When you neglect your garden for a month over an incredibly dry period, the outcome is fairly predictable. Even so, it can still be a bit of a surprise at just how bad on a big scale it can all look.
With weeds running rampant, potted trees standing defiantly dead, and every leafy green edible gone to seed in an attempt at preserving itself for a later date. We did the most logical thing we could, and set to work.
Gathering shovels, hoses and unfailing enthusiasm, it was all bundled together with as many hardworking hours as I could manage to squeeze out of the day, to try to get this city garden back up to the functioning level it should be.
Several weeks later, while it’s still a work in progress, as I look around now, there are slow changes taking shape. No longer a backyard palette of baked brown, there are now green tinges that might just continue. With newly sprouted seedlings, tomatoes emerging from all corners, and two new editions that I’m tickled pink to be looking after.
From the dry overgrown mess that it had been, is growing something that often comes in many forms, and amongst the dedicated gardeners out there it’s also an old favourite… hope.
For the savvy pasta eaters amongst us, you might have been aware that it was World Pasta Day this week, and while I seemed to have gotten this far in life without having acknowledged it, for 2017 that was going to change.
It was time to pasta up.
With no clear idea of what to make for dinner besides a generic pasta dish, I decided to keep it easy. There are many reasons for this. The primary one? I have no interest in spending half a day cooking a dinner that will be consumed in three and a half minutes flat. (Obviously longer if the kids hate it on sight.)
But they didn’t, of course they didn’t. It’s pasta. Number one crowd pleasing dinner time plate. Have pasta, can cook. They key to a rocking simple pasta dish is a great olive oil, great parmesan and a toothsome pasta. If you have those three rockin’ things, well the rest of the dish is up to you.
Quick and Easy Pasta Additions
rocket, garlic and lemon zest
cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella
chilli, garlic and parsley
Tomatoes that still have the taste of a season just gone. Cheese so fresh that to do anything more than a marrying of bread would be unwise.
This week is a pause while I lose myself between simple mouthfuls. La dolce vita calls.
I’ve been given rather a lot of citrus in the past few weeks. Bags shoved into idle hands, baskets left at front doorsteps, ‘do you want some oranges/limes/lemons/grapefruit’ added in at the end of casual conversations.
So where does that leave me? Tickled pink, I tell you as this is M.A.R.M.A.L.A.D.E season, and I need to ensure that I make enough for a year of toast and teas. While also allowing enough spare jars to be popped into hampers and needy hands for those that might like the eating, but less of the making.
With all that in mind, I found myself cooking up 6 kilos of chopped up fruit, water and sugar. Now six kilos is a fair whack to be cooking in one batch, ambitious even.
Why? Because cooking up that amount takes a while, and when ‘a while’ happens, my mind can wander. Wander to the garden, wander to the laundry, wander to the computer, wander to instagram, wander to children with multiple demands of x,y,z etc, etc. Which made the sticky question extra pertinent… Could I keep this precious cargo from,
a) Sticking to the bottom of the pot?
c) Over or under jelling?
Answer? Well as Meatloaf once said (as yes, I know he probably wasn’t singing about his marmalade making) two out of three ain’t bad.
Citrus Marmalade Ratio
2 kilos of finely chopped citrus mixture
2 kilos of sugar
1.5 litres of water
(Everything you ever needed to know about marmalade and jam making, right here.)
We are looking at take two of the ‘viral beast’ coming for a visit round these parts. It’s not an exciting visit, and to be honest I’m a bit miffed that the beast is back so quickly after the last time. Seriously the first round of coughs hadn’t even subsided properly.
However, it is what it is. Long naps, slow days, spluttery nights and afternoon sun snuggles…lock ’em in.
One afternoon when a run for provisions was needed I found myself in a chemist running through the symptoms with a sympathetic ear. A range of suggestions was given, including what I can only describe as a lengthy upsell. Which was all met with a no, I’ll just take the initial product please.
In a last ditch attempt, the sympathetic ear/ upseller went in to a long monologue about how probiotics are really important, encouraging good bacteria in our gut, and in turn ensuring a balanced immune system. I nodded, agreeing. Yes we have a lot of fermented food in our home for that very reason, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, sourdough etc etc. Intially she looked at me blankly, then followed that up with a raised eyebrow that said, sure continue on with your fluffy hippy woo woo stuff lady. When you are ready for the proper stuff come back to the chemist.
(She might be waiting awhile.)
Must have gut lovin’ goodness list in times like this?
Sourdough– make your own, or buy someone else’s. The basis of every easy meal at the moment.
Sauerkraut– make a big batch and always have it at the back of the fridge. This stuff goes with everything.
Kimchi- this is being eaten twice a day, every day and I credit my not being invited to round two of the ‘viral beast’ because of it’s garlicky, chilli infused fermented goodness. Possibly a placebo effect, but hey, it remains a damn tasty one.
Kombucha– every day goodness, yes please.
Fire Cider– knocked back with an enthusiasm unmatched since shooters in the late 90’s.
Beetroot Kvass– It’s certainly beety, and also up there with one of the easiest to try your hand at if you are new to fermenting.
Ginger Beer- This stuff will put hairs on your chest.
Tarty lemon cordial.
Soft eating lemon and olive oil cupcakes.
Lemon zest over mexican rice.
Marmalade with chunks of lemon in it to slap onto still warm sourdough.
Lemon in a green ginger wine hot toddy.
Possibilities are pretty much endless for the humble lemon. On a week where our family’s health has taken a smashing, it’s all about the lemons.
I hear there are healing properties in Lemon and Olive Oil Cupcakes…surely.
What’s your go to lemony goodness?
Sometimes in life, funny little things happen.
Like organising your parent-in-law’s holiday and accidentally flying them into a different city than stated, booking family accommodation for a stopover night in the wrong town, driving home without your lights on, or maybe driving home with your shoes on the roof etc. etc.
When there is a fairly lengthy supply of funny little things like that happening on a regular occurrence, well the day you throw your keys up on top of the roof of the house. It just feels like another day.
It was another day. Another day without my house keys.
When I asked a few people if by chance they had access to, say, maybe a cherry-picker? Most people followed that up by what the hell? How on earth did that even happen??
Mysteriously, that’s how. It was like a tiny winged elf grabbed hold of the said keys and whoosh, up they went. Right up to the top of the roof of the house.
Thankfully I had a spare set. (Which mind you, is only a new edition as I had got them cut after losing the same keys that were now on the roof. Where were they that time I hear you ask? Well to keep a ridiculous story brief, after 24 hours, lets just say they were under my nose all long.)
However they weren’t now. They were definitely 8 metres off the ground in an unseen guttering system attached to a questionable roof in the dark, with heavy rain now predicted.
The kids yelled in excitement and then we proceeded 10 different fairly useless methods of getting them back.
The keys weren’t budging. I couldn’t even guarantee they were there. I couldn’t hear them, or see them, but surely there was no other option right? For them not to be there, would be as crazy as arriving into a town for the night with all your tired family only to find out you had actually booked somewhere three hours south.
Of course that’s where the keys were. Which is how my lovely inventive neighbour managed to get them the following day. I’d asked for any suggestions he might have in retrieval. He assessed the situation, then disappeared into his garage for a time, rigging up a far more solid contraption then my broom-wire-coat-hangers contraption, and after 20 or so minutes of poking?
I hugged him with glee, pocketed the keys carefully and then gave him my current currency of gratitude. A pumpkin. While there are many currencies in which to say thank you so much for your time, thoughtfulness and energy. Home grown pumpkin is my current numero uno. They have been prized possessions, something grown with a lot of love and contentment over the summer months and are now sitting in storage ready to be eaten or passed onto with basketfuls of thanks as deemed warranted.
And boy was it warranted. As along with being able to access your own front door, you can’t put a price on wonderful neighbours who show unending kindness now can you.
The last couple of months it’s been all about the podcasts. And I mean ALL about the podcasts. Sure I’d listened to some here and there before but not quite at the rate I’m flying through them at the moment, (on reflection, it’s probably something to do with having three kids at school for the first time, yes ever- my ears are ready!)
Now, if I missed something interesting on the radio, I can catch up. If I have a particular subject I’d like to get to know a whole lot better there are generally oodles to choose from.
While there are some fantastic podcasts to choose from there are some eye crossing ones that simply don’t work for me and generally I’ll find the stop button fairly quickly. I’m all for giving most things a fair crack, but there is no point in listening to something that doesn’t resonate, I value that time and want to make sure I’m using it wisely. Educating my ears has been very enjoyable.
A few favourites in the last few months.
Conversations with Richard Fidler: so many varied topics in here.
A Small Voice: interviews with photographers.
Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert: creativity and all her shades.
Chat 10 Looks 3: Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales talk about art, books, politics and everything in between in an intelligent and funny way.
What are some of your favourite podcasts to listen to at the moment?
Making a large batch of cumquat marmalade is a perfect time for deep contemplation. Not so much of the fruit themselves, but using the opportunity to completely dissolve into the task of cutting the flesh open, separating the pips, and cooking it up.
It’s a long labour of love if you have cumquats like mine, with small balls of juicy tart fruit that are filled with those pectin producing seeds. You need them out, but you also need them to set your marmalade. Cut, separate, simmer, stir stir stir, test, and bottle. While there’s not a lot of room for nodding off here, you do still need to pay attention, there’s also room for having a good think.
And so the wonderful dissolving process begins.
With hands busy, the task of making marmalade that tastes like sunshine in a jar begins, and with that, like many creative and repetitive tasks- the mind is set free.
To wonder at will, delving deep into ideas that often few other tasks in any given day allow. You need these kind of activities now and then. Busy hands creating something, but also time to slow it all on down, contemplate the intricacies of life, ponder on the importance of speaking up, our moral values as a society (or maybe just how good that sunshiney marmalade is going to taste with a few squares of dark chocolate tonight.)
This cumquat tree was originally planted as a Tree of Life.
The marmalade was loosely based around this recipe.