19 Oct 2014

more spring

I know we have just had a Garden Share Collective post, but I really couldn't help sharing my beautiful garden with you again. Because it really is at its peak right now, bursting with colour and textures and ruffles and perfumes. Every window in the house frames a joyous view; every time I drive home and up the driveway, the cares of the day, of the world, melt away.

It seems that only a few weeks ago, I would look out my large front windows (below) and wonder what was wrong with my garden. So dormant, so stunted, so silent. Nothing but twiggy bare things, stubby little shrubs almost belligerent in their refusal to grow.

Then, as I said in the Garden Share post, things began happening, and right now, every day brings a new glory. Over the weekend I found fat bearded iris buds, swollen with promise; a day or two later they are beginning to unfurl their mauvey-blue prettiness. I like clumps of colour together, so I have a red/orange area, a pink corner, a white one, green one, and blue/purple one. I like to explore the different tones and textures within the one colour; plus it makes purchasing decisions easier: 'I need something to fill that corner in the white garden!'.

Which brings us to purchasing. I have been going slightly mad lately, and it wasn't helped when the one of the major hardware chains held its annual 'carpark sale' of everything for the garden. Dad and I deduced later that things weren't necessarily cheaper, but it was a good marketing ploy, and boy it worked for me.

In the past couple of weekends, I have bought and planted french blue cinerarias (smack-bang in the middle of the above picture), punnets of soft-blue ageratum, royal purple petunias (both absent from my garden for a few years now), some autumnal mimulus, hot pink and tropical orange 'million bells' for two new hanging baskets, and a white native hibiscus (one of the few natives in my garden; I also have a very reliable purple one).

I bought four zucchini plants, which are already doing well beneath my heavenly curtain of yellow banksia rose. As a rule (yes, a rule) I do not like yellow flowers (besides daffies) because yellow is the colour of common weeds (piddle-the-beds!), but there is no mistaking this fluffy climbing rose for a weed. Magnificent, and very good at blocking views of neighbours' yards.

I also finally got some strawberry plants for my beautiful retro pots that mum had given me months ago. Four different varieties of strawberries in the top; when mum and dad came up recently, mum bought along along some little pretties from her garden and filled the other pockets. There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about the design of these pots that I have always loved, and I am very pleased to now have two of them.

And here is what you have all been waiting for. Okay, well, it's definitely what I have been waiting for. Tomatoes are IN! Ten plants, nine varieties, all grown from seed by dad. Dad demonstrated how they were to be planted, then while he conveniently knicked off to (another) hardware sale, mum and I got to it. Well done us; it wasn't that difficult actually. The hard part is to come - as I was checking them last night (still all upright and healthy), I realised I have to start remembering what to do with laterals. That's very stressful.

Finally, finally, I give you my renovated outdoor area. Over the winter months, I had the flakey, rotty, wonky wooden frame and brittle, discoloured, just-plain-ugly laserlite roofing of my outdoor area completely pulled down - and rebuilt in lovely new-new-new materials (not by me, or by dad; by professionals). I treated myself to new-new-new outdoor furniture (not hand-me-down or wonky tip-shop finds) and have been busily 'decorating' the space, re-arranging the furniture layout many times, moving pots and these very stylish cone-shaped hanging baskets around (here? or here?). Mum and I made new slip covers for the grey cushions from an old but lushly tropical-print doona cover. I love sitting here with a cup of tea and a magazine, looking out over my garden and watching the blackbirds scruff for worms for babies somewhere, and listening to them warble. I think too they are enjoying this time of year, and my colourful, bursting garden.

5 Oct 2014

spring garden share collective, october

This year, spring seems especially beautiful and vibrant. From the flaring purple of the echiums that loom large along the main roads, the deep raspberry and ballerina blush of blossom trees, and the limey, lively iridescence of my own birch trees, colour is cheerfully assaulting my eyes at every turn. The daffies may be withered and crisped, but the bluebells, a pale lavender-blue, have taken their place, as have the snowy white of my giant freesias.

But close your eyes and you still don’t miss out: I can breathe in deep lungfuls of sweet jasmine, hanging heavily over fences, common yellow freesias, and the best smell-of-summer, freshly cut grass.

The weather is typically chaotic, with a stifling summer-like high of 28 one day (more likely in January than September) followed, somewhat predictably and ridiculously, by snow-on-the-mountain a couple of days later. But mostly, we are enjoying the fine, bright days. My friend V said to me, in the depths of winter, don’t you think it’s weird that we live in a place where for six months — or more — we wished we didn’t? And she’s so right; all of winter is spent waiting, growling and sometimes despairingly, waiting for now, for these lovely days, these weeks of firsts: the first fat blossom bud on the apricots, first tender leaves on the birches, first proud tulip, first fragile sprays of native orchids.

Mum and I marvel how each day brings new surprises in the garden. ‘Check your ixias / lilac tree / bluebell patch’ or ‘My viburnum tree has small green pom poms — has yours?’. Like old men entering their prize blooms in church-hall flower shows, we do get competitive about our native orchids and our begonias (first, biggest, best) but mostly these conversations are prompts to look out for and enjoy nature’s joyous awakening.

Now that dad has completed my vegie garden, and the warmer weather is finally here, I am very much enjoying being out in my backyard. The form of the garden beds brings a pleasing structure and sense of purpose to the space: here is where I’ll grow my food, here is the lovely woodchip-and-paving-stone pathways, and then here is the space for flowers, to bring bees and colour to the garden.

Yes, the space has a very positive and purposeful feel now — not so slapdash or amateurish. I guess only I am aware of that feeling. It’s a joy to walk along those proper paths, to work in the beds, water the pots lining the edges, and of course, start sowing crops.

So far, I am starting modestly. Beetroot and small globe carrots along some of the edges, companion marigolds and a rescued pot of pyrethrum in the corners. Peas, beans and scarlet broad beans; frustratingly, I had to re-sow the beans as only one seed in two rows germinated. I’m being sensible this year and doing only a couple of rows of each right now; in a few weeks’ time I’ll install more trellises and more peas and bean seeds. Hopefully this will produce successive or staggered harvests —something that in my usual spring enthusiasm to sow the entire space now I have never before mastered.

Plum has finally put on her finery: only a small corsage of two delicate white flowers, but now, a sturdy coat of bright green leaves along all her branches. Such a relief; she no longer looks like a dead stick but a happy, healthy young sapling with her green arms outstretched, as if to say, for us all, ‘Spring is here, and life is good!’.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.

21 Sep 2014

eating my greens

Reading about healthy eating is one of my favourite things. I’m always lugging home the latest library books on wholefoods, superfoods and supergrains; if a magazine about healthy living lands in the tearoom at work, I quickly snaffle it up.

I was deep in the latest testimonial about the powers of kale when — pow! — it hit me: there’s a real disconnect between what I share with you here and how I actually eat and cook.

Lately all I’ve served you is cake and pudding and boozy brownies. If you only knew me through Dig In, you might deduce that I am a sugar-hazed cake obsessive, buzzing my way from one sweet morsel to the next. But these treats are really only a small portion of what’s happening on my dinner plate and in my lunch box.

Okay, I have cake very day (sometimes twice a day). But I also have endless serves of oats, walnuts and almonds; broccoli, sweet potato and silverbeet; apples, bananas and tangelos; brown rice, quinoa and chickpeas; peas, beans and a whole rainbow of other fresh wholesome things (put like that, it sounds like I’m constantly foraging and must surely be the size of a house. I’m not).

During these cooler months, I’ve been enjoying the vibrant tomato and beetroot sauces I roasted and froze over the summertime. I’ve simmered a fabulous version of my pasta sauce, made winter-hearty with the addition of earthy lentils and deep red wine instead of white. Hmmm, so rich and chunky, so perfect atop a bowl of rigatoni and garlanded with ribbons of dark silverbeet.

My favourite new recipe this season has been Hugh F-W’s north African vegie stew. Over various iterations, it has morphed into a Spanish root vegie version, with chilli and smoked paprika (my favourite savoury spice), capsicum and sweet potato and parsnip — instead of Hugh’s cinnamon and turmeric (ugh, my least favourite), butternut and pasta. But I did keep the chickpeas and red lentils. Many years ago I used to think chickpeas were weird — something eaten joyfully (or maybe not) only by some of the scruffier, sandalwood-scented people of my uni days — but now I love these nutty little balls of goodness, especially in a stew like this.

And of course, super-chunky vegie slices appear regularly in my lunchbox, all year round:

Mmm, that was a good one.

So why am I not writing about all this? If my diet is more brown rice than brownies, why such an unbalanced chronicle?

Well, photo taking is not my greatest skill. It's a bit hit and miss, especially in cold winter light.

Or of pasta sauces, apparently:

So that holds me back from sharing some of those delicious meals with you (they were delicious, believe me, despite looking like prison slop).

Mostly I eat simple, straightforward (but never dull, not to my tastebuds) meals. Cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli are featuring heavily recently; mum and dad have a couple of old PSB plants that are having a revival and going crackers —you can stand there and watch them pop up new florets (that’s them in the first pic). That’s fine by me, especially as my veg garden is minimal right now. I love broccoli for its flavour and its antioxidants, and I love homegrown stuff even more.

But I’m certain no one needs a new stir fry recipe. But maybe — light bulb moment! — I don’t need to give you a recipe. Some of my favourite bloggers’ posts talk about food without a recipe at all (like this recent post by the Food Sage), yet I still feel satisfied by the experience and interaction.

Heck, we have our own piles of recipe books or pages torn from magazines; we don’t need to add another to the list. And I’ve said it before: I don’t necessarily want you to make my lemon delicious pudding, but be inspired to hunt out your grandmother’s favourite that’s been handed down, and make that again.

So please be assured, I do eat my greens — and sometimes it feels like I’m eating everyone else’s as well — even if I don’t tell you about it. Maybe I’ll make a better effort to. Or maybe, just like sharing a good cuppa and a crisp biscuit with a friend, it’s lovelier to tell you about the sweet treats in life.

7 Sep 2014

my pantry

And when she got there, the cupboard was …

Perfectly neat and organised.

What can I say – I’m an editor, you know; I like order and logic in my pantry (and cutlery drawer and linen press) just as I do at work in the structure of an annual report or new website hierarchy.

It’s an affliction that at times (like 9.30 at night when I should be in bed but I’m struck by the urge to sort out the laundry supplies) I know is a bit silly, but mostly it creates calm and control for me. As in: I may not have any say in the cost of petrol or mortgage rates, but I can make sure my tea towels are all folded and facing the same way.

I like to regularly take stock of the pantry (and cutlery drawer and linen press), usually after I’ve done a big grocery shop or purchased something new, and I have to find a space for it. I don’t have a large pantry — beyond what you see here, there’s only a drawer of tinned beans, cooking chocolate, breakfast stuff like oats, and onions and potatoes (in my next life, I am having one of those separate pantry rooms. My goodness – imagine the scope for organising a whole pantry room!). So it makes sense to only keep what I’m currently into right in front of me, and banish anything else to the upper cupboards that I need a step ladder to reach.

For example, you’ll see a lone vase of spaghetti on the carbs shelf (yes, that’s called the carb shelf). Right now, I’m only having pasta once a week, so I don’t need multiple containers of rigatoni and orecchiette and caserecce and risoni taking up valuable real estate. If I want them, I know where they are.

Instead, there is wholemeal couscous, quinoa, brown rice and what prompted the latest deck-chair re-shuffle, packets of brown rice ready-combined with quinoa or lentils (an aside: I am fully aware I could combine the brown rice, quinoa and lentil I already have in my pantry instead of shelling out four times the price for the convenience, but … it was a moment of supermarket weakness. I’ll do it myself next time, mum).

I serve brown rice with everything lately – I’m borderline-obsessed with its nutty, chewy healthiness - and am also keen to expand my repertoire of grains and legumes (all that superfoody goodness). So what you don’t see here are the bags of adzuki beans and black eyed beans I bought recently (and for the first time) from the local health food shop. As pretty as they are, I handed them straight to mum for her to cook in her pressure-cooker and divvy them up into 1-cup portions for me. Thanks mum! They’ll go into the freezer, the organisation of which is a complete other post.

Notice all the matching spice jars? I am also a marketer’s dream, buying those neat glass jars for the serenity their uniformity promised. I’ve been decanting the loose-bagged stuff into them ever since.

And finally, take a look at the baking shelf. No expensive brand names for me, dear reader — I store my flours, sugars and other dry goods in recycled coffee jars from mum, and tall oats containers from a neighbour of hers.

Really, I need a couple of baking shelves (don’t we all?), but what I’ve done is put everything onto baking sheets, so I can slide them in and out to reach the less-used ingredients (cornflour, custard powder) jammed darkly at the back. But even though they are out of sight, they are still uniformly contained like the front-of-house stuff. Just because.

Recently I did an early spring-clean through my kitchen, seriously assessing how often I used certain gadgets and containers and cookware and bowls. I didn’t toss anything out – I gave it back to mum, who had given the lion’s share of it to me in the first place (does anyone else pass stuff back and forth between their mother?). It’s a bit of a safe ‘out’, doing that: I can’t stand chucking anything good and useful – even if I’m not actually using it – so I pass that burden onto someone else. Which is probably how and why mum gave it to me in the first place.

And since then, I feel a lot calmer and lighter when I’m in the kitchen. I only need one set of tongs, not three; I don’t need cheap plastic containers (usually missing a lid) falling on my head whenever I open the upper cupboards; I want to get to the couscous without having to scrabble past the basmati. As much as I am driven by consumerist desires as the next woman (see spice jars, ready-combined brown rice and quinoa), I also find it peaceful to have Just What I Need.

So next time a bag of sugar falls on you as you open your pantry doors, think of me. Better still, call me up and invite me over! What fun I’d have sorting it out. I’m an editor, you know. It’s not just a job; it’s a way of life.

31 Aug 2014

garden share collective: september

I was beginning to think I’d have to skip this month’s Garden Share Collective because there was nothing to report.

But there’s been real action in the garden just recently, with Dad starting to box up my vegie beds.

We — or more accurately, he — is not finished yet, for a couple of reasons. First, finding all the timber we needed took much longer than he expected. Many of the timber yards were very low on stock; apparently all our Tassie timber is being shipped to NSW for the housing industry.
Second, my dad is super-accurate and a complete perfectionist. ‘That’s close enough’ is not in his vocabulary (before retiring, Dad was in earthmoving; he did jobs such as the Eastern Creek raceway and Sydney Airport’s third runway, where levels had to be millimetre precise). So even though these are ‘just’ vegie garden beds, Dad was uber-obsessed with getting everything perfectly flush and properly aligned. The fact that none of my perimeter fences or existing, inherited paths and borders are square presented frustrations and logistics to be overcome. But he’s getting there.

I am immensely grateful for the hard physical (and emotional!) work Dad has done for me. Because it’s allowed me to dream of crops and produce never before possible. In fact, I really have to improve my gardening game now to live up to the brilliant standard of these structures.
The new bed (dug by my friend J; on the left in the pic below) is already destined for ten tomato plants. Corn is another crop that will now be possible because of the extra space.
All of the beds, once they are topped up with some extra ‘vegie mix’ soil, will be considerably deeper than they were (the framing is 30cm deep). So I’m now planning borders of root vegies — beetroot! carrots! parsnip! — that couldn’t be grown before because the beds were shallow or full of the pebbly fill that we found beneath the lawn. I am imagining leafy borders of these root veg plus some low-level companion plants such as marigolds and poached egg plants.

So there’s still nothing new to report to you on the growing front (garlic, kale and silverbeet is going along nicely), but I’m filled with real excitement about the possibilities to come as the frames are completed — and the days grow lighter and the soil warms up — much more so than in previous years.
After reading Garden Deli’s glorious English summer ode to sunflowers, I’ve decided to try some in my revamped space, both for their happiness and their bee-attracting qualities. And in the plot where the bay tree was (at the end of the path in that pic above), not a new lemon as previously pondered, but a patch of annual companion plants that hopefully won’t be too bothered by the mucky bay roots I haven’t been able to completely remove. Pretty for bees and for me.

The weather in Hobart has been unseasonably warm of late, and spring bulbs and blossoms and other beauties are lifting our spirits after a gloomy winter. One of my favourites is pussy willow. These branches were a gift from mum; we both love the metamorphosis from soft grey kittens to the explosion of yellowy fireworks (see another pic here).
It’s a beautiful time to be outside right now, though many of us are being realistic — September and October can be colder, frostier and snowier than winter proper. But right now we are enjoying these glorious days. I hope you are too.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs. 

24 Aug 2014

lemon delicious pudding

Ladies, start your squeezers! And grab your go-to recipe for lemon delicious pudding. Here’s mine.

I can’t believe I haven’t shared this with you before now. That I haven’t made this in the two years of Dig In. Two years — maybe more — without a lemon delicious!

What a sin. When it is so simple to make (slop it all together in a bowl), so fun to make (then plop and stir stiff egg whites into that citrusy soup) and yes, it has to be said, so delicious to eat: pale but sharp, with a tang to cut thru the winter blues and greys and cold and wet. A sponge as light as any proper sponge cake, with a seductive, addictive layer of creaminess lurking beneath.

It is decadently delicious while freshly cooked, warm from the oven — the sponge seems to crackle it is so light; but fridge-cold, snow-on-the-mountain-cold, it’s rich and smooth and surprisingly, just like a lemony cheesecake. In truth, and judging by how often I slink back to the fridge for another little spoonful, I prefer it like this.

There are lots of new recipes to get thru, but I hope it’s not two years before I make this favourite pudding again.

Lemon delicious pudding
Most likely from my mum.
  • Preheat oven to 160, boil the kettle for some water.
  • Grease a 6-cup baking dish and sit it in a baking tray; you’ll be setting up a steam bath for the pudding.
  • Separate three eggs, and whisk the whites to stiff peaks.
  • In a bowl, combine ½ cup SR flour, ¾ cup sugar, the zest of one lemon (at least!), 80 to 100 mls of lemon juice, 80 gms of butter that’s been melted, 3 egg yolks and 1 ½ cups milk.
  • Fold the stiff egg whites in the lemony mix.
  • Pour the pudding mix into the baking dish, and sit the baking dish into the baking tray. Now pop that in the oven, and then pour the boiled water into the tray (I find it easier to do it ‘in the oven’ than carry a tray of boiled water across the kitchen). The water should come at least half way up side of the pudding dish.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes or until just set; cover with foil if necessary to prevent too much colour.
  • Enjoy warm or cold.

17 Aug 2014

boozy brownies

B has told me that some of my posts make her laugh out loud, which often surprises me. I may occasionally aim for witty, but I never think of myself as a funny writer. Not intentionally anyway.

To me, the writing below (excuse the pun) takes the cake; it cracks me up every time I follow this recipe. It's an advertisement by an American sugar company. First I was seduced by the picture of the brownies, but then by the hilarious copy (read it in your best Southern 'girlfriend' voice). I really have to share it with you verbatim - this will make you laugh out loud!

Cocoa brownies to heal a heart broken by a man who promises it wasn't you, it was him, and by him he means a girl named Stacey Lee

Come on - you have to make these now, right?

Count the years you dated. If it exceeds 5, double the recipe. Oven, 350. 8 inch pan, greased. In a bowl: 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted. Not margerine, butter. Diet starts tomorrow. 1 cup all natural Sugar in the Raw. You can sub 1/2 cup zero calorie Stevia Extract in the Raw with 1/2 cup Sugar in the Raw but a time like this calls for the good ol' stuff. Mix, then add 1/2 cup flour. It's ok, today calls for carbs. 1 tspn of baking powder. Wonder what it does? Don't. Just add it. 3 eggs, yolks and all, 1 tspn of vanilla extract, 1/3 cup dutch cocoa powder, 1 cup chopped walnuts. Now stir it up, throw it in the oven for 20, and cry till you hear the timer. Let them cool for 10, then devour that pan of chocolatey goodness, girlfriend. Uh, we mean friend.

Now that makes me laugh.

Boozy brownies
Adapted (translated) from a Stevia ad.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep a brownie tin.
  • In a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt 125 gms butter with 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar and 1 tspn vanilla.
  • If you wish to, stir thru a good 1/4 cup of Tia Maria or Frangelico; I'm going to try Stone's Ginger Wine next. I find the alcoholic versions end up fudgier, and go down a treat with your workmates at morning tea.
  • Remove from heat and stir in 3 eggs, then 1/2 cup plain flour, 1 tspn baking powder, 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I use normal Cadbury's Bourneville, not dutch), and 1 cup walnut pieces.
  • Transfer to brownie tin and bake 20-25 minutes until the edges start to come away and feels just firm; as with any brownie, you want it to be still moist.
  • Enjoy, broken heart or not.

9 Aug 2014

almond crisp biscuits

I have started and scratched out and started again and faltered and wondered what exactly I should focus on when telling you about these biscuits. So many possibilities! So I’m going to tell you everything.
  • They are easy to make. One bowl, four main ingredients, and only ten minutes in the oven: simplicity itself. I’m usually dubious about those minimalist-ingredient recipes, but if you also hold those prejudices, cast them aside and get out your mixing bowl.
  • They look like perfect, mass-produced store-bought biscuits, with their flawlessly round shape and little crinkles and cracks. And I am ashamed to admit this thrills me! Even mum said in a delighted tone, ‘they look like ones out of a packet!’.
  • They are short and crisp (as the name promises), as light as air and leaving that weirdly enjoyable puckery feeling in your mouth (which begs for a cup of tea). They are also nicely plain in their flavour — neither sweet nor almondy, just plain — which means it’s all about that terrifically short texture (and perfectly round shape).
I would also like to declare that these are a fitting showcase for my new-found loyalty to good quality foil-wrapped butter. Until recently, home-brand paper-wrapped butter was fine by me (I know; I can see you shuddering and shaking your head. Please do not judge me). But reading my new ‘Bake Eat Love’ book, I decided to switch to foil-wrapped butter, because Annekka advised the opaque foil kept butter better, safe from fridge odours (Anneka also advises against using the microwave to soften butter, but I disagree. She obviously doesn’t cook in my kitchen during the winter time, where some days I think it’s colder outside the fridge than in!)

Anyway, I digress. I don’t think my butter is plagued by the problem of fridge smells (I don’t think my fridge is either), but I thought I’d give her advice a go.

Standing at the supermarket chiller section, this meant choosing a non-home-brand butter (therefore a twice-the-price butter). Which one to buy was made easier once I spotted a Tasmanian brand; I’m trying to buy local where I can, though local in this case means the north of the state and almost 300 kilometres away.

But I digress, again. I was astounded by the superior creamy quality of this butter. Whether that’s because it was foil-wrapped or Tassie-made I can’t say, but I now realise that not all butter is created equal, and I have been using this for all my baking ever since. Including these old-school almond crisps.

No matter what I have said so far about these biscuits (and butter), maybe it should just be: try them yourself!

Almond crisp biscuits
Adapted from the Australia Women’s Weekly 'Food We Love'. Makes about 15.
  • Preheat oven to 200 and prep a couple of baking trays.
  • Cream 125 gms soft (foil-wrapped, Tassie-made) butter with ¼ cup vanilla sugar for a good few minutes until it’s light in colour and very creamy.
  • Fold thru 1 cup SR flour and ¼ cup almond meal.
  • Roll small tablespoons into balls, flatten slightly and place on baking trays. Sprinkle each with a few almond slivers or flakes and press in gently.
  • Bake for ten minutes, remove from oven and stand on trays for a few minutes before transferring to racks to cool.