Friday, July 30, 2010

The Colorado Bed- completed

Our Colorado Bed is just about finished! The whole process went fairly smoothly- first B and I dug as deep as we could into the compacted clay soil (uncovering buried treasures). Of course the boys thought this was great, and Little Bro has been saying "double, double" (=shovel, of course!) every time we head outside now.

I put all the salvaged plants into old potting mix bags which I knew I had been saving for just a purpose (without knowing what...!). We stuck a length of irrigation piping along the bottom of the trench, so that if needed in really hot weather we could send water directly under the trees. Then it was time to backfill- a total of 225 L of cow manure and mushroom compost, alternating with layers of the original soil and dry leaves. The hope is that it will blend up into a well-draining but water-retentive soil.

We let the soil settle for a week, and then it was time for the trees. This was the trickiest bit! As I've explained, we wanted silver birches as an aspen-lookalike. Silver birches come in a range of structures, from upright to drooping and, worse still, they come with a range of subspecies names! B and I agreed we wanted three upright trees that were around 2-3 metres tall, and settled on Betula pendula alba (aka Betula alba). First we headed up to nurseries on Sydney Road (including everyone's favourite, Hello Hello!) but the only place that had large enough trees for our tastes didn't deliver (and we couldn't fit the trees in our car). On the way home I suggested we check our local nursery-which delivers- and lo-and-behold, they had discounted their last silver birch from $45 to $25 and reassured me that they could order two more from their supplier. They also reassured me that in the absence of a label this was B. pendula alba. We went home satisfied that we were supporting our local business, and five minutes later our tree arrived. Too easy....

... or maybe not! The next day I got the call to say that the supplier had run out of trees! So the next weekend, we headed up to Bulleen Art and Garden to see what they had. I wish we'd started there- it's an awesome nursery! The boys loved the goldfish pond, the chicken coop and the carnivorous plants. I loved the range. There were heaps of birches of various description, all around the $20-30 mark. When I explained what we were looking for- a display trunk- the sales assistant recommended Betula pendula "moss white". Silly me said "oh no, we need alba", so two Betula pendula alba were delivered to our doorstep two hours later. And of course when they were lined up side-by-side with tree number 1, they were clearly different. Oh well, if the match is really too bad, we'll pull out tree number 1 and replace it with another Bulleen tree!

So in went the trees, in went some jasmine for the fence (we have a couple of vines further up the fence and love the smell on spring nights), and in went a huge rosemary from our now dedicated camelia bed. I'm growing some more rosemary cuttings to make a complete hedge. The "after" photo really doesn't do it much justice- thin, bare trees in front of a wooden fence really are a bit camoflaged but for now, here is the Colorado Bed, winter version:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Riveting Viewing

Riveting viewing...if you are a member of my family under the age of 4....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dig, Dig, Diggers

Our neighbours had some excavating done a month or two ago, which sparked Little Bro's interest in obsession with diggers and heavy machinery. I dug out a few of Big Bro's old favourites, which Little Bro now can't get enough of. Top of his list are:

Dig, Dig, Digging by Margaret Mayo- this is a series of catchy short verses about diggers and other mostly-construction vehicles:
Diggers are good at dig, dig, digging...
Fire engines are good at race, race, racing...
Cranes are good at lift, lift, lifting....
They can work all day, and Little Bro could listen to it all day.

Dazzling Diggers by Ant Mitton and Tony Parker- this is part of a series of catchy rhymes about different vehicles- Flashing Fire Engines, Tremendous Tractors, Roaring Rockets etc. Some of the rhymes work better than others (Dazzling Diggers is my favourite) but each page of every book has enough heavy machinery action to keep Little Bro enthralled.

Don't tell the American Association for Pediatrics, but I've also been showing Little Bro YouTube clips of diggers. I can't say I find them exciting- diggers making holes, diggers loading trucks, diggers dredging rivers, diggers carrying people, diggers dancing..... but Little Bro loves them. So much so that I have cut back on DiggerTube when Little Bro started handing me the iPad with a hopeful "digger?" The most interesting thing the clips have taught me is that there is Digger Land in the UK where "families can drive heavy machinery". I guess that could be us one day.....!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Third sign of spring

More a sign of my spring mindset than real spring weather:
the first glimpse of a germinating zucchini seed.

This year I am hoping to stagger my vegetable planting to avoid feast-and-famine harvests... and to avoid watching everyone else eating homegrown tomatoes while mine aren't yet flowering. So hopefully this will be my early zucchini crop! Time will tell...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vue de Monde takeaway breakfast

B and I enjoyed a rare child-free lunch by visiting one of Melbourne's top restaurants, Vue de Monde. The meal was amazing, but one memorable element were small brown paper bags presented to us at the door as we left, with the comment "here is your breakfast" (probably makes a little more sense when you have finished dinner rather than lunch!)

Inside each bag were a mini loaf of brioche, two eggs (Green Eggs, a brand name, not their colour), a bag of herbal tea and two cookies, plus instructions for making scrambled eggs on brioche toast, and French toast. Given that, according to the Vue de Monde website, their philosophy is "to provide a dining experience that cannot be created at home", I thought it was a nice way of them saying "you can make good food at home too". We cooked both recipes for dinner with the boys (we weren't especially hungry!!), and it was really good. A great way to end a special dining day.

For the record, the recipes were:
(nothing especially difficult)

Vue de Monde Scrambled Eggs on Brioche
Slice the brioche into [1.5cm thick] slices
Toast until golden
Crack the Green Eggs into a saucepan over medium heat with some butter and stir with a wooden spoon until thick (please don't overcook!)
Remove from heat
Season with salt and chopped chives
Place the eggs on top of the brioche
Serve with caviar or smoked salmon

Vue de Monde French Toast
Combine green eggs with 125mL milk, 60mL creme anglaise or cream, a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon.
Slice brioche into [1.5cm thick] slices
Coat each slice in egg mix
Heat a pan over medium heat
Add a knob of butter
Gently cook the brioche slices on each side until golden brown
Serve with maple syrup.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The backyard, then and now

While tidying up I found the old real estate brochure our house's previous owners had given us, showing the changes they made. It turns out to be exactly 10 years since they bought our house.

The backyard, circa July 2000

The backyard, July 2010 (the house has been extended so I can't quite get the same angle)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Found while excavating the Colorado Bed:

A brown glass marble, a tarnished brass picture hook (I think) and a "dinosaur" bone.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Elephant cobbler

No, this isn't something from The Gruffalo: I asked Big Bro if he wanted to help make a blueberry cobbler and he replied "yes, and it can look like an elephant".

So I tried...

Blueberry Cobbler

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The Best Recipe.

900g frozen blueberries
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbs lemon juice

Combine, put in pie dish and bake at 200C for 15 minutes, until the fruit starts to release its juice.

Topping (made enough to cover two of my dishes so I froze the leftovers)
2 cups self raising flour
3 tbs sugar
8 tbs chilled butter, cubed
8 tbs vegetable shortening (I used copha)
1 tbs milk (or more if needed)
Combine ingredients in above order in a food processor until a smooth dough is formed. Roll between plastic sheets (it's quite sticky) and cut out in desired shapes (elephants in this case)

When the fruit has cooked, stir and top with the dough. Brush with milk and 1 tbs sugar, bake 25 min. Cool for at least 10 min to allow filling to thicken before serving

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Slow cook Sunday: lamb shank and tomato ragu

I've been finding that preparing a slow cooked meal on Sunday morning is a great way to have an easy Sunday dinner with leftovers on Monday. Today's was from Consuming Passions.

Slow cooked lamb shank and tomato ragu
4 lamb shanks cut through the bone and trimmed of fat
4 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs rosemary
4 cloves garlic

2 tbs olive oil
250mL red wine
2 carrots, grated
1 zucchini, grated (from my frozen summer giants!)
1 stalk celery, chopped
750 mL tomato passata
500g pasta (I used penne; rice is great too)

Use a knife to cut a slit in a meaty part of each shank and poke in the parsley, rosemary and garlic (Ian Parmenter mentions folding and tying the meat with string...)

Brown the lamb in a casserole dish, remove, reduce heat, deglaze with the wine. Add the vegetables, simmer 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and meat, bring to a simmer. Cover tightly, simmer 5 hours. I do this in my oven set at 120-150C; you could also use a slow cooker or keep it on the stove top.

Remove lamb bones. Cook pasta, top with lamb and sauce.

This meal got big thumbs up from the boys- I will definitely be making it again, though perhaps looking for a cut of lamb that is currently cheaper than shanks!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tree bones

Big Bro studied the fig tree's bare branches closely, and informed me:
"These are called tree bones".

Why not?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A valid question...

... But one I prefer not to ponder too hard.

Big Bro: so why can't you sniff if you have two fingers up your nose?

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Colorado Bed

My Australian Gardening Calendar labels July as "a month for garden design", and we've been doing just that.

Last December our huge apple tree fell down, converting a shady garden bed into a sunbaked crust over summer and leaving us with a blank canvas (well, potentially blank), thus:
The prime consideration in our design plan has been that the bed sits on the North side of our deck, so we want something that is both aesthetic and, like the apple tree, tall and deciduous (the usual shade-in-summer, sun-in-winter factor). I am happy to be corrected, but our requirement for tallness rules out most edible plants in a functional form- the apple tree's out-of-reach fruit was just a possum magnet. B and I quickly decided that this could be the spot for our long awaited "aspens".

As I have shown, aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) are for us a pure Colorado icon, as much as the columbine. White trunks, green leaves in summer, red or yellow in autumn, and bare white trunks in the snow.

The only problem with P. tremuloides aspens is that they don't grow at elevations below 1500 feet: they have no chance in Melbourne! There are other aspen varieties, but I suspect they're not really suitable for the small spot we have and besides, they're not "our" aspens.

So on to Plan B, silver birches (Betula pendula). There are heaps in our area, and with white trunks they are quite aspen-ish to our mind. When we were looking for a house to buy a few years back, one came up with a clump of silver birches, and we decided our future garden would have silver birches. In fact, they became a joke between B and I: until the apple tree's demise we would have had to clear some other garden bed for our silver birches but couldn't decide where. When I'd consult B about other garden design issues, his reply has been "I don't mind-I just want my silver birches". So it's quite exciting to finally have them in the works!

The apple tree's demise has sparked quite a domino effect in the rest of the garden. In the first place the soil in the bed is horrid, so we'll be digging in loads of manure and compost. I've already transplanted the long-suffering rhubarb to its third home, and to make room for the birches we have moved the Mexican orange blossom and the port wine magnolia to one side of the bed and the daisy to the lawn border. The two camelias were sent to our South side yard, which will now be an official acid-lovers bed (despite its own problems).

The plan is then to plant silver birches across the bed, so that their trunks will be a feature to look at. The fence will be covered in a creeper (probably Jasmine as we love the scent), and if I can ever get my cuttings to take root, we'll have a Rosemary hedge, which will tie in with the bed on the south side of the deck. I'm also in the process of ordering blue columbine seeds fron an American company, so the plan is to have wildflowers around our "aspens".

This is one of my biggest garden design job ever, so I'm dying to see the finished product!!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Photo Tour of Colorado Aspens

Aspens (Populus tremuloides, the quaking aspen) were our favourite Colorado tree, and tied up with so many Colorado memories, a few of which I wanted to share. We'd love to have aspens in our garden, but they don't grow at elevations below 1500 feet. They have no chance in Melbourne! So our only way to enjoy them is from our photos.

Summer Aspens
Our Colorado summer involved lots of weekends in the mountains. As the Melbourne winter greys up, I keep thinking of what's happening up in the Rockies- are the snowbound trails thawing? Are the columbines blooming? Is Trail Ridge Road open?

Aspens are tall and thin, with white trunks, and brilliant green leaves. I could never get a photo that captured the feel of the leaves quivering (quaking, hence the name)- it's like a life force is in the leaves, beyond the normal vegetative state.

We visited the town of Aspen on the 4th of July- Independence Day- having driven over Independence Pass (and a couple of days earlier hiked the 4th of July trail), and- not ones to avoid significance- on the way in we stopped to admire the Aspen aspens.

In August we headed to Telluride, in the South West- I've mentioned it before in the context of columbines. On the way there we stopped at Elk Mountain Resort, which is a gorgeous place to stay, set in the midst of an aspen forest... but also (for us) a very bizarre place as we discovered it also houses the Valhalla Shooting Club, which runs tactical shooting courses like simulated terrorist situations. We just enjoyed the forest.
Telluride itself is just amazing in summer (I am holding myself back from just posting a zillion photos of it!)- one of my favourite Colorado destinations. It's a town in a mountain gorge, and on one side is an aspen forest.

Fall Aspens
Aspens come into their own in fall (yes, autumn!) when they turn a shade of yellow to red. Given that aspens are supposed to generally live in clonal (genetically identical) colonies propagated by root shoots I don't understand why red and yellow aspens can often be found close together- maybe a microenvironmental effect? While East Coast Americans scoff at the Colorado fall colours, we thought the aspens of Rocky Mountain National Park were worth the day trip!
This is Long's Peak (a notoriously difficult "16-er" mountain) framed by aspens in RMNP.

The first conference I went to was in Vail, and this was a view of one of the hills, showing the aspen forests which are overtaken by conifers at the more exposed points. The most memorable part of the conference (with apologies to the organisers) was that one evening there was a fire alarm during dinner, and who should be one of the responding fire fighters but thehusband of TV's original Bachelorette!Our final Colorado Fall experience was a hike near Steamboat Springs. We started in aspen forests...
...and ended up at this mountain lake, surrounded by snow by not yet frozen. It was completely magical. And a perfect fall finale.

Winter Aspens
Winter in Colorado was, for us, all about skiing. In our second winter we were good enough to tree ski. This is B amongst the aspens in Steamboat Springs.

And to finish up where I began:
Aspens in Aspen

Secret sand

We have a shady bed in which the previous house owners had planted camelias, which, while not especially happy, were doing well enough that I hadn't paid much notice. However, while doing some digging there this week, I discovered that beauty is only topsoil-deep.

The bed is almost pure sand in places!! Definitely not the local clay- my best guess is that the camelia bed was originally going to be part of the surrounding paving, and for some reason (aesthetic or otherwise) a garden bed was placed there instead. My poor plants!! Plenty of intensive care is now on the agenda- I've added a top dressing of rotting leaves some worm compost as a start. It will be interesting to see the evolution of the soil.

Friday, July 2, 2010

First sign of spring

Today I spotted the first blossom of the year. No idea what the plant is- it was in someone else's front garden. But given it's only 10 days since the solstice, it's an early starter!

Time to think about spring planting!!

Three scenes to make me smile :)

1. Big Bro husking the corn for our dinner on Saturday.

2. Little Bro reading by himself (even better, it was a book that I am thoroughly sick of reading to him!)

3. Big Bro reading to Little Bro (I Went Walking by Sue Williams, which is a lovely book.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Callistemon giveaway: and the winner is...

Time to draw the winner from the comments for June- thanks everyone who commented, whether it was to win or not! Nice to meet a few new readers :)

So... there were 22 comments in June, so will select one from that... and if it's my comment I'll count back to the last external comment.

And the winner is.......
Comment #9, which was from ANB about her winning sourdough loaf. Callistemon seeds heading in your direction.... enjoy!

Happy new financial year!

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