From little things big things grow

Before Christmas I took myself on a little adventure to St Heliers Convent in Abbortsford, Melbourne.

Whilst there I discovered the most magnificent looking tree I have ever seen. At the time I had no idea what kind of tree it was, only that it was incredibly beautiful. In fact, to me, it was unbelievably beautiful.

The tree was completely covered in the most vibrant lilac blue blooms. And it was no small specimen either, even with the large convent building as its back-drop it looked huge for a flowering tree.

The glorious Jacaranda tree at St. Heliers Convent

I later found out that the tree is a Jacaranda. It is commonly used to line streets here in Australia, which must look awesome when they all come into bloom.

Having been smitten by its beauty, I set about finding out more. Could I buy a small tree? Could I grow it in my little spot in the hills? Are they a challenge to grow?

I was thrilled to read that the Jacaranda is a very easy tree to grow, it is fast growing and should not be pruned, it should be left to do its own thing, perfect. But then came the blow, the Jacaranda needs a frost free location! Here in the hills the winter months bring a few icy days and according to the literature this would promptly kill a Jacaranda.

So, I sadly put my dream of having this wonderful tree blooming into my garden out of my mind. Until…. a trip to the DIY store and a walk around the plant department found me stood with a small pot containing a tiny Jacaranda tree. It was only about $3, that was it… the decision was made!

Jacaranda Mimosifolia

Now why did I go ahead and buy a tree that cannot possibly survive in my garden? Well, here is my thinking:-

  • The Jacaranda tree is currently tiny
  • I have a greenhouse to protect it from frost
  • It should take a good while to get to any sort of size that it needs to go in the ground
  • We can move to a frost free zone when my Jacaranda tree is too big for my greenhouse (not sure how Hubby is going to respond to this part of the plan!)

With my plan in place, all I need to do now is “not kill it”.

I will do my best to nurture my tiny Jacaranda tree. In my imagination I see myself stood staring up at a beautiful lilac blue blooming Jacaranda tree and saying, “Isn’t it amazing, I bought this tree at Christmas 2011, it was just a tiny thing, now look at it!”

Maybe, just maybe, from this little thing a big thing may grow!

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Posted in Australia, Flora, Garden Visits, Greenhouse Gardening, Melbourne, Ramblings | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The sweet taste of success

Maybe I am a sad, mad or a mix of the two, because harvesting produce from my garden brings me a remarkable amount of joy, no matter how humble the fruit or veg!

Today I picked the tomato from the grafted Grosse Lisse and two yellow cherry tomatoes from the tumbler plant. I snipped some basil that grows in the same pot as the toms and picked some sage flowers and a marigold.

For all the complex and fancy recipes that exist in this world, I confess that, more often than not, it is the simplest dishes that I enjoy in the most. And, the Caprese is super simple and oh so delish!

So, with much delight I sliced my home-grown toms and prepared an olive oil dressing using home-grown garlic and basil.

And here it is….

Caprese Emerald Garden Style

Buon appetito!

Posted in Basil, Garlic, Greenhouse Gardening, Herbs, In the Kitchen, Italian Cooking, No Bake, Recipes, Sage, Savoury, Tomatoes | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Tomatoes, my goodness I seem to be having a little success!

Back in November I posted my hopes that maybe having a greenhouse in which to grow my tomatoes may give me some success after a few years of bad luck with weather and blight.

This week has been wonderful as the abundant number of little cherry tomatoes on the tumbler plants have just started to turn colour. I have one yellow and one red so I am looking forward to some colourful salads.

The 3rd January. After two 40 degree c days the cherry toms are ripening.

As for the grafted tomato plant? It’s grown very tall and the fruit is big, however the claims that it produces large quantities is not showing to be true.

21st November - The first truss of toms on the grafted plant

8th December - The first truss of toms are getting big!

3rd January - I think we'll be eating this beauty tomorrow!

The plants I grew from seed, Tommy Toe and Gardeners delight have quickly caught up with the purchased grafted plant and they have many more trusses of flowers. So, I will stick to just growing my own from seed next year.

It hasn’t been all plain sailing. Christmas week gave us some very wet, hot and humid weather and as a result some of the leaves of the tomato plants suffered powdery mildew.

Having removed leaves that looked the most diseased, I really didn’t want to break from my organic growing methods, so before reaching for the off the shelf chemicals, I tried a well known homemade remedy.

1 teaspoon of baking powder in a quart of water, plus a few drops of liquid soap.

I popped it into my mister and coated the leaves of the plants in the greenhouse, being sure those with the powdery mildew patches were well coated top and underside.

I was concerned I would have a battle on my hands.  But, so far, it has worked well. I will repeat the treatment at the weekend. Fingers crossed!

The other challenge we have had is dealing with the heat. We have had a couple of days where the temperature has soared just over 40 degrees centigrade. The temperature inside the greenhouse early in the morning has been 40 degrees!

I am so pleased I spent the time and money on an irrigation system. I have been able to set the system to drip-water the greenhouse plants several times a day. It has allowed me to keep the plants leaves dry but the roots watered. I did not want the humidity to become too high whilst trying to fight off the powdery mildew.

I am looking forward to a Caprese salad tomorrow!

Posted in Greenhouse Gardening, Greenhouse Plants, Greenhouse Problems, Irrigation, Plant Disease, Tomatoes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A little adventure to find the perfect Christmas gift

Now that Christmas is over and the gifts have been given and gratefully received, I can tell my short tale of the adventure I embarked upon to find the perfect gift for the man in my life.

Whilst Hubby was gloating that he had my gift purchased and nicely wrapped ready for the big day, I was still racking my brain as to what special gift to buy him.

My man is a keen bread maker, and he is always looking to improve his baking skills, so I thought I’d research bread making courses available in Melbourne.

Olive Bread baked by Hubby

I was surprised how many of my emails to cookery schools were totally ignored, still to this day I have not received replies from two schools.

Then after a long while of searching I found The Convent Bakery’s website, I could not believe how perfect it seemed. I was pretty sure I had hit the jackpot. The setting looked beautiful, the location was fairly easy to get to and the fact that all the baking was done in a wood fired oven was the icing on the cake!

The light bulb above my head was illuminated, but was I being drawn in by a very well designed website?

I sent an email enquiry to check they could meet my requirements in terms of my need to pay in person, in cash and collect the voucher at the same time. Being able to do this would allow me to keep my purchase a complete secret, no receipts to be reconciled, no worrying about what was in the postbox.

By return the Convent Bakery replied, all was good. So I arranged to visit them the next day. They even helped offered advice on the best way to get to them by train from Belgrave, a complete contrast to the totally lack of a response from the other well known schools.

It was time for a little adventure,  time for a trip to a new part of Melbourne for me.

Now, I am a fairly independent woman, but what I have in confidence I lack in a sense of direction. I have been known to get lost in shopping Malls on more than one occasion. Even hubby has suggested having me GPS tagged so he can phone me to say, “Hey Blondie, turn around, you are going the wrong way!”

So, accepting my failure in the navigation department, I spend a good while getting myself organised. I checked the required train route and timetable, I printed a step by step street view from Google Maps to help me with the walk I needed to do once off the train. It all looked straight forward enough.

I woke early, excited to be heading into Melbourne. Hubby kindly dropped me at Belgrave and after short wait, I was on the train heading to Parliament Station, where I changed onto the Epping line.

Just a few stops from Parliament I was at Victoria Park Station. Now here came the test. I had my Google street view in my hands and as I exited the station I stood staring out at the  scene ahead me. Nothing on my printout looked anything like the what I saw in front of me. Do I turn left of right? I could not believe I was having this conversation in my head so early on in my “on-foot adventure”.

I went for the old ip-dip and left was it! Off I marched, map in hand, eyes peeled for street names to match to my map. For a long while nothing seemed to correspond and I confess to doubting my decision to turn left. But walking on proved I can find my way, even if it is more by luck than judgement!

I turned this way, that way and everything was looking just like my Google Street view map, thank goodness.

I arrived at the Convent. I found the bakery and decided I would have a look around the convent and it’s gardens before sorting out my purchase.

I found myself in a beautifully peaceful oasis with manicured lawns and stunning displays of flowers. But the most striking feature of the garden was the tree.

The garden at St. Heliers Convent

The tree was large, the tree was a vision of lilac blue, the tree was like nothing I have seen before.

The glorious tree at St. Heliers Convent

I headed back to the Bakery and was greeted by friendly serving staff. When I said I was there to buy a gift voucher for a course, they made a quick phone call and in no time Daniela arrived and was soon getting everything arranged.

I sat in the sunshine enjoying a cappuccino and a freshly baked fruit bun whilst Daniela prepared the Voucher. This is how Christmas shopping should be, it was bliss!

I paid in cash and thanked Daniela for her emails and her help.

My walk back to the station was hot, but at least I knew where I was heading this time. I waited for the train with Collingwood AFL stadium behind me, it was a very cute oval, black and white stripes on the roof of the building by the station.

The train took me into Finders Street Station, my main business done, I was now free to indulge in some photography and browse for some little extra gifts to add to the envelope safely tucked into my backpack.

I had great fun enjoying the Christmas vibe in the city and, before I knew it, I was catching the train to Belgrave in the rush hour, much later than I had planned.

I sat uncomfortably with bags and boxes on my knee, it was hot and the train was very crowded. But I was happy.

I had phoned Hubby to tell him arrival time and there he was waiting for me at Belgrave.

He turned his head as I loaded my bags onto the back seat. I hopped in the front, “I have a secret!” I said with a grin.

I spent ages artistically wrapping the envelope, I spent the rest of the day covered in glitter and glue!

The results of an hour with a glue stick and some glitter!

Christmas morning arrived and I was so relieved, keeping secrets is a nightmare, the number of times I nearly gave the game away.

Hubby’s face when he opened the glittery wrapping said it all. I had indeed hit the jackpot, he was thrilled!

Hubby's face said it all!

He cannot wait to book in for his bakery course and I can’t wait to eat the produce of his day.

Posted in Australia, Christmas, Days out, Melbourne, Melbourne places of interest | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A day at a Canine Country Club with two happy dogs!

For a Christmas treat we booked our Brittany, Merlin and our English Cocker Spaniel, Bud, a day at Kepala Canine Country Club at Diggers Rest.

After two days of seriously wet and miserable weather we could not believe our luck when the sun appeared as we were getting ready to leave.

Diggers Rest is just over an hours drive from Emerald, a fairly straight forward journey on the freeway.

We arrived at 11am and we got a tour of the facilities, from the lagoon pool to where the toilets could be found. It was a very friendly and professional reception, but really, all we wanted to do was get on with the fun!

The boys started with a run in the agility paddock. They went nuts, charging here and there, chasing each other, chasing the little birds that flew by, they sure did look like two dogs in need of a day at the Country Club.

Once we drained a bit of their energy we took them to the lagoon pool for a cool off!

Merlin is a lover of the water and he enjoys diving and swimming enormously. Bud is new to the whole swimming malarky and was quick to wade in and have a swim, but no matter how he tried, he couldn’t find the courage to copy Merlin and dive in off the rocks.

Merlin diving into the lagoon pool

Bud tried mustering up the courage to dive, but couldn't do it!

For an hour the boys enjoyed the pool and the area around it. For Bud, the getting dry is as much fun as the getting wet.

Bud dries off, oh yeah baby!

Once done with the pool on went their Surf Dog Australia Beach Robes from Waggle

Merlin and Bud looking cool in their robes

Next up, we moved onto the play area, a big, fully fenced run, and boy did the boys run. There was a soccer ball and Hubby and I had a chance to play ourselves, kicking the ball back and forth and trying our best tackling tactics, much to the bemusement of our dogs!

Bud cuts loose!

We sat in the sunshine and munched our packed lunch of Turkey and Beetroot relish sandwiches, a reminder that Christmas day was behind us now.

Hubby with Bud and Merlin

Me and Bud and Merlin

With us fed, we headed back to the agility paddock and had some more fun. Merlin was keen to give the obstacles a go, and little Bud was keen to shadow him, but with four paws firmly on the ground!

Merlin works the agility course, coached by ground loving Bud!

Bud did have a go, he took it at a nice slow pace.

Bud on the See-Saw, slow but sure!

By this time, Bud was kaput and ready to lay in the shade.

Kaput!!

And even, “ever-ready” Merlin was keen to chill for a while.

Looking cool Dude!

Our Dogs spent a fabulous day being dogs, running, playing and swimming, and we loved watching them have so much fun.

Kepala is so well set up. The enclosures are safe and entertaining, leaving dog owners to relax and concentrate on enjoying their dogs.

There is a BBQ area with tables looking out into the valley with Melbourne City Skyline on the horizon. It would be the perfect venue for a doggie get together.

If you live in or around Melbourne, Kepala is worth the drive.

Go on, cut your dogs loose too!

Posted in Brittany, Days out, Dogs, English Cocker Spaniel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Getting fruity and trying new things!

Gosh, what sort of blog has this become, the title sounds a little saucy!

It’s Christmas, and if you can’t be a little extravagant at Christmas, when can you?

We love shopping for fruit and veg here in Australia, as there are so many weird and wonderful things we have never seen or heard of before. So as a treat we popped a couple of these “never seen before” treats into our shopping basket.

Today we had our first taste of two amazing fruits, both had a tough outer skin and a fair sized stone at their heart.

The first fruit we tried was the Australian Achacha.

The Achacha is a new fruit in Australia, we had seen a documentary about the success in growing them in North Queensland and when we saw it at the grocers we had to try it.

Its official name is Achachairú, Garcinia humilis, and the fruit originates from the tropical Amazon Basin of Bolivia.

The fruit provides folate, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin C, but is not high in sugars.

We were very pleased that the fruit was sold in it’s own little bag telling us how to peel and eat it.

Score the skin and then gently twist to open the achacha

Once the skin is opened the white flesh is visible

Discard the skin and eat the fruit off the stone!

The Achacha fruit is very easy to open once the initial break in the skin is achieved.

The bag describes the fruit’s flavour as sweet, zesty and refreshing and this is what we experienced.

We thought the flavour had a prominent mandarin note that was interlaced with a tropical flavour that made us think pineapple, but we couldn’t put our finger on a way to describe it. The aroma of the fruit was very sweet, but this sweetness did not come through so strongly in the mouth, the juice made our mouths water and it is indeed very zesty.

The next fruit we tried was the spiky Rambutan Fruit.

The Rambutan Fruit

When looking up more information on the Rambutan I found it described as the Sea Urchin Fruit, and is was clear why!

The Rambutan is a relation of the Lychee and once out of it’s fancy coat it looks exactly like a lychee.

Like the Achacha fruit, the Rambutan is grown in North Queensland.

Its nutritional content includes calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C.

I made the mistake of opening the fruit by cutting it in half, this resulted in me cutting the seed in half, which I latter read is not the way to go, I should have removed the skin with a knife and then nibbled the fruit’s flesh from the stone. I may have got the opening wrong, but at least I didn’t eat the stone, that would have been daft!

The Rambutan cut in half through it's stone

It was no surprise that the flesh was just like that of a Lychee, although I would say the flesh was a little more consolidated and without the overlaps of flesh, if thats the right description.

The taste was very subtle, a sweet juiciness.

It’s always great fun trying something new, especially when you find it delicious. There are still so many fruit and veggies we have yet to try, what will it be next I wonder?

Until our next fruity adventure!

Posted in Achacha, Australia, Australian Fruit, Rambutan, Taste Testing, Trying New Things | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas Greetings from the Emerald Garden

It’s Christmas Eve, The ham is cooked, the Champagne is in the fridge and the pavlova meringues are in the oven as I type.

It’s been a beautiful hot and sunny day today, and we have taken our first day of our holiday to just relax at home and enjoy the sunshine.

Waiting for Santa outside Myer in Melbourne

Christmas shoppers at the Royal Arcade off Bourke Street, Melbourne (1)

I wish you a wonderful holiday season. May 2012 be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise!

Enjoy!

Posted in Australia, Christmas, Greetings, Melbourne, My Photographs | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Versatile Blogger Award

Well blow me down!

First my blog post about my recent Photo Tour of Melbourne gets selected for the “Freshly Pressed” which caused a major level of delight, then out of the blue I receive a nomination for “The Versatile Blogger Award” from 365days2bpublished! If I were at the podium right now I would be grinning ear to ear and be struck quite speechless.

Okay, I have gathered some composure and am ready for the Oscar style speech……..

“My thanks go to 365days2bpublished for not only reading my blog, but liking it enough to nominate it for “The Versatile Blogger Award”. You rock!

My love and gratitude goes to the thousands of people that have taken time out to read my ramblings, I would never have thought I would receive this level of interest so…. Thank you.

And of course, I thank my friends, my family, my garden and the people and places who fill the lens of my camera.”

For this award, the rules are:

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

3. Pass this award along to however many or few blogs you would like. This way the award is more meaningful, rather than just becoming an endless bloggy chain letter that eventually every single blog in the whole world will have, and some will regard as simply nothing more than spam.

4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

7 Things about me:

  • I’m nuts about penguins!
  • My favourite colour is red.
  • I’m a Green Bay Packers Fan, and my Aussie Rules Footie team is the Richmond Tigers.
  • I love discovering the hidden gems that exist in towns and cities.
  • I find it hard to do nothing, I love to be doing something.
  • In case you haven’t noticed, I love my Canon EOS 550D, and you don’t often see me without it.
  • I like food, growing it, cooking it and eating it!

I would like to nominate the following bloggers the Versatile Blogger Award:-

Just a Smidgen I subscribe and I love Smidges posts, you must go see!

And of course my equal favourite has to be:-

Frugal Feeding who inspires my growing and my cooking, he is the “Beetroot Cup Cake Man!”

Posted in Awards, Freshly Pressed, The Versatile Blogger Award | Tagged , | 3 Comments

A Frugal twist on Beetroot from Frugal Feeding

Beetroot Cup Cakes made from the recipe by Frugal Feeding

As the wife of a Beetroot mad husband, and don’t under estimate how much my husband loves beetroot, can you imagine my delight when my chum at the Frugal Feeding Blog posted a recipe for Beetroot Cupcakes?

This was two firsts for me, number one was the method of cooking the beetroot, I have only ever known beetroot to be boiled in a pan, this recipe’s method introduced me to baking the beetroot, and it worked well with no steamed up kitchen windows. Number two was the use of beetroot in a sweet cake.

When I showed Hubby the recipe he was enthusiastic about trying these unusual cakes. So into the kitchen I went.

The recipe was pretty simple, and the only variation I made was in the preparation. I blended the cooked beetroots, the leaving them in the blender, I added all the wet ingredients and gave it a good blend until completely smooth. The colour of the wet mix was a beautiful vivid pink, and I was hoping this will result in a pink cake.

When I folded the wet into the dry ingredients the batter mix seemed a little too runny, so I just added a little self raising flour to thicken it to a drop consistency.

As they baked, the cakes rose nicely, but I have to say the aroma of earthy beetroot that greeted me when I opened the oven door was a little bizarre.

The cream cheese topping is what makes this unusual cake work. My first bite had me wondering if you needed to be a beetroot fanatic, like the man sat next to me making all the noises of someone enjoying their grub. But once my head and taste buds were aligned I have to say these cakes are delightful.

The cake is moist, rather like carrot cake, but it has a great texture too. They are filling, so they are a good choice if you don’t want the temptation to be greedy.

“So, did the cake stay as pink as the batter?” I hear you ask.

Sadly, no. There was a pink colour at the very top, but the inside would fool you to think I had added turmeric, which I promise I didn’t.

The Pink on the top of the cake was the only visual evidence of the beetroot

There is only one thing to do with this recipe…. that is to give it a go and try the flavour for yourself.

Go ahead head on over to Frugal Feeding, go get you fingers pink!

Posted in Beetroot, Cakes, In the Kitchen, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Pavlova – The Australian Traditional Dessert

The story goes that when the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, visited Australia in 1935, Herbert Sachse, the chef of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth knocked up a dessert in her honour.

I understand the New Zealander’s also make a claim of being the first creators, but regardless of who is responsible for the existence of the Pavlova, this is a beautiful summer dessert and not at all difficult to make.

The dessert made in honour of Anna Pavlova

The Pavlova is simply a meringue nest filled with whipped cream and topped with seasonal fruit. I added a home made strawberry coulis for a little added something.

Instead of one large meringue nest, which can be difficult to handle once cooked, I opted for two small nests, each one serving two people. Of course, you could have a go at making one-serve nests, or just be a piggy and eat a whole two serving Pavlova!

The Meringue

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F)

3 egg whites
a pinch of salt
4oz of castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla essence
1 level teaspoons of cornflour

  • Add the egg whites to a bowl with the pinch of salt and whisk until stiff
  • Keep beating as you add the sugar gradually
  • Still beating, add the vinegar, vanilla essence and the cornflour

Grease a baking tray and line with baking paper.

Now spread the meringue onto the baking paper to form circles the size you desire. You need to create a nest, so build up the outer edge so that a hollow is created in the centre. This is where the cream and fruit will go, so make it deep and wide enough to accommodate it, but be sure to make the outer walls and base thick enough to hold together when you are working with it later.

Create a nest with the Meringue

Turn the oven down to 130C (250F)

Place the meringue(s) into the oven and set the timer for about an hour. You will need to keep an eye on them as different sizes and thicknesses will require different cook times.

You’ll know when they are ready to come out of the oven when they take on a slight golden tinge and the smell of cooking sugar is apparent when you open the oven door.

I like my meringue to be a little soft and gooey in the centre, so I simply test with a little prod with my finger, if you like your meringue crisp you can simply pop it back in the oven until you are happy.

Strawberry Coulis

I don’t use measures for this, so if you are a lover of precision you may wish to google a coulis recipe.

  • Remove the stalks of the strawberries and chop into small chunks.
  • I add these to a pan with a few tablespoons of sugar (I don’t like it too sweet) and add water so that the fruit is just covered.
  • Bring this to the boil whilst stirring continuously. Then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  • Be sure to keep stirring to prevent the sugar burning.
  • When the fruit is soft and the water has reduced to make a thick sauce, remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
  • Once cool, blend using a hand blender to make a smooth coulis.
  • Set aside until needed.

The fruit simmering in the sugary water

Filling

Using a cream with a minimum milk fat of 35%, such as thickened or double cream, whip until thick.

Slice up some seasonal fruit. I am using Victorian strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and passionfruit.

Construction of the Pavlova

The components of the Pavlova, the cream has been added to the nest

  • Carefully place the meringue nest onto the serving dish
  • Add the whipped cream into the centre of the nest
  • I then added a layer of passion fruit
  • Top the dessert with the fruit you like, I have used seasonal berries
  • Drizzle a few teaspoons of coulis over the fruit and it’s ready to serve

Indulge!

Grab a spoon, dig in and worry about the diet tomorrow!

Posted in Aussie Tucker, Australian Traditional, Desserts, In the Kitchen, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments