Friday, May 18, 2012

Have We Gone a Step Too Far?

I have to take Les' 'words of advice' (comment sent with an earlier posting) with a pinch of salt. He has to be having us on. Who on earth would feel it necessary to know the precise measurements (3mm from the top) when filling a mug with boiling water to make tea. I don't even know what 3mm measure in 'real money' (as still work in feet and inches, and please Les don't tell me the conversion as I really don't wish to know). Assuming that 3mm is close to the top of a mug, this then wouldn't leave any room to add milk because carrying the mug to another room would probably make the contents slop all over the place. In any case, some people want more milk than others, so the amount of space left at the top of the mug will need to differ.

We have to remember that even when being so precise when cooking this doesn't mean that the end result is always as good as it could be. We have only to watch 'Great British Menu' to realise that the top of the range appliances still don't give the quality of flavour that the chef/judge expects. Our grandmothers could cook fabulous foods without any need of thermometers, tape measures and the like. In those days they just stuck a hand in their oven,. counted the seconds to how long they could keep it there before they pulled it out screaming, and they could then judge whether the oven was 'cool', 'warm', or 'hot'.

There are people who know everything needed to know about cooking, and they still can't make a meal better than 'standard'. Others know little but cook the most wonderful food. Everyone seems to have a 'leaning' towards one type of cooking. My daughter makes the most wonderful cakes (far better than mine), and my mother made superb pastry. I can't do either to their standard even though I follow instructions to the letter. But I can make good desserts, and sometimes quite good biscuits and a few other things too and (thankfully) all without the need of precision.

If anyone is interested in 'ways' of cooking/presenting, there will be a Biscuit Festival to be held at the Brunswick Centre on 8th - 10th June. Loads of different demos and displays, all based on biscuits, and this includes a 'scientific section' (am sure you would enjoy this Les).
I was sent full details, and there is a lot going on from competitive cooking (who bakes the best biscuits), to pictures made from biscuits. Also many other displays. To find out more go to Twitter@BiscuitFestival, and there is also a Facebook entry under 'the Brunswick' something or other. As I don't 'do' Twitter or Facebook will have to leave it to those who do to find out more.
Again rather sorry that it has to be biscuits that leads the way when it comes to current food demos. Biscuits are a luxury not a necessity, and to be shown how to make is not really useful in this time of recession. Wish instead there were demos on how to make really nutritious but very inexpensive meals. Or is that boring?

When much younger, was put off' cooking when I kept reading 'how to' written by professional cooks and domestic science teachers. It was the 'exactness' and the 'scientific' parts they kept talking about that really made me feel cooking wasn't meant to be enjoyable. It was to be done properly (or not at all).
Today we occasionally find the same thing happening, and a novice cook needs a much more relaxed approach to cooking than having to worry when the scales show 0.1g more than they should. I have seen TV cooks carefully remove the 0.1g to show the scales reading exactly the correct amount and this then makes us believe that such accuracy is very, very important. And of course it isn't. Or at least - very rarely.

Another thing that bugs me is the way the media lead us to believe certain 'facts' to be set in stone. For example, yesterday there was an article in the newspaper (well two, side by side) and the first was headed by "£132,000 shock facing families".
Apparently families are underestimating the cost of major family 'milestones', and although 'parents believe it will cost just over £73,000 to bring up their first child, in reality they will have to pay out more than double that, £165,648.'
Also, 'A wedding is also likely to cost a couple £20,273 in comparison to an optimistic estimate of £8.365'.

'One of the most significant underestimates was university debt, which most reckoned to be £9,541. In fact with university fees set to reach £9,000 this year, the true cost of uni debt is likely to be around £43,500, the report said.'

This brings me to the second article, this on university 'degrees without much hard work'. The report says that 'thousands of students are gaining degrees with relatively little work, and the finding raises an 'uncomfortable question' about degree standards, and students in England 'by and large; devote 'far less effort' to work that students in most other European countries'. Well we all know that many students seem to spend a lot of the time at uni doing other things other than studying, then after uni spend a gap year travelling all round the world as if earning a wage to pay it all back isn't really THAT important.

In our family, most seem to have managed to reach a good level of employment without having a uni degree. Some admittedly have got qualifications via night school/adult education, but still managed to hold a job down at the same time. Many of their friends have uni degrees and then not managed to find any work that can make use of their specialised subjects. I know of one very clever young man (degree in Cosmology) has been out of work for a good 20 years (at interviews always 'too qualified') and has only been able to find work at a McDonald's (no degree necessary there!). Another well-qualified student ended up as a milkman (although owning his own round).
A school friend of my son's (a complete failure according to his mother) didn't go to uni, but eventually took a short management course, then ended up with first one, then two milk rounds, at the same time buying run-down property, doing it up and letting it to students, then selling the property, buying more. During this time he ended up in a top management job with the local Milk-Marketing Board, and last seen (B delivered flowers to his house) living in a very expensive property on the outskirts of Leeds, and doing very well thank you. A mini Alan Sugar you could say, all because he ended up 'doing his own thing' and most successfully.

Those who take the normal school exams (and not even up to A level) seem to get on far better anyway. They 'work on the job', either an apprentice (to get City and Guilds certificate), with probably a 'day release' at the local college to gain the necessary qualifications. This usually takes no longer than a university course, and is much, much cheaper. Especially as youngsters can usually live at home and still romp around with their old friends.

Many students today go for a degree in 'media studies', with the hope (I expect) of working with the BBC or other radio/TV company. Well, when I used to do a weekly cookery spot with BBC Radio Leeds (and this for many, many years), became familiar with the panic that the 'staff' had twice a year. Seems their contracts were all for six-months only. When that time was up their contracts were not automatically renewed (even if their work was impeccable), they had to re-apply and quite often their place taken by a student as their 'work experience'. A fully qualified student would probably be paid less anyway, so it was always to the Beebs advantage to go for those who were paid the least.
If contracts were not renewed (and while I was there many were not), this usually meant that although the staff could still find work within the BBC, it was usually in other areas of the country, which then meant moving away from family/friends.

Although my last 'stint' with the BBC had been for about 10 years without a break, one day I turned up at the regular time and was met with surprised faces. "You won't be needed any more' I was told "the programmes have been changed". Yet no-one had bothered to inform me, and I never had a 'thank you' for the work I'd done over the year.
A month or so later, the Beeb rang up to see if I was available as someone hadn't turned up and they needed me to fill that slot, but I said I was sorry but I had another commitment. They were very annoyed about that. Serve 'em right. The next time they rang for the same reason, I also 'had another appointment'. Never heard from them since.

Back to the 'cost of living'. Why is a wedding so expensive? Probably because too much emphasis is placed on getting someone else to do all the planning. Just think how much it costs to buy a wedding dress, or have the wedding cake made. Add to that the cost of flowers and the reception (venue and food) and then the honeymoon (seems this now has to be in the Seychelles). Yet all too often, a year later and many couples then get divorced. This I know to be true as this has happened to several friends of mine who paid out THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS for the weddings of their offspring, and to what end?

Ignoring university fees etc, we are told that it costs thousands of £££ to rear our children. Well, it probably would cost a lot if we go 21st century and use nothing but disposable nappies, and feed our children 'formula', and numerous baby foods, right through toddler age, and then buy 'ready-meals' especially prepared for children. A new pram or buggy costs a fortune, clothes too (and they all have to be almost designer clothes these days). Again this is commercial 'brain-washing' to peel £££s from our purses, and - heaven forbid - we should never think of making any of the above ourselves.

Sorry to keep repeating this but in 'my day', we breast fed children, then pureed home-cooked food to give them when weaning, and from then on they ate what we ate - but always home-cooked. Nappies were reusable made from terry towelling and muslin. True this meant a lot more washing, but nowadays people have washing machines and tumble driers, and in my day we didn't have any of these, so today washing nappies is easy peasy.
Our prams were bought second-hand, and so were the cots, and most baby clothes were either hand-knitted or sown by hand or machine. The only things we really needed to buy were proper shoes when babes got to toddler stage. A second child was were even cheaper as they had the 'hand-me-downs' (nappies, clothes etc) and this includes pram/cot/toys.

Toys were usually given as gifts by relatives, but I did buy quite a lot of books (Ladybird, Observer books etc, also jigsaws) which the children loved to read/use. In my childhood to teenage years my favourite books were by Enid Blyton, and my children also enjoyed these. There were of course other (and probably better) books they read like 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe' series, 'The Borrowers', the Arthur Ransome series, and of course Alice in Wonderland et al, and the A.A.Milne (Winnie the Pooh) books.

Is it just our nation or a global thing when it comes to 'everything has to be bought' these days? Are we really so lazy we can't be bothered, or have we just lost the old skills and don't even realise there is a much cheaper way to get what we want?

Yesterday happened to switch on TV at 12.30 and was able to watch the second half of 'Superscrimpers', given as a repeat but I didn't recall every seeing that episode before. Missed the first part but it was something to do with a man believing that cheap 'value' food would taste awful, so their food budget was very high due to buying 'quality' meals (some of which I believe were 'ready meals'). The wife was shown how to buy cheaper products, then cook them, and the husband did a 'taste-testing' and believed the home-cooked was the more costly of the two, so he was (partly) convinced. The next thing they had to do was entertain several friends again making the meal using all 'value' priced ingredients, and all the guests thought the food was absolutely great. Couldn't believe how cheap it was (under £2 a head for 3 courses).
From then on that family would be spending far less on their food, and of course cooking more meals at home instead of buying 'readies' and 'take-aways'.

Thing that seemed to come across was that the family (above) seemed to have no idea that home-cooking would taste as good but still be much cheaper. It was as if they'd never cooked anything from scratch before. In fact the wife very proudly told her guests that she'd made the dish 'from scratch' (as though that was something to be amazed at - and the guests were impressed).

It is difficult for me to believe there could be so many families out there who have never eaten any home-cooked meals. Perhaps several generations have come and gone without anyone doing any real 'cooking', so understandable that now there could be many who don't even know one end of a wooden spoon from the other. How sad is that?
Will this recession bring home-cooking back into fashion? Let us hope so, for it is the only way we can keep our heads above water when it comes to managing our budget. But not only cooking - we need to pass on any skills we have, knitting, crochet, sewing, dressmaking... otherwise the future for our grandchildren could be very bleak.

Now to your comments.
I have seen some ants in our conservatory Campfire, but not enough to be concerned with. However think a spray of our ant-killer around the fitted carpet edges might be a good idea.
Am needing to buy a new vacuum cleaner (I prefer an upright with good suction, that also has a 'tube' that gets into corners and along shelves and ledges). The cleaner we have is a Hoover Junior, bought for us by my mother when we moved into our first house (mid 1950's!!!) so you can tell how old it is, but it still works, but not as well as the more modern ones. Anyone know of the best type to buy? Need a fairly lightweight one, and am thinking about a Dyson. Your advice would help me to choose.

Liked the sound of your 'community garden' Lisa, it sounds as though anyone can help themselves - or is it just for local residents, or a church project?
Not sure if envy you your weather, your daytime temp (30C) is higher than our hottest summers day, think that 29C is about our max, and this happens very, very, rarely (like once every 20 years or so). Temperatures in the 80F, is hot to us.
Your night temperature (13C) is much cooler than your day, and is more than we are getting in Morecambe during our day (our nights recently being minus deg.C) but is the same as the daytime temperature in some areas down south.
This unseasonably cold weather is making me wonder if the Gulf Stream is shifting. If global warming is melting the icecaps in the Arctic, this could cause a shift. If I was younger (and the way England is rapidly going downhill) would seriously think about emigrating to Australia.

Norma (the Hair) was on holiday in Spain last week, somewhere near Benidorm, and she said the weather was glorious, the 'natives' said it was hotter than usual at this time of year. Her hotel holiday was 'all inclusive' (this means food and drink is always available, and have as much as you like any time of the day for no extra charge. That's my type of holiday).
Norma said 'the oranges were to die for', huge and very sweet (grown in Spain), found the same thing when I once had a holiday in Tunisia. Oranges given freely on the plane and in the hotel, all huge and very sweet. Definitely think I'm living in the wrong part of the globe. Although, having said that, there is no place so pretty and enchanting as England (in fact the whole of the British Isles) once we get out of the cities. At the moment (at least in our area) many woods are carpeted in bluebells, and this is one of the loveliest sights to behold. Also smells wonderful.

Am rambling back to comments.
Do know that Lakeland used to sell packs of paper circles especially to layer between burgers Kathryn, but am sure you could use squares (easier than cutting circles) of baking parchment. Myself would use 'layering tissue' (another Lakeland product) as this is thinner and works out cheaper. The one to avoid is cling-film as this is believed to have some adverse effect when it touches protein (but I could be wrong).

Liked the sound of your cooking Jane, especially your 'frugal' trifle. This is the good thing about amassing a variety of stores, we can then make a wide variety of dishes from them, usually cheaply.
Minestrone is a favourite soup of mine, but with having a 'bypass' Jane, do you have to blitz it before you eat it?

Think that's it for today. Had a very bad night last night due to my back aching again (although it had improved during the day suddenly got worse). This morning it has taken me ages to get from one room to another, inching my way along with little squeals of pain. Sitting in this chair at my comp doesn't help much as my back seems to 'set' and once up and walking again more little 'oohs and ouches' come from my mouth. Am hoping it will soon settle down.

Yesterday put a lamb shank into a deep foil container (it once held a turkey breast and a perfect size to hold a lamb shank), and to this added some halved small potatoes and a little red wine to mix in with the thawed lamb gravy. Covered it with foil and put it into the oven, and got B to switch it on an hour before he wanted supper. He had then only to 'cook' some frozen peas in the microwave, then dish up the lot. Of course when it came to supper time he decided he didn't want it then, so got him to put the oven down to 100C, and leave the shank ther. Fortyfive minutes later he got up and went and put the peas in the microwave and got the shank/spuds from the oven and presumably ate it all. Doubt the meat/spuds would have come to much harm as it the oven was then around 'holding temperature'.
Myself didn't feel like eating anything other than a large orange. This has helped to reduce my weight by about 3 lbs, so something good has come from my having to sit in my chair most of the day (in other words too painful to get into the kitchen to open a tin of Spam!).

Think it's Friday (again). Doesn't time fly when you get old? At least readers who go out to work have the weekend to look forward to. Relax if you can, but do hope you manage to find the time to do at least SOME home-cooking. Please keep those comments coming to give me the pleasure of reading them tomorrow, when I hope you will again be logging on for our morning 'chat'. See you then.