Tuesday Treasures – Day 28 NaBloPoMo 2017

I was absolutely thrilled today – because I had to go to work 🙂

It’s a wonderful thing to look forward so much to something that too many people consider a chore – but the crew I work with are fantastic, and this time of year is pretty awesome. We’ve got the Oak Food Garden up to a point where we’re starting to harvest a lot of food!

Today, we harvested the rest of the broad beans and they’re going to be (mostly) blanched and frozen for use by the Wednesday Cooking crew in the next few months. We also pulled our experimental garlic crop, one of the first things planted back in February and they’re now hanging inside to cure. This was grown from a head I provided – the same garlic that more or less failed for me this year. It’s given me some clues as to why mine didn’t do well this season, my soil is just that much heavier and holds a lot more moisture.

Beautiful huge heads of garlic – note the $1 coin for size reference!

Although they’re a bit late to be going in, we planted a lot of tomatoes today, that we hope we’ll make into Passata come autumn. The Wednesday Cooking group are making healthier lunch options and have been making pizza and salads. We harvested a lot of salad greens for them today, Cos lettuce, endive, tiny white celery flowers (absolutely delicious in salad!), silverbeet and red orach.

This is the first pick of the orach, which we planted fairly thickly from seedlings I raised only a couple of months ago. While we were picking, I discovered a volunteer tomato, looking very happy. I thought it might have come from someone’s lunch tomato that could’ve ended up in the bed (we’ve only reclaimed the area in recent months), but further along the row, I discovered more healthy tomatoes! Every one up against an orach plant!

Red Orach and sneaky Volunteer Tomato

Then the penny dropped.

Two years ago, my friend Sara gave me some Roma tomato seedlings she had no room for. I had a great crop and dried most of them, the seeds ending up in the worm farm. The following winter, I must have used that tray of compost in one of my wicking barrel dwarf apples – and got a bonus crop of tomatoes last summer!

I dried some of those too and would’ve put the seeds in the worm farm – I hate wasting anything. And of course, I used some worm compost in my potting mix when I grew on the orach seedlings a month or so ago. So, the interlopers will be cossetted and cared for, eventually overwhelming the orach, and I hope they crop as well as they have for me the last two years 🙂

 

 

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 🙂

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 🙂

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

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 ❤

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……..

 

 

Catching Up With Life

It’s been a busy few weeks!

Summer holidays are only a memory now but it’s been great to be back at Oak, with the added bonus of a belated present from one of the Superstars. Kathryn, who is a very artistic young woman and becoming a capable songwriter, presented me with this gorgeous portrait she did when we had a morning tea break on Friday.

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Naturally, everyone knew all about it except me, and I confess I was incredibly thrilled and deeply touched by such an honour. Also, I’m involved in a very exciting new program at Oak – teaching folks how to build a food garden! There’ll be photos and posts in the ensuing weeks but I’ve got some very enthusiastic gardeners on my team and a lovely space to work in 😀

Meanwhile, it’s bedlam here at my place – the house has become a fully fledged work site, with scaffolding surrounding the building in readiness for a new roof and after that, the demolition of an old disused (and potentially dangerous) shed and eradication of many Tasmanian gardeners’ bane – English Ivy. I can’t even park in the driveway at present, let alone think about getting in a load of mushroom compost for the garden beds!

Fortunately, the bulk of the yard has been spared too much disruption, though the rabbits had to be moved away from the ivy infested shed. It’s the start of the annual food glut and I’ve been drying herbs to make my own Tuscan seasoning and I’m starting to be inundated with beans, chilies, basil, shiso, cucumbers, zucchinis and potatoes.

Tuscan Mix

Tuscan Mix

Today I picked more zucchini and discovered some of the “volunteer” Roma tomatoes from the worm farm already had ripe fruit. Because I’m the only one in the house who really likes zucchini, I’ve only got two plants this year, and I think it might be one plant too many! I didn’t pick for two days and discovered a yellow monster this morning! (Don’t be fooled, the tomatoes below are really very ripe but I think the yellow beast made most of them fade in the photo!)

 

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And today is Australia Day. Over the years, this has become a very fraught event for many indigenous people as it really only commemorates the arrival of the British and has been renamed by some people Invasion Day. There is a suggestion that the date be changed and I think it has merit. I think this is an ongoing conversation that we, as a country really need to have. There’s no doubt in my mind that we as a nation are losing much of what my parents and grandparents worked incredibly hard to attain. That is, an egalitarian society that welcomes new voices and a fair go for all.

As a white Australian (and therefore a descendant of immigrants), I don’t particularly like what the day has come to represent, with a lot of incredibly racist slurs aimed at marginalising recent immigrants and people of colour ranging around social media. And our politicians are certainly forgetting about the “fair go for all” aspect that I was brought up to cherish and respect, with increasingly draconian measures to further marginalise this country’s poorest people.

This saddens me so much. Having traveled a little, I know how wonderful this country can be and how grateful I am to live here. So, today I made it my business to think of the original inhabitants while working the soil, the dirt I am steward of. To contemplate the incredibly rich heritage our indigenous brothers and sisters have given us in sight of glorious kunanyi that calmly overlooks all of Hobart – and thank my lucky stars that my forebears (boat people) came to such a beautiful country.

Tread gently friends and have a wonderful day ❤

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