsley - particularly anything in the cabbage family (brassicas).  So plant parsley throughout your garden.
Parsley, in flower.

  • Parsley is grown from seed and said to be hard to germinate - though I can't say I ever have that problem as it pops up as self-sown plants all over the garden.  If you are having trouble germinating the seed, try soaking it in water overnight.  Sow seed in containers and transplant into the garden as seedlings.
  • I prepare for planting the same way as the rest of the vegie garden - parsley loves rich soil that doesn't dry out too quickly, so add some compost.
  • Parsley also does well in pots - just make sure your container is deep enough as parsley has a long tap root.  I have had success in growing parsley in old olive cans - just make sure you put some holes in the bottom and don't let them dry out.
  • Parsley likes morning sun, but not intense heat all day.  It will not grow in full shade.
  • Fresh parsley is highly nutritious.  Just one cupful easily covers your daily vitamin C requirements and about a third of your vitamin A needs.  It is the highest food source of vitamin K.  It is also a useful non-dairy source of calcium, especially for anyone who eats few dairy products.
  • It also contains half of the recommended dietary intake of iron (20% for pre-menopausal women).  Just 25g of parsley provides more iron than a 200g pork chop.
  • Like other leafy green vegies, parsley contains significant quantities of lutein and zeaxanthin.  Population studies suggest that high intakes of these two antioxidants may help protect our eyes from vision problems involving free-radical damage, such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. (ABC Gardening Australia, Jayne Tancred, Naturopath and Nutritionist)
EVERY 30g (or half a cup) of FRESH PARSLEY CONTAINS:
(Daily Intake Requirements)

Vitamin K                                 553.9%
Vitamin C                                 53.9%
Vitamin A                                 14.2%
Folate                                        11.5%
Iron                                            10.4%
Copper                                      5.5%
Potassium                                4.8%
Calcium                                     4.1%
Magnesium                              4.0%
Fibre                                          4.0% 
Zinc                                            4.0%
Phosphorus                            2.5%
Vitamin B3                               2.5%
Vitamin B1                               2.5%
Manganese                              2.5%

So you can see that half a cup of parsley, added to your meal, may just about contain more vitamins and minerals than the meal itself?

USE IT TO MAKE +pesto +salads+soup+sauces+stuffing
Coleslaw with Parsley
All this talk about parsley made think about a good salad for dinner last night.  This is it!

Shredded cabbage (this can be any kind) - about 1 cup
1 carrot, shredded
1 cup parsley, freshly chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
Handful of chopped mint and chives
1/4 walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted
1 cup fennel, finely sliced (I use a mandolin)
1/4 cup currants, soaked for 30 minutes in water and then strained
2 desertspoons good quality egg mayonnaise
Salt and pepper

Toss it all together and serve.  I also drizzled with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.  I served it on a bed of lettuce with a salmon quiche.

NOTE: The stems of parsley are more nutritious than the leaves, so don't throw them away!.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although parsley is a rich source of folate, herbalists advise against eating more than 15g per day during pregnancy, because it is said to stimulate uterine contractions.

Source: Healing Foods, Miriam Poulunin, Dorling Kindersley (pub.) 1997


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Muhallabia-Middle Eastern Milk Pudding

I was brought up eating milk puddings of all shapes and sizes with everything from semolina, tapioca, rice puddings and blancmange - which this desert most closely resembles.  A favourite in my childhood, for my birthday, was a blancmange rabbit, with currants for eyes and sitting on a 'grass' bed of green jelly.

Milk puddings are also most common in the Middle Eastern, Greek and Indian cuisines - with simple ingredients that serve as comfort food or end up being quite regal - like this dessert MAHALLABIA which you will find all over the Middle East which is often served topped with elaborate chopped nut patterns.  I like the simplicity of this dish, the yummy texture (I know it's not everyone's thing!) and delicate flavour.  I think I have made a few converts as there is never any left when I make it!

It's something I do make frequently as it's loved by children and grown-ups alike, and often serves as a light end to a spicy or heavy meal that doesn't really need anything with it, but it does go really well with stewed berries or poached orange slices - depending on what you flavour it with.

1 litre of fresh milk
1 heaped tbsp of cornflour (don't stint or it won't set)
1 tbsp caster sugar (this is not a really sweet dessert)
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 tsp orange blossom water OR rose water

1.  In a saucepan mix the cornflour to a smooth paste with a little milk.
2.  Whisk in the rest of the cold milk and sugar.
3.  Heat gently, stirring constantly, until milk thickens.  Cook gently for a further 2 minutes otherwise it will still taste 'floury'.
4.  Add rose OR orange blossom water and ground almonds and whisk through.
5.  Pour into individual serving bowls (or glasses) or one large bowl.
6.  Chill for an hour or so.
7.  Serve decorated with chopped pistachios and rose petals (these are edible and good for you)
NOTE:  If I have flavoured it with rose water I like to serve it with berries - with orange blossom water I like to serve with poached and chilled orange slices.
ANOTHER VERSION is with cardamom (and if you don't have orange blossom or rose water!).  You just have to take a slightly different approach.  Mix your cornflour to a paste with some of the milk.  In another saucepan heat the milk through with 6 bruised cardamom pods.  It doesn't matter if some of the seeds go into the milk.  Turn off the heat and let it sit for about ten minutes to let the flavour infuse.  Remove cardamom pods from milk and whisk into cornflour paste.  Proceed as for main recipe.

Muhallabia with fresh mulberries

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gas Fields - Coming to a Farm Near You?

I live in a pretty beautiful part of the world and value that beauty, the clean air, water and food, but for how long if the gas mining companies get their way? Rural communities in the US have borne the brunt of the push for Coal Seam Gas expansion with the serious concerns about their health, pollution of their water, soil and landscape being brushed aside -  but not for long I think.

A Texas family have this week won a nearly $3 million judgement against an oil giant after claiming that fracking operations near their 40-acre ranch left them suffering severe health side-effects.

In what is believed to be the first successful legal action against a shale operator, Bob and Lisa Parr sued Aruba Petroleum for damages for a raft of illness they and their daughter Emma have suffered from for almost six years.

They convinced a jury that the company's hydraulic fracturing operations had contaminated their water and land in Decatur leaving them suffering nosebleeds, nausea and rashes. Reported in the the Huffington Post

Our community here in northern NSW have rightly been opposed to any Gas Mining - with over 95% stating their opposition - the numbers similar across the whole region.  In spite of overwhelming opposition, the mining company Metgasco have been pushing ahead with a proposed drilling site at Bentley, ten minutes from Lismore in the middle of a rolling rural landscape that supports families that have been farming beef and dairy herds here for, sometimes, generations.
Bentley, rural heartland of the Northern Rivers.

The Bentley blockade is now in its third month, with hundreds of people continuing their vigil at the campsite there and occupying the access to the proposed drill site on an adjoining property.  Some folk have been there right from the beginning and I take my hat off to them.  This is a tremendously empowering and heartwarming place to spend just even a few hours - there are regular meetings, workshops, communal kitchen, information centre, portaloos, kids play area, all run by volunteers - and, I nearly forgot, the knitting nannnas!

Bentley campsite

This is the first of what is expected to be hundreds of drilling rigs in the area with a proposed pipeline to take it up to Brisbane and offshore - mainly to China - and you thought your gas bills were going to get cheaper?  Apart from devastating the landscape and riding roughshod over farming communities our concerns about the poisoning of ground water and toxic pollution with chemicals used in gas extraction 'fracking' are real.
Follow the Bentley protest on Facebook.

Over the Easter weekend I got chatting to a couple in a cafe, who were here for the Byron Bay BluesFest, whose son worked in the gas fields in Roma (Queensland) - which, by the way, looks like something from your worst nightmare - a totally devastated landscape of gas rigs - which seems to have happened almost overnight.   They told me that the week before there had been a 'stop work' on the rig where their son works because they had discovered asbestos in the fracking chemicals used in the gas extraction (these were imported from China).  They were doing their best to persuade their son that a career change might be a good idea.

Some people are just so organized - glamping, Bentley style

So what makes somebody like me, a grandmother who definitely likes the comforts of her own home, go out and camp at Bentley along with up to three thousand other peaceful 'protectors'?  First and foremost because we can't trust politicians to make any decisions that are not tainted by  their desire to stay in power.  The unedifying parade of of corrupt, lying and dishonest politicians falling on their sword at the latest Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) in this State proves it to me.  A quote from Green's politician Jeremy Buckingham highlights how close this also is to home.

‘Stuart George – the son of local Lismore MP, Thomas George – is the community relations manager for Metgasco, and the former deputy director of the NSW Liberal Party – Richard Shields – was employed as a lobbyist for Metgasco.  We know Metgasco has close ties to the O’Farrell/Baird governments, and this only reinforces the point that the NSW Police Force should not be used to do a favour for a private company,’ he added.  Reported in the Byron Shire Echo

There is a small irony in all of these shenanigans - the minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher resigned after ICAC raided his offices and the Police Minister Mike Gallacher, just yesterday, resigned after being named by ICAC. The Bentley protectors are running out of MP's to talk to.
Another beautiful dawn at Bentley, NSW

I get a lot of folk looking at this website, surprisingly to me, who are from all over the world and from countries where they have limited or no democratic rights.  We do and we have the right to exercise them.  My grandchildren's future is not for sale - support the Bentley protectors.  If you want to find out the consequences of fracking for gas in the USA take a look at the award winning film 'Gaslands'

God help us to change.
To change ourselves and to change our world.
To know the need for it.
To deal with the pain of it.
To feel the joy of it.
To undertake the journey without understanding the destination.
The art of gentle revolution,
Michael Leunig, poet and cultural commentator

STOP PRESS:  Thursday May 14th.  The licence to drill for gas at Bentley has been suspended by the State Government pending investigation by ICAC and as a result of community opposition.  Congratulations to everyone who cares.