Friday, February 27, 2009

Grape picking this weekend

A few blog entries back I wrote about Action Man, and how he has been monitoring the vineyard and the grapes to decide the best time to pick. Well, earlier this week, AM decreed that Saturday would be the day.
This will be our third grape picking, our vines being just over 5 years old. We make grape picking/crushing day a bit of a social event. We invite friends and relatives over to help pick the grapes in the morning, and then we have a long lunch as a way of thanking them for their labours. Without their help, grape picking day would be long and tedious.So, tomorrow I have 12 adults and a couple of kids for lunch.
When I first started catering for groups of friends and family, I would always have difficulty estimating just how much to cook. Overcatering is not so bad, as leftovers rarely go to waste around here. Like my Italian mother, though, I have a horror of undercatering. To our mind, undercatering implies stinginess, and a lack of generosity and hospitality. While I can think of lots of worse things, being a guest undercatered event is deflating. A couple of years ago, I went to a fortieth birthday party that was wildly undercatered. It was a barbecue, and by the time I was served there was scarcely any food left, and I was by no means the last to eat. I think I ate a gristly knob of meat and a half a dry bread roll (I split it with AM). Worse, we had the kids with us. They were much younger then, and we had to shush them when they started to complain “I’m really hungry!” at the tops of their voices, knowing that there was no food to be had. Yes, we’ll always remember that party, and not in a good way…
A couple of years ago, I started to keep records of what and how much I would cook when entertaining. I note down the names of the guests, the menu, and then record how much meat and vegetables were bought and cooked. Then, I make notes after the event saying things like “heaps of potato salad left”, “could have cooked more sausages”, “only needed 1 dozen bread rolls”.
I’ve read that this was a normal practice in the good old days of housekeeping, but the issue was more one of avoiding serving the same meal twice to the same person. Even though I don’t think of myself as a super housekeeper, this simple action saves me the effort of trying to remember what I cooked for whom and how much. It also saves me money.
So tomorrow, having consulted the records and knowing roughly how much of each dish to make, we are having Italian sausages and blade steaks on the barbie, cannelini bean salad, pesto rice salad, ratatouille served cold, a green salad and bread. Then we will have a fruit platter, and the pictuired Caramel Nut Crunch Cake from Belinda Jeffery’s book Mix and Bake with coffee.
The entertaining doesn’t stop tomorrow though. On Sunday, an old school friend who I haven’t seen for years will be coming for lunch with her family. We will have a barbie again, with salads and this time I’ll make a pavlova.
My next post will be of photos from the grape picking, if I can figure out how to post multiple photos. I had trouble with this some time ago, and haven’t tried since resurrecting this blog. Hopefully, I’ll figure out what the issue is…

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Art of Mindful Consumption

There is nothing like blogging to force you to clarify your thoughts is there? It really makes you collect your random thoughts and formless feelings into something that makes sense. Quite apart from anything else, I reckon blogging is worthwhile from this alone. Have any other bloggers out there found this?

Since I administered CPR to this blog a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a bit more about what I would like its philosophy to be. I’ve already blogged here about how I believe that this skills I talk about using in this blog are part of what I believe is important if we, as citizens, are to take back our power, and become active participants who make active choices about how our lives are lived.

While skills such as gardening, preserving, cooking, sewing etc. are important in this process, the main skill I have come to conclude, which underpin all the other skills is what I think of as art of mindful consumption. It is this art that I hope this blog will foster.

Most consumption in our society seems to happen automatically, like breathing. I exist therefore I consume. Mindful consumption is consumption that doesn’t happen automatically, or without thought. Rather, consumption happens only after a conscious assessment of all the issues involved, like:

Do I really, really have to consume this? Really?
What is this consumption going to cost me in money and time?
What is this consumption going to cost the planet?
Given that I’ve established I need to consume to meet a need, what is the best possible way to consume?

Mindful consumption means you consume only after really making an effort to answer these questions. When you do consume, you do so knowing that you have considered everything, that you are aware what your consumption entails. You don’t consume lightly or mindlessly.

Once you have engaged in the process of mindful consumption, decisions to get skilled and grow, cook, preserve, sew just make sense. Decisions to recycle or reuse, or just plain going without are obvious ones.

This year I’ve decided to try to develop the skill of mindful consumption model every time I feel the urge to consume. It is not as easy as it sounds, but it is getting easier. Hopefully before long, it will become a reflex action.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Time is the issue

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Harvested this week: zucchinis (more!), cucumbers, lettuce, eggplant, beans, cherry tomatoes, figs, apples, passionfruit, grapes.

Planted: Not a thing

Maintenance: Nothing

Time is the issue this week.

This week the calls for work started up again, so my time in the garden has been cut to nil.

My life is divided into work days and non-work days. They are like night and day. On work days, it is go-go-go from eyes open to eyes shut. All activity is directed at working or running the family. Things like working in the garden just don’t happen, full stop.

Non-work days are go-go-go as well, but there is a lot more control. These are days I do my getting ahead stuff, housework, and getting out into the garden. I also try to get my exercise in on these days.

Unfortunately, I don’t always know when I am getting up to a work- day or a non-work day. If I get a run of work days, like I did this week, things that need to be done in the garden for example, just don’t get done. I have to say, the unpredictability of life is what does my head in.

Time was also the nub of the issue in a discussion I had with Action Man this week about the state of the garden. We have quite a big vegie garden, and we harvest quite a lot. We also lose quite a lot to birds, bugs and disease. We would harvest a lot more if we spent more time out there, so we could nip problems in the bud.

Action Man reckons there is no point in having a vegie garden at all if we don’t tend it every day. Since he has the full time job, and I am home on average more than he is, the tending person would be me.

My view is, yes, we do lose quite a bit to nature but I reckon the amount we do harvest makes it worthwhile. And in any case, I don’t choose to spend any more time that I do already because I have quite a few other things to do as it is.

It’s like anything, right? The more time you lavish on something the better it will be, but sometimes you have to prioritise your time and energy in order to get everything done and that means accepting lower standards in some areas, in this case, the vegie garden.

End of discussion.

In other garden news, the gingers which I grew from rhizomes dug up by the side of the road have flowered! Don't they look exoticly gorgeous!What a perfume! Exciting stuff!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quietly going veggo

Once or twice I've idly commented to Action Man that I could easily become a vegetarian. AM then regards me with slight panic in his eyes. What, a life with no meat? Understand that AM grew up in a house, like so many Australians, where it was steak and eggs for breakfast, practically every day. And while he hasn’t had a steak for breakfast since I have known him, he still loves a good steak for dinner.

But, things change, and we have to change with them. I read about a CSIRO and University of Sydney study that calculated that for every dollar spent on beef generates 26.7 kilograms of greenhouse gases, compared to 3.2 kilograms for pigs and 2.4 kilograms for chickens. If ever there was an argument for reducing consumption of red meat in particular, this was it.

As much as I would like to deny it, decisions about what we eat are based in part on the family’s preferences. If you are going to the trouble of making dinner, you want to be sure people will eat it happily, correct? And while vegetable likes and dislikes are a bit of minefield, everyone happily eats the meat on their plate. I knew I would have to proceed cautiously, or risk a mutiny.

Over time, I have reached the point where we eat about 1 vegetarian dinner a week, while on some other nights, meat takes a back seat to the plant foods on the plate. About three nights a week we eat meals where meat, in whatever form, is the basis of the meal, but the portions are smaller. This represents a big reduction in the amount of meat we are eating.

The biggest achievement, though, is that I have managed to do this without drawing any comment whatsoever from AM or the kids. How? The Quiet Revolution method. Here’s what it entails:

1. Don’t make any announcements, comments, explanations about your intentions. Do not draw attention to the fact that you are reducing the amount of meat on offer, and chances are, no one will notice. Do not, for example, read out articles about meat consumption and greenhouse gases to your family in passing. Do not let the word “vegetarian” pass your lips. Someone will put two and two together, and the game will be up.
2. Increase the volume of your plant food offerings to compensate, so that the plate still has the same volume of food on it.
3. Introduce new vegetarian and near-vegetarian recipes that you think will appeal, but at the same time, try to have at least one offering that is familiar and non-controversial, so you can maintain the comfort zone.
4. Mix up your menus over the course of a week, so that you have a veggo meal between two nights of meat-meals. Try not to have a run of veggo or near veggo meals, or they’ll start to get suspicious.
5. If you eat desserts, schedule them on vegetarian nights. This gives you leverage, should you need it, to “encourage” your children to eat their dinner.

By following these strategies, I reckon I have halved our meat consumption and put a sizeable dent in our food budget. And I feel I’ve done something positive about our carbon footprint. And my dear family has never twigged.

Michael Pollan’s book In Defence of Food, voted Best Book in Any Category in 2008 by me, speculates about the effect on America’s diet if the First Family adopted a veg meal once a week, and in turn how that simple action would affect the level of greenhouse gas emissions. So, how about it, Barack and Michele?

You don’t have to wait for them, though. How about scheduling your own Quiet Revolution?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Introducing Action Man

One day after Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate to introduce you to Action Man, or AM for short. Here he is, in typical AM mode, sorting out nets for the vineyard.

If I think about the road we have taken to where we are today, from life in the city to living in the country, with the veggie garden, the vineyard, the fruit trees, the chooks and the sheep, AM has been the driving force. This was his dream. Initially I went along, a bit warily at first, admittedly. But over the last 10 years, his dream has become our dream.

During the week, AM wears a suit and tie to work in Corporate Australia. On the evenings and weekends, though, he wears crappy old clothes with holes in them and an old felt hat, as he goes about the business of being what our daughter calls “a pretend farmer”.

Why do I call him Action Man? He is never still. Never. Either he is working around here in the garden or on the house, or doing some woodworking, or making wine, or going fishing, or training for ocean swims. As I write, for example, he is fashioning wooden "plugs" of his own design to put into the wine barrels to reduce oxygen contact after fermentation (I think). Even when he sits down to watch the news on telly he fidgets like mad.

Anyway, AM is out in the vineyard checking out the grapes frequently this week as he is contemplating the best time to pick for this year’s winemaking. After weeks of hot, dry weather, we thought we’d be doing it this weekend, but the weather has turned cool and wet all of a sudden, so the sugars in the grapes, which you need to create alcohol, aren’t high enough. Last year, we picked too early after a very poor season and the result was wine that wasn’t worthy of the name. Very disappointing. Next weekend he is committed to doing an ocean swim as part of a team triathlon, so picking will be problematic next weekend too. Hmm, what to do? There aren’t enough hours in the day. We’ll keep you posted…..

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A productive morning

The weather has been so hot over the last few weeks, I’ve been giving my kitchen a wide berth. We’ve been dining on salads and anything I can think of that doesn’t take long to cook.

Finally, though, the weather has changed. It is 20 degrees cooler and raining. Bonkers! Today was a good day to get back in the kitchen and get ahead with some cooking.

“Getting ahead” cooking is important to me. I work as a casual (substitute, relief, supply) teacher, and often don’t know whether I’ll be working or not that day when I get up in the morning. Having something in the freezer ready to go for dinner that night is one way I can limit the stress of those last minute calls.

So today I’ve made Bolognese sauce, pesto, chewy cranberry bars and wholemeal date muffins for what I call lunchbox treats, and beer bread for dinner tonight. I also made some passionfruit ice cream. The Bolognese sauce and date muffins will go straight into the freezer. The pesto will go into the fridge to be eaten over the next few weeks.

The Bolognese sauce is made entirely in the microwave. Purists might scoff, but my mother is a ridgy-didge Italian and this is her recipe. Great for when you don’t have the time or inclination to tend a simmering pot. The use of the food processor means that the kids can’t pick out pieces of celery or carrot. Bonus.



500g lean beef mince

2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes

½ cup tomato paste

1 onion

1 stick celery

1 carrot

2 cloves garlic

salt, pepper

sprig rosemary

1 bay leaf


Place the beef mince in a microwave proof casserole dish. In a food processor place the tomatoes, tomato paste, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary with about a cup of water. Process until the vegetables are finely chopped. Pour into the casserole dish with the beef and pop in the bay leaf. Microwave on high for about 20 minutes. Give the sauce a good mix and add more water if needed. Microwave for another 20 minutes. That’s it.

This sauce is best made a day before needed, or freeze.

The beer bread is another super-quick recipe that takes all of, oh, about 3 minutes to get into a hot oven. I’ve been making this bread for years, but a version of the recipe appeared in this month’s delicious magazine. Eat this within 24 hours of baking.


450g or 3 cups of self-raising flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 bottle lager beer


Preheat your oven to about 200 degrees. Sift flour into a large bowl with sugar and salt. Add beer and stir to make a wet dough. Place dough into a greased, lined loaf tin (mine is about 25 cms x 10 cms). Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden on top. The loaf is done when it makes a hollow sound when you tap it on its bottom.

The loaf in the picture is topped with sunflower seeds and cheese.

The pesto is my first batch of the season. Here is how I use it:

The most basic use is on cooked pasta, one that my children insist is their favourite dinner. Any leftovers (I wish) I eat cold as a pasta salad the next day for lunch with the addition of a few chopped vegetables.
In risotto. Sometimes this is eaten hot, but more often I will eat this cold as a salad.
On pizza bases, to make pesto pizza. This is a great nibbly for barbies.
On chicken breasts. I’ll cover chicken breasts in pesto sauce and bake for 20-30 minutes.
As a sauce for roast lamb.
Dolloped into vegetable soup, especially minestrone type soups.

Over the next few weeks I’ll have a few pesto making sessions. These will end up in the freezer, to be eaten through the winter months. Sure, the colour isn’t great but the taste doesn’t suffer too much.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This week in the garden

Harvested: Zucchini, eggplant, lettuce, tomatoes, capsicum, silverbeet, beans, pattypan squash, peaches, figs, apples, passionfruit.

Planted: zilch.

Maintenance: water, water and more water.

All those climate change sceptics out there should have spent the last few weeks in southern Australia. It would be difficult to deny there is something weird going on with the weather.

The extreme weather Melbourne and Adelaide have been experienced has worked its way into this part of New South Wales. It’s been so hot around here over the last week or so I have been channelling Robin Williams from “Good Morning Vietnam”, you know “it’s hot, damn hot….were you born on the sun?” etc etc.

Working in the garden has been limited to hand watering the vegies in the early hours of the day. I’ve also rigged up sun shades over the broccoli and lettuce seedlings, while Action Man has placed a collapsible table, the nearest available thing, over some rainbow chard that was looking decidedly sick.

You’ll notice that I’ve been harvesting beans, from two dwarf bean plants that have survived from the 36 I planted. Two from 36, not a great success rate, I am sure everyone will agree. I think I’ve done everything I’m supposed to, honestly. The plants that have grown have been pretty prolific, but the rest either fail to germinate, or get decimated as soon as poke their heads through the mulch, or don’t grow more than a couple of inches. I am at a loss to know why. Any ideas?

Caterpillars are having a good go at the broccoli and cabbages planted last month, so I’ll have to look at some kind of organic spray.

The basil is looking fabulous. I bought a 1 kilo bag of pine nuts for a bargain price at the local food wholesaler in preparation for a pesto making session later this week.

After the full moon, I’ll be looking to plant some root crops to continue my experiment with moon planting.

As ever, it’s all go-go-go around here.

I find it difficult to understand how people can feel bored at home. I’m the opposite. I can’t wait to get home to get stuck into the garden, cooking, sewing or whatever else needs my attention, and there is always a list a mile long. Even though at times I spend a lot of time alone, I am almost never lonely and never bored.

How about you?

Monday, February 9, 2009

A tragic day

This morning I woke up safe in my bed, got up and started to go about the business of another ordinary day, all the while thinking about all those people affected by the bushfires in Victoria who don’t have that luxury.

Tragedy is a word that gets bandied about a lot, but the scale of the loss of life and property in Victoria over the weekend, certainly deserves that word.

My thoughts are with all those people, who are at the moment coming to grips with their losses and wondering how they will get through the challenges they will face now and in the future. I can only guess at their emotions.

A truly sad day.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Freezing frenzy

No, the title isn’t referring to the temperature around here, alas. We are looking down the barrel of 40 degree temperatures around here today. It’s the sort of weather where you can hang out a load of washing at 8am and it well and truly dry by 9am.

One of my favourite books is A Wild Herb Soup by Emilie Carles. It is her memoir of life in country France early last century and paints a vivid picture of peasant life, with all its pleasures and challenges. I love it because I can imagine this is how my Italian forbears lived. In it she talks about how busy the villagers were in the summer time, digging and planting, tending crops and preserving the results, working, working without a moment to rest. This year I have an inkling of just what she means.

Yesterday and today have been spent in a freezing frenzy, as I deal with the bounty from the garden. The other day I blogged about our baseball bat zucchinis. Yesterday I took two of them and sliced them finely. Then these were blanched for about 3 minutes, drained, packed freezer bags and frozen. Result: 3 500gram bags of zucchini.

I have just done the same with some pattypan squash, as you see in the picture. These things are doing really well at the moment, probably a bit too well. They are growing faster than I can pick them! They seem to be leaping from 20c piece size to 10cm across overnight.

The Golden Queen peaches are just starting to come on too. This is so exciting because last year’s crop were absolutely wrecked by marauding fruit fly. We had to chuck kilos and kilos of peaches and plums. It was pretty tragic really. This year, though, no fruit fly, whether by good luck or good management I don’t know. And the peach tree is loaded. So yesterday I blanched a couple of kilos, peeled and seeded them, then diced them and packed them in a very light sugar syrup ready for cakes and desserts later in the year.

I’ve also made some pickled beetroot for the first time this week. With these I simply boiled the beetroot, then peeled and diced them. Then I packed them in jars in a solution of sugar, white vinegar, cinnamon and peppercorns which had been simmered for 20 minutes. I’m the only fan of beetroot around here. The kids and Action Man only eat it when I crack the whip, so I suspect the pickled beetroot will be mine, all mine!

BTW, we’ve just finished eating our crop of white peaches. One bite of these peaches, and honestly, you know all the work you put into your garden is worth it. They were so sweet and dripping with juice. Complete luxuries.

Early this morning I got out early and watered eveything and draped sheets and tablecloths around the garden to make a bit of shade over our most vulnerable plants. Still, I am sure we will lose a couple of things. What do you do to coddle your plants through the hottest summer weather?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Taking back the power

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want this blog to say since I revived it a week ago. I started it last year, with the simple idea of creating a chronicle of our experiences growing our own produce, and cooking and preserving it.

Since then, I’ve read and thought a lot. I’ve started to see that simple acts like growing your own vegetables, for instance, are significant decisions. I asked myself, why do we do this anyway? The more I thought about my answers the more I saw they all boiled down to Taking Back the Power.

What power? The power to control our lives and make our own decisions. To not be beholden to faceless industry, and be complicit in their decisions about how the world is run.

To illustrate: say, for example, you normally buy lettuce at a Woolworths or Coles (the big two supermarkets in Australia, who between them control 80% of the food market). Your purchase of that lettuce means that you are implicitly supporting a system that is environmentally questionable in terms of food miles and growing methods, and typically has meagre returns for the farmer involved. Grow your own lettuce, and you take back your power - you control how that lettuce is grown, how much fuel is used to grow and transport it (ie. none). You control what sort of lettuce you will eat and when you will eat it. You control the production of that lettuce from seed to plate.

There best part is that there is nothing anyone can do to take the control from you.

Imagine if everyone grew something as small as their own lettuces. What a message that would send. What an amazing change that alone would bring.

Extend this now to other actions: other food we buy, clothes we wear, what we do for entertainment, how we transport ourselves.

We have to start believing in and exercising our own power, because that is where real change in this world will happen. Over time, we have been programmed to expect our governments to act in our best interests, and time and again, we are disappointed. Look at how governments around the world are fumbling around with solutions to the climate crisis. And what is the current financial crisis but a huge failure of government to protect the interest of the majority its people?

The unfortunate truth is that governments and the people who run them may have good intentions, but really, their priority is to get re-elected.

Whew! It may seem to some there is a huge leap from growing lettuces to changing how world government works? Not at all. In small actions, that you and I can make, we reclaim the power of people and can effect change.

So where does that leave me with my spades and spoons, and this blog?

The way I see it, every time I grow something, cook something for myself, preserve, attend to my budget, reuse something, recycle, sew, or mend I becoming more powerful. I have the power to say “yes” to the things that nurture me, my family, my community and my country. I have the power to say “no” to things that diminish life.

When I blog about those small, seemingly inconsequential actions, hopefully I am encouraging others to feel and use their own power.

That, in nutshell, is what this blog is about.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fast food at home

Nutrionist Kathryn Elliott has recently written on her fabulous blog, Limes and Lycopene, about the preponderance of quick, easy, instant recipes in magazines and the like all aimed at the cook with no time.

Kathryn is wondering about these recipes, raising the expectations of cooks, when the truth is that cooking good food takes time.

I’m a bit sceptical about a lot of them too, but for different reasons. A lot of recipes straightjacket dishes into short cooking times, just so they can be labelled “quick”, I suspect. Recipes like 20-minute bolognese sauces, or stew recipes that have cooking time of less than an hour. They do exist!

In my experience, such dishes need longer, slower cooking and don’t lend themselves to the fad for fast. For example, there is no substitute, I find, for an onion cooked slowly over medium-low heat to extract it’s sweetness. This takes about 5-10 minutes. You cannot hurry this process and expect to have the best results. Time and again, though, I’ll find recipes that ask you to start by frying an onion for a stew for a minute. I know the dish just won’t taste good, so the recipe goes in the mental rubbish bin. If you are a novice cook, though, you’ll follow the recipe and wonder why the result isn’t what you’d hoped. What has been achieved in the mania for haste? We need to have recipes out there that encourage people to cook for themselves, not set them up for failure.

Fast cooking options are an important part of my repertoire. Like so many mums, I’m often not home until 6 o’clock, having worked all day and then ferried kids to and from sports training. These are my options for having dinner on the table in less than an hour:
Get the kids or Action Mana to barbecue something, while I knock up a salad. With a bit of organisation, I often round out the meal with a leftover lentil, bean or potato salad made for a previous meal.
Stir frying, although to my mind the prep required to stir fry properly makes it a line-ball proposition with regard to speed.
Third option is a frittata, filled with whatever veg is in the fridge. I speed the prep up by cooking the veg in the microwave, instead of sautéing it in the frypan . A great way to eat our way through all the eggs our girls give us.

Sometimes time is super-short and the priority is to fill stomachs. On those occasions, I turn to pasta. I knock up one of the sauces below in the time the pasta takes to cook. All of these recipe ideas below are handy when the call of the take-away or two-minute noodle is getting hard to ignore.


This is so easy it can barely be regarded as cooking.
Put your pasta on to boil.

GENTLY soften 2 garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. You can add a chopped chilli if that’s your thing.

Stir through cooked, drained pasta.


One step up on level of difficulty from the above

Put your pasta on to boil.
Gently fry 2 chopped garlic cloves in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over low-medium heat until soft. DO NOT BURN THE GARLIC.
Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and stir into the garlicky oil.
Warm ½ cup of milk, (I do it in the microwave) and stir into the sauce.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir sauce through drained pasta - you are done. Add parmesan cheese to taste.


A delicious summer recipe, sort of a warm pasta salad. Great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Put your pasta on to boil.

Dice some tomatoes (about 1 medium per person), and mix with a chopped garlic clove, a tablespoon or so of chopped basil or parsley, salt and pepper and a slurp of olive oil in a bowl.

Stir through drained pasta.


A traditional favourite. Adored by everyone in my family

Put your pasta on to boil.

Gently fry some bacon, as much as you like, in some olive oil. When it’s crisp, add a chopped garlic clove and fry for on minute, then take it off the heat.
Meanwhile beat 3-4 eggs with a couple of tablespoons of cream and a handful of parmesan cheese. I also stir in some chopped parsley for colour. Add a little salt and pepper, but be careful, the bacon and parmesan will have a fair amount of salt there already.

Drain the cooked pasta. Stir through the bacon and garlic, then tip in the egg mixture, stirring all the while. Add a little more parmesan if you like and serve.

These pasta recipes are great because they are meant to be fast, and they don’t make any compromises on taste to fit into an imposed short time-frame. They are the kind of easy, fast recipes everyone should have at their fingertips.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What's on in the garden

  1. Harvested this week: beans, beetroot, pattypan squash, zucchini, eggplant, capsicum, figs (pictured above). Also, passionfruit, white peaches, the first of the Golden Queen peaches, the last of the Mariposa plums, grapes, the first ever Jonathan apples off our tree (v. exciting) and as ever, silverbeet and lettuce (cos and radicchio).

    Planted: 12 lettuces, 6 broccoli.

    Maintenance: Tended the compost heap and worm farm, sprayed Eco-Lure around the citrus, because even though there hasn’t been a sign of a fruit fly, yet, as far as I’m concerned you can never be too complacent. Topped up mulch. Weeded, as ever.

    This morning we had some cloud cover, so we dashed out to get some work done in the garden. We’ve missed the sweltering 43 degree temperatures being experienced in southern Australia at the moment, but we’ve had constant 33 degrees and high humidity for most of January. Gardening in a steambath is no fun, so the respite was welcome. I’m glad we got busy this morning because this afternoon it’s back to steambath conditions.

    As you can see in the picture, dealing with zucchini is a pressing issue. How about those baseball bats, hey? AND I have two more in the fridge. I really have tried to pick them small, but if you miss one, they seem to grow to these monstrous proportions overnight.

    I love zucchini, but the thing is, there is too much zucchini, even for me. And I can’t give these monsters away. My neighbours and friends look askance at the bats, they probably don’t know what to do with them.

    So this week it will bNumbered Liste Operation Zucchini. Here’s the plan:

    Make 2 zucchini pies and freeze one.
    Make 2 zucchini loaves and freeze one.
    Blanch zucchini slices in water and freeze for winter.
    A side dish of sautéed zucchini EVERY night (except perhaps when we have zucchini pie. That could be stretching the friendship a tad).
    Make a BIG batch of ratatouille for lunches this week.
    Make another batch of zucchini pickles. I made my first batch ever this week and they have been a bit of a hit.

    Looks like a lot of time in the kitchen, which normally isn’t a problem. However, our kitchen is particularly hot at this time of year, because we have skylights in the kitchen ceiling. Great idea in July, not so great in February.

    As far as planting is concerned, I decided to try out planting by the moon phases. This is something that is discussed often on Aussie Organic Gardening, and I’ve come across the idea in various books. The Australian Women’s Weekly used to always include a planting by the moon calendar too. I haven’t read an issue in ages, so I wouldn’t have a clue whether it still does so. My uncle, a flinty, unsentimental Italian, is also convinced about planting by the moon. (He also reckons the moon’s phases affect when you should bottle wine too, but that’s a story for another day).

    As I understand it, planting by the moon at its most basic level means that you plant upwards growing plants - like lettuce and broccoli- when the moon is waxing, or between new moon and full moon. Downwards growing plants are planted in waning moon. I know it’s more complicated than that but that’s as complicated as I want to get at this stage.

    Early January during a waxing moon I planted a bunch of seedlings and have noticed that the lettuce and broccoli, pumpkins and squash have done really well, while the beetroot and carrots have languished somewhat. Could there be something to this? So I thought this month I’d apply the principles on purpose and see what happens.

    Now, I have to go and look up my books. We have 28-spotted ladybirds decimating our potato tops, and if I don’t figure out what I need to do soon, they’ll be history.