Dinner is served

In my last Amazon delivery I found a flyer for £25 off from HelloFresh. Being a curious kind of fellow, I signed up and ordered my first box for the reduced rate of £14.

Now, I’m not exactly what I’d call an accomplished cook but I know my way around the kitchen and can follow a recipe.

I’d debate that I this was actually any cheaper, despite what was claimed. The only way I’d have got value is if the box also had a decent bottle of wine or two included. It was also a waste of packaging with individual sachets of balsamic vinegar and a tiny 26g jar of peanut butter for example. Yes, most of it was recyclable but as I’ve said time and again, recycling should be the last option.

I also don’t like being told what I’m going to cook. Planning and shopping is part and parcel of a meal for me.

Overall, the food was nice and the instructions clear and easy to follow. I have no doubt that some people may appreciate and find the service useful but it’s just not for me.

Growing my own

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden?”
— Robert Brault

When I moved in to my new place last summer I noticed that a small corner of the garden had clearly previously been a little vegetable patch but it had long since been abandoned — a rhubarb plant was the only thing left. Over the next several weeks I set to work restoring it.

Once the back-breaking work of double digging over the patch, riddling the soil, mixing in some compost, perlite and lime was done I’ve not actually had to do all that much thanks to the British weather over the past few months. I’m delighted to say that — despite the cataclysmic weather predictions of the Daily Mail1 — the garlic, broad beans, radish and kale I sowed all survived the winter.

While I’m not going to be able to go self-sufficient, I really like the idea that a proportion of the food that I eat can be ascribed food metres rather than miles. It’s also part of the reason I like baking my own bread; I know exactly what’s gone into what I’m eating.

1 I refuse to provide a link to the Daily Mail.

The cheesewich

“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese – toasted, mostly.”
— Ben Gunn, Treasure Island

Back at the start of the year I stumbled across something I knew just had to try: the all cheese cheese toastie.

I have no idea how to pronounce this, but there is a cheese in Finland called Leipäjuusto (bread cheese) which I thought would be ideal for this recipe. Handily, I know a Finnish girl who very kindly bought some over for me along with a little jar of the wonderfully named Cloudberry jam with which the cheese is traditionally eaten. I’d say that it’s best described as tasting like a mild halloumi.

I’ve long thought that there were (at least) two things that the USA didn’t do well. Namely, chocolate and cheese. Individually wrapped slices of processed, plastic cheese spring to mind. There was no way that I was going to settle for that in my ultimate toastie.

So, off to Mellis’ cheesemongers I popped to pick up some something with a little bite. After some discussion — and a few tastings — I ended up with some really nice Auld Lochnagar for my toastie and a red wine rind washed cheddar for another day.

Now an ordinary cheese toastie fresh from the grill is hotter than the sun. I knew that if I ate this sucker too soon I was running the very real risk of my lower jaw actually melting clean off. I sat and anticipated for five minutes before tackling my snack; salivating like a Pavlovian dog. The wait was well worth it.

Now I’m not going to lie; I felt more than a little funny for about half an hour afterwards. I don’t think that I’ll be trying this again any time soon but I’m glad I experimented — and survived.

Meat is murder . . .

. . . tasty, tasty murder.

So, as I alluded to in my comeback post, I’ve started eating meat again. I don’t mean for every single meal; maybe once or twice per week at most.

I’m not going full-Zuckerberg and only eating animals that I’ve killed myself, but I am trying — as far as it’s possible — to maintain an ethical approach; keeping sustainable British produce and animal welfare in mind.

When bottle-feeding lambs as a child, it was definitely compassion that led me to stop eating animals in the first place. However, as an adult, I realised that environmental factors were also an issue.

“About 2,000 pounds of grains must be supplied to livestock in order to produce enough meat and other livestock products to support a person for a year, whereas 400 pounds of grain eaten directly will support a person for a year. Thus, a given quantity of grain eaten directly will feed 5 times as many people as it will if it is eaten indirectly by humans in the form of livestock products.”
— M.E. Ensminger, Ph.D.

The oft-quoted health failings stereotypically associated with vegetarians isn’t a reason I’m switching back. I’m fortunate that I know a bit about nutrition and how to plan a meal. I’ve been able to maintain a healthy enough diet to be approaching the 50th blood donation I’ve made over the years.

Neither was it the smell of grilling bacon — the apophrycal downfall of many a vegetarian — that got me eating animal products again. The first impression of bacon I had (eating it as an adult) was an overpowering taste of salt. I thought that it definitely smelled better than it tasted, but I’ve persisted!

Rather it was my daughter’s fault. Maybe “fault” is the wrong word here; although she’s definitely the reason behind my dietary change. I don’t want her growing up with a ready-made excuse not to try something; like many other areas of her life, I want her to make her own decisions rather than foist my own opinions upon her. When she’s old enough to appreciate my reasonings and make up her own mind, I may switch back to meat-free meals — and I would be very happy if she made the conscious choice to do the same.

However by that time it may well be that lab-grown meat is economically viable and socially accepted, meaning that we can have the meat without that animals.

Bread

I’ve been meaning to get around to baking my own bread by hand for a good long while now. I’ve no excuse for not doing so before really: I get plenty of free time on the weekend and it’s not actually all that difficult.

In the cooking section on the bookshelves we have a copy of Bread which I can highly recommend. It’s full of information and an amazing assortment of breads from all around the world.

Perhaps partly inspired by the arrival of Herman in the office, I decided to make a sourdough loaf. I’m led to believe that the starter involved improves with age and some even become treasured family heirlooms!

The other weekend I made my starter from some yeasted tepid water and flour in a kilner jar and covered it with a tea towel. Within 30 minutes I’d realised my first mistake: my jar was nowhere near large enough and the mixture had expanded a lot. Thankfully my surfaces and towel were all clean and I managed to scoop the eruption into a spare jar and decant some of the mixture from the first jar to join in — effectively splitting the mixture into two. Even then this was only just enough to contain everything!

A starter takes a little bit of looking after but if I can’t even remember to stir something twice a day then I reckon there’s probably not much hope for me as a father!

Five days later my starter was ready to use but I also needed to make a little dough to help leaven the bread before getting properly underway. This is where my second mistake came in. There’s quite a bit of time involved in the various stages of rising, knocking back, resting and proving but for the vast majority of it you’re quite passive and can go and do something else for an hour or so. It all adds up though and I took my first loaf out of the oven at quarter past midnight. Still, it was worth the wait and tasted really nice!

I plan on trying to keep replenishing my starter and keep using a piece of the previous batch of dough to bake a loaf per week. I worked out that the cost of the ingredients for each loaf and it comes to under 30p.