Archive | May, 2011

A break in the weather

31 May

Front veggie bed, May 30th

The rain stopped long enough (albeit briefly) today for me to head out and look over the front garden. Most of it is looking dense and bushy, apart from the gap where I’ve just planted the leeks and onions.

I’m particularly excited by the globe artichokes at the very left of this picture – I can’t wait till spring or summer, when I hope they will crop. I’ve read about artichokes not producing until the second year, but I’ve been standing over them like a Tiger Mom, so I hope they’ve got the message. The Azalea sitting right next to them is testament to the dangers of being unproductive.

Broccoli is getting there

I’m very proud of my brassicas, and my broccoli in particular. These guys are testament to the power of the ‘hunt and squish’ method of white cabbage butterfly control.  I just kept on observing the nibble marks each day and squishing the culprits until caterpillar genocide was achieved.

I love watching broccoli grow, but they do take up a lot of room for a single head. I might have to eat the leaves and stalks too, just so I get a bit of value out of the space. I’m certainly glad I took advantage of their slower growth and grew womboks in between while they were still little. The strategy has worked a treat.

Almost a cabbage

The cabbages are also making steady progress, although I’ve been pondering a cabbage-related question that is alluding me. Where do the hearts come from? I assume they are not growing from the inside out, with new leaves forming on the inside of the head. I also don’t think the very outside leaves are curling in. So are the new ones coming from somewhere in between?

Thinking too hard about cabbages hurts my brain.

Tomato experiments

An update on my tomato projects. On the left of this picture are the repotted tomato mutants that popped up randomly in the yard. They are growing well, and I might need to transplant them into separate pots soon. On the right is the only surviving cutting from my mini romas over summer. They are flowering now, so hopefully I’l be back in tomatoes real soon!

Rose - Diana, Princess of Wales

My roses look fabulous on rainy days.  One of my favourites is Diana, Princess of Wales. The plant itself is the sickliest of my roses, but the few flowers I do get are spectacular.

The main game in the rose bed is (of course) the garlic underneath. It’s growing steadily and I’m really hopeful. With the amount I’ve planted I’ll be keeping all family and friends supplied for the whole year – so keep your fingers crossed for me guys – your pasta sauce depends on it.

Rose bed with garlic

The renovation begins

30 May

I’ve been quiet over the past few days because we’ve been preparing the house for the builders. Yes that’s right – I’m extolling the virtues of all things sustainable while planning a wasteful renovation at the same time. My hypocrisy is shameful.

Before the first wall came out

We bought our house last year, but there are problems with it. Like many houses from the 60s, it’s been extended a number of times, and there wasn’t much thought put in to how the rooms flow.

I guess the aim was just to create more space at minimum cost. You can see that the two back windows of the old house are hardly even disguised. They just pulled the window frames out, painted around them and added another room on.

As we try to raise young children in this space we are finding the limitations. Firstly, the only way between the front and back of the house was right through the kitchen. Dangerous? We thought so. So we knocked out a wall.

After the first wall came out

Now we are changing the whole configuration of the centre of the house to improve the flow of the space, and create a whopping great kitchen at the same time.

From the dining room

So over the last few days we have been ripping out the kitchen. Here it is before the weekend from a few different angles.

P has been sweating away with the tools (he really loves it) and destroying stuff. The kitchen is now mostly gone, and the builders start on Thursday. They will be getting to work pulling the ceiling out so they can put a new beam in the roof so we can remove the pillar between the kitchen and the old dining room and lift the ceiling up so it doesn’t hang down like a window frame.

From the dining room with the kitchen gone

They’ll be relocating the air conditioning grates, tiling the floor, moving some more walls, closing in some doors, re-gyprocking everything and installing LED downlighting.  So much in (approximately) 3 weeks! Then the 7-8 week wait for the kitchen begins.

Sorry for the departure from the garden over the past few posts. It’s so wet in Sydney at the moment that I couldn’t do any gardening if I wanted to. Hopefully I’ll be back to it shortly.

Kitchen mostly gone (from the lounge room)

Bacon and Outrage!

25 May

I’ve had a day of outrage and indignation. I’ve been trying very hard to buy organic foods, but it’s getting difficult. My problem is bacon – I love the stuff.

Bacon is a cured meat. Like all cured pork products it is cured with a whole bunch of stuff, including nitrates/nitrites, mineral salts etc. The jury is still out about the impact of such additives to your health, but new research certainly suggests that consuming a lot of it may not be the best idea.

To my knowledge there is only one producer of certified organic bacon in Australia. Pasture Perfect Pork has spent considerable time and expense in developing their methods of obtaining nitrates naturally from vegetable sources. There are a few producers of nitrite-free organic ‘bacon’, but I question what this bacon really is without the nitrites.

My understanding from the supplier of my organic meat was that Pasture Perfect was their source of my bacon. When I called Pasture Perfect it turned out not to be the case, and I was grumpy. The meat supplier had however disclosed that the bacon they supply isn’t organic, so I realise that this was simply an error, and they’ve fixed it up now.

Unfortunately, I spoke to Jack at Pasture Perfect this morning, and he’s not producing his bacon at the moment. I’ll definitely be buying his pork – look at these photos – how could you not?

But my problem remains. Gimme organic bacon!

Cheese at a stretch

24 May

My mozzarella

I’ve been cheesemaking on and off for the past 7 years. I first attended a cheesemaking course run by Carole Willman of Cheeselinks, and I’ve made various cheeses at home, including camembert, blue, fetta, quarg, marscapone, sour cream and (of course) yoghurt.

Once children came along, cheesemaking seemed a lot more difficult. I’ve been making yoghurt, but I haven’t made any cheese since J was born. You try maintaining a sterile environment while looking after children!

Gav from The Greening of Gavin made some mozzarella last week, and his recipe didn’t look too hard. He even claimed it could be done in 30 minutes.

Mozzarella is a fresh cheese that gets cooked in the process, so its pathogen risk is much lower than matured cheeses that use mould, like camembert and blue.

So yesterday in the chaos of toddlers and gyozas, I thought I’d throw some cheesemaking into the mix too.

Little D is on a cow’s milk protein elimination diet at the moment, so when my milk was delivered I had more than I needed. The recipe called for a gallon, but I used 4 litres.

So I’ll say from the outset that this was a comedy of errors. I discovered after I started that my cheese thermometer was broken, and the only other one I had was a basal temp thermometer, which reads only between about 34 and 38 degrees, so I had to guestimate all the temperatures as I went. I managed to break the thermometer in the sink halfway through, so was distracted by heavy metal contamination that obviously needed to be dealt with straight away.

The really cool thing about mozzarella is the kneading and stretching. It would have been fun if I hadn’t heard “Mum, I need you to wipe my bottom!” in the middle of it.

Matured cheese? Bad idea.

So in the end, I had mozzarella. Due to my dodgy temperature estimates the yield was pretty low for 4 litres of milk, but it worked. Might try it on pizza tonight.

Gyoza from scratch

23 May

Our gyoza

There is something very therapeutic about a repetitive task. I guess that’s why I find folding gyozas so enjoyable.

I imagine though that I wouldn’t feel quite the same way if I did it for a living like the people in a yum cha restaurant.

Come to think of it, has anyone actually seen people working in the yum cha restaurant? There’s the trolley pushers and the waiters, but there must be scores of people behind the scenes making all that food.

I really do hope they have orange skin and green hair and burst into disapproving song whenever an Aussie refuses the chicken feet.

My friend Robyn comes around on Mondays with her daughter who is the same age as J. So I’m always looking out for good pre-schooler cooking activities to keep the girls occupied. Sandra from the $120 Food Challenge posted on gyoza about a week ago, and she described making the wrappers from scratch. Sounded perfect for our girls.

I have a very special friend in Japan who taught me how to make gyoza. We made it with pork back then, but I figured that wombok and mushrooms from the mushroom kit would make a great gyoza filling.

I didn’t follow Sandra’s recipe because it called for kneading, and that sounded like too much hard work. I followed this one, which I thought didn’t require kneading. Reading it again, it actually did, but it worked fine anyway. I used this recipe for the filling. In reality, neither recipe includes snot, so our gyozas were not a faithful rendition of either.

Making gyoza wrappers

I rolled the dough into a sausage shape and sliced the wrapper dough into circles.  The girls took turns rolling them out with the rolling pin, then I evened them out a bit and cut them into circles while the girls fought over the scraps. When the fighting turned physical I realised it was an hour after their lunchtime. Oops.

Robyn finished off the wrappers, and I folded the gyoza with my friend Sarah who also visited today. We had the gyozas for dinner with some Japanese rice and steamed pak choy. A hit with even the kids!

Oh and the mushroom tally is 11 mushrooms weighing 322grams.

Insert bad fungus pun here

22 May

Time for an update on my mushroom growing kit.

I swear – I could have been harvesting several days ago. That is, if I hadn’t ‘sampled’ the first flush when it was about the size of a pea.

Must. Exercise. Self. Control.

J with the mushroom kit

We’ve been misting the kit with water every day and making sure the spare room stays nice and cold. Yesterday (after the green manure slaying), we pulled the box out of the wardrobe. We’d been peeking fairly regularly, so we knew that we were ready to pick a small crop. The kids could hardly wait.

Swiss brown mushrooms deveoping

The mushrooms seem to be springing up mainly from the corners and edges of the box. I can see others forming in other areas, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll get them all over eventually.

Ali from Mud Pie has one of these kits too. She started hers a few days before mine, and she’s weighing the mushies as she picks them. I think I’ll do the same, because it appeals to my competitive spirit. Why do I have a competitive spirit when I never win at anything? You’d think my spirit would have been crushed already, but no, I just keep on trying despite my incompetence!

First mushroom harvest

So, after picking the decent-sized ones, we have 4 mushrooms weighing 145 grams. That makes it the second largest fungal growth in our household behind the one in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator.

Sorry – that was in Spore taste.

Satisfaction in smooshing stuff

21 May

Cutting down the green manure

Remember when you were a kid, and the best thing about building a sandcastle was jumping on it at the end?

That’s how I feel about green manure.

I planted it, I cared for it, I even defended it against judgmental comments.

Today, it met the whipper snipper.

Hi”  it said.

“Pleased to meet yarrgghh…..”.

Help with digging in the green manure

It really was that satistfying- cutting down something I’d grown especially for the purpose. P cut it down for me and dug it into the soil, little D helped with the digging, and J enthusiastically swept up at the end.

While my little family was doing all the hard work, I planted out my leek, red onion and spinach seedlings from the greenhouse. That fills the last gap in Bed A along the front. It is now officially jam packed full of vegetables.

Chinese broccoli harvest

For dinner tonight I cooked some of the chinese broccoli (Gai lan) from Bed A. I really can’t describe just how much better it was than store-bought. It was better than good- it was perfect. I even defended its ego by not offering it to the children.

P and I kept it all to ourselves. Every. Last. Leaf.

Things that hide in the dark

19 May

Turnip de Nancy

I love spending time in the garden at night. Things that you overlook in the day suddenly catch your interest in the differing contrast of torch light.

This evening I had a wander in the front yard and some turnips caught my eye. These are the Turnip de Nancy variety from the Diggers Club, and they grow extremely quickly. Unlike a lot of other root vegetables they sit above the soil line, and their fabulous purple screams look at me! If you ever want to feel like a gardening guru, pull up a bunch of these babies.

Slug Invader

The primary purpose of my night wandering is again to hunt for my nemesis. Nemesises? Nemisi?

The blasted slugs.

We had rain last night, so everything is still quite damp. Sure enough, I caught a couple of the little blighters munching on the leaves of my swedes.

Distracted by the slugs, I missed the amazing thing about this sight – the really shocking thing lurking in the dark. It was there, waiting to be discovered when I looked really carefully.

Wait for it…

I have coriander!

Sneaky coriander

Success on project lemon

18 May

I have a success to report!

Green lemon leaves

I posted last month about the Eureka lemon tree I was attempting to nurse back to health. I’ve been keeping it well fed with Dynamic Lifter for citrus and resisting the urge to over water.

It is sitting on the back deck, which gets full sun in summer, but at the moment it’s getting about 4-5 hours a day.

It has greened up nicely and there are flowers!

Tiny lemon flower buds

Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed that they don’t fall off.

Map of the block

17 May

I have terrible spacial perception. I get lost in car parks, can never visualise anything from a diagram and I always turn the street directory around to face the direction I’m traveling.

If you are like me, then this is for you.

I’ve made a map of our block. Hopefully this will help make more sense of where I’m planting stuff and why. I’ve made a permanent page for it with explanations of what is in each bed, and I’ll try to refer to it when describing where things are.

Our Block

And for those like me – The nature strip is at the front.