Friday, June 17, 2011

Wider Pictures

Thanks for comments from Maman Mud, Les, Ciao... about mobility scooters. Since needing to use these myself HAVE discovered that most towns have shopping centres and supermarkets where they can be used, also have some to rent out to customers. The few times I've hoped to have the use of one, seems that others got their first. They have only a limited number and first come first served! They cannot be booked in advance.

Sorry Les that you thought I was having another 'moan', when you get to my age you will probably also end up a a grumpy old git as you sound already set in your ways. It was the availability of scooters that I felt could do with a tweak. Just being able to plan a day out and book a scooter without having to scour the internet or make several phone calls to find out who might supply one for rent in the area I wished to visit, but just know there is a national company (as with Rent a Car).
The mention of having a scooter to fit in the car only works if the driver is prepared to dismantle it, then put it together each time. In any case these are usually only suitable for 'lightweights', which does not apply to me. Anyway, as I already have a scooter (too large to be dismantled easily) why buy another? I just have to accept my limitations.

For foodies who live in Scotland (Perth area), have just received a press release about a great-sounding Food Fair to be held at Scone Palace, on 1st - 5th July. Lots of different food stands and cookery demos. For more details go to .

With Alison thinking 'pruning' of past posts would be a good idea, will today spend time seeing if I can bring more 'useful' ones back again. Will possibly start with those a few months back so that the most recent early days of the months return (always supposing they do). Otherwise looks like I'll have to reduce the amount of words I write each day.

Not sure why your marmalade didn't set Woozy, other than you either didn't use enough sugar and/or not let it boil down long enough to reach 'setting point'. Even just sugar dissolved in water will 'set' if boiled long enough to evaporate most of the water. Perhaps your proportions of fruit to water, water to sugar etc were wrong. Worth taking one jar (if you potted it all up) and boiling this down for longer to see what happens. If it works, then just tip the lot back into the pan and re-boil.

What a great idea Kathryn, taking a map of your local area then marking places where you will find 'free food' that you can forage later in the year. Suppose it is far easier to see where trees and bushes are when viewing on 'Google Earth' etc, than using an ordinary street map.
Your 'money education' programmes sound exactly what the young folk need. Had to smile when I read that they realise it is cheaper to live at home rather than move out. Just hope you pointed out that if they choose to do this, the way costs are rising today, they should pay their full share of their 'running costs'. Often we don't realise that when we have a water meter fitted, each person uses a lot more water - all to be paid for - as is the extra lighting, heating, laundry, and of course food (and non-foods). It all adds up.
As a parent, remember that none of this seemed to be important, it was good when one or more of our children (and grandchildren) lived with us. In no way did the extra cost matter. (Until the phone bills rose dramatically!!), so really it more a matter of getting youngsters to learn about responsibility more than anything else I suppose, and 'disposable income' is what is left from a wage' AFTER all the bills/debts have been paid, and even then should not be wasted. And only saying that because it took me a very long time to realise the sense of that - taught me by my mother - so of course I wasn't prepared to listen at that time. But "thanks Mum, for sowing the seeds of wisdom, they eventually began to grow".

As ever, each day my mind turns to 'how can more money be saved?". Our dual-fuel bills arrived this week from British Gas, and although our electricity continues to be almost exactly the same throughout the year as regards consumption, and each time we are in credit, there was a note at the bottom to say the monthly payment will now be increased (albeit slightly). Yet - on our gas statement, just a smidgin of credit, and a note at the end saying our payments will be decreased (by about HALF). Perhaps this is due to their knowledge that during the summer months we don't use the central heating, but nevertheless am puzzled. Still - at least for a few months - this will lower our bills, but am sure there will be a massive increase come next winter.

Even though - when it comes to food - we might be still able to keep our heads above water, there are other 'seasonal costs' that we often forget to plan for. Life is not just the 'here and now', there is the wider picture to consider. Most of us have family and friends we like to give gifts to at anniversaries and - of course - Christmas. We often leave it until the last minute to buy these, but why wait? Keep a big box (or suitcase) to store in gifts that can be bought at any time of the year. The 'January sales' used always to be a good time to buy anything 'on the cheap', a lot could be for future gifts. Now it seems we have Sales, and reduced prices all year round, so worth buying while the time is right.
Seems the increased VAT has slowed down 'consumerism', and with the government urgently needing us to going back to 'spend, spend, spend (but with what I ask?), perhaps we will see the VAT reduced for a while. That may help. Or has the damage been done already. A little lady on TV yesterday said she can now only afford to buy what she needs, and not what she wants. Think there's a moral in there somewhere.

We 'home-cooks' have the perfect way to make good gifts that don't break the bank. Just about EVERYONE appreciates quality food, and to buy a Christmas Hamper stuffed with such goodies would cost a fortune. But making up our own Hampers costs very little at all. Each time we make our jams, marmalade, pickles and relishes, we could make a little extra to fill small pots, each going into a Hamper. Gingerbread, flapjack, some cookies and shortbread also make good gifts. We can also make herb oils and vinegars to give away. Even small pots of growing herbs. There is so much that people would love to have, but would never think of buying over the counter because they cost so much.

When making a rich fruit cake, a good idea is always to make a big square one (or even oblong). These normally will keep for several weeks (if not months) especially when giving a wee drinkie of spirit now and again and tightly wrapped. Come time for gift-giving, the cake can be cut into two, four, or more (depending upon size and amount to be given away), topped with marzipan and icing, and false holly leaf - or other seasonal decoration - then wrapped in clingfilm to be added to the Hamper. Surplus cake we keep for ourselves.

As long as we are very careful about hygiene, and mark any edibles that have a short-shelf life with the date, home made 'pate', 'rillettes', and even pork-pie could be included in the hamper. Lemon curd also has a short life of up to six weeks (kept in the fridge). So mostly these have to be made almost on the day of giving (although pate does freeze but should not be re-frozen, and so would need eating within a couple of days or so of receipt). The responsibility lies with the one who cooks and gives, so always give foodie gifts that you have already sampled yourself (and lived to tell the tale) then you'll know all are fit to eat.

Am today giving a slow-cooker recipe for mincemeat. Normally made 'uncooked', this then needs to be stored for some time to allow the flavours to develop, but this 'cooked' method means it can be used straight away, and the cooking prevents fermentation, allowing for a much longer shelf life. So if you feel like getting your Christmas Mincemeat done and dusted (remembering a jar of this can also go into the Hamper), and as it keeps for six months (at least) no time like the present to make it. Who knows - the price of dried fruit may also increase, so why take the risk of waiting until later when it may cost more to make?

Slow-cooker Mincemeat: makes 4 lb (1.75kg)
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
4 oz (100g) each: candied peel, glace cherries, and almonds
3 oz (75g) no-soak dried apricots, roughly chopped
5 fl oz (150ml) brandy
8 oz (225g) each: currants and sultanas
1 lb (450g) raisins
8 oz (225g) soft dark brown sugar
8 oz (225g) suet granules (can be the vegetarian suet)
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp each: ground allspice and cinnamon
half tsp grated nutmeg
grated zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
Roughly chop the candied peel (if necessary), the glace cherries and almonds. Put these with the chopped apricots into the cooking pot with HALF the brandy, and all the rest of the ingredients. Stir well until thoroughly mixed. Cover, and cook on High for one hour, then give another stir, re-cover and reduce temperature to Low. Continue cooking for a further 2 hours, stirring half-way through to prevent the fruits sticking to the base of the pot. Then remove lid and allow the mincemeat to cool completely, giving it a stir a couple of times during this time.
Stir in the remaining brandy, then spoon the mincemeat into sterilised jars. Cover and store in a cool dry place for up to 6 months. Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks.

Spiced beef is another 'dish' well worth making in a slow-cooker. Unlike the traditional method, this way cuts out the intial pickling stage, and takes only three days to 'cure' compared to the near two-weeks by the old way.
This is a very good meat to serve as 'finger food' for buffet parties, sliced thinly and served with brown bread smeared with horseradish sauce. As 'family fare' or when entertaining, it makes a good first course served with brown bread and an apple chutney. Also good eaten a cold beef with salads, and in sarnies (similar to 'pastrami on rye' perhaps).
The cheaper joints of beef are the ones to use for this, so choose either silverside, tail end or brisket. The easiest way to coat with the spices is to sprinkle the mixture onto a board or work surface, then keep rolling the meat back and forth to pick up the spices until the surface of the meat is completely coated.
Slow cooked Spiced Beef: serves 6 (or more)
4 lb (1.8kg) joint of beef (see above for type)
1 tblsp coarsely ground black pepper
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tblsp juniper berries, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander (or whole seeds, crushed)
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tblsp allspice
3 tblsp soft brown sugar
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 small onion, chopped
half pint (300ml) Guinness (or other dark stout)
Begin by spicing the beef. Omitting the Guinness, mix the rest of the ingredients together, then rub this on the surface of the meat (or roll in the spices- see above). Put into a lidded container, then chill in the fridge for 3 days (four is even better), but keep turning the meat and rubbing in the spices each day.
When ready to cook, put the meat in the cooking pot, adding enough cold water to barely cover. Switch on to High, cook for 3 hours, then reduce to Low and cook for a further 3 - 4 hours or until the meat is very tender. During the last hour add the stout.
When cooked, switch off cooker and leave the meat to cool in the cooking liquid, then remove, wrap tightly in foil, and keep in the fridge until required (it will keep for up to 10 days). Slice thinly to serve. If wishing to keep longer, thinly slice surplus meat, interleave, bag up and freeze.

Had a good day yesterday, went into the garden and managed to pot up the remaining 50 or so bedding plants. Made much easier because I went to the far end of the garden where I could sit and work at the table. Beloved kindly bringing me the heavy containers and boxes of compost (plus trowel and some water) so that I had everything to hand. Now only a few more courgettes need to be transplanted into their final positions, a couple of Romanesco when grown large enough, and several peas which are outgrowing their pots. Oh yes, also some 'cut and come again' lettuce of the bronze-leafed variety.

Also picked a small bowful of ripe strawberries yesterday. Have at least two different varieties, but had lost the labels when transplanting all to one large container. Certainly two taste different, but both equally as good. One type is the normal round strawberry 'shape', another is much more oval (the latter tasting really nice). Decided to eat them all myself (well once started, couldn't stop), so ended up feeling guilty as I had deprived B of these first fruits. Well, time I gave myself a treat for once. Even so, guilt does not sit happily on my shoulders.
B's supper was the last of the recently home-cooked ham, with slices of chilled corned beef and the last of the cheese quiche bake the day (or was it two?) before. With it he had iceberg lettuce, vine tomatoes, vacuum beetroot, a goodly number of radishes (large, so sliced), and the usual pickles, mustard etc. Dessert was the rhubarb fool (well he ate all the rhubarb, so only fair I ate all the strawberries). B told me the redcurrants looked ready for picking, but think I will leave them slightly longer as they will then grow larger and juicier. Just as long as not left too long for them to drop from their sprigs.
Will pick the currants still on their sprigs, and freeze them like that, for these look good when used as a garnish to a dessert, and just a quick to 'sprig' them when frozen (using a fork) as when freshly picked.

The skies are overcast today and the wind has 'got up' again. But at least made the most of yesterday, so feel quite smug that all the necessary re flowering plants has now been done. All I have to do is make sure the pots are kept moist.
Am not in favour of hanging baskets in our garden (although love to see them elsewhere), as we keep forgetting to water them until too late. So now fill the baskets we have with compost and plants and stand them on top of an empty pot to make a 'floral display' where it can easily be reached. Yesterday painstakingly tucked trailing lobelia through the middle sides of a hanging basket 'cup', so that they would eventually hang down low enough to disguise it, the top being filled with Busy Lizzies. If that ends up as it should, it may well be hung up (having lined the basket with black plastic to hold the moisture), especially if we expect visitors or have a barbie. Do have a couple of those 'rise and fall' thingys that can be fitted to baskets to help raise and lower them for watering, but find that - when fitted - they tend to hold the basket lower than wished, even before lowering still further. Yes, suppose the brackets could be moved higher, but this is not always possible. Perhaps I'm just too picky as to exactly where I wish the basket to be once hung.

Mid June and already beginning to think about Christmas! But financially, it can make sense. Planning for the future is always a good idea. Once we begin to think of each day as one piece of a 365 piece jig-saw, we should then be able to stand back and visualise the completed puzzle (as the picture on the box. Every piece can be put in place, but not always each fitting into the next before we move on. If we wish we can do one corner before we start another, or maybe just fit together the middle bits.

Anyone who has read 'Have a Goode Year' will know what I'm getting at. Each week or month we can be doing something that others might leave until a lot later, and so we gain both the benefits and time saved when we need it most. In the olden days every country person was aware of the seasons, what could be grown and harvested throughout the year, much of it being preserved for the winter months. Now we are just used to living for the day and not thinking about the future until it has just about arrived. All because we have been 'brain-washed' into letting others do for us what we can do ourselves. Instead of making or growing, we can just go out and buy. So why bother? Think our purses are now firmly telling us to start rethinking what we do (or should be doing).
But that's enough preaching for today. We've all got the message anyway, and it's up to each and every once to decide whether it's worth bothering or not. Happiness always comes when 'bothering', so we've everything to gain.

With that thought, time for me to depart for the day as wish to spend time doing some 'blog pruning'. Weekend starts tomorrow, so hope you'll all find time to join me sometime then. As usual - will myself be back tomorrow. TTFN!