Monday, September 02, 2013

Hang Out to Dry!

Can't believe this!  The speed that the comp now has is amazing compared to previously.  I just click on to what I want and instantly I'm there.  No longer do I need to wait (sometimes) 40 minutes for the blogger page to arrive then sort itself out.  It is now here is seconds.

Many thanks for your comments, my first reply - and welcome -  to jenniegs who I fear I have disappointed.  This was not meant to happen.  It's my big mouth again, spouting off how life used to be in MY day, not thinking about how differently people live today.  I do recognise that so many today have different standards, and work is not now easily obtained, and who can blame anyone for sitting in front of a TV and comfort eating junk food (because I have done this myself and still do it!!).

It's the recent Jamie-mention re work hours that irritated me a bit.  Obviously no-one should expect anyone to work long hours, and I think that although the food industry (restaurants etc) do seem to expect their employers to work for far longer than the standard 40 hour week (or has this been reduced to 35?) feel that everyone (certainly the younger folk) should be able to manage more than this.   
Sorry to bring back the 'old days', but even I  (who had a pretty easy job working in a stationery shop with a little bit of office work as well), in late teens used to work 52 hours a week ( over five and a half days), but then this was normal. We rarely stayed out late at night because we needed our sleep as we had to go to work the next day, usually falling into bed at 10pm and up at 6 or 7am (so we had our 8 ours sleep), throwing our bonnets over the windmill only on Saturday nights (sleeping in late on Sundays (a real treat to do this).  Now it seems as though youngsters like to enjoy nightlife several days a week, even after a normal day's work, rolling home in the early hours so no wonder they get tired.  Have to say my knowledge of 'young life today' is mainly based on what I read, see on TV,  and a few youngsters I come into contact with, and - of course - I'm not saying everyone is the same.  There are many young people that I know personally who do work very hard and some for long hours, but am sure all readers will agree that to some 'hard-work' is something they are just not accustomed to or even wish to do.

The sad thing about life today is - that when money is very short, and gets worse as prices rise) unless there has been any education as to how to manage, then life must be very hard (well, even with 'the knowledge' it can still be pretty grim).  Only when a person feels fairly 'secure'', can they find time to sit back and work out if they can do anything to make life easier for themselves. 
Myself remember times when we very nearly had the bailiffs in, and when B was away working and we had stacks of bills (printed in red) piled up on the mantelpiece,  I would sit at home, curtains drawn, never answering doors, frightened to death we would be turned out of our home.  The last thing I wanted to do was learn how to become even more efficient (I wasn't very good at it in those days) because I didn't know there could be a way.  We didn't then have TV, and even if we had I wouldn't have it on in case it was heard by 'someone' at the door, so I used to go to bed at the same time as the young children (6.00pm). I was 40 before I taught myself how to cook 'properly', but very thankful that at least my mother had taught me how to knit and sew.

Which brings me to yesterday.  It was like being back 50 years.  There was I, with a pile of support stockings (knee high), all had holes in the toes and heels.  I did not want to fork out to buy more (although suppose I could have them on prescription).  So I got out my wooden 'mushroom' - thinking at the time it would make a good 'pusher' to shove food round and through a sieve - and might well use it for this as I have two 'mushrooms').  Then sat and carefully stitched together the holes, darning bits as well and now I have stockings I can wear again.  And I enjoyed doing it as had forgotten how pleasing it is to sew by hand.  Might take a scoot down to the new craft shop on the local parade to see if I can find some inspiration.

The problem when anyone criticises lifestyles today, it is always taken as a blanket criticism, as though it is just 'us and them', when of course it isn't like that at all, am sure there are 'fifty shades of people' (like grey) and am sure readers appreciate that.  In the old days people would take on almost any sort of work just to earn money to keep a roof over their heads (feed the family etc), nowadays it seems that many people are now as picky about the work as some are about the food they eat (or the car they buy).   The jobs are there but not the ones they want.  Or maybe I've got it wrong again.   Feel free to point me in the right direction.

Maybe it is good that we should aim to work only at the job that is right for us.  But the problem lies when it comes to whether we can afford to wait until we can do this.  It is easier to get a job - maybe the one we really want, when we are already in work, for this shows that at least we have been prepared to take on work (whatever it offered) and with a chance then of getting a good reference we could be well on the way to getting the job of our dreams.  Maybe it doesn't work like this, but if there is work out there to be had, surely better to take almost anything as the first step up our ladder.  But again, am I continually thinking about how - in my youth - everyone wanted work and not too fussy about what it was.  Today life is so very different, and of course I will upset millions by saying that when it comes to what matters, can't see much improvement today.

I would hope that those unemployed (on benefits) would be able to get free education (night school etc), or at least a grant to enable them to get qualifications in certain subjects. It would be good if the newpapers and TV told us more about this, and the government gave more help.   I blame the government for a lot of the probs we have today.  I know I moan on about a lot of things, but always have to remember that - if they had them in my day - I was very close to having to use a Food Bank. So I do recognise and understand the why's and wherefores' of domestic difficulties today.  It is the approach to life, the outlook that today is so different to 50 (or even 20) years ago.  

Anyway, on to safer ground and my comfort zone.  Food and the cooking of. When I mentioned  Jamie recently,  I thought he had said the meals would be around £1.36 a portion, but this week (in the TV supplement) it said £1.80!  Is that low cost by today's standards?  As I always seem to be living in the past, then what would I know?   What I DO know is that I would hope to be able to serve four portions of a reasonably good meal for just £1.80 TOTAL, although, unlike Jamie, I would probably use some convenience foods to save time, overall the meal would consist of 'fresh' foods.

Myself believe that the only way to spend less on food is to stop buying a lot less 'ready-prepared' ready-meals (and anything else 'fresh' that is pre-prepared like chopped veg, bags of salad leaves....), then undertake the prep and assembly ourselves.  BUT as this can take time I see no reason why we can't also use SOME convenience foods because whether a novice or experienced cook, we don't now seem to want to spend a lot of time cooking (did we ever?).  Myself often prefer to open a jar of curry sauce to add to the fresh meat and veg instead of using spices (although I have these and I know I should) - and this because it saves me time.  With the time saved I can then make onion bhajis, raita, and perhaps fry a couple or so poppadums. Or maybe not.  It all depends on how I feel that day.  

There are some 'convenience' foods that I never buy.  Yogurt (because I make it the easy way using EasyYo - it is cheaper, and from this can make curd cheese etc).  Always make jams and marmalade  because they are not just cheaper but much better flavoured.  However, do buy Branston pickle because we like it and I can't make a pickle as good as that although do enjoy home-made beetroot chutney, and sweetcorn relish.  If push came to shove (cutting the budget still further), I'd give up the Branston and stick with the home-made. 

Also never buy biscuits as these are always easy to make even though some biscuits on sale could work out a mite cheaper (but not nearly as tasty).  Having said that, I used to buy own-brand digestive biscuits then spread the underside with melted chocolate (a little chocolate goes a long way), and these then worked out cheaper than if I'd bought the OB chocolate digestives.
At one time I used to make my own digestives, and probably will do again, but at the moment the favourites are the Fork Biscuits that are so easy to make and attractive now I use my meat tenderiser to make a pattern on top.  They can also be flavoured, either plain vanilla, or chocolate, or ginger, or orange....
Same when it comes to cakes.  Always home-made (although have used a very cheap sandwich mix, reasons why given in an earlier blog).  Having said that, there was a recent trial of several packet cake and scone mixes, each versus a similar Mary Berry recipe.  And have to say that in a couple of instances the packet mix was voted better then M.Bs for taste and cost.  But - as ever - what one person likes, another doesn't.  So I still stick to my home-made. If B likes it, that's all that matters.

A welcome to T.Bird Annie, who has really hit the nail on the head.  What is needed in today's world (to bring it back to how it was) is (domestic) education.  Although I saw most of that benefit series (based on life in 1949) and saw the girl asking to be shown how to put her house in order, missed seeing 'The Scary Woman', do wish I'd seen that bit.  I could do with her help, even today.

The mention of housekeeping has reminded me of one or two books I'd bought (or been given) in my early 20's, that were all about how to keep house.  In those days it was expected that a young wife, and especially a young mother would stay at home and 'housekeep' in return for being 'kept' by her husband.  I remember instructions of how each room should be dusted and tidied every day, and one room a week being a really thorough turn out and clean, and for a while I tried to follow the instructions exactly. Considering that washing (traditionally done on a Monday whatever the weather), ironing (Tuesday), shopping for food (often daily) and all the cooking (no ready-meals in those days), not to mention caring for the children, all having to be fitted in between the cleaning of rooms etc, it is not surprising that women worked longer hours and sometimes a great deal harder than their husbands.  Yet, when hubbies arrived back after work to a home that looked much the same as it did when they left that morning (neat, tidy, etc) most of the time they thought their wives had just been sitting on their backsides all day twiddling their thumbs. All they had to do was prepare the evening meal.

You gave a mention Annie of 'clogged arteries'.  It has been discovered that eating one or two walnuts every day is a great way to lower cholesterol.  A spoon of walnut oil also as good as, if not better.  Oats are another 'cholesterol lowering' food.  So maybe the occasional 'naughty' (fatty food) could be eaten if walnuts were nibbled afterwards.

The word 'routine' was always dinned into me when I was younger, and it is true, when it comes to housework etc, things get done when we stick to the same plan.  Trouble is with me, I don't really care for routine, other than 'Saturday is my baking day', and with all the good will in the world and the intention is there, something always distracts me from doing what I should be doing, and I do something else.  As you say Eileen, I have discovered that Quentin Crisp's way of life is often similar to mine.  The only way I can truly 'get off my backside' is to write down at the start of the day, all the things that need to be done, then work through it.  That works well.  Pity I don't do it more often.

Regarding green tomatoes (plenty now at this time of year), I was once given a big wooden crate of green tomatoes, must have been a hundred or so in the box, and was told that if I kept one or two red tomatoes in with them, they would all (eventually) ripen.  And they did!   As they reddened, I would then use the riper ones, and the remaining - firmer - red ones helped to ripen the rest.   I froze many (when red but still firm) as-is, and then ended up like red snooker balls.  Dipping the frozen toms in very hot water, the skins then easily slid off, leaving the flesh still frozen.  No use for salads or tomato sarnies etc, as to soft when thawed, but these were easily chopped and could then be used to make a pasta sauce, soup etc.

Stephanie's mention of over-seasoned (reduced price) meat balls reminded me that whenever I've bought meat balls I've always been disappointed.  Canned meat balls are variable, but still not as good as any home-made, and for that matter, cheap enough to make especially in a blender or food processor as minced meat (lamb, beef, chicken, pork etc...)whizzed up with onion, breadcrumbs, seasonings/sauces of choice, and an egg - together will make a fairly smooth textured meatball (similar to the commercially produced, and the texture I prefer), but all 'good stuff', with no preservatives or additives that we'd rather not have.   The mixture can then be rolled into balls and frozen to cook later, or can be cooked then frozen to reheat in a sauce.

Agree that prawn curry seems a waste of money when these shellfish are so expensive, and the curry overpowers the flavour.  However, I often make a milder Thai green (or red) curry for B using bottled curry sauce, and the small (cheaper) frozen cooked prawns.    This is one of the quickest suppers to prepare, so no wonder it is a favourite of mine (and B's).
Simple to make, I just finely slice/chop and onion and fry it in a little oil until tender (but not browned). Then stir in a couple or so teaspoons of the chosen Thai curry sauce/paste, fry for a further minute then stir in about half a pint of coconut milk (this I make from a sachet of coconut cream that needs diluting in hot water).  When this has heated through (the sauce thickens at the same time), then add the prawns (which can still be frozen), cook until heated through and serve with rice or noodles.  Am not over-generous with the prawns as once in the sauce they look much the same size as the strips of onion, and of course the curry flavour disguises what is in the curry, so even a few prawns (like a couple of tablespoons, and B is a happy bunny.  These few prawns work out cheaper than using chicken, although chicken scraps removed from a carcase simmered for stock would make this meal even cheaper.

Thanks Margie for your comment.  Pleased you are now getting stocked up for the winter, it makes sense, particularly in Canada where your winters are more extreme than ours, although as this year we have been having 'your' sort of summers (like HOT), who knows, maybe this year our winter will be as cold as yours, so we should all bear this in mind.  

Have to say that I'm finding 'using up what I have' is becoming extremely enjoyable.  Of course I tend to do this all the time, but as I have always 'topped up' each month (or six weeks) have never pushed myself on to the finer details as I've been doing this week.  You would laugh at me, I've gone all 'wartime' again, carefully scraping off all the butter from its wrapper, but then carefully folding the paper to use for greasing cake tins (normally would throw it away).  I even (again carefully) scraped the surplus flour from my pastry board and put into a little bag to use to flour the board again next time - and there could only have been two teaspoons of flour if that!!). 

Three times this week I've felt like having an evening snack (after an early supper of salad etc), and went to get a small piece of cheese and a tomato, but when I got to the fridge and saw that we hadn't much cheese left (but a lot more than wartime rations), I stopped in my tracks and thought "I could use that for something else".  Now, whenever I feel like a nibble, the very sight of the chosen food makes me realise that it is better saved for another purpose.  Every cloud has a silver lining, this one being that no snacks now are helping me to lose weight (again!).

Returning to Jamie's programme.  What I hope it will prove (to me and to others) is that it is worth cooking meals instead of buying them (as 'readies' or take-aways).  Probably there are many people who do spend a lot more on their meals - those who like to eat tender steaks, or sea bass etc., and by cooking 'Jamie-style' they could cut their food budget and still eat well. 

My cooking seems to begin when every other budget cook stops.  They can reduce the ££££s spent to £££s, and maybe just ££s, but I like to start at £1 and then go downwards (in other words spend less).   This doesn't mean every dish costs less than £1, but certainly - over a week - the average would come to no more, and probably a lot less.   We don't HAVE to eat as frugally as this, but it is good to know that we can when we need to. 
Economy cooking is like every other skill (and riding a bike), once learned we can do it again if and when we wish to.  The rest of the time we can carry on as normal.

This week will be looking towards Christmas (well it is worth making a start with SOME things) and as I have plenty of dried fruit in the larder will be soaking some in wine or spirit to plump it up a bit - as it is 'old stock' and over dry, then make some mincemeat and probably the Christmas cake.   I'll also be making more biscuits (for B and my now regular coffee morning with neighbour) and also a Sticky Toffee Pudding (which can be cut up and frozen).   There will be other 'dry goods' in the larder that I intend finding a use for. 

Yesterday - as B was out most of the day with the sailing club - made him a hob-top 'casserole' using some pre-cooked (frozen and thawed) beef rib trim, to which I added the last tiny carrots (chopped), a few small potatoes (chopped) and the last 'bendy' parsnip.   Thickened the gravy with a bit of casserole mix (I never use a whole pack for just one meal, just remove a bit, fold the bag over and then store it in a sealed glass jar).  B chose the 'green veg' to be peas, so he was able to reheat the casserole and put the peas in the microwave and serve the meal to himself.  Me - I was watching TV. What else would I be doing?

Today will probably cook B a fish risotto (a favourite meal of his).  The pot of parsley that the slugs had just about eaten (all but one leaf), now brought indoors, has - as I hoped - grown new leaves from the root ends of the chewed off stalks, so should be able to removed about three leaves to sprinkle over the risotto, otherwise will add a few frozen peas (I like to add green as it adds colour).

Tip for today is not about food, but does concern saving money.  We all like to give gifts at Christmas, and also decorate our homes, so for anyone who has a garden or who has access to plants that can be picked, then the following is worth doing.  Myself, always dry the petals from any flowers I've been given (particularly roses), and have several bagsful now (we don't have any roses in our garden but will be buying some to plant this winter).  For years I've been preserving foliage by the method given (but not done any since we moved here so will certainly start doing some this week).

preserving leaves:
This method works best in late summer when the leaves are mature but before the sap runs down for winter.  Choose well-shaped sprays and branches, then beat or split the ends of the stems.
Mix a solution of one third glycerine (usually cheaper from a chemist than a supermarket - but check prices first), and two-thirds boiling water.  Allow to cool, then pour two or three inches of the solution into narrow-necked jars/bottles.  Stand the leaves/stalks in the solution until tiny drops of glycerine emerge from the leaves - the time will vary according to the variety.   Wipe off the glycerine, then store in a dry place.
Copper beech, aspidistra and small eucalyptus leaves are suitable for this method.

Have to say that I've used this 'absorption' method for many different types of leaves (laurel etc), and just wait until they change colour - usually going a lovely brown shade), then use them in dried flower arrangements.  They last ages.

A several varieties of flowers can be air-dried, picked when mature, but always dry, free from dew etc. , tied in small bundles and hung upside down in a cool, dry, dark place.   Remove surplus foliage.
The following flowers dry well:  everlasting daisies, helichrysum, delphiniums, larkspurs, statice, acanthus, hydrangea, honesty, zinnias, lavender, teasles, thistles, artichokes, ferns and eucalyptus.

When dried flowers are used for arrangements, a good tip is to strengthen the stems using florist's wire, but this should be added before the stems dry completely.

One of my favourite ways to use dried flowers is in pot-pourri (also make a good gift).  Originally this aromatic mixture of flowers, leaves, herbs and spices was used to disinfect and deodorise homes before the modern ways were invented.
Traditionally these pot-pourris were made by the 'moist' method, with petals first being half-dried then layered with salt to 'cure' for a few weeks.  Then more dried plant material was added, more spices, oils and fixatives before more 'curing' took place.  This took several months before completion so rarely used today, but it is said this slow-maturing ensured a long-lasting pot-pourri that could last for up to 50 years! (with the addition of a few drops of essential oil each year).

Today we just don't have the time (or patience) to wait for the results, especially if we hope to make pot-pourri to give as a gift this Christmas.  So use this faster method....
Roses and lavender are renowned for keeping their perfume, and if lucky enough to grown scented roses in your garden, gather these in the morning, once the dew has gone, but before their essential oils have evaporated in the heat of the sun.  Separate petals and dry on paper or netting in a well-ventilated place, but away from the sun (I used to dry mine in the airing cupboard). Turn the petals often while they are drying.  Lavender can be hung in bunches to dry (see above).

Other flowers that have petals (once removed, separated and dried) good to add to pot-pourri are: carnations, marigolds, violets, wallflowers, pinks, cornflowers, jasmine, orange blossom, forget-me-nots, forsythia, and no reason not to try others of your choice.

Scented geranium leaves also add perfume, as do many herbs (rosemary, lemon balm, thyrme, mintsw, bayleaves....) When dried keep in paper bags (or envelopes) and always label as often difficult to distinguish when dried.

Three things help to keep or complement the perfume in a pot-pourri. First being essential flower oils (usually sold at health food stores).  Only a couple or so drops need adding to each bowful of petals.  More than that would be over powering.
Second addition could be spices, but again used very sparingly.  Use flower oils to give a scent of summer to a room, but add cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice if you wish to have a more Christmassy atmosphere.  With the spices best to use a bowl of unscented petals and whole dried flower heads, maybe some dried citrus peel, a few small pine cones etc.

Fixatives. These help prevent the evaporation of essential oils, so the fragrance lasts longer. The main fixative used is powdered orris root, usually sold in health food stores and sometimes chemists (now called pharmacies).
Dried citrus peel (without the pith, the peel then dried in strips or grated) is also a useful fixative.  
Wood shavings such as cedar wood or sandalwood, could also be used.

I've written a lot today and not once did the banner come up saying  'there is a problem with publishing and saving this draft' (as it used to constantly throughout writing previous blogs).  So let's hope this publishes properly, and - if so - will start going back to how my blog used to be.  More hints and tips and more cost-cutting recipes and I'll try to stay away from giving my views on the state of the nation and its people today.  At least I'll TRY.  Can't promise. 

With the weather said to get warmer again towards the end of this week, it looks like being a fairly pleasant autumn.  With the good weather (give or take a few days of storms and rain in some parts of the country) we have had a 'proper' summer this year, beginning in mid-June and continuing. That's how summers used to be when I was younger.  People smile more when the sun shines, so let's hope all readers feel happier this year. 

Time is moving on, so will be back again on Wednesday (maybe for a short time tomorrow if there are comments than need a speedy reply, or there is something interesting worth chatting about).  Anyone who reads this before mid-afternoon today and had missed the Food Programme (Radio 4 on Sunday) can hear the repeat at 3.30pm.  It's all about D.I.Y food, and quite interesting for those who  would like to have a go at making their own - previously bought - products.  Think I'll have a go at making my own bacon.  I did try it once, and it worked quite well.

But enough from me for today (too much can I hear you say?), so TTFN.