Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wrapping up the Tomato Season: No. 1 Yellow Low Acid Tomatoes

Although there is a lot of life left in some of the tomato plants, others have kicked the bucket in the balcony garden and have been reduced to green waste. Having kept a tally over the season of how many I picked and a few tasting notes I thought what better forum than to have a look back over each type as it exits the garden. So for the next while I will occasionally post on each variety. They certainly wont be as ordered or detailed as I would have hoped, the inept balcony gardener is not known for her organisation (case in point I am not sure when I last saw my bedroom floor). If you want detailed, objective, well thought out and wonderful tasting notes may I suggest you wander over to Hanna's Tomato Tastings at This Garden Is Illegal.

As for today's entry it is time to meet the first to go to tomato heaven (it actually went about a month ago) -

The Yellow Low Acid Tomato.

This was no heirloom fancy-pants tomato. I bought it back in the really clueless days where I thought a small pot would suffice, and yellow sounds different to red so ooooooooooooohhh specialness. Now I know better. I know not all yellows are created equal, some are more yellow than others. The are yellows that differ from other yellows and red is just not a considerable alternative. But let's just bask in a time of happy naivety for a bit. Having newly discovered that I actually liked tomatoes (27 years of picking them out of my salad previously) I thought yellow ones were such a novelty. An impulse buy at Bunnings, they were added to my burgeoning collection, which at that point consisted of some random K-mart tomatoes (turned out to be these troopers of red cherries and probably my highest yielding performer, but more on that later) a Tommy Toe and some very over crowded mixed Heirlooms (ok so I had heirlooms in the garden at that point but was still a month or so shy of realising their brilliance and forming an obsession).

The Yellow Low Acid was planted in its way-too-small pot (think of a size sixteenish, buxom Botticelli Angel attempting to fit into a size 2 silk cocktail dress, it's not wise and it's not pretty but occasionally it happens) It was also perched upon an upside-down mini bin which was itself perched atop a slightly bigger upside down mini-bin and placed behind the other tomatoes. Kind of like a king on his throne. He towered for a while, at least until the heirlooms grew wild and nudged him out. You can see him in the below photo, the terracotta coloured pot behind the larger overcrowded terracotta pots.

The gusty winds on the balcony caused the leaning tower of tomato to topple more than once. It never grew very big, though was laden with green fruits by Christmas.

The first of these, of course, ripened while I was away in Adelaide but I can tell you all in all it produced 17 fruits of varying sizes. Usually they ripened one at a time, and I never picked more than four at once. The taste was mild, as to be expected. They were used in this memorable yellow tomato sauce.

They were also in the mixed heirloom tomato carpaccio of last week's dinner party (yes these little imposters posed as heirlooms amongst their legitimate buddies). Interestingly, no one even commented on the yellows. So no one hated them, but no one felt strong enough to need to comment. This, to me, speaks volumes.

It had some trouble with blossom end rot and a couple of fruits that just didn't get bigger than a cherry tomato but all in all it was ok. Not a big yield, not too small, not inedible, just nothing really to write home about (except that I am writing ...) After the first yield the strains of its confined space, the lack of early sunlight and debilitating effects of too much sunlight in the heatwave and damage from the repeated tumblings meant this poor guy had to be pulled early. That and I wanted his pot and space for some cosmic purple carrots.

I wouldn't plant it again. Not that I have anything against yellows, I love them, but with so many other beautiful heirloom ones to try this general nursery number just hasn't got a place on the balcony. Sorry buddy, maybe next time wear a sequined jacket or learn to do the chicken dance, because being good but ordinary just doesn't cut it here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Upside Down Upside Down

Mr Squiggle, the 1980s TV show was mentioned on the weekend at the Balcony Garden DInner Party. I was always more of a blackboard fan, than of this space faring pencil-nosed 'artist'.

His muffled catchcry of 'upside down upside down' meant that the pictorial puzzle was about to be reveal (unless you stood on your head which led you to know that the glorified caricaturist was merely drawing a zebra, the next thought being what could you send in that would stump this arrogant excuse for an afternoon TV puppet)

No more Mr Squiggle, he is either back to the moon, or, as facebook would have you beleive, recovering from a recent fall into the darker aspects of life.

I have a case of Upside down Upside down in the garden. The cherry tomatoes, most of which formed the usual way, threw this beauty up the other day. And no I did not just stand on my head to take a photo, these little babies just wanted to be different from the others.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Poinsettia in February

Totally Awesome Balcony Sitter left this poinsettia behind when she hastily left the balcony apartment upon my return from Adelaide. She said she would pick it up once she moved into her new place, and that time is soon upon us. It is an odd thing, a winter plant, only brought out here adjoined to some archaic notion that Christmas must mean all things wintery, even though the festive day usually tops out at 30 degree celcius and prawns on the barbie are more in vogue than hot ham and turkey. Still they appear in plastic and real form on the shelves each year, usually one day after Easter (so technically it is on the way to Winter then but that is a whole other rant) And this little fella has survived a deadly heatwave, smokey ashy air and my general ineptness with all plants other than veggies to survive until now.

He will soon move to his new home, along with some very late planted tomato seedlings and maybe some basil. Good to have fought the heat battle with you Mr Leafy Christmas Relic, but best of luck in the new place - apparently you will have lots of garden to run around in.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sister Awake

Although it is going to be hot again today, the recent spate of relatively mild weather has awoken some pretties in the balcony garden.

Slowly but surely this yellow daisy thingo (still not good on plant names, so we will have to use their inept gardener names for the moment) opened up.

Even the Zinnias in the hanging basket came out to play in the milder weather (there are now about four different colours of these but I have to stand on a chair to reach them, so maybe I will post on that tomorrow) I was inspired to plant Zinnias after a post by Jamie of Garden Amateur who showed just how much they stood up to the warmer weather. I suspect with my penchant for overcrowding and the sunny spot they have found themselves in, I probably wont have such a high level of success. The test begins with today's warmer day

And on the window sill, the strawberry plant which faced eviction not much over a week ago is earning its reprieve by flowering and fruiting in extraordinary fashion. This photo in no way does justice to she sheer amount of flowers this plant is putting out. I guess she knew her days were numbered and woke up one more time. Nice work.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Balcony Garden Dinner Party

While I would have preferred the view above, the apartment attached to the balcony garden looked a little more like this after the inaugural Balcony Garden Dinner Party ...

This is how we led up to it.

Course 1

Carpaccio of Balcony Garden Heirloom Tomato with Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil, Avocado, Olives and Panfried Proscuitto Viniagrette

The verdict on this one was excellent. The Green Zebras were the favourite, with the smokey Black Russian coming in a close second. The viniagrette topped it off well, and the buffalo mozarella did not go unnoticed.

Course 2

Balcony Garden Fresh Pesto Chicken with Rice, Steamed Broccoli and Strawberry Spinach topped Salad.

Another hit in the evening meal. The pesto was a little lumpy, as I traded pinenuts for walnuts which perhaps did not break down equally well.

However the taste was there and all enjoyed it. Though the jury is still out on the berries from the strawberry spinach.

Course 3

Poached Pear Stuffed with Vanilla Cheesecake, topped with nut crumble served with icecream and Lemon thyme, Lime basil Reduction

The aforeblogged Deconstructed Poached Pear Cheesecake. Absolutely divine, though we have so so so much crumble left over.

Course 4

Not really a course, we we had a cheese platter. The blue was almost roaring forties style in strength but the brie was soft a creamy and went down oh so quickly.

So the first ever balcony garden dinner pearty went down a treat. Lovely meals, great wine supplied by all the guests, including the first dessert wine I have ever enjoyed (usually find the sweetness offputting) However, with the dishwasher on the blink (and the fine china being brought out for the occasion which will NEVER see the inside of the dishwasher) the cleanup went well into the next day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cooking with the Inept Balcony Gardener: Deconstructed Pear Cheesecake in a Lemon/Lime basil reduction

Tonight will be the first ever Balcony Garden Dinner Party. I aim to use produce from the balcony in a delectable three course meal sort of way. This is also a post about what happens when they let the inept balcony gardener loose in the kitchen! Ok so I did work as a cook for a year or so in the UK, and have always had a love of all things culinary, so in smart dinner party planner style I decided to start the 'never cooked it before and have no single recipe' dessert a day before. Was probably lucky I did.

If it were to adorn the menu at an upmarket Australian restaurant I think the entry would go a little something like this:

Deconstructed, Gluten-Free Pear Cheesecake - Vanilla Bean Poached Pears, stuffed with a crisp lemon cheesecake, adorned with a mixed nut crumble and served with buttery vanilla icecream and a lemon thyme/lime basil reduction

Sounds posh enough, and it should be a show stopper. However I didn't really find a recipe for it, all I did was blend a poached pear recipe, a no cook cheese cake recipe, my usual nut crumble (gluten free of course) and then played with the poaching liquid, adding flourishes from the balcony garden. Such a treat! Wanna walk through it with me?

Step 1

Core and peel the pears, I used 10 pears and bought an apple corer just for the occasion (the gourmet apple corer at that, a whole dollar more expensive) Unfortunately I was a bit vigorous and managed to bend the apple corer, making the task even more difficult. But really, who needs to go to the gym when you can core pears, this was a reallllll work out.

Eventually all 10 pears were naked and soaking in lemon juice water, didn't want them to oxidize now did I!!!

Step 2

Now to create a poaching liquid. For 10 pears it was 5 cups of sugar to 15 cups of water. Very sweeeeetttttt. I added some lemon basil, lemon thyme and lime basil at this stage, and a seeded vanilla bean.

Simmered for 10 minutes or so, then popped in the pears. Covered and simmered for a further 25 minutes and hey presto, 10 vanilla poached pears!

Step 3

Now to make the cheesecake filling. This was easy, I simply blended cream cheese, condensed milk, some lemon juice, and whatever I could scrape out of the vanilla beans that were in the poaching mix.

Add the mix to the centre of the pears. Probably should have put some gelatin in because the mix, unfortunately, did not set well!

Step 4

Fix the problems like Macgyver - make it a semifredo cheesecake instead - and pop the lot into the freezer.

Step 5

I don't have any photos of this yet, mostly because I haven't made it yet! Thought I might serve the crumble straight out of the oven for a little bit of heat to the dish. To make the crumble is easy. Rub together some hazelnut meal, some crumbled nuts of your choice (I am going with walnuts this time), some butter or margarine, a dash of vanilla extract and some brown sugar. Exact measures? Can't help you there, but it should still be a relatively dry mix and certainly not all stuck together like dough. sprinkle it on an oven tray, pop it in the oven on a moderate heat for about 5 minutes - et voila - instant gluten free crumble!

Step 6

Make the sauce. I just threw some of the poaching liquid into a pan, added some more lemon basil, lime basil and lemon thyme and a smidge more of the vanilla bean.

Then bubbled away for a while and reduced it by half. Once it starts to boil up (and in my case over) you know it is ready.

Step 7

Make the buttery vanilla icecream - for this I got in my car, went to the shop, and purchased it! Alas no icecream machine at my place yet, but one day maybe ...

So there you have it. Tonight my dinner guests for the first ever Inept Balcony Garden Dinner Party will be desserting on this crafty little number. Will let you know how it (and the rest of the dinner party goes) once the hangover wears off.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Making with the Smiles

Woke up today and thought I was back in London. When i lived there, in 2003/2004, doing the bar/kitchen backpacker thing I remember a constant black gritty feeling on the days I used the tube. I would sneeze and the sight was never pretty and invariably black (there's a lovely image for your morning coffee!!!)

With the smoke haze in the air in Melbourne that feeling of gritty ickyness is creeping back in. So I thought I would just post something that makes me smile and ward of any impending blues. But what makes me happiest? An evening with friends - check - that is set for tomorrow night. Having a study breakthrough - check again - happened yesterday and today I can continue that. But what else, that is blogworthy, makes me smile? Pictures and surprises and memories always make me smile. Like yesterday when I got a surprise package in the mail amongst the phone bills - twas from my lovely Mother and in it were some photos she thought I might like. One was from Christmas with me in the balcony Garden, others much older. So hopefully this motley collection of back catalogue Balcony Garden shots can do the same and ward of any impending black grit blues.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More New Comers to the BG

Last week I took a day off from study (there are only so many Nazi memoirs I can stomach before really needing a supersized break) and spent it in the balcony garden. After the hot days it needed rejuvination. Given one of my obsessions is for symmetry I finally purchased a couple more small hanging pots to make sure each pole on the balcony had a pot.

Anyway for the hanging pots I had a different idea. Fern from LOTB had a wonderful post on combinations in pots. While I did not directly follow one of her wonderful predetermined combinations she got me thinking about colour and function and height and ... Well I looked around the balcony garden for things I already had, poppped to the nursery for some quick supplies and impluse buys and raided the seed drawers. The welsh sprouting onions needed to be separated and given a new home so they were firt on the list. I also had in my possession some interesting beetroot seeds. I have the golden ones already planted in a larger pot, around a leek or two (wonder if this combo will work), sprouting and overcrowding so looks like it is time to thin. Wonder what baby beet leaves taste like ... !!!

Around the sprouting onions, which still were way too crowded, and currently are being used like strong chives to thin them without waste, I planted some white beetroot and some slow bolt beetroot. It'll hopefully be mutli coloured borscht at our place in a few months time. Yes they are very crowded, it is a balcony garden trait that I really need to shake. So far so good. Some tiny seedlings poking their heads through.

In the other two pots I planted snap dragons (I do recall these being on Stuart at Gardening Tips'n'Ideas 5 most hated plant list, love that post because with all the responses it shows just how fickle and wide ranging gardeners can be, but of snapdragons I am a big fan and I guess this proves his 'they're everywhere' theory) with a ring of viola seeds. Sort of the wrong time of the year for viola, but whatever, I did it anyway. The snap dragons are beginning to open up, and even if they only last a day or two in the new heatwave I don't mind. Love the deep red and yellow the best (even though it appears to be a cross between magenta and pretty-in-pink pink in these photos).

So there you have it, a small update on the BG. Wonder how the plant combinations will go. What plant combinations are your favourite? Are there any wierd ones you would recommend that defy the logic of nature?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pretty Pressies

Went to visit the Birthmum and associated family the other day, and took with me a little offering from the Balcony Garden. Some tomatoes of various sorts including the first Mortgage Lifter, a Roma, a Green Zebra, a Black ussian and the last of the yellows, herbs, chillies, onions, mixed lettuce, strawberry spinach and a little snap dragon.

I think they went down well. She also gave me a lovely pressie - a baby nectarine! Love it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day - a new hope

Unless you have been hiding under a rock in outer Siberia with headphones on blaring Barry Manilow in a strained attempt to reach Nirvana (or its hellish equivalent), or at least something close to it, then you would have heard about Victoria's heatwave and the ensuing fires. The responses to the tragedy have been amazing, massive fundraising efforts and your words on here give so much hope.

The heatwave wreaked some havoc in the balcony garden, and there are few blooms ready for Garden Bloggers Blooms Day. Indeed what is blooming is part desperation and part survival instinct on behalf of the plants, or, if you look at it another way - a new hope (not the Star Wars kind either, I'm more of an Empire girl myself). All accross the balcony I see plants putting out flowers in order to seed and reproduce. The tomato plants, though burnt back (by sun not by fire) are putting out new flowers in the hope of fruiting and continuing on

The basil plants paint the bottom border with hues of white and purple. It means the days of pesto are drawing nearer to a close, but it gives the hope that maybe they will spring again.

The Begonia, once seared closer to the stem than my grandmother's steak is in full flower again.

The lemon tree too is beautiful and putting out this lovely citrus scent. I wouldn't care if this tree never bore fruit, I just love the smell of the blossoms.

So that is garden bloggers blooms day on the balcony garden. Nothing large or radiant or anything close to the word spectacular. But it means so much more, new growth, new life, new hope. Still thinking of the fireys out there, fighting the flames that just wont lie down. And to those that lost so much, our thoughts are with you.