In My Kitchen, March 2019

From February through to April, my vegetable garden is at its peak: each week brings another tidal wave of fruit and vegetables through the back door and into the kitchen. The years of weeding, nurturing, staking, mulching, seed selecting and composting have paid off. Our vegetable garden is now nine years old and I often think it has a life of its own. Things pop up of their own accord, though I do have a small hand in this, allowing the prime specimens to go to seed. Time means nothing once I cross the threshold of the vegetable garden gate: it’s another world, another time zone, a spiritual place. I often enter with the simple intention of gathering a posey of parsley, then am overcome by something intangible. It is la terra del tempo perso, the land of lost time, but that time is definitely not wasted. The crops and the earth itself have ways of communicating their needs, more so in these challenging years of drought and changing climate.

Lots of beans in March.

Sometimes I look at a bed of struggling vegetable plants and I know that by adding a few shovels of well-rotted compost, the plants will thrive within a day or two. Compost is garden gold, especially here in the Shire of Nillumbik, the ‘land of shallow earth’ in indigenous language. I have 5 large bins in various stages of decomposition. The connection between compost and the kitchen is an important one. It is up there with the other daily kitchen tasks of recycling all waste that we generate through our consumption-plastic, glass, aluminium and paper- except that food waste has a much simpler solution. In my kitchen, a tall bucket lives inside a pull- out drawer under the sink. Anything that my chooks don’t fancy goes straight into the compost bin. This includes vegetable peelings and food scraps, fish bones, fruit skins, egg shells, newspaper wrapping, cooking oil, paper towels, tea leaves and spent coffee. Other paper products are added such as dockets and plain envelopes, non inked cardboard containers, and other plain paper packaging. It is one of the most important practices in my kitchen and is an ingrained, lifelong habit. I would feel incredibly guilty if I didn’t use this important resource: it would be akin to throwing away good food or wasting money. And my beloved vegetable garden wouldn’t thrive. Composting is an aerobic process that reduces or prevents the release of methane during the breakdown of organic matter so long as it’s done correctly. To not compost contributes to global warming, not to mention the costly exercise of councils having to take away waste that is a such a valuable resource to the home gardener.

‘Food waste makes up a big chunk of general household rubbish that finds its way to landfill. Not only does sending food waste to landfill cost the economy an estimated $20 billion a year, it produces methane — a potent greenhouse gas — when it rots.’¹

Worm farms also work well, though after killing my worms one very hot year, I haven’t returned to that practice. My recipe for compost making can be found here.

Part of today’s pick. and always the excitement- what will I make?

The Roma tomatoes are most fruitful this year, and are wonderful in this Retro Tomato soup. I’ve added a couple of grilled prawns on top for a bit of flash frugal: they ceremoniously sank for the photo.

Retro soup with grilled prawns

Sometimes I lay out an array of garden produce and let it talk to me about lunch. Today’s pick included carrots, corn, silverbeet, beans, and zucchini. The lovely Kipfler potatoes come from Hawkes, a farm in the hinterland of the Mornington Peninsula. The rest is from my garden. After removing the corn from the cob, the denuded cobs can be boiled with a little salt and fresh bay leaves for a corn flavoured stock. Just like that hilarious book on pig eating, Everything except the Squeal, I feel the same way about my garden produce and try to use every part of the plant. The chooks hang around the orchard fence waiting for lettuces and other greens that have gone woody in my garden. Only then will they lay good eggs, as their grassy run is now sadly lacking in green grass and shoots.

My veggies nicely supplemented by lovely kiplers from Hawkes farm, Boneo in the hinterland of the peninsula ( near Cape Schank)
Today’s soup. Corn, Hawkes kipler potatoes, onion, garlic, carrot, beans, half pureed. A healthy version of a chowder.

Another marvellous find this week at Hawkes farm was a 4 kilo bag of just picked strawberries for $5. These are marketed for jam making and are often too ripe to sell. I usually make a big batch of jam but this week’s lot was in perfect condition- just oddly shaped. After hulling, I froze them in one kilo lots. Hawkes farm uses environmentally friendly packaging: this bag is made from corn and is compostable: no plastics or nasties have been used in the manufacture. The bag is now in our compost bin- it will be interesting to see how long it takes to vanish completely. I’m trusting the label which claims it meets Australian certified compostable standards which are more stringent than those of Europe. A nearby business in the village of Hurstbridge, Going Green Solutions sells Compost- a- Pak products in packs of 50 for AU$20. At 40c a pop, I hope I can re-use the bags a few times, especially for freezing bread as well as the annual crop excess.

Compost-a- Pak

I love kitchen gadgets that work well and this Nutriblender from Aldi is a gem, especially given its powerful 120 watt motor. The motor churns through the fruits and veggies in under 8 seconds. Breakfast covered, and a great way to use our soft fruits that don’t store so well.

Aldi’s Nutriblender. Main appeal is the powerful engine and price.
Vampire breakfast. Watermelon, Mariposa plums, black grapes, frozen Hawke’s strawberries.

The cucumbers are still prolific this year. A few cucumbers, some half peeled, plus yoghurt, salt, spices, and mint, are thrown into the jar of the new blender, buzzed for a few seconds, then voilà, summer cucumber soup. Just chill it.

Cold cucumber soup, mint, chopped pistachio

This year our fruit tree netting has been very effective in keeping out the birds. To date, we’ve harvested early peaches, three varieties of plums, early varieties of pears and apples and now, the table grapes. The sultana grapes are small and sweet, while the fat purple grapes have an interesting history. A little pot with a cutting was given to me by Vittorio, 8 years ago. A Siciliano who migrated here in the 1960s, Vittorio used to sell seedlings and small plants at a nearby market. This grape cutting was originally taken from a vine that had grown in his village. It probably is an ancient clone but we call it Vittorio after that lovely, generous man.

Grapes galore

Finally, returning to the dilemma of recycling, which is central to all our lives, especially in our kitchens, where we now sort and store our daily refuse, our local Council has just advised that our recycling will go to landfill this week, or we can ‘hold it back’ until a solution to the recycling crisis is found. Other shires around Victoria have openly announced that all recycling will now go to landfill. Will this be the tipping point that brings about change in our consumer patterns?

Thanks once again Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, for linking our kitchen posts in the monthly series In My Kitchen.

¹ https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-02-24/food-scrap-and-composting-solutions-for-apartments/10817702

26 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, March 2019”

  1. Mama Fran & Mt T’s toil is testimony to their vibrant, youthful looks. Can I please come to your 100th? Their devotion to alternatives and life-style is the epitome of good health which they unselfishly share with all of we like-minded community folk seeking to engage in their well and truly proven attitude to change. Through this blog we have been connected to so many followers and continue to learn so many aspects of self-reliance, sustainability and inspiration and love of good simple gardening, food and all the benefits.
    Thank you for far too much to put into words.
    Love you
    Peter and Steve
    FNQ

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your commitment to sustainable living through your garden is beautiful, and clearly represents a lifetime of good choices. Because I live in a more urban area, and have no space with enough sun to grow produce, I have a very different life, but I admire the time and effort you spend to make your own kitchen live up to such ideals.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mae. Yes siting and situation are both very important in back yard growing. It is not worth the effort without sun.
      We have been doing this sustainable thing for nearly 40 years now, but I do wonder how long I can keep it up. I am planning on a downsizing of this life when I turn 70 next year. We’ll see how that plan goes. Thanks for your kind comments as always.

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  3. I wish I had a garden big enough for compost – I am finding my worms helpful in getting some food waste into the garden but my trial of a compost bin did not work. Sounds like you have some great systems for food waste. Your produce sounds wonderful – I especially love the photo of the grapes – and their history. Recycling is a real mess in Australia – and one of the worst things about council’s stopping it happening at all is that people get cynical and into bad habits. Enjoy your vampire breakfasts 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Johanna, if you ever need a hand with getting the compost going, just yell out. I can help you with that, either through email or visiting. I am assuming that you don’t live in an apartment. worm farms are very effective and the juice is fabulous on plants.
      yes, it is a mess. Now that the EPA has ordered our big recycling centres to stop stockpiling, there’s not much choice for Councils. People do get into bad habits, but then, buying stuff wrapped in packages ls the problem of the consumer. We still need a stronger education campaign to change buying habits. we have relied on China, Councils and the State for too long to take our mess away.

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  4. Our recycling bin was emptied today, and I never gave at thought to the closure of the waste centres, even thought I knew about it. I try to keep plastic containers to a minimum, but they are everywhere! Food waste is another matter. Like you I feel very guilty if I can’t compost or put it in the worm farm. I have even been known to bring home scraps from friends who don’t compost! My soil is looking very dry and tired, so I will have to put a lot of TLC into it over Autumn. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Green with envy for your harvest and totally in awe of the committment to your demanding but sustainable lifestyle. I get totally peeved with packaging. I take produce bags whenever I shop, have done for 10+years. Even been called the ‘bag’ lady to my face but I find it unbelievable that people don’t choose to take control of the waste they take home. “Can’t be bothered” seems the most common response when challenged. What does the future hold for mankind?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That response, Can’t be bothered’ is so annoying. Still, the bag ladies of the world are having an effect: its slow but it’s working. Everyone takes a look at the little produce bags when they lie waiting at the checkout or market stall. Still, I get so much stuff coming into the house that is encased in plastic. It’s a slow business.

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  6. Wow Francesca! You and il marito are poster children for sustainable living! I do my part, but you put me to shame. Your produce is also molto photogenic. I’m just starting to think about planting seedlings now. it is still frosty at night, but I will start them inside the house. Ciao, Cristina

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Inside the house is a good idea if you still have frost. The other thing that is handy for inside is a little heat pad which you can sit under your seedling containers. They sell them at hydroponic shops or online. These help maintain an even temperature. Mini inside hothouses can be made for seedlings using used clear plastic soft drink or juice bottles. I imagine that the soil won;t warm up for quite a while yet in Canada.
      I’m not sure about poster children. I am still annoyed about how much plastic we have to recycle- and now that China no longer takes Australia’s compressed recycled plastic/paper/glass etc, we now have a recycling crisis, with huge stockpiles of stuff in large centres. I’m only good at compost and growing stuff- the rest am just coping with, like everyone else. Thanks for your comment Cristina, always appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a small greenhouse, but the pad is a great idea. I will have to look for one. The plastic is a problem everywhere. The only thing we can do about it is use less. Easier said than done, I know but every little bit helps. Ciao, Cristina

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  7. I have read this twice over in absolute awe. What an admirable example you provide in logical sustainable living practices and how deserving you are of all the wonderful produce you have in your kitchen and on your plate. We all live in different circumstances. In my case length of work days, a but small garden and ongoing health problems do not allow more than a handful of herb pots and the odd potted tomato . . . but waste is conscientiously kept to a minimum in this household also. Simply cannot believe your luck with strawberries . . . and, yes, my small blender )not Aldi in this case 🙂 !) gets considerable use similar to yours also. Thank you so much for the ‘lesson’ in making my conscience a wee bit sharper !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Eha. Yes, we all live in different circumstances and not all of us can manage the routine that goes with composting, let alone growing food. Fortunately, I am retired and although I made compost when I was still working, it wasn’t as well managed as it is now. Still, even randomly made compost can be thrown around under trees and other living creatures in the garden. as you can tell, I am very fond of compost. My father always made compost, not in any deliberate way, but he always kept a pile down the back – my parents’ garden is now one of the most fertile in their suburb.
      Sorry to hear that you have ongoing health problems Eha. I hope things improve on that front soon.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Those nine years were well-employed… your garden produce looks amazing. No food scraps wasted here but it doesn’t always go to plan. The chooks get most of the scraps, some goes into the compost pile -which is really just a big hole down the back we dig stuff including chook manure and used straw into and soil out of- the chooks go through that too. I bought a Bokashi Bin, couldn’t keep the fly out of it during the warm weather… the chooks loved the contents. The waste problem is evidenced here by a multitude of huge dirty semi-trailers on the highway transporting NSW’s rubbish over the border to Queensland… much of the state’s landfill sites are full. That and the epidemic of plastic packaging makes me so angry. But then I read stories like yours, and I know many of us are doing the best we can to make a difference.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I found the Bokashi system too small and requiring too much h to handling for my needs. Also having to buy another product seems like a con. Goid perhaps for apartment dwellers. So frightening to witness those trucks moving piles of waste from one state to another.
        Sometimes though I think we’re getting somewhere on the plastc front and then I realise I live in an echo chamber, and only hear similar views to my own. And that makes me really sad, the futility of it all. Change won’t come fast enough.
        Your compost hole sounds wonderful.

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  8. hi francesca
    i really do admire your garden and all its produce. i am not a gardener and part of my excuse is that it is just so darn hard here in brisbane to keep away all the bugs and possums and bats and rats …. i love the look of that aldi blender thingy. i have a regular blender but i fear it would not be able to cope at all with juicing/squishing lots of fruit and veg. thanks so much for joining us all in IMK land. cheers sherry

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m a huge compost fan .. but haven’t made a hot compost in ages. I also compost weeds which always means they enjoy the veg garden too! My garden has slowed down and has that spent look. But it has feed us brilliantly this summer. I too have loads of romas .. which I think I’m sharing with the birds. I’m a huge recycling fan too … 🙂

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  10. We have limited space so work with a worm farm – very happy and very active and a compost bin of sorts, where the acidic and nightshade ingredients go into. It’s never emptied but then again, it’s never full so it’s a way to disposing of vegetable matter that the worms can’t deal with. It also gets the watermelon rind as those worms just can’t get through it! Jealous of those grapes. All the best for the coming month. Fiona

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  11. Francesca, I was enthralled by your composting thoughts (to the point that I made my husband “come look” at your vegetable photos; I also printed off your shared compost “recipe” and retro tomato soup, thank you.) He said he didn’t think he could manage composting (yet) but I said: “I can!” If he hopes to grow a garden half as prolific as yours, today’s dinner scraps will be a part of it in three months. 🙂 Thanks again for all of your widsom generously shared. So sorry to hear about the recycling problem there. Waste is a huge issue in the U.S. too (even if folks don’t think it is) and every lil’ bit helps. xo

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