Thursday, March 21, 2013

new chicks on the block

I am a proud mother hen of around three weeks. We have settled the girls into their new home, at the coop within the EcoGarden at our local neighbourhood centre.

Neighbourhood centres are a bit fab. Ours is set in a little community hub complex, nearby a preschool, long day care centre, community health centre, youth centre and mental health outreach. What a great place! I went there last year to attend a weekend organic gardening course, got chatting to another lady, we discovered the unused coop and the plans began. We are both in positions where keeping chickens at home isn't possible right now, so taking out a lease of the EcoGarden's chicken coop presented an ideal solution.

The rainy Friday arrived for me to collect our 12-week-old pullets from the breeder, who does a regular off-the-back-of-the-truck (literally) order and pickup through a produce store a little way from home. I stood in the fat plopping rain, waiting in line with my rapidly-soaking cardboard box. I laughed nervously as the farmer put my twelve ordered ladies in the box, couldn't help but think how undignified it was to hold them by the feet! The reality of caring for real, actual livestock struck me when I picked up my heavy, warm, life-filled box, only to smear chicken shit all over the front of my shirt.

Three weeks on, the girls are growing, enjoying a range of kitchen scraps and becoming used to small children in gumboots. They are getting named as time goes on, the white one with caramel is called Butterscotch, one of the black ones has been called Shadow Hen, I picked the greyish one as Ethel, one of the red ones is Rosie, and my little guy has named the fattest black hen Larry.

We visit daily to check their food, water and clean what needs cleaning. The kids are so very enamoured with the whole thing. We are all learning so much. I am already deeply affected by seeing the range of activities undertaken by the girls throughout the day. Connecting my new understanding and respect for chooks with choices I make when shopping for eggs (only for a little while longer!) and chicken meat is quite confronting. But so very worthwhile.
Rosie wonders...'Who IS this awkward bird?'

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

when Joe was Giuseppe

When I first left school, I studied a year of a Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University. It was the most interesting year of my life, learning Philosophy, Anthropology and Linguistics in dusty halls and roaming through sandstone archways entrenched in history and tradition. I was enamoured with the work of Margaret Mead, watching people of traditional, untouched cultures.

It wasn't until I stood pressing roasted tomatoes through a mouli over the weekend that the almost forgotten lessons of that year had a personal reality for me. I have no idea if my family of previous generations made passata this way. Probably not, as I took the recipe from the internet. I love hearing about the house that my mum grew up in, with Nonna and Uncle Hugo and the chickens and the veggie patch in the suburbs. But the stories could be from any family, really. A work of fiction.

My self is missing that piece. The piece that speaks loud, passionate, musical Italian. The piece that welcomes a family to the table for a long Sunday lunch with too much food and plenty of wine. My great-grandfather came to Australia from the tiny southern Italian island of Lipari, before the turn of the last century, as a fourteen-year old, with his family. Do I really have a right to lament the loss of a culture left behind more than a hundred years ago? Is it reasonable to believe that language and traditions could have continued over that time, throughout all the changes of our Australian social landscape? Do I have the right to feel ripped off that I have to refer to Jamie Oliver or Stephanie Alexander to learn to make fresh pasta and passata?

After all, for my ancestors, this was a choice. They left their home, packed up their family, and took a long trip over the seas to a new life.

With my grandfather-in-law's passing last year, knowledge circulated that he had been proud to discover his own lost Aboriginal heritage. Very little is known as his grandmother was of the Stolen Generation. Whisked away from her language and traditions and given new ones, by force. She passed on her beautiful skin that has paled over the generations, to the point of almost disappearing. I lament the loss of her stories, her language and her traditions in the same way that I lament my missing Italian piece. I am strongly drawn to researching my family histories. I want to travel to the places that my childrens' ancestors came from.

So what are a couple of people with cultural chunks missing to do, when confronted with the heavy task of instilling culture and heritage into three small, bright, incredible children? Well, we shall have to just make it up as we go along. We will, and do, choose the ideals and values we hold most true(because even when language and cultural tokens have long gone, these remain) and use them as a point of reference for all that we do. We will continue the beautiful traditions shown to us by our parents and grandparents, like cheese and bikkies with afternoon tea, or working with timber to make beautiful things, or going fishing, or playing canasta, without concern about their cultural authenticity. We shall build our own traditions, like lighting fires to toast marshmallows in the backyard on Saturday nights, or cooking a late barbeque breakfast after nippers, or making pizza on Friday nights.

And we will continue to search for the stories of our past. Because they matter. I will do my best to find out all I can to help my babies understand their role in one of the world's richest and most endangered cultures. I will continue to dream about climbing uneven stairs to a cottage at the top of a seaside village in Lipari, as I do exactly that, walking home from the school run many, many kilometres away.

Now, who would like to come to our home for Sunday lunch? There will be too much food and plenty of wine.

Monday, March 4, 2013

nourish: sugar-free, dairy-free ice cream

I've been inspired by recipes around the internets for 'ice cream' using frozen bananas, or coconut milk. Trialling our littlest poppet on an A1 beta-casein free diet (well that's specific, isn't it?) has worked a treat in the rashy-skin, ear-infection department, but led to no joy in the treat department.

I like to give my kids ice cream. Because I love them with food sometimes. So I had a go at making some frozen goodness that wouldn't send my little one into an itchy mess.

I give you:

Banana-strawberry-mango Coconut 'Ice Cream'

In a food processor, I whizzed 3 ripe bananas, a nice punnet of strawberries, the flesh of two mangoes, a 400ml can of coconut milk* and some honey to taste- about a tablespoon.
I poured the mixture into some muffin tins, then popped in the freezer to set.
Back into the blender to whizz the frozen mix into smooth, creaminess.

*Full-fat coconut cream would have been even better, I think. Or better yet, the coconut fat collected from the top of an unshaken can of coconut cream, especially if you aren't using banana.

2 out of 3 children approved of this recipe. Thankfully one of them was the dairy-free kid.


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