Birthdays, Books & Basil

Well, I’ve managed another trip around the sun. I had a lovely, relaxed day, read books, did some work in the greenhouse, hung out with friends, ate junk food for dinner and watched stuff. If I’d have played music and baked myself a cake, I would have covered all my favourite things πŸ™‚

The perfect present for a film-nut like me!

After the unseasonably hot weather throughout November (it was Tasmania’s hottest spring on record) we’ve had a cold and very wet start to summer. I spent some time yesterday and today in the greenhouse, potting up basil seedlings and some replacements for the inundated early tomatoes. It’s currently about 10 C (50 F) and it’s been raining pretty well constantly since Friday.

This morning, there was water pooling in garden beds and I had to empty the overflowing rain gauge. The zucchinis and leafy greens are loving it but I seriously don’t want to think about the potatoes right now! Sadly, the beans, tomatoes and corn are all looking quite poorly and will likely need replacing. It looks like I’ll have late crops again! My heart goes out to folks in Victoria though, who are getting the worst of this wet spell.

I’m hoping it won’t do too much damage to the baby stone fruit and apples but the berries are looking very sad. I’ve braved the rain and picked what I could but they won’t be the tastiest this year. Hopefully, the rain will ease in the next few days and we’ll get some sunshine to help convert the starches to sugars in the remainder of the crop.

Because of Hobart’s unpredictable weather, I tend to grow chillies, eggplants and basil in my greenhouse in pots. I’m really pleased so far with the eggplant (above), which is sporting some beautiful purple flowers and the Habanero chilli (below) is setting fruit already πŸ™‚

I managed to pot up 35 or so mixed basil seedlings, which is about half of what I’d like to have for oil and preserving but I’m going to plant more seed next week. There’s shiso/perilla still to go into pots and I have to see if I can salvage more chilli seedlings from the ravaging slugs – they decimated my early plantings and this wet weather is only going to encourage them!

On a positive note, I saved an aloe vera at the start of the year, (it was literally dying of overcrowding and neglect) bought it home, divided it put it into a good potting mix and fed them all. The main plant or “mother” is on a shelf in the bathroom and loving its new home, and I left the offshoots or “pups” in the greenhouse to see if they’d survive. When I was given the plant, the whole thing was a very sickly yellow/green. So I was thrilled to see this morning that the pups are setting out new pups of their own πŸ™‚

Meanwhile, the cricket’s on the TV and that book about the Coen brothers is giving me “come hither” looks again. I’m off to snuggle under a blanket and read.

Maybe tomorrow it’ll be summer πŸ™‚

Storms & Salads – Day 30 NaBloPoMo 2017

So, here it is – number thirty – the last post for this year’s NaBloPoMo.

Traditionally, it’s also a time of contemplation for me, a couple of days before my birthday and there’s only a few weeks left of work and indeed, this year.

It’s hot in Hobart again, and I went into the city today. Got almost all the xmas shopping done (thanks to Richard & Mike at Cracked & Spineless) and went to see my GP for blood test results. This time last year, I was trying to recover after my thyroid decided to simply switch off, and it left me devastated, constantly tired and barely functioning.

Above all things, this year has been about getting back to some semblance of normality.Β 12 months on, my doctor’s really pleased with my progress – I’m on the right dose of thyroxine, my diet and supplements have brought my notoriously low iron and vitamin D levels back to normal – I feel well again.

One of the major things my GP identified as a contributing factor is my diet. While I eat meat, I always say my favourite meal of the day (year round) is salad, and I have the ability to grow my own.

For that, I’m truly grateful.

Tonight’s salad feast from the garden included a few young silverbeet leaves, sharp and tangy endive, young tender kale, fresh celtuce and crisp perennial rocket. I added a little grated carrot, red onion, sliced mushrooms and a chopped hard boiled egg from the ladies who lay and dressed it with a little basil oil and vinegar from last summer.

And the first of the raspberries for dessert ❀

I’m taking a few days off but I’ll see you again soon. One of the things I want to try and do is write more regularly here apart from NaBloPoMo. Let’s see how much life gets in the way of my good intentions!

Meanwhile, there’s been some thunder and a little rain tonight but it’s still too hot. I hope it breaks soon, I’ve got more gardening to do!

Take care ❀

My stormy mountain

Friday Night Chicken – Day 24 NaBloPoMo 2017

Before I left for work this morning, we decided on chicken breast for tonight’s dinner. We really weren’t sure what to do with it but we wanted it to be easy – it’s been a busy week and the weather’s still very warm!

I’d been to our local deli on the way home and picked up bacon (among other goodies) so we thought we’d stuff the breasts, wrap them in bacon and bake them. But what to use as a stuffing?

Well, when I was a kid, things wrapped in bacon and grilled were a bit of a fad. Angels on Horseback and Devils on Horseback (oysters and prunes respectively) were really popular as hors d’oeuvres – and I still have a jar of prunes from last year’s plum crop πŸ™‚ As I mentioned last week, the early garlic harvest has been less than wonderful but it tastes wonderful and even though it isn’t properly cured yet, we decided to start using it.

It was really very easy and the results were delicious! Here’s the recipe:

Garlic & Prune Stuffed Chicken Breast (Serves 2)

 

2 skinless chicken breast, butterflied

4 dried prune halves

1/4 cup Marsala or dry sherry

2 full rashers of bacon

4 cloves garlic, chopped fairly finely

2 tabs butter, softened

Herbs/spices for topping (we used a Moroccan-style mix with some chilli – but use what you prefer)

Method:Β 

In a small bowl, soak the prunes in Marsala for at least a couple of hours – the longer the better. Once the prunes are plump, drain and chop them roughly. Put them back in the bowl and add the garlic and softened (room temperature) butter.

Open the butterflied chicken breasts and spoon the prune/garlic butter mixture down the center. Close them and press down lightly to seal the edges. Sprinkle with herbs and spices of your choice. (If you like to add salt, this would be the time for a sprinkle)

On an oven tray, lay 2 rashers of bacon diagonally and lay the chicken breasts across them. The tails of the bacon should wrap across the top of each breast.

Bake in a moderate oven until the chicken is cooked through (20-25 minutes).

I made a very quick couscous with vegetables as a side.

It was absolutely delicious and a lovely quick dinner to make together at the end of another frantic week. The chicken was succulent, fragrant with garlic and the bacon was lightly crisped on top. The Marsala soaked prunes pieces added some sweetness without overwhelming the dish. Couscous was the perfect companion to this – light, fluffy and full of garden herbs and vegetables.

 

We’ll be making this again for sure ❀

Tomorrow The Superstars are performing at an Oak luncheon. Hopefully, there’ll be some photos too πŸ™‚

Shortcuts & Syrups – Day 23 NaBloPoMo 2017

I resolved to have an indoor day today, trying to survive this Tassie heatwave, and decided to get some kitchen jobs done.

Realising I was all but out of yogurt early this morning (enough to change my breakfast plans) I decided to do what I call a shortcut jar, and it couldn’t be easier. I have an ancient EasiYo passive yogurt maker I bought new about 20 years ago. It’s probably one of the best purchases I’ve ever made as my family go through a lot of yogurt! Although EasiYo sell sachets of starter, I generally use a dollop of the last batch and refresh it with new starter culture every few months. My preferred starter is plain Greek style.

To save having to go to the shop for extra fresh milk, I took a favourite shortcut, and used powdered full cream milk. It’s a great thing to have in the pantry cupboard in case I run out of real milk, and I also use it to enrich sauces, puddings – and yogurt! For my 1 litre tub, I use 1 1/4 cups of milk power mixed thoroughly with about 500 ml cold water. Filtered or rain water is best for this, as tap water additives can inhibit the culture.

Once the milk powder is well incorporated, I add a generous half cup of yogurt from the last batch

Mix thoroughly and top up with cold water if necessary.

Then it’s just a matter of filling the maker with boiling water, making sure the trivet is the right way up, and putting in the yogurt jar and screwing on the lid. Leave it for 8-12 hours, depending on how sharp you like your finished yogurt. I generally leave mine 9 hours but a little longer if I’m making cheese from it.

The finished product is really lovely, creamy and tangy. Perfect with fruit, making smoothies and using for dips and dressings.

Once the yogurt was out of the way, I juiced a bag of oranges that were past their best but still good, and about 10 grapefruit I was given by friends a few weeks ago. I used the same standard recipe I have for lemon syrup and it made about two litres.

Finally, I bottled my stash of spring grapevine leaves (close to 50), destined for dolmades later in summer. After cleaning them all and removing the stems, I blanched them in a strong boiling brine, plunged them in a pot of icy water and (once they were cool enough to handle) rolled them up in bundles of 10. I put them in a small preserving jar and covered them with boiling brine and 1 teaspoon of Citric Acid. Then I processed them along with the bottles of syrup for 15 minutes.

It was hot work, but totally worth the bother. The syrup is sharp and sweet, perfect in iced water as a refreshing drink – even better with plain soda and a dash of vodka for the adults – and makes a very interesting ice cream topping.

The vine leaves always lose their bright green hue but are wonderful. They apparently keep very well in this acidulated brine – but they never last longer than a few months here! Now the grapevine is starting to take off, I feel better about doing more jars through the season πŸ™‚

So, now I’m sitting happily watching the cricket, (the Ashes series has started!) and I’m waiting for it to cool down enough to feed the animals, water and pick salad for a late dinner. I might have to make a yogurt dressing πŸ™‚

See you all tomorrow, and Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends ❀

Apples! – Day 19 NaBloPoMo 2017

Spring is such a busy time around here. There’s so much to do – planting, weeding and watering are starting to take up a lot of my time – apart from the daily routines (aka playing with the bunnies and talking/singing to chickens) and making sure the greenhouse doesn’t dry out. And there’s always lots of eggs and plenty of salad greens to eat.

Berry fruit is starting to set and I think we’ll have a good crop of raspberries again this year. I was incredibly heartened to see my grape vine is setting fruit. It’s a pretty common Thompson’s Seedless table grape, but I planted it about 18 months ago to climb up over the chicken’s run and give them some shade through summer. It’s really thrived after I pruned it back in early winter and I’m hoping the fruit will make it to maturity. I’ve got a couple of other varieties that I bought in very small pots and I’m growing on. Hopefully, they’ll be ready to plant out at the end of autumn next year.

The vine is strong enough that I’ve been harvesting the biggest, most perfect leaves to preserve in brine and make dolmades, one of my favourite snacks. I’ve got enough now to make up a 1 kg jar (about 60 leaves) and I’ll do that sometime this coming week.

I’ve been experimenting with wicking boxes and barrels the last few years to cut down the amount of watering. This systemΒ uses a water reservoir that I fill up through a poly pipe and run off outlet just below the soil level so the plants don’t get inundated. I’m having a lot of success growing fruit trees on dwarfing rootstock by this method. In particular, the apples I planted in winter 2016 are doing incredibly well. I bought a Pomme de Neige (aka Snow Apple or Lady in the Snow), Sturmer, McIntosh and Royal Gala (all bare rooted from a local grower). They’ve all thrived in their wicking barrels and after taking all the embryonic fruit off last summer and light pruning this winter, they’re developing into healthy and strong small trees. I’m going to let them bear this time and I’m especially thrilled with the Royal Gala, which will be the first to harvest.

Baby Royal Gala

Now that we’re past the windiest part of spring (fingers crossed!) I’m going to thin the fruit soon – the Pomme de Neige is particularly laden – but I’m very happy with their progress. Despite living in Tasmania (traditionally called the Apple Isle), it can be hard to find good apples and difficult to know if they’ve been sprayed. It’ll be fabulous to have some home grown beauties! ❀