The domestic arts

When Brian and I were first married back in England I aspired to be a good housewife. I knitted jumpers for us both, with matching patterns. I made our own breads, cakes and ice creams. I grew vegetables, and turned the fruit from our garden into marmalades and jams, or stewed and froze it for later use. I quite enjoyed these practical activities, but was never much good at them and the results did not always come up to expectations.

As the years passed, more of my time and energy became channelled into writing, and I gradually gave up any attempt to be a domestic goddess. The range of clothing and foodstuffs available in the shops had improved so much that there seemed little point in making my own. We could afford to eat out a couple of times a week. I almost gave up entertaining people for dinner, being unable to complete with the many excellent cooks among my women friends here in New Zealand. I never did any ironing, and despite periodic attempts at organising and decluttering, the state of my wardrobe and cupboards left much to be desired.

But there are signs the tide is turning. I have been doing more home baking lately, though tending to stick to foolproof recipes for boiled fruit cakes. And I sorted out a bag of wools and knitting needles that had lain untouched for about thirty years. Having watched a YouTube video to remind me how to cast on and off, I have started making small blankets for the foster kittens at Auckland SPCA. This simple form of craftwork is very easy, and surprisingly relaxing. There is in fact research evidence that knitting, being a quiet repetitive activity akin to meditation, can relieve stress and improve cognitive function. Carried out in moderation, knitting can improve manual dexterity for people with arthritis. Because knitting keeps the hands occupied, it may help those wanting to cut down smoking or drinking. And, unlike meditation, knitting has a tangible end product. Even Brian has expressed an interest in taking it up.

If anyone else would like to knit or crochet blankets for the kittens, the required size is approximately 40 x 40 cm and if you need more details please contact me.

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Food Bag Day

Our weekly delivery of raw ingredients from My Food Bag arrived today.

I used to enjoy cooking, but during the dark days of last year the need to plan the menus, go to the supermarket and prepare the food came to seem a daunting challenge, especially as I was finding it a struggle to eat. I resorted to buying in ready-made dishes from the various companies which service the Auckland area. These tended to become monotonous, and generated excessive amounts of waste packaging, but were a great help when the health of the family was at its lowest ebb and my days were occupied with hospital visits.

Even after both Brian and I had largely recovered, my culinary creativity was still lacking. I relied on a limited repertoire of dishes, most of which could be made in in bulk in the slow cooker and heated up as required. This too became monotonous so, despite feeling rather guilty about spending extra money on a domain of life that I should have enough time and energy to manage myself, I decided to try My Food Bag. So far this has been a success – but not in the way I expected.

I no longer have to choose the menus or buy the food, but the time I spend on last-minute dinner preparation has greatly increased. Far from becoming lazier in the kitchen, for the first time for years I am doing things like grating beetroots and toasting sesame seeds. Tonight’s recipe, “spiced chicken with carrot, feta and mint bulgur”, will require 18 different ingredients and five separate cooking utensils. The quality is excellent, with fresh seasonal vegetables and free-range meat, poultry and fish; the quantities are large so there is often enough left for next day’s lunch; and most of the packaging can be recycled. All except one of the meals has tasted delicious, we have been introduced to many new recipes and techniques, and Brian has not minded doing the washing up.

[Update one month later: We have now downsized to “My Own Food Bag” – intended for one person, but quite enough for us two]