Friday, February 27, 2009

relish the relish

Well, not EVERY post can be about Queen Atalia.

Thought some of the southern hemisphere folks might like a peak at Jay's Nanna's Relish recipe. Now us folks at the princess castle LOVE our relish - and I can honestly say, this is THE relish recipe - you can throw away all the others.

Tomato Relish

12 large ripe tomatoes ( the riper the better) raw, unpeeled

4 medium onions

570gms (20 oz) sugar

2 tablespoons Keen's Curry Powder

1 teaspoon Keen's Dry Mustard Powder

6 dried chillies - chopped - with seeds

Brown (malt) vinegar - almost enough to cover

Cut tomatoes in smallish chunks (ie less than quarters) and throw into colander, salting as you go

Slice and chop onions, throw into a second colander salting as you go

Stand colanders in bowls, cover with plastic or tea towels and let the tomatoes and onions sweat overnight. (Quite a lot of water comes off the tomatoes especially - so use a large bowl)

Place sweated tomatoes and onions into large saucepan. Just cover with malt vinegar. Bring to boil. Boil for 5 minutes.

Mix curry powder and dried mustard in a little liquid from the saucepan, add this mixture and thee sugar and chillies to the pan.

Boil, stirring fairy constantly for somewhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour.

The time depends on the size of the tomato chunks, the ripeness of the tomatoes, the amount of vinegar used, how hard you boil.

To tell when it is ready:

1) it has to reduce

2) the bits of onion should no longer be white

3) non of the tomatoes should look fresh or uncooked

4) the colour should be reddish brown - more brown than red

5) the consistency should not be as sticky as jam, but it should have reduced enough to feel "dense" when you stir with the wooden spoon. Like jam, the tomato and onion should stay on the spoon when lifted.

6) The surface should have a slight sheen.

Pour into clean warm jars. Sterilise as per your favourite method.

Serve with: Anything.

Oh, and here is my latest dishcloth.

Oh, and I almost trod on a brown snake today at the community garden. oops.
Oh, and some $#@#*& #^@&* cut the fence of the community garden to break in overnight. Sucko kiddo - we don't keep the mower there anymore. Hope you get tetanus from the fence buddy.

Oh, and here is my Zuc Bread. We are living on this stuff atm. Yum yum. I want some RIGHT NOW.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Settling In

The bees are settling in well. I didn't get to see Queen Atalia today, but Eric did. Apparently she is unusually (and delightfully) orange. By the time I got home, Eric had put in two extra frames of brood in various stages of hatching. This will give her colony a little kick along in the population stakes. She will also be able to start laying in the empty drawn out cells. It is a very little swarm and she has a big challenge ahead to produce enough daughters to get enough honey to last the winter.
The bees are very quiet. We opened up the hive again so I could see what was going on - Imagine, all that safety gear in the cupboard inside with me fishing about in her hive in my civvies. It was amazing and I am so grateful to Eric for taking me under his wing. The girls buzzed around a little but were very accommodating and indulgent of us. Eric pointed out the newly hatched "fuzzy bear" workers with their flat unpacked wings. Queen Atalia was apparently on the inside of the box before - so I didn't get to see her. At this early stage, the bees are very very quiet and friendly. They are all Queen Atalia's sisters rather than daughters at this early stage. It will be interesting to see if there is any change once Queen Atalia's daughters start dominating the hive.
This weekend Eric the bee herder will come back with some drawn out comb and a full size box so we can transfer everyone out of the nucleus box into their permanent brooder box, and so that Queen Atalia has lots of drawn out comb ready for eggs.
The photo shows some worker bees returning to the hive.

Monday, February 23, 2009

All Hail the Queen!

omg omg omg omg omg omg omg omg omg omg


I am not sure what her name is - is it Queen Atalia?

So like, I was at Yoga/Meditation class tonight, and suddenly at about 6:30pm, all I could think about was BEES BEES BEES. After the class, I pottered along to the garden, picked some tomatoes and landed home about 7:30pm (still thinking of bees) Mr Duck Herder took me strait out onto the front deck to show me the bees that had swarmed at my friend Eric's house today which he caught and promptly bought over to live on the front deck - AT 6:30!!!

I am SWOONING with joy. Do you think she will like me? I forgot to mention that over the weekend I finally got it together to go out to Murrumbateman to buy a bee suit / space suit / fencing suit. And a smoker and a hive tool and some gloves. You see, I LOVE bees, I am just highly respectful of them, and I know that they will like me more, and be more accommodating of my clumsy tendings if I feel safe and calm and secure and totally UN BEAR LIKE.

Thus the suit.

Welcome Queen Atalia.

I will try my very very best to look after you and serve you well as your humble servant.

I love you already.

PS, Your Royal Highness, Eric informs me that if you could perhaps just persevere until Wednesday, he will bring you some more combs full of honey and nectar and stuff. My Queen, if that is to your liking.

PPS, I love you.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

relishing the garden

First things first. Tomato Relish made - tick.

Zucchini Bread in oven - tick

So like, I was at the checkout buying some malt vinegar and keens mustard and curry powder and the woman in front of me said "Looks like you are going to be busy - what are you making?" "Tomato Relish" I said. We god talking and she got so excited when I said i boil everything up in the vacola to preserve it - no mucking about with sterilizing bottles n all. It seems her grandmother used a vacola and we talked about preserving fruit and jams and relished and the like. Well, she is off to search the internets for a vacola RIGHT NOW. Very cool. She said THANK YOU for INSPIRING ME.

Another friend said to me the other day "You know, food is getting so expensive - I think we will have to be like you and grow our own food" "HOORAY" I replied. But it got me thinking.

On the one hand, I am not sure we SAVE money by growing our own food. But on the other, there is no way we could AFFORD or even BUY the beautiful luscious food that we eat. What price for nutrient dense, pesticide, fungicide and herbicide free food? Mr Duck Herder and I EAT LIKE KINGS

You can't even BUY an organic, freshly picked, loved and sung over Black Krim or Brandy Wine tomato - no matter how rich you are. Our tomatoes are so fresh and delicate and huge they have to be picked so carefully and not even BREATHED on unless they split.

I have probably picked and processed 5kg of blackberries, and snacked on another 2kg while out running or walking each morning. Our raspberries are so sweet and luscious. Last night, at my MILs house for dinner, I tried some commercially grown frozen raspberries - they were inedible - sour and tough. Who wants to eat those?

And what about the dirty dozen? They are a good reminder that pretty much ALL commercially grown veggies and fruit contain chemical residues. They are also grown in sick soil. They can not be in any better health that the poor soil they are grown in. Who wants to pay to eat those?

For an interesting list of foods in descending order of chemical residues, see here. It is certainly a good place to start in terms of thinking about which foods to grow or source organically.

And if you think this doesn't apply to Australia - remember the choice magazine study that found banned fungicides and residues far in excess of allowable levels in strawberries? This one in particular upsets me - I never eat strawberries from the shop, how can you once you have tasted home grown ones, but so many folks feed them to their children, understandably thinking they are healthy.

Can't afford to grow our own food? Well, I don't think I can afford not to.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Morning Tour

This is the path up to the chooks/ducks/glass house/veggies.

That huge box alder shades the duck yard - which they enjoy very much. This tree got very badly burnt in the 2003 fires, so it is still a weird shape, but I love it.

The garden looks so lush, but really all you can see are drought tolerant natives - lamandras, kangaroo apples, wattles up the back and those other palmy looking things whose names I have forgotten.

And here are the stars of the garden. Miriam, Tabatha Jemima and Amelia. Miriam and TJ are quite old now - perhaps 4 or 5. They are moulting atm, so are looking a bit drab.

And here is the salad garden. We pick a huge salad out of here every day. The bird netting is to keep most of the birds off the lettuce, and to try and keep the brown snake out of the garden. His favourite place is under the mulch near the rosemary bush in the top right hand corner. So far so good.

And here is a peak in the glass house. Organised chaos. Notice the toilet roll seedling containers.

There is asparagus there ready for planting out this winter, some golden kiwi fruit seedlings and some banana passion fruit seedlings. Oh and of course, my pine nut seedlings waiting for a new home.

A closer look at a gold kiwi fruit seedling. I saved the seeds from some store bought gold kiwis, put them in the fridge for a few weeks and then voila! They take a while to germinate though - you have to be patient. And then even more patience is required to find out if they are girls or boys. I wish there was an easy way to tell at this stage. It feels good through, propagating something that is probably patented.

Here's one I prepared earlier! Perhaps 2 years old? It has really struggled in the heat and wind this year.

And how are those other kiwis going?

Look OK to me.

I started making tomato relish this evening. The tomatoes and onions are sweating atm. I think it will look nice with all those black krims in the mix.

that's all.

Good night.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday Stuff

free embroidery design from

Well the duck herder is officially famous. yup. I have made it into "Inside Waste" magazine. Actually the project is famous. But still, it is the little things. There is nothing like finding folks who get the whole organics back into agriculture closing the loop thing. I think the editor liked the fact that I confessed to loving compost windrows perhaps more than anything. Luckily he didn't print that bit.

In other news, finally finally the tomatoes cometh in more than dribs and drabs. A WHOLE buckets worth yesterday. Now that's more like it. Enough of blackberry jam - bring on the relish! Last year was the year of the Brandywine. This year it's all about the Ukraine and surrounds. Today we give thanks for Black Krims and Black Russians and all the other gorgeous purple, green, black and dark burgundy tomatoes. Naturally we also give thanks for vodka - the other special thing from the Ukraine. Oh, we also give thanks to the Ukraine for half my beloved's genetic material.

The garden is loving us atm. We havnt bought veggies or fruit for weeks and week. I have the most AMAZING salads each day. There are two chooks laying now so we have eggs.

The young chooks are maturing nicely. The Big Fella is definitely a girl faverolle - probably too darkly marked for the standard, plus wrong number of toes, but she is lovely and sweet and quiet. I declare her an excellent introduction to the breed and I look forward to trying again next year to get a few more faverolle eggs to hatch at great expense and extravagance.

Poor old Charlotte the oldest crankiest red chook is feeling a bit down atm. She goes through stages where she gets all droopy, her perky comb goes all blue at the ends and she just sits on the back door mat all day in a bit of a daze. In the past this has lasted a week or so, and just when I think she is at deaths door (as well as the back door) she perks up, colours up and gets on with it. She is old. She has had a good life and I am OK with her drifting along a bit in her dotage. I wish she wouldn't crash tackle the silkie and pull out her pom pom feathers though - it is so MEAN.

The last of the baby ducks have gone their new home. Well, the last two drakes have gone to live with Mario untill they are fat enough for the pot anyway. So finally Miriam is back with his girls and a certain calm as returned to the backyard.

I have a secret project happening - I am crocheting a jumper. There is no pattern, except for a conceptual idea of how a one piece top down raglan jumper can be constructed from one piece of string and a crochet hook. The colours are a bit crazy, but as a prototype it has been a good experience. It has been hard to stay focused on one big project - my mind and hands want to grab different colours and make small projects such as tea cosys and beanies. But I am gently persevering.

And in the continuing vein of doing things that don't involve my brain unless I am being paid, I found this cute free embroidery design from which I am planning on trying to sew onto a plain food cover keep the flies off thingy forgotten what they are called. I wish my Nanna was still alive - she would be so proud of all my fruit growing, the veggies, preserving and crocheting and feeble attempts at embroidery. I miss you Nanna. The older I get the more I become like you and that is only a good thing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

home again

Big week last week. Three days in Condobolin. Weather weirdly cool - which was nice - I was dreading working out on the landfill in 45 plus heat! Came back exhausted. Those 5 hour road trips after 4 hour meetings really take it out of me. But it was a good trip and I am so lucky to work with such wonderful folks.

On the way home the biggest hippy and I stopped to pick roadside peaches near Grenfell. These I bottled yesterday. Today I bottled blackberries! And made some blackberry and peach jam out of the leftovers.

Anyhoo, the garden was still there when I got back. Above is my little harvest from this morning. And below, how lovely are all these heirloom tomatoes. I love the black krims - mostly because they are Ukrainian - same as Mr Duck Herder.

I think I need a new label to capture the whole free wild food thing in homage to the blackberries and wild peaches.

Friday, February 6, 2009

29 bottles of jam on the wall...

So if your gunna get hot, you may as well get REALLY hot. This morning I got up early and picked almost 3 kg of blackberries and spent most of the day (after a most enjoyable airconditioned brunch with da family at A Bite to Eat) cooking up two batches of blackberry and one batch of plum jam.

All in all 29 bottles. It looks like 3 didnt vacum seal, so I will rebottle and then put them through the vacolla again tomorrow. The rest are all fabulous with little sucky down lids.

The biggest hippy found me a whole basket of second hand jars with perfect lids at revolve and I ended up buying some lovely ones over the internets.

While on the one hand the temperature got to 34 degrees inside today before dropping to 33, outside the temperature was over 40 so I guess we can't complain too much!

Does anyone remember Michelle Shocked's Strawberry Jam song? Get out the giutars (YEE HAAA)

Saturday morning found me itching

To get on over to my grandma's kitchen

[And what you gonna do, honey]

The sweetest little berries was cooking up right

And then we'd put them in a canning jar and seal them up tight

We were making jam

[What kind?]

Strawberry jam, that's what kind

[Aw, the good kind]

Yeah, if you want the best jam

You gotta make your own

We have Smucker's, Welches, Knotts Berry Farm

But a little homemade jam never did a body no harm

A little local motion is all we need

To close down these corporate jam factories

We'll be making jam

Strawberry jam, mmmm-mm

If you want the best jam

You gotta make your own

(Make that jam Doc, show 'em how it's done)

Yeah, we have a little revolution sweeping the land

Now once more everybody's making homemade jam

So won't you call your friends up on the telephone

You invite 'em on over, you make some jam of your own

You'll be making jam

Strawberry jam

If you want the best jam

You gotta make your own

(Go on Jerry, let the jelly roll)

(Jerry's makin' jam)

(That's Mark O'ConnorHe likes jam too)

[Aw yeah, as sweet as strawberry jam, honey]


Saturday morning found me itching

To get on over to my grandma's kitchen

Where the sweetest little berries were cooking up right

And then we'd put them in a canning jar and seal them up tight

We was making jam

Strawberry jam, that's what kind

If you want the best jam

You gotta make your own

Aw, one more time

Oh, makin' that jam

Yeah, Strawberry jam

If you want the best jam

You gotta make your own

Thursday, February 5, 2009

grown up heat wave

the nice thing about being a grown up in a heat wave is that you can have ice cream and pink sprinkles for dinner, wash it down with an icy cold alcoholic ginger beer followed by another (bowl of ice cream AND beer that is).

green hippy dilemma #1: Is the carbon footprint of a daily ice cream and cold beer allowance in an otherwise relatively frugal existence smaller or larger than the carbon footprint of getting a split system air conditioner installed for the 4 weeks of the year it is cranky hot given that really it would only get used on about 8 afternoons a year??????

Answer: the more beer you drink on a summer evening, the less likely you are to be organised enough to phone the aircon guy until the heat wave is over and the thought is gone for another 48 weeks - problem and dilemma solved. amen.

bring on the beer, oh, I mean cool change. *hick**

Monday, February 2, 2009

monday postscript

Question: Getting out of bed in the morning and stepping on chook poo with bare feet before you are even fully awake is an indication that:

a) you accidentally fell asleep in the chook house
b) your beloved left the back door open again yesterday while hanging out the washing and that bastard red chook Charlotte got lost on her way to the cat bowl
c) that bastard red chook Charlotte was just checking out the rest of the house on the way to or back from the cat bowl
c) Charlotte is a bastard red chook
d) my feathered friends are taking over my life and making a move on the house
e) Charlotte is a bastard
f) we are bad bad parents with no boundaries
g) its probably time to get the carpet cleaned again
g) all of the above

everywhere but here

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I love blackberries

One nice thing about all this hot hot hot weather - the blackberries are coming along nicely. My picking rate has increased to 2kg / hour as more and more berries ripen.

The love affair with blackberry jam continues. Call them a weed. Love 'em or hate em. But I LOVE 'em. Today I made almost 2 liters of jam using a new recipe. Easy peasy not too sweet chunky cooked in a few minutes and processed in the vacola.

Blackberry Jam


1600gm blackberries

24 grams citrus pectin**

800 gm sugar*


Wash and sort blackberries.

Place in large saucepan. Mush up a little with wooden spoon.

Add pectin

Bring quickly to boil.

Add sugar, bring to boil again and hard boil for 1 minute while stiring

Pour into clean jars

Seal and process in vacola. ( I process EVERYTHING in the vacola for one hour starting with cold water)

But I am out of jam jars and there are still so many more blackberries out there.......
*basically half the weight of whatever fruit you have.
**Pectin quantities as per instructions on packet (in this case, 8gm for every 500 gm fruit)