Wednesday, January 09, 2013

How It Really Is...

We really hate the thought of not having enough money to keep on buying all the food that we THINK we need to keep ourselves alive.  So we don't step back and think outside this particular box.

Yesterday, reading a library book that B brought for me, have to say that I'm not now at all concerned about rising food prices, as we could cut down our (average) consumption by half and still be eating too much, and much of this due to those fat cats in the US who started the ball rolling decades ago, and since then have never stopped.

In the 60's to 80's of last century food was at its all-time cheapest, and there was so much surplus food grown in the US that the public were encouraged to eat more.  Leading the the rise in the 'diners, drive-ins and dives', the McDonalds, Wimpy bars, pizza parlours et al.  All (at least in the US) serving large portions on the plates.  It got so that - even now - a much higher percentage of food is being eaten away from home than is ever cooked or prepared in domestic kitchens.  As always seems to happen, we meekly follow in the wake of our American cousins - so we see the burger bars, pizza parlours and Starbucks et all dotted all over our country too.  Only our meat consumption is less.

People in the US were encouraged to eat more beef (twice as much) for two reasons, one because this kept the farmers happy,   There was a paper written about the fact that people were eating far more meat than they should (for their health), and also eating far too many sweet things. Certainly some of this info was deliberatly kept away from public knowledge due the fact that so many US politicians had their fingers in many of the manufacturing 'pies', and reducing the amount would mean they would themselves be out of pocket.

Even now we see on progs such as 'Man v Food', and 'Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives', massive portions of meat served, and in the more 'domestic' US cookery programmes, huge amounts of sugar are used, especially when icing (US 'frosting') cakes.   The amount of salt also is excessive, and I'm wondering if salt too has a 'political' connection.

However, the one thing that really opened my eyes was a section in the book that referred to (our)  wartime rationing.  Readers of this blog may remember me recently mentioning a book called 'The Composition of Foods' by McAnce and Widdowson.   This was originally written before the war, and updated regularly since.  It is often called 'the dieticians bible'.

When the clouds of war were appearing on the horizon in the late 30's, the authors of the above book worked out the best (and smallest amount of) foods to supply to the nation should rationing of foods be needed.  To make certain that this was correct, one of the two authors set off with others to cycle many miles to the Lake District, and live there for several weeks/months, each day walking or cycling many miles, using up as much energy as possible, all the time living only on the 'rations'.
They proved it could be done without any detriment to their health, and it is known now that because of food being rationed, this nation was the healthiest it has ever been, and since has gone downhill fast since rationing stopped and we took on the 'American' attitude to food. 

Even ignoring the why's and wherefore's, this should show all of us that we really don't need to eat so much, and certainly try to avoid many of the foods that are on sale.  A small amount of protein, and lots of fruit and vegetables seems to be the best diet we can eat.  With some carbohydrate.  In other words a 'balanced meal'.  And not a lot of that either.

Sugar - it seems - is completely unnecessary in a human diet.  So why do we crave it?  Possibly because it has the same effect as many drugs (tobacco etc).  Once we start eating sweet things, it is very hard to stop.  Myself cannot eat one square of chocolate - I have to continue until the whole bar has been eaten (not always within minutes, depending on the size of the bar -some are enormous - it might get eaten in spurts, but always within a day). 

When I was told I had diabetes 2, I had to cut out sugar, and this certainly helped me lose weight.  Because my blood sugar level has gone down and down, now do allow myself some chocs now and again, and over indulged this Christmas (as always), adding fruit cake and mince pies to the 'sweet collection', and obviously why I gained over 14 lbs in almost as many days!   Now I've cut out the sugar again, my weight is steadily dropping. 

All the above has been mentioned purely to help everyone understand they don't need to panic because food prices are increased.  Instead what we should be doing is reviewing the way we eat, what we purchase, and then adapt to suit a simpler and healthier way of eating.  As in the old days,  'eat to live', not the other way round.

If we went back to eating only foods that were rationed (plus those on 'points'), it would save us a great deal of money.  Not that I'm suggesting we do go as far as that, but yesterday - when sitting in my larder (I keep a chair in there as it is my 'comfort zone') - began thinking about my mother's attempt to 'hoard' food prior to war breaking out, remembering she too had shelves holding canned food, but her shelves were narrow and short being under the stairs, and all her canned foods would have fitted easily into one small suitcase.  Yet these she managed to eke out for most of the war, and through many years of rationing that still followed.   These 'hoarded' foods were memorable because all were served as 'treats', like sandwiches made from canned salmon, eaten only at Christmas.  Other times we just ate rationed foods and the fresh fruit and veg that my dad was able to grow in his garden.  We, admittedly, later in the war, did keep a few chickens, but only for eggs, my mother would not eat the hens when they grew too old.  Think these were swapped for other meat with the butcher.

What I'm saying is that I've probably got far more food in my larder now than my mother had to last (say) ten years.  Rationed foods were mainly 'fresh', and these would not be in my larder anyway, but in the fridge. Ashamedly have to say that I've probably got enough cheese in the fridge at this moment in time (thanks to Christmas 'left-overs') that would - during wartime - be enough to last two people for a year.  Yes, the cheese ration was as little as that!

So now I'm feeling really guilty about my previous moans about the continuing rise in food prices, and feel that all I should do now is just eat less.  Being old and downright lazy (another word for my 'immobility') I don't need to eat as many calories as a more energetic person, so very little food should keep me going, as long as it is good and healthy food.   If I do this - working with my 'use it up' challenge, this means the food I have will last even longer.  

Then - when I eventually run out of almost all my stored foods - can go back to buying what is needed, but buying less of it.  That way should see no problem trying to keep within my budget, as even though prices rise, less being bought should balance it out, and with luck - could still end up with money left in my purse.

Was it necessary for me to say all the above?  Perhaps all that was needed was for me to say 'just buy less and eat less!'.  But then would anyone take notice?  Maybe, understanding that a lot of our problems are caused by greed (for money profits and dividends), and we are almost 'force-fed' unhealthy foods just to line the pockets of the already wealthy, may make us take a step back and see what is happening.  Time now to start looking out for ourselves.  Give our children a chance to grow up healthily, ditch the fast-foods, and switch over (or back if you can remember that far) to home-cooking again.

As we have a very long way to go before returning to the austerities of wartime, we can still reduce the expensive side of eating by using cheap (but healthy) ingredients.  Many of these are quite 'filling' so another way to reduce our calories if we so wish.  

Here is a recipe for a meatless 'loaf' that can be cooked in a slow cooker.  Most of the ingredients are not costly, the most expensive being the nuts and cheese, but then not a lot of these are included. 
This 'nut roast' is very good made for a first course when entertaining (in this case it will serve 6 - 8), or served as a main course. It can be served hot or cold, cut into thick slices and garnished with fresh chives or parsley, served with a spicy tomato salsa, and/or a green salad.
You could use ready chopped mixed nuts, or chop your own selection such as: cashew nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts...). You could also use any hard cheese, the stronger the flavour the better.
Savoury Nut Loaf: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) mushrooms, finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 425g (15oz) can lentils, drained and rinsed
4 oz (100g) finely chopped mixed nuts
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) grated mature Cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
3 - 4 tblsp chopped fresh mixed herbs
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat, adding the onions, leek, celery, and mushrooms.  Cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened, then stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute,  Remove from heat and stir in the lentils, nuts, flour, cheese, egg, and herbs.  Add seasoning to taste and mix together thoroughly.
Spoon into a greased and lined 2 lb (900g) loaf tin, pressing the mixture firmly into the corners and levelling the surface.  Cover tin with a piece of foil.
Place an upturned saucer or metal pastry ring in the centre of the ceramic slow-cooker pot.  Pour in about 1" (2.5cm) of boiling water, and switch the cooker to HIGH. 
Place the loaf tin on the sauce/ring in the pot, then add more boiling water to come just over halfway up the side of the loaf tin..  Cover the slow-cooker with its lid, then leave to cook for 3 - 4 hours or until the nut loaf is firm to the touch.  Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out onto its serving plate.   Serve hot or cold, in thick slices, with hot or cold vegetables and a tomato salsa.

There are many books and cookery mags dedicated to giving 'budget' recipes, and myself feel that none of these dishes are as cheap as they could be, so always suggest using a different - and less expensive - veg (or other ingredient) whenever possible.
Here is a recipe to use more as a guide, then use what we have (fresh or frozen veg, and/or a different pasta shape).  As the recipe stands it certainly is attractive to look at, and 'eye-appeal' certainly can help a jaded appetite.  So always bear colour in mind when 'constructing' a meal.  Anything red or orange really lifts a dish, especially when 'something green' is also included. White pasta (or rice, or even mashed potatoes...) can bring the 'coloureds' together to make a very attractive and tasty 'picture'.

In this dish the vegetables are lightly cooked to keep them 'al dente' as traditional in Italy, where this dish originates.  'Lightly cooked' saves fuel - so a bonus there.
Warm Pasta with a Colourful Sauce: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
2 carrots, finely diced
1 small leek, thinly sliced
half tsp sugar
1 courgette, finely sliced
3 oz (75g) French beans, cut into 1" (2.5) lengths
4 oz (100g) frozen peas
salt and pepper
12 oz (350g) pasta penne (or other shape)
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 ripe tomatoes (pref. plum), skinned and diced
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the carrots and leek.  Sprinkle over the sugar, then stir-fry for about 5 minutes.  Add the courgette, beans, peas and plenty of seasoning, then cover the pan and reduce heat to low, cooking for a further 5 - 8 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. Stir occasionally as they cook.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per packet instructions, until 'al dente', then drain well and keep hot until ready to serve.
When the veggies are cooked to your satisfaction, stir in the parsley and tomatoes, add the lot to the pasta (or vice versa) and toss well.  Serve immediately.

On Sunday, Gill was telling me how she has - finally - been diagnosed with diabetes 2.  Previously she has had various tests, all negative, but her surgery (practice) has had a turn-around, all new staff etc and she had to go through all the tests again as they had 'lost' her previous results - which they later found but wanted her tested again.  This time it was proved 'positive', and me - being very cynical these days, believing the practice gets paid more for every diabetic they have on their lists - have my doubts as to whether Gill really is 'diabetic'.  She previously had several  'fasting tests' which proved negative, yet her most recent surgery tests were taken without any need to fast, and this could increase the blood sugar level for a short while.

Myself rapidly went down from being 'diabetic' to well below the levels (initially my blood sugar levels went up - they say now - because of the extreme amount of anti-biotics I was taking at that time. Since then the levels dramatically reduced).  But as they say 'once diagnosed diabetic, always diabetic''.  But I'm not medically trained, and it's just me having my usual moan and as I have only a 'gut' feeling about the medics grabbing every opportunity to get extra funding,  well, who would blame them? 

Anyway, Gill was talking about the packs of 2 min. microwave rice she buys (as I do), and she gets hers from a pound store, at 50p a pack.  Even then there is enough for 2 portions in each pack and Gill was concerned she would have to either eat the lot (she now has to contnrol the amount of the food she eats to lose weight) or throw some away.  I told her that when I use microwave rice and only need half the pack, I empty half into a container (or pan), and add a teaspoon or so of water then heat in the microwave (or pan) for the 2 minutes.  The remainder is left in the pack, tightly folded over, this then placed in the freezer to use another day.
Gill was thrilled to bits about this, she said she had never thought of freezing the microwave rice.  So there you go, another way to save a bit of money, and also prevent waste.

We often 'eat for comfort', and because of this recession, many of us are becoming more and more depressed, so maybe we do eat more, hoping to lift our spirits, but there is one way of doing this that doesn't include eating sweets or grazing on the junk foods, as there are at least two ingredients that have a 'feel good' factor, one being oats (so a dish of porridge for breakfast really can give us a good start to the day.  Like smiling all the way to work!), the other is chilli peppers.  I have grown to love anything chilli-spiced as 'feeling good' seems to last for hours after.

Certainly when it comes to chillis or a similar spice, myself really do have a warming 'glow' after a bowl of chilli-flavoured soup - essential eating in colder weather as it helps us keep warm without needing the central heating..

Here is a recipe for a warming soup that can be made from ingredients most of us have (or should have) already in our larder/fridge.  As ever the 'green' veg (in this case broad beans) can be altered to green beans, peas, soya beans, even broccoli florets etc.  Make it as hot and spicy as you dare (or can cope with), by adding more cumin/paprika, or using chilli powder, harissa paste or Tabasco.
Moroccan Chickpea Soup: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika pepper
1 pint (600ml) hot vegetable stock
1 x 400g can plum tomatoes, chopped
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz (100g) frozen broad beans
zest and juice of 1 small lemon (or half a large)
chopped fresh parsley or coriander to serve
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion and celery over low - medium heat for about 10 minutes until softened, stirring from time to time, add the garlic, cumin, and paprika and fry for a further minute. 
Raise the heat and add the stock, tomatoes and chickpeas, plus a good seasoning of black pepper. When it has begun to boil,  reduce heat and leave to simmer for 8 minutes,then add the beans and lemon juice. Cook for a further two minutes, then check seasoning - adding more if needed.
Serve, topped with lemon zest and chopped herbs.  Eat with either flat-bread or chunks of crusty bread.

I have a confession to make.  Despite my intentions of using up all I have and not ordering any more from Tesco for - like - months, after reading about the rise in prices (wheat etc), and having run out of bread mixes, decided to order some from Tesco, plus milk, butter, eggs, bacon - all also needed. Plus a 5kg bag of granulated sugar to make jams and marmalade for B's mates at the sailing club.

While ordering checked the prices of a few other things I had previously bought, and sighed when I saw that the frozen Lamb shanks had risen over 50p more per pack.  However there ARE two in a pack (each individually vacuum packed, pre-cooked, with gravy), and still MUCH cheaper than buying raw lamb shanks which take ages to cook so have higher fuel costs..  So bought a pack of those.   B had one shank yesterday and said it had loads of meat on it.  "It didn't have much flavour of lamb" he said, but then what can you expect for that price? 

It was my lucky day, for when the groceries arrived (yesterday), B noticed that one egg in the tray of 15 eggs (value pack) was cracked.  He showed it to the driver saying "it doesn't matter", but I yelled out "it does matter" (not that it did, but couldn't stop myself).  Do you know what the delivery man did? He said he'd make a note of it, and today - I couldn't believe it - Tesco had emailed me to say they had deducted £2.50 (the cost of the whole tray) from my order!!!  How good is that?
The bacon was also on offer as was smoked haddock (I'd run out of that so ordered a couple of packs).  So - with the vouchers used - ended up paying a lot less than expected.  Sometimes fortune smiles on me.

The bread mix will work to my advantage as I'd also ordered a 1.5kg bag of strong bread flour that was on offer, and as the mixes still were 66p per pack (not yet risen in price), and I now always extend a pack by add half as much again of strong flour plus extra water (in correct proportion), this means I can bake two loaves - one large, one small - for not much more than 75p total.  There is enough yeast in the bread mix to raise the added extra flour,  so don't even need to add extra yeast. 
As well as home-made bread tasting so much better than any bought, at the moment it works out at less than half the price, and for many weeks to come can happily bake bread whilst the prices rise in the shops.

I've ordered both white and brown bread mixes as I have rye flour in the larder and want to make more brown bread, especially since the last lot was not the disaster it first seemed to be.  Certainly it was 'filling' when eaten, so didn't need to eat so much of it, and the fibre content certainly seems to have helped.  The above mentioned book (details will be given of the title etc later this week) spoke about the value of eating brown bread and other 'fibre'.
Although more 'healthy' to eat than foods made with white flour, there is another added advantage, all high-fibre foods are very filling, so we can eat less of these and still feel we've had a good meal.  Eat less saves money!  See where I'm going?

Those who might feel they wish to take the fibre trail might consider changing to eating wholewheat pasta and breads, brown rice, and never peel potatoes, always eat the skins.  Adjust recipes accordingly.

Today B will be having chicken for his supper today (planned for yesterday but I hadn't yet thawed it out so no problem).  Using a small chicken breast, bashed thinly then made into a 'Kiev' will look a lot bigger than if just cooked (poached or fried or roasted).  B likes 'large' (portions of most things, but especially meat), and as long as his plate is full he is not likely to feel he is missing something. 
It is not that difficult to 'cheat' when serving food - those on diets already realise that anything grated looks a lot more than when left in its solid form.  Also takes longer to eat, so we feel as though we've eaten a good meal, when actually (by weight) we haven't eaten that much. 

Whilst sitting in the larder, counted my storage jars.  I have 12 kilner jars containing various things: sultanas, mixed dried fruits, flaked almonds, dessic. coconut, sponge, no-soak apricots....and other things.  Also 12 x 300g  Nescafe jars also full of things like soft brown sugar, light brown muscavado sugar, dark muscavado sugar, semolina, walnuts, sponge fingers, meringues, popping corn, preserved lemons, candied orange peel.... and 12 x 200g Nescafe jars: ground almonds, broken biscuits, small breadsticks, tiny marshmallows, stock cubes.... and it's surprising how so many are rarely used.  My intention now is to begin working my way through the lot,  and doubt very much that I will miss them once they are used up, certainly several will not be replaced.  Goes to show how we can buy things we don't really need, or even intend using at that time.

At least, having a continuous baking session (to get rid of some of the above) will keep B happy.  He does eat a lot more than he should, but at least goes to the gym each week to burn off as many calories as he can, and he seems to have the metabolism to eat twice as much as any other man without really gaining too much weight.  When he does start gaining, this is always because he eats too many sweets whilst watching TV.  Once he stops that, his weight drops.  Sadly, myself have to eat only lean meat, fish, fruit and veggies if I want to lose any weight.  How I miss eating things like trifle.  Even let B eat ALL the trifle this week, although had planned to have some myself, as have to lose more weight or the diabetic nurse will be cross with me.

Enough about me and mine.  Despite the weather forecast being dry and even sunny over most of the country today, here we have thick mist (can barely see the house at the back of ours, and there are raindrops on the window (it can't be both raining AND foggy can it?).
They say it will be getting much colder, and jane, your mention of possible snow shortly to arrive has made me think of making some of those 'chilli-flavoured' soups.  Personally I'd be happy to see snow, for some reason the sight of it, especially seeing large flakes falling, has always cheered me up. But then I have no reason to go out in it - although when younger used to love crunching through deep snow.

Gluten free products always seem to be expensive, this maybe because the ingredients are dearer, but more likely because there is a 'captive audience' with no choice but to buy these.  I've previously given several gluten-free recipes travellingninjas, but some worth repeating so watch this space.

That Family Circle feature you mentioned Jane W., published in the Family Circle, was one of my 'successes'.  It proved so popular that the mag had to be reprinted at least four times that month.  The editor told me she won 'editor of the year' due to that happening. 
It was interesting to know that it had been 'copied' by the Australian version of the 'mag', although I didn't get paid anything extra.  Had I had an agent, no doubt would have received something more.

A welcome to Ann who is familiar with my books, and I wish too that they could be repeated.  Perhaps if enough people wrote to BBC publications to suggest this,they might consider doing so.
However, all my hints and tips from then and those discovered since have all been shown on this blog, and will continue to be.  So keep reading!

Norma the hair day tomorrow (9.00am) so unless I get up early enough to write and publish, the blog may not be on your screen until around noon.  Either way, hope you manage to 'visit', and as ever - see you then.