Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It rains!

Last Friday

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.


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.