Sunday, 7 April 2013

… Fall Back

I woke this morning to what felt like a miracle… the sound of heavy, cleansing rain. Due to a drier-than-normal November and a practically rainless December, by February pretty much the whole of New Zealand was covered in dead, brown grass, and by mid-March, everyone, especially farmers,were getting pretty desperate. An official drought was declared in some of the worst-affected parts of the country, and compensation given to the farmers concerned, who needed it most. Even our humble little ten acre block was feeling the strain. We had water issues: a mysterious leak in one of our paddock tanks meant that 20 000 liters was almost gone within a few days. Dad had to buy truck-fulls of water to sustain our livestock over the course of a fortnight before he found a crack in one of the water pipes. Our veggie patch stopped growing. Weeds and low-nutrient grasses were sprouting. We had to feed our animals hard feed, things like silage and barley, because there wasn't any good grass. By the end of March though, we had had a few showers, here and there. They weren't very long, or very heavy - but that was ok. It brought me hope. It allowed the ground to soften a bit, before real, good rain comes.

This morning another of those hopeful showers came. It was quite heavy for about half an hour, giving the earth the drink that it so desperately needs, before it dispersed into that crisp autumn sunshine, when the day takes a little longer to warm up than it did just a month or two ago. Autumn is one of my most favorite times of the year. Kind of the underdog The Seasons, it heralds crisper, alert mornings and beautiful sunrises, warm, rich and comforting food, bed socks, tea and anticipation for the coming ski season.

In other news, I had my birthday party last night, with four of my closest friends at a vibrant, loud, charismatic restaurant called Gina's Italian Kitchen. Part of the reason I chose to go there was not specifically the food, but the atmosphere. The red and white checkered table cloths, slightly cheesy and upbeat italian music and friendly, extroverted, authentically italian waiters all make it a throughly memorable experience. It was so, so much fun! Part of one of my friends birthday presents to me was a food magazine called 'Super Food Ideas', one which I wasn't familiar with. I offered to make lunch for my parents today because I wanted to make something from it, and found this honey roasted pumpkin and couscous salad. The recipe asks for mint and pistachios, among other things, and while I didn't have either of these, I substituted the pistachios for sliced almonds, and doubled the original amount of coriander.

The clocks get turned back tonight. I still go by the old adage 'spring forward, fall back', and to me it's not only a reminder of how to set your watch at this time of year, but it marks a change of pace in my lifestyle. It's hibernation time; slow down, sleep more, rest: it's ok. You can save all your rushing around for the spring.

Honey Roasted Pumpkin and Couscous Salad

Serves 4

600g kent (jap) pumpkin, peeled, cut into 2cm cubes
2 Tbsp honey
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup orange juice
1 cup couscous
1 tsp finely grated orange rind
2 Tbsp currants
⅔ cup chicken stock
¼ cup pistachio kernels, toasted, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh coriander leaves

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan-forced. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place pumpkin in a large bowl. Add honey and 1 Tbsp oil. Toss to coat. Place, in a single layer, on prepared tray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, turning halfway through cooking, or until caramelized and tender.
  2. Place 2 Tbsp orange juice and remaining oil in a screw-top jar. Season. Secure lid. Shake to combine.
  3. Meanwhile, place couscous, orange rind and currants in a large heatproof bowl. Place stock and remaining  orange juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil. Remove from heat. Pour over couscous mixture. Cover with foil. Stand for 5 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed. Fluff couscous with a fork to separate grains.
  4. Add pumpkin, pistachios, mint, coriander and orange dressing to couscous misture. Gently toss to combine. Serve.

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