Saturday, July 16, 2011

First Day of the Rest of my Life...

Today - like the phoenix - a new Shirley has risen from the ashes. There now seems to be more meaning to my life since I read yesterday's newspaper and discovered officially that B and I (our income being only the state pension and a few pence interest from pennies in the bank (yes truly pennies - like 1p a month!!!) now are in receipt of an income that is classed as below the poverty line. Thank goodness for that! If we had been 'Middle Britons', readers of this blog would have been inclined to think that "it's easy enough for them - they can afford to eat well anyway".

Once the fuel prices increase and the cold weather returns then we will be 'well poor'. Yet - what is poverty? To me it still seems just a state of mind. A long as the income is enough to keep a roof over our head, and food in our belly, that's all we really need. Anything else is luxury. Most of the clothes we already have will probably outlast us. Wish I could remember that saying by one of Charles Dickens' characters (was it Mr Macawber) something like .."income £1, expenditure £1 and 6d brings misery. Income £1, expenditure 19 shillings and 11d means happiness" (something like that - but the moral is there, 'never spend more than we earn' - and although we may never be rich, we will always have some money left in our purse -which is more that we can say for most folk these days ). As our dual fuel bills come to more than 10% of our income, we are certainly 'fuel poor', and this doesn't take into account the rising prices shortly to come.

Having said that - yesterday morning B took me to the big 'appliances' store where he showed me the freezer he thought we should have (yes these do use electricity, but the savings should more than offset the expense). He proudly opened its door, showed me the one shelf inside and the narrow shelves on the back of the door and said this was perfect for us. I thought he'd gone mad, because it was a fridge not a freezer and he hadn't even notice. But that was par for my B, always get it wrong. Just as well I had gone with him and not leave him to choose and buy it all by himself.

Anyway - after wandering up and down rows and rows of 'white goods', managed to find a proper freezer of the right size to fit into our limited space. Myself chose the one that had four clear drawers - most of the others (of the same size) had three drawers all opaque. Four drawers would mean less scrabbling around to find something buried underneath, and clear plastic would clear view of what was in the drawers - B completely unable to remember in which his ice-cream would be put, so end up having the door open too long and ferreting through all the drawers before he found it - and always it would be the last place he looked. With that though had probably better keep the ice-cream in Boris after all).

The appliance was a bit too heavy for B to manage on his own, but as the store had one in stock, they said they could deliver it any time during the afternoon between 2.00 and 5.30pm. We arrived home at 12.30, B cleared the space for the freezer then immediately went off to 'play boats again' (saying he'd bound to be back before the freezer arrived - which of course he wasn't as it came at 2.35pm). The delivery men kindly fitted it into place for me (as I was playing the 'disabled old lady' card), and after leaving it time to 'settle', it is now switched on to 'supercold' (as per instructions), for 24 hours to be re-set to 'normal' later this afternoon, when I can then begin to start filling it with foods taken from Boris.

Although an energy saving model, did opt out of buying a 'frost-free' one as these were twice the price, and - if I use the new freezer for long-term storage of already frozen foods, the door then opened infrequently, and not daily (like Boris - who is 'frost-free'), not a lot of ice should form. Boris will store frozen foods that are used more often. Ice-cream being one of them. B really loves ice-cream. He can't even wait for me to make any and is off to Morrisons this morning to see if any are on offer. He has to go anyway to get 'other things' he wants (like lemonade and bananas).

What is really, REALLY good is that now there will be room for me to freeze those home-made pizzas, Sticky Toffee Puddings, Chocolate Fondants, pancakes, soups, pies and more 'ready-meals' that have rarely been made since we moved as we had no freezer room for them (we used to have a big chest freezer when in Leeds).
More advantage can be taken of meat offers (in particular free beef/lamb bones, chicken carcasses etc), for now there will be room to freeze more stock.
When I feel like baking cakes, no need now for Beloved to wolf his way through them at speed, they can be cut into portions and frozen - so will last longer, and he will be able to have more choice rather than eating Bakewell Tart every day for at least two/three days in a row (not that he ever minded that of course, but it isn't very economical).

Despite the freezer side of 'Boris' being roomy enough to hold enough food for two 'normal' people, the problem with freezing only 'the basics' is - once thawed and cooked with other (fresh) ingredients, these - as meals - when frozen away, take up a lot more room than the original pack of meat took in the first place. A LOT more room. So have never been able to make much in the way of 'ready-meals' previously. Also the more room there is the more money can be saved.

So yesterday I ended up a very happy bunny indeed. There was one moment of sheer envy whilst I was in the store, when I saw a HUGE cooker. Like large AGA but with gas rings on top. The normal four rings PLUS a larger 'wok' ring in the centre of them, PLUS a big 'hot-plate' (for frying eggs etc?) at the side. Underneath were four doors - the one on the left with a drop-down door was a small oven/grill. Under that a largish oven with a side-hinged door that had a shaped roasting tin fixed to the door that swung out so it was easy to baste or remove without having to reach into a hot oven to pull out what was inside. Under the right hand side of the hob was an even bigger oven with a drop-down door, and under than a big space (also with drop door) for either warming plates or storing tins.
The h0b-top itself had a glass cover which itself made a work surface, this then lifting to make a splash-back when the hob was in use. Oh gosh. Did I want that cooker so badly! Even if I could have afforded it (and it wasn't THAT expensive considering), far too large for just the two of us. We would need a big family (or run a B & B to warrante buying one that size).

As B said "where would it fit into our kitchen anyway?" and I said "where our hob is now, just getting rid of the cupboard underneath (which holds our pans) and one cupboard at the side (which holds B's bottles of lemonade) and a bit of work surface (which is not used for working on anyway), and we'd need a larger extractor fan above. and where our eye-level double oven is now (at the side of our sink) we could have a dishwasher and stand the microwave on top of that". Oh, I'd got it sorted. All I would need is to be twenty years younger so that I could live long enough to enjoy it, and enough people to cook for, but sure I could manage that part.

Mentioning money - am hoping it will be of interest to readers to know that the freezer was paid for out of money that had been saved (in other words 'not spent') due to the economies made on the food front since the start of this year. It is never easy to list every penny saved (although have done this in the dim and distant past), preferring now to have a limit to how much can be spent on food each month, and then try to spend a lot less. It's the balance left at the end of the month that I take into account.
Due to keeping my larder shelves filled, have been able to 'miss a month' now and again when it comes to the larger supermarket shop, making do with what we've got. This money saved then is used to buy what I feel is necessary to 'improve my lot'. Could be more food to freeze for the future, or 'an appliance'.
For the last few months my 'monthly' grocerey order has been sent less frequently, and the cost has - this year - been less than it used to be. So must be doing something right.

Having the new freezer means that now even more savings can be made, and while the central heating is 'off' am now taking the opportunity to stock up with the more expensive foods (meat, fish etc), and get enough frozen away to see us through the winter months. Non-foods too - such as laundry tablets - paper hankies, toothpaste... anything used regularly will be bought (when of offer), so that - with luck - come next winter with should be able to sail through without barely untying the purse strings, so the rising fuel prices should not cause too much of a problem. Well, that's the idea anyway.

To make sure we have a continuing supply of salad leaves, sowed more seeds yesterday. We have only the 'cut-and-come again' oak-leafed lettuce in the greenhouse at the moment, but discovered the end of pack of Mixed Salad Leaves in my 'seed box', plus another unopened one, so should be enough seeds there to keep us going through the winter. Also had lots more other varieties that there is still time to sow this year, with enough seed left for next year and possibly the year after that. Many packs were 'freebies', the rest usually bought at reduced price. No reason why from now on, could not harvest and save my own seeds.

This is one way we can use Mother Nature's 'bounty' to our benefit. Whether plant or creature, it is survival of the species that is the be all and end all. The less chance of something being able to survivie, then the more 'offspring' there will be. For instance fish produce thousands of eggs as so many of the 'small fry' are eaten by larger fish, if only a few managed to live, at least they keep the chain going. The larger the creature, the more able to defend its young, so the fewer they have. Like humans.

Plants are the same. Many need to produce thousands of seeds because 99% are lost through either falling on stony ground or eaten by birds. Any that do begin to grown are usually munched by young slugs, snails, caterpillars and insects. It doesn't matter where we stand - we are all part of a food chain.
This 'excess' we can use to our advantage. Take a look at a packet of lettuce seeds. These usually contain thousands. Because 'growing naturally' very few would ever mature. Yet, once we give it care and protection, every seed should grow to full size, which means we could grow/eat around a thousand lettuces for less than the cost of one bought.
Normally we sow too many at one time, knowing we can thin them out and eat the baby leaves, letting a few grown on and this - of course - still saves us a lot of money, but when it comes to real thrift, then sowing one seed per pot could make the difference between Dicken's 'misery and contentment', so perhaps we should think a bit harder about making the most of what we have (and not just seeds), so that we have made the BEST of what we have.

Already the knowledge that we are now officially one of the nation's 'poor' is making me extremely happy, dying to go out and plant a few more seeds, cook some more incredible edibles from the cheap basic foods in the larder, and make darn sure our Goode life really IS a 'good' life. Even on a pittance. As I said - poverty is only a state of mind. It's what we do with what we've got that gilds our lily.

No trade magazine this morning. Can't rely on anything these days (but it may come tomorrow as I think it did last week). Perhaps I shouldn't be spending the money on it anyway, but then I rarely 'treat' myself. Even have my hair done only twice a month now instead of once a week (that being my only vice). As long as I can still afford it...

Loved the recent comments sent in. Well done Ciao, giving your husband soup and sarnies instead of a proper Sunday dinner. Bet he wondered what had hit him. Men never seem to understand that being provided with a home-cooked meal takes time and effort. They seem to think it miraculously appears from no-where, maybe even believing it came fully prepared from a packet in the supermarket (as so many TV adverts lead them to believe) and all it needs is heating up.

Lucky you Urbanfarmgirl, to have a husband that loves to cook. Good to hear that you too prefer to 'eat in' rather than 'eat out'. Having said that, managed to persuade B to buy himself a Chinese take-away last night ( he had asked for chicken for supper and in the excitement of the arrival of our new 'baby' hadn't given a thought to his supper). Myself dare not order a full Cinese for myself as they are always salty (so I retain water and this puts my weight back up again) , and also now find too spicy for my digestive system, so made do with four mini-vegetable rolls and some prawn crackers (both from the 'appetisers' selection). The veggie rolls were over-fried, very dark, greasy and full of what seemed like slimy bean-sprouts. Not nice. The prawn crackers were OK, but wish I'd done without both and had an apple instead. At least B paid.

Loved your comment too MimsyS. As most men don't seem t0 understand women at all, although a lot of women seem to understand men very well, a same-sex relationship HAS to be far less stressful than the usual 'men from Mars, women from Venus' alliance which inevitably leads to a lot of gender accusations like 'it's obviously the time of the month' when a wife starts nagging. 'Nagging' - to a man - means being asked a second (or third, or fourth time) do something he should and could have done the first time of asking. Why is it that wives usually do what has been asked almost immediately? Probably then so they don't have to bother to remember. Do men ever bother to remember anything. I don't think they do. Unless constantly reminded (sorry, mean 'nagged').

Mind you hormones can make life difficult at times. Think it was in one of those 'moods' when I once lifted up a basket of eggs and upturned them with as much force as possible onto B's head. Can't now remember what he had (or probably hadn't) done to lead me to do this, but felt it was necessary at the time. Can still remember him standing there looking bemused with raw egg running all down his face. Yes - I may seem to constantly be moaning about him, but when it matters can also give back as good as I get. Usually using food as a weapon. "The way to a man's heart is through is stomach" being very true. Although the thought comes into my mind that it can be a weapon too. So be afraid my Beloved, be very afraid, one day if you go a step too far may cook for you the strange mushroom that keeps appearing in the garden. Just joking!

The reason why I have the 'it's my job to care for my husband' attitude Mimsy, is that this is how we were brought up around the time I was born (in 1933). In those days, after marriage, most women stopped working and spent their time looking after the home and their man. Many still went out to work, but once children were born, they nearly always stayed at home to raise the family. Even when children went to school it was still deemed necessary that their mother should be there when they returned home (many children went home for lunch). The only money came from that earned by the man of the house, so if money was short he was the one to eat most of the meat, the children what was left and the mother often making do with what was left on the plates.
In those days there were few fridges, no freezers, few convenience foods, some not even having a washing machine, so there was a daily routine that consisted of housework, followed by a walk with the children and shopping for fresh food to cook for the evening meal. In between which the mother would find time to play with the children and also sew and knit clothes for them, and any other chores necessary. As there was no TV, there seemed ample time to do all this - as I discovered when we had children - but somehow seemed to have lost my identity in the process, being called 'Mum' by our children, husband, and even my mother!

Youngsters didn't leave home until they were married (unless of course they worked further afield - and this usually only the men), and it wasn't until 1960 (or even later) that the young got more independence and flew the nest before they had even found a mate. Unfortunately, by that time my feet were well entrenched into the 'old ways', and I never did regain any freedom (not that I had much before), so it's more a matter of upbringing that has 'forced' me into a lifestyle that I feel doesn't always suit me.

Suppose Nature has planned it that a female is there to care for her man and raise their children. At least this way seemed to work best at the time. Other creatures seem to do this without any thought of "oh there should be more to life for me than this", and perhaps (for humans) selfishness seems to have become more important. We should do and have what WE want, never mind who gets trodden on along the way. Even in the animal world, there are different levels - a male lion will sleep the day (and night) away, while his harem of lionesses do all the hunting and killing to provide a meal for him (come to think of it, our continuous 'shopping' is not a million miles away from that). At least the balance is restored a bit when we remember the male sea-horses have to carry their offspring in a pocket once they are 'born', so perhaps there has been a little 'sharing of chores' given thought to.
Anyway, the way things are going, what with IVF and 'test-tube' babies, the whole thing seems about to be turned on its head. Soon men will be giving birth (believe one actually has).

Are we right to interfere with nature? Myself feel it could be dangerous, obviously 'unnatural', but then what is natural in today's world? Not very much - even when it comes to food. Are we any better because of this, or worse? Perhaps as long as the outcome brings (or gives) happiness, then that IS all that matters. And I don't mean eating junk food 'cos it's nice. That's eventually would make us ill and then very unhappy. Always think long term. View the wider picture.

Decided to ask myself yesterday, "why should I always be fretting about B taking advantage, and me always cooking for him, when most of what I enjoy has to do with food, cooking and all that goes with it ". Myselfregrettably myself not now being able to enjoy eating favourite foods as before due to diabetes and having to lose weight - perhaps that in itself was causing part of the problem - making it, seeing it, and not able to eat it. I thought "Why should I deprive myself of the pleasure of cooking just because I've turned it round to seem as though it's a now a chore and forcing myself to continue purely for B's pleasure". If I hadn't someone to feed, I'd be really miserable. From now on I will continue cooking and both Beloved and myself should be contented enough. No doubt I will still have my bad days when B is a monster and I feel 'used', but let us hope less of them.

Concentrating on 'being poor' and making the most of it will certainly give me more to think about - and give me a great deal more pleasure as can then hope to keep on proving that we can all still eat well on a pittance, so today sees the first day of this rest of my cost-cutting life.

Thing is - where do we go from here? As I've said, am going to stock up for the winter before the rising prices of food and fuel go up even further. Today will be cooking quite a few things to freeze - probably Sticky Toffee Pud as haven't cooked that for AGES (having no room to freeze the surplus). Also make some ice-cream, and now I have room to freeze the internal bowl, can now start using the ice-cream machine again - even though I prefer making 'soft-scoop' purely because it IS 'soft-scoop', machine made ice-cream still needs thawing slightly before scooping. Which annoys me.

Thankfully it did rain yesterday evening as promised, but the day itself was lovely and once the freezer was delivered I went and sat outside to sun myself again. Am getting a lovely tan, although age is causing some pigment problems, so my arms now turn deep gold with a sprinkling of lighter spots. Some of them quite large. Reminds me of something, can't remember what. Surface of the moon perhaps?

Just as well I wear specs all the time, as once these are removed I look like a panda (or do they have black round their eyes). You know what I mean, brown face, white 'mask' around my eyes. Who needs to go to the Med to get a tan? Give me English sun anytime. It's always there anyway, it's just the clouds that keep getting in the way. And am sure it gets cloudy in the Med as well.

Today have the problem of finding space to put the 'stuff' that is in the small set of drawers which used to be where the new freezer now is. The cabinet has - at the moment - been put back in the bathroom, and useful in that spare towels, soaps, loo rolls etc can be stored in there. Still have to find a place to put the bamboo table that it has replaced, and so life in the Goode household hasn't changed THAT much - still trying to find a place for everything, and not finding any. Gives me something to do I suppose.

What I AM looking forward to is updating my 'stock-taking' lists. Now there will be have to be one for each freezer, plus another listing just the 'ready-meals' that B can refer to so he can choose which supper he would like to thaw and re-heat all by himself. Or even let me know which he would like so I can do this for him (the latter being more likely).

My aim is to end up with a complete 'grocery' store in my own kitchen (possibly some stores coming from Approved Foods), with enough food there that I can 'shop till I drop' for about the six months when our central heating is on, without having to step outside the kitchen door. With long-life milk in the larder, fresh milk in the freezer, dried milk in the cupboard, butter and cheese in the fridge and/or freezer, root vegetables that store for months (yes some can keep that long in the fridge), and fresh 'salads' growing under cover throughout the winter, it is only eggs that would probably need buying (although even eggs - separated - can be frozen - and here again if we had our own chickens we wouldn't even need to shop for those).
With home-made bread and other such 'edibles', it shouldn't be THAT difficult to keep our food budget down to almost minimal, and still eat well. This is the AIM, but whether practical or achieveable remains to be seen. You'll just have to keep reading this blog. Have to say the challenge itself is enough to interest even me (having done something similar many times in the past, but somehow this time it is different.
Often feel I'm two people within one skin (heavy enough to be for a start), as if one watching what I do, the other actually doing it.

This weekend will probably make a double batch of marmalade (one orange based, the other lemon). We have run out of marmalade altogether, but once made this should be enough to last B through the winter, if not a full year. We still have plenty of home-made jam, and more of that will be made once the autumn raspberries have ripened (these also freeze well).

It's pouring with rain outside, the greenhouse plants have been well watered, so a perfect day for me to start cooking up a storm of edible delights. All of a sudden my 'tiredness' has disappeared - so bet it was psychological after all. All I needed was a kick up the backside to start me moving again, and it seems I've now had this. All thanks to Maurice (B's decision as to our 'baby's' new name). So now 'Maurice' and 'Boris' sit happily side by side content in doing what they do best. Time I did the same.

Hope you will join me again tomorrow. See you then.