Thursday, January 28, 2010

A good life

Overhearing a discussion at work the other day, I came to realise that from a food point of view I am actually extremely lucky in my upbringing. As I listened to a discussion about my colleagues disillusionment about the source of our meats and fruits/vegetables and their worries about what they are putting into their bodies and those of their children it make me come to a few conclusions as to why I was lucky to grow up on a farm rather than in a suburb in the city (not that I ever envied city kids, what a dull life to only have a backyard to roam in):

Raw Milk: One of the wondrous things about growing up on a dairy farm was I never went wanting for dairy; and the pasteurised & skinny version I buy now just doesn’t seem to have the same flavour. Of course; it is illegal to sell raw milk in Australia but it’s not illegal to go to you bulk tank with a jug and fill it up! I don’t understand why; it never made us sick! I still remember seeing that gorgeous layer of cream settling on the top of the jug as it sat in the fridge and having to stir it in so that it wasn’t quite so rich! This is probably something I will never be able to have ever again, unless the laws change in Australia.

Killing our own meat: Aside from the fact that my dad used to chase us kids around with the decapitated heads of the sheep he sometimes butchered for meat, I recall finding it fascinating to watch the process of an animal becoming the various cuts of meat that ended up on the dinner table. Sure, there was a tinge of sadness (lets face it, sheep are kinda cute) and revulsion (it’s a smelly and bloody job!) but I also understood that this was the way things are.

It’s not pretty but its part of life. I always get a laugh when some city people are horrified at footage of animals being butchered for meat; how exactly do they think the animal is killed? With flower petals and fluffy bunnies? At least in the case of our meat; it was quick and the animal had a good life up until its death. The steers we sent to the butcher (a bit too much of a job for a farmer without the right tools) had a happy life grazing in green fields and it was just an accepted part of life that they would come back to us in the form of a table full of cuts that needed to be bagged, labeled and frozen for later use.

This is probably why no I am such a fan of the whole ‘nose to tail’ concept of not wasting any part of the animal and don’t understand why people get squeamish about eating certain parts of the animal. All this pro-meat blathering makes me sound pretty callous but I love animals of all kinds (except spiders, they can just leave me alone!), it just so happens that I also love meat and I want to ensure that the meat I eat is ethical. Nobody who proclaims to be an animal lover is a fan of battery farming.

The Veggie patch and orchard: This is what I miss more than anything; I used to love sitting in blood plum or mulberry tree and stuffing myself silly with fruit until I felt sick! I still can’t find an apple that tastes anything like those picked right off the tree and eaten unwashed (no sprays or chemicals here!). And there was something Christmas-like in waiting for the vegetables to be ready for picking; I loved to pull radishes out of the ground; take them over to the garden tap then rinse and eat on the spot (I must have had terrible breath!). Tomatoes that are home grown are a revelation and there is no equivalent I can find even at the central market. Don’t even get me started on broad beans! These appear for just a few weeks at the central market, and then sadly seem to vanish just as quickly. The only thing I don’t miss is finding hunts man spiders in the silver beet leaves.

Fresh eggs: Once I get a decent sized back yard the first thing I will do apart from establishing a vegetable patch is get myself a few chooks; they really do have the most comical personalities and nothing beats a fresh eggs that is still warm. A bigger challenge still was coming across a batch of eggs that the chooks had hidden in the orchard and doing the ‘float test’ to see if they were off or not.

The kitchen; I think this is where my love of all things food began; as I have mentioned in previous posts, mum was an awesome cook and had she been a working mother I might never have had the chance to learn to love preparing food as much as I did. Coming home from school and being able to smell roast beef and potatoes, or cake and biscuits before I even entered the house is a fond memory. When I eventually have kids of my own I plan to spend as much time in the kitchen (and taking them to food markets) with them as possible. Of course the necessity of having to earn a living will probably mean this is not as much as I’d like but I can work with that.

Reading back over all of this makes me wonder what on earth I am doing living in the city sometimes! At least for me, seeing where my food came from made me appreciate it a whole lot more and certainly makes me appreciate it when I can find great quality ingredients. The only drawback is that it can make you terribly fussy about what you buy and is a cause of many rants when I see the quality of fruit, veg and meat in the ‘Big 2’ supermarket (“they call this basil?? It’s barely fit for human consumption!!”).

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Cooking Role Models

I got to wondering the other day who has had the greatest influence on the how I cook, and unlike a lot of passionate home cooks it’s probably not the run-of-the-mill Jamie Olivers (although he is awesome) and other internationally renowned celebrity chefs. I’m not sure what that means or if it really even matters, but here is my list anyway:

Maggie Beer

Probably the closest thing I have to a celebrity on my list (let’s face it, she is pretty big, even if just here in Australia), but I’ve yet to see any Chef get as excited about food as she does and a personally signed copy of my all time favourite cookbook (Maggie’s Harvest) takes pride of place in my bookshelf. Here’s a woman who started off with a simple idea and has turned it into an empire without compromising the quality of her product for the sake of profit.

Margaret Fulton

Every time I see this woman on TV I just want to hug her, she is adorable! Of course I was too young to remember her in her hey-day when she ‘taught Australians how to cook’ as she is credited with doing so I have come along a bit late to Fulton-worship. She is now this tiny, frail looking woman but she lights up when she is talking about food and still has so much energy. Her encyclopedia of cooking is another favourite of mine; there are no pretentious ‘foams’ or ‘soils’ or other weird ways of preparing food, just no-nonsense recipes for those of us who want to know how to make a perfect pastry or sponge or want some questions answered when we can’t reach our mum for a phone consult on why the Chocolate Ganache seized (I didn’t get a drop of water in it I swear!!), which brings me to my next point:

My mum

Ok ok, it’s cheesy I know, but the amount of times I’ve had to call her up to answer some cooking related question for me is astronomical. My childhood was spent coming indoors from getting all muddy and smelly on the farm to the scent of freshly baked cookies, cakes or some other treat. I still learn from her to this day (and I like to think she has learned a few things from me too by now!) and I have to admit I was just a little bit smug as a child as I knew all the other kid’s mums were rubbish cooks compared to her.

Possy (my Grandmother)

I think the greatest compliment that I have received recently about my cooking was that my Christmas Pudding was ‘almost as good’ as Possy’s. That’s saying a lot because she was an awesome cook. For some reason everything she prepared always tasted so yummy!