Savoury French Toast

Spring is almost here at Fat Weka Farm…but not quite. The daffodils are starting to make an appearance but this flowering cherry taken last year  on 1 October is my true sign of spring.  Perhaps it will flower earlier this year. It’s still holding out with it’s tightly wrapped buds.   In the meantime I won’t be saying goodbye to the nightly warmth and handy cooking space of our wood burner.

A fire and a dark beer is the perfect matchings for this easy dinner option in winter.

Throughout winter I’ve utilised this radiant warmth to also cook our dinner most nights. One quick favourite has been savoury French toast with a winter slaw.

French toast for breakfast is generally sweet and is a great way to use up sourdough bread.  Sourdough tends to get hard rather than go mouldy.  Sometimes it’s so hard you can work up a sweat just slicing it.  But it magically revives as does any stale bread with the french toast treatment.

I was lucky enough to be given some duck eggs making a richer custard and a good yellow colour.

Simply mix one egg with half a cup of milk, salt, pepper and about 1 Tbsp of parmesan cheese grated.   If you want a herby punch then add a little sage or thyme. One egg should be enough for four slices of bread and 2-4 people depending on what you choose to add as toppings.  It needs to be thin enough to soak in and coat the bread with the eggy milk liquid.


I tend to soak the bread in a flat bottomed plate – a pasta dish is ideal. Give it a minute to soak in.

This bread is a wholemeal from Gilberts and I’ve added some thyme to the egg and milk.

Heat a heavy pan (ideally cast iron) and add a knob of butter or your favourite oil.  Once it begins to sizzle add the soaked bread to the pan.  Cook each side until it browns.

To assist with the melting of cheese I cover with a pot lid for a few minutes.

Once you have turned over one side you can add a slice of cheese on top.

I like to add slaw on top but you can top with anything you like.  In this case I added some smoked mackerel along with the slaw.


20170907_084518 Another option for breakfast is a topping of bacon. When I do this I first begin cooking the bacon and then the french toast in the same pan.


In summer it’s delicious with tomatoes, basil, black pepper and a drizzle of your favourite oil.  It’s a year round easy breakfast, lunch or dinner depending what you have in the fridge or garden to top it off and an option when the bread is no longer fresh and needs reviving.

A  weekend treat is to have a classic sweet French toast.  Just replace 1 tbsp of parmesan and the salt and pepper for 1 tbsp of caster sugar and either a dash of  vanilla essence or a grinding of nutmeg.  I like to make this sweet version using a raisin bread or sweet bread. Our local bakery Gilbert’s Fine Food’s Date and Walnut sourdough or their delicious and rich Brioche works a treat but when I use a sweet bread like these I just add 1 tsp of sugar.

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Date and Walnut sourdough from Gilbert’s Fine Food bakery, Dunedin.

Top with sliced banana or cooked apple, kefir or yoghurt and a little maple syrup. Our grandson Beau’s favourite is just with maple syrup.  My favourite of course is with my son’s preserved apricots – Augustines of Central.

Augustines preserved apricots are available at Farro Fresh stores in Auckland, Moore Wilson’s in Wellington, Provisions in Cromwell and Florences in Wanaka. They are tree ripened, spray free and processed by hand in a Central Otago Riesling syrup.

When spring gets here with longer days of daylight, I will want to spend more time outdoors so time saving dishes like this are useful.  One real time saver I have discovered this winter on a trip to Melbourne has been three little hand peelers….more on that next posting.






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.