CATASTROPHIC COOKING

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"It's broken!!!!" There was a shocked silence.
Then; "Does that mean we are going to starve?!" The whispered question from my eldest.
"We could eat breakfast in the garden, with the chickens." From the youngest.
"Considering you just wiped the last of that avo on your face" smiled my Husband mischievously; "eating all our meals from the garden should delight you"
"But what about my stove?!!!!" I wailed "It's broken!!!!! How will I cook and bake?!!!!"

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The demise of my oven and stove is a monumental crisis on our homestead. In our years striving for self-sufficiency we have learned to do a lot ourselves - from scratch. That means I use both my oven and stove on a daily basis. Considering the sky rocketing price of gas here in SA I half suspected FarmerBuckaroo had orchestrated the permanent retirement of my big gas oven. Last week it seemed like doomsday. My goats milk cheese was only half made. Just for that day I had sourdough bread, rusks, bobotie and cheesecake lined up. Plus I needed to refresh my wax wraps. When I tried to impress on my nonchalant Husband the crisis this had thrown me into he shrugged and said; "There's always the pizza oven."

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That pizza oven was built by a friend who is a mastercraftsman. It is huge. It was built under pressure because we had big plans. That was 5 years ago. It has never - yup - NEVER - been fired up. Over the years we've talked quite seriously about spending one day a week cooking for the week....in the pizza oven. But my lovely gas oven in the kitchen in a civilized household was so much more convenient. Instant. Uncomplicated. Until the said oven broke. Forever. Sniiiiiiiff. Take away your stove and what do you have? Either hungry people or an ingenious solution. The pizza oven was that solution. Following the drought we have a lot of dead thorn trees - which means a lot of firewood. While FarmerBuckaroo was assembling wood and learning how to cook - every and anything - I was prepping meals. Which, of course, included PIZZA!!!

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Knowing what I had planned, my family remarked that I was over ambitious for a first attempt using the pizza oven - fire - to cook and bake. The Husband set up our camping cooker with our massive potjie pot - a heavy cast iron tripod pot. Any frying of onions and spices I did there. Based on the time needed as well as the temperature I figured out what needed to go in when. Then we just had to figure out for how long, based on constant checking. And make sure nothing burned!

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While the pizza oven was heating up I whipped up my family's comfort food Ice-cream and my own - chocolate (if you don't already know the recipe watch this space!!) Then the serious cook-up began! We did curry and a couple roasts plus breyani and Bobotie We were quite surprised by the smokey flavour of the Bobotie but it truly enhanced the dish.

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Because everyone likes full bottles of snacks I made two big batches of cookies and Rusks. Plus our favourite pre-breakfast snack; muesli (granola to some countries) We had tried baking the potatoes and butternut directly in the fire. They were delicious hot but terrible warmed up the following day.

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Of course I couldn't spend the ENTIRE day preparing food and not bake cake!! Creme Caramel was tricky. It's a baked custard which needs to bake in a bath. The carrot cake was also tricky simply because the pizza oven needs an occasional stick or stoke and moving other dishes interfered with the cake. It didn't exactly flop but it still tastes delicious.

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Pizza was a winner. No surprises there considering it was baked in a pizza oven! The three breads I baked are amazing. The sourdough blew us away, in taste and texture. Our only down side was that you cannot leave the pizza oven unattended. While the cookies and muesli were baking at the end of the day we ran around tending animals. They started burning. Not a train smash but lesson learned. While I ended up doing all the food preparation hats off to the hard working Hubby who sweated at the pizza oven all day.

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When the reality of the broken stove first hit home I had visions of campside cooking. Which is fun the first time but not as an everyday solution. The meals from the pizza oven have been beyond our wildest dreams. Yes, it is a lot of forethought and a hectic day of cooking. But I have the rest of the week's meals prepared (or frozen). Maybe living without modern conveniences, like a stove, is not really the end of the world. After all, we really do enjoy eating a large amount of our diet straight from the garden....

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