Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pick a salad

In the garden this week:
Harvesting radish, spinach, spring onions (regrown from bought spring onions), coriander and lettuce.
Radish is a fast growing veggie, and can be planted year round.  It has a 4-8 week growing time, depending on time of the year (longer in cooler months), worth putting in if you have space, to get some crunch in your salads, especially now when not much with colour is growing.

In the kitchen this week:
A chicken and 'cheese sauce'* vol au vent** with salad made from the above items with a mustard dressing:
Teaspoon - mustard
Tablespoon - balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons - olive oil...

*'Cheese sauce' is code in our house for cauliflower and peeled zucchini soup reduced to make a thick sauce, relabelled to assist in the hiding of vegetables from young children - also doubles as baby food.
**The vol au vent cases were made following Easy to make - kids could do it...  They turned out a bit dumpy but were well received with the comment:
                                      'Vol a what? It's easier to say dinner croissant' from the 5yo.

This was my slightly healthier version of seen on Everyday Gourmet on channel 10 at 4pm weekdays...  

It was nice despite the wintery temperature to be able to walk out into the yard for the ingredients to make a salad with crunch and colour.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's simple, dahl-ing

I spent this afternoon at a 'Food in Writing' event at our local library.  It was a real joy to hear the voices I've seen in writing over a period of time, and hopefully some of their tips improve the writing here.

In the Garden:
When I walk out through our garden, normally in a rush to get to school, or to get into the house out of the rain, I see it in a a greeny blur.  When I took some time this week, to look at how it is progressing and to weed it, I realised that usually, I think about the next thing I need to do, not the learning and effort required to get it to it’s current state.   We aren’t experts by any stretch of the imagination, but overtime, we have formed some good gardening habits.  I thought that I’d elaborate on some of our gardening building blocks today:
 Broadbeans at 40cm...
We have an open compost area ~80cm x 80cm by ~1 m high, where garden waste like grass clippings, leaves, weeds, as well as some kitchen scraps go (onion, banana and citrus peels and egg shells), with some dry chicken manure added, and lime also to reduce any bad smells.  Even in the coolest winter days, the area is hot enough to steam and put out significant heat.

When starting a compost heap, you’ll need some old composted matter to help get the heap going, with the bacteria provided starting to break down the compost matter.  Garden centres supply a product to do this, if you don’t have a friend to provide a starter bucket…

My husband looks after the compost and turns it often (minimum 5 times a week which is definitely excessive) to ensure that everything is mixing through.

There are lots of great, off the ground compost bins that can be easily turned available, but they do cost a bit.   Ours is at the cheaper end of the market, ie just cobbled together.  An off the ground, rotational compost bin may be a good idea moving forward, especially given that a rat plague is apparently winding its way through Melbourne - urgh.

Worm Farm:
All kitchen waste is put in the worm farm except for:
  • Onion, banana and citrus peels and egg shells which the worms don’t like, my husband has noticed their taste over time.
  • Animal products (meat, dairy...) 
Waste paper is added to insulate the space in winter and also as worm food. 
A huge number of worms work to break down the food and paper and create castings (wet poo, as black as petrol).  From this you can put the castings into your garden beds, or use the ‘juice’ or ‘tea’ that goes to the bottom of the container, as a liquid fertilizer, watering it down to 1 cup per 9 litre watering can, and put this over the garden – ideally fortnightly for a veggie patch to help add growth.

Hmmmm, Juicy

Worm farms have to be kept cool in summer, because if the worms overheat and die, it isn’t just sad for them, it is sad for you.  The smell is the most repulsive thing you could ever, ever, ever imagine.  It is the stuff of nightmares.  Thus the the hession bags over our worm farm that are kept damp in the summer months, and left on for insulation in winter.

We have a worm farm from the hardware shop, but there are lots of home made designs around also, if you are looking to make one for yourself.

Clearly, the compost and worm farm are dirty things, full of rotting matter, but create wonderful things for the garden.  ABC Gardening estimates 300kg of waste per household per year can be saved through composting and for us, it has resulted in lower financial costs for gardening, with less bought fertilizer required for the garden due to the worm juice (I estimate ~$90/year, using seasol in lieu of worm juice, fortnightly application to veggie patch only) and bought soil not required for our recent new garden bed addition (~$90 for bagged soil as we don’t have a trailer to bring in unbagged soil from landscape supply centre).  

Coffee Grinds:
Coffee grinds from your coffee pot help flowering plants produce fruit and also, snail and slugs do not like to travel over them, so can act as a barrier to protect  the plants.

Sudden Impact for Roses:
I use 'Sudden impact for Roses' twice a year, in spring and autumn – It is an expensive but v effective pellet fertilizer used on all flowering plants to add flower and fruit production.  I believe it makes a huge difference to the garden overall, though my husband is insulted that I don't rely on this worm juice alone.

I’ve picked up a lot of gardening information over time from the following sources:
-       The local library for various books to peruse, magazines and dvds for gardening.
-       Vasili’s Garden TV show – SBS Wednesdays 7:30pm,
      Vasili is an passionate gardener who visits lots of old school gardensaround Melbourne for tips for food production – It is excellent for lots of tried and tested ideas – This week, he visited a man with an excellent and huge veggie patch who attributed most of his success to ‘chicken manure tea’, chicken manure left to age in water and then distributed through the garden for fabulous results.  The previous week, we learnt about grafting fruit-trees from a master who had an incredible amount of fruit trees on a standard block.  I secretly dream of one day being a featured garden on his show. 

-       ABC Gardening Australia, Saturday Nights 6:30 – they visit lots of gardens, including their own in Hobart’s Botanical Gardens to display lots of horticulture and permiculture techniques, and also have a bit at the end of the show regarding what is good to plant throughout Australia in the current time.
-       3AW Saturday/Sunday mornings 8-10am: Garden star Jane Edmanson is on the radio to answer any garden questions you might have specific to your own patch and often, if she can’t help, she’ll find out or a caller with ring in with a tip.
-       Yates Garden Guide. My copy belonged to my Pop and is from the 70s, and has heaps of tables and info to help plan your garden, I used it intensively when we were planting a summer flower garden for our wedding at home – was a great help.
-       Anyone who has a garden – gardeners love to talk, if you see something in someones garden and want information about it, just ask, they are bound to love to tell you all about it.  We’ve had lots of help from parents and friends, and some of my favourite plants have come from cuttings from other people’s yards…

Creating a garden can be so simple and easy, with occasion bursts of energy required for a long term benefit.  With rising food costs and food miles increasing, and food quality becoming more and more questionable, a veggie patch is an excellent way of doing something awesome for yourself.

If you wanted to check out the produce from a veggie patch before investing, you could visit Annie Smithers restaurant in Kyneton - the duck there is supposed to be to die for:

If I was starting a patch today I would:
  • Ask gardening friends for help, including trying to get some ages compost or worm castings to use
  • Mark out a small area to use in the sunshine, probably making a raised garden bed with lumber either from the hardware shop (recently, this has cost us $36 for a bed 2.4 x 1.2 m) , making sure it is suitable for vegetable patches, cobbling it together with brackets that you can hammer into the corners.
  • Failing that, I’d do something in some containers, anything with holes in the bottom will do at a pinch…
  • Fill in the bed or containers with soil from a landscape supply centre (ring around for best cost – if in trailer and unbagged, you can make big savings).
  • Plant for winter, choosing from: 

                                    Broadbean seedlings (possibly too late for seeds now)
                                    Parsley seeds
                                    Rocket seeds
                                    Coriander seeds
                                    Carrots seeds
                                    Broccoli seedlings – brocollini if you can find them!
                                    SPINACH seeds – Yates Winter Queen worked excellently for us last year.
  • Water in if not raining but in this weather should look after itself, throw on coffee grinds daily to reduce the incidence of snail attack and sit back, watch it grow and wait to enjoy the spoils in no time at all.

It is ok to just have a go in the garden, vegetable gardening can have great rewards.
Sometimes it doesn't work and that is ok too.  In the heavy and unusual rain this year, I 've found some mushrooms growing in the veggie beds, that aren't supposed to be there and are most likely poisonous.  Given that until that last few months, we have struggled with water supply, lugging water from the bath to the patch, this amount of damp is a tad disturbing.  Around the corner from us, a gardener grew bananas on his banana tree for the first time in 20 years!  They didn't grow to full size but it shows what an incredible change in weather we are seeing in 2011.

Spot the mushroom?

In the Kitchen this week:
In Melbourne, the weather has bypassed autumn, heading straight for winter.  We swapped the school sunhat for a beanie and my sandles for boots and trudged through the rain with an umbrella mangled by the wind.  With the rain continuing to fall, possibly aiding unwanted mushroom growth in the veggie patch, we have been eating soup, glorious soup, to stymie the damp settling into our bones.  

These are lentil soups, to follow on from the diet started last week.

Red lentil Soup (Steph’s soup, as provided by my sister in law Jackie – thanks!)
Onion diced
2 carrots diced
~200g of dried red lentils (½ pack of McKenzies Red Lentils)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1.5 l of stock/water
Cumin a teaspoon or to taste
Paprika a teaspoon or to taste

  1. Fry onion over medium heat until golden brown (3 minutes), 
  2. Add carrots, and spices, tomato paste and then lentils 
  3. Add stock and cover and simmer for 20 minutes 
  4.  Serve, with a dollop of yoghurt to mix through…

With ~800 mls stock/water in lieu of 1.5 litres, this soup becomes Dahl which is also a very yummy winter meal, particularly with chunks of left over roast lamb stirred through it.  Delicious.

Chickpea, Sweet Potato and Leek Soup
2 leeks, rinsed well and chopped thinly
Large Sweet Potato peeled and diced (or pumpkin)
Tin – chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Water/stock to cover the soup in the saucepan (~1.5litres)

  1. Fry up leeks for ~5 minutes or until golden, (a spoonful of butter can help to reduce the chance of the leeks burning if your attention wanders and the pot is not stirred regularly in this time)
  2. Add in sweet potato and chickpeas, heat through for a minute.
  3. Then add stock, and cover, simmering for 30 minutes and serve with chopped parsley and parmesan if desired.

Hopefully as the days darken, this kind of healthy comfort food can warm the soul but not thicken the hips- enjoy.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


In the garden this week:
Strong growing continues, helped along by rain (the 4th bed is damp enough to have produced a mushroom - ikkk) and sunshine.  Temperatures are still high enough for self seeded tomatoes to be growing.

Broadbeans are standing ~35cm tall.
Lots of 'micro herbs' growing, as are lots of micro weeds.  Some micro weeding is required.
With the dropping temperature, growing may slow in the following weeks.

Lettuce, spinach, parsley and coriander, basil harvested this week for recipes below.
And shared from friends and neighbours, half a pumpkin, quinces and persimmon - all very gratefully received.

In the kitchen this week - muchos confusion.
On Monday night, I watched the return of Masterchef, where there were drama and cooking aplenty.  I stood idle in my kitchen, until the flying frypans and food motivated me to pull out ingredients to make a cake I'd been thinking about since reading 'A Tiny Bit Marvellous' by Dawn French.  The book was ok but the recipes at the end looked pretty promising, particularly 'Mo's Beetroot Cake.'  I thought that this would be a lovely pink type cake and would push the memory of a less than successful Red Velvet cake that I made at Easter further towards the back of my mind:

Beetroot cake (with modifications due to limited ingredients in pantry/fridge):
180g sugar                         I used 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
180g plain flour
180g almond meal
50g cocoa powder
1 ts baking powder
pinch salt
200ml sour cream              I used 100ml sour cream, 100ml strawberry yoghurt
1 ts vanilla essence
200g grated beetroot         I used 1/2 a tin of beetroot, mashed up using a hand mixer.

Whisk eggs and sugar for 5 minutes (I did for about a minute - less height in cake due to using brown sugar and not whisking long enough)..
Add dry ingredients and beat to combine.
Beat in liquid ingredients and beetroot.
Pour into greased and papered cake tin and bake for 50 minutes.

But by the time this had finished cooking, 'The Biggest Loser Finale' had come on, and though it smelt gorgeous, eating cake, or more to the point, calorie consumption was not appealing.  Though I was happy it has veggies in it and could use it to get Trojan veggies into my son Troy (would be funny if that was his name..)

I started thinking that after an Easter of heavy chocolate consumption, attempting the emulate the rich food of Masterchef was probably an unwise choice.  I don't want to end up a waddling whale like George and Gary.  Borrowing out huge cook books from the library each week and perusing lots of food blogs may not be the way to go to avoid a further expanding waistline...

Then, I remembered a post from a while ago from regarding the 4 hour body diet:
Relooking through this info, I started formulating thoughts about better options than how I've been eating recently - lots of sandwiches, pasta, etc which are quick and easy and make the rest of the family happy. And me chubbier, despite running ~5km 6 days a week, pushing the baby in a pram...

The diet suggestions include:
  • Nothing white or what could be white - so no pasta, bread, potatoes etc
  • Replace white carbs with beans/lentils where possible
  • Eggs for breakfast
  • Eat whatever you want, one day a week, so your body can't get too used to the diet so that it can continue to work well and so that you get rid of any cravings and end up feeling sick and so strengthen your resolve to continue with the diet.
Considering the diet suggested and considering my current situation (breastfeeding mother) and not liking the idea of having a lot of beans (even baked beans for breakfast don't appeal to me) I formulated a diet to follow:
Breakfast: A banana, blueberry and yohgurt smoothie  (I've been doing this for a while, nice way to start the day.)
Snack: Apple or pear
Lunch: Eggs with tomato and spinach (eggs cooked up quickly in microwave..)
Snack: Cheese or yoghurt
Dinner: Meat with a salad/lentils
Snack: Cheese
And have a day off a week and eat whatever I want.

I'm adding in more meat than I have been eating, after waking up from a dream about porterhouse steak (I must be iron deficient) and also more dairy due to pitted nails but going gluten-free as much as possible.

In terms of lentils, I found the following recipes fast and tasty, recipes with modifications from www.thestonesoup ebook that you get when joining the blog, plus some others that I have used previously:

Lentil, beetroot and feta salad (similar to the popular beetroot and feta salad with lentils added):
Tin of lentils (rinsed and drained)
Tin of baby beets
Some feta, broken into small pieces
Handful of spinach
Mint, coriander, cumin
Balsamic vinegar and oil to dress salad

Throw together for a nice salad...

Chickpeas and Parmasen:
Tin of chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
Handful of spinach/lettuce (whatever is at hand)
Sprinkle of parmasen (or feta)
Spoonful of pesto

Again mixed together for a salad

Chickpeas and Rocket (I think that something like this might have been in a Nigella Lawson book):
Tin of chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
Chopped Onion
Handful of rocket
Spoonful of tomato paste
Dash of balsamic vinegar

Fry onion in some oil
Add chickpeas and tomato paste - heat through
Turn off heat and add rocket and vinegar to serve 

When my family was demolishing fish and chips, along side some grilled flake I had a salad like this:
Fennel and Pear Salad:
A small fennel bulb, cut into matchsticks, core removed
Pear cut into matchsticks
Thrown together with some lemon squeezed over the top.

It was yummy enough and tasted so healthy and crunchy that I didn't steal even one chip.
My sainthood must be in the mail now.

For a larger salad, with a big fennel bulb, this can be dressed up with some chopped almonds and a honey mayo dressing:
Egg yolk
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
125ml oil
Whisk together and drizzle...

These salads are quicker or as quick as knocking up some pasta, and pretty tasty so there was no excuse for me not to continue with the diet attempt..

After 5 days of following the diet, running as per usual, and adding in some pilates stomach tightening things into my daily exercise, I've lost ~1.5kg and 3cm from my middle - possibly the results of not being bloated from gluten - hopefully the trend down will continue....

I broke the diet today with Mother's Day lunch prepared by my husband - roast lamb with potatoes, etc, followed by chocolate pudding - yummo, and tea with macaroons for afters:

Macaroons - no gluten, lots of refined sugar though :)
300g Almond Meal
150g Icing sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1teaspoons cinnamon
1 egg
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons rose water (or to taste)
Icing sugar to dust

Beat eggs
Mix dry ingredients and then mix altogether
Kneed mix and roll into balls, then roll these in some sifted icing sugar to coat
Cook on baking paper covered tray in 180 degree oven for 20 mins.

I was further confused this week was due to a news story regarding the poor treatment of free range hens:
The video apparently taken in the Somerville Egg Farm shown on channel 10 was appalling, with the hens having no sunshine, no feathers, and minimal room to move, stacked to the roof, with some hens dead on the floor, no better than battery hens.  We hope this isn't the norm for free range animals, though could explain how, beyond just squeezing the farmer, Coles and Woolworths are able to sell free range eggs for $4/dozen.  We are also considering how a little chicken coup would go in our small place too...  Not sure how good I'd be at handling them - lots to think about.