House Hunters

I have been watching a lot of House Hunters over the holidays, due to the fact that I ran out of shows on demand that I would normally watch during a very long weekend of time out of the office.  I have also been visiting some blogs that dedicate themselves to House Hunters and found them to be hilarious.  Some of the quotes that come up time and time again are “open concept” “granite countertops” “closet space” and “master suite” have now got to the point that they are comical.

One of my favorite blogs, which has not been updated for a while, is

http://meandhgtv.blogspot.com/2012/02/not-good-st-petersburg-other-one.html

It condenses the entire HGTV House Hunters theme into one nugget of deliciousness. It also reminds me that people with a budget of $100,000 should not be expecting granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

The best part is though when you then go on to “Love it or List It” where a couple who has bought a house no longer want to live there.  (One of them usually).  Usually the designer opens up the walls and the ceilings and discovers that in order to create the “open space” that the previous home owner has knocked down load bearing walls and the entire house in on the verge of collapse.  This whole “open concept” thing means that homeowners are smashing down load bearing walls without any idea that they are compromising their entire house.

The greatest thing about House Hunters and all of their ilk though is that people have such high expectations.  They dismiss a house because it doesn’t happen to have a powder room on the ground floor, despite the fact that I meets all of their other expectations.  Let us not forget that the majority of them will more than likely be in foreclosure proceedings a year out.

HGTV has lost the garden part of it, but it is no less entertaining.

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Food Waste

I recently read an article which explained that up to 40% of food in the US is wasted.

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/pireland/40_percent_of_food_in_the_us_n.html?utm_source=tw&utm_medium=tweet&utm_campaign=blog

This occurs for many reasons, particularly the antiquated “sell by” dating system which not only varies from State to State but also confuses consumers into thinking that once something has passed its “sell by” date that it is unsafe to eat.  This is not only wrong, but it causes people to throw out perfectly edible and safe food.  As the article explains the “sell by” system is put in place to allow grocery stores to rotate their food stocks, it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not something is still fit to eat.

It also got me thinking about how people treat food once they have eaten a portion of it.  There are huge excesses of food cooked during the Holiday season and much of it will go to waste after the main meal because most people do not have the know-how to take care of the leftovers.  To be sure there are many savvy cooks out there who know how to create tasty turkey sandwiches and soups out of a turkey, but  I would guess that for every one of them there are five who have no clue what to do with a turkey the day after Christmas or Thanksgiving (there are even some who don’t know what to do with it the day of Christmas or Thanksgiving but that is another story) and simply throw it away, it is a shocking waste of food when you think about it.

DH and I had Rotisserie Chicken for Christmas day, with all the trimmings of course (a Turkey seemed a little excessive for just the two of us).  The next day (Boxing Day for all us Brits) I dismantled the chicken and made cold chicken sandwiches.  The day after that I dismantled the chicken again and used it to make a Chicken Pot Pie which I put in the fridge and we are having for dinner tonight (chicken three nights in a row seeming to be a little excessive).  Had I been as dedicated as my Mother usually is, I would have then boiled the carcass to extract every last scrap of the meat and either turned it into soup or, more likely as my Mother would do, into curry,  as it was I gave it to the possums outside.

The problem is that people are not taught to cook and are therefore ill equipped to handle leftovers, which I think is a tragedy.    Personally I think cooking (not just Home Economics or whatever else it is they call it), should be mandatory in schools.  Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic are essential of course but will not equip you with basic skills to keep you fed and alive.  As we used to say about the “egg heads” “they can tell you the square-root of a can of beans but couldn’t open one”.  It not only means that people spend far more on food than they need to (because they buy take-out or eat out at restaurants) but it means that people make poor food choices on a budget (for the price of a couple of PB&J you could make a decent family meal).

I have spoken on this blog many times about my Mother’s ability to take one pound of minced beef (ground beef) and turn it into a week of meals for us.  It would begin with Mince and Tatties (ground beef in gravy with boiled potatoes and a vegetable), the next day the leftovers (the ground beef, potatoes and vegetables with some additions) would become a stew, the following day (the leftover stew) would become Cornish pasties with some leftovers to turn into a curry (just add some curry powder and make rice) the next day,  the final day the curry leftovers would become a soup with perhaps just a few pieces of ground beef floating around in it.

Teach that in your schools.  Not only would it go a long way to solving the poverty problem in this country but it would also go a long way to solving the childhood obesity problem.  Filling your child up with rubbish to assuage hunger is not only bad for your child it is bad for your budget.   Teach people how to cook.  It is an essential life skill that should not be overlooked by any education system.    Just my two cents.

Coming in from the cold

It is cold in North Carolina right now, colder than I am happy to allow Cadbury, my elderly outside cat to stay outside.  Generally, when she is too cold she will come in of her own accord, but on Thursday I decided over her head, that it was too cold for her to be out there, and I scooped her up and deposited her on the bookcase where she is wont to sleep when she is in the house.   She quickly snuggled down and curled into a ball and went to sleep until it was time for dinner, at which point she merrily joined the other cats in the kitchen for her dinner.  Despite being hissed at from some of the other cats, she stood her ground and ate her dinner before returning to her spot on top of the bookcase, where I should add, she would always hang out with her Mum Alpha.

She has been in the house ever since, snuggling up in various places, including on my lap for a short time, but she is warm, and safe, and that is all that matters.   Sometimes you have to overrule a cat’s stubborn nature and do the right thing.

Green and Pleasant Land

One of the things that struck me as we left Manchester Airport and headed up the M6 Motorway to Lancaster was how many sheep there were in the fields beside the motorway.  It occurred to me that I had not noticed them before as I was generally driving and would have my eyes on the road.  This time however, I was in the passenger seat and could take the time to look out of the windows.  There were sheep everywhere!  White sheep

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Black Sheep

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Field upon field of them.   I am sure it also has something to do with the Mad Cow outbreak years ago that farmers decided that sheep farming was a safer bet than cattle,  but the whole thing fascinated me.

I was also delighted to discover that the hedgerows and dry stone walls had not been removed to create massive fields but the traditional green patchwork quilt effect was still in play.

Dry stone walls are a work of art in an of themselves, especially when they have aged nicely and are home to mosses and ferns.

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It was of some concern that the art of building dry stone walls was dying out but from what I understand there is a healthy apprenticeship program underway to keep it alive.

When people abroad think of England they tend to believe that the entire country is like London, or indeed that the rest of England is just an extension of London.  That is a little like thinking if you have seen New York you have seen America, which my American readers will know is far from the truth.

England is a jewel of an Island, and I was glad to see that while it may have the same problems as many other countries in the world, some things are constant.  It always has been and always will be a green and pleasant land.  SONY DSC

History

The one thing I love about Lancaster is the history.  It is truly an ancient town, the castle was begun by William shortly after 1066, you can actually point out that part of the castle (the Norman keep) thanks to its very ancient stones. SONY DSC

But the town actually goes back longer than that to the time of the Romans.  During my childhood a Roman settlement was found (which resulted in a building development being moved due to preservation efforts).  SONY DSC

When they wanted to use a piece of land than this plaque is placed upon to build a DSS building and parking lot the local council not only considered how the building would serve the public but they considered how the building would look, from the view over the river with the castle and the priory church on the skyline.  They decided, correctly in my view, that a cinder block monstrosity could not be built that would destroy that iconic skyline, and so the builders brought in old stone from other projects, and not only did they face the building with old stone, they built the parking lot with arrow slits in it, in order to blend with the rest of the architecture.  SONY DSC

Similarly when a grocery store wanted to relocate down town instead of building a big box monstrosity they built the grocery store inside a historic fruit and vegetable warehouse.  In a similar fashion there is a movie theatre built inside of an iconic cooperative store shell.  There is a wonderful history of preserving the buildings of the past while enabling new businesses to thrive within their shells.  Hell even the railway station looks like it has been there for centuries

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This station is two minutes from my Mum’s house.  It was so nice going home on leave when I was in the Navy.

Shopping

Other than spending time with my family, one of the main things I was looking forward to while in Lancaster was shopping.  Lancaster is a very walking friendly city, couple that with the fact that my Mum’s house, where we were staying, is no more than a ten minute walk to the City center and it makes for wonderful shopping opportunities.  SAMSUNG

To begin with we still have local shops, and while the market is closed down we still have local butcher’s shops and fish mongers.  SAMSUNG

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In addition the grocery stores are different.  While we certainly have our big box stores, such as Asda (now owned by Wal Mart) on the outskirts of town, in the City we have a very quaint Sainsbury’s which is located in an old fruit and vegetable warehouse down by the river.

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Inside of course is a sight to behold (for someone like me who has not seen it for a long time.  At the deli of the grocery stores I am now used to in the US the cheese counter consists of five varieties, well six if you count take it or leave it.  In England you get five different varieties of one type of cheese mild, sharp, strong,  mature, for the usual suspects of Cheddar, Double Gloustershire, Stilton, Chesire, etc.    In the case of Lancashire and Wenslydale Cheeses you also get the option of creamy or crumbly.  A cursory count of the labels shows that Sainsbury’s sells at least 70 different types of cheese.  You have to admit that is quite impressive.

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The most wonderful sight to behold though was the bacon section. SAMSUNG

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Yes that is three cases full of bacon.  I do not have to explain this to my English readers but perhaps a primer on British bacon v. US bacon is in order here (strangely enough they were having the same discussion over at the Guardian EnglishtoEnglish site recently).  In Europe when a pig is slaughtered it is handled in one of two ways.  Either the whole pig is cured and turned into bacon or the whole pig is used as pork.  In the US only the pork bellies are cured and turned into bacon (which we call streaky in the UK).  As the whole pig is cured into bacon in Europe it means that every cut of pork that you can get in the US can be had as bacon in Europe.  Therefore as you can see in the above photographs you can get bacon joints, bacon chops, bacon steaks (known as Gammon),  back bacon (the most common bacon served in the UK which looks like a very thinly sliced pork chop) , neck bacon, etc .  In addition to that once the pig has been turned into bacon it is then smoked or not.  So in addition to all of the cuts of bacon that are available they are also available in a smoked or un-smoked version.  (See versions of cheese above).  Ham is a large bacon leg joint that will be slow roasted and turned into Home Roasted Ham.

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As you can imagine it all results in an absolutely dizzying array of options when it comes to bacon.  Truth be told not many people buy streaky bacon because it has so much fat in it, and we all know how the world feels about fat.

It occurs to me, Americans are all about choice, they have an abiding desire to be able to choose what to eat, what to buy etc., and yet for some reason they are entirely happy for American food producers restricting their ability to experience anything other than “the norm” i.e., streaky bacon.  By steadfastly refusing to turn any part of the pig other than the bellies into bacon they are limiting American’s ability to enjoy one of the best meals on the planet, Gammon steak, chips (fries) and peas.   By steadfastly refusing to make any cheese other than Cheddar they are restricting Americans ability to experience what is the truly the caviar of cheeses, Lancashire, when it comes to toasted cheese sandwiches.

When I visit a UK supermarket I am truly dazzled by the choices that are given the UK consumer compared to those given the US consumer.  As a resident of the US for 20+ years isn’t that really un American?

Saturday Market

Traditionally Lancaster has a street market on Saturdays and Wednesdays.  In the old days (my time) it would generally be a veggie market stalls on Market Street with a variety of produce sellers hawking vegetables all day long.  These days it is more of an eclectic mix of food stalls, Indian, Chinese, French Bread, smoked fish, you name it, but there are still the veggie stalls selling their wares for bargain basement prices.

When I think back to the old days of the street market I remember how my sister and I would take a couple of bags down town and hang around waiting for the vendors to pack up shop for the day.  They would carefully pack up their boxes of produce and toss aside anything that they did not want to cart home for the day.  The odd Onion, a Cucumber that would not make it to the next week, a couple of potatoes that they thought were below their standards.  Nancy and I would stand there and wait for the vendors to leave and pounce before the garbage trucks arrived and fill our bags with all sorts of  vegetables.  We would very proudly carry our haul of veggies back to our Mum who would use them to feed us for the following week.

Similarly, Nancy and I would stalk the coal truck that delivered coal to all of the cellars in the neighborhood.  Our streets were very high hills, and the coal truck would have to turn around at the top of the hills.  Invariably the trucks would shed coal when they made the turn at the top of the hill.  Nancy and I  would take bags up at the turning points and collect the coal that the trucks shed and proudly take it back to our Mum, that little bit of coal that we collected could keep us warm for a week until the next paycheck came in.

Damn this sounds like a dreadful life but Nancy and I actually enjoyed doing this stuff.

In our own little way we were recycling long before recycling was actually in style and I am proud of that.  When I was home it actually crossed my mind to wait for the veggie stalls to close down for the day and see what they left behind for the garbage trucks, I was actually curious to see what I could harvest from the leftovers.  Having said that I am sure that there are a boat load of “freegans” waiting to pounce on the left over veggies, because that is such a thriving movement both in the UK and the US right now, I would bet that I would be battling a boat load of students from Lancaster University who are thriving on the “freegan” lifestyle.
Who could of known it, my sister and I were “freegans” forty years before it was a movement.