Monday, March 28, 2011

Autumn garden round-up

Promising myself not to bore anyone to tears with another post on spinning,  I've decided to focus on the garden instead. It feels like the longest time since I've done an update, hence the abundance of pictures! Plus, I just can't get enough of this gorgeous, golden Autumn light and I confess, the camera just took on a life of it's own. This is what's happening in our patch this month...

Silverbeet - we are using it in just about everything!
Recent rains have caused a multiplication of perennial leeks  to occur. They seem to be everwhere - where previously there were none!

Perennial leeks - the hardiest of the hardy

nasturtium
Our zucchinis are still going strong, the yellow "Gold Rush' variety proving to be the most generous - they just keep giving and giving. Can you guess what's for dinner tonight...?

"Gold Rush" and "Blackjack" zucchinis
Yep! Zucchini slice!!

Tomatoes climbing through a ladder and wrought iron stand, comfrey, beetroot and kale
The pumpkins are slowly ripening....

Volunteer pumpkin (Qld Blue?)
...very slowly.

The beans are coming to an end. The Blue Lakes did make an appearance after all and have been as usual, ever generous. There really is nothing better than fresh, crispy beans straight of the vine!

Blue Lake climbing beans
I am trying an experiment in the greenhouse - by growing a late crop of potatoes. Usually we have frosts in late Autumn and this would wipe out any plants growing outside, but hopefully here inside the greenhouse, our spuds will be protected, supplying us with a harvest when we would normally be running low. Fingers crossed!


The second bed in the greenhouse has been sown with salad greens, radishes and swedes. I have left room for a few broccoli to go in as well...

Forgetting to label in my haste, I'm guessing these are radishes popping up..


Assorted cuttings for the 11yo's plant stall

Our winter vegetables have just been sown...a little late, I know!

Starting the winter vegetables: rainbow chard, red cabbage, sprouting broccoli, red onion, brown onion and annual leek.

Autumn foliage on blueberry
This is the second eggplant that has graced our garden with it's presence this year.

Eggplant - the second arrival, with another 2 on the way

Just Because. Pansies make me smile :)
We have had a great potato harvest this year. There are still findings underneath the soil for those willing to dig.

And the tomatoes are coming to an end. Not the best year with all of the humidity but still some reasonable harvests.

Tomatoes - Tigerella, Red Fig, Cherry and San Marzano
What's happening in your veggie patch this month?

Friday, March 25, 2011

On my mind...


..are the first skeins of homespun yarn I have completed,  hanging up to dry in the kitchen. The whole process from animal to yarn has me captivated and I am pondering over what to use these yarns for.

For more 'on my mind' posts, visit Rhonda's blog, Down To Earth

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yarn PLaY

Rest assured eager spinners and knitters, my new/old spinning wheel has not been gathering dust in the last week, nor has it seen a single article of clothing draped over it to dry or to await it's owner's collection! It has created a slight breeze as it turns, so my daughter tells me, as she has taken to sitting right beneath it!

Maybe it did in fact collect a little dust, but more on that later...

It cranked out my first skein of yarn which I'm just beetroot red with embarrassment with, after doing some picture browsing on the internet of drool worthy skeins! But heck, I'll post my humble yarn for everyone to see. It is loose, wriggly and wrinkly, thick in parts and skinny in others. But it's a skein, right?! A real, live (maybe not so live), skein, produced in my own home.

The first skein
I desperately wanted to knit with it, but it just looked dreadful once it hit the knitting needles. I perservered. Three nights later, my knitting looked like a dogs breakfast (I was attempting a ridiculously confusing pattern for a child's teddy in stocking stitch, of course the pattern was full of errors, not my knitting!). Devastated that my skein was not giving me the joy I had anticipated, I re-thought my plans as I unravelled those teddy pieces. What would become of my first skein? I had to do something with it..just to complete a full circle - from fleece to finished object.

I have settled on something utilitarian instead, using 2 strands crocheted together to camouflage all of my beginner quirks, it will hopefully be a bag. A very useful bag, I hope. And strong - two strands strong!

First project with homespun - a bag!
A bag of alpaca fleece also had a good rummage through, aptly named "Dusty" after the animal that provided the fleece. Apt I thought as Dusty really was very dusty. So much so that plumes of 'smoke' would be emitted as my foot treadled on that peddle and fed Dusty into the internals of the wheel. I was in heaven, it was spinning up beautifully in my beginner fingertips! Alas, my joy with Dusty was shortlived. Bringing out the wheel for a spot of evening spinning, I was met with cries of protest as the plumes of 'dust smoke' once again made an appearance.

"But it's just dust!" I wailed. "How much ash does the fire throw out over winter?" was my argument in defence of Dusty. The protests went on, and as much as it pains me to admit it, but there was in fact quite a bit of dust around the place. Gritty, grass-seedy dust. On the couch, the floor and me. And let's hasten to add...headed for the children...and their youthful ,unblemished lungs. Resigned to the fact that no spinning of Dusty was going to take place in this current condition, I have placed him quietly back in the bag to rethink his emergence into The Lounge Room. This is how far I got with this one:

See? Beautiful! What colour. Feel my joy. And my pain.
This contraption below has me fascinated. It's called a Niddy Noddy. Funny, huh?! It's for wrapping plied yarn around to form a skein. Through my browsings of online classifieds, I came across one that was listed as a Nibby Nobby, this as you can imagine, caused me hours of happy chuckling.

The person who sold me the spinning wheel was kind enough to include it in the sale, and it brings a smile to my face to see that, being a man, he thought it needed a 'power grip' handle in striking blue 'sport foam'. A nice touch. It's actually very comfy!!

Niddy Noddy
The fibers for this yarn were gifted to me by a generous soul at the local spinning group. I have no doubt that she took pity on the new beginner in town and felt obliged to pass something along.

The same generous soul also passed along some more fibers for me to play with:


Is it a "batt?" I am a little confused by all of the new terms, she did tell me it was Merino though, and it is wonderfully soft with lovely variegated colours througout.

I have been spinning it like this:


I have no idea what it will be yet!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quince Paste

The last few days have seen me having lots of fun playing with the neighbour's quinces. Being greedy, I wanted to turn them all into paste..but where to start? I had made (er, stirred) some with friends last Autumn, but the memory had flown to the wind and I couldn't remember the specifics of what exactly we did! Turning once again to my beloved Cook's Companion, I opted to follow loosely Stephanie's guidance for the making of some paste.

Fresh quince paste - one day old
As there were plenty to use up, I increased the amounts for the first batch from 8 to 12 quinces and heaved out my largest, heaviest based pot from the back of the cupboard.


The quinces were peeled and chopped - half with core and half without (6/6) and placed into the pot with one cup of water and the juice of one lemon.

The quinces start to oxidize really fast!
They were stewed gently over a low heat with lid on for around 20-30  minutes, until goodly tender and mushy.

Stovetop stewed quince, with water and lemon juice
(My second batch of quinces were stewed in the slow cooker for around 7 hours on low and they surprised me by turning a light shade of red. Of course I didn't take a pic of this beautiful sight! Agh!)

The stewed quinces were then passed through the fine disc on our food mill. It was a little bit of an upper arm workout getting the pulp through as it can be quite stubborn however the food mill coped well with the task.

I would be lost without the food mill in a job like this!
The pulp was then weighed and placed into the (cleaned out) pot along with 3/4 of it's weight in sugar. The pot was then returned to a low heat and stirred gently until the sugar had dissolved.

Adding the sugar to the quince pulp - note how it is still a pale straw colour
It was then allowed to come to a boil (still over a low heat) and stirred regularly as the mixture gradually thickened and changed colour. My book advised that cooking can go on for several (3-4!) hours, and that young, slightly under ripe fruit were best for paste making. I suspected that my fruit was quite a bit more than slightly under ripe..more like prematurely picked, and I found that cooking time was significantly reduced (ie- approx an hour once the sugar had been added).

The changing of colour, slowly, slowly...
The hot, molten lava mixture tends to spit and bubble, so don't place your face in there to examine it like I did, and end up with a hot sugar splatter in your eye! Saying that though, I didn't find it nearly as dangerous as stirring say, a pot of polenta, which I find incredibly painful at times!

The paste will need regular stirring..more often as it thickens as the last thing we want is to let it catch on the bottom of the pan - this is where a non-stick pot is worth it's weight in gold. That, and a long...really long handled wooden spoon!

It is ready when it is hard to push the spoon through and a line left in the mix with the spoon stays there without falling back in on itself.


It will also hold it's shape well on a spoon and form a thick mass that comes away from the sides of the pot.

Observe the colour change!
It is then allowed to cool slightly after which it can be scooped into a greased and baking paper/parchement lined cake tin (any size or shape that takes your fancy. I have even heard of people using silicone muffin trays which would be perfect for indiviual or gift sized serves).


This can then be left to cool and set and if on the particularly squidgy side, allowed to air dry for a few days to reduce moisture. A small cake cooling rack placed on top of the tin, covered with a clean tea towel will keep any flying bugs out while it sets/dries.

The quince paste can then be cut up into squares, wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil and stored in an airtight container in the pantry for up to 6 months.


Serve with good cheese, crackers and fruit.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday afternoon




We are so lucky to have this waterfall on our doorstep. I don't know why it has taken us so long to visit it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pie Apple - bottling apples in the Fowlers Vacola

Remember those apples that were gathered locally  a week or so ago? Putting it off for long enough, I decided it was time to tackle the task of preserving them in some way. No hard decisions were made, they were all going to be bottled, as that is what we enjoyed most from the pantry last year. It was so nice in the middle of winter to pull out a jar of stewed apples for a comforting crumble or pie! Lucky this year I had lots (lots!!) to play with.

Locally foraged apples
I didn't weigh them, but my wrist assures you after cutting them there were several kilos! Lucky as well that I could call on my trusty apple peeler from the opp shop to make peeling them a little easier. Many of the apples had scab (or black spot) on them due to the high humidity levels this year, but once peeled they were quite ok inside.

My handy apple peeler - I wouldn't be without it!
After peeling, they were placed in a weak ascorbic acid solution (bowl of water and crushed up vit.C tablets x 2). They were then quartered and cored and placed in a large, heavy based pot.

Peeled, quartered and cored then soaked in vit.C solution to retain colour
The apples were stewed gently in batches, covered for around 5 minutes, until just tender but still holding their shape. At the same time, a light sugar syrup was prepared with sugar and water at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 3 parts water (I used 3 cups sugar and 9 cups water and had plenty leftover).  This was brought to the boil in another pot.

The stewed apples were placed into cleaned and rinsed out Fowlers Vacola jars, alternating with the syrup and stirring at intervals with a skewer to remove any air bubbles. I left a headspace of around 1cm. The rings and lids were positioned and the clips attached. The jars were then processed in the unit which is basically a big urn that gets filled with water and then heats up. Processing takes one hour, although I like to leave them in there for slightly longer to be sure they have all sealed properly. I also like to preheat the water in the unit a little as well, just to make sure the contents of the jars heats up sufficiently to sterlize both it and the jars.

Sneaking a peak - nearing the end of processing, then it's back on with the lid
Once finished, the jars are removed and left on a wooden board or towel to cool down, undisturbed for around 12 hours. The clips can then be safely removed and the lids checked to ensure they have sealed properly.

Homemade pie apple for winter desserts
Processed in this way, our apples will keep well in a dark cupboard for 12 months. They are the ideal texture and consistancy for a quick dessert of apple crumble or pie. I will drain the sugar syrup away before using the apples by pouring the contents into a sieve.

Since stumbling across this way of preserving about 12 months ago, I can now say that I'm pleased I did. I still use standard stove top waterbathing for smaller jars and selected other preserves but I find that I can pack a lot into these size jars (size 27 - 900ml), and the height of the unit allows the jars to be covered with enough water to ensure proper sterlisation. Rubber ring seals need to be replaced each use while lids and clips can be re-used again and again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Camping moments..

Yay, it worked! My last post that is. It was my first attempt at pre-scheduling one and I'm so pleased to see it actually worked. I haven't been ignoring your comments..I promise!

We took the opportunity of the Labour Day long weekend to head off on a little camping getaway. This is our second trip in as many months and this time it seemed a little easier as many things were already organised and in boxes from our previous trip to the beach.

I must confess, our camping at the moment is definitely not in the Roughing It category. We enjoy hot showers, running water and even power! -  But it's still lacking enough luxuries from home to be classified as 'camping' in my book! For now, anyway.

We chose not to travel too far..just over an hour from home, to a historic goldfields town in central Victoria. The park we stayed at adjoined three lakes.


...although swimming wasn't allowed because of the recent flood damage. The small people had to satisfy themselves with the pool in the park which seemed to hit the spot for them...


A short walk into town revealed an enticing chocolatier cafe. Of course we had to stop to sample some of their treats!


There was good coffee to be had too - camping doesn't always mean going without ;)


Hubby relaxed by the lake with a line and hook, the girls by his side.


I siezed the opportunity and stole some moments to relax with my latest crochet project - a twisty-turny scarf, or at least that's what I hope it will be.


Below is our current camp set up. A 3 room pop up tent and a gazebo to keep the rain off us while we sit or cook outside. That's hubby in there now cooking breaky for us all. We were lucky with the weather, it was warm for most of the weekend, with only a little rain on Sunday. We kept dry. And warm.


Another walk into town led us to the local museum which had an interesting array of artefacts from the goldrush days.  


And always one to scout out new campsites, a short drive led us into the regional park to a serene spot by a small creek. 


Now this looks like heaven! Maybe someday we will in fact Rough It.

Slatey Creek Campground 1 - Creswick Regional Park
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