I feel the earth move…

There really is no better sight than a man on a digger, doing a year’s worth of hard spade slog in a single afternoon. (Single green-thumbed ladies: I highly recommend you start hanging out at new subdivisions, building sites, roading developments and anywhere else earthworks are required. A man who can operate heavy machinery, especially while dressed in a reflectorised vest that’s fashionably colour-coordinated with his excavator, is very useful indeed.) 
This is where our new lawn is going. It will be a formal, slightly sunken lawn edged with a low wall of recycled kerbing stones (the Hunk brought them home from work too) and it’s going to look magnificent surrounded by a meadow of wildflowers. That’s if it ever stops raining for long enough for me to spray the old grass off around the edges so I can start sowing. Is there any such thing as a pagan sun-dance?

And then there were tui…

I woke up this morning to the gorgeous gargle of a tui getting liquored up in the ornamental cherry tree by our front door. It almost made up for the miserable weather, again. I love watching tui. They’re so hedonistic. Faced with a tree in full blossom, they behave worse than adolescents on alcopops, especially if you’ve got an early Taiwanese cherrry, Prunus campanulata. They drink themselves silly on its fluoro-pink blossoms; don’t be surprised to find them blotto on their backs, having fallen out of the branches.
Our tree’s a pale pink Japanese cherry but that doesn’t mean the tui are any more refined at our place. By the time I came downstairs and grabbed my camera to snap this photo, a second tui had arrived on the scene. Instead of sharing, the two birds immediately launched into a lout bout of beak-and-claw biffo. Tui are beautiful songbirds, but they’re also big bullies.

Give peas a chance

Child labour: it’s not all about sneaker factories in third world countries. My mother forced me to shell peas. Thousands of fresh peas, from thousands of pods. I did it under duress.
As a kid, I hated peas. On one occasion, I was told by my parents thatI couldn’t leave the table during a family dinner at my Aunt’s house until I’d eaten my peas. It was a battle of wills. I lost. But I sure showed them. I showed them all what semi-digested peas look like when power chucked back up.
Mum always grew climbing peas, staked with criss-crossed bracken fern sticks cut from the roadside. These days compact peas, such as Greenfeast and dwarf Earlicrop Massey, are more widely grown than that lanky old-timers like Alderman Tall. Sugar snaps or snow peas, those tender types eaten pod ‘n’ all, are even more popular, though even they need a shoulder to lean on.
Stuck for space? Train Progress or Rondo up trellis or wire netting fences, or rig up marvellously rustic tepees from manuka poles, trussed together with twine like a game of cat’s cradle.
Sow peas now. They do best in the cool days of spring. Come summer, powdery mildew hobbles the vines. Sow seeds directly where you want them to grow, unless your garden is frequented by felines, blackbirds, slugs or snails. Cats show no respect for freshly cultivated soil – when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go – and birds will scratch the seeds out as soon as they sprout. Slugs and snails just scoff the lot. Sow peas in trays first if need be.
My tastes have changed since I was a toddler. I now eat piles of freshly podded peas in spring, boiled briefly then drizzled with butter.  If I’m feeling flash, I’ll make like I’m on Masterchef and serve spring lamb on a verdant smear of minty pea puree. Finely chop half a small onion and sauté in a tablespoon of melted butter. Add a 500g packet of minted frozen peas and 100ml of hot chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer for a few minutes, till the peas are soft, then add a big handful of torn fresh mint leaves. Pour into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Season with sea salt and serve.  It’s the posh way to eat frozen peas while you wait for your own crop.

Self Sufficiently Lynda is published each week in Sunday magazine, in the Sunday Star-Times.

Impending diet disaster

If I’m a fat bride in February, I’ll know exactly who to blame: the lovely ladies from the Thames Garden Club, who I spoke to this week. Those ladies sure know how to put on a good spread of itsy bitsy savouries and scrummy sweet treats… but I really wish they hadn’t introduced me to the sinful delight that is the cinnamon oyster. Imagine a cross between a mouthful-sized sponge cake and a slightly spiced cream puff. Then take that heavenly wee cake and slap it straight on your butt… because there is no way you can stop at one. Or two. Or three. Or, indeed, a dozen.

According to Alexa Johnston, whose book Ladies, A Plate is a modern Kiwi classic (filled with recipes of retro culinary Kiwi classics),  the cinnamon oyster was invented by a Dunedin cook in the 1950s. The recipe was first published in 1951 League of Mothers’ Cookery Book and Household Hints. Loads of cooks have tinkered with cinnamon oysters since but, apart from adjusting the amount of golden syrup or swapping the white sugar for caster sugar, or adding an extra dash of cinnamon or a fairly generous teaspoonful of ginger, the recipe really hasn’t changed in half a century.

Here’s the Edmonds Cookery Book version.  Beat 2 eggs with 1/4 cup white sugar until thick. Add 2 teaspoons golden syrup and beat well. Sift together 6 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger. Fold dry ingredients into egg mixture. Spoon ito greased patty tins and bake at 200C for 10-12 minutes or until the surface springs back when lightly touched. When cold, cut open with a sharp knife and filled with whipped cream.

Don’t have a patty tin? You can buy new cinnamon oyster baking trays from Milly’s Kitchen or check out Trade Me for a bit of retro recyling.

Credit where credit’s due: I pinched the pic from Patricia Soper’s article from the Southland Times, published on stuff.co.nz

The official “Before” photo

In the best tradition of the ugly duckling turning into a swan… here is what my new garden looks like right now. Mud. There’s lots of mud… and not a lot else, apart from a strip of white fencing tape to roughly mark out where my new formal sunken lawn will be. Yep, that’s the formal lawn I’ll be standing on in a big fat wedding frock in February. Begs the question really: does anyone make bridal-themed gumboots?

(And, in case you’re wondering, the blue diagram in the foreground is an attempt by the Hunk from Hunua to teach me how to work out the right angles required to result in a lawn that was square with the boundary fence. Confused? I was. I had to retire indoors for a glass of wine and a lie-down.)

15 minutes of fame for kale

It was drummed into us as children: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Which is why, in 15 years of horticultural journalism, I haven’t written a single story about kale.

It’s not that I don’t like kale. I really haven’t got a bad word to say about it. Nor a good one. Kale’s just a bit player in the brassica family, like the kid picked last for a sports team. Even the chickens left it till last when they pillaged my vege patch.

Come spring, pagans celebrate by dancing around bonfires, whereas I simply give thanks that I’ve survived another winter without having to eat too much kale. Though frosts sweeten its flavour, kale is still only tender enough to eat raw in salads at the baby leaf stage. Spirulina drinkers could also add it to their smoothies I suppose. Mash cooked kale with spuds, like the Dutch dish stamppot, or hide it between the layers of a vegetarian lasagne.

King Seeds offer Blue Ridge, a dark blue-green ruffled hybrid; the handsome Squire, which forms a shaggy Sideshow Bob-style mop top; and a new hybrid named Red Monarch, which deepens to dark purple in wintry weather. There’s also raggedy Red Russian, described in Egmont Seeds’ online catalogue as “any chef’s dream in a stir-fry”. Good try, but the only kale considered hip in culinary circles is the rustic Tuscan variety, Di Toscana or cavolo nero.

Cavolo nero looks like an inside out cabbage, with long crinkly leaves that arch like fronds, giving rise to its other common name, palm tree cabbage. It’s quite striking but in my spray-free garden it’s also a magnet for whitefly. They congregate along the wrinkly undersides of its leaves and are a devil to scrub off. I shudder to think how many I’ve eaten.

One kale I’m keen to get my hands on is the European sea kale, Crambe maritima. I first admired it a decade ago in the late British filmmaker Derek Jarman’s famous shingle garden at Dungeness. Blanched, its spring shoots are said to be similar to salty asparagus.

Our closest coastal native equivalent is Cook’s scurvy grass, Lepidium oleraceum, a scrappy perennial with a not dissimilar flavour to kale, but a much fussier temperament. According to Oratia Native Nursery, it “demands high nutrients such as guano”.  For Cook’s scurvy grass,
being crapped on from a great height by seagulls isn’t just good luck, it’s life-preserving.

Self Sufficiently Lynda is published each week in Sunday magazine, in the Sunday Star-Times.

Update: Duck vs Dog

Oh no. Just days after I wrote about our duck, patiently sitting on her nest of 14 eggs, I went down to check on her and found a trail of broken egg shells and a sad, stressed duck.

The eggs had all been eaten.

Stoat? Ferrit? Feral cat?

It’s impossible to find the culprit. Or at least I thought it was, until I took the puppy for a walk. He has a terrible case of canine diarrhoea.

Coincidence? I think not.