Friday, June 30, 2017

Nearly There..

A new bread recipe and the last of the apples for stewing.

The curse of the winter solstice plague is back, and has slapped me about this week. I have completely lost my voice which is a disaster, as I always have so much to say! It is just as well that I have this outlet to unleash the voices inside my head..

I haven't been at work this week because plague, which has made it easier to potter about the kitchen and force my children to eat leftovers between taking to my bed with a hot water bottle. I am still continuing my challenge not to buy food for a fortnight, and to eat what we have. So far this fortnight I have bought milk, minced beef for the spaggy bol, and a hand of bananas. Rosy is by far the most calm and stable member of the family, but just try to tell her that there aren't any bananas for breakfast.. today I will buy one more meal's worth of meat. I'm thinking stewing beef to put in the slow cooker, and then I think that we will make it to Tuesday without any more purchases.

Despite not shopping, more food has turned up at our house, because I am a free-food magnet (lucky me). A neighbour brought me half a dozen eggs from his new Silver Laced Wyandottes, which are the most decorative chickens I have ever seen. He also brought me his old newspapers for the fire. I gave him some lemons. My mum brought me some beautiful rhubarb from her garden which I stewed up with the last of the apples from this box. Mum also brought me two bags of food from a friend of hers who is moving house. Mum has been helping her clean out her kitchen, so now I have extra rice noodles, self raising flour, herbal tea, organic rye flour, popcorn kernels, basmati rice and tomato sauce. Also, a huge bag of ground cassia. Until last month I did not know what cassia was, when I was at my favourite shop in the whole world, the bulk bin shop Wholesome House. I was asking David about the difference between cinnamon and Dutch cinnamon and he told me that Dutch cinnamon was from the cassia tree, and was cheaper. Posy and I sniffed both and we liked the Dutch cinnamon better, so we bought that. It is also called baker's cinnamon, and is on every cinnamon baked good that you buy - because it is cheaper. Anyway, I now have half a kilo of it, if anyone local would like some?? Mum also brought me extra milk that was left over from a function at her church. Happy days!

What I have run out of: plain flour, dried fruit, canned fruit, and as I said, I have bought one meal's worth of meat for each of my buy nothing weeks. That's it! We have hardly wanted for anything. I can't make any more muesli without dried fruit, and I love my muesli, but instead I am eating boiled Silver Laced Wyandotte eggs, or stewed apple and rhubarb with home made yoghurt for breakfast, so I am hardly to be pitied.. Posy loves her canned fruit for freezing and making sorbet in the blender (use canned fruit in natural juice. Freeze in plastic container. Tip into blender. Whiz up for delicious sugar-free sorbet). But this week she has had to eat real fruit instead. The horror.

We also generally buy a delicious loaf of sourdough at the farmers market each week, but this week, I made two loaves of French bread from this recipe instead. Folks, this is the best bread I have ever made, barring the sourdough I made twice in 2013 before killing the starter due to shameful neglect. Making bread is the perfect activity when you have the plague. It involves ten minute bursts of activity punctuated by long rests. I followed the recipe to the letter, a thing I rarely do, and it was perfect. A crunchy crust, a beautiful crumb - the loaves themselves were a bit lopsided, but the bread cut so well that it would make great sandwiches, so next time I will pop the dough in a loaf tin. Next time will be after Tuesday as I have no plain flour left. Until then, the only bread-like substitute will be scones as we have plenty of self-raising flour.

What I have learnt from this exercise is that I buy too much food. Even though I only shop once a month for dry goods and once a week for fruit and veg I have this siege mentality that we are all going to starve or something. I have cupboards full of dried beans. We are not going to starve. But instead of eating dried beans I panic if the fridge isn't full, and go out the next week and fill it up again. And that means I waste food, especially the food at the back of the fridge that I can't see. And we cherry pick our favourites and end up wasting what isn't our favourite, but is cheap and seasonal, like brussels sprouts and cabbage.

It is nearly two weeks now that I haven't shopped, and I still have eleven pieces of fruit left, not counting the extra bananas I bought, which would take it up to sixteen. And we eat a lot of fruit. I still have a kilo of carrots in the fridge, half a head of broccoli, half a bag each of spinach and lettuce, most of a cucumber and a capsicum. Oh, and a whole cabbage for making sauerkraut. In the freezer there is a bag each of frozen corn and peas, and a kilogram of blueberries that we picked in the summer. I think that in my enthusiasm for feeding my family fresh vegies I buy way too many, and then waste too many. Our small fridge is always stuffed full and things fall out of it all the time. It is infuriating!

For a more zen approach, here is an email conversation between me and my brother:

Me: What is in your fridge right now?

Brother: Out of date condiments and a punnet of cherry tomatoes.

Me: Really? What other food do you have?

Brother: A bag of brown rice.

Next day:

Me: Oh. What did you have for dinner?

Brother: Brown rice.

Me: Breakfast? 

Brother: Cherry tomatoes.

Next day:

Me: Do you have any more food yet? 

Brother: Yeah, eggs, and vegies to go with the brown rice.

And this, my friends, is how you avoid middle age spread..

(I would like to point out that whenever I see my brother he eats like a horse. He parties cheerfully then goes back to his vegies and rice.)

So, here is the thing. I live two blocks away from a green grocer. I do not need to stock up every week like the apocalypse is coming. Because frankly, an extra head of broccoli is not going to help in that situation.

Meanwhile, it is nearly July, and the girls are up for Plastic Free July. We are going to do it! So July will be all about reducing down our garbage to nearly nothing. Goody. Can't wait.. also, July starts before Tuesday, so I can't cheat and run out and buy lots of plastic-wrapped food.. curses. I will have to perfect the home-made cracker in the month to come..

Who would like to be plastic-free with us in July?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pursuing Left Overs

I am searching out pockets of leftovers that have been lying low in the kitchen for far too long. Last night we had curried lentil soup with some cauliflower that has been lurking in the crisper. We ate that with the last of the hummus that Rosy made last week, vegie sticks, and the dregs of crackers at the bottom of cracker jars that no-one can be bothered reaching right down to the bottom of.

This evening I made coconut macaroons from the two egg whites that have been sitting in a jar in the fridge for a week. Several-day old egg whites are actually better for meringue than fresh. They whip up better. How convenient. They were left over from when Posy made custard. I also whipped up some blueberry muffins because it is cold and raining and miserable and Rosy had an exam and we all need carbohydrates.

I went to get the patty pans out of their basket, and found some paper bags half full of forgotten goodies. I often throw treats up into the basket on the top shelf when I don't want the girls to find them, and there they lie, forgotten by everyone for who knows how long. So after the macaroons came out of the oven I put in a tray of slightly limp banana chips and bhuja mix to crisp it up. Also some flaked almonds I found in the back of the spices. The flaked almonds will be sprinkled on the greens at dinner and I'll serve the snacks in tiny bowls as an apertif. Tiny bowls are so useful in the kitchen. You can fill them with two spoonfuls of leftover whatever and it looks interesting and intentional. These I bought from the op shop, five for a dollar. I think they are tiny cups for green tea.

So as the winter solstice works its magic and the globe rolls slowly on carrying Tasmania back ever closer to sun I am doing the very small and absorbing work of trying to find a use for every scrap of food in the kitchen.

What leftovers have you used up this week?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Using What We Have - No Waste in the Kitchen

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.  Calvin Trillin

I detest waste and love using up leftovers. Well, I love imagining that I am going to use up leftovers. Often I put them in little pots in the fridge and let them languish for two weeks before I tip them thankfully into the compost. But no more. Confession time - we have been overspending our grocery budget recently. We always make it up from somewhere else, and no-one here is about to starve, but robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a long term strategy calculated to make me calm and happy, so drastic action is required. It is my absolute favourite kind of action. That's right, it is not shopping. I am thinking I should rename this blog. How To Never Go To The Shops If You Can Possibly Help It has a nice ring to it.

So what I need to do is to get us back into the black and then save up another whack to fund our once-a-month dry goods shopping trip. Extensive mathematical calculations show that this means two weeks of no food shopping. Well, we can buy milk when we need it, and some meat, because right now we have none at all. But we will be mostly vegetarian. Can we do this? I don't see why not. We have a lot of food. Most of it is lentils and dried beans. Because you can buy and store a lot of dried beans for very cheap and in very little space. It will be very good practise for the apocalypse. And reducing waste in the kitchen makes so much sense on the sustainability front. Apparently in Australia we waste up to 20% of our fresh food by forgetting to eat it. Oops. I do not throw away 20% of my food. But this week I threw 6 mandarins in the compost which we had collectively decided not to eat. I am as guilty as the next person of buying new mandarins before the old ones are eaten up. And every time I throw food in that compost bin, I cringe a bit because food is so precious. For most of human history, and for large swathes of the world today, food security is not a given. Three meals a day is a hope, not a guarantee. And yet, in my life, food is so abundant and easy to come by. In our society we can afford to waste food. And so we do, because it easier to throw food away and buy new food than to stop and work out clever things to do with the just-past-its-best food. Not wasting food is a creative endeavour that I try to embrace and often fail at. But over the next two weeks it will be a priority. So here we go!

I started today, by using up some more of my summer-grown potatoes and the week old brussels sprouts from the bottom of the fridge. I imagine that every European cuisine has winter recipes for potatoes and brassicas. I am sure I have accidentally recreated some old peasant dish here. Buttery boiled taters, steamed sprouts tossed in bacon fat with bacon. Yum. There is nothing you can do to make this food look pretty, but it certainly sticks to the ribs on a cold night. Here is how not to waste any precious bacon: cut off the bacon fat (I do this with scissors) and let it render out its delicious fatness in a hot pan. Put the curls of fat in a wee bowl to cool and crisp, cut them into little pieces with scissors, and use them as dog treats. Rosy is trying to teach the dog to lie down. It will be a long process, but bacon certainly helps (mind you he lies down all day, so I'm not sure why she feels this is important..). Meanwhile, use your rendered fat to cook the sprouts. Oh yum. Only sensible way to eat sprouts.

Anyway, on to the next adventure. The tub of leftover rice (I got enthusiastic about cooking rice for curry the other night) I made into fried rice for Posy's school lunches this week. Then I used up the last of the old yoghurt to make new yoghurt, which is just amazing kitchen magic. I am writing this while I wait for the heated milk to cool enough to add the old yoghurt.

So, kitchen adventures this week and the next. The last time I bought any food was, let me see, yesterday. Vegies and milk. So Tuesday the 4th of July will be my next shopping day. Would you like to join me in using up what you have, and banish waste from the kitchen?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How I Burnt the Dinner and Other Stories

Photo by Rosy

We spent the weekend at St Helens, a sleepy seaside town, in a little blue cottage, lent to us by generous friends. I am an evil ingrate and moped for two days beforehand because I hate leaving the house. Posy is just like me in this respect. She kept leaving notes all over the house which read, "I hate the beach." She really does. She is an unnatural child but I completely understand this quirk. But Rosy is an adventurer who loves to experience new things, so we did it for her. Hermit propensities notwithstanding, we all managed to have a nice time. Posy did not so much as set foot on the sand, so was perfectly happy. She made us play Monopoly, and we took a handful of Hayao Miyazaki movies to watch.

Rosy and I hung out on the beach in the rain and climbed on rocks and found dead fish. We walked in the rainforest, and Rosy got to drive for six hours towards her driver's license. She loves driving. She is a strange girl. When I go on road trips I like to stop frequently, and luckily the girls do too. We stop for photo opportunities, historic monuments, bookshops, ice cream, animals, interesting walks and roadside stalls. The girls would not let me stop for bags of horse poo, but while Rosy was jumping out of the car to photograph cows in the mist at sunset, I spied a useful log of firewood on the side of the road and nipped out to put it in the boot. Waste not etc..

We are the most diverse set of human beings here at our house. It really puts the Nature vs Nurture debate to bed. It is Nature all the way for personality. Character probably owes something to nurture. And this brings me to burning the dinner. Reasons why I regularly burn the dinner: I was reading something important. I was bringing in the washing and got distracted by the sunset. I was talking to a child or the neighbours. I was walking the dog. I went out to pick parsley and accidentally weeded the garden for half an hour. Last night's excuse was reading something important.

It's not that I am completely incapable of cooking dinner without burning it, it's just that I have to concentrate really, really hard. Conditions must be perfect and quiet, and there must be no distractions. I often cook perfectly on an afternoon when there is no-one else in the house. But I am not a hands-on person. I am kind of flaky and easily distracted. Cooking can go wrong very easily indeed. But mostly the girls are very forgiving, especially since the alternative to having me burning the dinner is for them to cook it. They would mostly rather risk rustically caramelised roast veg than actually don an apron.

Here are some advantages of living with other people, especially those you are related to and cannot escape from: you must learn to accept their little quirks, like hating the beach, always wanting to try new things, or burning the dinner, or will go a tiny bit insane. Can I accept those quirks of my family without trying to change them? Does anyone else find it hard to try not to tweak their best beloved?

Honestly, they all have MUCH WORSE quirks than that.. and so do I. It is so tempting to just try a little nip here, a tuck there.. and then I remember the burnt dinners, and decide to leave well alone.

PS Blogger resized Rosy's stunning beach photo. Click on it to see it in all its widescreen splendour.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Orange Soup for Winter Days

This is one of those soups I threw together one day using the only veg left in the house - and it is now our winter favourite.

Gently saute an onion. Add some curry paste and garlic. Add several handfuls of red lentils and lots of stock, any kind. Chop up all the pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot that is left in the refrigerator crisper. Tip it all in the pot and let it bubble away until you are ready to blitz it up and eat it with toast. You can serve this with cream or coconut cream and nutmeg.

Today I discovered that if you bring it to the boil for a few minutes, turn it off and go out for an hour or so it will be done by the time you get home. I am going to use this lazy and thrifty cooking method more often..

Tastes better than it looks. Honest.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Food as a Joyful Adventure

Morning dew on a cabbage leaf. Garden magic. Is there a better way to start the day than cabbage appreciation?

Let's talk about food again. For the past few weeks/months/years I have been attempting to make more ethical choices about where my food comes from, and frankly, to make procuring food more fun than pushing a trolley around the supermarket. Not a high bar, to be sure. However, my natural laziness and general incompetence at any form of forward planning have conspired to make supermarket shopping a feature of my life. After all, supermarkets are predicated on the idea of convenience for the consumer and this has corresponded to conveniently large profits for the supermarket giants. Recently I turned 46. Not a particularly auspicious number, but every number after 40 is a reminder that there are probably less years left than have gone before. 46 really did it for me. I have decided to do whatever I want for the rest of my life. Yes, it is anarchy at Chez Blueday.

And one of the things I really want turns out to be a life of ridiculous inconvenience and a reasonable amount of chaos in order to assure a life of great food and joyous shopping. Yes, you read that right. Joyous shopping. Every time I snap on the dog's lead to walk to the butcher or the greengrocer, that is a joyful adventure. Every time I take my ridiculous blue op-shopped trolley-on-wheels to the farmers' market, that is an adventure. There are friends, dogs, fresh air, people to meet, new cheeses to try, buskers. What's not to like? Even if I leave home in a vile mood (not uncommon) it is hard not to succumb to being out in the weather and chatting to people in shops. So, apart from the lead up to Easter when we kept popping into Coles for their chocolate choc chip hot cross buns, which are indecently delicious, I have not been to either of the Big Two supermarkets for months (I have now mastered the art of home-made chocolate choc chip buns so we are all good for supermarket-free decadent treats).

So here is to the catalyst of mortality. I am not going to live forever, so the time I have left will be devoted to living deliberately and joyfully. Supermarkets and agribusiness, you are dead to me. I will buy my food from real people and help them live their dreams. I will do garden magic and make food in my own backyard, or forage it from roadsides. It has been slow in coming, but I think I can say, yes, this part of my journey is on the right track. It is a good feeling.

Winter afternoon sunlight on red chard. What about ending the day with chard appreciation? You could do worse.