The Next Phase

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New gates at each end. This is the rear of the property.

Winter has been a good time to let the garden rest and get on with lots of knitting for the shop. However it’s starting to warm up and Spring isn’t far away. Priorities are about to change!

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The paddock in earlier days

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Internal access from the Convent block through a small gate set in the privet hedge.

Over the past year I’ve been cleaning up the block next door, or “the paddock” as it’s more commonly referred to. I have just over half an acre of land that the Convent sits on and also own the quarter acre next door which has just been a rough block up until now. I’ve had it cleared of the old scrub and last week fencing and gates went up, so now it’s time to start doing some work.

The land is pretty rough – shale and clay, so I’ll be taking my time building up the soil and planting gradually. So far I’ve started at one end – lots of cardboard getting put down and mulch going on top. Given it’s pruning time, lots of light pruning and leaves are making their way to the other side of the galvanised fence. First cab off the rank is potatoes. Last year I had huge success with some substantial “no dig” beds of potatoes layered with straw mulch and a sprinkling of Dynamic Lifter. This year I have the advantage of horse poo courtesy of Poppy the horse down the road.

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Some rockery beds are already in place at the front of the block from decades ago – now sans tyre plantings.

Either end of the block will be some pretties – I have roses on order that should be OK. Some of the block has some rockery work in place that should work well for the rose and perennial beds but the balance of the paddock will mainly be produce. Some bordering for veggie beds will take place shortly.

Desiree, Sebago and Dutch Cream potatoes doing multiple duties – food, breaking up and enriching soil.

The photos look pretty bleak and colourless – it’s been a very dry Winter with harsh frosts – this will green up in no time with better weather and a little TLC. Anyway, this will keep me going for quite some time.

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Gates at the front of the property – the views are stunning.

Putting the Elderflowers to Work -Elderflower Syrup

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The variegated Elderflower, nearly two years old – no shrinking violet

I have two beautiful Elderflower bushes – both very different in appearance but both vigorous and prolific. The plainer green one that suckers all over the place is about three years old and flowers madly a little later in Summer. At the moment there are no signs of flowers developing but lots of green bushy growth cropping up all over the place. The second is less than two years old, has stunning variegated leaves and a far more architectural growth habit. It’s flowering like crazy right now and last year, unlike it’s older relative, also developed elderberries.

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Last year’s Elderflower Champagne

The previous Summer, the flowers were put to use in Elderflower Champagne, which was a huge success. I recently timidly opened one of the many bottles stashed in my cellar to see if they were still bubbly and was delighted to find it even better than before! Maturing with age like some of us.

This time around I’m trying Elderflower Syrup (same as Elderflower Cordial). I’ve used this Jamie Oliver recipe that sounded interesting with the addition of honey – but it’s so simple with just Elderflowers (lots), sugar, honey, lemons and water. The first batch was doubled so I have plenty and am looking forward to using it as a cordial, fruit syrup and maybe even in some elderflower sorbet, not to mention as a cocktail with some Prosecco!

Next up some more Elderflower champagne – it’s such a treat to sit in the evening next to my new fishpond with an icy glass of this drink and just chill with the dogs.

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The finished product – I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future

 

Making Use of Garden Produce

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Elderflower Champagne in production

It’s a wonderful time in the garden for reaping the benefits of all the planted veg. But as gardeners know all too well, when it grows, there’s always more than you need. So recently I’ve been working on how best to store and use this bounty best throughout the year.

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Lots of mixed cherry tomatoes for pasta sauces and semi dried in jars

I always grow lots of cherry tomatoes, which are easier for me – they seem to have less problems and are more resilient. Whilst wonderful in salads and even just picked and eaten on the spot in the garden, I always end up with so many. This year I tried making pasta sauce – which was hard work with all the tough little skins. But the result was excellent with a tasty sauce. So I’m now back to my standard of semi-dried tomatoes in olive oil. I just wash, dry and cut the tomatoes in half, toss in olive oil with salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper and choice of fresh herbs – usually basil, oregano or parsley, and bake slowly in the oven, turning a few times until significantly reduced and much drier. They are then packed into sterilised glass jars and topped with olive oil. Great to add to pasta, casseroles or an antipasto plate. I was fortunate to be given some big tomatoes as well which have been turned into a luscious pasta sauce, with the addition or oregano and white wine. Maybe next year I will be a little bolder with growing the serious big tomatoes myself.

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Bubbling pasta sauce

I have heaps of herbs and herb butter makes the enjoyment last    throughout the year, so I’m preparing herb butter logs with tarragon, basil, parsley and chives that sit happily in the freezer until required. I think I might use the glut of tarragon in some tarragon vinegar as well. I’m still working out the best uses for lovage and sorrel… whilst the mint and lemon verbena are making great teas. I think I’ll experiment with trying out some iced tea with them as well.

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The Elderflowers are so pretty and delicate

My big experiment has been Elderflower Champagne (there are a few good recipes on the net) – sounded too good not to try and I have two big elderberry bushes. So far I have 10 litres (the batch makes 5 litres) and will shortly add another batch whilst the Elder is still flowering. It takes some weeks to mature (?) so I hope it turns out. I really don’t want 15 litres of undrinkable stuff but it’s been fun and seems to be bubbling and fermenting happily at present. Although I feel like I’m running some sort of moonshine operation! If it works, I might have some sample tastings for the Kandos Gardens Fair.

I don’t have enough Elderberries to do anything with them yet, but I’m hoping to collect rosehips and put them to some use.

Anyway, for now it’s lots of experimenting and fun. It’s rewarding to be able to reap the rewards from the garden and have them last throughout the year.

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An abundance of tarragon.

Great Local Dining- The Zin House

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Mudgee is well known for it’s great wine and local produce which also means it has some great cafes and restaurants. One I’ve been wanting to try for a while is The Zin House. I’ve sampled some of the Kim Curry (the chef)’s food before at Lowe’s Cellar Door horizontal tasting this year as part of the Mudgee Food and Wine Festival, but haven’t eaten in the restaurant.

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A tiny wedge of a generous vegetable and herb garden that provides produce for the menu. Blue Borage flowers are starring here.

Before Aimee went home, Gemma, Aimee and I made our way to The Zin House for their five course menu with matching wines. The Zin House restaurant is situated within the Lowe’s Family wines estate – an ideal setting with rolling Mudgee hills and a wonderful vegetable garden providing supplements for the restaurant.

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My favourite for the evening – Saffron Rag Pasta. Wonder if I’ll ever get my Saffron Crocuses to produce?

 

 

 

 

 

We weren’t disappointed with the meal which delivered on every course. It was hard to choose a favourite but the Saffron Rag Pasta with garlic, chilli, mushroom and zucchini was mine and has tempted me to drag out the infrequently used pasta machine. My fellow diners praised the Limoncello Cured Trout Gravlax and the Slow Cooked Five Spice Pork Shoulder.

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The Limoncello Cured Trout Gravlax was hard to beat. That’s the Sorrel, Fennel Flower and Cucumber Salad alongside.

I was inspired by the use of many of the herbs I grow but don’t use. I always have a mound of Sorrel which usually goes to the chooks or  compost, but the Cucumber, Fennel Flower and Sorrel Salad will most likely put a stop to that. We had Borage flowers on the house-made herb butter, Mint in the Salsa Verde and Lemon Verbena (which I also grow) in the Honey and Lemon Verbena Ice-cream. Even the Peppermint Tea was a lovely glass teapot housing fresh mint leaves.

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And the Slow Cooked Five Spice Pork Shoulder.

The wine was predominantly and unsurprisingly Lowes Wines and well chosen as companions to the dishes. Service was excellent, including the offer of a break between courses with a recommended walk around the vegetable gardens and property in the dusk.

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Apricot Crostada with Honey and Lemon Verbena Ice-cream. I think the Verbena will be put to work in an ice-cream or sorbet in future.

 

 

 

It was one of the better dinners for some time and a great finish to a wonderful Christmas break.

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Puts my little Strawberry patch to shame! A lovely shot of part of the vegetable garden and orchard with the rolling landscape of Mudgee in the background.

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Farewell 2015

 

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An Aussie Christmas spread

A good year to be gone, but it ended well.

IMG_1870My girls were here for another Convent Christmas -this time a pretty lazy one. No big roast dinners and hours in a hot kitchen on Christmas Day. This year it was seafood and salads – grilled lobster tails, blue swimmer crabs and prawns and the inevitable glazed ham – with salads to let us have lots of easy meals afterwards.

Dessert of course was pavlova and a raspberry ripple ice-cream made with ricotta – just yum and has lasted well.

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Smoked salmon carpaccio served with homegrown micro herbs. Looked much more vibrant in real life.

Hayley left before New Year taking bags of veg garden bounty back with her whilst Aimee and I had an extended break, sampling the local cafes and a few more low key meals at home, including what is becoming one of my favourite pantry/fridge meals – salmon carpaccio. Another low maintenance meal of finely chopped smoked salmon mixed with other finely chopped goodies such as cornichons, caper berries, spanish onion, capsicum, tomato and coriander and served with toasted triangles. A light refreshing dinner or entree anytime.

To start off the year, I made something I haven’t done for ages – a cake! A lovely butter cake with apples in the middle and on top. The apples are lightly stewed in a sugary syrup which is reduced and poured over the warm cake and also used as a sauce. Just yum – I must remember to bake more often.

Anyway, the Christmas break is coming to and end with the family all returning to Sydney and I’ll be back at work shortly. It’s been a quiet time but great to recharge the batteries and here’s hoping for a more positive 2016.

Bottling It Up

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Building up a reserve of this sweet spiced pickling mix.

Summer always seems to be bottling time here at the Convent and this year is no different.

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Pots of pure gold – caramelised onion jam

One of my favourites is Onion Jam – a simple recipe but packs lots of flavour and treated as a little pot of gold, given two kilos of onions only makes four small jars. I first made this with home-grown onions as I couldn’t bear just to eat the onions after they took so long to grow. Now I make a big batch, I just buy the onions but still love the result.

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Pickling vinegar in production – best left to cool and absorb flavours overnight

Another popular standard is this spicy fresh vegetable pickle vinegar by Tom Kerridge, which makes a nice change from pickles or salad. You just place your vegetables in it 60 – 90 minutes before serving for a fresh tasty pickle. Particularly good with a barbecue, steak, pulled pork, corned beef  – well, just about anything. Also a good way to use onions, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, capsicum… Well worth a try. Just keep a bottle or two in the fridge for when the mood captures you.

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This variegated elder is only just over a year old, growing like crazy and already bearing fruit.

This year, with the Elderflowers making their presence felt in the garden, I think I’ll try some recipes. This one has caught my attention – Elderflower Champagne. This year I have two Elderflowers – the original standard and a newer variegated one that is going crazy and already has berries. I think this recipe may be a good start at experimenting with these plants.

I also have a healthy batch of Sorrel that I’ve never used so will start investigating recipes for this as well.

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This Elderberry is close on three years old – always has lots of flowers, but not so many berries

 

The Latest Convent Residents

The chook tractor is quite large, has wheels so I can move it around the property and plenty of ground room as well as a large protected upstairs nesting area.

The chook tractor is quite large, has wheels so I can move it around the property and plenty of ground room as well as a large protected upstairs nesting area.

It’s been a while coming but now it’s all happened at once. A kindly local put together my amazing but very big and heavy chook tractor that has been sitting in the carport since before Christmas. The next day I arrived home to find four lovely girls settling themselves in.

This lovely girl is so friendly and follows you as you walk around the coop. If you put your finger in you can pat her or she'll give you a friendly nudge.

This lovely girl is so friendly and follows you as you walk around the coop. If you put your finger in you can pat her or she’ll give you a friendly nudge.

I have Rosecomb Bantams and they are pretty, friendly little birds. They came running over to me and let me pat them immediately through the wire. The dogs, however, are another story and went totally crazy. Popcorn settled quickly and only spikes interest if the little dogs get the birds to flap. But the little dogs are besotted and going through conditioning of gradual introduction to their new housemates. I was assured that the girls are used to annoying dogs and will cope, but I’d prefer them to have a settled start to their new home. At present, if the dogs annoy them, they go up into their enclosed nesting area for some privacy but one chook, in particular seems quite unperturbed by canines.

For now, I’m just enjoying their company and giving them a few treats to make them feel welcome. Once settled, they can have a dog free run around the yard for an hour or two each day and, of course, the tractor will regularly be moved to other sections of the yard for happy grazing.

It will be an exciting day when I find my first egg.

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The girls exploring their new home.

The Last Week

Beanies galore. We don't get to enjoy them for long.

Beanies galore. We don’t get to enjoy them for long.

This is more of a random post on doings over the last week, given they have been so varied.

The shop has seen a constant raid on hand knits since we opened, so I’ve been updating the spiral beanie stock (which also means working through patterns and sizings for the different yarns we have in the shop). Over half a dozen new beanies briefly went on display. Unfortunately this meant interrupting the Show knitting which is a Shetland lace sampler shawl.

Last Monday saw me on ABC Central West radio doing a shop interview on their Craft Corner. This was an unanticipated bonus and lots of fun.

Just starting to populate our new oak Wernike bookcase.

Just starting to populate our new

Over the weekend we added to our collectibles in the shop culminating with a trip to Sydney to collect our bounty from participating in online auctions from some of the major Sydney auction houses. We now have quite a selection of antiques and collectibles, including silver ornaments and lovely vintage jewellery.

Our new brochures and bookmarks reflect our shop well. Hopefully we can get a wide distribution.

Our new brochures and bookmarks reflect our shop well. Hopefully we can get a wide distribution.

We know we need to market the shop fairly broadly – including via traditional means to attract tourists. Our brochures and bookmarks (which make great pattern and chart trackers) arrived this week and we think they look great. Next step is to distribute them through central areas such as the local Tourist Information Centres, motels and B&Bs. Our first ad should also appear in the Discover Central NSW magazine next month.

Nothing flash but very fast and lots of fresh garden produce.

Nothing flash but very fast and lots of fresh garden produce.

The garden is growing rampantly – with warm, humid weather and plenty of rain, it’s moving faster than I can keep up with. I try to do and hour or two on shop days and much more on other days, but sometimes I barely make an impact and I’m not sure why I bother to mow the grass. It seems just as long three days later! Anyway, things are also growing in the veg garden, although looking at local Facebook posts, everyone seems inundated with veg. I made a slight dent with a zucchini slice and salad of lettuce, mixed cherry tomatoes and cucumber – all home grown.

But for now it’s a battle between garden, Show knitting and topping up the shop knitted items which are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Show knitting - struggling to get priority at the moment.

Show knitting – struggling to get priority at the moment.

Food, Glorious Food!

Sweet chilli and lemon garlic grilled lobster tails for Christmas lunch out on the back verandah.

Sweet chilli and lemon garlic grilled lobster tails for Christmas lunch out on the back verandah.

Lots and lots of salads as accompaniments.

Lots and lots of salads as accompaniments.

It’s been a great Christmas at the Convent – my second in residence. The first Christmas here, I had my parents and eldest daughter and we did the whole traditional thing – roast pork, turkey, glazed ham, roast veg, stuffing, gravy, followed by pudding, custard, brandy butter, cake … lots of work but also rewarding.

Berry icecream, fresh berries, pavlova and cream - with Persian fairy floss.

Berry icecream, fresh berries, pavlova and cream – with Persian fairy floss.

This year I had both daughters and a friend staying and we were much more casual with seafood and salads – still work but mostly done in advance and a chilled day rather than being in the kitchen. We had grilled lobster tails for lunch, followed up in the evening with prawns and crabs – with a nod to tradition with the glazed ham. With heaps of salads, we have feasted for a few days, along with extra guests arriving. A ricotta, nougat and berry ice-cream along with pavolva and fruit has taken care of dessert as well. Add to this a barbecue last night and pancakes for brunch this morning (courtesy of Daughter #1) has meant a great deal of food has been consumed this week.

More seafood for Christmas dinner.

More seafood for Christmas dinner.

Pancakes with about every topping you can think of.

Pancakes with about every topping you can think of.

Now that most house guests have departed, it’s clearing up left overs and doing some Show knitting whilst catching up on a few new TV series – chilling out before the shop reopens next week (not that the shop ever seems like work!)

The girls at the post Christmas barbecue.

The girls.

The First of the Broad Beans

Ten out of ten for persistence. The broad beans sewed themselves back in their favourite spot.

Ten out of ten for persistence. The broad beans sewed themselves back in their favourite spot.

Last year the broad beans were out of control.  I wasn’t here enough to pick them in time and look after them properly. The towering plants fell over in the winds and I picked most of them a bit too late in the season – meaning I had lot of floury hard beans.

The best laid plans – I decided this year to plant them against walls and fences rather than in the raised garden bed, so they had support, however the beans had different ideas and self-seeded themselves back in their original bed. At least I have them securely staked and wired this year. A healthy crop is already underway.

IMG_2674This time I’m also picking them before they get too large and tough – such lovely beans, even if a little work is required – depodding, blanching and then removing their skins, but all so worth it. First meal was a simple orecchiette pasta with broad beans, ham and parmesan. Just perfect for a simple dinner using home-grown ingredients.

I also have a healthy crop of sugar snap and snow peas ready at present that will be lining up for salads and stir fries.

Just one of the pea plantings - sugar snaps, snow and regular . I stagger these as they are consumed with gusto. Many don't make it inside!

Just one of the pea plantings – sugar snaps, snow and regular . I stagger these as they are consumed with gusto. Many don’t make it inside!