Kitchen Equipment: Salad Spinner

I’m fascinated by what people feel is essential in their kitchens and how that changes as our lives and cooking styles do. I live quite happily without a microwave, something I couldn’t have imagining when I was in my 20’s, and semi happily without a dishwasher or kitchen aid but I couldn’t do without my cast iron pan, or kitchen knives.

I think you can tell a lot about people by what is and is not in their kitchen because this week, I have no food inspiration for you, I’m going to start an occasional series where I’ll talk about how and why I have some of the things I do. 

This has been prompted by a couple of articles floating about on how to live in small spaces or deal with small kitchens. One of the key pieces of advice is to get rid of things that only have one use and/or are bulky, such as a salad spinner. Generally, that’s good advice and up until this summer, I’d have agreed on the salad spinner. It wasn’t a problem that applied to my kitchen anyway, I didn’t have a salad spinner because salad leaves came in bags washed and ready to eat so I wasn’t going to wash it again.img_4631

Then came the allotment. Salad is pretty easy to grow, so I sowed the seeds and it grew and grew and was awesome. What was not awesome, washing the salad. Well, washing it was fine, drying it was impossible. I tried to dry it with tea towels but it wasn’t really effective, so while the leaves tasted great I always had watery dressing and that my friends, is not a good thing.img_5005-1I did drop birthday hints about my need for a salad spinner but my loved ones ignored those hints and bought me whiskey and gin, it would be churlish to moan about that, so I didn’t and bought one myself. I ended up buying this one from Clas Ohlson and hands down it has been the most useful piece of kitchen kit I’ve ever used. With winter coming, I’ll go back to buying it like everyone else but next summer, it’ll be back to being the best piece of kitchen equipment I own and you will tear it from my cold dead hands!

 

 

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Volunteer for Something

We tell ourselves stories. Stories about each other, about who we are and what our families and lives are about. These stories are shortcuts. I’ll tell you that I’m the eldest and that my brother is the only Dempsey boy of his generation and that my Dad’s family is sort of Irish. Which is shortcut for I’m the responsible (possibly overlooked) sibling and Ben is the golden balls of our family. B might tell you that I never got in trouble and was good at school and he was the opposite of that, which might be shorthand for I was the favoured child. We’d both be sort of right.

We tell share those stories to show who we are but those stories aren’t the entire picture. Sometimes there are stories we don’t tell others about, they are the stories we show by what we do.img_4844

‘Just get on with it’ is the unofficial motto of our family. We are people who get on and do stuff, even if we don’t want to, even if we also bitch and moan about it (ok that’s mostly just me!).  I was brought up with the firm conviction that we were pretty lucky to be alive, I’m a working class woman, I can vote, read, support (more or less) myself, I survived childhood and live in the first world. Pretty damn lucky.

Alongside that, there was always the mostly unspoken conviction that if you could help, you should. Most of that happened via church. I grew up watching my mother be a eucharistic minister, a catcheist,  a typer of the parish newsletter, a member of the local Justice and Peace group. Now she’s retired, she’s doing it again, the food bank, the homeless organisation she volunteers at, and anything else that comes up. Her take on it is that she has the time, she should do something useful with it.My Granddad was the same. For as long as I can remember, he worked three days a week and was busy for the other two days. He sold the War Cry, was involved in the OAP’s club, which involved days out and also the playgroup. One of the nicest things at his funeral were the flowers the playgroup sent, telling us that he’d be missed.

I’d be missing out half the story if I didn’t point out that faith is a huge part of this attitude.  The Salvation Army is the church that Granddad belonged to and Ma grew up in and it’s work has always been about helping those that society don’t help or value.img_5015All of this contributed to my decision to make volunteering more, one of my goals for the year. It’s also not an entirely altruistic goal, volunteering can be good for the volunteer too. So I’ve been to allotment work days, I’ve babysat for the nephews and the Baxters, I’ve given out water at and tidied up at the Ealing Half Marathon, I’ve also taken on blog content for the Ealing Dean Allotment Society website.

That sense of living too much in my own head and maybe isolating myself that I talked about last year, I’m more on top of it this year. Although, I don’t subscribe to the ‘busy every minute’ school of  life, being busy and having things to do aside from work, has prevented me from spending so much time in my head because I have to use the time for other things!

Have I helped others? I hope so but in addition to that, I’ve increased the number of people that I know where I live, there are people that I talk to more. I’ve also made more of an effort to keep in touch with people. Tom is coming to dinner this week, because the development at the allotments, prompted me to call him, something I’ve been telling myself to do since January and not getting around to doing! Basically, I’ve pulled my head from my backside and looked up a bit more this year. My life is just as difficult as it always was, I’m still sad about the things I’m sad about but I’ve taken the focus off them and put it into other people.

So this is my advice, if you can help, you should, not just for other people but for you too. It’s advice that’s been working for my family for generations!

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Food and Budget Update: 17/09 to 23/09/2016

Last week was a busy week and I wasn’t feeling terribly creative in the kitchen. It was a difficult and busy week anyway but I think this is more to do with the decrease in light, the evenings are drawing in and it’s dark earlier. My issues with this are well documented but my lack of energy this week was noticeable in my lack of kitchen imagination. Although it is worth noting that I also made two batches of courgette cake and tried a new recipe so not too shabby!

SHOPPINGimg_4980

I spent £8.57 in Lidl and £3.10 in Sainsburys for a total of £11.67

I went a bit off piste with the shopping adding hummus, tortillas and some yoghurts that I didn’t plan on. The allotment is still pushing out tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes.

WHAT I ATE

Saturday lunch and dinner was cheese and cucumber sandwiches. I don’t think we’ll get any more cucumbers this year but the three we had were awesome and we will be growing them much earlier next year! img_4959Sunday morning breakfast was poached eggs on toast (and a slice of cheese on toast!)img_4964Sunday lunch/dinner was carrots and hummus

Weekday breakfasts were toast and chicken liver pate
Lunches were hummus and veg and a tortilla or leftovers.

Monday night dinner was sweetcorn. Just sweetcorn because I only wanted that!Tuesday night was veg and hummus because I just didn’t have it in me to cook. And Wednesday was rice mixed with courgette caviar and roasted tomatoes.img_4913Thursday night was chickpea and courgette fritters with red onion jam.Friday night was pizza.img_4994

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Life Happened: The only way out is through

Honestly the only good thing that can be said about last week was that no-one died. It’s been a week full of petty annoyance. I got knocked off my feet by a guy not looking were he was going, a guy was rude to me because I didn’t get off the pavement to make way for his kid on a bike, there was a power cut at home on Friday morning. Petty annoyance made worse by me, I was tired, it was the beginning of migraine fortnight and I still have the cough that will not die and I’m a bit worried about this being a repeat of 2014’s horror where I essentially had a cold with coughing for three months. Anyway, aside from that, it was busy, not the week, apart from usual stuff you know the full time job and having to be there all day, the work week was pretty normal, the weekend was busy. Knowing it was going to be non-stop, I took Wednesday off to sort things out. Which was partially successful.img_4989Ma came to stay on Friday night so we could get to grip with the weeds on the plot although I think she just wanted to eat pizza! However, it didn’t quite work like that, Saturday was a busy, there was cake drop off, a meeting at Pathways to look at the development proposal, and much chatting. We did get some general allotment work and devising a way to deter the foxes that are intent on digging up my garlic but not quite as much as planned.

Sunday morning dawned stupidly early so I could go and hand out water to runners in the Ealing Half Marathon.I did less handing out and more cleaning up but it was good fun and all finished around 12-ish. In the afternoon, there was a special general meeting of the allotment society to discuss a response to the Pathways plans. The room was packed and it was busy, productive but busy!

My response to the weekend was pretty much this….

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Friday Links

Happy Friday! I’m at the end of the week and the beginning of a busy weekend! Here are this week’s links…

Riz Ahmed on airport typecasting.

Jeremy Corbyn and leadership. Yep

The Real Junk Food Project. This is inspiring and scary in equal measure.

This made me crave a fish finger sandwich. How to make the perfect fish finger.

I love Joss Whedon and I love this.

Millennials need to band together. Generally, I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the millenials, as a generation, they are getting screwed over but they aren’t getting screwed over by the Gen X-er’s or Baby Boomers in my family. I have a job and hopefully, I can keep it but I’m screwed by the housing crisis too, with over half my monthly income going on housing and bills related to housing. Ma was lucky to get the sheltered housing when she did but the reason she was on the housing list was because her buy to let landlord put up the rent by £170 per month, the year she retired. Her income from pensions, state and private, is good, it’s certainly more than I’ll get but she pays tax on that and is using her time to help at a food bank and a homeless charity. So she is doing alright but it’s not like she’s swimming in a sea of cash. Actually, all the millenials I know are doing better than me because unlike me they have parents with money or have inherited money. We actually need to look at this without blame across the generations, people without money are being screwed by people who have money. That’s actually what’s happening here.

 

 

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Courgette Caviar

Guys I’m sorry, I realise that this space is turning into the courgette diaries, as it seems that most of the cooking I do nowadays seems to be about not letting any go to waste. The last five months of renting an allotment have been a steep learning curve. Mostly about time, because allotments are a time suck, sure I’ve got more time outdoors, more exercise and more heart lifting moments of  joy as I look at my 6 x 15 metre space and think about how good it looks.img_4969I also get produce and the lesson I’ve learnt about produce is that courgette plants just keep going. We are in the middle of September and the plants just keep producing, last time I looked we had 15 tiny courgettes, seems like the only thing that will stop them will be winter! So I saw this recipe and it used 2 kg of courgettes so it had to be tried.

Honestly, that it wasn’t the easy recipe it seemed to think it was, mostly down to me not having a big enough pan for the quantity of vegetables. After I put the tomatoes it, I just gave up and I tipped it all into the slow cooker and let it do it’s thing. For a day and half. What I ended up with was a paste/spread/sauce thing. img_4988It’s going to be one of those useful sauces when the produce dries up. I’ve already used some stirred through rice and roasted tomatoes.

I can also imagine that it would be great put to the same use in pasta.img_4913I made it again but this time, I cooked the onions and carrots together, then the courgettes and stuck them with drained tinned tomatoes into the slow cooker and I cooked it on high for 2 days. It looked and tasted the same as the first batch and I’ll probably do it again this week to use up the monster courgette that we somehow missed until the weekend (it’s more of a marrow than a courgette and it doesn’t even fit in the fridge!)

The only other thing, I’m changing is not keeping it in the fridge, you could hot water bath the jars, I guess to make it shelf stable, however, after a quick google, I froze this batch.

So there you have it, part 111 of the courgette chronicles….

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Allotment Adventures: The neverending weeding

We’re at a tricky point on the allotment right now. I started in May, so had missed the window on lots of sowing, so this month most stuff is coming to an end, except perhaps the courgettes, or not started yet.

Which means it time to start thinking about longer term allotment goals and clearing up and more weeding. First clearing and construction.

Last week, we bought some more compost and some topsoil to fill the two raised beds (which resulted in Ma and I having to take it to the allotment at 6:45am on the wettest day of the week!)img_4949

On Saturday we cleared the sweet peas and peas and took down the metal frames put up by Joe’s father in law because they weren’t very safe (or they didn’t feel very safe). I did manage to bash myself with the falling metal as we were taking them down so I’m going with not very safe! One of the best things about getting the allotment has been becoming part of the community there, over the course of the 4 hours spent getting the frame down we had help come wondering past to assist with the tricky bits and there were two posts we couldn’t have got out without the expertise of other people!img_4957It makes a huge difference to the plot which doesn’t feel so cut up now, there still isn’t a clear barrier between my half and Joe’s but we’ve managed so far and we are going to put raised beds there so it shouldn’t be a problem.

On Sunday we were back for another four hours. We set up the other raised bed. We filled the first one with some compost and topsoil and planted garlic in it. We covered the two beds that have chard and salad growing in them to protect them from the pigeons, my pak choi is done for but I’m going to protect the spinach and chard!img_4972Ma did valiant work on the raspberries and they got another layer of compost. The bind weed and couch grass are perennial and the only way to win will be constant weeding, although I am considering planting mexican marigold down the middle as their roots apparently kill the bindweek and couch roots. In fact I’m considering planting it everywhere to help get the weeds under control!img_4973

The rain on Friday softened up the ground so I dug over the area where the french beans had grown and weeded again.

Then we weeded the beds and cleared up. Most of having an allotment appeared to be grind and the weeding is never ending, but looking from the bottom of the plot up to the main path, I feel that we haven’t wasted the five months we’ve been in charge. Someone described their allotment as their church, their gym and their community and it’s certainly been all of those things so far!img_4979Look at how tiny those sage and rosemary plants were in Mayimg_4340

Of course we can’t do everything at once and although we spent eight hours on the plot over the weekend, there is still lots to do. We need to weed at the top end of the plot next weekend. There are lots of the things we want to do, like the base for the shed, moving the gooseberry bushes and more raised beds which are dependent on money, weather and seasons and hiring a car!

So I’m starting to think a little bit smaller and plan in monthly chunks. So by the end of this month I want to have the following done

  • Tank at the top of the plot emptied cleaned and moved to join the other one by the herbs (my current working plan is to add compost and plant squash in them next year)
  • Weed the top of the plot and mark out the areas for wildflowers, poppies and the ‘patio’ area for the shed.
  • Plant bulbs around the plum tree.
  • Rhubarb moved
  • Raspberries re-weeded and covered in compost (one more time!)

By the end of October

  • Clear the courgettes
  • Dig over and weed the bottom of the plot again
  • Three more raised beds, (155cm by 100cm) at the bottom of the plot
  • One more 100cm x 100cm raised bed
  • Clear and dig over beds in the middle of the plot (the ones that are currently growing cherry tomatoes, runner beans, courgettes and the cucumber.
  • Sow a green manure into those beds.
  • Clean and put the bamboo canes away for the winter
  • Have all the rubbish on site burnt and the ash added to the compost

That and the regular maintenance of the plot, should keep me occupied. We’ll also having a Halloween Pumpkin Trail on 29 October, so I want to get my fairy lights out and wrapped around the plum tree for that, I’ll also need some pumpkins but I can’t grow those suckers in time so it’ll be a trip to the supermarket for me!

In November, I want to lay down sand, weed fabric and paving stones for the shed but I do recognise that that may not happen until Spring but I live in hope that we’ll get it done!

 

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