I blame climate change …

Really, it must be climate change that is affecting my garden, can’t possibly be baby-induced time pressures and forgetfulness!

The reason I blame climate change is because the weather has been crazy here over summer – alternating between sweltering and stormy, my poor plants haven’t stood a chance! I even planted zucchini and kale with the best intentions, but they didn’t even sprout because the weather was so random!

My lime tree produces tiny limes that then fall off before growing to edible size – any tips? It’s been happening for a few years now – I try to add compost and citrus food, but it doesn’t help!

Our passion fruit vine is vining up the fence nicely, but no passion fruits. I have already shared the sadness of my poor blueberry plant, as the winds took all the flowers in a storm, so again, no blueberries for us!

On the upside, the marigolds that I planted last year to help the tomatoes are going fm great guns!

The kale I planted 2 years ago keeps springing eternally with almost no encouragement, you can see it in the back of the above photo! And the pretty purple flowers are my society garlic plant, always happy and lovely in my salads! 

And in news  of things I’ve actually planted in the last few months, my tomatoes are growing nicely, so we’ll have a cute little crop.

So that’s the current garden status – trying desperately to triumph against the elements and my lack of attention!

I will be back next week with cooking and freezing news – apologies for delays between posts, with a gorgeous little one who is so keen on the world that daytime naps are the enemy, I often focus on eating, showering or napping when she finally succumbs, but will have more regular posts, probably indoor focused as my gardening is even less likely to succeed as we enter winter! And that’s ok, because I’m nurturing a gorgeous little human instead 😊



For auld lang syne

So, another year comes to a close. I started this year by starting this blog, because I wanted a new hobby, a creative outlet and a way of discussing and sharing my other hobbies with other like-minded people.

The first half of the year went well with my garden, my cooking, my freezing and my blogging. The second half of the year, not so much on all fronts.

However, I am ok with that, as the reason for all of that is my gorgeous daughter. That was also a goal of 2014, one which I am very happy we were able to achieve with minimum fuss (well, the pregnancy bit, anyway, life with a newborn is maximum fuss!)

Now our bub is 11 weeks old, and we are starting to feel a little bit more like parents, understanding her a bit more, and enjoying her developing personality with her smiles and cute noises. My long-neglected garden finally got a backyard blitz yesterday, as the cat naps Abby likes to take during the day don’t leave much time for the type of cultivation (and weed removal!) required. With the generous babysitting of grandparents, Jon and I were able to fix the garden back up, remove all the weeds and dead plants, and make it feel like a nice place again! Before and after shots below.

Having a baby has taught me patience, to embrace the chaos, and that sometimes you need to press pause on things, change your goals, and that’s ok. My garden has not had my attention, and that, combined with some crazy weather (heat followed by storms followed by cold followed by storms followed by heat) has led to the sad demise of plants such as my broad beans, who grew beautifully, then succumbed to Robert Downey mildew before we could harvest enough for a meal – specimens below.

I also haven’t been able to cook or blog much, partly because of lack of time, partly because of lack of energy while I processed this massive change! But again, that’s ok! Life is what happens when you’re making other plans!

New Year’s resolutions? I will keep blogging, and will return to my gardening and cooking, but with the understanding that having these activities forcibly scaled back by another amazing creation is definitely worth it! I’ll try not to become too much baby blog, but will share some highlights (or poo stories, if you want those, we’ve got plenty!)

The garden is surviving well – new tomato plants are thriving, as are strawberries – from a pre-bought plant rather than seed, something which again is ok as cultivating from seeds was a bit beyond me over the past few months! I planted some zucchini and kale yesterday, so we’ll see how we go! Some herbs are on the cards for the new year, maybe some lettuce – I am scaling back my plans to focus on things we will eat and that are low maintenance for the time being, so I feel less guilty about not being able to focus so much on the garden!

And cooking will also return, I need to make more snacks for me that are less sugary (breastfeeding makes me starving and a sugar monster!) and have more nutrition, and as the little one calms down more in the early evening, fancier meals will return! But again, the change is good, and it’s all about short-term adaptation for long-term gain.

So Happy New Year, thanks for sharing 2014 with me, and being understanding, and I look forward to more adventures in 2015!

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Growing, cooking and freezing of a different kind

There has been a long delay between posts, and while there are multiple reasons, I think the longer I left it, the more epic I thought the next post needed to be, which makes it harder to start again! So, here is the small post that will restart me on regular posts again, sorry!

As you know, I’ve been growing a different kind of plant, a baby-shaped one! To stretch the metaphor, the baby was growing and cooking for most of this year, and the last few weeks of pregnancy really made it hard for me to cook or garden, as bending down or lifting things became a real challenge, with a large watermelon blocking my movements!

Our gorgeous baby girl Abigail was born in mid October, and I must admit, my life has been a bit on freeze since then, as dealing with a newborn, however cute she is, has been quite the shock to my system and way of life. I think I naively assumed that while the baby would impact on what I do, that I would be able to return to normal programming fairly quickly, because all babies do is sleep, right? Well, they do that, sometimes, when it suits them, but they also feed a lot, and as I’m breastfeeding, and recovering from a C section (little bub was breech for quite a few months, so no way of dislodging her otherwise!), it’s all quite tiring and overwhelming. I know that the first few weeks are tough, everyone says it, everyone’s been through it, but it is quite another thing to actually go through it yourself.

So my garden is definitely suffering, it’s getting watered, but not much else, ie weeding and staking have fallen by the wayside, because again, bending is a challenge! In terms of cooking, we prepped a few things before the birth, such as spaghetti sauce, burrito mix, soup and some snacks, a recipe for one of which I will share in the coming weeks, and froze them, so that’s been quite handy, as being tired and then thinking about cooking isn’t high on the list!

Once things settle down a bit, I will do some more posts about my poor garden (some storms and heat have not been kind) and some cooking I’m doing, and will probably reflect a fair bit of motherhood as well, because I hear that no-one has ever blogged about that before! 😉

To leave you with a couple of photos of the angel (when she’s not being a demonic crying monster!)

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Two very different nuts

I was just looking back through my photos to pull some together for this post, and realised how over winter I am – it’s been very cold and rainy here the past few weeks, and I had a horrible cold on top of that (coughing + baby in belly = uncomfortable!), so although I am normally someone who doesn’t mind the cold weather, I am definitely keen for some warmth, longer days, summery food and hopefully less rain so my garden actually gets a bit of a chance to grow!! Anyway, that’s my random end of winter rant over :-)

I did some planting a few weeks ago, of tomatoes, peas, red cabbage, english spinach and broad beans – the rain has probably not helped their ability to thrive, but I can report that there appears to be shoots of all of them, which is positive, so there will be more to report on over the next few months!

In older garden news, let me tell you about peanuts!! More specifically, growing them!

Peanuts
As you know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I am very much an experimental and haphazard gardener, who likes to plant things to see how they work in a small space, sometimes with great success (cucumbers, tomatoes, I can sense another good summer for you guys!), sometimes with sad results (corn, broccoli, one day I will conquer you!). Peanuts fit somewhere in between these two camps – they were a success, but a limited success, because the yield wasn’t high, but then the effort put in wasn’t high either, so I think it’s ultimately a win!

Now, I helpfully didn’t record when I planted these peanuts, because it was back in the days when I was a bit sloppier about my recording dates. However, I would guesstimate that it was sometime between October and December, as these photos were taken in January and February respectively, and the plant is clearly already quite advanced!

January peanut plant

January peanut plant


February peanut plant

February peanut plant

I then harvested the little guys in June. So, it’s a long slow process to get peanuts. However, the thing I like about peanuts is you just let them grow, no real intervention required!! The plants grow, then form little yellow flowers, which then drop into the earth and burrow down to create the nuts – how cool is that!! The nuts themselves actually grow under the soil, on the roots, and you know when they’re ready, because the plant at the top dies!! Finally, a positive spin on plant death!

Peanuts still attached to roots in soil

The dead plant at the top, soil and peanuts at the bottom!

You then shake the whole thing out of the pot, and sift through to find, voila, peanuts!!

Soil, with peanuts!

Soil, with peanuts!


Peanuts loosed from their soily home!

Peanuts loosed from their soily home!

When I initially bought a ready grown peanut plant a few years ago, the success of which inspired me to plant my own, the vendor helpfully advised that you shouldn’t eat the peanuts straight away once you harvest them, you should leave them to dry out for a couple of weeks, as there is some residual toxicity going on that you want to avoid! So, I dutifully put my small crop of peanuts in a container in a sunny spot in our kitchen for the past couple of months, and am now slowly nibbling my way through them, making them last as they are so few!

Peanuts in container - still soily!

Peanuts in container – still soily!


Peanuts in their shell - see, actual peanuts!

Peanuts in their shell – see, actual peanuts!


Peanut after a bite - not roasted or salted, just raw and fresh!

Peanut after a bite – not roasted or salted, just raw and fresh!

Summary – peanuts are a fun plant to grow, in that it looks pretty, is very low maintenance, and is fun to harvest, but unless you plant acres worth of them, you won’t be making homemade peanut butter anytime soon! In hindsight, there are probably some things you can do to ensure more flowers grow, leading to more peanuts, but I don’t think that would have dramatically increased my crop to the point of making my own peanut butter, which would really be the ultimate goal!

The other nut – coconut
No, I haven’t decided to grow coconuts, even I, with my spatial awareness issues, am aware that a palm tree won’t work in our suburban backyard!! However, I did receive a free 1L sample of Pure Harvest Coco Quench coconut milk, which I thought I’d review for you here. I don’t tend to go in for dairy alternatives, mainly because I don’t have to, I tolerate (and in fact adore) traditional cow’s milk dairy very well, and therefore don’t really need to adjust my taste buds to the other types. I have dabbled in almond milk with cooking, and liked it, but still sometimes find non-dairy milks a little intensely flavoured compared to what I’m used to when milk is the focus of the dish like coffee or cereal. However, in the event that the bun in my oven isn’t so accommodating of dairy, and I need to cut out dairy for a while while breastfeeding, it is good to consider how I will continue to enjoy my breakfasts without regular milk!!

So, when we ran out of milk the other day, I decided to give the coconut milk a whirl. I used it in my porridge for around 4 days, in my coffee and in one of my late night cereal snacks (bub gets hungry in the middle of the night!). I found that I could taste it in my coffee and cereal, and while not unpleasant, as it is quite a nice flavour, it would probably take a bit of getting used to if I was to use it full time. However, in my porridge, although the consistency looked a bit different (see below), it tasted almost the same, which is positive for me, as it means it functions well as a replacement for my warm breakfasts, and is likely to be able to be adapted to other breakfasts as well.

Coconut milk porridge cooking - the consistency looks a bit more watery than with regular milk, but it still cooks up fine!

Coconut milk porridge cooking – the consistency looks a bit more watery than with regular milk, but it still cooks up fine!

So, on the whole, a thumbs up from me – it is easy to use, store in the fridge like normal milk in a carton, shake before use and away you go!

Recent eats and garden update

Hello my lovelies,

I will get around to posting about my peanuts, once I get around to eating them – when you only produce a handful of them, you want to savour them appropriately! I’ve also realised that I don’t necessarily need to wait for something big to update you on, I can also do some more random updates on the bits and pieces going on in my life – let me know if you’re happy to read those as well, or what you would prefer!

However, despite my extreme laziness in the garden of late, there are developments to share with you! I have found that one of my tomato plants is currently defying the laws of nature and gravity, which I always like to commend! I’m of the ‘perhaps if I leave that almost dead looking plant for a few weeks/months something interesting might happen’ school of gardening, as you never know when a plant might suddenly spring back to life – my herbs frequently do this! So at the end of the tomato season a few months ago, I did pull out some obviously dead plants, but left this one because there were still a few green shoots. Recently, I noticed that while the bottom of the plant appears dead, the top of the plant hasn’t noticed, and is blithely growing flowers for new tomatoes, even though it’s on a very odd angle! This is why I love nature!! We’ll see how these tomatoes go …

See, the base of the plant appears dead, however new life continues to spring!

See, the base of the plant appears dead, however new life continues to spring!


A closer look at the impressive tomato flowers, defying the odds!

A closer look at the impressive tomato flowers, defying the odds!

Also, my pea plants are going well, growing up tall and hopefully will have pea pods to show you soon, but here is the plant in the meantime:

Pea plants in progress

Pea plants in progress

I also overcame my laziness (I blame a combo of questionable weather, general busyness and the fact that my increasing baby bump makes it harder to lean over!) in my winter planting yesterday. My compost has actually been going wonderfully well – full of worms, which I take to be a good sign of decomposition and general compost health!! So, yesterday I planted some more tomatoes, some broad beans, some English spinach, and some red cabbage – I still don’t know why the red cabbage didn’t grow at all a few months ago, so if that happens again, I’d say it’s the seeds, but we’ll see how these new crops go!

In food news, I have been enjoying my EasiYo yogurt so very much for breakfasts! In my usual porridge, on muesli in the warmer weather we had last week, as an afternoon snack, and on the weekend, I made myself a lovely plate of French toast, served with homemade yogurt, defrosted berries and maple syrup – it looks like a cafe meal, if I do say so myself!!

Cafe-ready French toast!

Cafe-ready French toast!

And last week I made an experimental salad that turned out wonderfully well – I poached some chicken thighs in some society garlic, peppercorns and parley, cooked some quinoa in chicken stock, roasted some pumpkin, and then all combined these with some rocket, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and homemade beetroot relish (which is awesome, by the way – canned or fresh beetroot, diced, with 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, bring to the boil then simmer until it’s nice and relishy looking and tastes tart but not too strong – it keeps in the fridge for ages and I add it to everything!) All the flavours went so well together, it was super yummy – apologies for slightly blurry photo, I will endeavour to stop taking photos like a guerilla and actually take time to take them properly!! And the good thing about poaching the chicken was that it created plenty of stock for me to freeze for future soups and stews!

Awesome chicken and quinoa salad!

Awesome chicken and quinoa salad!

So, that’s what’s been happening in my growing, cooking and freezing world of late!

Peanut butter goodness

I have two posts planned on my love of the peanut – this one will focus on an awesome cookie I made recently, whereas the next one will focus on the fun to be had growing peanuts yourself! Not enough to make peanut butter, though, which is my great love …

A few weeks ago, I decided that a more beneficial way of satisfying my love of all things cookie and sweet (usual, but even more so during pregnancy, I must say, although that’s perhaps because I try and justify it by saying the baby wants it … :-) was to make some yummy cookies myself, to try and combat the high levels of crap found in commercially sold/available in my work kitchen options.

Now, there is sometimes a big debate in Australia about the difference between cookies and biscuits, largely based on the Americanisation of our language etc, and some people use these terms interchangeabley. In my view, biscuits are harder, and made for Anzacs (it is not an Anzac cookie, people, it’s an Anzac biscuit, made to travel long distances and survive!) and/or by Arnott’s in large packs and found frequently at workplaces. Cookies, however, are softer, often a bit sweeter, American in origin, and made by Subway/cafes/lots of bloggers. I feel that a choc chip biscuit can be nice, but a choc chip cookie can be even nicer, as it is softer and chewier, and if I’m buying from a cafe or similar, then it’s a cookie, whereas if it’s served at a work morning tea, it’s likely to be a biscuit. However, sometimes it just depends on how long you cook it for, I have often planned to make cookies and ended up with biscuits!! So it’s not a hard and fast rule, but these are definitely cookies – chewy, soft and oh so yummy!

The recipe below is truly wonderful, so much so that my husband wolfed many of them down and said that I could make these anytime I like (high praise indeed!) They also lasted surprisingly well, probably because it’s colder weather – I made them on Sunday, and they kept in an airtight container until Friday (not many of them, due to our high incidence of eating them!), so I didn’t have to freeze them as I had thought I might, although as I plan to make them again this weekend, I might make a double batch and freeze them just so we have them available longer!!

I really love peanut butter – I love it on toast, I love it with crackers, I love it flavouring things, I think it gives a lovely sweet/salty tang to sweet things that I very much appreciate. I must say, I haven’t yet gotten on the alternate nut butter (almond, sunflower etc) bandwagon – I like almonds, but didn’t really like the almond butter I tried, so I might need to try it again, or just continue to enjoy my love affair with peanut butter! I also love it with chocolate – those Reese’s people know what they’re doing! Therefore, I wanted to bake a cookie that would have both peanut butter flavouring and choc chips, and voila! These are not necessarily the healthiest thing, but in moderation, a very welcome addition to our eating! I made these in my Mix Master, which worked well for a properly mixed cookie dough – just had to try and stop myself from eating too much raw cookie dough, darn raw egg restrictions!

I found this recipe on the lovely vegan blog Oh She Glows, because I really like her recipes, but as I am not vegan, and wanted to use ingredients we had around the house, I have adapted it – here is the link to the original if you’re interested – http://ohsheglows.com/2012/12/05/crispy-peanut-butter-chocolate-chip-cookies-vegan-gluten-free/

Peanut Butter chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 cup butter or margarine (45g)
1/4 cup peanut butter (70g)
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar (135g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
1 cup rolled oats(105g)
1 cup +2 tbsp almond flour or meal (I had almond meal, so used that – you can grind your own almonds if you feel the great urge, I didn’t!)
1/3 cup chocolate chips, dark or milk would work fine

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
2. With an electric mixer or in a stand mixer (ie my lovely Mix Master), beat the buttery spread and peanut butter until combined. Add sugar and beat for 1 minute more. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until combined.
3. Beat in the remaining dry ingredients (baking soda, baking powder, salt, oats, and almond flour) one by one. If your dough is dry (this could be the case if too much flour is used), you can add a touch of milk to thin it out. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Shape 1-inch balls of dough (smaller than golf balls) and place on the baking sheet. If chocolate chips aren’t sticking to the dough, just press them in with your fingers. There is no need to flatten the balls as the cookies spread out a lot. Place balls 2-3 inches apart.
5. Bake for about 11-13 minutes (I baked for 12 mins) until lightly golden. The underside will also be a rich golden brown shade. The cookies will be very soft coming out of the oven, but they will harden as they cool.
6. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins. on the baking sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle cookies with flaked sea salt to bring out the peanut butter flavour even more (which I forgot to do, but might do this time!)
7. Enjoy!! They should last for almost a week in an airtight container, or should freeze very well.

Here is the one photo I remembered to take before they were all gone – as you can see, I only allowed myself to bring one to work as a post-lunch hit of sweetness, it’s all about portion control over here or else I would scarf the lot!!

Peanut butter choc chip cookie

Peanut butter choc chip cookie goodness!

Enjoy!

Yo yo yogurt!!

In my continuing quest to be more organised, be more organic and save money, I spent Sunday afternoon creating food for the week – something very cathartic about having snacks and meals ready to go!

I baked bread (using our lovely bread maker and a soy and linseed packet mix), made meatloaf for dinner for Sun and Mon nights (see photos below – super yummy!):

Meatloaf

Meatloaf!!


A hearty winter dinner!

A hearty winter dinner!


made some chia seed puddings, made some awesome peanut butter and choc chip cookies (will post on those soon!), and then also made yogurt!! I was very proud of my industrious self!

Everything else seems pretty standard in terms of food prep, but making yogurt? How does one do that, I hear you ask?

Making yogurt
Well, I am a believer in synchronicity and signs – one of my friends Carolyn had posted recently on FB about making her own yogurt using the EasiYo system, and I was intrigued. Then, when I was perusing a webpage about money-saving tips (always enjoy thrifty tips!), someone else commented about EasiYo and how cost effective (and easy!) it was!!

I looked it up online, and although you could order the system online for extra shipping costs, you could also purchase them at various supermarkets like Big W or Woolworths, which made more economic sense (even though I love online shopping so much so that the Australia Post guy knows me now!) So, Sunday arvo, after some awesome bargain baby clothes shopping (it’s all so very cute!! And even better when on sale, thankyou Gaia Organic and Baby Bonds!), my lovely husband and I forewent our usual IGA shop and instead visited the larger Woolworths which is further from our house.

We used to shop there weekly when we first moved here, but realised that we usually don’t need such a big shop, involving a bus trip back, as we get most of our fruit & veg from our organic box and smaller shops – also, Woolies on a Sunday late afternoon is a horrible place full of people similarly unhappy about shopping and the impending Monday!! However, we were there early enough on Sunday arvo for it not to be too bad.

This long ramble ends happily, as while I had planned on going to Woolies for the EasiYo purchase, I completely forgot about it once we were there(baby brain!), and thankfully my husband has an amazing memory for random things that I tell him, as he saw it, said ‘didn’t you want one of those?’, and voila, we got it! It’s also super cheap – the whole contraption is less than $20, and sachets of the yogurt stuff is only around $3.50 a pop!

It was very easy to use – you just put some water in the canister, add the sachet of yogurt mix (I chose vanilla to start with), shake around, fill with more water, then put boiling water in the bigger container, put the canister in and put the lid on, and leave overnight! Out of the fridge, to allow the starter to create yogurt, you refrigerate it once yogurt has occurred.

I was sceptical, I must admit – I thought it either wouldn’t work, or would be very weird looking and tasting.

Monday morning, I opened it up, and there was yogurt!!

A bit mottled on the top (whey settling, methinks), but once you got down into it, it was lovely and creamy-looking.

The first spoonful of the goodness!

The first spoonful of the goodness!


A little bit further into the yogurty goodness!

A little bit further into the yogurty goodness!


And the taste? Awesome!! Just like the ones I usually eat, sweet, not too sweet, and quite a light texture!! The wheyey bit on the top also tasted great, nothing wrong there!
Stirred around

Stirred around


On my porridge, just like from the store - get in my belly!!

On my porridge, just like from the store – get in my belly!!

I had checked the pack to make sure I wasn’t getting too much extra sugar, and it ends up being the same as the other yogurt I get in terms of sugar and calories, and a bit better on calcium and fat! And for less than half the price – my 700g of organic goodness normally costs around $7, whereas I made 1kg for $3.50!!

Full canister of yum!

Full canister of yum!


Funky container to make yogurt!

Funky container to make yogurt!

It lasts 2 weeks in the fridge – EasiYo for the win!! And the real test – husband verdict (he was also quite sceptical) was “this is great, we should buy a second container to make plenty for us both to eat during the week!”

It comes in lots of other flavours, as well as natural, greek, and low fat – I have a sweet tooth, so enjoy the vanilla one, but will also experiment with the greek and natural. I also prefer to add my own fruit flavourings to things, and as I currently use this on my porridge, which already has plenty of fruit and flavour, this is a winner!! It is super easy in terms of mixing and leaving

So, there you go, not quite from scratch as I use their sachets (although I read that you can use milk powder and a bit of the leftover yogurt as a starter for a similar effect, will try that in the future too!), but definitely something homemade and cost effective that I would not have expected!!