Thursday, 28 April 2011


Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Early sunsets and nature’s bounty set the mood for family feasts.

Gathering together is the theme of autumn. Traditionally, it is the time when we store food for winter, close up our homes and spend more time indoors. The Autumn Equinox was on 21 March 2011 (in the southern hemisphere) - a wonderful time to unite with friends for a harvest feast. It is a time of balance – equal sunlight and darkness. Harmony...

Taste – Cooler evenings see the return of soups and slow-cooked meals. The bountiful harvests of Autumn ensure that plates explode with colour, flavour and warmth.

Touch – Little hands delight in the varied textures of treasures found on nature walks. Nature sows as man harvests. Seeds are enchanting – great power in the palm of our hand. There is a chill in the breeze and we seek out jackets and shoes, amazed at how tall children have grown through summer.

Smell – Inhale the fertile soil when digging in the garden to harvest the last of summer’s abundance. Allow earthy scents to envelop you as you crunch fallen leaves underfoot. Absorb the sumptuous aroma of a simmering soup, or something baking in the oven.

Sight – The resplendent colours of Autumn are a celebration of nature: one last party before winter sets in. Notice how the golden pumpkins capture some sunshine to store through the grey days ahead. To compliment the brilliant hues of trees, the sky is bluer than in any other season.

Sound – Migrant birds call farewell as they leave for warmer climes. Autumn sounds are as crisp as the cold winds that begin to blow.

Feelings – Autumn is the time to preserve the living wonders of summer - try making jam, pressing flowers or drying herbs to give thanks to the waning sunlight. Soak up the last rays of warmth as summer disrobes and darkness creeps in. Relax and enjoy the fruit of your labours – your garden, your work, your family.

Activities – Autumn is a good time to clean up the garden and plant in readiness for spring. Depending on where you live, different crops will do well through the cooler months. Seed packets and catalogues have appropriate instructions, or ask a local gardener, as their advice will be the most valid to your locale. Most things you plant now will take quite awhile to reward you – bulbs, brassicas (the cabbage family), potatoes, onions, garlic and broad beans, for example. For fast results, try some sprouts or a terrarium indoors.

This season will provide many treasures for your seasonal tableau.Find a warm-toned cloth and adorn it with seeds, leaves, bark and pods.Dry some flowers and leaves to put into a little pottery vase. The hues of Autumn showcase nature’s splendour.

It’s time to come inside. The days are shorter, the evenings cool. The summer holidays are but a memory and each of us is settling back into our routines and rhythms for the year. This is the time to revive evening rituals neglected during the fast and fun summertime. Long story times and meals by candlelight are some of our favourites.

Craft in autumn can include Mother Nature’s offerings – simple bark and leaf rubbings, seed pod characters, arrangements of dry foliage or jewellery-making. It’s also time for fibre crafts – if you want to knit a scarf for winter, start now!

Enjoy this season of slowing down and reconnecting with home and family.

This is part of one (of three) Seasonal Fun Series I have had published in parenting magazines. I know many of our readers are in the northern hemisphere. For more seasonal inspiration, here are some relevant articles:
Spring #1
Spring #2
- for the northerners, and...
Autumn #1
Autumn #2


Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Emmental Cheese

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Last year, I made my first Emmentaler cheese.  Here is a before shot that I took during eye formation.

When it was sufficiently aged, we cracked open the wheel and this is what we found.

There was a 3cm (1.5 inch) split on the top and it was slightly infected with Penicillin Roquefort, however the Propioni Shermanii culture did its work (this makes the holes and gives it the nutty flavour).  Well, some of it worked in most parts of the cheese.  

I believe that even though I gave the wheel a wash of brine a couple of times a week as per the recipe, after I let the eyes form, the rind is far too thick.  I think that because the cheese was not waxed, as stated in the recipe, it just hardened too much.  I have since made two more rounds, but this time I waxed the cheese after the three weeks of eye development.  It made for a more moist cheese and I avoided the blue vein infection.

Now, how did it taste I hear you ask?  Well, it tasted much better than a Swiss type cheese that you can buy in the supermarket, however there was an obvious difference due to the Penicillin Roquefort culture.  It was very nice, and both my wife Kim and Pam (Kim's Mum) agreed that it was a very tasty cheese.  The rind had a very strong flavour and as you can see more eyes formed closer to the rind than in the centre.  Here is it sliced on a platter.

The quarter I served up was very holey indeed.  Easy to cut and great flavour with a plain cracker.  I really liked the extra flavour in the blue vein part, but then again I love blue cheese!

I highly recommend this cheese to anyone thinking of making it, but do think about waxing it after the eye formation.  When made commercially this cheese is made in 60-80 kg wheels, which aids the uniformity of the eye formation.  Apparently, from what I have read, the bigger the Emmentaler, the larger and more frequent the eyes. 

What is your favourite type of cheese?  I am looking for new flavours and recipes to try!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Italian parsley & strawberries: companion plants?

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

Italian parsley

Last week I finished clearing out my garden of all the annual and winter crops - a task I do each year around Easter time, following the local tradition connected to the agricultural cycle (here). I had already pulled up the winter cabbages and leeks (here), and the radicchio (which I'm going to write about next time), while leaving the chard and the parsley for last.

Italian parsley

Although parsley is a biannual herb, I sow it each spring because it tends to produce more during its first year. I use a lot of fresh parsley in my cooking, and I like to have an ample supply all year around: parsley, in fact, overwinters quite well in my climate, and because last winter we only had two hard frosts and one snowfall (thank you winter!), I was able to harvest an impressive amount of parsley.

Italian parsley

Even in the harshest winters, parsley always survives - the plants just grow low to the ground, and the leaves are much smaller in size. Not this year, though: my parsley plants were about 50 cms tall, and produced a full colander's worth of parsley leaves.

Italian parsley

Besides the mild winter, I'm thinking that the success of my parsley this year may have something to do with the fact that it got accidentally intercropped with strawberries: parsley and strawberries, does anyone have any feedback on this?

In June last year, in fact, one of my kids came home with one single strawberry plant, that we just randomly planted in the garden. This single plant must have liked its new home, because it propagated impressively, sending many runners, each and every one in the direction of the nearby parsley, with which it spontaneously intercropped itself. Both the strawberries and the parsley did very well, and I'll experiment some more with growing them as companion plans this year.

And my colander full of freshly harvested parsley leaves? If you'd like to know how I use a large quantity of fresh parsley, here are some ideas:

Italian parsley

I made an Almond and parsley spread.

Italian parsley

And a Chopped parsley and garlic mixture for freezing.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Water water everywhere?

Aurora at Island Dreaming

April showers bring May flowers, or so the poem goes. Except that it hasn't rained here for the past two and a half weeks. This, coupled with temperatures that (as our national newspapers love to keep reminding us) currently rival the Mediterranean, has come to a head over the holiday weekend in the form of long traffic queues heading towards the coast as the whole country tries to make good use of the fine weather.

The garden isn't so keen on what is shaping up to be the hottest April on record. The container garden in our yard is particularly thirsty and our veg plot is requiring a few visits a week just to water. The clayey soil, where it has been left unmulched and uncultivated, has turned to rock hard lumps that throw dust into the air whenever the wind blows. After a wet winter, I didn't expect that I would be dealing with a lack of water so soon.

Our blue planet is remarkably dry, in human terms. According to these UN statistics, just 2.5 % of all of the water resources on earth are freshwater - and of this 2.5%, 70% is locked up in ice and snow cover. We are exploiting the freshwater resources we do have at an alarming rate, extracting groundwater at far greater pace than it is being replenished. At the same time we are degrading the quality of those meager resources we do have in ever more creative ways - salination, acidification and industrial and agricultural effluent are some of the problems that your region may or may not be facing.

Next month we will be installing a couple of water butts on our plot. Hopefully it will rain and they will have a chance to fill up over the coming months. If we have a very dry summer, we can but hope that a hose pipe ban will not be enforced; and that the water butts will have a chance to fill over winter ready for next years growing season. We will be collecting and spreading mulch with abandon over the next few weeks and using the cooler evenings to wander to our plot and water, all in the hope of reducing evaporation and runoff. We might even find a way to capture and filter some of the grey water generated by our household and use it in the garden. These are all tangible actions we can take to conserve the water resources we have and ensure the garden survives a potentially scorching summer.

Much harder to contemplate is the embodied or 'virtual water', in effect the water footprint, of all of the products that we consume. Agriculture takes the biggest share of our annual global freshwater budget at about 70%, followed by industrial production. The domestic consumption of almost 7 billion people accounts for just 8% of global usage. These are issues that clearly cannot be solved by individual action; but reducing unsustainable levels of personal consumption and waste will obviously contribute to the solution.

Back in my part of the UK, this summer could be a complete washout, a repeat of the flooding and holiday-ruining rain storms of recent years. Or it could be very hot and very dry. It might mercifully be somewhere in between. It will certainly be a summer of our household being more mindful of how we use yet another resource that we have otherwise been taking for granted.

Are you water conscious? What issues are being faced in your region? What steps do you take to conserve water?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Repeated Refrains of Nature

by Chiot's Run

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.

- Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder)

In the spring I am deeply appreciative of the "repeated refrains of nature" as Rachel Carson calls them. When you live in a climate with long cold winters the assurance that spring will come eventually really keeps you going during those long dark days at the end of January.
When spring does come I find myself trying to take it all in, I don't want to miss a bloom, drop of rain or plant emerging from the ground. I find myself stealing any moment I can to get outside and enjoy the rebirth and regeneration that spring provides (not just for the garden but for the gardener as well).
Sometimes it's hard to step back from all the to-do's that come with the spring, but doing so is important. Being able to slow down and enjoy the season is very rejuvenating to the spirit and the mind. We can all use a little warmth of the sun on our backs, a little rain on our faces, and some cool green grass under our feet. Whether you live in a climate with four seasons or no seasons, taking time to notice the difference between them is very healing to the soul - it helps connect us with the earth!

What season are you experiencing in your area of world? What part of it do you enjoy most?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves and Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.