Warmer winter produce

My sister lives about 400kms north of Canberra on the coast. You can tell it’s warmer there because she’s still picking passionfruit from her vine!

Leeks, lettuce, spinach and passionfruit from a warmer winter garden.
Leeks, lettuce, spinach and passionfruit from a warmer winter garden.

Indeed her passionfruit vine is the envy of the family. Even her father-in-law an extremely experienced veggie gardener is trying to work out what her secret is. As the real estate agents would say, “location, location, location”. The vine just adores growing on the east-facing garage wall with plenty of protection from hot westerly sun and winds.


Temaki Sushi or sushi by hand

Several times a year we get together with our Japanese teacher and fellow language students for a shared meal. One of the easiest meals we have is temaki sushi (alternatively spelled temakizushi), or hand made sushi. This is definitely a fun meal to share with friends or family.

The sushi table is set.
The sushi table is set.

If you like sushi but are completely put off by wrestling with bamboo mats to roll your sushi then this approach could be the one for you. All that you need is your sushi rice, some nori (seaweed) sheets and a plate of sushi fillings. Don’t panic if you can’t find sheets of nori, you can always use a lettuce leaf instead – no toasting required!

Cooked prawns, tuna, avocado, cucumber and carrot are ready to roll.
Cooked prawns, tuna, avocado, cucumber and carrot are ready to roll.

First you take your sheet of nori and ‘toast’ it by holding it over your gas burner (or other heat source) for a few seconds. Then tear your large sheet into four pieces. Now you are right to go.

Take your piece of nori in your hand, put some rice on top of it and then add the fillings that you like. Then roll the nori over the filling. That’s it, well apart from the eating.

Temaki sushi in hand.
Temaki sushi in hand.

In addition to the platter prepared by our teacher TB made some crumbed and deep-fried pork strips (pork tonkatsu)- using panko as the crumb coating and a dish of spinach with sesame dressing (horenso no goma ae). The latter dish is blanched spinach which is coated with a dressing of 50 grams of white  sesame seeds; 1 &1/2 teaspoons of caster sugar; 1tablespoon of sake, 1&1/2 tablespoons of dashi and 2 teaspoons of temari.

Spinach with sesame dressing.
Spinach with sesame dressing.

 Dry fry your sesames seeds over a medium heat until they are lightly golden then grind them in a motar and pestle adding the sugar, sake, dashi and tamari until it forma a paste. toss the spinach in the dressing and serve. (This recipe is from A Little Taste of Japan, by Jane Lawson, Murdoch Books 2004). We also drank some Okinawan rice liquor, think shochu rather than sake, with our meal, courtesy of our teacher who brought it back from her recent visit to Okinawa.

Okinawan rice spirits.
Okinawan rice spirits.

 If you would like to see the full process for making temaki sushi, including some more complex preparation, this is a good video to watch.

Post Script

The week after writing this post Adam Liaw made temakizushi on Destination Flavour Japan – talk about being on trend! You can check out Adam’s version here.

Sunday Lunch

At this time of the year there are plenty of ‘social’ events happening out there, but to my mind catching up with family and close friends is the best. This weekend my cousins’ family came over for lunch.

TB wanted to concentrate on using our own garden produce so with that in mind we started looking at what was to hand. At first it seemed that there wasn’t much to offer (unless you wanted to eat broad beans!), so TB started on different veggie ideas. We also took into account what was in our freezer so a blackberry pie using the last of this year’s crop was an easy choice.

The freezer also yielded spinach for creamed spinach and some horseradish.The latter was used, along with some cooked apple to make a tasty sauce for our corned meat, which had come from my sister’s beef cattle.

We had garlic that was picked during the week so that went into the roasting pan.


We were thinking about other sides to go with the meat and and with a quick ‘bandicoot’ into some of our styrofoam boxes we came up with some new season Dutch Creams and Pink Eyes.


Rather than roast them we decided to make a potato salad with wilted sorrel, just about my favourite easy salad recipe courtesy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. TB also made an onion tart, using up the last of our Yondover goats cheese as part of an entree platter.


However his greatest stroke of genius came when he remembered all those zucchinis flowering away in the back garden.


Stuffed with some mince and herbs and then deep-fried they made a great contribution to the platter for starters.


Well as you might imagine we were all rather full by the time we ate all of of this. While the adults rested with a drink in the shady part of the garden, the youngest family member found some yummy raspberries to eat and was distracted by looking around the garden to find where the cat was sleeping.

All in all an excellent day was had by us all – and we didn’t need to eat for a long time afterwards!


Cut and Come Again

I’ve been bartering with work colleagues, their eggs for our veggies. Todays swap was silverbeet and leeks for a half a dozen eggs. As I was cutting the leeks I remembered the tip I learned from Sister Mechtild, the nun responsible for looking after the gardens on the program The Abbey, (which was shown on the ABC a few years ago). Sister Mechtild pointed out that if you cut the leeks off above their base, that is don’t pull them out of the ground completely, they will re-shoot and grow another edible stem. Why throw away all the energy already invested in those strong roots.

These are leeks that I’ve harvested over the past week. You can see the strong re-growth already.

Likewise when you cut the centre flower out of a broccoli  plant, the plant will go on to produce multiple side shoots all of which are edible and come in small convenient sizes for stir fries or florets that are the right size for cooking without the need for futher preparation.


This apparently scraggy specimen has been producing edible side shoots for over a month and will probably do so for another month. However, you must keep cutting the shoots to encourage more to grow before they start to flower. 

When we grow veggies for our home consumption, unless you are feeding a very large family, we do not need to grow them as if we were farmers raising a commercial crop. If you grow plants to harvest all at the same time then all you end up with is a glut of food and a storage problem. There are any number of strategies that you can try to extend the harvesting time of your veggies and the overall productivity of your garden.

I’ve found that the most useful veggies in my garden are those that you can cut and come again. That is pick a few leaves for your meal and leave the bulk of the plant in the ground to keep producing. Loose leaf lettuces, spinaches, celery all fall into this category. This is a really good principle for anyone who is thinking about what they will be planting over the coming months.

Staggered growing or sucession planting, that is planting a few seedlings each week over a period of months rather than all in one hit is definitely the way to go. I think it was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that suggested sewing a new tray of seeds before you go to plant out your seedlings to ensure that you keep the plantings going. Which reminds me that I need to plant some more beetroot seeds today!

Another approach that extends the productivity of your garden is to take a harvest of young shoots, such as garlic, broad beans or peas, while the plant is growing, before harvesting the main crop of bulbs or pods. These shoots are great to throw into stir fries or even a salad. If you want to check this out in relation to garlic shoots you can pop on over to the Guardian vodcast of Earth to Alys, where Alys Fowler (host of the UK’s Gardeners’ World) shows how to use the flowering shoots of hard-neck garlic. BTW if you check out the earliest of her vodcasts on her allotment the timing is right for spring.