A friend wrote to me with concern that I might have stopped blogging. It felt nice to be missed. In fact, my computer charger was broken and my children have been with me 25 hours a day since half-term holiday. I liked being off-line, compelled as I ever am towards the internet. I was reminded that I could do different things with my down-time than facebook or idle www reading. For one I’ve rediscovered my love of making tarts, and for Halloween with the flesh from the squash George and Ned carved I made a really nice pie: a modified Martha Stewart recipe, with honey and cream and ginger, and really nice pastry with a new combination that was 1 part whole wheat spelt to four parts white flour– I am always trying to figure out really tasty ratios that are healthful but not overwhelmed or made leaden by whole-grainness. This one worked.
I also took out my Fuchsia Dunlop books, on Sichuan and Hunan cooking, to make a list of ingredients to ask some friends who are visiting from Oxford next weekend to bring. She is an inspiring cookery writer, and I have chosen her for my guide. I am determined to become a passable cook of yummy Chinese dishes with all our local produce and meat. Condiments and specialist ingredients to come from the kind of cavernous shops that fill me with ecstatic glee. The nearest good Chinese is Birmingham, and that’s too far for my terrible cravings.
(Oh yes, at the Fairtrade shop on Cornmarket in Oxford, they sell a really first rate bottle of pickled chillis from Eswatini Swazi Kitchen, would like to link but their server seems down, must remember to put this on the list for Helen…)
Meat: It’s so clear to me that livestock rearing in a big big problem and we as a family must eat lower on the foodchain. We try in so many ways, in fact most ways, to have our lifestyle meet our values, and in this way we could do better. My husband really likes his meat, and so does my daughter. My son and I have more of a cheese tooth, and dairy is a problem too, though perhaps not quite as much of one (something to investigate actually).
Eating meat– the animals command food resources, the issues that Diet for a Small Planet began to get at years ago… and skew the global market, and prices, and create hunger. And of course the belching digestive methane of ruminants, a potent and immediate warming gas. Let alone the unbearable cruelty of industrial animal rearing. I truly respect vegans, and could be one, but I don’t think my family would participate and as the primary cook and an inveterate nibbler and taster I don’t see how I could remain one. My determination is to cook better (meaning more with less), as below, and when outside the home and given a choice, to choose whatever is impact lowest (local, vegetable, NOT global soya, etc.)
But: it is possible to get extremely local, free range and often organic lamb and pork/bacon and chicken around here. It’s more expensive, obviously, but I’d rather barely eat meat at all and pay more than eat lower quality stuff more often. This kind of meat is truly delicious. Last spring I bought a cut of beef brisket from a farmer up the road and made a very memorable Vietnamese Pho (a noodle soup with warm spices) with the stock. Last night we had chicken wings and because they were from organically raised birds I saved and rendered the fat from the stock from the tips. I will use this fat somehow, not sure yet. But then at least from that purchase of the wings comes four uses: the grilled meat itself, the stock from the tips which I used to simmer some kasza, the chicken fat from that stock to sautee something sometime, and the stock from the bones of the wings…
There’s also the idea simply to bulk meat out, to extend the meat experience as in loaves and meatballs. I have made lamb meatballs (really local meat, minced) verily expanded with leftover bread or rice, onions, cinnamon, baked, then put in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, bay, cinnamon, ginger– tastes uncannily eerily similar to Swanson’s TV dinner Meatloaf Meal that was a true excitement of my American youth.
I think as I start to cook more Chinese I’ll also find more ways to be resourceful (ie resource careful) with meat… I also think of Asian cuisines as using meat as a condiment rather than a focus– the scent of bacon or shrimp, a moment not an hour… Seems like for meat eaters learning to make these shifts would go a long way towards improving things…
One last food thought: with the leftover kasza (tasty buckwheat groats) I’d like to sautee (hey! in the chicken fat!) a chopped leek and some nice mushrooms, maybe some parsley from the pot on the windowsill and roll in a nice crepe made from buckwheat flour and wheat and the eggs from my friend Michelle’s chickens. This is the kind of cooking that is really inspired by Rebecca Wood’s The Splendid Grain, another book I am loving these days.
Nicola my dear, if you would happen upon my doorstep in time for this Ladies Luncheon I’d make you a vegetarian version with the Fairtrade Extra Virgin Palestinian Olive Oil for sale in our local cooperative organic veg shop! LOL!
(But, OMG, there’s an incredible story to why a jar of those Palestinian black olives have to cost over £5– so much travail, turmoil, suffering and sadness in that one small jar. Someday I will write up the story. It’s a horrendous tale.)