Something in the Air

Full moon at dawn

Hello friends,

It’s been another busy week, lots of writing, reading, gardening and music! The image above was snapped on my mobile phone at daybreak Tuesday morning, when I was getting ready to head off to work. The weather’s been fairly typically cold and frosty mornings but sunny most of the day. Great weather for working outside – as long as I keep moving!!!

In my reading, I came across an interesting old method of planting peas, and it reminded me of something my dad used to do when I was an avid young food gardener. The idea is to plant the peas in a good quality mix in clean half eggshells and once the seedlings are big enough, the whole thing can be planted out. The eggshells with break down in time and offer extra calcium to the plants. My family love Snow Peas and the only variety I grow these days is Mammoth Melting, a lovely heirloom variety and I let a few pods grow on so I have a fresh supply of seed for the next year.

Although I’m a little late, we tried it out at Oak this week, planting two dozen for the Food Garden program, and was thrilled how engaged my crew were with the idea, even to sorting out a watering plan. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they fare 😀

I had a great time yesterday, weeding the incredible garlic beds in the sunshine, and picked a massive winter salad for dinner last night. But today really felt like a proper winter’s day, with steely grey clouds, cold wind and I even disturbed a bird of prey eyeing off my chickens and rabbits – twice!!! The first time was fairly early this morning, as I was feeding the animals (who are all in secure, closed areas by the way!) and again late this afternoon as I picked greens for tonight’s stir fry. It was too fast to get a decent photo on my mobile phone but I think it was a Brown Falcon, a fairly common bird throughout Tasmania. Some of you might recall a few years ago I came out one morning and found a beautiful White Goshawk perched on the chickens’ enclosure. It’s not unusual to see birds of prey here, despite being only a few minutes from central Hobart!

The chickens offered up three eggs despite their would be visitor, testimony again to day length being the trigger for egg laying rather than temperature. Despite the cold today, I get the sense of something stirring as the days slowly get longer again. We’re past the winter solstice and on the home stretch. Time to top dress the asparagus bed! 🙂

Take care everyone, wherever you are ❤

4pm Sunday 16 July 2017

 

Friendship, Food and Music

Hello friends,

It’s been quite a few weeks since I’ve posted anything. Yes, I think I’m slack too, but I’ve been fairly snowed under with work, a nasty stomach bug and (as always) constant study and assignment deadlines!

A la Game of Thrones, winter isn’t coming – it’s well and truly here! At least winter had the good grace to wait until Dark Mofo had finished before settling in properly. And the colder weather’s brought some very icy mornings and plenty of work to do around my little urban farm. I’ve been weeding beds, transplanting lots of volunteer greens that that have sprung up and covering as much as possible with spent straw from the rabbit hutches. It looks like it’s going to be a really good crop of garlic this coming summer and I can’t wait to see how the later varieties fare in my microclimate. We’ve enjoyed the first few lemons off my tiny tree and the Blood Orange, Lime and Valencia are both surviving the cold weather so far *crosses fingers*

I’m waiting on another order of fruit trees on dwarfing rootstock that I’ll be putting up into wicking tubs like the apples last winter and trying to clean up the last of the chestnuts’ spiky husks and collect all the leaves for compost. I confess I’ve been putting off stripping out the greenhouse in preparation for spring. It’s such a big job and something of a domino effect – once I start, I can’t stop!

I was thinking about tackling it this morning but a visit from some friends saved me 😀 Matt was interested in trying one of my farmed rabbits to eat and arranged to call around with Robyn (another musician friend). Being winter, I had no fresh kits but had one in the freezer from the last litter for him. Robyn and I found about 500g of good chestnuts from two large buckets of spiky husks and I gave her and Matt fresh eggs, herbs and a jar of crabapple jelly for Matt’s elderly mother. We drank coffee on the balcony in the winter sunshine, discussed music, books and life in general.

Matt and I have known one another for many years and today was a delightful catch up. (We recorded “Clementine”, a song of his last year but I’m not sure when it’s going to be released!) He’s in the process of recording again and wanted to borrow my electric 12 string guitar (affectionately known as Dean), which I was happy to do. Meanwhile, I’ve been toying with buying a flat-back mandolin for playing in live sets and was utterly blown away when he gave me this today, saying it was just lying around, not getting played….

I’ve been tinkering around with it most of the afternoon and I think it’s going to be a fabulous addition. And I’m sure every time I play it I’ll think of my dear friend – I might even have to write him a song ❤

A Fool for April – Muesli Recipe

Chestnuts!

Happy April Fool’s Day! Well, there’s been a notable shift in the weather here, summer is clearly over and autumn is finally properly with us. I think this is my favourite time of the year, with generally lower overnight temperatures, crisp mornings and calm, often sunny days – perfect for gardening!

Soil temperatures are still quite warm – there’s a lot of growing still happening! – and I’ll be picking zucchini and especially tomatoes for bottling for a little while yet.

Salad from yesterday – kale, mustard, endive, rocket, silverbeet, red orach and tomatoes.

In the meantime, I’m madly preparing beds for kale, broccoli and garlic, which I’m planting in the coming weeks (later than usual for me), so it’s still very busy. Boudica Bunny is making a nest and should birth her kits (the first with Bernard Black) in the next week, the chestnut crop is still to come as you can see from the photo above, and the chickens are beginning to moult too so the egg supply is gradually slowing down. Having a mixed flock means that there’s usually someone laying and I rarely have to buy eggs except in the very middle of winter when day length is shortest.

Also, I’m pleased to say the jam melons are starting to get bigger – I haven’t grown these since I was a kid in South Australia and it’s exciting! I’ll keep you all up to date with what I end up doing with them, but I’m thinking Melon & Lemon Jam 🙂

Jam Melon sizing up at last

Recently, I made my version of toasted muesli, something I love this time of year, after the summer and autumn fruit drying is mostly over. Many recipes call for added oil, honey, corn or golden syrup and even peanut butter, but this is completely unadulterated. For me, the dried fruit provides enough sweetness and means the muesli keeps well in an airtight jar. If you need it you can always add a little honey, syrup or even a spoon of jam when serving. Personally, I love this with just a dollop of home made yogurt. Here’s the recipe:

Deb’s Sugar-free Muesli 

4 cups rolled oats (ordinary oats, not the “instant type”)

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup sunflower kernels

1/4 cup wheatgerm (optional)

1/2 cup coconut (I prefer flakes for this)

* 1/2 cup chopped nuts (use what you have on hand, for me it was almonds this time and see the note below)

1 tab fresh lemon zest or 1/2 tab dried lemon zest (optional)

1-1/2 cups of chopped dried fruit (again, use what you prefer or have on hand!)

Method:

Pre-heat an oven to 160 C/325 F. In a large bowl, mix the oats, seeds, wheatgerm (if using) and coconut. Chop the nuts fairly roughly and add to the oat mix.

I love lemon zest and the sherbet-like flavour it brings to my breakfast muesli (I keep a jar of dried zest in my pantry cupboard just for recipes like this) but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Try just a little if you’re uncertain.

If you use dried lemon zest, you can mix the chopped fruit thoroughly with the oats/seeds/nuts now, bypassing the toasting step and put the muesli in an airtight jar but I really think the toasting is so worth it for bringing out the flavours of the the seeds and nuts.

Lay the oats/seeds/nuts/fresh lemon zest evenly on a baking sheet or roasting pan and toast, turning every 10-15 minutes with a broad spatula. It’s fiddly but really worth it as you can determine exactly how toasted you want your muesli to be. I use coconut flakes that brown quite significantly and are my best indicator. Now for the dried fruit – the real star of this recipe – and where you can make it truly your own, with seemingly endless combinations of sweet, luscious, fruity goodness! Chop the larger pieces of dried fruit to a size that you prefer (I like mine fairly small, about sultana size). For this batch, I had a lonely piece of apricot fruit leather that needed using, plus this year’s prunes and dried nectarines. Kitchen scissors worked really well and I find them much easier than a knife for this job.

When the oat mix looks the right shade of toastiness, allow it to cool completely, mix in the chopped dried fruit very thoroughly and put into an airtight jar. It should keep well for ages but mine usually gets eaten in a couple of months.

Finished toasted muesli

*A note on the nuts. If you don’t like/can’t eat particular things or want a nut-free muesli, be bold and take them out of the recipe! Substitute nuts with more seeds and fruit – it’s entirely up to you and I encourage you to try different things. For instance, my muesli usually has linseeds but I didn’t have any in the house when I made this (sad face). Next time, I should have dried apples and some walnuts to add as well as my beloved linseeds and I might add a touch of ground cinnamon for a slightly different combo 😀

Apricot Fruit Leather, Prunes and Dried Nectarines for the muesli

In other news, The Superstars and Callum are playing at MONA next Saturday (8th April), which is huge news and I’ll do a separate post about that soon. Uni study is relentless but rewarding, and I’m loving my current unit CWR211 Writing Crime & Contemporary Romance, though romance literature isn’t my strength or preference. Nevertheless, I managed a very high mark for my first assessment and I was frankly, surprised and thrilled.

Finally, I’m sorry to say that Felicity lost her battle with cancer earlier this last week. While her death was entirely expected, it was still utterly heartbreaking and my thoughts go out to all her fabulous friends, family and especially her husband Dave. I plan to buy a shrub or small tree in the coming weeks to plant in her honour – a “Felicitree” ❤

Meanwhile, take care good people, be gentle to each other, this beautiful planet and never be afraid to tell the people that matter to you that you love them ❤

Venison Jerky

It’s autumn here in Hobart, though you could be forgiven for thinking it’s still summer at the moment! The sun is shining and the tomato harvest seems to be stretching on and on this year. The deer season opened in Tasmania a few weeks ago and, while I object to shooting a living creature just because you can, I have no problem with hunting if the animal is killed humanely and all the carcass is used.

I was gifted a shoulder of venison last week by family members who hunt. One deer provides a lot of meat shared throughout the clan, including mince and home-made sausages as well as the usual roasts and stewing pieces. I took my my shoulder home and wondered how I was going to use it.

As I walked in the kitchen, I spotted the dehydrator (it’s hard to miss!) still out on the bench after drying all the prunes this year, and made up my mind to try some jerky. I haven’t made jerky in a dehydrator before (only on a Weber barbecue) so this was quite an experiment for me!

Here’s the recipe:

Venison Jerky

1.2 kg (2 ½ lb) venison, sliced into thin strips

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup Worcestershire Sauce and Mushroom Soy mixed together

1 ½ teaspoons salt

4 cloves garlic, minced finely

1 teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Boning out the shoulder took some time, but with a good knife, some fine music and podcasts to listen to, I was pretty happy. The trick is to cut with the grain of the meat and remove as much of the sinew as possible along the way, but the end result is worth it. Also, instead of wasting all those bits of sinew, I got a stockpot out with a head of garlic, a roughly chopped onion, a few bay leaves, my homemade Tuscan seasoning and some dried celery leaves. Once I finished boning out the shoulder, I added the bones, covered it all with cold water and wine and let it simmer for hours. The next day I skimmed off the fat and let it simmer again for a few more hours. Once it had cooled, I strained the remaining liquid and it was absolutely wonderful. I’ve potted it up and frozen it for rainy day soups, casserole and risotto bases.

In the meantime, back to the jerky. I peeled the garlic and started chopping it. Once it was reasonably small, I sprinkled the salt over it and, using the flat of the blade, really started the mash the garlic. I got out my biggest plastic lunchbox with a tight sealing lid and put the salty garlic mash in the bottom with the sugar and chili flakes. Then I added the wet ingredients and carefully mixed the whole thing. Adding the venison strips was a messy business, you really need to use your hands to massage the mix into the meat. Finally, I covered the container and put it in the fridge overnight. I did squish it around some more before I went to bed, but it isn’t really necessary.

The next day, I put thin strips of marinated venison on the dehydrator trays and lovingly placed them in the machine. The smell was gorgeous and I think this marinade would make a wonderful stir fry or slow casserole too. Using vinegar and the high salt content of both the soy and Worcestershire sauce did a great job and really drew out a lot of the moisture content from the meat as well as flavouring the strips.

To start, I put the temperature up high on the dehydrator (74 C/165 F) for the first half hour. This is recommended because I don’t use a nitrite “cure” for the jerky and it is necessary to kill off potentially nasty bacteria before drying proper. Botulism is dangerous and I take food safety seriously. Then I brought the temperature back to 63 C/145 F and processed it for just over 6 hours. This will vary with different dehydrators.

The results were excellent – chewy, delicious, dark and spicy! I’ve bagged it into little packs and for extra safety, will keep it in the freezer and pull out some as needed.  I’m going to try this with other meats (especially cheaper cuts of beef and rabbit) but the cider vinegar and salty soy combo is certainly worth repeating.

I hope you’re all well and happy wherever you are on this beautiful planet ❤

Aioli – The Love Affair

Hi everyone,

I just posted a pic on Facebook of a batch of Aioli I made this afternoon and one of my friends asked for the recipe. Easy done I thought, I’m sure it’ll be on my blog somewhere – but I couldn’t find it! High time I rectified this incredible oversight!

I’m not a true mayonnaise connoisseur like some of my friends and in truth, I rarely eat it. I do like to make this however in summer and autumn, when eggs are plentiful and garlic is still fresh and pungent. And I dug late potatoes this morning, a Dutch cultivar called Patrone that are apparently a fabulous salad potato. I’ve never grown them before, so this week will be full of interesting taste tests 😀

Home grown/made potato salad and Aioli is one of those dishes that is sex on a plate, everything about it screams wonderful. The texture of the potato cubes, their earthy flavour against the rich, creamy Aioli, with the pungent garlic and the lemony tang at the finish. You get the picture? This is love! And I make this only three, maybe four times a year, when everything required is in season.

So, here’s the Aioli recipe. Please bear in mind several things. Firstly this uses raw eggs so always get them from a reliable source and be assured they are fresh. Secondly, that I make this by feel and taste and recommend that you do the same. I used 8 eggs for this batch as I’m giving a pot to a mayonnaise-obsessed friend too. My rule of thumb is a clove of garlic per egg yolk and it works well for me. The finished Aioli will keep for a week in the refrigerator, though it usually disappears very quickly at my place!

Aioli 

Egg yolks                  Fresh minced garlic             Olive oil                 Lemon juice           Salt

In a clean bowl separate the eggs (I freeze the whites for later use in baking). Crush, peel and mince the garlic (I sprinkle a little salt on the crushed, peeled cloves and mash it in with the flat of a cook’s knife, making a particularly fine mince). Add this to the eggs and beat them well until they’re frothy. Here, you can use a hand beater but I prefer a balloon whisk.

7 eggs that looks like 8 – spot the double-yolker!

Very slowly add the olive oil while beating the egg mixture. A thin drizzle is best – you really don’t want this to split! (I put a teatowel on the bench to stop the bowl from flying away too). For my 8 egg yolks I used  a very generous cup of my Basil Oil for an extra summery note but any good extra virgin olive oil will be fine. Keep beating until the consistency is like thick cream. Once you’re happy with this, start adding the lemon juice. I recommend beginning with half a tablespoon per yolk and do a taste test. Adjust as needed and add seasoning if you want. Pot up, label and refrigerate immediately.

Apart from making the sexiest potato salad dressing in the world, this is wonderful with chicken, fish, green salad and as a dipping sauce.

Enjoy 😀

Stay well friends, and I’ll see you soon ❤

Addio Estate – Harvest Time

It’s that time of year again, the beginning of autumn when the bounty of summer comes in. And like so many of us who grow our own food, I’m feeling a bit inundated at the moment!

So far, I swapped some of my egg glut for a bag of crabapples and elderberries for jelly making; pickled and dried nectarines off our tree; dug and bagged potatoes (and I’ve still got more in the ground); eaten and dried so many beans; vainly tried to stem the attack of the killer zucchinis; dried enough prunes for the coming year but still the kitchen looks like it’s overflowing with plums now I’ve finally got the last of the fruit off.

Then there’s the tomatoes.

Some of you might recall I talked about some volunteer Roma tomatoes that survived winter in the worm farm and germinated in November. Well, quite a lot of them came up in one of the wicking barrels! I thinned the plants out and over the last month picked about 4 kg (just shy of 9 lb!) of perfectly delicious tomatoes.

Summer has been a very mixed bag here in Tasmania with much cooler temperatures and more rain than usual, and it seems we’re getting more balmy weather now that we’re officially into autumn. Everyone’s been complaining that tomatoes are slow to fruit, smaller than average and so on, but I think the flavour has been outstanding!

I don’t normally grow a lot of tomatoes but I decided to go for it this summer so I could bottle fruit as it ripens for use in winter stews and curries. This is reflected in the varieties I chose – Principe Borghese, San Marzano, Polish Giant and Debarao. These are all in various stages (the Debarao are still flowering) but I did bottle the first kilo of San Marzano this week and they are fabulous!

I didn’t factor in for the Roma crop (it was quite a surprise!) and that’s come in earlier than the rest. So I decided to make that wonderful Italian pantry staple, Passata. It’s kind of like making your own pasta sauce, totally to your taste and giving your winter meals a touch of those sun-kissed summer days.

Three things to note before we start. Firstly, I don’t blanch and peel the fruit for this as it takes a lot of time and basically I’m lazy. (In truth, I’d just blanched a couple of jars of small San Marzano tomatoes for bottling and was running out of time that night). Instead, I put the whole thing through the blender and the skins break down beautifully doing it this way. Secondly, I used a combination of Basil, Marjoram and Oregano because that’s what I had close at hand and we love those flavours. Sage, Thyme, Italian Parsley and even a little Rosemary would be just as good. And finally, this recipe uses chilies – another fruit I have in abundance here! – but it’s just as delicious without them, so don’t feel compelled to use them 😀

Deb’s Chili Passata

2 kg ripe Roma (or any plum-type) tomatoes             1 onion, chopped

1 head garlic, peeled                                                         6-12 chilies, chopped (optional)

2 tabs basil oil                                                                   ½ cup fresh basil

¼ cup oregano &/or marjoram                                     1 tab honey

¼ cup minimum Marsala or red wine                           salt to taste

Wash the tomatoes, remove any stems, bruises, etc. Put them in a large stockpot with the oil, garlic cloves, honey, onion, wine and chopped chilies. Heat slowly over a low heat until the tomatoes start to sweat and mash down. Stir occasionally but leave the lid on as much as possible.

Add the fresh herbs and continue cooking until it starts to look like a tomato soup. Season it to taste. Take off the heat, cover and leave overnight.

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The next day, put the cold tomato mix through a blender and pulse to the desired consistency. Clean and sterilise jars/bottles and lids/tops. Put the blended mixture back into the stockpot and reheat. Boil gently for at least two minutes. Take off the heat and prepare a tall stockpot for a water bath (or Fowlers Vacola or Ball canning/bottling vat).

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Ladle the hot Passata into sterilised jars, add ¼ or ½ tsp of citric acid to each jar, cover securely with sterilised lids and place in water bath. Bring the water up to the boil and hold for 20 minutes with the lid on. Turn off the heat and leave the jars to continue processing for another 15 -20 minutes.

Remove the jars carefully (they will be very hot) and put them on a board to cool. Check for a seal, label and store in a cool place. This will last unopened for up to a year but mine never lasts that long!

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This recipe made just over 2 liters and can be bottled in smaller jars as well – I just have lots of swing top bottles this year!

Enjoy, and if you try this recipe I’d love to hear what you think of it 😀

Take care and talk with you all soon, I have to go make Plum Butter now………..

Oh Beautiful Friday!

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My life is a little bit insane at the moment, hence the lack of blogging (sorry!)

I’m as always, up to my eyeballs with uni (getting a portfolio of poetry together this time) and work has started again at Oak Tasmania. This year, I’m doing my musical things with The Superstars and we have some big plans for 2017 but I’ve also started tutoring a Food Gardening group two mornings a week. It’s been hectic!

In the space of a couple of weeks, we’ve started doing experiments with growing carrots in pots rather than in traditional garden beds, resurrected the worm farm, started a vegetable and herbs seed bank, done quite a lot of weeding, cleaned out the small greenhouse that’s on site, potted up some basil and eggplants and planted some lettuce seedlings that are already up and running 🙂

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Future salad!

Eventually, we want to grow enough to pass on to the kitchen and provide the cooking courses with fresh, clean produce to turn into salads, soups and encourage better eating among the Oak staff and participants. I’m also hoping some of the seedlings will go home with the gardeners, most of whom are very keen!

This week we spotted a very old dinghy around the back of the site and we’ve decided to appropriate it. Our plan is to bed it in securely, fill it with sheep poo and some good loam and plant it out. The drainage is good – she came with lots of holes! – and we’re thinking about an experiment with some seed potatoes we discovered to begin with. Although they’re very late, in a raised bed we should get a crop and I think we should dress it up and name the old girl something like “The Good Ship Spudalicious”. (Photos are coming!)

Meanwhile, at home it’s a bit overwhelming with nectarines just finished and plums coming in and I’ll be getting the dehydrator out this weekend to turn most of the plums into prunes for the winter months. And I did get my one apricot off the new tree! A few months ago I cheered that there was one solitary fruit and it ended up perfect and utterly delicious ❤

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The maincrop bush tomatoes (San Marzano and Principe Borghese) are just starting to size up and ripen but the Debarao are still flowering and a little behind the Polish Giant Paste that are very green but already very big! Undoubtedly, the best cropper so far has been the bush Roma’s that were an unexpected bonus. I’ve been picking them just as they’ve started to colour and I’ve got a couple of kilos off them already that I plan to bottle in the next few weeks. Everyone’s tomatoes in southern Tasmania seem a little late this summer, but while the rest of the country’s been in a devastating heat wave, Tasmania has been relatively mild and surprisingly damp this year.

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Last week I picked enough perfect grape vine leaves to put in brine for making Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)

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At least I got the year right even though it’s February now!

and this week I put up two bottles of Pickled Nectarines. This is really simple and relatively quick. All I do is put halved and pitted nectarines into sterilised jars with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and piece of dried Habanero chili in each (totally optional!) and covered them with a heavily sweetened apple cider vinegar (the ratio is 1:1) while it’s still hot. Covered with sterilised lids and put the jars through a water bath for 15 minutes, these nectarines are wonderful with ice cream as a dessert or sliced with game meats. Just leave them for a few weeks for the flavours to develop.

And Wednesday, I had a great time playing a gig at Irish Murphy’s in Salamanca. Because of everything that’s going on in my life at the moment, I haven’t been playing as many solo shows and it was so good to play some songs and catch up with lots of friends 😀

Because I’m working more, I decided to make a mega Zucchini and Ham Slice to freeze and take for lunches – it’s a great way to use up some of the zucchini and egg glut! I used 8 eggs, three grated zucchini, a 1/4 cup of flour, a few left over boiled Nicola potatoes, some cubed ham (about 2 cups) a little fresh sage, thyme, marjoram, a couple of finely sliced Cayenne chilies and a grate of nutmeg. After I’d beaten all this together, I added about 1 1/2 cups of grated Colby cheese and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan and baked it in a greased deep pan for about 45 mins in a moderate oven. I ended up with 7 generous serves that will make work lunches a lot easier!

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But now, it’s Friday night and I’m beat! All I’m good for is watching the cricket on television and drinking cups of tea. I keep looking across at the pile of clean washing and wish it would fold itself up……..

 

 

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