Saturday, October 29, 2016

Corned Beef

Or as I used to call it “Corn Beef.”

After my last post on custard and Bisto, I received an e-mail from our friend John, who is working in New Zealand. John is a doctor who took early retirement and went to the Antipodes to join a practice in Ashburton outside Christchurch. Here you see him signing the contract in our back yard, under Ernie’s eagle eye. He used  to live a few houses down from us and attended Wayne State where he took a couple of classes from Ernie. The siren song of Latin was not strong enough and John went off to Medical School.

Apparently John was discussing my post with friends in a watering hole called Spike and Nonnas, and they introduced him to two other products of Post War England. The first was corned beef (in a can.) I actually thought it was pretty tasty and it was a way that meat could be preserved and sent to rationed Britain. I seem to remember a lot of jellied fat in it, but I could be wrong. In the States we take a slab of corned beef (brisket) and boil the daylights out of it along with cabbage, potatoes and carrots to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. I am not really a fan.

John saved most of his enthusiasm for Spotted Dick. Of  course, he liked the name. I am not sure that specific pudding was in my mother’s repertoire, although I do remember lots of delicious steamed puddings, especially treacle. (Look that one up, John.) These would boil away on top of the stove, covered by waterproof (i.e. wax) paper and tied up with the “pudding cloth.” Sliced and covered with a blanket of Birds custard they went down a treat.

Such puddings were usually referred to collectively as “stodge.” John is coming home soon for a month’s leave. Perhaps I’ll treat him to some stodge.   Perhaps not.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ah. . . Bisto!

When I was growing up in England in the 50’s, no meal seemed complete if the food was not blanketed in a creamy, wet and warm substance. If we had a pie, a crumble, or a crisp of some sort, it was smothered in the yellow goodness of Bird’s custard.

I wasn’t totally enamored of custard. I went to Google to get this photo and started reading about the history of custard.

“Though cooked custard is a weak gel, viscous and thixotropic, a suspension of uncooked custard powder (starch) in water, with the proper proportions, has the opposite rheological property: it is negative thixotropic, or dilatant, which is to say that it becomes more viscous when under pressure. This suspension is termed oobleck and often used in science demonstrations of non-Newtonian fluids. The popular-science programme Brainiac: Science Abuse demonstrated dilatancy dramatically by filling a swimming pool with this mixture and having presenter Jon Tickle walk across it."

When it came time for a quick gravy for our Sunday joint or any other meat, we turned to Bisto. I seem to remember lots of  advertisements for it in what passed for Social Media in the 50s and 60’s, but I don’t think it had any rivals. Like custard it started with a powder  containing a thickener that was mixed with water and heated. Don’t know if it was thixotropic. Again, it was a ubiquitous blanket for meat and found its way over to the mashed potatoes.

When I eventually set up shop for myself, there was no Bisto in the States, so I had to go the long route. I was beguiled with words like “deglaze”, “wine” and “loosen the crusty bits”.  More often than not, much to my husband’s disgust, I skipped the gravy part altogether. Too much work.

Then a few months ago on a visit to the super
market and in my search for the shelf with bouillon cubes—look what I discovered!
A quick and easy coating for our meat (and mashed potatoes) and the source of Ernie’s heartfelt thanks.

Maybe I should be on the lookout for custard powder.

Monday, October 10, 2016


What an adventure today. For the first time in many weeks I felt up to going to the grocery store. (Full disclosure, I didn’t drive or take all the bags from the car to the house. But I did wander around and check out what was going on. And buy all the groceries.)

Dear Krogers—I love flowers. But this is Fall, and we feel at home with chrysanthemums, along with the squash and the root vegetables that we buy for comfort food.  These are tulips. You know, the bright cheery flowers that indicate the grey winter is almost over, spring is around the corner and we need to enjoy the lovely blooms. Why on earth are they displayed in the flower section of the store, much more expensive than they are in spring?

After all, some combinations make sense, others fall wide of the mark.

These fall wide of the mark.

Friday, October 07, 2016

October 7 . . .

 . . . is Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day, and I am doing my part to spread the word.

It is about 5:00 p.m. here and I have spent much of the day reading posts on the Trigeminal Neuralgia Support Group’s Facebook page (it is a closed group and I just wish everyone had access to it.)  Teal was the “designated color” and there were photos of children going to school and husbands and wives going to work wearing teal and helping to spread the word around. But as usual, and sadly, there were entries by sufferers in deep pain, some written off by doctors and employers, some waiting for their next trip to the ER and photos of the swollen and contorted faces of people in the grip of an attack. Research will tell you this condition mainly attacks women over 60, but there were photos of the young, even babies and children, and both men and women of all ages and in many walks of life.

I was also amazed to see a number of public buildings lit up with teal lights to help bring about a wider awareness and understanding of this cruel condition. It is not curable, though medications which are in and of themselves a nightmare of side effects can help and there is surgery which is not guaranteed to last forever even if it is successful. These posts showed the variety of drugs which their writers are using—up to and including marijuana and oxycontin.

It is rare, comparatively, and not one of the “glamor” conditions that appeal to donors. You may even have friends or family at some point of the spectrum.  If you are reading this, do a little homework and check the websites, both medical and anecdotal. This is a well written article by a journalist, written from a patient’s point of view:

I believe this information is worth having and disseminating. It may help you, your family or friends one day.

And remember, Trigeminal Neuralgia is not called the suicide disease for nothing.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Rain it Raineth Every Day

I want to make sure I have the dates of last week’s rainstorm down in black and white, not only because of the misery our neighborhood has gone through, but because I will have a date of reference next time the City Council says we were visited by “a hundred year rain.” That’s what they said twenty years ago.

I didn’t need this message last Thursday or the accompanying loud warning noise. I had already gone down to the basement and seen the water swirling around the floor of the large finished room we have there. I admit that the night before I snuggled in bed, listening to the rain and somehow not thinking it might be a good idea to go downstairs and pick up the two large rugs. It was several hours before the enormity of the situation sank in.

We live in what is usually referred to as an “upscale community”, if you like to use vocabulary like that. We certainly have a couple of extra “e” s in the name. Although one of the nicest features is the variety of the architecture, the houses are for the most part red brick, well kept up with landscaping to match. The majority were built at the beginning of the century (ours was built in 1929) and as modern styles of living came into vogue many people had one or more rooms in their basement finished, with fireplaces, TV sets etc. Ours is mainly used by the grandchildren and is pleasant but not opulent. Just about everyone has their laundry room in the basement—my knees are beginning to object.

As the rain tapered off we ventured outside and everyone was asking, “How much water got into your basement?” The house across the street had none and we just had an inch, but we were hearing numbers like “14 inches, three feet et al.” Phones rang off the hook in insurance companies and soon people were dragging sodden possessions into the street. Before too long this was the view from our front porch as flood remediation trucks poured into the neighborhood. Our neighbor’s tree came down across the sidewalk. The city removed it quickly, but if if had fallen the other way it might have done damage to my car.

Later in the day the City Council sent out a press release. 2.5 inches before 7:30 a.m. another 2 inches between 7:30 and 9:30. “The level of water within the city’s storage system rose to the point of reaching the station’s transformers at approximately 11 a.m. Because of this, pumps were taken off line . . .”

Over the weekend people put up Facebook pages to share information. Words like class action suit were bandied around. There was a garbage pickup every day. Photos began appearing. I saw over 160 photos like this on one day, but there were many more by the next.

 The streets were lined with garbage bags, furniture, carpet, washers and dryers which had shorted out, bookcases, books, children’s toys—you name it. My neighbors were due to leave for Italy on Monday and Tim had to go out and buy a new washer so they could get ready for the trip. I don’t know what happened to the beautiful sauna they had in their basement. There has been some more rain, but not a huge amount.

A new word has come into the local vocabulary—rage cleaning.

And I forgot to tell you, on the evening of the day that this happened we had tickets for the performance at our local theatre. The show—and I kid you not —was “Singing’ in the Rain.”