Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Counting the Cost

As I'm not having an organic veggie box delivered this week - still having enough left from the previous box - it will be exactly 3 months to the day before I order the next, and - having worked out how much I've already spent on 'the organics', it seems to work out at an average of £5 a week. 

Now I could probably buy more vegetables for £5 a week from the supermarket than I get in the organic box, but it is worth paying extra for the superior flavour.  Not only that, I get veggies that are not always available in the supermarkets (I haven't seen kohl rabi on sale...). 
So, considering there has been little need to purchase other foods (we still have loads of D.R. meat in the freezers, as well as fish - and what has been bought has been the usual 'top-up' of milk, eggs, cheese, and occasionally bread and butter/marg.) it's not surprising my monthly food budget is looking very healthy.  My 'virtual purse' absolutely bursting with unspent coins.   Even my larder doesn't get much use these days. 
So it looks as though going back to the old ways of eating 'meat and two veg' makes a lot of sense.

Yesterday B was clearing up the weekend papers (scattered over the living room) and brought me in a piece from the Sunday Express.  I quote from an article he thought was of interest to me (it was!):
"...Campbell's Soups informs me that 69% of British households keep out-of-date food in their kitchen cupboards. The soup maker also found that 28% had food in their cupboards that was two years out of date, while 3% claimed to be keeping food that had passed its expiry date 10 years ago.
In an effort to address this, Campbell's has teamed up with celebrity chef Gary Rhodes who has created a range of recipes for family meals made of the most common ingredients found left in cupboards.  Naturally the list includes Campbell's soups.
All well and good, but as Campbell's own research found that 74% of people in the UK do not follow a recipe when they  cook their evening meal, I wonder how many people will use Rhodes' recipes".

Plenty of comments have come in over the past few days about the Foodbanks need for food donations to help feed the needy, and agree with Sarina that the supermarkets do seem to throw away a great amount of food that really is still quite edible, but am pretty sure that many supermarkets do now donate quite an amount of this to 'needy causes', and I think there has been pressure on them to not waste anything if it can be used.  
Not sure whether it has begun, but there was talk of removing some of the use by/best before dates from some produce, keeping the dates on only where the food could go off rapidly.  This because the foods so dated, when stored correctly, normally have a much longer shelf-life than that given.

Myself don't know very much about 'how the other half lives' when it comes to poverty and lack of fuel for cooking etc.  Gill told me on Sunday that if there are children under school age, then the fuel (heating etc) cannot be cut off, although some unscrupulous landlords who control the meters may do so.  This is something I'm hoping to find out more about when I visit the Foodbank tomorrow.

As to the old cookery 'films' on the BBC Jane, I doubt they have kept any where I demonstrated cost-cutting.  In any case the Pebble Mill shows were all 'live' so probably not even recorded (or if they were then deleted shortly after).

It was several months ago when we first saw the Jamie Oliver series Margie, where he toured round Britain discussing our 'traditional' foods, and explaining how many of them were introduced from overseas.  If I remember it was quite a good series, so hope you enjoy it.
Jamie and his childhood friend Jimmy (the Jimmy Doherty of 'Jimmy's Farm) are together in a new series starting Friday this week.  Do hope it doesn't clash with something B wants to watch, but as on Channel 4 (I think) I can watch it an hour later on freeview 13.  Almost certainly it will be repeated on another Freeview channel.

It's very strange how all of a sudden my life seems now to be taking a slightly different path.  All of a sudden things are happening.  I'm now being contacted by several agents/reps to sample some new food products (gratefully accepted - well the food IS free), and also will shortly be interviewed on local radio (Cheshire) on 17th Dec (7.00pm or just after) - not sure whether it is BBC or another channel, but will find out more and let you know just in case I have a reader in that area.   The interview will be done over the phone so no need for me to leave the comfort of the chair that I'm sitting in at the moment.
Then there is this Foodbank thing.  It's all happening.  Not a lot by most standards, but a lot for me as I'd become used to nothing much happening at all.  Quite exciting.

Am now nearly at the end of Clarissa Dickson Wright's 'History of English Food'.  It was a large book and have to say I 'speed-read' much of it as there was a lot more about the history of the nation that I found less interesting than the mention of the foods cooked and eaten, but have now reached the Victorian/Edwardian era and the remaining chapters will be about war-time and rationing (much more up my street), followed by the rise of the convenience foods etc., virtually up to how we live now. 

There was one little mention of how - in the big houses - the gardener would plant late potatoes in sacks and keep them in the greenhouse so the family could have new potatoes served at Christmas. This many of us do now, but what was also said was that the same thing was done with peas, so fresh new peas could also be eaten then.  That is something that perhaps we could try, but then I suppose with frozen peas available all year round, do we need to? 

Maybe this is another area we should consider.  Freeze fresh produce when we can (or buy frozen veg), but be aware that we can also grow 'the fresh' in warmer conditions (windowsills etc), so that we too can harvest crops out of season (peas, beans, mixed salad leaves...).  In other words become a little more self-sufficient, and also gain by harvesting the 'home-grown' that would normally cost a lot when bought over the counter.

With the terrible weather we have had this past year, and the probability that we will get more this winter, all locally grown veggies (by this I mean in this country) will undoubtedly rocket in price.  I'm wondering just how long I can afford to buy the organics.  Also, have read that supermarkets etc will now be selling 'ugly' veggies (the 'mis-shapes', not those that look like clones) as there will be a shortage and every veggie counts (and no doubt won't reduce the price much because of this). 

Because of global bad weather, floods in some countries, drought in others, it seems that there could be a shortage of a great many foods that we import, but with having so many (in the past) to choose from, we could lose up to 75% of different products and still have plenty of choice left.

Perhaps we are all getting a bit brain-washed when it comes to food - especially when we go to the supermarkets.  We see thousands of different foods on sale, and many different brands of one product.  But how many of these DO we choose to buy?
Consider the aisles with displays of biscuits, cereals, potato crisps... .  Packets upon packets upon packets of countless varieties, yet most of us probably only choose a couple of different ones, and usually the same each time.  Do we really need all the others?   Possibly, as we don't all have the same tastes, and they must all be sold to one or t'other of customers, or they wouldn't be there, but even so, it is getting to the point when we are spoiling ourselves by expecting to be able to purchase our 'favourites', leading to eating only what we like the most, not what we really should be eating for our health.  Can we afford such a life of luxury (some might call it malnutrition)?   Or do we now expect to have as much freedom of choice as to what we eat as the Queen (and I bet she isn't as greedy as many folk I see loading their trolleys with foods they will probably end up throwing half of it away because they have decided they can't be bothered to cook it)?

Today am having a Tesco delivery, with 99% of the food bought for the Foodbank.  Just added a couple of tubs of ice-cream (on offer) for B, and also some double cream (ditto).  Oh yes, also ordered some more eggs as I'll be baking for the Foodbank.  
I'm not sure how the Foodbank deal with home-cooked foods, as have a feeling it is just cakes and biscuits etc they want, and probably they serve these with cups of tea to those who come in and collect their provisions.  Not to be given out as part of the food parcel. 
Anyway I'll be baking today, and if there is a problem re the 'home-cooked' can always bring it home where B will eat it up within a very few days.  As I said above, I'm aiming to find out a lot more about how the scheme works and also their needs.

It's going to sound very mean of me when I say that despite the poverty of many people today, during World War II the food rations were much less than the foods that (as far as I am aware) are given out today in the 'food parcels', with our whole nation having then to manage on very little food, not just for the duration of the war, but for many years after - think 12 years in total.   So the food parcels given out today seem to contain more (per week) than my mother had to manage on all those years ago.  The problem today is youngsters just don't know how to make the most (or best) of the food in the parcels donated, and I'll be very interested to find out how the food is 'doled out', and whether it varies according to wants or needs.

Here are a few recipes for sweets that can be given as Christmas gifts, or be made for the family as 'nibbles' over the Twelve Days.  Even if we can't afford a 'proper' Christmas this year, as long as we have the necessary ingredients, then nothing stopping us providing the 'treats' that make this time of year so special.
Several of the recipes use the US cup measurement (1 'cup' = 8fl oz).  A glass measuring jug could be used if you haven't a set of  'cup' measures.  Don't assume that 8fl.oz = 8 ounces, as different ingredients weigh heavier than others.  Anything that is 'liquid' (or will melt) such as eggs, fats, syrup, honey, etc will weigh the same in fluid ounces as well as imperial ounces.  Otherwise measure by 'cups'.

Peanut Crunch:
6 oz (175g) butter
2 oz (50g) salted peanuts
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup desiccated coconut
half cut brown sugar
Melt the butter, add to the other ingredients and mix well. Press into a shallow baking tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 minutes.  Cut into small pieces.

8 tblsp sugar
2 tblsp water
2 tblsp vinegar
2 tblsp butter
Put all ingredients into a saucepan and heat gently, when the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil. Continue boiling until the mixture becomes hard when a little is dropped into cold water.
Pour onto a buttered surface, then break into pieces when cold and set.

Honeycomb Toffee (Cinder Toffee):
3 tblsp granulated or caster sugar
3 tblsp golden syrup
1 slightly heaped teaspoon bicarb. of soda
Put the sugar and syrup into a deep saucepan, and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for about 3 minutes (the mixture mustn't darken too much), then tip in the bicarb and stir vigorously.
The mixture will froth and rise up the pan.  While still rising, tip the mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet and leave to set in a cold place (the fridge if you like) as when chilled it hardens without becoming sticky.  When set, break into pieces and store in an airtight jar or container.

4 oz (100g) butter
1 cup sugar
2 tblsp golden syrup
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
2 handfuls chopped nuts
1 tsp vanilla extract
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the sugar and golden syrup. Stir for 3 minutes, then add the condensed milk, nuts and vanilla. Bring to the boil and boil for 15 minutes, stirring all the time. If you want a soft caramel, then boil slowly, for a firmer caramel, boil faster.
Pour the caramel into a greased cake tray, and when cool slice it almost through into small squares, using the back (blunt) side of a knife to make the marks, then it will break/snap evenly when cold and firmly set.

Turkish Delight:
1 large cup boiling water
2 generous cups sugar
1 oz (30g) gelatine crystals
1 tsp citric acid
vanilla extract
pink food colouring
lemon essence
icing sugar
Put the gelatine, sugar, citric acid and water in a pan and heat gently until all dissolved.  Boil for 15 - 20 minutes, stirring well, then divide into two.
Colour one half with the pink food colouring and flavour with vanilla extract, and leave the other half white and flavour this with the lemon essence.  Pour each into two separate greased flat dishes. When cold and set, cut into squares with a knife dipped in hot water, and dust the squares with icing sugar on all sides.  Pack into containers liberally dusted with icing sugar so the squares don't stick to each other or the sides/base of the containers.

Well, think that's enough for today, and what a miserable day it's turning out to be.  After several days of sunshine, even though very cold and frosty, it is not good to see rain again.  The forecast is for this to change to snow showers as the week progresses, so depending upon whether we have to venture out or stay indoors, some of us may be pleased to see snow fall (me for one).

Really must get my Christmas cards posted this week or I'll forget and leave it too late (story of my life).  Also must check and see how my forced hyacinth bulbs are progressing, probably ready to see the light of day, so can put them in several of our rooms where (hopefully) some at least will be in bloom for Christmas.  Just love the scent of hyacinths.

We are lucky having two large holly bushes growing in our garden.  They don't carry berries, but I have many false berries on wires that can be twisted round the holly branches, making them look very festive.  So in a couple of weeks must send B out with the pruning shears (on second thoughts better prune the holly myself or he'll cut a whole bush down knowing him), then can start decorating the rooms.  Traditionally this used to be done on Christmas Eve (I remember my mum and dad putting up the Christmas tree then, and the lights weren't then electric, but tiny candles that were clipped onto the branches in their little holders, then lit with a match.  'Elf and safety wouldn't allow that these days - but nothing ever caught fire).

Today it seems that already some home (and certainly shops and pubs etc) already have Christmas decorations.  After Twelfth Night (when the decorations have to come down), no doubt the supermarkets will then immediately have Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns on sale.

Whatever the weather, enjoy your day, and hope you can join me again tomorrow.  See you then.