Thursday, February 16, 2012

Spring in the Air

Again a late start due to the usual ...zzzzz (dreaming!). Awoke to a lovely sunny day, mild for time of year and already see the birds active (Valentine's Day the start of their 'love life'. The bluetits I notice are checking whether to return to their old nesting box or up-grade in the new one we have put up. Hope both will be used.

Watched the second episode of 'How to Grow a Planet' a couple of nights ago. It made me realise how much we take our vegetation (trees, herbage, flowers etc) for granted. The life force is perhaps even stronger in them than it is with us and it did seem that they can almost manipulate animal life to work for them. The way and why one particular flower would not release pollen until the right type of bee lighted on it was incredible.

Am now treating all growth with much more respect, and beginning to feel that by 'growing out own edibles' to eat is exactly the same as farming animals for the same reason. Could tell myself its wrong to grow food to eat as it is to breed animals to eat. Thank goodness I am not a vegetarian. Would probably end up eating only fruit and nuts and leave the mother plant to keep living. Suppose fruit and nuts are a bit similar to hens eggs - regularly being provided without no cost of life (as long as some fruit seeds and some nuts flourish, and the plant allowed to continue producing each year, the creation process continues).

This begs the question WHY the herbage growing in the first place? If there was none there would be no oxygen for us to breathe, and as the plants need (at least) insects to help them spread some of their pollen (wind doing the rest), then came the insects. Animals of any type will produce manure to add 'fertiliser' to the ground, also their rotting bones add minerals back to the soil that some plants need. So we have plants to thank for us being here at all.

It is as if we are all bound together in one long chain of events that connects us all, and will continue to do so unless one or more links are broken (as with the demise of the dinosaurs), then it will all begin again from the ground up so to speak.
There was so much in the programme that make me believe even more firmly that there HAS to be some massive 'intelligence' behind all this (including all the universe). Probably without any (human or visible) form at all. All I can say is that I'm very humble to be allowed to have consciousness to view even the tiniest part of the whole, even if I can't understand any of it.
Whether we are (individually) here for a specific reason or not, we should all be thankful for this very short period of 'life' on earth, and hope that we may be allowed to keep on returning.

Sorry about the philosophising, it comes over me from time to time, and more often now I'm reaching the end of my allotted span, always wishing I hadn't wasted so much of my life, and hoping desperately my last years are put to better use. Sitting in front of the TV 'having a think' doesn't seem a way of improvement, but at least can still learn something new.
By the way, think it is late this evening BBC1 that there is the Panorama repeat of that 'children in poverty (tent cities etc) in America. Hope I can stay awake to watch. Tend to nod off at that time if not careful.

Only one comment today. My reply to minimiser deb is Yes to both queries. Feel I have proved my point regarding the challenge of living off what we've got in store and not dong any shopping for as long as possible (unless 'topping up' the 'essentials' occasionally). Managed to do this for a good two months with only £25 spent during that time (milk, eggs, fresh fruit/veg, some bread...) this instead of the normal £150 plus of products that would normally have been ordered and delivered over two months (even though some ended up as 'stores'). So obviously made a good saving.
Despite me forgetting to add eggs to my list of the Tuesday delivery, once the vouchers et al, had been deducted, managed to replace almost everything used (dry goods and fresh) during the two months for under £60. Not counting flour, couscous, sugar rice etc used as still have LOADS left in the larder.
My stock of frozen meat has gone down (and not yet been replaced) but there is still enough in store to last me another couple or so months (maybe longer - as also have plenty of fish), so my next 'bulk purchase' will be frozen meat from D.S. when on offer, and again this will be paid for out of the savings made above. They way I like to look at it is that if I'd bought groceries in the usual way, this quality meat could never have been afforded, so the 'use what I'd got', works very much to our advantage, both saving money and eating much better meals because of it. Win win situation don't you think?

So in a way despite proving the challenge works, it will still be ongoing, for my aim is now to buy only what is needed as and when, hopefully doing the shopping myself using Morrison's scooter. May then try different challenges from time to time like 'how much fruit and veg can I buy for £5?
Incidentally saw an ad in the paper yesterday showing Morrison's were selling bags of baking potatoes for 50p (other fresh fruit/veg also). Although less weight than the Tesco pack, the M's were much cheaper. This means we can cook our 'jackets' even cheaper. Go for it.

Have a sudden urge this morning to start planting seeds in little pots to begin their life on the conservatory windowsill. Am wondering, if like the birds, these 'instincts' are to do with the position of the sun (hours in the day etc)? The 'time clock' that triggers something in our brains to tell us when it is time to start 'nest-building' (that's spring cleaning to you and me), and all the other 'necessaries' that we (in tune with the earth) feel come over us at certain times of the year. Feel more philosophising coming up, so must quickly change course and bring myself back to this moment in time. Do I feel a chat about Pancake Day might be worth having? Maybe later this week. In the meantime will give a few useful recipes then leave you again while I review my seee 'collection' and move a few plants around. In a couple or so weeks it will probably be 'safe' to put the plastic cover back on the greenhouse frame, then some seeds can also be started in there. Or might not replace cover and just grow beans and mangetout peas up the frame instead and use it like a 'bower' facing the sun so I can sit in there.

Swedes are an excellent winter veg. Not at all expensive and keep quite well in the fridge. However they are not as flavoursome as parsnips and more often used in casseroles rather than served as a veg in their own right.
So here is a recipe that makes swedes into dish that could take the place of roast potatoes, and - as parmesan is not the cheapest of cheeses (although a little goes a long way), why not allow some Cheddar or Red Leicester (or other hard cheese) to 'air-dry' as hard as parmesan, and then grate it on your finest grinder. Use this mixed with parmesan, or instead of parmesan.
Roasted Swede with Parmesan: serves 4
approx 1 lb/450g swede (or 1 large swede)
1 tblsp olive oil
2 oz (50g) parmesan cheese, grated (see above)
1 tblsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
knob of butter
1 - 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
Peel the swede and cut the flesh into chunky chips. Put into a bowl with the oil , most of the parmesan, and the chopped rosemary. Add seasoning to taste, then toss together and tip into a roasting tin, spreading the swede to keep it to one layer.
Sprinkle over the remaining cheese, dot with butter, then tuck in the pieces of garlic. Roast at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for half an hour (or slightly longer) until the swede is crisp and golden. Turn swede over halfway through the cooking time.
Serve as you would roast potatoes or chips.

Next recipe is a good one for using up bits and bobs. Not quite a risotto, and not quite an unspiced pilaf, but very easy to make (perfect student fodder). Keep to the ingredients given as far as you can, but you can make substitutions. The mushrooms could be fresh or use reconstituted dried ones. Although not in the list, chicken (carcase) scraps could be added towards the end, or even sliced cooked sausage (in which case use less or no bacon). Stock - of course! - will be home-made, and again use grated scraps of hard cheese oddments (store grated cheese in the freezer then it is always ready for use in a dish such as this or to top pizzas and pasta dishes, or even for making sarnies or cheese on toast).
Pot-Luck Rice: serves 4
8 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
half pint mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
11 oz (300g) long-grain rice
1 pint (300ml) hot chicken or vegetable stock
2 oz (50g) Cheddar or other hard cheese, grated
salt and pepper
Heat a large pan and add the bacon, fry for a few minutes until softened and it is giving up its fat, then stir in the mushrooms. Raise the heat and fry for 3 or so minutes until the bacon is beginning to crisp and the 'rooms' are turning golden. Using a slotted spoon, remove contents of the pan (leaving in the fat/juices) and place on a plate. Set aside.
Tip the onion into the pan juices and fry for 5 minutes, then stir in the garlic. Fry for a further minutes before stirring in the rice. When this is coated with the oil and glistening, then pour in the hot stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, then simmer (uncovered) for about 10 minutes until almost all the liquid has gone. Place on cover, remove from heat and leave to stand for 5 or so minutes to continue cooking in its own steam.
When ready, sprinkle over most of the cheese, then stir this into the rice. Add seasoning to taste. Serve in individual bowls with the bacon and mushrooms piled on top sprinkling over the rest of the cheese.

Final recipe today is admittedly more a dish for warmer days, but could - in a centrally heated room - be worth serving as lunch or supper dish, or even with 'mains' - especially if a hot soup or dessert begins or ends the meal. Worth giving this recipe as it uses up stale bread (any kind - white, brown, plain, granary, French baguette, Italian ciabatta etc), the rest of the ingredients from the larder.
The tuna could be replaced by other canned fish, but then tuna is traditional and probably one of the cheapest (other than sardines).
Tuna Panzanella: serves 4
6 slices fairly stale (not too dry) bread
cold water
6 large tomatoes
half large cucumber
handful basil leaves, torn into pieces
2 x 200g cans tuna (pref in brine), drained
1 tblsp capers, drained and chopped
4 tblsp red or white wine vinegar
6 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Put some cold water into a bowl then dip in the bread. Do not leave it to soak but squeeze out each slice once it has been dipped, then break it up into chunks (or crumble) and place in a bowl. Halve the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds, then cut the flesh into big chunks. Also chop the cucumber into chunks.
Add the tomatoes and cucumber to the bread, sprinkle over the basil, then add the flaked tuna. Mix together the vinegar, oil and capers with seasoning to taste, then pour this over the bread mixture. Toss lightly together until well combined, then serve.

The one good thing about having restocked up with fresh veggies is that this gives me a lot more variety when serving. So tonight it may be roasted veg (colourful bell peppers, red and white onion, celery, butternut squash, parsnips...) served with the lamb shank rather than just new potatoes and peas (even though will probably cook a few little spuds in with the shank). This way I can also enjoy a helping of brightly coloured roasted veg, for my supper. Or - if I make enough, surplus roasted veg can be turned into soup the following day. Good idea!
I can prepare the veg, toss with olive oil then leave them in a roasting tin ready to add to the oven halfway through the lamb shank's cooking time, then all ready to be served together. How quick and easy is that?

Managed to watch all of Masterchef last night (due to the footie match being too one-sided, so B gave up in favour of watching food being cooked. Thank you B.). Have to say the oriental lady really got on my nerves, she was so messy a cook (well so am I if truth be told) and kept getting herself so 'dithery' and waving her arms about and getting all excited that I hoped she'd be eliminated even before she started.
It was interesting to see how the Cumbrian chef (was that the end of Morecambe Bay we could see in the foraging shots?) gathers 'free' food that grows in our area. He uses a lot in his cooking, and being a Michelin star chef with a restaurant in Cumbria, bet your bottom dollar he doesn't keep the price low because he didn't have to pay for the ingredients. Taking time to forage counts I suppose for "time is money" when it comes to creating something. It's not just the cost of the materials/ingredients used, as well as 'overheads' we also have to count the cost of skills/knowledge and the time it takes to use them. So let us hope our families realise how much we 'home-cooks' are worth.

Sun has gone in and now the sky is completely overcast. Turning colder again as the weekend comes up we are told by the forecasters, so perhaps can wait another week before sowing seeds. However, leave it too long and it could be too late (story of my life). We must keep letting each other know what we are doing and when, just to remind us that we too should make a start on whatever.
Me I'm just going to carry on cooking today. Maybe some more baking, possibly a fruit crumble or pie while the oven is on for the 'mains', then this weekend must begin making the profiteroles. They freeze successfully, so the sooner done, the easier things will be for me next week when assembling my 'creation'.
You will be amazed how cheaply the Croquembouche can be made, especially as it is traditionally made to serve as a French wedding 'cake'. Now that the royal iced cakes here have been taken over by cakes covered by fondant (both running into 100s of £££s to order, and (even worse) a stand of cup cakes being now the 'fashionable' 'wedding cake' (£1 each cake minimum), am sure the profiterole version will be the next to grace the wedding display. Am expecting 80 profiteroles (filled with cream and coated in caramel) assembles as a Croquembouche to cost no more than £5 total, probably less as I bought the cream at 'offer' price! Worth thinking about if you have a wedding coming up and you hope to economise. It certainly won't look cheap.

With that thought will love you and leave you for today and get on with my own life. Soon be the weekend again (doesn't time fly by?) and before long it will be daffodils everywhere, the early April 'summer', then a few months of not knowing what the weather will be like, the autumn again and we start making jams, preserves and pickles. But first lets get Pancake Day, Lent and Easter over with first. More about these later.

Please join me tomorrow and keep those comments coming. Hope to see you then.