Wednesday, March 12, 2014

More to Life than...

Whether it is the onset of Spring, or because I've changed my routine, but all of a sudden I've lost interest in cooking.  All I wish to do is just rustle up a meal for B (I can usually make his favourites without even having to think what I'm doing, I've made them so often), and throw together a salad for myself.

Spring-cleaning has suddenly taken me over, and for me that's really strange.  Don't think I've done a proper spring-clean for years, but this year is going to be different.  The full Monty so to speak.

So far it's been sorting the wardrobes out, and chucking away a lot of paperwork that we don't need.  Today - being such a glorious day, did a load of washing (summer bed linen - the ones with the daisies on - have now replaced the winter patchwork, so all the winter linen needs packing away until autumn) and for the first time was able to hang them out on the washing line in the garden where the warm sun dried them in a very short time.

Once the laundry had been hung out, B and I went to Glasson Docks where B needed to go to a ship's chandlers for some rope.  The countryside looked wonderful, the grass fields like green velvet, and cottage gardens full of crocus and daffodils.   The Lancaster open spaces had great carpets of purple, white and yellow crocus, and great banks of daffodils along the roads. 
When parked in the marina the water was like glass, not a ripple, not a quiver, one of those perfect days that we get so rarely, and so lovely when we do.  It was also very warm in the sun, slightly chilly in the shade (I was wearing short sleeves), but as most of the time I stayed in the car was quite comfortable.

In our own garden, all of a sudden the spring bulbs (tulips and daffs) have burst up through the soil and some already coming into flower, in another week several of our containers will be full of daffodils with the tulips following shortly after, and maybe even at the same time. 
What did seem strange was that so far no trees are showing any leaves, normally these are just showing around the time the spring bulbs flower, so it looked as though all the trees had died (which they haven't).  Now and again we saw one of those early flowering trees (small pink flowers, possibly a type of ornamental cherry), but apart from the evergreens, the lack of leaves did make the countryside look a bit barren.  Roll on May when all the hedgerows will be covered in white blossom, the trees with young green leaves and the azaleas and rhododendrons taking over. 

While I remember, a two-parter is starting on BBC 1 tomorrow (think 9.00pm) called 'Famous, Rich and Hungry', where celebrities go and try and live on a very low food budget.  Methinks this will be one worth watching. 
Next week Jimmy Doherty has a programme on about the rising cost of food and why this is happening and continuing to do so.  So another I wish to watch (think it might be next Tuesday, probably on Channel 4 but not sure).

Whether this is of interest or not, feel it is worth the telling....  This recent challenge (to not buy food but use up what we have....) has worked well in that ten weeks went by without me needing to buy any food except topping up fresh foods such as milk, eggs...    That meant over £200 kept in my purse that would normally have gone on food (admittedly half of that would have been put into store).

These savings I've worked out will pay for two Donald Russell meat offers, and at least six once-a-month delivery of organic vegetables.  Cooking the old-fashioned way (meat and two veg), this means we can have meals made with top quality ingredients for six months without having to raid my current food budget as these will have been paid for by the money saved.  
Of course all food bough previously had been paid for, but as most of the stores were bought only when on offer/reduced, then used sensibly as a means to feed us for several weeks, this way it really feels that the 'super-foods' bought from money that has been DELIBERATELY saved, hasn't really cost me anything.  

There will still be a need for me to 'top up' the fresh, but as these don't cost a lot anyway, there will be plenty of food budget left over for me to buy a few 'treats' (avocados, asparagus etc). and still keep within the budget.

All readers who have tackled the above 'challenge' will have discovered how much money it does save, and if we do this at least once a year (I often do it twice, once immediately after Christmas, the other in mid-summer), we will find we can raise our standard of cooking without it costing more.

Think the secret really is that home-cooking from scratch saves so much money that even when our food budget is low we can still put good food on the table, and not so long ago I did a trial to find out how much food £10 a week would buy, and it turned out quite a lot.  At least enough to feed one (or one adult one small child) with enough food left over that could be used the second week - leaving more money then to buy the same again plus different foods that last more than a week (such a porridge oats, rice, pasta, flour....).  We showed something like that in The Goode Kitchen series, where a small store cupboard had a few items added each week (some were used in the dishes demonstrated) and by the end of the series (10 weeks) the cupboard was full.

My own larder is changing.  Not so many 'unnecessaries' now I've taken control of myself' and concentrating on the foods that are what I call 'survival rations' (corned beef, tuna, sardines, chopped tomatoes, baked beans, bread mixes, flour....). Most of the time our meals are made from foods in the freezer (meat/fish and some veggies), and the fridge (vegetables and salads).  Baking potatoes and onions are stored separately.

Today B requested fish, but this time not a risotto, so decided on a poached salmon steak with salad. The salmon steak/fillet was vacuum packed so decided to cook it in the bag and see how it turned out. Worked wonderfully, just simmered for about 5 minutes and then left to cool before removing from the pan and the bag.  The skin peeled off very easily and it was cooked perfectly.

As the salmon wasn't that large, decided to thaw out a few tiny prawns that were in a bag in the freezer.  Made a little bit of Marie Rose sauce to coat the prawns then put them into a very small dish. In a bowl made a mixed salad (shredded iceberg, watercress, mushrooms, diced red mini-pepper) and half a large avocado - still left in its shell, drizzled with lime juice and covered with cling-film, the lot put onto one large platter and into the fridge ready for B to plate up the meal in any way he wished.

For myself made the same salad (but without the salmon and prawns) adding chopped cucumber, a sliced banana, a finely sliced shallot, and the remaining half avocado.  With a little reduced calorie Heinz mayo and a drizzle of lime juice this was really refreshing.   Both versions were perfect for our evening meal at the end of a warm sunny day.  We also had a lovely sunset.

With Margie mentioning a drop in temperature (Canada) and more snow forecast, it could be we still might have a cold snap.  Our pear tree has buds on, so if we do get heavy frost this will kill the flowers and we will get no fruit.  However, the little tree is close to and sheltered by a brick wall that faces south and as it warms up during the day it releases the stored heat during the night as up to press this has protected the tree during blossom time when in previous years there has been a frost.

Most gardens have 'frost-free pockets' and the best way to find these is to go into the garden early in the day after a night of heavy frost and make a note of the areas that have no frost on them.  These are places where the more tender perennials can be planted.  Not that we've had much frost this year for me to even notice, I think only once this winter has there been any noticeable frost on the lawn. 

For several years now we have always had a heatwave at the end of April, but last year the warm spell came at the end of March.   We seem to be having something similar this week, three weeks earlier.  If this 'moving back the season' keeps happening, we will be having barbecues in the garden on Christmas Day.

Sorry this is not a very interesting blog. Hardly worth writing.   Have a feeling it might be better if I return to writing first thing in the morning when my mind is clearer and I'm less tired.  But first must take the opportunity of having more free (morning) time so that I can get on with the Spring cleaning, but unfortunately this would not make interesting reading.

Bed-time (I keep yawning as I write), so I say my farewells for now and be back again in 24 hours. Do hope you are all able to enjoy some of the good weather while we still have it.  TTFN.