Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chickens are not the Brightest of Creatures

Today in Melbourne we got a bit of the heat we expect during summer with a temperature of 40ÂșC.  This is the hottest weather the chicks have yet experienced and I was a worried mother hen.  I kept braving the outdoor elements to see what they were up to and making sure they weren't doing that heat-stressed thing where they sit panting with open wings.  They seemed pretty happy and had sat themselves in the dirt under the fig tree.  I thought the dust-bathing business was for grooming but I wonder is it a cooling thing as well?

I'd read that a little spray from a water mister is a good idea and Eldest Monkey Boy was very keen to try it out (on the chicks and his little brother).  So we did.  They didn't much like it, but didn't put up too much of a protest.  Then I thought I could probably make that fig tree spot a bit cooler with some shade cloth.  But I'd forgotten how freaked out these chicks get at new things in their environment.  When they saw me enter with a big green shadecloth monster they started flapping and squawking and running about - in the sun.  Well I was determined to finish what I'd started and sweated about with some pegs and erected a bit more shade.  By this time those chicks had retreated to their shed and were all hot and panting and giving me the evil eye.  Except for Goldie (see I've named two of them now - Wonky and Goldie.  Not very inventive names I know but I don't want to put thought into naming them and get all attached and then have to give one away because she is a he. Actually, maybe I should re-name Goldie to Naughty.  She's always under my feet and up to mischief and the last to do what I want.)

Anyway, Goldie/Naughty was running back and forth along the front of the wire shed trying to find her way to her mates inside.  But the door was RIGHT THERE!  Two more steps you stupid bird!  I could name her Dopey but the truth is I've seen all these chicks do the same thing.  Running in a desperate frenzy trying to get back in but not remembering where the door is and not seeing that it's two chook steps past the post they're stopping at.
See the door - it's right there!
So when Goldie/Naughty finally found her way back in she was stressed out and had probably reached boiling point. I irritated them all a bit more by giving them one last squirt and let them be.

They've survived.  Does anyone else have any tips for chickens on a hot day?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mr P. to the Rescue

Revived passionfruit vines
A couple of months ago I noticed that something had been munching my passionfruit.  Two of the plants looked completely dead and the other was just hanging in there.  Well it's come back to life!  I gave it a few doses of seasol and that didn't seem to do much but to the rescue came Mr. P.

Mr P. is our Italian neighbour with a big, rambling veggie patch at his place and he's just started to clear a couple of patches in the overgrown vacant block between us with veggies too (he owns it mind!)  He's got a goat wandering about keeping the weeds and everything else in a bit of control, an illegal rooster, a couple of chooks and lots of cats which he claims aren't theirs but he feeds anyway.  And he always has advice for me on the garden.

He doesn't often visit our garden, mostly we chat out in the street, but he came over a few weeks ago to see our silkies and admire Monkey Man's chook shed.  He complimented me in a typical, kinda gruff way on the progress I'd made.  Before I started working on the garden a few years ago I remember him saying that the old lady who used to live here would rotate in her grave to see how Monkey Man had neglected it!  But he was impressed with my tomato plants - two metres tall, lots of fruit (better than his I believe!) My climbing wall, constructed following his instructions from last year, was not quite up to chop apparently and he spent a bit of time fixing that up.  He also wasn't too happy at my haphazard planting - things need rows and furrows and lots more water.   He pulled some basil from pots and re-planted it in rows in a patch of ground and then took a look at my passionfruit tsk-tsking his tongue.  He declared that it would never do any good like that and set to work fixing it.

Firstly, he snipped off all the dead branches that I had left just hanging about.  Not sure what I was thinking leaving them there but that passionfruit had disappointed me and I was hoping it'd maybe fix itself.  Next he commanded me to find him some long bamboo stakes and he went back home to collect big, hammering instruments - apparently Monkey Man's were inadequate.  Before I knew it, he'd erected this roofy climby thing beside the shed wall, dangerously close to the clothes line and had weaved the passionfruit vines onto it.  
In the process he'd also trampled my silverbeet growing beneath but hey who's complaining.  So I've learnt a few tricks again from Mr. P.   Chop off the dead bits and give things some space to grow.  Now a few weeks later my passionfruit has sprung to life and ... what's that I spottted yesterday?  I believe it is a passionfruit flower my first - yippee!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Here's What I Did with a Whopper.

So many fantastic suggestions for what to do with zucchini.  I didn't know where to start.  I've never been much excited by the idea of stuffed stuff but Pheobe and Mark both left recipes that I thought I might give a go.  And there were suggestions for muffins and bread and quiche and fritters and ratatouille and relish and soup... In the end Missy's baked zucchini recipe caught my eye.  She suggested I slice the zucchini thickly.  But I had the mandolin out and chose to ignore her.  I am in a mandolin frenzy.  I sliced my zucchini thinly taking care not to slice off my finger.  I also mandolin-sliced some tomatoes.  I must say, before all those warnings I had started rather confidently and quickly slicing with the mandolin and was even taking my eyes off my slicing to chat with the monkeys.  And I wasn't using the little guardy thingy!  But not anymore.  

So Missy suggests a baked zucchini with layers of zucchini and a breadcrumb herb mixture.  This sounded yummy but I knew I'd need to up the veg slightly to feel like a good mum and add cheese to satisfy the monkeys.  I cheated because I didn't use the monster, super-dooper, whopper zucchini described in my previous post.  I used the medium monster whopper zucchini that was also in the garden on holiday return.  I've still got the monster, super-dooper, whopper zucchini to try out one of those other suggestions if I'm game.  Here's my recipe below.  Thanks Missy for the idea and thanks Mark for your polenta post on Saturday which sparked the idea for the accompaniment.  Isn't this blogging business great around dinner time?

Baked Zucchini & Polenta Stack
For the Zucchini Bake:
•  zucchini, sliced (1 whopper)
•  tomato, sliced (2 medium)
•  bread crumbs (1.5 cups homemade)
•  mixed herbs to taste
•  cheese, grated (1.5 cups)
•  salt & pepper
•  olive oil

Grease a baking dish and make a layer with the zucchini slices.  Drizzle with a little olive oil.  Top this with a layer of tomato.  In a bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with some mixed herbs, salt, pepper and a little olive oil.  Layer this over the tomatoes.  Repeat with a layer of zucchini and top with the grated cheese.  Bake in a moderate oven until the cheese is golden.

For the Polenta:
Cook 1/2 cup polenta in a saucepan following manufacturer's instructions.  When cooked, smooth it into a greased pan and allow it to cool in the fridge.  When it is cool and firm, cut polenta into slices.  Heat some butter or oil in a frypan and cook the slices on both sides until golden.

Assemble as a stack with a slice of polenta topped with a slice of the baked zucchini.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What to do with a Whopper?

Now I'm sure all you veggie growers have experienced this - coming back from holidays and discovering a whopper of a zucchini in your patch.  Like this one.  It weighs 1.6kg and is 37cms long.  Eldest Monkey Boy's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw it.  There were also fortunately a couple of other lovely little zucchinis which I sliced thinly using the mandolin and put into a pasta.  I'd forgotten I had this mandolin slicer.  
My mum used to use one in the '70s and when I saw this last year I bought it convinced it was the gadget I must have.  Unfortunately, along with other must have gadgets (juicer I'm looking at you) it hasn't received much use.   Maybe I need to hang it up in my kitchen somewhere visible.  Anyway, the pasta was delish with zucchini, broccoli, spring onion, pine nuts, basil leaves and some leftover marinated goats cheese.  Yum.  Eldest Monkey Boy informed me during the meal that he didn't much like zucchini.  Perhaps he was looking over at whopper and imagining two weeks of zucchini dinners.  

Well what on earth am I going to do with this whopper zucchini?  I think something this size will taste terrible but maybe I'll get away with a zucchini slice.  Any suggestions?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rooster or Hen? Who Can Sex a Silkie?

White Silkies - chicks A-D
Apparently silkie chicks are notoriously difficult to sex.  I've read that you can wait 'til they start laying before you really know and even then just to freak you out sometimes silkie hens crow! 

Right from the start we knew we wouldn't keep the roosters, so we've tried not to get too attached.  Easier said than done.  Actually, it's a good thing we're not keeping them all.  Eight chickens is a bit much on an inner city suburban block.  Our neighbour has relatives with a farm and he's keen to take the roosters and I'm already feeling a teeny bit sad. We've avoided giving them names until we know which ones we'll keep.  Except for, I'm ashamed to say, the black silkie with a lame leg.  She's been branded by her disability "Wonky".  At least two of the whites, I'm guessing, are roosters.  They're bigger and have developed combs more quickly.  I know nothing about rooster behaviour but these two like to do a bit of chest-butting!  They puff up their chests and run at each other.  Surely they're boys?!

Our silkies are now seven weeks old.   At ten weeks I'm going to post a photo on the Backyard Poultry website and see if the experts there can help us determine which will stay and which will go.  But in the meantime I thought it might be fun to see if there are any chicken fanciers out in blogland who'd like to test their sex-determining skills.  Or maybe you know nothing about chickens but enjoy a bit of a game.  Now I'll give you a hint.  Those two chest butters are chicks A and D in the photos.  But just because they're chest-puffers don't assume they're boys.  I know plenty of girls who'll puff their chests up given the right circumstances.   I'm going on a little holiday so won't blog for a few days and we won't know the results for much longer yet, but I promise to let everyone know who has guessed most accurately.

Oh, and one last word of advice.  I don't want anyone breaking my heart and telling me they're all roosters.  At least one of those white fluffy ones must be a girl.  I know I'm not supposed to have favourites but I do - and she'd better be a girl.

Here are the photos.  Sorry to those disinterested for an endless stream of chick pics and apologies that I haven't managed better photos.  It's very hard to get close ups of four squirmy chicks at a time and get them to smile for the camera.
White chicks A-D left to right
Chick A
Chick B
Chick C
Chick D
Black Silkies - Chick E (left) and Chick F (right)
Chick E
Chick F (right)
Chicks G & H
Chick G (Wonky)
Chick H (right)
 Phew! Finished.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This is What Climate Change Looks Like.

Brisbane.  Image from ABC news.
Like the rest of Australia I've been watching the events in Queensland over the past few days with shock and sadness.  I haven't felt like blogging.  It seems heartless to blog about what you've been growing and eating when your neighbours' homes are being destroyed.  And here in Melbourne we've been whining about the weather for months.  It's so cold... when's the warm weather much rain etc, etc.

Last year was the world's wettest on record.  And it ties with 2005 as the hottest year since record-keeping began.  Beside the floods we're seeing in Queensland, there's flooding now in Brazil that has killed at least 430 people.  There've been massive recent floods in Pakistan, California and Tennessee.  Russia saw a record breaking summer heatwave and there were snowstorms across US and Europe.  This is what climate change looks like.

Experts say Queensland's flood disaster is the result of a La Nina weather pattern and global warming.  The El Nina effect results in higher sea temperatures and heavy rain.

When people are directly affected by something, when they feel things personally, they act.  So while I was at the shop the other day and every shop-keeper mentioned the tragedy my comment is also about climate change.  "This is what climate change looks like."

Click here to donate to the Queensland flood relief.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Use it Up!

Apparently Australians throw away about 4.45 million tonnes of food each year.

I'm afraid I am very guilty of this food waste sin.  There's always something slimy and scary at the bottom of my fridge.  I'm better since I started menu planning but I still do waste food.  I'm also very lazy and loathe fridge cleaning, so often I'll have something bad in the fridge and I'll know it but I won't do anything about it!  My sister NutriNic once saw a punnet of mouldy strawberries in my fridge and told me I'd better remove it.  "I will" I said "in good time, I'm too lazy to do it now."  But here's something I didn't know.  Those mouldy strawberries were spreading their mouldy spores to my other fruit and veg and making everything else in the fridge go bad more quickly.  Am I dim or what?!
Well I want to change.

We had friends staying with us for a week recently and one night I came home and my friend had taken some veggies from the fridge and lined them up on the bench and said "We need to make something with these ingredients today!" Now that is how you do it.  I need to take a lesson.  I need to use up the things in my fridge before they go bad and before I go get more.  I need to get a bit creative.

So I've had a think about some recipes that I do that can use up those last veggies.  Recipes that don't require special ingredients just any leftover veg and the usual pantry stuff.  I'm going to try and have one of these on my menu plan at the end of each week.  I'm going to get better at using stuff up.  If you've got any recipes you use to use up your leftovers or tips on using it up, I'd love to read about them.

Using Up the Last Veggies - Meal Ideas
Eggy Veggie Pie
1.  Veggie Pancakes
One of my Little Monkeys' favourite meals.  Simply make a pancake batter, grate up your veggies and mix it through.  For firm vegetables like potato I'll cook them up a bit first before mixing them through.  Fry the pancakes slowly in a little oil.
2.  Soup
Minestrone's my current favourite although the little monkeys prefer blended soups so you can't see the veggies.   I like to add 1/2 cup of lentils or beans of some sort to my soups to make them more nutritious and filling.  Monkey Man reckons soup isn't a real meal and he requires lots of bread with his to feel satisfied.
3.  Eggy Veggie Pie 
Chop up all your veggies into bite size pieces.  Mix about 6 eggs with a splash of cream or milk and a tbs of flour.  Pour into a greased pie dish.  Top with cheese and bake until firm.
4.  Polenta Pie
Cook some polenta.  Chop up the veggies and stir it through the cooked polenta.  Spread it into a greased pie dish and bake in the oven.  This is also good with cheese.
5.  Fried Rice
This is Monkey Man's favourite meal and one of the few things I trust him to cook! (I'm afraid I rarely relinquish control in the kitchen).  Since I got a rice cooker, fried rice is an easy, no fuss dinner to make.

What are your suggestions?
There's currently a campaign by Do Something to help us tackle this food waste issue. There's some good information on their website here.
Also, fellow blogger Enchanted Moments has just cleaned out her pantry and used up stuff from it.  Have a read about it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Plums, Plums and More Plums

Little Monkey Boy picking the plums.
Thanks to the heavy rainfalls, we've had our best crop of plums ever.  Bezillions of fat, juicy plums! We've been picking them for five days now and there are still some on the tree that we haven't yet reached.  They drop on our heads and get squished under our feet and make us feel guilty every time we go outside.  All the neighbours have received bags of plums, every friend who comes to the door receives bags of plums, friends of friends have received bags of plums and look...
...more bags of plums waiting to go somewhere! 

I should feel delighted with this bounty but instead I feel a bit guilty and weary.  The plum tree always ripens just after Christmas.  Right when I'm pooped and ready to put my feet up I see plums waiting to be poached or pruned or pickled.
So I made jam.  Jamming is still new to me. Two years ago I tried for the first time and made a delicious, thick batch.  I also managed to make a huge mess and was astounded at just how much sugar goes into a pot of jam. Last year's batch was not as successful - still yummy but too runny.  This year, I learnt a few new things.  I discovered that it's best to use fruit that's not too ripe and fruit that's just been picked.  You get the most pectin this way.  Pectin is the thing that makes your jam thick not runny.  Most recipes also call for lemon which also contains pectin.  And so do the stones of the fruit. You'd think I'd get it right with my new found knowledge but no - still runny.   I musn't have cooked it long enough again. 

I've contemplated making plum sauce but being vegetarian I can't imagine what we'd put it on.  A friend suggested we turn these plums into prunes.  I haven't looked into that yet.  Anyone tried?  Any other suggestions?  What else could I make with these plums?

And I made chutney.  Monkey Man actually grimaced when he taste tested it!  It's fair to say that Monkey Man has an under-developed palate.  Food is fuel to him.  He couldn't care less what he eats so long as it fills him up.  He has a big sweet tooth and would eat a pack of jelly bellies in one sitting but he can't tell a good meal when it's set in front of him.  So I didn't take offence ... much.  He claims he doesn't even know what chutney is and that it was strange - sweet but then spicy.  Well duh that's what makes it so good!  Anyway, don't trust Monkey Man's grimmace - trust me this chutney is good. Well, I think it will be good it still needs to cure for a month or two but the taste test I did was good.  This is a bastardised version of a chutney I found on the internet.  If you do a google you'll find plenty of chutneys to play around with. 

Plum Chutney
•  3 1/2 cups plums with seeds removed
•  1 cup brown sugar
•  1 cup white sugar
•  3/4 cup white wine vinegar
•  1 cup raisins
•  2 tsp salt
•  1/3 cup onions, chopped
•  2 cloves garlic, minced
•  2 tsp mustard seeds
•  2 tbs fresh ginger, minced
•  3/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Put the sugars and vinegars in a saucepan and bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring often for 50 minutes until the sauce thickens.  Pour into sterilised jars.  Store in a cool, dark place for at least one month before opening.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chilli - heat the mouth and burn the kilos.

Chilli Seedling
I've been a bit of a piggy for the past month.  There were loads of functions and picnics and drinks with nibblies and alcoholic beverages on offer in the lead up to Christmas.  And I declined no sparkling bubbly or cheesy morsel that was offered.  Then there was Christmas - feast, feast, feast, feast.  Just when I thought I was back on the straight and narrow along came New Year.  I was not invited to any midnight partying.  I have young children and a partner who's a musician out working.  I was sitting at home alone feeling sorry for myself listening to the fireworks and partying by everyone else all around.  What better time to turn to comfort food than a lonely New Year's Eve?  Actually, I'm not being truthful.  A lovely friend with kids the same age took pity on me and invited us to dinner as she has each New Year's Eve for the past three years.  Following that feast I went home, put the kids to bed and feasted alone a teeny bit more.  So now I'm feeling rather floppy around the belly and in need of less bubbly and more water and less cheesy and more veggie.

So, I was browsing through a cookbook Eldest Monkey Boy gave me for Christmas - Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals (which I thoroughly recommend) and I was inspired to try a salad with chilli.  I don't much like chilli.  Rarely cook with it - especially since the monkeys have come along.  I think since I'd been over-indulging I was now craving something spicy and fresh and a salad with a dressing made from a smidge of fresh chilli, mint, lemon and a touch of olive oil sounded very appealing.  It was fantastic.  I've made a variation of it for several days in a row now.  I've made it with smashed cherry tomatoes and rocket, I've made it with noodles and I've made it with long, peeled slithers of just cooked, young zucchini straight from the garden and broccoli and beans and... I just can't get enough of it.

My Italian neighbour had a bezillion chilli plants growing several weeks back and he offered some to me but I declined.  We never cook with chilli they'd go to waste and I didn't want to take up precious veggie patch with something we wouldn't eat.  He insisted that I take a bowl full of his chillies instead.  So I did and I sewed them into a long chilli string and hung them on my kitchen window.  And for the past few days I've been snipping off a dried chilli and using a bit of it in my recipes.
Well, bonus - I consulted with my nutritionist sister about chilli and guess what?  This new-found love  might just be helping me burn those extra Chrissie kilos.
NutriNic says:  "Chilli boosts heat production in the body, raising your metabolic rate, so chilli can help you burn higher amounts of kilojoules after eating it." 

Cool.  So when I was next speaking to my Italian neighbour and telling him that I now wish I'd accepted his offer of chilli plants several weeks ago, he thrust a pot of about 20 teeny chilli seedlings in my hands and ordered me to plant them.  No worries that we're into Summer and it's probably too late - try.  Some might die, some might grow.  So I have.  I couldn't plant them all but I have found a few patches of sun behind the new chick coop and we'll see.

Here's one of my favourite ways with this chilli dressing with a salad-veggie concoction inspired by Jamie Oliver's book.
Warm Pasta Salad with Chilli Mint Dressing
Selection of salad veggies I used:
•  rocket
•  tomato (chopped)
•  broccolini
•  zucchini (in long slices done with a peeler)
•  100g pasta
For the salad dressing
•  5 or so springs of mint
•  zest and some juice 1/2 lemon
•  1/2 small chilli (or to taste)
•  2 tsp olive oil
•  salt & pepper to taste

Cook the pasta and allow to cool a little.  Cook any of the veggies that need cooking (eg broccolini) and also allow to cool until just warm.  Finely chop the mint and chilli and place in a large bowl.  Add the zest and 1 tsp of juice from half a lemon.  Add 2 tsp of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Add all the veggies and pasta, mix and serve.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Chicks have a New Home

Well, Monkey Man finally finished the chicken coop.  And not a moment too soon. They're now officially 5 weeks old and no longer require the heat from a lamp.  And they started to make a bit of a stink in the house. Time to move on chickies.

Here's a reminder of what he did prior to Christmas (thanks Ali from Mud Pie for the collage-making idea).

And here's what happened in the past couple of days.
The box got covered in.  See the front has a latch so it can be dropped down and cleaned.  Also, you can see the nesting box which can be accessed for the bezillions of eggs we are surely going to have!

We found an old door (yep we have old doors just lying around!)  I think this one was on the lean-to laundry that was pulled down when we extended our house 8 years ago.  I sanded and painted it a favourite purpley-blue colour.  Not because I wanted it to look swish (although I reckon it does) I'm too lazy for unnecessary aesthetics. But because it had peeling bits of old paint on it that I suspect was lead-based and I didn't want these chicks poisoned.  Monkey Man has made a Mr Ed door by splitting it in two.  Now we can just open the top part to feed the chicks greens without them racing out (another idea from VEG).
Monkey Man dug a trench around the outside to bury the wire in.  This was accompanied by a lot of sighing and grizzling and cursing.  It had become a lengthy job and it was hot and Monkey Man had been cooped up in the box for the day.  The wire is supposed to be dug 15cm deep and flaring outwards to deter creatures from eating your chickens.  Apparently there are foxes even where we are.  I didn't dare get the ruler out because quite frankly I knew better than to go near Monkey Man's at this point but I'm a bit suspicious of his measurements.

And on went the wire.
I know I said before that I was too lazy to care about aesthetics but that was a bit of a porky pie.  I had my painting clothes on and the brushes out and that box just looked a bit ugly.  So I gave it a splash of colour too.  The little monkeys decided that they also wanted in on the act which I was none too pleased about.  But we managed to keep occupied and productive without any major spillages. 
Finally, on went the roof.  
And da-daaaah here's the finished house.
Don't they look happy?

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