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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Melb Cup Weekend - Tomato Weekend

Newly dug into the patch tomato plant.
Melbourne Cup is the weekend Melbournians are told it's safe to plant out the tomatoes.  And all over the city and suburbs Melbournians are getting their gloves on and digging up the veggie patches.  Even through the rain.  So in keeping with tradition at my place in they went this morning.

This is the first time I've grown tomatoes from seed so I'm pretty pleased with myself.  I'm only growing tommy toe this year - not too much space after all the other veggies I've planned.  I dug some compost  through the bed (yes I know I should have done that a couple of weeks ago but hey I'm a "beginner gardener").  One thing I have learned is that tomato seedlings like to be planted in deep.  This makes them stronger and promotes root growth. 

Last year my neighbour came over to check out my tomatoes, pulled out my stakes and erected a big bamboo wall construction for the tomatoes.  This is the Calabrian way he told me - much better.  (He also removed the marigolds and other flowers I had growing in the patch - apparently flowers in veggie gardens aren't the Calabrian way!   But who's complaining after all the free seedlings, manure, advice and labour he gives us.)  I attempted to re-construct his wall this year - let's hope it doesn't blow down in a wind.
I love this time of year.  You know certain times bring back memories.  Before I had kids I would always celebrate Melb Cup weekend with friends at a relaxing barbie or some sort of function.  It was often the first weekend all year when we'd see the sun and know that summer holidays were on their way.  After I had kids though those BBQ invites dried up and the Melb Cup weekend corresponded with exam marking time for me.  Urgh!  Fortunately, I no longer mark exams and my social life has lifted a tad.  So this weekend I've got a couple of relaxing, fun social engagements, no work commitments and time to get my hands dirty in the garden.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Herbs

Dill growing in an old tin drum in our herb garden.
Before I started growing my own, I didn't often use herbs in my cooking.  Sure, I used dried herbs 'cos I have lots of them in the cupboard (a big disorganised mess of bottles in the pantry door and piled up on the shelf.  So messy that I often have trouble finding what I need.)  But fresh herbs are quite expensive to buy and if you get a bunch and don't use it all they go bad quickly.  Nothing better than having a herb garden at the back door.   And herbs don't just add colour and flavour to your meals - they're healthy.

NutriNic says: "Instead of adding salt or fat when cooking,  add flavour with herbs and spices.  Many herbs contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  Gram for gram, parsley has twice as much vitamin C as an orange.  Remember though we usually eat smaller amounts of parsley compared to an orange.  Incorporating plenty of fresh herbs in your cooking will help give your meals an added nutritional boost."


Now I successfully sneak herbs into the kids' meals often.  Although, if I don't chop them finely enough, Littlest Monkey will often pick off the green bits.

Some herbs I'm yet to have any success with - coriander (which I do love but always manage to kill).  And some like mint and sage and thyme are just always growing happily in my garden despite being neglected most of the time.

So this week I made a quick and simple recipe using herbs.   I used chives and parsley because I've got lots of these growing at the moment and I think they go nicely with egg but other herbs could work just as well I think.

Herb & Goats Cheese Omelette
  • 4 eggs
  • milk
  • oil for cooking
  • chopped chives and parsley
  • goats cheese
  • salt & pepper
Beat eggs with a splash of milk in a bowl.  Add the chives saving some for garnish.  Heat oil in a frypan and add egg and chive mixture.  Cook omelette on one side then turn.  While the other side is cooking, crumble over goats cheese and the rest of chopped chives along with chopped parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  Tastes good accompanied with a tomato salad.   My kids weren't too keen on the goats cheese I think next time I'll use cream cheese for them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chicken Update

Chicken coop to go here.
Monkey Man finished digging up all the bamboo for me (phew!) so there is now a place for the chicken coop to go.  We've still got a massive pile of bamboo rubble under the plum tree in the middle of the yard which he thinks he's going to chop up for firewood - but I think he's dreaming.  I've given him a rest for a few weeks before starting on the building of the coop because we won't need it straight away.  After quite a bit of considering and faffing around on the internet, I've decided to have a go at hatching some fertile eggs.  Now, given that I am a complete novice this could all end in disaster but I'm keen to give it a go.  I'm hoping it'll be a great, fun, learning experience for us - especially the kids.  Also, these chickens are mostly going to be our pets (with added perks like providing manure, bug control and eggs) so it's nice to have them right from the start I think.   

I was initially planning to hire an incubator but that surprisingly works out to be more expensive than buying one (if you're fussy about the breed of chickens you want).   I ended up getting one from ebay for $118.   I figured that we can later loan it to others who may want to have a go as well.  If you are thinking about doing this yourself of course you need to keep in mind that you'll get a fair share of roosters.  You need to have a plan for what to do with them.   Local council laws are different everywhere but in ours we're not allowed to keep them.   I'm hoping we won't get too attached to the boys because they're going to our neighbour's family who have a farm.  I've ordered some fertile eggs from Sharni at http://www.shrimanifarm.com/ who has been very helpful with her advice and prompt with responses.  We've got a week or so to wait for the eggs to be laid but fingers crossed they'll be posted out soon.

Updates to follow.
Now - what do I do with these bits?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Littlest Monkey and Snow Peas

Littlest Monkey picking snow peas for lunch.
Snow peas with black sesame seeds and a salad roll up.
My snow peas are just about coming to an end.  Little Monkey Boy loves snow peas which is a relief because it is tricky trying to find vegetables he won't turn his nose up at.  This week he picked some for his lunch.  I convinced him to try something new.  I cooked them quickly in a little olive oil and with some black sesame seeds I'd bought for a bargain a couple of months ago in Footscray.  Then I added a splash of tamari at the end.  When he saw them he started whining.  Fortunately, I tricked him into trying one by asking if I could have a taste  because they look so delicious and those black sesame seeds look just like ants etc, etc.  When he tasted one his face broke into a surprised smile and he said "they taste like unhealthy food!" He then started yum, yumming his way through the plate.  Hmmm it's clear I'm doing something wrong - Little Monkey associates yummy food with unhealthy food!


And introducing...
NutriNic - My sister the dietitian.
She has been coerced into making an occasional comment on my blog.  So thanks sis!  It's handy having health professionals in the family.  Her husband is a dentist so I make sure I corner both of them at family functions for free professional advice on all things food and teeth!  Strangely, the professional expertise of Monkey Man and myself are rarely called on in the same way.  Not much demand for the opinions of a drama teacher and musician! 

 NutriNic says about snow peas...
"Snow peas contain many of the B Group vitamins and Vit C. These nutritents can be lost in boiling so to get the most from your snow peas enjoy them raw, steamed or quickly stir-fried."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Using those Preserved Lemons

I tried preserving lemons for the first time a few months ago.  I'm a complete novice at preserving anything.  Not only that but I don't recall having eaten preserved lemons before.  So it was with trepidation that I opened the bottle to see what was going on two months later.  Because it is all so new I'm not sure if they're right but hey what's the worst thing that could happen - food poisoning?!  Anyway, I've taken a risk serving this one up to the family.  Littlest Monkey is sure to dislike it.  He turns his nose up at most meals and he doesn't even like raisins.  Monkey Man will eat anything ("food is fuel") and particularly likes sugar, but sweet things in a main course he's not keen on.  He claims to be unfussy but he doesn't like sweet vegetables (pumpkin, carrot, corn).  Weird.  Well, he'll probably eat it but he won't like it.  My only hope is Eldest Monkey Boy who will try most things and does like raisins and couscous but not pumpkin unless it's in a soup. 

The recipe was suggested to me by my friend Janet who is a fantastic cook.  I adapted quantities and such to suit my family's taste and what I had in the cupboard.  I used a red onion because it's flavour is milder and none of the monkeys like onion.  The smell of couscous that has been cooked with a stick of cinnamon is fantastic.  I usually only cook couscous where you put it in a bowl, add hot water, cover and leave but I will definitely be doing it this way again.  I had some couscous recommended by the Greek woman in the deli.  It is a large, sour Greek couscous.  So the recipe is a mix mash in it's origin but here goes.

Pumpkin, Couscous and Preserved Lemon
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 500g (approx) diced pumpkin
  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups couscous
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to moderate.  Toss diced pumpkin with a tbs oil, sprinkle with salt to taste and roast in a single layer in the oven until golden.
Chop the flesh from the lemon and chop the peel into small pieces.  Put the flesh into a sieve over a bowl and press with the back of a spoon to extract juice.
Cook onion in 1 tbs oil until golden.  Add to pumpkin.
Cook couscous with cinnamon stick in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender and drain.  Add couscous to vegetables, toss with 2 tbs oil to coat.  Add lemon peel and juice, parsley, nuts, raisins, ground cinnamon and salt to taste.  Toss to mix well.  Serve at room temperature.

Postscript:  As predicted Littlest Monkey ate a couple of pine nuts but not much more, Eldest Monkey Boy ate a mouthful and said he didn't like it.  Monkey Man was at work and missed dinner.  But my friend popped round during the day and had a taste and she said it was great ( I don't think she was just being polite) and our babysitter said it was delicious and took some leftovers for tomorrow.  I reckon it was pretty good too but maybe not for kid palates.  It'd be a great side dish to have when entertaining.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Things that have been Munched.

Something has been munching my passionfruit vine.
Sometimes I only notice the things going wrong in the garden.  Despite having a work free day and it being a glorious, sunny morning, I've woken in a bit of a snip!  My lemongrass went brown almost as soon as it was planted months ago and it hasn't bothered me too much - until this morning.  And that's because I noticed the coriander seedlings had disappeared overnight and all that was left was the silver of a snail trail.  And my attention turned immediately to the nearby passionfruit vines that have been languishing for weeks.  I don't know what's going wrong with them.  Clearly something has been having a good old munch.  One vine has completely yellowed and the leaves are all dead.  There is still green in the stems but I don't hold out much hope.  I've been nurturing these vines for two years and I am so disappointed.  I gave them a good feed of seasol a couple of weeks ago but it hasn't helped.  I just hope I don't lose the other two vines which are also looking unwell. 
Lemongrass

Passionfruit
I gave the veggies a good water and fortunately was distracted from the garden failures by the wisteria which is currently a mass of gorgeous blue and lilac and white flowers.  A month or so ago I was stressing out about the wisteria and the damage it was causing the back fence.   Wielding a saw I came storming into the house and warned Monkey Man that it was the wisteria or the fence - something had to go.  (Must've woken in a snip that morning too!)  Monkey Man persuaded me to leave it be and that he was keeping it under control.  His idea of control is to snip a twig that dangles too close to the compost every now and then.  Anyway, I took a few deep breaths and tried not to worry about it.  Today it is looking magnificent and if I just admire the beauty of the flowers I am less distracted by the problems beneath.   I can barely see the poor, struggling fence wobbling under the weight of wisteria with nails popping from the vines that have been worming their way through the palings and are growing fatter by the minute.
Wisteria

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Getting Organised - Menu Planning

I can't believe it's taken me so long to learn the simple trick of planning a weekly menu.  I'm 41 years old and I've only just started doing it this year.  Menu planning really has saved so much time, stress and food waste for our family.  If you're not already doing it let me try to convince you.

A Weekly Menu Plan:
  • Saves time - only half an hour or so a week looking through your cookbooks wondering what to make and no extra trips to the shops.
  • Saves money & there's less food waste and less trips to the closer, expensive shops to pick up one or two things.
  • Less stress - no more last minute peering into the fridge and wondering what to cook with kids whining at your feet.
  • Helps use the produce in the garden - makes an opportunity to plan to cook recipes with things you are growing.
  • Encourages trying out new recipes.
Every Wednesday is my menu planning night.  I prop myself in front of the TV with two cookbooks.  Each week I choose two different  cookbooks to look through.  In my little black book (yes I have a little black book where I write weekly to do lists and and goals and plans and stuff) I write the days of the week and record an evening meal and the page and book it's from and as I'm doing it I write a shopping list.  In the morning we head off to the Queen Victoria market armed with my list.  Now it often happens that when I get to the day I can't be bothered making what I'd planned but that's fine - I just swap it for another day or do something completely different.  Either way I know I've always got the ingredients on hand and it saves so much head space. 

This all sounds so simple and I'm probably preaching to the converted but really it's been a complete revelation to me!

So this week what's on my weekly menu plan?  A couscous and pumpkin recipe using the preserved lemons from the garden I made a few months ago.  I'll post later to see how it goes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Road Trip to Broken Hill

Patterson's Curse or Salvation JaneAn invasive plant but I reckon it looks beautiful.
Just returned from a holiday to Broken Hill.  The four of us managed to drive there in our bomb of a car (2 door hatchback done 360,000km).  The journey is 825 km phew!

View Larger Map

Surprisingly, the little monkeys survived the road trip pretty well.  We only had a couple of feral moments and that was mostly on the last 30 minutes of the return trip after a lot of sugar.  On reflection, I might've had just a touch too much sugar myself.
Sturt's Desert Pea
The drought has broken, locals told us they'd had more rain than they can remember in a decade and the desert has burst into spring bloom.  There were wildflowers everywhere which looked beautiful.  Our hosts were a tad disappointed they couldn't show us the usual dry, red images of the desert.  Even Mundi Mundi Plains were greener than they can remember.
Little Monkeys on the green Mundi Mundi Plains
We were spoilt by our hosts who served up vegetarian feasts for every meal.  I didn't do much cooking but one night contributed this simple, little side dish of beans using some mint from the garden.   I don't have measurements - just use instinct you can't really go wrong with this one.

Green Beans with Feta
green beans (topped and tailed)
feta cheese (or another soft cheese eg goats, cream)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Steam or boil the beans until cooked.  Then leave to cool.
Make a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Drizzle over the beans.  Crumble the cheese over the top and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve at room temperature.
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