31 Jul 2013

garden share collective: august

This month reflects not so much what I have done around the garden, but what my Dad has done (if you need reminding of just how capable he is, read here. And here).
Though I may have the Garden Share Collective to thank for prompting these achievements, as I casually mentioned to Dad how good it would be to provide an update on the water tank situation mentioned in the previous post … so here goes.

This kind of rigid plastic tank with its supporting metal cage is usually used to cart water. It holds 1000 litres. Dad bought it (second hand) for about $100, so a very cheap option. I'll bucket the water out for my vegies and backyard pots

So, Dad came up mid-week and finish installing the tank. No help from me this time; he came over while I was at work and refused my offers to take a day off. Truth is I think he prefers it when I’m not with him, because then I’m not reminding him to wear his ear muffs or eye goggles or leather gloves or to just be careful Dad, be careful!

While it may have made more sense to place the tap on the other side of the tank, away from the garden, clever Dad reasons that one day I might get another tank (!), so this configuration will work better when there are two, side by side.

The base is also haphazard (we’re all about making do – I have piles of house bricks and pavers sitting about), but come summer I shall paint all the supports white so they look a bit more uniform.

Dad also delivered a great quantity of ‘vegie mix’ – fortified soil for the vegie garden. Thanks, Dad.

Thank you too to the weather gods, because on the Saturday after Dad’s work, the weather was drab but fine enough for me to sweep around the tank, brush some more sand into the new paving strip, neatly stack the leftover bricks and pavers, and generally tidy up what has been a building site for quite a few months. All ‘infrastructure’ stuff but sometimes this is what gardening is about (and I get more obsessed with order as I get older).

Then I set to distributing that vegie mix about (well, I made a thermos of tea and then I went back to work). First I transplanted some self-seeded larkspurs from the garden beds - their vibrant cobalt flowers are stars at attracting bees to the garden, but I don’t need them within the vegie patch - and I set aside the last two bean trellises.

I then bucketed the vegie mix around (Dad, you would be so proud of me: I even raked it smooth). I’ll dig it in closer to planting time; probably September or October, once the soil and the days start to warm up. Not only will this improve the soil, but it will raise the level: the middle patch is reclaimed from the lawn, so is not very deep or good a quality. This stuff adds a couple of inches as well as some better substance to the soil.
These few hours in the garden were a pleasant task; I spend my working days sitting at a desk so physically moving like this is good for my soul and my muscles. And it was good to get this ‘infrastructure’ stuff done ahead of spring’s planting and sowing. And it gives me something to report to you.

Thank the heavens again, because on Sunday, we had steady, drizzly rain. Enough to start filling the tank - it was lovely to hear the water trickling down the pipes and into the tank - and to wet down the vegie mix (the weekend after this, we had torrential rain; that thousand litre tank is now completely filled). With a break in the rain, I decided to cut back my neighbour’s pittosporum (see second photo). It looks – looked – soft and pretty, but I plan on placing a passionfruit against that wall in spring. Getting the overhanging branches off now allows any rain to fall onto the ground and keep the bed moist.
Garlic growing well in the bag

So this has been a much more positive update than I had anticipated. I had originally drafted a fairly depressing post – driven by some gloomy days – that would have had you all sending me prescriptions for anti-depression medication. But, a turn in weather means a change of heart and an opportunity to get outside and achieve something. I am buoyed by getting this major work down. It’s good to look out the window and see neat, orderly progress.

To do this coming month:
  • Start dreaming about spring seeds to buy and sow
  • Phone the nursery and ask about passionfruit vines
  • Keep feeding and harvesting the greens that are growing: tatsoi, silverbeet and curly kale
  • Stay positive!
Rosemary sprigs for a future rosemary tree, to be grown in a more convenient location of the garden 

Don’t get forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective who are being far more active in terms of growing than I am! Click on the logo in the column at right to find more green thumbs.

Dad even popped this broom holder up for me, so it’s easier to sweep up leaves without having to move all these tools first

27 Jul 2013

melbourne inspirations

Last weekend I travelled across the stormy waters (to Melbourne) to visit my gorgeous friend M and her husband J. The weekend was heaven (my idea of heaven, anyway): shopping for hot pink sequined cardigans, geranium-rose scented handwash, and mod apple-print napkins (oh, and M found the last copy of Sumptuous magazine!); eating √©clair de fraise and sipping fortifying earl grey before the afternoon assault on the shops; being equally inspired by the breath-taking, transformative beauty of Monet’s waterlilies and the detailed, quirky interiors of many, many cafes.
I hadn’t realised how starved I was of beauty, of new sensations and pleasures: of the sweet conundrum of choosing between a pecan macaron or hazelnut ice cream (I went with the ice cream; M had a salted caramel macaron). Of marveling wide eyed at one caf√©’s spot-on balance of industrial grunge and elegance, mixing uplit yellow bouquets with street-sign stools (no doubt inspired by Rosalie Gascoigne, one of my favourite artists). Of touching soft cashmere sweaters and nubbly linen throws, enjoying champagne and pizza with friends, trying (and buying) glamourous hats, and wafting thru scented department store floors.
Probably much to M’s embarrassment, I enjoyed myself so much and was so eager to absorb everything that I talked non-stop to the sales assistants. Are these bowls hand thrown? Where did you get that lipstick from? How exactly did you make those little cakes? I felt a little like the country hick visiting her glamourous big city cousins. So much to see, do and learn; so little time.

My mind is still remembering and processing details and snatched glimpses to somehow replicate at home. Some are easy: the stemless wine glasses used for tea, the Zero teapots that appeared everywhere. I’ve previously resisted their streamlined charms, but now I realise such resistance is futile. I want a crackled one. Or maybe the dark burgundy colour. Or the rose. Or...

Others – I shall make my own toasted granola, but maybe not as fantastically good as the one I had for Sunday brunch. I shall buy flaky croissants to make weekend breakfasts special, and pull out the good china more often, a la M&J. And I shall attempt the little light-as-air passionfruit and orange drizzle cake – no butter, but nine eggs! – the recipe for which I miraculously drew out from the generous, talented chef (as scribbled on the back of the cafe card; above).
As my friend S said, it’s good to ‘get off the island’ for some recharging. To step outside your normal life for a moment, to experience and dream of lovely things and moments, and hopefully translate it into your own real world when you return.

23 Jul 2013

dreams of spring

Reading home decorating and gardening magazines on cold, dark winter evenings can be equal parts inspiring and frustrating (reading it's-summer-over-here English ones even more so). I look up and about, and want to create, say, a pearly feature wall in my bedroom, or paint all the skirting boards white.

But it seems pointless - the painting, especially - when it's too cold to open any windows; I'd be inhaling that fresh paint smell in my sleep for weeks.

As I flip thru the glossy, colourful pages, I am seized by a compulsion to makeover, upgrade my domestic life. I dig out two favourite pages of English garden sheds, looking prim and pristine and pretty; a dirty blunnie would never have darkened their doorsteps. Then I think about another pic I used to have taped up somewhere, and I mentally install big pots of colour right near the back door, that I can see from where I stand at the kitchen bench; hot pink and red pelargoniums, perhaps.

Instead, I channel my wistful dreams into sorting thru the linen press and sweeping the browned, curled-up leaves from the driveway. I transplant self-seeded larkspurs from the vegie garden into the cold, unpromising soil of the flower beds up the front.

Instead of repainting walls white, I take down art prints, hoping to let as much of the weak, watery sunlight bounce around as possible.

I can barely yet gather a handful of jonquils from the garden to bring their perfumed promise of spring breathing into the house. So, instead, I rely on a cheeky stash of imposters to at least bring colour to each room, if not life.

Gloomy days plod by, monotonously; dreary routine fills winter, not the bright spontaneity and doing of summer. After work, after chores, reading magazines and looking ahead.

14 Jul 2013

plain malt biscuits

Sorry - I ate them all before I took a photo

I have told you before that I love a plain cake – simple, barely sweet. Of course you can fancy it up by serving it with fruit or icing or ice cream – or whatever – but a perfect perfectly-plain cake can stand on its own.

However, I’ve never contemplated baking a perfectly plain biscuit. Shortbread, I suppose, is close to it, but if you say ‘plain biscuit’ I’ll word associate and come back with store-bought biscuits like ‘milk arrowroot’ or ‘scotch finger’ biscuits, and I’m not really a fan of those. So make your own? Why bother?

Because you’ll be in for a lovely surprise. These are morning tea biscuits, mainly because you’ll feel compelled to dunk them in your cup of tea (which, when I think about it, is possibly not very ladylike or proper, is it?).

The flavour is not at all sweet, but warm and cosy – it’s hard to put your finger on it, but there is a distinctly pleasing flavour in each bite. Their subtlety will be your undoing – they are very morish.

These malt biscuits are also good fun to make because you get to play with your cookie cutters! This would be lots of fun if you were cooking with children, but adults should find it equally enjoyable. Can I just say though, that the original recipe’s instructions were frustratingly vague – without advising what size cutter to use, you were promised 12 biscuits at the end of it! Not good.

So go put the kettle on and enjoy one or two (or more) of these perfectly-plain plain biscuits.

Plain malt biscuits
Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe. A note on the malt: mum and I could not find malt powder (specified in the original recipe), only malt drinks loaded with sugar. I finally found a 1kg tin of liquid malt extract (Saunders brand). It’s very thick – almost like tar – to do spray your measuring cup with a little oil to help it slide off (and be patient!). At this rate, you’ll have the tin for the rest of your life.
  • Beat 150 gms soft butter with 1 cup icing sugar until pale and creamy.
  • Add 1 egg, ¼ cup liquid malt extract, 1 tspn vanilla and beat until well combined.
  • Now sift in 2 ½ cups plain flour, 1 tbspn cornflour and 1 tspn baking powder and combine to form a smooth dough.
  • Roll out dough between two sheets of baking paper til about 5mm thick. Slide onto a baking try (still between paper) and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • When ready, preheat your oven to 160.
  • Choose your favourite cookie cutters and stamp away, flouring the cutter between each biscuit to prevent sticking, and transfer the individual biscuits to a lined baking 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 do as we did: roll the scraps into small balls and flatten slightly with a floured fork.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly 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. Nice warm (they will be softer and slightly chewy) and of course cooled and hard. And dunked in tea.

    10 Jul 2013

    as seen in Sumptuous magazine

    Thank you to Jane (and her mum) for discovering that Dig In is featured in the latest edition of Sumptuous, a South Australian foodie magazine. I had no idea!

    So if you are coming here after reading the lovely words in Sumptuous, welcome!

    Thank you Jane for the proof:

    8 Jul 2013

    weekend view of mt wellington

    Snow report! This is the view from my front window.

    7 Jul 2013

    banana chocolate swirl cake

    First, check your pantry that you have all the ingredients. No bananas; get some at lunchtime.

    Get home, realise you forgot bananas. That’s okay – get some tomorrow when you’re running errands.

    Got bananas – start cooking!
    Preheat oven, prep tin. Ugh, recipe specifies a loaf tin over a foot long (32.5 cms, to be precise – or 13 inches, if I’m doing my conversion correctly). Who has a tin that long? Phone mum. Mum agrees: who has a tin that long? She says the cake would probably break in the middle as you turn it out, anyway. Decide to use big bundt tin instead.
    Whizz bananas in food processor for lovely smooth mash. Try three bananas - get way more than recipe requires – they are big bananas! Measure out what is required, add a bit more, then eat the rest. Yum.
    Check recipe – melt chocolate. Set up double boiler on stovetop. Find no cooking chocolate in pantry – only dark Lindt with the mousse-like filling. Turn off pre-heating oven and hotplate, grab wallet and car keys and head to supermarket; luckily it’s only a 15 minute round trip. 
    On trip to supermarket wonder if you really did turn off the oven and hotplate. Panic.
    Grab two blocks of cooking chocolate, just in case. See girl who served you this morning when you bought the bananas. She remembers you. Yup, back again.
    Head home, still thinking about oven and hotplate. Remind yourself it’s only a 15 minute round trip.
    Get a red light.
    Get another red light.
    Get home; you did turn off oven and hotplate. Phew.
    Take deep breath, turn everything back on, and start baking again. Ten minutes for beating butter and sugar? Ten minutes? Beat for about three; what would seven more achieve?
    Yes, it was one of those days.
    Gorgeous banana-coloured cloth from Frangipani Fabrics.

    Banana chocolate swirl cake
    Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe.
    • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep a bundt tin.
    • First, mash your bananas using a fork or use your food processor for a super smooth puree. You need a generous 1 ½ cup of banana; how many bananas you need depends on their size. Set aside.
    • Next, melt 100 gms dark chocolate and set aside.
    • Beat 125 gms soft butter with 1 cup light brown sugar for a few minutes, until pale and creamy.
    • Add 2 eggs, then ¼ cup golden syrup, then the banana.
    • Now sift in 1 ½ cups plain flour, 1 tspn baking powder, ½ tspn bicarb soda and 1 scant tspn mixed spice.
    • Take another bowl and place half the cake batter into this, then stir thru this second bowl the melted chocolate until well combined.
    • Take your cake tin and spoon alternating blobs of the two cake batters. Take a knife and do some swirls to lightly combine the batters.
    • Bake cake for 45 minutes or until done. Once baked, cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool before cutting.

    3 Jul 2013

    gingerbread biscuits

    Why were these biscuits originally called ‘honey jumbles’ when they contain no honey? Why were they given a name that sounds all sweet and childish when they are so deeply, darkly flavoured?
    Yes they look pretty with their pastel pink, glossy glace icing (and some blingy silver cachous thrown in for good measure). But looks can be deceiving. These hard–chewy fingers catch in your throat with their generous sling of golden syrup and heady hit of ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg.
    I shared these with some of my pretty work friends, who all cooed ‘gingerbread biscuits!’ See? Honey jumbles? Nowhere near it.
    Look how pale and grey our winter light is
    Gingerbread biscuits
    Adapted from an Australian Women’s Weekly recipe.
    • In a small saucepan, melt 60 gms butter with ½ cup dark brown sugar and ¾ cup golden syrup and stir til smooth. Remove from heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl, and allow to cool a little.
    • Stir in 2 ½ cups plain flour, ½ cup SR flour, ½ tspn bicarb soda, 1 egg, 2 tspns ground ginger, 1 tspn cinnamon, 1 tspn mixed spice, and about 1/8 tspn ground nutmeg (the original recipe specified ½ tspn ground cloves, a spice I do not have).
    • If this gets too difficult to stir with a spoon, get in and squeeze and bring together with your hands, before taking out of the bowl and kneading on a lightly-floured surface until it comes together and loses some of its stickiness. Wrap in cling film then refrigerate for about half an hour.
    • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 180 and prep a few baking trays.
    • Divide dough into eight portions then roll each portion into a long sausage, about 2 cms thick. Then cut each sausage into lengths about as long as your pointer finger (though my fingers got progressively longer and longer – I have no patience), rolling out a little more, pinching and shaping the ends til they are rounded, then flattening slightly. Repeat this until you’ve worked thru all the dough.
    • Place on baking trays and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and cool slightly before transferring to a cooling rack.
    • Once cooled completely, you can ice them if you wish. Beat 1 egg white until lightly frothy, then gradually sift and stir in 2 cups icing sugar (I think though mine may have been icing sugar mixture) plus 2 tspns plain flour.
    • Then gradually squeeze in as much lemon juice as needed to get a smooth, spreadable paste; you don’t want it too liquid. Tint with the food colouring of your choice, then use a small knife to spread the icing onto each biscuit (I used a dip knife; it was just the right size and shape – like a mini palette knife). Fancy up with cachous or other edible decorations should you wish.
    • They will soften after a few days of being iced, but that does not diminish the spiced flavour at all; it just makes them different.