Back to basics

Well!  Who knew we would be in this situation for my next blog post?  Not us that’s for sure.
I hope everyone is coping with their various situations right now.  Personally, I am home with the kids and we are almost at the end of week 2 of isolation.  I chose to pull them out of school a week before they closed and have home schooled and worked from home since then.  We are adapting, coping, winning – all of those things.  Overall this is actually a very positive experience for us all, obviously not what is going on in the outside world though.  
Ste is still going in to work with being in food production, keeping the shelves full in the farm shop for the great British public.  Over the last couple of weeks, he has been going to the supermarket as and when needed, however late this week we made the decision to stop that too.  We got the last few bits and pieces (given that’s all you can get in the supermarkets now, not a bit of toilet roll to be seen!) and we now have what we need to see us through a good few weeks and anything we don’t have we will do without assuming we cannot get a delivery slot.
With that said, I think it’s time people started thinking about getting back to basics, in my view.  Here on the smallholding, we are already quite good with that, we cook everything from scratch, grow a lot, try to reduce waste and use leftover etc.  One thing that seems to be on the up is forging; it has seen a huge spike in interest since this outbreak.  Again, it is something we already do but with a light touch I would say.  That brings me to the pictures below.  I believe this plant to be called Jack by the hedge.  It grows here in the UK from March through to September according to my research.  When the stem is crushed it has a mild smell of garlic, which is great!  We love garlic.  The whole plant is edible and can be used raw or cooked.  I would like to make some pesto but I don’t have the ingredients needed so I think it’ll be fresh pasta.  I have a recipe for nettle pasta so maybe I’ll add some of this or replace it with this completely?  A job for the weekend?  I really enjoy making pasta and at the moment, it looks like the only way we will have any once we use what we have in.

Other plants that are ready to use and have been all year round if I’m honest, are some herbs.  Here we have a bay tree in the middle, two sage plants on the left and a common mint on the right.  If you grow mint, it makes sense to grow it in a pot as it is (supposed to be) very invasive.  I haven’t seen this myself as I managed to kill some once!  Oh and at the back are 2 blueberry bushes that I am keeping in the greenhouse as I think it will mean they will come on earlier than if they were outside.  We always run the risk of frost killing them off outside, we lost one that way last year.

Another job for this weekend, or even today actually, is taking some cuttings from the Elderberry trees we have here as I would like to get a couple growing on the river bank, along with other wild food.  We use a lot of elder flowers for drinks, adding to food and for Spring/Summer kitchen vase decoration.  We then use berries for making syrup to drink as a tonic to get through the winter.  Recently too, we learnt that chickens eat them which is a big thing for us.  We are wanting to grow as much of out own animal feed as we can.  That’s something else we are learning from this whole situation right now, animal feed is harder to come by (even just from not being allowed to go out to buy it) but it is also going up in cost and we are trying to reduce costs.  We would like to be much more self reliant for animal feed.
I saw the below book on a group on Facebook the other week and checked ebay to find it available for £2 odd delivered, so I grabbed that bargain there and then.  I’m looking forward to having some down time and looking though it over the weekend.

Sticking with the war time thoughts, which is pretty much how I am feeling right now, here’s a pretty picture that always fills me happiness is the sight we see opening the egg box area of the chicken coop.

One more thing I have started doing again thanks to the situation that is ongoing, is dehydrating things.  I started with apples as we had some that were past their nice point for eating fresh.  The other option would be to freeze them as stewed apple.

Finally I can’t leave without giving you an updated picture of Rodney doing what he does when I am in the greenhouse sowing seeds and potting on.

The Food Challenge

This title has come from a variety of recent ideas I’ve had!  I find that happens, a little ideas forms a bigger one which grows and adapts.  It started off as a freezer challenge eating what’s in the freezer as the freezer was fit to burst.  Given its bulging sides, apparently that will take months (which is a good thing, as that was and is the point of filling it!) and then it turned in to a pantry challenge of using up the tinned and dried goods that were bought and since sat there with just a partial amount used.  Finally it’s turned in to a use up the jars in the fridge challenge.  I think they are breeding in there!  There’s 2 shelves full of bits of mustard or pickle or cranberry sauce and other items I am not too sure as to what they even are!  So combined with my weight loss challenge I’ve set myself for this year, you can see the predicament that we have a bit of a mutation of challenges going on.

Essentially I find myself in a position where I want to step back and assess what we are trying to achieve before my head becomes too full and I give up on it all.  Do you ever get that feeling?  Sometimes it can manifest itself as feeling overwhelmed?  Life is so busy for us all and personally, I feel that without planning, things don’t always happen.

This whole Corona virus thing has got us all thinking too.  I don’t want to be in a position where we have eaten everything down to the bare minimum and end up self isolating for a period of time.  It seems there’s going to be a bit of scaremongering in the next few days, which naturally may result in people panic buying.  Given we are normally stocked up for 3 months plus with food etc, this is probably the worst time this could have happened.  We still have a good amount of food in though, so I am not worried, it’s just typical and shows it’s always good to be prepared, or have a plan A and B at least.  Anyway, I’m not spending time worrying about that until we know more.

Generally, even though we are working our way through what is in stock in the said areas, generally there’s left overs from those and I will reuse them in something else.  Eg if we roast a (raw) chicken for a Sunday lunch, I will reuse left overs in a pie and eat one for another meal, then freeze one, so the pie goes back in the freezer in a differed “state” (ie cooked chicken, not raw) to how it came out, which is fine.  

That takes me to the title of the post, The Food Challenge.  What are we trying to achieve? An organised, prepared, useable stock of short term and long term food items which are adaptable, healthy and budget friendly.  Easy right?  I will do a separate post on supermarkets and why I believe you should have a menu plan, shopping list and shop efficiently to help you lower your outgoings.  Given everything we have in stock, there’s absolutely no reason we should be maxing our grocery budget, or even coming close, for a month or two at least.  For the record, our budget it £300 a month, which is reduced from around £600 from when we first moved in 4 years ago. 

I didn’t choose my words without giving this a fair bit of thought.  

Organised:  this is a task that can be fairly quickly achieved and is tangible.  Physically organising the freezer, fridge and pantry which are they key elements in this challenge, is something I can be getting on with.  It doesn’t stop there though, once they are organised, how do they stay organised and how do we benefit from them being organised?  Keeping an inventory is key here.  That makes this task a little bit more time consuming and if you can get a helping hand to either write the list as you go through the items, or vice versa then that will save you a bit of time.  I’ll set myself aside some time to do this and report back.
Prepared:  this is a reference to a few different things.  I need to be prepared (and organised) with regards to menu planning, writing shopping lists, doing the weekly shop etc.  Also it means preparing ahead, getting up on a morning and taking tea out of the freezer, batch cooking, taking time to prepare meals ahead.
Useable stock:  what is the point of having a tub of quinoia, pearl barley, blue food colouring and eastern spices if I am never going to use them?  Over the years I have been pulled in to advertising, expensive recipes, following the ideal and impulse buying.  Not any more.  Everything we have in stock needs to be useable.  That may mean I have to be inventive with recipes, avoid others, think differently and so on.  That’s fine, bring it on.  I like the idea of having almost a capsule wardrobe pantry, does that make sense?
Short term and long term:  to me, there’s a obvious need to have fresh and non fresh items.  Dried, frozen, pickled, preserved, whatever it may be.  What is the ideal amount and what benefits can we get from both?  Time will tell.
Adaptable:  Something that will not work for us as a family is restrictions.  We eat at 6:30 on an evening, after we have done the jobs outside and caught up with each other.  Sometimes though, something happens, chickens escape, the wind has blown down a fence, the greenhouse takes longer to water and then everything gets shunted along time wise.  Tea needs to go from a 45 minute Aga time to 15 minutes.  Instead of making lasagne with the ragu, I’m going to heat the ragu and throw it on top of some quick cook spaghetti or penne with a garlic bread.  See what I mean?  I may have some dump bags (idea adapted per The Batch Lady slow cooker) that I can use as a stir fry, or to add to longer cook rice or short cook noodles.  So for my family, adaptability is key.  
Healthy:  I guess this speaks for itself.  One thing that was important to us when we moved here was moving to a more healthy lifestyle, food and drink included, where I cook as much as possible from scratch.  That doesn’t mean we won’t eat fatty food or drink red wine, far from it!  It about a balance and as long as the scales tip in favour of the healthy, I’m happy with that.
Budget friendly:  2020 is about minimising our outgoings and I can not see that ever changing.  Why would you want to spend more than you needed to?  For us, it’s to allow us to pay our mortgage off early, other people will have their reasons.  All to the same goal though. 

I told you I had given it some thought 😂.

So over the coming days and weeks I will add updates as to where I am in The Food Challenge journey.  I will share my inventories, subsequent menu plans and shopping lists, where I shop to get them and recipes for making the meals.  Please join us on this journey, we would love to hear how these things work for you guys and learn from how you do things too.  I’m planning on doing a YouTube video or two on this for anyone who is interested – I will let you know when it’s ready.

In the mean time, I’m off to start the inventory lists, which will inevitably result in a cleaning session too!  I’ll grab some pics of before and after.