Fin de siecle

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I love my job. No I mean I really really LOVE my job…I love what I do, I love being a lawyer, I love the area of work I deal with and I really love the fact I never know what the day will hold.  It also helps that I have fabulous colleagues and my internal clients are wonderful too…it really makes a difference to know that most of us believe that what we do is making a difference – ok the outside world might not share our view, but mostly we do it because in one way or another we believe we can help.

I’m lucky. I know I am. I have had 10 years doing something that makes me happy…and I suspect I would fail to count more than 6 people that I know who are in this same position.

BUT…it’s unlikely that things will continue in this manner, because I’m a public servant and life as I know it will change and even if I still have a job this time next year it is unlikely to be the one I know and love as even if I stay with the same organisation it is likely that we will have been restructured…so tonight I am raising a glass of champagne to the life I’ve had and tomorrow I will face change with hope for what is to come, hope that I can make something positive out of it.

Tonight there is cake. Fin de Siecle cake – also known in this house as Leftover Chocolate Cake as the recipe changes depending on what chocolate and nuts there are left in the house  – this one is made with chili chocolate, coffee and walnuts…and it’s fabulous, and if they are lucky then my fabulous colleagues might get to share what is left tomorrow because I think we all need a bit of cheering up this week.

Where has all the money gone?

Tesco it would seem to judge from their reported profits…

Money is much on my mind today. I am off at lunchtime to talk to the bank manager or one of his/her “minions”, I have been summoned for the annual review of the overdraft limit – usually this appears to be an attempt to persuade me to take out products and other such stuff, who knows what’s going to happen in these restricted times !

Tomorrow’s budget is also making me a little nervous. Whitehall departments are due to be slashed and required to make efficiencies. As an employee of an Agency I have learned over the years that when your sponsoring body has its budget cut then the chances are they pass the cut on to all the Agencies associated with the departments work.

In the 8 or so years I have worked for my current employers I have seen the “roll” fall from 20,000 employees to, I can’t remember whether it is 14,000 or 11,000. Its only about 2 years ago if that since we were last required to make efficiencies of some 25% across the board – and you can tinker around with the stationery supplies as much as you like, but it’s a universal truth that when an organisation needs to make “efficiencies” its in the staff “roll” that you can have most effect…so just remember tomorrow when the chancellor starts talking about “efficiencies” in Whitehall departments he mostly means job cuts.

Public sector pay and pensions? Most public sector workers put up with pay that does not in anyway compare with private sector equivalents because the pension provisions are respectable and relatively stable. The rank and file of us do not have large pensions, it’s done on a % of your final salary depending on the number of years you stay with the organisation – there may be some at the top who do get what the government describe as “large public sector pensions”, but its not them that tend to suffer with the cut backs, they just move on to another high profile job…

I think tonight I feel the need to bake…either that or a G&T…perhaps both!

What goes with Jam and Bread ?

Tea. Apparently. It also goes very well with cake, and in cake… I read somewhere the other day that “afternoon tea” is making a comeback. That lovely ritual of small sarnies, little cakes or scones or best of all a toasted teacake. It would appear that in times of crisis, despite the rise of coffee in the last 10 years, the Brits, especially the English reach for their cuppas.

My day is punctuated, almost timetabled by important cups of tea which help me get through the day. The gasper, the first cup on waking, drunk in the dark as I slowly collect my thoughts together to tackle the day. The catch up cuppa with my parent when I drop Spider off. The procrastinator, the one I drink when I reach my desk as I sort the inbox into urgent and delete…

The Teenager is itching to cook with it, or correction he wants to try smoking food in a biscuit tin, having watched Jamie Oliver at the Food Show I think, woodshavings however make me think far too much of the bottom of a gerbils cage, so come summer (as I don’t fancy a kitchen thick with smoke) I may let him experiment with a biscuit tin and some loose tea…

I spent my lunch hour cruising the 4 floors of this building trying to cadge an Earl Grey teabag as I’m planning some budget cooking not involving a muffin…I have some not particularly good dates, some sultanas and some prunes to use up. The plan is Bara Brith…a real “tea” cake.

I’m all lost in the supermarket…can no longer shop happily

Apart from the slaw for this weeks lunch I haven’t managed much cooking this evening as have been sat on my bottom watching Hugh and his chickens – I missed this last time round.

I was trying to salve my conscience as I turned to Husband to say “well, at least we don’t eat much chicken, and what we do tends to come from the Co op” when he pointed out that there is usually a bag of chicken dipper type things lurking not too deep in the freezer.

One of my friends, Supermum has a new years resolution that she will not use a supermarket again, except for the local Co op as they are a) a bit more ethical and b) supporting local shops is a “good thing” – I want so much to be a better person but until my herb garden starts growing I shall have to rely on the big pushers to get my drugs of choice (coriander and basil mainly, occasionally mint and parsley – fortunately even I can’t kill off a thyme plant).

Are Muffins the ultimate budget cake ?

You may have spotted that my posts so far this year have been alphabetical. I needed to keep posting but I knew that it was unlikely that I would be cooking anything worth talking about for awhile due to lack of time and lack of money…so thought I’d challenge myself.

As it is the black dog has taken up residence in the house and I have run out of plain flour…hence 2 posts in a row about muffins. The great thing about muffins is you can use almost any flour, any type of fat (although you might not get quite so nice a flavour with lard), and put anything in it. You can also tart them up into something a bit special with icing.

They are the ultimate baked goody for the credit crunch, and you can freeze them ! I am surprised that I have managed to restrict myself to only 2 books dedicated to these lovely little morsels of heaven (mind you there are enough recipes elsewhere anyway) . These are Perfectly Simple Muffins: Steven Stellingwerf and Muffins Fast and Fantastic: Susan Reimer. Of the 2 I would say that Muffins Fast and Fantastic is the most useful as it has a great section at the beginning giving advice as to how to tweak the given recipes to work best for alternative types of flour or fat. Also there is a great section about freezing and the best methods for defrosting.

Savoury muffins are a revelation. I had never considered these until I came across the Welsh Rarebit Muffins in Nigella’s Nigella Bites but since then they have become a regular addition to my freezer stash for emergency packed lunches. I tend to make some standard size muffins and some fairy cake size especially for Spider as I’m not sure he could manage a full size one as yet

Unfortunately I am finding it hard at the moment to have sufficient PMA (what management books call “positive mental attitude”) to drag myself into the kitchen to try and bake myself happy…but when I do I shall be making some cheese and herb muffins for next weeks lunches.

Home Baked thought for the week. Management would get more out of their staff if they actually talked to them and then listened to what they said in return… unfortunately some seem to think that stressing you out is the best way to make you perform !

Roll on pay day, its always easier to feel positive when the bank account is not so empty…

A certain lack of planning

I have a yearning on cold days such as we have seen this week for warm comforting food such as irish stew but due to a serious lack of planning on my part I’m having to make do with liver and bacon casserole (as the only meat in the freezer are the aforementioned liver and bacon, some duck legs, 2 packs of sausages and some mince).

 

This is not pressing the buttons for me – and won’t give me a chance to road test the slow cooker function (and timer) on my Tefal 4 in 1.

 

I am not giving up on the irish stew as my personal meteorologist says the cold weather will be back next week when I should be a bit better prepared for testing the timer function.  However to make sure I am more organised I am heading down the  meal planner route using this. I don’t use a recipe for irish stew I just cut it all up chunky and bung it in a pot.

 

Ps “I” is a really difficult letter to do in a food related alphabet challenge – unless it’s the weather for ice cream

Thank you for your custom and support…

 

Just outside of Henley, on the road to Reading there is a small farm shop/nursery type place. Outside the gates there are a set of boards where they used to advertise what was currently in season or what their special offers are. I often used to think as I passed that I must stop and see what was on offer – I remember one October, back when I fancied myself as a photographer, they had a lovely display of pumpkins right out front…

 

I never did stop, as I was usually in a hurry either to or from work, and not living in the area there was never the opportunity to visit at other times. And now I can’t as they seem to have closed down.  The yard stands empty the boards are blank and the whole site has an air of disuse and abandonment.  No doubt if I stopped and checked there would be a sign on the gate saying “We would like to thank our customers for their support over the years. We regret that we have ceased trading”… should have guessed there were problems when they started offering “free meat cuts” as a way of enticing customers in.

 

This sign is becoming more and more common, especially in niche shops. It started when fuel went up; people stopped spending on the treats, the olives and fancy cheeses. The town Toddler was born in has lost one of its delicatessens and what arguably was the best butcher in Oxfordshire. He was friendly, always happy to advise on the best way to cook various cuts and sold good quality meat, but at a price. The butcher never stood a chance due to his location. When money became tight the local passing trade probably dried up as it was not an affluent area and his meat although good was not cheap and lack of car parking meant a lack of out of area custom.

 

The village I live in is slowly losing services. The British Legion club closed last year and the pub closed 2 weeks ago. We try and buy some of our groceries from the co-op and there are some items we opt to buy from the post office even though they are cheaper elsewhere (but not without a car journey). Money is tight for us, but life in the village would be so less vibrant, so less communal if we lost our shops and I don’t want to be thanked, with regret, for my custom…

 

So buying less and shopping local, tomorrow I will have some spare change at last and can buy some more four !