Thursday, September 01, 2011

A Change is as Good as a Rest

It's strange how thinking of one thing can then lead to another. The very mention yesterday of everyone in Britain living (relatively) close to the sea, caused me later to remember that one 'excuse' for not going for the day is usually 'it can take too long to get there'. Myself agree that spending only a couple of hours breathing in fresh sea air makes it hardly worth it, but surely a lovely summer weekend it IS possible to get up and leave early (say 6.00am) - this way the roads will be almost clear as people won't be starting to leave for work until you've just about arrived. Then spend the whole day at the chosen resort, leaving late evening (but whilst still light) and again returning on almost empty roads.
Of course we don't need commitments to do this, so an average families weekend is probably the best time - but then the roads will probably have even less traffic that early/late.

It's just memories of speaking to people who think nothing of spending two hours commuting to work each day (and do know that just driving through London to get from one side to the other can take that long), that made me realise that for some reason we dig our toes in when it comes to spending the same amount of time 'commuting' to the seaside. Maybe because we are getting paid to go to work and not paid to spend a 'day out' that makes the difference.
Naturally, people who spend many hours a week 'commuting' will wish to put their feet up at the weekend, and perhaps people who work locally driving only at busy times will feel that always driving will be stressful. Having done it myself (often), driving in the early hours of the day and late evening - or even mid morning - have been driving along even motorways with barely another car in sight. Absolute bliss!

When we used to drive down from Leicestershire to Helston (Cornwall) , we would always leave around 3.00am - almost before first light, then drive down along the Fosse Way. Rarely meeting any traffic until nearing the Bristol area. It was like having England to ourselves, and there is nothing as beautiful as the English countryside very early on a warm summer's day. Maybe we have become creatures of habit. Get up at a set time, have breakfast and THEN think about driving somewhere. If - for once - we got up very early, had breakfast on the way (Little Chef?) - or even on arrival, this would give the feeling - and in some ways true) of gaining an extra day.
These are just suggestions, mainly because I KNOW how easy it is to not to think 'outside the box'. So many times have not done something because I didn't think it through, or look at the wider picture, or do a bit of lateral thinking - whatever it is called. Just told myself 'haven't really got the time' or given myself another reason not to do something.

A thanks to Anonymous (no name given) who has proved it is possible to have a good family holiday even when only 44 miles away from where they lived. We don't always have to go far afield, and don't always have to go to the coast. Suppose many people who live on the coast, then tend to holiday out of sight of the sea (York, London, Stratford, Haworth, Lake District etc). Many of us are quite happy having a change of scenery. Sand and water are not obligatory when wishing to have a good time.

Farmers would find it almost impossible to take a day out as Sue15cat mentioned. So we all have to cut our coat according to our cloth as the saying goes.

Other comments refer to food/produce/freezers. As you will be taking a fridge with you when you move Alison, that will be a great help and you may find you won't need to get another freezer after all. Am quite sure we didn't need the second, it's just me being so paranoid about buying in bulk and 'stocking up'. Freezers are common now, but very few domestic kitchens had freezers until the late 70's, and in my youth there were no fridges either (unless you were very wealthy) yet still people coped. How? Because in those days we bought our fresh produce as and when needed. It was NORMAL to go out shopping in the morning to buy the meat/fish and some fresh veggies to cook for the evening meal. Very little food was left 'hanging around'. Long shelf-life groceries were usually bought once a week. Milk was delivered daily to our doorstep, and the baker usually called three times a week. There was little need to store anything for any length of time (other than the 'basics' ....flour, sugar, a few canned veg...). A joint of meat from the butcher would be roasted on Sunday leaving enough cold meat to make at least four more meals during the week. Cooking was far simpler then.
If we went back to this life-style, could it work out cheaper than the way we shop now? I doubt it. Another reason not to is that it would take more time doing a daily (or alternate day) shop, and local shops are nearly always more expensive than supermarket prices. There must be a way we can make the change and go back to local shopping without it costing more. Maybe eat less (of the more expensive)?

The problem with food today is that there is so much of it displayed that we are spoilt for choice. On the good side this does mean we can eat many more dishes than our mother's/grandmothers (depending on our age) would ever have made (or even heard about). In those days (early 20th century), meals consisted of good plain food of the meat and two veg variety. Each day we were served a meal based on the previous weekends joint, and each day seemed to have it's own dish (cold meat Monday, Cottage Pie Tuesday, Fish on Friday...). The only thing that changed were the fruit and veggies - these always being 'seasonal' (and how we looked forward to the first peas, the first tomatoes, the first strawberries....).

Much of the nations food was 'home-grown', but quite an amount was imported (wheat etc for making bread, citrus fruits, bananas, tea, coffee, sugar ....and loads more as things became cheaper). During World War II the imports had to stop and rationing began. We had to go back to eating only the local produce, and a lot of that was removed from the shelves as the land was taken over to growing foods for livestock, acres put down to growing wheat for bread, and endless fields of spuds. Vegetables were not rationed, but in very short supply, and unless we grew our own, often we had to go without.

Take a look at this 'emergency basic diet' that the Ministry of Food devised (per person and presumably per day): 12 oz bread, 2 oz oatmeal, 1 lb potatoes, 1 oz fats, 6 oz vegetables, an six tenths (they were exact as that) of milk. As the books says "not bad for a supermodel wanting to keep her figure trim, and a damn sight healthier than most modern diets; and you certainly wouldn't starve on it". But imagine us having no choice but to live on that today!
Of course when rationing got started we were allowed more food than that, one egg per person per fortnight, a tiny cube of cheese to last a week, a small amount of meat..... But if nothing else, reading 'how we lived then' certainly proves that 'how we live now' is almost certainly OTT when it comes to the amount of food we eat today. As ever it all boils down (no pun intended) to whether we eat to live or live to eat.

Myself feel that today we have becoming more obsessed with food. We are being swamped by cook books and mags. cookery programmes on TV, and the endless displays of foods in the supermarkets. Is it that we are fed up with eating the same things on a regular basis, always wanting to try something new? Or is it that the suppliers/stores are brainwashing us into believing we do? Over the years must myself have spend hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds on cook-books, yet many have only just been read and never 'used'. Cooking would be so much simpler (but not necessarily cheaper) if we went back to eating just 'meat and two veg' again.

Almost certainly in this rather unstable age we have come to rely on food as our 'comfort', and it is true that as a family, eating together helps keep the family together. Sadly, many parents can't be bothered to cook, so their offspring have to gain their comfort from eating junk foods, usually away from the house or in the confines of their bedrooms away from other members of the family.

Obviously got another bee in my bonnet today about food. Should we eat so much? Should we go back to the old ways and shop as and when we need food? Should we ignore the imports?
All I can say is be grateful for what we've got, even if the selection is vast. At least this means we can keep our taste buds alive, with no need to provide 'boring' meals, and within the range probably find that there are products cheaper (and just as good) as the 'basics' that we might have had to buy if food was more restricted. In many ways, today we are extremely fortunate when it comes to food and to some extent the luxury of 'eating what we like'. In my day children (and adults) were expected to eat what was put in front of them, even if not liked.

Which brings us nicely back to what I call 'the culinaries'. Unfortunately have not been able to find a recipe for gooseberry chutney in my books (as requested by Alison). Did take a look on the Internet (under gooseberry chutney) and discovered several recipes - all of them different, so rather than repeat just one, feel it would be better for us to choose the one that suits our personal taste buds/products we already have in store.

There have been several comments about plums (in season at the moment) and thought this slightly different way of preserving them would be useful. A jar of this would make yet another gorgeous addition to the Xmas Hamper. Damsons could be used instead of the plums, or the wild yellow plums.
Poached Plums in Brandy: makes 2 lb (900g)
1 pint (600ml) brandy
rind on 1 lemon, peeled in one long strip
2 lb (9oog) plums
12 oz (350g) caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Put the brandy, lemon rind, sugar and cinnamon stick in a large pan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the plums and poach for 15 minutes until softened, then remove fruit and pack into hot sterilized jars. Fast boil the syrup in the pan until reduced by a third, the strain this and pour over the plums in the jar, making sure the fruit is covered. Seal the jars tightly. Label and store in a cool dark place. Will keep for up to 6 months.
Serve the fruit with a dollop of whipped cream.

Another fairly 'new' vegetable, now grown in domestic gardens, is the aubergine. Not a favourite of mine, but am sure is well liked by others. This next recipe is based on this veg, and together with the other ingredients makes a very tasty dish - the flavour coming from the (cheaper) spices etc. Don't be put off when a recipe has a rather lengthy list of ingredients, this doesn't make it more expensive, often it can be cheaper than one with only a few. Dare say this dish would work using courgettes instead of aubergines (as to me there is not a lot of difference in flavour - not that either have much anyway - between the two once cooked.
If you haven't pine nuts, chop some whole blanched almonds (or mixed nuts) and use these instead. If you wish used couscous, burgul, quinoa or tiny pasta shapes instead of the rice.
Aubergine Pilaff: serves 6
2 tblsp raisins
2 large aubergines, peeled, flesh cut into chunks
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp pine nuts
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp sugar
1 - 2 tsp ground cinnamon
12 oz (350g) long or short grain rice
1 handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (see above)
3 tomatoes, skinned, flesh finely chopped
1.5 pints (900ml) water
juice of half large or 1 small lemon
salt and pepper
Place the aubergine chunks in bowl of salted water. Cover with a plate/saucer to keep them submerged, then set aside for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan, stir in the nuts and cook until golden, then add the onion and cook this until softened. Add the coriander seeds, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, mint and tomatoes, and stir to combine.
Add the rice, then pour in the water, adding seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, partially covering the pan, and allow to simmer for about 10 - 12 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat, cover pan with a clean tea towel (to absorb steam), placing lid on top. Leave to stand for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, drain aubergines, and dry off as much moisture as you can with a clean tea-towel. Heat oil in a pan deep enough to 'deep-fry' the aubergines, frying a few at a time for a few minutes, then lift out and drain on kitchen paper whilst the remainder is fried.
Tip the pilaff (rice mixture) into a bowl and add the fried aubergines with the lemon juice and toss together. Serve warm or cold.

Always on the look-out for dishes that can use up ingredients that are always to hand in the Goode kitchen, this one is a beaut. Am hoping that most readers also keep the same foods in store, but if not there is always room to make one substitution or another. Instead of forming 'sausages' to eat as a lunch or supper dish (with salad), the mixture could be formed into small balls to serve on sticks as a 'nibble or as a 'canape'.
Carrot and Apricot 'Sausages': serves 4
6 -8 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 - 3 slices bread, crumbed
4 spring onions, finely sliced
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, chopped
3 tblsp pine nuts or other chopped nuts
1 egg, beaten
1 - 2 Peppadew or 1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, finely shredded
salt and pepper
plain flour
oil for frying
yogurt 'raita' to serve
Steam the carrots until very soft (this could take up to half an hour). then mash to a paste whilst they are still warm. Add the breadcrumbs, spring onions, apricots and pine nuts and - using a fork - mix well together.
Add the beaten egg, and the chopped Peppadew or chilli. Finally fold in the herbs and seasoning to taste.
Tip a small heap of flour onto a plate and take a tablespoon of the mixture and - using your fingers - shape it into a sausage shape, then roll this in the flour and put on a plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture. It should make about a dozen 'sausages'.
Heat enough oil in a frying pan to enable the sausages to be shallow fried, and fry half of them for 8 - 10 minutes over medium heat, turning once or twice so they are golden brown all over. Drain on kitchen paper and keep hot whilst the remainder are fried. Serve hot with a crisp green salad, crusty bread, and a dish of 'raita' to spoon over.

Looks like being a good day today weatherwise. My plan is to scoot out this morning with Norris, then scoot back again and do some baking (a neighbour is coming in for coffee tomorrow so need to make biscuits et al...).
Weather tomorrow expected to go downhill again.
We both felt so cold yesterday that we put the central heating on for just one hour. This certainly warmed the rooms up, and for the rest of the afternoon/evening felt very comfortable. They say this summer has been the coldest for many, many years. And don't we know it!

Yesterday cooked some dried marrowfat peas to make mushy peas. The pack said 'soak 12 -16 hours before cooking, but left it a bit late and had only 8 hours before supper, so first 'cooked' the dried peas in boiling water for 10 minutes, then left them to soak. These looked fine at 'supper time', so cooked them as per instructions, but needed to add a little more water. They were perfect (after adding a little sugar and mashing them with butter). Served with battered, oven cooked frozen fish and oven chips they made a good supper for B. The remaining mushy peas will be frozen.

Myself had another bad bout of dyspepsia yesterday - due, I am sure, to eating a sarnie for lunch made with bought bread that wasn't the brand that is 'safe' for me to eat. Really must be more careful what I eat.

Must reply to Woozy before I leave. Apparently garden centres are now selling 'winter growing' spuds, to plant now and pull around Christmas. Although potatoes bought recently for eating are throwing up 'sprouts', so these could also be planted. Broad beans are another veg that is recommended to be sown in autumn to grow through the winter, this is gives an earlier crop before the blackfly get a chance to become established (as so often happens with the spring sown).

Really must love you and leave you as time moves on so rapidly it will be afternoon before I step outside the back door. Depending on what time I get up, hope to have time for more 'chat' tomorrow before my 'coffee morning'. Certainly will find time to reply to any comments sent it. Which I hope will happen. Enjoy your day.