Thursday, December 22, 2011

Could Have Been a Better Day!

Had some amazing dreams last night, then woke late after 8 hours sleep (most unusual for me to sleep that long). With the winter solstice having come and almost gone, the dawn is supposed to a little earlier this day, with the dusk also waiting a few minutes longer before descending upon us. Not today, it is nearly 8.30am and hardly light outside. Due probably to the dense cloud covering the sky.

Who needs dreams? Yesterday was a living nightmare. My 'hair-do' went well, then it all went downhill. The groceries arrived midmorningwith a VERY apologetic delivery man at the door explaining that their computers had crashed and they couldn't give me the usual printed statement with the delivery showing all the foods purchased.They had sent out a scrappy version with a letter of apology, so had to make do with that, but it was very difficult to sort out the delivery. Seemed to be what I'd ordered give or take a few things (but was compensated for those by discounts etc).

After all the necessary had been put in the freezer (not a lot of frozen food ordered) and in the fridge (mainly cheeses, butter, milk, cream, fresh produce etc). I then sorted out the bags of canned and packet foods. Checked with the details given (that took time) whilst B was fitting a new light under one of the units - it kept breaking down.
Had already filled the washing machine so switched that on then went into the larder to put away all my 'goodies'. The light in the larder wouldn't work. Like the Black Hole of Calcutta in there without a light, the larder once being a long passage leading to the back door. No door now at the end (bricked over and holds shelves) but the old back door still stays as the door from the kitchen into the larder.

So that was another light that needed attention. Went into the living room as it was then nearly 1.00pm to watch the news on TV (don't yet have a radio). Discovered the TV didn't work. No little light on the digi-box either. Switched the plugs on and off, nothing happened, thought there must have been a power failure in the road. But B checked the ceiling lights and they came on, so I checked the standard lamp by my chair (works on the ring mains), that didn't work so the fault lay with that circuit in that room.

B went and checked the fridge - no light in there, so that wasn't working, neither was the washing machine. My first thought was that something drastically wrong had happened to the whole of our ring main, and we might not even get an electrician to come before Christmas, and even if he did we might need re-wiring and then all the frozen and chilled food - what would happen to that? My mind was working overtime, what could I do, what should I do? Even though our frozen food is insured against loss, even then could not bear the though of having to throw some away, and would have to try and cook up as much as I could. That would put paid to any Christmas 'holiday' as the would have only the gas hob to work with the oven being electric. The slow-cooker runs from a mains plug, as do my various electric kitchen gadgets (mixers, processers etc). My mind worked through all the frozen food and 'how to cook it' within the next hour of my life.

To cut a long story short, B said the main fuse in the fuse box had 'tripped', showing a fuse had blown, and when he found which one it was, he was able (eventually, but it took a long time) to repair it and all was well again. But it really made me think. We rely so much on the fridge/freezer, electric oven (and computers) that - if the electrics failed for any reason whatsoever (domestic or national) it would not be easy to get rid of any foods starting to thaw in the freezers. They will stay solid frozen for several days if the doors aren't opened, but once they are it is a matter of using up what we have asap. Luckily I have a large cool-box plus two Donald Russell polystyrene 'cool boxes' (the ones their frozen meat is delivered in, so still frozen food could be packed tightly in those for longer storage, but there is a limit and anyone with large chest freezers would be hard pushed to cook/eat all the food stored there.

Perhaps we rely too much on the 'electrics' in our life. Take too much for granted. Our ancestors managed without any electricity and if push comes to shove, then we too should also be able to. Perhaps it is worth giving a moments thought as to what we should do if the worst happens. I've lived through electricity cuts in my life-time (during a recession or two), they may happen again. All 'disasters' are so much easier to cope with if we have contingency plans.

There is (of course) some good news - at least for my Beloved. From now until New Yeare he is allowed to raid the fridge, and help himself. For just about everything has been bought to please his palate. He can now munch happily away on an assortment of cheeses (a special pack of mixed cheese bought specially for his pleasure), pork pies, salads, mince pies, home-cooked ham, home-made ice-cream and lemon curd, a big tin of sweets, and numerous other 'treats'. Even the tin holding assorted cheese biscuits (was nearly empty) has now been refilled. Why wait for Christmas? B has already begun. "Think there is everything there you like now" I said to him yesterday "well, not everthing" he replied "I would like you to make me a fruit loaf. The ones I bring in don't taste like the ones I used to eat (when a lad)". So that is what I will be doing today. B has also requested a trifle "with glace cherries, flaked almonds and angelica on top" for Christmas Day tea. Our daughter had asked me to take one when we visit her that day, but as we are returning home after the Queens's Speech, one will now made will be for her, another will be made for B and kept in our fridge waiting for his return.

Think my Christmas 'treat' will be having the meal cooked for me. This will be the first time in 55 years that I've not cooked the meal. Feels strange, but will enjoy the moment. As to other 'treats' will probably sneak a sweetie from the tin now and again, and enjoy the clementines and possibly even an avocado. Might even dare to have a bit of my trifle. Have got so used to not eating very much that I really don't miss eating festive edibles.
Most enjoyment for me comes from providing good food for others. Which reminds me, I asked B last night if the recent batch of my soft-scoop ice-cream was OK (he was just finishing a bowlful of my Toffee Yogurt 'frozen dessert' (no cream in it so can't really call it 'ice-cream) and he said it was really gorgeous. Probably the dash of rum and grated chocolate added helped to swing it. Ignoring the cost of the rum (a gift anyway), the litre tub of this particular dessert cost less than 50p to make.

Because we were an hour without electricity yesterday, this upset various clocks in the house (oven and boiler) and so the central heating now comes on an hour later than it should. Beloved has forgotten how to alter this clock (and hope he doesn't for when he 'tries' to mend things - such as the kitchen unit light - he always makes things worse, or breaks them completely. He admitted yesterday it was his fault the fuse blew due to him 'messing about' with the unit light) Incidentally the larder light does work after all, it was connected to the ring main which is why the light didn't go on after the fuse blew.

What I have begun to do, is mark all the items bought yesterday with their price per pack. This will then make it easy to cost out what I'm making, although probably might not always do that.
At least I'll know how much my 'grocery order' comes to when I role-play grocer/customer and 'buy' from myself. If I don't put actual cash in a 'Shirley Jar', will definitely be keeping an account book of foods used and how much they 'cost' me.

On the delivery 'details' sent by Tesco, have been able to write down 'price per unit' at the side of quite a few items. Like how much does each potato cost, or each carrot/onion (when bought in a 1 kg/2 kg/2.5 kg bag)? Was tearing my hair out trying to work out how much rice would be by the gram (89p for 500g for instance), had to ask B "do I divide the 89 into 500 or the other way round?). He told me all I had to do was double the weight to make 1kg (1000g) and double the price then just move the decimal point to show how much per g. Dead easy when you know how. Anyway, when a price is something like 59p, 79p etc, always round it up to (say) 60p, 80p etc. Can't be bothered working with fractions.

Incidentally, when writing about an article in the newspaper about the foods served and Christmas as sold in the supermarkets, the 'best buys' coming from different stores. What was 'interesting' was that the price of ALL the listed foods as sold at M & S ended.with 99p! Other stores had different prices.
The problem always has been that we normally take notice of only the price per £ and ignore the pence, so although something might be priced at £9.99p, we still tend to think 'nine' and not 'ten'. Even I do this, so now 'round up' every time any pence is in the 'nineties'. Otherwise - at the end of the day - we could be paying £££s more than expected.

You are a real one for 'gadgets' Les. An electric spoon for weighing! Do you need to be that accurate? Have to say I'm a bit vague when it comes to weight and measures. Prefer to us the old fashioned balance scales (scoop one end, weights the other), as it is more accurate than the normal 'clock-faced' ones when it comes to small amounts. Generally though half an ounce here, half an ounce there hardly matters to me, being one of the 'old time' cooks who just use guestimated amounts. Maybe some recipes do need exact amounts, but then these are not the recipes I would wish to use. My style of cooking tends to be as easy as possible. It is only when baking we need to be fairly exact, and even then I'm not always THAT careful, it still seems to work give or take that extra ounce of flour/sugar/butter.....

There was an article in the paper yesterday about TV chefs and how each seem to have their own method of cooking a turkey, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts etc. How long the turkey should cook differs from one chef to another. Also the oven temperature (this of course would make a difference as to the length of cooking anyway). The journalist making it out to be that we will now be so flummoxed with all the different recommendations that cooking the Christmas dinner could be a mine-field and lucky if we get it right.

If the preparation/cooking temperature/method of ANY dish/meal or even an individual ingredient had to be set in stone, then there would be need for only one cook-book that would explain the lot. No need for the thousands of cook-books bought each year, and the monthly cookery mags that we enjoy reading. Every cook has his/her own method of doing something, improvements often discovered due to this. Jamie Oliver has tried roasting his potatoes in butter, oil, beef dripping, and goosefat, and each gives a different flavour/crispness, but all work well, so - as with all cooking - it is all a matter of personal choice AND taste. And thank goodness we can still have that.

Regarding cooking rice (mentioned by Les). The advice was always two measures water to one of rice. Myself found this still made the rice a bit too 'wet' (even when all the water had been absorbed) and many years ago began using one and a half measures of water to each measure of rice. This gives a much drier but thoroughly cooked rice that never stuck together. Have now seen chefs recommending using this lesser amount of water (but like to think that I discovered this method first).

Best place to keep canned drinks minimiser deb, is in a cold place - if no room in the fridge, then - in the winter - in a shed outdoors or in a garage. If a bedroom is warm, then possibly packets of 'dry goods' are best kept there, canned foods in a cooler place. Most foods need a fairly cool place for storage. Only those already 'dry' seem to be OK when stored in the warmth.
Did have the lemon curd recipe on this site, but possibly one of those that blogger 'lost', but am repeating it today.

The only good thing about the adverts on TV (and these now seem to last for up to 5 minutes) is that when watching a film, the 'ad time' can be used to any other out-of-the-room activity. (Lynn's comment reminded me of this) I've even managed to cook B's supper using only ad time. Potatoes put on to boil during one break, check they've cooked during the next (turning the heat off), even manage to make the dough (in the machine), set it to rise then bake using ad time to do all the necessary.
Making a cuppa, going 't'ut loo', putting laundry in washing machine, making a phone call, can all be done during the numerous breaks. Although I'm never tempted to buy anything show on a TV ad (and possibly because) at least they can have their uses.
The downside is that when they happen, my concentration on the programme watched, is then lost and I then tend to nod off!

Even the BBC, who do not show any advertising, now seem to have long breaks at the end of one programme before another starts - these showing trailers for things to come. Still allowing time to 'do things' between one prog and another.

Good idea Lynn to gather together your 'oddments' (left in packets) and put them all in jars. All pasta 'shapes' can be mixed, and when cooked together make a dish look even more interesting.

The prices in Canada seem much higher than over here Margie. Although probably relative to money earned and the percentage of a wage/salary paid on food could be much the same here.
Organic foods are always more expensive, and although these had become popular in this country, in recent months less and less 'organics' are being sold due to the price. It has been proved that organic produce is no better nor worse nutritionally than the non-organic. Some people believe there is no difference in flavour, others believe there is.
Myself have tried organic and am sitting on the fence re this. All I can say is that if we need to save money, then possibly we should have a rethink about whether we should still pay more (than we need to keep ourselves fed and watered) because we think this is the right way to go.

There are so many issues today re food: eat barn eggs or free-range eggs? Or go one step further and buy only free-range ORGANIC eggs. It is more a moral issue than any other. If we have to tighten our purse-strings, and we know we can pay less for the same as long as it is NOT organic it is up to the individual to choose whether to stoop that low? Me, am already on my bended knees, and if prices rise even further you will probably see me crawling by the end of the year.

Time moving relentlessly on, will now give the recipe for making lemon curd in the microwave. This is a really easy and speedy way, and - as ever - adapt this accordingly. The butter/sugar weights remain constant (although half an ounce or so extra butter won't hurt). I sometimes use an extra lemon, and when I need to save egg whites (to make something else) often make up the shortfall by adding an extra yolk or two. Instead of 3 eggs plus one yolk (total 4 yolks 3 whites), might use 2 eggs and 3 yolks (5 yolks, 2 whites), or 5 yolks and one white...). It has always worked. As when making lemon curd the traditional way (in a bain marie) we can avoid the 'clumpy' bits of egg white getting into the mix by straining the beaten eggs through a sieve before adding to the other ingredients.

Microwave Lemon Curd:
2 oz (50g) butter
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
zest and juice 2 lemons (3 if small)
3 eggs plus 1 yolk, beaten together
Put the butter, sugar, lemon zest and juice into a microwavable bowl and heat on full power for 1 - 3 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and butter melted. Fold in the beaten eggs thoroughly, then return to microwave and cook for one minute. Stir, then cook for a further minute. Stir again (by this time it will have begun to thicken). Cook for a further minute, stir and by then it should be really thick and can be potted up into small sterilised jars, sealed and cooled. Store in the fridge and eat within 4 - 6 weeks.

With all my food stores now put exactly where they should be (like knowing where each and everyone is when ready to prepare a meal), all I have now is to start working my way through them. Quite a few have been bought with Christmas in mind, so am not being miserly when dishing them out, and even up to New Year there there will still be 'left-overs' to chomp our way through. By the start of January hope that these will have almost disappeared and the true challenge can begin.
The good(e) news is that even with the extra festive treats, allowing for discounts etc, still have not spent more than my monthly 'food budget' (although now normally spend less and sometimes a lot less of that each month). With almost a 'grocery shop' of my own in the larder, seems that canny shopping can not only save pennies, but also provide enough food to keep us going for weeks/months (at a pinch a year?) which in itself makes the greatest saving of all.

Must now go and attempt to make a fruit loaf that B will enjoy. If not, then will try, try and try again. Thank goodness for this blog. It gives me a reason to keep on cooking, to share my discoveries and even disasters with anyone interested. Cooking just for B would make me feel taken for granted and 'used' and it would not then be pleasurable. So hope you all continue to keep reading and commenting, and looking forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow. TTFN.