Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pre-holiday garden bed checklist

timer + drip hose - two ways I've travel-proofed my garden

I love my garden - and at the moment it's doing really well. So should I spend my time overseas worrying about it? Hell no. Some careful planning should keep my greens going strong until I return in 6 weeks' time. And if things go wrong? It's ok. I can always replant.

Over the week before we left home, I made about 243 lists, for house and travel and garden and work and school and documents and clothes and so on. I'm one of those list-y people who can't function without being able to put tasks on paper and check them off with neat ticks as they're accomplished. Oh yes, that's me. Maybe it's you, too?

My garden list was the most fun of all of them - it makes me feel so happy to dig around in dirt and grow things. I checked off tasks one by one, chilli by lemon, kale by basil, rosemary by silverbeet. Today, I thought I'd share that list with you - to help encourage you to give yourself some well-deserved freedom.

I don't believe in not-traveling because something might happen to my garden (substitute any number of words for the word garden), because who can ever predict what might happen? I've returned home after months away to find fresh basil sprouts and new tomato seedlings and heavy bell peppers (capsicums) all over a somewhat neglected garden. And I've been at home and walked outside after breakfast to find every chilli decimated by a hungry (hopefully tummy-sore - take that you inconsiderate marsupial) possum.

But here you are: a list of simple things you can do to ensure make it more likely you'll return from your trip to a garden full of produce. Green stuff always feels good in your body after travel, don't you think?

Hope you have a great weekend! And a great trip :)
Amanda xx

aphids. on MY nasturtiums. grrr.

A Pre-Holiday Garden Bed Checklist

Here's my pre-holiday checklist for a small-ish townhouse garden bed like mine, which measures about 2x2m, is surrounded by pots, and is planted primarily with green leafy things, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes and herbs.

  • Set up a drip-based watering system that maximises the water getting into the soil and should minimise leaf-scorching (which is when leaves burn from a water-then-hot-sun combo). Make the watering comprehensive - leave no plant behind. As you can see in the pictures, I've wound a clog-proof hose throughout my garden. If you're concerned about attractiveness - which I might be when I get back - you can always bury this kind of hose under soil and it'll water the plants straight into their roots. 

  • Install a timer. Programmable timers that come on at a set time daily can be expensive, but will save your neighbour from having to trek over every day or two. If you have a housesitter, or want to make it (more cheaply) easy on your neighbour, install a timer that automatically turns off the water. The one I'm using sits between the spout and the drip-hose, and - much like a cooking timer - stops the flow of water after a set period. 

  • Find a friend to check on your garden and water (if needed). Even if you have a 100% automatic system set up, you'll still want to make sure it's functioning properly while you're away. 

  • Fertilise. Use compost, or diluted worm farm juice, or organic chicken poo, or your favourite organic/natural fertiliser in the recommended dosage for your garden's area. Make your plants happy! (before you abandon them)

  • Mulch. Here in the subtropics - and in our garden beds - it's critical to completely cover the surface of the soil with mulch to prevent evaporation and soil dry-out. Mulch is a great water-conservation measure. Pile it up all over the soil, around the garden plants themselves - in addition to keeping the soil wetter, it'll compost slowly over time, and make it more difficult for weeds to sprout. I like sugar cane or organic tea tree mulches - tea tree is native in Australia, but has a nose-clearing fragrance you may have to get used to.

  • Remove caterpillars and leaf hoppers. A quick scan should help you find all the little guys eating your yummy leaves. In my garden, the poor kale suffers terribly from caterpillars - if I'm not diligent about a seek-and-remove every week or so, I end up with stalks. And fat, organic caterpillars. Dispose of your pests as you like - I have a hard time squishing bugs so I tend to throw mine over the fence out onto the street. (I figure the birds will find and eat them - yay! Happy birds!). You can ask your friend/neighbour to sweep the garden for bugs while you're away, or just take your chances they won't eat everything

  • Spray for ants and aphids. This is another issue in my Brisbane garden - the diligent farming practices of my ants. I know, I should encourage the behaviour ... but the aphids suck the life (literally) out of my garden, and contribute to extreme ant populations that eventually start scanning my house for new home sites. Great. So I spray them with a non-toxic (to me) organic oil and water mixture. To make one yourself, simply mix 1/2 cup vegetable oil* + 1 1/2 Tbs Dr. Bronners liquid soap + 1 cup water in a spray bottle. Shake, and spray. I recommend spraying in the early morning or evening, when the mixture won't scorch the leaves. *I've used sunflower oil and avocado oil and both have worked fine - but use whatever you have on hand. Insects respire through holes in their bodies (spiracles), and vegetable oils block these holes making it difficult for them to breathe. Yes, they suffocate. But at least you don't have to squish them!

  •  Most importantly? Relax. Don't stress. Enjoy your time away!

homemade organic aphid oil

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The All-Purpose Carrot Salad

Carrot salads are just about my favourite - so versatile, and good for you, and what a gorgeous hit of colour on your table! My whole family loves them - child included. Plus, if you're a thrifty organic girl like me, you'll know you can (often) stride into your favourite natural foods store or farmer's market and buy large bags of perfectly-tasty "juicing" carrots for a fraction of the price of the pretty ones. Because when it comes to carrots, pretty has nothing to do with sweetness or flavour. And ...

Less money on organic carrots = more money for coffee. You think so, too, I know you do.

So what to do with all these carrots?

My current favourite salad is so simple:
Using your hands (or a fork), mix shredded carrot + sea salt + a dash of olive oil + a dash of rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar). Then, before serving, add a sprinkling of aniseed.

If you like seaweed, you might try this one - a mix of carrot and arame - though, I'll be honest with you ... I now prefer to use toasted, shredded nori sheets instead of arame in that one. I've amended the recipe to include both options. Gotta keep it simple, and I almost always have nori in my pantry. Arame? Not so much.

And then you can go nutty - a very basic carrot salad with almonds for added texture and flavour (and one of my earliest posts! check out the difference in pictures ... whoa ...)

Basically, you can make a great salad using carrots + a light vinaigrette + any of the following:
  • toasted, crushed nuts
  • toasted seeds
  • fresh mint, basil, parsley, or thyme
  • dried aniseed, oregano, or (toasted) cumin seeds
  • flavoured or nutty oils

For variety, use carrots of different colours - yellow, purple, orange. Or experiment with texture - instead of shredding, you can use a peeler to create long, wide ribbons of carrot, like Sarah did here. Or use your julienner to create a nest-like mess of carrot.

Long live the carrot salad.
Amanda xx

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Death is the ultimate shit. So what are you going to do about it?

Is worrying about things holding you back? 

Here's how I think about my life. Maybe I only have 5 years left, or 10. Maybe cancer will creep its way back into my body. Or maybe not - maybe I'll die from old age, instead. Maybe I'll run my last 10kms at 95. 

That's a lot of maybes. These are the things we can never know - the whens and hows of our own demise. Death's beyond uncertain, it's unfathomable. And yeah, of course there are times I can't stop thinking about it. But you know what helps? Change.
"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ― Neale Donald Walsch.
I love that quote. It's so spot on. For me, moving away from the comfortable in my life is like a pool of icy water - it's not easy to immerse myself, but doing so helps me remember that right now, right here, I'm alive. I'm breathing, I'm living, I'm thriving. And I can do whatever the hell I want. 

So can you. Shit will happen. Death - the ultimate shit, in my opinion - will happen. But what you can control is how you experience things until then. Get out there. Do stuff. Live.

And once you get used to the idea that you're mortal - and that it's ok to be mortal - all the other worries tend to fade a bit, too. So find the edge of your comfort zone, plunge into the world, grow yourself.

See you out there,
Amanda xx

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Strawberry Cream Cheese "Sushi" from the new Weelicious Cookbook

all photos on this post are courtesy of Harper Collins

When I was offered the chance to review the new Weelicious Lunches cookbook, I jumped. If you're not familiar with Catherine McCord and her healthy, kid-friendly site - you'll probably need to spend some time acquainting yourself. 

I'll be honest with you - I like Catherine's philosophy because, well, it's like mine (and probably yours, too!). But hey, that's how we pick our friends and networks, isn't it? We look for variants on our very own theme for inspiration and (at home) companionship. I read somewhere recently that we're each the average of the five people we spend the most time with - which verifies my suspicions that I got the tantrum-throwing side of my personality from my daughter, and not the other way around. Surely?

So let me tell you a bit about this new cookbook.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Best Ever Zucchini Cake Smoothie [Vegan]

best ever vegan green smoothie

Ha - I wondered if that "Best Ever" would get your attention. Have you seen a zucchini cake smoothie before? 

Didn't think so. Let me share one with you.

Zucchini's one of those magical veggies that often finds itself gobbled up by unsuspecting kids - in muffins, pancakes, cookies (in development, I promise), pasta sauces, even salsa (if they like the spicy stuff) ... And yes, cake, though what kid won't gobble cake regardless? It's a great source of fibre, folate, potassium, vitamin A and manganese, but let's be honest, you're probably not going to eat zucchini for its nutritional qualities - you're going to eat it because your garden or your neighbour's garden has produced obscene amounts of it, or because you were inspired to buy 3 kg at last weekend's farmer's market. And now what?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Through Windows {Food for Thought}

Was it tsunami, or poverty? Did deep warm water inundate the people who lived here, or debt, or sadness, or a feeling that maybe life could be better somewhere else? 

These are the things you can't possibly know, when you're traveling, and you walk by a place. These are the things you ponder briefly as you look out over that fickle ocean in Tangalle, Sri Lanka, with an icy Lion beer numbing your hand, until you remember that it's almost dinnertime, and start wondering what you'll eat. These are the things you forget entirely when you go home to your normal life, where you worry about your own small world - how good a mother you are, whether you can write or not or do science or not, if you own too many clothes or too few, can you justify cosmetic dentistry? 

Sometimes I have to reset my focus, look outside my own problems and remember that great big world out there. Travel does that - it gives me perspective, even if it's only temporary. At any moment, I might be sad or happy or anxious or angry, and people out there in the world are are experiencing all that, too - some more, some less. There's joy and loss and certainty and disorientation all around me, around all of us, and that's life. It's how we live, in ups and downs. We're not alone in that.

And I'm not saying it's a good idea to start peering through windows in foreign countries - or even down our own streets - but maybe just a little curiosity about the world around us is a good thing. And maybe a little bit of peering is good, too.

Amanda xx

Monday, September 2, 2013

Instant Harissa Mayonnaise (with Roasted Pumpkin + Lemony Quinoa Pilaf ... and Pecans)

My all-time favourite recipes, and the ones that make it onto this website, are those with that magic combination of delicious + nutritious + easy + thrifty. They have to be resilient to laziness and bouts of erratic substitution. I have to want to make them again. And again. And again.

One of the staples around our house is roasted veg. There are few veggies that (in my opinion) don't benefit by a good douse in sea salt and olive oil and some quality time in a very hot oven. And by benefit, I mean "become extra tasty." Heat caramelises the sugars in vegetables and crisps up exposed flesh - enriching and diversifying flavour and texture. 

If you doubt me, try roasting cauliflower. OMG.