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. 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

Chickpea Curry – Day 29 NaBloPoMo 2017

I love beans and pulses and use them a lot. They’re great in everything from salads to stews and I also use them to fill out otherwise meat based curries. Rather than buy tinned beans, which often contain a lot of salt, I like to buy mine dried and cook them gently in the slow cooker. Once they’re cool, I drain and bag them into meal size portions and freeze them for later use.

Today I cooked 500g (1.1 lb) of dried Australian chickpeas with just water and a bay leaf, and decided to make a curry for dinner.

This is a filling and healthy vegan dish, but if you want more protein and feel inclined, add a chopped hard-boiled egg. This slow cooking with the tomatoes first, reduces the liquid and makes the onion, garlic and ginger cook slowly, infusing the tomatoes with their flavour without risk of burning. The result is a more dry-style curry, which is lovely to eat with flatbread. As I often find with curry, the flavours improve and deepen overnight and after my generous bowl tonight, there’s still enough left for lunch tomorrow 🙂

Chickpea Curry (Serves 2)

Curry Base:

1 tab oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teas ginger, grated or minced

400g tomatoes (bottled or tinned), drained

1 teas honey

2 cups chickpeas, cooked & drained

1-2 hard-boiled egg, chopped (optional)

2 cups shredded green leafy vegetables (silverbeet, spinach, mustard greens, kale or collards)

Spice Mix:

½ cinnamon quill

1 tab cumin seed

1 teas coriander seed

1 teas cardamom seeds

1-2 dried chillies

¼ teas dried turmeric, grated

Method:

In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the drained tomatoes, onion, garlic and ginger. Stir until the mixture is simmering and add the honey. Stir this through and reduce the heat.

In a spice grinder or pestle and mortar put all the dried spices and grind to a powder. Stir this into the simmering tomato base. Add the drained cooked chickpeas, cover and continue to simmer very slowly for about 10-20 minutes.

If you’re using it, add the chopped hard-boiled egg and stir it through. Just before serving stir through the shredded leafy greens.

Garnish with chopped Coriander leaves and serve with plain rice or flatbread (paratha, chapatti, roti, naan are all good). I used homemade sourdough flatbread, the same recipe as earlier in the week.

I chose to go without the egg, and with my own bottled tomatoes and dried chillies from last summer, fresh silverbeet from the garden and fresh made sourdough flatbread, this dish was rich, very filling and incredibly satisfying ❤

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 🙂

 

 

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 🙂 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: 

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 🙂

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 ❤

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 system 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! ❤

 

Garlic Harvest Blues – Day 18 NaBloPoMo 2017

One of the great things about keeping a blog is being able to compare harvests over time. And one crop that usually grows really well for me is garlic. We use it a lot so I grow plenty, and this year I thought with three beds, I might have enough to see our household through the year. And in the nearly eight years I’ve been living here I’ve only ever had a garlic crop fail twice, once about five years ago and this year.

My maincrop variety (like so many great gardening stories) started out with a few cloves someone gave me. I think it was a standard Tasmanian purple skin (but who knows?) and it keeps quite well for six or seven months. Over the years I’ve built up my stocks, only keeping the best and biggest cloves to replant the following autumn. And I carefully rotate beds, mulch them well and leave them to get on with it. Generally, there’s not a lot to do except weeding – they don’t like competition.

I carefully checked a couple that were starting to die back a few weeks ago, and was shocked to see as I eased the soil back that there was very little bulb development. Also, they were slow to get started and we had a lot of rain – so much that it looks like 30-40% rotted in the ground. I’ve heard from friends that I’m not the only one to have problems this year – but I don’t know if that makes me feel better or more concerned!

Harvesting garlic as I’ve said before, is something of an arcane art. Too early and the heads aren’t properly developed, but leave it too late and bulbs will split and don’t keep. After some very warm weather and a thunderstorm last week, I decided it was time to pull the worst affected bed.

It was pretty “meh” compared to previous harvests but I suppose is better than none at all.

Part of this year’s poor garlic harvest

The next bed doesn’t seem to be as bad, the plants seem stronger and stems thicker, but it’s dying back and will need to come out in the next week or so.

The final bed looks like this season’s winner, all named varieties I bought from a local specialist grower, specifically for their long keeping qualities – planted later and correspondingly will be harvested later. And they’re looking very good – thanks Letetia 🙂 I think I might be changing my maincrop variety next year!

It was warm out in the yard today, a really beautiful spring day, and while I took a break in the shade of the plum tree, I found some very well formed reminders that summer’s just around the corner ❤

Prune plums forming on the tree

Have a great Saturday everyone and see you tomorrow 🙂

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