maggiealderson

On the road

In Food on April 21, 2014 at 11:29 am

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I’m writing this in the car en route to my mother’s house.* This journey takes four hours and up, so over the years we have adopted some survival traditions.

The portable DVD player for my daughter’s entertainment, has now been replaced by the iPad, which I’m being allowed a rare go on to write this. I normally read the paper, or listen to the radio.

We have an excellent book of games for journeys and when tedium really takes hold, take turns to DJ on my phone, plugged into the car low fi.

But of course one of the most fundamental long journey traditions is the in-flight picnic. This has always meant a stop at the artisan bakery/deli in our town, where we would drop at least £20 on sandwiches, buns, drinks etc.

You know what’s coming don’t you?

In about five minutes I threw together a picnic of great splendour from the fridge and pantry. This comprised:

Crisps
Cheddars
Pretzels
The last of the flipping pitas (for husband, who has been away and doesn’t have pita fatigue…)
Lump of cheddar
Half a Chorizo
Apples
Oranges
Carrot sticks
4 flapjacks
A packet of mini Easter eggs
And – truly – lashings of ginger beer (3 tins from the fridge)

I also threw in a tiny chopping board (from a toy baking set my daughter had when she was little) and a paring knife, which made me feel like the families I remember from trains when I was Eurorailing in the early 80s.

They would get on with a couple of live chickens in a cage and divvy up their rations, with an ancient bone-handled knife, sharing with everyone in the carriage – right down to a squirt of rough red wine from the goatskin in Spain.

Our version was a perfect car picnic – and who knew how delicious flapjacks are with cheddar?

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*This was written over a fortnight ago – this is the first chance I’ve had to post it, as I’ve been crazy busy downsizing my mum from a four-bedroom house, to a one-bedroom flat. I intend to get back to emptying my pantry now I’m home again.

Eat the pantry, continued

In Food on April 4, 2014 at 7:16 pm

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I’ve just eaten a rather eccentric lunch. The last meat off the chicken – the bones and bits now simmering nicely in the stock pot – with warmed-up gravy poured over, with a side of last-possible-day salad leaves and beetroot.

It was absolutely delicious.

When I was assembling this Leftovers Lil repast I wondered whether I would want to admit to it, but with my tummy now full and smiling, I feel no shame. And it’s actually made me realise something.

We’ve all got caught up in a collective delusion that every meal we eat has to be some kind of landmark food event. It doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful cookery books and great food telly as much as everyone else. I adore fabulous food shops, farmers markets, artisan bakeries, ethnic eating adventures and all the other joys of lifestyle food.

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I remember when it all started, in the 1990s with the glory days of Vogue Entertaining – when the peerless Sharyn Storrier-Lyneham was editor.

That was one of the defining experiences of my magazine life. Up there with the first few years of The Face and Wallpaper mag. Game changingly fab.

I still set those pages as my own entertaining benchmark. I want my table to look that generous, the food that tempting (and unfussy), my guests to look that happy.

But a quick lunch on my own at home, grabbed between stints of work and putting a few loads of washing on? Random bits of chicken and microwaved gravy is fine.

I wasn’t about to Instagram my plate (don’t get me started…), but it tasted great and filled the gap. Does it matter that it doesn’t have a name, or cultural reference? No. Sometimes a bit of simple grub is all that we need.

I don’t mean Cup-a-Soup, but as long as the ingredients you cooked with in the first place are good (cf the horrid potatoes in my earlier post), unadorned leftovers are fine.

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So that was today’s revelation from Cooking My Pantry, an experience which is turning out to be giving me far more than clear shelves. Now nearing the end of Day 5, with some frozen fish and spinach planned for dinner, I’ve still spent less than £10 on food this week and I’m starting to understand a lot about the way we shop for food – and why.

Really annoyingly, I’m going away tomorrow, for at least a week, so I’ll have to leave the rest of my food mountain where it is for now. But when I’m back, Operation Clearance will continue.

Meanwhile, please tell me your stories and keep sending those links.

Cupboard Love Day Four

In Food on April 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm

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I write this keeping an eye on the clock so I don’t forget the FLAPJACKS I have in the oven, although it’s quite hard to see out for my enormous halo…

The reason I’m making flapjacks is that Peggy needs to take food into school tomorrow, as she is staying behind for her dance show at 7pm. As we no longer do packed lunches I initially panicked thinking, ‘oh no, we don’t have that stuff in the house any more, I’ll have to go shopping…’

The old me would have gone straight to M&S for ham, cherry tomatoes, a tetra pack drink and a sugary snack, but no… cupboard love me stopped and thought.

We have left over chicken, there are plenty of carrots, still some pitas (although after this week, I never want to see them again…), apples, satsumas and she can take her water bottle. Then came the inspiration: and I can make some flapjacks.

So that’s her packed tea sorted and I haven’t had to buy a single thing, although I did treat her to a hot chocolate after school today because it had suddenly turned chilly and there was an hour before gymnastics.

As I handed over £2.20 for one hot drink, it made me think: that’s half of what I’ve spent on food this week. If I hadn’t bought the stupid biltong snacks o’shame on Monday it would have been the same.

Saving money wasn’t the inspiration for this project, I just wanted to clear my overstuffed pantry ready for fresh spring food, but it has really made me stop and think how much cash I’m wasting food shopping in such a careless manner.

Which makes it OK that I bought these fab new chairs for my garden this morning. (What a bargain at £50 for the four, including the perfect cushions.)

What I’ve eaten today:
Bircher muesli with prunes (another of Liedl’s finest lines).
Some random bits of salami and cherry tomatoes.
Toasted pitta bread with cold roast chicken, slightly limp salad from bag opened two days ago, cherry tomatoes, Hellman’s mayo.
Burnt corners of flapjacks, straight from oven.

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Anti-poverty campaigner for Oxfam and Child POverty Action Group, and supporting the Trussell Trust. Guardian recipe columnist. Mother. Food blogger. Cookbook author. Twitter@ :MsJackMonroe

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