Farmers’ Markets

Yesterday we were at the Farmers’ Markets held in the grounds of the iconic Empire Theatre, Toowoomba. It is held every Thursday from 12 noon to 6pm. It was our first time at this Market. We arrived early and not all the stallholders had set up. This was due to a recent change of the starting time from 3pm to 12noon.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Toowoomba, perfect for being outdoors. We enjoyed our walk to the Markets and then having a look at the different stalls. We bought some fresh made pasta from Angelo. We found out that Angelo was the founder of Angelo’s House Restaurant, 210 Herries Street, Toowoomba, opposite Laurel Bank Park. The restaurant has recently re-branded and is now called the Urban Grounds Cafe. There is a growing cafe culture in Toowoomba. Gone are the days when the local cafe served up milk shakes, chips and paddle pops. Barista’s (those who make coffee) are popping up everywhere in the city. Barista’s are skilled in making a range of specialised coffee’s and are trained in the art of being a barista. Not that this is of significance to me as I am not a coffee drinker. I am fine to have the occasionally coffee but for me my preference is for tea. Most markets whether these be art & craft or produce & food you will usually find a barista!

Angelo with his fresh home-made pasta – buonissima (very good!)

Looking at all of Angelo’s pasta, made from Semolina, I had to take some home. We are having the pasta tonight with a rich Italian bolognese sauce. These days I make up extra and freeze one to two extra meals. It gives me a night off on another occasion. Better than getting a take-away! We know what is in the food and the hygiene practices that are followed in its preparation. Leaving Angelo we found a stall of organic herbs. I am fully stocked at the moment with herbs, 30 jars in all. Next we went on to the olive stall. Olives of different flavours made by Bunnyconnellen, Crows Nest. Tasting was welcomed and we enjoyed tasting three varieties before we made our selection of two. These will be great to add to our Mediterranean diet.

We did not buy any fresh produce today as we are stocked up on fruit and vegetables. Not long after we came home we wandered out to our veggie garden and picked fresh snow peas for dinner. I don’t think I have ever tasted a snow pea so good. This is life, day by day, at our place. My One&Only (O&O) is recovering from his shoulder surgery and diligently doing his exercises, set by the physiotherapist, three times a day. Life is challenging with only one arm, however we have moved into the rhythm of managing all that has to be done day by day. Fresh veggie’s home grown and our home grown eggs…this is the good life!

Bunnyconnellen olives – delicious!

Snow peas – from our garden to the table. We can’t get fresher than that!

Enjoy your weekend. Maybe you too, will find yourself in a farmers market this weekend.

Back in KJ’s kitchen

It is time to leave the political landscape and the debate about the changes to the age pension and get back into KJ’s Kitchen.  Although there is plenty of fodder around to keep the conversation going about the welfare state for months to come, we need “real” food to keep us going.

My kitchen is a better working environment to prepare some great home cooked meals, that is, better than it was 3 months ago. It was in August 2016, when I mentioned that we had made the decision to replace our free-standing cooker. This is the one we inherited when we bought the house earlier in 2016. The cooker looked great and fitted nicely in the kitchen but the oven was not a top performer. Our previous house had an induction cooktop and this was my preference over a gas cooktop. The reasons included a more stable work surface; safety, as the hob on induction turns off automatically once the saucepan is removed; the induction does not give off as much heat as does the gas – I was always worried about setting the place on fire; efficiency – it is much quicker and easier to clean. I call it “my” kitchen because I do most of the cooking. When my “One & Only” (O&O) steps into the kitchen to cook, then it is BJ’s kitchen – I am happy to share!

The old free-standing cooker. It looked great but was under-performing.

Late November, just in time for Christmas, we had the free-standing cooker replaced. It took the best part 6 months to decide on the appliances as well as work out who did what. By “who did what” I mean who removes the old rangehood and who will replace it; if a joinery company makes the body for the oven will they install it? In the end, it took much research and planning, an electrician and a carpenter. We managed to bypass the plumber as my O&O installed the rangehood and I finished off the benchtop surrounds with silicone. We were pleased to see the end of the project! There is a career out there waiting for someone with initiative who will organise and complete small jobs like our minor kitchen renovation.

The new look and appliances making cooking so much easier!

Getting back into the kitchen is a great idea for anyone. Home cooking is the best! When I cook from scratch at home I know what is going into the food we are eating. We have been unwell a few times after eating out. When I cook at home I know the food has been hygienically handled, meat defrosted appropriately and the food cooked at the correct temperatures. Eating at home also saves money, it is healthier and it tastes better. Home cooking allows me to use fresh ingredients, add herbs and spices without adding food additives and preservatives. We compost our fruit and vegetable waste and it is repurposed as fertiliser for the garden.

It takes time and planning to cook at home but the benefits are greater than buying packaged items or sauce in a bottle. These days, with my new oven, cooktop and rangehood I am much happier getting back into the kitchen. My uncle’s illness last year and his death in December took more adjustment than I and my family imagined. I sat with him on his hospital bed and held his hand, we laughed and reminisced about life. We had time together and it was good. Now, even though I know he has transitioned to another place, in my mind, I still think he is living life in his kitchen; making the jam, passionfruit butter; baking cakes, preserving fruit and vegetables and pickling eggs from his home-grown chickens.  The kitchen was a place he loved. I am sure my mind will wander to him doing what he enjoyed, for some time to come, while I am cooking in my kitchen. Kitchen’s are a place where memories are made!

Little by little I am getting my energy back and it is going to be great this year, being back in KJ’s kitchen. I will concentrate on food that is simple, nutritious and easy to prepare. It does not have to be gourmet! The formula is easy, keep it to a KISS – keep it simple sweetheart! Are you back in your kitchen and all fired up for some great home cooking in 2017?

I was not sure about the shelving but have grown to love my “dress circle” of herbs. Easy to reach and all in alphabetical order!

Flower power for seniors

Many of us who are now seniors may know about or been part of the the ‘flower power’ movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was during the time of the Vietnam War when young people opposed to the war held peaceful demonstrations. They soon became known as the ‘flower children’ because they wore coloured clothing with embroidered flowers and had flowers in their hair.

If you were a ‘flower power’ child, then you may find it interesting to learn that there is truth in ‘flower power’. A 2001 Rutgers University study found that flowers may have health benefits for adults aged 55 years and older. In the study those who received flowers 81% experienced reduced levels of depression and 72% scored higher on memory tests than seniors who didn’t receive flowers. As it happened the “no-flower” groups in the study were not happy and wanted the study over while those who were in the group that got two flower deliveries over a two-week period got happier and happier as the study progressed. Read more here.

There is also evidence which shows links between flowers and plants in the workplace.  An eight-month study in Texas A&M University showed that both women and men had more creativity, innovative thinking and generated more ideas and solutions to office problems.

In this season of my life I have more time to get out into the garden. Winter is a great time to get out outside and plant summer bulbs and this is exactly what we did at our place this week. My favourite bulb is the lilium, even though there are other bulbs such as iris’s and freesia’s that come a close second. I find the perfume of liliums intoxicating and a fragrance I never tire of. I find that living in an environment with trees, plants and flowers in the garden and flowers in the house nourishes my soul.  It makes me feel better. In addition being out in the sunshine and enjoying the plants and flowers I get my daily dose of vitamin D.

Lilium Spinoza

Lilium Spinoza

On Monday the liliums bulbs we ordered online arrived in a box and were ready for immediate planting. My “One & Only” (O&O) dug the holes and I followed placing them in the hole and covering them with the rich Toowoomba soil. For years we have had liliums in the garden, both in Maleny and Toowoomba, however the most successful plants have been grown in Toowoomba.

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Lilium Devotion

When working, and when at all possible, I liked to have flowers on my desk. In my last Spring/Summer working season (November-December) 2012 I would always have a vase of liliums in my office. I appreciated the fragrance of the liliums and their visual appeal as I worked in a very demanding job. I was happy every time I looked at the liliums and inhaled their fragrance. When the liliums finished flowering the perfume lingered for weeks.

Lilium Bergama

Lilium Bergama

Now I understand a little more why I enjoy having flowers outside and inside the house. Receiving flowers has health benefits but also displaying cut-flowers in the house is good for us. Just like medicine. During times there are no flowers in the garden I buy these to brighten up the house. It is a habit I will definitely have to continue – more ‘flower power’ to me!

Does anyone know what this lilium is called?

Does anyone know what this lilium is called?

Take a photo…

It is much easier these days with smart phones to take a photo to tell a story. Everyone it seems can take a great photo simply with your phone. With the arrival of social media everyone can now be a paparazzi even getting great photos of celebrities. There is no longer a reliance on others to develop your photos from a roll of film. We have come a long way since the Kodak “brownie”. Now that I am in the prime of my life (retirement) I have my first digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. I can take a photo to tell a story and maybe even end up with a better image.

I started with a standard Canon camera and lens until last week when my new long lens (55-250mm) with image stabilization arrived. I mentioned my desire to purchase this lens in an earlier post last year. While I like to buy locally I also like a bargain. So when the time was right for me to buy my lens I went shopping online.

I finally decided on the company that had an Australian domain .com.au. All good there I thought and at such a great price.  I had difficulty logging in to the company’s website, even though I had registered, to find out the status of the item after it had been ordered. I had received emails from the company so I was not too worried. The delivery took one week longer than expected but I was fine with that. When the parcel arrived via Toll Express I discovered that it came from Hong Kong. Even though the company has a domain name that indicates it is Australian this is not so. Next time I will need to do more research about a purchase but for me this time all went well and I got my genuine Canon lens. I am still to experiment more with the lens and hoping that I can take photos of bird life.

Watercolour painting pf Pale Headed Rosella's (my birds) by artist Bronwyn Beesley. I bought this many years ago.

Watercolour painting of Pale Headed Rosella’s (“my” birds) by artist Bronwyn Beesley. We bought this many years ago and enjoy the static view of the Rosella’s

This week I woke to the sound of a beautiful Pale Headed Rosella sitting in the Magnolia Susan right outside our bedroom window. I immediately got out of bed to see what was happening. There was another Rosella on the ground and they were communicating with one another in their bell like tones. I got my camera with the long lens but by the time I got outside on the deck they flew away. My “One & Only” (O&O) refers to Pale Headed Rosella’s as “my” birds. It all started around 22 years ago when our garden had a large old tree with a hollow. The Rosella’s would breed in the hollow of the tree and we would observe their behaviour from the deck. They became a favourite of mine. When we moved to our current home we bought two nesting boxes (no hollow trees) so that the Rosella’s could breed in our garden. Since that time they have been prolific in our garden and particularly in Spring and Summer. My O&O will say “there are your birds”. So if you happen to see a Pale Headed Rosella it is “my” bird flying free and enjoying the great outdoors.

With my 18-55mm I went for a walk in our garden to take a photo and tell a story. My photography skills are still developing but I am enjoying the activity of experimenting with my camera and just like the Pale Headed Rosella’s enjoying the great outdoors.

A bee on the Purple Heart Flower

A bee on the Purple Heart Flower

The beautiful flower of the Magnolia Susan

The beautiful flower of the Magnolia Susan

Rosemary Officinalis

Sprigs of Rosemary

Sprigs of Rosemary

Rosemary Officinalis (commonly known as ‘Rosemary’) is a fragrant evergreen perennial herb, native to the Mediterranean region. It is related to the mint family. Apart from having wonderful culinary uses Rosemary is an essential oil in perfumes and cosmetics. What’s more it has great medicinal benefits.

We have had Rosemary growing in our herb garden for many years. There is nothing better than picking fresh sprigs of Rosemary for cooking. I use it regularly in cooking with lamb, veal or chicken. It can also be used in marinades, sauces and egg dishes.

Rosemary is a small shrub which grows to about one metre in height. It can be pruned each year and manages about one third being cut back (late winter or spring). The shrub has flat pine type needles that are dark green in colour on one side and silver-white underneath. In summer it has long spikes of mauve flowers. Cuttings from a shrub can be readily propagated. This is handy to know if you don’t have a Rosemary shrub and able to get a cutting from a friend or relative. The main thing is to let it have a sheltered and sunny position and well drained soil. It does not cope with wet roots.

In literature and legends Rosemary is an long standing emblem of remembrance. It is particularly associated with ANZAC Day and is worn to remember and commemorate on the 25 April each year. These days it honours those who served at Gallipoli and all military personnel who have served in war and peace keeping missions. Yesterday (11/11/14) there were celebrations across the country for Remembrance Day. It was the 96th anniversary of Armistice Day which ended the First World War in 1918. Next year on the 25 April 2015 marks the Centenary Anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. Sprigs of Rosemary will predominantly feature as they do every year as a sign of remembrance and commemoration. The medicinal benefits of Rosemary goes back to the ancient Greeks who thought Rosemary helped memory function.

It is true that there are significant medical benefits in the use of Rosemary. It is rich in many B-complex vitamins and the A and C groups of vitamins. It is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. I was pleased to discover that the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (A. Lipton and Colleagues) report that carnosic acid, an element of the herb Rosemary has the capacity to improve eye health. It is encouraging research that this component found in Rosemary may soon be able to treat eye diseases, including the age related macular degeneration and also dementia.

Given that Rosemary has so many beneficial properties I will have to use it more in my cooking. Something else I can do is to propagate Rosemary cuttings. I can also cut a few sprigs and make it into a small bouquet for a gift (see photo). Another idea is to place a few sprigs of Rosemary on top of a gift as part of the wrapping. Rosemary is such a versatile herb and the really good news is that it is readily available for all.

The Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly

I looked out the window from my home office and saw a colourful butterfly, then two butterflies. They seemed to be engaged in a mating ritual. As I had never seen this phenomenon before I grabbed my camera and went to investigate. An SLR digital camera is just what is needed in such a situation. Today I experienced one of the rewards of retirement and spending time staring out the window. After downloading the photos I went about identifying the species.

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly. The female has shades of brown colour with orange & blue spots; the male is black with pale blue shading and red spots

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly. The female has shades of brown colour with orange & blue spots; the male is black with pale blue shading and red spots

The male and female have very different colours. The male is black with pale blue and white and the female is brown with orange and blue spots. As I suspected the two butterflies were affianced and in a mating ritual. The wings were rapidly fluttering and they were quite difficult to capture on camera. I managed to get up quite close and tried different settings on my camera, all the while the wing fluttering continued.

Eventually I was able to get a couple of reasonable photographs. Another one of the benefits of being retired is that I get to enjoy nature. When I was previously at work I was mostly ensconced in an office building. Is it any wonder I got a reputation for choosing a seat in the conference room so I could look out the window. I was just waiting for the day when I could enjoy nature at its best, such as today.

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly in a Mating Ritual

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly in a Mating Ritual

Tomato Passata

I spent yesterday afternoon in the kitchen making Tomato Passata. The recipe for Passata has its history in Italy even though the ‘tomato’ originated from South America. Botanically the tomato is a ‘fruit’ but the Supreme Court in USA in 1893 ruled that the tomato is a ‘vegetable’ not a ‘fruit’ within the meaning of the Tariff Act of 1883. I do not mind either way all I know is that I love tomatoes. They are a rich source of vitamins A, C and folic acid. Other nutritional benefits of eating tomatoes are that they are full of antioxidants such as folic acid, beta-carotene and lutein. At our place we enjoy eating tomatoes in salads, sauces, curries, or cooked in the pan or on the BBQ with a sprinkling of dried oregano. Tomato and onions for breakfast is one of our favourites.

KJ’s Recipe for Tomato Passata

Ingredients:
2 kilos of Tomatoes (on this occasion I used Roma Tomatoes)
2 large red Capsicum
4-5 Onions
2 bulbs of Garlic
Herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil). All of the herbs were from our garden except the basil. I used dried basil as our new crop of basil is not ready. It is the herbs that will give the Passata that special flavour.
Olive Oil (about 2 tbsp). As Jamie Oliver would say a few lugs of oil!
Balsamic Vinegar (about 2 tbsp)

Method:
In a saucepan cover tomatoes with boiling water. When almost cool, remove skins. Chop up the tomatoes, capsicum, and onions and place in an oven proof dish. Crush garlic cloves with the back of a knife and peel away skin. Scatter the garlic and herbs across the vegetables. Add oil and balsamic vinegar. Mix thoroughly (your hands are best).

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

Bake uncovered in a conventional oven at 200°C for 30 minutes. Place ingredients in portions in blender until all blended together. Then place in saucepan and simmer until flavours are imbued and you have the consistency you want (I simmered mine for 15 minutes). Then place in sterilised jars and seal. To sterilise jars boil these in a large saucepan for 15-20 minutes. Then just before bottling place in oven at 110°C for 20 minutes. Take care with hot jars using an oven mitt. I have a stainless steel jam pourer that I place over the top of the jars and use a soup ladle to fill. Then seal immediately and label if you want to keep track of the date.

Tomato Passata Sauce

Tomato Passata Sauce

The Passata will keep in the pantry for months. We are having homemade pizza tonight with Passata Sauce. Buon Appetito!