Thursday, August 11, 2011

Some Like It Hot!

Not sure if everyone had rain yesterday, but we certainly did - and it's still raining. Cannot believe it is August. More like winter. Yesterday afternoon had to wrap myself up in my cuddle blanket with a hot water bottle to stop shivering, despite wearing an extra long-sleeved jersey. We never felt the cold in the 'old days' when it was even colder, but then we wore jumpers made of pure wool. Man-made acrylics are nowhere near as cosy. A bit more 'progress' that has removed some of the comfort from our life.

Alhough I've already got two hot-water bottles, think I'll buy another, then with one under my feet, one behind the small of my back, and one on my lap, plus my cuddle blanket wrapped round me - could probably manage to keep warm until Christmas without having to put the central heating on (or cut down the time and temperature). It really is true - keep hands and feet warm and the rest of us stays warm. A woollen head covering also keeps the heat in for those with thinning hair.

Watched a programme on the 'Quest' channel last night. It was showing how flour was made from wheat and this really was interesting as to how the different types of grain and flour - starting with semolina, and ending up with strong bread flour, the softer cake flour, and the 'all-purpose flour' (a blend of the two), and the 'leavings' such as wheatgerm, bran etc also used for other culinary purposes, the remaining chaff etc used for animal foodstuffs.

Another part of the programme was showing how parts of a car were put together by computerised 'robots'. Not a human in sight. Then we saw how envelopes were made - again all cut, folded, glued by computerised machines, and this reminded me of many years ago when the first machines pf these types began to be used. There was a great outcry then for fear that this would reduce the need for human workers and so many would lose their jobs. "No fear of that" was the response "everyone would keep their jobs, but be able to work less hours and have more leisure time". Oh, ha ha! Remember the time when we were told that if we chose to 'convert' to using North Sea Gas, this it would then always be cheaper than the other gas (pray tell me how they keep the different gases separate). And nuclear power stations were necessary because then they would produce so much electricity that we would get it for free.

So much now is done by machines and computers that they do the work that thousands (probably millions) of people did before. True they are faster, and although the machines themselves are very expensive to set up, probably not long before they have paid for themselves) and as long as they are maintained (probably need a human to do this) they are ever after 'free' labour.

With more and more machines, more and more people seeking asylum in this country, the recession causing so many shops and both large and small businesses to close, it is not surprising that so many people are now out of work. Yet - much of it can be their fault. There are jobs out there, but nowadays people only wish to work at what they want to do. Why be a cleaner when the pay is less than the benefits? Why work longer hours each day when we don't have to? How can we afford to be so fussy?

So in come folk from abroad to take on all the menial jobs we prefer to avoid, working longer hours and keeping shops open all hours, clean the cloakrooms, harvest crops and whenever possible all the family join in for this way - between them they can earn good money. But of course - seeing anyone work hard and earn money seems to lead to bad feeling. Why should they have it and not us?
The fact that some people are prepared to work hard for a living and often take two jobs to earn enough isn't the British way any more. Work is becoming a dirty word in this country. Time perhaps that benefits were paid only to those who did some sort of work that was given to them. There is enough graffiti around that can be cleaned up, enough litter to be cleaned from beaches and parks. Bring back the old-style dustbins and have those on benefits sorting the rubbish out when it reaches the re-cycling centre instead of us having to deal with up to seven different wheelie bins and containers each week.
At the moment some of this works is done by 'real workers', but this need not put those workers out of a job, they could then be the 'overseers'.

Although I'm not into war games, the recent riots have ALMOST made me feel all these yobbos should rounded up, made to join the army and taught to fight for their country instead of destroying it. Then send them off to Afghanistan and let our good men return home.

Must add that I'm not saying everyone on benefits is a scrounger. We know many have the will to work but for one reason or another cannot. But we hear about the many who have never worked, and plan to never work as long as they can get away with it. Having another baby to add to an already big family is one way. Or don't have a baby at all and just get 'the benefits' to believe you have is another way. Feigning an illness/disablity is very common.

Blame the weather for my outburst. Am just getting fed up with the way we Brits have gone downhill since I was a 'gel'. Where has our pride gone? With the past few days of rampaging thugs, B said it is time to read the Riot Act. I thought that was just an expression, but it isn't, there really is an Act of this name. Apparently in the past when people rioted (and on a much smaller scale than recently), a Riot Act was read out in public and this gave those in power freedom to control the situation in any way they wished. Not sure if there has been more rioting since yesterday (haven't seen the news today), but if so then the Riot Act should be read out NOW!

Having heard that one rioter is (probably not now after the event) an assistant teacher in a primary school was a bit of a shock. Others were students (Are they short of somethint to holidays' then? Why not use the time to study?). Wasn't one of those terrorists who caused carnage in London (or somewhere) a teacher in a primary school? Are we becoming another Sodom and Gomorrah, or fast approaching Armageddon? Perhaps the Aztecs (Inca's?) were right when they were able to see no further than 2012. Well, myself feel that if things get worse, probably would be a good idea to have a good 'clear out' of most of the human race' and start all over again.

But we live in the real word, not one of fantasies and we have to learn to live with what others have done with it. Most of us still fortunate to be able to improve our lot, even if only within our personal and family life. My belief has always been that there is nothing like good food to give a feeling of well-being, so let's begin with that.

Yesterday - due to the chill in the air - made a beef casserole for supper. B said it was wonderful (it wasn't THAT good), but had some myself and it certainly warmed the parts that other foods never reach. There wasn't a lot of meat used (some shin beef previously cooked in the slow-cooker, with carrots, onions, celery and parsnips, plus some rich home-made beef stock) and all the meat was left for B after I'd taken my share of the veggies plus half the 'gravy' which had enough beef flavour for me to believe there was meat anyway.

It's worth knowing this - a really good rich beef stock can take the place of meat in a casserole if needs be. The way I make this is to cook some stewing beef in a slow cooker with some water and onion. Then cook more meat in the same liquid. As you know I sometimes buy a 'braising' pack of meat when on offer from Donald Russell, so - after thawing out the shin, beef-rib trim, stewing steak, braising steak, ox-cheek etc (or whatever is in the offer) - then put as much as my slow cooker will take with some onion and water, and cook on Low in my slow cooker over night or as long as it takes to become very tender. After removing the meat and packing away with a little of the 'gravy', add some of the other meats to the liquid and cook that. Continuing until all the different cuts of beef have been cooked in the same liquid', by which time this almost stands up on its own due to the meat fibres floating around in it.
If there is only cook one type of meat that can be cooked, would then freeze the stock to later thaw, then boiled it thoroughly (just to be on the safe side) put outback in the slow cooker with more meat until that too has been cooked to tender. And so on. Using a very rich meat 'stock/gravy' is a way to add meat flavour to a casserole without having to include meat in the normal way. And - of course - it works out cheaper.

Spicy dishes are also warming, and it may seem odd that people in very hot countries traditionally eat every hot and spicy foods - but this is because the the spices can heat our bodies so we begin to perspire, and the evaporation of sweat is nature's way of cooling us down. This works well in hot climates. In the cold climates we too can gain much needed warmth by adding a few spices to a dish, and the chillier the weather the less need to perspire, so our warmth comes internally.
Certainly cheaper than turning up the central heating. So here are some suggestions to warm us up and - because they are 'meat-free' are also much cheaper to make than similar recipes that contain meat.

Here is one dish that can be as mild or hot as you wish - just choose the curry paste with the 'heat' you need at that time. Made with eggs, it has plenty of protein, the rest of the ingredients are what I hope we normally have. If not, why not?
Serve with mango chutney and a carbohydrate such as rice or naan bread/chapatis. No need to serve more than one type of carbo as it is a waste of money doing so.
Hot as You Please Egg Curry: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 onions, medium or large, thinly sliced
2 heaped tblsp curry paste of your choice
1 x 230g can chopped tomatoes
7 fl oz (200ml) water
6 - 8 hard-boiled eggs
5 oz (150g) frozen peas
4 tblsp Greek yogurt
Using a large frying pan, add the oil and fry the onion for 10 minutes until turning golden, then stir in the curry paste and continue stir-frying for a couple more minutes. Add the tomatoes and water and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer - uncovered - for 20 minutes, adding a very little more water if the mixture is becoming too thick. Stir in the peas, cook for 3 minutes, then stir in the yogurt. Halve the shelled eggs, and lay them on the curry sauce, spooning the sauce over the top. Serve immediately with mango chutney, rice or naan bread.

This mild curry dish is made with cheese. Traditionally the Indian 'paneer' cheese (easily made at home - recipe on the Internet- also sold in supermarkets), but another 'easily melted' cheese could be used instead. Try mozzarella or creamy Lancashire.
Cheese Curry: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 x 227g pack Paneer cheese, torn into chunks
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tblsp mild curry paste (Korma etc)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 lb (450g) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
half pint (300ml) vegetable stock
9 oz (250g) frozen peas
salt and pepper
Heat half the oil in a frying pan and fry the cheese for 2 - 3 minutes, until golden on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in kitchen paper. Set aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan, heat then add the onions and fry for 4 - 5 minutes until softened and just beginning to brown, then stir in the curry paste and garlic. Fry for a further 2 minutes, then add the potatoes, tomatoes, stock and cheese, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the peas, bring back to the boil and simmer for a further 3 - 5 minutes (or until the peas are tender). Season to taste then serve immediately with boiled or steamed rice.

A recipe for a curry that can use up oddments in the veggie rack is always a good one to have. This one is a bit unusual in that the main ingredients are butternut squash and apple. Myself always find I rarely use all of a butternut at any one time, and although this can be used in many dishes, a curry has not always been at the front of my mind.
Apples too can languish in my fruit bowl, as apart from pies, crumbles, apple sauce and apple cake, it is good to find a savoury recipe where they can be used.
Serve this with warm bread for dunking into the curry sauce, makes a pleasant change to rice and far cheaper.
Butternut and Apple Curry: serves 4 - 6
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp mild curry paste
1 tblsp turmeric
1" (2.5cm) piece of ginger root, grated
1lb (450g) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 lbs (1kg) potatoes, cubed
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, diced
3 bay leaves
18 fl oz (500ml) vegetable stock
2 oz (50g) raisins or sultanas
salt and pepper
4 tblsp creme fraiche, sour cream or Greek yogurt
Fry the onion in the oil for five minutes until golden, then stir in the curry paste, garlic, and ginger. Cook for 2 minutes then add the butternut, potatoes, apples, and bay leaves. Pour in the stock, stir in the raisins and plenty of seasoning to taste. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, giving an occasional stir. When the vegetables are tender, spoon into individual serving bowls and top with a spoon of creme fraiche (or other) and a pinch of turmeric. Serve with chunks of warm bread (or rice if you prefer).

It doesn't have to be a spicy dish to keep us warm, a casserole of carbo-rich vegetables is also warming (which is why nature has provided these for us during the winter months ). Pulses (beans) too are high in both carbos and vegetable protein, so here are a couple of dishes that you will find both warming and tasty.
No need to keep to the veggies as given, choose other root vegetables if you prefer, such as turnips or swedes, sweet potatoes or Jerusalem artichokes. Carrot are almost obligatory (for colour and sweetness) and myself would include onions.
If you haven't Gruyere in the fridge (and few of us have) use another finely grated hard cheese such as Red Leicester or Cheddar. Creamy Lancashire also melts fairly easily.
Layered Vegetable Bake: serves 6
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp fresh thyme leaves
3 oz (75g) Gruyere cheese, grated
salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs (700g) waxy potatoes, peeled
8 oz (225g) celeriac, peeled
1 lb (450g) carrots
1 lb (450g) parsnips, peeled (and cored if large)
Use 1 oz (25g) of the butter to grease an 8" (20cm) solid (not loose-bottomed) cake tin, then mash the remaining butter with the lemon zest, garlic, thyme and cheese, adding seasoning to taste.
Slice all the vegetables as thinly as possible, then begin by layering them into the tin, beginning with one third of the potatoes, followed by a third of the other veggies in order, dotting layer with a bit of the flavoured butter before repeating the layers. Finish with a good grind of black pepper and dots of butter on the top.
Cover the container with kitchen foil and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake for a further 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Leave to stand in the tin for five minutes before turning out onto a plate, then place a warm serving dish over this and invert so that the crispy side ends up on top. Serve with a vegetable gravy, or - if you prefer - a good rich meat gravy.

Final dish today is another spicy. A chilli but made without meat. Who needs meat when it comes to chilli con carne? All we can really taste are the beans and the heat! So this recipe is perfect for the chilli lovers and those who wish to keep their purses padlocked. Although a vegetarian dish, no reason why a rich meat stock could not be used instead of the one suggested.
If you have a microwave at work, this would be a good lunch-box dish to heat, eat and enjoy during your mid-day break. Instead of rice, eat with crusty bread or tortilla chips.
Veggie-Bean Chilli: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 tsp caster sugar
8 oz (225g) chestnut mushrooms, chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, sliced or crushed
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 - 2 tsp hot chilli pepper sauce (or to taste)
half pint (300ml) vegetable stock
1 x 410 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 x 410 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and sugar and stir-fry over high heat until the onions are golden brown. Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, chilli powder and coriander and fry for a further 2 minutes.
Add the pepper sauce, stock, chickpeas and red beans and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add more stock if the mixture is becoming too thick. Add seasoning if necessary, and serve with boiled rice, pasta noodles, or crusty bread.

Even writing about these warming dishes is beginning to comfort me. Perhaps many of our problems are caused by the mind rather than the actuality. Do know that when watching a programme filmed in the Arctic regions it makes me feel cold. On a cool day I can even shiver. On a really hot day find the sight of snow and ice very refreshing. And vice versa.
It was for this reason I always changed to using warmer colours around the house during the winter. Cooler colours in the summer, and it really worked. Even something as daft as using pale green loo paper gave a 'summery feel', changing to a deeper cream or pink during the winter.
Summer sheets would be pale blue or white. In winter would be orange, or deep pink and then usually the brushed 'winceyette' type to give the feeling of more warmth.
Cushions in the living room were given home-made covers that had cooler colours on one side, and hot colours on the other, so all that needed doing was to turn them round once the days began to get chilly. Warm coloured lampshades on the table-lamps threw out warmer colours, and painting light bulbs with pink or red nail enamel helped throw a warmer light into the room. We can do a lot with colour to make our minds believe something is not what it really is. This even applies to food, for faced with anything coloured blue, we would try to avoid eating it (cake icing being about the only one blue thing we are prepared to eat). This is probably because blue is the colour of food that has gone mouldy, so a natural instinct to avoid it.

Have mentioned before, but worth a repeat for newer readers. I once laid a table of 'home-mades' for my young children to sample. There were jellies, mousses, cakes, scones, biscuits, ice-cream, soft drinks... all tasting wonderful and the idea was they would be blindfolded before coming into the room, and then they had to tell me what it was they were eating. They demolished the lot with great relish (except one bit of each I had put by to show them afterwards). Once the blindfolds were removed they saw my 'samples and realised that all the food they had eaten and drunk was blue and to see the horror on their faces (they were all nearly sick on the spot), was quite something.
My friend Gill once made a loaf of bread using dough that had been coloured. One third she left white, another third coloured red, the last coloured blue. This to celebrate some royal (or British) occasion (being the colours of our national flag). D'you know, I had great difficulty eating it, even picking out the blue (to me 'mouldy' bits). Shows how colour can have an effect on our lives, even subconsciously. We say we are 'feeling blue' when sad. 'In the pink' when well. A 'brown study' when deep in thought', and 'green with envy'. We can be 'white with anger' or - conversely- 'in a black mood', and sometimes 'purple with rage'. Too long in the sun we become 'red as a beetroot', and however much yellow is associated with good things like sunlight, daffodils and spring, we associate this colour with cowardice.

All I wish for is to find the pot of gold at the end of any rainbow. Mind you - Ernie came up trumps again yesterday, that is the fifth £25 I've received since I bought the Bonds towards the end of last year. Looks like already will end this year better off than if the money had been left in my bank who NOW pays only 0.05% interest in my 'High Interest Savings Account". If that's High Interest, then what's low?
Premium Bonds are a gamble. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been, so I give thanks. Perhaps - because of the recession, many people are having to withdraw the money they invested in the Bonds, so that means less numbers for Ernie to choose from. Normally would like my winnings to go to charity, but with the rise in fuel and food prices think now I'd better hang on to them to see if - as the saying goes - 'charity begins at home', as have a feeling our home will soon be in need of it.

Beloved has chosen chilli con carne for supper (already have a meat-based home-c00ked on in the freezer and all I need do is make some tacos to eat with it). Might make myself a few dips to eat with some crudites and tacos. That's supper sorted!

It's so wintery that I feel almost as though summer has been and gone and autumn will not even bother to turn up. The best we can hope for is 'an Indian summer', but not banking on that. Have a feeling that for the next few months (if not years) we have to gird our loins, tighten our belts, and maybe even end up crocheting spaghetti into a scarf to keep ourselves warm.

Yet - remembering other 'recessions' and also hearing about a worse one that happened just before I was born, we still have much to be thankful for at this present time. Believe me, it could be a great deal worse. It's just that most of the younger folk have never had to 'do without' in the way our parents did, who managed to cope without the discontent that this causes today. They just accepted the situation and got on with life. Swings and roundabouts, rise and fall, ups and downs. This is what life is all about. We can't have one without the other. So think positive - if we are going down now, sooner or later we will rise again out of the ashes. Just like the phoenix. In the meantime intend working through my deprivations because it is these challenges that give me the most pleasure. Am I mad or what? Definitely eccentric. Who cares as long as I enjoy doing it?
Hope you do to.

Until tomorrow - with the hope you will still be joining me for our usual chat. See you then.