Monday, 30 January 2012

Tell her she’s dreaming!

Today's pick
Picked  - Today’s pick is in the picture!

I am dreaming… but if I had more space I’d grow:
  • Tamarillo -  tastes like a curious combination of tomatoes and passionfruit with beautiful egg-shaped dark red fruit
  • Passionfruit -  these straight from your vine are juicier and more fragrant than the shop bought ones but they take up so much room and you have to have the right spot
  • Different citrus – citrus grow well in Sydney, I have lemons and limes, but what about a really tart mandarin or a grapefruit or a blood orange?
  •  More zucchinis, beans, cucumber, tomatoes – “but don’t you have trouble dealing with the glut”, you ask? “Yes”, she says, but if I staggered the planting then I could extend the season and avoid the hungry gap between picking all the summer produce and getting the autumn glut, and I could also stagger the broccoli, cabbage, snow peas, cauliflower (and I could give up work and..., and...)

If I could access them I’d grow:
  • Padron -  I’ve talked about those ( see padron and other unattainables), going into more detail about my love for the pardon will just  make me crave them more
  •  Finger limes - ditto with above.  I fancy Sydney rock oysters with  just a few finger lime pearls to garnish
If I could get them to grow, I’d grow: 
  •  Soybeans  - for that lovely Japanese snack – sticky steamed pods
  • Better garlic - I had a bit of success this last year, I got some decent sized bulbs and am still using them, but bigger bulbs would make the home-grown ones easier to use.   My little ones still make it easier to grab the big fat shop-bought ones because they are easier to peel.
Tips appreciated!

AND now you are ABLE to comment!  In my incompetence I had set the blog up restricting comments.  That is all fixed now and open to all. I am learning!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Lemons conquered!

Lemon Tart
The two baskets of lemons picked or gathered from the mulch a few weeks ago and about another basket full that has accumulated since have been reduced to just five individuals.  Persistence has paid off. Lemons in practically everything and today’s effort with yet another lemon tart have made things a little more manageable!

I could of course have made something else to knock off the last of the pile but the lemon tart (see Going back in time for recipe)  is just so delicious!

My next mission? To deal with the tomatoes!

Bird list

We thought that the blog was a good way of recording the birds that visit and fly over our patch.  Here are the birds we have seen in or from the yard since moving in 7 years ago.  Each year we seem to have more and more variety as the garden matures and the native plants get bigger and flower more. # denotes introduced 

Fly overs only
  • corella
  • galah
  • kookaburra
  • white-faced heron on patrol in the patch for skinks
  • raven 
    • black-faced cuckoo-shrike
    • figbird (rare visitor)
    • grey butcherbird (rare visitor)
    • koel
    • magpie
    • New Holland honeyeater
    • noisy miner
    • pied currawong
    • rainbow lorikeet
    • red wattlebird
    • sacred ibis (rare visitor)
    • silvereye
    • spotted pardalote
    • sulfur-crested cockatoo
    • superb fairy-wren
    • white-faced heron (rare vistor)
    • willie wagtail
    • yellow-tailed black cockatoo (rare visitor)
    • zebra finch (rare visitor)
    • bul bul #
    • common myna # 
    • feral pigeon #
    • Rhode Island red chicken # (came over the fence from next door for a scratch in our patch)
    • spotted dove #

    Never again! What was I thinking?

    • cucumber
    • lemons
    • a punnet of tomatoes
    • chillies
    Last night’s san choi bao?  Well, the cos lettuce was fab! Crisp, crunchy, sweet, strong enough to hold the filling - great!  And the filling? What was I thinking!?  I bought a packet from the supermarket!  

    I don’t buy processed food generally except the odd can of tinned tomatoes in the off season, the odd can of chick peas or red kidney beans. I like freshly prepared food, that is why I grow and cook. So what was I thinking when I bought  ‘a Marion’?  Obviously seduced by the Masterchef  brand. If Marion  put her name to it, it must be good right?

    So I bought  ‘a Marion’ box -  Marion calls it san choy bow -  I call it san choi bao. I suspect the difference is irrelevant given that it would be written in Chinese - just different transliterations? Anyway, I guess you can’t go wrong with vermicelli  noodles and chopped peanuts which were included in the box. Both of which I had in the cupboard anyway! But the brown sauce I thought was horrible. Too salty, too heavy-handed and leaving a lingering aftertaste that I can’t really describe (it was not pleasant). I tried to add to the flavours (and the colour) by adding lots of chopped coriander and chilli but the overwhelming taste was the sauce. And then there was the pile of packaging left over.

    So it has inspired me to look up a recipe that I will use next time.

    San choi  bao
    This recipe is adapted from a recipe called ‘Witlof with chilli pork’ in The Flavour of Asia by Jan Castorina and Dimitra Stais, a cookbook given to me by one of my aunts. I guess I am taking liberties by calling this san choi bao.  I am just interpreting the dish as a mince mixture with Asian flavours in a lettuce-like cup. This recipe has the added benefit of including a good amount of cherry tomatoes - another way to use the glut.

    1 tablespoon oil
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 tablespooon finely chopped ginger
    4 spring onions, finely chopped
    ½ teaspoon shrimp paste
    1 tablespoon chopped lemon grass
    2 teaspoons sambal oelek
    150g pork fillet, finely chopped (or pork mince?)
    250g cherry tomatoes
    1 tablespoon coconut cream
    3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
    1 head of cos lettuce broken up (recipe originally called for 1 witlof)

    Head oil in frying pan and add garlic, ginger and spring onions, shrimp paste, lemon grass and sambal oelek. Cook until spring onions are soft.

    Add the pork and stir until pork turns white. Stir in tomatoes and coconut cream and bring to boil. Simmer uncovered until it thickens and the tomatoes are well cooked. Stir in coriander.

    Separate lettuce leaves wash and drain. Spoon mixture into lettuce leaves just before serving.

    Saturday, 28 January 2012

    Struggling with multiple gluts

    lots of little tomatoes
    Picked (over the last few days)
    • 6 eggplants
    • 3 punnets of tomatoes (berries and cherries)
    • 2 cos lettuce
    • 2 cucumbers
    • handful of beans
    • spring onions
    • green-yellow sweet chillies
    • chillies
    • lemons
    • mint
    • thyme
    Still a struggle to go to work  after taking such a long break  off over Christmas so the opportunities for a long weekend provided by Australia Day falling on a Thursday was too good to let slip so I took the Friday off as well.  Time for cooking and eating.

    Still so much cos lettuce in the garden - we need to eat more. So the cos I have picked will be eaten tonight as a san choi bao.  Normally people use iceberg lettuce but I don’t have any of that growing and a cos creates a nice longish boat-like scoop to hold the filling and its crisp and firm so, why not?
    I never grow iceberg. I grown the more open –hearted varieties generally, and a bit of cos (which I guess IS a lettuce that hearts isn’t it?). Lettuces are pretty trouble free in my experience. I have only had  trouble if the season is very wet and the soil isn’t draining properly or if you have mulched up too close to the plant. Then they can get a little soggy and slimy. But given space and drainage then they offer no problems.
    As well as the cos I have a few heirlooms in as well and should get raising some seeds to put a new batch in.

    Today I made a batch of my favourite sweet tomato and chilli jam. I make this about every two years because one batch lasts me for two years. It’s a great way to use up lots of tomatoes. I confess I didn’t use my own tomatoes cause you need 2 kilos of them for this recipe and because you really need to peel them. Ever tried peeling cherry tomatoes?  So I bought some egg tomatoes from the green grocer. 

    Tomato chilli jam
    Tomato Chilli Jam
    (makes about 6 jam jar-sized jars)
    * from the garden

    This recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens,  A Growers Guide to Vegetables -  one of those magazine–like publications you find in newsagents. My lovely brother bought this for me ages ago and it has become one of my favourite veggie growing references. I remember brother Matt saying to me, “the vegies in this book look like they come from a ‘real’ garden”... I might have said it myself!

    The original recipe doesn’t cook the jam on for long enough for my liking, and I have never timed how long I cook it for but you will notice it changing colour (getting darker) and getting a sticky jammy-like look after some time.  Just keep it moving so it doesn’t stick -  it needs some dedication to make but it is worth it.
    2 large red capsicums
    8 red chillies*, finely chopped (original recipe calls for 4)
    2 kilos tomatoes peeled and chopped (definitely peel the tomatoes!)
    4 green apples, peeled and grated
    4 garlic gloves*, crushed
    1 tablespoon lemon rind*, grated
    ¾ cup lemon juice*
    3 ½ cups sugar

    Cut capsicum into large pieces, remove seeds and membrane.  Put under hot grill to blacken skin. Put in a plastic bag and sweat to loosen skin, wash skin off.  Chop finely.

    Place capsicum, chilli, tomatoes, apple, garlic and lemon rind in a large pan and simmer till the pieces start breaking up. Add lemon juice and sugar and cook on keeping the mixture moving. Cook until the mixture changes colour and gets ‘jammy’ and the individual ingredients start melding together. Remove from heat and ladle into hot sterilised jars. 

    Seal and cool jars before storing. Once opened place in fridge.  I leave to mature in the jar for about 2 weeks before opening my first one. This sticky jam is heaven with cold meats, left-over roast lamb, a cold left-over sausage …
    In  not using my tomatoes in this recipe I have been left with a massive bowl full of cherry and berry tomatoes! These have to be used tomorrow.

    Over the last few days we have made a few eggplant dishes dealing with some of the glut. 

    BBQ eggplant
    This is one of the simplest things and yummiest things to do with an eggplant.  Simply put on the BBQ and roast till the inside is soft and sloppy and preferably before they explode (yep, it can happen!). Take off and cut open and eat with lemon and black pepper. 

    Roasted Eggplant with haloumi and pomegranate
    This recipe is from Organic Gardener Magazine Sept/Oct 2011. It’s an amended  Matthew Evans’ recipe and is suggested as an entrĂ©e but we made it as a main - to deal with the glut. The original calls for one eggplant and from the photo it is a typical egg-shaped one but David used our long thin ones. It is a surprisingly delicious combination of flavours and textures.
    long thin eggplants*
    olive oil
    1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
    1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    2 teaspoons lemon juice
    6 mint leaves*
    1 packet of haloumi
    1 pomegranate seeds removed
    Preheat oven to 180C. Prick eggplants and bake until tender (not sloppy). Allow to cool then peel. Cut in half. Arrange on baking tray and place in oven to reheat a little.
    To make the sauce, whisk oil, molasses, vinegar, lemon juice, mint and salt and pepper in a bowl.
    Fry cheese in a non-stick pan, with a little olive oil if sticking, until brown.
    Serve by placing eggplant on plate topping with haloumi.  Spoon over dressing and scatter with pomegranate seeds.  

    Tuesday, 24 January 2012

    Laurie and Keats

    Laurie and Keats
    • 3 eggplants
    • 5 spring onions
    • Half a punnet of tomatoes
    ‘Laurie’ and ‘Keats’ are our names for the pairs of rainbow lorikeets that visit our yard. We think there are at least two different pairs that turn up - a noisy pair that ‘talk’ a lot to each other while eating  and a quiet pair that you hardly notice except when they spook.  And then there is ‘Solo’ a lone bird who sometimes visits.

    One of the pairs - I think the noisy pair - has recently turned up with a youngster, who we unimaginatively call ‘Baby’. Baby doesn’t really seem much smaller than his (lets imagine he is a lad) parents – you cant notice a big difference in his feather colouring either but his beak is a little browner.  It's how baby behaves that sets him apart.

    He is clumsy! This includes him mucking about in the small eucalypt hanging upside down, sitting on small branches that bend or don’t take his weight etc. Then there is his flappy flying and an inability to land on the balcony rail. It takes him several goes. 

    He also has a penchant for sitting inside the seed bowl - his parents politely sit on the side of the bowl 'tutting' I expect! Baby also doesn’t really eat seed yet - he just picks the seed or the husks up and fiddles with it while sitting in the bowl. Then there is his pestering for crop feeding.  I guess they are trying hard to wean him thus the visit to our seed?  But he insists in sitting up close to parents and pecking at their beaks for a feed.

    I have recently been told that they probably shouldn’t be eating sunflower seeds and if we are going to put food out we should put out food suitable for nectar eaters (a special mix which I will look into) or fruit, which when I put out they never eat!

    Sunday, 22 January 2012

    Tomatoes, pests and glue traps

    • tomatoes
    • cucumber
    • spring onions - 2 punnets
    • zucchini seeds
    The zebra tomatoes that were weak and spindly because they were too shaded by the wattle?  Well they have enjoyed the extra sun, thickened up and are now flowering. Hopefully I will get more fruit now.

    I have had a fair bit of trouble with the zebras and not just because of the shade. If you are in NSW or Qld you will know of the lovely fruit fly! It is because of this pest that I usually only plant the smaller tomatoes (cherries and this year berries as well). It seems easier to control the fruit fly on these smaller tomatoes. 
    But tempted by their lovely stripy skin and my already mentioned penchant for a fashionable ‘rainbow’ of tomatoes (just like the cook books) tempted me as did the claims of their fabulous flavour.  So I committed and, in an attempt to beat the fruit fly, searched for solutions.

    I don’t spray - you probably guessed that by now. We are a small household and if I lose some produce to pests or birds then that’s fine – I grow enough. So this year, tempted by gluey plastic sheets, hung these up around the patch and very soon I was catching the blighters!  There is no poison, just a sticky yellow surface and fruit fly and other pests like white fly the house fly and mozzies get stuck. I cannot say that there have not been unintentional victims -  I have had the odd lady beetle and skink get stuck - but these have been very few (can count them on one hand) and I have plenty of unharmed lady beetles doing their own type of pest control for me.And plenty of skinks running thru the leaf litter and mulch.

    These glue sheets, as well as bringing the fruit in before they are too ripe,  seems to have worked for some fruit but still the zebras are much more prone to fruit fly maggots than the little ones.

    I rarely buy spring onions from the green grocer (cant actually remember the last time I did).  Instead I stagger planting spring onion seedlings thru the year.  Spring onions from the garden are a treat, when you pull then from the ground their hollow leaves pop.  When you cut them they have a juiciness and they taste sweeter than shop bought ones. I guess I have three lots of spring onion s in at the moment - all of different ages to keep me in supply.  Today I planted two more punnets.

    Saturday, 21 January 2012

    Padron and other unattainables

    • a punnet of tomatoes
    • 2 zucchinis
    • 5 eggplants
    • oregano
    • chives
    Well the seeds I scrapped out of the padron I bought at Everleigh Market and tried to raise?  Third attempt and still haven't managed to get them out of the soil.  I am so dissapointed!

    I would so like to grow my own padron.  I fell in love with them in when I first had them in tapas bars in Spain. Love at first bite! They are chubby little green chillies that can be mild and sweet lulling you into a false sense of confidence and then, WAM, you get a hot one!  They are typically lightly fried until their skins peel back, tossed with sea salt and served with drinks (nice with a fino).

    I have never seen them in seed catalogues or at the nursery or in the green grocer  - just at a stall at Everleigh Markets.

    Does anyone have any plants growing? Willing to share some seeds?

    And while we are on the hunt.... does any one know where I can buy a finger lime plant in Sydney?


    Friday 20th Jan

    • punnet of tomatoes
    • 2 big cos lettuce
    • 5 fat beetroot
    • Italian parsley
    The garden is booming along. The beetroot pushing out of the ground, chillies are ripening and the next batch of cucumber are fattening in their nests of sugar cane straw that surround the plant. I have to think of beetroot and cucumber recipes...

    The eggplants that I planted out - the ones I was afraid might be a little too woody as seedlings?  They are ripping along obviously enjoying the space outside their seedling punnet. Even little limes are forming on the two espaliered tahitian lime plants -  success from stink bug surveillance!

    But tonight I have to eat cos lettuce -  they look fabulous -  fat but not too far gone, and they have had enough water to make them sweet and crisp.  What else do you do with cos lettuce but caesar salad!

    Caesar salad

    cos lettuce*
    bacon cut into small stips
    bread cut into small chunky bits
    parmesan grated
    poached eggs
    Italian parsley*
    chicken breast cut into chunky bits
    home-made mayonnaise

    Wash and break up cos lettuce and spin. Make homemade mayonnaise (I do this by feel but you might want to look up a recipe the first time. I keep garlic out of the mayonnaise for a cos salad).

    Fry off bacon and remove from pan, fry bread bits in bacon fat and remove. Clean pan and cook chicken chunks and remove.  Poach eggs. Pull it all toegther and dribble over the mayonnaise as you like.

    Techno-bimbo backlog!

    Thurs 19th Jan

    A combination of technological incompetance and returning to work has made a mess of my blog entries!  Nearly 2 weeks without writing! But now I am back on board in the blogging stakes but its hard to really think of all that has happened in the garden in the last two weeks. Certainly I have not bought any vegetables (except potatoes, onions and corn) probably in the last three weeks. Its not something I restrict myself on -  I am not averse to buying vegetables and will when I want something different or want to make something in particular, but why bother when you have enough?  And in any case I get trolley rage, it's safer to keep me out of supermarkets!

    There has been lots to pick - enough to keep us. In the last two weeks I have picked:
    • lots of eggplants, basil, zucchinis and tomatoes
    • beetroot
    • spring onions
    • parsley -  Italian and curly
    • oregano
    • thyme
    • long greeny-yellow chillies
    • lemons
    • the first of the new beans and red chillies
    • the last of the sunflowers
    David has converted the eggplant glut into spicy eggplant and what we cant eat at a sitting is waiting in the freezer for work lunch boxes. We have also fed well and often on pesto and more zucchini fritters and taken lemon tarts to parties (wishing we'd made two so we could keep one at home). Tomatoes are turning up in most meals - when its warm in one of my favourite salads, a corn and tomato one, and when the weather is cool, a lovely hot tomato and zucchini dish. 

    Chinese Spicy eggplant
    * produce from the garden
    This is one of those recipes cut from a magazine many years ago with amounts adjusted.  I cant acknowledge the source....

    7 long thin eggplants* (adjust according to the size of your eggplants)
    3 cloves of garlic*
    1 knob of ginger
    8 spring onions*
    peanut oil
    500g pork mince
    3 tbs chilli bean paste ( from Asian Grocers)
    soy sauce
    rice wine
    seasame oil
    extra chillies * if you want extra punch

    Cut eggplants into short, thin strips, scatter with salt and drain in colander for about 30 mins. Rince and pat dry. In a morta and pestle crush garlic, ginger and half the spring onions into a rough paste. Cut remaining spring onions into 5 cm lengths (and chop chillies if using extra) and set aside. In a hot wok, fry the eggplant in two batches in oil until golden brown, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Discard oil.

    Return wok to the flame and add some peanut oil, add garlic paste and mince and stir fry for 5 mins until pork is cooked. Add remaining ingredients including spring onions and extra chilli. Cook for a few minutes until onions soften. Stir in eggplant and check seasoning. Eat with steamed jasmine rice or noodles.

    Corn and Tomato salad
    * produce from the garden
    I think I got the idea for this salad from a recipe for a salsa!  I just decided it should be a salad instead of a side....

    1 cob of corn
    tomatoes* (cherries cut in half and others cut into similar size)
    red onion cut fine dice
    olive oil
    lime juice*

    Cook corn on cob and cut nibblets off.  Add to a bowl with red onion, tomatoes, chillies and coriander and add olive oil and lime juice to taste.

    zucchini with flowers
    Zucchinis with tomato and oregano
    * produce from the garden
    This recipe is adapted from one in Gourmet Traveller 2011 Annual Cookbook. The original includes stuffing the flowers of the zucchini with a rice and herb mix, which I am sure is very nice... but I havent yet got my head around stuffing zucchini flowers. It is perfect for dealing with two gluts - tomatoes and zucchinis.

    tomatoes* -  the original recipe calls for 3 large ones and 250 gms of small ones
    1 red onion
    1 head of garlic* broken up
    olive oil
    lemon juice *
    red wine vinegar

    Heat oven to 200C. Scatter tomatoes, onion and garlic in roasting pan and add olive oil. Roast until tomato skins start to split (8-10 mins). Cut up zucchinis into chunky bits and add to pan with lemon juice, red wine vinegar and herbs.  Roast until zucchini tender but not soft (12-15 mins). This is really yummy with bbq meats.

    Day before returning to work

    Sunday 8th Jan

    two frogs in our pond

    • 4 eggplant
    • 1 zucchini
    • half a punnet of  cherry tomatoes
    • 5 zebras (picked early to protect from fruit fly)
    • sunflowers
    • basil seeds
    • zebra seeds
    • pulled out the violas
    • stink bug surveillance
    frog spawn
    Today is the last day of 'freedom' before returning to work.  It started with waking to the frog who lives in our pond still 'plonking' away. Normally the frog stops plonking long before we get up. The plonking was solo for some time then another one joined in on the chorus. By midday there was a plume of bubbly frog spawn with two frogs wiggling in it producing more.

    We are not 100% sure what our frogs are.  They are smallish and browny-yellow striped.  We THINK they are the common froglet but when I learn how to put photos up maybe others can tell me? (PS: learnt how to put photos up now -  soon our pics of our frogs will follow!).

    Saturday, 7 January 2012

    Limes, stink bugs and basil glut

    Sat 7th January

    • Basil  
    • Half a punnet of tomatoes 
    • Lemons

    • Stink bug surveillance
    Surveillance of the two espaliered limes continues. My crop of limes is pretty meagre this year -  no glut in sight - just a few small fruit dotted across the plants.
    In October when the flowers covered the plants with their heady scent, I tended them with a tonic of manure, mulch and water and, armed with goggles and secateurs, got stuck into the stink bugs that were already occupying the lime trees' fresh growing and flowering soft tips. At the green and orange stage (baby and adolescent stages before they turn into armour plated black beasts), I knocked them off the trees and cut them in half with the secateurs or stomped on them.  In October I had them under some control.
    But then I had to go overseas for two weeks for work and by the time I returned they had destroyed all the growing tips where the flowers and fruit form. These tender tips  hung limp and blackened. It’s such a shame - home grown limes are so much more fragrant than shop bought ones.  Oh well, I have plenty of lemons!  I wonder if stink bugs actually prefer limes over lemons?
    What I call stink bugs are apparently also known as bronze orange  bugs and are in fact an Australian native insect which formally did the same damage to our native lime plants - finger limes. Fancy that, so citrus growers in other countries don’t have to put up with them?
    Almost every plant book I have ever seen and almost every phone-in  gardening advice program on the radio deals at some stage with these pests but I have found some useful information about their life cycle  in the September/October 2011 Organic Gardener magazine.
    Over the last week or so a new batch of flowers had started to form on my limes and I am determined to get  a crop so went stink bug hunting. I got them at a vulnerable moment. Mature black stink bugs were copulating in the trees which involved them linking their backsides  -  handy cause their defence is to squirt concentrated citric acid at you when you are trying to destroy them.   But with their bums linked they are less likely to attack me -  they are a little distracted - so several copulating couples were quickly destroyed by my handy secateurs.
    I have once been sprayed in the eyes by a stink bug, I can honestly say I will never let them do it again thus the goggles. It was incredibly painful but I had some water in a bottle handy and immediately doused my eye with the water again and again.  The optometrist confirmed this as the best first aid in case you ever have the misfortune to be sprayed!
    Perhaps there is something better than summer sunflowers thru the house?  If there is then it is fresh basil. During summer I try to keep us in our own basil supply. I raise it from seed and plant it up into pots that I keep off the ground away from snails that will destroy a crop of  basil overnight. Hanging baskets would work too I guess.
    There is enough basil for home made pesto tonight!

    Home grown basil fresh from the garden is truely more fragrant that shop bpought basil pesto and 100 times better than the stuff you get in jars.

    pine nuts
    olive oil

    Using morta and pestle smash basil leaves, garlic and pinenuts togehter. Add to a bowl and making sure the mix doesnt oxidise, mix in olive oil and pepper . Serve on pasta with parmesan.

    Going back in time

    I started writing for this blog on the second day of the new year and now post those entries here in blog order!

    Frid 6th January 2012
    5 small eggplant
    ·         More zucchinis
    ·         Half a punnet of brown berries
    ·         5 small eggplants

    That’s it, I have to do something with the zucchinis in the fridge. They are building up and it will be zucchinis or bust for dinner.
    I have only one zucchini plant in at the moment - that’s all we need obviously. I have in past gardens grown more than one zucchini plant but produce is too much to deal with. If I had more room I might stagger the zucchini planting putting one early and one later in the season to keep me in zucchinis for longer but I don’t have the room.
    I have a ‘black jack’ zucchini bought from the local nursery. In keeping with the current fashion for rainbow coloured plates of food, you can also get yellow zucchinis... but mine’s just a ‘normal’ black jack one.
    I pick the zucchinis relatively small - shorter than my hand and finger length, but you can pick them younger or bigger and older.  They are pretty ordinary when they get too big but I can remember early in my veg growing days when I wasn’t so vigilant growing massive zucchinis and then trying to stuff them… I wouldn’t bother – they get to be tasteless and tough and are not worth it. They can get out of hand pretty quickly - you really need to check your zucchinis every two days  to see what needs to be picked.
    Of course you can also stuff the flowers -  there are so many appealing recipes for zucchini flowers but till now I just haven’t bothered with this -  it seems a little too fiddly for me but I can hear hundreds shouting, "oh they are wonderful, you should try them". Perhaps one day when I have more time.
    I find that as long as you give zucchinis enough space for good airflow around them , I find them trouble free. Give them plenty of space they are large plants!
    So dinner is zucchini and dill fritters (shallow fried instead of deep fried as the recipe suggests) and marinated zucchinis with sausages.

    Zucchini and dill fritters with whipped feta
    *Indicates produce from the garden
    This recipe is from ‘ Gourmet Traveller  2011 Annual Cookbook’, page 16.
    oil for frying( shallow or deep -  I prefer shallow frying)
    60 ml (1/4 cup) buttermilk
    2 eggs
    80 gm plain flower
    3 zucchinis coarsely  grated*
    2 spring onions*
    ½ cup chopped dill
    ½ cup chopped mint*
    Grated lemon rind of 2 lemons*

    Whipped feta
    200gm Greek feta
    30 mls lemon juice*
    1 clove of garlic*
    50 ml extra virgin olive oil

    For whipped feta, process feta, lemon juice and garlic in a food processer until smooth. With motor running, add oil in a thin and steady stream and process until emulsified.
    Whisk buttermilk and eggs in a bowl then add flour and stir until smooth. Stir in zucchini, spring onions, herbs and lemon rind.  Fry in tablespoon sized  batches until golden. Set aside to drain on absorbent paper and serve with whipped feta and lemon wedges.
    Char-grilled and marinated zucchini
    Again from ‘ Gourmet Traveller  2011 Annual Cookbook’, page 16. This cookbook has lots of zucchini recipes. The recipe includes a lovely homemade flat bread which I didn’t make and thus have excluded from here.
    3 zucchinis* thinly sliced lengthwise on a mandolin
    120 mls extra-virgin olive oil
    3 garlic cloves thinly sliced*
    2 small red chillies, thinly sliced*
    2 tablespoons lemon juice*

    Preheat a char-grill pan on a high heat brush zucchinis with olive oil and char grill in batches, cook till tender and golden. Heat remaining oil over medium heat and add chilli and garlic, cook to infuse flavours, ( just 1-2 mins).Remove from heat , add lemon juice and add zucchini. Set aside to marinate.
    Thurs 5th January 2012
    ·         More zucchinis
    ·         Half a punnet of brown berries

    Wed 4th January 2012
    ·         A huge bunch of sunflowers
    ·         Half a punnet of tomatoes – berries and currant

    Is there a greater summer pleasure than sunflowers? Each year I grow them - mostly cause they just look fantastic in the garden and even more fantastic cut in vases inside. I cut two vases worth this morning and they are now gracing our dining and lounge rooms - very van Gogh! 
    But they have practical purposes too -  they provide a little shade for the cucumbers and they bring bees to the garden to assist with all the pollinating that needs to be done.
    I grow the shorter, smaller  and ‘sunburnt’ varieties  -  if they are shorter you can cut them more easily, if they are smaller they are more manageable in a vase. And ‘sunburnt’ you ask?  We’ll I just like the bronzy and orangey shades rather than the more typical yellow ones.  The flowers tend to be a little smaller too.
    Each year I plant a few seeds but each year I find plants that have self-seeded thru the garden which usually result in some interesting colours -  this year an extremely dark one popped up by itself.
    To keep them flowering I remove the flower heads when they are starting to seed up. The spotted doves like the seed heads.  I throw them on the roof of the shed so that they can graze safely away from Harriet (our cat). She finds doves easy to catch and all other birds just far to daunting (we are very grateful for her lack of bird catching ability).
    Used up some home grown  cucumbers, spring onions and tomatoes, chillies and mint in the Thai Beef Salad we had for dinner.

    Tues 3rd January 2012

    ·         A punnet of brown berries
    ·         Two zucchinis
    ·         5 zebras  -  I picked them a little early because I wanted to protect them from the fruit fly -  they are ripening beside the bananas  in the fruit bowl.

    • A punnet of ‘little finger’ eggplants
    ·         Watered deeply and then mulched and manured
    ·         Removed the wattle
    Well the New Year has brought warmer summery weather. The 3rd day of the year and 3rd sunny day!  The forecast was 28 so I watered the garden before breakfast  -  all water
    from our rainwater tank. Normally I would have already mulched the garden, but as the weather has been mild and wet, I haven’t done so far. Today however is the day – the ground has been warmed enough now and  I must get some mulch on to preserve some of the remaining moisture in the soil in the hope that this is the beginning of summer proper. 
    Breakfast on the balcony and a call from David, “ its back”. I thought it might be the black-faced cuckoo shrike (which we both love and only see occasionally) but it was the even more rarely seen white faced heron [].  This delicate blue-grey bird with long yellowish legs has only visited twice before (that we have seen). The first time it stood in our small frog pond poking its beak in between the rocks looking for our frogs I guess.  It wasn’t successful.  The second time it was satisfied with the little skinks that sun bathe on the sandstone edges of the native garden and bask in the early morning sun in the pandorea leaf litter that accumulate in the mint patch. Thankfully this time it is again happy with skink hunting.  I was worried about the fat tadpoles in the pond.
    The heron paces around the garden and when it spots a skink it has a curious neck quiver before it strikes -  almost always successfully.
    So back to mulch -  off to the local nursery -  a family affair ( Eli and Marina) for a bag of sugar cane mulch, a bag of 3 in one manure (cow, sheep and chicken) my current favourite and a punnet of something to go in the spaces left by the removed bush beans.
    New baby eggplants in with older ones and mulched
    I return with more ‘little finger’ eggplants and plant in the gaps and then thickly mulch most of the garden with a mix of the manure and the sugarcane.  I water the new eggplants with seasol - they will need it.  I perhaps foolishly bought unhappy baby eggplant seedlings.  They looked like they should have gone into the ground weeks ago  - they were a bit woody and came out of the punnet with bally roots -  the seasol should help the roots develop properly…
    I couldn’t help it I knew they didn’t look great but I love growing eggplants. I love the plant itself  -  their green curved leaves with sometimes with purplish veins protected from the summer weather by downiness  making them pretty well indestructible – perfect for the amateur home gardener. I have seen them survive the worst of a Sydney drought and a 35 degree plus day unwilted when everything else is struggling. And of course their mauve flowers and pendulous shiny fruit that makes a wonderful hollowy  sound when you tap it to see if it  is ripe. And then there is the food we make with the fruit.  
    This is my third planting of eggplant this year - all at different times so that I can stagger our eggplant consumption over the summer and autumn. I picked the first glut from the first planting in December before Christmas when the weather was still cool. I usually plant the long thin varieties than the round fat ones. I think they need less salting to remove the bitterness than the others and the long thin type normally flower more and in bunches so that you get lots of smaller eggplant all in a bunch.
    This year I got a surprise when the fruit were lighter in colour than the usual dark dark purple ones. I wish I had paid attention to the variety cause I’d plant them again. These ones were quite seedless and the flesh soft and sweeter than usual. Was it the variety or the mild growing conditions that made that batch so tender?
    David, my eggplant chef, used that glut ( or most of it) to make our favourite eggplant dish ( Spicy Eggplant) which uses a huge amount of eggplant ( and lots of home grown spring onions too!) . We usually make enough for work lunch boxes. The remainder of that glut we ate for Christmas Day  -  roasted on the bbq and then scraped out  and made into a baharat baba ganoush.
    Isn’t there a saying about eggplant?  I have heard a Turkish saying once - I don’t remember where or when (maybe someone knows?).  It goes something like this -  a woman who can cook eggplants in 100 different ways will always keep her husband.
    During lunch at the Sydney Test, David - the house pastry chef made shortcrust ready for a lemon tart which should deal with some more of the lemons picked yesterday.
    Later after the cricket, we decided to cut out the wattle (a local acacia longifolia). We had been contemplating this for a while.  I grew it from a tiny seedling planted it about 4 years ago (maybe only 3).  It grew fast and tall and we had continually pruned it so that it didn’t shade the veggie patch too much, but ultimately it grew into a nasty lop-sided shape and it did shade the vegies anyhow and had to go. 

    Lemon Tart

    This recipe has been adapted from ‘Orange tart with Ginger cream’ published in Australia Vogue: Wine and Food Cookbook 1995-6, page 93. I have adapted the filling to make it entirely out of lemon juice but you can mix up whatever citrus juice you have (lemons, limes and oranges). I also decided to use 4 eggs instead of 3 eggs and 1 egg yolk.  I leave my pastry making to David who has the hands for it… you will have to find a shortcrust pastry recipe that you like -  David added  grated lime rind in this one to suit the tart.
    David’s short crust pastry
    Filling1 tablespoon of arrowroot
    300 ml of fresh lemon juice*
    4 eggs
    125g of  caster sugar
    100g of unsalted butter  - cut into pieces
    Preheat oven to 200c and line a tart tin with the pastry and blind bake until it looks staw-coloured.  I don’t weigh the pastry down but some will want to. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
    In a bowl dissolve the arrowroot in the juice and then beat in the eggs and sugar. Make sure that you break the eggs up well.  If you don’t there will be eggy lumps in the filling…kind of lemony scrambled eggs -  yuck!
    Pour mix into a heavy saucepan and cook gently for around 8-10 mins stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Keep below simmering point.  Soon you will find that the mixture thickens and starts to coat the spoon.
    Take off the heat and whisk in the butter, pour into the pastry case and cook for about 20 mins or till set when you quiver the tin or touch the top.  Leave to cool before eating.
    Mon 2nd January 2012

    ·         tomatoes: just a punnet full of cherries and currants (some for dinner and lunch)
    ·         eggplants: 4 small ones
    ·         a bunch of spring onions (all used at dinner - Thai fish cakes and Larb Gai)
    ·         a cucumber (used for dinner)
    ·         lots of beans

    ·         cucumber seeds
    ·         padron seeds

    • removed the first planting of bush beans
    The second day of a new year in the coldest start to summer in Sydney for some fifty years apparently and the shape of my garden reflects it. Normally I’d have a glut of tomatoes at this time of the year but this year my tomatoes are a little too leafy with lots of unripe green globes of fruit taking too long to change colour.
    But yesterday, the first day of the New Year was warm and sunny and already I think I can see a ripening blush on some of the green orbs. I am looking forward to the tomato glut – not far away now. In the end I will have more tomatoes than I can really eat but I make a mistake in planting my zebras too much in the shade  -  the wattle and pandorea that boarder the veg patch and the native garden blocking out too much light so the zebras are a bit leggy and scraggy. It might not have been a problem in a hotter dryer year where they might have appreciated a little shade? Should I plant tomatoes there next year if we have an El Nino?
    But even though my zebras are suffering I also planted lots of brown berries (which I grew and loved last year), a sugar lump (first time) and a little yellow tomato called  absurdly broad ripple yellow currant (long name for a little tomato) - they were all planted in more sun.
    The yellow currant  tomatoes have been a real surprise. To be honest, I don’t normally get into yellow tomatoes as I have found them a little insipid, too ‘low acid’ for my taste -  I  enjoy the acidity of a tomato. I planted the yellow ones this year for two reasons -  cause I wanted to try the currant –type tomatoes ( smaller than cherry tomatoes) and because I wanted to have a fashionable rainbow of tomatoes in my salad – just like in the gardening and cook books.
    But these little yellow beauties have been great  -  they have ripened in particularly unripening weather, they look so cute and tiny and they taste fantastic -  little  explosions in your mouth.
    But here I am talking about tomatoes when they aren’t in glut. So onto the current gluts.
    Today I picked all the beans on the Hawkesbury Wonders and pulled the plants out . I planted them in September these are bush or dwarf beans (I prefer to call them bush beans) that I planted because my climbing frame (a couple of stakes with chicken wire) were still fragrantly occupied by sweet peas - beautiful white ones with curly edges tinged with pink.
    I never normally grow bush beans growing instead climbing beans but I’d do it again – they seem to produce more quickly than the climbings. They have also been remarkably productive - I now have a big bag of beans in the fridge that I have to do something with! I could probably have left these plants in the ground got a bit longer but my second planning of bush beans is coming on as are my climbing beans and I also wanted to make some space for another summer vegetable, not sure what yet -  some more eggplants?
    Anyway I pulled the bush beans out (or rather cut them off at ground level leaving the nitrogen fixing roots in). These bush beans were planted in amongst the eggplants - the first time I have done this and it seemed to work well. The plants are about the same height as each other and the beans providing valuable nitrogen for the heavy feeding eggplants. Perhaps they are companion plants? All the books have beans and tomatoes paired as happy companions but none I have read have commented on eggplants and beans as happy bed fellows. But tomatoes and eggplants are closely related  and perhaps their companions are similar?
    I grow beans every year and always seem to have a lack of imagination in dealing with them. They are of course a great garden snack - many never get to the back door – but I can only eat a certain amount that way.
    I currently have an enormous glut of lemons. My lemon tree (yep, I only have the one) stands proudly in the corner of the vegie patch. It was one of the first plants we planted in the garden after moving to Marrickville 7 years ago.
    The branches bend with too much fruit this year. You are supposed to remove the small bulging baby lemons fruit too many are forming - but I didn’t do it this year. I think I was just so glad to see the tree producing so much after lean years during the drought.
    Yesterday I HAD to collect some lemons I say ‘collect’ because not all were picked. Many had already fallen into the cushion of mulch that surrounds the tree - beautiful yellow curves in nests of dried lawn clippings like some abandoned nest of a yellow-egged ground bird. I also picked the yellowest fruit from the tree - in total two big baskets of fruit. With warmish weather I made lemonade and used lots of lemons.


    I think I got this from the Weekend Cook a section in the Weekend Australian but I could be mistaken. I have doubled the original amounts to deal with the glut but you could scale up or down to suit yours.
    500ml fresh lemon juice*
    1 1/3rd cups of caster sugar
    Place ingredients in a saucepan and dissolve sugar inj the juices. Remove from the heat and cool. Store in the fridge and use as a cordial to mix with water, soda water, mineral water or lemonade ( I find this too sweet).

    *Indicates produce from the garden

    January - what's growing

    ·         tomatoes: broad yellow ripple currant, brown berry, black, green and red zebras, sugar lump
    ·         radish
    ·         rocket
    ·         cucumber
    ·         eggplant
    ·         beans: bush and climbing
    ·         lettuce: cos and mixed heirloom
    ·         zucchini
    ·         beetroot
    ·         chillies: long red ones and long sweet yellow ones
    ·         spring onions

    ·         parsley : continental and curled
    ·         thyme
    ·         basil
    ·         rosemary
    ·         oregano
    ·         bay
    ·         chives
    ·         Vietnamese mint
    ·         mint
    ·         tarragon
    ·         sage
    ·         lemon
    ·         lime
    ·         sunflowers
    ·         viola
    ·         lupins
    ·         yarrow


    Glut: a year in my patch
    (no food stylists, no plating up, no food or horticultural professionalism)

    There are so many gardening and  cookbooks and so many books taking advantage of the new frugalism or environmental consciousness encouraging people to grow and eat locally. These are often beautifully produced and written by either horticulturalists, celebrity chefs or just ‘celebrities’. They are beautiful and I devour them as many others do. Yet, they can be a bit intimidating. Precisely because the celebrity chef or the celebrity garderner has produced them, we think that we have to be a professional of some sort to do it ourselves. They don’t have anything else to do right, it’s their profession.
    When I first began growing vegetables I was kind of put off by these fabulous books all with rules on growing veg, what to do, how to develop your compost, how to carefully rotate the beds, how to stake and prune your tomatoes, how to test your soil ph etc... there is no doubt that I learnt a lot from them but they also intimidated,  what if I did something wrong?  What if I didnt do exactly what they recommended? Would things grow? What if the resultant cucumber didn’t look like the ones in the books!
    I now know that it is not that hard and not that scary.
    There are  many people with simple yards in simple suburbs with little vegie patches and no horticultural qualifications and who will never be ‘celebrities’ of any sort who grow great real food and eat it everyday. I am one of those.
    I have a full time and very busy job and also have a small vegie patch ( it is in the corner of our backyard) and a love of food.  I have no professional horticultial training but have been growing veg for a few years. My friends and relatives often marvel at my vegie garden asking me where I get the time to look after it. In reality, it doesn’t take too much time  at all. Besides which, if you love something you spend time on it, and youget to eat food that is healthy for you that you have gained some exercise to create and  reduced food miles.
    What is the downside?  Two things I can think of -  dirty fingernails and feet (if you go gloveless and wear thongs in the garden like I do)  and dealing with the glut! What do you do with ten beautiful fat purple beetroot? What do you do with two basket’s full of lemons? How about a week’s picking of zucchinis? I hope to offer some ideas and of course get your ideas too.
    This is a chronicle of a year in my patch and the pleasures of dealing with the glut. It documents the successes and failures.
    This is not a ‘how to’. Those are written by those who know – trained experts or celebs with assistants and there are plenty of them all of which offer better advice that I can. It’s a diary of a real garden looked after by an enthusiastic  amateur in a suburban backyard.
    The vegie garden photos are of my garden and taken by myself. They are real and imperfect. The vegies too are imperfect! They are beautiful real vegies from a real garden. They are not the fat overblown things that you might pick up from the supermarket but they are real and organic and home grown and if they are small in size they are packed with flavour and goodness because they are fresh from your garden.
    The recipies in this book I have all cooked. Some are made up. Some have been borrowed and sometimes adapted from other recipe books. Where they have been , I have acknowledged the source ( where I can remember) and thanked them for helping me deal with my gluts!


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