It’s evolution, baby

just food
just food

It took a month or so but I kicked many of my supermarket shopping habits and assumptions, and the accomplishment felt and tasted good.

It’s the nature of evolution to reach out and hold hands with change as it marches along. Getting ourselves in step, the G.O. and I encountered other assumptions and habits we needed to re-think.

It tasted good way back when… The G.O. had errands to run at the shopping centre. Even though we’d had coffee and sourdough toast with farmers market cheese and sliced pear for Sunday breakfast the waft of food court aroma re-booted our appetites. The G.O. has a historical fondness for Big Macs and Filet o Fish burgers. He indulged, setting him back about $12. Sceptical, I went with the tried and true trio of fresh rice paper rolls – tofu, prawn and pork with Asian salad and dressing for $7.90; my regular lunch saviour in that place. It was fortunate we sat outside on a bench near a bin to dine in style: the G.O.’s investment hit the ground in disgust, then the bin.

I don’t have time… it’s a sorry state of affairs when we don’t have time to feed ourselves. I know we’re all busy but I’m going home to cook dinner should be a perfectly good reason to leave work on time.

I’m encountering new food and cooking in new ways. Slow cooking enables me to do other things while multiple dinners make themselves. For the first time ever, I turned 2 kgs tomatoes into crockpot tomato sauce with basil, garlic and onions over the course of half a day.

Another first, I cooked duck. My first attempt was pan-cooked duck marylands following the suggestions of the lovely Thirlmere Poultry stall holder. The cooking experience was harrowing but dinner was delicious. The next time, I slow cooked duck marylands with homemade tomato crockpot sauce, to make duck ragu. It was good enough to do again.

Using the same crockpot tomato sauce plus red wine, beef stock, celery, eschallots and heirloom carrots, I slow cooked a favourite, lamb shanks, from Salt Bush Meats. Better than ever.

An unexpected bonus of our increased DIY food efforts is spending time next to each other at the kitchen bench. These days the G.O. is more involved in food prep; taking the time to cook good food has mined skills and knowledge not evident previously.

Convenience food vs. convenient food… I habitually overlooked a reasonably well stocked pantry, fridge and a substantial freezer stash for ad hoc purchases from the supermarket, local shops or takeaway. Once I circumscribed our food sources to what was on hand and the farmers markets, things got interesting, in a good way.

I found a jar of artichoke tapenade & tins of sardines at the back of the cupboard, and a packet of white anchovies at the bottom of the fridge. The anchovies and its matching packet of panko breadcrumbs I keep on hand to make Chgo John’s Spaghetti with White Anchovies and Capers.

A standby packet of gnocchi became baked gnocchi, served with beef cheeks from Linga Longa Farm, Wingham slow cooked with red wine, beef stock, dried onions and homemade crockpot tomato sauce. Another first attempt that will not be the last as they were excellent.

From the pantry sardines, anchovies, olives, sundried tomatoes, capers and artichokes make great homemade Friday pizza toppings. Panko breadcrumbs crowned the baked gnocchi.

Despite stuffing tubs and bags of leftovers into our spatially challenged freezer it took a conscious effort to liberate them so we could enjoy all over again pumpkin soup, and sausage & ricotta filled pasta shells.

I don’t eat that… The G.O. is a fussy vegetable eater if he eats them at all, but I’ve been baking different varieties of heirloom carrots. The G.O. who wouldn’t eat cooked carrot, does now. I doubt, however, there’ll be the same uptake for the dread cauliflower, broccoli or choko.

The G.O. also is renowned for his dislike of salad. Yet, as he forked an extra mound of green stuff onto his plate I heard him articulate I like these weeds. The weeds were a generous clump of deliciously peppery rocket I buy with roots intact whenever available at the markets and have been tossing through our meals, in this case rocket, cherry tomatoes and chopped organic dates drizzled with Maggie Beer Fig Vino Cotto. Circumventing the G.O.’s dislike of lettuce and traditional tossed salad done with a little tweaking.

Not everything we sample from the farmers markets is to our taste. We’ve enjoyed roast or slow cooked goat in the past but we thought the goat sausages I bought when there were no duck sausages on offer from Booma Boer Goats, Dorrigo were underwhelming. We’ll give them another go and try something else.

Oops, I forgot… to check that label for ingredients, use by date. The G.O. enjoys a few slices of salami for lunch or on homemade pizza. We usually shop for salami on Sundays at the markets attached to The Grounds of Alexandria but recently they had none so we slipped into neighbouring Salts Meats Cheese where the G.O. selected a fennel and pork salami from the cold-room. That night as he sliced it for lunch I nibbled a sliver, it was delicious, and as I’m a dedicated label reader I turned the wrapper over and was dismayed to see 621, 627 listed: flavour enhancers. We’d assumed its integrity being locally made salami from a good store.

The same goes for use-by dates. I’ve been caught up in the wonder of farmers markets and unintentionally bought food with a 24 hour life span.

“The fresh food people”… is the slogan of a big supermarket chain. It’s interesting to encounter other people’s assumptions. I was waiting to buy my favourite small avocados at the Eveleigh Farmers Market. The woman in front of me was questioning, at length, the stallholder about how long avocados keep. The final response from the stallholder was I’m sorry, I wouldn’t know about store-bought avocados. Both the question and the response were fair enough. Supermarket avocados are often brown and nasty inside thanks to cold storage. My usual farmers market purchase is a bag of 7. These fresh picked avocados keep for at least a week: 2 days in the fruit bow plus 5 in the crisper which has been stretched to 7. But I’ve usually eaten them, solo, within the week.

Supermarket produce is not the benchmark.

It costs a fortune… to shop at farmers markets. It does, if you shop at the farmers market and supermarket and local shops and go out for dinner and breakfast and buy lunches and order home delivery pizza and takeaway food and leave food in the fridge until it resembles a science experiment then throw it out.

If you buy food at the farmers market, cook and eat it, it costs the same as other food.

Down on the farm… This weekend we’re escaping to the country-coast for an extra long weekend at our house at TA*. I, of course, have food plans: a visit to the seafood co-op in Nambucca Heads to see what’s fresh and local that I can persuade the G.O. to throw on the barbie. Beyond that it’s hit and miss. There are chain supermarkets, a local co-op supermarket and independent shops which stock local produce as well as produce delivered by semi-trailers transporting it along the highway from central distribution centres.

Farmers markets generally are smaller than our local weekly Eveleigh Farmers Market in Sydney, don’t occur weekly, distances vary but inevitably we have to drive. It’s an opportunity the Nambucca Valley and surrounds are yet make the best of – still developing, sometimes two steps forward one step back as markets start up, fluctuate and dwindle.

Neighbours, friends, family and individual enterprises can be a source of local country produce but it’s a chance affair. It seems incongruous, but we’ll do as best we can.

Do The Evolution, Pearl Jam

*And so, will unlikely be online this weekend to any great extent, if at all, as internet access at TA is also a chance affair.

26 thoughts on “It’s evolution, baby

  1. Hooray for you! There’s something so rewarding about learning new skills at our age (ha!), isn’t there? I find the more we figure out this “eating” thing, the less stressful it all becomes. We *know* we’re eating quality produce (and feeding it to the boys), we’ve figured out over the past few years that it’s affordable (despite societal brainwashing that we need lower supermarket prices to stay on budget), and it’s so exciting whenever we figure out a new way to prepare a dish. It’s all very empowering!


    1. Thank you. I feel like saying “hooray for me” too 🙂 What I want to know is who is behind keeping the big secret of how good beef cheeks are. I had a few moments of panic cooking them, and the G.O. was sceptical at first when I explained what cut they were but he’s brave, and assured me that everything I put in that big blue Chasseur pot and slow cook comes out fabulously, so I relaxed, and it did…


  2. I’ve been seeing several similar conversations in various blogs. It’s interesting depending on where you live the cost of farmer’s markets vs. supermarkets. I find I spend less on produce if I get it at the farmer’s market. Meat though is much more expensive so it balances out.


    1. That’s great, the more people who talk about it the better. Maybe I should have titled the post “It’s (r)evolution, baby 😉
      My comparison is city farmers markets are generally more expensive, and fair enough as the businesses need to get the produce to the city and all that goes with it, and/or employ stall holders.
      The country markets I’ve experienced are generally locals with excess produce, or products as a sideline, and only a small proportion of actual businesses.
      That’s true of meat but the quality is so much better. Veges etc can be cheaper 🙂


      1. I live in a small town surrounded by rural towns so we’re lucky as the “overhead” costs are lower for the markets. Meat is so much better local! We had a co-op open and they have a terrific selection.


    1. Thank you 🙂 Send the shirt over, and I’ll iron it, I’m old, I’m in possession of such housewifely skills… Yes, well now I’ve added heaps of winter food to my repertoire the season is changing and I’ll have to see what I can do with summer food.


  3. I think it is just wonderful and now that my september challenge is over i am going to follow your advice and start to empty the pantry into my mouth. I have a terrible habit of keeping food in jars because it looks good, like the vege garden it needs to be pared down to what I EAT and the rest can be cooked up for the pigs and not rebought. Beans are my biggest problem, I am not a big dried beans eater, and so often they are stale in their bags when you buy them. Iff with their heads. Have a glorious time on your trip. c


    1. Thank you 🙂 The pigs are a fantastic way to recycle food. It’s handy to a point to keep things on hand but rotation seems to be the key… I need to improve that. One of the things our weekend away brought to light is the pantry issue at our house, as I deposited a jar of olives on the shelf where it joined 3 others… it’s so hard to keep track when we’re coming and going. Over our 3 week summer break we’ll make a concerted effort to consume the accumulation of olives, jams, relishes and pickles.


  4. I am amazed when I shop for the veggies at the Victoria Market in Melbourne. I hand over a few coins for wonderful fruit or veggies. The other day in paid 50c for a sweet potato, $1 a kilo of oranges….The produce is reasonably local, at least Australian, and usually seasonal. I think your challenge is an excellent one. Go Girl!!!


    1. I love Victoria Markets. Who can resist the color and life it promises – not me 🙂 Even though I aim to buy local, Australian-not cold stored produce is my benchmark. Imagine no Darwin mangoes at the start of the season, horror! We are fortunate to be a small but diverse and productive country.


  5. Congratulations Ella. My big thing is food miles. I do not see why we need to bring in fruit and vegetables from all around the world so supermarkets can stock items all year round.


    1. Thank you… I agree, I love buying and using local produce, and also Australian in general – as we are a small country and economy we should support our own. We can do that and have so much variety in season without cold storing and transporting from overseas 🙂


  6. Wish we had some nice fresh markets here. Where I grew up in Chicago, they had little corner stores with fresh market food though. I miss it. I just ate lunch and now I’m hungry again after reading your post. 🙂


    1. From what I read of Chgo John’s posts Chicago has wonderful produce and markets, so I can understand how much you would miss that. I have only recently heard about the ‘food desert’ trends in the U.S. where the local corner stores are closing. Our local corner shops aren’t what they used to be when I was a kid but you can buy the basics to make a nice & healthy dinner.


  7. Could never get the Daughter to eat cauliflower until I found those lovely green coloured ones. Steamed, with lashings of homemade garlic butter, the ‘umble caulie can be a delight. 🙂


    1. Ooh, I must try the lovely green caulies, and with garlic butter -yum – I’ve seen them. I tend to steam then cover the caulies with white sauce and cheese, and even that doesn’t tempt the G.O. but I like it sautéed or stir fried also.


      1. To me caulies have next to no flavour of their own but they do have a lovely creamy texture. That texture with the flavour of garlic butter just seems to work. Then again we have garlic butter with a LOT of vegies and it turns even the simplest chops into something yummy with next to no effort.


  8. Good for you, EllaDee! I fid myself buying a great deal from the farmers market each week, resulting in fewer trips to the grocer during the week. I must admit, though, that the farmers market is usually more expensive than what may be purchased at the grocery. Now, if I can get away from the city and find a farm stand out in the country — like Celi’s asparagus truck in the Spring — there are some real savings to be found. Even so, I’ll pay the difference, knowing that the item was picked a few hours ago from a nearby filed, not across the country and shipped.


    1. Forgive my oversight when I failed to thank you for mentioning my recipe, EllaDee. It must be some sort of Freudian Slip. Not but a couple of weeks following that post, the store stopped carrying white anchovies and I’ve been searching, unsuccessfully, for them ever since. Whoever said it is better to have loved and lost doesn’t know what he was talking about. 😉


    2. I would love to buy asparagus from Celi’s stall. The country roadside stalls here are gold, when you can find them. The local TA one where I used to buy tiny wonderful avocadoes is gone 😦 With the store vs market cost comparison, I find I come out ahead because the market produce keeps better & longer.


  9. It’s interesting reading about your changing habits, I thought, from previous posts that you were pretty sound, but you obviously decided not sound enough.

    We used to like duckling bigarade. As you like sweet tooth you would prob like it too – done with orange. If you can’t find a decent internet recipe, I’ll try and hunt out my mum’s old one.

    I hate slow cookers, but I think they are really aimed at carnivores. Doing veg in them leaves them with a very sad taste 😦

    As for reading labels, I am an addict. I’ll buy short sell-by date produce, especially if it’s cheap. What annoys me in Spain is when they still have produce for sale, past its sell-by date, and it is still the normal price!

    Regarding two homes – I tend to make a list when we leave each one of what is left, and what is not left, so we know what to take buy. On the iPhone, rather than paper, much easier to just click and look.


    1. A good idea making a list of what you have in each place… I’m at the stage of “Not Olives” type list 🙂
      Our slow cooker/crockpot is used mainly for veges – soups and tomatoes, etc, but I slow cook meat with lots of veges in a cast iron pot in the oven to make winter casserole/braise type dishes.
      The G.O. commented usually we’re good with the labels but we assumed a little too much there for a while. Similarly we assumed our habits were sound but there is a lot of information available for us to assimilate.
      I had to look up Duck Bigarade… the recipe indicated it’s preferable to make the dish with bitter Seville oranges. I like citrussy and bitter 🙂


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