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The joy of leftovers

I promise I won’t write too many posts that start ‘the joy of…’ Because we know what the original was, and that’s one thing I won’t be writing about here…

But anyway, leftovers, because as ever, my mind turns to food, and what to do when there’s more ingredients in the house than are scheduled to appear on a menu that week.  (Yes, I do plan meals for a week.  It’s a lifesaver when you both leave work at 7pm and can’t make any decisions by the time you get home.)

Dan’s brain is well tuned to come up with completely new options.  I find I probably do better with a bit of input – in this case, a few assorted ingredients, around which I can turn out variations.  Many of the things I cook regularly – risotto, vegetable casseroles, omelette – are interesting to cook, and eat, at least in part because they aren’t the same every time.

So, today, this meant I could cut up and freeze a parsnip for future use (probably a risotto), make some carrot and caraway soup, and finally, the new recipe, make some pomegranate icecream…This because we took several attempts to buy cream for another recipe, Dan bought some and brought it home after we had then got cream elsewhere, so of course it had to be used up…and the Coop was kindly selling pomegranates cheap…etc.

I was chatting to a friend on Sunday about mammoth cooking sessions (yes, we’re both a little obsessional in our devotion to cooking), and the fun of actually cooking that flows from day to day.  By flow, this isn’t where the food is sliding off work surfaces or out of compost bins (hopefully), but where there is enough time to make use of leftovers.

I had a time like this around Easter last year, where I was meant to be gardening and painting.  In fact, the other family members did these, I cooked for them all, and everyone seemed to be happy…It felt like there was enough time to be a bit more flexible, experiment with new ways to use things, different leftovers suggesting new combinations, and so on.

I’m not sure why I have such a strong need not to waste things – it’s part of a generation’s advice that has (until relatively recently) seemed very out of date.  Now we’re all meant to be saving the planet by every small decision, being frugal with food, planning ahead, it’s actually quite trendy.  I think.  It’s strongly supported by Nigella, anyway.

In the meantime, talking to the same friend and her husband, we think we’ve come up with a new group for Facebook.  It’ll be ‘Look what bargain I got at the Co-op’, or something similar, as they heard through our breathless excitement at the treasures marked down day by day.  They are moving to another town, but will be near a Co-op.  What comparisons to come, eh?

Bit of a bargain

We’ve got into a bit of a habit of visiting our local Co-op after 7 in the evening, when they are starting to discount stock.  Clearly we’re getting known for it by the staff – one of the cashiers offered us a very low price on some biscuits that we’d looked over in the queue…

Thing is, we all like a bargain.  My excuse is that I’m stopping food going to waste, as well as getting a good price.  Sometimes the discounts are really good – Dan got some packs of salmon fillet that were going at 20p each…But it’s not always best for the waistline.

Most people are used to bargains one way or another – market stalls, buy one get one free offers, checking out the high street sales, that kind of thing.  Yet there’s watchdog type programmes that check up on stores which seem to put their products straight to sale.  It’s a competitive world, I guess.  But I do have to ask myself, would I be interested in getting something if it weren’t in a sale?

The ‘Body and Soul’ section of the Saturday Times ran some tests on what happened to people’s brain patterns when they were shopping, and particularly when they got a bargain.

When it was deemed to be a particularly good bargain, some chemical went sky-high, in a way that would happen to you if you went bungy-jumping, even though people are not aware of such a surge of positive feeling.

So maybe we’re hard wired to it.  Or maybe we need to guard against it, if marketing people are going to use such awareness to get us to buy yet more stuff…

We’re also a society which is swamped by consumer choice.  So maybe by choosing bargains only, we’re making life easier for ourselves, cutting down the choices.   Or maybe we’re giving away our choices to someone else, who has profit margins, peaks in stock, and other market forces to guide their decision making, rather than what we want to choose.

Thankfully, the dieticians will back me up in saying that it’s always good to choose vegetables.  I think.

Autumn plunder

Nothing like something for nothing, especially when you can eat it.  There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is thankfully some free food to be found, usually around hedgerows etc.

Last year we discovered great bramble bushes (aka blackberry for those unsure) on the cycle path near us.  Even though last year was sunny in the summer and this year was not, still gathered quite a lot.  The attempt at making bramble jam was less successful, losing not only the brambles (by now in a solid lump) but also the container they were in, which they refused to be parted from.

Last weekend’s excitement (apart from choosing my laptop) was elderberry picking.  We seem to have gained an elderberry bush at the bottom of the garden, which has been conveniently hanging over our side of the fence, so picked most of those, and hope to turn them into icecream.

They are probably the only thing in the garden benefitting from our compost heap, which gets added to, but sadly not yet used on plants…As the elderberry bush is on the other side of the fence from the compost bin, we can only assume conditions are good, as it wasn’t there last year.

Final bit of plunder was only from the Co-op, really, so doesn’t really count (although when they discount their veg at the end of the day, it’s almost as good as hunter gathering).  Bought beetroot for cooking with for the first time, turning out beetroot soup and some beetroot to go with a roast chicken (which was particularly good!).  Having tried lots of other soups earlier in the year, beetroot was a gap on the list.

Reports will follow on how well these work out.  Besides, I promised friends overseas that I would write about some Edinburgh stuff, and brambling etc is part of the picture.  (So is washing floors, but I will spare you all that.)

The delights of charity shops

You know you are joining a bandwagon when you realise the City of Edinburgh Council has published a map of its charity shops.

There were even articles about the map in the papers during the summer.

Evidently theatre companies like to go around the charity shops to collect props for the productions that are then part of the Edinburgh Fringe.  The articles didn’t say whether the companies then donated the articles back to charity at the end of the shows, but it seems a reasonable bet.

Our previous flat was close to Stockbridge, home to many charity shops.  As it’s quite a smart part of town, the clothes on sale are a few notches higher up the designer scale than you would normally expect.  I spent one happy afternoon browsing during August, and came away with two pairs of trousers and two skirts, for a grand total of £19.

The main indulgence though is book shopping at charity shops.  Shelter, the charity for the homeless, is not only very good at window displays, but also has great collections of second hand books, with children’s books a particular bargain.

Our main outing of the year for second hand books is in fact a book sale held in Peebles, close to where my parents live.  It’s only on for one weekend in March, and we book our night’s accommodation with Mum and Dad in plenty of time.

We all adopt different tactics when going round the fair – mine is to show the person at the cash desk a £10 pound note, tell them I intend to spend all of it, and see how many books they’ll let me get away with.

The sale does also have a good antiquarian section, and as one of the organisers says, they’ll even give away old copies of National Geographic to use as loft insulation. No wonder we keep buying bookcases.