Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parmesan Bean Recipe

Growing our own produce has encouraged us to eat foods we wouldn't usually eat, just because homegrown tastes so good.  This winter we planted brussel sprouts and were left wondering why they have such a bad reputation - we thought they were OK. 

This summer we planted green beans.  My husband likes them, but I didn't.  Until now...

After picking a handful of dwarf green beans we wondered what to do with them.  So we had a look through a couple of recipe books for ideas and then I came up with this.  I'm sure it isn't a new idea - but it is definitely a tasty one!

Boil the beans for a few minutes.
Remove the beans from the water and drain on paper towel.
Toss the drained beans with chopped garlic and chili in oil in a hot frying pan - for about 10-20 seconds, take it off the heat before the garlic turns brown.
Place beans and garlic and chili onto a serving plate, season with salt and pepper and then grate fresh parmesan on top.

It is a wonderful side dish, but I could probably eat this as a main meal if we had enough beans!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The continuing berry story

This summer has seen our best raspberry harvest yet.  We haven't weighed all of the raspberries we harvested, but I would estimate there has been at least 600g so far.  That doesn't sound like much, but 600g of raspberries go a long way! 

Sadly they are reaching the end of their season, but...  the boysenberries are just starting.  Boysenberries are so juicy and zingy, but the thorns on the canes are very spiteful!


Two summers ago we made lots of chutneys and jams.  We are down to our last bottle of chutney (roast peach), so today we (well, mostly my husband) made some more chutney.  Two different types - nectarine and lemon balm; and peach and tomato.  Nine jars in all.

Hunting in the dark

Warning - this blog may gross out squeamish readers...

As part of establishing a sustainable garden we are trying to avoid chemicals, poisons and pollutants.  There are various natural methods for controlling snails and slugs, but I prefer to go outside on rainy nights to hunt for them. 

I don't mind hunting for snails, they have a nice hard, dry shell that is perfect for human hands to pick up.  But slugs really gross me out.  I've tried several methods of picking them up without having to touch them, but nothing really seems to work - they curl up and fall off sticks and other implements.  I'm wondering if maybe a small pair of tongs would work, so I will look for some next time I am in a kitchenware shop.  If anyone out there has any good ideas or any tried and tested methods, please let me know because I hate picking slugs up and then having to spend ages washing my hands to get the slime off!

We used to kill the snails and slugs, which made me feel terrible because there were often so many, but since we bought the chooks they take care of that job for us.  We keep the slugs and snails in a little bucket until morning and then give them to Butter and Phili who peck them up and eventually turn them into eggs. 

When Tansy came to live with us, she would follow me into the rain on my snail hunting expeditions and once she understood what I was looking for, she started to help.  We nurtured her willingness to please, and her enjoyment of snuffling for snails and crunching them in her mouth (then spitting them out!), by encouraging her to hunt for snails.  She will often hunt for them even when we aren't, and some wet evenings we will find several large snails and slugs deposited on the mat by the backdoor!  She has proven to be an excellent snail hunter, and sees it as wonderful family bonding time when we are all there.  So last night when a light shower of rain passed overhead we went outside with her to see what we could find. 

It turned out to be an excellent night and we reaped a bumper harvest - our little slug bucket was full in hardly any time at all. 

Last night's haul.

I did say this wasn't for the squeamish!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Knitted gifts

My two knitted gifts have been received by their new owners - so here they are for you to see.

The Checkerboard Scarf, made using 70% merino wool 30% silk blend bought from the Old Bus Depot Markets.  Knit over (what seemed like) millions of hours, but admired and appreciated by the recipient.  It is a lovely soft yarn that drapes beautifully.  It can be worn as a scarf, but is also wide enough to be worn as a wrap.

 The Horizontal Rib Scarf (from One More Skein by Leigh Radford - borrowed from the A.C.T library), made using Bendigo Woollen Mills Luxury 8 ply 100% wool.  To fit the almost 400 stitches, I knit this on circular needles.  The casting on and off seemed never-ending, but only 25 rows were needed so really it knit up very quickly. 

Christmas Cheer from the Puppy-Deer

This year was Tansy's first Christmas with us (she was a tiny puppy still with her mum last Christmas).  To help get into the festive spirit my husband bought some puppy-sized kitsch reindeer antlers for her.  She didn't like them on her head, but was quite happy to wander around with them on her back.  So they became her Puppy-Deer wings instead of antlers.  Yesterday we went to the dog park for Tansy to run around and then we had a picnic in the nearby park.  I hope her 'wings' made other picnic goers smile, especially when she started bounding through the grass, and I hope they make you smile.

Ready for presents!

The one with the waggily tail.

Sitting nicely at the picnic.

The Puppy-Deer and her Esky-Sleigh.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last hurrah

The prolific sweetpeas started to die a few weeks ago, so you can imagine my surprise when they suddenly sent out another burst of flowers.  Not as many blooms as during their peak, but still enough to waft a delightful scent across the garden.

Starting to collapse and turning yellow, but still some splashes of colour.

You say potato, I say potato

When we planted the potatoes in October we planted a bag of Dutch Cream seed potatoes (which we got from the farmers market for $2) and a couple of strays from the cupboard.  We thought the strays were also Dutch Creams - but the flowers beg to differ...

The sprouting strays from the cupboard.

The Dutch Cream seed potatoes.

We love the delicate pale lilac colour of these flowers, and I now understand why Europeans first grew potatoes as ornamentals. 

From everything I have read about potatoes when the flowers bloom the first potatoes are ready, so we are going to try bandicooting this weekend.  Very tentative bandicooting!  We haven't done it before (this being the first year we have grown potatoes in the ground), so we'll see what happens.  Hopefully we'll have some tasty new potatoes to eat on Boxing Day.

A quiet visitor

This afternoon Tansy was barking up a storm outside.  She does bark a bit sometimes, usually in hysterical excitement through the fence at the dog next door, but this was different.  So I went out to see what had caught her attention.  She was standing at the top of the patio stairs, facing the house and barking very intently.  Then a flash of stripey tail on the ground caught my eye.  Calling Tansy to me, I held her wiggling furry body (with great difficulty!) and I peered behind the pots on the patio to see this...

A blue tongue lizard.

I kept Tansy inside for the next half an hour - and she whined agonisingly at the back door the entire time.  Then put her on a lead and went back outside.  She sniffed all round, but we couldn't find the lizard again.  Blue tongues are great in gardens to help keep pests down (they love juicy snails), but I'm hoping this one has found somewhere safer to live than a backyard with an excitable puppy! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Our first batch of compost was ready last weekend.  We started composting about the same time we bought the chooks (early this year), and we mostly put garden waste, chook poo and newspaper on the pile.  After a few months we stopped adding to it.  Then every couple of months I forked it over, just to aerate it and add extra newspaper.  Each time I turned it I saw increasingly more worms.  I even found one very large worm that could have easily been mistaken for a (very) small snake!

All those months of decomposing shrank what was once a massive pile into only one wheelbarrow load.  But, as Peter Cundall liked to say, it smelt great!  And it was full of worms, so it will do wonders in the garden.  It was very exciting when I finally forked it into the wheelbarrow to move it to spread it over the potatoes.  

While that first batch was composting down we started a second batch.  This batch included garden waste (including lots of autumn leaves), chook poo, newspaper, cardboard and kitchen scraps.  I turned it over last weekend and found lots of worms helping to decompose the waste.  Now we have left it to settle down and decompose over the summer. 

In the space vacated by the first batch of compost we have started a new batch.  Another wonderful cycle of reusing waste to enrich the garden begins.

Harvest time has begun!

As a 'garden warming' present last year my parents gave us a basket to use to help hold food when we harvest.  It is very handy, but in the height of summer last year was too small for the mountains of zucchini's we had - even when we harvested daily!  This year we might have the same problem, but with cucumbers...

Yesterdays' harvest - 7 cucumbers (3 different types), 2 zucchini's (2 different types) and some cherries.

This cucumber found a little ledge on the outer wall of the garden bed to lean against.  Even after I had snipped its stalk from the vine it stayed in place, wedged up against the bricks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coming Home

I love coming home from work.  Tansy is ecstatic and leaps everywhere, running to me for cuddles, then running to find a toy for me to throw, running in circles, and so happy.  My husband is there with a welcoming hug, and it is nice just to be at home.  It is made even more lovely now that it is summer and we have delicious fruit to eat in the evenings.  Cherries plump and warm from the sun pop in your mouth and the juice bursts out.  A handful of raspberries with an aroma so beautiful and rich it lingers on your fingers and in the air.  Then there is the fun of looking under leaves for new summer vegetables - on Sunday we picked the first cucumber of the season.  How wonderful it is to be home.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A study in scarlett...

I started this blog to help me with my knitting, and I realised today that I haven't written about my knitting for a little while.  I have been knitting, but Christmas is coming up and I'm knitting presents for people who might be reading this!  So stay tuned and I will post knitting photos after Christmas.

But as this is peak growing season there are lots of wonderful things happening in our backyard.  Here are some red highlights.

Scarlett Runner Beans (with potatoes in the background).

Today's raspberry harvest (98grams).  We'll be eating them very soon with leftover lemon tart and thick cream.  Yum!

Lots more raspberries still to come!

This feijoa was already here when we bought the house.  It had just as many flowers last year, but sadly none of them set fruit.  Hopefully we'll have more luck this year. 

Close up of feijoa flowers.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Looked better in my imagination

We have friends coming over for lunch, so while the lemon tart for afternoon tea is in the oven I will quickly post some photos of the Christmas Tree Surprise Cake I made yesterday.

I made this for no other reason than I had an idea in my head of a Christmas tree cake and I wanted to see how it would turn out.  Unfortunately it didn't turn out quite how my imagination hoped and when we took it to a friend's place last night my friend initially thought it was guacamole!  Oh well. 

It was inspired by the recent Darlek Tank Cake, but I didn't do any research before creating it.  You should always research before creating a new cake.  It does help.

It is a chocolate cake with white chocolate ganache icing laced with Cointreau and green food colouring.  And why is it a 'surprise' cake?  See what's inside...

The template.

The leftovers for later!


The chocolate tree.

A strawberry star, marshmallow lights and smartie baubles.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Life's a Blur

For those of you who are interested, and read this in time - ABC2 is having a Blur night tonight from 8:30pm.  Woohoo - Britpop rocks!

Back in action

It's official - Phili is back in the egg business.  Three out of the past four days there has been two eggs waiting for us in the nesting boxes.  It could be that Butter has gone egg crazy, but we think Phili is helping out.

Saving for a (non) rainy day

We installed a tank last year (ok, Dad did all the work!) and it was quite a while after installing it before there was finally enough rain to fill it.  It was great to be able to water our plants during the water restrictions with our own harvested water, but for the past few months there has been so much rain we haven't needed the tank.

It has been full for weeks now, and if you look closely you can see water running down the side from the rain that fell just before I took this photo.

Relaxing, but thoughtful*

*Thinking how much she hates having her photo taken!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A desert dessert

Part of the high tea at the Abu Dhabi Emirates Palace Hotel.  (We didn't stay at that hotel, but we did pop in for delightful sweets and a delicious drink).

A desert sunset

We spent a few days in Abu Dhabi a couple of months ago.  We loved it.  Here is a photo we took during a desert safari.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Today's Fruit Harvest

Today's raspberries, our first cherries and a stray strawberry.  Yum!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Comparing Harvests

The first day of summer was another rainy day but I pulled on my raincoat and was trailed around the garden by a wet, and rather miserable, puppy.  Under a cover of wet leaves and on a bed of soggy soil we found this...  Remember the pink strawberry flower?  Here it is all grown up.  And it is a perfect size to help show the scale of our entire pumpkin harvest from last summer.

Vintage Crystal

We had our wedding anniversary recently and my husband gave me these beautiful 1930s glasses as a gift.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gardening in the rain

I had a day off work today and spent some time in the garden between rain showers.  One of our tomato plants grew at least 15cms while we were away on the weekend.  I had to retie all of the tomato plants and have now run out of things to tie them up with.  We are trying to keep them off the ground this year so we can underplant with other things.  The basil that survived the repeated onslaught from the earwigs is now starting to shoot new leaves and I'm sure will appreciate some sun. 

I also planted out some of our seedlings - scarlet runner beans, sunflowers, pumpkins, corn, rocket, silverbeet (great for the chooks) and watermelons.  And I heaped some mulch and soil over the potatoes - this is our first year growing potatoes in the ground, so we'll see how they go.  We put in a bag of Dutch Cream seed potatoes and a couple of sprouting potatoes from the cupboard (probably also Dutch Creams as they are my favourite).  We have planted four lots of corn over different plantings, so we should have a continuous harvest over several weeks. 

Oh, and in addition to the 16 tomato plants we already have, I planted some more seeds a couple of weeks ago.  Growing from seed can be tricky - sometimes all the seeds sprout and other times only one or two will.  I think all the tomato seeds sprouted.  So now we have another 10 tomato plants to do something with.  We are seriously running out of space.  The sweetpeas are starting to go to seed (I just couldn't keep up with all the flowers!) and the foliage is turning yellow at the base, so I think we will have some space in a few weeks.  But not sure what to do with the new tomato plants in the meantime..! 

We have 5 vegetable garden beds, but keep wanting to plant more things than we have space for.  When we established the raised garden beds last year we bought in compost and soil, but the rest of the garden is the original clay dirt.  So we are slowly working in organic matter and today I even saw a few worms, which was quite exciting.  The problem with the rest of the garden is Tansy - she is pretty good about not going into the raised garden beds, but she romps through the rest of the garden with no heed to what is growing there.  We put up a little fence around some of the corn, but the sunflowers were left to their own devices (and some were crushed almost immediately!). 

Our first cherries (Lapins) are almost ready and we've foiled the birds by covering both the cherry tree and the raspberry canes with netting.  Our blueberries aren't liking their new home in the ground, so we are going to pull 2 of them out and put them back into pots.  Hopefully next year we will have a good harvest again.

A few weeks ago we put our 3 rhubarb plants into pots after they spent a terrible year in the ground (poor soil and constant slug attacks).  They love the pots!  We might be able to have a small harvest this year, but since their first year was such a struggle we might let them keep growing for another year before harvesting.

4 of the 5 asparagus crowns we planted have come up, and we are thinking of planting more for next year - if home grown asparagus is as good as home grown corn, we won't be able to get enough of it!   

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Joining the polo set

When I lived in England a few years ago I was drawn into the world of Jilly Cooper.  Her books are hilarious.  The characters are so vibrant, often because they are so vile, they get up to the most outlandish things and their lives are so far removed from anything I have known.  Jetsetting, high stakes betting, far too much alcohol and lots of other hijinks.  Pure escapism.  She has recently released a new book, so of course I had to buy it! 

And they introduced me to the delights of Pimms, which I have since introduced to my husband (though he remains completely resistant to Jilly's books!).

Sun, sand and salty water

We just came home from a long weekend for Tansy's first trip to the beach.  All week we have been telling her that we were going on a trip and detailing all the fun things she could do at the beach. 

A long drive to the coast was made longer by having to stop four different times to take Tansy for a walk.  She doesn't mind the car and we usually take her somewhere at least twice a week in the car, but she gets very excited and whines a lot whenever the car slows down (red lights are the worst, she thinks we have stopped and should therefore be getting out of the car and going for a walk).  In addition to the whining she also quivers constantly with excitement.  Thankfully after the first stop she thought we were heading home, which is a much calmer drive! 

 I forgot to take an 'excited Tansy' photo, this is her after the first stop and she thought we were going home.  She has her car harness on.

After a long drive we finally arrived at our lovely, pet friendly accommodation - a little house with an "escape proof back yard".  Then we headed down to the beach...

So much to sniff!

She didn't like the water once she realised it was salty and not nice to drink.

Tansy was here.

 Sand is great for digging and getting all over everything! 

Exploring the rocks.

We all had a great time and she was exhausted by all the beach exploring and walking so she slept well.  But she was also happy to come home - within 10 minutes of arriving home she had uncovered a buried bone from Thursday and was gnawing wholeheartedly on it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hmm, should we be concerned?

Last night during the weather report ABC weatherman Mark Carmody said that once the minimum temperatures get to 13oC and above, tomato plants will start to thrive.  Our tomato plants are already very bushy, 1 metre tall and all have flowers and some have tomatoes growing. 

So my question is - have ours already thrived, or are they going to become tomato godzillas over the next couple of months???

Berry Season Is Here!

Our raspberries are just starting to ripen.  And a friend of mine in Tasmania has her first strawberry.  So that makes it official - the summer berry season is here!  Let the tasty eating commence...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Phili Update

Hooray, operation 'Stop Phili being broody' was a triumph!  Since Saturday afternoon she has been back into normal chook behaviour.

I had been tipping Phili out of her nesting box each morning and afternoon, but on Saturday I waited until Butter had laid her egg and then removed both nesting boxes.  On Sunday morning I put one nesting box back into their house for Butter and then removed it when she had laid her egg. 

Thankfully Phili didn't try settling down in the dirt, or I wasn't sure what my next option would be!

The only sad note is that her time away from normal chook life has made her forget how fabulous bugs and grubs are to eat.  I don't think Butter minds though as she now gets to eat them all!