Tikka Masala’s big day out

This is the story of how one chook single-footedly managed to wreck our neighbour’s entire yard.

‘Twas rather embarrassing to say the least.

We have a good relationship with our neighbours.  You know, they’re the kind of neighbours who say g’day in the morning, and bring back your mail if it ends up in their letterbox.  Not the annoying kind that sing ‘Don’t break my heart, my achy breaky heart’ amplified on a karaoke machine at 3am, or the kind that borrows your shovel and then claims it was theirs all along.

But last weekend Tikka, one of our four chooks, almost ruined this cosy neighbourly relationship.  She decided that the greenery looked a little tastier on the other side of the fence.  While she and her mates were out of the pen roaming the yard she found a little gap in the hedge, made her way through it, and helped herself to our neighbour’s veggie patch.  And his flower beds.  And his rose garden.  She even had a poke around his potted plants on the verandah, and kindly left him a great big messy green calling card.

Imagine if you will, my embarrassment when a few hours later there was a knock on the door, and lo and behold, there was our rather annoyed neighbour to complain about the state of his yard.  I apologized repeatedly, and then he informed me the chook was still grazing in his yard and could I come and collect it please?

Ladies and gentlemen, this was not my finest hour.  Have you ever tried to catch a chicken?  Well.  It is not something that can be done gracefully.  Especially not in pink gumboots.  Although it may have been somewhat entertaining for our neighbour to watch me in my wellies stomping about in his garden beds (finishing off what Tikka had already started), I’m sure he was fuming by the time I’d actually caught the chook.

I’m pretty certain we’re not on their Christmas card list this year.

Don’t look so proud of yourself miss, you’re in big trouble.

There’s no point hiding now, you’ve been a very naughty chooky indeed.
Go to your room, you’re grounded for a week!


Evolution of a tea towel apron

Today I came across some lovely souvenir tea towels that have been sitting unused in my linen cupboard literally for eons (how could anyone bring themselves to use these for doing dishes?  They’re far too cute!)

Sew… (I know, roll eyes if you like), I came up with this very simple pattern for a rather useful apron.  Much more useful than sitting in the cupboard.

The tea towels were 80cm (2′ 7”) x 48cm (19”).  I used some 2cm (0.8”) heading tape for the over-the-head loop and the waistband, about 2.4m (8ft) in length.  In addition, you’ll need some pins, scissors, matching thread and a sewing machine.

First, hold the tea towel against your front and position it like you would want the apron to hang (it’s not an exact science, ok?)  Then, tie a length of heading tape around your waist where you want it to sit on the apron and pin it in place.  My waistband was 18cm (7”) from the top of the tea towel, and I used a length of tape about 160cm (5′ 3”).  Reposition the tape a little once you’ve put it on the table so it is straight across and centred.

Next, fold one of the top side corners backwards over the end of more heading tape.   Put the apron around your neck so you can mark the length of the over-the-head loop (make sure it’s not twisted).  Mine ended up about 50cm (20”).  If that’s clear as mud, have a look at the next photo…

Basically the fabric fold is the width of the heading tape so it hides the tape neatly.  Now, fold back the sides on a slight angle from the top corner down to just above the waistband and pin them to hold in place.

Find the centre of the top of your apron.  This will be the centre of your middle pleat.  Pin this into place.

Now create the pleats to the right and left of centre.  They should be touching the centre pleat, so there is no gap between them.

This is how your apron should look now, all pinned and ready to sew!

*intermission to make banana smoothie for obviously starving husband*

Iron in all your folds and pleats so its easier to sew.  Don’t forget to fold over and iron the ends of the heading tape on the waist band so you can sew them neatly later on.  Thread your machine with a matching colour thread.

(1) Sew along the edge of your apron starting from just above the waistband on one side all the way up, (2) over the top and carefully over the pleats, and (3) down the other side.  (4) Sew across the bottom of the waistband, (5) up the side bit, (6) then across the top of the waistband.  You will sew in a straight line along the waistband, my arrows look wonky because of the crinkles in the material in the photo.

Now you just need to neaten the ends of the waistband ties (fold over a small amount twice to tuck in the end and zigzag to hold it there).

And thats all there is to it…  Go forth and make aprons!

He doesn’t look fresh out of his nostrils

Dutch Clogs by Petr Kratochvil

Well, it doesn’t sound as good in English as it does in Dutch (Hij kijkt niet fris uit zijn neusgaten).

My Oma had all these wonderful Dutch sayings, and I distinctly remember her talent for using them at just the right moment.  If one was not looking too fresh out of the nostrils, she was referring to a particularly unsavoury character.

I can remember a handful of the Dutch sayings quite clearly, so here they are.  The direct translations to English are from the online Bing Translator and the meanings are in brackets.

Nu komt de aap uit de mouw.  Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve.  (The truth comes out).

Zo dood als een pier.  As dead as a worm.  (Very dead, like a worm on a hook).

Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest.  Like an angel pee-ing on your tongue.  (Something very tasty).

Een kind kan de was doen.  A child can do the laundry.  (Something very easy).

Onze lieve heer heeft vreemde kostgangers. Our dear Lord has strange guests.  (The world is full of strange and interesting people).

De lakens uitdelen. Handing out the bedsheets.  (Taking charge).

Een blind paard zou er geen schade doen.  A blind horse would do no damage.  (A shabby interior).

Lange tenen hebben.  To have long toes.  (Easily offended).

Lastly, my absolute favourite…

We zullen ze eens een poepje laten ruiken. We will let them smell a fart.  (We’ll do something that will dazzle them).

Rain, rain, come again

I love it when the skies open up and the first autumn rains come down, it is such a refreshing relief after the long dry summer, and it always makes me feel a sense of joy.  Little T is learning about rain too, dancing about in his wellies and pointing to the cloudy sky “up up”.  I’ve changed the old nursery rhyme somewhat to be more appropriate for our dry continent:

Rain, rain, come again, stay with us another day!

With the change in season comes a whole new list of keeping-your-toddler-amused activites {otherwise known as avoiding-a-tanty}.  At first I thought we would be confined to the pay-through-the-nose indoor play centre, but after some thought and inspiration, we’ve had the loveliest day without it costing a cent!

Bunnings.  I needed a couple of bits and bobs for the garden, so we quickly picked these up and then Little T played on the indoor play equipment inside Bunnings for a while.  For a toddler, this was at least as exciting as any other playground/playcentre, and I am convinced he couldn’t tell the difference.

Image from safeplay.com.au

Better Pets and Gardens.  Next I needed to pop over to get some more chook food and I discovered at the store they have fish tanks wall to wall, parrots, hermit crabs, bunny rabbits and guinea pigs.  Wow! this was better than a trip to the aquarium and the zoo combined!  Little T was very impressed.  He talked to the parrot (who answered back), oggled the crabs, and I simply could not drag him away from the fish tanks.  Everything was at his height, and the length of time we were there suited his attention span.

Images from betterpetsandgardens.com.au

Library.  Our local library just happens to have story time for toddlers on the one day of the week that I have off work.  It is free to attend, and the lovely ladies at our library do stories, rhymes and {very messy} craft activities with the little ones.  Little T gets quite overwhelmed by the excitement of seeing all those books (he takes after me!) so the activities are a good way to focus his attention.

Lunchbox picnic.  We finished the morning with an indoor lunchbox picnic (so much more exciting than sitting at the table).  I got the bento box from Laptop Lunches years ago (whilst going through my vegan phase… more on that another time), and found it is exactly the right size for Little T and he likes the compartments and colourful boxes.  I filled his lunchbox with (clockwise from top left) homemade yogurt + berries, carrot sticks + peanut butter to dip, orange + plum fruit salad, cheese, pickle + tomato on homemade bread.  Incidentally, I made Pirate Pete a few weeks ago; will post the sewing pattern online soon-ish.  Argh, me hearties!Playdough.  After Little T’s nap {he was exhausted} we made playdough.  Its WAAAAAY cheaper making it yourself, turns out exactly the same as the bought-stuff, and keeps just about forever.  Mix ½ C salt with 1 C of boiling water (to dissolve).  Add this to 1 C flour, 2 Tb cream of tartar and 1 Tb oil.  Stir to combine, then knead with your hands.  Split into portions, and add a few drops of food colouring.     

Chalk art.  Lastly, we finished off the day playing under the verandah (it wasn’t that cold outside even though it was raining).  Little T decorated every surface with his coloured chalk, and he even tagged the worm farm!    

All in all, a lovely rainy day and a happy worn-out toddler!

Free plum jam

“People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that its impossible to count them accurately.”             Oscar Wilde

As a kid I had two goldfish which I kept in a tank in my room.  One day I noticed hundreds of little eggs all through the tank.  My usually sensible {and fairly boring} goldfish had mated!  And there were literally hundreds of eggs.  You have to imagine my excitement and then multiply this by 10, because that is approximately how ecstatic I was.  It quickly occurred to me that my little tank on my desk in my bedroom could only realistically support two goldfish.  So, I did what any rational, level-headed kid would do: I started to ‘give’ the baby fishies away to my friends before they had hatched.

It wasn’t long before mummy fish and daddy fish started consuming the eggs in the tank, and in a panic, I started moving hundreds of eggs to my mum’s fruit salad bowl.  I had moved almost all the eggs by the time I realised it would have been quicker to transfer the two adult goldfish instead of moving all those eggs.  Slowly, over the next week or so, the little baby fish started to come out of the eggs, and swam around the fruit salad bowl.  By now everyone had been coerced into adopting a fish, it was just a matter of time before they would be getting their new pet.

You guessed it… one by one all those little fishies died, every single one of them, and I was left to explain to my friends that there would be no pet goldfish.  Years on, and I haven’t learned my lesson.  I still count {goldfish} before they’re hatched.

Recently I’ve been planning how I am going to transform our unproductive backyard into a kitchen garden; with fruit trees, veggies, herbs and chooks as well as an extensive composting system.  Typically, I’ve already got plans for all the future produce:  jams, pickles, salads, omlettes…

This was our yard (20m x 15m) before we built the chook pen.  I used an online Garden Planner software to draw it to scale.

On the left is the back of the house with the patio, in the middle is the Hills Hoist, and on the right is the shed.  We’ve finally finished building the chook pen, so the yard currently looks like this:

So… here’s what I’m planning for the rest of the yard…

A little over-ambitious perhaps?

Lemon, fig, orange and olive trees on the north-east fence (left of the chooks).  Grape vines growing over the chook pen fence and the shed.  Plum tree on the right, between the shed and composting system.  And a MASSIVE veggie/herb patch on the south-west fence.  I was planning on raising the veggie patch beds to help with drainage, so it will end up being bricked up about 12m x 2m x 0.5m (LxWxH).

Considering my track record with plants, comments and advice are appreciated!

And if we have an oversupply of plums one day, I’ll be giving away lots of free plum jam…

Day of the Chicken

Apparently the month of May is International Respect for Chickens month and the 4th is International Respect for Chickens day.  It is also Star Wars day, ‘May the fourth be with you’, but we will leave that topic for another time.  Anyway …  happy Chook Day?!

Little T was promised pet chooks instead of chocolate eggs for Easter (toddlers should come with instructions that say ‘do not feed chocolate, especially after midnight’).  So, in preparation for the four new additions to our family, we started to build a chook pen.  I approximated it would only take a couple of weekends of not-too-strenuous-labour, so we set about sourcing the fence and the hen-house.  I decided on an old wardrobe from the scrap yard with the back taken off for their house (the idea being that Little T could just open up the doors on the outside, and take the eggs out without needing to stomp about in chook-poo inside the pen.  HA!  more on that later…)

ANYWAY.  Amped and enthusiastic I grabbed the shovel and rammed it into the ground to start digging the first post in.  It barely went in 0.5cm.  I know maybe sometimes I exaggerate, just a teensy bit, but I am seriously not kidding this time.  Basically our yard is clay soil, so over the long hot (HOT) summer this year, the earth was kilned by the sun and became harder than concrete.  So we used a jackhammer.  I am serious, we actually ‘dug’ each and every post and trench using a jackhammer.  It makes a dggdggdggdggdggdggdgg noise/motion that reverberates through your arms and body and continues well beyond using the thing.

After much huffing and puffing and dggdggdggdggdggdggdgg we FINALLY finished building the chook pen just in time for Easter.  It only took us about five weekends.  So on Easter Saturday we bundled Little T into the car, grabbed a couple of cardboard boxes and headed off to the chicken farm.  This next bit is not funny, so without going on a rant, and in a nutshell, I have never been so appalled in my life as when I saw the miserable conditions that these poor animals must live in.  None of our chooks had feathers, one was literally raw and bleeding, and not one of them could walk properly when we first rescued them.  Maybe an International Respect for Chickens day is not such a ridiculous idea?

So a month on, and the chooks have very much made themselves at home.  They boldly go {and explore our yard}, where no chook has gone before.  And Little T just LOVES chasing them and ‘talking’ to them, and stomping about inside the pen in his wellies.  There’s no keeping him out of the chook pen, he is King of the Chickens.  He goes and collects the ‘ugg’ when they occasionally lay one, and he feeds them the stale bread (right after he’s stuffed as much of it into his mouth as will fit).

The first 8 eggs they layed in the first week…

I’ll finish this {rather long} post with pictures of our motley bunch.  Meet ‘Tikka Masala’ (she rules the roost), ‘Drumsticks’ (she’s headstrong and does her own thing), ‘Schnitzel’ (she has a dodgy wing, but manages ok), and ‘Nuggets’ (she’s a couple short of a six-pack, definitely not our smartest chook… but loveable!)

The trees are blushing

Perhaps it is in anticipation of the nudie winter?

Actually, here in west Oz, the arrival of autumn is less than impressive.  We have so few deciduous trees that it is largely indistinguishable from any other season.

Officially, our seasons are:  Hot, Hottish, Hotter and Not-so-Hot.

In the early 80’s, my European parents decided they needed some fresh air and a bit of sunshine, so they immigrated to the driest continent on Earth.  They had approximately five words of English between them, and Mum was terrified of flying.  Still, they made it here in one piece, and Dad’s grasp of the language has since improved somewhat.

One of my earliest memories of growing up in Australia is the day we fried an egg on the pavement.  Dad thought it would be hilarious to film us cracking an egg on the pavement in our yard, then stop the video, fry the egg in a pan on the stovetop, and turn the camera back on to film how it had ‘fried’ on the bricks.  This would be a demonstration for the rellies back at home as to how hot it actually was here.  They all fell for it, and no-one noticed the four little bare feet next to the fried egg on the ground.