How To Gather – Our Top 10 Tips

Gathering Shot for About Us resizePhotographer Rebecca Bijl

How to gather?  I had never really considered that people would like to find out more about gathering and actually how to do it?  Just assumed gathering was commonsense , until a friend mentioned that she’d really love to know more about what to gather and didn’t really have the confidence to get started.

Why gather at all?  Why not just pop down to the wholesale florist or local grower?  That is a whole topic in itself, but in short … gathering is good on so many levels.

First.  Start collecting.  Objects and materials that catch your eye.


What If …. Nutrition Could Heal Mental Illness?

Last night despite a seriously miserable head cold I ventured out to UC for a free lecture about the relationship between nutrition and mental illness.  The lecture theatre was packed out.  The subject matter obviously pressed a button for many of us and we wanted to find out more.

I am really interested in how a healthy balanced diet and good nutrition can affect mood, concentration and sleep,  and also perhaps help combat long-term mental decline.  I know from experience how much sharper and less foggy my mind seems to be since I switched to a virtually sugar-free diet six months ago.   Nothing else has changed in my life;  I’ve still got the chaos going on around me.  I’m still busy.  I’m still an average sleeper but my brain does seem to be functioning a little better.  Hurray for that.

Back to last night’s lecture by Julia Rucklidge, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Canterbury University.  Once the link to the lecture on YouTube is up I’ll let you know.

The facts are there.  Mental illness is on the up all over the world and studies have shown that higher rates of mental illness are linked to a western diet (one high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods).  And that  in many cases the pharmaceutical response to these mental illnesses does not work long term.  Julia has conducted longitudinal on-off studies using micro-nutrient supplements in place of traditional drugs, which show profound results for patients suffering from a range of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety and dementia.  It is quite compelling evidence.

This lecture reinforced my belief that diet is directly linked to the quality of one’s life and mental and physical well being.  Eating a variety of wholefoods and cooking meals from scratch, shopping responsibly, knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown surely gives you more control over your health.  Choosing organic foods that are grown in nutrient-rich soil  (not soil over-farmed and chemically-enhanced) and supporting local growers whose foods are fresher and therefore richer in nutrients,  has to be a better option than cooking with ingredients that take 10 days to reach supermarket shelves and have been chemically-treated  to prolong their shelf-life.

The idea that the food you eat affects your health is not new.  It has been around for centuries.  That old saying ‘ Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Make Medicine Be Thy Food’ pretty much sums it up.

And whenever I am struggling with my life and hectic commitments I go back to the basics.  Eat well, exercise and be more mindful.  That seems to help me..

Roasted Pumpkin & Eggplant Red Thai Curry

Roasted Pumpkin & Eggplant Thai Red Curry IngredientsThis recipe was originally created by cookery writer Nadine Abensur who (lucky for her!) lives in Byron Bay.  I have made a few changes to suit my palette and hungry family (doubled the veggies).

I hadn’t cooked much from her vegetarian cook book ‘Enjoy’ until recently, but because I’m on a bit of a mission now to up the vegetable content of my diet (target 70%),  I am constantly in search of tasty vegetarian options.

This is a delicious, easy to prepare Thai vegetable curry.  The caramelised pumpkin looks quite beautiful and is really filling.   And healthy (high in cartenoids, potassium, magnesium & fibre).  And cheap as chips!

You’ll need:  1/2 Pumpkin (peeled, de-seeded and cut into chunks) / 2 Eggplants (cut into chunks – larger than the pumpkin) / Olive Oil / Dash of Tamari / 2 Shallots (finely chopped) / 4 tblsp Red Curry Paste (or to taste) / 2 tblsp Thai Fish Sauce / 1 400ml Can Coconut Cream (possibly a little more depending on how much liquid you want) / 3 Kaffir Lime Leaves / 1 Red Chilli (deseeded and cut into rings) / Handful of Fresh Thai Basil or Coriander



First you need to roast the pumpkin and eggplant.  Put them onto a baking sheet, toss with a little oil and a dash of tamari and roast until golden.  The vegetables should be caramalised but not too soft.  About 25 minutes in my experience.

Heat some oil in a wok and fry the shallots until softened.  Then add the red curry paste with a little water and fry for a few minutes.  Add the fish sauce, followed by the roasted vegetables and fry for a few minutes more.

Finally add the coconut cream, the lime leaves and most of the chilli and fresh herbs, retaining a little for serving.  Simmer for a few minutes, adjusting the flavour and consistency with extra coconut cream if required.

I serve this with cauliflower rice now – which is the simplest thing to make.  Just cut the cauliflower into large florets and put into a food processor.  Blitz until crumbed.

Put into a pan of boiling water and just cook for a couple of minutes.  Drain as you would normal rice.  And there it is.

Serves 4.

Introducing Carousel Cooks Realfood

ImageDinner Time Illustration Rachel Thornton

Welcome to our new sub-blog Carousel Cooks Realfood (which you can access just by clicking on the logo on the front page of the website). If you’ve been following our blog for sometime you will know that food has been there right from the beginning sitting alongside Gathering Tales,  dropping in from time to time with our culinary inspirations.

I have been passionate about food and cooking for as long as I can remember but have only recently had reason to look closely at what foods I’m preparing for my family and what we’re eating.   As a result the contents of my fridge and cupboards now look very different to how they did a year ago.  And it is partly this journey that I want to share in this new food blog.

Last year I gave up sugar attempting to resolve sleep issues and low energy levels and earlier this year started reducing my carbohydrate intake and now follow a version of a Paleo / LCHF diet.   What struck me initially when I changed my diet was the feeling of loss I experienced when it came to cooking. What had always been quite a natural and therapeutic process for me,  seemed now out of reach all of a sudden.  My favourite recipes and cookbooks became redundant.  Browsing through food magazines and checking in with favourite food blogs seemed a thing of the past. Travelling was a nightmare as there was never any carb-free, healthy food on offer.  I was kind of stuck.

And it occurred to me that there were probably many other people out there experimenting with new health regimes that might feel the same way.  I knew what food groups I could eat,  but was less sure how to combine and make interesting meals without using  refined sugars and carbohydrates.

Fast forward a few months though, hours of on-line research later and here I am.  I’ve found some amazing websites and food blogs from around the world, tested delicious healthy, nutrient-dense recipes and am feeling great.  Motivated and inspired by this food journey I’ve been on, it seems the natural next step to share what I’ve learnt during this process – and am still learning.

Carousel Cooks Realfood will offer links to resources, websites and lectures that I’ve enjoyed as well as recipes that I have tested on my family and friends together with links to my favourite ingredient suppliers, markets and restaurants.

Gathering foods from markets and gardens is the cornerstone of what this food blog stands for.  Wherever possible I am sourcing ingredients that are grown locally and in season.

I hope that you will share your experiences, recipes and comments.  Feel free to comment!

Flowers galore at The Boat House

IMG_6223Buckets of fresh flowers scattered on tables, tins of imposing grandiflora foliage standing tall on antique dressers and ceramic bowls filled with fresh limes and pineapples;  The Boat House at Balmoral has definitely got their styling right.  Perched on the edge of the water, this wooden cafe could almost double as a flower shop – perhaps it is …

The Rose Hip Girl

The Rosehip Girl copy resizeThe Rose Hip Girl Illustration by Rachel Thornton

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Rose Hip Wrapping Paper Design Carousel Flora Design

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Rose Hip Table Decoration created by Carousel Flora Design

My Sally Holmes and Margaret Merril roses have been flowering profusely since October but are now outnumbered by the vibrant display of ripening rose hips;  green through marigold orange to tomato red, some as plump as miniature pumpkins on stalks and others fine sprays of the tiniest hips.  Each rose variety produces slightly differing hip characteristics.

The once-humble rose hip takes centre stage in the wreath we created for an autumnal table display.  Massing one material once again produces the impact we wanted.

3 Botanical B&W Rosehips resize blog 650Rose Hip Illustration Rachel Thornton

Nine Liquid Incidents

IMG_6011I’ve just returned from a few days break in Sydney.

I felt desperately in need of some visual and sensory stimulation (must be all those orange road cones in Christchurch getting on top of me!) and I wasn’t disappointed.  Flowering scented Frangipani, lush tropical foliage, thundering birdsong … not to mention the food.  The food was so good. Consistently.

Favourite Italian A Tavola.  Best coffee Harry’s.  Best breakfast Bogey-Hole Cafe.

But perhaps the highlight of the trip for me was the  ‘You Imagine What You Desire’  exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and specifically Roni Horn’s Liquid Incidents installation;  nine glass sculptures scattered on a concrete floor, each one creating the illusion of an endless, bottomless pool of water.  It was almost impossible not to touch the surfaces of the pale blue and grey coloured glass castings which were utterly mesmerising.  I felt like I was literally being drawn into the water.

How To Make Hand-Tied Table Decorations

photo 2Image 23Rachel’s sketchbook drawing illustrates how the design for this table arrangement began.  We had forty round tables to decorate and not much set up time at the venue, so we came up with the idea of a flat bouquet that could be laid on the table and taken away  afterwards to be hung on a wall.  No vases or water involved.

We wanted to echo the circular table form within our arrangements  so we encased each bouquet within a stem of curved flax and finished them off with an extravagant bunch of flowing coloured raffia.

First things first.  Materials.  You may not find the exact same materials we have used here but that’s kind of the idea – find materials that inspire you, bearing in mind texture and colour as you go. The materials that you choose need to last well and look good once dried and hanging.  Work out the size of bouquet you want in relation to your table dimensions and cut your materials to roughly the right length as you gather.

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You’ll need 2 stems of eucalyptus, 1 stem of red beech, 1 stem of gum nuts with full foliage, 2 stems of berried ivy (foliage removed), 1 stem of varigated flax plus raffia to hand tie.

1.  Prepare your materials.  Remove the lowest leaves from all stems.  Soften the flax gently using the back of a knife so that it becomes more pliable.

2.  Starting with a base of eucalyptus arrange all your materials (except the flax) into a flat bouquet.  Look carefully at the materials and work out which way they naturally arch and let their shape dictate the direction the bouquet will flow.

3.  In the absence of flowers we used gum nut sprays as our main focus,  so ensure they are clearly visible.

4.  Hold one end of the flax on top of the bouquet and take the other end and wrap right around the outside edge of the materials (this is best done flat on a table), drawing this other end back onto itself.

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3.  Secure all stems (including the flax) by tying together neatly with coloured raffia.  Keep the raffia lengths long as this will accentuate the flow of the design too and give a sense of glamour to the gathered materials. Tuck any wayward foliage stems into the flax structure so you retain the bouquet’s shape.  And voila!