Household Economics

With food and energy prices rocketing, many of us are urgently reviewing our household budgets right now. Do we, like a magazine journalist whose column I’ve just read, splash out a gadget measuring electricity usage then run around turning off appliances at the wall? Are we all going to be sharing stone soup by the winter, cooking by candlelight? (Note to self: avoid tallow rush lights except in extremis. Too whiffy.)

I’m probably the last person who should proffer advice because I am, accordingly to my older sister and brother, notoriously feckless. It’s one of those familial reputations you can’t shake, regardless of the years. I’ve been painfully hard up in the past, the sort of broke that means you have to find the money for a court fine because you can’t afford to tax your car and you need your car to get to work to pay the bills and so on ad nauseum until you want to drive your illegal vehicle into a motorway bridge support.

But I currently have a roof over my head and I’m well fed. I’m not Jack Monroe, happily for all concerned, and nothing I say here will help those who not only lack the income to buy food but to pay the energy bills with which to cook it.

The political will needed to eradicate that sort of poverty is lacking and we’re moving swiftly in the opposite direction, with Rishi Sunak espousing Charter Cities* which will create independent fiefdoms for corporations, and Freeports which grant companies whopping tax exemptions.

It’s all supposed to boost the economy, but to whose benefit? The rich – and the Rishis – get richer and the rest of us presumably revert to serfdom while enduring the deterioration of our schools and healthcare. I feel like a Saxon oppressed by Norman barons and even they managed to come up with the Magna Carta.

This all started as an introduction to a recipe for ham and how a small joint could be made to go a long way but it got hijacked by a comment from a friend on Twitter and turned into a rant. Sorry. I’ll be back with a plate of ham next time. (I was going to say gammon but that’s apparently a perjorative term these days.). Feel free to disagree, comment or unfollow. We do still live in a democracy, after all. Unless you end up working in a Charter City.

* See here for the argument in favour of Charter Cities and a view against.

 

Suffolk Cooks For Ukraine – Update

We did it! Our Suffolk Cooks For Ukraine dinner and auction raised an extraordinary £20,000 for the DEC’s Ukraine Appeal and donations are still coming in. An outstanding result, if I say so myself, for two weeks (frenetic) planning and one night in a room full of amazingly generous and compassionate people. Continue reading

Suffolk Cooks For Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is creating a humanitarian crisis on a scale unknown in Europe since World War Two. The public response here in the UK has been phenomenal, with vast numbers of people donating money and supplies and organising fundraisers.

I’m one of them. With chefs Nicola Hordern and Maria Elia and fellow writer Tessa Allingham, we’re staging a Suffolk Cooks For Ukraine feast with a charity auction on the night. It’s on March 17 at Chefs’ Whites restaurant at Suffolk New College in Ipswich, for anyone local reading this. Continue reading

Giving Up Stocking Up

We’ve all been there, with the possible exceptions of the super-organised and those who have only an icebox atop the fridge. You know, when you finally get round to defrosting the freezer, uncomfortably aware that it’s going to be like an archaeological dig. You’re dressed like an arctic explorer and armed for bear. Continue reading

Adrift In The Doldrums

Are you in the doldrums? I am, metaphorically speaking because although also a shorthand term for inaction and stagnation, the doldrums are an actual place. The Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ (apparently also known as “the itch”) is a belt round the Earth extending approximately five degrees north and south of the equator. Continue reading

A Coronavirus Christmas #2

My great-auntie Gertie, she of the rabbit-skinning speed record (Portly passim), used to keep a drawer full of gifts in her dressing table. Not ones she had bought in advance, the sort of thing you stash away on the off-chance you’ll match it to a suitable recipient, but ones she’d been given. It was not uncommon to get back the Christmas present you’d sent her a year or two earlier, neatly re-wrapped. Continue reading

A Coronavirus Christmas #1

Regardless of any lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic means few of us will be enjoying an extended family Christmas this year, and opportunities to meet up with far-flung friends and relatives ahead of the holiday are getting harder to organise safely. I suspect a lot of presents will be ordered online and delivered via mail or courier and it’s entirely possible that our Christmas dinner ingredients will be arriving the same way. 

What follows is pretty much what I’d love to be given as gifts if I hadn’t already cracked and bought them for myself because of my out-of-control web-based buying habit. (Many of us have explored new hobbies during lockdown and it seems this is mine.) Continue reading

Mrs Portly’s Time Machine

I‘m lucky enough to live in an old and rather beautiful home. It’s Tudor, with the oldest part dating back to around 1500, although like most houses of its sort it’s been altered and added to over the centuries. We have witch marks on the beams, elaborate Elizabethan chimneys and parchment-written deeds which, sadly though responsibly, the previous owner donated to the county records office for their preservation. 

Living here has increased my interest in historical recipes and I thought it would be good to recreate some in a way that reflects the house and the periods it has lived through. Continue reading

Easing Lock-down

I understand the economic imperative, as one sarky journalist put it, of getting businesses with rateable values back up and running. I understand the joy of some of my friends in the restaurant industry, who’ve been struggling to make ends meet behind locked doors, at being able to earn a few quid at long last. I also understand the ones who’ve said: “Re-open? In these circumstances? Not likely!” Continue reading

Lock-down

My get-up-and-go has got up and gone. The irritating thing is that I can’t go with it. Lock-down affects us all in different ways. I don’t actually mind staying at home but I do miss the creative kick in the pants that cooking for friends gives me. It’s all too easy to default to beans on toast when there’s only two of you. Continue reading