Yes, we made it! And in the current context, this means two things … we made it through our week-long experiement with unprocessed food, and we did it by making it all ourselves!
Groceries Round One. I took forever with this grocery run because I was reading every label and trying to find things I have never bought before.
In so doing, we refined our idea of what eating unprocessed foods means to us (I realised from all my reading on the web that it really means different things to different people).
- If we could make it, we didn’t buy it. We minced our own meats (have you read all that bad press recently about pink slime in minces?), made our own pasta, milled our own wheat, made our own butter, baked our own bread and cookies and crackers, made hazelnut chocolate spread (think Nutella), blended protein shakes, whipped up mayonnaise, salad dressings, kneaded pastry dough, ground coffee beans and roasted and milled spices, and so on.
Our homemade hazelnut spread turned out to be too thick because I had difficulty trying to substitute the chocolate the recipe called for with cocoa + honey + maple syrup + milk.
- We avoided packages and cans. Fresh tomatoes for our pasta sauce, fresh berries cooked and added to plain yoghurt, homemade chicken stock for various recipes which called for it and a vegetable stock concentrate to replace stock cubes.
- If we could use whole grain, we did. We ground wheat kernels and rice for flour which we used to bake bread, rice crackers, make pasta, mac & cheese, etc. We drew the line at cutting out white rice. I mean we have to stay sane some how right? But we did add brown rice to white. And the pasta that we didn’t make ourselves, we bought whole grain.
Tim made this pasta sauce on his own with fresh tomatoes. They were very tart though, so I followed a tip I found online and threw in a carrot to cook with the sauce. It did sweeten it a little, but in the end I had to “help” it with a bit of honey.
- We used honey and maple syrup and DATES to sweeten our food and drinks. No white sugar. We used raw sugar to make a berry cordial but it was … er … strange. The kids said it was like that water chestnut drink we used to have in Singapore. So much for using expensive berries. We used up a 1 kg bottle of honey in a week! And I learnt that maple syrup is a better sweetener for coffee than honey.
Here are some more lessons we learnt in eating unprocessed foods:
- THE THERMOMIX IS MY FRIEND! Yes, I have waxed lyrical about this wonder machine time after time, but during the last few weeks, it has been my best buddy. It ground, milled, minced, pureed, mixed, cooked, steamed, blended, etc numerous times each day. I felt like I was constantly washing it out, drying it up and getting it ready for the next thing. I read my Thermomix cookbooks like I was sitting for an exam!
- There is so much to learn. Embarking on this challenge has taught us so much about food in general, about reading labels, about finding alternatives. All in all it has taught us that we can do much if we set our minds to it.
- As with much in life, you need a strong enough why. [An aside: There is an ebook from the founders of the now-sadly-closed Elijah Company homeschool supplies store titled "A Strong Enough Why". If homeschooling is your thing, you might want to click here and read it.] We learnt that if you are passionate about something, you will find ways to make it work.
- If you try new things, you will fail … once in a while. Many nights in the last two weeks, dinner has been late because the gnocchi didn’t turn out properly and we had to move to Plan B for dinner, or the beef wouldn’t mince in the Thermomix because I bought the wrong cut and the tendon kept getting tangled in the blade (yikes!), or you make a berry cordial that ends up tasting like water chestnut (or have I mentioned that already?), etc.
Yoghurt! Yums! With cooked mixed berries and honey. The kids, especially Daniel, was thrilled that the berries never ended, unlike the store bought berry yoghurt tubs. He keeps asking for more berries.
- This processing business is time consuming! I am in the kitchen for most of the day these days. Coffee isn’t instant, soy bean milk for breakfast has to be cooked, fruit yoghurt has to be mixed from three different things, Caesar salad dressing from ten. Bread has to be baked, and pancake mix no longer comes out of a box. And because nothing lasts long when it is made fresh, you can’t make them in large quantities, so before you know it, you’re making it all over again! Once breakfast is done, I take a break for school, then lunch needs to be whipped up, followed by snacks for tea, then dinner, then any prep for things which are on the meal plan for the next day! It just never stops!
- And finally … the more whole grains, fruits and vegetables you eat, the more you poop! There I said it!
Actually, there are so many more lessons, but I will have to mull over them and maybe blog about them at a later date.
We have already had some tangible benefits from eating unprocessed food:
- We are spending less on groceries. I thought this would be a no brainer when we first started out. I mean if we aren’t buying all that packaged snacks and are making our own food practically from scratch, surely we would be spending less right? Well, it didn’t look like it would work out that way at first. Fresh tomatoes are more expensive than canned ones. A 4 kg bag of pasta from Costco is so ridiculously cheap that you’ll spend way more trying to make it yourself. Lemons at 80 cents each, and which only yield about 40 ml of juice are way more costly than a juice from a bottle of “ReaLemon”. And you will not believe how much each batch of mayonnaise costs to make from scratch with good quality ingredients. I cringed when my last batch failed to emulsify and had to be tossed. *ouch* Also when you start reading all that stuff about what goes into your meats, you’re going to want to try to buy grain fed, or organic, and don’t forget the eggs from free range chickens. But yes, at the end of the day, it seems to be working out to cost less to eat unprocessed food, though how much less we haven’t quite figured out, since we were using up a lot of things we already had in our pantry. The tracking continues.
Homemade Chinese Egg Noodles. We rolled and cut these out by hand!
- Grocery Shopping is SO MUCH EASIER! And faster too! I was reading a healthy food cookbook (yes, my current preoccupation) the other day and the author used the phrase “shopping the perimeter”. THAT’S IT I thought. That’s exactly what shopping for an unprocessed food diet looks like. The grocery stores here (and back home in Singapore too) have fruits and vegetables when you first enter, then you walk past nuts and dried fruits and on to breads and other baked goods to fish and meats, right over to dairy products and eggs, and then you’re done! Just avoid the aisles in the main. That’s how I draw up my shopping list now. I have a section for “others” which requires me to go down the aisles to look for canned foods and rice, etc, but in the main, I am no longer tempted by all that wonderful looking packaging.
Alethea with her masterpieces and our first lunch. They were a roaring success, which gave her an incredible boost!
- Our kids are cooking! Alethea especially, has really stepped up to this. Tonight she rolled out and cooked 20 chapattis to eat with our chicken curry, and two days ago, she made applesauce muffins on her own. Timothy is ever eager to help, and even little Nathalie has supplied our family with cereal bars made with air-popped corn and cranberries. But more importantly, they are taking an interest in all the stuff we put into our mouths. And that’s a great benefit!
The little one cooks! This was such a fabulous snack that it didn’t last more than 24 hours in the fridge.
- We have less garbage! I still can’t figure out why, except maybe that we throw away less packaging? But then again, that usually goes into the recyling bin, not garbage. So why less garbage? More than 2 weeks later, I still can’t figure it out!
- And … er … did I mention all that poop?
And now, right at the end of this post … for those curious about the food we made and ate … Let’s see now … here’s a list (incomplete) of what we made in the last couple of weeks:
The observant will spot crab sticks in there. Yes, not exactly unprocessed, but they were expiring!
Breakfast – bread, breadsticks, protein shakes, hazelnut chocolate spread (like Nutella), whole wheat pancakes, Chinese rice porridge with egg omelette, homemade butter.
Daniel looks on impatiently as I snap photos of our first breakfast – whole wheat breadstick with cheese and butter.
Lunch – herb chicken balls, pasta (yes, we made our own!), tomato pasta sauce, chicken noodle soup, chicken stock, Chinese noodles (yes, we made those too), sushi, whole wheat maccaroni and cheese (this pasta we didn’t make), chicken nuggets, Japanese chicken kara-age.
Snacks - whole wheat crackers chicken & homemade mayo dip, baked rice crackers, baked doughnuts (YUMS!), fruit leather (two batches because they sure went fast!), oat cookies, applesauce muffins.
Dinner – slow cooker baked chicken, vegetarian sausage rolls, gnocchi, steamed meatloaf (small disaster), butter chicken, nasi lemak with lemongrass chicken and sambal, tortillas, chapati.
Drinks – lemonade, hot chocolate (using our hazelnut chocolate spread!), almond milk (didn’t happen because I didn’t have a fine enough filter), coffee from freshly ground beans, berry cordial, soy bean milk.
Of all the foods I made, I am proudest of this - baked doughnuts with maple sugar. They tasted marvellous straight out of the oven at tea time!
And the adventure continues!
We have relaxed some of our rules now. We use white sugar sparingly (so far only for lemonade and a rerun of that berry cordial that went wrong), we eat canned tuna and salmon and tomatoes, and once a week we are systematically using up our HUGE stash of premixes which we brought from Singapore.
I inventorised our pantry at the end of our unprocessed food week and found to my horror that I had enough to cook 28 chickens in curry, and make 115 bowls of laksa/soto ayam/hokkien mee/mee rebus/mee siam, and cook 50 bowls of chicken rice, and make 200 sticks of satay. Then there’s paste for red curry, green curry, otak, sayur lodeh, chili crab (enough for 8 kg of crabs), rojak, assam fish, cereal prawns, sambal prawns, spare ribs, bak kut teh … There’s just no way we can eat all that at the rate of one meal a week!
Nasi lemak in banana leaves (and Lands’ End catalogue pages because we didn’t have newspapers) and rojak made with a Prima premix. We are diligently using our stash up now!
So now that you’ve read about our new found passion, anyone game to join us on this continuing adventure of eating unprocessed food?