First, allow me to apologise to those of you who read my Facebook and have been waiting patiently for the chocolate and cranberry caramels I was bragging about a few days ago. It turns out that pride really does come before a fall; my first batch was delicious but failed to set (converting dairy confectionery recipes to non-dairy ones requires a bit of guesswork to get the temperatures right. On this occasion, I guessed wrongly), and when I was halfway through making my second batch (today), my digital candy thermometer suddenly started showing rows of 8s, and by the time I’d realised that this wasn’t just me staring at it from the wrong angle and that it really wasn’t going to reset, the whole batch had gone too high at some point, the cocoa butter had separated out, and it was a total disaster.
My digital candy thermometer, incidentally, is now working perfectly. Perhaps it just doesn’t like hot temperatures? Though if this is the case, I believe it need to reconsider its career choices.
(Actually, I’m rather furious about this – the chocolate candy is an expensive one to make, and the people at the shop promised me that this really was a very reliable thermometer, they’d never had any complaints, and my problem with the last one must have been a fluke. Evidently not.)
Anyway, all of this means no candy recipes today, but I’m making up for it (sort of) with a market post and an excitable update on my garden, which sort of missed spring due to my other commitments, but has been the focus of my obsession for the last two days.
Since our soil is basically clay, and also we are overrun with couch grass, I decided that the time had come to experiment with raised beds. I’m hoping that these will both discourage the couch grass and make digging easier because I’ve bought soil which is actual soil, not someone’s pottery project in potentia.
With this in mind, I invited over my friend E, who Knows About Gardening (capital letters are required, because this is Mystical Knowledge only held by a Chosen Few, and I am not one of the few), for advice and assistance, and by the end of the day, after much digging, an excellent vegetarian lunch at Little Deer Tracks, far too much time spent at Bunnings, and a bit of carpentry, we had achieved this:
Is it not lovely? It’s rectangular and everything. This may seem obvious, but it will soon become clear why its rectangularity makes me happy.
This morning, I woke bright and early and very achey, but still determined to garden – but first, we had Coburg market!
My first stop, as always, was Take Me Home Pasta, where Felicity had made gnocchi from purple carrots. I’m a bit of a gnocchi fiend right now, so I picked up some pumpkin and nutmeg gnocchi (I have plans to see if it could work caramelised with butter and brown sugar and cinnamon) and also some ricotta and basil gnocchi. Yum. We discussed caramels, as Felicity is keen to give my almond ones a try – I can’t wait to hear how they turn out for her.
I got a bit carried away at the dried fruit stand. Initially, they thought they were out of nectarines, and so I stood there, sadly nibbling on the dried nectarines in the bowl and speculating on dried apricots and raisins… and then it turned out there was another punnet of dried nectarines out that back, but by then I was sort of committed to the apricots and raisins so I had to get all three…
It seemed wise to buy some proper vegetables at this point, so I stocked up on carrots, broccoli and pumpkin at the vegetable stand, before becoming totally and utterly distracted by a stall selling stone fruit! In November! The woman at that stall had cherries, nectarines, peaches and, best of all, apricots! I really do not like summer, but summer fruit is another matter…
I’ve not been to a market in nearly a month, so I was rather relieved to find that I hadn’t missed the end of asparagus season. The asparagus lady remembered me well (I seem to have that effect on people), and barely raised an eyebrow when I gleefully picked six bunches of asparagus out. I grabbed a bag of broad beans, too. I always regret buying broad beans, but they really are lovely, once one gets past the pain of preparing them.
We then visited the mushroom man, who taunted me with descriptions of his mushrooms from last week, which were apparently so large that he could only fit three in a box. I suggested that maybe he needed my phone number so that he could call me in these emergency mushroom scenarios.
The mushroom man also sells seedlings, and with a whole new garden bed to fill, I was a very easy customer to please! I invested in yellow zucchini, leek, oregano and tomato seedlings.
It’s finally strawberry season, which is wonderful, and I couldn’t resist buying two huge punnets from the berry man. I have no idea what I will do with them, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.
We finished up where we’ve been finishing a lot recently – at the blueberry pie stall. True, they also sell frozen blueberries, but their pies are so lovely that we tend to go straight for those. These particular stallholders always seem a bit bemused by us. I think they are worried that we are stalking them, but I have not – yet – reached the point of tracking their market visits. They show up where we are regularly enough without any effort on my part!
Anyway, we made our way home, and settled down to start digging the next garden bed (me) and to wait for and direct the delivery of 2 cubic metres of soil (Andrew). Which is, in fact, really an almighty pest to get into a garden bed of any kind, but will presumably be worth it. It’s also a great motivator – 2 cubic metres of soil takes up a lot of driveway.
Behold, the large garden bed, planted with tomatoes, zucchini, capsicums and parsley!
While Andrew was dealing with the earthworks (did the earth move for you?), I began digging up the first of the small beds. Our garden started its life as a brick courtyard, with three beds down the middle. I like grass to sit on, so we have pulled up a lot of the bricks from in front of the beds, but the paths and bricks edging the beds still remain. So I dug away at bed number two, hammered together wooden planks for the edging, went to put them in the bed and discovered… that the bed was not rectangular.
Actually, it’s a trapezoid.
A kind of crooked trapezoid.
No wonder our measurements kept being different…
So – somewhat grimly – I hammered together a crooked trapezoid bed. What can you do, really?
I then dashed off to sing for the Catholics and play the Virtual Bishop Drinking Game, leaving Andrew in charge of garden photography and a bit more garden bed filling.
Tomorrow, I will plant carrots, beans, leeks, salad greens and maybe oregano and basil, and will try to create the final garden bed, which is going to hold asparagus and melons. And maybe redcurrants, but maybe not. Hopefully, the bricks will actually be straight this time.
But for now, I’m going to take my aching self and have a long hot bath. I feel that I now know exactly where every muscle in my back, shoulders, arms and legs is located, which is bound to be useful some day, but I’ll be very glad when this big round of gardening is over and done with.
And to eating all the lovely vegetables that I hope to produce, of course…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~One year ago: Vegan Pizza Primavera with Salsa Verde
Two years ago: Harvest!