Things I found in my pantry

Common Crow

When I’m on maternity leave, I clean out my pantry. I do not, as a rule, clean out my pantry at any other time. You may think to yourself that this does not sound like a particularly good idea, and indeed, you would be correct.

Recently I had a baby and subsequently in accordance with my innate biological instincts, I spent a day cleaning out the pantry. I found a number of things.

1. Dead moths. In a past life, or possibly this one, I committed some terrible sin against the pantry moth species (Plodia interpunctella, as I just discovered), and as a result they have been hounding me ever since. Moving into my flour, lurking beneath tins and generally making pests of themselves. I bloody hate pantry moths. You may think to yourself, “perhaps if she cleaned her pantry more regularly than once a decade, she wouldn’t have such a problem with pantry moths”. I will thank you to keep such indubitably correct thoughts to yourself.

2. A box containing a set of rather nice mugs that I received as a gift several years ago. Surprise! This made me feel like a rather ungrateful person, but I have now washed them and have been enjoying morning coffee in them. They’re great mugs!

3. Hey, I own a fondue set! I should make fondue!
(This is obviously never going to happen and I will be surprised all over again by the fondue set the next time I clean out the pantry).

4. A rusting can of “Steak and Onion” something or other that I distinctly remember moving with, probably because I thought at the time, “why do I own a can of Steak and Onion Something Or Other?” Alarmingly, I have lived in this house for eight and a half years. The can looked both suspiciously old and quite disgusting, and into the bin it went.

5. A jar of Bovril that my husband bought for reasons known only to himself. Its expiry date was in 2010. Wikipedia describes Bovril revoltingly as a “thick, salty meat extract”. When told that I had thrown it away, my husband declared indignantly that Bovril doesn’t go off, it’s like Vegemite. I am pretty sure that thick salty meat extracts do indeed go off, but I wasn’t willing to open the lid to find out for sure.

6. A very elderly sweet potato grimly trying to grow and propagate on the bottom shelf. Give it up, little potato, that’s never going to work.

7. Four different brands of caramel syrup. Whyyyy.

8. Three bottles of blue food colouring, two of which are unopened. So I guess I thought I needed blue food colouring on at least two different occasions, bought a new bottle, discovered the already opened one, then added the new bottle to the depths of the pantry.

Thankfully the pantry is a lot tidier now, and has no resident moths. (For now). And as thrilling as it is to unearth foodstuffs that expired 6 years previously, in future I’m going to consider the radical step of no longer linking my cleaning schedule to my reproductive system.

Noisy friarbird

Withered

Each day when the husband parks his car, a noisy friarbird flutters down and perches on the side-mirror, overfilled with delight to see its beloved reflection again. It sings, swings acrobatically around the mirror, flutters over to the other side of the car to the other mirror and joyfully realises – oh! you’re here as well! It’s probably not the healthiest behaviour for a bird, but it’s rather sweet to watch. It likes to spend some of the day perched companionably on top of one of the mirrors, chirping away to itself, and occasionally defecating on the car (much to the husband’s irritation).

The last fire

We used to have a possum living in the chimney of our wood heater. We coexisted happily for a few years, the possum scraping and banging each evening as it levered its fat bottom out of the narrow confines of the chimney to explore the night, and grumpily vacating the chimney for the month or so during winter when we actually lit fires.

My mother flew down right before my due date, almost two years ago now, so that she could spend some time with us when Edward was born. The afternoon was chilly and we decided to light a fire. “The possum will head out when I light it,” I said breezily, although I felt a bit guilty booting the nocturnal possum out of its comfortable hidey hole into the daylight. When I set the fire and lit it, smoke billowed back into the room. It tends to do that when the chimney is blocked with possum. I coughed, banged on the side of the chimney to alert the possum, and blew on the fire. The flames caught and started licking at the kindling. The room became smokier. The possum started coughing.

Mum and I dithered. “It’ll move upwards in a minute,” I said, and we stood there waiting. The possum started coughing more loudly, and started scrabbling against the metal of the chimney. I couldn’t tell what direction it was heading in. As the smoke billowing into the house was showing no signs of abating, I decided to cancel the idea of a cosey afternoon fire. This is a bit easier said than done, particularly because I was worried about the possum and didn’t want to create even more smoke by pouring water on the fire. We were now dashing about in a flustered manner, and Mum shovelled the fire into the little bucket I used to transfer the cold ashes out of the heater. We were standing there listening to the possum’s coughs, trying to figure out if it was moving out of the chimney, when I glanced down and realised that the bucket was on fire. “Mum! Mum! The bucket is melting!” Mum grabbed the flaming melting bucket and galloped out of the house with it. I waddled out after her. We were both in fits of slightly hysterical laughter.

When we came back into the house, the possum had stopped coughing. “I hope it’s alright,” we said guiltily to each other. “Yes, I’m sure it’s alright.” My labour began later that evening, apparently induced by fits of laughter. The possum wasn’t alright, as we later discovered, and the husband spent a while during one of our very sleep-deprived early days with Edward removing its dead body from the chimney while Mum and I solemnly contemplated our new status as possum murderers. We had to break rather a lot of the insulating tiles in the heater to remove the possum’s body and with our usual speedy attention to matters of house maintenance we haven’t yet replaced them. The recent cooler weather brought the heater to mind, and I remembered the poor dead possum and shrieking with laughter with Mum in the garden as we smothered the flaming bucket. We should really get around to replacing those tiles. It would be nice to have a fire again.

Flowing water

It has been raining heavily on and off for the past two days, and poured overnight. The lower dam has flooded its banks again, spreading into a small lake in the backyard, and all day a steady stream of water has been rushing down the driveway and the gutters towards it. Our house is down a slope hidden from the main road, which unfortunately in wet weather means that a great deal of water rushes towards and, ideally, around the house, towards the lower dam. Unfortunately in my experience drainage rarely conforms to an ideal, and inevitably the area under the house gathers water and turns into a little clay pit, waiting for an unsuspecting pedestrian to sink their be-thonged foot into its sticky depths.

I have been inspired into various cleaning and organising tasks, prompted presumably by my pregnancy, which has now reached its halfway mark. I have been tackling the Chair of Doom, the place where for some reason I have chosen to file all our bills, tax related papers and receipts for the past two years. It is a horrid chair, but it is now mostly emptied, its contents either thrown away or filed (actually in a filing cabinet this time).

Every time the rain stops it sounds as if a dozen water features have been installed outside, water rushing down drains and trickling out of tank overflows. The chooks are hunched in a resigned fashion on their perch, waiting for a little sunshine to dry out their pen, and as dusk falls the frog chorus has started, the “bop bop bop” sound of the pobblebonks joining the longer calls of frogs I don’t know, and the occasional croaking of toads.

First day

We came back from five days visiting family in Melbourne and spent some time together in the garden over the past few days – mowing, pulling out fallen fences and ripping up lantana. This year will bring so many changes for us and I think we both feel the impetus to organise and arrange the property. And remove lantana, that bloody stuff. At least it has fairly shallow roots, its one saving grace.

We started the new year eating croissants, and then trying to pull the ute bullbar back into position after I had a little disagreement with a concrete post. We were mostly successful, and I am determined to stay away from concrete posts this year. They’re no good for me. Or the car. And that should be a nice easy resolution to keep.

Alphabetical

There seems to be a basic instinct in all young children who visit our house to make high pitched screeching noises and run after the cats, who roll their eyes and belt in the opposite direction. Ella was a bit shy when she came to visit us last weekend in our unfamiliar house, but that didn’t stop her from engaging in a bit of cat chasing.

Each time we have children come to stay I realise how very un-child proof our house is. It felt terribly unfair to constantly tell Ella not to do things, so on Sunday morning Naomi and I lolled around on the couch and watched Ella methodically pull books off the bookshelves and hand them to us triumphantly. I took the opportunity to re-alphabetise my fiction, which might seem like a pointless sort of thing to do, but when you have a lot of books and your husband is moping around the living room asking for something to read, it makes it easier to locate one of the two or three authors he likes to read.

Ella also quite liked the chooks, who followed her around as she toddled about in her very tough little bare feet. I feel that I’ve done a good job socialising these chooks – they follow me around the garden, put themselves away at night, and lay lots of eggs. I have been rewarding them with rotten strawberries. Best chook parent ever, that’s me.

Scritch, scratch

Last night I was sitting at my laptop, while ostensibly supervising some spaghetti cooking on the stove (my last two attempts at cooking gluten free spaghetti had resulted in nasty sludgey texture, so I was trying to take more care with the cooking process this time) when I heard the possum that lives in the chimney rattling around, as it does most evenings when it heads up to the roof and out to rampage around. Yes, I know it’s odd that it lives in the chimney, but I suppose it’s dark and protected, and for most of the year it’s unused. Given that we live in a semi-tropical area. But whenever it gets chilly and we light fires, it doesn’t seem to bother the possum. Maybe it’s addicted to wood smoke.

Anyway, I began to half listen to an irritating sort of scratching noise, which I ignored while nurturing a simmering annoyance at the cats, who seem to spend their time either sleeping or destroying something. I presumed they were busily destroying something and ignored the noise, but it persisted. I looked up to find a rather fat possum wedged behind the glass door of the wood heater, sitting on a partially charred log, and scratching hopefully at the glass. Horace was standing in front of the heater with his head to one side, looking slightly bemused.

We had seen the possum in the wood heater once before, so I presumed it would make its way up the chimney again. I went and stirred the spaghetti and sat down at the laptop again. The possum stared at me, unmoving. I felt a bit self conscious. I went and flapped my hand at it through the glass, hoping to frighten it up into the chimney again, but it continued to gaze mournfully at me. I drained the spaghetti, which had cooked perfectly for a change. I think it depends on the batch you get – well, that sounds better than blaming my slapdash cooking method, anyway.

Eventually the husband returned to the house, and I showed him with the wood heater, now with all new possum resident. We looked at the possum. The possum looked at us. We wondered what the possum would do if we let it out into the house, and decided it probably wouldn’t get on with the cats.

We ended up forming a little tunnel out of a sheet we held up between the heater and the back door, and then we slowly opened the door to the wood heater. The possum hopped down, and slowly waddled off out the door, its dignity somewhat bruised, its fur covered in soot. Hopefully it will go and find itself a slightly more suitable new home. We ate our spaghetti. The cats went to sleep. And all was right with the world.

Bubbles

I have learnt several lessons this weekend. Never introduce a three and a half year old child to whoopee cushions. Never give her stickers and glitter and crayons and tell her to play on the floor. Never open up a “Make Your Own Ballerina Doll” kit that cost $5 and has been in the back of the cupboard for years – there’s a reason it cost $5, and it involves sewing. I sewed the most misshapen Frankenstein-like ballerina doll ever, apparently designed to strike fear into the hearts of all around it, and the three and half year old politely declined to take it with her. “I think it won’t fit in my bag,” she said awkwardly, holding her empty backpack.

We played Dominion for the first time, which is (once we got the hang of it) a really fun and fast card based game. And incredibly popular, I see from the internet. I won twice. I am victorious. I also mastered the art of flopping the baby over my shoulder until he fell asleep, and then performing an elaborately silent ritual of slowly lowering him into the couch without waking him up. A skill for the CV, that one. He twitched and murmured in his sleep while we noisily played Dominion next to him, probably dreaming milky dreams.

But no pyramids

Sometimes the daughter of one of my friends says jokingly, in the tone of a much put-upon teenager, “Oh, why can’t I come and move in with you?” I generally respond with something like, “You’d hate it. We’re too messy. And yesterday I found a mummified rat in the couch.”

I accidentally sucked the mummified rat up with the vacuum, and when it lodged in the hose I had to remove it by the little string of bones that was all that remained of its tail. Then I shrieked a bit and went and washed my hands 20 times.

The couch is in our granny flat, which is a shed and not exactly rat-proof (in case that piece of information makes the existence of a mummified rat less horrifying). We were cleaning it out prior to visitors coming to stay. Nothing gives a warm welcome like the absence of mummified rat, that’s what I always say. It’s something people always comment on. “What a beautiful view from the verandah,” they say, “and what a lovely absence of mummified rat. It’s very striking.”

Some friends came to stay the night, with their chatty toddler (who criticised my bird drawing skills – “I think both the wings are ‘sposed to look the same“), and their four month old baby, who is in the ‘rolls of fat and enormous head’ stage of development. He is terribly cute, and spent this morning sitting on my lap gazing with serious frowning concentration at the cats, the bacon on the breakfast table, and a moth. They all headed further north today, where we’ll join them next weekend, and we promptly collapsed in exhaustion from being in the mere vicinity of children. Well, it’s more the staying up late to talk to their parents and then waking up at the same time as the children which tends to exhaust, rather than their mere presence. I need to get the hang of going to bed earlier if there’s a baby-alarm-clock the next morning.

Pineapple

New to this week’s box of local fruit and vegies were a beetroot, some celery, and a pineapple!

Pineapple

Cat not included. Shortly after this photograph was taken, Horace knocked the pineapple off the bench onto the floor while trying to eat the leaves, was roundly scolded, and went off to sulk on the lounge.

The beetroot and pumpkin are going to be roasted and put into salads, and I’m trying to think of something vaguely inventive to do with the sweet potatoes. I’m still eating last week’s potato and sweet potato soup, which due to using purple sweet potatoes is a slightly unappetising purple/grey colour, and is also so thick that the term “soup” doesn’t really apply. It does taste good though – its saving grace.