Lighting up

It’s dark and cold when we both get home, so the garden hasn’t been watered after work this week. Thursday night I ached to see how everything was going, and wandered around the backyard with a headlight.

Something had knocked over a few of the peat pots that I started last weekend. I’m guessing it was either the wind or a neighbour’s cat.

The dew has been settling on the grass and highlights where all the spiderwebs are. There are more than 80,000 types of spider in the world, the majority of which have never been identified.

Our native raspberry has started to fruit.

Inside, as I took off my headlight and boots, Matt asked, “How many kilograms do you think we’ll get from the potatoes?”

“I dunno”.

Matt asks so many questions and my reply is often TMQ, which stands for too-many-questions. Half of the questions he asks about the garden I can’t answer and that frustrates me to no end.

A few days later I remember an article Peter Cundall wrote for Organic Gardener magazine. I found the magazine amongst the pile near the sofa and flipped to the article. I had my answer:

“We should get 5-6 kilograms per plant, but he used whole potatoes”.
(We had cut ours up into quarters).

“Cool. We need it to make up the kilograms.”

We sure do.

Winter warmers

The patchwork quilts are out and the oil heater is on in the evenings. Bring on the comforting soups and stews, and hail the return of the crockpot (it’s making a comeback). We’re enjoying roasted parsnips, swedes, and turnips. I’ve swapped all my skirts for long pants, and I’ve been wearing knee-high ski socks to bed. Winter is here.

Time for the banksias, wattles and Geraldton waxes to add blushes to our garden beds.

On Saturday we just sat outside and enjoyed the sun. Sunday we got dirt under our nails and planted out a dozen natives. I half-heartedly emptied another packet of St Valery carrot seeds into two rows – hopefully these will come up. Matt heaped compost and sugar cane mulch up around the potatoes.

We didn’t need to do any watering as it rained so much the week before. We’re waiting for a delivery of mulch to top up our fourth bed. The chokos and eggplant have continued to do well, and we just reached our target total this month.

Over breakfast, I said, “Those potatoes are going off.”

Matt replied, “Like a frog in a sock.”

Carless and careless

The drama of this week was our car’s starter engine giving up the ghost. Usually we only make one grocery trip per week, with maybe an odd top up mid-week. Without a car, it took us three attempts to complete the weekly shopping. The corner store stocks most things and is only a 15 minute walk. I also got some fresh fruit and vegetables from the local Sunday markets which was a 45 minute round trip by train. The prices are reasonable and there’s a good variety, but sometimes the produce is a bit rough looking. It’s pretty frustrating without a car, even if we only use it on the weekends.

Luckily there are plenty of beans in the freezer. We also harvested some purple and white flecked eggplant and some plain pumpkin. We ate two gorgeous aromatic rockmelons, and the watermelon is still going strong.

The corn has petered out, and I’ve since learnt that you shouldn’t plant two different varieties of corn that close together as they might cross pollinate. I’ve started to pull out the stalks that have browned off and added them back into the compost bins.

We both attempted to bandicoot some potatoes but neither of us has found any yet. There are two possibilities, we are either not digging down deep enough or the no-dig layering was still composting when we put the potatoes in and the soil was too hot. We are both leaning towards the second answer, as there were no plants at the centre of the plantings (where it would have been the hottest). This was a real shame as we were hoping for a big bounty to boost our progress total.

Tapas (Spanish)


Cooked for the Spain entry in the Euro Cup and Plate challenge.

Cordero al limon – Lamb with Lemon

250g lean lamb, chunks
225g canned pineapple slices
10 cloves
1 lemon, halved
5 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
a sprig of rosemary
½ small onion, finely chopped
sweet smoked Spanish paprika, pinch

  1. Cut the lamb into 2cm cubes, put in a bowl, cover with the pineapple slices and let marinate overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
  2. Preheat the oven to 150°C.
  3. Stick the cloves into the lemon and put it in a roasting dish. Add the garlic, oil and rosemary. Remove the lamb from the pineapple and rub in the onion and paprika.
  4. Add the lamb to a roasting dish and cook for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the dish from the oven, cover with foil and set aside for 10 minutes.

Patatas bravas – Potatoes in Tomato Sauce

3 tbsp olive oil
600g potatoes, cut into 2 cm cubes
1 small onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp sherry
125g canned chopped tomatoes
½ tsp freshly grated orange zest
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

  1. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan, add the potatoes and mix well. Cook in batches for 8 minutes until golden brown.
  2. Add in batches the potato back to the pan for another 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in another frying pan, add the onion, and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sherry, then simmer for 1 minute to burn off the alcohol. Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, orange zest, sugar, parsley and bay leaf.
  4. Cook for 10 minutes. If required, add some water to stop the mixture thickening too much.
  5. Transfer the cooked potatoes to a serving bowl, pour over the tomato sauce and mix well.

VARIATION – Add ½ tsp dried chili flakes to add more heat to the dish.

TIP – This dish can be made a day in advance and reheated before serving.

Pisto manchego – Courgette, Tomato and Capsicum Stew

2 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 courgette, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
1 red capsicum, deseeded and chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
sweet Spanish paprika, pinch
salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, courgette, tomatoes, capsicum, oregano and paprika.
  2. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

VARIATION – Add 50g jamon serrano, finely chopped and cook with the onion.

TIP – This dish can be made a day in advance and reheated before serving.

All dishes serve 2.

Coq au vin and boulangere potatoes (French)

Coq au vin and boulangere potatoes

Cooked for the French entry of the Euro Cup and Plate challenge.

Coq au vin

8 organic chicken drumsticks
1/2 bottle red wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
250g bacon, diced
60g organic butter
1 large onion
1 tbsp oil
30g plain flour
1 litre chicken stock
125ml Rosso Vermouth
2 tsp tomato paste (puree)
1½ tbsp softened butter
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp chopped parsley

  1. Divide chicken into pieces, if needed.
  2. Put the wine, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl and add the chicken. Cover and leave to marinate, preferably overnight.
  3. Saute the bacon in a frying pan until golden. Lift out onto a plate. Melt a quarter of the butter in a pan, add the onion and saute until browned. Lift out and set aside.
  4. Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade,and pat the chicken dry. Season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining butter and the oil to the frying pan, and saute the chicken until golden. Stir in the flour.
  5. Transfer the chicken to a large saucepan or casserole dish and add the stock. Pour the Vermouth into the frying pan and boil, stirring, for 30 seconds to deglaze the pan. Pour over the chicken.
  6. Add the marinade, onion, bacon and tomato paste.
  7. Cook over moderate heat for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Serves 4.

Variation: Saute a handful of button mushrooms in butter and add to the mixture with the bacon.

Boulangere Potatoes

1 kg potatoes
1 large onion
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
25g organic butter, cubed

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Thinly slice the potatoes and onion (drag out the mandolin, if you have one).
  2. Build up alternate layers of potato and onion in a 20 x 10cm deep dish. Between each layer sprinkle with parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Finish with a layer of potatoes.
  3. Pour the hot stock over the top and dot with butter.
  4. Bake, covered with foil, on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 minutes. Check the potatoes and add more hot water or stock if needed to the potatoes remain submerged. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the top golden brown.

Serves 4.