Spring has sprung, the plants have riz

Spring in Australia is scheduled to start right on 1 September. Like clockwork. This post covers September/October 2014. It has not been like clockwork.


Spring asparagus (in September), about 20 spears
Strawberries. Yup, I didn’t get rid of the 4 year old strawberry plants. Sorry.
One overcooked radish. I was supposed to harvest in August and I got it in September. The inside went a bit fragmented and soggy. I’ve taken to writing on the plant ID tags the anticipated harvest date.
Parsley, coriander, thyme, oregano, rosemary, nasturtium flowers and rocket.

Snowpeas – you turn your back, and they come from nowhere. They’re like triffids.

Spring snowpeas
Sweet potato – this one I harvested in Winter. It was a 1kg monster. No wonder it’s so cheap in the shops.

Monster sweet potato

Planted & Achieved:
Finally planted my columnar apple nearby to the other columnar apple that I planted last year.
Planted corn and tomato plants. I didn’t have time to grow from seed, so I planted seedlings.

South facing garden bed

What does the garden look like?
Cherry tree:

Cherry Blossoms

The cherry tree did not spring into blossom until much later in September than all the others in the neighbourhood. So there is hope for Operation Chill after all…Hopefully now that I’ve got the bees, I’ll get some cherries this year. I have to tell you though, I’ve only seen one bee hanging around the cherry flowers. There seem to be better pickings further afield.

Banana plant:

Banana and apples

I managed not to kill this one over winter, although I’ve had a red hot go. You can see the newly planted companion columnar apple in front of it. The more I think about it, I think it’s an orange. It smells like my neighbour’s orange blossoms, and it’s just gone mad with the flowers.

Asparagus patch:

Asparagus patch in spring

I found out this year that I was supposed to let the spears go to ferns for the first two years. Also that I was supposed to fertilise in autumn. Ooops.

Anonymous Citrus
Anonymous citrus

Still riddled with citrus leaf miner. Now I have the bees, I can’t spray anything to try and get rid of it. Should’ve done something over winter, except that citrus leaf miner is dormant then and it wouldn’t have worked.

Next season?

Hopefully now that I’ve got the bees, I’ll get better pollination of the fruit and veg. I should also STOP planting tomatoes. Sigh. There’s just so many plants in that family that I like to eat, but crop rotation just no worky for me. I have been planting peas/beans in winter, but it’s probably not enough.

I had meant to plant the frangipani pot plant – I still haven’t. Can’t do it in summer. So I have to wait another year.

So, dear reader, what have you been up to in your garden?

Caution: Bees on Board

I told you about inspecting a friend’s beehive earlier in the year. After that I then decided that I really wanted some bees of my own.

I ordered my hive, and then ‘painted’ the boxes with a 1:10 combination of beeswax and raw linseed oil.

Painting the hive box

It does get really hot in western Sydney, and after investigating natural paint options, I decided to paint the roof with a white “non-stinky” water based paint, to try and deflect the heat out of the hive. It was actually really surprising the number of hardware shop staff who didn’t know what a “low VOC” or “low volatile organic compound” paint was, only when I said the words “non-stinky” did they understand what I meant.

I tried baiting my warre hive by sticking it on the roof of the shed, and using a tissue with a few drops of lemongrass oil as bait. I’ve had bees amongst my rangy basil (going to seed) all winter, so I thought that I was in with a chance.

Here swarmy, swarmy, swarm....

Not a sniff, not a whiff, the local bees just weren’t interested.

Then I got a call via an established beekeeper who is on the Australian Beekeepers Association list to collect swarms. It was a bit too late in the day to collect on the day that I got the call, but we turned up at 8am the next morning. It was due to be a hot day*.

Their royal swarminess:

Spot the swarm

The swarm was about the size of a small rockmelon/cantelope/large grapefruit. It was ideal in terms of collection, about 1.5m off the ground, with fairly level ground underneath.

Peekaboo swarm!

After fetching the bait box out of the car and placing on the ground nearby, the scout bees were over in a flash having a good look around. We cleared the branches around the swarm cluster, and then the actual branch upon which the swarm was perched. One good shake into the hive box to get most of the bees inside, and then cover the frames with the flyscreen, and place the branch in front of the entry for the leftover bees to find their way. It’s a fine balancing act between waiting for the bees to find their way inside and waiting too long such that the day gets warm enough for the bees to go out foraging.

The bees go marching one by one:

The bees go matching in

After the majority of the bees had relocated, you could see some of the more organised ones at the entry way ‘fanning’ their wings. They were fanning out the scent of the swarm, so that any bee who was still stuck on the outside could work out where they had relocated to. I am especially amused by the fact that they used the duct tape as a ‘ramp’ to get up into the box.

I drove home gingerly, carefully, chauffeur driving. There were about five bees who hadn’t made it into the hive box, but had followed the scent into the car. Because the sun was on the back window, they were gently tapping on the window, trying to get out. I wonder if anyone else stuck behind me in traffic noticed?

I’m sooo excited.

Inside the hive:
Inside the hive

I had a quick peek into the hive box after I put the hive box into its new home, and just before I put the permanent roof on. The bees had clustered on the frames under the fly screen, just waiting for me to go away so that they could *get one with it already*.

About four days after I picked up the swarm, they seem to be going strong. I’ve now noticed about 50% of the bees are returning home with their pollen sacs birght yellow and full. The small hive beetle trap underneath of the hive floor is now being filled with discarded bit of wax and sticky clumps of pollen. Even bees have their waste products.


Hive at home

*It was a hot day. The garden thermometer reported a maximum temperature that day of 43 degrees Celsius in the sun.

Replicating Favourites: Chocolate and hazelnuts biscuits with sea salt

After eating three of the Penny Four’s chocolate and hazelnut biscuit last week, I decided that I really ought to work out how to make them myself. There were many recipes that involved a white batter with milk/dark choc chips, brown batter with white choc tips, but none satisfied.

This is what I was trying to replicate:

Penny Four's chocolate hazelnut log

Actually just looking at that makes me salivate.

You can see that there are a lot of hazelnuts in the biscuit, but also that it appears that a square of almost melted chocolate has been pushed into the biscuit with a fork. This was present in all of the biscuits that I have consumed thus far. It also appears that the biscuit dough was formed into a “log” shape, and then sliced – accounting for the regular “cut” appearance of the hazelnuts.

The closest recipe I found appeared to be from two peas and their pod:

There is an interesting mix of white sugar, and the moister more water absorbing brown sugar. Sea salt is an interesting touch, bringing out the sweetness in something that already contains two cups of sugar.

I have only replicated the recipe here in order to convert it to metric. What annoys me about the measurement “cup of butter”, is that it implies that you need to melt the butter in order to measure a cup. However, when you cream butter and sugar, the last thing you want is melted butter.


Two mixing bowls

320 grams plain flour*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
90 grams Dutch processed cocoa*
200grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
200grams white sugar
220grams light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
Sea salt, for sprinkling on cookies

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Line a baking sheet with beking paper. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, sea salt, and cocoa. Set aside.

3. Cream butter and sugars together until smooth. Add in eggs, one at a time. Next, add in vanilla extract and mix until combined.

4. Gradually add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and hazelnuts. Scoop the dough into rounded tablespoons and place on prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle each cookie with sea salt.

5. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until cookies are set, but still soft in the center. Don’t overbake. Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 3 minutes. Move to a cooling rack and cool completely

Here is my hand-churned “butter and sugar mixture”:

Butter and sugar

Here is the dry ingredients mixture:

Cocoa and Flour

* I actually found that I had difficulty combining the last of the dry mixture with the wet mixture – in fact I didn’t use the last 100 grams. I believe that this is down to the difference in measuring cup sizes between the USA (240mL) and Australia/UK (250mL).

I used ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

I actually combined the mixture until the measuring spoon could stand upright in the mixture without any support.

Pretty stiff mixture:
Chocolate biscuit mixture

For chocolate I used a block of milk cooking chocolate (125g), cut into rough chunks with a knife.

The mixture was very thick and sticky. Instead of mixing the nuts and chocolate into the mixture, where the distribution may become uneven, I pushed the nuts and chocolate into each individual dollop on the baking tray.

Chocolate and hazelnut biscuit


Yum. Not quite the biscuit that I was looking for, but mighty close.

I’m glad I used milk chocolate chunks in the biscuit, so the biscuit was less rich than it could’ve been.

It made a LOT of biscuit, so perhaps if you’re only after small amounts, you could mix the nuts and chocolate in and then freeze it into a log, and slice off when required.

I would definitely use a scale to measure the amount of flour/cocoa mixture, so you’re not left holding a leftover pot of dry mixture.

This took me about three hours to make from start to clean up.

Bake off 2014

I can’t believe it has been two years since the last bake off competition. I have been feeling a bit of colour recently – perhaps due to winter and seasonal affective disorder.

The competition for the 2014 bake off is fierce, even *lamb* has been included – filed under the criteria: “well, it’s cooked in an oven”. Hmm.

Entry 1:
Blue cake with animals

The blue cake with animals

The baker who “enjoys baking and eating sweet things”, also took two days off work to make this work of art. I forgot to take a picture of the inside, but there were four layers – vanilla, chocolate, caramel and…well, it’s going to be hard to complete with that.

Entry 2:
Savoury Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie with brown rice crust

Both vegetarian and gluten free, this contained cheese and eggs and so was actually a savoury pumpkin pie. I think that if I had sampled this cake whilst hot, the crust would’ve been crunchy and added a different texture. Everyone admired the pie tin with its glazed non stick surface.

Entry 3:

Chocolate and Almond Brioche

chocolate and almond brioche
When I saw this one being prepared with rolling out, buttering and resting stages, I knew I was in for something special. The recipe had been translated from Hebrew on the fly, and reminded me a bit of my attempts to replicate the bowan island bakery’s chocolate babka. This had layers or ‘laminations’ … so I may have to have a go at making this one myself.

Entry 4:

Chocolate chip cookies

Choc chip cookies, with big square pieces of chocolate from a block of chocolate. Quite popular, but I did find them a bit too sweet for me… And possibly in need of walnuts. I just like the toll house cookie I guess.

Entry 5:


Ginger bread

I baked this according to direction. Well, sort of. I misread the temperature to start of with and it was at 140 degrees for the thirty minutes. I don’t think I could have recovered from that, no matter what I did. When I cut it open, the inside looked really dense, like fudge, or just cooked mostly raw cake mixture. Nigella, I have let you down.

Entry 6:

Treacle and pear gunner came

pear and ginger cake with treacle

I saw this and I thought I was doomed. Something else involving ginger and it looked so pretty. This was the baker’s attempt to replicate a came that they enjoyed from Hominy Bakery. First attempt. As I tried this there was an odd flavour that I couldn’t quite place. Molasses? No. Wholemeal flour? No. Yeast? No. Hmm.

Entry 7:

Lemon cupcakes

Small child’s lemon cupcakes

Small child contributed the fistfuls of stars ontop as decoration. A really nice lemon flavour. Perhaps I enjoyed them so much as a contrast to the sweetness of the others. Mr SydneyFoodie is rather violently opposed to the concept of cupcakes, and voted these in last place. It takes some convincing that a cupcake is just a piece of cake that is round, and happens to have icing on it.

The competitive field:

The bake off competitors

You can see that the tasters have already hoed into the lamb and pumpkin pie as the savoury round of the judging.

I also need to mention the peanut butter brownies (bottom lefthand corner of the photo above). There were little decorative dabs of peanut butter on top of each brownie, as well as squiggles of chocolate. At first I really enjoyed these… and then I noticed how sweet they were. Alas, my sweet tooth now needs less sugar to be satisfied.

So who won?

I think that I have probably already given this one away.

Scores were as follows:

Bake off 2014

I know it looks really confusing, but the *lowest* score wins – because that would’ve been the one that you voted #1. There was some slight confusion over the sixes and the nines.. because the font chosen for the number sheet didn’t differentiate. So for those who had already voted… their 6 & 9’s got rounded to a generic “7.5”. If the vote hadn’t already been cast, then the voter indicated which was which.

So, dear reader… when have you spent more than one day making a cake? Did it win as spectacularly as the blue cake with animals?

GF Red Velvet Chocolate cake with beetroot

I think that the red velvet cake with beetroot is my current favourite cake of the moment. I think that it’s because it tastes rich and moist like mudcake, without being heavy or too sweet. So I was sad when my friend H couldn’t taste any because she had returned to her gluten free diet in order to keep her blood sugars down.

Well, I still haven’t managed to replicate the ‘amazing’ very-beetroot intense cake from Organic Bread Bar:

GF Red Velvet Cupcake

So, why not try and make the cake gluten free?

By the way, I as you can see from the picture above, I did finally get into gear to try the Organic Bread Bar’s GF REd Velvet Cupcake. The sign didn’t say that it involved beetroot.

I really liked the icing, although it was a bit on the sweet side for me. I did not like the cupcake that much. I couldn’t taste the beetroot flavour – to me it was rather bland. It also didn’t taste strongly of chocolate. I’m not sure what gf flour that they used (it was GF cupcake), but there were shreds of coconut it there. It wasn’t primarily coconut flour, and it wasn’t almond meal.

Since this was an experiment, I decided to make a half size loaf cake.

I did some reading, and based on what I had in my cupboard, I decided to make my gluten free mix thus:

40% whole grain flour, 60% white starch as per glutenfree girl’s instructions.
Interestingly, Roben Ryberg classifies flours as either ‘gritty’ or ‘powdery’, but also believes that teff flour and quinoa flour are out because the ‘flavour does not merit use’. Sorry hun, but I really want to use up my quinoa!

I toasted my quinoa flour to try and remove the bitter taste, but I only had 50g.

So my 40% whole grain flour was 50g quinoa flour, 38g corn (maize) flour.
The 60% white starch was “rice flour”.

Here are the two mixtures before they are combined:

GF Red velvet cake with beetroot

It looks much the same as the two mixtures did in the gluten version.

The mixture was really very dry and didn’t quite combine, so I ended up adding an extra 3/4 cups of soy milk. Glutenfreegigi says that “Many gluten-free batters tend to be more runny and not as thick as traditional batters containing gluten.”

Here is the wet mixture:

GF Red velvet cake with beetroot

The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but the texture is very smooth, almost like a chocolate ganache mixture. The lumps are the chopped up bits of beetroot.

Adding the extra soy milk may have been a mistake, because baking at the 160 degree recommended temperature, even with a half sized cake has resulted in a raw cake at 45 minutes of baking:

GF red velvet - at 45 mins

Skewer came out sticky.

After 90 minutes baking
at 160 degrees C fan forced (with a small interlude in the middle of 180 degrees C):

GF Red velvet cake - 90 mins

Looks pretty good!

Not as ‘sweet’ as the wheat flour version, also not quite as moist or dense. There is a bitter taste that I think comes from the quinoa flour. I’m quite surprised that the cake held together, but then I did use 2 eggs and some psyllium to hold it together. The crumb is quite fine and it looks a lot like a wheat based cake, quite an acceptable product. There’s also an interesting ‘crunch’ or grittiness, possibly from the rice flour.

The cake was delicious when just out of the oven, but after it cooled, I noticed that it had quite a dry texture. Perhaps only 80 minutes worth of baking is required instead of 90.

Next time?

I’m going to try and find some sorghum flour. I would like to try this again with the ‘all purpose GF replacement’, that glutenfreegirl has as a starter.

Operation Chill: The rundown

In Australia, the season of spring starts on 1 September. So spring has definitely sprung.

But I think it sprung a while ago.

Two months of winter gone, and I’ve come to the conclusion that operation chill probably won’t work.

This is what Winter looked like:

Chill hours 2014

These are the cumulative chill hours recorded at a nearby weather station. From about mid-August it started to rain. Overnight cloud keeps us all warmer overnight – like a blanket – so the temperatures don’t drop as low as hey could.

I didn’t include June because it was cold overnight for most of the month except for the last few days.

Only 180 odd chill hours recorded so far, and I was trying to get to 700.

500m2 suggested that the warm May was the problem.

I was more focused on June, but she’s right. On current averages, I need five months of a Sydney ‘winter’.

The cherry tree hasn’t yet blossomed, so there may still be hope.

Or perhaps the cherry tree needs to fly west for winter holidays.

Other suggested backup plans included:
a) Genetically engineer cherry tree to be less fussy (yeah… if I could get my paws on one of the Minnie Royals!)
b) Move to Melbourne

Kale Chips

It’s winter. There’s a lot of kale around. My friend H has been making kale chips using my dehydrator for about the past two years.

So I had to laugh when the newspaper’s food liftout published a recipe for salt n vinegar kale chips. Welcome to the noughties, newsprint.

I had been resisting making my own, because I had thought that this was just so much effort. Then one of the glamourous hippie food stores that I frequent had a new product line opening special: alive & radiant food’s “Kale Crunch”, $4.95 for 63 gram. The special ran for about 6 weeks, enough to get me hooked, and then went back to RRP of $8.95. Ouch.

Yes I know, $78.57/kg versus $142.06/kg is still big bikkies to pay, but it is outrageous!

It’s Time.

I started off with the spicy and cheesy kale chips from eating bird food, because the ingredients seemed the closest to the recipe that H had been using, as well as the back of the packets that I had been buying.

The raw ingredients:

Kale Chips - ingredients

Everything I already had in the cupboard, apart from the kale that I had bought from the markets that morning ($3 bunch). The bell pepper/capsicum I grew in the garden.


Kale Chips Pre Mix

Kale Chips Post Mix

I found that the mixture was really sticky and left your hands covered in goop. So you need to plan ahead and make sure your baking tray and baking paper (foil is a bad idea) is ready.

There is no shame in licking your hands afterwards. Why let all that tastiness go to waste?

I used about 100 degrees C for one hour for cavalo nero, about 20 minutes for the curly kale. If you forget and use a higher temperature, you get an unpleasant charred burnt flavour throughout your chips.


Kale Chips - Finished Product

I made two packets of about 42 grams. I’m not sure how much in electricity or raw ingredients it cost me, but definitely not $6 worth!

Here is the actual kale, after it has been dried:

Kale chips - dried
Next time?

Make half the amount of mixture. It was way too much for my bunch of kale. I also only used about 3/4 bunch of the kale – that’s all I could fit into my zip log bags.

The kale chips go stale/soggy quite quickly, so only make small batches at a time.

Re-using those zip lock bags that the commercial product came in seems to be very good to keep the chips as a snack for later.
Also reusing those silica gel packets that you get with vitamins, will help keep the chips crispy.
Don’t overfill the bags – the air helps act as padding when you throw them in your bag.

The coating mixture keeps for up to a week in the fridge in an airtight container, but after that it goes off. It starts to grow.
Organic kale will also keep in your fridge for up to a week, but then it’ll start to turn yellow.
If you use a smaller seed or nut than a cashew, like I did, I don’t think you need to soak the nuts.

I’m also going to play around with the flavours, and see if I can replicate some of the other tastes available on the market. One of the Loving Earth flavours that I found quite intriguing included coconut vinegar and beetroot!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers