Mandy, Mandy Quite Contrary…


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…


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!


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.


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.


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.


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…


From Mandy’s Garden – Garlic Braids

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Home Grown Garlic

Last weekend I pulled our crop of garlic. I’d grown the odd bulb before, but never in any sort of numbers. Garlic has got to be the easiest thing to grow, ever. Just break up a shop-purchased bulb and pop each piece into the ground, pointy end up. And then forget about them. That’s it. Seriously. And pests don’t find it all that tasty, so it acts as a repellent for your other plants too. So over this recent winter, I dropped heads of garlic in wherever I had a few spare centimetres of space, which meant about 60 bulbs that needed something done with them all at once. But what to do? Well, as an ex-hairdresser the answer was obvious. Braid them, of course!

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Garlic braids 1

I let the garlic dry outside for the week undercover and protected on a table. Then, (and trust me, this next bit is best done outside too) I trimmed the roots from each bulb with scissors and gave them a gentle dust off with a pastry brush. You want to remove as much dirt as possible without damaging the fine, crunchy outer layers of your bulb. A heap of dry debris, dirt and muck ended up in my compost bin instead of the kitchen floor. Next, I sorted the bulbs into two piles – large and small and took them inside. Armed with a pair of scissors, some kitchen twine and muscles, it was time to begin.

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Garlic braids 2

First, gather 3 biggish bulbs and tie together with the dried ‘stalks’ pointing towards you. Using a simple plait technique (right over the middle, left over the middle, right over the middle, left over the middle…you get the drift), add in a new garlic to each middle strand. To fill gaps, I sometimes used two smaller bulbs. Keep the plait as tight as possible, which means working slowly and using those muscles. As your braid grows, it gets tougher to work with and some of the stalks aren’t as pliable as others – but they can be coaxed!

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Vampire Strips!

When I finally ran out of garlic bulbs, I tied the end tightly with more twine, and added a loop at the back to hang in the kitchen. Looks pretty, huh? Apparently, if we keep it away from the steam of the coffee machine, it’ll last for months. Yeah, it stinks a bit. But I guess we don’t have to worry about vampires for a while…