Recently, while on a plane to Adelaide, I began to reflect on the ways I am eating and cooking at the moment. As I started to jot down one or two ideas, I realised that changes in my surroundings and situation seem to have resulted in several shifts in my cooking and eating patterns.
1. I’m cooking less overall
In New Zealand, cooking was a key method of relaxation for me. I loved nothing better on the weekend than to spend several hours in the kitchen, trying a new recipe, baking a cake, or carefully tending a roast chicken. Here in Brisbane life is different. For one thing, the warmer temperature make extended hours in the kitchen considerably less desirable. For another, our location means that we’re close to many cheap eateries, particularly in nearby Chinatown. We’re eating out more often, and in general, our weekends are more oriented to exploring the city than hibernating at home. Finally, having flatmates means that I am more limited in the amount of time I can spend in the kitchen. Mid-week cooking in particular, is far more mundane than before.
2. Our grocery shopping habits have changed substantially
Back in New Zealand my pattern was to do a biggish shop about once a week, usually alone. During the course of most working days I would mull over what I felt like cooking for dinner, stopping off for specific ingrediants just about every other day. This was not an efficient use of time to be sure, but it was an indulgence, and yes, even a leisure activity (hmmm, who will think this is sad, and who will totally get me?).
Here in Brisbane, Colin is strangely edging ahead in the motivation-for-grocery-shopping department. I suspect this has it’s origins in our first few weeks when a diminished bank account and the higher price of groceries and eating out in Australia meant that we sniffed out bargins, and never left the house without a supply of muesli bars, apples and water. While staying with Marie and Adam, we took turns with them to cook dinner for the household. This meant that every second day, menu planning and the required shopping became a joint activity for Colin and I. Now, I don’t have a car, so I can’t stop off to pick up extra ingrediants just because I fancy cooking a particular dish. The pattern lately is for Colin and I to shop together every weekend. Grocery acquisition has become more of a chore to get out of the way so we can get on with our weekend.
3. I’m cooking less vegetarian food
Back in New Zealand I used to cook Thai or Indian inspired tofu curries at least once a week. Lentil dishes, of various soup and salad persuasions, were a regular feature, as were tofu sausages and vegetarian quiches. When I think about what to have for dinner now, most of the time my automatic thoughts turn to meat. I am embarressed – how did this happen?
In my defence, this oddity is partly explained by the fact that we are still building up the pantry. We don’t yet have the array of spices, oils and vinegars on hand that support a vegetarian imagination, and in this situation, it’s easier to fry up a steak than to layer the multiple ingrediants needed to make tofu tasty. Beyond this, I think the major factor is that we’ve discovered our local Superbutcher: a gigantic, refridgerated warehouse that stocks a comprehensive range of meat, including organic chicken. The buying power of this conglomerate results in fantastic specials, and we’ve invested in a small stand-alone freezer so we can take advantage of these. Having a greater quantity and range of meat on hand has clearly invaded my sensibilities somewhat, although my stomach has started to rebel of late, insisting (quite rightly) upon split green peas.
4. The functionality of my cooking space has altered
We shipped over a range of essential kitchen items (an oven thermometer is essential, right?) and rented a furnished apartment complete with kitchen accessories. Despite these basics, I’m missing some key elements that assisted my past experimentation and creativity (yes, mini food processor, I’m talking about you).
I am also bereft of my cookbook collection, which I would dip into once or twice a week for bedtime reading or browsing through over a lazy Saturday morning breakfast. My cookbooks are packed away in our storage unit in Auckland; all I shipped to Brisbane was my battered scrapbook of magazine cuttings and invented recipes. While I only cook with reference to a recipe about half the time, my books were an integral way of reminding myself of complementary flavours and specific cooking techniques that I could experiment with in the kitchen. I obviously find it difficult to exist without cookbooks though, as I have already purchased two food magazines and a second-hand copy of Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, poured over at least ten cookbooks from the library, and continue to read food blogs on a regular basis. But still, for other reasons cited above, experimentation is low.
But all is not lost. We’ve started getting a vegetable box delivered most weeks, which our apartment manager organises for the tenants in our building. This is a great way to get a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables, and it forces me to be creative with surprise ingredients.
A great gourmet food shop exists literally two minutes walk up the street. They offer a wide range of tempting cooking courses, and regular tastings of cheese, chocolate and other delights.
We’ve just started going to the Saturday market at West End. These markets are a gourmet destination in their own right. The beautiful fresh fruit and vegetable stalls are inspiring, and regular visits are slowly resulting in some addictive culinary creations (small eggplants roasted until soft and then sprinkled with fresh mint; a salad of crunchy fennel and radishes, sliced thinly, mixed with Italian parsely and goat feta, then doused in an astringent lemon dressing).
Finally, a recent purchase of delicious magazine has resulted in a plan to indulgently shop for, create, and consume a three course meal at home. Watch this space for an impending gastronomic explosion!