Backyard garden boon for the busy

LAURA FAIRE
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2014

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For all the planet-saving, health-giving benefits of growing your own, it is seldom mentioned that proximity is the most valuable advantage of gardening.

There's no such thing as a few days off when you have a family. As a mum, a wife, a cook and a hobby vegetable gardener, summer meals are a time to employ a few tricks.

These are skills that come with wrinkles, knocks and hopefully a few laugh lines. You would think that after cooking school, working as a chef, even creating and writing family recipes for Maggi for three years, that meals on tables and bums on seats would be easy.

But what I never truly understood when I ran that test kitchen was the relentless inevitability of dinner - the monotony factor, the exhaustion component and the shopping reluctance that strikes me daily as a work-from-home mum.

It seems absurd that this formerly single, excited young woman once wrote recipes for television shows she wasn't home to watch and magazines she had never read. Oh, how my world has changed.

Over the past year, I've learned to manage the process of dinner. I've spent weeks suffering from the "what shall we have tonight?" bug, and learned the real value of recipes and ideas from magazines and television shows.

For me, it's the thinking that wears me down, the planning, shopping and fridge-wrangling that goes into the evening meal. Shopping is now a multi-tasking extravaganza. Babies seriously cut into out-and-about time. Working around a toddler's nap-time, meal times and play time gives me a window of about two hours a day in which to run our household. Being urban this usually means pushchair and bags to the nearest grocer, butcher or specialty store, which doubles as exercise and triples as business meetings, trips to the menders, library or social coffee.

For the days I just can't get out, I rely on an organic store that delivers. I have even stooped to using delivery services from overseas-owned supermarket chains that shall remain un-named. My garden has become my corner store, the hero of a nothing-in-the-fridge night brought on by baby bugs or teething. There is nothing closer than the backyard. For all the planet-saving, health-giving benefits of growing your own, it is seldom mentioned that proximity is the most valuable advantage of gardening. Healthy food that doesn't require leaving the house is a real wrinkle-saver.

Also in the backyard is our chest freezer. It sits in the shed and now contains a constant rotation of meals. I have learned that leftovers languish, but we get excited about the other half of that delicious curry I ferreted away in the freezer. I even freeze leftover portions of cooked brown rice, preferring a five-minute re-boil to the 35-40 minute cooking time when out of the pantry. Being able to cut down on cooking time can be extremely helpful.

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