Office Tetris – The Iso-Posts #5

The simplest of dinners – sourdough rye, home grown salad and fresh home made sausages

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s a pic of the finished meal and it was delicious. I was really pleased with the sausages – flavour and texture were perfect!

Today has been a day of choices, discoveries and some sadness.

I’d only realised last week I was out of seed of my favourite endive “Bionda a curore pieno” and ordered a packet online from The Italian Gardener along with Lettuce Leaf Basil for next spring/summer. That prompted me to check stocks of other seed and do a top up with my local suppliers, Seed Freaks. They specialise in open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and I’ve had tremendous success with their seeds.

Anyway, after my morning feeding of the beasts and chili/basil check, I was picking veggies for tonight’s dinner and weeding the silverbeet. There I discovered a clump of self seeded endives pushing up through the straw and I imagine there’s a few Bionda in there. This is one of my favourites – it’s tangy flavour and great texture add so much depth to winter salads. The extra seeds coming in the post won’t go astray, I’ll just plant a few more 🙂

Later in the morning, I decided to tackle the shoe-box that is my office. It’s served as my music rehearsal space and teaching area, sewing room, writing den and main library for over a decade – effectively three rooms crammed into a tiny space barely big enough to swing a cat! It was high time to rearrange things so I can add more bookcases and start making some hard choices about how to both make the best use of the space and discard bits and pieces I’ve had boxed up in there for what seems like forever.

I found photographs of friends, some of whom are no longer alive, cables (so many cables!), old guitar strings, jars of beads that I meant to restring, demo recordings, little cards from my son when he was small and festival programs going back years. I started to feel a sadness that life is never really going to be the same again, and uncertain about what the future might hold for people like me in the creative industries.

It was more that a little overwhelming. But I also acknowledge there’s nothing at all I can do about it but reorganise my space – internally and externally – keep going and make the best of what I have and what I’m capable of doing. It was wonderful to fit in the new/old bookcase, and realising I could fit a box of my fabric stash on top was a bonus. Certainly like playing Tetris, moving things from one room to another, but incredibly satisfying that it fitted (just!) and made me feel like I’d achieved something important by getting it all to work.

From the crammed shelves of my main film library to the wide open spaces of that empty bookshelf – with a box of fabric for good measure!

Despite my generally upbeat nature, I think it’s important and healthy to acknowledge when I feel down or sad. Sometimes in the past I’ve repressed those feelings with spectacularly awful results – I think it’s like that for most of us. So please don’t be afraid to talk about your fears or sadness with people who matter – and I believe we all matter!

It’s definitely colder today but I’ll leave you with this little image, one I see every morning – the silhouette of a small, grey cat who likes to sun himself on our east-facing doorstep while I’m getting ready to feed him breakfast ❤

 

Sausages! – The Iso-Posts #4

Despite everything that’s going on right now, I personally feel I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a secure roof over my head, plenty of food, the most practical person on the planet to be in isolation with (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To), a rich life of the mind, animals and gardening to keep me active, comparatively good health and a swag of friends and family around the world who like to check in with me via social media. In many ways I feel I’m doing this pretty easy.

Here in Hobart, the days are getting shorter and Daylight Saving finished today. This is traditionally the end of summer and the start of autumn proper – and today didn’t disappoint! It was much colder, and this morning there was even a dusting of snow on kunanyi/Mt Wellington but it was good to run around outside and feel the crisp air of proper autumn again. But with the onset of cooler weather comes less light and I for one, struggle with shorter days. We can all get through this, but only if we do it together. If you’re struggling, please say so. Reach out to family, friends and let them know you need to talk!

A few days ago a farming friend put out the call that he had fresh organic beef for sale and was prepared to make a delivery run to those of us in the greater Hobart area. We very gratefully said yes, it’s topped up the freezers and meant I don’t have to worry about shopping again for a while. So with a load of meat in the fridge, today we got creative and made sausages!

There was some venison I’d put aside for this plus a bag of pork back fat and a pouch of salted sausage casings that I bought some time ago for just such an occasion. (They will keep for up to two years in the refrigerator). After taking a guesstimate of how much of the casings we’d need, I cut a length off, soaked them in warm water for a couple of hours and trekked off into the garden to gather some fresh herbs. Returning with this lovely bouquet, I peeled some fresh Tasmanian Purple garlic, thoroughly rinsed the skins and set up the mincer that attaches to the front of my stand mixer.

When I used to make sausages years ago, I did the whole thing with a hand mincer and stuffed skins with an old caulking gun frame I’d rigged with a special food grade plastic tube. Living in the bush was peaceful but hard work – things like this used to take me the best part of a day. Today’s effort was relatively small (only a couple of kilos of meat in total) but took only about an hour to mince and stuff the casings. We opted for a fairly simple sage & garlic mix with the venison but went a little bit further with the beef, with lots of oregano, chili, garlic and smoked paprika for a more chorizo-style but without the traditional fermenting and curing.

The end product looks and smells great and I discovered that I haven’t forgotten how to do links! The test will be how they taste tonight with some home grown salad and a slice of rye sourdough.

And on cleaning out the mincer attachment, it looks like there’s enough for me to make a large sausage roll that’ll make a very nice lunch 🙂

Meanwhile, there was a very disgruntled grey cat, who was quite upset he wasn’t invited in to taste test the sausage meat. Eventually though, all was forgiven and Neko curled up on a favourite chair with me to catch some afternoon sun.

Stay well everyone, and keep talking to each other over social media, text and phone calls – we can do this ❤

PS: Dinner was fabulous, the beef chorizo-style was suitably spicy and the venison sausages had all the warmth and depth without tasting gamey – I’ll put up a photo tomorrow 🙂

Lazy Saturday – The Iso-Posts #3

I love Saturdays.

It doesn’t matter if they’re sunny and I’m in the garden or wet and miserable and I’m curled up on the couch, I just love Saturday at home.

Given our current circumstances, there’s no other place to be – and today’s been what my late father would’ve called a “pearler”. That is, a beautiful example of what a Saturday should be.

It’s been very grey and wet most of today, so this morning’s feeding of the animals was fairly rapid and required a heavy duty raincoat and my trusty steel capped gumboots. No planting for me today and I didn’t see my new friend over the back fence, but I did stop off in the greenhouse to do my daily basil and chili inspection. Pictured below is a most unusual fruit on a chili plant I grew from seed. Looking back through my notes, it’s named as a multicoloured Bishop’s Crown (Capsicum baccatum). It’s supposed to have a more blocky base and finish up a fresh orange red, but I’m not sure if it’s been mixed with something else.

Chilies are notorious for cross pollinating and serious seed collection means hand pollinating with a brush and enclosing flowers in mesh to avoid contamination. I’m never usually that fussy as I don’t sell plants or seed anymore but I’m very curious to see what this becomes as it ripens and (most importantly) what it tastes like!

Speaking of taste, we decided to do a full Super Saturday roast, and as I type, the rich, delicious aroma of roasting venison is wafting through the house. It’s been in the slow cooker since this morning with half a bottle of shiraz, a head of garlic, some dried chili from last year, a handful of button mushrooms and a bouquet of fresh thyme, sage and oregano. The joint is sitting above the rich liquid on a trivet of halved onion and carrot and it’s almost time to go and prepare some potatoes and carrots for roasting and finishing the meat off in the oven, while I make a sauce from the slow cooker. The smell is intoxicating!

This afternoon I indulged myself in some of my favourite Saturday things. I bought some books (online of course) from my local independent bookstore, Cracked & Spineless. I love this place so much and besides going to the cinema, I miss visiting Richard and the overflowing shelves and stacks, but he’s going to do a delivery for me sometime soon. Definitely an essential service in these strange days!

I depleted the bank account further when I discovered a heavy duty KitchenAid stick blender on special. It’ll be perfect for winter soups, making single smoothies, small batches of salsa, wet spice mixes and sauces – and far easier to clean up than my big food processor.

Finally, I started reading the new biography of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and it’s pretty good so far. Ardern has certainly shown herself to be a compassionate and caring leader since she came to office! I’ll be reviewing it shortly for The Tasmanian Times and will put a link here when it’s published.

So, a lazy day of unusual plants, buying books and things for the kitchen, happily indoors out of the rain, reading a new book while anticipating a spectacular dinner. A pearler of a Saturday! The only thing that could’ve made today better is if there was proper Australian rules football on the radio or television. I miss my footy too.

What are you missing most? And what’s the first thing you’re going to do when things get back to normal?

Late afternoon and clearing skies

Making Friends Over the Back Fence – The Iso-Posts #2

Firstly, thanks for the public and private messages of support – it’s nice to be back writing again and rewarding to know that I’m not publishing into a vacuum! Secondly, I think I’m going to try and make this a daily writing practice for the next wee while to keep my skills up and to share bits and pieces such as movie reviews, gardening bits and pieces and any sage feline advice Neko might purr in my ear.

As I said yesterday, the weather here’s been really very mild for autumn and we had quite a lovely rain to top up water tanks and deep water gardens. I had to save some of the baby peas from drowning yesterday evening but still, the rain was welcome. The photo below is from my balcony, where I’ve had Egyptian Walking Onions and various salad greens over summer. Now I’m starting to strip the boxes for quick brassica crops plus spinach and corn salad for winter eating. The seed cubes are powering thankfully, full of endives, spinach, beets, red orach and more silverbeet. These will be the last greens I’ll raise outside until late winter/early spring.

In the greenhouse (apart from talking nicely to the still unripe chilies) I’ve been forcing on brassica seedlings that I hope to plant out in the next few days. The photo below shows the last dozen cabbages, a late season English Savoy. It’s a little late to be planting these but I’ve been waiting for them to show roots at the bottom of the tubes before putting them out. I plan to cover them with soda bottles (cut in half and with air vents) to make a mini greenhouse and force some more growth for at least a couple of weeks.

vegetable seed raising

English Savoy cabbage seedlings (note the basil still powering on!)

This morning, while I was inspecting the bed I want to plant these cabbages in, I heard a window open across the back fence. Despite having such a big and diverse urban farm (it’s about the size of a standard house block), I live surrounded by units, mostly occupied by students from the University of Tasmania, which is five minutes walk from my front door. I waved and shouted hello to one of the ground floor tenants, a fellow I’d seen a couple of times before. We chatted about the pandemic and how it was (and wasn’t) affecting us and we realised we were both on daily medication and had good supplies of our prescription meds. Immediately, we each offered to help one another out if necessary. I didn’t even think to ask his name but he knows I come down to feed our animals twice a day rain, hail or shine and he promised to ask if he needed anything and offered the same to my household. He told me he’s got the internet and his study but he has no view except across our yard and he enjoys hearing the chickens (who are being very lazy and not laying much at the moment). I’ll be picking extra fresh salad tomorrow and putting it over the fence for him 🙂

Stay safe, stay home and be kind everyone – we’re all in this together. I’ll see you tomorrow ❤

Self Isolationist Life – Notes From the Back Rows – The Iso-Posts #1

Reflection of sunrise from my backdoor

I’ve been in self isolation for over two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic (I have multiple risk factors) but that doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs! Sadly, I haven’t written anything for weeks, so forgive me regular readers! I’ve been a little preoccupied what with one thing and another. Despite being at home, I’ve found myself incredibly busy, and by the end of the day I’ve been too tired to do much of anything.

It’s autumn here in southern Australia, though the weather has mostly been balmy these past weeks. In fact, it’s been so warm, basil plants are still putting on new growth in the greenhouse and I’ve taken to knocking off any new flowers on the chilies while waiting (impatiently, I admit) for the Habaneros to ripen.

I made a batch of fermented hot sauce last month and I’ve got another jar underway at the moment. This ridiculously simple recipe has become something of a staple here over the last couple of years and it’s perfect anywhere you’d normally use tomato sauce. If you’re interested in the recipe, it’s here in a blog post from a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going gang-busters in the kitchen making stock for the freezer, something I like to do every autumn in preparation for the colder months. But family members went hunting just before I locked down so I had to find room for venison roasts and even more stock – it was like playing Tetris with the freezer! I resorted to reducing some of it down so I could fill ice cube trays with incredibly rich, condensed stock. I anticipate one cube will be enough to feed four!

It’s been equally busy in the garden, planting out a bed of garlic, loads of seeds for winter salad (spinach, brassicas, mache/corn salad, endives etc) and trays of peas and broad beans for late winter/early spring cropping. Yesterday I was trying to liberate the cabbages, beetroot and caulifowers from their layer of living mulch (aka weeds) when I pushed a little too hard and I’ve found myself today with very sore hands, a mark of the arthritis that always comes with the end of summer. Thankfully, it’s been raining today so I couldn’t have done anymore even if I’d wanted too!

Instead, I’ve rested up, done lots of stretching exercises, dipped a little into social media, watched some YouTube videos, played with the cat (who also thought it too wet to be in the yard) and called a former fellow student who’s up in NSW. We’ve never met in person (yet!) but it was lovely to chat about families, writing, gardening, putting food by and the joys of modern technology in these days of lockdown.

I DO miss going to the cinema and will be at The State as soon as they reopen but in the meantime, I’m enjoying watching movies online, catching up on reading and getting the garden ready for winter. It’s my hope that we’ll come out the other side of this difficult time with a greater appreciation for the things that matter and a willingness to tackle other important issues as a community.

In truth, I’ve really begun to think of my life and natural introversion as my greatest superpower (talking underwater is the other one, thanks for asking!) After six years of online study, an urban farm to deal with and a predilection for home grown/cooked/made cuisine, I don’t feel put out by being at home. Rather than “shut in”, I feel “safe” here at home.

Talk with you all soon. Meanwhile, stay safe friends and be like Neko (aka Lord & Master, aka The Cat Who Came to Stay) – stay home ❤

Lord and Master, Neko in his cat igloo

No Resolutions – 2017 in Review

kunanyi/Mt Wellington sunset from my backdoor

Well, here we are again. Another year has sped by and I’m in the midst of some well-earned time off from teaching and contract work.

The garden beds are looking a little better as I’ve had more time to pull some weeds, which keeps the chickens happy. In turn, they give me and mine enough eggs to make summer pavlova to go with raspberries from the ever-expanding patch. Vegetable peelings go to the chickens and also to the three worm farms that are on constant rotation and in turn, replenish the garden beds with casings and provide foliar fertilizer. So, there’s plenty of salad greens for picking, plus finger eggplants, the first of the zucchinis and chillies coming on.

First eggplant for the year

The rabbits (our other weed eaters) laze in their shady spot near the chestnut tree, which has just finished flowering. The waste from their hutches goes back onto the various veggie beds and fruit trees as a feeding mulch. Although I do bring in some extra materials (particularly magnesium and dolomite), it’s all a circle really.

This past year has been a lot of hard work (especially with respect to study) but it has brought many rewards, both tangible achievements and simple, old fashioned happiness. Above all, I’m well aware of how lucky I am, living in one of the loveliest places on the planet, grateful to get paid for doing things I love and that I’m surrounded by wonderful people (you know who you are – and thank you!)

I have no personal resolutions for 2018, just to be in the circle for another trip around the sun and to continue what I’ve been doing – studying, urban farming, writing, teaching music, watching films, cooking and writing film criticism.

It’s quite a lot really, sometimes almost too much – as my partner and GP both like to remind me! – and while I was preparing photos for this post, I discovered this glorious bee I snapped a couple of weeks ago in the chestnut tree. It reminded me the name Debra comes from the Hebrew and means “industrious, as a bee”.

Seasons greetings to you all and may the coming year be all you want it to be ❤

Chestnut in full flower

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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

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 🙂

 

 

Mad Monday – Day 27 NaBloPoMo 2017

A quick post tonight after a very mad Monday!

I realised fairly late in the day that I had no burritos or tacos to go with the wonderful beef and bean taco mix the Gentleman of the House (aka GotH) had made up while I was out at work. I usually make fairly big batches of my own wheat tacos with bread flour, a little water and a dash of oil – just enough to pull it all together – roll them out and freeze the leftovers. Sadly, the freezer was bare!

So, while I was feeding Wee Beastie, my sourdough plant, I struck on an idea that turned out to be a total winner. I love having real sourdough but we don’t go through a lot of bread in this household, so I’m always looking for ways to use up excess starter.

Here’s the recipe:

Wee Beastie Burritos (Makes 4)

1 cup strong bread flour

1/4 cup sourdough starter

1/8 – 1/4 cup water

1 tab olive oil

pinch of salt

extra flour for dusting

Method: 

In a mixing bowl combine the bread flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the sourdough starter. Mix with a wooden spoon until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the water a little at a time until it comes together in a ball and mix in the oil. It should come away cleanly from the side of the bowl.

Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead it for a couple of minutes, it should be quite smooth and elastic but a little drier than a bread dough. Put it back in the mixing bowl and cover, leaving it for about an hour.

Prepare a heavy-based fry pan on medium high heat. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knock any air out of it. Cut it evenly into four pieces. Roll out each piece to a thin, roughly pan-sized circle and cook in the dry fry pan a minute or two on each side. Be careful not to burn them!

Wrap the cooked burritos in a clean tea towel – I take them to the table like that!

Fill with your favourite taco or burrito mix (we had Chilli Beef and Black Beans tonight), grated cheese and chopped leafy greens, Italian parsley or coriander leaves.

I’m going to make more of these for the freezer later in the week I think – they were delicious! If you try this recipe, please let me know what you think – I’m keen for feedback 🙂

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