Pesto Galaxies

When you wish upon a (shooting) chard…your dreams. Come.True.

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Well…maybe that line’s a bit of a Rogue One…but you’ll atleast have a great lunchbox meal for your kids to crave about!

Chard first landed on my plate during a banquet session with Charlie and Charlie: our dynamic-vegetarian-duo friends in Oxfordshire. Bunkered down in their cosy kitchen, we savoured the buttery chard bake (and many other equally exquisite delights) and drank our fill of accompanying French reds to ward off the final days of the English winter chill. The following week, keen to elicit the crème de’ la crop repast, I prepped the long, thin red stems that arrived in our eclectic veg box for their launch into our rapidly evolving dinner repertoire. I guess things might have turned out a little more sweetly if I had noted the absence of the nutritious green leafy part of the plant and made a rhubarb pie instead.

Last week, after a delectable forage through a friends going-to-seed brassica patch, I was inspired to turn my own high-on-early-spring-hormone vegetables into a stellar pesto to go atop our homemade Fasta Pasta Friday meal. At a flashing pace, K1 suggested applying his universe-sized knowledge about all things night sky to keep the left over pesto dream alive (and thus preventing this fleeting catch from disappearing into Scott’s bottomless black hole).

Curled up in a blanket of milky white pizza dough, the Pesto Galaxies have proved a great way to give my little fire-balls that extra boost of energy to see them through the tail end of the school day.

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Pesto Galaxies

Chard Pesto (makes ¾ – 1 cup)

3 cups fresh chard (spinach or silverbeet or all three) shoots, finely chopped

½ cup parsley, finely chopped

2 tbs Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, garlic chives, oregano etc.), finely chopped

½ cup pine nuts, toasted

¼ cup Parmesan, shaved

3 garlic cloves or spring onion ends (the white part), finely chopped

3 tbs olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and puree’. Add more oil if you wish for a more runny consistency. Serve atop your best bowl of freshly cooked pasta and store leftovers (…if you happen to have any) in a glass jar in the fridge.

Pesto Galaxies (makes 15 or so)

Pizza dough:

4 cups plain flour

2 tsp instant dried yeast

1 tsp salt

¼ cup olive oil

1 ½ cups warm water

Mix all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. In the middle of the flour add the oil and the water. Combine until a sticky dough consistency is formed (add more water if too dry). Form the dough into a large ball and knead for 10 minutes or until elastic in texture. Line the base of the mixing bowl with a little oil. Place the dough into the mixing bowl and smooth on top with a little more oil. Cover with a damp tea towel or plate and leave rise in a warm place for 1 hour (or until doubled in volume).

Pesto Galaxies:

Chard Pesto

Cheddar cheese, grated

Punch down the pizza dough and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll one half of the dough into a rectangle (approximately 30 cm x 20 cm). Leaving a 2 cm border at each long edge of the dough, cover the base with a thick layer of pesto. Sprinkle on some cheese.
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Using a pastry brush (or just your fingers), moisten the bare dough at the border on each side of the pesto. This helps to stick the dough together. Starting from one of the border ends, roll the dough into a tight roll. Seal tightly at the other end by smoothing the dough together.

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Cut the dough into 1” (2.5 cm) scrolls and place on a buttered and floured tray. Squash down the spirals using your fingers. Cover the tray with a damp tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Bake in a moderate oven for 10 – 15 minutes. When cool, rocket launch them into your childs lunch box (and freeze the rest).

 

Ghet to Reproduction in the Garden

Spring has sprung…

a leak in our families bank account!

Not wanting to let an STD (Serious Taxation Drain), lustrous holiday or a pimp-leish property manager get in the way of a good gallivant in the garden, I have had to slum it up this year to keep the growing dream alive.

Here’s how I got this years’ season off to a cheap, racey-paced start:

Sowed some wild oats (and others)

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Incubating seedlings

Garnered from our fecund producers last year, K2 and I have started most of our food plants from seed (incubating in our seed raising green house). We also seem to have a number of opportunistic dark horses (lettuce, oats, parsnip, borage, seaside daisy and valerian) that have popped up in some seemingly shady locations.

Capitalised on some good roots

The unfurling of some lasciviously entwined extensions and further splitting at the buds has seen my rhubarb crown quadruple in number. I also pulled up – from under the green mulch covers – some comfrey. These roots were severed into 5 cm lengths and relocated to a new abode. (Picture: comfrey and rhubarb).

Caught runners in the act

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Strawberries and trumpet vine

Some of our little scamps (strawberries, logan berries and chocolate mint) have spread their stolons into more fertile ground and a juvenile trumpet vine (campsis radicans) has been cut at the umbilical chord. This vigorously growing shoot will ultimately go on to pursue a challenging career in covering colourbond fences.

Early cuttin’ 

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Successful cuttings

Getting in before the shooting burst, I potted up some prunings from a black-currant bush as well as plenty of herbs. In a few weeks time these mature castoffs will unite with some barren sods to give birth to a productive new family of food plants.

Committed adult tree

Sometimes it’s just easier to take the experienced performers from someone else’s bed (with permission of course – these are modern times after all!). Thanks to some understanding neighbors, I now have some sweet cicely and a peachy-keen tree (Pictured). 

Suddenly got an urge, to get sweaty?

Go on then.

I dare you.

Don the protective garb. Muster the might. And go out and get that good quality fork in the bed!

Minted Bliss (Beetroot, Mint and Date Bliss Balls)

And the beet goes on…

That left over beet puree’ from last week has teamed up with some of its’ mean green garden pals to create balls of delight suitable for any redi-cool date.

Contrary to what haughty health food shops and hipster cafe’s would swipe (or pin) you to believe, one doesn’t need to be flush to enjoy an indulgent morsel of bliss.

When Bliss Balls first hit our towns’ bistro scene, coincidentally, so too did a long-lost college friend. Overwhelmed with joy about our impromptu reunion, I offered in advance to pay for the cuppa-and-cake session. Whilst the catch-up was delectably sweet – we managed to finish a conversation whilst crowd-controlling our equally rampant children with only minor collateral damage – the cashed out experience left me with a bitter, $5 dollar-a-ball, aftertaste.

Last week, whilst banqueting with an old Playgroup pal in the whimsical metropolis of Wangaratta, I was treated to a home made version of the still-faddish bite: blissbally reinvigorated. This morning I whipped up my third batch in as many playdate-days to take to tomorrows clothing swap: a chance for a gaggle of equally cash-strapped gals to acquire a new wardrobe without having to be totally minted.

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Beet and Mint Bliss Balls (makes 15 – 20)

1 cup dates

½ cup beet puree’

¼ cup steamed spinach, finely diced

2 tbs mint, finely diced

2 tbs chia seeds

1/3 cup coconut sugar

1 cup almond meal

½ cup coconut flour

½ cup banana flour

½ cup desiccated coconut

Soak dates overnight in ½ cup water. If using fresh beets, prepare the beets as for last weeks Beetroot and Chocolate Cake recipe.

Strain the dates, reserving the liquid. Soak the chia seeds in the residual date-water until gelatinous in texture. Dice the dates. Puree’ together the dates, beet puree’, spinach, mint and chia seeds. Stir in the flours. Mix thoroughly.

Roll approximately a tablespoon of the mixture into a tight ball. Place into a lidded, plastic container (so as to avoid the balls drying out). Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Roll each ball in the desiccated coconut. Store in a plastic container in the fridge (for atleast 5 – 6 hours). Serve with a good dose of convivial conversation at your next blissbally-indulgent social gathering.

B’Rootal ‘Latebour of Love (Beetroot and Chocolate) Cake

Almost nothing beets a good slice of cake. Especially if it happens to follow a hard-yakka session in the garden with an eccentric bunch of keen-bean kids.

Every Tuesday afternoon at four bells, my calloused and cussed-out Growers Society would flood into the science lab in anticipation of the much awaited afternoon tea session. Mouths at the ready, the gang would sit restlessly at our makeshift dining table awaiting their chance to devour yet another of my mystery-ingredient creations. Since their only other sustenance for the day came in the form of a rather stodgy free-school-meal, I could disguise just about any veggie in a cake-batter costume and my hungry hoard would still come back for second, third and fourth helpings. Whilst courgettes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and even nettles, all rated highly in the sugar-hit-chart stakes, it was the Beetroot and Chocolate Cake that the crowds repeatedly rooted for as their heart stopping favourite. Since its debut, this eye catching delight has wowed many a guest at birthday parties. It has also proved popular at the Election Day cake stall in it’s doppleganging cup cake form: ‘Late and B’Rootal Campaign Cakes.

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After a morning heaving-hoe at yesterdays’ monthly community garden working bee, it was time to celebrate the beginnings of the summer gardening season. A fortuitous garden find and some bake time later and K1 and I were almed with yet another B’Rootal ‘Latebour of Love Cake for a friends Day-Light-Savings Sizzle and Playdate.

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B’Rootal ‘Latebour of Love (Beetroot and Chocolate) Cake

1 cup puree’d beets (see method below)

100 g dark chocolate, finely chopped

125g butter

1 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp grnd cinnamon

1 tsp grnd ginger (optional)

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp grnd cloves

½ cup coconut flour

½ cup banana or rice flour

½ cup wheat flour

¼ cup cacao powder

½ – ¾ cup milk

Labne and Chocolate Icing (optional):

1 c labne (made from straining 1 ½ cups pot set yoghurt overnight)

2 tbs cacao

3 tbs pure icing sugar

Prepare beets (approximately two medium sized) by cutting them in half and simmering for ½ hour or until the skins pull away from the root. Strain. Rinse under cold water. When cool enough, remove skins and puree’.

Cream butter and sugar. Whisk in eggs one at a time. Using a large spatula, stir in vanilla, beets and chocolate. Sift dry ingredients into a separate bowl. Mix thoroughly. Alternate between adding the milk and dry ingredients one third at a time. Mix thoroughly after each addition. Continue to stir in more milk until the batter reaches a thick but not runny consistency (it should hold together when scooped out with a spoon). Cook at 160 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Whisk all icing ingredients together in a bowl. Ice when cool.

What’s in a name?

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If you’re unlucky enough to have a home among the gum trees, then you will know how hard it is to grow anything within a backyard-size distance from this iconic plants’ water-sapping base. Throw in a cool climate, short seasons and soil with a fertility rating equivalent to that of the Simpson Desert, and you have one hell of skills-hunt ahead of you to realise that dream of a home centred food oasis.

My gardening journey began with a snap dragon. At the time, Mum and I had been on a Peter, Paul and Mary bender and so I had developed a burning desire to have my very own Puff. Unfortunately, that year also signaled the start of what was to be a ten year drought. As the much needed water was diverted to the families drinking barrel – carted each afternoon from the only tank still in operation – my little plant was soon singed by the blistering hot Aussie sun. Whilst Puff sadly slipped into his cave of withered roots and cracked soil, this snuffed-out experience would prove to be the seed for a lifelong commitment to all things green.

In my teenage and early university years, my growing love went communal: open theater plays in college conservatories; study sessions in public garden rotunda’s; and gourmet gatherings spruced up by a harvest from the self-catered-accommodation herb patch. By the time I had reached our little cottage in a quaint Oxfordshire hamlet, my appetite for having a growing space of my own was finally sated: the classic courtyard garden. A summer fill of potted cherry tomatoes, accompanying Mediterranean herbs and a compost bin later, and I was ready to take my old flame on a hot date to the classroom.

Carving out time to grow a garden in an obese-curriculum subject like science, is a little like trying to convince a big supermarket to reduce it’s importation of cheaper, internationally made food products. Not wanting to disappoint my eclectic group of passionate urban gardeners, the lunchtime and after-school activity group (Growers Society), was germinated. A rake, hoe (well many really) and a piece of fertile ground later and we had our schools first allotment. Over the next three terms – supported by some local farms, businesses and the “cake-for-rake” school maintenance team – we had successfully harvested enough food to create some delightful soups and salads in the schools kitchen. Hearing of our plans for expansion, a cohort of our finest “gifted-and-talented” juvenile delinquents thought they would get in on some of the action. Unfortunately the poor dears confused their scientific terminology and our seed raising enterprise at the local farmers market went up in smoke as the greenhouse was razed to the ground. UK garden ventures: extinguished. For the next two years, my passion for reconnecting our younger generations to the food cycle remained on ice at the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

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Thirsty Aussie Backyard

Whilst most would have viewed our Aussie backyard as an urban wasteland – thirsty square meters of hard-clay…and nothing else – I saw our bit-of-earth as a new challenge: water efficient food growing. From the moment the frosted ground began to melt in our first spring back in Oz, I was out with a mattock ploughing up the earth, planting green manure crops and conditioning the soil. By the time K1 was ready for his first year in the education system, I had clocked up a significant number of training hours in the home garden and had completed a Permaculture Design Certificate. Combining forces with the very enthusiastic preschool teachers, my itching-to-get-back-in-the-classroom thumb was given the green light: the Science Garden Project. Starting with a community grant, our previously abandoned food garden was transformed into a productive green space. Over the next twelve months, a number of local businesses came on board to contribute soil, gardening equipment, consulting advice, and plants. The local ornithology association and environment centre provided some hands on experience in bird watching and vermiculture respectively and parents traded in their flex time to rip up dirt, cart soil, mulch beds and support their children in a number of planting and harvest days.

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Science Garden Project

The following year the students moved over to the big-school campus. With them went their skills and a vision for an expanded garden program. Two years, further community partnerships and a small army of parent volunteers later, and the teachers and students had realised their enterprising dreams: raising seedlings for the fete and selling their produce to the school families. Whilst I have temporarily relinquished my role as coordinator to assist at K2’s playschool, the garden program grows on with a long term plan to see every student in the school totally hooked into the food matrix.

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More-Fertile-Than-Last-Year Garden

Today marks the beginning of what is set to be another season of insightful food desert challenges. Since I seem to have lucked out in the agrarian genetics department, I am giving the finger to my black thumb and, instead, paying homage to my name. Armed with a bowed pitchfork and barrow, my kids and I are venturing out into our more-fertile-than-last-year wilderness to prepare the soil for yet another season on the hunt for that lionised beast: a monstrous glut.