Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Planting beetroot you need to soak them first

One of the keys to growing beetroot from seed is to soak the seeds in warm water first. Warm not boiling.
If you want to know which beets are which you'll need to keep track of your soaking seeds.  I put a few seeds in small bowls and tuck the seed packet underneath until I am ready to plant.  Stagger your plantings and your harvest by planting every two weeks.

How to transplant onions the easy waay

I used to find transplanting onion seedlings back breaking and tedious.
But, ah, here is the easy solution.

Dig a trench and push the soil taken out to the right.

Place one seedling at a time along the trench, roots at the bottom ,leaves lying against the soil on the left.

As you push the soil from the right into the trench use your trowel to gently squeeze against the wall of the trench, at the same time you will create a new trench.

Don't worry about trying to stand the seedlings upright, over the next week they will stand up by themselves.

Vegetable gardening on a clear autumn day under the falling leaves

A mid week flex day is a wonderful luxury - I wish I could drop to 4 days work and make this permanent. The bonus was that despite yesterday being a wet, dreary day, today was clear and fresh. A perfect late autumn day. So I spent it in the garden.

Last weekend I planted two beds full of garlic.  Today I planted some winter vegetables.

In this area of New South Wales, Australia we plant the following seeds in May:
Broad beans
Pak choy

And seedlings:

June is the same.
When I topped up all the garden beds with compost last weekend I covered them in lucerne mulch. Now its easy enough to poke seedlings down through mulch. Seedlings don't always germinate and push up through all those layers however.

This is the solution I came up,  I pushed the mulch back to provide a barrier between different seeds, it will still keep the moisture in.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mushroom foraging and a 50s experience

We went mushroom foraging in Belangelo State Forest today. It took a little while but we collected a whole basketful of lovely fresh saffron milkcap mushrooms. Ah yum, so yum. We learnt how to collect these fabulous mushrooms this time last year with Diego, he has great information on his website or follow on instagram on @theweedyone,  . Diego was there today, I noticed it wasn't just me saying hello, he has introduced a whole lot of people to the fine art of mushroom hunting. Sadly no one in my family has had this skill to hand down.

Tonight I have cleaned and cooked most of the mushrooms - some sauteed in olive oil with chilli and rock salt, others dipped in egg and breadcrumbs - check my recipe for schnitzels.

We have been happy to pass the skill on to other friends - today we were out there with a group. Diego is a good teacher - we are confident in collecting saffron milkcaps or pine mushrooms, but don't touch anything else. You know the saying - there are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hutners but no old, bold mushroom hunters.

After our foraging adventure we stopped off in Moss Vale for a treat at Bernies, a great American style Diner.  At the recommendation of a friend I had a ginger beer float or spider.  Yum so so good.

There is a new vintage clothing shop in Moss Vale - Viva MossVale seems to be a burgeoning vintage scene happening.  Here's a cute Holden wagon - I love the pop of colour.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Planting garlic

I have planted my garlic at last. I have been trying to get it in for a few weeks but it kept raining. During my five week break I only had a few days when i could get out into the vegetable garden. I concentrated on weeding.

I have been back at work two weeks already! Last Saturday was warm and sunny and I could - should - have gardened. But it was such a nice day!  I voted for a last kayak as I knew we'd have to put the boats away for winter after that.

So today was the day for the garlic.

First I emptied my two compost bins.  All that lovely goodness that used to be kitty litter (rice bran), wood ash, food scraps, chicken and horse poo, leaves and more had turned into lovely dark soil.   I sprinkled the beds with a handful or two of blood and bone then every garden bed got at least half a wheelbarrow of compost. The beds with a lower soil level got a little more. The everything got a layer of lucerne mulch.
 The garlic I ordered from the Diggers Club has taken up two beds - no problem as there isn't that much to grow over winter anyway.

I got all new varieties this year. In fact its probably three years since I planted any garlic.

I am growing the following:

Fino de Chincko (harvest Oct - Nov)
Argentine Purple Stripe (harvest Oct - Nov)
Russian (harvest Oct - Nov)
Rose du Var organic (harvest Nov-Dec)

 I need to thin out some kale that has self seeded and plant brassicas and greens. Then there's a wild and wooly area of the veg garden where there aren't any beds - I need to weed (de-grass) and mulch to lay dormant until spring when planting season goes mad again.

I am going to leave you with an image of my neighbour's cows who I upset very much when I spread the lucerne over my garden beds. I was tempted but I didn't give them any.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Last kayak until next Spring as Winter settles in, Werri Lagoon Gerringong

We went for a kayak this weekend on a stunning sunny day. The wind as picking up making the water choppy near the ocean entrance but was calmer around the bend in more protected water.  
 Werri Lagoon, Gerringong is a gorgeous spot to kayak and allows dogs on leash on part of the beach.

Howard and Benny paddling down the river.

Harvey looking very windswept in my kayak. I think he just tolerates it, not convinced he is terribly keen on paddling.

The lovely small coastal town of Gerringong, looking down onto Werri Beach.

When we got home we put the kayaks away.  Don't let this crisp clear sky fool you the temperature is dropping and winter is well on its way. Sadly we won't paddle now until around October.

Monday, May 4, 2015

My first mandarin growing quietly in the garden

I have a little mandarin tree that has been quietly, and slowly growing in my vegetable garden for years.

Last year the blossoms turned into tiny fruit but they all blew off.

Imagine my delight when I ventured into the garden and found a  crop of little mandarins.  
I am very excited and hope they survive the autumn wind and rain to ripen. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

High fibre, gluten free, delicious granola

Here is my basic recipe, substitute to suit your own personal taste. Precise measurements are not needed.  I left out oats and other grains to make this batch gluten free.

Mix nuts and seeds in a large bowl.  Use roughly equally amounts.

  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • sunflower seeds
  • pecans, chopped
  • hazlenuts, crushed or chopped
  • walnuts
  • cashews
  • coconut flakes
Stir in a small amount of maple syrup (or agave or rice bran syrup).  You need approximately 1/4 cup to cover a large mixing bowl full of nuts.

Spread onto a baking tray covered in baking paper.  Bake in a moderate oven for approximately 10 minutes.  Stir and bake another 5 mins. Be careful if it easy to burn your mix, it should be lightly golden.  

Tip nut mix back into your mixing bowl.  Add chopped dried fruit:
  • dried figs, apricots, dates
  • sultanas
  • cranberries or other dried berries.
Allow to cool then store in an airtight jar.  Enjoy with fruit or yoghurt.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

5 weeks break - cooking crumpets was not a success

Ages ago I found a crumpet recipe and though wow, I have to try that. I had visions of hot, fresh crumpets for breakfast. I thought I could experiment with lours and delight friends with old favourites turned gluten free.

Sadly I was not happy with my efforts. They take hours to make.  You leave the batter to foam, then pour into egg rings on a hot, greased pan. No matter what I tried they stuck to the rings. I'm very sorry to say the results didn't seem worth the effort. Not when crepes and pancakes are quick and easy. My bread is improving all the time. Crumpets can go on the low priority list.

If anyone out there has mastered them and has any tips to share, I'll reconsider.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

5 weeks break - learning to crochet

Ah I have not done any craft for ages. I recently saw a design for a sweet little crochet flower made with a button centre. I have made a few granny squares in my day but I'm no expert in crochet. And of course I had set myself a challenge by choosing a project that didn't come with a pattern. Oops.

My friend Kate came to the rescue. She is so clever, she looked at the photo and made a lovely little flower, then taught me how to do it.

Its a perfect activity for these wet days when I am sitting in front of the fire to keep warm and dry.  I will be a great activity to keep my fingers busy during the winter nights.

I've had a great time rummaging through my vintage button collection for buttons with four holes of a suitable size. Even with the smallest crochet needle I could find its a tight squeeze to stitch in and out.

These will be turned into long garland necklaces.

What fun!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

5 weeks break - stumpwork embroidery cufflinks

One of my great loves is stumpwork embroidery.  If you don't know it stumpwork is the art of 3D embroidery. Pieces are created on a flat piec of fabric, edged with wire and cut out, The loose piece is usually then added to another work to add dimension.  I specialise in making jewellery from my stumpwork.  (Commissions always welcome)

As stupid as it sounds, I often deny myself the pleasure of doing things I love. I commute, I work, I cook dinner, I complain I'm tired and go bed to work early.  Aah.

Finally I have the time, energy and head space to create.

Again its raining and raining. Its freezing cold.  I have the fire roaring, sitting stitching tiny embroidery leaves in autumn colours.

The edge is made from copper wire and picked out in buttonhole stitch. The details of the leaves are created in thread painting, long and short stitch.  A lot of people don't like long and short stitch but I think its the most forgiving stitch of all. It gives the ability to create subtle changes of colour.

When complete, I carefully cut out the shapes using sharp scissors and a good magnifying lamp. It takes hours to cut them out precisely and remove all the tiny fibres of fabric outside the wire edge.

Preserved with fabric stiffener, my lovely leaves are glued into cufflink findings. My husband commissioned them last autumn, so I made him two sets, from 4 mis-matched leaves.

You can see some of my other work here

Monday, April 13, 2015

5 weeks break - pine mushroom schnitzels

Here's another recipe idea for using Pine Mushrooms. I chose the smallest button Saffron Milkcaps we picked on Sunday for this dish.

After cleaning the mushrooms with a dry paper towel to brush off dirt and pine needles I trimmed the stems a little.  I mixed breadcrumbs with freshly ground salt and pepper and dried marjoram.  I double crumbed the mushrooms by dipping in egg, crumbs, then repeating.
I deep fried the mushrooms which quickly formed a crisp crust.  

Served with Donna Hay's coriander mayo.  Delicious.  This will actually work for any type of firm fleshed mushrooms but pine mushrooms are so special having such a short season.

5 weeks break - Curry pasties

Last week we had a planned black out. The power was off about 3 hours longer than expected which wore thin once dark fell.

As I knew about the black out before it happened I planned my day around cleaning out my chest freezer. It wasn't an exciting job but it was a good job to get done. Its certainly been on my list too long. My chest freezer is in the laundry and I really went to town, cleaned out cupboards and drawers and completed more de-cluttering. So that fell good. I threw out some of the contents of the freezer but I re-discovered some great food that I forgot I had.  

One of those finds was several tubs of forgotten lentil and vegetable curry.   
Today I turned the curry into delicious pasties or curry puffs if you will.  I added some spinach, a spoonful of curry, turned the pastry over and crimped the edges. A little egg wash and bake for 20 minutes. Yum.

Tip: If your curry is a moist soup style you will need to drain it first. Pasties and lots of liquid don't mix.

5 weeks break - Day 17 exploring Macquarie Rivulet

This afternoon I went for a small bush walk along the edge of the Macquarie Rivulet at the bottom of Macquarie Pass, Green Valley.  I drive this road every day to and from work but I have never stopped to discover its delights.  Oh I've thought about it, said "I should".  But that's the problem with life isn't it? You get into habits, you avoid doing fun things because you have somewhere to be, something you have to do. By taking 5 weeks off work I am able to go where the wind leads me and today it lead me to this idyllic spot.  A short walk from the main road there is this lovely swimming hole where the water trickles over stones.   Here are a few photos from my visit.

 The tree canopy reflected in a muddy puddle always reminds me of my favourite Escher artworks.
 Fine maidenhair fern fronds along the path.
 I don't know wht this plant is but it was popular with bees and butterflies.
Stunning fungi sprouting from a rotting log on the rainforest floor.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

5 weeks break - baking potato bread

This bread is the most amazing recipe as it makes a firm but moist loaf of bread with beautiful texture and a light garlic taste. I've adapted it from I don't remember where sorry.

If you use a bread machine place the ingredients in the order listed. I find it a bit moist and usually have to take out the dough and add a little more flour before its ready to bake. I highly recommend letting it rise and baking in an oven, but feel free to let the bread machine do all the kneading for you.

·         1 cup of water
·      2 tablespoons butter
·      1 egg
·      4 cups bread flour ( I used wholemeal spelt)
·       2/3 cup mashed potato - boil or steam 1 large or 2 medium potatoes and mash with 1 extra tablespoon of butter
·      1 tablespoon sugar
·      1 1/2 teaspoons salt
·      1 clove of garlic peeled and crushed

·      2 teaspoons yeast
      Mix together all ingredients and knead well. Let rise.   Roll out into 2 long sausages. Twist together then place in a lined bread tin.  Leave in warm area to rise again.  Bake until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, 20-30 minutes at 200C.

5 weeks break - Day 16 mushroom foraging

At last its that time of year, the autumn rains have come and the wild mushrooms have begun to appear in the local forests.

Howard and I went out this morning to forage for Saffron milk caps or pine mushrooms. These delectable delights secret a bright orange sap making them very easy to identify.

Its early in the season and plenty of people were out and about but not the number we will see in a few weeks when things get into full swing.  We worked hard for half a basket but got plenty for a few meals.

There is a delightfully simple way to cook these pine mushrooms.
Clean with a dry piece of paper towel then slice the mushroom.  Cook over heat in chilli infused olive oil and crystals of rock salt.  Serve on fresh bread toasted to make a delicious bruschetta.

Sorry I ate it all and didn't take any photos of our cooked dinner. Go cook your own :)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

5 weeks break - day 15 Harper's Mansion, Berrima

I don't know if you ever play the tourist in your own town but I do sometimes and its fun.  A great way to discover new treasures and see your home through fresh eyes.

In Berrima, a small historic village in the Southern Highlands of NSW, there is a splendid grand old home called Harper's Mansion.  It wasn't open to the public when we moved here and when it did open about 6 years ago we'd spend many an hour in the village already so didn't ever go into the house. Until today.

I had a great time!

I was shown around the house by a knowledgeable guide who told me the history of the house from the mid 1830s until 1970 when the last tenant left and the house was a complete ruin. The Southern Highlands chapter of the National Trust own the house and have restored it beautifully. They rely on donations, ticket sales and use of the property for private functions.

From convict beginnings to this grand house in a few short years, sadly James and Mary Harper didn't get to revel in the splendour for long as James died only 9 years after its completion. Situated on top of a hill, the symmetrical two story house has a straightforward charm and would have dominated the village throughout its history.

The extensive gardens are modern but contain many heirloom roses and interesting herbs.

Pineapple sage
The original well from the 1830s

I walked through the maze. My first ever time in a maze. It was so much fun. I went round and round in circles giggling all the time. The other people going through laughed as they kept bumping into people from different directions to the last time they saw them.  The maze is made from Leylandi and it smelt gorgeous, trimmed to perfection. I want to go back and do the maze again.

If you are in the area I recommend a visit: 

Friday, April 10, 2015

5 week break - Day 14 cultivating oyster mushrooms

Back in 2013 I did a course with Milkwood Permaculture in cultivating mushrooms.  I have neglected it over the past year more or less but hey, as I'm on leave I've had the time to start up my cultures again.

Mushroom science 101:

Take an existing mushroom, cut some tissue from the inside and place in a petri dish of agar (seaweed gelatin and food for the growing fungi).  Leave until the dish is full of fluffy white fungi.  Transfer to grain to let it grow some more, then straw and let the mushrooms, or fruit of the fungi, to grow.  Add humidity along the way.

The course was wonderful. Day 1, I was convinced that I could never learn it.  The science hurt my head. If this was what high school science class had taught me I would have loved the classes.  All the theory in the world is useful if you can see no useful application for it. Please hear that science teachers out there.

Overnight I got determined and went back to the course with renewed vigour.  Some wonderfully detailed notes later as well as some practical experience and yes I can cultivate mushrooms from a tissue sample. See some of my other mushroom stories here.

So I got out my kit today, prepared my agar plates and let them cool. Then I took samples from my fresh oyster mushrooms.

Now I wait. I hope I achieved a suitable level of sterility so no foreign matter contaminates my dishes. I'll let you know when I get to the next stage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

5 weeks leave - Day 12 the weather has turned cold and wet

The cold, wet weather has really set in for a few days.

I've used some of my new firestarters already keeping warm.  Today I just stayed home. It was a great day for a sleep in, some reading, yoga in front of the fire.

I am half way through my second week off and I am content with myself all day. The last few nights though ... I wake in the early morning with the remnants of disturbing dreams colouring my mood for a little while. All the dreams have had a common thread of work, of frantic running around and deep feelings of anxiety.  My days are calm and quiet although I have not yet given myself over to a day of complete nothingness. I feel I have to achieve something.  I'm trying to keep a balance between doing and being. I am tired of my sleep being disturbed with that frenetic energy and anxiety though.

I cooked some basil pesto, made a batch of soap too.  But then I took myself and my doggies for a long walk into town. I rugged up against the chill and off we set. It was nice, we walked quickly. No point to it but to get out. Oh and to get some exercise.  We all liked it.

Tonight I am watching the last season of Dr Who and well, blogging.

The other thing I did today was make spinach and ricotta gnocchi which I enjoyed for my dinner.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

5 weeks break - Day 10 rainy day tasks


We got all the mulching complete before the rain came in again. Just as well its been pouring.

So plenty other tasks to move on to:

Howard stripped the paint off a vintage metal rocking chair. I found it at the tip shop a few years ago and repainted it but our local weather isn't kind to metal. The fog wraps its tentacles around everything and makes it rust. All our outdoor furniture needs repainting - on the list for my 5 weeks off.  This chair is a particular comfy favourite.

Meanwhile I decided that a change in weather was on the cards and made a big batch of firestarters.  A lot of people round here sneer at the whole concept of firelighters but when your kindling is damp, or the wind is simply blowing in the wrong direction, some days its hard to get the fire lit. And when you've been at work all day and the house is cold a firelighter is a welcome cheat.

Made from empty egg cartons, wood shavings and melted wax these firelighters are fantastic.  My suggestion - make a production line of it and it doesn't take long to make several dozen. 
My prediction - there won't be enough to get through winter, although I'll come close, so I'll need to do another batch in a few months time.


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