Thermo-nix

My name is Sue Ellen, and I don’t want a Thermomix.

(*Hi, Sue Ellen!*)

If you have any friends who have a Thermomix, or you have one yourself, you’ll know that’s a pretty radical statment. The “Thermie”, as it is irritatingly affectionately known by devotees, is the most shit-hot kitchen item of the moment. If the hype is to be believed, it does everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. And all in a fraction of the time and effort. Who wouldn’t want one?

Well… me. And I’ll be honest, for a long time my resistance has been due to the hype. Not to mention the babbling, disturbingly Stockholm Syndrome-like enthusiasm of Thermomix owners. (I’ve never been to a Thermomix demonstration but I am fairly certain that all demonstrators are taught to tout the benefits of “no nasty additives”, because I’ve heard the exact same phrase from every Thermomix owner I’ve ever met. Here’s a tip: being smug and superior about your awesome food choices doesn’t make me want to shell out $2,000-ish on a kitchen gadget. It makes me want to punch you.)

Anyway, yes. The hype. The enthusiasm. The occasional smugness. None of that does it for me. I do get that when people really love a product they tend to rave about it a bit. Heck, I did a whole blog post about a $30 pair of Target trousers I bought. I get it. But it still irritates the crap out of me.

However, I have recently wondered if I would ever buy one. Say that money was not issue. Say that I’d never heard anyone rave about their beloved ‘Thermie’. Would I want one then? Would the benefits of the machine outweigh the annoyances?

I’ll admit, part of me likes the idea of a kitchen gadget that does a lot of things in a short amount of time. But that’s only a tiny part. The rest of me isn’t interested. And it’s not the money, or the wide-eyed Thermomix disciples, or the hype. It’s that, for me, cooking is about more than the finished product. The finished product is great, but I also like the process. I like the sounds and smells as I gently stir a simmering pan. I like mixing wet ingredients in one bowl and dry in another. I like seeing if I can manage to chop the entire onion without having to stop and wipe my eyes. I like the silky-slippery feel of cornflour. I even like getting my fingers into sticky scone dough – and I was the child who hated finger painting because I didn’t like having dirty hands, so that’s a big call for me.

I’m not a complete Luddite. I certainly do use kitchen gadgets to make my life easier. I spent years creaming butter and sugar by hand, because that’s the way my mum did it and it hadn’t occurred to me that one could do it any other way, but I don’t want to do that anymore.  I’ll happily use a hand mixer for that. (I did, however, give away my food processor because I hardly ever used it.) I can understand the appeal of speedy cooking, especially in large families, and sometimes I need to get something on the table in a hurry too. But mostly… I prefer to cook slowly. I want to smell and touch and taste things. I want textures and sensations; I want slow simmering and gentle stirring. I want to enjoy food, and for me that means enjoying the process of preparing it. Maybe that means I can’t cook 12 different things on a Saturday afternoon, but you know, I’m really okay with that.

Non-foods

I grew up in a area of Sydney filled with ‘disadvantaged schools’ and housing commission flats, often occupied by alcoholics and drug addicts living alongside struggling families who had nowhere else to live. In the other houses there were a lot of young families, particularly European and Middle Eastern migrants, who moved into the area because it was cheap and it was the only way they could afford to buy a house. And on top of all that, it was an area where the government decided to temporarily house hundreds of Vietnamese refugees. In short, the phrase ‘melting pot’ was used every time the area ended up in the newspaper. Which was often.

My family was, comparatively, reasonably well off. My mum grew up in the area long before the migration and government housing boom started – in fact the area was mostly bush – and my parents built a house in the 60s in what was then an exciting new housing development. Although it could be a rough area, it wasn’t like that where I lived. There was, however, still a fair amount of poverty in the area – people who struggled to make ends meet and who relied on government unemployment or disability benefits.

As is always the case in lower socio-economic areas, people didn’t eat particularly well. Added to that, it was the 70s and fresh vegetables really weren’t always the big deal they are today – and even when we had them, it was normal for them to be boiled to a limp, tasteless, sloshy mess. Convenience foods and packaged foods, however, were still fairly new and exciting. As a result, I ate a lot of what I would call non-foods when I was growing up.

These are, to my surprise (ar ar), still available. I know what you’re thinking… frozen peas. Oh, if only. These are dried peas. I can still remember the sound of their dessicated little bodies rattling around in that packet. Now, the whole concept of dried peas confuses me. I know that peas can be purchased fresh, but in reality hardly anyone buys them that way. We buy them frozen. When you want to eat them you chuck a handful into boiling water (or, these days, the microwave) and a few minutes later they’re good to go. So how are dried peas more convenient? Surely they would take longer to cook because they have to rehydrate as well as heat up. I can understand these peas might be convenient to take camping, or to use if you didn’t have a freezer, but otherwise? They seem like a waste of effort. And thus began my lifelong dislike of peas.

(We, by the way, did not go camping. And our freezer worked perfectly well.)

Although I remember seeing this in our pantry, I don’t particularly remember eating it. Deb Instant Mashed Potato. I actually had to Google it because I wasn’t sure how they worked. Apparently, instant mashed potatoes are made of real potatoes that have been cooked, mashed and dehydrated. To prepare them, you add hot water or milk, “producing a close approximation of mashed potatoes”, but with more salt and much less dietary fibre or nutrients. Well, win! I’ve also just checked the price online. A 115g packet (I’ve no idea how much this makes, reconstituted) is $1.94, or $16.87/kg. Brushed potatoes, on the other hand, are currently $1.98/kg. Add $1.25 for a litre of milk and $1.49 for a block of butter and you could still make mashed potatoes for a large family for a fraction of the price of Deb. And, you know, they’ll be actual mashed potato, not “a close approximation”. But hey, with Deb you can probably save a good… ten minutes. Totally worth it!

Ah, Tang. Not orange juice, not orange cordial, not… anything. Tang stands alone. I can still feel the grittiness at the bottom of the glass when it didn’t dissolve properly. Which was always. It was… strange. I really have nothing else to say about Tang, but in ‘researching’ it I discovered that the scientist who invented Tang also invented Pop Rocks. Remember that gritty stuff that exploded in your mouth? Oh, it was so cool. There was, and probably still is, an urban legend that eating Pop Rocks and then drinking Coke will cause your stomach to explode. Like all good urban legends, there was even a rumour of a child actor who OMG DIED!!! doing exactly that. The rumour was so widespread and persistent that the FDA in America set up a hotline to answer the questions of concerned parents, and the manufacturers sent letters to school principals, created an open letter to parents, took out advertisements in major publications and sent the inventor on tour to explain why the rumour was false. That’s one awesome urban legend. Hats off to whoever started it.

I will admit here that I do still buy milk powder, but not to drink. I use it in bread recipes, and it’s great. Although oddly yellow – is that to make it look like “creamy” milk when you drink it? Anyway, I can kind of get why you might have this around, if you run out of fresh milk or something. But honestly, that’s no excuse for making me drink the stuff. Drinking fresh milk does not agree with me these days, but when I was a kid it was my drink of choice. I loved it, and drank several glasses a day. So when we ran out of milk and my mother helpfully made up a jug of powdered milk, I was excited. Yay, milk! Except, NO. It does NOT taste like milk. That moment of tasting it remains one of the bitter disappointments of my life. Right up there with carob. It’s not chocolate… so why does it look like it?? So disappointing.

Those are some of the non-foods of my childhood, which are partly the result of living where I did and partly the result of living in the 70s. What awful excuses for real food were you forced to eat as a child?

 

For your dining pleasure this month…

(Actually for MY dining pleasure, but that sounded weird.)

I’m trying a few new recipes this month, because I’m bored with the old ones, and it’s the right kind of weather for meaty, stewy kinds of food. So coming up this month we have:

Cheat’s Lamb Stew – so called, I assume, because it’s cooked very quickly but looks like a slow-cooked meal. In my case it’s a ‘cheat’ because I’m using beef and not lamb. I love lamb; I don’t love the price. This one looks like a pretty standard casserole so I think it will be nice.

Spiced Moroccan Soup – tomato based, with spices and lots of chick peas. It includes harissa paste, which I’ve never used and I forgot to buy it anyway, but happily, a quick internet search tells me I can make it myself.

Spiced Beef Pies – basic spicy beef mince pie, served in a ramekin with a torn bread and cheese mix on top instead of pastry. Looks like a rainy weekend kind of meal.

Chicken & Chorizo Cassoulet – this one looks yummy… except I forgot to buy the white beans, which is the key ingredient that makes it a cassoulet and not a regular casserole (apparently). Oops. I wonder if four-bean mix would taste the same?

Spiced Chickpeas with Cauliflower and Chorizo – this one is tonight’s dinner. Looks really good.

Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings – it’s more of a side dish than anything, but oh my goodness they look delicious. And I’m sure mine will look exactly like the picture…

Slow Cooked Beef Ragu Pasta – supposed to be made with brisket. I’ve never even seen a brisket… I’m using stewing steak. I’m sure it will be fine.

So that’s the menu for this month. Sounds good, hey? I’m hoping they actually ARE good… I’ll keep you updated!

 

Rocking at basic survival

Today I made a large batch of spicy beef and vege soup – which is what I’m calling the end result of chucking ingredients in and adding various spices until it was edible. That’s what I love about soup. Chop veges, throw in some kind of liquid, add a few spices, then walk away and let it do its thing for a couple of hours. The occasional stir and it’s done. Awesome.

As I filled up containers to go in my freezer I felt this surge of pride. My freezer is full of yummy food (several other dishes are in there already), this batch of soup is tasty and also happens to be full of vitamins. I mean, the vitamins were practically jumping out of the pot. It was all I could do to stop myself gazing adoringly at the containers in my freezer.

Seriously, I am invincible. Avoiding starvation? Keeping myself alive? Warding off scurvy? Oh yeah, I am ALL OVER that.

Lemony goodness

This morning, before I left for work, I made two batches of lemon slice. For no reason whatsoever. As you do, right? TWO BATCHES. I’m thinking I probably should have checked whether lemon slice freezes well…

(Picture from here, although I used this recipe.)