Thursday, March 29, 2012

COOKING: From my veggie garden

I have mixed feelings about this time of year. I am truly elated that the hot hot weather of summer is behind me (for another season) but my veggie garden withers after producing it's spring and summer bounty, and is getting ready to go to plant heaven.

I have a small vegetable garden because the plot of land our house sits on is mainly taken up by a large house.......and because our land is on the downwards aspect of a hill, is split into three levels. As it is not situated ideally for a vegetable patch, it's a labour of love to try and produce anything on half a day's sun, and that is the brutal afternoon sun of summer - making matters even more challenging.

My prized crop is my tomatoes..... because no matter what you say - the best tomato is a home grown one. There is one large oxheart which is managing to turn pinkish red, and it will ripen in 2 or 3 days time. It is the last one. The cherry tomatoes are finishing, as is my crop of sweet basil. The small crop of asian chilli's are still doing well, and gosh they are hot this year.

I try to grow garlic - but they are always small because my veggie garden does not get much sun in the cooler months - so my crop is plentiful but small and fiddly to peel.

Cherry Tomatoes - plus one chilli for demonstration purposes.

One of my four chilli bushes - more than enough heat for one household.

My sweet basil - this is the best "looking" bush - but they are all struggling in the cooler nights now.

Salmon, mashed potato and (my) sautéed cherry toms, basil and garlic. A fast side dish and so satisfying knowing you grew the ingredients.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

CRAFTS: Ceramics For The Outdoors

It is rare now-a-days to be able to create and fire your own ceramic pieces. The vast influx of cheap mass produced items that you can buy in the "two-dollar" shops have made a mockery of the crafting, time and expense that needs to be put into the real deal.

I am lucky enough to know Sandy, a friend who is a "ceramics artist" and has all the supplies and equipment (including two kilns) she needs at home. Sandy will make anything you want to order, in your colours, style and your wish is her command.  She does beautiful work, but won't ever admit her fact she is surprised when we make a fuss of what she produces. Beautiful, funny, humble girl. Even though a piece may take her hours and hours, she is apprehensive about charging people anything close to what I feel she deserves for it.

I digress. Sandy has taught me the art of ceramics. The really wonderful part about ceramics, is that when your house and shelves are heaving and are full to can start to make them to decorate the outdoors and garden. The sun and rain and snow won't touch them, but they will of course break if knocked or dropped! So a little care is required in placing them.

This is the Mega Mushroom - it stands 45cm (17.5 ") tall and is 37cm (14.5 ") across.

It's glaze is called Harvest Time and it's a crystal glaze.

Brad the Turtle guards a part of the garden and never complains.

Small mushroom

I've made three sets of these - and don't own any..... they are adorning two gardens (including one interstate) and one set decorates Lynn's entertainment unit. She couldn't bring herself to put them outside.

These were made by my husband. These two are in his sisters backyard.

And he made these for ours.

This is a Chinese Lantern I made for Lynn's Birthday. It's bigger than the Mega Mushroom. The lid lifts off and you can put a pillar candle in it. This is in Lynn's backyard.

Monday, March 19, 2012

COOKING: German Potato Pancakes

I don't know about you, but sometimes I get a craving for something that my mum made for us during our childhood or the "still at home" years. My late mother was from the border of Slovenia and Austria and my dad is German. They both migrated to Australia after WWII. We lost mum to cancer in 2006. Mum was a great cook, and I had all my basic training from her. She always used to tell me to "take in" how she cooked things - because she said I will probably want to cook them after she was no longer on this earth. How right she was (!).

In the last month or so I had been having a craving for her "German potato pancakes". Funny, in the past, I've tried to make their magic up out of thin air - guessing at the ingredients - and had dismal failures to prove how right Mum was in wanting me to watch, look and learn.

In desperation I got onto google and did some internet searching.......Ding Ding.......we have a winner!!! SO HAPPY that the net saved me - fantastic invention!!!

Here you go - this you will enjoy - totally brought back all good Sunday night memories:

Peel 1 kg of floury potatoes and 1 brown onion. Grate using the small grater holes into a bowl. Using a clean tea towel or muslin, line a sieve and then drop the potato and onion into the towel. Twist and squeeze water out. I managed to get two cups (500ml) of water out of my vegetables. The more water you can extract - the less oil the pancakes will take up from your frypan - and the crisper they will be. (*yay*)

Add 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Mix well into the potato and onion.

Add 5 tablespoons of plain flour and mix till combined.

Heat about 1/4 cup of neutral oil (like sunflower, vegetable or rice bran) into a non stick fry pan. On a medium heat drop small amounts into the pan and flatten with a spoon. The flatter you manage to get them - the crisper they will be. NB: the baby pancake is my "I can't wait to taste this recipe tester bit"

Flip over when nice and golden - doesn't take long keep watch. Drain and dab with paper towels. You can keep them in a warm oven until you have fried them all if you like.

I know my husbands taste - so his got topped with smoked salmon, sour cream and fresh garlic chives.

He loved them (so did Rubie our mini schnauzer)!

Again - back to the childhood - mine were simply sprinkled with white sugar. I know it sounds bizarre - but it's really really good.

This recipe made 14 small pancakes and fed two greedy adults. A few little pieces were scored by the schnauzer.

I give these a most appreciative 10/10. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

CRAFTS: Mosaic Candle Holders and Garden Ball

I saw a template for a garden candle holder in one of my Mosaics books. My husband made the wooden back and shelf out of MDF - a thick craftwood - and I picked up the small terracotta dishes from a garden centre. They are the smallest size pot saucer they carry and are the perfect size for this project.

Most of the ceramic materials used on these are made by my friend Sandy - she is a clever lady.

At the moment these two are on display in the Mosaics Shop I trained in, as a project "idea" for the students.

I'm a sucker for the humble flower. This was the first candle holder.

These little leaves were the right size to pop them down the flower stem.

I managed to incorporate a couple of my hand-painted parrots towards the bottom.

Second one - same background crystal tile used.

A full burgundy colour tile is the background for the mirror decal.

Sandy's beautiful ceramic embellishments. Really love them.

We had these mirror decals in the shop - but never sold one. The shop owner wanted to have something made with them so the customers could see them, she didn't need to ask twice.
This is me mucking about with left over bits. I made the ball (baseball size) out of leftover grout.  It can go anywhere in the garden or outdoors.

Friday, March 9, 2012

FREEDOM: Short Holiday Booked

I'm totally in love with the Alpine (highlands) region of Victoria. My love affair started when my husband took me to Bright, in order to introduce me to one of his old bosses and his dear wife. They retired and then moved to Bright from Adelaide, because they were snow bunnies and avid skiers. I will call them N&I to protect their privacy, but suffice to say they are the best and I love their little town almost as much as I love them.

In the ski season you can take transport or drive if you have snow chains, direct into the ski fields from their low lying town. Bright has been known to get a mini sprinkle of snow, but not enough to ski on. It is a lush and green town, the Ovens River running through, complete with gorgeous huge trees which put on an awesome show over Autumn.

Just recently - there have been flooding rains over Qld, NSW and Victoria and it seems to have affected many towns alongside rivers, with much home loss and soul destroying times for many. Bright has flooded in the past, but it seems to have got through these last few weeks quite well.

In April it is our 10th Wedding anniversary. Whew - where did those years go??? Also, my Birthday is the day before. So even though we bought our wonderful A'van Caravan as our anniversary "present" - we are slipping over to Bright to get away, meet up with our friends and enjoy the Autumn display.

I've booked a Holiday Unit - in a gorgeous garden setting and it even comes with free use of mountain bikes to enjoy the trails. Haven't been on a bike in over 25 years! Woo Hoooo!

I can't wait - only drawbacks are the LONG drive and the fact we are leaving Rubie our dog with her Uncle and fur-cousins  .....   here is a taste of what is to come:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

COOKING: Free-Form Almond and Plum Tart

I'm so in love with the Free-form Tart that I posted a few posts ago. I decided to make it again because I had raw almonds, (skin on - good for you fibre) 3 plums, and visitors that I wanted to make a dessert for.

Follow the same recipe as the Nectarine and Macadamia Tart - but switch to almonds and plums. I took a few photos as I went so you can see how easy the recipe is. If you don't have a food processor - put one on your wish list!! This pastry is so easy to roll and shape between the baking paper sheets - I can't say enough how nice the end result is. My friend Lynn even got to taste a tiny slice (it was all that was left) and she was duly impressed. She may even leave a comment on this post!!

Do yourself a favour!! Yum!

Bye for now, Poots.

PS: If you click on this collage - it should come up bigger in another window. L-O-V-E my food processor!!!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

FREEDOM: Saga of the "Recreational Vehicle"

My husband retired and I, in sympathy, stopped working - about 7 years ago. Traditionally, here in Australia, when people retire they generally buy a caravan or motorhome and "drive around Australia". These people are fondly named "The Grey Nomads". Well I colour my greying tendencies - so the name never quite fit me. What little hair my husband has, was and is, in fact, very grey - so he fits this mould.

We bought a small motorhome (sight unseen - just pictures) over the internet, and my husband flew to Sydney to pick it up and drive it home. Here it is:

"Matilda" - camped at Ormiston Gorge - Northern Territory

Here she is with full outfit on, Arthur's lake, Tasmania.

Over the span of about 2 and a half years, we saw a lot  of Australia over four trips, spanning about 4 months per trip. Needless to say, the whole experience was AWESOME and a fitting introduction to "Freedom" in retirement. 

We then sold Matilda to a very nice older couple (greys) who live on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. The motorhome was unable to be stored at our place due to her height. And to leave it out (not undercover) was not an option.

While we were happy to have sold her privately, and pretty much recoup the money we had paid for her,

there was this niggling "oh no, what have we done!!" feeling inside.

Have we just sold our FREEDOM??

After a while I started feeling a little sad for the loss of our "Recreational Vehicle" and began to think how nice for us AND our little dog "camping" and "adventures" would be. But there were very few options for people travelling with dogs.


Guess what we did today????

Happy Days!!! After much deliberation, my husband and I decided on a compact and fold down caravan, small enough that we could tow it with our medium sized car. We ordered a brand newy today with many extras including air-conditioning and full annex and awning to double the living space when camped. It will take approximately 4 months to be constructed and delivered. 

So who's a Happy Camper now??????