Monday, December 17, 2012

What Next?

It's good to be back with you again, and did find that taking a few days away from my blog helped as I now feel more refreshed.  Unfortunately my cough has now settled on my chest, but not severely, so fingers crossed I'll be better by Christmas.   B seems to be improving, although still coughing now and again, so suppose the virus will just have to take it's course. 

In some ways, having a cold now is a good things, as normally - once our bodies have had to fight a virus - we seem to then be immune to any other similar ones, at least for several weeks/months, so that should mean a fairly free winter of  coughs and sneezes.   Am just hoping we don't fall prey to the norovirus (or whatever it is called) that seems to be hitting the country (and cruise ships) at the moment.

Many thanks for all the comments sent whilst I was 'off screen', and the usual 'blanket' thanks to those who wished me well, and personal replies to a few as there were mentions of things on my mind at the moment.

Do agree with Judy and David's comment on Heston B's programme(s).  I don't normally bother to watch them any more as he 'plays' with his ingredients far too much - this doesn't impress me at all.
But I did watch a recent Masterchef where the competitors went to H.B's restaurant (The Fat Duck) to learn about his more extreme (and scientific?) way of cooking.
Actually I was more disgusted than anything else.  Who on earth would want to slice loads of onions to be vacuum-packed and then cooked in a sous-vide for 96 (yes - 96!!) hours? (although it crossed my mind that Les might want to have a go). All this so that the onions could be drained through a sieve (presumably the flesh then discarded) just to trap about half a pint of the very dark onion juice.  This juice then had a little leaf gelatin3e added to it to make a loose 'gel', this to be swirled or blobbed onto a plate, as more of a garnish.   All I can say Heston is - 'get a life'.

Unfortunately this seems to be the way that cookery is going,  the traditional now becoming out of fashion - and how we all loved it when it WAS in fashion a couple or so years ago.  Stores that sell cookery utensils, accessories etc are now selling kits so that we can make our own 'foam', 'bubbles' etc.  Maybe fun to use, but hardly adding any nutrition to a dish, although as I've said before, the more attractive a meal looks, the more we are likely to eat it, but maybe foam and bubbles are a step too far.
As I've had a bit more time on my hands, spent my 'chair hours' reading cookery and other books. Also the newspaper.  Have to say that having read all of 'Eating for Britain' - mentioned the other day, I've begun to re-read it again, and will possibly read it a third time before it goes back to the library.  It's not often a book holds my attention that well.

Once we've got past the recent terrible news (several parts of the globe) in the newspapers, we then come to pages telling us the easy/best/cheapest way to cope with Christmas.  Mostly we are encouraged to buy rather than make, which doesn't help our purse, but when seeing the following, I very nearly decided to stop writing my blog altogether...
"Real Cooking is...baked beans and frozen pizza".
Putting a frozen pizza in the oven or opening a can of baked beans counts as cooking for a quarter of us, according to a study.
One in five also believes that heating a read-meal in the microwave constitutes preparing a proper meal, while 27% say shoving a pizza or nuggets and chips in the oven is the same as cooking."

But what really concerned me was what else it said "...meanwhile, we are spending less time in the kitchen than 20 years ago, with only a third spend more than 40 minutes cooking a meal compared to 50 per cent from the previous generation, and just 19% cook a proper meal every night rather than eat takeaways or ready meals!"

Now, considering the previous generation is known not to be very interested in cooking, what does that say about us now?  It's getting worse, not better, despite the continual encouragement from TV cooks et al to get us back to doing some home-cooking again.  Yet the supermarkets say they have had massive sales of baking ingredients (due to the Great British Bake Off progs etc).  Does this mean we are happy to bake cakes, but not bake anything more substantial - like a casserole?

Not sure that statistics really show the full picture.  It's a bit like saying the 'average' woman is dress size whatever, and then all clothes on sale made for her, but in actuality no woman is 'average', she is either too tall, too short, too thin or too fat.   So when it comes to cooking, there is no real 'Mrs Average'.  There ARE many who still won't be bothered to cook, but plenty out there who still do and will continue to.

Here is another bit of research that is interesting even if only to prove that it is those that have that little bit more money (even when spending less) are more likely to cook, whereas it is those on lower incomes who really do need to learn how to.
"Families are changing their eating habits to make most of the bargain offers in supermarkets as they find it harder and harder to make ends meet.
The trend, most noticeable among better-off families and young people, follows a cost-of-living squeeze in which food prices rises have outpaced pay increases since 2008.
Fiftytwo percent of shoppers now often plan meals based on which products are on promotion, and 62% of the wealthier families often change what meals they buy compared to 53% of poorer households.
Sixty per cent of of 25 - 34 year olds often change their eating habits based on special offers available, compared to 47% of the over-55s.
Over 43% of shoppers say they are freezing more of the fresh items they buy on mult-buys in order to increase their shelf -life and reduce waste".

Even the above gives us food for thought as 'changing what meals they buy' seems to indicate that still not much 'cooking from scratch' seems to be done.  'Scratch cooking' is the only way that we can cut costs down to a minimum (and by doing so can make dramatic cuts in the amount we spend each month on food), so let's hope that this message will be the highlight of all cookery programmes, not 'expecting' us to buy ingredients that most of us can't afford or if we do - end up with something we probably won't use again (unusual sauces and spices etc).

'Superscrimpers' does seem to be the only programme that shows us how we can really save money, and yesterday I watched the repeat of last year's Christmas Special (there will be a new one later this week on Channel 4).  It showed how a lady was able to cook a big Christmas dinner for her large family given a budget of £50 (when previously she would have spent at least three times as much).  Even so, there was still a good variety of food (did they need both turkey AND gammon served together?) and plenty of selection of vegetables, so a good spread laid out, yet obviously too much for at the end we saw a table full of plates that appeared to have half the meal left on them uneaten.   So perhaps the festive fare could have been made for (say) £25 with no (or just a few) left-overs.

Watching a lady explain how to use up cold cooked turkey was also another interesting part of the programme, but - as the 'student's seemed to imply - do people REALLY chuck away uneaten turkey because all they could think of was using it for boring turkey sandwiches?  It sounded as though half a turkey would end up in the bin without being given a second thought.  There are times I fell I'm now living on another planet.

Thanks Margie for confirming that it is Anne Olsen who demonstrates making cakes on The Food Network.  While not so interested in what she is making, what does catch my eye is her 'kitchen'.  It has to be a commercial kitchen for what domestic cook would have deep drawers full of flour, sugar etc (not in bags but loose)?  Also her ovens are 'specialist'.  Rather shallow in depth, but wide enough to hold about four sandwich tins side by side.  Obviously made just for baking cakes and cookies.  My dream kitchen.

A query from me.  Lisa, how do you make the Mexican Queso Dip? It sounds really lovely. 
Also your mention of knowing someone who works with leather.  When in Leeds we were able to go to a firm that dealt in leather (maybe an upholsterer - can't now remember) where we could buy bags of small offcuts, and these I would stitch together, patchwork fashion, to make bags, cushions etc.  So on man's throwaways could be another man's 'purse-filler'.

Your mention Jane of grandson's choice of supper 'meatballs and gravy' was very similar to the supper made for B yesterday.  Didn't know what to make, so thawed out a pack of 6 D.R. mini-burgers (free with an order), then broke each in half, rolled between palms to make 12 meatballs, and tossed those in a mix of paprika, salt and black pepper before frying off in a pan.  These then put in a small baking tray in which I'd spread a layer of previously fried sliced onions.
To the pan juices, added a carton of tomato passata, more pepper and a couple of teaspoons of dried oregano.  Brought to the simmer, then poured this over the meatballs.  Cover the tin with foil, then placed into the oven (140C) to carry on cooking for about an hour by which time B would be ready to eat.   Dry quick-cook pasta penne had been put into a saucepan, with instructions for B to pour over boiling water (from the kettle) bring back to the boil, then boil for 5 minutes (or longer as B does not like 'al dente').  Strain the pasta then serve with the meatballs and sauce.  This he managed to do successfully, and after his meal brought me the left-overs (as too much for him). Never mind that by then it was barely tepid, I still enjoyed it.  The paprika helped to spark up the meatballs, and the oregano certainly gave the passata an 'Italian' flavour.

A welcome to Ann Patmore.  When reading the name for a moment was instantly transported to Downton Abbey (a Mrs Patmore being the cook in residence there). Ann is another reader who has a couple of my books. Seems as though they are a lot more popular than I ever expected them to be.

By now, Marjorie will be united with her sons, and we wish her family have a love Christmas together.  Certainly once our offspring have flown the nest, it can seem quite lonely at times (even with an OH or other family members still in residence).  Christmas to me now is just not the same any more.  I still long to have 16 family members (children, grandchildren, aunts - and B of course) around the table/s, to cook for them, wrap up presents for them, light a log fire (most of the children absolutely LOVED seeing a real fire)....trim the tree and hang decorations before they arrive, and now - as last year - go to our daughter's for Christmas. It's just not the same.  No-one to cook for, no laughter of children around the house, we don't even have many decorations.  B is not interested in the 'pretties' he is just happy with a big box of chocolates and plenty of booze to drink.  Our daughter has made us a Christmas cake, so don't even have to bother with that.  Am beginning to feel that I'm a bit unnecessary.

On the good side, the Foodbank is now up and (successfully) running, and this week am baking traybakes for B to take on Friday (delivery lunchtime) when the church will be having a special evening (choir from local school etc and TV cameras).  Don't think I'll be going (although have been invited) but much depends on how I feel on the day.

My thoughts first went to making gingerbread men (but I haven't a cutter), and all sorts of fancy cakes and biscuits to give the children, but then thought that would mean extra expense (not that I mind if for a good cause), and think that gingerbread, parkin, and fork biscuits (dipped in chocolate) would be just as much enjoyed as something more fancy.  Old-fashioned (home-made) baked goods are as much a novelty for children today as any of the more elaborate/garish 'treats' on sale today. Certainly taste better.

I've already made two large trays of treacle Parkin, the longer it is kept the better it tastes, and today will be making gingerbread and tomorrow fork biscuits.  Wednesday will be Chocolate and Beetroot Brownies (any left-overs of all can be frozen).   At the end of the week have to make several desserts for B's social club's Christmas Party on Saturday.  Oh yes, this evening MUST remember I've that radio interview to do.   Looks like being a busy week.  Just as well I feel a lot better, cough even getting looser, so things looking up.

The temperature has now risen well above freezing, but of course it is raining, so not the best of days.  Doubt I'll be leaving the house before Christmas, but have plenty to do.  Will be ordering from Tesco (taking advantage of free delivery) and ordering fresh fruit, some veggies (not having an organic veggie box delivered until the New Year), milk, eggs, cream, and a few canned foods, plus a tin of chocs for B, and maybe a Pannetone.   Oh, yes, must get some cheese as we are about out.  Perhaps also a turkey crown as this can be kept in the freezer to cook as one of our 'Sunday joints' once I begin my new challenge in January. 

Am not sure whether it is the realisation how many people have to live almost on the breadline (Foodbanks making me aware of this), or what it is that makes me now almost cringe everytime I watch a cookery programme on TV showing us how to buy/make our festive fare.  The producers don't seem to consider how much everything costs, or is it that they assume that if they can afford it, then everyone can. 
Anyone counting their pennies (and that still includes me) would be forgiven if they felt they were depriving their families if they weren't given many of the foods displayed on TV (cookery programmes and - even worse - in the adverts).  We shouldn't ever need to feel like that, because there is still so much we can do to make a meal look special, even if the foods served are pretty basic.  Have mentioned before serving frozen peas into halved orange (or satsuma) shells.  The flesh from the shells can be served as part of a dessert.  Mashed potato can be served in scoops, or piped onto a baking sheet and blasted in a hot oven to crisp up a bit.  Carrots can be mashed and served in scoops or spoonfuls to add colour to the meal.  Giving the ordinary a different look can be as good a way as any to make it look more special.

Anyone who has watched the Christmas episode of 'The Good Life' will know the fun that can happen even when paper hats are made from newspaper, and crackers from the inside of loo rolls. We humans have always been able to make our own fun (that doesn't cost anything), so perhaps we should bring back many of the old traditions of family games after the meal has been eaten and we've all had a nap and watched the Queen's Speech.
Those were the days.  The men in the family (perhaps everyone) would always stand when the National Anthem was played on the radio/TV.  Also remember the anthem being played at the end of the last showing of a film each day in the cinema.  Always a rush to get out before it started, but always a few left who stood to attention until the anthem was over.

In those days too, when a funeral procession drove along a road, the pedestrians would stop and stand and bow their heads in respect as it passed by, the men removing their hats.  Curtains would also be closed in the road where the deceased used to live. 
Men would always open doors for women (including car doors), and doff their hats to those they knew if they met them in the street.  Also rise from their chairs when a lady (they knew) entered the room.  Of course anything heavy or large would be carried by a male companion,  and if a bus/train was full and a lady entered, then men would rise to offer their seat.

Myself feel that when women demanded equality, they certainly had to give up a lot more than they gained.  We now have to carry our own luggage, open doors, stand when men are still sitting down, pay for our own drinks, or even pay for a round, and still don't always earn the same amount of money for the same work done by a man.  The worst thing is that we have generally lost all the respect that men use to give us before we burned our bras.  And still we are expected to bear children, go out to work,  and STILL do all the chores when we return home.

Thankfully, I am old enough to have lived through the times when we were expected to stay at home and rear the children, even though this meant living on one wage and having to 'make do'.  At least we had to learn how to, and feel if we could go back to those ways then life could improve for some, even if at first thought it couldn't.  How many women go out to work then find that almost all the money they earn goes on paying for child care?  Stay at home, do more home-cooking and 'making do' and the money saved would be more than orginally earned.   But we can say that about a lot of things. 
In my youth it was normal to make our own clothes and knit our own 'woollies'.  Now, nearly everyone buys them (or pays for someone else to make them - for a huge price). My dad used to sole and heel our shoes when they were wearing out, now most of the time worn (and very good) shoes are thrown on the tip (are there any cobblers these days?). 

It is true the industrial revolution (and modern technology) had now given us a taste of affluent living, but myself feel in some ways this has done more harm than good.  Nothing wrong with having a good life as long as it never gets to the state of being taken for granted as us humans always want to move onwards and upwards, and once we become used to something, we then always want to have something better. 
Taking nothing for granted and understanding that a 'good life' is more as a 'treat' to be enjoyed only for a short time keeps things into perspective.  We all know how much better strawberries taste during the few shorts weeks when they are in season, but when available (and tasteless) all year round, most of the pleasure has been removed.

The good thing about this recession is that we are how given the chance to put things back into perspective, and in an odd way find out that even when we tighten our belts we find this is as pleasurable a way to live than when we could afford more.  Cutting back and making do means we rediscover the delights of making and eating the 'home-cooked', we give pleasure to others when we share our efforts.  We can learn old skills, maybe even begin to make money from them, and - at least for a few years (hopefully these will feel like golden years) we even begin to feel that life could be better always living like this, rather than how it used to be.

Mind you, having watched a programme about repossession of houses, do feel there are many people (educated people) out there who have followed the 'today's world' and overstretched themselves.  It was mind-blowing to see professional men sleeping on park benches and eating at soup kitchens because they have lost all their money (and large houses).
We saw families of less affluent people evicted because they couldn't pay the rent.  Yet, in almost every case, they did have enough money in the past to SAVE, but always spent it on enjoying themselves (holdays abroad, big TV's, cars etc).   It's the old story, 'live within your means' but how many do these days.  I blame the banks and their credit cards for showing the way how not to. 

My goodness me - we 'lend' the banks our money (and yes they do use it), but get paid little or no interest.  Yet - if WE want to borrow money from the same bank we are charged a very high interest indeed for the privilege.  There is far too much difference now between the two rates, and this is just not fair.
People have bought houses years ago, seen them increase in price, maybe taken out an extra mortgage to make improvements, and now houseprices have dropped, the mortage owed is often more than the house is now worth, and even if sold it would not be enough to pay what is owed.

One silver lining to the above cloud (but you need to have a little money to afford it), a re-possessed house is usually sold for very low price as the mortgage company will probably have already been paid back most of the money loaned (if you include the interest). So the sooner they get rid of the house the cheaper it will be (no insurance to pay etc).  So if wishing to buy property, then maybe this is a good way to get value for money.  Prices are so low now the only way they can go is up.

That's it for today folks.  Feeling better in myself, but as I tend to have ups and downs, have to keep fingers crossed that my virus is now giving up the ghost.   Let us hope so as I tend to write more doom and gloom when I feel down, than do when bright eyed and bushy tailed. 
If only we humans could hibernated for the winter like many animals.  It would be so good if we could, just think of it, stuffing ourselves full of all things nice to give our bodies sufficient energy to keep us alive for four - six months while we sleep.  And dream.  My two pleasures, eating and dreaming.

Hopefully in better mood tomorrow, you might like to log on to find out.  Maybe see you then. TTFN.