Boxes and Bounty

As a gardening experiment last month, I made a few wicking boxes for my front balcony. It faces east, across the River Derwent and while the view is lovely, it gets all the morning sun and can be quite windy. This time of year, we can’t walk on the concrete in bare feet before 2pm! I’ve grown salad greens in containers out there since I moved in, over six years ago but it’s a lot of work and difficult keeping water up to them with baking sun and drying winds.

IMG_20151215_102432I started out buying two food grade plastic crates from my local hardware store (I think they were 23 litre size), the kind that are often used as recycling boxes. All other materials were either recycled or things I had on hand.

Old hose was spiked with holes and laid in the bottom, with the refill end slotted into a length of larger diameter poly pipe to make it easier to pour water into. It looks pretty ugly but it works!

Next, I put a layer of gravel over the hose, making sure the refill end IMG_20151215_102947didn’t get buried as you can see in the photo. By the way, this gravel wouldn’t be my ideal but it was sitting in a pile begging to be used up and there was just enough to do all the boxes ūüôā

At the top of the gravel, I carefully drilled a small overflow hole diagonally opposite the refill hose. This means water won’t build up and start getting smelly and the plants won’t rot in overly wet soil.

IMG_20151215_103048Next, I covered the gravel with some old tea towels that weren’t really wonderful for wiping dishes anymore. They allow the water to pass through but not the soil. Eventually, they will rot away and I’ll have to replace them but it was good to recycle them. Old shade cloth would be ideal if you have it.

At this stage, I put a thin layer of good quality potting mix over the top, and I recommend not cutting any corners with this. The better the soil, the better the plants! I mixed well rotted sheep poo and plenty of mushroom compost in large bucket and worked this through layers of potting mix until the box was fairly full. The result was a friable, rich mix, perfect for quick growing summer salad veggies.

I made sure the soil was damp before planting out the first seedlings and watered them overhead for the first couple of days, until the water reservoir started to do its thing. I ended up doing eight boxes in total and crammed in fast growing Pak Choi, Portulaca, Red Amaranth, Grumolo Verde Chicory, Garland Chrysanthemum and even Silverbeet. The results have been fabulous

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The pic above was taken 15th December 2015 and the pic below a month later, the 14th January 2016. The results have been incredibly successful and I’m only having to refill the reservoir¬†about once every three or four days instead of overhead watering morning and night. Despite the fact salad is my favourite meal of the day, I can barely keep up with the amount of food these boxes are producing!

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Do you grow vegetables in containers? What are your top tips? Please leave a comment below РI love to hear from you all! 

Smoke and Lemons

I’ve had a stomach bug since the weekend and today was the first time I felt safe to move more than a few steps away from the bathroom. I haven’t done any gardening since Saturday afternoon¬†and had to cancel a gig on Sunday, which I hate doing. But I’m definitely on the mend, as I got into “making mode” this afternoon. Most of Tasmania has been wreathed in smoke for the last few days and that in itself makes me a little restless.

As I write, it’s hazy in Hobart and there’s a distinct smell of bush smoke through the open window. There are at present, approximately 80 fires burning across Tasmania, mostly started by lightning strikes last week on the¬†less populated west coast. Nevertheless, this afternoon, it spread up into the north west, putting property, livestock and potentially lives at risk. My thoughts and best wishes go out, not only to friends who live in the areas affected, but also to state fire services, who are pretty much at their limit right now.

Yesterday, my lovely neighbour traded a box of lemons from her boss for a dozen of my eggs – I love bartering! After moping around the house yesterday, I decided to get creating some healthy lemon-based goodies that wouldn’t be too harsh on my tender tummy right now and pickles¬†that will be ready in the months ahead.

First, I decided I needed the sweet, comforting tang of old fashioned Lemon Curd, something I haven’t made in years. This versatile cream¬†doesn’t keep very long but I understand it freezes quite well so I’ve got half (about 250 ml) in a plastic container, ready to freeze. The recipe is very simple.

 

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Old Fashioned Lemon Curd (Makes approximately 500 ml)

Ingredients:

zest of 4 lemons    3/4 cup lemon juice     3/4 cup white sugar   4 fresh eggs     125g butter, cubed

Method:

In a heat proof bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar over a simmering pot of water. When the sugar is dissolved, add the lemon zest, juice and continue whisking until the mixture becomes creamy. Add the cubed butter and continue mixing until it’s thoroughly absorbed.

This tangy delight is wonderful as a base for lemon mousse, spread over a pie base for simple lemon tart, mixed with whipped cream and a little home made yogurt for Lemon Fool or just used as spread on toast. Tonight, I’m having it on pancakes as a treat.

The other thing I made was another jar of Pickled Lemons. I don’t think you can ever have too many jars or variations of this most wonderful condiment. For this batch I reverted back to my old recipe I’ve been making for nearly 30 years. Measurements are fairly arbitrary – it depends on how big a jar you’ve got handy and how many lemons you want (or need) to pickle! Also, experiment with adding different spices throughout the jar. I particularly like bay leaves and chillies – something I’ve got plenty of at the moment.

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Deb’s Pickled Lemons¬†

Ingredients:

Lemons    preserving salt   Optional spices Рbay leaves, chillies, cinnamon quills, mustard seed

Method:

Start with a scrupulously clean jar, preferably a sterilised preserving jar. I used one with a swing top lid and a good rubber seal. Put a tablespoon of salt in the bottom of the jar and a little of the spices and put it to one side while preparing the lemons.

Wash the lemons in plain hot water and remove any diseased fruit, stem pieces and cut out any blemishes that might spoil the finished pickles. With a sharp paring knife carefully quarter each lemon almost to the base. (See the photo above). I recommend cutting them over a bowl to catch any juice that can be poured over the finished pickle.

Put a generous spoon of salt into each cut. Again, do this over the bowl, it can get a bit messy!

Now, put the salted lemons into the jar, layering with more salt and any spices you want to use. In this jar I used a cinnamon quill broken into pieces, a few bay leaves and two fresh cayenne chillies that I poked a few holes in to let the lemon juice and salt in. Use a wooden spoon (even the handle) to really cram the lemons in and release their juice. This, combined with the salt preserves the fruit. Close the lid and leave the jar on a shelf for a month, shaking it every day.

Use a little as a condiment with curries, chopped up very fine in marinades or stuffing and in recipes such as Lemon Chicken.

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Saying Goodbye

Yesterday evening, while dinner was cooking on the BBQ Рa wonderful Australian summer tradition РI came into the house to look at my phone, mostly to stop myself from checking the yummy things too often.

The Guardian was saying David Bowie had died. At first I thought (I hoped) it was a hoax. I walked outside and told my partner. I started to cry.

It was a surreal moment, one that I won’t forget. I’m certain there are many of you out there who will have similar memories of where you were and what you were doing when you heard that Bowie was dead.

For me and many of my generation, David Bowie was much, much more than an incredibly talented musician, a brilliant showman, a fabulous and insightful songwriter, a trend setter.

He was one of us – another misfit, a freak who didn’t fit into the mainstream, who kept kicking against what we were told was “right”. He gave us hope, and for many of us, gave us a reason to keep going on days when the world could look a very dark place.

I was in love with Bowie from the first time I heard¬†Space Oddity¬†in the very late 60’s when I was still in primary school in a small country town. By the time he released¬†Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars¬†in 1972, I was on that hideous roller coaster called puberty, and my mother was (perhaps with some cause) starting to worry about me. All my school friends were into Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. A few of us were listening to The Who, Clapton, The Plastic Ono Band and The Doors (particularly¬†L.A. Woman)¬†but we were a minority and considered pretty weird by our fellows.

I remember we were allowed in early high school to bring posters of our favourite pop stars to decorate the classroom. I took a poster of the cover of¬†Hunky Dory, with Bowie doing his best Lauren Bacall impersonation and the teacher asked me who “she” was. When I told her it was David Bowie, I had to take the poster home with a concerned note for my parents. For a while I tried to fit in, but who was I kidding? And there was this amazing, skinny, obviously drug addled English guy who was telling me it was okay to be different and not be a sheep.

Throughout the years, I kept coming back to Bowie and his current works. Not just for entertainment, (though that was mostly mighty fine) but for inspiration and instruction for my personal arts practice. In particular, Bowie’s interpretations of Jacques Brel and Bertold Brecht were and remain profoundly important to me. Also, it was an ongoing reassurance that it was still okay to be different. Actively embracing change and personal reinvention is an important part of my life thanks to him.

All these years later, I still come back to Bowie’s music and continually find new lessons in my craft.

Although I never met the man and sadly, never had to opportunity to see him live on stage, I feel like I’ve lost a¬†favourite, incredibly chic, slightly disreputable uncle. You know, the one who takes you out partying when you’re still under age with a “hush, don’t tell your parents we did this” conspiratorial wink.

And when my time comes, I hope I’ll have the strength of character to make something as beautiful and powerful as¬†Blackstar and, in particular write a song as gloriously human as¬†Lazarus.¬†

Along with the rest of the planet, my thoughts are with his family and friends in these incredibly sad days.

Vale David Bowie, and thank you from the bottom of my still fiercely independent heart ‚̧

Shiso and Cider Vinegar – A Heavenly Match

Over the years I’ve grown quite a lot of that most wonderful annual herb, Perilla, Shiso or Beefsteak Plant. Traditionally, it’s found in Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes, and Shiso is its Japanese name.¬†In particular the green variety (Perilla frutescens) which I prefer, seems to like my greenhouse very much. The unusual aroma and flavour is a welcome addition to summer salads in my household. Flavour-wise, I think it plays a similar role to Basil in Mediterranean dishes, and it is sometimes sold as Japanese Basil. I just wash the leaves thoroughly, put them through the salad spinner and chiffonade them. We also love it as a flavouring for steamed rice and stir fries and the whole leaves for tempura.

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar

 

This year I’ve had a fabulous crop and I began to wonder what else I could do with it. That got me thinking about other Japanese flavours and what would happen if I started experimenting with a pickle.¬†In Japan, Green Shiso is salted and the whole leaves are layered in jars for use during the cooler months and the Red Shiso is used to make Umeboshi but I found a wonderful cucumber recipe at Food52 that I’ve adapted for my needs. I wanted to have pickled leaves I could use whole as wrappers or shred up as required and this looks like a winner!

I made this yesterday ūüôā

Refrigerator Pickled Shiso

15-20 large Shiso leaves           1/4 cup sugar                       1 tablespoon salt

3 tablespoons Mirin                1 cup Apple Cider vinegar       A clean pickle jar and lid (300-400g)

Wash the Shiso leaves carefully to remove any grit, pat dry or put through a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Lay the leaves on top of each other and very carefully roll them, feeding the entire roll into the jar. In a non-metallic mixing bowl whisk the other ingredients thoroughly until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Pour this over the Shiso leaves, close firmly and refrigerate. This will be ready to use in a few hours but will benefit from leaving for at least a couple of days. I have no idea how long the leaves will last in the refrigerator but as I use a few and make room, I plan to add some thin slices of the little cucumbers that are starting to fruit.

I confess I took a nibble this morning and it’s as wonderful as I hoped it would be. The big factor for me is the flavour of the pickling liquid, which is very similar to a dipping sauce. Also, I used some of the vinegar I made from a failed cider about three months ago and it’s pretty special just on its own! I will write a post about processing the vinegar with details and photos soon.

I’m also planning to dehydrate some of the crop, grind it and mix with a little shredded nori¬†and toasted sesame seeds to make my own furikake and I’m considering getting a fermenting jar and making Korean Gaennip Kimchee. There’s also an idea brewing in my mind about making Shiso oil, similar to the Basil oil I make relentlessly through summer. I’ll keep you posted on that ūüôā

Meanwhile, I’ve finished and submitted my assignment and I’m back to my wonderful people at OAK Tasmania tomorrow – summer holidays are over for me. But the days are still long and luscious for gardening and cooking.

Stay well and happy friends,

Debra ‚̧

Beautiful Shiso

Beautiful Shiso

More Lemons!

Things have been really busy around here!

Besides the constants of¬†plants to water and harvest in summer, there’s animals to care for and ensure they’re protected from the heat of the day and ongoing development work in the garden. And then there’s the excess – mostly eggs, raspberries and basil at this house – and what to do with them. Lots of quiche, raspberry cheesecake, cordial, basil oil and pesto for the freezer at the moment. On top of that I’ve been writing a short story for my latest university unit (yes, Griffith Uni Online know no summer holidays!) which has been really quite demanding.

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Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the kitchen, I caught up with my friend Sara last week and she gave me a bag full of lemons. I was able to trade a bottle of Raspberry Vinegar Cordial, which has been threatening to take over my pantry cupboards!

Well, I had a think about what works in my household. We’re not jam or marmalade eaters but dried fruit, cordials and syrups for drinks and ice cream are very popular. So I spent the afternoon peeling lemon zest for the dehydrator and making a simple Lemon Syrup with the juice.

I confess I lost count of the lemons but it was at least 20. After peeling the zest I put it in a non-metallic bowl overnight while I dealt with the poor denuded lemons – they look awful without their beautiful skins! Here’s my recipe, it’s really easy!

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Simple Lemon Syrup (makes about 6 cups)

3 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice       3 cups white sugar

Before beginning, sterilise glass jars in the oven and put their lids in a saucepan of boiling water on the back of the stove.

Next put the juice in a clean pan on medium heat with the white sugar. (I removed the pips but left some pulp in the juice Рwe like pulp). Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for about 10 minutes. Once the syrup is ready, take a couple of jars from the oven and carefully put them on a board or heatproof mat next to the syrup pan. Ladle it into the hot jars and seal immediately.

If you want to keep the syrup for a longer period of time, I recommend processing them in a water bath (canning method) for 10 minutes so they’ll be good on the pantry shelf for about a year – if it lasts that long!

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Dried Lemon Zest

This is really very simple and one of the best bonus uses for lemons you know have come from a chemical free garden. I have a dehydrator and my peelings were enough to put over three trays, lined with baking paper. In total it took about 10-12 hours to dry it all properly without cooking it. It it possible to do this in a conventional oven but it needs to be very cool.

My three large trays reduced down to a jar of wonderfully dry, aromatic peel. I’ll use this in baking, marinades and plan to crush some up fine for mixing with salt, and some with dried chillies as a herb rub.

Personally, I think it’s worth doing this just for the smell – it was heavenly!

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I’ll probably put another post up in the next few days about my favourite summer herb – shiso. Meanwhile, have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

Debra ‚̧

 

Chilli Mania

I was chatting online this morning with some like minded souls, who are also in the midst of summer gardening. The subject of growing chilies in Tasmania came up and it made me realise what an addict I am. Where most of the people on the forum had a few chilies for various purposes, there was one fellow who had multiple plants – and me. I counted this morning when I watered the greenhouse. I have 15 different varieties this year, and most them multiple plants.

One part of the Chilli Collection

One part of the Chilli Collection

Chilies are so much more than just mouth burning, demonic plants for the insanely masochistic. There are many different notes that accompany the heat and will compliment different dishes in multiple¬†ways. And there are many, many different varieties and levels of heat. I think it’s more a question of finding the flavours that suit you.

For my spice-loving household, I have everything from a ridiculously hot Rocoto or Tree Chili (C. pubesens aka. Manzano for the apple-shaped fruit) to a very mild, sweet form that is incredibly prolific and provides a lovely tangy note in salads.

Manzano or Rocoto Chilli

Manzano or Rocoto Chilli

At the moment, I’ve got Rocoto’s starting to size up while the plant is still producing beautiful purple flowers. This chilli really packed a punch in it’s first year. All the reading I’d done suggested it was a mid-heat fruit and being so thick and fleshy, I thought it’d be a good candidate for stuffing with cottage cheese and baking.

Well, I made it through half of mine before I couldn’t feel my tongue or lips anymore. It was more like a very nasty Habenero in terms of heat and had similar fruity overtones. Rocotos are still treasured but respectfully dried for winter curries now!

I’ve found over the years, the heat scale can be quite variable. It seems to depend so much on the growing season, which is relatively short here in Tasmania, how much water and sunlight the developing fruit gets and what the plant is fed. I grow all my chillies in the greenhouse at present and combined with the mega crop of basil I’ve got this summer, it’s getting pretty crowded in there! But the key feature seems to be speed. I’ve noticed over the years that really hot chillies are the ones that take longer to ripen, such as the Rocotos and Habeneros.

Whether I’m growing from seed or potting up purchased plants, I usually put some used coffee grounds and a little dolomite in my potting mix for chillies and enrich it with mushroom compost or worm castings. Like any greenhouse plant, the potting mix needs to be just right not too heavy – but not too sandy or pots will dry out quickly on even a relatively mild¬†day. If planting out in garden beds, mulch is essential to keep the roots moist and keep them well watered.

I’m loathe to admit it, but I’ve been a bit slack this year – I still have four punnets to be pricked out into grow

The Punnets of Shame

The Punnets of Shame

tubes and two trays of grow tubes that have to put in pots!

Included in these are Poblano Ancho and Serrano chillies to go into pots and Red Habeneros, a stunning Royal Black and the last of my first (and favourite) Habenero that are finally big enough to go into grow tubes. (If you’re interested in making/recycling your own grow tubes, there’s a post about it here).

Some years ago on a whim, I bought a Habenero,¬†who we named “Fabio” because he was the most beautiful chilli in the world. He survived as a house plant for several years and a couple of moves under quite atrocious conditions and gave us many beautiful, ridiculously hot chillies. In his last year, I managed to save quite a lot of seed – and this is the final batch.

I’m trying to be patient, waiting for Inferno, Ring of Fire and Hot Portugal seedlings to start flowering but it’s difficult! In the meantime, I’ve already been eating Jalapenos in salad, Cayenne and Thai chillies in curries and stir fries and I’ve started drying some in the dehydrator. The big winner so far is¬†a heirloom Bulgarian form I picked up cheaply in spring. After being potted up, it hasn’t grow much but just keeps producing flowers and fruit non-stop! The fruit are quite long and go from dark green to a rich, carrot orange. The flavour is also rich and spicy, without being overbearingly hot.

And in the process of writing this blog, I’ve just bought some more unusual chilli seed for growing at the end of next winter. All in all, it’s chilli heaven here ūüėÄ

What’s your favourite chilli? Please leave a comment below.

Inferno budding up

Inferno budding up

New Year Musings

Greetings to you all from the first day of 2016! This time every year, we are prompted to make resolutions to make us or our lives better. I think I stopped doing this when I was in my early twenties and the resolutions were falling by the wayside long before the end of January! I was beginning to think it was me until I realised that what I was trying to do was unrealistic unless I did some careful planning.

I tend to set goals rather than make resolutions these days and for the most part, it works pretty well for me. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to study again and actively planned and organised my life to accommodate a¬†part-time university degree – something I will never regret! And last year I had multiple goals, to blog more regularly and write more, start a sourdough plant and make bread again (very successful) and stop dying my hair, which has been possibly the most fulfilling and oddly empowering thing I’ve done in years!

I started going grey very early, as my father and grandmother did and as it became more noticeable, I covered it up with every colour imaginable. It was kind of fun but also tedious, dealing with regrowth and how the dye stripped my hair but increasingly, as I went into middle age, I felt it played too much into the myth of youth equating beauty. Just to take it another step further, I decided to put my hair in dreadlocks as well. Despite what people might tell you, having dreads does not mean having dirty hair. I still wash it as much as I did before but using a different kind of shampoo and never using conditioner.

Me being a loudmouth - image courtesy of Josh Troy

Me being a loudmouth – image courtesy of Josh Troy

 

Now, a year beyond my decision I’m very happy. My baby dreads are mostly silver and what’s left of my natural hair colour. Sometimes people look at me strangely but I’m a career musician – that’s happened all my life so I think I’m used to it. I’ve had a couple of derisive comments, but I think it says way more about the people making the comments than me.

The bottom line is, at 57 I’m comfortable with who I am, I like the woman I have become, I like the way I look, love my life and I make no apologies for being myself.

On a related note, I went and saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens this week and found it really enjoyable – not brilliant, but fun – particularly with the inclusion of the original cast. So, imagine my sadness when Carrie Fisher was derided on social media this week because of her looks and how she “hasn’t aged well”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Mind you, her response¬†was glorious, witty and suitably scathing;

‚ÄúYouth and beauty are not accomplishments, they‚Äôre the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don‚Äôt hold your breath for either.”

Wherever you are, I hope your 2016 is full of love, happiness and laughter – live life well!

Debra ‚̧