Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fuss Free Shopping?

Oh shopping for food used to be such fun. Hand in hand we used to go skipping down the aisle, flinging whatever took our fancy into the trolley, laughing gaily at each other. Smoked salmon for breakfast tomorrow? Yeah why not. Ha ha ha. Oh look at those rib-eye steaks. Yes, those two please, yes the big ones. Ho ho ho. Champagne? Oh sod it, it's the weekend! HAHAHA! Total exuberant abandonment. And we never really had to rush so along the way we could take actually take time to smell and grope fruit, sample and taste cheeses and make lascivious comments about freshly baked baguettes. OK, shopping in Sainsburys on a Friday night may not be everyone's idea of foreplay but no matter, food is certainly conducive to arousing erm states of passion. Sometimes the shopping bags never left the hallway.

There are consequences though when you submit yourself to pleasures of wanton indulgence, wallowing in food, drink and lust. For us they came in the form of two little bundles of joy. A beautiful boy and a gorgeous girl who have brought so much happiness into our lives that it's impossible to describe. Yes, aw bless but let me just say that these terrific creatures have also mugged us of money, time and energy and when you have children, young children in particular, the food shopping experience is never the same. Friday nights (or Saturday mornings mainly) are now rather fraught affairs. The list is prepared and accounts for only the essentials. The car is parked and each child is plonked into a trolley, one already agitated because Upsy Daisy has been dropped onto the floor. We both run through the doors and then separate, knowing that we only have a small window of opportunity before all hell breaks loose. I cover meat and dairy, my wife covers fruit and vegetables. We meet back at the tinned goods aisle. For a second, I take my eye off the ball looking at some Merchant Gourmet Dried Porcini and then I hear a crash. My son has pulled a whole tray of baked beans from off the shelf. My wife, clutching an armful of tinned tomatoes, shouts at me for not keeping an eye on what he's doing. What she hasn't noticed however is that my daughter who has been chewing on a packet of spaghetti, has split the packet and has been emptying straws into pretty patterns on the floor. So I shout back. Which in turn starts both children crying. And there's nothing worse than a child screaming in a supermarket. So I dash to the bakery aisle, grab a loaf of Soreen, rip the packet apart, take fistfuls of malty dough and shove them into the twin's hands. The rest of the shop is done double quick time, knowing that once the Soreen is done, repetitive demands of "Ineesomemore, Ineesomemore" will build into a crescendo of screaming and I'll have to grin inanely at the old lady who frowns and tuts as she walks past. Because if I didn't, I would have to punch her in the face.

All in all then shopping for food has become quite a stressful experience and it's one task that I generally do by myself these days. And that's still quite a difficult one to juggle given the time constraints surrounding work commitments and other chores around the house, the allotment, time for hiding in shed etc etc. And plus there is also the added factor of having to shop on a budget. So what can I do to make life easier for myself? Well if I were to listen to Helen from Fuss Free Flavours then by all accounts I should really try to find out if there are any food co-ops in my area. Like really really try. To say that Helen is passionate about food co-ops is an understatement. I met Helen again quite recently (this was long after she actually gave me my WMPC dinner I should say, slack posting strikes again) and I was quite taken aback by her fiery rhetoric with fists slamming down on tables. "I don't remember Helen being like this" I thought to myself but then again we did have a fair bit to drink at Bob Bob Ricard that night.

So what is all the fuss about about then? And why is Helen who by definition writes a blog that contains fuss free recipes getting so fussed up? I mean, what the fuss? Well the concept of a food co-op is very simple. A group or collective gets together and pools their combined buying power to make bulk purchases of food from suppliers and then via a box scheme or from stalls run at schools, churches etc, fruit, vegetables and other goods are then distributed back out to the community. All at a fraction of the cost that you would expect to shell out at the supermarket. The produce is usually standard grade, no organic, bio dynamic frippery here but it is fresh, affordable and accessible. Helen's mantra is that simple good food like this should be available to everybody and as I said, a large proportion of the recipes on her blog are created from her weekly box which she gets from her local food co-op in West London. With vegetable and fruit laden boxes costing £3 each a week, the concept is certainly attractive especially when you consider a family box from Riverford or Abel and Co costs between £17 and £20 (yes, ok it's organic). Of course the rub is when I looked on the Sustain website, my local co-op was 15 miles away across the river. And I don't own a boat. There is always the prospect of starting one up in my area myself but again, I really don't have the time and plus I really like hiding in my shed. However, it is a very laudable scheme and certainly benefits many people, families in particular who struggle to make ends meet. If a food co-op did spring up in my area then I would definitely use it.

So what did Helen make for me from her box of delectable goodies? Well Helen did say when we met for the exchange that she had felt fairly cooked out from the previous days exertion of feeding Messrs Torode and Wallace so had opted for a simple meal of Flaked Smoked and Tinned Mackerel, Roast Baby Potatoes with Capers and Olives and Rocket Salad with Parmesan and Tomatoes, followed by Lime and Elderflower Posset. Oh and she threw in some of her homemade Elderflower Cordial. Yeah, like I said, she really couldn't be that fussed to cook. Yeah right. It had been a rather warm day so it was nice to finish work early for a change and dine out on my patio when I got home and equally, this light supper was just the ticket. The mackerel was nice and delicate with just a smidgen of mayo and some chopped chives. The salty slivers of parmesan contrasted well with the salad that had been neatly dressed in balsamic vinegar and her potatoes were very nice indeed. I love a caper but never thought about tossing some throwing them in with spuds for a tangy, piquant kick. The posset was good but may have suffered a bit from travelling, jogging around in my backpack on a sweaty train. The cream had started to separate but I wolfed it nevertheless and got the subtle lime flavour. And finally Helen's cordial was very freshening to wash everything down. I am definitely going to have a crack at Elderflower cordial next year. And vodka, most probably. And for this exchange, all Helen would take from me is a paltry tomato juice in the pub but I like to think that my conversation was riveting and entertaining enough to warrant cooking for me. She only yawned once.

Thanks again Helen, keep up the crusade and get the message out there.

Flaked Smoked and Tinned Mackerel, Roast Baby Potatoes with Capers and Olives and Rocket Salad with Parmesan and Tomatoes

Great eating on a summers evening

Posset, whyst did thou split on me?


  1. "Fiery rhetoric"? Oh my, I must have been pissed then. Did I also give you my lecture why being vegan at least 50% of the time essential for the health of the planet?

    I do think that you need to start internet food shopping? Perhaps?

    At Imbibe I had an elderflower spirit with white wine and fizzy water. Massively yum!

  2. Brilliant. Actually brilliant.

    And also putting off having kids.

  3. "putting ME off having kids" I mean

  4. I just can't wait to have children.......sainsburys will never be the same again!!! Better make the most of it while I can!

    Great post, laughed most of the way through :)

    P.s. elderflower vodka sounds good! Have had elderflower sorbet before which was very tasty and cooling, good for the summer!

  5. Ha haaaa, that sounds much like my friend's wails about the supermarket run... a fraught affair by all accounts!

    Whereas we still pootle along to the shops once every couple of days, to buy what we fancy at the time... lots of browsing and pottering.

    But we don't have the joy of the twins so it's apples and pears innit?!

  6. Hilariously funny piece and good to know I am not the only one who takes photos of his food before he eats it. I have been known to take food photos whilst cooking. This enterprise is usually when I am a bit tiddly (ok quite pissed, ok very pissed) and each wobbly action is recorded with my food covered camera.

    Word of advice: never start looking at some Merchant Gourmet Dried Porcini. Fatal. It leads to buying the whole range and a call to the bank for an overdraft facility.

    I must check out Helen's blog too. Sounds good.

  7. aw bless their little socks, they sound really adorable - admit it you wouldn't have it any other way! And food co-ops sound like the way forward, especially if you can get tucker like that. Brilliant stuff!

  8. Helen - I'd say that you were a little tipsy, as we all were, thanks again

    Meemalee - oh don't let anything I've said put you off having kids, they are wonderful.

    Meemalee - no don't do it.

    Anne - yes Elderflower vodka does sound good doesn't it, vodka is good full stop. Glad you liked the post

    Kavey - it's all stairs?? Kavey are you out-cockneying the cockney?

    Phil Lowe - no never look at Merchant Gourmet stuff, you slurge a fortune and it then gets tucked away in your cupboard to be forgotten about.

    Gastrogeek - ok, I wouldn't have it any other way, I know *chuckles* ; )