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 🙂

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 – something 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 😀

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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 – because 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 😀

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 – The 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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Strange Days – Day 9 NaBloPoMo 2016

Well, that was unexpected.

Before I get to my usual blog topics (gardening and cute bunny pics) I may as well talk about the elephant in the room. Like many people in Australia, I thought Hilary Clinton would make it over the line, and Donald Trump would be remembered as a “what were they thinking” candidate. Mind you, Australia has a fairly mixed record when it comes to voting.

And if you think it isn’t going to impact Australia, too late – it’s already started. The ASX200 dropped something like $34 billion dollars today according to an ABC report. It remains to be seen what happens next but it appears that the US has certainly had their Brexit moment.

Meanwhile, I had a lovely morning in the garden, but with the dawning realisation that the weeds are definitely taking over. It’s been so wet and with a little bit of warmer weather everything is booming! So I spent some time clearing the way for more veggie planting. I’m trying out some different beans this year, I want to find the best for my conditions for both fresh green beans and for drying and storing. Today I planted some Italian Romano beans that I got through a seed swap. From what I can gather, this is an heirloom dual variety but I’m unsure if it’s a bush or climber, so I planted them fairly close to a north facing wall. So far, they look very strong and healthy.

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Next will be a lot of weeding so I can plant out tomatoes. This year I’m planning San Marzano, Polish Giant and Principe Borghese bush varieties and Debarao climbing. My household don’t eat fresh tomato (I have difficulty digesting them raw) but use them cooked in curries and stews so I decided to try and grow enough to bottle for use throughout the year. It’s another great garden experiment – and I’ll keep you updated!

The cute bunny pic was pretty easy work today. After just over a week living here, I think Bernard Black Bunny has got used to the crazy lady who keeps intruding at meal times ❤

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Tonight, I decided to have something a bit decadent for dinner. Back in August I treated my household to a fresh Tasmanian truffle and made ravioli and froze it in packets for just such a night. I cooked the ravioli quickly, drained it and put it in a bowl. Returning the empty pan to the heat, I added a little basil oil, a couple of tablespoons of pesto with shredded silverbeet and sliced snow peas. Then I tossed the ravioli in to coat it in the basil mix. It was at that point I realised that everything on the plate was home grown or home made. An incredibly satisfying revelation and a simple, totally delicious meal 😀

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And finally, I looked out the kitchen window and saw this. It was too good not to photograph. Despite the state of the world, and the uncertainty many of us feel, I took a deep breath and a moment to appreciate the small things.

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Take care friends, wherever you are ❤