Belladonna Bess

An edible garden in Wellington, NZ

Weird and wonderful ingredients October 13, 2012

Filed under: Cooking — belladonnabess @ 6:31 pm
Tags: , ,

I made good use of yesterday’s less than lovely weather, and rummaged around the wonderful food shops of Petone in the company of five other members of the Fusions Food and Cooking Club. We were on a mission to find weird and wonderful ingredients – things we’d never used before to give us a bit of a challenge.

I think my intent was to buy one or two things, but I ended up with a bit more. Here’s my list:

  • ajawain or ajwain. A seed used as a spice in India and the near east. It’s in the Apiaceae, along with caraway, coriander, cumin, dill etc. For those who care about such things, it’s Trachyspermum ammi. The seeds taste rather like thyme. I’m looking forward to trying this one, since I often use thyme in my curries anyway (it’s a taste combination I picked up in Mauritius).
  • black cardamom. I tasted this at the curry workshop I attended, but have never used it. It’s a member of the ginger family (like green cardamom), in the genus Amomum. Unlike green cardamom, it isn’t used in sweet dishes, just savory.
  • kala jeera or black cumin. Another member of the Apiacea, this time Bunium persicum. I’m not sure how to describe the taste, apart from very bitter and rather weird. It appears in the cuisines of northern India through to Iran and seems to be quite specifically regional.
  • kokum or kokam. The dried skin of mangosteen (Garcinia indica). I bought it on the basis that it looked extremely strange but had a faint but pleasant smell. It seems to be used in quite specific regional cuisines in India and is supposed to be sour, sometimes used in place of tamarind. I tried it in dal last night and although it wasn’t one of my best efforts (I had some other ingredients out of balance) I think I could detect the influence of its flavour.
  • sumac. I’ve heard the name, but I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten it or tasted it. I haven’t been cooking any Middle Eastern food recently, but I’ll have a go at some stage. I find the idea of sumac a little disconcerting, as it is a species of Rhus. Until a taxonomic reclassification as the entirely appropriate Toxicodendron, Rhus was the genus that contained things like poison ivy and various other highly irritant plants. But the family Apicaeae also contains hemlock, and that doesn’t stop me enjoying carrots, celery, parsley and a good number of very tasty spices.
  • sago. My mother occasionally cooked this as a dessert, but I’ve never cooked it.
  • buckwheat seeds. I’m sure buckwheat is used in a range of places, but this particular packet came from Poland. I’m thinking that I might be able to cook up the seeds as a base for some kind of salad.
  • millet. This is cheating a bit, since I’ve eating puffed millet and millet flour, but not the whole grains. No idea what they are like or what to do with them, since the packet is entirely in Russian. The only way I worked out what it was is that there was a label in German that I managed to translate via Google.
  • Pandan flavouring. No idea what this is going to taste like. Pandan (the leaves of Pandanus plants) seem to be widely used in South-East Asian cuisine, but I’ve really got no idea what I’m going to do with this little jar of flavouring. But it was cheap so worth a try.
  • squid ink. Two tiny sachets of the stuff – I don’t know how keen on it I’ll be. But you never know, maybe someone will invite me to a Halloween party and I’ll be able to make black pasta!

For the other participants of the weird and wonderful ingredients day, feel free to list your purchases in the comments section. I’ll need to approve you the first time you post, so it won’t show up immediately sorry.

Here’s my haul. Rather smaller and a bit more expensive than my “live below the line” collection.


Gardening weather

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 5:50 pm

After a couple of vile days, the weather cleared enough this afternoon to do a little gardening.

Planting: shallots, garlic, California red onions (yes, I know I’m rather late with all this), white foxgloves, hellebores and a Pimelea.

Clearing: weeding is too mild a term for what I’ve been doing.

Discovering: I still have an oregano plant, a surprisingly large pizza thyme and some strawberries on my overgrown weedy bank between the two grapevines.

Transplanting: I finally found a spot for my very robust orange day lily. It’s been by the path near the front door for as long as I’ve had this house, and it’s thrived on the neglect. But not even I think that orange day lilies and salmon-pink roses make a good colour combination. Since I can’t move the vicarious rose, I found a new home for the day lily on a sunny and dry bank. It looks like the perfect spot to me.

Anticipating: the potatoes growing out of one of my compost bins look so healthy, I’m thinking I’ve got a good chance of new potatoes for Christmas.


Sprung! October 8, 2012

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 5:47 pm

OK, it’s definitely spring now. I spend a great weekend in the garden – I had a load of compost delivered and was finally able to start planting the ornamental area down the side of my house. It’s not really a good environment for edibles, so I’m focusing on ornamentals, especially interesting and scented ones.

Sowing (in pots): celery, dwarf beans (3 varieties), romanesco broccoli

Germinating: carrots, including the white carrot that I saved seed from last summer. It was a good carrot, growing big without getting tough, from Koanga, but germination was poor. But the saved seed looks very successful. The only one where germination looks possibly dodgy was the purple carrot which was about 3 years after its expiry date.

Anticipating: broad beans. “Dwarf early green” has some pods.

Flowering: I’ve still got weird and wonderful daffodils.

Eating: the last of my yams (made a yam curry – as authentic as Tandoori chicken pizza since oca is Andean and I made a south Indian-style curry. But tasted good – the sour oca tasted great with the coconut milk). Silverbeet. Lettuce, miner’s lettuce, and broccoli and calendula flowers.

Apologising: I should really put some pictures up. I’ve been so lazy lately.

And from last weekend…

Pruning: my Cape gooseberry. It spends the winter protecting my little lemon from frost, then gets a good prune come spring.

Planting: Italian honeysuckle (yes a non-invasive one), 3 native clematis cultivars, a Podophyllum, daphne, Viburnum x burkwoodii, 3 dark red Heuchera, 2 different forms of Metrosideros carminea (the shrubby version and the climber), several rengarenga lilies (with more to go) and two hellebores. I’ve probably forgotten something, and there’s still a bit more to plant.



Daylight savings October 1, 2012

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:16 pm

On the one hand, I don’t like getting up an hour earlier. On the other, I can do gardening after work – yay!

Sowing: zucchini, spaghetti squash, hybrid spaghetti squash, cucumber, basil, various tomato varieties. All in posts in my mini-greenhouse.

Also sowing: parsnip (last weekend), carrots, radish, beetroot (the week before).

Germinating: radish only so far.

Wondering: if many of my seeds will germinate. I notice a lot of my seed packets have past their best before dates. Worth a try, should still be time to get more of some if they don’t come up.

And an update from the weekend…

Tying: my pear espaliers and my Candace grape.

Pruning: a bit of belated pruning on my pear espaliers and my apples.

Blossoming: both pears. I’ve cut every blossom off Buerre Bosc, it’s far too small to be allowed to fruit. But Doyenne du Comice is a couple of years older and much bigger, and successfully produced a fruit last year. So I can let that have a few more fruit this year.

Breaking: my Blush Babe is the most advanced, but all the apples apart from Adore are now at budbreak. Adore is in the coldest spot and is the latest season apple. Blush Babe is planted about 30 cm in front (i.e. to the north) of my big black compost bins. So it’s probably got just a bit of a microclimate.

Setting: my gooseberry is already setting fruit.

Fruiting: my northern highbush blueberries are actually fruiting. I’ve eaten two fruit. Just amazingly delicious.

Weeding: a big job right now. The vegetable and berry gardens are ok (although far from perfect), but the area on the bank is quite out of control. I’m working on it, but it’s slow.