Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Magpie Story

A MAGPIE STORY

Australian Magpies are not the same as the European Magpie. We have several types in Australia, some mostly white, some mostly black.  Many people don't like Maggies. It could be their beady little eyes and hard pointed beaks, their protectiveness during nesting season and the aggressiveness that chases a boy on a bike, a goanna up a tree, or adults walking nearby. They dive at the head and shoulders and hit really hard. 


I have been attacked, and while being struck on the back with such force was frightening, I had to admire the bravery of little creature. When they think their nests are under threat the magpies are fearless.

I love their song. I love to listen to their choir practice though the demanding screeches of their young are not as melodic. They sing in harmony, all together or in groups. They sing rounds and duets and solos.


 I once lived in a house in the forest – not a forest like the three bears had, but a eucalyptus forest with an assortment of introduced trees that surrounded the house. The open veranda was a great introduction to the local wildlife. Magpies were frequent visitors and such friendly visitors, or is that pushy, that we had to keep the screen door closed to keep them out of the kitchen.


It was hard to resist throwing meat and fruit scraps out for them, especially when I saw how hardworking and patient they were with their demanding babies. The youngsters, who seem to be the same size as the group of adults who care for them, scream and squawk for food unless their beak is full. Sometimes it takes six adults - both parents, older siblings, aunties and uncles, to care for just one speckled baby.  No wonder the fast food outlet bowl of cat food, on our veranda was checked out daily.



I had a very touching experience with one magpie families. This group had been nesting near our house for several years and I’m sure I could recognise some of the individual birds. They always announced their arrival, loudly ordering food scraps and treats. Often one or two birds knocked with their beaks on the kitchen door to get my attention. This day their calling was different.

From the veranda I could see six birds standing in arc on the ground below, behind a crippled bird. It was small but all black like the adult birds. The right wing stuck out at an odd angle and the right leg was injured so the bird's body twisted to one side, trying to balance. The group ignored the toast crust I threw and one by one flew away, leaving the injured one behind, with me.

I didn't know what to do. I tried phoning the people who cared for wild birds in our area but there was no answer - this was in the early days of the local WILVOS.  I looked at the pathetic little bird. He looked back. When I went closer he moved away.  So, he was distressed - I kept my distance.

After an hour or so he decided to move. He walked away, limping. I watched and followed as he moved under the bracken and started up a steep slope, toward the nesting trees.  It was hard work for him. He pushed his way through ferns and long grass and it took him all afternoon to cover a very short distance. As it grew dark the little bird crawled into thick bladed grass and I had to leave him there. I thought about him all night.


I knew from TV documentaries that it's best not to interfere with the natural order of things. A vet once told me that touching an injured wild animal can kill it by causing extreme stress.  When I was young, and we had cracker night, people put their guinea pigs inside the house under blankets so they didn't die of fright.  I also knew the local goannas and carpet snakes saw injured birds and animals as easy prey.  It seems there is no compassion amongst animals.


The next morning I expected to find him dead or gone but the brave little fella was still there. He refused the scraps of minced meat I offered.  As the sun warmed the ground he started off again, heading up the hill to the line of trees that magpies favoured.
Again I followed at a distance.

Like a brave wounded soldier he struggled on, ignoring me unless I got too close. Finally he reached the top of the hill, and stopped, exhausted. I left water close to him and checked on him every half hour or so. He lay panting, in a bird way, occasionally lifting his head. I didn't want a goanna or the snake to find him. There was no way he get into the trees and no sign of other magpies. I got a large cardboard box and made a fence around him. I kept watch and talked to him about the trees and all the birds. At sunset he died and we buried him beside the track, under his tree.
I’ve never forgotten him.


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This Magpie rhyme comes from England.  Apparently seeing two Magpies together is lucky. I must have a lot of luck.

One for sorrow, Two for joy,
Three for a girl, Four for a boy,
Five for silver, Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Eight for a wish, Nine for a kiss

Ten for a bird that you won't want to miss.






Friday, 26 February 2016

The herb one third of us hate

CORIANDER

I love my herb garden and even have a herb salad with breakfast. I usually only grow what I know we will eat and enjoy but now and then I add something new, and I thought coriander might be interesting.

I had never tasted coriander/cilantro, but it was often referred to as Asian parsley and it looks a little like flat parsley. So, thinking it was similar to the parsley I eat daily, I bought coriander seeds.
Three months later nothing had come up so, I bought a punnet of coriander seedlings. I was persistent.
The plants thrived, to my delight, and I looked forward to having them in a salad.

I usually grow lots of parsley but recently we've had trouble with Root Knot Nematode and my parsley turned yellow, as did my few tomatoes and our ginger crop, and failed to thrive. Pulling up the affected plants revealed nasty nodes/lumps on the roots, which do not come off if you rub them. There is an invisible worm eating the root.
Nematodes, or Eel Worms, are colourless, microscopic worm like animals. Most are harmless to plants, some are even beneficial, but the Root Knot Nematode is a plant parasite. Apparently you can fumigate the soil by growing black mustard seed, and digging it in, but it's best to not grow the same crop there again.


But that's enough about miserable nematodes and back to the smelly coriander.


While browsing at our local nursery, for garden plants and lettuce, I noticed they had a special on Asian/Thai coriander, so I bought one. Thai coriander looks nothing like the parsley like common coriander. You would think it was a completely different plant, except for the smell.
The long flat leaves of Thai coriander have spikes along the sides and the nursery staff told me how to trim those off with scissors and to slice it into stews, soups,stir fries and meat dishes. They said it had a stronger flavour than the common coriander. I took my new spikey plant home and it is growing so well moved it into a bigger pot twice. I was aware that the smell from it was a little different, peppery I thought, but things don't always taste the way they smell. Today, after walking around the garden with a visitor, I decided to try some so .... and I added thin slices of half a leaf from the Thai coriander plant to our stir fry for dinner.

Well - talk about a ruined meal! 
My husband said, "This is very tasty". 
I wanted to spit it out.

Hours later the inside of my lips were still burning and I could smell it in the skin of my hands. Horrible.
So, I looked it up.....
.... and it seems that people have a love or hate reaction to coriander - similar to licorice, Brussels sprouts, vegemite, celery or gin .... you either love it or you don't. I am okay with all the above, except licorice, and now coriander. I hate it.
A scientific survey of 30,000 people identified two genetic variants linked to the taste and smell of coriander. Different people may perceive the taste of coriander leaves differently. Some say it has a refreshing, lemony or lime-like flavor, and others have a strong aversion to its taste and smell, characterizing it as soapy or rotten. I think it's just too strong, not bitter but heavy .... in the way licorice is too strong a flavour.

Apparently over 30% of people have the coriander-hating, OR6A3, gene, and it is thought to be inherited - so blame your parents.

Wikki says: 'OR6A2, lies within a cluster of olfactory-receptor genes, and encodes a receptor that is highly sensitive to aldehyde chemicals. Flavor chemists have found that the coriander aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are aldehydes. Those who dislike the taste are sensitive to the offending unsaturated aldehydes, while simultaneously may also be unable to detect the aromatic chemicals that others find pleasant. Association between its taste and several other genes, including a bitter-taste receptor, have also been found'.
People can react differently to certain smells. Nice to now it's not just me. I will stick to celery, vegemite and gin.

A little where, what, why about the herb. Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and northern Africa to southwestern Asia. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking. Coriander is common in South Asian, Southeast Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, Central Asian, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, Latin American, Brazilian, Portuguese, Chinese and African cuisines.




Thai coriander

Common coriander




Sunday, 21 June 2015

How to set a fire

HOW TO SET A FIRE  

I know setting the fire is not something everyone does these days, many people never set one during their whole lifetime. But when my grandmother, Eva, was born in 1888 everyone cooked over a wood fire, baked their bread, boiled water, heated their house, bathed children, dried hair and clothes before an open fire.  During her lifetime (until 1966) she used wood and coal fire stoves, oil, gas and eventually electricity.  She actually preferred a gas stove but mastered them all.
My Dad taught me how to set a fire when I was very young. Later on that knowledge was refreshed by instructions in a cowboy movie and though I survived over 40 years not having to set a fire, when the time came again it was like falling off a bike – sadly I’ve never been very good a riding bikes, I'm much better at fire setting.

The science of setting a fire is to get the flames under the wood. If you throw in a log with a few bits of newspaper on top you won’t get a good fire.
The instructions below explain how I set a fire in a steel firebox but would work in almost any fireplace.

You will need;
TINDER – dry fire starting material like newspaper, old phone books, dry grass/hay, dead leaves, dry tree bark, and twigs.
KINDLING – sticks, smaller than your thumb and some cardboard or heavy paper.
WOOD – sticks bigger than your thumb or larger pieces split open.
LOGS – dry wood from bigger than you thumb up to the any size you can fit into your fire space.
TOOLS – a small shovel, brush and tin bucket to clean out ash, a poker to move burning wood if necessary, heavy gloves for handling splintery or burning wood, a fire lighter or matches.

SAFETY – make sure the chimney is cleaned at the beginning of winter.  
Check your firebox for cracks, rust and crumbling fire bricks.  
Make sure other wood and extra paper is in a container at least a metre from the fire site, you don’t need two fires.  
Keep clothing or damp washing and towels ‘a metre from the heater' – as recommended by our fire service officers.

1 – Open the flue.

2 – Clean the glass door, if you are using a firebox.  Clean out the old ash. A new fire will burn onthe fire in a pan.  If lighting a fire outside you could dig a shallow hole, as a pan, and surround it with rocks, in an open fireplace a single line of bricks across the front holds the fire and in a steel fire box, like we have in our house, there is usually a shallow pan shape formed by fireproof bricks inside.
top of old ash, and a shallow layer is good, but I like to have

3 – Lay a base of cardboard or thick paper (not glossy) or thin bark.   Save cardboard boxes from cereal, crackers etc. A cereal box flattened makes a good base as do cardboard egg cartons, non-glossy magazines, old bank statements, bills, advertising brochures and other junk mail.  Paper will do if nothing else but cardboard, or heavy paper, burns slower.  Junk mail and envelopes inside a large used envelope or paper bag makes a good base for a fire, but not too thick.

4 – Put kindling on top of the base - scrunched up newspaper and parcels of dry leaves, very small sticks and twigs wrapped in newspaper.  Use twisted newspaper to make a ‘wick’ from front to back of the fire box, so that when you light it later it will burn into the middle of the space.

5 – Lay small sticks across the top of the kindling in a criss-cross pattern to allow air movement between the pieces.  Air is fuel for the fire.  The fire box should be about half full.

6 – Now we are up to the real wood. Select some sticks bigger than your thumb but not as big around as your arm.  Lay two or three of these bigger sticks across the top of the pile of the smaller sticks and stand about 8 or 10 more in front of the fire, leaning back on top of the kindling pile i making sure your newspaper ‘wicks’ poke through to the front. Ir this was a camp fire the standing sticks would be in tepee form around the kindling.

So now the fire is ‘set’ and ready to go. 
Light the fire by touching your lighter to the four wicks and stand back, or close the door if you have a glass door firebox.  You should see the fire burning through the paper underneath the bigger wood.

As the kindling burns the pile will collapse and you can add more of the larger sticks and finally the logs. From here on you need some intuition as every fire is different.

If you get a lot of black smoke try opening the door a little.  A little cool air going into the fire box helps to draw the smoke up the chimney.

Close the flue half way when the fire is burning well.

When the large sticks are glowing you can add bigger and bigger logs. The fire will eventually become glowing logs with a few flames and you will feel the heat radiating from the firebox.


Close the flue all the way and add logs as needed.