This update on last weeks happening is a tad late. We are already well into a new week! These past few weeks have been flying by, for no profound reason that I can see. There is the same running around for sport, the school run, cooking, cleaning and laundry, but for whatever reason, time seems to have accelerated. Towards what I do not know. Easter perhaps? Well, that, I don’t mind. I love ritual markers throughout the year. The points in time when we pause and take stock, immersing ourselves in deliberate and attentive activities to celebrate common festivities and holidays. A thread connecting us in space and time.
But for now, there was last week. Busy like all the rest, but satisfying in the tasks accomplished and the joy in cooking shared.
Last year, my middle son started his chicken journey having bought 6 chickens for his birthday. 3 Australorps and 3 Welsummers. They were fluffy and adorable chicks and fortunately, have grown up to be hens. They spent the early weeks of spring inside in what is our utility room. For anyone who has kept chickens inside until the chill of winter has passed, will know what kind of odour you have to endure! It is quite unbearable, and that is with daily cleaning of the crate. Chicken poo just stinks. They did, thankfully, move out, but only to a temporary yard with a fence low enough for a fully feathered bird to escape. While they enjoyed flying the coop to free-range in our back yard, they never chose to make the return journey at bedtime, so it had become a nightly rigmarole tracking them down, retrieving them from their high roosts and transporting them back to their rightful home.
We have wanted to construct a proper, built-to-plan, chicken tractor so that we can move it around the yard and gardens at will, giving the girls access to fresh greens and ground. But procrastination and lack of previous building experience have resulted in no further movements towards that goal than good intention alone. I have also wanted to put the chickens to more direct, and purposeful work in the vegetable garden, which has of late fallen prey to a myriad of bugs (the vegetable destruction kind), slugs and snails, and the dreaded invasion of cooch grass.
So in keeping with my low cost, rudimentary, make-do with what you have philosophy, I created an enclosure using star pickets and stakes, sections of unused grid panels, and a massive, abandoned orchard net that I picked up from the dump some years ago. The netting is secured at the base with old fence posts scavenged from one of the farmer’s burn piles, and a pet crate complete with 2 branches cut to fit to serve as roosts, and a tarpaulin to keep the rain out is placed inside the yard. An old concrete brick sits inside the crate to weight the structure down in the high winds we often get.
A morning’s work is all it took to create a rather ugly, but completely functional chook pen and yard. The corn stalks serve to keep the netting up and provide some shade and a miniature forest for the chickens to wander around in, while they scratch around leaving behind their rich manure. Chickens do tend to compact the earth, so I will need to do some work once I relocate them to another part of the garden to bring air back into the soil. But all in all, this measure has solved several issues and at zero cost.
One day, I will build that tractor though!
My youngest two spent some time last week expanding on their cooking skills. As a gift to a school friend, my youngest daughter created a ‘brownie in a jar’, layering the ingredients and completing the gift with a monogrammed beaded tie and colourful instructions. The friend, and her mum who helped whip up the brownies into decadent crackled cupcakes, loved it. My youngest son has also been demonstrating some kitchen love lately and spent some time scouring the internet for a choc chip recipe that wouldn’t disappoint. He alighted upon the highly entertaining and informative Chef RV Manabat. Chef Manabat not only provides a fantastic recipe, and a ray of positivity, but also educates the viewer on the why’s and how’s in the kitchen. Finally, we understand the reason why many other biscuit recipes fail. What Lachlan created, with very little help from me, were biscuits loaded with choc chip, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Delicious! He made another batch 4 days later, adding in some walnuts for variety. Their desire to become more involved in the kitchen has grown and they are now demanding to cook Sunday breakfast and taking charge of dinner! A win for me!
The wetter year we have had following last summer’s devastating bushfires and the preceding drought has resulted in bountiful crops of apples in the old river orchard. They are an old green cooking apple. Incredibly sour, but perfect to make mint jelly, apple puree, and homemade apple scrap vinegar. One day I would like to make a cider press and have a go at making our own cider, to drink and also to turn into apple cider vinegar. The difference I believe, between scrap and cider vinegar, is in the acidity levels. A scrap vinegar is not as acidic and not appropriate to use in preserving recipes, but for everything else, it fits the bill perfectly and is incredibly easy to make. As these apples are so sour, I did not bother to use only the ‘scraps’ but went ahead and cut the whole apples into chunks, core and all, and proceeded with this recipe. As we had so many apples at our disposable, I have made up a large batch in a 20L food-grade bucket, which you can pick up fairly easily and affordably at hardware stores. It is just beginning to smell very apple-y and vinegar-y, so soon I will strain it and decant into a large drink dispenser to finish the fermentation. Once ready, I will dispense it into old vinegar bottles to store away in the pantry.
It feels very satisfying to make use of what is freely available around us to create everyday products we would otherwise have to buy in the shops. It is a very small element in my almost self-sufficient dream, but one I thoroughly enjoy.
I would love to hear what homely activities you have been up to, so please feel free to share!