Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Today's harvest and choices.

This morning,  as usual,  I have been out to collect whatever is ready in the garden....
...  zucchinis are producing huge amounts at the moment.  I've heard complaints about having to eat this or that (zucchinis included) when they are "in season".... more on that later.  This morning I listened to an interview on the radio with someone who has investigated how choice has changed us and our society...  and I am convinced that the lack of the vast array of (mostly) imported foodstuffs in the supermarket don't necessarily make people better off, happier or more content.  You'll notice that I have quite a good pile of zucchinis, a small onion (I also have some garlic that I dug up a few weeks ago) some frozen broad beans and three jalapenos... these last two items have been in the freezer since the last time that they were plentiful.   This will make a very good zucchini soup.

The last zucchini meal that I had was two days ago....
... another version of "pasta primavera,"  I suppose....  garden vegetables with pasta and "parmesan style"  cheese from Mil lel.

Last night I had a salad, all from the garden...
...  made from green beans, onion, bandicooted potatoes and one sweet Roma tomato.  the egg is one of  the last from the chickens that were killed by the fox in December.  (Using "old" eggs that are so good makes me wonder how old some of the eggs in the supermarket must be.)  My salad dressing was not one of the supposed 175 varieties available in Barry Schwartz's supermarket mentioned in the TED talk linked above, I used local olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and some chopped garlic cloves... sometimes I add a jalapeno or two, depending on my preference.  I happen to like my salad dressing more "oily" than "vinegary" and these are the proportions that I combine.....
 This is in a "salsa" jar and sits on the kitchen bench a lot of the time.   I shake it before using (no thickeners required)....
.... and so I don't need to make salad dressing choices either.

My point here is that the huge choice of foodstuffs in the supermarket has not made life any easier or any more contented.  I have stood in front of the produce or meat section in my local shop and discussed with other people what a "pain in the neck" it is to have to decide for the whole family just what they will be eating that evening.  No one ever seems to want to help with THAT decision.  The actual cooking, once underway, is not so terribly difficult, though some meals do take more effort than others.   It is the decision  making part of the process that is particularly annoying, especially when it is a decision on behalf of others...  especially when one asks other members of the household what they would like and the answer is so often a vague "whatever" in various disguises.

It is the decision making that is quite troublesome.

When food was mostly produced by the household,  the decision was based on what was available at the time...  and if it was zucchinis,  then the choice was limited, and creativity took over in order to find new and wonderful ways to combine and prepare whatever was available.  When shops were more limited and foodstuffs were not flown around the world or manufactured into ever more wierd and wonderful products to be marketed, the choice of what to have for dinner may well have depended upon what day it was.  Many people will remember the "Sunday roast" and "Tuesday shepherd's pie" and so on....  and this lessened the choices, decisions and the annoyance that went with it.

In past times, cooks were skilled in making good food from relatively limited ingredients and, as I have mentioned previously, traditional recipes include ingredients that mature at the same time or that are easy to grow together.   The other benefit of eating in season,  as I have said before,  is the enjoyment of anticipation and thrill of the new season's produce, a joy that is almost lost now that we can have summer fruits in winter and winter crops flown from colder climates in summer...  such a pity to lose that joy.

As Barry Schwartz described in the TED talk referenced above (The paradox of Choice)  a peculiar problem of modern affluent industrial societies is that the excess of choice does not make us happy,  but stressed and dissatisfied.  Stress, depression and dissatifaction seem to be endemic.  In his example, buying a pair of jeans used to be simple... there was only one kind and, even if one didn't like them, there was no expectation that one could have made a better decision.  Nowadays, choosing from so many different kinds,  expectations are raised and any dissatisfaction is perceived as a mistake on the part of the decision maker.  The responsibility for making a "wrong" decision is now placed on the decision maker,  contributing to the stress and dissatisfaction described by Barry Schwartz.

So,  back to my zucchinis....   I will eat zucchinis for dinner,  zucchini soup!  And who knows,  eventually I might even resort to a zucchini cake....  if you "google" it you will find dozens of them.... flavoured with chocolate or cinnamon or a number of other spices.  Inventiveness and creativity are better for mental health than annoyance and dissatisfaction.

Monday, 21 January 2013

People food, heron food.

It's been more than a week...  but I have been very busy with painting (pictures) and keeping the garden going in the heat.  This morning,  after watering, I collected some produce.....  dinner tonight will be a pasta invention, I'm sure...
 ... despite the weather,  enough water and a few lace curtains and tablecloths are keeping the plants alive.

As I walked past the pond this morning, the fish came running (swimming) over to see me.  I have been intermittently feeding them and they now come when I am there.....
... but the numbsers of big fish are seriously "down".   That heron must be doing well.   I have yet to catch her/him at it,  but I can't say that I'm terribly upset... perhaps raising heron food is not such a terrible thing.  Perhaps the pickings are easy when the goldfish are trained to come when one arrives!!!!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Fish pond

This evening I was sitting out by the pond and watching the fish... much more interesting than television.  There are a lot more baby fish now...  at a guess there are proabably 50, of varying sizes and colours.

Originally,  in order to deter (eat the larvae of) mosquitos,  I was unable to get any native fish,  and so I settled for non-heated aquarium fish from the pet shop.  These were ten comets.
While this was not my preference,  these have kept the mosquitos in check and have provided me with many hours of enjoyment.  The original ten comets were mostly not distinguishable... they were all gold and fast.  Two of them were different.  One had a white "face" if that is what you call the front end of a fish and another had a black stripe along its back.  This black stripe made it very hard to see.  I used to go out and count my fish, almost daily, and invariably,  the black striped one would be the last one that I would find.  I used to drop a few flakes of fish food in to attract them and check them out.  I've been a bit lax in recent weeks... with christmas and hot weather,  other issues have taken over.  The fish have had to step down in my priorities.

And so today,   I sat out in the cool of the evening with a glass of wine,  the fish food and tried to see who was there.   I knew that there were a lot of babies... of varying ages... some small grey non-descript things, some larger and gradually acquiring some colour or fading to pale and a few who look golden and almost as big as their parents... the original, now large, comets.

I tried to find the ten largest fish, for  these would be my original specimens...  and they are still noticably bigger than even the oldest of their offspring...  but there are only nine.   I have found nine large fish,  including the one with the white "face" but the one that has been hardest to see (the one with the dark stripe down its back,  appears to be missing.  I photographed the original fish some time ago, and one picture shows the fish quite well....
... she (or he) is quite noticeable... as is the one with the white "face."

The only explanation, aside from some bizarre age difference or disease is that the heron that hangs out in the pond intermittently found that fish easiest to catch.  For me,  it was the most difficult one to see, but who knows how herons operate.

The other interesting thing to notice is the amazing number of tiny fish,  just beginning to be coloured, that have the same dark stripe along their backs...  some kind of immortality.  (I will try to add a photograph here later.)

Friday, 11 January 2013

Early morning harvest

This morning I watered and covered the garden again.  It will be very hot later in the day,  after a couple of days that were just a little bit cooler (38C yesterday).
I have also collected the vegetables before the sun is too high....
.... the tomatoes are a mixture... the orange ones are those that I picked a few days ago.  I am now picking any otf the "white" tomatoes that begin to show a yellowish tinge.  You can see a couple of those (picked this morning)  along side the others that have been inside, in the "cool" inside the house.
As usual,  it has been interesting to plan meals around whatever is available outside.  Surely, this is what women have done forever, and it is also how interesting "ethnic" recipes are invented.  The oversupply of any vegetables, no matter what the season, may make meals more consistent and bountiful,  but it is also boring in a funny way... much less inventiveness and creativity are needed for our modern supermarket foraging... and that seems a pity.

Update:  I did make amazing cooked zucchini flowers for dinner tonight...  they are stuffed with home-made ricotta and sage... amazing...
... wierd looking,  but yummy  :)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Pasta sauce from the garden...

This morning is a little cooler than it has been for the past week or more...  I awoke to about 20C (~70F) and it should should remain less than 30C all day.

After more than a week of mostly 40+ (and up to 47+) degrees   (104F and 117F) and the work that is needed to keep the garden alive, it feels good to have a "day off" for it will be back to more hot weather  later in the week.  I have been watering, covering, uncovering (to allow air flow to reduce downy mildew) and moving mulch as necessary.  Summer is definitely becoming the season for minimal garden production and the storage of winter crops for use during the summer is becoming essential.

The garden is looking green and healthy...
 ... though the tomatoes are having difficulty ripening...
the green colour fades,  but they won't turn red until it is cool enough...  they turn white!
"Temperature alone can affect tomato fruits, however. When daytime temperatures reach 95 F, tomatoes stop producing red pigment, so may ripen to orange. When daytime temperatures exceed 100 F and nighttime temperatures are in the 80s, the ripening process itself slows down, and tomatoes seem to stop maturing."

The zucchinis are ok,  as long as they are protected from the heat during the day and are able to "dry out" overnight....
.... the corn is about to flower....
 ... and by next week I should be eating eggplants....
 ... and beans (strange combination!)

This morning I picked a few more vegetables....
... and I'll be making pasta sauce for dinner.  (The onions and garlic came from the garden a few weeks ago,  and are in my kitchen store.)
I still have a few eggs (the chickens were killed by a fox just before Christmas and the new ones won't be here for a while yet) and I'll be making ricotta dumplings (I had some milk that needed using up a few days ago, so I have home made ricotta cheese) and a zucchini/garlic/herb sauce to go with them.

Update:  Ricotta dumplings with vegetable & herb sauce...

... and it was very good   :)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Lacy covers and garden produce...

This week the weather predictions are dire for the garden...

... today is that Thursday mentioned above and it is currently (at 2.30pm) 41.5 C (more than 106 F) on my shady south facing verandah.  It remains 28 C (82 F) inside.  It will gradually creep up in here as these days go by.  (Update at 3.45:  42.5C  -  108.5F)  

The garden is watered and covered for the day...
... and I hope that most of it survives.

There is an interesting discussion of the climate situation for 2012 that is published by the Bureau of Meteorology and in that,  not only did we have a very hot year,  but we also had a very dry winter.  As I have mentioned previously, the rainfall here was only about 70% of our normal rainfall.  It is usual to hear people talking about this being the "new normal" for us.  Perhaps, as the CO2  level (now at 392.92 parts per million) increases and climate change accelerates, predictions are now that even people  of my age will live to see catastrophic weather events and climate refugees moving around the world, en masse. 

I have heard the sceptics discussing the reliability of the models and the likelihood of any dire effects in mh lifetime,  but in fact, to quote the IPCC, "...models are unanimous in their prediction of substantial climate warming under greenhouse gas increases, and this warming is of a magnitude consistent with independent estimates derived from other sources, such as from observed climate changes and past climate reconstructions."
The whole article is here.

Weather is not the same as climate, but with the consistently increasing temperature, and increasing acidification of the ocean,  is it really worth the risk?

The IPCC meets regularly and its website reads like any other disfunctional organisation with instructions oon how to present information, lists of calendar dates and meetings,  but nothing has actually been achieved yet.  We've had Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, Bali and more and these meetings are becoming less and less influential as they become bogged down in protocols and reports.  Nothing si actually being done about behavioural change other than to change the method of production of electricity and CO2  and no decrease in the actual use of fuel and energy and the real production of CO2.     

It seems that the only way that behavioural change will occur will be when there is not money to be made from the activities that are producing the assortment of 'greenhouse gasses" that are affecting the change in the climate of the earth.  There are many commentators now predicting that it will take the collapse of the economic system to rescue the climate,  if indeed that is possible.  This seems likely as there are also discussions about how the UN climate negotiations are threatening economic growth.  It appears that "climate worriers" and those who are concerned with "the future of human prosperity" can agree on this... that doing anything effective about climate change (or even proposing changes to our use of fuels) does threaten economic growth.  

It seems that James Lovelock may have been correct.  It doesn't matter what humans do in the overall scheme of things,  the earth will survive even if our species doesn't.

So, as I prepare for the rest of the week, leaving much of the garden fallow and mulched and the little bit that I use in summer watered and covered in its lacy shawl, I hope that some of it will survive.  I also plan my winter garden when, despite shorter hours of daylight, productivity is increased. Even tomatoes can't set fruit at high temperatures and it is just too hot for summer vegetables.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year

It has been a busy week but now that the festivities are over,  life can return to normal.  The next week will be very trying for the garden and its produce.  Temperatures are supposed to be around 40C most days and there is still no rain on the horizon, so to speak.
2012 was a very dry year.  We had a total of 355mm (just over 13 inches) for the year.  The "average rainfall for Kapunda is more than 450mm (about 18 or 19 inches) and so this year has been exceptional.  The fear is,  of course, that this may be the new "normal" now that climate change is upon us, but even that is a matter of "wait and see".
This morning I woke to the perfume of cactus flowers wafting through the open window and the sound of birdsong.
I will put more water on the little patch of summer vegetables, secure their lacy covering and close all of the doors and windows to read my copy of "Philosophy in the Garden" by Damon Young.   It is interesting to read of the effect and influence of gardens on some of the writers that I've enjoyed,  but I don't think that Mr Young has ever read Epicurus.  He describes the ancient philosopher as "retiring to his backyard in suburban Athens for a life of grumbling austerity."  While he did go to live in his Athenian garden with a group of friends, growing food and living simply, his writings don't suggest any kind of grumbling at all.
I hope that everyone has a happy new year, living simply and remember, "The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity." Epicurus