Sunday, October 31, 2010

What quiet life in the country?

Catching our rooster that had been living next door didn’t fix the problem of the feral bantams. The two girls, with their clipped wings, had been leaping the fence to head for greener pastures. We hadn’t seen one around for a while and assumed that she had jumped one fence too many, ending up in a yard with an unfriendly dog. Last week she reappeared, fifteen babies in tow, all happily jumping backwards and forwards through the wire to have a drink of water in our pen.
The neighbours hadn’t mention the sudden explosion of numbers in their yard but their grass was two foot high since myxamatosis kicked in and killed all the rabbits that lived in the warren under their shed and used to keep the grass and everyone elses vegetables, trimmed.   I came home during the week to find they had whipper snipped their jungle. No sign of the feathered family. I heaved a evil secret sigh of relief. (We had agreed NO baby chickens this year. Our girls are so well treated they never die although we do eat the young boys and we reached our feathery limits in the Chook Palace last year.)
We awoke the next morning to find the renegade and  eleven of  her babies had travelled though two fences to end up in the veggie garden. All the plants that had been lovingly tucked into beds of manure and hay were now bare rooted, mulch flung everywhere. Lady (our dachshund) managed to kill a baby and then later grabbed the mother around the neck so the dogs were forced to spend the rest of the day locked in the house while the chickens roamed free.
At dusk, we spotted them all settled down close to the other chickens and with great stealth and much squawking (some of it from Amita screaming, get her! Get her!) Taking her to the front pen we chased the babies through the wire into the main chicken run where everyone had got out of bed to see what the noise was all about. On the way we managed to clip one wing down as far as we dared. The neighbour was soon out to see who was being murdered as the mother screeched for her babies while they headed off to hide in a tangle of jasmine next door. It was dark by the time I had herded them through the fence to mum and we settled down to a few wines to settle our nerves.
Next morning we were greeted by the whole family happily chirping...OUTSIDE OUR BEDROOM WINDOW! The front garden was looking a mess; the scratching had been going on since dawn. Herding them back in the pen, we barricaded the chicken wire with planks, filled in the excavations under the gate and threw in lots of yummy things for them to eat. They were out in minutes.
By the second morning out of their ‘safe’ pen AGAIN, they had knocked over pot plants, dug out some bromeliads, destroyed the ground covers and shat all over the verandah. Enough!  In my nightie, sitting in the dirt, I sewed a piece of shade cloth to the fence and the gate to a height of about 60cm, chased them all in again and went off to work.
When I got home, there they all were again, living the life of Riley in the FRONT GARDEN. This was war! I let the dog out to help me, again with sneaky evil intent. She happily ran off into the ferns to herd them. The next few minutes were pandemonium...the mother stood up to  the dog who ended up  howling, on her back trying to surrender to the bantam who  was attacking her in a frenzy of beak and claws. I rescued the dog, herded the chickens inside, shovelled soil up against the bottom of the shade cloth, returned the planks and propped them up with pot plants.
This morning we were greeted by mum and four babies, outside the window AGAIN. Things were looking least the remaining six were still in the pen. No, by breakfast time another two had figured out how to escape.  Amita to the rescue, a drop cloth is now draped over the whole lot and is scarily blowing in the breeze. I have swept, raked and watered and generally tidied up the garden. Some of them are going to a new home today so I want them all contained so we can catch them. They are going to another neighbour two doors away who apparently took one to the vet to get a bandage for its sore leg!
I only hope they stay there.
I’m going away for a week without chickens, dogs or men...I've had enough of the quiet life!  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So soy easy

You only need to read the labels to know that processed foods contain heaps of additives. There has been a recent outcry about the use of GM soy beans in food including baby formula.  If you enjoy soy, you can avoid the whole issue of genetically modified beans by making your own products from certified non GM beans. The most popular of these would be soy milk. Many shop bought soy milk brands contain sugar in some form, added oil to make them creamy, salt to enhance the flavour and often a lot more, especially the cheaper brands.
Soy milk made at home is quick and easy and tastes absolutely delicious (and this from a person who is a confirmed soy milk hater.) You can control the additives and cost you under fifty cents a litre and half an hour of your time. You will need to start the night before.

2 saucepans, at least 2 litre size
A spatula and a wooden spoon
A colander lined with a damp tea towel
A stick or jug blender (must be hot water proof)
Well washed glass bottles with clip or screw tops to hold 3 litres

300g soy beans
Water (rain water if you have)

Soak the beans in water 10 – 12 hours or overnight.  They need less time in really hot weather, more if they are older beans. If the beans are more than a year old, they become too starchy and you will not be able to strain the liquid. They are ready to process when the husk comes off easily and the inside of the split bean halves are slightly concave.
Drain and rinse under fresh water.
In the first pot bring two litres of water to the boil.
Boil a kettle with extra water.
Jug Blender:  put half the beans in the jug with 2 cups of hot water from the kettle and process until fine and creamy Add to the water in the sauce pan, turn off the heat and put the lid on. Repeat with the rest of the beans and add to the pot.
Stick Blender: Put soaked beans into saucepan after the heat has been turned off and blend carefully in the hot water until fine.
Place the other saucepan in the sink with the lined colander inside it.
Gently pour the slurry into the colander and let drip into the pot below, scraping the pulp into the middle with your spatula.
When the liquid has drained through pull the corners of the tea towel together and make a twist, squeezing the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible.
When you are tired of squeezing, open the tea towel and pour an extra two cups of hot water from the kettle over the pulp and repeat the process of squeezing. You can do this again with two more cups of water to extract more milk. After the final squeeze the pulp is called okara.
Put the pot on the stove and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for about eight minutes, stirring occasionally. Fill the sink with coldwater and place the hot pot in the cold water for about 15 minutes to cool, replacing the water in the sink a couple of times as it becomes warm. The quicker you cool the soymilk down, the creamier it will taste and the longer it will keep.
If you prefer a lighter taste, leave it to cool slightly in the pan before bottling. Tighten down the lids and refrigerate. Of course you can add sweeteners, vegetable oil and salt at this stage if you wish or flavour it with chocolate or fruit juice.
For more information including instructions on making and using soy milk, soy cream and okara follow these links to my website or try to find a copy of The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff, who writes fabulous books on all things soy.  It is out of print but copies often turn up in second hand book stores.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lizard legs and the Melbourne Cup

Monday I had spent the previous day moving all the winter clothes to the furthest corner of the wardrobe and inspecting my summer clothes.  Spring brings new challenges to our self esteem in the realisation that our bodies are a year older.  Where did those bingo arms come from?  How did my mother’s cellulite suddenly appear on my thighs? To add to the mix, brilliant sunshine shows off the newest grey highlights kindly provided by nature and children that has been hidden under a beanie for months.
Tuesday is the day our writing group meets, also the third day in a row over 20 degrees C.  As I placed my bag on the floor II caught a glimpse of my ‘lizard leg’s and scrabbled around for a tube of hand cream to rub on. While under the table I noticed  two sets of toes flashed fresh nail polish and that everyone was wearing sandals.
Summer clothes create their own dilemmas. Nearly all my friends admit to owning black one piece bathers for  public beach displays.  What about Melbourne Cup Day?  Can you get away with wearing your orthopaedic shoes with a new dress with spaghetti straps?  In the clothes shops I find myself perusing safe flowery crimplene – I have to slap myself soundly and quickly move away before anyone I know sees me.
Wednesday, one of the painted toenails helped me with spring cleaning project. Winter had returned overnight and we were happy as bag ladies in our old, faded and grubby layers of work clothes, dashing up and down between sheds in the break between showers. Exposing the body has been avoided and thoughts of fake tans and liposuction have faded away for now and look how clean my rocks are!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chillean Celebration

Life has accelerated, the spring sunshine must be activating the ‘busy’ molecules.
In the last ten days I have:  been helping with house moving, had lunch with visiting friends at Cullen’s, a birthday dinner at the Tav, an afternoon tea at Voyager, received  news of a new baby, attended the open day for the 20th anniversary of the Margaret River Community Centre, held the first pizza gathering of the year, attended the farmer’s market, dealt with Telstra (again), walked with the girls, visited a friend with the flu and, sadly,  attended a funeral. I have also been at work, made 60 jars of various creams and driven hundreds of kilometres. They are the memorable events. Most were happy ones, some frustrating, and others unbearably sad.
The list of things to do gets longer every day. What has happened to time? Is it really moving faster or is it because the world has become a chaotic and complicated place in which to live? Looking over my list, I can see that I chose to spend time with people in my life I care about. Who cares if the cobwebs still dangle from the ceiling or the bags of sheep poo still haven’t been spread?
Watching the Chilean miners appear from underground after so long, seeing the joy on the faces of their family and friends has given me heart, faith in the way we can come together to support each other in times of need and respect for those valuable connections we share. When I saw the joy on that small boys face as he saw his father after an agonising wait, I remembered that in matters of the heart, time stands still.

Each day I am grateful to wake to the sound of chickens and birdsong.
The views from all the windows are green and at night I can see the stars.
Hide your ironing in the cupboard and enjoy the moment!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I never knew your second name

This morning I stood and watched the bees busy in fragrant flowers and thought about the day to come.

The town gathered in a state of shock - the older to attend a familiar ritual with sad resignation, the young for an event not of of their time.
Your friends clung together to scatter petals as random as the emotions that flared in bursts of laughter, sobs and muted words of comfort. The silence between words thrummed with the feelings that brought us together in a tribute of flowers.

You were only nineteen, Grace Jasmine.

I will remember this day each time I smell that delicate scent of the white flowers with your name that grow on my fence.

Go well bright spirit.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spring is a time for romance - a melodrama of plants

Asparagus makes suggestive gestures at her as she drifts draped in a gown of palest daffy down dilly through the spring garden. Past where the love in a mist waves its feathery fronds above the forget me nots. Past cherry pie, sweet peas and Chinese lanterns hinting of romantic dinners. On past the shaded glade where the music of bluebells accompanies the poetry of Chaucer, to the seat under the plum tree.
Her violet eyes narrow under her hazel hair, her red budded mouth purses as she wonders  ‘Will I meet the golden Graeme Thomas tonight or am I doomed to dance with the elder Mr Lincoln?

Just a flight of fancy from me today, messing about trying to get as many of my plant names as I could into a paragraph!