Thursday, December 15, 2011

It has been a while since I've posted.  I've been focussed on my work in the city.  I did get time to make a couple of things for the herb and vege garden that I wanted to share.

I converted a small unused garden bed close to the house nestled under a rose trellis into a small vegetable garden. It's not irrigated, but I thought I'd have a go and see how far I get before the heat of summer kicks in. Here are my snowpeas on the support that I made out of raspberry cane prunings.  I found the rhubarb forcer (seen in the background) on the roof of the house.

I also made my tomato trellises out of willow branches cut from the garden. About two weeks after I took this they sprouted! I'll have to remove them and dry them in the sun or they will suck all of the nutrients from the tomatoes. The half wine barrels are in an old pond that I drained and refilled. I like the shape of the stones.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making a compost bin

I know it's incredibly geeky, but I love composting.  All of my food scraps and the paper that goes through my home office goes onto the pile.  I don't bother with turning or tending it, and after about six months it has transformed into beautiful black soil. There's something great about my old tax records and junk mail being turned into food for my herb garden, and in turn me.

 My current compost pile, made from an old wooden box has been slowly falling apart for a while. I thought long and hard about how to make a new one and how it should look. There's no reason for compost not be beautiful, I think.

I procured some old potato boxes for free from a local farmer and with Piet my trusty garden help we transformed one into a new compost box. Well, Piet wielded the chainsaw while I stood by giving anal retentive instructions such as, 'Could we just shave another centimetre off that side as it's not quite even'.  And ...Voila!  Here it is.  Complete with shredded tax records.

My friend Lizzie came to visit and we made a drystone wall against one side of the box from some stones I had lying around.  It even withstood a 4.3 earthquake the following weekend.
No. There is no reason why a compost pile can't be beautiful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two types of Autumn happiness

Pruning of the lavendar yields a lovely bunch that I'll put on the fire to make the house fragrant over winter.

A little friend comes out for a sniff of lavender.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I'm sorry about the lack of post for a while. The town of Christchurch in New Zealand, the place where I grew up, broke and crumbled in an earthquake this week and I feel very sad. Thankfully my parents, who live there, are OK and their house is not damaged.

Even though it has been many years since I have lived in Christchurch, I travel there every Christmas to spend time with my parents. I had assumed that the city would always be there, always be the same comfortable place, unchanged and waiting for me as old home towns do.  Although hopefully wonderful new buildings will rise from the rubble, I'm grieving because the place that I knew is gone.

A pic of Lyttelton, where the earthquake was centred,  I took from across its harbour last Christmas. It sustained heavy damage and along with the rest of Christchurch has lost many of its historic buildings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Two types of summer weekend happiness

Small but perfectly formed crops.  I grew the potatoes.  The blackberries grew themselves.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Birthday summer lunch 2010 (3)

So, to the entree of my birthday summer lunch.  (I wrote about the hor d'hoeuvre here).
For the entree I braved souffle. Souffle is something that I've always equated with angst and a high chance of something going horribly wrong. As there is already enough angst and chance of something going horribly wrong when I cook for others with even basic, let alone highly strung dishes, I've always steered clear of it.

But then in my beloved Australian Gourmet Traveller I found a recipe for double-baked Gruyere souffles that sounded so good that I decided to risk it. The recipe, aside from looking delicious, fulfilled one of my entertaining requirements: it's pretty much prepared the day before.

Basically you make a bechamel sauce base, add whipped egg white, the cheese and herbs and cook the day before. Here they are looking quite angelic and not angst-inducing at all.

 Then half an hour before serving you add more cheese and cream and bake them again.

Pic by Nina
Next time I make them to this recipe, I'll go a bit lighter on the cream. I served them with a green salad to offset the richness.

Pic by Nina
They were REALLY good. I highly recommend this recipe.

Pic by Nina

Monday, January 31, 2011

The snakes are out

So you're sitting on your front porch enjoying the sunset. It's a gentle rural scene. You snap a couple of photographs.

As you're downloading the pics a week later you notice something on the bank. Hang on, you think, what's that?
You check the photograph before, it's not there.

 You look more closely.

You make a mental note to be very careful in the garden over summer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chicken houses, tears and boundary issues

I was very excited when my neighbour G dropped into conversation that he was building a chicken house. Images of fresh golden yolks swirling in home-made custard danced in front of my eyes. I enthusiastically endorsed the project.

A few weeks later when I saw that he was incorporating our shared boundary fence into the back wall of the chicken house I was, to put it mildly, less enthused. I was upset. I thought I'd made it clear that I didn't want anything built too close to our boundary. I was also surprised because G has been an exemplary neighbour. We have spent quality time strolling our properties together, beer in hand, discussing our plans and dreams. He has done electrical work for me, lent me tools and machinery and been on call for bat and spider-removal services. He is always offering to lend me a hand, even though he has 27 acres, a job and a family and often needs a hand himself.  So when I saw the location of the chicken house, it felt like a betrayal of our friendship. It felt, to put it mildly, like my boundaries had been breached.

The view from my front balcony of the part of my shared fence with G where the chicken house would have been clearly visible. I've planted out the garden bed, but it will take several years for the plants to grow high enough that we can't see into each others' properties.

I stomped around the garden yanking out weeds and reflecting. Then it occurred to me that from the day I made the offer for the property I had failed to proactively manage my own boundaries. Annoyingly, I had some blame for this issue, perhaps as much as G.

Four years ago I knew as soon as I turned into the front gate that I badly wanted this house. I stood with the real estate agent while he swept his hand in the vague direction of the property boundaries and that was good enough for me. Dear reader, I'm ashamed to say that when I signed the contract I had no idea where my exact boundaries lay.

My laxness continued. The property had been empty for over a year (it was a mortgagee sale) and another farmer who was owed money by the previous owner had been grazing his cows on my bottom paddocks (via G's land, which he leases). It suited me not to have to worry about mowing those four acres and I have no water for stock, so leasing my land without putting some mental energy and work into setting it up wasn't an option.  So I let the cows continue to graze...without any formal discussion. When the fence needed repairs and when he made improvements, I let G do the work...with thanks, but without any formal discussion.

In my own defense, my property-owning experience before the country house has been with apartments where boundaries are very well defined and managed by a body corporate. I had never given property boundaries much thought. And I was overwhelmed with getting my mind around all of the other things that owning a run-down house on six weed-filled acres entails.

I gathered my courage and I went next door to talk to G. I told him that I realised that I had not taken my share of responsibility for our shared boundary fence and I apologised. I told him that a chicken shed so close to our shared boundary was not OK with me and I asked for a meeting to discuss it. It was a hard conversation for me to initiate and when he kindly pointed out that he recognised this, goddamn, I couldn't help but squeeze out a couple of tears. So annoying.

The next weekend when I arrived at the house, the chicken shed had been dismantled. I walked my whole boundary line to check the condition of the fences. I called the local council and the local community law centre to find out more about my responsibilities. The next time I saw G it was a little uncomfortable but we laughed it off. Then we had a conversation about the work that needs to be done on the fences. I took accountability for my half. It felt good.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One type of summer weekend happiness

...the promise of a bumper season of apples.

 If the parrots don't get in first.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Birthday summer lunch (3)

I'm stretching it a little when I say 'lunch', or rather it's the lunch that's stretched.  When my guests are staying the night and thus there's no need to worry about an inappropriate mix of driving and inebriation, I like to plan the meal over a stretch of many hours. Say, from about 3pm to 10pm. Someone really needs to make up a word that describes a very late lunch that stretches on into dinner.

Hors d'oeuvre in French means outside the work (of art),  i.e outside the meal, but I don't see why the hors d'oeuvre can't also be a work of art. I mean, just take a look at this cheese that my friend Andrew brought along with an sourdough olive loaf. A total work of art. French, of course.

We also had stuffed olives (a mix of almond, anchovy and sun dried tomato) and smoked salmon and prosciutto with a sour cream,  dill and caper dip, which was also great with the olive bread.

I wrapped chicken legs in proscuitto with a dab of quince paste and oven roasted them with olive oil and fresh thyme.  Here they are lurking in the foreground with the other hors d'oeuve favourite, Veuve Cliquot. Well, it was my birthday.

And here's everything ready to devour.
Pics by Nina

Monday, January 3, 2011

Birthday summer lunch 2010 (2)

Hello and happy 2011!  One of my resolutions is to blog more this year.  First up, I'll finish posting about my 2010 birthday lunch in November.  Here are a couple of pics of the table (pics by Nina).
I kept it really plain; bare wood with white napkins, cushions, paper lanterns and sprigs of olive.