Saturday, November 12, 2011

Keep the Pot Simmering

After yesterday's 'outburst' was published, wished then I'd buttoned my lip as was sure to upset lots of readers, especially those too young to understand why I said what I did. But bless all those who sent in comments over the last 24 hours for it does seem I wasn't that far wrong after all. Individual replies follow:

Two comments from Campfire. The first to do with shopping lists, and you'd better make a cup of coffee and take an hour to read my reply because it is lengthy.
Making a list of what to buy when in the store has always been the right thing to do - this way we shouldn't (although often do) buy more than we need. If we don't make a list and rely on memory, then we forget what we went in for in the first place (and how often have I wanted only a carton of milk, ended up spending £20 or more on other things and still forgot the milk!!).

In my early years of marriage used to rely strongly on a 'shopping list' board (don't know where it came from) that had two columns of 'basics' with holes at the end of each one in which a peg could be inserted to remind me of what was needed next time I went shopping. My shopping list was then written up from the prompting on the board. With so many different foods on sale there was only room for just a mention of 'type', such as 'meat'; 'fish;, 'flour'; 'raising agents'; 'canned foods'; 'pasta'; 'biscuits'; 'drinks'; etc; leaving me then to give more details when I wrote out the list. But it worked well, especially as in those days meals were mainly 'meat and two veg', none of them needing lots of other ingredients that recipes today feel we need to add.

When we lived in Leeds had a piece of framed slate (same as children used to use in school in the old days - and I also used one in my early school years, just shows how old I am!!!). This was stuck onto a cupboard door with chalk to hand. On this I would write anything that needed to be bought 'next time I shop'.

Here in Morecambe, now rely on a small spiral-bound notebook which I keep in the kitchen. Every time I 'run out' of things (which means I'm down to the last four!) I write it down to remind me to replace. All I need do then is tear out the page next time food is ordered (usually on-line but B can sometimes get what I need like NOW, from Morrison's for me - in which case the product is crossed out in my note-book).

There is another way to shop frugally but also save money whilst doing so and this is not to be too specific when writing out a shopping list. This I call my 'Rule of Four' and details for how to shop this way were given during the first months of this blog (from Sept 2006...). However, for newer readers it is worth another mention.

Many years ago I realised that the food we buy falls into four categories. 'Meat and Fish'; 'Fruit and Vegetables'; 'Dairy'; and 'Groceries' and decided that I would try dividing my food budget also into four, an equal share on each category.. Example: with a budget of £80 (to feed four)that would give me £20 to spend on each category. The aim then being to spend less if at all possible.

The interesting thing is that as soon as we have a set amount of money to spend on any one thing, suddenly it seems to go that much further. Don't you now feel that £20 is quite a lot of money to spend on meat/fish, also on fruit/veg? And certainly no need to spend all that on 'dairy' (not just milk, but yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, eggs etc). Groceries....we come to that.

Armed with £20 (more or less according to our budget), we can then start looking to see what is the least expensive meat that day (could be an offer, reduced or whatever). Although often good to plan a week's meal ahead (and then buy the necessary), we should not stick to 'chops' if another cut is cheaper. Off the top of my head know that a fresh chicken, lamb's liver, minced steak, sausages and bacon, would cost no more than £20 would keep the family well fed for a week (with the other purchases). Ideally, buy less meat and hunt out some inexpensive fish to serve (fish pie mix is always good value)....canned fish (sardines, pilchards, tuna come under 'groceries').

Imagine again the amount of fruit and veg we could buy for £20 as there are plenty of seasonal and 'grade 2' vegetables that are really cheap (for instance a 2 kg bag of carrots can last WEEKS, so no need to buy more the following week - buy some other veg instead). Again we should be able to spend less than the full amount.

Same goes with dairy. Other than milk and eggs, possibly butter (including marg or other spread although not true 'dairy'), this leaves enough money from the £20 to probably afford cheeses AND cream.

Groceries are 'flexible'. They need to be bought after all the above purchases have been made (in other words shop for one category at a time before moving on to the next). Not everything needs replacing each week - a jar of coffee could last a month, ditto a bag of flour, oats, box of cereals etc. We buy only what we really NEED at that time, and if we really do need more 'long-shelf' life foods than the £20 will cover, we can always use the 'savings' from the first 3 categories (which still means we haven't exceeded the original budget for the week). Slowly this means we can build up a stock in our larder (especially with foods 'on offer').

A good challenge is - whatever your budget is now - is next time you shop reduce it by (say) £8 (more if you wish), this means that each category is short only by £2, that - with canny shopping - is neither here nor there. It won't take too long for anyone who tries this 'challenge' to find out that each week a little less need to be spent, and often more fresh produce has been purchased than would ever have been thought possible.
Maybe it is the 'tunnel vision' approach that focuses our mind on how we can get the most for our money, but can guarantee this Rule of Four works. Really well.

Second reply to Campfire. Feel that everyone who cries poverty and yet can still seem to afford holidays abroad rely far too much on the use of credit cards. Live for the day and worry about paying it all back tomorrow (or next year, or never!). If credit cards had never been allowed to be used on a 'spend now, pay back later' basis, and debit cards (that can only cover what money we have in the bank), many people wouldn't be in the mess they are today.

Most of our married life we have bought things 'on credit'. Furniture, electrical appliances, goods from catalogues, even a mortgage is a type of buying on 'credit'. But we only bought what we could afford to pay back in part each pay-day. Otherwise - if we failed to do this the items would then be taken back.
Have to say that catalogues (Freemans, Littlewoods etc) really saved the day for me. Although never having enough money to pay £20 in one lump, could afford to purchase £80 of goods (clothing, sheets, towels, kitchen equipment etc) and pay back just £4 a week. Once part of the money had been repaid, would then be able to order more goods to bring the balance owing back up to the £80 and no need to pay more each week.
Running the catalogues myself (selling to family, friends and neighbours) meant I would also gain a little money for doing so (as a form of discount).

Obviously learned - over many years - the best way is now to pay cash (or by cheque) and owe nothing. Also 'haggling' can sometimes lower the price if we persevere. Works with me anyway.

Loved what you call your 'ramble' Scarlet. Please don't apologise, it made good reading. It's lovely to read how so many of you out there are prepared to buckle down and 'make things do'. Was myself once asked by a magazine if I could decorate and furnish an empty room for just £50. Said I could an proved it (on paper). Then they decided not to bother with the article, but just by having to think more 'outside the box' shows that miracles can (and do) happen.
Apart from saving money, all this D.I.Y. can give such a great feeling of satisfaction and sense of achievement it is worth doing it just for this reason. In any case, all the 'hand-mades' - such as cushions, throws, pictures, dried flower arrangements etc.... would have cost a bomb if needed to be bought. `

Do hope you are now feeling much better Ciao, and your mention of old magazines reminded me of how the colour pictures in all magazines can be cut into strips (with ends glued) to make the old fashioned paper-chains. Strips of paper are still sold to make these, but the home-made from coloured mags/flyers that come through the door end up looking far prettier.

Watched a film last night about an asteroid/meteor or whatever, that was heading for earth. Made me think of you Lisa as many people in the USA were to be given protection from the expected giant tsunami, in the limestone caves in Missouri (were these the same caves that Billy Connelly visited on his journey along Route 66?). As well a people, pairs of all animals were also be taken to the caves (Noah's Ark fashion), and when I saw elephants and flamingos said to my Beloved that I would think emphasis should have been on animals that really were 'useful' (cows, horses, pigs, chickens, sheep) and 'saved' more of these than those animals who weren't really much use in America after the event.

Another thing I said to B was "why were people being virtually buried underground when it would be far safer for everyone to be taken to the tops of mountains"? Although - in the film - not sure if those underground survived (surely water would seep through into limestone caves) but those that were saved WERE the ones that reached the highest hills in the area.
For some reason always thought of Missouri as a flat country, so interesting to see the limestone region was very hilly.

Fortunately tornadoes are something we rarely have in this country, and only mini ones compared to those in the USA where they also seem to happen over flat country (probably why I thought Missouri was flat). When we visited our daughter in New York State one Christmas, did notice at that time there appeared to be no roundabouts, also there seemed to be some rule where two (straight of course) roads opposite each other reached a 'main' road, either there were traffic lights, or cars took turns to move, into the main road (or cross it).
Have heard many Americans who have driven on our roads say they are petrified. Seems we drive too fast on our motorways (70 miles an hour is not FAST, many do an illegal 100mp) and many foreigners, used to driving on 'the wrong side of the road', drive the wrong way round our roundabouts!!!

Your mention of your dad using a heated flat iron to warm up the bed sheets brought back another memory Sairy. Well not really a memory as still do it. To save me putting up the ironing board and ironing sheets (fitted sheets are difficult to iron anyway because of the elasticated hems), I now put the sheet on the bed and then iron it in situ. Don't really bother with the sides because stretching the sheet over the bed and tucking it in tends to smooth out those creases (as it does the whole sheet) but a quick smooth with a hot iron does improve the appearance (not that I bother now, only for guests).

Myself feel that the future is bright Urbanfarmgirl. This because the recession/depression can only bring everyone back to using common sense again. Once things improve, it is up to those who have found it works, to try and 'train' youngsters to become more self-sufficient. As ever, it is teach by example.
It would not be surprising if many children today carry on growing their own vegetables and perhaps keeping live-stock - not to mention home-cooking as many schools are now bringing back these 'old ways' as part of their curriculum. We could be seeing the start of 'a brave new world' (although not sure how the fictional one ended up).

The reply to your comment that I can give to you Pear Tree Log is a very grateful 'THANKS'.

Beloved has brought me this week's trade mag and the first thing that caught my eye on the cover was "Supermarket price wars bring another 20% hike n promos." That's good news for us consumers, looks like my 'Rule of Four' will prove to fill our shopping basket with even more goodies and still keep within our budget. But this and other 'trade secrets' will be given tomorrow.

The other day noticed a recipe for 'chowder'. We think of this as a traditional American 'fish soup', but it's not a million miles away from 'Cullen Skink'. However the US version is very adaptable, and not at all pricey as we can use a variety of fish in this dish (fresh fish 'pie mix', poached fish, prawns, canned crab meat/tuna etc). Vegetables too can vary. Normally sweetcorn is always an ingredient, but we could use leeks instead of onions, add a few peas and diced bell pepper to make the soup more colourful....
Anyway here is a recipe to start you thinking and adapt it according to what you have.

Fish Chowder: serves 4
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
1.75 pints (1 litre) chicken or veg. stock
1 large potato, diced
6 oz (175g) canned or frozen sweetcorn kernels
6 oz (175g) chosen fish, cut into chunks
3 tblsp creme fraiche or diluted cream cheese
salt and pepper
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley or chives
Put the onion and carrots in a pan with the stock and bring to the boil. Cook for 10 minutes until the vegetables are just beginning to soften, then add the potato and cook for another 10 or so minutes until the potato is tender, then add the sweetcorn. If using fresh fish, pop these into the stock at the same time as the potato. If using cooked fish/prawns etc, add this with the sweetcorn. Cook for 3 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the creme fraiche and season to taste. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chopped chosen herb.

My final words today recall another memory, mentioned only because of something on the news about people being given some form of heating and cooking facilities because there had been a gas (or electrical) failure in their area. Again we hear the moan of 'how can I manage to cook a meal to feed four on a tiny stove such as this?
Well, maybe I'm just 'odd', but would find this situation a great challenge, and remembering the day after the major Blitz in Coventry, when the local common ground was packed with people whose homes had been bombed flat, and my parents brought back two families (one with a grown up son, the other had a new baby). Because of the devastation, pipes had been damaged all over the city and we had no gas, electricity or even water for days after. Still my mother managed to feed six adults (seven if you include the son), and two children with nothing more than a coal fire to cook on, and the only water was rain water collected in a tank. Do remember there was nothing more than porridge (made with water) for breakfasts each day, and a sort of vegetable broth for the main meal. Our own rations had to be shared between all.
So don't tell me that it's difficult to feed four with only a small stove.

In the 70's there was quite a time when (forgot the reason) our electricity was cut off for 4 hours at a time. Not all at the same time, part of Leeds had electricity, other parts didn't. Myself was determined to 'cope' and - after trial and error - discovered that it was possible to boil water in a small pan standing on a cake airer, this standing over 6 tea-lights. Took a little while to come to boiling point, but it was possible to cook rice, pasta, heat soup, boil and poach eggs, fry eggs, bacon, omelettes over this make-shift 'cooker'. We could also use the coal fire in the living room to make toast or cook a casserole.
Unfortunately today many houses do not now have 'working' fire-places. Where we live today (a big detached house where we own the ground floor only), has had all but on chimney removed, the fireplace for that being in the dining room where I am at the moment. At present it has a gas fire fitted in front, but am hoping that my Beloved might see sense and have either a multi-fuel stove fitted, or at least an open fire again.

In any 'emergency' such as fuel supplies being disconnected for a time, those who have barbecues can always cook on those - possibly under protection from a raised garage door. We should never use a barbecue indoors. But if we have patio doors or a low-opening window, we could always sit the barbie outside close by and serve the food through the window or door.

It's a funny thing, but it's the people who love to go camping and enjoy cooking outdoors on a camping stove that seem to have difficulty believing they can use the same method of cooking at home if needs be.
Perhaps it was because of the electricity cuts that made me change our electric hob to gas as I was determined not to be held to ransom by the fuel barons. Now we always have a gas hob and an electric oven. I have 'back-ups' of fondue sets (bottle of meths in the cupboard just in case), tea-lights (see above), and a barbie in the garage. If we had a open fire in this room I'd be laughing all the way....!!

Beloved can never understand why I feel the need to have the answer to every problem. "Np point" he says "it'll never happen". But sometimes it does. Perhaps it's a 'mum' thing. Always needing to be sure we have enough protection for our offspring. Men don't seem to worry about 'coping' because it's always been their mums (and now wives) who did - and still do, and probably never realised they did/do. Goodness me, the world would be in a right mess if we suddenly withdrew our 'care'. Perhaps it might be a good idea if we did, for there would then be a lot more for men to concern themselves about than warring. And if any self-suffient man is reading this - you are the exception that proves the rule.

B has just informed me the TV is chock full today of things he wishes to watch, so looks like I'll have to find something else to occupy myself. Having just begun to read Dorothy Hartley's 'Land of England' am sure this will keep me engrossed for hours. Tomorrow afternoon he goes to watch the local football match, Morecambe apparently a good team. Pity that Downton Abbey has now finished - will really miss watching both the repeat AND the new episode each Sunday.

Enough for now, the sun is shining - do I go out with Norris or not. Have to think about it.
Enjoy your day - as I intend to enjoy mine (one way or another). Hope you can join me again tomorrow. See you then.