Earlier this year I bought a kilo each of blackcurrants and redcurrants at a local market, intending to make some kind of spirit with them. But months later they were still in the freezer, so I thought blackcurrant jam would be a great way to use them. What I didn't realise is that it's near impossible to remove all the woody parts from frozen berries, which you have to do to make jam from these tiny fruit. I gave up after about 20 berries were in the pan and started searching for an alternative recipe... syrup or cordial perhaps? Then I saw a recipe for blackcurrant jelly which means you don't need to remove the stalks, as you strain it through muslin overnight. I think it is even more delicious than the jam. It set easily and now I have two jars of the good stuff. It was perfect on a slice of fresh 'Ursi bread', as we call it, after the Swiss friend who gave us the recipe.
Last week I spent four glorious days on the Maria Island Walk, a gift from my wonderful husband. Together with a couple from Sydney, a couple from New Zealand and our two guides, I trekked along beautiful white beaches, climbed up Bishop & Clerk, stalked wombats, listened to the birds and learned about the island's fascinating history. Our guides prepared delicious meals, from pancakes for breakfast cooked on the barbecue to fresh salads and rolls for lunch, a range of sweet treats for morning or afternoon tea, to risotto, mushroom soup, even quail for dinner. And a good range of Tasmanian cheeses, beers and wines to sample. The outdoor hot showers at the camps were a real treat at the end of the day too (pictured below). Luxury hiking at its best.
I took a notebook and pen, planning to write about the experience and other random thoughts as I normally do when travelling, but my head was completely empty. No thoughts at all really, except where to place my foot next. No decisions to be made other than whether to have a glass of pinot gris or pinot noir. It was the perfect brain cleanser at the end of a long year. Highly recommend this trip if you want to get away from it all for a few days.
The company I work for gives employees one day of 'birthday leave' every year. Nice, huh? Not that it's different to any other leave, but you just have to take it, because, well, it's your birthday! David booked a special treat birthday lunch at the Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in New Norfolk. Housed in a building inside the former Willow Court mental asylum, the restaurant has received many rave reviews since it opened in 2017. It lived up to expectations. It's a hard call, but I think the dish I liked most was salt baked beetroot with horseradish, kefir cream and saltbush. My leftover bread ice cream and David's pavlova were also sensational. And the staff were lovely. We've both done cooking classes at the Agrarian Kitchen down the road in Lachlan, before so we have seen where much of the produce served in the restaurant is grown. People watching was pretty entertaining too.
We've had a few broody hens in the shed over the past few weeks, including one that was found to be sitting on 49 eggs!! Needless to say she couldn't keep those warm enough to hatch and they were removed. Then a week ago, I went down to let the chooks out in the morning and heard cheeping coming from under one of the hens, and a healthy chick emerged from her feathers.
It was a complete surprise, as I didn't think any of them had been sitting for the 21 days required for eggs to hatch. A week later and there is still only one chick and some interesting co-parenting arrangements between the three sitting hens. If nothing else happens in the next week, I'm going to remove those hens from their eggs and move them to the 'summer shed' (see previous post) where the nest boxes seem more conducive to happy brooding.
Over winter, the chooks were housed in the lovely old pickers-hut-converted-to-henhouse which is warmer and drier and better able to cope with snow than our fancy new chook mansion (above). The soil in the mansion's yard had turned into a barren clay bog, so over winter we added wood mulch and grass clippings, and I added handfuls of 'green manure' seeds - a mixture of grasses, peas and beans designed to add nutrients to the soil. Then spring hit, and the grasses, peas and beans took off, creating a small edible forest for the chooks to move back into last weekend! In one week they've managed to flatten most of it, but it has given them a lot of nice insects and tasty leaves to peck. The only downside to having them in the lovely clean and new house is that it's closer to our house, and we can now hear Mr. Vladimir Putin the rooster crowing at sun up. Which at this time of year is pretty early. Oh well. Meanwhile, we still have three roosters disguised as Barnevelder hens. I'm hoping that by moving the dominant male (Vlad) into a different house, they will start to show their true feathers.
Last week a neighbour gave me a lift down the road to the monthly movie night at the Palais (we saw The Merger, a terrific Aussie film, you must see it). He remarked that he's seen many more echidnas this year than in past years. You almost can't drive up or down our road without seeing one of them trundling along or digging into the clay bank on the side of the road. David and I had said the same thing only the day before. We've seen lots of them at our place too, making their way across our front paddock or across the road. One evening we saw our dog Gretchen sitting and staring at something in the corner of the yard. It turned out to be an echidna happily digging its way into an ants nest. This week, I managed to snap a few close ups of another one in almost the same place, pulling up tufts of grass and digging a hole. Echidnas in Tasmania have more fur and fewer spikes than their mainland Australian cousins. Aren't they just gorgeous?
When we go away for a night, our dear friends and neighbours kindly pop over to feed and pat the dogs, and let the chooks out on the day we return. They also like to play a prank and see how long it takes for us to notice! Clearly we aren't very observant, because it took us several days to spot that they had swapped out several album covers in our wall display the first time around, and replace them with such tasteful classics as Ripper (1975).
This time it was one of the "robot family" in our front paddock that copped it. David made them from old computer parts and there they sit in all weather, greeting the (very few) people who drive past. Sometimes people stop to take photos of them and kids hug them! Since our recent trip to Melbourne to see Smashmouth, one of the family has taken on a distinctly Christmassy look.
Each year, we track the progress and parenting success (or otherwise) of the beautiful pair of welcome swallows that nest under the back deck each year. This year our visitors are very efficient. They arrived early in the season and promptly started building a clay nest, lined with material including Bernese Mountain Dog hair and Huon Blue chook feathers. Today the first batch of three chicks reached the fledgeling stage and headed out of the nest, while their anxious parents swooped around and chirped loudly to warn us off. David managed to snap a few photos of all three babies with their typically wide mouths and scruffy new feathers, sitting in the sun on our garden furniture. Next comes the more difficult task of flying back into the nest! We love watching and listening to these beautiful little fellows. Never mind the pile of poop on the back deck.
Almost two years ago, we were among the first to experience long table dining at the newly opened Fat Pig Farm, run by Matthew Evans and Sadie Chrestman, at a local business dinner organised by the Kingborough & Huon Community Enterprise Centre (KHBEC). Last week we were back, for another KHBEC dinner. Paddock to plate has become a cliche these days, but you can see it with your own eyes at Fat Pig Farm. Sadie told us about the philosophy of Fat Pig Farm. It's about a moment in time: the produce harvested and cooked that day is different from any other day. It's also about community: the local producers, growers, winemakers and staff who share a love of real food, as well as the people who come together at the table to eat it. The meal was truly special, from the lemon and ginger hot toddy served on arrival to individual desserts served in glasses to make standing up and networking easy. The Fat Pig Farm team knows how to cater, that's for sure. David and I have wanted to visit for a Friday Feast for ages. We've held out, thinking that friends or family visiting from the mainland might be keen to join us, but to no avail. We'll just have to book it in for ourselves sometime.
The chooks dig holes in the dirt anywhere they find a nice dry spot to bathe in. They writhe and wriggle around, it's quite comical to watch. Chickens use a dust bath to absorb excess oil and moisture and prevent parasites such as lice and mites from taking hold in their feathers and legs. This pair found the remnants of a bonfire in our front paddock and thought the ashes would do very nicely as a dust bath, thank you.
The flannelette sheets are gone from the bed. We're wearing fewer layers of clothing - no more "double pants", as we call it when you wear tights or thermals under your trousers. No more puffy jackets. The sunny days have been perfect for getting outdoors. We've had to start watering in the garden again, which I kind of enjoy doing in the longer evenings after dinner. Yesterday, we were able to tick a job off the list that required a dry and sunny weekend: staining the chook shed to protect the wood from the elements.
Every single one of our young fruit trees has flowered this year: the quince, the medlar, the plums, the peach, the cherries, apples, pears and even the apricot tree that we've had no luck at all with so far.
And best of all - the warmer weather is perfect for a beer in the garden with the dogs at the end of a day of getting stuff done. Hard to beat.
Another Oktober, another fest at our place. Cases of German beer, pretzels from the Brezel Backerei in Sandy Bay, bratwurst and weisswurst from Ziggy's, home made cucumber salad, braised red cabbage and apricot streuselkuchen with cream, of course. Friends brought delicious potato salad and sauerkraut, and gorgeous individual apple strudels. So many of my favourite things in one day! This year, we were blessed with perfect spring weather. We invited everyone to get into the spirit with Bavarian costumes and it was brilliant to see the effort people went to. Too much fun! And even the preparation and clean up was fun, thanks to friends from Sydney who stayed the weekend and helped with everything. When you can't be at the real thing in Munich, this sure comes a close second.
One morning last week I checked the nest box in the chook shed when I went to let the girls out for the day, and found a teeny tiny little egg in the straw. It looks like a classic brown speckled Barnevelder egg, only smaller than a quail egg! Turned to Google and discovered it's a common occurrence called a "fairy egg", or its less attractive name, a "fart egg". When young pullets first start laying, their first few eggs are often small, but not this small... apparently, it's due to some kind of disturbance in the hen's reproductive system, disruption to their normal routine or stress.
Here goes. I know this sounds weird. And maybe you'll think I'm silly or stupid or both. But there are three "hens" in my flock of 16 birds who are actually roosters. At least, they definitely WERE male. They are now camouflaged as hens. I want to dispatch them, as I'm not keen on feeding three birds that are not laying eggs and there are enough of them in the chook shed... but the problem is, I can't tell them apart from the hens, so I might not be dispatching the right birds!
That's the short story. The longer version is this. Of the last little batch of four Barnevelder chicks hatched back in March, unfortunately three turned out to be male. They were clearly boys - stood taller, had thicker yellower legs, their combs developed quicker. When they outgrew their little chook tractor, I didn't want to move the girl in with the older birds on her own, as she was smaller and I thought she would get picked on. Chooks are nasty that way. So I decided to move all four young birds in with the flock, where they pretty much kept to themselves and seemed to get on fine.
A couple of weeks later, I passed the chook shed on my early morning walk and heard one of the young cockerels trying out his (kind of pathetic) crow. I remember thinking, "I'll have to catch and dispatch those boys soon before they cause trouble." Then I was away for work, and we had some atrocious weather... no time to spend my weekend butchering birds for the freezer. But in the few weeks I delayed, the three young lads stopped looking like lads and I couldn't tell them apart from the Barnevelder hens! Every now and then I think, that one's comb looks particularly red, or that one has a tinge of green in its feathers. Then I look around and see a bunch of other chooks that look just the same. And at night, high up on their perch, there is just no way I can tell them apart with enough confidence to kill them. We have one mature rooster, Vladimir Putin, and my only guess is that to avoid his wrath they are somehow pretending to be hens. Seriously, they do not have thicker yellow legs, spurs, large combs or colourful rooster plumage at all.
Last week, a man with a digger came and leveled out some bumps in the yard that made mowing difficult, and removed some large rocks that were jutting out enough to damage the ride-on mower. We decided to fill some of the holes left behind where the rocks were removed with some new trees, so a Saturday morning trip to Greenhill Nursery was in order. They have a huge selection of plants and very helpful staff. Even better, the trees are grown in a climate similar to ours, so we know they will cope with the local weather. We bought a couple of elderberry trees (I want to use the flowers in some recipes I have), a lipstick maple, a crab apple, an ornamental pear and a little blue spruce. Fingers crossed they all do well and didn't mind the snow covering less than two days after they were planted. I was unable to take a photo of the newly graded bank in the garden without being dog bombed, as you'll see. Thanks, Gretchen.
Last week, David asked some blokes who were trimming branches away from power lines on our road if they could dump a load of their mulch at our place. They delivered.
Past deliveries have been put to very good use in the chook yard, around the raised veggie beds, around trees, stabilising clay banks. So now we have a huge pile of beautiful smelling mulched wood and leaves next to the driveway. The chooks were onto it immediately, kicking it around with their powerful little legs.
Some years ago I went to an open garden scheme day at a beautiful garden in the hills of Glen Huon, very close to our place as the crow flies, but about 20 minutes by car. I couldn't believe how beautiful their soil was, rich and dark brown, sustaining both native trees and a huge range of non-natives. And yet they were so close to us, and their altitude was not that much lower than ours. Our soil is mostly clay, soggy and wet in winter and hard and dry in summer. When I asked one of the owners about their soil, he said "mulch." Over the years they had added tonnes and tonnes of organic material to build up their topsoil and boy had it paid off. While I don't have any intention of developing such an incredible garden, I now believe in the power of mulch.
The forecast for winter in Tasmania this year was "a little warmer and a little wetter". We've hit August with no snow so far, other than a few flakes mixed in with rain one afternoon. None that has settled on the ground anyway, unlike last year. The ground at our place is pretty soggy and it's a bit muddy around the chook shed, where the girls have scratched up all the grass and leaves. I won't say it's been warm, but we've certainly enjoyed the winter sun and plenty of rainbows. Dear old Baerli can't walk far now, but we've still enjoyed a few cafe lunches outdoors with the girls. I am certain the snow is yet to come...
Escaped Sydney in 2010 for a piece of paradise in Tasmania's Huon Valley. I'm a keen walker, remote worker, incompetent gardener, Bernese Mountain Dog owner, fan of almost anything German (food, language, cars, beer), amateur linguist, chook fancier, childfree.