Saturday, 7 January 2012

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

1 comment:

  1. I like to make lemon butter (lemon curd) with my (parents) surplus lemons.
    Of course, if you also have a glut of eggs, butter and sugar this recipe is a lot cheaper to make than if you don't...



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