From our bubble to yours

May you stay safe and well wherever you are. My totally non-scientific observations from social media tell me that cinnamon scrolls and cheese puffs are the dominant baking themes this lockdown. Given it was sourdough bread last time, these quicker options might suggest we are hoping to triumph over Covid sooner rather than later.

When life requires ladders

Ladders feature remarkably large in our life here and not just because Mark and I are of shorter stature. Lloyd is tall. Many of our plants are much taller than he can reach. For many years we have operated on four aluminium ladders – three typical A-frame type and a full extension ladder. A few […]

Just a recipe – delicious cheese puffs reputed to be of Brazilian origin

I suspect the critical ingredient is the tapioca flour which neither of my usual supermarkets stock but I find it either at the delicatessen or Asian supermarkets. As far as I know, tapioca flour is gluten free, being cassava-based. In texture and consistency resembles finely milled rice flour or what we know as cornflour. 

Garden Lore

“I always think of my sins when I weed. They grow apace in the same way and are harder still to get rid of.”

Helena Rutherford ElyA Woman’s Hardy Garden” (1903)



Garden Lore: Friday 10 January, 2014

Most of us above a certain age grew up with milk puddings. Semolina, sago and tapioca were the most common thickening agents. Until recently, I had vaguely assumed that they basically derived from the same source of starch and the difference was in the grade of grain. Not at all. Semolina is usually durum wheat-based. After the outside husks and wheat germ have been removed, what remains is the inner part, or middlings. This is what gets ground into flour but before that stage, basically it is semolina. It can also be obtained from rice and maize crops – the latter becomes the dish known in USA as “grits”. Modern times have seen old fashioned semolina give way to the trendier North African couscous, which is essentially very similar in makeup but sold as a quick-cooking product having been steamed and then dehydrated. Israeli couscous (which resembles tapioca or frogs’ eyes) is simply further processed to this larger form.

Sago, on the other hand, is a starch that comes from the pith in the trunks of various palms but particularly Metroxylon sagu and is largely a product from New Guinea and South East Asia. Tapioca has an entirely different origin, being from cassava (Manihot esculenta) which grows as a tuberous root and is a tropical plant which originated in South America but is now a staple food in the Pacific and Asia as well.

These days, I only have sago in the kitchen cupboard. That is because I sometimes use a recipe idea which is vintage Alison Holst. When stewing rhubarb, add sago with the diced fruit (1/4 cup to 4 cups of fruit). It takes a little longer to cook, but the result is somewhat jellied and the acidity of the rhubarb has gone. It is very palatable, even for non-rhubarb fans.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

In the garden – 26 February, 2010

We have a surplus of cucumbers here. Our formerly well travelled staffer tells us that in Turkey, street stalls sell cucumbers which they peel on the spot, slice in half and sprinkle with salt. The smaller, younger ones are pleasant eaten as a fruit though the Heart Foundation would no doubt prefer the salt omitted. I failed to convert Mark to cucumber juice last year but adding them to unsweetened yoghurt is tasty and ups the quantity consumed.
Regrettably we are cooling off somewhat and the days are noticeably shorter. The upside of this is that if you are dying to get into the ornamental garden, you can plant or dig and divide clumping perennials. These are more forgiving than woody trees and shrubs and as long as you water them in well and follow up in a few days time, they should be fine. Most perennials will keep growing until winter arrives so there is plenty of time for them to recover. If you have clumps which have fallen apart and are looking really scraggy, it is likely that they are congested and need to be split up. Make sure you replant in well cultivated soil and preferably add compost.
As summer crops are harvested from the vegetable garden, it is time to be sowing and planting winter crops. Pretty well every novice gardener ends up with far too many cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower all maturing at exactly the same time. It is better to sow a few seed every fortnight or so because you want them to mature in stages. If you buy small plants, look out for the punnets of mixed brassicas which are widely available – these usually have two of each vegetable.
You can also be planting winter lettuce (which is leafy not hearting), mesclun (which bolts to seed too fast in the heat of summer), Florence fennel (the most versatile of vegetables), spinach, beetroot, parsnip, peas, and carrots. Do leeks from plants now in preference to seed. Mark has just put in his last crop of beans though he is a little worried it may be too late. Don’t delay past this weekend on these in coastal areas. It is too late inland.
If you are harvesting rhubarb, make sure you feed and mulch the plant to encourage it to grow again. Rhubarb is deemed a gross feeder, which means it is a hungry plant. Adults may like to try adding grated fresh ginger when stewing their rhubarb. To make it palatable for children, cook it up with a bit of sago (tapioca takes too long to cook) which reduces the sharpness and therefore the amount of sugar you need to add.
Further to today’s column, if you have run out of swan plants for your monarch caterpillars, you can finish the larger ones on sliced pumpkin but apparently it is an insufficient food for young ‘uns and leads to deformities. You do have to imprison them in a box with the pumpkin or they will migrate in search of another swan plant, even if there are no more around. You can find more information on .