Sunday, 30 June 2013

A winter garden (?!)

A little while ago I read an excellent analogy used to compare a renowned climate scientist and his views and predicitions versus those of a local climate sceptic who constantly finds reasons why the world is not warming such as "xxx part of the world has just had its wettest, coldest summer since 1944" etc. The analogy begins with the climate scientist and the sceptic both out in the forest. The climate scientist has access to a fire tower used to spot oncoming bushfires so he climbs to the top  holding a pair of powerful long range binoculars. Over on the far horizon he can see a massive cloud of smoke coming over the hills towards them so he calls out to let the sceptic know there is a bushfire on the way. Down on the ground all the sceptic can see are some trees "no fire here, lets get on with out picnic" he tells the scientist. Without wanting to sound like the antithesis of that sceptic "'back in my day we always had frost at this time of year" - it really does seem like the winters are getting shorter here in my neck of the woods.

Here's a couple of pictures of my capsicums back at the start of the month:

They won't get the size or the sweetness of late summer picked fruit but they remind me of 'piiman' (the type of green peppers they have in Japan) so they will do just fine for the odd cooked dish (they will be a little bit bitter to eat raw)

I have also been picking the very last of the eggplants and the climbing beans (that has to be a record for June!)

I finally harvested some fresh turmeric as the leaves yellowed and began to wilt combining it with some other slightly tropical ingredients - chili and lemongrass to make my seasonal a new seasonal favourite from Neil Perry.

Since the photo of the capsicums was taken, we finally got a cold snap (compressed into one week it seems) which finally managed to budge some of the green leaves from my crab apple. My pathetic stick of an apple tree- (its never given me an apple)  is still hanging onto one green leaf.

Throughout the month of May and the start of this month I have been keeping up my challenge of eating at least one thing from the garden each day but with cold snap and my beans finally finishing up things are getting a little more sparse.

My Tuscan kale is not far off though, and the first of my broccoli is starting to develop little buds in its crown. I have planted a few cabbage out in the planters that seem to promise they will form nice round heads and my snow peas have gone ballistic (just a matter of making sure the pesky rats don't come back)

Thinking ahead my plans to build a new planter for my next summer planting of Japanese burdock ('gobo') out the back away from my chookies were fast forwarded thanks to the discovery of this dumped pallet. It was perfect for my plans to grow a single row of gobo along the wall here. In the meantime I have planted some chard I got from the local produce swap and some more broad beans.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Waste not.....

Last Wednesday was World Environment Day... this year's theme was 'Think Eat Save'.  This is a mantra that's close to my heart and part of my philosophy that has lead to my interest in all things related to backyard food production.

According to UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 1.3 billion tonnes of food goes to waste every year- the equivalent of the amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.

Seems like a big problem with insurmountable  issues involved.. but starting small.... just imagine if everyone here in Australia grew a few pots of herbs for example.... how many acres  of productive land would no longer be dedicated to growing herbs destined to end up soggy and slimy at the bottom of the fridge  (if any one has EVER used a entire pack of herbs in a dish I would be surprised) not to mention the dubious jars of 'fresh garlic' and tubes of squeezable  'herbs'  sitting up the back with a best before date of 2008. 

Anyway I digress here's how we deal with food waste at our house:

Growing 'waste' into new plants  

Here are  four crops I have grown from what would have otherwise become waste 

'Royal Blue' potatoes - the origin of these is a couple of sprouted spuds from Jones Potatoes from Warragul in Gippsland
Garlic- in the early days I grew the dreaded 'Chinese' import stuff reasonably well (it was little strong and garlicy). I also tried some South American bulbs with no success. Lately I have found good sources of  local organic garlic for sale at local farmers markets - going cheap at the end of the season. I eat what I can and plant the rest.

Ginger  (with some lemon grass cuttings) - this is my first attempt at growing ginger! for some reason this year an unloved  piece sprouted on my bench rather than simply shriveling away. Hopefully it will survive the winter

Sweet potato- once again, not sure how this will go- it started growing so I put it in the soil. Its looking a little wilted after a chilly winters night.
Feeding waste to 'chooks'

Sadly less effective than expected.... we don't have kids... just 2 adults who have kind of figured out how to match a serving size with an appetite .. so the food the chooks like is fairly limited. Here's a list of what they do and don't like:

  •  bread crusts (we don't eat a lot of bread but they take what they can get)
  • dregs from the cereal pack (mixed with grain - a great mash)
  • rice or pasta stuck to the pan bottom- soaked off with hot water and added to the cereal dregs
  • porridge (they happily clean the pot)
  • hot chips (minimum chips is never minimum- much to their happiness)
  • capsicum seeds (chuck the cores out and they pick them clean)
  • ditto pumpkin seeds (if they are desperate)
  • apple cores and skin (chopped finely)- makes me feel less guilty about losing the goodness peeling apples for cooking when I know it will be recycled back in eggs and poo.
  • over ripe fruit (peaches, plums etc) - put into mash
  • any kind of green leaf/ peeling etc (you have to be joking! they only enjoy greens straight off the plant!)
Feeding 'waste' to worms

We have 2 small worm farms that process about 1-2 litres of kitchen peelings  and coffee grounds per week. The main thing with the worms is not to let them overheat in the summer. A few days heading towards 40 degrees plus and they end up in serious trouble (I learnt the hard way during the crazy heatwave prior to the black Saturday bush fires in 2009. I came home from work to a hideous stench in my front yard- a 1000 or so rotting worms in my backyard).  My remedy since then has been to put a frozen drink bottle in the worm farm on very hot days which seems to work (either that or evolution has worked exceptionally fast).  Other than that my worms are pretty tough. Contrary to popular wisdom and unlike the chooks they are NOT fussy  and happily live with food they are not supposed to like- onion and citrus.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Mad about Mexican.

gathering ingredients for a Mexican feast.
Up until recently my  'Mexican' food experiences comprised of the following: Somewhere on our American road trip when I was 15, half price margarita night at Taco Bills- uni,  and Old El Paso. When I lived in Japan I even found the taco shells (made in Australia) at Sony Plaza a popular store with a weird mix of make up beauty products, Tim Tams, and other imported groceries.

Always keen to experience new  flavours,  I was quite excited with the opening of a  'Mamasita' a few years back, this was perhaps the first of recent batch of Melbourne eateries touting authentic Mexican food and Tequila. Unfortunately as with most over hyped things here in Melbourne, my excitement was short-lived. The one time we went we rushed out of work early got there at 5.45pm on a Tuesday... and found we had the last 2 seats in the place crowded at a bar whilst everyone else was lined up for hours from the front door and down the stairs. So I had given up on Mexican until I came across an entry in the Footscray Food blog for La Tortilleria- real tacos just round the corner in Kensington and the best bit you can by fresh tortillas made from freshly stone ground corn to take home.

So with tortillas in hand, a few left over chillies, capsicum, tonnes of fresh lime and some fantastic seasons avocado (not my own) I have unleashed a Mexican cooking frenzy. To date I have experimented with  Neil Perry's recipe for chicken adobo and a smoky pork tacos from (lots of the other similar recipes contained apple/juice so I also substituted some of the chicken stock with apple juice for this recipe and added a couple of mild chilies).

I addition to creating a side of avocado with lime and coriander I also found another unusual Mexican ingredient at the Gasworks farmers market- tomatillos. I had never seen these before, but my friend having just returned from a brief stop over in Mexico assured me these are indeed found in Mexican markets.

I am excited about attempting to grow some of the tomatillos from seed- any hints?

Helpfully they came with there own recipe sheet for 'Tomatillo Salsa Verde'. The tomatillos first need to be cooked- apparently they are normally boiled but this recipe suggested baking these along with a couple of cloves of garlic which is what I did.

The recipe then proceeds as follows (note I created mine with about half the amount)
  • 500g tomatillos
  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander
  • 1tbs fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 2 jalapeno or padron peppers (seeds removed for less heat)
  • roasted garlic
  • salt to taste
All the ingredients are then put into a blender for a couple of pulses to chop fairly coarsely- place in a serving bowl and there you have it.

tomatillo salsa and some avocado and coriander with lime