We've pulled the first carrots from the veggie gardens at Struan Farm, and guess what, they're a beautiful purple!
The first carrots I've ever grown, King's Seeds Carrot Purple Dragon, a 1,000 year old heirloom variety. According to Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson, purple varieties of carrot are by far the most nutritious, with higher levels of phytonutrients. Orange carrots were created by cross breeding four hundred or so years ago to honour the Dutch House of Orange.
I highly recommend this book. It's a facinating read, advising how best to choose and prepare the most nutritious varieties of fruits and vegetables. Interesting to learn that the colours of produce commonly sold in our supermarkets don't come close to the nutritional and healing properties of their purple and red hued predecessors.
So always choose purple.
We had some last minute guests arrive to stay at Struan Farm's Cottage this past Saturday night. So I dashed out to the garden at the new house and did my best to put together some flowers before their arrival.
Frilly Jilly orange roses and orange dahlias yet again, this time I mixed them up with "Leucadendron Julie" and "Saliva Amistad." The latter is an addition to the garden just this week.
Think I did okay, I must be getting the hang of this!
Men in trees with ropes and saws descended upon Struan Farm this past weekend! A small group from Asplundh arrived at the farm on Friday afternoon for "Arborist Camp." Signs south of Piopio dotted the way to Struan Farm:
They set up a marquee/tent in our Pet Paddock, where they also camped, although some opted to head down to Jim's Hut at the river. Friday night was an early BBQ dinner, at which John was invited to speak about the history of the farm and the planting of special trees by his parents.
They went to it on Saturday after mapping and identifying the big trees in the Pet Paddock (very useful information for us to have), climbing up into two of the huge oak trees and the Cedrus Atlantica Glauca. (One tackled a messy Liriodendron near the roadside as a favour to John.)
Even time way up top of the oak tree for a "selfie":
At the end of the day after a swim in the river we all went for a walk in some of our native bush. We learned how to tell the difference between a Matai and a Miro by the shape of the leaf, also that we have huge Hinau trees in the bush, a variety with which we weren't familiar. Last but not least, the tawa trees in our grove could be as old as 300-400 years!
John and I really enjoyed having people who love trees as much as we do come to Struan Farm, hope they come back again next year (or sooner).
We've been meaning to clean up the back gate and adjacent old race at Struan Farm, it's been "on the list." And so this week when the digger smashed through the gate turning off the main road in traffic, this created an opportunity to move that project forward.
The only way to look at the situation, really? The metal gate, fence, and posts were toast, but the hedge was surprisingly resilient.
We're taking cuttings and will plant a similar hedge on the other side of a much wider gate, redoing some fencing and the messy garden outside on the road as well.
You will recall that John is into infrastructure projects at Struan Farm, loves bringing in heavy equipment to do things (much as he might moan sometimes about the associated cost!).
His latest undertaking is a second pond below our first pond and QEII bush reserve, to be landscaped with native riparian plants, creating habitat for ducks, frogs, (dare I say eels?) etc. This area has been hilly, weedy paddock, with blackberry and thistles. The digger was coming anyway to scoop the muck out of the pond ("P1"), and it was a short hop down the river track to improve the existing dam across the creek for "P2." All of a sudden this project was happening, which is what happens with All Things John.
"P2" is obviously shorthand for "second pond," but also "Paradise Pond." I attended Smith College in Northampton, MA (USA), which has a beautiful "Paradise Pond" on campus. So why not a Paradise Pond at Struan Farm in Piopio?
We've still got a long way to go on this project, but here is Paradise Pond in the making:
I have a feeling I will be planting quite a bit of flax this winter, stay tuned!
You might think that it's all beautiful flower arrangements and delicious home baking at Struan Farm, so I'm here to tell you that this isn't always the case!
This week, for example, I got to scale the mountain of muck removed from the pond by the digger, and spread grass seed.
It was a delicate job, one false step and there'd be a loud sucking sound and I'd be up to my elbows in smelly gook. Fortunately only one close call, I learned that lesson fast.
Next the plug gets put back in and the pond refills!
I've been wanting to try the "Kale Smoothie" recipe from Annabel Langbein's latest Free Range Cook book "Through the Seasons," and finally got around to it this past week. We've got loads of fresh kale in the veggie garden at Struan Farm.
Fresh kale, yogurt, banana, kiwi fruit, honey, chia seeds, and apple juice are blended together (coconut water or orange juice can be used instead of apple). Really good, even John loved it!
Yes, another Clifford story. Our resident dog at Struan Farm is a character for sure.
We're not sure if he was just showing off for us, or if there was a possum up the tree. But we did make him get down before he broke anything. He's eleven years old, even if you'd never know it from this sort of behavior!
It was a busy weekend in Piopio because of the annual WOMAD world music festival in nearby New Plymouth. Struan Farm's farmstay was no exception, we had people staying with us enroute south to New Plymouth, and then on the way home. We're 1 1/2hours from New Plymouth, after quite a stretch of windy, scenic road.
I pretty much dropped the ball on flowers for our table this weekend as a result, but here are the guests' flowers:
It's a transitional time in the gardens. Roses are pretty much done, except for orange "Frilly Jilly," so I'm working with dahlias, daisies, hydrangea, and the last of the sweet peas, filling in with other "bits and pieces."
I've become interested in "chicken scratch" embroidery the past few years, picking up samples as I've come across them in "op shops" here in New Zealand. The (typically) older ladies who work at the shops smile at me for doing so, telling me that these cross stitch projects were usually the first embroidery projects done by young girls at primary school "in the day."
Chicken scratch originated in America with the early settlers. It is always done on checked gingham fabric, using a limited number of stitches (running stitch, cross stitch, double cross stitch, woven oval and/or woven circle). The stitches are all done on either the white blocks or the darkest colored block.
If you're interested in learning more, a tutorial can be found here. And yes, this is on my list of things to do, I've got a stash of different colors of gingham fabric in the closet, calling out my name!
This is one of those rural things. Rain gauges, that is. A few Christmases ago I bought John a rain gauge for Struan Farm. His dad always had one outside near the swimming pool, but that disappeared a few renovation projects ago, along with the pool.
But what I've found living in Piopio is that when it rains, everyone talks in millimetres: "we got 10," "we only got 5," etc. I haven't been able to do that, saying instead "we got quite a bit." Not exactly talking the talk, were we?
Until now that is:
John had a bit of an "oops" this past week mowing the lawns at Struan Farm on his four wheel ride on mower. He is known for taking this mower where others fear to tread, and this time rode too closely to soft soil near the front gate of the new house.
Ahem. Collateral damage to several of my hedge plants, which had been growing quite nicely but will now need replacing. If there's any good news to report on this situation, it's that the Mad Mower was fine/uninjured, he was able to tow the mower out of its predicament with the tractor, and he missed the rhodo carefully planted at our front entrance gate entirely.
The Mad Mower lives to mow another day, madly as always I'm sure!
Lots of green tomatoes in the veggie gardens at Struan Farm, along with baby fennel and zucchini, so I decided it was time to make a "Green Tomato and Roasted Walnut Salad" to accompany our snapper for dinner.
This was one of those times it's quite handy to have a mandolin (I love my Zyliss one, which is sharp enough to get the job done without being too finger threatening).
Green tomato, cucumber, zucchini and fennel are thinly sliced and tossed. The dressing is made with creme fraiche, olive oil, white wine vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard and honey, and drizzled on top. Roasted walnuts, fennel fronds and lemon zest are then scattered on top.
For dessert I decided to test out a "Grape Bakewell Tart" recipe I've been wanting to make from a recent issue of MindFood magazine. It happens to be gluten free, which is neither here nor there for John and me, but it's always good to have GF recipes in the repetoire given increasing numbers of people these days who aren't eating gluten.
It's the first time I had to peel grapes for anything, which of course brought to mind (my mind at least) that famous Mae West quote. The recipe uses rice flour, ground almonds, and an ingredient called "xanthan gum" which I had problems finding. I substituted "guar gum," which I did find in our local New World supermarket, adjusting the quantity a bit according to info I found on the internet about all that.
It turned out really well, although it's quite rich, so not something I will make all that often. Saves me from having to peel grapes too; unlike Mae, I don't have Beulah around to peel them for me!
I'm starting to be able to pick flower arrangements from the first garden sister-in-law Anna and I planted at the new house at Struan Farm this past winter. And I'm a really happy camper when it delivers a weekend table arrangement like this:
Orange roses ("Frilly Jilly") and dahlias, pink roses and dahlias, and some wee daisies. The dahlias are "Struan Farm heirloom" varieties split off from those growing in the Homestead gardens, first time I've done that so glad it was a success.
I haven't done a "word du jour" blog post for awhile, but am prompted to do so after hearing the word "umami" repeatedly on recent MasterChef Australia episodes. I'd first come across it a few years ago in Pasadena, California, where there's a trendy burger restaurant by this name in Old Town Pasadena. Since the judges on MasterChef were throwing "umami" around like we should all know what it means, thought it was worth exploring to make sure we do.
"Umami" is now considered one of the five basic tastes, along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is a savoury taste imparted by glutamate and certain other amino acids. Where things get murky is that there is also a more nuanced Japanese cultural meaning that no one really seems to be able to put into English definitively. So I won't try to explain this and muddy the waters further.
Parmesan cheese is considered umami. Does this help?
At this time of the year most people have plums coming out of their ears, and are looking to deploy them or give them away. Unfortunately this is not the case for us at Struan Farm just yet, the plum trees we've planted in our orchard have yet to fruit, and the one heirloom plum tree we have in our old orchard was stripped of fruit by marauding birds before we could get to it.
So I actually had to BUY fruit to try out this recipe for a "Plum Crostada with Walnuts and Star Anise."
It was worth the expenditure! Soft sweet crust, very easy to make. And it lasted three nights for us over the weekend. The recipe calls for ground star anise, an ingredient I hadn't seen or used before. I ended up grinding whole star anise in my mortar and pestle, which worked fine. Caster sugar, ground walnuts, ground star anise, ginger and clovers are sprinkled on the bottom of the pastry and on top of the fruit after it's laid out in rows. The edges of the pastry are folded over the fruit in a rectangle, then brushed with milk. Simple and seasonal.
Served with a bit of mascarpone whipped with brown sugar.
The old post office building in Piopio, right along the main street in our little village, has recently undergone a much needed restoration and facelift thanks to new owners.
It was built circa 1910, and at one time operated as the town's post office, telephone exchange, and bank. Actual operators manned the telephone exchange, connecting the various party lines (Struan Farm was "seven line") and placing long distance calls.
The building has beautiful native timber floors, great bones, and a huge walnut tree in the backyard. So it's great to see it reincarnated as "The Old Piopio Post Office Gallery."
The Gallery offers an interesting mix of original art, hand crafted jewelry, collectibles and pottery, something for everyone. It's a great addition to the village and definitely worth a visit!
p.s. I might have called it "The Pink Post Office" for the fun factor alone....