Oh. Hai.

•December 13, 2009 • 5 Comments

Hi blog. Long time no see. How’ve you been?

Me? Well, things have been busy here. And to be honest, I just haven’t felt the urge to write about it.

I think this beetle is quite beautiful. Unless it eats my tomatoes. In which case it's a gonner!

Well that’s not strictly true. While I’ve been out in the garden, planting or watering, I have often thought to myself  “y’know-I should do a post about the goings on in these parts some time soon”. But to be honest-when it comes to night time, and Little D is snuggled up in bed (yes! She still sleeps. Mostly…) I am usually a bit too tuckered out to do much but hop off to Bedfordshire myself.

Since my last post we’ve had birthdays (mine and, more excitingly, Little D’s very first!), boiling hot November weather (several days over 40 degrees C),  trips to Adelaide, visitors from Queensland and some time being sickos-the latter has finally finished, I’m happy to report.

Little D's cake! Courtesy of her Auntie Pen.

Two terraces of the new hillside garden are finished and planted up, and have not yet fallen victim to the voracious Mumma Chubbs (the possum) and her equally hungry baby. I’ve planted a few olive trees on our newly uncovered side border and made a new garden up the top of the slope where some beans and rocket and ruby chard among other things are doing very nicely.

Flowers mean fruit! In this case-pumpkins (?)

I’ve even hopped back into my sewing chair with mixed results! Actually the results have been kind of terrible to be honest, as I am still trying to get used to the fit changes when sewing for my post baby body. Even though it’s actually a bit smaller than it was before, but everything is not quite where it used to be, so my old favourite patterns need to be altered and tweaked. Which I am yet to do. I know, I know-SLACKER!. Gimme a break, orright? One thing at a time :) Anywho, I started a birthday sundress, 50s style, from some lovely polished stretch cotton sateen-ey fabric that had been in the stash for a while. But the sewing machine had other ideas, and after much unpicking, I nixed the birthday plan and put it aside, only to get it out again yesterday. And resume the unpicking! But I should have it done in a couple of days, ready to wear it for Christmas. And just by saying that here, I’ve publicly given myself a deadline, so now I have to do it!

Baby eggplants. I think they are rather cute.

What have YOU been up to?

One potato, two potato, three potato, four…

•October 10, 2009 • 3 Comments

…five potato, six potato, seven potato moooore…

Seed potatoes-sprouting and rearing to go!

Seed potatoes-sprouting and raring to go!

Growing spuds. Without the new terraces being ready, I didn’t really have anywhere sunny at The Treehouse to do it. No matter-I decided to build a potato column. It was easy peasey, and so far, it seems to be working!

I did a bit of research into this and found that there are a few options, but I ended up kind of making up my own. A bit of a hybrid, I guess. The basic idea behind all of these is that you make use of limited horizontal gardening space by thinking vertically, and encouraging your taties to do the same. This not only makes the most of you flat space but also maximises your yield, as you convince the spuds to produce a lot more than they would if grown the conventional way.

The other advantages to this method are the ease of harvesting-no digging around and possibly missing some of your precious yield, you just chop open the wall of your container and voila. Well, maybe a bit of shuffling around in a small amount of dirt, but no digging. And you can also sneak a few potatoes in advance before the entire crop is ready-again, by the judicious opening of only part of your container.

Wire mesh tube, ready for soil and spuds

Wire mesh tube, ready for soil and spuds

I just used some wire mesh to make a tube about 80cm in diameter, with more wire mesh forming a ‘bottom’ on one end of the tube. The width of the wire means that the tube is about 110cm high. Then I just lined the bottom 30cm of the tube with newspaper (about 8-10 sheets thick) and filled it with half of a  30 litre bag of good quality potting mix. And when I say good quality, I mean it. There is some really crappy potting mix out there-and generally, you get what you pay for. So really, if you buy cheap stuff, you may as well throw your money down the toilet. And throw your plants in after it. Because they’ll hate the crappy potting mix and DIE. Or just not grow well. A waste of time in any case.

Ready for the second half of the soil, and the straw...

Ready for the second half of the soil, and the straw...

But I digress! I bought some seed potatoes (these are free of diseases-if you use potatoes from the greengrocer you are at more risk of disease wrecking your potato growing efforts) from my local nursery back in July-I was a bit slow off the mark and there was not a lot of choice by the time I was choosing my spuds. I was desperately hoping for some Dutch Cream (beautiful, waxy) and some Kipflers- but ended up with some great all-rounder Nicolas.

Anyway, I cut up the 12 seed potatoes so that each piece had 2-3 sprouting ‘eyes’, laid them evenly on the soil, then covered them with the rest of the potting mix and a good 10cm of sugarcane mulch. Then a good watering in, and a few weeks wait…

Hey Sprout! You're meant to grow UP, not out the side!

Hey Sprout! You're meant to grow UP, not out the side!

The first sprouts began to emerge after about 2 weeks-but they weren’t cooperating with my vertical growth plan, and tried to make a run for it out the sides of the column! So I threaded them carefully back inside the wire and put more mulch down the sides of the column between the sprouts and the wire, and waited a few more weeks for them to grow through the top of the mulch.

Once the sprouts are through the top of the mulch, you add another thick layer of mulch over the top to force the potato to keep growing upwards, and form more potato-producing sideways nodes. As far as I can tell, this continues until you reach the top of your column, and then you let the potato plants leaf-up and grow for the rest of the summer. Once the green plants wither and die, you are ready to harvest!

I’ll be giving mine a good feed with seaweed tonic every couple of weeks during the growing season, and I’ll keep you posted with how they go!

The first sprouts to emerge, about to be covered up with straw

The first sprouts to emerge, about to be covered up with straw

One person’s trash

•October 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It’s funny what some people will throw away. We’ve found a lot of ‘stuff’ in the garden beside the treehouse verandah as we’ve been clearing the undergrowth to make way for the new terraces. I think that the previous residents didn’t love the garden as much as we do, and viewed it as something of a rubbish tip. Aside from the obvious rubbish-beer bottles (some unopened!) and plastic bags, we’ve found clothing (boxer shorts with lipstick prints, socks, thongs-the shoes not the undies), toys (Spiderman action figurine), golf practice balls, street atlases (two of them-maybe they bought a GPS unit?), crockery, statues and figurines (some downright fugly, others kind of cute in their weirdness) and this…

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A cast-iron lighthouse doorstop. But of course.

It’s naff. It’s cute.

I love it.

Never fear…

•October 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Our friend with the laptop is Skelly.  He offered to write a blog post for me over these last few busy weeks, but I don’t know-his writing is lacking something. It seems kind of…lifeless? Boom boom. Sorry.

There hasn’t been much (any?) time for blogging of late. But finally over the last two weeks that is because there has been some BABY SLEEP happening. This also means parental sleep (woohoo!) and-finally-some time and more importantly energy to do some projects. I have been taking the opportunity to finally get back outside and into the garden, which has been fantastic. Exercise, fresh air, and that lovely feeling of watching and helping things to grow.

I’m desperate to get some food plants happening at the tree house, which is easier said than done with all of the shade that we have in these parts. There is only one section of our lovely, bush-filled block that gets any regular sun during the day. It is a very steep slope and, up until recently, was very inaccessible. As I mentioned a little while ago, my dad and I have been working to try to whip this area into shape.

So how’s it going? Well, it is an enjoyable project, if a little slow going-one of those things where you go to complete one step, only to discover that another, bigger job will have to happen before you can do the first one, and so on. But hey, that keeps things exciting, right?!

Here are some most excellent new stairs that went in over the last few weeks:

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While my dad-the builder and primarily installer of the excellent stairs-was busy putting in the first stairs down the bottom of the hill, I was momentarily distracted by another little project. Namely the beautification (or at the very least, the de-uglifying) of our driveway.

We share a drive with our neighbours, and there seems to be an unspoken agreement that we each take care of one side of the drive. Ours was looking pretty crap to be honest, as it was a small strip of lawn and weeds, for which we had no taming device. Our lawnmower died in the great flood at our last house on the day that our offer to buy the treehouse was accepted (yes really!) and as there is no lawn whatsoever at the treehouse, we had no need to replace it. With the annoying exception of the aforementioned tiny strip of  jungle on the drive. So after 2 1/2 years, I finally decided it was time to say adios. Funnily enough, our neighbours had decided much the same thing on pretty much the same day, so we had some companionable time gardening during baby naps over a couple of days. Mum power!

The 'before' shot-well, it's the end that belongs to our neighbours in front and won't be getting a makeover.

The 'before' shot-well, it's the end that belongs to our neighbours in front and won't be getting a makeover.

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The 'after' shot-check out all of those rocks that I hauled!

I decided on a no-dig approach, so covered the grass and weeds with cardboard and newspaper that had been soaked in water. I also ended up using a swag of unwanted life-drawings from art school (!) which seemed a good use of the paper. Although the neighbours may get a bit of a surprise if there is a heavy downpour that washes my mulch cover down the hill, exposing…well, quite a lot, actually. Oh well, what’s a few charcoal renderings of boobs and bums between good neighbours, eh? Anyway-I needed to choose hardy plants that will be fine without much attention. So it is a simple planting of lots of Chinese/Star Jasmine plants and then stacks of mulch to cut down on weed comeback and water loss. But I think it looks pretty good-and I am especially proud of the border of sandstone rocks carted out through the bush from under the house ALL BY MYSELF, during the course of one and a half baby naps.

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It feels so good to get back outside!

It’s happening…

•August 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been in the land of the broken computer these past few weeks. But I must admit is also a very productive place to be. For starters, when the weather is lovely in Sydney, as it has been lately, it has meant that I have been OUTSIDE in Miss D’s brief snooze times, instead of browsing the interwebs. And we’ve been working really hard on the garden at the treehouse-getting ready to terrace our least shady slope and make our veggie garden! I’m really excited, but there is a lot to do. The slope is very steep, there is a lot of building rubbish to be removed, and also a lot of greenery that shouldn’t be here-stacks of privet and other weeds. So there is a lot of digging and sawing and cutting and carrying to be done. I’m covered in bruises and scratches and am, as they say, as happy as a pig in mud. The scrub is thick and wild. I’m quite glad that it is not tick or snake season here. Yet. Check out the crappy ‘before’ shot below. I can’t wait for the ‘after’!

After a bout of hardcore gardening, I am quite glad that my computer has been given the kiss of life so that I can come back in and plan my seed and plant purchases while I peruse the Diggers catalogue online.

I’m also writing a little tutorial that is rapidly getting too long, all about making your own jeans-so for garden updates and some how-tos for new duds…stay tooned. I just hope my computer does too.

7 days til Spring, y’all! About friggin’ time!

Note the tiny onlooker and her trusty carrier. And fear not-the tree ferns looking fororn and bare and about to be transplanted to a lovlier home on the other side of the treehouse.

Note the tiny onlooker and her trusty carrier. And fear not-the tree ferns looking fororn and bare and about to be transplanted to a lovlier home on the other side of the treehouse. You can also play spot-the-dog in this pic, too...

Ah, that’s better.

•August 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Well, it’s a chilly welcome home for Little D and me. We’re back from a lovely week up in the trrrrropics (Queensland, to be a little more precise) thankyou very much. It was lovely to get away from the cold and to see my mum and my grandparents-it’s the first time that Little D has met her GREAT grandparents, in fact! She is doing pretty well as far as great-grandies go, because Mr Hen’s grandma is also still around. So she has 3 ‘Greats’-Lucky Little D, eh?

The only fly in the ointment was that we both got sick shortly after we arrived for our hols. Little D has had it worse than me and has been having a miserable time interspersed with a good time-y’know? But it was much nicer to be sick in the warm weather and sunshine. We just have to hope that our infection control measures worked, and that noone has inherited our germs.

I’ve also managed to bring home lots of fruity souvenirs from our trip. No really-I brought back fruit. Several of my favourite tiny, sweet, rough-leaf pineapples, a pawpaw from my grandad’s tree, and a large bag of macadamia nuts. Yesssssss! Totally worth the back injury to carry the extra weight home, as our kitchen now smells like Grandma’s house-you see, they were pineapple farmers, and though that was years ago, their house still smells like pineapples all the time. It is lovely and comforting to me.

Bananas on a tree at the family farm

Bananas on a tree at the family farm

AND I am feeling the most relaxed and well-rested that I have felt in about 81/2 months-Little D still wakes a lot, but we could hear the sea from our window and boy, does that make for a soothing night of the sleep you get between baby wakes. So I finally feel ready and inspired to get cracking on some sewing projects in time for summer, as well as finishing off a few that have been languishing in the dark recesses of the sewing room.

And in honour of our return south, here is one of my favourite recipes of recent times featuring our wintery pal, rhubarb. It is Stephanie Alexander’s recipe which I tore out of the newspaper about 2 years ago (apparently it is a changed version of the one in The Cooks Companion) but only made this winter for the first time. I doctored it a little too, to make a morello cherry version, which I thought was freakin’ nice if I say so myself! Most excellent with a giant cup of tea, eaten on the couch in the thin, wintery, afternoon sun.

Rhubarb Yeast Cake

And it's really not as bad for you as you might think!

And it's really not as bad for you as you might think!

Dough:

2 tsp instant dried yeast

200g plain flour

pinch salt

1/2 cup milk

1tbsp sugar

60g butter, chopped into small bits

1 egg

extra butter to grease the bowl

Filling:

250g rhubarb cut into 1cm slices

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup dried fruit (currants or raisins) **I’ve made it without this and it’s still perfectly yummy

1tbsp cognac **I’ve also made it without this too-I never have cognac lying around…

1tsp cornflour

1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

2 tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam

Icing:

1/2 cup pure icing sugar, sifted, and mixed with

1 tbsp milk

Method

Dough:

Mix yeast, flour and salt in a bowl. Warm the milk with the sugar and butter to just melt the butter. Lightly whisk the egg and then mix into the milk/butter/sugar.

Make a well in the flour and add the liquid, working to a smooth dough whether my hand or with a mixer and dough hook if you have one. Put the dough into a lightly buttered (I always use olive oil spray), cover with a teatowel and leave somewhere warm to double in size-approx 1 hour.

Filling:

Bring a pot of water to the boil and drop the rhubarb in for a minute, then drain. Combine rhubarb, sugar, dried fruit and cognac in a bowl and leave for an hour.

** I’ve also been known to just cook the rhubarb with a little water ’til it is soft, add the sugar and dried fruit and simmer for a few minutes and upon realising that once again I have no cognac in the house, forget the cognac.**

Drain juices from the filling into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Mix the cornflour with water, add a small amount of the rhubarb juice, mix and then pour the cornflour mix back into the pan with the rest of the rhubarb juice, stirring until it has thickened. Mix thickened juice with the rhubarb filling, add the walnuts and refrigerate.

Assembly:

Knock back the dough with your knuckles, dust your bench with flour and roll or pat the dough to a 16cm x 20cm rectangle, and lift the dough onto a baking-paper lined tray .

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**Can you guess? I’m never this precise with the size.  I also find it easier to roll the dough straight onto the baking paper-lined tray in the first place, rather than trying to move it after I’ve rolled it.**

Smear jam down the centre and cover with the filling. Use clean scissors to snip the sides of the dough at regular intervals right up to the filling.

ok, so I don't use scissors for this bit-my dough blade is ace, and I love it...

ok, so I don't use scissors for this bit-my dough blade is ace, and I love it...

**I actually leave about 1.5cm between the end of the cut and the filling, for fewer disastrously oozing effects**

Fold the ends of the dough over the filling, then fold the side strips alternately into the middle in a criss-cross pattern, leaving glimpses of the filling within. Cover with a teatowel and leave for 30 minutes to rise. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C at the start of this second proofing stage.129

** I can’t strongly recommend enough that you use a sheet of baking paper sprayed with a little oil to cover the dough before you put the teatowel over the top. Seriously. Dough stuck to teatowel=bad. And sad.**

Bake for 30 minutes and then drizzle with the icing when cool.

Lil’ Red’s cheeky cherry filling variation:

I used a really large jar (375ml maybe?) of (pitted) morello cherries to fill a second cake-just drain the cherries, reserving the liquid. Reduce the cherry juice over the heat until it is about half of what it was, then use the cornflour method to thicken the cherry juice as you did with the rhubarb. I also added a little pure vanilla extract-but no sugar, as it was definitely sweet enough. Then stir the cherries back in and fill the cake. So very, very nice.127

This cake is best eaten on the day, I find, but I’ve also frozen and reheated slices with great success too. Stephanie says it is best eaten warm, and that you can reheat slices wrapped in foil in a low oven. I second this. It combines two of my favourite things-breadmaking and sweet treats, and I LOVE it.

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Welcome back winter-I’m counting the days until you are gone. Or until I get to head back up north again!

Wheeeee!

•July 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Oh excitement. I have just had a weekend with The Outlaws visiting from Adelaide to get a Little D fix, so haven’t been checking in on my email or blog. And lookee here-when I come back there is a little surprise from the lovely Reemski, from I Am Obsessed With Food, who has nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award! I’m tickled pink-thanks so much!

Kreativ-Blogger-award

The Rules:
1. You must thank the person who has given you the award
2. Copy the logo and place it onto your blog
3. Link to the person who has nominated you for the award
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting
5. Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated

So-7 things about Lil’ Red that you might find interesting, eh?

Umm.

1.) I have a slightly bizarre and long-standing interest in (obsession with?) sharks. Yes, sharks. Not a fear or phobia, nor a gory interest in shark attacks on people. I have just always been fascinated with them as animals I suppose. And the idea that, despite my never having seen one out of an aquarium, that they really are ‘out there’. Oh who am I kidding- there is of course the element of morbid curiosity about something that could actually eat you, given half the chance.

2.) I am hoping to study shoe-making next year. I’d like to make lovely shoes for people who have unusual feet and can’t buy nice shoes in the shops.

3.) When I play tennis I serve left-handed but play the rest of the time with my right. In the rest of my life I am left-handed. I rarely play tennis.

4.) I find the idea of living on an island or in some other isolated spot quite appealing. As long as there are interwebs…

5.) I learned glass-blowing at art school. It was hot and fun. The glass-blowing, that is.

6.) I had a pet turkey named Hilda when I was 12. She came to live with us one day when our neighbour (in suburban Canberra) came to us and said there was a turkey wandering around his front yard, and if we could catch it, it was ours. So we did, and she was. We did put up ‘FOUND-one turkey’ posters around the ‘hood. But no-one responded-not even as a prank.

7.) I enjoy drinking a cup of tea in the shower. I don’t do it regularly, but it combines two of my favourite things. Mr Hen think it is “really f*#@ing weird” of me. I am weird, but I’m ok with it.

Seven blogs that I would like to nominate for a Kreativ Blogger award are:

1.) Eatpress

2.) Veronica Darling’s Crafty Adventures

3.) katie did

4.) paper tastebuds

5.) lower your presser foot

6.) Dear Fii

7.) Farmgirl Fare

And with that I’m off to take the hint from the two wet black noses digging me in the sides and get some dinner for my hungry hounds.

 
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