My short story, The Mysterious Mr Montague has been published in the Ticonderoga Press publication Bloodlines.
Bloodlines hasn’t yet been launched officially, but a pre-launch party was held at the recent Conflux 11 speculative fiction convention in Canberra, Australia. It would have been wonderful to have been able to attend in person!
The great news is that Bloodlines is now available for purchase either from Amazon or directly from Ticonderoga Press (the latter in either soft or hard cover). click here
Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway!) I’m very excited to have my story published in an actual book (rather than an e-copy) and grateful to Ticonderoga Press for accepting The Mysterious Mr Montague for their anthology of stories about blood.
The tale itself is set in Kilbirnie (Wellington, NZ) in the 1970s. At various times back then I lived in the nearby suburbs of Hataitai and Lyall Bay. I walked the streets of Kilbirnie and Evans Bay, frequently. My identical twin uncles owned a butcher shop in Kilbirnie.
It was fun to write and I particularly liked adding reference to ‘The Larch’. Back in the 70s in Wellington, you would see ‘The Larch’ scrawled as graffiti on many walls and previously blank spaces. It was in reference to the Monty Python’s sketch of the same name. The Larch
My story, of course, is complete fiction, but I did enjoy drawing from my memories of the area and the time.
I started this post over a month ago but recent circumstances got the better of me and I didn’t get it finished. Today I’ve made the commitment to at least get something posted – after all, the whole point of a blog is keeping up with it.
We’ve had a little rain – just enough to prevent it being declared a drought in our area, unlike some other parts of NZ – but it’s getting very dry now. As I write a large truck has come scuttling down the hill and along the gravel road beyond our gate. Huge clouds of dust drift and settle on our property.
I think of the solar panels and how they will most likely need to be cleaned manually if we don’t get a decent rainfall soon. You’d be surprised how much dust settles up there! Or perhaps you wouldn’t.
As I write it’s around 1.30 pm and 27 C outside in the shade. By the time the sun comes around it will get very hot where I’m sitting, even with all the windows open. It’s much too warm and humid for me outside at this time of day. The sun just bears down relentlessly – hence the garden is quite neglected. I’m hanging out for cooler mornings and evenings now that it’s Autumn.
The garden has still been remarkably productive, considering that until last week (when I put in a row of broccoli and rocket) I hadn’t sowed anything new since December. We are still producing enough vegetables not to have to purchase anything other than the occasional bag of potatoes.
The basket above shows some of the vegetables we’ve been harvesting since I last wrote, but the green beans are finished now. As are the peas and we just didn’t eat any of the lettuces I diligently sowed in Spring and early Summer – they kept going to seed as we were eating other vegetables, so I stopped sowing them.
The vegetables we’ve been consuming the most of, lately, have been tomatoes, turnips and zucchinis.
The heirloom golden ball turnip is a delicious little vegetable and easy to prepare.
A simple recipe I use is to peel them, then cut them into cubes and blanch in boiling water. Drain the water off and saute the cubes in a little oil of your choice until they start to brown in patches, add 1 tbsp butter, 1 tsp brown sugar and 2 tsp apple cider vinegar. Stir through to form a light glaze. Season with salt and pepper and they are ready to eat.
The three varieties of tomato that I grew this year are ‘Black Krim’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘Bloody Butcher’. Of the three, I definitely prefer Black Krim and Mortgage Lifter.
While Bloody Butcher has a nice flavour, I much prefer the texture and size of the other two. As a matter of interest, I collected one of each and cut them in half to show how different they are from each other, inside. (Hence, the images above.)
We’ve had enough cucumbers to keep us going, but not too many, and of course the usual carrots, rocket, basil… silver beet, beetroot, that we usually have on an ongoing basis.
I’ve lifted our almost all the garlic (yes, I know, it’s very late in the season not to have completed this task) and all the Egyptian Walking Onions. We had amazing crops of each of these. The onions are great and we have strung them up to dry out, and the garlic bulbs are very fat this year.
We do have a large section of our garden devoted to main crop potatoes but I have a bad feeling about them. We didn’t really realise how much water they require and should have been watering the plants as they developed. We poked around beneath the soil of a couple of plants a few weeks back and they really had nothing much under there, just some tiny, tiny potatoes.
Oh well, there’s always next year, I guess. At least we did have a decent amount of ‘earlies’ prior to Christmas.
Passion fruit and Plums
Fruit-wise we’ve had a glut of Passion fruit and are making sure that we each consume several per day so that they don’t go to waste. They are lovely big Passion fruit and are extremely juicy and flavoursome. We still have pulp from last season that we froze a year ago as it was so precious (haha!). I’m definitely not going to freeze any this year.
I did manage to process some of our plums in January. We had so many, all ready at the same time, so we halved and froze some for later, ate a great deal and used the rest for jam and plum wine.
The left-hand image above shows this year’s batch of plum wine directly after the first racking off. Prior to that I’d fast-fermented the must on the skins for the first few days, to bring through a little of the red colour – the plums themselves are yellow-fleshed.
We also opened a bottle of our plum wine from 2010 – we tend to forget that we have bottles of fruit wine in our cellar. It was actually not bad!
Fiery Plum and Habanero Jam
The jam was basically just plums, sugar and habanero pepper. I had to keep tasting the jam as I went along to ensure it was hot enough (but not too hot!); I added more habanero as it cooked. It turned out really well.
It’s very rich in flavour and ideal either just as jam, or added to casseroles or curries to give them an extra zing. It’s also good with cold meats and cheeses. Nice and spicy! I love the taste of habanero.
Well, there’s a sad tale to tell about Molly (it has a happy ending, though). I’ll have to write up what happened in a separate blog or I’ll never get this posted.
I’ll finish with a photo of a couple of my dahlias. They are very pretty… this photo was taken a week or two ago, they don’t look so perky today, due to the lack of rain.
It seems ages since I’ve posted anything. February has been so busy and now that it’s almost over, I can’t think where the days went to. The sun is rising noticeably later and setting noticeably earlier. The temperature range is still in the high 20s to low 30s Celsius, but there is the ‘smell’ of Autumn in the air. It has been extremely humid, and almost unbearable for sleeping at night. During the hottest parts of the day I still stay inside where it’s shady and much cooler.
The maize in the paddock next door has dried to a pale golden colour and rattles in the wind. The days are loud with the clicking of cicadas, and the nights with the more musical chirping of black field crickets.
Much has been happening in the garden, including our banana flowering for the first time, tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes, and a very good crop of garlic. It’s been extremely dry, and sadly, I fear that some of the newer small shrubs may have been lost – many are looking very dry and shriveled up and it’s just about impossible to water them as the earth has become so dry and hard. Large cracks are spreading in some places, and there are many patches where the grass has completely dried off. The pumpkins and squashes are dying back and we’ve given up on our zucchinis. There have been just too many of them.
In the vegetable garden, our best crops at the moment are basil, peas, silver beet, the last tomatoes, beetroot and chilli peppers. We have a new batch of scarlet runners that look pretty healthy and the passion fruit are dropping from the vine. I am always amazed at how lushly basil grows, even when it’s so dry.
Banana ‘Mons Mari’
The most exciting development has been our banana ‘Mons Mari‘ flowering for the very first time. I observed the very first spike of purple (which was the beginning of the flower stalk) on Monday 03 February.
This plant has been in our garden since April 2011 – I realise now that we didn’t plant it in a very good place – it’s exposed to the wind from the North and is also in very poor soil.
The flower stalk appears out of the centre once the plant is fully grown, hanging down as the flower develops. The male flower develops at the end of the flower stalk creating a bell, with the female flowers spiralling around the stem.
Nevertheless, it has produced an amazing flower stalk of small bananas with more still forming. We counted 170 the last time we checked – and remarkably this is only 3 weeks or so since the flower first appeared.
We’ve had so many tomatoes that I couldn’t keep up with picking them. The most successful have been the heirloom varieties, ‘Cherokee Purple‘, ‘Black Krim‘ and ‘Black from Tula‘, and the cherry tomato, ‘Suncherry’.
The latter have been dropping to the ground like berries and to be honest, we haven’t kept up with them. I also grew ‘Bloody Butcher‘ and this was a very nice, smaller tomato, but nothing really beats the taste of the big beauties. Some of the tomatoes were tunneled into by caterpillars, but not too badly. And this year all have ripened, so I won’t be making any Green Tomato Chutney.
I’ve ended up turning just about all the excess tomatoes (and there have been kilos of them!) into tomato concentrate and tomato sauces. I’m really pleased with a couple of recipes, so will post these in the near future.
This year is the first time I’ve tired making tomato concentrate. I tried two recipes – a plain one and a Greek version. The taste of both, compared with the tomato paste you can purchase commercially, is far superior. Sweet, tangy, fragrant and rich with the flavour of tomatoes that have been ripening in the sun.
I’ve grown garlic for three years now at South Head and this is the best crop I’ve harvested. There are more than 30 bulbs, a few of which I’ve left in the ground to mature a little longer.
I’ve read that garlic grows to its own conditions, which means that each year, if you use cloves from your own crop, the results will be better. I love it that I can grow enough garlic to last an entire year. We were literally turning the last of our 2013 garlic cloves into paste on the same day as we lifted the first bulb for 2014.