Friday, November 30, 2012

A Change Is As Good As a Rest.

As B was changing his library books yesterday, asked him if he'd bring me a book written by a cook (not a cook-book - but definitely NOT one by Heston B!).  Bless him, he brought one written by Clarissa Dickson Wright on the history of our nation's food (and sorry Les, I  can't remember  the full details, but am sure you can sure you could find it on the Internet if you really need to know).

So far am only part way through the second chapter, but the first was very much on the lines (but in much more detail) of what I said yesterday about how centuries ago people managed to exist on little fresh food through the winter months and did a lot of preserving meats/fish by smoking, salting, and also drying these and other foods.   An interesting history lesson about the lives of our people in those days, and not necessarily domestic. 

In some ways the book is a bit like 'Food of England' written by Dorothy Hartley, but Clarissa's book gives a lot more information about the domestic (and other) lives of the people in centuries past (the 'food history' in the book starts at the 12th century, but does mention our way of life before that), and in a way it does seem (even then) that not a lot of our way of eating changed until after World War II when - once rationing was over - more foods were imported and more convenience foods took the place of the 'fresh'.   So in 2013 when I am aiming to return to how my we used to cook (pre-war),  using mainly local (by this I mean not imported) foods, and traditional dishes, then this at least will make a change, and as they say - "a change is as good as a rest".

Of course in the old days, much of the nation lived in the country, where people were a lot more self sufficient and keeping hens, a pig, and growing their own veg were part of daily life, and remember reading in the early pages of the above book that recently it was said (I paraphrase) 'that we'd have to return to being self-sufficient again, and quite soon'  So obviously someone had the foresight to see what could happen (and now obviously is) in the near future.   Maybe caused by the recession - this alone is leading to many more problems than was first envisaged - or maybe more global food shortages caused by adverse weather conditions, let alone other nation's financial problems.

It's all very interesting, and have to say that maybe it is a good thing that we are now being forced to return to old ways, using (or learning) old skills.  Quoting another expression "every cloud has a silver lining" - but only if we recognise it, and put ourselves out to find ways of making use of it.

Had a reply from the Morecambe Food Sharing Bank today.  They obviously need food, but nothing that has an earlier date of March 2013 on it.  Pity that for quite a bit of food in my larder 'has' to be used before that.  As they are handing out food each week, would have thought that foods still within the use-by day at this moment in time would have been accepted.   We all know that canned foods last longer anyway, but suppose 'elf and safety' have had their say in the matter, and rules have to be kept.
At least they can accept home-cooked foods, but I'll be meeting them some time next week to have a discussion on whether I am able to help in any way re this, and they also give talks and instruction to many young mothers who have little cookery skills, so I might be able to give some hints and tips for them to pass on.

A thank you for your comments, most replying to each other, so no real need for me to 'butt in', other than ask Margie what the $12 lunch was that was brought in to work by a colleague.  It would be interesting to work out how much it would cost to make the same at home from scratch.

 Jane mentioned people who continually buy take-aways etc, and I expect there will always be people who just don't wish to learn how to cook or even cope with anything, they are so used to someone else doing/making everything for them.  And not always the fault of their parents not showing them how to cope, they probably didn't learn 'how to' either, for it was in the 50's and 60's that the government encouraged everyone to 'spend, spend, spend' purely to get the nation back on its feet after the war, that's a good two generations since then.  But at that time there  wasn't that much unemployment, and people earned a reasonable wage, and it felt good after so many years of austerity (a good 10 years of food rationing), to allow ourselves a bit of luxury and freedom from slaving over a hot stove.

Then came computer controlled machinery etc, taking over a 'man's job'.  This began the snowball of unemployment, and more and more folk took to using credit cards to pay for things the manufacturers brain-washed us into believing we needed.  We are still being brain-washed, particularly in the world of electrical gadgets (mobile phones, iPads etc), and even worse - convenience and junk foods.  They sell it, and - by clever advertising - make sure we are (subconsciously) tempted (dare I say 'controlled'?) to purchase what they sell.
Even B and I say " Ooh, I'd love one of those" when we see it advertised on TV, but being extremely miserly with our dosh, we don't do anything further.  We wouldn't even buy one to give as a gift to the other, just because we are older and wiser and realise that we don't really need it.   We'd rather buy something the other needs but would not buy for themselves.

Suppose I am overly frugal.  We used to have a record player (did they call these 'Hi-Fi's?) and so bought quite a lot of 45s and LPs to play on it (we still have some, but no player - maybe the records are now worth more than they cost to buy).  In later years realised that something like that (a DVD player in today's world) means that once we have it, then we have to continue buying DVD's to play on it (music or films).  And then we are again caught in the manufacturer's web.

We would be silly to avoid buying things just because we could use our own elbow grease 'for free'. Advancement in technology mainly helps us lighten our load, and as I've said so many times before, I give thanks every time I use our front-loading washing machine (having raised four children from babyhood until teenage without having a washing machine - now that IS hard labour).
At least domestic 'appliances' are - in the main - useful and time saving.  Watching TV - unfortunately - can be a waste of time, but have to admit I waste a lot of my time watching it, but allow myself the privilege because of my great age (and needing to put my feet up).  If only I was 30 years younger I'd be doing so much more of use (like digging up the garden to grow more foods etc., keep hens, bees....), and we'd be living in a much more 'productive' property, with more space to do things than where we have retired to now.  But that was then, and this is now and I have to make the best of things.  Or should I say 'most of things' - this meaning I should be growing more veg and fewer shrubs in our garden, and hopefully next year I will be. 

We had a very severe frost last night, our lawn is still white, and so are many of the roof tiles in the houses seen through the window, even some where the sun is shining on them.  So it must be very cold outside (and not a lot warmer inside it has to be said).  Snow is forecast for the north of the country (Scotland and the north of England) and the weather maps show it could reach down as far as Morecambe - unlikely as they say it never snows here (that's a laugh, the first two winters here and it snowed a LOT). But as I love to see snow fall, then at least I'll be a happy bunny.

Nearly everyone enjoys tomato soup, and Heinz is still one of the favourites (although I find the Crosse and Blackwell's Tomato and Basil tops that).   But if we have time to make our own, then it will - of course - be cheaper.  We can make it in bulk and freeze ready for an almost instant thaw 'n heat in the microwave (or pan on the hob).
As  'spicy' soups are even more warming than one without added 'heat', here is a cheap and really comforting soup to drink on very cold winter days (as well as any other time).

Carrot and Tomato Soup: serves 8
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 lb (1 kg) carrots, thinly sliced
2 tblsp mild-medium curry powder
1 x 400g chopped tomatoes
3 pints vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry the onions for two minutes. Add the carrots, curry powder, tomatoes, and stock.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat. Part cover with a lid and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until the carrots are very tender.
Either puree the soup in a pan using a stick blender, or cool slightly then blitz in a liquidiser until smooth,, then return soup to the pan and gently reheat, add seasoning to taste, then serve immediately with crusty bread or croutons.

One more recipe before I leave you for today.  This is a fairly quick dessert to prepare although it will need time to chill.  Best made with fresh strawberries, I've found frozen ones almost as good bu probably best to puree the remaining strawberries and spoon over or around the dessert as a coulis, instead of placing on top as you would when using fresh strawberries.  Other other fresh berries or soft fruits could be used instead (alter the flavour of juice/booze as necessary). 
Use trifle sponges cut into fingers if you haven't the 'boudoir biscuits', or use home-made sponge (the crusty trimmings cut from around the edge of a Swiss roll are perfect for this dish, so when making this cake, don't eat/discard trimmings, freeze and save with others for the base of a trifle or for this recipe). 

A tip: make meringues using the 2 left-over egg whites, and worth mentioning that when at the Pampered Chef the other night, did eat a lovely meringue nest topped with a little lemon curd, then whipped cream and fresh berries.  It was gorgeous, and the meringue was perfect.  
At the Chinese meal we hosted the other night, one of the ladies there told me they were my meringues made some many weeks earlier, she'd frozen the surplus, and as they freeze perfectly (make sure they don't get crushed), they came out as good as new.  I was very impressed (even though they were mine).
At Morrison's the other day saw some packs of 8 meringue nests on sale for £1 (or buy 2 for £1.50). That makes them 12.5p each at full price, or just under 10p each when buying two packs.   As the home-made used 'free' egg whites and plus sugar, think I was able to make about 10 good sized 'nests' for around 10p.  That's 1p each!!!  Now that's what I call a SAVING!

Strawberry Refrigerator Cake: serves 4 - 6
5 fl oz (150ml) orange juice (or other - see above)
1 tblsp orange liqueur (see above)
2 tblsp icing sugar
14 oz (400g) strawberries
2 tblsp golden syrup
2 egg yolks
4 oz (100g) butter, softened
24 boudoir biscuits (sponge fingers)
7 fl oz (200ml) whipping cream
Mix together the orange juice, liqueur and icing sugar in a bowl.  Slice three-quarters (300g) of the strawberries, and add to the orange juice mixture.  Cover and leave to marinate for one hour (or thereabouts).
Meanwhile, heat the syrup until runny, but not hot (if necessary cool slightly) then whisk this into the egg yolks until the mixture is pale and creamy.
In another bowl, beat the butter until pale and creamy, then gradually beat in the syrup/egg mixture.
Drain the strawberries from the marinade (but reserve the liquid), then dip 8 sponge fingers into this marinade, arranging them side by side (touching) on a sheet of baking parchment placed on a shallow baking tray.
Using a spatula, cover the sponges evenly with half the butter and syrup mixture, then arrange half the strawberry slices on top.  Repeat layers, then top with the final 8 sponge fingers.  Cover and chill to set.  Serve, topped with whipped cream and decorate with remaining strawberry halves.

Late start means a late finish for which I apologise.  Sun is still shining, although no sign of the frost going.  Must go and get myself a hot mug of soup and go and snuggle up with my hottie in the living room to watch the lunchtime news and read a bit more of Clarissa's book.   Then will return to the kitchen and start preparing B's supper - probably a warming beef casserole (unless he has any other suggestions).  He will be out tonight at the club social, so I am free to watch what I like on TV (although may have an early night as still feel tired.  Have asked B to get me some more iron pills when he goes out this afternoon).

Hope you will be free to join me again tomorrow, usual time.  If so - 'see you then'.

Tomorrow is another weekend and the first day of December.