Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chapter 11: Old man pants to ants-pants and other rants

Since we last blogged many of you would have lit your fires for the first time, worn those tragically daggy yet oh so cosey thermals under your pilly tracky dacks and slipped on a your favourite old crosbys or uggs. Up here in the mountains the colder nights are just starting to set in and Noah experienced his first open fire in our outdoor fire place. We all sat around for the bedtime stories; he and Georgia were thrilled.

What to plant for Autumn
With the onset of  the cooler weather and shorter days things in the garden are slowing down. That's not to say that you can't still plant a few things here or there. There is still time for a final dash to the garden bed to plant a few lazy broad beans, beans, carrots, garlic, Winter Triumph lettuce, onions, Pak Choy, spinach, strawberries, swedes and rocket. Last week we planted lots of beans including 'Purple King' climbing beans which have brilliant purple pods, lots and lots of broad beans, red kidney beans and chick peas. The winner so far is the 'lazy house wife' beans, which is an heirloom variety of climbing bean. If they have plenty of room to climb you will get an excellent yeild. Our aim is to grow and dry lots of beans to store for our F.F.F.C in January.

On the weekend we also started building a small green house. It is half finished and we will post some pics when it is up and running. Our cunning plan is to out-wit winter and see if we can grow our beloved basil, tomatoes and other warm weather pleasures through the harsh and baron mountainous extremes. We have absolutely no idea if the green house we are making will work. Stay tuned.

Painting a feature wall
Anyway time to head inside. We mentioned in the last blog that we were going to show you some of our home renos and council pick-up treasures. When we were renting Joe and I would often redesign our entire apartment whilst huddled on our Ikea couch. But reluctantly we were never able to do more than blue-tac a poster on to the wall in a show of rental defiance. Now that we finally own our own home, we don't have enough money to 'renovate', but sometimes a little paint, a borrowed sander and a few creative ideas can be enough to satisfy your initial renovation urges.

The dear man who built our home did a bloody fine job. But perhaps he had watched too many episodes of 'The Love Boat', and didn't realise that 'retro marina' wooden panelling would date - he went overboard.
The floorboards are wood, the 'feature wall' was ribbed wood, the architraves were wood, the in-built shelving all around the room was wood and even the front door was wood. Wood is nice, but not when it is the same colour as old man pants and reminds you distinctly of the smell you only find in the old man pant isle at Vinnies. As a result we felt like we were living in a giant pair of old man's pants and it was simply time for a 'change'. Joe and I decided we really liked the styles of French Provincial as well as Art Deco, then there were those 1950s retro chic we decided to experiment with them all.

Seeing as neither of us have ever won a trophy in our lives (yet), the glass trophy cabinet was the first to go. Next we set our sites on the wooden interior wall that separated the living and kitchen area. We went with a 'charcoal' and 'clotted cream' stripe mostly because it sounds better than 'black and white' but also because for us it conjures nostalgic notions of the 1920s.

Next we painted all of the cobalt blue kitchen benches and tiles in a crisp white laminate paint. We took down the cat-hair infested vertical blinds and replaced them with sheer, cotton, full-length curtains. Much better!

Our last two most recent reno ventures included painting the in-built wall-length book shelf with a white undercoat and then we painted our kitchen cupboards in the softest, retro pastel pink...and loving it!

To top it off we purchased some vintage porcelain door knobs from the Victory Theatre antique bazaar in Blackheath, it is one of our favourite haunts for a lazy weekend.  The kitchen cabinets are only half done, as is the book shelf, we still have plenty of ideas to put into practice but we were amazed at how much we could change the look of our place for a few hundred dollars.

Council throw-out day!
As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure. In every Sydney Suburb, at least once a year, there is a wonderful phenomenan that takes place. It's called council pick-up. The thought of swerving to the side of the road, hopping out in broad day light and trying to stuff 2nd hand furniture into your two-door hatchback may cause you to hyperventilate with embarressment. The fear of being recognised by passing traffic and labelled ever more as a trash grabbing scab is natural enough, but deep down,  you can't deny the primitive hunter-gatherer rush that council pick up stirs deep within every one of us.... or is it just us?

Well, we got over the shame factor long ago, and have since furnished at least four previous apartments and half a house with other peoples things. Here are some finds that we have been working on restoring lately.

the art deco style chair was snatched from Normanhurst, and the piano stool was pilfered in nearby Hornsby.

This beautiful rocking chair was swindled from a curb in lazy Patonga Beach... at least, we think it was council pick up... anyway... there was noone sitting on it at the time, rest assured. Its amazing what you can find without paying a cent, and the thrill of a good find is hard to beat!

Mind you, some suburbs are better than others. Surprisingly, the most affluent suburbs are the most stingey, and usually only throw out actual rubbish (the hide). If you are a Mosman resident, come on... get with the council pick-up program, and put out something worthwhile.

The best burbs for pick up include Inner-west, Epping, and the Hornsby district. Don't be tempted to to venture into areas like Campsie... its just downright unsafe without garden gloves and a big dog.

The hardest part about council pick up is knowing when and where its on... you simply must remain vigilant.

there we go! another money saving tip before it reaches the tip!

Next week, we head into our retro pink kitchen to cook up ideas for our FFFC challenge week menu! Your responses from last weeks plea were underwhelming! You should be ashamed! If you still want to save yourself a seat at our grand garden party, there may be time to redeem your shameful lack of support and whip up a virtual dish before next week. You know you should.

some tantilising starters may just include Macadamia and blackberry tarts with a side of homemade passionfruit icecream, or potato gnocci with roast beetroot and basil pesto. oooooooooooooooh, so good. otherwise you may end up being the taste tester for Joe's garden escargo sauteed in hibiscus champagne, garlic and parsley. He's not joking... it could be you.

cheerio all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chapter 10: Help or we may starve in January.

Cooking from the Garden
This afternoon Joe took Noah and Georgia to the park to give me time to create an amazing culinary experience, albeit a trial but I felt so confident, a little too confident. Using shallots, eggs, zucchini, baby tomatoes, basil and chilli from our garden, I embarked on our first all-home grown meal prototype. Our plan is to practice making dishes that we can use during our F.F.F.C. I had envisaged that this dish would be a stuffed zucchini dish (our zucchinis are huge) that would be tasty but also look good on the plate.

Recipe: Stuffed zucchini omletty thingo's.
I started by cutting the zucchini into cross-sections of about 5 cm. Then I scooped out the inside of the zucchini leaving a 1 cm rim and a base. I then put these zucchini 'cups' in hot olive oil that was seasoned with salt, pepper and shallots. Cooking the base and then the top rim for about a minute each. I stuffed two of these with a mixture of diced zucchini, sliced baby tomatoes, basil and chilli and then the other two with the same ingredients as well as a beaten egg. I then put them in the oven and coooked them til egg was set and zucchini seemed well cooked.

Stuffed zucchini omletty thingies...mmmmmmmm.

After tasting both types of stuffed zucchini we agreed that the presentation was more of a winner. The zucchini tasted watery due to the way it was cooked and the flavours were too jumbled and eggy. We did however, enjoy a lovely 'sunset champagne' as I cooked. All you need for this little baby is champagne and a hibiscus flower (this one is from our garden). It doesn't add to the taste whatsoever but it looks fantastic and the bubbles do their job.

'Champagne Sunset',  just like a sunset goes down nicely, every afternoon...

There are alot of flowers that are edible from your garden including some varieties of hibiscus, marigold, gladioli, carnations, pansy, lavender and roses . We are going to use elderflowers to make our own champagne for the FFFC.

Any Suggestions?
As you all know our challenge starts in January and we have vowed to prepare food and drinks using only the produce from our garden (with the addition of milk, coffee, flour and olive oil, we are also sneaking in salt and pepper). After eating our stuffed zucchini thingos, it gave us food for thought. Coming up with interesting recipes from the garden is proving harder than we thought. We need your help and are calling on your culinary creativity to design a recipe for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Check out our last weeks 'walk around our garden' post to get some ideas of what's available in our garden. Or if you are filled with confidence of gastronnomical proportion you may want to try your hand at designing a recipe specifically for our final dinner party in January. We would love to road test any recipes you send us and will post them on the blog.

Home made Mulberry wineToday is actually quite a momentus day in our household. As you may have read in one of our earlier posts we have been trying our hand at brewing our own mulberry wine. After months of it brewing away, tenderly cared for by Joe's regular visits and singing, today we managed to fill 7 rosey red bottles of 'uniquely' tasting mulberry and grape wine. The initial taste-test wasn't poisonous which is promising. Fingers crossed in six months it will taste even better.

Our mulberry wine.

Alright gang, we are looking forward to hearing some of your recipes and trying them out in the weeks to come. Next week we are heading indoors to show some of our recent supercheap revamps to our kitchen and living area as well as some of our council pickup gems.  

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

chapter 9: snail trails and easter egg hunts

chapter 9: snail trails and easter egg hunts

On Easter Sunday the Twyford Family descended in near full force upon us and despite a glass being broken over Aunty Bug's potato bake and another glass tray exploding as it came out of the oven...all went well. In the morning Uncle Steve and Noah carefully planted chocolate eggs over the entire yard in preparation for the Easter egg hunt for the 10 neices and nephews. Noah had strategically hidden a significant amount of the eggs in 'tricky' hidey holes, many of which were not discovered until the days following Sunday by none other then himself. The Easter Bunny himself would have been impressed because as Noah explained to us on Easter morning at 4:22 am (thanks day light saving) "the Easter Bunny made a fair bit of noise last night when he came and I even heard him doing a wee in our shower, that's strange isn't it?". Some things will forever remain a mystery. Despite Noah's acute hearing it is less plausible that a giant bunny went and weed in our shower and more likely that Uncle Steve who had stayed that night was helping himself to a long drink of water...surely?

Snail Repellent Experiment
One thing that won't remain a mystery however is how to deter the ever common garden snail and other pests from your patch. Joe has been busy conducting a highly technical experiment, and if he had one of those white lab suits he probably would have worn it.

We have heard many tales of ways to deter pests in the garden without using poisons or pesticides. The key theories we wanted to put to the test were whether or not garlic and chilli juice sprayed onto veges deter snails and secondly whether or not sprinkling crushed egg shells around the base of vegetables also repels snails. (To make garlic and chilli spray simply dice up 5 cloves of garlic and 5 chillis. Add to boiling hot water and allow to sit overnight. Strain into a spray bottle and apply to all of your leafy vegetables).

These are our OFFICIAL findings.

Our Aim: How to best deter snails using organic substances.

Our Method: Contain a number of very hungry a container. Add three juicy green bean leaves. One sprayed with garlic and chilli juice (right). One surrounded by crushed egg shells (middle). And one left alone - the control leaf (left).

Our Results: Within a few minutes of the snails being added to the 'test site' (a big plastic container) they near devoured our control leaf. By the afternoon all seemed promising as neither of the other two leaves had been touched. Night descended and we all went to bed confident that the other two methods had successfully detered the snails. However, come morning time ,Joe was shocked and appauled to find that the two biggest snails had broken through his supposed impenetrable egg shell perimeter and eaten the entire leaf! Worse still leaf three, saturated in the chilli and garlic spray, had also been partially eaten (approximately 27% of the total leaf mass index was missing). However, his potent mix proved too powerful for them to finish off those final mouthfuls.

within the first hour, the control leaf was the first to go. by morning nothing was left of the control leaf or the leaf surrounded by egg shell thanks to the two fasto's sitting in the middle. The garlic & Chilli sprayed leaf was partly eaten. We suspect an ethnic snail of mediteranian or mexican background.

We will give you a moment to lift your jaws off the ground before we make our final conclusion.

Our Conclusion: Neither the egg shells nor the chilli and garlic spray will completely prevent snails from eating your garden but they do provide some level of inital resistance with the chilli and garlic spray appearing the most repellant.

We're going on a Snail HuntA more effective method that we use is 'snail hunts'. This is a great one for the whole family to take part in. You will need one flashlight, one jar with lid, one drizzly/rainy evening and x amount of excited children (and dads). Snails come out in their hundreds in these conditions and are easy to spot, pick them up and pop them in the jar. From here you can either keep them as pets (not recommended), drown them (more of an option), or befriend an old Italian/French/Maltese man who will more than happily take them off your hands to whip up a quick escargot delight (highly recommended)!

Brave Sir Knight Noah and Princess Georgiaveve prepare for yet another treacherous snail hunt! Such Bravery!

We have also been trialling beer traps so far with no success over the last 24 hours and Joe is beginning to regret his waste of a good home-brewed beer.

AphidsSome other simple techniques that do work in protecting your garden include using soapy water spray to kill aphids. It is also great to get rid of powdery mildew on pumpkins, zucchini and squash plants. Just use some hand soap in a spray bottle diluted with water.

Birds & Possums
In the grand scheme of things snails and aphids are of little concern here at our place. It is the plethora of birds and possum folk that think we have grown the veggie garden just for them that are our key concern. The best solution we have found to prevent birds and possums is to cover our veggie beds with bird netting (we bought ours from Bunnings). This system worked a treat on our raised veggie gardens, but prooved less successful on our fruit trees and vines. Next year we are going to trial using stockings to cover our grapes to protect them from the birds, we used bird netting this year but the crafty little buggers easily hopped underneath it and ate 80% of our lovely grapes.

because of the combination of excessive chocolate consumption by our children , and their stubborn refusal to accept that daylight saving has now ended, Jo and I are both too dazed and confused to continue blogging tonight. later this week we will deliver on our promised recipe (an Italian style courgette stuffed (for want of a better term) with secret stuffings - i am not allowed to say any more at this stage) and also chat about the wonderful world of companion planting.

Ok. we are back.

Companion Planting:

As the name suggests, the concept behind companion planting is grouping certain varieties of plants next to one another because they are beneficial to the growth, or pest resistence of both plants. Companion planting has been used for many years and is a far better alternative to pesticides and unnatural fertilizers. Below are some companion planting partnerships that you can try in your own vegetable garden.
1. Cucumbers grow well with beans

2. Asparagus repels nematodes (tiny-worms), and is a good companion for tomatoes and parsley.

3. Celery repels white butterfly, and are good companions for cabbage & cauliflower.

4. Chrysanthemums inhibit root-knot nematodes, and are a good companion for strawberries.

5. Borage is also a good companion for strawberries.

6. Silver beat is also an excellent companion for strawberries.

7. Foxgloves stimulate growth in other plants in general, and should be planted as a boarder plant (around vege garden).

8. Yarrow (planted sparsely) improves pest resistance in general.

9. Marjoram improves the yields of most vegetables.

10. French Marigolds are a good companion for all root vegetables as they inhibit pests and diseases. They are also a good companion for tomatoes as they repel white fly, which attacks tomatoes.

11. Parsley is beneficial to tomatoes and roses.

12. Garlic improves the growth of roses, but is bad for peas and beans. It is also a good remedy for blight diseases on tomatoes and potatoes. Simply crush cloves and sit in boiling water. Use as a spray.

13. Gladioli is BAD as it restricts the growth of vegetables and should be kept well away from your vege garden.

14. Dandelions are also bad for the growth of vege gardens, but grown on their own, they are good for cleansing the gallbladder, and are high in vitamins A & C.

15. Nasturtiums improve the growth of potatoes and radishes. they aslo add a lovely splach of colour!

16. Chervil is also a good companion for Radish.

17. Chives repel many insects and pests and inhibits diseases in your vege garden. They are particularly good companions for carrots and apple trees. For best results, pick the leaves and flowers regularly.

18. Dill improves the quality of cabbages.

19. Fennel is bad for the growth of beans. Keep them separate.

20. Hyssop improves the growth of grape vine yields. Garlic may also be good in preventing some diseases in grape vines, as roses and vines often suffer from similar diseases.

21. Summer Savoy is a good boarder for onions and beans.

22. beans grow well near carrots, potatoes, cabbage, celery, cucumber, and cauliflower.

23. beans do not grow well near garlic, shallots, onions or beetroot.

24. cabbage improves when grown near potatoes. Sage is also a good companion for cabbage.

25. Carrots are good companions for onions/ peas/ lettuce/sage.

26. Cucumbers are good companions for peas/potatoes/beans/cabbage/chives.

27. Leeks are good companions for celery.

28. Lettuces are good companions for radish/carrots.

29. Peas or pumpkins are good companions for corn.
30. Peas and onions do not grow well together.

31. Potatoes and tomatoes/pumpkins/sunflowers do not grow well together.

32. Potatoes are good companions for cabbage/corn/peas/beans.

ok people. we are done for tonight. Joanna's top secret stuffed zucchinni (or courgette for the more culinarily sophisitacted) will be cooking tommorrow. On a side note, we watched Costa's garden odyssey tonight in the hairy hope of some gardening gems, but we were sadly dissappointed. It is only the second time we have watched the hairy man. has he been better in the past or are you in aggreance that Costa can do better?