Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Smoothies - Greens And Other Additions

I'm a big fan of smoothies. I find it so easy and handy to be able to just fire some cottage cheese or yoghurt in a blender with some fruit and water and there's a healthy breakfast, lunch or a snack in a few minutes.  If you put them into a suitable container they're also great to take with you.  If there's a delay between making and drinking the smoothie though I find it best to avoid using bananas and apples.

I'll sometimes make a large smoothie with some cottage cheese or yoghurt and peaches or apricots and put a couple of bottles from it in the fridge,  These are very handy to grab for a quick meal, especially on your way out the door if you're pushed for time.

It's even better to turn it into a green smoothie by adding some greens.  Below is my list of "good greens for smoothies".

Good Greens For Smoothies:

(Wash first)

Silver Beet
Swiss Chard
Dandelion greens (small amount) 
Celery, including tops
Lettuce - green and red, romaine etc
Boy choy
Beet greens

Good Additions For Smoothies

Raw honey
Lemon juice
Ground flaxseed
Ground almonds
Ground sunflower seeds
Ground pumpkin seeds
Spirulina powder
Peanut butter
Cereal - oats, bran, wheatgerm etc

Silver beet growing in the garden.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Planning Dinner Menus

It’s fairly easy to “wing it” for breakfast and lunch by having some choices written down and keeping  a supply of the required foods handy, such as yoghurt, fruit, wholegrain bread and cans of salmon and baked beans.

Dinner however takes some more planning and is best planned weekly, fortnightly or even monthly.  Knowing exactly what you are going to have ensures you can have the required food on hand and saves frustration and wastage.  It also means you are much less likely to resort to less-healthy and more expensive takeaways. A dollar saved is a dollar earned!

I always take into consideration these factors:

Health And Nutritional Value.  I like to emphasise plenty of healthy vegetables and some quality protein, also low fat,  low sugar and low salt.

Cost.  Staying within the budget is also very important.

Home Produce. Using eggs, chicken, vegetables, fruit, nuts and other food which is home-grown is very satisfying.  Few things have ever pleased me more than serving a delicious and nutritious meal and knowing everything served has been produced at home.  Freshly picked vegetables are especially good to eat.

Reality.  I don't want to cook every night. Sometimes I am not able to cook every night. Accepting that and making contingency plans such as making a large batch of beef casserole and mashed potatoes and freezing some as meals means that some nights I can just heat a home-cooked meal in the microwave.  You can also plan extra for lunches or to give away to those who need or would appreciate a few home cooked meals.

Seasonal Availability.  One of the simple pleasures of life is to eat fresh asparagus when it is being picked or feast on fresh summer fruit.  Everyone craves those first, new, sweet potatoes when they are ready to dig.  Summer is a great time for fresh salads and Winter the best time for wonderful hot soups. When you plan menus it's easier to remember to incorporate seasonal delights into your meals and often at low prices if there is an overabundant supply.

What Is Already On Hand.  Sometimes I might have quite a few spare cans of baked beans because I bought them at a highly discounted price in case I decided to eat some for lunch, but now I have the option of using some of them for dinner, such as making baked bean hash.   I can consider what will be available from the vegetable garden that month or, if the hens are laying plenty of eggs, decide to use more eggs and less meat.  Once I consider what is easily and cheaply available that month ideas for meals made from those ingredients start to come much more easily.  If I think I have plenty of eggs and plenty of fresh vegetables I can start thinking about quiches, frittata, omelettes or curried eggs.

Slow cooked Irish stew:

I find it easiest to start planning meals based around the protein which will be served.  Generally I like to aim weekly for an average of about:

2 fish dinners.
1 - 2 egg or bean dinners.
2 chicken dinners.
2 red meat dinners.

Working out exactly what form that protein will take is the next step. When I reflect upon price and availability my list will often be similar to this:

Fish - fresh or frozen white fish fillets, smoked & canned fish fillets,  green-lipped mussels, prawns or large shrimps, canned salmon, canned tuna.

Eggs/Beans - eggs,  baked beans

Chicken: Whole chickens, chicken pieces, boneless breast fillet.

Red Meat - steak mince, sausage meat, lamb's fry, bacon, porterhouse steak, stewing steak, lamb shoulder chops.

From there it is easy to see how these could be made into meals such as:

Seafood chowder
Fish in parsley sauce
Chicken chasseur
Roasted, stuffed chicken
Chicken chow mein
Curried mince
Lamb's fry, onions and bacon in gravy
Grilled steak
Beef casserole
Baked bean hash
Marinated, grilled lamb chops

Now all you have to do is plan the accompaniments to go with them such as the vegetables, rice, pasta, bread or sauce.

Keeping a file of tried and trusted recipes is also very helpful.  You could simply start a folder marked "Dinner Recipes" and divide it into sections for mince, chicken, eggs, fish, beans, lamb or whatever other main protein you wish to base your meals around.  In each section keep a copy of your favourite recipes for easy reference, for example:

Spicy Meatloaf
Curried Mince
Tasty One-Pan Meatballs
Spaghetti Bolognaise

Vegetable Mini-Frittatas
Egg Foo Yung
Bacon and Egg Pie
Savoury Quiche

This makes it even easier to complete your menu plan.

The beautiful paeony rose.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Not-So-Humble Spud

It's sometimes called "the humble spud" but I don't know why as it's certainly one of my favourite vegetables.  Originating from the Andes in South America, where there are still thousands of varieties, the average person on Earth eats over 30 kg of these little beauties every year.  Even the United Nations has called the potato a "hidden treasure". 

I usually plant mine in good soil with a handful of "blood and bone" fertilizer and hand-water as necessary in the evenings.  Generally speaking when the potato is flowering the tubers are still forming but I've found sometimes a mature enough potato, even if still flowering, will supply a reasonable quantity of early potatoes.

Sometimes tubers grow at the top of the plant near the soil surface so to prevent greening it is necessary to cover them up.  This can be done by "hilling them up" with earth by just using a shovel or even a hoe or machinery if the rows allow.  Another option is to cover them in straw.

In the garden we've often had crops of 3 kg or more from some of the main crop plants, and single tubers weighing 1 kg or more each, so they really can be quite prolific.

Photos from the potato patch at Kewmarnic Cottage:

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Smile, Breathe And Go Slowly.

Smile, breathe and go slowly. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I often bring to mind these seemingly simple, yet somehow powerful words, from this wise and wonderful Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk.

The smile is sometimes too hard, but the breathe, just breathe. Very few things do not suddenly seem just a little bit better if you just breathe.


And slow down.

Just slow down.......

What's the rush anyway? What is this sense of urgency that seems to sometimes bring me to near panic? Is it really that important? And will rushing even help?

The butterfly counts not months but moments and has time enough - Rabindranath Tagore.

.Did you ever see a butterfly rushing? I never have. I've seen them dreaming though.

Like this beautiful little yellow admiral who paused to dream on my leek flowers. Of what does she dream,  I wonder?

Hens Love Mashed Potatoes Too!

One of my earliest memories as a child was when my father and grandmother would boil up big coppers full of potatoes for the hens and ducks.   These would be surplus or lower grade potatoes. We'd light the fire, cook them and when they were cool enough mash them down somewhat and often mix them with some laying mash or wheat.

The hens and ducks loved it and invariably thrived.  These days I still do it for the hens when we have spare or damaged potatoes.  Make sure you do not use any green potatoes and remove any green skin or green pieces from the potatoes.  If in doubt throw them out!

If you have spare or damaged potatoes it's a great way to use them up.  If you're short of money but have some spare ground on which you could plant some more potatoes, it would probably be worth growing potatoes especially for any hens or ducks you might keep.

In recent times I've also used the pulp from the centre of pumpkins and lightly cooked them for the hens as well.  Once cooled, the hens enjoy the pumpkin pulp too.   They'll also readily eat cooked pumpkin skins. When peeling pumpkin pieces to make pumpkin soup I mix the cooked skins into the bucket which contains any other household scraps for the hens.


One of my little red hens, Matilda. Is she asking when the next batch of mashed potatoes will be ready?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A Life Long Love Affair With Sunflowers

I have been enchanted by sunflowers ever since I was a small child.  When I visited my grandmother, who lived five miles away, I would often cross the road and see my delightful great-aunts, Auntie Lizzie and Auntie Sarah.   They were the proverbial sweet little old ladies with their long white hair tied back in neat buns.  Auntie Sarah was hard of hearing and spent most of her day in a rocking chair.  Auntie Lizzie used to talk to her down a horn. Auntie Lizzie was the younger and more sprightly of the two.  Neither had ever married.  They'd been born, raised and lived down on "Bridgefield", the farm at Lakeside, till they'd retired to their cute little cottage in  the small town of Leeston.   They always showered me with kindness, warmth, milk, home-baked biscuits and sweets.

It wasn't only my lovely aunts themselves who drew me over the road but their cottage garden.  I would stand and stare up in awe at their giant sunflowers. They were so tall and glorious I could scarcely believe it!  Thus began my life-long love affair with sunflowers.

Aunty Sarah and Auntie Lizzie are both long departed this world, one aged 99 and the other 97, but every time I see a sunflower I remember them and the visits to their cottage and garden which were one of my childhood's delights.

Not only are sunflowers beautiful but they are easily grown and their seeds are nutritious.  I like to plant a climbing bean at the base of a sunflower so it can grow up the stalk of the sunflower.

Sunflowers from my garden:

Nature's Palette

One of the best things about growing, cooking and preserving your own food is savouring Nature’s stunning and vibrant palette.   

The deep, rich crimson of red beet.

The sunny, golden glow of apricots.

The deep purple and white flesh of the blackboy peaches.

The vibrant red of succulent, homegrown tomatoes.

The rainbow in a patch of coloured silver beet and Swiss chard. 

How easy it is to stop and just be enchanted by the gift of their beautiful hues.  Life is such a feast.

Some of the red beet in the pan being  cooked before making beetroot chutney.

Beautiful apricots glow in the early morning sun.

After making apricot jam I am still so enchanted by it's glorious colour I have to photograph some on the windowsill.

Mmmmm.  Juicy, fresh, homegrown tomatoes.

The pretty purple of the blackboy peaches.

 The rich burgundy of  fresh cherries against pale, ripening apricots.

The First Of The Spring Daffodils

In August some of the first of the Spring daffodils brighten up the living room with their lovely, cheering colours.  This is the time for dreamily perusing through seed catalogues as well!