Sunday, August 07, 2011

Cleaning Up Our Act

A welcome to Ted and Bunny (two names, one person). Group hugs from us all. Took a quick look at her sight to she what's she's made of, and I am now deeply green with envy. Such wonderful photographs. Noting a little pic of some cotton reels on sale on eBay made me feel a bit better as I have a loads of these (yes, all on wooden reels, some never used) because B used to work for Sylko and as ever, brought me back boxes of freebies. Also have linen covered buttons still on their cards and other 'old' sewing accessories. How we took things like that for granted never realising that all might be worth more than a bob or two today. Better hang onto them.

Speaking of photos. Was intending to take one the other day to put on the blog - but when I switched on it came up as 'need new batteries', and I'd only taken one shot since the last time new ones were put in. Can batteries run down in cameras even if they are not used? Or do they last longer if used regularly? From now on will put batteries in when intending to take photos, and remove them afterwards in the hope this will make them last longer.

As to your chocolate mint Wen. The leaves can be used for cooking in the same way as ordinary mint, and I've read that a couple or so dropped in a cup of coffee or hot chocolate adds a lovely flavour. The leaves can also be tucked into a jar of sugar in the same way as vanilla pods.
It appears the aroma of the plant can disappear slightly (or completely) according to how it is grown. Suggestions are to keep pinching the plant out so that new leaves appear (which may have more scent), and also grow it in full sun. Certainly my two pots of mint (the same type) do taste/smell slightly different, one growing outdoors, the other in the conservatory. The outdoor one being better.
Incidentally, make sure that it is a true edible mint you have Wen, as there are more than one plant that has the name 'chocolate mint' given to it - coleus being one. Think cosmos is another, but the leaves are quite different to the mints which - apart from flavours - the leaves all look much alike.

Yesterday spent a few happy minutes cutting back both of my mints, stripping the leaves and then blitzing them down in my mini-chopper. A pint of leaves went right down to barely an eggcupful once finely chopped, but managed to fill four ice-cube tray sections with them plus a little boiled water to hold them together, and once frozen (then thawed) they will come out almost as fresh flavoured as when just picked.
With the bit then between my teeth, went and pruned down the small-leafed basil that was growing fast, blitzed this down and then mixed it into some tomato paste. This paste came from a small tin, but even so was enough to fill six ice-cube sections (two plain tom paste, four with tom and basil).

Decanted some dates from packets into a larger container, and 'other things' into large empty coffee jars that I save. These always look so good lined up side by side on my larder shelves. Sometimes feel that the food on my shelves is there just to be decorative than use. You wouldn't believe how satisfying it is for me to sit in there and admire it (and yes, do have a chair in there for this purpose). As soon as a gap appears, jars and cans are re-arranged to fill the space. Perhaps I should take my easel in there and paint what I see. Then once hung on the wall I can look at the picture instead and start using the food!

Beloved had his liver, bacon, potatoes and cabbage yesterday. I used the fat saved from the belly pork to fry off the cabbage and potatoes instead of using sunflower oil. Yes, I know this is not the healthiest option, but B loves his meals 'greasy', the greasier the better, and as this has not yet harmed his cholesterol level, I keep giving into him. How on earth anyone can work their way through more than 1 lb butter, a bowl of beef dripping, and 'greasy' meals in less than a week and still keep a low cholesterol count I find unbelievable. To keep my level down I have to avoid all fats (other than the Benecol type), and still find it a battle.

Was happy as Larry to read that Lynn is a pagan, for we now have something in common as I went down that road myself in my eternal search for the true meaning of life. Have to say that had I continued would certainly have ended up as a white witch for the few spells I learned actually worked. This I felt was dangerous, so decided to walk down a more moderate path. Maybe paganism isn't to do with witchcraft, but the two can make good bedfellows, there is a lot more to nature than meets the eye.

One final word on the vegan way of life. Honestly my last word/s. Noticed on their website that vegan pet food can be bought. This horrified me, mainly because although we are free to treat our own bodies to any foodie regime we like, and just because we believe it is the right one for us, this doesn't mean it should be forced onto others that have no say in the matter. Whilst understanding why people are vegetarians or vegans, or refuse to eat pork, or drink alcohol or take anything that contains caffeine, this should always be is a personal choice. To deprive carnivores of their natural foods (meat etc) is what could be considered downright cruelty. Why can't our pets have as much freedom of choice as to what they eat as we do? What one man's meat is another man's poison can work both ways.

I was mightily relieved to read that (so far) no baby formula is on sale that is 'vegan-approved'. That should surely tell us something. However, this seems to prove that if it was available, then personal choice will end up going beyond the self. Even a religion allows a child to grow up to know its own mind before being expected to fully 'join the community'. If we decide to opt out of the rat race of conformity we should still be able to 'live and let live'. By all means guide, but eventually allow everyone to (eventually) have a choice. I've attached myself to more than one religion who absolutely forbade the eating or drinking of certain foods and got thrown out because I disagreed with this (I'm not giving up a tea or coffee unless God himself tells me to). So you may now understand my reluctance to accept that dogs should be fed 'unnaturally'. Obviously a difficult decision for anyone to make when a belief is strong, and when it comes to food, there truly are enough good foods for us all to eat and drink without depriving us of 'the necessary'. But just had to sling one more spanner into the works, and when it comes to certain things do tend to be a bit like a dog worrying with a bone, always asking Why, why, why? But promise this will be the end of this particular 'topic'.

The trade mag this week was was not very interesting. Mainly to do with 'men's products', and 'cleaning products', and a lot about fish. But there were a few interesting articles, and not all about food...
Apparently "these tricky economic times are helping producers to clean up as consumers eschew going out in favour of entertaining at home, with all the accompanying housework it entails.....The promise of visitors encourage the least houseproud resident to have a go at making their surfaces it's the products that deliver on the promise of multi-tasking that tend to draw the attention of many."
"As the trend for in-home entertaining and dining continues, so does the desires for many people's homes to be clean and fresh smelling."

In other words, the money saved by not 'eating out' is now going on cleaning products. The manufacturer of cleaning products must be laughing all the way to the bank. They point out that "People are spending more leisure time at home but are so busy that there is less time to spend cleaning. So convenient products that are quick and easy to use (such as a floor mop that has a clever built-in wringing system to save time and effort) will create growth in this category."

There was a 26 page supplement with the trade mag all about 'Household, Laundry and Paper' products, and it does seem that these are on the up when it comes to consumer use, but depressing to read when again it seems the recession - having changed our lifestyles to some extent - has given manufacturers the chance to provide us with more things we are made to believe we need.

An interesting article about the way we shop today. "Food volumes have been down in six of the last seven months - something that is pretty much unprecedented in recent decades, never mind years. When households cut the number of food units they are buying that is a clear sign of shopper distress." Yippee! So they've noticed!

Seems our shopping during this recession differs from previous ones in that we are not turning to buying lower priced brands, but this time reducing the amount we buy rather than changing to a lower quality. Many retail outlets are now benefiting from their customers changing to 'eating-in' rather than 'eating-out', but still wishing to eat good food, "and behaviour of this kind has spawned 'dine-in' deals from the trade." They never miss a trick, do they?

One interesting point made was "this neutral outcome in terms of basket value mix has also been supported by huge promotional participation (given as 40%) in which branded players are participating. For good reason - if consumers only bought cheap items, it would be calamitous for most of the trade".
It would be such fun for us all to now buy only the cheaper own-brands just to see what would happen then. Could it be we consumers have a lot more power to our elbow than we think? Seems to be the case.

A new range of noodle soups are appearing on Asda's shelves (other retailers later this year). These being "designed to attract younger women to the soup and noodle snacks" (more and more that dreaded word 'snack' keeps cropping up. This also targets "busy professionals seeking 'adventurous and convenient' lunchtime products". Sort of an up-market Pot Noodle I suppose, this new range being in 'take-away American style' cartons containing a block of noodles and a sachet of seasoning, to be mixed with boiling water before being eaten with a 'spork' (provided).
Despite the 'convenience' of the whole thing, the range of Chicken, Chilli Beef and Hot and Sour flavours plus the attractive pack is almost tempting ME. Yet the article goes on to say "the target market might be put off by the budget price'"...."and the cheap price contrasts with the snazzy packaging and suggests a low-quality recipe". Well, excuse me, but at £1 pack, you call that CHEAP? Many readers of this blog I KNOW could make a good meal to serve four for less than that.

Another article mentions the launch of a brand of cigarette targeted at women. This is the UK's first 'super-slim' brand in the value-priced cigarette section and available in standard and menthol 20 packs, priced at £6.16p. At first I thought this must mean 20 packs for that price, but working it out almost certainly this seems the price paid for just 20 super-thin ciggies. That makes each approx 31p EACH!!! The saying "You've got money to burn" comes to mind. On the other hand suppose it's not a lot different in price smoking one ciggie to scoffing a bag of crisps. Neither do us any good anyway. All I can say is 'Thank goodness neither I nor my Beloved smoke". But as ever, everyone has freedom to spend their money in any way they wish. It's memories of seeing TV documentaries about women who tell us they haven't enough money to feed their children, whilst both Pa and Ma are puffing away on their cigarettes as they speak - the children watching a plasma TV at the time.

Do remember my Dad (a chain smoker from the age of 14) having to make his own tobacco during war-time. He dried the leaves of the tobacco plants he grew, and - after shredding them - mixing them with the little tobacco he was able to get over the counter, then 'roll his own'. Seemed to keep him happy then, so if you can't give up, then at least 'grow your own' ciggies.

There's been quite a bit written about bacon, both in the newspapers and now a letter in the trade mag. Have to agree that the flavour today is nothing as good as it was in my mother's day, but when it comes to buying 'quality bacon' these days have myself never found one that is satisfactory. We have tried 'Gloucester Old Spot' and various other UK quality bacon, and always found it cooks 'dry', and ends up rather 'chewy'. The only bacon that hits the spot with us is Tesco's own brand of smoked streaky. Possibly it does contain water (it does sizzle a bit when frying), but ends up both beautifully crisp but still softly crunchy, also very tasty. Seems quality is in the eye (or should it be mouth?) of the beholder/consumer.

According to the trade mag, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has now accepted Tesco as far as their fish sales go (he was very anti them when it came to selling battery hens). We will hear more about this in his one-off special "Hugh's Fish Fight' which is on our screens tomorrow (Monday) I believe. Not sure which channel.

Seems chefs and their campaigns sometimes work, sometimes don't. Remember Delia bringing cranberries to our attention? - the sales rocketed the following week. Heston Blumenthal's Orange Stuffed Christmas Pudding went the same route. Sold out within days.
Jamie Oliver did well getting schools to ditch Turkey Twizzlers and improve school dinners. Hugh F-W called for a ban on (fish?) discards. Got his wish and a BAFTA as well.
Gordon Ramsay's call for laws to ensure that produce was only used in season 'sank without trace', and the jury's out about the current plea by Marco Pierre White to persuade us all that turkey's not just for Christmas.
Oh, if only I had enough gravitas (hope that is the right word - it sounds good anyway) to get people to change their ways and become more self-sufficient, self-reliant and all that goes with it.

Saw an ad on an Internet site. The words 'Grow Your Own magazine' immediately catching my attention. Of course it was encouraging us to subscribe to the mag, but very disappointed it didn't mean what it appeared to say. Wouldn't life be wonderful if we could grow our own holiday, or grow our own car? Possibly we might (in the future) be able to grow our own fuel. If we had electric cars and solar panels or something we could possibly end up getting 'free' energy to run our car.
My mind now turns to those static bicycles used in gyms (also in homes for exercise purposes), surely they could be wired up to a battery or something so that the energy created when cycling on them can be stored and used in some way? Just think - if the country decides to make fuel cuts, we might see whole families sitting in front of computers or TVs feverishly pedalling away so their equipment still works. Myself would be strapping B to a stationary cycle in front of the fridge/freezer to keep it working. Myself taking a turn now and then.

Finishing later than intended due to Gill phoning me (as she does each Sunday morning at 9.00) for her hour-long call. Apologies for keeping you waiting. Hope you enjoy what is left of your day. Very windy here, but the sun keep appearing through a rather cloudy sky. There is still hope for a sit outside to top up even more of my tan. Otherwise will carry on cooking. Hope to meet up with you all again tomorrow. TTFN.