Thursday, 20 December 2012

Found objects

The other week I was excited to read an article in the garden column titled 'Find and ye shall reap' featuring the garden of Millie Ross, a researcher for ABC's Gardening Australia and author of a new book called the 'Thrify Garden'.

Since becoming a chook owner (well actually if I am being honest with myself even BEFORE becoming a chook owner) I have pretty much given up on the idea of having a Jamie Juriesque designer style garden. While I never felt the need to try and create a corner of Tuscany, a balinese temple or a Japanese zen gardn in my backyard I have still sadly lamented my seeming lack of any gardening design skills.  The addition of the chooks  really just sealed the fate of my garden remaining a kind of hodge podge of whatever plants can survive being dug up, trampled and pecked combined with a range of random treasured objects I inherited from the house's previous owners, pulled out of skips, have taken off nature strips or have been gifted by others who had in turn done the same thing. I refer to it as my shabby chic garden style that now has now officially been validated by Millie Ross's article and book launch as what I hope will become hip new urban trend.

Here's a couple of my favourite pieces:

Recycled Tasmanian apple crates off a nature strip  (came complete with their original consignment labels). I bought plastic storage tubs that would fit inside. As these weren't intended for outdoor use and unlikely to be made from UV stablised plastic we gave them a quick lick of left over exterior paint from another reno job.

I got these bamboo cupboard doors off a nature strip when I was renting around ten years ago. They came with me to the new house and although they are pretty much reaching the end of their lives now, they have spent many years as an interesting 'design feature' on the fence and serving a useful purpose holding up seasons worth of snow peas and climbing beans.
Digressing slightly to one of my favourite soap boxes (or antique apple boxes) I also hope that the certain certain council officers presiding over both Millie's  and my neck of the woods had a chance to see the article and consider reversing their stupid draconian hard waste laws- that essentially make creating a shabby urban recycled oasis pretty much illegal. Both for anyone putting out items onto a nature strip for re-use and upcycling (that's illegal dumping) and for collecting items (that's illegal scavenging). In council eyes - all the items in my backyard (and no doubt many appearing in Millies book) should have been booked into a pre-arranged hard waste collection, arranged inside the property boundary no earlier than 24 hours prior to the set day, collected, munched up in a garbage compactor truck and dumped into landfill at a $100 a tonne -charged to me the rate-payer - Seriously- where is the fun (or sustainability) in that!

The illegal corner of scavenging sin! 2x antique ladders from a skip and nature strip (note the one on the right is serving as kind of  anti chook protective arrangement around my Japanese burdock plant at the moment). My potting table was created from a work bench left behind by the previous owners and timber platform type arrangement that was dumped with the apple crates. The fish tank was also on a nature strip- I use it as a kind of mini glass house arrangement for my seedlings- even with the the top off it helps to keep the wind out and the warmth in. Incicdentally the slighty wonky ceramic pot in the foreground  (with the lemongrass I got for free from the Maidstone produce swap) only cost me $2 at the Bunnings 'Quick panic! Masters Home Improvement is opening up next door' sale.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Spring into summer

Well somehow spring came and went and I found myself in what feels like the middle of summer.
Is it just me - or is time somehow being condensed so that an hour is no longer really an hour? I swear I haven't been watching extra TV, I have not been logging into Facebook,I HAVE  been busy at work - but I am always rushing out the door to make my train, yet more than a month has come and gone since I was away and I feel like I have achieved strangely little.....

Its been a slow transformation but I think I am nearly there.....

Out with the daikon that bolted while I was away before I had time to harvest and enjoy, replaced with tomatoes, eggplants and FINALLY if I get around to it the capsicum patiently waiting to be plated out (thankfully I left two of last year's which have already bounced back nicely with a heavy burst of buds).

The raspberries had a fantastic flush of flowers a month or so back- but sadly a combination of hot dry weather, I suspect rats and birds have somewhat diminished the harvest compared to last year's bounty

I picked the last of the snow peas which succumbed early to mildew and tried my first crop of broad beans (yep I will definitely be adding them again). 

Sadly my attempt at growing cabbage in the front garden was a dismal failure- black aphids and snails. My garlic also let me down (a dry spring?). But the cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) that was stripped back to the stems by my feathered raiders recovered nicely... It's been resistant to bolting so I have been enjoying it sauteed with garlic, roast pumpkin (gleaned from fellow gardeners at the Maidstone produce swap) tossed through pesto spaghetti with a bit of free range bacon and Meredith marinated goats cheese. YUM!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Gardening in the Solomons

I am lucky enough to have just spent nine days on a tropical island.

This is Uepi Island. It's located in the Marovo Lagoon, the world's largest saltwater lagoon, situated towards the north-eastern end of the Solomon Islands. Getting there is a 3 hour flight from Brisbane to the capital of the Solomons, Honiara. From there (if you are lucky and there's a plane in working order) it's a 1 hour flight to the nearest airstrip at Seghe (in the central part of the lagoon) followed by a 30min boat trip through the lagoon and out to the island.

Of course gardening isn't it exactly what took me there........

rather..... the opportunity to indulge in one of my other (some may say, more extreme) hobbies

Although divers are generally a hardy lot, its kind of a sad state of affairs that you need to travel to some of the world's most remote locations to experience pristine reef systems as they are meant to be.  At the same time however it is an opportunity to provide an income to local people and provide reason for them to do their best to protect their local reef.

Wherever you go in the world it seems there's  one thing that a diving holiday revolves around (apart from diving) and that's eating........

Lunch is served: freshly baked bread rolls, satay chicken, green papaya salad, melon, paw paw and pineapple.

 In the Marovo lagoon, there are few shops,no supermarkets and no commercial supplies of things we would take for granted (a barge does a supply run through the lagoon every week or so bringing with it things that can be found in the capital) so its quite a logistics exercise for the Island's managers, Jill and Grant to keep 20+ guests and 25 staff (50 in total over 2 weekly rotating shifts) fed and happy.

Fresh fish and seafood (mud crab and lobster are a daily feature of the menu) are purchased from local fishermen. Jill has a policy of buying only the more plentiful pelagic (ocean going) fish species to ensure those living locally on the reef are protected.

Chicken, eggs, fruit (paw paw, pineapple, banana, limes, passion fruit and fiberous pink grapefruits, ) as well as vegetables (some apparently grown to order) including beans, teeny tiny capsicums, eggplant, watercress, various versions of potato and pumpkin are all purchased from the local villagers. One of the more interesting additions to the menu was 'pucha' salad made from a type of fern (I have tried this in PNG as well). The fern fronds were blanched in coconut milk.

The island also has a kitchen garden, which Douglas the gardener kindly showed me around. Unlike the larger volcanic islands, where most of the lagoon's population lives (think rich red volcanic soils), Uepi is a coral atoll - so gardening with no soil is quite a challenge. Soil is made from composting kitchen scraps and breaking down coconut fibres. Rainfall is not a problem as the island gets 3 metres a year (mostly falling in the afternoon or at night).

Plants grown in raised planters and containers included:

a small leafed mint
spring onions

snake beans

Kitchen salad leaves are grown hydroponically with coconut husks providing a growing medium. (I am not sure what they leaves are- when I asked Douglas he told me it was 'salada' (?) and that it was an Asian vegetable).

Out the back there is also a garden patch with pineapples and pumpkins.

When preparing a garden bed with compost, a layer of coconut husks is placed over the top.

Apparently this helps stop the abundant population of local monitors from digging up the compost, because the smooth surface of the coconuts makes it harder for them to scratch. 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

How hard can it be?

I believe in the potential for growing food in the suburbs- its one of the reasons I started my blog. With the World's population and demand for food growing, it's something that will become more important over time.

Often when walking around my neighbourhood I see run down weatherboards on big old blocks being knocked down to be replaced with paving and crowded townhouses. In a place where there were grapevines and fruit trees there are now black bricks and white stones. While that's not necessarily a bad thing (if it saves precious farmland further out) it seems a waste. I also look at some of the neglected or barren gardens of remaining homes and think that only people with a 'gardening liceense' (the enthusiasm and the willingness) to make the most of their land should be able to own the land that they do.

Constrained by my own limited patch shaded by trees (wildlife habitat) I have been thinking how to start my own suburban garden revolution. Here is the start of my journey.

This is the council owned block on land at the end of my ROW. The land used to be a road that ran through between two streets (where the silver shed is now). For years it has languished as a dumping ground and car park. The land can't be developed (council has tried that) because there are issues with access the ROW and the main sewer line that runs down it.

Lets turn this........

A little over year ago I decided I couldn't keep sitting around while there was a patch of unused gravel with vegetable growing potential. So I created a flyer outlining my vision for our very own neighbourhood community garden.

into this
After letterboxing 100 or so houses in surrounding streets I had just over ten households get in touch and want to get involved. Armed with this information I contacted council. Lucky for me council had just hired a 'community garden coordinator'. I waited a few months for her to start work and to figure out what she was supposed to be doing. Finally I arranged a meeting. The community garden coordinator suggested that in the first instance I would need to form an incorporated association with the neighbours (meaning we would need officer bearers and an AGM) at the same time we would also need to organise public liability insurance, oh and by the way as it was council land we wouldn't be able to fence it, meaning  by the way despite the hard work and financial contributions from a few neighbours the garden would be a free for all for the whole street. I explained as much as people were keen and had expressed an interest in a bit of fundraising and a few working bees to get the garden together that didn't seem like a fair deal.

The coordinator told me that anyway before any further decisions could be made by the council, the first priority was creating a 'Community Garden Policy' and this would most likely go to council in February. February came and went. The council meeting minutes said policy deferred until April. I can't remember what happened in April, but finally I got an invitation to attend a community gardens meeting. Probably the most tedious two hours of my life (will spare you the details) but the outcome being that council has realised people are interested in growing food on their nature strips so they decided to fund a 'planter box trial' for vegies in two suburban streets.There was no info on how the locations would be decided but thanks to a bit of extra persistence from some of the other interested neighbours, council decided that given the block was technically a 'roadside' they considered that a planter trial might be the best option. (this would also avoid the need for the incorporated association)

One more tedious 'community planter box trial' meeting and a rather interesting site meeting with local residents and it looks like council is funding the installation of eight professionally built planter boxes and a water tank to be topped up by council as required. (Individual residents had to fill out a planter box application forms and liability waiver and agree to abide by the planter box regulations- in order to maintain the planter maximum height restrictions no plants over 50cm high!).

I should be excited..... but somehow I feel a little deflated about my grand visions...if we are serious about transforming suburbs back into the food producing areas they once were......should it really take one person one year....and council a few thousand dollars (??) just to get eight planter boxes placed on a vacant block?!

Only time will tell what happens... will the garden grow and flourish, will the rest of the neighbours get involved or complain to council that they can no longer park there cars on the block... will I have a space to expand my vegie garden challenge without people stealing the spoils.... I don't know but I will keep you updated.

Friday, 21 September 2012

What to do with daikon.

Its been a while since I posted- partly because I have been working on another garden project (will provide an update soon!) and partly because the chooks have found a way into the vegie patch (still haven't quite figured out how they are beating the system as they are also smart enough not to do it when I am around). This has meant that my bountiful brassica harvest has become somewhat less bountiful. Hopefully my other project will provide a chook free solution next year... but in the meantime one thing I have been left with, is my crop of daikons (Japanese white radish).

A friend of mine gave me seeds a few years ago- and although I was not huge daikon fan - I was won over by the fact they are easy to grow at a time of the year when not much else is. Armed with surplus daikon here's a sample of my daikon repertoire.

Dol sot bibimbap (Korean spicy rice and egg hot pot)

This is one of my favourite Korean comfort dishes so I was excited to come across a recipe as part of the SBS Food Safari series.

The recipe is not difficult. It requires Korean chili paste (not super hot) - buy from the Korean section of a good Asian grocer (for Melbourne people I love Great Eastern- in Russell Street in the City).  Take a few ingredients such daikon, carrot, bean sprouts, spinach, shitake mushroom, sliced beef, steamed short grain rice and a single egg per serve. Chop and cook meat and vegies where necessary (in this case I left the carrot and daikon raw, bean sprouts can also go in raw). I had previously thinly sliced and marinated (with some Korean BBQ sauce) some left over eye-fillet and put it in the freezer ready for use with this dish (you don't need to marinate the meat but it adds flavour).

The hardest bit is sourcing a 'stone' pot. (I note that all the comments on the SBS site  associated with the recipe are about the pots!). My quest took brought up various lost in translation moments at a couple of Korean supermarkets but eventually I found some cast iron pots (with wooden serving trays) in one of the Asian cookery supply stores in Bridge Road Richmond (one of Melbourne's famous Asian food precincts).  The pot is the crucial part of the recipe.

Place the pot on heat and add a few drops of sesame oil before adding a single serve of steamed rice topped with an egg. Allow the rice to crisp up (you should hear it crackle). Check to see if its browning a little and then turn off the heat.

At this time stir in all the meat and vegies, along with roughly a tablespoon of the chili paste. The egg cooks as you stir it all in. And here's the finished product.


Age-dashi tofu with 'daikon oroshi' (deep fried tofu with finely grated daikon)

Use a relatively firm Japanese/ Asian style tofu for this recipe. To prepare the tofu, drain it and place it between paper towel with a weight (eg. a plate) on top to press out as much water as possible. Prepare the stock- you can use a ready made 'tsuyu' soup base  (see my post on making 'donburi') or make a soup base using a watery version of my don sauce recipe you can add a tiny bit of grated ginger if you wish. Warm it on the stove and place in a bowl. Dust the tofu in flour (note: in the past I have used Japanese/ Korean potato starch flour from the Asian supermarket for a light bubbly batter, but regular wheat flour is fine). Deep fry in vegie oil and drain. Drop the tofu into the sauce. Top with finely grated diakon using a ginger grater/ microplane grater.


Japanese 'wafu' salad.

Mix baby spinach with daikon match sticks - top with a Japanese style dressing and toasted sesame seeds. *Note -'wafu' means 'Japanese style' in Japanese.

And there you have it three uses for daikon.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Whats been growing in August

Ok- so its not the end of the month yet.... so technically this post should be 'what is growing in August', but I have chosen the past tense for a particular reason......Just when I was looking forward to some tasty Asian greens with oyster sauce and some wonderful sauteed cavolo nero.

No unfortunately its not a hoard of hungry caterpillars that have inflicted this damage on my poor garden....

Changing the subject.. choooks are wonderful creatures that supply fresh and bountiful eggs (when they aren't either broody or moulting and its not the middle of winter) and a copious supply of poop fertiliser packed full of chookie goodness and (normally) left conveniently for you to collect off the back door step. They also have an amazing brain and eyesight that is constantly alert and on the look out for the slightest opening to get into anywhere they know they are not allowed to be... house, vegetable garden etc. It amazes me how they can also hone in and charge straight for the tastiest plants and spot an unripe raspberry camouflaged amongst the leaves and not visible to all but the most observant eye.

Our chook proof fencing system consists of star pickets with hanging panels of flexible wire trellis hooked on. The panels are supposed to overlap and each panel has a garden stake wired to the bottom to allow it to hang straight down and stop the girls climbing under. The system allows the panels to be removed whenever access is needed to the garden beds and can be rearranged so that sections of the garden can be opened up for the girls to turn over when required. It works 95% of the time its just the 5% of the time that you have to worry about.... especially when they are left unattended for any amount of time and they manage to spy a gap between the panels they can squeeze through (which is obviously what must have happened the other day). I caught them at it again on Saturday morning.. and the rest is what can be seen above. The only positive about it all is that the renewed burst of energy and generally destructive behaviour has heralded the start of the spring lay. B has been busy producing for a little over week and judging by her pushiness S must be due to start any day.

Aside from the chook raid its not exactly been the most successful month to date. The potatoes I planted out in the lane in the autumn had started to wilt so I dug them up. I reckon I got well over a kilo of potatoes but they were mostly much smaller than I expected. The snow peas are also taking ages to transform flowers into fully grown peas. Here's waiting for spring!!

little potatoes

Friday, 10 August 2012

sharing the spoils

A while ago I heard about a great idea to collect excess and unwanted fruit and other produce from home gardens and distribute it to the needy. This idea recognised that many people particularly the elderly with established gardens are capable of growing more fruit than they can possibly handle. Foodbank in Victoria has been involved with this idea, first in Wodonga in country Victoria and more recently with a  similar initiative called Urban Street Harvest in the inner west of Melbourne.

While I am not exatly needy, over the past month or so I have managed to scrape into meeting my challenge of eating one home grown ingredient by utilising my own personal network for a home grown version of this idea.

A few weeks ago I got a massive bag of oranges from my friend. They were given to her by someone else with a tree. After taking her share passed them onto me. As a result I have come up with a couple of creative uses for excess oranges.

1. New favourite salad of the month: Orange, avocado and rocket salad (this is based on a ruby grapefruit salad recipe) very simple- rocket, avocado, walnuts, spring onions and orange slices with a vinaigrette dressing.

Orange, avocado and rocket salad 

2. New favourite dessert of the month: Orange and polenta puddings (based on a recipe using mandarin that featured in a Sunday Age Magazine from 2004)

*The bonus for this recipe is that it requires 2/3 cup of marmalade (perfect to use one of the collection  of homemade marmalade jars I have been gifted!)

2/3 cup marmalade
1tbs water
8 orange slices (rind removed)
1/3 cup polenta
1/2cup juice
125g butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups of self raising flour

Step 1. Grease 8 individual single serve oven proof dishes or pudding moulds.
Heat marmalade and water together over medium heat until melted and smooth. Divide into the dishes and top with a slice of orange.

Step 2. Combine juice and polenta and set aside.

Step 3. Beat butter & sugar until smooth, add eggs one at a time. Fold in half the polenta mixture, the flour and then the remaining polenta mix. Spoon mixture into the dishes.

Step 4. Place the dishes in a pan and add water to reach halfway up the sides. Cover with foil and place in preheated oven (180deg)  for 20-25mins. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out.

This dessert was great served with some of my 'home made' marscarpone. (this was made using UHT cream with the addition of starter culture from my recent cheesemaking adventures. The marscapone was set using a highly technical method of placing a sterlised jar containing the cream and starter with a hot water bottle in a 'cool' bag to maintain the temp at 37-45deg for around 8 hours)

As a bonus in addition to the oranges I also got some cumquats. I didn't have time to turn the cumquats into jam so I passed them onto a colleague at work - who did manage to transform them into jam and gave me a jar! how good is that! Thank you E!

Monday, 6 August 2012

A noise in the night.

Last week I had an experience I seriously I hope I never have again. Fast asleep a noise came into my consciousness.

Although I don't own a rooster I am used to being awoken by what I refer to  as 'the whining chook'. Its always a sign I am enjoying a sleep in and those outdoors let me know about it.  "Bawwwwk bawk bawk" (which roughly translates to "let me out NOWWWWWW. I have not been fed so it must be a weekend. I want OUT Now")

But this sound was different.... it was the same voice... but it was hysterical.... It was the same frantic sound that comes out when the girls  (for whatever reason of momentary excitement) attempt to flap and  fly across the yard, but this time it was much more intense, like lives were depending on it. The sound an animal makes when it expects any breath will be its last, an unmistakable urgent sound that at once reminded me of the sound of my pet rabbit being dragged over the back fence by the neighbours cat many years ago.

It was dark and time stopped still as I ran through the house and flicked on the back light. All that time I prepared myself - for what I could imagine was happening.... one chook dead (headless??) or mortally injured the other carried off in the jaws of a fox. It had to be fox. It was the end of Boss and Spazz. I had to be prepared.

When I reached the pen the girls were still screaming, the neighbours dogs were barking and I reckon half the neighbourhood was on the verge of waking up. From the lights out the back I could see the girls on the ground, they were still screaming, puffed up like an angry rooster, wings flapping. It seemed whatever had caused the disturbance must have high tailed it out of there...... and after a few seconds I reached down the touch the girls and reassure myself they were completely safe and unharmed.

All of  us were still in shock. I gathered them up one at a time and took them into the shower in the laundry, where they used to live before they were big enough to fend for themselves out in the elements. I threw down some paper and wood shavings and after they started happily pecking on the wood shavings (eating wood shavings where they sleep is part of their nightly routine - even after they have had a feed- go figure) I pulled out the magic red cup- which is what always has their favourite mixed grain. In an instant the happiness had returned and it seemed all the trauma was forgotten. I guess to be a prey animal living on the edge of your existence- every time one of your comrades is picked up and eaten you can't really afford to dwell.

To be honest we are not really sure if there was a fox or not. Something had been digging up the back in the corner behind the shed but to get in there is no mean feat that has even the cats beat. But regardless its been a wake up call. According to the Victorian Department of Primary Industries there are more urban foxes than rural cousins. Its likely that the work on the regional rail link may have displaced the fox population that has happily lived down in the rail reserve with its plentiful supply the resident rabbits and sent them packing and hungry into the neighbourhood.

The girls are lucky that they live in a somewhat 'over engineered' pen with a wooden frame going around the base, wire below the surface and a row of bricks, rocks and concrete rubble testing the the digging skills of any animal. To add to the fortifications we have now added a horizontal board of treated pine nailed along the back fence creating an additional digging barrier to anything trying to get in.
Security features: wire roof, wooden frame, recycled heavy duty mesh and corrugated wall

After all the drama I hope the girls are grateful and can pay me back on the investment with just an egg of two.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

What's been growing in July.

To date, July has been the hardest month of my challenge of 'eating one home grown thing'. Apart from herbs, the garden has been yielding very little. Last weekend I was very excited to pull up a decent sized carrot! Its my first attempt at carrots in this garden (I have a little sandy corner that I thought might be good for root crops). I have grown a mix of purple and normal and picked them out over the past few months - the poor little purple one is more representative of some of the others I have been harvesting! There are also a few of my 'new' potatoes from the lane. I had a dig in the planter and it is jam packed with spuds, tempting but I think I will leave them just a tad longer.

Japanese radish (daikon) are now an annual fixture in my garden. This plant self seeded and is ready to come out any day. I have another whole row I sowed back in April that will be ready to harvest over the next few months, so my current homework task is to research Japanese pickle making. I am going to need to dust of my Japanese character dictionary and try decipher the pile of Japanese cook books a friend has kindly loaned to help me in my quest.

My asparagus also gave me a surprise 'flush' a few weeks back. To date I have had no luck with asparagus. I think I must have spent around $30 on crowns over the years but I only ever seem to get 2 or 3 spears come up- barely enough to sustain the plant through to the next growing season. I have left these spears in the hope they will serve as good base for the plant that will sprout some more in the spring and give me even just a little taste of home grown asparagus.

Finally I am cautiously optimistic of a healthy crop of snow peas this year. Snowpeas can be hit and miss. On the hit side - peas are cheap and easy to sow (there's always at least one or two pods that get to big- simply dry them and sow the peas the next year). Also on the plus side, buying snowpeas  is expensive for a much poorer quality than you get at home. As far as the misses go, too much damp and they succumb to fungal disease and wilt away. Growing from a single stem means all it takes is a snail or slug chewing through the wrong place or wandering chooks having a scratch, yielding similar effects and all your hard work and anticipation comes to nought.  But this year it seems like it could be a hit.I have eight healthy plants split between the garden and pots with the very first buds showing on my potted plants. This is strange as these plants get less sun than plants growing on the back fence, yet have grown to the same height and flowered first.  Here's waiting for warmer days and  the first hint of spring!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Winter weekend pursuits

As usual I am running behind posting about all the things I am wanting to post about. Partially because I have been busy actually doing all the things I am wanting to post about.  For starters I spent a lazy afternoon in my friend Ruth's kitchen making 'Nam Prik' (Thai chilli paste) from this lovely crop......(from Ruth's first haul in her new garden)

The recipe was largely adapted from a cook book published by the "Blue Lagoon Resort" cooking school- (as thats somewhere in Thailand it created somewhat of an exotic fantasy image on such a torrentially rainy, freezing day in Melbourne). The recipe was kind of followed but adapted to involve most of the chillies in this colander, whatever left over bits of garlic were left in the cupboard (would estimate about a dozen cloves of varying quality), and an equal measure of brown shallots. The garlic and the shallots were peeled and dry roasted in a pan along with the chillies and 1/3 cup dried shrimp. These items were then all chopped up with the bamix chopper attachment and fried up again in the fry pan with some veggie oil. To this we added a few tablespoons of palm sugar and tamarind paste plus 1/4 cup of fish sauce. To this we added more veggie oil to preserve in sterilised jars.  The end result being three potent jars of Thai chilli paste to make a great starter for Thai curries and Pad Thai

In addition to add to Thai cookery Ruth and I also spent another Sunday making Camembert at a CERES cheese making course but I am not sure if that really qualifies for discussion as part of the home grown challenge- not until I manage to find a way to keep my own cow of course!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Citrus Season

Currently there's not much happening in the garden. The weeding and winter plantings are done, the weather is cold and miserable and the girls are on strike. So to keep busy I have been turning to indoor pursuits. The other weekend I got around to preserving a bag of lemons. I put in an order for them when G went off to visit a friend who works in the mines and who's lemons would otherwise fall from the tree and rot.

It reminded me that this year I am very much missing the delicious grapefruits that had always been supplied by old friends from uni. It was always worth the hike across town just to collect a bag of them (and to catch up with them of course!) The tree itself was quite a phenomenon of nature versus nurture (I wouldn't consider K&P as avid gardeners). Without fail each year the tree would be heaving with golden grapefruits- unblemished and perfect. One year there was one the size of a soccer ball.

A few years ago I went through a phase of loving the little San Pellegrino fruit flavoured mineral waters- but somehow it didn't seem sustainable to be shipping little glass bottles all the way across the globe so grapefruits in hand G& I experimented with our own Italian style fruit sodas.

First we tried version 1: (half a grapefruit juiced add equal part of lemonade) but after the empty plastic bottles piled up in the recycle bin we invested in a good old fashioned Soda Stream. Enter Version 2 (half a grapefruit mixed with an equal part of soda water and a dash of sugar syrup to balance the sweetening) Note blood oranges are also great.

(*For the sugar syrup mix 1/2cup sugar with 2/3cups water in a saucepan, heat and dissolve)

Our friends moved late last year and we have been resorting to buying grapefruits for now. But thanks to some handy raspberry cane thinning that provided a welcome housewarming present for a colleague, apparently I can look forward to a new source of home grown grapefruits soon!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

My vegies- psychic rewards for my middle class self??

So says 'a senior government figure'who was recently quoted in one of the articles from the Age's recent 'Future of Food' series by Royce Millar and Melissa Fyfe. The article posed the question as to whether or not 'alternative' food sources (namely farmers markets, vegie box schemes and home gardening) really do provide any value as useful food sources when stacked up against the modern agricultural food distribution model and the dominance of Safeway and Coles.

I would be interested to know how  'Mr Senior Government Figure' could possibly come up with the conclusion that growing all this food does nothing more than make people feel better and if anyone out there in government land or the mainstream food sector has any idea how you might measure the impact of small scale farming and vegie gardening.

The other day I was at the supermarket (even I will admit there are limits to the backyard and the Queen Vic) and I saw a billboard ad encouraging people to eat eggs..... I secretly hoped it was because the Australian Egg Board isn't keeping up with their projected sales growth targets- blaming consumers eating trends rather than the little mini chook boom that's spreading out into the suburbs. Despite being a newbie to art of keeping backyard poultry, I for one haven't bought an egg at a supermarket in years and between G and myself we know at least five families keeping themselves, friends and neighbours stocked with eggs.

Anyway as a bit of an exercise I have attempted to put 'Mr Senior Government Figure' back in his place and to quantify the pysical rewards from the week in the garden. (it goes without saying there are plenty of feel good rewards from venturing into the garden for a healthy dose of fresh air and vitamin D)

First to the financial savings-  here's the tally from a very quiet winter week in the garden (things in brackets were taken from the garden):

Sunday- homemade chicken pie with mixed herbs (thyme, sage)
Monday- lamb tagine with preserved lemons and harissa (tomatoes- I am lazy so I chop and freeze, thyme, bay leaves, chillies via red harissa  and preserved lemon)
Tuesday- pumpkin and leek risotto (parsley)
Wednesday - more tagine leftovers (as above)
Thursday - was out for dinner
Friday - Pizza (almost the last of the capsicum)

From this tallying up my food savings for the week: (a quick price check a Woolworths)
  • thyme $2.48
  • sage $2.48
  • bay leaves $2.48 (for a pack but lets assume only using 20% -bay leaves keep) 50c
  • parsley $2.98
  • tomatoes (equal to two cans of tinned- lets opt for Australian grown) guessing that's around $3
  • chillies in harissa maybe 50c (?)
  • preserved lemon $1
  • capsicum (was only small) $1
Grand total savings not going into the pockets of the big two: approx $14

Of course you need to factor in the cost of inputs (the cost of the plants, soil, pots where required) - but pretty much everything on this list was either free (ie. lemons or grown from seed) or bought so long ago that comparing a $3 punnet with those prices they were paid off in the first month or so (my bay tree was a bargain from a weekend growers plant stall at a market). Tell me anyone who doesn't think saving more than $500 a year or so isn't a reward!

Back on the fuzzy side there's the environmental rewards made from reducing packaging (the herbs came in a plastic punnet type thingo and I have skipped the need for 2x tins, a couple of  jars for my harissa and the preserved lemon) each of these coming with notable environment savings (see Get it Right on Bin Night - a blatant plug for the whats been keeping me busy as part of my day job). Recycling is good but not creating the packaging in the first place is even better! Not to mention the reductions in energy for transporting and storing all of that through the supply chain through to the supermarket.

So to summarise - Mr Senior Government source- gardening in the suburbs is really more than the feel good factor and if everyone got involved we might stand half a chance of meeting the food challenges all 7 bilion plus of us will all be facing in the future.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Blessed with eggs

When I started composing this post a few days ago I really was feeling blessed. Now is normally the time when shortening days stop chooks laying in their tracks. I was feeling secretly smug that for the second year running it looked as though Boss was going to keep popping out eggs right through the winter. Sadly I think Boss laid her last egg  for the season on the first day of winter. Barnevelders have a reputation as good winter layers so I hope it won't be a long wait. In the meantime this post is good excuse to marvel at these perfect brown speckled beauties and to share my interpretation of a Japanese favourite 'Oyakodon' (chicken and egg rice bowl).

Oyakodon and other versions of 'donburi' (rice bowls) are a staple of reasonably priced Japanese cafes and lunch spots wherever you go and I will rank a Japanese eatery purely on the basis of their 'donmono'. A perfect donburi needs the right blend of sweet and soy (caramel sauce is a definite no), the way the sauce blends with the egg, and the egg cooked to perfection (not overcooked and not raw, the perfect donburi egg should break the yolk to slightly combine with white and be served so its still slightly transparent).

Depending on where you go - you might have the bonus of a few slithers of green beans, snow peas or beni shoga (ginger).

You can find different versions of the recipe in any Japanese cook book. This is my version which I adapted from a demonstration by the Ikeura family, when I was living in Wakayama more than 15 years ago.

(serves 2)

Wash 1.5 cups of short grain rice and place in rice cooker. Note: You can use 'koshi hikari' or sushi rice - but along with many Japanese living here in Aust,  I use Sunrice Calrose (red packet) for my everyday Japanese cooking

Mix the following in graduated measuring cup:
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce (Japanese soy is available but regular 'made in Singapore' Kikkoman sauce is fine)
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese mirin
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese cooking sake (Ryorishuu)
  • After dissolving the sugar in the other ingredients, fill up to the 1/2 cup mark with Japanese 'tsuyu' (it's a kind of a soup base)- I use the brand below but there are various versions.
  • Add 1/2 cup water. (so you have a full cup of sauce)
Prepare the following:
  • chop a chicken thigh fillet (into small bite sized pieces)
  • thinly slice 1/2 an onion
  • thinly julienne a handful of green beans or snow peas (whichever is growing the garden) note: you can also substitute with frozen peas or a mix

When the rice is done- serve into 2 deep bowls
Cook the chicken in a small skillet. Top the rice with chicken.
Next fry the onion - when slightly brown remove half the onion and set aside.

Next, turn the stove to low heat and pour in half the sauce. Break an egg into the sauce (gently breaking the yolk), add the green beans/ peas around the edge of the pan. Bring the sauce mix to a slow simmer.

Continue the simmering until the egg is three quarters cooked but still slightly transparent on the top. Remove the egg from the heat and place on top of the chicken - pour the hot sauce over the egg to continue finish off the egg's cooking process. Repeat by adding the remaining ingredients (onion, another egg, sauce and greens) to the skillet.

Itadakimasu! lets eat.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Whats been growing in May

Okay it's officially June - so my last chance the report on the May harvest. May marked the last (belated)  month of the summer harvest. It was out with the old and in with the new. I have harvested the last of the tomatoes and eggplants. The beans and capsicums are also down to the last trickle.

In their place there are snow peas, Chinese veg and brocolleti (or Italian rapini- not to be confused with brocolini as I suspect most people like myself, who picked up a punnet from Bunnings did). This time for the first year I have also grown cabbages (savoy and purple) and Tuscan kale (Cavolo Nero) on mass.

The girls make themselves busy- "preparing"the pot for the next seasons planting

With the last of the red chili and a second flush of green chillies I have been busy making up pots of red and green harissa, along with a pot of pesto from the last of the basil.

For the harissa I use recipes from Sydney based Moroccan chef, Hassan M'Souli. His book make it Morroccan is great for a repertoire of Moroccan basics (dips, preserving lemons, dukkah etc)
Recipes are as follows (I chop all ingredients roughly before throwing into the mix master chopper)

Red Harissa

250g of red chillies (stalks removed- seeds in)
1 red capsicum (roasted and peeled)
1/2 preserved lemon (from home grown lemons of course)
2 small garlic cloves
1/4 bunch coriander (if you wash it- dry it out before you put it in)
2 tablespoons of ground cumin (I used cumin seeds, dry roast and grind with mortar and pestle)
1 tablespoon salt.
olive oil to cover (after chopping I stir half the oil in to coat the chili mix and top with an extra covering)

Green Harissa
250g of green chillies (stalks removed- seeds in)
1/2 preserved lemon
1/2 bunch coriander
2 small garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves (wash and dry as per coriander)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds (dry roast and grind with mortar and pestle)
olive to coat and cover as above.

If put into well sterilised jars the harissa will keep in the fridge for ages.

A few weekends ago I  also dug up some pots of galangal and turmeric- unfortunately while the turmeric has already proven itself the galangal was a little odd and not what I was expecting at all! 

here's the turmeric
and.... the galangal (?)
Actually I am not surprised..... this year my friend went back to the stand at the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show where we got these. She wanted some replacement galangal having moved house and losing track of the original. The guy mentioned the plant marked 'galangal' was a different type to 'normal' galangal which was sold out.. It looked suspiciously like mine. A quick google search linked through to wikipedia and could it be this?

Anyway I haven't been game to try it out... so instead opted for another attempt  at the
Neil Perry lamb and sweet potato curry sans galangal.