Why Grow Your Own? and Why have a “Food Growers’ Group”?

Even in a very small space there's room for tomatoes, beans, lettuce and more
Even in a very small space there’s room for tomatoes, beans, lettuce and more

Different people grow their own vegetables, or fruit, for different reasons. For some it’s crispness and taste, nothing beats tender garden-fresh salads, “truss tomatoes” from the shop can’t quite capture the vivid fresh smell and taste of ones ripened outside your window. Others like to know they are not eating chemicals, or at least what chemicals they are eating. There’s also the satisfaction of knowing that you are providing for your own basic needs.

Likewise everyone has different ideas of scale. Some start small, a pot or two of lettuces and parsley on the deck, or even window-sill. Others are extremists. A couple of years before “The Good Life”, I dug up the lawns of our small-town quarter-acre, and planted a huge range of veges.

Whatever your reasons, and whatever the scale of your “plot”, sharing ideas, triumphs and failures helps. Back in the 70s, I learned so much and avoided many silly mistakes by listening to the “old guy” across the road who had been growing his own since before the war.

It still helps to chat with others, and since our climate (We reckon it’s 2 degrees cooler than Barkes Corner, where we are. What’s your estimate?) and soil are different from what they have in town, it makes sense to meet others locally. That’s why the “Food Growers Group” that we have been part of for a couple of years now was started. As well as sharing ideas and experience over a cuppa monthly, we get to see other people’s patches, and we often share seedlings as well as failures and successes. It’s a great idea and worth doing elsewhere.

Guilt free baking :)

There are even recipes with pictures for beginners :)
There are even recipes with pictures for beginners 🙂

OK, I’m sorry, this post is not about how to eat loads of fat and sugar yet not lose your youthful slenderness (or indeed any other “first-world problems”) it’s about baking with reduced oppression.

Most trade allows the rich and powerful to oppress the poor and weak. Trade ensures that the rich get richer, and (being impersonal) does not care if the poor get poorer. It is quite clear if you track almost any product grown in the Majority World that the price paid to the producer is peanuts compared to the profit paid to the sales and distribution entrepreneurs (i.e. “middle men/women”), it’s even peanuts compared to the wages paid to factory workers in richer places that convert the product into goods we buy.

FairTrade (and other schemes but they are the best known) seek to redress this balance by ensuring a decent price gets paid to producers.

Now to the “guilt free baking” part 🙂 The Big Fair Bake is a competition that is promoting Fair Trade.  Here’s what to do:

  • If you are a baker – enter.
  • If you eat and enjoy other people’s baking – get them to enter.
  • If you have a blog, website, use Facebook, Google+ etc. – make a link so your ‘friends’ can see.
  • If not – email a few people…

Quick delicious cookies

IMG_8820Here’s a basic, quick but delicious cookie dough.

  • 110g butter, ideally at room temperature (Vegans use margarine)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (yes, that is 1.5 tsp don’t stint the vanilla if like me you make these with nuts, of course if you use chocolate chips you could substitute almond essence)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Zap in food processor till well mixed, then add:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Briefly mix (very briefly in the machine or a bit more vigorously if by hand 😉 Then mix these in by hand, or use other “extras” (choc chips, other nuts, crystalised ginger…)

  • 1 cup wallnuts chopped

Roll into small balls and squash them on a lined baking sheet, they won’t rise or spread much in cooking. Bake at 170C for c.15 mins turning the sheet at half-time.

Be patient, though they are delicious warm and crumbly they are almost better when (nearly) cool. Since this is a quick recipe it only makes a few, to eat at one sitting. So you had better not copy me and be home alone whe you bake them, I said they were quick, easy and delicious, I did not say they were healthy 😉

Clotted cream and scones for a real Devon Cream Tea

Of course, though clotted cream is delicious on its own, on biscuits (especially slightly soft ginger nuts) or with just about anything sweet or semi-sweet you care to name, the absolute best way to eat it is as a Devonshire Cream Tea. No! Any Kiwis reading this who believe a Devon Cream Tea can be approximated using whipped cream, thickened cream or some other Ersatz product – forget it! It can’t for a Devonshire Cream Tea (or even its rival and near approximation a Cornish Cream Tea) you must have proper clotted cream. (Even the stuff they sell in tins and jars that comes from factories is a mere approximation to the real thing.

Here’s how you make a quick modern version. (The real thing is made in big enamel basins over a water bath, using fresh raw cream.)

Making clotted cream

  • Take a bottle of “Fresh Cream” from the supermarket.
  • Pour it into an oven proof bowl or casserole that will allow the quantity you have to fill it 3-6cms deep
  • Put it in the oven at 80C (or if you are not sure of your thermostat maybe 70C for longer)
  • Be patient
  • …be very patient
  • Gradually the delicious “clots” will form as a skin on the cream
  • When you can be patient no longer (or after 8 hours or so) scoop off the clotted cream into a serving bowl

Nb. don’t worry if some ordinary cream is mixed with the clots the variability of texture and taste is part of the joy (part that mass-produced cream, in these days of standardised homogenised industrial dairying, cannot really deliver).

Once it’s cool (be patient again!) eat with jam (traditionally strawberry, but your favorite is probably OK) on scones.
[PS the comment below asking about clotted cream icecreams prompts me to add this note: If you are careful in scooping off only the skin you will end up with a very hard homogeneous product like commercial clotted cream. The ideal is to scoop up some of the runny cream as well each time, giving a good approximation of the texture of real farmhouse cream 🙂 and the extra benefit of both greater spreadability and a slightly more economical product!]
There is considerable debate between those who put the jam on top of the cream as decoration, and those (perhaps because they value lower calories over taste, heretics!) who use the cream as decoration – provided there are approximately equal loads of cream and jam (in this ecumenical and tolerant age) either can be permitted 😉
If you don’t have a good recipe for scones, and I had no need of one before I discovered the secret of making clotted cream 🙂 here’s one adapted from Allyson Gofton.
sconesScone recipe
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
50 grams butter (or if you must margarine)
¾-1 cup goats whey or milk (ideally slightly soured – I remember my granny saving “off” milk for making her famous scones)
  • Heat the oven to 230C
  • Put the flour, baking powder and salt into the food processor, zap briefly to mix and airate.
  • Add the butter and zap till it becomes crumbs.
  • Make a well in the centre, pour in the whey or milk (start with 2/4 cup
  • Mix quickly with spatula to make a soft dough.If you need to add a little more liquid.
  • On a floured surface roll to 2-4cms thick (depending how big you like your scones).  Do not flatten be gentle!
  • Cut into 5cm rounds (or squares) and put on a greased baking tray. Left over whey or Brush with milk to glaze.
  • Bake at 230ºC for 10-15 minutes until cooked, turning the tray round at half-time.
  • Cool on a rack till you can comfortably eat them. They can be crisped and warmed if you make them ahead of time.

Rice and curry

Rice and curry, Sri Lanka’s maximum taste, minimum animal products staple.(Wikipedia apparently photographed by “Me”)

While I’ve been here in Sri Lanka by a crude meal count I have not managed to be a “Repentant Carnivore”. In fact even including breakfasts I have only eaten one Vegan meal – breakfast on Sunday I made for myself, Marmite in hot water and some bananas 😉

Every other meal included meat, fish or eggs. Even today, a Buddhist holiday when Sri Lankans eat no meat, meals included fish or eggs.

And yet… Rice and curry (perhaps the Sri Lankan staple) is mainly rice, with some veges and a curry sauce with a small piece of fish or chicken or an egg. Biriyani similarly managed loads of flavour from rice with spices veges and fruit with a small piece of meat. Modern Western meals are stuffed with meat, cheese, eggs, fish… and see the carbs and veges as secondary, Fish and Chips rather than Rice and Curry.

We need to rethink how we cook. Work out ways to do more with less (at least less of those high demand animal protein rich products). Our ancestors did it, a “real” Cornish Pasty had half the meat a modern one does, and was just as filling and probably better for us…

Vegetarianism is cruel to animals

A bobby calf. Since he was born male he will be taken away the day of his birth so humans can drink his milk (from Veganism is the Future)

We bought a great job lot of books (gardening and vegetarian cooking) on TradeMe. They will be really useful as we extend the vege patch and should provide a different range of recipes. However, even a first look at the recipe books reveals how much milk, cheese and eggs Vegetarians  habitually use. Unlike Vegans (who require no animals to be killed or mistreated) or even moderate Carnivores (who only require a few), Vegetarianism on a large scale requires massive cruelty to animals.

NZ Farmers’ Weekly “anticipated 1.8 million bobby calves processed this winter”. 1“Processed” here means animals just a few days old being herded into cattle trucks and shipped to the slaughterhouse.

Aussie SPCA explained :

For cows to produce milk, they have to give birth to a calf every year. Most calves are separated from the cows within twelve hours of birth to reduce the risk of disease, and most do not stay on the farm for long….

Bobby calves are housed together and fed colostrum, milk or milk replacer, usually only once a day. They are then sold, mostly for slaughter, at five days old. Products from processed calves include young veal for human consumption, valuable hides for leather and byproducts for the pharmaceutical industry….

Because they will very soon go to slaughter, bobby calves often do not get the same standard of housing, cleanliness, care or attention as the valuable replacement heifers or the bull calves being reared for veal. For their health and welfare, bobby calves should be fed twice a day and be housed in sheltered, clean and dry environments with room to lie down on suitable bedding.

A moderate carnivore who eats only a little cheese and does not drink much milk probably requires few if any Bobby Calves to be slaughtered, we feed them up for a year or two and then eat them. But vegetarians do not eat beef, but they do drink milk and eat cheese.

It’s much the same with eggs, even the most moderate egg eater produces some cockerels that somebody has to eat. At least in their case a free range cockerel gets a decent life before the pot…

I don’t know what you make of it, but my conclusion is clear:

  • Vegans do not harm animals
  • Moderate carnivores slaughter a few animals, but after they have had a decent life and are grown up
  • Vegetarians slaughter loads of baby calves and their treatment seems cruel and malicious

If any Vegetarian can defend their morality I’d be delighted to hear it. Until then I can only plead with you, if you don’t like meat then learn to eat Vegan!

Notes   [ + ]

1. “Processed” here means animals just a few days old being herded into cattle trucks and shipped to the slaughterhouse.

Really quick and easy chocolate muffins

This recipe is as quick and easy as it gets. Just turn the oven to 170C, get a muffin tin (I love the bendy silicone ones, so easy to get the muffins out 🙂 and/or some paper muffin cups.  Sieve the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl:

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 5 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1/2-1 cup cacao (depending on how chocolatey you like them)
  • 1 cup sugar (I use dark brown for a lovely warm sweetness)
  • 1/2-1 cup chocolate chips or cut up chocolate bar

Then mix lightly and make a “well”. Pour in:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1 egg

Stir, as gently as possible, till mixed. Spoon into the baking tin/cups. Makes 12 middling size muffins. Sprinkle with sugar or almond slivers. Bake about 15-20 mins till dry but still soft (not moist and squishy). If this batch are dry try again cooking less, till perfect or till you need a break from chocolate 😉

Do use FairTrade cacao and chocolate, so they don’t depend on slave (or near-slave) child labour.  And try to keep some for tomorrow (for the sake of your own weight)!

Emergency chocolate cake

  • 75g butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 cup milk

Throw these in a food processor and zap till well blended (it is easier if the butter is at room temperature (but for Emergency Chocolate Cake it usually isn’t 😉

Grease a middling size microwave-proof bowl, if you want to use a cake sized bowl then make double quantity.

Then add to the food processor:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Zap into a thick batter consistency, if it is solid add a little more milk (you can use soya etc. milk or water and milk powder).

Pour into bowl, and microwave on high for 2-3 mins till the top is firm. Cool then release onto a plate, eat while still warm, if you need a topping make extra mixture and use that (uncooked).

Chilli Beetroot Chocolate Cake

Gooey chilli beetroot chocolate cake

This moist chocolate cake with a twist of chilli is delicious and economical. 1 Though see below, there are mixed opinions in our house on how to treat the beet 🙂   The chilli adds a touch of interest, the beet adds colour, texture 2 Too much according to one critic 😉 and moistens the cake. The recipe is adapted (to make it more economical and lower fat (so I can excuse eating it with cream) from one in Lifestyle Block magazine from last year..

  • 200ml cooking oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2-3 tsp Vanilla

Zapped together in the food processor, or by hand.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 1 Tbsp (yes really!) Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Chilli powder

Sifted and mixed.

  • 1 big cooked beetroot

Either: Tim’s preferred version, grate the beet and add to the wet mix. Or: Barbara’s preference, zap the beet while you are zapping the rest of the ‘wet” mix. 3 The difference is the presence or absence of distinct soft red bits of beet in the final cake. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry. Pour into an oiled floured cake tin. 4 I use one with a removable bottom to make getting at the cake quicker once it is baked 😉 Bake at 180C for about 30 mins (or maybe 35 in a non fan oven. I think it is best to remove it while the insides are still a little gooey, because that’s how I like to eat it, with cream 🙂 5 But then I’m not Vegan, Vegans should top with frosting to make up for the lack of cream 😉

Notes   [ + ]

1. Though see below, there are mixed opinions in our house on how to treat the beet 🙂
2. Too much according to one critic 😉
3. The difference is the presence or absence of distinct soft red bits of beet in the final cake.
4. I use one with a removable bottom to make getting at the cake quicker once it is baked 😉
5. But then I’m not Vegan, Vegans should top with frosting to make up for the lack of cream 😉

A tale of two mushrooms: Eating local?

Mushroom photo by orchidgalore (I forgot to take a shot of mine 🙁

It is better to eat local. That’s a no brainer. Forget about foodmiles, carbon footprints and the like, just remember the tale of two mushrooms. The first was actually several small buttons, used by the cafe to garnish my lamb’s fry (liver) and bacon. They were anonymous and almost tasteless, the sort every supermarket sells. Who knows where they came from, and apart from presentation 1 My chef son will remind me here that presentation is nine tenths of the flavour, but that’s not quite true. they added nothing to the dish. The second mushroom was a fat giant, bought from the mushroom man at the Tauranga Farmers’ Market. We hadn’t been kind to it, kept it several days sitting in its paper bag in the bottom of the fridge forgotten, till I grilled it for lunch. Fat, juicy and bursting with mushroom flavour, despite the delay and despite cooking it merely by shoving it under the grill with a slosh of olive oil while my bacon toasted.

The local mushroom beat the supermarket thing hands down (I do wonder why some cafes seek to save cents by serving tasteless mushrooms, but that’s another story).

Much of the produce from the Farmers’ Market is organic or spray free for much the same price as the mass market produce. Almost all of it tastes better, usually fresher, often with a story 2 The tale of the people who produced it, or at least the look of them if the stall was too busy for a chat. and sometimes just like in a Kongo market with a “matabiche”. 3 The same idea as a baker’s dozen, a little extra to keep a customer returning to your stall by thanking them for their custom. Like the packet of bacon Frank, of Frank’s Sausages, gave us on Saturday.

You may think that eating local is a luxury for country folk, not so, there are markets all over NZ. So, as the guy on the TV advert says “Eat fresh!”

Notes   [ + ]

1. My chef son will remind me here that presentation is nine tenths of the flavour, but that’s not quite true.
2. The tale of the people who produced it, or at least the look of them if the stall was too busy for a chat.
3. The same idea as a baker’s dozen, a little extra to keep a customer returning to your stall by thanking them for their custom. Like the packet of bacon Frank, of Frank’s Sausages, gave us on Saturday.