Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cuba Street Carnival - Wellington Batucada is the Supreme Winner!

Wellington Batucada drummers.

What a fantastic day! It was my first Cuba Street Carnival parade with Wellington Batucada - and we were awarded Supreme Winner of the Meridian Illuminated Night Parade, as well as Best Music. Awesome!

Wellington Batucada drummers.

Edited 06/03/09: These two photos are by Murray Short - thanks for the heads-up, Alex!

There are loads more pictures on Snapstar - check out the Meridian Illuminated Night Parade collections parts 1 and 2 - we're on pages 22, 23, 24 and 25 of part 1 and pages 26, 27, 28, 32, 33 and 34 of part 2.

Here's video... the first view of us is at about 38 seconds in - although you can hear us right from the start.

I had the BEST time ever. Everyone worked so hard on the float and the costumes and all the other organising stuff - and our fantastic directors and all the volunteers from Batucada and beyond just completely rock! Hooray!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My cupboard is bare

Jamie's Ministry of Food book cover. With my Shift going-away present (a book token - brilliant!) I bought Jamie Oliver's new book Jamie's Ministry of Food.

I'm useless at cooking. I just don't do it. My diet is utterly crap - I can go for well over a day without eating anything - and I'm quite capable of living on nothing but coffee and cigarettes. Most of the time I eat one meal a day - either by buying sushi for lunch, or making myself a chunky salad drowned in mayonnaise in the evening. But sometimes I have nothing at all.

I can't be bothered cooking for one, so most of the time I don't. Then there's the mission of having to go to the supermarket and buy stuff - and actually having a plan for what I want to cook (which I never have!).

Plus I have issues with food.

My earliest datable memory is when my sister was born. I was two and a half. She was born at home, so I was dispatched to the neighbour's house for the day. I remember they gave me stew to eat, which I totally didn't want at all. I guess they must have forced me to eat it because I remember being sick afterwards. Welcome to the world, baby sister!

I wouldn't eat meat. I hated the taste, the texture, the smell. At some point I realised that meat was actually DEAD ANIMALS, and that sealed the deal for me. No way was I going to eat that stuff! I couldn't even go into the butcher's shop with my mum because it smelled so bad.

Problem was, as far as I knew, I was the only vegetarian in the entire world, and no-one knew how to deal with my bizarre eating requirements.

Every single day at school for four years I was tortured by the dinner ladies because I wouldn't eat my dinner. Everyone sitting at my table would have to wait until I finished before they were allowed out to play. And as I couldn't finish it because I couldn't eat the meat, they missed their playtime - every single day. It was awful.

Finally when I was eight years old my mum acknowledged that I was indeed a vegetarian, and she had a chat with the headmaster. From that day onwards every dinnertime I was given a HUGE block of cheese wrapped in greaseproof paper to go with my veggies. I used to share it with everyone else at my table 'cos there was so much of it.

I was an extremely picky eater. I think I withheld food from myself because it was one of the few things in my life over which I had some level of control. I think I've continued that pattern of behaviour ever since. Which is a bit silly really, as I have control over all areas of my life these days :)

So - fast-forward to today, and my entirely unexpected purchase of a cookery book.

Not sure why I did it, except that I'd quite like to improve my diet, while at the same time trying to save money (or not spend much!). I know the years of under-eating must be taking their toll on me, and I think it's about time I sorted myself out.

Plus this whole contractor thing seems to have kick-started me in a whole bunch of different ways, and I'm stepping outside my comfort zone all over the place. Cool!

Jamie's book starts off by listing all the kitchen implements you need, and then there's another massive list of all the staple items you should have in your larder, most of which I didn't have. I'm a perfectionist, so I really wanted to do everything exactly right and have everything in place before I started. So I didn't start 'cos I didn't have everything.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped procrastinating because I didn't have all the right ingredients, and I decided to try out the simplest recipe in the book - spaghetti with tomato sauce.


No basil. No garlic. No chillies. An old tin of tomatoes and some old spaghetti. When I opened the tin it made a weird gas-escaping noise, but I had a quick taste and it seemed OK, so I carried on.

The recipe said chopped tomatoes, but chopping them up ended up releasing so much juice that it overflowed the chopping board and spread out across the bench. And then I spilled half the juice transferring it into the pot. Because I had no garlic, basil, or chillies I just heated up the olive oil and bunged the tomatoes in. Not a good plan.

Once the spaghetti was cooked I mixed in the oily cooked tomatoes, a bit of sweetcorn, and topped it with some old cheese. Yum yum. Not.

It was completely gross. Like, so bad I couldn't eat it. I'm pretty sure the tin of tomatoes was off for a start, and really, when there are so few ingredients it is rather imperative that you don't leave any out.

Back to the drawing board.

The root of my problems was a) using crappy old years-past-their-sell-by-date ingredients and b) not having all the ingredients I needed.

Time for a complete overhaul of the larder!

I threw out EVERYTHING.

My larder's always been pretty well-stocked - "I'll be OK if we have an earthquake", I used to think. Except of course I wouldn't, because it was all old and crappy and entirely inedible. The flour and cereal was absolutely infested with flour beetles and utterly unusable. If one tin of tomatoes was off, then all the others were probably off too, so they all had to go. As I cleared and cleaned I got more and more ruthless. This was quite difficult to do at first, because I hate waste, but really, none of the stuff was safe to eat anyway, so I ended up chucking it all out. What a feeling of relief and release!

Next was the issue of where do I put all the stuff I throw out. In the bin? But it's too heavy! Bags of old flour and everything else weighs so much I'd need heaps of bin bags. So I decide to get rid of as much as I can down the waste disposal. Great plan!

Only not. After the fifth packet of old crackers went down the waste disposal sink there was a gurgling, grinding noise - and suddenly there was liquid cracker goop coming up through the plughole of the other sink.

Disaster! Call Marcus the emergency plumber!

I do love Marcus. He's wonderful - and because he's an on-call-all-of-the-time kind of a dude, you can have a waste disposal emergency at 8.30 at night and he'll be there within half an hour.

He got me to pull out all the stuff from the cupboard under the sink (good excuse to give it a bit of a clean) and then he got down to work. It was pretty gross really - the cracker goop looked pretty much like vomit, and we had to use a couple of old (never to be used again) towels to mop up all of the goo that ended up on the cupboard floor. Poor Marcus!

Anyway, he fixed it - so after giving the whole cupboard another clean I put everything back and decided to put the rest of the old food in bin bags and get rid of them the traditional way. I think it took three or four bags in the end. And I still have a shelf full of old tins to get rid of gradually over the next few weeks. Ah well.

Since I started writing this blog post (hence the title) things have moved on apace, so...

On to the new food. I didn't feel like lugging a dozen heavy bags of staple items up the path to my house, so I did the supremely lazy thing and ordered all the food on the list from Woolworths online store. I love that website. It has the crappiest nav ever - but you can order a ton of stuff and they deliver it all to your door the next day. Awesome!

The next day I spent a happy few hours decanting every single thing into glass jars and labelling them all. No more flour beetles in my house! [And do you know, it seems to have worked? From being virtually infested with the damned things a few weeks ago when I started writing this post, my house is now pretty much bug-free. Hooray!]

My first attempt at actually properly following one of the recipes in Jamie's book was a second go at the spaghetti with tomato sauce. And it was LOVELY! Oh wow! I cooked something other than salad and baked potatoes! Go me!

I think it's all the fresh basil leaves he gets you to include - I now have a pot of basil growing on my window-sill - and the garlic and the olives and the parmesan and, and... yes I know, it was pretty dumb to try and cook it without 90% of the ingredients the first time, but there you go.

For my next trick I decided to go for something a little more adventurous, and settled on salmon and pesto with french beans, cooked in a foil parcel and served with organic new potatoes. Lordy lordy, aren't we posh?

And ohmygod it was absolutely awesome! Like, seriously good, and healthy, and filling, and just completely yummy! Hey this is cool! I could invite someone round to dinner now and actually have something really good I could cook for them! It's a revelation! I was so completely proud of myself I had to do a Snoopy Happy Dance round the kitchen in celebration.

Since then I've cooked both the spaghetti and the salmon recipes a few more times, and been really pleased with the results each time. I've also tried my hand at prawns and avocado with Marie Rose sauce (which is also yummy).

And I even did some baking. Crikey!

There is one thing I know how to bake, and that's melting moments with jam and butter cream filling. Delicious! So at 10 o'clock one night I settled in for a bit of baking therapy. I was through the cream-butter-and-icing-sugar stage, and had measured out the flour ready to add it to the mixture. Now for the cornflour.


I have about a tablespoonful of cornflour left in the jar and it requires two cupfulls. Doh! How did I not get more cornflour during the Big Shop?

I leap into my car and go tearing off around the neighbourhood looking for a cornflour merchant at 10.15 at night, but sadly the local dairy is closed, so's the nearby supermarket, and the local petrol station has custard powder and baking powder but no cornflour. Darn it!

I decide I can't be arsed going to all the way into town on a Friday night just for cornflour, so I go back home and put what I've made so far into the fridge.

Edmonds Fielder's Cornflour packet - iconic kiwi design. The following day having obtained the necessary packet of Edmonds cornflour from the dairy (well you have to use Edmonds, don't you? After all I was using the Edmonds cookbook for the melting moments recipe, so it's only right and proper, eh? Plus the packet design is just fab), and after leaving the butter-and-sugar mixture out on the bench all afternoon to let it soften, I was finally able to finish my little baking project and - oh my lord - are they good or what? I eat one a day and they've lasted me a couple of weeks so far - and they get better over time, too!

A couple of very interesting things I've noticed since I started this whole cooking lark:

Firstly, it's made me want to go to the big supermarket in town so I have a big choice of nice fresh ingredients - and it's made me want to go on a regular basis so I don't run out of stuff. I hate battling with the crowds in the supermarket - I like to wander around peacefully - and I have discovered that 7pm seems like a good time to go. You still get fresh bread and stuff without the millions of people glaring at you when you pause at a shelf to consider an item in more detail.

A result of this (and I'm thinking it's the combination of the bigger supermarket and the slightly altered shopping list) is the realisation that buying ingredients is MASSIVELY cheaper than getting ready-made or ready-mixed stuff.

Now I certainly wasn't ever a ready-meals kind of a girl (ugh!), but I have been known to buy a packet of dessicated pasta or rice mixed with other dessicated stuff which you add milk and butter to, stir in a pan for eight minutes and glop onto your plate and eat without tasting it...

Not any more. I just don't feel the need to, now I know I can cook much lovelier food from scratch. And the result, I have found, is that even when you buy yourself a nice bit of salmon and a whole big packet of frozen prawns as well as all your fresh ingredients - it's still a whole lot cheaper than if you included the dreaded dessicated packets and a jar of crappy pasta sauce.

And did you know that if you buy a piece of salmon with the bones still in, it costs over a dollar a kilo less than if they take the bones out for you? And that if you get a bit near the tail it doesn't have bones in anyway? And that you can easily remove the bones using a handy pair of pliers from your toolbox? Heh heh. Kewl!

The second thing I've noticed is that being able to cook stuff has given me an added incentive to eat a bit better all the time. Like, I'm actually thinking about having a snack during the day as well as an evening meal - and I'm having the evening meal as well! Amazing!

AND I've lost weight! In a good way. Even though I'm eating more. In my bid to save money I've stopped buying and therefore eating most of my treats like chocolate and heaps of biscuits, and it's made a real difference. I had to put a belt on my jeans the other day cos they kept on falling down when I ran for the bus.

So yeah. Go Jamie, and go the Ministry of Food. If it can get a completely non-cook like myself interested in cooking - and actually succeeding in my culinary endeavours (eventually!) then that's a really good thing. I'm not sure about the Pass It On aspect of the whole movement - only because I'm pretty sure all my friends can cook anyway - but I'm certainly thinking more positively about inviting people over for dinner once in a while. Hooray! Thanks, dude!

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