Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mozzarella-Making and a Winter Garden Pesto

Yesterday, Gavin from Greening of Gavin came to my place to run a cheese-making workshop for some friends. 

Before they all arrived I dragged the poor fella down the back to inspect my chooks and their mites and to give his opinion. And he was very reassuring. Stop worrying, he said. Keep doing what you're doing. But Gavin doesn't know quite what a worry-wart I am.
"But they're not laying!" I squawked.
And then he reminded me that it is winter.

Yes. It is winter. Maybe they're not unhappy - just doing what comes naturally at this time of the year.

So we tromped back to the kitchen and started making cheese.

Now it's supposed to be a 30 minute mozzarella cheese-make but after the first group cracked open the bubbly we seemed to be on a bit of a go-slow-and-giggle. So it took longer. And not all of us turned out mozzarella. Some of us accidentally made ricotta. Gavin thought it was because of the not so good quality milk we used. He upped the rennet for the second bunch of cheese-makers and theirs all turned out to be mozzarella.

It's surprisingly exciting to watch a couple of litres of milk transform into stretchy, cheesy goodness. Even my friend J. who reckoned she only came along for the entertainment was heard shrieking in delight as she squeezed out little bocconcini balls.

I reckon I'll be making this again.

If you'd like to try mozzarella-making Gavin's got a video of the process here. Or if you're a local, you could get a bunch of friends together and ask him to come teach you all.

R. reckons her kids scoffed a couple of balls as soon as she got home and declared it to be the best cheese they'd ever tasted. We all had plans for pizza and lasagne and roast veggies with bubbling mozzarella toppings. But I decided that I had to eat some of that broccoli that I'd managed to grow in the garden and get some greeny goodness into my monkeys. So I made some pizza dough and a Winter Garden Pesto using silverbeet, broccoli and parsley from the garden. I spread the green atop a tomato base and finished with slices of the home made fresh mozzarella.

And I was all chuffed and waiting for songs of praise from my adoring family as I deposited the steaming pizza on the table. But a mother of a youngish child ought never to expect the expected at dinner time. The praise did come. But not from the Littlest Monkey. He decided to have a rather major hissy fit and declared the pizza to be DIS.GUS.TING. In fact it was the worst pizza he had ever tasted because of the horrible, horrible pesto.

Hmm.  So I do recommend the Winter Pesto Pizza - but only if you have an older monkey boy who is not averse to the colour green.

Winter Garden Pesto
• 4 big leaves of silverbeet, stems removed, chopped
• 1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
• a handful of parsley
• juice from half a lemon
• 1 clove garlic
• 1 cup walnuts, toasted (or some other nuts you have in the cupboard)
• pinch salt
• 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
• extra virgin olive oil

Cook the broccoli in a pan with a bit of oil.  Don't cook it too much - just a wee bit 'til it changes colour and is still crunchy. Add the chopped silverbeet and wilt in the pan for a couple of seconds.
Transfer the broccoli and silverbeet to a bowl that's sitting in another bowl of cold water so that it doesn't keep cooking.
In a food processor add all the ingredients and whizz them up. While whizzing drizzle in olive oil. Now sorry, I'm not sure how much oil I used. Use your instincts - you're wanting a nice creamy pesto. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Little Bit of Sunshine

Ornamental Kale.  Image from here.
Thanks so much to Laura from My House in Africa for nominating this blog for the Sunshine Blog Award. Oh yeah, I want the sunshine. I know I whined a lot last year about winter so I am making a concerted effort not to whinge this time around. I am trying my hardest to embrace all seasons and to focus on the good things about winter. Like having an excuse to be lazy and falling asleep watching mind-numbing TV under a fuzzy blanket in front of a warm fire.

Really, I ought not to complain about winter because so far it's not been too bad. We're still having days like today which are nippy but the sun still shines and I've been getting out into the garden. The other day I even pulled up some weeds. Although mostly I've been going to the garden to look at the poor chooks and hope they're recovering from their mite infestation. I have managed I think to get on top of the pests. Now I just have to keep an eye on Wokee the Puppy who has managed to find her way into their run. Twice this week I've found her with feathers in her mouth cuddling poor Puff. The white fuzzy chooks are particularly tame and will just squat when something comes near them. And Wokee just thinks they are toys or fuzzier puppies.

Anyway, in order to receive a bit of sunshine there are questions to answer. And I really don't want to bore you with un-blog related stuff. So feel free to skip to the end of this post where I recommend a couple of gardening/foodie blogs.

Now for the questions.
1. Favourite Animal - Don't have one. I quite like all animals. Although I don't much like other people's dogs if they're big and smelly and jump up on me with their stinky, hairy paws and drippy tongues.  Or if they're rodents that have found their way to my kitchen bench. I suppose I should say monkey seeing as I have a family of them. Monkey Man's mother always told him that he was the son of an orangutan. That's what inspired his nickname. And he does a pretty good monkey impression.
2. Favourite Number - What?! People have favourite numbers? Nope not me.
3. Favourite Non Alcoholic Drink - I just don't do favourites. But I do drink quite a lot of tea. And I have it ridiculously weak with loads of soy milk. So really it's like a slightly brown cup of warm, beany milk.
4. Facebook or Twitter - Not a fan of either. But I quite like pinterest. But only if I skip quickly to the pinners I follow or to the gardening bit. Some of pinterest just makes me cranky.
5. My Passion - At the moment I'm enjoying: feast-making, gardening, reading, yoga (actually I've been very slack with this one lately), singing, photography, crochet, making a family cookbook...
6. Getting or Giving - Both. Love thinking of the perfect gift for someone and the happiness it brings. But getting is nice too. In fact today my Monkey Man gave me a lovey dovey necklace with "I love you" written in a heap of different languages. And that made me very happy. But before you all go swooning over what a perfect Monkey Man I have, I ought to tell you that it was our anniversary. Yesterday. And yes he did forget. But has made up for it today.
7. Favourite Pattern - Oh no I can't follow a pattern. In fact my year 8 needlework teacher spent every class sighing and telling me to unpick whatever I'd just done.
8. Favourite Day of the Week - I like most days and don't have a favourite. But I do like Thursdays because I don't have to work and am home alone. I also like Saturday afternoons because I'll have just got home from work and feel a sense of achievement and exhaustion and have the rest of the day to muck about with the family. Or loll about for an hour or so reading the trashy magazine inserts in the weekend paper.
9. Favourite Flower - Hmm. Tulip? But I can't manage to grow them. So maybe iris - because they're purple. Although today at the market I saw ornamental kale which I was very much taken by.
10. Favourite Country. I just don't do favourites. And nationalism freaks me out.

Now you're supposed to nominate 10 blogs to send some sun their way. But as I've been rebellious with my other answers I'm being rebellious with this one too. Here are five blogs that I'm nominating for my award. I read lots of blogs at the moment and these ones I never miss. So, if you don't have too much on your reading list you should check them out.

I thought I'd send some sunshine lovin' right back to Laura. Her blog has helped me get hooked on crochet. But she has other crafty, foody, kiddie things there too.  Zucchini Island. Jason is trying to grow 80% of his own food which I think is fantastic. Suburban Tomato is from Melbourne so I just need to see what she's growing and know if I'm timing my things right. And I'm loving her top 5 lists. Alison from Melbourne Seasonal Eating has delicious seasonal recipes. And she tells a good yarn to go along with them. And Mrs Bok is fun. I met her last year at the Melbourne Bloggers Meet up and discovered that she's a nice person in real life too!

Anyway, I thought I was the rule-abiding type until I sat down to follow these rules and answer these questions and I found myself not doing everything properly. And instead I kept thinking of that Tim Minchin skit when he's answering the "guilty pleasure" questions for a newspaper. But probably 98% of you don't know what I'm talking about. And I couldn't find the skit on youtube to put it in context. So you'll have to make do with this - my favourite Tim Minchin song which is very cool - if you're not afraid of a little filthy language. See. I can do favourites!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chook Plants

I'm no urban farmgirl.

This morning when I was emptying the compost there was a mouse sitting right on top.  And I yelped and dropped the compost. Then I went to see if the chooks had left me any eggy pressies. There was one. I went to pick it up and again I yelped and jumped. But fortunately didn't drop the egg. Instead I did a little frantic-brushing-shaky dance. Mites crawling on the egg. Yuckidy, yuckidy, yuck.

Poor girls. Seems there's still a rather nasty mite infestation in their coop. So I've been doing a lot more googling and of course it's made me despondent and anxious. That's the type of person I am.

Thanks to Mrs Bok for her mite drop and diamataceous earth recommendations from here. I've ordered both. And I'll be donning my face mask and re-dusting them and their pen again later this arvo with pestene. But really I think I'll need to do something drastic soon.

So in the meantime I've been thinking about planting some stuff around the coop to help deter the creepy crawlies and to help with general chook health. And here's what I came up with.

I've been attempting to grow comfrey from seed. Which I've found to be rather tricky. It seems to take a long time to germinate and I only managed to successfully grow one wee plant which I have planted up the back under the fig tree. And it hasn't done too well at all. Apparently comfrey needs quite a bit of water - and it hasn't been getting much there. And it's had to tolerate Wokee the Puppy who has been tromping all over it because it's in the perfect place for her to sit and annoy supervise the chooks. But I think it'll survive. Now comfrey I've read can be invasive so I will be keeping an eye on it. But I'm looking forward to using it in the garden as a compost activator and making a comfrey tea to fertilise the plants. And also I've read it's good for chooks. It is high in protein and minerals and fed to them occasionally apparently has medicinal benefits. Chop up a few leaves and leave them to wilt a bit - otherwise they're too hairy and not so tasty for fussy chooks. And my chooks are definitely the fussy, gourmet types who would surely turn their little beaks up at it otherwise.
This herb is recommended all over the place. Apparently it will help with internal and external parasites. So I've planted a little bush behind the coop against the fence. But my little gourmet chooks have completely ignored it so far. Which I guess is a good thing given that the plant isn't yet established.
As for the wormwood it's apparently a medicinal aid. And I happen to have some growing in my herb garden already which I will be re-locating to the chook run.
Great in the veggie patch and good for chooks too. Who knew? Good for their health and repels insects. I'll be planting some in the old laundry troughs in front of my chook coop. I'm imagining a mass of lovely flowers trailing all over the place. In reality I'm predicting a teeny clump of flowers that'll never do much good when they're pecked by chooks and subjected to my sporadic watering in that planter box. But it's nice to dream.

Garlic Chives
I've been crushing a few bulbs of garlic in my girls' water every so often in the hope that it'll act as a wormer. Apparently garlic chives will do the trick too. So I'm going to attempt to grow some nearby and give them a feed every so often. Apparently pumpkin seeds will eliminate worms from a chook gut too. My chooks are crazy for them so even if that doesn't work I feel better about giving them a little treat.

The aromatic oils have insecticidal properties. I'll be planting some lavender nearby too.

But Wait! There's More...
Now I did find a load of other recommended plants for chooks too. Some I've never even heard of: mugwort, southernwood, rue, nettle, dandelion, tansy, fennel, rosemary, chickweed...
I'm feeling dizzy at the possibilities. I may as well set up a herb garden around the entire coop.
Not a happy chook. Look feathers gone around her neck - and I don't think that's from moulting.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Itchy and Scratchies

My chooks haven't been laying much for a while. I haven't been too worried 'cos it's been getting cold and before that it was moulting time. Although I did do a bit of a panic when the scrawniest chook - Indi, moulted and seemed to lose every feather on her back. She grew back some nice ones though. But the other day I discovered Golden Girl (the current broody one) sitting on a couple of eggs which made me very happy. Until I turfed her off the nest, reached in to pick the eggs up and saw creepy crawlies on them. LICE and MITES! Yep a double whammy. Nasty lice. And teeny tiny red mites that you wouldn't even notice until they crawl on your own hand and start sucking and biting your own blood. Eeeew!

Not surprisingly, I'm not at all keen on lice and mites. Even as I write this my foot has started to itch. When I was a child a rumour spread around my primary school that one poor child had nits. I didn't know what nits were but I sure knew I didn't want to get them. I spent the entire day squealing and running from the poor child. That night I went home and prayed fervently to God to save me from the dreaded nits! And wouldn't you know it my prayers were answered! I never got nits. And neither did my kids.

Until last summer.

Then I discovered head lice on my monkey boys. It's not an experience I'm keen to repeat. We were up very late with conditioner and teeny-toothed combs and squinting and spraying our way through their fuzzy locks. And this dreadful routine was repeated every night for ten nights until I thought I'd got rid of them. Every day I'd twist and turn my own head about in the mirror trying to catch a glimpse of my scalp which I was sure must be crawling with lice. It sure did feel itchy. And although Monkey Man who was repeatedly ordered to check my head didn't find any creepy crawlies there, I subjected myself to the conditioner and teeny-toothed comb too. And that was a bloody pain in the backside because I have rather a lot of thick, curly, knotty hair that doesn't very often see a comb.

And now my chooks have the creepy crawlies. I got myself worked up into quite a tizz trying to figure out the best way to deal with them. I thought I was set after consulting my favourite Backyard Poultry site. They recommend a chook dip with permethrin solution and a big scrub out of the chook pen with it.  But I couldn't figure out where to buy the stuff. And when I phoned my chook feed supplier he sounded incredulous. "Never heard of it!" He assured me. He convinced me that the only thing I needed was a bottle of pestene which would completely eradicate the problem. No need to empty out the chook shed just sprinkle the stuff everywhere and they'll be gone. Now that advice flew in the face of what I'd been reading, but the chook man is a farmer and he has 50 chooks of his own and I have discovered before that he's not too keen to hear contradictory suggestions from city girls who've only just started keeping a couple of fuzzy pet chooks. So with a heavy heart I bought the pestene and I bought a bottle of kerosene. This was the suggestion from my friend (also a farm girl) who had tried the powder and reckoned it didn't work. Her farm remedy was to completely empty the shed. Get rid of the straw and spray the whole place with a solution of 1/3 kero and kitchen oil.  Now neither of these remedies appealed to me. But I didn't want to spend any more time googling about. Last week I'd googled for what was causing my persistent twitchy eye and although it's likely to be stress and fatigue the hint that it was an early sign of MS is what my worrying brain has attached to. And I am sure the toxic concoction I was considering in the chook pen would google up some information to keep me anxious for a couple of months.

So I donned my oldest garden gear, plastic gloves and a face mask and started emptying the straw. I have a deep litter system happening in my chook shed. It's a very deep litter system because despite good intentions I've never once emptied it. Again I flaunted good advice and filled the compost with it. I'm hoping that any creepy crawlies will burn in the hot heap. Please don't tell me I'm wrong. Then I got overwhelmed at the thought of taking out the rest and wondered where on earth I'd put it all. So I gave up and got on with the powdering. The poor chooks were most unhappy at being held upside down by their feet and powdered. They squawked and squealed and got rather cranky. But they're done.

Finally, I got out the hose and washed down the shed. And then I sat and thought about the kero and oil. I contemplated doing a google. But decided against it. I put the kero in the shed and instead powdered with pestene all over the place. But not on the straw. Apparently those rotten little red mites can live for months and months. They love nothing more than to hide in wooden nooks and crannies and cracks in your chook shed. They have a nice little hide out during the day and then crawl out at night to suck on blood. And if you don't deal with it your chooks can die. Our shed is made from old recycled timber. It is nothing but nooks and crannies and cracks. There's no way I've got them all. I'll be repeating this over and over I know. Sigh.

Well anyway my chooks look happier for it. They've had a breakfast of porridge today and a drink of garlic water. And I've washed all my clothes and my hair. And I'm avoiding the google.

And if you've made it this far, for your viewing pleasure here is a picture of a blood sucking red mite.
Red mite image from wikipedia

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