Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Garden of St Erth

With only a few days left of the holidays we took a little drive today with Oma to go and visit The Garden of St Erth. The garden is situated in the Wombat State Forest, a 70 minute drive north-west of Melbourne.

The sandstone homestead was built in the 1860's by a Cornish stonemason and was named 'St Erth' after his birthplace in Cornwall. Originally serving as a post office in a once bustling gold mining town, it is now home to some glorious plantings of ornamentals, bush, and food gardens. The old homestead now stocks a large range of Diggers seeds, plants and gardening paraphernalia. What I love to go and see most though are the food plantings, which include many ingenius ideas to take away and use at home from the espaliered fruit trees, extensive vegetable gardens and permaculture style food forest. I think the only thing missing from this restful place are some chooks!

St Erth homestead, built 1860's

Helebores - I can see them making an appearance in my garden sometime soon!


Russian garlic

Latua pubiflora- "Sorcerer's Tree"

Reo mesh arbour, can't you just picture it with a food vine growing over the top?

More helebores.....oh yes, must set aside a place for these at home

A trap - the seed store on the way many to chose from!

...and plants too!
I can never resist coming home empty handed from St Erth. Today my finds included several types of seeds and a pink rosemary. PINK! I can't wait to plant it..

Capsicum Jimmy Nardello, Carrot Purple Dragon, Sweet Corn Breakthrough F1, Tomato Tommy Toe Red,  Tomato Amish Paste, Golden Podded Pea, Corn Ornamental Indian.

Monday, September 27, 2010

School holiday fun at home that won't break the bank...

If you have 6-10 year olds at home, read on...

It's school holidays and you're finding yourself stuck for ideas on what to do with the kids that won't burn a hole in your wallet? Fear not fellow holiday go-ers, there is plenty for them to do at home on the cheap that will keep them amused for hours.....

Dig out any scraps of cardboard they've been hoarding under their desks. And the stickers too and dump them all on the kitchen table and let them create greeting cards to their heart's content. Perfect for keeping in touch with relatives that don't use email (!), plus no one can resist a card made by a youngster....

Maybe you have some autumn leaves pressed from eons ago in old phone books? Grab those out too, they'll be perfect on the cards. If not, send them out to the garden, park or footpath with a bowl so they can gather, gather, gather.. Back at home, place them in between sheets of greaseproof or scrap A4 paper and press in any heavy books you have. Forget about them until next school holidays....

Plays are a fun way for them to be creative. Let them write the script themselves, type it up and print it out, allocating roles for different siblings. It's a good exercise to get them to work together as a team and the beautiful thing is, it doesn't have to be finished in one day. They can spend endless hours happily rehearsing away, so long as you're prepared to put up with the same accented voices over and over and the dissapearance of kitchen chairs and the appearance of blankets and sheets for 'stage curtains'.

Blankets and sheets..ahh yes, what child doesn't love creating their own hideaway with these items. Let them pull out all you've got, they'll be so occupied with the construction of their special place, it will give YOU valuable time for a well earned break and cup of tea in peace. If you're feeling game, let them 'camp out' in their tent for a night or two...

Let them into the kitchen. Chose a day when you're having something easy for dinner so that you're not feeling overwhelmed by their 'clean up' efforts (they tried, really they did). Most kids will surprise us with what their capable of. By 8-10, they can often follow a simple recipe and complete the dish from start to finish with maybe the teensiest bit of help from you..pretty good really. Plus it doesn't matter how bad it turns out, they'll usually be so excited they'll eat it up anyway because they made it. More often than not though, their efforts are indeed edible for the whole family....

If the weather is fine, perhaps plan a simple picnic, either for the backyard or a local park. The backyard is perfect because if you're finding yourself in the middle of a project, it requires no time taken out of the day travelling. If you can walk to the park, all the better! Get them to help prepare the 'picnic', even if it is just very simple fare, the fact that your all sitting outside on a blanket together eating their food is enough to make any child happy...

Maybe you are lucky enough to own an ancient sewing machine that has survived all manner of abuse, including being dropped on the floor with an earth shattering crash?

If so, drag it out, dust it off and let your young ones learn a valuable life skill. It's fun! They can make tiny blankies for their toys, teensy little cushions as well and not to mention finger puppets and...

....perhaps an alien or two. Make it up as you go or try an online search for 'free monster patterns'.

Spring is the perfect time for some seed sowing. Your youngster(s) may be very interested in growing their own plants. Some good seeds to start with are nasturtiam, marigold, sunflower, chives, parsley and beans. Of course there is no reason not to try others, these are just the foolproof seeds that seem to come up on their own. If you're heading into Fall/Autumn, bulbs are a guaranteed winner.

If you're finding yourself still stumped for something to amuse them with, go ahead and pull out that box of chalk at the back of the cupboard and let them lose on your paving areas. They love to create tennis courts, hopscotch, downball courts and any number of games from their imagination...

Happy School Holidays! What do you get up to? :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

'Cheats' Challah Rolls plus Pantry Planting

One of the methods I have read about shaping challah rolls sounded so easy I just had to give it a go. The challah dough, is made as usual and braided according to your preference. The loaf is then simply cut into equal portions to form the rolls, which are then placed on a lined baking tray and covered to rise again before baking. How easy is that?

'Cheats' challah rolls, cut from a four braid loaf prior to baking. Yield 10 rolls.
As the rolls are cut from different sections of the braid, no two rolls are exactly alike. It's a fun way to make them and great if you're pressed for time - no fiddling with individual dough pieces. My braided 4 strand dough was cut in half lengthwise, then had five cuts made crosswise, to form 10 rolls. Lunch and dinner in one baking!

We were also treated to a little sun today so I seized the moment and spent the afternoon outside sprucing up the veggie patch and soaking up some vitamin D. One of the beds had been scalped twice(!) by the swamp hens and I was stumped for ideas of what to grow in it before the chook dome is due back on it soon. Raiding my pantry proved successful, I had to decide what exactly to sow out of a small selection of dried legumes.. should I plant a green manure of barley? Or try my hand at growing lentils? Would they even work? Or maybe cannellini or kidney beans? Hmmm, decisions, decisions....

I ended up reaching for the dried borlotti beans. I've never grown them before so it's all a bit new to me. It's maybe a little early to start them in our area as I think they like it hot, but the bed was vacant anyway and I had nothing to lose. In they went, borlotti beans by the handful....

One step ahead of those crafty swamp hens this time around, the old 'octopus' was retrieved from my junk pile at the back of the yard. Actually, it can't really be an octopus as it only has 6 arms, (legs?), but it still reminds me of one anyway! It is just a simple frame made of three pieces of poly pipe (irrigation hose), joined at the center with heavy string. It supports bird netting to prevent the wildlife from entering my newly sown beds.....

The bottom of the hose is wedged into three offcuts of bamboo staking, which have been pushed into the soil to keep the hose in one place......

A friend from veggie group had shared some of her home grown kipfler potatoes that had begun to sprout, so I had to find a home for these too....

Siamese twins?
In they went into bed 4, along with some mangy old potatoes from the bottom of my pantry......

I do love homegrown potatoes, they taste so creamy and buttery. Nothing like the bought variety....

And remember the repurposed swing frame  that now houses some loganberries? Well, as I was walking past this afternoon, I was delighted to see that our chooks are actually using it as I had intended! How sweet. There is Mr Green sitting full front with his girls keeping him company....

Afternoon siesta for the birds

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Four Braid Challah

I've been on a little Challah kick lately to which I'm putting down to drooling at the most wonderful, braided breads from Brydie and Celia.  Feeling fairly flat on the bread front (quite a tongue-twister, eh?),  it was great to get a kick of inspiration up my backside from these two lovely ladies. I do have a soft spot for challah, or 'hhhhallah' as I have heard it pronounced, with a 'h' sound starting deep in the back of ones throat. And to let you in on a little secret, I just love to make it so that I can walk around the house asking if anyone wants "another piece of .... chhhhhalllah?". :)

Four braid Challah
What I like most about this bread is that it calls for eggs, of which we have an abundance of at the moment! If you decide to give this bread a go, I hope you enjoy making it as much as I do. Full shaping instructions can be found at The Shiksa in the Kitchen , link kindly shared by Celia.

530g bread flour
1/4 cup sugar (raw is fine)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
150ml lukewarm water
3 x 60g eggs, lightly whisked
1/3 cup canola or other light flavoured vegetable oil

Combine all of the ingredients and mix by hand or machine (I used machine). It can be quite sticky, so add a little extra flour if you think it needs it. Not too much though, it still needs to be soft and pliable. Knead for 10 minutes or so, until the dough springs back when pressed and place into an oiled bowl, cover and place somewhere warm until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Remove the dough and shape according to your preference.

For this dough I chose to try a four-braid. The dough was cut into four equal pieces and each piece was rolled into a long log, about 40cm long. The four log strands were pressed together at the top and then braided down the length of the loaf (see link above for full shaping instructions).

Braided and ready for 2nd rise
The loaf was then covered again and placed in a warm spot to rise again, until nearly doubled in size. While this is happening, the oven can be preheated to 180c and when the dough has risen, brushed with an eggwash of 1 egg yolk whisked with a little water.  Bake for around 30-35 minutes until a deep golden brown and the smell of chhhallah is filling your house.

Fresh from the oven - the 'stringy' bread
My daughter calls it the 'stringy bread', because of the way it forms little 'strings' when pulled apart while still warm (I'm sorry, but we're not letting this one cool down!).  Sweet enough to enjoy with honey or jam, and not too sweet that it doesn't make a great medium for holding cold meats and cheese......

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Garden happenings Sept '10

The weather is still cold although we have been treated to the odd day with some gorgeous sunshine. The ground hasn't warmed up yet but the plants have started a little spurt of growth, letting us know that Spring really is just around the corner! Come on already.....!
 This is what's happening in my garden at the moment...

We have been eating our first purple cauliflowers! This is the first year we have grown them and they taste just like their white cousins. They look magnificent in the garden, a splash of colour in amongst the daffodils when not much else is in bloom.....

Purple cauliflower (Diggers Seeds), tastes just like their white cousins!
We have lush, new growth on the raspberry canes. Fingers crossed for a good harvest......

I'm always keeping my eyes peeled for a supplier of yellow/golden raspberries (that isn't sold out ALL of the time!). If you know somewhere that is a reliable stockist, I would love to hear.

Garlic is growing away happily. A little shady in this spot and first time growing them in this bed, so we wait in wonder.....

Our chook dome is due to be moved on to the next bed (5), and there were still vegetables to be harvested....

Tender young perennial leeks, and my grand total carrot harvest from this bed. Oh well, better luck with the carrots next time!

The bed also needed the broccoli plants removed. The central heads were harvested several months ago but I left the plants in the ground as they are so generous at producing side shoots. My four little plants had enough florets on them to fill a bowl!

Broccoli florets and a lone purple cabbage, from bed 5
I can tell spring is nearly here because it's mating season. And for a micro-farm with 1 duck and 2 drakes, this can be quite distressing to watch. There has been some fighting going on between the drakes and the younger, newer addition has booted the old guy out and become the Alpha Male. We really need to find some extra ducks to help share in the love and relieve the pressure off our poor girl here (pictured behind, with her new man in front)....

Our duck is the whitest of whites, while the drakes have a slight yellow sheen and a curly tale feather.
 Our garden is home to some newly sawdusted pathways! So much nicer to walk on than bare ground, cleaner and softer underfoot, too. It's also much more comfy to kneel on whilst weeding.....

Homegrown chitted potatoes in the background
Our rosemary is in flower. Hopefully the bees will arrive soon.....

We have asparagus! I thought I had killed my lone crown, but no, here are the little spears emerging for another year's growing....

Asparagus spears
Things have finally sprung into action in the greenhouse. The peas are flowering and the white carrots are growing away happily. They could probably do with a thinning...

We also have a mystery plant in our garden. My daughter found it yesterday in one of the chook beds (where all of our veggie scraps end up), so it has come from the kitchen at some point. We seemed to think it had a 'nut' like seed, from perhaps an almond.... but it's just a guess. She potted it up and put it in the greenhouse to continue growing...

The mystery plant. Any ideas?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Primary School Show Day

It's the last day of school before two weeks of holidays today for my daughters. Their school celebrates this time each year by holding a 'show day', which is much like a real show/fair but on a much smaller scale. The day starts with an animal parade on the oval where families are encouraged to bring along their pet to take part. This year, in addition to the usual K-9 convention that seems to take place, we also saw two ponies, cats, several chooks & ducks and a handful of birds. Other years have also seen the attendance of goats, snakes, lizards and worms. This year we took along Mr Green, or 'Feather Feet' as the girls have taken to calling him. How could we not take him?

What really caught my eye this year were all of the outstanding entries in the craft/baking section. It is very laid back and up to the students if they want to bake/create and is more about showcasing the kids' work rather than awarding prizes. After trawling through this section, I'm excited to share some pics......

Vegetable creatures, made by preps (5-6ys)

"Poodle", by a prep student (5-6yrs), note realistic broccoli head!

The decorated cake and baking table was nicely filled and stretched out invitingly.....
Real baking by real kids

Floral displays
I couldn't resist taking a pic of my friend's mama chook with 2 chicks, (10 days old). So cute!
Coming out from underneath the feathery warmth to say hello.....
I love these alien cupcakes! They are actually the creation of my friend Kate's daughter.  Very clever!

Alien cupcakes, made by grade 2 student (7-8yrs)

Australian gumnut cupcakes by grade 5 student (10-11yrs)

Chook inspired artwork

Hen with newly laid egg?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

I stumbled across this way of making chicken soup purely by acccident. You see, I can be quite lazy at times, and one day I got it in my head to just throw all of the soup making ingredients into the slow cooker instead of standing around monitoring a pot of simmering stock on the stove for 3 hours. And you know what? It worked. It more than worked - it was delicious! So much so, that it is the only way I'll make chicken soup/stock in our house any more and the greatest thing? Its SO easy!! You WILL need a slow cooker for this recipe - I did try to think of an alternative but I really don't think there is one in this case....

**As an aside, when plugging your slow cooker in, please please please make sure that the cord is free. It's pretty obvious but I didn't check mine a couple of weeks ago and ended up blowing up the whole unit :( You see the cord had become wedged between the ceramic cooking dish and the heating vessel and consequently overheated the cord, melted the plastic coating and, well, *ZAP* it went. Luckily I had a spare slow cooker as I use them so often, plus my mum also found one that she used in the 80's that she passed along - it's very retro but still does a great job! So please do check!**

What I love most about making chicken soup in the slow cooker is that there is no evaporation like that which occurs when cooking on a stove. All of the liquid that is put in at the start is STILL there at the end, resulting in a most instensely flavoured good!

To start, place everything you are using for your soup in the slow cooker. Our family saves all of the chicken bones from when we roast a chicken and uses these. If time is short, the bones can even be frozen for use another day. In this case, the 10yo had made honey soy chicken for dinner the night before, so in all of those leftovers went (from about 1.4kg of chicken portions). To the bones, add:

1 onion, cut into wedges (no need to peel)
1-2 carrots, cut into chunks (no need to peel)
2-3 sticks celery, cut into chunks
generous handful of herbs from the garden - thyme, sage, parsely stalks - no need to chop, just put them all in as they are, although the sage may be pounded/bruised if you are feeling like releasing some negative tension.
a couple of bay leaves
6-8 peppercorns

Cover the lot with warm water and place the lid on. I usually put it on around 9-10am and it is ready for our dinner at about 6:30-7:00pm. Heat on high for an hour or so to get things cranking then turn it down to low for the remainder of time.

The result? A beautifully rich and tasty stock that is a perfect base for soups, risottos and sauces. To make the chicken noodle soup, strain the liquid through a sieve positioned over a pot, catching the bones and mushy vegetables/herbs. Pick over the bones, removing any of the remaining chicken, breaking it into small pieces (it will be very tender) and set aside. Discard the bones and feed the mushy veggies to the chooks. Heat the stock on the stove until at a simmer. Add a couple of handfuls of your favourite soup pasta - eg. short cut angel hair, stars, alphabets etc and simmer until cooked. Kids love the alphabet pasta, always trying to spell their name in each spoonful!  To serve, stir through the shredded chicken, some freshly chopped parsely and a good grind of salt and pepper.

Enjoy with fresh crusty bread. Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"....and they're off!" seeds that were sown a week ago. To let you in on a little secret, they came up really fast, like 2-3 days fast!! This is the fastest they have ever germinated for me and I've been trying to come up with a reason why. Everything I did was exactly the same as last year, sown in the same containers, used the same growing medium, placed them in a warm spot (on the heated floor - very toasty!) ...but what else could it be?? I'm putting it down to the moon, because I just can't think of any other variable factors. Moon cycles have a big role in plant growing, right?

So, what would my excitement be without some pictures? Here we go....

Buttercup pumpkin from saved seed

Cucumber.... not from saved seed!

After the seeds germinate, I gently prick them out using a bamboo skewer and plant them into recycled seedling punnets filled with potting mix. This keeps them going for a couple more weeks until some true leaves have developed and they are growing well. They can then be either planted out in the garden, or potted on in homemade compost to continue growing until a space becomes available (kind of like sitting at the bar while waiting for a table at a restaurant, eh?).

'Big Lone' tomatoes, from saved seed, pricked out into punnets to continue growing...
I was also really happy to see that one of the first tomato varieties to emerge was from the saved seed of the Big Lone Tomato,  grown at my girls' school veggie garden. How exciting! I hope they grow well for us, and if there are some spare plants, I'll take some back to the school to grow again this year. Fingers crossed! Are you sowing anything in your garden?
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