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.

Monday, May 29, 2017

How to Make Your Own Salad Dressing




Well, the rosehip syrup is magnificent! I have been making salad dressing with it. As part of my determination to eat more local I have been eyeing the various condiments in my cupboard and fridge. For years I have been planning to make my own salad dressing, but have never quite got around to it. You know how it is, it always seems easier to just take another bottle off the supermarket shelf than try something new. Well, who knew, salad dressing is ridiculously easy. And, oh, my goodness, this is delicious. I have a thing about salad dressing. It has to be the perfect blend of sweet and tangy, and this is quite marvellous. Did you know that many vitamins require fat in order to be metabolised? This is why a good salad dressing is very important for your health, so spoon it on with abandon, and enjoy your garden greens with this heavenly dressing.

I stumbled upon this recipe and I have used it as a base and substitute all the ingredients at will.

Salad Dressing

1/2 cup oil. Use any oil that tastes nice. I use a Tasmanian olive oil combined with an Australian sunflower oil. If you want to store the dressing in the fridge, you must cut the olive oil with a polyunsaturated oil, or it will go gloopy. That is a technical term for solidifying in cold temperatures.

1/4 cup vinegar. Again, any nice vinegar you have on hand. I am using up a bottle of verjuice I have had for quite some time, and also use apple cider vinegar. Balsamic vinegar would make a lovely dressing, I imagine. Lemon juice would also work.

1 Tablespoon honey or other sweetener. This is where I add the rosehip syrup, which is very sweet indeed.

1 Tablespoon grainy Dijon mustard. I am using a lovely local honey mustard that my mum gave me for my birthday. It has whole mustard seeds in it, and makes the dressing look interesting.

Salt and pepper to taste. Here you can also add whichever herbs and spices seem advisable. Go crazy.

I also add a couple of tablespoons of water to this recipe to thin it out a bit. Because I am thrifty. I make it by pouring everything into a jar with a screw top lid, and shaking. Then I pour it into a bottle, and shake again before serving. I store it in the cupboard because olive oil goes thick and gloppy in the fridge, and because my fridge is already overfull of condiments and bottles of salsa that didn't seal properly. There is nothing in this recipe that requires refrigeration.

There you have it. One more product that gets made in the kitchen instead of travelling thousands of miles to a supermarket shelf near me.

And it makes me think. I know someone who makes vinegar out of apples. And I am pretty sure making mustard is not difficult..

The rose hip syrup to provide the 'sweet'.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Foraging, or How to Not Shop for Food



It has been a week of free food here at Chez Blueday. First, there was a frost, so I picked the last of the capsicum crop. Then, walnuts. There is a walnut tree on the verge at the end of my street. I have kept my beady eyes on this all autumn, and over a couple of weeks I have brought home walnuts in my pockets or shopping bags every time I have been out. I think I have them all now. It is only a small tree.. maybe I will surreptitiously ply it with compost to help it grow..

My mum and I went to City Park to see the baby monkeys. Launceston is in every way a Victorian relic - it even has wild animals in an enclosure in its City Park. After inspecting the tiny new baby monkeys clinging upside down to their mamas' bellies, I dragged my mum to the other end of the park to forage for feijoas under the big old feijoa tree there. I salute the city gardeners who planted a food tree in the park many years ago. I visit it every year for feijoas to dry and add to my morning muesli.


I wanted to make salsa with my capsicums, but didn't have enough tomatoes left, or so I thought - I asked for sauce tomatoes at all the local grocers, and was told I was too late. Oh no, what to do? Well, I went out to the garden and gleaned. It is amazing what you can find if you are desperate (desperate not to pay $8kg for tomatoes for salsa, that is) and I found sixteen cups of tomatoes still on the bushes, enough for two batches of salsa. Happy days.


My friend Katherine came and brought me zucchinis, more tomatoes, some chillies and some adorable little bantam eggs. Friends with gardens :) She was here for a purpose - we were going to help another friend put up a marquee for Agfest, which is, unsurprisingly, a local festival of all things agricultural. Then we were going to visit a wonderful food garden at a drug and alcohol rehab centre. More of that in a later post, but first - we needed to do a spot of foraging.


Katherine makes old-fashioned rosehip syrup for her family to give them a shot of Vitamin C and keep winter ills away. She had spied roadside hips, so of course we stopped to pick. Luckily I always have bags in the back of the car. The roadsides of Tasmania are rich in the old fashioned dog roses that make such wonderfully flavoured red hips. Fortuitously we also found a patch of sloe bushes, and picked some of those too, to make sloe gin. Or maybe I could use Katherine's recipe for Sloe and Cider Liquer. I couldn't find a recipe for that on-line, but I did discover another wonderfully alcoholic recipe for the left-over infused sloes after you strain them out of your gin - sliders. All of these sloe recipes take a year to mature, so I will be doing a review in autumn of 2018, just after picking next year's batch of sloes.

We had such a fun day of foraging. I wish you could have seen us - we were still wearing our neon high vis vests from putting up the marquee that morning, and I am sure we looked pretty silly, but hey, we didn't get run over, and we had a blast. We also found a roadside wild apple tree that we picked some apples from - not very many sadly, as we hadn't brought a ladder.. maybe next year..


But that's ok because this box of apples came from my friend's mother-in-law's next door neighbour's apple tree in Hobart. Did you get that relationship? Six degrees.. These things turn up at my house because I am careful to say yes to all offers of food, no matter how odd, inconvenient or arcane. I figure I can always find something to do with it later. And I always do. So far some of the apples have been stewed, but most have gone into the dehydrator. Some people dip their apple slices into lemon juice and spices before they dehydrate them, but I just slice them and whack them in. Sometimes they go a bit brown, but no-one here cares, we just gobble them up regardless. Apple chips. Yum.


And finally, the potatoes. I planted one bag of seed potatoes in spring. We have been eating them since January. I haven't bought any potatoes in four months, and this week I decided it was time to lift all the leftovers, because I want to do some winter planting in their bed. 14.6kg (that's 32lbs) of potatoes I dug up. That will last us at least another month. That's five months of potatoes for a $5 bag of seed potatoes. Now that is what I call a win. The vegetable kingdom just never ceases to astound me with its generosity. It is the original gift that keeps on giving. Along with bunnies and guinea pigs.

So tomorrow's list. Dry more apples. Dry feijoas. Make rosehip syrup. Buy gin. Ah, it's the forager's life for me..

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Food Isn't Always About Eating


                  Food Gardens in the Central Highlands of New Guinea     Image credit

Meh, food. I have been known to wish for human kibble, and sometimes eye the 20kg sack of dog food in the porch with a view to its nutritious qualities. Surely the children wouldn't mind finding a tub of that in their lunch boxes? I have a tricky relationship with food. My mother isn't known for her enthusiasm for cooking. Her favourite kind of soup comes in a can. My father can make toast. Once when I was very young and Mum was sick and safely confined to bed he decided to find out how many times he could put the toast back into the toaster to toast it some more. He only stopped when he set the toaster on fire. This is my culinary heritage. But my mum is a trooper. Even though she regards the act of cooking with fear and loathing, she has put a meal on the table three times a day every day of her adult life. I think that deserves a medal, right there. Despite my parents' non-interest in food, cooking or growing it, I grew up in the midst of a permaculture paradise. The highlands of New Guinea are the world's oldest continuously worked gardens, having been cultivated for around eight thousand years. In the 1920s when the first European explorers struggled over the mountains that ring the Wahgi Valley in the centre of Papua New Guinea they were astounded to look down into a valley that resembled the countryside of medieval England, with its squares of gardens edged with hedges and trees and little thatched villages. Fifty or so years later I lived in a small town there in the Highlands with my parents. Our houses were surrounded by gardens and fruit trees and my favourite place to play was inside the hibiscus hedge that surrounded the huge vegie garden in our back yard which was grown by the young local men who worked for my parents' missionary organisation. When I wasn't in the hedge I was climbing trees to eat guavas or stuffing myself with slightly unripe Cape gooseberries. Later we lived down on the tropical coast and Mum cut down bunches of bananas with a machete and stored them in the outside laundry until they were ripe. So although my parents weren't much into food, I grew up knowing that food comes out of the earth and drops down from trees. Much later, as a teenager, I lived in an Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory, where again, for tens of thousands of years a small population lived off the land and changed the environment to do that without breaking it. Extraordinary. We didn't do that of course. We went to the supermarket.

Much later again, as a young mum I moved into an old cottage with a big yard full of fruit trees. Peaches and oranges rained down, and I felt that this was how things should be, but I had absolutely no skills or knowledge to do anything with them. It was there that I first attempted to make jam, which turned out to be syrup. I didn't know what to do with that either, so I gave it away, then heard with grateful surprise that my friends loved it and poured it on their porridge in the morning. That was when I learned that almost everything you make is generally edible, but sometimes you have to relabel it. At this stage of my life I was just learning about cooking with actual, real food, instead of eating from jars and packets at the supermarket. It has been a long and interesting journey. Slowly I have learned that the food that drops off trees and springs out of the ground can be the staple part of your diet, and not just an occasional snack. That supermarkets are not really about providing us with the staff of life, so much as providing shareholders with dividends.

Food isn't always about eating. Sometimes it is about making unimaginably large amounts of money for people somewhere far away, who frankly, don't really need it. Ten multinational food corporations own most of the companies which make most of the food in the supermarkets. It is a racket. Most food in packets is made from corn, rice, wheat, soy and sugar. Most of this food contributes in various ways to making us very unwell. On top of this iniquitous peddling of nastiness, all the food in the packets relies heavily on oil - to grow the food, to process it in factories, to make its plastic packets, to transport it the average 1500 miles (2414 km) it takes to get to our plates. Then we have to drive to the supermarket, trudge around a giant ghastly architectural eyesore which is a blight on our urban landscape, shuffling behind a wonky trolley full of nasty food, and then we have to dispose of all the horrible plastic that this food leaves behind it in a trail of unsightliness.

Why do we do it? Because it is the easiest way to get food in a suburb. In Australia the two giant corporations that control 80% of our retail experience have made sure that there is a supermarket in every shopping centre near you. And me. And it's just part of our modern lifestyle.

But that is a very tedious and boring reason to do anything. There are much more fun and exciting ways to acquire food. Even if you don't live in the cradle of the world's oldest agriculture. Even in the suburbs. For instance, one of the verge trees at the end of my street is a small walnut tree. I have been keeping my beady eye on it, and now that the walnuts are dropping I come home with a heap in my pockets every time I walk the dog. Yesterday I went walking with a friend and we discovered a patch of blackberries that need a couple of weeks of sunshine to be perfect for picking. I say yes every time someone offers me food. This week I came home from Easter lunch with a bag of home-grown grapes, and a bag of feijoas that I foraged from under my friend Sandra's feijoa tree while everyone else was hunting for Easter eggs. I dried all that fruit to add to my muesli. Then my neighbour up the street gave me some kangaroo meat and some venison from his freezer that he had accidentally thawed thinking it was something else, so he gave it to me for the dog. This week Benson-the-carnivorous-puppy has been eating like a king. Because I had a long conversation with my elderly neighbour about the iniquity of waste, which both he and I disapprove of, he is now intending to send along all the leftovers from the deer and kangaroo carcasses that his mate the hunter brings him.. Benson will be eating well. Sometimes it is just being in the right place at the right time and saying yes. Another friend emailed the other day to ask whether I wanted some pork mince for $5kg because her farmer friends were killing their pigs, which have spent the last weeks of their lives snacking on acorns and strawberries. Oh, yes please. Mind you, I cultivate the right kind of friends..

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of finding sources of local food. This is without really paying that much attention. If I seriously applied myself, I am sure I could feed us all completely from local sources without spending too much. That is the kicker, isn't it? I could feed myself at enormous expense on local gourmet delicacies, because Tasmania is a foodie paradise, but I'm not about to do that, because I can't. But anyone can pick up walnuts from the side of the road..

And there is my garden. I love my garden, and like every gardener ever I am always saying, "Next year, I can grow even more food." And every year I do, but I am nowhere near the limit of the amount of food that an average backyard can produce yet. This week we are eating potatoes, tomatoes, silverbeet, rhubarb, capsicums and lemons from the garden, plus assorted herbs, and the last of the summer's garlic that I grew in pots. I still haven't managed to get a continuous supply of lettuce going, but I should be able to, because there is no month in Tasmania where it is impossible to grow lettuce in the open. It requires regular resowing though, which is my nemesis.

Do you know what I find hardest about eating from the garden? It's eating from the garden. Using what is right out there in the backyard for weeks on end - right now it is a potato glut - and then suddenly there won't be any more for the next nine months. It means having a hundred recipes for everything that is in season, actually cooking it, and not leaving it until next week when it will have gone off, or finding a way to preserve it. This requires a lot more organisational capacity than I actually possess, but I am working on it. At least if food goes to waste in the garden it goes straight into the compost to to be made back into food again, but I do get very cross with myself when I fail to take advantage of nature's mad bounty.

There are lots of ways to eat well and local even if you don't have a garden. There are farmers' markets. These can be expensive, but a lot less so if you stick to buying fruit and veg and stay away from all the lovely cheese and meat and artisan breads that are there to tempt us all away from the straight and narrow. There are fruit and veg boxes from local farms. There is foraging and eating weeds. This year I have started adding weeds to my salads. There are about half a dozen that I use now, and they are everywhere! There is making friends with farmers and food growers, and saying yes! whenever anything is available, and going to help them and buying food from them whenever possible. I buy my eggs from a work colleague who has chickens for much less than buying free range eggs at the shops. Hunting out local and affordable sources of food can be fun. I mean, who knew that I know someone who knows someone with pigs, or who hunts deer? Networking isn't just for people in suits. I also keep my eyes peeled when walking the dog or visiting friends. That's how I found the walnut tree. There are edible trees all over the place when you look out for them. Also, weird bits of them are unexpectedly edible. This week I discovered that new birch leaves are edible and you can add them to spring salads. Amazing!

And why is all this so important, you might ask. Well, of course you know. Less oil, less energy, less plastic, more food security. All that. But for me, what is also important is more life. We have given huge corporations power over the most central need of life. Our food. It is what keeps us alive. I don't know how much life we are getting from those plastic packets though. Even in the highlands of New Guinea there are supermarkets. You can buy frozen peas and beans in cans in a big warehouse there just as easily as you can in my local suburb. But if you want some real fun, go to a market and buy beans from the person who grew them, just like people have done for thousands of years. You may meet your friends and have a good gossip and get out in the fresh air, and make your local community more fun. Or you can have even more fun and plant some baby pea seeds and watch them pop out of the ground and wave their tiny baby tendrils around, and give them some sticks to grow up. Or watch bean vines twirl around their bean poles and wait for the world's most miniature beans to start peeking out of the bean flowers at midsummer.

What I discovered from my childhood of watching gardens grow, and trees drop food and pigs and chickens running around all over the place is that food is everywhere and is also pretty much a crazy carnival. What makes supermarket grocery shopping disappointing is that it is in no way a crazy carnival. It is dreary, because it is about money. Large corporations making money so that I can eat is just not fun at all.

My relationship with food is still tricky. I am not a natural born cook. I would honestly rather read a book than make soup. But I would rather make soup than eat soup out of a can. Because when you make soup out of vegies you grew in the garden or bought at the markets, or received in a bag over the fence from your neighbour, well, that soup is pretty special. It tastes good, and it is made out of community and life and fun, and not out of money. And now I am learning to make my own dog food so I won't have to buy giant bags of it from the supermarket. My children are probably slightly relieved about that..






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