The first blowfly has just been despatched from my kitchen - can spring be far behind? On a recent sunny afternoon and following my first visit to the newish location of The Canberra Times in Civic, the magnet was the forest of Himalayan cedars (Cedrus deodara) at the National Arboretum. The sun lit the tree trunks which were wrapped in knitted scarves made to Indigenous patterns for Warm Trees this year by Friends of the NAC.
The species name, deodara, is a Sanskrit word which means "timber of the gods" and the air among them felt beneficial. The trees were planted from 1917 to 1930 followed by plantings in 2010. A friend who is heading off to live for some time among Indigenous artists far north-east of Alice Springs said, "Big hugs to the trees."
It prompted me to return home to cook beurre bosc pears, their name translates as "butter forest". My poached pears have a splash of red wine in the syrup and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon which prompted a taster to say it was like mulled wine.
Last year, just after the pear season had ended, a reader, Cate Beurle, sent me a recipe for baked pears (which follows). Cate says it is a fantastic recipe which she found many years ago in a newspaper. She says it is easy to make, looks fabulous and is tasty.
In the past few years many of us have ordered poke bowls which originated in the Hawaiian islands with raw tuna and rice the main ingredients. Now I have a new interest. At the overwhelmingly popular Deakin and Me, they serve a Super Bowl which is perfect for brunch. It comes with a generous crescent of roast pumpkin with skin on, half an avocado warmly dressed in sesame seeds, beetroot hummus, red cabbage and you can add a side of cured salmon.
However one scattered ingredient so intrigued me that chef was called to identify it. Tiny, tangy, red/purple and with heart-shaped leaves, he said the microgreens were shiso. I wanted to grow them, or similar.
Angie Thomas, horticultural communications manager at Yates to the rescue. She has successfully grown microgreens for a couple of years and has offered packets of the "jewelled" seeds for a giveaway.
There are Mizuna Red Gems with a mild mustard flavour, Cabbage Rubies which are sweeter and Rocket Emeralds with striking little flowers and a tangy taste. All are nutrient dense and can be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill or on a balcony. You can purchase the seeds at independent hardware stores and some garden centres and also through the online Yates shop.
Then I found a brilliant three-minute video from ABC Everyday, How to Grow Microgreens with Ted Chang, who has a PhD in ecology. He owns a farm in Victoria where, in a greenhouse, he raises microgreens for sale to chefs. He explains that sprouts, microgreens and baby leaves all come from the same plant at different stages of growth.
The particular seeds he features in the video are the Japanese red mustard, mizuna. Chang suggests using a seed tray or a re-used berry punnet with drainage holes lined with kitchen paper.
There are lots of easy tips which are clearly explained.
Microgreens seed giveaway: To win two packets of Yates microgreen seeds, tell me if you have eaten them in Canberra, and on what dish you would serve them. Email with your name and address to email@example.com
1. Preheat oven to 200C fan-forced (or 220C conventional). Combine sugar, lemon, water and white wine in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil. Add pears, reduce heat to low cover and simmer, turning pears occasionally, for 30 minutes or until cooked and tender. Remove pears and set aside to cool.
2. Cut three circles out of each pastry sheet with a 10-centimetre diameter. Place one tablespoon of stuffing into the base of each pear and sit pears on pastry round. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for 12-14 minutes. Serve pears with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream dusted with icing sugar.
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