Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Starting As I Mean To Go On

Yesterday was a good day. Or should I say Goode day? We left early to go to Barton Grange where my intention was to buy some bulk packs of chicken breasts and minced beef that are always excellent quality and extremely good value for the money. Just managed to get there in time to grab the last mobility scooter, so was able to scoot round the whole complex at my leisure, starting with the 'Cook's Hall' before moving onto the garden centre. Managed to prevent myself buying things I didn't really need (but wanted), just one pack of jam-pot labels and a small white jug (not having one of that size, and prefer not to serve cream to guests in my half-pint Pyrex jug - which is too large anyway). It can also double as a small custard or sauce jug.
Oh yes, just remembered, did buy two packs of small foil containers (with lids) to use for freezing individual portions. To make the containers last longer and also keep clean (always line these first with 'layering tissue' (or even put a small freezer bag inside), so that they can be filled, frozen and then the contents lifted out 'ready-wrapped' to store in a bag with others of the same kind. Always including a card with the name or I would never remember what they were. This way no need to thaw contents before the foil container can be used again. It's ready for use the minute the (wrapped) contents are frozen.

In the garden centre I DID buy a few packets of seeds. Coriander, mange-tout, and French beans. All still able to be sown this year (just). Plus a pack each of red and yellow tomato seeds that can be grown in baskets or smallish pots next year. With the remaining vegetable and herbs seeds I already have (left over, and some not yet used) that's next year's crop already sorted. Now we have the green house, will be able to start many seeds off in earlier than was able to do this year. Almost wish next February was here and I could get started sowing today. Will have to settle for the ones that can still be sown.
Also did buy a strong sage plant as this is one 'basic' herb that I still don't have. Am settling now to keeping the perennial rosemary (large bush already in the garden), two large pots of mint (die off in the winter, but grow again), the new sage bush, plus growing two types of parsley (crinkly and flat-leaf), coriander, basil (several types) and chives from seed. Do have a small thyme and a small marjoram that nearly die because of white-fly but they seem to have recovered. Will re-pot and keep an eye on them. And - of course - we mustn't forget the Bay Tree!

It occurred to me yesterday that the southfacing side of our house has a very wide path down the side. Despite a highish fence between us and next door, the house side gets all day sun from morning to evening, and so why not place another greenhouse down there? We hardly EVER use that path unless B wishes to take the lawn mower through to the front garden, and as long as there is room to pass, why not use the space?

We had an early lunch at Barton (soup and a roll), then continued into their Farm Foods department. So much I would loved to have bought (but managed to control myself). Did notice their Iceberg lettuce was a lot cheaper than Tesco's, so bought a really good solid one, also cheaper strawberries and shallots, so bought some (and on my return home deleted them from my Tesco order).
Bought the bulk (5lb) packs of both chicken and minced beef. Tempted by the packs of stewing beef, but as already have plenty of that from DR frozen away, decided against. B asked if he could have a pack of cooked tongue, so bought that too, plus a bottle of balsamic vinegar. He also bought an uncut loaf of bread (we had just about run out, but although there was the afternoon left, he obviously was not in the mood to bake another loaf. Probably not ever. So left me to play 'master-baker' again. Not that I mind. Did add a brown and a white sliced loaf to the grocery order (on offer), as with Gill coming we will need extra (she likes toast for breakfast and sarnies for lunch), so can keep it in the freezer until needed.

On return home set about repacking the beef and chicken. Both 5lb packs contained 5 packs, but even so wished to wrap each chicken breast separately, firstly removing the 'fillets' from the back of each. The breasts were again HUGE, and was able to trim them down to give me several packs of 'strips' (perfect for zig-zagging on a skewer, or cutting into chunks for curries etc), so ended up with 10 breasts and four (same-weight) bags of bags of fillets.
The minced beef was similarly prepared, this time dividing the contents of each of the five bags into two, to give me 10 x 8oz. Each of these will be enough to make a meal of anything from 2 to 4 portions according to what I use them for, so what with the rest of the meat/fish already in our freezer/s, that's should keep Beloved happy until next summer I should think. And enough there for me to have a taste as well!

The Tesco order comes today. Mainly frozen vegetables, offers with a long shelf-life, the usual milk, butter, cream and eggs, some bread, and not much else if my memory serves me right. Did order a few more things, but decided to keep the costs down so deleted them from my virtual basket. Yes - there were a few non-foods, laundry detergent etc (also on offer), enough of all to see us through the winter.

We had a letter from British Gas to apologise for the fact they would be raising our fuel charges from next month. Think it was 18% for the gas and 16% for the electricity. Seems if we signed up now the charges could he held until 2013, so if the charges go up again we wouldn't have to pay more. Think there was a slight surcharge for this 'convenience', and my feeling is due to the profits that all the fuel companies are making, there may well be a reduction of charges next year - and everyone who chose the 'fixed charge' scheme may end up paying more than they need. Perhaps this is why we are given the choice. So the fuel companies get the money one way or the other.

Considering the temperature dropped dramatically on Sunday after a week of some quite hot weather, we felt we needed to put the central heating back on again for a few hours. We weren't the only one. Others tell us they did the same.
Yesterday the view past the Bay as we drove past looked as though we were in the depths of winter. Scudding dark clouds, raining, and hardly any pedestrians around. As we drove to Barton Grange, the rain began falling heavier and heavier, and it was an absolutely dreadful day. Thankfully the out-door part of the garden centre has a folding glass (or plastic) roof, closed when it rains, so was able to scoot out there also, but not for long for it was very chilly.
It rained and rained all the way home, then as we arrived home and parked outside the back door it miraculously stopped, so was able to walk indoors without the need for my brolly. The rest of the day was mainly dry (apart from a small shower or two), so after getting the meat packed away and frozen, set too and continued tidying up the conservatory, sowing a few more seeds in pots etc. The new batch of Mixed Salad Leaves sown about 3 days ago are already showing through the soil. They have been sown in a large 'Value pack' mushroom box (dark brown plastic), with another of the same size (but almost clear (white) plastic) placed upside down over the top to make a mini 'greenhouse'.

The two sunflowers (grown from a couple taken from the bag of mixed bird seed) were grown in the conservatory, albeit in small pots. Never did get round to transplanting them, so they ended up very tall and 'leggy', but each flowered (not huge flowers, about 5" wide when fully open), and have now died off. Their seeds seem fully 'mature'. Not sure how to prepare sunflower seeds for eating - the ones bought do not have striped shells like the ones we sow. Can anyone tell me whether the home-grown can be eaten whole? Can always let the birds have them anyway. But if worth doing, then will grow more next year outdoors as - at the moment - buying the edible seeds (and pumpkin seeds) to add to B's home-made muesli.

Considering the way the weather is at the moment, am becoming concerned as to whether the threatened 'global warming' is instead turning into a mini ice-age. To grow our own produce, we do need a fair amount of warm weather, so it could instead of greenhouses, gardeners will soon be contemplating installing poly-tunnels.
A cheap way to raise the temperature in a garden is to make a frame and cover it with garden fleece. This I know works, as once shared an allotment with my bridge partner, and after dividing my half into individual 'plots', threw a piece of fleece over one of them (mainly to warm up the soil ready for planting). Only hadn't weeded this particular bit of soil first. Within a very few weeks the weeds had grown to knee height, pushing the fleece upwards as they grew (fleece is so light it doesn't seem to bother seedlings). Whereas the very next plot had the same weeds that were barely an inch high.

Don't know why people bother to buy a buddliea plant. We uprooted one big one (that had white flowers) this spring, and yesterday noticed another had grown from seed behind our fairly big Acer bush. Only now just visible above it, but has numerous flowers (think they are white) on it. And - would you believe - another growing in a crack where the conservatory window meets the brickwork by our back door. This about waist height. Last year we discovered several growing from between cracks (our house needs repointing), again at a good height, but these were purple flowers. This plant HAS to officially be a wild flower (aka 'weed'), and perhaps (in some instances) we are lucky in that we can find them growing so easily in our gardens.
Another flower that seems to 'self-set' is the red valerian. We had a lot growing in our garden in Leeds, and quite an amount seems to be growing along the side of our drive where the wall meets the ground. Looks pretty enough when in flower, so we leave it there.

In our greenhouse this year, a plant had begun to grow from a crack in the ground behind my chair, and not sure what it was, decided to let it keep growing. This week it had reached the roof, and had begun to flower, so needed uprooting. It was obviously a weed (looked like a type of groundsel), but as its sister was growing by an outside corner of the greenhouse, still fairly protected and in full sun (when we have sun) at the same stage of growth it was easy to see the difference between the two. The 'naturally grown' weed was no more than 18" high. The 'greenhouse grown' was over 6 feet tall . So it seems that little bit of extra warmth and protection CAN make a huge amount of difference.
It's interesting that practically all the wild flowers that we call 'weeds' are never nibbled by slugs. Perhaps they have evolved to have some natural deterrent in their genes. Wish I knew the secret. Whatever it is, they are hardy enough to keep on growing when the time/season is right without anything getting in their way at all.

Moving back into my comfort zone (the kitchen and all it contains), my thoughts go to 'what can I make/freeze today?). Am waiting for Tesco's delivery before I start my Sticky Toffee Puds as had run out of dates, and it probably won't be until this afternoon that I begin my full cooking marathon as firstly all the deliveries need to be put away. Don't think I'll be watching much afternoon TV this week as hope to be busy, busy in the kitchen, and next week Gill will be here, so that rules out TV (other than the soaps which Gill HAS to watch).
What will I do when the freezers are full? Keep shoving food into B's mouth to get rid of it so I can cook some more I suppose. Am sure these next six to nine months he will be a happy bunny as far as his appetite is concerned.
All I have to do now is make sure all the food goes as far as possible. Which shouldn't be difficult as this is the sort of challenge I enjoy.

When reading about milk in the trade mag, was surprised to see how the trend is going there. As far as I'm concerned, milk comes from a cow, and other than we are able to buy the really creamy Channel Island milk, the less rich 'full-cream' milk, then down through the semi- and then skimmed milk and other variants, thought that was about it. But not so. M & S have come up with a 'healthier' milk that contains 6% less satfat (is that supermarket speak for 'saturated fats'?) than their current milk, due to amending their animal feed specs, asking dairy farmers to use seeds oils instead of palm oil.

In other articles over the weeks have read about 'filtered' milk on sale. What is that? Aso reading through the list of the different types of milk on sale in the supermarket there are umpteen variations. For goodness sake, why bother with so many? Are we never satisfied with what is - after all - the most natural food on the market? If they didn't homogenise milk these days, we could - as I used to do in the past - siphon the cream from the top to make our own sem-skimmed milk (this cream lovely used as 'pouring cream'), if necessary topping up the milk bottle with water to bring it back to a full pint.
Even when it comes to milk products sometimes feel we are going a step too far when I read human milk is being made into cheese (and sold). Do know that some hippy groups actually do cook, serve and eat human placenta after one or other of the commune has given birth.
Who knows - in the future - We may (as animal 'protein' in our own right) find parts of ourselves being able to be sold (for a good price of course) to top restaurants who seek to serve more and more innovative dishes.

Noticed that a new 'female-friendly' lager is being launched. Personally, myself am perfectly happy occasionally drinking one of B's cans (after being poured in a glass, having never got the hang of drinking straight from the can). Don't drink it often, but when I do normally as a chilled drink with a curry or on a very hot day.
Apparently there is too much 'fizz' in a man's lager for 'the females' as the fizz causes bloating and ladies don't like that. If THAT fussy (and probably best done at home) either stir the lager when in the glass - that gets rid of a lot of the gas quite rapidly - or open the can/bottle and leave it to stand for a while (or in the fridge overnight) when most of the gas will have disappeared and it ends up nearly flat. OR (and you need to be outside to do this and stand well away from anyone) give the can a good shake and open it immediately, pointing the opening away from you. Cheapest way to get 'lady-strength' fairly-flat lager.

Keep forgetting that ladies these days go out to pubs/hotels/clubs to 'have a drink'. B does have a drink at his weekly 'sailing social', but when 'eating out', myself always have a glass of water with my meal (requesting tap water - am not paying over the odds for the bottled stuff). B usually has a lager.
When I worked as barmaid, drinks were cheap enough (think draught beer was 11d a pint in those days (that's less than one shilling).
Nowadays, watching the 'soaps' and people spending loadsa money buying a round for their friends, wonder how on earth anyone can afford to do this in this time of recession (for that matter how can Chesney manage to feed his dog - a Great Dane - when he doesn't often earn enough money to feed himself and pregnant partner?). Certainly - when we have less money to spend - drinking alcohol should be curtailed if not cut out altogether. Anway, it is far cheaper to make our own wine, beer and alcohol than buy it ready-served.
Same could be said of cigarette smoking I suppose. But if (and only if) people can still afford these 'vices', then they are free to spend (won't call it waste) their money in any way they wish.

Yes, I too waste money, but at the moment can't think on what, other than having Norma to do my hair (mainly because I can't do the back myself), and buying the occasional cookery/trade/gardening mag or book. None of which are 'essential', but where I can make them 'work for their living' I always do. My one weakness is potato crisps. Have asked B not to bring me them any more (even when I plead) as they are not good for me and far too expensive for the few in the bag. But do love having a crunch. Did read somewhere that the brain enjoys the sensation of the 'crunch' and think this is another way to get that 'feel-good' feeling. Unfortunately crunching on celery does not give me the same thrill.

Time has moved on, so must close now as Tesco delivery will soon be due. Must first reply to your comments (although seem to have mislaid one of my 'reply scribbles' - sorry if your name is not mentioned).
Glad, Urbanfarmgirl,that you are finding that sharing our thoughts via this blog is encouraging. Let us hope others feel the same.
Bet your old Kenwood Chef Alison, is the same as one we used to have. It was white with pale blue trim. Must have used it constantly for many, many years before the motor burned out. The original mixing bowl was ceramic and broke (as it would) when dropped onto the stone floor. Managed to get a replacement plastic one and also a stainless steel one - and these I still have.
Am SURE there was a comment from Kathryn, and I think from Wen, but am afraid it will now be tomorrow before I have time to re-read and reply. Have to dash - and will meet up with as many of you as possible tomorrow. See you then.