Pumpkin, a currency of gratitude

Sometimes in life, funny little things happen.

Like organising your parent-in-law’s holiday and accidentally flying them into a different city than stated, booking family accommodation for a stopover night in the wrong town, driving home without your lights on, or maybe driving home with your shoes on the roof etc. etc.

When there is a fairly lengthy supply of funny little things like that happening on a regular occurrence, well the day you throw your keys up on top of the roof of the house. It just feels like another day.

It was another day. Another day without my house keys.

When I asked a few people if by chance they had access to, say, maybe a cherry-picker? Most people followed that up by what the hell? How on earth did that even happen??

Mysteriously, that’s how. It was like a tiny winged elf grabbed hold of the said keys and whoosh, up they went. Right up to the top of the roof of the house.

Thankfully I had a spare set. (Which mind you, is only a new edition as I had got them cut after losing the same keys that were now on the roof. Where were they that time I hear you ask? Well to keep a ridiculous story brief, after 24 hours, lets just say they were under my nose all long.)

However they weren’t now. They were definitely 8 metres off the ground in an unseen guttering system attached to a questionable roof in the dark, with heavy rain now predicted.

I sighed.

The kids yelled in excitement and then we proceeded 10 different fairly useless methods of getting them back.

The keys weren’t budging. I couldn’t even guarantee they were there. I couldn’t hear them, or see them, but surely there was no other option right? For them not to be there, would be as crazy as arriving into a town for the night with all your tired family only to find out you had actually booked somewhere three hours south.

Of course that’s where the keys were. Which is how my lovely inventive neighbour managed to get them the following day. I’d asked for any suggestions he might have in retrieval. He assessed the situation, then disappeared into his garage for a time, rigging up a far more solid contraption then my broom-wire-coat-hangers contraption, and after 20 or so minutes of poking?

Jingle jangle.

I hugged him with glee, pocketed the keys carefully and then gave him my current currency of gratitude. A pumpkin. While there are many currencies in which to say thank you so much for your time, thoughtfulness and energy. Home grown pumpkin is my current numero uno. They have been prized possessions, something grown with a lot of love and contentment over the summer months and are now sitting in storage ready to be eaten or passed onto with basketfuls of thanks as deemed warranted.

And boy was it warranted. As along with being able to access your own front door, you can’t put a price on wonderful neighbours who show unending kindness now can you.

Educating your ears

The last couple of months it’s been all about the podcasts. And I mean ALL about the podcasts. Sure I’d listened to some here and there before but not quite at the rate I’m flying through them at the moment, (on reflection, it’s probably something to do with having three kids at school for the first time, yes ever- my ears are ready!)

Now, if I missed something interesting on the radio, I can catch up. If I have a particular subject I’d like to get to know a whole lot better there are generally oodles to choose from.

While there are some fantastic podcasts to choose from there are some eye crossing ones that simply don’t work for me and generally I’ll find the stop button fairly quickly. I’m all for giving most things a fair crack, but there is no point in listening to something that doesn’t resonate, I value that time and want to make sure I’m using it wisely. Educating my ears has been very enjoyable.

A few favourites in the last few months.

Conversations with Richard Fidler: so many varied topics in here.

A Small Voice: interviews with photographers.

Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert: creativity and all her shades.

Chat 10 Looks 3: Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales talk about art, books, politics and everything in between in an intelligent and funny way.

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What are some of your favourite podcasts to listen to at the moment?

Contemplating Cumquat Marmalade

Making a large batch of cumquat marmalade is a perfect time for deep contemplation. Not so much of the fruit themselves, but using the opportunity to completely dissolve into the task of cutting the flesh open, separating the pips, and cooking it up.

It’s a long labour of love if you have cumquats like mine, with small balls of juicy tart fruit that are filled with those pectin producing seeds. You need them out, but you also need them to set your marmalade. Cut, separate, simmer, stir stir stir, test, and bottle. While there’s not a lot of room for nodding off here, you do still need to pay attention, there’s also room for having a good think.

And so the wonderful dissolving process begins.

With hands busy, the task of making marmalade that tastes like sunshine in a jar begins, and with that, like many creative and repetitive tasks- the mind is set free.

To wonder at will, delving deep into ideas that often few other tasks in any given day allow. You need these kind of activities now and then. Busy hands creating something, but also time to slow it all on down, contemplate the intricacies of life, ponder on the importance of speaking up, our moral values as a society (or maybe just how good that sunshiney marmalade is going to taste with a few squares of dark chocolate tonight.)

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This cumquat tree was originally planted as a Tree of Life.

The marmalade was loosely based around this recipe.

Lessons in Pumpkins- 10 top tips on growing and storing

Pumpkin growing lessons arrived thick a fast, starting from the multitude of pumpkin seedlings that shot out from anywhere I plonked compost. To the cutting into that first perfectly formed all rounded pumpkin body. Everything in between was all part of the ‘Pumpkin Education’.

Lesson #1 Pumpkins are EVERYWHERE

These little ladies popped up well and truly everywhere. Anywhere I put compost. There was pumpkin seedlings ready to go. Far too many for the various garden beds so I was selective and only kept the most robust looking ones to continue growing. They are heavy feeders, so keep them going in a good amount of that compost, they’ll love you for it.

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Lesson #2 Pumpkins need SPACE

While their root system isn’t particularly extensive their runners are. They will keep reaching out, and will gently root where ever they’re running along the ground. That’s all good. Just let them do their thing.

 

Lesson #3 Male or Female FLOWERS?

It’s pretty easy to tell a male and female flower. One clearly has a small pumpkin forming beneath the flower, the other is just an elongated flower. The flowers are open for 4-6 hours generally early in the morning. With our garden beds there was ratio of 1:10 girl, boy flowers.

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Lesson #4 Female flowers are DROPPING OFF

For a variety of reasons this can happen. Too hot, not getting pollinated, not enough water? I despaired watching every single one of the small baby female pumpkins drop off. What to do? I couldn’t control the weather, I did the best that I could with keeping water up to them, and having a multitude of bees obviously circulating the garden they should have been doing the job of pollinating. But where they?

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Lesson #5 How to HAND POLLINATE

Oddly, it looks like they weren’t being pollinated. As since I started hand pollinating, I had 100% success rate with pumpkins continuing to grow past flowering stage. How to hand pollinate is easy. Take a stick, gently scrape the stamen of the male flower and rub the pollen against the female. (Or simply pluck off a male flower.)

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Lesson #6 Watch them GROW

With consecutive days being ridiculously hot over the December and January, I’m sure if I squinted a little, I could see them grow. As I didn’t know what variety I was growing initially, due to having come out of the compost, we had to hazard a guess. They looked like Kent (otherwise known as Jap) pumpkins though, which meant that approximately 100 days needed to pass until harvest time.

Lesson #7 Time to HARVEST

The pumpkin vine will start to visibly die off. The stalk around the pumpkin will harden, the colour of the pumpkin skin might change a little and if you tap the pumpkin it will sound more hollow than solid.

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Lesson #8 How to CURE and STORE

Make sure there is at about 5-10cm or so of stalk, when you cut it from the rest of the plant. You now need to cure it, which means leaving it out in a well ventaliated spot, where the skin will harden and be a natural protective layer. Gently rotating the pumpkin round a bit every few days for thorough air flow. I did pick one a little early in my eagerness to

Lesson #9 Favourite Pumpkin RECIPES

Surely the pumpkin recipe possibilities is pretty much endless? (Say that quickly 10 times!) The old favourites Pumpkin and Fetta Sausage Rolls are still, well favourites. Pumpkin dhal an easy frugal dinner, pumpkin scones and winter staple, pumpkin soup. All recipes that are simply far too hot to even contemplate at the moment (still hot, damn hot.) But the good thing is the store beautifully.

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Lesson #10 How to SAVE and STORE SEEDS

Scoop out the seeds, rinse out the gloopy bits and let them air dry really well over a couple of weeks. How you dry and store them is really important, as you don’t want any mould on them. More info on all the how’s on storing, is in a post I wrote over at Milkwood last year.

 

 

 

Voluntary Simplicity: In the Garden

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Simple living, or voluntary simplicity isn’t a new concept in this household, but it is one that gets constantly edited, it evolves and gets reassessed as needed. It’s also something that while my children have always grown up with it, as this stage of their lives I’m finding I’m explaining more of why we make certain conscious decisions, and the longer term effects of those decisions. The why we do things and not just because.

Sometimes I can feel like I’m all over it and other times it feels like I’m floating in mini version of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The good thing about that though, is despite occasional overwhelming feelings there’s always something that shifts and then counter balanced by a complete sense of fully bodied satisfaction, (and that is always a good thing.)

Just over 12 months ago we swapped small apartment inner city living for a house in a smaller city, and surrounding suburban area. It’s close to shops, schools, transport and health caregivers when needed.

Another important choice for us was to be able to grow things. So now with the multiple neighbours that I know by name, there came a fairly blank canvas space of a backyard.

Making that move meant initially we didn’t have a lot of things that we would need (like) to embark on growing a lot of our own vegetables. Wheelbarrows, spades, pitch forks etc weren’t items that I had needed to access with a previously small shared concrete city courtyard.

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To get started with our growing, somethings we bought straight up, (I knew there would be an initial outlay of items as our number one aim was to get things growing. We wanted to eat from our back door step!) Somethings were given to us, somethings passed on to us as were no longer needed by the original owners. Somethings we bought second hand, and some the things we simply borrowed.

Ultimate Goal? To be growing as much as possible utilising the space we have, keeping costs down and equipment to a bare minimum.

How did we set about it and how do we continue to manage it? (As I mentioned it’s a constantly evolving process.)

Gumtree- either bought second hand or freebies, also been great for selling things we no longer needed to keep clutter to a minimum and redirect $ to something else more useful.

Borrow- lawn mowers we borrowed two before buying our own push mower. I still get a smug sense of satisfaction of hearing virtually nothing when mowing the lawn. As more grass gets turned over for edible growing space, I’m hoping the lawn mowers use will gradually decrease.

Trade- Somethings I refused outright to get, and a whipper snipper was one of them. Borrow one sure, but I didn’t want to buy one. (Actually we never did end up borrowing one either.) Living in an area where people pride themselves on their grass care. I asked a neighbour if he would trade the occasional edging out the front for baked goods. He could sleep easier knowing our edges were looking less scruffy and my conscience was clear knowing we didn’t have a garage full of implements that might be used once in a blue moon.

Hire- And if we do change our mind on using that whipper snipper, or anything else for that matter. Well I can hire one from a household a couple of km’s away at an hourly rate from Open Shed. (Another awesome example of the share economy.)

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There will always be a juggle between keeping/finding/sourcing things that might be useful in the future, (but have no immediate use) and keeping our gardening gear to a minimum, (that’s our reality and the way we’ve chosen to do things in this period. While tools are a fairly easy decision. I’m finding more and more discarded wood finding its way in as it has the potential to be made into something else entirely. I’m ok with that, as mentioned in the beginning, it’s an evolving process. Choices are made, as opportunities present themselves.

Conscious decisions over unthinkingly just taking… this is our version of voluntary simplicity, in the garden.

Helpful links

Gumtree

Open Shed

 

 

Seasonal Eats: Mango Salsa

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It being the height of summer here in Australia at the moment, it’s hard to imagine any day that doesn’t involve hot, or at least a variation of hot. Sure I know it will eventually, it usually does but for the moment it’s all about the heat and how to get through it all without melting into a puddle.

Swimming helps, and oooh yes indeedy it does help. Swimming is divine. Feeling the silken flow of water over your body is one of the greatest things in life. I can wax lyrical on that topic from now until eternity…however it’s not about the water today.

So how else do we cope with the regularly accompanying heat of an Australian summer? Well, I’ll start by doing as little cooking as possible. Sure I still bake sourdough. It’s a baking standard round here. But if I can stretch out the days in between putting the oven on in an already hotter than hot kitchen I will.

Filling bellies is the thing though. If I don’t want to use the oven, and am trying to steer clear of any stove top cooking as well, well that leaves a little less food options when cooking from scratch.

Mango salsa, is thankfully something that doesn’t involve either the oven or stove top. Sure you probably don’t want it accompanying every meal time…but you could certainly give it a crack!

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Mango Salsa

2 mangoes, peeled, seed taken out and flesh chopped evenly

1 small spanish or brown onion, finely diced

1 small chilli, deseeded if super fiery hot, and finely diced

1 squeeze of lime

1 grated small radish

a generous handful of roughly chopped mint

pinch of salt and black pepper

Add all ingredients together and serve with chickpea pancakes if you don’t mind using the stove top, or a bowl of corn chips, and a cold drink with as many ice cubes stuffed in as possible.

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What’s your favourite way to stay cool over summer?

The Garden that Grows

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It’s 5.30am and there is a grey stillness to the morning. Although light the sun won’t properly rise for another 15 minutes or so. The quiet hour, the garden hour. It’s summer holiday period round these parts and a different rhythm that doesn’t get found often. Mornings have been spent in two ways of late. Either by the waters edge or here, in the garden.

After a year now of creating beds, building soil profiles, planting, transplanting, weeding, growing, harvesting and eating. This small city garden has just now gone through 4 seasons.

We’ve tracked shadows during the colder months, picked 10’s of kilos of tomatoes during the warm, and frowned over countless unseen critters and their impact on our growings.

This is something that has been a long time in the making. Where small potted plants gave way for a variety of raised garden beds. There are still lessons to be learnt, corners to build up, and plants to try out, but it’s a start, and a wonderful one at that. A tiny corner to take refuge from the noise of the day, a place to grow vegetables and ideas. A pocket of edible greens in an otherwise landscape of lawns.

It’s not perfect, and there are still a multitude of lumps to work through, but it’s got sun, soil, water, and enthusiasm. With that goes a multitude of possibilities.

This is the garden that grows.

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More garden posts…

…and then the slugs moved in.

Best flowers to grow for you and your bees

Compost, sharing the love

Loving…eating, cosmos and ridiculous carrots

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Loving…

Knowing how to ferment food that’s good for my gut bacteria, good for my taste buds and good for my over all health.

Loving…

The cosmos flowers that have popped up all over my backyard. Patches of colour that brighten up, well, pretty much everything.

Loving…

Ridiculous looking purple carrots that remind you…to keep it real.

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What are you loving at the moment?

[“Often life’s pleasures pass us by simply because we don’t take a moment to focus on them… Make a point of noticing everyday something that uplifts your spirit or tickles your heart… Stop to breathe in the joy of this moment and then tell someone about it. Share your joy and revel in it. When your joy is savoured, and then shared, it is magnified…” ROBIN GRILLE]

 

Best (yet) Buckwheat Pancakes

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When a gluten free diet was suggested by my well loved professional holistic caregiver, there might have been a slight whimper on my part.

Gluten, there’s no denying it. It’s delicious.

Not the actual glutenous fibres themselves but the food in which that gluten is often encased. Anyone who has been a long time reader of this blog might have subtly noticed I bake a fair chunk of the time. Mostly, because I like to keep costs down, like to feed my ravenous family with great food, and I also want to know what’s going in all those breakfasts, lunches, dinner’s, morning teas, afternoon teas, and snacks.

All sounds very wholesome and love fuelled right? Well it’s also fairly gluten based when it comes to my baking, (even if a fair chunk of it is wholemeal spelt flour based.)

So, a gluten free diet for me eh?

Well that would wipe out the two thick slices of delicious homemade sourdough in the morning then wouldn’t it?

It would probably leave out the healthy backyard vegetable salad with a tasty little pangritata on top.

It would also probably wipe out the custard tart eaten with my equally gluten loving friend with a side order of books, photography and belly laughing chitchat.

Dinner would look a little less like orechiette alle broccoli and more like…well broccoli.

But that was fine. It was just a trial to see where things were at, to see what was what and well, why was why? Something like that anyway. In a nutshell, gluten was off the menu for the next three ish weeks.

Now I knew with any changes in dietary requirements the key to success was preparation.

P.R.E.P.A.R.A.T.I.O.N.

After a gluten fuelled “see you in a bit” honorary party the night before I started, the first day arrives and I happily head to the kitchen ready to embark on all things un-glutenous. It’s Sunday which means pancakes round these parts, and the kids laid the table out in readiness. But me, what about me? What was a poor gluten-free woman to do when it’s Pancake Sunday? Wholemeal Spelt pancakes weren’t going to cut it, and it seems my very first meal was a fail first up.

I hadn’t prepared a damn thing…and I was hungry. Step two in successful dietary changes is don’t let yourself get too hungry (especially on the first day!) as it will be easy to slip into the habits of old.

I admitted defeat. Enjoyed 5 gluten filled pancakes and declared I would start at lunch.

Now what I should have done and certainly did in subsequent meals was swap the spelt flour for buckwheat.

Buckwheat Pancakes, I’ve made these countless times over the last few weeks with varying degrees of success. Some with rice flour in there as well, some with egg whites, some with ricotta, but the best and most dependable seem to be a simple ratio of egg, flour and milk. It’s nothing crazy but for my own reference I’m putting these up, best (yet) Buckwheat Pancakes.

(Also for all future references, buckwheat pancakes and lemon curd is an entirely acceptable trade off for gluten.)

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Buckwheat Pancakes

25g melted butter

1 beaten egg

1 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 tsp bicarbonate soda

1 cup milk

Whisk all ingredients together and cook in pan. Stack ’em high and eat with enthusiasm.

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growing buckwheat

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…and then the slugs moved in

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It wasn’t the first time I’d had run ins with slugs, but it was the first time I had ever grown anything in this much abundance. Not a nominal amount that had been the case when it was a potted garden in the big smoke with 1-2 hours of sunlight. No here, I had much more sunlight and things (after a few trial and errors) were actually growing.

I proudly showed several heads of lettuces off on instagram, and really it had all be pretty darn exciting watching things grow and then following that up by eating them. We even toyed with the idea of there nearly being enough to cancel our vegetable box delivery. Options like that were suddenly no longer sounding completely unachievable.

And then the slugs moved in.

One evening, dusk was snaking it’s way in and I had ventured out to the compost. Suddenly I’m stopped in my tracks by a multitude of glistening bodies, slimebagging their way along my prize winning* vegetables. Cue stampede music and old school horror music piano pieces. Those little bastards? They were everywhere.

I start picking them off. I keep picking them off. I get a container, and still keep picking them off.

Everywhere.

They are bloody everywhere. At this rate I won’t have a vegetable in sight by the end of the week. I traipse inside, slip my shoes off as they have become a little slidey from all the slug guts and declare war on the slime bags. Vowing words of action the very next day.

Except I didn’t.

I actually forgot the next day.

So when I hear a concerned voice coming in from the back door, (after a visit to the compost again) saying “…there’s a lot of slugs out there tonight!”. I write a post-it-note with a big black marker and stick it on my forehead for first thing tomorrow. Must sort that slug issue out.

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So what are your options when you have a plague of slugs stampeding across your carefully tendered urban permaculture patch?

Eggshells… you are supposed to keep them dry and the sheer amount I would need to try to make this work didn’t seem workable.

Beer traps…I have done this, but it’s simply not enough. I’d have to have a beer filled moat for this to be effective and with a wandering whippet (whom I suspect would be a bit of a light weight drinker) it’s not really a long term option either.

Ducks… I like the idea, actually I love the idea! But…I’m not there yet, and again, not sure about the whippet.

Grow extra’s… I actually do have enough lettuce to share (regrettably) with my slimebag friends, however they’ve taken more than their share and are simply not playing fair.

Slug and snail bait… nah, not going to happen.

Copper…I’d read that I could strip wires and use the copper parts as a barrier method to stop them. I didn’t have any wires, and didn’t have the time before my vegetables are reduced to stubs to go seek some to strip. A quick trip to the hardware store get’s me back home with 8 metres of copper tape. I thought about taping the beds up Mission Impossible laser style scene, but decided that’s probably overkill at this stage considering I don’t even know if these things will work. I go with the disco look instead and line the edges. Not enough of the edges but if it works**, I’ll get more and disco everywhere the slimebags lurk.

So did it work?

First night, I can’t see any slugs in the garden that had been previously looking like Bondi Beach in the middle of summer. I had wrapped the tape around all the edges. The garden beds where I had only done a portion of the tape, the bodies once again glistened in the light. So at a quick look, I’d say yes, yes it did work where I had placed the tape all the way round.

The following day was all day slug weather, the slimebags didn’t even have to wait until dusk had set, as it was so wet and bleak out there they could just munch on down, breakfast, lunch and dinner. My problem was I hadn’t finished the taping and couldn’t do it again until the garden bed edges were dry so it would adhere properly.

Once again, I go inside mumbling war cries and take off slippery shoes from slug guts.

Will the copper tape keep the suckers at bay? Not sure, to be continued folks…

In the mean time What are some of your tried and true methods for slug control? Or something you’ve tried and it didn’t work?

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*Yes, I know I haven’t actually won any awards.