Ready

Much as I like cooking, I’m not always very good at eating, at least not when I’m at home on my own. I often just don’t feel like bothering. I get distracted by something I’m doing, in the evening particularly, and by the time I think about eating, it feels like it’s too late. A few weeks ago, I was so remiss that I ended up rather unwell and having to visit my doctor, where I was prescribed something to help calm my digestive system. This seems rather silly, since the issue is completely avoidable – I just need to eat!

The solution (obviously) is to have things available that I want to eat. Things that can be prepared quickly, but that are nutritious and appealing, especially since I frequently can’t even think of anything that I actually fancy.

Ready-to-heat

So, over the past few weeks, as well as making lots of individually portioned soups for the freezer, I’ve been cooking extra so that I have some home-made “ready meals”. I’ve now got several portions of bolognaise, pork casserole and lasagne all waiting for evenings when I can’t bring myself to prepare anything. As you can see, there’s some room on the shelf for more – I’d like to be well-stocked with lots of variety.

It’s not the prettiest meal I’ve ever cooked, but it served its purpose

Indeed, yesterday I found myself not wanting to cook and not in the mood for food. However, I was able to extract a lasagne, defrost it and then pop it in the oven to warm up without really having to consider that I actually didn’t feel like eating. I’m making sure that all my ready meals contain lots of vegetables, so I get some nutritional balance. Hopefully this will prevent further medications and trips to the GP.

And now I am looking for suggestions and recipes: what do you suggest I might include in my ready meal repertoire?

Apples of my own

As you may know, our garden isn’t very big. I do what I can with it, but there is only limited space. As a result, I don’t have room (unlike Sister of Snail) for an orchard. However, a few years ago,we were given an apple on a very dwarf rootstock, which now lives with the chickens… which liberally apply fertiliser around it and make it very happy.

The variety is an interesting old one “Ashmead’s Kernel”, which is a good dual purpose variety with a great flavour, although visually it’s not very appealing. It takes a few years to start fruiting well and, apparently , it can be quite pernickety about pollinators, but this year in our garden it thrived. I used some of the fruit in my most recent batch of sweet hot chilli sauce, but this morning I picked the rest of the crop for bottling.

Not the prettiest apples, but maybe the most delicious

It doesn’t look much in the bucket, but once prepared, there were enough apples to make six 500ml jars. I’m so happy to finally be bottling my own apples from the garden. It’s not enough to keep us going through the year, but it sure is satisfying.

Bubbling away

Autumn kitchen

I’m always in two minds about this time of year – one the one hand, I hate the days getting shorter and the reduced opportunities for walks with the dogs, but on the other these couple of months are always associated with happy times in the kitchen, as I preserve the harvest (mine and that of others). So, I am choosing to concentrate on the positives and spend time enjoying the abundance.

I went and bought lots of lovely vegetables – many locally produced – on Friday and have spent the past couple of days combining these with some home-grown produce to make passata, delicious soups and a second batch of sweet, hot chilli sauce. This year has been particularly good for chillies in the limery: I grew lemon drop, trifetti, Trinidad perfume, red and purple jalapenos and hot cayenne. In total, I’ve harvested approximately 2kg, but I haven’t kept track exactly, as I often pick a few to use immediately. Anyway, there’s more than 1.6kg in the freezer, we’ve eaten lots and each batch of chilli sauce uses 100g. In addition, there are still some yet to ripen in the limery and also there are the outdoor ones to bring inside.

Since we are close to ScrapHappy day, I do want to point out the use of “scraps” in my soup-making. Whenever we have meat bones, I boil them up to make stock, then freeze this in blocks. I never use a stock cube or stock powder, I just use my frozen stock and add whatever herbs and spices I fancy. On the bottom left above, you can see two blocks of lamb stock added to the chopped and lightly fried vegetables that became leek and potato soup.

And so, my freezer is filling up nicely – soup, chillies and little blocks of passata, as well as stock and roasted peppers from earlier on in the year – all ready to fend off the winter blues.

Going crackers

I’m rather a fan of crackers and cheese and of cheesy crackers on their own, but recently I’ve been unable to find any that didn’t give me pause. First, there were some lovely locally made crackers… they were delicious, but came with a lot of packaging. Then there were some lovely crispy treats that I bought from a farm shop in north Wales when I was on my travels… and discovered had been imported all the way from Australia (WHAT?) plus they had a lot of packaging. Then I found some different local ones, that not only had loads of packaging, but also were made with palm oil (I didn’t even buy these as I noticed before I put them in my shopping basket).

It’s just like the saga of the biscuits… the only solution is to make them myself. A quick internet search and I found a simple basic recipe (flour, salt, oil and water) that could be adapted. I made some with freshly ground black pepper and some with added cheese, and voila… plastic-free, palm oil-free, yummy crackers…

In the limelight

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Excellent books – especially if you don’t want to make huge quantities.

Since Friday I’ve been very busy, on and off, with lime-related activities – zesting, juicing and freezing quite a lot of them. I loved the suggestion (from several of you) about making lime curd, but then dithered over which recipe to use. Finally, I settled on one from Marisa McClellan’s book Food in Jars (which I’m pretty sure was recommended to me by one of you two or three years ago). I chose this recipe because it suggests using a boiling water bath after putting the curd into the jars to extend the life to as long as four months, compared to the usual week or two (not that it’s likely to last four months in this house). Whilst looking for the recipe I browsed through Marisa’s other book Preserving by the Pint and discovered an interesting recipe for something called Caramelized Meyer Lemon Syrup – a sauce that she suggests drizzling over yoghurt or waffles. Basically you caramelize some sugar and then stir in lemon juice and zest – I decided to have a go at a lime version.

So, this morning I set to and zested, juiced, stirred, boiled and bottled and produced two small jars of Caramelized Lime Syrup and two of Zesty Lime Curd:

I was devastated to realize that I’d got slightly too much lime curd for the jars, so I was forced to consume the left-over bit on some toast for my lunch.

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Homemade bread and homemade lime curd, using eggs laid by our own hens.

I still have a dozen limes unprocessed and I think a lime drizzle cake is on the cards for the weekend.

You can’t always get what you want

… or even what you expect.

For several weeks now I have been planning a Friday market trip, with the intention of buying winter vegetables to make some soup for the freezer. Two weeks ago we had torrential rain, so I decided to give it a miss; last week I had so much editing work on tight deadlines that I didn’t have time; but this week the weather was good and there weren’t too many piles of work to get through. So, I set my alarm clock and was leaving the house just after 7:30… before arriving back three minutes later because I’d forgotten to pick up the insulated cup of tea that I’d made to take with me in lieu of breakfast.

When I got down to Newcastle Emlyn, I was a little disappointed to discover no nets of leeks or parsnips. I could have bought a huge sack of swedes, but I really could not think of anything I might want to make with 20 of the things. So, I browsed around and discovered lots of nice veg in smaller quantities (they sell both big boxes and small amounts), so I selected some sweet potatoes and squashes (both always good for soup), some onions, six big fat red peppers and a couple of cauliflowers (Mr Snail loves cauliflowers and I’m rubbish at growing them)… and then my eye was caught by some boxes of tomatoes. Since, in my experience, it’s not possible to have too many jars of passata in the cupboard and it’s nearly six months since I last made any, I though I couldn’t go wrong at £2.50 a box, and bought two. And throughout my visit, I kept being drawn back to the boxes of limes (another thing that Mr Snail loves). What could I possibly do with a box of limes? We don’t like marmalade and even I can only drink so much gin. But I simply couldn’t resist – and for the same price as a box of tomatoes.

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My haul of not exactly winter vegetables

When I got home the tomatoes were quickly sorted (there’s always a few bad ones, which is why they are so cheap), washed, halved and the first batch put in the oven to roast. I made a big pot of soup – spicy squash and sweet potato (eight portions) – and I counted the limes – 59. And then I had to do some paid work.

On Saturday I got the passata mill out and processed all the roasted tomatoes, then bottled them: 11 half-litre jars and five quarter-litre jars. I made a second batch of soup: roasted red pepper, sweet potato and squash, with chilli, ginger and garlic. And I finally decided what to do with four of the limes: a lemon surprise pudding; the surprise is supposed to be the sauce that forms in the bottom, but I provided a second surprise by making it with lime not lemon.

So, today I’m going to zest and juice some of the limes and store the results in the freezer for subsequent cooking. I’m also going to quarter some of them and freeze then for use in g&t and other drinks and for (defrosted) squeezing over Mexican food, plus I’ll keep some in the fridge to use for cooking over the next couple of weeks. None of them will go to waste.

So, my winter veg shopping trip turned into something completely different, plus when my alarm clock went off on Friday morning I woke to a bedroom filled with orange light, and when I looked out I was greeted by the most glorious sunrise:

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good morning sunrise

So, it’s quite true – you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, instead, you get sunshine and limes.

Jammin’

Having bottled fruit until I was sick of the sight of it, I decided to progress on to some different preserves. We don’t eat huge amounts of jam Chez Snail, but I like to have some around to use to fill Victoria sponge cakes, or occasionally on a piece of toast or in a jam roly-poly. So I set to and made two types: peach and apricot, neither of which I have made before. There were also some left-over peaches, so I made a couple of jars of barbeque sauce to use them up.

I’ve followed (sort of) recipes by Marisa McClellan, which seem to include much less sugar (still lots, though) than traditional British jam, but which require hot water bath treatment (as per the picture above). A few years ago, one of you lovely readers (I can’t remember who) recommended these books and I have been really enjoying some of the recipes. ‘Food in Jars’ has some interesting things in it that aren’t preserves in the conventional sense, like granola and beer bread mix, which I plan to explore a bit more. Mr Snail was dubious about the idea of peach barbeque sauce, but I thought we’d give it a go anyway… I will report back.

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really liking these books

So, that’s it for the current round of preserving – there will be more later in the season. I’m hoping for pineapples in the next month or two!

Gotta lotta bottle

It’s that time of year again, when I miss an early morning swim in order to do an early morning shop. Some people rush out for the Boxing Day sales or for Black Friday, but not me. All I’m interested in is fruit season, when I can fill the car with boxes of produce and spend the following few days preserving it for the long winter months.

So, last Friday saw me off to Newcastle Emlyn at 7am to see what was available. It’s always hard knowing what to buy. You can’t plan ahead, because if you do I can guarantee that they won’t have the thing you want, but I was on the lookout for tomatoes, peaches, pineapples and peppers. What I came home with was tomatoes, peaches (two types) and apricots, as well as some potatoes and other vegetables for ‘normal’ cooking. And as a result, my kitchen looked like this on Friday:

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just waiting

So far, I have processed all of the tomatoes into oven-roasted passata (half-litre and quarter-litre jars)

and I’m making good progress with the apricots and peaches, plus we’ve eaten lots of them fresh and I’ve rotated my stock in Tim’s cupboard, so there’s a shelf ready to fill

I won’t share a picture of the slightly frazzled chef!

-oOo-

I love cooking with homemade passata; roasting the tomatoes adds a depth of flavour that you simply don’t get with tinned tomatoes, or even fresh ones. However, I also spend time doing this every year in order to avoid waste. As you can see from the pictures, the tomatoes come in cardboard boxes (which we burn or compost, depending on our current needs) and the jars are reused year after year, with the central disc of the lids being replaced when they stop sealing efficiently (they last several uses, although the manufacturers tell you to use them only once). This means that we minimise packaging and also avoid any potential problems with BPA leaching from the plastic coating inside tin cans (yes, metal cans also contain plastic)*.

Anyway, so far, so successful… I wonder what my next early morning shopping trip will yield.

-oOo-

*If you want to know a bit more about the issues associated with cans contaminating tomatoes, this seems to be a balanced article on the subject.

 

Not hot and not cross

I have been considering sweet dough buns for a while – ever since Christmas when I came across a River Cottage recipe for an enriched dough. I couldn’t make it at the time because it called for six eggs and the hens were on strike. With the longer days, eggs are no longer a problem – all four of our ladies are  laying:

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plenty of eggs (if somewhat muddy)

When I returned to the recipe, however, I felt that it was a bit too rich, so I looked for a different version and found a recipe for sweet dough by Ruby Tandoh (a Great British Bake Off finalist a couple of years ago) that looked ideal, although it only uses two eggs. I like the idea of Hot Cross Buns – soft dough with a sticky top and lovely spices. However, in general I find them rather disappointing and, to be honest, I’m not particularly keen on dried fruit. So, inspired by one of Mr Snail’s favourite flavour combinations, I made chocolate orange buns by adding the zest of two oranges and a heap of dark chocolate chips:

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not a raisin in sight!

But I couldn’t leave it there… I mean I’d only used the zest of the oranges, so I really needed to do something with the juice. The answer was clearly orange icing. So, I present to you, chocolate orange iced buns, the perfect spring (or any other season) bread product:

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not hot, not cross

Delicious with a cup of coffee.

 

 

Privilege

Some months ago, a comment from Jill (Nice Piece of Work) on my post about decluttering got me thinking a great deal about privilege. About the fact that I am only in a position to make choices because of my circumstances… the fact that I am educated, that my parents both had jobs and money, that I live in a democracy, that I am a member of the major ethnic group in my country, that I have a job, that I have home and partner, that I have a supportive family, that my country is stable politically, that I am healthy. So many people have so many immediate things to worry about… where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight, whether their children are safe, how they will pay for medical treatment…. When I thought about all the problems I could be facing, it seemed somewhat crass to be fretting about clutter.

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This simply isn’t available to everybody

Then last week we were having lunch with Sue (Going Batty in Wales) and discussing her recent experience during the time she had her arm in a cast, having broken her wrist. She mentioned the necessity of using prepared, frozen vegetables when she was unable to chop up her ingredients for cooking, and how disappointing many of them were in terms of both flavour and texture. This sort of inability to do things is the long-term reality for many people and so they, unlike me, are deprived of a full range of choices when it comes to, amongst many things, their food. So, there’s my privilege again.

It’s funny how these sorts of conversations come around several times… the following day I was having a video chat with Kt (Kt Shepherd Permaculture) in Spain and she mentioned the value of ready-meals for people with limited abilities to cook. She pointed out how marvellous they are for those who rely on other people preparing their food: to at least be able to choose a dish that you fancy and heat it up yourself. Ready-made food may not be everyone’s idea of freedom, but for some that is exactly what it represents. And so, again, my level of privilege is reinforced. I can choose what I eat, what I buy, where I buy it from, how I cook it. The fact that many ready meals are, in the words of Joanna Blythman, “food-like substances” rather than real food is unacceptable – we should not condemn those with limited choices only to poor choices.

So where have all these thoughts led me? I don’t think feeling guilty is the answer – that just directs energy to a useless end, but certainly being aware of such privilege is important. This issue certainly relates to the permaculture ethic of ‘fair shares’ but perhaps I haven’t really thought about it in this way before. I feel that I would like to take action, but other than doing the usual things I can to support my friends and local community, I’m not sure how. I’m only just beginning to think this through and deciding on possible actions, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and what, if anything, you or anyone you know is doing from/about their position of privilege.

 

 

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