Sunday, 17 June 2012

My vegies- psychic rewards for my middle class self??

So says 'a senior government figure'who was recently quoted in one of the articles from the Age's recent 'Future of Food' series by Royce Millar and Melissa Fyfe. The article posed the question as to whether or not 'alternative' food sources (namely farmers markets, vegie box schemes and home gardening) really do provide any value as useful food sources when stacked up against the modern agricultural food distribution model and the dominance of Safeway and Coles.

I would be interested to know how  'Mr Senior Government Figure' could possibly come up with the conclusion that growing all this food does nothing more than make people feel better and if anyone out there in government land or the mainstream food sector has any idea how you might measure the impact of small scale farming and vegie gardening.

The other day I was at the supermarket (even I will admit there are limits to the backyard and the Queen Vic) and I saw a billboard ad encouraging people to eat eggs..... I secretly hoped it was because the Australian Egg Board isn't keeping up with their projected sales growth targets- blaming consumers eating trends rather than the little mini chook boom that's spreading out into the suburbs. Despite being a newbie to art of keeping backyard poultry, I for one haven't bought an egg at a supermarket in years and between G and myself we know at least five families keeping themselves, friends and neighbours stocked with eggs.

Anyway as a bit of an exercise I have attempted to put 'Mr Senior Government Figure' back in his place and to quantify the pysical rewards from the week in the garden. (it goes without saying there are plenty of feel good rewards from venturing into the garden for a healthy dose of fresh air and vitamin D)

First to the financial savings-  here's the tally from a very quiet winter week in the garden (things in brackets were taken from the garden):

Sunday- homemade chicken pie with mixed herbs (thyme, sage)
Monday- lamb tagine with preserved lemons and harissa (tomatoes- I am lazy so I chop and freeze, thyme, bay leaves, chillies via red harissa  and preserved lemon)
Tuesday- pumpkin and leek risotto (parsley)
Wednesday - more tagine leftovers (as above)
Thursday - was out for dinner
Friday - Pizza (almost the last of the capsicum)

From this tallying up my food savings for the week: (a quick price check a Woolworths)
  • thyme $2.48
  • sage $2.48
  • bay leaves $2.48 (for a pack but lets assume only using 20% -bay leaves keep) 50c
  • parsley $2.98
  • tomatoes (equal to two cans of tinned- lets opt for Australian grown) guessing that's around $3
  • chillies in harissa maybe 50c (?)
  • preserved lemon $1
  • capsicum (was only small) $1
Grand total savings not going into the pockets of the big two: approx $14

Of course you need to factor in the cost of inputs (the cost of the plants, soil, pots where required) - but pretty much everything on this list was either free (ie. lemons or grown from seed) or bought so long ago that comparing a $3 punnet with those prices they were paid off in the first month or so (my bay tree was a bargain from a weekend growers plant stall at a market). Tell me anyone who doesn't think saving more than $500 a year or so isn't a reward!

Back on the fuzzy side there's the environmental rewards made from reducing packaging (the herbs came in a plastic punnet type thingo and I have skipped the need for 2x tins, a couple of  jars for my harissa and the preserved lemon) each of these coming with notable environment savings (see Get it Right on Bin Night - a blatant plug for the whats been keeping me busy as part of my day job). Recycling is good but not creating the packaging in the first place is even better! Not to mention the reductions in energy for transporting and storing all of that through the supply chain through to the supermarket.

So to summarise - Mr Senior Government source- gardening in the suburbs is really more than the feel good factor and if everyone got involved we might stand half a chance of meeting the food challenges all 7 bilion plus of us will all be facing in the future.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Blessed with eggs

When I started composing this post a few days ago I really was feeling blessed. Now is normally the time when shortening days stop chooks laying in their tracks. I was feeling secretly smug that for the second year running it looked as though Boss was going to keep popping out eggs right through the winter. Sadly I think Boss laid her last egg  for the season on the first day of winter. Barnevelders have a reputation as good winter layers so I hope it won't be a long wait. In the meantime this post is good excuse to marvel at these perfect brown speckled beauties and to share my interpretation of a Japanese favourite 'Oyakodon' (chicken and egg rice bowl).

Oyakodon and other versions of 'donburi' (rice bowls) are a staple of reasonably priced Japanese cafes and lunch spots wherever you go and I will rank a Japanese eatery purely on the basis of their 'donmono'. A perfect donburi needs the right blend of sweet and soy (caramel sauce is a definite no), the way the sauce blends with the egg, and the egg cooked to perfection (not overcooked and not raw, the perfect donburi egg should break the yolk to slightly combine with white and be served so its still slightly transparent).

Depending on where you go - you might have the bonus of a few slithers of green beans, snow peas or beni shoga (ginger).

You can find different versions of the recipe in any Japanese cook book. This is my version which I adapted from a demonstration by the Ikeura family, when I was living in Wakayama more than 15 years ago.

(serves 2)

Wash 1.5 cups of short grain rice and place in rice cooker. Note: You can use 'koshi hikari' or sushi rice - but along with many Japanese living here in Aust,  I use Sunrice Calrose (red packet) for my everyday Japanese cooking

Mix the following in graduated measuring cup:
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce (Japanese soy is available but regular 'made in Singapore' Kikkoman sauce is fine)
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese mirin
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese cooking sake (Ryorishuu)
  • After dissolving the sugar in the other ingredients, fill up to the 1/2 cup mark with Japanese 'tsuyu' (it's a kind of a soup base)- I use the brand below but there are various versions.
  • Add 1/2 cup water. (so you have a full cup of sauce)
Prepare the following:
  • chop a chicken thigh fillet (into small bite sized pieces)
  • thinly slice 1/2 an onion
  • thinly julienne a handful of green beans or snow peas (whichever is growing the garden) note: you can also substitute with frozen peas or a mix

When the rice is done- serve into 2 deep bowls
Cook the chicken in a small skillet. Top the rice with chicken.
Next fry the onion - when slightly brown remove half the onion and set aside.

Next, turn the stove to low heat and pour in half the sauce. Break an egg into the sauce (gently breaking the yolk), add the green beans/ peas around the edge of the pan. Bring the sauce mix to a slow simmer.

Continue the simmering until the egg is three quarters cooked but still slightly transparent on the top. Remove the egg from the heat and place on top of the chicken - pour the hot sauce over the egg to continue finish off the egg's cooking process. Repeat by adding the remaining ingredients (onion, another egg, sauce and greens) to the skillet.

Itadakimasu! lets eat.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Whats been growing in May

Okay it's officially June - so my last chance the report on the May harvest. May marked the last (belated)  month of the summer harvest. It was out with the old and in with the new. I have harvested the last of the tomatoes and eggplants. The beans and capsicums are also down to the last trickle.

In their place there are snow peas, Chinese veg and brocolleti (or Italian rapini- not to be confused with brocolini as I suspect most people like myself, who picked up a punnet from Bunnings did). This time for the first year I have also grown cabbages (savoy and purple) and Tuscan kale (Cavolo Nero) on mass.

The girls make themselves busy- "preparing"the pot for the next seasons planting

With the last of the red chili and a second flush of green chillies I have been busy making up pots of red and green harissa, along with a pot of pesto from the last of the basil.

For the harissa I use recipes from Sydney based Moroccan chef, Hassan M'Souli. His book make it Morroccan is great for a repertoire of Moroccan basics (dips, preserving lemons, dukkah etc)
Recipes are as follows (I chop all ingredients roughly before throwing into the mix master chopper)

Red Harissa

250g of red chillies (stalks removed- seeds in)
1 red capsicum (roasted and peeled)
1/2 preserved lemon (from home grown lemons of course)
2 small garlic cloves
1/4 bunch coriander (if you wash it- dry it out before you put it in)
2 tablespoons of ground cumin (I used cumin seeds, dry roast and grind with mortar and pestle)
1 tablespoon salt.
olive oil to cover (after chopping I stir half the oil in to coat the chili mix and top with an extra covering)

Green Harissa
250g of green chillies (stalks removed- seeds in)
1/2 preserved lemon
1/2 bunch coriander
2 small garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves (wash and dry as per coriander)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds (dry roast and grind with mortar and pestle)
olive to coat and cover as above.

If put into well sterilised jars the harissa will keep in the fridge for ages.

A few weekends ago I  also dug up some pots of galangal and turmeric- unfortunately while the turmeric has already proven itself the galangal was a little odd and not what I was expecting at all! 

here's the turmeric
and.... the galangal (?)
Actually I am not surprised..... this year my friend went back to the stand at the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show where we got these. She wanted some replacement galangal having moved house and losing track of the original. The guy mentioned the plant marked 'galangal' was a different type to 'normal' galangal which was sold out.. It looked suspiciously like mine. A quick google search linked through to wikipedia and could it be this?

Anyway I haven't been game to try it out... so instead opted for another attempt  at the
Neil Perry lamb and sweet potato curry sans galangal.