Monday, August 31, 2009

Balcony Garden Roast Post

Finally, after a week of cleaning and recovery, and also a week of far too much uni work, I have managed to pluck up the energy to write this post. The first ever Balcony Garden Sunday Roast was held over a week ago. It was held in lieu of another balcony garden dinner party, because the usual suspects couldn't find a single weekend evening free in common! Instead it turned into a Sunday roast, beef, yorkshire puddings (just like I used to make when I worked in the kitchens of English pubs) and all the trimmings, plus entree and dessert, all using at least one element from the balcony garden. While the balcony is big enough to host many plants, it is not an ersatz dairy and as such the cattle portion had to be obtained from the Vic markets. So too the cheese for the cheese platter was obtained at the markest, as unlike Gavin at The Greening of Gavin who seems to be a homemade cheesemaker extraordinaire, I am not quite set up to make my own cheese (but boy oh boy would I love to.) Indeed it is probably best to start the post with a look at the cheese platter. Normally something to end a dinner party this time it took the place of pre-dinner/lunch nibbles.

The garden element was multi-coloured carrot sticks taken from the pile pictured later in this post (the other half went into the salad.) So too a little sprig of indoor-grown basil added to the plate. This was to have homemade gluten free crakcers with it, which I lovingly cooked earlier in the week, adapting a recipe from here.

Probably in part due to my makeshirt wine bottle rolling pin, and the substitution of a gluten free flour to the mix difficulties arose. Alas the crackers were liable to break a tooth they were so hard, and provided a novelty factor for the day but served no real nutritional purpose. (note they were made with potato flour and the balcony garden element was rosemary)

The entree was a duo of soups. One was a potato, leek and bacon soup utlising leeks from the garden.

The other was a sweet potato, coriander, chilli and coconut cream number, which took chillis from the garden (the coriander, though also grown of the balcony garden, was taken from my cousin's garden as she had a ridiculous surplus!) It was all served with a steaming hot, homemade foccacia, same recipe as this one, just minus the leeks and bacon.

Both soups were tasty and some members of the dinner party with less dietary restrictions decided to sample a bowl of each. Then came the main course of roast beef, yorkshire puddings, roasted potatoes (four varieties), jerusalem artichokes and mushrooms, steamed snow peas, broccoli, beet leaves and silverbeet and a salad of greens, tomatoes and carrots. All steamed greens and salad elements were balcony garden grown.

The final piece-de-resistance alas comes with no photos of the final product. I blame wine induced forgetfulness. It was a deconstruction of a lemon meringue pie. I made meringue casings, and in them placed homemade lemon curd icecream (which used lemons from the balcony garden) on top of which was to be placed a nut crumble. I burned the nut crumbled in my view so declined from serving it, however most disagreed and ate it straight from the cooking dish! Raspberry sauce I got at christmas topped this little number off and it was enjoyed by all.

All in all it was a magical day. Somehow the intended afternoon meal went well into the night, with most guests staying until 9pm!!! I suspect the 12 bottles of wine and apple wine and coffee cocktail I crazily made helped in this regard. Thanks to everyone who came, and particular thanks to those who helped with the dishes, it made the hungover Monday cleanup that much easier! I will definitely have another balcony garden function once the next harvest comes in. Until then I am enjoying the remaining greens and carrots all by myself!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Nick Earls, Michael Jackson, Masterchef and the Rights of Spring

Again I must hold off the roast post but this is because I had a moment last night that I think will have to be put down in the top ten moments of this year and is a serious contender for the number one spot, though possibly trailing only slightly behind Miss B's birthday bash 3am Chambord taste testing, Mr M's return from the other Aust or the day I first tried a mortgage lifter tomato straight from the balcony garden. Either way I feel the need to relate it to the world of the internet.

Last night, due to the lastish minute dropping out of her rugby enthused husband, my cousin took me along to one of the more musical events for Melbourne Writer's Week. I had already witnessed Bernhard Shlink's amazing and thesis-galvanising keynote speech on Friday night and hadn't planned any other adventures into its program (I blame the financial limitations of being a postgraduate student who spends a disproportionate amount of her spare cash on a balcony garden.) I replied to her request in my hungover state on Monday morning, not really knowning what I was getting into. It was only about 2 hours before the show when I decided to look at exactly what it was. It was then that I realised it was a Michael Jackson tribute thingo, with a no holds barred reinterpretation of the songs from Thriller. Interesting concept, made all the more exciting when I read that Nick Earls was to be one of the interpreters.

Nick Earls is a name synonymous with happy downtime for me. He is a novelist, best known for his humerous fiction and is now an author of 13 books. My favourites are not the most well known. Number one would be Perfect Skin, followed closely by his short story collection Headgames. He isn't exactly the Shakespeare of our times but his plots, his plays on words and his well drawn characters give me all I need from the paper pages.

I got even more giggly when he walked in at the same time as Cuz K and I! She nudged me, I blushed, there were embaressed giggles, but Nick Earls, I am sure, remained oblivious. The show was packed, seriously packed, we were lucky to get a seat, up the front no less. Champagne in hand we waited for what was to be a very unique and absolutely humerous show. Nick Earls was obviously not the onloy performer, there are 9 tracks on Thriller. A host of Australias poetic talent and everpresent performers took to the stage, all humerous and intriguing in their own intepretations. But I was there for Earls (no technically I was there because Cuz A equated running round a rugby field as more impressive than watching performers wriggle around Thriller and Cuz K had kindly furnished me with his ticket.) He was the 5th to perform, and had the track Beat It to intepret. That was where the laughter began and didn't stop for about 6 and a half minutes, give or take the few seconds I had to gulp for air in order to remain conscious throughout.

To cut it short, and not to steal his thunder should this 'epic' intepretive tome ever reach the light of day he took Beat It to a culinary level, using the final few episodes of Masterchef as his thematic approach. He sang A Capella, with quite a level of competance (I suspect shower practicing sessions or the occasional youthful Karaoke night had a helping hand.) The whole audience was in hysterics. Never before and possibly never again will I ever get to see Nick Earls singing Masterchef to the tune of Michael Jackson's Beat It. Once in a lifetime, never to be repeated!

Anyway that's my glowing rant. I hope I didn't hype it too much because unless video evidence abounds I suspect this wonderous moment will be lost to the history of Melbourne Writer's Week. Still I was glad I got to see it. Thanks Cuz A for liking rugby more, thanks Cuz K for furnishing me with the ticket (hope you liked your thai thankyou dinner) and thankyou mostly to Nick Earls for making me laugh so hard I nearly, well, I won't add in any cliche there, it would not suffice.

And just to tie this into the garden ... we have some newbies to welcome. Brand new tumbler tomatoes! Mortgage Lifters to follow shortly, plus more colourful creations. Planting tomatoes is definitely a signal that spring has pretty much sprung!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pansy Pals

No roast post yet, but it is on its way I promise. In the meantime here are a couple of new blooms in the balcony garden, both pansies but of very different colours.

Just some more colour which adds to the spring awakening of the balcony garden.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Roast day flowers from the balcony and beyond

I am yet to post on the Roast from last Sunday, which was a feast of such epic proportions that it needs a post to match its worth. Ok maybe I am going a bit over the top with that one, but it was a pretty awesome day, so thanks to everyone who came along! Alas I am still too tired from the day, and all the marking I am doing at the moment to do the post justice quite yet. Tomorrow, perhaps, hopefully I can show you the wonders of our roasty goodness. But one lovely guest, who once housesat the balcony garden and saved it during a heatwave brought this lovely smelling and looking bouquet fresh from her own garden.

Such lovely flowers! Was the beginning of an awesome day. Another wonderful find on the day was ... nectarine blossom!!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Harvest

I am so, so, so excited, I finally had harvest worth mentioning. Ok so this is probably going to include a couple of harvests from a little over a week ago too, but it is not often in the middle of winter I get a haul such as this and I don't want things to miss out just because I pulled them out early. One such fellow was the daikon radish. He was smaller than a usual daikon but really really tender.

I also pulled out enough veggies for this salad.

Carrot thinnings, which I ate, they were like little lollies, slyly addictive! So yummy.

And some snow peas and broccoli found their way into my meal one night.

All very small harvests. I don't keep tallies or totals or anything, except for the tomatoes, and the balcony garden is not a money saving venture nor a concerted attempt at sustainable living, it is simply an adventure, an adventure in gardening. The reason I had such a large harvest this week(ish) was due to a Sunday Roast we had here yesterday, the point of which was to show off my newly harvested goodies. I had leeks for the potato and leek soup, although when cut down there wasn't really enough of them so they were topped up with a couple of others from the markets.

Some greens which included snow peas, broccoli, beetroot leaves, silverbeet of plain and rainbow varieties and rocket. These were steamed and served as is.

Carrots for the salad.

Tomatoes for the salad.

And lettuce for the salad.

Stay tuned for my post about the roast and you will see what the salad looked like before we all attacked it. I took the last two lemons off the lemon tree for the dessert, deconstructed lemon meringue pie, but more on that feast later.

So there you have it, a pretty fine harvest if I do say so myself. And I am giddily excited that I finally get to join in on Daphne's Dandelions Monday Harvest extravaganza.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Testing Gusts

Today is one windy day in Melbourne. I don't know who ate all the baked beans but I wish they would stop. It has caused more than a few headaches for the balcony garden, and seeing as today is a working from home day (and preparation for the big balcony garden Sunday Roast day) I have been here to witness and troubleshoot along the way.

Firstly it had dried out all the pots and while we had about .2mm of rain this is nowhere near enough to sustain potted plants. So while passers by scowled at me I loaded up each pot with my saved water (I save my shower warm up water, veggie washing water, etc). I could see what they were thinking, what's wrong with you girl, we have water restrictions and it is currently sort of raining!?! Well they can play judge all they like, all's fair with recycled water and most folks don't know just how much wind can dry a pot out. Some of them have dried out again already (it's sunny too for periods as well, crazy!!!)

Secondly one of my trellising jobs came unstuck and the poor snow peas were set adrift. Luckily I caught this early and put the stake back in the ground (yes the wind is THAT strong it blew them out of the ground!!!). It still looks really lopsided and each new gusts leads is closer and closer to collapsing again. Finger crossed it holds, this is what it used to look like in better times.

Thirdly one giant gust just blew two potplants off the table! That's two plants, pots, soil and all!!!! These aren't overly heavy but they were by no means the lightest things around. One was damaged beyond repair (the beognia) and the red gazania is not looking too crash hot (excuse the pun.) It should die down soon but in the meantime I'm keeping a close eye on the balcony, whilest cooking meringue cups and soups and more for the balcony fiesta!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Winter Tomato Experiment Update

I first posted on the beginnings of my winter tomato experiment here, which at first comprised of a few siberian tomato plants. I added some other tomatoes, such as white tomesol and big rainbow. While the latter two types are growing they are not even at the flowering stage, let alone the fruiting stage. Although here are some pictures of their current state.

As this post from the other day showed the siberians were certainly fruiting, and what's more they were ripening.

Then, last Saturday night, with glass of Sav Blanc in hand, Mr M and I sampled the first fruit off the vine.

It was delicious! So sweet yet tangy and it made me wince like eating a lemon. Yet it was definitely ripe, it smelled and felt and looked intensely red and squishy. I have since eaten two more and there were similarly tangy probably because of the large amount of gel. Not much bigger than a cherry tomato but full of flavour. Bring on summer I say, and the delights of more tomatoes! Pity these particular vines are damaged beyond belief by fungus gnats and associated grossness.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cooking with Leeks

Ok so these weren't homegrown leeks as in this post but shortly after boasting in my post about the abundance of leeks on the balcony I realised I had one sorry looking little leek in the bottom of my fridge. Somehow I got the master idea of putting it on a freshly baked focaccia. I finely chopped some bacon with the leek and sauteed them both in a frying pan. Then I added it to the foccacia recipe - I used a variation of this one - it was an interestingly salty but tangy bread treat. It looked like this.

Being a household of one I had to eat it for days. Warm out of the oven, for lunch with some cheese, as a bready side to a meaty, veggie, gravy dish in my cool little four-compartment lunchbox (although I do think they should have seperate lids, if I hadn't had the forethought to indepdently glad wrap the gravy sodden peas and the yoghurt covered stewed apples I would have had an almighty mess in my bag!)

I made a few mistakes, firstly the topping tended to fall off. This can be fixed by adding some cheese or, alternatively, placing the filling in the middle. This way it would also stop it from burning. I am tempted to make this as a side for Sunday's Balcony Garden Roast. What do you think? What else can you do with leeks?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Radish part two

A few days ago I posted proudly about my single daikon radish sitting in the garden. It had grown extra leafy and I suspected it needed to be eaten. Plus the foliage was shadowing the new little black radishes so I thought it best that I pull it sooner rather than later. This is what he looked like!

He was much bigger than any of the carrots I have grown, maybe because he had an almost adequate amount of space. Now in the shops they are a million times bigger than this, but I never want that much radish. This one was perfect for a very large, and decadent meal for one. I grated the daikon with some carrot and added some greens and coriander from the garden. Thinly sliced some fresh raw sashimi grade salmon to add to the top and dotted it with some soy.

Was extra tasty and also pretty healthy. The daikon acts as a digestive so it all settled quite well. The flavour is very mild, almost creamy. The crispish texture went to well with the soft salmon and greens. I'll have to wait several more months for another home grown one, in fact it will be longer because I am waiting for a pot to become available so I can plant some!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day - August

You can tell spring is just around the corner. Everywhere I go there are flowers and the promise of more flowers. Which makes this garden bloggers blooms day full of colour, and promise. First we have the white snapdragons.

Which sit alongside the promise of white pansies. Originally I only had purple and blue pansies but the promise of the white ones is exciting.

We have the red geraniums.

and the promise of more.

And more red in the form of snapdragons.

Yellow galore with the gazania showing a lovely bloom.

And the red gazania shows promise of more

A bolt of blue from the cornflower, with some more buds for the coming months.

Lovely violas are still blooming strong.

With a new addition of violets from Lovely Ms L's house!

Many blooms to enjoy now and it seems there are many more to come in the near future! Hope everyone else is having a beautiful and promising blooms day.