Sunday, January 22, 2012

Choosing the Right Path

Late start this morning as thought I'd get Gill's phone call over before I began. Maybe mistake, but at least this will stop my train of thought moving to another track.
Firstly will reply to comments.

Good selection of crops you managed to harvest recently Urbanfarmgirl. Were these 'outdoors', or grown in your polytunnel? Does your p.tunnel supply you with salads or other veg right through the winter?

Appreciate that Heston B. has a place in culinary 'art' MimsyS, and it is right that we should all have freedom of choice as to what we cook and how we cook it. Maybe it is my frugal outlook that shudders when I see a chef whose use of ingredients are 'wasteful and expensive'. Fun to watch of course, but in my line of 'work', try to follow the path that leads to a comfortable life without needing to spend much.
Suppose it is more a matter of income, if one earns enough, then they can afford to be wasteful or enjoy a more decadent life. Each to his own. Another viewpoint is that spending money on expensive food will also help to line other's pockets.

Although now try to avoid 'wasting' any food, there was a time when I used to make framed 'decorations' using many different pasta shapes. Arranged attractively and stuck onto a backing card, then sprayed with gold paint they did make an inexpensive 'picture' to hang on a wall. Done the same thing with various dried beans and seeds, this time using their different colours to give a good effect, omitting any gold spray. Now I would see this as a waste of food. Shows how far I've trodden the path of poverty and parsimony. Maybe gone a mile or two further than I should.

Don't make the mistake of thinking Margie, that during wartime people were healthy because they ate so many veggies. Although not on ration, these were in very short supply as very little (if at all) food was imported, and apart from potatoes and wheat, it was left to individuals to grow their own. 'Dig for Victory' this was called, and lucky were those who had garden or allotment. Many who lived in towns had no way of growing anything.
As an instance, an onion was worth more than its weight in gold, and if there was a spare one, this was often given as a prize in a raffle, then made to last as long as possible. All fresh produce was season, and those lucky enough to live in the country could at least forage for 'free food'.
With no imported fruit (citrus fruit etc), rose hips were gathered to make rose hip syrup to give children essential vitamins.
During the war the Americans sent over lots of vegetable seeds to help us Brits grow our own produce, but most of these failed dismally as the climate here was not the same as in the US and the plants either did not flourish or failed to give any edible crops (pumpkins etc). The 'fancier' foods, such as courgettes, aubergines, bell peppers etc were not then normally grown, we made do with the heavy croppers such as peas, green beans, cabbage/kale, and the large garden marrows. Even potatoes were limited supply, it was a matter of who got to the greengrocer first to be able to bring home a spud or two before they ran out.

The improved health of this country was - admittedly - due to rationing of food, but not in the way we believe. It was the poorer people, the ones who previously were at poverty level when it came to affordable food (diets of bread and dripping, potatoes, gruel etc), whose health improved as rationed food was the same for all, rich and poor alike, so for the first time the poor were (in their eyes) eating like kings, the rich felt they were eating like paupers.
Rationing had been thought out carefully, and just enough allowed to keep everyone alive. Manual workers were allowed a little extra protein (usually cheese) to give them enough calories to cope with 'hard labour'. Everyone else had to manage on the little provided, and what else they could grow or forage.

Your comment Alison reminded me that today I rarely bother to peel potatoes. Generally cooking the large spuds in the microwave and eating the whole lot (the skins have loads of fibre, this makes them very filling and helps to satisfy the appetite), the smaller spuds are boiled in there skins and again all parts are eaten. If wishing to serve mashed potato, then cook in their 'jackets', and scoop out the centre. The skins can be cut into wedges and dried off in the oven to use as 'dippers', or the inside could be brushed with butter and filled with something like chilli con carne, or a mixture of mashed spuds and cheese, and heated through.
Instead of 'mash', try the 'new way' by boiling small 'new' potatoes until tender, then putting into a frying pan with a little butter and/or oil, then squashing them slightly with a potato masher. These are called 'crushed potatoes'.
Roast potatoes are normally peeled before roasting, but this is not necessary. Just cut them up as normal, and we end up with at least one (maybe two or three) sides without peel, and the skin should then be able to be easily peeled off (wafer thin so the spud retains all its vitamins) or just roast as-is.

Myself find that opening jars and bottles can often be difficult, and it is possible to buy a gadget that fits round the top and give extra leverage. Rubber 'mats' also on sale that help give a better grip. A rubber glove (the 'marigold' type) works just as well.
If a jar lid is almost impossible to open, then either turn it upside down and give it hard bang on the top of the work surface (this often helps to release the seal), or dip it into very hot water (causes the metal to expand which help it to loosen from the glass).

Sairy et al, finds the stick blender one of the most useful gadgets. Myself have one, but for some reason don't use it that often. Perhaps because I enjoy eating more 'chunky' soups.

Must now pass on some more 'trade secrets'. Quite a lot in the mag was interesting this week, so this could take a bit of time.... maybe give some today and more tomorrow.
As mentioned yesterday, Tesco is set to launch a new wave of promotions that will target customers "based on the affluence of the areas they live in". Initially this will involve 300 of their stores. Not sure how this will work out (at least for me), will just have to wait and see.

Asda has long been known as the UK's cheapest supermarket (the mag says) and research carried out shows it is also the most trusted regarding its claims about price and promotions. As I have never shopped there, cannot comment on this. So let's hear it from you.

Next bit is about the first shopping trend of the year. Well it had to start sometime. This one being identified by Morrison's who are suggesting that more of us Brits are bringing lunch into the office (presumably instead of 'eating out').
Sale of plastic storage boxes have rocketed by 260% so far in January. Wow! Apparently this due to "cash-conscious customers taking lunch to work".
The retailer also said there had been a run on comfort foods (also linked to a colder spell of weather). Potato sales rose by 31% last week, soup up by 25%, pies and pastries up by 24%,
Now although the above could mean these were being taken to work for lunch, this still means they have been bought from the store, and not a lot made from scratch. But then the trade mg is written from the retail aspect, hoping to keep us buying and forget all about home-cooking.

Many of you may log on to and might be interested to know that this website saw a 140% jump in users this Christmas. The site has been improved with a relaunch last November and is an aid to finding the cheapest basket.

Although this next bit is written for wholesalers, it could mean this means higher prices will be charged by those who buy certain products. The ones mentioned were catering packs of things like branded sauces (by catering I mean the tiny ones given 'free' with a meat at a cafe). If the purchaser has to pay more, then he will surely add a few pence more to the menu price to cover his costs.
In one wholesale list a total of 127 out of 129 products are set to go up next month.

Readers living in the Sussex area will be pleased to know that the independent retailer Jempson's has slashed the price of fruit and veg by 10%. At least until the end of this month "to cater for the growing trend for scratch cooking and home baking". Suppose where we shop depends on whether independent prices compare well with those in the supermarkets.

Wholesale prices for red meat and poultry might (or might not) affect us as consumers. Although meats are still showing month-to-month rises, these have slowed significantly compared with annual inflation rates.
UK lamb, chicken and pork - although rising in price - hold up better than counterparts abroad, although New Zealand lamb has fallen nearly 5%, although the price still remains high. Long-term trend is for UK and NZ lamb to move upwards, with prices rising year-on-year due to falling flock numbers.
Turkey is a 'rising price' exemption due to the post-Christmas slump, showing a 10.7% drop.

Now the above info may be more of us to wholesalers and butchers, but at least it gives us an idea of future trends/prices, and the reason why. It could be we would be wise to buy lamb now and freeze is away before the price rises even further. Am not suggesting we do, it is just a thought.

Here is some 'trade talk', the way retailers hope to keep our custom. Read it as though you are a store manager, then read it again from the viewpoint of a customer...
"In this extraordinary economy, everyday low prices are simply not sustainable: the quality of the product is at it highest, but the margins down to the wire."
"In this promotion-driven world, most shoppers will happily switch from one brand to another because of a special offer. Shoppers simply expect to be swayed by the latest bogof."
"A recent survey asked shoppers to name brand they could honestly say they were loyal to, and could not do without. The results were surprising. Beyond health and beauty products, there were very few brands that customers could not be swayed away from by a promotion.
This is a problem".
"The good news is that people love to shop, they like to be inspired and when they are they become loyal advocates......and if retailers and manufacturers begin to treat the consumer's time in stores as a below-the-line media opportunity, they can begin to inspire customers. Perhaps that will help drive ritualistic behaviour and put brands back on shopping lists".

Another article gives another way to keep our custom, this mentioning a certain store as an example (what's gone wrong for *** is what's wrong with ***), but as the same could be said of many stores prefer not to give names. "Go into the *** or *** and you get helpful people. Go into a *** and you're in a faceless tin cathedral. Go into local smaller stores and you're in eye contact world."
Feature finishes with interesting questions, again speaking from the retail viewpoint "For we who think, eat and breathe food, this requires a return to first principles. Does food come to the people or do people go to the food? *** chose the latter. Is food for health or wealth? It chose the latter. Is it about sustaining the planet or profits. Ditto." They way I see it is that the fault lies not at one door, nowadays all supermarkets put profits before customers needs (although admittedly some are better than others at doing this).

However much I try not to be tempted by new products, this next is one I'll have great difficulty in avoiding, for Walkers is bringing out three new crisp flavours this week - but won't be telling shoppers what they are. The packs will be labelled 'What's That Flavour? (called A, B and C) and if we consumers identify the flavour correctly we then go into a draw that gives a £50,000 prize for each variety. Honestly, it's not the money that is making me want to sample the flavours, it is the novelty of trying to guess what I'm eating.
These new flavours will be on sale as single bags, a six-pack containing two of each flavour, and two bags of mystery flavour in multipacks of the normal salted, cheese and onion, or salt-and-and-vinegar.

Think that's enough for today. Still have a few more items not yet covered, but will trot these out tomorrow. Hope the above has given you 'food for thought' when it comes to how the stores aim to keep our custom. As many of the ideas are for our benefit, then no cause for concern. We just have to make sure they don't pull out strings to make us move in the direction we don't wish to.

Another cold and windy day, just right for a Sunday 'roast', even though ours will be breast of lamb. Must really try to make this interesting.
Before I forget, the remains of the beef casserole and shredded cabbage were reheated together with a little added water, and it made a very good minestrone-type soup (but without adding any pasta), the flavour being so good that I'll be saving casserole/cabbage every time it is now cooked just so that I can have a steaming bowlful again.
With B 'eating out' last night, made myself a supper of canned tuna and cucumber sarnies (the tuna bound with a bit of home-made Marie-Rose sauce. A bit boring I suppose, but very tasty.

More from me tomorrow when I hope you'll be joining me. See you then.