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Saturday, September 25, 2010

10 Things...

I was invited by One to participate in this gardening game.  You list 10 things that you enjoy doing and invite others to join you.  I figured that the 10 things needed to be something to do with your blog but not exclusively.  If anyone would like to join in please feel free to write up their own 10 favourite things on their blog or in the comments below.  So, here goes 10 Things I Love in no particular order...
Roast Beetroot
1.  I love cooking up a storm for a crowd.  I love looking through my cookbooks and deciding on the menu, trying out new dishes, making something delicious, sitting around with a glass of wine and lots of yummy, veggie meals with family and friends.   I even love cleaning the house so visitors aren't confronted by the usual pigsty... well not the actual cleaning part but the clean look when it's done. 



Carnivorous plants on my window sill
2.  Discovering a New Plant.   I picked up a carnivorous plant at the Garden Show a couple of years ago and have built a little collection on my kitchen windowsill.  They are freaky, lovely plants that look so unusual and they gobble up the flies and ants that make their way into my kitchen.  And I can look at them while I do the dishes.




Littlest Monkey decorating last year's tree
3.  I do love an event.  Birthday parties, Christmas...  I love the planning and anticipation of them all.  We have an annual Eurovision party.  We invite everyone we know, ask them dress "Eurotrash", hire a projector and watch the event on the big screen.  I spend weeks planning the menu - vegetarian dishes from the host country (no small feat considering the meat consuming cultures that have hosted the country in the last couple of years).

(image from wikipedia)
4.  The Latest Obsession.  My eldest monkey is obsessive.  Maybe lots of 7 year old boys are like this but he seems to get hooked on one thing and practises it religiously until he suddenly moves on and it's something else.  At the moment it's skipping, before that Star Wars and before that the Footscray Bulldogs (for those who don't reside in Australia this is a football team.  Monkey Man and I are both completely disinterested in football so this one was hard to fake an enthusiasm for).  His obsessions used to worry me - all day, every day, all games, toys, playing, clothes were on topic.  Songs were written and birthdays planned.  Until I discovered that I've got a bit of the obsessive in me too.  My latest is silkie chickens.  I realised this the other day when we took the kids to the Royal Melbourne Show and I spent half an hour standing and gazing at the cute little silkies in the petting pen. 


My yoga props
5.  Yoga.  Now I don't practise anywhere near as much as I would like to and some days I find it hard to motivate myself to start or go (especially my 6.15am class in Winter!) But I love doing yoga.  I love the light, rested feeling I get after a class.  I love the discovery of muscles (yep real muscles) growing in my arms.  I love when I find I can suddenly do a pose after months of struggling.  And I love that for two hours I'm focussed on getting my body in the right possie and I don't think about all the other little or big stresses that have been filling my head for the day.

Our ugly naturestrip in need of transforming
6.  Planning the Next Garden Move.  I love to have a plan.  Little ideas up my sleeve.  I'll move this here, dig up this bit of grass and make another veggie patch, plant a passionfruit there, squeeze in another fruit tree.  This week I've started eyeing off the nature strip.  Watch this space. 

Mangosteen from Footscray
7.  Walking.  I've never been into sport and until fairly recently haven't been very fit.  But I started to get into walking long distances when I was without a car for some of the week.  I'd put my youngest into the pram, walk eldest monkey to school and keep walking to Footscray a couple of suburbs away.  I'd purchase a couple of exotic ingredients, have a snack with littlest monkey and start the journey back.  Littlest monkey would fall asleep in the pram, we'd be home for an hour or so and before I knew it, it was time to do the trek for school pick up again and I'd walked most of the day.  This year I've been a bit lazier.  Must walk more I do enjoy it.

8.  Listening to and watching my monkeys play "Jumps on the Bed".  Eldest Monkey Boy was a wriggly, jumpy little thing from the moment I felt him in my belly.  As a baby he was as strong as could be and he pushed himself onto his feet to bounce on our laps at a very young age.  Monkey Man started a game of Jumps on the Bed with him when he was a baby which has evolved and become their family ritual over 7 years. Littlest Monkey has enthusiastically joined in.    As soon as Monkey Man comes home from work he'll be commanded to participate in this game. They have a series of olympic moves which all take place on our bed. A little Monkey will shout out the move and they'll rush to perform it - "catches, surfboard, bridges, toilet, pet shops, plant, horses, trains, diving under the water".  There's lots of laughing and shouting and tickling and fun.  Until it ends in bumped heads or a fly off the bed or a kick in the belly and then of course there are tears!

My current read
9.  Reading.  I love a good book.  I've been an avid reader since I was a kid.  In my 20s I used to spend most of my holidays on the couch with my nose in a book.  So much for exercise! After having kids I felt too guilty to read - there was so much else I needed to do.  I didn't pick up a novel for a couple of years.  Fortunately, I'm over that now and read a novel in bed at night and the newspaper over breakfast and lunch.  I read all Monkey Man's present books before him.  In fact I'll read almost anything if I'm desperate ...  and I'll let you in on a guilty little secret - I even love to read (well it's not really reading more like ogling) the Ikea catalogue! 
My first success with a germinating seed

10.  Growing. The excitement of seeing a seed pop through and watching it develop into a lovely, juicy, edible thing. 


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leeks



The trick apparently with leeks is to keep chopping the tops off so that they put more energy into root development.  My dad used to work in a veggie nursery and he told me this is what they did.  Also, to keep mounding up the soil around the base so you get lots of white.  They are very slow growing but don't require much attention and I haven't noticed any pests or had any problems with growing mine in the past couple of years.  They don't take up much space and you can plant them quite close together.  I harvested most of mine last night for a delicious recipe.  I'm learning that I haven't been planting nearly enough of anything.  It seemed like I was planting stacks of snow pea seeds but there's really only enough for a couple in a stir fry at any time.  And it's the same with everything else.  I'm going to up my production.  More of everything from now on!  

Anyway, this recipe from Stephanie Alexanders' Kitchen Garden Companion is really good - although littlest monkey refused to even try them.  He did however eat a veggie sausage that he has resisted sampling for several months so one step forward!


Leek Fritters
•  about 2 cups of the white parts of the leeks, chopped
•  1 tbs olive oil
•  1/2 tsp salt
•  1/3 cup water
•  2 eggs
•  1 tbs chopped parsley
•  1 tbs chopped basil, dill or mint
•  100g soft cheese, crumbled (eg feta or cream cheese)
•  1 tbs plain flour
•  Salt & pepper
•  Olive oil for pan-frying
Chop leeks float them in cold water swishing about to release any dirt.  Dry on a clean tea towel.  Heat olive oil in a saucepan.  Tip in leeks, salt and water.  Cook covered over low heat for 5-8 mins until well softened and water has been absorbed.  Leave to cool.
Lightly whisk egg yolks with herbs..  Stir egg/herb mixture and cheese into leek mixture.  Sift over flour and mix through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Using a whisk or electric mixer, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into leek mixture with a metal spoon.  
Heat a non-stick fry pan over medium heat, brush with a little olive oil.  Fry tablespoons of leek mixture gently for 2 mins on each side.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Spring Finally?

Fig tree coming to life
We had one beautiful Spring day this week.  Sunny, blue skies top of 17.  Finally!  The rest of the week was back to gloom, cold and showery.  I shouldn't complain but this feels like the longest, coldest winter we've had.  I'm hanging out for blue skies.  Anyway, on the one nice day littlest monkey and I ate lunch outside.  He did some drawing while I pulled up a few weeds and Monkey Man was persuaded to dig up more bamboo!

My favourite flowers - irises are in bloom and brightening up the garden.
Plum tree in blossom


























I got excited about Spring and have started growing some veg and herbs from seed indoors for the first time this year.  In the last couple of weeks I've had success with tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, silverbeet, coriander, basil, chives and continental parsley.  I've also tried some eggplant and capsicum but absolutely nothing has happened.  I'm not sure if they got too dry or I haven't waited long enough?  One lesson I've learnt is that you should write the dates along with the names of what the seeds are when you plant them.  
Tommy Toe

The potatoes, broad beans, snow peas, silverbeet, leek, garlic, lettuce and herbs are all still growing happily in the garden.  I popped some spring onions in a planter box and despite a couple of cheeky birds having a great time scratching around immediately after, they have also emerged.

And during the week I made these savoury mini pies for the little monkeys' dinner.  Figured that bite size pieces are more appealing than bigger ones for kids.  And I was right - they polished off 21 in one sitting!  I made the recipe up, using some chives and silverbeet from the garden and ingredients from the kitchen -  just substitute with whatever you've got growing.  My mixture made 24 mini pies and 3 ordinary sized ones. 
Here's what I did...

Savoury Mini Pies
1 small onion, chopped very finely
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 silverbeet leaves, finely chopped
cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbs wholemeal SR flour
2 tbs pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup tasty cheese, grated
1 tbs chives, finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
oil spray for lining muffin tray

Cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, add the garlic and cook for about another minute.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs.  Mix in the flour until there are no lumps.  Mix in all the other vegetables and herbs except tomatoes.  Spray a mini muffin tray with oil and spoon in the mixture.  Push a cherry tomato cut side up so that it sits flat into each.  Cook in a moderate oven until golden and a skewer comes out clean (10-15 minutes).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Snail Zappers


I'm hoping these little snail zappers I made will save my newly planted seedlings this spring.  I cut up some plastic bottles and stuck this copper barrier tape around them.  Snails and slugs get a little electric shock from the copper.  You can stick or nail the tape around your entire veggie patches if you've got raised beds with a timber structure but that's not going to work in my garden.  I have tried it out around a few pots and it's working.  You can buy the tape from Diggers or Bunnings.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Five Things I Love About Silverbeet...

  1. It's EASY to grow.
  2. It grows all year round.
  3. You can pick a few leaves from the outside whenever you want and it'll keep growing.
  4. It's nutritious and high in iron.
  5. My kids will eat it when I chop it up finely and disguise it in their pasta sauces and fried rice!

A Couple of 10 Minute, Low Fat Meal Ideas Using Silverbeet

Hot Veggie Breakfast
1.  Hot Veggie Breakfast
This is a regular breakfast for me and keeps me full all morning.  Chop up a tomato, a couple of mushrooms, a leaf or two of silverbeet and cook it in a non stick fry pan with a touch of cooking spray.  In the same pan, fry up an egg and serve the lot on two pieces of toast.

2.  Veggie Toastie 
Finely chop some silverbeet along with some other finely chopped veggies or herbs of your choice eg spring onions, mushrooms, grated carrot, parsley etc.  Combine with crumbled feta.  Spread mixture on half of a flat bread.  Fold the other half over and cook in a sandwich press.

Noodle Broth
3. Noodle Broth
Saute some chopped veggies in veggie stock.  I used mushrooms, tomato, grated zucchini, broccoli, green beans.  At the same time, boil up some noodles (I used 50g of soba noodles here).  Mix the lot together.  I sometimes also serve this with a tablespoon of pine nuts or sesame seeds.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Indoor Plants - Not Just Aesthetics


Until about a year ago I only had one indoor plant.   Then I went round to a friend's place who had a couple of plants in every room and I realised how lovely and homely her place was.  Since then I've popped a few in my living room, kitchen and bathroom.  But I was reminded by Sustainable Gardening Australia of the benefits of indoor plants in their recent newsletter article -  Breathe Easy Indoors - The Benefits of Indoor Plants.

This is really worth a read.  Recent University of Technology Sydney research has found that indoor plants in a closed space with no ventilation can completely remove VOCs (volatile organic compounds) within 24 hours. 

So, yesterday I purchased a couple of new plants and put them in the bedrooms.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Father's Day Lemon Friands

Monkey Boys last year devouring the meagre baby carrot crop.
The plum tree's in blossom but I'm not feeling a spring in my step yet.  Last night was wild and windy.  The wind had blown off the copper snail guard on my terracotta pot and blown over my snow pea teepees.  I'm not sure the snow peas will survive but here's hoping.  One of the reasons I took up veggie gardening was the effect it had on my littlest, fussiest monkey.  He discovered that he loved snowpeas that he'd picked himself (before this he'd diligently pick off and discard anything green in his meal).  He also loved the two (yes TWO) baby carrots that I'd managed to grow last year after months of watering and tending.  I haven't attempted to grow baby carrots again but I do regularly buy them at the market and he'll happily munch on a couple with a selection of things for his lunch.  Now whenever he's outside I'll attempt to excite him with the latest growing discovery but he's getting harder to impress.  Last week he told me that the new shoots popping through in the indoor greenhouse were "bowing" (he's still having trouble pronouncing 'r' sounds).

Anyway, being Father's Day I thought I'd better give Monkey Man a day off from bamboo digging and cook a treat for him.   We're going to visit the relatives for dinner tonight and I'm contributing a veggie tart, roast beetroot and lemon friands.

Roast Beetroot
I finally dug up the remainder of the beetroot and baked them.  Disregarding all expert advice, I peeled them before baking and without wearing gloves.  Being gold and the usual coloured beetroot, I decided to cook them in separate pans in case the pink colour leeched everywhere.  I swished them about in some olive oil, salt and pepper, a couple of bay leaves and some cloves of crushed unpeeled garlic.  They cooked for about an hour.  I mixed them in a serving bowl, peeled the garlic and crushed it in with the oil and drizzled it over.  They look pretty good.

The lemon tree is still choc full and these lemon friands won't make a dent but I'll bring a bag for the relatives tonight.  These friands are quick and delicious - always a winner. Just make sure you grease the tins well because they can be tricky to dislodge at the end.

Lemon Friands
185g unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup plain flour
1 1/2 cups icing sugar (plus extra for dusting)
1 cup almond meal
6 egg whites
2 tsp lemon zest
extra icing sugar and shredded lemon rind for decoration

Preheat oven to 180ยบ.  Grease a 12 hole muffin pan (or friand pan if you have one). Sift flour and sugar into a bowl and stir in the almond meal, lemon rind and melted butter.
Place egg whites in a separate small bowl and beat with a fork until frothy.  Fold egg whites into almond mix until just combined - don't overmix. 
Fill each muffin hole until 2/3 full.
Bake for 20-25 mins until golden and a skewer comes out clean.
Remove from oven and leave in pan for 5 mins.  Turn onto a wire rack and when cool dust with extra icing sugar and lemon rind.
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