An Opportunist

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We were out and about this morning looking for some timber for our next outdoor project.  It was an area we do not usually frequent and I spied a flat-top truck parked by the side of the road.  It was piled with unpackaged fruit and vegetables so I quickly asked GMan to pull over so that I could see what was on offer.

I had bought fruit and vegetables 2 days ago which would probably last us at least 10 days but I was not about to pass up an opportunity.  There were zucchini, tomatoes, capsicums and lemons and everything was $2/kg.  It had been picked yesterday from a farm in an area about 3 hours drive to the north of where we live.  The tomatoes were not sufficiently ripe for me to consider them and we most definitely do not need lemons as we have 2 trees of our own.

Most of the capsicums were green but I selected a couple which were semi-coloured as well as several zucchini.

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This haul cost me $4.70.

While this was somewhat of an impulse buy, it was not without some consideration as to how I would use the produce.  The capsicums are quite large so I am going to cut one in half lengthwise and stuff them for dinner tonight and serve with a side of coleslaw.

I have cooked some quinoa to use as the basis for the stuffing.

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The remaining capsicum will probably be used in a roasted vegetable salad along with some of the zucchini as well as eggplant and mushrooms that I bought on Thursday.

I intend to make another zucchini quiche which will use up a couple more of the zucchini.

It is great to be able to directly support farmers as well as snapping up a bargain.

Most importantly, nothing will go to waste.

 

 

The Lid is On

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It is over 2 years since we commenced building the walkway/pergola entrance to our property at the eastern end of the house.

This is a photo I posted in a blog post in mid-March 2018.

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The 6 sticks marked out the proposed location of the posts.  You can also see the newly-planted shrubs to the right of the pergola site.

By July 2018 the majority of the structure was completed as per this blog post.

In September 2018 GMan laid the repurposed pavers that we had salvaged from when the entrance stairway was demolished and rebuilt.

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The mandevilla creepers have been planted close to the pergola and the garden beds on either side have been mulched.

But, there is still no roof covering on the pergola.  We would still considering our options.

These things take time but a couple of months ago we finally agreed that we would cover the top with wire and we would also need a couple of horizontal rails to support the wire.

We sourced, painted and installed the timber rails a couple of weeks ago and today we added the wire panels, or as otherwise described, put the lid on.

The finished entrance to the eastern end of our house and the vegetable garden area.

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The shrubs and mandevilla creepers are well-established and we now have a well-defined entrance.

Lemon Curd – My Way

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It is early winter where we live and that means we have citrus fruit in abundance.  The fruit on the Meyer lemon were ripe and we picked them all as this particular variety does not seem to hold well on the tree.

We gave away heaps as well as freezing some juice and using it generously in drinks and recipes.  GMan asked if I would make some lemon curd, also known as lemon butter.

Apart from wanting to use up some of the lemons, I was keen to find a reasonably ‘healthy’ version of this sweet treat.  So, I turned to the ever-useful Google.

This is an indication of the usual lemon butter offerings.

  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 125g butter

After a bit more research I found a recipe which seemed to align with my goals.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  • 4 tablespoons lemon zest

I was keen to try it but moderately sceptical as the proportions are vastly different.

The full recipe is here.  My slightly amended version is below.

First I collected the utensils I needed.  You can read more about my kitchen utensils here.

Low Fat Lemon Curd

Ingredients

2 large lemons, juiced
Lemon zest from 2 large lemons
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs

Grate the zest from the lemons and set aside.

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Juice the lemons.

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Place the strained juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on low and stir until sugar has dissolved.

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Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl.

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Remove lemon syrup from heat and pour slowly into beaten eggs while stirring the mixture with a whisk. Continue to whisk by hand for one minute.

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Return mixture to saucepan; add lemon zest, and heat on low until it thickens―about two minutes.

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Allow to cool then refrigerate.
NOTE:
My concerns were realised as the mixture did not thicken as much as I would have liked.  So, I resorted to my back-up plan.
2 teaspoons arrowroot blended with a little water.
Gently reheat the lemon curd until it reaches boiling point the stir. Add the arrowroot mixture slowly and continue stirring constantly.  Cook for one minute.  Cool and refrigerate .
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This version of lemon curd does not have the smooth richness that additional eggs and butter creates but I am very happy with the result.  It is definitely worth trying if you are looking for a healthier version of the traditional lemon curd recipe.

Almost Finished

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We are on a mission to try to finish several projects around the place.  Hot on the heels of the completed cold frame, we finished replacing the handles on our latest restoration project.

It is now over 6 years since I wrote about the silky oak dressing table/drawers that we restored.  You can read about it here.  This piece has now been relocated to the guest room.

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The latest restored piece is slightly larger and now has pride of place in my bedroom.  It is also silky oak and a very similar style to the other one.  The mirror for this one is larger and rectangular rather than oval.

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The final step is the new mirror which we hope to pick up this week.

I do not think we are likely to be restoring any other large pieces of furniture in the foreseeable future but there are plenty of other jobs.  We are now working on finishing the top of the pergola/walkway.  This has become rather necessary as the mandevilla creeper has now almost reached the top of the wire on the sides of the pergola.

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This was just after we had planted them in September 2018.

 

Cold Frame Completed

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Following on from this post.  We retrieved our jigsaw on Tuesday and were able to cut the polycarbonate sheeting for the final step of the cold frame.

Once the pieces of polycarbonate sheeting were cut to size, it was relatively easy to screw them to the timber frame.  The only thing left to do was to fill the post holes and level the ground.

Finished and ready for use.  You may be able to see the tray of basil seedlings near the left-hand end of the structure.

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Another view of the cold frame as part of the wider vegetable garden layout.

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Since our winters are really quite mild, this is really only necessary for overnight protection.  I will need to make sure I open it up everyday or otherwise the basil will be cooked by the end of the week.

 

What We Grow

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One of the by-products of growing your own food is a need for increased creativity when it comes to meals.  What we eat is at least somewhat dependent on what is available in the garden.

Bok choy, a type of chinese cabbage, is a quick-growing vegetable.  Commercial crops are harvested while they are relatively young and generally sold in bunches of three.  We ate some of our current crop while they were small, however, the few remaining plants are now quite mature and strongly flavoured.

New ways to use up the mature bok choy leaves and stems.

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Freshly picked leaves shredded and sauteed with cherry tomatoes, snow peas and mushrooms for breakfast.

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Tonight I made a vegetarian lasagne with layers of lightly roasted eggplant slices, bok choy mixed with ricotta and finally, crushed tomatoes.

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It was topped with a mixture of parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese and flaxseed meal.

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Served with beans and carrots.

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VEGETARIAN LASAGNE

1 large eggplant, sliced
1/2 onion, diced
Handful of large bok choy leaves and stems, sliced and shredded
180g ricotta cheese
Can of crushed tomatoes
Olive oil
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
Salt and pepper

TOPPING

1 tablespoon grated parmesan
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

Place slices of eggplant on roasting tray.  Brush with a little olive oil and bake at 160C for about 10 minutes – until soft.

Saute diced onion and bok choy stems until soft, add shredded leaves and stir until wilted.  Add vegetable mixture to ricotta and combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add mixed herbs to crushed tomatoes.  Place a layer of eggplant slices in dish followed by the ricotta mixture then tomatoes.  Repeat until all ingredients are used.  Combine ingredients for topping and sprinkle over the lasagne.  Bake until heated through and browned on top.

This is not a definitive recipe but simply what I made today.  The quantities quoted would serve 3 adults.

Cold Frame Construction

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What is a cold frame?  The best description is a mini glasshouse which is low to the ground.  You can check out one from Gardening Australia here.  They are predominately used in much colder climates than ours, however, the primary reason that we built one is that I want to grow basil throughout the winter months.  It will also be perfect for starting spring seedlings a bit earlier than usual.

For the past few weeks we have been taking small steps towards building a cold frame.

Two hardwood sleepers form the back wall.

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Deciding on a location, sourcing materials (the majority secondhand) and developing a design have all taken time.  GMan has cut and painted timber as well as replacing putty in the window frames.

Everything has moved up a notch in the last couple of days as we began building in earnest.

The construction is almost complete with only the polycarbonate sheeting to be added to the front and ends of the enclosure.  This last step is on hold until we retrieve our jigsaw (lent out recently) to cut the sheeting.  Hopefully this will happen early next week.

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We won’t win any prizes for our carpentry skills but the structure is solid and functional.

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A pair of casement windows from the timber salvage yard form the top of the cold frame.  They are hinged at the back and we attached some old cupboard handles to the front edge to facilitate easy access.

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Apart from the polycarbonate sheeting on the sides, we also need to finish levelling the ground and filling the holes around the uprights.

In the meantime I have put the tray of basil seedlings in this space overnight as even without the sides completed it still offers a warmer and more protected space than their previous location.

The components which we purchased new for this project were the sleepers, hinges, window putty and long screws for the frame.  The windows, handles and timber all came from the salvage yard while the screw used with the hinges and handles came from our collection of odds and ends at home.

I would love to hear of anyone else’s experience  with a similar kind of set-up.

A Bit of Wire

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I am a great fan of wire.  It is so useful.  My mother reckons that I have inherited my love of wire from my grandfather who, reputedly, could fix anything with a bit of wire.  As a farmer, a lot of his skill would simply have been tied to the fact that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

Although I grew up in the city, I now live on a semi-rural small acreage and those same skills are required from time to time.  Apart from genetics, at least some of my ability to use wire was honed during my career working in operating theatres.  The principles of application of wire remain the same, regardless of whether it is a fractured ankle, a fractured jaw or attaching fencing wire to a post.

Here are a couple of recent examples of my handiwork.

Attaching the weldmesh panels to star pickets for the sides of the compost bays.

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We bought a decorative wind ornament for the garden a few months ago but the pole was not sturdy enough to maintain an upright position.

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So, we placed a star picket immediately beside the pole and wired it to the star picket in 3 places to provide a sturdy brace.

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A couple of things to keep in mind when using wire.

Consider where the ‘knot’ will finish and make sure that it can be tucked out of the way to avoid risk of injury.

Make sure that the item is strong enough to accept to force of tensioning the wire.

Use a suitable gauge of wire appropriate to the job.

Always hold the end of the wire when cutting it to avoid injury.

 

Last of the Autumn Salad

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You have heard of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’?  Well, this is a little different.

Our meal this evening was Zucchini and Corn Fritters.  You can find the recipe here.

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The accompanying salad was sourced entirely from our garden.  Lettuce, cherry tomatoes and coriander were picked today while the cucumber is the end of the last one which we picked about 3 weeks ago.

We found that cucumber stored really well in the crisper section of the refrigerator.  The lettuce is going to seed but in our mild climate there is a good chance that we will even have some more self-sown ones during the winter months.  There are still fruit on the various cherry tomato plants scattered throughout the garden.  We do not experience frosts here so it is likely that we will continue to harvest a few here and there but it will not abundance we have had during the summer and autumn.  Coriander has self-seeded throughout our garden area and we are thrilled as the flower heads are particularly loved by the bees.

I made the sweet chilli sauce from chillies from my sister’s garden.  The details and recipe are in an earlier post.

Seasonal eating means that we value and appreciate the produce from our garden.  It is probably about 5 months until I next eat cucumber and I know that by then I will be really looking forward to that first crisp crunch.

Money For Jam

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We have all heard of the phrase, ‘money for jam’, this post is about jam for very little money.  Making your own jam is probably one of the best ways to save money.  Commercially prepared jams often contain very little in the way of fruit and ‘premium’ brands are ridiculously expensive.

In the blog post from yesterday I shared how I had sliced and soaked the homegrown grapefruit.

After being soaked for about 15 hours I was ready to make the marmalade.

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Like most jam recipes this one is very simple.  The original from Annabel Langbein is here.  I chose not to use the whiskey.

You will need equal quantities of fruit and sugar and an equivalent volume of water.

For example, I used:

1.2kg of grapefruit Scrubbed, quartered and thinly sliced
1.2 litres water
1.2kg sugar

Cut the unpeeled grapefruit into quarters, then slice finely by hand or using the slicing attachment of a food processor. Place in a wide, non-corrosive preserving pan and cover with 2 litres of water. Cover and leave to soak overnight.

The next day, place the pot over a high heat, bring to the boil and boil for 40 minutes. Lower the heat and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then return to the boil and boil for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so to prevent the grapefruit from catching on the bottom – you want it to almost catch, but not burn. If you feel it starting to catch, remove it from the heat for a couple of minutes, giving it a gentle stir to stop it burning on the bottom, then continue boiling.

After 55 minutes do a ‘set test’ to check if your marmalade is ready. Chill a saucer in the fridge for a few minutes, then drop a teaspoonful of marmalade onto it. The marmalade is ready when it forms a skin that wrinkles when you hold the plate on an angle. At this point add the whiskey and boil for couple of minutes more to burn off the alcohol.

Pour straight into sterilised jars and seal with sterilised lids. If properly sealed Grapefruit Marmalade will last indefinitely.

To prepare your jars for preserving: For this recipe you will need a selection of jars that will hold just over 4 litres of marmalade. This is a great way of recycling, as the jars and their metal lids can be used over and over again. Wash the jars as usual, then remove the lids and place the lids and jars in the sink. Cover them well with boiling water then drain off the water. Pre-heat the oven to 100°C then pop the jars and lids in for 15 minutes to sterilise. Once removed from the oven, put the lids on the jars immediately so they remain sterile until you are ready to fill them.

The end result of 1.2kg of homegrown fruit, 1.2kg of sugar and about 1.5 hours of my time and we have about 2.5kg of jam added to our stock cupboard.

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