Sunday, December 25, 2011

My urban garden...early summer.

 It is starting to feel like Summer has finally decided to arrive. Fashionably late, but nevertheless Summer is here.

My urban garden, has not turned out to be the self-sufficient garden that I would have hoped, but that's not to say it isn't doing ok. But the challenge of powdery freaken mildew, white flies and soil/nutrient imbalances have caused me heartache beyond belief. I lost ONE capsicum plant - it was a sweet chocolate that I nurtured - NURTURED - from seed. Now I only have one left.

My eggplants (the plant) are looking big, but the flowers are not setting fruit and I am not sure why. I'll wait another week or two before I do anything - perhaps its the cool weather. But slightly disappointing as I started them so long ago.

The tomatoes, started off well but a few succomed to powdery mildrew and probably a litany of fungal problems. No matter how much eco-fungicide I use, it is simply not that effective. Potassium Bicarbonate clearly doesn't work as well as the conventional "sulphur" based fungicides. But I persist, I persist with damn eco-oil and eco-fungicide because, it has to be possible. Perhaps, it is my reluctance to follow simple instructions like spacing. Do you remember my photo of one of my plots a month or so ago? Here's a before and after if you've forgot.

Rouge de marmande, which is so heavy with fruit...a speckled roman, two maldovan greens and a hillbilly. Soy beans at the front, cucumbers climbing at the back, climbing beans on the left, cornfield on the right and scattering of basils.

So how heavy is heavy?

 This heavy and there are many more clusters of flowers which are setting fruit. Some of the tomatoes are quite big as the photos doesn't do them justice.

Of course, I planted borage, wild bergamot and dill (below) to attract some bees. Borage is such a brilliant blue.
My beans, however, have outdone themselves with fistfuls every couple of days - all from 2 buckets and perhaps a few plants here and there.

But perhaps what I'm excited about most are my white alpine strawberries, this blog buddies is what it's all about. Growing things which you would never see at market. They taste intoxicating like, funnily enough, strawberries, just much much much more intense. All from a tiny fruit.

I also survived Christmas dinner...just..I almost lost a finger. Merry Christmas indeed....I'm off overseas for a few days so blog you next year!!

 My backyard

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Vue de monde.

It is about time, I hear you say. It is an event whose time had come (and gone). Finally. I don't know what has been stopping me - but perhaps I wanted it to be a celebration. Rather than just a dinner. But it's ok, Denise and I made it a commiseration dinner.It was a ME ME ME, my problems kind of dinner.

I had to cancel my initial reservations due to work commitments (I know...), but it was fortuitous that I was able to get another time the following week. Perhaps, a better time. We were scheduled for a 8.15pm start.

In a word, phenomenal.

The space is slick, clever use of space and light, it is difficult to describe as whilst the sun is setting, the space is flooded with natural light. West facing windows allow an uninterrupted view of the sunset. The waiter joked that sunset was overrated, that it happens everyday. But how often, do we get to stop and actually take a moment to watch the day go down? Almost never I'd say. Call me old fashioned, but I am still a fan of a sunkist sunset.

We were offered, the menu or we could "leave it to them aka "gastronome". We opted for the gastronome" degustation but indicated we were time limited to around 2.5hrs. They managed to serve 7 courses + a few interlude cleansers.With a supplement of white truffle (literally 2 shavings, but at around $15K a kg (i think), it probably was worth the $30). White truffle has the most amazing aroma. It is so intense that it is almost intoxicating (if you have a lot of it that is).

The food was indeed superlative. A cleverly orchestrated progression of food. I can understand why it is such an esteemed establishment. I felt that Vue de monde pushes the boundaries with a play on textures, methods etc..and interaction. It does however, restrains itself so it is accessible to almost everyone, but so cleverly, enabling everything to work so harmoniously well.

This place is definitely worth a visit....for a special occasion, or even for a "just because" dinner.

Here are some pictures with a brief description...

We were instantly, started with a few "bites". The table setting has a lot of stones, which are later used for knives etc...interesting. The amuse bouche was definitely a good start to what was to come....they had chips as well if you were wondering. You 'thins'.

 First course was a spanner crab salad, which was delicious, but the marron was even more so. The mousse that it was served with worked incredibly well with the subtle marron. We used our fingers for this...which was a bit awkward.

 The slow cooked duck egg, with white truffle was a standout...which was followed by a cucumber refresher.

 Final two savoury dishes, the snapper and the wagyu. Often, with fish, it is either overcooked, underseasoned, undercooked (which can be just as bad), and overseasoned. The snapper was just how it should've been. The "sashimi" style or whatever, element was brilliant. The wagyu was perhaps, the softest wagyu I've ever eaten.

A nice take on "lemonade" to start desserts which definitely peaked with the lemon meringue pie. I generally absolutely hate meringue. But this was something special. Soft meringue...chewy meringue, I actually liked meringue.

 The chocolate souffle was good - but it's hard to be wow'd with souffle....the lamington however...was delicious!!!

And of course, the view of the world.

Level 55, Rialto Towers, Melbourne CBD
Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adios freedom.

As my Funemployment comes to an end (yes, do sympathise, I'll allow it), what better way to spend it than at the market. The beach did cross my mind though, but I couldn't justify lying around doing nothing on my LAST day of freedom. For some reason it feels like I'm in mourning.

So to calm my nerves, off to Prahran market I went to get some nourishment for the fridge, the freezer and I. And of course, what visit to Prahran market would be complete without a stop at Delicatess for some jamon. How could I not?

Anyone who knows me knows that drinking coffee - whereever I am - whatever the weather - is normal behaviour for me. I did feel like an iced coffee today so I ordered a short black AND ice coffee from Market Lane Coffee..I know, a short black is a hot beverage in 33°C weather but whatever, I figured the iced coffee wouldn't provide sufficient caffeine to get me through the morning and I didn't want to drink warm milk (that didn't stop me later in the day though, but that's another story). I love that they make their iced coffees with espresso, milk and ice. No ice cream. Don't get me wrong, every now and then I like my ice cream flavoured with espresso, but not today.

Whilst I was in the area, I also thought it was time to visit the two places in Prahran / South Yarra  that everyone seems to be raving on about - Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio and LuxBite.

I suppose the visit follows my "macaron" class a few weeks ago at Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School. I do confess however, that I'm not a macaron fanatic, so please excuse me for not being "oh wow, oh wow owowow"..when I talk about the cakes and macarons below. So why do the class I hear you screaming?! Even though I rarely eat them, I still wanted to learn as I knew it would definitely be a fun class to do. Of course it helps that Savour run a brilliant Chocolate and Patisserie School which caters for the amateur and professional alike. I feel so smart now that I know how macarons are made. I better be careful, I might get a bit of a macaron complex.

Burch and Purchese Sweet Studio is located at the FAR end of Chapel St (yep, thats my detailed description for you), and unless you were really looking, you (or more I) would not generally walk that far. It was fortuitous that the sun was out and I didn't mind the walk. The cakes looked very impressive and how can they not? A cake laced with a mirror glaze is something everyone should want to eat it with their bare hands. Deft use of technique I am certain, but I must admit, I don't understand what all the rave is about - it's a cake shop. In all fairness, I didn't buy a cake, and somehow I didn't really think eating cake before lunch...or in fact, breakfast, was advisable. So I can't really comment much more.I left with a packet of biscuits which were $12.50 which unfortunately tasted like eating marzipan.

Since Burch and Purchese Sweet Studio didn't seem to have macarons I wandered down Toorak Road to check out Luxbite. It was a long walk. I clearly don't qualify as a foodie because I'm not generally obsessed about salted caramels and shit like that. But LuxBite's macarons are pretty good, although the colours are almost blinding. I am incredibly scared of food colour. Otherwise, they were tasty, and textually what a macaron should be I guess?  They did taste better than most.(this is coming from someone who eats macarons once a year if that).

Knowing that to make a white macaron the amount of Titanium Dioxide required would kill a small cat (ok, maybe not)...I of course HAD to buy a white one (it was an was). I also learnt today that macaron fillings are NOT temperature stable...33°C...left in the car = tears. You would also like to know that the flavour is primarily in the filling not the biscuit, the biscuit is basically a lot of sugar, almond meal, more sugar, egg white, a bit more sugar, and maybe some other stuff, and a lot of colouring. That's macarons in general. So boys and girls, don't leave macarons in a hot car and also know that you're eating sugar and colour (and more sugar with colour).

Anyways, 6 coffees later, I feel kinda sick and I lost a bit of respect for myself for taking photos of biscuits and macarons in the car. So I'll leave you with those respect-eroding photos and since you got this far in my post - here's a smiley face for you to keep. :)

Overall I do think they are worth visiting if you're into that type of stuff... (and if you're close as well) but macarons are macarons and entremets are entremets imho. However, yes, LuxBite's salted caramel macaron is good. I think I've mentioned the word macaron enough times in this post.

Around South Yarra and Prahran

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio on Urbanspoon  LuxBite on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My urban garden...Mid spring.

I cannot believe it has almost been a whole month since my last post - maybe because I haven't really been eating at restaurants recently. But don't panic, calm down, I'm back. I've been fairly busy doing stuff, and recently chasing the fine weather interstate.

I do however, dear readers, have some dramatic news. I have 5 days of freedom left. (FIVE). I did the unthinkable and got myself a job. And I am really annoyed at the terrible weather we've had in Melbourne (the last 2 days does not count as I've been on holidays for 8 weeks - where have you been damn Sunshine?), as I had expected some fine weather to enjoy this time of mine.

Otherwise, this is a post about my urban garden. The challenge of aphids, the battle with whiteflies and the fight with powdery mildew has been an exhausting one. But after countless bags of compost, potting mixes for my "container garden", cow shit, chook shit, sheep shit, artificially introducing beneficial insects, organic oil sprays, and bicarb soda, my garden is finally starting to establish. Even though the sunshine has forsaken me, I now understand what other gardeners refer to when they talk about the "spring flush". Unnoticeable day to day, but to stop and reflect is to be in awe of the difference.

You may remember from an earlier post that I was trying to grow beans vertically in a container with holes around the sides - well here are the beans a month or two later. They have started to flower.

I am also trying to grow a number of tomatoes in 20L buckets.  They are thriving, but only time will tell whether or not they are resilient enough to survive high summer.

Truth be told, I've been planning to post about my garden for over 2 (two) weeks, but just haven't really got around to it. However, it is fortuitous such a delay has transpired - as I now have photos 2 weeks apart.

Padron Pepper

I am so excited about the Padron Peppers. I have about 6 or so throughout my garden, some in pots and some in the ground. This is the Spring Flush in action. The left photo was taken on the 29/10/2011 and the one on the right 14/11/2011. Thats 16 days.


The zucchinis seem to be happy where they are.

 Lemon Cucumbers

 The lemon cucumbers initially suffered in the direct sunlight, but have started to take off. I have cucumbers in another location that faces east, so it receives strong morning sun until about midday where it is then shielded for the rest of the day. They are thriving.

Tomatoes, Basils and Climbing Beans
A half wine barrel containing 2 tomato plants (Black Krim and Rouge de Marmande), basils, lettuces, bush beans and climbing beans. 

Tomatoes, Soy beans
I am so excited about my soy beans. I remember sowing them around the 15th of November last year but this year, I definitely have a few weeks head start.

You may remember the photo I posted a month or so back with one of my plots, this is what it looks like now. Rhubarb, swiss chard, garlic that is almost ready for harvest, coriander, bush beans, wild alpine strawberries, mint, stevia, borage, garlic chives and oh, a pomegranate tree...5-6 weeks apart (1/10/11 and 8/11/2011). 

I also have a number of eggplants growing throughout my garden and I am particularly happy about my Casper White (left below) - use the ice cream stick as comparison for size. And my pot of rif raf herbs - French sorrel, pineapple sage, chervil, dill...I've harvested at least 3 salads from my small container garden of lettuces and herbs. I absolutely love French sorrel.

In recent weeks, I've had time to reflect about so many things, and decisions to make. As distant as the connection it may seem, my urban garden is a testament of how things can change so slowly, yet cumulatively be significant. Day to day, I don't see growth, but to stop, and to at least measure progress at least once, the difference is indisputable. So here I sit, writing about my urban garden, in awe of how change can catch you by surprise - I can't help but think about how much I've changed in the last year. I am optimistic that 2012 will be a revelation.

On that note, I leave you with a photo that provides a glimpse of the Summer to come. My first tomato.

I didn't know the cultivar until now, as it volunteered last Autumn - that's right, last Autumn. I figured if it fought and survived the deadly frosts of Melbourne's winter, it deserved to be left to grow and fruit.

The fruit shape indicates it is a red fig. So I have 10 tomato varieties growing this year. If all goes well, tomatoes will be all I eat.

My backyard.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Star Apple

Most of the time, I try to buy my fresh produce locally, mainly from my weekly shop at the markets, because it is almost always fresher and of course, definitely a more sustainable way of eating. But sometimes, just sometimes, there are things which cannot be sourced locally.

I just thought I'd share this because it is a relatively unknown fruit in Australia, but it is perhaps, one of my favourite fruits. It's a star apple - not the star fruit - don't ask me if it is a star fruit again PLEASE. I love it that much that I've dedicated a WHOLE blog post about it.

A tropical fruit, it has a soft ultrafine fibrous flesh similar to perhaps a lychee? The flavour however is unique and I would find it difficult to find a comparison...A 'milkiness' that screams tropical and is incredibly aromatic (not the durian type of aromatic - if you're worried). It is that unique that I can't even think of another fruit to compare it with. I scoop the flesh out with a can't eat the skin...the sap has an astringent effect on your tastebuds.

Often found at asian supermarkets, but you have to hunt for them...and don't buy the dodgy ones. There are a LOT of dodgy ones...just use common sense, if it looks fresh, feels firmish and isn't infested with insects it may be ok. No gurantees though - it can be like an avocado. You know, it looks ok, feels ok but when you cut it open it's totally shit. But don't let that stop you from trying some star apple next time you see them.