Monday, January 31, 2011

What do you get if you cross a sheep and kangaroo?

A woolly jumper of course!

Fruit and spuds

The tomatoes currently filling up our kitchen.

We planted two dutch creams from the cupboard and they were growing nicely, but they started to die in the heat, so I dug them up yesterday.  The potatoes are small but tasty.  About 500g all up.

Our blackberry haul from yesterday - 1.35kg.  We froze them on trays and then poured them into these bags.  They will keep nicely in the freezer until we want them for pies or crumbles in the winter.

Chicken soup and hot dog

Our latest tips on helping pets keep cool in summer (or, another post about the heat...).

Dog:  We put ice cubes in Tansy's water and she 'bobs' for them.  Then she chases them around the floor.

Chooks:  Last year we made several soups with part of our vegetable harvest.  Some of them were very nice, some not great at all.  As a result, several takeaway containers filled with plain zucchini soup have been sitting in our freezer for a year - so we have been placing one a day into the chook house over the past few days of heat.   Phili likes to stand on top of it when we first put it in, then she gets off it and she and Butter both start pecking at it.  We used the last of that soup this afternoon, so tonight I cut up some zucchini, put it in some water and placed it in the freezer.  Some more chook ice-cream for tomorrow!


I'm reading blogs about the cold and snow in the UK and USA with envy.  It was 41oC in our backyard at 5:20pm.  It has cooled off a bit since then and is now 38oC.  12% humidity.  The weather forecast is for the same tomorrow...  This year summer took so long to come to Canberra that we thought we had been spared the worst of it, but it has definitely arrived this week.

We had to water the fruit trees last night (we were out with the mosquitoes at 8pm), the strawberries have flopped and the heavily laden tomato plants are sagging against their stakes. 

It's a little bit too warm for my liking..!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fading in the heat

According to our home weather station today was our second 40oC day in less than a week.  Our lawn is starting to go pale and crunchy underfoot.  Water restrictions have eased enough to allow the watering of lawns, but it seems such a waste of perfectly good water.  In summer we often save our laundry water to put onto the lawn, but it has been too hot for me to think about carting buckets of water around the garden!

I hate the heat!  I like cool days and warm days, I'm ok with cold days (not so much those icy Canberra winter mornings when I have to walk Tansy!), but I hate hot days. 

I've been surviving by turning on the air conditioner in the afternoons (something we try to keep to a minimum, but there are days when it just has to go on) and watching the TV while knitting.  [Segue to knitting update...]

I started the second sleeve for my husband's jumper a couple of weeks ago.  I was zooming along quite happily and then realised I was increasing stitches at the wrong rate, so it has to be frogged.  I hate frogging and try to avoid it whenever possible.  Sadly it can't be avoided on the jumper sleeve.  I have to frog.  I hate to frog.  Said sleeve is now sitting in my knitting box waiting for a frog-friendly evening - it may be waiting a while...

So I started on the turtleneck jumper I wanted to knit for myself.  I'm using Bendigo Woollen Mills Rustic with 6.5mm needles - I love needles bigger than 5mm so I am very happy!  Things knit up so satisfyingly quick with larger needles. 

The jumper is something I am making up based on Stephanie Japel's Cosy V Neck pattern (but adding a turtle neck).  It seems to be going quite well so far.  There are a couple of things I could go back and change (but I won't - see above rant on frogging!), but overall I am very happy.  I've nearly finished the body and then just have to do the sleeves.  And because it is a raglan knit in the round there will be no sleeve attaching or body seams necessary.  Hooray!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A harvest with a twist

Our afternoon harvest.
In case you couldn't see it - a twisted zucchini and the first eggplant of the season!

 And a monster parsnip.  My husband cut it before I took the photo - but I'm sure you can imagine how big it was before he cut up part of it for chips...!  I put my hand in the photo for size comparison.  We aren't sure how it got quite so big - it must have grown very fast!

And today's cake - there were lots of blood plums at the farmers market yesterday, so we knew what cake I would be making!  Blood plum and yoghurt.

One Sunday in Canberra

From our house we have quite a good view over part of Canberra, but early this morning it was all hidden behind a thick blanket of mist.  It seems unusual to have such a heavy mist in the middle of summer.  A storm went through yesterday afternoon, including some hail, so maybe that contributed to it?

It had cleared by 9am so we went blackberry picking.  There are lots of wild blackberries in Canberra.    Today we went to the same place we've picked at for the past few years, but all the bushes were dead - blackberries are considered a pest and sometimes the Government goes on blitzes and sprays poison (they never spray during berry season).  Sadly it looks like they finally did that patch (probably a few months ago).  So we had to find somewhere else. 

We drove a bit further and found a nice quiet place and with all the rain over the past six months there were some very plump, juicy berries.  It is still early in the season though and there were mostly lots of immature berries.  We'll go back over the next couple of weeks to stock up on blackberries for the year.  They are great in fruit crumbles on a cold winter night!

I love how cobwebs showoff when it is misty.  This one is above the apricot tree (it is hanging off the power line).

This one is between the corn and the spring onions (and above the zucchinis!).

Strung between a blueberry near the garage.

334g of wild blackberries.

Four little jars

Yesterday we converted 2kgs of home grown tomatoes into homemade tomato sauce.  We've made jams and chutneys before so we thought that 2kgs of tomatoes would make quite a lot of sauce, but it only made four little jars.  It smells amazing though!  Now we have to wait a month for the flavours to develop before we can use it.  We can hardly wait and are already planning a BBQ for that day!

1.1kg of Sunny Boys and 0.9kgs of Tommy Toes

Add vinegar, onion and spices (and we added a chili for extra zing).
A strong clove smell permeated through the house, but close up it smelt just like tomato sauce.

Finished product - we sieved out the tomato skin and spices, but left in the tomato seeds.  And even with all those yellow Sunny Boys it is still quite red. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

He-Man - Protector of Public Servants

I'm temporarily working in a building in the part of Canberra known as the Parliamentary Triangle - a hub of government and public servants.  I took my camera to work with me today, here are some highlights from my lunch break.
The Old Parliament House Garden (beautiful in rose season).

Old Parliament House, it now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy .
(yes, those are THE steps from the Whitlam dismissal)

The view from OPH to Mount Ainslie and the Australian War Memorial.

The John Gorton Building - specially designed and purpose built to house all the public servants that Australia would ever need.  HA HA!!  Now it isn't big enough to house one department!  Rumour has it that there are 10,000 meat pies in the foundations.

He-Man - Protector of Public Servants.
OK, it is actually supposed to be St George and was built to commemorate the reign of King George V.  But with that haircut how could he be anything else but He-Man to a someone brought up on 1980s cartoons?

Tomato Festival!

Our zucchinis and cucumbers are still producing abundantly, and now the tomatoes are starting to really kick into gear.  If anyone has any good tomato sauce recipes please pass them our way - we hope we'll need it soon!
The plate at the front is today's harvest - including our first Black Russian and first Green Zebra of the season (to go with the Tommy Toes, Rouge de Marmandes [our favourite], Sunny Boys and Yellow Pears).  If you look closely you can see a funny 'snowman' shape Yellow Pear tomato.  The plate on the left at the back is yesterday's harvest, and the plate on the right are some older tomatoes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The seed answers

OK - for those of you who are interested in gardening and seeds, here are the answers to the photos I posted last week:

1. Spring Onion
2. Carrot
3. Leek
4. Celery

How many did you guess correctly?

Chicks with sticks

Alas, last night I wrote a very clever, witty and entertaining post (I'm sure it was!) about watching the international women's T20 match at Manuka Oval on Sunday.  Sadly, Blogger (or maybe just my account) had problems and that post disappeared into an internet black hole.  Rather than trying to recreate that blog, I'll just put up some photos. 

Time to cheer on your favourite team - are you an English or Australian supporter??

Cracking shot!
The Aussie wicket keeper is Alyssa Healy - niece of former Aussie (men's team) wicket keeper Ian Healy.

Aussie girls save an English boundary (just!).

English batter sliding in to save her wicket (watched by the two umpires). 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Step back in time

While I was living in the UK a few years ago I travelled to Yorkshire for a couple of weeks.  I adored the Yorkshire Dales, and it became one of my favourite parts of England.  I also stopped in Whitby for a couple of nights.  I knew of Whitby from the classic novel 'Dracula' and from countless school history lessons about Captain Cook, but it was the gem I found while wandering through the town streets that now reminds me of Whitby.

By chance I happened upon the Sutcliffe Gallery.  I spent probably about an hour in the little gallery gazing at photo after amazing photo of people and common sites in Whitby and its surrounds from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.  After much agonising I finally decided on my favourite photographs and left the gallery with two postcard sized prints (which are now framed and hanging in our house).

Early photographs always interest, and often intrigue, me - and the photographs of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe are something special.  Beautifully composed and expressive in every detail.  The milkmaid with her milking stool, the boats in the harbour, the sailor with a peg leg and the women knitting.  I love them all.  If you have some time, browse the online gallery and lose yourself in historical Whitby (I do every few months and never tire of it).

From garden to plate

One of our corn plants developed three separate cobs - so generous!

 Home grown side dishes - makes for a quick and easy dinner.

What seed is that?

We often leave some vegetables in the garden to go to seed.  It helps to attract good insects to the garden, gives us the opportunity to save seeds for the next season and they are a pretty ornamental addition to the garden.  Can you guess what plants these seed heads are from?...

Some are easier than others - I hope you have fun thinking about which plants they are!  I'll post the plant names in a couple of days.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The Queensland floods continue, terrifying us all with their force.

As a daughter and a sister I am thankful that while the city my parents live in has been affected (the highway has been cut and currently the town has no fuel, milk, bread and limited fresh fruit and vegetables) my parents are safe and well.  The town my brother and his family live in has also been cut off, but they are also safe and well.

Our thoughts are with those who have not been as fortunate.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Weekend lunch and long sleeves

This afternoon's harvest - four zucchinis (three different types); three cucumbers (including a super long one!), some tomatoes (three different types), dwarf green beans, oh and there was also a couple of eggs (not in the photo).

We picked some more corn on Saturday for lunch - yum!  There were a few missing kernels but the slugs eating the silk didn't do too much damage. 

Yesterday I picked the last of the boysenberries, but the strawberries are just starting to get into full swing so we should have another month of berry-joy.

And last, but not least - I managed to get into some solid knitting yesterday afternoon and finished off the first sleeve for my husbands stripey jumper (started about 9 months ago).  Then I attached it and sewed up the side seam.  I don't seem to have great curved seam technique, so the sleeve seam is a little bit lumpy.  Oh, and despite checking measurements about 20 times the sleeve still managed to be about 5cms too long!  Never mind.  I can't face undoing the seams and frogging back half the sleeve, so it will stay a long armed jumper.  Only one more sleeve to go and then the neckband and then it's done.  Hooray!  I think I can finish it in a couple of weeks.  So it is definitely time to decide what yarn to buy next.  Does anyone have any tips on how to prioritise potential projects?  There are so many projects I'd like to make and I just can't decide what to do next.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

We're going to Melbourne!

Today we booked flights to visit Melbourne later this year.  Canberra is less than 3 hours drive from Sydney, so when many Canberrans visit a big city they usually go there, but I think it is worth the effort to go to Melbourne.  I know lots of people won't agree with me but I don't like Sydney anywhere near as much as I adore Melbourne.  (Though maybe I am biased because I lived in Melbourne for a few years when I was in my early 20s).

I love the different neighbourhoods of Melbourne - that Richmond (my old stomping ground) is nothing like St Kilda or Carlton or Fitzroy or any of the other neighbourhoods.  They all have their own identity and unique voice.  I love that in the city centre you can walk off the main streets into lane ways and then into alleyways.  You never know what exciting shops or places are hidden from view - the karaoke place friends and I went to one night that was off an alleyway, down a smaller alley, past the skip bins, through a small door and up an elevator.  Or the wonderful bar that was down an alley and behind an unmarked door.  Places you never find unless you explore.  I love the old arcades that are tended with such care and have become tourist attractions in their own right. 

I've travelled a bit and lived in a number of different cities (both in Australia and overseas), and I still rate Melbourne as one of the best places to live or visit.  If you've never been there, try and get there soon, and if you live there now - I am extremely envious and please tell me the current best places to go!

Here are a couple of photos from our 2009 visit to Melbourne.

 Star Wars exhibit at Scienceworks.

Penguins at the Melbourne Aquarium.

If you can't get to Melbourne, but would like to know more, you can savour the highs and lows of 1920s Melbourne in the fabulous Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood.  They are short, fun and have historical accuracy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Relaxing after the hard work

The hard work we put in during spring is over and our garden is now established for the summer.  It's good that now the weather has warmed up there isn't much for us to do in the garden except keep an eye out for pests and harvest the tasty goodness the plants are providing.  (Oh, and to start thinking about what seeds to plant for autumn and winter!)

We picked our first corn of the season last weekend - sweet and tasty, but it needed a few more days, so we left the rest, but will pick some more tonight.  We planted about 40 corn seeds over 5 different plantings so we could have a reasonably regular harvest over the summer.  Sadly slugs ate the silk off the cobs of the first planting.  I'm hoping enough silk tips remained to fertilise the kernels, otherwise it will be a poor harvest.  The two cobs we picked on the weekend weren't too bad, but definitely missing some kernels.

We have been picking a couple of tomatoes each day - they seem to be attracting pests like magnets so we are picking them just as they start to change colour and ripening them inside the house in an effort to thwart some of the bugs.  We pick chillis, capsicums, herbs and rocket as we need it.  Ripe strawberries rarely make it into the house!

Last night we made a nice side salad of tomatoes, basil and rocket to go with some fritters we made using zucchini, onion and herbs from the garden.  It is so nice to be able to create a meal using ingredients we grew using no chemicals and watered with mostly rain water.

The traditional Aussie backyard of an expanse of lawn has been replaced with raised garden beds.  Thankfully the tomatoes calmed down after their initial booming growth and they have been concentrating on producing fruit, not sending more branches ever upwards!  If you look closely at the back of the photo you might be able to spot the lemon tree, apricot tree and nectarine tree.  Lost in the morning shadows are the cherry tree, fig tree and apple tree.

Our herb garden, but we also have a lot of other herbs in pots.

This morning, for the first time this season, I harvested more zucchini's than cucumbers, but this is probably because my husband picked a heap of small cucumbers a few days ago to pickle them.  And an egg from each of the chooks.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Surprise scarf

Here is the vine lace scarf I started knitting as a swatch to get an idea of tension, but kept on knitting.  It used up the leftover BWM luxury 8ply from the horizontal scarf I knit last month.

It is quite pretty, but very simple (so right at my skill level!).  Now I just have to decide what colour yarn to order so I can start on the cardigan I want to knit.

Sending happy thoughts

2011 is having a busy start to the year in our corner of the world with a mix of happy, disappointing and unwanted news. 

First the happy - my sister-in-law and her partner got engaged a few days ago.  No specific wedding date yet.  We wish them all the best and hope that the joy, respect and fun they have together continues for all the years to come.

Next the disappointing - a lovely friend of mine was due to go to Penguinland for work before Christmas.  Sadly the departure date keeps getting pushed back as the plane hasn't been able to fly, so now she is back doing normal office work (not nearly as exciting as frolicking with penguins!).

Finally the unwanted - I developed a cold on Sunday, which has blossomed into a rather yucky throat infection.  The doctor sent me home with instructions to rest and take antibiotics.  I'm feeling too dizzy to knit or anything else constructive so I'm left with not much to do but watch the final Ashes cricket test on TV (come'on Aussie, we've lost the Ashes already, but maybe we can still win this game...), oh and maybe write a couple of blog posts..!

No matter where you are, or what 2011 has already brought you, I'm sending you happy thoughts to help celebrate the good news and commiserate with the bad.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 - A year in knits

Healthwise 2010 was a pretty rough year for me and I found I wasn't able to knit as much as I would have liked.  I am hoping 2011 will be a different story. 

In preparation for a super knitting year I have tidied up my downstairs stash.  Most of my knitting 'stuff' used to be upstairs neatly stored in a cupboard, but then, somehow, it started migrating downstairs.  Each time I started a new project different sized needles would end up downstairs in the living room.  Then new yarn would arrive and it would stay downstairs as well.  Homemade markers and lengths of yarn for stitch holders started multiplying and really it was becoming quite an unmanageable mess!  So now an old magazine holder has (some) of my patterns and books and a plastic box has all needles and 'current, and soon to be, projects' yarn in it.  I also put my markers and stitch holders into a little ziplock bag so I can find them when I need them and can stop making more!  The tidying was a relief (though I wonder how long that box will hold everything I need it to...!).  I also bought a notebook so I could write down pattern notes and stitch tension and other useful knitting things in one place.  No longer will I rely on the backs of old envelopes or other odd bits of paper that were close to hand at the time I needed them (and that of course would always disappear right when I needed to go back them!).

So with the tidying done I could start on new projects.  A couple of days ago I started knitting a tension square in vine lace for a cardigan I'm hoping to make.  I was using the remains of the BWM 8ply luxury yarn from the horizontal scarf to see if I needed 8ply or 10ply.  Anyway, I thought the pattern was so lovely I just kept knitting and now I have almost finished a scarf!  I am still going to make the cardigan, I just have to decide which colour yarn to order from BWM.

So, in addition to that surprise scarf, I promise that 2011 will see me finish my husbands stripey jumper, knit myself the vine lace cardigan and a turtleneck jumper, and a gift for a friend.  They are the only definites this year and I wonder what else the knitting year will bring (2010 had several baby jumpers).

Happy New Year!

I hope you are all having a wonderful start to 2011 and have been able to start the year with something lovely.  I started the year baking (and a bit of knitting).  

A friend had her birthday back in October, but she was overseas at the time and later lamented that she didn't get a cake.  I think there is something very special about someone taking the time to make you a birthday cake, and it is that time spent rather than the cake itself that makes birthday cakes special.  I knew my friend would appreciate a beautiful cake, so this time I went for elegance over theme.  Here is the Chocolate, Meringue and Strawberry Gateau...

The two cakes before final assembly.

The finished product.  From the bottom up, the layers are:  chocolate cake, meringue, chocolate cream, strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate cake, meringue.  With almond flakes around the sides and on top of the meringue layers.  This cake made the birthday girl feel very spoilt and 9 other people very happy!