Saturday, December 07, 2013

Measure Twice, Cut Once...

When my B worked in the rag trade he said there was a saying "measure twice, cut once", as so many new to the business would make mistakes when cutting out clothes and a lot of material ended up being wasted.  The sense behind this saying could apply to almost anything, especially in this 21st century.  As ourselves "do we think before we buy?", and if not, think again for we might just be able to buy what we want somewhere cheaper, or maybe decide we don't really need it after all.

One of my problems (if you can call it that) is that I keep harping back to the past.  How good it was then, how more skilled we were than youngsters of today.  But when I was young I also did stupid things, didn't save when I had spare cash - just went out and spent it.  Enjoyed trying out all the new convenience foods (remember Vesta curries et al?), didn't really bother much about the nutritional side of cooking, couldn't even cook properly for YEARS.  Did at least keep up the other 'old skills' that saw me through many hard times.

At the moment am reading a library book by Margaret Powell ("Below Stairs/Climbing the Stairs" ISBN 987-1-4472-1183-9), and the author gives a very good account of how different life was between the upper and lower classes.  There is much in there that has also been shown in 'Downton Abbey', things that seemed to happen in many of the larger establishments.

When having coffee with my neighbour on Thursday, I mentioned the book, and then went on to Black Friday and Cyber Monday (that she hadn't heard about).  We reminisced about the past, how different it was today as it was then.  My neighbour's mother, being a housekeeper, had (as well as Agatha Christie), been housekeeping to some titled people, and what a lot of the younger generation don't seem to realise (by that I mean anyone under the age of - say - 40), is that many people were wealthy because they didn't throw things away, they 'made do'.  True they had servants, but these were paid a very low wage (but they did get their bed, board and often working clothes free), and in return they repaired everything, cooked economically, and made sure there was no waste.

My neighbour recalled all the carefully darned bed linen,  worn sheets would be turned sides to middle, and small holes would have patches sew over them.  Same with table linen.  Socks of course were darned, men's jackets had leather patches sewn over the elbows even before they got worn (so the material then didn't get a chance to wear thin. 
The gardener would grow all the fruit and vegetables in the kitchen garden, and chickens would be kept.  Some larger properties also had a 'Home Farm' that supplied all the milk, butter, cheese and meat. 

Everyone who worked in service for a large house saved far more money for the owners than was paid to them for wages.  But what about us?  Well, myself like to think that all my kitchen appliances are my 'servants'.  I have no kitchen maid to trim and chop the veggies, but my food processor does most of the work and demands no fee (once it has been bought and mine was a second-hand gift).
I don't need a washerwoman to do all the laundry and ironing, my washing machine does all the washing for me - and what's ironing? (hardly ever iron these days).

Even the middle class used to have servants.  My grandparents had two, and although after the war things changed, my mother had a 'cleaning lady' three days a week.  Perhaps one reason why I've never quite got the hang of housework.  Never had to do it, don't know how even now (well I do, but have to give an excuse for all the dust and clutter, although there was a time when our home - in Leeds - really did sparkle, but B's incessant need to want the room looking a mess 'because it looks more comfortable', made me decide not to bother anymore.

However much I love B (and of course I do, very much), he really irritates me when he comes in, throws his jacket over the nearest chair on Sunday night and leaves it there. "Couldn't you please hang it up?" I ask him.  "Why?" he says, completely bemused "I'm going to wear it again next weekend".  He also leaves other things lying around, so instead of tidying them up I decided to copy his example.  Now it is he suggesting I clear my things up (which I do - very often), but it hasn't stopped him leaving clutter.  But as long as he's happy...

Anyway, back to that book (I do keep drifting off the subject don't I?).  Margaret Powell is of the age where she has lived through much of the time that I have (not quite sure of her age but think she is older than I am, but do remember her being on TV when her book came out).  She recalls how things were between the classes, and how even the poor folk seemed to be able to enjoy Christmas more than the 'gentry'.  In these old days, those without money were content as long as they lived within their means, unlike to day where people now seem to want to 'ape their betters' (as she puts it).

M. Powell also talks about the many changes that have happened, how public houses now are not the packed and quite noisy places they used to be, where the men really enjoyed having a good time.  Women never went into pubs alone (even with a girl friend) they always had to be accompanied by a man.  Nowadays pubs are geared up to providing food (bistro pubs), and televisions screens always on so no-one now gets a chance to have a good laugh or make any noise that disrupts those watching snooker or football....
It's a book very worth reading as it does show how much things have changed, and - in many instances - certainly not for the better.

This gives me a chance to ask readers: What is the point of Twitter?  I've never gone onto that website, but from what I hear it seems that lots of people seem to want to read about the daily (and often hourly) happenings of celebs.  To me that is the same thing as voyeurism.  Apparently 'we' can all send 'tweets' back to the celebs (do they reply?), and for what reason.  Just to say "oh, so-and-so actually contacted me today" then continually brag about it.

The comp/Internet etc is a very good way to keep contact with distant friends and family, and I believe Facebook does something like that, but again open to everyone to see.  My personal life I like to keep fairly private (although you wouldn't know it considering what I write on my blog), and prefer to email (or even write a real letter and send it snail mail) to whoever I wish to contact.  What has any of it to do with anyone else other than the person I send it to?

Before I reply to comments, must mention a flyer that came through the door.  This from 'farmfoods' , with of course plenty of Christmas offers.  Their turkey is lower in price than the cheapest on that Christmas Dinner list given yesterday.  In fact their turkey breast crown (same price as a whole turkey) gives more portions (could serve 8). 

Watched a repeat of a programme yesterday evening with Jamie Oliver and his friend Jimmy (Doherty?).  They were competing against each other as to who cooked the best Christmas Dinner.  Jamie used foods bought from a supermarket, Jimmy grew/reared his own, aiming to provide a Christmas Dinner that would have been eaten in the past (although both served the same foods).  Not sure how many were sitting down to eat the meal, I saw 8 but there may have been more. 

My feeling was that 'Jimmy's own' didn't really show how cheaply a meal could work out if we grow your own produce in either a back garden or allotment.  He bought young turkeys and then let them grow to maturity, he also did a lot of planting and growing of vegetables (many of which did not survive), at the end of it he said the meal had cost him £1.400! But then he was working costs out on a business level. 
Jamie's meal worked out to 'only' (!!!) £60, and to me that was more expensive than it need be, but no doubt it was London prices, and he did include champagne (Jimmy made his own cider - which they all preferred, so that was one good thing in his favour).

I'm forever griping about how TV cookery programmes expect us to cook what they show us, and spend as much as they do.  But as long as we don't feel there is no other way but to follow their guide, we should always be able to cook the same but spend less.  It's a bit like the theme of today's blog - 'measure twice, cut once'.  In other words think before we buy.  Ask ourselves if we could adapt the recipe, perhaps use a little less meat and add more vegetables...   I like to think that anyone could give me a recipe, tell me how much it would cost to make, and I'd be able to come back and explain how to reduce the amount by plenty of pennies (maybe even £££s).  Just don't send me one of my own recipes because I'll already have done that.

Looking at the farmfoods 'flyer', it really makes me realise how much can be bought that will save us time, but that also we could do ourselves that would save money.  Of course we need to buy a turkey (doubt any reader has reared their own in the back garden), but do we need to buy ready-mashed potatoes. Or even ready-roasted spuds?  Yorkshire puddings? When did they become part of the traditional Christmas dinner?
I have already bought frozen Brussels sprouts as B likes them 'soggy', so why spoil the fresh ones by over-cooking? No need to buy prepared baby carrots, or roast parsnips.  Frozen peas would be a must (for us all I think),

There is some enjoyment (at least for me) to look through these flyers (we get many coming through the letterbox at this time of year), as it gives me a chance to find out if the offers are real bargains or not.  'Any two for £1.60' is not bad for Hovis loaves' and '15 fresh eggs for £1' is a very low price (under 7p for each egg) and when I see the latter I'm really tempted to go to farmfoods and buy some of the worthwhile offers they have, but I won't because (other than the eggs) there is nothing else I really need.  Just wish I did.  I'm 'measuring the contents of my purse - twice; and spending just once' and it won't be on eggs because if I send B to farmfoods for these he will come back with umpteen more 'money-savers' that he thought I'd like (but he'd really like).

Yes, gillibob, we did have very strong winds here in Morecambe.  When B went to the gym yesterday afternoon (the gym is at the end of the prom, on a bit of land curving round along the side of the Bay), he said the tides had gone right over the protective wall/stones and lifted great sheets of tarmac that covered the car-park, and blown them across the main entrance door to the gym.  People were able to get into the gym through a side door, but a lot of repairs will have to be done (the gym is insured thankfully).

A welcome to Barb (Canada) who writes to tell us how she has taught her children the basics, and now they are grown up this will undoubtedly help them to keep the costs down in their own homes. Sadly, a couple of generations have grown up not knowing many (or any) domestic skills, and is it too late for them to learn?  Let us hope these skills will be again taught in schools.
It's not a matter of believing we don't need these skills any more because we can now buy most of what we need/want.  What happens if there is some disaster and we have to rely only on what we are able to do for ourselves? 
There are lots of things I've learned that I've never bother to continue doing, but it's like riding a bike, once you've learned you never forget how to, and when the need has arisen (and it has - often) I can return to the old ways to keep living comfortably. 

At one time buttercup, the newsagents used to give their unsold newpapers to the fish and chip shops (to use for 'wrappers'), and maybe even now they have left over papers that they just throw out (to be collected by the 'bin men').  For a few pence they might sell a great stack of them too you, and then you can use them for fuel.

My friend Gill used to live in the country and had a big wood-burning stove that heated the kitchen and was used for cooking.  It made wonderful bread.  As well as burning wood, they used to chuck in anything that would burn, even old shoes! 
Gill's husband used to go out with his car and trailer and collect fallen trees, big branches etc, from woods, but also from farms where farmers would let him have the wood for free if he sawed it up and took it away, so he also took along a chain-saw.  I doubt they ever had to buy any fuel for the stove as there was so much 'free' and dead wood lying around.   Freshly fallen wood needed to be dried before it could burn successfully (otherwise it made a lot of smoke and gave off little heat), so this was stacked in an outhouse then brought indoors to stack close to the stove to dry it off more rapidly.

Only making cakes for the Foodbank Tessa, they are not allowed to give anything 'fresh' with the food allocation, but do like to have lots of cakes/biscuits/scones etc to give out with cups of tea or coffee when people come to collect their food parcel.  This next weekend they are having either an open day or a 'gathering' of (invited and other) people, mainly mince pies and a drink, but now will be also having cakes etc that I'm making for them.  l
Most of the cakes are tray-bake type, and will freeze (so they always have some to give out to those waiting for the food parcels), and so will be making light fruit cake, sticky gingerbread (that improves with keeping and doesn't really need freezing), some Parkin, and lots of gingerbread men for the children.  Am hoping to decorate the latter with icing to turn them into Father Christmas, Snowmen, etc.  Will also be making biscuits in fancy shapes, possibly with open centres that I can fill with crushed sweets that will melt and look like stained glass when cooked.

As am going to B. Grange on Monday, Tuesday have an apt at the Health Centre (blood taken for six months diabetic check), a busy week for me.  So will wind up today with just one recipe that - because of the colours - has a very attractive appearance.  It also uses up vegetables that you may have lurking in the fridge/vegetable basket and that need using up.
Although vegetarian, it could be served with a pork or lamb chop/steak, or chicken.  Myself prefer the veggie option.  It's cheaper!

Although this recipe is based on the ratatouille veg, you could make your own choice from what you have.  Myself roast both red and white onions, butternut squash, red and yellow bell peppers, aubergines and courgettes (when in season), parsnips.... sometimes I add cherry tomatoes about 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
When wishing to roast veggies, I usually prepare them earlier in the day, putting them into a large bowl, drizzling them with oil, then toss to give all a light coating of oil.  Then cover the dish until ready to tip contents into a roasting tin.  Just saves a bit of time later.
If you have no fresh basil (unlikely this time of the year) and wish to add this flavour,  you could drizzle a little green pesto over the veggies.

Roasted Ratatouille: serves 2
1 small aubergine, cut into chunks
1 courgette, cut into chunks
1 red onion, cut into quarters (or sliced)
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled, left whole
1 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
7 oz (200g) tomatoes
6 oz (175g) pasta penne (or other shapes)
handful basil leaves (opt)
Put the prepared vegetables and garlic into a roasting tin.  Drizzle with oil, add seasoning to taste, and toss together.  Place tin in a hot oven (200C, gas 6) and roast for 20 minutes, then add the tomatoes and return to the oven and roast for a further 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta as per packet instructions, then drain, reserving 4 tblsp of the cooking water.  When the veg is tender, tip the pasta, water, and basil into the veg and toss together.  Remove the soft garlic, and squeeze these on top of the veg once it has been served.

No more blogs planned until Tuesday (and that may have to wait until after I've been to the Health centre, unless I get up early to write before we leave (before 9.00am), or publish something late Monday to be read on Tuesday).  It might just be there is some foodie news that really does need a quick write-up, so all I can suggest is watch this space, for you never know I might return unexpectedly.  As I said a busy week for me and the Foodbank has priority.  Hope you enjoy your weekend and the bad weather has not affected you in any way.  TTFN.