It’s winter again – cold, dark, and occasionally wet and/or snowing, depending which bit of New Zealand you live in. So how can you keep the family active and thriving during the more unpleasant parts of the New Zealand year?

Panic not – you don’t necessarily have to be out there running round the rugby grounds in the mud or the netball courts on the ice (although some of you may choose to!). There are plenty of activities close to home that the whole family can engage in, while getting some exercise in the process and even achieving something practical at the same time.

Think gardens. Now is the time to be raking up those vast piles of leaves that many of us acquire from our lovely shady summer trees. Not only is it good exercise, but you get to indulge your inner child, along with your real children, by creating huge leaf piles and jumping in them. This is deeply satisfying and well worth the effort! Once you’ve finished playing with them, the leaves have uses as well. You can just transfer them straight onto fallow patches of the garden or pile them up around trees (keeping a small distance from the trunk of course) to act as mulch and gradually break down over the winter. Another approach is to get more exercise by building a few wire or plastic netting circles and filling these makeshift bins with leaves. These will rot down over the next year or two to produce leaf mould which can be applied to your garden. You’ll find that the material at the bottom usually gets well invaded by worms if you build your nets on the grass or in the garden, and you get a lovely rich organic mix that your gardens will enjoy. And next winter, you can of course extend the exercise to emptying out the leaf bins into the garden.

For slightly less muscular effort, but plenty of potential flavoursome gain, early winter is the time to plant garlic. All you need is a few bulbs of preferably organic or at least untreated garlic, which you then split up into individual cloves. You don’t need much garden space, and it doesn’t have to be brilliant soil – garlic tolerates quite a lot of ill-treatment. Dig over a piece of garden soil about a spade’s width and a spade’s depth and then insert the individual cloves, pointy-side up, about 20cm apart and a buried a couple of centimetres down. Cover them over, pat the soil down and await developments. Your new garlic plants are ready to harvest about six months later, and if you’re feeling artistic, you can even clean them up and plait them together to make garlic strings – there are many sites on the internet showing how to do it.

Indoor exercise is also a possibility, and there are fun ways to do it. If you or any of the family are musical, do some garage band stuff – and those who don’t play can dance (excellent aerobic exercise). It usually makes you laugh, which is increasingly being recognised as a very healthful activity all by itself. There are laughter yoga clubs springing up all round the country, where people go along to deliberately laugh as an exercise, not because anything hilarious is happening. It’s good for the lungs and general wellbeing, and oddly enough, even though you know you’re faking it at the beginning, it’s surprising how often you end up really laughing, even if only at the absurdity of the situation.

And once you’re done with garden clearance, garlic planting, musical endeavours and deliberate laughing, it’s always worth settling down with some good home-made soup as a reward for your efforts. Most people have a favourite of some sort, but you might like to try this one anyway – a hearty vege soup, gluten free as well, and likely to appeal to the whole family. Quantities aren’t exact, and you can change ingredients as you wish to suit what the family enjoy and what you have available in the cupboard.

  • Half fill a large saucepan with water or vegetable stock
  • Add to this 2 to 3 Tbsp of tomato paste and bring to the boil
  • Add a mixture of peeled and chopped (into about 1cm cubes): potato, kumara, pumpkin (pumpkin is a really helpful part of vege soup because it adds body as well as flavour), carrots, celery (you can use the celery leaves as well) and diced onion. If you are a garlic enthusiast, you can also add a couple of cloves, peeled and finely chopped.
  • Bring the mix back to the boil, cover and simmer for 30-60 minutes until the vegetables are soft. During the simmering process, you might like to add a bay leaf, some chopped thyme and marjoram, and some chopped parsley for improved flavour. Adding some frozen sweetcorn kernels also contributes to the end product.
  • Adjust seasonings to suit you and your family: it will need salt and you may enjoy ground black pepper and even a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

Serve with buttered toast and relax. Enjoy your active family winter!

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Robert Glensor is the founder of the Paraoa Bakehouse- the home of Purebread organic breads and Gluten Free Goodies. With a love of good bread and a passion for all things organic and sustainable, Robert writes about all manner of issues to do with living green.

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