Monday, October 30, 2017

Oh... hi there!

Well would you look at that… it feels like forever since I’ve updated this blog. In fact… oh my, eight months or so (thank you domain registration reminder for giving me some incentive). I haven’t been completely absent, I’ve been reading other blogs and infrequently commenting, but I still remember when I wrote more regularly, so sorry about that readers! (Do I have any readers left?)

What’s been happening in my life of late?

Work
I’ve been working more hours and taking on more responsibilities. I mean, I’m technically still part time, so I’m accruing flex time at alarming rates, but I love my job and we are doing so many new and experimental things and I just want to be involved. I’m loving that I get to stretch mental muscles and have deeply intellectual conversations about concepts that don’t even exist properly yet because we haven’t built them. It give me nerdy chills! Of course, it also means I have less time to do other things, but I make time for the important stuff.

My 5 year old with attitude
Ellie starts Prep next year. It feels like just moments ago I held her for the first time in my arms, barely 2.5kg of weight. Now, she still looks tiny, dwarfed by her school uniforms which I bought big so she could grow into them (it’s the frugal Asian side of me). The one thing that isn’t tiny is her attitude and sass. She’s such a wonderful little person who can have conversations with me and looks after her little brother with equal amounts of love and exasperation. She’s so smart, and so confident and so full of pizazz and cheer. I know she's going to blow us all away one day.
My newly minted 3 year old
Jimmy turned three yesterday! Remember when he was born? I do! We had some drama with his daycare and I wasn't happy with them anymore, so I went through the (long, drawn out) process of moving him a few months ago and he seems to be settling in and thriving now. He is talking so much and becoming his own person. And just for the record in case I start getting mushy and thinking about wanting more children…. toilet training. Oh my word I hate it so much… and that says a lot because remember I’m the mama who did cloth nappies!

He loves to be carried and held close, so I still carry a wrap for those moments where he just needs to be up. One such moment happened at a shopping centre lately... he was just losing composure so a sloppy wrap job later and he was snoring onto the back of my neck. J weighs almost a third of what I do these days, so I cherish these little moments while I still can.
Extracurricular activities
Ellie started acrobatics this year and while I was signing her up I noticed an adult tap dance class. I’ve never tapped before but I’ve done dance of some sort most of my life so I was intrigued. I started with a bunch of other like minded adults and I love it. Admittedly, it’s a new style for me so I’m still messing up all the time, but it’s such fun! I go once a week and quite frankly… it’s an amazing stress buster and I get to kick the floor and take all my frustrations out on it while dancing my (unfit) heart out. Win!

I'm also continuing pottering in my kitchen garden, and the recent rains have done wonderful things for all the plants I must say! 

After work, and family and cooking and life in general, I find myself sitting down of a night and just wanting a quiet activity. I've been reading a lot lately, both Kindle and paper books as the mood strikes. There is something to be said for turning paper pages and smelling a book (is that weird?) but I also appreciate the sheer convenience of eReaders too.

Diet
As my kids get older, they get more definite with what they will and won’t eat. They have a few meals they always love (pasta, rice and stir fry, chicken nuggets, pancakes and sweets) but I long for them to love vegetables and be flexible with their food preferences. It seems that what was a favourite last week is off the menu the next. Maybe they are following in their daddy's carnivorous influence and not my healthy choices.

I find myself often cooking wonderful (meat free) meals that they’ll taste and then turn up their noses at even though they'd eaten them last week, so I portion it out and freeze it to try again another time. I have a freezer full of meals that only I seem to eat now… no matter how many time I present my lovingly prepared and often home grown creations. Kids! Still, it means that I have fabulous lunch options and no excuse for takeaway on nights when I just can’t be bothered! I'm all about the silver linings.

Fill me in on your news. What’s been happening in your life lately?

Monday, February 6, 2017

What's in my kitchen, February 2017

I'd originally intended to talk about what I've been cooking and eating lately, but I had some other photographs ready, so this is more of a hybrid between a proper in my kitchen crossed with what's growing in my garden. With the weather being as hot as it has been recently, I've been loathe to plant anything new in the garden. I grow most of my produce from seeds, and it's far too hot for brand new seedlings to be outdoors. That, and my brand of gardening means my plants need to be hardy enough to thrive on careful neglect means I don't have the time to baby along new plants.

I do however like to see things grow and I thought in the interests of being scientific and letting the smalls get involved, that we might put a few things in water and watch what happens from the relative cool of my kitchen window sill, where we can easily top up the water as it evaporates.

When avocado prices dropped a few months ago, I was on those little green/black morsels like a pig in mud. Eventually, I got tired of just throwing the seeds into the compost... they take so long to break down so I thought we'd grow one. I admit, I was spurred on by an ad that seems to be appearing regularly on my Facebook page, where someone has invented a sort of floating mini boat to put an avocado seed in and grow. I thought that it seemed a bit ridiculous to need a specific device so I determined to do it armed with nothing more than a tall glass and some toothpicks.

I peeled the avocado seed, then impaled it on a trio of toothpicks and submerged about half of it into a glass of water. A monokuro boo glass as a matter of fact; I love those little black and white pigs! I digress. It took some time, but eventually, we saw progress. This seed has probably been growing for at least 6 weeks, possibly a bit longer.
It has shoots and roots, and the interesting thing in my opinion is that as that shoot grew, it cleaved the seed entirely in half! The only thing holding it together now is the shoot/root structure. I don't know whether it's providing any fuel or its now purely decorative, but it's sure interesting. The kids are more interested in the fact that if they turn the glass around, the shoot will orient itself to point out the window toward the light. I'm debating where to plant it in the garden when it gets big enough. I'm not sure how long avocado trees take to produce fruit but I suspect a long time.
I saved the top of my tiny piney and let it dry out a little after scraping off the bulk of the flesh so that it didn't get smelly. When it was dry, we strategically placed some toothpicks (left over from a cheese tasting from the look of them) to stop it from falling into the jar, and left the bottom part submerged in water. A few weeks later we have tiny roots growing (you can see one at about 7 o'clock in the jar), and the top is getting a bit taller as well. When the root system is better established and the days are less hot, I'll relocate this little baby into the garden. While we likely won't get any fruit for at last two years, rough leaf pineapples are so delicious and the chickens decimated my last bed of pineapples so I'm starting over.
We've also been saving the roots of spring onions and planting those directly in the garden, and re-establishing a sweet potato patch from a sweet potato that was neglected and sprouted in storage. These have gone directly into the soil in the hope that I will again have thriving sweet potato vines to use for cooking (turns out the chickens were huge fans of them as well).

I guess this post demonstrates that I've been growing a lot of things on my kitchen windowsill lately, which is true. In the heat, I've tended toward not cooking as much as possible, so many of our meals have been simple, fast and not very photogenic. Hopefully as summer rolls to a close, I will start posting more food posts!

I'm sending this to Lizzy, of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things for linking in to her monthly IMK roundup.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How does your garden grow, January 2017

I've had the most glorious gentle beginning to the new year. It's been a very slow pace, and very unstructured. There has been lots of catching up with family, lots of feasting and festivities, and lots of cheer. There has also been plenty of time to potter around the house and garden doing all the little things I always put off during the busy-ness of the year.

I regularly sign up to do courses online as I hate feeling like I'm stagnant and not learning anything new. My most recent course is called Science of Gardening, it's actually a HECS scholarship unit offered by the University of Tasmania, which means that domestic students don't incur any tuition fee or debt for the unit. It actually counts toward the UTAS Bachelor of General Studies, but I'm just taking it for the fun of it (nerd alert!). UTAS often do HECS scholarship units and I find it a good way to keep my brain ticking away.

I'll just steal the explanation about the course and leave it here:
Important and interesting questions for gardeners include why are plants arranged into families, and what features do they share? What are plants made of, and how do they grow? How do seeds know when to germinate, and how does the environment shape the way they grow? What are the crucial factors determining when plants flower and set seed? Why does soil type and nutrients affect plant health? Answers to all these questions and more when you study Science of Gardening.
It's actually a really interesting learning curve for me. It's completely online which is fine, but although it's called the science of gardening, I didn't really think I'd be delving into the chemical composition of soil, admiring the biological cross sections of plants, or re-learning the periodic table and how to recognise deficiencies or toxicities of soil and then diagnose how to correct them.

It's made me look at my garden in a whole new light and consider how I might tweak my gardening practices to make my plants more productive and happy. I appreciate just how much effort these little clumps of cells go to just to end up on my plate!

All that said, here's a peek into my garden right now.

I grew a tiny pineapple and it was delicious, if extremely small (dirty looking Sophie the Giraffe for comparison). It was so sweet and the acid was barely there at all. It was just enough for a morning tea for the smalls and me.
My eggplants are producing prolifically, as they usually do. My soil must be appreciated by eggplants. Although these two are different sizes, the right time to harvest eggplants are when they are plump and glossy. I have taken a batch over to my mother in law's house so that she can use them for Chinese New Year dishes. Yum.
Here is a picture of my sad looking lemon tree. I had an assignment where I had to diagnose citrus deficiencies, which was interesting. As my tree has healthy new growth, and the yellowing is mainly on the older leaves, I suspect magnesium deficiency, which is easily adjusted by watering in some epsom salt. I think there may also be a minor zinc deficiency also, which could be adjusted with a kelp solution spray. It's a sad tree, there is also some leaf miner activity, but it has improved of late, so there is still hope.
The chilli, eggplant, and what I'm 90% sure is a pumpkin are doing well, despite the recent heat. Mr Fork has been putting the water from his fish tank onto my garden when he does water changes, and they seem to appreciate all the fish poo.
One of my assignments also involved testing the ph of my soil. It's something I never really gave much thought to, but now I know that my soil is definitely on the acidic side. I suppose that means I should stop dumping my coffee grounds directly onto the soil and compost them instead. I also need to get some dolomite lime and see if I can raise the ph a bit for happier plants.
Our girls went rogue and built a secret nest under the house where it's lovely and cool. They were sneaky about it, continuing to lay in the regular box too, so I just thought they were slacking off in this heat. It's such a pretty nest, lined with bits of purloined sugar cane from the garden and dried grass. Sneaky things. These will be the last of our eggs as Mr Fork has gotten sick of cleaning chicken poo from the deck and has promised the chickens to a friend who has a large garden, doesn't care about chicken poo and swears not to eat them. I think perhaps it's an unlucky move, especially so close to the Chinese New Year when it switches over to the year of the Rooster, but who am I to come between a man and his BBQ-ing space. Especially when I don't eat eggs myself!
How is your garden growing?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Review: The Swag reuseable produce bags

Recently I've been using something new to keep my fruit and vegetables in. We've never been a family that produces lots of waste, and even if we do, I'm very eco conscious and odds are it will end up being eaten by the dogs or the chickens, or the compost heap will get it. However, I am also conscious of the amount of plastic that is used these days too. It particularly irks me when I see fruit and vegetables pre-wrapped or portioned into plastic containers, and I will deliberately go out of my way to choose to fill my own (reusable) bag with the portion I want to buy.

The Swag is an Australian product for storing produce. It's made of three layers of natural unbleached cotton - the outer layer protects the fruit and veg and stops the water in the middle layer drying up. The middle later absorbs and holds water, but draws moisture away from the inside produce, therefore increasing the storage life. The inner layer is a dry barrier which sits against the produce but allows them to absorb the water and air through the fabric too.

I have them in a few different sizes - the green one is a longer size which is great for things like celery and spring onions. The white one is the large size, and pretty much anything fits in there. The red and blue ones are small bags, and I love that they're colour coded so I can identify individual bags in the fridge.

They're super simple to use, and in fact, the instructions are sewn onto the bag! All you have to do is make sure the swag is a little bit wet, but not dripping. Put the produce in and then store it in your fridge. Make sure the Swag is a bit damp and there you have it! I need to sprinkle them with water every few days but that's not a big deal for me at all.
I don't even have to separate different types of veggies and fruits, in fact, I find it convenient to store all my veggies together, all my fruits together etc. I even use one of the bags to store my potatoes in (but that one lives in the cupboard, not the pantry, and isn't kept damp at all).
I've been using my Swags for a little while now and I love them. Here's some carrots stored in one of the small bags. They're just loose in there, but they're perfectly happy and still crispy and good. I definitely think that these bags are helping to prolong the life of my fresh produce - and actually, my mushrooms are quite happy to be stored in a Swag as well (although like potatoes I don't wet their bag).

I'm very happy to be cutting down on plastic storage bags, saving money by not having to discard food (although the chickens might not agree!). I think it's a great product.

Note that this review is not sponsored, I just love the bags and wanted to show how I keep my fruit and vegetables fresh for longer.
 

Friday, December 9, 2016

What's in my kitchen, December 2016

I'm cutting it a bit close for this month's In My Kitchen. In fact, I didn't think I was going to do one, it's just been so busy lately. But then, Mr Fork told me that he had to go interstate for work and so I'd be single parenting for a week or so. Which, compared to what some parents have to do when their partners work fly in/fly out isn't really that bad, but I do find it exhausting. Mainly because it's so hard to always be 'on call' and available to my children without another adult backup. So I decided to snatch a few minutes time to myself and blog while I could. We're smack in the middle of birthday season (both my children and their friendship groups are second half of the year babies) so we've had parties to go to most weekends. Coupled with end of year festivities and it's been a crazy social whirl. It's actually a good thing - lots of new foods to try and since my small man has decided to wean I can indulge in a drink or two. Hurrah! Anyway, here's what's taking up space in my kitchen lately.

In my kitchen is...

Lemongrass tea, brought back from Bali for me from my lovely aunt. I like to brew it up and then drink it cold - I find it quite refreshing and a nice way to drink more water in this humidity lately. I love tea, although I do have quite the tea collection and should probably put some effort into working my way through it before it gets too far out of control!
In my kitchen is...

A jar of pumpkin pie spice. As an Australian, I've always been fascinated when Americans describe their Thanksgiving foods. I've never eaten a turkey, nor been interested in it, but the side dishes, well they intrigue me. Sweet potato casserole with marshmallow on top? Salad made of jelly? Pecan pie? Pumpkin pie? Well sign me up for those pies! When one of my colleagues was in the US lately, he told me he thought of me while walking around in Whole Foods (another place I feel I must visit one day) and brought me back a bottle of pumpkin pie spice.

After imagining it for so long I was disappointed to find that it was just a mix of spices I already have in the kitchen but it does smell delicious and I have grand plans for this bottle. I tested it out by adding some to a batch of of plain mini cakes and oh my did it make my kitchen smell delicious! I can't wait to experiment some more when I have actual pumpkin in the house.
In my kitchen is...

Sweetened condensed coconut milk. I found this is my local Asian grocer. I was super chuffed that it was on sale, down to 49c a can due to the short shelf life remaining. No matter to me, I have ear marked the ones I bought for Christmas baking - a caramel slice and some apricot/coconut balls to be precise. I'm so pleased to have found a source of dairy free condensed milk as some of my favourite childhood treats are made with it and I can add them back into my repertoire without my tummy rebelling due to dairy. Win!
In my kitchen is...

A souvenir from a recent girls' weekend away. I escaped with some friends for a weekend of wandering around markets, lazing by the pool and having tapas and wine for dinner without having to worry about getting up to tend to small humans. In a little boutique winery I found a bottle of fig and ginger jam and had to have it. It's delicious on scones, although no one else in my household seems to appreciate it, which just means more for me!
In my kitchen is...

A large bottle of Tabasco sauce, which my brother asked me to get for him next time I was at Costco. I didn't photograph it next to anything for scale, but it's the biggest Tabasco bottle I have ever seen - 355ml. It should keep him going for quite some time. I'm going to include it in his Christmas present.
In my kitchen is...

Well, not technically in my kitchen, but in my kitchen garden, are some eye wateringly hot chillies in various stages of ripeness, which I plan to use to make a batch of home made tabasco sauce.
In my kitchen is...

Sourdough loaves. Thankfully my previously reported sluggish dough has perked up and is back to producing loaves that I am happy with again. These loaves are a higher hydration, with a coarse polenta coating. They go deliciously with vegemite and avocado, which, now that prices have come down to something reasonable again, are back on my menu at home.

I'm sending this to Lizzy, of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things for linking in to her monthly IMK roundup.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and happy festive season, and I look forward to seeing all the seasonal goodies in everyone's kitchen. What's happening in your kitchen lately?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How does your garden grow, November 2016

This season I've taken a different approach to my kitchen garden. Instead of planting things out in neat rows and sections, I've decided on more of a laissez-faire strategy. By that, I mean that I'm letting seeds fall where they may. I'm letting things from the compost grow and revelling in the mystery of what comes up. Yes, it's a bit of a lazy approach, but it seems to be working pretty well.

I've got a new crop of chillies fruiting. The original plant was grown from a chilli Mr Fork's father gave me. They've got a great amount of heat, so I love these chillies. The plant is a prolific producer, so I've always got a well stocked freezer supply too. The kids don't tolerate heat as well as their parents do, so spiciness is always something we add at the end of the cooking process to individual portions. It doesn't taste as good in my mind as cooking the heat in, but what can you do? I hope to gradually build their tolerance up so we don't have to prepare quite so many separate meals. You can also see a small section of my chicken proof fence.
Part of my natural approach includes letting my plants with good properties go to seed so that I can save them for later planting (and let some fall where they may as well!). Coriander flowers are so pretty. I have this herb constantly growing as the Queensland heat makes them go to seed so quickly. I like the contrast of white coriander blossoms with purple eggplant flowers.
Speaking of eggplants, my sad plant has perked up with the recent rainy weather. I've got a bumper crop of eggplants. I'm never quite sure when the ideal time to pick them is, but they're a welcome addition to my cooking - such a versatile ingredient.
The weather has made my basil plant very happy. It's started to grow at a very rapid rate and keeps me busy pinching off the flowers so it doesn't go to seed.
I *think* this is some sort of purple basil. Mr Fork's aunt gave me a cutting. I thought I'd killed it but it seems to have come back with a vengeance. We use the leaves when we are making Vietnamese rice paper rolls. I'm not sure what else people use it in, but apparently it's quite hard to grow. It definitely smells and tastes delicious. You can also see my clumping sweet potato in the background. I grow it not for the tubers, but for the leaves which are great in stir fries and similar.
I found a few organic corn seeds left from last year so popped them in garden bed too. They're about six inches high now and looking very happy. There's also some tomato seedlings coming up, I think some lettuce seedlings, and I admit I have no idea at all yet what that round leafed plant in the top left corner underneath the corn is.
The rough leafed pineapple I planted from a leftover top some years ago is fruiting again. I'm quite glad as the chickens ate all the other pineapples I had planted in the garden so this is the last one left. It probably only survived because it was in a pot and it has the most delicious fruit, so I'm looking forward to that, and also having a second top to plant out too. Waste not, want not!
Finally, here are Vanessa and Jemima, greedily eyeing my vegetable patch. Chickens are much messier and destructive than I ever imagined, but they're so useful. They eat my scraps and leftover plants, they do fabulous things for the lawn and give me a great source of fertiliser. My family and neighbours are also grateful for their eggs as well. While not technically in my edible garden, Mr Fork has recently put lots of effort into the lawn and it's lovely to see it looking so lush.
How is your garden growing lately? I'd love to hear tips about when to harvest the perfect eggplant.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Recipe: Coconut Scones

It's hard to find a good scone. Everyone has their own variations and favourite recipe but I think what really makes a scone good is the fluffiness and the freshness. I'm always disappointed by scones when I'm at a coffee shop or a high tea as they just never live up to my expectations - they're usually dry, dense or could serve equally well as a hockey puck. Not when I can whip something up at home, exactly to my taste, and have it fresh from the oven and served with exactly the right toppings (none of that horrible cream from a can the places I go to seem to love). 

Personally, I'm a big believer in some delicious jam with my scones, and perhaps if they're fresh from the oven, a bit of Nuttelex as well. For a truly decadent occasion, I might whip up some coconut cream, but it's not a must.

I baked these coconut scones to satisfy the cries of my smalls for cake and quite frankly, I really just wanted a cup of tea and a good scone. These delivered! I made them with coconut oil instead of butter, and I thought while I was coconutting them (can that be a verb?) I'd add some coconut flour too. I got a result that was light, flaky and perfect for afternoon tea. 

The mix would easily double, but we weren't having company and scones don't keep very well, so I was happy making a small batch.
Coconut Scones
Makes 6

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup plain flour 
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used soy, but that's just what I had in the fridge, any non dairy milk would work)
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200ÂșC and grease your baking tray with a little coconut oil.
  2. Combine the flour and baking soda together in a decent sized bowl, and then add the coconut oil, rubbing it into the flour gently until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Mix the sugar, baking powder and salt in, distributing evenly.
  4. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add in most of the milk (you may not need it all). With a light touch - I find a butter knife works perfectly - mix the milk into the dry ingredients until it forms a ball. If you need to add a little more milk to help everything combine, now is the time to do it.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, gently press the dough to about 3-4cm high. Use a floured glass or cutter to shape the scones. Place them onto the baking tray, making sure to position them with sides touching to help them rise nicely.
  6. Bake 12-15 minutes until they are done, then cool on a wire rack.
Best served immediately, we kept ours simple with some homemade raspberry jam. I was really impressed with how well the coconut oil did as a butter substitute, and the coconut flour added a small hint of coconut to the scones. They were delicious and perfect for afternoon tea. Most definitely they were approved by my smalls as well (although that may also be influenced by the late amounts of jam they smothered theirs in!). 
Do you have a favourite scone recipe?

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