Wednesday, December 12, 2012

If we can't join 'em, beat them!

Sorry to hear about your husband's teeth extraction Sarina, and do hope his gums will have healed enough to allow him to eat a proper Christmas dinner.   It's always difficult eating shortly after teeth have been removed,  maybe letting your OH drink thin soups through a straw would help. 

The mention of making crafts with the possibility of selling them next Christmas is a very good one indeed. Many can be so easy to make (felt hearts etc to hang on the Tree), yet these can be quite expensive to buy.  Magazines, Sunday supplements etc., at this time of the year have pages of  'hand-crafted' gifts and decorations and the prices charged quite stuns me, especially considering the cost of materials used (several use 're-cycled' materials which are - to all intents and purposes - 'free' anyway).  Those programmes made by Kirsty Allsopp show how easy it is to make things that other people would pay ££££s for.

It was this Sunday that I argued with Gill over the high prices charged for 'craft-work.  Gill's daughter (single parent with two teenage boys), is 'arty'.  With the help of grants/benefits the daughter has taken a college degree and now teaches crafts (like beadwork etc) part time.  She still has to struggle to make ends meet, but her work has been highly rated by 'those that know', so she charges the 'going rate' for such 'quality' (modern 'artwork', like buttons sew onto cards to make a collage etc), but this hasn't brought in any sales as she charges far too much and not everyone likes 'modern'.  When we count the hours of work involved and when each item is a 'one-off' it is understandable that it should not be sold cheaply, but how many people today can afford to buy such as these?

When I used to make crafts for sale I sold them for the lowest possible price, purely because I needed the money (desperately), and still feel that if nothing is sold, then it isn't worth anything when left on the shelf.  Far better to sell many things at low cost, then just one highly priced item.   After all, part of the pleasure of making crafts IS in the making, and for those who do craft-work as a (hopeful) profitable hobby,  this pleasure (time taken) could be counted as 'free'.  
There will of course be readers out there who make crafts purely to sell, and include in the selling price the cost of their time, the cost of materials, more for overheads, and a good percentage of that total for their 'profit' (and believe me this can add up to quite a lot), so they won't appreciate me dumbing down their efforts.  All I can say is - if you can sell your 'handicrafts' then good for you.  If you can't, then lower the price - that is if you really want to sell.

We see the same thing when it comes to food.  Think I've mentioned before that the current trend for 'cakes' is to see displays of pastel coloured macaroons, a box of half a dozen (or so) priced at several £££s.  Yet the ingredients are just eggs whites (and you know these can be 'free'), icing sugar and ground almonds, plus a bit of food colouring and flavouring.  I could probably make 100 macaroons for less than £1!   Fashions, trends, all add to the cost, and this I feel is not really how it should be.

We see small pots of 'quality' jams and marmalade  (in other words like grandma used to make) for sale at £3, £4...., yet - allowing for the cost of new jars and lids (the EU now demanding these if we sell our jam, no longer can we sell jam in sterilized old jars even if we use new lids...!!!) - we should still be able to make a pot of jam for around 50p (half that if we use old jars/lids).  As we could fill 12 half pound jars with one batch jam or marmalade, then - within less than an hour, and for our own use - we could have saved ourselves over £33.
Yet again am working with our 'kitchen' costings.  Turn the preserve making into a 'cottage industry' and we would then have to add the time it takes, the cost of fuel, plus our profits to the final price we charge.  Such a thin dividing line between 'kitchen and 'cottage' , but in these times of recession, our 'home-mades' and 'home-crafted' can be a godsend to all who are prepared to give a little of their free time to make things that people are prepared, and - what is more important - can AFFORD to buy.

We make make only £1 profit after several hours work - but what would we have been doing during that time anyway.  With me I'd probably be watching TV.  But that's not the point I'm hoping to make.  It is the £1 (earned - or saved by a 'deliberate' effort) that is important.  How can we make THAT work for us.  Eagle-eyed canny shopper's (especially those going to Morrison's later in the day where they have loads of price reductions on fresh products) could buy something that was originally worth a lot more.
Or we could go to a car-boot and pick up a bargain (then find it is worth £k when we take it to an auction), or trawl round charity shops to find a gift (or two) that is perfect for a friend and that would have cost ten times a much when bought 'new'.  One thing can lead to another, and when money saved can be turned into a 'game' (see how much you can make or buy for £5, £1 or just 50p..) then this turns the penny-pinching into something to be enjoyed, not fretted over.

Many of our well-known millionaires began their lives by turning something discarded into something that could be sold.  As a lad, Alan Sugar discovered that discarded wooden blocks (that used to pave our streets in the old days, burned well when they were thrown onto a bonfire.  This due to the pitch on them.  So he helped himself to a pile of discarded blocks and chopped them up and sold them to a local shop as 'fire-wood' (kindling).  The shopkeeper at first declined, but when Alan Sugar showed how rapidly they caught fire and continued to burn, he was delighted so placed a regular order.

Another (now) millionaire used - as a child - to hunt through empty cigarette packets discarded in street waste bins to find the vouchers that could exchanged for ball point pens (ball point pens being 'new' to that time).  After collecting hundreds, sending for and receiving many pens he then sold these to his school-mates. 

In a way, we are today blessed with having a recession because it could make us use our skills (or perhaps learn new ones) just to keep 'surviving' in a more comfortable way.   Whether or not this means 'making to sell', or just furnishing our homes with the 'home-mades' to give a more comfortable and cosy life.  Remove the thoughts that living with 'second-hand' and 're-cycled' is hitting the very depths of poverty, it is now 'fashionable' to do so, and even the most wealthy of people (we can read about this in mags), are furnishing their homes with the 'hand-crafteds' (but of course made by others - and bought at a price), and of course spending a fortune of buying the 'like grandma used to make' preserves, cakes and biscuits....
We can have a life just as good, but why buy when we have the makings at home, and can do just as good a job ourselves?  Perhaps for the first time in centuries, we can now live like kings on a pauper's wage.  So let's do it and enjoy it.   Starting with Christmas. 

Yesterday watched a bit of Lorraine P's cookery prog (BBC 2 last night), and just loved her gingerbread 'tree decorations' - these having 'stained glass' centres made from melted sweets.  And how much would these cost if we had to buy them?    Perhaps all we need is a little imagination, and for those not so creative, we can be inspired by reading - or watching on TV - others efforts, and then try and copy them.    Myself like to feel I am creative, but have to say can rarely 'invent' something new, always first need to read (or see) to get me having a go.  

I've always been very good at painting (pictures, not door-frames), but do need something to 'copy', be it another painting, or photo.  End result being as good (I like to think) as the original.  Maybe I should paint and sell 'bespoke forgeries'.   How I wish I could paint free-hand without the need to copy, because that is true art.  Not what I do. 
Having said that, I've made a few pennies selling paintings (and feel that £15 was not too high a price to charge for a pastel picture of a favourite dog (copied exactly from a photograph and liked so much I got an order for a couple more of their favourite dogs...) also given many away, so perhaps I should take up my brushes and begin painting again. 

Must stop rambling and move on to what I'm supposed to be here for - recipes, food info etc...
Not that there is much on the food front at the moment, too much food for sale with a Christmas theme, encouraging us to buy rather than make (although have to say the way I feel at the moment am almost tempted to slide down that chute myself).  It will be January before we feel the blast of increased food prices hit us where it hurts most. 
On the good side, each supermarket is in competition with all the others, so we will still be able to find bargains.  Have just received an email from Tesco offering free delivery (between now and 19th Dec), so we can 'stock up'.  May just do that, as although intending to 'shop live' at Morrison's (courtesy of their in-store mobility scooter), really don't feel up to it at the moment, and time is getting a mite too close to Christmas for me to even wish to step into a supermarket.  I can't bear the crush of people, much worse when I'm saddled with the scooter I can tell you - it's pretty big.

Recipes today are a bit of a mixed lot, but all have a purpose. This being to use seasonal veggies, and eat a little more healthily in the run-up to Christmas where we'll all - no doubt - overdo the eating, especially of 'naughties'.  Well, we do have to leave room for that don't we?

First dish is meat-less (vegetarians can use v.cheese), and can be made with any of the edible types of squash that are seasonal at this time of year (butternut, onion squash, or pumpkin to name but a few).  Feta cheese works well, but another crumbly cheese such as Wensleydale or Lancashire could be used.
Serve as a side dish (8 servings) or as a light main course (4 servings).
Butternut and Feta Gratin: serves 4 - 8
4.5lb (2kg)butternut (or other) squash
2 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) feta cheese, crumbled
3 oz (75g) grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz (100g) breadcrumbs
3 tblsp olive oil (pref extra v.)
salt and pepper
Halve the squash (if whole) and removed the seeds with their fibres. Cut the flesh into long strips about 1"- 1.5" (2.5-3.5cm) thick.  Either remove the skin then or (easier to do) after the initial cooking.
Put the slices into a pan of boiling, salted water (these may need cooking in two batches), bring to the boil then simmer for 5 - 10 minutes until the flesh is just tender (but not soggy). Drain well (removing skin if not already done).
Arrange the squash in a buttere shallow ovenproof dish, then scatter the feta on top.  Dot with remaining butter and add seasoning to taste.  Mix the Parmesan and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle over the top, adding a drizzle of oil, then bake for about half an hour, or until the squash gratin is evenly browned (you may need to turn the dish round half way) and crisp on top. Serve hot or whilst still warm.

Ideally, we should allow ourselves some freedom when it comes to ingredients used.  Whatever the recipe migh suggest, other countries - especially those around the Mediterranean - tend to please themselves when it comes to putting together a dish.  They trust their sense of taste, and in particular make the most of what is available.  They are not strict about weights and measures, and often prefer to use 'handfuls' rather than precise amounts.  We, like them, should be aware that not every tomato tastes the same, and olive oil can change in flavour from one region to another (even when produced in the same country).  So the same dish made in one home/village, could taste quite different when made in another.  So don't despire if your Souvlakia doesn't taste the same as it did when you first ate in in Greece (it tasted pretty dreadful when I sampled it for the first time in a Greek restaurant in Lancaster). 

Next recipe gives us both protein (eggs) and several of our five-a-day (veggies), together sounding a bit boring, but once you added the spices - wow!  Use canned (plum) tomatoes if you haven't the fresh. Definitely one worth making.  Serve 6 as a starter or 3 - 4 as a light lunch or supper 'mains'. 
Baked Eggs in a Spiced Tomato Stew: 
5 tblsp olive oil (pref extra v)
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 green bell pepper, deseed and cut into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, deseed and cut into thin strips
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1 lb (450g) ripest tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
1 tblsp tomato paste/puree
1 tsp caster sugar
6 eggs
cayenne or paprika pepper
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large frying pan placed over low- medium heat.  Add the onions and peppers and stir-fry for 10 - 15 minutes until the veggies have softened and turned 'floppy' (they really need to be soft but not coloured), then stir in the garlic and cumin and fry for a further minute, before adding the tomatoes (and any juice oozed from them - but if using canned tomatoes don't add their juice, they have enough on their own), then stir in the tomato paste, and add salt and pepper to taste, plus the sugar.
Using the back of a spoon, press the mixture down to make a hollow, then break in an egg. Repeat five more times evenly round the pan (maybe one in the middle) and break an egg into each as made, then cover pan, lower heat and cook gently for a further 8 - 10 minutes until the eggs are set.  Sprinkle tops of egg with a little salt, then a light dusting overall of cumin and cayenne (or paprika) then serve immediately.

Final recipe is for an Italian fruit cake that should be made with fresh summer fruit, but myself find that drained canned peaches and/or apricots work just as well.  As this can also be made with plums, these might be available fresh at this time of year (look on the reduced counters and you may find a punnet of plums sold cheaply because they are too ripe for the store to keep longer).
A useful cake to make as it improves with keeping, so a good one to make ahead ready to eat during the Christmas festivities - that is if you can bear to wait before eating it. Store in an airtight container, leave for 24 hourse before tucking in.  Even better, this cake will freeze, and if you wish to do this, when cold wrap tightly in freezer film and foil, then freeze for up to one month.  Defrost, then warm through to serve.

Peach (or Plum) Torte: serves 8 - 10
14 oz (400g) plain flour
1 level tablespoon bakin powder
11 oz (310g) caster sugar
4 eggs
grated zest of 1 lemon
5 oz (150g) butter (pre unsalted) melted,
5 - 6 peaches or...
...8 - 10 plums depending upon size
Sift together the flour and baking powder.  Remove 3 tablspoons of the sugar and set aside, then put the rest of the sugar into a bowl with the eggs, whisking together for several minutes until the mixture is pale and thick (doubled in volume).  Carefully fold in the flour and lemon zest, alternating with the tepid melted butter. 
If using fresh peaches, remove skin and stones, if using plums just remove stones. Cut fruit into slices about as thick as a £1 coin.
Spoon half the cake batter into a greased (buttered) 10.5"/26cm cake tin, the base lined with baking parchment.  Smooth the surface of the batter, they lay about one third of the fruit on top in any pattern you wish (doesn't have to be neat). Dollop the remaining batter on top and smooth surface, finishing with the rest of the fruit placed as neatly or as higgledy-piggledy as you wish on the top. Sprinkle the reserved sugar over, then place in the oven (180C, 350F, gas 4) and bake for 55 - 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (but allow for some fruit syrup).  Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes before turning out onto a cake airer, then leave to cool.  Serve, cut into big wedges.  Good eaten warm (as cake or as a pudding) on its own or with a scoop of ice-cream, cream, creme fraiche, or mascarpone cheese. 

My Beloved seemed to have an easier night last night, I didn't hear him cough and splutter, but did my fair share of it.  This morning I couldn't stop sneezing, and although B seems a lot better, can hear him having another coughing fit as I write.   I've cancelled my hair this week as don't want Norma to pick up the virus for she would then be ill close to Christmas.  Do hope I'm better enough for her to come next week as this will be her last trip before the festivities, but do have another appt. before New Year.  Mind you, at my age have got past caring what my hair looks like - how different from times past when my best asset was my hair.  Now I haven't even got that (half of it seems to have fallen out never to return again)!

Yesterday couldn't get warm despite my thermal socks, my fluffy 'cowl', two 'hotties' and a couple of quilts.  My day to feel sorry for myself, but managed to get B a supper of sausage, egg and chips as all I had to do was  part cook the bangers in the oven, then pop in a plate of oven-chips on the shelf above, then go and tell B (he was playing games on the comp) to check in 15 minutes then if almost ready to fry himself a couple of eggs and plate up.  He seemed to manage that alright.

It was 9.00 before I managed to feel warm again (the time the c.h. turned off as it happened - but the room stayed warm) but didn't stop up too late and had a cosy night in bed (despite my coughs and sneezes). 

An interesting programme on last night (Channel 4) about 'What's happening to our Weather'?  It would be good if those across the pond could see this prog, as it showed how dreadful our floods have been. Need to see it to believe it!
Today we have had another night (and probably today as well) of severe frost, the lawn is as white as though snow had fallen.  Think in some areas (mainly in the north) the temperature was as low as minus 14C. 
Not that I mind the cold, this seems far more comfortable for me than when the weather is wet and damp as - despite the higher temperatures - this makes me still feel chilly, and also makes my joints ache more.
We seem to have had the worst rain, the worst snow, the worst gales ever to be on record, but as these records only began about 100 years ago, hardly worth considering as a proof that things are worse than they use to be.  My book 'Agricultural Records' (lent out and never returned) shows that in centuries past the weather was much worse that it is now (although think we never seemed to have such bad flooding as we do now, but then there weren't as many houses built, so more land to drain away any excess. 
If the Thames froze over with thick enough ice to hold fairs on it - this over more than a couple of consecutive winters, then perhaps we should be grateful for the little ice we have now.  People used to skate on the frozen Fens as a way to get to work, and even in my day can remember weeks of snow and ice that sometimes caused problems for transport for weeks (six weeks of snow without a thaw being the norm in those times).  We managed to keep the country running far better then than nowadays when one inch of snow seems to cause enough chaos to have airports closed, trains stopped, and roads unable to be gritted in time (even though snow was forecast).  If the more countries that have a lot more snow are able to cope without any problem at all, then why can't we?   Short answer is we have become far too soft, and immediately panic the minute something prevents us doing what we usually do.  Even worse, never even bother to find out what we could do when we need to.  Just prefer to sit back and have a weep, then hope someone else will give a helping hand (and nowadays the hands also don't seem to know what to do).

Have just had to slap my hand as I'm rambling again, but quite honestly I do get fed up with all the moans and groans, the gloom and doom, that seems to be in the news these days.  We seem to have lost much understanding.  We expect to tighten our personal belts - cutting down on treats, spending less, learning how to home-cook instead of buying the 'readies', yet we are bitter when we read how our government is doing the same with their own 'housekeeping'.  It can't be easy for them either when their 'income'' comes (mainly) from our taxes, and now less of that is coming in through closures of businesses, unemployment etc, the goverment have less money to 'play with'.  Exactly the same as you and I - trying to make ends meet, only on a larger scale.  We have to make cuts to survive, and so do they.  How it will all end I don't know,  worse before it gets better I suppose, so we should just grin and bear it and try not to complain.
(Mind you, let me get my hands on their finances and what they do with it and I'd soon show them how they could save a few billion pounds).

Thanks to Tim for the 'cough mixture', and agree that lemon and honey is most soothing, but haven't (yet) tried it with glycerine. 

Can't even remember what day it is - surely it must be the middle of the week.  Don't really care, my Christmas cards have been sent, so I can take time off to rest before I get busy again next week. 
B is still coughing, and even when he is better it will still take me three days before I improve (my cough began 3 - 4 days after his).  Early next week have the radio intervies to do,  then desserts for the club social the following Saturday - and as I should by then be recovering, have in any case decided I won't be going to the social's Christmas party (it's mainly sailing orientated, prize-giving for club races etc, boring, boring, boring) so can instead will put my feet up when B has left with the 'goodies' and enjoy an evening of TV, reading and stuffing myself with 'naughties'..

As ever, enjoy your day, and hope to get more comments from you soon,  and do drop in for our 'virtual' coffee break tomorrow if you can find time, albeit a rather one-sided 'chat'.  At least this way am not spreading my germs to one and all.  TTFN.