Tag Archives: food

Back in Birmingham …

So because life hasn’t been that interesting lately, I have come to a bit of a standstill on the blogging front – I am still eating, (things would have to be dire for that to stop), but winter is setting in and I am feeling the urge to hibernate. There is nothing like darkness and cold to just make you want to stay indoors. Just as well for semi-lockdown hey?

I would love to say that in the lockdown days I have finished a multitude of projects and that my house is immaculate – but the fact is that working from home has put a bit of a kibosh on that.

So, what to chat to you about? And then I remembered, I have promised to report back about the Balti experiment.

Firstly, I am pleased to say, that this milder style of curry developed in Birmingham in the 70s was a home cooking success. Secondly, I have to tell you that I think that if I make this again, I should actually take to planting out an onion garden. SO SO many onions (which are fortunately good for us!) followed by a reasonable number of tomatoes!

IMG_1400Of course, the thing about cooking food from other cultures is sourcing the correct ingredients – or at least something remotely similar. Onions are not an issue – I buy 1kg bags probably every four or five weeks, and most of the required herbs and spices were easy to source – or combine. But one certainly got me stuck though – Fenugreek, also known as Kasuri Methi.

I haven’t made my way to a real Asian smallgoods store yet, and maybe fenugreek will be found in one, but instead I went to Google, as we do so often now to find out what on earth to replace it with. I was figuring if it was leafy, then celery or parsley leaves might do the trick. And indeed, this was suggested, but what I was totally not expecting was … maple syrup?

Well … that was a surprise!

But it turns out there’s some chemical common to both that leads the taste to be similar. So … maple syrup it was, which gave my Balti a bit of a sweeter taste than I remember eating before, but nonetheless, the same flavour.

Food never ceases to amaze me!


But the Balti itself? With an onion/tomato/spices sauce, (usually, although it can be vegetarian) diced meat is cooked in more onion and tomatoes and served up in its own cooking bowl, accompanied by a yoghurt dip and Naan. I might try my hand at making Naan at some stage – but I’d be hard pressed to compete with those served up at my ‘local’, the beautifully named ‘Punjab Paradise’ on Ladypool Road, where table Naan stretched in front of us to at least two feet long.

Friends and I tried making Balti once before and it was a long, fatty and complicated process of boiling and marinating and cooking … and it seemed to take literally all day. From memory, it didn’t really taste like the real deal, although the whole street could smell it.

But this time, armed with authentic Balti bowls courtesy of my sister, I was back in Birmingham in a flash, dragging my husband along with me. (Sorry Tony!) At which point, I should explain that a Balti bowl is a small pressed-steel mini-wok type of cooking pan. It is also the dish used to serve up the Balti – which is one dish per person. Cheer with me at the thought of less washing up!

I can heartily recommend the recipes on the Birmingham Balti Bowl website. I’ve only tried one so far, but it is absolutely the real deal. So, if you’re like me and you want to try a piece of cultural, authentic, nostalgic cooking, this is a go-to. Or just if you want to try something different. Because what is life, but an opportunity to try something new sometimes?

Happy trying!

“I’ve got a jar stuffed with songs …”

Happy new year my dear readers!!

And look at me today going all Pinterest-y!

Summer is in the air and so is our normal transition from soup to salad, but being a person of a short concentration span, I try to get salad making done on Sundays – enough for at least a couple of days, if not three. But where to store? Apparently I’m not supposed to use the beautiful orange/yellow/khaki Tupperware I inherited from Grandma because of the lead content, so I was left wondering what the ideal container would be.

And then there was Pinterest.

Now, bag Pinterest if you like, but I think it’s a great idea. I used to have a document filled with links divided up into relevant topics, which was fine … but it didn’t have any pretty pictures attached, so it was a bit hard to tell what the link related to, unless I was super organised and added a description too. I’m sure you can feel my pain.

So maybe I haven’t used all the ideas that I pin, and of those I have, not all have been successful, but there have been some winners. And one of the winners is salad jars.


Now if I had known this ten years ago, I would have retained all the perfect mason jars that my pasta sauce came in and re-used them over and over. But retrospection is a fine thing, and I only have three, which is really annoying for a working week.

But are there benefits to using glass jars for salads?

Well, yes, and here’s just a few:

  • They don’t absorb the smell of constant salads (or the dressing)
  • They don’t go sticky
  • They can be sterilised
  • You can see what’s in them
  • They stay super cold (without salad-killing condensation)

But … they are glass, so they are subject to chipping and smashing. Not so great 😦 They are also not such a good on-the-run lunch, unless you’re the type who likes eating one strata level of food at a time.

img_8718.jpgThe trick to a salad jar is the layering. Wet stuff down the bottom, delicates at the top. If I am adding a meat component, such as sliced ham, I add it on the day. I’m sure my lettuce can cope with that burden for a few hours.

But what to put in the salad? I have a recipe book on my shelf called “Salad Love” by David Bez. His definition of a salad is: layering a base, vegetables or fruit, fresh herbs, protein, toppings and dressings.

Going by that, I guess virtually anything goes! For example, today I have leftover roast pumpkin thrown in, with toasted pumpkin seeds, just to make my toss-salad equivalent just a little more exciting.

I like the economical idea of salad jars – not necessarily to save money on ingredients – but the idea of being economical about my time too. One or two sessions of chopping a week, rather than five, is quite appealing. Having lunches virtually all prepared in the mornings also has a good feel about it.

And although the Pinterest look of that part of the fridge may give the false impression that I have life totally under control (or that perhaps I may spend too much time on the internet), it’s nice to know that something is organised, for a little while.



Today’s header is a quote from Julian Casablanca, from The Strokes. Here it is in context: “I’m always writing something. I’ve got so much stuff, I don’t know what to do with it. Some of it will be Strokes, some of it will be I don’t know what – stuff for pop singers. TV themes. I’ve got a jar stuffed with songs, all these ideas that are just me humming into a recording device.”

Random? yes, but do you know how hard it is to find a cool quote with the word ‘jar’ in it? that makes sense by itself? 🙂

Perfect Pumpkin

So it is winter … officially on Friday if you date Northern Hemisphere style, but weatherwise here in the southern half, the cold has struck. Oh, you may laugh at me as I rug up as if I am heading off on an Arctic expedition, when temperatures are still in the positives, but it is all relative you know 😊. I’ll remind you of that dear readers when I am toasting at 40 degrees C …

And as a consequence of the fweeeeeeezing conditions, we are on the soup bandwagon again. Five weeks of different soups and already one is leaping ahead as the favourite. It is even on repeat request this week, so it must be a magic mix indeed. Just as well its main preparation time is chopping, and not much more until blitzing time. Quite manageable really, which is nice.

So, as my title hints today, the cheerful soup on the menu this week is Pumpkin. As with many things, the title is a bit misleading, because, in actual fact, pumpkin is maybe only a third of the quantity. But as the ingredient list is too lengthy for a soup name, “Pumpkin” it is.


I’m one for simplicity and rough estimates for amounts, so here’s the approximate quantities …

Serves approx 8

1/2 a butternut pumpkin (not your Hallowe’en variety – sorry!)
2-3 carrots
2 potatoes
1 large sweet potato
1 or 2 red capsicums
vegetable stock (about 3 or 4 cups)
turmeric, ground coriander seed, paprika in generous quantities

chop veggies, add stock and spices.

cook until soft then blitz in batches until smooth


Serve with a bit of cream and some parsley to make it look all Master Chef-y 😊 like so:






A thieving little magpie

I have a confession to make.

I steal recipes.

Well, not really. I am more a collector. A collector of recipes – of those which invoke memories, which are tied up with food and joyful occasions, of smells and tastes and feelings, of experiences and emotions.

Over time I have been able to gather together some recipes that bring back those memories in our own kitchen. It’s quite amazing.

There are, of course, some cooking smells or tastes that are best left forgotten. I’m left bewildered at the 70s taste buds that thought peas set in lime jelly or carrots in orange jelly would be a gourmet dish – or olives. Green olives, green jelly. I can clearly see the connection. Only one small step better than Spam, I suppose, or anything set in aspic.

Here’s a link to cause you to wonder how anyone actually survived this era … (by the way, I am a survivor!) Unbelievable recipes!!

These are definitely not the recipes that I have accumulated!! (Although my very aged copy of the Complete Women’s Weekly cookbook may have some within, accompanied by a tasteful colour picture, or two.)

It was the smell of the freshly baked bread that got me thinking, along with the essential oils that diffuse through our house at night-time. It reminded me how when I even see certain foods, they transport me to another time or place.

Here’s a classic example – give me a fresh buttered brezel and instantly I am in an open subway station in Munich, 2004, making my way in the cold to language school, Not just any old station, but specifically this one:
Karlsplatz Stachus MunichKarlsplatz (Stachus), not in its all fancy bright lights and renovated state, but all concrete-y and looking like something out of the Communist Era (and I know, before you say, that this did not include Munich, but this subway …)

I have yet to try my hand at brezeln making – but I do have a recipe somewhere …

In my mind, when I make falafels, I’m finding my way through the streets of old Jerusalem, I smell naan bread and roasted spices and I’m wandering down the streets of Birmingham’s Balti Triangle, in its heyday, with a Balti restaurant on every corner. Hot custard takes me right back to Grandma’s kitchen, sitting at her red laminate table, looking at the plastic fruit.

I tried a new falafel recipe the other week, inspired by the combination of the efforts of an old school friend and co-incidentally a recipe appearing in the local supermarket magazine. Unlike other attempts, they did not disintegrate into tiny, impossible-to-eat segments in the oil. Not only that, they were declared a ‘keeper’, which is always a good thing, especially since we’d only eaten half of the mix!

I don’t even have a photo of them, which is really sad for a foodie, blogging type person, but as I commented to another old school friend, they were hardly photogenic, although very tasty. It’s not all about looks, you know!

There’s a name for this smell/memory thing – olfactory memory – and there are some interesting studies on it, which include how the brain responds to smell. There appear to be fewer studies on the compulsive desire to have lots of recipes with lots of pictures to drool over, which are never recreated.

It is an interesting thing, considering the brain injury experience in our home, to learn about the sense of smell. Did you know it is the only sense which makes its way directly to the brain, rather than via a series of nerve endings? We have also learnt it is often triggered as a pre-symptom to a seizure, which is helpful for being prepared.

But in the meantime, with my new stove (which, I assure you, was a very welcome change to the kitchen), I am inspired to hit the pile of saved up papers and see what sorts of (nice) smells I can conjure up, to create some new memories to stack away.

My feature photo today is of some preparation for just that. I’m going to launch a balti on my poor unsuspecting husband, so I’ve been cooking up spices and sauces, turning the kitchen a turmeric shade of yellow. I’ll let you know how it all ends up (only if successful of course! 🙂 )

And just for fun, I came across this photo taken by Philipp Kester, which is kept in the Münchner Stadtmuseum … titled “Breznverkäuferin im Hofbräuhaus”, which goes to show I am not alone in my liking of Brez’n 🙂

15_kester_breznverkaeuferin-hofbraeuhaus richard wagner & louis ii

Cheap and Cheerful soup

This blog is called “Cheap & Cheerful Life” because it links up with a couple of (neglected) social media platforms I have. I set up these about 6 years ago when, for a short time, we were on a single income. We were living on the cheap, but I was trying very hard to be cheerful. I’m not sure how well I was doing – maybe others can judge that better – but since then, I have been competing with my local supermarket to dish up healthy meals that are on a reasonable budget.

I made a bold statement the other day to someone where I proclaimed I could feed four people for about $2.50 a serve. Although this is probably true of a number of dishes I cook, I decided to do a costing of the lunch I was going home to prepare … just to see.

While I pondered the cost of an average onion, I recalled an article someone had drawn to my attention recently. It was a discussion about why people below the poverty line buy take-away food. The conclusion was that the initial outlay of cooking utensils was prohibitive. People who are living week to week aren’t going to invest hundreds of dollars on a high-end set of saucepans, or an exotic set of European knives. For this recipe, I’m glad to say it only requires a sharp knife, peeler, chopping board, wooden spoon and a saucepan. It also makes me glad because the fewer utensils, the less washing up I have to do!

Just out of interest, based on these thoughts, I had a look at my local Ikea website to see what a 2018 costing would be for utensils. I only picked Ikea because it is global, unlike a lot of our cheap department stores where these items could also be found, and possibly cheaper. I discovered for about $AUD55, I could purchase two pots and a frying pan, two chopping boards, three sharp knives, a peeler and wooden spoon. This is marginally less than two McDonalds Family McFavourites boxes.


So, what was my super-cheap meal?

‘Minestrone’ soup
(only in quotes, because I’m sure it’s not exactly the traditional variety)

3 strips rindless shortcut bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
400g tinned diced tomatoes
400g tinned kidney beans, drained
250ml vegetable stock
More water, if you want
Pinch or two of salt

In the saucepan, cook up the bacon, garlic and onion. When mostly cooked, add carrots and celery to soften slightly. Add tomatoes, beans, stock, extra water, salt and allow to simmer for a bit.  Serve up and eat 🙂

So … how does this cost up?

At my local supermarket, my costings came in as follows:

Bacon                                       $10/500g …$1.90
Onion                                       $2.00/kg …  $0.30
Carrots                                    $1.50/kg …  $0.30
Celery                                      $3/celery … $0.30
400g tinned tomatoes          $0.80
400g tinned kidney beans  $1.50
Garlic                                           )
250ml vegetable stock      ) $1.00 (generous approximation)
More water, if you want   )
Pinch or two of salt             )

Additional two slices of toast  $3.50/loaf … $0.50 (including a bit of butter)

Now for four people … $6.10 + $2.00 for toast = $2.03 per serve.

Well, if that ain’t cheap and cheerful, I don’t know what is! 🙂

Guten Appetit!

PS I would have given you a photo of a bowl of steaming, hot soup, except for a couple of reasons: a) we ate the soup before I thought about writing about it; and b) I don’t know when I’m making it next, as the weather has suddenly jumped up to the high twenties (Celsius), so we’ve hit the salads!

PPS And a few days later, right on cue, the spring weather goes cold and so soup is back on the menu 🙂