Presto, Pesto

 

Our family is full of anticipation for spring. It’s getting warmer, and the days are getting longer. It’s like slowly waking up from a haze you didn’t know you were in. Suddenly so much more seems possible. I’m full of energy, and keen to escape the office and instead get on the scooters with the kids in search of adventure!

The garden also seems to be slowly waking back up, as everyone starts showing off. The plants are blooming with my favorite camellia’s covered in a blush of gorgeous hot pink, greeting us each day as we head out the gate.

Yummy Basil

Yummy Basil

Down in Grandma’s Garden it seems the green vegies and herbs are having their day. The Garden beds are an abundance of fresh basil and spinach leaves. Green vegies are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. It seems nature may know our lives are about to suddenly get more active with the change of season, and so is preparing us with all this goodness.

The great thing about basil is that you can pick leaves when needed, and this encourages the plant to produce more leaves. So don’t see it as harvesting, rather, keeping your basil plant looking sharp as ever. So, with basil, pick a few leaves off at a time from each plant, rather than cutting whole stems at a time.

One quick tip is that you should try to harvest your basil (or any herb) in the morning just after the dew has evaporated from the leaf. This means that the plant isn’t too hot, making it much more friendly in the kitchen.

 


 

With so many gorgeous basil and spinach leaves, we made two recipes, pesto, the perfect way to preserve the goodness of fresh basil leaves, and then a fresh basil and cashew dip, which you can make for the pesto.

Ingredients

Only the best ingredients

Only the best ingredients

 

Double if making both recipes

 

1/4 cup of pine nuts

1 and 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 garlic cloves

3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese

6 Tablespoons olive oil


 

TIPS for harvesting – If you have basil in abundance pick the top leaves off multiple stems rather than cutting full stems. It will encourage more growth. If using the leaves as a garnish, the flavour is best when you rip the leaves. Always crush your garlic rather than cutting it, as it releases more of the oils and so flavors. It seems getting your hands dirty is the best way to cook!

  1. Place the dry pine nuts in a dry pan on medium-low heat. Continue to stir or move them until they are a golden brown, and then immediately remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Toasting the pine nuts will given them more depth of flavor.
  2. Blend the pine nuts, basil, garlic and Parmesan in a food processor until finely chopped and then gradually add 2/3 of the oil.
  3. Taste test to ensure you are happy with the balance of flavors.
  4. Place the Pesto (or half the pesto if you are making the next recipe) into a sterilised jar and add the remaining oil onto to seal the pesto. This will ensure it stays lovely and fresh for a week. (Pesto also freezer)

 

 

Pesto Dip with spinach and cashew

1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves

1 cup roasted cashews

Tablespoon of lemon juice

  1. Add the extra ingredients to the blender which already includes half the pesto.
  2. Taste test to ensure you are happy with the balance of flavours.
  3. Serve with carrot sticks or biscuits and enjoy with friends and family.

 


 

A bowl of pasta with a spoonful of pesto is great, isn’t it. Its a go-to for our family.

But (and it’s not a big but) I know that after the third lunch in a row of Pesto Pasta, the charm does start to begin to fade.

Why not try to top it on all your breakfast needs. Much like my obsession for putting Vegemite on everything slightly related to breakfast (try veggie bacon sandwich, or  Veggie avocado on toast), I thought we would up the anti by using this pesto. They are great on top of eggs and add that little something that starts your day off with a bang.

There’s so many things you can do with it, and as our tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet, we thought that we would use pesto sauce instead of tomato sauce on our homemade pizzas. YUM. To be honest, its so versatile and rich that you can spread a little on anything to make every meal a little bit better.

For storage, make sure you use the smallest container possible. This is because pesto isn’t great at being contained for a long time. It will darken relatively quickly.

It will still taste great for around a week in the fridge. Don’t worry though, because it can be frozen for a while. About six months or so.

Pesto with a drizzle of Olive Oil on top

Pesto with a drizzle of Olive Oil on top

The important point is that you need to get all the air out of it as you can. So, pack to the brim. Once you are happy with that, drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top

Cling film (or bees’ wax) the top and bobs your uncle.

Composting and the Art of Garden Maintenance

As a seasoned ‘Green Thumb’, let me tell you that a successful garden doesn’t have to be backbreaking work. It is as much getting the garden to do the work for you as it is doing it yourself. Don’t get me wrong, the garden can be a source of labour at times, something that the kids are prone to complain about, but through a short-cut here and there, it can be much easier.

A few years back, Mum decided to make a home compost heap at the back of the garden. She had always been enthusiastic about the prospects, but for some reason she was disheartened. I think it was the worry of the smell! I’m told now that it is only those who don’t do it right are the ones burdened with a stench.

Owning a compost heap is a great source of education for kids who aren’t normally exposed to practical ways to recycle. When we say recycling to them, they immediately think of plastics and straws as they are all over the news, but one of the most important streams of recycling comes in the form of our food.

There's nothing like getting your hands dirty to bring the classroom alive!

There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty to bring the classroom alive!

We sat our kids down and asked them where they thought the food went after it was disposed of in the bin. Clueless! We explained the messy process of a landfill, and all the horrible things that come with it.

The most important thing to explain was something that I think is overlooked slightly. The fact that you are not only throwing out the final product, but you are also throwing out all the soil, water, labour and transport energy that went into getting that bit of food from where it was grown to you!

Going through the process of separating food waste so that we could reuse it, and then bring it down to the garden, was met first with hesitation. Now I don’t even need to ask them to do it. I think this new generation are very keen to help when it comes to the environment if we give them the chance. Surprisingly so. It’s now cool to care. I wish we had the same attitude back then.

It was quite astounding to see the difference in growth pre and post compost. We are literally mining ‘Black Gold’! I would sing more than it’s praise to anyone looking to start up. Her plants are leagues ahead of what we have experienced in the past. If you’re worried that composting is hard, let me assure you that it is not.

Here’s how she did it

The 6 Easy Steps to a healthy compost

The 6 Easy Steps to a healthy compost

The key is to cultivate the microbes found in the soil. You almost have to treat them as pets. Feed them with food from the table, make sure the get enough water and in turn they will enrich your life.

A Healthy Compost

A Healthy Compost

Man’s new best friend are microbes. It was an important lesson to teach the kids. That being to value all of God’s creatures, no matter the size.

A little tip that I found is that having the appropriate kit is a must! Previously, the compostable bags that we had in the kitchen caddy would rip at the worst possible time. However, these days, Compost-a-pak supplies amazing products that leave me with confidence. No more cleaning up a mess on the way down to the garden.

Black Gold

Black Gold

For those living in the city, please don’t be discouraged by ‘prying neighbours’. Composting doesn’t have to be an eye sore as there are many great ways to hide a heap. The beauty of the project is that there are no wrong ideas. The materials you can use are not exclusive at all. Having said that, the best examples I have come across tend to be those whom have used natural frames, such as knitting together willow branches. Costing next to nothing apart from your time, it’s a great way to spend a day with the Grand-kids. Just remember to wear a safety hat.


Beans, Cabbage and Potato are all perfectly obedient this time of year. Three of the most versatile Veg, its no surprise that they are the most popular in cuisines around the world. Next time you fancy cooking Chinese or making a cauldron of soup,  you wont have to go to the grocers.

They are also very good for you, as all are very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

The beans will soon be jumping

The beans will soon be jumping

 

 

We found that basil has come early this year and quite frankly, its looking and smelling very fresh.

Sunday morning harvest

Sunday morning harvest

 

 

A member of our family, Murray, who currently attends University, told us that he had decided that he would buy a supermarket Basil plant to freshen up his kitchen. As you might image, horticulture and uni-culture don’t readily mix, and the plant wilted and died after a few weeks. This wasn’t entirely his fault.

This is because most of the pots your buy from supermarkets are in fact multiple clumps of seedlings. This is what gives the impression of a healthy batch. So, what basil needs is space from one another. Try splitting a single plant into 4 pots, it should be done easily. They wont compete with one another and you get 4 plants!

A thinned out group of basil is the perfect companion to the beans and cabbage, so if you were wondering where to plant them, you need worry no longer.

 

 

We are getting Italian, and making some Pesto Sauce. Join us here, to find out just how versatile it is.

 

 

Grandma’s Garden – Companionship

 

 

 

As winter ends, and the days begin to lengthen, we are left with nothing but curiosity for what this year will hold.

The garden is such a beautiful way to mark time, as each season passes with it’s unique smell, unique look, unique taste. Right now my daughter is fixated on the stretching daffodils, knowing that once they burst into flower, her birthday will finally be here. For her, the passing of time between birthdays seems a life time. For me sitting observing Grandma sharing the annual rituals of her garden with the kids, life seems too fast, and the most important moments really are those quiet ones that you have to deliberately make time for, even if you end up with dirty hands! We hope these stories from Grandma’s garden inspire you to soak up the seasonal fresh air, cook local seasonal produce, and get your hands dirty, even if it’s diving in earnest into the nearest pot plant!

New Plants for the Spring

Grandma Planting for the Spring

 

Sipping a cup of coffee, watching the morning fog lift, I am alone pondering the true nature of our family garden that we care so much for. Each plant stretches up so independently that you could be forgiven for mistaking the unique relationships that plants have for one another as being a rather passive one. This, however, is not the case, and knowing the unique friendship each of her plants share is one of the keys to Grandma’s thriving garden.

I always imagine a secret chatter between the whole ecosystem of the plot. Plants trading resources through their deep roots underground. Fairly, and sometimes unfairly. If left to their own fruition, there’s a chance that some plants can bully others. Plants are surprisingly competitive. Although, with some rule and order, everyone can enjoy a happy playground.

Grandma has always stressed the importance of impressive biodiversity, however she has some very strict seating rules. With her fruit and veg growing to near record sizes every year, and the garden alive with a healthy buzz of blossoms, birds, and bees and beetles, it seems a few initial rules ensures everyone can thrive.

Companion Planting

Companion Planting

Companions in life tend to help you grow by supporting you. So, why should it be different for plants. With Companion Planting you can create a garden in which each plant supports, shelters and protects one another. What one plant needs in nutrients from the soil, it’s partner can add.

In the same way, Grandma is very deliberate about her edge planting, in a organic battle with pests that she seems to win each year.

As we know, slugs love to eat all the young plants they can get their hands on. The last thing you need is to spend hours and hours on the garden to find that all the hard work has become someone else’s dinner. A lot of the solutions I’ve been told over the years are callously harsh towards the slugs, or are particularly impractical. If you are not willing to spend hours in the night with a torch picking them off, or laying out salt traps, then what is left?

We’ll, we endorse chemical free solutions that reduce harm to other animals whenever possible, and in the spirit of Companionship, we have a few plants that the slugs don’t tend to go for. So plant them everywhere for a successful season. Plant Basil, Garlic, Lavender, Marjoram, Peony, Rosemary, Roses, Sage, Thyme and Scented Geranium. These plants work as an incense, beckoning us, and deterring them.

We have also found that placing natural barriers around the garden tend to help. For instance, crushed eggshells, sawdust, or even breakfast cereal are all effective for slowing down the pests.

In all seriousness, endorsing a natural lifestyle means, to us at least, that we pursue more alternatives to the conventional. By discouraging slugs, we haven’t the need to spray pesticides or any harmful chemicals in the garden. This way, it means that less gets in our food, which is great for the kids! Everyone can grow and thrive.

Getting the gloves dirty

Getting the gloves dirty

 

The kids certainly seem to think that the food tastes better as a result. It wouldn’t surprise me if all the activity in the soil leaves a new layer of taste!


This month, think about getting the plot ready for your summer salads. It’s the perfect time to plant Radish, Spring Onion and Lettuce. Three crunchy additions!

The oranges and lemons are practically falling off the trees at Grandmas, and so we thought it about time to make some Marmalade, aka, the golden nectar. It really is like eating early spring sunshine each morning, just with a good serving of sugar which puts it in the ‘treat’ category for the kids.

Grandma has always had a magically talent for finding the juiciest orange on the tree. Her secret it turns out, is cradling each orange in her hands first, as the heavier it is, the riper, so don’t just look with your eyes.

Loaded up with our seasonal harvest, we are making Marmalade this month. Join us here.

Kid's truck full of fruit

Load Her Up

Fresh Ginger Marmalade

 

 

It’s a great feeling to know what is in season. It seems in supermarkets everything is conveniently available all year, through advances in food preserving technology, controlled growing and increased food miles. To instead walk down to the garden, soak up the season and use all your senses to determine whether the fruit and veg that Grandma has grown is ready for the kitchen is lovely. To touch and smell your way through the garden with the kids looking for cooking inspiration is bliss.

Quite quickly you also find your attitude to food waste changes when you have grown the produce.

It’s estimated that in our fast, hectic lives, Aussies waste 1 of each 5 bags of fresh food. When you instead start to grow your own food, even if it’s a few herbs on the mantle, and nurture the plants which in return give you so much, preserving the goodness becomes of great importance. Suddenly your perception on seasonal produce changes, and your pantry transforms into what everyone’s would have looked like only a few generations ago.

When you grow it yourself, or even chat to the farmers at your local market, you feel a lot more connected to your food. You know exactly where it has come from, the hard work put into it, and all the chemicals (or lack of) that you are consuming. You don’t need to read the small print, you just know! Since moving closer to Sydney and spending so much time in Grandma’s garden, now our family doesn’t waste to the same degree, and we have become passionate about preserving the plentiful harvests of each season.

So where do we get our Marmalade Recipe from…. Grandma’s sister Aunty Jen in the UK of course.


Marmalade

Marmalade

Ingredients

1.3kg of Oranges & 2 Lemons

2.6kg Preserving Sugar or granulated

100g Fresh Root Ginger


  Method

  1. Juice the lemons, and then add the lemon juice, and oranges (whole) to a large pot, and cover in water. You can use a plate to submerge them if they are floating around. Bring to boil, cover and gently simmer for 2 hours. The skin should be easily pierced at this point.
  2.  Warm the sugar in a very low oven.
  3. Take the oranges out of the cooking liquid and put them into a bowl to cool. Once cooled, cut in half and scoop out the pips and pith and add it to the reserved orange liquid still in your pan. Bring to a boil for 6 minutes, and then strain this liquid through a sieve into a bowl. Make sure you press the pulp through with a wooden spoon to get as much as possible. It’s very high in pectin so is the secret to a good set! Cut the remaining orange peel into thin strips, and set aside.
  4. Peel the fresh root ginger and slide thinly. Tie in a muslin bags and bruise with a rolling pin to release the lovely juices. If you don’t have a muslin bag you can use a steel tea strainer to hold the ginger.
  5. Add your warm sugar and orange peel strips into the pan and stir over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved which should take about 10 minutes. Add the ginger bag and bring to the boil. Bubble rapidly for 15-25 minutes. Take out the ginger bags just before the setting point is reached. If you are unsure of how it’s progressing, place a cool spoon into the pan, and see if the jam sticks to the back of the spoon. Of course tasting the consistency once it is cooled is always the key to cooking!
  6. Leave the marmalade to stand for 20 minutes so the peel can settle.
  7. Pour your gorgeous homemade marmalade into your sterilized jars ready.

Next season, if you want your Marmalade even sweeter, you can experiment by boiling the skin in several changes of water until the skin is soft and the bitterness is gone.


 

Jenny, who lives in the Scottish Borders, has been raving on about her Marmalade for years now. She describes her batches as Paddington Bear with a (wee) twist. Although she says it’s ideal in the summer, her summer is about the same as what we are experiencing now, so it’s perfect for our gorgeous oranges.

Jen a fantastic gardener, and on each visit back home, she comes with stories and photos of her prized blooms. The bursts of colours in her garden against the old stone walls are spectacular. She also has a green house where she lovingly tends to a few Australian plants such as her bottlebrush. Whilst the look spectacularly exotic for visitors, for Jen it’s the smell of her Australian childhood.

 

Guem Mrs Bradshaw Flower

Guem Mrs Bradshaw Flower

Caceclana integrifolia Kentish hero

Caceclana integrifolia Kentish hero

 

 

 


What’s left..

This is a great recipe for preserving the goodness in the garden during August. The only thing you should have left is the lemon peel, as well as a small amount of ginger peel, and the remaining pulp from the oranges, which has been through a sieve to ensure all the goodness is extracted. Simply compost the ginger and pulp, and then consider the following uses for the lemon.

Our three favorite uses for lemon peel.

  • Lemon Dressing – Zest the lemon peel and add to a cup of oil olive. Let it stand for 2 weeks in the fridge, then strain. the remaining ‘favored’ olive oil is fabulous over a salad of even steamed beans to add a little each freshness.
  • Lemon Cleaner – Cut up the lemon peel and add to a cup of White Vinegar. Let it stand for 2 weeks. Strain the liquid and then add a cup of water. A great replacement for commercial cleaners this even cuts through grease.
  • Lemon Freshener – After a double batch of marmalade, cooked with ‘help’ from the kids, I’m feeling a little lazy. For this option, simply place the lemon peel in a bowl and put it in your fridge for a week. It will absorb any smells, replacing them with the fresh smell of citrus.
Sunday Brekkie

Sunday Brekkie