The Joy of Flowers – Day 19 NaBloPoMo

Hi everyone,

I’ve got a really busy day/night ahead (it’s gig night with Cassie O’Keefe tonight) so I’m going to offer you all some photographs from my garden this week. All these gorgeous flowers are edible or the precursors to edible fruit. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do šŸ˜€

IMG_20141005_164143I particularly love salad greens and grow a large variety throughout the year. One of the most cold tolerant plants I’ve ever come across is Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta aka Lamb’s Lettuce or Mache) and it grows particularly well here in Tasmania as a winter green. In fact, I think (like Kale) it tastes better for a good frost! It’s one of those plants that’s been in cultivation for hundreds of years that is coming back in fashion again and it really is quite delicious and very mineral and vitamin rich.

As soon as spring comes, itĀ produces lovely, tiny flowers followed by masses of seed! It self-seeds now throughout my garden but it doesn’t transplant well.Ā Fortunately, the chickens love it and I weed out any unwanted plants for them.

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Beautiful and delicious Wasabi Greens

During winter, I bought a random punnet of vegetables to fill a spot in the salad garden. It’s been a real winner in every respect. Wasabi Green (Brassica junceaĀ aka Wasabi-na) is an Asian mustard, bred for its hot, wasabi-like flavour. It spiked up my winter salads and even the flowers were lovely addition to the bowl. An added bonus was they were flowering when the bees first came out at the very end of winter.

I alsoĀ managed to save seed from it in early spring before the other Brassicas started to bolt, and I’ll certainly be planting more in the autumn.

IMG_20151116_173836Speaking of bees, one of my favourite edible flowers is also a favourite of the bees, Common Sage (Salvia officinalis). Although the flowers are starting to look a little shabby now, I pick stems to brighten up a vase in the kitchen – as well as brightening up salads and marinades.

Recently, we had a roast leg of lamb and I placed a long stem of Rosemary and Sage (both in flower) underneath the joint. Delicious and very pretty when pieces of the flowers appeared in the sauce we made from the pan juices!

Last year I planted Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) quite late but still managed to get a quite reasonableIMG_20151116_174026 crop of beans from them. A couple survived our unusually harsh winter and they are already in full flower. Unlike ordinary beans, Scarlet Runners are a perennial vine and are also called Seven Year Beans by some gardeners.

These gorgeous flowers are not only bee attracting but also bring native birds into my garden – absolute bonus! The beans are lovely to eat whole when they’re young but get very fibrous very quickly and are then only good for the beautiful multicoloured beans that I love to dry and use in soups and stews through winter.

And finally there’s the flowers that are the heralds of spring and summer fruit. My family are especially fond of Boysenberries and currently it’s a mass of quite large, white flowers, which the bees also adore!

Boysenberry

Boysenberry

What are your favourite edible flowers? Please leave a comment!

 

 

And Then There’s This – Day 9 NaBloPoMo 2015

Further to yesterday’s post about the advertisement that labelledĀ people who grow their own food as freaks, thank you so much for all your private (and universally positive) responses on social media. It means a tremendous amount to know that people are actually reading what I’m writing – as anyone who’s got a blog will know! I think where and how we source our food is an increasingly important issue – and obviously you folks do too.

I went to Oak TasmaniaĀ to play music today and as always, got there early to have lunch with my friends. And this is what I took…….

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Freak Feast

In my lunchbox were two chopped hard boiled eggs, some torn English spinach and wild rocket, shredded baby kale, home grown alfalfa sprouts and a few fresh strawberries, all picked this morning. The only thing I didn’t grow was a half an avocado I cubed and tossed through it. A few drops of sesame oil and a sprinkle of rice wine vinegar made a lunch fit for any gardening freak šŸ˜‰

And I have to share this with you all. I have the best neighbours ever! Yesterday Karen asked if I had a large square cake tin she could borrow for her daughter Georgia, who at 11 is getting very interested in baking. I found my old big tin at the back of the cupboard and apologised for it being so dusty – I don’t bake much now my son’s living independently.

Last night Karen knocked on the door to return the pan (cleaner than when I gave it to her!) and a plate with two huge slabs of fruit cake on it. Apparently, Georgia’s was givenĀ a recipe for fruit cake made with ginger ale and it’s a total winner, full of fruit, moist and not too sweet. I’ll have to see if she’s willing to share the recipe……. šŸ˜€

Georgia's Fruit Cake

Georgia’s Fruit Cake

The Joy of Friendship – Day 4 NaBloPoMo 2015

Today I had a proper day off and visitedĀ my friend Sara. Like me, she’s a creative soul – a writer, gardener and chicken fancier. I took a couple of bush squash seedlings and she gave me a few Roma tomatoes and a bag of fresh lemons off her heavily laden tree. (With all the eggs I’ve got at the moment, I feel a Lemon Meringue coming on in the next few days!) We catch up every couple of months, last time we did a big seed swap and laughed ourselves silly around her dining table.

My new Roma Tomato plants, potted up and ready for staking

My new Roma Tomato plants, potted up and ready for staking

HerĀ garden is amazing, it’s quite small and she’s made fabulous use of the space, with fruit trees espaliered against a north facing fence, an unwanted bathtub the perfect home for strawberries and blueberries, tight block plantings bordered with container salad vegetables, a very efficient and productive greenhouse and an ingenious enclosed corner for her two chickens that can be wheeled across fallow beds.

Sara is also a nationally renowned psychic and astrologer and has been writing professionally for years, contributing regular columns to some of the best known magazines in Australia. She alsoĀ has her own business StargoldĀ and does readings for clients both in Australia and worldwide.

Over coffee, we worked out we’ve known each other for just over 30 years. We’ve shared houses, seen each other through numerous loves and break-ups, pregnancies, child-rearing and (more recently) health issuesĀ and growing into middle age as stylishly and (dis)gracefully as possible.

I treasure her friendship very, very much for two major reasons. Firstly, even if we haven’t seen each other for years there’s never any uncomfortable silences – we always manage to pick up wherever we left off without reservation. Secondly, despite the years we still have the capacity to make each other genuinely laugh – a truly priceless gift.

A heart-shaped Strawberry discovered in my garden

A heart-shaped Strawberry discovered in my garden

Autumn – Part 1 – Chestnuts

April 23 2014 Chestnuts

There are few times of the year that give me as much satisfaction as autumn. It’s a time of frantic activity, harvesting the bounty of summer while getting winter veg planted before the cold weather hits. Indeed, in the last week I’ve been making Basil Ravioli and picking late tomatoes, beans and even eggplant while planting winter peas, broccoli and endives. And as I type this, my household’s been plagued with change-of-season bugs, and I’m doing my best to recover from tonsillitis. But this week I had a sharp reminder that autumn means chestnuts!

My pet rabbits live in the shade and protection of a mature sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sp.), and a day of strong wind brought nuts tumbling on top of their hutches. While I was feeding them, one landed on my head and although it was pretty painful, fortunately no damage was done. So, I pulled out my strongest pair of winter gardening gloves and got down to the business of shucking.

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestnuts are fiddly things to process. There’s no shortcuts that I know (but any you want to share would be gratefully accepted and acknowledged!), which probably accounts for their high price! They’re not a common nut in Australia, with most tinned or vacuum packed produce coming from overseas. After liberating my nuts from the painfully spiky husks, I scored a couple of dozen at a time with a sharp paring knife and set them to roast in moderate oven (about 180 degrees C) for approximately 20 minutes. The scoring is important, as chestnuts can explode in the oven, making not only a huge mess but a potentially very dangerous kitchen!

Scorching Hot - Fresh From the Oven

Scorching Hot – Fresh From the Oven

It is also impossible – well, I think it is – to shell chestnuts cold. The outer shell is tough and there’s an inner membrane that comes away easily when it’s hot. So, I recommend taking a few out of the oven at a time, wrapping them in a thick tea towel and peeling as fast as possible.

It was very tempting to scoff them all as I was peeling them – there is something so enticing about fresh, hot chestnuts. I can totally understand the northern hemisphere custom of roasting chestnuts over an open fire at christmas time. Fortunately, I remained strong, and sereval scorched fingers and broken nails later, I had quite a nice bowl to show for my efforts.

The Final Product Sans Shell

The Final Product Sans Shell

So, the next and all-important question – what to do with them? Some people use them for baking gluten-free cakes and sweets, but I find them very heavy for that kind of thing and quite unappetising. Chestnuts have a slightly sweet flavour and are starchy in texture, but unlike most nuts, have little fat or protein and lots of carbohydrate. They absorb other flavours well – both sweet and savoury – and are equally lovely tossed hot in butter, ground cinnamon and sugar or coarse ground sea salt, butter and a little fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme.

But I decided on a complex flavoured sauce for a simple chicken main course, very easy to prepare and well complimented with boiled potates with garlic butter and steamed seasonal vegetables. Here’s the recipe:

April 24 2014 Chestnut Sauce

Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Chicken:

  • 2 chicken breast or 6 thigh fillets
  • 1 tab olive oil &/or 1/2 tab butter

Sauce:

  • 1 rasher bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion (or one small) sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8-10 roasted chestnuts, chopped
  • dried chilli to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Ā½ tab stock powder or 1 cup fresh stock
  • 1 tab fresh lemon thyme
  • Ā½ teas fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup water

Method:

Heat oven to 180Ā° C and heat the oil and butter in a deep frypan. SautĆ© chicken over a high heat for a minute each side, then put in an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the deep frypan, turn the heat down and add sliced red onion, bacon, garlic, chilli, smoked paprika and finely chopped lemon thyme. Stirring, add the chopped chestnuts, stock powder and cup of water.

Simmer gently, mashing the chestnuts with the back of a spoon and add the chopped fresh rosemary. When the chicken is cooked, the sauce should be quite reduced. Plate up the chicken and vegetables, spoon the sauce over carefully.

On reflection, one addition I’d make to the sauce that’s in keeping with autumn produce is a few very finely chopped mushrooms.

April 24 2014 Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Bon appetit!

Besides my mandatory butter-tossed chestnuts, I’m planning to experiment with the rest of this year’s crop. I want to do a soup (my favourite comfort food) and a dessert with some of the apples and quinces I’ve recently been given. I’ll let you all know how it goes but please feel free to comment and share, especially if you have more experience than my few seasons struggling with chestnut shucking – I’m keen to learn!

Debra šŸ™‚

Whining and Winning

I’ve been complaining – no, let’s give it the proper title – whining for weeks about the weather.
After gorgeous sunshine yesterday, and nearly a full day weeding, I woke up to leaden skies and my buck rabbit Barabas, thumping the ground to let me know a thunderstorm was on the way. I love a good thunderstorm, though the rabbits and chickens probably wouldn’t agree but the rain is back. And frankly, we’re all sick of it!
The only positive things are the water tanks are still full and the amount of green feed we’re getting for the chickens and large growth of treats for the rabbits – chicory, nasturtiums, thistles and blackberry leaves especially.
To give you some idea of what I’m facing, this is a picture of a garden bed – not a weed patch.
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This was last weeded and mulched six short weeks ago. Underneath all this is a lovely small-growing bottlebrush that brings native birds into the garden, garlic, potatoes, cauliflower and silverbeet. I made a start yesterday but after the storm passed this morning, I couldn’t quite face mud-filled boots, so I switched to weeding the raspberry bed.
This has been another of my ongoing experiments. Last year I tried planting bare-rooted canes along my north facing wall but some very inventive starlings and a ridiculously hot summer saw all casualties and no survivors.
This winter, I tried again with a few bare-rooted canes in a raised bed in front of the greenhouse – with ample bird-netting! And again, nothing! But I did get a brilliant crop of mushrooms, so no real complaints.
In desperation, I bought a pot of sprouting Chilcotin canes from the local hardware centre a few weeks ago and literally emptied the pot into the bed alongside the canes that didn’t take. Finally, raspberries are growing and forming beautifully in my garden. Imagine my surprise then, as I was about to pull out what I thought was a dead cane today and spotted new growth from the base of two seemingly dead canes!
After all that whining, finally a win!

Something to Cheer About

It’s so odd. I’m blogging from my greenhouse this morning. The door is shut, I’m rugged up and wondering where the southern spring has disappeared to.

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There’s snow on Mt Wellington again and I’m wondering if we’re going to have any proper, Australian sunshine before the end of the year.
Plants are getting rain damaged and I’m going a bit mad from looking at all the weeds that I can’t get at yet. The beautiful lilac tree is testimony to the damage – but it’s still gorgeousā™”

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On the upside, I discovered tomatoes that have (so far) survived. I can hear one of the hens, telling the world she’s laid an egg. The basil in the greenhouse has noticeably grown, along with everything else in here And my water tanks (my only means of watering the backyard) are full.
Along with this, the garden keeps giving and giving – we have so much food! – and I am cheering šŸ˜€

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