Saturday, 27 April 2013

Dancing Light Fairies

This week we've had the pleasure of the company of  Mel and Sheila.  We were fortunate with the weather one evening and managed to have a barbeque on the front patio with a magnificent sunset surrounding us.  Bliss.
It was Round 2 of the Boules Championships.  Last time Mel and Sheila visited, Steve and I were the Boules winners, so a certain man was verrrry keen for a re-match.  We believe he had been practising.  :-)
With an old car mat on the ground for the launching pad, the match was underway.  And taken very seriously I might add.  The measuring tape had to come out on a few occasions.
Using the lumpy floor of a peppermint tree forest makes for a challenging course.  One has to manoeuvre their ball around slopes, bits of fallen branch, ruts, piles of kangaroo poo and goodness knows what else.  Good fun.  Mel and Sheila reigned supreme this time, and yes Mel, I will tell everyone that it was a convincing win 14-7.  :-)
Steve and I were only thinking the other day that we needed to go and get a 10 kg bag of small onions for pickling, but Mel very kindly brought us a bag - great minds think alike.  So Steve and Mel set to work peeling them and into the spiced vinegar they went.  Steve will be champing at the bit to starting munching on these!  I must say at this point that I am so so happy that I designed the walk-in pantry in our house with one wall of skinny shelves specifically for preserves.  It is tucked away behind the door and I love going inside the pantry, shutting the door and gazing at all the wonderful things lined up.
I dragged out the dehydrator the other day.  I've had it for years but have virtually never used it.  As I still had loads of apples I dried a batch of them.  5 hours later and I had a big jarful of dried apples from about 15 fresh gala apples. 
They are rather nice with cheese and just to snack on.  The texture is different to shop-bought dried apple, these are lighter, when you first start chewing it's like nothing is in your mouth, but then suddenly you get a taste explosion.  I think other apple varieties may be better for this, I reckon Sundowners would be good as they are a dense apple.
I hopped onto Google to see what else I could try dehydrating, and I found a few articles about pumpkin flour.  Not sure of its usefulness but a challenge nonetheless!  Well, half a Qld Grey pumpkin later, and TWENTY TWO hours in the dehydrator, this is what you get.  I shudder to think how much electricity that used just for a mere pinch of orange powder.  Fascinating though, isn't it amazing that that handful of orange stuff is actaully half a decent sized pumpkin.  I guess this is the sort of thing they used to do for astronauts' meals.  I have yet to grind the dried pumpkin down completely to powder, probably wont bother but I think I'll add a couple of spoonfuls as is to the next stew or soup I make just to see what it does. 
 I have also continued on with curtain making and the two front windows in the living room are now covered. Tedious but I am always really pleased with myself each time a window is completed, it looks so much nicer with non-naked windows.
I don't know if you remember that our front door has patterned and etched glass panels in it, and I got such a thrill the other day.  The sun has shifted round so late afternoon for an hour or so there is sunlight streaming in through the front door and I happened to notice these beautiful patterns on the wall opposite.  Just like dancing light fairies, I was entranced.  :-)

Friday, 19 April 2013

Tip Top Tip Shop

This week we had the pleasure of the company of mum and dad to stay.  Here they are being lovey dovey at the Ocean Beach lookout.  It was lovely to have you to stay  xx

And of course, what do we do when we have people staying with us, we trot along to the Boston Brewery! It was very nice as per usual, we are gradually working our way through the entire menu.  :-)
Meanwhile, we have been busy outside.  It's planting time, the rains have started, off and on, so Steve set to work clearing out the vegie patch.  He's poured in many bags of horse poo and loads of pig poo compost and has planted seedlings and sown seeds.  Let's see, what is in there.... loads of sugar snap peas, about 4 times as many as last year as they grew so well and were absolutely delicious.  Broad beans, about a third of what we grew last year, we are still wading through last year's frozen beans!  Lots of garlic, onions and shallots, they all grew really well last year too.  Dwarf beans, cabbages, beetroot, carrots, broccolini and other things that I have forgotten.  In the foreground are the two remaining capsicum plants, still producing.  That was great, we could never grow capsicum in Perth, they used to get burnt to a crisp.  At the back is our flourishing couple of rhubarb plants, even happier since they had a boost with half a bag of horse poo.
Sometimes I forget to use the rhubarb, but this week I made rhubarb muffins.  Lovely texture but perhaps a bit bland, interesting actually as the recipe called for 2 cupfuls of chopped rhubarb, quite a bit, but really there was no rhubarb taste in the muffins.  Anyway, I now know that rhubarb is best used in pies or crumbles and I'll leave the muffins for when I've got blueberries!
While Steve has been busy planting up, I am getting twitchy about growing my herb garden.  As we haven't got any garden started in the giant sandpit around our house, I decided to get a few pots going up by the front door, idea being that hopefully the roos will be too scared to venture that close to nibble.
I've planted some lettuce which is in the foreground and I'm pleased to see that my herb and other seeds are sprouting.  Coriander, marjoram, sage, marigolds, snapdragons and cornflowers are all peeping up from the damp earth.
And the rocket seeds are their usual reliable selves, it's amazing how quickly they germinate.  I am looking forward to picking a few leaves at a time, that is, if our friendly furry roos don't get there first.
Do you remember a while back I commenced an experiment with growing sweet potatoes above ground?  I had a couple of big boxes from our dishwasher which I filled with yummy compost, straw and manure, then popped in cuttings of sweet potato plants.  Well they are growing like made above ground, I keep stuffing rampant tentrils back inside the box.  It remains to be seen whether there is any action below ground, but I am restraining myself and not looking for sweet potatoes for at least another month.  Here's hoping!
The main reason I planted the sweet potatoes above ground was that we have trouble with kikuyu grass invading where it is not wanted, and sucking all the nutrients out of the soil.  So I covered an area of ground with cardboard  and then put the cardboard boxes on top that I planted the sweet potatoes in.  Cardboard is great at smothering out weeds, as long as you overlap it well and leave no gaps.  Have a look at what happens after a few months, the cardboard starts to rot down and turn into compost and underneath where I've peeled it back the soil is lovely and black and there are worms everywhere.  And no kikuyu is growing under the cardboard, next to it yes, but not under it.  So far so good!
We have loads of flattened cardboard boxes in the shed after our move, so I set to and started spreading more out around my plants, to kill off the grass and weeds.  For now I've put bits of wood over the cardboard to stop it blowing everywhere, poked a few holes in it with the fork and saturated it.  Eventually it will settle into the soil and I can take the bits of wood away.  I've also got a couple of pieces of carpet on the ground, doing the same job.  Notice my plants have a fence around them, that is to keep those furry critters in the background away, I never knew how much kangaroos like eating shrubs!
 There's a few pretty flowers around, keeping the little birds happy.  This is a White Anzac bottlebrush.
And this is pineapple sage that I've talked about before.  It's been flowering for months and is so pretty.  It must be a good nectar flower as the bees love it.
We had our regular visit to the local tip the other day.  We always have a little wander through the tip shop, and this time we scored a couple of very useful things. This rug is perfect for on the floor in front of the settee that's under the patio.  In great condition and pretty clean.  I was waiting for something awful like creepy crawlies to come wandering out of it but no, it's bug free!
Our other score was this very sturdy little table which is perfect for just outside our front door.  Ideal for parking one's bum when putting boots on, and also great for popping the shopping bags on whilst unlocking the door. We love our tip :-)
Gosh our trailer is brilliant, we've only had it a few weeks and already so much has been done with it.  We've never owned one before, we didn't know what we were missing!  Today's load is a pile of wood from the bottom of our property, Steve took off in Jimitu and the trailer with his chainsaw in hand, and came back with another big load of wood ready for the fire, excellent.
On a random note, I thought the moon looked pretty cool yesterday.  This is before dark, midway up the northeastern sky, and I was rather tickled to see the detail that came out in the full zoom photo.

And how can I leave without a photo of our furry friends.  This lot are right outside our bedroom window having an early morning feed on the kikuyu that has sprung up at the side of the house.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Beer, Beer And More Beer

We have discovered a lovely lovely place to have lunch.  It's called the Boston Brewery which is part of the Willoughby Winery a couple of minutes out of Denmark.  It's very pretty, relaxing and a great place for families.  Steve and I have the occasional lunch there with a glass of wine for me (Jamie & Charlie SBS - tis good) while Steve has a glass of one of their designer beers.  Paul and his friends discovered that you can order a tasting of their range of beers and Steve has been looking forward to trying this ever since he heard about it.

Enter Steve's good friend and prior work colleague Tony, another connoisseur of the amber brew.  We have had the pleasure of  Tony's company this week and the boys have had a good time trying (alas unsuccessfully) to catch the elusive salmon, and enjoying each others company with their other friend, beer.  The perfect person to take to the brewery!
Even though it was an overcast, drizzly day, the outlook at the brewery is really nice.  There is a huge playground outside for kids, and lots of tables scattered around the place so you don't feel on top of other people.  The staff are very nice too.
But enough of that, let's talk about the IMPORTANT point of the outing.  Look at them, like excited children with a new toy.  This is the tasting range of the brewery, five beers and a ginger beer.
The tasting comes with blurb about each beer, the flavours contained within each and the recommended order you drink them.
Amid the warm, grainy aroma of hops cooking, we ordered our lunch.  This is part of Steve's steak sandwich, which is very nice and they do ripper chips.  Tony and I ordered the fish of the day (which was gold banded snapper), which was okay, but other meals I've had there are much nicer.  They do a fantastic tasting plate for two.
As you can see, the boys managed to force their beers down.  They were playing at beer experts and I was their scribe....
Ginger Beer
Tony - I think I had more alcohol in my urine this morning (are we scraping the bottom of the barrel with our house guests do you think?).  A palate cleansing cordial.
Steve - I didn't think I liked ginger beer but have been converted.  Might try and do a home brew

Tony is sulking because his glass had about 20 mLs less beer in it than Steves.  However he says it is like a crisp autumn morning..
Steve - It doesn't have a lot of bubbles but I like the taste.

Hefeweizen (Wheat Beer) - which says in the blurb that it tastes like banana
Tony - Bananary, and I can taste it more because I have more taste buds (the reason for which escapes me)
Steve - Actually it is a bit bananary (ever the sceptic).  Quite interesting.

IPA (India Pale Ale)
Tony - It smacks of desperation.  It is trying too hard to be.... (I asked him to repeat and he had already forgotten what he said....the brain cells were dying at this point)
Steve - Not my favourite.  Too bitter for a light bodied beer.
So we have one sensible sounding person and one who is going downhill fast....

Boston Dunkelweizen (Dark Wheat Beer)
Tony - Unremarkabable (sic)
Steve - It's nice, sweet and rich.  Better than the other wheat beer.

Munich Dark Lager
Steve - Beautiful.  A lighter tasting version of Guiness.  My favourite.
Tony, who has descended into a beer quaffing wanker :-) ....
"It's good.  Like being allowed to lick the cake mixing bowl, the joy and delight that comes from the initial taste of the Munich dark lager stays with you long after the mouthful has worked its way warmly into your stomach.  Further sips (sips!!) allow the drinker to slip into a deeper appreciation of the sheer amount of work the master brewer has put into creating such a lovely drink.  One not soon forgotten".

As the boys loved their Munich dark lager so much, they of course had to have more.  Tony couldn't even wait until the photo was taken.... and to think we invited this person to stay, sigh.... :-)
Tony, I think this need to be your Facebook profile photo.  You, complete with Munich dark lager frothy mouth.
Next was dessert.  Oh My God dessert.  We can heartily recommend every dessert we have tried here.  In the foreground is my coconut panacotta with berries and vanilla syrup - the BEST dessert I have had in years!  In the middle is the frozen berry yogurt with fresh berries - delicious and a huge helping.  Tony chose the chocolate mousse with fresh berries which was also yummy. 

At this point, and you may think it unnecessary for me to mention this, but I must!  I visited the loos.  Nice, clean male and female loos with a communal handwashing area.  I went to wash my hands but wait, no taps to turn on the water, no mixer to lift with your arm, what to do!  Just a row of tap arms sticking out of a big square thing.  I tentatively put my hands up to the arms and woah, water just came out like magic!  As you can tell, I have never before seen a sensor controlled tap that just spits out water when you put your hand underneath, very impressive.
 And here are the lads waiting to be driven home.  Steve is holding a two pack of Jamie and Charlie SBS that Tony bought me as a present.  Thank you! :-) All previous insults are now rescinded....

And when we arrived home we were greeted with the sight of fascinated kangaroos flocking around Tony's drying clothes hanging off his car.  And we wont mention why those clothes needed to be dried, we wont mention about people who can't keep their footing in the ocean, and I don't even think there was any alcohol involved.  But we wont mention it...

Friday, 5 April 2013

Rubies Around Us

It has been a colourful few days, luscious ruby colours.  One of my favourite things about autumn are the magnificent sunsets.  As the sun swings round to the bottom of the hill, we are blessed with magnificent views of spectacular cloud striated sunsets.  This is Tuesday's sunset, and with the high cloud bank it looked like the fires of hell raining down upon us.  Magnificent but very quick.
Then last night I think all of WA was treated to magnificent lengthy sunset.  It was amazing.  First it started off all pinks and yellows.
The big tree looked like it was on fire with the bursts of glorious colours blazing through the branches.
Then the oranges crept in and the colours deepened.  A staircase of coral, scarlet, ruby and claret hovered over the Denmark Hills.
Finishing with the deepest of deep reds before the night sky took over.  It was so spectacular at this point that my camera just couldn't capture the depth of deep colour.  It was fantastic, and it went on for about 15 minutes.
I had a day in the kitchen this week, dealing with fruits to preserve.  Firstly quince.  I wanted to have a go at making quince paste which I had heard goes rather well with cheese.  Firstly I cored the quinces and cut them into pieces.  I also added a squeeze of lime juice to increase the pectin content to help it set.  I also left the skins on (after scrubbing all the fluff off) to help with setting. Into the pot, covered with water and simmered for about 40 minutes until soft.
Then the stewed quinces are pureed, and after measuring the cupfuls of puree, it is returned to the pot.  Doesn't this look silky and smooth. 
Then the same number of cups of sugar is added to the cups of puree.  Using five quinces I ended up with 3 1/2 cups of puree and thus added 3 1/2 cups of sugar.   Then it's boiled until very very thick, stirring regularly.  To stop the bottom burning I raised the pot onto a wok trivet and sat it on a simmer mat, which worked well.  Isn't it amazing the colour change as quince cooks down, from creamy yellow to a rich pinky red.
After about an hour of cooking my paste was ready.  I poured it into a baking paper lined pan and let it set.  Sometimes this stage needs to be dried off in a cool oven for a day to help it set further but mine didn't need it.
When set I cut it up into squares and wrapped them in baking paper and put them in an airtight container.  I am going to store the container in the pantry but it remains to be seen whether this is a mistake or not, there are many differing opinions in recipes as to whether they need refrigeration.  I suspect it wont last long enough to be an issue actually.  :-)
This was dinner that night, quince paste (apparently the correct name is membrillo) with cheese, crackers and olives.  It was very very nice, particularly with the saltiness of blue cheese.
I also had a big bag of apples thanks to the generosity of my neighbour and her abundant harvest of apples.  I had read about apple butter and thought it sounded nice, there is no butter in it, it's called thus because of the texture I presume.  Apple butter is pretty much a concentrated, sweetened and lightly spiced apple sauce.  First job was the peeling, coring and slicing of about 18 apples of varying types.  I used my trusty apple machine, this thing is brilliant, does the whole job in one go.  All I had to do was chop the slices up into smaller pieces.
Then I filled my crockpot to the brim with the chopped up apples, adding about 2 cups of sugar, pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Then it was cooked in the crockpot on low for 15, yes, 15! hours.  But it was dead easy, just the odd stir.   When it has turned dark dark brown and thickened, it was ready.  I used a stick mixer straight into the crockpot to puree it down and poured it into sterilised jars.
This is the finished product, apple butter.  It is extremely yummy.  Really nice with natural greek yogurt, on porridge or muesli.  I confess that I forgot to take a photo of the finished product so as I was writing this blog I just HAD to get myself a bowl of yogurt and apple butter, just so I could photograph it.  It's empty now... :-)
And this was my view out the kitchen window whilst cooking, my furry audience.  I just love them, even though they eat my plants and drain the birdbath, they are just gorgeous.