No Chickens in Our Backyard

I lived in London longer than I lived in the Waikato.  More than twice as long with many places in between.  Rising in winter to dull grey skies, it was often wet underfoot.  Squashed together in small spaces, the odd nudge or shove, tenacity rewarded with slow steady progress towards blinding lights.  City or cowshed, at times they both stank.

Quintessential kiwi dream

Longing for open spaces and a section walking distance to the beach, a strong desire to be home was more than a dream. Enough space for outdoor living, a vegetable patch and a real clothesline out back too.  Although, jubilation of no clothes horses inside was short-lived, temperamental Auckland weather intent on retaliation.

Ripping out overgrown palms, an idea sprung to mind. With a family of green-fingered gardeners and farmers, let’s quadruple that vegetable patch.  My mother cautioned daily watering was required, as if sharing a little known fact.

Ripening chillies, took their time

Ripening chillies, took their time

A growing experiment

Diligent nurturing over summer months grew as did her enthusiasm for home grown fruit and vegetables.  Constant reminders to water from guess who.  Cherry tomatoes grew like triffids. Fancy lettuces bolted for the sky.  Oddly misshapen beetroot, leafy celery, shiny green capsicums, red hot chillies and stacks of fresh herbs, with rhubarb and strawberries crammed in too. 

Bunches of flat leaf parsley injected herbaceous flavour in local café salads. Friends came for coffee and left with fresh produce; if lucky, some leftover cake. Smugness triumphed; tomatoes and lettuce missing from the shopping list since last November.

Flat leaf parsley, gifted to the local cafe

Flat leaf parsley, gifted to the local cafe

Winter descends

Daylight disappears. A noticeable nip is in the air. Tomato vines start to die. Herbs go to seed. That desire for fresh produce just won’t disappear. Winter’s the time to give that garden a short rest, with local farmers’ markets not far from our door. Week after week, rain or shine, growers and producers’ vans jam-packed, their bountiful goodness brought to share. First stop is for coffee to warm cold hands.  Buttery croissant or bacon butty, it’s hard to decide. An hour later, basket laden with fresh vegetables, crusty baguettes, smoked kawhai, stuffed peppers and a Mediterranean dip or two - perfect for a picnic on a sunny winter’s day.

Pukeko Bakery breads available at Clevedon Farmers Market and La Cigale

Pukeko Bakery breads available at Clevedon Farmers Market and La Cigale

Take your time to discover your nearby Farmers' Markets NZ Let yourself be tempted by tasty morsels.  Be inspired by passionate producers. Talk, savour and devour for next week the season might be over. Auckland’s top three:

City Girl Country Heart

At heart, I’m a country girl living in the city. Loving fresh produce like when we were growing up. No cows, sheep or pigs; no orchard in the garden. And there’s absolutely no likelihood of finding chickens in our backyard any time soon.  It’s off to a favourite farmers’ market again this weekend but it’s so hard to choose.

My friend Lisa's Isa Browns - Cora and Sybil

My friend Lisa's Isa Browns - Cora and Sybil

Enjoy your weekend.

Michelle

Fresh figs with blue cheese, honey & walnuts

 

The simplest dishes are often the tastiest.  And sometimes ingredients harmoniously go together with little embellishment.  Whenever I see fresh figs I immediately think a soft blue cheese would go perfectly.  Add a drizzle of honey, toasted walnuts and fresh rocket and mint from the garden - a simple yet satisfying delicious salad. 

So when I discovered my local coffee place had home-grown figs for sale this week, courtesy of another regular customer, I couldn’t resist buying half a dozen.  The skin was slightly soft and ready to eat. Sweet tender flesh did not disappoint

Figs, blue cheese, honey and walnut with rocket

Figs, blue cheese, honey and walnut with rocket

  • 3 large or 6 small figs, cut into eighths or quarters
  • 2 tsp clear honey
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large handfuls fresh rocket
  • 1 handful mint leaves (torn if large)
  • 1 handful walnuts, toasted and halved
  • 100g soft blue cheese cut into small wedges
  • Cracked black pepper

Serves 2

Whisk honey, red wine vinegar and olive oil in bowl, season and adjust dressing to taste. Divide rocket into two bowls.  Add the figs, mint, walnut and blue cheese.  Drizzle over the dressing and let everyone toss their own salad as they eat.

Enjoy

Michelle

 

Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market

I can’t get enough of farmers markets and here in the Hawke's Bay you are spoilt for choice: Hastings Night Market on Thursdays; Napier Urban Food Market and during summer months Black Barn Market on Saturday mornings; and if you can drag yourself out of bed on Sunday mornings - Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market at the A&P Showgrounds in Hastings, where produce for sale must be locally grown and produced.

Did someone say tomatoes?

Did someone say tomatoes?

Last Sunday morning we headed for Hastings Showgrounds and despite planning to grab coffee first - you are spoilt for choice here and even though there is an inevitable 10 minute wait at each vendor, no one seems to mind - we wandered around the first dozen or so stalls deciding what we would come back and grab once we had coffee in hand: stonefruit; avocados; olive oil; and so much more.

Stunning stonefruit from Pernel

Stunning stonefruit from Pernel

With this market boasting at least 60 regular stallholders, plus many more on a semi-regular basis, the highlight for me is talking to the local producers about their products and why they are so passionate about what they do.  From the couple selling craft beer while working full time, with a goal to make it their living within 12 months, to the old hands who started out selling at farmers markets and now sell throughout New Zealand but still turn up every weekend.  Everyone has a story and people love to share so make sure you’re not in a hurry as this is somewhere you should take your time. It’s fabulous just to sit and people watch, and from the looks of it, it’s a weekly meeting place for many - you never know who you might bump into.

Hawke's May Farmers' Market - meeting place

Hawke's May Farmers' Market - meeting place

For anyone interested, more photos of the trip to the Hawke's Bay will go up on the website in the next couple of weeks so don’t forget to check out the other fabulous local food producers The Foodie Inc has been talking to.

Delicious Bay Blueberries

Delicious Bay Blueberries

This weekend, make time to get out and explore your local farmers market - you never know what you might find and who you will meet. Love to hear where you went - comment below or on the Facebook post.

Enjoy your Waitangi weekend, I tend to!

Michelle

For more information: Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market

Spring Vegetable Garden

There’s something rather satisfying about growing your own vegetables, especially when you don’t have green fingers.  Having successfully grown herbs and cherry tomatoes, this year I decided to see what else could survive the ‘tough love’ kind of gardener I am – plants need to be able to survive all weather conditions, erratic watering and bounce back from bouts of severe dehydration.

Spring Vegetable Garden

With all day sun, under the kitchen window was the perfect spot for a vegetable garden.  It’s only about four square metres but it’s amazing how much a small space can yield - especially when you ignore how far apart it’s recommended you plant things!

So what’s been growing in my vegetable garden this spring: beetroot, celery, rocket, spinach, bok-choy, lettuce, rhubarb, strawberries, chillies, various herbs and of course tomatoes.  Planting at regular intervals means you’re always got something ready to eat, but when they come in punnets of 4-6 plants they tend to all be ready at the same time.  Having eaten rocket every day for what seemed like six weeks, it’s nice to now have a variety of salad greens.

Planting seedlings from the garden centre might seem like cheating to some gardeners but for me it significantly increases their chance of survival.  And while last spring I couldn’t get coriander to grow, this year have had an abundance of it.  It’s the capsicums that are proving a challenge – I have left them in the garden but it’s not looking hopeful.

And while there is absolutely no chance of raising chickens in my backyard, I’m open to exchanging vegetables for eggs, lemons or feijoas, even if I have to wait for the latter to be in season. Or like last weekend, export quality kiwifruit for celery and lettuce seemed a fair swap to me.

If you don’t have space for a garden, then plant herbs and lettuce in pots – you might be surprised at the results.  But don’t forget - pots do require regular watering!

Enjoy

Michelle