Saturday, December 10, 2011

Getting There

Interesting day (for me) yesterday. Having put the gas fire on in this room (the dining room) kept it on low and stayed in here most of the morning having a good 'tidy up'. Also wrote all the Christmas cards that need posting (the rest are for neighbours and will be hand delivered).

Then planned how to make/decorate my cheat's Christmas Tree, intending to use supermarket plastic carrier bags cut into strips, spray one edge with tacky glue and sprinkle glitter on, the other edge will be threaded onto the wire spiral to ruffle up. Wider strips towards the bottom of the 'tree' and the hope is that it will look like a snow covered 'frilly' tree that will have baubles etc hanging from its branches. May even take a photo of it if it looks OK.

Do wish it would snow, my memories yesterday (had to have another thinking session didn't I?) were of those winters when huge snowflakes would fall silently and slowly down to settle into deep carpets of white. My dad used to take me outdoors when it was snowing the big flakes so he could catch one on a square of black velvet, and we would look through a magnifying glass to see all the different shapes that a snowflake can be. They say no two snowflakes are alike, but surely they can't ALL be different. But we never did see two alike.

Other things we children loved to do (and our own offspring also) was make a snowball, then roll it along the lawn or path to collect more snow until we had a huge ball, then place this in the middle of the lawn with a smaller ball on top, two little pieces of coal pressed in for the eyes, a carrot for the nose, stones for the mouth, a hat on its head and a scarf round its neck. Every child HAD to have a snowman in the garden.
We also used to love to break off the long icicles that hung from a low roof, then suck them as though they were an 'iced lolly'. Cooks (usually our mums) would gather a bowl of clean snow and use as an ingredient when to make pancakes.
Dads would shine up the runners on sledges and we would either sit on these to be dragged around the icy streets, or take the sledges to a park or field with a hill, and race down it.

In the old days snow was fun and never seemed to cause the 'travel chaos' it does today, perhaps because in those days there were few cars on the road. Only the wealthy had them. Everyone else used a bus or bicycle or walked, although we had to be careful we didn't slip on the ice. Most people cleared the footpaths outside their own property so the pavement was clear, salt and grit was put on the roads.
Nowadays we are told not to clear the pavements - the council has to do this - in case black ice appeared overnight and someone slipped on it the next day. In our day we just put salt on the cleared path and it then wouldn't freeze up however wet it got.

I remember - before we left Leeds, and parking outside the hair salon that I went to, had great difficulty in walking across the very narrow pavement between car and salon because the snow/ice had not been cleared. Even using a stick I slipped and nearly fell each time I went. Suggested they clear it - but was told they were not allowed to (due to 'elf and safety). Perhaps I should have 'fallen' then been able to sue the council for not clearing the path. Silly me, missed a trick there!!The snow and ice lay around for weeks and we always sprinkled coarse (cooking) salt down our drive so the milkman could at least walk to the doorstep to deliver the milk without fear of slipping and dropping the milk bottles. It worked!

Not sure whether the salt my mother used for cooking was what we called 'rock salt'. Doubt it was sea salt, but she always bought it in a block (about twice the size of a house brick) and it was always my job to take her 'special knife' (I still have it, the blade worn right down due to its regular use), and sit for seemingly hours (and it probably was hours) grinding the salt down into crystals with the knife and this would then be stored in jars ready for use. As we were in Coventry, must have been very young - we move to Leamington Spa when I was 7. Bet I'd have been taken into care today if my mother allowed me to wield a sharp knife (starting at around the age of 5).
A lot of salt seemed to be used in those days, not just for cooking, but also for 'salting down' green beans from the garden etc.

We did have the finer 'table' salt which we kept in 'salt cellars', and unlike today's 'freshly ground black pepper' we used only to have white pepper, also kept in its own pot. Seems that only the chefs use white pepper today and this because it doesn't add dark flecks to something (say mayo) as would happen with ground black pepper. Appearance of a dish always counts when a chef. Perhaps rightly so.

Salt, (English) mustard, vinegar, pepper were the only condiments used when I was young. The mustard always freshly made using mustard powder (still have a tin of this on my shelf). Olive oil was considered medicinal (possible a laxative) and only used as such. Not even sure whether any oils were used when cooking, the 'fats' in those days being lard, butter, and beef dripping. Bacon fat also used for frying and goose fat if we were lucky. Margarine was not popular as in those days it was considered 'pauper's food and tasted awful anyway.

The foods available to the domestic cook in my youth were very few compared to the variety sold in supermarkets today. Most were locally grown/reared - and because of this - seasonal and fresh. Some food was imported, dried fruits, oranges, lemons, spices, sugar, coffee, tea, but generally our mothers/grandmothers/ great grandmothers tended to cook simply using what was around at that time, the fresh produce often grown in their gardens or allotments. It was all so easy then. And it could be easy now if we can stop believing that we HAVE to try all the 'new' recipes with those unusual ingredients that keep appearing on TV and in cookery books and mags.

Maybe this is why the restaurants (even the Michelin star ones) are now putting old and traditional 'classics' back on the menu. What could be easier than Bread and Butter Pudding? Or Spotted Dick? Yet diners (young enough to have never tried them let alone heard of them) absolutely love them. Cheap and easy to make too - which is perhaps why these have gained favour (more profits for the 'eaterie').

As a child (and teenager) Christmas for me was not all about food, it was the scemstof a real fir tree brought into the house, the aroma from a fresh pineapple that stood atop a bowl of fresh fruit. The smell of the zest from the tangerines, and the orange peels that we dried by the fire and sprinkled with cinnamon to pile up in a bowl as a 'Christmas Pot-Pourri'. Nowadays we seem to have to buy scented candles to even get a whiff of those times past.

We are fast approaching the time when we put together our own Christmas Hampers to give away as gifts (full of home-mades of course), today am offering a few more suggestions useful to give to 'cooks who care' (about the food they use and eat). Such as different types of mustard. Easily made but different in their own way. Pot into small sterilised jars, label and pop into that Hamper.
As measurements are given in 'cup's - (a cup holding 8 fl oz) - use either a tea-cup or mug that holds that amount (less than half a pint which is 10 fl oz), or use a clear measuring jug.

Coarse Grained Mustard:
1 cup yellow or black mustard seeds (or mix of both)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup oil
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup white wine
2 tsp herbs of your choice
Blend the salt and pepper corns with the wine until smooth (blend well or they may 'split'). Pour into bowl, then add the mustard seeds, oil, vinegar and herbs. Pour into sterilized jars, seal and leave to stand for several days before using to allow to thicken and the flavour to 'mature'.

Smooth French Mustard:
one-third of a cup of mustard powder
1 tblsp caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 eggs
two-thirds cup of tarragon vinegar
Put the mustard powder, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Beat the eggs with the vinegar and slowly stir this into the pan in a slow but continuous stream. Cook and stir over low to medium heat until the mixture is thick and smooth. Cool before potting up. Makes about 1 cup (8 fl oz).

Sharp (hot) English Mustard:
one-third cup dry English mustard powder
2 eggs
two-thirds cup white wine vinegar
good pinch salt
2 tblsp olive oil
Put the mustard powder into a small pan, then beat together the eggs, vinegr and salt, slowly adding this to the pan continuing as in above recipe. When stirred-cooked until thick and smooth, allow to cool before beating in the olive oil. Pot up as before.

Several years ago we were give a jar of 'mustard fruits' (from Italy). Mistakenly thought these were to be eaten as a 'dessert'. What a shock I got. Turns out these were a real luxury, expensive to buy and to be served as an accompaniment to meat. They can be served hot or cold. Once opened, the jar should be stored in the fridge.
As made with mustard - a worthy recipe to include today if you are making your own mustard. Fresh fruits would be cherries, blueberries, grapes, oranges, mandarins, peaches, pears and apricots. Use any combination of glace fruits: red/green cherries, pineapple, figs, pears, peaches or apricots.
Cooks will enjoy finding a bottle of this in their personal Hamper.

Mustard Fruits:
2 lb (1kg) fresh fruit in season (see above)
1 lb (500g) glace fruits (see above)
2.5 cups sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tblsp made mustard
one-third cup each water and lemon juice
half cup red wine vinegar
Remove peel and core from fruits (that need it) and slice thickly. Place into a bowl. Into a saucepan put the sugar, water, lemon juice and red wine vinegar. Heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved, then bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard and the garlic, then add the fruit and bring back to the boil. Simmer for another 5 minutes then pot into hot sterilized jars.
Store of one week before using, and once opened store in the fridge.

Although not intended as Hamper Gifts, the first recipe might prove useful if we are snowed up and run out of a 'spread' (always assuming we have UHT milk and dried milk powder on our shelves). If we make our own yogurt and (maybe) keep frozen cream in our freezer, then we have the makings for creme fraiche.

As you know, my Beloved loves to pour double cream over most of his desserts. He usually helps himself from the fridge, and very often 'forgets' which tub he used last, so opens another. Very rarely are these left to go sour (so have to be discarded), but have now begun to buy 'long-life' tubs of cream, so that there is always some there when we run out of the 'fresh'. Not enough difference in flavour between the fresh and long-life cream for it to matter to B. Same goes for price (which matters to me).

Home-made Margarine:
5 tblsp liquid skimmed milk
2 heaped tblsp powdered skimmed milk
half tsp salt
1.5 cups (12 fl oz) sunflower oil
Put all but the oil into a blender and set this running at slowest speed. Slowly pour in the oil and continue blending until the mixture is thick. If you wish it even thicker, add a little more dried milk powder.
Put into a container and chill (where it will then harden).

Creme Fraiche:
2 cups (16 fl oz) cream
half cup (4 fl oz) buttermilk or plain yogurt
Heat the cream to 30C (85F), then stir in the buttermilk/yogurt. Cover and leave at room temperature for one - two days or until thickened. DO NOT STIR! Store in covered containers in the fridge for at least ten days. The recipe says it can be kept longer.

Final recipe today is for raspberry vinegar. My mum used to make this and I used to love to sip it 'neat', although more often used in Victorian times as a summer drink diluted with soda water and chilled with ice-cubes.
Today, 'neat' raspberry vinegar is often used as an alternative to balsamic vinegar or tarragon vinegar. Used also to 'deglaze' the juices of roast poultry or pork when making gravy.

Although now normally buy HP sauce in plastic 'sqeezy' bottles, the original tall glass jars (HP still sold in these) are great for sterilizing once empty (keep the lids and sterilized these in boiling water), as they can then be used to storing fruit and/or herb vinegars and oils, a collection of three or four different oils/vinegars in matching (HP) bottles make a very attractive gift in their own right, as would just one added to the Hamper. At this time of year make this using frozen (thawed) raspberries.
Blackcurrants and blackberries both make good 'fruit vinegars' to be used in much the same way, and these (being black fruits) make good drinks when we have a cold or sore throat.

Raspberry Vinegar:
3 lb (1.5kg) raspberries
4 cups (32 fl oz) white wine vinegar
Put the raspberries into a glass bowl and cover with the vinegar. Cover the bowl and leave to stand in a cool place for 10 days, giving it a gentle stir each day, but remember to keep it covered.
After the ten days, strain the liquid and fruit through a muslin lined nylon sieve (if you haven't muslin use a fine sieve). Leave to drip but do not squeeze or press the fruit). Once no more liquid is dripping through, remove sieve and discard the fruit (although possibly another use could be made of it - any ideas? I hate throwing anything away). Measure the raspberry flavoured vinegar and allow 1 lb (500g) sugar to each 2 cups (16 fl oz) of the liquid. Pour the liquid into a saucepan, add the sugar and heat gently, without stirring until the sugar has dissolved (shaking the pan helps the sugar to dissolve faster) then bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Skim off any froth if there is any. Leave to cool, then bottle up and seal securely. Store in a cool place.

The reason why I make only bread dough in the bread-maker Carole (instead of letting the machine bake the loaf from start to finish), is because our toaster 'slots' are not long enough to take a full slice of 'machine-baked'. Even the slices of bought toasting bread are often too large.
So I make the dough, then put it into a 2lb loaf tin which - after baking and although risen - will cut into the right sized slice, and more of them than in a bought loaf. We also like the smell of bread as it bakes. Sort of 'homely' (this word in the US has a different meaning).

Lakeland sell the small metal mini-loaf tins - think they are in sets of four. They also sell some 'cardboard' lined small containers meant for both cooking and giving of bread, cakes, etc, or to hold home-made sweets etc. Have found the small oblong ones perfect for baking mini-loaves, and they are reusable (not sure for how long, but have used mine several times so far). The small flat oblong ones are perfect for baking gingerbread, that then being able to be wrapped still in the container and given as a gift (with a note to say the empty container can be used again for baking. Almost two gifts in one).

There are many bread-machines on the market now as these have become very popular since the price of bread has risen. Many people still use bread mixes with the machine, but even then this makes the bread cheaper than a bought loaf, and when making from scratch (either with a machine or not) home-baked bread is then really inexpensive. to make. Tastes a lot better too. And with not additives or preservatives, a lot healthier for us. Apparently many people are now finding 'bought' bread (not artisan loaves but the soft 'pappy' stuff) is giving them dyspepsia. Certainly this has happened to me and there is only one brand of 'pap' that I can now eat without having stomach pains half an hour later. Home-made bread I can eat safely.

Having once suffered with migraine, can sympathise with Lisa. Mine began in my early teens - remember the first time it happened I was at school and thought I was going blind. Had black and white geometic patterns begin working across my eyes until I couldn't see anything. It made me feel sick and the only way I could cope with it was to kneel in front of a chair and bury my head into a cushion until the 'patterns' had gone away. Which took some time.
Later discovered that it was almost certainly sunshine hitting my eyes through the side of my spectacles that started the migraine attacks. Fortunately - as I grew older (and avoided the sun) the attacks grew less. Haven't had an attack for many years.

A herbal remedy for migraine is 'Feverfew' which luckily for me grew as a weed (sorry, wild flower) in our Leeds garden, so used to make herbal tea with this and if ever a migraine attack seemed imminent (tiny patterns in the corner of one eye before it spread), made and drank this tea and it certainly seemed to help. Don't know if 'feverfew' grows in the US. It grows in clumps and has small daisy-like white flowers. It is the leaves we use to make the 'tea' (aka 'tisane').
Perhaps herbalists sell Feverfew in dried form (or pills).

Am wondering Wen, if the Amish celebrate Christmas in the way we do (trees, decorations, gifts, Christmas dinner etc.) Some Christian religions don't. A good friend of mine - a Jehovah's Witness, never celebrated Christmas (although managed to cook the meal as an 'anniversary' dinner for her wedding anniversary - she got married on Christmas Eve). They didn't send Christmas cards either, or celebrate birthdays. Their religion forbad it.
Yet, other religions (such as Muslims) tend to send Christmas cards to non-Muslim friends, some Jewish people do also. But they treat Christmas more as a reason to have the feast and frolicks without the religious trappings. Christmas cards sent would not have angels on it, but more probably robins and snow.

How many people these days even give a thought to Christmas being Christ's 'official' birthday? Today it is far more to do with spend, spend, spend, receive as many gifts as possible and eat until bursting. Centuries ago this time of year (Winter Solstice) was always a time of feasting, was it then called Saturnalia?) to celebrate the days beginning to grow longer, holly, mistletoe and the Yule Log being the traditional decor of those times. No way could the church prise people from their pagan parties, so Saturnatlia was then 'taken over' and was called 'Christ's birthday' (although it has been proved Christ would have been almost certainly born in September), this allowing the people to still have their jollies, but accept Christianity at the same time.

It was when I began my 'learning curve' into frugality minimiser deb, that I found it useful to fill empty storage jars (in those days these were tall jars that once held orange juice) with 'dry goods' (such as lentils, pearl barley, dried beans, rice, pasta etc). On these jars I put a label with the name of the contents, and under that how much it cost per ounce (we hadn't turned 'metric' then). Now everything comes packed in 500g or 1kg, the price would be marked as per gr.
This made it very easy for me to cost how much a meal would cost to make when using such ingredients.
The packets in the cupboard were also priced in the same way (one bag of flour being 53 oz, meant - at that time - I could get several ounces for 1d in old money). The big bags of flour still weigh 53 oz, and depending on the brand of flour bought, we can either get flour for (now) 1p per oz, or it could be 2p per oz.
Trouble with me is that although I have to work with decimal currency, still tend to convert the metric weights into the old lbs and oz, but however we choose to price up small amounts of ingredients we have, it is well worth doing and the only way we can prove to ourselves (and others) that it can often be MUCH cheaper to make a dish (or cake, or biscuits, or jam....) ourselves than to buy the same thing (only it wouldn't be as good) over the counter.

Once I'd got my prices marked up, could then set myself challenges such as 'make a three course meal for four for £1' (possible in those days, with a modicum of difficulty), or 'how much can I make for 50p). I like challenges for sometimes basic cooking can be a bit boring, and I don't do boring.

Beloved got his own supper yesterday (he was going to his social later and would probably eat something there as well). Think he had a can of Baxter's Scotch Broth (which he loves). When I went to put butter into the microwave to soften slightly, discovered a dish of peas in there which had been heated for B's supper a couple of days previously (chicken kievs, chips and peas). He had forgotten to eat the peas!! And I'd only just mentioned they were in the microwave before he went to get his kievs and chips from the oven to plate up.
Suggested he add them to his soup before heating it up. Peas disappeared when I went into the kitchen, so presume he had done this.

Myself did not feel like eating a 'proper' meal, and during the evening had a craving for kiwi fruit and orange. So ate the last three kiwi fruit (slice off the top and eat with a teaspoon as if eating a boiled egg), and peeled and ate 2 oranges (peel saved/frozen to make candied peel later). When I get a craving tend to believe it is my body needing something, and so having had a more than full daily dose of vit. c yesterday, am wondering if I''m coming down with a cold. If so it should hit me by tomorrow, Monday at the latest. The only person I could have caught a cold from would be Norma (last Wednesday), unless B brought in the virus. But maybe I just fancied kiwi and oranges and it wasn't a 'craving' after all.

Still bitterly cold outdoors, and the forecast says the temperature will fall even lower. Still, not too much of a problem for me as I am staying indoors until at least the wind drops. Plenty of blue sky this morning after an early morning shower of sleet. However cold the weather, as long as the sun shines all seems right with the world. Or at least, my world.

Feel that all readers will now become busier and busier as the days move ever nearer to Christmas, but still hope you will find time to drop me a line now and then, and if any of you have any thrifty ideas to make this Christmas really special, please pass them on. Have yet to watch the repeat of Kirstie Allsopp's Christmas programme (where I think she 'makes things') but hope to find it inspiring.
Enjoy your weekend. I intend to enjoy mine. Until tomorrow when (hopefully) we all meet up again.
p.s. 'spellcheck' has failed so apologies for any errors.
B has just brought in TWO envelopes from 'Ernie', and the joy of discovering I've had 2 x £25 'wins' via Premium Bonds is too much for me deal with at the moment to fret about missing letters on the screen. .
Myself thought a person was allowed one win per month (if lucky enough), but apparently ALL bond numbers picked by 'Ernie' month are eligible for a win, even when more than one are owned by one person. Maybe later I'll get three, five or ten? Must be satisfied with just the occasional one. Greed is not in my genes.