Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Going Green

Since our house move and the shift towards a more elemental existence (eating huge amounts of seasonal vegetables), I've begun to approach food preparation differently. The first glut was the lettuce, then came the cabbage, the cauliflower, followed by the runner beans. What I can't do with a tomato is nobody's business.

Never having had such vast quantities of fresh food at my fingertips, I would be found at the local supermarket doing one of two things: I was either buying something exquisite but limp and expensive from a far-flung country or I was buying what the supermarket flung in my face at the end aisles. The former would inevitably be disappointing because most vegetables don't travel well. Consequently, their taste is impaired, probably their nutritional value too and not only that, their constant availability gives the illusion that their appearance on the shelves is somehow effortless. Of course, you can compensate for their deterioration by adding things, smothering them in over-complicated sauces and feign authenticity.

The second option was to buy the seasonal vegetables, often at a reduced price due to increased supply. This was no bad thing at all and something I still do when it's a crop we don't have ourselves. However, having witnessed how quickly vegetables deteriorate without swift and proper storage, I am more trusting of our own produce. I know exactly when it was harvested and that nothing has been added to preserve its condition.

Yesterday, we harvested our crop of butternut squash. I say 'crop' but it was only one squash. Not what you might class as a glut. We think that it was overwhelmed by the sweetcorn and didn't thrive too well. Anyway, I wondered what to do with it. Clearly, it deserved special treatment. Usually, I just roast them and they're delicious but this particular one was a little stunted and wasn't going to go far between five people. I had a flick through the recipe books and stumbled upon the idea of making pasties. I happened to have a large quantity of homemade pastry in the fridge so it seemed sensible. I added grated cheddar to the pastry, chopped celery, onions, potatoes and carrots into tiny pieces, crumbled some blue cheese and made up a small quantity of onion gravy to moisten the mixture. I made four huge pasties and although I was a bit worried that they would burst open, they turned out perfectly. The children didn't detect the blue cheese, ate the vegetables without complaining and tell me, why don't we add cheese to all pastry? Delicious!

The inspiration for this combination didn't come from any of the fancier books on my shelf. It came from one aimed at vegetarian students. In other words, for people who haven't really cooked for themselves before. My point is that sometimes, the simple things are the best. Take away the complications and sophistications of over-travelled ingredients and recipes and you're left with the best, the cheapest and the tastiest. And it gives you the chance to get creative and to stop banging out the same old tried and tested menus week after week which, in my experience, is what would happen on my weekly trip around the supermarket aisles.

How can one little squash give me so much pleasure? Size isn't everything you know. It's elemental.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Flying Pigs

The school term has been going for just over 2 weeks now and I had hoped to have posted here sooner. Even my journal writing seems to have a desperate tone to it with lists of things I must do before ..... and this, for me today, is the interesting part. I'm not sure if I'm alone here but at the back of my mind there is always the thing which is so prospectively delightful that I almost can't bear to engage in its execution.

I'm torn in 2 directions here. My personal philosophy from a creative viewpoint is that the present moment is most important, that you shouldn't put off doing things or make excuses for the lack of the perfect conditions. However, a tension arises between this and responsibilities to others. Don't get me wrong. I don't resent or see my family responsibilities as obstacles to happiness but it's interesting that I am placing them in front of the goal.

There comes a point where the 'To Do' list will grind to a halt and I think I'm nearly there. In the past 3 months, I have reorganised every cupboard, redesigned our household filing system, gone back through all my MA folders and associated writing and shredded mountains of unwanted paper. In a sense, it is a process of reclamation of the self. Two years of putting things on the back burner whilst I struggled to write, study and be a reasonable mother are over. I've discarded the pieces that I know are irrelevant and ordered the remains in the most reverent fashion. To recognise irrelevance I must have reached a point of knowing. Otherwise, I've made a huge mistake and thrown away all my best clothes, shredded vital documents and the most important parts of 2 years' work! No. I think it's been good. Cathartic even.

OK, so the house still looks messy but I know that underneath, it's organised. And anyway, it'll all be pulled apart in a month or so when the building work starts. But there's another reason for all this frantic organisation. I seem to be losing my memory on a regular basis. Now, I have to rely heavily on my diary and calendar. This is a new experience for me as I've always had at least a vague idea of what I'm supposed to be doing. Remembering to look at the calendar is something else. I'm thinking of tying it around my neck. Last week, I only remembered my doctor's appointment half an hour beforehand and that was only because my mother rang to ask if I needed a babysitter. I went to the surgery not knowing precisely why I was there, came out and suddenly realised that it was our daughter's first Brownies evening starting in half an hour from then. Brinkmanship is not the way to a peaceful life. Needless to say, I'm still in contact with the doctor, trying to rectify the mess of turning up and forgetting half the things I went there for. Brownies, at least, went well so disaster there was averted.

Maybe my head has been too full of filing and catharsis. Maybe this week I will write something astonishingly good. Maybe. I'm afraid it won't be here because I'm going to be working on submissions for competitions but I might pop in to let you know how it's going.

Today, I am going to defrost the freezer and plan the week's menu. Today, I hope that our son's (suspected) swine flu is on its way out and that no one else takes up the baton and runs with it instead. Oh, and I've got just an incy-wincy little bit of filing left to do ..... Tomorrow is another day.