In My Kitchen, April 2018.

Autumn in Melbourne, most would agree, is the best season of the year. Days are warm and still while evenings are crisp. A few small logs burning in the wood stove symbolise a seasonal turning point in the calendar: the first cosy fire is the most evocative of all. Other Autumnal markers are the slow ripening of the quinces, with a few falling each day, the late season heritage apples, the Rome Beauty and Akane varieties now ready, and the fat green olives beginning to blush purple-black. Keeping a productive vegetable patch and orchard may seem demanding to some- an abundant harvest can be a hard task master. This extra time in the kitchen is offset by time spent away from supermarkets. In my kitchen, the garden is featuring more each month and will continue to do so. Out of My Garden and into the Kitchen perhaps?

Last of the sweet Akane apples

If you grow your own chillies, you will probably end up with way too many but really, count this as a blessing. There are little saucers of chillies lying about in my kitchen and on sunny ledges, slowly drying out for the year’s supply. Once ready, they will be whizzed in an electric spice grinder then stored stored for the year in jars. Some dried chilli flakes also go into the making of chilli oil, an essential condiment on a southern Italian table. Soup bowls proliferate in my kitchen. Because I love soup so much, I have preferred bowls for certain soups. Fine purees tend to go into old-fashioned 1940s small bowls, onion soup into rustic terracotta bowls, Italian bean and pasta soups lounge around in shallow but very wide bowls and so on. It’s obsessive I know, and my soup bowl collection is being reviewed as I address the issue of downsizing. A few new irregular shaped bowls recently snuck into my kitchen.

A new soup bowl, with zucchini soup and pesto.

And when it comes to soup, the garden produce usually dictates the recipe. I always start with a soffritto, a very finely chopped selection of onion, celery, herbs and garlic sauted in olive oil, and then the soup is built on this base. It is artistic expression for me- not just a bowl of soup.

Late March garden pickings for soup, with our garlic from December.

The soup that followed the picking.

Zuppa dell’orto con quadretti.

I get nervous if the dried bean and pulse supplies fall too low. Sourced from Bas Foods, most of these are Australian grown and are packed fresh in the warehouse next door. There’s nothing worse than woody old dried beans: no soaking and long cooking will revive them. Another essential soup ingredient is Farro, and it’s great to see the Australian variety on the market made by Mt Zero olives.

Dried beans and pulses

Autumn fruits, and a few stored plums from late summer, make fine fruit crumbles. My favourite mixture is apple, plum, orange, lemon peel, sugar, cloves and marsala. This batch is ready to be topped with crumble.

As we have been running between two kitchens for the last two months, we have discovered some interesting fresh supplies near our campsite on the Mornington Peninsula. These mussels are grown in the bay off Mt Martha where the water is deep and pristine. They are not available commercially in Melbourne as Point Lonsdale black mussels tend to dominate the markets. They can be bought at Safety Beach and also in Dromana. They are really the best mussels I have ever tasted.

Fresh Mt Martha Mussels.

I made a quick smoky chowder last night and a few of these briny molluscs went into the soup. Today’s Pizza lunch demanded a few more- and I still have half a bag left for some Pasta con Cozze tonight. Not bad for $7.50 a kilo.

Pizza Amore. ( cozze, pomodori piccoli, basilico, olive)

For the monthly series, In My Kitchen, organised and collated by Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings. Strangely enough, this series keeps me on track and up to date with my garden life too.

Apologies to Eha, Debi and others for my earlier draft which suddenly appeared without my knowledge. Gremlins!

In My Kitchen, March 2018

Perhaps the title of this post should read ‘In My Kitchen Garden’ as this season’s harvest dominates the show and tell. March sees the tables and benches laden with baskets full of apples, pears, quince, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants, lettuce, basil, Thai herbs, and an occasional potato. The garden is wild and I can no longer tame all that rampant life without ending up on the table of the osteopath. The time for clearing and seeding will soon announce itself. I can already sense a crispness in the air. Today, the second morning of Autumn, the overnight temperature dropped to a chilly 10ºc: I pull on some warm socks before the day’s heat sets in. A morning cup of tea, followed by a rummage through the seed box is an auspicious start to the new season.

Sleeping Buddha and tomatoes

The sleeping Buddha was installed in my kitchen window after I was stung by a European wasp last week. These lovely Roma tomatoes enjoy an extra lazy day in the glazed northern sun. From now on, Buddha will remind me to search for smuggled insect terrorists. Did that wasp stare through the windows and gaze longingly at my produce laden table, then sneak in when the wire door was ajar?

Odd tomato varieties

This year we inadvertently grew some rather odd tomato varieties. Some are large and flavoursome but aren’t so prolific. They are grown for show. I bought the seedlings from an Italian man who labelled them simply as ‘red’. It’s rather nice though to completely cover a slice of bread with one large disc of tomato, the jewelled translucent seed and ridged pattern simply blessed with a grind of salt. It must be the perfect breakfast. The Russian tomatoes are lacking in flavour and I won’t bother with these again. They are too big and tend to rot on the vine before ripening. Next year I’ll stick to my favourites, the varieties that are well suited to my micro-climate;  Rouge de Marmande, the best of tomato flavours, Roma, or similar egg-shaped tomatoes which are good keepers, Green Zebra and the large acid free yellows which continue fruiting well into late Autumn, a literal pomodoro, along with a few self-sown large cherry varieties.

Over the last few years, I’ve gathered many old baskets which tend to clutter the verandahs during the colder months. They come to life during February and March when they are filled repeatedly. The long kitchen table is covered with baskets full of colour as they await sorting, freezing, cooking, preserving or giving away.

Jonathon apples- our earliest variety. More varieties to come. Lace produce bag in foreground made by Celia: thank you lovely friend.
Marcella Hazan’s apple and rum cake. One kilo of Jonathon apples dispatched.

It’s always a challenge to find more uses for zucchini. One way of eating a kilo without noticing is to make Indian Zucchini Bhaji. Grate them, mix with onion slices, then add to a thick and gently spiced Besan and rice flour batter, then deep fry them like fritters. Serve with chutney and yoghurt.

Zucchini Bhaji and mild mango chutney.
Fettuccine with grilled zucchini and pesto.

I am still being challenged by the cucumber plague and now give most of them away. Come and help yourselves.

Cucumbers, Hazlenuts, Buerre Bosc Pears.

Everyone and his dog has been waiting for the arrival of my figs. That day came yesterday. I have a few hundred slowly ripening and pick a small basketful when perfectly ripe. Green on the outside, but soft and purple within, they are the garden’s gender antonym to the zucchini. At some point I’ll make some fig jam when the harvest becomes overwhelming. Unusual fig recipes are welcomed, dear reader.

My most successful eggplant this year is this magenta striped variety, Melanzana Siciliana or Graffiti eggplant. I have some wild self sown eggplants still to show their true colours.

Too nice to cook.
Buerre Bosc pears are great keepers.

Thanks once again to Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting In My Kitchen, a monthly event which encourages many to step back from their regular writing or photographic posting and to take a closer look at the engine room of the house, the kitchen.

The Baker and the Water Mills, Shaftesbury

One of the nice parts about travelling is catching up with old friends along the way.  Even though many years separate visits, our countries being a day away by air, conversation resumes from where we left off, as if the intervening years are a mere second in time. This was certainly the case when we stayed with our old friend Paul Merry and his partner, who live in a small village near Shaftesbury, Dorset. It was a pleasure to find them unchanged and well, but also especially wonderful that he had done a large bread bake the day before and had a few spare loaves. At last, some good bread, though good is hardly an apt word for his long fermented sourdough made from stoneground organic flour. Paul Merry is the doyen of artisan bread making in these parts.

Which one?

I don’t need to preach to you, dear reader, about the sad and sorry state of modern commercial bread, that awful product so nutritionally empty and bland, that chemicals need to be added to make it edible. You can either eat it or you can’t. I can’t. It makes me ill. So during my travels, I mostly go without bread, with only an occasional and regrettable lapse. Munching into Paul’s sourdough cob was a moment of ecstasy. That first bite reminded me how nourishing and deeply satisfying good bread can be.

Paul at home with his sourdough cob

Paul is a master baker who runs bread making classes from his bakery, Panary, located inside an old working water-mill near Shaftesbury, Dorset. His classes have been operating from this site for more than 30 years. He also bakes a commercial batch weekly. Before moving to Britain, Paul built and then ran the famous St Andrews bakery on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. That lovely mud brick building with its antique wood fired oven was where Paul mastered his baking skills. His bread nourished our souls throughout the 1980s. His bread is even better today.

A familiar sight. Paul in baker’s uniform, attending to his craft.

Our first sourdough loaf lasted well and was still fresh and delicious after five days. Good wholesome bread, slow bread, made with nothing else but the best organic flour, water, salt, and plenty of time, Paul’s loaves are made with exceptional skill as well as passion for the craft.

Grinding stones at Cann Mills

The photos below show scenes taken around Cann Mills. Panary is located within the mill. The water-mill is still functioning and runs some days, along with other milling methods. Paul’s classes deal with a variety of techniques and many professional bakers hire Paul as a consultant. If you live nearby or are travelling in that beautiful country, not far from the Cotswolds, inquire about Paul’s one day classes. You can choose from topics including the basic beginners, British, flatbreads, French, Italian, Nordic Germanic, Patisserie/Viennoiserie, sourdough, and festive breads.( see full details here. )  Or if you love breadmaking and can’t make it across the globe to attend his classes, take a look at his blog. There’s plenty to learn. https://www.panary.co.uk/panary-blog/

Cann Mills, near Shaftesbury
Inside a working flour mill.
It all starts with great flour. Paul uses this one to add to his starter or levain.
Fresh flour, the staff of life.
Paul Merry at work.
Bread making classes at Panary

Panary at Cann Mills
Cann
Shaftesbury
Dorset
SP7 0BL

Panary’s  location and course information. https://www.panary.co.uk/about/cann-mills/

Garden Monthly April 2015

My orto needs some serious attention.  Some remaining Autumn crops are happy to linger longer and fatten up. Other beds need digging over, re- seeding and mulching. The rabbits got in and munched all my lettuce, parsley, radicchio, rocket and coriander! Some one left the gates open while I was at the beach. This invasive pest (the rabbit, not the gate person) also finds a way through our Fort Knox fencing during Autumn, especially when it’s really dry and the green pickings are slim in the paddocks and bush. The kangaroos are also desperate, jumping the fences to dig up the remaining vestiges of green grass around the veggie patch. They have also taken a fancy to apple trees. This is unusual behaviour as only wallabies tend to be so destructive. Too many jobs, not much will or time.

Now for the happy news. The eggplant are ripening and so long as the frost stays away, they should continue for a while.

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We also have belated borlotti beans. I tried to plant these in December but they couldn’t cope with the blasting heat. I re-seeded some in late February and the mild weather seems to suit them. Again, stay away Jack Frost.

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We have had zucchini crop continuously for five months now. I am happy not to buy any after their demise. We harvest a few each week.

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Some self-sown lettuce popped up with the latest rain. I usually relocate them when they are a little older and not deplete the soil of the same nutrients.

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It has been a wonderful year for pumpkin and other cucurbits. They liked the milder weather and scrambled all over the garden. They need a few more weeks to ripen and harden in the remaining sun.

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It’s also time to make a few basil things for the freezer- basil butter and frozen pesto ‘bombs’ which will bring a touch of summer to a winter soup.

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To do list this week:

  • Remove remaining bird nets from strawberries and raspberries
  • make basil butter and basil oil
  • investigate products in Australia for frost protection of limes and lemon grass.
  • make a small mix of concrete to plug rabbit holes in fence
  • collect more cow manure and spread about
  • sow turnips – such an easy crop
  • cut back herbs
  • bake remaining apples and the lone quince!

Are you a keen food gardener? Do you grow herbs, vegetables or fruit? Do you need assistance or advice to get you started? Go and check out the other posts this month at Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective. 

The Garden Share Collective

Garden Monthly. September 2014

This month my garden news is not good.  I am recording a few disasters.

Heavy frosts have continued to damage the citrus trees, especially the limes. The top leaves are badly burnt. It is too soon to prune these back as more frosts could be on the way.

frost bitten citrus
frost bitten citrus

The next cause of damage is the white cockatoo. This bird is the most annoying visitor to my garden. Cockies are vandals, hoodlums from the sky, descending on the garden in mobs, swooping down and causing havoc.

Not cute, annoying!
Not cute, annoying!

They don’t eat the vegetables, they cut them in half- just for fun! This particularly applies to tall-growing vegetables such as garlic, cavolo nero, and silverbeet. In the front garden, they took a particular dislike to the succulents this year, pulling them all out, leaf by leaf, as if to say ‘ we don’t like you, wrong colour, odd shape’.

garlic patch smashed by cockatoos.
garlic patch smashed by cockatoos.

The next annoyance-  the rabbits. Its seems we have a few gaps in our fencing and so these little devils have heavily pruned my parsley and radicchio. They breed in the nearby gullies and are a continual problem.

Harvest. Cavolo nero ( black kale) is now picked from one side of the plant (cockies stripped the other side) to make my favourite pasta dish. Silverbeet, coriander, and herbs are abundant. The broad beans are coming along nicely.

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On the bright side, these two calves, Dougie and O’Dannyboy were born in the last fortnight, adding a touch of Spring joy to our paddocks. They, and their mothers, provide our garden with manure.

O'Dannyboy and Dougie, the Dexters.
O’Dannyboy and Dougie, the Dexters.

To do list:

  • I think the time has come to build a netted cage over the whole veggie patch. Out damn cockies, out.
  • Build some shelters or breaks to protect citrus before next winter.
  • Sow plots of lettuce, spring onion, rugola.
  • Prepare and enrich other beds for the big planting which will take place in early October.
  • Collect more manure from the Dexter paddocks.

Garden Monthly. August 2014.

It’s winter here in Melbourne and the veggie garden was thriving until last week. A few severe frosty mornings set some vegetables back as the temperatures dropped below zero, and snow was recorded in the nearby hills. The leaves on the lime trees are now burnt but will survive. Old Jack Frost has killed off the remaining chilli plants and the rows of new potatoes. The frosts in the last two years seem to be more severe than I can remember in past years.

frost covered patch of turnips and lettuce.
frost covered patch of turnips and lettuce.

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One sad looking potato crop
One sad looking potato crop

Nothing can kill a turnip which has led to a flurry of turnip recipe experiments. I feel like Tess of the d’Urbervilles, grovelling about the turnip rows. Where is my hessian gown and curtained hood? They are mostly added to old fashioned vegetable soups or roasted.  I tried some turnip rostis and I cannot recommend this dish, as gorgeous as it looked topped with sour cream and feathery dill. It was just too turnipy!

Turnips anyone?
Turnips anyone?

The cavolo nero ( black kale) has turned into a perennial triffid and needs staking. I don’t mind. I add the leaves to soups and risotto or cook it then add to orecchiette pasta, the latter with garlic, anchovies, EV olive oil, and chilli flakes.

cavolo nero or tuscan kale.
cavolo nero or Tuscan kale.

The lettuces are nice and crisp in winter. The Cos are prolific as are the red and copper leafed varieties which are self-sown.

self seeded lettuce
self seeded lettuce

These broccoli were grown from old seed thrown into a bed in late March.  We are slowly working our way through the heads and looking forward to some side shoots. Some years ago, I kept a broccoli plant going for 18 months, eating lovely side shoots the whole time. The trick to semi perennial broccoli? Never let the plants flower. This works well if you don’t get that nasty little white butterfly in summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFreshly picked broccoli is nothing like its woody retail counterpart. It only needs two minutes in boiling water, drained, then tossed about in additional chosen flavours. A simple Neil Perry Recipe can be found here. I also love them tossed with a little oil, garlic, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In late May, I moved a whole lot of plants into a perennial bed, artichoke and rhubarb for example. They enjoyed a winter dormant spell and are showing signs of recovering for Spring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The To Do List is always too long.

  • Mulch the garlic before the Spring weeds get a hold.
  • Manure and mulch the perennial bed of rhubarb.
  • Finish off the third compost bin and begin the fourth.
  • Prepare spare beds for Spring planting with ready compost covered with mulch.
  • Espalier the fruit trees in the second chicken run orchard. Urgent Mr T!
  • Gather more cow manure from the front paddocks to add to the compost bins with dried leaves and green matter.

And on a sad note, here is my favourite Dexter cow, Derry, who gave birth last Sunday to a beautiful shiny black calf. Sadly the calf couldn’t stand to suckle due to a crippled leg. The vet instructed us to take the inevitable course of action.  Derry is our lawnmower, pet and keeps us in manure. She has recovered.

Derry the Dexter.
Derry the Dexter.

 

Easy Lime Syrup Cake

Limes seem to be everywhere this season. Strangely, they have become more prolific and cheaper than lemons. My garden lime trees are thriving, with fruit and further flowers in abundance. This glut calls for a lime syrup cake.

Microplane or Zester?
Microplane or Zester?

Although a Neil Perry recipe, chef extraordinaire, this cake is delightfully easy to make. No fancy procedure, you can mix it in a bowl by hand or with a stand mixer. All you need is an abundant lime supply and a few other pantry staples.

organic eggs and limes.
organic eggs and limes.

This cake was made for the ‘export market’ and so it was ‘tarted up’ on the board with a few winter flowers and a liberal dusting of icing sugar. It is dense, moist cake with a sweet/sour/tropical flavour.

Ingredients.

  • 350 g caster sugar
  • 300 g self- raising flour
  • 90 g desiccated coconut
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 250 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk.

For the syrup

  • 225 g castor sugar
  • zest of 1 lime
  • juice of 5 limes.

Method

Preheat oven to 180c. Lightly grease a 19 cm square cake tin. Line the base and sides with baking paper that extends 2 cm above the sides. Sift together the sugar and flour and mix with the coconut and lime zest in a bowl. Stir in the butter. Combine the eggs and milk and add to the bowl. Mix until smooth. ( by hand or briefly in the mixer)Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on a tray for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out completely dry. If the top of the cake starts to brown before it is baked through, cover with some foil and continue cooking.

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Meanwhile make the syrup. Put the sugar and 185 ml of water in a heavy based saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the lime zest and juice, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 8 minutes. Strain.

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Remove the cake from the oven and use a skewer to poke a few holes evenly over the cake.  Slowly pour the hot syrup over the cake. Let it stand for about 20 minutes or until the syrup has soaked into the cake, then turn it onto a wire rack lined with baking paper and allow to cool.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To serve, simply slice or serve with cream or fresh fruit salad.

The cake photographed in odd winter light.
The cake photographed in odd winter light.

Leah from The Cookbook Guru is taking a look at Neil Perry’s cookbook, ‘The Food I love‘ this month. This recipe may be found on p 404 of that book.

Di's house.
Di’s house.

 

Garden Monthly. June 2014

This is a quick round up of my June garden.  More importantly, it is my garden diary which compels me to record the seasonality of my own produce, as well as enjoying other garden stories from around the globe.

                                                The Harvest.

Firstly, the Asians:  limes, lemon grass, chilli, coriander and Kaffir lime leaves. I can see a curry or guacamole coming up soon. Or perhaps some lemon grass tea.

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The baby turnips and pepper were baked with some other ( stored ) home produce.ImageImage

                                            The Veggie Garden

These two beds below were seeded on March 25th and are now ready to pick ( except for the broccoli). Young turnips, tatsoi, lettuce, radish, dill and coriander, silverbeet, and self sown bok choi are now abundant.Image

ImageThese strawberries think it is Spring, due to the unseasonable warm weather we have experienced this May. Will they have a chance to colour? The crazy yellow eggplants refuse to die. Shame that I don’t really like them.ImageImage

                                                 The ‘TO DO’ list.

  • plant broad beans in patches that could benefit from a nitrogen fix.
  • finish off planting out the garlic ( an endless task)
  • make a few more beds of winter lettuce and rocket.
  • remind the family to pick the broccoli heads in our absence, ensuring a future supply of side shoots.
  • protect the lemon grass from future frost.

In the photo below, Renato farewells the girls, my Dexter cows, Delilah, Derry and Duffy. Renato has been working as a volunteer Wwoofer on our property, on and off for two months. From Milano and a high tech working world, he loves farming and Australia and is always researching interesting approaches to everyday tasks. He has gathered endless quantities of manure from these paddocks, spreading it on all the fruit trees and olives and adding it to the compost.  Good gardening depends on good compost and manure.  Grazie Mille Renato.

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New Zealand Road Trip. Cooking the Local Produce.

ImageOne of the joys of travelling abroad is the chance to eat the local cuisine. Even better if you get the chance to cook it yourself. Some of my fondest food memories are of meals cooked in backpacker lodges in Ireland and Scotland, rented houses in Italy and France as well as meals made camping, both here in Australia and in New Zealand. I often dream of the wild salmon and new baby potatoes we cooked in the backpacker lodge in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland, or the fig jam we made in St Michele d’euzet, Languedoc, France or picking local herbs to enhance a lovely farro soup while staying in Guido’s  ‘Casa dello Scrittore’ near Lucca, Italy.

A trip to New Zealand in a campervan/motor home/RV provides another chance to eat some very fine local produce. Seafood is plentiful and inexpensive- just look at the amount of coastline on a map!

ImageNew Zealanders love to smoke fish and I am really pleased about this. Chowder is on the restaurant menus and it is always on mine too.  Heavenly smoked mussels from Coromandell are addictive. Smoked Hake, Tarakihi and Trevally are readily available in supermarkets. Fresh green lipped mussels can be purchased for $2.00 a kilo, while local Gurnard, Salmon, Snapper and Tarakihi are the main fish varieties commonly available. Pipis and clams can be collected or purchased.Image

ImageThe seasons in the North Island are mild; the soil is rich and fertile, largely due to earlier volcanic action. Visiting Farmer’s markets along the way to find fresh, local and organic produce is so satisfying.  In May, you can expect to find local avocados, persimmons, mandarins, apples, all manner of lovely vegetables, field mushrooms, organic cheeses, sourdough breads and olives. Many farmers sell directly from stalls along route, and the wineries of New Zealand are always close by and very tempting. The local Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are very tasty indeed. The Sauvignon Blanc I can happily leave on the shelf.

Here is one sample of ‘on the road’ cooking from our recent trip. This is a simple and easy dish to prepare on a two burner stove inside a motor home using all fresh NZ produce.

 Salmon fillet, with Mussel, Spring Onion and Cream sauce, mashed Agria potatoes.

Ingredients ( for 2)

  • 2 pieces of New Zealand salmon fillet, skin on, around 150 grs per person.
  • 150 gr fresh green lip mussels
  • one small container of local cream
  • unsalted New Zealand butter
  • 4 spring onions
  • 4-6 Agria potatoes, peeled
  • EV olive oil
  • salt, black pepper

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Method

  1. Cook the mussels until they just open. Shell them and then chop the flesh, removing any hard bits, into 1 cm pieces.
  2. Melt a knob of butter in a small pan, add finely chopped spring onions, including some of the green. When soft, add a slurp of white wine ( straight from the glass that you are drinking), reduce, then add the chopped mussels and a generous glug of cream. Season with pepper only.
  3. Boil the potatoes, add salt to taste towards the end of cooking. Mash with a knob or two of butter, finsih off with a little cream and fork until until smooth.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the salmon fillets in a frying pan with a little EV olive oil, until crispy on the skin side, then turn and cook briefly. Remove from heat. The salmon will continue cooking as you assemble the dish.
  5. Re- warm the mussel sauce, plate the mash, add the salmon fillet, then arrange the mussel sauce over and around the plate.

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Note. On the road means always making extra. The left over potatoes and mussels became the next day’s tasty mussel and potato patties.

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Around My Edible Garden, March.

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I have been recording my vegetable garden activities in a hard covered journal for the last four years. It documents the sequence of planting in our 14 garden beds, as well as recording garden fantasies, drawings of fabulous arches, borrowed designs from garden visits. But there are no photos of each month’s results. Let’s face it, written journals are portable, flexible in style and very ‘Victorian’ when it comes to gardening but blog journals allow one to creep on all fours amongst the plants with camera on Macro, capturing the flowering, fruits, beetles, and worms.

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Yesterday the perfect weather, with the promise of rain in the next few days, took me back to the garden to plant seed for the next round of crops. My poor veggie patch has been neglected for months, mainly due to the heat and drought conditions in and around Melbourne, Victoria for the last three months. I plant seed only when

  • the soil is the right temperature ( not too hot/cold)
  • there is no wind ( which dries out the beds)
  • when there is a possible rain event, or even better, an electrical storm
  • when the day time temperature isn’t too hot/cold. If it heats up too much, I throw on my ‘dog beds’ for protection. ImageImage

These perfect conditions usually occur in Autumn and Spring, the busiest time in my garden.

My other garden laws are as follows:

  • Crop rotation ( hence the need for a written journal, with numbered beds). Crops such as silverbeet (chard), lettuce and parsley drop seeds in the same bed year after year, depleting the soil of essential minerals. I now move them along as they pop up. I attempt to rotate tomatoes throughout the beds, never planting them in the same spot for two years.  I have also removed potatoes from the beds completely, growing them in containers as they tend to leave small potato seed behind, which have a detrimental effect on other crops, especially tomatoes.
  • Leaving beds fallow for a season is also advisable. Like us, they need a rest too.
  • Companion planting is great for bug reduction. Certain plants like each other, for example, tomato and basil, but this includes growing nasturtiums and french marigold.
  • I let curly endive and radicchio go to flower each spring: their blue colour attracts bees and assists in fertilising the summer crops. The best specimen of any plant is left to go to seed for collecting. I rarely buy seeds. I have one lettuce variety that has been collected from my gardens for 25 years.
  • Mulching is essential to keep the plant roots moist in summer and warm in winter. I use pea straw. I used to use Lucerne, which is dynamic  but it tends to drop too much weed seed.
  • Composting in layers- one part green, one part brown, one part manure- helps to keep the pile active and sweet, whether in a closed or open bin. Newspaper is collected and shredded by hand- the ink dyes are vegetable based. Leaves are collected too. Manure comes from our three cows and assorted chooks (hens). The kitchen provides the rest. In spring grass clippings are added, as well as an occasional sprinkling of ash from the open fires. There is always plenty of material about.
  • Rain records are kept

Documenting the crop each season is also important. This March ( 2014)  is the year of the eggplant. Last year, capsicums ( peppers), the year before, tomatoes. We do plant all these crops, but each season, one crop ‘stars’ due to the weather conditions. Of course zucchini will always do their thing! This season’s garlic bulbs were huge in size due to abundant Spring rain: last year’s lot were much smaller due to a dry Spring.

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Do you have a vegetable garden? How big is it and what system works for you? Do you rotate crops or grow herbs in pots? Are our summers getting hotter? Do you grow your veggies in separate beds or in amongst the flowers?  What are the main pests or problems? Do you share the abundance or make preserves? Do you have an orchard and what is your best crop? Please leave a comment and if you like, add a link to your vegetable garden round-up for March in the comments below, with stories or pictures or both.  Also refer to my blog in your garden story so that it can be included.  This will become a monthly event for me, and I hope you can join too, to document our success and failures in the garden.

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This is such a great response from Davide, I am moving it from comments to this spot.

                                              Stealing Kisses

I have 3 beds that I have been using now going into my second winter. I dedicate this space to my “ major” veggies, so eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli and beans. My “minor” veggies get relegated to other parts of my garden. For example, rocket and leafy greens. My main problem is the location of the beds, which receive filtered sun during summer and typical issues like aphids ect. Trying to be “organic” and avoiding spraying with nasties is a time consuming process. Having the TIME to dedicate to my veggie patch since the birth of my son is a “ problem “ too 😦
I often feel like I have to steal “ kisses” from my veggie patch 😦
Despite all this, we have surprisingly great crops and, especially in my first summer, was able to hand out to relatives and friends. (I think the best part of growing your own veggies)
We preserved our basil and made homemade pesto, which was incredible! And pickled loads of veggies “ Italian style” …mum helped me out with that and we are still eating to this day. I forget the Italian name for that.
This summer eggplants, cucumbers and capsicum were my big winners. They are still in the ground. The cherry tomatoes grown over an arch did well, but not as well as last summer. I grew 2 on our fence and they did very well. My son loves eating them straight off the vine 🙂 I tried being more sophisticated with my tomatoes plants by pinching out the new growth and having just a main vine, however they struggled again. Lack of mulch, inconsistent watering and no fertilizing cost me I think. (due to a lack of time)
I will give them one more go, before I pack it in and only grow the cherry tomatoes.

I will be purchasing a couple apple creates in the next couple of weeks to build on what I already have, so would like to use them for my leafy greens! I love your idea with the dog beds to protect the seeds. I have loads of problems with falling leaves ect with my seeds.

I love your blog. Thanks Davide

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Also check out this delightful edible garden from Deborah ( My Kitchen Witch)  in Sheffield, UK.  Romantic stone walls, Morello cherries, herbs and bay trees, gooseberries look so romantically English and historic.

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