17 Dec 2013

gingerbread biscuits for a happy christmas

The biscuit baking journey has reached its ultimate destination:

Happy Christmas everyone!

This is my last post for the year. Thank you again for your support, humour, advice and comments throughout 2013; I am constantly amazed and inspired by the lovely people I have met thru blogging.

I wish you and your family the Christmas of your dreams (mine: a quiet one, with sunshine). Take care wherever you are in the world, enjoy your Christmas dinner, and remember: there's always room for desserts.

e XX

Gingerbread biscuits
Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe. How many biscuits this makes depends on the size and shape of the cutter you choose.
  • Cream 125 gms soft butter with 1/2 cup light brown sugar for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Add 150 gms golden syrup (I heated mine gently in the microwave to get it pourable).
  • Add 1 1/2 heaped tspns of both ground ginger and mixed spice, and a good pinch of ground cloves.
  • Now sift in and fold thru 2 1/2 cups plain flour and 1 tspn bicarb of soda. Get your hands in and squeeze together until it forms a dough.
  • What you do next depends on your dough (and, it seems, the weather). The first time I made this (the test run), the weather was warm and so the dough was soft and pliable, so I rolled the dough out to about 4 mm thick between two sheets of baking paper, then chilled overnight (or at least half an hour). The second time I made this, the day was colder, and the dough was harder and more tempermental, so I squeezed it as best I could, chilled it overnight to give it a chance to come together, then rolled it out the next day between two sheets of baking paper.
  • When ready, preheat your oven to 180.
  • Choose your favourite cookie cutter and stamp away, flouring the cutter between each biscuit to prevent sticking (especially if you are dealing with an intricate shape like reindeers' antlers. Whose bright idea was this? Reattachment may be necessary). Transfer the individual biscuits to a lined tray. Once you have cut as much as you can from the sheet of dough, you can either re-roll the scraps and start again, or roll the scraps into small balls and flatten slightly with a floured fork.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden, rotating the trays halfway thru. Once done, remove and cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Decorate if your skills run to that area (mine don't). 

4 Dec 2013

jam roly-poly biscuits

So on my biscuit-baking journey I have now discovered what I don't want: a soft biscuit. These lovely old fashioned jam roly-poly bikkies were too cake-like, which was most disappointing as the process of making them was so pleasurable and relaxing.

It may appear like a lot of pfaffing about in stages - make the dough, then chill the dough; roll out the dough and spread with jam, then chill the dough again; then finally slice the log of dough into pretty pinwheels before baking.

But in truth, all those stages fitted perfectly around my Saturday morning chores. So it became chill the dough, do the groceries; chill the dough again, mow the lawn; bake the biscuits, put the laundry away.

But as I said, soft and cakey. I'm still enjoying crisp and short, or yikes-was-that-a-bit-of-tooth-I-just-broke hard. So what to do?

I took them to my Tuesday night yoga class, where the container sat teasingly while we did gomukhasana and my classmates whispered 'I want a biscuit now!' (I said if they were careful about the crumbs, they wouldn't be caught out. No eating before class, you see, so certainly not during).

So maybe you like a soft and cakey biscuit, like my yoga classmates? Here you go then.

Jam roly-poly biscuits
From Miranda Gore Browne's 'Biscuit'.
  • In your food processor, combine 250 gms plain flour with 1/2 tspn baking powder and 125 gms sugar. Then add 125 gms butter (cut into chunks) and 1 tsp vanilla extract, and whiz up til it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, then add this to your food processor (while running) until the dough balls together. Remove from food processor and knead together on a very lightly floured surface. Shape into a rectangle as best you can, then wrap with cling film and chill for an hour or so (or as long as it takes you to do your groceries).
  • Once chilling time is up, take the dough and roll out - this time between two sheets of baking paper. Try to keep it rectangular in shape, and roll it out til about 5mm thick (or until your arms get tired; I think mine was a bit thicker than this).
  • Now take your favourite jam (I used strawberry jam and loganberry jam; why not?) and spread it all over the dough. You don't want it too thick, otherwise it squirts out when you...
  • Carefully roll the dough into a log. Use the baking paper to help you - kind of push it away from you to get the roll going, then peel away the paper, back towards you. Breathe patiently.
  • Chill for an hour or so (or as long as it takes you to mow the front and back lawns).
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep some baking trays.
  • Unwrap the log and cut carefully into slices about 1 cm thick (it is trickiest at the ends; I cut these uneven bits off and just squashed them flat). 
  • Place slices on the trays with some space around them (they don't spread too much). Bake for about 15-20 minutes (the original recipe specified 10-15 minutes but mine needed longer) or until lightly golden and the underside is firm and cooked. Remove and stand for a few minutes before cooling on wire racks.

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.

31 Oct 2013

garden share collective: november


Welcome to another Garden Share Collective post and mini-tour around my vegie garden. I must tell you how much I look forward to these posts, sharing my progress and woes with you. It's especially lovely now that my garden is looking just right. Lately I have been standing in the backyard, surrounded by bees and blossoms and lush greenery; if the sun is out at the same time, it's a glorious time of the year. So it's wonderful to welcome you into my garden right now.

We have just had 'show day' (or, the opportunity for an extra-long four-day weekend for public servants like myself). Common wisdom is that you don't plant your tomatoes out til after show day, when (theoretically) the frosts are over for the year; show day itself this year was bitterly cold with a beautiful blanketing of snow on the mountain, so make of that what you will. However there seem to be some risk-takers around; Tino on Gardening Australia planted his tomatoes a few episodes ago, and about a fortnight ago, the tomato-planting fairy visited while I was at work and did this:

Yes, dad came over and planted four of the seedlings he had raised. Two are black krims, probably my favourite tomato variety; a mamma mia, a good reliable one, fingers crossed; and granny's throwing tomato, a new variety for us this year. All big hearty tomatoes, perfect for thick slabs on a summer sandwich, or on a plate with basil and mozzarella and a dribble of olive oil, or in the sauce pot for cooking. Hurry up, planties! I have plans for you!
Dad even put up plastic wrap to shield the plants from the damaging winds we've been experiencing this year; are they worse than previous springs, or have we just forgotten how ferocious they can be?
Where there's a tomato, there must be ... basil (mmmm, pesto). So a day or two later, I planted some basil seedlings (also from dad) inside the plastic with the tomatoes.

This is the big family experiment this year: growing basil in the ground, with the tomatoes. Mum and I usually grow our basil in pots, where they can catch optimum heat and sun (mum's, for example, is usually up against a brick wall to capture the reflected heat). In all, I have one, two ... seven plants dotted around the garden, but only two in a pot. So wish me luck. 
What I don't want in the garden is this intruder: stinging nettle. Can you believe it?!

It's the spiky dark green plant in the middle.
According to Jane on the Gardening Australia website, the presence of stinging nettle is a sign of rich fertile soil, so on the one hand I am chuffed, but on the other hand - literally - I did not enjoy my brush with a very very small plant, which left my skin puffy and itchy and hot. But I'm still unsure, incredulous even, about how it got here - I've never had nettle before, and it's not like I'm a dairy farm (Jane reliably informs me nettles grow amongst cow pats. Thanks Jane).
So one of show day's chores was to don my leather gloves and carefully pull it out. I then buried it in a section of the garden I'm not working yet, as a bit of green manure.
Here are my beetroot, in the growbag. Do you remember last time I was despairing that they had not germinated, and that perhaps I needed to re-sow? I did. And now all of the beetroot has germinated. There will be some thinning out required!

Below is a lovely pic of my dwarf broad beans, two generations. The first lot are only about 45 cms high; I had actually forgotten it was a dwarf variety, and was getting anxious over their stunted nature. But like normal broad beans, they are a very sturdy plant, and are already covered in those lovely white flowers with the black eyes. Broad beans for Christmas lunch?
This picture also reminds me that my struggle with the blackbirds continues. Every day I come home to find half my mulch covering plants or obscuring walkways and stepping stones. I wonder if the neighbours hear me mutter 'bloody blackbirds!' ? They are forgiven though because they are such beautiful warblers, and constant company around my garden.
Finally, here is a bunch of my PSB. The plants are nearing the end of their productive life (once done, I will pull them out and give them to mum's chooks, as they like cruciferous leaves); fat florets like this are getting rarer. This was the first time I grew PSB and it was a real success, so I shall definitely grow them again next year - and probably more than two plants. Mine is a small backyard vegie garden, with limited space, but I can make room for something so delicious, striking and productive.

To do this coming month? Really just maintenance: water, seasol, plant new generations of peas and beans and mixed lettuce. My garden space is pretty much taken up now, except for a couple of rows saved for those later plantings of peas and beans.
But most important thing to do: enjoy the garden.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share. Click on the logo in the column at right to find more green thumbs.

25 Oct 2013

on stationery

I have a stationery obsession, which is not surprising, as I am an editor; it's a recognised occupational hazard. I can't work with those standard pale yellow post-its; mine have to be vibrant colours, or sprigged with quirky prints or stamped with ironic sayings, or cut into impractical shapes.

Visiting M in Melbourne exposes me to many more retail opportunities to indulge my habit. I overdose at Kikki K, hyperventilate at the art gallery shop, and go into a blind haze of euphoria at those glorious independent stationery boutiques, especially the ones that evoke bygone European eras.  Beautifully designed notepads, cards, to do lists - I cannot and do not resist, and have the boxes and drawers full to prove it.

My latest tick is washi tape (as seen in the first photo). I don't do craft, which I believe is its primary purpose, but I do label bags of produce in the fridge:

Isn't that better? I have four rolls - now. I'm sure I'll acquire more.

Stationery fetishes can be adapted to the kitchen, as you can see. Another case in point: cupcake papers. A few years ago when cupcakes were at the height of their delirium, you needed cupcake papers, and not plain white ones, no! They need to be metallically elegant, beautifully baroque, retro-kitsch, or florally romantic. They need to be anything but plain.

One visit to M, I lost my head and came back with hundreds of the things - it was a bit of a joke by the end of my visit - but that quantity is not hard to achieve when they come in a pack of 50 (you do the maths). To ease any guilt, I split the packs with mum.

It's a shame sometimes to throw them away once you've eaten the cake, and I do get sad when a particularly lovely design is finished. But then, that's life for a cupcake paper. Use it once; that's it.

Writing lists - be it the weekend to do list or the grocery list - is never done on the back of a recycled envelope in my house. Not when there are specialist tools available!

Something like this makes walking around the grocery aisles and picking up toilet paper and rolled oats almost a joy. And what did William Morris say about making the beautiful practical, and the practical beautiful? There you go, his words of wisdom proven by a shopping list. Though I'm not sure that is what he had in mind.

Now, having moved on from the buzz of cupcakes papers and having enough post-its to last a very long time, I seem to have settled into paper napkins.

Yes, I'm aware some of these packets are still unopened... Pretty printed things; mostly, I noticed when taking this photo, I'm veering towards kitchenalia or colourful florals, some so delicately sweet they are almost perfumed. There's a design for every mood, meal and cup of tea. All to be used for wiping your hands and mouth, then crumpled up and thrown away. I'm sure they can't even be recycled once they have foodstuff on them.

And here is the quandary, the delicious little pickle that any fellow stationery obsessive will recognise: a beautiful shopping list, lovely napkin or just plain pretty stretch of tape is a thing of joy, but such a fleeting, impermanent one. To use it and bring colour and quirk to the most ordinary of daily tasks is such stationery's purpose in life. It is not meant to be forever. Use it up and you'll run out and never see it again. You could stockpile it and lock it away, but that negates the reason you got it; it's not the good crystal or heirloom silver, afterall. Or you could use cloth napkins, but you'd be using the same ones over and over, risking familiarity and boredom; plus you'd have to launder and iron them, and that's work. Or you could use an app on your smart-thingy, but would that elicit the same feeling as crossing off accomplishments from a colourful, well-designed piece of paper?

15 Oct 2013

vegie slice

My al desko lunch

My first vegie slice in months, and the perfect lunch solution in so many ways.

First and foremost, it's easy to make when I come home from a weekend at mum and dad's - when I'm unpacking bags of mulch, bunches of flowers, icecream containers of seedlings, maybe a carton of eggs and a cooler bag of carrots and pumpkin.

A vegie slice is forgiving, and will usually gladly help you clean out your fridge of those neglected ingredients. Like the chunks of pumpkin I roasted with garlic and fresh garden sage, ready for a midweek tangle of spaghetti, but ... I forgot about.

Finally, a vegie slice is a wonderful way to pack lots of nutritious vegies into one convenient dish. Four vegies should be a minimum, don't you think? This one had those still-bright-orange pumpkin chunks (one), some diced red capsicum (two), a finely chopped onion (does a basic like onion count?), some corn kernels from the depths of mum's freezer (three. Or four), and finally - silverbeet. Lots and lots of verdant silverbeet, whizzed up in my food processor (complete with tender stalks) to produce a juicy green mulch. Okay, so it looked a little like lawn clippings. But look at the colour in the pic above! I was very pleased with the greeny-greeness produced by whizzing it up so finely.

So there's my lunch for this week, a delicious mix of fresh and salvaged vege, held together with a slurp of milk, sour cream and six little bantam eggs, and topped with some crunchy panko crumbs.

What are you having for lunch this week?

6 Oct 2013

spring garden ramble


I thought as we were poking about the vegie garden, you might like to have a look at the rest of my garden? Because spring has arrived - save the occassional frosty cold snap - and colour is re-emerging in my garden.

Actually let's stay in the back yard for a moment and admire my banksia rose, climbing over the back fence and gradually providing a screen from the neighbours and a magical sense of enclosure:

It's glorious right now, its lemony yellow blossoms a lovely backdrop to the vegie patch. I actually do not like yellow flowers (they remind me too much of weeds), but these delicate clouds are more than acceptable.

Closer to these house are these coral-red kalanchoes. They too go dormant over the winter but are really starting to glow right now. The spot I have this and another pot hanging from catches the late afternoon sun, which seems to make them really happy - this is the lushest this pot of colour has ever been. The other pot is hanging over a clump of pale lilac bluebells, and the contrast is delightful - and it reminds me of just how much I love and need colour, no matter what combination (for work this week I was required to wear a black shirt, which sucked the life out of me and made me feel drab and depressed. On Friday I rebelled and wore my hot pink cardigan with multi-coloured sequined spots and my brightest pink lipstick, and instantly felt like me again).

Before we head up to the front, let's detour inside and have a look at my potted orchids. They are on the kitchen table at the moment while I'm waiting for some roofing renovations to occur, but a benefit of this indoor hiatus is seeing their soft pastel prettiness everytime I go into the kitchen. I am smugly pleased to report that my orchids are apparently lusher than mum's; I don't get to claim those victories often!

So back outside and into the front. I try to accept that my garden is like an English garden over winter - it just shuts down. There is only so much green I can look at, so I am always happy when everything starts to pop back to life and wave its colourful vibrant flags. Dark pink boronia (with its heady fragrance), variegated pinks of the weigela tree, the desert-hot red and look-at-me orange of various gazanias, lush velvety reds of wallflowers, the pinks and lilacs and corals of the pelagoniums and stocks and sweet williams and ornamental kale and other pretties.

There is still much to happen - I'm waiting patiently for my two young lilac trees to reveal themselves fully, and the various penstamon cuttings show no sign yet of doing anything colourful. The petunia and lobelia seedlings are steadily growing, but are still a few weeks off buds and blooms. The next couple of months hold such promise.

29 Sept 2013

garden share collective: october

It’s been a long time coming, and some days I wonder if it has arrived at all, but – welcome, Spring. In the last month, we’ve had some gloriously mild weather (‘mild’ may not sound like much of a compliment to you, but believe me, it is). A few sunny warm bright days in a row, and humans and gardens alike are happy.

Then of course, Mother Nature likes to remind us who’s the boss. One week, my poor garden got hit hard by three heavy frosts in a row — yes, in September — which really knocked back a lot of ornamental seedlings and shrubs.

But after garden and gardener have both been dormant, now we are waking from our winter hibernation and getting ready for some consistently-warm weather (hopefully. Fingers crossed).

Yes, this is a girly garden. Old pink tights to tie up the stakes. Of course

I've hammered in my trellises (and dad gave a second round of pounding, for good measure). I’ve spread some golden sugar cane mulch over the beds – not for keeping the soil moist and warm, but purely for the fossicking pleasure of the neighbourhood blackbirds. It’s an endless dance (perhaps you know it?) between them kicking it out onto my pavers and pathways, and me scraping it back into the garden beds (repeat ad infinitum).

I’ve started sowing a few peas and beans: dwarf and climbing varieties; snow peas, borlottis, blue lake. Touch wood, peas and beans are usually reliable crops in my garden.

I'm very proud of my broad beans:

Aren’t they beautifully sturdy?

I’m also proud of my first ever crop of purple sprouting broccoli (or PSB as we hip and down-with-it gardeners say…). See the first pic in this post? It’s so striking! I cut the tender stalks off carefully, as there are usually a couple of new ones at the base ready to succeed them.
Unfortunately, the florets lose that glamourous deep-violet shade once cooked, but they seem to stay a darker green that the normal stuff. I’ve enjoyed PSB in only a couple of meals so far — just barely steamed or saut├ęd and tossed with some cassarecce pasta and some olive oil, lemon juice and parsley. When the produce is this beautiful, to do any more would be a travesty.

The tatsoi gone to seed. I was going to pull it out, but mum convinced me to leave it for colour and for the bees.

My dormant herbs are also reappearing. I thought I’d lost my lemon thyme (a favourite of mine), but I found some lurking beneath a fragrant cloud of freesias. Another favourite, chives, are also resurfacing in the garden and turning up in great handfuls on my dinner plate.

The newly mulched garden. In the background you can see the growbags of garlic and (hopefully) beetroot, then curly kale, self-seeded mizuna, and parlsey.

I have also planted my passionfruit. It too got hit by the frosts (my protective wrapper clearly inadequate), but I have been applying the seasol and hopefully it will recover. I did notice a small tendril coming forth. So again, keep your fingers crossed.

Finally, and on a less positive note, the warmer weather has brought an unwanted visitor to the garden: aphids. There is no living thing on this planet that I detest more than aphids (rats are equal parts fear and hatred, but tipping into the fear zone). Aphids stir up an illogical amount of loathing and anger within me.
This year I am trying to be zen about it and seeing if I can put down the pyrethrum — there is nothing more satisfying that drowning/blasting off a thick blanket of aphids from a favoured rosebush, accompanied of course by a dark laugh. I’m going to try and leave these evil sap-suckers to the afore-mentioned Mother Nature and her army of ladybirds and actual feathered birds to clean them up for me. I have already seen a pair of blue wrens pick away, but they really need to step it up some and eat more.

To do this coming month:
  • Sow more broad beans, for staggered crops.
  • Check the beetroot seeds. I would have thought they’d have popped up by now, so I shall have a poke about to see what is happening – if they are germinating or if they have rotted.
  • Get moving on the companion plantings.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share. Click on the logo in the column at right to find more green thumbs.

Couldn't resist showing you this stupendously large sliverbeet leaf. Wow!