Tuesday, May 24, 2011


It may be the weather, Billie tampering with our tiny seedlings, or it could be my lack of skills and experience. Either way, our little vegetable and herb garden is refusing to play ball.

Just when I thought I was going to have to give up gardening until the spring and plunge back into buying herbs, a wonderful new neighbour has arrived on the scene. The new Waverley Park Communal Garden has came along at just the right time.

Billie and I donned our new gumboots on the weekend and walked around the corner with the stroller basket full of gardening equipment, and freshly cooked food for the working bee shared lunch ( I made my Super Patties with Tofu, Brown Rice and Walnuts, which went down a treat).

Thanks to the group that petitioned Waverley Council for permission to build four large no-dig gardens at the edge of the park. The council even came to the party with generous donations of equipment and the commissioning of local artist Emma Anna to produce a fabulous sign (see pic above) to explain what these great big shiny rain tanks are doing plonked on the grass.

One of the four raised gardens, with it's own underground reservoir attached to pipe

Billie had a ball all morning playing with exciting toys she doesn't have at home - scooters, ride-on cars, and felt-tip pens. A family from across the road had brought it all over, and a couple of mothers even turned it into a mini-creche  -  allowing me to get into the gardening knowing Billie was happily collecting sticks and pine cones in a trolley. 

I learned much about how to make a very good raised garden. Tip number one: You need A LOT OF GOOD SOIL. These beds are actually the same width and length as the one we built at home. But about ten times deeper. 

We also built a rather complicated water reservoir system, which I was assured isn't that complex and is actually fairly essential in a warm country with water shortages. I guess being community gardens they need to be able to survive without daily watering in the summer holidays. 

Basically, we dug a shallow hole the exact size of the metal tank we were to place on top for the raised bed. 

We then lined it with plastic - like you would for a fish pond - and then placed a layer of gravel evenly over the hole.

Then a plastic pipe with holes drilled along its length was placed on top, with the pipe's end sticking out of the ground. Gravel was then used to completely cover the pipe (except the bit sticking out of the ground, which is where we will feed water and worm fertiliser into the mini reservoir under the garden).

Billie learns how to create a 'wicking' from gravel to separate the plants and the soil etc from the water reservoir

We next laid a plastic weed cloth, some hessian sack as it was lying around, and then a whole lot of nice organic dirt. 

Next we built up layers of straw and rich compost (they had a particularly nice one made of bio char). 
We finished with a layer of straw and a good water. Seedlings were about to be planted when Billie and I headed home for her sleep.

A fabulous, educational and inspiring morning. We'll be back for the monthly working bees and of course we'll poke our heads in on the way to the playground each week. Looking forward to grabbing a bit of parsley on our way past.

So what's wrong in my own back-yard? I can't even blame the soil - or lack of - as I have transplanted my silver beet seedlings into pots of potting mix, and sowed basil and parsley seeds straight into pots. But weeks later all we have are tiny seedlings, going nowhere, except into Billie's mitts. I have healthy leafy aubergine plants with no eggplants, and pepper plants producing tiny stunted capsicums. Oh well - the solution is just around the corner at Sustainability Street Bondi Junction, St Mary's Street.

While we get gardening on Sustainability Street, Billie picks up a four-wheeled bad habit

Thursday, May 19, 2011


It's the season to be soupy - if you're down-under at least. I made some fantastic soups this week. They didn't just taste it, they looked great too - often an issue with soups that wind up a dull brown or grey.

I have made various versions of black bean soup over the years, but usually they are blended to a thick blackish puree. While tasty, I have felt a little odd gulping back black goo.

This hearty ensemble is a departure from that blended style and quite impressive to serve up: Soft black beans in a dark purple broth alongside strands of red pepper; with a generous dollop of sour cream, sprinkled with shavings of lime rind and fresh coriander leaves.

I adapted this recipe from a soup based around a bacon hock. I wasn't sure if a vegetarian version would cut it, and maybe it wouldn't if you had tasted the meaty version.

Billie had no complaints, and neither did my blog pal Violet Tingle. I took it to her place ahead of a Friday night blogathon. Alas, Blogger was down and so was Ms Tingle's internet. So we just ate soup. Bread is not needed but it pals well with lager.

And don't dare leave out the sour cream. If possible go for a good quality version that is literally soured cream and therefore quite runny. (If you're in Australia this means Barambah - and I'm not being paid).


(Adapted from a Julie Biuso recipe)

2 1/2 cups black beans (also called turtle)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped finely
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper or chili (more if desired)
4 bay leaves
fresh ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 stock cube
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 red pepper (capsicum), chopped into bite sized pieces (reserve some for garnish)
2 Tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

sour cream
extra chopped fresh coriander
one lime to zest and juice
the red pepper pieces from above

Rinse black beans and soak in 7 cups of cold water - for about 8 hours. Drain and rinse. 

Heat oil in large pot and saute onions and then garlic over a low heat for about ten minutes or until soft. Add spices, followed by beans and 3 litres of water (just 1 litre if beans already cooked in pressure cooker) with a dissolved stock cube, the bay leaves and black pepper. Bring to boil, add parsley and lower heat. Simmer with lid off for two hours or until beans are very soft. 

Add lime juice, red pepper and fresh coriander. Check for seasoning - you'll probably want to add a teaspoon of sea salt. Cook for another ten minutes.

Place in bowls and garnish with a spoon of sour cream, some red pepper, coriander and lime zest. Squeeze a generous squirt of lime juice over the top - this tastes great and gives you some extra vitamin c to absorb the beans from the iron. The red pepper will do this also.

Delicious, filling and healthy.

NOTE FOR PRESSURE COOKER USERS: If you have a pressure cooker you can reduce soaking and cooking time substantially. Soak beans for a few hours and then place in pressure cooker with 5 cups cold water and cook for 15 minutes once up to pressure. They don't need to be fully cooked as will continue to cook in the soup. Meanwhile, get the broth going - but use 1 litre rather than 3 of additional water. Add the beans and their cooking liquid to the broth and simmer down for 45-60 mins with the lid off.

FOR BABIES 7 MONTHS AND OLDER: Reserve some well-cooked beans (before cayenne and salt is added) and puree.
FOR BABIES 10 MONTHS AND OLDER: Remove beans from soup and serve as finger food.
FOR BABIES AND TODDLERS 12 MONTHS AND OVER: Serve as is - stirring a generous amount of sour cream through if they aren't partial to a little heat (it's only mild anyway)

Monday, May 9, 2011


Sarah has the day off for Hallmark's celebration of motherhood. So I'm at the Mac helm.
We spent a loverly day gardening, brunching with a friend, singing to Billie and finally chopping up a big ol' pumpkin to make a super soup.

 I did create this delish dish last week in my slapdash funnel of random ingredients way. Why make the same meal twice?

Sarah believes that if you, the reader, would like to share our yummy goodness you will need measurements. I had to agree. So tonight we did a re-creation of last week's soup; turning "oh a few spoonfuls" and "I think I just poured for like 5 seconds" into real figures.

The result is a very similar soup to my inspired melee a week before. It tastes better than desert, is mildly spicy and goes well with a nice slice of jalepeno bread from Bondi Junction markets.

This recipe should make enough for 3 and lunch the next day. Billie who is becoming somewhat finicky as she matures or just unpredictable ( devouring a particular meal one day and shunning it the next), vacuums this powerful blend of veggies into her mini-maw.


1/4 pumpkin, chopped into chunks (leave skin on)
olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stock cube, dissolved in 1 and 1/4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1 t ground cumin
6-8 sorrel leaves
4 stalks fresh coriander (use roots, stalks and leaves)

Heat butter and a little olive oil in a large pot on low to medium heat. Saute onion, garlic and celery until soft. Add pumpkin, sorrel and then stock. Bring to simmer and then lower heat, replacing lid. Combine spices and olive oil in small bowl to make a paste, then stir through soup with the coconut. Add chopped coriander - using the roots and all adds lots of flavour. Stir frequently, and once the pumpkin is very soft remove soup from heat. Use a stick blender to puree in pot, or transfer to blender/food processor. Reheat if necessary and enjoy.

While we have added a dollop of yoghurt for aesthetic purposes, it really isn't necessary for taste. In  fact, I would say go without. And this is a soup you can safely serve without bread. It's delicious.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Mediterranean Quinoa with Caribbean lime fish

I love the way recipes take on a folk lore of their own.

I took this super salad from Cynthia Lair, who in turn credits a student named David St Martin. No doubt David was inspired by someone else somewhere along the way.

Quinoa is of course a SUPER food - fantastic source of protein, amino-acids and many minerals such as iron. It's not actually a grain - it's a seed - but it can be used in place of many grains. It's also easy to digest so good for babies just starting solids.

I brought Mediterranean Quinoa along to our weekly office Food Club, and it was a hit. My colleague Kate has been asking for the recipe ever since. We've had some extraordinary salads during Food Club's short life, and I wasn't the first person to bring quinoa.

Office Food Club

This was also a raging success served with Cynthia Lair's Caribbean lime white fish. Both recipes can be found in her fabulous Feeding the Whole Family.


1 cup quinoa
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup currents
1/2 block feta cheese, crumbled

Wash, rinse and drain quinoa. Place water in a small pot with salt and quinoa and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer gently with lid on until water absorbed (takes about 15-20 minutes). Don't stir, instead tilt the pan to one side or slip a fork in to see if any water on bottom. Removed lid and leave to rest for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, place pine nuts in a dry frying pan (without oil) and gently toast over medium heat. Stir regularly and remove from pan as soon as begin to change colour and give off aroma. 

Combine olive oil, lemon, mint and parsley in large bowl. Add scallions, currents and pine nuts. Add warm quinoa slowly, then feta, and combine well. Serve at room temperature.

FOR BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Put aside a little quinoa and puree
FOR BABIES 9 MONTHS AND OLDER: Reserve some salad before feta is added and blend