Monday, January 07, 2013

Moving Our Goalposts

Having our weekly natter over the phone yesterday, Gill and I - as ever - talked a lot about food.  Myself mentioned the headlines in the Saturday paper (huge rises in the price of food), and Gill said the day previously she had been to (I think) Asda, and she was shocked how many of the foods there had suddenly risen in price - often by quite a lot. 
Perhaps this is something all supermarkets are doing now Christmas is over.  I decided to look on the Tesco website and my heart sank when I discovered their prices had also risen, and not just by 1p, several by at least 10p, and even as much as 50p plus!  This means that if we buy exactly the same foods now as we bought a year (or two) ago, we could be paying a lot more.  And I want to know how much more.

The problem with the rising cost of food is we now have to be even more careful where our money goes.  Myself never seem to buy the same foods with each of my normal monthly on-line order - other than the 'basics': milk, eggs, butter, marg, cheese.   The other foods are chosen because they are reduced in price at the time of ordering.  Other foods that I also use regularly, if not on offer, are not ordered (as usually have enough back-up in the larder to wait until they are), the following month am usually lucky enough to find other 'needs' on offer, so buy those.  In other words, always buying what I need but only when the price is right  This way - over the months - I can slowly build up my store-cupboard with foods bought when at their cheapest.

As I normally keep all my Tesco statements, have unearthed a winter one from 2011, and another for the same period for 2012 and will copy the details in the box as if ordering, to see what the final total of each will be (without of course actually having them delivered).  This will give me a good idea of how much more I/you would have to pay had I/you were to order the same this year.

It's not only keeping an eye on rising prices, its how the stores price their goods.  Anyone would be forgiven for believing that a four-pack of canned food would be cheaper (per can) than buying the cans separately.  But not so.  I checked Tesco prices and their 'Value' 185g cans (64p) of Tuna chunks in brine were shown as '50p per 100g'.  In a four-pack (exactly the same product) these were shown to be '72p per 100g'.  Almost half as much again.

Shopping now needs a lot more 'mathematical' thought if we wish to get value for our money, or don't want to get 'ripped off'.  We don't always realise it, but many products are now the same price as previously ("that's good, isn't it?"), but lighter in weight ("oh, dear, not so good after all - have to start doing the sums again...").  Usually, any difference in size of packagings (and often this remains the same) is not noticed. Unless we make sure we check the weight (and how many of us do that?).

If it wasn't hard enough before to struggle to make ends meet, we now have to add 'accountancy' to our domestic 'C.V's'.  Looks like the housewife is becoming a professional in more ways than she ever dreamed possible.  At least all these newly learned skills could stand us in good stead if we need to get a job 'outside'.

It's becoming more and more difficult for me to suggest what we should do to keep within our budgets.  Go back to having a Sunday roast again (could work if you can stand the boredom)?  Stock up our larders with 'offers'?  Or shun the shops and live off what we have?   Even doing the latter could mean we would now miss out on some bargains (food that hasn't yet gone up in price but shortly will).  So we have to play it by ear. 

Certainly using what we have has always worked - and still will.  Maybe the best thing to do is still pop into the supermarket occasionally but always with the intention of buy only foods that have been dramatically reduced in price.  Eileen has given a good example:  thick cream reduced to only only 2p a tub!! (Are you sure Eileen, you didn't miss putting in the zero and it should have been reduced to 20p? I cannot believe it could be so cheap.).

So don't be surprised if I come up with a 'challenge' then almost immediately suggest a 'u' turn because of problems with food supplies/prices etc that seem to have appeared overnight.  We have always to assess the situation, seems now almost daily, then take appropriate action.  Bloomin' 'eck', this feels as though it is almost like war! But at least war between the supermarkets (who are fighting their own store-wars) and us who buy and cook the food to feed ourselves and families. No bombs thrown yet.   Being an Aries, of course I intend always to win!

Regarding 'best buys'. Other readers have commented how they have got great bargains from the meat/fish counters in supermarkets, so maybe it is 'the fresh' that we should now concentrate on.  There has to be a good time to shop for these bargains, so can anyone let us know the best day of the week and/or the best time of day to find these?  May be different according to the supermarket.
I'd like to ask if the fresh meats/fish ''reduced'  will be found on a separate shelf, or always on the individual 'fresh counters' (such as in Morrison's who tend to have little 'shops' (fishmongers, bakers, butchers... within their stores). It could be that while I'm trying to find the right place to find such offers, someone else has got their first.  As I said -  I like to win.  How selfish is that!!?

As you know, I love to set myself challenges, and - if nothing else - they prove something, at least to me.  But now, it seems the sooner I begin another, the stores move the goalposts regarding prices, and this makes me have to move mine, often disrupting the challenge altogether.  It may make sense to use up what I have in my larder, but as I said above - I could be missing something that I later wish I'd bought when the price was still within my means.  In other words I could be cutting my throat to save my life. 

For what it's worth, the one thing I have noticed (it's been deliberate anyway), is that I always keep within my monthly food budget (working on the full price of food as shown on the statement, even though I know many will end up being reduced), knowing then will have spent less because I've been able to use vouchers, and - of course - a considerable amount will have been deducted from the bill because of the 'offer price/reductions/bogofs etc).
This means that over the past three and a half years since moving here, my food budget hasn't had to be increased because every time I order, I buy different products (other than the basics), eventually able to build up my stores so that I can again begin the 'challenge' of using up what I have.

The one good thing about 'making the most of - AND the best of - what I already have' is that whilst doing so, there are no trips to the stores, and the money stays in my purse.  These savings then will go towards higher prices in the future, but for how long? 

On the other hand, could buy less, eat less, and when I read yesterday that everyone has a choice of over 220 different foods they could be eating/buying - almost daily - then perhaps we truly are spoilt for choice.  They say (whoever 'they' are), that this wide variety of foods that we purchase is the main cause of the nation's obesity - and have to say they could be right.   Maybe the higher prices will lead us to cutting back and becoming more healthy.  This has to be a good thing.  Every cloud has a silver lining, and this one might just be gold plated!

Right - so where do I go from here?  Continuing my challenge/s, or feverishly stocking up?  Maybe a bit of both.  At the moment it is 'use it up time'.  Yesterday B said he thought his cold was returning (although he wasn't giving any sign, just felt a bit under the weather I suppose).  Showing him the article on 'helping to cure colds' in yesterday's Sunday supplement, pointed out the bit about a doctor recommending chicken soup.  So for supper yesterday made up a bit pan of diced vegetables(onions, celery, carrot, parsnip, potato - all needed 'using up) cooked in home-made rich chicken stock.   B eat a big bowlful and said he'd have more later (hope he saved some for my lunch today).  For afters he had some of a trifle (made also from 'stock') and I asked him to leave some for me otherwise he'd eventually have eaten the lot.  Not that I really want any, but it's time he realised there are two in this marriage, and not everything there to eat is just made for B!

It has been proved that home-made chicken soup really does help us get rid of our colds.  Not sure why, maybe it is the onions and vitamins from the veg, maybe it is something to do with the chicken.  But it does seem to work well (and why it is called 'Jewish Penicillin'!).

I've always tried to give recipes that are inexpensive, either using the cheaper ingredients (basic storecupboard,  seasonal vegetables etc., and hopefully all easy to make.  From now on will continue with this as it seems this is now the road we all have to tread.  Not that we will end up feeling deprived for there is nothing as good as something home-cooked, made from scratch, preferably by our own fair hands (unless someone else in the family can be trusted to cook without breaking the bank).

Here is a meatless recipe (therefore cheaper than one made with animal protein) that can be made a day ahead - and kept chilled - or it can be wrapped in clingfilm, then foil and frozen for up to 3 months.  Made in individual pots, this is great for those who live alone, who have two or more in the family. Eat some, freeze some, accordingly.  Some readers have 'veggie boxes' delivered with celeriac and sweet potatoes included, but most vegetables can be substituted for something similar but cheaper.  By now most readers will be able to 'play it by ear' and make up their own selection.  I like to think a recipe like this should be used as a guide, not written in stone.

Instead of ground almonds in the crumble topping, use porridge oats.  If you have any left-over hard cheese that has turned almost rock-hard, grate this and use in place of Parmesan.
Winter Vegetable Crumble: serves 6
14 fl oz (400ml) vegetable stock
1 lb (450g) celeriac, peeled and diced
3 carrots, sliced
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 leeks, sliced
1 x 200ml tub creme fraiche
2 tblsp plain flour
1 tblsp mustard (pref wholegrain)
half tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
crumble topping:
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) ground almonds
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan
1 oz (25g) flaked almonds
Put the stock into a large pan with the celeriac, carrots, sweet potatoes, and leeks. Bring to the boil, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the creme fraiche with the flour and mustard.  Stir this into the contents of the pan until thickened, then add the herbs and seasoning to taste.   Remove from the heat.
Make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter into the flour and stir in the ground almonds. Add seasoning to taste,then stir in the grated cheese and flaked almonds.
Spoon the filling into six individual ovenproof dishes and cover each with the crumble.  Bake for 30-35 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until the crumble is golden and slightly crisp.

As promised, here are a couple of suggestions for making our own household 'cleaners'.  These cold cost ££s to buy  ready-made, but very little when we make our own - and they work just as well.

fabric conditioner:
2 tsp lemon juice
4 tblsp water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
essential oil fragrance of your choice (opt)
Mix the first three ingredients together with about 10 drops of your favourite essential oil (opt). Pour into the correct dispenser in your washing machine.

universal cleaner:
Suitable for cleaning work surfaces and inside cupboards, tiles, drainers and sinks etc.  Removes stains and has anti-bacterial and antiviral actions.
2 oz (50g) bicarbonate of soda
2 fl oz (50ml) lemon juice
1 tblsp salt
1.75 pts (1 litre) cold water
Put all the ingredients into a jug and stir until the salt has dissolved, then pour into a spray bottle and use as you would a normal spray-cleaner.  Wipe over using a clean cloth.

Today I'll spend some time working out how much more the food bought a year (or two) ago will now cost me.  If only some have risen in price, then may decide to buy these less often, and/or choose a cheaper brand, or maybe stop buying them altogether and begin eating something else instead.  As I've already said (and have to be thankful for this) we still have plenty of choice.

Yesterday watched a repeat of a programme (not seen previously) about Supermarket food, and it was very good to hear (as if I didn't know already) that baked beans are a very good source of (vegetable) protein, as long as we eat them with toast.  Without wanting to make this complicated, we should understand that although a vegetable may be high in protein, it is still 'incomplete' as our, bodies can only extract vegetable protein when eaten with another of a different type  - such as beans with a grain etc, (toast being made with wheat).  Far easier to say that any 'incomplete' vegetable will become 'complete' when eaten with any animal protein such as milk, eggs, cheese.... (doesn't have to be meat).  The only veg that I know of that is a 'complete' protein (needing no help) is the soya bean.

So baked beans on toast, eggs cooked any which way, milk.... great to know that these are a good source of protein as well as vitamins and minerals, and CHEAP with it.   Dare I suggest we start the day with a breakfast of poached egg on beans on toast, with a drink of milk on the side?   Sounds good to me.

As I've now to spend some time checking prices best for me to love you and leave you until tomorrow.  We expect to have some fine weather for a couple of days, so we should make the most of it.  No sign of it yet here, so can comfortably sit peering at the screen, knowing that I'm not (yet) depriving myself of sunlight falling on my skin (need the Vit.D!).  Believe me, when the sun does shine, and it is warm enough, I'm going to sit out in the sun and soak up as much as I can.

Enjoy your day and hope you find time to return tomorrow to find out the 'rising price' results.  See you then.