Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Year Moves On

Can't believe that it will be the 1st March on Saturday, meaning that in a few weeks we will be putting the clocks forward an hour.  How quickly winter seems to have passed, perhaps because we are still waiting for the snow.  Some parts of the UK (certainly Scotland) have had snow, but the temperatures in the main have been unseasonably warm most of the time (at least above freezing).  Not that we haven't had bad weather - all the high winds and rain, worst since records began etc.  But not in Morecambe (although we have had the winds), and suppose I'm getting to the point of all I'm concerned with is my immediate surroundings and comfort therein.  How selfish is that?  Put it down to old age.

As another sunny day has dawned, my spring-cleaning instinct is rapidly increasing and I'm determined this year to get our home sorted, plenty of books that have been read and re-read can go to the charity shops, also quite a few other 'clutter'.  Now that we have down-sized and only one bedroom (we had three big bedrooms in Leeds, with linen for one double and three single beds), still have a lot of bed linen/towels that are now not needed, so these could be useful to a charity. 

Yesterday I was mentioning how much time we waste these days (due to technology etc), and have to admit I'm almost as bad (if not worse) that many of todays younger generation.  They may spend a lot of time texting etc, but I spend several hours writing my blog in the morning, and before I go to bed like to play a few games of chess on the computer now that I've discovered this can be done.  Began dismally, losing most games, now I am winning most of them.  Practice makes perfect.

The rest of my morning is always spent in the kitchen, then into the living room to watch lunchtime news on the TV, taking my mug of soup with me.  Stay to watch 'Doctors', and - depending on whether anything else culinary needs to be done - then sit and watch 'Perfection', followed by 'Escape to the Country (as long as the price is not too high, then I can imagine I just might be able to buy one of the lovely homes should I win the Lottery - and how gorgeous some of them are, esp. the kitchens).  Still continuing to sit as - at the moment - the next programme is with James Martin.  Only when that has finished am I likely to stir my stumps and move back into the kitchen to cook B's supper.   If lucky, this can be timed so that I can watch at least the last half of 'The Chase' (ITV), then comes the BBC news (headlines only so that we can then watch Eggheads - or the current spin-off), and Portillo.  Half an hour then before the start of the soaps, so hardly worth me moving from my seat for the rest of the evening.   When is there time to do anything else?

Am seriously thinking of writing my blog late evening (instead of playing chess) then can use all the morning in more productive work, this possibly turning out to make more interesting reading when I come to write up my 'daily diary' (blog).   Don't think this will make much difference to those who read the blog anyway, just ignore any date/time that may appear (blogger used to use US west-coast time anyway - 12 hours behind us).   For that matter I could write my blog late at night, keep in in 'draft', then publish it first thing after my morning coffee.  But as I really wish to keep away from the comp at that time (old habits die hard) not sure.  "Write (publish) and be damned" don't they say?

Next Tuesday will be Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day, so am feeling smug as I've already made a batch that is ready and waiting in the freezer to re-heat and serve the traditional way with lemon and sugar.  Does anyone need a recipe to make pancake batter?  Can give one (or more - there are several variations) if you wish.  The main thing to remember is, once the eggs, flour, milk have been whisked together, is to add a little melted butter to the batter, this help to prevent the pancakes sticking to the pan (that itself should have been lightly greased before heating.

After Shrove Tuesday, comes Ash Wednesday - the start of Lent.  Perhaps a good time for me to begin giving up some TV, start writing my blog in the evenings, and beginning the spring-cleaning. Having a good reason (in this instance - religious,if only for six weeks) to have a less easy life-style might put me on the right track to continue, although I don't think this is what is meant to happen.  I'm not supposed to enjoy my 'hardships' (but then I usually find I do).  Perhaps I should give up TV altogether. 
If the extra household chores don't get done and I fall by the wayside, then will have to start wearing my assortment of hats and begin role-playing again. This really DOES work.  Pretending to be a cleaning lady, or a cook (Mrs Bridges type, even a professional chef), certainly focusses the mind and I zoom through all the work that needs to be done as though I was fully trained and experienced in 'the trade'.  Don't know why I don't role-play more often as it can be extremely enjoyable (memories of role-playing 'au pair' come to mind as B was able to take part in that. Say no more!!). Sadly that was when I was much younger.  Don't think this would work now.  No, stick to cleaning lady and professional chef, with a bit of horticulture thrown in.  Time now to sow quite a few seeds. I've got the seed compost, got the seeds, just need the mojo.

Just one comment to reply to.  In the UK Marjorie, the Little Gem lettuce (a mini-Cos variety), is normally sold two to a pack.  Thes keepswell in the fridge (as does iceberg - my favourite as it is slightly less bitter than cos lettuce).  The nice thing about Little Gem is that their leaves are spoon-shaped, and perfect for holding a filling (could be Prawn Cocktail, Waldorf Salad, Coronation Chicken, etc....) making them ideal to fill and display on large platters when giving a buffet party.  Just pick up a filled leaf and eat as 'finger-food'.

Beloved requested 'some sort of beef' for his supper yesterday, so thawed out a portion of already-cooked stewing steak to make a hob-top casserole.  As I wished to watch afternoon TV (how sad am I?), decided to pre-cook the sliced carrots, parsnip wedges (I remove the core), and chunks of potato in the microwave - saving me having to stay in the kitchen to make sure they didn't over-cook when in a pan on the hob.  I have a microwave bowl that has an inner perforated bowl, so put in a little water, then placed the prepared veggies in the inner bowl, covered it with a plate (I'd lose the original cover) and set the microwave for 8 minutes.  Then left them to cook while I watched the news.

When I came to make the casserole, the veggies were perfect.  Why I've never cooked them this way before defeats me.  Just shows how we can get into a rut when it comes to cooking.  'If it works, then don't fix it' can sometimes be ignored, especially when we find 'a change is as good as a rest'.

The casserole then easily made.  First fried a chopped onion in a little beef dripping, added the small amount of water from the microwave veggie container, a spoon of Bisto Best beef granules to thicken to make a gravy, then into this went the veggies, and finally the thawed meat.  Left to simmer for a few minutes whilst I steamed some shredded (organic) spring greens.  Then plated it up and called B in to eat his supper - that he thoroughly enjoyed.  It certainly saves me a lot of time to pre-cook meat and freeze it ready to make casseroles/spag.bol/chilli con carne/Cottage pie/curries....  Time saved to watch more TV?  Perhaps not such a good idea after all. ' Use the time wisely Shirley' (I talk to myself quite a lot these days), 'make it work for you, not against you' (if I sit too long my joints seize up and I need exercise to help me lose weight).   Always there is that inner me telling me what I should be doing, and what I should not be eating, and do I listen?  Do I hell!  Suppose this inner voice is what is called a 'conscious'.  Another Lenten task.  Listen to it and obey.  Just can't wait for next Wednesday. Not!

Still mindful of this current 'use 'em up' challenge, here is another recipe that makes good use of what might still be in your larder.  If you haven't a jar of roasted peppers, we could still roast them in the oven, to peel and use, or - for that matter - halve and roast tomatoes and use for the same purpose. Mozzarella is the traditional cheese for making pizzas as it melts easily and is delightfully 'stringy' when cooked and sliced. but we could use an alternative (grated) hard cheese. 
Many of us keep a pack of tortillas in the larder or freezer, but we could also use pitta bread, naan bread, or chapatis. Come to think of it, we could also make a slightly thicker than normal egg pancake next Tuesday and use this as the base for this meal.

Although rocket makes a good accompaniment to this dish, we could instead serve mixed salad leaves (home-grown of course), or watercress/baby spinach etc.   Use the recipe as a guide then you could end up making several variations.
Speedy Tortilla Pancakes: serves 2
4 flour tortillas (see above)
1 ball mozzarella, sliced
1 jar roasted peppers (use about 150g)
1 tblsp olive oil
rocket or chosen salad leaves
Put the tortillas onto a large baking sheet, and scatter them with the mozzarella.  Drain the peppers and chop them up into large chunks, tossing these in the oil, then put these over the cheese (reserving any oil left over).  Bake at 200C, 400F, for 5 - 7 minutes (or grill them if you prefer) until turning golden at the edges and the cheese is melting.
Serve with the chosen salad leaves drizzling with the reserved oil.

This next recipe makes good use of seasonal vegetables (that may need using up) plus spices (that we may have lurking in our larders).  In a way it is Bubble and Squeak that is more Bubble and Shriek. It's that good.
For the 'green veg' use Savoy Cabbage, spring greens, or Brussels sprouts, even spinach if you wish. Or why not a mixture (a good way to use up small amounts of a lot of different veggies). Instead of parsnip you could use butternut squash or swede/turnip, or a mixture.
If you don't have the given spices, then just use an anonymous curry powder/paste.   Neither B nor I like the taste of fresh coriander, so I'd probably use mint/chives.  Or even parsley/dried mixed herbs.  As ever, make according to personal tastes.

As a main dish this will serve four, as a side dish will serve eight.
Spiced Parsnip 'Squeak': serves 4 or 8
1.75lb (800g) parsnips, chopped into chunks
half a Savoy cabbage, shredded.  OR...
...10 oz (300g) Brussels sprouts, shredded
handful frozen peas
juice of half a lemon
2 oz (50g) butter
half tsp ground cumin
1 tblsp garam masala
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
salt and pepper
bunch fresh coriander, chopped (see above)
Cook the parsnips until tender, then drain and set aside.  Blanch the greens  in boiling water for 3 minutes (or less) until tender, adding the peas for the final minute. Drain and set aside.
Mash parsnips with the lemon juice and HALF the butter, then mix in all the other ingredients except the remaining butter and fresh herbs.  Add seasoning to taste.
Melt reserved butter in a large frying pan and tip in the parsnip mixture, pressing it down well to make a large, thick 'pancake'.  Cook over medium heat until crisp underneath, then flip it over using a fish slice.  It doesn't matter a jot if it breaks, just press it back together again until crispy on both sides (and possibly broken bits in the middle as well).   Serve hot, cut into wedges.

Final recipe today makes good use of canned beans.  Butter beans are the best to use, but most canned white beans work well when making this spread.  Also a good way to use up a tub of cream cheese (Philly type, but own-brand is cheaper).  If you have herb/garlic flavoured cheese in your fridge, all the better, otherwise blend in a little garlic and finely chopped fresh (or dried) herbs to the unflavoured cream cheese.  Being me, I'd probably blend in some chilli ketchup as well.
Using the recipe below, this can be spread on cheese biscuits as 'nibbles', or onto the inner lining of pitta bread (instead of butter) before filling with salad (sliced tomato, cucumber, celery, lettuce etc) for a packed lunch.  Or use instead of butter/marg when making salad sarnies.

Always work with cream cheese at room temperature as it then blends in easily to whatever else is added.  When used chilled it remains firmly 'lumpy' even when whisked with cream.
Bean Spread: serves 4
1 x 410g can butter (or other) beans, drained
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp lemon juice
good pinch of salt
125g garlic and herb cream cheese
Whizz the beans in a food processor (or mash well with a fork), then pour in the oil and lemon juice, also adding the salt. Blitz well together to make a smooth paste, then add the cream cheese.  Put into a covered container and chill.  It will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.

And that's it for today.  It is very nearly 11.00am, so you see what I mean about my blog taking up much of the morning to write.  Considering I speed-type, and often begin before nine, and it takes only a few minutes to read it back, why does it take so long to write it?   Does the same happen with other bloggers?  Ages to write, quick to read?  Or is it that time moves faster now I'm older (it really does), and my fingers (and mind) work much slower than I believe?   All I know is that I need to take myself in hand, sort out my priorities and make the best use of the time I have left.  Pity to waste any of it.  There was a time - when much younger - I used to get up at first light, work solidly through the day, go to bed (exhausted) close to midnight, and achieve in that one day more than I probably manage to do in a whole year now.  Well, it feels like that anyway.   As I am sure you are now realising, I'm finding that growing old is not turning out to be very pleasant.  After Lent I'm going to have a go at growing old not gracefully, but disgracefully.  Might as well grab a bit of enjoyment while I can.  So watch this space, who knows what I'll begin doing next. 

Friday tomorrow - coffee morning followed by Norma the Hair (it should be the other way round to look my best), so won't be blogging.  Will be back on Saturday, but - as usual - again taking Sunday off.  By Monday back again and into March with the hope that we might even get a heat-wave towards the end of the month (over the past six or so years we have been having really hot weather for a week either end of March or from mid-April).  So had better get on with the spring-cleaning and other chores so that I will have real time to spend sitting in the garden soaking up the sun.   If the sun doesn't shine then I will sit and sulk in front of the TV.  And eat chocolate.  TTFN .