Monday, November 28, 2011

Forewarned is Forearmed!

Something read in the newspaper (and also supplement) yesterday has concerned me greatly, as I cannot believe that we - as a nation (or even as individuals) - have let things get that far.
Will start with the full-page article in the supplement that talked about money spent on Christmas gifts for children.

Apparently "when children hit the age - seemingly around nine - when only technology will do, £100 is rarely enough".
"An iPod Touch is a fantastic present, great value as it it used every day to listen to music, play games, go on the internet and have FaceTime talking to friends who have an iPod Touch or iPad." This is not good. Far better that games are played the old-fashioned way (Monopoly around the table? Hide and Seek in the garden? Ludo, draughts, chess...) and talking to friends face-to-face. Otherwise we could end up with a civilisation that never steps outside the door, learning all and speaking to all only via a little box in the hand.
"The number one present for children aged 10 + is expected to be a tablet computer. The market leader is the iPad, which costs from £399." A dishwasher (my dream) costs less than that, and how likely am I to be given one? B is my 'dishwasher' (bless him - the one thing he does well) and - as such - needs no electricity to make him work (although a firework up his backside now and again is often called for).

"Saga revealed that parent's today spend four times as much (even when inflation is taken into account) as those who were born in the 1930s."
"Anecdotal evidence suggests that £100 is now the average cost of a child's present, a poll on the website MoneySavingExpert showed that 35% of parents spend less than £100 on each child at Christmas, while 32% were happy to pay more than £200."

Seems also that many adult members of a family are prepared to do without presents themselves so they can buy their children such expensive presents.
The idea - quite common now - is to set a ceiling price of £5 for each adult gift (less if possible). Again so more money is available for childrens' gifts but myself feel that children should be included in this 'ceiling'. Time now to get the family round the table, explain to all that money now is tight and a little has to go a long way. Better to have a small present (of something they would like/enjoy) than no present at all.
Children quite like the idea of making gifts to give others, and if they wish for something more expensive they could (nay, SHOULD) be encouraged to save some of their pocket money to put towards it.

Many children these days do little around the house, so handing out domestic chores that they could do to 'earn' them a little extra money is a good idea. The money doesn't have to be paid directly to them, just written in a little 'cash-book' so they can see how it adds up and then can be put towards their next Christmas gift.

Having had four children and nine grandchildren have learned that it is not how much is spent on a gift, it is what the gift is. Often some of the least expensive have been the most enjoyed. Think my daughter was quite annoyed when I paid very little for a present for my grandson (this being a cheap stamp album, stamp hinges and a few packets of used stamps), but - having saved stamps myself - knew (or at least hoped) he would get pleasure from it. And he did. He just LOVED it. It led to him searching out all the countries (named on the stamps) in his school atlas (an easy way to learn geography?), and this 'hobby' lasted him several years. He even got his stamp collector's badge at Cubs.

We can make little 'rooms' from an empty shoe box set on its side. We can even furnish it from all things home-made. Little girls love to play with things like that. Today we concentrate too much on technology and think there is nothing better, but take a child round a toy-shop or into a charity shop and see how they are drawn to products that were enjoyed in times past. It could be a small kit that can be built into a working clock, or small scale cook items so they can start making their own cakes/meals etc.
Speaking of which - another way children could 'earn' money is to suggest that instead of Mum buying certain cakes and biscuits, buying some fruit and veg, a child could make and bake, and/or sow and grow, and sell their 'produce' to Mum. This both helps them to learn about the economics of keeping house, and also becoming self-sufficient as well as - maybe - starting them on the road to a catering or horticultural career. Whatever way you look at it - you could say it could be a win-win situation.

Now we come to the other newspaper feature. The front page headlines of the Sunday Express being 'STARVING BRITAIN'.
It shocked me to the core to read how some families (which includes some middle-class) are now forced to go to charities to get food on the table.
In the year 2009-10 one Trust fed 41,000 people, in 2010-11 it was 60,000, and now calculates between 2011-12 it will be feeding 100,000.

In a way I don't have the sympathy that perhaps I should have when I read about a mother-of-one suffering depression. She had given up her job to look after the baby and her partner - a trainee architect - was not earning enough. "We never have any luxuries, and I haven't been out for two years, an we still couldn't pay the bills" she said. Welcome to my world. For more years than I care to remember I/we lived like that. My one outing per year (if that - and think it only happened a few times over 10 years) was to accompany Beloved to jhis work's annual party or something, even then had to make my own dress (out of patchwork remnants because that's all I had!!!) and had to brave the smirks from the other wives who were wearing expensive clothes. In the end stopped going out altogether, other than up to the shops, my tatty clothes covered by an overcoat given to me by my mother. That's just life. It improved, mainly because I pulled myself out of my misery and set down to learn how to become as self-sufficient as possible and - more importantly - learn how to cook economically and WELL! At least found out then that 'staying in' (as long as doing something worthwhile) was just as good as 'going out', and often more agreeable.

With all the benefits and help (?) from social services, cannot understand how so many elderly people end up starving. For one thing the older the person the more likely they are to have lived through hard times in the past. Wartime rationing and all that (although possibly only older women know how to cope, men in those days didn't cook). There was a mention in the papr of some families having to eat 'road-kill' (it was only the other day B noticed a pheasant in the road killed by a previous car, and we very nearly stopped to take it home and eat it ourselves, but didn't. On our return the bird was still there but obviously driven over by several cars and now completely flattened. We left it there.).
Yes, some people do eat 'road-kill', there is a man who delibertely does this because its 'free'. Unfortunately the press can mislead us by clever wording and what we read is not always accurate. Remember those headlines: "Freddy Starr ate my Hamster". Of course he didn't, but very many people believe he did.

Perhaps some have been lucky enough not to need to cook when younger, preferring to eat out or have 'take-aways' and re-heating ready-meals. This can lead to the attitude of 'Can't Cook, Won't Cook'. And to be fair, why should older people change their ways? Working harder than they ever did before doesn't sit well on some ancient shoulders.

The problem today is - and this is the same with the old and the young - is that poverty is seen to be shameful. Other than the fact money is so short these days there is little left for food, we now still make the fatal error of believing that what we eat is a symbol of our wealth (or not as the case may be).
Think porridge. Myself like a bowlful for breakfast, made with milk and possibly (if a bit thick) a spoon of cream on top with a spoon of honey to stir in. In Scotland, traditionally porridge is made with water and a pinch of salt. You can't get a breakfast any cheaper than the Scottish version. Yet - nutritionally - it is probably one of the best.
Whether my version or the Scots (and my bet it is the latter) you will no doubt find this breakfast is offered (and eaten) in the best hotels, served in stately homes and almost certainly Balmoral. If it's good enough for the royals, it's good enough for me.

Then, let's say, a newspaper comes up with a feature about an almost starving family who have to exist on a bowl of porridge for breakfast, can't even afford cornflakes, and all of a sudden porridge becomes the food of the Oliver Twisters and anyone else who lives in the poorhouse. Pauper's food no more, no less. But nothing has changed but the idea. We can so easily be swayed by what's in the press (or the fashion of the day).

In Victorian days (and possibly even earlier) oysters were the food of the poor. So many were gathered that great barrels of this shellfish were in London and even the tramps were able to help themselves. Now look at how expensive these are today, eaten mainlyby the wealthy.

In my youth a roast chicken was a rarity, normally only served once or twice a year on (say) an anniversary. A big joint of meat (beef, pork, lamb) was almost always served on every Sunday as the norm. A small family would have roast chicken for Christmas in the same way we would now eat turkey. Today chicken is one of the cheapest meats and eaten by most families once or twice a month (maybe more often), and a roast joint of meat is now hardly ever able to be afforded, or at least cooked only on special occasions.

Any food that is in short supply is expensive to buy. Doesn't mean it has to taste THAT good (here I'm thinking about truffles. Men apparently droll over eating this fungi, myself - although only having tasted truffle oil - am quite happy never to taste it again. It is a known fact that it is men who prefer eating truffles, and I could tell you why but delicacy prevents me).
If we all decided to stop buying (say) lamb, this would bring the price down faster than you could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Excess of anything means the price would drop or the suppliers lose all their money. Am toying with the idea of suggesting we all stop buying one particular product (not yet made my mind up which) to see if I can get enough readers to make it work.

Whether a person is wealthy or not, when it comes to running a car ALL will make sure they buy the cheapest fuel to run their car. This makes sense. Many car owners today will drive miles to find a petrol station that sells fuel a penny or so cheaper than a one closer to home.

A car is a machine, our bodies are a 'machine'. We both need fuel to keep us running, only our 'fuel' comes from food and we are lucky in that - unlike most other animals - we can choose from a very wide variety to get the nutrition we need.

For anyone wishing to save money, it is the 'nutritional' side of food that is important. Forget the sweet treats, the luxuries. They do little for us except give us short-term pleasure. Concentrate on the foods that will do us good and keep us healthy.

Yesterday - as B was out - decided to open a can of tuna to eat with a jacket potato. In actual fact opened two cans (one to eat later) as I wished to find out the difference between the two. One was Tesco's Value range (tuna in brine = working out at 51p per 100g). The second tin was a branded name, same weight can but this time packed in sunflower oil (£1.26 per 100g). Almost three times the price.
True, there was a slight difference in flavour, the Value tuna (tried first) tasted fine, the second (branded) did have a slightly more 'fishy' flavour, but certainly not worth paying the extra for.
If flavour is an issue, then my suggestion would be to mix a can of each together.

What was interesting was the nutritional details on the label. The Value can was 100 cals per 100g. The branded was 197 cals per 100g. "That's interesting" I thought, "Almost twice as much food value". Then realised that calories shouldn't be taken as nutritional value. If it worked that way eating a bar of chocolate would provide our needs. Who needs tuna?
In any case, reading the rest of the nutritional advice, the protein content etc, their were just about identical EXCEPT the tuna canned in oil was very high in fats (none in the Value) and it ws this oil/fat that had upped the calorie count.

Thinking 'nutritionally' we gain as much from the cheap can of tuna as we would from the much more expensive, and perhaps time we should now be thinking more on those lines. Read labels of similar products before we choose which to buy. Often it is only the flavour of a product that differs, and although this can mean a lot - myself prefer certain brands of (say) baked beans, this does not mean we should dismiss the cheaper. Mixing cheap with the more expensive often works well (try it with cornflakes, coffee, baked beans, tuna....).

Continuing to eat only the foods we most enjoy has now to be considered more as a luxury - which it always has been when you think about it. In my youth we were given a plate of food and had to eat it up however much we hated any of it. Being given something we enjoyed eating was always a treat. Now 'treats' seem to have become the norm and not doing ourselves any financial favours because of it.

This does not mean that meals now have to become frugal and tasteless. We are blessed with having so many different herbs, spices, seasonings, sauces and other flavourings we can use tht even the cheapest, blandest ingredients can end up as a meal to be enjoyed.
Ideally, buy the least expensive when we lose nothing nutritionally, then use our little grey cells to find ways and means of pleasing our palates. This way we end up both healthy and happy.

Quiet often I wonder if I'm living in cloud cuckoo land. People 'out there' starving while my larder is (almost full). Who am I to give advice on how to live frugally?
Yesterday was wondering whether I should keep only a few ingredients in my kitchen cupboards so that I too have to manage on very little. Or does it make more sense to stock up before Christmas and then be my own 'grocer' and buy nothing more from the stores, but 'go shopping' and actually buy food from myself to discover how little I need to 'spend' to provide meals over the next few months.

Readers will have known I've done a similar challenge - probably still mentioned in the earliest postings of this blog. Spent £250 on all foods (meat, fish, fruit, veg, and all dairy etc) and made these last 10 weeks with both money and food left over. And we ate very well on that I have to say. Even serving posh nosh! As I keep saying "It's what you do with what you've got".

Am feeling - what with the cold weather coming - it makes more sense to stock my shelves, then live off those, but this doesn't really help readers who have little on their shelves but still need to eat healthily. It is easy enough to suggest a 'cheap meal' and give the recipe, but if we haven't the ingredients....?

When the cupboard is bare my first suggestion would be to go to the butcher and ask for some chicken carcases. Most butchers give them away for free. These simmered down in plenty of water - even on their own - will make a reasonably flavoured stock (which could be drunk as clear soup), and a fair amount of cooked chicken flesh might be able to be peeled from the bones.
By adding a carrot and onion (also a celery stalk if you have one) then we get a much better flavoured stock, and the cooked veggies can be chopped/mashed/blitzed with some of the stock to make a chunky or thicker soup and this -with the addition of some of the cooked chicken scraps could be a meal in its own right. If making enough could live off that for a week if I had to (a reminder to novice cooks that stock/soups etc made previously need to be kept chilled then thoroughly reheated before being eaten).

Yes - can see me being thoroughly contented (and fully satisfied) with a bowl of porridge for breakfast and a bowl of soup for lunch/supper. But then that's me. Others may feel deprived if they don't have a full English in the morning, and roast beef with all the trimmings for supper.

Here is a suggestion for a 'cheapo' meal, as am assuming that many readers will have the ingredients in their stores. Spaghetti works well in this dish (Tesco due a Value one), but any pasta shapes (or assortment) can be used. If you haven't basil use another herb or stir in a spoon of pesto (make your own pesto from basil, parsley, or any of the milder herbs) - or add dried herb, or do without altogether (but then the herb flavour that 'lifts' the dish will not be there).
The stock cube used is vegetable, but beef stock would work just as well (depending upon wht other foods are added. If tuna is chosen then use veg. or chicken stock). Make the basic (as shown) but by extending with mushrooms, and/or bacon this will serve more or just turn it into a more substantial dish. Quite a few things can be added to a basic pasta dish - maybe some sliced olives and a can of flaked tuna. Experiment, but always keep an eye on the final cost.

With a dish such as this always serve it the Italian way: add the pasta to the sauce so that each strand/piece of pasta is coated. Piling the pasta on a plate then spooning over the sauce never works as well. The pasta is mainly tasteless and we get too much sauce with each mouthful.
Tomato Pasta: serves 4
14 oz (400g) pasta (see above)
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
half vegetable stock cube
1 tblsp tomato puree/paste
few basil leaves, shredded (opt) see above
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and stir in the garlic. Cook for 1 minute then add the rest of the ingredients (other than the pasta) and bring to the simmer. Stir-fry over low heat for five minutes to reduce the sauce.
Drain the pasta (keep back a little of the cooking water), then stir the pasta into the tomato sauce and toss to cover. If the sauce is thicker than you wish, stir in a little of the reserved cooking water.

As you know I am fond of using cooked (canned or home-cooked) beans in many meals I make. Having recently cooked dried (and soaked) butter beans am looking forward to making the following dish. Canned cooked beans work out more expensive than the home-cooked, but not a lot more (at least not yet, who can say what the price will be next year). The recipe can be adapted by stirring in a tsp or two of tomato puree if you wish it to be tomato flavoured, or a dash of white wine if you wish it to taste more upmarket.
Chicken joints also work out cheaper when we joint a fresh whole chicken ourselves, but sometimes we can buy a pack of thighs, drumsticks, or mixed at a reduced price. If not already frozen, freeze fresh chicken portions and wrap each separately, then we can thaw out only the amount we need.

Chicken and Beans: serves 4
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
8 boneless chicken thighs or drumsticks
2 onions, chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 pint (600ml) chicken or vegetable stock
2 x 400g cans cannellini or butter beans
salt and pepper
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Put the oil in a frying pan and fry the chicken until golden on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add th onions to the fat in the pan and fry for five minutes until softened, stirring in the garlic towards the end. Place the chicken joints back into the pan, pour over the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then cover the pan and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Drain and rinse the beans, add them to the pan, cover and leave until the beans are heated through. Scatter the parsley over the top and serve immediately.

Final recipe today is for a slightly tastier version of the old-fashioned macaroni cheese. My mother used to make the basic version regularly when I was a child. In those days macaroni seemed to be the only pasta used and my mother never went further than using it for macaroni pudding or macaroni cheese - and that wasn't nearly as tasty as this version. If you haven't macaroni, then use pasta penne or something similar.
Not sure whether I dare say this, but you could make the white sauce the 'instant' way using Bisto granules. Just infuse the ingredients in the milk (or water) before blending to give it the extra flavour.
Parmesan cheese can be expensive, although a little goes a long way. My suggestion is to store some (or ends of) a hard strong Cheddar (or other hard cheese) in the fridge - but unwrapped - until it is really hard, then this will grate down as fine as Parmesan and can either be mixed with Parmesan or used instead of.
Although not an ingredient listed, myself would include some broken bits of crispy bacon when folding the pasta into the cheese sauce, OR snippets of raw bacon rashers could be mixed with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan to sprinkle over the top to crisp up as it bakes. Just one rasher of smoked streaky bacon can add oodles of extra flavour if that is what you are after.

21st Century Macaroni Cheese: serves 4
1.5 pint (700ml) milk (pref full fat)
1 onion, halved
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf (opt)
12 oz (350g) macaroni
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) plain flour
4 oz (100g) strong Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp English mustard (powder or made)
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese, grated (see above)
2 oz (50g) roughly crumbed bread
Put the milk in a pan with the onion, garlic and bay leaf, then bring to the simmer (without actually boiling). Set aside for at least 15 minutes for the flavours to infuse. Then strain through a sieve.
Meanwhile, cook the macaroni as per packet instructions, then strain and rinse under the cold tap and set aside.
Make the sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for one minute to make a 'paste'. Slowly add the sieved and infused milk and whisk in as it heats until the mixture is smooth, simmer for 3 minutes, stirring often. Fold in the grated Cheddar, the mustard (powder or made mustard) and a little salt, being more generous with the pepper.
Finally, fold the pasta into the cheese sauce, spoon this into a buttered, shallow ovenproof dish, and sprinkle the grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs over the top. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 or so minutes or until the dish is bubbling and golden on top. Serve immediately.

Unusually, today have left replies to comments until the end of today's posting, mainly because I needed to get my thoughts about indulging children and the starving thousands off my chest before I moved onto more pleasant chat.

Interesting your mention of chicken gizzards Lisa. Although at one time we used to get these mixed in with the rest of the chicken giblets when we used to buy a fresh bird for roasting (the giblets used to make the gravy), now giblets are no longer provided with the bird, and have never known of gizzards being sold to eat as a meal in their own right.
Chicken livers are extremely tender and don't really have that much flavour, unlike liver from larger animals. Ox liver is very strongly flavoured, pigs liver less so, lamb's liver is the one most favoured these days, as calves' liver (even milder) is too expensive. If used to eating the strongr livers (not enjoyed by many) it could be worth giving chicken livers a go as they are very nutritional and (at least in the supermarkets here) extremely inexpensive. Dearer when bought from the butcher.
Was slightly puzzled by your 'challege' of not spending more than $5 per 'bag'. Not sure whether your 'bags' are similar to those seen in films - large paper bags (small sacks) in which food seems to always be packed. Here we either take our own bags to the supermarket or they are packed in plastic carrier bags. The cost of the contents of a bag entirely depends on what has been packed in there. A carrier bag full of veggies might work out no more than £2 (or less), a bag containing (say) meat and fish could work out at £10 or more.

Good to know you were in our vicinity gillibob when you were here recently. You say you drove through Bare, so presume you turned off the coastroad up past the Bare shops and onwards up to and then over the level crossing at Bare station. You will then have passed by the road which itself is at the end of the road where we live.
Pleased you enjoyed the Fork Biscuits. Myself find it impossible to stop eating them once started. Definitely worth adding to those Christmas Hampers full of the home-mades we give as gifts.

Myself find that unless carefully stored Campfire, food is often forgotten about when pushed to the back of the shelf in the fridge. Have devised a way of making it easier to keep track of what I have by using oblong shallow boxes as 'trays' to hold various things such as small jars (curry paste, redcurrant jelly, mint sauce, tartare sauce etc), assorted hard cheeses, fats (lard, clarified dripping...) these then being pushed right up to the back and nothing can get hidden behind. These are easy enough to pull forward and select what I need.
Tubs of soft marg, and packs of butter are kept behind tubs of soft cheese and pots of double cream, so again easy to see and less chance of something going off before used.
When it comes to the shelves and drawers holding my veggies, I need to make sure nothing gets hidden, but by keeping the larger veggies at the back (cauli, white cabbage, iceberg lettuce...) they are easily seen, and the smaller (cucumber, new potatoes, spring onions, vacuum beetroot....) are kept at the front. Parsnips, butternut, celery, bell peppers are in a drawer together with a few others that are regularly used so never get the chance to be forgotten.

Bacon, cooked meats, sausages etc are wrapped and kept in a special drawer, so as most of these are used regularly, am always reminded they are there. Eggs I normally keep at room temperature.

The Craft Sale went well yesterday according to B. Most of the products I sent were sold, just a few pieces of fruit cake left (I sent lots of that). Unfortunately the Hog Roast was a no-go. The 'Hog' man arrived complete with equipment, but the parking place in front of the club house (where 'roast' was to take place) was taken by a car left by someone who was at the social the night before. They phoned the man several times during the morning but got no reply. When the man arrived in the afternoon to collect his car the Hog man had already gone because it was then too late to get the pig roasted in time. When asked why the car owner didn't answer his phone he said he couldn't "because the phone was in the car"!!! How I laughed. B didn't think it so amusing, he was looking forward to munching a roast pork bab. He had to make do with making his own supper - which I think he chose to be cheese on toast. Because it was easy.

So Hugh F.W. has finished his vegetarian stint. Thought it was to last a whole year, but seemingly it covered just four months. The programme has been interesting, and although not at all inclined to be vegan, really did like the idea of de-hydrating fruit and veg so thus ended up with some of it really 'crisp'. The idea was that all the food in the vegan restaurant was served raw - and this covered those dehydrated. Myself feel that anything that has been 'prepared' at a higher temperature than room temperature should be deemed 'cooked'. Meringues are 'cooked' even though (in my case) just 'dried off' at a very low temperatue (cooling oven/airing cupboard etc). Are 'sun-dried' tomatoes counted as 'cooked'. And does it really matter?
Thing is we have been shown we can eat very good meals without including any animal protein (other than that in milk, cheese and other dairy products, and eggs). If we can grow as much fruit and veg as possible ourselves, then we could feed ourselves very cheaply. It helps to have a garden or at least a few windowsills in full sun.

Seems to have been a long blog today. Hope it has not been boring. Sometimes we need to think of the plight of others, an this may lead to us changing the way we live ourselves. Today's world is very much 'consumer orientated' and the only way to drag ourselves out of this is to begin to become much more self-reliant. It isn't that difficult as long as we decide it isn't being 'forced' upon us - it's actually the way we should be. So why not enjoy it? I've never been happier since I began. And so it continues.

Weather still windy, and cold with it. But in a couple of days it will be December and the count-down to Christmas then has to start with a vengeance. Hope you find time to still send a comment or two. Look forward to reading them. We'll be meeting up again tomorrow in the usual way(read this blog whilt drinking a cup of coffee)? Don't let me down. I'd miss you if you didn't turn up.