Chorizo. Quickly now.

One of the first rules of blogging is consistency.  I have consistently thought about this space and had other (read: paid) work, places to go and people (Jeremy Lee!! Cath Kidston!!) to meet.

I’ve been to Campagnia and Jones! Angel! Swanley! Totnes! Buckfastleigh! Soho! Westminster! Wimbledon! Wandsworth! Hampstead!  It’s a one-woman food lush tour.

Needless to say, the cookbooks that I stacked on the side three weeks ago are resolutely still there.  I’ve barely read a recipe let alone cooked anything in particular.  I come home, tired and sweaty, layers of sun cream and grit between my toes and a bit frazzled from hours of cajoling people to try some veg, a box full of sun weary veg and train wine weary brain.

Three years of Summer Events Season has taught me to relax my standards a little.  To kick cooking to the back burner.   I will probably waste a little (sorry 2.5 slimy courgettes. You were once beautiful).   To paraphrase David Leite, to enjoy the meal, even if that means relaxing your grip on what’s put on the table. It’s the people and the time together that matter.

I’ve barely been home, most of my meals are out, so cooking is way down the list of priorities.  We want simple, reliable, and a bit comforting.  In our house, this means “something and salad”.  Bread, cheese and salad.  Burgers and salad. Potatoes and salad.  You see the MO.

I’ve been learning about the boringness of okay, of moderation and maintenance. There’s no drama in these lessons, and not every meal is an event nor a recipe.  And time not spent making gratins on a sunny day is me working or spending time with the kids.  I know what they prefer: making friendship bracelets or helping with homework, and a simple meal with a calm parent.

Here are this week’s leftovers, all sun fried and simple.  Our meals will be salads & something. This is us until Saturday, when there will be more sun fried leftovers:

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I like to ask my family if there are any meals they’d like to have over the coming week. My youngest’s current repeat request is “Chorizo wraps”.  Every. Time.

With some meat, a lot of salad and a fine line in using up any veg for a salad, it’s a mid week, veg hearty meal.  So here’s our method, I hope you like it.  You crazy zero carbers out there could of course sub lettuce for the wrap and forgo the rice.  This is a well rounded, economical and quick meal, tweak at will:

 

Chorizo & rice wraps

 

 

 

 

Growing!

Ben, Kris and I are plouging on (pun intended).

The life force that is Ben brings dynamism and passion.  I bring funding, networking and note taking. Together, we can take over the world, or, at least, make some postive impact on Swanley.

Ben is up there, putting together raised beds and shovelling manure.  His dad and step-mum are gardeners-in-chief.  We have potatoes, parsnips and carrots.  Hopefully our strawberries will turn soon from hard green to yielding red.

Last May I downloaded the volunteer application form Bank saved on my desktop.  I printed it off, checked my referees, filled it in, and.

Week after week it sat.  Then, for shame, it was tatty and the printer was broken and the building work was starting…

July comes, and I stare at it.  Print it, complete it.  Think and think.

August, September.

Finally, I post it in.  I’m so terribly nervous.  At school we studied ‘A Taste of Honey’.  I was rightly affected by the line, “She’s got a mug tree, know the sort?”.  Smug, well meaning middle class woman coming in, thinking she knows best.  That and a backstory of “When Volunteering Goes Sour (school edition)”, left me stuck and scared of committing to love and passion to a project that could bite back.  But better to have loved and lost, etc.

But. Trump.  Brexit.  I couldn’t let my fears of possible, potential dickishness get in the way of maybe being able to help.  If I could listen and be of service, rather than think I know best, then I figured that I would be less likely to be that smug person.

It turns out I could help.  Fundraising, writing short pieces, contacting the local press and setting up a tranche of cookery lessons are all skills I have that were needed there.

Through the Food Bank I met Ben.  Ben is a man who cannot sit still and who devotes his life to church, family and community.

Just as he was gifted three allotment beds to run as a community garden, I pitched up, all lipstick, IG & bullet journalling.  Yes, yes to helping grow something for this community of ours.  I can’t tell a sweetcorn shoot from a leek, but I can write a funding application and talk to district councillors.

Last Thursday afternoon I met Ben on site.   We marvelled at the well-rotted manure pile.  He’s taken on another space, big enough for two beds.  It’s totally wild, so will be a lot of work to tame, but the soil may well be hearty and ready for tilling.  The ground is pitted, grassy and rough, and I tripped a few times.  “Ben, you’re insane, please stop taking on more, please!”.  He laughed, I laughed.

We received our first donation this week and it’s sitting in my wallet, waiting to be cashed.  There’s so much to do and my GANTT chart is filling up.  I’m meeting so many people who are excited, and that is thrilling.

I repeated my ‘well meaning middle class’ fears to a well known activist a little while back, and she’s not one for being polite.  Fuck it, she said.  You’re helping, you’re asking, you’re doing, don’t worry about it.

So I won’t worry about it. I’ll do the work, have a whole heap of fun doing it, learn about functional diagrams and cutting turf and crop rotations, and see what good we can do along the way.

Planning schmanning.

Anyone who knows me knows that this time of year is crazy and great.  I’m working most weekends (for Riverford Organic Farmers).  Saturdays and Sundays are at lovely events, meeting people, chatting about the company and trying food from amazing vendors.  The days are, mostly, very long.  Family life can take a hit, and the strain becomes most visible by about the last week of June.

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St Christopher’s Good Food 2017 – more cash for this amazing charity

Here are the recurring themes for summer show season chez Eve:

  1. My husband and I row about neither one of us having enough time and who’s doing more housework/kid wrangling/dog walking/cooking
  2. Meals, by the time I’ve stood in front of the fridge, feeling stressed and stress eating cheese, are late in the day for school aged kids, so they end up going to bed late…
  3. Shouting at the kids for lack of homework and practice, when we’re too busy and tired to keep them on point
  4. Running to shops because brain too wired to work out what in the AF to cook or eat and the veg look so sad and so unappetising, so there’s less time to for homework and cooking and cleaning…
  5. Random foods are wasted because I couldn’t think what to do with them before they go off
  6. I exersize less, and in Ann land that means eat more
  7. All scheduling goes out of the window in favour of a fire-fighting tactic which takes us neatly back to point 1

As Miss del Rio would say, “Not today Satan”.  U-Grow, the Food Bank, my family, my bank balance and sanity declare a need for calm.  And for me, calm is planned life.

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Meal plan. SEE the pile of sun wizzened summer greens

After the shows, I am lucky enough to bring home a heap of veg, and I’ll try to use as much as I can.  I am greedy for good food, so if I can stretch out free veg to mean buying beautiful coffee and wine, them I’m in.  However, I’m too tired to plan on a Sunday night, and that’s when my Riverford orders have to be in by.  I know, life is so hard.

This year I declare simple, repetitious, slightly boring meals and mildly rigid planning as my saviour against unecessary arguments and stress.  We will just eat food:  sausages + 3 veg, salad with chorizo wraps and yoghurt, pasta with some veg, toast with pesto and salad. Or random fridge clearing combinations: on Tuesday we had broad bean fritters, asparagus, salad and halloumi.  Nice but odd. Too fugly for photos (that’s saying something I realise).

Years ago, I fretted that that sort of a meal wasn’t enough, was too wierd.  My lovely husband just said “Not every meal needs to be an event.” With that, the perceived need to produce something ‘special’ was lifted.  I love cooking.  But not every day. Where’s the time left for friends, kids, exercise, going for an impromptu pint or just being a bit too tired to wash up?

So this week I just wilted all the sad summer greens in their own water, to add to scrambled eggs.  In a lidded tupperware, they are ready for adding to any meal.  The tomatoes are just great to make sure the kids are getting enough veg.  New potatoes for a giant potato salad with spring onions, mustard & hard boiled eggs for my lunches. Nothing that takes too long to cook or is terribly exciting.

But, when there is brain space: PIZZA!  Check out the dividends from my preserving jag:

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Roasted red pepper pizza with mozarella and gran padano

And planning what to do with last week’s greens meant I had a dal in the fridge for lunch.  Onion stockpile means onion quiche.  I’ve made a variation on this quiche hundreds of times, and it never gets old, and means that there’s something veg packed in the fridge for “I can’t be fucked” times of the week.

Planning, at this time, does help me because I can now see that I’m spared the clanging irritation of a last minute shopping trip or being hangry infront of the fridge (a good friend recently noted I’m a dangerous woman when hungry).  I don’t see that everyone has to be as enthusiastic a home cook as me or other ‘foodies’ (bleugh).  Food has, in human history, been mostly a means to an end, not a panacea for what ails us.  But if you’re looking for ways to make it less stressful, more affordable, less of a brain ache, then we could be on to something.

 

 

 

 

Vinegar. Oil. Heat.

Man alive my family can buy food.  I adore them and the love through food and shopping as I know it so well.  But.  Man alive.

But even before the hard working shopping habits of my family, I’d worked two events in a row.  Here are the leftovers:

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That is about 5 veg boxes. So about a month’s worth of sun-saggy veg.

5 bags of sad chard/spinach; half a dozen frazzled peppers and fennel bulbs – HALF A DOZEN FENNEL BULBS.  HALF A DOZEN.

My family is big-ish; my folks, 3 brothers, 3 sisters in law, 3 nephews/nieces, as well as my kids, partner and me. With a family weekend in Norfolk ahead and meals for 15 to get on the table, wasting any of this seemed daft.

So, I do what I know works.  I plan. Write out what I’ve got, what plans we have for the week (so when do I have time to cook?  Who’s out?)  What do I have for breakfast, what do I need to buy specifically to get these meals on the table?  When can I get to a shop? The self-employed countryside dweller needs to plan this last thing; time is money, baby.

On Monday morning, I thanked the gods of work that my ‘desk’ is the kitchen table and I could spend a couple of hours preserving some of this bounty. First: sad and slightly yellowing chard & spinach.  No greens should be stored outside for too long, and Primrose Hill High Street on a hot, sunny Sunday was hardly ideal.

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Invasion; wilted them with the water they’d been washed in

I followed an offline Riverford recipe for spinach, olive & feta tart.  The greens were now preserved.  The tart was prob a little heavier on the greens than intended, but my family don’t eat enough veg, so that’s fine by me.

But 6 fennel bulbs?  And all a little tough and brown by now.  And 3 kohlrabis, plus summer turnips.  I don’t care what anyone says, summer turnips are bitter and nasty.

Pickles!  Summer is salad and salads are lovely with some crunch.  Kohlrabi & turnips are now turned into a condiment for, seemingly, every meal for ever and ever, but that’s fine & we’re loving all of them.

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Kohlrabi & summer turnip; I don’t have a mandoline, just a grater

The terribly yellow celery, the final kohlrabi, brocolli stalks, wizzened carrots etc made me two jars of River Cottage souper mix.  Without access to a food processor, this one would be a ball ache. With one, it took a few minutes and now I get to feel hella-smug.

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Green anti-food-waste goddesses

I roasted the peppers and jarred them with some extra garlic, oregano and bay.  Via the unlying evidence of my IG feed, pizza occurs here a lot, and these will be lovely on a pizza, with loads of parmesan, and something salty?

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Feeling worthy of my sort of Italian bestie. 

So far so awesome.  I feel in control and worthy.  That’s before half term.

Bank Holiday weekend in Norfolk as one of fifteen feeders/food panic people (“WHAT IF THEY DON’T BUY WHAT I LIKE?  BUT WHAT IF I BUY ONLY A LITTLE AND THEN SOMEONE ELSE EATS IT?  BUY TRIPLE JUST TO BE SURE”).

We brought home MORE food than we took away.  And I forgot to cancel my veg box.  So, last Tuesday = this much fresh food to eat…

Yes, that’s one (bumper) veg box.  AND the veg leftover that we could feasibly eat.  That doesn’t account for the two tubs of humus, 4 blocks of cheese, 1/2 a roast chicken, 4 burgers, packet of smoked salmon, prosciutto platter, dozen packets of crisps, 3 loaves of bread, two unopened packets of chocolate, one pizza.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar would have a stroke.

Yes! Another plan:

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After working out when we’re likely to be busy/quiet, I look at what’s sad (the mushrooms, mixed salad & cabbages).  Start there.  Too hot for dense field mushrooms, so I figure, dried mushrooms. Three hours later, 6 sweaty field mushrooms provide me with a lovely jar of dried mushrooms, ready for when it’s cold (so, June).  The salad leaves are crap and are looking salmonella rich within a day of getting home, so I just feel glad at avoiding them usually.  Nasty.  The cabbages get the full hippie: sauerkraut.

The kraut looks nasty (and with these photography skills, I daren’t post). However, it doesn’t smell, so I figure it’s happy.  The mushrooms are, just there.

So, from two weeks of craziness, I barely wasted anything.  I could afford the new jars (£17!! I needed glass lids for the stock mix & kraut, so couldn’t go into my old jar stash), as well as the electricity to dry the mushrooms.  A lot of these veg could be blanched and frozen, but my three drawer guy is full.  These methods don’t represent solutions for everyone and every time, but I hope there are some simple ideas for you here.  Let me know if there’s something you’d be interested to hear about.  There are still a few leftovers in the fridge, but I’ve only had a small box arrive today.  So, I’ll plan around my week (friends on Wednesday, meetings on Thursday, event on Saturday, school fête on Sunday), and stick with what works:

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Progress

Friday was big time allotment action.  Fundraising, communicating, photgraphing and delivering those precious seedlings.

Fundraising and letting local people know that U-Grow exists is vital, so I joined the Kent Shed day at Fort Luton, Chatham, to learn more about their work.  (If you want any info, please let me know in comments.)

Fort Luton is a strange and unique place.  After a strange and chequered history (war/development/landill) it is now a Community Interest Company.  It is dedicated to serving the communities of Chatham and Rochester through a diverse portfolio of work and volunteering to serve its communities. I learnt a lot to take forward to U-Grow.

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Cray cray Fort Luton

During the day at Fort Luton, town councillors, funders and citizens were asking me about what Ben and I want to achieve at U-Grow; why did we start; where do we see it going; what funding do we have?  Why on earth are you mad, inexperienced people doing this on top of your full time jobs and families (they rarely say this, but it’s clear from the pinched foreheads and raised brows).  Well, I explain: Ben had a vision of a field to fork allotment.  Where we can grow, cook and learn.  Where people can cme together and teach each other and eat together.

So where’s your funding from?

We have none, I smile.

Mostly, this is greeted with a slightly bemused, startled expression that on top of having little practical knowledge of growing, we have no money.  “Broke, not even a farthing”, as one Audrey Hepburn character has said (I think).

But.

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Raised beds! Onions! Spuds! Donated timbers, volunteer work and we are away.

But Ben and I between us work with people, we know that this can make a difference using the assets of our communities.  From our different starting points (he is a pastor; I have background in mental health research, volunteering and retail), we know that a little goes a long way.  That there are hard working people out there who need a break and somewhere to use their skills, and some company.  (If you know of any funding in Kent please let me know!)

U-Grow itself is flourishing.  Ben , his wife and their helpers, have made one of the three beds useable.  There are potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, strawberries and winter roots growing.  As inexperienced but enthusiatic people, we are starting small, managable.  The other two beds can wait for bigger bands of volunteers and nice grant funding.  We are showing what can be done by a community on shoestring.  Imagine where we will be when we get funding.  The sheds, the barbecues – maybe some electricity?  A swing in a far corner?

We’re used to begging, borrowing, stealing and great at saying thank you to those who help us.

Look at what we’ve acheived through work, favours, asking and thanking.

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Right now, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us feel vulnerable and scared.  My way to work against the people who seek to divide is to double down into my community, streamline my life so that I can meet others outside of my echo chamber, listen and talk.  And get even better at trying to get free stuff off people.

Small revolutions

School of Artisan Food Mark II.  We did do Leon.  We spent a lot on taxis.

We heard about cheese-farming, and health.  About social media and food made for it. Policy, politics and health.  There’s so much more, but the most immediate connection for our community allotment came from Nottingham’s Small Food Bakery.

Kimberley had the onerous task of closing up the weekend.  Closing on a note of inspiration, hard work and passion was simply lovely.  The sun shone almost all weekend.  The sash windows of the lecture room had to be propped open.

After listening to Andrew Whitley present at the School a few years back, Kimberley was inspired to start out on her own.  She wanted something new, something fundamentally local and respectful.  Using what there is not what the consumer wants, or are told that they should want.

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General School of Artisan Food loveliness.

I don’t want to mis-remember Kimberley’s story, and I couldn’t do justice to it.  Her story of success and small revolution was inspiring. How she carefully sources every ingredient used in her bakery, using her power as a maker, business owner and community member to make change.  She’s brave, bold and authoritative.  She has great business sense and respect for produce provided by growers in and around Nottingham.

We all know that the last speaker at a two day event can be lacklustre.  Brains are swirling with information and ideas, are thinking about Monday’s responsibilities and routine.  But, but.  Kimberley took us with her, and I’m so grateful to her.

At the end of her talk, Kimberley gave these out to everyone:

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My pots! And my 20 year old Ikea hand towel.

It’s a specific form of permaculture.  Grown of love, passion and respect for the climate and earth.  Kimberley shared a wild yeasted bread made from this grain, and it was full, flavoursome and complex.

 

Kindly, Kimberley gave me a second pot.  We chatted outside the School, packing up whilst we negotiated taxis (none on a Sunday in Retford.  Literally.  None).  Two pots now sit on my dinner table, waiting for their new home at U-Grow.  I’ll take it up there next week, and show it some love whilst it moves into its new, Kentish home.

Kimberley proved that revolutions start with passion, hard work and love.  Ben and I are starting our own small revolution in Swanley. Not a sentance I ever thought I’d say, but isn’t that what makes life fun?

 

 

Manners. Money.

Today I had a morning of chores.  Pick up a birthday card, a sympathy card and lots of tonic water.  Physio.  Dog biscuits, fill the car with petrol.

My eldest daughter plays the violin.  She enjoys it but it’s not the most serious of her loves.  It needed new strings, and I remembered seeing a little shop just off the main drag of our high street.

It won’t be a stretch to reason that I like to support the local, the small and independent. I’ve never played the violin or any stringed instrument, so I was looking forward to getting some advice.

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I could hardly take a pic of the shop & then bitch, so here’s a Shetland pony instead.

The shop is in a stretch of beautiful houses, maybe even original Tudor.  Stooping to enter, it’s cool and dark.  Rows of violins, bows and bow hairs hang around the room and a grandfather clock with the same resonance of the one of my childhood ticks in the corner.  I felt a little unsure, maybe I was ticked off when I entered.  I sat on a low chair whilst he helped a girl with a damaged violin, the Ralph Lauren logo evident on her pristine polo.

My turn: I proferred the violin, daftly.  I have zero experience with strings, so maybe I was on edge a little.  He opened the case, took a look.  Yup,  new strings.  That’ll be £50.

Seriously?  £50? The second hand instrument was £75, he became defensive.  These are excellent quality, he said, you can get cheap Chinese ones if you like.  I said I didn’t doubt the quality, but didn’t know really if I could afford these.

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Still life of kohlrabi on gym mat

Many people where I live have Money.   I am middle class but I have to plan and budget, and a £50 curveball wasn’t in my plan.

“Have we made a decision yet?”, he asked within 10 seconds.  I hadn’t, I was weighing up the options.  Could they really be £50?  Would the time spent going somewhere else end up costing me hours in lost earnings so worth the pain of this?  Surely there’s something even a little less prohibitive, for a learner, effectively with training wheels still on.  “Have you got anything cheaper?”

“No.”  He couldn’t be bothered with me.  I wasn’t his type of customer.  So, being me, I told him: that £50 takes me time to earn, that I don’t want to give someone like him my money.  That he needn’t be so rude.

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Skye Gygnall, Table. Lovely salad.

If someone tells you they can’t afford something, they are probaby being truthful. They may apply a different logic to what they perceive as value, but he was so rude and reminded me of the days when my husband and I were poor, when buying a box of tea hurt.  His derision of me was mean, unnecessary and rude.  Stuck in the time warp of his old shop, keeping those he doesn’t like away.

My husband ordered some strings online.