Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Losing The Plot.

My lovely dream last night (at a cookery demo in a hotel, close to London, spending much of the time with the lovely Brian Turner) ended up with me ready to leave to return home and couldn't find my handbag - which course contained my purse, return rail ticket, my money, credit cards... perhaps fortunate that I'd left my mobile phone at home, as that would have been in the bag too... was still searching for it when I woke up.

Thankfully, real life has not yet thrown any major problems at me (for the moment).  My main concern is for the weather, not for us (we are warm and - so far - away from the worst), it is the other parts of the country, and those poor people who are having to leave their flooded homes that is distressing to see.  America and Canada too are having severe weather (of the frosty/snowy kind).  I asked B why this should be, and he - being very knowledgeable about things like this - told me that it is due to the earth's 'wobble'.  The earth, being on a bit of a tilt, rotates around the poles, but not always evenly, and every 30 years or so it tilts more in one direction than the other, and then the weather gets much colder in certain areas of the northern hemisphere (and presumably hotter in the southern hemisphere)..  This is - apparently - what is happening now. 

I do remember it was in the 1940s when we had a really severe winter, snow as deep as my waist and the heating at school had failed so we had to keep our overcoats on (no taking time off in those days). The snow lasted for weeks as it did in the late 70's when we had another really bad winter.  We've had snow in other years but nothing nearly as bad, so it is due, almost overdue.  So maybe we had better be prepared for it this year.  Let us hope the government is.

There have been letters in the paper criticising our government who - they say - are always eager to help other countries when they have problems (flooding etc) but have done little (or nothing) to help those here.  Surely they should be prepared to give the same money to help our own people? Or at least do SOMETHING!

An article in yesterday's paper has given me something to write about today.  Well, of course, it's necessary to be old, like me, to feel that we have lost the plot when it comes to living how we should.
The article is headed 'Rising fuel bills force pensioners to stay in bed to keep warm'.  A poll has revealed that 'one in eight (pensioners) also said they planned to stop using some parts of their home to save money, and 64% said they were having to wear extra layers of clothing as a result of rising energy costs'. 
There was a lot more about the cost of fuel and possible subsidies or bills cut to aid pensioners, but what I can't get my head round is that the above was what we all had to put up with pre-war, through the war, and for a long time after.  Central heating for the masses was pure luxury, now it expected to be the norm.

In the 'old days' (like when I was a child), practically all homes had at least one open fire, most rooms had a fireplace, even bedrooms, although usually these were not used.  Quite often the fires were also used for cooking. 
My memories of open fires were huddled round them when the weather was really cold, and can recall my legs almost had a scorched pattern on them, almost geometric, when I sat close.  Much of the heat from a coal/log fire went up the chimney, so we needed to sit close to stay warm.

Memories of heavy lined curtains pulled across the window at dusk, and a similar curtain hanging from the room door (to keep out draughts) - these kept the room warm, but then a fire needed a supply of fresh air (a draught) to keep it burning, so we had to avoid sitting directly between the gap in a door (or window) or we'd feel the very cold air cutting through our flesh.   Once the curtains were drawn, the doors closed, the fire did not burn so well, but at least by then the room had warmed up a bit.

Practically everyone kept one room warm during the winter, shutting up the other rooms until the spring.  Bedrooms were normally unheated anyway so don't count. The only other room used would be a kitchen, and that too could be extremely cold. Perhaps why spending time in the kitchen was not a favourite occupation.  Put a pan of stew on the stove then get out quick.

Also, everyone wore several layers of clothing during the winter.  That was normal.  We used to wear vests, then light-weight jumpers, then heavier jumpers or cardigans over that, and quite often needed to wear mittens on our hands.  Woollen stockings were also worn, and thick slippers indoors and fleece-lined leather boots outdoors (also sheepskin jackets,or heavyweight overcoats, not forgetting the knitted scarves and hats/hoods/gloves). 
Man-made fibres today certainly take away the problem of washing pure wool (which can either stretch or shrink depending on how it is washed), in these earlier days we all wore wool during the winter, and how very warm this kept us. 

I have one lambswool jumper (that thankfully is machine washable) and keep this for wearing in the really cold weather because it truly does keep me warm.  Unfortunately the moths seem to keep getting to it, so quite a bit of it is darned (have more holes to darn) but as it is black, the darning is not noticeable, and I don't care anyway if it it.  It's very cosy and that's all that matters.

Was trying to think back to the past and wondered about older folk in those days.  It did seem that many did not live alone as it was fairly common for a grandparent (esp after the death of their spouse) to then go and live with one or other of their offspring.  Nowadays it seems that youngsters don't even want this, and with so many elderly folk now living in care homes, this seems to prove this (but I could be wrong).  
So today it would be right that many pensioners are finding it difficult to keep both warm AND find the money to by food, 'heat or eat' they call it.  There is no-one there to provide for them (or who hasn't given thought to it, and elderly people are too proud to ask).

Some readers of this blog have mentioned they have wood-burning stoves (or getting one), and these do give out plenty of heat, much more than a normal fire-grate.  Forgot to mention that in the Christmas celebration episode of The Medieval Farm' (or whatever it was called), they collected logs for the fire to cook the festive food for the Twelve Days.  Something I hadn't realised was that different woods burn either slowly or quickly, and depending upon whether the primitive 'oven' needed to be hot, moderately hot, or cooler, different woods were used to give the correct heat.
Oak was said to burn the longest, so would be a good timber to use in a wood-burning stove I would think (the longer it takes to burn, the more economical?).  When you think of it, 'oak-smoked' fish has a lovely flavour, and supposed the oak chips they use to provide the smoke will smoulder for many hours without needing to being renewed.
It crossed my mind that - these days - many pieces of oak furniture are sold at auction houses for very little money indeed ('dark wood' not popular these days), and maybe damaged pieces could be bought for as little as £5 (even less).  These could then be chopped up and burnt.

The severe storms we have had could also provide much timber as so many branches have been blown down (also whole trees).  My friend Gill's husband used to drive around to local farms, offering to remove the fallen wood, taking with him his (battery driven?) chain saw, then load it into a trailer and take it home to use on their multi-fuel stove/cooker.   Don't think they ever needed to buy any wood all they years they had it.

Another thing that crossed my mind yesterday was how I often work out the cost of a meal we could make.  Does this help? Not sure.   It's fine to know that one portion works out at only 65p (or less), but this only happens when we already have bought the ingredients, and the costing is only what has been used.  We cannot buy (say) half a potato or onion, even though we need to use only that amount.
So we always have to start by paying out more, and then making what we've bought go as far as possible. 

Probably those mags that are now showing how to make a week's meal for (say) £25 make more sense than a recipe that says 'costs £1.75 per portion", as a shopping list to cover what is needed for the week shows where the money goes.  Even then we are expected to add ingredients from our storecupboard (vinegar, seasonings, herbs, spices, oil....), so again not quite a true picture of the cost.

There are times I wish I could just put on my coat, walk out the door, go and live in a bed-sit and on benefits, and really live like many have to these days.  Then perhaps I'd find out how difficult it is to cope. Mind you, I'd probably enjoy the challenge, and having learned a few skills might even end up living fairly comfortably.  Again it is 'knowing how to' that can make all the difference.

Even with this current challenge of mine (the one I start every New Year), the tendency is to top up the 'fresh' each week (and I've suggested spending no more than £10 when this is done).  Yet, in pre-war days (and during war-time rationing - that lasted until the early 50's), we didn't have any real 'fresh' (as we know it today) to buy.  Hens tend to stop laying during the colder months, so eggs were in short supply (during rationing we had only one egg per person per week, and during the winter it was one egg per person per fortnight).  There were no salad veg, usually only apples, and some pears as available fruit (we had to make do with the larger dried fruits such as prunes, dates...).
You could say all that was needed to be replaced was fresh milk.  Nowadays with UHT milk (keeps for 6 months), we could manage with that.  Home freezers can now hold meat, fish and unseasonal vegetables such as peas, green beans, sweetcorn...  so we could ask ourselves "do we really need to buy anything more?"

At the moment I'm trying to control my urges to ask B to go to Morrison's and buy me iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber.  Yet I don't really NEED them as there are plenty of other veggies in the fridge and veggie basket.  I've just got used to eating salads for my supper (had it again last night). I WANT salads. 'Want can't have' used to be a saying in my childhood.  Perhaps I should say it to myself again.  Maybe settle for finely shredded cabbage with grated carrot and onion and have coleslaw instead of lettuce.  I'll give it a try.  At least do have some iceberg left as bought three just prior to Christmas and they keep fairly well in the fridge (I keep checking).

Yesterday for lunch had half a can of chopped tomatoes in which I'd mixed half a can of 'light' baked beans (sugar reduced? - who cares, they were on offer). With a good dollop of 'Fiery Chilli' ketchup, this really warmed me up, so by the time the heating was on again was able to cope with a cold supper.

My intention of making veggie soup yesterday fell by the wayside (as many of my intentions often do).  B chose fish, so instead I made him his favourite fish risotto, adding a few (thawed) cooked prawns as a treat (mainly because I could then also add some to my salad.  Maybe today I will make the veggie soup. 
Forgot to make the bread, so will have to do that today as B is down to his final crust.  I'll make the extended dough so I can also make plenty of baps (rolls).   I'm blaming my concern on keeping track of the food in store, checking what I have and then not actually cooking much of it.  If I lived alone I'd probably live on sarnies (and then end up weighing stones more - that's what bread does to me).

In the freezer I have several packs of lamb mince (bulk buy then divided into small packs and frozen), so this week (maybe) might make the following as I have everything else but the lamb stock.  Somewhere in my jar of mixed stock cubes I may have a lamb stock cube, otherwise I will use chicken stock.  Instead of canned lentils I would use about quarter of a pint- or more - of red (split) lentils as these would become tender in the time it takes to cook the dish.
As the meat used is minced and will spread itself around, my suggestion would be to make it go further (and also save money by doing so) I would use less and make up the shortfall by adding more lentils/veg.  Having said that, 9 oz (250g) is not a lot anyway to serve four, and - as always - I tend to work with imperial weights so would use 8 oz (225g).  Every ounce/gram saved means more money left in the purse..."A Penny Saved, is a Penny Earned" is printed on the top of a wooden Victorian money-box I still use, and burned into my memory.  The Victorians were a very thrifty people.

Keema Lamb Curry:  serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
9 oz (250g) lamb mince (see above)
1 onion, chopped
2 tblsp curry powder (low - med. strength)
1 x 400g tin lentils, drained (see above)
1 pint (600ml) lamb or chicken stock
7 oz (200g) frozen peas
Put the oil in a pan and fry the lamb mince with the onion until browned. Stir in the curry powder and fry for a further minute, then add the lentils and stock and simmer for 20 or so minutes until thickened.  Stir in the peas and cook for a further 3 - 4 minutes, then serve with boiled/steamed rice.

A different way of serving minced lamb that might be more enjoyed by the younger folk (who like to eat on the trot so to speak), would be this dish (if you already have the pitta bread in the freezer, using less ingredients than the above recipe will make this end up even cheaper). If you wish to cut even more corners, just serve the yogurt without the chilli sauce.
Interestingly, this dish has almost twice as many calories (per serving) than the above curry.  Not sure whether that is good or bad.  Depends upon whether you calorie count or not I suppose.  Youngsters burn off more calories than us older folk anyway, so why not let them have them.
Kofta Pockets: serves 4
9 oz (250g) lamb mince
4 oz (100g) breadcrumbs
half small onion, grated
1 tsp dried oregano (or mixed herbs)
salt and pepper
splash of sunflower oil
8 mini-pittas, warmed
shredded lettuce
5 fl oz (150ml) yogurt
2 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
Mix the minced lamb with the breadcrumbs, onion, oregano, and seasoning to taste.  Stir in a splash of oil.  Form into small meatballs, then put into an ovenproof dish and roast at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 -20 minutes until browned and cooked through.
Mix the yogurt with the chilli sauce, then fill the mini-pittas with first a little lettuce, top with the meatballs and finish with a dollop of the yogurt dressing.  Eat and enjoy.

Thanks for your comments.  Margie mentioned concern about her frozen food defrosting when her electricity failed.  When our freezers are kept full (if gaps we can always stuff them with something), the food will stay frozen for at least 4 days just as long as the freezer door is left unopened. 
Most house insurance policies cover the loss of frozen food when there is a fault, usually for only a few pounds per year. Anyone with a freezer should check to see if they are covered and if not, ask their insurance company to include it.

A thanks - and welcome - to Margaret who yesterday sent a comment without giving her name. She lives in Houston, Texas, but as interested in the region where we live, am wondering if she is an ex-pat?

Just wish I could make good pastry.  Taaleedee enjoys making/rolling it, and her home-made pastry using rendered down meat fats (plus some Trex) would ensure a very light and flaky pastry, perfect for savouries such as her Yorkshire Egg and Bacon Pie.   Having lived in Yorkshire for a good 40 years, cannot remember coming across this regional speciality.

Many vegetables do start sprouting, especially around the time when they would normally be expected to grow on when left in the ground.  I've noticed parsnips tend to do this when kept for some time, even in the fridge, and carrots tend to grow 'hairs' (baby roots) all over them when left for too long, but I just remove the peel and still cook the carrots.  Suppose this tendency to grow on in their genes.
My advice Lizzie (for what it's worth) would be to slice your swede/turnips in half and see what they are like in the core.  If the flesh is still solid, then they should be perfectly alright to cook.
Once onions start sprouting, the centre parts then change colour to brown or green, and don't taste good at all, even the white outer layers seem to change flavour, but I have used these bits occasionally.  Myself tend to stand a sprouting onion on a jar full of water (root end touching the water - rather like forcing a bulb in a hyacinth glass), and then letting it carry on shooting as I can then cut back some of the leaves and use as a substitute for chives.
Have to say that I would never have believed that anyone lucky enough to live in Australia (where it is now full summer) would ever eat (at any time of the year) swede or turnip.  For us these are mainly a winter veg (and not that much liked anyway).  Always assume (obviously wrongly) that those who live in Oz tend to have barbies and eat outdoors most of the year round.  Blame it on watching too many 'Neighbours' (was once addicted to that prog, but when we moved to Morecambe at that time our TV sets couldn't receive Channel 5,  and when we were able to never got back to watching it again).  All I remember is the sun always seems to shine in Australia.  It always seems to shine whatever soaps/dramas we watch, even the English ones.  I believe they are able to make the sky look blue with the help of technology and bright lights focussed on people gives the impression of sunshine.  Doesn't matter what we watch on TV these days, can we believe any of it?

We had a howling gale again last night, and this morning we seem to have clouds on one side of the house and blue skies the other, still a strong breeze, and still cold, but not yet below freezing, so suppose we are lucky in that respect.   All we need is a dramatic drop in temperate (as has happened in the US) and the waterlogged countryside will freeze over and everyone can skate to work.
In the old days, when we had more severe winters than we do now,  it was common for many people to skate to work using the frozen Fens as 'roads' to travel from A to B.

Am having to talk myself out of chatting any longer as I really MUST get on and bake that bread, and do other culinary things.  Keep forgetting what day of the week it is (every day is the same to me), but believe today is Tuesday, in which case I will return to blog again tomorrow (but not on Thursday being hair and coffee morning day).  Hope you can join me then.  TTFN.