please note: I am currently recovering from a severe migraine that I normally would still be sleeping off. Instead I am awake and have had the hiccups (and a severe case of itchyness) for around ten hours. As such I can no be sure that this blog post will be coherent, or make sense of any kind.
There is just something about a fresh cooked dish. Don’t get me wrong, I indulge in maccas and KFC as much (or possibly more than) the next person, but what I really love is the smell of bread baking and then smearing it with butter while it is still hot enough to burn the fingers (I am not terribly patient).
When I was 14 my mum moved us into a little town house. Two days later she moved into her boyfriends house with my brother and I was informed there was no room for me. I won’t go into the bitterness that came from that particular incident and instead continue to talk about food. Once a fortnight she would drop off $40 ($50 if I was lucky) for me to buy food and off I would trot to the supermarket. Unlike most teenagers the thought of eating takeaway every single night didn’t appeal to me at all. But without having any one else to please I could eat whatever I wanted…assuming I could get it for under forty bucks. I had stir-fries at least 3 times a week. I steamed vege. I made salads. I baked fish. I loved cooking, especially with beautiful fresh ingredients. While I had enjoyed cooking since I was a little girl, having complete food autonomy was something else entirely.
Mum always cooked from scratch, so I guess it is no great surprise that I did too. I rarely used recipes, instead I cooked by smell and taste, and a bit of instinct. So boy was I in for a shock when I was first invited to the inlaws for dinner. I sat down to lasagne and homebrand garlic bread. It smelt worse than those cheap frozen lasagnes and at first bite I knew I was not going to be able to keep it down. She used the cheapest mince available, didn’t drain it and then threw in a jar of homebrand pasta sauce. The cheap hard lasagne sheets hadn’t softened fully so they were crunchy. But the most disgusting part was the white sauce….a packet of homebrand cheese sauce mixed with water. Nothing was fresh. She didn’t even throw in some fresh garlic or onion. So different from my mums lasagne. Growing up (in an white australian house) lasagne was cooked from scratch. The meat was simmered all day with fresh garlic and onion and tomatoes. Mum would make a beautiful bechamel sauce using butter, flour and milk…finally adding cheese, which wasn’t traditional – but made it extra yummy. Her secret ingredient in lasagne was crepes. She couldn’t make pasta, but would never touch those hideous pasta sheets, so she made crepes. Which for the most part have the same ingredients of pasta. It might not have been a perfect “traditional” lasagne, but it was cooked beautifully and was devoured instantly.
note: 20 years after he left my mum, my dad still raves about her lasagne to anyone who will listen. The speciality of his current wife is Tuna Mornay (a tin of tuna, a tin of creamed corn and instant mash on top *shudder*)
It was no wonder that the girls father jumped head first into cooking once he realised he could use fresh, beautiful ingredients and get something super tasty with little effort. The more he cooked, the more he discovered, the more he discovered, the more I was pushed out of the kitchen. The only time I cooked any more was baking, lasagne and hamburgers.
Around two years ago I found myself back at home with the kids and their dad was working. The kitchen was mine again! I found myself looking for new, exciting, fresh recipes to break up the standard dishes we had been eating for years. I was cooking every day and loving it. Then I ended up in hospital and on a sedative and I did practically nothing with a few exceptions.
A lovely homeschool family in Sydney invited me to stay with them when my pop died and I needed to fly to Sydney with 2 days notice and not enough money for a hotel. This family, with 5 kids, a father away in the military and who also homeschooled, made fresh bread every morning …. without a bread maker. They served it with homemade jam and homemade butter. I kid you not. Waking up to the smell of fresh bread was intoxicating. Not only did I love how it tasted (especially with their divine apricot jam), but I loved how everyone would gather round and dig in together. What a way to start the day. WHen I shook my head and said “How on earth do you do it all?” She laughed and pointed me in this direction – Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. You throw it all in a big tub, let it do its thing and then throw it in the fridge. Grab a hunk out each day and what it in the oven and BAM fresh made bread.
So I tried it. I failed miserably. In a huff I exclaimed it was stupid and that I wanted a bread maker.
Not long after the failed bread attempt I walked past the fruit and vege store where a tray (of 12 punnets) of strawberries was $5! I grabbed one and then a few jam jars from coles and went home to attempt jam. Here I was thinking jam would be harder than bread, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t. The jam was so incredibly delicious that even two super large jars were polished off in about 3 weeks. It was nothing like I had ever tasted. I mean it tasted like jam….but better. Fresher. Tastier. Berry-er.
I then discovered microwave lemon butter. Oh-so-easy! And knock-your-socks-off yumminess. Add lemon butter and homemade jam with my scones and I was starting to really, really love food again.
Part of treating bipolar naturally is the removal of additives, preservatives and chemicals from my diet. This is going to require a lot of planning, cooking fresh and being able to make things I take for granted – like tomato sauce, sweet chilli sauce, kecup manis, pasta sauce, curry paste….and the list goes on and on and on.
Here’s the thing…I really want to do all those things. I want to finally figure out the bread thing. Once I do that making pizza bases, english muffins, crumpets and even tortilla’s are easy. Curry pastes is pretty much just whizzing stuff up in a blender…I can do that. I want to try other jams….lots of them. I want to have a cupboard stocked full of yummy preserves. Once I figure out different jams I want to learn to can. It’s pretty similar to making preserves, but with a special pressure cooker. Then I can can our own pears, peaches and even berries. Making your own butter is as easy as having milk and an electric mixer. Cheese is harder….but with books like “Artisan Cheese Making at Home” I know it will just take some practice. I have recipes for tomato paste, chilli sauce, pasta sauce and even BBQ sauce …. finally I might actually be able to eliminate MSG (which often makes me sick, as well as occasionally triggering a manic episode…not to mention making the twins bounce off the wall).
Cooking with quality cuts of meat and fresh produce is easy, but learning to make everything from scratch is a whole other ball game. While I am not diving in head first and tossing everything out of the pantry, I am dipping my toes in the water. I am gathering recipes and books. I am reading everything I can on the hygiene/safety precautions you must take when canning. I want to learn where is the best place to buy fruit and vege in bulk for canning/preserving. I want to visit the homeschool mum I know who mills her own flour. I even want to see if I could manage to start a little herb garden and maybe grow some cherry tomatoes.
There is lot’s to learn and even more to think about. I am not rushing myself…just taking things one step at a time toward eating healthier, fresher and tastier food.