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 ūüėÄ

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! ūüôā

Take care everyone, wherever you are ‚̧

4pm Sunday 16 July 2017

 

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 ūüėÄ

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 ūüėÄ

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

And So It Goes – Day 30 NaBloPoMo 2016

Today is the last day of the blog challenge for 2016. I think this is the third year I’ve been involved with NaBloPoMo and this one’s probably been the easiest in many ways.

Life has been no less busy, in truth I’ve probably been more stressed than I have in years but after three years of NaBloPoMo and three years of constant writing for university under my belt, I tend to make time in my day to make these blog posts happen.

I’ve got back into the habit of writing!

And perhaps more to the point, I’ve got into the habit of seeing and doing things that I want to write about and share here. Today was a very good case in point – as soon as I saw this in the yard I wanted to write about it!

I had to say goodbye to my apricot tree a while back (my favourite fruit). Sadly, it had brown rot and I really couldn’t save it. In anticipation, I planted another two years ago. It’s doing really well and I decided to let it bear a couple of fruit this year¬†so I could at least have a taste of apricot goodness. Unfortunately, we had some high winds and I found the few fruit I’d let stay had fallen ūüė¶

And then, this morning while I was weeding around the tree, I found this!!!!

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It is quite big and won’t be ripe for at least another month, possibly six weeks, it might not even make it – who can tell? But it’s the only one on this little tree and I’m unbelievably thrilled.

Meanwhile, the rabbits and chickens are incredibly indignant. We’ve had workmen in to remove English Ivy from the backyard. The rabbits were upset that we had to move their hutches near the chickens and the chickens were indignant that the rabbits were there at all. And then there’s been all the noise and power tools upsetting everyone’s calm – it’s been bedlam! Hopefully, it will all be finished tomorrow and we can get back to the usual run-of-the-mill bedlam that passes for normality in my place ūüėÄ

I might take a break from blogging for a few days – I have baking to do tomorrow and my birthday to celebrate on Friday – but there’s things afoot that I’ll want to write about coming up.

So thank you for reading, and take care dear friends wherever you may be on this beautiful¬†little planet. I’ll see you soon ‚̧

Rainy Day Self Care – Day 13 NaBloPoMo

I’ve been really struggling today, feeling physically unwell but also quite inexplicably sad since I woke this morning.

Perhaps it’s the weather. It’s been very wet and bleak almost all day, so I didn’t have much chance to be in the yard. I’ve become very aware of how sensitive I am to such things. So I decided to remain as positive as possible, do things that made me feel better and generally engage in some self-care.

I got out my uber-fabulous rain jacket, found a beanie and went to splash around, feeding the hungry hordes and finding little things to photograph Рsomething that always makes me feel good.

First stop after feeding was to check the greenhouse. Usually¬†by November I need to water fairly thoroughly in there but today it was so damp it wasn’t necessary. I did find breakfast though ūüėÄ

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I only picked the one on the right and while it was lovely, we really haven’t had enough sunny days to encourage fructose production. I’m concerned the raspberries will be the same too but it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before they start producing significantly. And surely the sunshine will be back by then!

Of course, the best way to cheer me up is to see new things happening and I was very pleased to discover several flowers on the Cayenne chillies this morning. I really love these long, thin skinned chillies. They are great fresh but dry easily and they have a light and bright flavour, that lifts all manner of dishes.

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Meanwhile, I decided to make a really hearty slow-roasted organic chicken for tonight’s dinner so I headed for the French Tarragon patch, which is booming at the moment.

This is my take on Tarragon Roast Chicken.

I had some chestnuts left in the freezer that I dry roasted and shelled back in autumn. They were chopped up finely with a couple of the small garlic heads and the Tarragon and thrown in a bowl. I beat in an egg and a little olive oil, and mixed in about half a cup of fine sourdough breadcrumbs to help bind it all together.

In the slow cooker I made a trivet of a halved onion, some small carrots, a few celery sticks from the garden that were too big for using in salads, a few more little garlic heads and the rest of the Tarragon. I put the stuffed chicken carefully on top of the vegetable trivet, seasoned it and poured over about a cup of white wine. Then I put it on low and forgot about it for a few hours.

After some quiet time reading, watching trashy Sunday afternoon television and a long luxurious shower, we prepared potatoes, parsnips and carrots for roasting. Now, this is totally decadent but it was a household decision to add some home made garlic butter to the roasting pan Рbecause fresh garlic!

After the veggies were starting to brown, the chicken was carefully lifted and finished off in the oven with all those lovely vegetables. I decanted off about 3 cups of rich liquid from the slow cooker as a sauce base and made a cornflour roux. A tablespoon of homemade mushroom ketchup and a dash of cream finished off the sauce.

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This was utterly fabulous. The Tarragon and garlic shone through without overwhelming, the chicken was succulent but cooked through, vegetables crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, and the stuffing was nutty and rich but not stodgy.

I’m now going into a food coma – but feeling much better than I was earlier in the day ūüėÄ

And to finish, here’s Bernard Black Bunny, telling me to “go away woman, can’t you see I’m eating?”

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Take care friends, and don’t be shy about looking after yourselves ‚̧

Lazy Day Gardening – Day 12 NaBloPoMo 2016

After yesterday’s foray into family history, today was a gardening day ‚̧

As many of you are aware, it’s been very wet in Tasmania the last half of this year and it’s taken a long time for soil temperatures to rise enough to ensure reasonable growth. Tonight, we’re expecting a big north easterly to come through, which is expected to bring flooding again to parts of the state. I think most farmers and gardeners are holding their breath, as it’s getting late to plant main crop vegetables. Here’s hoping it isn’t too devastating!

I’ve been holding off planting out tomatoes but once this wet passes, I’ll be putting out this year’s¬†plants and hoping we get a long enough summer to produce a reasonable crop. But today I got stuck into preparing the beds in a method I call “lazy gardening”. Because of my spinal problems, I have to be careful about how much I do and how hard I work. It’s a constant trade off between maintaining (and slowly improving) core strength and not overdoing heavy tasks that involve a lot of bending. And today was perfect for me, still and warm but overcast.

I generally do yoga stretches before I start (which I’m sure the chickens find hilarious) and have become very conscious of not doing a heavy, repetitive task for too long, otherwise I stiffen and find it incredibly hard to walk properly for some time afterwards. Today I forked over a relatively new section of a bed that had become quite weed-ridden with all the wet weather. The soil was quite soft thankfully, and relatively easy going.

To break the job today, I planted out¬†a few mixed zucchini in another bed, and some beans – an heirloom climbing Borlotti and a new variety (for me), a climbing Pea Bean that I grew from seed. This has a delightful, perfectly round red and white seed. I’ve no idea what the flavour is like but this slug thought the seedlings were pretty tasty!

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I also had a wander around the garden and discovered loads of raspberries and a few Jostaberries, a complex cross between gooseberries and a black currant. I just hope we have enough sunny weather in the next few weeks for them to ripen and sweeten!

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Lazy gardening involves very blinkered vision and really is a relative term. I try and ignore all the other jobs that need my attention and just focus on one small area, something that I find very difficult. It also involves  a large bottle of water, somewhere to sit, my smartphone and a blue tooth speaker that I put on an upturned pot. This ensures I have to stop regularly, sit down, have a drink of water and listen to something interesting while I work. Today I had Tom Baker reading Doctor Who audio books РThe Brain of Morbius by Terrance Dicks, while I variously weeded, looked for snails, fed the chickens the weeds and snails, watered the greenhouse and took some photos of things in the garden.

After a busy day, tonight I grilled¬†Lamb Leg Chops which marinated most of the day in my version of Za’atar (garlic, preserved lemon, sumac, chillies, basil oil, Lebanese oregano and cumin seed) and served with Cous Cous and fresh vegetables from the garden. It was delicious!

And to finish, (because there’s so many eggs at the moment) I made a simple baked vanilla custard – so simple but so wonderful. The recipe couldn’t be easier. 6 eggs and 3/4 cups of sugar well beaten in a large bowl. Then add 2 cups of milk and 1/2 teaspoon of good vanilla essence. Pour into a greased souffle dish and place in a baking tray with some hot water. Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes or until set through. This basic recipe serves four and can have nuts or lightly stewed fruit or fresh berries added.

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Making Room – Day 10 NaBloPoMo

This will be a short post as I’ve got to get ready for an early set tonight¬†as I mentioned here a couple of days ago and I’m still not absolutely certain what songs I’m going to play. Something short and vitriolic feels kinda right at the moment.

While the world seems to be coming to terms with¬†the US election, I gardened hard this morning. I picked heaps of snow peas, and there’s loads of new flowers and peas coming on. It’s been a wonderful crop and hopefully with last another month or two.

I also ripped out a couple of giant Italian Parsley plants that are going to seed and stripped them for use in the kitchen over the next few days. Then I got stuck into the broad beans in the next bed and picked the largest pods I could find and shelled them into a bowl while the chickens looked on. Again, there’s still heaps of flowers and new beans forming, so this is going to be a good crop. All the parsley heads and bean husks got chopped up and fed straight to the chickens, who are giving us loads of eggs this year.

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I’m the only one in the house that likes broad beans¬†as a fresh vegetable but they dry very well, and we go through a lot of dried beans each year in curries and stews to make meat go further. I’ve laid out what I imagine would be a meal’s worth and I’m going to see how long it takes for them to dry out. It could end up being a dehydrator job but at least these will have a start.

Also, I gave up waiting and decided to lift the rest of the garlic. Some of it is a little small but it is what it is – and with the parsley, I want to make that other great Italian garnish – gremolata. ¬†I’m going to experiment with reconstituting some of my dried lemon zest and adding that instead of buying fresh lemons. My lemon tree is flowering but no fruit until next year.

And the big reason to harvest these plants¬†is the amazing realisation that I’m running out of bed space! I really need the room to plant out¬†more beans, tomatoes and zucchinis. It’s hard to imagine that I’d ever run out of space in this yard. When I arrived here (7 years ago next month) the back yard was a huge mess. Many of the fruit trees were diseased and some were dying. What is now the greenhouse was an overgrown shed that had suckers from a cherry tree growing inside and most of the yard was a jungle, with weeds almost as tall as me.

This year’s garlic was in the first bed I made. I remember the soil was impoverished, dry and hard, with little worm activity. After all my layers of compost, mulch and crop rotations, today it’s black, rich and alive. When I first started here it was easy to get overwhelmed by all the mess and everything that needed to be done, but over the years I’ve created 6 more beds plus the greenhouse and got it to the point of producing¬†almost all our vegetable needs and some of our fruit year round. One is dedicated just to asparagus, another just to raspberries and one is in the permanent home of rhubarb and acid-loving berries.

Now I go down the yard and still get overwhelmed by everything that needs doing – and because of all the rain the weeds are out of hand again and the grass is tall – but that’s good for the rabbits and there’s food to pick while I consider my options ūüėČ

Today’s cute bunny pic is a double feature. Bernard Black has undoubtedly grown

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But this is my British Giant doe, Boudica. She is a lovely girl, very good tempered, but HUGE –¬†especially when compared to BB!

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I love the “one ear up” pose from both of them ūüėÄ

I’m off to get ready to play music. Go gently and be well friends ‚̧

A Day In The Life – Day 7 NaBloPoMo 2016

This post came from an idea one of my friends gave me this afternoon. So here’s a day in my life……..

Today was Monday, and a day off from my usual work at Oak Tasmania. But there were all the usual jobs and dinner to prepare early because I also had a 1500 word essay to upload to my tutor for my current creative writing unit, Writing For Children and Young Adults. 

First, feed the animals. There was squawking and jostling to get the best position, but the chickens all got their share of seed mix and there was an early egg from dear Hipster, the oldest girl in the flock. Then some quick weeding to gather greens for the rabbits and a big chicory leaf for each of them (because rabbits!) and the obligatory cute Bernard Black Bunny pic of the¬†day……

I'm Cute - But I Will Not Share My Chicory!

I’m Cute – But I Will Not Share My Chicory!

Once everyone was fed, water checked, pats and cuddles given, I watered the greenhouse and picked veggies for tonight’s dinner, a slow cooked beef and veg curry. This involved picking celery, purple cabbage leaves, silverbeet and snow peas and (as always) more weeding around the plants and cutting back flower heads – all of which went straight to the ravenous chickens.

Finally, I managed to get back in the house and make some breakfast for me! This morning I felt like something savory on my toast. So, before I went to feed the animals I went searching through the freezer. I had the last of my current loaf of sourdough toasted with a very decadent and different kind of topping. I was quite thrilled to find a tub of basil pesto (sans pine nuts) from the autumn harvest tucked away. By the time I got back to the kitchen it was defrosted enough to spread thinly on my toast. It was intense, both garlic and basil flavours came shining through and utterly delicious!

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Time then to knock a loaf of sourdough together and put dinner in the slow cooker. I replaced some of the bread flour with rye this time, which makes a nutty, slightly denser loaf. Wee Beastie the sourdough plant is really powering at the moment, so this is what it looked like after a few hours of proving under a damp tea towel in the kitchen.

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I cannot begin to describe how lovely and yeasty these loaves smell at this stage – and without any added¬†yeast! I’ll leave it to prove overnight and bake it first thing tomorrow morning so I’ll have fresh bread for breakfast ‚̧

Next on my list was getting dinner prepped and in the slow cooker. About 500g diced stewing steak and a couple of diced onions got seared in ghee and tossed into the pot with a jar of home-made tomato based chilli sauce from a couple of seasons ago and a tub of cooked chick peas. Lots of spices, herbs, red wine, plus celery, carrot, broad beans and mushrooms (thanks to the garden again!). All thrown in the slow cooker, switched on and forgotten about until later in the afternoon.

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Then it was down to the nitty gritty – wrangling all my notes into a cohesive discussion about what I consider to be “an area of childhood that hasn’t been satisfactorily written about”. It’s a potentially huge subject and I only had 1500 words to work with. Chained to my laptop for the next few hours, I referenced, edited and pulled it all together – with Brahms in my headphones and the first cricket test against South Africa on the television. It was a bit mad for a few hours, I remember getting up and making a cup of tea at one point but apparently didn’t drink it, and some kind soul put food in front of me at lunchtime. But I managed to get it all done, correctly formatted and uploaded to my tutor who lives in a different time zone.

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After a cuppa with a friend who called round, it was time for the afternoon feeding of the hungry hordes, more egg collecting – and bunny cuddles ‚̧

I also picked some snow peas that I’d missed that were way too far gone for the table but rather than waste them, I shelled them and set them to dry on my seed shelf. They’ll form the basis of the next crop and/or traded with other fellow gardeners.

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Finally, I prepared the veggies to finish off the curry, silverbeet, purple cabbage and snow peas while some nice person cooked rice.

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And now, dinner has been devoured (delicious!) and there’s plenty of leftovers to refill the freezer. I’m currently crashed on the couch with my laptop watching my favourite current affairs show, The Feed on SBS and once I publish this I might get back to reading my new book, Jennifer Livett’s¬†Wild Island.¬†Or maybe think some more about that song I’m starting to write. Or perhaps do a little work on my final assignment for this unit, a creative piece of writing and exegesis.

Or maybe go to bed early.

And this was¬†a day off……

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