Friday, December 09, 2011

Another Cold Day

We certainly had some severe weather yesterday, the North having the worst. A mention of wind once reaching 165 miles in Scotland, but probably a gust, most of the time it was barely over 100mph. Various parts of the country had snow, the Lake district also had rain AND floods, drivers were asked not to venture out as too dangerous, even a bridge (or two) was damaged in Yorkshire. Here in Morecambe we got away with just howling gales and lots of rain, plus low temperatures - which are said to get lower this weekend. Fortunately the wind has dropped somewhat, but still almost at gale level. Thankfully I have no need to go outdoors, other that to peek outside the back door and grab a couple of pots of geraniums that need bringing in before the frost hits them (the car is parked close to them, the conservatory wall on their other side, so have some sort of protection).

My mind went into thought mode again last night, just as I was about to go to bed. If we need 8 hours sleep a night (I told myself), then we spend only 2/3rds of our life awake. Beloved has always seemed to need 12 hours of sleep each day - and getting worse, he has only to sit down, and almost immediately his head drops forward and he has a minimum of 15 minutes nap.
So B spends HALF his life asleep. Bit of a waste of a life.

Sometimes I find - when I've nodded off in front of TV (usually happens when the ads come on and my concentration has relaxed), then don't feel tired at bed-time, so occasionally stay up all night and don't seem to suffer. Sometimes - in the past - have deliberately stayed up all night to get important work finished. Eventually do then need a good night's sleep to catch up.

As our brains still seems to work whilst we are asleep - dreaming etc, then it is probably our 'machinery' (aka body) that needs a nightly 'top-up'. A bit like a computer that needs a virus check of all the files to make sure it is clear. Also our bodies repair themselves (if needed) when we are lying in bed at rest. New born babies need plenty of sleep so they can grow - although they also need plenty of 'crying time' to help develop their lungs. Unfortunately, for some parents, this 'cry-time' is during the night! Remember it well, although we got away with it lightly for after the first child (when every cry caused fear in a mother's heart), when the second baby was born, was often too busy looking after the first (this being only 16 months old) to rush to the babies side,, so by the time I could get there, it had fallen asleep again. The baby soon learned that crying didn't bring mum to its side, so only cried when it was either hungry or had colic etc. Babies also learn that they get cuddles, kisses and lots of attention when they are awake and NOT crying, so don't lose out.

Did anyone watch Great British Dish yesterday afternoon (5.00pm ITV)? There was a female chef on who I could swear Jilly Cooper said was 85 years old. They remarked how good she looked for that age and 'it must have been the food she cooked'. The woman had thick hair (could have been a wig) and absolutely no visible wrinkles (could have been Botox) but no way could she have been 85. I looked worse at 30! Her hands and neck (the usual give-away of age) didn't look THAT bad. Oh, if she was 85 - then she ought to bottle the secret. She could make a fortune!

Not sure if you've written before Kay, if not welcome (if you have, welcome back), and good to hear about your solar panels. It was always assumed that these need lots of sunshine for them to work - and certainly the more sun the more 'power' they absorb - but they still work in daylight, even when the sun doesn't shine.
Very shortly the days will start getting longer, even winter days - especially after heavy falls of snow - can have a lot of sunshine, and wait for the last week in April when we now always seem to get a heat-wave. It would be lovely if you now and again you could let us know how much heat your solar panels manage to save/make during various weather conditions.

Chicken bones and esp. chicken wings make extremely good chicken stock Lisa (you probably make it anyway). Most chickens sold here are fairly small 1.5kg (3lb), although larger ones are on sale (but far more expensive). Large chickens have large wings and these are probably best cooked-to-eat rather than being used for stock (although their bones can still be used).
Normally - when jointing whole birds at home - collect the wings and freeze them, then either cook/glaze to eat as 'buffet food' (sticky wings), or use them to make more stock without having the need of a carcase to simmer.

Lisa, you sound like me - clearing out the fridge veggie drawer and making soup from the odds and ends. As long as I have carrot, onion and celery, then know a good soup can be made (esp if made with home-made stock). Add parsnip and potato and even more improvement.
Parsnip, celery and red and white onion are also good roasted - along with red and yellow bell peppers, green or yellow courgettes, purple aubergines etc. Not forgetting butternut squash that also roasts well. Perhaps one of the tastiest vegetable dishes I know, probably because all are cut into large enough chunks to eat one at a time, giving each mouthful a different flavour.

The rice bags mentioned are a good idea as an alternative to the hot-water bottle. Remember when I was little my mum made a small square bag full of coarse salt granules that she used to heat in the oven and then place against my ear when I had ear-ache.
We can now buy wheat-filled bags to heat in the microwave to cuddle, these normally include dried lavender which gives a lovely aroma when hot, and the scent of lavender is known to help sleep. The rare times I can't get to sleep I then spray my pillow with lavender water and almost immediately am soothed into a wonderful relaxed state and off again into my land of dreams.

My bread machines Alison is also a Panasonic and, as you say, it does make very good bread. It is worth using to make the dough only, this then removed from the machine and lightly knocked back on a floured board to the size to fit the chosen (greased and floured) loaf tin, once the dough is in the tin, cover and leave to rise (it takes about an hour according to temperature), then I bake at 200C (can be reduced to 180C after the bread is in the oven) and a 2lb loaf then takes just 45 minutes to bake. Well, mine do anyway. If the bread falls out of the tin easily it is just about cooked, but tap the base to make sure, if a bit on the soft side, lay the loaf in the oven on its side and give it another 5 minutes then tap base again. If it sounds right (not a thud, more a 'hollow') then it is ready. Cool on a wire rack.
If too crusty, covering with a dry tea-towel as it cools will often soften the crust as the hot air evaporating has moisture that can't escape and so makes the crust more tender.

Perhaps best to keep at least one small and two large loaf tins from your collection Alison, myself would keep them all as you can then make bake large loaves and two large cakes on one day. This makes good use of the oven whilst it is on. This another thing we now have to consider - being economical with the 'cooking fuel' and making the most of it while it is being used.

Thanks for the 'cut and paste' info. Have found this works well when using Word, but normally tend to write my blog directly onto the blog page once signed in, as then I can add/edit once the main part has been written. Cut and pasting my blog from Word onto the blog site, this can be published, but it won't accept any alterations/additions, and as I mess around with each day's posting before I send it, find the direct blogger route the best way for me.

Was interested in that 'microwave chip' gadget you purchased Campfire. It sounded very much like the microwave 'crisp' maker that Lakeland have in their catalogue (also comes with a slicer). Ordered one from them recently but it had been withdrawn due to some problem (not quite sure what was wrong but it wasn't up to Lakeland's standards I believe). It would be good to hear how you get on with the one you bought.

The Poirot episode filmed in The Midland Hotel here in Morecambe had the date as MCMXC on the credits (1990) so as the Hotel was still open in 1996, then perhaps the internal shots were all taken in the hotel. Seems such a short time ago (to me) that there didn't seem long enough between then and the recent re-opening for it to become so derelict. Had the feeling it had been empty for about 25 years. Obviously not. Thanks Eileen for confirming dates.

Fried Lamb's liver, bacon, steamed shredded white cabbage and new potatoes (the cooked veggies tossed in the bacon fat) was B's supper. I had some of the same, mainly the veggies, but it was tasty. Beloved finished up the last of his mint-flavoured Vienetta he had bought for himself, although I had to pay for it as it was on the bill with the other 'asked for' items he had brought in. Wish he'd just stick to what was on my shopping list. But food is food as far as B is concerned and any food in the Goode kitchen he feels should come out of my 'food budget'. Which I suppose is fair. If B didn't have his ice-cream then I'd have to provide him with some other pud. At least 'brought-in' saves me time.

Stayed up to watch the repeat of the 'Panorama' programme about supermarket 'offers' that weren't. As the presenter said - having to work out whether an offer is as good as it seems, or whether buying two small 250g packs (of margarine) works out cheaper than the 500g pack (on offer) - it was shown that the offer worked out - by weight - much dearer!!
No customer can afford or be bothered to have to work out things like that and should not be expected to - which is why the supermarkets get away with it. Let us hope this practice now stops - like immediately. Making the stores pay a high fine would probably be the best way to prevent this happening again. Hit 'em where it hurts! Like their pocket.

At least, shopping on-line we are able to make judgements as to the best value for money as most items (but not all) also have the price per 100g or kg shown in brackets next to the asking price. This makes it easy when buying (say) jars of coffee. Sometimes the smaller jars are less price per 100g than the larger ones, or it could be the other way round. In any case - given a choice of jar-size - it is not always the largest (or the smallest) that is the 'best buy'. We always have first to check before we decide on the one that is the best value for money.

Watched the next in the Amish series last night. Still don't think it is quite as good as the first one, but so pleasant to see a life that can be lived without all the technological trappings that are around today. The Amish seem to get along very happily without any TV or computers.
The family featured yesterday was slightly more 'modern' in that it could use electric milking machines for their large herd of cows, but generally the main theme of the simple life was still there, and how I wish I could be one of them.
The Amish farmer echoed what I once said on this blog, probably several years ago now, can't remember his exact words but mine were on the lines of: "after a hard day's work there is nothing nicer than falling into bed with the feeling that you have earned the right to live another day". Wish I could work as hard now, or - if not - at least work harder than I do now, as most of the time feel I do hardly anything at all except cook a meal for B and do a bit of baking. Housework is done grudgingly and only when necessary. Am turning into a slut!

Have begun 'collecting' useful sayings. Don't know where they originate from, but this one read recently perhaps highlights the way many people view the recession. Gloomily....
"Some complain because a rose has thorns. Some give thanks because the thorns have roses".
Sadly there are always folk who can't even see the good when they have it: "A pessimist is someone who believes that when their cup runneth over, they are then forced to go and find a mop".
I like to feel I'm an optimist, this is probably why my dusters, brushes and mops tend to spend too long tucked away in a cupboard.

If we have a fairly comprehensive collection of 'dry goods' in our larder, then it's pretty simple to make a cake. As mentioned before, I take time out to sit at the kitchen tables with a big bag of caster sugar, a big bag of self-raising flour, and several packs of soft-marg. The flour and sugar are each measured out in 4 oz/100g to be put into (reusable) small plastic bags, the bags of flour then put in one large container, the sugar in another, The fat when measured out is wrapped in greaseproof/baking parchment, also kept in one container to be stored in the fridge. This means when making a cake all I have to do is remove the pre-weighed bags to the amount needed (sugar, flour and fat usually the same) and take an egg from the egg-rack on the kitchen table and then make the cake. Saves LOADS of preparation time.

The cake recipe below has the standard sandwich cake ingredients (same weight of flour, sugar, fat and eggs) and if you have 'bagged' these up as suggested above, then you need two bags of each and four eggs. If you use very large eggs, you then have first to weigh these and make up the other ingredients to the weight of the eggs. As normally medium eggs work out at 2 oz - we don't have to bother with egg-weighing, just accept that 2 eggs = 4 oz and these then will need 4 oz flour/4 oz sugar to make the cake..
I tend to use soft margarine (Stork) when making sandwich cakes, but this recipe uses butter as it gives a better flavour. You can still use marg, or to get the best of both worlds, use half butter and half marg.
If you have any strawberry flavoured, you could use a tablespoon (or two) of this to give yet another flavour and colour to this two-tone cake, in which case divide the mixture into three, and add cocoa to one and Nesquick to the second, leaving the third plain.

Normally the butter/flour/sugar/eggs is all we need to make a sandwich cake, but because we add cocoa powder and because the cake is cooked in one tin (not the normal two for a 'sandwich cake', we need to add milk and allow a longer cooking time.
Chocolate Marble Cake: serves 8
8 oz (225g) butter, softened
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
4 eggs
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour, sifted
3 tblsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tblsp cocoa powder
Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat together until well mixed. Fold in the flour, 2 tblsp of the milk, and vanilla until smooth, then divide into two bowls.
Add the cocoa powder and the final spoon of milk to one of the bowls, and mix this into the cake batter.
Take a greased and lined round 8" (20cm) cake tin and spoon the two mixtures randomly into the tin, a blog of plain here followed by a chocolate blob etc. Make sure there are no air gaps as you go, and - once filled - give the tin a sharp tap on the table to remove any bubbles that might remain. You can either leave the cake as it is, or take a skewer and zig-zag it through the mix from top to bottom - and if you wish, side to side (but don't overdo it) to give a marbled effect.
Bake the cake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 - 55 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a cake airer to cool completely.

Final recipe today is a very useful one if you are the cook that prefers to make custard using ready-made custard from a can or carton. Either way saves us using eggs as we would do when making this pudding in the traditional way. It may even work using custard made from custard powder.
Easy Peasy Bread Pudding: serves 4
568g pot (just over 20 oz) ready-made custard
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
5 oz (140g) white bread, crusts removed
2 oz (50g) raisins
butter for greasing
5 - 7 oz caster sugar
Whisk the custard and the milk together. Cut the bread into triangles (or break into large chunks if not too bothered about final appearance, it will taste just as good) then place in a large bowl with the raisins. Pour the custard mixture over and carefully stir together so that all the bread is coated with the custard.
Grease a shallow oven-proof dish with butter, then pour in the bread/custard mixture.
Place in a pre-heated oven (140C, 275F, gas 1) and bake for 30 minutes or so until almost set - there should be just the tiniest wobble in the centre. Sprinkle the sugar over the surface then place under a hot grill for 1 - 2 minutes so that the sugar begins to melt and caramelize. Can be eaten cold, but best served hot.

As it is such a cold day (a sudden fall of sleet tapping away on the window a few minutes ago, but still no snow), have put the gas fire on low in this room, and intending to stay in here to have a bit of a 'clear up', and finishing writing the Christmas cards. How different it is these days. In my younger years - and even up to the time our offspring were teenagers - everyone seemed able to afford to send Christmas cards through the post, also big gift parcels. Everyone sent so many cards that students were used by Royal Mail as 'postmen' to make sure all the cards were received in time. We often had up to five more deliveries of cards a day with the normal post being delivered twice a day.
Now it costs almost as much to buy and post a card as it does to buy a small gift. No wonder we all have cut down.
To give a more 'Christmassy' feel to this oak-panelled room, have saved all the cards sent to us since we moved here and put these up each year with the new ones, then it looks as though someone loves us rather than the few who now bother to send cards at all (we don't send that many either).

Beloved has brought me in (by request and I still had to pay for it) a couple of bundles of 'florist's wire' "Where do I buy that?" he asked, "do florists have it?" Considering he worked at a florist's (as driver et al) for several years, he surely must know they do. Anyway he brought in a roll (he forgot to ask for the 'bundle') and at least has a pair of wire clippers he is letting me use so I can cut the wire to the lengths needed. Hopefully today can then make a start on making my Christmas Tree using the spiral bean 'pole' for the 'basic tree' - it is not being used at the moment to grow beans.

Anyway, enough chat for now. Have quite a bit to accomplish today, and my intention is to do so and not leave it for yet another day - which usually means I've left it too late anyway.
Enjoy your day, keep warm, keep happy, and am hoping you will join me again tomorrow. See you then.