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Suppers last week were either a testament to the folly of trying to plan or an example of how planning mitigates against wholesale household chaos.  Without the benefit of a randomised control trail, I take the postive.  I can find many pics of crazy skies but hardly any of food.  What does that say?  Meals more eaten than (poorly) documented, nicely busy – friends, puppies, learning, prosecco, travels.

The weekend was a success, more on that later.

Plans for this weeks my curious ones (or less so, humour me):

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It may seem counter-intutive to get a box knowing that I’m not going to eat it all.  I call it lazy and leave it there.  The portions in a Riverford Bumper box are huge, and I want as much asparagus and as many new potatoes as possible.  The mushrooms, cabbage and courgettes will last.  Maybe I’ll make that parmigana I’ve been promising myself for weeks.  Or just some chips.

Making pesto from carrot tops had never occured to me.  On Friday I’m giving an assembly at a primary school, talking about the Hungry Gap and veggies.  I plan on taking the pesto with me.  I imagine they will think I’m crazy, but that’s okay, it’ll make the kids laugh.

Lots of these new spring veg don’t want much doing to them, so a little steam, butter and salt will suffice. In a couple of weeks I’ll make a Thai paste for veggie curries.

Until I started getting a veg box I didn’t really connect the pictures of carrots with green leaves with an actual leafy carrot.  I would go to the greengrocers, Lavender’s, with my mum.  Maybe that’s why I love the smell of my car when it’s packed full of veg boxes, fruit, crates and everything else you need to work an event.  Tangerines in wax paper, prices in bold bright red bubble font and being told off for sitting on the bag rest thing (is there a word for that?).  Even so, I don’t remember ever seeing a carrot with its fronds. Teasing Luke at the lunch table for his “potato crisps” is a particular memory.  I had no idea that the lovely things in the Sainsbury’s packet that I had for lunch every day (I know) were made of potatoes. I didn’t think to connet the things in the packet with something from the ground.  I grew up going to the green grocer, the butcher and pick your own; mum cooked a lot of our meals from scratch, but I don’t ever remember seeing veg with leaves on.

So I’ve learnt to make the best use of these and other lovely veg, even when it’s horrible turnips (soup).  Years of planning and the total guilt of chucking stuff out means I’ve learnt the hard way.

I fight meal planning.  It’s tedious in the extreme but it saves time/money and we all want more of that don’t we? So I sit my arse down, get the pen out.  The act of doing also shows me how little of a plan I have.  Cookbooks down, search Smitten Kitchen & Riverford; ask the kiddos what they want, think back to last year.  Another week of veg-box tetris.

 

Learning

Tomorrow I’m off to The School of Artisan Food. Once a year, they hold a weekend of lectures about food (funnily enough). The School is within the grounds of the beautiful Welbeck Estate, where small food producers make a living.  One of the School’s charms is its intimacy: last year I was lucky enough to meet (and be a very, very sad fan girl in front of) Bee Wilson and chat with James Whetlor of Cabrito Goat .  I queued for coffee with Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis. Total gent.

I went alone last year, tempted by the line up and cheapish ticket price.  Ever the spod, I sat towards the front of the small lecture room.  Going to the theatre or a talk alone is something I book without a thought.  Then I arrive and remember that not having a pal to share the experience with can be a bit flat, a little less thrilling.  I dug out notebook and pen (see: spod) and made myself okay, fiddled with my phone.  Arriving mid-animated-conversation, a pair of friends grabbed empty seats on my row.  Kim & Polly.

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It’s quite pretty.

They were, and are, affable, kind and expansive.  We got on.  Kim founded Gluten Free Gatherings, and is now pushing all her vitality and oopmh towards food education.  Polly is Food Safari, working to share stories from small producers.  Over okay coffee and amazing food (cooked onsite by diploma students) we shared passion for change and some (foodie) star spotting.

The two days featured talks by restauranteurs (Honey & Co, Jeremy Lee, the Grazer), campaigners (Jeanette Orrey/James Wheelan, in a way), journalists (Bee Wilson, Joanna Blythman) and historians (Ivan Day).  The diverse range of interests, starting points & sectors meant we weren’t in an echo chamber of organic wind dried organic water. James shed light on how hard it is to get into supermarkets and why  that was the right move for Cabrito.  Jeanette talked about obesity and holiday hunger, Honey & Co about home and food.

Kim & I happened to be booked on the same train back to town.  We eyeballed Olia Hercules at Retford station and shared ideas from our excited brains.  One of my favourite talks was from Jeanette Orrey.  We shared, and share, a sense that food people can get too precious about bronze dyed pasta and single variety everything.  My work and the receipts in my wallet are proof that I value excellent quality food but that, sadly, is a huge privilege.

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Dinner courtesy of the excellent farm shop, book John McGahern or Anne Enright, both favourites

In the year since, Kim and I have exchanged ideas about food systems, food poverty and what we’re doing in our own communities to make a practical difference. She is a total powerhouse of energy and ideas and I’m so lucky to call her a friend.  We’ve been to Borough Market talks, drunk amazing chemex in Small White Elephants and shared conversations bursting with ideas and positivity about the people we’ve met.

In breaks between lectures at the School you can browse the enviable library (books I hoped to read and have failed, above).  As you listen to each lecture, the sun breaks through the sash windows, veg canes wobble and, blossom waves. I will do my best to not buy more books than I need and try to remember a little about genetic epidemiology this year (which is going to be a stretch.  I’ve called in the big guns).

So we’re off again, this year, on the early train to Retford, Leon brekkie in hand.  With the allotment underway, Trussell Trust training booked and lots of school visits in the diary for Riverford, I’m excited for another weekend of ideas, and spending time with Kim, too.

Planning, I win

It’s working!  I give myself permission to use an exclamation mark.  Less money spent, less time going to and fro from the supermarket, barely any wastage and a spartan fridge by Tuesday morning.

Results:

Cream of chard soup was great for my lunches (one bag of chard down).  Chard, wild garlic and asparagus tart = three veg from that pile of green gone (two bags down).  I caught the spinach *just* in time; only a few leaves had to be binned. The rest went into pasta with bacon and rosemary.

It may sound perfunctory to say “one bag down”.  Sometimes cooking and feeding others is a chore, especially when you didn’t really choose the veg, it is looking past its best, you’re stick of the sight of that bag of spinach, and you didn’t even pay for it so what’s the harm … But waste is waste and I am relieved to have found a system that works for me.

When it’s full show season, life goes a bit mad.  I’m out all hours on weekends travelling around for Riverford – country shows, village fetes, school fairs.  Aside from meeting all sorts of people and enjoying my crazy work life, I am lucky enough to get leftover veg boxes from our displays.  Last year I wasn’t great at getting veg cooked quickly.  When produce has sat out in the warm/sun/rain/hail/cloud, it only lasts a day or so.  It (rightly) shames me to say it, but a lot of greens went to waste.  Now I’ve proved to myself that a little forethought will prevent me from wasting food.  With 2017’s show season just starting it’s a relief to know that I’ve got a system.

(I now pass The People’s Fridge at least once a week and I plan on redistributing excess food there, too).

Almost all of the potatoes have been eaten, good god all of the three bags. Mash, potato cakes, chips.  Also: POTATO PIZZA!  There are still a few left, growing substantial eyes, but perfectly edible. The two sweet potatoes are hiding; might give them away, we don’t like them much. The fennel was griddled and added to a different soup for him indoors, and the courgettes went into a chilli. Onions, carrots and green beans just on the side, in things, nothing fancy.

What I find most interesting is how much time I’m saving.  20 minutes working out meals gives me a structure.  On Friday, during Brownies-based-limbo (50 minutes between drop off, pick up and not able to have a Friday glass of wine), I had the plan and the ingredients to get the chilli made.  That saved me time on Monday, when work and school were in full swing.  I have to remind myself of this because planning feels like the polar opposite to creativity.  In reality it gives me the chance to cook and eat meals that are more interesting, to use the cook books I’ve bought and to introduce the kids to slightly different tastes (e.g., the rosemary in the pasta).

This week’s plan (I’m away all weekend so him at home is on duty):

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A lot less veg as, honestly, I’m the pusher/enforcer round these parts.  But they will have fun, and so will I.

 

Glut

What kind of fool knows something but fails to act on it? I know that menu planning is my friend.  And yet.  But if amazing parties, good friends and interesting work are the culprits then I think we’re on to safe territory.

So, now I have some week-old produce, and some event weary produce (veg ain’t great when it’s been in the sun/wind/rain on a show stand for a few days).

There’s so much I’ve had to break it down in to two groups…

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There’s so short shelf life green veg here, that the chance of wastage is high.  I’ll extend the wild garlic’s shelf life by making it into pesto. The chard is already looking a bit sad, so they’ll get cooked: soup in the fridge/freezer keeps me working all day.  This one looks tasty and enough cheese to keep it tasty. The second bag will go with pasta.

A spinach & feta tart sounds great.  The green beans will be a side dish, and I eat them raw, too.  The cougettes will become a parmigana.  Saturday’s ‘Guardian Cook’ is going to be pizza, so I’m keeping my options open.  Saturday, wine, pizza, my family together.

Then, to the brown/orange:

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Now it just so happens that there’s a lovely jar of lard in my fridge right now.  So, Friday night will be chips, egg & beans.  Sunday, a chili with sweet potato/regular wedges (my kids loath sweet potatoes).  The cauliflower can be just simple cauliflower cheese. My dad likes it with a tin of plum tomatoes in the centre; until about a year ago I didn’t get it, but how did I not see cheese + tomato = heaven?

Monday will be mushroom ragu with heart stopping amounts of polenta.

Delia’s trust carrot cake, with the sugar dialled back a bit.  Some rhubarb muffins for a sweet toothed girl’s brekkie, some bread and I’m done.

Hopefully I won’t waste a thing.  Fingers crossed.

 

Happy birthday me

I had a party the other weekend.  It was my birthday, not a special one.  Just grown ups, fizzy wine, gin and nibbles.

The prospect of under-feeding people is an anathema to me.  Imagine someone being hungry at my table, in my house?  The last golden crisp in a shared bowl or perfectly cheesy corner of the lasagne dish call to me, only me.  I have to make sure that there are plenty of tasty bits.  You may leave my home stuffed, hopefully never hungry.  There will be plenty of food at my house for my friends, my family.

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Hungry and hangry people make bad guests, so I spent a lot of Friday night cooking dips dips dips.  A romescu that I teach a lot, beetroot and walnut hummus, guacamole, butternut and yoghurt.  Bags and bags of budget tortilla chips.  There may have been off-brand frazzles (thanks Liz).  Bowls and bowls of the stuff. Plenty of fizz and gin too, of course.

I attempted a bread stick recipe.  Pro tip: don’t try a new bread recipe at 11pm on a Friday night when you are powered by pinot.  In. the. bin.

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I could have gone to the shops and bought all of this.  I know my guests aren’t coming to a Saturday night party for dip (at least I hope not).  Cooking and providing for my guests is my way of showing affection and gratitude that they chose to spend their precious Saturday night with me.  Using my Friday night to roast veg, half arse those breadsticks and use all four power settings on my immersion blender was my thank you.  Add into that a Spotify Britpop playlist, a Manics sing-along, and I was happy as larry.

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Every time I looked up, people were smiling and chatting.  Well trained, I kept glasses full.  My kitchen was full of people who bring me happiness.  Happy birthday me.

 

 

 

 

“Science is love”

Books were always my life, growing up.  I knew I wanted to study literature at uni as soon as I learnt it was possible.  It was all I ever wanted to do, read all day. Think about books and read about books and write about books.  I was the spoddy one in a party city, earnestly working away.

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When I left uni, I didn’t know what to do.  A stint at a corporate mass recruitment centre left me certain that I was a not-for-profit girl.  I looked for public sector work, and, oddly, I ended up in the sciences.  Specifically, it was (and is) a specialist psychiatric research unit. I say oddly because I remember being stood outside reception before my interview and the shiny steel “genetic research” of the department’s name made me feel as though I was entering the real life ‘Gattaca’.  I didn’t think I could work in such a place, but I needed a job and the three women who interviewed me were wonderful, so that was that.

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School science had been rudimentary & binary.  Multiple choice at best. People teaching who should have moved on.  Now I learnt that real science is a passion for ideas, for exploration and questionning.  That working on a question and finding you were wrong was still learning.

Here was compassion for people going through the hardest times of their lives and living with the stigma of poor mental health. Other people’s perceptions of that poor mental health. The damage that we do to each other.  Real stories. And the researchers working to get the facts which will give others the power, hopefully, to help those in need.

There my colleagues worked out good ways to ask, to listen and gather information about people’s stories.  So that we could hear our participants. Science and stories was not a combination I’d ever learnt before.

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I left a couple of years ago, and honestly, the privilege of not thinking about severe mental health problems was a relief. But, the strangest thing happened.  I missed the science. That doodle above was scrawled during an amazing talk about the hormonal and neurological links to obesity.  I didn’t understand half of it, but enough and I loved the patterns, the desire to help people who are struggling.  I missed the enquiry, the space to think about big questions.

Luckily for me, I can return to the white and chrome building, which is a little greyer round the edges now. I can read and am taught, reminded how to read data tables.  And I can know my facts and my stats to try to make my small world a better place.

U Grow

So, I know zip nada nothing about how to grow anything.  There are a few desultory tulips and grape hyacinths in my yard but that is, as they say, more by good luck than good managment  (Yes it is a paved yard, not American for garden).  But I try, I try and I love the odd bloom that does pop up.  Seeing the results of pushing myself of the back door, digging, feeding and keeping the squirrels away always gives me a kick.   Being outside itself is a great feeling, too, and I always feel better for it.

Last Saturday I visited U Grow Swanley, a new community allotment.  Dreamt up by Pastor Ben of Elim Swanley, Ben & his wife Kris want to make a place where we can come, grow some veg, cook it and just enjoy being outdoors together.

It’s going to be a lot of work.  There are 3 beds, all needing nourishment and tilling.  An old shed to be pulled down.  We need a greenhouse, decking and maybe even a barbecue. We need to learn about when to plant, what should go where, when and how.  We’ve had some items donated already, and one bed has been dug in.

Money is needed, help is needed.  We have nothing but good will and hope right now, but we figure that’s the best place to start.

Other than that, right now we’re on our own, with only a desire to see what the people of Swanley can teach us and how we can work together.  Comment under the post if you can or want to help us to grow this allotment into something special for Swanley.