Friday, November 11, 2011

More Than We Deserve?

One comment only to reply to today - this from Eileen. We spent a pleasant hour or so having a good chat, and hope to get together again soon. Wish more of you lived close enough for us to meet, but maybe some time in the future, who knows?
Don't be kind about my cake Eileen, I know it was a dee-sAHST-er (as Craig Revel Harwood would say).Why is it that every time I cook for B, the food is great, when I cook for visitors or entertain it always goes wrong? They deserve better.
It was interesting reading about the soaked and cooked dried mushrooms being 'chewy like meat' and this could mean they would make a great substitute for meat in both vegetarian AND meat-based recipes. For the latter I would suggest using less meat (or none at all) and flavouring the mushrooms by soaking them in beef stock before cooking.

My 'topic for the day' is the on-going problem with the cost of fuel and food. Watched a repeat of a prog late last night on the rising cost of fuel. As ever - people were interviewed with the usual "have to make a choice of either heat or eat", and one girl was showing how she kept herself warm by wearing thick lined - indoor 'bootees' and wearing a 'cuddle wrap' round her while seated. Well, it may be due to my great age, but have been doing that for years rather than have the heat blasting through the room. Too much heat is not good for us, or healthy now we all have double glazing - unless a window is kept open for fresh air (then this lets the expensive heat out). All we need is background heating, THEN wear another layer of clothing that will keep us warm.
The girl was also 'complaining' she had to cook two meals at the same time in her oven (one for the following day) as this saved fuel. As far as I'm concerned this has always been done by those with more sense. Apart from saving fuel (which once was not essential) cooking more than one thing at a time saves labour the following day (which then allows freedom to do other things).

My mind always goes back to the war years when people today start complaining about not being able to afford to heat their home or buy 'enough' food. All I can say is just be glad we are not having to cope with World War III as well. People managed well enough then, so should be able to manage even better now as we have a lot more 'useful' things to help us along the way (such as duvets, double-glazing....).

My memories of the last war remain vivid as I was old enough to remember (6 when the war started, and 19 when rationing ended, and living in Coventry during the Blitz these were times that are hard to forget). In those days there was no central heating or double glazing, electric blankets, washing machines, fridges etc. Winters were old-style, very cold with lots of snow that lay around for weeks (sometimes months). We had proper 'winter' clothes then, mostly made of wool (wool is very warming), and of course always wore hats, scarves, gloves and either long socks or two pairs of stockings (no tights then either). We were not followers of fashion with skimpy tops and midriffs bare even in the depths of winter as can be seen today.

Warmth in a room was usually by coal or log fires and these were sometimes also used to 'cook' food. Toasted bread 9using a toasting fork over glowing coals) tasted much better than any bread toasted in a 'toaster' today. My mother often placed a casserole over the coals to simmer for hours. As the most heat from the fire tended to stay close to the fire-place (any other heat fast disappeared through the windows), warmth was 'kept in' by covering windows with thick curtains that were usually lined (changed to lighter ones for summer), and even doors had heavy (often velvet) curtains hanging over them to prevent draughts (although fires needed draughts to help them burn more brightly). Here today - in Morecambe - we have floor to ceiling fully lined heavy curtains that cover a large (not double-glazed) window in our living room, and the moment these are closed the room instantly warms up even more. (Incidentally, the curtains were a 'free gift' from someone who had had them made and they weren't what they wanted),

Sleeping in a stone-cold bedroom in the war years (and right up until 1970 when we moved to Leeds) was not as bad as it would seem. The (winter) beds would have winceyette sheets and pillow cases, plenty of blankets and quilts on top (duvets not used in those days), and nightclothes would also be made of winceyette. The beds would be pre-warmed with hot water bottles (that could be cuddled when we got into bed), and perhaps one of the pleasures of the extreme cold was to draw back the bedroom curtains in the morning and discover the panes of glass completely frosted over with fern patterns (another of Nature's miracles). The children loved to see those.

Food was in very short supply during wartime - thankfully the small amount there was the government rationed so that everyone would have the same amount - which was just enough to keep us alive and to some extent 'healthy'. Anything else we had to provide ourselves, and the lucky ones were those who had a garden they could dig up to grow vegetables. Even a terrace house that had only a back yard (with outside loo - indoor ones were not that common in those days) that had no room to grow things at least had a hutch or two of rabbits (for food) and a few chickens (for eggs and also for eating when they were too old for laying).

Food and fuel was not limited by cost - it was controlled by supply. We were only allowed so much (coal, petrol, paraffin, electricity). Even water was 'limited', we were allowed only so many inches of water to bathe in, and the more people that used the same bath water the better. This was a time when showers were not the 'norm', and funny thing was, even though no-one would be checking to see if you had used too much bath water, people used to stick to the rules. Just imagine what all those restrictions would be like today?

At the moment, despite the high cost of everything, compared to the 40's, today we have never had it so good. It's just that we seem now to EXPECT to have a lot more than we really deserve. It wouldn't matter if we buckled down and earned the money as a right to have certain things, so many seem to sit back, making excuses why they can't work, then claim benefits and STILL expect to own plasma TV's, afford to 'eat out' or have 'take-aways' delivered, even run a car. Many teenage girls, desperate to have 'their own place" deliberately get pregnant so the council will provide one for them. Bit late then to realise they made a 'fatal error' (these words used to often turn up on my computer screen when I first began 'computing' - frightened me to death).

Of course there are many people who truly have worked hard and now finding it impossible to keep up the standard of living they had attained, but even then this is probably far better than any of their ancestors had achieved. Seems now - with technological advancement - we have achieved so much in such a (relative) short time that we have begun to take all our - what I call - luxuries - for granted, and feel deprived when anything has to go.

What also irritates me beyond measure is that so many people have a great deal of money through other people pulling their strings. These 'other people' (usually 'managers') line their own pockets by 'using' others. To have 'pop group' earning millions when all they can do is sing in tune (and that is sometimes debatable) and maybe wobble a hip or two makes a bit of a mockery of life. Same goes for the art world where a few splodges on canvas demand great respect (and a high price) when hours of detailed work are now just shrugged at as 'old fashioned' (I say this because I recently read about a 'picture' being sold for thousands that was in actuality (and later admitted to be) 'splashes' from a paintbrush made whilst another picture was being painted close by).

We also get winners of several millions of pounds via the Lottery. Good for them, but wouldn't it be better to limit a win to a million, and if there is 160 plus million to win, not let it go to just the one but be shared between 159 others? Not easy if there is only one winning ticket, but there must be an easy way to make this possible.

Many have too much, maybe more have too little, but the ones that feel they are being 'deprived' will probably be those with the most to lose, for then they have to learn how to 'give up' something they really, really feel they need. So - in a way - when someone starts moaning about now having to 'deprive' themselves, we could try congratulating them on the fact that they were lucky enough to be in a postition to HAVE something to lose, when other people were much worse off.
At the moment it seems that the wealthy feel that having to cut down on lusing arge cars and holidays abroad, dining 'out' and finding it difficult to find the fees for private schools is something to feel grieved about. True, there are many who have real concern over the 'heat or eat' issue, but in many instances (particularly the younger ones) this is because they have become used to everything being done for them instead of cutting costs by doing things for themselves. Am I being too hard. Hope not.

Yesterday Beloved came to me and said M&S were doing 'meals for two' (which I think is a main course, sides, dessert and a bottle of wine) for £10 and with some meals - he said gleefully - "you get a free chicken as well". He then said he was going to buy two of the meals that gave away a chicken, so I "would then have two chickens and just think of all the meals you can make with those!". It didn't occur to him that the meals 'with the chicken' may not have been to his liking (or mine) and probably I (myself) would almost certainly have been able to make the set meal AND buy a chicken for the £10 (possibly even the wine) for £10 (to feed only 2 remember - and portions are always small with bought 'readies').
But - as ever - when he knows about a possible 'freebie; my Beloved is instantly there, filling a basket with things we don't really need just to get at least one thing for nothing. This is how it is with a lot of people today. Brainwashed into believing everything that everything sold - at low price - is purely for our benefit - and we can't lose.

Yet, and thankfully, there are now many quite young people who are now discovering the old delights of 'making do'. Finding it is fun to make their own Christmas decorations with the help of their small children. Deciding to fix a price (say £5) and spend no more (and hopefully less) on each present given. Children too appreciate this if it dealt with as a 'game', and even better if they make their gifts to give that cost only pennies. Any 'big' present should be confined to birthdays, and only then if able to be afforded.

Once we realise that this big cloud of depression/recession has this silver lining, then it really doesn't matter how black it becomes, for then the other side will shine even brighter. But it's up to us to keep up the polishing. Someone once observed: "who said life has to be comfortable?" and this is a saying worth framing and hanging in a prominent place so we could be reminded each day - especially when things seem to be getting worse.
Something else read recently also hit the spot with me:
"All some people need to make them happy, is to make a change, and most of the time that's all a baby needs too!"

Looks like this is turning out to be my 'pondering on the meaning of life' day. Sorry to seem a bit critical at times (today possibly ALL the time), almost certainly generalising too much and not pointing out that some people truly ARE having great difficulties in coping, and not all are foolish, but this is how things seem to be in today's world. It's all going pear-shaped due mainly to the bankers, and profiteers (including supermarkets and fuel suppliers) who have us - as B says, and excuse his words "by the short and curlies".

The only way to drag us out of this slough of despond is for each and every one of us to become more independent, self-sufficient, and take control of as much of our lives as we can.

Which now brings me nicely back to cooking, for this is probably one of the simplest and best ways to both save money and improve our standard of living at the same time.

Bread being one of the 'staple' foods of the Brits, it makes a good deal of sense to make our own whenever we can. Done by hand it can be a bit time-consuming, but very therapeutic, especially if we have been irritated by something for we can take vent our spleen on the dough as we knead. If intending to make bread regularly, then worth investing in a bread-maker, for when you choose to make your own bread regularly these soon pay for themselves (which is an important thing to consider. Electric (or hand) slicers also pay for themselves in a very short time because we end up with sliced (home-cooked) meats etc that are VERY MUCH cheaper than if we bought pre-sliced over the counter)are now becoming so popular that the price has dropped considerably.

'Artisan' bread I believe means something hand-made that is a little bit 'different', and so is therefore very expensive to buy. If we start by using a bread-mix (brown or white) we can make a variety of flavoured loaves for little extra cost, so why not have a go with the suggestions shown below. You can make up your own versions by sun-dried tomatoes, herbs or anything (with in reason) that you wish.

Onion Bread:
1 bag brown bread mix
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 tblsp olive oil
beaten egg
2 oz (50g) grated Cheddar cheese
Make up the bread dough as per packet instructions, allowing it to prove until doubled in size. Meanwhile fry the onion in the oil until golden, then remove from heat and leave to cool.
Cut the dough in half and form into two balls, cover each with a basin and leave to prove again for 15 minutes, then flatten each slightly into an 18cm round, place on a baking sheet and make deep cuts through with a sharp knife to form 6 equal wedges. Cover again and leave until doubled in bulk. When ready, brush top with egg, scatter over the onion and finish with a sprinkling of grated cheese.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about half an hour. Cover top with foil if the onions are browning too rapidly,

'Latin' Bread rolls:
1 pack white bread mix
olive oil (see method below)
3 oz (75g) sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3 oz (75g) strong creamy cheese (Camembert)
handful pitted black olives, chopped
pinch dried marjoram/oregano
salt and pepper
Make up the bread mix as per packet instructions, but omit butter (if needing to be added) and instead stir in 1 tblsp olive oil with the water to mix. Cover the dough and leave to rise in the normal way, then knock back, roll out (or flatten) into an oblong and cover surface with the tomatoes, cheese and olives, then roll up like a Swiss roll. Cut into 8 or 10 even pieces, shape each into a ball and place on a greased and floured baking sheet. Cover and leave to rise for about 45 minutes or until again doubled in size.
Brush tops with 2 tblsp olive oil mixed with the dried herbs, adding seasoning to taste. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for about half an hour or until golden.
variation: as prepared above, but slice the 'dough roll' and lay flat to make 'pin-wheels' instead of rolling into balls. Depending upon thickness after rising, these may take less time to cook.

Tip: when baking (any) bread, put a roasting tin on the oven floor before switching on the oven to pre-heat. When placing bread in the oven to bake, pour about half a pint of cold water into the hot tin and it will immediately produce steam which helps the bread to rise, and also give a crisper crust.

Final recipe today is a 'poor man's Kedgeree'. Well, it used to be, but considering the price of some canned tuna, not so sure. However, having purchased fairly recently 2 x 4 packs of tuna (185g per can) for £13.98 total (this was shown as full price for both, but as the second was a bogof so got a refund of £6.99 - nevertheless still expensive), the fish then works out at £1.75 a can (at full price) or approx 88p each (because of the bogof offer). But then was able to buy Tesco Value tuna chunks in brine (same weight) for just 45p per can (yet to be taste-tested), am able to say there still seem ways we can buy what we want without paying through the nose to get them.
Normally I made a kedgeree using hard-boiled eggs and pre-cooked rice and also pre-cooked fish, so really this is a dish where most of the ingredients have already been cooked (possibly the day before) sometimes deliberately - I call these 'planned' leftovers. This cuts the cooking time down considerably which saves fuel. However this recipe is cooked 'from scratch', but of course you can use pre-cooked if you wish, in which case omit the stock, fry the onions, stir in the curry sauce, followed by the rice, peas and tuna and heat through, garnished with the eggs and herbs..

Tuna Kedgeree: serves 2
2 eggs, hardboiled
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp mild (Korma) curry paste
1 shallot, finely sliced
5 oz (150g) long-grain rice
15 fl oz (450ml) vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
1 - 2 cans tuna, drained and flaked
handful fresh parsley, chopped
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the shallot for a couple of minutes, then stir in the curry paste and cook for a further minute. Add the rice, stirring to coat with the curry paste, then add the stock and bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 or so minutes until the rice is just tender and all the stock has been absorbed. Add the peas and bring back to the simmer and cook for a further 2 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the tuna and parsley. Garnish with wedges of hardboiled egg. Serve warm, although can be chilled and eaten as a cold lunch.

That is it for today - Beloved is out at the gym this afternoon and at his sailing social this evening so will be able to have a lot of 'me' time and watch all the TV progs I wish to see. Am thinking of making a 'sort of' Cassoulet for supper as have some home-baked beans in the freezer, so cold sausages left from yesterday and a bit of cooked gammon that could also be included. Not sure this is B's idea of a good meal, but I certainly will enjoy it. Maybe I can persuade him to eat something else? (He's just come in and decided against the Cassoulet in favour of eating the last of the chilli con carne that was left from supper a couple of days ago - and kept in the fridge. I wanted that as didn't have any at the time. Still, Cassoulet will be even better, so will have that myself).

Weekend coming up - always something I look forward to as Saturday is so full of sport on TV that I can spend time in the kitchen without feeling I'm missing something worth watching.
Oh dear, just realised the time - it is just after 11.00 on the 11/11/11th. At least I was silent for the two minutes - by mouth that is, my fingers were still tapping the keyboard 'talking' to you. Hope I will be forgiven.

Enjoy the rest of your day, and hope that more of you will write in tomorrow to give us your news. Doesn't matter if you feel you have done nothing worth talking about, it's good to hear from you anyway. Until tomorrow when I hope we will meet up again...