Tuesday, April 09, 2013

History in the Making

Thanks Pam, we are all sad to hear of the death of Margaret Thatcher, although perhaps not ALL.  Some people really disliked her (mainly men - even members of her Cabinet, who could not stand being 'led'' by a woman), but she was a wonderful politician, with the strength of her convictions, and one of the very few (Winston Churchill was the only other I can remember) who actually stood their ground.  Most politicians, especially in more recent years, seem to give promises that they never get round to keeping, and allow far too many things to happen that are bad for the country finances, and also for ours.   Also becoming far too much a 'nanny' state instead of letting the public learn from its own mistakes. 

Many TV programmes yesterday were disrupted because of the above news, and rightly so, but even I was surprised by how much, and for how long.  Today the newspapers (not yet delivered) will have extra pages full of the 'life of...' and weekend papers will have 'supplements', and will continue to do so for the next few days unless something more urgent happens to take precedence.  Too much of this 'hype' for ruins for me what should be a reason for solemnity and sadness, especially as most of it is just 'repeats, repeats, repeats...',  but right that Baroness Thatcher should be a person worthy of this media attention, as far too much is written - in length - about people who are not worthy of any attention at all.

A welcome (or is it welcome back?) to Rhea, who is a 'stayer' when it comes to married life.  Have to admit to readers that if I was a 'today's' girl, I might just have been one who changed horses in midstream - so to speak.  But, like Ciao, in the early to mid-20th century most wives expected to live only with the man they had married.  For one thing, in those days it was a lot more difficult to get a divorce, and even if possible, unlikely that the woman would be able to stay in the family house, get enough maintenance etc. to keep going without herself then going out to work.  There were several time, I have to admit, that the expression 'Better the devil you know than the devil you don't' crossed my mind.

Agree with Ciao, children remember so much more about family life, than any toys they had, and when it comes to toys and even clothes, small children are often happier playing with the cardboard box a toy came in than with the toy itself (esp. if a large box they can crawl into).  They are also not at all concerned as to what clothes they are wearing, just as long as they are comfortable.  A waste of money to buy anything expensive for any child (under the age of 20?), they will never appreciate it.

Myself have seen (more than once) a home where a child has its own playroom, and this absolutely packed with hundreds of pounds worth of toys.  When the child goes in to play, it seems utterly confused as to which toy to play with, usually drifting from one to the other, then ending up in tears because when playing with one, attention is distracted by another, so 'tears before bedtime'.
Give a child a box of Lego, and a table or tray to play on, and they will be happy all day, next day, and the rest of the week.

Clothes are another issue.  Perhaps, being lucky enough to have learnt how to knit and sew at an early age (pre-school for knitting pre-marriage for sewing), was able to make most of the clothes for our four children - not undergarments, but certainly most baby clothes, skirts, blouses and dresses for the girls (up to late teenage years), and all knitwear for everyone in the family right up until they left home, and have to say was more than lucky as my Beloved had several jobs, but all to do with textiles, so I got given free bobbins of sewing cotton when he worked for 'Sylko', and free remnants of fabric (both cottons, man-made fibres, and heavier woollen/tweeds) when he worked for different fabric manufacturers.
Even in those days it was easy enough to buy oddments/offcuts of fabric from a store for only a few pence, large enough to make a cushion cover (but used to make dresses or skirts for a little girl 'toddler').   Nowadays a 'offcut' of new material can cost as much as a complete outfit from a charity shop.

Ask me for my money-saving tips Mandy, and I'll be carry on writing all day, all week.  Where would I start?  Perhaps the best way to save money is not to spend it at all.  Start by using up what we have, and 'recycle' anything else we can get given for 'free'.  You wouldn't believe how annoyed i was only a couple of days ago when I found that B must have poured boiling water (from the kettle) over a small plastic tub in the sink that had held three different flavours of hummus.  I had kept that tub to use for 'setting' concentrated home-made chicken stock, removing the stock when frozen to bag up with others (as just the right size to add to water to make soup etc).   I'd put it in the bowl to be washed, but B had ruined it.  Hate, hate, hate....!!!
That's another thing, B always boils a kettle of water to pour over the pots in the bowl prior to washing up, then adds cold water.  Despite me suggesting he turn on the hot tap and use that water instead of boiling up a kettle I don't know.  Maybe it is cheaper than the gas boiler heating the water, but myself prefer always to use hot water from the tap.   At least, this way, my 'recycled plastic' doesn't get ruined.

Having taken a fancy to sucking 'Werther's Original' toffees, B has taken to bringing me in a pack each weekend, but now always the 'sugar free' ones.  These taste just as nice as the original 'larger' toffees, but are very much smaller, each wrapped in a twist of gold coloured paper.  Am now saving these papers, as - come next Christmas - should have a suitcase full, and can thread the 'twists' into long strings to drape around or hang from shelves, and alone they could just about trim the 'tree'.

Most bars of chocolate now have shiny silver foil-backed wrappers, as do packets of crisps etc.  These, smoothed or ironed out can be cut/formed/made into Christmas decorations, and can also be used (foil side out) to wrap small presents. 
In my day I've carefully unstuck cardboard boxes that contained tea-bags, J-cloths, washing tablets... and covered them with gift-wrapping before re-assembling.   Something similar can be done using those cardboard boxes that hold paper tissues/hankies, but when covered with material to match the decor of a room, they look much more attractive than having the original boxes dotted around the place. 
I've also covered empty sweet/biscuit tins with matching paper and also material, and especially like my 'collection' of matching tartan covered tins and boxes.

Thanks for your comment Carol (aka Dottiebird), and can understand how your son seems to be eating you out of house and home, and it's not always young lads that seem to have a bottomless stomach.  Many men do also (including my B).  When our son visits, he often says 'don't give me much Mum, I'm trying to lose weight', but then ends up eating his plateful, then taking 'seconds' and then 'thirdgs'.  Maybe it's because uni-students can't afford to eat too much, so make up for it when they return home.

One favourite 'student' recipe (as I've been told many times) is my 'pan-fried pizza'. This is very speedy to make and cook, and demonstrated by me both on TV and in demos, more times than I can remember as - once the 'toppings' are ready to hand - it has been made from scratch, assembled and cooked in less than 5 minutes.
Basically, it is a 'dough' made by blending a little natural yogurt into self-raising flour to which a little extra bicarbonate of soda has been added.  Then rolling out the soft (but not sticky) dough into a fairly thin circle to fit the base of the frying pan.  Heat a little oil in the pan and place in the circle of dough.  Fry for about a minutes, then turn over so the other side cooks (it may need a bit more oil in the  pan). While this frying, quickly place on the topping, first spreading on tomato 'pizza' sauce, then whatever you have (sliced mushrooms, bacon, ham, sweetcorn, and top with grated cheese - or just used cheese on the sauce), then pop under a preheated grill to cook for a couple of minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling, then serve and eat.  Best eaten almost immediately as the 'dough' base tends to soften if left to cool down too much.

Because I've given a mention to 'Werthers', thought a home-made version might be a suitable recipe to give today, followed by a fudge recipe, both made using a microwave oven.
Although still early Spring, these sweet recipes are worth filing away ready make to give as presents, and with this thought it makes sense to start saving any sweet wrappers (ironed out if necessary) to use for wrapping sweets below, then in December, make the sweets, wrapping them in the recycled wrappers and box them up in your own gift-wrapped boxes (mentioned above).  What better presents to give than something home-made from start to finish.

This first recipe (for caramels) relies on reaching the required temperature, and this is given if the cook prefers to use a thermometer.  If not, just following timing, still worth making as if ending slightly above or below the correct heat, the toffees will either end up harder, or softer, but still taste very good.   Always use a very large boil to prevent the contents boiling over, and always test the temperature when out of the microwave, never leave the thermometer in when cooking.

Please note for caramels, the metric equivalents are slightly different to those I would normally use, but with this recipe essential to be exact, so am sticking to the original publication.
Nutty Caramels: makes 12 oz (350g)
3 oz (75g) butter
5 oz (125g) golden syrup
6 oz (150g) runny honey
2 oz (50g) chopped nuts
Put the butter into a large heat-proof bowl and cook in the microwave on HIGH for 1 minute.  Stir in the sugar and honey, then cook for 9 mins on HIGH(or until the mixture reaches 132C/270F). Stir once.
Remove from oven and beat until thickened, then stir in the nuts.  Pour into an oiled shallow, square 7" (18cm) tin, and when cool enough to handle, roll teaspoonfuls into balls, then lightly flatten into coin shapes.  Place on well-oiled foil and leave overnight to set before wrapping each in cellophane paper.

For this next recipe, if you haven't coffee essence, than dissolve instant coffee granules into the tablespoon of water and use that.
Coffee Fudge: makes 1.25 lbs (550g)
1 lb (450g) icing sugar, sifted
1 x 196g can condensed milk
2 tblsp golden syrup
2 oz (50g) butter, cubed
1 tblsp water
1 tblsp coffee essence (see above)
Put all the ingredients into a large heat-proof bowl, mixing them well together.  Place into a microwave oven and cook, uncovered on DEFROST (30%) for 10 minutes, stirring four times during that period, then cook on HIGH or 7 more minutes - or until the mixture reaches 116C/240F. 
Remove from oven and beat until the mixture begins to thicken and turn 'grainy'.  Pour into an oiled, shallow square 7" (18cm) tin, then leave to cool.  Mark into 36 square, then leave until quite cold before cutting into pieces.

Anything that happens a year ago can seem to be 'history' in the eyes of the young, so perhaps the final recipe today could come under that category.  Have chosen this as a way to use up the dried fruits and spices that we may have left over from Christmas, and also because - in Scotland - this rich fruit 'cake' is made one year to serve the next.  So why not make it now, store in the freezer for up to a year, and serve it as traditional next New Year (Hogmanay).  One less job to have to remember.
Black Bun: serves 8 - 10
8 oz (225g) shortcrust pastry
2 oz (50g) chopped almonds
1 lb (450g) raisins
2 oz (50g) candied peel
1 oz (25g) soft brown sugar
1 tsp each ground cinnamon and gr.ginger
half tsp allspice
half tsp bicarb. of soda
4 oz (100g) butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to line a 2 lb (900g) loaf tin, making sure there is a little bit of pastry overlapping the rim..
Put almonds, raisins, peel, sugar, spices and bicarb into a bowl and pour in the melted butter and beaten eggs, then mix everything together until well combined. Spoon into the pastry case, levelling the surface.
Roll out remaining pastry, large enough to cover the fruit and overlapping pastry, then dampen edges, of over-lap pastry i tin, laying the pastry lid on top, pressing them together to seal, crimping the edges with fingertips, and removing surplus over-lap of pastry.  Brush top with egg or milk.
Traditionally, the pastry trimmings are rolled and cut into a thistle shape and a couple of leaves, then placed on the top of the Black Bun, brushed with egg/milk.  Make a few holes in the top of the pastry using a skewer, then bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for 2 hours.  Leave to cool in tin before turning out. Can be kept for up to a month when wrapped in foil or stored in an air-tight ting.  Even better, wrap tightly in double foil and store in the freezer for up to one year.

Despite the weather forecast turning gloomy for the rest of the week - with high winds giving s that lower wind-chill feel, plus a warning of snow on some hilly areas, other parts of the country having some (now much-needed) rain, at least here in Morecambe, after a very windy night, today - although still very breezy - we again have blue skies and sunshine.

How soon things can change, one minute the country has ground saturated with months of rain, followed by deep drifts of snow, and yet - within a very few weeks - the top growth has now become so dry that moorland fires are now the major concern.  We have had some here in Lancashire, and quite a lot in Scotland. Over on the west coast of Ireland (where our daughter lives) normally a rain-soaked area, they have had recent fires on the Ox mountains at the back of their cottage, and at one point the local residents of the 'hamlet' where they live began to pack up 'the necessary' ready to evacuate.  Our daughter emailed me and said it was surprising how they would have forgotten to take with them important things like passports, lap-top (that held necessary info for their work etc - and had to smile,  'knickers' came top of her list, as they would be with mine!!!). So it's always worth making a list of 'things to take' should any disaster happens that might mean a rapid leaving of homes.

Even now I keep a small hold-all with a spare nightie, undergarments, soap etc, just in case of an unexpected stay in hospital.  This because when I WAS in hospital and requested B to bring me a change of underwear, telling him that they were in a bag 'by my chair', he brought me the wrong bag, choosing not the one I had mentioned (he'd already forgotten where that was) but one from another bedroom, this a 'rag bag' holding all torn bits of pillowcases, underwear etc to use for cleaning purposes (another recycling tip).  Admittedly one pair of my very old  'bloomers' was at the top of this bag, but even then anyone could see this 'garment' had fallen into holes.  Maybe he just thought  that was the fashion?  B himself seems to favour wearing vests with holes in them, and certainly jumpers that have holes at the elbows,  maybe he just feels more comfortable wearing 'old clothes'.  Come to think of it, he hardly ever buys himself anything new (other than socks, and occasionally new vests), as much of the time he wears 'hand-me-downs' that are given him by others.  When he's been something new, it often ends up in a drawer never to see the light of day again.  Even so, B does scrub up well if an occasion demands it, but again hardly ever in 'new', as he is most comfortable wearing 'old friends'.  I'm tending to be a bit like that myself.  Why spend money when what I've got is still wearable. 
The other day we (B, daughter and myself) were talking about going out for a meal, and as it was to be earlier in the week I grumbled because I said my hair would (by then) be a mess (Norma the Hair comes on a Thursday).  B looked surprised and said 'Who'd be looking at it anyway?"  Perhaps he has a point, at my age, who even bothers to give me a second glance.  Oh, if only I was young again.

In 'times past' (history again), my mother would always have her clothes (mainly dresses) made my a 'little woman round the corner', as it was 'bad form' to buy clothes sold directly from a shop rail (shock, horror, others might be wearing the same..!).  She, and also me when a teenager, used to wear cotton dresses in the morning, then change into lighter fabrics to wear in the afternoon.  Different 'outfits' (often long dresses) when visiting friends in the evening, and always a 'costume' (matching jacket and skirt) when going to town, of course with hat, gloves, and matching shoes and handbag).
We wore full skirted dresses, or circular skirts with pretty blouses, when dancing at the local 'hop', and full-length dresses, often with layers of net over the skirts, for more formal dances (at hotels etc).  My mother had a wide recess in my bedroom built specially to hold all my clothes - and have to admit to buying a new blouse each week to wear with my collection of skirts when dancing as I would hate to be seen wearing the same thing twice.  My parents were generous with my pocket money and I must have been a spoilt brat.  Things changed dramatically once I was married and had to manage on my husband's earnings (this being not a lot more than the pocket money I was given).
Until our first child was born, I was 'going out to work' myself, so we did have a double income, but once our son arrived, followed sixteen months later by our first daughter, then sixteen months later by a second girl (then a gap of four years before our fourth), it was only B's quite small wage we had to keep a roof over our heads, food in our belly, and clothes (much home-made) on our backs.
But we survived, and had I known what I know now, financially, things would have been much easier.  At least we'd have eaten better meals.

But enough of the past, 'live for the day' is perhaps a sensible thought, so had better get on living today whilst it is here, for come tomorrow, today will then become 'yesterday' and become part of recent 'history'.  Having sometimes a feeling of 'deja vu', perhaps all our tomorrows have already happened and all we are doing is reliving the past.  Back to the future perhaps.
One thing is certain, if you are reading this, you and I are walking hand in hand through the same 'earth-time', so you can be sure that if you are kind enough to send a comment, I will be here to read it.  And reply.  So hope you do.   Until we meet again tomorrow, enjoy your day. TTFN.