Slow cooking and slow living

20 August 2010
I woke, as usual, just before 4, showered, dressed and crept out to the kitchen. There is baking to be done - some cakes for a fundraiser this morning. I'm making the whole orange cake as little bundt cakes and muffins. Alice is sleeping, nothing else is happening. I am alone in the world. I get the cakes in the oven and turn on the computer. Outside, rain is falling. It's the beginning of another day, different to all the yesterdays, yet similar.

I like to get a lot of my tasks finished by 9am. I never hurry what I'm doing; I'm not in a hurry. If I'm not finished by 9, it will be soon after; I rarely know what the time is anyway. I write my blog before anything else - except today when I baked first. If I write first, it helps me think about what I'll do during the day, it focuses me on my simple life and it connects me with you. Although I work alone, I prefer the Amish ideal of collective work - that many hands make it light, and although I don't have your hands to help with my work, nor do mine help with yours, the mere idea of you being there draws me into my tasks and reassures me that we are part of something bigger. Once the blog is done, my apron is on and work begins.

Pre-9am work is feeding the animals, letting the chooks out, checking the garden, breakfast, deciding on what we'll eat for dinner and defrosting, if necessary. After breakfast I make bread and get it on to rise, wash up by hand, clean down the benchtops and sweep the floors. I make the bed, if the bed linen needs changing, it's washed and hung outside to dry. Luckily I can do that if it's dry or raining because Hanno made me a very nifty sheltered clothes line last year. Sometimes the bathroom needs cleaning, or soap or cleansers need to be made, or the verandahs need sweeping, sometimes I dust, vacuum or wash the floors. I have no strict routine to work to. I do things when the need arises and when I feel like doing it. It all gets done eventually with no stress, and no guilt if I leave it for another day. I am my own boss here and I'm very good to the staff.

When you bring a celery head in from the garden, or buy one, wash it, take of the top (to use in soups and stews) and wrap it in aluminium foil. If you wrap it when it's moist, with no holes in the foil, you will have crisp celery for at least 6-8 weeks.

After 9ish, I write, breaking for lunch around noon and sometimes a nap in my big soft chair. What a luxury that is, to sit and relax enough to feel sleepy, then to drift off to sleep. I had never liked sleeping during the day but but now it's deliciously self indulgent and although I don't nap every day, I feel refreshed and that I'm taking care of myself when I do. I write again in the afternoon, or at least work on the computer answering emails, visiting the forum and checking out the co-op.

Sometimes, like yesterday, I have food slow cooking throughout the day and the aroma of that fills the house with the promise of a table laden with delicious food later in the day. There will usually only be the two of us eating simple food here at dinner time, but we feel like we have feasted. Yesterday's feast was a low fat and high fibre vegetable, beef and barley soup, made better because many of the vegetables and herbs came from our backyard. All of the rest of it was in the freezer and stockpile, so there was no trip to the shops for ingredients. If I didn't have something, like parsnips, I substituted something else, like home grown turnips. I used onions, a potato, celery, carrots, dried green peas (because I noticed half a cup full in the fridge), silverbeet, turnips, parsley and thyme. The stock was made from scratch, using beef bones, in the morning - giving me the slow cooking all day, and I added ½ kilo/1 pound of gravy beef when I added the barley. Just before serving, I made little herb dumplings. It was delicious. I made about five litres/quarts of soup for less than ten dollars and I have enough to serve for dinner over the weekend as well as some for the freezer for next week or the week after.

Dessert, after our bowl of soup, was homemade egg custard with stewed apples. I peeled two granny smith apples and sliced them finely, sprinkled them with a little butter, sugar and cinnamon and microwaved them for four minutes. In the meantime I made a custard using four eggs from our chooks - the yolks are a deep golden colour so the custard looks like a golden sun sitting in the bowl. Custards are simple - just whisk the eggs with two tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of good vanilla. In another container, heat 2 cups of milk to just under boiling point. Pour the hot milk into the eggs and whisk together. Place this mixture in a bowl, sitting in a container of boiling water in the oven. Slow cook on 160C/320F for about 25-30 minutes. Take it out of the oven when it is firm but still wobbly in the middle. If it overcooks and hardens, it changes consistency. It's still edible but won't be as lovely as a softer custard.

There is no escaping it - slow cooked food nourishes you throughout the day simply by the thought and smell of it, and then does its real magic when you place it on the table. This is not fancy, it's simple food that is fresh and wholesome and will do you more good than any pre-prepared food you'll buy. Food from your own hands, there is nothing like it. When you invite Hanno and I to dinner at your home, we'd be more than happy to sit down to a meal of homemade soup and a simple dessert or fruit. This is our kind of food - simple, economical, homegrown, or at least fresh, and straight from the heart.

I am slowly getting through the long list of emails waiting for replies, don't give up on me. Thank you for your visits this week and for voting for me at Kidspot. I will be doing some grandma knitting over the weekend :- ). I hope your weekend is gentle and stress-free.