vanillaI used to think I didn’t like vanilla, but then I discovered vanilla pods. They smell divine and taste so much better than vanilla essence. But they are quite expensive. I would buy them one at a time and put them in a sugar container to make vanilla sugar. If I came across a recipe that involved simmering a pod in liquid I would pull the pod out of the sugar and use it, then dry it and return it to the tin. Not any more! Thanks to my Foodlover friends I have discovered a source of delicious plump vanilla pods at a much more reasonable price. And they are organic – an added bonus. I ordered some ‘seconds’ and was delighted with what arrived. Despite being in a sealed plastic bag I could smell them as soon as I opened the parcel. I added one to my container of vanilla sugar and put another 2 into a small bottle with some vodka to make some essence. The rest are waiting in the pantry for the right recipe to pop up and whenever I open the pantry door I can smell them.



On Wednesday, I celebrated  finishing my first assignment for the semester by going to a cupcake decorating class at the Culinary Council. In the 2 hrs we were supposed to make 3 different cupcakes but we ran out of time for the last one so ended up making a variation of the 2nd one. It was lots of fun and my family were very impressed with the results but I think they looked better than they tasted – too much icing for my taste.

butterfly cupcake

green cupcake







rose cupcake

Kings Seeds catalogueI look forward to the Kings Seeds catalogue arriving in the mail. On-line catalogues are great but there is nothing like curling up with a printed catalogue and reading about all the new and exciting things you could grow in the coming season. I have been buying seeds from Kings for ages – since they were Kings Herb Seeds – and have found that they have the best range of unusual herbs and vegetables available in NZ.

Once I have looked through and marked everything that looks interesting, I look through my store of seed from previous years to see what I have that is still likely to be viable. My seed packets are stored (alphabetically of course – I am a librarian!) in a old cake tin with a divider down the middle. Whenever I get little packs of moisture-absorbing granules (often found in new shoes) I put these in the tin with the seeds. The tin lives in the larder which is cool and dark.

I then go through the catalogue again adding standard items that I am out of and deleting anything I have already.  When it comes to ordering I usually do this on-line.

The new things I am trying this year include:

Caper bush – I usually pickle nasturtium pods as a caper substitute but thought I would try growing the real thing. I think I will plant this in a large pot so I can put it under the verandah so as to keep it reasonably dry.

Cucumber Mini White – my son (10 yr) doesn’t eat fruit so I like to give him a chunk of cucumber in his lunch. He is a bit fussy and won’t eat it if the surface dries out so these mini cucumbers look like a good option. I can turn some into gherkins too.

Pea Petit Provencal – I have tried various types of peas in the past but I like the sound of these ones which can be eaten as snow peas as well as shelled peas and have tasty tendrils as well.

Pumpkin Baby Bear – Now there are only 2 of us that like pumpkin these mini pumpkins sound ideal. I have grown Pumpkin Austrian Oil Seed for a couple of years for the hull-less seeds but the flesh looks unappetising – pale and stringy – so these pumpkins with their semi hull-less seeds may be a good alternative. I wonder what semi hull-less means – do some of the seeds have no hulls or all the seeds have partial hulls?

Purslane Red and Gold – I have been growing green purslane for a number of years and find it an excellent addition to green salads. It also self-sows quite well – a definite bonus in my books! This variety sounds just as good with the added bonus of different colours to liven up our salads.

Samphire– I read about samphire some time ago in A Country Harvest but at that stage it wasn’t available in NZ. Something else to add variety to summer salads.

Tomato Peron – I like to try a different variety of tomato each year to add to the best varieties I have grown in previous years. This year Peron caught my eye for its resistance to fungal diseases. I have a continual battle with blight so I hope this one will do well.

Water Spinach Bamboo Leaf – Whilst travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia we saw lots of water spinach growing and no doubt ate quite a bit of it too. I really enjoy South East Asian cooking so thought I would give this a go.

Lemon Chilli Tofu & Noodles 001

Although I have always cooked a lot of vegetarian and semi-vegetarian meals I haven’t used tofu very much although I did actually have a go at making some many years ago – I’m not really sure why. It was a long and complicated process and the end result was a tasteless white blob!

Recently I have been trying out a few tofu recipes. The first one was a cheesecake-like dessert – Heavenly Pie. That went down well with no one guessing the mystery ingredient. A few weeks later I decided to try a recipe for a main dish. I needed to make a few changes when I discovered I didn’t have some of the ingredients but the end result was definitely worth repeating. My 10-yr-old said he didn’t like tofu but he did eat it all so it can’t have been too bad.

                                  Lemon Chilli Tofu & Noodles

3 tbsp  sweet chilli sauce
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tbsp water
2  tsp grated lemon zest
1/4  cup lemon juice
1/2 packet rice vermicelli
1/3  cup flour
1 tsp Chinese five spice
300 g firm tofu, diced 2cm square
2 tbsp  oil
1  large onion, chopped
3  cloves garlic, sliced
1 yellow capsicum, sliced thinly
1 head broccoli in florets
2 carrots, peeled and julienned

Combine sauces, water, zest and juice in a small pot, bring to the boil and then remove from heat.
Place the noodles in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and stand.
Combine flour and five spice in bowl, add tofu and toss to coat. Heat 1 tbsp oil in wok, cook tofu in batches until nicely browned.
Heat remaining oil in the wok, stir-fry the onion, garlic, carrot and broccoli until the onion softens. Add half the chilli sauce and the pepper, stir fry until just tender.
Drain the noodles and top with the vegetables and tofu. Serve with the extra sauce.
Serves 4


I have just discovered Ooooby. Ooooby stands for Out Of Our Own Back Yards and it is an on-line gardening club for people who enjoy growing their own food – like Facebook for gardeners. There are a number of different forums: poultry, tricks and tips, food growing questions, seasonal recipes . . . . .You can invite friends (like Facebook) and join local groups. The idea is to see who else is in your local area with the possibility of selling or bartering surplus garden produce.  I have joined my local group – there are 4 other members.  There is also a blog and members can post photos, videos etc.

I can see this becoming another must-visit site!

bookClick is a book with a difference – ten well-known authors collaborated to write a book with proceeds going to Amnesty International. I picked it up to look at when things were quiet on the desk when I was working in the children’s section of the library. I enjoyed the first chapter, so took it home so I could finish it.

In the first chapter we meet Maggie (and Jason) whose grandfather, Gee, has just died. Gee was a famous photographer (hence the title “Click”) and he left his grandchildren a present each. Jason’s present is a collection of photos whilst Maggie’s is a both a present and a puzzle. It consists of a wooden box with 7 smaller boxes inside, each of which contains a shell. The second chapter tells the story of how Gee was given one of the shells so I expected the rest of the book to be the stories behind the other shells. I was wrong. Instead we learn more about Jason and then meet up with Maggie again when she is older. The story takes various directions depending on the author of a particular chapter and some were more successful than others. Although I enjoyed the first half of the book, I found the later chapters less satisfactory and at the end I still wanted to know the stories of the other shells. This is more like a collection of related short stories than 10 chapters that make up a whole story and I wonder how much collaboration there was between the different authors.

I have always been keen to waste as little food as possible but the art of recycling leftovers has become more important than ever in these straightened economic times. Winter is an ideal time for this pursuit because a multitude of leftovers can be added to soup.

The last week I made a South East Asian style soup for dinner a la Linda’s Asoupsian Inspiration. For the stock I used some chicken bones that I had squirreled away in the freezer from various chicken meals and added the contents of the vegetable stock bag that also lives in the freezer (this contains onion ends, carrot peel and ends, herb stalks etc). When the stock was done I used about 2/3 to make the soup adding the various Asian flavours recommended by Linda. I put some udon noodles and thinly sliced pork in the boiling stock and let everyone choose their own assortment of vegetables to add to their bowl. There was some soup left over so I chopped the noodles, added the rest of the stock, a can of tomatoes, cooked kidney beans (from the freezer), a couple of left-over sausages, chopped potato and carrot, peas and chopped mizuna (no cabbage ready in the garden). Lo and behold my Asian soup was transformed into Italian Minestrone!

Later in the week I made a honey cake which I liked but no. 4 son didn’t so it went stale in the tin. It was recycled into a microwaved chocolate steam pud (an Alison Holst Microwave Cookbook recipe). I served it with custard the first night and with pears and cream the next night.

This week we started off with an Alison Holst slow-cooker barley soup which we had for dinner and then for several lunches. On Friday, I added the leftover lentils from the previous night plus some bacon stock and sauteed bacon, onion and garlic and we had it for dinner. On Sunday, I added the left over beef casserole from Saturday. Now there is enough soup for lunches this week.

Of course you need to be very careful with food hygiene when recycling food like this.  Hot foods need to be cooled as quickly as possible and then stored in the fridge. When they are reheated they need to be hot right through – I usually simmer my recycled soups for at least 5 minutes before serving.

For last week’s Storytellers’ group I volunteered to search out all the resources in Tauranga Library and tell people about them. I also threw in some useful web resources. This is what I came up with:



book 1
Keepers of the story : oral traditions in religionby Megan McKenna
Megan McKenna is a storyteller with a PhD in theology. She looks at the place of story in religion and illustrates this with reference to many stories form different religious faiths.

Mythology : The illustrated anthology of world myth and storytelling
Contains many stories from all over the world.

book 4Brave tales : developing literacy through storytelling by Will Coleman
This book is written for teachers to help them develop their pupils’ story writing by way of telling traditional tales. However it has information that is applicable to storytelling in any arena including a method of learning stories and of adapting traditional tales. Contains a CD of the author telling a story.

The art of storytelling for teachers and pupils : using stories to develop literacy in primary classroomsby Elizabeth Grudgeon
Although an interesting read this book has less to offer the non-teacher storyteller than the one by Will Coleman

book 6Storytelling with dolls by Elinor Pearce Bailey
A fascinating book about telling the story of Jack in the Beanstalk using ‘dolls’. Two doll-makers with their own unique take on the story, each make a set of props to tell the story. Instructions are provided for the props and tips on storytelling with props.


The power of the story : touching the lives of listeners by Rob Harley
Written from a Christian point of view, this book is about using stories to inspire and change lives. Not much practical information on storytelling

book7Anyone can tell a story : Bob Hartman’s guide to storytelling by Bob Hartman
A good practical guide to storytelling.  Contains a selection of stories, some biblical, many not.


book 5

Storytelling with children by Nancy Mellon
This book is written for parents who want to tell stories to their children but contains a wealth of ideas and techniques that would be universally applicable.



Handbook of the NZ Guild of Storytellers, Nga Kaikorero Purakau o Aotearoa (Inc)by Annette Knowler
The first half of this booklet contains information about the New Zealand Guild of Storytellers but the second half has useful information for storytellers.

book 3Shake-it-up tales!: stories to sing, dance, drum, and act out by Margaret Read MacDonald
A selection of stories that include audience participation.



The story-telbook 2ler’s start-up book : finding, learning, performing, and using folktales by Margaret Read MacDonald
A comprehensive book covering how to find stories, how to learn stories, how to perform stories, how to structure a storytelling session and using storytelling in the classroom. It includes 12 stories and each chapter has a bibliography of useful books and articles.


Websites– The New Zealand Guild of Storytellers website. Online copies of the magazine, tips for tellers, story of the month.– Articles on storytelling, podcasts of storytellers and stories. – An archive of stories arranged by category – A good article on how to become a storyteller – Interesting articles about storytelling from magazines and newspapers – A directory of useful storytelling websites


blog 001

I love salmon but don’t buy it very often because of the price. This week it was on special so I decided to splash out. I checked my recipe database for salmon recipes and decided to try one for salmon burgers that I found in the BBC Good Food magazine. The recipe specified 550g of salmon for 4 people but when I buy meat or fish I usually only buy 100g/person – most of us eat too much meat. I got just under 500g of salmon and added some cooked rice to bulk it up. When the burger mix was made it seemed too wet so I threw in some rolled oats as well. The recipe said to cook in oil but since I was using a nonstick pan I didn’t bother. I was amazed how much oil came out of the salmon. When the burgers were cooked there was about 3 tablespoons of oil in the pan.

Here is my version of the recipe

                                             Salmon Burgers

 500      g             boneless, skinless salmon fillets
   1      Tbs           Thai red curry paste
   1                    thumb-size piece fresh root galangal, grated
   1      tsp           soy sauce
   1      tsp           coriander and garlic paste
     1/2  c             cooked rice
     1/4  c             rolled oats
                        lemon wedges, to serve
Tip the salmon into a food processor with the pastes, ginger, soy sauce and rice. Pulse until roughly minced. Tip out the mix, stir in the rolled oats  and shape into 5 burgers. Heat a non-stick frying pan, then fry the burgers for 4-5 mins on each side, turning until crisp and cooked through.

We had the burgers with rice and coleslaw – savoy cabbage, mizuna, carrot, yacon and toasted sesame seeds – and they were yummy (and a decent size). Number 4 son left a fewcrumbs on his plate and I told him that the salmon cost $20/kg so he had better eat every last crumb of it. He was horrified and

Tim's fish

Tim's fish

said that it would be cheaper to catch our own. He was remembering our trip round the top of the South Island a couple of years ago. We went to Anatoki Salmon farm in Golden Bay where you can fish free of charge and only pay for what you catch ($18/kg). The pond where you can fish is teeming with salmon and they supply fishing rods and nets. Thinking of our budget we told the boys they were only allowed to catch 1 salmon each but as soon as they cast in it was obvious catching a fish wouldn’t be hard. Reuben tried to make the experience last by not catching one too quickly but that didn’t work too well. I managed to catch one while I was showing Timothy how to cast so then Timothy had to catch his own. Reuben managed to catch another one by mistake so we ended up with 4 instead of 2. We had 2 of them hot smoked and the others filleted and they lasted for 2 dinners and 3 lunches – heaven!

I managed to find a rubber chicken in the pet section of a variety store but didn’t have much luck tracking down plastic vegetables for the Stone Soup story. I thought about buying some of the modelling clay that dries hard but then I remembered salt-dough. For the first Christmas after I was married I made lots of salt dough ornaments for our Christmas tree – hearts, stars and candy canes. Later on I bought some Christmas cookie cutters and made more decorations – angels, Santas, bells, stars etc. Thirty years later, some are still surviving although others have absorbed moisture and crumbled or been chewed by our dogs. While my children were at Playcentre we would make salt-dough ornaments there each year. It has been 10 years since our Playcentre days so I 1853687294_01__SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_thought I’d better look for a book to refresh my memory. I found Dough Craft in a Weekend in the library and it even had instructions on how to make some vegetables. I made a carrot and leek following their instructions but then I was on my own. The parsnip was pretty much the same as the carrot but longer and thinner at the end. The celery was pretty easy – I rolled a log and then indented it with a pencil – but I wasn’t particularly happy with my onion. I still had some dough left so made salt and pepper pots, some mushrooms (from the book) and a head of garlic. I baked them overnight and then for a few hours more the next day. Finally I painted them and sprayed them with polyurethane. I’m quite pleased with how they turned out although the dough was too soft so they ended up flat on the back.

saltdough vegetables

saltdough vegetables

Add to Technorati Favorites


My delicious bookmarks