29 Nov 2013

garden share collective: december


Hobart is in the grip of a chaotic spring. While the ugly winds have blown themselves away, the temperatures, rain and sunlight levels continue to see-saw confusingly. For example, a couple of weeks ago we had a run of four blissful days, each getting hotter and brighter (and marvellously coinciding with the weekend!), climaxing at a hot-for-Hobart 28. A day or two later, one of my oft-checked weather websites flagged that the temperature was 10 - but it felt like 8.

We've had gloomy, wet and yes, cold days; I have not yet mothballed my woollen scarves or drycleaned my coats because I am still wearing them. But we've had teases, as described above; flashes of shorts-and-t shirt weather requiring a hasty retrieval of lightweight clothing from its napthaleney winter hibernation.

What does this mean for my vegie patch? Overall, it has still been too winter-like, because nothing seems to have moved since my last garden share report. In fact, my basil-in-the-ground appears to be going backwards, because it's had too much rain and not enough heat. The peas, beans, tomatoes, passionfruit, lettuce - they don't know what's happening, so they are sitting tight and not progressing at all.

So if you don't mind, I'll show you around my flower garden instead, which in contrast to the vegies, is flourishing. While the mild winter and wet spring combo is one reason for this showiness, earlier in the year I spread around a couple of bags of sheep manure that dad got for me, then a layer of sugar cane mulch. This fed and protected the soil for a few months; once it started getting a bit dingy, I spread about bags of wood chips that I also got from dad (by-products of the January fires; all the damaged trees were chipped and left in piles around the district for everyone to help themselves to).

So the soil is the best it's been and the plants are proof: everything is at that perfect moment right now, which seems all too brief; it looks lush and colourful and gloriously pretty, not yet gone-to-seed or overcome by the heat.

My lavenders - mum and I furrow our brows in forgetfulness; French or English? Small flowers with that pungent, almost-bitter aroma we both prefer. I love their appearance here, right on the verge of being out. They remind me of those fibre optic light decorations so popular in the seventies; I'm giving my age away.

Now these I love: phacaelias (I pronounce them in my head as 'fah-see-lia', but have no idea if that is correct). Like all blue flowers, they attract the bees like nobody's business - a good thing! I have them in my vegie patch as well, and I love watching bees clamber across their soft tufty surface.

Let's get to the roses. Mention the word 'roses' to anyone here and they're sure to reply, 'oh! It's a good year for roses this year!' or 'the roses are good everywhere this year!'. Because they are. The mild winter followed by this crackers spring weather is turning suburban streets decadent with blowsy, vibrant colour. Mine are looking fabulous, too. This pretty, ballerina-pink-tutu of a rose - the bush is heavy with bunches at the moment - makes for a sweet display on the table at my front door:

That rose was here when I moved in, and we are not sure of its exact name; if you have any guesses please let mum and I know. Last year I bought two new ones to ramble across my front wall and disguise the grey subrurban brick. I planned two different shades of pink for a dappled effect. The first is Zepherine Drouhin, a hot lipstick pink with a glorious heady fragrance. The other is Pierre de Ronsard. I love its fat cabbagey blossoms and the pale green and white at each flower's base. Blushingly ultra-feminine! I can't wait till they are fulfilling their brief and obscuring the walls (google-image the roses' names to see the effect I'm hoping for; take a deep breath while you're there), but in the meantime, they still give me much pleasure.


Other flowers are not so special perhaps, but still make me happy. The osteospermums (African daisies) in the very first picture - don't they make you smile with their perfect white petals and crazy purple centres? And candytufts, and pansies too:

I'm even enjoying my neighbours' choices. This banksia tree overhangs our shared backyard fence, and with its brilliant scarlet heads, I do not mind one bit [correction: it's a bottlebrush not a banksia! Or more correctly, a callistemon.Thank you Linda!].

Finally, let's go out with a magnificent snapdragon that is actually growing in a garden bed. As opposed to growing in a crack in the driveway or a pile of gravel I haven't yet flattened or under the birch trees where I don't really want a pink snappy. Snappies must have some fiercely independent, travelling hippy gene, because they'll turn up wherever they want to, thank you very much, not where you would love to see them. But how can I get too cranky when they are this showy?

So I hope you don't mind that I have cheated on the Garden Share Collective. In all honestly, if you would like to see what my vegie garden looks like right now, please take a look at November's post - as I said, it doesn't seem to have budged a bit.

To do this coming month? Hope we get some consistently warm weather. It would be nice to pack away my winter woollies, and it would be fantastic to see something happen in the vegie garden.

Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.

25 Nov 2013

toffee apple biscuits (take 2)

Fabric from Frangipani Fabrics

While looking particularly for biscuits that were very specifically orangey, and either jaw-breakingly hard or short-as-short can be, I came across these. The name 'toffee apple biscuits' was enough to stop me in my tracks, even though I had a very, very precise baking goal in mind. Toffee apple? How?

However, reading the recipe, I decided I didn't want to put lollies in a biscuit - which is where the toffee part of the bikkie comes from - as I'm actually not a sweeties kind of person. I had plump, jewel-like raisins in the pantry instead, which would be naturally sweet and rich, not tooth-achingly so like store-bought caramels.

And then to make further changes (well why not? I was on a roll), I thought a dash of spice would warm up the flavours and complement the apple and rasins. It does in a crumble or pie, so why not in a biscuit?

So here are my toffee apple biscuits - I'm sticking with the name, because it's just so gorgeous. The apples and raisins are chewy and just the right amount of sweet; the mixed spice makes me think of Christmas flavours and works well. And these did end up ticking one of my baking boxes - short, please - because, I think, of the almond meal.

Toffee apple biscuits
Adapted from the BBC Good Food website. I think I made about 18 (I say 'I think', because I ate some before I remembered to count them).
  • Cream 85 gms soft butter with 60 gms white sugar and 60 gms light brown sugar until creamy.
  • Fold thru 25 gms almond meal, 1/4 tspn mixed spice about 112 gms SR flour (a strange number, I know, but I was halving the original recipe and if you too have digital scales you can get obsessive about it). Add 1 egg yolk.
  • Add 45 gms plump juicy raisins and 45 gms dried apple (that should really be 'semi-dried', as they are pillowy, plump and chewy) that you have chopped or snipped into roughly the same size as the raisins. Get your hands in and squeeze everything together.
  • Now preheat your oven to 190 and prep some baking trays.
  • Place walnut-sized balls on the trays with some space around them as they will spread a little. Flatten slightly (just give them a gentle pat). Bake for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and stand for a few minutes before cooling on wire racks.

24 Nov 2013

panettone for pudding


Have you bought your panettone yet? The supermarkets, delis and other foodie shops are stocking them for Christmas, so now is the time to stock up on a few of these delicately flavoured breads - so you can make the most wondrous bread and butter puddings next winter (though it's truly so cold today, I'm tempted to make one now). What a smug pleasure, laying down seasonal stores for future months.

Be sure to slice them up before you stash them away in your freezer, a size that fits your baking dishes. But - oops! Look, one slice accidentally fell out and got itself buttered, demanding to be eaten now! How could I refuse?

18 Nov 2013

sauteed greens for a sunday supper

A Sunday supper of sauteed greens. Nothing fancy or time-consuming; this is Sunday evening, afterall, the last hurrah of me-time and down-time before the Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five begins all over again. But something a little fancier than Sunday lunch, which was a bowl of muesli and a biscuit, because I was gardening, the sun was out, and I just wanted fast fuel.

Here is the simplest of suppers, with a shortcut or two to make it even quicker. First I put some casserecce on to boil, the quantity I have worked out is just enough (65 grams, if you are so interested).

Next, I heated some garlic-infused oil - I was too lazy to chop even garlic, yes.  Into that, one whole chilli and some ginger slices - straight from the freezer - to further infuse the oil with flavour and punch. Once the chilli had softened, I added a handful of PSB; it is nearing the end of its season, and the stalks are getting thinner and the heads more like blossoms than tight florets. I also use the going-to-seed tops of my kale, tender and leafy and a little like a soft broccoli floret. Flowers and all.

In they go, along with a few sprigs of parsley, stalks and all. A sizzle around til the PSB and kale darkens and the parsley goes crispy, and then tumbled thru the cooked pasta. A good squeeze of lemon juice, some chunky S&P and crumbled feta, just enough to add another texture and more bite. And done!

7 Nov 2013

orange polenta biscuits


It may come as a shock to you - it certainly was one for me - but lately I had lost my desire for cake. I didn't much feel like making it and I certainly didn't feel much like eating it.

There were attempts: I thought if I made a comforting old favourite, a pudding with a soft-as-a-cloud sponge topping over a squidge of summer berries, everything would be okay. Except after the first serve, warm from the oven, I put it in the fridge and forgot about it.

I thought if I tried a new recipe, I'd reawaken the tastebuds and thought processes. Only the jam-filled muffins turned out to be heavy and too big, and they sunk disastrously in the middle.

But one afternoon I was standing at the kitchen sink, mindlessly buttering savoy crackers and working my way thru their salty crunchy texture, when I realised: this is what I was craving! A hard crunchy biscuit. Something with bite, or maybe a shortbread, both hard and light. And maybe something citrussy? Orange or lemon-sharp shortbread?

After scouring my books and printouts, I found exactly what I was after, made with plenty of orange zest and the surprise ingredient: polenta. They looked plainish, but.

While making these was a lovely process - zesting and juicing the orange, adding the polenta and kneading the slightly sticky dough - the fun really began once they were in the oven. The raw dough smelt deliciously orangey, but as it baked (at a surprisingly high temperature), the house started to smell of - popcorn! Polenta is ground corn, I guess, but I wasn't expecting that. Did that mean the citrus notes were gone? No.

They turned out as hard as I'd hoped. Solid enough to, just for a moment, make you fear for your teeth. Good for tea dunking - a mug of bright Lady Grey is perfect, I have discovered. The polenta also gives the biscuits a pleasing grittiness, too.

And the eating? Well, let's just say I find it hard to stop at one. Or two.

Ah, baking! It's good to be back.

Orange polenta biscuits
Adapted from the Australian Women's Weekly 'Biscuits, brownies and biscotti' mini book. I halved the original and made about 18 biscuits. 
  • Cream 125 gms soft butter with 1/2 tspn vanilla, 100 gms icing sugar mixture, and the microplaned zest of two oranges, til well combined.
  • Stir thru 45 gms polenta, 185 gms plain flour, and about 1 tbspn orange juice (I say about because I measured out that much and then gave the orange half another squeeze over the dough).
  • Gently knead the dough to bring it together. Then shape it into a log and wrap tightly in clingwrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm (I left mine overnight).
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 200 and prep some baking tins.
  • Cut the log into slices no more than 1 cm thick. Use a normal knife or a wavy vegetable cutter if you have one (you can see the gentle rippled effect in the photos - nice for a change).
  • Place on the trays and bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and stand for a few minutes before cooling on wire racks.