Thursday, November 29, 2012

Now the Cold...

Late start to my blog today, and may be short - all due to the sudden severe drop in temperature.
Had a really aching left shoulder yesterday, it's been 'grumbling' for several weeks, think it must be arthritis setting in, but last night in bed it was really painful.  Also - even under the duvet - it took me quite a while to get warm.

Cosy enough under the covers, but have to stick my head out as I feel claustrophobic if I don't, so my nose was cold and - believe it or not - I could see my breath as it touched the very cold air.  My bed is very close (not quite under) a slightly open window, so that made the room chillier than it needs be, but B and I really can't live in any room that doesn't have an open window (only slightly open in winter).  We need to breathe in fresh air.  For a few moments it felt as though I'd gone back to the days of early marriage when we had no central heating and the most beautiful 'fern shaped' patterns of ice froze on our bedroom windows during the night.  Despite the intense cold yesterday night, the feeling of nostagia I got was very pleasant.

Eventually I went to sleep, then - when I got - up, ALL my joints were aching.  Luckily I had a spare walking stick by my bed, so was able to hobble out, or I might not even have been able to do that.  Aches more easier now I've taken an ibruprofen, but still there.  Have a feeling I won't be moving around much today unless the heating is put on again as the cold makes it much worse.

According to a headline in yesterday's paper "S city that drowned in the storm" almost did happen.  This was a small 'city' in Wales, that was almost completely submerged by the floods, photos were shown.  Men in rubber dinghies helping folk leave their homes through the upstairs windows - the downstairs being completely submerged.  Many other areas in the south and west also waist deep in water. 
At the moment the country is bathed in sunshine, but extremely cold with now the danger of slipping on the wet - now icy - surfaces, then more rain forecast next week PLUS snow!  They are now saying it will be the coldest winter for 100 years.   Well, as pretty ancient myself, do remember extremely cold winters, year after year when a child and teenager, so if it is going to be worse than these Heaven help us all.

We must make sure we have enough food in store to see us through the hard months ahead,  and enough warm clothes to wear to help keep us cosy.   When our kitchens are cold, then we would be wise to batch bake meals now to keep in the freezer so that they can be easily reheated in the microwave (or oven) so that we can spend less time preparing meals in a chilly room.  It crosses my mind that some people don't have a microwave or a freezer, so perhaps the canned soups/meals (chilli con carne etc) might have to take the place of the 'home-cooked'.  Does it really matter?  We must find the best way that suits us to keep warm and serve up satisfying meals without shivering whilst we prepare them.

Think the sauce that is used for many Chinese take-a-ways does contain MSG Jane, this almost certainly caused the odd effects you got after eating.   On of the guests at our dinner the other night was in the pharmaceutical profession, and he said he could never eat anything with MSG in it as he found it made him really 'high', and not in a good way.

Regarding benefits, and the difficulty in finding work these days, as you say Jane it does seem odd that people on benefits seem to be able to still enjoy a good life.  Yet there are others who desperately need the money through no fault of their own, and seem to have to wait for any help to be given.  Possibly they do have enough money to feed the family, but only if they have the skills to know how to, and unfortunately in this day and age, most of the skills have been lost.

I've seen programmes where a limited amount of money was available for a week's food, and yet a whole chicken dismissed as 'a luxury' when (I know) it could feed a family for a week with veg etc, for far less cost than a pack of chicken drumsticks, a couple of pizzas and a couple of bottles of Cola - which were deemed to be 'necessary'.  Again it's all a matter of having 'the knowledge', and councils should give free tuition on the best way to get the most (good) food for our money, and then what to make with it.

Yes Marjorie, B did do the washing up for me (bless), and managed to put most of it away (but not yet sure where he put it), but it did take him most of the day.  He had to come back into the living room to have a bit of a sit down between one load of dishes, then go and do some more, then back for another sit down.  It was about mid-afternoon when he completed the task (and I could have done the lot in half an hour).  For some reasons he always boils a kettle of water to put into the bowl to wash the pots (adding a bit of cold water) instead of running the hot tap.  He says it works out cheaper, but I don't think it does.  The hot tap is easier - and faster.

B got his own supper (putting the few bits that were left of the various Chinese meals together, and reheated them in the microwave).  He also stir-fried the last of the bean-sprouts (once they had been blanched in boiling water) then added the reheated 'oriental mixture', and stir-fried that as well.  Goodness knows what it ended up like, but he said it was lovely.  Saved me cooking anyway.   I just got myself some cheese and tomatoes and went back to sit with my feet up watching TV.

A welcome  to Oliver (or welcome back).  Not sure what the RSS feed is (I'm not at all computer literate), but it sounds a good idea to receivee the blog directly into your 'in-box'.  
As to using persimmons (aka Sharon fruit), so far I've only known them eaten raw, when they need to be fairly soft (aka very ripe).  Remove the leafy end, and then either suck the pulp into the mouth through the hole made by removing the stem end, or use a teaspoon.  Am not sure if the skins can also be eaten.  
As the soft, sweet pulp is very much like a fruit puree, no doubt this could be used in any way a fruit puree (or fruit 'coulis') can be - adding with other ingredients to make ice-cream, or spooned over ready-made ice-cream or panna cotta etc.  Another suggestion would be to use add the pulp when making a cheesecake, use it as a topping to the cheesecake.  The pulp could even be frozen as an ice lolly.

It must be very annoying when an oddly printed word (or number) has to have verification before adding a comment, especially when it cannot be 'translated' (Alison often having difficulty).  I believe the reason why we have these 'verifications'  is to prevent 'spam' being sent via the comment box, because these are normally computer-sent, no person actually involved, but as a computer is not set up to read 'funny words', then it can't send the spam (some relief in that).    I still get quite a lot of unwanted comments that blogger sifts out due to these promoting other blogs and not really anything to do with mine.  These do not appear in the comment box readers see, but I still receive them in my 'in-box' along with all the comments and emails.

An extremely heavy frost last night, so on higher ground it could have been a lot worse.  We either have to wear our 'wellies' or strap on 'ice-grips' to our walking shoes.  Maybe we'll soon be needing skis! 
Apart from flooding which is a real disaster when it affects property/homes, the rest of the weather we should be able to cope with.  Most problems these days seem to be to do with transport, whether by bus, car, rail, planes or even Shank's pony.  We have come to the point when it seems almost essential that we HAVE to leave the house each working day to go to school, go to work, go to the shops....or go and have a fun night out.  In the old days (a very long time ago), people would just stay indoors and keep warm the best way they could.  The menfolk probably did have to work, if not for money, at least to go out and find some food, although the housewife would have been canny enough to stock up as much as possible during the autumn to see the family through the winter.  No freezer in those days (but then no need to have a fridge either when the temperature was so low outside). Pork and other meats were hung over fires to smoke and dry out so that there was bacon to eat, other meats salted.  Some fish was dried/salted/smoked, fresh eggs in the summer dipped in wax or rubbed in butter (to keep them airtight) then stored in sawdust or bran to use during the winter. Fruits were dried or preserved, nuts also, grains stored, and plenty of root veggies and spuds stored correctly would also last the winter out.  Cider, beer and wine would have been made, as well as fruit 'vinegars', jars of honey and other preserves would line the shelves, and even today we ought to be able to manage on that little lot, strange though it may sound to our cosseted ears.

We should never fear the bad weather that may be forecast,  it's happened all before, and will happen again no doubt.  What we have to do is 'be prepared', and then sit it out.  When you consider what 'domestic life' must have been like for early man, especially those who lived in the norther regions of our globe during the colder months, then they must have been of strong stock or we - ourselves - would never have seen the light of day.  There 'survival' genes must still be in us somewhere.  Perhaps time we released some of them.

Again I'm generalising, as of course there will be people such as the old and/or infirm who cannot deal with bad weather, and who might not be able to afford extra heating or even able to build up stocks of food.  It's not that easy opening some tins, and very often I have to call B to help me open a jar lid.  But we should never believe that 'charity (always) begins at home', we should still be aware that there are others out there who could do with our help.
I also have to remember (constantly these days) that there are people out there who just don't have the money to pay for food (but am still finding it hard to understand how they have got to this stage).
If I could find a semi-derelict room, live there on benefits etc as do so many,this would mean I could personally experience the hardships that people have nowadays, and it would be a real challenge for me to try and find a way to cope more efficiently.  One thought is that others in the same situation might 'club together' and pool some of their (food) resources as it is far cheaper to feed several (per head) than it is to feed one.  But again, the knowledge of 'how to' needs to be there.

It is all too easy to explain how things should be done, the problem is how many of us really want to be told? We prefer to do things OUR way, not be 'nannied'.  Can well remember - in early marriage - myself absolutely HATING being told the right foods to eat by nutritionists and dietitians.  I wanted to eat and cook what I liked, not what they said I should.  Now, of course, I realise the sense in what they said, and try to pass on the message without preaching,  but again it is up to everyone to do what they please.  Perhaps that is the best way we can learn. As long as we do learn from our mistakes (took me a long time).

Oh dear, am already feeling I'm coming across as though wearing my 'school mistress' hat this morning.  It's all this gloom and doom about our weather, food poverty, rise in all the household utility charges, and goodness knows what else to come that seems to be depressing me at the moment.  So - a usual - I write what I feel, and what comes into my head at the time, when perhaps I should concentrate more on what YOU want to read/hear.  So to brighten the proceedings will give one recipe before I leave you for today.

This is a fairly speedy vegetarian dish to make, with plenty of room to substitute different ingredients if you haven't the given ones to hand.  Instead of spinach use kale, or any other dark green leafy veg. (you could even use chopped broccoli spears).  Wash the greens and 'wilt' them in the microwave for a few seconds before adding to the dish.
Instead of rice you could make this dish with quinoa (pronounced 'keen-wah'), or pearl barley, or couscous, but adjust the cooking time according to the grain used..
Young carrot strips could be used instead of the peppers, or as well as, and parsley instead of coriander.  Fresh tomatoes are best, but canned 'plum' toms could be used, in which case they wouldn't need roasting.  Hardly worth putting the oven on for just the peppers, so these could be 'roasted' under the grill.
The feta cheese could be any 'crumbly' cheese (even drained yogurt).
Not everyone has harissa paste, but as this is 'pepper spicy', then you could add paprika pepper to the dish, or a dash of chilli sauce (Tabasco etc).  Or even a dash of mild curry paste (or teaspoon of curry powder).  If you haven't any of these, then add plenty of ground black (or white) pepper to give that 'kick'.

Spinach and Pepper Pilaff: serves 4
2 yellow bell peppers, deseeded and chunky-chopped
3 tomatoes, halved (could use canned plum toms)
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
pinch sugar
salt and pepper
1 onion (pref red) finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
12 oz (350g) basmati (or long-grain) rice
1 - 2 tsp harissa paste (to taste)
1.5 pints (900ml) hot vegetable stock
4 oz (100g) spinach leaves, wilted (see above)
handful coriander leaves, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) feta (or other similar) cheese, crumbled
Put the peppers and tomatoes in a roasting tin and drizzle with 1 tbls of the oil, then sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the veggies are slightly charred and tender.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion for 3 minutes, then stir in the garlic, rice and harissa.  Stir/fry for one minute then add the hot stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 or so minutes until the rice is tender (quinoa may take less time, as will couscous, pearl barley will take considerably longer). If necessary add more stock (or hot water). 
Add the roasted peppers and tomatoes to the pan contents, then add the wilted spinach and the chopped herbs, folding them into the rice.  Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.  Sprinkle the feta on top then take the pan to the table and serve immediately.
Good eaten as-is or with warmed chapatis or pitta bread.

So that's it for today.  Must now hobble into the bedroom to make my bed.  Normally I throw back the duvet to air the mattress, then fold it back when about to sleep, but with yesterday's cold air chilling the bed, it felt like lying down in a tent set up in the Arctic, so think I'll replace the duvet this afternoon whilst the heating is on in the bedroom.  Maybe even take a 'hottie' to bed with me as well.

Then more work to do in the kitchen. Putting the rest of the pots and pans away, and then thinking about supper.  Will probably make a spicy chilli for supper (or hot beef casserole) as  B and I will both feel like having a warming substantial meal tonight.  B had suggested us both going out for a meal tonight at a local restaurant tonight, as a thank-you to me for making the meal for his sailing mates, but I've put that on hold as having to hobble out on a very cold night is not my idea of fun, and I like to enjoy the whole evening, not just having a meal cooked for me.  Also would be very afraid of slipping on icy ground as am not very steady on my feet. 

Hope I'm in a more positive frame of mind tomorrow, it's not like me to be feel pessimistic, usually the opposite, but have now to admit to myself that I'm turning into a grumpy old woman, whether I like it or not.  I will try to have more pleasant (and useful) thoughts about life in general.  There is still Christmas to look forward to, and am really, REALLY looking forward to my new challenge (starting in the New Year), where my aim is to go back to the 'good old days' of my youth when the Sunday roast had to last most of the rest of the week, eaten with season vegetables, and also seasonal puddings were served.  And not a lot else.  Who knows, even using quality meat and the organic veggies, this just MIGHT work out as cheap as chips.   We will have to wait and see.

Have a lovely day, and enjoy what we have, ignoring what we have not.  I'm now putting a smile (some might call it a grimace) on my face and go and control my kitchen, thinking good thoughts all the day (if I can - but this will probably last only as long as the sun is shining).  Please join me again tomorrow, so we can enjoy our 'virtual' coffee morning.  See you then.