Tag Archives: home

… precious as autumn sunshine…

autumn sunshine

autumn sunshine

Today, the sun is shining, a soft wind is brushing through the autumn foliage, and it is far too lovely outside to hide away in my study.

From where I am sitting underneath the pergola, I look across my garden and know that deep sense of peacefulness and joy that being outside on a beautiful autumn day can bring.

What could be better… a quiet time to myself, dappled sunshine over my shoulder, the breeze rustling through the trees, a cuppa, and my keyboard.  This is my workspace today.

my workspace

my workspace

I love being in my garden, and I enjoy gardening, but I have to admit that I am not very good at it.  Spending my early years travelling from place to place with my adventurous family meant that we rarely had time to set up a garden, although we often bought homes with beautiful gardens attached to them.  But I didn’t learn the joys of gardening at my parents’ feet.

My first attempts at gardening were when we lived in a village in Shropshire.  Our family had bought a fairly modern house, by the standards of the village, only about twenty or so years old, and it had a glorious garden that disappeared way down behind the back gardens of the houses of the next road along, under some ancient woodland trees,  and over a narrow brook to a post-and-rail fence that edged a lane way up to the farmhouse on whose land our estate had been built.

Whilst the front garden of the house was filled with roses and lilacs (oh, the summer scents!), the back garden was rampant with a forest of raspberry vines, acres of potatoes and rhubarb (almost literally), and hidden patches of overgrown cabbage and peas and all sorts of scrumptious vegetables.

We moved in at the beginning of the Spring, following a dreadfully cold winter that had seen us relinquish residency in a gorgeous, but freezing cold and impossible to heat sixteenth century farm house on the other side of town.  I was sad to leave the old farm house — which I still remember with incredible fondness (I didn’t notice the cold, and had adored being snowed in)– but fell in love with this amazing garden.

Always an outdoor child, I lost myself in the depths of this garden, climbing trees, dabbling in the brook, struggling through the undergrowth to pick wild growing raspberries and peas, and wriggling new potatoes from under the rich, pliable earth.  It was heaven, and even more so when I was given some precious seeds to plant for myself: some carrots and lettuce.

When we moved on, I was sad to lose my paradise (although the new village offered new lanes to explore on my bike, an old quarry where iridescent dragonflies flitted over a blue lake, and the ruins of an old abbey to clamber around).

Fast forward many years, to my first house in suburban Melbourne on the other side of the world, and a pocket handkerchief garden which we planted out with a wilderness of native plants and a tiny veggie patch.  And the most brilliant lemon tree ever.

Later, in Canberra, we repeated the exercise, adding a duck pond and some suitable garden fowl (sadly, meeting their demise at the hands – or teeth — of a neighbour’s visitor’s dogs)… and eventually moving to Seventy Seven Acres, a dream come true, but a gardening nightmare.

Hence I say that  I’m not very good at gardening.  We have a short growing season, wedged between cold and frosty winters and hot, dry summers (bar this year, where it was cool and rainy), and thin, rocky soil.

Our raised beds, inherited from the previous owners, grow weeds better than anything else, and this year in particular, were quick to bolt.  I’m learning as I go, however, and this year we enjoyed an abundance of strawberries, our first raspberries, asparagus, lemons and a variety of herbs.

Always keen to learn from those who know, I have a myriad of gardening books that I have been collecting over the years — several shelves worth of them, I have to admit, because books are my weakness!  The first was given to me by a family friend all those years ago in Melbourne… the most recent a pristine publication picked up whilst looking for something else entirely.

a selection of my books... and these are just the veggie ones!

a selection of my books… and these are just the veggie ones!

One day, I’ll get it right.  Although I do have plans for creating a large natural stone walled garden filled with everything we can grow that we like to eat, for now I’m working on my little veggie patch, and just enjoying what I can until I can find a knowledgeable local to teach me a thing or two in return for my labour in their garden… or find that elusive book with all the wisdom I seek…

...my first and much used gardeing book... still a firm favourite...

…my first and much used gardening book… still a firm favourite…

Will these provide the answer to the knowledge I seek?

Will these provide the answer to the knowledge I seek?

Or, perhaps this one will...

Or, perhaps this one will…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week the title quote is from Nathaniel Hawthorne:

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.
So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.

… a little bit of summer

flowers against a blue sky

flowers against a clear, blue, February sky…

February in this part of the world can either be the height of summer, with soaring temperatures and long, dry days, or a time when autumn winds make an early appearance, bringing drizzly weather.

early signs of autumn...

… and early signs of autumn’s approach

The year Will was born, February was a sizzler… I remember it well, because, Will being Will, he was late.  You really feel the heat when you are 9+ months pregnant.

This summer, not so.

It’s definitely been summer, with plenty of summery storms, but the temperatures have been mild.  The most you can really say is that it has been February…

…Will’s birthday month.

 

 

February birthdays can be a bit awkward. Being only just back at school makes it hard to provide friends with an adequate time frame for party invitations, and lots of families are too busy trying to get back into the swing of things to want to make the effort of a lengthy drive out to the bush.

This year felt like a bit of an anti climax for Will, too, as he had a very expensive Christmas gift that was also supposed to be for his birthday, as well, and many of the relatives that we usually rely on to be part of a family celebration were away on various holidays (one on the other side of the country).

I’ve promised that once the start of year madness has settled down we’ll organise a day at the go kart track or try our hand at some archery again, but for the time being it was just him and us. Our plan for fish and chips at the lake (take-away food is a rare event in our household) was cancelled due to an impending storm, but, since Will has recently discovered calamari rings, Matt decided to ‘do’ some calamari at home for something a bit different.

This might seem straightforward until you realise that prepared calamari is all highly gluten-y and way off my diet. Hey, you say, but weren’t you about to eat fish and chips down at the lake? No, not I.  I would have been bringing my own home-made salmon salad to eat while the boys had the fish and chips.

And… only ‘controllable’ gluten products usually make it into our kitchen (into a separate cupboard where only the brave dare go), so this calamari was going to be a Seventy Seven Acre special.

Matt went into the kitchen innocent of any major plan and, after some time turned out a dish that, to be honest, I had to be suspicious of… isn’t it a well known fact that squid has to be cooked incredibly quickly? Well, this took hours!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

It. Was. Delicious. Tender. And. Juicy.

And I could eat it. Yay.

So here it is: Seventy Seven Acre ‘Calamari’ a la Matt

You will need…

  • squid (one tube was sufficient for the three of us)
  • lemon
  • coriander seeds
  • black pepper
  • chilli powder (or fresh chilli if you prefer, we didn’t have any on hand)
  • garlic
  • a decent sized mango (!)
  • small red and small green capsicum (peppers)
  • olive oil
  • white wine (enough to splash)

And so it begins…

  • get some squid rings (or a tube to slice up yourself) from a fishmonger who sells it (relatively) fresh – we live about 140 km away from the sea as the crow flies, and about 240 km via a windy road – so we had to take that the squid was fresh on trust – I’ve learned to be wary of frozen products which often have flour around them so they don’t stick together)
  • 4 hours (yep, that’s a 4) before you plan to serve it, marinade in lemon juice (about half a lemon freshly squeezed), freshly ground coriander and black pepper, chilli powder and garlic (to taste)
  • slice up the mango and add about a third of it to the marinade
  • let it all sit for 2 and a half hours (or so, while you head off to do something vitally important)

Later…

  • roughly dice the capsicum (peppers)
  • heat a minimal amount of olive oil in a pan suitable for sauteing (stainless steel is best)
  • saute capsicum, add the rest of the mango
  • add white wine to make a very wet sauce
  • bring to simmer
  • add the (by now well-marinated) squid
  • bring slowly back to a simmer and cook long and slow to reduce the sauce (this is the bit that made me suspicious, I was expecting a ‘throw it in and swish it around a few times’)

Much later…

  • Serve with salad of choice.
  • And / or rice if you wish.

PS Gran was good enough to make Will a superb birthday cake – my attempts having failed due to a lack of conventional oven and the little convection oven we’ve been using until we can afford to replace the now dead oven in our kitchen apparently being completely unsuitable for baking nut flour based cakes. Sadly. And expensively.

 

PPS the quote “…a little bit of summer” that I used for the title is actually about winter:

“One must maintain a little bit of summer,
even in the middle of winter.”

~Henry David Thoreau

but it seemed quite appropriate to our summer this year, which has seemed to be only a little bit of summer (although, I have loved our milder, rainier weather this year… really).

By the light of the silvery moon…

Sometimes magic happens when you go to do the most mundane of jobs.

It was a pretty cold evening (for an Australian summer) and the only reason I was outside was to check on the new diesel pump that we were running in by filling our fire-fighting water tank.

I’d already gone back in once to get a cardigan, but I was soon running back inside a second time to fetch the camera.

Matt was totally focused on the pump and how quickly it was filling up the big blue tank, but I had glanced up in time to see the full moon rising over the hills above our house.

A globe of brilliant, white light, stark in a dark sky, abruptly lit the clouds and created mysterious silhouettes of the trees behind our garden.

I was too slow to catch the moon cradled in the fold of the hills, and too shaky to hold the camera still for the two second exposure needed to get a clear picture, but Matt came up with the clever idea of leaning on our Landrover to hold the camera steady while we took the shot.

by the light of the silvery moon...

by the light of the silvery moon…

The picture will never do justice to the true beauty of the moment, but it preserves the sense of it, to gently remind me of it at a later time.

I would like to say that all you could hear was the whisper of the wind in the trees, but, sadly, any romantic sounds were well and truly drowned out by the pounding of the pump.

It really doesn’t matter, though, because, back in suburbia, I would never have seen the vision of the moon, resplendent and silver, because I would have been tucked up inside, avoiding the cold wind, with no reason to venture outside on such a chilly evening.

Instead, I got to share that magic moment with Matt, and have a memory filled with warmth and companionship, by the light of the silvery moon…

 

On a side note, By the Light of the Silvery Moon was a song by Edward Madden and Gus Edwards, published in 1909, and sung by Doris Day and Gordon McCrae in a 1950s movie of the same title. I remember it fondly – not because I was around then (either of the thens), but because my mother used to sing it to me as a lullaby when I was little. I suspect it meant a lot to her (possibly because of my dad, and possibly because her mother had sung it to her) and, if I remember rightly, she had the sheet music (I must check if she still has it). In the way of oral traditions, I’m pretty sure that I’ve sung it to my children as a lullaby, too. It is, of course, not a lullaby, but a love song:

By the light of the silvery moon
I want to spoon
To my honey, I’ll croon love’s tune
Honey moon, keep a-shinin’ in June
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon

Place, park, scene, dark
Silvery moon is shining through the trees
Cast, two, me, you
Summer kisses floating on the breeze
Act one, be done
Dialogue, where would ya like to spoon?
My cue, with you
Underneath the silvery moon

By the light of the silvery moon
I wanna spoon
To my honey, I’ll croon love’s tune
Honey moon, keep a-shinin’ in June
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon

Act two, Scene new
Roses blooming all around the place
Cast three, You me
Preacher with a solemn-looking face
Choir sings, bell rings
Preacher, you are wed forever more
Act two, all though
Every night the same encore

By the light, not the dark but the light
Of the silvery moon, not the sun but the moon
I wanna spoon, not croon, but spoon
To my honey, I’ll croon love’s tune
Honeymoon, honeymoon, honeymoon
Keep a-shinin’ in June
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon
The silvery moon

Computers, Catastrophes, and Comfort Food…

I think I’ve recovered, now, but a few weeks ago I had one of those horrible moments when my old computer (read: very old) had been decommissioned and the new machine decided it was going to throw a tantrum.

My new computer, lurking beside my desk....

My new computer, lurking beside my desk….

Matt had been very careful building the new ‘box’ and had moved all my vast amounts of work across before the old computer had been gently put out to rest, but things weren’t going smoothly… so he decided to rebuild.

Fine so far.

He did a big back-up of all my data, and backed out of the first build, tweaked some of the open source installations and brought the newby back up.

Except it didn’t.

When he came to bed after the late nighter, he had mumbled something indistinct about something I didn’t quite understand, and promised me it would all be okay, but, when I rose early to do some writing, what I got was an unintelligible message basically telling me that, well, everything had gone away and the computer didn’t want to speak to me about it.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that it would be okay. I knew that I had copies of my work on a USB stick and an external hard drive, it was just this restore that had gone awry, and, even if it couldn’t be fixed, it was really only the last couple of weeks of work that had been lost forever.

It is hard, however, to be rational when your brand new computer is behaving like a dead fish and your computer support person is snoring peacefully away at the other end of the house.

I did the only thing I could.

I went for a walk.

And then I made some apple crumble.

And ate it. For breakfast. With vanilla yoghurt. Which all went a long way towards making me feel a lot better and wasted enough time for Matt to wake up and revive my computer, complete with all the data, intact, and (vaguely) happy to speak to me again. Not right away, you understand, but eventually.

I love computers. I’ve been hooked since the day I told my (then) still fairly recently acquired husband that I needed a new typewriter and I rather fancied those clever ones with a little screen that let you type a couple of sentences and make sure there were no typos before it tapped it out onto the paper.

He said, that no I didn’t, and I begged to differ, but he came home with a PC with word processing software, and I quickly learned that this was the answer to all my typo infested dreams.

And then came the internet, and email, and after that, well, me and my computer were inseparable.

Of course, it has been a rocky relationship, with ups and downs and moments of intense frustration, fraught with catastrophes of varying intensity, and times when I could gladly pick it up and throw it out the window… but, on those occasions, a little comfort food goes a long way…

Individual Apple Crumble Comfort

Ingredients:

...apple crumble comfort straight from the oven...mmm...

…apple crumble comfort straight from the oven…mmm…

large apple, peeled, cored and sliced

handful of sultanas

tablespoon of honey

dash of water or apple juice

ground cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg to taste

cup of almond and coconut flour combined

generous splurge of macadamia oil

tablespoon of honey

Method:

Combine the apple, sultanas, honey, water and spices in a pan and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the apple has ‘fallen’ (a word my mother uses to indicate that something like apples or potatoes have basically gone all mushy – I don’t know if it is genuine technical term….)

– make sure it doesn’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pan because this only adds to the sense of catastrophe.

(If you are in need of extra comfort and like that sort of thing, you could add a dash of whisky close to the end of the cooking time.)

Meanwhile combine the flour, oil, and the other amount of honey in a bowl and rub them gently through your fingers until you have a sticky breadcrumb consistency. I also add a smidgen of extra spice, but it is a fairly rich topping, so it is up to you.

Pop the cooked apple into a mini-casserole dish and sprinkle the flour mixture over the top.

Bake in a slow to moderate oven just long enough for the topping to develop a nice golden colour – about 15-20 minutes – keep an eye in it, though, because nut flours burn easily.

While it is baking, measure out a portion of plain yoghurt and mix with a little honey and vanilla to dollop over the top when you serve it up, piping hot from the oven.

I ate half for my breakfast and half later on in the day, but you can save it in the fridge for a day or two if you want, and, of course, you can increase the ingredients to make enough to share. I made enough for Matt and Will, too.

If nuts are not part of your diet, you can use any plain flour that works for you, and substitute a different sweet oil or even butter for the macadamia oil. You could also use sugar instead of honey.

My ingredients are SCD legal to meet my peculiar dietary requirements. Unless you can’t eat nuts, it wouldn’t hurt to try it and you will find the richness of the almond and coconut flour adds to the decadence of the treat – all part of the comfort food experience!

Oh, and for the record, me and my computer are back on cordial terms and I am getting used to the new set of quirks that makes this computer an individual in its own right.

…we all know frogs go…

I’m constantly amazed and delighted by the variety of wildlife with which we share our home.  If I tried to name all the types of birds, for instance, that come by our garden (let alone the rest of the property), I’m sure that I could fill a page easily and still miss some out.

I love listening to the bird calls, starting with the kookaburras in the early morning, right through to our boobook owls well into the night – although I was a little less enamoured of a male common koel that spent last spring singing most of his way through a full octave then stopping, leaving me waiting for the last note, before repeating his call incessantly – all night!  It took a couple of sleepless nights before I got used to that call and slept through his noisy courting.

On the other hand, I never tire of the song of our magpies, nor the cheeky chirping of the blue wrens or silvereyes.

Another sound I love is the chorus of frog calls that serenade us through the evenings during spring and summer.  One of my favourite memories of our first year here at Seventy Seven Acres was the night we decided to go up to the little dam (probably better called the reed pond) by torchlight to see what we could find.  All through the reeds were little clumps of frog spawn, while adult frogs clambered up the thin stalks or nuzzled into the soft dirt beside the water.  Wherever we walked, silence would fall, but the calls from all around the rest of the dam echoed back and forth, a bit like a tennis match.  I was particularly struck by the sound the pobblebonk frogs made – it really does sound like “pobble-bonk”!

Just recently we’ve had a few frogs come visiting us, like a little brown tree frog that moved into the breezeway where we had just installed a couple of Dicksonia Antarctica plants and were watering them every evening with a fine haze of dam water for a couple of hours to help them settle in.

Little brown tree frog... enjoying the mister during a recent hot spell

The little brown tree frog… enjoying the mister during a recent hot spell.  The actual frog was only about the size of a twenty cent coin.

An even smaller tree frog came a-hunting on our bathroom window a couple of nights ago, too.  It was fascinating to see him from underneath, as he reached up onto the glass, chasing minute insects.  Alas, he was gone before I could fetch a camera, but he provided a few moments of enthralling entertainment before he slunk off into the darkness.

I suspect we won’t be seeing – or hearing –  too many more this season, as our evenings are starting to cool down, and our mornings are definitely feeling a little chilly.  I don’t know a lot about frogs – despite a childhood obsession with tadpoling – but I think they sleep the winter away, tucked up cosy somewhere until the growing warmth of spring wakes them up and gets them on the move.

Hmm.  Something else I’ll have to learn about.  I wonder if there is a handy, pocket sized field guide for the frogs of our region…

Camping and Cockatoos

My first encounter with the enigmatic Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo was early one morning when a small flock flew overhead and scattered amongst the trees at a camp site up on the edge of the Brindabellas.  I was there as a young teacher with a group of intrepid Year 5s, and a select group of us were collecting wood to make the fire to cook our breakfast.

It was cold and we were stamping about to keep warm, looking forward to Toad in the Hole (Aussie camping style)* and hot tea.  I guess we were a bit preoccupied, and the first thing we knew about the cockatoos was the sound of their eerie cries echoing through the forest.

At first I thought that perhaps seagulls had been blown inland, but the sound wasn’t quite right.  And there were too many answering calls for it to be eagles or hawks.

My confusion was quickly abated as the willowy, black shadows weaved their way through the trees and into sight.  It was breathtaking, and they have ever since remained a firm favourite for me amongst the cockatoo family.

We occasionally hear their haunting cries or catch a glimpse of them here at Seventy Seven Acres.  They are beautiful, elegant birds, and so solemn and graceful compared to their louder cousins: the familiar, white, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

Perhaps you can imagine my delight this morning, then, when a pair came to rest in one of our Brittle Gums by the back gate.  I slipped outside as quietly as I could, for these birds are shy creatures, and quickly took a photo before they went on their way.  They only hung around for a few moments, and one very purposefully hid behind a large branch, but the other remained calmly aloof with his back to me, long enough for me to snap my pic.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

The Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo is reasonably common in South Eastern Australia, although I’m given to understand that numbers have declined as old growth forest has been logged.  Apparently they need large, old, hollow trees for nesting and breeding, so loss of these trees from their habitat has impacted on their ability to retain the larger flocks that were reported in earlier times.

These days they are more likely to be seen as pairs or in family groups of up to about 10 or 12 birds, although they may still form large flocks in winter.  They are semi-migratory, ranging to find food through the changing seasons.  Predominantly seed eaters, preferring casuarina, eucalypt, hakea, banksia and xanthorrhea, they will also search out and eat wood boring insects and bugs in a variety of trees.  As with most of the cockatoo family, they have taken a liking to the introduced pine species, and will happily pry the seeds out of the cones or rip the bark away to find bugs.

At about 60cms they are the one of the largest of the cockatoos, but with their streamlined shape and long wings, they look smaller than the Sulphur Crested White Cockatoo – and are certainly less raucous!

(Includes information from Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds – a fabulous resource.)

Aussie Toad in the Hole (camping variety)

This is one of those amazing meals that just isn’t the same if you try it at home… I think you have to be cold, tired after a sleepless night in a tent, and truly hungry for it to work properly, and it is definitely best cooked over a smoky, wood fired barbecue.  Luckily it is also very simple and quick to make.  Warning: this bears only a minimal resemblance to the classic English recipe containing sausages and batter.

Ingredients:  Sliced bread, egg, butter, salt and pepper to taste (per serving).

Method:  First cut or tear a hole in your slice of bread (a circular cookie cutter works well if you have remembered to bring one) and melt a large dob* of butter on a the hot BBQ plate, using the tip of a knife to spread it around.  Drop your bread on top of the butter and immediately crack an egg into the hole.  Cook until the first side is done then flip over to cook other side (time varies depending on how well-done you like your egg – generally, it is not recommended to have your egg too runny unless you are happy to wear it on your clothes for the day).  Season with salt and pepper to taste and eat while piping hot. Totally delicious! ( a real shame that I can’t eat bread any more)

*dob – in this context, ‘dob’ is a technical term meaning an amount of butter large enough to grease the hot plate, but not so large that the food is swimming in it.

Morning has broken…

…like the first morning, although, it’s still dark outside as I write this… and totally quiet, except for the hum of my ageing computer. No blackbirds. It’s nearly six o’clock in the morning, and only a few weeks ago, it would have been light outside by now – that soft morning light that touches everything with a silvery glow. I find myself listening for the kookaburras who always herald the start of a new day with a chorus of laughter that echoes from one tribe to the next.

 

...the view from my writing room window

…the view from my writing room window

I love morning and I love watching the dawn creep across the hills. This is not a new thing, I’ve always been a morning person, but since we have been at Seventy Seven Acres it has almost become a ritual.

This is my time of day, and I treasure it.

It is so peaceful to have the house to myself for a few moments, while Matt and Will (both night owls by nature) sleep on. It’s a time when I sit and write for a while, maybe meditate, and add in a bit of gentle exercise before I start getting school lunches ready and making the morning cuppas to ease the Boys into the day.

I’m really enjoying this morning, and, as I look out the window now, I can see the trees as dark silhouettes against a richly blue background. Even as I write, the light gets stronger. Now I can see that the sky is cloudy. The Hill across the Valley is hidden behind a blanket of mist. Slowly, I watch the grass beyond the veranda become green.

Everything is so still. There is not even a breath of wind.

It’s cool this morning, too – a hint, perhaps, of the approaching autumn?

This is the first time in the last couple of weeks that I’ve had time to appreciate the beauty and calm of the pre-dawn stillness. School is in session again, with all the frenetic activity that surrounds the beginning of a school year. At my school, too, there have been some changes to the way we are delivering our program, and new teams learning to work together. There is so much to prepare… so much to get done before the day starts. My precious morning time has been stolen. As well as my evenings.

Then, yesterday, I left my USB at school, and didn’t realise until I was home.

I did what I could last night, but this morning has been all mine.

The way it should be.

Outside my window, Beatrice and Eugenie have arrived and are quietly grazing their way across the back garden. I can see the colours of the tree trunks, and the different greens of their canopies – a pale green for the brittle gums with their grey-white trunks, darker for the iron barks, and darker still for the black wattles. A pair of young hares have just arrived and are gadding about the garden. Bea pauses in her eating to watch them, and check on Eugenie, who is joining in.

Still no kookaburras.

I told myself that the morning was mine until they called, but the clock is saying otherwise.

If I don’t start to get Will up soon, we’ll be late for school.

Ah, there they are, the first distant chattering across the hillside… if I’m quick, I might get a morning walk in.

... heading out for a morning walk, the gate open to a whole new day of possibilities

… heading out for a morning walk, the gate open to a whole new day of possibilities