The Sanctuary Garden and a Shared Lunch

I had a dream when I left Dunedin for Auckland 9 months ago that I could be part of an urban community garden.  We have finally managed to achieve my dream.  We now have a plot with the Sanctuary Community Organic Garden at UNITEC.  This community garden is a haven for city dwellers who want to be a little more self sufficient and grow their own food.

Peter titled this photo “Somebody’s Darling” .  This lettuce was
growing in someones plot – looks too good to eat! 

This tiny bit of self sufficiency gives me a good feeling, especially leaving behind a large food garden in Dunedin to living with one raised bed and herbs in pots in Ponsonby.  We have nick named the community garden as “The Good Life Gardens” re-living the late 1970’s comedy “The Good Life”.  Peter is not as fanatical as Tom in the TV series, but loves the physical work involved in gardening. For me, it is a chance to share ideas and learn from local gardeners about what to plant and when … and how to deal with a host of pests we just don’t have down south.

Our Community Garden is nestled in the 55 hectare grounds of UNITEC Institute of Technology,
Mt Albert, where it was originally set up as a Horticultural Organic Teaching Garden

The gardeners tell us the volcanic soil here in Mt Albert is some of the best in New Zealand (certainly the free loam is a change from the clay in Dunedin). The soil has also benefited from being an organic garden for over 15 years.

Left: our plot chest high with lupins planted thankfully by the previous plot holders
Centre: Peter cut down all the weeds and lupins in true Permaculture style;
Right: a week later the weeds have all died down and I planted a row of carrots, sheltering
them under nasturtium leaves.

We have leased a plot about 4 x 4 metres amid the other family plots and the large communal beds of garlic, potatoes, silver beet and broad beans, plus beds of perennial herbs.

A very healthy potato patch.
 The Blues Rugby Development Squad trains in the UNITEC grounds.  They recently volunteered to earth up
all our potatoes…  and this should ensure we get a bumper crop. 

One of the founding members of the Sanctuary Trust was a Permaculturalist who planted up a food forest around the edge of the garden.  Beyond that is a forest reserve so it’s a perfectly sheltered site.

Permaculture is a philosophy as much as a method of gardening.  It was first introduced to the world by Australian Bill Mollison who studied forest ecology and translated it into a system of growing food and crops in a sustainable way. If you want to know more take a look at A Beginners Guide to Permaculture Gardening, a video made in North London.

Thankfully there are plenty of nasturtium hiding in the
food forest and around the edges of the garden plots
There are small gardens in and around the plots that are planted in flowers to attract beneficial insects.
Just as bees are essential for the success of the gardens, so too are Sarah, Bev and Trevor who organise us all.  There are young and old gardeners, some experienced and others garden rookies.

Being part of the community means promising a couple of hours a month to work on communal spaces.

Grandson Beau loves coming to the gardens, he is
watering flower seedlings planted out on community work day.
After our work, we retire to the large garden shed for a shared lunch around a large a central table.  This is also an opportunity to chat and get to know our fellow gardeners.  As a newbie to the group I felt a little nervous as what I should bring to our first shared lunch. 
 I decided to make Baba Ghanoush and flat bread as this is one of the easiest and nicest ways of eating the gorgeous aubergine.  Plus, as a dip it can go a long way.  Aubergines are abundant and  reasonably priced at this time of year.

Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ghanoush looks a lot more appetising with some freshly
chopped parsley, a slurp of olive oil and a few nasturtiums to bring colour to the dish.
Try popping some Baba Ghanoush into the flower and munch  
You can prepare the aubergine two different ways.  I like to prepare them in halves.  Sprinkle with rock salt, sit for 10 minutes, turn over and knock off salt and place face down on a tray (ideally lined with baking paper).
Cook in a oven at around 170-180C for about 30 minutes, until they begin to wrinkle and 
are soft when you push down with your finger.
In December 2012 I wrote a posting on Aubergine titled
Aubergine/Eggplant-King of Vegetables . Take a look if you want other
recipe ideas for this versatile and healthy vegetable.
I was reminded of a simple and quick way to cook the aubergine for a baba ghanoush by my friend Jan this weekend.  Jan pricked their skins and gave each aubergine a spray with oil before placing them on the hotplate of her compact barbecue, shutting the lid to keep the heat in.
She turned them two or three times and after about 10 minutes took them out and placed them into a brown paper bag until cool.  You can also cook them whole like this in an oven but it will take longer than on a barbecue plate.
The end result whatever way you cook the flesh must be a soft flesh that can easily mash.
I found if soft enough you can mash with a fork. This time I used my latest German made
 kitchen gadget.  It’s a whisk that you can push down to make it whirl around
– great for eggs and worked well on the aubergine.
The flesh looks a little like mashed ripe banana (and not particularly appetising yet.)  Next you add 2 Tbsp of Tahini (sesame seed paste). You can replace the tahini with peanut butter or one of Ceres Organics other nut spreads. 
I have discovered that Ceres produces a number of butters made from nuts.
The one in this picture is called ABC – Almond, Brazil and Cashew.
The first time I made baba ghanoush I found the sticky tahini was difficult to disperse through the aubergine, so next time I allowed it to warm a little on the bench and added the juice of half a lemon to make it more liquid.   Finely cut up a clove of garlic and squash with some salt to make the garlic almost liquid and add to the lemon and tahini.  This mix should now easily mix and disperse amongst the mashed aubergine flesh.   Alternatively you can just put the garlic through a garlic crusher.   Taste if it needs extra salt, pepper, garlic, or something else…
If you want it more creamy you could add in some thick yoghurt.
If you want more of lemon zing, you could add more lemon juice and even a preserved lemon quarter, scraped and finely chopped.
If you want more middle eastern heat then add some harissa paste.
I used chopped up parsley but coriander with a little mint is also a great option. 
It’s truly simple to make, but remember to taste as you go.  Always add a little of any added flavour at a time.  You don’t want to overpower your dip with too many flavours.   
Aubergine is the perfect carrier of flavours, so why not give it a go. Experiment to find your own take on Baba Ghanoush.  My version was a huge hit at the shared lunch.
As the weather warms baba ghanoush can be part of a lovely lunch or light dinner if you add salad vegetables and toasted flatbreads.   Tomatoes go particularly well with baba ghanoush.  
You may be able to just see the line of the carrots I planted (far left)
Our patch has lots of calendulas seeding and one of the gardeners
gave us some lettuce seedlings which are progressing well (right)

Back in our patch everything is shooting up – weeds as quickly as the seeds we have
planted.  We have had some failures but I have a strike of carrots!  We are going to try to keep
our patch in true permaculture style, by pulling the weeds and laying them down to eventually become part of the soil.  We hope this will also help to keep the moisture in as we only visit the gardens once or twice a week. We do take out the invasive weeds.  They are put into the community large plastic tanks with water to rot down and to be returned to the land as a tea.

Beau loves to help and here Poppa Pete is teaching
him how to gently water the seedlings in the greenhouse
There are not many community gardens that also have a large greenhouse in which to raise seeds.
I am doing an experiment to see which of my basil seedlings do best, the ones at home or those at the gardens.  The basil at the “Good Life” gardens will have a good start in the greenhouse.

Aubergine/Eggplant – the king of vegetables

My friend Gill just can’t pass an aubergine in the supermarket .  Who could blame her?

That alluring smooth roundness with a rich chocolate-purple skin would tempt most of us to reach out and add one or two to our shopping trolley.   Gill’s first inclination is to make ratatouille but wants some new inspiration for aubergine or eggplant dishes.

Gus bakes fresh bread each day for the Whitehouse Restaurant

I knew just who to ask about aubergines.  My son Gus works as a chef at the Whitehouse Cafe in Wanaka and he uses aubergines a lot.   I am proud to introduce Gus as my first guest blogger.

 Gus’s Aubergine

Cut down the middle, score in a criss-cross pattern and salt – a good pinch per half.

Tap flesh side down on a bench to get out moisture, then pat dry with paper towel.

Brush halves with herb oil (Rosemary or thyme) that has had garlic blended with the oil.   Rub with sweet patrika and bake flesh down.   Make sure there is plenty of oil or they will stick and burn. Cook at 180-200 for 20-30 minutes until they don’t bounce back when poked with your finger (same test as for cooking a fish fillet).

Now top with whatever you like.   At the Whitehouse we use braised lamb and soft Peccareno cheese Return to the oven to heat through and melt cheese.

Thank you Gus.

Gus Hayden can be found cooking at the Whitehouse Cafe and Bar in Wanaka most evenings.  He was first introduced to cooking to finance his other passion, snowboarding.  Gus says he is lucky to be able to live and work in Wanaka.  He loves preserving like his grandmother did using the old Agee jars (and is becoming known in the Otago second hand shops as ‘the jar man’).  He produces beautiful bottled Central Otago apricots, cordials, curds, quince paste, chilli sauces and various pickles.  We are the lucky ones who get supplies each time he comes home to Dunedin.

Whitehouse Cafe & Bar, 33 Dunmore Street, opp
the Domain, Wanaka, Ph 03 4439595

So if you are travelling to Wanaka this summer call in and say hi to our Gus.

Aubergine has a taste and texture that is unique.   I have discovered that it not only looks good, but it is good for you.   It assists in getting rid of harmful cholesterol and provides antioxidants that help prevent cancer cells forming.    Some research has even pointed to Aubergine assisting you in losing weight (until you add that olive oil I guess!).  You can find out more nutritional information on this site:
Whole Foods – aubergine health properties

Aubergine is a sponge for flavours, so works very well in a curry with all those spices.  It’s also appropriate as the plant originated in the Indian sub-continent and is known in Asia as Bagan Brinjal.

I discovered a curry recipe from  My Darling Sweet Lemon Thyme.   This blog is written by Emma Galloway, formerly of Raglan now living in Perth.   Emma is a young mum who cooks gluten and dairy free food for her family with food allergies.  She has worked professionally in a kitchen and I must say her site is inspiring.

Eggplant Curry – a simple quick dish that even improves for the next day

Eggplant Curry from My Darling Lemon Thyme Blog  (Click here to get the Curry recipe)

The only alteration I made to this recipe was to finely cut up the garlic rather than crushing, doubled the tumeric because it’s a spice that’s so good for you, and used a can of tomatoes and half a can of water.   Emma was right it did taste even better the next day.
Eggplant curry served on rice, topped with onion and chopped coriander

How to Choose Your Aubergine

When picking your aubergine make sure it has a glossy skin with no spots or marks, the green top looks  fresh and if possible still has a stem.   To test if it is ripe push the flesh and if it bounces back it is ripe.  If the indent stays – its not yet ready for eating.   If it comes wrapped in plastic take that off as soon as possible.  They are so decorative that I usually don’t put them away in the fridge but that does keep them for longer.

To Salt or Not to Salt…..

Botanically Aubergine is actually a berry and the brown spots
are its seeds

The new varieties of aubergine doesnt tend to be as bitter as those in the past and won’t need “degorging” (salting, rinsing and patting dry).  If your aubergine has a lot of the dark seeds it will have a bitterness that comes from the nicotinoid alkaloids found in the brown seeds.   Yes there is nictotine in eggplant but you would have to eat 9 kg of eggplant to equal the nictotine of one cigarette. 

Salting will however soften the fruit and will lessen the amount of oil you will need to use to cook it.  

River Cottage veg everyday!

 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s latest book Veg Everyday matches his recent series tv series when he gave up eating meat to explore the possibilities of vegetables.      We too have recently decided to make more meals vegetarian and this book has enticing vegetarian recipes.   It’s not that I am  against meat it’s just that the more I learn about the benefits of vegetables the more I want to use them.  I love the way Hugh lays out and describes the methods of cooking and gives suggested variations to a recipe.  I looked up aubergine and there were three recipes that I would like to try.  So one more ‘Hugh’ book has found a place on my recipe bookshelves.

A page out of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s – River Cottage veg everyday!

This is one of the recipes I would like to try from Veg Everyday.   It’s simple – just roast 2 cubed aubergines with potatoes in hot oil, adding chopped garlic in the final 10 minutes and just before serving add lemon juice, sweet paprika (like Gus did) and chopped herbs.   Hugh also suggests adding another eggplant and replacing the potatoes with chickpeas in the final ten minutes of cooking.
Looks delicious and I will definitely try this the next time I get an eggplant or aubergine.

Aubergine is also called Eggplant as the cultivars introduced to Britain were yellow or white and the size of a goose egg.  “Jew’s Apple” was another name in the 18th century, because of its great popularity amongst Jews who may have introduced it to Britain.   
Thank you Gill for encouraging me to look for fresh ideas for Aubergines/Eggplants.   The regal purple aubergine certainly deserves the title King of the Vegetables

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