Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dividing Lines and Old Habits..

Watching as many 'thrift' progs as I feel might be useful, have come to the conclusion there is a very thin (and sometimes quite thick)  dividing line between the good, the bad, and the 'can't do, won't do' brigade.  At least the ones that are bad at things DO try. 

Although I feel there is little I already don't know (and this is not to sound smug, it is to do with experience gained after living through times when domestic skills were taught at an early age and always used as a means to save money), at the moment am still watching 'Superscrimpers Challenge' (although the other 'Superscrimpers' programme I don't bother watching as 'been there done that', OK am now feeling smug, so live with it)..  It's when I hear/see the amount that those being challenged normally spend that shocks me.  Three girls (think one is their mother), think nothing of spending £100's of pounds on a night out (or even on a hair-do and make-up).  Others spend almost as much on take-away foods or 'eating out'.  There are girls who 'dress to impress', again spending thousands of £££s over a year on clothes and accessories.   Considering the size of the wardrobe they must have amassed already, why bother to buy more (and where do they get all that money anyway - perhaps best not to ask!).  Maybe it has become an obsession to 'shop till they drop', in much the same way, in my late teens, when I used to buy a blouse a week to wear at the local hop (mentioned recently).  But I didn't keep on doing it.  Once I had about 20 tops (and four different skirts to go with), had enough sense to work out that changing what top went with what skirt, over the year (worn twice a week at dances) it was doubtful anyone would remember me wearing the same things twice.  How vain that sounds!

Mind you, that idea must have come from my mother who herself would NEVER wear the same dress or coat (aka 'outfit') if she thought someone had seen her in thes before.  She always bought a new coat for each one-year visit to her solicitor "because he would remember the ones worn before" (firmly believing he would think her poverty stricken if she did".   As if he would remember.  My B used to think a dress of mine was 'new' because he couldn't remember seeing it before, even when he had seen me wearing it several times before, but not that very week.  He does have a bad memory, but surely not THAT bad.

Old habits die hard.  That's the excuse I make to myself when I close my eyes to all the housework that needs to be done.  Because my mother never used to do it either (but then she always had a 'daily' to come in and do the chores).  I was never taught to clean, other than a very few things such as polishing our large hall floor that was covered in red quarry tiles with a black border (and think that was more by way of punishment for something naughty I'd done).  I used to really polish that floor well, and once forgot to follow instructions ("don't polish under the slip mats in front of the doors leading off the hall"). One day did polished under the mats (don't know why, maybe it was my 'disobey my mum' day) and paid the price.  Later that morning, after spending some time sitting in the garden podding peas for lunch (and that takes time I can tell you), carried the cooked peas from the kitchen across the hall and when turning to go into the dining room and slipped on the mat, the dish of peas thrown up into the air and all the peas fell all over the floor. 
Even though the war was over, our nation was still in the grips of food-rationing, so my mother made me pick up every pea, wash the lot, re-heat and serve them again.

Another day, my dad and I were sitting at the garden table, with sun umbrella shading our eyes (we had good summers in those days), a small jug of cream on the table and a bowl of sugar.  My dad had picked strawberries and my mother had taken them into the kitchen to hull, to bring them out to us. Silly me knocked over the jug of cream, and dad and I both knew my mother would be FURIOUS, so he carefully scraped the cream off the top of the metal table, and got it back into the jug, with fortunately no dirty bits floating on the top (maybe a fly trapped inside), and mum never knew.  

As mentioned in The Goode Kitchen, again during rationing, I was holding an egg in one hand, reaching up for a bowl to put it in, when my dad gave an almighty sneeze that made me jump, and the hand holding the egg jerked against the wall and cracked the egg, the yolk and white sliding down the wall.  Again dad worked miracles, holding the bowl under the dribbles, and scraping the eggy mess down into it, wiping the wall clean after.  Another avoidance of upsetting my mother..

It wasn't all to do with food.  My mother was a bit 'house-proud', but not excessively, but she could really get upset when anything went wrong, and upsetting my mother was the very worst crime in our house.  Life wasn't worth living for days (even weeks) if that happened.
After B and I got married, we lived with my parents for a couple of years before we moved into our own house (a new-build on an estate).  Our first baby was born,  and the cot was kept in our bedroom, and when the baby was old enough to stand, one afternoon, after having its afternoon nap, I went into the bedroom to find the baby had peeled off bits of wallpaper at the back of its cot. Not in neat strips (that could have been glued back) but scraps that I think ended up in its mouth (as did most things at that age).
Lucky it was a highly patterned paper, so went and got my paintbox and very carefully painted in the 'missing' bits, and don't think my mother ever noticed.  Thankfully.

Moving to our own home, at least there was no danger of upsetting my mother.  My dad rarely did get upset, but as I was constantly being warned, both by my dad and my auntie: "don't upset your mother whatever you do", often wondered why, but only recently, having thought back, she was extremely controlling, and if anyone did something she didn't agree with, she would turn very cold and distant.  Her way was always the right way (even if it wasn't).  When my dad crossed her, she wouldn't speak to him for days, often weeks, and I would be 'messenger boy' between the two 'ask your father if he would like peas or beans with his dinner"... even if he was in the same room.   A lot of the time she would write her queries on bits of paper and I would have to take them to him, and wait for a reply to be carried back.  To give credit to my dad he always said that my mother "was a good woman" (which she was) but we both found her hard to live with, it being like treading on eggshells most of the time. As long as things went 'her' way, she was happy.  Unfortunately most of the time she wasn't very happy at all.

As I look out of the window in front of me, although not in my sights (being over to the right of the garden) I know there is the big teak garden bench that my parents owned.  My mother brought it with her when she moved to Leeds to live close to us, and we then had it after her death and brought it here to Morecambe.  I particularly remember one day, sitting on the bench at the top of my parents garden in Leicester.  It was a beautiful early summer's day, and the next-door garden, divided only by a low 'fence' of wires strung from posts, was a proper orchard, full of fruit trees, that day all in blossom, as were the few fruit trees in our garden.  I sat facing this orchard and the scent is still in my memory.  I would be 20 at that time, wearing my favourite dress with short sleeves and a very full skirt, with my blonde hair carefully arranged, sitting there waiting for, then watching with my delight my B walk up the long garden path towards me, then sit by my side.  It was a sort of 'magical moment'.  A bit like Paradise should be.  Now it seems the worm has turned and I'm grateful when B goes and sits in another room and leaves me to have 'my own space'. Perhaps I'm more like my mother than I care to believe. 

Lovely comments from readers, thank you for those, they really do cheer me up.
Good to hear from Kate (Sydney, Australia). Sweltering temperatures in Oz during the last few weeks I understand.  At the current time we are watching a BBC series on 'flying doctors' (well, helicoper 'ambulances') in Australia, and heat-exhaustion is one of the problems over there.  Was surprised how the Aborigine population are prone to diabetes.  Has that always been the case, or has it happened since the country became 'civilised' and western foods began to be eaten?

Kate mentions having her clothes now made for her (instead of buying off the rack), it's the only way to get a good fit and find a style that suits in fabrics that are preferred.  Yesterday I watched the second of the '...Sewing Bee' series, and have to say that this time enjoyed it much more than the first.  More explanation seemed to be given, and do hope this leads to younger folk taking up the needle again (or at least pressing treadles).

Can imagine York being busy this last weekend Dottiebird.  Unlike the seaside that has a 'season' starting at Easter and finishing in October, York would have visitors all year round, but more I suppose at weekends, school holidays, and fine weather.
Betty's (in York) almost always full to the brim, and at Betty's in Harrogate, even worse as almost always there was a queue there, even in the winter months. 
Do hope you asked for a discount when you discovered there was no meringue in your Eton Mess, for you were paying for something you were not being given.  Even if they did give you extra fruit and cream I'd still have hoped to get some 'money-off'.  

With the Superscrimpers AND a new series with two cooks competing (seen yesterday on BBC1), it seems the right thing to do today when buying anything is always to ask for 'the best price'.  Even - it seems - at our local butchers and discount stores, especially when buying in bulk.  They can only say 'no'.  Has any reader tried this, if so has it worked? 

Thanks Pam for your mention of Frugal Queen and comments about me on her site.  I haven't seen them, and probably won't for it makes me feel embarrassed when people say nice things, but still knowing that people are interested in what I write has given me a warm glow.  As has happened reading Christopher's comment, as he too seems to enjoy my daily 'chatter'.

Well Margie, it seems you are a better person than I am, for I'd be using your recent 'op', as an excuse NOT to do any spring-cleaning this year (or next and forever after), as I've not really done any spring-cleaning since we moved here four years ago this summer.  Like Quentin Crisp tend to believe that when dust has fallen, any on top of that goes unnoticed, so why bother to dust it all off and wait for it to fall again. 

However, yesterday did notice dust on woodwork in our living room, and only because the sun was shining on it.  This made me make a start, so hoovered the carpet and re-arranged the rugs and tidied the cushions (B untidying them the minute he sat down and shoved the mat in front of his chair into crinkles with his feet). The dust can wait until today to be wiped away. Or perhaps tomorrow, or next year....!!!
Also tidied this room (dining room/study) and only because am expecting two visitors this afternoon to talk 'recipes' for the Foodbank booklet.  If I had more visitors, no doubt all rooms would all be immaculate.  At one time, in Leeds, would always keep the house looking good, all the brass and copper cleaning and gleaming, fresh flowers in the vases, and so on and so forth, just in case visitors came.  The strange thing was, they never came when the house was perfect always dropping in - unexpected - only when the house looked a mess.   Well, at least it looked a mess to me, but most visitors seemed delighted with the clutter "it's like a museum" was said more than once, talking time to wander round a take a look, for I was a great collector of all sorts of things: ceramic Victorian/Edwardian jelly moulds, blue and white china, treen (things made from wood), samplers, and at one time had over 100 ornamental 'roosters' (cockerels) made from china, wood, glass, metal, other materials, ranging from very tiny to very large.
Also used to collect glass:  glass cake stands and old wine glasses, and decanters, and also a fairly large collection of coloured glass (vases, bottles, bowls, dishes etc).  The coloured glass was kept on many shelves across the windows of our porch and looked really pretty as the sun shone through them.
All were bought very cheaply from car-boot sales (or given to me as gifts), I never paid more than 50p for anything, but prior to our moving - had to sell most of them due to us 'downsizing' - and so made a very good profit (this going towards painting the outside of our house before it was sold).
I kept one wooden cockerel and two 'rooster' doorstops, and some very pretty coloured glass that originally held Avon cosmetics (perfumes, candles, bath oil etc), these I've had years and believe some are now 'collectors pieces'. 

B kept his plate collections, and only because they have less value now than when he bought them, but they do look very good arranged on the Delft shelve above the wooden panelling on this room.  There are two sets of Christmas Plates, and one set of plates that have ships on them.  I have four, deep brown plates, with Egyptian pictures on them, these over the mantlepiece.

This dining room is based on 'nautical', and we have a small replica of a 'Tall Ship' on the shelf over the fire, and several pictures of ships on the walls.  Plus a hooked rug with a galleon on it.  This rug I remember being made by both my mother and father, one sitting either end hooking in lengths of wool, but each hooking so the knots were in th opposite direction so when the wool met in the middle it would all like the same way.
That rug used to lie on the polished tiled floor of my parent's Leicester home, and so it must now be about 70 years old, and although walked on regularly (almost daily) since that time, still shows no real sign of wear, other than a tiny bit at one side where the wool has worn away.  Being wool, fairly easy to keep clean, and the colours now as bright as they were originally.  

Thinking back (again) it does seem that whatever was made (manufactured or by hand) WAS meant to last.  I have kept several tray-cloths and tablecloths that have been edged with hand-crocheting, these hand-made by B's mother and aunties. Also embroidered cloths that I stitched myself many, MANY, years ago.  Quite a lot of our furniture is old, very solid, and good quality, yet if sold at auction would fetch only a few pounds as 'out of fashion'.  A 'newer' piece of furniture that we have (c.1960 so not really 'new') is a 'collector's item' as it is a fibre-glass revolving 'egg-shell' chair, re-upholstered with new foam (as in now necessary) but has the original cover, and a replacement one.  It doesn't really 'go' with the old furniture in this dining room, but sits fairly comfortably in our sitting room which tends to lean more to the Art Deco style.  Have seen the same sold on eBay for nearly £100, so an 'investment' I suppose.

Even the Hoover Junior - used to clean the carpets yesterday - is still the same one bought for us by my mother when we moved to our first house in 1957 - making it 56 years old?  Older than our two youngest children who are old enough to be grandparents themselves.
I've even got a hair-dryer (now rarely used but it still works) that I used before I was married, so that must be at least 60 years old.   My sewing machine has to be around 40 years old.  I have sheets that have the wartime utility labels stitched onto them, and still no signs of fraying or the material thinning. Old towels too still as good as new.
Newer bedding/towels etc, wear thin, fall apart at the seams, or terry towels 'unravel', within a very few months of use.  Deliberately made to do this I am sure, as the faster everything becomes useless, the more we have to keep replacing.   You would think the manufacturers would make a fat profit because of this, but apparently not always so as this recession is proving.  Businesses having to close down as people have less money to spend.

B made an interesting remark yesterday when he told me that if 50% of the working population are employed by the government (by this he meant all work for the public sector, from office workers down to street sweepers, refuse collectors, schools, hospitals, police etc...), then a nation could never pull itself back out of decline, as very nearly happened after the war when many 'businesses' were nationalised (rail, coal mines, electricity, gas etc).  He explained why, but can't now remember exactly what he said, however I did query how China, as a communist country that 'controls'' practically all its workers, now becoming a world 'leader', seems to be doing all right, and B sad said that most of the population still live at almost poverty level, so not all as good as it seems. 

Any country under the 'control' of a very few (often only one person) is a regime to be feared.  Look at what has happened to Zimbabwe.  Even worse, what is happening in North Korea now.  No one - it seems - dare speak out against the head of the country or they will almost certainly lose their own heads, and their family;s heads, and their friends and supporters heads...  Best to keep quiet and go with the flow, or bury your head in the sand and hope it will all go away.

Again I've written pages of nothingness of any real interest and not yet touched upon food, other than a passing mention earlier on of 'bartering', but to keep faith with what I'm really here to talk about (cost-cutting-cookery) will leave you with a few recipes that I hope will prove both useful as well as money-saving.

First recipe is for 'rusks', these being a very dry type of biscuit that will keep for several weeks in an airtight container. Sweet versions are made in Italy for dunking in coffee, but this version is plain, and - if cut into fingers - make a good substitute for breadsticks when eating 'dips'.  They can be left plain or given added flavouring such as pepper, salt, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, paprika, curry powder...
Suffolk Rusks: 
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
half tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 oz (75g) margarine
1 egg, beaten
milk to mix
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then rub in the fat until like breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg with enough milk to make a light dough.  Roll this to 3/4" (2cm) thick, and cut into squares (or oblongs, or 'fingers').  Place on a baking tray, and cook for 7 minutes at 220C, 425F, gas 7, then remove from oven, split in half, placing back on tray, cut side uppermost, and continue baking for a further 8 minutes, then turn the heat down to 110C, 225F, gas 1/2, and leave the rusks in the oven for half an hour to dry out (may take less time if cut into fingers).

Next dish has been mentioned before, but it is a 'classic', and a good time of the year to start covering dandelions  to 'blanch' the tender young leaves.  Dandelions work have diuretic properties, hence the French name for this dish: 'Piss en Lit' (wet the bed).  This dish makes a good starter (especially when entertaining - you could pay a lot for this at a top restaurant), and also a good way to make use of bacon 'offcuts' sold more cheaply from a butcher or in supermarket packs.
Garden grown dandelion leaves are made more tender by covering with a tile or flower pot, but with wild dandelions, just pick and use the youngest, paler green leaves. And wash these well especially if growing near traffic.  Quantities are not given, use as much as you feel you need.
Dandelion Salad:
dandelion leaves
few bacon rashers, cut into cubes
a spoonful of vinegar
Fry the bacon 'snippets' over medium heat until the fat has melted a bit.  When the bacon becomes crisp, remove and immediately stir the vinegar into the bacon fat, returning the bacon to the pan, then pour the whole lot over a bed of dandelion leaves, toss together then serve immediately.

Yesterday watched a few minutes of a programme about Caribbean cookery (Food Network channel), and saw Callallo being cooked.  As this vegetable has recently been mentioned as a good alternative to spinach, the leaves cooked the same way, learnt yesterday that the stalks can also be cooked, but separately and for longer, the stalks needing first to be peeled before being cooked.
Although I haven't yet a recipe for using Callaloo, here is one using spinach.
Spinach Soup:
8 oz (225g) spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
half pint (300ml) chicken or veg stock
half pint (300ml) hot milk
salt and pepper
Wash the spinach, removing the larger stalks.  Bring the stock to the boil, then add the spinach and onion.  Simmer until quite soft, then put through a sieve (or puree in a blender) and return to the pan. Add the milk, seasoning and nutmeg to taste, simmer for a few minute, then serve.

That's it for what appears to be yet another sunny day.  The wind has dropped, and all we need now is more warmth.  Seems that not only in the UK are our temperature still at the freezing level, Canada and the US also having unseasonably cold weather.  What they have we often get a few weeks later - or maybe not as nowadays nothing seems as certain as it used to be.   In my early days we could plan to have a picnic the weekend after next and KNOW it would still be good weather. Now we can't even plan a picnic for the following day - unless a high pressure area has settled over the UK in which case we are pretty sure of several days dry weather, even though there is no guarantee it will be warm.  It should be very warm NOW.  It was warm (very warm) late March last year, and also late April for several years before,  but not this year.  High pressure again YES. Sun, YES. Warmth, NO!

Really must go as my afternoon will be taken up with 'chatting' all things foodie, tomorrow is Norma the Hair day, so depending on what time I get up, this blog will be published before 9.00am or closer to noon.  Either way, expect me back, and I expect you back too, for otherwise I'll be sad. And you wouldn't want that, for chances are I'll start acting like my mother (again) and stop talking to you altogether.  And I bet some of you are saying "I wish!".  TTFN.