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Keeping backyard chooks

A lot of people ask me if it is hard keeping chooks in the suburban backyard –  it’s not at all, and really no different to any other pet.  It has also been very good for the Small People to see that produce doesn’t come in a box or bag in the supermarket.  And of course there is the added benefit of the fresh eggs, with an obvious taste difference.  I particularly also notice the difference in the thickness of the egg whites, they whip like a dream when I am making a cake or biscuits.

I’m by no means a chicken expert, but I’ve learnt quite a lot in the months we’ve had our girls and also done a good bit of reading, so here’s a bit of a guide.

Buying chickens and different breeds

You usually either buy baby chicks (under six weeks old or so), or “pullets” (under a year old, they officially become “hens” after their first birthday).  If you buy a baby chick note that you need to keep them indoors and with a heat lamp, they can move outside to a coop after they are six weeks old.   If you want to buy a number of chooks, try make sure they are all similar ages, because older ones bully younger ones, sometimes quite severely. Even with a similar aged group, you really do see the phrase pecking order in action, as they establish who is in charge.  At first it seemed that Rosie, our Rhode Island Red, was making a play for dominance but one of our ISA’s, Boken, seems to rule the roost.

In Australia, the most popular backyard breeds are ISA Browns and Australorps.  Both of these breeds were developed specifically for optimum egg laying.  Once they start laying, typically around 22-24 weeks of age, during the warmer months they lay almost every day.  Hence these breeds often don’t have a long life span, typically three to four years.

Then there are what are called “pure breeds” – Bantams, Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks, Speckled Sussexes, and Araucanas to name a few.  Araucanas are known for laying eggs with blue shells which are very pretty so this breed is often in high demand and very hard to get, if anything you’ll get them as day old chicks.  Similarly the other pure breeds you’re unlikely to buy any older than about twelve weeks, so you’ll need to be patient waiting for them to lay eggs.  Some of the pure breeds are very pretty and very friendly so great pets, though they are often not as good layers so there is a bit of a trade off.  They may also go “broody” every spring – that is, think they are going be mothers and sit in one spot for a few weeks on their eggs waiting for chicks to hatch.   Pure breeds can live up to ten years, though they won’t lay for that whole time.

Make sure you buy from reputable breeders who vaccinate. In Sydney City Chicks (who are also in Brisbane and Melbourne) and Leah’s Chook Shed are great for younger ones and pure breeds. Enfield Produce sell mostly ISA’s and Australorps that are close to point of lay.  All of them stock supplies you’ll need.

What are the rules for keeping backyard chickens?

You’ll need to check rules with your local council but in Sydney there are NSW Local Government Regulations for Backyard Poultry.  Specifics may vary from council to council but for the most part, you are allowed up to ten chooks enclosed in an appropriately dimensioned coop, and they must be kept at least 4.5 metres from residential dwellings.  You’ll also need to regularly clean your coop. Roosters are not allowed.  I’ve been surprised at how many coops I’ve seen whilst wandering around our neighbourhood, which is only a few kilometres from the Sydney CBD.

What you’ll need:

You’ll need some kind of coop to house your girls.  We started off with a small one from Bunnings which housed three just to see how we liked it, then upgraded to a much bigger coop which we can walk into, making things much easier.  The big one houses ten chooks but six is a comfortable number of chooks for us so the girls have plenty of room.  You’ll need to make sure the coop is safe from predators – namely foxes and possums.  People are surprised to hear there are foxes roaming in suburban Sydney, but yes there are.  Foxes can dig down 30cm or so and some possums can open basic latches so make sure you have secured the perimeter of your coop well and put very secure latches on the doors.  Coops also need to have an area that provides shade for hot days and pouring rain.

When we are at home we let the girls roam freely around the yard.  But don’t do this immediately when you bring them home – keep them in the coop for the first week so they familiarise themselves with their environment and don’t do a runner!  Some breeds don’t do well if they are permanently confined and really need the opportunity to roam.  Our girls love to explore and scratch around the garden and often traipse through our recently planted camellia hedge.



Grace (silver laced Wyandotte) and Maddie (Plymouth Rock)

A nesting box
Chooks need a nesting box to lay their eggs.  One box per three chooks works.  Though I have seen two of the girls get into the box at once. When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. This was the box we first bought, but our new large coop has three built in nesting boxes.


Hay is great for the nesting box and for the floor of the coop.  A bale of hay is about $20-$25 and will last you quite a while.  I clean the coop weekly and replace all the hay.

A feeder and a drinker
A feeder is to dispense their food and a drinker is for fresh water. Under sixteen weeks you’ll need to feed the chooks what is called a “crumb”, specific to younger pullets.  After that you can buy them laying pellets.  The feeds have protein and calcium and other goodies the girls need to grow and thrive.  However you can of course give them kitchen scraps but not when they are too young; I started at around 16 weeks.  Lettuce and watermelon are always a big hit, spaghetti and rice are popular, bacon scraps send them wild, and mine turn their nose up at zucchini.   Avoid avocado, onion and chocolate – it makes them sick.   While they need protein, don’t overload them with meat, it apparently strains their kidneys.   Every few weeks or so I give them some sardines in spring water as a treat, they adore it.   The girls know me as Chief Bringer of Goodies so all I have to do is yell out “Girls!’ from across the yard and there’s a bee line for the coop door in anticipation.


Once they start laying, you may also wish to give them a little “grit” or crushed oyster shells, which are good for calcium, and very cheap to buy.  If you notice they are laying eggs with soft shells, its likely they may be a little calcium deficient, which can sometimes happen with prolific layers like ISAs.  I just mix a little of the grit in with their regular feed.

A perch
Chooks not only love to perch, they physically need to.  It is how they sleep. Yes, they sleep standing up.

For good health
Like other pets chooks are prone to lice and mites so you’ll need to sprinkle poultry dust every now and again.  I put it on the bottom of the nesting box under the hay and also on the floor of the coop.  I add a little apple cider vinegar to their water every now and again for good gut health. Every three months you’ll need to add an anti-worm solution to their water.


Chooks can be prone to viruses which can be treated with antibiotics, but you cannot eat the eggs while they are being treated.  If one of your girls get sick if possible isolate her before she infects the whole flock. Lethargy, lack of appetite, and strange poop can be signs of illness.

Extreme heat
Like humans and many other animals, chickens struggle with extreme heat and can die of heat stress, so this scorcher of a Sydney summer has been a real struggle.  You’ll see that they are getting stressed because their beaks will be open and they will be panting.  They’ll also fan their wings.   On hot days vigilance is required with their water as they will not drink warm water; if the forecast is for hot weather I prepare large blocks of ice in the freezer and put it in their drinker to help keep the water cool.  On the severe days when I saw they were really struggling, I put cold water and ice cubes in a shallow tub and stood them in it (just 10cm or so) and dripped cold water on their feathers.  They generally hate this but it can be necessary for survival. I also pop wedges of watermelon in the freezer which they peck on and it helps keep them hydrated.

So there you have it, this is the crux of what you’ll need to know.  It really is fun and I’m so glad that we finally have the space to do it!


In My Kitchen, February 2017

Welcome to the first In My Kitchen for 2017! IMK is a monthly link up hosted by Liz at Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things showcasing what is in blogger kitchens around the world.

Christmas feels like aeons ago.  The tree is gone, the decorations packed away, and Easter Eggs are already in the supermarket.   But a couple of Christmas gifts are being put good to use in my kitchen

The Small People bought me some new oven mitts, having noticed that my old ones were in tatters.  They are heavy duty and very good.


I love these mugs that the Marito and I use for our daily coffee.   Maybe one day when we fix our falling down grand old lady of a house, it really will be a manor.


I also received this delicious and thoughtful gift, which will be much enjoyed!


It has now been just over a year that we moved here. It was too far into the summer last year when we moved in to plant anything but this year we’ve been all over it.

There’s been beautiful tomatoes


Zucchini and flowers


Cucumbers, eggplants and eggs from the girls


Crispy cos lettuce, and figs I picked from our neighbours’ abundant tree (they didn’t even know they had a fig tree, its right down the bottom of the land, and don’t want them!)


In my kitchen is miso paste that I bought at our local Japanese grocer; I’ve been making miso salmon and miso eggplant


The Marito bought home a huge bag of mushrooms one day, I used some of it to make polenta with mushrooms, mostly following this recipe


At the Italian deli recently I found this squid ink pasta by Molisana, who make good pasta.  I haven’t decided on a recipe yet.  Suggestions?


I hope you are having a great month in your kitchen!




Umii Modern Izakaya, Drummoyne

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There’s a new Japanese kid on the Inner West block, occupying the space next to the long time popular Ocean Foods.  A few of my friends had been and said it was pretty good, so we thought we’d give it a whirl.

Obviously keen to show off the freshness of their seafood, this rotating glass fridge of what is on offer is right at the front door.

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So of course we have to try some sushi and sashimi, both of which are excellent quality.

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The waiter recommends the scampi with the foie gras, and while delicious (loved the mayo with chilli on the side), I do wonder if they have forgotten the foie gras as I can’t really taste it.

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The steamed gyoza – a current favourite eat of my small folk – are straightforward and tasty.

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The kiddie serve of tuna rolls on the menu that day is generous and I steal one.

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The scallops alas are overcooked, probably the result of a kitchen that is a bit frenzied for Mother’s Day lunch.

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But the frenzy has diminished a little by the time our last dish comes out, the salmon teriyaki, and this is textbook perfect and silky.  We are tempted to order another.

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The restaurant space itself is dark, the table next to us commenting that they can’t read the menu, but I don’t mind it. And staff are friendly and enthusiastic. Overall a good experience.

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Umii Modern Izakaya, 152 Lyons Road, Drummoyne Ph 02 9181 4666
Umii Modern Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kate’s Bung In Chocolate Cake

Do you remember Kate Bracks from Masterchef? She was the shy-ish mother from Orange who could whip up some mean desserts, and went on to win the series back in 2011.  The other day I looked up what she was up to – she had a business, but ceased trading in October last year to have a break and focus on other things.  Whatever she does, I’m very glad she passed on this recipe, for her grandmother’s chocolate cake – so named because you put all the ingredients in and “bung” it in the oven.  It is marvellously simple, with the added bonus of being made up of pantry staples, and results in a crumbly and tasty chocolate cake that the children love.  Do use good quality Dutch processed cocoa.


300g self raising flour
330g caster sugar
35g cocoa
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
330ml milk
150g butter, melted

200g icing sugar
2tbsp cocoa powder
30g melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

Making it
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C fan forced. Grease a 23cm square tin and line the base with baking paper

2. Place dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre, add the wet ingredients and whisk until mixture is smooth.

3. Pour into tin and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in tin for 10 minutes then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

4. For the icing, sift icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Add butter and vanilla, and enough milk to get it to a paste consistency. Stir vigorously until smooth, then spread over cake.

Long Chim, Perth

Michelin Starred David Thomson – whose Bangkok restaurant Nahm has featured in the world’s top 50 list – marked his long awaited return to Australia with the opening of street food inspired Long Chim in Perth in December 2015. Perth? Yes, perhaps he is trying to help them get over the death of the mining boom, though plans for a Sydney arm are apparently underway (hopefully this is what he was working on that night, as he was frequently checking his laptop in between walking around the restaurant and the kitchen).

Long Chim can be found in the new Cathedral Square precinct; the state buildings, after years of being abandoned, have been bought to life with stunning effect – the hotel features some beautiful rooms – currently with mining boom prices, these may need adjustment – and a few restaurants and bars including Petition, Wildflower and Post. As you walk down the corridor you can see these venues in action, all bustling and busy with Christmas cheer. Head to the basement and you’ll find Long Chim, with its street art walls and shelves of Asian groceries. It has only been open a few days when we try it and already service is quite smooth and the staff attentive.

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We opt for a banquet which is a great way to try lots of dishes. We start with dried prawns with ginger, toasted coconut in betel leaves. These have flavour and texture and are a hit at the table.

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The beef skewers (with cumin coriander and turmeric) are absolutely delicious and you can imagine eating them on the street in Bangkok

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But I find the next dish, crunchy prawn with herbs, shallots & chillies a bit on the bland side, for me its missing something.

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The Chiang Mai chicken larp more than delivers on the promised kick and I’m a fan, but find that cabbage leaves are too thick for it and it gets lost inside


The glass noodle salad with minced pork, prawns and squid is beautifully done, fresh and light.

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The banquet curry that night is the red curry of roast duck with coconut, thai basil, and kaffir lime leaves. It is fragrant and flavoursome, but I almost wonder if they forgot to put the duck in, so small is the amount of meat.

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Tasty sun dried king fish follows, and I love the accompanying lemongrass fish sauce

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One of the cheesiest sayings of all time has got to be “the simplest things in life are often the best”, but I have to rip it out for the next dish. It’s a simple Siamese stir fried watercress and turns out to be one of the best plates of the night

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The prawn and pork soup is pungent and full bodied.

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We finish with a generous individual dessert, some delicious coffee ice cream with crispy sesame seed wafers. I’m a sucker for good ice cream.

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Five days in and overall it’s a pretty impressive line up, I’m sure a few tweaks and improvements will happen along the way. David, Sydney CBD awaits.

Long Chim Perth, Basement, Barrack St & St Georges Terrace, Perth Ph (08) 6168 7780

Long Chim Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tips for Travel with Kids


As you may imagine, with newborn twins, I didn’t venture too far in the early days. When at home, in the comfort of my house and carefully orchestrated routine, I found it fine and very manageable, and I must admit, a little boring (it was while on maternity leave that I discovered internet shopping). But going out on my own during the day with two babies, even up to a café or for a stroll, with all the packing and loading and unloading, was just exhausting. Plus the boys were terrible pram sleepers, they wanted their bed, so going out was often not peaceful.

Once past that tumultuous initial twin year, it was time to travel. Gingerly at first, short flights to the Gold Coast, Palm Cove, Port Douglas, then bravely moving on to Thailand and Hawaii. In those early days we’d fly to one spot, park ourselves there, and come home ten days or two weeks later. We didn’t really start the “city hopping” type travel till the strollers were ditched and the boys were happy to walk, eventually hitting mainland USA (tips for Disneyland in this post) and finally, Europe. I saw plenty of travellers in crowded cities like Paris and New York with small children and big prams – they are more courageous people than I was. But hey, twins gives you a slightly different view of life!

So here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. Some of these are general tips and not specific to children, but hopefully they’ll make your family adventure a little smoother. In no particular order

1. Bring a comfort item from home for bedtime. When the boys were little, it was a small blue blanket that they always slept with. These days it’s one of their plush character toys. In an unfamiliar hotel room or house, a little slice of familiar home can make bedtime easier.

2. Buy bright caps for the kids to wear when you are walking around. On our last few trips the Marito and the boys have worn their treasured bright red Ferrari caps. They walk faster than I do, so I would just look for the little three red hat cluster, it made it easy to track them down. This also comes in handy on the beach and in parks.

3. Once the kids start writing, get them to keep a little travel journal where they can write something every day. When they had just started school this was just one sentence every day, but on our recent USA trip it was pages.   They are something to treasure but also they are often hilarious, reading descriptions and perspectives from a child’s eyes.

4. Where possible, book an overnight flight. The kids get on the plane, have something to eat, watch a movie and then have a good chunk of sleep. I also bring their PJ’s onto the plane to change into to help them get into a sleep mindset. Even though they are older now, day flights are still a bit of a challenge and seem interminable to them.

5. Pack a change of clothes for the kids on your carry on luggage – accidents and travel sickness happen.

6. Tie a bright ribbon or something unusual onto your checked in luggage – makes it much easier to identify in that sea of black on the carousel!

7. If you are staying somewhere more than a few days, try and find accommodation with a kitchenette. There are lots of hotels and resorts with kitchenettes these days, otherwise there are serviced apartments and of course Air BnB. I don’t like eating out for three meals a day and I don’t think kids can handle it either. This is especially so if you are travelling with toddlers, or a baby that needs pureed food.

8. If you do plan to eat out, contact the hotel in advance of your trip and ask for suggestions of family friendly restaurants, they are always happy to help. Then you can check out menus and locations in advance. OpenTable is fantastic for restaurant bookings in the US, or often the concierge will happily make bookings for you.

9. Another tip for eating out, bring something small to entertain the kids – and by this I don’t mean electronics. We do not let the boys bring their Ipads to restaurants, they can bring some pencils and paper or a small toy; it helps the time pass while they are waiting for their food, or if we have two courses and they only have one. Or, they can talk to their parents!

10. Make sure you take kids Panadol/Nurofen, bandaids, or other key medical items

11. Other things that come in handy – scissors (check in luggage), sticky tape (you never know what you’ll find that you want to pack and bring home!), zip lock bags. Any toiletries that may be prone to leaking, put them in a zip lock bag before putting them into your toiletry bag. I also always take washing powder and disposable gloves. Hotel laundry prices are just horrendous and I can’t fathom paying them. Otherwise look for a Laundromat.

12. I’ve discovered that a lot of hotels don’t have interconnecting rooms, particularly in Europe (or if they do they are extremely expensive). Some hotels do have “family rooms” which sleep 4 or 5 but there aren’t a lot of these so they tend to book out quickly. Plan ahead.

13. If your budget allows, book a driver at your foreign destination to pick you up at the airport.  After a long flight, it is nice to have someone waiting who will haul the luggage and not have to find a taxi queue and just be deposited at your hotel.  You can find plenty of companies on the internet that do this (such as Execucar  in the US) or a travel agent can organise it for your; I generally find that if you organise it through your hotel it is a lot more expensive

14. If you’re doing a country hopping type trip which involves filling out lots of arrival cards with passport numbers, get a business card size piece of cardboard, write everyone’s passport number and expiry on it, and keep it in your wallet. It is a much easier thing to reference and much quicker than opening individual passports

15. Accept the fact that meltdowns will happen. They are kids and they are out of their familiar routine. I remember when the boys were three and we were coming back from Hawaii. It was a day return flight, they were tired and cranky, and our luggage took what seemed like forever to come out of the carousel. The boys went a bit bezerk. Do you best to distract them and calm them down, but don’t do nothing. There are other people around – it is not about what they think of you as a parent, it’s about common courtesy and consideration for others.

16. Line up a home grocery delivery to coincide with your arrival at home. That way you won’t have to scramble up to the shops as soon as you get home to get bread, milk, eggs and other basics.

17. Last of all, have fun! These are treasured family memories.

Florence, Italy


I knew this would happen.  I’m in one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, Florence, and I don’t want to leave my hotel. Maybe ever.

A couple of years ago we stayed at the Ferragamo family’s Portrait Hotel in Rome.  It was one of my favourite hotel stays of all time. So when I heard that they were opening another Portrait Hotel in Florence, I didn’t hesitate to book it.  The other reason I was keen is that they have family suites, which are often in short supply and high demand in Europe.

And it’s beautiful.  The epitome of modern elegance and style.  All I needed was a Fairy Godmother who could wave her magic wand and turn me into Audrey Hepburn so I could sit by the window and stare out, pouting appropriately.  The staff too, are fantastic, thoughtful and warm (and some of the best dressed hotel staff you’ll see anywhere!).  The fine eye for detail, comfort and quality I love in my Ferragamo shoes has been seemingly effortlessly translated to hotels.


The hotel breakfast is top notch – everything is excellent quality.  Because we were booked as Virtuoso guests (see below), the fabulous breakfast was included.


Eventually of course we do venture out and I am reminded why I love this little city – easily walkable, hardly any traffic due to car restrictions, amazing history, great food, and plenty of shopping.   A guide tells us there are 36 museums in Florence – enough to keep you busy for a while.  Of course don’t miss the magnificent Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia, and the Uffizi Gallery. And do go up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a lovely sweeping view over the rooftops.


And one thing to remember when you are in Florence – look up!  Some of the ceilings in these places are just as amazing as the statues and paintings you will see.


Do go to the Florence food market.  What a vibrant, fantastic market – we came here almost every day.


There are a few little counters where you can sit an eat, but otherwise just pick up some fresh bread, some cured meats, cheeses, salads, marinated vegetables, and make yourself a beautiful lunch.


On one of the days we saw something you don’t see too often – fresh truffles! At the bargain basement price of EUR800 per kilo.


We also stumbled across this fabulous grocer in Via Dello Studio called Pegna which was a treasure trove of goodies, some of which I bought home (and yes do declare them at customs).

A few places that we liked – Il Borro, on Via Lungarno Acciauoli, is a smart modern Tuscan bistro, with a small amount of outdoor seating but the interior fit out is beautiful.  I bought some of their fantastic olive oil to bring home.

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Cantinetta Antinori in Piazza Antinori is a more traditional Tuscan restaurant.  The star of the show here was a pasta dish with fresh porcini mushrooms. We don’t get fresh porcini in Australia and in fresh form they are fragrant yet delicate.  Combined with silky pappardelle, this was a winning dish.


We went to Il Pizzaiuolo for some good pizza, but I loved the Sfizio Misto, which had some potato croquettes, some arancini, and some zepulelle (a fried dough) – delicious.


For a casual and very central eat, try Osteria del Porcellino on Via Val di Lamoni near Piazza della Signoria. On the way there you will pass the porcellino statue – make sure you touch the nose – it apparently brings good luck!


Something there is an abundance of in Florence is gelatarie – I think it must be council law there to have at least one on every street! One of our favourites was Gelateria Santa Trinita, at Piazza Frescobaldi


On the shopping front, there are loads of stores everywhere in Florence, but for some of the most high end outlets you’ll ever see, head to The Mall at the Florence outskirts. A bus there, which costs 5 euro and takes a bout 40 minutes, can be caught from the bus depot at Via Santa Caterina di Siena. There are only about 25 stores but all very high end. The Prada and Gucci are enormous and I picked up some very very well priced shoes.

And then of course there are the random entertaining things you see when you are travelling…..


Florence, you’re a pretty steep competitor to Rome.

Belinda Manning is a luxury travel advisor and Virtuoso specialist