30 Apr 2014

garden share collective: may

Dead peas

Autumn is traditionally the season for tidying up the garden after the glories of spring and summer. With the recent extended Easter-to-Anzac Day break, there was plenty of uninterrupted time, and mostly cool fine weather, for doing just that.

I spent a few days at my parents’ place, helping dad prune his apple and pear trees; chopping down desiccated corn plants; helping mum deadhead the agapanthus; and generally weeding and helping where I could. We added to the vast stockpile at the bottom of their property that is the remains of the trees cut down in the aftermath of last year’s January bushfires. That will be one magnificent blaze when the local firies come to burn it for us, and a significant milestone for my parents and me. I intend to be present to witness this event.

I then returned home to tackle my large garden to-do list:

This covered both the back yard (which is predominantly the vegies and fruit trees) and the front garden (ornamentals). High on the list was removing trees that had literally outgrown their welcome: the apple tree whose fruit was always spoiled by coddling moth, then consumed by birds and wasps; a bay tree that was all of a sudden a giant, blocking light and sending its insidious roots into the surrounding vegie plots; a rosemary that also had a carpet-like root system that made it impossible for anything nearby to flourish; a self-sown yellow peach that was simply in the wrong spot (plus I have its ‘mother’ tree).

Dad and the bay tree. Dad is about six foot tall, so the bay is perhaps eight foot

I heard landscape gardener Paul Bangay once declare that ‘a garden is not a hospital’ — meaning there is no place for nurturing sickly plants along; remove them and replace them! By extension of this philosophy, I believe that a garden is not a charity, and if a tree or plant is superfluous to my needs or even causing harm to the rest of the garden — well, again, get rid of it.

Dad attacking the roots of the bay tree

It’s a liberating concept once you get used to it, and it does take some getting used to, if you’re someone like me who looks kindly on self-sown plants in particular, thinking that if they’ve decided to grow in that crack in the path, who am I to stop them? And it’s also difficult to cut down or pull out a perfectly strong, healthy, ‘good’ plant; but one has to be realistic and rationale (no, plants don’t have feelings…do they?), especially in a small suburban backyard. There is no space for an eight foot high bay tree that dominates the soil and the sunlight.

The bay tree felled! Dad still working to free the roots
Of course, now there are great holes in the landscape that my eye needs to adjust to. The back yard in particular looks larger. I have plans, but I’m in no hurry, especially after this work program — which, let me absolutely clear, was done largely by my heroic father and his trusty mini-chainsaw, mattock, crowbar and huge garden fork; and for which I have the utmost gratitude and appreciation.

I’ll need to bring in new soil and other ‘stuff’ to coax the ground back to life. And no doubt I still have some roots to remove. Then, where the apple tree was, will be a damson plum. Our research shows that apart from birds, a damson’s rich, jewel-like flesh is usually free from grubs and disease. And where the bay was, a Lisbon lemon. I have a lemon tree already, but I’ve never liked its flavour, so (again, with research) I think a Lisbon is the way to go.

The vegie patch itself is also on its way out, after, I must admit, a fairly ordinary summer. I was not entirely pleased with the productivity of some of my plantings. I’ve been pulling out the dry, grey-moulded pea and bean vines, and mum collected a small handful of dried borlotti bean pods, ready for next year’s sowing. I’m impatient to remove the rest because they are looking pretty ugly.

Pulled peas. Will be buried as a green manure

But I have a few more weeks perhaps of climbing beans, and there are still a couple of zucchini on. There are a few green tomatoes left, heavy and bulbous, but with the autumnal sun fast losing its heat, I’m not sure if they will ripen.

Last tomatoes. I've already pruned back their plants, so they look very skeletal and forlorn

The dwindling crops signal that the gloom of winter is not far away. You can of course garden over winter in Tassie, but apart from silverbeet and kale, I choose not to. Gardening is restricted to the weekend, as it’s just too dark after work to see the garden! Opportunities and time for work are very limited when you work full-time, or that is my experience anyway. Maybe I’m wimping out (because along with the dark comes the cold)), but the months off do give me time to plan and dream about what I’ll sow and plant and grow and harvest next season.

Currently growing and harvesting
  • Beans, tomatoes, peas, zucchini: but not for much longer
  • Capsicum. Singular. Hmmm. Still as small and hard as a golf ball and as green as billy-o. Not a great success, but at least I can say I tried.
  • Lettuce. A bit like the capsicum; has really failed to flourish, and the plants are not much bigger than when I put them in. This baffles me.
  • Garlic (below). I planted perhaps early April, in two grow bags, and already it is shooting ahead. Very exciting.

Things to do
  • Tidy, pull out plants when they are finished, and their stakes and supports. This is the first step to putting the garden ‘to bed’ for the winter.
  • I’ve asked my friend J (male, with muscles) to dig up another part of my lawn. This will further expand the size of the beds (more tomatoes! Corn!).
  • Once the tomatoes are removed, and the soil fed up a bit, I intend to plant my winter crop of silverbeet and kale. I suspect this is late, but I had no other option but to wait for the tomato bed to be freed up.
  • Work on those craters left behind by the apple, bay, rosemary and peach trees.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.

11 Apr 2014

carla’s tuna and tomato oven risotto

Here is a dish that, as delicious and colourful and filling and wonderful as it is, you will never see on a café or restaurant menu.

Why? Because it’s made with tinned tuna. A tin of tuna is the stuff of home cooks; of mid-week fishcakes made with leftover mashed potato, of creamy, cheesy macaroni tuna mornay. Simple, un-starry meals; cheap and cheerful; and undeniably nostalgic and comforting.
So as the days get shorter and cooler, one craves something ever-so-slightly more substantial than a salad. This is it: oven-baked risotto. Before you think ‘stodge’, let me tell you this is lightened by green polka-dot peas and grated zucchini, the last of the season. And a luscious topping of almost-last of the season tomatoes, juicy and vibrant.
And of course, tinned tuna.

Carla’s tuna and tomato oven risotto
Adapted from Carla’s recipe; I halved her original quantity for four modest servings, and added zucchini. I’ve since made it without following quantities too strictly at all; as long as you get the water-to-rice ratio okay (and you can easily remedy that if you don’t), risotto is pretty accommodating.

First, some prep:
  • Bring 250 mls vegie stock and 250 mls water to simmer. Have a kettle of boiled water on standby, in case you need to add more during the cooking process.
  • Take a generous half cup of frozen peas and allow to thaw out (you can zap in microwave or pour boiling water over them, as I did).
  • Grate some zucchini, about a cup’s worth (don’t get too hung about the quantity).
  • And roughly chop some tomatoes, enough to cover the surface of the baking dish you’re going to use (probably three or four, depending too on the size of your tomatoes).
  • While we're at it, dice half a large onion (or a medium one!) and crush three or four garlic cloves (or to your taste).
Now get cooking:
  • Preheat your oven to 180.
  • Melt a small wodge of butter and a slosh of olive oil and gently cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent.
  • Add ¾ cups arborio rice and stir around to toast for a few minutes.
  • Add hot stock and two 95 gm tins of good quality tuna in oil that you’ve drained.
  • Transfer the risotto to a large baking dish and cover with foil. Pop in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, remove the foil (if it’s looking a bit dry, add some hot water from the kettle), and bake for another 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, stir thru the peas and zucchini (again, if it’s looking a bit dry, add some hot water), top with the tomatoes and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake for another 20 minutes or until rice is tender.
  • Remove from oven, and serve with a good squeeze of lemon juice, some capers, and some basil. Enjoy.

3 Apr 2014

passionfruit cheesecake slice

Let’s stretch this gorgeous summery weather out for as long as possible. Defiantly bare legs and sundresses — okay, maybe with a scarf around the neck in the morning — before we descend into the full-body armour of winter woollies. And creamy, zingy cheesecake, rich with lemon and tropical passionfruit. What says summer better?

The wonderful thing about this slice — quite besides its whipped clouds of creamy perfection, quite besides this is my first ever cheesecake — is that this petite treat uses only half a block of cream cheese. So you have to make the slice again, quickly, to use the cream cheese before it spoils. I don’t see any problem with that.

I hope you are still enjoying cheesecake weather where you are!

Passionfruit cheesecake slice
Torn from a magazine years ago; no magazine title on the page. The base will be quite hard the first day or two, even if you cook it for the minimum time. But after that, its starts to soften from the topping, and becomes delectably sort of chewy from the coconut. You will need to allow an hour or so for the base to cool before topping it, then it needs chilling time before it can be served. Patience!
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and line a brownie tin with paper.
  • Melt 125 gms butter. Combine 1 cup SR flour, 1 cup desiccated coconut and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then slowly add the melted butter, combining it with a fork. It may appear crumbly.
  • Pour into the brownie tin and again using a fork, spread around the base, firming it up once it is evenly distributed, then finally pressing down with your hand.
  • Pop into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until very lightly golden. Allow to cool (leave it in the tin).
  • Now make the cheesecake topping: cream together 125 gms soft cream cheese with a 395 gms tin of sweetened condensed milk and 1/3 cup lemon juice. Once finished, do lick the beaters.
  • Now fold thru ¼ cup of passionfruit pulp*. 
  • Pour over the base and swirl about (yes, you are playing with your food. But it’s so dreamy!). Chill for a few hours until firm, then remove it from the brownie tin (holding the paper lining) and store in a container in the fridge.
* You can omit the passionfruit and use other fruit as I did the second time I made this (to use the other half of the cream cheese block), such as berries. You may want to scatter these on top of the filling once it is on the base.