Biologisch Goed

The subject of what we eat, and where our food comes from has been on my mind a lot recently.  I try to eat a healthy diet, and I greatly prefer not to buy prepackaged or preprocessed food, but the reality is, I hate shopping, I’m not very organized, and especially on Fridays and Saturdays when I have little time, I tend to go to the train station supermarket and grab the easiest thing going.  Even if my choice is healthy, it usually comes wrapped in superfluous packaging, all of which makes me wince when I tear it open and dispose of it.

I’m still hoping, of course, to start eating home grown vegetables again soon, but at the moment the weather and the slugs aren’t giving me much hope.  The potatoes are doing ok, though not as far along as the plot next to me (ahem, and some of them I bought and planted on a whim, far too late!), the peas are slowly taking off, but are miles behind my neighbours, and my great plans of overwintering vegetables didn’t get me too far.  The plot is slowly coming into order, but I have a lot to learn before I manage to have something available more or less year round.

In the meantime, then, I need to fill all my requirements at the shops.  I’d prefer to do that by frequenting small, local stores, but with working full time and singing every other Saturday, I rarely manage it.  It’s nice to go to the Farmers Market in Amsterdam, but I rarely manage to find the time before rehearsal for evensong.

I was delighted, therefore, to discover an online store last week – www.biologischgoed.nl.  It’s a co-operative of 4 farmers, all in the province of Zuid Holland, where I live.  Their aim is to supply, so far as possible, locally grown organic food within our province.   Their range isn’t limited to locally grown, however, they also sell produce from the rest of the country, imported items such as avocados, and non-perishable staples.  With every listing on the site, information is provided telling you where the produce has come from, and in some cases, suggestions on how to use it.

Whilst a part of me thinks it would be great if they only sold local produce, I think they’ve done a good job of putting together an offering which reduces food travel, and supports local businesses, whilst accepting that people are always going to buy additional items, and therefore giving them an opportunity to buy everything under one roof.  The one proviso, however, is that they only deliver in Zuid Holland.

Full of enthusiasm, I placed my first order last week.  Some local cherries and strawberries (for someone that’s never been fond of fruit, I have a strange craving for it the last few days), goats milk and goats butter from a farm in Noord Holland, sheep’s yoghurt from Overijssel, plenty of veggies including a huge bag of beetroots, half of which I’ve spent the afternoon converting into borscht, and some cat food, which the boys are studiously turning their noses up at.  I guess we can’t expect everything to be a success!

homemade cherry crumble, made with goat’s butter and served with sheep yoghurt.

Probably one of the best features, and the one that makes the system most usable for me, is that the groceries are delivered to your door, and if you’re not able to be at home to receive them, they will happily stash them away somewhere for you.  I left instructions on how to get to my back garden, and without any fuss, my two crates of goodies were taken around the back, and put in the shelter of my shed, an added detail taken on the initiative of the driver, with which I was most pleased.  The crate containing all the dairy was insulated, so I didn’t even need to worry too much about it sitting outside for a few hours, although not knowing what to expect on this first occasion, I also arranged with them that they’d give me a call when the groceries were delivered, so I could nip home from work over lunch and take everything inside.

Additionally, they provide an option to deliver to a shared location (a service which any individual can provide) and which incurs a lower delivery rate.  They work on a simple system of delivering once a week, on a Thursday (perfect for me, since I tend to have an empty fridge going into the weekend, just when I need it the most), and all orders placed up to lunchtime Monday go out in that order, giving them two days to go to the individual farms and collect everything to put the orders together.

All in all, I’m very impressed by the service and will definitely use it again.  It’s more expensive, of course, than the main supermarkets, but in my view, also a far better direction to spend my money.  Plus, having groceries delivered to my door with no hassle of having to be at home to receive them is probably the best way I’ll find to ensure that my fridge stays better stocked.  A better stocked fridge and some work on preplanning means less money spent on takeaways, train station foods or unsatisfying grabbed lunches on the days that I do sport or go to the allotment during lunch, which these days are most days.

Pasta sauce

Sometimes accidents work out for the best – in this case, the unexpected self seeding of some tomato plants in my greenhouse.  Left to myself, I wouldn’t have bothered growing any tomatoes, now I’m pretty sure I’ll have some next year too. Not only do they make good gifts, but they can also be turned into fantastic pasta sauce.

The recipe, such as it is:

slice tomatoes in half, and put it roasting tin with an onion (chopped in quarters) and some garlic cloves.  In the other half of the tin, put some chunks of zucchini.  Add salt, pepper and olive oil, and roast for 45 minutes or so in a 170C oven.

when nicely roasted and before everything is burnt to a crisp, take out the tomatoes, onion and garlic, and puree it up with a hand held food processor, or similar.  Then add the zucchini and some fresh basil.

of course, it’s all the better if the tomatoes, basil, zucchini, garlic and onion are all home grown.

Beans

Dinner tonight – pasta with feta cheese and homegrown beans and mint.

Potatoes

Another exciting moment in the world of gardening – I’ve just harvested my first ever potatoes!

Eet smakelijk

Tonight I ate the first fruits, or in fact salad, of my labours. It turns out that a vegetable garden is very handy indeed when your fridge is empty and you can’t be bothered to go shopping. Despite losing a number of rucola/rocket plants to the cats’ overenthusiastic digging, enough remains for a few meals yet. As for the taste – definitely superior to that on offer at the supermarket (even Rasha seems to think so!)

Other vegetable news – the first signs of beans are appearing, and the fennel is also putting a look in, with the largest bulb being about 1.5 inches long. The potatoes are growing apace, and the onions and carrots are making good progress.

Slovakia (10): Leaving Slovakia

Our last photo opportunity, sunrise on Friday morning, was yet again rained off. After a leisurely breakfast, I said goodbye to companions as they headed off for the airport, and I took the train back to Kosice. I spent the afternoon pottering around, visiting the bookshop (again!) to stock up for the return trip, and catching up on some photo processing.

By Sunday morning the rain had caught up with me, so I spent the time until check out in the apartment, and then headed straight for the airport. I was very grateful for the free wireless internet on offer there, not to mention the new books I had bought, as I arrived to find that the check-in and security check weren’t going to open for a couple of hours, and that the cafe was also closed. In fact, for the first 90 minutes, I pretty much had the airport to myself.

Back through Prague, Amsterdam and then finally the train, I arrived home some 9 hours after I had left the hotel. After a glass of wine with the neighbours, I enjoyed a Greek takeway (ordered over the internet, whilst I was waiting for my bag at Schiphol) and had an early night, looking forward to a lie-in on Monday morning.

It is delicious…

Jen’s trip flew by, but despite the short amount of time we had, we managed cover a fair bit of ground. As well as a visit to Maastricht (a little blighted by the Belgian beer of the night before), we also visisted Dekxels restaurant in The Hague to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. The food was quite inventive, including strange combination such as steak tartare with duck liver ice-cream. Sounds bizarre, but was actually very tasty, and the various combinations provided a good way to break the ice with the many people we hadn’t met before.

No get-together would be complete without a chance to eat sushi, which we managed to fit in at my local Japanese restaurant, a slightly strange place where every dish is accompanied by the words “it is delicious”.

Wednesday brought more homely fare – I came home from work for lunch and a friend joined us for lasagne, and an extremely competitive game of monopoly. Quite a change from my normal lunchtime routine – I felt like I was playing truant from school, and I can highly recommend the experience.

Taking Jen back to the airport, she was most anxious to have one last kroket (see “In which Jen discovers the kroket”), a wish that we were fortunately able to fulfil at Schiphol Airport. After all these years, Schiphol still manages to turn up a few surprises!

In which Jen discovers the kroket

So, I picked up Jen from the airport yesterday and brought her back to Delft. During our 20 minute change at Den Haag H.S., she decided to investigate the Dutch snack counter, and discovered that most Dutch of snacks – the kroket. I think it’s safe to say that she’s hooked… as soon as we polished off the first kroket, she ran back to the machine to pick up the next one.

Once we got back to Delft, we quickly (ish) rustled up a roast chicken and then headed off to Locus Publicus to meet my friends Fiona and Ivo, and introduce Jen to Belgian and Dutch Beer. Guided by Fiona, our resident expert, she sampled the Zatte van de IJ, Afligem Blond and the Popperings Hommel, accompanied by the traditional kaasplank – a selection of (primarily dutch) cheeses. We rounded the evening off nicely with a visit to Alef’s snackbar, for, yes you guessed it – another kroket!

Fridge Cake

Melt 250g of butter and a 200g bar of dark chocolate. Whilst this is melting, break up a 400g packet of digestive biscuits until you have a mixture of fine crumbs and some larger chunks (I usually put them in a plastic bag and beat them with a rolling pin).

Once the chocolate mixture is melted, mix the two together and then press the mixture into a baking tray. Leave in the fridge overnight, and then it’s ready to cut up and eat.

Serving suggestion: it’s lethal with whipped cream.
Possible variations: I quite fancy trying it with a bit of mint flavour.
Healthier version: may be some of the butter could be substituted with milk?

Note that the ingredient proportions are pretty approximate as I tend to just go by packet size, which differs between England and Holland… I have seen various different recipes, some of which require you to add brown sugar or syrup. So if you don’t like this variant, experiment!