30 Apr 2013

Possum light sunset

It's this time in the evening I call Possum Light time - a time when it's not light but it's not dark either - there's a briefer time in the morning when this happens too. Possum light as it's a term used in Elyne Mitchell's Silver Brumby book series and when I first read them as a child, then living in suburbia, the phrase caught my attention and my imagination and I never forgot it. That's what good writing is about. It's also the time when I'm most likely to see the resident possum, if it's going to visit, so it must be based on truth :).

To see the sunset and the evening stars (look closely there are 2) at the same time is a real treat so I thought I'd share it as the last post for this month. If you click on this photo you can view it in a bigger size. Enjoy.

Robyn xo

29 Apr 2013

More on pumpkins...

I had a comment from Wayne on my Pumpkin Pickin' Paradise post and I thought it would be easier to answer it here than in the comments section.

"Hello Robyn - Great article and pics. Very helpful. My "unplanned" vine started in a worm tower in December. Now, end of April, it has pumpkins of various sizes and still getting flowers and young fruit. Have not harvested any yet. How long should the vine keep producing pumpkins before it dies off? Regards Wayne"

As Wayne is a no reply blogger and I don't know his location I can only say that what happens here is that some pumpkins will be on the vine until the first frost, about May/June, when the vine dies off naturally. Some say it is best to leave them on the vine until then but we can have rodent problems so I prefer to harvest mine when I can. Also the hard skin pumpkins like Queensland Blue or Jarrahdale are better left until the vine dies down, so I've heard (keeping qualities/flavour apparently), but the soft skin varieties like JAP/Kent it doesn't seem to matter.

Wayne, experiment with yours - harvest one that has a dried pinched stem, put it in a dry semi sunny spot and watch for the stem rosette to wither and flatten, about 4 weeks or so, then cut it. As you cut it there should be a crisp cracking noise which also indicates that it's ripe. Some people tap the pumpkin on the bottom, like you do fresh cooked bread, to see if it's "done" before cutting, but I'm not good at predicting ripeness like this. Another way to check ripeness is to scratch a tiny spot of skin off the pumpkin and see it it "bleeds"or "oozes" and/or if it smells "green". If it does it's not ripe. If it just looks a bit wet in the scratched spot but doesn't ooze or if it stays dry it's ok to use. Document the results for future reference. Take photos if it helps.  Remember I'm only referring to JAP/Kent pumpkins and I'm not sure if this method works with other varieties of pumpkins.

A ripe JAP/Kent will keep for about 3 months in cool conditions then they begin to decompose inside. Not the type of pumpkin soup you want! Hard skin pumpkins left to dry on the vine will keep for 8-12 months without any effects so it's always good to be sure of which type you've unwittingly been gifted with by Mother Nature.

I neglected to put my pumpkin soup recipe on the recipes page when I made it, so that's done now, and I've just discovered I don't have any photos of my pumpkin soup. As you know I can't see the point of blogging if there's no pics to look at so I found a relevant photo in my photofile of a potholder I made for a swap a few years ago. I'm sure there's some of this fabric left too so there could be another potholder or so on the list.

Robyn xo

26 Apr 2013

Pumpkin Scones, strange bugs and a Guarden Cat

Finally made the pumpkin scones and remembered to take a photo. Recipe is on the recipe page. Apologies about the photo, these were the last 4 of the unfrozen ones and the late afternoon light doesn't do them justice.

Whilst rearranging the garden beds I came across this little fellow and as I don't know if it's a friend or a foe I took a photo of it. It's a bit bigger than a lady bug and could even be a type of ladybug. Google images and various entomology and insect identification internet sources have not come up with anything like it's patterning so I still don't know what it is.
I'd be really pleased if someone could help with identification as I've never seen a bug with this patterning before.

Of course I had my chief guarden (yes, the misspelling is deliberate) assistant out there keeping the birds, field mice and other predators out of the pumpkins and other vegetables. She's not quite blending with the garden decor as the leaves aren't turning orangey colours yet but she is camouflaged enough to startle a thieving bird when she moves to a more comfortable position :). She won't be happy when I remove the last of the shady weeds from her spot under the orange tree! Other people put up bird stands but I think I'll have to erect a cat one as the vege garden is the tubby tabby's favourite daytime place.

Robyn xo

23 Apr 2013

Spammers and access

Apologies, I thought this posted a couple of weeks ago but I've just realised it didn't.

In an effort to make my blog more available to some of my regular followers I removed the anonymous comments restriction as I was wondering if that was preventing them being notified of my new posts. That was a bad move, on it's own, as I was suddenly reporting about 4 posts a day as spam as they have links that attach to what looks like dubious advertising sites and their comments read like a used car sales pitch. Smarmy.

So, to try and rectify this I've done what I really didn't want to do...... opted for word verification and left the comment posting open to everyone as most of the anonymous spam comments are made by automatic net crawlers not actual people.

Hopefully, all the followers of my blog will now have access to it and all the spam will stop.

I do like posts with photos and I thought this one would give a laugh after being serious about the spam. Daughter took DH doubling up on the back of the statue at McKinley Racecourse, Queensland, when they were up that way a few weeks ago. I told him he should be careful, in future, where he put those hands!

Robyn xo

21 Apr 2013

Heart Food

Found out on Friday that I haven't lowered my LDL cholesterol so now I'm on medication to help lower it :(. The doctor wants to see me in 1 month to check up on my blood pressure and in 2 months I need another a fasting blood test for the cholesterol levels and another visit to the doc about this.

I've been researching good heart foods and as fish and salad are high on the list I decided that this lovely mullet, that was on special on Friday, would be stuffed with mushrooms and capsicum, baked in foil in it's own juices and accompanied by the roast pumpkin and lentil salad recipe I found on my search for new ways to use pumpkins.

DH (Mr meat and 3 veg) wasn't overly thrilled with it but he did eat most of his salad and commented that it wasn't too bad. That's high praise from a man who thinks dried peas/beans are only for feeding hens and cows.

Guess he'd better become used to eating heart healthy as this isn't a restaurant and I don't do a la carte meals! 

For those waiting on the pumpkin scone recipe it's still coming but I thought I'd help ensure I was around for a bit longer to post these things by eating healthier ;P. To compensate I've posted the roasted pumpkin and lentil recipe on the recipe page. It is surprisingly delicious!

Robyn xo

16 Apr 2013

Triple treat

Yesterday I went to have my blood test and bugger me, after fasting overnight and driving 40km into town I discovered I'd left my referral at home! The lovely ladies at the lab suggested I pop up to the surgery and ask if it was possible to have another one as the surgery was fairly good about this sort of thing. They were probably thinking early seniors moment!

I did so but I think my new doctor doesn't trust me to be an amenable patient as I ended up with another consultation. After enquiring about my bp readings at home and my diet he took my blood pressure and it was 115/78.....perfect! I gave him a smug look and said "I told you we're all stubborn women in my family and I could do this".  He just shook his head and smiled at me but reminded me not to go off my tablets as he gave me a new referral.

After the blood test and some tripping around town on my little high I arrived home to be greeted by another wonderful sunset, and fortunately I've been carting the camera everywhere with me, after missing a few golden opportunities lately.

It took 3 tries to find the right manual combo that gave me a picture that showed what I was seeing:

f2.8 Exposure 1/125

f2.8 Exposure 1/250
still too pale

f2.8 Exposure 1/320
not quite the vibrant colours my eyes were seeing

5:36:38 GOT IT!
f2.8 Exposure 1/400

and of course, just wondering what it would look like taken up once more to f2.8 1/500 at 5:37:06 and it's not too bad either, though a bit dark.

Have you noticed the coloured clouds at the top of the photos disappearing and the yellow becoming less? It all faded away in 94 seconds!

The third treat was when I arrived in the house to discover an overseas parcel waiting for me. Oh yay, my prize had arrived from Tracy! My very first signed copy of a book, Chorus of the Dead, that I won back here and not only that it is the first in a new series .

I'm going to read it all over again as book 2 in the series called "Dead Silent" will be available in the next few months :D.  Can't wait to see how that reads!

Robyn xo

14 Apr 2013

The NEW me?

Well, not really, as I've had my hair short since about October last year but I had it restyled and shortened again before Christmas 2012 and I've also lost a few kgs so my face looks thinner. The photo on the left was taken today, on short notice, as I needed a face shot for a forum I'm in. I'm dressed in a daggy old men's shirt I slob around home in. I look a bit different to a photo I took 2 years ago, on the right. Look how chubby my face is in that one, there's no cheek bones!  Move over moonface Bert Newton! That's why I'm not posting full body ones - too embarrassing as being short I look really round while I'm overweight! Another reason for wearing oversized shirts.

Follow up cholesterol blood test tomorrow so I'm hoping the weight loss, exercise and change of diet has shifted some of it out of my blood stream. My goal is not so much to lose weight but to eat and exercise my way to no prescribed medicines if possible and a BMI between 21-25. The latter is looking acheivable as I've dropped it 2.2 points to 27.7 in the last 6 weeks. I've discovered BMI isn't about your weight it's about your fitness as I've lost this much weight before but hardly made any impression on my BMI.

No hoping about this, there's going to be a new me before Spring and I'll need all new clothes. Ones that show off a bit more of me rather than hiding it :).

Robyn xo

Back to manual

After returning from my afternoon walk and feeding the dogs their evening meal I noticed a change happening in the sky and knew the time to capture it was limited. I raced inside and grabbed the camera but I knew as soon as I was back at the gate that the Auto and Scene Recognition functions on my camera just weren't up to I bit the bullet and turned the dial to Manual. Not something I am familiar with on this camera.

Now, manual on a mostly Automatic digital camera offers restricted f numbers so I'm stuck between 2.8 to 8, not like my old 35mm SLR (may it RIP), so I have to be a bit clever with the speeds and viewing angles especially when I would have used 1.4 for a night shot or 16 or 22 for a daylight shot involving bright sun, water or snow. I still can't figure out what replaces the film speed option either as I used to use 400 film for indoor/night shots and also had the option on moonless nights of popping the camera on the tripod, opening the shutter to 1.4 and leaving the lens open for up to 8 seconds. I had a few great night shots of towns, moving traffic and stars at night (no moon) using this method :). I actually use the flash more in the daytime to combat shadows as it can bleach out the colours in night shots.

Out of 6 shots I have 3 useable ones. The first useable one was a bit of a washout as I had the speed on 1/50sec, f5 and the camera was on the wrong angle so that also made for too much direct light. It's still a pretty accident though :). Taken 5:32:02pm.

The next two were more realistic and close to perfect. Both taken at 1/80sec, f6.4 and with my little finger under the camera lens so the "angle" was giving the picture the same colours as my eyes were seeing. I will never have the depth of field I want with this camera as I don't have the range of settings but it does a pretty reasonable job for the price. Top one taken at 5:37:04pm, bottom one at 5:37:48pm.

I didn't change the camera position but I had to wait a little for the camera to process the previous photo. The bottom photo is a fraction lighter and the colours aren't quite so intense. 44 seconds can make a difference and sometimes even 5 or 10 seconds, earlier in the day, can lose you a great shot as the light won't be exactly the same ever again. Lol, bit like trying to photograph kids and animals :D!

Thanks for looking at my amateur photography and I must start taking more outside shots as the current farm photos are outdated. The farm looks fantastic after all the rain and there's something more personal/romantic about the natural lighting in Autumn and Winter. If you like photography you'll know what I mean :). I'm looking forward to a frosty Winter as frost makes for really interesting sights, lighting and photos.

Robyn xo

12 Apr 2013

Pumpkin Pickin' Paradise!

As the rain is threatening again I decided, during a dry spell today, to have another poke around the grass/weed infested pumpkin patch.
 I think I'm going to have a stall at the local markets on the 20th of April as I discovered another 31 that needed harvesting and there's at least another 30 remaining that could do with a fortnight or so longer on the vines. Pumpkin profits will go towards the new set of reading spectacles I'm currently paying off :).

That's the only problem with JAP's, as they are more of a squash, their keeping properties aren't as long as the hard skinned pumpkins like the Queensland blue or Jarrahdale. There will be lots of freezer cooking happening in the future and I'm definitely going to try the pumpkin soup cooked in it's own shell this time. Wondering if I should serve it with pumpkin scones, pumpkin damper or pumpkin bread?

While I was picking I thought it would be handy to post pics of when to harvest JAP pumpkins, which you can tell from the condition of the stalk.

So from the top down:
Thick, plump stalk all the way down to the pumpkin means it's not remotely mature yet.

Narrowing at the main stem end means it's beginning to dry off but will still be very juicy and will leak this juice from the stem if you break it off, accidently or otherwise. It also means a cut or broken stem can begin to rot so you need to put these upside down to dry off and ripen so any juice that leaks out doesn't just lay on the top of the pumpkin and begin rotting it.

This is a good one to harvest as not only is the stem pinched, dried up and dark looking all along it's length but the spots on the pumpkin are a nice orange colour indicating maturity. Compare this to the two above and see how the spots on those are much greener or paler.

The reason why I decided to see if further harvesting was needed. The stalk on this little pumpkin rotted off at the main branch stem and it shrivelled up by itself. Too much rain can do this. Notice how the spots are still light green and the base of the stalk is green. It will ripen slower than the mature one above and the flavour may not be as good, as it was parted from it's parent plant early, but it's quite edible.

Pumpkin Hunt :).
Search and you will find!

These 3 were in a shady spot under a pile of farmer's friends, stinging nettles, some other prickly obnoxious weed, bracken and the ever present kikuyu. As they were shadowed, and the maturing rate wasn't rushed along by the hot sunny days we've had here of late, they grew to quite a large size. I'll have to weigh them but from carrying them around I'd say they were about 3kg each.
I've been harvesting dressed in  either tracky pants or jeans, long sleeved shirt and my knee high rubber boots and often a hat to keep my head shaded and give something else for any spiders in the long grass to alight on as I bend over to collect pumpkins.
As I've had a request for the pumpkin scone recipe I thought I'd post it, and any other pumpkin recipes I use to diminish some of
this harvest, in the recipes pages as I make them. Link in the sidebar.

Robyn xo

An Upside of Autumn

I've always loved Autumn, nearly as much as I love Spring. Both seasons are full of bright colours, but for different reasons. One of Autumn's bright colours is the yummy orange of home grown pumpkin. I had some JAP, also known as Kent, pumpkins germinate in my compost pile so I transplanted them to the paddock and they thrived. Technically JAP's are squash and are supposedly evolved from the Japanese squash  cucurbita moschata but there's also a story of them originally sprouting on a USA farmer's property and when he was asked what they were he replied "Just Another Pumpkin" and they've been known by the acronym ever since. Nice little story. However, I'm not politically correct and if we do have the Japanese to thank for this versatile vegetable I have no problem with honouring them for it's origin by call it a JAP or Japanese pumpkin as it's my favourite :D.

Whatever the origins they are very popular in Australia and are used for everything from soups to pies, as a roast vegetable and in various types of bread.  I've harvested 10 but I gave the two smallest ones to my parents and there's at least another dozen maturing on the vines. There's a 20c piece on one of the pumpkins at the back to give an idea of size. The cut one is the first of the harvest after a few weeks of drying off. I've already made a big pot of pumpkin soup and there's a roasted pumpkin and lentil salad I want to try as well as 2 different types of pie and of course some pumpkin scones. It wouldn't be Australia without pumpkin scones!

I always save the seeds as what better way to keep producing them than to save seeds acclimatised to the growing conditions here.

Hoping that southern hemisphere people are looking forward to lots of warm tasty pumpkin treats as the weather becomes colder.

Robyn xo

2 Apr 2013

Mystery Box reveal

Well, I finally had time to play with what was in the mystery box. The dyes, scent and cocoa butter and the sphere mold in the last picture.

 I'll obviously need more practice and there's more than one way to do this but I'm happy with how the first try turned out :). I painted the inside of the molds and poured the warm soap into them. Had a mild panic attack when the pigments bled and I could see colour in the bottom of the soap but it subsided as they cooled. The dragonflies are supposed to be purple with pale yellow wings! Need to do more research/experimenting in that department! Maybe colouring the soap mix is the thing to do.

The soaps on ropes should be nice and hard by Christmas and I can hand paint them with the pigments before then and give as gifts, except the defective one! I'll have to trial the painted soap to see if they run and how much. As they are approved cosmetic pigments they are deemed safe but a soap which colours the bathwater may cause a ruckus with one mother I know so uncoloured soaps will be the solution there. The ones below are cocoa butter soaps and those next to the mold,  are ordinary olive and rice bran oil soaps - before trimming.

All these are scented to some degree with cinnamon leaf oil as it has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. There's probably not enough to be an effective germ solution when washing but I was more concerned with the soap itself going off as, unlike commercial soap, there are no preservatives in this. Cinnamon is also an inhalant for colds and more appealing than tea tree or eucalyptus so it will serve multiple purposes in the soap.

I'll continue to experiment with my soapmaking with scents, colours and molds but the standard will always be Rhonda's recipe on the DTE blog . I have used soap made from Rhonda's recipe for washing dishes, making laundry wash and washing myself, including my hair, and it has never failed me. Sometimes basic is best even if variations are good for a change :)!

Robyn xo