Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Open Garden Scheme - Things I Learnt

If you want to sticky beak around other people's gardens, legally,  then feast your eyes on South Australia's Open Garden Scheme.

This is a great way to find out what other people are growing and how they are growing it. Sneak a peak at their veggie plots (sample a baby tomato - naughty) and the myriad of tricks to learn from some of the really talented gardeners that open their spaces to the public.

In some places you even get invited inside the house - bonus!

I am gobsmacked at how amazing and talented people are in planting up their patch. And as a garden lover, it's fantastic to learn new tricks, new ways with old plants and how to add a bit of colour and interest into dark, shady areas. Or how to hide an ugly fence with a crazy climber I would never have thought of.

I visited 3 gardens in spring and a couple in summer but I chose ones that were completely opposite to the area where I live. 

Firstly the two I was particularly interested in were in the middle of the city at Mile End. I wanted to check out how they managed to get great vegetables growing when the temperatures soar into the 40's, while mine wither away to nothing when we have continually hot days. And wow, did they have some great vegetables. 

Hector's Patch - Mile End

I've not kept chickens in my current garden, but I sure would like to find a little space to put some and both of these gardens managed to squeeze in chicken coops. So I am now hell bent on finding a spot to have 2 or 3 Bantams. So cute!

Mile End Village Garden

If you get a chance visit The Garden in Eden Hills, South Australia you wont be disappointed. I was lucky enough to photograph this garden before the crowds arrived. Professionally designed and lovingly tended by a couple of dedicated gardeners, this garden screams 'romance'. Stone walls, woodland plantings, roses, chickens, bees and a vegetable plot all add to the ambience of the garden. How they fit it all in and still retain this air of elegance is truly beyond me. 

The Garden, Eden Hills

But back to reality!

Here's my list of things that I learnt that I need to work on in my garden;

- Start a new compost heap and design a different way of composting which suits my needs. I can tick that off already started. 

- Put more flowering plants amongst the vegetables - New beds have been dug and mulched, just waiting for the autumn rains now and planting can begin.

- Build a small shade house to protect seedlings and more delicate plants - have to find someone to do that for me before next spring.

- Art adds a great dimension to the plantings. - Add more art to my garden or make it more prominent - I am working on an idea for a new pathway.

- Plant more vegetables in pots. - I've started this already putting beans in a large pot and after only a few weeks they are already producing.

- New ways to support growing vegetables without using stakes. Great ideas for next spring - you will have to wait and see them in action.

- How to protect your vegetables from the ravages of summer - Ikea beach umbrellas now on my list.

Tickle Tank, Mt Barker
The last garden I visited was Tickle Tank,  in Mt Barker. It  was terrific. I won't say a lot about the garden because I have included a link to give you the history of the house and garden and I think my photos will inspire you. There is so much to like about this place; mosaics, artwork, the plantings themselves and the craziness of the whole idea.  The garden has been featured on ABC's Gardening program too. If you get the opportunity to see it next spring then make it a date!

For a $6 - 8 entry fee, I have learnt a whole lot of new tricks, I've had a great chat to few more gardeners and my enthusiasm for my own place has never been stronger. Roll on autumn and winter and let's get cracking.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

French Sweet and Salty Biscuits

"France cannot be France without greatness" 
Charles de Gaulle
French Sweet and Salty Biscuits
I feel the pull to go back to visit France, but I can't get there this year, so I have done the next best thing and indulged in a little French cuisine. 

While French cuisine and vegetarian don't go that well together, I've been able to adapt some recipes which gives me a taste of France and some solace at times like this. But more about those later. I'm here with a treat for you today and a warning message.

Before giving you this recipe I have to make apologies. 

I am sorry that you may not lose weight because you will eat too many of these biscuits. You will not be able to make a batch and keep them to yourself.
You will probably send extra time in the kitchen because you'll have to keep making more and more of them. But by golly they are worth all of this!

These biscuits are crunchy on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside. Sweet, but not sickly and amazingly the salty topping just gives you something that says "yes!"

I first made these biscuits in the 1980's and I think people were surprised that a  bit of salt on the top of something sweet worked so well. The French use this combination in many of their dishes, but in the 80's, it was quite daring!

There's a variety of French salty desserts like Kouign -Amann and the move to using salted butter rather than unsalted butter for pastries has become very popular. Sablés, salty biscuits from Breton are crispy sweet biscuits made using salted butter.  David Lebovitz has a lovely recipe for these on his site; https://www.davidlebovitz.com.

The recipe I am sharing today is the combination of a plain sweet biscuits made using soft dark brown sugar and adding salt flakes part way through cooking, to give you that salty kick. And as I said earlier - I'm sorry!  Bon chance!


The most important aspect of making these biscuits is to get the butter to the right colour before continuing. It can be tricky, but don't try to rush the process and you will be fine.


210g of butter
2 cups soft dark brown sugar
2 cups plain flour 
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup caster sugar
salt flakes

Pre heat oven to 170ºFan Forced/350º/Gas 4

In a small saucepan over a very low heat melt only 200g butter. Keep cooking the butter very slowly, twirling around in the saucepan every minute until the butter turns golden brown. Once it turns take it off the heat. If you leave it too long it will burn and you can't use it, so go slowly and carefully. (This is the only tricky bit, the rest you can do with your eyes closed). Once you have reached this point take off the heat and stir in the remainder 10g butter. Allow to cool for 12 minutes. Phew, all done!

Now whisk the dark brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon table salt into the butter, so there are no lumps.

Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla and whisk again.

Combine flour, soda, baking powder and mix into the butter, again make sure the flour is completely mixed in. The dough is getting quite stiff by now. 

In a small bowl add caster sugar. Now take tablespoons of the mixture and roll into balls. You should make 24 -  26 small balls out of this dough. Now roll the balls in the caster sugar then place them on two trays lined with baking paper.

At this point I like to flatten them a little. Leave space between the balls to allow for the biscuits to rise.

Bake in the oven for 8 -10 minutes until they just start to brown, then sprinkle them with salt flakes. Put them back in the oven and bake for a further 2 - 4 minutes until they look light brown but not dry. 

Cool on the tray for 2 minutes then transfer to a rack until completely cold.

You can freeze these but allow them to defrost slowly.

Then, try and eat only one - ha ha, I bet you couldn't do it.