Emily! I bring unexpected news: I made shit up and it was good.

A cucumber in my fridge was looking really sad the other day, and I had these other ingredients available (through no actual planning of my own). It was fabulously creamy and delicious, so I thought I’d write up the recipe for you. I’m going to write exactly what I did, although I’m pretty sure that cutting down time by using fresh ingredients where I used marinated would work too. I hope you won’t mind if there’s no photo to illustrate it… yet.

I happened to have had, that day:
* a finely sliced onion in a bowl, marinating since the day before in a red wine vinegar + olive oil vinaigrette (the remainder of a sauce I made for greens)
* a pan of oven-roasted tomatoes (cut your tomatoes in two, put them in an oven dish cut side up, add salt, pepper & olive oil, roast for 45mn at about 180°C) (I had roasted them to eat as a side dish, not become an ingredient, but what the hell)
* an old decrepit cucumber
* some frozen garlic cloves (I bought a pound bag of them in an Asian grocery store a while back, SO HANDY)
* a jar of preserved red bell pepper (in brine)
* a few fresh leaves of basil

After cutting the tomatoes up in quarters, peeling and dicing the cucumber, and detailing the red bell pepper strips into smaller chunks, I put all of this together in the blender and hit WHIZZ.

I was expecting to have to adjust the taste (vinegar, oil, salt and pepper were all at complete guesstimate levels) and was a little scared on the acidity front, but the bell pepper – I had slightly more bell pepper than tomato, which is really unusual for me – made it really sweet, which balanced the vinegar perfectly. It was *amazing*, to me anyway, especially for something I just threw together because I had no clue what to cook.

I know it’s winter where you are, Emily, and I hope you won’t begrudge me my extra-summery recipe, but it’s been so hot here lately that a cold soup was exactly what I needed.

I made a delicious paëlla, for the first time ever! (probably not deserving of the name, frankly). I used stuff I happened to have around the house, with the exception of an onion; I was out and had to go get some from the store.

paëlla close-up
(Sorry for my terrible phone pics)

It was so easy, the reward so high for my efforts, that I thought I should share… So here goes.

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Oh my goodness. I just improvised the most amazing cake.

Best cake EVER

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Dear anat,

I am going to see you SOON OMG! And lo, there will be much baking. A and I are already poring through our recipe books and making plans for exciting stuff we can forage and eat. I can’t wait!

Here’s a recipe to tide you over. Very simple and not requiring any shopping.

Honey spice cakes

This recipe is kind of circular in its origins. A British friend tweeted about it, I begged for the recipe, she emailed it to me. She sold it as “cake in a saucepan”, but it’s really just mixed in a saucepan and cooked in the oven. For a very short amount of time, I learned! So basically, it’s a super-simple recipe that you can throw together usually with things already in the pantry, and very quickly. And quite delicious without being too fancy!

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Dear Emily,

I thought I would finally update you on my experiment in natural dyeing conducted earlier this autumn. Here’s the yarn I decided to dye. I used blackthorn berries I had picked myself not far from home (the hedge in front of the new cemetery, which is close to that field where we saw the golden cows, in case you remember), and made a dye “soup” from them by crushing them and simmering them for an hour. I was using the book Wild Colour by Jenny Dean to guide me through the whole process and tell me what to expect. I used a little under 600g of fresh berries, because I meant to dye 500g of yarn.

The book said to strain the dye obtained by simmering, and that it could be used to cold-dye animal fibers. It showed that a pale-ish dusty pink should be the result, which could then become a darker violet if the yarn was saddened afterwards– that is to say, soaked in iron water.

I had prepared iron water beforehand, by dropping rusty nails in a solution of water and white vinegar, and waiting 3 weeks for the liquid to turn a pretty copper colour (copper water turns blue, but iron water is copper coloured. I find it amusing). The iron water’s effect is to darken the shade, but also increase the light-fastness and wash-fastness of the colour.

Long story short, I never got any pink in my yarn. I let it soak in the cold dye bath overnight, and because it didn’t look much better than grey-ish, I tried heating it up too (the book said I could). I had two batches and tried several things, but no matter what I did and how long I let the yarn soak (I even dyed some of it twice), in the end I could only get this greenish grey.

I suspect that the colour of the yarn is due more to the iron water than to the blackthorn berry dye bath. Perhaps they weren’t good berries. He’s a before-and-after picture.

I might attempt to overdye this yarn in the future, if I can forage for another source of natural dye, but all in all I’m not actually displeased by this colour. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get the purple shade I saw in the book, yes, but as ever with natural dyeing, there is a depth to the colour that is very pleasing. Perhaps I’ll just look for a yarn to pair with this one to make stripes; I have a feeling this grey could be a perfect complimentary tone.

Remember when I was visiting you and we went foraging in your village and the nearby forest to harvest various tree bits for yarn dyeing?
Forest on Monts de la Madeleine
To go all schmoopy for a moment, that’s one of my favourite memories of that trip – I always get a kick out of being in European forests (my childhood as a high fantasy fan, of course), and it was so much fun to tromp around with you on the loamy ground amidst the furry trees, plucking moss off the low-reaching branches. (And of course discovering all the bugs that emerged from the moss when we opened those lunch boxes later. Hah!)

And of course, getting up from the epic knitting sessions whenever I needed a break and adding more water to the yarn-and-walnut-shells stew.

So anyway. One day I’ll get around to my own yarn dyeing – it’s in my genes, apparently; I have mustard coloured yarn hanging around somewhere that my grandmother spun and dyed with onion skins. In the meantime, though, I’ve been getting out there and doing some harvesting of my own, only living in the city means it’s more urban foraging than foresty rambling.

In aid of urban foraging, there’s a Feral Fruit Trees of Australia gmap that anyone can update (and someone around our neighbourhood has updated it a lot, yay!), but our recent foraging occurred because Alex went to a community meeting and asked if anyone had any lemons.

Someone gave her directions to a vacant lot in an affluent suburb about twenty minutes’ drive away, and we went off on an adventure. The lot seemed to previously have a big house on it – it was house-less, but enormous with a whole bunch of established fruit trees of increasingly wildness leading down to a creek front. The lemon tree was enormous and covered in lemons, though clearly other foragers had been there before us and most of the fruit within reach were gone.

But, we scrambled down the hill anyway and Alex grabbed the branches she could reach and shook them while I ran around picking up all the lemons that fell on the ground.

Alex has plans to make preserved lemons, and I have plans to put lemon in basically everything – already I have a Moroccan chickpea & chicken soup that has lemon juice and zest, and a dal saag recipe with lemon juice, and of course: gin & tonics.

But a fairly typical Aussie classic is the lemon slice. I just used my first two foraged lemons to make a batch – they smelled amazingly good just as I was doing the zesting, here’s hoping they taste just as great!

Lemon Slice

First lemon slice: success!

Recipe adapted from taste.com.au:


  • Grated/zested rind of 2 medium, ripe lemons
  • 200g Arnott’s granita biscuits (or alternative!)
  • 100g butter
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut


  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 40g softened butter
  • Lemon juice


  1. Chuck the biscuits in a food processor until they’re fine crumbs. In a large bowl, add the lemon zest and coconut. Mix all together.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the condensed milk and 100g of butter until the butter is all melted.
  3. Pour the butter/milk mixture into the dry ingredients bowl and mix together.
  4. Grease a 3cm deep, 15.5cm x 25cm slab pan and add a layer of greaseproof paper to cover all surfaces. Leave overhang so you can lift the whole slice out when it’s set.
  5. Press the mixture into the pan evenly. Put it into the fridge for about 1.5 hours, or until firm.


  1. Mix icing sugar, softened butter and 2.5 tablespoons of lemon juice thoroughly in a bowl with a wooden spoon. When smooth, pour over the biscuit base and make sure it’s spread evenly. Put back in the fridge for another 30 mins, or until the icing is set (hard).

Chop into squares or rectangles!


Now, that was the first batch I made. On the second batch I got a bit more creative – put in slivers of coconut instead of a small portion of the desiccated coconut, and used half coconut cream and half sweetened condensed milk. For the icing I used lime juice. I want to do the whole thing with lime (instead of lemon zest), but limes are so expensive here right now! Alex also suggested BLOOD ORANGE SLICE, which sounds AMAZING, but it’s totally the wrong season for oranges right now. So, stay tuned!

In more urban foraging news, we discovered that the big, draping tree in our front yard is a weeping mulberry! And the branches are COVERED with unripe berries. So, here’s hoping we can keep the birds off and have a great harvest there, too. Jam!