Monday, April 30, 2012

And Now, the Dishes..

So today I decided to get my head around the concept of filling up that oven and socking it to the power company. Turns out, getting my head around it is the easy part. The tricky part is two days of planning and shopping, and four hours of standing in the kitchen, surrounded by every appliance I own, and straining the capacity of the dishwasher to the limit. Still, there are a lot of worse places to be on a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, than inside, cosy in the kitchen, the children at the table doing their homework with only the minimum of bickering. I started off the bake-a-thon with cheese and vegemite scrolls for school lunches.

While I waited for the dough to rise I made a giant pot of bolognese sauce for the lasagne. Yesterday I picked a heap of tomatoes, and all the basil. First frost of the season last night, so the food processor worked overtime processing the tomatoes and some of the basil for the sauce. The rest of the basil I whizzed up with a little oil, then froze it in ziploc bags for winter pasta sauces. At this point I am thinking I may have overscheduled just a teeny tiny bit. There is no bench space and the walls are splattered with tomato sauce. Thankfully The Girl came home and like a Domestic Angel, whipped up the bechamel sauce for the lasagne while I made the scrolls and chopped all the veg left at the bottom of the fridge to be steamed for cottage pie. The little girls now started fighting over who would grate the cheese (and eat it). I slapped the lasagne together, saved some cheese to top it. Scrolls out of the oven, dinner in. I turned the left over bolognese sauce into cottage pie by throwing in the steamed veg, and adding lots of Worcestershire sauce, topping it with left over mashed potato from the weekend. That's another dinner in the oven, in those fab Pyrex dishes we got for our wedding 21 years ago. They just keep on keeping on.

So The Girl gets into the vibe of the afternoon and decides to whip up a chocolate cake and choc chip cookies to stuff lunchboxes all week. She really is a star. We ate half the lasagne for dinner and wrapped up everything else to freeze for later. Yesterday I made a crockpot of chili, full to the brim, three times the normal recipe, so now I have five family dinners, three individual lunches, a dozen cheese scones and half a dozen scrolls in the freezer. I feel like I may never cook again. This, of course, is what we were left with after dinner.

This is the second shift of dishes. We filled up the dishwasher three times today, but I won't have to cook for the rest of the week, so maybe we can squeak by with one load a day, which is half our normal use. I shouldn't have to turn on the oven again for the week either, which I must say is a relief. We can heat up dinners in our remarkable tiny convection microwave while I recline on the couch reading trashy novels.

And tonight at bedtime I started reading Little House in the Big Woods to Posy, the first chapter where it is Autumn and Ma and Pa are butchering the pig, and hunting and digging up veg, and filling the house with food for the Winter, and I am right there with them, house stuffed to the rafters with good food, and just very, very grateful I didn't have to kill a pig this afternoon as well...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Testing the Parameters

Here are two tiny and insignificant examples of how just going along doing what you have always done, without questioning or thinking because of entrenched ideas, makes change seem impossible, and yet the moment you think and ask the question, it becomes impossible not to change.

Earlier in the week I mentioned my angst about school lunch packaging, and my conviction that the children were irretrievably wedded to it. Well, this week, I didn't buy any muesli bars. Not one in the house. Didn't mention it, just popped other stuff in lunchboxes. Not a peep. Don't think they have even noticed. This foodstuff they desperately needed once, it seems they don't need any more. Today, instead of over packaged chocolate frogs for their Junkfood Friday treat, choc honeycomb from the bulk food bin. 'Cool,' they said. It appears that sometime in the last year they got over their need to have food that looks like everyone else's but I never thought to check. In a couple of weeks I'll start working on the mini packets of chips...

Example number two, my quiche dilemma. In a bid to save electricity I bulk cooked quiches, only to remember that I need to use electricity to heat it up.  So I was listlessly contemplating the microwave this afternoon and thinking about how I really hate soggy pastry. It was then that I realised that when we renovated the kitchen we put in a convection microwave so we would have a tiny efficient oven for small cooking jobs. I have just never used it because it would involve getting the instruction manual out of the cupboard and actually reading it. Yes, I hate instruction manuals that much. And I had put that job off so long that I had forgotten the existence of a whole kitchen appliance. In the end I only had to yell at Posy once to make her stop babbling while I interpreted the instructions, and then  - magic, tiny oven reheats quiche to perfect crispness using fraction of time and electricity of giant energy gobbling oven. If I had never stopped to wonder, a few days ago, if we could save 20% on our electricity bill, I would maybe have gone for years not using that convection setting.

So asking the question. It seems to be worth challenging the entrenched idea.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Killer Tomatoes

In January, a tiny tomato seedling popped up between the paving stones under a table in the corner of the courtyard. It grew and grew until it popped up between the table slats. Then it grew and grew up to the laundry window. It grew most of the way up the window, then it fell over, so I had to prop it up on giant bamboo stakes.Then it started growing tomatoes. We have had punnets and punnets of elegant grape shaped heirloom tiny tomatoes from our giant tomato plant which is now over ten feet high. What if it keeps going? If you don't hear from me for a while, send help...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Anzac Day

I really like Anzac Day. Every little town in Australia has a dawn service: the last post, the minute's silence, the rowdy pub breakfast, the march of veterans, local bands, serving soldiers, and school children winding through the streets to the War Memorial, the laying of wreaths and home to dunk an Anzac biscuit in a cup of tea. I love that it is always a crisp autumn morning, that between the marching bands the parade is so quiet that you can hear the clinking of the medals on the veterans' suits as they march, that all the shops are shut and that almost everyone in town is lining the streets, just standing quietly, pausing, reflecting.

This was the first year that the small girls marched with their school. Posy managed to walk the whole way, clinging to Rosy, without once falling over, crashing into anything or requiring a bandaid on any part of her anatomy, which has to be a first for a half hour walk. Lots of children were wearing the medals belonging to their great grandparents from the second world war. I don't know if my grandpas still have theirs, or ever had them, or where they would be, but we remembered them both, so young, so far away from home, doing what they had to do. They never talked much about the war, never made it sound glorious, or a good thing, but they went because they believed it was the right thing to do, and thankfully, they came home again. My great grandfather was in France in the first war, a stretcher bearer. I can't even imagine the conditions he lived in or the sights he saw. He was gassed and invalided home, started a family and twenty years later watched his son march off to another war. And so the children march and remember.

And then go home to bake Anzac biscuits. Except they decided that they didn't really feel like biscuits with oats in, so Rosy made Anzac brownies instead. That's keeping the tradition alive! And while she had the oven on I made two dozen cheese scones with some of the whey left over from cheesemaking. And those scones were light and fluffy and everything a scone should be, but there are still about two litres of whey left. There must be something else I can do with it. And I was quite proud of having two separate items in the oven, but really, I could have done better. We could have had another pan of brownies in there, or maybe some Anzac biscuits...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

School Lunches

I must say that food was easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly when we were homeschooling. When we wanted a treat (that would be every day of course), someone would whip up a cake or a batch of pancakes. Sometimes I would even claim it was part of the curriculum (sounds better than sheer greed). Twice a day I would cut up a bunch of fruit and veg for morning and afternoon tea (that would be to cancel out the nutritional effect of the treats). No packaging, cost pennies, and the children did most of the work.

Then the children started school and started asking for the stuff in packets that every other child eats. Now my kids aren't brats - they just want to fit in. And also, slurpable yoghurt in neon packets looks more fun in a lunchbox than mandarins. I held out for a while, citing their health and saving the planet. They looked at me with puppy dog eyes. I broke down and started buying muesli bars as possibly containing some nutrition. They raised the bar and started lobbying for chips and lollies, which all the kids have (and many of them do). I couldn't bear the endless claims that I was a MEAN MUMMY and that their lives were blighted. How much can a koala bear? Under sufferance I instituted Junk Food Friday, when a tiny packet of chips and the smallest packaged chocolate money can buy joined the lunchtime sarnie.

To add insult to injury, Posy refuses to eat fruit at school. She eats it after school, for breakfast and lunch on the weekend. But not at school. Also, she will never eat a banana or apple, and last week decided that mandarins are too squishy. That leaves berries, so thankfully strawberries are still in season, she likes grapes, and we picked almost 10kgs of blueberries at the blueberry farm in January ($6kg, I love Tasmania). So each day I pack exactly one strawberry, four grapes or six frozen blueberries for her to take to school, feeling exactly like the mother of the not-very-hungry caterpillar. And most days they come right home again.

 Clearly I was under prepared for this aspect of school life. But I am slowly learning some school lunch truths. I bought the girls fancy schmancy lunchboxes with five compartments, room for an ice brick, and little pots for snacks. I dutifully filled them up with various healthy snacks (and that fruit..) and lots of it came home to me in the afternoon. I have discovered that just because a lunchbox has five compartments, doesn't mean you have to fill them all up. I used to make healthy and delicious salad sandwiches for hours each morning, but really, all of them prefer cheese and Vegemite because there is nothing squishy or soggy in it, and nothing falls out. That's OK, they get salad for dinner. Sometimes they like plain cooked pasta with grated cheese, which is fine with them as long as there are no yucky healthy tomato sauces or anything like that on it. Sometimes we run out of everything they like (not hard, as the things they like change by the week), so I just send a sandwich and fruit, and somehow they survive.

I remember the school lunches of my childhood which never contained a packet of anything, just sandwiches, vegie sticks, sometimes crackers or biscuits, and I remember that school lunch was about playing, not eating, and I should maybe just calm down. And also, I should never, never have looked at that bento lunchbox site. Anytime any normal person wants to feel like an inadequate parent, just google 'bento lunchboxes'.

Anyway, here is a very short list of snacks my girls almost always like:

Jelly. Rosy makes some every couple of weeks, sets it in the little snack pots, and tops it with fruit just as it is setting. The only fruit Posy will eat at school!

Exotic popcorn. This is our Wednesday snack. Popcorn with bits of dried pineapple/pawpaw and tiny choc bits. It makes a little bit of dried fruit and chocolate go a long way.

Trail mix. No nuts of course, and the girls don't like sultanas. I like a mixture of soy crisps, banana chips, choc chips, bought dried fruit, home-dried fruit, the occasional sunflower or pumpkin seed... sometimes they like it too.

That's it. Yes, it is a very short list. Apart from that they take crackers, and whatever we have baked that week (if they decide they like it on the day). I would love more suggestions.

One last very important thing. Anything they don't eat for lunch gets served as the first course of afternoon tea. I didn't get that MEAN MUMMY label just for nothing...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Blessed Cheesemaker

The cheese was fantastic! I was planning to take a photo of our fab pizza, but I forgot because I was too busy eating it. Usually I make pizza with a yeast raised dough and we cook it on pizza stones in the barbeque. Today the girls and I spent the afternoon eating cupcakes and drinking tea with other girls who appreciate such things... so no time for all that dough raising faffing about. I tried out a dough from Jamie's 30 Minute Meals that is basically a scone dough with oil instead of butter. The underneath of the dough is fried in a pan, toppings added, then finished to a bubbling golden mass under the grill. Jamie claims it is a twelve minute pizza, and while it is certainly not that, it is very fast, and as a bonus, no one had to go out in the rain to cook on the barbie. I still prefer a 'proper' pizza crust, but the family loved this.

And the mozzarella, sliced into rounds, with olives and salami and tomatoes and basil...oh my, it was just perfect. The small cheesemaker beamed with pride, it was stretchy and just what a mozzarella should be. Would we do it again? Well, we made it with four litres of unhomogenised local milk which cost about $7.50. It made 500g of cheese. 500g of the cheapest mozzarella at the supermaket costs $7.20. Rosy's cheese was so much better than that though, creamy instead of rubbery. With practise hers will rival the scarily expensive artisan mozzarella at the Farmers' Market. It took four hours, but, like bread making, most of that was waiting. Probably an hour of hands-on work. And for us, time is not money. I would much rather see Rosy make cheese than play computer games, and such a cool talent will come in handy in the event that she starts entering beauty contests.

Also, the only packaging for this cheese was two recyclable milk bottles, which is excellent, and it used a local product, which I love. Now the quandrary. As well as cheese, we now have almost four litres of whey to do something with. So far we have fed some to the cats, who think it's great. What else to do with that lot? I'm thinking of using some for the liquid in cheese scones.. but that's a lot of scones. Thoughts?

Here is a video that is very close to the process we used. We used 2 tsps citric acid instead of the buttermilk to separate the milk, and we let the curds drain for a couple of hours over dinner, instead of over night.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shift Work

As of July 1, Tasmania's electricity prices will be jumping by 20% apparently, which is not going to make my minutely tweaked budget at all happy. Consequently thrifty and frugal have become our watchwords, and I have been looking at ways to cut our power usage. We do a lot of cooking here at Chez Blueday, so I have been trying to fill up the oven when I have it on, and use it only a few days a week instead of multiple times a day, on the principle that it is more efficient to keep the oven hot than to heat it up from cold. Last week I managed to cook double dinners twice, so there are now two dinners in the freezer. Unfortunately, they were the last straw for the poor stuffed freezer, and about 270 icecubes, multiple bags of peas and tubs of icecream fell on my head when I opened the door the next day, so I spent over an hour cleaning it all out and reorganizing. On the bright side the freezer looks magnificent, and I can find things in it, and it occurred to me that I could tip icecubes out of their trays and into a separate container with a lid, brilliant, huh? but it was open on and off for a good hour. Electricity saved? Not so sure.

So fast forward to today, which I declared Cooking All Our Sweet Treats For The Whole Week Day. Shift One: The Girl and I cook choc chip cookies, lemon poppy seed muffins, and two loaves of biscotti. Shift Two: Drive back and forth to ballet more than enough times. Shift Three: Oh lordy, Rosy decides to make cheese. She received a cheese making kit for Christmas from dear friends, because she loves cheese, loves gourmet delis and the otherwise boring Farmers' Market because there is cheese there. She is a fearless eater of anything resembling cheese and suddenly decided that today was the day she must become a cheese maker. So cheese making. Shift Four: Cheesemaking takes slightly longer than anticipated. Making dinner and second baking the biscotti slices must happen concurrently to save electricity. In the confusion of whipping dinner in the oven, whacking biscotti slices onto trays and helping to stretch mozzarella, The Girl suddenly remembers she is supposed to be babysitting next door, and without her calming presence and sensible habit of using the oven timer I overcook the biscotti. At half past eight the last ball of slightly lumpy, sort of stretchy mozzarella gets ladled into the jar of whey in the fridge. Shift Five: I pile half of the dishes, saucepans and baking trays we own into the dishwasher. The other half will have to wait till Shift Six. I make a cup of tea and dunk the most overcooked biscotti to Hide the Evidence. I must admit that saving electricity is more exhausting than I had anticipated. And then it occurs to me that the extra quiche I made and stashed in the freezer will have to be heated up. In the oven...