Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Christmas reveiw

There is such anarchy that comes with every Christmas. I keep telling myself not do so much, and to plan better. To be honest, I don't actually write this stuff down though. So I've decided to start documenting on my blog, what worked and more importantly, what didn't, this Christmas.

To what did work though, and I'm quite proud of these, because it has to do with food. Presents, are secondary in the line of importance, as you really want to feed your guests food they will remember at Christmas. Not stuff which will leave a bad taste in their mouth, and a belly ache.


I wrote about the gingerbread men and summer holiday loaf already.  But here is where they worked in particular for us. The gingerbread men were the first gluten free ones I've made, in the past eight Christmases, we've had here. I only missed one year of making them. Being gluten free now, however, meant I could enjoy a treat with everyone else, without suffering. This was important, because making gingerbread men has become a tradition - something I really didn't want to be saying "no" to eating, when everyone else could say "yes".

Pull apart loaves, ready to bake

While I couldn't eat the gluten filled bread, everyone else enjoyed it. Plus it used the excess tomatoes and basil, we went to the trouble of planting in winter/spring. Which brings me to another deed which worked this Christmas. Planting food in the garden, to be eaten at Christmas.

I cannot tell you the relief of not having to buy a stack of "fresh" fruit and vegetables. Especially things like tomatoes, which often lack taste and come to you hard. Mine just sat in the garden, getting more tasty, until I needed them.

 Fresh tomatoes

Not only did we use cherry tomatoes and basil in the bread, but we also used regular sliced tomatoes for our steak burgers. We also found a way to use our excess zucchini, believe it or not! We made vegetable skewers on the barbeque, using our own zucchini, mixed with other bought vegetables (including peaches). If you've never tasted barbequed mushrooms with peaches, you don't know what you're missing!

So making skewers really worked on the barbeque. We made prawn skewers and vegetable ones. We would have made chicken ones too, only another family member offered to bring cold roast chicken, instead. Just add sausages and steak, some salads, and you've got a Christmas feast. One that tastes good, and shouldn't sit in your guests stomachs for hours!

 Healthy fridge - 5 days, post Christmas

Which brings me to our final thing which worked this Christmas - reducing our food offerings. We deliberately wanted to cater small, because we wanted to avoid food waste. It also ensured our guests weren't bamboozled with too many selections, and risked over eating.

This year was the first year, we didn't have oodles of food to eat as leftovers, after Christmas. It covered Boxing Day, lunch and dinner only, then it was gone! Well, mostly. Which brings me to where we went wrong this year.

Still left over from Christmas

We purchased too many convenience desserts. We should have just stuck with the pavalova. We didn't need two Christmas puddings (one gluten free) and also a gluten free Christmas cake. We didn't need two litres of convenience custard to go along with them either. Not to mention the waffers and mince pies, which mostly got eaten by my crew. There was way too much and it was completely unnecessary. We would have been better saving the money in the bank, instead of saving it to our waistlines.

After all, it adds no further enjoyment to Christmas, once you've had your fill.

 Gluten free fruit cake

Also on this point, I want to declare not to purchase gluten free desserts again. The Christmas cake was dry and tasteless. It will be thrown away because it was so horrible. That's $22 down the drain. There are certain tricks to gluten free baking, which if not done properly, lead to dry bricks. I'd rather have spent the money on our own ingredients, and baked something edible myself.

The reason I haven't attempted to bake our own gluten free, Christmas cake before is, to be honest, I'm not a big fan of them. I'd much rather eat a fresh pavlova, with whipped cream, fruit salad and Dutch chocolate-sprinkles.

Muesli takes a walk on our nearly finished wall

Another thing which went wrong was organising an involved project, too close to Christmas. Deciding to start such a hefty project at the end of October, meant we were scrambling right into December (up to the last week before Christmas) to get it done. Something I suspected would happen.

Everything else had to be crammed in around this project, and it felt like we were constantly running a race with the clock. I'm such a plodder by nature, and get less enjoyment from having to race. But as we had something big happening in early January, David took the opportunity to start the wall project, late 2015 instead.

 New retaining wall

In hindsight, if you don't want to be scrambling like a mad chook at Christmas, leave those large projects until the new year - or whenever you can fit them in next year. Because it's stressful to stretch yourself between fixing up your house/yard, which you pull apart to complete the project - while also preparing your house/yard for receiving guests at Christmas too. Both are important tasks. Both require time and forethought to complete. Doing them at the same time, means one (often both) are compromised on.

Problem is, I'm a perfectionist and won't compromise on details. So inevitably, I'll burn the wick at both ends to get things done to my satisfaction. Exhaustion isn't exactly a fun place to start celebrating from. We managed to pull it off this year (and have fun too) but I don't fancy doing this particular balancing act, as a Christmas tradition.

So this is what I wish to aspire towards, for Christmas 2016:

- Gluten free gingerbread men
- Our own gluten free desserts
- Reduced dessert selections on the whole
- Fresh bread, using offerings from the garden
- Limited food range for lunch, with quality food
- Growing more fresh produce in the garden
- Don't start large house/yard projects, past September

I didn't write in depth about these, but also want to note them:

- Look for gifts throughout the year, especially from local businesses
- Make our own gift tags, from old Christmas cards, instead of buying them
- Start cleaning the house and yard in December, not the last week!
- Note storage issues throughout the year and address them. Don't put it off until Christmas, to sort all the storage issues!!
- To this end, start de-cluttering in Spring, to find new homes for items no longer used.

A lot of the work we had to deal with at Christmas, was stuff we put off throughout the year. So if we keep on top of it early, we should avoid the bottleneck, by the end of the year.

Do you have anything you did well or wish you didn't do, this Christmas?

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Christmas post

So Christmas came and went. What a blur. It was an infusion of desperation, to get everything ready for visitors, plus, a mixture of old traditions which made it feel like Christmas. I will get to those traditions later, but we started Christmas a few days early, by opening a present Peter was given last year from his uncle.

 Having fun with a chalk board

He was a little too small then, to be put in charge of chalk, but at two 'n a-half now, he's only broken them a couple of times. Which just makes the chalk easier for small hands to hold. He loved drawing and erasing his work. A step was required to help him reach the top of his board. There was drawing paper on the other side, but he was more fascinated with the chalk board.

We were planning a barbeque for Christmas lunch, so on Christmas eve, we got the old barbeque out, to see how she went.

 Mud adobe village

When we popped the top however, we found mud wasp central! I wondered why I hadn't seen them building on the house bricks, like usual. Thankfully, after some cleaner, elbow grease and determination, the barbeque was ready to cook on Christmas day. Thank you David. Though it was a family affair to clean up the mud wasp nests, from the verandah.

But now its time for my favourite part - those old traditions, which always tells me its Christmas.


Like baking gingerbread men! Only this year, they had a twist. Not only did I give them blue overalls, but they were also gluten free. They didn't taste like gluten free either. The trick was the moist dough, which needed chilling to work with. Otherwise the dough would stick to everything.

Lots of gingerbread

There were enough gingerbread men to last after Boxing day. Peter was funny when we first gave him one though, as he didn't want to eat it. He wanted to play with it instead, and got stressed when he saw any of us eating one. He got over it by the next day though, and happily ate them like any other biscuit.

I was also up early Christmas morning, to make a special treat, thanks to this recipe.

Fresh bread

We used our own cherry tomatoes and basil, to make this delicious loaf taste even better! I was grateful for all those volunteer tomatoes which I was able to raid the evening before.

Ready to go in the oven

I did something different to my loaf, than the recipe called for, as I like the pull-apart ability of, well, a pull-apart loaf. In my baking days, we would call these peasant loaves. If you want to know the technique of how to make one, I demonstrated in this tutorial. Though you probably want to lay your slices against one another, like the above picture - which was taken after an hour of proving (or, "rising", for the baking novice).

Recipe made two loaves

They came out beautifully too. Though I would deviate from the baking times the recipe called for as well. It recommended 40-45 minutes. Mine were starting to be overdone by 30 minutes - which is when I pulled them out. They did taste really delicious, I'm told. I couldn't eat any, given they're full of gluten.

When my in-laws learned I had baked the loaves myself, my mother-in-law exclaimed, she needed to change addresses. ;)

Tomatoes in the kitchen

I was grateful for our volunteer tomatoes again, when I had enough to slice for our barbeque steak burgers. I picked them in the morning and sat them on the stove, which wasn't going to be used that day. I didn't realise until I posted this picture, how they complimented the tea towel and hand towel, David gave me for Christmas.

I really had to push myself to make the treats I did, as we were pressed for time. I'm glad I did though, because it wouldn't have felt like Christmas otherwise. Nothing says, home, quite like a tin full of gingerbread men, tomatoes from the garden and fresh loaves, dripping with cheese.

I hope your Christmas was a time of joy, even if it wasn't a time for peace and quite. Stay safe over the holidays, everyone.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The veggie retaining wall

I've wanted to do a wall update, for quite some time now, but I had to organise a new place to store my images first. Thanks to those who replied to my test page, I can now start to share all those images again.

So back to the beginning of our recent wall adventure. It was David's brainchild, although he said my renovating the veggie beds recently, inspired him to make more space. So he ordered 3 pallets of Windsor blocks, and started to clear the area. It meant relocating the compost bins first.

 Late October, early November
~ click to enlarge ~

This is what it looked like, after David's first tidy. The compost bins, to the right of the wire mesh, have been dismantled, finding a new home near the chicken coop. The accumulated dirt from former veggie beds were de-weeded and then the excess dirt relocated, to give us flat ground.

All this digging meant, finding places nearby, for a lot of dirt!

~ Before  ~
mandarin tree

Take note of the mandarin tree, to the left, as it will feature in the building of our wall. But just down the bottom of the slope (to the right of the white buckets) is where we made our first pile of dirt - of many.

Dirt pile

This was to be our biggest pile though, as it had the biggest space to dump it on! This was just from moving dirt, to flatten the ground. We also had to add the dirt, we cut back from the slope, to accommodate the wall.

Cutting the slope back

It's now early November, and the real grunt work begins. Take note of those banana trees in the background, as they too feature in the building of this wall. When our big pile of dirt got bigger though, I decided to use some of it, fixing the ramp to our veggie beds. Here is where the ramp first featured.

Above the ramp

Can you believe the ramp, was first intended to be stairs? So glad we went with a ramp instead, as it meant we can get the barrow up there! Of course, after many years of wear and tear, the poor ramp needed some fill added. Having the excess dirt, meant it wasn't a problem. In fact, it solved a problem - finding places to put the excess dirt.

 Below the ramp - filled and mulched

This is what it looked like, after I added the dirt, and mulched it for protection against the rain. Water, so loves to run downhill. Thankfully, its a small ramp.

Circa 2015

And this is me, trying to avoid the camera David was waving about in my face. I had moved a lot of dirt that day and was nearly finished the ramp. I took a few moments to lean against the shovel - really, it was holding me up! But David wanted to prove, I do actually work behind the scenes, instead of just talking about it online. So you have David to thank for this picture.

Man, that hat is old too. If you spot me in any of our past wall projects, chances are, I'm sporting that hat too. Actually, I went back into the archives and found one!

Circa 2008

I'm actually building the walls between the ramp. Fancy that? And same hat!

 Circa 2009

Okay, a different wall again. But same hat! Looks to be, in better condition though.

Circa 2014

This time, its a drystone retaining wall. Same hat again, and same shirt as 2009. I love that shirt for working in cooler weather. I don't have to wear sunscreen, and the long sleeves shade my arms. It will be a sad day, if I ever had to retire that shirt - or hat!

Please excuse my jaunt down memory lane. In fact, I've just realised, this January will mark eight years, since we started our first retaining wall at Gully Grove. Eight years!!! I can't believe we're still building retaining walls. What's wrong with us? Just kidding, right. You know if we ever gave it up, we'd probably kick the bucket.

Now, where was I? Circa 2015...

Keeping it straight

String-lines! They're very important. Never try and build a straight wall, without one. Trust us, on this. It's up high, to guide where we dig at first, then it got lowered to put the first row of blocks in alignment.

Of course, that string-line showed us, something was in the way of our wall. Bananas! These have given us two crops since we planted them. But some had to come out to make way for the wall.


It was a very hot day, that day too. The kind of day, where you perspire in the shade. So we worked in the morning and afternoon, resting in the shade as often as we could. We had to be especially careful, our little guy didn't dehydrate.

 Father and son

We encouraged him to play under the verandah, but he kept wanting to see what we were up to. So we encouraged him to sit in the shade of the avocado tree instead, and play with his cars. I went inside to fetch refreshments and snacks, then took a picture of the boys, sitting under the avocado tree together.

But it was soon back to work. David spent many an hour, taking out trees and digging trenches. We were rewarded with...


Several banana suckers. These were the first, and potted up nicely. They sport lovely leaves now. But there were still very long trenches to be dug...

Footing trench

And trenches to be filled with road base. At least 150 millimetres worth. Enough to give our wall a solid foundation.

Road base

Then, oh dear, here comes the first course of bricks - *exclaims my back*.

This is where works stops, until I have levelled the first course. David helps by carting blocks into position, and fetching more road base, but the back breaking work of beating each block in alignment with the next, is mine. I have an eye for detail, and the perfectionist's touch, which is why I do the first course, solo.

First course

The white, styra-foam lid, from a broccoli box (background) helped my knees, when I had to bend down. This is about two days worth of work, to get this many blocks levelled. It's the 20th of November now.

Blocks need to come past bananas

The closer we got to those banana trees, however, we realised the first cull wasn't enough. Bananas, have really thick, fibrous roots. You cannot just cut through them. You really have to dig the whole tree out.


So down came MOST of the rest of the clump of bananas, left over from the first cull. At this point, I knew we wouldn't be eating bananas this year, but the wall wasn't going to continue without these tough choices. Thankfully, some healthy young plants remained in situ, and they'll grow again.

A little inspiration

We were feeling really fatigued, with the extra grunt work the bananas brought, so David inspired the crew, with a taste of things to come. We hadn't even finished the first course, and he was lining up courses two and three. It gave us the push we needed to forge ahead.

~ Nasturtiums ~
wall area, behind

Meanwhile, the adjacent vegetable garden watched our progress. I still loved to visit the veggie beds too. They fed us zucchini, beans, spaghetti squash, silverbeet and herbs. It was great to have them so close to our hard work, because it was just another reminder of why we were doing this. All the more ground to grow more food on.

Second course

So then course two, arrived, and we didn't manage to get any photos until several courses later. So much work (inside the house too) with so little time to take pictures outside! To be honest, between courses two and four, it was all a bit of a blur. I must have been sleep-walking through it all.

Inspection complete

So then course five, suddenly shows up, along with our second wind. Just as well, because the supervisor came for his first, official inspection. We got the thumbs-up. Is it just me, or are they hiring those supervisors, younger and younger?


We got the big, cheesy, grin, to approve us for laying the final courses. Love your work, young Sir, and your kiddie sized, hand spade. That won't be lost in our garden, like the black crowbar did.


At the other end of the wall, progress was a little slower - course three, I believe. The other courses weren't far behind though. The blue metal is where we dug the drain pipe, that comes out from behind the retaining wall. Another pile of dirt, on both sides, to be used as backfill later.

Proof of former residents

When we got to course five though, we were getting to the point of covering up the holes, that were dug by bush rats. Because this is where the compost bin was formerly. With it now removed, and all our stomping about, the bush rats are long gone from this area. Its another reminder why we had to take this space back. While I love wildlife, I wasn't a fan of their moving into our vegetable patch for midnight snacks.

December 13

This is where the mandarin tree, comes back into the story. When we first planted it, on the side of an expose hill, I had no idea a wall would eventually be built around it. Now it is though, we can lavish more feed and mulch around it, because it won't run the risk of travelling downhill.

~ After ~
December 18
mandarin tree (left) remains of dirt pile (right)

Once we backfilled with dirt, we were able to mulch. Which I'm sure the mandarin tree will enjoy. Along with all this rain, which visited in our final push to finish the wall. I don't mind working in the rain though. As I prefer it to working in the heat.

December 18

There is more of the wall story to tell, but this is enough for one blog post. What you see in the above image, is "this" side of the finished wall. I've planted a few ground covers, to hopefully, cascade over the edge of the wall, and help to shade the ground for the mandarin.

One final push, and we should be done the whole wall soon.

I look forward to seeing this area maturing, just as much as I enjoyed looking back upon all the past years, we've been throwing dirt around, Gully Grove.

A test

The reason I haven't been blogging, is the photo hosting website I've been using for over 12 months, has started to randomly lose my photos. Four in total, and I hope its the last of the mysterious deletes. Their customer service, while polite and prompt, didn't fill me with reassurance it wouldn't happen again.

So I went looking for where I could upload my pictures, some place different. That's when I discovered I had 15GB of photo storage in my Google + account.

Giant Russian Sunflower
December 2015

So what does a lovely picture of a sunflower have to do with all this? It's my test picture. And if its NOT working, you'll be asking yourself, what sunflower?

I'm trying to figure the privacy settings and how to share these images, separate to others, so if you wouldn't mind, can you tell me what you see?

Sunflower, or no sunflower?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Funny GIF

Being reminded by a friend recently, to laugh regularly my husband showed me this funny GIF, which is right in our age bracket. Well, back when we were kids anyway. Ever wondered if cats were really, robots in disguise?

My husband thought the cat should really be a Deceptacon however, not an Autobot. Because Autobots, are more dog people. I mean, they're more inclined to obey commands and work together in groups.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Bearing fruit

We've attempted to grow fruit for quite some time. Citrus was the first successful crop, but the other fruits were proving harder to nurture along.


By far, the mulberry was the most prolific grower and producer, but the birds soon found out, and we never got a harvest - just the occasional one or two. With kids, these never went far! So I've successfully propagated more trees from the existing ones, this year, so we might actually get some in years to come.

Image taken 2011 ~ planted 2009 

Our mango tree is about six years old now, and purchased from the local nursery. It was most likely grown from seed, and why it's taking so long to produce. It didn't help that we had it growing in shade, which slowed its development down. With the addition of a new swale recently, and the removal of some weed trees, it's put on quite a lot of fruit this season.

Kensington Pride Mango

It's still not a very big tree, but we don't mind, as it means we can still reach the fruit! I'll have to try and bag the fruit, as the fruit fly will make a mess of them. The very favourable rain this year, has aided in the heavy bearing, and more importantly, helping the tree hold onto the fruit.

Avocado - likely, Hass

Our avocado tree is still holding onto three fruit, which will be ready to eat in another five to six months time. It's looking very much like a Hass to me. Because we love avocado, I'm growing more from seed, of a different variety. Some even from avocados we were gifted recently too. Which looks like the Reed variety to me. I'm just going to put them in the ground and let them surprise me.

Some people suggest, growing fruit trees from seed can be variable. I've had three grafted avocado trees I purchased however, die in short order, so seed is cheaper and I've yet to have a seedling die. They take longer to produce than a grafted variety, but at least they survive. If you've got limited space though and can spoil them, grafted trees may well suit your situation better.  You'll definitely get fruit sooner.

Dwarf Ducasse

We probably won't get bananas this year, on account we had to chop many of them back, to build a nearby retaining wall. We got six suckers from them however, with a few left in the original position. We'll try planting the removed ones in a different location, lower down in the gully, so they'll get more access to water.

A different kind of cherry

What we have been enjoying as recently as this morning, however, is the Brazilian cherry. You can see from above, its producing quite a lot of fruit. Two adults and one child, were able to graze this tree and enjoy the slightly tart flavour. It was very juicy and tasting quite like an extremely sweet capsicum (pepper), is the best way to describe it.

Ready to eat

The yellow to orange fruit, are under ripe. They have to be a lovely red colour to enjoy them the most - as they will be less tart. They're quite a big fruit, but its a little deceptive, as the single pip inside, is big. But you do get a reasonable amount of flesh. I like them, and glad we planted this tree.

Planted late 2010

It's come a long way since it first went into the ground. What I love about the Brazillian cherry the most, is how tough it's been. Having to hang on through our very dry and hot periods, may have dwarfed its size a little, but the nearby swale, has helped it along this year too. Lovely, juicy, less tart fruit. A good swale, in the right location, can help your fruit trees enormously.

If you have access to a lot more moisture, and live near bushland, you may not want to plant this variety. As birds can spread the seed and you may have a problem stopping its spread outside your boundary. It's never been a problem here, as I've noticed the seedlings which I have tried to propagate, are very vulnerable to heat and moisture stress. That's why I don't see them popping up naturally. So best keeping this tree for harsher environments, or if you live in the suburbs.

Wee tomatoes

I only wanted to showcase our fruit trees in this post, but I couldn't let our cherry tomatoes escape, since they are incredibly delicious and red at the moment! We even had some for lunch today...

Store bought beetroot and cheese ~
the rest was home grown

We grew the tomatoes and lettuce ourselves, the avocado was given to us and the chickens produced the eggs to make the frittata. We feed our chickens weeds, bugs and food scraps, and they give us eggs in return.

I have to say though, fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden, are nothing like store bought ones. They're more sweet than bitter and taste like sunshine. I'm sure the chickens would agree, if we dared share them. Maybe later in the season, when we can't keep up with them.

Sunfola variety

And just because I love them - sunflowers! The native bees and a few European ones, have been going berserk with them lately. These were planted on the sweet potato bed recently. While the sweet potatoes don't need pollination, sunflowers are an excellent food attractant to bees. Therefore, they make good companions to fruit trees.

Beans borrowed the tree
once they ran out of trellis

Sunflowers in the sweet potatoes, and beans in the avocado tree - I do like to shake things up in the garden. If you find yourself growing in hostile conditions, try diversity planting too. You'll find like good neighbours, they get through establishing better, together. What's more, you get increased value for any watering you do manually, or the rain gives naturally, because your plants are located closer together.

Although our trees haven't amazed us with prolific growth (apart from the mulberries) we have found they do plod along, if they are of hardy stock. We just had to keep adding more fruit trees, as we could. In the tough department, we've had a lot more success with seedlings than grafted varieties. Living on limited tank water, we just cannot spoil our fruit trees. So die-hard and cost effective seedlings, were an incredible resource to us - and still are.

I must confess though, I was extremely disappointed with our fruit trees when nothing would fruit. Nothing! For all the effort we put into them, we seemed to get nothing in return. Not like chickens! But fruit trees do eventually get there, and can be prolific in their own time. They are a crop that takes ages, but once they get going, you'll be inundated.

I can't wait for that day! But we're doing better every year. :)