Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rocket Science

Homegrown by Pants

Today I'm starting a new blog category - cheapskate. My friends will tell you I excel in this. They know who they are and, equally, know not to expect a Christmas card from me this year. Be careful what you wish for people.

My life is what commentators in Australia call 'a two-speed economy'. It has in the past been characterised by isolated peaks of windfall earnings which sustained the far longer bare subsistence eras. I have a feeling the windfall opportunities have now consigned themselves to the vaults of history.

I have always delighted in a bargain. It's a genetic fault I can't do anything about. Above you will see an example of my delectable home-cultivated rocket. I don't understand why the herbs and vegetables that are most expensive to buy in a shop are the easiest to grow and the cheap ones the hardest. My zucchini crop was completely devoured by... ladybirds. What can you do? I couldn't murder a ladybird. Anyway, I can normally buy 500gms of clearance zucchinis for a dollar.

I have eaten rocket almost every day for eighteen months. Initially I bought a packet of seeds from a local nursery. They were on special for 99c. The seeds took about four days to sprout. I have excellent soil. I've never needed to buy another packet since. I let the first crop go to seed. I stripped the seed pods and replanted. Same deal. I can't believe I used to spend £2.49 on a bag of organic rocket.

And have you seen the price of spinach? I don't care where you live, spinach is expensive. I have to beat it off with a stick and, while I'm lying exhausted on my insanely cheap sun lounger after doing so, my lovely Italian neighbours come over with a huge bag of their excess spinach. Fortunately it steams away to almost nothing in seconds. Otherwise I'd be haunted by Popeye nightmares.

Basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, mint, sage, coriander, spring onion. All expensive to buy in a shop and only available in annoyingly excessive quantities. Herbs have their own designated quantifying noun for a reason. You require only 'a sprig' of most herbs to do exceptionally delicious things. Rocket, of course, is different. There is no such thing as 'a sprig' of rocket and neither should there be.

Rocket will feature strongly in the Seat of Pants supper menu this evening. One haunts the Larrikin's End supermarket for the gourmet trifecta that is clearance double cream, good Parmesan cheese and Huon smoked salmon. Bingo! Tonight we are having a lovely pasta dish with all of the above and all for under $10. If it weren't for Barney being such a glutton, especially where smoked salmon and cream are concerned, it would last for four meals. Thankfully Barney isn't partial to rocket.

I mostly don't eat meat. I never buy it. Recently some ham was bought for young visitors and not eaten. I blended that into a pasta. I eat seafood about once a week. Even in a fishing town it can be expensive. The Larrikin's End fishing fleet is a co operative and has its own shop but tourists keep the prices high.

The person in front of me invariably buys $150 worth of seafood. I never fail to gasp but it's easily done and no one else blinks. Three dozen oysters, three kilos of prawns and a dozen 'bugs' will tidy away $150 in the holiday season. Some people call that a family lunch. A 'bug' is a very tasty common crustacean found around much of coastal Australia. Its exorbitant price is directly proportionate to its popularity as a holiday food.

I have been known to spend as little as 70c on a piece of fish at the co op. The fish mongers see me coming and, in all fairness, do try not to appear disapproving. Unfortunately, they are not particularly adept actors. I do wonder sometimes what would happen to their tiny bits of elephant fish if people like me didn't buy them.

When Mr T came to visit last September, I made a paella. It is in fact my signature dish. It was out of holiday season so I had the upper hand. I managed to buy all the requisite seafood for an exquisite paella, including two bugs, from the co op for $12. The trick is to deal in individuals and not kilos. Six prawns, eight scallops... you get the picture.

I got a big shock when I moved to Larrikin's End to discover the co op does not provide the kind of fishmongery services with which I was familiar. I ordered a squid and asked if it could be 'cleaned'. I was told 'no'. It isn't that I don't know how to do it, it's just that the bits aren't any use and difficult to dispose of. If you order fish from a London fishmonger, they will do whatever you want done with it at no extra charge. And they will throw in a generous 'sprig' of parsley if you ask for it.

Free things. I love them. Coriander seeds. Seen the price of them? I have harvested jars and jars. And lavender. It reminds me of France and my grandmother - for different reasons you understand. Seat of Pants had one lavender bush when I moved in and then it had nine babies! I carefully dug them up and fertilised them with my own painstakingly assembled compost and have planted them along the front fence. I may rename the place Petit France.

Mmm. Now I'm hungry.