Eggplant Everywhere

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For the past few years I have grown eggplant pretty successfully with minimal effort. In our climate it grows without supplementary watering, is generally resistant to pests and vagaries of the weather and, most importantly, the fruit mature gradually and I don’t end up with a massive glut of produce.

It is definitely a crop worth growing as they are generally $6.95/kg at our greengrocer.

I think eggplant are quite underrated. Here are some of my favourite dishes that I have made recently.

Roasted eggplant slices on a vegetarian pizza.

Ready to pop in the oven to roast.

The finished pizza.

Eggplant and Bean Curry

Sauteed eggplant and some leftover spicy chicken with a bit of tamari and served with cauliflower in cheese sauce. There is no photo of this one.

Eggplant often does not look particularly spectacular but I think it is definitely worth trying.

A New Garden

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There was an area on the southern corner of the house which had been a bit of no-man’s land. At times we had stored excess pavers and sheets of corrugated iron as well as some potted plants waiting to be planted.

A couple of moths ago I began working on cleaning up this area. Any remaining materials were relocated as were most of the plants. I decided to plant the aloe vera plants from multiple pots and edged the area with some rocks.

Then some cardboard to suppress any weed growth.

I had planned to put some mulch over the entire area, however, GMan suggested small rocks. There were plenty in our neighbour’s paddock next door as there was an enormous amount of rock and soil which had washed down from higher up the mountain during the recent heavy rains.

So I set to work.

That was a couple of weeks ago and then I was caught up in other jobs so it was put on hold.

However, this weekend GMan I spent several hours filling and moving buckets of small rocks to finish the area and here is the result.

I am very happy with how it has turned out. I managed to turn an eyesore into a low-maintenance feature. A definite improvement in my opinion.

Making the Most of Everything

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At the end of my last post I mentioned that I would share some details of the food preparation that I do.

In the past few weeks I have been fortunate to score some great bargains on fresh produce. A food bargain is only a bargain if you actually use the food. This can be a particular challenge with fresh produce but with a bit of know-how and some time you can make the most of bargains that may come your way.

Today I want to show you how I used and stored large quantities of cheap bananas, pineapples and tomatoes.

I bought a 10kg box of perfect, ripe Roma tomatoes for $10. $1/kg was too good to pass up. I could have bottled them straightaway but they were so firm, red and perfect that we decided to enjoy them fresh for as long as possible. I spread them out on a couple of racks so that would be able to easily identify any blemishes or potential rotten ones. Fresh tomato salsa was served with at least one and often two meals every day. Here is a selection of our meals.

L to R: Chicken tacos, Mexican quinoa and Baked potatoes with refried beans

This strategy worked well for just over 3 weeks which is testament to the perfect quality of the produce. In fact, I have no idea why they were being sold for $1/kg.

The remaining tomatoes were diced and packed into jars to go in the freezer. These will be added to casseroles and other dishes instead on buying canned tomatoes.

Next were the bananas. These were also $1/kg and I bought 12.5kg in a box. The bananas ranged from partly green to overripe but the majority were ripe and flavoursome although the skins were showing blemishes. We eat sliced banana on our cereal every day so about a dozen of the least ripe ones were added to fruit bowl to be eaten over the next week.

Two very ripe ones became banana cake and the remainder were peeled, cut in half and frozen on trays. They can be sliced and added to cereal with no further preparation.

You can see the less ripe bananas in the fruit bowls in the background as well as trays ready for the freezer and two bananas in the bowl which were about to be turned into banana cake.

Finally, the pineapples. I spotted this box of 5 pineapples for $4 and knew exactly how I could use them.

Dried pineapple is a delicious treat so it was a simple matter of peeling, coring and slicing the pineapple and then into the dehydrator. We like it semi-dried (a bit chewy but not crunchy). I store it in a container in the refrigerator.

L to R: Fresh pineapple ready to dehydrate, dried pineapple, ready to store in the refrigerator.

I would love to hear your stories of bargains or gluts and how you make sure they do not go to waste.

Salvaged From the Snakepit

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Fear not, there are no snakes in this post. The snakepit refers to an undeveloped area surrounded by rocks in our backyard. It was flooded recently along with the whole lower portion of the garden.

This is a rather sad looking specimen of a chilli bush which had came up self-sown in this area. Despite being drowned by a couple of feet of muddy water, the bush appears to have survived and even had plenty of ripe chillies. Today I picked a substantial quantity.

My goal was to make some more of my ‘Tabasco-style’ sauce but it needs 150g of chillies – that is a lot of birdseye chillies. So, I supplemented my haul with more from a couple of other bushes that are in the fenced vegetable garden area.

I ended up with 128g of chillies so reduced the other ingredients slightly to match the reduced quantity of chillies. The recipe is here. Scroll towards the end of the link for the recipe.

The end result was 350ml of my version of Tabasco sauce. The equivalent cost of buying this in the supermarket is about $24. My cost was about 25c and a small amount of time.

Bagging a Bargain

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Most of us are trying to make the most of our grocery budget as food prices seem to be increasing on an almost daily basis. Extreme weather events driven by the impacts of climate change along with global conflicts are combining to disrupt supply chains.

This is the background upon which shoppers are doing their utmost to spend their food budget wisely.

There are not many, if any, items which can regularly be purchased for $1/kg. So, when I spotted Roma tomatoes for $1/kg at our local greengrocer, I took advantage of the bargain. Although the tomatoes were loose on a display stand, I discovered that I could purchase an entire 10kg box for $10. This was too good to pass up.

Here is my haul.

Of course, a bargain is only a bargain if there is no wastage. I have spread the tomatoes out on the kitchen bench and there are no soft spots or blemishes – all absolutely perfect.

Tonight we will have slices of fresh tomato on our pizza. Tomorrow I will make salsa to have with our bean tacos and I am sure they will feature in other meals over the next week. Other than that, I may dehydrate some, make pasta sauce and bottle or freeze them whole.

Making the most of seasonal and often cheaper produce makes good sense as we try to stretch our budget a little further.

The Last Pick

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We have several citrus trees here and the fruit is generally ripe during our cooler months from May through to August. The earliest one is the grapefruit closely followed by the Washington Navel orange and mandarin. The two Valencia orange trees are much later and seem to have an extended season with fruit lasting quite happily on the tree for a few months.

In the past we have finished picking in mid-November but the season last year lasted even longer. Today I picked the last of the fruit from the older tree beside the driveway. I thought there might be about 30 but there ended up being 93 fruit!!

I have juiced and frozen all of the juice as I do with all of the harvest. This provides us with enough juice for the entire year. It is just as well that I have plenty of freezer space as there is currently 29 litres frozen juice.

The juicer I bought in 2018 is worth its weight in gold. You can read more about it here.

The 2022 crop is already doing well and larger than the size of a golf ball.

There are still a small number of fruit to pick on the other tree but they can wait for a week or so until I have used some of today’s haul.

Community Connections

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Most of what I write about in this blog pertains to house and home. However, there is much more to my life. Extended family gatherings, cultural events, exercise, enjoying the natural environment and of course, travel are some of the various activities I enjoy. Travel has been somewhat curtailed in the past couple of years but we have still managed numerous shorter trips closer to home rather than major overseas travel.

The other thing that I am both passionate about and find satisfying is involvement in community groups and activities.

This week has seen plenty of action on that front. I am directly involved in 3 groups. The first and smallest is a local residents group for our semi-rural area. There is minimal action in this group but as the secretary I did attend a committee meeting this week and have minutes to finish and distribute.

The other two groups are separate but closely aligned in purpose.

The first is Boomerang Bags. This is a global grassroots project which was started on the Gold Coast in my home state of Queensland, Australia. It seeks to tackle single use plastic pollution by creating reusable alternatives from salvaged and discarded fabric. I have been involved for a little over 4 years, the last 2 co-ordinating our small group. One of my earlier posts gives a bit more information.

My other foray into community action is a fairly recently-formed waste action group which goes by the acronym of WAM. Late last year we co-ordinated several community events during National Recycling Week. There are many and varied ideas for directions the group might take but the overarching theme is about reducing consumption and waste, both of which are very important to me. I regularly address these themes on a personal level in my blog posts. Watch for more about we are doing as a community to encourage everyone to make a difference.

Sewing Successes

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While I was laid low with Covid I spent a couple of weeks gradually working on sorting, tidying and generally organising my workroom and sewing supplies. It is much easier to sew when you some clear priorities in mind.

The last week has seen some real action and progress in terms of completed garments.

Making clothes for tweens and teens is fraught with danger but luckily my two granddaughters are still happy with what I can produce. Of course, they have plenty of input into the fabric and style choices and have to be involved in the sizing and fitting.

This first outfit would definitely not be Miss 12’s usual choice of style or colour, however, I created it for Valentine’s Day free dress day at school in a couple of weeks. The shirt is made from an ‘indoor teepee’ she had as a young child and the skirt was refashioned from an op shop find which had been lurking in my stash for several years. Everything has been salvaged, even the shirt buttons and elastic for the skirt.

This was a maxidress from opshop discards which was destined for landfill. It had a couple of small stains plus a piece had been randomly chopped off it. The pretty rayon fabric was too good to throw out and when I showed it to Miss 14 she asked for a long skirt. Length was a slight challenge with the fabric available but she was very happy with the end result. I did have to buy new buttons for this one.

A piece of fabric given to me for Boomerang bags was not entirely suitable for that purpose but the colour and pattern caught the eye of Miss 12 so I made this shirt in an identical style to the one in the first photo. I was pleased to have buttons which matched it perfectly.

Finally, the sewing was not all about my granddaughters nor salvaged fabric. I made this pretty top for myself from a piece of lightweight cotton which I bought in Singapore in 2015. Although I loved the fabric I had been a little unsure of how best to use it but I am definitely really happy with the result.

It has been a productive week with several more garments in the planning stages.

Stocking the Pantry

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Fresh produce from the garden is wonderful but there are times when you definitely can’t eat it all at harvest time.

This basket of cucumbers was a case in point.

The recipe from a friend has clearly been passed down from an earlier generation.

I tweaked it slightly and will modify it a little more in the future.

Cucumber Pickles

3.2kg cucumbers, thinly sliced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup salt
Iceblocks
5 cups sugar
5 cups vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried celery leaves

Layer the cucumbers and onions. Sprinkle with salt and cover with iceblocks. Allow to stand for 3 hours then drain and rinse thoroughly twice.

Place cucumber, onion, sugar, vinegar and spices in a large pot and bring to the boil. Do not boil the mixture. Turn the heat off and fill sterilised jars. Make sure that they seal before storing.

NOTE: I increased the turmeric and altered the celery salt from the original recipe to match what I had available. Additionally, in future I would reduce the sugar and vinegar to 4 cups of each as there was more liquid than I needed.

In deference to our industrious ancestors, it only seemed right and proper to use these two mixing bowls that belonged to my grandmother and would be around 100 years old. I use them on a regular basis in my kitchen.

The end result is ready to be stored in the pantry for eating throughout the year.

A Completed Corner

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We have several projects on the go and some just seem to evolve over time.

Today we put the finishing touches to what I like to think of as a mini-mudroom. It is certainly a useful addition in weather like today – we have had 35mm of rain so far.

This corner is in the workshop which opens to the backyard as well as being the transit route from the garage to the main part of the house via an internal staircase. The grey door is visible in the photo.

GMan painted this section of the workshop recently before we installed the hanging rack. It is a shoe rack which my mother had used behind her bedroom door for shoe storage. I brought it home last year with only a vague notion of how I might use it. This has proved to be the perfect purpose and location.

The timber storage box doubles as a seat. I found this on a local secondhand site last year.

This is a great example of how you can improve the functionality of small spaces with minimal funds and a little bit of creative thinking.