When the Going Gets Tough – Make Soup!

With only a few days left until winter officially starts, it’s been a super busy week for me. I had the home stretch to traverse with a particularly difficult university assignment, lots of jobs building up around the house and loads to do in the garden. Okay, I’ll admit like any gardener, there’s ALWAYS loads to do in the garden and housework has never been my strongest suit. Cue the moment I come down with the latest virus that’s doing the rounds *sigh*

So I did all the right things, went straight for the Elderberry Syrup, did my best to do a little each day on my essay, slept as much as I was able, ignored a lot of things (mostly housework), kept my germs to myself for the first part of the week – and made soup.

Soup is my go-to comfort food almost year round, closely followed by any sort of salad from my garden. This time I went for the big guns and made a batch of rich and warming Slow Onion Soup. As the name implies, this is a long, slow cooking process and makes a very intensely flavoured, savoury soup. Be aware that I break it down with water and I recommend playing around with what suits you and your family. Any kind of stock is fine for the base (including vegetable for vegetarian friends), but I had pork stock on hand. Please note this takes two days to make so start this the day before you want to serve it. Here’s the recipe.

Slow Onion Soup (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)

3 or 4 brown onions

1 head of garlic

Dried celery leaves (or 1 stick of fresh celery)

1 carrot

A sprig each of lemon thyme, sage and rosemary

2 bay leaves

2-3 cups stock

Approximately 1 cup white wine

Approximately 2 cups water

2 tabs Marsala or Dry Sherry (optional)

To serve:

Cream or plain yogurt (optional)

Parsley and croutons for garnish (optional)

Method:

Top and tail the onions and put them whole in a slow cooker with the carrot, sprigs of fresh herbs, bay leaves and celery stick. (I dry celery leaves when I have it growing and use a few instead in soups and stews). Break the head of garlic into cloves (I don’t bother peeling them) and put them in too. Pour over about half a cup of stock and half a cup of white wine – just enough to ensure it doesn’t burn – and cook on low for as long as possible. I did this batch for about 8 hours and switched the cooker off.

The next day when everything’s cold, use a slotted spoon and put the onions in a food processor or blender jar with the carrot and celery. The garlic will pop out of its skins very easily now and have a beautiful, nutty flavour. Take out the bay leaves and sprigs of herbs (I put mine in the compost). Strain the liquid in the bottom of the slow cooker and put that in the processor/blender too. Wash out the slow cooker – we’ll be needing it again!

Pulse the onions to start with and then blend until the mix is smooth. Feel free to add some more water if it’s too thick at this stage. Pour the mix back into the slow cooker and add the rest of the stock, white wine, Marsala and 1 cup of the water. Cook on low for at least 2 hours and check the flavour. I opted to add another cup of water to bring it to the consistency and calm down the intensity of flavour.

Serve with croutons, a tablespoon of cream or plain yogurt and a sprig of parsley. Some fresh crusty bread and a green salad are also great accompaniments to this comforting bowl of goodness.

I think just making this made me feel better – the whole house smelt like roasting onions for a couple of days – and I’m happy to say I managed to get my uni essay finished and submitted on time, (only five units left now!) and made a start on the many jobs in the garden this glorious weekend. The housework? I’m sure it’ll still be there next week 🙂

 

Some Like it Hot – Horseradish Sauce

Happy new year friends everywhere!

I’ve had a really lovely time, pottering in the garden, making things, seed saving and gearing up for a big harvest of potatoes, beans, chilies and tomatoes. Study has been high on my agenda too, and I submitted my first assignment for 2017 yesterday.

The broad bean crop from late spring was fabulous, and while I filched a few for some fresh bean side dishes, I decided to dry the majority for use in soups and stews over winter. It seems the rest of my household DO like these creamy, delicious and very healthy beans as long as they’re not boiled into oblivion – which still seems how most people serve them :-/

A couple of days ago I dug up the monster Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia), which was threatening to take over a significant section of the rhubarb bed! This member of the Brassica family is a wonderful herb and fresh Horseradish Sauce is so much nicer than the store-bought stuff. Having said that, it can be incredibly invasive and will grow from the tiniest piece of root.

The roots smell very mildly of mustard but don’t be fooled. As soon as they’re peeled and grated, ally isothiocyanate (mustard oil) is released, which can irritate mucous membranes in the nose and eyes. This makes me cry worse than peeling onions, so I suggest doing this in a well ventilated area and in small batches. Adding a little vinegar, lemon juice or ascorbic acid will immediately stop the production of mustard oil. I also like to add a little salt and sugar to enhance the flavour.

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I like to do the initial peeling in a sink full of cold water and put the white roots in a bowl. This ensures that the smell doesn’t get overpowering and that the roots are clean of every bit of dirt. By the way, I recommend only using the newer roots for this, the one in the picture above is ideal but any bigger can be woody. Old horseradish makes very bitter sauce when grated but they’re great for propagating more plants 😀

Horseradish Sauce (Makes 3 1/2-4 cups)

2 cups peeled fresh horseradish, grated (this can be done by hand or in a food processor)

1 1/2 teas salt

1 teas white sugar

1 1/2 cups vinegar (approximately)

a little cold water (optional)

Mix the salt and sugar carefully through the grated horseradish, being careful not to breathe too much of the pungent fumes (I put the extractor fan on when I make this!). Add the vinegar gradually and mix it very well. The vinegar counters the chemical reaction and production of mustard oil.

Naturally, I like it hot but some like it a little less intense so add a little cold water to cut back the heat.

Pot up into clean, small glass jars with screw top lids and refrigerate. This can be used immediately and will keep in the fridge for up to a year

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Also, I dug the Red Norland potatoes this morning. The tops had died back so they were ready to lift but the crop wasn’t huge. Mind you, they were planted a little later than I would’ve liked and there were only 12 seed potatoes. I haven’t weighed them but I imagine there’d be about 2 1/2-3 kg in the bucket.

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The Pentland Dell, Patrones and Carlingford plants are still green and strong, so I don’t think I’ll be harvesting them for at least another month.

A huge bonus for me was the soil improvement. I like to use potatoes to start new garden beds and this one was spectacular. Prior to the potatoes, I had the rabbit’s nursery hutch over this ground so it had some added preconditioning 😉

The soil was crumbly, dark and fluffy – very easy to get the potatoes out – and it was absolutely full of earthworms. A far cry from the hard, compacted dirt that used to be here!

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I’m planning to turn in the mulch, throw on some worm castings, sheep poo and mushroom compost and put more raspberries in this bed during winter.

Meanwhile, I have to think about what to have for dinner. Maybe a couple of Red Norland potatoes with garlic and horseradish butter and a piece of fish on a bed of silverbeet………

Take care friends and hope you’re all well and happy ❤

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Headaches and Happiness – Day 21 NaBloPoMo 2016

Well, I think I’ll sleep well tonight.

After yesterday’s long day gardening in the sunshine, all I’ve really done today is use my brain. And I must confess I don’t feel like there’s much of that left now!

This morning I double checked my assignment, made sure the format was correct and uploaded the beast into the ether!

After a celebratory lunch it was back to the grind. With one enrolled unit left for 2016, what units do I choose to study next year?

People have been asking me about what I’m studying so here’s the story.

Although I live in Tasmania, the southernmost state of Australia, my university is Griffith, which is based in Queensland. I’ve been studying online, one or occasionally two units at  a time since November 2013, so it’s been a long slog. And consistent. Unlike being on a physical campus, the year is broken up into four study periods (SP’s) of 12 or 13 weeks and they go all year round. So I haven’t had a real break from study for three years.

I’m enrolled in an undergraduate degree course, (Bachelor of Communications) and I’m on track for a double major in Creative Writing and Screen Studies. After discussing it at length with folks online, and working out what was available in which study period, I’ve opted for my last 2nd year elective in SP1 Writing Crime and Contemporary Romance which starts in late February, and although I love pulp noir fiction, I’m not a chick lit fan.

Then in SP2 it’s the start of third year subjects and a Screen Studies unit, Media Audiences, which I’m really looking forward to. It looks at the theory and methodology around audience studies as well as constructing and interpreting qualitative and quantitative research and how it is applied to media policy and content. (Yeah, I know – it’s pretty dry but I like that kind of thing!)

SP3 is back to creative writing with Writing Gothic and Speculative Fiction an area I’m very interested in learning about and I finish 2017 with a cross over unit which applies to both Screen Studies and Creative Writing, Documentary Scriptwriting. This is going to be a fascinating and intense finish to the year with assessment work to research, furnish a proposal, write a draft and revised script. I already have an idea brewing for this!

Meanwhile, it’s late, I’ve got a headache and all I want to do is sleep. But it’s really hot tonight (24.2 C at 10:20pm!) and I have a whole week off before I start SP4 and Writing Poetry, my last unit for 2016.

I wonder how much gardening I can get done in a week?

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Well Hello Summer! – Day 20 NaBloPoMo

Today was quite spectacular – brilliant, sunny and really quite hot. Too nice to be stuck inside with assignments, so I spent the day working on getting the garden up to date because it looks like summer’s here!

It was too hot to work in the greenhouse today, so I set up a work area outside on top of the currently empty rabbit nursery hutch. With a cold bottle of water and a good audio book (Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester) I spent quite a lot of time getting seedlings into tubes.

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It was a lovely place to work but here in Tasmania the sun is deceptively intense. I’m quite fair skinned and burn easily so I usually wear long sleeved cotton shirts, long pants and a hat when I’m out in the yard. Silly me forgot to roll my sleeves down after I did the watering this morning and after 10 minutes sitting working, I could feel my forearms burning. It’s not too bad tonight after a shower and plenty of soothing skin cream but I really try and avoid getting too much sun.

I potted up a lot of seedlings today – especially eggplants and basil – into toilet roll tubes. It’s an effective means of recycling an otherwise useless product and because the cardboard tubes disintegrate, it pretty much eliminates transplant shock when the seedlings go out into a garden bed or into a larger pot. If you’re interested in reading more, I wrote about it here.

Later in the afternoon, I made a wonderful discovery. I was weeding the path in front of the main raspberry bed when a flash of colour caught my eye – raspberry season has officially  started!

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And they were delicious – worth getting a little bit of sunburn earlier in the day 😀

To finish, Bernard Black is very well settled in and getting very inquisitive about his surroundings – and eating lots!

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Tomorrow is submission day for final assignments and discussions about future units. In particular, what am I going to do for my final year project. I’ve got a few ideas but I really need to run it past some of my tutors.

Lots to think about!

Remembering Days of Reading Past – Day 18 NaBloPoMo

Hi everyone,

A very quick post today as I’m on the home stretch with my last online university assignment and playing catch up with some discussion posts I missed while I was sick. As some of you might recall, this unit is Writing for Children and Young Adults and it’s been another excellent undergraduate level exploration. I’ve learnt a lot!

One of the discussion post questions was especially provocative. We were asked to think back to adolescence and talk about a book or series that really resonated with us. Of course, for me and many others in the unit, our first thoughts were to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, while for others it was C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, which while excellent in their own right, I have always found somewhat “vanilla” and a little too preachy for my tastes. (Having said that, I still think Lucy Pevensie is one of the best heroines in contemporary children’s literature!)

I found my self remembering T. H. White’s dark and somewhat forbidding retelling of the Arthurian legend in The Once and Future King series. This is all the more fascinating because I haven’t read these books since I was in early high school – around 40 years ago!

Even though I couldn’t recall everything that happened in the four books, the overall feelings I gained from them remain to this day. I particularly loved the first book, The Sword in the Stone, which introduces the very old and absent minded Merlyn, who is living backwards through time, and Wart, the inquisitive and innocent adopted son of Sir Ector.

Now I want to read them all again, to see if the magic is still there – or if my memory has embellished it.

It also made me think about the profound effect that particular books can have and the amazing power of words on the human psyche.

“Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity”
Hermann Hesse

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A Day In The Life – Day 7 NaBloPoMo 2016

This post came from an idea one of my friends gave me this afternoon. So here’s a day in my life……..

Today was Monday, and a day off from my usual work at Oak Tasmania. But there were all the usual jobs and dinner to prepare early because I also had a 1500 word essay to upload to my tutor for my current creative writing unit, Writing For Children and Young Adults

First, feed the animals. There was squawking and jostling to get the best position, but the chickens all got their share of seed mix and there was an early egg from dear Hipster, the oldest girl in the flock. Then some quick weeding to gather greens for the rabbits and a big chicory leaf for each of them (because rabbits!) and the obligatory cute Bernard Black Bunny pic of the day……

I'm Cute - But I Will Not Share My Chicory!

I’m Cute – But I Will Not Share My Chicory!

Once everyone was fed, water checked, pats and cuddles given, I watered the greenhouse and picked veggies for tonight’s dinner, a slow cooked beef and veg curry. This involved picking celery, purple cabbage leaves, silverbeet and snow peas and (as always) more weeding around the plants and cutting back flower heads – all of which went straight to the ravenous chickens.

Finally, I managed to get back in the house and make some breakfast for me! This morning I felt like something savory on my toast. So, before I went to feed the animals I went searching through the freezer. I had the last of my current loaf of sourdough toasted with a very decadent and different kind of topping. I was quite thrilled to find a tub of basil pesto (sans pine nuts) from the autumn harvest tucked away. By the time I got back to the kitchen it was defrosted enough to spread thinly on my toast. It was intense, both garlic and basil flavours came shining through and utterly delicious!

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Time then to knock a loaf of sourdough together and put dinner in the slow cooker. I replaced some of the bread flour with rye this time, which makes a nutty, slightly denser loaf. Wee Beastie the sourdough plant is really powering at the moment, so this is what it looked like after a few hours of proving under a damp tea towel in the kitchen.

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I cannot begin to describe how lovely and yeasty these loaves smell at this stage – and without any added yeast! I’ll leave it to prove overnight and bake it first thing tomorrow morning so I’ll have fresh bread for breakfast ❤

Next on my list was getting dinner prepped and in the slow cooker. About 500g diced stewing steak and a couple of diced onions got seared in ghee and tossed into the pot with a jar of home-made tomato based chilli sauce from a couple of seasons ago and a tub of cooked chick peas. Lots of spices, herbs, red wine, plus celery, carrot, broad beans and mushrooms (thanks to the garden again!). All thrown in the slow cooker, switched on and forgotten about until later in the afternoon.

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Then it was down to the nitty gritty – wrangling all my notes into a cohesive discussion about what I consider to be “an area of childhood that hasn’t been satisfactorily written about”. It’s a potentially huge subject and I only had 1500 words to work with. Chained to my laptop for the next few hours, I referenced, edited and pulled it all together – with Brahms in my headphones and the first cricket test against South Africa on the television. It was a bit mad for a few hours, I remember getting up and making a cup of tea at one point but apparently didn’t drink it, and some kind soul put food in front of me at lunchtime. But I managed to get it all done, correctly formatted and uploaded to my tutor who lives in a different time zone.

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After a cuppa with a friend who called round, it was time for the afternoon feeding of the hungry hordes, more egg collecting – and bunny cuddles ❤

I also picked some snow peas that I’d missed that were way too far gone for the table but rather than waste them, I shelled them and set them to dry on my seed shelf. They’ll form the basis of the next crop and/or traded with other fellow gardeners.

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Finally, I prepared the veggies to finish off the curry, silverbeet, purple cabbage and snow peas while some nice person cooked rice.

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And now, dinner has been devoured (delicious!) and there’s plenty of leftovers to refill the freezer. I’m currently crashed on the couch with my laptop watching my favourite current affairs show, The Feed on SBS and once I publish this I might get back to reading my new book, Jennifer Livett’s Wild IslandOr maybe think some more about that song I’m starting to write. Or perhaps do a little work on my final assignment for this unit, a creative piece of writing and exegesis.

Or maybe go to bed early.

And this was a day off……

Surviving the Storm – A Sunday Night Recap

Well, it’s been quite a week! I’m not sure where it disappeared to, but I’m rugged up on the couch and it’s Sunday night here in Hobart.

At the moment, Tasmania is in the path of a series of westerly fronts, bringing much needed rain but some very damaging winds. There was some respite yesterday so I took the opportunity to spend some time in the garden, rearranging mulch, repairing torn bird netting and salvaging what I could of the broccoli crop.

And of course, I got to spend some quality time with the chickens and the now month old rabbits ❤

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Earlier this week I processed the rest of the chestnut crop, which was pretty poor this year due to very little rain in summer and no water to spare for the trees. But I find them so delicious and useful that every little piece has become precious to me and my family. I’d never really paid much attention to chestnuts until I moved here, with a mature tree in the backyard that provides several kilos of nuts every autumn with minimal care.

For any of you interested in how I process them, I did a post here a couple of years ago.

On Friday, I got a parcel in the post from a woman I met through Facebook, who lives in northern Tasmania. In it was a self addressed post bag for some chilli seeds – and two beautiful, handmade beanies.

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The photo doesn’t really do them justice, they are really a very dark black and a luscious purple – my favourite colour 🙂  Fran is also a blogger and you can find her here. I finished packaging her seeds during the week, I’ve been drying them slowly on paper.

IMG_20160513_210229Like most repetitive tasks, I think there’s something incredible meditative about sorting seeds. For me it’s akin to weeding or planting but a little more demanding, particularly when you’re trying to keep track of numbers and sort out obvious broken or dud seeds – much easier with peas and beans!

Nevertheless, it’s one of those jobs that I really enjoy doing on a cold night with some good music or a favourite movie on.

One thing I should’ve done though is wear gloves. Despite using broad head tweezers, I still got enough capanoids on my fingers to sting!

Once sorted, I put the seeds into paper packets I make from old (preferably heavy weight) paper. The recent batch for all my seeds this autumn came from some old (and quite dreadful) music books I found in the local tip shop. Although I revere books, I’ve recycled these so that no innocent child is ever forced to play those songs again – they are truly dreadful!

 

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I think the finished product looks rather nice and I hope Fran and her family enjoy the produce. One day we’ll meet in person I’m sure 🙂

The rain and wind came back with a vengeance today, so I took the opportunity to catch up with my current studies at Griffith University. I’m doing an online degree and this unit is Television Studies. My head is still full of textual analysis and particularly David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. For something most of us take for granted, television is really quite a complex and surprisingly demanding area of study – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning some of the history and depth of the medium. This week I have to finish drafting my major essay on the enduring appeal of Doctor Who which has meant I’ve had to watch quite a lot of it (mostly David Tennant) in recent weeks.

Seriously, I love my life 😀

Stay well and be happy wherever you are ❤

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