Summer's here...

29 October, 2012

Or at least it feels close enough. What says summer more than strawberries?

(Except maybe tomatoes... But until then it'll be strawbs!)

Environmental concerns...

26 October, 2012

I'm going out on a bit of a limb here, as this post doesn't really fit in with why I started this blog.

But the current draft appendix to the new Dietary Guidelines for Australians (a guideline which is essential to my work as a dietitian) which includes a section on an environmentally sustainable food supply - The Australian Dietary Guidelines through an Environmental Lens - has recently been under attack from industry groups. Said industry groups have worked hard to ensure this wasn't included in the original draft guidelines, and now appear to be lobbying to ensure this appendix document is dropped as well.

Community Affairs Legislation Committee - 17/10/2012 
 Liberal New South Wales Senator in Senate Estimates Committee
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: How do you respond to the criticism—say, from various industry people—that environmental considerations did not have any place in dietary guidelines?
Prof. Anderson : I think the first thing I would like to emphasise is that there have been such environmental considerations in the Australian dietary guidelines for a long time, including—
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: But not the predominant feature of the guidelines, Professor Anderson. I think that is really where the public criticism has come—that it is more environment than dietary.
Prof. Anderson : I do not think there will be anything more about environment in the new version than in this version, the previous one, really. There is a whole separate section in this one at the back, and this will be just an appendix—I think a fair critic would say less free-ranging than the previous version.
Ms Halton : That was a terrible pun, Mr Anderson.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: 'Free ranging'! Yes!
Ms Halton : Dreadful.
Prof. Anderson : I usually get some rebuke from the secretary.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I always think 'diet' is 'die' with a T!
 Prof. Anderson : I would just make the point that I made before: that we think it would be unreasonable to leave health professionals—these guidelines are for health professionals—hanging when their clients ask about this. We hear from them frequently, and so much of the feedback says, 'You've really got to do something here; you've got to include some comment about how the individual guidelines—"Eat more of this; eat less of that"—affect environmental concerns.' What our expert committee has said is that eating in accord with the Australian Dietary Guidelines is itself minimising impact on the environment. So the clinical guidelines themselves do that. But I do think that it is an entirely reasonable thing for health professionals to expect some guidance from us so that they can give that to their clients.

If you think (as I do) that this appendix is an essential part of our national guidelines, then please provide this feedback to the NHMRC (who produce these documents). Many dietitians are writing their own submissions, but I think community opinion is essential to ensure that industry isn't the loudest voice in this discussion.

My feedback will include the following:
  • Although I congratulate the NHMRC for responding to feedback and developing this Appendix, I am disappointed that this information was not included in the body of the document because protecting the environment is the key to a sustainable food supply.
  • As a dietitan, I agree with the statement made in the draft ADG that “Increasingly, Australians are seeking advice from health [including dietitian-nutritionists] and medical practitioners about food choices and their possible impact on the environment”. For this reason, the inclusion of environment into the ADGs is vital to assist nutrition experts to provide evidence-based information to the public on this topic.
  • Communication of environmental messages relating to food choices to the public is important. I would recommend that the information included in the ADG (in the text or as an appendix) is used in the development of the companion resources for the general public. My preference would be to include this within the mainstream documents; however, a separate resource on eating for environmental sustainability would also be useful. 

The draft appendix and full details on how to make a submission can be found here. Consultation close on Friday 2nd November.

Now I will get off my soapbox, I promise.

Long intended recipes...

25 October, 2012

Do you have cookbooks filled with little page markers, and endless sheets of photocopied recipes that you loved the idea of, or handwritten copies of recipes of foods that you tasted and just HAD to have the recipe for, but have never made?

I do.

And today I finally made one.

This one comes from Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie at Home' series, of which there are sadly only two seasons (to my knowledge), where he goes around his Sussex home garden and talks about the vegies with his gardener Brian, and then makes delicious meals based on said veg. I love it! I have it on DVD and its top crap-weather or I-can't-be-bothered-doing-anything watching.

The recipe (among many more I intend to make... one day...) is a kind of Spicy Broad Bean Falafel. Instead of using chickpeas, he uses broad beans. And even though I'm not that much of a fan of broad beans, this one took my fancy.

This week I've been picking the first few of the broad beans, and so I decided to try and make it.

However on getting into the garden, there weren't as many broad beans (some are hiding under the lettuce) as there were peas that really needed to be picked as they were on the verge of getting too big and starchy.

So I decided they would now be Pea and Broad Bean Spiced Falafels.
  • 250g broad beans or peas, or a mix thereof
  • Handful of herbs (I used parsley and mint, as my coriander is still at seedling stage)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • Salt/Pepper
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • Oil for frying (why do I keep posting recipes where I fry foods? Really, I don't eat this way all the time. But that said I believe in the moderate fat diet, and use sunflower oil for frying, so at least it's a polyunsaturated fat.)
Pod your broad beans and/or peas. While you do this, place half a cm of oil in a saucepan on a medium heat. Because once you've finished podding, the rest takes mere seconds.

Place all the ingredients except flour and oil in a food processor. Whiz until well blended.

Add the flour and mix well. The mixture will look a little gloopy, but it will be ok.

Shape teaspoons of mixture by passing it between spoons. Youtube making quenelles if you're unsure, but really you could plod the stuff in the pan and I doubt you'd have any problems. I decided to do it the Jamie way and quenelle.

Place the formed mixture into the hot oil and fry until they almost look burnt.

They will be very dark brown when they're done. But if you only cook them to light brown they will be soggy, which is not what you want!

Though they are very dark outside, inside they retain their luminous green colour.

Serve on a bed of salad, with a lemony yoghurt dressing.

I reckon they'd make excellent snacking food.

That's one intended recipe down, and many, many more to go.

Rethinking apples...

23 October, 2012

One of the things I most love about gardens is that they are never finished. They are always evolving.

And at the moment it is the apples that are about to experience a revolution.

Some of the first trees I planted here were the apples. I came across Woodbridge Fruit Trees somehow (I now can't remember where I read about them) and it was from them that I bought my first apple trees. The thing that sold me is that most of their trees are sold on M26 rootstock, which is one of the more dwarfing rootstocks available. M26 rootstock trees grow to about 2-2.5m high, but more importantly, are suitable for espaliering. Most of your average Bunnings variety apple trees are sold on M111 or MM106 that grow to about 3-4m trees. Great if you want lots of one type of apple. Not so good for me when I love variety and want one of everything, which is not possible when there are thousands of varieties of apples, but I can try.

I originally bought three trees, but this has now expanded to a collection of 37 trees. I know, crazy! 22 of them are espaliered in the 'orchard'. Here is a snippet of the main espalier area, where 17 are (or were to be) trained in a horizontal style. Each bed has varieties that ripen at about the same time, and I've chosen ones that ripen from January to July.

Here is the St Edmund's Pippin, which is the most advanced in this style so far.

While this one has taken to the horizontal espalier style well, it may have peaked too early. Many of the other trees have grown much straighter, and as the supports of star pickets and wires were only finished in winter this year, have yet to be properly trained. However I have been lazy and not yet cut them back to the lowest wire so they can start branching out and I can start tying down the first horizontal branches.

And now it appears my laziness may come to good purpose.

Now I love farmers markets (this may seem like a change of subject, but bear with me). Over the winter months at a couple of markets I've seen a few nurseries selling fruiting plants, which I have steadily avoided as I don't need the temptation of more plants. Ignorance is bliss! But last month at the Slow Food market at Abbotsford Convent I got drawn into looking at some plants. And joy of joys I came across M26 rootstock apples. Now of course I had to look at what they had, and found an Orleans Reinette, which I had heard of as a particularly good apple. Of course I had to buy it. Whoops, that makes 38 trees. My bad.

But it appears all is not lost. On talking to the purveyor of these fine trees, I got to chatting about how I was going to fit this extra tree in, and he told me about his espaliered trees (of which he has around 300, which makes my poor effort seem insignificant) which he has trained as a single cordons.


Instead of branching out wide, these are trained as a single stem on an angle. He plants them about half a meter apart and gets about 30kg of apples from each (advanced) tree.

I thinks I will be emulating this system. If I retrain my espaliers in this style, I'll not only have less work to train them, but will also be able to fit in more trees. Sold! I will have to think about how I will adapt the current wire system, but will post progress as I go. I'm thinking I can fit around 10 more trees in this space with this system. This excites me to no end.

The other three espaliered trees will remain the same. These are the first apples I bought (a Sundowner, Fuji and Grand Duke Constantine) are espaliered in the KNNN (Knee, Navel, Nipple, Nose) style which I read about on the Woodbridge website, which has heaps of great articles.

These are now on their third year. They fruited for the first time last year, and I have high hopes of more apples this year.

Another four apples are free standing M26 rootstock trees so they won't grow big, and another two are cider apples which are on M111 rootstock so they will take up a bit of room, but I can handle that. 

The other 11 are stepovers bordering the backyard garden beds. Stepovers are grown on even more dwarfing rootstock (M9) which will grow around 1.5m high as a tree. However they are mainly trained as a single low horizontal branch, i.e. low enough to 'step over' hence the name.

The stepovers were bought last year, and are going great guns. The new branches, which are just visible on the left side of the photo, will be tied down as they grow to continue along the wire.

But amazingly, they have actually flowered and look like they will set fruit.

Which is, after all, the point.

Glut of artichokes...

16 October, 2012

A while back gardenglut posted about perennial veg, where Nina made a comment requesting simple artichoke recipes. Well Nina, here is my humble suggestion: Artichoke Risotto.

Once you've picked your artichokes (and some purple podded peas that are just crying out to be picked, as the case may be) get ready for some mega chopping.

But before you do that, have a bowl of water with a whole lemon juiced into it, ready for the chopped artichokes to go into (so they don't oxidise and go brown and disgusting looking).

I chop the artichokes on one side until you get to the nice cream/yellow flesh. Then keep chopping all the way around.

After that, chop the stem end bit, retaining as much stem as possible. Some people peel it, but I can't be bothered. Then chop off the top bit. 

While chopping, beware of hitchhikers.

I chose to chop the finished artichokes in half.

Then they immediately went into the lemon spiked water.

You will be left with an inordinant amount of artichoke scraps. Always a great addition to the compost.

Now that your artichokes are prepared, gather the rest of your risotto ingredients. I used:
  • Risotto rice - about 3/4 cup
  • 8 artichokes
  • Handful of spring onions
  • Handful of thyme
  • 3 segments of preserved lemons
  • About 4 cups chicken stock
  • Optional parmesan cheese

Feel free to skip over this bit if you are confident in your risotto making skills. Really, if you can make one flavoured risotto, you can make them all.
Brown onion in some oil. Stir in the rice, finely chopped artichokes, finely diced preserved lemon and thyme.

Slowly add the stock ladle by ladle, stirring intermittently, until the rice is cooked through.

Add a mountain of microplane'd parmesan cheese, if you wish.

Serve with fresh peas scattered over, or any other additional glutting vegetable you need to use up.

Can anyone else offer other uses for artichokes? Tis always good to have new ideas.

Morning meander...

14 October, 2012

As I have previously mentioned, I do love a morning meander around the garden. My preferred time is Sunday mornings, which are my least hectic morning of the week, and just perfect for some quality time in the garden. There's something special about the garden first thing in the morning when the first light hits the plants and the leaves are glistening with dew.

The nectarines (variety Ziablagrow Queen Giant - well that's what the label said) are slowly swelling. The ones under the leaves are staying green, but those in the sun have already acquired a lovely red colour.

The grape vine is on the move. I have no idea what variety it is, or even if its meant to be a wine grape or eating grape, as it was here when I moved in. Either way I love its gnarled wood, and I have got some reasonably palatable fruit off it.

The asparagus is being nibbled by something. I have no idea what. Given its not just down at ground level, but on the half grown stalks too (I've been lazy with picking this year), there may be more than one offender.

Still in the 'orchard' the whitecurrant and redcurrant are setting fruit. I will definitely be needing to get the nets out soon. Last year I didn't get a single currant, red or white.

The gooseberry is also setting fruit - this one is either Champion or Roaring Lion. I put the labels in the ground next to the plants but they have been frequently dug out by animals, so I can't be sure which is which. But as one has green fruit and the other turns red when ripe, I hope someday soon I'll be able to work it out.

Now moving onto the veggie patch, the garlic has started to get a touch of black aphid.

They will be getting Gavin's treatment, as he said it was quite effective.

Moving on, the peas (variety Greenfeast) have stopped flowering.

That said they still have some peas filling out on the plants.

Almost ready to pick are the broad beans. They have been a bit slow for me this year, but that's ok as I prefer peas to broad beans. I only eat broad beans when young, so these are just about ready.

Luckily there are more coming.

Moving onto the front yard the cherry tree (variety Stella) has lots of little fruits forming. Yay! After the cherry disaster last year I can see more netting that will need to be done, and done early.

Strawberries are forming (variety Cambridge Rival, and by far the tastiest I've tried).

But wait, what's that...

It's not quite ready to pick, so I've used temporary protection.

Artichokes are threatening to glut. Almost time for my favourite way to use too many artichokes; artichoke risotto. Maybe tomorrow...

The white mulberry is fruiting for the first time, and there appears to be thousands of tiny fruits.

Will mulberries drop excess fruit, or should I be doing a happy dance in anticipation? If anyone out there with a mulberry tree can advise it would be greatly appreciated.

The onion bed finally looks like it actually has some plants in it, rather than some random whisps of green.

But wait, whats this???!!

About 5 watermelon seeds have germinated amongst the onions, as this was the watermelon bed last year. I can't believe they've germinated outside, as only two of the six varieties I've sown inside have germinated. Although we did have those few unseasonably warm days a couple of weeks back. I think I will start sowing some experimental seeds outside, and see how they go.

Given the green peas are slowing to a halt, seeing the purple podded peas still going great guns cheers my heart.

And FINALLY three more of my cauliflowers have decided to join the party and fruit. They are still tiny, but I'm excited that the plants weren't a complete waste of space.

Also on the fruit front, the raspberries are forming. Last years' fruit and veg challenge documentation shows that the first fruit was in the second week of November. So I think I have a little time before I get the nets out, but I'll need to keep an eye on them.

The beetroot plants going to seed appear to be taking over the garden. I'll have to pull out the ones growing over the path. There's no way I'll need that much beetroot seed.

Moving around to the backyard, the peach tree (variety Anzac) has its first tiny fruits. I'll have to wait and see how the tree holds up, as I'm a bit scared that when the fruit swells it might break the newly formed and not very sturdy branches.

One of the backyard cherries is being attacked by snails.  This one is planted right next to the agapanthus, and there are few plants that are greater harbourers of snails than agapanthus.

I think I need to cut back the leaves of agapanthus that touch the cherry, so the snails can't just hitch a ride right onto the tasty, tender new cherry leaves. 

The fig is forming its springtime fruit. I get two crops off these figs, one on tips of the old wood in spring, and one on new growth later in summer/autumn.

Most of these will be given away, as I don't like figs that much, but I may make some fig chutney. It makes a nice fig into a thing of great deliciousness, especially with pork or duck. When I make it next I'll post the recipe.

And lastly, a new addition to the garden. Meet the evergreen blueberries. A comment from Liz a while back alerted me to these plants; I always thought blueberries were deciduous. But after chatting about it with the lovely blueberry grower at the farmers markets that I go to (he's at a few of them) I bought two evergreen blueberries, as they need each other for effective pollination.

Apparently they fruit later than deciduous blueberry types, so this should extend the harvest. These are going into the ground along the back fence where I just pulled out a lantana plant that was nice and covered the ugly fence, but I'd rather have something that gives me fruit as well, and being evergreen I'll never need to look at the ugly fence again. Double win!