Monday, April 29, 2013

Sunday Soup Night-tears in the kitchen

Tears in the kitchen and not because my I burnt the first batch of chocolate for my tart or because I cooked it a little too quickly in the oven and it had a soft crust on top. It was scruptious and decadent and make again delicious.

And not because my loaf of spelt bread turned out looking like a brick. It still tasted good and I'm not sure what happened overnight in the bread maker. It has made some great breadcrumbs.

 But because of this pot of trouble. A whole kilogram of onions chopped by me. I was in tears and no matter what anti-tear technique I try, I always cry. But for soup night, it was worth it.

'French' Onion Soup
60grams butter
1kg onions (I used half red and half brown), sliced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
a few sage leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 litre stock (beef is good because of the robust nature of the soup) 
Place butter, garlic, onions and sage in a large pot. Cook over a low heat stirring occasionally for 50 to 60 minutes. The onions will become soft and sweet but not coloured.
Increase the heat and stir through the brown sugar.
Pour in the stock and bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes.

It is simple to make but requires the slow cooking to get the onions just right. And tasty enough for even Hope a confirmed vegetable loather to eat willingly.

Well, that was our first Sunday soup night for 2013. Next Sunday I'm favouring the idea of a spicy carrot and lentil soup but there are a lot of days between now and then to be tempted by something else.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Caught up

Well, I am happy to say that I am caught up with my gardening work. School holidays give you that little bit of extra time to catch up on things. Well they do for me anyway. School is back on Monday though and I will be a little sad to see the girls hop on the bus on Monday morning. They are my bosom friends and kindred spirits and I miss them. 
 This week, I removed the last of the tomatoes. The poultry benefited from any fruit which wasn't fit for the kitchen. The flurry of activity and weeding and pruning has exposed a few bare spots in the herb garden. Which reminds me I must take a few pictures.

Planted this week: carrots, turnips and cavolo nero (Tuscan kale). Not a lot in the ground but I did spend a day out of town with Tim whilst he was working (that's my excuse). Unfortunately we still have had no rain and although the temperatures are low overnight, I'm still having to water quite often.

 I know that leaving things to flower and set seed can drain a plant and sometimes it is even the end stage for a plant but I usually let things go their full cycle. I am rapt with these garlic chive seed heads right now. They were stunning a while ago, all white and covered in bees and now they are equally pretty, dried with their shiny black seeds.

And because it is the end of the school holidays (and  because I promised myself at the beginning of the year), we 'did' lunch today at a local restaurant. If I'm dining out, lunch would be my choice over dinner. It is usually more economical and just like today, I don't usually need an evening meal afterwards. Hope opted for a dessert instead of lunch and was very impressed with her meringue roulade. I was equally impressed with my choice of French onion soup, Grace with her pumpkin salad and Tim with his choice of croque monsieur. Yum. It has inspired me to be a little more creative in the kitchen too which can only be a good thing.

I'm off now to do a little stitching on some sweet little Matryoshka dolls that I have been working on for far too long.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A slow day

I think that lately I have been running on a high from my iron supplements but it caught up with me yesterday and today too. I am feeling a bit worn out and have slowed down today. That's probably for the best though I am I believe quite an impatient person when it comes to myself and what I want to achieve on any given day.
Well, as I was having a slow kind of day, I decided to do some things that are quite a lengthy process. Growing garlic for one.

 I'm sure I usually have my garlic in the ground before now but better late than never. Not all of the bulbs I stored from last year have started shooting but the ones that have have been sorted and separated and planted. By mid spring, there should be plenty to unearth for cooking and growing next year too. I calculate our garlic usage at approximately 1 bulb per week so I usually plant out 100 garlics to have plenty for regular meals, pickles/sauces, the garden and to share as well. This amount doesn't take up as much room as it would seem for 100 plants, but if I didn't have the room, I would halve the amount and buy in new bulbs each year.

I took a look at our honey reserves too. This season has been on the leaner side as far as honey production goes so we have less for sale. But, our aim is for optimal production over maximum production. Quality not quantity. We inspected the hives last week too and although there is plenty of bee activity, they don't have any to spare for us right now. I think it is due to the rather extreme season we have had which has probably disrupted flowering and nectar flow in the eucalypts which make up the bulk of our bees foraging. The hive closest to the gardens is fairing the best, benefiting from the flowering plants we have planted.
Although our hives are permanently situated and the honey is multi-flora, there are still seasonal differences. The honey on the left, is harvest from earlier in the seaason whilst the honey on the right is a late season honey. And they taste markedly different too. The darker honey is more robust in flavour and my personal favourite. 

I checked the progress of my creamed honey this afternoon. I made it last weekend and it is definitely going through the candying process. I haven't made creamed honey before but it was simple enough, the biggest test is patience. There are plenty of websites and books with instructions on how to make creamed honey so I won't bother with a how to here. Suffice to say, it just requires some runny honey and creamed honey and time. Slow food.

I'm tempted by these hot chillies to make a Sriracha sauce but I may just get lazy and string them up to dry out. Even with all of the pickles, relishes and chutneys I make with chillies, a string of dried chillies is still my favourite way to preserve them.

 I'm always open to suggestions for new ways to preserve what I harvest so if anyone has some special recipes using chillies, I'd love to try them.

Now I am going to do some cross stitch which is just the right kind of craft for a slow moving day.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bits and Pieces

I think bits and pieces sums up school holiday time around here fairly well. We don't have a plan for each day but just do the jobs that must be done and bits and pieces of whatever we like. Grace has been riding her bike mostly and Hope has been spending quite a bit of time with her dolls house. We received a new set of furniture a couple of weeks ago from a lovely family frend who we call Pa. He is very proudly 97 years old and made the furniture himself (he also made the dollshouse but that was a few years ago now).
The bits and pieces which have filled my day have been mostly outdoors. 

 Weeding and planting and removing the last of the beans. This little fellow (he is about 10cm/4inches long) has been living amongst the beans for quite some time. He scurries around whenever I water them but isn't too perturbed and is always there next time. Even today after I pulled all of the beans out in this bed, he just moved on over to the dahlias. Grace even gave him a pat (that's liking lizards a bit too much in my opinion). If I was Tim, I would be able to tell you what sort of lizard it is but I haven't a clue. I only know he is cute.

Pulled up a bunch of parsnips too and they are on the menu tonight pureed. Some vegetables really taste pretty much the same whether they are store bought or homegrown. Parsnips are not one of those. Shop parsnips still have plenty of flavour but homegrown can't be topped for fragrance and flavour. In fact if you aren't too fond of parsnips, homegrown would be worse than shop bought because they pack too much punch. Much like carrots, the homegrown are very carrot-y. Too much so for this carrot disliker (I still eat them though because they are good for me). 

I've also been thinking about my Biggest Morning Tea. I have decided the 17th of May will be the dayfor my morning tea but we have the collection box set up in the kitchen and whenever we have a tea break from now until donation time, we will drop a few coins in the box. I did this last year too and built up a few dollars by the time the actual morning tea happened. After that, I leave the box up to collect for High Tea for Habitat which I will be hosting again this year. Both events are a great way to raise funds and take some time to relax and enjoy some good company which I don't do often enough. There's still time to register for a morning tea or if not, find one to attend.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

School holidays = fun

We have been making the most of these autumn school holidays. Three whole weeks without a strict schedule to keep makes for lots of fun.

The birthday party with the "olden days" theme on Sunday was great according to Hope. I am with Lisa regarding the connection of "olden days" and tie-dyeing but I guess maybe to the 11 year old whose party it was, the era of tie-dyeing is probably considered olden. The tie-dyed fabric Hope made has just finished drying and it is bright but certainly not over the top but I'm not sure what we will make with it yet.

We went on a sojourn to Murrurundi on Monday. Tim was working there for the day and the girls and I had a great time looking around the town. The local war memorial gardens are gorgeous right now. I only wish my roses looked so vibrant.

We picnicked and did  a spot of reading, stitching and sketching in the local park. Not a vacation proper but a nice day out just the same.

 Closer to home, just a few minutes up the street, there is a pine forest. It's serene and cool and the place to go for a few pine nedles for the smoker we use when inspecting the bee hives.

And what's a holiday without some fishing. No fish on this trip. And no gold in our pans from our fossicking attempts. Next time maybe.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Planting and Sowing

There is still plenty of tidying to be done in the vegie patch but after a flurry of activity of the clearing out kind, I felt a spot of planting was in order. Luckily I had some seedlings ready to go. 

So today I planted leeks, cabbage, spring onions, ruby Brussells sprouts and some celeriac. I also directly sowed snow peas, rainbow chard and greenfeast peas. 

There were some promising clouds for a little while with a few drops of rain but not even enough to register in the gauge. While that was happening, I took a trip up the road to an open house for a property which will be auctioned soon. Although moving is not on the horizon (not that I know of anyway), I am a sucker for looking at real estate and dreaming. The property is totally unsuitable for any farming enterprise except maybe beekeeping or raising mountain goats, it is very steep and bushy but the house itself was roomy anf rambling and full of potential. Not the mansion I am looking for but so much more room than our cottage. The drawback and there is always a drawback, is that it really needs quite a bit of work. Besides, there isn't much scope for a garden so I'll let this one pass.

And just because there won't be many more blooms on this pompom dahlia for this season, I decided to snap a picture. I only have a few pompom dahlias and I think I would like some more. They are quite cute.

Tomorrow afternoon Hope has a birthday party to go to. Grace and I are toying with the idea of some roller skating whilst Hope parties but most likely we will do something more mundane and safe. I am liking the sound of the party though. The theme is "olden days" and we have been told to bring something to tie dye. Sounds like fun.

I'm not good with clever themes for parties. I'd love to hear any interesting ideas.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Autumn vegetable garden tidy up

Tidying up the vegetable garden is one of the things I have been doing today. It is at that stage where the summer vegetables are past their prime and they are taking up valuable growing space. There are still a few cherry tomato bushes that will stay for now but for the most part, the plants are looking just plain messy.

And to show that the weather is finally starting to change, the asparagus jungle is starting to yellow in readiness for its winter dieback. The days have been quite warm and dry but the nights are down into the single digits (Celsius that is). No fire for us yet but it won't be too long.

 Some plants have to stay put no matter how messy they have become. The pumpkins still have green stems and leaves so they aren't ready just yet.

 This is a new to me variety and I'm particularly keen to give it a try. Its name has escaped me right now but ti looks good and patience is the order of the day.

It was goodbye to the zucchini plants today and this is what was offered up as a parting gift. A massive zucchini of about 50cm and quite heavy. I'm earmarking this one for 'zucchetti' with pesto and I  will probably grate some of the flesh too for a batch of biscuits and a cake. The fibrous seedy part in the middle will go to the chooks, they love it.
The nasturtiums are really lovely at the moment and as everything pretty seems to be dying off, they are coming to the fore. These ones always self seed and I think they are grand. They also make me think of my friend Janice because she gave me the original seeds a few years ago in a swap and they have been coming up every year since.
There are many plants and ornaments in the garden that bring thoughts of family and friends to mind. It makes it a little more special for me.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I did promise this recipe a little earlier than today but a few things cropped up. As they do.  In fact my son, Tom, came home for a quick visit and we drove him back to Sydney over the weekend. But now I am back and because the zucchini relish just wasn't spicy enough (actually it really is more than spicy enough), I made  a sambal as well.
Zucchini relish

Zucchini Relish
6 cups chopped zucchini
2 onions
chillies (I used 2 of our super hot ones)
1 smal green capsicum
1 small red capsicum
1.5 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
2tbsp salt
1 tbsp paprika (I used 1/2 smoky and 1/2 ordinary)
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tap ground cumin

Chop the vegetables (except the chillies) into a small dice and place in a large bowl. Cover with salt and leave overnight. Drain off the liquid.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pot and add drained vegetables. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
When cooked, add the sugar, vinegar, spices and chopped chillies.
Stir and simmer until it reaches a thick relish consistency. This will take at least 30 minutes but depends on your stove.
Pour into hot sterilised jar and seal.

This is alittle too spicy for my liking but the rest of my household are chilli lovers. In fact, I think it would work as a nice relish without the chillies whilst still having the flavour of the other spices.

The chillies are all ripening up in a last hoorah before winter and so I thought a sambal would be a good thing to make. I don't know what comes over me at times because this is pretty severe in its heat rating and my hands are tingling hours after making it. I am a glutton for punishment though because despite the fact that I have a low tolerance for hot and spicy things, I tasted it just to make sure the flavours were balanced. A little will go a long way and  it isn't for the faint hearted. Or maybe I am just a chilli wimp.

The last of the tomatoes get a look in in this recipe too. I know the first tomato of the season is the most exciting but these ones that hang on and ripen up later in the season really have the best flavour.

Chilli and Tomato Sambal
12 red chillies, chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 onion, chopped
5  cloves garlic, chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped (I used 20 cherry tomatoes)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp vinegar
Process the chopped chillies, garlic, onion and juice in a food procesor until it is finely chopped and well combined.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan and add processed ingredients. Cook for a few minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until it reaches a paste-like  consistency.
Bottle into a hot sterilised jar and seal.

As I said, a little goes a long way because it is fiery. It is a good way to give a hit of chilli to a stir fry, pasta or just on the side of a meat dish.
And this afternoon, I am feeling pretty good so I am going to tackle the jungle that my herb garden has become whilst I have  been under the weather.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

And the doctor said...

In my beekeeping overalls  feeling chipper and looking silly

That apart from my low iron stores and all that is associated with that, I am healthy. That is the blood tests were all within normal parameters. He is none the wiser as to why I have such low iron stores but didn't seem overly concerned so I will try not to be either. Though I am vowing to pay more attention to my general health, diet, fitness and wellbeing from here on in. Hopefully the iron supplements (which are causing me some nausea and diarrhoea) will perk me up a bit so I have the energy to spend where and when I want to. I am hoping that the supplements will be a short term solution.

 I think the chooks had the right idea today. It was a  cool night and start to the day but in the sunshine today is really lovely. This spot is in my front garden and obviously ideal for a nice relaxing dust bath.
Driveway Grevillea in flower

Another aspect of my life which has been suffering has been my garden. When I didn't realise I was low in iron, I was just blaming my lack of motivation and energy to work on my own laziness. The things that usually give me joy, were just another thing on the to-do list. Now I am armed with knowledge, I realise I wasn't being lazy (not on this occasion anyway) and my body really was tired and run down and I should have been listening to it. So today I did some planting because that really is the best kind of gardening. Six new lavenders along the driveway to replace those gnawed by rabbits. I also gave them a sprinkling of blood and bone which is my way of organically detering said rabbits. It works but you have to make sure you reapply as needed.

All that to say I am fine and tomorrow I will post a recipe for the zucchini pickles I made on Monday. Yummy but a little too spicy for me.