For auld lang syne

So, another year comes to a close. I started this year by starting this blog, because I wanted a new hobby, a creative outlet and a way of discussing and sharing my other hobbies with other like-minded people.

The first half of the year went well with my garden, my cooking, my freezing and my blogging. The second half of the year, not so much on all fronts.

However, I am ok with that, as the reason for all of that is my gorgeous daughter. That was also a goal of 2014, one which I am very happy we were able to achieve with minimum fuss (well, the pregnancy bit, anyway, life with a newborn is maximum fuss!)

Now our bub is 11 weeks old, and we are starting to feel a little bit more like parents, understanding her a bit more, and enjoying her developing personality with her smiles and cute noises. My long-neglected garden finally got a backyard blitz yesterday, as the cat naps Abby likes to take during the day don’t leave much time for the type of cultivation (and weed removal!) required. With the generous babysitting of grandparents, Jon and I were able to fix the garden back up, remove all the weeds and dead plants, and make it feel like a nice place again! Before and after shots below.

Having a baby has taught me patience, to embrace the chaos, and that sometimes you need to press pause on things, change your goals, and that’s ok. My garden has not had my attention, and that, combined with some crazy weather (heat followed by storms followed by cold followed by storms followed by heat) has led to the sad demise of plants such as my broad beans, who grew beautifully, then succumbed to Robert Downey mildew before we could harvest enough for a meal – specimens below.

I also haven’t been able to cook or blog much, partly because of lack of time, partly because of lack of energy while I processed this massive change! But again, that’s ok! Life is what happens when you’re making other plans!

New Year’s resolutions? I will keep blogging, and will return to my gardening and cooking, but with the understanding that having these activities forcibly scaled back by another amazing creation is definitely worth it! I’ll try not to become too much baby blog, but will share some highlights (or poo stories, if you want those, we’ve got plenty!)

The garden is surviving well – new tomato plants are thriving, as are strawberries – from a pre-bought plant rather than seed, something which again is ok as cultivating from seeds was a bit beyond me over the past few months! I planted some zucchini and kale yesterday, so we’ll see how we go! Some herbs are on the cards for the new year, maybe some lettuce – I am scaling back my plans to focus on things we will eat and that are low maintenance for the time being, so I feel less guilty about not being able to focus so much on the garden!

And cooking will also return, I need to make more snacks for me that are less sugary (breastfeeding makes me starving and a sugar monster!) and have more nutrition, and as the little one calms down more in the early evening, fancier meals will return! But again, the change is good, and it’s all about short-term adaptation for long-term gain.

So Happy New Year, thanks for sharing 2014 with me, and being understanding, and I look forward to more adventures in 2015!












Freezing points

I hate waste, hence my love of recycling, composting and repurposing of things as much as possible. One of the ways I avoid waste (and also save money!) is using my freezer constantly and effectively. In my future dream life, I will have a chest freezer, so that I can store all the things, all the time! Ah, imagine the buying in bulk that could occur … Alas, our house doesn’t really have the space (and as my logical husband points out, 2 people probably don’t require it either – darn logic!!) So, instead, I try and operate a rotation system to ensure that we use everything we freeze and create space for more!!

What sort of things do we freeze?
Everything!! Ok, not everything, some things don’t like to freeze very well, ie certain fruits and veggies that are already pretty watery like cucumbers or lettuce, or liquidy dairy like milk or yoghurt but those are in the small majority, most other things freeze!! I often say if it’s not tied down I’ll freeze it – I think it’s a really good way of ensuring there are always bits and pieces on hand to use!

I freeze fruit, as you already know, particularly berries, as well as other bits of fruit to make Yonanas. I freeze baked goods, ie when I make a pile of muffins or scones, then at least half go in the freezer for later. We freeze bread – I find that bread (particularly home-baked) doesn’t last very long, only a few days, so I tend to throw the rest of the loaf in the freezer so we always have bread on hand. We also freeze meat that we’ve bought and not used, either in its packaging, or if we’ve used part of it, then in a freezer bag, with date and quantity clearly labelled! We also freeze whole meals as well as parts of meals.

I also highly recommend freezing the small bits of leftover stuff that might otherwise sit in your fridge for a couple of weeks, going bad, until you throw it out, so that you can instead use it later, as it saves money and reduces waste – we often have the best intentions when it comes to using things up, but it is better to freeze it and have it available fresh for a few more months rather than discover after a week that you still haven’t used it up and it’s gone bad. In that vein, I freeze bits of tomato paste, salsa, stock, meat, where they don’t seem big enough for a whole serve, but can come in handy combined with other things, ie often you need a little bit extra tomato paste in a soup, and that little frozen bit comes in handy! Also, I find although we use a lot of cheese in different ways, we may not use the whole block before it goes mouldy, so we have recently frozen half the block, to be used later!

I also got a tip from a fellow blogger ( freezing fresh herbs, that you can then cut off the bit you need and use in a meal like soup when making it, so I froze a bag full of our freshly grown basil for future cooking!

What do you need?
* Freezer bags – I love the sandwich size as well as the mini size with the snap-lock close, as they’re easy to use and stack.
* Plastic containers, for bigger/bulkier items, although beware this takes up more space in the freezer, so rotation becomes key!
* Permanent marker (for the labelling of the freezer bags), and labels (for the labelling of the plastic containers).

One of the things that I highly recommend is freezing things in pre-separate portions, so that they can be used as single meals for dinner or lunch without having to defrost a large amount and potentially wasting food. Anytime we cook something like pasta sauce, or pasta, or lasagne, or pies, or soup, or casseroles, or anything in the pressure cooker etc, we tend to make enough portions for 6-8 rather than just 2 – my mother has taught me well, that if you’re already cooking, it’s almost the same effort to do double as single, and then you have plenty of leftovers!! We frequently take leftovers for lunch the next day, but if we’ve got more than that, or are going to be out etc, then we will freeze them.

We freeze in two main types of containers – if the food is a fairly sizeable portion, then we’ll freeze in a plastic container, so it’s ready to just take out and take to work or use for an easy dinner.

Example of meal frozen in plastic container!

Example of meal frozen in plastic container!

If it’s something where things will be added to it, like meat for burritos/tacos, or spaghetti sauce, or burger patties, or something else needs to be done to it, like uncooked meat or sauces, then we tend to freeze them in portions in freezer bags, so they’re ready to take out and defrost and be added to the rest of the meal. Labelling is very important – I label with minimum date and contents, and also size of things like stock or sauces, so I know how much I’ve got to work with!
A staple - spaghetti bolognese sauce!

A staple – spaghetti bolognese sauce!

This looks surprisingly similar to spaghetti bolognese sauce when frozen - labelling saves lives, people!

This looks surprisingly similar to spaghetti bolognese sauce when frozen – labelling saves lives, people!

How long can you freeze things for (ie when do I need to use it?)
This is why I always label things – both with the name of the contents (you’d be amazed at how much things start to look alike when frozen, and using burrito mix instead of spaghetti bolognese sauce on your pasta, while experimental, may not be the most enjoyable experience!), and with the date that it was frozen, so I have an idea of how long something has been in there, and don’t have to rely on my memory! We try and use frozen meats and meals with meat in them within about 4-6 months. Fruit, around 6-8 months. Bread, I find it can go for almost a year. Basically, if it doesn’t seem to have freezer burn (where it looks more ice than food), or have drastically changed its appearance, I will give it a go. I also find this website helpful – it seems to be pretty accurate, and points out that most things last a lot longer than we think!

So, that’s my freezing tips – some of you may already be doing these and more, so please share your freezing tips in the comments!

It all begins …

Well, the text all begins here, the subject matter and the idea began a while ago!

So, it’s everyone’s first time here, mine included, so let’s get to know each other a bit …

Gardening and organics
I have always enjoyed growing, cooking and eating (and freezing!) food. Since I’ve been an adult and living out of home, I’ve liked having a few pots of herbs (the cooking type, people!) on my balcony, but it has only been in the last couple of years, when I moved into a semi with a backyard (no grass, alas, it’s all about courtyard bricks and an immovable Hills Hoist that dominates, as well as the ‘prison chic’ look of the barbed wire fence separating us from the neighbouring car park … I’m really selling it, aren’t I!) that I started experimenting with growing other things, in pots. However, I often forgot to water things, or help things in the right way (fertilising, repotting etc), so there have been some high-profile disasters along the way (if anyone can tell me how to stop killing rosemary, I will be forever grateful!)

My garden!

My garden!

I have also realised that although in my day job, I research and consider and look at every angle before doing something, I’m the complete opposite when it comes to gardening, I tend to just try something (based on no experience!) and hope it works out, and then learn from it when it doesn’t … hmmm, maybe that is a reaction to the over-preparation required for my day job … sorry plants, you’re bearing the brunt of my mini-rebellion!! On the upside, I am getting better at that, actually reading up about things and taking advice prior to just planting and wishing, so this blog will also serve to remind me of the benefits of consistency, and any tips people have are always welcome!

My ever-patient and supportive husband has agreed to have a Bokashi Bucket in the kitchen, which is a great way to create the start of compost without the smells inside – it’s a sealed rubber bin, where you put the scraps and then put some organic matter (basically fancy woodchips!) on it to help it break down and not smell!! You’re then supposed to put it under soil outside to rejuvenate the soil, but as we don’t have an actual garden, it’s all about the compost bin for me, which is working very well – a little too well, however, as obviously we create way more compost than we can use, so I’m always happy to give it away!

I have become increasingly interested in organic eating (hence the growing), and am particularly focused on organic fruit and veggies, as well as considering the benefits of organic meat and dairy. We have recently signed up to FoodConnect for their regular organic box deliveries, and are enjoying a fortnightly game of ‘Masterchef Mystery Box’ cooking! However, I also love planning meals and making things in advance, which is why we’re doing a fortnightly box rather than a weekly box, as I still like to have some control over what we eat when.

Cooking and freezing

I also love recycling, reusing, repurposing – my view is that if you’ve got even the smallest bit of something left over from cooking something, it can be frozen or stored and used in something else. I really enjoy cooking, nothing satisfies me more than the fridge and freezer full of containers of homemade soups, stews, casseroles, iceblocks, fruit, stock and anything else not tied down! I enjoy making our own healthy food and snacks, like protein bars, and I also am quite into making sourdough bread, I have a homegrown sourdough starter that’s been a guest in our fridge for almost 3 years now, and I’m certainly still working on perfecting those loaves!

Home-baked sourdough goodness!

Home-baked sourdough goodness!

As a former English major, I also like to write, and I thought rather than continuing to bore friends and family on Facebook and in person with pictures of my latest garden success or culinary adventure, I’ll make a particular place where all of that stuff can go, and people can read it (or not) as they see fit.

So, I’ll try and post around once or twice a week, maybe more if I get inspired, (and probably a lot more in the beginning as I have lots of ideas and pictures to share with you all!) and it will be a mix of things – pictures from my garden, with accompanying stories of my triumphs and disasters, posts about things I’ve cooked, eaten and discovered, kitchen and household tips (I love to freeze things and use things up in innovative ways), musings on my life and the world in general.