Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grow your Own

I've discovered a stall at the Queen Vic market that sells mushrooms. Not just your average mushroom but all sorts of exotic mushrooms at very reasonable prices. I nearly did a little dance when I saw it because I am mushroom mad. I credit my friend Jo for the mushroom stall discovery. Jo of the "hoist a flag pizza oven" fame. I met her for a cuppa at the market last week and she put the idea in my head that I ought to expand my market experience and venture up aisle B. I only ever do aisle A. I'm a creature of habit. Monkey Man has been doing the weekly market shop for 18 years. And he's always only ever done aisle A. So I've followed his lead. He reckons aisle A is the cheapest. Makes sense to me - right on the end, less people go that far. Anyway, that's what I do. A quick waltz down aisle A with my trolley, duck over to my favourite deli and back up the street way to avoid oncoming shopping trolleys to the car. Until now. Now I go back up aisle B to stop at the mushroom stall and see what's on offer.

Yep, I love them. In fact, I have them most mornings on a bit of toast with spinach or tomato or egg and herbs. There was a time when I had to give up mushrooms for a few days and it was torture. Actually, I didn't have to give them up. I had been convinced by the crackpot in the local health food shop and google that the slight whiteness on my tongue was an internal fungal disease that was causing all sorts of problems to me but that could be cured. If I gave up mushrooms (fungus - see the connection) and spent a small fortune on herbal pills and liquids and concoctions in his shop. My sister the nutritionist did attempt to advise me that what I was doing was nonsense and had no scientific basis. Actually, I can't remember her exact words, she was certainly diplomatic. But her advice was not what I wanted to hear at the time. The "health" food shop had seduced me with assurances that my life was about to change dramatically. My eyes would sparkle, my stomach would thank me, my tongue would redden and I would certainly be a whole lot happier. So being the impressionable type, I did what I was told. Every morning one hour before eating I'd hold my nose and resist the urge to gag as I swallowed my pills and medicines. Then I'd jump into the shower, scrub myself with peppermint castille soap and at breakfast forgo my usual mushrooms for a porridge of seeds.

Until day 5 after forcing down the required concoction I vomited. And then felt dizzy and vomited again and had a roaring headache and took myself to bed for the rest of the day.

A few days later I took myself to the GP. Fortunately not the same doctor who I'd fronted a few years earlier after discovering a lump under my armpit. I discovered the lump on the drive home from my mum. Not sure what I was doing prodding about under my armpit while driving but by the end of the journey I'd convinced myself that I was dying of cancer.

Turned out to be a pimple.

Anyway, I fronted a different doctor and poked out my tongue.
"Look at my tongue. It's white."
The doctor looked at me patiently.
"Isn't that some kind of fungus?" I asked.
"It looks like there's a bit of a white casing on your tongue." He replied.
"But isn't that bad? Shouldn't I do something about that?"
After asking me about all my other symptoms (none), he sent me home.
A wee bit embarrassed.

But home to a bagful of mushrooms. Which I've been happily consuming ever since.

So back to that mushroom stall in aisle B. Not only do they sell a whole bunch of different sorts of mushrooms, but they also sell grow your own mushies. I have thought of trying to grow my own in the past but it always seems more expensive and more bother than picking up a bag at the market. But these grow your owns were only $6. And they are oyster mushrooms. If I can remember to water these mushrooms (and I've already forgotten twice) I'll be very happy.

The handwritten instructions on the sign at the stall were not very comprehensive but I quizzed the stall owner and think I'm doing it right. Spray twice a day, lie the pack on its side in a dark spot inside somewhere and chop them off when they grow and you're ready to eat. They claim they'll produce for 3-4 months. Yummo.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grey and Drizzly but...

Oh yeah, I'm counting the days to spring. The chooks however, don't seem to notice the weather. They've been standing about in the rain and then rolling around in the mud. Fluff doesn't look so fluffy lately. It never seems to occur to them that there's a specially made chook shed with a roof for sheltering in. But as I've said before, silkies are not the brightest of creatures.

I'd been warned that silkies were broody chooks but I'm just starting to realise how frustrating that can be. Golden Girl was broody for weeks. She finally got over it and a couple of days later Puff and Beverly decided to play at mum and they've been sharing a box for days now. I even caught that naughty Puff rolling a freshly laid egg from the other nesting box into hers so she can sit on it. I've not been doing anything much to discourage them. Every time I'm out there I remove them and pop them on the grass but a few minutes later they're back cuddling up together in their nest. I know there are strategies to stop this but I think I'll just let things take their course. Unless it drives me completely bonkers. Which it possibly will.

But despite the grey, drizzly weather my spirits were lifted a little on the weekend when I noticed this.
Almond tree in blossom
The almond trees on the nature strip are starting to blossom. That is a sure sign that spring is on its way. Yippee.

So, in anticipation I've been pouring over my Diggers' catalogue wondering just what I'll be planting and where I'll squeeze it. My problem in the past has been that I haven't planted anywhere near enough seeds and so I've ended up with just one or two capsicums for example. Also, I think I planted some things too late so they didn't get enough warmth to ripen (capsicum again). Some of my problem is I think that I need more space than I actually do. I end up with gaps everywhere in my beds and very often I haven't planted enough of what I want. I reckon I'm going to start ignoring those recommendations about planting distances and squish everything in a bit closer. Lots of my seedlings end up getting munched by snails anyway.

Now for a couple of exciting things that I've ordered from Diggers... salty ice plant. This sounds like a herb just right for me - a salad leaf with a salty taste. Has anyone ever grown this and if so how have you used it? I'm also trying out amaranth (for the leaves not the grain). And in an attempt to attract more bees and good insects I'm popping in more flowers that are supposed to be veggie garden companions. We'll see how I go.

Bring on spring. In the meantime, I'm off to organise some indoor seedlings. Hope I'm not too early.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sesame Rice Crackers

In my super mum fantasy I only serve up home-made, nutritious food for my monkeys. Their lunch boxes are packed with a changing menu of healthy goodies that are all eaten. And after school the monkeys beg for a bowl of soup or veggie sticks with home-made dip or fruit and never even notice the salty, chemical laden rice crackers that I've hidden in the pantry for my own secret snacking.

Of course in real life I'm always making monkey lunches in my dressing gown while simultaneously begging littlest monkey to remove himself from the heating vent and put his school shoes on. And I'm always making the same carrot and cheese sandwich that often comes home only half eaten. And I'm chucking the same bits of fruit in the lunch bags while cursing the price of bananas and little monkey's reluctancy to consume apples. And I very often let them eat those salty rice crackers when they come home from school. Even though I want them all to myself. Because I have acquired an addiction to the chemical, salty taste of rice crackers and I've managed to kid myself that they are good for me because they are low in fat. In fact I am so keen on those crackers that I lick all the salty, MSG bits off first and then suck up some more before crunching. But I do all of this with little pangs of guilt.

I sometimes lash out and buy those sesame rice crackers you see in the health food section of the supermarket. Have you seen these ones? They're good but expensive. So I really can't justify buying them even though they do satisfy my cravings.

So I was most pleased with myself indeed on the weekend when I managed my own version. I'd googled about a bit but could not find a recipe that looked right to me. Those sesame crackers only have sesame seeds, tamari and rice flour in them... how hard could they be? So I decided to put my masterchef hat on and had my own little invention test. It took a few goes but I finally managed some that were pretty good. The trick is to get them really thin and for this I used a pasta machine - how inventive is that?! And then I realised that I must blog about this. But I'd be breaking my own rules if I did. I'm only allowing myself to include recipes in this blog of things I make that I've grown from the garden. And I am a stickler for rules. So I decided to repeat my cracker-making for the third time and take photos of the process and ... add parsley! Yep, I know how to get around self-imposed stupid rules.

So here 'tis. A home-made sesame rice cracker with no MSG and not too much stroke-inducing saltiness. And all done while fully dressed. I am super mum this week. 

Sesame Rice Crackers
1 cup rice flour (I used unpolished rice flour)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2tbs finely chopped parsley
1/8 cup tamari
1/4 cup warm water (roughly)

Put the rice flour into a bowl and mix in the sesame seeds and parsley. Mix the tamari and warm water together. Gradually add this to the flour mixture forming a sticky dough. You may not need it all. Put the dough onto a floured surface and roll it into a ball adding more flour if needed. (Rice flour is very sticky). Divide the dough into smaller sausages.

Squash one small sausage of dough between two pieces of wax paper. Make sure there is plenty of room at the sides and a few cm of paper at the top to push through the pasta machine. Wheel the dough through the pasta machine on the widest cog being careful to keep it between the paper (I imagine it would be impossible to clean if the dough got into the machine.) Repeat through the machine two more cogs thinner. You may need to chop some of the dough off at the end so it doesn't end up out of the paper and into the machine.
Remove the top piece if wax paper and place on a tray. Now if you were very patient and fussy you could pop it in the fridge at this point and then later use a biscuit cutter to make the crackers into a circular cracker shape. And I madly did do this for about 3 but quickly came to my senses and decided to have rough looking crackers instead.
Cook in a 200º oven for 5-10 minutes until just crispy. Watch carefully - they very easily burn. Allow to cool on a wire rack, remove the baking paper and break the crackers into pieces.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Little Fire in my Winter Garden

We returned from a holiday a couple of days ago. The house is an absolute bomb. Not only are there suitcases ready to unpack and dirty washing and toys and the usual stuff strewn from one end of the house to the other, but every item that previously resided in the laundry has been dumped in the living room while Monkey Man finishes the plaster / paint job. Not a pleasant house to come home to. So rather than start cleaning and washing, I popped outside for a bit of a meander in the garden and what did I spy...

Two red chillis in my garden. Smack, bang in the middle of winter.

I planted these chilli seedlings at the wrong time of year. My neighbour Mr P gave them to me and suggested that even though it was Summer I plant them anyway and see what happens. They did get a very good spot in the ground. They were plonked behind the chook shed. This was previously habited by a big, spreading bamboo jungle that was an absolute nightmare to dig out. (Read here if you're at all interested in why you should never plant bamboo). So the ground was heavily mulched with years and years of bamboo leaf mulch and before I planted the seedlings I deposited a load of compost on it. Later, poor Wonky the lame rooster/chook died and was also buried there. And it is a rather warm, protected spot with a corrugated iron fence on one side and straw and chook poo on the other.

Now I know what all you international visitors are thinking. That veggiegobbler is a real whinger. She's been complaining about winter and the cold in her part of the world and clearly it is not even cold. In fact it is obviously warm enough there to grow chillis in the middle of winter. Well it is true that I hate winter and the cold but to my credit I did just tolerate a day trip to the snow and for the sake of the children I pretended to enjoy it - most of the time.

But I really cannot explain those red chillis. I did a little google and apparently chillis need 30ºC or more to ripen. Hmph well that is obvious piffle. Today we are heading for a top temperature of 14ºC and yesterday morning there was frost on my brassicas.

The only explanation I can come up with is that I am obviously a brilliant gardener who has warm, green fingers.
Chilli plants behind the chook shed

Friday, July 8, 2011

Another Holiday Job Done...

Remember that old washer I decided to turn into a water feature in our garden in this post

Well look!

Every morning this week I've been braving the elements to work on this mosaic. Today I finished. In fact 30 minutes ago I finished and my fingers are still burning and numb from cold as I type this.

It's not perfect - in fact little bits fell off as I was grouting this morning. Which certainly made me curse. But didn't stop me rubbing in a frenzy to finish the bloody thing.  Truth is, the last couple of days I've been hanging out for it to be finished. I'm the impatient type. Once I start a job I have to finish it. Unlike Monkey Man who likes to make a huge mess at the start of a job and then nearly finish, leave the mess sitting for a few weeks and then conveniently forget to finish the started job.

But yesterday - I persuaded Monkey Man to finish plastering the laundry. And he has. Nearly. We've had big sheets of plaster propped up in our hallway against the bookshelf for four years. I remember when the delivery man plonked the first lot there and looked dubiously at Monkey Man. He said he wasn't supposed to leave sheets of plaster like that, especially where there are children around, because it is dangerous if they fall. Monkey Man assured him that they'd be up on the walls as quick as sticks and not to worry. Hmm. Well those sheets were drilled up onto the walls but they were quickly replaced by others as the next bit of wall needed doing. And ever since then there have been bits of wall that need plastering and bits of plaster up against that bookshelf wall. Until last night.

It took Monkey Man the entire day, but he did manage to get three big sheets of plaster glued and drilled up onto the ceiling with the help of an enormous piece of hired machinery and intermittent assistance from myself and Eldest Monkey Boy. The contents of our laundry are currently scattered all over our living area and Monkey Man was considering bringing them back in because he thought his job was done. Until I had a little hissy fit. Was he serious? Did he really think that I wanted a laundry that wasn't even patched and sanded and painted?! I know it's only a laundry but finish the job! Anyway, since that little rant I have had a dance in our cleared up hallway. And ticked off a couple of holiday jobs in my little black book:
•  mosaic the washer - tick
•  get Monkey Man to remove the plaster in the hallway - tick
•  convince Monkey Man to finish plastering the laundry - half tick

and the next job on the list...
•  write our wills.

Yep. Married, two kids, early 40s and no will. Must thrash through this one so I can stop worrying about what'll happen to the kids if Monkey Man and I both cark it following a ladder incident while attempting to patch the laundry ceiling.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Sound of Feral Cats Mating

In the early hours of this morning Monkey Man and I were awoken by a rather alarming sound. At first I thought it was Littlest Monkey Boy having a bad dream. But it didn't sound like a very upsetting dream. He was singing: "Oooooh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, no, no, no, no" in a descending scale. Repeatedly. Then I thought it couldn't be him - much too tuneful and rhythmic for Littlest Monkey. I realised there was a second voice singing along too. I was then convinced it was a couple of witch-kids dressed in sheets casting a spell with accompanying song and dance on our nature strip (in my defence it was 3am and I wasn't quite awake).  Monkey Man and I lay rigid in our bed fiercely whispering our speculations. Until I persuaded him to turn the front light on and scare the kid-witches away. So he did. Except that they weren't witches - they were feral cats having a jolly good, noisy, mate on our front patio.

Our neighbourhood is riddled with feral cats. Our neighbour Mr. P encourages them with food. He thinks they keep away his mice. Better a bezillion cats roaming about killing the wildlife and waking the neighbours than mice must be his philosophy. Frankly, I'm inclined towards the mice.

A couple of years ago one of these feral cats had kittens and deposited them in a pile of rubble behind our wood shed. The sound of teeny kitten mews coming from a pile of timber almost melted my hard heart. I briefly entertained the thought of raising these kittens as pets. But I was attempting to raise my own babies at the time and I suspect the extra duties would have sent me completely bonkers. So we did the responsible thing and took them to our local vet. Where they were probably euthanased.

I used to quite like cats - until I started to garden. I always thought cats were clean creatures who buried their business and spent most of their time grooming. But I've since learnt that they aren't. The feral cats around our place will drop a plop anywhere that takes their fancy. And what takes their fancy are places where I like to dig or step. Newly dug patches of dirt waiting for new seedlings is a place where I'll put my gardening glove into a fresh lump of cat poo. Or out front beside the garden path. And they certainly don't cover their messes up. They'll leave them atop the mulch for my nostrils to notice every time I step out the front door. I can smell a cat poo from 7 metres.

There was a time when I planted a herb that claimed to deter cats from your garden. I think it was called "cat-off". Anyway, it died. And it didn't keep the cats away. I've heard that orange peel can do the trick. They don't like orange peel apparently. But despite having a messy garden, I don't much like the thought of creating even more mess by scattering orange peel all over the place.

So I've declared noise-war on the feral cats. There's one in particular that loves to sit on our compost bins watching for mice. It completely ignores the chooks and I see evidence of its success with the mice but I'm nevertheless at war. It can take it's stinky poo and noisy, nocturnal entertainments elsewhere.  Whenever I see it, I shout and hiss from the back door sending it scuttling away. And my monkeys have taken to imitating me too. Our neighbours must wonder about our sanity but I don't care. I hereby declare my garden - front and back - a cat-free zone. A big, hairy, scary, red-faced human can make more noise than a feral cat any time. Go take your poo to Mr P - he has a much friendlier garden.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Yippee an Award

Well thank you Hazel for my blogger award! I am enjoying my moment in the spotlight. In fact, despite being winter, we have been having lovely blue skies lately so I might go stand in a patch of sunlight today and bask.

Like Hazel, I'm not so keen on answering tricky questions about myself so I'm glad too that this award comes with simple instructions to pass on to five others. So here are five versatile bloggers I've come to know and love.  Enjoy and pass on dear blogger friends.

1.  Funkbunny.  She was one of the first blogs I came across.  When I saw what she was doing it inspired me to start my own blog. She blogs on Mondays about things she grows and what she's been making in the kitchen. And she's very handy with a needle and thread.

2. Christine from Slow Living Essentials.  She seems to know how to do everything. I wish she was my next door neighbour. Want to build a wood fired oven? She knows.  Make your own soap, crochet, dye, preserve, make bread... she can tell you how. This week she even told us how to make a conditioner for your hair with rosemary. I'm almost inclined to try it except I have a very big mop of knotty, curly hair and I just don't think rosemary will do it for me.

3. Gavin from the Greening of Gavin. Like me, he lives in the West of Melbourne and he's made an inspiring green change. His blog is fully of interesting and informative stuff - like how to make all sorts of cheeses (which I'm not yet inspired to try) and how to get the most out of your solar panels (which I have been inspired to try).

4. Mrs Bok from The Bok Flock. She has plenty of helpful advice on all things garden and chooks. Like all the other blogs awarded here, I read her religiously. I had conjured an image in my mind of what she might look like and was rather shocked when she posted a picture recently to discover that she is rather glamorous and has most un-feather like hair.

5. Shinshu Life.  She blogs about her life in Japan. She's an English language teacher but also manages to cook, farm, grow lots of veggies and mothers two young kids. I'm recently enjoying her postings about a bunch of baby ducklings she's mothering and a rice field she's preparing.  Phew, where does she find the energy? Not only that, but I've nominated her because I'm a bit of a fan of nepotism when it works in my favour! And she just happens to be Monkey Man's cousin's daughter.
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