Friday, 31 May 2013

Red Pear, Rocket, Hazelnut & Blue Cheese Salad




We had a bumper crop of red pears this summer, despite drought sucking the moisture out of the whole country and without watering our trees a jot.  A couple of branches, so burgeoned with dark pink orbs, snapped at the trunk. A bit of self-pruning that made the crop easier to pick.  Long ago this tree lost its name-tag but my best guess is that my red pears are of the William Bon Cretian family, commonly known for its yellow green variety.

Box after exotic box was filled. In the end we resorted to climbing into the uppermost branches and shaking the laden limbs to dislodge the fruit we couldn’t reach by ladder. We shared our red bounty among friends and wasps, but nevertheless still possess a load of pears perfectly ripened in the cool of our garage.

I used to bottle pears, felt it was my wifely duty, but they never got eaten. A seven year old vintage still sits, dusty and aged a dull green under the stairs. So this autumn I’ve been munching my way through our crop raw.

Pear cut up over homemade muesli and coconut yoghurt is sublime. Sliced pear between thin wafers of fresh parmesan goes very well with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc while sitting in front of the fire. Sliced pears with apricot jam glaze on flaky pastry makes the perfect tart. But for the piece de resistance of pear-ly delights I’ve devised a rocket, red pear, blue cheese & hazelnut salad with pomegranate molasses dressing.

Despite having snow on the ground my greenhouse greens are still alive. Currently I have Bok Choy and an abundance of rocket. Kale is coming on and I will share my sister’s kale salad recipe when it does. Several caulis and broccoli plants look leafy and caterpillar free, however if they manage to bear fruit as we rapidly approach the shortest day in the southern hemisphere, 21st June, I’ll be amazed.

Another bumper crop this autumn was produced by our hazelnut trees, hence its addition to my salad. Over a period of three weeks during April I became Squirrel Nutkin, groveling under the trees filling baskets with nuts. These I then left to dry and can on occasion persuade my children or husband to crack. To say they are hard nuts to crack is an understatement. But with all home grown produce they are worth the effort on taste alone. Once shelled and toasting in the oven you could easily imagine you have just walked into a Nutella factory. And if anyone wants a homemade Nutella recipe all I do is: grind roasted nuts into a crunchy paste in a whizz, add top quality cocoa, caster sugar and there you have it. 



Red Pear, Rocket & Hazelnut Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

So last night while my freshly cracked and roasted nuts were cooling I:

Placed rocket leaves on a plate
Add thinly sliced red pear
Crumbled on some Danish blue (any dry-ish blue cheese would do)
Roughly chopped my hazelnuts and scattered them on top
Drizzled over some Pomegranate Molasses dressing.

For the dressing:
In a small jar add a good dollop of oil (I used extra virgin olive)
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
a splash of pomegranate Molasses
a splash of white balsamic
grind of pepper
spec of salt
Put on lid and give it a good shake and adjust to taste.

Pomegranate Molasses, (which btw comes in a bottle, is a strange dark brown colour and is made in Lebanon), has an interesting fruity sweet sour taste. If your dressing is too sweet add more vinegar.

This salad is perfect by itself for lunch. I served it with a small piece of fillet steak for dinner to satisfy my carnivore husband but could easily have gone without the red flesh.

Our local deli makes a Pomegranate Molasses and brown sugar glaze for its Christmas hams. I may try it in a couple of years, but I’m still getting over the raising of Bogus and Beans. Even though I love eating the fruits of my garden and farm labours.

Salads should never be boring and one of the best I’ve eaten this year was at a weekend in the Marlborough Sounds, thanks to the garden foraging skills of the Maunga Kereru bio dynamic gardeners.  This spring I plan to enhance my veg patch with some of the greens mentioned. Plantain and Comfrey at least. Thankfully I have all winter to read seed catalogues and decide whether I can coax them to grow down here in the chilly deep south. 
Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com



Friday, 24 May 2013

Reading Aloud In Bed

I walked around the house yesterday morning and had sudden flash back of the SAS agents on the TV news the night before. 

Picture this: a six foot tall lithe male body, back towards me, pulling longish looking tools out of a silver utility, all the while touting the seasons colour. Black. Clad in black in fact, from head to reinforced toe lace-up work books. Around his waist he sported a handyman’s belt holding an assortment of gadgets. Tear gas and a Taser perhaps?

Then he turned around and smiled behind his grubby dust mask.

The mask and his stained hands were a bit of a giveaway. Yet I still half expected him to grab an AK47 (or whatever weapons the NZ SAS use) and strap it to his back. Instead he slung a black PVC pipe, holding a round headed brush similar to a toilet scrubber (also black), over his shoulder. Next he lifted out a supersized looking stainless steel suction contraption and walked inside.

My husband had booked this young modern day chimney sweep after the fire in our bedroom nearly asphyxiated us one night. We were having a read-in at the time. Well read-aloud actually. This was my antidote to my husband objecting to me reading in bed after (his) lights out. ‘What if I read to you?’ I asked. All started well, the pine cones crackled in the grate; the flames licked upwards, red crystals on a black throat. All hypnotizing for the ‘listener’. 

However, chaos was with a capital S was about to unfold. Once two small willow logs were added, the flames damped down and the room began to fill with acrid wood smoke. Strangely enough the read-aloud ambience was smothered. The book was put aside, the windows and doors were flung open and we huddled under extra duvets cursing nesting birds and soot build up. Both waking the following morning, after a restless night, with hair that stunk like a barbecue and sooty head colds.

This reading-aloud-in-bed malarkey came to mind when I read online this week (via openculture.com), Earnest Hemingway’s advice for fiction writers. Hemingway suggests at the end of the day the writer must read. Not worry and think about his work in progress, because this will make it stale, leave it to marinate in the subconscious he said and read. He also suggested exercise to make the writer, ‘tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved’. As opposed to a total stranger I presumed? Apparently, ‘that was better than anything’.

Oh to be a writer in 1930s Paris. Hemingway, Henry Miller or Gertrude Stein had it all. And they did not have to cope with the distractions of the modern age. COMPUTERS.

I don’t think I ever get writer’s block as such, I just get screen block. It’s too easy to flit here and there under the guise of ‘research’. And my facebook family is like the close nit critique group I don’t belong to. Just now I posted a status about a name dilemma I was having with a boy character. Over the next half hour I had replies from lovely author friends: Melinda, Kyle, Maria, Elizabeth, Maureen, all offering helpful and timely feedback. Hemingway may have had the rooftops of Paris to gaze over while ruminating plot points or character traits, but he didn’t have cyber-writers at his fingertips. 

However, another suggestion of Hemingways (from A Moveable Feast) to overcome writers block I will use. ‘Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” 


I’ll be writing that sentence staring into the fire with some mandarins peels very soon. The kids are going through bucket loads, of mandarins that is. Or possibly I’ll be reading, The Old Man and the Sea, aloud, especially now that the chimneys are clean.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Bum Like Blancmange




I sometimes wonder on cloudy days if all my underground writing career has given me; aside from kind, funny, generous and clever writer friends, is a bum like blancmange. 

I thought for a second about writing a witty ode to my bum. A few verses of doggerel. Thankfully you’ve been spared. Because instead, while out on my brisk morning walk down to the Shotover river on Monday, I decided to RUN. 

Down the uneven, recently put in track I went. Digging the heels of my North Face hiking boots into the scree-like incline. Bouncing over the newly made tyre steps, on through the pines and ferns, past the berry covered wilding cotoneaster that the waxeyes adore and on to the river flat. 

I straightened my headband and lengthened my pace, soon picking up speed and smiling at myself between puffs. A veritable Pegasus I was, skimming over the stony ground. Chariots of Fire theme music playing in my head as small pebbles found their way under my socks. I ran until the track met willows trees, then turned elated and walked back. 

I’m not sure what made me happier? The knowledge I could still run after all these years without my knees buckling and may have discovered a new form of exercise, while enjoying the great outdoors, that may make my bum jiggle less. Or the smug knowledge those hours at Pilates appeared to have worked. Yippee-nopee you might say. 

Those that know me will be shouting, ‘your bum is not enormous’. And no, it is not huge but it is currently acting like a subsiding cliff. All my go-to underpant shapes don’t fit anymore. In fact they’re worse than a mid-grade wedgee. For the first time in my life I’ve contemplated NYJ – not your daughter’s jeans. My mum wears those!

My charming son standing behind me, a bum-cheek in each hand, flubbering and exclaiming (while laughing), ‘Mum you bum is so wobbly’, must have added impetus to the jogging malarkey. Thankfully when I replied, ‘thanks darling,’ and sang, ‘a juicy butt to squeeze a butt to nibble.’  He scarpered.

Recently at a friend’s 50th, another friend and I were lamenting our perceived butt expansion. She claimed her derriere demise was due to her Master’s Degree. ‘I didn’t really have a bum to lose like you. What should we do you with them?’ she said. 

‘I just yell at mine,’ I replied, looking over my shoulder. ‘Hurry up and get on the bus.’ Then we collapsed into fits of giggles. Silly things bums.

I have two sides to my writing desk nowadays. On the left I have my children’s fiction WIP manuscripts and notebook. On the right I have my blog and nonfiction notebook and currently a copy of the Aus Women’s Weekly. I was about to query the Editor re a story, when the by-line for psychologist Nigel Latta’s column caught my eye: “Give your bum a break”. His piece pondered, “With all the amazing things our bodies achieve each day”. For instance, nerve impulses travelling at 400km per hour.  “…why are we so concerned with the size of our bum”.

Does Nigel Latta have a bum I wondered? 

Then I read on. Did you know, “a sneeze generates winds of up to 166km per hour”? Without offering any similarly startling bum-facts, Latta reminded us that the human bottom is an important part of a whole. I agree, we would all look pretty flat without them and then they’d be the problem of what to sit on, flubber or tone.

On Tuesday, I went for my second walk/run. I ran further.  A lot further. I breathed the fresh morning air peeling off the channel of grey blue water bubbling along beside me. (On Saturday I’d seen a lost and lonely black swan floating down the Shotover river, but that’s another story). My thighs felt tight on my return. Who knows if my bum enjoyed it? I may be barking up the wrong tree. My skin tone and muscle elasticity could already be shot. And if I think of all the weight I’ve put on and off over the years, like a combined total of 39kgs for three pregnancies alone and returning to NZ as a ten stone Tesse after a 3 year OE in London town, highly possible. 

On Wednesday I went on my third run. I ran for twenty minutes at least. I felt great. Unfortunately there’s a chance I may give up running next week. Winter always attacks with surprise and vengeance way down south. 

Meanwhile I’ve just invested in a pair of three-way-stretch-black-denim-high-waisted, DRDenim Jeanmaker jeans. 

Bum’s the word.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Poetry Slam Friday: Calling All Poets




I know it's Mother's Day on Sunday, but here is a poem I wrote about my dad. To be honest poetry is a bit of an enigma to me. I want to like it but often the words appear tortured and jumbled? I wrote this poem when I was at a fiction writing course with, Dame Fiona Kidman. She liked it, thought it suitable for a family type magazine, so that was enough endorsement to go public.

If anyone wants to post a dad, or a mum poem, in the comments please do.Go on...


Dad's Poem



I never really liked the books
my Dad read to me at bedtime
those James Herriot vet stories
all hedgerows and country lanes

but I loved the sound of his voice
like icy water over river stones

and I loved the weight of him beside me
on my bed not my sisters

emanating warmth through those
resonating words falling from his mouth

chapter after chapter
night after night.

                                                       *                    *                     *

Yay for Dads. And yay for Mums on Sunday and everyday.


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Small Town New Zealand: Murchison




I love small town New Zealand. Places that would have oozed cultural cringe and appeared mind numbingly boring to my tortured teenage self, looking for action and boys, are now full of charm and intrigue, yet still empty of people. 

Take Murchison for example; heading west from The Nelson Lakes it’s just through the Buller Gorge, State Highway 6, South Island, New Zealand. Population: 500. Murchison was originally a gold rush town, like many in NZ. And coincidently was nearly wiped out by a major earthquake in 1929. The self-proclaimed whitewater capital is also renowned for its second hand store.

I entered THE store. Boy-o-boy that place was crammed to the brim. A bargain hunters haven. My eyes bulged in fossickers anticipation. Well, until I spoke to Mrs Shopkeeper, surveying the scene with beady eyes from behind the glass counter. 

 



‘Wow this must have taken you ages to collect?’ I was focused on the squillions of china ornaments on display, hoping a Lladro figurine had somehow got misplaced amongst the milk jugs.


‘Nah, it comes in each week by the truckload,’ said Mrs shopkeeper, arms folded, crouched over the counter. An awkward position to maintain but possibly garnered her better security surveillance over her wares.

At that point my imagined, careful selection from the deceased estates of nearby Victorian homesteads, dissipated.

‘Where does it come from?’ I asked.

‘Top of the south island,’ she said. ‘And overseas.’

Suddenly everything lost even more value. Its carbon footprint bulged like a west coast coal cart. All that STUFF with its genuine kiwi kitschness in question. The shop’s selection process started to sound like those vintage denim outlet stores in the US that sell by weight, not label. Origin unknown.

A man with a mullet and ear plugs tried to haggle over some wooden shoe shapers. He looked like he belonged to the house-truck parked on the main street. It was painted purple and green and had a set of goat horns erected on an oval piece of varnished wood over the rear number plate. 

‘Everything’s as the prices marked,’ replied Mrs Shopkeeper. 

Hecklers be warned. I walked past the romance book case, thought about writing one for a moment, then exited. 



Those wooden feet would have made handy door-stoppers in the house-truck no doubt. They were only $28. Good value really. In fact everything I picked up (ignoring the signs which said don't pick up) were very reasonably priced.

This truck was parked behind the famous second hand store in Murchison. I wondered it if hauled all that china from China, or was just a hangout for local bored teenagers?



I bought five apples and four kiwifruit from the 4-Square and handed over $3.20. We hit the road west, hoping to catch the sunset...

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