Author Archives: seventysevenacres

Cooks’ Own Ladles…

With storms and floods happening all around NSW, it is hardly surprising that we feel as though winter has already arrived at seventysevenacres, although we are lucky, and, apart from more rain damage to our long suffering track, we are doing all right at the moment.

track

The track washing away down the hill.

Will and I have been home for school holidays and have enjoyed being able to light up the wood fire stove in the family room, and, as Matt says, the aroma of wet earth, eucalypt, and wood smoke as he works around the block is a defining smell. Winter has arrived!

We’ve already enjoyed a bowl of spicy pumpkin soup or two, as well, to warm us up after some invigorating outdoor activity.

I make pumpkin soup simply by roasting some chunks of lightly seasoned pumpkin (often butternut) then blending it with some stock, or even just water if I want to use it as a base for something else.

Just lately I’ve been spicing it up with a mix of warmer herbs such as coriander and Thai basil, or a touch of chilli. Adding a bit of garlic and freshly ground black pepper is always a goer, too, and really brings out the flavour of the pumpkin.

I’ve always loved soups of all sorts, and one I miss these days is minestrone, but I really daren’t risk eating tomatoes. There is really no good that will come of that!

Instead, I have recently started using pumpkin soup as a base for creating a hearty veggie soup, using whatever I have in the fridge, and have even torn in some strips of roast chicken breast that were left over from an evening meal to add some extra richness into the mix.

No pasta or noodles allowed, as I am completely grain free, but some fabulous friends gave me a zucchini noodler for Christmas a couple of years ago, and spiral noodling a zucchini into the pot provides a suitable alternative.

Depending on what I have hanging around in the crisper drawer or how much I turn up the heat with spicy herbs, the taste can be quite varied.

My next challenge is to get some pumpkins of my own growing without the cheeky possum feasting on the young plants. I recently saw a great design for a growing bed with a lift off ‘lid’ that could be clear plastic, shade-cloth or just bird wire, although I might go for chicken wire which would be a bit trickier for the possum to munch through (and might provide a suitable home for a chicken or two when the bed is not being used for growing)… now to persuade Matt to get to work with his carpentry skills.

I’ll make him some soup.

...some scrumptious looking pumpkin soup (image courtesy of Apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

…some scrumptious looking pumpkin soup
(image courtesy of Apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

This week’s title quote is from Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamlyn

Rats!
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles

Happily, we don’t have any trouble with these creatures… possums are far more agreeable!

I shall be content with silence

I thought I would just share a few more autumn pictures from around seventysevenacres today, and forgo my usual long winded narrative.  Just walking around our acreage takes my breath away as I delight in the beauty of nature at my doorstep:

view from the top of the hill

the view NNW across the valley from the top of the property

evening light across the top 'paddock'

evening light seen through the trees in the top ‘paddock’, where regenerated bush has long taken over the land where sheep used to graze

bushfire sunset... hues deepened by smoke from a hazard reduction burn

bushfire sunset… hues deepened by smoke from a hazard reduction burn (about 30k away)… and, yes, it really was this colour!

an early moon

an early moon, shivering in a cool evening sky

beyond the gate

beyond the gate… another lovely sunset seen from the side gate above the main water tanks

a dash of colour

a dash of colour – dark red amongst our predominantly native evergreens

home sweet home, the house pergola swathed in colourful grapevines

The title quote, by the way, can be attributed to Ansel Adams (to whose lofty heights of photographic talent I could never hope to aspire):

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

… 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.

Season of Mists…

mistAutumn is my favourite time of year, as the weather cools but you still have warm, sunny days to enjoy outside. Nights can be chill, but there is nothing quite like snuggling under your quilt, which I find much more conducive to a good night’s rest. I am not a fan of those hot, sleepless, summer nights.

We are already starting to wake up to misty mornings, and it is definitely not getting light until quite late, which makes fitting my morning walk in before heading off to school a bit tricky.

mist over the valley

Matt seems to be finding plenty to do outside during the day, and high on his list is getting our woodpile built up again before the cold weather does hit, but he is also hoping to find a day when he can complete some repairs on our drinking water header tank which is leaking a bit.

Not today. Too windy.

Which also means that it is not a great day for trying to tidy up some of the garden beds with a bit of paper over the weeds and mulch on top of that… I tried pulling weeds, but the little darlings just regrew before I had a chance to cover up the bare earth with something ‘not weeds’.

The circular bed at the front of the house – where we planted our anniversary roses a couple of years ago – seems to be scarily short of soil over the tree roots after my zealous attempt to pull out copious quantities of grass and clover. I don’t want to import soil, but our rocky ground doesn’t have a lot to spare. I’m thinking of cutting the clover that has regrown and simply digging it back in (gently) as a ‘green manure’ and mulching over the top with dried poa grass.
Rose

The veggie patch is also in dire need of some tidying up. After a season where nearly everything either bolted or just refused to grow at all, nothing in between, the biggest success seems to be our asparagus babies which are just plodding on, and a whole pile of carrots that have self seeded everywhere!

I’m thinking that a scythe and a sheet of black plastic spread over the top of each bed is the way to go, to let it all compost over winter, ready for a bit of work come spring. I also want to work on building a better enclosure, something that surrounds the area as a whole rather than each individual bed. It has proved too difficult to work with the mini-enclosures, although they have been relatively effective in keeping wallabies, possums and goats at bay.

The early strawberries were great, but I suspect the late end of the season was too wet. That, and a cheeky burrawang who uses the wallaby- and possum- deterrent fence as a perch to spot young strawberries to thieve! At first I thought he was chasing insects and snails, but I’ve seen him fly away with a beak full of not-quite-ripe fruit several times now.

Our new raspberry plant provided a few pieces of luscious fruit, over which we all drooled as we shared out the meagre pickings. Enough to persuade me that we need to work on building up our supply of canes for next year.

The big project – a tiered garden bed above the dam – is still waiting for us to afford the tractor or ‘dozer to do the hard work of terracing the rocky hillside, but each year my vision for that changes a little and I am now imagining a quarry garden, sheltered and sunny like our front garden, lined with a vine covered glasshouse across the back and semi wild beds surrounded by a small mixed orchard.

Or, as Matt says, dream on!

 dreams of a quarry garden for our veggies, similar to the lovely shletered area atthe front of the house

In the meantime, the title quote comes from a poem (a favourite of mine) by John Keats:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

… 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

…summer’s lease hath all too short a date

Morning mist over the Valley

Morning mist over the Valley

 

Ah… summer’s end.

Okay. Not really. In fact, February has the reputation of being the hottest month around here. After the kids go back to school. So, in reality, we’re still looking at another month, or maybe two, with the potential to really heat up.

Not that this has been a hot summer, so far. Despite a couple of days back in November that were real scorchers, promises of things to come, it’s actually been quite mild.

 

We’ve celebrated a pleasantly warm and sunny Australia Day today, here at Seventy Seven Acres, but the clouds have rolled in on a cold breeze and there are hints of rain on the air again.

Such has been summer so far.

For me, however, this is it.

I’m back into work tomorrow, driving into school for the first day of a week of preparation and professional development before the students arrive next Tuesday.

It’s come as a bit of a shock. The weeks have flown by, as I’ve struggled against the weeds, got back into the swing of a regular walking habit (often in the rain), realigned my eating after a decadent Christmas, caught up on masses of reading for pleasure (and self development), and spent some time working on a couple of writing projects.

Ready to rock (almost)

Ready to rock (almost)

Last week I took a couple of days to sort out my school stuff and do a bit of a clean out, then did some serious reading, and here I am, (almost) ready to rock.

I’m looking forward to catching up with my colleagues and getting ready to welcome the children, and, as ever, I feel so privileged to be a teacher, but, somehow, this year it feels harder than ever to make the transition back from our bush paradise to the day job in the city.

I know that as I drive away tomorrow, waving goodbye to Matt and Will, there’ll be a twinge of regret to be leaving the gentle paced days that I’ve enjoyed since school broke up in December.

It’s been a pretty special summer break, with lots of visitors, from our regular ‘roo family to a sighting of a very laid back monitor that we are pretty certain has put paid to our mouse population, a leveret (baby hare) that played possum long enough for me to get a picture on my phone, an Australian shell duck that has taken up semi-permanent residence in our garden (but moves too quickly to get a decent picture of), and the maddening common koel who has at least not been as manic this year! Oh, and lots of beetles. Lots.

Beatrice and Hermione

Beatrice and Hermione

Not yet full grown...

Not yet full grown…

 

 

 

 

 

 

...a somewhat nervous visitor

…a somewhat nervous visitor

It’s still remarkably green and lush in the Valley (all our veggies bolted and the weeds have had a ball) and the air is redolent with the scent of eucalypt and damp earth. I’ll be sad to drive away.

It has been a peaceful and pleasant summer, and hath all too short a date indeed.

 

 

 

 

The title quote this time is from Shakespeare’s well known Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.