Monday, August 08, 2011

Whatever The Weather...

Another windy, cloudy and chilly day has dawned. Similar to yesterday, although we did get some sun later in the afternoon, but it is more like winter at the moment. What unstable weather we do get in Britain.
At one time used to have a book about our weather giving records from 220 - 1977 and have to say considering past times we are getting it quite balmy. It was not usual for us to have several years in succession without a peep from the sun, and winters that only the Arctic seem to have now. Other years were bone dry with wall to wall sun during the summer and drought during the winter.

Think it was only a hundred or so years ago that the Thames was frozen over so solid that they could hold fairs on it, and I've read of people on the Eastern side of this country skating to work on the Fens from one place to another. Other times there have been horrendous thunderstorms and times when hail as large as golf balls fell to the ground.
In my own life-time remember winters when it snowed over several weeks AND the snow lay on the ground for a long time. Huge big flakes of snow too - not like the sifted icing sugar type we seem to get today. We remember driving to Leeds on Easter Sunday (1969) to view the house we ended up living in and there wer piles of snow at the sides of the road (that had been shovelled from the pavements) still solidly frozen. After that we had many weeks of solid sun and it only began to rain the day we moved (well, it would choose that day wouldn't it). And kept raining and raining.
There were memorably bad coastal floods in the early 1950's and also - usually about once every 11 years due to sunspots and I hope I'll live long enough for the next one) we had wall to wall sunshine that lasted from early spring all through the summer until autumn. We also seemed able to plan our holidays to coincide with good weather weeks. Now it seems that only during April can we be sure of a week or two of solid sunshine and the rest of the time is it completely unpredictable, although our winters now seem to be returning to what I consider to be small-scale 'normal', even though the nation now seems unable to cope with more than an inch of snow at any one time. We managed well enough when waist deep in it before, why can't we manage now?
Certainly we never seem to get such bad weather as our ancestors (and they with no central heating or fridges remember!). So be glad of what we have to put up with.

My 'weather book' was lent to the weather man at Radio Leeds on the strict understanding that he returned it to me. Which of course he never did, but if anyone is interested in reading this, I checked on the Internet and see that although now out of print it can be obtained from the libraries, and Amazon have it for sale from 50p a copy.
As originally written as a record for the interest of farmers, it is called 'Agricultural Records' by J.M. Stratton. the ISBN number of the 220-1968 edition is 0212970224. There is a later edition that gives the weather up to 1977, but as most of know what the weather has been since then, no real need to read about the more recent years.
I personally found the book fascinating and may well buy myself another copy. The very early years cover no more than one or two days of each decade (if that) but as time goes on more and more dates appear, until almost all are consecutive AND dated, so it is fun to look up and find out what the weather was like 'this day in 1736' for instance. As so often happens a bad day then could be quite good now - even when it is cold and chilly and cloudy like today. With the Great British Weather, things have always been worse.

As I may have mentioned recently, it has now been weeks and weeks since I had an allergy 'flare-up' when my face swelled up to enormous proportions around the mouth, lips and cheeks. Yesterday - to my great suprise - it returned, but having had a bowl of cuppa soup for lunch - which I've not had for weeks and weeks and weeks, put the cause down to that. In the past used to drink' cuppa soups for lunch regularly, and maybe it was just one variety that causes the problem, but more likely it is the additives and preservatives that my body is telling me that it has had enough of.
Luckily, this time it has not been so bad that I couldn't drink except using a straw, and the last few attacks have been spaced much further apart (they used to be once every 16 or so days), so am keeping my fingers crossed that - with great care what I now eat and drink - the facial swelling will eventually disappear altogether.

Am telling you this because its very windy and that makes me bad-tempered. My hamster-face (still swollen) makes me fed up, so am starting the day feeling rather cross. However, will try not to moan and hope to eventually put a smile on your face.

Will start by replying to comments. Thanks to those mentioning feeding pets a veggie diet. After my outburst yesterday, and too late to add to my blog, it crossed my mind that any sensible cat or dog was perfectly able to go out and catch birds, mice, and eat road-kill if it felt its diet was lacking, so why should I be so concerned? I've seen a vegan fed dog devouring (as if it was starving) a carton of raw eggs it had pinched from a neighbouring doorstep after the milkman left them. Oh dear, there was me promising not to mention the 'v' word again. But just making a point.

Another point I'd like to make is that although I mouth off about all sorts of things, this doesn't mean I'm right. It's just my opinion, and for what it's worth, it probably doesn't mean a lot. Old people do have this way of thinking they know best. Call it experience if you like - because the longer the life the more is learned. Not that any youngster believes what they are told. I never took any notice of my mother. But it turned out what she said was right. We have - I suppose - to learn things the hard way.

So let's see if I can start talking sense. Urbanfarmgirl you have mentioned freezing herbs, and this is a reminder to all readers to get those herbs cut and dried (or frozen) before they are past their best. Myself prefer to chop finely and freeze in a very little water (using ice-cube trays for this purpose) as they thaw out with a much more natural flavour. When drying, the leaves are best left on the stalks when drying, as this seems to hold the flavour for longer n the leaves. Then then - still on the stems - kept in paper bags so a few leaves at a time can be crushed when needed.

Myself seem to manage to keep a fairly good supply of salad leaves throughout the winter growing in our conservatory Mrs. Meaney. But any sunny windowsill would do - and if in front of double-glazed windows, all to the better. If a radiator underneath - better still.
Am trying a new idea, having discovered that a pot of herbs grew really well when placed in the middle of our kitchen table in Leeds. It wasn't in the window, and the room wasn't that warm, but it didn't lean to the light because the light was above it - 24 hours of the day. We always kept our kitchen lights on (two fluorescent) day and night as the police told us to (after we had been burgled twice), and here in Morecambe we have three smaller, similar lights fitted over our units. The corner one (where we keep the kettle, tea, coffee etc) we keep on all night so we can see our way through the kitchen if we have to go in there (am sure B goes in for a mid-night snack as I've heard him move from the bathroom to the kitchen more than once), our kitchen ceiling lights being those tiny ones inset into the ceiling and all 12 come on once the switch is pressed. Waste of energy when the corner light will suffice. In any case the amount of electricity used by a florescent is most when it is switched on. So switching these on and off several times a day uses more fuel than if left on all the time. No doubt Les will inform us if this is the wrong info.

Tried growing a pot plant close by the table lamp in the living room that is always switched on as soon as it gets dusk and the curtains are drawn during the dark days of the year, and this also thrived. At the moment have put the mint and basil cuttings (still with top leaves intact, but lower leaves stripped from the stems) into a sherry glass of water and stood that just under the corner unit light in the kitchen to see if I can get them to grow roots (which they would normally do anyway), and then transplant them and still keep them there under the light (which also throws off some warmth), and see if I can get fresh mint and basil growing throughout the winter. If our light throws off some heat, then why not use it?

Going back to your query Mrs. Meaney. Several salad plants grow better during the winter months than the summer, so you should be able to easily grow lamb's lettuce (aka corn salad), rocket and spinach. Probably cut-and-come again lettuce will grow (most lettuce seeds grow well enough), and perhaps the best selection will come from buying a pack of Mixed Salad Leaves. Although all of these will grow indoors on a sunny windowsill during the winter months, some take longer than others so go for a 'winter-growing' selection.

The one problem with growing in the mushroom containers is that they can either dry out too fast (esp in the warm weather) or get waterlogged (during the colder months). Myself get a pair of scissors and snip the corners off, or stick a knife here and there through the base to allow drainage, then place strips of thick card in the base of a matching container then sit the compost filled container into that. The card holds the top container just clear of the base and any surplus water can drain down into it. Alternatively stand the snipped container on a tray to catch the drips. If a smaller container is put into a larger one (the smaller also standing on something to raise the base), I tend to put the water into the bottom container to slightly above the base of the top one so it can soak up only the amount it needs. It is often easier to see when a plant needs water when you can see the underneath container has none left in.

Yesterday also gave me cause for misery. Well, not really as you know how I like to be poor. It's just that my bank statement arrived showing that last month the outgoings were more than our state pension income by £10. It was only because I was able to put £25 (a win from Ernie - thank you God) into my account that kept it £15 in credit. Do have (of course!) more money in the account that I've been able to save over months of cutting down our expenditure on food, but once the rise in fuel cost hits us (starting this month), goodness knows how long that will last. It is now that I am beginning to feel that I've done the right thing in keeping my larder, Boris our fridge/freezer (and also Maurice our new freezer) well stocked.
Oh, yes of COURSE. Paying for the new freezer took £150 of my money last month, plus more to buy some meat and fish to put in it (all in the cause of keeping my Beloved fed in the way he has been accustomed to). So things are not quite as bad as they seem. Pity that, I was looking forward to being mega-poor for the rest of our future, but am sure our government will make sure we will all be tightening our belts a few more notches quite soon.

The very best way to save money when it comes to food is to serve less meat-based meals and more of the vegetarian. Am not suggesting using a 'meat-substitute' as these can be just as expensive as 'the real thing', but instead using the cheaper pulses which are high in vegetable protein, with - if needs be - eggs and milk served as a pudding to follow. A little grated cheese added to a dish can give a few more 'protein points', so it really is not difficult to get our nourishment in a cheaper form when we start thinking about it.
So here today are some suggestions, and just for once am giving nutritional amounts with each dish so you can make comparisons. Useful if you are on a diet (calories), or watching how much fat you are eating. Salt not given as an amount as we can leave it out if we wish (although it does help to improve the flavours, and - say - quarter of a teaspoon divided amongst 4 people does not work out at very much per head).
The calorie and fat count are based on the ingredients given in the recipe, so if you wish to change these, the count may also change (for better or worse depending). Please note that the metric weights in these recipes are slightly different (higher) than the ones normally used by me.

This first dish is pasta based, and any pasta shape can be used, although the 'bows' (aka farfalle) look the most attractive in this dish. The beans used are the red kidney beans, but a can of mixed (or home-cooked) could be used instead. It is the colour of the red beans that sits well with the white of the pasta, so don't use haricot or other white beans. Own-brand canned beans are really cheap compared to the branded, so when every penny counts, plump for using those. Feta cheese is best but another crumbly cheese could be used (Wensleydale, Lancashire etc).
Feta and Farfalle Salad: serves 4
3 oz (85g) pasta bows (farfalle)
8 oz (250g) canned red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 small bunch spring onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 inch cube Feta cheese, crumbled
8 olives, stones removed
1 1/2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley or basil
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then drain and place in a large bowl, adding the beans, onions, garlic, cheese and olives.
Into a small jug put the oil, lemon juice, chosen herb, and seasoning to taste. Pour over the pasta mixture and toss well.
Can either be served at room temperature or - on a hot day - chill in the fridge and serve cold.
per serving: 199 calories; 8g protein; 8gr fat.

This next dish contains more protein than the recipe above, but this means it is also higher in calories and only a bit higher in fat. You can't expect miracles (even though I do try). A useful recipe in that it eats well either as breakfast dish, or light lunch/supper dish. These 'muffins' can also be made in advance and warmed up in the microwave.
You will probably find four large eggs weigh much the same as five medium ones which might save a few pennies depending upon their source. Mushrooms could be fresh, sliced and doubt this would make much different to their count (might be worth picking up a tin when next in the supermarket and reading the nutritional guide on the back before putting it back - then you'll know whether it is worth using the fresh instead).
'Meal in a Cup: serves 6
4 oz (115g) reduced fat sausages
2 oz (60g) green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 oz (30g) onion, chopped
5 eggs (see above), lightly beaten
4 oz (115g) sliced canned mushrooms, drained
2 oz (60g) reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, grated
Into a non-stick frying pan cook the sausages, onion and pepper over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the sausages are browned, then tip the mixture into a bowl and leave to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile heat the oven to 180C, 350F, gas 4, and coat 6 muffin tins with non-stick spray.
Chop the mushrooms and stir these with the beaten egg into the sausage mixture, then spoon into the prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle the tops with the cheese and bake for 20 minutes or until the egg is set. Serve with a salad or roasted vegetables (the latter adding more fat = calories to the count).
per serving: 141 calories; 13g protein; 10g fat.

Tofu is mainly a vegetarian option to meat, but very useful when it comes to making a more unusual 'smoothie' for adding protein to a 'meat-free' day. The recipe given is a good source of calcium, fruit, vitamins and soya protein (the tofu is soya-based, also soya milk, if used). Any favourite fruit (bananas, peaches, mangos etc)and berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries...)can be used. Silken tofu has a creamier consistency than regular tofu.
Colour me Purple Smoothie: serves one
3 oz (90g) chopped fresh fruit (see above)
2.5 oz (75g) fresh or frozen berries (see above)
2.5 oz (75g) fresh orange juice concentrate
4 oz (115g) silken tofu, drained
8 fl oz (225ml) skimmed milk or fat-free soya milk
Put all the ingredients into a blender/liquidiser and blend until smooth.
per serving: 347 calories; 21g protein; 6g fat.

Another nutritious drink, slightly less in calorie, protein than the above but slightly higher in fat is made using this next recipe. As (most) children love this, makes a perfect substitute to give picky children in place of food they wouldn't eat anyway. Even if you have to use a low-fat yogurt, it may up the fat content slightly but still make a healthy 'meal you can drink'.
It's always worth keeping a few bananas in the freezer as although their skins will turn black their 'innards' remain as they were before being frozen.
Peanut and Banana Shake: serves one
8 oz (225g) fat-free natural yogurt
1 frozen banana
1 tblsp smooth peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp runny honey
half tsp ground cinnamon
Sling the lot in a blender and whizz until smooth, then pour into long glasses and drink with delight.
per serving: 329 calories; 16g protein; 10g fat.

As a lover of spiced sausages am pleased to find a recipe where I can make my own 'meat-less' version of the Mexican 'chorizo'. Vegetarian sausages are used as a base, and I suppose 'real meat' pork sausages could also be used by those who are more carnivorous, but myself am quite happy with this recipe as it stands. Chicken stock could be used instead of the vegetable. The calories per serving are fairly low, and the protein count higher than expected, the fat also not 'that bad'. Have a go at making them and see what you think.
Meatless Chorizo: makes 8 servings
1 lb (500g) vegetarian sausages
half an onion, chopped
14 fl oz (400ml) vegetable stock
1 oz (25g) chilli powder
1 tblsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
half tsp salt or to taste
half tsp paprika pepper
4 fl oz (115ml) red wine vinegar
4 fl oz (115ml) tequila or alcohol free beer
8 peppercorns
6 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Cook the sausages in a non-stick pan as per pkt instructions, then set aside to cool slightly before finely chopping or preferably blitzing in a blender to turn into coarse crumbs.
Using the same frying pan heat 2 tblsp of the stock and add the onions. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until tender then stir in the chilli powder, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, thyme, salt and paprika, cook for one minute then add the cooked and crumbed sausage, vinegar, tequila or beer, the peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves and remaining stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer (do not cover) for 30 minutes then remove the garlic and bay leaves. Chill for a good 24 hours before serving.
per serving: 138 calories; 10g protein; 9g fat.

Beloved has just requested chicken for his supper, so had better put my thinking cap on to make a dish worthy of his gourmet tastes. Can't think of one at the moment, but am sure will come up with something. You'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what. Thankfully B will be out this afternoon playing mending boats again, I do love it when he's not under my feet. Will spend the next hour doing the crossword and the various sudokus before moving into the kitchen (by then B will have moved from doing the washing up - which seems to take him hours to do when it should take only minutes - into here to either do more jig-saws or play games on the comp before leaving for the boat-yard).
Hope I'll be in a better mood to chat tomorrow. Am craving for a chocolate eclair which must show how sad I feel (all the more because I shouldn't really eat one, not that we have any anyway). I'll probably end up eating a bit of 80% chocolate solids cooking choc which is far too bitter, but it IS chocolate. Perhaps a mug of cocoa would help staunch my craving.
(Stop writing down every thought that comes into your mind Shirley. Nearly all of them are BORING!!!).

See you all tomorrow then (say she with a sigh - tomorrow can't come soon enough, I need you to cheer me up). Don't have a Goode day, have a GOOD day. I'm going to try. Bye for now.