You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to …

One of my favourite veggies ( and yes, I know, it’s also a fruit, and bananas are herbs and all sorts of other specific sciencey definitions that make it hard to actually categorise the food you eat! Rather than labelling ‘salad’ as its own category, we’ll just agree to call it a veggie, ok?) is the tomato. It is so versatile, can be used in most dishes to add flavour, colour and health (lots of Vitamin C and antioxidants, they tell me). So, it is definitely a key focus for my veggie garden. I remember growing cherry tomatoes as a kid, but not much about their success rate, which makes me think it wasn’t high! Thankfully, times have changed!

Alas, this post suffers from the same ‘when did I actually plant these things’ as the cucumber, but thankfully I have improved, I logged all the veggies I planted a couple of weeks ago, so you can look forward to accurately dated discussions about the growing time of zucchini, capsicum, broccoli and shallots in future posts!

My best guess is that I planted these babies in late July/early August, as I remember a trip to the garden shop around that time. I planted some heirloom varieties, which even the packet admits are completely random, in terms of not being able to predict which varieties have actually been planted! By 1 October, they had become the large beauties you see here:
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Now, I have an ongoing problem with depth perception/the ability to correctly gauge how big a vessel I need for something, with the result that a large amount of things I cook require a change of pot at some point (usually after I add the one ingredient too many that breaks the camel’s back!) This problem also carries over to the garden, as it often takes me a while to admit that the particular plant requires a bigger pot – it’s usually my lovely and observant husband who makes the suggestion. So, as you can see in the above photo, the tomatoes were very clearly outgrowing their shallow pot. Little did we know, however, that transplanting them would lead to this triffid-like situation!

See the size of these plants compared to everything else?!

See the size of these plants compared to everything else?!


These are the tomato plants at the end of November, a few weeks post-transplant – clearly very happy in their new pot! The plants required staking early on, as they grow quite tall – we actually had to buy bigger stakes to accommodate the plants!
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So, at this point I wondered whether I should trim/prune them in some fashion – they were growing lots of yellow flowers, which I noticed were leading to little tomatoes at the base, but I wanted to ensure that they continued to do so (and I wanted to tame the triffids somewhat!) Trusty Google informed me that to prune tomatoes, cut the leaves off below the first lot of flowers, as well as the ones that are growing randomly and uselessly at 45 degrees. I ruthlessly chopped off multiple branches, reducing the thicket and seemingly keeping the plants happy. There are 3 main plants, but as I pruned rather late in the abundant growth, there are 2-3 large branches on each plant, all producing fruit, but protruding rather rakishly (and annoyingly when you need to walk past to hang out washing) to the side. Lesson learnt, next time I will try and train my plants better!

Anyway, by mid-December, the first actual tomatoes were in glorious evidence (although not yet ripened):
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It took another few weeks for these lovely specimens to ripen, I think the large amount of rain and less heat in December, as well as the general unpredictability of heirloom varieties delayed it. But seemingly overnight, after bring stubbornly green for many weeks, they changed colour!
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I put netting around them to repel birds and largish insects - just use the netting that bags of apples come in!

I put netting around them to repel birds and largish insects – just use the netting that bags of apples come in!

However, most excitingly, over the past week we have enjoyed 4 multicoloured and delicious tomatoes! They have been added to salads, tacos, other veggies and enjoyed by themselves – they seem to ripen at different times, so we are only getting one every couple of days at the moment, but they are lovely!
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Inside the green and red

Inside the green and red

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There seem to be two main types so far – the light red with a green top, and the yellow ones – I initially thought they were going to ripen red, but when Jon and I fondled them (it’s important to have a helper when fondling veggies for ripeness, for consistency and suggestive comments purposes!), they were ripe, so that is clearly their colour! Here the yellow one joins some zucchini and carrot, cut using the Betty Bossi gadget, then lightly sautéed with a bit of olive oil, homegrown basil and society garlic, then served alongside some crispy skin ocean trout – superb!

See the yellow tomato? Cut up and flavouring beautifully!

See the yellow tomato? Cut up and flavouring beautifully!


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And , the harvest is just beginning – there are currently 15 tomatoes at various stages of growth on the various plants – I planted a few additional plants in around September, so there are a few extra producers out there, with the original plants still going strong! The flowers produce little tomatoes at their base, which push out, and the flower then dies and the full tomato lives on! The marigolds you will notice in the below photos are because marigolds are a great companion plant for tomatoes, they do something to the soil to keep them mutually happy!
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Tiny little tomatoes!

Tiny little tomatoes!

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So, tomatoes, relatively easy to grow, in full sun, plenty of water (they appear to be very thirsty plants), stake as needed and then prune once flowers appear to encourage the plants to focus on tomato production! The taste is amazing, so much richer and more flavoursome than any you will buy!

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Frozen delights

As it’s rather warm here in Sydney at the moment, my thoughts have been turning to cool frozen sweet options, as iceblocks and the like are a staple of an Australian summer! However, rather than ingest the sugar and water that makes up a majority of commercially available options, I decided to invest in some reusable moulds (and an exciting new gadget!) and experiment with frozen fruit options.

Softserve goodness – Yonanas!
First off, the awesome gadget – I have long wanted an icecream maker, but recognise that having icecream readily available will just lead me to eat it in large quantities and that doesn’t necessarily work so well with my fitness/health goals, so I resist and just have icecream when out of the house – much safer for my sweet tooth! However, when I discovered this little gadget, I realised that I might be able to have the icecream-style goodness without all the fat and cream and artificialness. So, our first exciting frozen delight – Yonanas! (NB: this is not a paid or sponsored post, I just discovered this awesome gadget and want to share the love!)

The lovely gadget itself!

The lovely gadget itself!

This is a kitchen gadget/machine that turns frozen fruit into the consistency of soft-serve icecream!! You freeze bananas and any other type of fruit, thaw for about 10 minutes, then shove into the machine and hey presto, soft serve!

Fruit thawing pre-Yonanas!

Fruit thawing pre-Yonanas!

And it’s only made up of whatever you’ve actually put into it (ie fruit, yoghurt), so it’s super healthy (in terms of knowing what’s in it and it being fruit, too much of a good thing can still be dangerous!) It’s a fun treat, and it really does have the consistency of soft serve – and if you’re not the biggest fan of banana-flavoured things, you can’t even really taste the bananas, they just work as a sweet binding agent for the other fruit you put in it! I love berries, watermelon, peaches (next time I’ll peel them to improve the consistency), and will also try pineapple at some stage.

Making Yonanas!

Making Yonanas!

Yonanas!

The finished product

My mango-loving husband tells me it also tastes great with mangoes (I’m not a fan, an act of sacrilege in a mango-loving country, I know!) – I use the machine for my serving, then he puts his mangoes in afterwards 🙂

Making mango yonanas

Making mango yonanas

The only downside is that because it is usually bananas and other fruit, it can be kinda filling, as we discovered on our first try, with a full banana and other fruit each, so we try to limit the amount we make – I find using about half a banana, with some berries, watermelon and peach, makes the perfect amount for an after dinner treat! And friends have put yoghurt in it with fruit, then put into freezer moulds to make frozen yoghurt – I haven’t tried that yet, but definitely plan to!

Iceblock experiments
So, when we’re not enjoying Yonanas, we’re enjoying other frozen delights, also made from fruit. When out shopping in December, we came upon these awesome little silicone moulds, which are shaped like a Calippo iceblock (for Australians who know what that is, not sure if it’s elsewhere in the world). Basically, a little cone shaped mould, with a lid. We tried some with squeezed orange juice (watered down), which were nice and convenient as we had to use up the oranges that were getting a bit funny! Then I made some watermelon puree (I used our stick blender to mush it up, then strained to remove the seeds), and put that in with a couple of blueberries and some chopped strawberries, which floated to the top and made for a sweet and textural experience!! They stand up in the freezer and then you can squish them in the moulds for easier eating – highly recommended, especially because they are small enough that you feel like you’re getting a treat without feeling like you also had a large amount! We’ve made them with blended pineapple also, which has a slightly chewier texture, but still lovely and refreshing!

Calippo mould

Calippo mould

Calippos freezing

Calippos freezing

I also bought some iceblock/Popsicle moulds, the ones with the stick that you pour things into then eat off the stick, and made some pineapple ones, with some cut up peach, strawberry and blueberry at the bottom – see below!!

Peach, blueberry and pineapple

Peach, blueberry and pineapple

My most recent ones have been watermelon puree, with chopped nectarine, blueberry and strawberry – I tried to make it look fancy, ie place the fruit so that when you take it out of the mould to eat, it creates a nice pattern, but the fruit kept floating, oh well – next time, Gadget!! These are so refreshing and lovely at the end of a meal, just what you want on a hot summer’s night, and even better, they’re all fruit, so much better for you!

Nectarine, watermelon, blueberry and strawberry

Nectarine, watermelon, blueberry and strawberry

Watermelon
And, as there was some left over (and I hate waste, hence my reusing and freezing!) I put the rest of the mix into an icecube tray, so there will be little fruity ice cubes, to eat by themselves or add to water for a slightly fruity concoction!!
Icecubes of pineapple and watermelon!

Icecubes of pineapple and watermelon!

So, these are my suggestions for some homemade frozen delights – let me know your thoughts and your ideas!! I’m wondering whether making some slightly more vegetable-full ones would work, similar to a veggie juice … stay tuned!

A different type of spaghetti

Now, this blog will not be all raw food and veggies, I promise, as I am a hearty and frequent meat eater and will share some of those recipes too! But, as it is summer in Sydney, the heat makes salads and cooler, lighter meals more enticing, and puts me in the mood to try new and raw things (whether they be salads or other things). I saw this recipe on one of my favourite blogs, and then tried a type of raw zucchini spaghetti at a local cafe, and was impressed, and then fate smiled upon me by showing me the awesome little spaghetti-making gadget in a kitchen store, so all combined to make the delicious meal below happen!

I am also blessed with an amenable husband who is willing to try anything in the culinary department at least once, which means that I can try lots of different new types of recipes and know that he will eat them, a luxury I know a lot of people do not have! He will also advise me whether it is something that he would eat again or not, based on his enjoyment level, and this recipe below got the tick of approval! It was amazingly delicious, something about the freshness of the sauce made it zing in your mouth, and it lasted really well in the fridge, I was still eating it some days later!! And, even better, no cooking required!!

So, allow me to present to you – raw zucchini spaghetti!! (Does anyone else find it hard to spell the word zucchini? I always want to double different letters, more ‘n’s and ‘h’s for some reason …)

The recipe came from the lovely Sweet Madeleine (http://sweetmadeleine.ca/2012/08/06/raw/), who I read religiously and very much enjoy – she doesn’t normally do recipes, but insightful and amusing posts on her life, her family and living sustainably, go check her out!! However, while she used a peeler on the zucchinis, we had the advantage of this awesome little gadget (see pics below) that makes spaghetti out of veggies (it also will make those cute little curls in salads) – completely an indulgence, but so awesome, because the texture is great!! It does take a bit of time to get all the zucchini into spaghetti, but doubles as a good arm workout, turning the little thing!!

Jon made the sauce while I made the spaghetti (because he knew I would enjoy the gadget more!), and it only took about 15-20 minutes all up. We used a couple of green zucchinis from our fortnightly organic delivery, and some yellow ones we bought from the organic place up the road, for the wow factor of different colours (they taste pretty much the same but look prettier).

The only odd thing is that dishes like this can confuse your brain, in that because you call it spaghetti, and that’s what it looks like, your brain expects it to be hot, which it isn’t, but as it still tastes awesome, you can work around that!!

Raw Zucchini Spaghetti

1. First get yourself 4 medium sized zucchinis. Wash them thoroughly.

2. Create spaghetti/noodles in some way out of your zucchinis – I used the awesome little gadget you see below that makes spaghetti out of veggies.

You put the zucchini inside, then turn it til the spaghetti comes out!

You put the zucchini inside, then turn it til the spaghetti comes out!

You can also use a mandolin (some type of fancy slicing kitchen implement), or even just go to town with the peeler or grater to make fettucine-type pasta – you’ll get different textures, but the overall taste will still be great. No cooking required – I did not cook the zucchini in any way, and it was great!! I’ve also made other recipes with raw zucchini in salads, you’d be amazed at how versatile it is if you haven’t already tried it raw!

Spaghetti, pre-saucing

Spaghetti, pre-saucing

3. Next blend together (I recommend using a food processor or similar) the following ingredients until smooth:

1 ripe tomato, chopped
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes
½ red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Dash black pepper
Dash cayenne

The sauce might be fairly liquidy, but it will then soak nicely into the zucchini spaghetti.

4. Then mix all together, in a big bowl.

Sauce and spaghetti combined!

Sauce and spaghetti combined!

Then serve and enjoy! Voila!!

The finished product! So yummy!

The finished product! So yummy!

I definitely plan to make this again, repeatedly through summer – I also planted some zucchini plants over the weekend, so am hoping to use our own zucchini to make this in the future! Or even other veggies, the possibilities are endless!! I hope you like the look of this recipe, and try it – let me know if you do!

And please, if you have any good recipes of this type, share in the comments – I think my little gadget will work with carrots, cucumber, beetroot, and all sorts of things, so am definitely looking for new raw recipes to try!

Cucumbers

So, my current favourite plant/s in my garden are my cucumbers. And yes, I do play favourites with my plants, based on their ability to grow, not succumb to downy (or as my husband puts it, Robert Downey Jr mildew) or powdery mildew (I’m looking at you, peas and broad beans), and their ability to produce edible things within a short timeframe! I know, I’m demanding, but hey, if you scratch my back (ie deliver on the above), I’ll scratch yours (ie I’ll remember to water and feed you and maybe even prune you).

Back to my cucumbers:
Now, one of the things that I think this blog will help me do is actually remember to use the app I downloaded (ABC Vegie Guide), which allows me to enter the date I plant things, and it will remind me when I should think about harvesting it (it will even put a reminder in your calendar) – I get so excited by my afternoon spent putting out compost, potting mix and then actually planting seeds, that I have been forgetting to actually record when I planted the seeds. The app is quite useful, although it does tend to have optimistic harvesting dates which don’t necessarily accord with the speed of my plant growth, depending on the weather and other conditions!

On the upside, it means I’m always amazed at the progress of my plants (because I’m not watching the clock and questioning why they’re not meeting their developmental targets – this must be how people feel with their children); on the downside, it means that I’m not learning as much as I could about how long things take to grow and the effects of various conditions etc on their performance. So, I promise I will record all planting dates from now on!

On a more positive note, because I have been so excited by my plants, I have been taking lots of photos of my garden, so I can say that this photo of the cucumber plants was taken on 30 November 2013, which was probably around 2-3 weeks after planting?

The cucumber plant is down the bottom, with the heart-shaped leaves.

The cucumber plant is down the bottom, with the heart-shaped leaves.

I realised a couple of weeks after this photo that the plants were outgrowing their pots, so I moved them into a larger one all of their own, and they were grateful. The plants continued to grow apace, big leaves and stems appearing, I was quite excited, flowers started to appear, and then I wondered where the cucumbers would actually grow (as I mentioned before, surprisingly little research occurs prior to planting – I’m getting better, I swear!) I Googled cucumber growing, and discovered that the plants were likely to have male and female flowers, the female flowers being the ones that would grow cucumbers after being pollinated by the male plants (with the addition of bees), and they would already have little cucumbers at their base! And lo and behold, there they were!

See the cute little cucumbers at the base of the flower?

See the cute little cucumbers at the base of the flower?


Little cucumber!

Little cucumber!

Now, while this was very exciting, alas inexplicably a couple of weeks later, right around the Christmas period, this particular cucumber plant got all emo and decided that life wasn’t worth living and completely shrivelled up, mini-cucumber included, despite its 4 friends (the other cucumber plants) all thriving in exactly the same pot – maybe some mean comments were made, I don’t know, I wasn’t there at all times, but it sadly did not survive.

Thankfully, my dismay was short-lived, as next time I looked, just after new year, there was this beauty hanging out!

Look at him go!

Look at him go!

An actual real live cucumber!! Bendy and all!! So, we let him grow for about another week, and then decided to eat him!! Sorry, this will be a blog in which devouring of cute little plants occurs regularly, I apologise in advance for the squeamish 😉

This is him just after being picked, and my desire to measure him (cms, not inches, it’s all about metric, people!)

It's not always all about length ... except when you want to ensure there's enough to go around! (ooh, double entendres!)

It’s not always all about length … except when you want to ensure there’s enough to go around! (ooh, double entendres!)

And this is him contributing to a wonderful dinner – homemade sourdough, homemade hummous, bought capsicum (haven’t tried to grow those yet), baby spinach (also bought, I’ll tell more about my baby spinach woes in another post), the awesome cucumber and haloumi, the wonder cheese! Mmm-mmm, it was delicious!!
The  cut cucumber

Yummy dinner

So thank you cucumber, you are very tasty!! And, I’m glad to see, the plants are continuing to give the love, a picture taken just this morning!! Woohoo!!

The harvest continues!

The harvest continues!

So, summary of cucumber experience so far – I heartily recommend cucumber plants, they seem to take about 2 months to grow in the sunny Sydney climate from seed to first harvest, the cucumbers are very cute to watch grow, and seem to grow from nothing to edible in about a week (especially in warm weather). The plants themselves are vine-like, and seem to enjoy growing up and out – I’ve staked them as I read that helped to keep the fruit off the ground and also find it, and they seem very happy about it, as the leaves provide shade for the growing fruit, and also seem to be offering protection from birds, which is a regular fear with our swooping magpies! The cucumbers like lots of sun and plenty of water, I water daily and also have them in a saucer so they can retain their own moisture and access it when they want. The leaves are a bit spiky feeling, especially when searching through for cucumbers!

It all begins …

Well, the text all begins here, the subject matter and the idea began a while ago!

So, it’s everyone’s first time here, mine included, so let’s get to know each other a bit …

Gardening and organics
I have always enjoyed growing, cooking and eating (and freezing!) food. Since I’ve been an adult and living out of home, I’ve liked having a few pots of herbs (the cooking type, people!) on my balcony, but it has only been in the last couple of years, when I moved into a semi with a backyard (no grass, alas, it’s all about courtyard bricks and an immovable Hills Hoist that dominates, as well as the ‘prison chic’ look of the barbed wire fence separating us from the neighbouring car park … I’m really selling it, aren’t I!) that I started experimenting with growing other things, in pots. However, I often forgot to water things, or help things in the right way (fertilising, repotting etc), so there have been some high-profile disasters along the way (if anyone can tell me how to stop killing rosemary, I will be forever grateful!)

My garden!

My garden!

I have also realised that although in my day job, I research and consider and look at every angle before doing something, I’m the complete opposite when it comes to gardening, I tend to just try something (based on no experience!) and hope it works out, and then learn from it when it doesn’t … hmmm, maybe that is a reaction to the over-preparation required for my day job … sorry plants, you’re bearing the brunt of my mini-rebellion!! On the upside, I am getting better at that, actually reading up about things and taking advice prior to just planting and wishing, so this blog will also serve to remind me of the benefits of consistency, and any tips people have are always welcome!

My ever-patient and supportive husband has agreed to have a Bokashi Bucket in the kitchen, which is a great way to create the start of compost without the smells inside – it’s a sealed rubber bin, where you put the scraps and then put some organic matter (basically fancy woodchips!) on it to help it break down and not smell!! You’re then supposed to put it under soil outside to rejuvenate the soil, but as we don’t have an actual garden, it’s all about the compost bin for me, which is working very well – a little too well, however, as obviously we create way more compost than we can use, so I’m always happy to give it away!

I have become increasingly interested in organic eating (hence the growing), and am particularly focused on organic fruit and veggies, as well as considering the benefits of organic meat and dairy. We have recently signed up to FoodConnect for their regular organic box deliveries, and are enjoying a fortnightly game of ‘Masterchef Mystery Box’ cooking! However, I also love planning meals and making things in advance, which is why we’re doing a fortnightly box rather than a weekly box, as I still like to have some control over what we eat when.

Cooking and freezing

I also love recycling, reusing, repurposing – my view is that if you’ve got even the smallest bit of something left over from cooking something, it can be frozen or stored and used in something else. I really enjoy cooking, nothing satisfies me more than the fridge and freezer full of containers of homemade soups, stews, casseroles, iceblocks, fruit, stock and anything else not tied down! I enjoy making our own healthy food and snacks, like protein bars, and I also am quite into making sourdough bread, I have a homegrown sourdough starter that’s been a guest in our fridge for almost 3 years now, and I’m certainly still working on perfecting those loaves!

Home-baked sourdough goodness!

Home-baked sourdough goodness!


As a former English major, I also like to write, and I thought rather than continuing to bore friends and family on Facebook and in person with pictures of my latest garden success or culinary adventure, I’ll make a particular place where all of that stuff can go, and people can read it (or not) as they see fit.

So, I’ll try and post around once or twice a week, maybe more if I get inspired, (and probably a lot more in the beginning as I have lots of ideas and pictures to share with you all!) and it will be a mix of things – pictures from my garden, with accompanying stories of my triumphs and disasters, posts about things I’ve cooked, eaten and discovered, kitchen and household tips (I love to freeze things and use things up in innovative ways), musings on my life and the world in general.