Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gardening good intentions

Vegetable garden bed 2
 Before the hectic time in the garden starts, I have devised a timetable that works for me. Well it is working so far at least but, once said hectic season starts in the spring,  it could very well be a different story. My vegetable garden is made up of 26 raised beds which I have numbered 1 to 26 naturally. My plan is to do maintenance on the bed corresponding to the day of the month. That coupled with other gardening to be done will hopefully help me to keep up with or hopefully be ahead of the weeds.

Of course things rarely go to plan. Today I worked in bed 1 and 2 to be ahead of the game because I am going to be away from home on those two days. I'm off to a scholarship presentation (for our son, Tom) which is a cocktail event. My life here may help me be prepared for a lot of things but a cocktail party is not one of them. Right about now I am wishing I knew what to wear and that it was in my wardrobe (the outfit that is, not the cocktail party). I'm sure it will be fun. My tendency to overthink things doesn't help one bit.

Today has been a bit all over the place weatherwise. Chilly start, balmy mid-morning, cloudy afternoon and I'm guessing it will be cold tonight. And right now I just can't help but snap pictures of my bees. Sorry. They are busy, busy and I just really do like them even if I am not overly fond of honey.

Although we eat something from the garden most days, even if it is just some herbs for flavouring, there was a difference out there today. I could have picked enough for a meal. Tonight I am having fish and vegetables. Everyone else is having steak and veg. Does sound a bit boring but the vegetables are going to be potato dauphinoise and a pearled barley salad with sweet potato and the vegies above (carrots, celery, tatsoi, radish, spring onion, parsley and mustard).

Do you have a garden? If you do, what are you picking now?


Friday, July 26, 2013

Hard workers

My Grace would be 'grossed out' if she knew that I had my hands in the worm farms today. She loathes worms. It's the way they move that gets to her. They don't bother me at all. And believe it or not, one of the first things I dissected when I was at university was an earthworm which I can safely say was much more pleasant to dissect than a cockroach. 

These are composting worms which live in our worm farms. We have two of the black plastic kind but I would like to add a bathtub type of worm farm to my never ending wish list. They are such hard workers and all they ask for is food scraps and a little bit of protection from the elements. In return they give you great plant food in the form of their castings and a tea (for plants not people) made from the liquid which drains from the farms.

Today I fed them and gave them a new hessian cover to keep them snug. And that's almost all there is to their maintenance.

The other hard workers here were busy again today. The sun is shining and the bees are making the most of the flowers which are out.

I hope they find the broadbean flowers which are just coming on. The bees need the flowers. The beans need the bees for pollination and, I need the beans because they are one of my favourite vegetables. It's a winning relationship. Then there is the honey too.

No broadbeans yet though so I am off to pick some nettles to use in tonight's pasta. Trust me, nettle pasta is yum.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I haven't sown any spring/ summer seeds yet because it is just too cold for it to be worth the effort but it's going to be soon. Scarecrow has been and it does make your fingers itch a little. What I did plant today though was rhubarb. I have never had an ounce of luck growing it. When Tim and I moved into our first home, there was a huge rhubarb plant in situ which we proceeded to remove (what were we thinking?). Actually I had visions of my yet to be born children poisoning themselves which in hindsight could never have happened as they are the type of children that took some coercing into eating anything green. Also it wasn't something that either of us had eaten much of so out it went. Perhaps that's why I have trouble getting it to flourish now in this garden, some kind of rhubarb karma. No, I just haven't found the right spot but I'm sure the well drained, sunny spot amongst the herbs will be just right. I hope so anyway.

If I was a rhubarb plant I think I would like to have this lavender for a neighbour. It was a cheapy plant from Bunnings or Big W and is called Lavender 'Spanish Eyes'. It is a Lavendula multifida and doesn't have the typical lavender aroma but is still pretty with its fern-like foliage.

I also planted some accidental 'cuttings' from my peppermint geranium. I pulled out a piece while I was weeding so I popped three cuttings into some potting mix and now have my fingers crossed that they strike.

The daffodils are one by one blooming. My dream of a small meadow of daffodils is still a long way off but it is closer this year than last.  I have our hammock in amongst them at the moment to make the most of them because the 'moment' doesn't last long.

I don't know if I have ever posted a picture of our dog, Arrow, here before but I thought I would share this one. I  warmed up enough outside gardening to remove a layer or two and in true canine form, Arrow found my cardigan. And as I said on the   Facebook page , it's a tough life being a farm dog here. Well she is doing what she does best I guess.

Hope you are having a nice day. It's lovely here today.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Keeping Warm

A trip to town today to take the scholar to catch the train back to Sydney for university. The fire went out while I was out and the house was a chilly 9 degrees C (48 deg F) when I returned home (I didn't even check the outside temperature because I don't want to know). Silly me, I have been trying to warm up since.

The best way to warm up, a cuddle from my baby.

A piece of caramel cake, a hot chocolate and spicy chicken curry for dinner doesn't hurt the efforts either.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pumpkin and Date Muffins amongst other things

This is the rooster we took in a while back after his owner became too ill to care for him and his harem. The chooks are all well feathered now and looking much better. I call him Foghorn because his crow is like a foghorn especially compared to the higher pitched crow of our Tiny Rooster. Since they have settled in they now forage in the yard for the morning before being put back in their pen. The two roosters can't be let out at the same time because it would be a bloodbath. I don't think this guy would start anything but the little rooster doesn't like other gents on his turf.

Todays weather is magnificent. Sunny with just that hint of coolness in the air. No sign of yesterdays rain or clouds and the bees are busy, busy. But, my mum has informed me that the weekend is going to be bitter with the chance of snow in higher areas.

Now on to the muffins. I always keep some muffins in the freezer and Tim takes them to work for his tea breaks. The kids aren't fans of muffins. I think this is because they just aren't 'fun' enough. As for me, I don't really eat baked goods much at all. I just like making them. These muffins are sweet but with the pumpkin and dates they are a little bit healthy too... sort of... maybe.

I was given a very large pumpkin last week and we are almost through it. Pumpkin is right up there at the top of my list of favourite vegetables so I have been quite happy with the pumpkin-y fare we have been eating.
Pumpkin and Date Muffins
2 cups self raising flour
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
60 grams butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup chopped dates
Preheat oven to 180 degC.
Line a muffin tin with paper cases.
Combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a mixing bowl and stir together. Add the chopped dates.
Combine the butter, pumpkin, egg and milk together in a separate bowl until well mixed. Then pour into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Fill the muffin cases about 2/3 full and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back slightly when touched.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cooped up

Cold and wet here today so I'm feeling a little 'cooped up'. The poultry aren't, they are still busy scratching about in the drizzle but I'm inside avoiding getting wet. Some sewing has been done and a cuppa or two have been enjoyed but not much else worth mentioning. Dinner is in the slow cooker, washing is drying ever so slowly on the veranda and because I can, I have been listening to my choice of cd's for much of the day (the girls are back at school).

It is raining in the picture but you can't see the drops, just the grass that I have half mowed, some oats and grazing cattle. The chores that must be done whatever the weather are almost all done. Just have to lock the poultry up for the night and feed them their dinner.

 While I was outside collecting the mail, I noticed a visitor on my California poppies.

A rather pretty butterfly. I think it is a Wanderer/ Monarch butterfly but really I have not much of a clue about these things. They just look pretty and as long as they aren't causing problems to my edibles then they are very welcome. This one made the most of the shelter near the house because I'm sure they don't like getting wet too much.

Well, it has stopped raining for now so I am heading outdoors while I can. I have a garden bed or two that need attention sometime soon.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lemon Bars

My lemon trees are light in fruit this year. I suspect the severe heat and dry weather we had over summer and autumn is partly responsible. They also cropped heavily last year so a little rest for them might not be such a bad thing. My sister's tree however has lemons aplenty and she brought some up last weekend when she visited from Sydney. She also brought me three kilograms of chocolate chips but let's not think about those because 3 kilos of chocolate on my no chocolate way of eating is almost too much to bear.
This afternoon I made lemon bars for afternoon tea. I didn't get a picture before they were taste tested . It appears that my children prefer the pieces of slice from the centre rather than the edges.
I've made this slice plenty of times and it has a nice balance of sweetness and tangy lemon.
Lemon Bars
280 grams plain flour
80 grams icing sugar
225 grams butter
4 eggs
350 grams sugar
120mL lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
35 grams plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 180 degC.
Grease and line a slice/lamington tin.
Process the base ingredients in a food processor until they come together as a dough.
Press into prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden.
Meanwhile make the filling by whisking the ingredients together in a large bowl.
Pour over the warm base and bake for 25 minutes or until set.
When cool remove from tin and slice and dust with icing sugar to serve.

I'm not sure what is going to happen in my kitchen when my reserved copy of I Quit Sugar finally makes it to the library shelf. I do suspect not much because even if I quit sugar no one else here would even dream of it.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Soup

Last Friday we had a little trip to Murrurundi so Tim could work an extra shift there. From there it isn't too far to Scone so we headed down  to Paddock to Pantry for lunch. Soup of the week was Warming vegetable soup with caraway. YUM. So yum in fact that I emailed for a recipe but as is the way with most soups, the recipe is really more of a guideline than an actual recipe. I made my own version for us and had a delicious lunch in the vegetable garden today.

Roasting the vegetables adds a little richness to the soup but I'm sure if you were pressed for time, the vegetables could just be boiled in stock/ water without losing too much flavour. Anyway, this is how I made today's soup with what I had on hand. I also added a few mushrooms at the last minute because they were there and needed using today.

Possibly an even better way to prepare the vegetables would be to have a roast dinner and use any leftover vegetables or pop in some extras just for making soup.

 Roasted Vegetable Soup
1kg pumpkin, peeled and chopped into large pieces
2 carrots, chopped
500 grams potatoes, peeled and chopped
250 grams sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 capsicums, seeds removed and quartered (I peeled these after roasting)
3 tomatoes, halved
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 zucchini
4 cloves garlic
3 tbs olive oil
1.5 teaspoons caraway seeds,ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
 Vegetable stock/water
Heat the oven to 220deg C.
Using a large roasting pan heat the olive oil for a few minutes in the oven. Then add the vegetables and cook until tender when tested with a knife and the outside of the vegies has some colour.
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a large pot and gently fry the ground spices for a minute.
Add the roasted vegetables and enough stock/water to just cover the vegetables.
Cook for about 10 minutes then puree. Adjust the seasoning to suit (I don't use salt at all so you might find my recipes lacking) and the thickness of the soup too. I prefer a thicker puree (kind of like baby food) but a little more stock and it will be more 'soupy'.
I just happened to have a couple of capsicum still hanging on in the garden despite the heavy frosts. If I had parsnips or turnips or even kohl rabi ready then I think they would also make a nice addition to the melange of vegies.

I'm yet to convince my son that this type of cooking is wonderful fare that he could add to his repertoire of cooking (if that is what I can call the three things he cooks when at uni- curry, chilli and pasta all from jars of sauces). It could be worse, he could be living on 2 minute noodles I suppose. I have noticed there have been no leftovers here the past two weeks he has been home.

Well that is our dinner sorted tonight so I have some spare time for sewing. That's a bonus. I'm making up a bag tonight using charm squares and a stitchery panel.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In the school holidays

In the school holidays I appear to go missing from this space. I haven't been too far from home at all just not online much. That's just how it is for me when the kids are at home and I'm not saying that is a bad thing. In fact it is probably how it should be.

We have been doing some 'renovating' in the poultry pens. My sister gave me some metal panels which are ideal for walls and they are on their way to being put up. The first step though was to remove a rather rampant vine that was not only shading the old pen but destroying it too. It's nice to have an extra pair of hands at home to help out with tasks which aren't high on the fun factor.

 Puss is very much an indoor cat even though when she arrived as a teeny-tiny kitten I vowed she was not going to be a spoilt, pampered pet. Her favourite thing to do besides sleeping is going outside on her leash for a walk and to nibble grass. Grace is a soft touch when it comes to leading the cat so it is usually her on the other end of the leash. Today they spent a fair bit of time with me in the vegetable garden.

frosty broccoli
And I know I recently blabbed on about spring-like weather but as predicted, winter has returned. The mornings have been frosty with all of our water troughs frozen until mid-morning. That's a good thing in school holidays too because apparently little dolls like to ice skate when their owners have time to take them.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It felt like spring

Today had an almost spring feel about it. The morning was cold but the sun shone all day long and it was warm enough to take off my cardigan while I was working. I need a lot more winter so when it returns proper, I'll be grateful. It was a truly glorious day.

The ducks made the most of the greenery from our recent rain. The pens have dried out but it still much nicer for them to be roaming and ranging trimming the grass and foraging for bugs.

Broad beans are on the way up. They are one of my favourite vegetables especially teamed with asparagus so I am a little impatient. I have also never seen them in any of our local greengrocers or supermarkets so home grown is the only way for us to go.

At the beginning of the year I signed up to send a few parcels out into the world as random acts of kindness or as part of a pay it forward type of thing. In spare moments I am plotting and planning and making up little gift packs to send. I made some hanging hand towels today using the pattern from Kerryanne's blog. I used this pattern at Christmas time too and I don't think I will make a crocheted topper again. These are quick and pretty and practical. What more can you ask for?

Bunting, aprons and a picnic blanket are next on my list. That is once I have cooked our butter chicken for dinner.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

There's always something

 This afternoon I was looking around the vegetable garden for something to contribute to our dinner. The baby broccoli aren't anywhere near ready but as pizza had been requested for tonight then that didn't matter. I was quite surprised though that there was enough out there to make much of an impact. I had underestimated the leafy greens.

 No need to have just an Iceberg lettuce. There are beetroot leaves which are almost too pretty to pick. Almost.
 Bunches of tatsoi.
 Mustard for a little bit of a zing in the salad. I picked rocket, parsley, pak choy and herbs too.

And perhaps because that is what is flourishing right now then that is what we probably should be eating more of. Our garden is so hot and dry in summer that the leafy greens don't hold up too well then but in winter, they shine. Oh how glad I am that my chickens have never found a way in to the vegie patch because they wouldn't last long (the plants that is).

Something else I spied while out and about which has become lush after our recent rain is nettles. And tomorrow night they will be on the menu and possibly in a soup for Sunday night too. When they are soft and have nice new growth, they are good but once the plant ages and gets on the woody side they don't seem to taste so nice. I'm not sure if it is that they taste any different or that by the time they get to that stage we have tired of them for the season. I'll pick some leaves for tea for people and for mixing in with the chickens breakfast too.

How's your garden growing right now? I know the Northern Hemisphere is really kicking into gear.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy New Financial Year

I don't know that my bank balance would agree with the title here but it is the new financial year and I am bound and determined to make it a happy one financially and in general too. I overhauled our budget a month or so back and things have certainly improved for us. I went from a rather laissez-faire system (that would be no system at all)  to using the tried and true envelope type of system.
It is all relative though. When I look at our situation, it is actually rather good and we are grateful for what we have and how we live.
a calendula which has nothing to do with finances.
 Our bills are mostly paid by direct debit or I write cheques and so our cash needs are down to four  envelopes plus our pocket money.

Petrol: $60 per week
Pocket Money: $20 per week
Chook food: $10 per week (I think I need to tweak this amount a little)
Tim's work 'syndo': $4 (this is for tea, coffee, milk etc)
Groceries: $150/ week

So far, it is working for us. I'm not sure how the $150 per week for groceries will stand up with Tom at home but I'll try.

I have found that it is easier than I thought it would be and apart from the chook food and 'syndo', there is generally some leftover lolly in the envelopes each week. We had become too accustomed to just going to the ATM and taking out more cash whenever we wanted. Certainly having only $10 pocket money each for the week makes you think twice before you buy a cappuccino.

Menu planning is also key. Without it the system wouldn't work for us at all.
Snow peas which also have nothing to do with finances
Our other costs are fairly well fixed and I think we have the best deals we can for phone, insurance, electricity etc. But I'll keep working on it.

Last month I took a big step and gave up my terrible(and embarrassing) addiction to cola. And this month I am adding chocolate to my banned substance list. I'm not sure how easy that will be but my body can only be better for it I'm sure.