Are You Going to Eat That?

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Home-made ravioli with goat cheese

Home-made ravioli with goat cheese

There seems to be a bit of a shifting of the human consciousness when it comes to food. There is a lot of talk of low GI, paleolithic, sugar-free, low fat and other various sets of food ‘rules’. I am glad that people are starting to think about food. For the last few decades there has been a big trend towards ‘improving’ on the traditional basic foods. Convenience foods have risen to great heights and there is a mind-boggling array of varieties to suit every taste. But lately there seems to be a trend towards getting back to basics and purchasing real, simple food again. Farmers’ markets, gourmet organics, natural handcrafted foods and specialist small producers are starting to gain a footing. Growing your own is the new alfresco. Food is starting to be more than just the time between your plate and your mouth.

Back in the day, your relationship with your food would start when you prepared the bed, ploughed the field or maybe even when you saved the seed from the previous year’s crop. You would plant it, tend it, watch it grow. Then harvest it, prepare it and eat it. Some things like cereal grains might be processed before use. With animals you would breed them, raise them, and either use their milk or eggs as you continued to care for them, or slaughter and eat them as meat. Excess foods could be preserved by drying, cold storing, smoking, salting, pickling, fermenting or bottling, but as much as possible was eaten fresh. Seasonal foods were eaten fresh when they were available and gone without in their off-season. It was labour intensive, but necessary. Food tasted like food. Herbs and spices were used frequently, but sugar sparingly.

Blueberry muffins

Blueberry muffins

People have got away from making meals from scratch. They use jar or packet bases, or even completely pre-made foods. They claim that to cook from scratch takes too much time. What is an hour preparing and cooking a few ingredients compared to the months required by our ancestors to grow and prepare even basic foods?

People these days want to spend more time eating their food than what they do preparing it. It is not uncommon for a person’s entire relationship with a meal, from taking it out of the packet to putting it in their mouth, chewing and swallowing, to last for less than half an hour.

When you put time into producing your ingredients you reconnect yourself with your food. Even if you take the time to choose individual fresh ingredients at a supermarket (or fruit shop or butcher…) and consider the contribution each item makes to your recipe, you extend the time you spend with your food. By the time a home-cooked meal sourced from fresh ingredients gets to the dinner table you might have spent a couple of hours with it. You have seen it, felt it, smelled it, and maybe had just a little taste along the way. You appreciate it much more. You have a greater respect for it.

I know not everyone has time to grow food or spend hours preparing it. But it probably takes less time to grow a few vegies than it does to go to the gym a few times a week or walk around the lake to burn the excess energy in your convenience foods. And think of the extra time you will get when your body is healthy for longer because you have kept your consumption of extra fats and refined sugars, as well as artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives, to a minimum. Think of how much better your quality of life will be when your body is in good condition from good nutrition and you look and feel wonderful, rather than being fatigued and not liking what you see in the mirror.

As a heart patient, I cannot stress strongly enough, if you have a perfectly good heart you should do what you can to keep it, and the rest of your body, in good shape.

When you train your body back into eating real food it will no longer crave the nasty processed foods that it used to. Make a choice, look at what you eat and why you eat it. Think about how long that food is in your life for and what you might be able to do to get to know it. Don’t buy the pre-grated, pre-cut or serving-size value-added ‘fresh’ foods. Spend a couple of extra minutes preparing your ingredients, chopping your vegies, slicing your meat, and experience it in ways beyond what is possible inside your mouth. You will come to see food differently, and enjoy it at least as much as you did before.

Carrot crop 2012. I made these into the most amazing carrot and bacon soup.

Carrot crop 2012. I made these into the most amazing carrot and bacon soup.

And here is a challenge. Next time you do your grocery shopping, look at each item you put in your trolley and think about where it came from and the processes it has gone through. If any part of that journey disagrees with you, consider not buying it, or finding an alternative. Those apples that were sprayed liberally with pesticides. The chicken that was grown in a filthy shed in 45 days. The garlic that came all the way from China. The flour that has been super-refined and bleached. If you realise that you honestly have no idea how a product was manufactured that is a warning sign in itself. How do they get milk out of soy beans anyway? If that product has no sugar, then why is it so sweet? If that yogurt is made from low-fat skim milk, why is it so thick?

There is a reason why some of us amateur masterchefs put photos of our cooking on Facebook and Instagram. We are proud of it! We get pleasure from our food beyond just chewing and swallowing and we want to share it.

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Soap Star!

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soap

I don’t know why I took so long to do it.

Everyone loves goat milk soap. It is fabulously good for your skin and I won’t use anything else. But it can be hard to find and quite expensive to buy.

I had wondered for a while about making soap. I have the main ingredient, but the array of oils and equipment required seemed a bit daunting. The process of mixing caustic soda with the milk sounded pretty intimidating too. The lye and milk react, making the mixture super hot. So the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while.

Then I found a very basic soap recipe on the AussieGoat forum. The ingredients were readily available at the supermarket and fairly inexpensive. The batch size was very manageable. So I bought a few bits and pieces and gave it a go.

It was easy. So easy that I thought I must have done it wrong.  With a couple of plastic containers and some old chocolate moulds I made my first batch. The soaps popped out looking creamy white and perfect. After a week I had to try one out. It had a lather and felt like soap. It worked!

So then I tried adding Manuka honey to my next batch. The caustic soda reacts with the sugar in the milk and in the honey, so that batch was an orangey caramel colour. It took a little longer to cure, and didn’t come out of the moulds as well, but it is amazing. I used it to shave my legs in the shower. Not only did I not get razor rash, I also didn’t even have to moisturise afterwards. It makes the skin on my face baby soft too. I freaking love it. I made another batch with honey tonight, which I managed to keep much cooler, so it is a much better colour.

After starting out with only the bare necessities – a cheap electric mixer specifically for soap making and a digital scale – my successes have encouraged me to expand my equipment with more specialised items. A ladle for scooping the soap mix into the moulds, a silicon loaf mould for making bar soap and a great set of silicon cupcake moulds from my friendly Avon lady Pam. I’ve even cleared some cupboard space to keep it all in.

I have had some rave reviews from the samples I have given out, and sold a few bars as well. The honey soap is 50c a bar more than the plain because the jars of Manuka honey are $10, but it is still great value soap.

So drop me a line if you would like to try some. I am trying to get a decent supply together for the Ballarat Rural Lifestyle Expo which is coming up at the start of April, but I still have plenty of sample pieces to give out.

I’m also preparing lots of 500g bags of milk for the freezer so I can keep making soap all winter.

Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner.