Wednesday, 30 September 2009

use it up meals #1

Well, last night's Use it up Meal wasn't too difficult to deal with. If I had fallen at the first hurdle it would have been a bit of an embarrassment and a pointless challenge, right?

I present you with Use it up Meal #1


Roasted Squash with Leek Risotto

Not a fabbo picture, but still...yum yum yum, it was yummmmy (if I do say so myself)!!

Risotto can seem like a bit of a chore, all the stirring can be tedious, but the finished product is so lovely that I actually enjoy the hour it takes to prepare. My mum makes risotto often, usually to use up soft-ish mushrooms and other veggies, and she is the one who taught me the method and proportions. I remember mushroom risotto as one of the first meals I cooked solo at home, and it has become an old staple of mine.

There is nothing tricky about risotto, but I think that it is a deeply personal thing. I, for instance, don't like my risotto to be too soupy, I prefer it creamy and smooth. I don't like my rice al dente, but I also don't like it too soft. I like lots of cheese and extra butter. I eat it with a spoon, not a fork. Having mastered MY risotto I can allow myself to be quietly disappointed in a restaurant version. Although any good Risotto with shellfish will win me over (mostly cause I can't afford to make it at home)!!

And so, in conclusion (so academic) risotto is a perfect start to the Use it up Meals challenge! Yummy, but I hope that I won't have to fall back on it later on in the week although David might kill me if we don't have some meat at some point!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

use it up meals!

With about £10.00 left in my budget for groceries for the next week I am faced with the possibility that as good as my intentions are, I am a sucker for food shopping and must be buying on a whim....that or I am not as good with money as I thought I was!! oopsie!

David has (very kindly) in his role as breadwinner given me a budget for the weekly food purchases...and because we have veggies delivered once a fortnight and milk three times a week, there really shouldn't be too much in the way of additional items that we should need. a ROOKIE housewife I have found it difficult to stop myself from buying TREATS and SURPRISES and well, it is tough!!

Regardless I have to reign myself in and use up what is lurking in the fridge. Over the past six weeks or so the BBC has been airing a programme called Economy Gastronomy where two professional chefs help a different family every week to reduce their spending on food, as well as reducing the waste and chucking out of unused or leftover food. I have watched in horror at families who throw out left over mashed potatoes and veggies, or the left overs of a roast chicken. Families on this programme regularly spend over four times when David and I spend on the monthly food shop, granted most of them have children, but even then the money is astronomical!!! One great segment on Economy Gastronomy is dedicated to showing how to use up the spare bits floating around in your to create whole meals out of bits and bobs (Nigel Slater's latest programme also focuses on this), and now it is my turn! My very own economy gastronomy!!

So here is the challenge: £10.00 for 7 days and it has been 5 days since the last veggie delivery.

the contents of my fridge (i have emptied the crisper drawers...) 4 eggs, carrots, squash, cauliflower, celery, red cabbage, spring onions, tomatoes, pak choi, leeks, swiss chard and a bottle of bubbly!!!

and my cupboard...(i am so embarassed by how BARE it is....old mother hubbard...) too much baking stuff, pastas, rices, tinned tuna, Dolmilo sauce (don't judge, i add it to my stewed mince), teas and coffee. Oh and in the other smaller cupboard, Jacobs cream crackers, digestive biscuits, spices, stock cubes, peanut butter, honey and a loaf of bread on the counter.

So can I do it? I have no idea...Stay tuned!!

Monday, 28 September 2009

today's harvest

I am ashamed to admit this, but I feel I must...when I struggled to wake up this morning and saw that the sky was overcast I prayed that the morning weather report would forecast rain for the rest of the day. I had planned on riding my bike to the allotment, but after a restless night's sleep I wasn't in any mood. Really I was just searching for any excuse that would satisfy my own mind...

Downstairs, with a cup of tea, the weather forecast was not what I wanted to hear...dry in the South East...oh man!

Really I wasn't be entirely selfish. Yes I wanted rain to justify being lazy today, but I ALSO wanted rain to water my plants (and my weeds) seeing as we haven't had a drop of rain in two weeks. Seriously...don't roll your eyes, I wasn't just thinking about myself! Poor poor plants, right?

Well, on my bike I got eventually and...yes...I was happy for the exercise and fresh air and to get out of the house and blah blah blah. Once I arrived at the allotment and trucked over to my little plot I was happy to have made it. I even decided to pop on the Ipod and yank out the few weeds that just haven't got the message yet!

ooooo swiss chard looks good, ooooo beetroots are coming along, oooooo radishes.....wait a minute! What in tarnation??? My poor poor poor radishes! Some tiny rodent/bird has been having a feast! There were four...count 'em....four perfect, round, bright red radishes, ready for the picking and what's happened?? They have been nibbled to smithereens WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. Now, if it were July I really wouldn't give a hoot seeing as Radishes take, like, four weeks to biggie. EXCEPT it is nearing October and I was just so looking forward to a small bunch of my first radishes to have in a salad, or in a sandwich, or to be tres francais...avec le beurre!!! yum yum yum....sadly ce n'est pas possible WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.

And so, taking no chances with my beetroot, I yanked up a good handful of plants ready for the picking (no delaying those ones) and also cut a heap of swiss chard leaves to serve as our side for tonight's dinner. The swiss chard plants are producing like maniacs and I can't keep up with the bountiful harvest...yum yum yum.

Check out today's pickings:

Oh, there are also a couple of baby romaine lettuces in there....

Friday, 25 September 2009

Nearly-dead Apple Cake

Every other Thursday is like Christmas at our house. Eagerly I wait for our fantastic veggie box to be delivered. Usually I am home and Dave, the veggie man, hands over the goods with a smile and tip of his not really a tip of his hat, but I like to imagine that 50 years ago he may have! Anyway, yesterday I ended up having to run a few errands around the time that Dave usually visits and so when I arrived home to find my box sitting by the door just WAITING for me I literally jumped for joy. Is it sad that I get so much joy from the sight of beautiful produce picked just for me? I think I can live with the stigma.

The only downside of the box, or of mass vegetable buying in general, is the ritual cleaning out of the crisper drawers and fridge shelves before anything can be put in. It isn't really all that bad, I mean we tend to use up every shred of veg before the fortnight is up (I ration very strictly...thank you Dad and your love of military history and films) and so usually the most I have to do is brush down the shelves and tip out any dirt from the crisper drawer.

This week, however, I the back of the drawer.....3 slightly soft and definitely "floury" apples. GAK! Two thoughts immediately sprang to mind: 1) When did I buy these? and 2) do I have enough eggs to make a cake?

Thankfully I did!!! (I never managed to answer number 1!)

My mum makes a fabulous apple cake that she calls DEAD APPLE CAKE, guessed uses dead apples. Not brown and rotten and fuzzy dead apples, but those nearing death. In fact the cake should more accurately be called NEARLY DEAD APPLE CAKE (think Nearly-headless-Nick from the HP series). Originally the recipe came from my Nonna who was given the recipe from a Jewish lady whose home she used to clean waaaaaay back when. When I was growing up my Nonna made all sorts of recipes inherited from those Jewish families and I just used to think that it was Italian food, cause she was Italian.

Anyway, this cake is moist and sweet and even better...freezes well. The apples are sliced thinly and then covered in sugar and cinnamon to get some flavour and then layered in between a spongy orange flavoured batter. It is a cinch to make and tastes fab!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

baaa baaa black sheep, have you any wool?

In the January sales this year I bought a whole whack of summer-weight yarn at John Lewis on Oxford Street. I don't know what possessed me to buy a billion balls of cotton yarn, but for some mad reason I did! I think that I may have been going through a knitting phase.

Every few months I pick up my needles and get some yarn and start some project that is bound to either be a rush job or sit unfinished in a bag somewhere. It is not that I don't love knitting, I do...I have made a plethora of scarves and fingerless gloves and....did I mention scarves? But those big projects like sweaters and socks (even socks!) and blankets and well anything that takes more than a week inevitably will lose my attention.

And for some strange reason I felt the need to buy all these mismatched balls of cotton yarn. Cotton is strange, it loses its shape easily, it slides on the needles in a weird way, and very few patterns (in the shape of what I can knit) call for 100% cotton.

Having embraced my housewife status and set to task cleaning and cooking and growing and shopping it is only natural that I have fallen back into my knitting. Wanting to create something for my new house, for me and David to share, to treasure, I have decided to make a sort of patchwork/sampler blanket. I've taken a great book out from the library to help me with my patterns and textures for the squares and have set myself a goal of one square for every two days. I am working by the gauge of the yarn and am keeping the squares to 4x4, like a gauge sampler...

Let's see how it grows!

This picture was taken on Friday September 19th...two more squares have been added in the meantime!!! are my Domestic Goddess

Oh my GOODNESS!! So, as we all know I spend a bit too much time baking and a bit too much time eating baked goods and, well this past week has been no exception!

This weekend David and I celebrated his sister's birthday...and a birthday isn't a birthday guessed it....CAKES! I have taken to making cakes for friend's birthdays because (being frugal) 9 times out of 10 it is cheaper than buying a gift, and I absolutely LOVE to bake- it gives me an excuse to try new recipes, or tweak old ones. AND, as I have discovered, if I steer away from one big CAKE and instead make muffins or cupcakes (no fairy cakes for this girl...far too small) you can have some to test yourself, give some away, and still have some left over for late night TV sessions!

I don't know what was wrong with me this Friday, but my baker's brain was on a sugar high or something. Actually I was probably so excited to try this fantastic Nigella Lawson recipe that I got all flustered and couldn't control myself! This excitement turned into a BAKING DISASTER! It wasn't until the lovely muffins were baked and cooled and ready for the eating that I discovered that instead of Baking POWDER I had mistakenly used Baking Soda.....ick, gak, puke!
***Another reason to make individual cakes: save yourself the embarrassment of giving loved ones disgusting treats:( ****

Anyway, round two was much more successful!

I copied this recipe out of Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, a few months ago and have been dieing to try it. Heather's birthday was the perfect excuse. PEANUT BUTTER AND SNICKERS MUFFINS! I mean, how could it fail? (other than the aforementioned disaster of course). Nigella uses crunchy peanut butter and chopped up snickers bars to create salty, sweet and chewy muffins. I would go so far as to call this a cupcake, but she prefers muffins. I skimped on the peanut butter, buying a value brand, and I wouldn't do that again. It wasn't that it was sweeter (as most budget brands are) it just had less peanut bits...making it more smooth PB with a bit of crunch, meaning that all the crunch in the muffins came from the peanuts from the Snickers. Let me tell you, these muffins need a glass of milk, they have the stick to the roof of your mouth quality of a peanut butter sandwich! They remind me of the amazing PB cookies my mum used to make when I lived at home. YUM YUM YUM!

So Nigella, not that there was any doubt in my mind, but you are OFFICIALLY my domestic goddess!

Friday, 18 September 2009


Admittedly it has been 10 days since I went to my allotment. It isn't like that is a long time, but since my allotment is still in the "getting established" phase I really can't afford to be so lazy. And boy! don't i know it now!!

I swear that I was going to go on Tuesday this week, but it rained and poured all day long!! And while that abundance of water was beneficial to my poor neglected crops, the weeds were equally happy! I suppose, when you think about it, the bounty of weeds slowly taking over my allotment HAS to be a sign of rich and nurturing soil...right??

The sight that met me yesterday was slightly sole-destroying:

I mean, come on! I spend more time weeding than I do tending to my lovelies :(

But because there has been so much rainfall this week the soil was remarkably soft and made it easier than EVER to dig up the blighters!! Because I go to the allotment in the morning during the week there is rarely anyone else about...creepy, but soothing at the same time. And even more excitingly I can pop on my Ipod and sing out loud to my hearts content. Trust me, it makes annoying tasks like repetitive weeding an easy chore!


I can't even begin to quantify the amount of time it took me to accomplish this! But, judging by my Ipod, I am going to go with about 3 plays of the most recent Killers do the math.

And then I decided, because the soil was was lovely and malleable and soft and luscious and....sigh...anyway, I decided that it would be best to dig up the other half of this half of my plot. And so, I dug and dug and raked and turned and weeded and...well:

so now everything is ready for the onions and garlic OH MY!

This morning when I woke up and could barely move I told David that he would be helping me come early spring dig up the section in the second picture under the we'll see!!!

How do these old guys do it??

Monday, 14 September 2009

Chocolate marrow loaf OH MY!

I was very surprised to find a GIGANTIC marrow in my vegetable box last week. It was a substitute...for Pak Choi....not a proper substitute in my books, but obviously the overflow of marrow at the farm was the clear choice to add into the box. For me, it was not a welcome addition. We had had one two weeks previously and it took about 7 meals to eat through the whole thing!

Luckily David asked me to make some baked goods for a market stall his unit is running for the council at some fair thing tomorrow. ding ding ding!!!!! my mum makes the most amazing moist chocolate loaf that has zucchini in it, and so...tick tick tick (went my brain) surely in this case my gigantic marrow can be used instead of zucchini....mix mix mix, grate grate grate, bake bake bake...

Et voila

from this:

to this:

5 a day

Living the life of an urban housewife in a town that is too large to really be a town and too small to actually be a city is sometimes difficult. The conscious (and slightly economical) decision to not own a car has made it even more difficult to be satisfied with my weekly shop! Chelmsford has few options open to the environmentally and economically aware housewife. As a town it has outgrown it's country-side feel. The town centre heaves with high street shops, brand names coffee shops, restaurant chains and fast food stops, the small covered market is a mixture of food and goods and sadly leaves much to be desired.

I do not mean to look down my nose at what is available in my new town I have chosen to purchase my meat at the butcher in the market because I do believe in supporting my local producers/purveyors, but I find myself regularly disappointed in their run-of-the-mill selection. The same goes for the fishmonger, who rarely stocks raw prawns!

There is something coined a Gourmet Market which takes place on Fridays and Saturdays in the town centre. Unlike a proper farmers market with it's rustic veggies and stalls of homemade preserves and baked goods, this gourmet market is more an extension of a food hall. Sausages, burgers and Indian take away is available with a large whole-sale fruit and veggie man taking over nearly half the space.

For two reasons: a) interest in supporting local farmers, and b) no transport, David and I have decided to have an organic vegetable box delivered once a fortnight. Joining this scheme has changed my life! Every other Thursday afternoon we are brought a box of 10 vegetables from Sacrewell Farm (part of the Riverford Organics group of farms). The box means that we are now cooking with seasonal vegetables (although I haven't completely stopped picking up the odd addition like spring onions or avocados) and more importantly I am planning my meals ahead of time, saving me more money at the grocer. Were we not on such a tight budget we would more than likely have a box delivered every week.

I urge you to investigate schemes in your local area. The cost may be a bit more than you would spend at a big grocery chain, but it the quality and the variety is worth it!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Digging for Victory

This week the BBC is screening a number of programmes dedicated to remembering "The Week We Went to War". It is hard to believe that it is 70 years ago this week that the UK entered into war with Hitler's Germany. In memorial Welsh songstress Katherine Jenkins is presenting a programme exploring what life was like on the home front during the war. It has been poignant and touching, and I wonder why it couldn't be broadcast at a time when those who work are at home. It is a reminder that we are very fortunate to live in a world where the corner store stocks foods and goods from all corners of the globe.

Every afternoon this week they are also broadcasting a new 5 part series called Land Girls, which follows the stories of a mixed bag of girls who have joined the Women's Land Army to work the land and provide food for the nation. Two episodes in there is less emphasis on the work and more on the social lives of the girls, but it is nice to have a more human element on a scheme that you could easily find statistics for in the library or on the Internet.

In anticipation of this mini-series I have started to re-read The Lost Garden, a beautiful and touching novel by Canadian author and poet Helen Humphreys. Taking place in 1941, it is the story of loner Gwen Jones who is sent from her post at the Royal Horticultural Society in London to an estate in Devon to be warden for a section of the Women's Land Army. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Land Girls history or just gardening in general.

In connection to this I am also reminded that the allotment site where I grow my own vegetables was developed during the same time period to grow for the local community and, I assume, the nation. It makes me happy to think that the need to feed the people of Chelmsford created an ordered system that continues to support the community 70 years on.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Cherry's Amazing Abstract Art!

I've just returned home from assisting my amazing soon-to-be mother-in-law (that's a lot of dashes!) in delivering some of her fantastic pieces of art work to her venue at the Chelmsford Art Trail!

Thought that she deserved a little shout out xxxx

Not only has her art beautified my new home, but her creativity, bold colours and humble attitude have inspired me to dust off my pencils and get creative!!!

check her out online at:

more info about Chelmsford Art Trail at:

Monday, 7 September 2009

mary mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

As soon as David and I knew where we would be living and when we would be moving in I started to plan how I would spend my time. As a social historian I make a concerted effort to acknowledge the shift between when time was passed to when we started to SPEND time. But I digress, at this point, of course, I wasn't fully aware that my role as the unemployed female partner would swiftly turn into the role of housewife. Regardless of the title, I knew that I would have time on my hands to spare, and obviously to pass (not to spend!).

My London friends and I were, also at this point, avid watchers of Hugh Fearnley=Whittingstall's River Cottage Spring/Summer series. The romantic (if not laboursome) ideal of producing your own crops and livestock, becoming self sufficient...sigh...romantic I say, because let's face it...highly unlikely! But, one ideal that I wanted to try to achieve and embrace was to grow my own vegetables. The small yard of our new house was not going to cut it, but never fear Hugh's fantastic Landshare project came to my rescue!

The basic philosophy behind Landshare is people getting together, sharing land, and growing fruit and veg. I joined the project and found a listing to share a portion of an allotment plot in my new home town, I immediately contacted the lister and no we share her allotment! She has generously loaned me the use of about a quarter of her plot, and believe me it is large enough for the two of us to be almost self sufficient (once things get underway!) !!!!!

The first day i worked the land I couldn't stop myself! I was toiling away, sowing and watering and weeding and oh my! The only sad thing about the whole experience is that we moved at the end of the summer's sowing season so our little plot is very limited. Currently growing Swiss Chard, Beetroot, Spring Onions, Lettuce, Radish and Carrots. I just love the sensation of watching seedlings grow into plants in their own rights, battling with the throngs of weeds I can't seem to banish and finally (today) the cutting of the first 9 swiss chard leaves ready for harvesting and lovely lovely braising in butter for tonight's supper!

I loaned a few books from the library about organic gardening, and allotment gardening and seasonality but to be honest I couldn't really follow all the prescriptive text and methodical procedures. I figure, and this is where my 21st century mindset comes in, if it grows it grows, if not I am out the price of a few seed packets. I am ashamed, I promise I am, and come next summer when the plot is lush and fruitful and teeming with courgettes and tomatoes and peppers and cabbages and all those wonderfully productive plants I will reflect on my 21st century mind and scold it, I promise.

Links to Landshare and River Cottage sites for seasonal ideas and Landshare postings:

the clinking of glass bottles in the morning...

When I lived in London my friends and I would spend Saturday mornings (not too early!) perusing the local organic farmers market. What a lovely luxury in the middle of East London! We were also fortunate enough to live on a bus line that stopped practically at the end of the street and went all the way to the stunning, bustling and tres chic Borough Market. I was spoiled for choice and my head was constantly bursting with ideas for seasonal dishes and experiments. Relocating to a large county town has somewhat taken away that choice for me. My new home town has a decent covered market where we can pass an eye over the goods at the butcher, fish monger and the corner vegetable stalls. They pale in comparison to the availability of quality farmers markets and covered markets in the big bad city where I was spoiled for choice.

I have had to get over my big city snobbery and embrace everything that my new home has to offer. I have always tried to support my local producers, when I lived with my parents in Canada the superior quality of meat from the market and provincially grown fruits and vegetables was made evident to my impressionable mind. I remember with fondness early morning trips to the market with my father to choose the roast for Sunday's lunch, stopping at Paddington's cafe for a backbacon in a bun morning treat and the quick trek through the cheeses and vegetables to collect the few things my mother would request. My father's get-in, get-out attitude hasn't rubbed off on me, thank god...I can spend hours exploring the markets and food shops, just taking it all in.

Support for local farmers and producers is very important now, as ever. Thankfully David has grown out of his student-living lifestyle and has become locally-conscious. After some research and looking at our budget we have decided that there was at least one area in which we could, without overspending, give support. And so Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning I awaken to the feint clink of glass bottles outside our door when the milkman delivers our pints. It is somewhat soothing and at the same time exciting to hear him as he opens the gate. Milk in bottles is something that only few of my generation know of, and for those of us who grew up in North America it is the thing of story books and old movies. Not only does having milk delivered make me feel socially conscious in terms of supporting my local dairy, but it also lessens our household waste as we return our bottles, and brings a bit of nostalgia to my tea every morning. Budget-wise, the cost isn't much more than we would be spending each week on milk from the supermarket and I rarely find myself pouring sour milk down the drain.

If you haven't considered this service I urge you to look into it, perhaps for a family or four it seems unfeasible, but these days the milk man delivers more than just might be worth it! siigh

check it out:

and are you a housewife, madam?

For the better part of the last 18 months I have been living with some friends in London counting down the days, with mixed emotion, until I would move out of the city and into my very own house with my fiancé. That was to be the beginning of my new identity. In the space of days I went from big, bustling, suffocating metropolis to mainstream, sluggish large county town. Perhaps sluggish isn't the most fair description, but the difference from the rush of London was distinctive. More to the point, I am not trying to be unfavourable to life out of the city, I was excited to be away from the momentum and invisibility of London.

One afternoon during the first week of my new life there was a knock at the door. Unsuspectingly I answered the rapping and was faced with a smiling face asking me to take part in a consumer survey for the local council. Of course i was more than happy to answer a series of questions about local services, banking institutions and my personal data. The surveyor was more than happy to have found me at home; "You are the only person at home on the street!" she told me...which didn't surprise me too much as we live close enough to London that most people commute anyway. As we went through the personal questions at the beginning she inquired "Would you consider yourself the main earner in your household?" to which I answered a resounding "No!", and which was followed by "...and are you a housewife madam?" I found myself immediately answering "Yes I am."

Without even debating the label in my head I was happy to classify myself, for the purpose of the local council, as a housewife. Not that I was married, but I was unemployed and obviously caring for the house. And since that unexpected classification I have come to embrace my new role as housewife. The daily routine of cleaning, cooking, shopping and general housekeeping keeps me busy, but with the liberty of 21st century convenience and appliances I do have moments to relax with a book or turn on the telly.

And so in a split second I have, strangely enough, become a very willing 21st century housewife!