Happy Blogaversary!

Well I’m excited. Three months of blogging and I’m still going!

Thanks to Variegated’s suggestion (http://variegated.posterous.com/) I’ve entered the Grow Your Own competition, sponsored by Andreas Recipes, http://www.andreasrecipes.com/gyo/, and for January 2010 hosted by Annie and Nate at the House of Annie, http://chezannies.blogspot.com/. This is a regular event that recognises those who are blogging out there about growing, foraging or hunting and gathering their own food. Stay tuned and I’ll give you an update when I find out the results in a few days time.

We had a great day on Australia Day, after going out picking blackberries in the morning (more of this in a separate post) we came home and had a great time preparing a fantastic meal for dinner. We picked so many types of veggies that I’ve taken two photos to get them all in. The first photo includes our Warrigal Greens, peas, both Green Feast and Sugar Snap, radishes and Blackberries waiting to go into a pie. The second shows zucchinis, carrots onions and garlic. Don’t you just love the brilliant colour on the inside of those purple carrots. Finally they got turned into roasted veggies, creamed Warrigal Greens (recipe from Tukka: Real Australian Food by Jean-Paul Bruneteau, Angus & Robertson 1996), steamed peas and a Turkey Roll stuffed with lots of things including pepitas. TB had the good sense to buy up and freeze all that turkey the shops were selling off after Christmas.

PS I even managed to make jam from the 70gms of strawberries that the snails and slaters didn’t beat me to!


Trial and error

Oh dear, several of my recent garden trials have gone somewhat pear-shaped lately.

The most obvious of these was the pumpkin pruning. I returned home to find that my pruning trial had been, as the saying goes, terminated with extreme prejudice. To be blunt no pumpkin was in evidence, gone, disappeared, nada. I can only guess that it got knocked off by the hose as it was pulled past the garden corner it was sitting on. I won’t be asking my neighbour who was kindly watering my garden when we were away as I may need to call on her for help in the future. I’ll have to try Monty Don’s suggestion (The Ivington Diaries, Bloomsbury Publishing 2009), of using his childrens spare cricket stumps on the corners of garden beds to stop the hose demolishing plants on the edges of garden.

Well the corn may be as high as an elephants eye, but the cobs are somewhat less than impressive. Those kernels that have been fertilised are very moist and tasty but they are in the minority as you can see from the picture. Thankfully subsequent cobs have had a greater number of kernels develop fully.

While I was trying to find out if there was any way of improving the fertilisation of the corn I came across the University of Illinois extension services website http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/corn1.html who, if nothing else provided this somewhat useful bit of trivia. Sweet corn may be divided into three distinct types according to genetic background: normal sugary (SU) which is where our Golden Bantam fits in, sugary enhancer (SE) and supersweet (Sh2). Details on some of the varieties that fit into these categories can be found at their website. I’m not surprised, but also not impressed that corn is being developed with increasing sweetness – I think its rather overdoing it.

We are still waiting for the pop corn varieties to ripen. Their cobs however are far more numerous than those of the sweet corn as well as being quite a bit smaller. However we may yet fall foul of Uni of Illinois dire warnings about cross fertilisation as we have a rogue Golden Bantam plant currently flowering amidst our pop corns.

I’m starting to believe that enthusiastic posting is the death knell for any plant mentioned. This could seriously limit my topics of conversation on this blog. No sooner have I said encouraging things about my broad beans soldiering on beyond their normal growing time than we had two weeks of really ugly hot weather and the poor remaining plants started curling up their toes. I also was a bit too enthusiastic with sprucing up the soil around their roots and probably disturbed them which didn’t help either. Several, which are being protected by the corn, are still hanging in there. Dare I hope?

The Borlotti beans haven’t fared much better. For once eating them while they were young and were tender enough to be treated like string beans meant we did have several feeds before they too started to whither and die. For them I suspect it was the hot weather in combination with a virus in the soil. It was probably not a good idea to plant them in the same place where we had beans gorwing last year.


Find something special

Op shopping is always fun in a different town. We found four op shops on the main street in Cessnock and visited others in Hamilton and Maitland. I was looking for fabric for my dyeing of which I found plenty. I also found two shirts for myself, and a Melmac (Melamine) Ornamin 1950???s/60???s cup and saucer in corn yellow. Interestingly the cup has no handle. I found this article on melamine from Plastiquarian magazine (http://www.plastiquarian.com/styr3n3/pqs/pq32.htm)

However one of my best ???finds??? was actually made just outside my sister???s back door. It is a shell-shaped concrete pot which I presume belonged to my Aunt, now sadly ???late??? (you need to read the Number 1 Ladies Detectives Agency series). Apart from housing a spider it wasn???t in immediate use so I???ll take it home and plant a succulent in it.


Catch a Wave

Down to the beach today for the annual rock platform and ocean baths extravaganza, only to discover that there was no rock platform. It had disappeared under a metre or so of very rough surf and there were ???waves across both pools???. To think about the latter statement these are two pools that are 50 metres wide ??? yes wide and about 150 metres long. The waves were breaking across the blocks on the ocean-side which didn???t deter a solid contingent of nongs who insisted on being washed or jumping into the main pool or clung to the edge rail as the waves broke over them.

Even on the ???beach??? side of the main pool the waves were big enough to wash over the blocks and into the children???s pool and secondary waves even broke on the paved area next to the pavilion. A fairly safe option was exercised by two enterprising siblings who took it in turns to place their boogie board on the inner edge of the main pool and let the waves wash them across the three metre pavement into the children???s pool.


Due North

We are making the annual trek north to visit my family. Just under 500 kms and a world of difference. For one thing there is moisture, yea even wetness all around. Stopping at the Hawkesbury River for lunch I immediately noticed the humidity plus the fact that the ground was actually wet underfoot. I think the rest area is a location worthy of analysis by Alain de Boton – maybe he has already studied it. It is a weird combination of incredibly beautiful Sydney sandstone country bizarrely bisected by the F3 Freeway and it still manages, I think, to have some of the most dramatic views in the country.

And then there are the cicadas ??? at home we have the little ones, about 2cms max which as a child I called Tiddy Wheezers. They were a novelty only because all the other cicadas were so large and colourful. Getting out of the car at the Hawkesbury the sound of cicadas actually drowned out the sound of the traffic relentlessly powering up the F3 freeway. They are now once again, as they always were the sound of summer on the coast.

According to my family it has rained pretty steadily since Christmas ??? we even experienced a series of coastal thunderstorms the day after we arrived. You know there aren???t any water restrictions here! I really can???t quite get my head around that fact.

At least I could get my head around the family feast which was held the day after we arrived. My sister made this scrummy strawberry sponge finger pudding and don’t mention the major amount of mojitos that were downed on the day http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mojito.

Nowt so queer as folk!
You know you are not in Canberra anymore when you see that the local spot for selling used cars is out the front of the local cemetery. Of course it has absolute highway frontage and the nearby inhabitants don???t say much.


Day old bread

I???m somewhat under-evolved as a breadmaker ??? I do OK with the bread machine, but I still manage to make the odd brick. In a fit of unexpected, and perhaps unwise, enthusiasm I decided to dip my toe into the world of artisanal breadmaking. I???ll blame one of my co-workers who was telling me about a book she???s cooked from for years “Amy???s Bread” (just about to be released in a revised version, according to the interweb).

I did pick one of the breads with a slightly lower degree of difficulty Grainy Whole Wheat and Seeds with Apricots, Prunes and Raisins ??? it only took two days to make! It was made with what they call an ???old dough??? starter. You make a batch of this starter and then put it aside for at least 5 hours. After that you can make the actual dough for your bread. After that has risen (even more hours) you then perform the Vulcan bread meld and knead the two together.

The extra degree of difficulty at this point is adding in the fruits and nuts into this savoury loaf. At least they warn you that the dough may ???resist??? this process, ha! They do give some advice on how to deal with such challenges. Suffice to say that even the authors realise there is a point beyond which it is futile to proceed ??? they suggest you just throw any loose bits into the bowl when you give up and let the dough rise again. I gratefully shoved it into the fridge suffering from the delusion that this would slow down the rising process.

I decided, having seen how well the dough had filled the bowl overnight, not to worry about leaving the dough out for two hours at room temperature before working on it the next morning. I didn???t think we needed a kitchen that looked like a scene from The Blob ???Indescribable! Indestructible! Nothing can stop it!???

In the end I wrestled it into two disc like shapes ??? is this a sci-fi theme developing here? ??? and then dissected it into wedges. After all the effort the cooking really was the least difficult part, go figure.

We???ve been eating the bread for breakfast, toasted and smeared with butter, thank god its edible after all that effort.


Turning Japanese

We had our first snack of edamame this week. It was eaten on a suitably hot and muggy evening with the expected glass or three of chilled sake -Kanpai! The edamame plants – like lots of other things – seem to have taken a halt to growing during our recent heatwave. While there are plenty of pods on the plants the beans inside are small and underdeveloped. I hope with some cooler weather, more water and a feed of Charlie Carp that we’ll be harvesting more soon. BTW you only eat the bean inside the pod – the pods are ‘hairy’ and rather unpalatable.

Keeping on this theme TB outdid himself with a Japanese style meal. Wilted greens with tofu, stir-fried mushrooms, soba noodles with dipping sauce (in the plastic ‘laquer’ cup) and zucchini with dengaku. The dengaku is a sweetened miso paste which is used as the topping to grilled vegetables or fish.


Pears and prunes

I belong to a ‘drawing a day’ group – the idea being you draw one picture each day for a year. So far I’ve not managed to maintain this habit (thankfully our group is very non-judgemental in this regard). This year I thought I’d try a drawing a week! So here is my offering – my stewed pears and prunes with cinnamon and ginger.

This evolved as I was going to make a pear and prune flan (www.sbs.com.au/food/recipe/531/Prune_and_pear__flan). Frankly I never got past the poaching the fruit stage – poaching liquid idea from Stephanie Alexander The Cook’s Companion. It tasted divine!


The gentle art of pumpkin pruning

No it’s not a touch too much of the sun, I really have been out pruning my pumpkins. This is something new for me too. Pumpkin pruning is intended to direct growth into the fruit of the pumpkin, as opposed to encouraging those tendrils and runners which are prone to rapidly take over your back garden.

Last year we had the lushest pumpkin vine in the suburb but no pumpkins. The problem was ‘rank growth’, what a wonderful term. Basically the plants were too well fed and spent their time growing leaves rather than fruit. The only pumpkin that produced was one of the self sown ones which was subsisting on a much more meagre diet.

First step is to look at your pumpkin plant, which may mean sticking your head under the leaves to see if you can spot a female flower with a young fruit forming underneath. These can be as small as about 1 cm in diameter so you may need to look hard (check out the first photo). Having identified said fruit you then cut off everything growing beyond this point (photo 2). With any luck this should encourage your plant to make a bigger fruit faster. My last pic is one of the fruits on my Table King Acorn pumpkin (photo3). This fruit is about the size of a grapefruit and when I pruned the stem about a week ago it was about the size of a golf ball. TB is skeptical about this being due to the pruning, but I disagree and besides which I can’t be bothered leaving a ‘control’ plant, unpruned to see if there is any difference. I selected this variety of pumpkin as it was described as a compact bushy plant. After spending last season tripping over vines and being scratched by their rough stems – don’t stand on the stem or you will kill anything growing after where you stood – I decided that these were the magic words. So far they seem to be producing the goods, although some of the early fruits did go yellow and perish. The seed catalogue says to expect up to eight fruits per plant.

Yesterday I cooked one of our starter zeppelins into delicious zucchini fritters. The recipe, Zucchini fritters with dill comes from Greg Malouf, via the SBS food website (www.sbs.com.au/food/recipe/709/Zucchini_fritters_with_dill). As I had just about every herb under the sun except dill I used tarragon instead. They still tasted great. I’ll be having some cold for lunch today. Last Friday in the office there was a flurry of excitement as one of our team bought in her zucchini recipes to share with those of us in need of saving from the zucchini over production. Sadly my best source of zucchini recipes has just de-camped on a 12 day cruise in the Pacific so I will be bereft of their counsel until the end of the month – I hope I can cope with the glut until then!


Summer BBQ

Well another hot day is on its way and I’ll be out with the hose very shortly to start watering before the heat hits (we only have a 3 hour time period in which we can water in the mornings). We will be hitting the old century mark (100º F) today so any activity will be confined to the next two hours before I come inside to stay.

Yesterday we went to a friend’s place for a BBQ, thankfully in the evening. We had been asked to bring some salads, particularly a leaf salad. I’d said yes, no worries and then started to wonder what I would bring. I knew that our lettuce had pretty much bolted and there is nothing much to our lettuce seedlings at this stage. A tour of the garden reassured me that while I wouldn’t be supplying a lettuce salad we did have leaves of all sorts that could be used. What ended up in the bowl was, two or three salvageable lettuce leaves, loose leaf chicory (an Italian variety) and wild rocket – these two formed the greatest contributions – celery leaves, basil, beetroot leaves, bucks horn (one of the Italian salad leaves I’m trying out this year), snow peas (our second crop) and garlic chives. TB dressed it with his Vietnamese Nuoc Cham dressing (3 tablespoons fish sauce, 100mls lime juice, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, 1 long red chili chopped) which we had in the fridge.

I also got excited with the radishes and made the Smashed Chinese Pickled Radishes from the Japanese pickle book Tsukemono Japanese Pickled Vegetables by Kay Shimuzu (Shufunotomo Co. Ltd 1993). This is a dead simple recipe and worked really well. All you need do is pick your radishes, give them a clean up and leave them to sit for 15 minutes in a bowl of iced water. Take them out of the bowl and using something heavy, like the flat blade of a heavy kitchen knife or chopper you crush the radishes as you would a clove of garlic. If you have a small round variety you might be able to do them whole, otherwise cut the radishes into pieces about 2.5cm (1 inch) cubed before you try this manoeuvre. You may also want to place an old folded tea towel over the blade to avoid any mishaps to your hand. Put the crushed pieces back into the iced water for another 15 minutes. You then make the dressing as follows 1 tablespoon of shochu (Japanese whiskey, or sake, or just omit this ingredient as we did), 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Put it into a small screw top jar and shake vigourously. Drain radishes, dress and serve.

…….. Sorry about that I just had to pop outside and do some watering. You can see that rampant growth is the order of the day!

While I was getting my leaves TB decided to pick some baby carrots and beets which he boiled whole and then cut into smaller pieces after they were cooked. He dressed these with 2 parts olive oil to one part Vietnamese dressing. At least TB had the presence of mind to take a photo of his dish – I completely forgot to take any photos!

My final dish was a variation on the baked rhubarb I’ve made previously. Cut rhubarb into 2-3 cm pieces and place as a single layer in a baking dish. Pour over the juice of one orange and about half a cup of honey. Bake in a 180º C oven until soft (about 20-30 minutes). Eat with cream, ice cream yoghurt, whatever.