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.
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.