Still led like sheep to shops

I first heard RedGum at Narara ’83, the Australian Central Coast’s answer to Woodstock.

Even after all these years, this song still rings with simple truth…. we are fodder for commercial profit.

Some of the names have changed, but we are still chasing the products that will supposedly make us happy.

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San Francisco Happenings: An Empty Lot Blossoms into a Beautiful Community Art Garden

This is a brilliant record of a community garden from woe to go. I am hoping to do something similar for Equilibrium Future Solutions amazing Natural Gardens which we have enjoyed watching emerge from nothingness.

Theresa Buoy

A sunny warm San Francisco Saturday unfolded like a picnic blanket on the grass at Dolores Park.

Today’s main event was a Alice in Wonderland themed tea party fundraiser for the Please Touch Community Garden, a creative space that was founded by one of my dearest friends, GK Callahan, artist and MFA student at the California College of the Arts.

I can still remember in January 2010, when GK and I, were vacationing in Mexico, and he received the news that he had the green light to plant this seed of a project. His vision was expansive- to turn a run down, needle-strewn vacant lot across the street from City Hall, into a community garden, when everyone, including the blind community from the LightHouse for the Blind across the street could come and enjoy the sun.

Image
Above: A photo of artist GK Callahan and myself in 2011 at the lot.

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Getting Canny and Hitting the Bottle

Getting Canny and Hitting the Bottle

I was once the young Mum just trying everything that I could in the cooking field. I got on the jam project (due to my first Tamarillo Tree fruiting) around the same time as the school fete so I went berserk bottling jams and marmalades of all types. I had people donating Seville oranges or lemons or other fruits and I just cooked up whatever I could find recipes interesting for. I even incorporated my other interests at the time and made homemade paper for tags and spray stencilled the school emblem on them (I had been using spray stencilling for decorating children’s cakes). Lots of fun.

I don’t know if I had a computer or the internet, but I know I wants very savvy at the time. I went to the library, got out a good old book and copied out the recipes (guess funds must have been low, too).

However, years and two house moves later, I have no idea where those recipes went. I always like the tried and true recipes, either getting a recipe from someone after tasting their efforts or, at least, knowing they have an idea what they are doing in the kitchen.

So, when my new Tamarillo tree fruited (just as excited as I was the first time), I headed into the many internet sites that I have found I can trust to deliver good recipes. However, not many of them had the recipes I was looking for and my yearning for knowledge on the subject had me wandering here and there across the ether in search of tips and clues about all things bottling (canning, preserving…whatever you want to call it)

Tamarillo, Apple, Vanilla and Rosewater Jam

Tamarillo, Apple, Vanilla and Rosewater Jam


One site I thought you might like is 365 Days of Creative Canning. I haven’t made a lot of the recipes, but they challenged themselves to ‘canning’ something every single day for a year and have recently SUCCESSFULLY finished that challenge. That’s big in the knowing a bit about it stakes. I got a lot of know how and answers to silly questions which helped sort out some recipes that I liked the look of but that didn’t supply the vital basic information.

The blog tab has articles such as Canning 101 – Mastering Marmalades; How to use a Water Bath Canner (I don’t use one of these as I like doing small batches and manage fine without, but just thought you might like to know the sort of info available).

I just think you gotta learn a lot if you do that much preserving and they share oodles of info and lots of recipes to inspire and motivate.

Thought of the Day – ‘Mindless Eating’ quote

Thought of the Day – ‘Mindless Eating’ quote

eating_spaghetti
Brian Winsink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, describes mindlessly eating:

“Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”

Thanks to The Local Graze for this quote.

Pumpkin Sauce Fettuccine

Pumpkin Sauce Fettuccine

We enjoyed this easy throw-together (as if it were gourmet) while doing the Local Harvest Challenge (see my roundup, here). We were lucky enough to have all the ingredients in our garden and pantry. We used lightly sautéed onion, garlic, zucchini and spinach. You might choose different ingredients to suit what you like or have on hand. (we call this Pumpkin sauce, because we call Butternut a pumpkin)

I’d usually use coconut milk to create the sauce (but I don’t think there are any coconut trees within 160km of our place so used home-made chicken stock that week). No, the fettuccine was neither home-made nor produced within 160km, but everything else was local.

Mini ButternutsWe have many mini butternut pumpkins (squash) ready for the eating from our backyard. Our dog dug up buried Bokashi, thus bringing seeds up to the top of the soil, which allowed them to grow. We let the pumpkins run rampant (along with rockmelons). The plants helped the garden survive some heatwave conditions and the mini pumpkins were the result of not cutting back the vines, I believe. We love them baked whole and have been able to hand them out to family and friends, too.

Spinach Mustard small and large leavesWe also have many “baby spinach” plants (Japanese Mustard Spinach). We use the small leaves in salads and on sandwiches; the larger leaves in stir-fries, soups, etc. These self-seeded when we left one of the original plants to go to seed. We collected a bunch of seeds, but some obviously ended up back in the garden. A great picking garden addition. I have plucked some out of the garden and put in a pot nearer to the back door.

Here’s the recipe… Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of the meal. I will take one next time we have it and update the post.

Pumpkin Sauce Fettuccine

Serves: 2 large serves as a main meal 3-4 as a side or with a salad

Ingredients

Approx 225g (1/2 pound) cooked pumpkin or squash, cut into large chunks *see note

Olive Oil

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic,  finely chopped

1 small zucchini (courgette), cut lengthwise and then sliced

1/2 bunch fresh spinach, chard or silverbeet (cut stalk into small pieces, roll leaves and slice)

Approx 1 cup coconut milk (or stock)

salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh or dried herbs of your choice (optional)

Approx 120g (4oz) dry or fresh Fettuccine (or your preferred serving size x 2)

Grated Parmesan cheese to serve

Method

  1. Cook fettucini in boiling salted water as per pack instructions or until al denté.
  2. Drain pasta and rinse if you wish.
  3. Sauté onion, garlic, spinach stalks, zucchini and spinach (or vegetables of your choice), in a heavy based pan, in a small amount of olive oil if desired.
  4. Remove pan from heat.
  5. Add pasta to the sautéed vegetables and stir through.
  6. Add cooked pumpkin or squash to the pan and stir gently (pumpkin will break down to some extent to form part of the sauce, but try to retain some visible pieces.
  7. Return to heat and add coconut milk.
  8. Season to taste (you could add fresh herbs of your choice at this stage or dried herbs doing sauté)
  9. Stir gently until heated through (adjust sauce thickness by adding more coconut milk if necessary).
  10. Serve immediately, topped with grated Parmesan to taste and perhaps with a light salad.

Notes and Tips:

* I baked my butternut whole and scooped out the flesh for this dish, but my pumpkin (squash) was just the right size for the dish (about 450g/ 1lb). Generally, you will get half the amount of cooked baked butternut flesh from a whole raw vegetable (so a 900g/2lb butternut will give approx 1lb cooked flesh). You can boil, steam, microwave or bake squash or pumpkin for this dish.

All quantities are flexible, as are the vegetables used.

Possibilities are endless with this dish: sprinkle some roasted pinenuts and chopped fresh parsley over before serving; use baby spinach leaves and add at last minute; add bacon when sautéing vegetables. Very versatile dish to use as a side to meats or to serve with a light salad. Great for lunch or dinner.

Butternut is a perfect consistency for this dish, but you could try substituting your favourite pumpkin or squash.

Savoury Layered Pancake Pie

Savoury Layered Pancake Pie

Our best fun cooking adventure while doing The Local Harvest Challenge, was a Savoury Layered Pancake Pie. We had once had something like this at a café and we already had some cooked crepes in the freezer, so we packed locally purchased and home-grown goodness between the crepes and created a ‘pie’.

Savoury Layered Pancake Pie in pan

Note: We call this a pancake pie because we call crepes pancakes. Apologies for any confusion.

We used a 20cm (8 inch) non-stick pie plate which was just a tiny bit smaller than our crepes, so they could curl up the side and create a bit of a ‘pie pastry’ look to the layers. We used 8 crepes, but you could use a few more or less, as you like.

I won’t list ingredients because you can use anything you like and the quantities will depend on the size of your crepes and your tastes (e.g. you might take one small clove of roasted garlic and break it over a layer or you might want lots of whole cloves in there).

You really don’t need much in each layer. I thought some of my meagre layers would have disappeared in the pile, but was pleasantly surprised.

Method:

For the roasted vegetable pie,  begin by cutting everything in long thin slices where possible (carrots and zucchini lengthwise, etc). Put these on an oven tray, with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roast at 175 C / 350 F until tender, removing items as they are ready and allowing to cool. *See hint.

Spray pan with a little cooking spray if not using a non-stick pan. Place one crepe in the base allowing any extra to come up the sides of the pan. Put a layer of chosen filling on top of the crepe and top with another crepe, once again allowing to curl up the side of the pan.

Continue alternating fillings and crepes. You can have some layers the same if you like. 

These are the layers we used, as an indication only:

1)    Roasted sweet potato slices with lightly roasted garlic cloves – tear or slice garlic and spread around the layer.

2)   Cooked chicken breast slices mixed with sweet chilli sauce topped with fresh rocket (arugula).

3)   Cream cheese** or other soft cheese mixed with hot chilli and parsley. Spread over crepe.

4)   Roasted tomato and onion

5)   Roasted sliced carrots and roasted onion

6)   Spread of cream cheese mixture topped with roasted capsicum (skin removed after roasting) and lightly roasted zucchini slices.

7)   Any combination of cheeses – cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, whatever you have or like. We only used a sprinkle, but it made a difference.

Top with last pancake. Sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook to heat through (175 C / 350 F) for 10-15 minutes. Pop some foil over if crepes are getting too brown before pie is warmed through.

It is surprising how well it stacked up. Too easy!

Serve with a light salad for a perfect lunch or light dinner

Serve with a light salad for a perfect lunch or light dinner

Hints:

*Roasting: You can put the vegetables that need the most roasting onto the oven tray and start roasting while you continue cutting up. Add and remove items so most things are ready and cooled by the time you are ready to assemble the pie.

**If you are using cream cheese, first soften by stirring or mashing with a fork, then mix in a little milk. This will make a smooth sauce easier to spread on crepes. You can add anything you like to cream cheese, such as herbs, capers or your favourite sauce.

You could use any other fillings you think of: roast meats or ham; other vegetables; sauces (a tomato based sauce or paste would be nice); etc. Just sauté, steam, roast or microwave harder ingredients prior to making up the pie. Probably good to have a little gooey stuff (like cheeses) and a little saucy stuff (but not too wet obviously), just to help the pie stay together when cut.

Variation: I wouldn’t try this with thick pancakes, but you could try mixing different fillings into your pancake batter, cooking as normal and then piling up, warming through and slicing like a pie. A little soft cheese, mixed with chilli sauce or herbs, between the layers might be nice.

Local Harvest Challenge – Roundup

Local Harvest Challenge – Roundup

Local Harvest Challenge week; done and dusted. Bought local, ate seasonal, grew edibles, thought, learned, acted. Glad we did it.

Have you ever noticed that the minute you commit to something the rest of your life jumps up and down in protest?

The Local Harvest Challenge was only days away from starting when I received an event invite in Facebook. I really wanted to do the challenge – though just about everything was against us: short notice; travel plans; poor health; work commitments; lack of funds. What the hey; signed us up (as a family team).

About day one I was wishing I hadn’t been quite so bold. Perhaps if we defined local as within our country might have been more do-able? For starters, we hardly saw my grown daughter all week, so decided we were a team of two very early on. We didn’t have time to plan or prepare but, seeing as how we do already try to follow a lot of the aims of Local Harvest we thought what we had on hand and from our garden would get us close to the mark.

We chose 19 challenges from a long list and decided ‘local’ for us this week would be within 160km of home. We could have chosen a ‘bite sized’ challenge – as few as 7 activities or we could have gotten serious and chosen to eat only local and sustainable all week. We could have chosen various distances for our ‘local’ challenge (from within our country down to pushbike-close).

So, how did we end up?

Well, all in all, we got through the week reasonably well; learned a few things and enjoyed some new experiences. We think the challenge is in the thinking about our food choices and possibly changing our ways if there are better options available.

It was a real shame that the Challenge was run at the time it was (the week of Easter and including the Easter Monday public holiday as well as going into Autumn when our homegrown seasonal produce was considerably less). The bad weather once we were home from our Easter holiday and having commitments and health issues really meant we didn’t get to sink our teeth into the Challenge as we would have liked to but we successfully completed nearly all our goals, so we were quite chuffed after all.

If we had more notice, the fact that our homegrown resources were low could have inspired us to ‘get out there’ to find local options. We believe, sometimes, we get just as set in our good ways as in our bad ones and a shuffle up is good occasionally, just to keep us fresh.

Well we steered clear of the multi-nationals which wasn’t really a challenge; we both detest the supermarkets and our local Coles is disgusting for fruit and vegetables, though our local independent grocer IGA gets our vote. We heaped some praise on our local suppliers. We missed the farmers market but we have two local fruit markets which source their produce from as close to home as possible. We actually appreciate the experts choosing our fruit and vegetables for us and we are always pleased with the quality. Much of the produce comes from under 30km away.

We investigated our local suppliers: firstly on the internet – the Local Harvest maps are a great resource whether you are at home or travelling across Australia; secondly, we travelled some country roads and discovered some farmgate sales while sparing a coin or two to some local cafe’s along the way.

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We found out that there is an organic meat supplier at West Gosford and an organic meat, poultry and egg supplier at Somersby. We also found out there is a FIG (Food Integrity Group) at Ourimbah and had a chance to find out what that meant. They are a not-for-profit co-op bringing in produce for weekly food boxes, but only from within a 160km zone. There is also a Food Network at Woy Woy. We very much expect there are more suppliers in the area that are yet to register on Local Harvest. We hope more people will encourage their favourite local suppliers and farmers to register.

Example map search

Example map search

We have recently found Organic Plus at Erina (which has bulk hoppers of dried fruit, nuts and seeds as well as a range of fresh fruit and vegetables and a whole lot more. Only thing we don’t like is that their system is for plastic bags to be used at the hoppers. Can only suggest they think about changing that.


This week (like most weeks) we harvested food from our own garden. Bad time of year for backyard gourmet. We are going into Autumn here and our tomatoes, rockmelons, etc are finished (we actually pulled the cherry tomatoes out because they were getting heavy fly infestation and the dog decided most of the Roma tomatoes looked better on the lawn – she has always found green tomatoes good to chew up).

We are still enjoying fresh rocket (arugula), perpetual lettuce and various spinaches (chard, baby spinach, spinach mustard) and rhubarb. We have many herbs (rosemary, thyme, flat and curly parsley, garlic chives, oregano, shallots (green onions), mint and lemon grass as well as a miniature bay tree and a curry tree. We have just harvested the last of our Tamarillos (as anyone who knows me knows – I am very excited and enjoy finding new uses for this unusual fruit).

We let our rocket go to seed recently and collected seeds for our use as well as for gifts. Obviously, some got away as we now have rocket growing in a gravelled decorative garden. It loves it there, so we have just extended our food producing area. There is plenty for salads, sandwiches and stir fries with enough left for an Almond and Rocket pesto to go in the freezer, too. Frozen in small quantities, this is so handy for stirring through pasta or putting on a cheese and biccy platter for guests or for picnics.

We are lucky to have many mini butternut pumpkins (squash) and sweet potatoes ready for the eating from our backyard, also. We let the pumpkins run rampant (along with rockmelons) when our dog dug up buried compost and brought seeds up to the top so they could grow. The plants helped the garden survive some heatwave conditions and the mini pumpkins were the result of not cutting back the vines, I believe. We love them baked whole and have been able to hand them out to family and friends, too. Our sweet potato plant grows crazy and we rarely dig to harvest. Anywhere the vine touches the ground it takes root and the sweet potatoes form. Whenever the vine gets out of hand, we brutally pull it up and fossick for buried treasures.

We finished the week with a Pumpkin Sauce Fettucine using lightly sauted onion, garlic, zucchini and spinach. I’d usually use coconut milk to create the sauce (but I don’t think there are any coconut trees within 160km of our place so homemade chicken stock is a lot more local). No, the fettuccine was neither homemade nor produced within 160km, but everything else was good.

Homemade fruit popsicles - a yum way to boost fruit intake

Homemade fruit popsicles – a yum way to boost fruit intake

We always eat lots of fruit and vegetables and we only had to check that our purchases at the fruit market were within our challenge zone (160km isn’t that far when you are talking about some items. Until recently grapes were coming in from California, USA). The Central Coast area sits between the large cities of Sydney and Newcastle so it is possible to obtain a range of ‘local’ produce fairly readily. There are still some farming areas pocketed around the area (though a lot of small farms have become hobby farms and weekenders). Our Somersby Plateau has been maintained for agricultural purposes, though it too probably doesn’t produce anywhere what it used to as properties have changed hands over the years.

If ever we have a meal which is a little short on veg, we usually have a fresh fruit platter or fruit salad with homemade yoghurt to finish. Same when we are visiting; we always volunteer to bring the fruit and/or salad.

We love to top our breakfast cereals with fruit, yoghurt, nuts and seeds. Definitely helps to pack enough fruit and vegies in if you include some in all meals and snacks throughout the day. We always have healthy banana bread (yes, it is possible) and zucchini bread in the freezer, stored in chunks (say a third of a loaf) – just enough for a day’s worth of snacks for the family or ready to pull out when guests arrive.

We ate seasonal this week. Growing your own produce is a great way to keep seasonal. Another big indicator is price. If the goods are not readily available locally, you can bet the suppliers will get them from far and wide just to quench the consumers, “must have always” mentality, especially if we are prepared to pay through the nose instead of just saying, “what’s in season now?”

Our best fun cooking adventure this week was a Layered Pancake Pie. We had once had something like this at a cafe and we had some ready-cooked crepes in the freezer already (no idea whether they were made with local produce, sorry). I just roasted vegetables (carrot, onion, zucchini, sweet potato) and layered them with cooked chicken, sweet chilli, cream cheese spread thinned with a little milk. So easy and you could use any ingredients you like or have on hand.

Savoury Layered Pancake Pie in pan

We had chosen some activities that we already do: make yoghurt; compost kitchen scraps (we have tradition on-ground heaps, a tumble composter and have been storing and using Bokashi for about a year and are mixing traditional compost methods, permaculture, vermiculture and Bokashi together with lots of success (records of my trials will eventually be on my blog); wormfarm; visit local community garden; herb garden; preserve foods; ‘like’ Local Harvest on Facebook; read relevant books and research everything on the internet (yes, including bees).

What we did was to try and step these things up a notch or do something extra this week.

  • I made Sweet Yoghurt Cheese for the first time;
  • we added yet another compost pile (this one is a 205L drum with the top and bottom cut out – I had once used two of these alternatively as my only source of compost, with great success);
  • my husband brought home prunings and garden waste from his home maintenance clients (something he had avoided for a while as it can be a bit of a bother with importing weeds). I will put the prunings through our mulcher to top up garden mulch;
  • we didn’t visit a community garden though we often do. Our daughter’s partner works with a wonderful not-for-profit that develop community and school gardens across the Central Coast. Equilibrium Future Solutions uses and trains Natural Gardening methods;
  • we have in garden herbs as well as smaller (at the back door) pot so we are now trialling some new-plants-from-old techniques which I’ll blog about later (we have celery, shallots (green onions) and onion bottoms nestled in ramekins lined with damp paper towel (so far seem preferable to sitting them in a glass of water). Our garlic, turmeric and ginger started sending shoots up so all we needed to do was pop them in the ground.
  • I’m always reading my Permaculture books (Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay’s Introduction to Permaculture has been my constant companion for 25 years now and I still just want to read it). I chose “Extraordinary uses for ordinary things” for something different this week. Interesting, though I stop short of suggesting you rush out to buy the book. Some ideas were just the teensiest bit very strange (such as using marshmallows between your toes when doing your nails….really?)
  • I had only just been investigating bees the past few weeks. I have a bee allergy so probably won’t be getting a hive, though we love to aid native bees to make themselves at home in our garden.

There are a few things we just didn’t achieve during the challenge:
1) Join a relevant group. My mind immediately went to Permaculture and I have been hesitant to become involved with the local group as I haven’t heard much about them and their meetings are a fair way from my home. I was a little bummed that I had chosen this challenge, but wasn’t going through with it anyway. On Sunday night we were watching a docco on the TV about landcare and I suddenly realised where I would better fit in. I will follow this up later.
2) Collect coffee grounds from a local cafe. I had been going to do this eventually, but hadn’t got around to it. Well, we still didn’t. It was a big week, we’ll put this back on the to do list.

We are already looking forward to next year so we can really sink our teeth in. In the meantime, we will continue evolving and changing and hopefully heading forwards with our food choices. We are proud to live in an area where ‘normal’ shops are sourcing products locally where possible. This only happens because everyday people are asking for it…everyday.

The Local Harvest Challenge gave us food for thought AND thought for food!

http://www.localharvest.org.au/

For USA residents: you can find the USA Local Harvest here.

Note: I will be including recipes separately on my blog shortly and, once I’ve got them entered, I’ll update pages with the links to them.