Back to basics

I’d been looking forward to doing a proper supermarket shop here for years. How fantastic to have everything I needed finally under one roof! So after we’d survived the first few days on the basics, I snuck away from the family, intent on filling my trolley with absolutely everything on my list, and then some.

But what I didn’t factor in was H’s peanut allergy. Very quickly I discovered that just about everything I touched contained a standard warning of “May be present – peanuts.” With a groan, I realised that the entire freshly-baked section was off-limits, cooking supplies such as chocolate chips, tahini – even the sprinkles to decorate her birthday cake – were a no-go zone.

I tried another supermarket – same result. I tried an independent supermarket. No good. So I wrote to a major supermarket as well as two chocolate manufacturers explaining my predicament. I asked them what, if anything, was available for peanut allergy suffers. The short answer was “nothing.” What did become clear though and quite worrying, was that the companies I contacted didn’t understand the difference between a tree nut and a ground nut (peanut). Peanuts are a legume, not a nut and I thought a chocolate factory would be well-educated on that fact.

But what baffles me is that I could buy the same products from the same manufacturers in Europe and in Singapore without any mention of “traces of peanuts”, but we can’t buy them here? None of the companies contacted could provide an answer and I doubt I’ll ever get one from them.  So, we’re heading back to basics – and my old habits of shopping with iHerb and lots of internet research.

I wondered whether chocolate is hard to make from scratch and to my surprise, it’s not. On the weekend, I discovered a recipe for home-made chocolate chips (or rather, chunks, as they turned out for me) and the crazy thing was, they were really quick and very easy to make. So I went a step further, baked some vanilla muffins and included the choc-chunks in the recipe. I then used the kids as guinea pigs and waited, with interest, for their reaction.

“Could be a bit more chocolate-y,” was H’s only comment.

Easy fixed, I’ll add more cocoa in the next batch. T just asked for another one.

When we were a bit more settled, I’d planned to source local suppliers for fresh fruit and veg, but after losing faith in the major supermarkets, I rather quickly discovered a market close to home. I dealt with an extremely friendly lady who was very sympathetic to my cause and she was more than willing to try and source peanut-free products for me. Fantastic!

So armed with my KitchenAid, new role as a chocolatier and a lot of networking ahead of me, I feel very grateful that we live in a country where fresh produce is abundant and I don’t have to be reliant on supermarkets for all the family’s needs. The dream of a one-stop-shop is gone, but I suspect we’ll all be a lot healthier for it.

If anyone has any tips, tricks or chocolate-y recipes they’d like to share, please contact me. I’d be very happy to hear from you!

https://www.facebook.com/Pellegrinos-Fresh-Fruits-117162151787419/timeline/

http://www.unrefinedkitchen.com/2011/08/11/homemade-dark-chocolate-chips/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanut

Grocery shopping – but how and where?

If I’d been told ten years ago that I would never again buy all my groceries at the one store, I would have laughed out loud. But what I didn’t take into account back then was location, availability and price! And I naively assumed that sure, there might be some different produce on offer, but most things would be available, right? Wrong!

It’s not just that items we liked were hard to source, it took some time to realise how people shop in different countries. Sure, most places have a supermarket, but often times people prefer to shop locally, which was certainly the case in The Netherlands. People liked to visit their local butchers, bakers and fruit and veg stalls where the products were fresh, the variety was extensive and developing a relationship with the shopkeeper makes the experience quite enjoyable.

The cheese shop I used in The Hague is a great example. The business was family-run, they were always friendly and incredibly patient with my fledgling Dutch (OK, they spoke to me like they would to a small child but hey – it helped!). Even after a two-year hiatus, I was welcomed back like an old friend. Our shopping street had a wonderful sense of community and when you’re a long way from home, it felt great to be a part of it.

Here in Singapore, it’s a little different and although the supermarkets carry a good range of items, they can be a little pricey, particularly for meat and dairy. But where else do you go? And that’s where you a little local knowledge comes in handy.

Partly because of the allergies my kids have, and partly because of interest, I make my own cleaning products. They’re not difficult to make, they won’t bleach the towels by accident and are great for the environment. But finding ingredients such as liquid castile soap and tea tree oil here was tricky – until someone mentioned iHerb? Heard of it? It’s fantastic and sells a huge range of items including organic flours, oils, supplements, beauty products – the list goes on at http://www.iherb.com. Shipping rates are very reasonable and they ship all over the world.

Red meat is expensive here but you can find cheaper cuts without compromising on quality. Foodie Market Place in Tiong Bahru offers good quality meat at great prices, as well as cheeses, coffee, frozen foods and loads of other items.(https://www.facebook.com/FoodieMarketPlace)

Sligro in Den Haag which was my saviour for bulk-buying and keeping the cost down. You need a membership card to shop there, which I got through the ANZWC. http://www.sligro.nl/vestigingen/sligro-den-haag-forepark.htm)

Tekka Market in Little India is another great place to buy meat, chicken and seafood at very reasonable prices, along with spices, and fruit and veg. The Hague equivalent was the Haagse Markt…www.dehaagsemarkt.nl.

Buying chicken anywhere can be tricky if you are trying to source organic produce, it can be even harder. I’ve found a “chicken man” called Stanley who sells Kampong (free-range) chickens and he assures me that they’re as hormone-free as they can be. He has a stall at Tiong Bahru market but will deliver if the order is over $30. I send him a text with my order details and address, and he delivers the next day. He’s a great guy to deal with and very passionate about his chooks! (#01-171 – Stanley’s Fresh Chicken & Duck Suppliers (+65 8161 2178))

I do a crazy amount of baking because of H’s peanut allergy and thankfully discovered Phoon Huat about two years ago. It’s a great place to shop for dairy – particularly butter and cheese (in bulk) – as well as flour, cake tins, cake decorating supplies..the list goes on.  (http://www.phoonhuat.com/)

The rest of my groceries I collect at Fairprice, Cold Storage or Giant. I still dearly long for the day when I can get everything I need at the one shop, but I’m wondering…will I? Will it be hard to give up the habits of a decade? Anyway, at least I’ll have options.  Happy shopping!