Thursday, October 31, 2013

Month End Menu Planning

I am not sure if there are others like me but I end up eating all the really nice things at the beginning of the month and then when the wallet is feeling a little lighter towards the end of the month I have to get a little more...let's say...creative with my menu planning.

I still plan my meals weekly using Cozi and shopping for the bits I need for recipes as well as fresh veggies and fruit once a week. I buy all my meat, butter, grains anything else I can freeze at the beginning of the month and then do the little weekly top up on Monday.

The last week before payday is always a stretch. But I enjoy seeing what I can make with what I have on hand. This means that I look at what I have in the pantry, the garden, the fridge and the freezer and make up a "use it up" menu for the last few days running up to my monthly shop.

Because I stockpile the basics I always have sugar, flour, oats, cans and other staples on hand so this does allow some degree of freedom with what I have - it's not like we are digging the last freezer burned chicken breast from the bottom of the freezer. Although I have done my days like that as a single person trying to survive, this is not our reality now.

So once I have checked my storing spots I sit down and figure out how to do breakfast, lunch and supper for 7 days. My children each cook one night a week so I need to be extra careful to make sure that we have what we need. They are not too comfortable substituting yet unless I am with them to tell them what can replace what.

I always take the garden produce into account first. At the moment its Kale, Spinach and Asparagus that are the stars of the meals.

Next I look what needs to be used in the fridge, yoghurt, eggs, milk.

Next dive into the freezer - my son's free range meats are due in this week so I need to make space in it. All chicken from last months order needs to be used up as well as some stock bones. There is some of his delicious chicken sausage too from the amazing new farmer that he has just taken on. I also have lots of frozen blueberries my mom brought up from George.

Some of the meals that I came up with...Breakfast

Oat waffles with blueberry syrup

Banana Muffins
Healthy homemade muesli
My sister sent me a delicious book called "Salt Sugar Smoke" and I used up the Kumquats in my fridge to make Kumquat, Passion Fruit and Orange marmalade. It was an intoxicating smell that wafted out of the pot and delicious on breakfast scones.

Lunches and dinners....
Kale went into garlic and kale pasta and risotto

Spinach went into spinach and feta pies

Asparagus - Jamie's Asparagus and Potato Tart
A creative frozen blueberry and greek yoghurt
With chocolate dipped strawberries

And a sponge cake made by Miss S with our own fresh blueberries!

Month end should come around more often, it was a delicious eating week :)

Linking up at Simple Lives Thursday

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Should have listened to Mamma!

Often when I am gardening I remember things that I have read here and there or heard here and there, but there is one voice that I remember from my childhood gardening adventures, which is my Moms.

Sis and Me in the late 1970's
My mom was, and is, a spectacular gardener. My childhood home was up in Johannesburg and we lived on 1/2 acre that my mother had lovingly created, tended, nurtured and established from scratch. Mom and Dad bought the property, built the house and turned it onto our home when they were young parents.

The garden was good enough, no in fact fantastic enough, for Garden & Home Magazine. It was filled with hiding places for us as children where we had a house in the weeping willow with a table and chairs inside made from tree stumps. There were many happy hours spent there in play.

Another of my favourite places in our garden was right down in the bottom corner behind a screening bush. You could go down a flight of old railway beam stairs with dolls and spend a long time playing where no-one could find you.

We had a small section at the back of the house that my mom grew a few fruit trees. When my sister and I left home to study my mom turned this area into a very productive and impressive vegetable garden.

Messy tower
I don't think I paid much attention to her actual gardening tips as a child, but when I became a wife and mom and my heart turned to all things homemaking, I remembered a lot of her lessons.

I would like to think that while my children work with me in the garden, willingly and unwillingly at times, that even if they are not interested now, they will be able to one day draw on their memories of working by my side. My elder daughter, whose thinking is turning to her own home sooner than the rest, is my most eager helper and is the one who asks questions like: "Why did those tomatoes die?" and "Why are we mulching?" etc.

Back in 2010 Superman and Son made me a herb tower in their own design. It has gone through the seasons and because it is right outside my kitchen door it has summer cooking herbs planted in it normally. In winter it is in full shade for almost the whole day, but oregano and marjoram struggle on through the lack of sun.

All tidy!

At the end of last winter I planted some mint in there. This is when I remembered Mom's advice of never planting mint in the ground - always in a pot, under a tap. But I didn't heed her advice in my haste and the mint has gradually spread out and by the beginning of spring it had taken over the whole tower. Mint is one of those herbs that give prolifically and so much more that you can ever use. So it really needs only a smallish pot to grow in for all year round use.

Today we pulled out everything expect the Oregano and Marjoram and started the herb tower over again. Old soil was removed, new soil, compost and a little cocopeat added. I planted in some teeny tiny coriander and basil seedlings I started two weeks ago, as well as some dill and chive seeds. I stuck queen squash seedling in one corner which will spread across the paving through summer.

Caring for your mint is really simple. It will get root bound in the pot and you can just tip the whole plant out when it looks all woody, chop the mass in half with a spade, add new soil and plop the half back into the pot. I also give it a good hair cut when it is woody and within a week or two you will get new tender green shoots for cooking, salads, mint teas and summer cool drinks.

Recently regenerated mint
And the other half? Well why not pot it up too and give it to a friend when it has a new set of leaves? Sharing is caring after all :)

Thursday, October 24, 2013 say what?

On a whim, yes, a real whim, I ordered some Kohlrabi from Wild Organics last week. I have never eaten it but have always admired it bulbous stem and wondered what it tastes like. More on that in a bit!

I ordered 4 bulbs and then they sat and stared at me until I got going with my weeks menu planning and they were looking like they needed cooking. So in my new "no waste" policy I decided to see if I could make a bake of sorts with them.

I had heard they taste like broccoli, so I thought of all the nice flavours that go with brassicas - smoked bacon, nutmeg, parsley, cream...yes!

These were turned into a delicious dish that was quick to make after peeling the awkward shaped vegetables...

Kohlrabi is indeed part of the Brassica family so it falls into a winter vegetables for my climate. The stem is the swollen part that you can see in the photo on the left. This is the edible part. If the leaves were fresher and perhaps more of them, I would have used them in a cabbage type meal.

So this is the recipe:

4 large kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and cubed
A large bunch of parsley
2 cloves of garlic
A packet free range bacon
3 egg yolks
250ml cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
Dry chilli flakes
Parmesan cheese

Melt a tablespoon of butter, add the two crushed cloves of garlic and fry lightly. Add the chopped bacon and cook well.

Add the cubed kohlrabi and toss in butter then allow it to cook gently until slightly cooked. Turn your oven on to 180 deg C.

While that is cooking, mix the cream with some salt and pepper and egg yolks and about a handful of grated parmesan as well as the chopped parsley and nutmeg.

When kohlrabi is soft add to a baking dish, pour the sauce over, pushing the vegetable under the sauce.

Bake for about 30 mins. Serve warm with a salad.

And yes, it does taste like broccoli!

Linking up at Simple Lives Thursday

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Giving mulch a try

So this post starts with a gardeners confession...I have never mulched like other water wise gardeners.

I have always added layers of compost which can form a mulch layer until it breaks down in the soil, but it will not last the whole summer as a true mulch.

So what's mulch meant to do?

It has three main functions:

- to keep the weeds down through suffocation (Oh yeah!)
- to keep moisture in by creating an evaporation barrier layer
- to protect the roots from heat or cold

Mulch is typically a layer of organic matter, but some people also use shredded newspaper to function as a mulch. Ultimately the mulch will breakdown and provide further nutrition to the soil, but we chose straw which should last a season or two.

The reason I have never used mulch is two fold - laziness {blush blush} and not being true believer. I mean I know that all the experts do it and I once tried with freshly shredded garden matter but it just became such a mission I didn't see it through.

The reason I am reapplying my mind to this is that we have water problems....And weed problems....and when a woman is desperate....yeah, you know!

There are lots of us in our suburb all drawing water via boreholes or well points and by December the water pressure is so low that we can barely get enough water via the sprinkler. The weed problem is another thing I hope to control. We picked up a terrible little weed through some manure I got from a stable a year ago and it has been such a prolific grower that it is everywhere.

We have pulled up all the plants that we can find and now I hope to at least reduce the germination of any seeds that are in the soil.

So yesterday Superman went to buy two bales of straw from the local pet shop. It was the cheapest option that I could find at R48 per bale.

Then the kids and I spread the straw around all our newly planted seedlings. Beans, tomatoes, corn, marrows, pumpkin and cucumbers all got the same treatment.

When placing mulch on the beds it is important to not put it right up against the stem. This is to make sure that the plant still gets the water and that moulds and other diseases do not attack the plant in the super moist conditions.

We watered everything quickly so that the Cape Doctor that was blowing through our little town did not just lift it all and carry it away. (For those internationals - the Cape Doctor is the South East wind that blows in spring and summer. Called this because it blows away the city smog and pollution.)

So now we wait and see if mulch is the answer to my dilemma
of water and weed issues.

Do you mulch? What do you use?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stumbling upon cocopeat

I sent Superman shopping.

He always has to go with a list written in big clear letters because he takes his little yellow scooter and scoots to where he needs to go for the bits and pieces but he can't wear his glasses with the helmet. So I wrote P O T T I N G  S O I L on his list.

I needed him to get the potting soil for repotting of the tomato seedlings last weekend as they were ready for the next step up. Tomatoes benefit from repotting about 3 or 4 times before they are finally planted out. This builds a strong stem and root structure so that when they finally land in the bed, they are well established and can handle the summer heat.

Superman came back with cocopeat.

I looked at the bag with huge suspicion as when I see the word PEAT all I can think about is the peat beds which are being dug up to extinction for unwise gardeners wanting an acid growing medium.

Peat bogs are in serious danger of running out and there are so many other ways to create an acid soil.

I have used rooibos mulch on my acid loving plants, old tea and teabags and even have had my kids collect pine needles on our walks to mulch around these plants.

I researched the cocopeat and was quite excited with what I without trying to turn into Wiki, here is a simple précis of what it is:

There are many coconut products that require the flesh and milk but the husks have always been thrown away as useless. It is now being recycled through processing it into a potassium rich product which can be used in potting mixes or as a mulch.

I happily mixed it into my last bit of potting soil and got busy repotting tomatoes.

I ran out towards the end and just used some of my own sifted compost for the last few plants...a week later the results showed for themselves....

Tomato after 1 week in cocopeat mix
Tomato after 1 week in normal compost
So I went shopping.

I went and bought another bag of cocopeat and mixed it in with a bag of potting soil and potted all the cherry tomatoes that were ready and the chilli plants. Let's hope it does the same wonderful thing.

So here's the downside...


Well...from the local hardware store that is! But there are places online where you can buy it cheaper in a dry brick and then you can rehydrate it yourself.

As we are over our main seed sowing push I can budget for this for next season, when in a couple of months time we start preparing our autumn crops.

Have you tried cocopeat? What is your favourite growing medium?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gobble gobble munch munch

Spinach, kale, brassica’s – one of them on our plate every night.

Brassica’s have to be munched before the white moth comes a visiting and they bolt in the heat. Spinach and kale have to be gobbled quickly to make space for the new season vegetables.

Here are some of the things we did with these great veggies this week:

Kale and mushroom lasagna was truly the star of the week. A while ago my wonderful Sister sent me River Cottage Veg and with each glut of veggies over the last year or so it has been a favourite of mine to dip into.

We have so much kale (Cavelo Nero) that even when we had cut a full basket of the leaves there was more for many, many days to come. Kale is a cut and come again veggie and it grows taller than a person. {Blushing} I only found this out recently and realize that my 12 Kale plants are in the wrong place.

I am looking for a new permanent home for them in the garden so that the bed they are in can be freed up for seasonal crops.

Lucky for you, if you want to try this delicious recipe, you do not need to buy the book as Hugh has kindly put it here for free! It really is worth the effort!


Calzone made with spinach and mushrooms and a rich garlicky herby sauce was supper last night. I made a very good tasting pizza crust using refined spelt which was very yummy when stuffed with the sauce and loads of mozzarella.

Steamed spinach with butter and nutmeg was a side dish a couple of times too. The thing with spinach is to find the sweet spot…don’t cook too long because then it looks, smells and tastes like old dishcloths and cook too short and your teeth will squeak for ages afterwards.

Once it’s cooked drain and put in a bowl with a good knob of butter, salt, pepper and a healthy grating of fresh nutmeg. Delicious!

Kale was the green veggie of choice in morning carrot and orange juice. I pick one leaf per person (6) otherwise the juice is to green for young taste buds.

And of course our asparagus is feeding us too!

One of my 8 plants seem to have died over winter, but I cut the spears of the other 7 as they are about 7 – 10cm long and if there is not enough for all wanting, I store them in a glass with spring water while I harvest over the next three days until we have enough for all the gobblers. You cannot leave them attached to the crown once they are long enough for harvest, as almost overnight they start opening up to the beautiful ferns.

The first batch of asparagus was sneakily munched by Superman and I with some hollandaise sauce one evening when nobody was looking J . The spears are delicious lightly steamed and then added to salads with tangy sundried tomatoes, feta and avo on a bed of butter lettuce.

Tomorrow night I have Jamie Oliver’s brassica cannelloni planned…oooh my taste buds can’t wait. That will be the end to our broccoli and cauliflower until next season! This recipe is in his Jamie At Home recipe book.

What are you eating from your garden at the moment?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cauliflower - the queen of the garden

Right now we are eating cauliflower....lots of it.

There is a circular flower bed in our pool area which has been the recipient of a good nitrogen feed ;) for a few years and since last winter I have noticed that heavy feeder crops grow beautifully there.

Our broccoli from winter 2012 was huge, deep rich green and delicious. Our Aubergines from summer 2012 never stopped coming and were given away as we were Aubergined out!

And now the queen has come into her own. There is something special about seeing those huge white heads standing around the base of the fig tree.

The green leaves are massive and once the cauliflower is harvested the chickens feed on a couple a day.

So far they have escaped the white moth and her caterpillar babies which can munch though those leaves in a day!

I made a delicious rich cauliflower cheese last weekend for guests, this week another cauli was added to Mac n Cheese with a lovely rosemary, garlic and bread crumb on top.

But the best recipe was a Jamie Oliver one called "Curried Cauliflower Fritters" from Jamie at Home. And boy, were they delicious.

I am not one who deep fries - ever - well except this once...and I am so glad I did. These were simply gorgeous and made the cauliflower the star of the show, not the normal side dish.

Even my fussy eater could not stop gobbling these delectable treats.

Fried in a crispy beer batter spiced with cumin, curry powder and a bit of chilli these were a hit!