Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Don't Count Your Chickens

Ever since I was little, I have entertained the idea of owning chickens.  I dreamed of the rustic romance of being able to look out my kitchen window and see hens peacefully grazing on my back lawn and longed to collect their fresh, warm eggs in the mornings to make into fresh, warm omelettes for my breakfast.

Years passed and for various reasons I remained henless, although my partner, Giuseppe, and I often talked about acquiring three or so chickens. Our luck changed a fortnight ago, however, when our neighbour came knocking at our door one afternoon when I was out. She explained to Giuseppe that she was desperately seeking some adoptive parents for her mum’s three hens since her elderly mother had suddenly decided to return to her birthplace in Europe to live out her days. Neither my neighbour nor any of her siblings had either the space or the inclination to maintain these birds. Thrilled with this offer, which so serendipitously aligned with our little dream, my partner promptly accepted and immediately went to collect the chickens.

When I came home, Giuseppe was not inside the house but this did not surprise me as he often retreats to the backyard to tend to his vegetable patch and to hide from me. What I didn’t know was that what he was actually doing in the backyard was rounding up three newly acquired chickens into their new home in our garden shed. I glanced up from the kitchen window and observed the most extraordinary sight: there was Giuseppe hurdling over the vegetable patch at breakneck speed, brandishing a broom in one hand. I had not glanced up in time to see that there was a chicken about a metre in front of the broom. I went outside to assess his sanity just as he was successfully putting the last hen into the shed.

‘What a fantastic surprise!’ I squealed. ‘Not only are you not insane, but we’ve finally got our chickens!’ 

‘It’s great, isn’t it?’ he replied. ‘Now you’ll be able to have your warm eggs for breakfast like you’ve always dreamed of!’

Ah, the sweet words of optimism of the inexperienced …

During the week following our great Avian Acquisition, the pandemonium of parenthood took over our lives and we more or less forgot what the main purpose for our procuring the chickens had actually been.  That was until one afternoon when my son came in from playing outside and announced: 

‘Mummy, I think those chickens are just pretending to be chickens’.

‘Why’s that?’ I asked.

‘Because they don’t lay any eggs’, he said, a look of bewilderment and disappointment clouding his face.
 I considered this for a moment and realised it was true. They did not lay any eggs. But how could this be?

‘They must be hiding somewhere’, I concluded, ‘Let’s go and have a really good look’.

So off we went looking high and low, under the eggplants, the gooseberry bush and the weeds near the back fence, a bit like an Easter egg hunt without the chocolate. And , as it turned out, without the eggs. 

That night, I whinged about the situation to Giuseppe:

‘We’ve been tricked’, I moaned. ‘These chickens are too old to lay eggs; they’re menopausal’.

‘They’re not menopausal’, he laughed. ‘It’s just that it’s too cold at the moment. When it warms up again they’ll start laying’.

‘How has that got anything to do with anything?’ I griped. ‘I still manage to ovulate in winter!’

‘Yes, but you don’t sleep in the garden shed’, he replied.

I pursued the argument no further for fear that it might finish with him stating that he wished that I did.

Several more days went by and although I coaxed them lovingly and cajoled them with organic vegetable treats and the crème de la crème of chicken grain and despite Giuseppe spoiling them Italian-style by cooking them vast quantities of pasta to warm their bellies, they stubbornly stuck fast to their resolution to not provide one single warm egg. I thought back to this time last year when, unbeknown to me, I was several weeks pregnant and frantically trying to finish over one hundred school reports, refining the fine art of communicating to a rather large percentage of my students’ parents, in sugar-coated code, that their offspring were lazy or insolent or both. For example, ‘restless’ was code for ‘she can’t sit still for more than 30 whole seconds together’; ‘his overall results do not reflect his ability’ was code for ‘he hardly picked up a pen all semester’, while ‘somewhat disorganised’ was teacher-speak for ‘he never even brought a pen to class’.

So in the spirit of this time of year, I mentally composed appropriate report comments for the three newest members of our family:

I left the above-posted photographs (comments attached) open on the computer yesterday afternoon and my son came home from school and saw it. He studied it in silence for about a minute then, drawing on his extensive experience of eavesdropping on my conversations, said:

‘Mummy, are you going expel the chickens?’

‘Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary’, I smiled. ‘I’m just going to whisper to them that I know a really, really good recipe for roast chook’.

P.S for anyone else who has chickens who have difficulty following instructions, here is the recipe:

Lime Stuffed Chicken


50g butter
2 shallots, chopped
1 cup cooked rice
¼ cup chopped coriander
¼ cup of roasted cashews, chopped
Grated zest of two limes
Juice of one lime, plus two limes, halved
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg
1 whole chicken
1 tbsp olive oil


     1.  Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat

     2.   Cook shallots for 2 minutes until soft. Transfer to bowl

     3.   Add rice, parsley, coriander, cashew, lime zest and juice, spice powder, ginger and egg. Mix   
         well. Season to taste

     4.   Preheat oven to 200°C or 180°C fan forced

     5.   Wash and pat dry chicken inside and out

     6.   Spoon stuffing into cavity and tie bird’s legs together to secure. Place in a roasting pan and drizzle with 
         olive oil. Season well

     7.   Roast chicken for thirty minutes. Reduce oven to 180°C or 160°C fan and roast for another hour

     8.   Scatter around lime halves and roast for another ten minutes or until juices run clear when a skewer 
         is inserted into the thickest part

     9.   Cover loosely with foil and let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving

Monday, 10 June 2013

How to Look a Million Dollars

We all know it’s hard to look your best (or anything close to it) in those weeks and months postpartum. For a start, you’re lucky if you can get five consecutive minutes to undergo a basic ablution strategy before you head out the door, let alone another five to fix up your face and comb out that naughty little dreadlock that’s been secretly knotting itself since you misplaced your hairbrush god knows how long ago. And then there’s the simple fact that absolutely none of your clothes fit properly anymore; your pregnancy ones make you look like you’re five years old dressing up in mummy’s clothes all over again and if you do manage to jiggle and squeeze into your pre-pregnancy pants,  you risk never being able to get back out of them again. All of a sudden, you have to learn how to dress yourself with one hand and if you succeed in actually going out into the Big Wide World with only one remnant of vom, poo or gloop down your front, you’re doing very well indeed.

Since the birth of my daughter, I have had several fashion misadventures. You’d think I would have picked up a few tips the first time I had a baby, especially after the unforgettable afternoon when my son was just a couple of weeks old and my in-laws took his dad and me out to lunch in a fancy restaurant. One would think that fancy restaurant would equal fancy dress. At least that’s what I thought at the time – or maybe I was just so happy that fancy dress actually fitted me that I forgot to think.  

Halfway through our meal, my breastfed baby awoke, ravenously hungry. I suddenly realised I had a bit of a dilemma on my hands. I know that breastfeeding is completely natural and every woman has a legal right to breastfeed her baby wheresoever she may choose, but I’m not so sure that the right extends to doing it in a fancy restaurant with your dress pulled right over your head! I spent the next half hour sitting on the loo in the restaurant’s bathroom doing just that. Why didn’t anyone tell me I wouldn’t be able to wear a dress for at least six months after becoming a mother? Or is that one of those facts that comes under the heading of ‘common sense’ and which, therefore, I was never going to be privy to?

But nearly nine years later, it seems I’m still not very good at dressing myself. Several weeks ago, I decided it was high time I went for a walk. I went digging around in my wardrobe for my sneakers, but surfaced empty handed. I rummaged under the bed, but all I found was one dirty sock, one of last year’s newspapers, a teaspoon and a toothbrush. Don’t ask; I don’t know. Exasperated, I decided to locate my tracksuit pants instead, hoping the shoes would present themselves in the meantime. I looked again in my wardrobe, then in my son’s wardrobe, in the very bottom of the washing basket and even in the garage. No tracksuit pants. I was rapidly losing motivation for this walk. With my last glimmer of hope, I searched for something to cover my top half that would be both comfortable enough and warm enough. I hunted under the sofa and under the bed in the spare room, I dismantled the linen cupboard and upended the ancient clothes stored away in my suitcase. That’s right, you know it- no warm, comfy top to be found.

At this point, you may be excused for wondering, as was I, how long exactly had it been since I last went for a walk??

With diehard determination, I resolved that desperate times called for desperate measures: I grabbed my partner’s baggy tracksuit pants, threw on his oversized hoodie and donned his pair of black sneakers (two sizes too long and about three too wide). I buckled my baby into the pram and ventured into the Big Wide World …

In the midst of all this havoc, I had completely forgotten that most people usually brush their hair before leaving the house. The idea that my head might resemble a bird’s nest never even occurred to me until I passed two yummy mummies walking towards me at a rate of about four times the pace of my leisurely stroll. They were clad in tight, bright lycra and their ponytails swang back and forth as they bounced along the path, rays of Autumn sunlight radiating from their glossy tresses.

‘Morning!’ I greeted them with solidarity.

They sized me up from me bird’s nest to my oversized booties and back again, then mumbled something incoherent before bouncing away in the other direction.

When I arrived home, my son, who had not been home when I left, gave me the exact same look.

‘No offence’, he said slowly (don’t you love that schoolyard disclaimer, that indication that whatever comes next is going to be highly offensive indeed?).

‘No offence mummy’, he repeated, ‘but you look like a man!’  


Fervently resolved to not appear man-like for his sake, I put on a skirt and a pretty pink top to go and pick him up from school a few days later. Usually he would catch the bus, but that particular afternoon I needed to pick him up myself. When I do go up for the school run, it’s usually an uneventful procedure and no-one really talks or even looks at me at all. This day was rather different, however, as it was the first time I’d taken his baby sister with me. Nothing draws attention like a 4 kilo baby in a teeny weeny dress.

The unexpected social interaction was quite uplifting and when we got home, I was smiling away to myself. But that smile was quick to dissolve when my son suddenly looked at me aghast and said:

‘Mum! Why are you wearing your top inside out?’! 

Oh, what a blighted co-incidence that I should happen to pay such little attention to detail on the one day that some other mothers were actually talking to me! 


I had all but given up hope of ever looking respectable in public again, when something miraculous happened: I made another of my rare school pick up trips. It was quite run-of-the- mill really, but when we got back to the car, my son announced seriously ‘Mum, you look really important today’.

‘Do I?’ I replied, amazed (I am wearing a pair of jeans that are almost as old as my son himself, a weathered pair of black shoes I bought from Big W for $15 and a plain black jumper I got at the same bargain boutique for even less). I am, however:

1. Not sporting a bird’s nest upon my head

2    2. Not dressed as a man

3    3. Wearing all my garments in the direction they were intended to be worn

‘Yeah’, he nods sincerely, ‘You look like you could be the Prime Minister or something!’

So ladies, take note, forget the salon, the day spa and the shopping spree. All you need to do is stay in the house for a month or so in your raggiest pyjamas with greasy, fuzzy hair, then one day, surprise the family by having a proper shower and scrub, wash and brush out the bird’s nest, dress in whatever you like (so long as it’s female daytime wear applied correctly) and you’ll feel like a million dollars. Or perhaps even a Prime Minister …

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Shopping Shambles

Ask any expert what the secret to a successful relationship is and they’ll tell you it’s communication. This is nothing new; everyone from the pop psychologist to the parish priest has been proclaiming it for as long as I can remember. It appears, however, that my partner and I like to learn things the hard way …

Now I’ve never heard any mother of a new bub actually say they enjoy going to the supermarket, but I’m lucky enough to have a very enthusiastic partner who willingly goes solo. All I have to do is write a list and off he trots. Unfortunately, enthusiasm aside, the list gets used only as a ‘rough guide’ to the things we might want around the house, rather than an indication of the items I require to compile the recipes I want to make over the coming week or of the articles necessary for maintaining our existence.

One week, for example, I unpacked the shopping to discover that, among other things, he had not bought the parmesan cheese. His justification was that it wasn’t on special that week.

“Well you don’t seem to have any qualms about devouring enormous chunks of it when it is on special”, I huffed.

Despite being thrifty at times to the point of infuriation, he also has a tendency to offset his frugality with impulse purchases. These have been known to include: DVDs we will never watch; toys that break the first time they are used and half a dozen blocks of Cadbury chocolate, because they were on “super special”.

“They were on super special”, I informed him wryly, “because their expiry date is tomorrow”.

“That’s okay”, he replied cheerfully, “we’ll just have to eat them all tonight!”

But most annoyingly of all is when I discover items are missing because he was “in a hurry”. I can understand this under some circumstances, but not when the products in question are somewhat essential. Like milk and washing powder. And toilet paper.  Now I can be reasonably patient and resourceful when I try and can work around not having milk and washing powder for a few days, but toilet paper?!? It was when an overnight visit from my parents coincided with a complete absence of toilet paper in our household that I resolved that it was definitely time for a revolution.

The revolution came in the form of online grocery shopping. When I considered its various advantages, I couldn’t believe I had never done it before. Nobody could call me a fan of technology, but the online version would not only allow me to completely avoid traffic, trollies, prams, parking and untimely encounters with my former students or worse, their parents, it would also ensure that I ended up with all the items on my shopping list and eliminate all impulse purchases. It would also save my partner a couple of hours every week and would significantly reduce the ensuing arguments we have on a regular basis regarding the vast abyss between the items on my list and what actually goes through the checkout.  Moreover, it would save my daughter from getting really cranky with me if I tried to take her with me and, with the help of the website’s ‘search’ button, I could almost instantly locate a slightly obscure ingredient, rather than wandering up and down the aisles for three quarters of an hour searching for it. Physical shopping suddenly seemed so passé.

In preparation for my first virtual trip down the online aisles, I wrote a list and just after midnight, I sat down at the computer in my uggboots, pyjamas and a face mask (I couldn’t get away with that in front of my students’ parents now could I?). It would be a tremendous surprise for my partner when he came home from work the following afternoon; there would be no need to go out again after a hard day’s work. He could put his feet up and relax as the truck delivered the groceries to our front door and all I had to do was unpack them. He would extol me for being so ingenious and perhaps we could even use those hours that he now didn’t have to spend at the supermarket doing something nice together, like talking to and looking at each other.  As I switched off the computer an hour later, feeling more satisfied than I had in a long time, I could never have anticipated what would actually transpire …

Just after lunch that same day, the delivery van pulled up. The driver carried the bags right into the kitchen for me and didn’t seem to care at all that I was still in mu uggboot and pyjama outfit (minus the facemask). I had just started to unpack the contents when my partner pulled up in the driveway. I had expected him a couple of hours beforehand, but he works a sporadic schedule, so I wasn’t too surprised. He bounced out of the car, beaming.

‘I’ve got a surprise for you!” I announced, beaming back.

‘I’ve got one for you too!’ he exclaimed, and before I could tell him mine, he continued:

‘I picked up the shopping list you left next to the computer this morning and I’ve been to the supermarket already and this time”, he declared triumphantly, ‘I got everything on the list!’