The evolution of our grocery budget

eggs on toastEggs from our free-range chickens. Yum!

There once was this woman, living in the Canberra suburbs who thought she was ok with money. Let’s call her – Kirsti. In 2009, she had a blended family of seven, and at any point during the fortnight, she would be feeding 2, 5 or 7 mouths, including her own.

On the basis there were so many mouths to feed, Kirsti thought she was doing well by keeping her grocery bill at $800 per fortnight. She worked full time but she meal planned and ordered her groceries online and felt like as far as grocery shopping as concerned – she had nailed it.

Now let’s fast forward nearly a decade, and Kirsti now feeds the same seven mouths with much bigger bodies on $550 per fortnight. Kirsti is now saving over $6,000 per year in groceries, is buying more expensive coffee beans and is feeding her family organic meat.

Doesn’t compute?

Let me tell you how I reduced the family grocery budget. And once I am Financially Independent, I intend to reduce it even further.

Firstly – meal planning is a great first step in putting some intellectual thought into shopping. Without a meal plan, there are likely to be more trips to the shops, more expense and more food wasted.

But the whole meal planning system needs to evolve to continue to bring your grocery bill down, even in light of slow but increasing inflation.

My first sophistication of my grocery system was to use online shopping, so I wasn’t tempted to buy anymore than I needed, and I could sit down and check in my house what I needed and what I ordered had stock of; which reduced waste. This was a great step one.

Then I learned despite avoiding delivery fees, online groceries had their own (usually more expensive) pricing that was different to the actual supermarket, so I started doing shopping at the physical store, finding marked down meats and veg which you can’t find online. This reduced our bill somewhat.

Then I started thinking about the amount of times our family ate meat each week  – a big expense in our budget – and I commenced reducing our meat intake – red meat particularly – and started planning some vegetarian meals and some tuna or salmon-based meals to reduce the cost. I had to be sneaky with the vegetarian meals and find options that everyone enjoyed – tuna and potato patties, tuna curry, vegetarian lasagne, gnocchi and baked potatoes with passata, cheese and sour cream were some meal options I employed. And no-one refused to eat, so to this day, I continue to have one “cheap” meat free meal a week with the kids, and one night David and I enjoy scrambled eggs from our gorgeous backyard chickens.

At this stage, I was still shopping at Coles. The duopoly in Australia started to get to me – along with their packaging, so I started switching it up a little. My husband convinced me to shop at Aldi which has significantly reduced our grocery bill. During the year of austerity, I actually shopped at Aldi for most things except fresh fruit and veg, which I purchased from the markets. This reduced our bill enormously – down to $350 a fortnight – a huge saving for a short period of one year.

But the packaging started to get to me –there is no deli at Aldi, and even though we were buying their organic meat range, I would have a dozen plastic containers to recycle each fortnight.

So after a while, I built the budget back up to $550 a fortnight in order to shop at the markets where I could buy organic meat and BYO my own container, and continued to shop for staples at Aldi.

This approach was hit and miss (but the meat was beautiful!!) and I would be over and under budget depending on the price of the meat at the time. As the meat was purchased at the market, there was no way of checking the price of meat online while meal planning, prior to the shop, so I would just turn up to the organic butchers with my containers and pay whatever it cost to make whatever was on the meal plan.

This is where a bit of ingenuity finally kicked in. Recently my husband I had a week of being away for work and we didn’t eat at home much. When I came I had surplus funds in the grocery budget. To avoid paying whatever price for meat on the day, I decided to buy what I needed for that fortnight AND stock up on any meat on special at my favourite butchers for the following fortnight. I would look for a chicken and red meat options; but I would look for the cut of meat on special, note what I had purchased in my meal planner, freeze it and then plan my next fortnight’s menu on what I had picked up at a reduced price.

And pairing the beautiful meat with seasonal vegetables only has added variety to our plate and reduced expense.

Genius right there. Buying meat on special a fortnight ahead saves me money and takes away the budget anxiety each shopping day about whether we will come in on or under our budget. Right now in the freezer for next fortnight, I have two lots of organic chicken marylands, a large pork roast and ten chicken breasts, and I can base my next fortnight meal plan around this. Buying beautiful, seasonal vegetables and fruit with low food miles makes us happy.

What hacks do you employ to keep your grocery bill low?

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92 days of winter survival plan

autumnThe last surviving autumn leaves in our garden

Here in the southern hemisphere, winter has hit. I live in Australia’s capital city, Canberra and it really turns winter on. So the 92 days of a Canberra winter have begun and I’m frantically thinking of how I can enjoy winter, rather than endure it this year.

The summers in Canberra are perfect – it rarely gets beyond 40 degrees, and the overnights are very bearable with a sheet on the bed and the quiet whispers of a cooling ceiling fan. We love our house in summer because we have a pool and various outdoor eating areas to enjoy alfresco dining. It’s on those long summer nights with a glass of wine and the sun setting I thank my lucky stars and can’t believe the life I am leading.

But that lifestyle is still 910 days away and I need to live for now, rather than focusing on when my life will be better once we are financially independent. So I have started a survival list of things to inspire me during the 92 days of winter.

  • Knit my cosy bed blanket. I have purchased some chunky Peruvian wool (like 10 skeins) and have started knitting a large blanket to really keep us toasty during the -6 degree over nights here in Canberra. Just knitting that thing keeps me warm as it continues to grow beyond my lap to my knees as I am knitting.

 

  • I have discovered chai lattes. A little late to the piece, but I made this yesterday, along with some cashew milk and OH MY – it’s like a hug in a cup. Beautiful winter spices in a warm mug in my hands. Yesterday’s recipe was a little ad lib, but worked beautifully:

Chai Latte

  • In a small pot, fill up half way with water and put on the stove top
  • Add to the pot a couple of cinnamon quills, some fresh ginger chopped, grated fresh nutmeg, some allspice, some vanilla pods or paste and some cardamom. I haven’t given quantities here because it really is an individual preference about how spicy you like it.
  • Simmer for five minutes to enable the spices to infuse, and then add two earl grey tea bags for another five minutes.
  • Cool and transfer to a container for the fridge you can use when you need a little warm pick me up. You could either drink this tea heated, or whip up some milk/cashew milk or other nut milk and add half and half with a teaspoon of honey, warm it through and enjoy.

 

chai tea

My chai tea mixture next to my favourite smokey wintery smelling candle

  • If you are home, follow the sun around your home. I have written about this before but I watch how the sun heats up particularly areas of my home naturally and I design my day around where I can catch the most sun.

 

  • Of course days like today are no good for sun catching – it’s overcast and super cold. So basic one I know, but for now I put on more clothes to stay warm, rather than using the indoor heating. I was listening to a financial podcast where one FIRE interviewee just wears a onesie all day and doesn’t put the heating on at all. I’m not at that extreme yet, but I will spend the time to design my stay at home days around the weather.

 

  • Right now the house is 18 degrees but the temperature will fall throughout the day without any sun to warm up through the double glazed windows. So I am doing my indoor work this morning; will grab a bite of lunch here and then head out in the afternoon to complete my tasks – taking an old chest of drawers and office chair to the second hand place; visit my daughter; read up on my favourite magazines in the library and find other cosy, free spots to relax until David comes home and I can justify putting the heating on. One of the greatest pleasures for us is the gas fire we installed during our renovations. It has a mesmerising flame and pushes out heat.

 

  • Make slow cooked soups and stews that are homecooked, without anything artificial and fill up your belly with yummy warm, flavourful, rich food. Last night I made bone broth too, which is a great base for soups, with bones from the butcher, left over vegetable scraps I collect in the freezer, bay leaves and apple cider vinegar.

bone broth

So there’s my top six for now. What do you do to enjoy winter?

Zero food waste fridge set up

zucchini spiral dinner

The ABC’s War on Waste has got me supercharged about food waste.  According to the show, and NSW Government data, the average Australian household throws out 345 kilograms of food waste a year. If you think about that in dollar terms – assume an average of $5 per kilogram of food – that is $1725 a year! Let alone the cost to the environment of the food that ends up in landfill centres.

I have a natural aversion to food waste and like to get creative.  For example this week I was invited to my mother in law’s house for a beautiful roast leg of lamb.  She generously packed us off home with some leftovers “for sandwiches” (what a sweet).  Knowing that sandwiches were already made for the week, I made a middle eastern lamb “pizza” for dinner the next night, using the cooked lamb, peas, mint, fetta, hummus and a smidge of pomegranate molasses that I had in the cupboard, all on puff pastry. YUMMO.  Crunchy deliciousness and no food waste.

Despite my commitment, I felt like I was still finding food that was past its useful life up the back nether regions of my fridge and so I decided to take action. I needed a new system that would enable me to use my fridge like a well ordered machine that would tell me what foods I needed to consume  now or soon.  The obligatory before shots:

I reuse the plastic bags for vegs that I buy and wash in the mesh bags when I get home – this keeps the veg fresher for longer. Bit of a mish-mash of all sorts of things right there in the fridge as you can see.  There is food behind the front row too, because our fridge is quite deep.  And there is no recognisable system of organisation in the fridge door full of condiments etc.

So I planned the system.  Really I wanted my fridge to tell me what I needed to use today, this week or this month.  I wanted to know whether the condiments needed to be used in the next three months or would keep for longer. I wanted to be able to look into my fridge and decide what to shop around, for the next grocery shop.  What needed to be used up next?

A couple of containers from the dollar shop (Home Base in Australia), my labeller and voila. System complete (apologies for poor photo quality – fridge light interfered….):

 

For a little closer look at the labelling:

Have you got any other fridge food waste hacks that I could implement? Hope you are all well.

 

 

 

 

Not dead – just sorting a few things out

potatoesI’m not quite sure what happened to the last six months, but it sure has not been happening on iheartsimpleliving….

We have had some big family shifts and changes and the sum total is that I now work three days a week as of last week and my time for recording our journey has now increased exponentially.

I’ve been obsessed with financial independence of late and have been madly spread-sheeting (again) to see when my husband and I will achieve financial independence. It is seriously now a few years away – more on that in a later post, but for now, I have discovered many resources and other writers on this very important topic that I am looking forward to sharing with you all.

And of course, we have a newly renovated house and have reaped the summer harvest. I’m now preparing the soil beds for winter plantings – an expanded garlic crop this time.  If you have never grown garlic before, buy some organic (non-supermarket) variety – I got mine from our local farmer’s market) and pop single cloves into some well-composted soil, in a sunny position  Water regularly and about (yawn) ten months later you will have beautiful cloves of garlic. My friends Chloe and Paul introduced me to home grown garlic and oh my, I have never gone back.  THE tastiest stuff ever.

Hope you have all been well and are tucking down your homes and gardens as we approach the winter months.  David bought me a book on Hyggie and I have just loved getting the house ready for a cosy winter by the fire.

Renovations are making me minimalist….

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My husband came up with this nifty phrase to describe our family the other week – the accordion family – which is how we came up with our renovation plan a few months ago – to create a cosy, energy efficient space that works for my husband and I while the kids are at their other homes; and a large family home when the kids are all here.

Next week, the kitchen is pulled out and we are without a working kitchen for four weeks. Scary.

Today, in preparation for this huge food shift, my daughter and I made six freezer meals. We will be eating lots of bbqs and slow cooker meals to the extent that it works for the four weeks after next. I started packing up our utensils and cookware today, just leaving out the essentials for the next four weeks.

It feels like accidentally we are taking up the packing party challenge that The Minimalists advocate – packing up your things for thirty days and then removing only what you need from your boxes over time.

So for the next four weeks we will live like real minimalists in the kitchen and hopefully, I can restrain myself post the kitchen renovation to only unpack the things that we need.

Of interest to me today is the pantry. We are now in the process of eating everything we have in the pantry, so I don’t have to pack it into boxes. It is inspiring me to be creative in the kitchen. The 2 cups of dried chickpeas will be made in hummus tomorrow after being soaked overnight. My daughter made three lots of tuna curry to use up three cans of tuna and two jars of mayonnaise. The half packet of French onion soup will be combined with the cream cheese in the fridge for a dip when my mother-in-law comes for dinner tomorrow night. Dinner tonight is chicken breasts with half of the left over potatoes and the last two cups of couscous, with roasted vegetables. My overwhelming concern of wasting food means I am looking at the pantry and its contents in a new way.

The new kitchen also gives me an opportunity to start again. A new simplistic, minimalist approach to food, and a chance to use up the food that we have. I love the way that Bea Johnson, from the Zero Waste Home has only one type of dried legume at a time, and one type of pasta – there is only one pasta jar and one dried legume jar. This approach to food requires you to use what you have, and to not waste food.

 

Transitioning to zero waste part 3 – in the workplace

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The key to reducing waste and consumption is to …well.. reduce waste and consumption. And generally that sounds like it might be about a whole heap of planning and organising –  a bit of an onerous task.  The reality is that it requires both organisation and time, but makes me feel generally more on top of things for the week and is totally worth it.

I’m really enjoying The Simple Home by Rhonda Hetzel and you know I’ve already skipped ahead and read until June, but it’s great to have these month by month books to read to remind you of the schedules and systems to set up during the course of a year, rather than meeting the world of chaos with your own brand of it, through a lack of organisation.

In The Simple Home, Rhonda reminds me to have a look at my schedule on an annual, monthly or weekly basis and see if my auto-pilot routines are working for me and my family.  In fact, with every new activity or event in your family, taking a look at your regular routines is a fabulous way of ensuring that your go-to routines are working.

Transitioning to low waste is a very good reason to take a look at our routines.  Like how what I buy for the kids for their lunches, how it needs to be stored and how they will transport them to school.

Same applies to my lunch.

So we all now have colour coordinated lunch boxes that we take each day. One colour for each child (sandwich, fruit and snack boxes) so I can tell who is leaving their containers at school…. That’s how I solved the plastic container mystery that has plagued me for a decade…..

These containers are fine for now and BPA free and when I can afford it, I’ll replace these with stainless steel, compartmentalised lunch boxes.  In the meantime, my lunchtime routines for all of us are to:

  • Do a weekend cook up of our lunch mains.  This could involve baking bread and making a whole heap of sandwiches, to bacon and egg cups, pizza scrolls or today – using up some leftovers, I made Asian steamed pork and egg ramekins that I can now take for the three days I am working this week. Last night’s leftovers also make awesome lunches for the next day and I pack them straight after dinner.
  • I take my own utensils to work.  For two reasons – there are never any forks in the work kitchen drawer ever!  I could do a PhD on this – every workplace I have ever been to always has heaps of knives and spoons, but the forks seem to be the first to disappear – I wouldn’t be surprised if a small sample of 100 working households had a hodgepodge of mismatching forks in the utensil drawer……Secondly – I can wash it and reuse it the next day.
  • I take a napkin, so as not to use the disposable paper towels.
  • I take a piece of fruit and some nuts and these are contained in my neoprene lunch container which is where I put all of my empty containers home for a wash.
  • I have a stainless steel canteen 1 litre drink bottle which I refill with water – keeps it yummy and cool. The kids too have water bottles and they know my deal if we are out and about shopping or at a function – I won’t be buying them a soft drink or bottled water (grrrr) – they need to carry their drink bottles with them too.
  • Finally, I take a keepcup for my coffee in the mornings and this has been such an easy thing to incorporate into my work low waste routine because I leave it in the workplace and just wash it out each day.

For the kids, one of my teenager daughters loves to bake, so she bakes a little sweet biscuit or cake each weekend for the lunches (the upsides of having kids who like to be independent).

In terms of organisation – it does mean that I use a little bit of time each weekend to prepare, but then each morning it’s a quick grab and go kind of affair to get ready for work or school in the morning with no kids moaning about there being nothing to eat for lunch.

The areas that I am looking to reduce waste are my husband’s sandwiches, which he makes each weekend and freezes, but then pops into snaplock bags – I have to find him a better low waste alternative.

The last low waste thing I think about in the workplace is printing reading materials. I have just purchased a laptop that doubles as a tablet (my old lap top was on its last legs – particularly after I dropped it on the slate floor……will need to think of a low waste disposal for it..) so I am trying to bring my laptop to work to reduce the need to print out material for meetings.  As a result I have the cleanest desk I have ever had in my working life… but there is still room for improvement.

Now you may be wondering why the picture accompanying this post is one of six small cabin-sized suitcases…….WELL…..We are taking the whole family to Europe for the next month!  Eeekk! We are very excited.  And we are only taking cabin luggage, to simplify our experience. I’ll let you know on our return how that little experiment goes.  One of the upsides of having a simple life and not consuming so much is that we have been able to save for an amazing four-week trip to Italy, Switzerland and France. I’m beside myself, so are the kids and it is just so wonderful to be able to offer the children an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, rather than – say – a new family car. The old one will do just fine for a while longer and in the meantime, I’ll have a glass of Italian wine in Florence for you all…Ciao.

 

Zero waste transition Part 1

 

I think Bea Johnson is absolutely inspirational and I watch her household video that I wrote about last year OVER and OVER and OVER AGAIN. I just want my house to look that that. Now.

But of course, Bea herself admits that it has been a massive journey to get to that amazing household destination.

Here’s how we have started.  And please note, I don’t receive any commissions on any product recommendations below.

Bea’s first point is to refuse anything that goes to landfill coming into the house. Sheesh. Big ask. No-one in my household, apart from my oldest teenage daughter was into it at all, so I decided to start with refusing things that were completely in my control.

My fortnightly grocery shopping.

I’m a big cook-from-scratch kind of girl, so I thought this part would be easy peasy. I found that it was not, and I had to spend some considerable time researching in my local area to find some answers.

Firstly – the only store that provides foods in bulk, that I know of, is our local Food Co-op. There’s a new store called Nude Food, but I am a loyal co-oper.  I like their values.

So to complete my Co-op shop I either take to the shop some of these:

Breathable fruit and veg bags

Images courtesy of www.Onya.com.au and www.thehospitalityshop.com.au

Or larger bags to carry produce in (bottom right hand corner).

I’ve been unable to source some calico bags for flour and sugar, but they are on my wish list. In the meantime, I take glass jars (top right hand corner) to purchase these products.

I purchased a whole heap of glass jars from cheapo shops, but have found that their closures aren’t as good as the good quality homewares shops, so as they break down, I am replacing them with good quality jars like the one shown.

The Food Co-op then weigh the size of the jar and deduct it from your purchase.

I find at the Co-op I can purchase my bread making flour in bulk, as well as most of my dry goods like other flours, sugar, cacoa, pulses and legumes, spices and definitely their delicious organic dark chocolate covered almonds……

Then I shop at either the local farmers market or our fresh food markets. Here again, I take my produce bags, shopping bags and glass Pyrex containers to get my meat in. I find the organic meat shops are more used to these type of random requests (like please don’t wrap my meat in plastic and paper – put in my glassware instead please). Buying meat this way is a heavy job – usually I do the fruit and veg shopping first, empty my trolley into the car and then go and do the meat shopping.

That way, I can put the meat straight into the freezer or the fridge without any plastic wrapping or Styrofoam bases.

When I purchase bread (my husband doesn’t like my sour dough, even though it gets rave reviews from others!!) I go to Bakers Delight, ask them to cut up my bread and put it straight into my shopping bag. I’ve had to educate a couple of people on why I am doing it (saving the planet one plastic bag at a time) but now they joke that I am the crazy bag lady and it’s a bit of a novelty for them.

Once I come home from the fresh food shop, I do spend half an hour to an hour cutting up vegetables and making sure they are stored in glass containers in the fridge. You can’t store your veggies in the Onya bags because the bags are breathable and they go all limp….

Finally, last but least I do any other product shopping at Aldi or Woolworths. I look for recyclable packaging. Eg do you know that Aldi pasta packaging is recyclable? I finally put all of my shopping away in their containers, empty out any packets or packaging that I have begrudgingly had to purchase.

As I go around, putting my shopping away, I leave out any plastic, unrecyclable packaging that is going straight to landfill and I put it on a list to explore next time. The next time I go shopping, I look for alternatives, one product at a time, to reduce the overwhelming feeling of trying to zero waste everything at once.

zero waste list

I’m still looking for a gummy bears solution… my husband eats four packets a week…..

Anyway I hope you and your loved ones had a great Christmas break and New Year. My posting schedule will be fortnightly again this year (although I want to sneak in a review of this most beautiful book that I have been relishing over summer next week….). I look forward to hearing from you if you have any zero waste challenges or tips for me.

Home grown cauliflowers can make you squeal….

It’s been awhile since I have squealed with delight. I’ve got to say I haven’t squealed much at home or work…..

Well today I did. I planted brassicas a few months ago. We have been enjoying the bountiful broccoli, but there were no cauliflowers to be seen. Until…. Today! Gorgeous little crisp heads of cauliflower. Yippee!

cauliflower

Today’s post is in photos. I am increasing our vegetable production. I purchased three Vegrug planters from Costco recently and my kind husband has put them together. Today we cleared the area, mulched sticks and trees, dug out stumps and put in the watering system. Tomorrow is soil, and clearing the rest of the back yard.

So the before shots – you might say it has been neglected over winter:

Before bottom half Before top halfBefore close up top half

And some where-we-got-to-today shots, with a very patient husband installing the dripper system:

 David installing dripper system

vegtrug half full bottom after

Bread bliss – homemade sour dough

Each week or fortnight, I make a little change towards being more self-sufficient. Too many changes and I get overwhelmed. One a week or so seems achievable.

This week – I am baking my own bread. I lashed out and purchased a Breville Gourmet bread maker because it makes baguettes and we are suckers for a good baguette. I must admit these babies are the best thing the bread maker makes in my view. Crusty exterior, yummy middle and delicious straight from the oven with lashings of butter. They have also passed the fussy husband I-only-like-Bakers-Delight test.

My second adventure into the wonderful world of bread making is to make my own sour dough. This is day two of making the starter. I’m using the River Cottage recipe. You basically make a starter over a period of seven days, and “feed” it over that period. Post seven days, you can start making daily sourdough. How exciting.

sour dough starter

The starter recipe (that’s above, in all its smelly glory at day 5):

100g strong baker’s flour

Enough water to make a paint like consistency

Mix and cover with gladwrap or a lid and leave in a warm place.

Each day, remove half of the starter, add 100gm flour and some water to return to the paint consistency. Keep feeding in this way for seven days. Each day you will see bubbles (natural yeast) and over time, I am led to believe, it smells better.

The night before you are ready to bake your loaf, take 100gm of the starter to 250gm strong flour and 275mls of water to make a sponge. Leave it overnight and it will look fermented again.

The next day, add 300gm of bread flour, 1 tblspn of olive oil and 10gm fine sea salt.

Hugh recommends a good hand knead and rise process, but I am little bit more practical right now. Rather than hand kneading, I will be using the bread making function in my bread maker – takes away a little of the whole connection with food part, but while I am still working full time it seems like a sensible compromise. I’ll update you on my first loaf.

Wintery cauliflower soup

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It’s definitely winter in the nation’s capital – even predicted to snow tomorrow in higher urban areas. This is a B&W photo of our view from the balcony of our house yesterday.

Thankfully when I moved her in 2006 I invested in the right bedding and outerwear to cope.

Still it looks bleak and wintery. Just the time for warm winter soups to warm the spirit.

In the suburban veggie patch, I am growing broccoli and brussel sprouts this year. Cauliflowers too are cheap ($2 each) and in season, so I found this quick and easy recipe in the latest winter edition of Good magazine (a New Zealand based publication that has piqued my interest of late).

I don’t eat onions or garlic, so I substituted my home grown spring onions, some homemade chicken stock from the freezer, a squeeze of lemon from our bountiful lemon tree and I had some left over cream in the fridge. Delicious.

In cooking this soup, I timed it carefully. I have a tendency to leave soups on the stove and overcook the beautiful, fresh seasonal ingredients, so this time I followed the timing in the recipe to a tee and it tastes delicious.   A sprinkle of parmesan and some crusty homemade bread rolls are just the trick.

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This is a picture of soup once I added my still partially frozen home made chicken stock.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup (courtesy of Good Magazine, Issue 43)

Ingredients:

1 tbsp of butter

1 medium onion

3 gloves of garlic

1-2 green cardamom pods, crushed

Half a cauliflower, chopped, including the stalks

Juice of half a lemon

3 cups water or vegetable stock

½ cup cream

Freshly ground salt and pepper

Method:

In a saucepan on moderate heat gently sauté onion until translucent. Reduce the heat and add garlic, cardamom, chopped cauliflower and lemon juice and cook for about ten minutes until everything is slightly toasted by not browned.

Transfer everything to a lidded saucepan, add water, cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for approx. 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the cauliflower is soft. Remove from heat and cool slightly

When cool, take out cardamom pods and blend until smooth. Before serving, bring to boil and stir in cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Yummo.