Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Another Winter Whine

I've tried pretty hard to embrace my inner winter but I've run out of goodwill for the season. I reckon Golden Girl might have the right idea - she's been snuggled up in her nesting box since the first sign of cold.  After my post on the first day of winter when I exhausted myself enthusing five things to love about this season, I've had to disqualify myself from Hazel's Winter Wednesday postings. I haven't been able to think of anything worth blogging about on a Winter Wednesday. And lots of those things I blogged about loving on the first day are starting to irritate me now. I lost those gorgeous gloves after one too many wines out with the girls. Eldest Monkey Boy kept fighting me for the fuzzy sheepskin on the comfy chair. The fireplace got damaged and lost a big chunk from it's back and now whenever it's lit, I think of another household job to do, the money we'll have to spend repairing it and the health hazard we're creating by letting smoke escape into the monkey boys' room.

For the past few weeks I've been racking my brain so that Hazel doesn't think I'm a complete dud. I even dedicated an entire week's worth of drama classes to celebrating the Winter Solstice and the kiddies and I did lots of imaginative winter stuff re-creating ancient rituals to bring back the sun and wrapping ourselves in black sheets creeping around to new age music being the evil darkness (yep I do get paid for this!). But it didn't make me feel much better. Sure it won't get any darker any earlier or lighter any later now but the Winter Solstice doesn't actually signify the middle of winter... there's still loads more to go and July is surely the coldest month of our year.

But yesterday while I was sitting in the backyard I did manage to find a couple of things to cheer me up amongst the weeds.
This wee crimson flower that caught my eye on the broad bean plants. I think I've turned into a bit of a nana - little things like that excite me. I'm so glad I planted a combination of white and crimson flowered broad beans - beautiful. And because this is pretty much the first year I've attempted to grow edibles over winter and because I now have chooks to tend to outside, I've noticed a lot more about my garden at this time of the year. Last week I told you the discovery I made about parts of the garden that don't even receive a ray of sunshine at the moment. Like the herb patch - which last year also housed my garlic. No wonder the garlic did so poorly. I've also discovered that one of my other patches just isn't getting anywhere near enough sun at the moment. And the snow pea seeds I've attempted are not even making a showing. The few that popped their heads up before the sun got this low have been completely chomped by snails. So in the future I really ought to just plan a rest for a couple of my patches over winter and concentrate on the back patches near the chook run. I wonder if there's a green manure crop for winter spots that don't receive much sun?

But because winter in my garden is all about the bottom end, I've been prettying it up a bit down there. I've put to use some of the bits that have been hanging about and recycling them as pot plants. I popped some pansies in this old paint tin.
And into this leaky old watering can.
And this broken thingy my mum gave me years ago.
 And I'm figuring that waxing lyrical about a couple of flowers that are colouring my winter is enough to give Hazel the impression that I'm actually a really positive, earth-mother type who can see the good in everything.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Look What I've Grown in the Kitchen

This blog is supposed to be about things I'm growing in the garden and using in the kitchen.  But there is NOTHING HAPPENING out there! Sorry for shouting, but it's winter and I have planted things - broad beans, bok choy, spinach, leek... lots of stuff that's being eaten by snails and growing at a snail's pace. The only things I've been picking to cook are the occasional silverbeet leaf, rosemary for my roast veggies and lemons that get squeezed into Monkey Man's cup of tea. And I need to have something up my sleeve to blog about later - there's still lots of winter to go - 69 days and 23 hours according to my sidebar counter.

So I thought you wouldn't mind too much if I blogged about something very exciting that I've been growing in my kitchen (aside from the mouldy veggies and fruit in my crisper - tsk tsk). What I have been growing in the kitchen is so alive that the professionals call it a "mother".  Yep I've been making a sourdough starter.

I realised that I'd already come to think of it as a living thing when I was letting my dough rise last night. I'd propped it in a very obvious spot on the floor in front of the fire. Some would say that was a rather silly spot to put a dough but we all knew it was there. You should have heard me squawk when Monkey Man inadvertently plonked his heel on it while simultaneously tossing another log on the fire. I yelped louder than if he'd stomped on my own little toe and jumped up faster than I've been known to move after 8pm on a cosy winter's night. Fortunately, I did have a moment of self-awareness as I sat patting and cooing over my poor loaf of bread and sending Monkey Man daggers and realised that I was slightly over-reacting and decided to pull my head in.

I'd been thinking about making sourdough for a month or so now and coincidentally lots of blogs I read started to tempt me with their sourdough and bread-making stories. I do love to check out what Christine from Slow Living Essentials has been doing. She recently posted about her sourdough and whenever I read her I see the picture of that woodfire oven in her garden which is another thing I've been tempted to tackle. My friend Jo and I have been talking about wood-fired ovens. She's planning one and reckons that when she fires it up she's going to hoist a flag in her back yard which will be a signal for all the neighbours to come on over and pop their own breads or pizzas in her oven if they feel so inclined.  What a lovely idea. Unfortunately, we don't live within flag-sight of her place so I think I might just be wanting to make my own. Rather, what will probably happen is that I will order Monkey Man about and he will make me one under my strict supervision and bossing about.  In retrospect I might need to put that one on hold 'til I've finished bossing him about to plaster and paint and hammer on skirting boards and clean up the mess on his desk. (Hmm not sure I'm painting a very nice picture of myself in this post. I bet you're all feeling really sorry for Monkey Man and wondering how on earth he puts up with me - aren't you!)

But back to the sourdough. I've been feeding a container daily with a bit of pineapple juice and flour for 7 days and now have a tangy, beige splotch of stuff called the "mother". As I may have mentioned once or twice I'm a bit of a googler and love to research before starting up a project. A very informative and detailed sourdough making website I found was Sourdough Baker which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested. I followed their instructions to the letter. If nothing else, thirteen years of Catholic education has instilled in me a very strong talent for rigidly following instructions. The Sourdough Baker advised me to test my mother out on some semi-leavened loaves with a wee bit of added yeast. And that's what I did yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn't start my bread-making 'til 2.30pm, not quite realising that sourdough is a much longer process than normal bread making. So I ended up pulling this loaf out of the oven at 12.30am. Of course, the smell of hot bread was too hard to resist and I had a teeny midnight snack so the crusty end bit is missing from the bread in this photo... but check out what I made!
Very pleased with myself. And feeling only a little guilty that I skipped my 6am yoga class 'cos I went to bed too late and it is too cold and dark and miserable to get up that early when you've been baking bread and eating it only five hours earlier.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lots of Eggs

Who said silkies were bad layers and produced teeny, tiny eggs and were really just ornamental, fuzzy pets?  My silkies are all now laying. It's true the first egg I discovered was a weeny one but they're now all about 5cm long which is a fine size for me. And unlike some blogging friends whose chickens have stopped laying over winter, mine are still going strong.  I'm usually getting four eggs a day from the five chooks.  Golden Girl laid for a couple of weeks and then went broody.  Apparently, this is very common for silkies. I am a bit worried that she will wither away to nothing. She just sits in the nesting box all day and night. So a couple of times a day I pick her up and prop her in front of the feeder. She has a bit of a peck about and then goes back to her empty nest. Poor thing.

Even though it's winter (yay, enthusiastic clapping and smiling through gritted teeth), I'm rugging up and occasionally sitting out the back just to watch their antics. They're very tame now. They come running when they see me and squat, bellies on the ground to get a pat. I know it's because they love me - not because I come bearing edible treats.

Littlest Monkey has the job of locking them up at the end of the day. Last night they must have been having a late night peck round the back of the trampoline because they accidentally got locked out of their coop all night. They were pretty cranky this morning when I opened the door to let them in. They clucked at me crossly and went running to their feed tray. Except Golden Girl - who had been sitting warm and I presume happy in her nest all night.

So I thought today I'd share a recipe I made with some of the eggs I've collected. A simple Sunday night dinner - Spanish omelette. It was happily consumed by two of the biggest Monkeys but Littlest Monkey unfortunately went on strike when he sighted the dinner offerings. Unluckily for him I can be rather stubborn myself and I refused to provide him with anything else. So he went to bed on a cup of milk.

Potato Omelette
• 9 small eggs, beaten
• 3 potatoes, cubed
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/2 red capsicum, chopped finely
• 2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
• chopped parsley for garnish

In an ovenproof frypan, cook the onion, garlic and potato in the oil on a moderate heat until golden. Add the capsicum and the beaten eggs. Gently sliding the veggies about until the egg mixture gets to the bottom of the pan. Pop on the lid, turn the heat to very low and cook until firm. Sprinkle the grated parmesan on top and put under the grill. Cook until golden and firm on top. Sprinkle with the parsley.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Happier herb
I was quite industrious in the garden on the weekend. I decided the herb garden was looking scraggly and needed a good clean up. So I moved all the pots about and hung a few of them on the fence and weeded the ground. Then I paid a visit to my favourite big barn Bunnings (where I always get tempted to buy things I ought to grow from seed myself) and got a few seedlings. I spent a little while looking at a whopping big greenhouse which I was tempted by as well. Fortunately, there is absolutely nowhere in my yard where a greenhouse would currently fit. Then I was eyeing off the seed potatoes when a lovely Bunnings man quietly advised me not to waste my money. He told me all about how his family used to do it (more on potatoes in a future post). We started chatting about blogs and how he was thinking of setting up a blog once he retired from Bunnings. The next thing we were exchanging emails and I was promising to follow his potato instructions and send him a link to this blog and I think he was dreaming of retirement, his new ventures into blog world and fixing motor mowers.

Anyway, I tidied up the herb patch and spent most of Monday admiring the new view from the back window. But then I noticed that I wasn't seeing any sun in that herb patch.  None at all. For the entire day. I consulted with Monkey Man (he who knows all about the seasons and sun and just how far the sun extends into the garden at what time of day and what time of year) and I was informed that the herb garden receives no sun during the depths of winter. Not a bit. You'd think I'd have noticed this in the past - I have lived here for almost nine years now, but this was news to me!

This new information caused me to get into a bit of a flap. Why did I just waste my time (and money) cleaning up the herbs and sorting them onto the fence and planting new parsley seedlings and coriander and such if they were going to be sitting in the shade for another six weeks? The only solution was to re-locate them to way up the back along the chook run for winter.

So I did. Once I finished that, I persuaded Monkey Man and a visiting friend to break their backs and move the old laundry trough up the back too. I have plans to grow some veggies in this trough. Once that was finished I was sitting on the slide admiring my handywork when it occurred to me that the peeling paint on that laundry trough was likely to be lead paint. And now it was peeling flakes into my veggie patch. Right near the chook run. This induced another more intense flapping about on my part.

I have been in a lead-poisoning flap before. A few years ago I noticed all of our internal doors were chipping away and desperately needing some attention. But then I realised that they hadn't been painted in many years and that they were most likely covered in lead-based paint. The worst thing to do when you're a bit of a worrier and discover something to worry about is to google it. So that's what I did. By the end of that hour I had convinced myself the whole family was about to die of lead poisoning. I eventually got over that one, painted the doors and haven't worried about a possible lead death. Until now.

Now I have a perfect view from my back window of the herb garden re-located to an inconvenient spot but at least bathed in sunlight. But what I really see first thing as I open my curtains is a flaky, old laundry trough smack bang in the middle of my garden. Just waiting for a bit of rain to come along and wash away a few more flakes of lead and poison my soil, or a gust of wind to come and blow some dust up my nose and poison me and my chooks and my monkeys. Oh dear. I'm going to have to don the mask and scraper and scrape it all off today before I worry myself into an early grave. I'll try not to remember all those dire warnings I googled a few years back about lead dust getting up your nose and fingernails and in your hair and clothes... I'm consoling myself with the memory I'm sure is mine, of a baby standing up and chewing the timber of the cot. There must be thousands of babies born in the late sixties and earlier who chewed the lead paint off their cot. And we haven't all died yet.

Now before you comment today, bear in mind that I am an anxious, worrying kind of person (if it hadn't already occurred to you). And I have already worked myself up into a bit of a state over this one. Consoling, re-assuring comments about how lead-based paint poisoning is all an urban myth, or that there is new medication out now, or that the paint in the picture surely doesn't look like lead and other such comments will all be gratefully received.
Offending laundry trough

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What You Doin' in my Backyard?

My winter veggies are going dreadfully.

I'm sure I planted a bezillion seeds. They certainly took all the upstairs window space and quite a bit of the floor space along the glass doors a few months ago. Monkey Man teaches up there and he commented that it was looking like a plant nursery. I think it was providing a welcome visual relief for those poor kids who must have been going cock-eyed looking at little notes as they blow and tongue their way through Saxophone Solos for Beginners. Anyway, I reckon a third of those seeds failed to germinate and then as soon as I popped the successful ones in the ground they were munched.  I still seem to have white cabbage moth caterpillars even though it's bloody cold and I haven't seen a moth for ages. They've certainly left a lot of babies about to pester me.
Not only are they being munched by caterpillars, but Puff or Fluff keeps escaping the flimsy wire barrier I've erected between chook and veggies. No-one to blame there but me. She has a lovely time stomping on my garlic and munching on the silverbeet seedlings. And provides me with thrice daily treks out to the cold to retrieve her and plonk her back where she belongs. Not that I'm complaining about the cold mind you! Oh no... remember I love winter. Despite losing my arm warmers on Friday night after one too many wines out with some girlfriends I just looove winter. Oh yeah, I'm happy as can be and savouring every one of the 83 days left in the season.

If those garden pests aren't enough to thwart my winter growing , the other day we came home to a goat in the yard! Now I know some of you country folk live with goats and that's all fine and dandy for you but I live in the city. Well not quite - 9km from the CBD. So it was a bit of a shock to find a goat checking out the chooks when we stepped in the back gate. I'm blaming him for eating the one kale plant that was doing well.
Our neighbour Mr. P keeps a couple of goats on the vacant lot between us and we discovered they had been industriously working during the day on their escape plan to our greener pastures and had knocked out a couple of the fence palings. 

The goat adventure did provide a fun distraction for the monkey boys though. They immediately donned weapons (cardboard roll and water sprayer) - and started a star wars goat battle, on lookout for the goat enemy through the gap in the fence. The pacifist in me has had absolutely no influence deterring the war games at my place.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Soup and Savoury Scone

I've mentioned before that I love a good soup. And my monkeys do too. Except Monkey Man. To him food is fuel, but soup is not fuel enough. He won't complain if I dish it up mind you - I just know he's not that happy. Despite this, I've been serving up a bowl of soup for the family twice a week this winter. Mostly, because I know littlest monkey will eat it. He's such a fussy thing. In a meal he'll pick off all the green veggies no matter how small I cut them. Actually, he'll pick off the red, yellow and white veggies too. But soup he'll eat if it's blended and served with bread. My rule is he has to dip each mouthful of bread into the soup. And if he wants more bread he has to eat three big mouthfuls of the soup on its own before he gets it. Nothing like making a whole bunch of rules at mealtime for an enjoyable dining experience!

Anyway, I'm soup crazy at the moment. And I do like to make my Monkey Man happy too so I've been trying to cook bread with it to make a more substantial meal. All the monkeys make yum-yum noises when it's bread hot from the oven for dinner. Lately though, I've been too busy or disorganised to make bread as well as soup. But I've come up with an alternative. The savoury scone. A savoury scone only takes a few minutes to make and a few minutes to cook. It requires no sitting about waiting for a rise and it tastes delicious with bread. Now I'm no scone-maker. I've never even made real scones before but I've googled about and experimented with the savoury scone and come up with something that's easy, tastes good and is made from stuff you've already got - there's no way I'm heading to the shop for a tub of cream that I'll only use a tablespoon of. This scone is made with whatever herbs take your fancy from the garden and whatever cheese you have in the fridge. It's cooked like a big loaf of bread not cut into individual scone bits. A guaranteed winner with soup. Here 'tis.

Savoury Scone
• 2 cups self raising flour
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 cup milk
• handful of herbs finely chopped
• 1 cup grated cheese

Mix the flour and salt together with the butter using your fingers to make a crumbly mixture.  Combine with the herbs and cheese.  Add the milk to make a soft sticky dough.  Knead it for a teeny bit. Put some baking paper on a tray and flatten the dough onto it. Squish it until it's about 2 1/2 cm thick. Using a knife make indents in the dough where you'll cut it when cooked.  (This step isn't necessary but it makes it easier at the table and looks nicer I reckon). Brush the dough with a little extra milk. Cook in a moderate oven for approx 25 minutes or until cooked through the middle.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Got Plans this Weekend?

Who'll be joining me?
National Day of Action, Sunday June 5.
Family friendly rallies across Australia.
Go to GetUp for all the details in your state

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Five Things to Love About Winter

Who's whining about winter? Oh no, not me. I've turned over a new leaf!

It's true to say that in the past (actually immediate past - only just last week) I have been heard to whinge about the cold and the wet and about how much I don't like this season and when will it be warm again and bring on spring etc, etc ...
Well I've decided to change my attitude. It was Hazel who put the thought into my head. She's had a countdown to winter banner on her blog and every time I opened it I'd groan a little. And I was also a little shocked. There are people out there who actually like winter! What's there to like about winter? And that got me thinking.

I wasn't always an anti-winter person. It snuck up on me when I had kids. My first monkey was born on the last day of autumn and that winter completely went by in a blur. I have a photo of me all rugged up taking the new baby monkey for a walk down the street. I remember it well 'cos it was one of the first outings I'd done by myself with him. I love that photo. See how warm and happy and tired I look.

It was the following year that caused the trouble. Eldest Monkey Boy is an actual monkey. He climbs the walls.
When he was a toddler I needed to take him outside every day and let him run about or he would drive me up the wall. Standing in the park every day in the drizzle and cold pushing monkeys on a swing is not much fun. And trying to think up things to do with a very active pre-schooler, who doesn't like crafty stuff over winter is rather draining. And I think that's how I developed my dislike for this season.

Now Melbourne doesn't even have a proper winter compared to some places you readers are coming from. Today, on our first day of winter we're heading for a top temperature of 19ºC. In some parts of the world you'd be stripping off to your singlet the day the temperature reached 19º.

Embrace all the seasons, Hazel admonished. So I'm giving it a go. I've put on my thinking cap and here are my top 5 things in favour of winter.

1.  Winter Veggies
This will be the first year that I have had lots of veggies growing in winter.  I've got kale, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, bok choy, brussell sprouts, silverbeet, snow peas, broad beans, garlic, onion and lettuce on the go now and more stuff planned.

2.  Pincushion Hakea
There aren't a lot of flowers out in my garden over winter but this one is and it's a favourite. This is a great screening plant and it's fast growing. It attracts the birds and is right outside the window so I can get a good look at it but still stay warm.

3. My new arm warmers
These are made by a woman in my yoga class and I've grown to love them. They are really warm and made from recycled jumpers.  Cool eh? She also makes tummy warmers and I'm thinking my belly needs one - that'd definitely stop my whining outside this winter. Link here if you want to see more.

4. Guilt Free Lazy Nights
It's definitely too cold to do anything after 8.00pm over winter. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Here's my favourite spot on a cold winter's night. Lazing by the fire with a book, ipad or TV. Also check out my matching purple favourite winter footwear in this snap.

5. Soup
I love soup. Never tire of it. It's a terrific meal for lunch or dinner. My monkeys will happily consume bucket loads of veggies when it's mushed up in a soup and served with bread. Soup is easy to make, it's low-fat (well, can be), it freezes well and you can pop it in the fridge for the next day and it'll taste even better. So to help you all embrace the seasons too, I've included one of my favourite soup recipes below. Apologies I would have put up a photo of the soup but my peppers are still sweating.

Bring on winter. And if you're reading this on the other side of the planet and are about to launch into summer - don't come boasting to me.

Roasted Red Capsicum Soup
• 5 red capsicums
• 1 red onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tins tomatoes
• 1 litre veggie stock
• 1 tsp olive oil

Roast the capsicums in the oven until the skins have blackened. Take them out, pop them in a plastic or paper bag and let them sweat. When they have cooled completely, peel off the skins and de-seed them. Cook the onion and garlic in a pot with the olive oil. Put the onion, garlic, tomatoes and capsicum into a food processor and whizz until smooth.  Return to the pot along with the veggie stock. Stir until warm.
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