Gardening it's in your Genes

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ever since I can remember I have wanted to have my hands in the ground to be close to nature and grow. It has always been that way.  Growing up in England it was customary to have your baby outside with you whether in the pram or on the terrace or in the garden depending upon the season.  As your baby grew they would increasingly spend more time outside sometimes on a blanket sprawled out on the lawn catching every opportunity to take in the fresh air.

It puts a smile on my face today when, flicking through the family photo albums, I see pictures of myself on the lawn picking daisies and getting very close to the sparrows who ventured close to me.  I didn't appear to be afraid of anything.  Apparently I had a fascination with insects and bees.  I would pick them up in my hands and hold them tight never harming them but giving my mother grief as she worried I would get stung.  I was never stung and continued to do this every time I was in the garden until finally I would open my hand and they would fly off unharmed leaving me happy and content.

I'm not sure whether this has anything to do with my sheer love of gardening or not however my senses were being stimulated from an early age. My parents are both keen gardeners and even when we moved to New Zealand when I was still young, we would spend time helping them out in the garden.  When we were old enough they set a little space aside for us to garden on our own.  We had a very large kitchen garden which was always producing something edible as we played.

We would have so much fun running around the garden and then stop for a refreshment.  I took for granted the ability to pick and eat on the run.  I thought everyone lived like this.  It didn't matter what season it was, there was always something to snack on. Summer of course had plenty to delight me as a child starting with berries, plums, peaches, even tomatoes that tasted so sweet they were irresistible.  I learnt some valuable lessons about eating too much fruit one year something I never forgot.  The plums were in season.  We grew a variety that fruited at different times throughout the season, some earlier than others.  Some specifically for preserving, others for eating.

It was the early fruiting variety that taught me a lesson one day.  As a child you are blissfully unaware of the dangers of eating too much of a good thing.  I love the taste of plums picked straight from the tree still warm from the sun, juice dribbling down your chin onto your clothes.  Of course your mother is going to have a fit as it stains like crazy.  I was always in trouble for this. This day was no exception.  I ate far too many plums causing a dreadful reaction.  By the early evening I was covered from head to toe in welts which were really itchy and made me feel rather poorly and sorry for myself.  Of course I was spoken to rather sternly about over indulging and vowed never to do it again.  I'm sure I did as it's really hard when you like something so much, and it tastes so good, to know when to stop.

We always had more than enough to share with friends and to preserve, turning them into jam and bottling them for winter desserts, which my mother excelled at and we enjoyed.  As the summer progressed we would enjoy sampling the other vegetable crops that were growing and picked raw while tearing around as you do when you're young.  I can honestly say I have never disliked vegetables and have always eaten them first when my meal is served.

We had plenty to choose from.  Beans were a clear favourite.  I particularly remember scarlet runner beans, they grew tall and required a very sturdy frame to grow on.  Each year the bean frame would be moved to a new location as you always need to rotate your crops otherwise the soil becomes depleted of nutrients and encourages disease.  The ground was prepared and the seeds planted.  Beans grow quite quickly, attaching themselves to the frame easily winding around all the way to the top.

Dad was rather clever.  He knew how much I loved the beans and would pay me to collect the shield bugs which were a threat to the crop eating the leaves, flowers and even the bean itself.  Shield Bugs, as I knew them, give off a pungent odour when threatened including notably when they are picked off the vine and popped into a jar.  They became Stink Bugs to me.  It was impossible to get the smell off your hands even after repeatedly washing with soap.  Payment at the end of the day for each bug pulled off the vine was a handsome reward and the knowledge that we would have plenty to eat and freeze for the winter sufficient incentive to persevere.

It wasn't always fun working in the garden, lets face it I was a child and I wanted to play.   For our summer holidays we would always go camping to a remote part of the north island in New Zealand. Our school holidays would start before Dad finished work for the year with us being kept busy doing chores in the garden as we were going to be away for a while.  Weeding was at the top of the list, and we had to do it properly pulling only the weeds and not the plants.  I learnt to appreciate from an early age the difference between a plant and an unwanted weed.  My fathers' forward planning was also very impressive actually now I come to think about it.

Summer is obviously the main growing season and we needed to ensure that we had enough to preserve for the winter.  Vegetables need to be well cared for.  They need to have enough water otherwise they struggle and don't crop well and can become tough and unpleasant to eat.  Dad knew exactly when and what to plant ensuring that we would not miss out.  Whenever we returned home from our vacation the garden was always producing at its peak and overgrown with weeds.

I'm still not sure whether all these experiences in the garden from an early age, no matter where we lived in the world, are responsible for my love of gardening, however it was my parents who set the passion alight in me and I dare say that they would say the same of their parents and so on, there has to be something in our genes.

Moving to the Northern Beaches

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My husband and I moved to the Pittwater in 2003.  Initially we had had ideas of finding a weekender, maybe something in the country perhaps.  Instead we sold our house and moved up to the beaches and decided to live there full-time!

The Pittwater is some 40 kilometres north of the city of Sydney and is a particularly beautiful waterway that extends north from Newport and their beautiful marinas to Palm Beach where the Pittwater waterway opens out to Broken Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

To the west the Kuringgai national park runs down to the foreshore and provides us with a spectacular backdrop to the most beautiful sunsets of an evening as we watch the twilight regattas and boats of all shapes and sizes looking for little secluded spots to weigh anchor for the evening.

Susan Duncan in her book A Life on Pittwater has produced a most inspiring account of her life and experience here with wonderful photography by Anthony Ong.  I highly recommend it as a great read particularly if you are into local history and early settlement and the impact this had on the indigenous population.

We bought a very original house with the most captivating view west looking across to Scotland Island and the national park and have spent the last ten years renovating it and taming the native bushland that runs down the cliff face.  We have met some wonderful people in that time and have been accepted as locals in a community that is adapting to the changes and challenges of Sydney's urban sprawl.

The local village of Avalon provides essential services without having to leave the peninsula and is just south of Palm Beach some twelve minutes further down the road north by car.  The Bilgola headland provides a wonderful vantage point to watch the migration of whales each year up and down the coast and dolphins are a regular feature just out of reach of the surfers chasing their favourite breaks from Newport to Avalon, Bilgola to Whale and Palm Beach.

Overall life on the Pittwater is calm and peaceful and fabulous for entertaining friends and family.  There really is no need to go anywhere on weekends if you don't need to.  There's nothing we like more than to watch the sunset with a glass of champagne in hand sharing the moment with friends.  Locally it is known as the insular peninsula and after ten years I'm beginning to understand why.

Sunday Lunch - Hot Smoked Salmon with Beetroot + Roast Rack of Venison + Poached Tamarillo

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Moving out of winter, it's refreshing to be able to prepare for the spring weather and a lovely Sunday lunch taking advantage of the seasonal produce. This salad using my freshly harvested beetroot has become a firm favourite among family and friends for sunday lunch as either an entree or main course. In this case it will be our entree followed by roast rack of venison from Mandagery Creek which we purchased recently at the monthly North Sydney markets.

It's so inspiring to meet and buy direct from the farmers and growers who themselves are so passionate and caring about their produce.  It was a highlight of the morning to meet Sophie Hansen from Mandagery Creek who is a successful food writer and editor for many things including her beautiful blog Local is Lovely.

Years ago in the Autumn you would go hunting for venison, these days it is farmed and far less gamy than you would expect and pleasingly full flavoured. It's nice to find farmers who are working tirelessly to make this fine produce available.  

Hot smoked salmon and beetroot salad

4 small beetroot cooked and peeled
2 small oranges peeled sliced into segments
2 fennel bulbs washed trimmed sliced finely
400g wild smoked salmon
1 teaspoon of horseradish

For the dressing

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
squeeze half a small orange

For the garnish

fennel sprigs

I prefer to bring the beetroot to the boil in a large saucepan then turn it down and let it simmer for about an hour or until tender. Drain and let it cool slightly then the skin comes off easily just with your hands, you can use gloves if you wish or just wash your hands thoroughly immediately after.  I sometimes cook them the day before leaving them overnight in the fridge.

Slice the beetroot into rounds to desired thickness if the rounds are too large cut in half and set aside.  Peel the oranges and slice into segments, set aside.  Trim the fennel bulb setting aside some sprigs to garnish then finely slice.  Select a serving platter and start to assemble the salad first start with the beetroot then the oranges followed by the fennel.  Break salmon into flakes and scatter over the top.  The beetroot will stain the other ingredients so I prefer not to toss.

We typically enjoy this entree with a glass of dry champagne however a favourite dry white wine is going to work just as well.

Rack of Venison with Red Wine sauce

1 rack of venison (1 cutlet per person)
salt and peppers
olive oil

Always allow your meat to come to room temperature before cooking.  This takes longer than you might think.  I take it out of the refrigerator in the morning and set it aside once I have removed it from its packaging and use paper towels to pat the meat dry.

Preheat your oven to 200C, then rub a little olive oil into the meat together with a generous amount of salt and pepper while the oven is getting to temperature.  You will then need to heat a little oil in an ovenproof frying pan, searing the meat on all sides for five to eight minutes before placing in the oven for a further 15-20 minutes.  Remember to rest your meat on a cutting board under baking paper and foil for about 10 minutes before you carve and serve.

Red Wine Sauce

6 brown shallots  
2 cups of good red wine
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups chicken or beef stock
2 bay leaves

Melting the butter in a frying pan, carefully sauté the finely chopped shallots until caramelised.  Add the thyme and bay leaves and begin slowly pouring in the red wine and the vinegar to the pan.  I used a cabernet blend on this occasion.  Allow the alcohol to evaporate, reduce the heat for about 5 minutes then add a good quality chicken or beef stock to the mix slowly stirring until it reduces to the consistency that you desire then stir in a little butter and the cooked meat juices just before serving.

A pinot would go quite nicely with this.

If celeriac is still in season serve the venison with celeriac puree if not creamy mashed potatoes.  As for a green vegetable try brussels spouts peeled cut in half and sautéed in butter seasened with salt and pepper.

Tamarillos remind me of time spent in New Zealand where most people had a tree growing in their garden.  They have a unique flavour which I love so I choose not to add any spices or sweeteners which is often added when poaching.  You will notice in all my recipes the absence of sweeteners however feel free to add them yourself.

Poached Tamarillos

3 halves per person

Wash thoroughly before cutting in half length ways leaving the stem in place.  Place in an ovenproof dish and add a cup of water and any sweetener that you desire.  Place in a preheated oven 200C for 20-30 mins until caramelised, remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before serving with cream.

Hope you enjoy your Sunday Lunch.

Breakfast of Baked Rhubarb + Orange served with vintage collectables

Monday, August 19, 2013

Something I love to make at this time of the year using my freshly harvested Rhubarb is Baked Rhubarb + Orange.  It's nice for breakfast with cream, coconut kefir or yoghurt.  I love the fresh tangy flavour of this combination and use oranges instead of sugar, but feel free to add whatever sweetener you prefer.

Baked rhubarb with oranges and vanilla

2 bunches rhubarb
4 oranges
1 vanilla bean

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees celsius.  Wash and remove leaves from the rhubarb as they are poisonous and trim the ends.  Cut the rhubarb into 6cm lengths place in an ovenproof baking dish.  Peel oranges and cut into slices to the desired thickness then place in the same baking dish as the rhubarb.  Squeeze 2 oranges and pour the juice over the rhubarb and oranges.  Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds adding the seeds and the bean to the baking dish.  Cover with paper and foil then bake for half an hour or until tender and holding their shape.

Serve hot or cold with cream, yoghurt or coconut kefir.

growing vegetables with native wildlife

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Each year, I plant my garlic on the shortest day of the year, this being the ideal time to do so and an easy time to remember. A good friend gave me some young garlic plants which should give me a good crop to harvest on the longest day, equally as easy to remember. I'm hoping this means the wildlife will leave the kitchen garden alone as they say garlic is an easy crop to grow, nothing will eat it except me of course.  Just what I want to hear.

For years now I have been battling the wildlife in my garden especially in my kitchen garden. They seem to enjoy my herbs and vegetables as much as I do, sometimes more because they eat the lot and I get nothing.

I have tried everything.  If they are not digging them up they are eating them from the top.  I have stopped growing Italian parsley as it was a magnet for the possums.  Then I discovered the possums and the bandicoots don't like the smell of thyme, rosemary and sage.  Needless to say I set about planting a lot along the garden paths and borders of my vegetable patch hopeful that it will work. I also found that mint and basil helped when in season. The possums have also taken a liking to the sorrel.  All I can say is they have great taste, I just wish they would leave some for me.

I have tried covering the garden with chicken wire, shade cloth and netting, all it seems to achieve is to make it hard for me to attend to the plants as they are still able to get in.  One season I planted a crop of beetroot, I love beetroot and was so looking forward to the lovely purple round roots being ready to turn into a tasty dish.  Every morning while waiting for the kettle to boil for my tea I would peer out the kitchen window and check out the bandicoot damage in the beetroot patch.  Sometimes I would think I had been passed over that night but once the sun reached the garden the little plants would start to wilt because they were out of soil  I would race out to replant and water them and hope they would recover. I think this went on for a least three weeks.  It was a matter of who was going to give up first. I persevered and they finally stopped, allowing the beets to develop into mature well formed beetroot which I harvested and enjoyed thoroughly.

I had a similar experience with rhubarb.  I thought it was not going to be touched as the leaves are poisonous for humans to eat.  Unfortunately possums aren't aware of this and don't seem to mind  them at all.  So it was a repeat of the beets, they ate the leaves and the bandicoots dug up the roots. I have to say they won this time, but I had the last say.  In a fit of frustration which most gardeners can relate to, I decided if I couldn't get to enjoy them why should they.  So I pulled all the plants out, what was left of them anyway, and that was that.

I am happy to report that so far the garlic has indeed been left alone and is developing nicely.  I'm looking forward to some freshly harvested garlic on the longest day of the year in summer.

Please pop in again soon, for my two recipes I've prepared for you using these two wonderful ingredients Beetroot and Rhubarb. 

Sunday Lunch - Celeriac + Salmon

Monday, July 29, 2013

I just love this time of the year, the days become cooler and the food I long for is warm and nourishing. Inspiration comes from what’s growing in my garden because I am a firm believer in eating in season. This is all I knew when growing up, I thought nothing of being asked to go and pick the broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage for supper while my mother continued cooking. It was so fresh still living, a short walk back to the kitchen and in no time we were sitting down to a delicious nutritious meal.

The cold weather in winter produces such a wonderful array of delicious vegetables, I have difficulty sometimes in deciding what I want to cook. I love my green vegetables and eat them with every meal which includes breakfast, yes breakfast why not.

The celeriac also known as celery root, is a clear favourite of mine. I was introduced to this wonderfully versatile vegetable while living in Brussels . There they use it both cooked and raw. I ate it raw for the first time and I was hooked. I discovered that you could buy it fresh, frozen and prepared as a winter salad. My friend Brigitte would make celeriac remoulade a clear french favourite and it soon became mine. It’s so easy to make and an incredibly refreshing change to the cooked vegetables that I usually prefer to eat when it’s cold.

Celeriac Remoulade

1 medium celeriac 
4 tbsp mayonnaise 
2 tbsp Dijon mustard 
2 tbsp sour cream 
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley

Peel celeriac and cut into a fine julienne using a mandolin or special peeler. Place in a bowl immediately and toss with the juice of half a lemon. Mix together mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sour cream and flat leaf parsley. Season with salt and pepper, then fold into the shredded celeriac. 

If you have problems with eggs I also make it with, 2 tbsp Dijon mustard, 3 tbsp of sour cream. If dairy is a problem then you can use 2 tbsp dijon mustard, drizzle olive oil to taste and the juice of half a lemon, to a mayonnaise consistency, not too thick not to thin.

Baked Salmon

4 salmon steaks
1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
sprigs of dill

Preheat oven to 200 c. Lightly grease an oven tray. Place salmon skin side down, drizzle with olive oil. Cut the lemon into medium slices, then cut them in half. Place 2 pieces of lemon on each salmon steak. Season with salt and pepper.

Place in middle of oven for 25 to 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. To serve place a mound of celeriac in the middle of a plate, then place salmon steak on top. Garnish with dill. Serve immediately.

Thanks for Popping In

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

For a long time I resisted all things technical, that is I wouldn’t use the computer unless I absolutely needed to. Sending or just replying to a text message was torture, I avoided it at all costs. I was proud of being old fashioned. I would say, “I like to make a phone call, you know, speak to someone instead of texting,” to avoid having to use technology.

Being ill for so long spending a lot of time bedridden, you begin to feel isolated. This went on for a long time. You begin to lose touch. My primary focus was finding out what was wrong with me and getting better. You don’t feel like communicating just being on your own.

Then one day a dear friend suggested the ipad would be something I might like as I’m very visual. She knew of my magazine and book addiction and the library I had built to house them. She introduced me to blogging, actually just one blog. I came home and immediately went online. I had no idea how long I was on there for, it only dawned on me when I noticed it had got dark. I was hooked! When did all this happen, I asked myself. Where have I been? I always heard people say, “check it out on my blog” I didn’t know what they were talking about and had always been too embarrassed to ask. A whole new world was opening up to me.

Now I have my health back and feeling more myself, I am constantly being asked how I overcame my illness. I had lost 20 kgs. My friends are amazed at my recovery and say I look better than ever. I can tell you I’ve never felt better in my entire life. I’m more than happy to share how I live my life and the positive impact all this has had on my family's over all health and well being.

Now I know what a blog is, I am here. I'm so happy you popped in!

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