Mandy, Mandy Quite Contrary…

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It’s been tricky finding time to blog lately. Ironically, that’s because I’ve been so busy cooking and gardening and writing fiction. March was always going to be a bit of a time-buster for me – it’s tomato season where I live and wow, have I got tomatoes. This weekend alone I turned 9kg of Romas into a delicious salsa my kids won’t leave alone. Nachos are the new vegemite toast right now.

Mandy’s Garden

I’ll post that recipe soon, along with the most incredible zucchini and corn relish that I recently discovered, pickled gherkins a couple of different ways, tomato sauce, chilli sauce, red chutney, and green tomato chutney, among other goodies that have been keeping me busy. But first…the garden.

Zucchini. I’ve never grown it before this year. Why did no one tell me that one family of five probably only needs half a dozen plants at the most? I planted twenty. Yes, we’re totally zucchinied-out. I’ve been grating it raw into green salad, baking zucchini bread, zucchini slice, zucchini and haloumi fritters, zucchini muffins, and zucchini omelettes. I’ve made relish, I’ve blanched, I’ve frozen. And still, the plants keep producing…

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Zucchini, zucchni, zuchini

Beans. Climbing beans were one of the first vegetables I tried growing at home. After an aversion from being fed too many as a child, I quite like them these days. Mostly. This year I chose a different position in the garden, and while they’re growing and producing really well, they’re just not as sweet as previous years. Bummer. My chickens like them though!

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Beans! And some basil, flat leaf parsley and spring onions

Celery. Yeah, I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoys drinking celery juice. So this year, fed up with buying them every single week, I grew them against the advice that they’re kinda difficult to have in the garden. All lies. Don’t believe it. Celery is easy-peasy. I didn’t blanch them (where you try to keep the stems white by growing the plant in troughs, or cover the lower part with pipe or newspaper)—I just stuck them in the ground, watered and fed them, and watched them grow. Very nicely, thank you! Besides juicing, I’ve been drying both celery and celery leaves in my dehydrator.

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Who says celery is hard to grow?

Capsicum. Known, I believe, as peppers in other parts of the world. This is another vegetable we’ve grown before, but never in big numbers. Last year, I made a totally yummo red tomato chutney, and the secret ingredients in that were red capsicums and pickled gherkins. I’m serious! The capsicums are growing well, though not many have made it to the red stage yet as we’ve been picking and eating them green. Sooo sweet! Even Mr 6 Year Old Fussy Pants is stealing them to eat raw.

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Baby capsicum

Gherkins. So, yeah, speaking of needing pickled gherkins for my tomato chutney, I thought it would be a good idea (hahaha) to grow and pickle them myself. The packet of seeds I bought only contained 25 seeds and, because I’d left it really late in the season, I decided to plant them all, guessing only half or less would actually germinate. Yeah. Wrong again, Mandy. I now have twenty-five gherkin plants fighting for space in a very small bed, growing up and out and climbing (ie. strangling) everything they get near. Both the plants and fruit are super-prickly, which makes it hard to get near without gloves. However – my gherkins have been producing so many flowers (and then gherkins) that the bees are flocking. Swarming. Both. This makes my allergic middle child a bit nervous, but the rest of my garden very, very happy. Gherkins need picking every day, so they are a bit time consuming, but the pickling side of things is pretty easy once you’ve done it a couple of times. I have dozens of jars in the pantry, pickling away, but will wait a couple of weeks for the taste-test before posting the recipes.

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A Triffid? Close, but not quite. Gherkins taking over the world

Next up – Sweet corn (and the best ever way to cook it), chilli, cucumbers, raspberries, more strawberries, herbs, and tomatoes. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes…

 

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Book Review – PEACEMAKER by Marianne de Pierres

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The characters and world of ‘Peacemaker’ have long been galloping around in author Marianne de Pierres’ head. Finally, thanks to publishers Angry Robot, we’ll all soon be able to share in this genre-bending fun.

Ranger Virgin Jackson is following in her beloved father’s footsteps,  caring for the one slice of ‘wilderness’ left for tourists to enjoy – a piece of the Wild West in the heart of a Southern Hemisphere super-city. As Virgin herself notes, it’s just plain weird.

As usual with this particular author’s work, the reader isn’t given a warm, slow introduction. Nope, it’s straight into the action – a couple of inconveniently dead bodies, mystical creatures, high tech references (to gadgets not yet invented…that we know of…), conspiracy within government and the law keepers, a vengeful cop and a super-hot Marshall called Sixkiller on loan from the real Wild West. And that’s just in the first two chapters. Oh, and there’s horses. Horses!

As a master of world-building, Marianne doesn’t drip feed information, she engulfs you in it. Peacemaker is told from Virgin’s point of view; a sassy, street savvy gal who doesn’t suffer fools easily. She’s smart, passionate about ‘her’ park, and the people she cares about. There’s a pretty wide net of secondary characters here, but they’re easy to keep track of, and all play crucial parts to keep the story moving at seat-of-your-saddle pace (sorry, couldn’t resist that one). In fact, one of the things I enjoyed most about Peacemaker was the ‘bigger picture’ – the large cast of people I’m curious to know more about, the government conspiracies and street politics…I want more of all of it.

I’ve heard Peacemaker being touted as a Science Fiction-slash-Western, and this was what I was expecting. But it’s way more than just that. In all honesty, I’d call Peacemaker a crime novel – it’s just that it’s set in a rather brilliantly realised, futuristic world. It’s not hard on the tech side of things either, with plenty of mysticism to hold this reader’s attention from the first page to the very twisted last.

For more info on Marianne’s amazing body of work, go check out her website at  http://www.mariannedepierres.com/  

 

Emergency Cupcakes

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It was one of those Monday afternoons. You know the kind, we all have them. Our home is currently undergoing huge renovations, with most rooms involved – thankfully not the kitchen, been there, done that – we’re talking dust, chunks of plaster, holes in the roof and walls, new windows going in, old ones going out, floor coming up, floor going down, walls being chainsawed completely out of the way. And dust. Again.

Anyway, I was madly preparing ‘stuff’ for my oldest son who was to undergo oral surgery the next morning**, middle son had been in a wonky-computer related meltdown all weekend that I hadn’t quite managed to resolve, and then, with an hour to go before school-pick up, Lovely Husband reminded me that I’d promised to make youngest son cupcakes, to be ready when he got home. Of course.

No time to make the real deal from scratch, and no time to get to the shop. So this is what I made:

(And this is why it helps to keep a pretty well-stacked pantry)

What You Need:

1 packet of commercial chocolate cake mix.

Cupcake liners.

60g dark cooking chocolate.

125g butter.

6 tablespoons of milk.

500g of icing sugar.

Lollies. I used jellybeans and M&M’s.

emergency cupcakes

Yum!

How It’s Done:

Make and bake cupcakes according to the directions on the packet. I always keep a chocolate and a vanilla cake mix on hand for emergencies like this one. And, you know, lazy baking days.

Allow cupcakes to cool completely. Confession – I ran out of time, so cooling happened while I did the school pick-up. But it worked out okay because the boys helped decorate, which is apparently, almost as fun as eating the cupcakes.

For the icing, add chocolate, butter and milk to a large saucepan. Bring to boil, giving it a good stir frequently. Remove from heat and beat in icing sugar until smooth. You might find you need to add a little more icing sugar or milk, depending on consistency. You can either pipe the icing on (beware though, it stiffens quite quickly) or just smooth it on with a knife. We are talking emergency cupcakes, after all. Chop around half of your desired lollies, leaving some whole. Press into icing and you’re done!

**this may or may not translate into ‘I was having a complete and utter freak-out at the thought of my son undergoing surgery’. He did fine, by the way.