31 Jan 2013

print away!

P is for peas and pasta ... and also paper and printing. I've added a print button to Dig In posts, so you can print off the recipes for lemon butter bundt cake, coffee streusel cake (that was a good one; needs more love!), the vegie cannelloni or perhaps the spring potato bake (more Ps).


29 Jan 2013

mum's rhubarb apple cakes

This is the best cake I have enjoyed for quite a while – and I’m not just saying that because it was mum’s! Of course, whenever someone else does the cooking, it’s a good thing, but mum-made cakes are in a special category all of their own, don’t you think?*

This was a soft moist cake, with just a touch of cinnamon and an ever-so-slightly sugary topping. It is nicest, I think — the cake itself is softer, and its homely quality even more evident — when served warm, perhaps with a blob of cream, and definitely with a cup of tea. It doesn’t shout its fabulousness; it’s just a very lovely, traditional-style, home-made cake. It looks and tastes like something you should get from a CWA shop, or a country flower show, or … your mum’s kitchen.

The strange thing is, when I was ate my first slice of this (before Christmas), I thought, this would be just as lovely using apple instead of rhubarb (or even with rhubarb, as apple and rhubarb is such a good combination). Apple cakes are amongst my favourite kind; many of the best ones I’ve made are like this cake: soft and moist with a fairly plain flavour that you can enjoy with a cuppa.

So when I got too baking on the weekend, I added an apple that I’d rescued from the work fruit bowl on Friday afternoon; I cut it into small chunks to match the rhubarb, red skin and all. You'll note I have been talking about mum's cake as singular but my pic is plural, cakes - I also decided on cupcakes instead of one large cake, as I had loads of those firm paper cups begging to be used.

As an aside, I also checked the recipe just before I added the crumble topping to all those little cakes and realised I’d omitted one of the ingredients! I almost had another ‘blunder’ post for you. So I scooped out the cake batter (thank goodness they were the rigid paper cups, not the soft fluted ones), added the almond meal, and went at it again to turn out these pretty moist little cakes.

*If I’m ever half as good a cook as my mum is, I’ll be very happy.

Mum's rhubarb apple cakes
From mum. Use either a 23 cm springform tin for one large cake, or 24 paper cups as I did. Use all rhubarb, apple and rhubarb as I did, or just apple.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep your cake tin or paper cups.
  • Cream 125 gms soft butter with 1 cup sugar (mum used half white, half light brown; I used not quite a cup of white topped up with some raw sugar. We're recipe adapters, mum and I).
  • Then add 3 eggs.
  • While that's creaming, chop enough rhubarb to give you a heaped cup of small diced fruit; how many rhubarb stalks you'll need will depend on the size of the stalks. As above, add apple if you wish (I used one red one).
  • To the creamed mixture, fold in 1 and 1/2 cups SR flour, 1/2 cup almond meal, 2 tspn cinnamon, and 3/4 cups sour cream.
  • Then fold thru your chopped fruit.
  • Spoon into your cake tin or papers.
  • For the 'crumble', melt 80 gms butter then stir in 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup plain flour. Stick in the fridge to 'set' a little (and while you swear, scoop out the batter, stir in the almond meal and spoon back the batter ... just kidding).
  • Break the crumble up with a fork and crumble it over the cake (it looks unpromising but trust me - trust mum!). Then sprinkle over some flaked almonds (no quantities given - you'll know how much you like).
  • For the large cake, mum instructed to bake for 1 hour. For the cupcakes, it took only 30 minutes.
  • Enjoy warm.

26 Jan 2013

greens for dinner

I may be turning into a rabbit. I've noticed lately that many of my meals are green. And nothing but green.

In summer's warmer, brighter times, I like to eat simple, fresh, light. Laziness may play a part in this - I've either squeezed a few hours of gardening in between coming-home-from-work and dinner-then-inside; or on the weekends, when you could argue I have all the time in world for cooking, I'm again out in the garden enjoying the fresh air and tidying up the post-spring flower garden.

Weekend lunches are, quite frankly, usually a thick slice of tangy chewy toasted sourdough, topped with a generous smear of homemade labne (which I will tell you about soon) and an equally generous dribble of homemade basil and parsley pesto.

Dinner is this: I walk from the garden with handfuls of my favourite lettuce, the oakleaf variety (though it's going to seed now, so the leaves are getting tough and a little bitter). I get a hatful of beans: my speckly borlottis, the yellowy ones that curl up into bulbous Cs, the elegantly pencil-slim green ones, and the inkily purple ones that hide behind their leaves.

I have some of dad's delicious black jack zucchinis, and from time to time I get a big bunch of soft, grassy-green silverbeet - even the stems are a fresh pretty green - from my friend F. She says it only grows in the summertime; I must get some of it next season. And I am starting to pick my dark cavolo nero (the caterpillars, it seems, are enjoying it already).

Anyway, when the food miles are that minimal, I merely steam the vegies til just done and then toss them onto the lettuce. Maybe I'll dress it with my pesto (more green) or a little splash of that failsafe olive oil-balsamic vinegar-lemon juice combo. Occasionally, some parmesan curls. Once, I believe, I got fancy and toasted some nuts and did a little sauteeing. Once.

Every now and then I'll live dangerously and bust out some quinoa or some tinned chickpeas, but usually ... not.

Because honestly, enjoying these fresh greens as simply as possible, keeping them light, is good enough for me. Plus it seems more respectful for something plucked from the garden only moments ago. And with all those different textures and shades of emerald, a plate of greens is not boring.

23 Jan 2013

berry blunders

This looks so pretty, doesn't it? Sweet and juicy and ripe with berry deliciousness? And the pudding below - rich and jammy? Well you can't have the recipes - I won't give them to you!

Why? Because while not all-out failures - I still ate some of them, and there were glimmers of wonderful flavours - they were not quite right.

Let's start with the sponge pudding (above). I actually have a terrific recipe for a similar pudding that I have successfully made many times, but cooking is as much about trying versions as sticking with old faithfuls, so I gave this a go. It looked so light and fluffy in the recipe picture, I was impatient to make it.

All proceeded smoothly until the timer went off and I pulled it from the oven - a lovely golden brown colour, but nowhere near cooked. So I covered it with foil to prevent further browning, and in for another ten minutes. Nope - try another ten minutes. Grr! At which point impatience of a different kind overtook me and I turned the oven up from 180 to 200 and blasted it for another ten. By which time it came out like a tough chewy sponge that you use to wash the car (not that I've tried to eat one of those, but you get the idea). Tasted lovely, with lemon zest flavouring the sponge, but the tough texture and inaccurate cooking time meant the recipe went into the bin and I didn't finish the pudding. I'll stick to my old faithful.

I tried to redeem myself with the raspberry meringue slice (shown in the first pic). Hmmm - where to start? First, I don't think you should bake on a day that is 35 degrees, so maybe I should take some responsibility there. The butter wasn't softened - it was slurry. The egg whites wouldn't co-operate. The berries turned to mush before they even entered the oven.

Apart from all those challenges, the recipe specified a large swiss roll tin, but I had a hard time getting any of the layers to reach the sides of my considerably smaller slice tin. And again, the cooking times didn't match up - it took precisely twice as long to cook as the recipe specified.

But worse, everything was soggy. The base was cooked (the skewer came out clean, eventually) but because all the layers were assembled and cooked at the same time, the juicy berries saturated the raw cake base. Perhaps if the base had been cooked first, then topped with the berries and meringue, the sog factor could have been prevented. But I seriously doubt much could save this recipe.

So why did I share these failures with you? I guess because it's all too easy to fall for the myth of the perfect cook or a fail-safe recipe. Because everyone has an off-day, or an off-recipe (once you have attained some level of cooking skill, I firmly believe you should always blame the recipe). Just because I write about what I cook doesn't mean it's always rosy - sometimes it's a bit tough and chewy, other times it's sweet but definitely soggy.

21 Jan 2013

final mum + dad update


I've now seen for myself what the bushfires of January 4 have done to Boomer Bay and to my parents' home.
As I have said, they stayed and fought off the bushfire and successfully saved their house. And they are safe and relatively unscathed (a minor burn on dad's wrist, a heat rash on mum's legs).

All of their beautiful front garden, with established trees and shrubs and much colour, is gone - wiped clean; nothing but blackened bare earth and some skeletal trees remained (however, nature is already fighting on).
Half of dad's fruit orchard - cherries, plums, apples, apricots, pears, quinces, and various berries - have been either burnt or scorched by the flames' radiant heat. With good-sized dams, dad is working hard to ensure the remaining trees survive, but at the moment it is 'wait and see' what will survive.

A spot-fire from a flying ember and the intense heat of nearby flames burnt or frazzled the corn, much of the beans, many of the tomatoes, and the cucumbers that dad had planted for mum to pickle. We spent much of Saturday clearing those plots out. Some of the zucchinis, some squash, rhubarb and carrots were far enough away to escape too much damage.

And some roses, gladioli and other trees and flowers near those tough little chickens also escaped the heat and flames. So look one way, there is utter, blank devastation; pivot 90 degrees and there is colour and life.

As amazing as the story of the garden is, this post is not about which plants survived and which ones didn't.

This is about my phenomenal parents.

It was not until I saw how extensive the damage was to the garden - how wide that fire front must have been, which leapt onto their property in an instant with a sudden change of wind direction, taking them from safe to danger - and just how close it got to their house did I realise how brave, hard working, determined, amazing my parents must have been. I am in shock and awe and immensely proud and overwhelmed by what they did on that day.

They told me they watched the fire in the dry paddock across the road from them travel past in one direction; dad said to mum at the time, 'if the wind stays that way, we'll be safe'. No sooner had he spoken those words than the wind did change and the flames leapt onto their property.

And then I can only imagine that they just started working - dad with his irrigating hoses, pumping water from the dam, mum with buckets - to fight and defeat those flames.

People have said they were lucky. No. Luck and weather conditions played only a very small part in them saving their house and staying alive. My parents' unwavering, determined and courageous physical hard work won the day.

I will forever be in awe of them.

16 Jan 2013

photos are back!

If you are regular readers of Dig In, you would have gathered that I am pretty technically inept. The most recent drama (miniscule as it was in the grand scheme of things): I couldn't upload photos.

But the photo issue was not my fault! My wonderful friend B did some digging and found it's Blogger having tech issues. But more importantly, she found a solution (thank you B! What would I do without you?).

So I have uploaded photos to most of the affected posts, all in January this year. If you have the time, please have a look. Nigella's zucchini is, I must say, particularly mouthwatering.

13 Jan 2013

another boomer bay / mum + dad update

I finally saw my parents yesterday; a very emotional reunion at Sorell, which is halfway between Hobart and Dunalley. They were allowed 'out' - they wore wristbands (possibly Falls Festival leftovers) to identify them as locals so they could easily leave and re-enter the area. I think somehow though the wristband is slightly sinister.

Mum gave me a bag of laundry to do for her; I gave her a week's worth of newspapers so they could see the coverage, and some of my lemon butter bundt cake. When I got home and opened the bag of laundry, the smell of smoke was overwhelming; and these were just sheets and towels. I can only imagine how the smoke has permeated the rest of the house, and what their 'work clothes' must smell like.

We had tea and coffee at a cafe and caught up on whose houses have survived, what the response centre at the Dunalley Hotel is like, the state of the roads, what has burnt and what has survived on their property. Evacuated neighbours who have returned to see their homes; those who have lost their homes are already drawing up plans to stay in what was a very pretty part of the world. Mum spoke of survivor guilt; how they are lucky to still have their house (luck, weather conditions and bloody hard work, I say). Dad said their block was an empty paddock when they moved there all those years ago, so it's just like starting again. You have to think like that, don't you?

They've been without hot water for a couple of days - I think their roof-top solar panels had too much ash and soot over them, but someone has done something and somehow they have hot water again. Mum says it is very much like camping; all their meals cooked outside over the gas BBQ. But they are eating well - I will never again make fun of mum's overstocked pantry. I used to joke she could live thru a nuclear winter; well, they are proving that laying down supplies is a good idea.

Incredibly, mum gave me a carton of eggs from the chookies and dad gave me half a dozen apricots. As well as clearing the burnt debris, he is working to keep his remaining fruit trees alive. Wild birds are starting to return and they are seeing wallabies in the chooks' yard, probably looking for food. As they have one of the few unburnt paddocks around, local horses are being agisted on it and I think Blaze Aid is bringing feed; vets have been around to check on them, too.

There is talk the highway will be open to the general public this afternoon. If that is true, I will be down first thing on Monday to see how I can help - for at least a day before I return to work - and then we will discuss how and when I can help again.

12 Jan 2013

nigella's zucchini + vermouth pasta

Quirky background from Frangipani Fabrics

My girl crush on Nigella Lawson has reignited. Is it just me, or has she slimmed down (though I'm not suggesting she needed to change her voluptuous shape)? Or has she just glammed up? In 'Nigellisima' she's finally out of that denim jacket and floor length skirt and into slinky black cocktail frocks and spiky high heels. And her bone structure - amazing! Obviously Italian food agrees with her.

This week, did you too drool over the most decadent soft-serve coffee ice cream? Must google that one - aha! I was also salivating over the simple zucchini pasta supper for one. Perfect, as I still had a zucchini of dad's in the fridge.

The recipe was easy enough that I didn't bother grabbing for a notebook as she cooked; I just memorised 'onion - zucchini - vermouth - parsley - butter - parmesan'. And somehow, I think, I remembered it correctly the next day for my lunch.

Cooking it 'down' meant the zucchini went almost jam-like and deliciously sweet; the vermouth would have helped there, too. Just a smidgeon of parmesan and butter - just enough to make the 'sauce' creamy, not to taste obviously cheesy.

At least this is how I made it, without any reference to the official recipe.

Nigella's zucchini and vermouth pasta
My memorised take from the 'Nigellisima' TV show. Enough for one greedy person, as Nigella would say.
  • First, put up on your lippy, tong your hair into voluptuous waves, and zip into a seductive black dress and your highest heels. Just kidding.
  • Seriously, first get your pasta cooking - enough for one serve, a short pasta like cassarecce or penne.
  • Meanwhile, heat a good glug of olive oil in a large frypan and saute a small onion; Nigella used spring onions, I think. Leek would also be lovely. I added some crushed garlic.
  • Dice one zucchini and add it to the pan. Saute over a medium heat and allow it to soften; as Nigella said, you're going for a slow-cooked effect, not crispness. Once it's started to soften, add a slurp of vermouth, give it a good stir then partially cover to help it cook down. You shouldn't have any obvious liquid left, just a lovely gooeyness.
  •  Once cooked, stir thru a generous handful of chopped parsley, a small sliver of butter and a pinch or two of grated parmesan; as I said above, just enough to add creaminess, not add too much cheesy-saltiness to the dish.
  • Add your cooked and drained pasta to the pan, fold thru then serve.

10 Jan 2013

lemon butter bundt cake

Pretty floral fabric from Frangipani Fabrics

I love hardware stores; always have. I remember the one near my childhood home, where we would accompany my parents as they bought supplies for whatever project was on the go. I loved the smell of the timber yard, the clunky look of the huge nuts and bolts, the cavernous space of the shed itself.

Now that I have my own house, I have good to reason to go in there for my own bits and bobs. Last week I went along to buy some large plastic tubs for green waste collection. I walked out with two new red buckets for the laundry, a super-long funnel for filling petrol into the lawn mower, a pot of lemon thyme, and ... a bundt cake tin! Yes, a cake tin, with all those glorious pleats, for only $5. I didn't need a cake tin, but at that price, it would have been rude not to buy it.

So what to make in it? Bundts are big tins, and to make the most of all those details, I knew I'd need a recipe that was specifically big enough to fill it.

I consulted Belinda Jeffery's 'Collected recipes' which I have out (and is long overdue) from the library, and found lots of bundt cakes, and went with something fairly plain, a lemon butter cake (it originally had blueberries but I fobbed them off).

It worked perfectly - I was so excited when the cake popped cleanly out, revealing all its design details, I let out a little squeal.

The wonderful thing is I believe I can use this as a 'template' recipe for my large tin. The cake wasn't excessively lemony (I would add even more next time). I could make it into an orange cake, or a fruit-studded cake, folding thru berries or chopped apple or rhubarb, or plump sultanas; the cake had a pleasing density that would support those additions. I could swap out the lemon and add a swig of vanilla. Or spice. Or - you get the idea.

What a good idea I bought a cake tin at a hardware store!

Lemon butter bundt cake
Adapted from Beinda Jeffery's 'Collected recipes'.
  • Preheat your oven to 160 and prep your bundt tin by greasing with melted butter (use a pastry brush to get into all the folds) then flouring it (add a spoonful of plain flour, shake it about a bit, then shake out the excess).
  • Sift 3 cups of plain flour into a large mixing bowl with 1/2 tspn salt and 1/2 tspn bicarb of soda (that's right - there is no actual baking powder, but it does rise!).
  • Next, get your food processor out and whizz up 3 eggs with 2 cups of sugar, then 250 grams of soft butter til combined (I know, big quantities here, but it's a big cake).
  • In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup of buttermilk with the zest of 2 lemons and 3 tbspns of lemon juice (see my comments above about making it even lemonier next time, or changing the flavour altogether).
  • Now add this to your food processor and whizz it all up again.  Stir this into the flour.
  • Spoon the batter into your bundt tin and bake for 1 and 1/4 hours or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake starts to shrink away from the sides (you may need to cover the top with foil with such a long baking time; I did). Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes, then turn out with a confident thump and a triumphant squeal to reveal all the pretty details.
  • Enjoy warm as is, or with a good dollop of sour cream and stewed fruit, and definitely a good cup of tea. 

8 Jan 2013

look out for the australian newspaper

Mum just told me that journalists from the Australian newspaper interviewed them today and walked around their property and took photos. She said they wouldn't let her put her lipstick on before they took her pic!

Not sure when it will be published - I'll add an update to this post when it appears - but this way we may all be able to see what is happening in Boomer Bay.

What a way to get in print...

Update: Mum and dad are quoted in today's Australian (9 Jan 2013), article on page 4, 'Bay will rise to be a boomer again', in the last column (five paras). No photo of them, so mum needn't have worried about the lippie. However, it was upsetting reading for me.

culinary resolutions for 2013

Dad's purple sprouting broccoli

I am now of the age  where I do not make new year's resolutions. However, the Kitchenmaid sparked my interest in having kitchen resolutions - what an intriguing idea! And if I record those somewhere - ie, here - I may be more compelled to fulfill them.

  1. Cook eggplant. I have tried this once and wasn't impressed, but it's one of those vegies I feel I need to know better. It's such a gorgeous-looking thing, all black and shiny, so I shall conquer it.
  2. Cook fish. Real fish - not sirena tuna out of a can. I rely on eating fish caught and cooked by dad: flash-deep-fried flathead fillets, in the lightest tempura style batter imaginable. It is the best. But I only eat that once a month, so I need to get more seafood self-sufficient.
  3. Try not to photocopy any more recipe books and instead work thru the books I already own! I'm sure some of you may understand this too.
  4. Bake biscuits, at least once a month. I don't make bikkies (bickies?) enough - I'm more of a cake gal.
  5. Make something with caramel. Quite frankly, caramel scares me. I fear I'll burn the house down get into trouble (edited 9.1.2013: I just realised how inappropriate that was right now). Time to feel the fear and do it anyway.
  6. Grow new vegies, such as purple sprouting broccoli which dad grew successfully last year, for the first time. And have another attempt at things that have failed in the past. Beetroot, I'm talking to you.
Do you have anything you'd like to achieve in the kitchen or vegie garden this year?

boomer bay / mum + dad update

Thank you again to everyone who has left messages here, or phoned and texted me. Mum is still amazed when I say 'people from Argentina and New Zealand are sending you their good wishes'. The power of the internet. Thank you, sincerely.

Power is still out and likely to be out for a month or so while they re-instate the burned down power poles; luckily dad has generators so they can boil the kettle and keep their fridges and freezers running (intermittently), so they can eat. Mobile phone communications also remain very patchy, which makes our conversations snatched and for me, unsatisfying. The main road down to the peninsula is not yet open properly, so I feel very impotent here, unable to get down to them and help physically to ensure their property remains safe - the risks are not over yet. As soon as that road is open safely, I will be gone.

Dad has estimated that they lost 75% of their landscaped/ornamental garden, and 50% of his fruit trees. But as he said, you can buy new trees. This to me indicates how close to the house the fire got and my mind boggles at what they must have gone thru to defend their home. I think they truly are brave and heroic.

As difficult as it is, I am trying to resume some normal routine. I have a cake in the oven right now, and hopefully I will share that with you soon; I am going to get on with writing about other things, if only to distract me from thinking of the dreadful situation. I'm sure you will understand this - please don't think I'm being superficial.

Thank you once again for all your well wishes.

5 Jan 2013


What I wrote yesterday was meant to be a kind of balance on the 'goodness, it's still so cold' comments that weave thru Dig In - I wanted to share with you a Hobart experience of summer. I had no idea it would turn so personal.

Last night, after much manic pacing thru the house and hysterical crying, I took up my journal in an attempt to calm down and make sense of the day's events. This is what I wrote last night; I hope you don't mind me sharing something 'off-topic' again. My parents are an important part of my life, my kitchen and therefore this blog, so it seems right.

I have just heard from mum and dad after hours of no communication from them and horrendous news on the TV and radio. I am hysterical with relief that they are safe and their home is safe, but equally hysterical that so many of the neighbouring homes - evacuated, thank goodness - have been lost to the flames.

I still have no way of seeing my parents in the near future, as roads remain blocked and closed (though I dread seeing the area; from what mum has told me, the imagined blackened landscape is nightmare enough). But I am so grateful I finally spoke to them and they are alive. Somehow the dog is alive, though sick from the ash, and miraculously, those little chickens are all alive, though understandably traumatised. And mum and dad found a singed and trembling little possum, sheltering in the vegie garden. They rescued him, popped him in a safe tree and fed him apple peelings.

Today was Hobart's hottest day on record, with temperatures around 41. Just before the firefront descended, Dunalley's automatic weather station recorded a temperature of 55 [I should say that my parents live at Boomer Bay, near Dunalley, which bore the brunt of yesterday's hellish conditions].

At my place, the sky turned that ghostly orange-grey colour; ash fell thru the air as my neighbour asked after mum and dad.

Thank you to everyone who has called or texted me. Your concern is a great support to me in a terrible time. I will not truly be comforted though until I can see my parents again.

4 Jan 2013

hot in hobart

The last two days have been horrendously hot for Hobart (and indeed for much of south-east Australia).

Talk to anyone here and they will agree, somehow, that 24 (degrees) is the magic number for a good Hobart summer's day: not too hot that you melt, but warm enough that you can finally shed some layers and wear a sundress and strappy sandals (I have a disproportionate number of dresses and sandals for the actual amount of hot weather we have here).

Talk to most people only a few days ago and we were grumbling that we weren't getting a decent summer, that we were still wearing cardigans - that so far, it had been pretty ordinary.

Not now.

Yesterday, it reached around 35. Today the temperature in my driveway was 39; that was before noon. Not only has the sun been piercingly hot, making your skin feel oven-crisped in an instant, but the winds have been strong and relentless. Days of blistering gales knock about my birches and queen anne's lace flowers and larkspurs - well, everything - and steal any precious moisture that was in the soil, and make my vegies wilt forlornly.

Apart from the never-ending howl of the wind and the incessant banging of someone's wheely bin lid (doesn't it annoy the *%$! out of them as well???), it is quiet. Everyone is inside with the blinds closed against the heat and the air con on high. The birds are silenced, and that to me is the saddest thing. I keep three bird baths refreshed during the day so the birds know they can find some relief in this garden (while writing this, I have spied three different blackbirds and a small thinned-out green bird of some kind, sipping or just sitting in the cool water, so I know I am doing a good thing).

And I try to not to think about my poor garden. For a gardener of any standard, this kind of weather is upsetting, but there is not much you can do about it. There is a total fireban, so I can only bucket water from the small tank in the backyard, to revive the vegies; I can't worry about my front right now.

People think Hobart is cold and wet and miserable, and I probably thought that too before I lived here. But right now it is dry, so dry, and we are all withering from the abominable heat.

Update: I just got a text alert about fires near my parent's town. I rang mum, she said they are safe but there are 'fires all around' and dad is working the hoses and she had to go. And I was worried about the little baby chickens passing out in the heat - now I'm really scared.
Update: Mum just phoned to say power is all out, and dad is hosing the roof, and she has packed some treasures and is ready to grab the dog and some chickens (as much as I love the chickens, I can't imagine trying to grab them in a fire). She said the fire is in the paddock across the road from them. I am listening to the local ABC radio and the Tasman Peninsula is completely cut off... I don't think I can listen to it anymore, as it is freaking me out too much.
Please think good thoughts for my parents with me.

3 Jan 2013

of beans, berries and baby chickens

Happy new year everyone!

I spent the days between Christmas and New Year's at mum and dad's. The days fell into an easy rhythm: a walk before breakfast, some garden work, morning tea of christmas tarts or spicy shortbreads, and back outside for more garden work.

Mostly this was picking berries - one day, mum and I picked over 10 kilos of loganberries, though I would eat lots as we went along the vines - greedy delight disguised as quality control. Long sleeves are essential for this task, as the vines have many sharp thorns ready to scratch you. The insides of your wrists suffer the most, as your reach thru the tangles for an enticing fat berry.

Dad was doing the cherries, which frustratingly this year are under attack from both slimy little cherry slugs and thick black aphids. All the fruit needed to be washed thoroughly to remove the ghastly buggers; no cheeerful eating straight from the tree here.

When we weren't in the fruit orchard, we were in the vegie garden. I love green beans, and scarlet runners, with their flaming orange flowers, are one of my favourites, especially if they are picked when young and slim and tender. Mine aren't on yet, so I happily ate my parents' beans.

Last time I wrote about dad's garden I described the blinged-out zucchini with the silver-speckled leaves. Here they are:

Everytime I walked past them, I marvelled at these beautifully marked leaves. There is much beauty in a vegetable garden, even one that, at first, appears to be only green leafy things.

Finally, we also spent time in the vegie garden pulling off silverbeet leaves and digging for worms for two lots of baby chickens. One mother hatched six about a week before Christmas - sneaky thing, she had her nest hidden out of the chicken yard, away under an old sheet of corrugated iron that had been discarded near dad's stockpile of horse manure! Sneaky, but clever. Only once all her brood had hatched did she march them back to the chook yard where they would get bread, grain and water.

The other hen hatched two caramel-coloured chicks a day or two before Christmas. They had dark brown stripes and markings, almost like a tabby cat. These were more timid than the other six, which were feisty and fast.

I could watch baby chicks for hours; I could sit in the field with the adult chickens and watch their scracthings and wanderings and cluckings quite happily, too, but chicks are just so darn cute and fluffy. Peeping incessantly, tottering along on their little legs, pulling at silverbeet or elegantly siping at their water; watching chicks and chickens is calming and sweet and serene. It was lovely to watch them jump on their mother's back or scramble to get under her wings; it was downright hilarious to watch them ping about in a frenzy when we gave them worms, running off with their precious catch, not daring to stop lest a sibling came and snatched it - but how do you eat your prize if you don't stop?

If you are stressed, worn out from end-of-year chaos, or just need a good laugh, sit still and watch a chicken.