Friday, November 25, 2011

Can We Do Without...:?

The large dining table in our conservatory is now almost covered with 'home-mades' - fruit cakes, marmalade (two kinds) and jam (one kind). Today will be making Fork Biscuits (three flavours - orange, chocolate, and ginger). Think that should be enough. Beloved is not taking a stall himself (or he'd have to fork out £10!!) and anyway I wish all the proceeds of my making and baking to go to his club. He says the club has it's own 'cake stall' so am expecting the above will end up on that. Have asked him to bring home any that isn't sold.

Have really enjoyed my baking 'stint'. Reminded me a little bit of the marathon cook-in that was done for my Horticultural Society's Christmas Meal. Luckily it was a buffet, not a hot meal (although had occasionally provided a Chinese stir-fry and either a curry or chilli con carne, but that was when younger and more able. Having to provide a buffet to feed 140 I have to say did take AGES. Began cooking and preparing the final dishes (those that couldn't have been made earlier) after supper on the Wednesday night and then worked solidly through the night, all the following day until 6.00pm when the food was packed and into my car then taken to the venue and THEN plated up and also needed some need serving (or some greedy folk too too much of the 'rationed' food - such as cold meats). Anyone who watched Corrie last night had an insight of what preparing the above might have been like (and that meal was only for half the number!).
Those were the days.

Good that you brought to our attention the long shelf-life of most canned fish Margie. Always check the date of the sardines, and over the past years the date has been the same. Recently the price has risen but than also the date has changed giving at least 5 (more) years that they can stay safely on my larder shelf (only all will be eaten with 12 months - I put the recently purchased ones under the older stock so they are used in rotation).

It is not easy to say what will happen re fish 'stocks'. Doubt very much prices will drop (although they have with fresh salmon this year), so it's up to us to keep our freezers stocked with frozen (fresh) fish and (pref cooked) frozen prawns, and our larders stocked with canned fish (tuna, sardines, mackerel, pilchards, and salmon). When it comes to 'portion control' whereas the nutritionists say that 4 oz of meat (per person per day) is sufficient for us, we should have 6 oz (175g) fish.

Always good to hear about the differences between our traditions and those in the UK. We also eat 'sweet breads' at Christmas, mainly the German 'Stollen' and the Italian 'Pannetone'. Our English Flapjack, Parkin, and Gingerbread also tend to be made around that time of year (as well as other times). Anything 'gingery' is what I call 'warming', so good eaten during the winter months.

Not sure about Beloved, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first of the programme about the Amish. Had to smile - their washing machines was exactly like the one my mother had when I was a child. But it worked well then and obviously still does now.
Desperately wished I could go and live with the Amish people. It is EXACTLY the life-style I would choose as being perfect, although next week - when the youngsters visit another family - have a feeling this particular 'group' are more strict.

Despite all the rules and regulations within the community (I have a dislike of always having to conform and not being allowed to 'do my own thing'), apparently we can wear different clothes (as long as in private), and - like many religions - there is a feeling of 'community' that is sadly lacking (at least in England) at the moment. Whether Amish or not, America - at least in the rural areas - does seem to have more 'neighbourliness' that we do. Everyone (apparently - and going by what we see on TV or word of mouth) giving a helping hand to everyone else. With the Amish prog. it was almost like watching 'The Waltons' again. Even their home looked rather similar.
What did come across was the love and care that was given by the Amish to their young visitors - many who seemed never to have had as much before (or at least not in the same way). They all seemed to benefit hugely from even this first week. Am looking forward to seeing if they feel the same as they stay with other Amish families in different regions.

How good it is to hear from you again Kathryn. Am so sorry that your Depression has returned. Let us hope your doc will put you back on your former medication. Often this is changed to prevent it being 'habit-forming'. Myself found the 'natural' remedy St. John's Wort worked marvels with me when depressed, although if taking other medication (as I was at the time, but not for depression) the doctor needs to give the nod as it can cause adverse effects. Luckily my doc said it was OK and I only needed one months daily pill to bring back me back to a a less stressful life.

Think - possibly - we could all cope with running a smallholding DEPENDING upon how much work we are prepared to do, and whether we could do without the more material side of life (that we are used to today). Certainly both wife, husband (or partner) AND children (if any)need to work side-by-side, not leaving everything to just one to do.

About 10 years ago our middle daughter and her husband decided to give up the rat race of working in England and move to County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland. They bought an almost derelict cottage (like a croft), and since then it has been built up into a good home. Luckily my S.I.L is a qualified electricitian and plumber (although he can't use the skills in Ireland unless he takes their exams to qualify), and can also turn his hand to mending almost anything mechanical, so he did most of the much-needed work in the cottage. He doesn't go 'out to work' but does 'earn' by bartering his skills around the local farms where he can 'help out' or - more importantly - help to service their tractors and other farm machinery.

Our daughter decided - eventually - that the 'early retirement' did not satisfy her mentally, so after a year or two got a job and that brings in a small income although as it is miles from where they live (everything is miles from where they live) so a lot of her earnings have to go on petrol. The food in Ireland is also more expensive than over here, although they were once able to buy a pig from a farmer for low cost (believe it was viscous and he wanted rid of it) and the butcher kept some of the meat in exchange for jointing it up. They do have two freezers.

The single-story cottage had just three rooms (kitchen, living room, bedroom) and a small bathroom built on an outside wall. My S.I.L. has built another room out at the back which is now their main bedroom with (wait for it) an en suite! So they now have two bathrooms (the former one holding the washing machine etc). The kitchen is not huge, but large enough with an Irish type of Aga, which burns most fuels. This heats the water (also the central heating that S.I.L fitted - the cottage can be a bit damp as it is low-lying at the foot of some mountains). The living room also has a woodburning stove (on which can be kept a pot simmering if needs be).

Originally there was no running water laid on (they also have no gas) so have to use a cess pit (annually emptied) but they do have electricity. Even that failed at times but has now been improved due to more property being built in the area. Still only a 'hamlet', with no shops, pubs or anything. The water came from a spring from the mountains but needed boiling before being drunk. More recently they have joined others in the area who pay something like £40 or so a year to have piped fresh water run to their homes.

There are no rates because the council does not provide any services, although there is now a possiblity that Ireland will introduce a 'tax' on all property, possibly £100 a year. Daughter is appalled at that (with the council still not providing any services) but by our standards, financially only a drop in the ocean). All waste has to be taken by car (or tractor etc) to the local town and put into communal bins, although almost anything other than tins and bottles can be burned on the cooker/stove so not a lot of rubbish piles up.

Fuel for the ranges etc is either dead wood that has been gathered (sometimes a farmer requests S.I.L to remove a fallen tree from his property which is then chain-sawed into logs to dry for later use) or peat can be bought to burn on the fire. Our daughter says they have already bought all the fuel they will need to see them through this winter (and probably beyond).

With the Rep. of Ireland having the euro, things are a bit 'iffy'. Our daughter has had to take a cut in salary, and food prices are rising as here, and more expensive than ours (for the same thing) anyway. However, they are not too far from the border with Ulster so can nip over to buy food in the stores there (using English money). When visiting us they fill their car up with all sorts of long shelf-life food that is far cheaper here to buy than over there (even in Ulster).

Although they do have a small (and very stoney) garden, not being at all interested in gardening, they haven't grown much of their own food. For one thing they also have a lot of slugs! The main thing their 'overheads' are very low compared to anyone living in this country, yet even here - given enough land - it should be possible to find some run-down property for fairly low cost that needs a lot of love and nuturing to bring it back to life. Much depends on where it is situated, the further north we go the cheaper prices are (unless of course in the Lake District or other favoured spots). Prices are their lowest for a long time at the moment, so worth buying now if the money can be raised, AND possible to bring the price down even lower because people are desperate to sell. If owning a property that won't sell, possibly it could be let, and that income could pay the mortgage.

As said before, as long as both couples have plenty of D.I.Y. skills and happy to give up many of the 'luxuries' of today's world, then it might be possible to live on just one wage - and working part-time at that, at least until some other earnings could come from perhaps letting a room (bed and breakfast) or selling home produce. The only problem could be moving out of the area so that present work can not be continued, and jobs are not easy to get these days.

Regarding keeping Alpacas. The other day watched a TV prog (was it Ade in Britain? or it might have been Countryfile) where a farmer bred Merino sheep - these having wonderful thick fleece that spins into very soft wool. One or two of these would be much cheaper than an alpaca (and - dare I even mention it - a 'spare' sheep could be slaughtered and eaten as mutton!).
Also mentioned on one of the progs was sheep fleece is not - at the moment - fetching much of a price, the farmers almost have to give them away. So worth contacting a local sheep farmer Kathryn to see if he can sell you a fleece (or two) to spin. There is nothing as warm as 'real' wool garments, so perfect to keep out the cold during the winter (will save a heck of a lot of fuel costs). Don't leave it so long before you write again Kathryn, we really missed you.

Myself like to feel that readers who send comments can soon become my 'virtual friends', and many really regular ones begin to feel almost like part of my extended family. Then I begin to be concerned when suddenly they stop writing. Are they ill? Or (horrors) they have switched to reading other blogs and don't love me any more.

When it comes to having an excess of eggs, feel myself fall into that category as I normally buy at least two dozen at a time. They are just so USEFUL. Myself am fond of egg sarnies (filled with chopped eggs bound with mayo and a sprinkling of pepper and salt, plus mustard and cress if I have any). Omelettes are another favourite of both B and myself (he can even cook his own!), and a (hard-boiled) egg curry is another favourite of mine.

With eggs (and milk, and cheese) being animal protein, these can often take the place of meat or fish in our diet. Myself feel that a 'vegetarian diet' is a bit of a cheat if these 'animal products' are included (as in Hugh F.W. vegetarian prog showing at the moment), although perhaps it is the killing of animals to provide meat that is the issue here, what they provide for us whilst still alive is not a problem.

A few 'eggy' recipe suggestions given today, but prior to these wish to offer an alternative to the ubiquitous 'crumble' topping we use to cover many desserts. Next time cooking apples and blackberries, rhubarb, or pears (or a mixture), try this topping - it could work out cheaper than the more usual one, Cook the fruit in the oven in the normal way until just tender, then add the topping and cook on for a further five minutes.

Crunchy Flake Topping: serves 4
knob of butter
2 tblsp runny honey
2 oz (50g) cornflakes
Melt the butter and honey together (can be done in a microwave) then add the cornflakes and toss together. Spread on top of a dish of cooked fruits (see above) and oven-cook for a further five minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until the cornflakes turn even more golden. Cool for a few minutes before serving - the cornflakes crisp up again as they cool. Serve warm with cream or ice-cream.

Savoury Souffle Omelette: serves 2
4 eggs, separated
1 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
few fresh basil leaves, shredded
salt and pepper
1 tblsp olive oil
2 oz (50g) goat's cheese, crumbled
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the Parmesan and most of the basil. Add seasoning to taste, beat lightly together. Whisk the whites to soft peaks then fold the beaten eggs into the whites.
Have ready a dry frying pan over the heat, add the oil and when hot pour in the egg mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes then scatter the goat's cheese on top, also the tomatoes.
Remove from hob and place under a pre-heated grill for five minutes by which time the omelette will have puffed up and set (a slight wobble is good). Serve immediately with a side salad.

Spicy Frittata: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
half tsp each ground coriander, cumin, turmeric
8 oz (225g) cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb (450g) cooked potatoes (could be canned), sliced
bunch of fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
8 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion and the chilli for 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the ground spices and fry for a further minute. Add the tomatoes, potato and half the herbs. Season the beaten eggs then pour this over the contents in the pan, reduce heat to low and leave to simmer for around 10 minutes or until almost set.
Pop under a hot grill for a couple of minutes to finish cooking the surface, then scatter the herbs over the top. Serve, cut into wedges with a side salad.

When making an egg curry for myself often take the easy route and just heat up one of Tesco's cheapo curry sauces (at one time 4p a can - think now 17p), pour this over halved hard-boiled eggs, then serve on a bed of rice. Not everyone's cup of tea I admit, so here is a recipe that is a much better way to make this dish.

Egg Curry: serves 2
3 eggs, hardboiled then halved
1 onion, finely sliced
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 tblsp Korma curry paste
6 oz (175g) green string beans, halved
7 fl oz (200ml) water
6 oz (175g) baby spinach leaves
4 oz (100g) cherry tomatoes
3 fl oz (100ml) coconut milk
naan, pitta bread, or chapatis - to serve
Fry the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes until soft and just changing colour. Stir in the curry paste and beans and fry for a further minute, then add the water. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then add the spinach, tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to the simmer and cook until the spinach has wilted.
Divide the above between two warmed shallow dishes and top with the halved eggs. Serve with chosen bread (or rice if you prefer).

This next dish is particularly easy one to throw together as it has few ingredients. The eggs should be 'soft-boiled' in that they yolks are still runny once the shell has been peeled away, but if you prefer a firmer yolk, cook them for a couple minutes longer. Another spicy meat could be used instead of chorizo, such as salami, pepperoni etc. Or for that matter even English honey-roast ham. Any salad leaves could be served with this dish, but the 'spicier' rocket or watercress are particularly good.

Boiled Egg and Chorizo Salad: serves 4
4 eggs
3 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp wholegrain mustard
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) chorizo, chunks or sliced
approx half a ciabatta, made into large croutons
4 oz (100g) rocket or watercress
Boil the eggs for five minutes, then cool under cold running water. Carefully remove shells.
Whisk the oil, mustard and lemon juice together, adding seasoning to taste.
Arrange the chorizo, croutons and salad leaves on individual plates, then top with the halved eggs (best broken in half by hand) and drizzle over the dressing. Serve immediately.

Bread and Butter Pudding is an obvious choice of dessert when we have eggs to use up. Basically this is just slices of bread and butter with perhaps some sugar and dried fruit, soaked in an egg custard then baked. But just for fun am giving a much more luxurious recipe (good for guests and perhaps over the Christmas period), that uses less eggs and makes up the shortfall by using custard powder. Use all the ingredients (but only if you have them) or leave some out to make it more the basic pud.

Luxury Bread and Butter Pudding: serves 4
2 oz (50g) no-soak apricots, chopped
1 oz (25g) sultanas or raisins
2 tblsp brandy
1 egg (use 3 if not using custard powder)
1 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp custard powder
12 fl oz (350ml) milk, hot but not boiling
few drops vanilla extract
zest of 1 small lemon
4 tblsp creme fraiche
1 oz (25g) butter, softened
4 slices white bread (crusts left on)
1 tblsp apricot jam
icing sugar for sifting
Put the apricots and dried fruit in a bowl, pour over the brandy, cover and leave to soak (overnight if you wish).
Beat the egg and sugar together, then beat in the custard powder. Slowly stir in the hot milk, the vanilla extract, the lemon zest then leave to cool for half an hour.
Whisk the creme fraiche into the 'custard' and strain through a sieve into a jug. Set aside.
Using a little of the butter, grease a shallow ovenproof dish (about 8" x 9" x 5").
Lightly butter the bread with the remaining butter, then spread on the jam. Cut the bread into triangles and place half (can overlap) in the dish - jam side up. Sprinkle over the half the soaked fruit, and cover with remaining bread - again jam side up - and then the rest of the fruit with any brandy (if not soaked up).
Pour the custard over the bread then set aside to soak for at least half an hour. Several hours would be even better. Now and then press the bread down into the custard so the top is well soaked.
There are two ways to cook this - either place directly into the oven at around 180C, 350F, gas 4 and bake for about half an hour or until crusty on top and the filling is set OR (much the best way) place the dish in a roasting tin, and half fill with hot water. Place in the oven (same temperature as above) and bake for 25 minutes, then raise the temperature to 200C, 400F, gas 6 and bake for a further 5 or so minutes or until the top is crisp and golden. Remove from oven but let the pudding stay in the roasting tin with the hot water for a further five minutes then sift the icing sugar on top. Serve whilst still warm.

Yippee! It's Friday, Beloved is out tonight, out tomorrow night, and out for at least half a day if not a whole day on Sunday. So will have some much needed 'me time' this weekend.
No supper cooked for B yesterday as he went out for lunch to a carvery with our daughter. I was planning to go too but was so involved in making the jam and marmalade felt I wished to continue, so gladly waved them off.
Apparently the carvery (recommended by Norma the Hair) was excellent. The Yorkshire Puddings were huge according to B who gave me the impression they were round like profiteroles and had to be broken to get into the inside where he could then pour his gravy. Have to persuade him to take me next week to see what he is talking about.

After watching Britain's Best Dish and also Masterchef yesterday (both showing food made by competing chefs, not just member of the public or celebs), said to be think it "was time I lifted my cooking". He was quite happy with that, thoughts of venison, wild boar etc in his mind, but I said it would be more the making of fancy desserts, and his face dropped. He doesn't like 'drizzles' of sauce on a plate, or tiny portions of anything, even if there are several on one plate. He likes a man-sized portion of whatever. His main meal now always served on a meat platter because the standard size dinner plate is too small. His desserts usually in large bowls.
Well, he'll have to put up with what I intend playing about with. He can always fill up with more snacks later (which is what he does anyway, even when his over-sized platters have been almost 0ver-flowing when served). It's a wonder he doesn't gain more weight than he does. He's still only about half a stone over what he wishes to be.

The ingredients for the Fork Biscuits are ready and waiting for me in the kitchen (having prepared them last night before going to bed). So had better get on with my baking. Then - perhaps - can start trying to cook more 'cheffy' things. More on that when it happens.

The weather has now gone downhill fast. After an initial fine day yesterday, during the evening the wind got up and it began to rain. Think we had sleet for a short time as I heard it tapping on the windows. But we have been very lucky with the weather, and deep down would like it to become cold enough to snow for Christmas.

Whatever the weather, make the most of your day. If shopping or cooking from now on - keep asking yourself "do I really need to buy this, or use those ingredients to make that? Often we can make use of other foods that we already have. So from now on 'do without' instead of 'needing to have'. It's surprising how far we can travel using that thought as a guide.

Please join me again tomorrow when we can again hold (virtual) hands and at least keep our bit of the world functioning both economically and cheerfully. If everyone else can't be bothered - well that's their problem! TTFN.