Garlic Goodness – Day 2 NaBloPoMo 2016

Hi everyone,

It’s been raining again, something I’ve been saying a lot this year! For November in the southern hemisphere however, this can sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing. Root crops can be susceptible to fungal diseases and I’ve seen potatoes rot in the ground from too much water. I noticed last weekend that a few of my garlic plants (the ones I could see through the weeds that keep coming back!) were sending up flower buds so this morning I took the time to check near the edge of the bed.

Usually, this involves removing the mulch and then gently (and patiently) scraping the soil away from the stem until I can see the shoulder or top of the bulb. But today the soil was so soft and damp it was very easy – a little bit too easy really! At this stage of the year, my garlic is usually just starting to swell and hasn’t as a rule formed a head yet.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled this monster out of the ground!


There was a little bit of mould on the outer layer but with careful curing I think the crop should be fine. Last year I lifted my main crop in mid November but I think I’m going to be looking seriously at getting most of it out of the ground this coming weekend.

Knowing when to harvest garlic is another one of those arcane arts, and there’s a lot of disagreement about it. Some people wait until the leaves are turning brown, but I find the heads have often separated and don’t store as well if I leave them in the ground that long. Usually, I look for any where flower heads (also called scapes) are forming and if the lower leaves are starting to die back, all the better!

Curing is another often overlooked necessity if you want to store your heads into winter. A friend in the UK lays his garlic out in a greenhouse for a couple of days until the outer skin starts to harden and any soil in the roots dries and falls off. If I did that (even here in Hobart) I’d have mushy baked garlic by sundown! I like to hang mine by the tops behind the laundry door for about a week. It’s warm and dry there but with good air flow and very importantly shaded from the fierce afternoon sun. After they’ve got a tough outer skin, I clean up the roots with a paring knife and roughly plait them for storage – again behind the laundry door. Last year my household ran out of home-grown garlic in August (a record for us!) but I’m hoping for September this time 🙂

For the sake of being logical and making a comparison, I checked another garlic plant further in the bed – and pulled out another fully formed monster. Do note, my hands are quite small but these heads are really big!


Ultimately, no one knows your garden better than you, all its microclimates and idiosynchrasies. What works for one gardener might not work for another. You have to make your own decision about when to harvest and be prepared to get it wrong sometimes, as I have some years. The key is to learn from it and not give up!

Let me know what your experiences are too – I’m always keen to hear from other gardeners 😀

The Joy of Little Things – Day 23 NaBloPoMo 2015

Today’s post will be very brief, I’m in the midst of writing an exegesis for a uni assignment.

I know it’s just a little thing but it gave me a tremendous amount of joy. Today I went to Oak to have lunch with my friends before doing a music session with them. I took a salad, as I often do, but today absolutely everything in was grown, made or raised by me – I knew where it all came from 🙂

Eggs from my feathered beauties, sprouts I grew in the kitchen, plus rocket, spinach, basil and kale from the garden. Even the cheese was a feta made a few weeks ago with real milk. And it was all delicious ❤


Pork Brawn Recipe – Day 20 NaBloPoMo 2015

I’m going to start again with a disclaimer. This post is all about pork and the preparation and cooking of a free-range pig’s head and trotters and does contain photographs. I have absolutely no desire to offend any of my vegetarian friends so if this isn’t your thing, come back tomorrow when I’ll be likely talking/writing about music, vegetables or home made cheesecake 😉

Home made Blackberry Cheesecake from last summer

Home made Blackberry Cheesecake from last summer

Today I had a delivery from my friend Paul. He and his partner Trudy own Elderslie Farm, just out of Hobart. We met when I was searching for a local, low food miles, free-range meat producer and I can’t praise their produce enough. It’s flavoursome, tender, butchered and bagged to my needs and delivered to my door! The bonus is we’ve made new friends in the process.


I got a side of pork earlier this year from them and, perhaps I was feeling some childhood nostalgia, agreed to have the head and trotters included so I could make Brawn. My grandmother used to make this along with various other dishes that used every part of a beast, where nothing was wasted. When I was little, my job was to pull the cooled cooked meat apart with two forks and I think it’s still my favourite job in this quite long process.

It went so well, I’m doing it again and right now the kitchen smells amazing – there’s a pork head simmering in the slow cooker with a head of fresh garlic and various spices. It’s so big I can’t fit the lid on properly!

For this post, I’m using photographs from the Brawn I made earlier in the year.

Pork Brawn


Pigs head, cleaned and de-haired     Pig’s trotters, cleaned thoroughly     Stock powder (optional)

1/2 cup Marsala or sherry   1 onion, peeled and halved    1 head of garlic 2 or 3 Bay leaves  2 or 3 dried Chillies

Spices to taste in a cheesecloth bag (a few cloves, allspice berries, cardamon pods – whatever takes your fancy)

Water to cover


Start by preparing your cheesecloth bag with the spices. I sometimes put sprigs of thyme or sage in plus cloves, cardamon, peppercorns, star anise or whatever takes my fancy. Tie it up with some kitchen string and leave a tail to tie it to the handle of your pan. Put the clean head in a large pan or slow cooker. Then add the Bay leaves, chillies, halved onion, stock powder (if using it), pour over the Marsala and cover with water.

IMG_20150419_185456Cook covered on a very low heat for 4-6 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. This will depend on the size of the head. I’m cooking mine in a slow cooker on a low setting for a few hours tonight. I’ll switch it off and leave it there overnight and check in the morning to see if it needs more cooking time.

It should look a little like the picture left – basically a pork soup. (Note the string that I tied to the slow cooker handle).

Once it’s cooked, it’s time to get into the messy part of this dish! Make sure you’ve got plenty of room to spread out and I suggest getting all your implements ready before you start lifting this around – it’s heavy!

Get a large clean pan and set it up next to the pork. Use a nylon strainer or a sheet of cheesecloth tied over the clean IMG_20150419_192017pan and start ladling the rich broth, straining the liquid. I find it best to do this stage when the broth is still warm but not scalding hot. Remove the spices in the cheesecloth and and large bones and skin as you come across them.

You should end up with a delicious smelling pot of stock, something like the picture to the right. It will be full of gelatin from the bones too, which will make your  brawn set.

Put this on a low heat uncovered to reduce the stock.

Meanwhile, the pot with the head and trotters are now ready to work on. IMG_20150419_192004My family like things spicy, so I usually leave at least one of the chillies in with the meat to chop up and go in the final dish.

Take it piece by piece, (the cheeks are particularly delicious) and on a clean board start shredding the meat with two forks. Put the meat into a bowl as you go. Continue stripping the head and if the tongue is still in the skull I chop that up finely and put it in too. (My gran used to do this separately as pressed tongue in aspic but I prefer it mixed in the brawn).

You can also chop the onion halves finely and as many cloves of garlic from the head as you like and add them to the meat mix as well.

By now, the stock should be reduced. Take it off the heat, cover and allow it to cool. Refrigerate it if the weather is warm. Cover the shredded meat mixture and refrigerate it until you’re ready to assemble the brawn.

While the stock is cooling, prepare some small ramekins or cups by lining them with plastic wrap. Pack the meat mixture into the ramekins.

Skim any excess fat off the cooled stock and ladle enough of the liquid carefully over the meat mixture. Leave it a couple of minutes for any air bubbles to escape. Then carefully fold the plastic wrap over the top. (Any excess stock can be frozen for later use in soups or stews).

Stack the ramekins on top of each other or put a weight on each and refrigerate.


Finished turned out Pork Brawn

The finished product will set naturally from the high amounts of gelatin in the bones and trotters. There’s no need for any extra gelatin. Serve turned out on a plate with slices of fresh crusty bread and with a green salad makes a lovely lunch.


Freaks or Future? – Day 8 NaBloPoMo 2015

Late last week, Woolworths Australia released a new advertisement, featuring high profile personal trainer Michelle Bridges. The ad is spruiking a new line of frozen meals the supermarket chain developed with Bridges. During the advertisement, Bridges described people who grow their own food as “freaks” and suggested that precooked frozen food was preferable to fresh fruit and vegetables. As you can probably imagine, the uproar on social media was big enough to make the supermarket pull the ad almost immediately. There’s an article worth reading at the Guardian Australia.

Well, I guess I’ve been called worse in my time.

But it got me thinking about all the ways growing my own food makes me healthier and happier. First and foremost, I get a lot of physical exercise all year round gardening. Some of you might be aware I have a degenerative spinal condition, coupled with body-wide osteoarthritis. Over ten years ago, my then GP told me that I’d most likely be in a wheelchair within a couple of years. Not bloody likely! Occasionally, it lays me low and I need to use a walking stick but fortunately, acute episodes are rare these days. My current GP is convinced that my half an hour minimum in the garden has improved my core strength, muscle mass and general well-being – not to mention raise my normally low vitamin D levels and provide me with food.

And then there’s the food.

I started gardening at this house a week after we moved in, almost six years ago. I have potatoes for eight or nine months of the year and free range eggs about ten months. I grow enough garlic now for almost the whole year. I still buy brown onions and some carrots but stopped buying salad greens and herbs after about three months. The last couple of years I’ve been breeding meat rabbits as an ethical source of protein and I’m researching growing mushrooms and installing a beehive next spring. I’ve tweaked my salad greens into seasonal delights, and now we look forward to winter too because that means sweet, frosted kale, silverbeet, chicory, endives, corn salad and (my favourite) English spinach.

Baby raspberries

Baby raspberries

Fruit begins with rhubarb in September, and progresses through strawberries November and December, raspberries, boysenberries, youngberries, loganberries, silvanberries and (for the first time this year) blueberries from December to April and apricots, nectarines and plums from January to the end of March. I also have a peach and double graft apple I’m espaliering that will probably fruit next summer and a lemon tree that will be planted out in the autumn. And everything is picked fresh the day it’s needed so the nutrient levels are high.  There is excess – I always grow too much – but it’s given to family and friends and I make cider and peri with excess fruit, fruit leather and dried chillies, beans and kale chips as well as freezing.

Blueberries starting to form

Blueberries starting to form

Also there’s a creative aspect of getting my hands in the earth – it makes me feel good about the world and gives me inspiration to write. When I’m in the garden, I lose all track of time and get to think about things I need to. I’ve solved some really big problems over the years out in that garden. I plan and plot and think about the season to come as well as the one I’m living in, it’s a window to the future.

And finally, there’s those wonderful moments when you can sit back, rest, enjoy and just be…………….. ❤

My favourite spot under the Chestnut tree

My favourite spot under the Chestnut tree

Baked Cheesecake – Day 3 NaBloPoMo 2015

Henrietta, Queen of the Chicken Coop

Henrietta, Queen of the Chicken Coop

My six gorgeous girls are working overtime at the moment and I’ve got a glut of eggs. I give them away to family but even so, they keep on laying. It probably has something to do with all the weeds I’ve been pulling out of the garden these past few weeks, which are full of delicious insects and worms!

So, even though I should be studying, with so many eggs on hand I thought I’d make a cheesecake with a twist.

Cardamon seeds, ready to grind - and six of the best from my chickens

Cardamon seeds, ready to grind – and six of the best from my chickens

I love the aroma and taste of cardamon in both savoury and sweet dishes, and it works superbly with citrus. Not having any oranges in the house, I got creative and put four tablespoons of lemon juice and about a quarter of a teaspoon of Orange Blossom Water, a delicious by product of orange oil distillation. It’s a powerful aroma and a common ingredient in desserts from North Africa and the Middle East to Malta, France and Spain. Like Rose Water, use it sparingly!

Cheesecake ready for baking

Cheesecake ready for baking

Orange Blossom & Cardamon Cheesecake (8-10 generous serves)


1 prepared biscuit base (for a 28-30cm spring form pan)

6 large eggs                       3/4 cup of sugar                        500g cream cheese (at room temperature)

1 tab crushed cardamon seeds     1/4 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water (or more to taste)      4 tabs lemon juice


Break the 6 eggs carefully into a blender jar, add the sugar and cover. Pulse until the eggs are frothy and the sugar is combined. Spoon the softened cream cheese in, cover and blend until smooth. Add the crushed cardamon seeds (I do mine by hand, shelling seed from whole pods and grinding in a mortar and pestle – the flavour is much better!), the Orange Blossom Water and lemon juice. Blend this on a low setting until combined.

Pour this luscious mix into the base and bake at 150 C for approximately 45 minutes. I usually leave my cheesecakes to cool in the oven before refrigerating them. You could put sliced fresh strawberries or apricot on top – they go very well with Orange Blossom Water – or leave it perfectly plain. Either way, this is a delicious twist on an old favourite and I hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I did 🙂

The finished cheesecake, with tiny flecks of ground cardamon visible

The finished cheesecake, with tiny flecks of ground cardamon visible

What are your tips for using excess eggs? Please leave a comment below!