It is a great privilege to live calmly and quietly close to nature. This evening, as I write, it is raining softly and the only sound is the trickle of water running in the roof gutters and into the tanks that feed the house and garden. It is the beginning of winter. Mild as winters are in our part of the world, the habits of the wildlife are still subject to seasonal cycles - so there is no cacophony of frogs and toads as there would have been with night-time rain a month ago. The little creatures have gone to bed; hibernating in leaf litter and hollow logs. Most of the snakes have gone to sleep as well, except for the Yellow-faced Whip Snake, which likes to stay out and about later than his friends if he can find a warm spot under an iron roof or among the rocks near the fish pond.
|Yellow-faced Whip Snake|
And, in the house, where it is warm, a few geckos are still poking around, hunting for moths. We do not (yet) have the introduced Asian House Geckos in residence here in the bush - this pale pink intruder tends to be the gecko most commonly seen in town. Ours are much more interesting, and rather distinctly Australian-looking. Most are Velvet Geckoes - Spotted Velvets, Clouded Velvet and the Robust Velvet Gecko. In my house, they are quietly territorial - silent, unlike the noisy Asian House Gecko - each with its own night-time hunting patch and daytime sleeping spot.
|Asian House Gecko|
I have a favourite, Gregory Gecko. He has been here for several years, camping behind the bathroom mirror where he sometimes leaves his delicate pure white shed skin, like a perfect little present for us. We named him when he was barely 2 cm long, and he is now a monster of 10 cm - or he was until I accidentally shut his tail in the window. Alas, I thought I’d killed poor Greg. He skulked away looking very unwell, leaving his tail wriggling on the sill, and wasn’t seen again for 2 weeks. Then, one night, Gregory came back to his spot, sporting a rather odd new appendage.
|Australian Velvet Gecko (with new tail)|
Because living calmly and quietly with nature is such a privilege, I want to share the experiences with friends and farm-stay visitors. Unfortunately, though, when two or more humans gather together, they make a lot of noise. So, no Whip Snake. No Gregory. Instead, we had to settle for lamb chops with barbecue stir-fry and the sound of ourselves! (Helped along by some serious glasses of Aussie red wine.)
COUSCOUS and YOGHURT-CRUSTED LAMB CHOPS or LEG STEAK
Time: half an hour
Serves 4 - 6.
The meat is best prepared several hours ahead, and refrigerated until 30 minutes before barbecuing or pan frying. The recipe will coat 4 - 6 lamb loin or BBQ chump chops.
½ cup dry couscous
¼ cup water
½ cup plain yoghurt
1 tbs shredded fresh mint (or coriander or rosemary)
1 small lemon, juiced, and 1 tsp grated rind
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
1. Combine all ingredients in small bowl and let stand for 15 minutes until couscous has softened.
2. Coat lamb on either side, patting crust in place. Refrigerate several hours to allow crust to firm and flavours to infuse.
3. Cook on medium-hot, on well-oiled barbecue for 7 - 10 minutes on each side. Or pan fry. Or oven-bake on wire rack for around 30 minutes at 200° C.
4. Serve with salad or barbecue stir-fry.
STIR-FRY ON THE BARBIE
Time: 10 minutes
Serves 4 - 6.
Ingredients: 1 large onion, peeled, halved, then sliced lengthwise into straws
2 carrots, unpeeled, cut into straws
double handful of green beans, topped and tailed (or use any other seasonal vegetables)
slurp of cooking oil
1. When the lamb chops have been turned, toss oil and vegetables onto the hottest part of the barbecue plate.
2. Stir-fry, turning a few times with long-handled barbecue spatula or tongs.
3. Serve hot from the barbecue or add to a platter with the lamb to take to the table.
The day was warm and sunny, almost sultry. T-shirt weather. After lunch we were lucky to spot another lizard. At more than 1 metre in length, ever-so-slightly larger than Gregory and friends, this goanna was literally ambling up a gumtree where he settled down for a snooze, well camouflaged on a branch. I expect he also had been indulging in a heavy lunch - raiding the hen house for a few fresh eggs, perhaps his last feed before he too finds a hollow log for the winter.
Next: Town Frog and family will be bringing an exchange student to the country for Sunday Dunch. Like brunch, DUNCH is a hybrid meal. It is eaten in the mid-afternoon and borrows the best bits from lunch and dinner. Afterward, around sunset, we will go walking in the bush. The Town Froglets, frequent visitors, know to talk in whispers as they pass lightly across the landscape.
Compiled and written by two frogs.