changing seasons and Winter routines

With the cooler weather having firmly arrived, the Aga has been lit around the clock. This means I can cook freely at any time of the day without the concern of wasting gas, stacking chores or heating up the yurt. 

For most people, these kinds of things don't require a lot of consideration. If you live on the grid in a normal house with air conditioning, you can flick a switch to turn the air conditioning on when you're cooking. Gas or power for the stove is usually via mains, so if you don't stack baking, sure you will pay more in utilities, but you likely don't have to cart it in yourself. 

But living off-grid means that's not the case for us, so winter is a welcome change. 

The after school/witching hour/pre-dinner window is always an intense time with small children. There are snacks to dole out, chores to complete and tired behaviour to soothe, all whilst trying to get a nourishing meal on the table at a reasonable hour. 

The one thing that has always been my saving grace with a gaggle of children underfoot, is cooking dinner in the morning. If I can cook a double or even a triple batch, that's even better. That way no matter how the day unfolds, you know you have a healthy dinner sorted. If the afternoon really falls apart, you can feed the kids early, run them through the bath and get them ready for an early night. I find winter especially accommodating for this kind of routine. In winter we naturally tend to lean towards warm, nourishing meals of casseroles, soups and roasts. These kinds of meals are perfect for popping on the Aga, or in the slow cooker if you have one and allowing it to simmer away all afternoon.

Tonight's dinner is a savoury mince. The kids have requested pasta on the side and I'll steam some broccoli, tossing in some butter, and lemon juice and seasoning it at the end. The mince is a simple, rustic meal, with whatever veggies I could rustle up thrown in for goodness. A generous handful of fresh herbs from the garden added in at the end will help to lighten it up.  It's a bit of an old fashioned dish, and certainly not one you will find on Master Chef but it's a cheap, healthy, comforting dinner that the kids all enjoy. And frankly, that's enough for me. I am not big on dinner time battles, I prefer to keep foods familiar and predictable while children are young, and slowly over time broaden their palettes. Once children understand the concept of just trying a bite of something new, then mealtimes can become more adventurous again. Also in my experience, it's often easier to introduce a new food in the morning to a child, rather than at dinner when they are already tired and at the end of their day.   

I was listening to the radio the other day and there were economists discussing the sale of mince having increased dramatically, due to the rising cost of living and people feeling the strain on their purse pockets. I think mince gets a hard time, it's like the ultimately uncool cut of meat. But for many people, it's a versatile staple, and kids usually like it. I think texturally it's easy for them to manage and the higher far content makes it tasty. We eat a lot of mince. 

It's amazing to think of how things have changed in the last 30 years isn't it? When I was a kid, I remember we ate a fair bit of lamb, it was considered an affordable cut of meat. But now it is rare for my children to eat it, because it's become so expensive. Chicken is generally affordable, though modern chicken farming practices are concerning. 

There is a lot of wisdom in old, fashioned thrifty cooking. The kind of cooking that is reliant on the seasons and what's available locally. Not only is it cheaper, but it is also more sustainable and strengthens the local economy. I often like to flick through older recipe books for ideas or look at recipes online. It seems that in the past everyday meals were often simpler, often using fewer ingredients. Although desserts including homemade pastry etc were more labour intensive than simply buying it pre-made. But I suspect for many, pie wasn't considered a week-day dessert. Well not in an Australian context anyway. America seems to eat significantly more pie than us, if books are anything to go by.  

If I cook a big batch of something, the next morning I will usually try and do some baking for the week. Predominantly biscuits or cakes for the kid's lunch boxes. Baking with kids is also a great way of doing an activity with them, so it kills two birds with one stone. Though it is usually significantly messier and slower, but that's working with kids in general. By planning and alternating what I cook each morning, I ensure we are eating wholesome, budget-friendly food, with minimal effort and time in the kitchen.  

What are your favourite thrifty meals? Do you alter what you cook to suit the seasons? What's on your table this week? 

Much love, 

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