Foodies who love gardening: Gina Thomas

When chefs love gardening...

Here's a second wintery soup recipe from Gina Thomas, the boss at Rampant Coffee, which is that cute little cafe in New Lynn, in the distinctive brick building by the Community Centre. 

Is Gina really the boss? 

It changes month to month, so you'll have to pop into the cafe to see whether it's 'The Big Guy' or 'The Mrs' who is currently in charge. 

From Gina:

I LOVE to cook, well, I don’t always love the fact I have to cook BUT I love the creativity outlet of trying something new in the kitchen, the amalgamation of flavours, experimenting with a bit of this, a sprinkle of that. And over the past nearly 20 years I have relished in the sheer joy of harvesting my own food, picking my own herbs to add to any dish, and our four children have also learnt along the way. 

When we had our home in Christchurch, our vegetable garden was a labour of love along with fruit trees and wild strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries. Sadly, our beautiful passionfruit vines we had trailing up a macracarpa hedge never saw fruit due to the earthquake that hit our city. 

Now, after near to 10 years of living in Auckland we have learnt so much more to ensure success in the garden; the benefits of feeding the soil, we set up our own upcycled composting stations and have connected with some wonderful people in the community who share our green fingered love of gardening. 

But it was my upbringing that really ‘planted the seed’ so to speak. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up, she was always cooking, always baking. Perhaps it was a generation thing, she had always been the caregiver, the mother, the provider. My grandfather was killed in the war, so she pretty much raised three kids on her own, one being my mother. 

My Grandmother used to literally jump up off a chair with no word or warning and say "Lets’ make some cupcakes!“ She just would mix all the ingredients together and pop them in the oven. 

She had one recipe book, Edmonds, that I have now. I think she ever only read each recipe once, there are some changes to measurements in her handwriting, but she would just remember them all by heart. The pages are now torn and covered in reminders of past baking attempts, all mine! Whatever she had she would make something out of and as I am now a mother myself, I fiercely support that philosophy of zero waste and use what you can. 

There is never such a thing as ‘I have nothing to eat’ if you just get a little creative with what you find. My grandmother would make amazing savoury pies from scratch with a little bit of this and a leftover chuck of that. Her signature was a hearty Steak and kidney Pie. Being British, it was so rich and traditional loaded with thick dark filling. Bisto Stock, her own vegetable stock, and meat from the little butcher at the local shops wrapped in paper and cut right in front of you were cooked on a low heat until the meat was tender. Back then I was horrified that anyone would ever think to eat kidneys, but now I so wish I could savour every mouthful of one of those pies, the glorious gravy and homemade pastry were a match made in heaven. 

She too had an abundance of food growing; rows of peas and runner beans, gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes, tomatoes filling her greenhouse (along with hundreds of seedling trays), spuds and pumpkin, leeks and onion, carrots. Oh, and flowers; the flowers! Anytime of the year there were always flowers blooming in her garden. It was remarkable that this lady could keep up with it all, but I like to think I inherited some of that energy and motivation to keep busy, she was a little dynamo alright. She was the organiser; the Gardening Director of sorts and my Uncle would do the digging! 

My mother followed suit with gorgeous roses, chrysanthemums, marigolds, hydrangeas in our family home and she and my father worked very long hours during the week, there was always something to do in the garden every weekend. 

We never had a lot of money, but we never went without and there was always food growing the garden; lots of it! Roast Dinner on Friday at my grandmother's was a weekly tradition and always with food that was grown, except the chicken, we didn’t grow that! 

Coming into the winter months, I tend to make food full of flavour, soul food, homemade breads and pasta with creamy sauce and of course - SOUP! Just like throwing half a mushroom, a few slices of capsicum and a handful of spinach into an omelette so it doesn’t go to waste, making soup can encompass that ethos and even if strictly following a recipe it is always nice to add a little of your own personal touch whether it be extra spice, another herb, another vegetable. Learn to taste as you go.

Easy Peasy Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup

I have made this on many occasions, sometimes with just double the broccoli and add green peas but with adding the cauliflower it gives a depth to the soup and enables it to go further and feed more hungry bellies! If you want to add a little rampant magic then the addition of blue cheese or bacon to garnish will accelerate this soup to the next level. This recipe should feed 4-6 depending on how much your fambam can eat. Crunchy bread or a small garlic loaf is perfect to soak up all the yummy bits your spoon can’t quite get to 😉

1 large brown onion, sautéed in a little brown sugar.
1 tbsp olive oil
½ broccoli (2 cups, chopped)
½ cauliflower (2 cups, chopped)
4 cups vegetable stock
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste (I use heaps!)
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp basil (fresh is better but good luck this time of year!)
1 cup grated cheese (go for a tasty or a cheese with a bit of WOW, this is where the addition of blue cheese can take it up a notch)
⅔ cup cream 
1 tbsp parsley, fresh if you have!

Slice the onion into rings and throw it in a big pan with the olive oil and a sprinkle of soft brown sugar.
Cook on a low-medium for 3 minutes. Chop the garlic roughly and cook for another minute.
In the meantime, roughly chop the broccoli and cauliflower.
Throw the broccoli and cauliflower into the pan.
Add the stock and simmer for fifteen minutes.
Turn the heat off and add the grated cheese and blue if desired. Hold just a little grated cheese back for serving. Add the thyme, basil and mustard. Give it all a good stir and let the flavours mix together for a few minutes.
Finally, use a hand blender and give it a blend!
Serve with fresh bread of choice and a few herbs for garnish or fry up some bacon and chop into crunchy bits and sprinkle over soup as you serve.

The Fresh Finds Market in New Lynn, this picture shows people enjoying lunch next to Rampant Cafe

Gina's last recipe was the delicious Mexican Leek Soup, which is at the end of the blog post on starting a winter soup garden

Ideas for innovative edible gardening solutions using biodynamic methods to make exquisite compost is what the world needs right now. To see the full range of online courses go to blueborage.teachable.com or get in touch by email at katrina@blueborage.co.nz


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