There are maintenance jobs to do at this time of the year – pruning roses and feeding your spring bulbs with liquid fertilizer come to mind. I guess the leaf raking goes without saying because it is winter. Everything is so sodden and water logged so be careful when you tread on lawn – you don’t want to compact your lawn by walking on it too much. The other usual winter jobs in the garden are pruning lightly pruning any deciduous fruit trees and giving them a spray of neem oil.

If your roses are infected, it would pay to spray them with neem oil. In fact even your ornamentals can do with a spray of neem oil from time to time. It is also good time to plant summer lilies. Talking about planting – a few weeks back I planted garlic and potatoes. You are meant to plant garlic on the shortest day to harvest on the longest day. Both garlic and potatoes require heavy feeding and well-draining soil. I have planted some in soil and some in pots. Garlic is a first for me and seems promising with the shoots appearing already.

Seed potatoes and potato planter

For winter colour, you can’t go past cyclamen and primulas. They are just so bright and cheery and once you plant, they require the odd feed once every few weeks and reward you with their cheerful blooms weeks on end.


I do use a lot of herbs in my cooking so I have also planted Italian Parsley, sage and rosemary all in pots and placed them on the patio where the afternoon sun comes. I did the mistake of planting mint in my garden and it grows wild everywhere. Just as well I love the freshness mint delivers be it for sweet or savoury dishes or Friday night drinks so I don’t feel bad.

When I was working, I did not have enough time to care for my citrus and even though I have a few in the garden, they never fruited. Now I can tell you that I have learnt the art of taking care of them so they are fruiting abundantly. Here are my tips:

Lime tree looking healthy

Citrus are hungry and big feeders. You may need to feed them with a citrus fertilizer three times a year. When the tree is giving out new shoots and flowers, I feed it a generous amount of Epsom salts (the variety you buy in the supermarket). Every time you feed make sure you spread the fertilizer around and water it in. During dry season, you must not forget to water once every few days at least. Lastly, I mulch them with pea straw – spread the pea straw around the tree leaving some space empty around the trunk. If you feel the leaves are curling, then give it a spray of neem oil.


The geraniums I planted towards end of summer are still going strong and adding some brightness to the patio. I dead head them regularly and feed liquid fertilizer once every three to four weeks. A couple of months back they got a bad case of caterpillar infestation and yes I hand-picked the caterpillars out but also sprayed with my trusted neem oil.


Wildflowers in Porirua


A friend of mine Rachel, sent this to me just over ten years ago. I saved it because it is an inspiring message delivered well and makes good sense.

George Bernard Shaw said, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they make them.”

Well, it’s pretty apparent, isn’t it? And every person who discovered this believed (for a while) that he was the first one to work it out. We become what we think about.

Conversely, the person who has no goal, who doesn’t know where he’s going, and whose thoughts must therefore be thoughts of confusion, anxiety and worry – his life becomes one of frustration, fear, anxiety and worry. And if he thinks about nothing …. he becomes nothing.

How does it work? Why do we become what we think about? Well, I’ll tell you how it works, as far as we know. To do this, I want to tell you about a situation that parallels the human mind.

Suppose a farmer has some land, and it’s good, fertile land. The land gives the farmer a choice; he may plant in that land whatever he chooses. The land doesn’t care. It’s up to the farmer to make the decision.

We are comparing the human mind with the land because the mind, like the land, doesn’t care what you plant in it. It will return what you plant, but it doesn’t care what you plant.

Now, let’s say that the farmer has two seeds in his hand – one is seed of corn, the other is nightshade, a deadly poison. He digs two little holes in the earth and he plants both seeds – one corn, and the other nightshade. He covers up the holes, waters and takes care of the land – and what will happen? Invariably, the land will return what was planted.

As it’s written in the Bible, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

Remember the land doesn’t care. It will return poison in just as wonderful abundance as it will corn. So up come the two plants – one corn, one poison.

The human mind is far more fertile, far more incredible and mysterious than the land, but it works the same way. It doesn’t care what we plant ….success….or failure. A concrete, worthwhile goal… or confusion, misunderstanding, fear, anxiety and so on. But what we plant it must return to us.

You see, the human mind is the last great unexplored continent on earth. It contains riches beyond our wildest dreams. It will return anything we want to plant.


Years ago when my kids were still in primary school (so possibly 15 years ago) I printed these commandments and we used to read it aloud together. I was rummaging through stuff in my study and came across the printed version. They are still so relevant.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about the ones who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a second chance, grab it with both hands. If it changes your life, let it.

Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

If you want your dreams to come true, you mustn’t oversleep.

Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important.

The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.

The heaviest thing you can carry is a grudge.

One thing you can give and still keep … is your word.

You lie the loudest when you lie to yourself.

If you lack the courage to start, you have already finished.

One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time.

Ideas won’t work unless ‘you’ do.

Your mind is like a parachute … it functions only when open.

The 10 commandments are not a multiple choice.

The pursuit of happiness is the chase of a lifetime! It is never too late to become what you might have been.



This is a highly nutritious, tasty and popular breakfast item made in Andhra households. It is nice on its own or you can serve with ginger chutney (allam pachadi). This along with allam pachadi is comfort food and as such tend to eyeball the ingredients rather than measure them out precisely. For purposes of sharing this recipe, I have given measurements. I use a tawa which is a special fry pan that is flat with a lip of one centimetre tall. You can however use a regular fry pan.

250 grams whole mung beans

1 -3 fresh hot green chillies, chopped

5 cms piece of fresh ginger peeled and chopped

Handful of fresh coriander stems and leaves

2 tablespoons rice flour

8 teaspoons vegetable oil like canola

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 medium onions finely chopped

Put the beans into a bowl and wash them in several changes of water. Drain, then cover generously in fresh water and soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and put into a blender. Add chillies, ginger, coriander stems and leaves, salt and about 200 ml water. Blend for several minutes until you have a pancake like batter. Empty into another bowl and mix in the rice flour.

Mix the chopped onions with the cumin seeds and set aside.

Set a largish non-stick fry pan over a medium heat. When hot, stir the batter from the bottom and pour a ladleful into the centre of pan. Lightly use the back of the ladle and a wrist action to spread the batter outwards in an even spiral form to reach the wall of the fry pan about 20 centimetres in diameter. Sprinkle the onion and cumin mix and pat them down gently with the back of a spoon. Add a few drops of oil in the centre and about the edges of the pancake. Cook on a low medium heat until the pancake turns crisp and golden. Flip the pancake and allow to cook the other side for about 30 seconds. Serve right away (I tend to use two fry pans). Make all the pancakes in the same way, stirring the batter each time you make.


ALLAM PACHADI (Ginger chutney)

30 grams tamarind (the variety that comes in a packet in an Indian store) (small lime sized ball)

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

2 tablespoons channa dhal (split chick peas)

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon powdered asafoetida

8-12 dried red hot chillies

3 tablespoons vegetable oil like canola

40 grams jaggery (if you can’t find jaggery, you can use palm sugar or muscavado sugar)

Salt to taste

100 grams ginger (peeled and evenly chopped)

Wash the tamarind and then soak in 60 ml of hot water from the kettle for an hour. Using your hand (wear gloves), squeeze the tamarind and extract thick pulp. Discard the fibrous bits that don’t get pulped. Put the pulp into a microwave safe container and microwave on high for a minute and set aside.

Heat a kadai (Indian style wok) or a saucepan and add the oil to make the popu (seasoning). Add the fenugreek seeds along with channa dhal and fry them until they are slightly brown (if the oil is too hot they tend to burn and get bitter). Add the chillies (you can cut them in half if they are too long), stir and then add the mustard seeds. When mustard seeds start to splutter, remove from heat and add asafoetida to the hot mixture. Allow to cool.

Once the popu is cool enough, blend to a fine paste in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Add the tamarind pulp, salt, jaggery and ginger. Pulse until everything is ground. Transfer to a jar and serve with pesarettu or adai dosa. Store in refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.


Pasta with fennel and tuna

In our household we refer to this as Jacques Pepin pasta as it is his recipe that I have modified to cater to my family’s taste buds.

1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs evenly diced

1 large onion evenly diced

180 grams tinned tuna in spring water

½ teaspoon chilli flakes

2 tablespoons currants

A few sprigs of Italian parsley coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

Grated rind from one small lemon

100 grams hazelnuts toasted and coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper

500 grams of dried pasta cooked according to directions on the box (I used casarecce)

Put water on to boil for cooking pasta while you prepare the sauce.

Heat the olive oil in a large fry pan. When sufficiently heated fry the diced onion and fennel. After frying for 2 -3 minutes, add the chilli flakes, currants, parsley and tuna along with the water. Fry for a couple more minutes. Add half a cup of water and allow to cook for five minutes.

Add a ladle of pasta water to the sauce. Just before serving stir in the lemon rind and hazel nuts. Mix the sauce into the pasta and serve hot immediately. Serves 4.


Toasted Muesli

This is a firm family favourite. Since it is so nutrient dense, about 4 to 5 heaped tablespoons with yoghurt is satisfying. Easy to prepare and yields well making it cost efficient.


6 cups rolled oats

1 cup desiccated coconut

1 cup natural almonds roughly chopped in half

1 cup cashew nut pieces

½ cup flax seed powder

¼ cup chia seeds

1 cup sunflower seeds

½ cup sesame seeds

½ cup pumpkin kernels

½ cup honey

½ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon powder

1 cup chopped dates

½ cup sliced figs

1 cup sultanas

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. In a large bowl, combine the oats, desiccated coconut, all the nuts and seeds. Mix well. In a small saucepan set over a low heat, add honey, oil and cinnamon powder and stir until all melted together – make sure you don’t boil. Pour over the grains and nut mix. Mix well, making sure everything is evenly coated.

Put in two large baking dishes and place them both in the oven. You will need to check every five minutes and turn the muesli over so the mixture is evenly toasted and golden brown.

Remove from oven, and add the dried fruit while still hot. Mix well and leave to cool before storing in air tight containers. Serve with yoghurt and seasonal fruit.


Dhal Fry

This is a very simple and satisfying item you see on the menu in Indian restaurants and households. There are any number of variations – normally this is made with Toor Dhal (obtained from specialist Indian stores and you would cook this in a pressure cooker as stove top method takes too long) but I have done a simple one with all the flavours using red lentils.


1 cup red lentils washed

1 thumb size fresh ginger piece chopped fine

1 large onion finely chopped

1 fresh red chilli finely chopped

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder

2 tablespoons ghee

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Salt to taste

½ fresh lemon

1 tablespoon coriander leaves finely chopped


Place the lentils in a large saucepan and add two and a half cups water. Add the onion, ginger, chilli and turmeric powder. Stir to combine contents of the pot and bring it to a boil. Once the water is bubbling, reduce heat and let the lentils simmer for 15 minutes stirring a couple of times so the lentils do not stick to the bottom. Once cooked stir in the salt, lemon juice and coriander leaves and set aside. Heat the ghee in a small fry pan. When hot add the cumin seeds, fry until they splutter or the seeds have opened up and the flavour is evident. While hot pour on top and serve immediately with pulao. Serves 4.


Dhal fry and pulao


2 cups Basmati rice rinsed in a sieve and drained

1 large carrot cut into a small 1 centimetre dice

1 large onion sliced very thinly

1 cup frozen peas

½ thumb size piece of fresh ginger finely chopped

4 plump garlic cloves finely chopped

1 x 5 cm cinnamon stick cut in half

5 cloves

5 cardamom

4 tablespoons ghee

Salt to taste


Take a wide saucepan with a lid preferably one with a non-stick surface. Heat ghee and add the whole spices. Fry for a minute until all the spices have opened up and the smell is evident. Then fry the onions for three minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and continue to fry for a further minute. Add the rice, carrots and fry for a couple of minutes. Add salt and three and three quarters cups of cold water from the tap. Increase heat and let the contents of the pan come up to the boil. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and cook for 12 minutes. Stir in the frozen peas and continue cooking for a further 4- 5 minutes. The key to cooking beautiful rice on stove top is to get the best quality Basmati rice you can afford and also do not stir more than once in the middle of cooking. Allow the rice to rest for ten minutes before serving hot with the Dhal or raita.

Radish / Onion Salad

5 small pink table radishes sliced thinly

2 medium red onions sliced thinly

Salt to taste

Pinch of sugar

½ teaspoon Ajwain seeds (Indian store)

Juice of one lemon


Using your hands, mix the radishes, onions, salt, sugar and ajwain seeds. Squeeze in the lemon juice and allow to pickle for at least half an hour. Serve as part of an Indian meal.


10 large, juicy lemons (Meyer)

Juice from 4 lemons

10 tablespoons salt

9 tablespoons chilli powder (I use a combination of very hot and mild Kashmiri chilli powder)

1 heaped dessertspoon full of fenugreek seeds (roasted until brown and ground to a fine powder)

10 cloves plump garlic (optional)

2 teaspoons black mustard seeds

4 tablespoons vegetable oil like canola


Cut the 10 lemons into eighths or if smallish into quarters. Take a large jar and place lemons in jar. Add all the salt and shake the jar so the salt is mixed in. Set the jar aside for 24 hours. Squeeze out all the pieces (retain the juice that has collected) and you can dry the pieces in the sun or I prefer to dehydrate them in the oven at 50 degrees Celsius for about 16 hours or so.  Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds – fry until the seeds are sputtering. Then add the garlic and fry for about 30 seconds. In another large mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon mix the chilli powder and roasted fenugreek powder and add the oil mixture. Add the dried lemon pieces and also the reserved juice (the one from soaking). Mix well and put all the pickle back into the jar. Allow to rest in a cupboard for a couple of days. Then give it a good mix and squeeze in juice from the four lemons. Will keep for a few months in the back of your cupboard. Serve as accompaniment to an Indian meal.



1 large ripe avocado (you know it’s ripe when the stalk falls off easily)

1 red chilli finely chopped (optional)

1 small garlic (optional)

1 small tomato finely chopped

1 small shallot finely chopped

Few sprigs of coriander leaves chopped

½ a large lime

½ teaspoon hot sauce

Salt to taste


Cut the avocado in half and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Using a fork, mash it so there are a few small chunks here and there. Add the remaining ingredients and give it a mix. Serve as a dip or relish for burgers or potato wedges.


Pickled Onions

200 grams red onions

For the pickling liquid

50 ml apple cider vinegar

50 ml water

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon hot chilli sauce


Peel and slice the onions as thinly as you can. Sprinkle and mix the salt and sugar. Place in a jar and pour in the apple cider vinegar and water. Mix or shake jar and allow to rest fifteen minutes before serving. Will keep in refrigerator for up to a week. Use for burgers or in tacos as a topping.


Spicy Potato Wedges

750 grams potatoes washed (Agria or Red Desiree potatoes)

4 teaspoons vegetable oil like canola

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon chilli powder or ground cayenne

½ teaspoon hot chilli flakes

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon mild paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Dry the washed potatoes thoroughly. No need to peel. Cut to make about 8 wedges from each potato (depends on how thick your potatoes are). Place the wedges in a large mixing bowl. Mix all the spice powders in a separate small bowl and sprinkle on the wedges tossing them as you go along. Then drizzle the oil and toss to ensure all wedges have a bit of the spice mixture and the oil. Lay them out on a large shallow baking tray. Place on top shelf for 40 minutes turning them once or twice during cooking. Serve hot.