This hedge in my local town of Waitara makes me smile every time I pass it. I think it is just Cupressus leylandii, often referred to as Leighton’s Green. Was that as high as the owner could reach to trim, do we think? Or did they like the top-knot look which makes me think of Kim Jong-Un? This may remain a mystery. I rather hope it is deliberate.
I have been so busy looking down at the early snowdrops, Cyclamen coum and the first of the spring narcissi, or looking over in the hopes of the mountain being free from cloud so I can start my seasonal photos of Magnolia campbellii in our park framed against the distant snowy mountain flanks, that I have forgotten to look up. It is not just M. campbellii in flower. ‘Lanarth’ is opening now (technically M. campbellii var mollicomata ‘Lanarth’) and the season for this magnolia is short but spectacular. ‘Lanarth’ came from southernmost China via Cornwall. We have two plants of it growing in the garden. This is the one behind our house and it flowers first because it is a warmer location than the first and larger plant of it down in our park. These early flowers lack the colour intensity that sets it apart from many other magnolias.
And ‘Vulcan’ has opened its first flowers. It is still a very special magnolia for us, even though there is now a plethora of red magnolia hybrids on the market. This magnolia from Mark’s father, Felix Jury, was the breakthrough to the new generation of reds.
I didn’t notice the somewhat raggedy petals until I looked at my photos on the computer screen. That is pigeon damage – our native kereru – as opposed to rat or possum damage which looks different. Soon there will be so many blooms open, that the petal-nibbling kereru efforts will not be obvious. We have plenty to share.
With the early blossom opening (mostly Prunus campanulata or Taiwanese cherries), the tui population is increasing rapidly as they return for this favourite feast. We have some tui who stick around all year but scores of others flock in over this period of early spring. “When trees dance” is how Mark describes it.
I wrote about the bean mountain back in 2015 and since then the soy bean harvest has assumed daunting proportions. Mark’s home production of organic soy beans is apparently somewhat unusual. Aficionados tell me that it is now impossible to buy organic soy beans in this country that have not been irradiated as a condition of their importation. I don’t think we have a local soy bean industry. Apparently the soy bean mountain here is more of a valued resource than I had realised.
Soy beans are not my favourite bean to eat whole. I will reach for the kidney beans and fava beans first, or even the borlottis which are also not my favourite. I swapped a few kilos with a local person found on Facebook who makes a variety of different miso pastes which proved delicious. But what to do with the rest? I started making soy milk about a year ago in an attempt to reduce our intake of dairy. We are not so enamoured of soy milk that we use it all the time. I still prefer cow’s milk in tea and coffee but I use the soy milk in many other situations when I would formerly have reached for cow’s milk and I find it more than acceptable in the breakfast muesli and porridge.
The recent gift of a Soyabella machine has revolutionised my life. It was a bit tedious and messy making soy milk with the food processor, strainer, muslin cloth and a big preserving pan on the stove. This handy little Chinese machine, not much larger than an electric jug, makes a litre of fresh, hot soy milk in about 15 minutes with close to zero human effort. It is a wonder, my Soyabella. And it has opened up the world of home-made tofu. Why home-made tofu? For us it is both a way of using our home-grown soy beans but also about drastically reducing the plastic that comes into the house. With the arrival of nigari this week, I made the first block of tofu and, between Soyabella and I, the hardest part of was finding the right-shaped weight to fit on top of the tofu block to press it. It was perfect, just like a bought block. Nigari is just a coagulant – mostly magnesium chloride – which separates the soy milk into curds and whey.
It was our trip to China three years ago that really converted us to tofu as a food staple. The crispy tofu was delicious so I searched the net for instructions. It isn’t difficult. Press the block of tofu for an hour or more to squeeze out excess water (I just use an inverted plate on top of it with a weight on that). Slice or dice the tofu and marinade for a few minutes only so it doesn’t take in more liquid. Dust it with cornflour and shallow fry. Voilà! Crispy tofu.