Thursday, March 29, 2012

Better Now Than Later.

This morning see ripples of cloud in the sky, they look very like a shallow tide rolling over a beach, but they are not stopping the sun shining, and the forecast is for yet one more day of glorious sunshine before the clouds begin to gather and (possibly) light rain to fall. Although we are fine in the north-west (not being short of water - it rains quite ofen), most of the country is now under drought conditions and urgently needs rain - and lots of it. We are already experiencing some moorland fires due to no doubt someone throwing a lighted cigarette butt into the dry grass. Once they get hold it can take ages to put out (sometimes days) and think of the water needed to do THAT!

Chrissie's comments has brought to mind the problem of watering our plants during a drought. Obviously as much household water should be saved to use both on indoor and garden plants (I reboil the water in the EasyYo thermos to refill if making another batch, (boiling sterilises it and it doesn't come into contact with the yogurt anyway), otherwise use it for watering plants. Water eggs have been boiled in is especially good for plants as it contains a lot of minerals dissolved from the egg shells.
Bath water, shower water can also be used for general watering. Water I have saved is put into several of the 4 pint plastic water bottles/containers that hold supermarket milk, and these are usually left in the conservatory to come to room temperature. Watering 'warm' plants with cold tap water tends to give them a bit of a shock and slows down their growth.
You wouldn't believe how fast those mixed salad leaves are growing, was tempted to take a pic of them yesterday but will wait until the weekend then you can see how much growth has happened in seven days.

We can also help to avoid water evaporation when we water plants if we water them either late evening or early morning, as then there is no real heat from the sun to fast-dry. After watering, cover the surrounding soil with a mulch (old plastic sacks work well - any evaporation during the day is trapped under the plastic and falls back onto the soil). If a few holes are stabbed in the plastic with a fork, then it can be left on the ground and any rain that falls will then be able to drain into the soil.
Covering the top soil in container plants with gravel also helps to prevent water/rain from drying out.

From the window in front of me I can just see our small lilac bush covered in green shoots, so am hoping for a lovely display of blossom in a few weeks. The pear tree also covered with blossom-buds, and the danger now is we get late frosts (this often happens).
I don't know why it is, but we Brits are a bit slow on 'being prepared' - one reason why our nation never seems to cope when we have a lot of snow, floods, drought or other natural disasters. Other countries manage far better.
So is it up to us to 'think ahead' and myself am going to make some largish 'tents' of newspaper TODAY that can be popped over the pear tree (it is a small tree) when frosts are forecast. Although, as it is only a couple of feet from the side of our pebble dashed concrete garage, no doubt the walls of this (that face due south) will have absorbed much heat from the sun during the day and so release it during the evening, so the surrounding area is frost-free. But not taking the risk, will still make a few paper tents for protecting plants (geraniums, bay trees also need frost protection).
There is little danger of paper tents blowing away as frost only happens when there is now wind (or so I believe). Another way to give frost protection is to have a tripod of long stakes over a plant/bush and throw over some garden fleece (or even an old net curtain).

Your mention of buying bottled drinks Lisa gave me 'food for thought'. In the UK it works out cheaper if we buy concentrated fruit juice (I love blackcurrant) and dilute it down to make our own soft drinks. If we remove the cap and leave space in the containers, we can then freeze the drinks, and - during hot weather - when taken to work they keep the rest of a packed lunch chilled (great for salads) and should be thawed by lunch with just enough ice left in to keep the drink icy-cold too.

Myself don't use liquid detergent as it is much more expensive than laundry powder, although prefer to use the powder 'blocks' rather than the loose powder. In any case use only half the amount recommended as our clothes never get really dirty.
Myself have never used a 'Laundromat' and either dry clothes in the summer outdoors (when not raining of course), or drape them over clothes airers to dry off at room temperature when it is too damp outdoors. During the winter we hang them in front of the central heating radiators.
Perhaps we are fortunate in that our washing machine has two spin speeds/times, and I always use the faster/longer one. Many items made with man-made fibres (fleece etc) come out virtually 'dry' and only need an 'airing' before being worn/used. Even cotton sheets dry out fairly rapidly (possibly because they are 'thinner' than the older ones. The old ones I still use (that have the war-time utility label stitched in one corner) are of such good 'quality' (even though 'utility', that they seem as if they will last for ever as so far not a sign of wear and tear - and this after about 70 years of use (although not used as often as formerly in recent years - but still used), But of course in 'those days' as before the war, things were always made to last.
Now everything is made to last only ten years (or less) so we are forced to keep buying the same things over and over again. Good for industry I suppose! Not for our pockets.

Incidentally, anyone who watches EastEnders must wonder why none of the occupants of the square seem to possess a washing machine. Everyone takes their washing to the 'Laundrymat'. Perhaps it is the lack of gardens, but certainly have seen washing hanging on a line through the Slater's kitchen window. But then where would the ladies gather if they hadn't a laundry to go to (or the Mini-Mart - and now the charity shop) when they need a gossip?

During the half-our or so that I've been writing, all the clouds have disappeared and we again have a glorious blue sky, so am hoping again to take my lunch outside (with the crossword) and enjoy an hour sitting on the bench.
As I closed my eyes and soaked up the sun yesterday remembered the days when I was a teenager, sitting on the very same bench in my parent's garden. It was not difficult to believe I was back in those times. With eyes still shut I turned my head to the left and could visualise the long path leading down past our neighbours orchard, and back further down past the rose beds to our lower garden and then to the house. Turning my head to the right I would see the small 'copse' of willow trees (the type that had 'pussy willow' buds), and past that would be my Dad's greenhouse and the chicken-run.
In early spring the 'top garden' (the bottom garden was long and thin, then Dad bought the top plot which was double width), was full of hundreds of daffodils in the borders, and the ground under the willow trees covered in snowdrops, later with forget-me-nots. In the lower garden the beds that held the roses were bordered by large rocks and in spring these were completely covered by aubretia is all shades from pale pink through reds, lilac, mauves...

My dad came from a long line of gardeners, although his parents were very poor - my dad had many brothers and one sister and at one time had to live for a while in a shed on their smallholding as they couldn't afford to rent a house. But gardening was in his genes and he made his garden in Leicester look like paradise (at least to me), there wasn't one month when there wasn't something nice to look at, my favourite season being spring.

As I sat outside and the memories came flooding back I wanted to weep for I knew as soon as I opened my eyes I would be back in the present time (how often I wish I could go back to the '50s and start all over again and not make the mistakes made then). I thanked my Dad for making his garden so beautiful and I thanked my Mum for also caring for us through those dreadful war years and beyond. I asked them to show me a sign that they had heard. Well, have to say that B's gym kit and towel hat was hanging without motion on the line suddenly began to flap madly in a sudden breeze that didn't move any leaves, bushes, trees or anything else close by. Just to have a double check I asked that the wind drop so I KNEW this was my answer, and the 'wind' immediately dropped and the washing hung still again. Make of this what you will, but myself felt both happy and grateful that my thoughts/words had been noted.

But enough of the unexpected, we need to keep our feet firmly on the ground and cope with what life throws at us. With the postage stamps going up in price (by a massive amount) there is still time to buy at the old price and stock up for as long as they are marked with 1st or 2nd on the stamp (and not a price) these will still count as the 'new price'.

The petrol situation is nothing we can do much about other than keep the car 'topped up', and if there is a strike, then avoid using the car for unnecessary trips. Perhaps a good idea to stock up with long-life milk etc, to avoid a trip to the supermarket. Even supermarket deliveries might have to be suspended if there is a problem with fuel. Deliveries TO supermarkets from manufacturers/warehouses might also come into difficulties, which could lead to empty shelves in the stores. Doubt things would ever get that bad, but it has happened before.
Have to say that if a lorry driver is not satisfied with earning £45,000 a year then he is just downright greedy and and his job should be given to someone who can drive lorries but is currently out of work and unable to get work during this recession. With that wage they would think they had won the lottery!

Shirley, Shirley, Shirley, stop trying to put the nation to rights and get on with writing up today's recipes (that's my inner conscience talking to me - which it often does, especially when I want to eat something and don't need to. I've heard you... so stop nagging....!

Yesterday mentioned a supper made using Thai red curry paste. Forget to mention that this is a good 'store-cupboard' ingredient, even if not often used, the best way to store it once opened is as mentioned (surface covered by oil), but even better - decant into ice-cube trays and freeze so it keeps for even longer. This can be done with any curry pastes/pestos etc that are not often used.
A good way to use up any of the above is to add a little of this 'spicy flavouring' to casseroles, soups, dips, sauces, even as an ingredients when making burgers, sausages, meatballs or fish cakes. It really does make them pleasantly 'different', just don't overdo it, add a little then taste and add more as you wish.

Myself am quite happy eating a dish of just cooked pasta with pesto sauce stirred through (plus some Parmesan cheese), but is a simple and more elaborate recipe based on pesto with pasta. Useful dish if you have an opened jar of pesto that needs using up (or partly using - freeze the rest). The recipe is given as using 'fresh' veggies, but can be almost a 'storecupboard meal' if you use canned new potatoes and frozen green beans (these could be string beans, chopped in half, or sliced runner beans). Fresh or frozen broccoli florets could also be used. There is a recipe for pesto given, but my suggestion is - for speed - make this when you have bottled pesto to use up.
Note, this makes enough to serve six, so halve amount (or thereabout) to serve 3 - 4.
Potato, Bean & Pesto Pasta: serve 6
1.2lb (500g) new potatoes, halved
11 oz (400g) pasta shapes (any shape)
8 oz (225g) green beans, trimmed
2 tblsp creme fraiche
green pesto (see above)
shavings of (or grated) Parmesan cheese
Cook the potatoes in a pan of salted water for 5 minutes, then add the pasta and cook as per packet instructions, adding the green beans 3 minutes towards the end of the cooking time.
When the pasta is ready (pref 'al dente') tip the pan contents into a colander to drain, then tip back into the pan. Mix the creme fraiche and pesto together and spoon this over the pasta/veg and toss together to coat. Serve in individual bowls and top with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Here is a way to make what could be 'expensive' meat, go further. The idea is to bash the living daylights out of them and turn a small 'chunky' bit into a flat thin 'escalope'. This can be done with tender beef (fillet?), lean pork chop (fat removed), or chicken or turkey breasts. What then started off as just enough for one ends up as plenty for two.
'Schnitzel' is basically an 'escalope' traditionally made with veal, but any of the above meats could be used in the same way, so here is the chicken version recipe for you, and you can make this using any of the other suggestions - according to what meat you have.
Schnitzel: serves 4
2 small chicken breasts
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
8 oz (225g) dried breadcrumbs
1 tblsp butter
1 tblsp olive oil
Split the chicken breasts in half lengthways. Place a piece of clingfilm over a chopping board and lay the halved chicken breasts on this - leaving lots of room between (you may prefer to do one or two at a time. . Place another sheet of clingfilm over the top, then use a rolling pin to bash the breasts until they are completely flat and very thin.
Mix the flour with the paprika and seasoning to taste, then put this into a wide, shallow dish. In a similar dish put the beaten egg, and the breadcrumbs in another.
Dip the chicken 'escalopes' first into the flour, then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs, then set aside whilst preparing the pan.
Heat half the butter and half the oil in a large frying pan and fry one or two of the escalopes in the hot fat for two minutes on each side (tender beef may need only 1 minute per side, other meats may need longer). When cooked through and the crumbs are golden and crispy remove and drain on kitchen paper. Continue cooking the remaining 'escalopes' adding the remaining butter and oil to the pan after two have been cooked.
Eat with a crispy green salad, maybe some potato salad or coleslaw. Lemon wedges to squeeze over or tartare sauce to spoon on top add the essential 'bite' to the batter (better than a sprinkle of vinegar!).

Final recipe today is a children's favourite (probably enjoyed by adults too). Whether cheaper or not that those sold in supermarkets, home-made always tastes best and children would love helping Mum to make this cross between a biscuit and a jam tart, and made large (could make more smaller ones from the same mix). If made smaller they may take very slightly less time to bake. Although meant to be eaten cold (can be stored for several days) they can also be eaten hot as a dessert (spread with jam when hot, then cover with 'holey' biscuit' and serve immediately with a scoop of ice cream? Yummy!
Homemade 'Jammy Dodgers': make 4 large ones
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
2 oz (50g) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4 oz (100g) plain flour, plus extra for rolling
2 oz (50g) fine semolina flour
4 - 5 tblsp red jam (pref strawberry)
Beat the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy, then add both the flour and semolina together and beat into the creamed mixture until just combined (don't over beat). Gather together to make a ball of soft dough.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 5mm thick. Using a round scone or biscuit cutter, cut into 8. Place four on a parchment lined baking tray. Using a small cutter cut a circle from the centre of the remaining four circles and sprinkle these with caster sugar. Place at the side of the others on the baking tray then place in the fridge (or freezer) for 15 - 20 minutes to firm up the dough (if the tray is too large for the fridge, place on smaller tins).
After the chilling time, bake immediately for 12 - 15 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until pale gold in colour, then remove and leave on the baking tin until completely cooled.
When cold, spread the complete circles with strawberry jam - leaving a small border round he edge, then cover each with the circles with the hole in the centre. Press together.
These will keep for up to a week in an air-tight container.

And yet another day is rapidly speeding towards noon, so had better get on. We are out of bread so will put a batch of mix into the machine to make dough, then when it is ready and rising in the loaf tin will take my lunch outside and have another sit in the sun on 'the family bench', bought by my parents just after the war, and as made of teak will just about last forever. Am hoping that it can be handed down to at least one of our children to pass on to their children when they are married and have a garden. And continue, generation after generation. If we can't keep living in a 'family house' (only those with mansions seem now to do this - and not always because they can't afford to), at least we can still have a seat that so many of our ancestors sat on.

Keep enjoying the good weather, for if it carries on too long we will then be complaining bitterly and - for once - be pleased when rain falls. Just as long as it doesn't keep raining all summer. Which has been known to happen.
In my bones feel this is the year of the drought. Which happens every 11 -12 years or so anyway. If we are short of water, then entirely our own fault because we haven't prepared for it. But I've said all this before. It is up to us to prepare for it in our way. Those with the big chest freezers can always freeze water to drink later. Even those of us who live by the sea could collect some to use for boiling potatoes (a chef's tip) and other veg. Saves us 'salting' the water, and boiling kills off anything unpleasant. Suppose clever dicks could fix up some sort of 'still' where they boil sea-water and collect the steam to flow into a container - this can then end up like ordinary tap water I suppose, but possibly even more 'purified'.

Must stop this endless 'rambling' that seems to start the minute I've decided it is time to finish and get this published. So will definitely now be saying my farewell for today, but - of course - will be back, fingers tappling feverishly and at great speed on the keyboard again early tomorrow morning. Hope you will log on to find out what rubbish I've written. See you then.