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A hidden cost of disability and illness, plus assorted foodie ramblings…

Posted Aug 05 2012 1:43pm

In my case, a quite substantial cost is in wasted food, simply because I am all too often too ill to cook. When I am able, I get maximum benefit from it by cooking for the freezer – cooking on a daily basis, one meal at a time, is simply out of the question.

Yesterday, in the hope I’d be up to it today, I defrosted some braising steak. It was a vain hope and, unless things change as the day goes on (just – this was midday – taken two 30/500 Co-codamol and 30mg DHC, plus my supplements**, so I have hopes), or, perhaps, tomorrow, though that’ll be pushing it, a fiver’s worth of meat, that would have given me 4, maybe 5, meals, depending on how much the meat shrinks in cooking, will wind up in the bin.

**Used to treat my ME – nothing else works.

And it’s not as if waste is a particularly rare event. As regular readers will know, I like to make my own sausages, which is a two-day job, and putting two good days together needs a minor miracle. On one occasion, the first day was fine, I trimmed, prepped and flavoured the meat (pepper, a little sage – no salt yet), ready for mincing and filling the casings the following day. Didn’t happen – I didn’t have another good day for months, and a couple of kilos of pork went off and was binned.

All I have to do with the braising steak is wash it, let it drain naturally and air out (vacuum-packed meat always smells unpleasant), cut it into pieces, and cook it with chopped shallots, carrots, and peas, in a well-flavoured stock that will make the gravy when I’m done. I don’t even have to peel and  chop the shallots – I have several pounds of them, in olive oil, in my freezer. Prepped on a good day, they’ll make life easier for months. Doing that with carrots – or buying pre-pepped frozen ones isn’t an option – frozen carrots never cook well in my experience, managing to wind up both mushy and hard.

Then, at times, I’ll get, say, a piece of fish out of the freezer, then subsequently feel too ill to cook, and open a can of soup instead – a state of affairs which can continue for days, and the fish, or whatever, gets binned too.

So, over the course of a year, this amounts to a fair amount of wasted money.

I also need to make bread. I use a stand mixer for this now – it needs no less skill, but it does do the grunt work which is now beyond me. That won’t be done either, not today, though in this case there’ll be no waste, and I always have a couple of packs of emergency rolls in the freezer – bought, not made. I could make rolls, but I’ve never mastered the soft roll – mine are always crusty. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer soft rolls. Come to think of it, I did do it once – I’ll have to read my own bread blog to find the recipe!

So what’s the point of all this, I hear you ask? Well, apart from pointing up a hidden cost of illness-induced disability, I’m trying to psych myself up! And also I felt like writing something lighter than I have done of late. It stops me focusing on how shit I feel too!

It’s also reminded me to get a portion of slow-cooked topside in gravy out of the freezer for tonight. Last night I had chorizo and cannellini beans in a tomato sauce spiked with shards of panceta, and a big slice of de Burgos-style morcilla (a Spanish black pudding made with sweetly-fried onions and paella rice), all home-made on a few good days spread over several weeks, and frozen (I have a huge American-style fridge-freezer near the kitchen, and a normal-sized one in the bedroom – I’ve run out of food in the past because of illness,** I don’t intend it to happen again!). The one in the bedroom is where I mostly store my flour, which I get delivered in bulk (bought 20kilos 10 days ago).

**In the past I’ve nearly always had a Motability contract, useful but soaks up a huge amount of money, so much so that I could only afford to shop as it was needed – and if illness got in the way I had no reserves. For the last few years I’ve not had one, and it’s amazing how much money I have, plus enough food to last 2, maybe 3 months.

One thing I am going to make, today, or tomorrow for sure, as the effort needed is almost zero, is fruit cake (look, if you’re  like me and like to bake, but physically can’t, try to get a stand mixer – 90% or more of the grunt work gone**). Not a traditional fruit cake – this is a mix of rolled oats, wholemeal flour, Demerara sugar, lots of mixed fruit and peel, and lots of mixed spice, topped with more Demerara, and baked in a Swiss roll tin. Soft, sticky, and amazingly good, and not as sweet as you might think – sort of midway between cake and flapjack. And for those who care about such things (me!), high in fibre.

**OK, you still have to wash the bowl and tool(s), but letting them soak allows most of the gunk to be rinsed off.

I’ve been toying with the idea of making my own yoghurt again (I used to when I was married), as I get through quite a lot and home-made would dramatically reduce the cost, but space is a problem, in that I haven’t got any to spare, which is also the reason I don’t have a food processor, even though it would make my life so much easier (it’d save having a lot of space in my freezer taken up with pre-prepped shallots for a start!). The food processor, at least, needs some serious thought – it would be very useful in lots of ways, especially as I’m slowly losing the use of my right hand,** probably from leaning on a crutch for the better part of 30 years – home-made yoghurt is rather less essential.

**Yep, I know I should get it looked at, but right now I have enough crap in my life, I don’t need more.

Incidentally, and I know I’ve mentioned this before but not everyone reads every post so, for prepping veg prior to cooking, a Santoku knife is unbeatable. For years I’ve sworn by a chef’s knife as the universal kitchen tool – there is little you can’t do with it, from the delicate – de-veining prawns, to the brutal –  splitting a swede in half – but for chopping, and even some slicing tasks, a Santoku is unbeatable. The flutings on the blade, supposed to stop food sticking, are a joke, though (probably why it’s a western thing which the Japanese, knowing better, don’t bother with, mostly).

And, while writing this, in between reading the papers and checking Twitter, my analgesics, and my supplements, have kicked in, I’ve hit the kitchen and my braised steak is gently simmering. I never bother skimming off the reddish scum that rises to the surface, by the way – that’s just removing flavour – it’s only blood after all, and will affect the appearance of the finished dish not at all.

For the stock for a beef stew, or braised steak, I use a combination of Oxo, Bovril, and Knorr Touch of Taste Beef (avoid the veggie version, it’s disgusting!), along with a little HP sauce, soy sauce, and tomato purée (ketchup, at a pinch), to give it depth, plus some home-made celery salt. It will need little or no salt at the end, just pepper.

How much? Dunno, I’m pretty much an instinctive cook (cooking what the Spanish call “a ojo” – by eye), and I’ve been cooking so long – since I was 12 seriously, a couple of years earlier, just tinkering – that it’s all pretty much on auto-pilot. All my recipes are in my head, and been there so long they’re unaffected by the curse of ME – short-term memory loss. New recipes settle in eventually, but I have to write them down for the first few months. The important thing is that the result should be harmonious, not dominated by any single ingredient.

Tomorrow,  one way or another (I really must have an early night tonight – I have trouble settling down to sleep, I think part of me fears I won’t wake up – illogical really, because if I don’t, it’s not going to worry me!), I have to make a batch of Lorne sausage (I need eggs, which are being delivered tomorrow).

I made a test batch a little while ago, and this will be the same recipe, scaled up, the only difference this time is that I’m sticking strictly to tradition, and using butchers’ mince – in this instance Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference beef mince, which is quite lean, and some of their nicely fatty minced pork, a kilo of each, and I’m thinking of using my stand mixer, with the dough hook, to mix it. Then it’s just a case of packing it into a clingfilm-lined 2lb loaf tin, chilling it in the freezer until firm but not frozen, slicing it, then packing it up and freezing it properly.

For those who’ve never tried it, Lorne sausage is flavoured with nutmeg and ground coriander, which work surprisingly well, except for the fact that freezing it mutes the spicing somewhat, so I’m increasing it by 50%. It would also benefit from more white pepper and sea salt too, I think. My only mistake with the test batch was slicing some of it too thinly – about a centimetre is right – and like my morcilla, also made in a loaf tin, best sliced with my scalloped-edge bread knife, freshly sharpened.

As far as I know, the only Lorne sausage commercially available in England is Belcher’s, an Ayrshire company, sold as Belcher’s Square Sausage (hard to find but I think Iceland have it, or maybe Farm Foods**),  and, while I like it, it’s a bit low on the spicing for my taste, having made the real thing.  Still tasty though. The advantage of making my own, though, is that I know exactly what’s in it.

**The My Supermarket website claims that Tesco and Sainsbury’s sell Belcher’s but are out of stock. Not true – they don’t sell it at all, though I have a feeling Tesco might have done so about 15-20 years ago.

OK then, it’s now 16.05 and, perversely, I feel better than I’ve felt all day. Not helpful!

Been processing a kilo of coarse sea salt – bought by mistake – into fine, in the blender, which is, amazingly,  more hassle than you might think possible. Done now, anyway, and I’m about to post this at 18.40, and then get something to eat.

Then, seeing it’s Sunday, and TV will be repeated crapola, I’ll read and listen to Radio Caroline for the rest of the day.

Note: Two 30/500 Co-codamol, plus 30mg of DHC are rapidly becoming my default analgesia, yet if I tell my GP he’ll bitch and whine about it, and refuse to prescribe DHC. Like far too many GPs, the idea of prescribing analgesia that’s actually effective keeps him awake nights! I’ve got maybe 120 30mg DHC tabs left, after that, I’m screwed. And that means using up my suicide kit, which I’d rather not do. New readers – don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere just yet!

It’s true that DHC, at 60mg 4 times a day with the state my heart’s in, causes pulmonary oedema – been there – but adding 30mg to my Co-codamol a couple of times a day won’t hurt. I know, I’ve been doing it for about a year.

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