Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Pick of the Bunch

Call me old fashioned but I love cut flowers. I am a compulsive plucker, and I almost always have a vase, jar or jug of something somewhere around the house. With the arrival of spring, all sorts of flowering lovelies have exploded down at the garden just begging to be picked and put into vases. And, despite a lack of planning I've even got a few cute things flowering in the pots out the back.

My enduring favourite would have to be the sweet peas. When I was a little girl, our next door neighbour, Robert, erected a trellis one spring and planted the most spectacular bed of sweet peas. It was great fun watching them grow up the trellis and when they flowered they were breathtaking. Mum cut big bunches of them and I used to love going over and staring at the wall of scented loveliness. I've had a fondness for sweet peas ever since.

I have a couple of sweet pea plants in my plot at the moment and there's lots of sweetpeas going off their heads in some of the neighbouring plots as well. Next year, come spring, I might just take a leaf out of Robert's book and plant the plot with a wall to wall tangle of sweet pea fabulousness.

Anyway, the following photos are all of recent blooms.... a few of them are double ups. I think it's fascinating the way a bunch of flowers takes on a different character in different lights and I love the way they change over time. All of the flowers pictured were picked from the roadside or from my garden(s). The only exceptions being the last two photos, a bunch of glorious florist-bought poppies from my true love that I just couldn't resist including. Sigh.


M and F thought it was hilarious to pose beautifully with their posies for a moment, only to fall down shrieking with laughter every time I tried to take a photo. Turned out it was pretty funny. The posies didn't last long but plenty of fun was had by all.


Poppy love.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Broad Bean Lovin'

Broad beans are the thing in the garden at the moment, big clumps of them, tall and round-leafed, stand proudly in almost every plot. And my plot is no exception. Lize and I put some in at the start of winter and they’ve just started cropping. We picked the first beans on Friday and I was determined to show them off at a pot luck Sunday lunch. Down at the garden on Sunday morning, harvesting more beans I got chatting to Gavin and Amanda about cooking them. They brought up the slightly frustrating element of broad bean cookery, the fact that once you’re done shelling them and skinning them, your huge pile of beans becomes a surprisingly small handful of actual edible beans.

I got a reasonable haul from my plot but as I was making a dish to serve about 10 people, I decided to find a way to stretch my beans as far as possible. Combining them with a pasta salad seemed the obvious choice and I decided to avoid the broad bean law of diminishing returns by making sure I used as much of the bean as possible. This meant combining several recipes and cooking methods, a risky strategy for a Sunday show off luncheon but I think it paid off in the end.

My recipe ended up being a combination/bastardisation of a few different recipes and cooking suggestions. I served it on Sunday with the wonderfully wanky title (thanks Rylee!), Pasta with Broad Beans Three Ways. This didn’t sit quite right with me though (too Masterchef) so I decided to ratchet up the wank factor and rename it something a little more Frenchy and chic.  And so, ladies and gentleman, without further ado, I give you....

Broad Bean Ménage a Trois 

Basically everything gets made separately then combined with the cooked pasta at the end. It’s a little time consuming (took me about an hour and a half) perfect for Sunday lunch but maybe not for Monday night dinner.  The three different broad bean approaches are outlined below.

Part 1) Getting Smashed

This part of the recipe uses the larger beans (which need to be removed from their tough outer shells) in a bastardisation of the Moroccan Broad Bean Dip from Stephanie. Because the beans are cooked for longer than usual, the skin softens and can be left on, which means more bean for your buck.

I cooked the shelled beans in salted boiling water for 15 minutes, strained them (reserved the cooking water) and chucked them in mortar and pestle with lemon juice, a couple of cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, a little olive oil and a splash or two of the cooking water. Then I simply bashed them up until I had a chunky paste. I tasted it to check the seasoning, as luck would have it, mine turned out to be bang on... but you could always adjust as required.

Part 2) In the Raw

Jamie Oliver mentions in Jamie at Home that you can eat baby broad beans raw AND that the shoots are great in salads. I took him up on this and picked a bunch of bean tips, washed them and chopped them up with some sorrel. I also put aside the smaller sized beans when I was shelling them for the smash (above) and tossed these through the salad too.

Part 3) Long and Slow

This part formed the bulk of the beans in my salad. It uses the smaller beans and is a variation on Stephanie’s Andalucían recipe. Stephanie suggests only using beans less than 12cms – because of their smaller size (and the slow cooking process) they can be eaten pod and all, whoo!

So, I topped and tailed the broad beans (washed first) then cut them into segments, trying my best to cut between the individual beans not through them. If I’d had more garlic I would have cooked a little in oil first then added my beans to the fry pan. As it was I turned the beans in olive oil a couple of time before adding lemon juice, a dash of water, salt, pepper, bay and thyme (a dash of white wine and some lemon peel would also go nicely). When the whole thing began to simmer I tipped it into an oven proof dish popped on the lid and put it in the oven at 180 degrees C to cook slowly for an hour.

Bits on the Side

While my slow beans were cooking I put the fry pan back to use, first to cook up a batch of caramelised red onions (cook covered with a sprig of rosemary, a bay leaf and lots of oil for 15 mins, stirring often then uncover and cook further until they taste just right). When the onions were done I toasted a bunch of pine nuts, flaked almonds would also be good. I also shaved a whole lot of good quality parmesan to mix through.

I boiled the pasta (I used fancy fusilli), strained it, then chucked it back in the pot with the rest of the cooking water from the smashed beans. I let it sit for a few minute then strained off the excess water.

The Final Toss

Once the pasta has soaked in the cooking water, it'd be good to add the bean smash to mix it through well. I didn’t this time, in fact I forgot to mix in the smashed beans all together and only remembered to do so after a couple of bland-ish mouthfuls at the table. Could have been a disaster! Take home message - don't, whatever you do, forget the smashed beans.

Anyway, once the slow beans are done, all that remains is to assemble the salad. Toss everything together and garnish with a few extra shaves of Parmesan, a dash of lemon juice and olive oil if necessary, and a good sprinkle of pine nuts. Serve up and enjoy with good mates and good wine.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Spring Rain

 Rain on the parsley,
Rain on the peas,
Rain on the broad beans,
And rain on me!

Spring rain finally arrived in Melbourne! It was a dry September and I was getting worried about heading into summer without a good spring soaking. But the rain has come and it's stayed around. It's raining as I write, "falling down like love" as the Go-Betweens sang.

Speaking of spring rain...the other week, Mum and I brought a whole lot of plants and headed down to the garden to give a spring overhaul. Because Mum was only here for a couple of days we couldn't be very flexible with our time and we ended up gardening in the middle of a thunderstorm. By the end of the afternoon we were soaked to the bone, covered in mud, and my nerves were shot from the proximity of the lightning and thunder (we were gardening under powerlines). 

The garden, however, was transformed: the soil was turned and fed and mulched, winter plants removed and composted, stepping stones relaid, baby lettuce, basil and coriander planted and most importantly the tomatoes in and staked, ready for summer. I discovered the joys of chopping up plants for the compost (like making a giant coleslaw) and I came to relish the satisfying smack of snail under boot. All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon and, I hope, a great start to the growing season!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spring has Springed...

Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz,
I wonder where the birdie is?
The little bird is on the wing....
No, that's absurd!
The wing is on the little bird.

Spike Milligan

You know, there's something special about gardens. That whole bringing people together thing. Sounds sappy but damn it, it's true. Without even trying, our garden already manages to foster a sense of, well... community. We aren't near any council flats, there's no magical melding of people from across the globe. Nor does the garden reach across any sort of socio-economic spectrum, we're all pretty much middle class whities with a genteel gardening addiction. Nonetheless, doing my bit at the working bee on Saturday, I couldn't help but notice a definite sense of community. It was there in the quiet conversation of myself and my fellow gardeners, it was there in the jokes we made as we worked together, pulling weeds and spreading mulch and it was there at the end of the day when we proudly swapped the veggies and flowers we'd grown in our plots.

This irresistible wave of community (and curiosity) also drew in passers-by. Two older men, one from Russia, one from Germany stopped by and chatted about gardens in Germany and a cousin with a plot in a garden in St Kilda. An old Italian man and his small white dog paused to admire my weeding. In halting but enthusiastic English the man explained that he was walking the dog for his friend who was sick and he briefly foisted the dog on me for a pat. A quiet young hipster with dark glasses and bad teeth inquired whether we had any veggies for sale and he was immediately rewarded with an armful of free produce. 


But, most interesting of all was the couple, about my parents' age, who stopped to chat while I was mulching the front verge. I couldn't work out if they were husband and wife or brother and sister but they explained that they'd both grown up in Brunswick, just around the corner off Albion Street. It was their first trip back in years. They'd spent the morning revisiting old haunts and had brunch at a cafe that used to be their local milk bar (A Minor Place). The area we were standing on, they explained, had been vacant, surrounded by empty land and run-down factories. 

They couldn't believe the transformation that had happened in the area and they enjoyed sharing their reminiscences as much as I enjoyed hearing them. They were blown away by the garden, I told them how it had started and about our ongoing plans for the sensory beds and the gazebo; and they promised to come back and visit in the future to watch it grow. As I handed them two heads of lettuce from my plot I realised that the garden had done it again, this time reaching across time and effortlessly bringing people together through the past and the present and the future.

Friday, July 15, 2011


 It's been a long, cold, grey winter here in Melbourne but today began with one of those gorgeous mornings that makes the whole of the chilly season seem worthwhile. For some unknown reason (perhaps because I cleaned my bedroom windows last night and the light was brighter, perhaps because it's the second last day of the holidays) I was wide awake at 6am. Looking out through the clear clear glass of the window I found the world outside was waking too. To the east, the gold domes of the Russian church were glimmering against a sky of palest pink. To the west, the sky was a deep blue backdrop for the round, gold setting moon. Perfect morning for an early dog walk.

Lucy and I stepped out to find the park shivering under a layer of silver frost. It was unbelievably, cheek burningly, paw freezingly beautiful. After a run across the icy grass we skipped down to the plot to see how the veggies were faring in the frost.

Which brings me, in a round about way, to my point. It's been a long time since I've written here and the fact that I've turned into a bad blogger has been playing on my mind of late. I feel that it's only good manners to explain my long silence. Putting aside the usual "busy busy" excuses, there are two main reasons for my lack of posts. And the first, is winter.

Growing up in Queensland, where you can plant tomatoes all year round, I never much noticed the change of seasons in the veggie garden. But here in cool-temperate Melbourne there's no getting away from it.... winter in the garden is kinda dull. Compared to glorious, bountiful summer fruiting crops like tomatoes, capsicum and eggplants, winter veggies are boring to eat and boring to grow. They tend to be green and good for you and there are no fascinating flowers or fruit to follow (broccoli, kale, silverbeet) and even when they are worth eating (potatoes, carrots, beetroot) most of the action happens underground. So I've taken the opportunity, over winter, to rest my plot under a layer of lucerne mulch. I've got a few pretty little self-seeded lettuce, and more recently some candy striped beetroot but other than that there's just not alot going on to write about.

The second reason I haven't been writing is.... the other blog. At the beginning of the year I started a blog at school with my class. The kids and their parents love it (really, love it) and keeping up a regular two posts a week on the class blog leaves me with very little blogging energy to spare. If, for some reason you're at a loose end and you desperately need to know how to play "race to ten" you can check out what my class and I have been up to over here.

At the moment I'm putting together the posts with my class but I'm hoping to train them up to write their own posts. With a bit of luck I'll have them writing and publishing and I'll manage to find more energy for blogging come spring, just in time for the start of the tomato season.