Saturday, May 19, 2012

Carry the the Torch

Decided to sleep in my armchair last night in the hope this would ease my back - which it did. Still painful this morning, but not in the same place, has moved more into my right leg, but manageable. This meant I was awake early enough to watch the start of the Olympic flame being 'torched' at Land's End, and then carried by several torch-bearers a few hundred yards each.
With 8,000 torchbearers travelling 8,000 miles, this must mean the torch travels some miles with only one 'bearer' and this I understand will sometimes be 'in convoy' (taken in a van rather than jogged on foot) over land where there will be no spectators. Had to smile when they kept saying 'this is the very flame that was lit by the sun's rays in Athens'. I've always understood the flame comes from what is being burnt at that very moment (in the case of the torch - gas), and for that matter, with 'the flame' being carried over to England in four pit lanterns (three being 'back-up', let us hope they used the 'original' flame to start off ours. And - if for some reason - the torch flame goes out when being carried, the 'mother flame' is being carried to re-light it. But that is being a bit picky of me I suppose. Should join in the celebrations and just enjoy the moment. Which, to some extent, I did.
At least good to see blue skies and the sun shining in Cornwall. It is very gloomy (again) here today.

Thanks for your comments, Apologies to Les as I got his measurements wrong. I did jot down the correct one but then got it mixed up with the 3 minutes 'brewing time' he also told us to do. Have to say, Les really seems to know what he is talking about, and feel that he should start up his own site explaining the correct way to cook (and cooking IS more scientific than most of us realise)- for myself seem to be sadly lacking in that knowledge. Almost feel I shouldn't be writing about cooking any more.

My sciatica used to be 'cured' when I too lay flat on my back (on a hard floor) Lynne, but now I'm so old and still 'heavy', would find it difficult to get down on the floor, and even more difficult getting up. When I first trapped my sciatic nerve the doctor told me I needed to go to hospital to have 'traction', but we'd only recently moved to Leeds, my mother then still lived in Leicester (a year later moving to live close to us), and I knew no-one. My Beloved was working away from home and three of the children were ill with tonsillitis, so I had to stay with them. Was given sleeping pills for night-time and told to stay sitting up in a chair, and even sleeping in the chair if that was the most comfortable. Took me three months to get walking around again without the aid of sticks. Fortunately, since then, am usually only 'chair-bound' for a few days at the most.

That was a brilliant idea you had Lynne - using the fabric from a duvet cover to make a dress, and as you say, money-saving can go beyond home-cooking, and this is probably a sensible way, for often we don't feel like 'slaving away over a hot stove' all the time, and 'a change is as good as a rest'. These old sayings certainly make sense. One of my favourites is 'too many cooks spoil the broth' because I really like to work in the kitchen by myself, although 'many hands make light work' would work if someone else took over the preparation or washing up, but again as long as I wasn't also in the kitchen (they would get in my way!).

When we moved here brought all our bed linen with us, some of it from our original double bed. Here we have two single beds (pushed together) but tend to make these up separately with single sheets, and we each have our own duvet. This means I have quite a few double sheets, although still use these occasionally as our mattresses are deeper than the 'old' ones, and the fitted sheets are not deep enough to tuck under and keep sliding around (so I anchor these at the under corners of the mattress with nappy pins - this works well).

One deep blue double sheet I use as a table cloth when our dining table is extended to seat eight, do the same with the white sheets. This works well.
Have also a set of single bed linen in what I believe to be similar to Black Watch 'plaid'. This being a duvet cover, a semi-fitted sheet with valance, and two pillow cases. The material would look good in our (dark-oak panelled) dining-room, so may use it to re-cover the dining chair seats, and could also make curtains with it for the patio doors. Or it could be used as a table cloth to match the seat covers. Really must stop thinking about what can be done and and get on with the 'doing'.

Thanks to Catriona and Campfire for their comments re the Dyson cleaner. The most sensible thing for me I suppose is to go to Curry's or somewhere and take a look at what is on sale. There is a small Dyson advertised on TV that might be suitable, and Curry's give a discount if you hand in an old vacuum cleaner, but am wondering if my original - and still working - Hoover would have more value as a collector's item.

B brought in a loaf from Morrison's (he was calling in there to buy his lemonade) as we were running out. The plan was we'd never buy another loaf, but all I wanted to do yesterday was sit and take the pain away and this was the only alternative (or do without for a day). There was a time when B once 'learned' how to make a loaf using a bread mix, and seemed to enjoy doing this (but not very successfully as he hadn't the patience to wait for the dough to double in bulk), but now he seems to have (conveniently) forgotten how to, and expects me to make the as and when needed. Yesterday he could have had another try ( e have plenty of bread mix), but buying a ready-made loaf is easier. I suppose.

Buying everything ready made is easier, and sometimes can understand why people do just this, especially when I am tired and not in the mood to do anything at all, and it does seem how easy it is to fall into the trap of buying rather than making, probably because it has become so normal a way of life. At one time people bought material and always made their own clothes (or a 'little woman round the corner made them for us ). Buying 'off the hanger' in shops was quite a low-class thing to do before the first World War, and for a time after World War II.
Most people knitted their own wool jumpers, pullovers, gloves, scarves, socks etc - right up to the 50's, then when man-made fibres such acrylics suddenly came on the scene, the 'knitwear' was then mass produced and instead we bought what would have been normally made at home.

Convenience foods started in Victorian time (well, things like gravy browning, custard powder and the like), and since then has never looked back. We can eat nothing but the 'ready mades' and live reasonably healthily without ever needing a kitchen. Just a sink, electric kettle, a toaster and a microwave is all that is needed. And a fridge/freezer if we don't want to shop daily.

B and I could probably exist well if I ordered those plated meals for the elderly and disabled (to be thawed/cooked in the microwave), as we rarely have more than toast and marmalade (both of which can be bought) in the morning. But as ever - a life of convenience is a life of great expense (compared to the cost of making most of it ourselves). Have to say that a 'carvery meal' is far better value (a LOT more for your money) than buying a home-delivered meal as described above.

Twentyfirst century cooking should combine at least SOME 'convenience' foods, purely to save us a lot of time. We can of course cook everything from scratch (and possibly many of us still do), but myself find using a jar of a good brand of curry sauce (bought when on offer), save me having to stock up with all the necessary spices (which lose their flavour within a very short time). This may add a few more pennies to a dish (but then spices are not that cheap), but when cooking in bulk, tend to 'spread the financial load' and still end up making a saving.

Anyone who believes it really isn't worth making a meal (or any food for that matter) and would rather buy everything, will always end up with poor quality food compared with the same made at home. Fancy eating what our grandmother's used to make themselves? Then just check out the price for the same (but not quite as good) on sale today. This doesn't mean we can't use SOME 'convenient' ingredients as am pretty sure our ancestors would if they had the chance (but only if affordable and it makes sense - not just pure laziness).

Today home-cooked 'style' jars of jam or marmalade, pickles etc can set us back up to and over £3 when bought over the counter, and that for quite a small size. We can make the same thing ourselves for a sixth of the price (and for even less if we grow our own fruit).
We see the same thing when it comes to 'quality' cakes and biscuits on sale. The 'quality' cooked and sliced meats, and also 'artisan' baked bread. Goodness me, if we bought everything to the same 'quality' as could be made at home we would be spending hundreds of pounds a week. And this I believe some people still do!

Doesn't it make us feel good that we can serve food fit for a king/queen and for (relatively) only a few pennies? Well, if it doesn't, then it should. All too often we 'home-cooks' don't realise our worth. When we feel we are being taken for granted, worth reminding the family we don't HAVE to bother, we could (like many others) buy the 'readies' but to do this would need the 'housekeeping budget' to be at least doubled - and maybe trebled. Not, of course, that this necessarily would work - I've tried it, but rarely get more than a grunt of appreciation from my B for his meals, with never a rise in housekeeping since I first proved (about half a century ago) that I could really manage to spend less on food.

At that time, my monthly housekeeping was meant to cover EVERYTHING: food, clothes, presents, pocket money etc...for not just me and he children - we had four teenagers at that time (and a Labrador), but this 'allowance' only just about covered the food (remember I hadn't learned about how to 'cost-cut' the cookery then - and food prices had already begun to rise when we 'turned decimal'). The story of how I ran out of money altogether and had to make meals for a month with what was in the larder and what I could get 'for free', is a story too often told, but this did cut costs by half, and have never need to ask for more money from B, ever after adding pennies to my purse from my own efforts (making and selling crafts etc). But this wasn't a bad thing, for I wouldn't be sitting here writing to you now if this hadn't taught me that the old ways are best - like always make it yourself. It's always worked out MUCH cheaper!

All too often these days I feel I'm sitting on fences, but at least the grass can be always greener on both sides when we look at it the right (or wrong) way, and it doesn't hurt to jump down occasionally and mow a few lines in the turf to see what we can discover. One side the grass may be easier to cut than another, but the mower used by the neighbours is darn expensive, and the grass itself is a bit coarse and 'weedy'. On the other (our) side of the fence we may need to sharpen the old mower blades quite often, and push a bit harder, but once cut the lawn will look as smooth as the most expensive billiard table, and will be a delight to see and walk upon. Ya boo to the people who live the other side of the fence say I.
In other words, a little effort in the kitchen can pay dividends. Well I could have said that in the first place instead of writing a page of nonsense. But then you know me - a head full of nothing of any use whatsoever that I like to share.

Have a few easy recipes that are worth a mention. We all need easy from time to time (me - most of the time, despite I have enough hours in the day to spend cooking).

We can reduce the cooking time in this first recipe down to five minutes if we use quick-cook pasta (any kind) and use left-over cooked veg. Otherwise using the recipe as given it will take three times a long to cook.
Ten Minute Minestrone: serves 4
1.75 pint (1 ltr) hot vegetable stock
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
4 oz (100g) thin spaghetti, broken to short lengths
12 oz (350g) frozen mixed vegetables
3 tblsp pesto (opt)
grated Parmesan cheese
Put the tomatoes into the pan of hot stock and bring to the boil, then add the spaghetti and cook for 6 or so minutes or until just al dente, then add the veggies and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes until everything is cooked. Serve in bowls drizzled with pesto (if using) and sprinkle with cheese.

This next recipe uses cooked pasta - so worth boiling extra pasta to save for this dish (it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. To avoid cold cooked pasta sticking itself together, drain well and toss with a little olive oil before cooling. Don't toss in butter as this congeals when cooled). If wishing to make this from scratch, use 7oz/200g dried pasta (penne or fusilli etc). Another canned bean could be used such as pinto, borlotti, haricot, butterbeans etc).
Five minute Tuna Pasta Salad: serves 4
about 1 lb (450g) cooked pasta shapes (see above)
1 x 100g can tuna (pref in oil)
1 x 400g cannellini beans isee above)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
two tbslp chopped fresh parsley
Put the cooked pasta into a microwavable bowl and heat for a couple of minutes to warm up, then add the remaining ingredients (having warm pasta means this will help to absorb the flavours - but the pasta can be used chilled). If not eating immediately, cover and keep in the fridge where it can stay happily for a couple or three days.

Another speedy dish to make (well, perhaps more a 'snack') but worth thinking about when you finished peeling off those scraps of chicken from the carcase after making stock. Am assuming you have the rest of the 'makings' in your larder/fridge etc. If not, why not?
It's a (five minute) Wrap!: serves 4
quarter of a cucumber, halved and sliced
chunk of iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
couple of spring onion, sliced
few fresh mint leaves torn
4 mini-naan breads or pitta breads
5 oz (150g) cooked chicken pieces
1 tsp tikka curry paste
1 tsp sunflower or olive oil
natural yogurt for serving
Put the cucumber, lettuce, onion and mint together in a bowl and toss to mix. Heat the chosen bread in the microwave for a minute until puffed up, then cut in half and open into pockets. Blend the curry paste with the oil and brush this over the chicken. Pop this into the microwave to for a couple or so minutes to heat through then stuff the bread 'pockets' with salad, chicken and a dollop of yogurt. Serve and eat.

Final recipe today is another that uses pre-cooked chicken (the cheapest ALWAYS being that cooked meat left to be picked from the carcase - and don't forget we can often get quite a lot of 'free' meat from those chicken carcases the butcher gives to his customers to cook for making chicken stock. Allow extra time for the little preparation needed, the 10 minutes is cooking time.
Make extra then chill the surplus to eat cold for lunch the following day (either at home or take to work in your lunchbox) with or without a salad.
Ten minute Chicken Couscous: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
7 oz (200g) cooked chicken cubed or shredded
2 tsp grated root ginger
1 - 2 tsp harissa paste
8 no-soak apricots
1 x 220g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
7 fl oz (200ml) hot chicken or vegetable stock
Put the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion for a couple of minutes until softened, then add the chicken and fry for a couple of minutes until heated through and the onions are turning golden. Add the grated ginger and harissa and give a good stir to coat the chicken and cook for one further minute.
Add the apricots, chickpeas, couscous and stock. Give a good stir, remove from heat and cover with a lid or tightly with foil, then leave to stand for 5 minutes until the couscous has absorbed the stock and has softened. Fluff up with a fork and serve immediately.

My Beloved has just come in and informed me he is out for the day at a 'sailing jumble' (whatever that is) somewhere reasonably local (or maybe not), and will be eating out and can make his own supper (probably an omelette). At least that gives me a day to myself so I can relax again in my arm chair.
I've already done a load of washing (even managed to remember to stagger out during my 'blogging' to switch the knob round to the next cycle - it sticks if you recall), and am now going to make myself some 'brunch' and enjoy reading the new TV supplement, marking the progs I wish to watch during the week. B tells me there is a footie match on tonight that he will be watching, so may decide any baking today will be done this evening. Doubt I will risk going to bed again until my back is back to normal.

Am already looking forward to tomorrow's 'chat' with you, so hope you find time to join me. See you then.