Sunday, February 28, 2010

Behold my bargains...

Come and take a look at my bargains I found yesterday at our local flea market! Held once a year and hosted by our local fire brigade, by the time it comes around, the citizens of our town are positively clambering over each other to find themselves a bargain. Last year our family stayed around for the auction. We came home with a piano! This year we kept it simple and just went for the market offerings. I am very pleased with what I came home with:

... an interesting selection of cookbooks, a MIGHTY BIG brand new stainless steel soup ladle, AND a jar of Satsuma Plum Jam, which had made another appearance this year.

I really enjoyed this same variety of jam from the same person last year.

and two big bushy loganberry plants,

now I just need to find the right spot for them, A productive morning, yes?

And back at home, the lettuce seeds are springing into action:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Easy-Peasy Pizza Sauce

Earlier in the week I had gathered up about a kilo of homegrown tomatoes and they were turning soft and over ripe. They needed to be made into something quickly. The tastiest pizza sauce is always homemade and as we don't have any left, that's what I decided to turn them into.

A mixture of grosse lisse, tigerella, yellow peach, black krim, green zebra and red fig tomatoes

First up, chop the tomotoes into halves or quarters, depending on their size. You'll figure it out. Leave the little ones whole. Put them all in a pot and simmer on med-low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until they are mushy and coming out of their skins. Squish them with a wooden spoon if it makes you feel good.

Run the whole lot through a food mill, set on a fine disc, to seperate the seeds and skin. Don't forget to scrape all of that wonderful goodness from underneath the food mill into the bowl. Keep the skins and seeds to feed to the chooks, worms or compost.

Place the now smooth sauce back in the pot and return to the stove to simmer on a low heat. In the meantime, go into the garden and pick a bunch of your favourite herbs, in my case, oregano.

Chop the herbs finely (but not too finely, we don't want "grass dust"), and throw them into the lovely thick sauce. Add some finely crushed/minced with a knife garlic now too. Allow the whole lot to thicken to your liking, stirring now and then.

Use immediately, or package into containers or snap-lock bags and freeze for future use. Your tastebuds will most certainly thank you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

There is a mysterious beige thing in my kitchen..

...and it lives on my kitchen bench. It is filled with water. It takes up valuable bench space. I have had it for nearly a year, an unpassable bargain on ebay. The thing is, I was baffled as to how to use it properly. Yup, you guessed right, the mysterious beige thing is a Fowlers Vacola: food preserver, steriliser, bottling outfit... whatever you want to call it. Right. So mystery solved, eh?

Nope. Wrong. I confess, I used it as I wished, what, without it having it come with any instructions or booklet of any type. You would think preserving food would be a pretty straight-forward subject, but it seemed the more I read, the more contradictions I came across. Every site, every book and every person had a different opinion on how bottling (or canning for those in the States), should be done. It was enough to give me a dull thud in the back of my brain.

I have been following the information on the USDA website, which is REALLY informative if you ever decide to take a look. There are a whole heap of detailed instructions for every type of preserve you could imagine. I got excited when I found such a plentiful supply, I printed off 80% of the texts and use them everytime I want to preserve something.

So, back to the Fowlers thingy. Basically, you plug it in, and it heats up. That's it. What's so confusing? Well, to start with, seeing as I was following the USDA directions, which says to process high acid fruit and pickles in a boiling water bath canner, that's what I did. Using my pre-loved biege thing. Yes, you plug it in, it heats up, and then starts to boil - madly! Unstoppably, well until you unplug it of course. So, that's how I've been using my ebay bargain, and of course, it was quite frightening when the thing actually did start doing it's steriod like boil. Steam would escape everywhere, the unit would rattle and shake, the bottles clanking inside and condensation would gather on the inside of the lid, and due to the wacky design, would end up trickling down the outside of the unit, dangerously close to the power outlet. I resorted to draping the huge vessel in tea towels. Many tea towels. The whole thing made me uncomfortable.

And then, what's this? I was in the hardware shop earlier this week and came across this little publication. An actual instruction book for said unit. At last, questions were to be answered. You would think so, wouldn't you?

But in fact, no, just more questions. The instructions say to pack raw fruit into jars, cover with liquid of choice, place in preserver, fill with cold water and turn it on. Leave for an hour and turn off. If it boils before the hour is up, turn it off - don't let it boil for more than 5 minutes. Leave the jars in there for the remainder of the hour and then remove.

But....but, what is this?? No boiling water? No hot packing into hot jars and into hot water? No timing from when water starts to boil?


The other thing.

All that boiling under my mysterious beige thing's belt. Oh well. It still seems to work ok.
So, now I'm intrigued. Preserving food by just heating up to temp (92c) and holding for the rest of the hour? Well, who knew. I guess that would be fine for fruit, when everything is room temp and heating up together, but what about chutneys and hot sauces? And another thing, how do they know my funky, retro ancient unit is efficient enough to heat up to temp within that hour? (especially after all of my USDA induced boiling sessions).

The book had an information number to ring, so that I did. I got a girl who told me that to bottle the chutney, first I had to cool it completely in the pan, pack it into cold jars, then into the unit with cold water to let everything heat up together. What?? That just makes me feel weird - cooling a recipe to only heat it back up again in the bottle. Why not pack it all in hot and then bung it into a hot water bath? Because the unit will boil like it's on steroids and needs to be turned off after 5 minutes. Oh. Right.

I have to give it a go, just to see how the silly thing is meant to work. As it was designed to. If I fail to post for a while, you'll know I got food poisoning from my un-boiled, gently heated bottled fruit, because I was so vigilant in following my newly found directions.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pondering and potting

There is a hint of Autumn in the air. A very slight, tiny hint. I love Autumn and everything it brings; cooler weather, reduced bushfire risk, the golden light that seems to glow, warm days and crisp, cool nights. It really is my favourite of all the seasons.

I've been pondering over the posts I make here and am wondering should I be talking about more important issues? Am I just spouting fluff? Perhaps I should be trying to change the world one day at a time, through my rambling thoughts. There are big issues out there, HUGE! I could talk for an eternity about them, if I wished. But that's it. IF. I. WISHED. It hit me. I don't wish. I like coming here and gathering my thoughts about my day or what I'm planning to do in the garden, what I'm cooking or things I'm growing. It is my place. Only me. It is my outlet to keep me sane. Virtually kid free zone. So, I am going to please myself and continue my ramblings about day to day life. If anything big happens I'll let you know. If I decide to change the world, I'll also let you know. Until then, let me ramble a little about what I got up to today.

To start off with, those winter tomatoes are bursting out of their little cells. It was time to re-pot them.

12 x 6 inch pots, filled with potting mix, homemade compost and blood and bone. I hope the nasty whitefly population in the greehouse don't find them! They had a good watering in and then it was back onto the rusty, old ironing board frame that is the potting bench.

Next up was cutting all the yellow leaves and whitefly ridden spots off the tomatoes. The pumpkin vine in the greenhouse also had a good haircut too, with all the brown or wilted leaves getting snipped off. I still need to make some soap spray to spray the whiteflied foliage.

And lastly, the seeds. I do love a good seed sowing session. I use re-cycled meat trays from the supermarket and sow them in small rows, labelled with a paddle pop stick. It works for me. So, today, I sowed: brussel sprouts, celery, food swap kale, rainbow silverbeet, brown onion, red onion, leek, lettuces - cos, all year round, forellenschuss and food swap. Outside in pots I sowed coriander (I LOVE coriander!!), and rocket.

The seed sowing stage is my favourite part of gardening, well, except maybe harvesting. I love all the hope and possibility that is wrapped up in those tiny packages of life. And then, I enter, master of their universe, giver of life with my 500ml spray bottle of water/sometimes worm tea. I eagerly await the first green stems poking out of the soil, the first leaves. I choose the strongest seedlings to grow and let the others wither away and eventually get fed to the worms, because I can't bear to pull them out. Growing from seed is so much fun! I am curious how the food swap kale and lettuce will turn out. What kind of lettuce is it? I guess I'll find out soon enough.

I've been having tomato kasundi toasted muffins for lunch these past couple of days, I toast the english muffin, spread LOTS of kasundi on, then add ham and cheese. Under the grill it goes until gooey and bubbly and it's eaten up in 2 minutes flat. Yum! I gave my dad a jar yesterday, I hope he likes it. I think I may make up another batch, with the remaining 2kg's of tomatoes in the fridge, either that, or Jamie Oliver's tomato sauce. Happy Almost Autumn.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Attack of the whitefly

Yikes!! I have invadors in my greenhouse! I have identified them as 'whitefly', which are a small moth like insect that sucks the sap in the leaves, similar to an aphid. Nasty little creatures, just take a look at my tomato leaf down below. Hopefully I have caught it early enough to do something about it. The wise gardeners have advised me to try a soap spray, a garlic spray or even a chilli spray. So. Guess what is on my list of things to do for tomorrow?

.....Operation: Garden Invador Eviction.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tomato Kasundi Monday

I've been wanting to make a batch of tomato kasundi, a spicy Indian tomato relish, for a while now, and finally bit the bullet yesterday and bought 4kgs of big, fat roma tomatoes from the local market. They are organic and were grown up in the Goulbourn Valley. I guess I just got too impatient to wait until I have enough tomatoes of my own to make some ....AND my tomatoes won't be as big and juicy as these beauties.

After doing a bit of searching on the internet, looking at different recipes, I decided to go with this one. It had all the right ingredients in it to satisfy my eager tastebuds. I doubled the recipe to use up 2 kgs of my tomato purchase, and the ingredients I used are as follows:

-2 tablespoons black mustard seeds

-250ml (1 cup) malt vinegar

-110g piece of ginger, peeled & chopped

-a handfull of my very small homegrown garlic

-5 red chillies (This is half of the quantity called for - I am quite precious when it comes to anything tooo spicy. I have NO idea what type they are - I really should've checked, don't you think?)

-250ml (I cup) vegetable oil

-2 tablespoons ground tumeric

-6 tablespoons ground cumin

-250g brown sugar (used instead of palm sugar)

-2 tablespoons sea salt

-2kg tomatoes

The recipe suggests soaking the seeds in the vinegar overnight, but of course I was in too much of a hurry to do this. I hope it doesn't make much of a difference to the end result.

So to start with, the tomatoes need to be peeled. Remove the core and cut a cross mark in the bottom end with a sharp knife and then plunge them into boiling water for thirty seconds to one minute. Remove them and place them in a sink full of cold water to stop the cooking process. All the other ingredients (excluding the tomatoes) are then put into a food processor.

Whizz until smooth and all blended together.

The pureed mix goes into a large, heavy bottomed pot and is brought gently to a simmer and then put on the lowest heat. Cook for about 40 minutes stirring every now and then. While the mixture is bubbling away, start peeling the tomatoes.

Cut them in half, squeeze out the seeds and chop them into rough chunks.

After about 30-40 minutes the mixture on the stove should be darkened and a thickish consistancy.

Add the tomatoes to the mixure on the stove and stir well. Bring back to a simmer, and then reduce it to the lowest heat setting and cook for 3 hours (!), stirring occasionally.

After about 2 hours, I really needed to go and do other things, so I put the whole lot into the slow cooker on 'low' and left it be....

Another hour and a half later, it has made the most deliciously thick, chunky chutney and my whole home smells like a curry house! The chillis have made it quite spicy but not mouth burning hot... I think I may cut back a little on the chilli seeds next time.

The doubled recipe using 2kg of fruit made 5 jars. I can't wait to try it on my dinner!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Excess zucchinis? Take a look here...

What does everyone DO with their excess zucchinis? We have loads at the moment and to date we have exhausted zucchini slice, chocolate zucchini cake, fried zucchini, zucchini in curries, um..what else? I'm sure there's more. I seem to put it in everything. I sneak it into bolognaise sauce and it makes it's grated way into meatloaf and corn fritters (I particularly like the yellow zucchinis for this, because they camouflage nicely into the mix, just like bits of corn - extra sneaky eh!).

I was out of ideas, until I was rifling through some old magazines and came across this little gem from Good Taste, way back in 2007. Fried zucchinis and squash, ricotta, feta, fresh herbs, filo...what more could one ask for? It was really quick and easy to put together, and it was a nice way to use up my food swap pumpkin! This recipe is definately a keeper.

Zucchini & feta roll with pumpkin mash

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fence me a goat or two...

It was a wise person that said, when planning to have animals they should be the last thing to arrive. That is, after the housing, the food, the bits and pieces one needs to care for such a creature and of course...fencing!

Our two young goats have been with us since late last year and we are only just organising the fencing now. Up until recently, it wasn't such an issue, they were happy to be around the house, liking our company and I even made a make-shift night time pen for them inside our chook pen. It was nice and cosy for them to sleep in and most importantly safe from foxes while they were still so little. But now they are not so little. They are growing up. They need more space. They have already escaped from the chook pen once, by rubbing against the thin chicken wire until it snapped! What a convenient hole to exit from! Such fun, finding the fruit trees, oh, the smorgasboard of plant matter to choose from.
With a husband who works 6 days a week and life having a habit of getting in the way on his one day off, this is the first chance we have had to get to work on containing our goaty girls in a paddock all of their own.

The fence doesn't have to be permanant, it just has to hold them in. We hope it does. It wouldn't surprise me if it doesn't. Who knows until they test it to their goaty heart's content.

The husband said the star-picket stakes had to be vertical to the ground. I said they had to be perpendicular to the ground. The husband triumphed.

The day was hot. It was windy too. I was sleepy and desperate to go inside and sit in the cool house. We worked on and attached the uncooperative mesh to the stakes. I have no idea how "fencing people" get fences so tight. So long as it contains them, we will be happy. I think we have one more day of work and the fence will be done.

...and then the best way to relax after such a day, watering the newly sown carrot seeds, thanks to the great girls from vegie group on Friday. Fingers crossed for a good crop.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Creating romance in the vegie patch...

I've been thinking a little bit about companion planting lately. Last year I made a mistake by planting peas alongside onions, which was a no-no according to the library book I had out at the time. Who knew? Apparently onions get along famously with carrots, while carrots also do well with beans, but then beans grow well with corn and don't like onions and garlic either , while cucumbers happen to like the company of beans!! Argh!! It's all so confusing!! Taken from the long-ago returned library book, I have some notes that will hopefully lead me in the right direction to creating lasting relationships between my plants:


-carrots & beans

-beans & summer savoury

-beans & corn

-brassicas, celery, potatoes, beetroots & onions

-broccoli & oregano (apparently the oregano repels cabbage moth - must remember this!)

-carrots like lime, humus and potash

-carrots & onions & herbs/chives

-celery & leeks, tomatoes and brassicas

-corn & potatoes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkin and squash

-cucumbers & beans, peas, radish and sunflower

-leek & celery and onions

-onions & brassicas, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, summer savoury

-parsley and carrot

-peas & carrots, tunips, radishes, cucumber, corn, beans, potatoes and aromatic herbs (aren't all herbs aromatic?)

-sweet peppers & basil

-tomatoes & chives, onions, parsly, basil, marigold, nasturtiam, carrot and garlic

-watermelon and potatoes

And at the same time, we also have those that don't get along, and should remain seperated:


-beans & onions/garlic

-broccoli & tomatoes, pole beans or strawberries

-cucumber & potatoes, aromatic herbs

-onions and legumes

-tomatoes & brassicas, potatoes

Phew! I have to say, I'm still really confused! But with half a chance, having it written down, some beautiful friendships may take place in my vegie patch.

And now, just to move on from all that information that has caused my brain to ache, I have a hot date with a comfy armchair and a steaming cup of tea, to read over my first ever catalogue from Eden Seeds, which just arrived in the mail...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jamming around

Is there a nicer way to spend a morning than with friends, passing the time by cooking delicious preserves, talking and listening to beautiful music? I'm finding it hard to come up with one. With all the blackberries around at the moment, it was a clever decision on Beth's part to have a jam-making session at her place. Kirsty came along as well, and we took along our stockpots, fruit and other bits and pieces. Wearing our aprons, and after a quick peek at Beth's overflowing vegie patch, we set to work, if you could call it that...

Three big stockpots on the go at once. Look at that colour!

We ended up using around 1.5-1.7kg of fruit in each pot, with equal or slightly lesser quantities of sugar. Lemon juice, pectin and citric acid were also on hand for setting any stubborn batches.

The morning's bounty: 22 jars of the tastiest blackberry jam, PLUS Kirsty whipped out a batch of Rhubarb and Apple jam when no one was looking! What a girl.

Anyone for toast?

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's good to have a plan...

I thought it would be useful to have a garden calender with things to be done each month specifically for my garden, given what we like to eat and our climate, which tends to be quite cool. Not that I'll actually do everything listed, but one can always have a goal, eh?

-sow swedes, parsnip and turnip direct
-sow cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts and leeks in punnets
-sow lettuce in punnets/direct

-sow swedes, parsnip, carrot and turnip direct
-sow cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and leeks in trays/punnets
-sow lettuce in punnets/direct
-plant out leeks

-sow broad beans, carrot, coriander, radish, peas and lettuce direct
-sow onions in trays
-plant out cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, swede and lettuce

-sow coriander, broad beans, peas, radish and carrot direct
-sow onions and lettuce in trays
-plant lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and shallots and garlic

-sow coriander direct
-sow lettuce in trays
-plant lettuce, onions, shallots and garlic
-sow green manure direct

-sow green manure, peas, spinach and broad beans direct
-sow lettuce and onions in trays
-plant lettuce, onions and garlic

-sow green manure direct
-sow/plant lettuce

-sow carrot direct
-sow lettuce, pyrethrum and celery in trays
-sow pumpkin in trays indoors
-plant potatoes (use covers when frosty)

-sow pumpkin, tomato, chilli, capsicum, zucchini, squash, cucumber and corn indoors/greenhouse
-sow radish, carrot, silverbeet and beetroot direct
-sow lettuce, leeks and celery in trays
-plant potatoes and lettuce

-sow radish, carrot beetroot, turnip, silverbeet and parsnip diret
-sow lettuce in trays
-plant potatoes, lettuce and celery

-sow zucchini, beans radish, carrot, silverbeet and beetroot direct
-sow lettuce and leeks in trays
-plant tomatoes, corn, zucchini, pumpkin, capsicum, chili, cucumber and squash

-sow radish, carrot, silverbeet and beetroot direct
-sow leeks in trays

Thursday, February 11, 2010

First corn of the season

Our first lot of corn has been harvested! Although not an enormous yield, I am very pleased, as we didn't have much at all last year. We had some for dinner tonight in a tuna casserole, along with zucchinis from the garden as well. The rest of the cobs I cut in half, blanched and put into the freezer for another day.

And just because I can, I'm posting a pic of our rain gauge and what it collected in the last 24 hours....

...just over 3 inches! ...and there was no topping it up with the watering can..promise!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I think I've done it!

I think I've actually done it!! Made a milk soap, that is, and a goats milk soap at that! It was bugging me that the last milk soap I tried (which also happened to be my first), didn't turn out as I had hoped, so I jumped to it and gave it another go..

The great thing with homemade soap is that you can use any oils you like, and adjust the lye accordingly using an online soap calculator such as this one. I have found that a 1.5kg batch of oil easily fits in my mixing bowl, so I have been making my soap using this quantity. I enter the quantities of each oil I'm using into the soap calculator, specify the liquid and press "calculate lye" and it will tell me exactly how much lye (caustic soda) to use. On the right hand side is a table where you can select how much excess fat you want in the soap, I have been going for somewhere around 6-8%, (this ensures that all of the lye has a chance to be converted to soap, and not be present in the final product, which would otherwise cause skin irritations).


For this batch of soap, I used the following:
1kg olive oil (66.6%)
500g coconut oil (copha) (33.3%)
500ml liquid (150ml water and 350ml goats milk)
209g Lye (caustic soda)
3 tablespoons honey
ground oats, about 1 cup

**Remember to wear safety goggles, rubber gloves and a face mask when using caustic soda. Have the room well ventilated**

...and this is how I made it:

First add the lye to the water in a heatproof container (a pot is ideal), stirring to dissolve. Allow to cool in a safe place where it can't be knocked over. If you are going to leave it for some time, place a lid on it so it doesn't lose it's strength.

Melt the coconut oil in a large pot. Allow to cool. Add the olive oil and honey.

Pour the cold goats milk into the lye solution slowly, stirring constantly.

Add this to the oils and stir well. The lye will react to the sugars in the milk, turning it a tan colour. Either transfer to a mixing bowl and use an electric stand mixer or use a hand-held mixer to mix the ingredients together well. Mix constantly for the first 15 minutes. After this, it can be left for about 15-20 minutes at a time and returned to for 5-10 minute mixes.

This soap mixture took about 1 1/2 hours to reach a trace (thick custard-like consistancy). Once this is reached, add the ground oats and mix well.

Pour into a mould (I used a plastic container from the cheap shop, lined with plastic wrap), and seal with a lid to prevent soda ash forming on top of bars. Place in a safe spot at room temperature and allow to sit for 1-2 days, undisturbed. Do not insulate the soap during this time, (milk soaps really don't like heat, trust me, this I know ;-))

24-48 hours later, when firm, remove the hefty lump of soap from the mould and cut it into bars.

Allow the bars to air dry for 4-6 weeks in a warm, dry room. An open cardboard box or cake rack are ideal to store the soap while they are curing. The longer the soap sits, the harder and more milder it will become.

My finished goats milk, honey and oatmeal soap. The litte flecks you can see are pieces of oatmeal scattered throughout the soap. Now the hard part comes - waiting for it to cure.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Big Mama woodfired oven

I thought it might be fun to post some pics of our woodfired oven. Hubby and I built it about 18 months ago, after I went to a one day workshop with a girlfriend, which showed us how to go about building such a beast.

We had the ideal spot outside our kitchen and back door, where an old unused solid fuel barbeque stood. It was depressing looking at it every time I went outside, and thought the space could be utilised in a much better way.

As the barbeque would not be big enough as a base to support our oven, the first step was to pour a concrete slab...

..and build up the front section, which includes a wood storage arch.

We sourced the bricks from an old house in the city that was being renovated, they are about 100 years old and have lots of beautiful shades of red in them (as well as some ghastly painted ones, which we used facing inwards)

A second slab was poured to support the oven. This is me laying the oven floor bricks on a bed of sand, precision is everything, right?!

A sand dome form needed to be made, to support the oven dome bricks while they were being layed. Once the dome part is complete, the sand is then removed, revealing the interior of the oven..exciting!

...the flue begins to take shape (and cold winter weather sets in, hence the tarp)

..the chimney standing tall and proud, and hubby's artistic front archway...

Breaking our big mama in... while anticipating homemade tasty treats to follow.
By building the oven ourselves, it greatly reduced the cost compared to buying an oven ready made PLUS we ended up with a unique oven that no-one else has. With the left over materials, we had enough to build a baby oven right next to this one, so whether it is just us on a quiet weekend, or a gathering of friends, we are most definately covered in the woodfired food department.

The quantity of food one can expect from a full firing *enter available freezer space*: 1 double size lasagne, naan breads, double batch of choc-chip cookies, 9 cheese rolls, 2 loaves of sourdough and 2 loaves of raisin bread. Slow cooked baked beans can also be put in the oven to cook overnight, giving you a wonderful breaky the next day. 
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