How easy and convenient our life has become – jars of paste, frozen pastry, ready to use stock, frozen vegetables, frozen meals, ready to use rice. It seems taste and flavour take a back seat to ease of use and convenience. Could generations past have ever imagined that one day it would be is too inconvenient to make mashed potatoes and companies would provide them in powder form – just add water! Or that chopping a salad is far too taxing so lets get someone to chop it, wash it and put it in a plastic bag so all we have to do is pour it onto a plate. Great idea.
Over the last year I have been consciously making an effort to ‘go natural’. Natural cleaning products, natural bath and skin products and finally it has progressed to our food. We are lucky enough to have the opportunity to be a part of the Real Food Network – a group of health conscious individuals who put together a weekly fruit and vegetable box. For $40 we get a selection of – all local and mostly organic – fruit and veg. This has been wonderful. It proves a little more difficult with arranging meals to cook as you can’t really plan ahead, but we have started to eat far less processed food and our exposure to different varieties of produce has increased. Most times we have so much to get through I juice smoothies as a lunch substitute.
I wondered how hard it would be to really go natural. Cook everything from scratch. Learning how to make stocks, pastes and sauces would be a great way to use up any excess fruit and veg. I decided to experiment with just one meal – a main and dessert. I chose Chilli Beef Hot Pot and a Passionfruit, Tofu and Ginger Cheesecake. I had never made either of these dishes before so that was going to be a challenge in itself.
The rules I set for myself were clear. I was not able to use anything that was not whole food – no processed food. This looked pretty easy until I came to the part of the recipe for beef stock and tomato paste. I know that you can make these items from scratch but I never had! Oh well, no better time than now to learn.
I googled (yep Gen Y here) how to go about it and then placed my online Woolworths order (that is another story) for the meat and few ingredients I did not have.
Set up in the kitchen I had all the ingredients laid out and was feeling pretty confident. About two minutes into the process of cooking down tomatoes and simultaneously browning beef bones in a separate pan, I wondered why on earth people do this when it takes so long. Why? When it is so easy to open a can, or just add water.
Part way through something changed. I settled in, I started to enjoy it. I started to smell my creation and realised that I was in fact making this. Even my most domestic friends don’t make their own stock, and here I was doing it! Like Tom Hanks on Castaway I was overjoyed at my ability to achieve a simple task. Instead of I made fire – I am cooking resonated in my mind!
Digging out the old food processor I realised I had never once used the machine. It’s yellowed plastic tells its age – my partner inherited it from his grandmother. As I spooned the steaming stewed tomatoes into the canister I felt a sense of achievement. I felt a connection to the generations gone by, that didn’t have baby food brought to you in a twist-top jar.
I have decided that this will definitely become a weekly tradition. It just feels good. It feels nourishing. It feels like I am doing something positive and learning. And it just smells so darn good! The gas stove is bubbling away and the simmering chilli is permeating the house. My dog is chewing noisily on one of the bones I set aside for him. Life is good. My partner has been away for the weekend and I can’t think of a better way to welcome him home than with a big pot of home made chilli – that I made from scratch.