Friday, July 06, 2012

Different Approach

Another later-than-intended start today. Woke around 5.00am and decided to have another forty winks before rising, which ended up a couple of hours of dreaming (good in that a lot of food was involved including tasting). Although it is nearly 9.00am, it is still as dark as though it was 5.00am. Am sure we are going to have more thunderstorms.

Yesterday managed to grab a good hour in the garden (doing the crosswords), sunning myself, as although there were quite a few clouds, these seemed to miss crossing the sun and for that time it was very hot and at one point I put down my crossword and closed my eyes and almost nodded off. It was lovely.
Later that afternoon there was a rumble of thunder, one flash of lightening (some distance away) and another couple of rumbles, and that was it for a bit, then during the evening it returned (or it was another one), and we had a bit more. Nothing much compared to what it could have been like, but we had more lightening and torrential rain.

Today the forecast over much of the country is heavy rain, and in our area another flood warning. Watching the 'holiday weather forecast' last night it was noticeable that practically all Europe, and especially the Med had high temperatures and very little rain and mostly sunny. America shown also as having high temperatures. Even Australia was mainly dry (except for the south eastern area). Am thinking of emigrating.
We could see the swirl of low pressure again tracking towards and over the UK, due to that pesky jet stream having moved further south I suppose, and this probably means that here this summer will stay much as it has been already. We can only hope that during the Olympics we do get a bit of high pressure and dry weather even if not that sunny.

Sarina is off to Bulgaria this weekend and lots of warmth and sun, so we wish her well for her holiday. She will be returning when the Olympics are due to start so let's hope she doesn't get caught in a back-log of visitors arriving when she returns.
The temperature in Toronto is beating records. Margie must be finding it hot but at least the humidity is low. Last night (in our bedroom) the humidity was 79 although the actual temp was only 66 (this about 1.00pm). In America (and suppose also Canada) it is common to have air-conditioning in homes, but few houses have that here, the best we can do is plug in moveable fans to waft cool air around rooms.
When we first moved here it was really hot and humid. I was staying in a hotel for three days whilst the family moved the furniture from my home to the new place, had to ask them for a fan for my bedroom and even then had to sleep on top of the bed with the cool air wafting over me and still felt hot. It was very humid for days.

Not sure if it was that year or the next, but we did have a long hot (and humid) spell where we needed to buy another fan which helped keep us cool, but since then they have been sitting gathering dust, never been hot enough to switch them on. Just shows how the 'global warming' hasn't yet reached us.

Margie's comment about checking through the 'specials' (in grocery leaflets that arrive through our letterbox) made me have a double think. These are always tempting and I often do fall for a 'good bargain', but then - if I hadn't seen the leaflet, would not have 'realised' that I needed what I saw, so wouldn't have bought and therefore saved money. So is it ALWAYS worth buying a bargain. Now not so sure.

Was reading an article written by a baker in a cookery mag yesterday Campfire, and his advice was that too much yeast is always used (to speed up the rise), and he recommended that we use only half the yeast and allow the dough to rise as long as it takes. This is probably why the (bought) bread mixes work so well (and rise rapidly): too much yeast! And why we are able to add the same weight of strong plain flour to the mix (plus extra liquid needed) and it still works well. Perhaps if I used only a quarter of the bread mix and made the rest of the weight up with the strong flour it would still work. I will try that next time.

The mention that if we ate 40% less food we would live longer is possibly proved by the fact that the older people today are still alive due to living through the war years and food rationing where most people were only able to eat enough to live on, with nothing much more. We have only to look at the rations allowed (one egg per fortnight, little meat/fish, vegetables in short supply, and only when in season, not much fat to spread/cook with, little sugar.....and a lot more restrictions) to realise that some people could eat a week's rations in one day today. Growing up eating 'sensibly small amounts' of what was then organically grown and free-range foods (and no convenience foods etc) meant a solid and reasonably healthy start to life.

Obviously with advancements in medical treatments many people do live longer, but then as my B (who now eats for England, and probably this is somewhat due to him having to grab what he could during wartime - he had five elder siblings, all but one were boys, so he was lucky to get the crumbs.. and now he is enjoying the freedom to eat what he wants when he wants), he is now 80 with perfect health for his age (as good as any 50 - 60 year old), his only problem being his deafness which he won't recognise as needing any 'help' (so the TV is now always on too loud). So at least if today we can give our children a good and healthy start in life eating the right foods, then this could prevent health problems for them in their future.

Yesterday began my 'making do' marathon challenge (if can call it that). Realised very soon on that this needs a different mindset than if doing normal cooking, even though I had enough food to not yet even need to think about being frugal. For one thing, each time I decided to use an ingredient, then had to have another think as to whether it was wise to then do so.

As an instance, decided to make a fresh fruit salad that both of us could help ourselves to, and began with the softer berries because these have a short shelf life. In the bowl went some raspberries, strawberries, and a couple of kiwi fruit and peaches (sliced them) that were quite 'ripe'. Decided to add some seedless green grapes as had bought a couple of punnets and although these do keep for a good time in the fridge, had enough to spare.
Removed one orange, one green and one red apple from the fruit bowl, then - as they had a much longer life-span and would keep for longer, put them back. Why use if they could be used later when there was less soft fruit on hand? Even decided not to use a ripe banana as this could (today) be used to make a banana cake (or B could have it flambeed with rum, butter and sugar as his dessert).

The scales this morning showed another 3lb loss, probably due to me eating mainly salad yesterday, although did fall by the wayside and made myself a ham sarnie (home-cooked ham with home-made bread is irresistible) - at least it wasn't Spam!
Even the salad was not as usual. This time it was just shredded lettuce, a small sweet mini-pepper, a tomato, Caesar dressing, tossed together then a little grated cheese sprinkled over and folded in, finishing with sliced hard-boiled egg. Didn't add cucumber or banana as normal, so these saved for another dish.

Walking back to the house after my hour in the sun decided to pull the largest rhubarb sticks and either cook or freeze them. The rhubarb, initially planted 3 years ago, then moved to a better site, were - this year - definitely better but still not a patch on the rhubarb grown in our Leeds garden. This had huge long and very thick stalks, full of flavour. The rhubarb here (probably a different variety), has thinner stalks and they seem very 'dry' despite all the rain we have had. I put enough (processed) farmyard manure round their crowns, so they are well fed, but not really happy at all in our garden. Had to remove most of the outer 'skin' (in strings) before chopping into small pieces, sprinkling with sugar and giving a blast in the microwave. To this will be added apple slices, crystallised ginger, then made into a crumble for B. Not enough rhubarb to make more than two crumbles, one will be frozen.

Opened the 2kg pack of 'value' chicken joints to choose some to make the stock (and use the cooked flesh for Coronation chicken for tonight's supper). There were 12 'joints', all but one seemed to be thighs (although supposed to be a mixture of thighs and drumsticks), and there were six BIG thighs, the rest being 'normal' size. Perhaps they use the 'old boilers' (chickens that have ceased laying) to make up these packs. Not that I mind, the older the bird the more flavour it will have.

I'd also bought a pack of frozen chicken thighs (still unopened) these being 1 kg for £2.00, so as the mixed pack was 2kg for £3.19p (still mainly all thighs) the latter was better value for money this time round. With 12 portions for the same price of one small chicken, seems that in this instance the frozen portions have worked out cheaper. Normally buying a whole chicken and portioning it ourselves would work out cheaper overall, but then we also get the chicken breasts (expensive to buy), and also get the wings AND the carcase (which gives us more cooked flesh after making stock). We just have to work out the cheapest way to get the most at the time of buying (when fresh chickens are on offer, then this is the best time to buy several and portion them up, but always check the weights as SOMETIMES the smaller chickens work out cheaper. Thing to remember is that the larger the bird the higher weight is usually more extra flesh than bone, so allow for that.

Believe that Andy Murray is in the semi-finals at Wimbledon today. Dare I watch? At least he is playing Centre Court - this having a sliding roof - so it doesn't matter if rain stops play on outer courts, his match will still be on. It would be so good if he could reach the finals. Seventy seven years since the last British male won Wimbledon (35 years since the last female winner). We can only hope...

Watched the second (and last) of the series about life after 65. This about people having to go and live in a home as they can't take care of themselves. Some of the homes looked wonderful, and I really wouldn't mind living there, but of course these are not cheap, so I'd probably end up in a state-run (if there are any), and the food wouldn't be so good ( the only thing that really matters to me).

When we lived in Leicestershire the house (bungalow in fact) at the back of us was owned by the Administrator of the Workhouse in Leicester. Nowadays there are none of these traditional workhouses for the poor and disabled, but in those days there were. Joe (that was his name) took me down to the workhouse to see how it functioned and it was very interesting. There were no televisions of course (being the early 60's), and although one huge building, this was divided into two. One section for the men, the other for the women. Several husband's and wives lived there, but separately in their own 'sections', being able to meet only in the gardens (when the weather was fine).

There was such a difference between the two parts. The women had clean and tidy communal space, but all the chairs placed round the walls and the women just sat there, doing nothing really, perhaps having an occasional chat to their nearest neighbour, but mainly a feeling of 'just waiting to die'.
The men's section was completely different, lots of tables, men sitting round them playing cards, dominoes etc, most were smoking so the room filled with fumes, and the place was - frankly - messy, a bit smelly and not looking as though it was cleaned that often. But the men were having a whale of a time, seeming thoroughly to enjoy themselves.

Why is it that women don't seem to have the same approach to their later life. Is it because we are 'brainwashed' into looking after husbands that we have forgotten how to have fun ourselves, or even feel guilty when we do (you wouldn't believe the guilt I used to feel when I went out to play bridge during an afternoon when B was at work, although that wore off after a few months after I discovered that sometimes he took 'time off' and went to the pictures).
There does seem to be this insistence that we should go out and find something of interest to do, but then if we don't wish to, why should we? Is it not better to let us live our lives as WE wish to do than do what others think is best for us, however good their intentions are?

Because I have a little dried fruit in the ends of packs (the rest filled up my jars), and have plenty of apples, today will be making a quick and easy fruit cake (recipe below). Have given the recipe before (some months ago) but as this has all the flavour of a rich fruit cake, but quicker to make (and cheaper) feel it fits well into my new 'challenge'. I say 'new' but this is the same challenge that I attempt every year (nearly always New Year to use up the Christmas food and whatever else there is in store), and often more than once a year (like now - halfway through the year). If one or two months can pass by without needing to spend very much at all (other than topping up with the 'fresh': eggs, milk etc) this means up to four months of 'not spending' could occur. That's a quarter of a year's food budget saved. Quite an amount when added up.

Strangely, after the above challenge - when it is time to restock - normally we still don't need to spend more than our usual budget, this then making those savings true ones. Admittedly I do spend some of the savings on top quality meats/fish etc to keep in the freezer, but that's just me pandering to B's tastes. Meat can be bought cheaper, and less meat could be served.

When it comes to choosing what to buy, we all have our own food preferences and ways of saving. Myself can only show my way - which seems to work well enough. No doubt I could make even more improvements, but am happy with the status quo at the moment. As long as we can keep within our budget, then why change? If we have to save money (to pay for rising prices of fuel etc), the best place to do this is in the kitchen, as probably food is the only way left where we can spend less and still serve good meals. To do this we have to give it more thought and often a bit more 'action'. Dump the 'readies' and do it ourselves.

This is a useful cake recipe as the dried fruit could be either mixed dried fruit with peel, or a mixture of raisins and sultanas. Or your own 'mix': finely chopped dried apricots, dates, figs, glace cherries, etc with raisins/sultanas.
Fabulous Fruit Cake: serves 12
8 oz (225g) butter, softened
8 oz (225g) dark muscavado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tblsp black treacle
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder
2 eating apples grated
1o oz (300g) mixed dried fruit (see above)
Put the butter, sugar, eggs and treacle into a bowl, and beat together until just mixed. Sift the flour, spice and baking powder over the mixture then continue beating until pale and thick. Gently fold in the dried fruit until evenly combined.
Spoon into a greased and lined 8" (20cm) deep cake tin and level the surface. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 50 - 60 minutes or until the cake is dark golden, springy to the touch and has shrunk slightly away from the sides of the tin (you can also test if cooked by sticking a skewer into the centre and if it comes out clean, then it is done).
Cool in the tin before removing and wrapping in clean paper. This will keep for a week (or a bit longer) in an airtight tin or closely wrapped in foil, and can also be frozen. Serve in slices as-is or decorate with marzipan and icing if you prefer.

As it is another gloomy day, see no reason why soup shouldn't be on the menu, it makes a good lunch or supper dish when we feel less like eating a more substantial meal. Although traditionally French, this is the British version. If you don't have cider or apple juice, use extra stock.
The bread (which floats on top of the soup) need not be large slices, a good chunk cut from a French stick or baguette would suffice. If using a bog standard English toasting loaf, then use one slice cut into four quarters.
Onion Soup: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter or 2 tsp beef dripping
2 lb (1 kg) onions, thinly sliced
1 tblsp caster or demerara sugar
few sprigs fresh thyme (opt)
couple of bay leaves
salt and pepper
5 fl oz (150ml) cider or apple juice (see above)
1.75 pints (1 ltr) hot chicken, beef, or veg. stock
4 thick slices bread (see above)
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
handful fresh parsley, chopped (opt)
Heat most of the butter/dripping in a pan (save some for spreading on the bread), then add the onions, sugar, thyme and bay leaves with seasoning to taste. Cook gently over lowest heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are sticky and brown (this could take up to 30 - 40 minutes but worth it). Add the cider, cover the pan and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, then add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
When the soup is ready, heat grill to High, spread the bread on both sides with remaining butter or dripping, then toast both sides under the grill until golden. Top one side with the cheese and replace under grill until the cheese is bubbling and melting. Divide the hot soup between individual bowls and pop the toast (cheese side up) on top so it floats. Sprinkle over the parsley if using. Eat and enjoy.

The day has lightened considerably, although for the past hour or so we have had considerable rain. The clouds are now lifting so fingers crossed the sun might come out during this afternoon. Not that I have any intention of going outside. Wimbledon and cooking will dictate my life today.

If you remember the other day I made two jars of lemon curd, and did say to B he could start the smaller jar if he wished. Yesterday found he had eaten all the curd from the small jar and only a tablespoon left in the larger jar. Just wish he wouldn't help himself without asking me first, I had plans for the second jar. My fault of course for not letting him know. Think we'll have to each have our own shelf in the fridge, so that B can eat everything on his shelf, but not touch anything on mine (unless I move it down to his).

Suppose I'm not that much different from B as I normally 'help myself' to what there is when I make myself a meal, although I always tend to leave what he likes for B to eat if there is not enough for both of us.
Yesterday carved up the remaining chunk of ham so that at least some could be frozen away. B loves home-cooked ham so much it now rarely gets the chance to reach the freezer. Mind you, I am fond of it too.

Having mentioned to B that am now starting another 'use it up' challenge, requesting that he DOES NOT buy anything foodie from the shops unless he clears it with me first, he was quite good about it. Said he'd have scrambled eggs on toast for supper (and there was me planning a much more luxurious meal, but at least that can be served another day), and he had a good bowlful of fresh fruit salad and cream for afters, plus some Rocky Road (think I'll make another slab of that as it makes a lot of oddments go a long way).

More laundry was done yesterday, how long it takes to dry remains to be seen, the airer is put up in the conservatory where it is warmer, and very warm indeed when the sun shines, but this wet weather it may take more than a couple of days to dry completely. One good thing, all of a sudden the machine now switches itself off after the spin cycle. Don't know why as it has been several months I've had to switch it off myself. All I need now is for it to carry on once started (it sticks on the first cycle but after that carries on), and then it is back to (almost) normal. After 20 or so years of (probably longer) of constant use one can expect a few hiccups with anything electrical. So have been fortunate. Don't know why but most of our 'electrics' are old, and some VERY old. I still have a hair dryer, and Hoover from the late 50's/early 60's that still work well. When we moved gave away an oil filled 'Dimplex' radiator that still worked and was bought in February 1955! My sewing machine is 50 years old. We must be doing something right.

Phone has just rung (again!) we are getting many 'cold calls' about the Mortgage Protection Plan or whatever it is at the moment. A piece in the paper about these calls, we cannot even stop them through the usual channels. Am now leaving the phone off the hook when they ring as it costs them money when the line is kept open (or so I've been told).

A year ago I mentioned how a certain word is suddenly 'fashionable' so constantly used. Last year it was icon/iconic (still being heard often) and this year the word to listen out for is 'epic'. If I hear it once I hear it up to ten times a day on TV. Which word will be popular next year I wonder?

Time for chattering to stop and me to get on with making my stock, some soup from the cooked veggies (with a bit of stock) for my lunch, then get on with making the fruit cake and preparing supper before Andy M get into his stride. Hope to do more 'making do' that is worth commenting on tomorrow.

Still raining, so hope you fare better with the weather today. Some areas will even get a bit of sun (they say). Whatever the weather, have a good day. TTFN.