Thursday, 29 May 2008

More on Rain

If you have read the comment on yesterday's posting, you'll see one made by Mary Jane, who lives in Reno. She reminded me that rain can be positive and I have to agree, though reluctantly. I remember what it was like in Cyprus when, after 4 or 5 months, we had the first rain of the winter. It was an uplifting, enlivening event. Though I have never seen it, when it rains in the desert, the world comes alive. However, the unrelenting rain and heavy, rain burdened skies of the last few days have not been at all uplifting, at least not for me. And I'm still left with the vision of Heathcliff in Tenerife.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

I'm so fed up with the rain but then again who isn't!

I suppose that the title of this blog says it all. It has been raining since Sunday and I think that it also rained last week. Not that it matters, since the rain seems endless and it could have been raining for months for all I know! I think that it might be my fault. In novels (not any that I would write) sometimes nature reflects the feelings of a main character. If my life were a novel, then that would explain the rain. Then again, I've often thought that if the weather improved in some of those novels perhaps the lives of the heroes and heroines would too. How cold, wet and depressing was Wuthering Heights but if they had lived in the tropics or even southern Europe, how different their lives would have been. You can't brood when the sun is shining, at least not for long.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


There is something wonderful about this new art installation in London, though perhaps art installation is not quite the right description of it. It's called a telectroscope and has a look of some magical invention from Jules Verne. People in London and New York can look in their ends of this telescope like apparatus and see the people at the other end. I think we should have these all over the world. Perhaps they might bring about a greater closeness between people. I don't know whether it would increase our understanding of each other but we might see that the people in the other city aren't much different than we are.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Ah, the weather!

It's a three day weekend and one always hopes for good weather, even for a few of those precious days off. Saturday was quite nice and I spent it up in London with Emma wandering around Southbank and attending an interesting performance of A Good Soul of Szechuan. I also managed some work on my garden, both in the morning and once we got home. Sunday dawned gray and rainy so we decided to go to the movies, Indiana Jones. It was good and a great way to spend a wet Sunday morning. The rain stopped in the afternoon, and though it was was changeable and the wind was quite strong, we managed a short walk and an ice cream by the river Thames. Today, it couldn't be worse. It has rained continually and there are severe weather warnings out for rain. Up to 3 inches. Ouch! I lost all of my lupin spikes over night and they are now sitting in a vase on my dining room table. Alas! I'm so glad that I took a photograph on Saturday morning. I don't want to be one of the people who moan and groan about the weekend weather on Tuesday morning so I think that I'll either go to the movies this afternoon or choose to enjoy doing the jobs around the house that I have left undone!

I've been trying to create a blog about cooking and eating in hard times. Pru Leath, an excellent food writer here, was saying yesterday on a radio gardening programme that she was going to write that sort of cook book next so I think that perhaps I will the challenge in better hands and just continue with the occasional post here. I do go back and forth on this. What is the point of me writing, I think. (Do you remember the frequent examination of this question, you who read this blog now and then?) Today's answer is that I need to write. I could just have a journal but I don't think that I would keep it up in quite the same way. So, I continue!

Here's an interesting posting for any of those looking to make changes. Funnily enough, much of this seems reminiscent of the the 70's and 80's.

Eating Healthy for Less

by Meg McGowan

Keeping monthly expenses to a minimum allows me the flexibility to live with a writer’s unpredictable income. If the pen has not been as mighty as it might be, the one area of the budget that can always be squeezed is the food bill. Fortunately, eating cheaply and eating healthy have a lot in common. If the gourmet organic food trend has almost convinced you that only the wealthy can eat well or if you’ve come to accept your high grocery bill as better than a high medical bill, take heart. Here are my top twenty-five tips for eating healthy without eating up your retirement fund.

1. A plan is essential. Think in terms of creating new rituals and rhythms for your life rather than more schedules and routines. Take time to think about what you want to form the basis of your life and your menus. Eating healthy and eating cheaply rarely occur without some forethought.

2. Give some thought to why you want to make a change. If you are already eating well but you want to spend less money, ask yourself why. Of course most people would like to have more money left after paying bills, but why do YOU want more money? What will you spend it on? Define your goals, then make sure you follow through. If you want to eat better, being specific about your goals will help you formulate your plan. What is most important to you — buying more organic foods, less meat, food without preservatives, dairy products without hormones, eggs from uncaged hens, whole grains, more variety, less fat? Knowing what is most important to you establishes priorities, which creates a place to begin and forms criteria to help you make decisions.

3. Limit your repertoire. Variety may be the spice of life, but too much will give you indigestion. Most of us have kitchens filled with ingredients (especially spices) that we rarely use. One strategy is to collect about two weeks worth of recipes that meet your criteria for both cost and nutrition. Cycle through them, then begin again. Or designate each day of the week for focusing on a particular type of food: Monday, soup in cold months and salad in warm months; Tuesday, tofu; Wednesday, pasta; Thursday, eggs; Friday, pizza, Saturday, sandwiches; Sunday, beans and rice. Variety and flexibility are built in. Soup might be from a can, from a mix or from scratch depending what is on sale and what is in the cupboard. By beginning with just a couple recipes for each category, the system stays manageable.

4. Organize a food exchange. Convince a few friends to join you in an informal food tasting. When each of you cooks a favorite inexpensive, healthy meal, make a double batch. Divide the extra into sampler sizes for each participant. Everyone can take turns sampling and providing samples of new recipes without having to purchase all the ingredients, only to discover that half the family hates it.

5. Or swap complimentary foods. I have a friend who loves to make soup, but her husband rarely eats soup. I like the idea of making soup, but I rarely get further than imagining a robust pot simmering on my stove. Instead I make a variety of quick breads and trade my friend for soup. We both get homemade meals with less work and less cost.

6. Drink more water. Even if you drink bottled water, it is still the cheapest beverage available. By consuming the recommended eight glasses of water a day, you support all your body’s systems and reduce the number of more costly beverages you consume.

7. Eat less meat. Most Americans still eat too much meat relative to other components of their diets. Meat also takes the biggest bite out of the food budget. The answer seems almost too easy.

8. Grow your own herbs. A vegetable garden is also a good idea, but an herb garden is much less daunting. Herbs require little space or care, and once established, most provide a continuous harvest. Fresh herbs add a gourmet taste to any meal. They also provide nutrients. You can buy fresh herbs at the store, but for the price of a few sprigs you could buy the whole plant. Freeze or dry your harvest at the end of the season and you can use them all winter.

9. Good produce gone bad can make you feel as though you are throwing your money away (though, I hope, you are composting it!) Expand your selection of produce on hand and reduce waste by using high-quality frozen vegetables available in large polybag sizes. You can easily add a handful of frozen peas, carrots, and corn to a recipe, then reseal the bag and tuck it back in the freezer. Frozen veggies can augment rather than replace your fresh produce purchases.

10. Look for recipes that don’t have a lot of ingredients or that lend themselves easily to substitutions. You can always be creative and add herbs, spices, or vegetables that you have on hand.

11. Make meal preparation a family time. Meals prepared together nourish each person’s spirit as well as their bodies, and every step of preparation at home saves money at the grocery store. Avoiding convenience foods means food that is fresher and has fewer preservatives.

12. Decide where you can and cannot compromise. I stock up on regular name-brand spaghetti sauce when it’s on sale (preferably with coupons as well). Most of the sauces are preservative free and I can recognize all of the ingredients. I buy only organic milk and free-range eggs. Your priorities may be different but should be in line with your own values.

13. A diverse diet costs less at my local food co-op where I can choose from a wide selection of bulk pastas, grains, legumes and rice, without having to buy more than I need. Look for stores that also let you select only as much produce as you will use. Farmers markets are often a good source for finding flexible quantities at excellent prices.

14. Keep snacks simple. Healthier snacks tend to be cheaper snacks. Gourmet chips abound, and though they may be baked not fried none are as healthy as carrot sticks. Other choices that tend to be low in fat, calories and cost are seasonal fruits and vegetables, pretzels dipped in mustards, popcorn (the traditional evening snack served at the Heartland Spa), and graham crackers.

15. Make your own convenience foods. Blend your own spice mixes. Prepare an extra large batch of pancakes or waffles and freeze them between sheets of wax paper to pop in the toaster oven at breakfast time. Freeze chocolate chip cookie dough in pre-formed balls to bake later. Many of the mixes in Make a Mix Cookery and More Make-A-Mix Cookery (H.P. Books, 1978 and 1980) can be modified and prepared using high quality, organic ingredients while still saving you money.

16. Realize that if you can control costs on items you consume regularly, you will realize the greatest savings for the least amount of effort. You can purchase organically-grown coffee beans for far less than a barista-made beverage — even if you add organic, hormone-free half and half. The same is true for any snacks and meals consumed away from home. If you make and take your own, you control the quality and the price. And remember: one simple change that saves you a dollar each weekday adds up to over $250 per year.

17. Consider, however, that paying extra for the feeling that someone else is taking care of you may be meeting an emotional need. If this is the case, is there an alternative way to meet your needs? Can another family member start the coffee in the morning? Would a neighbor or co-worker be willing to bring you coffee in exchange for a small favor in return? An extra benefit of trading is a more genuine feeling of being nurtured.

18. Play the stock market. Stock up on non-perishable items you use regularly when they are on sale (Here’s where your plan comes in handy!). When prices rise, you can serve yourself a large share of savings.

19. If you are really ambitious, you can freeze fresh fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak and their prices are not. Berries are best frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then bagged, so they are easily separated. Even if you are not too ambitious, you can freeze your leftover, slightly wilted vegetables for soups or stews. Fruits can be frozen and added to muffin, pancake or waffle batter.

20. Never go shopping without a list. If you don’t have a list, go home and put the tail ends of all of your frozen, polybagged vegetables together in a melange. Serve with your last piece of cheese grated over bread heels and toasted. Return to the store tomorrow when you have a list.

21. Never shop when you are hungry.

22. The more often you shop and the longer you are actually in the store, the more money you will spend. This is why preparation time saves you money. Not only are you able to think about what you want, away from the hypnotic hum of the merchandising machines, but you also spend less time in the store and need to make fewer return trips for forgotten items.

23. Put your intentions before you. If you are full of menu ideas while shopping but your follow through is less than stellar, jot a quick list of your plans as you unpack your groceries. Post the list in a prominent place in the kitchen.

24. Keep things simple, and begin with small bites. If you suddenly decide that you are going to cook only from scratch, it is likely that you will end up with a cupboard full of ingredients that will torment rather than tempt you and a huge bill for that most expensive eating option, take-out food.

25. Choose a starting point and begin. My personal touchstone is oatmeal for breakfast. It is where I began and what I return to if I feel I am losing my way. Oatmeal is easy, cheap, and good for me. It means I don’t have to think in the morning. I can eat it plain or dress it up with whatever is on hand or on sale. With that one piece in place, I start my day with a tangible affirmation of my resolve to eat healthy for less.

Whatever your first step, simply take it, now. If you wait until your plan is fine-tuned, you will lose your enthusiasm and become bogged down in details. When you move your household, you can’t wait until each picture is hung in the right spot to resume the business of your life in a new location. So it is with all change. Decisions are made, the framework is shifted, and small adjustments are made in all the days that follow.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

My Garden again!

A great recipe: ragù bolognese

Ragù Bolognese

Spaghetti Bolognese is a typical Britalian dish created bearing in mind the ethnic Italian origin but adapted to suit British taste. This dish doesn't exist in Italy - the original dish originates in Emilia Romagna and it's called tagliatelle alla Bolognese. The main difference is that flat ribboned pastas are used instead of spaghetti and the ragù sauce doesn't contain herbs at all.

Genuine ragù Bolognese is a combination of at least two types of meat, like lean minced beef and pork, plus oil and butter, a little wine, an onion, plump ripe tomatoes and tomato paste.

25g (1oz) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
250g (9oz) minced beef
250g (9oz) minced pork
6 tablespoons white wine
1kg (2lb) polpa di pomodoro (tomato pulp)
1 teaspoon concentrated tomato purée
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and fry the chopped onion. Then add the meat and fry until golden brown. Stir in the wine, tomato pulp and tomato purée. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid and leave to simmer for about 2 hours stirring from time to time.

Serve with freshly cooked tagliatelle and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan, if desired, but purists like this dish without.

Old cook books may show the way

I decided last night to go through my bookshelves to see if there were any books I could find new homes for. In among my cookbooks I discovered 'Never too late' by Stella Atterbury. I collect interesting cook books that have a narrative to them. This one I found in the Oxfam shop in Egham. It was published in 1963. The author and her husband went down to the west country in the 50's when he retired and started a hotel and restaurant. Till then she had only cooked for her family. It has some interesting basic recipes interspersed among the narrative. I've decided to start going through it see what recipes might work in the context of the 21st century, especially with recession and harder times ahead. I don't know about other countries, but in the UK people seem to have forgotten to cook with a basic larder. They spend unnecessary amounts on expensive food and then, according to the press, throw a third of it away.

We have all sorts of cookbooks and television cooking shows here but nothing that shows people how to do things such as feed a family of 4 for 3 days on a large chicken. I was thinking that I might start a cooking blog just to pursue back to basics.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Adirondack chairs again!

Naomi wrote in a comment: So that's how you spell adirondak. Growing up I always thought they were chairs from Outer Rondak. I never could figure out where that was...."

My giggle for today!

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Chair in my garden

Is does look lovely in the garden, doesn't it? I've always wanted to have an Adirondack chair (in Canada they call them Muskoka chairs) but I've never had the money or been in the right place to get one. Last spring I saw some at RHS Wisley but they wanted £450 per chair. Admittedly they are made from cedar which doesn't need that much upkeep. However, I couldn't afford even one. So, when I went into the Futon Store in Staines yesterday and saw one and it was only £79, I bought two. I know it was extravagant even at that price, but it was now or never (at least that's how I felt). I am now the proud owner of two Adirondack chairs made in China of ash. It's not cedar and they weren't made in Canada but they will remind me of being at the cottage whenever I sit in them.

This summer our living room furniture is moving to Washington D.C. with the owners of our house. At that point, the chairs may come indoors to give us somewhere to sit until we decide what we want to buy. I'm looking forward to having them there as well.

The weather has been glorious today in our part of southern England. It might almost be Ontario in the summer (but not has hot!).

Finally some nice weather!