Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stuff I've been up to lately

Yes, it's been a while, so this is a bit of a compendium post.

The emphasis around here during winter is on the "Spoons" bit of "Spades and Spoons". The vegie garden goes into a bit of a hiatus in winter, apart from growing garlic, potatoes and a few lettuces due to the aspect and layout of our land. Our vegie patch is shaded by our rather large shed for much of the day during winter, so not much grows.

Anyway, here's what's been going on lately...
My parents, and some of their friends, established an Italian social club in Sydney 47 years ago, the Fogolar Furlan. Going there was a big part of our lives as we were growing up. Now the original members are grandparents, and they had a "cooking with the nonnas" day at the club during the school holidays just past. About 50 kids made and ate some great gnocchi that day...
My son was inspired to have a crack at making gnocchi at home. They were dee-lish. Using desiree potatoes is the secret, or something similar like Dutch creams. They aren't as wet, so require less flour and are consequently lighter. If a recipe for gnocchi calls for Sebago potatoes, feel free to disregard this advice...

Vegetarians, feel free to scroll quickly through the next few pictures!

We had a family sausage making day a few weeks ago, at my uncle's place. We've been doing this for about 15 years, with our parents taking charge. This year, though, I noticed that my generation, my brothers and cousins, took the running. The oldies looked over our shoulders, sure, but were content to let us go to it.


The mixture for blood sausage. Believe me, everything was used. Everything, but the oink.

 
My brother and cousin mincing meat for salami. The mixture for fresh sausages in the foreground.

 
My brother Laurence manned the sausage stuffing machine.

 Cousin Mark ties up a salami
 
Natural casings (read, sheep intestines) steeping in water, garlic cloves and lemon halves prior to stuffing.
 

 
Mark ties another round of sausages onto the rack. That day we made sausages, cotechino, salami and blood sausage.
 
We do this yearly as a bit of family bonding and because the resulting sausages are damn fine, but my mother told me a story which underlines how important sausage making and pig raising was to my grandparents in Italy. Mum told me she remembers that as a little girl just after WW2, the pig they had been raising fell sick and had to be put down. My grandmother apparently cried for a week, unsure what and how she was going to feed the family that winter, so important was sausage making to how they sustained themselves. (My grandfather was already in Australia, and eventually was able to send a bit of money to her, so she could buy in meat, something highly unusual.)
 
Although things are quiet in the vegie patch, it's been full-on with the citrus trees. We've been juicing tons of lemons. This rubbish photo is of lemon cordial in the saucepan, and a batch of tomato chutney (using frozen tomatoes from last summer) in the jars.
 

This batch of lemon and lime marmalade is the best I've ever made. Even if I say so myself.

And now, for the weird wildlife section of this post. We have a wood stove for heating in this place, so wood-gathering and chopping is one of our regular chores. We often come across these fellas - witchetty grubs. The chickens make a beeline for the woodpile whenever we head there, because they know they are in for a good feed. Anyway, in this particular block of wood we found these guys, and hidden in the corner you can just make out what was the biggest witchetty grub we've EVER seen.


He was hard to coax out, but here he is in all his mammoth glory.

And to put it in perspective, here he is next to a 20cent coin. Yep, he made me feel a bit squirmy. He's still living in the same block of wood just outside the back door. Erk.
 
And now, to bring us back to things more pleasant - a batch of oat and raisin cookies :) Baking always makes me feel better!
 
 
 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Flooding rains


I haven't been writing here regularly the last few months, and when I do, I seem to reporting yet another extreme weather event.
In January I was writing about our run of 45 degree weather and catastrophic fire warnings. In March, a mini tornado travelled through the bush at the back of our property and turned 20 metre eucalypts to mere sticks.

 
Today, we are marooned. All the roads into town are cut off with flood waters. And it is STILL raining. The kids aren't in school today, and my plans are shelved. Fortunately, we are stocked with food for a few days at least. Hopefully the floods will drain away by the time I need to venture out.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Experimenting with no-knead bread


After weeks of the most magnificent autumn weather (sans rain, unfortunately), it has finally turned chilly in these parts. Last night I reinstated Friday Night Soup Night. Last night it was daughter's favourite French Onion Soup. To go with it, I experimented with no-knead bread.
I followed the recipe in Kate and Suzanne Gibbs' The Thrifty Kitchen. In turn, they based their recipe on this recipe from the New York Times.
I've made no-knead bread before, but this recipe differs by:
- it has a long rise time - this loaf was risen for 18 hours, and the recipe specifies up to 24 hours.
- you use only a 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. That's all.
- it is cooked in an ovenproof dish with a lid. I used my cast-iron Dutch oven.
- it is cooked for an hour at 240 degrees C - longer and hotter than a normal loaf.
- you don't need to knead, at all. It only requires a bit of mixing. Time requirement from cook: 10 minutes, tops.
The verdict? A big hit. The crust was just as nice as it looks here in the photo. We have a well known woodfired Sourdough bakery in our town, and their loaves sell for $6.50 each. It's the sort of place that Sydneysiders make a point of visiting on their way through. Everyone said that this loaf was better than the sourdough bakery's loaves. I agree. We were also able to eat it warm out of the oven. Yum.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mulberry Jelly

For some reason, my mulberry tree has always borne fruit in late spring. It did, last year and every year since we've had it (It's about nine years old now). But this year, it's done so again now, early autumn. Checking out my reference books, they tell me this is the normal time for it to fruit. So what has it been doing to date? Mysteries.
We eat some of the mulberries, but most go to the birds. With this "bonus crop" I thought that I'd have a go a mulberry jelly. Here's how it goes:



1. Pick your mulberries, and tip them into a saucepan. Just cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about an hour, mashing the mulberries so they release their juice.


2. Line a colander with cheesecloth (or muslin, whatever you call a soft, loosely woven cotton fabric). Place it over a jug or bowl. Tip the mulberries and juice into the lined colander, and let the juice flow through into the jug. Don't force the juice through, let gravity do it's work. This ensures your jelly is clear, not cloudy.
3. Once the juice has stopped flowing, gather the cheesecloth up, and tie with kitchen string so you have what looks like a Christmas pudding. Find somewhere convenient for you to hang your "pudding", with the jug underneath to catch the drips. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight.
 
4. Measure out your juice, and put into a saucepan with the equivalent amount of white sugar. This batch yielded 3 cups of juice, so I measured out 3 cups of sugar. Add juice of a lemon, and a piece of rind too. Bring to the boil, then simmer until you have achieved a set (about 45 minutes to an hour).
 
To test the set, I put a saucer in the freezer while the juice is simmering. At about the 45 minute mark I pour a spoonful of juice onto the saucer and let it sit for a minute. Then I run the tip of a teaspoon through the jelly. If it wrinkles, it is set. If not, test again - I generally do so at 5 minute intervals.
At this point, you can't get too distracted. I have found my juice has gone from juicy to caramelised in less time than I would have imagined, because I've gone off to do something else.
 
 
5. Pour into hot sterilised jars (washed out in soapy water, then placed into the oven - lids too - at 100C while the jelly is simmering does the trick).

Off to Anzac Day memorial service now. Lest we forget.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

This and that



I haven't been posting all that often here lately. Life is pootling along, following familiar routines for this time of the year. I'm happy with this. Just not much that seems blogworthy. Just remember, they say no news is good news.
The vegie patch is at an in between stage. I really need to be ruthless and take out the summer veg so I can get winter veg in, but they are still producing with the beautiful warm weather. The beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkin are all still going great guns. Only the eggplant and capsicum have slowed down for now, but they look very healthy. So they all have a reprieve for now. I'll have to do the deed and rip out plants soon, before it gets too cool.
So not much to report. I made Tracy's Spicy Zucchini Relish yesterday. I'm always on the lookout for different ways to use zucchini, and a spicy relish appealed to me. It's delicious, I had it on my cheese and salad roll for lunch. It also looks very cheerful in the jar. You can find Tracy's recipe here. You won't be sorry.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pressing times


Once the grapes from the previous post had fermented over a week or so, it was time to press the grapes to get the wine. Last weekend we had pressing day. Here is Action Man at left, with our friend George. We are using George's press. Although AM has all manner of winemaking gadgets, he doesn't have a press, and George is happy to lend us his. He does get paid for this service in wine:)
We are really happy with how this wine is shaping up. The grapes (from Berri SA) were superb, and required minimal doctoring. And the young wine tastes great now. With time in the barrel, and bottle age, this one looks like a cracker.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bloglovin


Follow">http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/2022549/?claim=7kreafhxst6">Follow my blog with Bloglovin
This post is to "claim my blog"on Bloglovin. You can now follow Spades and Spoons on Bloglovin, apparently. Hopefully.
You can tell what a computer whiz I am.

Monday, March 25, 2013

It's that time of year again..wine making





A few posts ago I wrote about the dilemma of whether to pick our grapes or not. The update is..we didn't pick. Life and triathlons got in the way so we didn't pick right away. Then the rain came. And came. And came. And that was the end of that. The birds had a right old time. If we were both retired, we'd make a better job of using our own grapes. You really need to be johnny-on-the-spot with regard to picking at the right time. We're just not.


Not to worry. Action Man decided to buy grapes in - 20 boxes of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from South Australia. They arrived yesterday morning on a truck, and the local home wine makers descended to pick up their grapes for the year. 99% of the local winemakers are Greeks, Italians and Balkan types. The other 1% is Action Man.






 
 
The ute was backed in to wine making central. Action Man set up the crusher/destemmer. Cameron, the 15 year old was roped in to help feed the crusher with buckets of grapes.
 
The good news was that the grapes were perfect as is - the brix and baume readings right on the money. No need to doctor this juice. It's right to go.
 
 

Monday, March 18, 2013

My sewing blog

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you would know that I have an interest in sewing, mainly for myself.
I've occasionally posted my makes on this blog, but I've decided to post all my sewing related doings on my other blog, La Sartora, which I started a few weeks ago now. Check it out! Hope you do.
I'll keep this blog up, and post as often as inspired.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things to do with pumpkin - paint them!


Staying on the subject of pumpkins, I thought I'd share with you another use I've found for them...as painting subjects.

Here is a fledgling still-life of a Queensland Blue, and a pear, both of which we grew here. I'm particularly proud of the pear. It's the first pear we have grown to maturity here. Very exciting. Certainly worth a painting.

So this painting is at blocking in stage. Over the next few days, I hope I'll go in and refine the painting a lot. Just looking at this photo I can see so much I want to work on. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Things to do with pumpkin - Gnocchi

 
The pumpkins have been going well after a slow start. We've just started picking, and it looks like we'll be ok for pumpkin for months to come.
 
I thought I'd share this recipe, which I haven't really seen published anywhere - pumpkin gnocchi. It is very easy, very delicious, like little clouds of pumpkin and unlike some other gnocchi not at all heavy.
 
 
Pumpkin gnocchi
 
1 butternut pumpkin - about 1kg or so
1 cup flour
1 egg
Salt
Nutmeg
 
Halve the pumpkin, and place the halves on a baking sheet, then into the oven heated to 200C for about 45 minutes or so, or until the pumpkin is tender.
 
Let the pumpkin cool. Removed the seeds and membranes, then spoon out the pumpkin flesh and mash. Add an egg, about 1/2 tsp salt, some nutmeg and enough flour to make a soft sticky dough.
 
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Using two teaspoons, take teaspoons of dough and drop into the boiling water, about 8 -10 at a time so as not to overcrowd the saucepan. When the gnocchi rise to the surface, they are cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon into a heatproof dish. Repeat with the remaining dough.
 
Over a medium-low heat, brown about 100g butter. This takes about 5-8 minutes. Watch carefully, so it doesn't burn. Add about 2 tablespoons of chopped sage, then pour over the gnocchi. (Yes, there is no sign of sage in this photo - I'd forgotten that I'd pulled out the sage bush a few months ago and didn't replace it! Shows how often I use sage). Serve with parmesan cheese.
 
The gnocchi will keep in a warm oven for a while, so you can make these ahead if need be.
 
 


Friday, March 1, 2013

Bacon...made

A few weeks ago, the nearly 15 year old and I experimented with making our own bacon, for the benefit of his science assessment task.
Using a recipe in Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking, we dry cured a piece of pork belly. This essentially involved rubbing a tablespoon of rock salt and some chopped herbs into the pork and leaving it for a few weeks. That's it. It took 5 minutes of our time, tops. Too easy. Parenthetically, Darina specifies dairy salt in her recipe. What the heck is dairy salt? I couldn't find out, not that I researched it much, so I just used rock salt. Anyone out there who knows what dairy salt is?
So last night we cooked some bacon up to use in the Spaghetti Carbonara I was making for dinner. Guess what? It looked like bacon (or pancetta to be more precise), it smelled like bacon, it tasted like bacon. It's bacon. And the taste verdict from the family? Better than the bought stuff. I agree.
I never thought I'd get into smallgoods making, but I think I'll be making this bacon on an ongoing basis. Whyever not? It's so easy, and the product is delicious.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The night the trees exploded

 
So, the other night a tornado ripped through my area, not 500metres from my house.
There, that's a sentence I never thought I would write on this blog. But it's true.
On Sunday morning at around 3am, a tornado cut a swathe in our area. It's path was about 100metres wide and it travelled over several kilometres inland from the sea. Luckily, ours is an area of acreages, so not too many homes were affected - some were, but not like Kiama about 30 minutes north of here. There, another  tornado took out 5 homes and damaged 80 more.
This tornado travelled across open paddocks and bushland mainly. We overlook a mountain ridge that is covered in trees. You can see clearly where the tornado travelled. There is now a big bare patch where trees used to be. The mountainside looks a bit like a toddler who has hacked at his own hair with scissors.
This tree is over the other side of the ridge, about 3 km from our place. It travelled across a creek on the right,  and took out a couple of farm sheds in a property on the other side of the creek. A total mess, but the home, 50 metres away was unscathed. It is amazing to see how precisely these things wreak havoc.
So in 6 weeks we've endured two 45 degree stinkers, and now we've enjoyed our first tornado, here is our quiet little temperate corner of Australia. Can't wait to see what nature serves up next! Or maybe I can, since she seems to be a very grumpy lady at the moment.

Edited later to add- check out this site for more photos and commentary.
 


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Makin' bacon

 
So, the nearly 15 year old came home a week or so ago with his Term 1 Science assessment. Over four pages of explanation, essentially his task is to think up an experiment that relates to a "problem", do the experiment, and then report on it.
We were brain storming stuff that he could report on. I asked him, what do you like doing? Eating, he says. At 183cm and barely 60 kilos, you would never guess, but still. OK, what's your favourite food? Right on cue, he says "Bacon". I knew we were on fruitful territory here, because we'd often discussed the problem with bacon you buy ie. what you left with, after the fat and brine is cooked out of it is only a shadow of what you start with.
It didn't take long to formulate the experiment. We'd experiment cooking with different types of bacon - generic supermarket bacon, butcher bacon, bacon made with free range pork to see which type contains the most fat and water. And to make things interesting, I suggested "How about we make our own bacon to compare"? That's why we're makin' bacon.
I've never delved into making our own smallgoods, so this is new territory for me. Far from doing extensive research, I simply looked up Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking, which goes into all this sort of stuff. Sure enough, there are recipes in there for making bacon. Above is a kilo of pork belly which is three days into a dry cure process. So far, so simple. In fact, a little bit too simple - I'm worried whether I've missed something. You know, in the back of my mind is the thought - what if I poison someone?? Eek!
We'll keep you posted. Hopefully.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To pick or not to pick...

It's a lovely day here today!


...that is the question!
Action Man and I pay close attention to the weather around here, as I'm sure many of you who read this blog do. When you grow things, it affects so much of what you do in the garden on a day to day basis.  And Action Man is always trying to figure out when is a good day to go fishing, or cycling.
At the moment Action Man is trying to decide when to pick our grapes. As you may know, we have about 100 shiraz and chambourcin vines with which we theoretically make our own wine. I say theoretically because for the last three seasons, our grape crop has been annihilated by excessive rainfall. The mildew literally causes the grape berries to rot on the vine. The birds love us, as we just let them go for it. We've made wine, but have bought in the grapes from places that are much more suited to wine grape growing than this place.
This year, though, the upside of our very dry start to summer has been that as of now we have grapes to pick. Not a lot, but enough, and they are in pretty good condition. This is very exciting! The question now is.. when do we pick? Last weekend Action Man tested the sugar content, or baume, or the grapes. It stood at 20. Ideally it should be 24. The question is do we wait for a while longer, and hope that some hot weather will cause that reading to rise? The seven day forecast has showers about every day, and not much in the way of hot weather. So, we may not get the rise in sugar content that is needed, and at the same time we run the risk of mildew. So do we pick now? Or do we wait? It's a gamble either way.
Talk about dilemmas!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Preserving tomatoes


We've grown all types of tomatoes over the years here, but the most prolific, reliable and resistant to fruit fly have proven to be the Romas. So, we stick with them, along with a cherry tomato or two to keep them company.
We have new neighbours, who are having their first growing season here. They tell us that they had to bin 200 tomatoes after the 45C shockers we had in January. The Romas came through that horror pretty much unscathed, and now, well, we are inundated with them. So it's time to preserve.
I've tried a lot of different methods of preserving tomatoes, but bottling tomatoes is my favourite. I've posted this method before - here it is again:
Simply halve or quarter your tomatoes depending upon size, and pack into clean sterilised jars with a tablespoon of chopped parsley, some salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Then you place them in a large stockpot, sitting on a teatowel. Cover them with water, bring to the boil. then lower the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or so. Let cool in the stockpot - the lids should have made a seal by then.
That's it and that's all. Use as you would canned tomatoes in cooking.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Made By Me - It's Curtains

It was hard to get a decent photograph of the curtains I have just made for my daughter's room. I couldn't get the whole curtain in, due to the room's dimensions. Never mind. They are UP, and I'm pretty happy with how they've turned out. The fabric cost me $64 for 18 metres of fabric, and I needed to buy some more hooks. The linings were salvaged from the old curtains, so it was a pretty frugal project, all up. I also have some left over fabric to make - I'm not sure yet.
Some sewists disdain home dec sewing because it's boring. Not me. I like home dec sewing, because unlike dressmaking, home dec sewing has a much higher likelihood of success. Most of the seams are straight and there aren't the kind of fitting issues you get with making clothes. Also, the behaviour of home dec fabric is much more predictable. And I like making things for the home. The only downside, at least with making curtains, is the metres and metres of fabric you have to deal with. Most of the time you spend making curtains is fabric wrangling, I swear.
I started out sewing by taking a course in Soft Furnishing at TAFE. We moved into this house ten years ago, and there wasn't a single window covering in the place. The recent fashion has been to have no window covering on lots of glass. That's not me - I like drawing curtains in summer against the sun, and in winter against the cold. I also like keeping the heat in during winter. And to me there is something snug about drawing curtains. It makes the home feel cosy.
Anyway, I took the course and made all the curtains in this place - that's ten sets of curtains. Yep, it saved a LOT of money. More importantly, though, the course also gave me practice in lots of skills that you use when sewing clothing - inserting zips, making buttonholes, gathering, inserting piping, measuring, sewing straight seams, seam finishing, pleating, making pintucks etc etc. (We even made and upholstered a lounge chair, which was enough to convince me I never wanted to do that again).
When I came to the conclusion a few years later that the only way I was going to get good quality clothing that fit me, in natural fibres that I could afford was to sew for myself, it wasn't daunting to make the leap to dressmaking. Fitting the figure is the big challenge when dressmaking, but it's far less onerous when you already know your way around a sewing machine, and have a few successful home dec projects to show for it.
My advice to anyone who wants to make their own clothes then is, start with home dec. Make a few cushion covers, pillowcases, quilt covers or even a set of curtains. Measure carefully, and take your time. Then when you have a few projects under your belt start with a skirt then...the sky's the limit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It rains!

Last Friday


Now
Last Friday I snapped the top picture just as we were gettting the first spits of rain in months. The grass was snap -crackle -pop dry. The shrub roses in the bed in the distance were showing the strain. And we had just removed a conifer from the middle of the nearest bed. It just turned up it's toes and died. You can also just make out the cricket pitch the kids had mown in the middle - a dry,crumbling wicket. A spinner's paradise.
I just shot the second picture. Since Friday we've had 180mm, all good soaking rain. It's rained solidly the last two nights, so much so that I've resorted to jamming my head under the pillow to block out the noise! As you can see, the cricket pitch has disappeared.
This morning I've been out flinging blood and bone on the citrus during a lull, and now the rain has returned it will be soaking in. I've also done a bit of weeding in the vegie patch, and the beds are nicely damp. I think I'll head out again when I've published this post and plant some seeds, and some sweet potatoes. I've never done the sweet potatoes before, so that will be a bit of an experiment.
Of course I'm mindful that all this wonderful rain has come at the cost of some pretty horrendous devestation up north. Thinking of all the folk who will have to deal with the aftermath. Hope you are all relatively dry and enjoying the rain too.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Baked ricotta cheescake

Pursuant to my stated 2013 goal of nurturing friendships, I invited a family over for dinner we have known for a little while through our involvement in swimming. Our son is also friendly with their son at school.
The common advice when cooking for entertaining is not to try new recipes. Without fail, I ignore this advice. This baked ricotta cheesecake is a new-to-me recipe. It looked lovely and puffed-up like this when I took it out of the oven, then it sunk down into itself. It was served dusted with icing sugar, and poached nectarines (not ours, sadly) and raspberries, and went down very well. Not over-rich and cloying like your standard cheesecake, good for a summer evening dinner.

Baked ricotta cheesecake

900grams ricotta cheese (I used full-fat, I reckon I might try low-fat next time)
100mL cream
150g caster sugar
50g plain flour
pinch salt
1/2 cup sultanas soaked in orange juice
Grated zest of an orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs

Heat oven to 150C. Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin.

Whisk the ricotta cheese until smooth (I used a stand mixer). Add cream, caster sugar, flour and salt and mix in. Fold in sultanas, zest and vanilla extract. Whisk eggs in a jug, and with the motor running pour the eggs into the cheese mixture gradually.
Spoon into the tin. Shake the tin gently to flatten the top of the cake out and sprinkle with pine nuts.

Bake in the oven until golden brown, for an hour or until a skewer comes out clean.

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Making curtains

We had another revolting 45C day here on Friday, but without the wind so the fire danger was only Extreme not Catastrophic. What a relief.
It's bone dry here at the moment. It seems incredible that only 12 months ago we were squelching around wondering if the rain would ever stop. Well, it did,emphatically, about 6 months ago, and we've barely had a drop since. Yesterday I dropped Mim off at her friend's place for a sleepover. The family has a dairy and this is the fourth generation to run it. The creek on the property has run dry, only the second time in the grandmother's life that she can remember it happening. It's dry, I tell you.
It is mercifully much cooler now. I don't think the garden can take too many more scorchers. The vegie patch and the fruit trees are just ok, because we've been irrigating. Our grapes have escaped mildew this year only to be turned into sultanas on the vine. Our trees and shrubs are looking decidedly the worse for wear. Action Man has been busy with his chainsaw this weekend removing plants that have carked it - a conifer, two diosmas and a NZ Christmas bush. We have another NZ Christmas bush that looks headed for the same fate. Too depressing.
I decided to stay inside today, and get busy making Mim's curtains. I picked up this material for a song ($3.99 a metre) from Ikea. Given I bought 18 metres of the stuff, I'm happy about that! Unfortunately, I didn't buy quite enough to make the triple pinch pleat curtains I was planning, as  I didn't allow enough for pattern matching. Sigh, so have had to opt for double pinch pleats. Not a major drama, but not what I planned. So the curtains have been cut, this week I sew. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beetroot chutney

Last night I turned some of those beetroot from the previous post into four and half jars of chutney. Here are four of the jars in the water bath, after making the chutney - I didn't bother with the half jar, as it will probably be eaten quickly.
If you've never preserved before I would start with chutney. You don't have to faff around with setting points when you make chutney, as you do with jam. All you need to do is get the chutney going at a nice low simmer, and give it a stir every now and then. Too easy.

Here is the recipe I used:

Beetroot chutney

750g cooked beetroot, chopped small
500g apples, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
750mL malt vinegar
500g white sugar
1 knob ginger finely chopped
200g sultanas

Put all the ingredients into a wide, shallow saucepan. Let it "soak"for a few hours, then slowly bring it to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and let it bubble away, stirring occasionally until the chutney is thick and syrupy.
Pour into hot sterilised jars.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Summer bounty



Only a month ago I was wondering whether our vegie patch would ever get going for the summer. Well, the run of  constant high temperatures and low humidity around here may be leaving the humans and other plants wilting, but with a bit of judicious watering, the vegies and fruit are absolutely loving it. This is what we picked only yesterday, and folks, there's even more.
Most exciting to me is the top photograph of plums. Long time readers of this blog would know that my nemesis is the fruit fly, so growing stone fruit around here is an exercise in disappointment. Every year, we tend tend the stone fruit, only to chuck kilos and kilos of it into plastic bags and then into the bin, because despite our efforts the pesky fruit fly has it's way. But it occurs to me that where we have failed climate change has prevailed. Fruit fly don't seem to like the hot, dry weather and so, hooray we get to eat stone fruit this year. Hmmm. Somehow, I think I'd prefer to still moaning about fruit fly.
The spuds are Nicolas, my favourite potato. Great for boiling, salads and makes the most amazing mash, although I'm not contemplating making much mash at the moment.
The bottom photo of zucchini, cucumbers and beetroot were all grown from seed. I traded the cucumbers for tomatoes and strawberries with a neighbour because we have just so many cucumbers. The cucumbers and zucchini are loving the hot, dry stuff too. Normally they succumb to mildew. Not this year! The beetroot tops will go into a ricotta pie, and I'm thinking of making chutney with the beetroot themselves. I love beetroot and could eat it every day, but my family isn't as enthusiastic.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bush fires, and crazy heat

Thanks for the comments on my last post, everyone.  Thankfully, the "catastrophic"day didn't eventuate. This is the view from the front verandah at 6am that morning. The sky had an eerie glow, and it was already ridiculously hot.
I was a little bit nervous that day - ok, I was a lot nervous! I must explain that we have two good friends who've faced major bushfires - one in Duffy, ACT in 2003 and one in the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009. Both of their stories are pretty confronting. Both had to work to save their houses, and both had moments where they wondered if they had done the right thing in staying to fight the fires. Both stories are imprinted into my brain.
Action Man went to work, where from air conditioned comfort he rang a few times to check how we were. We were shut inside with curtains drawn, although I ventured outside every so often to water the vegies, and check the chooks. The atmosphere was parched, no doubt about it, which is very unusual for us being as we are so close to the sea. Each time, after 10 minutes or so outside I was a ball of sweat, and drank about a litre of water!
At about 3pm, Action Man rang to say he heard someone say something about fires on Back Forest Rd - our road runs off it. I went outside to check, but couldn't smell or see anything. I told the kids to load the car just in case. I tried the RFS website but couldn't bring it up. I paced around for a while wondering what to do. Nothing eventuated of course, who knows what was said? The fires in the Shoalhaven were well away from us, fortunately, and it seems the firies have managed to keep it away from homes so far. It  promises to be another revolting day tomorrow, so here's hoping it all remains the same.


Thanks Tracy for the tip on switching to HTML to upload photos while Blogger seems to have a glitch. I'm a computing klutz, I would never have figured that out for myself. Maybe I should add "get computer literate"to my list of goals for 2013!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Catastrophic Fire Danger

Those words have me a little apprehensive today. We are in the Shoalhaven, and today the fire danger warning is "catastrophic". Those words are enough to put you on edge, right? It's hot, hot, hot, and dry, and windy.
For the last 24 hours, Action Man and I have been readying the place. We've watered and irrigated all the gardens, especially the fruit trees and vegie gardens. I've picked everything I can, because at 44 degrees predicted I can imagine our produce would cook right there on the ground. We've put extra water out for the sheep and chooks. This morning at 6am  I got dinner ready, so I don't have to switch the cooker on at all today.
Last night we received texts and phone messages from the Rural Fire Service warning about today's conditions. If the RFS's aim was to get us prepared for the worst, it's worked because for the first time ever, I've also dug out our official documents and small valuables, our photo albums and a change of clothes and put them into a bag in case we have to go quickly.
So today we'll be at home with the curtains drawn, trying to keep coo, hoping our plants survive and that I'll be putting everything I've packed back into it's place tomorrow.

Í would have posted photos with this post but Blogger doesn't want to give me my normal option of posting photos from my computer. I don't know why, and don't know how to find out why. Annoying, because I like to have at least one photo with my posts. Wordpress, anyone?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy 2013

I didn't intend to take another blog break (in fact I never intend to take them, they just happen), but the last few weeks have been definitely holiday like around here. I've been enjoying the relaxed no-commitment days, beach walks, simple meals and socialising with Sydney friends down the coast on holidays. Bliss. Today though, Action Man is back at work, the kids will be back doing swimming training, and it looks like normal life is about to resume.

We have been working a little this holidays, painting Amelia's room for her christmas present. Gone are the pink and purple walls, the pink polka dot curtains and the fairy lamp. Now, her walls are a more sophisticated sand colour, with a new doona cover (Grandma's present) and lastly, her furniture which used to belong to Grandma is to be painted duck egg blue. So the traces of my daughter's childhood continue to disappear.  For some unfathomable reason, I'm not able to upload photos today. Stay tuned for the "before"and "after" shot, maybe  one day when blogger wants to work!

As far as 2013 is concerned, I have a few modest goals. Number one is: yoga, every day. I always feel mentally and physically better when I've done some yoga, even if it's just Downward Dog and Corpse pose for 10 minutes. So, I've done something every day so far, and I can honestly feel the difference.
Number two is to more mindfully nurture my friendships, with people both near and far. I find it all too easy to get caught up in my own doings, and then suddenly, whoops! I'm a loner without ever meaning to be. Need to work on that.
Number three is to spend more time in doing things that make me smile. Blogging is one of them, so here's hoping.