Yesterday I roasted the last of our sweet potato harvest to enjoy with our mid-winter feast. When we all sat down to consume vast quantities of vegetable soup, Moroccan lamb tagine, chicken in white wine sauce – and sweet potato, I was intrigued to discover that whilst most people there enjoy eating sweet potato, not many knew just how easy it is to grow.

To be honest, I didn’t either until relatively recently – but since then we’ve grown and harvested two very successful crops and haven’t looked back. As simple gardening goes, this is a real winner.

In short, sweet potato is easy to grow, provides an attractive ground cover relatively quickly, and makes a great substitute for potato and/or pumpkin for household consumption. The runners produce edible leaves, very tasty roots and, as a member of the morning glory family, also graces your garden with lovely blossoms.

450px-Ipomoea_batatas_002The plants grow best in a sunny position, but I’ve had reasonable success in semi-shade as well – so don’t let that put you off. There’s plenty of detailed information available on how and where to grow sweet potato, but it’s not even slightly tricky: cut the end off a sweet potato – plant it – water it – watch to see the shoots come up and spread – it’s like magic. Once you have established plants, you can take cuttings from those and plant them directly into the ground and watch them grow – more magic  🙂

We have a whole new crop planted in our verge garden and are looking forward to future garden bounty.

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:
File:Ipomoea batatas 002.JPG


Things that make me smile:

  • Glovens (mitten-gloves) completed, crocheted in multicoloured 100% wool – hands now warm and toasty.
  • Meeting my work deadline for a quarterly print run
  • Jam success – and several jars sent to new homes 🙂
  • Mid-winter gathering of family and friends – so much tasty food!
  • Toasting marshmallows over open fire using new toasting forks invented by Himself for the occasion. We have leftover marshmallows…
  • Email from Amazon informing me that books sales really happened:  “This royalty payment notification is for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) sales recorded in the AU Kindle Store…”

Having (accidentally) picked about 6.5kg of cumquats this week, I feel obliged to try to put them to good use. Phase one is a jam run, using my standard cumquat jam recipe – tried and tested many times with excellent results. This has used up 3.3kg of fruit, which means there’s still a giant bowlful staring at me balefully – waiting to be used. I used a further 40 cumquats this morning creating a version of the Anna Gare cake I mentioned in an earlier blogjune post – it smells fabulous and I’m not at all sure it’s going to last until our mid-winter feast tomorrow night…

Cumquat hazelnut cake

This is my jam recipe (with comments). It works, it’s tasty and it uses up cumquats 🙂

  1. pick your cumquats, wash them, slice them in half and prise the (oh so many!) pips out (be warned, this step takes a while – and if you have any little cuts or cracks in your fingers, you’ll know ALL about them!).
  2. make sure you save the pips (this is important).
  3. weigh your fruit. for every 1kg of fruit, add 1.5 litres of water.
  4. leave the fruit to soak overnight (yes, this is important: do it).
  5. cover the pips (the ones you save in step 2) with water, cover and leave for 12 – 24 hours (also important).
  6. transfer you fruit/water mix into a large stock pot (unless, like me, you soaked it in one to save time)
  7. bring the mix up to the boil slowly
  8. strain your pips into the mix, maxing sure you maximise the amount of goo (pectin from the pips) you get in whilst also avoiding any pips going into the mix
  9. simmer your fruit for about an hour or until the skins are soft
  10. pop a couple of saucers in the freezer – you’ll need them later
  11. measure the fruit mix and add 1 cup of sugar per cup of fruit mix (white sugar results in prettier jam, but I’ve used raw sugar and it makes no difference to the taste).
  12. you now need to return the mix to the heat and stir it until the sugar’s all dissolved – don’t bring it to the boil yet!
  13. once the sugar’s dissolved, then bring the mix to the boil and keep it at a rapid boil (uncovered) for 40 – 60 minutes > basically until the mix jels if you test it on a cold saucer. Mix should be at about 105C (mine went a bit over that last night, so the jam’s a bit darker in colour than usual).
  14. stand for a few minutes, then pour the jam into hot sterilised (dry) jars.
  15. we pop the lids on the jars and tighten them while the mix is still hot to ensure a good seal

You now have many jars of jam (we made 28) — and your visitors will also start to look nervous as they try to ward off culinary gifts 🙂

By the by, if your fruit isn’t  all completely ripe, the pips will probably be a little underdeveloped and may not provide sufficient pectin. I decided to add a sachet of Fowlers Vacola Jamsetta last night (first time I’ve used it in cumquat jam) to compensate… and the results were spectacular. The jam overflowed across the top of the stove – very suddenly, unexpetedly and dramatically! Not much lost, but a hell of a job to clean up.

Note to self: for future reference: turn the heat off before adding a commercial jam setter – and add it slowly


A friend recently suggested that I launch a Reddit IAmA as a way to make information about my memoir on hip replacements more widely available. Probably, like me, you already know that Reddit is a social news and sharing website. Perhaps you also use it from time to time. If so – or if you aren’t a Reddit-er, then perhaps your first question would also the same as mine: wtf is an IAmA?
reddit ama
Essentially an r/IAmA (I Am A… Ask Me Anything!) is a forum in which to host an online interview session. The interviewee (or Original Poster / OP) puts their topic up on Reddit, with an invitation to the community to literally ask them anything. Anything. On or off topic. It’s up to the OP as to whether they answer all the questions – there’s no obligation, but answering the questions is what generates interest.

‘All you need’, my friend said, ‘is to have a topic that’s uncommon, but central to your life, and that you know a metric crap-ton about. You have that. If you do it well, a r/IAmA might spark interest in the Reddit community and prompt questions (and answers) that might actually prove useful to people – and generate interest in your book.’

Well, since my crap-ton is indeed metric, it sounded plausible – so I decided to look into it. First step was, of course, to finally sign up to Reddit (instead of simply piggy-backing on Himself’s account) and then look into their requirements for launching an AMA.

Hunting around online I came across the reddit: the ask me anything guide, which is very useful. Those that know about such things indicate that the trick is to plan ahead, to talk to the moderators about scheduling the launch of the AMA and, most importantly, to frame the headline so that it’s both brief and compelling. Right.

This is about when I figured out that I’m a bit of a wuss and can’t quite commit to actually doing it… so, instead, I’ll put it out here and see what happens 🙂

Hi , I’m Nik Macdougall.

I fell off a 100 foot cliff and had 9 hip replacements over 35 years. AMA 🙂

As you may have gleaned by now, I’m a dog person. By this I mean that my life would be incomplete without dogs in it –  preferably my own, although access to friends’ dogs for a ‘puppy-fix’ worked in dog-free years. I pat dogs in parks (after asking permission), talk to dogs in passing (crazy dog-person impersonation my speciality), and our dogs currently fill up every nook and cranny of our lives.

Many years ago we had a pair of labrador retrievers and a very cute little mixed-breed hound.

rsadogs1At the time we were renting a cottage on a working farm, and these pups were lethal around the cows – or, more specifically, the cow pats. If they saw / smelled any and could make a break for it, they were in there, mouth first, then shoulders. Likewise, bird guano appeared to be a source of dietary delight, much to my horror. It was a trial – and one of the many reasons we were glad to move back to the city.

Fast forward 35 years to Perth – and a puppy who looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth…


… and it probably wouldn’t, since she’d have swallowed it in one gulp! She’s also decided that poop-eating in not restricted to country living. However, in the absence of cows and large birds, Cassie’s discovered the delights of dog-poop instead. Just to clarify, she’s not interested in her own faeces… In a bizarre turn of events, she’s taken to lurking nearby and pouncing on freshly laid Mollypoop!

Now I realise that puppies tend to show an interest in such things, but until this week the puppy had done little more than sniff. Yesterday – well, that was a first… and, if I have anything to do with it, a last! My shriek of aaaaargh! as she picked up a piece of freshly-produced-faeces and ran off with it was probably audible to the entire neighbourhood! It certainly had the desired result, allowing me to swoop down like a packet-wielding avenging angel!

Research tells me that this behaviour is thing called coprophagia,  and that it’s not uncommon in dogs. The trick is to find out why Cassie’s started doing it. Apparently it could be for any number of reasons, including learned behaviour, attention seeking / bored, wrong or insufficient food, yard not cleaned up, worms, or enzyme deficiency.

I think we can rule out the first one – unless she’s remembering her mum (in Tasmania) cleaning up behind the litter of puppies. The second is possible, I guess – but she’s kept pretty occupied (played with, given puzzles, taken for walks, has Molly to chase and be chased by), so I think not. Food – the diet she’s on is healthy and balanced, but I’ll up the quantity she gets to see if that makes a difference. I’m paranoid about yard cleanup and do it twice a day – so that’s out. Today was the day for the monthly de-worming routine, which ensures that box is also ticked. That leaves visiting the vet to discuss blood tests (and medication) for enzyme deficiency… but I’ll wait to see if my epic-aaargh combined with food increase and de-worming has any effect.

I’m also wondering whether Molly has blocked anal glands again and whether that might be playing a role in all this… FYI, anal glands are a pair of small sacs located between the dog’s external and internal sphincter muscles. They usually empty themselves during defecation, but in a small percentage of dogs they don’t. Instead they fill up, get blocked, and sometimes overflow in a smelly and yukky sort of way. Might this be a reason for the puppy suddenly being more interested in Molly-poop: insufficient scent-marking?