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Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)

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Friday, 17 October 2014, 15:38

A sprung spring

Obviously pruned at the right time of year this time. Also got rid of most of the black spot, but not all.

One way ...

The other way ...

The biggest of the lot (bit past it's prime, and doesn't get enough sun, but wow getta load of the size of that).

And that's only half of them. About half of the total are scented and 'smelling roses'. The blurry purple one at the back of the first shot has a rich musk scent and there's a couple more of those.

I can't take credit for the choice of cultivars as they came with the house when I bought it, but one tries to keep them in shape and so far this year they're doing rather well. I did kill one last year but i think it was wild stock and not much to worry about.

Tagged horticulture, house.
Sunday, 03 June 2012, 14:05

Green Tomato Sauce

So for some strange reason I have an abundance of tomatoes at the moment - being June, this is way way out of season. Considering I had tomatoes from October to February as well, it's been a strange year.

The wet is making them split a bit, and together with a lot of bug problems it means they're best picked green before they get eaten or go rotten

I started getting more than I could consume so I made some sauce (not a fan of the green tomato pickles). It's pretty much a plain tomato sauce recipe, but with green or pink tomatoes instead of red. A bit more sugar to compensate (and to compensate for not measuring the salt properly). And since I made it - a shit-load of chillies. The habanero plants are suffering in the cold too and getting a bit of mould problems, so I just grabbed all the chillies I had left on the plants as well. Chucked in a bit of sweet potato I grabbed out of the ground as well since I had it - probably should've used more as i have more of that than I use too.

So, plenty of chillies. I didn't count but it's at least 2-3 cups worth. Plus a handful of all the other green chillies i found in the garden (cayesan and serrano).

It looks much like some fermented green chilli sauce I made (tabasco style), but this has much more of a bite to it. Otherwise it tastes much like home-made tomato sauce, the red kind. While licking the spoon I had enough chilli to give me the hiccups - which means it's pretty hot.

Nearly 3 litres of that should keep me warm over winter and beyond ... I don't even use tomato sauce that often, but this stuff is great with a burnt snag or a boiled sav in a bit of bread. Used sparingly.

Was busy cooking most of the day yesterday, I also made a banana cake (a couple of bananas getting past it that needed using) and another 2l of lime cordial. I used the same recipe as last time but put twice as much lime juice in it- came out much better. More limey and less 'cane sugar'.

PS I used half a bottle of ezy-sauce in the ~2.5kg of the green fruit, so acid shouldn't be a problem.

Tagged cooking, horticulture.
Friday, 18 May 2012, 16:22

Citrus Day

Handed off the prototype i've been working on for the last 8 weeks to the project manager last night; fairly pleased with the result in the end. But given it was a bit of a slog and I will switch gears next week back onto algorithms (yay, and OpenCL), today seemed like a good day for a break ... and to catch up on some preserving.

The citrus has all gone crazy this year.

And this is after I've picked about 40 kaffir limes (actually, they fell off), and the bowl of kumquats in the next photo. I juiced the kaffir limes last week and ended up with about 700ml (and a whole lot of rind in the freezer), although about all i've found to do with the juice is as a scalp/hair treatment. The lemon tree in particular has been so loaded the tree itself is in fear of falling apart. But they're not quite ready yet - they're only meyers anyway, so are fairly sweet - I've already tried some by peeling them, separating the segments and sprinkling with sugar. Tastes pretty close to grapefruit actually, although not so bitter and thus a bit nicer.

The mandarine tree still has plenty on it too - we've been eating them every day and giving away bags of them but you'd barely tell looking at the tree. Most have them have been nice and tart and juicy too.

So what to do with these - they surprisingly go a long way for such a small fruit. I had previously done some brandied kumquats which a friend particularly liked, so I thought i'd start with that - and give it to him as a birthday present.

I used a recipe I found some time ago but haven't been able to re-find: equal parts by weight of kumquats, sugar, and brandy. This is a 2800ml jar, so i've got about 900g kumquats, 900g sugar, and 900ml of brandy. I got some cheap glass jars at a $2 shop, and they worked pretty well apart from some pretty cruddy seals (but they'll do). The sugar will take a few days to fully dissolve. After about 6 months you get something that takes pretty much like a citrus version of a tawny port - obviously quite sweet but with a fairly balanced flavour of tart & bitter as well.

So I still had a few left over from the initial picking so I scoured the net for some other ideas - last time I had a decent crop I made some marmalade, but I still have plenty of that left! (from 4 or 5 years ago) I thought i'd try preserving them like lemons, so a good cup-or-two of salt later, a bit of lemon and lime juice, and some stinging fingers and there you have it. I really have no idea if these will work at all, but apparently they're good for something after a few months. Based on something approaching this recipe (although "some salt" is hardly a useful fucking measure ...) together with this one for lemons from The Cook and The Chef. Who knows if i have too much salt, but if nothing else it looks nice.

And finally my lime tree has been dropping limes enough that cooking can't keep up with them, so I wanted to make some lime cordial ('syrup' for you yanks). Again this is something that goes a long way, with 7 limes I had 2l of cordial (I usually mix it about 6:1), but it's a really nice summer drink. Pity it's a long way from summer. As there are more ready to drop I will probably make ice-cubes of it next time. I used this recipe although I only used 1kg of sugar, and bottled it whilst hot without straining. The old lady had a great recipe from her Green and Gold recipe book but she threw the book away years ago ...

And yes, it's yellow, but it's still all lime juice, which was a nice shade of green going in. Although I added a bit of lemon zest, and most of the lime zest was also fairly yellow as the limes are proper-ripe. I normally leave all the zest in as the sugar more than makes up for any bitterness they might add, and it looks nice.

I also have a very small number of west-indian limes - the very small ones with seeds in them - so i'm not sure what to do with them. They are super-tart though.

Bombay Sapphire bottles with the labels removed make very nice storage bottles too. Must get some more since I have all these limes handy (for the gin that is ;-), although it's been a bit of a dangerous drink for me lately (it's just too easy to sink them down).

Tagged cooking, horticulture.
Thursday, 05 April 2012, 20:38

On green fruit.

I've noticed a trend lately in retail fruit: it's just not ripe when picked.

It's obvious with tomatoes, because despite the bright red colour (easily changed using ethylene, which is how they naturally redden themselves when picked so i'm not too fussed bout that) have absolutely no flavour and the texture is unpleasantly foul. This year I performed a test on a green tomato I knocked off the plant - I put it in a bowl with red ones and waited until it went fully red (about a week - it was a pretty hard green). Even that one, which I knocked of incredibly green, tasted far better than the bought ones, so god knows how green they pick them or how long they keep them before we see them.

For limes (even lemons), tahitian limes should be light green/even turning yellow, smooth skin, soft and full of tart but not bitter juice, not dark green, rough skin, hard, with difficult to extract bitter juice - that means it wasn't ripe when picked. Most of the time they've been picked so green they have barely a couple of teaspoons of bland juice in them. Even kaffir limes - which you don't normally use the juice for - I knocked a few off my plant today which are nicely ripe - more juice in these than the tahitian limes I bought last time (although the taste is a bit unpleasant for me so I don't use it for eating, or haven't found a way to yet).

Cucumbers - they're so green they don't even have seeds yet. And as a result the texture is too hard, the skin too soft, and the taste too bitter - and they spoil very quickly. Last year I picked some old cucumbers that I kept growing for seeds. A fairly thick skinned variety. I kind of forgot about them even though they were sitting on the kitchen counter next to a rice cooker (in the sun most of the hours of winter) - about 6 months later one started to rot and I chucked it in the ground where it grew.

The same for button squash. A couple of years ago I had a ton of them, and when picked just as the skin loses its rubbery feel they tasted a lot better, were a lot bigger (above tennis ball sized) and lasted much longer when picked. They were nice enough just to eat fresh. Yet the ones in the shops are picked about a 4 days too early (which makes them super-green as they ripen quickly), are overpriced, wont keep and taste so bitter you need to cook them to make them palatable.

Seedless watermelon? They've just been picked before they're even ripe so the seeds (and sugars) haven't developed yet (sister was told this by a watermelon grower): i.e. bland tasteless textureless crap.

It's obvious some of this is to try to keep the product looking good for market, particularly when it's then kept for months in cold storage. Some of it is for pest control. But the weird ones is where it is for customer expectations: e.g. the button squash, limes, seedless watermelon, and cucumbers.

And then there's the other extreme which are to cater to market desires - over-sweet varieties of fruit that just don't taste very nice and can't keep because they don't have enough acid in them. e.g. strawberries - usually giant, bland hollow things that simply taste like shit. I have some strawberries growing and they're not much better either - usually tiny, and as soon as they get ripe something eats them or they seem to just dissolve into nothingness.

Or mandarines - giant floppy skinned fruit that's easy to peel, seedless, but quickly starts to taste bad because the fruit doesn't have enough acid to keep it fresh. My mandarine tree has a huge crop again this year after a couple of years of sfa - fairly small, smooth very thin skinned fruit. But it's fantastically tart, loaded with sugar, and juicy - almost like a valencia orange, and last forever on the tree. Something I can definitely put up with a few seeds for.

About the only thing still reliably good is a nice big granny smith apple - good flavour, texture, and they last really well. Pity even eating small amounts of fresh apples just gives me a belly-ache and nausea (I don't know whether it's psychosomatic or because of the acid: when I was staying in Mexico city with Federico they didn't seem to eat anything until mid-afternoon, one day I was so hungry I had an apple on an empty stomach and felt very unpleasantly nauseous for the rest of the day - and I haven't been able to eat apples without a similar reaction since).

Tagged cooking, horticulture, rants.
Monday, 02 April 2012, 07:21

Easy Burmese 'tofu'

So yesterday I managed to get away from the machine for most of the day. Actually I got a bit sunburnt pulling out weeds and doing some gardening. Also mowed the lawn and did some work on the compost pile. And planted some winter vegetable seeds in pots: I have never had any luck whatsoever with winter vegetables (if I ever get the seeds to germinate they struggle and usually get eaten to death by bugs), but maybe this time ...

Well, I've been watching SBS's latest food show lately - Luke Nguyen's Greater Meekong - with all the advertising they fill each half hour slot with now it really needs to be a full 1 hour show - but Luke is a good presenter and although the editing could be a bit better he always finds interesting food and people who want to share it.

This week he had some chick-pea 'tofu' soup thing from Burma. The soup itself looked a bit heavy for my liking but although i'm no vegetarian I'm partial to some of the fare they like. I also like to learn about ethnically or geographically important staple grains. Actually it's a bit of a bummer looking for recipes with such ingredients because all you come across is vegatarian and vegan nutters who are looking for a filling main meal - not a tasty snack or accompaniment. It also involved a great deal of work - from a stone grinder, to muslin cloths to a giant stirred pot.

Because i'm lazy, the overnight soaking of the chick-peas seemed enough work for me, so instead I just blended the fuck out of them. I first tried topping up with water but that wasn't enough and I lost track of just how much I added. But I blended for at least 10 minutes and ended up with something akin to cream at the end of it. Enough blending that you could barely taste the fibrous material you otherwise end up with.

Then I cooked it on low with a good dose of salt and a bit of tumeric (as recipe I found suggested). At this point it was pretty much just making polenta. The old man used to make that and toast it on the AGA (which doubled as our only source of hot water as kids) all the time, and we all used to turn our noses up at it; and unfortunately I never learnt to make it before he died, so I had to learn how to make it by trial and error. It's also not something I make very often so I usually forget the finer details ... but I guess 'stir constantly until you're sick of it' pretty much sums it up. It didn't go quite as hard as the polenta i've made, but then again maybe it had more water in it. By the time it turned into a bubbling lava-pit my arms were tired so I decanted it into a cotton-lined dish and let it cool.

It looks and smells like polenta but tastes a lot better. Texturally it was fine: soft and creamy with no hint of fibrousness, I'm sure not straining it affected the result but what I ended up with was quite ok.

I diced and fried some up and it was pretty much like tofu in texture on the outside, moist on the inside, and tasted ok just on it's own (closest flavour I know would probably something like a papadum). Tofu isn't something i'd normally buy since it's pretty bland and I just don't know how to select it. The pre-cooked stuff is dry in addition to bland.

Since I also made up some hummus with some of the chick peas, I had a bit of a anti-pasto arvo snack. Some olives, hummus, biscuits, fried tofu, chilli sauces, and some fresh chillies as well (and beer and wine of course).

Amongst the chillies I picked I scored a triple-habanero from the garden ... I get doubles fairly often but this is the first triple. Unfortunately my habanero crop isn't so great this year, but I noticed I still have a few hundred (~5litres) in the freezer from last year so i've started trying to use them more often - but as they are so potent, I'm sure I will still end up with more than a winter's supply worth!

Tagged cooking, horticulture.
Tuesday, 15 February 2011, 09:29

A house full of stuff

Stuff stuff everywhere - it's amazing how much stuff one accumulates over the years, even for someone like me who detests shopping.

After being a bit of a shut-in for a few weeks just doing nothing or poking away at the back yard i've been trundling about on the deadly treadly trying to procure a few more items.

First I was after a West Indian Lime (although I have since discovered that the 'Sublime' my sister in law gave me is basically the same). Unfortunately the closest nursery had none. Neither did the next closest (it was stupidly expensive anyway). So a bit of a hike to the next one - Bunnings at Mile End. Gigantic shop. Gigantic nursery. Not a single fruiting lime tree in their stock. Plenty of grapefruit. I mean who buys grapefruit any more? And fucking greeters and grumpy old ladies as checkout chicks. At least the greeters are hidden behind a 'desk' now, and not assaulting you as you enter the shop. I try to avoid Bunnings but I thought with their super-sized-shop they might at least have some. But once again they've demonstrated they have quantity of quality or range - I found another local hardware store anyway so hopefully that's the last time I ever have to go there. So the last place I could think of was in Beulah Park on the other side of the city across the road from where I used to live. Fortunately they had plenty of lime trees - and hot checkout chicks too. And their prices were even a fair bit cheaper. I bought a couple of tall ones (one for my sister) and rode home with two tree-flags flapping in the draft. Pannier bags are awesome. Now I have to work out where to put it.

That, and making some tomato sauce pretty much did the whole day in.

So the next day I set out to get another PlayTV (for a mythtv instance - only because I know for certain it works well with the computer, the TinyTwin TV tuner I am using currently is a bit crappy) and a chest freezer. I first went to Radio Rentals because it's close. But my patience was already tried somewhat - I got pissed off with the lack of freezers (they had 2 on display), the lack of staff in the giant shop - and the bizarre one-way doors. You go in the front and have exit out the back. I jogged through the isles to get out just to make the point how silly it was.

Next stop was Hardly Normals, or so I thought. I don't like shopping there (or shopping in general) but it was worth a comparison since it wasn't too far away. Unfortunately I had forgotten they closed the one I was headed to and moved it another 5km up the road to a disgustingly giant strip mall. Well to put it bluntly - fuck that, how do they expect people to shop there if you have to travel 10km each way just to get looked at funny and treated poorly? On the way i'd dropped by tricky dickies to see the price on the PlayTV but didn't get one thinking I could try to 'deal' with Hardly Normals to get both, but the lack of shop put a dent in that idea and then I was so pissed off I forgot about it.

I decided to head to the other side of town instead since I know of a few shops that way - but since I was going past home I stopped to look up other shops on the internets and to cut a long story short decided to really 'fuck that', and just bought it online. Last time I bought something just up the road they wanted $50 or more for delivery anyway, with no indication of when it might arrive other than the day (i'm often home but i don't like being tied home unnecessarily). I ordered this from Sydney, $130 below retail, $40 delivery and within 5 hours someone had called to say it would arrive between 11 and 2 the next day (obviously it isn't coming from Sydney). Assuming it arrives that was a much easier experience.

On the plus side I discovered an independent hardware store on the way home - and one somewhat closer too. That'll give me another option when I want to avoid Bunnings. Although the manager warned me not to leave my bike outside for the thieves which frequent the area - unfortunately I missed the opportunity to suggest a bike rail which are sorely lacking in almost all of Prospect (so much for their 'sustainable vision') - there isn't even any parking control signs to lock your bike to ...

So on Sunday I also made up a batch of Tomato sauce. I'm fairly happy the way it turned out although I probably should've reduced it a little more as it is a touch runny. But in the end I simply lost patience after cooking and simmering for more than 6 hours, and it should do. I couldn't find the recipe I used last time and since I had a bottle of Ezy-Sauce I'd bought more than 5 years ago I thought it was about time I used that. There's a recipe on taste.com.au as 'Grandma's Tomato Sauce' but it's really just the same as the one on the bottle so I followed that instead. Unfortunately I forgot to shake the bottle before opening it so I stuffed it up a bit, but I made it up with a few more crushed cloves, black pepper and a huge pile of chillies. It's got a nice little kick to it although perhaps a bit sweet for my taste. I don't even use it much myself but it is absolutely scrumptious on a bit of burnt snag in a fresh slice of bread and perfect for hot dogs - so the 4.5L I made should do me for a while.

I'm also a couple of weeks into making some fermented 'tobasco' sauce. I have some 'Cayesan' chillies which have gone ballistic and the chillies were so heavy one of the branches broke off. I didn't even pick all of them off (I managed to save the branch by tying it up) and ended up with about 750g of green chillies. Ideally i'd use red ones but since I had a whole lot of fresh chillies at once I thought i'd see how a green version of the fermented sauce works out. Still a few weeks left on that. Now the Cayesan's are starting to ripen I'm getting a few red ones each day and waiting till I get enough to make something with.

My habanero plants are starting to produce fruit at last too. They taste fantastic as always - I put a couple of green ones in the tomato sauce, I love the almost apple-like sweetness followed by the searing heat. I only just finished the last of the big crop I had 2 years ago and I finally have some in the ground rather than just in pots so I'm hoping for a crap-load again. Although i've had the occasional problems with pests on the ones in pots in general the pests have been under control better this year, and that's perhaps because i'm growing a bigger variety of stuff and it's all a bit healthier with all the rain we've had.

I've finally levelled off the lawn at the back and well on the way to having it full of lush grass. After 3 odd years of having piles of crap, dirt, and general mess it's a relief to have it almost done. It's a pity I don't have a bit more room for horticulture but I think I have the balance about right given the layout of the yard. There's always pots I guess - but I have heaps of those already and they take a lot more work and the plants usually don't grow as well.

Oh, I got my BeagleBoard polo shirt and Beagleboard-XM yesterday evening, at long last - a bonus from working on GSOC 2010. That took a while to arrive. I haven't got it working yet because it uses a different gender for serial cable and I don't have the right PSU and all my cables are in a box behind other boxes, but hopefully i'll get it working soon. It looks like a tidy little unit anyway. I've barely been touching the computer for the last few weeks other than to read a few blogs and keep up with the news (there's been a lot of it lately), but hey, it's summer so that stuff can wait for the long rainy days of winter.

Tagged biographical, horticulture, house, rants.
Monday, 06 December 2010, 12:50

The green, green grass of home.

We've had some spring weather this year which seems more like the spring weather of 20 odd years ago than it has been of late. Warm thunderstorms, short but heavy downpours, a bit of humidity and warmth. So perhaps it wasn't just nostalgia for what it used to be like making it feel like the weather has been more dreary the last few years.

The heat and damp has sent the grass totally boonta. I mowed that 2 days ago and it's almost ready again for another haircut.

Tagged horticulture.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010, 12:59

Bugs. The other kind.

My garden has been a bit under attack lately - I severely pruned some citrus so they are spouting wildly, I have a jungle of lettuce, and a few chilli and tomato plants starting to move.

None of this is particularly visible during the daylight but I've gone out a few nights (during the brilliantly bright full moon) to find out what's going to town on everything.

So here's a list of the bugs, pests and otherwise i've noticed in the garden lately.

Slugs

I've put out some snailbait so at least these aren't doing so much damage at the moment but boy there were a lot of them, some very sizable. I've had at least 15 killed in one large pot alone - no wonder the habanero seedlings kept disappearing. I might get one or two viable plants out of them, but they always grow so slowly ...

Slater Beetles

I don't know if these eat live things or just dead matter but there's some pretty big ones hiding in sheltered spots.

Earwigs

Seem to be everywhere, in large numbers. I was wondering what was eating the lettuce leaves since i'd put the snailbaits out and went out one night with a torch to see - whole lettuce leaves covered in dozens of the things eating big holes through them. And I also found them going to town on a lemon tree - doing a lot more damage than I expected which is more of a concern than the numerous lettuce. I've put out some beer traps with which i've had much success in the past but they don't seem to be going for them so much this year. So I resorted to a little fly spray just to help the leaves while they're very young although I don't want that to become a habit.

Citrus Leaf Eating Weevil

This was a new one. I've seen similar bugs hanging around the inside of the lettuce but not on citrus. I have a barely alive 'limequat' in a large pot which just sprang to life again a couple of weeks ago and I noticed something was hoeing into the rapidly advancing new leaves. One bug it seemed was doing all the damage. I'm keeping a close eye on this one since I fear this is it's last chance before it dies completely.

Aphids

For some reason they've only gone for the lemon tree so far but they're making a mess of that. There's an ant colony in the half-barrel the lemon is growing in so maybe that's why since they seem to farm the aphids.

Elder wood bugs

I hadn't ever seen these before moving to this house and have been waging war with them ever since. They thrive on leaf litter so one control measure is to clean that up. Eventually I found out a very weak solution of detergent worked well and eventually migrated from using a hand trigger spray to a pressure pump spray to a watering can to now just big buckets of slightly soapy water to try to get them. Only needs about a tablespoon of detergent for a 10 litre bucket and it's pretty devastating to ants too. I don't think i'll ever be rid of them but at least their numbers are kept in check if I keep doing it regularly.

Bees

I have some large coriander plants which have gone to seed - covered in large flower heads. These are doing a good job attracting bees although there are usually a few around here and there. One thing I noticed in Perth was a lack of bees - so much so it was a problem getting fruit to set - and it's nice to see that given the problems in other parts of the world the bees here are still quite numerous. There was even a swarm next door a few weeks ago.

Lady bugs

Even saw a couple of ladybugs around which are not that common. One reason I don't want to spray too much ...

Praying mantis

Well I saw one a few weeks ago. Nice surprise.

Possums

Blasted things keep running across my roof making a racket and hanging out in a large golden rain tree next to the house - generally smashing up the small stalks and making a mess. My roses this year are very spread out with long stems falling over (I didn't do a good job pruning I suspect) and one of the nicer ones broke in half. As a probably vain attempt to salvage it I put a couple of branches in some wet dirt, and the possums even ate the leaves off that while it was sitting on the ground. At least they don't do that too often.

Tagged horticulture.
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