Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We've Never Had it so Bad?

Life is like our British weather,  we have a few good years of consecutive summer sunshine, then expect it should always be like that, but almost certainly this is more likely to be unusual, and we've just been lucky - for a time.  But being perverse, we then begin to grumble and complain and want it all back again.   The same thing seems to be happening with this recession.

In yesterday's Letter Page of our newspaper there was one comment (think maybe two) who pointed out that a certain family who had moaned about their current (reduced) lifestyle, should remember that many folk used to live hand to mouth less than a century ago, and this was just accepted.  As long as people have a roof over their head, and food to eat, then what's to complain about?  Seems that holidays abroad, not having the most up-to-date mobile or tablet, even wanting a larger car seems to take top priority these days. 

We have been led down the golden path of 'have what you want and pay later' purely to fill the coffers of the banks and moneylenders.  They don't care what happens to us.  In the old days of course we had a weekly pay packet and everything had to be paid from that.  Possibly we could buy some things on credit, but not using credit cards, the payments were made weekly (or monthly) again from the pay packet, and woe betide anyone who couldn't pay as the goods bought were then confiscated.

But then I'm a 'cup half full' girl, and feel that as long as we stop all this 'wanting', and return to using some of the old ways (and skills - that includes home-cooking of course), we could find we could bring back the delights of Christmas past that seem to have been lost in recent years.  In fact, families with several children would find it really a fun time once the children become involved in making the decorations, helping Mum to make the gingerbread, sweets....  even making Christmas crackers.

Maybe I expect too much. Having to go back to making things may seem too much like hard work for some. But it can be fun and very rewarding, but when it comes to readers of this blog it's probably like teaching grandmother to suck eggs (and where did that expression come from?  I can think of nothing worse than sucking an egg).

Got up early this morning so that I could fill the washing machine with laundry and get it on the radiators before they switched off.   Then went into the conservatory to move the (many) plants around, deadheading the geraniums (more flowers appearing) and giving those that needed it a watering (and that all takes time). 
Also sorted out quite a bit of the larder shelves to find out if there was anything that needed to be added to my Christmas grocery order.  Thankfully, not a lot, so am hoping that once we have Christmas over, can then exist of what we have for several weeks - and hopefully several months, just needing to top up the 'fresh' (milk, eggs, vegetables) as and when needed.  Normally allow myself £10 a week to do this, which is more than enough as usually not needed until after the first couple of months.

This 'using up' always turns out to be a fun thing to do, and have to say I'm always looking forward to making a start.  It helps to cheer up the long winter weeks knowing we are able to survive without putting a foot out of the door (probably only applies to those like myself - and B - who are retired or housebound for some reason).

Yesterday B wanted to cook himself another stir-fry and bless him, he even offered to cook a double amount so I could have some as well, but declined this time as had already prepared my own supper.  B cooked the usual 'bits and bobs' (few mangetout peas, a couple of baby sweetcorn split down the middle, carrot batons, two spring onions, one whole (small) onion, one red and one yellow mini-pepper, sliced celery, knob of fresh ginger, garlic, and mushrooms.   The protein part was some cooked chicken scraps from the freezer (thawed).

Last April Eileen kindly gave me a box of mushrooms-to-grow-from-scratch for my birthday.  I deliberately held back from growing them as they grow best naturally in late autumn, so a few weeks ago I followed the directions and kept them in the kitchen to grow.  Supposed to take 3 weeks after the initial start before the mushrooms start appearing, but it was only a week and they are now flourishing.  Yesterday picked the first three, minutes before B sliced them for his stir-fry, and I said to B, "even a Michelin starred restaurant wouldn't be able to get mushrooms fresher than these".  Well, it made me feel good anyway.   Thanks Eileen.

There were two American cooks on Paul Hollywood's prog. yesterday.  Seems they have opened a cake shop here in London, selling American-style cakes.   Don't know if anyone watched the prog. but have to say the Americans didn't look very impressed with our style of cooking.  Don't think either of them smiled once during the whole time they were on camera.  Mind you, I wasn't impressed at all with their offerings.  Each to his own I suppose.

Just one comment to reply to, this from Margie.  Don't know if you have access via the Internet to the British Census records Margie, but if you have been able to trace your family history, you may be able to find out where your grandmother was living at the time of each census (every 10 years). If so, this would then give the name of everyone else living at the same address, and you might find the name of 'M'lady'.   Maybe you have members of your family (older than yourself) who may have known more about your ancestor.   Perhaps just typing in her name in 'Google search' may come up with some information (possibly not on the first pages, but somewhere....).  Do hope you manage to find out more.

:Having discovered a frozen pork chop in the freezer (one of several) today am thawing this out and first sealing it in a pan, then finishing it off in the oven with a tray of roasted vegetables (made using odds and ends of veggies: bell peppers, onions, parsnips, celery, butternut squash...).

Normally I buy the large bell peppers, the red, yellow and orange (disliking the green ones), but they are not cheap, and recently have changed to buying a pack of mini-peppers, these tasting 'sweet' like the larger ones, but much smaller and pointed, not round.  The pack is £1 (isn't everything that price these days?), but has loads of peppers in it that store well in the fridge, and each one is the amount I would normally use.  Having to cut a chunk off a large bell pepper causes it to begin to deteriorate fairly rapidly, so the mini-peppers work out much cheaper, and last longer.

Although I'm often having a moan about how fruits (and veg) don't taste as good as they used to (many nowadays seem to have no flavour at all), have to say that it is a real pleasure to be able to buy seedless grapes after having spent years spitting out pips.  We always keep the grapes in the fridge as this way they stay beautifully crisp and quite crunchy when cold (lovely to eat in the hot weather), and the way I like to eat them with cheese.  Other people may prefer to eat them at room temperature.

Several months ago I had a go at making a Pork Pie, and instead of using a traditional recipe, decided to use some minced pork, first putting an onion and some rashers of bacon in the food processor to 'mince up', adding this to the pork along with some grated apple, then using this mixture to fill the pie case.
There was me thinking I'd invented it, but of course no recipes are new, and recently I've discovered virtually the same pie, made in the same way for centuries - but called 'Fidget Pie' (aka fidgety pie). As this is one worth making for the festive table (it keeps well in the fridge for several days), you might like to try making it.  I certainly will be.
Normally I'd be using ready-made shortcrust pastry (as am hopeless at making my own), but am giving the hot-water crust version as it is traditional, and using lard instead of butter makes it less expensive. If you haven't cider, use apple juice or add an extra apple (grated).  The suggestion with this recipe is to use both cooking and eating apples.  No fresh sage?  Then use half a tsp of dried sage, or omit.  Nutmeg can be substituted for mace.  My own version does not contain potato, but this traditional one does.

Fidget Pie: serves 8
1lb 2oz (500g) plain flour
1 tsp salt
5 oz (150g) lard
7 fl oz (210ml) water
butter for greasing tin
beaten egg for glazing
pie filling:
1lb 2oz (500g) minced pork
1 tsp salt
4 fl oz (125ml) cider (see above)
4 sage leaves, chopped (see above)
good pinch ground mace (see above)
1 tblsp brown sugar
4 oz (100g) bacon, finely chopped
8 oz (225g) onion, grated
8 oz (225g) peeled apple, grated (see above)
1 large potato, grated  (see above)
Make the pastry by putting the flour into a bowl with the salt. Put the lard and water into a pan and heat until the lard has melted and the water has just come to the simmer.  Pour this into the flour and mix well together.  Gather into a ball and turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth.  Cover and set aside.
Mix together the pork, salt, cider, sage, mace, and sugar, then add the bacon, onion, apple and potato.  Using (clean) hands, mix well together.
Take a 9" (23cm) springform tin (minus its base) and place on a baking sheet. Line the bottom of the tin with greaseproof paper, and grease the sides of the tin with butter.  Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to make a large circle and use this to line the tin, allowing some to overlap the top rim.
Put the filling in the case, pressing it down firmly to extract any air bubbles, and flatten the surface.
Roll out remaining pastry to slightly larger than the top of the tin to form a lid,, brush the pastry edges with water then cover the filling with the  pastry, pressing it down and crimping the edges together.  Trim off any surplus and brush the pastry with beaten egg.  Make a small hole in the centre to allow steam to escape, then bake at 200C, gas 6 for 1 hour, then turn off the heat and leave in the cooling oven for a further 10 minutes (if your oven has a cooling fan, then reduce heat to 100C for the final 30 minutes).  Leave to cool in the tin before removing, and leave to become completely cold before eating.

One of the many Christmas 'specials' on sale at the moment are Mini Sausage Rolls.  But if you have ready-rolled puff pastry and fresh sausages plus a couple more ingredients, why not make your own like NOW, and freeze them away to bake on the day you wish to serve them.  To cook from frozen, just add 10 minutes to the cooking time given.
This recipe has a great tip: adding water to the sausage meat helps lightens the mixture and also helps to steam the pastry as it cooks.
If you wish to omit the garlic and herbs, choose a 'herby flavoured' sausage instead of using sausagemeat then remove the skins, working the water into the sausage meat..
Mini-Sausage Bites: makes 20
half tsp crushed garlic (opt)
handful fresh parsley, chopped
2 fl oz (50ml) cold water
1 x 400g pack of sausagemeat, or sausages
ground black pepper
1 x 375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, beaten - for glazing
Mix the garlic, parsley and water together.  Put the sausagemeat (or skinned sausages) into a food processor and whizz on high speed, pouring the garlic-flavoured water into the mixture along with a good grind of pepper.
Cut the pastry in half lengthways.  Divide the sausage mix in half, and spread each half along each strip of pastry, forming into a sausage shape as you work, but leaving a half-inch (1cm) edge clear.
Roll the pastry tightly round the sausagemeat, brushing the ends and edges with the beaten egg.
Use a sharp knife to cut each roll into 10 pieces (each about 1"/2.5cm long) and place on a baking sheet leaving space between each.   At this point they can be frozen for up to a month.
To cook, brush more egg all over the pastry, put the tray in the oven and bake at 200C, gas 6 for 25 - 30 minutes (allowing 10 minutes longer if cooking from frozen), until the pastry is puffed up, crisp, and the meat has cooked through.   Remove from oven and either eat hot, or place on a cake airer to cool and serve cold.

As it is Norma the Hair day tomorrow possibly followed by coffee with my neighbour, will not be blogging until Friday (and only then if I've got my weekend bake-off for the social club sorted - so it may be 'expect me when you see me'). 

Even though severe frost was forecast, no sign of any on the lawn or rooftops so far, but it is very cold, and have to say I am enjoying snuggling up warm in bed just feeling the cold night air (from the close-by open window), nipping the tip of my nose.  The cold and almost frosty air seems to have its own special smell, but nice with it.
Thankfully (for my old bones) the bedroom is still warm at my bed-time (heating goes off at 9.00pm and I'm now in bed by 10.00pm) and also in the morning as the heating comes on at 6.00am for three hours).  The sunny days we are having also helps to keep the rooms warm (when it shines through the windows).  We've had much worse weather at this time of year.

Who knows what will happen weather-wise to our British winter.  We hear first of the massive typhoon in the Far East, more recently tornadoes in the USA, and yesterday some severe weather that caused chaos in Sardinia, and it's not all rains and winds or even earthquakes and volcanoes, Australia - and often California - has some really bad forest fires.
It does seem that weather conditions are becoming more extreme, but whose to say this is caused by global warming?  Our earth has always had severe weather patterns in the past, maybe thousands of years between each one (a short time in the earth's calendar), and we are just fortunate to be alive when the earth is having a bit of a snooze before it starts letting us know again who's the boss. 

In this country, our main problems are caused by excessive rain that causes flooding (and a lot of that due to man's seeming need to cover land with concrete where the rivers normally burst their banks). We often get high winds, sometimes hurricanes, and in recent years we again are having snow - but remembering the snow of my youth, you ain't seen nothing yet!
Let us hope that is all we have to cope with, and as long as we can build up a small storecupboard of necessary foodstuff, to see us through any bad weather that we may have, then we should be comfortable enough.  Add a few candles and a box of matches to the stores just in case the 'leccy' goes off.  Or have a few torches (with new batteries) placed ready to hand. 
Incidentally, candles kept in the freezer burn for a lot longer than those stored at room temperature (works with tea-lights too).   Soap, removed from wrappers, also has a longer 'used-for-washing' life as it begins to dry out.  Stored in a glass bowl, soap can make the bathroom (or bedroom) smell lovely, and unwrapped soap stored in drawers also adds perfume to the clothes therein.

Anyway, that's it for me for today.  Be back with you again as soon as possible.  TTFN.