Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Busy Sunday

It's nearly 6.00pm and here's what I've done today, so far:
1) Finished reading Po Bronson's "What Should I Do with My Life?" - fascinating, especially if you've asked this of yourself (ie just about everyone).
2) Started reading Lolo Holbein's "One Magic Square" - every gardening book is different, and you pick up something you've never read or considered before.
3) Blanched and frozen some green beans - green beans going well this year!
4) Cut up and simmered about 1 kg cherry guavas to make guava jelly - somehow the guavas have not attracted the dreaded fruit fly.
5) Cooked up a full monty breakfast - eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomato, toast and home made fig jam. yum.
6) Iced a "just because" cake - because you need no excuse to make a cake, do you? We'll have this after dinner tonight.
7) Made this week's "lunchbox treats"- Anzac biscuits.
8)Harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and more beans.
9)Mowed - we have a big lawn, so this took up most of the afternoon.
10) Nicked into town to buy petrol for mower - normally AM would do this, but he wasn't well today.
11)Sat down at the computer to organise paperwork for meeting with tax accountant dude this week.
12)Sat down for some internet surfing with son and daughter. Both doing "Antarctic' at school, and both need help with research and ideas with how to build a model of an Emperor penguin (daughter) or a polar tent (son).
13)Made lunch - nothing much, just warmed up some leftover lentil soup.
14) Watched the rain tumble down as a fierce thunderstorm swept through about an hour ago. You wouldn't guess anything had happened now.
15) Planted some seeds of beetroot, leek and two types of lettuce into seed trays.
I've had a great day. Hope you have too...

(I would have posted some photos, but I'm still having problems. It always goes to "Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage" and just stops. Sigh. Another computer problem to get to the bottom of. All a bit mystifying to this non-computer geek.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grape picking 2010

Here's Action Man in typical action mode, putting some of last year's wine into bottles, just in time for this year's wine to start it's journey from vine to bottle.
After the debacle that was the 2008 wine, 2009 was pleasing. The chambourcin is a light red that tastes good chilled, a great wine for summer. The shiraz has been a bit more troublesome. There aren't any "off" flavours or odours(caused by hydrogen sulphide aka rotten egg gas), but the wine lacks something. A local professional winemaker has had a taste and reckons that bottle aging will improve the wine somewhat, so AM has bottled accordingly and is crossing his fingers.
Making his own wine has been AM's dream since I have known him, which is now over 20 years, so it is very satisfying to see a dream realised. It's funny though...the wine seems beside the point. The satisfaction is definitely in the process. Even funnier...I'm not a big drinker but I do like my wine. Despite this, I've given up wine completely for Lent, after reading Frugal Trenches post on Lenten sacrifice. (It's going well,BTW. I really haven't missed it at all. I'm starting to wonder, will I drink again?) Meanwhile, AM is on a fitness kick training for triathlons and such, and has also given up drinking.
We'll probably pick our grapes this weekend, which means a busy time will be had by all (kids included). I'll take some photos of the process and post a tutorial on the subject.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More fruit fly follies

If you trawl through the archives of this blog, you will see that in February and March every year, we do battle with the Queensland fruit fly.
For those of you not acquainted with this charming pest, let me fill you in. This pest reproduces by laying its eggs in maturing fruit. The eggs then hatch and the fly maggots develop in the fruit, ruining it in the process.
Once you have them, they are difficult to get rid of. Travelling around Australia, you will see signs prohibiting the importation of fruit into certain zones, especially in areas where fruit is grown commercially.
Here on the south coast, we have them. Boy, do we have them.
Dealing with FF is almost a full time job in summer, especially if you are trying to be organic. Making traps. Spraying "Eco-lure"splash baits every 7 days. Picking and disposing of kilos of fruit.The trouble is, if there is an orchard in the vicinity that isn't being similarly attended, all this work is in vain. and the bad news for me is that I have neighbours who I know pay no attention to their orchards.
The other day I was at the nursery and talked to the nurseryman about what else I could possibly do. I was considering going the big guns - pesticides - when the nurseryman said to me candidly, "If I were you, I'd take out the trees and replace them with varieties that mature before Christmas" ie. before fruit fly season.Harsh advice, given that we've waited 7 years for our orchard to get to this stage, but I'm starting to think he's right. If you grow things in exactly the same way as a commercial grower, why bother? Why not save yourself some work and buy what they grow?
AM is despondent but I sees the logic, I think. We may be chopping down and chipping some trees soon, and replacing them with some early maturing fruit.

Sigh. Put it down to experience.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The 25 metre lunch

This is today's lunch. Why, pray, am I treating the blogosphere to a picture? Because I've just realised that apart from a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper, everything on the plate originated 25 metres from the kitchen door. So pardon me while I indulge in an attack of the self satisfieds.

Don't worry about knocking me off my perch. I've had enough garden failures to know how hard it can be to grow food at times. So a lunch like this is a reason to celebrate!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Too many cucumbers

One of the things that delights and annoys me about gardening is how you can never tell how a particular crop will go.
Past crops seem to be no indicator at all. For example, I've never had much luck with cucumbers. They seem to get powdery mildew before I know it, so I'm lucky to get a dozen cukes before they the plant turns up its toes. But this year! Boy! We have a plant that has given us dozens of cucumbers. This is this morning's harvest, one of many. And there are more cucumbers to come. Beats me why this particular plant is doing well this year. I can't think of anything I'm doing any different. And it's been a fairly standard summer - hot and humid. Why then so many cucumbers? I'd love to know.
Most of these will be given away, because we can't eat them fast enough. I've been scouring my cookbooks for ideas for cucumbers, but am not coming up with a lot apart from cucumber raita and greek salad. And I'm not a fan of pickled cucumbers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's raining again

Man alive. Last weekend it rained and rained, and this weekend has been just the same but WORSE!
What to do on a wet Sunday afternoon? Break out the mother-in-law's china, get your 11 year old son to make his first ever batch of scones and indulge in a proper afternoon tea.
The scones were a first attempt triumph - better than anything I've been able to manage. Here's the recipe the 11-boy followed, from the Australian Women's Weekly Basic Cookbook, the cookbook I bought to teach myself to cook when I moved out of home circa 24 years ago, and one I still use:

2 cups SR flour,
2 teaspoons sugar
15g butter
1 cup of milk

Sift flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in butter with fingertips. Make a well in centre of ingredients and add almost all the milk at once. Using a knife,"cut" the milk through the flour mixture to mix to a soft dough. Add remaining milk only if needed. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. Pat into a disc approx. 2 cm thick. Dip a 5cm cutter (11boy used a glass) into flour and cut as many scones as you can from the dough. Gently knead the remaining dough again and repeat. Put the scones on a lightly greased tray and back for 15 mins or so in a very hot oven (240 degrees or so). Eat with butter, jam, and cream.

It was netball registration day for Miss 9 yesterday. As soon as I walked in the door I was targetted to take on the president's role (the current president had to step down for family reasons). I've already turned them down once - I can't think of anything I'd want to do less -, but they haven't been able to find a replacement, so the pressure is on.
I really, really, really don't want to do the job. I've had plenty of experience on committees, and unfortunately I find that my nature is always to take the path of least resistance ie. I end up doing everything rather than delegate jobs. This is a failing, I know, but because I know this I know I just don't want to be a president. Give me a specific job, I'm fine, but if that job includes rallying the troops I just couldn't be bothered. I'd rather do things myself than cajole and convince, and call in favours make phone calls (guess I'll never be a politician). As a consequence, I invariably become an unhappy vegemite. Now I'll just have to maintain my resolve as I sure I'm in for a bit of a campaign...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Shorn the sheep

I thought I'd share these photos of shearing day 2010, when we engaged a shearer to come and give our sheep their annual short back and sides.
Shearing is hard work. Although it wasn't a particularly hot day when the shearer came, he was soon sweating up a storm. He was a study of strength and dexterity. Holding down a wriggling sheep (up to 40kg) with one arm while wielding a set of electric shear with the other and shearing the sheep quickly and without injuring the sheep is an amazing skill.
Having the sheep together in an enclosure also gave us the opportunity to drench the sheep for worms. In our humid temperate climate, worms are endemic. Barber pole worm is the worst. A healthy sheep can die in a very short time if it gets infected with these worms. Despite what the term suggests "drench" simply means dosing them with a syringe directed into the side of their mouths.
Shearing nine sheep took just over an hour. It's amazing how difficult it is to tell them apart when they without their fleece.
The shearer takes the fleece as part payment and sells it at the wool market in Goulburn (about 2 hours from here). Our fleece is not great quality. According to the shearer, it will end up as low end yarn for use in things such as tennis balls covers.
The girls are now in season , and part of the regime at the moment is to feed them a handful of lupins a day. This encourages their brains to think that times are good, and thus release two eggs, so they have twins. That's the theory. Let's see what happens...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Sad Indictment of Modern Life or Why Can't I Get My Stove Fixed?

I hope you will bear with me while I indulge in a rant. If you have too much negativity in your life already click away now. If you appreciate the edict "a problem shared is a problem halved" stick around. Perhaps you can give me some perspective at least.
The subject of my rant is my stove, specifically the wok burner, to whit...

Eighteen months ago I had to stop using the wok burner because it started to throw up flames a foot above the burner. Not safe.
Oh no, I thought, I'll have to call Appliance Guy.
Now, Appliance Guy is a nice enough guy. He looks the part and he can fix appliances when he puts his mind to it. The trouble is that in order to get to the "fixing" bit, you have to get through the "I'm never on time or return your calls", and the "I never stop chatting" bit and the "I forgot to bring x tool bit". I just don't have the time or patience to call Appliance Guy lightly, but would really like three usable burners, so I call him.
When he finally arrives (he's late, of course) he takes one look and says "it's the regulator". Then he proceeds to tell me how difficult it will be to fix. This went on for 20 minutes. While he never said the words, he was telling me loud and clear "I DON'T WANT TO DO IT". For this I paid a $70 call out fee.
Since he couldn't do anything about the burner there and then, we agreed that I would think about my options (ie. fix burner at massive inconvenience to him, or buy new cooktop at massive expense to me) and I would call him. Of course, I procrastinated for about 6 months. Then I called him and said I want to fix it, could he make a time? He uummmed and ahhed and prevaricated and said he'd call me. And didn't. What a surprise.
Life took over and I put the whole issue on the back burner for another 12 months (if I had one, which I don't because it's broken).
Okay, so now I've decided it's time to try and get thing thing fixed once and for all.
Bypassing Appliance Guy, I decide to try and find a repairer who likes to repair things.
My first problem is that I don't live in a metropolitan area, but heck, it's not remote Australia by any stretch. Forty five minutes north is a major urban centre. Fifteen minutes south is a sizable regional town of 35,000. Despite this options are thin on the ground.
My first call was to Grumpy McGrump. Mr McGrump should bill himself the clairvoyant repairer because he could deduce down the phone line that my burner wasn't worth repairing, "because 14 year old stove are gonna go on you anyway". No, he wanted me to bring a photo and measurements of my current stove into his shop (because he is also a retailer) so he could sell me a brand new stove". Er, like fun I will.
I try another repairer. They don't do gas appliances. "Why don't you Grumpy McGrump appliances?" they suggest helpfully. I reply that I wouldn't use Grumpy's services even if he was the last repairer ON EARTH. The "hmmm" I got in reply suggested to me that they understood exactly where I was coming from.
Phoned my last repairer option. Apparently, he is so uninterested in repairing things he doesn't return calls.
So there you are.
So what about replacing the entire cooktop as suggested by McGrumpy? Well, to my mind it seems a perverse waste of money, time and resources to replace an entire cooktop because the regulator on one burner needs to be replaced. Besides, if I replace the cooktop, I can bet that I will also need to replace the benchtop. And I have a lot of benchtop. Kerching, kerching. The benchtop is perfectly fine as it is, thank you. Why do I have to replace a benchtop because the regulator on ONE gas burner is busted and no one with a 150km radius could be bothered to come and repair it?
So here I am wondering what to do:

1. Go back to Appliance Guy in the knowledge that I wil have to hound the bloke with phone calls for weeks on end, wait for him for hours as he is invariable late for appointments, endure hours of conversation as he verbalises every step of the process, all the while not being confident he will get the job done?

2. Toss out my values, and flash the plastic, and start again with a new cooktop and a new benchtop and all the palaver associated with organising tradies to install both?

3. Put it into the too hard basket, and forget about the whole thing.

At this point (3) seems most likely as (1) and (2) are too painful to contemplate. But I really, really would like three burners again. But (1) and (2) are too painful to contemplate. And so I'm caught in this conundrum.
This little situation I find myself seems to crystallise an aspect of modern life that I find irksome: that these days, fixing things is not regarded as a worthwhile thing to do. When even the repairers themselves don't regard fixing things as worthwhile, what hope do we have? How much waste could we get rid of if we could fix things when they break?
Rant over. I feel better now. But I still don't know what to do.
Oh, and by the way, the cooktop brand is MIELE. The only reason I include this is on the off-chance that someone from MIELE is reading this and can contact me with some ideas.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fig sorbetto

February means figs around here, and this year our tree has given us a beaut crop. We've been eating and jamming heaps of figs, but my favourite figgy treat is fig sorbetto. The recipe is so simple. Here it is:

Fig Sorbetto

Destalk 12 figs.
Roughly chop and place in a food processor along with 200g caster sugar, 200ml cream , juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
Process to a puree.
If you have an ice cream maker, use that to churn. (Otherwise, place in a container and put into the freezer for 3 hours. Then remove the ice cream and beat to remove ice crystals and replace in fridge).

Freeze for a few hours before serving.

How easy can ice cream get? And it tastes amazing. I reckon you could replace the figs with 500g strawberries, mangoes, poached peaches. Maybe even bananas, although I don't imagine the colour will be too appetising...

Ice cream makers I guess are in that category of appliances that could be considered in danger of being superfluous - you know, those appliances you buy because they seem like a good idea but you never use. But I love my ice cream maker, and use it often to the point where we haven't bought ice cream for about...oh,eight years or so. It's right up there with my food processor and stand mixer.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tomatoes and frogs

Every year, we plant tomatoes in the vegie patch. We love them and care for them, and valiantly try to protect them from fruit fly. Every year, though, the most productive bushes are those that self seed, sometimes in the most bizarre places.
Two reasons why this may be:
  • Self seeded plants have adapted well to local growing conditions and so flourish.
  • Self seeded tomatoes tend to be the cherry tomatoes, which don't seem to attract the dreaded fruit fly.
So, in general, we leave the self seeded tomatoes to do their thing. But even we were amazed to see this tomato bush push it's way through the crack in the concrete at the bottom of our front steps. Check it out...

Not bad, given that this bush has no obvious means of support, and receives not a scrap of attention apart from our efforts to avoid stepping on it. It makes all our fussing with our "real" tomato bushes a bit of a joke really.

So the bet it on....will the front stair bush yield at least as many tomatoes as the mollycoddled ones up the back. Both look really healthy, with lots of green tomatoes, but the front stair bush is in front, with our first tomatoes being harvested this week.
You have to love this no gardening gardening caper. It appeals to someone like me who is a bit slapdash. It works not only with tomatoes, but potatoes and this week I used a head of broccoli from a self seeded plant in a stir fry. And we have pumpkins in the compost coming on that were totally self seeded.

Man, have we had some rain around here the last 48 hours. On Thursday night we had 108mm (over 4 inches) in about 10 hours, and it is still raining.
When rain's about, the frogs are out. Look what jumped onto my leg as I was folding laundry yesterday afternoon. It sure gave me a fright...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Smoking fish

Action Man's therapy is fishing. He normally catches flathead and kingfish, but occasionally comes home with what is known around here charmingly as slimy mackerel.
Slimies until pretty recently were considered bait fish. I've noticed our local fishmonger has started selling them, so I guess in these times of dwindling resources there is no such thing as the luxury of a bait fish.
We've always eaten whatever mackerel AM catches, normally smoked.Oily fish like mackerel is perfect for smoking. Here's how we do it...

You will need:

  • A smoker - this looks like a big stockpot without a bottom. Inside there will be hooks for one or two racks and a flat plate that sits a couple of centimetres from the bottom. There will also be a small dish to hold methylated spirit. We bought our current stainless steel smoker from a fishing supplies store. A bit pricey, but they last longer than aluminium versions..
  • Smoking chips - again from an outdoor/camping/BBQ store. Lots of different "flavours" of chips. We normally use hickory.
  • Methylated spirit (white spirit)
  • Salt and brown sugar
  • Fish


  • Mix your salt and sugar in a ratio of 2:1 and rub into your fish fillets. Leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Wash off the salt/sugar mixture and pat dry as possible. If you leave much moisture on the fish it will steam instead of smoke.
  • Place the flat plate into the smoker, cover with a handful or two of smoking chips.
  • Place your fish onto the racks and place into the smoker a few inches above the smoking chips. Place the lid onto the smoker.
  • Fill the small dish with metho and place on a suitable surface, preferably outside - concrete, stone, earth - not wood!) Ignite the spirit and place the smoker over the dish.
  • Leave the smoker until the spirit has burned itself out. By now, your fish should be smoked.
NB. Jamie Oliver in "Jamie at Home" describes making a home made smoker using a biscuit tin and chicken wire for the inside racks. He then sits the tin on a gas hob. Haven't tried this method myself and don't know if I'd want to (I have visions of melting tins and fire brigades) but perhaps you're game.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hopefully we're back

Well, between the January "silly season" where nothing gets done, and incompetent techies, it has taken me until about 3 hours ago to finally get our internet connection up and running again. Heavens, what a saga! But the main thing is the blog is back, and raring to go!

Thought I'd start back on the blog with some photos taken on our camping trip to Jervis Bay in December.

Can you believe the size of this monster caterpillar? I tried to photograph it to give you a sense of perspective. It is about 15cm long and about as thick as my index finger. Hairy with multicoloured stripes it is difficult to see in this photo. Action Man found it next to the boat ramp near where we were camping. All we could say was erk...and look at it in horrified fascination!

More prettily, here is a rosella eating a rice cracker. Love rosellas, but could do without their squawking at 5.00am!