More cookery

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted to Facebook that she had a couple of free Abel & Cole codes going. I had been lamenting that very day that I missed fresh vegetables and loved the idea of having an organic box delivery but could by no means afford one, so I jumped at the chance. I then ordered a far larger and more expensive box than I would have gone with if it hadn’t been entirely free, and eagerly anticipated its arrival. It came on Wednesday, and with its blue potatoes and British chard did not at all disappoint. For dinner that night I made chili chard rice with buttered nuts and feta cheese, and it was reasonably delicious.

Thanks to a string of dates with various people* I didn’t get to cook again till yesterday afternoon, when the three of us lunched on spiced tomato soup and soda bread. This was excellent for several reasons: firstly because we were all in the house at once and I got to cook for us (I really, really love cooking for my two housemates, but we rarely want to eat all at the same time), secondly because it was completely delicious despite the fact that I’m not generally a big soup-eater, thirdly because it meant I actually ate a real meal before going to a party (I am usually too disorganised) and fourthly because I got to show off beautifully and I still love showing off. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing the looks of ‘oh god we might die of hunger we shall not eat till next week’ on people’s faces when you announce that you have on a whim decided to make a fresh loaf to go with lunch, and then forty minutes later presenting them with light, airy fresh bread, still warm from the oven in no time at all. Thank you, Jack Monroe.

I’m essentially trying to use things up in the order I think they’ll go off in – chard first because fresh and leafy, then the tomatoes – so I suspect that the broccoli needs to be next and I shall use it tomorrow. What is your favourite thing to do with broccoli? I am tempted to simply fry slices of it in butter and serve it with macaroni cheese. I make pretty decent macaroni cheese (the trick is to make a good roux, which I have quite the knack for these days) and I haven’t done so in an age.  I’m very open to suggestions, though. I might then turn the other head into pesto, if I get round to picking up some nuts.

* Thereby making my life sound a great deal more exciting than it probably is

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In which I do not have pie.

Lesley’s week-one meal planner includes what looks like a completely delicious big Sunday lunch for proper grownups and families and the kinds of people who get up in the morning-time and make pie. What actually happened this weekend was that I got in from a party at 7am, fell asleep face-down on my bed still fully dressed, woke up at two in the afternoon and staggered downstairs to make myself raisin pancakes, got about halfway through, realised I felt too much like I was actually literally about to die to continue, put the remaining batter in the fridge, crawled sickly up the stairs and slept right till Best Mate came to make sure I was alive at a quarter past ten in the evening. Now it is twenty to six (how the goddamn hell did that happen) and I am eating pasta, peas and grated cheese while wondering slightly forlornly if I will ever be a real girl. It will be dawn soon. Whoops.

Bloody good party, though.

Oh. my. god.

I am eating these raisin pancakes for breakfast right now and they are possibly one of the nicest things I have ever put in my mouth. I didn’t make them on Monday because I didn’t have all the ingredients then so this is my first time eating them and now I want to have them for breakfast EVERY DAY FOREVER. I made the batter with semi-skimmed milk instead of water and cooked them in butter instead of vegetable oil but they were still really cheap* and dude – dude – there is a breakfast party in my mouth and all the raisin pancakes are invited.

On Sunday morning we are going to have a house full of tired and hungover people – the three of us plus two guests – and now we are all going to have raisin pancakes for breakfast. I have decided. That is a thing.

Seriously you guys. These pancakes are the freaking bomb. Next time I think I will add a little mixed spice to the batter for ENHANCED DELICIOUSNESS. Lesley, you are some kind of crazy breakfast genius. It would never have occured to me to try and make pancakes without egg but I like these WAY MORE than I do “normal” pancakes. And I like normal pancakes a lot.

* Partly because both the milk and the butter were bought by Best Mate and are technically hers and I am a thieving thief

Darling, is this how you omelette?

For most of my life, I didn’t like eggs. I got over it because it was ridiculous (what do you mean, you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t like eggs? what about this GORGEOUS DELICIOUS OMELETTE I have inevitably made you?) but it does mean that I never learned how to cook them.

Today did not get off to a good start. Last night, despite going to bed before midnight, I was tossing and turning till gone 3am and then this morning my alarm didn’t go off because of a battery fail incident and so I woke up at one in the afternoon, spitting feathers about how my BEAUTIFUL ORGANISED WEEK was RUINED and I would NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING because I COULDN’T EVEN GET OUT OF BED IN THE MORNING. Nonetheless, I shambled off downstairs and into the kitchen, determined to try and see this through.

Day 2: Breakfast. for each person, 1 egg fried, boiled, scrambled or poached on 1 slice of toast with spread, followed by a 2nd piece of toast with spread and marmalade.

Did I mention that Best Mate has had a baking phase? There were fourteen eggs in our fridge this morning. Fourteen is a lot of eggs for three scatterbrained and disorganised adults with studenty lifestyles only one of whom ever really cooks at home much and she never cooks eggs. So I decided to have two of them on my two bits of toast, instead. And then I ran into the perennial OH GOD HOW DO YOU COOK EGGS problem.

Back when I was living in Edinburgh and attempting to Broaden My Food Horizons, I decided one evening that I would cook an omelette for my then-boyfriend. I looked up a recipe online and off I went. Ten minutes in, I called for him to come into the kitchen.
“Um, darling? Is this how you omelette? I don’t…I don’t think that this is how you omelette”, I said, dubiously.
He chuckled and rolled his eyes at me in fond exasperation – a common expression on the faces of the people I have relationships with, for some reason or another – and pointed out that it wasn’t how you omelette and it was too far gone for even his mad skillz to turn it into one*, but it was a perfectly decent example of scrambled eggs. So he and I split them between us and they were completely delicious, and all I had to do this morning at one in the afternoon when I’d only been up for five minutes and was really really cross was perfectly replicate a mistake that I made about two years ago while a tiny bit drunk. Easy, right?

I cracked two eggs into a bowl and added a bunch of crap that felt like the right kind of thing to add. Salt, pepper, mixed dried herbs, a splash of milk, a load of grated mature cheddar cheese. Then I mixed it all up with a fork, melted some butter in a frying pan, threw the eggy mixture in and poked it dubiously. What resulted was dry and spongy and really really really salty. Overbuttered toast was supposed to help but actually made the whole thing somehow worse.

Downside: I apparently do not know how to cook eggs yet and only ate half my breakfast.
Upside: Weirdly, I am feeling pretty full nonetheless.

* That particular boyfriend of mine had an excellent line in rescuing cooking that had Gone Wrong. I choose to believe this to be unconnected to the fact that he and I used to do a lot of cooking together.

I have deviated at the first hurdle!

Now that my shopping has arrived, I am noticing a few things. Like: I’d forgotten that Best Mate is having a cakebaking phase and every egg in London is now in our fridge. And: dear holy actual God, that’s a lot of carrots. As many of which as possible I should probably eat this week. And then I realised that the first carrotty meal in the planner is Falafel with Carrot Salad, which means that I will actually end up cooking for all three of us because everyone loves falafel and using up the pita bread tonight and asking Best Mate to pick up some hummus on her way back from work because I could make it but I’ll be busy making falafels and it’s a sneaky way of keeping my own cost down while making everyone dinner 😉

I’ve made falafels once before, using Jack’s original recipe, and they were a huge hit here in Goblintown* even though they had very little structural integrity and squished down into paste as soon as you put them in the pita bread. They were pretty delicious though. So I am already being a rebel; I suspect I shall make modified-Jack-falafels and serve them with Lesley-carrot-salad and pita bread and hummus. Because there are going to be three of us, and I am terrible at following rules, and also it’s only ten past four and I am already bloody starving.

I shall keep you all posted.

* That is the name of our house. Yes, I know. I choose to attribute it to the tendencies of our token male resident to sneak around biting people and cackling, though in truth I think it came from Best Mate’s freaky-looking cats.

In which I decide to start following someone else’s menu rather than getting off my arse and designing my own.

As anyone who knows me will doubtless have heard countless times before, I am a little bit in love with Jack Monroe. (I do sometimes panic that she might be a little sizeist, but that probably has as much to do with my neuroses as it does with her opinions!) She’s revolutionised the way I cook and eat, and is undoubtedly one of my personal heroes.

The other day, I noticed a few links from commenters to one of her posts that made me suddenly wonder why I’d never tried to find any other blogs posting incredibly cheap delicious recipes in the  UK. I now have a whole list of them bookmarked, and one of them – Thrifty Lesley – has MEAL PLANS. Three of them, actually, but the third is brand new and wasn’t there when I was doing this on Friday. I am probably the only person I know who gets actively excited by the thought of finding £1-a-day meal plans on the internet. I squeeed aloud.

So anyway, I got all excited about this and instantly decided to put together a Tesco order that would do me for the two that were there, because there was bugger all real food in the house and I’m in a rut of not cooking at the moment and I really urgently need to get more of a handle on my accursed finances. It’ll come on Monday and then I’ll have probably the best part of a month’s worth of DELICIOUS FOOD for a satisfyingly small amount of money*. I’m not following the plans exactly, for  a whole host of conveniently bullet-pointed reasons:

  • I spend two or three nights a week – and sometimes more – in Feltham at my boyfriend’s flat, where for obvious reasons of being in his home I’m eating his food instead. So the “week” of eating is actually more than that for me.
  • I’m a vegetarian, and some of the recipes contain bacon and various other flavours of dead animal. (Though not many of them, because meat is expensive yo.) I also dislike olives intensely – and am mildly allergic to them, though nothing like as seriously or severely as I used to be – so I’ve left those out. Because they are ungodly disgusting and evil 😉
  • The recipes are designed for two people and there is only one of me. Except where there isn’t. I’m basically doing a dinner or two a week for three adults, and everything else just for the one. And I don’t want to quite cut everything dead in half, because…well look, I have what you might call a Healthy Appetite, alright? If you were trying to be polite and didn’t want to offend me. Also because if I do let myself be hungry on the basis that it won’t kill me I turn into a raging bitch queen from hell, and my poor long-suffering housemates don’t need that shit.
  • I’ll have to rearrange some of the dinners to use up the stuff that goes off first, because I’ve bought ALL THE THINGS all at once.

I’ll kind of be making a lot of it up as a go along, but I am intending to blog about it on account of how the entire world desperately needs to know what I have for breakfast every morning. It’s okay, guys: you won’t have to wait too long for your next exciting update on What Abi Puts In Her Mouth!**

* I have been blessed with a fairy godmother again. When did I get so lucky? Somewhere in my youth or childhood/I must have done something good…

** I’m not planning on telling you everything that I put in my mouth. This is supposed to be my Professional Writer Lady blog, after all.

In which I fret that my heroes think I’m a useless layabout

I absolutely adore Jack Monroe. She’s one of my personal heroes, and her recipes have saved me a great deal of stress, time and money during a period of my life when all of those resources were severely taxed. Sometimes, though, even our heroes get it wrong – and I honestly think that her latest post is an example of just that. I’ve worried in the past – thankfully without actual evidence – that Jack is perhaps not entirely on the side of light when it comes to weight, fat and obesity, and was saddened when this post turned out to prove it.

“Don’t blame poverty for your child’s obesity”, she says, explaining that “your kids aren’t fat because you’re poor. I could make your kids thinner and you financially better off, but you have to be willing to make the effort to learn.”

First of all, of course, there’s barely any chance at all that she really could “make your kids thinner” – because nobody knows how to make a fat person thin. But we’ll gloss over that for now; it’s a bigger topic than such a brief comment really warrants. What’s really bothersome here is the ‘fat shaming’ – the quiet undertone of ‘being fat is a Terrible Bad Thing and you should be Ashamed Of Yourselves’ that this post is full of.

It’s all so simple – and maybe if, as a nation, we stopped buying the plastic boxes that you stab and put in the microwave, maybe if we made a commitment to feeding our children good, nutritious food instead of the inedible equivalent of factory floor sweepings, then maybe we wouldn’t have a nation of obese children.

Would that it were so simple, Jack. Sadly, there’s no way that it is – no way that it can be. And in precisely what way are we helping those ‘obese children’ (of whom I was one, incidentally – and a very severely bullied one at that) by sending them the message that they ought not to exist?

It’s not just fat people who Jack seems to think need to be shamed into repentance, either. There’s also the way that she doesn’t seem to understand how some of our society’s strictures affect the likelihood of her suggestions being carried out – many people have never been taught how to cook, for example, and it may not even have occurred to them that they could in all seriousness learn. Poverty is strongly associated with the kinds of physical and mental health problems that can make it nigh on impossible to spend time shopping for and cooking the kind of food Jack makes so well, but she doesn’t seem willing to accept that that might be the case. In London, pretty much everyone has a large supermarket within easy reach of their home – but in other parts of the country it might not be possible to get to one without paying for public transport or petrol. The icing on the cheap-yet-fattening cake is that those who are ‘cash poor’ are very likely to also be ‘time poor’ – meaning that after a long day of hard work for little pay they simply don’t have the energy to then cook a ‘proper’ meal.

I said at the start of this post that I absolutely adore Jack, and I do. I’ll be eating a modified version of her ridiculously delicious Best Ever Chilli for dinner later tonight (oh my god you guys it is SO GOOD) while watching a film on the £4.99-per-month Netflix subscription that I can only afford because of all the money that she’s saved me. I just wish I could shake this sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t approve of me, or my body, or the days when my brain, health and energy levels mean that ‘a full complement of cheap healthy meals’ turns into ‘three bags of crisps from the corner shop and half a tub of Tesco Value ice cream’.