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 sautéd 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!

22 Sept 2013

mum's Russian slice


Ways to lift your spirit:
  • Walk through a garden or park, especially when you’re in the city.
  • Enjoy the spring blooms — camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, tulips — even the fallen and rain-sodden ones.
  • Say hello to a puppy.
  • Watch a blackbird pull a worm from the ground, and fly off - to a nest of chicks perhaps?
  • Listen to chickens cluck, magpies warble, blue wrens titter.
  • Snuggle into a new woollen scarf in a colour you don’t normally wear.
  • Get new kitchen flooring.
  • Enjoy a visit to (or from) mum and dad, and the homemade goodies that go with it (with a good cup of tea).
What lifts your spirits?

Mum’s Russian slice
This is one of my favourite things that my mum bakes; it's simple and wonderfully old-fashioned. I love its flavour as well as its pillowy appearance. This is the first time I have ever made it. Do make sure you lick the bowl.
  • Preheat your oven to 190 and prep a small slice tin (mine's about 17 by 27cms).
  • In a saucepan large enough to act as a mixing bowl, melt 175 gms butter and 2 tbspns golden syrup.
  • Remove from heat then stir in 1/4 light brown sugar, 1 1/2 tspn vanilla, 1/2 cup sultanas or raisins, and 1/4 cup walnut pieces.
  • Now stir thru 1 1/4 cups plain flour, 1 1/2 tspn baking powder, and 1 egg.
  • Blob into slice tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  • Serve at morning tea time.

15 Sept 2013

boozy chocolate prunes

Dear reader,

I have some shocking news for you. You may need to sit down. Brace yourself.

I need to tell you something that even I found - still find - hard to believe. Are you ready?

There are, incredibly, some people who do not like prunes. I know. I was astounded too.

Even prunes so plumptious and rich from wallowing in sticky-sweet Tia Maria for a few days. Even prunes made even more decadent by a coating of smooth dark chocolate. Perfectly sinful mouthfuls of oh-my-goodness. But yes, there are some people (and you know who you are) who are not seduced by a prune in all this glory.

I am shocked - but also pleased...

More for me.

Boozy chocolate prunes
Adapted from 'Chocolate Magic' by Kate Shirazi.

  • Place 12 pitted prunes in a ceramic or glass bowl and pour enough Tia Maria (or your other favourite chocolate-friendly alcohol) over the prunes to just cover them. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave in a cool place or the fridge for a few days. Give the bowl a swirl every now and then to ensure the prunes get evenly soaked.
  • When you are ready to make the chocolates, drain the prunes as best you can. Then drink the Tia Maria!
  • Once drained, poke each prune with a walnut piece, blanched almond or natural almond.
  • Prep a tray or plate wth a sheet of baking paper.
  • Now, gently melt 100 gms of Lindt 70% chocolate.
  • Using a couple of forks, add each prune to the melted chocolate. Move it around to coat, then lift it, drain any excess chocolate, and place it on the prepped tray. Repeat with remaining prunes. You'll probably have some chocolate left over - pour it over a bowl of good vanilla ice cream. Or just lick the bowl.
  • Back to to prunes: allow to set (but don't refridgerate) and keep in a cool dark place. They last surprisingly well, too (all that preserving booze) but I'm sure you will eat them very quickly! 

7 Sept 2013

little melbourne cakes


Two small, near identical, near abstract landscapes hung side by side at the start of the Monet exhibition I saw when in Melbourne. They were summer-heat-hazy renditions of a river bend, in those only-Monet shades of fresh bluey greens (or greeny blues).

They were mesmerising, because they were the same, but not. I’m not usually one for following the notes on the gallery walls (I like to see the art myself, unguided) but in this case, the information was incredibly inspiring.

As I remember it, Monet enjoyed the exercise of painting the same scene over and over again. It was a practice — not just in applying the paint to the canvas, but in seeing. Setting up his easel in the same grassy, breezy spot and seeing what was in front of him, afresh each time. Because it may have been the same spot on the same river bank, with the same stand of graceful trees, but each time — each day, each hour — the light or breeze or air would be different.

I don’t believe in random coincidences. A few days later, I was reading a book about writing. Would you be surprised that I remembered those two modest, beautiful landscapes when I read that a writer should see their everyday surroundings as if they are in a new place; in a fresh way?

So what does an artist’s practice or a writer’s perspective have to do with my life — or yours?
I am inspired by these ideas - and the longer lighter days that we are now enjoying in Hobart. Every time I go for a lunchtime walk or venture into my own garden, I see, hear, and feel how different it is to how it was yesterday. More colour, more bird-song, more life. Even just the short walk from my car to my office, past tall beautiful gum trees filled with chattering parrots and noisy miner birds, is an opportunity to see.

Walking into the kitchen and cooking is a daily act of practicing, and some recent baking revealed this to me clearly. I finally made the lovely little cakes that I'd eaten in a Melbourne tea cafe. These are so unbelievably moist, even without the orange and passionfruit syrup that was served in the café; I am now a bit obsessed with butterless cakes. But as lovely as these were ('lovely' is just the word for them), I’d like to make them again, to see if I can get them even closer to the perfection I tasted in Melbourne. As pleased as I was with how they turned out, I am convinced I can get even more light and air into them.

So I shall get out my mixer again, set it up at the same spot at the kitchen bench, using the same kind of ingredients, but maybe trying it this way, or that way, and seeing how they change.

Little Melbourne cakes
From the basics from the chef at Storm in a Teacup in Melbourne. This is very much a recipe in Monet-like progress, so if you make these and experiment a bit, please let me know what you discover. The chef said she sometimes adds citrus zest, coconut, or cocoa to the batter.
  • Preheat your oven to 160 and prep some patty pan tins. I used paper baking cups but will use greased tins next time for a cleaner look. The original Melbourne cakes were the size of muffins; my friend M has told me she made them in a dainty madeleine mould. Whatever size you use will affect the cooking time of course, but I would strongly recommend baking these paper-free.
  • Separate three large eggs.
  • In a freestanding mixer, cream the egg yolks plus 120 gms sugar (I used about 50 gms vanilla sugar and the rest plain sugar) until much expanded in volume – for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk the whites to just past soft peaks (though I shall be experimenting with stiff peaks next time).
  • Into the yolk mix fold 120 gms almond meal and some lemon zest if you wish.
  • Next take one spoonful of egg white and bash it into the cake mixture willy-nilly. The first spoonful never matters. But the next ones do, so gradually and much more gently, fold thru the remaining egg white.
  • Pour into your prepped baking tins and put in the oven. As before, your size will determine your cooking time. M’s madeleines took 12-15 minutes; my baking cups took about 20. Watch for the sides coming away from the pan, and test with a skewer to see if it comes out clean. They shouldn’t colour up too much.
The recipe as scrawled on the back of the cafe card