Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Souper star

The soup month got off to a good start on Monday with a vegetable noodle soup that did for two days. My stock pot hadn't been started, but I had a way round it: the tinned asparagus I got came with plenty of asparagus-stocky liquid, so I made the roux from that. Some cabbage leaves, some leek, a handful of mushrooms and the asparagus, a simmer and then into the blender. Back into the pot with some vermicelli, boil and serve. It was lovely, too.

We had seconds last night before going out to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to watch Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Chris Barber playing scratch jazz sets whilst we drank red wine at £3.80 a glass.

For tonight, it's mushroom broth. I usually make cream of mushroom, so this is a departure. I'm also making it differently to the usual ways of these things, by frying off the onion and the mushrooms together to get the flavour out. I've got dried mushrooms that I've made a mushroom stock out of, and I'll build the roux from the mushroom-onion stuff with that stock. I've also bought a broth pack - a bag of oats, lentils and barley that the greengrocer does - to make it "hearty", as they say in the commercials.

Meanwhile, my satellite dish plan has ballooned a tad (in space terms, 93 million miles). I haven't watched any live television since Being Human went on hiatus. And that was the only programme I'd watched since Doctor Who finished on New Year's Day. Which suggests I only watch programmes with Russell Tovey in them, which is more true than is comfortable.

But Doctor Who and Ashes to Ashes are both back over Easter. And both are on BBC HD. My plan had been to get a standard box and attach it to my standard TV. With a bit of DIY, that's £90. And then I started following the "other people who bought X also bought Y" links. Now, this is why I don't watch QVC or Bid-Up TV. I'd see what other people were buying, throw rationing and financial caution to the wind and just get shopping. And I'm a Green socialist!!

But, if you buy the dish kit, there are special offers on the set-top boxes. And that makes HD boxes affordable. But that means a HDTV. And if you're going to spend on an HDTV, you might as well spend on a big, 42" one (size does matter. Yes, it does. Yes). And you'll need that stand they've got on offer. And some F-connectors (no, me neither, but it suggested a bag of ten would be useful).

For fun, I like to add stuff to my basket and walk away, because the capitalist scum might notice and feel the pain of a lost sale. What we need, at this point, is a futile gesture. Curses, then, to a certain large internet retailer who are on to me and have got round the problem by putting a large discount and a long interest-free offer above the "confirm order" button.

So now I'm getting my dream HDTV and satellite and don't have to pay for it... until next year, but that's, like, forever. But I'm still putting the dish up myself. Except that I'm paying the guy who put our wooden floors in to drill the holes in the wall. But otherwise I'm doing it myself. So all's well.

I'll put a red flag on the top of the set and sing The Internationale before I switch it on each day. So all will be well.

Monday, 29 March 2010

In the soup

Back from Brussels and very well fed, it's time for month three of rationing. I've got a couple of conflicting goals that I need to make fit this month's project.
  1. I need to save money. Christmas turned out to be virtually impossible to pay for - I've been running an overdraft since December - and bills continue to pile up. Being responsible people, we've made new wills after getting hitched last year, but they cost over £200. Also, rationing didn't save money. Quite the reverse - it appears to have cost a lot more, but that's likely due to a lack of planning capabilities. And I want a satellite dish in time for the forthcoming General Election (the existing digital aerial, designed for outdoor use, is propped up on a pile of books and a chair in the middle of the living room, so is slightly inconvenient; a dish will solve this issue) but it's going to cost £90 and require me to be all butch and climb a ladder and everything.
  2. The lack of fat was easy for me to cope with last time, even if I did run out before the end of the month. It was harder of CJBS, nay, impossible, but I'm not going to let him have my fat ration so he'll have to live within his means. However, he's put his foot down: he wants cheese. 2oz a week, a portion that's almost impossible to cut, has been, he says, "killing me". So I'd like to find a period that will have more cheese and use those rations for this month. But it's impossible: the cheese ration fell in every year of the war and beyond, getting down to barely over an ounce by the 3rd year of peace. It was one of the last items off the ration, in Spring 1954 (meat was the last off, in May 1954; petrol was rationed, albeit generously, until 1957, whilst Ribena and orange juice could only be got by showing your Family Allowance/Child Benefit book at the chemist until about the same time).
My thought is that I'm going to give up my cheese ration to CJBS, giving him 4oz, a respectable 100-ish grams, a week. That should allow him to put the cheese to non-cookery uses, although I'm not sure exactly what he wants it for, to be honest. I don't think he knows, either.

But that will take cheese out of my arsenal of dishes to make on the ration. Add to that the saving of money I need to make and I'm in a real bind. It could be worse: if we went on to 1946/47 rations, we'd lose bread and potatoes to points; I'd be making gruel, or possibly ersatz gruel.

I spent the 4 hours of train trips yesterday thinking hard about this and have found what I think is a solution. It'll make the blog a very boring place for a month (sorry), but will achieve these odd aims. I'm going to spend a month making soups.

Yes, soups. I went out today, the last day on holiday, and bought about £10 of vegetables to last the week. I drew down my fat ration and spent points on evaporated milk and some pasta. I also got some lentils (for the protein - hat tip to Michelle). The £10 of vegetables got me a lot, thanks to my greengrocer's low prices, so I've some leeks, a cabbage, onions, tomatoes, a parsnip and potatoes. I'll start a new stock pot today, and choose the first soup from the available veg.

With plenty of bread still allowed, we won't go hungry. And we'll get the right nutrients. And the flavours should be pretty varied, even with each soup lasting two days. And there'll be less reheated cabbage (hat tip to Scott). Yet, somehow, I suspect "dull" is going to be the watchword for this month. I may have to fall off the ladder whilst putting up the Freesat dish just to provide some light relief.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Bread, cheese and whine

As the rationing month comes to a close, so I slow to a stop with the blogging. Partially it's being busy, partially it's being fed up of rationing and partially it's because of Talk Talk.

Let's start with Talk Talk. On Friday, as we're eating dinner (fish and chip for CJBS, the last remaining vegeburgers from the ration for me), the doorbell rings. Hello, says the visitor. I'm from BT. We've just upgraded our exchange and I want to make sure that you're getting the benefit. Can you sign here to say I've been?

No, I can't, says I. You're not from BT at all, are you? You're a con artist. Go away, now, or I'll summon a policeman (I get frighteningly British when flustered).

Yeah, sure, he says, and saunters off to the next house along and rings their doorbell. So I call the police. The police are in the area, watching over the 15 year olds spewing, fighting and getting chlamydia in the town centre, it being a Friday. They come out immediately and stop him.

No guv', he says to them, I'm from Talk Talk. Look, here's my ID (which sprang from nowhere). I'm telling everyone I'm from Talk Talk. The police then call me back: he says you've made a false call. We've left him to get on with it.

Oh, for crying out loud, says I. Of course he's telling you the truth that he's from Talk Talk. It's just us he's lying to. Oh, says the controller, we'll move him on, shall we? Well, duh.

At that point, I spot that our useless communications "regulator", OfCom, have a big press release about how they've stamped out mis-selling like this. It's leading the BBC news. It's on their website. It's a big story. What's not on their website is anywhere to complain about mis-selling. I email them, pointing this out. They email back today: no, because we can't actually do anything about it (I paraphrase). First, you must read Talk Talk's full terms and conditions and its full licence. Then you must write to Talk Talk, giving the details they ask for in the licence in the correct order. Then, if they won't help, you can contact Talk Talk's in-house ombudsman. If she won't help, then you can contact OfGums. But they will only help if you've been caught by the mis-selling.

So the police and the regulator were both unwilling to do anything about the suave conman from Talk Talk at my door that night. This did not set my mood very high.

Additionally, the burgers set out to avenge themselves on me as well by making me very ill. I spent the night and much of Saturday calling god on the great white telephone. That night, from points, we had tinned soup and some bread, about all I could keep down. On the plus side, the rationing plus all the vomiting means I'm now down to a 32" waist (30" if I concentrate).

Sunday I felt brighter, but my body wasn't done yet: the kneeling in the bathroom didn't suit my arthritic hips (it's okay, it's "juvenile arthritis", and it'll be gone by the time I'm 15, I was told...) and I'm now on the second day of hobbling around with a walking stick and a pained countenance. Sunday dinner was therefore a simple one: baked potatoes with a tomato soup starter. Oh, but the tomato soup was good! The best I've done yet (it helped that I was starving by this point). The main good point was that I used so much garlic - oh, so very much - that it was actually garlic soup with tomato. And it was lovely, but you don't want me to breathe on you today, believe me.

So, what for tonight? Well, it's French Onion Soup. Some adaptations are required to get this within wartime restrictions, but it should still be good. The key to French Onion Soup is getting the onions to caramelize without burning them. Many recipes get round this by having you boil them, then add brown sugar. There's no need for this, especially if, like me, you've got used to the endless bloody stirring of rationed food. Keep them on a medium heat and keep them moving and they'll not burn.

Ideally, I'd put brandy and red wine in it, but I'm out of brandy. So I'm going to try adding some dark rum instead. Also ideally, I'd put a thick slice of bread on top, a huge heap of cheese and then grill the whole thing, soup and all, before serving (unideally, burning my fingers, usually). But I've no cheese.

However, what I do have is powdered cheese sauce. This was available in the 1940s and was, just like now, a poor, third-rate ersatz excuse for cheese sauce. But made thickly, with some extra mustard powder, then poured onto the bread and toasted and I'll have a passible imitation of what I'm seeking.

Just one more day to go with this rationing lark, then off to rainy Belgium to sit damply in various cafes for a few days. And, yes, we will be back on rations when we get back. Only this time, I must find a period of history with just a little bit more cheese available!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Subject is fatless. Repeat: fatless

Ennui again. Or more a bankruptcy of ideas. Tuesday was salad, served with riveta. Wednesday was only last night but I'm groping for what it was. I wandered around Morrisons in a greater daze than usual. Ah yes! I made CJBS burgers from cheap mince and some onion pushed together and dry-fried. I had cheap vegeburgers. And I made a version of hash browns, that in the end were more rosti because they were baked. Fairly tasty, but all my fat was used up in the preparation.

Yes, I'm completely out of fat. For lunch, CJBS had bread soaked in the dripping from the burgers (he was thrilled but failed to notice that the amount of dripping left in the pan indicated that the burgers won't've been the healthiest thing in the world), and that's that for fat until the end of this month's go at the project, although I'll stare hard at my coupons just in case I've missed anything.

Fortunately, CJBS bought fish for him to have tonight. That doesn't need fat, but I had to turn to Madame La Patten for a recipe that didn't want some.

Fish roast was the answer. Take the pound of cod I've got, push tomato slices and bits of onion into it and bake it for 20 minutes. Then put more tomato slices and bit of onion on top and bake for ten minutes more, all in a medium hot oven. I'll serve it with mashed potato made with milk rather than butter.

For me, it's sandwiches. Basic salad ones, because I'm making them to take to Harrogate tomorrow at 5am (if I don't turn up at the office once a month, they'd have no evidence I was actually working for them; and I still haven't paid off Christmas, so my paycheck later this month will be useful lest I give up rationing and start busking). The bread is unbuttered, so it'll be a bit of a chew.

The solution is to do the following: buy the cheapest bottle of wine that the supermarket do (£2.99), pick the toenails out of it, and knock it back like medicine. With this plan, I'm sure to (a) not notice that the sandwiches are dry; (b) sleep well since I need to go to bed after The Archers; and (c) regret it horribly at 4am when the alarm goes off.

Pity me.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Happiness is... asparagus soup

I'm making my leftovers go ever-so far at the moment. Friday's potato and tomato loaf was successfully combined with the champ-colcannon thing on Saturday to make a side dish. This was reheated on Sunday and served a main course to a naughty tin of Heinz tomato soup (on points).

Tonight it's being reheated again. It's getting a tad dry, so I'll serve it with a simple onion gravy. And since it's onion gravy, then it's sausages - two each - to go with it. That indicates a starter is called for, so I'm making a cream of asparagus soup. Only tinned asparagus is available at the moment, so I puréed the entire tin to start, adding some cabbage leaves: more reuse of leftover ingredients and also a good source of the fresh vitamins that the tinned asparagus will have lost.

I very finely chopped half an onion and fried it off, then built a roux with evaporated milk (points again). To that I added the asparagus gloop, then topped up with some stock from my pot and just under half a pint of milk.

Finally, with no brandy left, I put a shot of cheap rum into it, a dash of Maggi and two bay leaves, plus a handful of pearl barley and some rice for the bulk. Brought to the boil, it can then sit off the heat until I'm ready to bring it quickly back to heat and serve in a couple of hours when CJBS gets back from his much-postponed dog walk (which is happening at dog-feeding-time, leading to remarkable confusion from otherwise smart border collies).

In the meantime, I've been dealing with the usual domestic crises that seem to accumulate. I walked past the fridge - certainly a non-wartime luxury! - and heard a huge bang. No lights on the fridge. I moved quickly and decisively, which is a wrenching break with past precedent, and started to shift all the frozen food from the freezer part to the other freezer in the utility room, terrified of the waste of food. Frostbitten, I got most done, when I noticed that the other freezer was also lacking any lights. And the room lights weren't working. And the telephone was beeping in distress.

It was the downstairs master fuse that had blown. I reset it and the fridge and freezers sprang back into life.

I went back to my kitchen cleaning, emptying the sink of bleach water and giving it a quick buff. As I did, my feet got gradually wetter and the lino started to "bubble" from underneath. The sink water was exiting directly from the plughole into the cupboard underneath, where it was slowly dripping out onto the floor and below the cupboard under the lino. I pushed the pipes together - I don't know how they unjointed in the first place - then mopped up the water from the cupboard and the floor (I'll have to wait for the underlay to dry out before the lino is unbubbly).

I tipped the mopped up water into the sink, from where it immediately reappeared on the floor. The sink was leaking in two places. In fact, the sink, put in back in 2008, appears to have been held together by a cobweb and some sellotape. The slightest touch to one end of the frighteningly complicated pipework (two hot in, two cold in, two sink out, one dishwasher out that winds around the others to reach, eventually, the other side of the drain to where the dishwasher actually sits) will dislocate something at the other end, like trying to push down the lid of Tupperware.

At that point, I needed a Hamlet cigar. Or to seek the help of Ganesh in order to hold six pipes simultaneously. So I did the logical thing: I hit the pipes. And they snapped into place immediately.

No lottery win for me this week, then.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Comfort eating

How to achieve comfort eating on rations? Well, I'm glad I asked that question. What's needed is hoarding of coupons, something I'm very good at. I've not drawn on the bacon or red meat rations at all this month and I've been very careful with the cheese and fat rations.

Yesterday's dinner therefore was lavish. I made the potato and tomato loaf I'd done previously, but for CJBS I diced some bacon into his. I also spent £1.19 on the world's smallest sirloin steak, which I rubbed with salt and paprika and left to stand for a couple of hours at room temperature (always do this: meat is muscle and cold muscle contracts and cooks badly. Let your meat warm naturally for a couple of hours and it'll be much more succulent) before frying off in a tiny bit of butter for 2 minutes a side.

For me, I had cheap supermarket own-brand vegeburgers. Dripping in fat, full of nastiness and even some egg (so far, I've got away with that without spending the weekend rueing it) but they were lovely lovely lovely. And £1.25, so just within rations for red meat.

Today, I'm wanting the same level of comfort food (in fact, I should've done last night's menu tonight, but I went with the flow) but this time with leftover tomato loaf and bacon. Perhaps feeling the luxury of last night's food, CJBS set me the task of making him something very bacony with lots of tomatoes for tonight.

So, here's the plan. I've made a simple risotto with a chopped-up slice of smoked bacon, some onion and, obviously, rice. I took the top off three tomatoes, removed the pulp and added that to the risotto. On a high heat, I kept it topped with stock until the rice was cooked. Now I'll spoon the mixture back into the tomatoes and bake for half an hour in a medium oven. Tick that box!

I've lots of my tomato loaf left, but very little of CJBS's. I've peeled and boiled potatoes and will mash them. Then I'll make a champ-colcannon-type-thing with onion and cabbage, but for CJBS I'll mash the remaining loaf into his, add some more tomato slices and the two slices of bacon. For me, I'll take the tiny bit of vegeloaf and do the same without the bacon and serve with onion gravy.

A big plate of this for me, a smaller plate from him but with the stuffed tomatoes on the side. I've got some nice crusty bread (as compared to the nasty crusty bread bought yesterday and found, sadly after taking a bite, to be moldy today) to toast to serve on the side.

Tomorrow morning, CJBS gets his ideal breakfast: grilled bacon and scrambled eggs (two, saved up!) and a grilled tomato with toast - he's had a long week on the rails. I just hope he's remembered that his personal fat ration isn't infinite and, if he hasn't remembered whilst devouring that tub of Benecol margarine, that he has a Plan B for the next 10 days that doesn't involve dry toast or taking some of my cooking fat.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


A slightly odd meal today. I'd got a mixture of leftovers and shortages to make things challenging, so I had to think on my feet whilst shopping.

The other day I mentioned January's tomato shortage and the hell thereof. Well, the devil heard me: CJBS is craving cream of tomato soup, but the shelves were bare of tomatoes (there were bruised Israeli and Spanish tomatoes, but there's a war on, so they're out). There was also no evaporated milk, my favourite points spend. And his second crave, garlic pizza bread, failed epically due to there being no garlic and no pizza bread or dough.

Meanwhile, I had leftover mashed potato, having made about 3 pounds of the stuff yesterday. But we managed to eat about 2 and half pounds of mash, leaving not very much at all. So my thought of a doing something exciting with it faded away immediately.

But there was an upside. I'm such a fat miser, er, a miser when it comes to fat, I had stretched a week of butter to three weeks without even realising. So I've got lots and lots of butter suddenly (and my waste of dripping on failed Yorkshire pudding yesterday now feels better). Then I discovered a garlic bulb moldering in the back of the fridge: I don't usually go near the back of the fridge, preferring instead to just send the entire appliance to Porton Down every couple of years and asking them to help themselves to anything promising.

Excess butter and a stray garlic bulb plus some pitta bread equals homemade garlic bread. I melted a lot of butter in a pan, then added a lot of crushed garlic. Before the garlic browned, I took it off the heat and pressed each pitta into the fat. The result will be baked before I serve the meal: instant garlic bread.

Meanwhile, the soup plan was switched to mushroom soup. Now, mushrooms are an odd thing: you'd think them useful in rationing, given that they're savoury and bulking and easily fill in for meat. But Patten is silent on mushrooms. Did Britons of the 1940s not eat them? Or were they not farmed - did you have to gather them yourself and thus risk instant and painful death? Whatever, mushrooms are not something wartime recipes seem to consider.

Perhaps the mushroom soup is therefore an anachronism. But it's worthwhile. I've said this before: mushroom soup is lovely, but very very easily done wrong. To prevent that, it requires dried mushrooms (or mushroom ketchup) to get the flavour right. I made a stock from dried mushrooms, a pint boiling water and a teaspoon of cumin, left to stand for an hour. The soup is then an onion roux, made up with milk, vegetable stock and white wine - the latter a real treat in wartime - plus the mushroom stock.

So that leaves the mashed potato. I'm not prepared to waste cheese rations on it. I'm a cheese miser, too. But I did have cottage cheese and half an onion. Combine the lot with some butter and bake. That should be a useful "champ" type thing, but with cottage cheese. I'll see how that turns out.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Failing flat

Yesterday was a salad day. CJBS had a single remaining tin of fish left from his points, so that seemed to make for a good excuse to fill up on raw vegetables. I had the leftover curried rice, which was excellent cold.
Today has been cold, with an uncomfortable wind blowing in from the Irish Sea, so something warming and filling seems to work. I'm making sausages and mash, with onion gravy and steamed broccoli.

I was going to make sausages in gravy in a big Yorkshire pudding. This was the plan, but as I've said before, I simply can't make Yorkshire puddings. They never, no matter what I do, rise. I've made the batter with real egg and dried egg and vegan dried egg. I've added bicarb and not added it. I've made the batter slowly by hand and quickly by handbeater. I've made it with extra liquid and less liquid. I've made it from scratch and out of a packet.

So here's the flat, burnt, unrisen waste of an ounce of fat. And, if you've got a tip for making Yorkshire pudding (US: "popovers", in a piece of information I've just discovered), please let me know! (Especially Tanya who never fails at puddings and also writes the hysterical Gypsy Creams blog).
Meanwhile I've peeled the potatoes, boiled them and will shortly run them through my ricer, so all is not lost!

Monday, 8 March 2010


Michelle's comment on yesterday's curry has got me worrying that I've made a bit of a mistake in my lack of planning for each rationed meal.

By the middle of the war, surveys by Mass Observation for the Ministry of Food showed that more housewives knew the pyramid of nutrition than knew who Lord Woolton was and that the majority planned their meals to include what was needed for a balanced diet.

I've not paid any attention to nutrition, working on the basis that it's hard to get it too wrong when you're cooking everything from scratch. But I suspect I'm almost starving us of protein. I looked it up and I'm not serving much protein at all.

Of course, this is a genuine wartime problem: when egg, cheese and red meat have declined to so little as to be almost unmeasurable, protein becomes hard to get. I've done little to boost the amount, perhaps because, as a vegetarian, I'm probably usually short of protein even outside of rations. But for CJBS, it might make a big difference. At the very least, this has highlighted a question that Chris Neill and I wondered about on his lovely Dirty Kitchen blog: what is it with mid-century recipes putting egg into or on stuff you don't expect to be enhanced by an egg? The answer, perhaps, is: where else are we to get the protein?

Wikipedia suggests that we need 2oz/56g a day of protein. From their list, we might be getting our share from bread. But I checked the bread: 4g a slice; we're not eating 14 slices a day. So, from tomorrow, I'm going to start making a point of adding protein.

Perhaps we'll get it from today's meal, but tempered by extreme fat intake: yes, we had fish and chips (well, I had chips and mushy peas) from a takeaway. Entirely possible in wartime but expensive and often in short supply. Still, once in 3 months is probably fitting with that. And I defy you to argue with me!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ruby Murray

I wrote about this in December and January, but it's still true: I'm a big fan of the British Empire.

Obviously, not the whole raping, pillaging, stealing of land, genocide and other bits they didn't used to teach in school. No, my love of Empire is simply that British culture is thousands of times better for our contact with other cultures and the vibrancy of our immigrant populations, the vast majority of which have been here for so many generations as to be far more British than I am (it's all cousins marrying cousins in the Valleys and my family is no exception; but we think we have Bermudan and Sinhalese in there; on my Dad's side, there's sketchy evidence that we're Russian-Jewish: a nice healthy mix leading to me).

So it's a purely selfish love of Empire, because it puts lovely food in my belly, especially in wartime when the standard Patten is for stodge with too much carrot. Tonight I made a classic Anglo-Indian curried rice that we both scoffed down far too quickly to really get the most from it.

Anglo-Indian food is nothing but a parody of the real street food of India, brought back by the sons of Raj in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 19th and 20th, when the British Indian population arrived, they brought more realistic versions, but these then changed out of recognition as white Brits rushed to eat at the tables of the new Brits.

Curried rice is firmly the earlier Anglo-Indian rather than the later Indo-European variety. It starts with a chopped onion fried off in a little fat. Then some chopped mushrooms go in. Then curry powder to make a sort-of roux. As a reminder, adding extra mild curry powder doesn't make the meal hotter; putting less hot curry powder in doesn't make it milder; similar, as you learned in basic quantum mechanics in primary school, to how an anti-up-quark is not the same as a down-quark.

A tablespoon of soured cream works well at this point. Then add your rice; 3oz/75g per person is always said, but add more than that. Stir it up and start spooning in stock. Add a couple of chopped tomatoes and some more stock. Some raisins or sultanas and more stock. Alternatively, you can just add all the dry ingredients, cover with stock and walk away. But I'm used to the endless stirring by now. Keep the heat high and add more stock if the rice sticks before it's done.

When the rice is sticky, it's read to serve. A further blob of soured cream is good on top. Naan or chapati on the side makes the meal. And it did. We go to bed happy, full and rotund. And the only rations used were the knob of fat and the points (not too onerous) for the rice.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Purple-sprouting pleasure

A beautiful spring morning propelled me out of the house before noon for a stroll to the supermarket. And what I found there caused me to run back: broccoli! British broccoli for the first time this year!

I've missed broccoli. Not being able to buy imported stuff creates strange shortages - the worst was January's tomato drought - but broccoli and celery have been impossible to get domestically. And there it was: viciously overpriced broccoli, to be sure, but broccoli all the same. I abandoned half-formed plans for another salad and grabbed a carrot, a leek, an onion, a cabbage and some mushrooms.

At home I paused to open all the windows - again a first for this year - and then paused some more to wash the kitchen window, noticing that it hadn't been washed... well, CJBS bought the house in 1977, so, probably since 1977 (there's nowhere to stand to do it - a sheer drop to the basement means that the window is actually at second-floor level; I had to wash it with a mop, leaning over from the doorstep).

Then I started cooking. I chopped the onion in two, then divided one of the halves into four. I chopped up the mushrooms, leek and carrot. These then went into a medium high oven for an hour to roast to get a "deep" flavour.

The remaining onion I finely sliced, then fried off in a little fat. From that I made a roux from flour and paprika, with a shot of cheap brandy for some "bottom" (yes, I know "deep" and "bottom" are vague, but they're the best I can think of for describing what roast veg (depth) and brandy (bottom) give to  soup). The brandy is almost done and won't be replaced - booze wasn't rationed but it was difficult to get, especially stuff not made at home (ie almost everything but beer).

I put the roast vegetables into the roux and made it up with stock from my stock pot to cover. Then I put in a diced potato, for the ever-needed wartime bulking of food, and brought it to a vigorous boil. Then I added the broccoli and a few cabbage leaves and have turned the heat right down. When to potato begins to soften, I'll turn the heat off entirely and let it cook in its own heat.
This is another puréed soup, I reckon, so the separate-broth-from-veg, purée-veg, recombine-the-two thing will be later: hence the usefulness of letting the soup cool. Bring back to the heat and serve with some National bread.

There should be enough for it to be my dinner tonight and a starter for two tomorrow: all from only one rationed item - the spoonful of fat at the start. It should also be nice and warming; useful, since British weather being British weather, the morning's spring has gone and has been replaced by steel-grey skies and a chill wind. Back to winter for a few days, then.

To counterpoint doing yet another soup, here's a picture of last night's sausage hot pot, which used slightly more fat but was still well within rations:

Friday, 5 March 2010

Triumph and disaster

The Spam carbonara and the spinach and mushroom sauce respectively, that is. The carbonara was a simple roux made with some fat and a finely sliced whole small onion with plenty of flour added to make the sauce as thick as possible. Half a tin of Spam diced up and some chopped mushrooms, then a gentle heat whilst the pasta boiled.

The spinach and mushroom sauce was a simple roux made with some fat and a finely sliced whole onion and my 2oz of cheese for this week. Plenty of flour to make it thick, then the mushrooms and... the spinach. I should've known better. Fresh, raw spinach is excellent in everything. Lightly cooked fresh spinach is also good in many things. I didn't have either available. So I bought tinned.

My first experience of spinach was in the late 1970s. My dad had been in the States (or possibly Canada) with NATO and brought back booty. Mainly this was a big bag of potatoes: the British crop had failed (or been ploughed back into the land because the price wasn't high enough for the farmers) and a hundredweight sack in the hold of a Vulcan bomber came in useful. He also brought canned spinach. I can only have been about 4, but I vaguely remember the spinach being served, then taken away again by my mum, with a little polite retching. It was a long time before I had spinach again: possibly 15 years.

Thirty years later, lesson not learned. I stirred the tin of spinach into the sauce and ruined it. As CJBS gobbled his carbonara down without it apparently touching the sides of his throat, I picked at mine but each mouthful was like a spoonful of castor oil. So, for the first time in this project, I think, I've wasted food: it got thrown away. CJBS had seconds of his, whilst I filled up with garlic bread.

So tonight I'm treating myself. Sausage hot pot. I've fried off four faux sausages, a red onion and some mushrooms. I've roasted half a dozen tomatoes, then pureed them. I put the two together in a frying pan, and will now transfer the lot to an oven-proof dish. I'll layer sliced potato on top, then melt a spoonful of butter and brush the top with it. Finally, I'll cook in a medium oven for an hour and serve with some crusty brown bread on the side. There will, this time, be no waste.

By the way, for a funnier culinary disaster, read what happened to Michelle when the Rational Living household had lemon liver the other day. At least I got more than a mouthful of my disaster!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


That's yer actual French, that is.

At almost exactly the same point as in January, the rations are starting to bite. It's not that I haven't had great food. Even the potatoes last night were almost enjoyable and varied (the tomato version was the best, surprisingly; the stuffing one failed epically; the cottage cheese proved my forgotten point that cottage cheese actually isn't very nice).
But I'd really like something artificial and nasty. Plenty of E numbers, probably a vivid hue, salt, salt and more salt. And fat: hidden in the recipe, declared on the packet and slathered on later by me. I knew this was coming when, last night, I glanced at the Rational Living blog and saw that Michelle had enough points to get lots of olive oil. Olive oil! Oh, what I could do with olive oil!

So tonight it's the closest I can get to such a meal whilst sticking to rations. I'm having hot dogs. They're Redwood vegan ones, no cholesterol (although my cholesterol levels are now right down anyway) and I'm having them in a brown crusty bread roll with lettuce and tomato and "made mustard" (from powder), so it's not exactly a complete betrayal of principles.
 But CJBS is feeling the same thing. He set off to the wild reaches of Moreton with a "ditty bag" (no, me neither) full of spam sandwiches - requested, please note, Scott ;o) - but pointed out that tomorrow is his rest day, and, if he could request a cheat, he wanted a pasta dish with garlic bread. And this will actually work: I've got 2oz of cheese in, plus pasta I got on points in January and didn't use all of. There's half a tin of Spam in the fridge. So that's (almost) cheesy sauce for me and Spam carbonara for him tomorrow. With luck, I might even be able to get fresh spinach and spoil the dish entirely. And I'm ahead on butter; if I can get garlic, I can go a bit mad.

Well, more mad: I'm finding excuses to have garlic bread. What could be more mad than that?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Dem spuds, dem spuds, dem dry spuds

Alone again tonight, but still two meals to prepare: one for me and one for CJBS to take to work.

Stung by Merseytart's shock at yesterday's spam sandwich meal for the former Golden Voice of Merseyrail, I've taken his packed lunch (his "scoff" as he insists on calling it as if he hadn't gone to a fee-paying school) upmarket. He's taking rivita, chopped onion, sliced tomato, hummus and cottage cheese with him. Less convenient for eating at his desk than sandwiches (there's no meal break on late shifts) but sufficiently middle class to please everyone except his drunken passengers.

For me, I really really enjoyed last night's snacky meal that has become CJBS's pack up today. But it's better to have something more filling after such a dinner, so it's baked potatoes for me. Two ounces of cheese doesn't make for much in a baked potato, so I'm experimenting with alternate, fat-free fillings.

Three potatoes, three fillings. First up, cottage cheese (which I always thought I hated but it turns out to be quite nice, despite looking like cheese someone else has chewed for you) with sliced onion and paprika. Normally I'd make this up the day before (to get the onion flavour through the dairy medium) but it didn't occur to me until about an hour ago.

Second, chopped tomatoes marinaded in balsamic vinegar; again, better done the day before.

Third, I've made up some Paxo sage and onion stuffing. It'll be a bit dry without any added fat (it'd be best with sausagemeat in it, but the whole vegetarianism thing has been preventing that since about 1989) but should be interesting.

In practice, I'd imagine I'll end up with a tasty presentation nightmare as I mix the various elements on the plate. A benefit of eating alone is that no-one needs to know just how awful-looking your food is that day, nor that you're breaking fundamental laws of nature by mixing cottage cheese and stuffing.

The potatoes are being prepared all wrong due to rationing and compressed time. Normally, I'd scrub each one, then rub them with olive oil before cooking them for about 4 hours in a slow oven. But there's no olive oil and I want to eat before midnight, so today they're just in a hot oven for a hour or so. With luck, they might burn slightly on the outside, simulating the crispy skin the olive oil gives you, but stay moist inside like in a slower oven. But in practice, I suspect I'm about to serve three dry potatoes with three dry fillings.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Perhaps the biggest thing that has changed under rationing has been the elimination of snacking. If I get hungry, I might have a slice of dry bread, but otherwise I live entirely without snacks and feel virtuous about it.

I have always tried to not have snack foods in, on the basis that if you don't have crisps, chocolate and sweets in, you can't eat them. But they still manage to accrue. That tube of Pringles, that extra bag of Doritos, that "spare" packet of Redwood faux meat, lurking at the bag of a cupboard or fridge, waiting to catch me in a moment of weakness (ie a weekday; or at the weekend). I have no willpower at all, for anything. Ciggies, booze, junk food... once I'm on them, that's that.

But I'm simulating willpower very well with the rations. I've cut my booze consumption, even having a week with none (and not noticing it nor getting the DTs, so no fears of alcoholism here) and just haven't snacked at all. The ciggies haven't reduced, mind, but you can't have everything. Ahem.
So tonight's dinner, for which I'm alone (CJBS is back riding the rails - well, sitting in the booking office of our local station - on the late shift with spam sandwiches) is to be a form of snacking. I've got Ryvita, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, unrationed cottage cheese, hummus (a tad anachronistically) and cress. Yes, that's hardly snacking, I know. But it's like snacking in many ways, especially in the amount of salt I plan to add. And, like snacking, I'll be starving by midnight.

But it'll be worth it!

St David's Day

Image by CaterinaAnna | Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 2.0

As Dave pointed out in the comments yesterday, it's St David's Day today. Sadly, I've done nothing at all Welsh today: I couldn't get any daffodils in town, I don't like raw potato, I've had my complete fill of bloody leeks recently, and I don't have time to have four children from five different fathers in a remarkably short period. I'm also not in my twelfth year of unemployment. Nevertheless, at least I'm not English. Iechyd da everyone!