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!

The Rose Hip Girl

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

Rosehip Wrapping Paper resize

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

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!

The Crassula Girl

The Crassula Girl rev FinallThe Crassula Girl Illustration by Rachel Thornton

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Grapevine, Succulent & Wild Broom Wreath created by Carousel Flora Design

This dense and lush wreath was inspired by the wild succulents that cling precariously to the almost vertical slopes on hillsides close to where Rachel and I live.

We gathered different varieties whose colours harmonised and textures and forms contrasted, combining pearly-pink echeverias, spiky peach-coloured graptoverias with thick-leafed crassula and claw-like stems of flowing silver-grey senico.  The sculptural crassula are particular favourites of ours as they create impact and a sense of drama within floral arrangements, or in this case within the wreath design.  We’ve wired all the materials onto the grapevine base, as they are heavy and may fall out otherwise.

The addition of the curved wild broom shaped by the wind accentuates the wreath’s flow as well as adding a third dimension to the design making it appear grander and fuller.

When you’re gathering succulents keep in mind a number of things:

*  Keep stems as long as possible as they will be easier to wire.  We used about 2 buckets of succulents for this wreath.

*  Choose understated and subtle colour combinations that complement each other.

*  The size of the succulents that you want to gather will depend on the size of your wreath base.  Too small and they will look insignificant.  Take your wreath base with you when gathering so you can get a sense of the scale required.

Crassula Illustration resize blog 650Crassula & Crassula Girl illustrations by Rachel Thornton

Elderflower cordial

elderflower illustration for blog resizeElderflower Illustration Rachel Thornton

I am longing to be back in my kitchen and get festive culinary preparations underway after a 3 month spell camping out in my garden sleepout .  Yes thankfully earthquake repairs are now complete.

The first item on my to-do list is elderflower cordial and over the past few weeks I have been keeping an eye on friend’s and neighbour’s trees to make sure I’m not too late for the flowers.

I picked a couple of stems to observe how they would dry intending to string them onto a fine wire and hang as a garland.  Initially I was disappointed as the stem just seemed to wilt and go soggy, but looking at it now a week on I am happy to report that the delicate dried elderflowers will work well.

To make a garland pick the largest flower heads you can find as they will shrink,  and hang them upside down to dry thoroughly before threading individually onto a wire, adding stems at equal intervals along the length.  See our Hydrangea Garland Project back in May for more details.

The recipe for cordial which follows was given to me by a dear friend (thank you Karen) and will make about 3 litres of concentrated syrup (4 x 750ml bottles).  Once you’ve gathered the elderflower heads lay each out on baking paper so any bugs will fall onto the paper and then you can rinse them more easily.

30 Heads of Elderflower
3 Lemons
1.5kg Sugar
4 Tblsp Citric or Tartaric Acid
2 Litres Water

Boil 2 litres of water and add sugar and citric / tartaric acid.
Stir well to dissolve.
Pour over scrubbed and roughly chopped lemons and rinsed elderflowers.

Leave in a cool place for 3 days, stirring daily.
Using a muslin cloth and sieve, strain concentrate and put in bottles.  
Keep in fridge or alternatively freeze.

This cordial is so delicious mixed with ice cold water, tonic, gin or vodka.  1 part syrup to 6 parts water.

081Photographer Peter Bay

Simple styling with flowering echeveria

Coloured Echiveria wallpaper blog resizeEcheveria wrapping paper design Rachel Thornton

Flowering echeveria are prolific at the moment so if you’re stuck for a simple way to brighten up and style your home just gather a few long stems of this hardy succulent and arrange them in a vase.  With their extraordinary water-retaining properties echeveria last for ages but when you eventually tire of them and want to reclaim the vase,  simply re-cut each stem and plant back into the ground.  In my experience, replanting in this way seems to work well for most succulents.

Flowering Succulent & Pumice

The bright yellow echeveria flowers look stunning as a table arrangement when contrasted with deep plum-black tree aeonium and maroon-coloured akeake foliage so if you’ve got an old wreath base handy (and if not, now is the perfect time to weave one from ripe muhlenbeckia vine, keeping the circle as flat as possible) follow these simple steps ….

* You’ll need a vine base which is not too tightly woven.

* Gather 3 aeonium & 3 echeveria.  Keep stems as long as possible as you’ll be weaving them into the wreath base to secure.  Cut about 9 stems of akeake foliage and strip the bottom leaves away.

* Imagine that you are making three small bouquets which you will position evenly around the wreath circle;  each will look similar and use the same ingredients.

* Starting with the akeake foliage, weave a couple of stems into the vine base.  Then add a stem of flowering echeveria and an aeonium nestling them amongst the akeake stems.  If succulent stems are quite thick you might need to use some florist wire to secure them in place and camoflague the wire using more akeake foliage, but ideally wiring shouldn’t be necessary as this is a table arrangement and not to be hung.

* Always keep materials (stems) flowing in the same direction, clockwise.

* Repeat process making two more bouquets and place around the wreath circle equi-distance apart.

You could use the flowering echeveria on its own.  See how the long stems in this wreath emulate how they naturally twist and tangle amongst native scrub.

Flowering Succulent WreathSucculent Wreath created by Carousel Flora Design